About This Blog . . . in a word, or two, or . . .
This is a blog about food, recipes mainly, that I find blogworthy. I pass them on, not because they’re good, but because they’re really good. I know they work and I hope you’ll try them out yourself.
I am a home cook who is nuts about cooking. I also love to read about food, write about food, shop for food, talk about food and, of course, eat. I think you get it. Enjoy!
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The Beginning of the Love Affair
It was 1948. My mother used to take my brother and me to town with her. “Town” was Dayton, Ohio. It was quite a trek from our farm on the outskirts of Ft.McKinley so we didn’t go often. First we had to walk about a mile to the end of Haney Road. Then onto Salem Avenue to wait in front of the grocery for the Greyhound bus which drove us about ten miles into the city bus station.
From there we walked four or five blocks to begin our rounds, usually starting at Rike’s Department Store where my mother was to work later on when I went off to college, first in the candymaking department and then in the Coin Room restaurant where a full lunch and table service came to a dollar. We always browsed the bargain basement. My mother carefully avoided the other three more expensive floors. Anything we needed was bought in the bargain basement which seemed to have a bit of everything—a discounted microcosm of the rest of the store.
My mother loved a bargain. I don’t think she ever bought anything that she didn’t consider a bargain. I realized early on that she even bought things she didn’t want or need because they were on sale. Once, years later, she bought a “bargain” electric train set for my newborn son, a gift that would have been appropriate about ten years later.
Stores of Yesteryear
From Rike’s we headed toward other department stores, Elder’s and the Home Store, and finally tunneled our way through all the five and ten cent stores. I was assured that I would return home with a new book of paper dolls at the very least and Denny would be rewarded with a bow and arrow set for having bore with us. Shopping malls had not yet sprung up, not even small shopping centers. And movie theaters abounded.
The five and dime stores were my favorites. There were McCrory’s, Green’s, Grant’s and a giant Kresge’s. Could the freshly made caramel corn possibly have tasted as good as it smelled? My mother’s favorite five and ten snack was the chili dog. Thirty cents bought a hot dog running over with chili and translucent grilled onions. A foamy ice-cold root beer in a frosted mug topped it off for a perfect quick lunch.
The Big Splurge
When my mother was feeling more flush we went to the Virginia Cafeteria. It was the ultimate restaurant of my childhood. I couldn’t imagine more exquisite food or service. True, one went through a cafeteria line but that was the opportunity to drool over all the enticing offerings. To this day, it was the most elegant of cafeterias I have known. Ladies in starched yellow uniforms stood behind steaming pans of succulent baked chicken, flaky mounds of fish filets, creamy mashed potatoes with that rich yellowish cream gravy, hot airy Parkerhouse rolls, mountain high wedges of chocolate cake and lemon meringue pie. We pointed in eager anticipation at our choices and the ladies scooped up portions and passed our plates along. At the end of the line my mother paid the bill (the dinners could run up to as much as two dollars) and a waitress asked where we wished to sit and carried our trays to the table.
After lunch we went to the movies having made our choice from the marquees we had read in our rounds through town. The pickings were lush—always a Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Bette Davis or Joan Crawford movie. My mother leaned toward sentimental dramas. I preferred comedies with Jean Arthur or Cary Grant. Denny didn’t get a say in this. There were Loews’, the Victory, which also featured road companies of Broadway plays from time to time, the State and Keith’s. Keith’s occasionally promoted the last remnants of vaudeville. We never missed a vaudeville show if it was in town. I remember seeing Pat Rooney Sr. on one occasion. He was a very old man but could still tap dance. The vaudeville show, complete with placards on an easel announcing each act was followed by a feature film, all for fifty cents.
Before heading home we stopped at the Arcade, an enclosed marketplace filled with vendors selling everything from ceramic knickknacks to freshly popped corn. It’s the only place I can remember where you could buy fresh fish. My father loved fish. So toward the end of our travels my mother would buy some snowy white filets to prepare for dinner that night in the only way fish was ever cooked in our house—fried. Much later, I learned that fish could be baked, broiled, poached and even grilled. And even later when I arrived in New York City I discovered the wonders of raw clams and oysters on the half shell.
We didn’t take the Greyhound bus home. We took the streetcar to the city limits where we would get off and call my father from Gallagher’s Drugstore giving us yet another chance to browse and shop. He was home from work by then and drove the two miles to pick us up. My father was not a shopper. My mother did all his shopping for him—shirts, pants, underwear, and even shoes. I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t have enjoyed a dawn to dusk shopping trip. He was perfectly satisfied with his good fish dinner.
NYC: Where Could You Learn More About Food?
I became determined to learn to cook well when I got married (as Julia Child said, “Before then, I just ate.” ) and started a family. I wanted to prepare the best for my family and friends, but my skills left much to be desired. Fortunately, living in New York City gave me the opportunity to study with some of the best cooks in the country, including James Beard, Madhur Jaffrey, Diana Kennedy, Grace Chu, Virginia Lee, John Clancy, Bert Greene, Scott Woolley, along with classes at the Institute of Culinary Education, then Peter Kump’s. I have to say I went gung ho, even preparing all the baby food from scratch, especially after reading in Consumer Reports that the quality control of commercial baby food left something to be desired. Besides the absence of the taste of real food, insect remnants were found in the testings.
Enter James Beard
The birth of my first child coincided with the advent of the Cuisinart Food Processor and my acquaintance with James Beard. I remember him experimenting with it like a new toy finding out what it could do and not do. It took meat to a mince but not a grind, he observed. For me, it made the most silky, luxurious baby food. Imagine a chicken breast gently simmered in chicken broth,, skinned, deboned and then pureed to a velvety smoothness. Gerber’s, eat your heart out.
Seeing is Believing
I have many collected anecdotes about the wonderful cooking classes I have taken which I will dip into from time to time, but for now let me say that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a demonstration is worth a million. You may have heard people say that if you can read, you can cook, but I don’t think that’s quite true. How valuable it is to observe a master, to see his technique, to take mental pictures of exactly how thick the batter for a French gateau should be, to see how far you can take whipped cream before it turns to butter and to take note of the wrist and hand movement in rolling an omelet out of the pan.
My #1 Mentor
My mother was a very resourceful person. I don’t remember ever seeing her bored. One of the things she loved to do was make candy and decorate cakes. She loved chocolate as I do. She made hand dipped chocolate creams stringing the tops to indicate the flavor of the filling. She made nut clusters, chocolate covered fruit, pretzels, “turtles,” and a killer peanut butter cup. I’m still rifling through my cookbook collection and notes to find her recipe.
Cake decorating was her specialty. In fact, she made a cottage industry of it. Friends and relatives would order birthday cakes, retirement cakes, cakes for dog show winners, you name it. Word of mouth brought in additional business. She had a delicate hand with the pastry bag. She liked to use pastel colors which always turned out an elegant cake. I remember walking by bakery windows that displayed cakes in bold garish colors. My mother would say, “Would you look at that? Can you imagine someone buying that cake?” She made beautiful buttercream roses, so realistically accompanied by buds, stems and leaves. I learned a lot from her and later from Scott Woolley who makes the most exquisite sugar paste flowers of every kind.
Any Foodie Friends Out There?
Over the years I added a lot of great dishes to my repertoire as well as cooking techniques and ideas about food. I needed an outlet. I loved to talk about food, write about food, read about food, shop for food, cook food and, of course, eat food. None of my friends seemed as enamored as I. In fact, my best friends prided themselves on not being able to cook. I still can’t imagine raising a family and not knowing how to cook. On one of the very rare occasions that one friend tolerated my talking about food, the subject of cast iron skillets came up. I advised her not to use an ingredient with acidity in the skillet. “With what???” The “A” word has become standing joke among us. I am not allowed to use it. She, by the way, has the local pizzeria on speed dial. The husband of another close friend retired early to take over kitchen duties.
Born to Blog
June, 2009–This explains sweetpaprika.com. I can have foodie friends in cyberspace. So we may never break bread together, but WordPress will keep me informed that they’re out there, reading my blog, even making comments occasionally. People from all over the world. Well . . . I have garnered a small following from Slovenia who really like my stained glass cookies. And it’s fun. The photos taken with my point-and-shoot camera are less than stellar although occasionally I get the light right.
April, 2010–I met Bill, food photographer extraordinaire. Bill has combined his passion for food and photography to become a highly accomplished food and drink photographer. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon his beautiful blog, but I spotted his request for a collaborator with “only the absolute best recipes”. I was bewitched by his exquisite photography, and realized what a challenge it would be to work with him. We hit it off and decided to collaborate to enhance both our blogs.
August, 2010– Victor Ribaudo, an amazingly gifted food writer, joined the team. Victor is a Food Advertising Specialist whose passion for food is revealed in his every word. He has dedicated his career to writing about the glories of excellent cuisine. Our blog has been syndicated on http://datingsymbol.com/ We post once a week. I know I wouldn’t be producing nearly as much without this challenge.