Category: Musings




I’m visiting my parents this week and one of the perks of going to Rochester is visiting Wegmans. My family has a long history with this store. In the 50s, my paternal grandfather was the meat, fish and poultry buyer for Wegmans.

My father is a retired plumbing and heating contractor and did much work over the years building the many stores that populated the Rochester area. There are now 95 stores, most in Rochester, with stores in a few other states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts.

When my girls were young we’d drive up to Rochester to visit Grandma and Gramps. Our lunch stop was at the Binghamton store. The size of the store and variety of items was a great way to exercise the girls after lunch and before driving that last 170 miles. When we got to Rochester, more than likely we stopped again at the Chi-Paul store. Every day while visiting we made a trip to Wegmans. And I have to admit I still love visiting the store, often!


They are such an innovative organization. Take a look at the prepared meals. These are fully cooked that require reheating only. They also sell EZ Meals., which are uncooked, portioned meals you cook in the container. My parents rely on both of these services as Mom really doesn’t feel like cooking much these days. They are 90 and still live in their own home and with the ease-of-use and wide variety, they eat well.


Anyway, we were in Wegmans earlier than expected yesterday because the forecast is for two-inches of snow later. We were planning on picking up a roasted chicken and sides. I was reluctant to get the chicken so early; I prefer to get it closer to dinner, carve, and serve. Then I noticed that they offer a marinated uncooked roaster chicken that you cook in the bag — this I had to try!


It doesn’t get any easier. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and place the chicken in a roasting pan, in the bag, stickers and all. Cook for an 1 hour 15 to 30 minutes. Let rest, open and serve. I didn’t realize until I opened the package, they had removed the skin, a bonus as it won’t crisp in the bag. We chose the Lemon-Rosemary Chicken. It was moist and flavorful. The lemon was probably a lemon flavor as opposed to fresh lemon, it was too to be fresh lemon, but still delicious. I roasted some pre-cut butternut squash and Cipollini onions and we also had asparagus. It was delicious and super easy. Another benefit is the aroma of the roasting food, which I love.


As much as I’ve appreciated Wegman’s over the years, these new innovations are a big relief since I live almost 400 miles away from my parents and can’t physically check on them as often as I’d like. I don’t worry about their nutrition or how they manage their meals.

New Cooking School Director and a Fresh Vision for The Silo at Hunt Farm in New Milford

Dawn Leahy is the new Cooking School Director at The Silo at Hunt Farm with decades of culinary experience and world travel. Building on the mission of The Silo at Hunt Farm, Dawn looks forward to bringing back the spirit of founders Skitch and Ruth Henderson, who started The Silo at Hunt Farm in 1968, well before anyone ever thought about a television station devoted entirely to food. The result is a celebrated cooking school, art gallery, museum and kitchen store. It was a destination place in its heyday and still has devoted followers and guest chefs.

Dawn Leahy Cooking School Director

Dawn’s goal is to recreate the dynamic, forward thinking environment of the early years at The Silo. Her goal is to find trailblazers in all aspects of lifestyle to come to The Silo to teach classes not only in cooking, but making amazing drinks, food writing, creating beautiful centerpieces and table settings. She would like to start a book club featuring memoirs with recipes in which the club members read, discuss and cook around the book. The Silo also teaches team-building corporate classes.

Dawn Leahy Cooking School Director

Dawn has a long history in food service starting as a waitress and then volunteering to move up to entry level kitchen positions. Eventually she took a course at the New School to see what she didn’t know and found the butchery course most helpful. Moving on, she catered for ten years before becoming a chef on private yachts. Over the next ten years, Dawn traveled to 40 countries, working on one yacht for seven years.

Dawn Leahy Cooking School Director

I asked her what impact this exposure had on her cooking. Of course, the owners wanted to eat local and that meant becoming very creative in sussing out recipes and ingredients. She loved the experience of visiting the local markets in search of specific ingredients and asking for advice on how to prepare native dishes. The internet was not readily available in general and in some countries nonexistent. When the local markets failed her, she scoured neighborhoods looking at the local vegetation and knocking on doors to see if she could purchase the needed item.Dawn Leahy Cooking School Director

One experience in particular stays with her. They frequently caught fish off the boat for meals. One time they caught Mahi Mahi, which had roe. Fortunately, they had a Japanese crewmate who was aware of how special the roe was and prevented them for discarding it, providing for a unique and delicious dining experience.

Dawn Leahy Cooking School Director

Since the passing of the Henderson’s, The Silo is now a non-profit organization with beautifully preserved 19th century farm architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visit the website to learn more about the history and to see upcoming classes.

The Silo at Hunt Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT 06776

Building the Perfect Sandwich

Tuna Salad Sandwich

Making the perfect sandwich is a creative endeavor. Once you decide what kind of bread you like, whether the crust stays or goes, and if you eat it whole, cut in half or in quarters, you need to decide what goes in the middle.

When I cut two slices from a loaf of bread, I know that the crust will stay on and it will be cut into quarters, not squares, but triangles. My husband is a hard roll with the bread centers removed kinda guy. My farther, who is 88, likes to have the crusts cut off his bread. I prefer whole grain, hubby likes white and Dad likes rye. And that barely scratches the surface of the wide variety of breads, rolls and wraps to choose from.

Tuna Salad Sandwich

Next decision is what goes in the middle. Peanut butter and jelly. Tuna salad. Chicken salad. Egg salad. Cold cuts – roast beef, turkey or chicken (roasted, smoked, spicy, barbecued, honey), ham (boiled, Virginia baked, honey roasted, spicy) bologna, salami, pepperoni. In the summer when tomatoes are at their peak of ripeness, there is nothing like a BLT on lightly toasted bread. Or just a tomato sandwich! Leftovers – roasted vegetables, roast chicken, chili, cheese(s). There isn’t enough room in this blog to list the endless possibilities for sandwiches.

Tuna Salad Sandwich

The selection of condiments is innumberable. Mustard, and don’t get me started on the varieties of mustard! Ketchup. Mayo. Hot sauces. Salsas. Guacamole. Horseradish. Salad dressing. Sub sauce. And on and on and on…..

Most of my sandwiches are crowned with lettuce, which adds a crisp texture and great color. Then some succulent thin tomato slices sprinkled with salt and pepper and thinly sliced red onion. And what is a sandwich without some dill pickle slices! Sometimes a few crunchy, salty potato chips, roasted bell peppers, pickled jalapenos or a different kind of pickle, say bread and butter, garlic, half sour or cornichons are the perfect accompaniment.

Tuna Salad Sandwich

My default sandwich is tuna salad. It’s versatile because it can be plain and simple: mayo, celery, onion, salt and pepper. But, there are also many ways you can flavor a tuna salad. Skip the mayo and use a favorite mustard, try balsamic vinegar, olive oil, mashed avocado. Lots of different veggies can be minced and stirred into the salad, bell peppers, jalapeno, zucchini, kale. Add in herbs like dill, chervil, tarragon, cilantro, basil, or mint. Other aromatics include minced ginger, lemongrass, sprouts, shredded carrots, shredded cabbage (green, red, or Chinese). And finally, let’s not forget the delicious tuna melt!

Tuna Salad Sandwich

Just thinking about it gets my stomach rumbling and my mouth watering! Here’s my go to tuna salad sandwich. I always have these ingredients available for a last minute lunch choice.

Tuna Salad Sandwich



Tuna Salad

Tuna Salad Sandwich

A basic tuna salad with red onion, celery, gherkins, and just enough mayo to hold it together. Slather some honey mustard on the bread and top with lettuce and tomato!

  • Author: Trish Lobenfeld
  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 20 mins
  • Yield: 4 sandwiches
  • Category: Sandwiches


  • 2 cans (3 ounce each) tuna, drained
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 heaping tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1 celery stalk, minced
  • 8 gherkins, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 4 slices bread
  • honey mustard
  • crisp green lettuce leaves, such as Romaine
  • thin tomato slices
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper


  1. Place the tuna in a medium-size bowl and use a fork to break it into small pieces.
  2. Add the onion, celery, gherkins, salt, pepper and mayonnaise with the tuna and stir until combined.
  3. Spread the honey mustard on all bread slices. Top two slices of bread with one-half of the tuna. Lay the lettuce on top of the tuna, the tomatoes on top of the lettuce and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Cover, cut and devour!



Meeting Julia Child

Julia Child

There are so many interesting stories about Julia Child and by her, and I happen to have one of my own. In 2002 we were in DC to look at colleges for Claire. It also happened to be my husband’s
birthday and he wanted to go to Galileo Restaurant, which has since closed.

DC is very quiet in the summer. All the judicial and legislative bodies are recessed and the normal chaos of business is missing. Just us tourists. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was very quiet, we were, however, eating on the early side because my husband is an up and at ’em early morning guy, even on vacation. The rest of us are NOT!

We were seated at a table in a back room, near the kitchen. As we perused the menu, my husband asked what each of us wanted to do while were in DC. He’s a huge museum fan and DC is filled with them. BTW, I’m a fan, but I go through rather quickly, he pauses, reads and studies; needless to say we don’t do much together in museums.

Having said that, my only priority was going to the American Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institute. Julia Child’s kitchen from Massachusetts, completely intact, had been installed that very weekend and I wanted to see it. After expressing my wish, my youngest daughter Margot asked, “Who is Julia Child?” I proceeded to explain her story; how she revolutionized the culinary palette in this country with her first book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and continued doing so for decades influencing both home and professional cooks.

Julia Child's Kitchen

No sooner had I finished this explanation does Julia Child walk down the hallway to the kitchen (the chef, Roberto Donna, was a protégé). My jaw drops and I look at my husband, who had his back to the doorway and said, “You’ll never believe who just walked in. Julia Child!”

She was later seated a couple of tables away from us. I gave the waiter my business card from NYU (Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health) and asked if we could speak with her. She graciously agreed. She was more interested in Margot and signed a menu for her, which I still have (yeah, the kid got ripped off). She was charming and animated, even after such a long day at the museum. Her stamina at the age of 89 still amazes me.

Julia Child

This is one of life’s little coincidences that you can’t expect or predict. The timing was perfect and created a wonderful memory for our family.


Modernist architecture - The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

An example of Modernist architecture – The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau.

My daughter and I took a long overdue Mother-Daughter vacation this summer to Barcelona. It was a brief trip, only two and a half days, but enough to whet our appetite for a return trip in the not too distant future.

Barcelona Street

Typical Street in Barcelona

We arrived early on a Thursday, checked the bags at the hotel and went in search of coffee. Sitting outside at a café, I was struck by the chalkboard menu on the sidewalk. I couldn’t possibly have forgotten that much Spanish, which I took in high school and college that I couldn’t remember the days of the week. Still in a fog from the time difference, I finally realized we were in Catalonia and that Barcelona is the capital and there is a mix of Catalan and Spanish in language, culture and food.

Pan Amb Tomaquet or tomato bread is a Catalan specialty and offered everywhere. Fortunately it’s easy to replicate.

Tomato Bread

Select a thin crusty bread and slice it lengthwise to expose the inside with all its cracks and crevices then cut into individual serving pieces, about three to four inches in length. It’s optional to toast the bread, but well worth it. Pop the cut pieces into a toaster or toaster oven until fragrant. Or, place briefly over a hot grill for a smokier version. Split a clove of garlic in half and gently rub across the warm inside of the bread. Cut a very ripe tomato in half vertically, poke out the seeds and rub all over the bread; a fleshy plum tomato works especially well. Garnish with a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Most importantly, don’t turn your back on these because they’ll be gone before you have a chance to grab one!

We stopped into a chain called Tapas Tapas for lunch one day and weren’t disappointed. We ordered several dishes and shared.

Beef with Garlic

Beef with Garlic


Skewered Octopus

Other tapas we tried included breaded Camembert with a tomato sauce.

Tapas - Camembert

Chicken satay.

Tapas - Chicken Satay

And, tangy Andalusian gazpacho with breadcrumbs for a thicker texture.

Tapas - Andalusian Gazpacho

I am a big fan of the hop-on hop-off bus tours, especially when it’s a first visit to a new city. You get to see and learn a lot in a short time. The option of getting off and exploring something that piques your curiosity and then hopping on a later bus eases the mind about timing or finding transportation. Our time was short and we rode the orange line our first afternoon, which toured the western side of Barcelona starting at Rambla Catalunya, comparable to Fifth Avenue in NYC. This tour took us past the Olympic game arenas, many, many beautiful landmarks and museums. The next day we took the tour to the west with magnificent views of the crystal blue water, sandy beaches and more amazing architecture.

On the last day, we each had our own special request. I wanted to spend the morning at La Boqueria and Margot wanted to spend the afternoon at the beach; excellent choices and a perfect way to end our visit.

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, is a large public market in the Ciutat Vella district.

La Boqueria

This is the oldest European covered, open-air market with an abundance of options including butchers, fishmongers, fruit and vegetable merchants, cheese vendors, and a specialty of the region and its cuisine, wild mushrooms, to name a few. There are numerous places to eat along the perimeter and within the market. We started the morning with a couple of Illy espressos with a dash of cream each, pretty daring for a girl who barely has a cup of decaf coffee in the morning, but it’s so intoxicating in aroma and flavor that it’s irresistible.

Illy Espresso

We circled around the long aisles for a couple of hours. I was ruing the fact that I had no kitchen to take numerous purchases back to and spend the rest of the day cooking and eating.

The season for fruits and vegetables is so much longer in warm climates. I was envious of the plethora of vibrant and ripe fruit.

La Boqueria -

La Boqueria - Cherries

La Boqueria - donut peaches

The presentation of the fruits and vegetables surpassed anything I’ve ever seen before. While everything was eye appealing on its own, what a difference the little flourishes of some vendors made.

La Boqueria - fruit display

This egg vendor really went to town with her display. All the eggs are snuggled in straw nests. Try and decide which kind of egg you’re going to buy!

La Boqueria - Eggs

Emu and ostrich eggs nestled in straw.

You rarely see white asparagus in the States, something we just never acquired a taste for. But it is sought after in Europe and considered quite the delicacy.

La Boqueria - white asparagus

Barcelona is a coastal town and seafood plays a major role in their cuisine. There were many fish mongers at the market, all with pristine displays of a wide variety of whole fish and filets, shrimp, lobster, octopus, cuttle fish, snails and more.

La Boqueria - Fish Monger

These prawns were so fresh; I imagined sautéing them in butter and garlic.

La Boqueria - Jumbo Prawns

If you’re a fan of bacalao, this is the place to be!

La Boqueria - salted fish

There are equally as many fresh meat, game, cured meat and poultry vendors.

La Boqueria - Meat Counter

This poultry vendor had one of the smallest cases, but she was flocked by many shoppers waiting to make a purchase. Always a sign of excellence.

La Boqueria - Poultry

Oodles of fine cheeses that would pair nicely with

La Boqueria - cheese vendor

any one of these sausages

La Boqueria - dried sausages

some thinly sliced jamon iberico (don’t you love the way they package this prized ham!),

La Boqueria - Jamon Iberico

La Boqueria – Jamon Iberico

or a selection from this olive bar.

La Boqueria - Olives

La Boqueria is a one-stop shopping experience. There didn’t seem to be an ingredient you’d need that you couldn’t find here, including spices, and

La Boqueria - Spices

fresh and dried wild mushrooms, a specialty of the region.

La Boqueria - dried mushrooms

Check out this candy vendor. This is better than any penny candy store I remember as a kid.

La Boqueria - Candy Stall

and how cute are these….

La Boqueria - Candy Stall

Margot topped off her visit with a coconut mango smoothie. I think she’s enjoying it! What do you think?

La Boqueria - mango coconut smoothie

The Beach

Next we were off to the W Hotel. Located on the beachfront of the Barceloneta boardwalk, the somewhat controversial hotel is designed to look like a sail, all steel and glass. It’s the modern construction and size that some take offense to. I liked it and thought it’s location suited the design.

W Hotel Barcelona

We weren’t guests of the hotel, but there are many restaurants along the beachfront and a beach bar, where we spent a few “happy” hours!

Barcaloneta walkway and "happy" hour.

Around 6pm, the beach was pretty empty and we went for a stroll. The sand is a little gritty and gave us a soothing foot massage with each step. You can see that Margot was very pleased with her choice for the afternoon!

Barceloneta Beachfront

It was a fast and fabulous few days and I do look forward to a return visit to spend time at some of the museums, restaurants and, of course, La Boqueria. I’m contemplating an apartment with a kitchen!!

Beef with Garlic
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4 to 6
Garlic has a high sugar content and burns quickly; start the oil and garlic in a cold pan over medium to low heat and stir occasionally to brown evenly. The garlic chips can be made in advance, but be sure to save the garlic infused oil to cook the meat. The optimal size for the filet mignon is about one-half pound each. Cut the meat in half lengthwise and then into four pieces.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1-pound filet mignon cut into 1-ounce pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  1. Freshly ground pepper
  2. Place the oil and garlic in a large sauté pan and keep a lowish flame. Stir occasionally to evenly brown the garlic.
  3. In the meantime, season the meat with salt and pepper on all sides.
  4. Remove the garlic chips with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  5. Turn up the heat to medium-high and sear the meat until nicely brown, about 2 minutes on the first side and a minute more on another side for medium rare.
  6. Place the meat on a serving dish and sprinkle the garlic chops over the meat.



Two weeks from today is the Friends of Karen Benefit Gala at the Loading Dock in Stamford CT. Tickets are still available and we have a spectacular Dine-Around Raffle that offers three chances
to win ten outstanding dining gift certificates at restaurants in Westchester County (NY) and lower Fairfield County (CT).

Gala 2015 invitation cover only

This charity is near and dear to my heart. I’ve been a volunteer for ten years and a board member for two, and as it happens, I am being honored with the Sheila Peterson Award this year. The organization has an amazing and unique mission.

Friends of Karen believes that families can remain stable and functioning even while caring for a child with cancer or a life-threatening illness. This belief fuels our passion to carefully match a family with one of our social workers who will serve as a personal advocate, ensuring that they get financial, emotional and practical support; and enabling families to remain stable, empowered to cope and functioning during their health crisis.

Would you join us in our personal advocacy to stabilize families across the tri- state area who are caring for a child with cancer or life-threatening illness?

Dine-Around Raffle Restaurants:




Working in an Unfamiliar Kitchen

I’m out of town at my parents’ home in Rochester, NY. My dad had a fall earlier this month and fortunately his injuries, while serious, are not as bad as they could have been. Prior to leaving home, I had made a commitment to make several batches of biscotti for a fundraising event on April 16th for Friends of Karen called “Bubbles and Biscotti.” This necessitated working in an unfamiliar kitchen. My parents have small galley kitchen and I used an oven and equipment I’m not familiar with. It was an enlightening experience to say the least. I have an electric oven at home and Mom has a gas oven. I use only light-colored baking sheets and Mom has all dark ones. She only has one spatula; it works quite well, which is surprising given its size and age!

Dark baking pan and the one spatula!

Dark baking pan and the one spatula!

Based on this experience, I would not recommend using the dark pans for baking biscotti. These pans absorb heat quickly and I found that the bottom of the loaf over-baked turning browner than usual and creating a thicker, tougher bottom. I wasn’t able to decrease the overall baking time by more than five minutes because the loaf wasn’t cooked through. I also had to decrease the time on the second bake, the biscotti browned quickly and it’s a little harder than I like. I also lowered the heat the next day, but it made very little difference.

Lesson Learned

Recipes give cooking times that can only be approximate. On the first try, it’s best to check early and be sure to note any changes on the recipe page.

I made the deadline, baking 13 batches of biscotti, with a couple of days to spare for shipping!

Blurry (sorry) pix of biscotti for shipment.

Blurry (sorry) pix of biscotti for shipment.


I love biscotti. That crisp first bite, the bitter/sweet contrast of a good dark chocolate, the nutty crunch—what could be better? That’s why I’ve written a biscotti cookbook, which is coming late fall 2018 or early spring 2019.

The word biscotti means “twice baked.” The first bake sets the loaf, and after cooling and slicing, the second bake dries the individual biscotto into a crispy cookie. I’ve made numerous attempts over the years at baking my own biscotti, with mostly abysmal results. They crumbled to dust every time I tried to slice them, and soon my favorite treat had become my nemesis. I was tempted to give up, but ultimately I rallied. I’m a culinary-school graduate after all—surely I could rise to the challenge. After many hours of online research and instructional videos, success was mine! Once I mastered that first batch I was hooked.

A Little Biscotti History

Biscotti are ubiquitous at this point—you can find them in just about any bakery or coffee shop you walk into. But the original biscotti weren’t quite as appealing as the version you now munch with your macchiato. They were flat, very dry, and very hard. They were utilitarian; portable with a long shelf life, making them easy to take on long trips. Some versions could last a year with no noticeable deterioration, though they got a little less mileage on the open seas due to animal and bug infestations.

Prior to the Industrial Age, there were few food resources available to travelers and military troops that were suitable for long journeys. Fresh foods were consumed first, and since there were rarely places to restock, especially for those at sea, biscotti became a standby. The original versions were hard as rocks, one had to dip the cookie into hot tea or a warm gruel to soften it up before eating. I imagine sailors gnawing on these like babies with teething biscuits!

Though the oldest recipe dates back to eighteenth-century Italy, twice-baked goods are not unique to that country. Other versions include English hardtack, Jewish Mandelbrot, the Dutch rusk, the German zwieback, and the Greek paximadia.

Happily, after the Industrial Age introduced canned and frozen foods, the original bland biscotti wasn’t discarded entirely but instead turned into a delightful, tasty treat with the addition of sugar, flavorings, nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate.

Biscotti can now be enjoyed at any time of the day: with a latte for breakfast, with tea in the afternoon, or with a glass of Vin Santo in the evening. They also partner nicely with ice cream, gelato, or sorbet. Biscotti are as portable as ever, so take a few with you on your daily travels!cookies1.1024.IMG_3621

Swine Butchery Class

Saugatuck Craft Butchery, located in Westport, CT holds classes in butchery, sausage making and knife skills. Last Thursday I attended a swine butchery class.

When I arrived, half a pig was spread across the large wooden butcher’s table, all its parts labeled. The class started with a thorough discussion of sourcing, anatomy and a butchering demonstration. They cleared away the butchered pig and I was a little disappointed. I thought it was more hands on. Next thing I know, two new pig halves came out of the meat locker to the table and there were only seven students – WOW! What an opportunity.

Fat surrounding the kidneys is made into leaf lard for pastry making.

Fat surrounding the kidneys is made into leaf lard for pastry making.

We butchered the pigs exactly as the instructor had. It was an amazing experience. I got to remove the tenderloin and clean it “case ready.”

Next I got to remove the hock from the ham. That’s difficult. The skin is tough and no matter how sharp your knife, you need strength. The butchers make beautiful sweeping cuts, mine were hacks. Getting through that skin is challenging and then finding the joint and separating is problematic – I had to stick my fingers in a few times and feel around to find the joint.  I couldn’t see anything until it was completely apart. Once you see how it’s joined together, it makes sense and you can visualize where the knife should go – next time!

Untrimmed pork tenderloin from the demo. My hands were too slick to take pictures of mine.

Untrimmed pork tenderloin from the demo. My hands were too slick to take pictures of mine.

My last task was to use a hand saw on the rib cage separating the loin chops from the spare ribs. I kept bringing the saw too far back at first. Overall, I think everyone in the group had as much fun as I did and we learned a lot. There’s great finesse to butchering; it’s an art to disassemble an animal and not waste or destroy the flesh in the process.

Separating the rib chops from the spareribs with a hand saw.

Separating the rib chops from the spareribs with a hand saw. All the excess fat is made into lard.  This is also bacon.

All scraps go into making a variety of sausages, which we tasted before the class. The kielbasa was my favorite. They make their own bacon and lard as well. Pig’s ears are turned into dog treats – they don’t waste anything.

These guys really like what they do, are friendly and knowledgeable; I look forward to sourcing my meat from them regularly.

Family Dinner

family dinner

I know the phrase “Family Dinner” has become popular with tv campaigns and articles promoting the benefits of families sitting down to dinner at least once a week. But the term has been in our family since the girls were quite young. How we got there was a realization on my part that I was making a BIG mistake at dinnertime….

I was not thrilled about dinner, as a matter of fact, I had come to loathe it by the time the kids were about 8 (Claire) and 3 (Margot). They were very picky about what they would and wouldn’t eat, and what was a favorite dinner one week was unacceptable the next. Milk spilled, food dropped on the floor, and there was little or no dinner

I have a vivid recollection of the last bad dinner – I put their food on the table and left the room. I can still see their faces – mommy is mad and they were unhappy; maybe even intimidated. As I sat in the other room, I was stewing over how awful this situation was and bemoaning the fact that the dinner hour should be an event – eating a nice meal and catching up on everyone’s day.

Then the lightbulb went off. How were they supposed to do that if I didn’t teach them. I had created this situation and my kids were paying the price. So, the next night I made dinner and sat down with them. They were surprised and actually asked, “Mommy are you eating dinner with us?” Wow – that said volumes!

I said yes and that we were all spending one hour at the table. I’m sure they wondered what they were going to do for an hour, but I was prepared. I had paper, pencil, and a plan. With Claire I played hangman and Margot tic-tac-toe.

Hangman is the perfect game for opening a dialogue and keeping the conversation going. Claire loved to read, watch tv shows and movies, and listen to music. Her clues would be show titles or favorite tv/movie stars, favorite music artists or titles of songs. Margot listened and waited patiently as I alternated between the girls. They loved it and we continued it on the weekends with Daddy.

We had a favorite neighborhood restaurant where we went two or three times a month. They had paper tablecloths and we put together a special pencil-case with crayons, markers, and colored pencils. We played games and made drawings between courses. As Margot got older she started playing Hangman and we eventually got to a point where we often guessed the right answer to each others clues without any letters because we communicated regularly and knew each other so well.

The result was that within a short time they loved family dinner, not always the food, but I learned to work around that. It was a time of easy conversation and bonding. When they got to the point where school and social activities sometimes interfered with having dinner together every night, Sunday night was mandatory family dinner night.

Interestingly, they talked about this with their friends and the friends wanted to come to dinner. Another great way of getting to know your kids is to get to know their friends and what better way than at the dinner table.

Overall, it was huge success and to this day, when they come home, family dinner is what they want and I think what they need. I know I do.

family dinner

Mrs. D


My best friend growing up was of Italian descent. My culinary map as a child was pretty much meat and potatoes – always delicious, but not exotic or ethnic, as we are so accustomed to these days. Eating at Mrs. D’s house was different. Spaghetti sauce was “gravy” and you never cut your spaghetti with a knife and fork, but twirled it with fork and spoon. Parmesan cheese was not Kraft, but freshly grated. Salad was a few peppery greens with vinegar and olive oil. Holidays were resplendent with different types of fish and baked goods; never good for the waistline, but oh so good for the soul.

The simplest dish she made, however, one that has haunted me for over forty years, is a simple red-wine vinaigrette. In the traditional Italian fashion, salad was served as a palate cleanser, after the entrée. This was another deviation from my upbringing in which the salad was the first course, and usually consisted of Iceberg lettuce. Mrs. D served her salad in a small cream-colored bowl (tiny in terms of today’s portions) filled with peppery greens, (who know from Iceberg?) and wedges of juicy, ripe, red tomato. I waited with bated breath at each meal, hoping someone, and there were six at the table, would say “No thanks.” It never happened. We were all served a tomato wedge and a few leaves to complement the meal.  The greens were delicate, yet bitter, and peppery. The oil came in a can, not a bottle like my Mom’s vegetable oil, and she never measured, just poured lightly over the greens. The vinegar was red-wine vinegar, again of unknown origin and never measured, accompanied by a generous dash of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

To this day, I am amazed, puzzled, and frustrated that I have never been able to duplicate this simple, but delicious, and obviously memorable, recipe. Occasionally I’ve ordered a salad similarly dressed at a restaurant and will exclaim to my family, “This tastes just like Mrs. D’s!” At those times I am once again sitting at her table. Thanks Mrs. D for the all the good times and great meals!

Vinaigrette Recipe

The closest I have come to replicating her vinaigrette is a ratio of 4 parts extra-virgin olive oil to 2 parts red-wine vinegar with  a a pinch of  kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. For a small salad that would be 1/4 cup oil (4 tablespoons) to 2 tablespoons vinegar.