Pantry Raid

My whole concept for this week was going to be entirely different.  I had been basing this post, along with my monthly recipe newsletter, on The Power of Five.  This is my belief that five high-quality ingredients are all you need to make an incredible dish.  While this is true (and it is also true that I don't always follow this rule), today's post is more about the creative spirit in cooking.  And, by coincidence, it follows The Power of Five rule.

My friend Michael - friends since the 5th grade if you can believe it - likes to say, "David can look into my refrigerator and see a jar of mustard, one egg and half a can of flat Tab® - and before I know it there is a four-course meal on the table.  How annoying is that?" Well, annoying it may be, but it isn't true.  For me, the Tab® would need to be fresh.

Today will be a sort of challenge - for me, and for all of you.  Head over to your refrigerator and your pantry.  What do you have on hand?  If you are like many of us foodies, you probably have a stash that would keep you going for months.  (Can one live on condiments for a month???  I vote yes...)  Pick out five ingredients that "go together" and make dinner.  An example might be canned tuna, capers, olives and lemon.  I can imagine the perfect pasta dish with those simple ingredients.  An example of things NOT to pair might be: caviar, fudge sauce, Indian fennel candies and sesame oil (oddly all on the same shelf in my pantry...).  You need to trust your stomach.  If you think a combination sounds good, you are probably right.

I do really enjoy creating from the fridge.  My friend Bunny (who is the proud owner of the Metropolitan Refrigerator of Art) also has a term for this: Inspiration du Jour.  It can include leftovers, condiments and whatever else you have in your cubby.  The thing I find most interesting about cooking out of the fridge/pantry is that I tend to enjoy it more than following a recipe - I love the challenge - and I also tend to use fewer ingredients and they shine in their simplicity.


Cook. Book.

Two of my favorite pleasures rolled into one.  I read cookbooks much the way I read novels - page by page - and they inspire me to cook, travel, learn a new language.  Menus percolate in my mind as I play with colors, textures and flavors.  As happens every year at this point in August, the weather is beginning to shift toward autumn.  The days are drier, the nights cooler.  Instead of salads and seafood, I now have a hankering for robust meals.  Meat sauces that simmer for hours and fill my kitchen with rich aromas.  I am tickled when friends walk up the porch steps and ask before they even step inside, "what smells so good!".

These are the books currently by my bed, whose pages I dog-ear and write notes on.  I fall asleep dreaming not only of food but of a quality of life - simple, restrained, meaningful.  As William Morris wrote, "Simplicity of life, even the barest, is not a misery but the very foundation of refinement - a sanded floor and whitewashed walls and the green trees, the flowery meads, and living waters outside."

What inspires you?

- Doreen


When in a Sicilian sailor's tavern...


... do as the Sicilian sailors do!  Eat caponata! This past weekend, I made caponata to take to a baby shower and, as I assembled the beautiful ingredients on my cutting board, I thought, 'The perfect post for Wednesday...'  When I started that day, I knew the dish as Sicilian but, other than that, I didn't know much about it.

During my research, I discovered that there are actually several different kinds of caponata, each from a different region of Mediterranean Europe.  Like most folk dishes, there are several varieties of each kind probably due to ingredient availability and regional gardening practices.  The Sicilian variety was said to have been called caponata as it was served in sailors' taverns - or caupone.  And it was eggplant and celery... and green.  Or, it was eggplant and tomatoes and olives... and very red.  Or perhaps it had capers.  I imagine all varieties are quite good in their own right but the one I know and love is the red Sicilian variety of my "ancestry."

My ancestry.  French and English.  Sadly, I am not Italian.  But, like John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda, "Sono italiano in spirito!"  I love Italian food - and the importance of the meal in Italy.  Food is not about sustenance; it is about pleasure.  It is so very important in the Italian culture.  It brings people together for hours each day and that time around the table is what bonds the family - and family of choice.  I feel that I come by my wannabe-Italian-ness naturally.  My godfather, Joseph Tolaro, was Italian, his parents came over from Sicily.  I remember his mother from when I was very young, and each memory of Mamma Tolaro is in the kitchen over a pot of simmering sauce.  (In the photo above, she is on the right and Uncle Joe is behind her.)  Her spaghetti and meatballs are among the best I have ever eaten.  And the aromas... incredibile!  So, while not related by blood, I count the Tolaro family as my own.  "Sono italiano in spirito!"


Peaches and Raspberries

This morning I opened my eyes and thought "ahhh. . . Saturday".  One of the most pleasant sounding words in the English language.  Or any language.  There are others, of course - vacation, chocolate, sale (as in the shoes I've been eyeing).  But today, it's Saturday and I am relishing the fact that I can spend this morning puttering around the house.  And getting this very tardy entry posted.  At noon, I'm off to Manchester, an hour's drive west, to have lunch with a friend I haven't seen in many months.  Then back to the seacoast and dinner at Pam and Michael's home.

Last weekend I mentioned to Pam that I was making a fruit tart for my next post.  "Do you need assistance with [eating] that?" she asked.

Yes, absolutely.