Cooking in the time of Corona

The restlessness to get back to “normal” was so vivid for me yesterday as we past a local water park teeming with children and families. No masks, no 6 feet distance, no indication of a pandemic. It was an almost nostalgic surreal vision. Addressing our level of comfort with safety and health is now personal and subjectively enforced (the effectiveness of masks-handwashing-social distance use has been proven). Without public mandate, it can be confusing and challenging to self-monitor and so easy to judge the choices of others. Everyday warrants revision of the boundaries to the question, “am I protecting others from viruses I am hosting?”

Within this uncertainty and confusion, I found comfort in the regularity of meals together and the kitchen. So, today I offer a food retrospective of my last three months in social isolation with family. As I watched drenched children scurry back to the water-slide steps, I was thinking about the last few months at home, things I miss, things I enjoyed. I miss eating out: the sound of dishes, muffled conversations, laughter, smells, wide exotic and familiar views, and sitting across from loved ones and friends. But, I can’t complain, what a privilege its been to cook for family who will disperse again too soon.

Hoping you continue to find your way to comforting routine as we move through the phases and cycles of Covid-19,


Food Poem – The Scent of Apple Cake by Marge Piercy

Yet another benefit to baking: “to make sweetness where there is none.”  I also loved the part about the sweetness of babies before “their wills sprouted like mushrooms.” Hope you enjoy the poem as I do!

My mother cooked as drudgery
the same fifteen dishes round
and round like a donkey bound
to a millstone grinding dust.

My mother baked as a dance,
the flour falling from the sifter
in a rain of fine white pollen.
The sugar was sweet snow.

The dough beneath her palms
was the warm flesh of a baby
when they were all hers before
their wills sprouted like mushrooms.

Cookies she formed in rows
on the baking sheets, oatmeal,
molasses, lemon, chocolate chip,
delights anyone could love.

Love was in short supply,
but pies were obedient to her
command of their pastry, crisp
holding the sweetness within.

Desserts were her reward for endless
cleaning in the acid yellow cloud
of Detroit, begging dollars from
my father, mending, darning, bleaching.

In the oven she made sweetness
where otherwise there was none.

“The scent of apple cake” by Marge Piercy from Made in Detroit. © Knopf, 2015. from the Writer’s Almanac, June 15th, 2017

Image and Recipe for teddie’s apple cake from

Date Night and Duck Breast with Pomegranate-Chile Sauce

It is spring break for schools in the area. The girls abandoned us to brighter places with their respective other parents.  I can’t remember the last time I cooked for Jim. Just Jim. So…on an unusual weeknight dinner date at home, I decided to make

Caesar Salad, Duck Breast with Pomegranate sauce, Mushroom Risotto and Chocolate Creme Brulee.


Most of this I had never made before. It was a risk. But, if it turned out badly we could always just order pizza. There was no urgency or expectation. Perfect for cooking experiments for a forgiving and kind loved one.

What I learned:

The anchovy paste I used tasted bitter for the caesar salad dressing. Next time I’m sticking with the canned anchovies. I like those better.

The Duck Breast was perfectly cooked thanks to the Epicurious Roast Duck Breast with Pomegranate-chile Sauce  recipe. Dear Ms. Selma Brown you are an artist.

  1. Score the duck breast.
  2. Cook skin side down on a dry pan (it won’t stay dry for long).. 7 minutes.
  3. Flip cook other side for 1 minute.
  4. Bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 5 minutes.
  5. Let meat rest for 5 minutes. Slice and serve.

I adapted the sauce [now my new favorite!]

1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water. Simmer until caramalized.

Add 2 cups pomegranate juice and 2 cups chicken broth.

I didn’t have dried California Chilies. I did have dried Carolina Reapers…I simmered one-half in the sauce for five minutes. It was HOT….even for me. I was afraid that I would injure Jim with this lovingly prepared lethal sauce.

Reduce until thick. About 25 minutes.

Add one and half teaspoon of Chipotle in adobo sauce and Balsamic vinegar each. This gives the sauce a surprisingly beautiful smoky warmth along with the fruity sweetness.

I strained it. I was left with this deep red, translucent sauce with a honey consistency and spicy hot strength. Amazing. I want to bottle it and share.

It held when I drizzled the sauce on the plate but once I added honey in an effort to tame the angry heat…the sauce sort of dissolved. Maybe next time I’ll drizzle the honey on the duck breast itself and leave the red drizzle alone. Regardless, this was easily one of the best duck preparations I had. Complex flavors, crispy skin, tender meat. Each bite felt full. Next time maybe add some greenbeans to the plate.

The Mushroom Risotto was perfect company for the duck. Next time I need to remember to add more liquid before I serve. The rice had tightened up a bit and lost its creaminess. Basically, every cup of rice needs about 3-4 cups of water.

The Chocolate Creme Brulee was a grown-up cross between chocolate mousse and pudding. I adapted it from Michael Symon’s recipe. Didn’t use a tart shell. The salt in the salt and coffee in the recipe add a……hmmmmm…this is different but familiar taste.


Jim helped with the salad, slicing the duck and torching the creme brulee sugar.

We were both very happy with dinner.

Wishing you delicious dinners with your beloved,





Post-Thanksgiving Sigh


Today is the embarrassing day after the collective food binge that is Thanksgiving in the U.S. when I promise to eat light and then end up eating another plate of left-overs. Despite my mixed feelings about the origins of the delicious tradition (like croissants), I am thankful for the day of friends and family time dedicated to eating together. In a previous post I had wondered how others manage and prepare for such a traditionally standard meal. Stay consistent and true to family recipes or innovate, change?

My approach is usually a mix of tried and true recipes (that my girls like) and a few experiments (also because my girls enjoy trying new things). This year we also included frozen summer produce from Jim’s parents garden and I was so happy that they could be here to enjoy those dishes with us.

Here is how the balance of family tradition and family discovery worked at our table:

Appetizers at noon

Oysters (raw and rockefeller)

A nod to Jim’s maternal grandfather, Ray, this is now a tradition in our house that we all look forward to.

Baked Brie in Puff Pastry

Initially we wanted to have cranberry relish baked in it BUT I didn’t have enough. Instead we used our usual raspberry jam. Such decadence only makes sense when shared.


Pate and Figs on Crackers

This was Amani’s craving contribution that all of us tried and some liked more than others.

Linner (Lunch/Dinner at 3:00 pm)


Ignoring all the noise surrounding how to cook the bird, we just salted a fresh bird over night (with herbs and olive oil). This was the first time we had a fresh bird. Loved it. This will be a new tradition.



Braised turkey neck, liver and heart with celery, onion and carrots. Rachel cut all the meat into little pieces to be included in the gravy. Yum.


A doctored-up Pepperidge Farm stuffing. Nothing special just classically familiar flavors.


Mashed Potatoes

Creamed with buttermilk and two roasted jalapenos from Dennis and Rachel’s summer garden.


Green Beans

Cooked with shallots, mushrooms and cream. This was a dish I’ve made four times, a regular item that I’ve cooked better before. A “non-experiment” that didn’t work the best. It needs to soften a bit more before we have it for leftovers today. Otherwise, still good for future Thanksgiving meals.


Fried Okra

Not usual on the Thanksgiving table but should be. Rachel brought her garden grown, home fried and frozen veggies with her. Very much appreciated.

Macaroni and Cheese

This was an experiment using a Saveur recipe. Ridiculous amounts of cream, half and half and cheese that only makes sense in a celebratory dish. The grated onion gives the dish more dimension than straight up mac-n-cheese. It even passed the Lucy, picky eater test! A successful experiment.


Baked Sweet Potato

This was a version of Patti, Jim’s sister’s recipe. I didn’t use the topping because the dessert had the same topping. Otherwise, I thought of Patti as I looked at her Senator Russel’s Sweet Potato Casserole recipe. We all missed having her and her family at the table this year. I drizzled Maple Syrup on top instead. Really good. Both Ava and Atiya got seconds.

Rosemary Rolls

Store bought yeast rolls, egg washed and sprinkled with rosemary and salt.

Cranberry Sauce

Fresh cranberry simmered with sugar and orange zest. Ava washed and prepared the cranberries, a job Atiya graduated from.

Pecan Pumpkin Pie

My father loves pecan pie and my mom loves pumpkin/sweet potato. This Southern Living recipe reminded me of them. They couldn’t be with us but were in my thoughts. This may become a part of the Thanksgiving dessert rotation. Combines best of both pies. Except maybe next time I would blind bake the crust a bit first.


Aware of so many struggling families in the U.S., I apologetically appreciate my abundant table heavy with tradition, experimentation, choices and guests in body and spirit. Delivering a meal to the local shelter on Monday doesn’t begin to show my gratitude.

Now for my plate of left-overs.

Wishing all of you appreciative good eating with loved ones always,









Favorite Food Infographics

1. Season cycle for fruits, vegetables and herbs


2. Basic soup recipes


3. How to filet a fish


4. What to do if a dish is too spicy (this happens to me a lot)


5. Gram conversion chart


6. Aromatics combinations


For full view of info graphics, click on these websites!

The Dance of Cooking Together


Think of the event of cooking. You are standing at the sink, washing the lettuce, while your partner reaches into the refrigerator to get the cucumbers, reaching back at the same time to turn off the stove. With one hand, she gives you the cucumber and despite the fact that you move across to reach for the grater at the same moment as she moves to pick up a fork, you somehow do not bump into each other. It’s not just that you’ve cooked together hundreds of times. It’s that the cueing is continuously rejigging the now of movement-moving. You are both dancing the interval of the decisions as they realign your cooking bodies.

This quote from dancer-philosopher, Erin Manning’s, Always more than one: Individuation’s Dance is a beautiful description about why it is a joy to cook with people in sync and why it is so difficult to have people help who are not in rhythm. I can imagine this dance is choreographed, perfected and fine tuned in professional kitchens. I wonder if there is a video of a professional kitchen dance somewhere like the early 20th century American and German efficient kitchen movement studies?

I’m lucky to have a partner who “dances the interval of decisions” with me so well and senses when to stand aside, ready to support with washing dishes or chopping. A certain generosity of spirit is demanded of those willing to adjust to the rhythm and lead of another in order to truly help in the kitchen. To be able to cook with someone is perhaps a greater test than being able to eat with someone. I’m not sure how to interpret this passage related to anxious dogs, i.e. Oreo, our dog who eagerly waits for a scrap to fall, constantly adjusting, cueing, rejigging….don’t know if he’s a better dancer or worse. Who is your favorite cooking partner? Why?

Hannah Arendt’s Cherries and Cigarettes

Last night I watched the 2012 Hannah Arendt movie about her coverage of the Eichmann Trials and its subsequent public reaction. The movie depicts her own struggle to take public responsibility for her thoughts about thoughtlessness (i.e. banality) at the root of evil.  In an age where opinion polls, consumer reports and endless reviews easily replace ownership of personal thoughts and responsibility, Arendt’s call to think for oneself seems so simple, yet so impossible.

Here is a blog post from the Arendt Center that talks about Arendt’s love of philosophical debate over bowls of cherries and her love of cooking. Now, I will always think of Hannah Arendt as I, the ever hungry philosopher eat cherries. Hope you do too.

I won Hannah [Arendt] at the Ball with a comment made while dancing, that loving is that act by which something aposteriori–the by-chance-encountered other is transformed into an apriori of one’s own life. –This pretty formula naturally has not been confirmed.

—Günther Anders

In honor of Valentine’s week, we offer this account of Günther Anders courtship of Hannah Arendt. The quotation is taken from Günther Anders book, Die Kirschenschlact: Dialoge mit Hannah Arendt (The Cherry Battle: Dialogues With Hannah Arendt).  The Cherry Battle is an extraordinary window into Arendt’s early thinking.

I am always wary reading a book of biographical or personal content about Hannah Arendt. Her life is fascinating. I am always on guard against the seductive danger of reading too much of her biography into her work. And wow is this a riveting read.

Anders was Arendt’s first husband. A fellow Jew, they met in Martin Heidegger’s lecture hall where they both heard lectures on Hegel’s Logic and participated in a seminar on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Arendt, at the time in love with their Professor, had little time for Anders (who went by his family name Günther Stern). Five years later, in 1929, they met again at a masked ball in Berlin, where he spoke the above words to Arendt while dancing.

Arendt and Anders were married not long afterwards and moved to Drewitz (now Potsdam) where they tried to make lives for themselves as independent writers. It was there, on the balcony of the apartment they sublet, that Arendt and Anders would eat bowls upon bowls of cherries.

We sat across from each other on the tiny balcony, between a colossal basket of cherries; on the left and right were empty marmalade jars, for we pitted the black, plump fruit, in order to cook it—what for her was a great joy, like cooking in general, which she mastered even as well as philosophy. We put the pits in one jar, the fruity flesh in the others. And always a few in our mouths—especially [Hannah], for she was just as desirous of cherries as she was of cigarettes…

Aside from Arendt’s passion for cherries, there is much to learn from Anders’ account of their early conversations. This is true even though the book is a reconstruction, part truth and part fantasy. As he writes, the dialogue itself is real (as is the scene of the cherry battle), but the words themselves are “just as much poetry as truth.”

The topic of the dialogue is one that would occupy Arendt and Anders both for much of their lives: “The Irrelevance of Mankind.” That is Anders formulation. What comes through in this magical dialogue is the joy in thinking and sparring by two young and gifted thinkers (Arendt was 22-23 at the time, Anders around 30). They punch and counterpunch, Anders taking up the Darwinian and scientific position that man is, in the end, merely one creature among others, not special or particularly relevant in any way. Or, as Arendt asks him, astonished: “You mean we are fully irrelevant? And unknown? And purely busybodies, things with no sense? Metaphysical busybodies?”

Arendt is, in Anders’ words, “too Jewish” to concede that human beings were simply “pieces of the world.” The world was, and remained for Arendt,  “created for mankind.”

At one point Anders insists: “we are simply not mature enough to concede the fact of our cosmic irrelevance; that we are too cowardly and possess too little civil courage to learn to accept that which has been that human modesty that follows from Copernicus.”

Arendt counters that all species think of themselves as the center of the world, to which Anders parries: the fact that we share a defect with other species does not make us better than they. To be met with what Anders calls Arendt’s “winning argument”: “Naturally not. But perhaps we are the only species that is conscious of this defect; that at the least has a monopoly on the insight into its non-monopoly position.”

We’ll have a full review of Die Kirschenschlacht: Dialoge mit Hannah Arendt before long. For now, just think, it is only a few months before the cherries are ripe.



Chopped and Blended: Cooking for my modern family


This summer marks the third year of our blended family adventure. The family dinner has been the locus of both frustration and joy. In our case, we negotiate complex fluctuating schedules that involve cooking for three half the time during the school year, for five the other half and occasionally six (when my college kid visits). We have yet to cook for each other on the rare occasions when its just the two of us. That topic may be a future series entitled, “The Raw and Well Preserved.” Complicating the logistics of groceries and preparation, we also bring with us two very different cooking traditions. mine, South Asian (Bengali) and Jim’s, Southern. Which means, I crave spice and he craves sweet. This basic difference only begins to map the gastronomic battleground that is our dinner table that also includes four daughters with divergent taste profiles. What is a cook to do?

Here is my developing three-pronged strategy. I’d love to hear yours.

  • Do not take any food preferences as a judgment and respect each member’s flavor profile.
  • Deconstructed dinners are your friend. Fajitas, burgers, pasta…anything that can have multiple toppings. Similarly, condiments are required to personalize each dish.
  • Left-overs can make a wonderful buffet or the basis for a recreated and re-purposed dish.

Despite these efforts there are dinners that fail to satisfy everyone. I’ve accepted the inevitability and the evenings of resignation that involve the phrase “let’s just eat out.” My efforts have not been futile. There have been a few good meals that we all shared and enjoyed together. Most importantly, I learned a lot about each of my loved ones. Learning their flavor profiles help me anticipate their reactions and makes my cooking deliberate. Gastronomic profiling certainly has the potential of being abused. Like, telling my 19 year old…”but you loved chicken nuggets and baked potatoes when you were 4.” On the other hand, it can be a working guideline, just like recipes. When judging recipes, I look at which flavor profiles are met or not met and change the recipe accordingly. Cooking becomes a form of user centered design and object oriented attention to ingredients. Let me explain what I mean by flavor profiles and preferences. My family consists of the following profiles: milk, eggs, bread, meat, eggplant and calamari. (of course, there are lot of cross overs and blending of preferences)

Jim (aka MILK) enjoys anything with the smooth rounded umami feel of cream. His preferences lean towards the salty and sweet. Oreo shakes, steaks, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, lemon bars, barbeque sauce on anything. To “Jimmify” a recipe, I add cream. Cream for Jim has the power to transform a curry from a foreign adventure to familiar comfort. Thai curries with coconut milk, alfredo sauce (no pesto for Jim), chicken marsala with mashed potatotes, Indian butter chicken all these have the common denominator of a smooth silky taste.

I have always had a deep love of eggs, whether scrambled, fried, made into a custard, salty, spicy or sweet. After a hard day, I console myself with a fried egg on buttered toast with guava jelly. I enjoy bright lemony flavors. Vegetables. Broccoli is my friend. Spice and heat make me feel alive. Three days of bland food leaves me depressed. I have a love/hate relationship with desserts. I prefer the last bites of my meal to be spicy.

Calamari is one of the last things I ate with my eldest daughter home from college. She sets a very high bar. Every bite for her should aspire to contain a rainbow of flavors. She’s a fan of the refreshing and hearty combo. Burgers with layers of flavors. Tapas style dinners. Dinner plates that offer a range of taste from salty, crunchy, acidic, creamy etc. Aiming for diversity and choice, she is my most adventurous eater. When she visits, I try to have a mix of new and familiar dishes, a mix of cultures, a mix of flavors. Fried Calamari with a dipping sauce, has the elements of chewy, savory, crunchy, creamy, lemony that befits her.

Eggplant represents my second daughter who is the only kid I know who really and honestly enjoys vegetables. Eggplant, broccoli and green beans are her favorite. I’m so in awe of her. She will eat eggplant cooked any style, Indian, Italian, Greek, Thai….Her flavor profile includes clean bright flavors of vegetables, sushi, lentils, as well as savory lamb, goat, eggs, shrimp, lobster, all Asian flavors, Indian food. She will try anything as long as I describe it to her first. Like me, she tires of bland food and left overs.

Meat represents my daughter from another mother. She is my simple eater. Chicken, steak, shrimp, pasta, rice with no spice, no sauce or gravy. Her major food groups are burgers, bacon, cinnamon rolls, Bertolli’s Chicken Florentine and peanut butter sandwiches. She likes her meals to be predictable and consistent. For her, I deconstruct meals by leaving off the sauces and gravies. She’s our minimalist.

Bread represents my youngest daughter from another mother. She will eat or at least try anything if accompanied by bread (and butter). She happily tried beef curry and butter chicken dipped in porota (Indian flat bread). In the past three years she has absorbed the most of our culinary blending.

Everyone LOVES desserts. Brownies, cookies, cakes, lemon bars, magic bars, pecan pie, coconut pie……..anything.

As long as I have something new, something familiar, something starchy, something meaty, something creamy, something spicy and something sweet on our chopped and blended dinner table……….. all is well. It doesn’t happen everyday but on the few occasions when it does….the silence around the table is magic.

This Chopped and Blended Series will be devoted to recipes for deconstructed meals. Look for the first installment soon.

“Something I cooked up”

…..seems a strange phrase to imply improvisation. The metaphor captures the fabricated, responsive, performance of cooking. Despite recipes, despite directions. There is an element of surprise to cooking that is both challenging yet satisfying. For example, yesterday I cooked two batches of brownies (Betty Crocker Mix….I’ll address the use and abuse of prepared mixes in another post). At the appointed time, one batch was almost overcooked while the other was still runny. Same oven, same temperature. Hhmmmm. Assuming I measured and followed directions (which is a huge assumption) I can only guess that the top shelf got too little heat, while the bottom shelf got too much. Now….. know I would’ve needed to exchange the pans half way. Maybe. Maybe the brownies would be runny, or burnt anyway. Cooking is an activity where concept and execution, ideality and reality, recipe and dish are in constant negotiation.  I have often cried, “but I followed the recipe.” As if the failure was the recipe’s fault and not my own. Granted there does exist the occasional bad recipe. Ironically, the only way to test a recipe is to use it, to confront the directions however faulty, to challenge and change the recipe.  Cooking is fundamentally, non-fundamental.  That’s why its so much fun. While my brownies did not fulfill the image on the box, to my surprise, my moment of improvisational rice side dish worked!

I cooked finely chopped onions, carrots, red bell pepper and celery (about 3/4 cup total)  in butter until roasted and glowingly golden. Added sliced mushrooms (a small carton).  Added a cup of left over jasmine rice. Heated all through. Added a half a cup of shredded cheese and about 1/2 of cream. Tossed in a 1/2 cup of peas at the end. Once warmed through the made up rice dish was wonderful with pan roasted lamb chops. Fake risotto. I savored that improvisation. It worked.  I have doubts that I can make it again. In most home cooking, the recipe is an afterthought. Success and failure in the end depends on taste and not a meticulously followed theory. Something we cook up.

What have you cooked up lately? Did it work? What did you do when it didn’t?