Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dear Father

People on my dad's side of the family don't get senile-- they get mean. Or so the family lore goes. My mom's side is a different story. She had a great-great uncle who used to bicycle around Crystal Lake in Illinois singing Methodist hymns at top volume, until the family took him to the asylum in Elgin and he got a lobotomy. He died when he fell out of an apple tree- apparently, people were picking apples in a local orchard, he got startled, and he fell. 

That's the way to go, I think, sometimes. 

My father is going into a nursing home. My father, a man of huge brain, passionate interests, and an outsize personality, left us a long time ago. A geriatric psychiatrist by trade, my mom recalls waiting to pick him up at Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick, and hearing him bellow at his patients, "WHADDAYA MEAN YOU DON'T CARE? WHAT THE HELL KIND OF ANSWER IS THAT?" He worked at the Veterans Administration in Boston and had at least one mercenary as a patient. He worked for the Archdiocese of Boston and used to come home with tons of edibles from the North End.  He worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield, which he loathed-- one time, a patient drove through the plate glass window of a restaurant, and Blue Cross didn't want to pay for hospitalization; that summed up that job. 

Secretaries and nurses loved my dad. Other doctors and administrators wanted to kill him, because my dad was smart and he knew it. He did things his own way. When he had finished his work for the day, he left, regardless of what time it was. He took long, rambling lunches. He would take three hour walks and my mother would try not to worry. 

My father was brave. He married outside of the faith and my grandfather, who never left the Bronx, showed up in his apartment and told him that if he married my Methodist mother, Grandfather would wear a sandwich board that said, "My Son Has Shamed Me." My dad was not impressed, and he and my mom got hitched at the Harvard Club, where they ate tuna sandwiches and drank champagne, and only ten people attended. 

My father instilled in me a love of classical music, Woody Allen, good food, and above all, reading. He gave me a biography of Sigmund Freud when I was ten, and I read it. He also taught me the value of a grand gesture. One summer, when we rented a house in Chatham, he gave my brother and me a garbage bag each, filled to breaking with toys and books, just because it was summertime and he loved us. 

My father accidentally packed two left shoes for my graduation and had to wear Birkenstocks instead. Good thing I went to Wesleyan. 

When I had a genteel nervous breakdown junior year in Ireland and came home, my father told me, "Home is where your head is."

Now he is silent-- a man defined by talk-- now just sits. He doesn't look miserable. He smiles slightly. He moves his hands, but the nails are long, the fingers are beginning to look fleshless. His dark eyebrows jut over his face in a vaguely James Mason-ish way-- he's lost his round Yeshiva boy face. He still gives me huge hugs, and my mother tells me that he reads this blog and it makes him laugh, which is amazing because as far as I can tell, he doesn't really read any more. That makes my heart break, because above all else, my childhood was filled with bizarre books my father would leave around the house. A history of philosophy, a Georges Simenon mystery, the Michelin guides, the poetry of Kenneth Koch-- you name it, it was somewhere in our house.

And the cookbooks! My mom is a dynamite cook, but my dad was a dynamite reader of cookbooks. Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Indian Cookery Simple Cooking. Noshing is Sacred. From My Mother's Kitchen

He keeps on falling.  Years ago, he suddenly couldn't walk without falling, and despite batteries of tests at various snooty Harvard hospitals, no one could determine why, and has gotten worse with each passing year. He also, somewhere along the way, stopped talking. My mother has to carry him from place to place, essentially, and cannot lift him herself-- she is a tough broad, with a huge amount of patience, but she also has pins in one of her legs and it cannot be easy to lug an inert person to any sort of upright position. She cannot keep on calling the fire department every time he falls and my brother isn't home-- yesterday he fell three times, and after years of this, she realizes that he needs to be safe, and she can't guarantee his safety any more. My brother asks my father, "Well, Dr. Merowitz, what do you think?" "I should go," he says, in a rare sentence. 

They are in Massachusetts, and I am here, in New Jersey, alternately feeling nothing and then feeling crashing waves of sorrow. Not sadness- I feel like sorrow is a deeper word, something that tugs at your roots with an inexorable pull until you cannot breathe, until, mercifully, it recedes. 

For the past year, there has not been a single hour where I do not think of my father or see his face. But if you ask me how I feel about it, I don't know. Or maybe I do know, but the effort of articulating it is something I don't want to think about. There is a feeling that once those gates open, they cannot be closed, and I will be swept in the wake of giant, messy, unresolvable tears. 

 But I am grateful for the long time I had when my dad was, well, dad. Did I want to kill him sometimes? Hell yes. Was he unfair and nuts about stuff? Oh my GOD YES. But he was a good dad, and I love him. I wish that he had not experienced this strange, glacial descent into the madness of old age. Are you gone, Dad? Because if you aren't, you need to know, you did so good by me, I can't even tell you. Thank you for being. 

Dear Father- Colin Hay

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Guest Post-- Of Soup and Storms

Stacy’s “Souper Sundays” are legendary. That all changed when Superstorm Sandy came to town. With her home destroyed and her family packed into her dad’s house, she had a lot of time to think about the connections between food, family, and home. She will have her first Souper Sunday since the storm next month.

Regardless of my mood or mental state, I can say with certainty that I truly love my family, not just the crazy blood relatives, but my extended family of neighbors and friends that prove time after time they are the stuff that holds my head on my shoulders. There was no truer test of this than the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. While my husband and I shifted through the rubble that was now our life, trying to pick up the pieces and make things normal again, my entire family was knee deep in the literal muck with us, clearing out our house and holding our lives together. As the new normal set in, it became important to me to re-establish old traditions, making whatever house we landed in a home. Being from a huge Italian family, those traditions all include food. Massive amounts of food.

When I have a gathering, it is never small. I mean, who do you cut out? The simple solution is to invite them all. And, when you are not a gazillionaire and you want to actually socialize with your guests, what the heck do you serve that doesn’t have you glued to a stove or grill? Well, for me, the answer became soup. And, so began a few years ago Souper Sunday. I make several different kinds of soup, cut up some bread, throw some bowls on the counter and we have a no frills hell of a time. And, I am pretty damn good at it, If I do say so myself. My soups are YUMMY.

Nearly a year after the storm, I unpacked a nice big green soup pot a friend gave to me and decided it was time to soup again. As a small thank you for the tremendous show of love, support, gift cards, baked goods, holiday ornaments and shoulders to cry on, I had some of the office ladies over to my house last weekend for our first Souper Sunday of 2014. Sometimes there is nothing better than having an all female crowd pack the house and this was no exception. I gotta say, I truly love these women. Regardless of career path, home town, fashion sense or marital status, we just gel. Souper Sunday was a prime example. And, while we bitched and drank and laughed and yelled, we ate soup. A LOT of soup.

I am going to try my best to spell out for you my favorite recipe of the day, maybe even give it a name. You see, I am not one for the order and precision required for baking and complicated meals. Cooking for me is a giant experiment that can always be fixed with the right amount of seasoning. Here is the way I made this particular soup it most recently, cannot say it was the same the time before. Be daring, throw away the measuring cups and check this out:

Super awesome chicken soup with coconut milk:

·         2 cups-ish of cooked chicken (I cannot stand looking at raw meat)
·         veggie broth (or chicken broth) – one of those giant cans should do it
·         1 can of coconut milk – whatever the standard size is they come in, similar to a can of veggies
·         2 sweet potatos  - I don’t peel any vegetables but you may want to
·         Normal size onion – white or yellow, never tried red
·         A big can of diced tomatoes – I used fire roasted this time
·         A bag of frozen corn
·         Some little grape/cherry tomatoes. I prefer the yellow ones and I like the number 12 so that is how many I halved and threw it
·         Curry power
·         Cumin
·         Fresh Cilantro
·         Lime
·         Olive Oil

I don’t measure so first step, get a decent size soup pot and coat bottom with olive oil. Dump in about a teaspoon of curry or chili powder and the same amount of dried cumin and let it simmer for a few minutes. Then add the veggies all diced – onions, tomatoes and sweet potatoes and let them cook for a few minutes. Shred chicken and throw it in with the corn, diced tomatoes and broth and let it simmer/boil under fresh veggies are edibly soft. Lower heat and add coconut milk. Do not let boil. If you are a messy cook like me, you should probably just do this before you are ready to serve.  Ladle into bowls and top with some cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice. Yeah I said squeeze. Isn’t that “Souper?”

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Some Things Not to Cook and One Bitchin' Cake

On Sunday, while my husband went to a weirdly elaborate party for a one-year old with our son, I cooked. And regrettably, two of the three things I cooked SUCKED. So, gentle reader, take my advice: the Food Network's recipe for Mushroom Barley Risotto smells and tastes like a foot. Maybe it's the vegetable broth. Maybe it's the barley. Either way, the smell reminded me of Grandmother Merowitz's apartment in the Bronx, which smelled like extremely terrible Jewish cooking. I do not have good luck with slow cooker recipes. My husband, who simply uses the recipe on the back of a  McCormick's Pulled Pork Seasoning packet, makes a great pulled pork, but otherwise, I feel I could use our slow cooker as a decorative planter and my life would not be greatly impacted. 

I also made-- and this is probably going to distress people-- the Marcella Hazan tomato sauce recipe that has been floating around in the wake of her death. My mom used to cook from her cookbooks all the time, and the stuff was GOOD. Also, I liked the simplicity of the recipe. I like butter. I like onions. I like tomatoes. Maybe it was because I used canned tomatoes (although I did use the fancy San Marzano tomatoes all you young people seem to like), but it tasted like-- dare I say it?--Campbell's cream of tomato soup. I just discussed this with my mom on the phone, and she informs me that Marcella's recipes are hit or miss, so I feel less bad. Unless of course, she's lying to me because I am her fragile lil dumplin'. 

That said, I will say the one recipe that came out well was a roaring success. It's from this month's issue of Bon Appetit and it is one of the best things I have ever eaten. Gateau Breton Aux Pommes (ie Breton apple cake for all you peasants) is not particularly hard to make, although it takes a while-- and the salted caramel sauce is SERIOUS, people. It calls for creme fraiche, but since this is not 1980 (my childhood seems full of stuff cooked from The Silver Palate Cookbook that always involved creme fraiche) I used whipped cream. From a freaking can. Although it was Extra Creamy, so maybe that makes it classier.  Anyhow. It's only Wednesday and with solely my husband and I eating this thing, there's less than half of it left. I want to eat it all the time. In fact, at work, I contemplate telling people I am going to the bathroom and then actually quietly driving to my house, getting a piece, hiding it on my person, and then eating it in my office with the blinds down and the door closed, because I am not going to share, not even a little bit. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Oh yeah. Who doesn't like stew? Well, since I rhetorically asked, I don't. I wish I did. I feel that if I liked stew I would also be a person who enjoys family get togethers, playing board games, a sensible diet, and other wholesome things. My husband loves stew, which makes sense. He is the type of person that makes me think of Snow White in the woods- small children and picturesque animals gravitate towards him because he's so good. I, on the other hand, am way more like the witch-queen. In fact, my gay Great Uncle Fred (I always think of him in that one phrase, because it sounds weirdly melodious) insisted that our family (the non Jew side, clearly) descended from a Salem witch. 

Wait. Where was I? I lost consciousness for a minute there. 

Oh. right. Stew. So. I find stew depressing and damp, the eating equivalent of a mildewed towel. That said, I like my beef bourgignon because it's doused in an entire bottle of red wine and a packet of onion soup mix. II got it from a now defunct magazine  called Fresh Home. It had really annoying decorating tips, but it did have some good recipes. Also, since my mother tended to cook with wine a lot, I love the smell of wine cooking. I also am white trash and love dip made with onion soup mix, so really this recipe had me at hello. Hello, gorgeous. Well, hello gorgeous taste. It looks, as with most stew-type concoctions, like someone threw up, or as we in the industry call it, Throw Up Meat.  Oh stop it, you know I speak truth to power here. 

And yes, I referred to a Phil Collins song in my title. My friend Jessica Smock had a dog named Sussudio once. Then again, she also grew up with a hippie kid whose parents named him Concrete. She informs me she called him Connie for short, though. 

Beef Bourgignooooonnnnnnn 
(I refuse to include a photo because it looks like a scene from a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie so just paint a picture in your brain)

Serves 6, maybe, but really 4. 

  • 2 pounds cubed stewing beef at room temperature (no idea why, but I do know Gabrielle Hamilton says stuff tastes better at room temperature, and I am afraid of her, so I do it)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (I ignore this and just dribble olive oil in the pot)
  • 1 bottle dry full-bodied red wine (no clue what constitutes dry full-bodied red wine. I used Primal Roots Red because it tastes okay and I think you should only cook with wine you'd actually drink, when possible)
  • I package onion soup mix (the recipe calls for low-sodium mix but I have never seen this)
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 peeled carrots, cut into bite-size pieces (I usually add more)
  • 2 or more garlic cloves, minced 
  • I teaspoon thyme, cut up so there aren't tons of stems
  • 1 bay leaf
  • mushrooms- optional (I think they made it taste soggy, but if you want to be a jerk and ignore me, it calls for one cup of sliced mushrooms)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place stewing beef in a big ass ziploc with the flour (although I totes don't measure it, I just use a handful because I am a wild stallion), zip that sucker up, and then shake the hell out of it. 
  2. Put  butter and olive oil at medium heat in a big dutch oven. I am lucky because my mother-in-law gave us a giant Le Creuset which is probably worth more than one of my internal organs. Let it get mildly sizzly (the recipe actually says "until shimmering," which really aggravates me. Is this a recipe or an episode of She-Ra?) 
  3. Take half the meat and attempt to pat it dry-- this helps it brown better. Apparently. Brown half of the meat, nice and slow, maybe for ten minutes. Then do the other half. Then lie down. I kid! Not really.
  4. Once that's done and you've gotten up from fetal position on the floor of the kitchen, throw all the meat into the pot and cover it with the red wine. Totally pleasing, right? Add the onion soup mix and bring to a boil for three minutes. Then cover it, let it simmer, and go cook the vegetables.
  5. In a frying pan, heat a generous splash of oil to medium- if you throw water on it and it goes insane, that's a little too high. Not that I am judging you. Add the onions and carrots and cook for about ten minutes, until they are transparent. If they start to brown, you've cooked it too long, but I wouldn't freak out about it. 
  6. Add the vegetables, the garlic, the thyme, and the bay leaf to the meat. Cover that sucker and put it in the oven.
  7. It should cook for three hours, but check it every hour. My last batch took two and a half, and I did the last hour at 300 degrees because I didn't want to dry it out. Toss in those mushrooms ALTHOUGH I WISH YOU WOULDN'T in the last hour, and when you check it, give it a stir. 
  8. Take out the bay leaf, if you can find it, and then serve this sucker over nice buttered egg noodles.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mark Bittman, you Complete Me.

Like a lot of people, I suck when it comes to grocery shopping. I have grandiose plans of well-balanced, easily prepared dinners filled with vegetables and protein and deliciousness, and they never materialize.  I cannot tell you how many nights my husband and I have peered hopelessly into our fridge, hoping for...what? Delicious Orchards in there? Instead, what we find in the freezer are egg-free waffles for our son, sweet potato fries aforementioned son CLAIMS he will eat but in fact will not, and multiple half-empty pints of ice cream. The fridge seems to have a lot of cheese and a plethora of Capri Sun juice pouches, and that's it. And yes, I have seen the story about mold in juice boxes and I say that a little mold bolsters the immune system. Maybe. 

I mean, we have stuff to cook, but it all requires effort and patience. At the end of the day nobody got time for that. So we eat something with cheese melted on it and call it a day...and then feel both fat and guilty, which is a good time. As for lunch? Please. The lunches I bring to work take 3209924 years to make because I can't figure out what to bring, and then they still suck. 

So when I read Mark Bittman's column about making lunch in last week's Food Section of the New York Times  I was interested. Now, I should admit, I have Mark Bittman's cookbook and did not particularly enjoy it. It's very serious and sensible. There's no fun food essays, there's no pretty pictures, and it makes me feel like I have ADD. That said, I made two of the three recipes in the article and they were Dyn-O-Mite. 

Now, to be fair, they were not "easy" because Mr. Bittman assumes I am not a pig and have leftover vegetables and cooked chicken at my disposal, and I don't. I mean, I AM a pig. I have cheddar cheese and Schweppes Ginger Ale and possibly some Lake Champlain caramels. And three billion vats of the melted plasticine that are Danimals. 

So I bought two chickens and a ton of veggies, which completely defeats the purpose of using leftovers, but be quiet. I roasted the chickens using the old Joy of Cooking recipe-- basically, heat up the oven to 425 degrees or so, coat chickens in olive oil, salt and pepper and then stick something inside (I did a halved lemon and mashed garlic) and then throw them in, lowering the heat to 350. Cook 20 minutes per pound and use a damn meat thermometer to make sure you don't kill your loved ones (165 degrees). Baste every twenty minutes or never, or all the time, if you have OCD. 

Now, see, I had one chicken for a nice dinner, and one to make the damn lunch thing. Chicken 1 was dinner Labor Day night. I served it with steamed green beans and asparagus tossed in a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper, and then some sauteed yellow squash and onions (they don't taste good unless they're burned. Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Snootbasket, I meant CARAMELIZED). 

The leftover veggies, plus the meat from Chicken 2, went into Mr. Bittman's Escabeche Salad:

True, it reeks of garlic, but it is really good-- the vinaigrette is not too overwhelming and goes well with the vegetables. Plus, it's a way for me to eat vegetables and actually enjoy them because they are coated in something tangy. NO YOU ARE. 

So fresh from that triumph, I embarked on the Cold Sesame Noodles.

One note. I bought a can of cheapo tahini that had one of those metal ring pulls, which promptly flew across the kitchen. I then had to figure out how the hell to get the goddam tahini out of the can, because my can opener was totally ineffective. Like an ape, I was. It didn't help that I decided to make this ten minutes before I had to go to work-- my husband had to work, my son had no school, and I was tag-teaming with my husband to race out the door once he got home. My poor kid kept on saying plaintively, "Mama? You said you'd draw Darth Maul for me." 

Eventually, with much cursing and sweating, I managed to get this all tupped up and run out the door only looking a little like a Hobo. Go me. Plus, I began the infinitely wearisome job of drawing Darth Maul's head. Do you know how many black squiggles and horns that man has? My God. 

The noodles were great. Spicy, a little peanut-y, a little whatever tahini tastes like-y, and filled with very crunchy vegetables. I used very quickly steamed snow peas, red pepper, and these grim shredded carrots we buy because they are the only vegetables my son will eat. We ate them for dinner instead of lunch, just because I am spiteful that way. 

So I guess there's something to be said for sensible recipes, huh?  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Enchiladas without Subtext.

So now I am just going to give you a damn recipe instead of musing about life because sometimes life makes me tired, and this is one of those times. 

My husband mocks me because I believe that certain foods are hot weather foods while others are cold weather foods. But he's a dummy, because I am totally right. Who on earth wants to eat a stew in 100 degree weather? Not this broad, I tell you what. That said, spicy foods are good in the summer. I don't know why, but they just are and I am pretty sure my Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook series told me so.

Oh, and if you have not read any of those Foods of the World books, you are missing out. For one thing, the photos are awesome, because they are from the 1960s and everyone has absurd hair and terrible glasses. They are also exceptionally well-written, and they were ahead of their time, exposing Americans to ethnic cuisines from all over the world. I have maybe ten of them, but I yearn for more. YEARN. See? You can hear me yearning for them. It's like a low buzz  emanating from the Jersey Shore. 

Anyway. Where was I? Shut up. 

Wegmans Delightful Black Bean Enchizladas

I stole this recipe from Wegmans because that's how I roll. The only way I tweaked it was to use sharp cheddar instead of wussy shredded Mexican cheese that's not even authentic, and also, I refuse to spend $5087 on Wegman's Caribbean Black Bean Soup. I used a can of freaking Amy's Black Bean Soup and it came out just fine. 

This is spicy but not too spicy because I know you are all very fragile. And because I want to die young, I smother it in sour cream. I embrace my American right to become morbidly obese. 

1/4 cup of Olive Oil
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup of flour
3 Tbsp Mexican-Style Chili Pow der
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp chicken broth
1 quart water (four cups of H20)
1 can (15 oz) plain, canned, nasty tomato sauce
2 cans (15.5 oz each) of Black Beans, rinsed and drained, divided
15 oz can of Amy's Black Bean Soup 
1 pkg (16 oz) + 1 pkg (8 oz)  Shredded Mexican Cheese (or, if you are cool like me, Sharp Cheddar)
2 pkgs (10 oz each)  White Corn Tortillas  
1 bunch green onions, trimmed, sliced thinly
You'll Need: Stockpot, two 9 x 13 casserole dishes, potato masher

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Go lie down. No, kidding! Get your ass up and make this stuff. Stop it. 

1. Make sauce: Add oil to stockpot on MEDIUM; add garlic. Cook, stirring,
1-2 min. Add flour, chili pow der, and cumin; stir to combine. Cook,
stirring, 1-2 min. Add bouillon, w ater, and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil
on MEDIUM-HIGH, stirring continuously. Cook 1-2 min, until sauce is
slightly thickened. Set aside. Note: I don't like that Wegmans capitalizes MEDIUM and MEDIUM-HIGH. it seems hostile. 

2. Make filling: Mash 1 can beans in mixing bow l. Add second can of
beans, soup, and 16 oz cheese. Mix to combine. Set aside.

3 .Spread about 1/4 cup of sauce on bottomof each casserole
dish. Spread 1/4 cup filling dow n each tortilla center. Roll one long
edge towards middle to enclose filling; keep rolling into cigar shape. (By the way, it depresses me that you need a recipe to tell you this.) Set

4. Arrange enchiladas in 2 row s of 6 in each casserole dish.Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas. Sprinkle half of remaining 8 oz pkg cheese over each; top  with green onion.

5. Bake uncovered 25-30 min, until sauce is bubbling.  Rest 5-10 min before serving.

This makes about 500,000 enchiladas so be forewarned. But it's so, so, good. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Comfort Food

Sometimes, when the world is too much with you, the only way to crawl out of it is to cook.

This fall was filled with the blues. Hurricane Sandy made a direct hit on my county, and while I didn't lose my home or even suffer any signficant damage, I was witness to a lot of sadness. All of us lost power for the better part of a week. I never experienced a natural disaster like this, and even just losing power spooked me-- the silence, except for the buzzing of gas powered generators-- rang in my ears. I'd pick up branches with my son and watch people just sort of wandering around. Gas was scarce, and on the second day of the blackout, our local grocery store had teenage cashiers helping customers get nonperishable food through suddenly impossibly tall, narrow grocery aisles, only a weak flashlight to guide us. We bought some soup and I had visions of heating it up on our grill's side burner so that it was boiling hot-- did I mention it was pretty damn cold? Well, I am here to tell you, before a hurricane comes, check your damn propane. There is nothing quite as soul-sucking as huddling over a bowl of tepid soup on the third day of a blackout. 

There are other, more serious losses, but I was, as I said, only a witness to them. One of my closest friends lost her home-- she lives in an area near Barnegat Bay that completely flooded over, and since she lives in a ranch, everything was, literally, washed out. I will never forget sitting in my car (since we had a charger for our phones in there, plus, it had heat, we spent a lot of time in our cars), finally getting through to her-- cell phone reception was terrible the week after the storm-- and hearing my tough, funny friend tell me her kids' toys were floating through the house, her voice-- and then mine-breaking into sobs. My boss and his family, which includes four young kids, lost their home, too.

All of the places that have created blissful childhood memories for my five year old son-- Seaside, Spring Lake, Point Pleasant, local parks, Asbury Park's boardwalk-- suffered millions of dollars' worth of damage. It is amazing how the sea can twist giant structures into baroque knots, how it can remove all traces of boardwalks, how it can lift houses and boats and place them in completely random, terribly wrong, locations. There is no way, even months later, to act as if everything is normal.

But I have come to recognize that my adopted home state is nothing if not plucky. Seaside has already done an amazing amount of repair work, as have most of the other boardwalk towns I know and love. My friend refuses to give into despair and is becoming increasingly involved in her town's council meetings-- she demands to know when Barnegat Bay will be dredged, when homeowners will get actual, concrete information from FEMA as well as their local governments on when and how they can rebuild. 

When I think about all this, I realize that the best way to deal with these upheavals is to be with the ones you love and, well, cook. I baked about five billion cookies for my friend and my boss's families, because I didn't know what else to do. Even though it was highly impractical, I baked with all the feelings I had-- helplessness, love, sadness, hope-- and it felt really good. It felt good to make cookies loaded with spices, and to think about my boss's wife eating one after putting the kids to bed in their hotel. It felt good to make chocolate chip cookies with toasted walnuts and know that my friend's kids and her husband, who, for a skinny guy, can sock it away, were going to inhale them in about half an hour.

It felt good to see that in the midst of all the devastation wrought by Sandy, my favorite pizza place, Maruca's, in Seaside, was fine-- and to know that even if it takes a year, I will be there in the cooling light of an early summer night with my family and my friend's family, demanding that my husband buy one of their enormous pizzas to put in our car (and let me tell you, carrying one of those goddam things up and down the boardwalk, especially if you're holding various hideous stuffed animals your kid has won, is no picnic) and freeze for later. People are resilient, and there is nothing more healing than good food-- and the memories food carries.