Monday, January 30, 2012

Dinner with old and New Friends

I can’t recall January ever being this cold in Sonoma County, or perhaps it is me getting older and I can’t tolerate the cold as much.

Last Wednesday I had a small dinner party with four of my most favored people here from Healdsburg and Sebastopol. We had a wonderful evening.  The food was good but I only give it a 3.5 out of 5. Needles to say, I was not impressed with my cooking.  I have made this entree many times before; the recipe is from “Giada De Laurentes” TV show on the Food Network, Salmon baked in foil.

Before, I always left the skin on one side of the Salmon Filets. This time I decided to bake it skinless in the foil. The fish stays firmer with the skin on and the cooking time needs to be 5 minutes less when skinless: It is a wonderful dish for entertaining but timing is everything.

            Salmon Baked in Foil

4 (5 ounces each) salmon fillets
2 teaspoon olive oil plus to teaspoons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tomatoes, chopped, or 1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes, drained
2 shallots or ½ medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or ¾ dried
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or ¾ dried

Foil paper, 12 by 12 inches

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

In a medium bowl, stir in the tomatoes, shallots, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper to taste.

Place a salmon fillet, oiled side down, atop a sheet of foil. Fold the edges up. Spoon the tomato mixture over the salmon. Fold the sides of the foil over the fish and tomato mixture, covering completely;  repeat with the rest of the salmon fillets seal the packets closed.

Place the foil packet on a large baking sheet. Repeat until all of the salmon have been individually wrapped in foil and placed on the baking sheet.

Bake until salmon is just cooked through about 25 minutes.

Open packets and transfer to plates and serve. (Very hot)


You can use the tomato mixture and put on top of pork shops, cooking time increases to 45 to 50 minutes, depending on the thickness of the shops.

Makes 4 servings

Back to 1976

January 1976 was also very cold in Connecticut. Marc was back at work and we were happy that he was in remission. I took on projects in New York City when time permitted. My home and working at Annie’s Firehouse Soup Kitchen did not leave much time for catering projects in the city or Connecticut.

I really did mess up with House & Garden Magazine though. I was asked to put a special menu together centered around “Meal in the Pot” for publication.  I missed the deadline by two days and of course it never got published.  The Editor at the time was not happy with me.  Annie’s Firehouse stayed busy and very popular.  I trained a cook (actually two).  A former Marine who cooked while in the service gave me so much grief and did not want to stick to my recipes or know how.  You guessed it, I had to dismiss him.  The other was a young woman, Olivia, from New Orleans who was a student at Yale and loved to cook.  Olivia got the hang of it and I felt comfortable leaving the kitchen in her hands.  Olivia also did catering with me.  When she graduated from Yale she went back to New Orleans and opened her own catering company.  A few weeks after she left New Haven I received a beautiful note from her thanking me for all I taught her.  What a motivation to keep going.  Anyone who knows about cooking and putting an event or wedding together knows it is a labor of love.

In the beginning of March, Marc and I drove to Vermont to spend a few days for R&R with our friends Ingrid and Nick at their Vermont home. It was so beautiful, surrounded by the snowcapped mountains. We did spend the second day at a ski lodge.  Marc was sitting by the Fireplace watching the skiers. Ingrid and Nick were on the slopes and I was debating if I should go up and ski down; I am more comfortable skiing cross-country.  I decided not to and went back into the lodge.  Marc seemed to enjoy the bustle around him.  I noticed his face was very flushed.  At first I thought the fireplace produced that flush, after awhile I touched his forehead, he was burning up.  Oh boy, what a scare.  Ingrid and Nick were going to join Marc and I for lunch and it was almost lunch.  As soon as they walked into the lodge, I told them we needed to get back to their home and I needed to pack Marc up and drive back to Connecticut.  I did make a call to his Oncologist to see if it was safe to drive him back to Connecticut.  He instructed me to give Marc two aspirin and to make sure he is warm.  I drove like a mad woman back to Connecticut.  All I could think of was “Make it to Yale New Haven Hospital in one piece.”  I was speeding and of course was stopped somewhere in Massachusetts by the highway patrol.  I told him what was going on and he then drove in front of me with his lights flashing until I entered Connecticut.  I am not sure, but I believe he alerted the Connecticut troopers to watch out for me and help me to get to New Haven Yale University hospital.  I never encountered a trooper in Connecticut and we made it safe to the hospital.

The diagnosis was pneumonia.  Marc was put on antibiotics but he did not get better.  Tests revealed that the cancer was back.  He had to stay in the hospital, and chemo was the norm again.  When he came home he was weak but put up a good front.  After one week another round of chemo started.  It was heartbreaking.  The cancer had spread and Marc decided no more chemo.

That summer my Father came from Germany to be with us along with Marc’s youngest brother Clyde.   I quit work at Annie’s Firehouse to be with Marc and my family.  At that point Dr. Bertino told me that Marc had maybe three weeks left.  I prayed every day for Marc to not suffer and linger in pain.  My prayers were answered.  About a week before Marc passed on he could not make it up the stairs to our bedroom.  I put a mattress on the floor in front of our German stereo cabinet.  I wanted Marc to sleep on the couch which made into a single bed; he would not hear of it, he wanted to sleep on the mattress.  I in turn slept on the couch.  How ironic if I think about it now.  Of course real sleep eluded me.  In the middle of the night Marc sat up and said he wanted to scream and hit something.  I sat down besides him and moved the wooden door in front of the glass door on our stereo which also had a glass display.  I held him and told him he could hit all he wanted but could not scream or he’d scare the kids.  I held him for a very long time until he fell back asleep.

The next day the hospital bed I had ordered arrived.  He also requested a separate phone line besides his bed.  It was ordered but the phone company was too late putting the line in.  That phone line then became my own.  No children were to use that phone, and with seven children you know the phone is always busy.

Our oldest son, Walter, was hiking through Oregon and the State of Washington to Alaska during this time.  Marc was in and out of consciousness by now, but he worried about Walter since we had not heard from him in a while.  I was ready to call the police in both States but was spared that.  Walter called that afternoon and I told him, “Dad is hanging on to know that you are safe.”  Walter said, “Do not let him know I called.  I am on my way back.”  I told him that I couldn’t do that. “I need to let your father know that you are safe and on your way back home.” Walter had help from the State of Washington.  He did not get home until the day of the funeral, which was three days after we spoke.  Marc died the day after Walter called.

As for what happened with me, I was offered a partnership in a new Restaurant in New Haven.  I was to go to the meeting in Hartford, Connecticut to find out all the details.  Marc was lucid and I did not want to leave him.  He got agitated and said, “Schatzi you have to go, the children’s and your future hang in the balance.”  I wrestled with myself.  I called my closest friend, Ann, who is a nurse to ask her if she would come and stay with Marc while I would be at this meeting.  Ann came to stay and I drove to Hartford. T he meeting was August 23, 1976. On my way home I stopped for some Milk and Bread. It was about 7:35 pm when I arrived home.  I was met by my brother-in-law and I wondered why he was meeting me out there.  He told me then that Marc passed way peacefully.

 I do not remember but, according to my family and neighbors, I was screaming.  Marc passed on while I was in the Grocery store at 7:21 pm.  I have to interject something that most people think is weird or even a heavenly intervention.  Marc gave me a golden Swiss watch our first Christmas as a married couple.  The watch stopped exactly at 7:21 pm.  I could not get it to work; I took it to a jewelry store and they said it could not be fixed.  I still have the watch.  Also, two weeks before Marc died our house plants started to die, you see Marc always took care of them.  Today I know the plants dying was a sign that Marc would follow soon.

None of our children were home.  Neal, Paul, Rodmond and Steven were at a concert; Heidi and Kurt were still in New Jersey; and Walter was on his way back home from his wandering.

I went inside and Ann’s husband, Norton, who is a Dr. was there.  I was in a daze; I had to call Dr. Bertino at Yale University Hospital and the State Troopers who came with the paramedics to take Marc’s body for autopsy to Yale.  I did not want to have the body removed and two people had to hold me back.

Later that evening Ann told me Marc’s last words were, “Tell Sigrid I love her.”  Ann also told me when she sponged Marc down to cool his body, that he said, “Don’t be so gentle, Sigrid never is that gentle.” – I had to laugh.  It is so like Marc to say that and it was true.

The boys came home and I had to tell them the sad news.  The ones I thought would accept it did not, and the ones I thought would not did, at least on the surface.  Rodmond climbed on the roof of our house and it took a long time for him to come down.  Neal, Paul and Steven retreated into their rooms.  I can’t really remember.  My Father seemed nowhere in sight but I know he was there.  That whole evening is a blur.  Walter still had not arrived.

The funeral was three days later with the wake the day before.  The wake was for my in-laws and our sons who wanted to take a last look at their father.  I had an open casket for them.  Friends came and went throughout the day.  The funeral was late morning the next day I believe.  Our Minister and a friend of ours, especially of Marc, came from Pennsylvania to do the service.  Dr. Niebruegge was our Minister in Ottumwa, Iowa.  I was so happy that he came to do the service for Marc and my family.

Our friends Margot and Jim brought the two youngest, Kurt and Heidi, home the day of the funeral.  I did not let them see the body in the open casket.  Perhaps that was a mistake; I know Heidi struggled with that for many years.  Kurt never said anything.  My reasoning was that I wanted them to remember their Father alive, not as a dead body.  Walter arrived on the day of the funeral and we went straight to the cemetery.  After coming back home, Walter locked himself into our garage/workroom. For two days anyone coming near caused tools to fly and I could not help him in his grief.

My next blog will be titled: New Beginnings; Hard Times

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012 Has Arrived

Can you believe Christmas 2011 has come and gone?  It was a wonderful Christmas here in my Healdsburg home with three of my children – Heidi, Rodmond, Neal and Heidi’s friend/fiancĂ©? Bill.

For Christmas Eve dinner we had fresh lobster which was a gift from my son Rodmond. So decadent! The traditional Curry Shrimp Leek soup became our Christmas day late lunch.

I absolutely have to mention the beautiful Christmas tree - a Noble Fir which was given to me by my friends Josie and Kim.  It was the perfect tree.

Christmas 2011, like all the others before, takes me back to the year 1975.  As I mentioned in my last post Marcus, my husband and Father of our seven children, began 1975 at Yale University Hospital to have surgery for a cancerous tumor on the thymus gland.  As it turned out, the tumor was not operatable. The surgeon informed me that if he tried to remove the tumor the chance that Marc would survive was less than 10%.  The cancer would metastasize very quickly.  For the next six weeks chemo therapy was the norm.  The first 2 weeks Marc had to stay in the hospital.  After that we drove 3 times a week to Yale Hospital for chemo.  He insisted on driving himself; I decided I had to go with him because I was terrified he might get into an accident after having chemo.  This was a sore spot with Marc.  After 3 months Marc was able to go back to work, he was in remission, hurray!!

The children kept asking, “Will Dad be well again?”  I was tempted to lie and say yes but could not do that to them, Marc or myself.  The Dr.'s had said Marc had only about 3 months to live.  Guess what?  He lived for 18 more months out of sheer willpower and faith.  To answer my children I said, “Do not give up.  Have faith, pray and keep hoping that Dad will beat the cancer.”  I never skirted the issue.  Life went on, school, homework which Marc oversaw when he was able.

One day I was called to the school, the teachers wanted to know what I was doing because the children were so well adjusted in spite of what was happening at home.  My answer was, “I never lied to them about their father's illness or tried to cover it up.”  Some families do not let their children know about the illness of a parent and it is not an advantage for the children.

In the summer of 1975 Marc took the older boys camping.  Our oldest son Walter had issues with his father and Marc hoped this camping trip would help to overcome them.  I do not know if it helped.  Heidi, the youngest, was not happy to be excluded with her youngest brother Kurt but Marc thought they were too young for him to handle since he was not quite himself.  Years later in the 80’s, I learned that Heidi thought her father did not love her or he would have taken her on that camping trip.  The year was up and down. Marc did keep the faith and encouraged us to do the same.

This was also the year my career in the Food Industry spiraled.  I had catering projects in New York City as well in Connecticut, TV appearances and work with Glamour Magazine.  It was difficult commuting to New York City so I started to concentrate more on Connecticut.  The opportunity came with Annie’s Firehouse Soup Kitchen, a new Restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut to be opened that spring.  I was asked to do what Annie called a rafter preopening party at the unfinished Annie’s Fire House which followed me becoming the the Chef.  My Lamb Pot received a standing ovation and so the Soup Restaurant was launched.

I accepted the challenge and the Restaurant became a phenomenal success.  I created about 80 soups, I used old European recipes and updated them and recreated most. The meal in a pot was born. Yes. I lay claim to the popularity that is happening now, 40 some years later, ha, ha.  I had to go to work at 4:30 a.m. 4 days a week to cook gallons of soup.  Every day we offered two different soups and chili.  I recall an NFL football team from Texas having their spring practice sessions in New Haven.   Often they came to eat at Annie’s. One day a strapping big guy came into the kitchen and wanted to know who cooked the chili.  All hands pointed at me, and I thought, “What now?” He started to talk to me and found out that I was German. He broke out saying, “No German woman can cook such great Chili.”  Ha, ha.  It took some time to convince him that I indeed cooked the chili. Boy was I proud and so was Annie. Talk about good PR.

The restaurant was in an old Firehouse, the ceilings were exposed with pipes and beams. Annie and Sharon the Architect hung plants from the rafters. The tables were old sewing machine stands with new wooden table tops made to look old and every chair was different. The two most outstanding features were Persian rugs on the concrete floor and a Broadway theater booth which became a condiment bar standing in the middle of the restaurant to be reached from both sides. Besides offering soup we also offered salads. We had a wonderful baker by the name Duncan who baked fresh breads of various kinds every day. Duncan became as popular with his bread as I did with my soups and meal in a pot.

Talking about popular - we had lines standing a half a block down the street (and not just the first month), Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., no dinner. Once a month I started a wine maker dinner. Yes, in the seventies, most wines were from Europe, California wines were not as popular as they are now. No, it was not just soups at those dinners.  I showed my guests that I really knew how to prepare wonderful entrees. These dinners became popular and, since we could only seat 40 people at one time we had to create a waiting list. During those months Marc would get up with me at 4:00 a.m. and make coffee and he made sure that I ate breakfast. He also drove me to work - we only had one car and besides, I had yet to get my Connecticut drivers license which of course I got right away.

That summer Marc traveled to Anita Iowa to visit his father and brother Russell who both were farmers and lived across the road from each other. When he returned he had to go for a check up. As it turned out, he had to get chemo again for 4 weeks. Marc was so heroic about his cancer. He stayed in remission until April 1976. We celebrated a quite Christmas and New Year with our children in 1975.

Of course it is a must now to add at least one recipe. Here is my Curry Shrimp Leek soup recipe which, by the way, was published in Sonoma County’s The Press Democrat in 2002.

Photo from the Press Democrat
Shrimp Leek Soup with Curry

2 pounds medium sized shrimp
4 stalks leeks
2 quarts water
    salt to taste
1 tablespoon of very good curry powder (or to taste up to 4 tbsp)
2 to 3 quarts chicken stock (bouillon may be used)
½ cup of half and half (milk may be used)
4 tablespoons butter (vegetable oil may be substituted)
6 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh)

If shrimp are frozen defrost and clean. Cut leeks into 1 inch pieces. Do not use the tough outside leaves and not the very ends of the stalk. In a large bowl of cold water, or the kitchen sink soak the leeks for at least 10 minutes. Since leeks are in general very sandy this will settle the dirt in the bottom of the water. Remove leeks carefully into a colander and rinse again. Bring the 2 quarts of water to a boil add a little salt and add leeks. Boil for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a 5 quart pot heat the butter and add the curry and the flour stirring continuously to make a roux. (Roux is the flour and butter mixture). Add the chicken stock and whisk vigorously until incorporated. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the cream slowly keep stirring, turn heat down and simmer for 10 more minutes. (Can be made ahead up to this point). When ready to serve add cleaned shrimp and leeks. Heat through, about 6 minutes, add lemon juice.

NOTE: Remember once you add the cream the soup can easily burn if
             burner is too high.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Additional note: If you like the base thicker use 8 tbsp. of flour. To make it creamier use heavy cream