Mess O' Greens

At the local farmers market on weekends truck farmers from around the area show up with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Fresh from the field, great quality, even better prices.

This first weekend in September we bought a weighty bunch of beets for $2.00. For some reason many of the customers were not taking the beet greens, so we got a big bagful extra just for the taking. A quick blanching and now there are three quart packages of beet greens in the freezer. Plus a whole big bowl of stems for juicing. And, 2 and a half pounds of beet roots.

Basil is at the end of its season and we got two big bunches for $1.00 each. Yield: 3 one cup packages of pesto base* in the freezer for later on.

When our friend David Wronski was a boy he recalls going with his parents to shop at the farmers market every weekend. The drill was a preliminary quick stroll around to get a fix on what was available, what was good, and the prices.

As regular customers there would inevitably be some sellers who were favored just out of the quality of the interactions. Nevertheless, the farmers market meant fresh quality at a good price. Sometimes your favorite stop would not have the quality and you then would go to another.

This summer we found one farmer whose produce we liked. It didn't hurt that his pretty daughter was friendly and treated us with kindness. But for the basil she didn't have such a good offering, so we went elsewhere.

But, we did buy most of our things from her. It's the farmer's daughter after all.


The food value of beets downgrades with long cooking, so be quick about it. Boil or steam whole beets in their skins (in thier skins if medium or small; if large, peel and cut into pieces). Serve cooked beets in bite size pieces with melted butter and tamari/soy sauce. A few grains of salt at the table for a little lift on the palate. The marriage of the flavors of beets and butter and tamari is ambrosial.

* Pesto Base: Basil leaves pureed in olive oil, a little salt. In the last wash of the leaves add some citric acid to preserve color. Later, thaw the frozen pesto base and blend with grated cheese and nutmeat, maybe some roasted garlic. Pepper to taste.


Verdolagas Rules

Listen to the video by P18 first to get into the right frame of mind.

Verdolagas is purslane. It's a weed, man. We just got back from the farmers market in Paterson, New Jersey where we scored a big bunch for a mere buckaroo. Our farmer friend drove some 50 miles down from Goshen, New York to the market just to sell it to us.

I don't advise my other furry friends to venture into a farmers market during the height of the selling time. It's wall to wall people, and twice as many feet from where I stand. My tail needs a rest. Ouch!

Anyway, purslane is so common it is rare. In most gardens it's treated as a weed. But the eating qualities and nutritional value are superior. Dig some soon.

You can simply chop the leaves and tender stems into a salad or salsa. Or cook it up in this recipe from El Chavo. Here it is in abbreviated Cooky Cat fashion:

Cook a sauce made with tomatillos, onion, hot green chile. Add in chopped blanched purslane. Crumble in some queso fresco if you like, El Chavo style. (We're thinking just about any melty or grated sharp cheese would also be worth a try.) Serve in warm tortillas or, how about over boiled potatoes or with bite size pasta. For breakfast, tomatillo/verdolaga sauce with scrambled eggs.

Weeds are nothing if not versatile.


The following list of turmeric's many benefits courtesy of Swami Anand Sahaj

1. It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, useful in disinfecting cuts and burns.

2. When combined with cauliflower, it has shown to prevent prostate cancer and stop the growth of existing prostate cancer.

3. Prevented breast cancer from spreading to the lungs in mice.

4. May prevent melanoma and cause existing melanoma cells to commit suicide.

5. Reduces the risk of childhood leukemia.

6.It's a natural liver detoxifier.

7. May prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease by removing amyloyd plaque buildup in the brain.

8. May prevent metastases from occurring in many different forms of cancer.

9. It is a potent natural anti-inflammatory that works as well as many anti-inflammatory drugs but without the side effects.

10. Has shown promise in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis in mice.

11. Is a natural painkiller and cox-2 inhibitor.

12. May aid in fat metabolism and help in weight management.

13. Has long been used in Chinese medicine as a treatment for depression.

14. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it is a natural treatment for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

15. Boosts the effects of chemo drug paclitaxel and reduces its side effects.

16. Promising studies are underway on the effects of turmeric on pancreatic cancer.

17. Studies are ongoing in the positive effects of turmeric on multiple myeloma.

18. Has been shown to stop the growth of new blood vessels in tumors.

19. Speeds up wound healing and assists in remodeling of damaged skin.

20. May help in the treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions.

Turmeric can be taken in powder or pill form. It is available in pill form in most health food stores, usually in 250-500mg capsules.


Tacos from Heaven

(Fry Bread Tacos)

There is a little town named Guadalupe just at the southern border of Phoenix. Every Sunday after the church service the Yaqui Indian Center there has a fellowship and serves some wonderful home-made foods.

Our go-to favorite is the Menudo Blanco. A slow cooked soup with honeycomb beef tripe and hominy. Accompanied with warm tortillas and spruced up with chopped white onion, cilantro, hot pepper flakes, and dried Mexican oregano. It feeds the soul. (Also, reputedly, great as a hangover cure.)

They also serve tacos. You know, if you live in the Phoenix area or other southwestern towns close to Mexico, taquerias are as numerous there as pizza joints in New Jersey. But the tacos at the Indian center are particularly special.

The Indian Center folks serve tacos made with fry bread. Not fried some time ago, but on the spot, just before you place your order.

What is fry bread? It is a leavened round lunch plate-sized thin bread patty that is fried in oil. Very soft texture, plain except for satisfying flavor of the fried crust.

Fillings typically were a choice of refried beans garnished with onions, cilantro, and shaved lettuce. Or, you could choose to have your taco with red chili or green chili.

In the South West when you ask for chili you get a saucy stew of finely chopped meat in a sauce based on chilies (peppers). Red chili is made with beef; green chili, with chicken. That is not a fast rule, but close. No beans in the chili, please. If you want beans, you get them on the side.

[Somewhat related: If you are in the Phoenix area, our favorite burrito can be found at the Chevron station on the edge of Scottsdale on the Pima Indian Reservation at Pima Road and Chaparral. You won’t be disappointed. A large soft warm flour tortilla loaded with a thick beef (red) chili. Hot sauce on every table; as much salsa as you ask for.]

Now watch grandmother demonstrate . . .


Cold Cucumber-Beet Soup

Nothing slakes the thirst like buttermilk and this cold cucumber-beet soup, known as zupa letnia or chlodnik, not only has buttermilk, but sour cream and hard-cooked egg. This is a no-cook soup that comes together quickly with the help of canned beets. It can be pureed to a velvety consistency and served in a chilled martini or iced-tea glass, or eaten chunky in a chilled bowl.

Makes 4 servings


•1 (1-pound) can sliced beets
•1 cup buttermilk
•1/4 cup sour cream
•1 small seedless cucumber, peeled and quartered
•1 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered
•1 tablespoon chives
•Salt to taste


1.Place beets in bowl of a food processor and whirl until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and puree until velvety. Adjust seasonings. Chill.

2.Serve in a chilled martini or iced-tea glass garnished with a cucumber slice and chives, if desired.

Taken verbatim from http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/polishsoups/r/beetcukesoup.htm


It’s Not Salsa (Too Big)        It’s Not Salad (Too Small)

It’s Salsalata! (Just Right)

Our dear Myra Fillion served something she called “chopped salad.” It was essentially a very regular salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and sweet onion, dressed with oil and vinegar.

The distinction is in the way it is prepared. Everything was cut to a size that lets you eat it with a spoon. Perfect for dining while watching TV. [Yes, we wrote that, while watching TV. Don't get all up in our stuff, like you never do that yourself (or did, or will do). Cooky Cat's 6th sense says you do. He knows. By his 7th sense, he knows you will.]

We’ve been making this salad as a summertime dish when farm ripe tomatoes, sweet Vidalia onions, and local cucumbers are in season. Or, in the garden. A simple salad of tomatoes, cucumber, and sweet onion dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar is great. From childhood days we remember mom adding some sugar to the dressing. That touch of sweetness adds a wonderful extra dimension. Try honey instead. Or, some fruit flavored syrup (Grenadine works).

If you want to add a lettuce(s), go ahead. Just to also chop small.

And, of course, there is no limit to options. Herbs like fresh basil, parsley, dill, cilantro, chives; any one, or in a combination that suits your fancy. 

Bitter leaves like arugula and/or radicchio fit right in. Also, blanched bites of cauliflower and/or broccoli. Some cooked beets, always good (just toss them in last to keep the red in its place). And, here's one to try, fresh navel orange segments. And then there's cheeses, and meats, and seafoods. Bean sprouts, cooked beans and cooked pulses. And, lest we forget ... Avocado.

And, yet, the triumvirate of tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet onions is King.

Enjoy some Salsalata . . .

Lent Will be Here Soon
... Got Pączki?

Our beloved David D. Wronski (aka "The Polish Prince") definitively writes . . .

We all know about Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras and eating Donuts and Pancakes; they represent all the good things you have to [should] give up for Lent.

In the Polish Catholic tradition there's another day. Tłusty Czwartek ... Fat Thursday. That is the day, the Thursday before the beginning of Lent, when Poles polish off mass quantities the Donut of Donuts: Pączki.

As you already know from the previous writing on the subject, Pączki ("poonch-kee") are Polish style jelly Donuts available the year around from any self respecting Polish bakery. Be advised, though, Pączki are to jelly Donuts what Ferraris are to Ford Pintos. Or, pink Champagne is to Cold Duck. We do not exaggerate!

FYI, there are two styles. The version with the jelly in the dough wrapping before deep frying (rare); and, the kind with the jelly added in after the dough is deep fried (usual). Being a decent Polish lad at heart (of Polish descent) my life has being in part a search for the perfect jelly donut. The Polonia Bakery in Passaic, New Jersey arguably has the very finest this boy has ever had. They make the first type (jelly fried-in) and are the nicest folks. Here is a link to an excellent review in Edible New Jersey magazine.

Below are my on site photos (date: February 4, 2016) from Piast in Garfield, New Jersey where we also shop. They had Marmalade, Rose jelly, and Bavarian Cream. Rather too little filling for my taste. And, it was quite a go around getting a bead on what exactly was "Marmalade". They sell jars of a Marmalade, so I figure they just took the name from there.  Turns out it's mixed fruit jam.

Afterward we went to Polonia and got some more, filled with prune butter/lekvar (in Polish it's "Povidla", pronounced "Povidwa"). As I said, Polonia is the definitive version. Jelly fried-in, orange zest flecked thin glaze icing. Light, flavorful, delectable.

And, let's just touch on the subject of the amount of jelly. This pertains to the style with the jelly squirted/slipped in after it's a donut. You want those babies to be a little heavy with the filling. Jelly in every bite is the action standard. When I worked in my Polish Uncle's bakery on Friday's preparing for the big Saturday sales day, my last job after having worked 12 or so hours overnight was to fill the Pączki. That was probably what got me through the night, the anticipation of being left alone to fill those little treats at my very own sole discretion. And, fill them I did. Heavy hand on the jelly dispensing machine. Like the one shown below.

Also, freshness is key. Best to get your Pączki (that's plural, singular is Pączek) as close as possible to having been made.  (Not you — having been made — but, the  Pączki, silly ) Not to belabor the "having been made" double entendre, but close to having been made with jelly Donuts is the same as the other meaning: make that, in the morning. There seems to be a 4 hour or so window of opportunity. After that they start to become contenders for a game of hockey.

Getting back . . . But there is a single day, little known, the zenith day for Pączki. It comes just before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, officially celebrated on Fat Thursday, the Thursday before Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). On Pączki Day, to meet demand, the number of Pączki made for sale jumps 10X . I suggest you call ahead and place an order. Recommended varieties: apricot and raspberry jam, rose (the flower) jam, and Bavarian cream. But, do not leave without mass quantities filled with Powidła (prune butter)---the ne plus ultra (pronounced "po-veed-wa".) [A diagonal mark across the letter L, written as "ł" in the Polish language, is pronounced "wa". And, just so you are thoroughly aware of the upside down nature of the Polish mind — one of which I happen to have . . . so I can comment . . . — the letter W is pronounced as an English "V". Go figure.]

If you want to get in on the festivities, do check with your local Polish baker to find out on what day they will be honoring that fabulous fabled fried fritter; probably Fat Thursday [It took me several years to get it straight about which day was Pączki Day. I would typically saunter in on Fat Tuesday and receive a wilting look from the lovely sales girl at the bakery. In fact, I dearly remember Pączki Day from my youth; but it wasn't until my wizzoned adult years that I finally figured out on what day it fell and its significance. Thank you, Google. Thank you, Internet. Thank you jelly. Thank you, Alanis Morissette---Thank U.]

For a truly beatific experience, while you are buying your Pączki, also ask for chruściki ("krus-chee-kee"), another traditional favorite at this time of year. Chruściki---when they are made right---are as light and tender as angels' wings. In fact, translated, chruściki means "angel wings."  As my mother would say, "Be an angel, pass the chruściki." But watch out for all that powdered sugar; it's a real game changer if you are wearing your favorite black slacks or that little black dress. They can be little devils plenty if you don't partake with precision and perspicacity. [I honor the letter "P", for Pączki; get it? Really, get some.]

Additionally... I have also suggested that Voodoo Doughnuts be ready for the action. When in Portland, look them up. Find out for yourself what they are talking about when they say "the magic is in the hole."

Written by Paula Wolfert in Moroccan Cooking Facebook Group  https://www.facebook.com/groups/moroccanCooking/
Moroccan Preserved Lemons

To Make Preserved Lemons:

The following recipe can be doubled, tripled, etc. Once made, be sure to store your preserved lemons in a glass jar with a tight fitting cover.

According to the late, distinguished food writer Michael Field, the best way to extract the maximum amount of juice from a lemon is to cook it in a microwave or in boiling water for a short time, then allow it to cool before squeezing.

Some cooks suggest using commercial lemon juice to top off their preserved lemons. I only use freshly squeezed lemon juice.

-5 organic lemons, washed, scrubbed and dried
-About ½ cup kosher salt
-1/2 cup freshly squeezed (not bottled) lemon juice,

1. Soften the lemons by rolling them back and forth on a wooden workspace. Quarter the lemons from their tops to within one quarter inch of their bottoms, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit. Begin packing them in a glass jar, pushing them down, and adding more salt between layers. Top off with the lemon juice, but leave some air space before sealing the jar.

2. Allow the lemons to ripen in a warm place for 30 days, turning the jar upside down every few days to distribute the salt and juice. If necessary, you can open the jar and add more lemon juice to keep them covered.

Notes to the Cook

To use: pluck out a lemon with a wooden fork or spoon and rinse it under running water. Remove and discard the pulp unless called for in the recipe.

I generally use only the rinds, but in a few recipes, I add the pulp to the marinade.
If properly made, there is no need to refrigerate after open¬ing. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and some of the pickling juice can be added to new batches.

The most important thing to remember about preserving lemons is that they must be completely covered with salted lemon juice.

How To Write a Recipe

If you cook you use cook books. And, if you’ve used a lot of cook books, no doubt you are more than aware there are many different ways to organize the presentation of recipes. Not to mention the wide variety of approaches to any given recipe. It seems that every cookbook author has to come up with their own unique style. Some better than others.

Cooky Cat is rather minimalist in his approach. Like some people, who shall remain nameless. (Shout out to the Queen of the Peasant Pot.) His acclaimed work is for the cognoscenti, not the hoi polloi. It's his choice. We've attempted to persuade him to become more universal, but he lives in his own "pussyfied" realm. He's rather, ahem, taken with his own writing approach, so he tends to the "readerly" style.

The main peeve we have with a lot of cook books out there is in the way they are formatted. Many are beautiful vanity pieces, making for better reading in a chaise lounge than for instructions to follow in the kitchen. In the kitchen, as in during the actual preparation, when the fat is on the fire, so to speak.

For actual use, in the kitchen, many cookbooks are just plain difficult to follow. Have you ever had your hands full and messy and then be forced to take extra time to scrutinize a recipe to find your place for the next step because it was written like a novel? In paragraphs, that is. Long sentences. If so, then you know what we’re talking about.

This is a no fail, user friendly template for delivering a recipe that is easy to follow in the kitchen. The beauty of this suggested approach is that it gives the cook, all at once, 1) an easy take on the ingredients with amounts for each and 2) step by step instructions right along with the ingredients list. All together!

Use separations, indents, bolds, italics (especially for Itralian), underscores, bullets, hyphens, capitalization. The formatting helps the eye locate its place.

Just always keep in mind you are attempting to be helpful. Make your instructions interesting, but always as easy to follow as possible.

A good recipe will have: 

1) a story or personal anecdote which may or may not have anything at all to do with the recipe itself. You are in a conversation with your reader after all. Dance a bit. For example, "One day I was thinking about Sir Isaac Newton, and then I had this idea drop into my head with hankering for a warm piece of apple pie."

2) A description / history / background at the head sets the mood and sells the recipe. Include that whenever you can. "Grandma would always . . . " (That's a whole sub-genre about what Grandma would or wouldn't do, and we won't get into the myriad permutations.)

3) As much ancillary information as seems appropriate and/or necessary (i.e., how to serve / how to eat, accompaniments / condiments / garnishes, other menu items to coordinate with, wine / beverage pairings). E.G.: "Best to drink lots of booze before serving this particular dish. It isn't the best looking thing that ever was put on a table."

4) Your recipe should be tested. By you. Some cooks following your instructions will be literal. So be sure to get it right to your own satisfaction first. Stand by your recipe. One of our favorite sources, Saveur Magazine, is famous with us for getting amounts wrong in some of its recipes. 

Some general rules/checklist to follow:

— (Optional) Start each entry with a story or personal anecdote.

— (Optional) Include the description / background / history.

—Include, as appropriate, photos of finished dish and the (Optional) intermediate preparation steps.

— (Optional) Include video if available for online recipe entries.

— List serving portion numbers / sizes and yield.

— Indicate preparation time

— Advice on sourcing hard to find/rare/unusual ingredients.

— All the ingredients are listed in bold with bullets / hyphens for visual separation (or some other separating mark).

— List the ingredients in bold in order of handling.

— We like to capitalize food / ingredient names. (Optional)

— Suggest alternative and additional / optional ingredients.

— The amounts are indicated alongside each ingredient, non-bold.

— The preparation for cooking (e.g., wash, peel, dice/slice/mince) of the item is listed with the item or just below, depending on length of instruction. The preparation of the ingredients is a step in itself; prep is a set of steps prior to assembly, and the (good) cook will want to have that chore(s) completed before going to assembly.

When an ingredient does double duty in a recipe and has different prep styles (e.g., onion half-slices, onion small dice) these will be listed separately and in what amounts; such as, a) 2 Cups-half slice and b) 1/2 Cup-minced. And, so forth.

Cooking / Assembly is a separate section placed below ingredients in italics and indented.

— Serving / Eating suggestions (especially helpful with unfamiliar dishes; e.g., Escargot, Borlengo, Ortolan Bunting [search “How to eat Ortolan Bunting”])

— (Optional) Accompaniments / Garnishes. 

— (Optional) Menu suggestions

— (Optional) Wine and beverage pairings

The recipe below is for French Onion Soup. (In typical Cooky Cat fashion, how to make beef broth / stock is not explicated. The Internet provides.) 

The headers are to show you the structure, not included in an actual recipe.

1. Recipe Title

Traditional Classic French Onion Soup

2. Description/Background/History

The French are a nation of traditional cooks and once they have a good recipe, they see no need to update or change it simply for the sake of change. 

Classic French onion soup is a great example of how a relatively basic yet perfectly balanced traditional dish has stood the test of time and is just as popular today as it ever was.

There are lots of easy recipes for French onion soup and you can alter the soup ingredients or topping ingredients but the photo shows how a classic traditional French onion soup recipe should look. Perhaps you have enjoyed this delicacy before in a restaurant but it is easy to make your own French onion soup at home too.

The trick to making the best French onion soup is to begin with a good broth. Beef broth, also known as beef stock, is usually used in easy recipes for French onion soup and you can make beef broth from leftover bones when you have a roast. 

It is also important to caramelize the onions properly when making the best onion soup recipe. You have to allow them at least half an hour of slow cooking over a medium heat to bring out the natural sugars. This makes the onions extra sweet and juicy. A pinch of sugar to move things along is optional.

This easy French onion soup recipe is best served in French onion soup bowls. These bowls are deep and keep every drop of the soup warm until you have finished. This rich brown colored French onion soup recipe is topped with a layer of bread and creamy Gruyere cheese for an authentic finish. 

The following easy French onion soup uses the traditional steps and techniques for the very best results.

3. Servings

(Serves 8 - 12 ounce servings)

4. Preparation Time

Preparation Time: 1 hour (Beef broth / stock not included)

5. Ingredients Amounts/Preparation/Assembly

 6 large Sweet Onions thinly sliced (approximately 6-8 cups)

 3 T Olive Oil

      — Sauté the onions in the olive oil in a big, heavy bottomed pan, over a medium heat. Cook them for at least half an hour, until they are well browned, but not burnt.

  ¼ tsp. Sugar (optional)
     — Add the sugar about 10 minutes after you start the process to help with the caramelizing.

  2 cloves minced Garlic (optional)
     — Add the garlic and cook for a minute.

  8 cups of rich Beef Stock (Prepared previously)

  ½ cup Dry Vermouth, Dry White Wine or Dry Sherry

  1 tsp. Fresh Thyme (1/4 tsp. dried thyme optional)

  1 Bay Leaf

     — Add the beef stock, wine, thyme and bay leaf.
     — Cover the pan partially and let the soup simmer for half an hour, to allow the flavors to blend.

  Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
    Season with salt and pepper and discard the bay leaf.

  8 slices French Bread, toasted

  1 ½ cups grated Gruyere Cheese

     — Ladle the soup into ovenproof soup bowls and top each one with a piece of toasted French Bread.

     — Sprinkle the Gruyere Cheese on top of the bread and broil for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F or until the cheese is bubbling and melted.

    — Serve immediately.

6. Serving/Accompaniments

— Serve along with crusty baguette and a leafy green salad. Pair with white wine. dry-to-sweet scale to preference.

"Lucky Strike Extra": How to Eat Ortolan Bunting


David is my pal, keeping me from getting too frisky on the page. Here he relates his “fascinating” (ahem) resume from his formative days in the culinary corner.
Cooky Cat

My Early Culinary Roots
By David D. Wronski

When I was a boy I liked food. (Still do.) All kinds. Maybe except for canned okra and canned green peas. And my Polish mother’s spaghetti. And that pickle soup with bowtie noodles that I still feel queasy about in remembering. (Please, Polish dill pickle soup is great, don’t let me dissuade you. Just, maybe not with noodles of any kind.)

My checkered so-called career in food began early. In the broad sweep it encompasses me as avid eater, shopper, experimenter, explorer, home preparer, caterer, restaurant cook, cooking instructor, institutional kitchen manager, and now—arguably the pinochle of my career—as a writer/editor. In that last capacity I advise my friend Cooky Cat editorially, slip in a few words here and there.

As a growing boy I had a healthy appetite. Spinach? Keep it coming. Coney Island chili hot dogs, my record is 5 at a sitting. Not up to Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Contest standards; but, not too shabby for an 8 year old lad.

At home, we ate well. My mother was a scratch cook, with a solid background in the traditional Polish standards. I didn’t much take part in the kitchen, except for the front and back end jobs; prepping vegetables and taking out the garbage. But I did observe. And I believe that some of my natural ability in the kitchen may have been inherited that way.

My one fairly regular homage to my mother is what I call the summer chopped salad. A chunky mix of garden tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet onions. Oil and vinegar dressing, but with a good dose of sweetness. That extra bit of sugar is from mom. I sometimes alternate with honey. Try it; you’ll like.

The other thing from my mother was the admonition to keep the kitchen secrets. In other words, what happens in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen. If you have some kitchen disaster on your way to the table, don’t serve that news with the meal. As dear mother would so often say, “No one the wiser”.

Once as grade school project I made butter. My mother set me up with the cream and a trusty Mason jar. I put in the muscle and after an eternity there it was. I took it for show and tell, and it was judged good enough to give to the parish pastor, the forever unsmiling Father Alexander Cendrowski. He and I went on to have quite the history as you can read in another story.

The first thing I recall ever preparing myself was many a snack plate of canapés. Not your snooty little airy tidbits, but a boy pleasing, belly stuffing concatenation. My favorite at the time was the careful assemblage of Cheeze Wiz on Ritz crackers, and on each a garnish of a half of pimento stuffed olive. Even now, that and a cold beer and . . . the boy is back! But maybe now with a thin wheat cracker and some righteous aged artisanal Cheddar.

My dad pretty much stayed out of the kitchen. Those were the days where the division of labor was pretty well delineated. He worked by the sweat of his brow to put the food on the table, so he deserved to have it lovingly prepared. His one job that I vividly remember was to prepare green beans with papers spread on the kitchen table to collect the trimmings. Once, however, he did make something very special. Cured green olives. He got a recipe from who knows where and put up several jars of cracked green olives. It was a pretty exotic seeming recipe with those olives in jars surrounded by all kinds of unidentifiable herbs and spices. The end product was delicious; but very, very bitter. Similar to the kind you can get in a good store selling Middle Eastern foods.

Just to mention, on several occasions I would sauté a big mess of sliced onions in butter as a late night snack. Accompanied by some good Polish rye bread. A meal in itself. (Totally unsociable breath-wise the next day, however.) This is almost a guilty admission for me. Imagine, a plate of sautéed onions. Oh yes, now I recall, with ketchup.

A regular Saturday night ritual was the Jackie Gleason show, followed by the Lucky Strike Hit Parade. (LSMFT, if you know what I mean.) Part of the total experience was a whole pepperoni pizza in front of the television. The thing was though, I made the pizza myself, from scratch. With a little help from Chef Boyardee and his famous Pizza Kit. Most Saturday’s for quite a long time I would make the dough, oil a large round pizza pan and lay out the sauce, cheeses, and liberal amounts of sliced pepperoni. My brother taught me to accompany my spicy pizza with a large glass of cold milk. Good advice. I’ve since graduated to beer with my pizza, but milk still does the trick.

Even at a young age I was adventurous, food-wise. There was the venerable J. L. Hudson Company department store in Detroit, Michigan. I combed the entire store as a boy. It had an international food department, rather forward thinking for the mid-1950s. It was there I saw a demonstration of the first Amana Radar Range. I also tried a tin of fried grasshoppers from their gourmet shelf. Tasty, but no takers at home for more of those or other exotic insectavora for the family table. Now I notice the food shows are gradually featuring the insects, and especially from Mexico. It’s still off my map as a general staple. Besides, where in tarnation do you get those things, anyway?

Moving on to my high school days, my very first job was at my Uncle Phil’s bakery, the Northtown Bakery in Detroit on 7 Mile Road just west of Van Dyke. Right after school on Fridays, I would bus over and work straight through to 6:30AM the next morning. Half hour lunch break at midnight. My first chore was to chop onions and mix with salt and poppy seeds for the onion rolls. They gave me a dull table scraper to chop the onions in a 5 gallon tin in which jellies and fruit pie fillings were packaged. Uncle Iggy would sometimes let me score the French loaves with a razor blade, but I never got it to his satisfaction. At the end of my shift I had the task of filling and glazing the jelly donuts. Since I am a lifetime jelly donut aficionado, when I had my hand on that filler machine I made sure that those things had a good dose of jelly.

I was no slacker as a youth and dear Uncle Phil paid me 75 cents per hour. I asked for a raise and got a dollar and change more the next pay envelope. “I asked for a raise, Uncle?” “I gave you one, 10 cents more.” I quit. Phil was a wealthy guy. No wonder, with the way he paid. He was surely out to teach me the value of a dollar; but not so much a lesson in my own self-worth. And, like other wealthy big shots in some families, he was looked up to, even sucked up to. My parents were upset that I should quit on Uncle Phil. But, I was adamant. No further mention.

Very soon I was offered a job to replace my brother’s good friend Bob at his Uncle Norb’s butcher shop. 12 hours straight every Saturday, starting at 6:00AM. But, within a year, I was taking home $24 dollars for the day; and that to a young lad was some serious change. Spending power.

Norb Szcygiel was a great boss and teacher, and I watched him carefully in his cutting skills and his outgoing charming way with the customers. “Tell me, is that meat tender?” many a customer would ask. Norb would often respond, “Lady, it’s as tender as your mother’s heart”. I tried it out on a certain customer, and the last I saw of her was her back as she stomped away, cursing and screaming out about how her mother’s heart weren’t tender. Not everyone is your customer; for what you’re selling, or for your jokes either. He gave me this advice, "The world hates a smartass, especially if he doesn't have any money."

But overall I did learn to kibbitz with the customers. And, to this day, I am well-known as a world class kibbizter. Not always successful, but mostly.

And, I did learn skill with a knife. The butcher shop was a small stall among many at the historic Gratiot Central Market, adjacent to the wholesale food delivery terminal near Downtown Detroit. We did not have any power tools except for the meat grinder and the steak tenderizer, for so called “cube steak”. (That’s a device with double rollers with small sharp and sturdy multiple blades. A thinish slice of tough meat is passed through and the rollers score-cut the grain to make it more tender.) Everything else was cut by hand. That’s with a knife, a cleaver, and a hand saw.

This teenager that I was became quite a proficient meat cutter. My biggest boast is in being able to take a whole lamb carcass and cut it completely into chops. That’s starting with having to split the carcass down the back with a cleaver then with a knife and cleaver cutting up the rest. The round bones required a wickedly sharp hand saw which Norb taught me to use properly and with which I never once had an accident.

The job in the butcher shop lasted through college until team sports events took me away on weekends. Norb’s sons were making appearances at the store and they became the next generation of help for the big Saturday selling day.

So now what. First a great and warm thank you to those Uncles who employed me and taught me how to work and develop hand skills. Phil, Norb, and  even Iggy.

The other things that I did in the culinary field were in the adult years, so I won’t go into the particulars much since this is about my experience as a youth. Let’s just allude to having been in on the first wave of fusion cuisine. Arguably, maybe even one of the first to experiment in that area. Co-owner of the acclaimed Polish Pavilion, caterer to the stars—of Brooklyn anyway. Then on-site party manager and head waiter for a prominent New York City caterer. Bar manager of the infamous Club Taboo, an afterhours illegal party scene somewhere on the high floor loft space of a mid-town Manhattan warehouse. Training in very high quality and strict vegetarian cooking while on staff at an ashram; and later supervising the meal preparation there and training and overseeing a volunteer staff. And, cook at Whole Wheat and Wild Berries health food restaurant in the Village.

So now I am in service to the top Cooky Cat. He runs a tight ship in his kitchen, and I run a tight grip on the editorial of his eponymous blog.

Thank you, my friend Cooky Cat, for giving me this space to show some of my stuff. There’s a nice kitty.