CommonPlaces Breaking60 TravelingNotes UU Exploration Belief and Practice

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to own and run a restaurant. As I have gotten older (and possibly wiser) my desires have become more limited and more realistic, and the restaurant has become transmuted into a ring binder, intended as a draft and collection point for a cookbook to be entitled "Daddy Black's Whatever...?"

While such a work may still appear, here is a brief series of stories about cooking and eating, with some favorite recipes.Eating is one of those blessed human activities which can be repeated three, four, five or even more times a day with little fear of boredom or of punishment, except for indigestion and, unfortunately, weight gain. It can be practiced indoors or outside, alone or in company, as a meditation or as an exhibition.With eating, goes cooking, since even the freshest foods require some preparation.

These twin pleasures, of cooking and of eating, are constants for all of us. I have read of imagined futures when food will be reduced to nourishing fluids or pills or colored light: these seem sterile times which I shall feel none the poorer for missing.One of the measures of worth which I apply when I read a novel or watch television drama or go to a movie is whether cooking and/or eating go on.

One of the great attractions of Robert Parker's detective character Spenser is that he, and his friend Susan Silverman, both enjoy cooking and eating. Food is inextricably woven into each of his stories. This echoes the earlier accounts of Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout's rotund successor to Sherlock Holmes. I was always fascinated by the wonderful food cooked for Wolfe by his chef Fritz Haller (as described by Stout) and several years ago, to my great pleasure I found a cookbook in which recipes for all of these fine dishes were, supposedly, recounted.

I've never cooked anything from this book but just having it is a comfort and it enhances the realism of Nero Wolfe.In the same way, food, both the preparation of it and the eating of it, plays a great part in the real life which we each experience. Here are some recipes and their contexts which form a part of mine:

When I was perhaps 8 and my sister was 12, my father Max conceived of a notion that he would prepare the mid-day meal on Sunday. As we ere not churched in any way, I suppose that this was his way of marking off each week and at the same time providing some respite to my mother from the weekly round of food preparation. The later was probably a large issue as she was not particularly interested in cooking when we children were both young and at home. In any case, each Sunday required a cook's helper, who actually ended up doing most of the work, including brewing a cup of tea for Max to drink while supervising. I don't think that any of the recipes came from cookbooks, although we occasionally looked into Irma Rombauer's Joy of Cooking for inspiration or for "rules" concerning various foods. I think that most of what we cooked were efforts on his part to recapture tastes from his youth or from his bachelor days. One recipe, for Pilaff, emerged as a permanent favorite and was probably prepared more times than all others combined. I have tried to cook it several times since and it never seems to be the same as I remember it. Nevertheless, here it is:

Combine in a small all sauce pan:
Chicken bones and skin
Stalk of celery
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and halved
1 small onion
5-6 pepper corns
1 tbls Worchestershire sauce
1-2 tbls water or broth

Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, adding water to maintain constant volume, strain and reserve sauce.

Chop and combine in a greased casserole:
1 cup cooked chicken
1 cup (combined) raw carrots, onions, green pepper, celery, leftover cooked green beans or peas.

Season to taste with paprika, curry powder, salt and pepper.Stir in:3 cups cooked white rice

Top with:
1 can chinese noodles

Pour about 3-4 teaspoons of sauce (see above), over rice mixture, top with noodles, dot with butter, cover and cook in preheated oven @ 300oF for 10-15 minutes.

Remove cover for last 5 minutes so that noodles can dry out. Serve hot with a green salad.


For much of my youth I was ill with a digestive disorder which rendered me quite uninterested in food. I remember long periods of time when all that appealed to me were toasted rye bread and gingerale. I had a very intelligent and humane pediatrician, Dr. Mosher, who suggested to my mother that I be taught to cook (I was already a seasoned cook's helper; see above). His reasoning was that I would sample what was being cooked and absorb some calories that way! I don't know if the strategy worked out but I did develop a considerable interest and pleasure in cooking. This recipe, which was one of my mother's usual standards, was the first main dish that I cooked without assistance for the family. Years later I craved it and had to reproduce it from memory, as I could never find the recipe source. Served with mashed potatoes, it is a complete meal. The name comes from the appearance of the meatballs with rice sticking out from them, much like little porcupines.

1 green cabbage ( 1 - 1 1/2 lb)
1 lb lean ground beef
1/4 cup uncooked white rice
1 egg
1 slice white bread (soaked in milk)
1/2 med. yellow or white onion, mincedsalt and pepper to taste, pinch thyme,2-3 dashes worchestershire sauce

1 16 oz can of whole tomatoes
1 can (unsalted) beef bouillon
1 1/2 med. yellow or white onion, quartered
Chopped cabbage (see recipe)
1 bay leaf
1/2 lemon, quartered
1-2 teas white sugar
1-2 tbls white flour

Separate 8 -12 cabbage leaves, cut out stems, leaving leaf halves joined. Blanch in boiling water; leave in water while preparing the meatballs. Combine the other ingredients for the meatballs and mix well. Mold into 8-12 oval "footballs," roll each in a cabbage leaf (toothpicks may be used to secure meatballs).Combine tomatoes, bouillon, onion, bay leaf, lemon and (optional) up to one cup of chopped cabbage. Bring to a simmer on stove, carefully place wrapped balls in sauce and spoon some sauce over them. Cover and simmer until done (30 - 45 minutes). Take out meatballs (place in warm dish), remove and discard bay leaf and lemon sections. Add sugar as needed (should be a balanced sweet-sour taste) and add flour to thicken to suit. Simmer sauce for 2 - 3 minutes, pour over meatballs and serve. Good the first day; even better as a leftover!

Buttermilk Buckwheat Pancakes a la Moore

One of my friends from early days of growing up in Ithaca, NY is Allen Moore. We were both somewhat odd as children and adolescents (and I suppose still are so today) and as a result sought out each other's company. During our junior year at Cornell University (1959-60), when I was trying to do only experimental physics (to the detriment of my grades in every other subject) and he was absorbed with installing radio transmitters in armadillos (as part of a program in ecology, before the word became fashionable), we roomed with two young men in an apartment on College Avenue. This is one of Allen's recipes from that period, derived from, I think, one of his Grandmother Miller's ones. Very un-PC in this age of low sugar, low salt, low fat, low taste food but still sinfully good, especially with pure maple syrup and butter:

In the evening (the night before), mix:
2 cups white flour
2 cups buckwheat flour
1 qt buttermilk
1 yeast cake (or packet) dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water.

Let stand overnight in a warm place, lightly covered.

Next morning, add:
1/2 cup warm bacon fat
1 - 2 eggs (depending upon size)
1+ tbls molasses (depending upon taste)
1 teas baking powder
2 teas salt

Stir and pancake!(especially good when cooked on a well seasoned cast iron griddle and served with country style bacon)

Allen also taught me that vegetables, especially potatoes, belong in curries. I regret that I have no recipes for his flavorful assemblages but perhaps that is not possible: he never cooked the same way twice and mixed his own spices, grinding them in a small brass mortar and pestle which he had made himself. I remember resenting the variability of his results but as I have grown older it now seems a positive virtue since each dish was as interesting and as tasty as the one before it.

Pera Cotta

In 1971, I began a series of trips to Italy (See "Coming Home" (p.3) which brought me back to Pisa, of leaning tower fame, repeatedly over a period of four years. Northern Italian cooking was a revelation to me since I was convinced, as most Americans were at that time, that Italians all survived on a diet of spaghetti and meatballs with spumoni on Sundays. One food which became my instant favorite was a desert of pears baked in wine, Pera Cotta. I was unable to find a recipe which produced the taste which I remembered so had to make one up myself:

4 hard pears (Seckel or Bosc)
1 cup red wine (burgundy or chianti - I like Gallo Hearty Burgundy the best for this recipe)
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
4 whole cloves

Wash but do not peel pears and place them in an uncovered casserole, just big enough to hold them standing upright. Add other ingredients. Bake for 50-70 minutes @400oF until pears are medium soft. Place pears in individual bowls. Reduce juice to a syrup by heating on stove top - cook gently until ~ 1/3 or original volume. Spoon over pears, making sure that there is one clove per bowl. Serve warm (very good with vanilla ice cream) or refrigerate - will keep for several weeks.I have often thought that this would make a wonderful sauce for ice cream or sponge cake if the pears were to be peeled and cored and pureed in the syrup, but I have never had the patience or self control to do it!

Crescent Rolls with Caraway Seeds

When I was quite young, my parents would from time to time invite one or two couples over for dinner. My mother always, it seemed, baked crescent dinner rolls with caraway seeds ahead and then heated them in a brown paper bag before serving. I have always associated the smell of hot brown paper, fresh dough and caraway seeds with festivity and entertainment. It was a special treat to be allowed to eat a roll before the guests arrived. Some years ago, I made the mistake of making these rolls for Thanksgiving and they are now a demanded, standard feature of both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners:

1 pkg dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup stick margarine
1 teas salt
1 cup warm milk, scalded
1 slightly beaten egg
3 1/2 cups pre-sifted white all purpose flour
2 tbls melted margarine;
caraway seeds to suit

Soften the yeast in warm water. In large bowl, combine sugar, stick margarine, salt; stir in milk, cool to lukewarm. Add yeast, egg and two cups flour; beat well. Add remaining flour and stir to incorporate. Cover, rise in warm place until doubled (~ 1 1/2 hours).Punch down and divide into equal halves. On a floured board, roll each half into a 13 - 14" diameter sheet. Brush with softened margarine and sprinkle with caraway seeds (approximately 10-15/twelfth (see below)).

Cut each sheet into twelve equal sized wedges and roll up with point outside. Slightly bend ends toward wedge point and place each roll on a greased cookie sheet with wedge point down. Cover and let rise until doubled (1/2 - 1 hour). Bake 7-12 minutes @ 400oF (careful: these burn very easily!).

Serve warm or re-heat in brown (unwaxed) paper bag for 5 minutes @250oF. For a richer roll, substitute butter for margarine.

Kentucky Derby Pie

When I went to Clemson in 1988, I discovered many wonderful features of southern cooking. Clemson is the world home of okra (Clemson Spineless is the most common variety found in stores everywhere) but I never developed a taste for it. What I remember the most is Kentucky Derby Pie. I had eaten this for the first time in 1983 in Louisville, KY, forgotten about it and then rediscovered it at the Lazy Islander in Pendleton, SC. Another great pleasure of Clemson was making the acquaintance of and working with Lynda Overcamp. I had had no secretary for years, by choice, and did not intend to begin to use one there. Instead, Lynda was recruited as an ERA (Editorial Research Assistant) to help on a part time basis doing literature searches, copy editing, proof reading and related matters. She fast became both a valued colleague and good friend and one night served this version to Toni and me at her house:

1 stick margarine4 large eggs
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 tbls flour
1 teas vanilla
1 cup (6 oz. package) chocolate chips
1 cup broken pecans.

Melt margarine. Beat eggs; add to melted margarine. Add rest of ingredients. Pour into unbaked 10" pie crust. Bake @ 350oF for 1 hour.

In my view this pie should always be served warm and is especially good with vanilla, or really sinfully, chocolate ice cream.

Quick Paella

In my last semester of university teaching (Fall 1992) I was living in an efficiency "apartment" in Clemson and cooking regularly for myself for the first time in several years. The situation in which I was required adaptation of technique: if I fried fish or used garlic, I had to live with the consequences for several days, to the detriment of appetite. This is a recipe which I invented that suited me and the situation well. More recently I have adapted it to the microwave and expanded the quantities, but that is another story.

1/2 cup white rice
1 1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
6 saffron strands;
pinch of thyme
1 small onion, quartered
1/2 green pepper, cut in strips
1 small tomato, quartered
6 medium raw shrimps, shelled, cleaned and split lengthwise

Combine rice, broth and saffron. Bring to boil on stove top, cover, turndown as low as possible, let stand 8 minutes. Add vegetables, reheat to boil, cover, turndown heat as low as possible, let stand 5 minutes. Stir in shrimp, cover, return to minimum heat for 3 minutes.

Lima Beans

This is an appropriate subject to end these reminiscences with. When I was young I disliked lima beans foremost among all vegetables, at least when they were served as the traditional Fordhook "baby" beans, recovered from the freezer and boiled. But at the same time, I was very fond of a casserole which my mother made on weekends. It was a typical recipe of necessity as we were living in the timeless poverty of the young academic with a family but or perhaps as a consequence, this was real comfort food! She soaked large dried lima beans overnight and then cooked them in the oven for at least 2-3 hours in a sauce containing, I think, dry mustard, brown sugar, vinegar, tomato sauce (ketchup?) and either salt pork or thick cut bacon. Somehow, I never associated the result with the detested baby limas! In recent times, I have often thought of this dish but I have never found a recipe for it among my mother's large collection of cookbooks. Perhaps just as well, since I'm sure the reality of eating it would never equal the memory.