90 Things My Mother Taught Me: Part II


Today is Mum’s Birthday in our homeland, where it is yesterday, while I am already in tomorrow, where it isn’t Mum’s Birthday anymore. [Disclaimer: actually, it isn’t Mom’s birthday anywhere anymore. Thinking up 90 things took longer than I expected.]

As promised (rashly), here are the second 44 things my mother taught me, in more-or-less no particular order:

44:     If the Dawgs are behind in a football game, go into the kitchen and they will turn it around. This only worked for Mum, which earned her the nickname “the Kitchen Witch.”Dean Rusk During one of her dinner parties the Dawgs were behind in a big game (which the guests were listening to on radio, because . . . well . . . it was them Dawgs!), Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk (who was a Georgia boy and taught at UGA in his later years) politely picked up Mum’s plate, and his, and ate with her at the kitchen table. Georgia, of course, won.

This was the year UGA won the National Championship. Mum spent the entire 1980-81 football season in the kitchen, but never got the recognition she deserved. Hershal Shmershal.

43:      It is a bad idea to decorate your white dog with red and blue crepe paper for the 4th of July parade. It will rain and your dog will turn purple tie-dye.

42:      If you don’t eat it for supper tonight, you’ll get it for lunch tomorrow.

snoopy1241:      It is important to learn how to type, but only well enough to get a job. Don’t type so well that people might actually want you to do it. This was when they still had typewriters — manual ones.

40:      If a peacock falls in love with you, don’t look him in the eye, or he will follow you around all day waggling his tail feathers in your general direction.

39:      How to knit “continental style”: I didn’t know it was called continental style, Mum probably didn’t either. I just know she could knit really fast, and I can too. Mind you, I rip out a lot more than she did.

38:      Never tell people you love frogs. If you do, you will never, for the rest of your life, receive a gift that doesn’t have frogs on. Also, never tell your Aunt who lives in Milwaukee that you collect beer steins unless you really mean it. If you do, you will reach middle life with enough beer steins to open your own Ratskeller.


Thanks, Auntie June, for all the lovely steins!

37:      Flying coach to Los Angeles, then folding yourself into an overloaded, un-airconditioned Datsun 210 to keep your kid company on a three and a half day drive from Los Angeles to Athens is a supreme act of love. Knitting the same kid a gorgeous sweater in the process is even more awesome.


36:      The stripes on Raggedy Ann’s legs go round-and-round, not up-and-down.

35:      Colored towels don’t work. Actually, this one came from Dad, but it is too good to leave out, as is . . .


34:      There are no roads in Canada, and . . .

33:      You can drive to Manassas, but you can’t drive back.

32:      If you are born on the 4th of July, you will always get American flags on your birthday cakes. And people will ask you if you are a Yankee Doodle Dandy. To get a birthday cakes with no red, white, and blue, you will have to leave the country. But you might still get fireworks.

31:      If you see a flash of white fur followed by a barefoot woman shaking a raw piece of bacon shouting about Russian Dumplings, it’s just Mum trying to catch the dog.


The noble, and fleet of foot,  Piroshki with Miss Peanut

30:      Don’t leave any complicated cooking until the last minute, because parties always end up with everyone in the kitchen. Besides, the whole point of inviting folks round for dinner is to enjoy their company.




29:      Make friends with old people, they have interesting stories to tell you. I’ve had several adopted Grandmas over the years and my life was richer for it. I am now an old person. I am available for adoption.

28:      Edna Shakleford will never, ever give you the recipe for her Coconut Cake to die for. Make a pitcher of martinis and get over it.

27:      Bake Christmas Stöllen because: 1) it is a family tradition; 2) they are sort of like fruitcake, but people actually like them, and 3) people will be so grateful they will give you Christmas cookies that you can, later, pretend you baked. This saves you the onerous job of baking Christmas cookies.

26:      It also helps to have two sisters who bake wonderful Christmas cookies.

25:      Janice’s nutmeg logs are the best cookie ever, closely followed by Anita’s cranberry bark, which, technically, isn’t a cookie.

24:      When the rabbit starts running around in his hutch, you have about five seconds to get the freezer door open.



23:      Your kid will get potty trained eventually. Make a pitcher of martinis and don’t stress out.Then you can smile knowingly when a visiting neighbor’s little boy walks up to you and says, proudly: “Look! I made a poo-poo” and presents his mother with a perfect turd.



22:      When your daughter declares she might want to join a convent, make a pitcher of martinis and roll with it. The phase will pass.

21:      When your daughter takes an overdose of sleeping pills and lands in a psychiatric hospital on suicide watch, hug her a lot and tell her you love her. The phase will pass.

20:      When the troop leader tells your daughter that she has to sell two cases of Girl Scout Cookies, just buy them all and put them in the freezer. Added bonus: you will have something to fall back on if the stöllen-for-Christmas cookie scam doesn’t work.


19:      When the Band Director tells your kid that she has to sell four cases of Drix, just buy them all and put them in the freezer.

18:      When your kid melts her band hat by using it as a lampshade, don’t make her feel any stupider than she already does. Try to fix it by stuffing it with newspaper, then own up to the Band Director.65272_10151352831074442_1906667689_n

17:   Don’t use your husband’s royalty check as a bookmark unless you are sure you will remember which book you marked with it.

16:      1044516_10151782269223410_365771569_nGathering about 10,000 yards of raspberry pink sating for a bridesmaid’s dress is a way to spend a weekend, but not much of one. But you do these things for your best friends, and your kid’s best friends.

15:      When stealing peas from your mother’s garden, if you tell your brother that the shells are the best part, then you get to eat all the peas.


Mom and her brother Billy, who ate all the pea pods

14:     When your husband convinces his star graduate student to partake of a martini and radish and onion sandwich binge, legendary hangovers will ensue. Be on standby with Alka-Seltzer.

13:      Major Professors can convince their students to do just about any damn stupid thing.

12: During USMC Japanese Language School reunions, legendary hangovers will ensue. You will see a side of your husband/Dad that you never even suspected. And you will have a great deal of fun.


11:      Bunion surgery really sucks. Wear sensible shoes.sensible shoes

10:      If God intended for you to walk with bunions, he wouldn’t have made teenage daughters with driver’s licenses.

9:         You can wear white shoes any damn time you want to. Particularly if they are sneakers. Especially Chucks, which are even cool in Venice.


8:         Homemade gifts are the best. No one will remember that Pet Rock they got for Christmas in 1972, but they will still have, and love, the Raggedy Ann you made them with the stripes going the wrong way, the Amish dolls you made one year, the Mother Geese (Gooses?) you made another year. You daughter will keep, and cherish the Pooh, Tigger, and Paddington Bear you made her. When she lives in New Zealand, she will think of you, and miss you, every time she sees them – worn and well loved as they are.IMG_0109

7:         Kneading bread dough is better than therapy, and cheaper.

6:         Always write Thank You notes. Right through the 1980s and 1990s, everyone who donated money to the Athens Area Emergency Food Bank got a handwritten Thank You note written by Mum. And most of them donated more money, and received more Thank You notes. Mum was gracious and generous.missions_foodbank

5:         Good people fall on hard times. No one should go hungry because they can’t afford to buy groceries. And no one should judge. It could be you next time.

4:         You can change the world with a telephone, index cards, and a roll of stamps. I’ve seen it happen. Mum did it, right from this chair:


The Command Centre


3:        Mom to Simon: “Are you sure you want to marry her? She’s trouble with a big T!”



2:         Crossword puzzles are good for your brain. CCI06072016_6







1:         You were a beautiful soul, loved by many, and you are deeply missed. Happy Birthday, Mum!


The Fourth Cookbook of Christmas: Mediterranean Harvest


It’s Tuesday. I need to use up the two pounds of asparagus I bought at the market on Saturday. My plan to pickle it has been foiled by my inability to find dill seed in the Hutt Valley. (This year, I’ll remember to hang on to the end-of-summer dill flowers.) So, I just whipped up a batch of fresh pasta to make Asparagus Pasta with Herbed Béchamel, a recipe from one of my all-time favourite cookbook authors, Martha Rose Schulman. Under the circumstances, it seems appropriate that today’s cookbook recommendation is her Mediterranean Harvest: Vegetarian Recipes from the World’s Healthiest Cuisine (Rodale, 2007).

While I consider myself a culinary adventurer when it comes to trying new cuisines, I must confess that my heart lies in Italy. For me, food is merely a delivery system for olive oil and garlic. One of the very first cookbooks I ever bought was a Gilroy Garlic Festival cookbook. Schulman’s recipe for garlic broth — which, I promise, tastes almost exactly like chicken stock — is worth the price of the book all on its own. It’s my failsafe for when I need vegetable stock and the freezer is bare. It’s also a good way to use up slightly past its prime garlic. You know, the ones with the green shoots about an inch long. As my Dad used to quip, no one needs to worry about vampires at my house.

Come to think of it, though, I’m also quite fond of vampires. REAL vampires — Dracula, Lestat, Barnabus Collins, and Spike — not today’s domesticated, broody teenage angst vampires. Which reminds me, you must immediately get on Netflix and add What We Do in the Shadows to your watch list. It is the perfect marriage of old-world Vampires and new world New Zealand. Nosferatu meets The Flight of the Conchords. It will make you want to move here, just for the vampires. And the werewolves. And there really was a bar called The Big Kumara, but it’s closed now. Sorry.


Now, where was I?

Mediterranean cuisine is among the most vegetarian-friendly in the world, given its emphasis on fresh ingredients and simple preparations. Mediterranean Harvest is by no means limited to the food of Italy. It includes recipes from around the greater Mediterranean region: Algeria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Egypt, France, Greece, Iran, Italy, Lebanon, Morocco, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. The book is organised topically — Breads, Little Foods, Pasta, Sweets, etc. — rather than geographically, but there is a list of recipes by country in the back. The lion’s share of the recipes here are French, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Turkish, but it does include some important outliers. Schulman includes a (slightly) slimmed-down version of one of my favourites, Persian Rice, that uses four tablespoons instead of the usual quarter pound. In my opinion, it needs fresh fava beans or baby limas mixed in, but you can do what you like.

My favourite chapter is “Little Foods: Starters, Snacks, Mezze, and More.” Here’s where you will find all those delicious little tapas and other tidbits that are such fun: filo pastries, dips, spreads, and marinated things. A few of these, a cold bottle of prosecco, and some lovely fresh strawberries and you have a party. Okay, maybe a few bottles of prosecco. I’ve been over hummus since 1993 when I traveled to Palestine and ate hummus every breakfast, lunch, and dinner for nearly three weeks. You’ll find traditional hummus here (if you really must), but also some nice alternatives: White Bean Brandade (a vegetarian version of the classic French white bean and salt cod puree), Turkish Hummus (spicier, with no tahini), and Fresh Fava Bean Puree. There is also a useful section of suggested toppings for bruschetta and crostini.

Do you love risotto but never make it for company because you don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen stirring over a hot stove during cocktails while your guests are snarfing up all antipasti? Schulman will tell you how to cook it part of the way in advance, reducing the final prep to 15 minutes. And her easy polenta will save you the ordeal of stirring polenta (in one direction only) for 30 minutes and blistering your thumb. Perhaps a purist could tell the difference, but I sure can’t. Except that I don’t have a painful blister on my thumb.

While I’m on the topic of polenta, a word about grits. If you adore grits as much as I do, and live outside the Southern US, polenta can be your saviour. You can do pretty much anything with polenta that you can do with grits. It’s not going to be the same as real, stone ground grits; but it will be way better than <gasp> instant grits. On Masterchef Australia last year, the eventual winner — Brent Owens — made grits out of popcorn. I’ve been meaning to try that. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Sadly, if hominy exists in New Zealand, I haven’t found it.

Martha Rose Schulman is also a food columnist for The New York Times. Her focus has long been on healthy eating, and her column, like Mediterranean Harvest, is replete with meatless, lower fat versions of classic international dishes. But don’t mistake healthy for worthy and boring. I have her recipe box bookmarked in the Times Cooking app on my iPad. (If you don’t have the Times Cooking app yet, download it immediately. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian.)

Every vegetarian cookbook collection should have at least one good Mediterranean cookbook, mine has several, including others by Schulman. Her newest, The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking (Rodale, 2014), is prettier — with loads of lovely colour photographs.  But in terms of culinary breadth and basic kitchen knowledge, Mediterranean Harvest is a must have.

And Remember: eat garlic every day to keep the vampires away.


The Twelve Cookbooks of Christmas

I am powerless over cookbooks.

When, in 2013, Simon and I faced the challenge of reducing all our worldly goods to a volume that would fit in a 20-foot shipping container, the hardest chore for me was triaging my massive cookbook collection. The kitchen gadgets were easy: anything with a plug wouldn’t work in New Zealand. So, out went the waffle iron I never used (meh), the raclette grill (fun, but not essential), the Cuisinart (sniff), and the Kitchen Aide Mixer (gasp).

The cookbooks were hard. Which of my children would I re-home? Which would make the long journey to the Southern Hemisphere? Could I part with my copies of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volumes One and Two even though they are decidedly not vegetarian friendly? (No) Could I leave behind my complete set of Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipes series? (yes) How could I cull the flock without leaving something essential behind? (I couldn’t) My amazing cousin, Barb, who had come to Virginia with her equally amazing sister, Linda, to flog me out of moving-denial, made the job much easier. She took most of the cast-offs to sell in her antique shop, which specialises in kitchen things and cookbooks (even though she doesn’t cook; all the better to avoid attachments). At least I knew the orphans would find loving homes.

I passed some of the favourites to friends. Susan got most of the non-vegetarian  and entertaining books, including my copy of Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook. Anita, our loyal dog auntie, took a few. In the end, I probably left for New Zealand with 10% of my original cookbook library.

Regrets? I have a few. Somehow, my beaten-up old copy of the original The Joy of Cooking was left behind in favour of my copy of the vastly inferior The All New Joy of Cooking. Because I culled my  copy of The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, I’ve lost her astonishingly delicious, best cookie ever recipe for pine nut shortbread. I meant to bring the ancient copies of The Betty Crocker Cookbook and The Good Housekeeping Cookbook that I inherited from my mother. I never cooked from them, but they were precious mementos. I’m still hoping I’ll dig to the bottom of one of the few unpacked boxes that remain, and find that they wandered in amongst the CDs and DVDs. I was also sad to lose the copy of Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook that Shakespeare (my dog, not the Bard) chewed the cover off when he was a wee puppy (which almost found him being re-homed). I suspect someone decided it was trash. It was pretty sad looking.

For the most part, however, I started my culinary life in New Zealand with a lean and mean set of vegetarian cooking essentials. I have also learned the beauty of downloadable cookbooks which, while they lack the tactile magic of actual printed books, enable me to continue my cookbook addiction without having to purchase numerous additional book cases.

Over the course of my vegetarian life, various people have asked me to recommend the best vegetarian cookbooks. So, seeing as Christmas is coming, it seems like an ideal time to present my list of the twelve most essential cookbooks for vegetarians. If you, or someone you love, is launching off on the vegetarian path, perhaps you will find an appropriate gift idea here. If you are building your own cookbook library, maybe you’ll find a gift for yourself. You can do that, you know!

We are two weeks away from Christmas. Twelve cookbooks. Fourteen days. Here goes. . . . !