Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thank You Nora Ephron

 Chinese Phoenix rising from the ashes - Courtesy Google Images

It was back in the 1980s and I needed a location change after the deaths of my mom and of a three-year love affair.  I moved rather hastily to a picturesque little town, Ashland, Oregon, to make a fresh start. The town’s name seemed to imply a good place where fallen phoenixes could arise from their burnt-out selves. Ashland was home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and many other "off Bard's way" theatrical productions. It had a nearby ski mountain, a local lake, a lush park, vineyards and colorful Victorian houses -- with all this charm I decided to plop myself there for a spell and enrolled in the local college.  My niece, Gretchen (a psychologist), always said that before one of her patients considers suicide, she suggests they simply try moving to a new place and making a fresh stab at life instead of a bloody stab at one’s heart. I always thought this was sound advice and felt that I was making headway (or heart way).

My friend Pauline lived on a little farmstead or what some call horse property in the nearby town of Talent. One night, in my behalf, she rented the movie, Heartburn, based on a story by writer and humorist Nora Ephron; it was great medicine.  I laughed, I cried, I related, and I no longer felt alone and foolish in my misery. A human can heal amongst the people who have shared the same travails. Misery does indeed love company (and being in the company of Meryl Streep seemed bearable). Nora did more for my broken heart with that story than months of analysis. She made me see the ridiculous humor in the most horrific human shortcomings and offered up a dose of hope. Like the itsy bitsy spider – after being assaulted by the rain she gets up and climbs the water spout again.

Years later Nora Ephron cracked me up again with the story and movie, When Harry Met Sally. Here is a classic film about befriending and being honest with the opposite sex, quite a challenge. And many more years later my granddaughter and I watched the movie, Julie and Julia. We loved the two stories that were intertwined and set around the love of food (and a food icon); we could not wait to get into the kitchen and cook something afterward. And how could we forget her powerful story of Karen Silkwood that was brought to life in the movie Silkwood by Meryl Streep and Cher.

Nora Ephron was so many things: humorist, journalist, writer, screenwriter, playwright, producer, director, award-winner, mother, wife, sister, cook, and to me a woman’s woman. She had a way of being honest about the humanness in all of us and making us laugh aloud at our problems and silly selves, all while whipping up a bowl of Pasta Carbonara. This is something to applaud. Last evening, I found out that Nora had died, and I was so saddened at the loss of this amazing funny woman who could shed laughter and light on so many humans and their foibles. What an enormous loss. In tribute to Ms. Ephron, let’s devour one of her books and delight in watching one of her movies. God be with you Nora and thank you for your gifts!

Imaginary Friends
Crazy Salad
The Boston Photographs
Scribble Scribble
Wallflower at the Orgy
I Remember Nothing: And other Reflections
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

Silkwood (writer)      
Heartburn (writer, novel)     
When Harry Met Sally... (writer, associate producer)     
Cookie (writer, executive producer) 
My Blue Heaven (writer, executive producer)
This Is My Life (director, writer)
Sleepless in Seattle (director, writer)
Mixed Nuts (director, writer)
Michael (director, writer, producer)
Strike! / The Hairy Bird / All I Wanna Do (executive producer) 
You've Got Mail (director, writer, producer)
Hanging Up (writer, producer)
Lucky Numbers (director, producer)
Bewitched (director, writer, producer)
Julie & Julia (director, writer, producer)


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sharing recipes, sharing the love.

Sharing Fish by Thomas Cooper Gotch courtesy Wikimedia Commons
There is a unique genetic quality that appears to run in my family, like muscular legs and nice eyes: every blood relative loves to cook—grandmother, mother, sisters, nephew, nieces, daughters, sons, and grand children.  The siblings in my family have often said, “Yeah, our childhood was nuts but the food was awesome.”  My mom grew up on a small farm in northern New Jersey with her immigrant parents and she was raised to be a fabulous cook. There was an intertwining importance that she placed on good food, proper cooking and health, and this “language of love” made an impact that seemed to transfer on to everyone. Furthermore, I was fortunate to have grown up in the same neighborhood as my Home Economics teacher who taught us the simple basics of cooking in 6th through 8th grade. Not only did I have her as a teacher in school but I could observe over many years her strong tradition of cooking for her family from her husband’s garden and preparing the food in traditional nutritious ways.  I was blessed with some great role models. I will never forget in class sautéing thin slices of onions and celery in a little homemade butter with green peas, making “Oriental Peas.” After tasting what was prepared, I started loving vegetables in a way that I never had before. Who knew celery, onions and peas tasted so sweet and yummy together.

When I am feeling a little lost about things in life, my go-to creative place is the kitchen and/or the garden. Pardon the pun but I get grounded outside in the garden and then fulfilled with delicious food in the kitchen.  Another behavior that helps me through any down-in-the-doldrums day is sharing great food with people I love and who love me in return. That said, my niece Vicky and I have been sharing some easy yet delicious recipes lately. One of Vicky’s friends is from Italy and, thus, she has eaten some marvelous food with a great Italian spin at the hands of her friend. She was sharing with me the taste sensation of cooking her friend’s Italian chicken cutlets' recipe and I was drooling just listening to it over the phone. I had to have that recipe—the saliva needed satisfaction. She shared it with me; I was as excited as a dog with a butcher's beef bone. Both Vicky and I cook from the hip, which means to say we sometimes say a handful of this and a pinch or two of that. So forgive me because I had to transfer handfuls and pinches into common measurements when I typed up the recipe to share. I believe it is close to its succulent success.

When my grand-daughter Tay visited on Saturday, we could not wait to fix up this chicken dish. We almost swooned from food passion after consuming these cutlets. What sets them apart, we believe, is the minced fresh garlic and Italian parsley which co-mingles with the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese to make a very crispy crust on the outside yet maintains a tender moist inside. Without further ado I am sharing the recipe and a few photos of Tay preparing Vicky’s friend's Italian Chicken Cutlets.

Cooking the Italian Chicken Cutlets

  • ¼ C. peanut oil or a good vegetable oil for sautéing (unless you have an allergy to peanut oil, using it really puts a "crisp" on the chicken and the flavor is divine)
  • 4 range free/hormone free chicken breasts (pounded thin between plastic wrap and sliced into strips)
  • 2-3 eggs beaten with a little milk, salt and pepper (use a large bowl)

  • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs (your favorite brand --make sure they are fresh and not a few years old)
  • 3 T. of flour
  • ½ C. of grated or shredded Parmesan cheese (I think I had freshly shredded on hand)
  • 3-4 T. FRESH Italian Parsley minced fine (use more if you love a hint of green all over)
  • 4-5 cloves of FRESH garlic minced (use more if you love garlic)

Soaking chicken tenders in egg mixture

Rinse chicken breasts in water and dry lightly with paper towels. Place one breast at a time between two large pieces of plastic wrap on a flat surface and pound them with a rolling pin until they are of even thinness. You can get some angst out pounding away at chicken breasts. Next, slice the breasts into thin strips about 1 ½ inches wide. Place chicken strips into the bowl containing the egg mixture and let them sit there for about 20 minutes to ½ hour.

Meanwhile, while chicken is taking an egg soak, on cutting board mince up the fresh garlic and parsley. Next, combine garlic and parsley together with the rest of the ingredients (breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and flour) in a wide casserole type container, I used a glass casserole dish. Make sure the garlic, parsley and cheese are spread evenly throughout breadcrumb mixture which will coat the chicken strips.

Dip egg soaked chicken into breadcrumb/cheese/garlic mixture

Here is the fun messy part. Take a few strips of chicken out of the egg mixture and roll them around in the breadcrumb/cheese garlic mixture and set aside until all pieces are well coated (see photo above). Heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium/high heat until a drop of water skitters across the pan and sizzles. Fry about 4-5 chicken strips at a time (this keeps the oil at a good high temperature) for about 3 minutes per side (the length of time depends on your stove -- my gas range transfers heat differently than an electric range).
Sauteing until golden brown and crispy
Transfer the cooked strips onto a cookie sheet and place in a 250 degree oven to keep warm until all of the chicken is cooked. Look for a golden crisp crust on outside but still moist and tender inside. The chicken will continue cooking in oven. Do not overcook! We served them with fluffy mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and fresh carrots. Too die for delicious!
Seconds anyone? Nope they did not last - yummy
I guess Pillsbury was right with their slogan "nothin' says lovin' like something from the oven."

Monday, June 4, 2012

June is a Rosey Time

My Zephirine Drouhin - she is a sweetie
A sepal, petal, and a thorn
Upon a common summer's morn—
A flask of Dew—A Bee or two—
A Breeze—a caper in the trees—
And I am a Rose!
- by Emily Dickinson

My sister adores Emily Dickinson but abhors roses. I certainly can understand why some people might not want to lovingly embrace this flowering plant. Roses can be beautiful with their intoxicating fragrance and velvet-like petals in copious colors and edible seed pods (rose hips) rich in Vitamin C; but with sharp sickle-shaped prickles aligning their canes, they can be quite uncomfortable to be around. They are like that handsome yet unapproachable person you had a crush on in college—every time you tried to get near that person you were stung by their cruelty.

Since roses do need to be pruned (removing old blackened canes to inspire newer growth), handling their thorny branches can be about as much fun as sticking pins in oneself.  In addition, the ubiquitous hybrid tea roses are very “high maintenance;” like a spoiled fairy princess, they require constant attention (deadheading, fertilizing and debugging). This much work for a pretty bud just doesn’t appeal to me. So I get that some people just don’t go for roses. What if we could have the beauty without the bane?

Some years ago I worked for a large rose company, and since I enjoyed learning about all things botanical, I spent my time there absorbing the good, bad and ugly of the genus Rosa. I fell in love with hardier roses—roses that are on their own root stock and survive with a minimal amount of fuss or bother. Many antique and heirloom roses fit this description. I also learned there are exceptions to most rules in the world of flora—not all roses have thorns. There is a rose that offers hefty hardiness along with ever-blooming beauty, powerful perfume, and the pièce de résistance—it is thornless! The name of this rose is “Zephirine Drouhin,” a “Bourbon” rose that traces its origin to France in 1868. It is a lovely deep pink and can climb up to 12 ft. You can safely get close to this one without getting hurt and you will swoon over its perfume.  Bourbon roses are rumored to be a cross between an “Old Blush” China rose and the "Autumn Damask."  The hybridization brought together the cold-hardiness and repeat-blooming of the Chinese rose with the strong fragrance of the rangy Damask rose. It was a good marriage.

After growing many roses in my western garden I found a few thornless roses you may want to try along with a little trick of the trade.  If your roses do succumb to the common blackspot fungus or powdery mildew (usually due to sprinkler systems rather than high humidity), try this safe inexpensive remedy:
Zephirine Drouhin on June 1

Blackspot Recipe:
1 quart of water
1 Tablespoon of baking soda 
2-3 drops of dish soap

Mix well and spray on the leaves. The fungus does not like the alkaline environment created by the baking soda—the dish soap helps the formula stick to the foliage.

A list of my favorite thornless roses below:

  • Cecile Brunner - another antique (1881) rose; it is a vigorous climber with a multitude of small light pink blooms.
  • Goldfinch - a buttery yellow abundant bloomer, flowering in late spring/early summer. 
  • Mme. Plantier - an Alba rose with a peachy-white double bloom.
  • Mme. Legras de St. Germain - a pure white and very fragrant Alba rose reminiscent of a camellia.
  • Zephirine Drouhin - see above.

Colorado, with its ubiquitous sunshine and dry climate, is great for growing roses and one can find wild roses blooming along the banks of Cherry Creek and the High Line Canal right now. If prickles (or what most folks call thorns) were keeping you away from roses, try a “thornless” rose.  They are exceptionally easier to love.