Tuesday, March 30, 2010


After so many years as a caregiver there is nothing new about a crisis occurring, however each one is a unique event.  The challenge is finding the inner strength to be able to remain logical.  Panic is the natural first response and that is human.  The difficult part is pulling back from the panic in order to assess the situation. That is a tall order.  When you find a loved one in a compromised situation emotions fight hard to win the battle over common sense.

This week has been a difficult one.  My mother is having a medical crisis. I am sleep-deprived.  Even when my mother is resting comfortably it is difficult for me to sleep because I am regularly checking in on her to take her temperature, adjust her position or just to satisfy myself that she is breathing normally.

"It is truly said: It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires great strength to decide what to do." 
chow ching

At any given time there is a whole list of symptoms and manifestations which are part of my mother's health repertoire.  Some are more serious than others but all need to be monitored.  Even on the best of days when my mother is in good health, she is still an 89 year old patient in late stage Alzheimer's so no symptoms are taken lightly.  In the past several days the "perfect storm" developed.  At first I noticed the mildest of symptoms had arrived.  When my mother is not feeling well she holds her contracted leg very tightly to her body.  I did some physical therapy in an attempt to loosen the stiffness for her.

The next symptom to arrive was lethargy.  Normally Adelaide is awake and alert most of the day.  She smiles when she sees people.  She eats and drinks robustly.  She never cries out or whines.  Now she presents as exhausted.  She eats and drinks but struggles to stay awake long enough to finish.  Smiles are scarce.

I know something is "brewing" so I am vigilant.  I keep close track of fluid intake and bodily functions.  

I have a remarkable dog.  He's a loving golden retriever named Mickey.  He's quite old now but completely devoted to Adelaide.  He is very in tune to her health.  In the past he has woken me up to alert me that my mother was having a seizure in time for me to get 911 to the rescue.  An event that I might well have slept through until it was too late.  My friends and I affectionately call the pooch "Nurse Mickey".  

Nurse Mickey was on full duty this week.  He remained at my mother's side 24 hours a day except for the necessary visits to the food bowl and brief trips outside.  Normally Mickey sleeps with me but not when he senses a problem with Adelaide.  I am convinced that he can smell infection in her system.  He's never been wrong and I have full faith in him.

Next symptom to arrive was fever.  My mother woke me up by moaning and when I checked in on her she was HOT.  When my mother has a fever it puts me on edge.  I don't like to see her so red and uncomfortable.  It worries me.  I get the cold compresses and begin giving her Tylenol but these things take time.  

Stiffness, lethargy, fever and Nurse Mickey's concern: I know this is a urinary tract infection.  Luckily we have antibiotics on hand because she is prone to infections.  In the past, when we had a less cooperative doctor, these symptoms would land us in the hospital emergency room for hours of tests followed by a diagnosis of urinary tract infection.  

Visits to the ER will be another entire blog at some point.

I started the drug regimen in hopes that she will respond quickly.  Meanwhile the other sure sign of urinary tract infect has presented itself and my mother is holding her urine for stretches of up to 14 hours.  "Come on drugs, work your magic."  I push fluids on her.  

"When someone tells me there is only one way to do things, it always lights a fire under my butt. My instant reaction is, I'm going to prove you wrong!" 
picabo street

What followed next was no one's fault except bad timing and my temporarily giving in to fear.  Adelaide's wound care doctor came for his weekly visit.  He hasn't experienced my mother in crisis before.  She was throwing a fever and lethargic and he was, of course, concerned.  I'm glad that he shows concern for my mother's well-being.  Over the years there have been health providers who lacked concern.  

I explained that she had been ill for a couple of days and that she was on her antibiotic.  He was worried that her infection might be more serious.  He checked her wound and deemed that to be OK so we didn't think the infection was from that.  He did however say that he thought her overall condition might be in decline and that I should keep a close eye on her because she might need to go to the ER.  We decided to switch her medication to a different antibiotic because he didn't think the current one was working.  This is common for us.  Non-specific infections react differently to different medications.  Antibiotics target different bacteria.  

The wound care doctor left.  Contrary to all of my instincts and magnified by lack of sleep, I worked up a small panic.  I am completely aware of the fact that eventually everyone dies.  I am not in denial but I am also a fighter.  Adelaide is a fighter.  

After a few minutes I regained my composure and re-assessed the situation.  I switched the medication as suggested.  I put in a call to our friend in the doctor's office to alert them of the situation.  I was assured that I was following the right course and that we would try hard to keep my mother out of the ER.  I would keep monitoring the situation and the physician's assistant would come for a visit.

We had a quiet evening followed by a quiet night.  There have been no more fevers so far.  This morning finds my mother alert and far more comfortable.  We're not through with this crisis yet but the signs are cautiously hopeful.  Perhaps we can both rest up before the next crisis.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Pizza Rustica

This is a savory torte which is served either cold or at room temperature and is dense, rich, salty and wonderful.  Traditionally my family served this for lunch on Easter Saturday to break the fast of Lent.  I like to serve it as an appetizer on my Easter Sunday menu.

This is the perfect companion "Easter Pie" to the Ricotta Pie recipe because it uses the 10 egg yolks left over from the 10 egg whites used in the other pie.  This pie is fairly easy to make but it is slightly time consuming and relatively expensive but it is completely worth the effort and cost.

Over the years I have slightly altered the recipe to my taste and because of availability of some items.  I have substituted boiled ham for prosciutto because I prefer the milder flavor and the much reduced price tag.  I have substituted mozzarella for fresh "basket cheese" because it is easier to find.  When buying the salami and ham ask for it to be cut in 1/4" slices.  This makes the dicing easier and more uniform.


2 cups Genoa salami diced 
1.5 cups boiled ham diced
1.5 cups mozzarella diced
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
3/4 pound ricotta
10 egg yolks 
1 whole egg [for glaze]
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
top and bottom pie crusts for 2 pies*


Preheat oven to 400*

 In a small bowls separate the egg yolks and whites. Reserve the whites for another use. Dice the salami, ham and mozzarella into (approximately) 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes and place in a large mixing bowl. Add ricotta, Romano egg yolks and ground pepper and fold all the ingredients to combine.  Divide equally into two prepared 9" pie crusts and cover with top crusts.  With a fork, prick the top crusts all around.  Beat the whole egg with 1 teaspoon water and brush it onto the top crusts.

Bake in preheated 400* oven for 1 hour or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  About half-way through the baking  time check to see if the edges of the crust are getting too brown.  If so cover the edges with aluminum foil.

Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.  

*I prefer to use the boxed pie crusts you find in the refrigerated section of the grocery.  Each has 2 roll-out crusts.

Served cold, this is perfectly matched with a nice glass of beer!
Happy Easter

Monday, March 22, 2010


Have you ever had a nightmare so horrible that you woke yourself up with a muffled scream?  I have a recurring dream that I am in a stream and being eaten by a school of pirana.  I wake up screaming and shaking and then I realize it is real and the "pirana" are a metaphor for the people in my life requiring my care.  That's even more frightening than the carnivorous fish.

"Families are about love overcoming emotional torture."  
matt groening

My mother was one of seven siblings.  A large family by average standards and they were all blessed with the longevity gene.  The first to pass away was well into his seventies and the other two who have passed away were into their eighties.  There are four siblings remaining and they range from 80 to 93.  Not counting my mother, there are two childless widows and the 80 year old baby brother who still has his wife. They live on their own, are in good health and look amazing for their years.  None is what he was when they were younger and to varying degrees my sister and I have to keep tabs on them.

My uncle and aunt are completely self-sufficient and only require some help on infrequent occasions or anytime the television has to be re-tuned to channel 3 so the cable box will work.  They are fortunate to still have each other to rely on and to keep company.

The eldest of the sisters is quite amazing.  At 93 she looks 60 and is still as spry and active.  In fact she is far more spry than I.  She doesn't grunt or groan and boasts that she has no aches or pains except for a little "stiffness" in her hands.  She is a 15 year breast cancer survivor.  She has no plans of going anywhere soon although she has the comfort of her faith and is well aware of the eventuality that she is on "borrowed time".  Her only hint of melancholy is when she talks of having outlived most of her friends.

The youngest sister (85) is also a testament to the longevity genes.  This one is best described as "a character".  She was a cheerleader in high school and 70 years later still perceives herself in that way.  We perceive her more as Baby Jane or perhaps as Norma Desmond.  This aunt demands attention regardless of its form.  She's equally adept at summoning pity or rage.  To be fair, she has a generous and caring side.  She   just has an amazing ability to obscure with her ability to raise the hair on the back of ones neck.

Due to the fact that I have my mother with me and under my care I am accessible.  Naturally the family comes to visit and spend time with their sister.  I'm glad that they do.  When they were just a bit younger and knew where they kept their marbles, they would offer me some very valuable freedom because they could "babysit" my mother while I got out for a few hours.  They still generously want to help but now I need "babysitters" for the "babysitters".

"Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain."
martin mull

OK, so I took a bit a poetic license with the opening paragraph.  I don't have dreams of pirana.  I should have them, but I don't. The old gals are pesky.  [I'm attempting to be polite]  There is this odd phenomenon that I have observed repeatedly.  It seems that sometime past the age of 80, perfectly mature people reconnect with their inner six year old selves.  I don't mean that in a nice or cute way.  I mean that in a way that drives me crazy.  They touch things.  They touch and break things.  My things.  They touch, break and lie about touching and breaking my things.  When they are alone with my mother for an hour so I can buy groceries so I can cook them dinner I never know what I'll find when I return.  Did I mention that they also hide things?  My things.  I'm not sure if it's some intentional game they have invented to torment me or if they're trying to be helpful. I find bowls in the closet with the pots and pans.  I find the dish towel in the living room.  I find butter in the spice cabinet.  

The old ladies think I believe in gremlins or interloping spirits.  They must.  No matter what I discover when I return, they didn't do it.  Ever. Understand that my mother is confined to her hospital bed in her upstairs bedroom.  No one else is in the house.  They didn't do it.  Whatever mischief  "it" is.  It wasn't them.  I refer to them as the "deniers".  Unless I have the most amazing dog ever, I doubt he opens jelly and peanut butter jars and leaves the gobs of jelly prints on the handle of the refrigerator.  I love my dog but he doesn't have opposable thumbs.

Yesterday was an amazingly lovely and rare spring day.  I had to get out of the house for a break and I left the two munchkin sisters alone with my mother for a couple of hours because I was desperate.  I had a terrific, much needed time out in the sun.  When I returned (with groceries, of course) and went into my kitchen I immediately thought that Charles Manson had been released from prison and had recreated his "helter skelter" theme.  I was sure that my family had been slain while I was out because the outside of my white refrigerator, the floor and some of the kitchen cabinets were covered in dripping, deep red liquid.  When I heard the sisters in the living room, over the twelve decibels that the TV volume had been raised to, I quickly snapped out of my Manson fantasy.  No such luck.  Upon investigation, and a little screaming on my part, I discovered the liquid was in fact syrup from the frozen strawberries that had been in the fridge.  

I'm offering a reward for any information leading to the arrest of the offending stranger that must have entered my home, walked past the sisters, escaped being detected by my 110 pound dog and headed straight to the container of strawberries in order to vandalize my refrigerator and cabinets.  Of course neither of the conspiring sisters would "fess up" to being the culprit.  Neither could understand that I would be bothered by a "little accident" in the kitchen.  They did, however, offer to "help" clean up the mess.  I calmly suggested they could best help me by returning to the living room while I cleaned.  I know how they "help". 

I cooked and served these poster women for the Dr. Kevorkian fan club a lovely dinner which they of course criticized in their usual "stage whisper" subtlety.  While I watched [and unfortunately listened] to them eat I tried hard to picture them as they were when I was an obnoxious six or eight year old.  

Indeed, payback is bitch...

Friday, March 19, 2010


Stuffed peppers are a favorite at my house.  The aroma of the peppers and tomato cooking together is seductive.  Even those who do not actually like to eat the peppers will usually eat the stuffing and the sauce.  My particular favorites are the colorful Holland type bell peppers that are available in orange, yellow and red.  The ordinary green bell peppers that I grew up eating are more earthy tasting.  The red pepper has a lovely sweet taste and are readily available at a reasonable price.


3 bell peppers 
2 pounds chopped beef
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dried minced onion flakes
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce 
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups good quality tomato sauce
rice, linguine or mashed potatoes

"Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat."
fran lebowitz


Halve the peppers horizontally [see above photo], remove ribs and seeds and wash in cool water. In a cup or very small bowl, reconstitute onion flakes with 2 tablespoons hot water. In a  large bowl combine the meat, eggs, bread crumbs,parsley, oregano, worcestershire sauce, onion, salt, pepper and cheese.  Mix well by hand until just combined.  Divide the mixture into 6 equal parts and mound into pepper halves.  Place the stuffed peppers into a baking pan and pour the tomato sauce over them.  Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour at 425* or until peppers are soft.

Be sure to use the pepper-flavored sauce over pasta or rice to accompany the peppers.

I recommend a Lambrusco or Sangria to to with this meal.

Italian Stuffed Peppers on FoodistaItalian Stuffed Peppers

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I have always had a curiosity and craving for technology.  I'll admit that I have an inner "geek".  Gadgets, toys, electronics or whatever you want to call them, I see the ad for the latest innovation and I'm immediately taken in. The most recent product seducing me is the iPad which is currently being hyped.  Apple wisely sends out email announcing that you can "reserve yours now" as if it were a limited edition nicknack being offered by the Franklin Mint.

As a child I was spoiled with technology toys.  I was the first kid on the block with walkie-talkies, tape recorders and the newest and coolest radios.  I had an uncle in the appliance business and I suspect that my father was as happy giving these gifts as I was to receive them.

"Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road"  
steward brand

It makes perfect sense that my appliance-selling uncle would have had some pretty nifty technology for himself. Mostly I remember being blinded by very bright lights while he was shooting his home movies at family gatherings.  There was nothing very remarkable about someone making home movies in these pre-video days.  People had been making dreadful 8mm movies for quite a while.  What was different about my uncle's movies is that his had sound.  Like Al Jolson in the Jazz Singer (1927 version), the Lanni clan was recorded with voices! I don't remember ever seeing any of the movies.  I was 5 or 6 years old at the time, but they were part of family folklore.  

I received a most wonderful gift this week.  Of all the technology that I have embraced in the 45 or so years since my first "neat-o" walkie-talkies, this was the best.  It's not the latest Apple product or some new super computer, but it did come from my appliance-seller uncle's daughter.  I was given a DVD.  

I know that DVD is not "new" technology.  Everyone has a DVD player.  Blu-ray is already surpassed DVD in the grand progression of gizmos.  This DVD contains 2 hours of those mythic Lanni Clan talking home movies.  The quality is as poor as one would expect from 45 year old celluloid being transferred to DVD but the content is pure treasure.

The beginning of the DVD is my cousins playing in the pool at the Empress Motel, Asbury Park, New Jersey.  Back in the early 1960's my family always spent some magical summer days in that very pool, overlooking the boardwalk.  Immediately the memories began washing over me.  I was watching Anthony,  Ed [Eddie Boy] and Francine frolicking but my brain was playing internal "movies" of Richard, Patricia and me.  I wanted a candy apple and the smell of the salty sea air.

Most of the DVD is my uncle's family at special events such as christenings and parades.  Even though my immediate family was not part of those events it was fascinating watching this time capsule of family history.  It was like watching scenes from Moonstruck but with people I know.  

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." 
arthur c clarke

At about 1 hour and 40 minutes into the films the setting has changed to my grandparent's backyard in Jersey City and my grandmother leaning out of the window and speaking Italian.  The camera pans down and across and takes me with it.  My grandfather died in 1965 and my grandmother followed in 1967 so I think this must have been 1964.  The last time I was in that backyard couldn't have been past 1965 but it's so oddly familiar to me.  There is a fleeting glimpse of my father and then my mother.  Then other uncles and aunts.  

The setting is humble as my grandparents were not people of means.  They were warm and proud and had raised their four boys well.  The cast, my family, look like they should have been on the set of an early TV family sitcom.  The men were in button-down shirts and my father was buttoned even at the neck.  I never remember him any other way.  The women are polished, coiffed, pressed and poised.  There was my mother, as always, looking like a dark-haired Donna Reed with white enameled earrings and matching bracelet.  

Those of you who have been following my blog know that my father passed away in 1970 when I was ten years old and my mother has only been a shadow of herself for many years due to ever-advancing Alzheimer' disease.  My memories of my father are mostly sense-memories and those images we have on treasured slides and photographs.  Here they are in front of me, animated and captured in real-time.  

Within minutes and with tears down my cheeks the true treasure of my uncle's gadget is revealing itself to me.  My cousin is now "interviewing" the family.  It's Father's Day [how appropriate] and she asks my father what gifts he got and put the microphone towards his face.  Beaming with pride and love my father lists his gifts and I hear his voice for the first time since I was 10 years old.  I knew the voice instantly.  The next cut is to my mother who is talking with my aunt.  It was "mommy", fully animated with unmistakable speech pattern, intonation and gestures.  This was the woman I still see when I look in my mother's eyes and listen to her unintelligible uttering.

Never had technology meant more to me.  This was the most thoughtful and touching gift anyone could have given me.  We take modern technology for granted.  Even our cellphones can take videos.  I'm jealous that generations of people will  have collections of videos of their loved ones to watch when their memories' begin to fade.  I'm just thankful that my uncle had the cutting-edge technology of his day and that I have these 10, forgotten, minutes to treasure. 

Friday, March 12, 2010


St. Patrick's day is here and many of us will find ourselves with leftover corned beef.  I make this hors d'oeuvre for parties.  It's a simple and tasty alternative for those who do not like chicken liver.  


2 cups diced, cooked corned beef
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley 
3 tablespoons chopped dill pickle
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon coarse mustard
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce



Prepare a 2 cup mold or bowl by pressing plastic wrap into it, leaving enough protruding to grasp later.  Spray the wrap with cooking spray.

Put all the ingredients in a food processor with the chopping blade.  Pulse 8 times and scrape bowl.  Pulse until nearly smooth. Press the pate into the prepared mold and chill for a minimum of 2 hours.  Un-mold and serve with assorted crackers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I recently spent an afternoon at the New York Botanical Garden experiencing the special exhibit: "The Orchid Show: Cuba in Flower".  NYBG is a nice place to visit anytime but the annual Orchid Show is always on my calendar. At the close of a particularly harsh winter it is a particularly treasured event.

As you approach the magnificent Haupt Conservatory, with all its gleaming glass, you know you're about to step into an altered reality.  As you enter you are immediately smacked in the face with slightly moist warm air and then you get your first tease of the show you will eventually stumble into.  At once you are welcomed by a tranquil pond filled with architectural details bathed in sunlight and bursting with color.  

At once I was hit with a craving for daiquiris, tostones and Musica Mambo!  I don't know why I hadn't thought to make a corresponding playlist for my iPod.

"Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul.
luther burbank

When you leave the first area you have to walk though the permanent exhibits as you make your way to the special exhibition.  This is normally a lovely walk, full of rich greenery and dotted with flowers, but on this visit it goes unnoticed.  There are throngs of visitors all being drawn to the orchids like zombies in a B movie.  

After you walk though the Dessert Region with all it's sparse cacti and succulents you begin to enter the fantastic.  The last of the permanent exhibits is a 15 foot hight white gardenia in full blossom.  The perfume is unmistakable from twenty feet away.  

As you open the four-door passageway all you see are orchids.  Color is everywhere.  So many orchids you feel like Dorothy in the Poppy Patch.  It is immediately intoxicating.  This is only the the beginning.  

Some of the orchids appear to have faces.  Others look like insects.  Still others merely look angelic.

As you leave this exhibition hall you enter another passageway only this one is entirely orchids.  There are some green plants and palms evocative of Cuba which are used as props.

When you leave the exhibit you have completed a full loop and spill back out to the entrance lobby where you began your journey.  There are benches so you can sit and stare and process what you've experienced before being thrust back to the real world outside.

The show is running through April 11, 2010.  I strongly urge you to visit.  The adult admission is $20.00.  There is a great cafeteria down the path from the Conservatory.  Soon the Spring flowers will be in bloom so you can explore the grounds.  

Visit:  www.nybg.org for full information

*please note all photographs are taken by me, remain my sole property and may only be used with advance permission and proper credit.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


  The path to caregiver can be long and slow as one watches a friend or loved one slowly show signs of decline. It can also be quick and unexpected, brought on by sudden illness or accident.  Slow or quick, this is the most difficult and often turbulent time for everyone involved.  The first hurdle is recognizing and/or admitting that your loved one needs help.  At the same time it is most difficult for the patient to admit the need for help.

There can be a tremendous amount of denial as we begin to see the signs.  At first this is usually facilitated by the loved one's struggle to hide changes in ability.  Vanity, pride, and stubbornness are very strong motivators and during this period they may intensify.  The patient can be very clever at hiding difficulties.  Often the future caregiver is only too eager to believe that everything is fine.

"The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance." 
nathaniel branden 

I went through this struggle for the first time with my own mother.  I was young.  My mother was good at hiding what was happening to her until the decline was too great to hide.  Some bills went unpaid while others were paid more than once.  She stacked piles of mail with the intention of "looking at it later".  She began neglecting her personal hygiene. These things were completely out of character for the proud, strong and proper woman she had always been.  

It took a couple of serious falls and injuries for me to realize that something had to be done.  I assumed the household and financial responsibilities.  With the help of my sister, we tended to my mother's personal chores.  None of this was easy.  There were so many emotional issues involved.  I was embarrassed.  I was sad.  I was nearly overwhelmed.  I learned and grew.  I found a home health aide to come in a few days a week and this made all the difference.

It is around this topic that I have gotten the most questions from friends and acquaintances. One of the most common themes is that a loved one is failing but refusing help.  For a short time while she was in this transition period one of my friends would call me, exasperated that her mother was refusing help.  The mother was living on her own and belligerently independent. Medicine wasn't being taken appropriately.  She fell out of bed.  Meals were being missed.  My friend was worried and frightened but struggling with crossing the threshold from daughter to caregiver.  My advice was that we need to decide when to override a loved one's desire for independence for the sake of safety.  

I remember saying: "you wouldn't leave your kids at home without a babysitter just because they didn't want one".  

There is a fine line between independence and neglect.  We all walk that line and learn as we go.  Some of us  make better decisions than others.  That friend of mine made all the right decisions.  She took charge.  She faced reality.  She hired help. I have see others who have fallen on the other side.

There was another elderly gentleman that I knew.  He also lived on his own.  He was also failing.  He had grown children who lived locally to him but just didn't take on the responsibilities.  This guy was so obviously neglecting himself.  He had become filthy.  He was losing weight.  He was falling frequently.  He was still driving his car well beyond the point of safety.  

I took it upon myself to make sure his children were aware of the situation.  I made sure he had meals a few times a week.  There wasn't much I could do beyond that.  This situation went on for several years.  The children were either in denial or overwhelmed.  Ultimately there was an incident involving his car and they woke up to the reality.  

It took a long time but they finally made the right decisions for their father's well-being.  

"It's not the load that breaks you down - it's the way you carry it." 
lou holtz

Friday, March 5, 2010


This is a rich and creamy, hearty classic.  The aroma will intoxicate you and your family will thank you.  I like to serve this over orzo or egg noodles but you can use rice, pasta or even couscous.


4 medium boneless/skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup Marsala wine
2/3 cup good quality chicken stock
1 clove garlic minced
1/2 small onion chopped
2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon tarragon 
12 ounces fresh white mushrooms sliced
12 ounces noodles


Preheat oven to 400*

Slice chicken breasts in half horizontally to make thin cutlets. Heat oil and butter in large frying pan over medium high heat.  Combine 1 teaspoon salt with flour in a large zipper-type plastic bag and add the chicken, shaking to coat.  Shake off excess flour and lightly brown the chicken in the oil/butter mixture, turning once.  

Remove the browned chicken to a baking dish leaving the oil in the pan.  Lightly brown the onions and garlic.  When translucent, add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes while stirring.  Add the remaining salt, black pepper, tarragon and carefully add the Marsala while stirring to loosen any any bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Pour the contents of the frying pan over the chicken breasts.  Cover with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes until fork tender.  

While the chicken is in the oven, cook the pasta.  Serve chicken over the pasta. 

Pair the Chicken Marsala with a good Chablis!

Chicken Marsala on FoodistaChicken Marsala

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


"Like hunger, physical love is a necessity. But man's appetite for amour is never so regular or so sustained as his appetite for the delights of the table." 
Honore de Balzac

I love food.  I have always loved food.  I have a great appetite for food but it doesn't even have to be about eating it. All senses become involved with food.  I like shopping for it.  I like preparing it. I like seeing and smelling and touching it. I especially like serving it.  

The memories of my life are punctuated by memories involving food.  While other kids were playing "house" I was playing "restaurant".  I would drag my friends and family to sit at my kid-sized formica table in front of my cardboard appliance box which my father had helped me turn into a "take out window".  I had my empty cardboard egg carton and my paper plates and "menu" and I would get to work serving.

As I got a little older, maybe 8 years old, I got better kitchen toys.  Easy Bake Ovens "were for girls" so I didn't even ask for one of those no matter how much I secretly wanted one.  Instead I got a Magic Chef Grill!  It was a thing of beauty to me.  It was a white plastic range with a real griddle heated by a light bulb.  "Chefs" were men so I guess that made all the difference.  Now I could actually cook a hot dog, small hamburger or even an egg.  I was delighted.  Another toy I remember begging for was a "Pretzel Factory".  I liked that but even at 8 I knew that "single purpose" gadgets were silly.  I still follow that principle.  Then there was the "Soda Fountain"!  It was a smaller replica of the old drugstore soda dispensers.  I think you put a bottle of soda in it and you could play "diner".  And I did.

I also had children's versions of baking pans, rolling pin and measuring cups.  I even kept a "spare" set at my aunt's house so I could bake for her and my uncle when I visited them.  I quickly outgrew the miniature versions and moved onto the grown-up ones.

Not all of my food memories are active ones.  There were also passive ones as well.  I remember my earliest vacations with my family so fondly.  I remember playing with cousins, running on the boardwalk, swimming and of course dining out.  It is impossible for me to think of a boardwalk without immediately thinking of the smell of sausage & peppers, cotton candy and french fries.  To this day I can't let a summer pass without having at least one shiny red candy apple on some New Jersey boardwalk.  

There were also the restaurants.  I remember a place in Montauk, Long Island, called The Flying Fish.  It was about being with my siblings, mom and dad, but it was also about the lobster and the Peach Melba.  I must have been 7.  There was a local Italian eatery here in my hometown called Sorrento's.  We ate there often.  I remember big tables, organ music, camaraderie and the smell of garlic bread.  We had lovely shrimp cocktails served in cocktail glasses with a little lettuce, hot cocktail sauce and topped off with one shiny black olive. 

Food, Gloria's Food!

The best food I can remember was at home.  My aunt Gloria lived with us and she was a wonderful cook.  She was the keeper of the family recipes which I have inherited.  Gloria had learned from her mother and I learned from Gloria. I have been blessed with the food knowledge of generations of Italian homemakers. 

As a kid I loved Saturday nights.  That was the night that Gloria would spend hours in the kitchen making meatballs and other treats and simmering her sauce for hours in preparation for Sunday dinner.  The aroma of her cooking filled the house.  To me it was perfume.  I couldn't wait for her to  turn away or leave the kitchen for a minute so I could steal a meatball.  Golden fried, light and so hot I always burned my mouth, Gloria's meatballs were legendary.  I've spent a lifetime trying to reproduce them exactly.  

My mother and I traveled a lot during my teenage years.  We spent summers exploring Europe and Spring breaks visiting one Caribbean island after another.   These were really great experiences and of course exposed me to more and more cultures and cuisines.  It was during this time that realized I had the ability analyze the food I ate.  I was able to pick out the ingredients and preparation so that when I returned home I could re-create dishes fairly well.  

Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I 
remember and remember more than I have seen. 
Benjamin Disraeli

All these years later I still have my same love of food.  I still like to visit new restaurants and sample and recreate.  I'm at my happiest in the kitchen, where I commune with my ancestors, or serving my food to a gathering of dear friends.