Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fourteen Years in Sonoma County

Where has the time gone? Sonoma County has been home for the last fourteen years. I am fortunate to be able to live in the beautiful town called Healdsburg. I like my apartment and I am surrounded by good neighbors and a very thoughtful landlady. The building I live in is an older building and Betty, the landlady, makes sure the grounds are kept clean; a little curb appeal is needed at this time of year.

This is far away from Bethany Connecticut. In 1979 I resigned from the Graduates Club and wanted to go back to catering exclusively. I rented a space with a large event room and kitchen. Mistake number one: the overhead was way over my budget. In retrospect, doing the catering out of our home would have been more productive. I closed the kitchen and decided to work with restaurants and do dinner parties for the rich and famous again.

New York City was a fertile ground and since I already had some notoriety it was not hard to reestablish myself. At times I tagged along with the food critic of the New York Times to various restaurants; it was a fun thing to do.

I met many high powered people in New York City, among them the then President of NBC. He invited me to his office and for lunch; I will never forget that day. I was wearing a beautiful white linen silk pant suit with a white hat; I have to say I looked smashing. While talking with him (I cannot recall his name), the producer of the soap opera “The Doctors” (now defunct) came into his office. He introduced himself and later in the day, as I was leaving, he asked if I would be interested in reading for him for a part in the soap. He needed a woman with an accent to play a visiting Doctor. Well, I was flattered and I did read and two days later got offered the part. A lot of thought on my part went into this decision but I had to turn it down, I could not afford all the time it took to stay in New York City away from my children. Talk about opportunity missed.

I became a consultant and food tester to restaurants and did cooking demonstrations in Department stores. From there I ventured to do turn a-rounds for troubled restaurant operations. That was the most challenging part of my work and also satisfying.

I did keep doing very special dinner parties especially around the Christmas holidays. One of my clients was Barbara Lewis; she was the distributor of Yves St. Laurent designs. The dinner was for Yves St. Laurent. Barbara wanted everything white, including the menu. Well, I balked at that. We settled on the entrée dish I call “Veal Tarragon” in a white wine sauce. The menu and a recipe are at the end of this post. Everything was decorated in white at her beautiful Park Avenue apartment.

The guests arrived and Yves St. Laurent came into the kitchen and said he wanted to eat right now because he had to leave. Air France was going on strike the next morning and he had to take the red eye out of New York because he needed to be in Paris the next evening.

Barbara, the hostess, was not pleased. I made a plate for Yves and he ate in the kitchen. He was dressed in jeans and an open color white shirt. I wish I had a camera, ha, ha, no cell phones yet.

The rest of the evening went smoothly and my food was praised and I got two new clients that evening. At the end of the evening Barbara took me into her bedroom and presented me with an original from Yves St. Laurent. It was a white long tunic with narrow white trousers. She said Yves wanted me to have the outfit and next time I cater a special dinner to wear it, which of course I did, many times over.

                                                   The Menu was

                                   Potted Shrimp with Pumpernickel Bread

                                       My mock liver pate with various
                                             Crackers and French bread
                                       Veal Tarragon in a white wine sauce 

                                                         Rice Pilaf

                                               Fresh Peas with Red Peppers
                                                   Sautéed with Shallots

                                   Salad Greens with Sigrid’s Secret Dressing
                                                         With Stilton Cheese

                                              White chocolate mousse with
                                                      assorted cookies

I had to really convince Barbara that we needed some color - she agreed to the colorful vegetables. I was a happy camper.

The table settings at these high end dinners were/ are as important as the food. You always use a charger. The objective of a charger is; when you remove one course that you do not have an empty place in front of the guest. When I entertain guests for dinner I also try to use a charger. I do not like tablecloths so a charger makes the table look elegant.

 Here is the recipe for my Veal Tarragon:
Veal Tarragon

1 ½ pound lean veal stew meat cut into 1-inch cubes (pork can be used instead)
2 to 3 tablespoons of butter, more if needed
2 to 4 tablespoon fresh tarragon, or to taste, or 3 teaspoon dry tarragon
3 shallots chopped
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup to 1 cup of dry white wine
3 cups veal or chicken stock (broth)
1 tablespoon arrow root or cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream

Dust the veal lightly with flower and half of the tarragon, and salt and pepper; let sit for about 20 minutes.

In a heavy skillet on medium high heat melt the butter but do not brown. Add the veal and sauté stirring constantly, you can do that in two batches and add more butter if needed. The veal should just be very lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from skillet to a dish, cover and safe.

Clean the skillet, add more butter, and add the shallots cook for 1 minute, than deglaze the skillet with the wine and the rest of the tarragon, reducing the liquid by half. Skim the liquid as needed.

Add the stock, mix the arrow root with 1 table spoon of water and add to the skillet, using a whisk cook until sauce is slightly thickened about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the heavy cream warmed with some of the liquid, whisk until incorporated, cook for about 5 minutes on low heat. Correct the seasoning.

Add the veal to the sauce and simmer on very low heat for about 10 minutes to not boil. Swirl in some more of the tarragon, stir and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Buying a House/ Writing the "Memoir"

The year was 1977, I had a great job and my seven children kept me busy. Buying the Bethany house was a way for me to focus on life and not grief. Writing this blog is helping me with my grieving process; I never really had time for it in the first years after Marc’s death. I did not realize until I started this blog in August 2011 how writing is helping me to find closure.

The home we lived in since 1974 in Bethany was a lease option. However Marc, due to his illness, did not want to buy the house. I decided I wanted to buy the house. I loved that house and all the land around it. I put the money down that was needed as a down payment, got a loan and voila, I became a homeowner on my own.

Marc and I had owned 3 houses together all in Iowa: Newton, Red Oak and Ottumwa. The Ottumwa home was our pride and joy. We remodeled the house since it was fire damaged; it was the size of a small mansion. We finished one bedroom so we could take the children with us when we worked on the house. We had four children by then.

The Bethany home became my sanctuary, and with the help of my friend Melinda, I updated the house. The bathroom of the master bedroom was small, so we took part of the closet and enlarged the bathroom. I also lifted the ceiling in the master bedroom. One closet I made into sort of an office since I was writing a cook book at the time. The kids loved the big yard - almost 2 acres. We also had a pool which I did not fill because I was at work so much of the time and did not trust that one or another kid would go swimming and a mishap might happen.

The house is a Cape Cod style with add on rooms. The kitchen was sunken, the dining room was 2 steps up, the living room two steps down and, what I called the music room/den was 2 steps down again.  It had four bedrooms upstairs and one small bedroom with a half bath down stairs. Melinda, who is an interior designer, did the small bedroom for Heidi, all in blue and white including the bedspread. If I think about it now I wonder if she liked sleeping downstairs by herself!! I know she liked the bedroom, at least so she said. Funny, how thoughts of that time come to haunt me.

I loved that home and was so proud that I could manage to buy it on my own. It was a beautiful home.

In the fall of 1979 disaster struck again; our home went up in flames due to a careless accident. I have to say that my ESP had warned me about two weeks prior but I really did not heed the warning. I saw my oldest son and the other kids outside in their underwear and flames coming out on the right side of the house. The reality happened just as I saw it happening two weeks prior. The evening of the fire the big boys were at a friend’s house and Heidi was also at a friend’s house. As I recall Steven and Kurt were sleeping in their room. I remember going through the house around 11 p.m. to check on everybody and Paul, Rodmond, Walter and Neal were still not home. I did not worry too much because at times they would stay over night at their friend’s house. I retreated to my bedroom and fell asleep. I heard the boys coming home a short while later, I went back to sleep.  The next thing that woke me up was smoke. I went and hurried the kids out on the front yard and called 911. One of the boys opened a window in the bedroom where the fire started and that fueled the fire. We had two toy terrier dogs and one died in the fire.

The fire department was there within a few minutes. I wanted to go back into the house to get my purse and the car keys to move the car in case the debris would fall onto the car but the fire man did not let me back into the house until the next day. I was devastated but grateful that no one was hurt.

We stayed in a motel for two nights until I found a place big enough to rent. We moved to Hamden, Connecticut while our home was repaired. It took more than 4 months. The insurance covered most of the costs, except housing. I ended up paying for the mortgage as well as the rent for the rental. Needless to say, I ended up in debt. Also, my attorney closed the claim to soon and there was nothing I could do.

To this day it stings to have lost the house. I am used to loss and I did pull myself back up. My family lost everything in World War II (that is another blog).

In spite of all the hardship, my career kept me going and I became somewhat of a celebrity.

The moral of this story is: keep your chin up and be grateful for what you have. I am so blessed that none of my children got hurt and all survived this set back as well.