The Last Word on Fish Oil

My husband Jeff is probably relieved that I have found a venue out of his earshot, where I can get fish oil out of my system, so to speak. (Actually, you want fish oil in your system, but I’m getting to that).

I admit that I have become a colossal bore when it comes to fish oil.  Urged by a sports medicine doctor to take prescription fish oil (Lovaza) to ease my achy knees, improve my addled memory and generally make me a happy person, I grew suspicious and began researching prescription versus non-prescription fish oil supplements to see if the prescription version had merits beyond benefiting the pharmaceutical industry. I can wax poetic about EPA and DHA concentration levels, fishy burps and the significance of FDA approval, and rant that I have found nothing conclusive to justify the expense of Lovaza, save the zealous glint in my doctor’s eyes.

Those of you on the far side of 40 may have noticed that at parties and soccer fields, the talk among your peers has become decidedly geriatric. It starts out innocently enough – a guy tells you he pulled his groin playing soccer; a woman says she has “hip issues” when she runs.  Before too long, men stop playing basketball, women take up yoga and everyone you know has either had knee surgery or knows someone who knows someone who has.

We used to mock H., one of the more eccentric among our circle of friends, for quoting his cholesterol numbers every time we got together (he was an early adopter).  Soon, however, the talk among our more mainstream acquaintances turned from sports medicine to LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol ratios.  Nobody talked about sex, music or movies anymore.

It was Jeff’s bad luck that at parties, often when he joined a conversation-in-progress, the speaker would be holding forth on arterial plaque, custom orthotic shoe inserts, Vitamin D and, eventually in my case, fish oil.  A person might wonder, if this is what we’re discussing over drinks when we’re in our 40s, what will we be talking about when we are in our 70s?

My obsession with fish oil probably has its roots in the early years of our courtship when, eager to fit in, I sat uncomplainingly in the Lafuma recliner belonging to our friend Jerry, a legendary Lummi Island reefnet salmon fisherman, and feigned interest while he repeatedly showed a video of a reefnet gear pulling in a big catch.  Jerry’s house, which has been extended so far that it nearly sits on the road median, offers a prime view of the reefnet gears on Legoe Bay.

 Reefnetting is an ancient, environmentally-friendly form of salmon fishing.  Jeff had spent his teenage summers reefnetting on Lummi Island as part of Jerry’s crew, and had formed lasting friendships and lasting memories as a result.

Chilko, Adams, Horsefly…  These are some of the tributaries of the Fraser River (British Columbia’s longest river and the chief Pacific salmon spawning grounds in North America outside of Alaska) for which salmon runs are named. The river plays host to all five species of salmon which, after birth, migrate to the Pacific Ocean, eventually returning to their native streams to spawn and die. In any given year, scores of different salmon runs, with millions of salmon, return home. Jeff can still recite many of the dominant runs in order and remembers the early Stuarts of 1981, the 1983 Horsefly Run and the overall consistency of an Adams run.

Eager to see a salmon run in action, our family has made two fish forays to British Columbia in recent years:  to Chilko Lake, near the Chilko and Chilkotin Rivers (we traveled with ROAM, a Canadian boutique adventure travel company founded by the ever-entertaining Brian McCutcheon), where we observed bears in their natural habitat, feasting on salmon (bear photos are by Denise Greenberg),

and to the Adams River, where we witnessed the largest sockeye salmon run in a century.

Every year at Labor Day we gather on Lummi island with Jerry, our reefnetting friends, past and present, and all of our families.  If the fishing is open, Jeff will make a guest appearance to fish with Steve, Karen, Jim and Mark.  Later in the evening, we’ll enjoy salmon roe and crisp wine with Bob and Rachel, at the old reefnetter “ghetto,” on the deck of the house they have restored that used to belong to eccentric fisherman Will Wright.  Inevitably, there will be a full-on multi-generational salmon feast with Jerry, Sue, and assorted Andersons, Nesbits, Wrights and Moans.

Our kids are probably tired of hearing tales from the glory days, when Jeff, Michael, Peter and Craig became friends on Jerry’s gear, finding it hard to picture these now-graying men, who talk about their cholesterol*, as teenagers discovering their independence through fishing.

*Jeff wants you to know that he does not talk about his cholesterol

Our collective connection to fish feels far removed from those translucent golden horse pills in a bottle.

Still, these days, while Jeff is out reefnetting, I can sit beside Jerry in a Lafuma recliner and drone on about fish oil. Jerry gives me a run for my money and can recite from memory the concentration levels in all of the major over-the-counter brands.

In mid-September we received a visit in Seattle from Karen, with a broom in tow. As a crew member (albeit a guest one), she wanted Jeff to participate in a broom-signing ceremony to commemorate catching over 100,000 pounds of humpy salmon during the 2011 season.

I still don’t know if there’s something “fishy” about Lovaza or whether fish oil (prescription or over-the-counter) is the miracle supplement its fans claim it is.

The only thing I know for sure is that fish can be the glue that holds people together.

Lummi Island sunset

Comfort Me with Apples*: Apple Cakes I Have Known and Loved

Last Sunday was one of those perfect fall days – crisp and colorful and cozy.  Still basking in the glow of a satisfying Saturday (three soccer games, including the final Seattle Sounders home game, which featured an unexpected last minute win) and the lingering aroma of sweet baked apples, courtesy of my daughter and her friend, that made our house smell as if it were being staged by a real estate agent, I got up, made pancakes for my family, went for a run and settled in to make apple cake for our Mother-Daugher book group.  As I mixed the ingredients, I reveled in the good fortune that finds me with a loving family, fun, supportive friends and an apple tree in my yard that is having an especially good yield of large, tangy fruit this year.

That got me thinking of all the apple cakes I have known and loved, since moving to Seattle sixteen years ago.

Seattle is a notoriously hard place to break into.  Non-natives like me share knowing nods when we talk about “Seattle Nice,” the phenomenon in which locals, even store clerks, are polite and downright friendly (a big change for us East-Coasters) but resist taking relationships to a deeper level.  It has something to do with their lives being full of family and friends they’ve had since grade school.  It’s nothing personal, they just don’t have room for too many other people.

From A Sensitive Liberal’s Guide to Life (www.uptightseattleite.com)

Having moved here from Washington, DC, a transient city, where few people have roots and you routinely socialize with people you just met five minutes ago, I was mystified by “Seattle Nice.”  So I tried to break in with apple cake.

In those early years, my “go-to” cakes were the Chunky Apple Walnut Cake from the Silver Palate cookbook and the Chunky Apple Walnut Cake from Oregon’s Cuisine of the Rain,  a book I hoped would hasten my transformation from outsider to authentic Pacific Northwesterner. Both cakes, which were made in Bundt pans and were therefore hard to screw up, elicited oohs and aahs when I brought them to work functions.

The years passed, I had kids (which, like dogs, are a sure-fire social ice-breaker), I made friends and I began moving out of my apple dessert comfort zone, managing to make two or three different apple recipes a season.

I knew better than to attempt apple pie and call it my own, because I don’t come from pie-making people, and I hadn’t then, and haven’t still, found that perfect foolproof pie crust that seals your credentials so that people are forever in awe of you.

Still, apple is the chicken of the fruit world, and you would have to live a thousand lifetimes to tackle all of the variations of golden, caramelized fruit alone or co-mingling with close or distant fruity relatives, encased in or free of dough, with or without vanilla or Calvados or nuts, topless or covered with something crisp. Sure these recipes seem nice, but do you have room in your life for them all?

June’s Apple Crisp from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, dubbed “Apple Glop” by my husband, was one of our first culinary standbys as a nascent family. As my confidence in the kitchen grew, I flirted with an apple-almond tart here, the odd apple galette there, and a few tartes Tatins. And then I discovered Santori Cake.

It came from Pasta and Co., one of Seattle’s first real foodie stores, where you could also purchase a perfect Balsamic vinegar- roasted chicken and an alluring array of pasta salads and delicious mini-cheesecakes for a picnic, like something out of a French movie, or a romantic evening at home. Santori Cake has all the elements of every delicious apple dessert you’ve ever tasted — gooey, caramelized cinnamon-spiced fruit with a crunchy exterior.  Best of all, people can’t thank you enough for baking it. It’s a cake worth exclaiming over.

While the Santori Cake was baking last Sunday, the idyllic afternoon gave way to minor tiffs and disappointments.  Sometimes our family reminds me of a crowded pan of apples — we bump up against each other, fighting for space and attention, and once in a while somebody gets burned.

 A few bites of the Santori Cake changed all that, at least for a little while.

Last spring R., a friend I have been getting to know on a deeper level, who warms those around her with her wisdom, made a delicious French apple cake for a book group meeting. The recipe came by way of Paris-based food blogger and pastry chef David Lebovitz, who got it from Dorie Greenspan, from her latest book Around My French Table.

Reader, I made that cake.

I also began following Dorie Greenspan and David Lebovitz’s blogs, which are very different. I aspire to be Dorie Greenspan.  I want to be friends with David Lebovitz.

On Facebook this week my “friend” David shared an article entitled How to Cook a Perfect Tarte Tatin, which compared the relative merits of various recipes for this classic French upside -down apple dessert.  For an inveterate recipe junkie like me, this article was a time-saving godsend.

Apple cakes are like friends. Though it takes a while to find the ones you want to establish meaningful relationships with, once you do, your life will be enriched.

It’s shaping up to be a very different weekend from the last one, blustery and gray and soggy with rain. We’ve already made one trip to the mall and one trip to the emergency room and it’s still only Friday night.

So though I probably won’t bake anything, with or without apples, it’s nice to feel at home and to have friends, real and virtual, to share recipes and stories and wisdom.

Santori:  The Apple Cake Recipe Customers Beg For

(from Pasta & Co. Encore, copyright 1997 by Marcella Rosene)

Ingredients:

3 cups sugar

1 Tablespoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

3/4 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

6 cups (approximately 4 apples) peeled, cored and sliced tart cooking apples, such as Granny Smith

1 1/2 cups very coarsely chopped walnuts

3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 325 if using a metal pan; 300 if using a glass one.  Lightly butter a 9×13 inch shallow baking pan.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, oil, eggs and vanilla.  Mix well and stir in apples and walnuts until they are coated with batter.  Stir in flour.  Batter will be quite firm.  Spoon into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes if using a metal pan, 1 hour and 30 minutes if using a glass one.  Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick, baking for up to another 20 minutes.  When done, remove from oven and let cool on a rack before cutting into squares.

*Books are as comforting as apples.  For a nice, satisfying, cozy read this winter, I recommend former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl’s memoirs Tender At the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples and Garlic and Sapphires.

When Caring for Your Aging Parents Takes You by Surprise

from psychologytoday.com

You may have seen the recent New York Times op-ed piece by Jane Gross entitled “How Medicare Fails the Elderly.”

Though today I intended to write a chipper little blog entry entitled Apple Cakes I Have Known and Loved, reading Gross’s important expose on what she calls “the dirty little secret of health care” — that Medicare does not pay for what most patients (and their families) need and want — reminded me that mid-life is not all soccer games, jack-o-lanterns and apple desserts and that the reason I started this blog was to explore the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of this unique life stage.

They call us the “sandwich generation” for a reason.

Whether you realize it or not, eventually you will have to deal with some aspect of caring for your aging parents.  And it may happen sooner than you expected.

Here’s an excerpt from a piece entitled Hero Sandwich that appeared in a previous incarnation of this blog:

On some level I always knew this day would come, though I hoped to avoid it. But now, staring me in the face is this: my mother, alone and destitute, has cancer. And it’s fallen to me, three thousand miles away, to support her, arranging for her treatment, housing, home health care support and emotional support. In the week since we’ve had the news, cancer has become an almost full-time job, piled on top of my responsibilities as a mother with a part-time job and a life full of commitments. 

They say you don’t know what you don’t know. Little did I know that attempting to figure out her health care coverage would cause me to become unglued. Little did I know that every day, I would move one step forward and two steps back, yet still make time to bake birthday cakes and cupcakes for my two daughters, whose birthdays fell during Week One of cancer, and for whom I wanted to keep things as normal as possible. Now, facing insomnia after a particularly frustrating day, I worry that my youngest daughter, who has been suspiciously scratching her head for weeks, is harboring a nest of lice in her thick, red, curly hair. Lice (and cancer) is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. 

My mother dreads the nights, but I dread the days. The endless to-do list that is not do-able at all because of incorrect information, insurance loopholes and the sheer overwhelmingness of it all. The constant phone calls. And somewhere, buried beneath all that is the emotional toll of the news on my mother, me, my kids. It sneaks up on me, but frankly, I don’t have time to deal with it.

I wrote that nearly two years ago, when I undertook the most difficult challenge of my life – navigating my mother from life to death.  This involved bringing her from Florida to Seattle, where I hoped she could receive cancer treatment, only to discover when she got here that it was too late. The move necessitated changing her Medicare Part “D” insurance (just for kicks, ask your parents to explain their Medicare Part D coverage. Want to really have fun? Ask them to explain the “donut hole.”), which required scores of phone calls to Medicare, as well as to her old and new supplemental insurance companies.  Though I was literally fighting for her life (she could not see a doctor until the insurance changes were finalized), each phone call was like something out of Kafka.

The person at the other end of the line (who would only provide a first name) claimed to know nothing about what had supposedly been done during the previous ten phone calls.  Attempts to trace those other first-name-only customer service representatives, who had promised to take care of things, were fruitless.

During many sleepless nights, I sought comfort from the New York Times blog “The New Old Age,” which was established by Jane Gross, and has continued under Times writer Paula Span. Thanks to them (who I came to think of as trusted older sisters), their guest bloggers, and the countless readers who wrote in with questions and also advice, I learned what questions I should ask and discovered many valuable resources I hadn’t known about.  Most importantly, I learned I wasn’t alone.

Jane Gross recently published A Bittersweet Season: Caring for our Aging Parents –and Ourselves, which is both her personal story of caring for her mother and an enlightening depiction of how Medicare really works.

Paula Span describes her 2009 book When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions as “a support group in print.”

Even if you don’t think you need to yet, I urge you to talk to your parents about their financial situation, their wills and their insurance coverage (including long-term care insurance)   Make sure they have given someone power of attorney and have written directives for the disposition of their remains. Pay attention to the proposed Medicare-related changes in the ongoing health care debate.

Because when the time comes, it will be bittersweet, and you will want to be prepared.



Chicken Matzoh Ball Soup for the Soccer Mom’s Soul

Today I decided to make Chicken Matzoh Ball soup for my friend S., who is suffering from pneumonia. 

S., whose husband has been out of town for the past month, was planning to host a sleepover birthday party for her daughter this week, on the same night as the middle school open house for parents.  When I found out she had pneumonia, after consulting with our level-headed friend C., I convinced S., who didn’t want to disappoint her daughter, to reschedule the party. I gently suggested that it was important for her kids to understand she was vulnerable, that parents can’t always do everything. Then I offered to make her soup.

S., C. and I are part of a strong community of parents who routinely bail each other out.  We’ve picked up each other’s kids from school, made emergency deliveries of lice treatment equipment and have supported each other through the social traumas inflicted and experienced by girls. Cooking is my strong suit.  It is not among S.’s many talents.  What better way to repay years of friendship then with a steaming hot pot of “Jewish penicillin,” still something of a novelty in Seattle.

“While I’m at it, I’ll make two pots of chicken matzoh ball soup,” I reasoned.  Things have been cattywampus in our household too.  My husband Jeff is in Korea, the girls and I are coughing and sneezing and we’ve had evening commitments every night of the week.

I didn’t grow up eating or especially liking Chicken Matzoh Ball soup and do not have a family recipe, passed down from generation to generation, to rely on.  Instead, the recipe I use comes from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food. Claudia Roden is one of my favorite cookbook authors and the revised version of her Book of Middle Eastern Food is probably my favorite cookbook of all time. It’s as much storybook as cookbook, and I have whiled away many happy hours lost in its pages.

I set the pots of chicken, turnips, leeks, onions and carrots on the stove at around 3:00. The goal was for the soup to be ready by 6:00 soccer practice, where I would deliver it to S.

The soup bubbled away and all seemed right with the world.

Then, my universe unraveled.

Daughter #2, usually on top of things, remembered that she had a Colonial cooking project involving tapioca due the next day.  The  same thing had happened the week before and, though we had chosen Gingerbread, the easiest recipe, it had compromised the serenity of European Chicken Night. 

We would have to embark on a tapioca procurement expedition later on.  No big deal.  I mixed the matzoh meal and the egg and set them in the refrigerator to rest, while I strained the soup. 

On to math homework.  I have long since stopped being able to help my daughters with their math and when Jeff is away I am reminded how much I detest their discovery math curriculum and its textbooks that don’t actually show you how to solve the problems. A math freakout occurred over a problem involving a brownie pan.  Words were exchanged when I tried to help, so I encouraged Daughter #2, who is a fashionista, to pick out her outfit for school pictures the next day. Meanwhile, I rolled out the matzoh meal mix into balls and returned the chicken meat and fresh carrots to the soup stock.

Daughter #1, perhaps miffed at not being the center of attention, mentioned that her braces hurt, her ear hurt and wondered if she had to go to soccer practice. I set the matzoh balls into a pot of boiling water.

After modeling her school picture outfit and extracting a promise that I would iron it the next morning, Daughter #2 consulted the tapioca recipe, only to discover that it was supposed to soak overnight and cook for three hours. We were in for a lengthy evening.

Daughter #1 went to soccer practice.  At 6:00,  I poured a batch of the now-finished soup into a container for S, set it in a paper bag and carefully placed it in the car.  Daughter #2 and I set off to buy tapioca. By the time we got to the soccer field, S’s daughter had already been dropped off, so I made arrangements for our for our friend J, who was driving S’s daughter home, to stop by my house after practice to pick up the soup.

When we got home, Daughter #2 and I rushed out of the car, so she could quick-soak the tapioca, eat a bowl of soup, finish the math homework, take a shower and cook the tapioca, pretending Colonial people had the luxury of using the quick recipe on the back of the package.  Things were looking up.

I stepped onto the back porch to unlock the door.  The saturated paper bag gave way.

S’s soup container landed with a splat before bursting open, sending chicken, matzoh balls and any illusion that I had things under control flying.

Once the military precision of the evening gave way to chaos,my daughters rose to the occasion and things worked out nicely in the end.  I poured a new batch of soup for S and packed it in a plastic bag, cautioning J. and S’s daughter to handle it carefully.  The kids ate tapioca for dessert, which was easy on Daughter #1′s achy braces.  Daughter #2 figured out the math problem and wondered why her math book made things more complicated than they had to be.

I hope S. enjoyed her soup.

The next time I want to nurture a friend,  I think I’ll just rent the movie Bridesmaids for her instead.

Divorce: Balancing Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I

I’ve just returned from Boulder, Colorado, where I’ve gone to visit my dear friend L., whose son is in college there and who is recovering from the breakup of her 25-year marriage and preparing for her impending divorce.

I was last in Boulder 29 years ago, on a cross-country camping trip with my then-boyfriend.  We stopped in town to visit a friend and probably to take a shower.  I don’t remember much about the place except the smell of patchouli and the crunchy granola vibe.  The aroma and vibe are still there, especially on the Hill, the neighborhood around the University, but Boulder is decidedly more upscale. L. and I ate in several high-end restaurants, where there was nary an alfalfa sprout in sight. The most noticeable change is the preponderance of medical marijuana dispensaries, eyebrow -raising, given the youth and overall health of the population in a city that usually ranks among the top five healthiest in the U.S.


I've heard they even deliver




This has been a year for going back in time.  In the spring, I returned to Paris, where L. and I and her husband first met as students 31 years ago and in August, I returned to Washington, DC (first time back in 13 years), where I lived and worked prior to moving to Seattle to get married. Each of these retrospective trips has been cause for introspection – a bittersweet mélange of memories, roads not taken and the joy of rediscovering people and places that once were central to my life.

L and I have history together.  In my mind, she and her husband were the stable ones, marrying young while I remained single and uncertain until my mid-30s, achieving wealth while I still struggled to pay the bills, and successfully launching three kids and anticipating being youthful empty nesters, while I would remain tethered to soccer schedules and PTA meetings, long past menopause.

For all the times I sought refuge on L’s couch, it’s time for me to provide her emotional support.  We talk about fresh starts over gin-and-tonics. We take a cold, high-altitude hike. We do hot yoga.

On Mt. Sanitas, somewhere around 7,000 feet, we are caught unprepared by a sleet shower that sends us running down the trail, L’s frostbitten hands clasped to her broken heart.  At hot yoga, while attempting to shift from one balancing pose to another, I slip in my own sweat and fall on my ass.  These inescapable metaphors for the newfound instability in L’s life are so obvious, they’re not even worth remarking on.   In the locker room at the yoga studio, another middle-aged divorcee and mother of a college-aged son regales us with her tales of reinvention, which involve neuro-feedback, hormone injections and pole dancing.  “I practiced some of my moves for my boyfriend.  He told me I need to take more classes,” she says wryly.

I introduce L to another friend, also named L, who lives in the area and is a few years ahead in the post-marital breakup recovery process.  L and L have so much in common. They both worked hard to have different lives than their mothers. They were supportive spouses. They read What to Expect When You Are Expecting and became doting mothers.  They were not expecting divorce.

We take their three sons out to breakfast. The boys, who give little thought to the future, eat beignets and biscuits and mounds of rich eggs.  Their mothers, who have learned you can’t be too careful, eat eggs scrambled with tofu and shredded carrots.  And I, somewhere in the middle, eat vegetarian Eggs Benedict.

Some things are timeless:  friends will always be there to pick you up when you stumble, college boys will always live in oblivious squalor.

There will always be a Marley to perform and an audience to appreciate the “don’t worry, be happy” mantra of reggae.

On my last afternoon in Boulder, L and I are taking a walk and we see a message written on a yellow, sticky note that someone felt compelled to place on an area map.

Be grateful for the wonders of your life

Permanent in its impermanence, this is a message we can’t ignore.

Hey, Kids! It’s European Chicken Night!

Ever since I had kids and my international career came to an end, I’ve traveled the world without leaving my kitchen.  I’m an inveterate collector of cookbooks and an avid tester of recipes, known for my ethnic dinner parties, unusual potluck contributions and weeknight dinners that deviate substantially from the usual family fare. When the kids were little, I would sometimes pretend we were in the country of the cuisine of the evening, giving everyone new names and encouraging them to speak English with foreign accents.  It was fun and it saved me from the drudgery that caring for a young family can sometimes be.


Now everyone is older.  The kids have traveled to some of the countries we’ve pretended to be in and to others we never even imagined.  Our evenings are filled with the realities of homework, soccer practice and piano lessons and there doesn’t seem to be much time to pretend anymore.

Except on Thursdays.  This fall, I have dubbed Thursdays European Chicken Night.  Chicken – described as a blank canvas for the creative cook and the little black dress of the kitchen.  They do sublime things with it in France, mostly involving cream sauce.  While going through ten years of cooking magazines and reorganizing my substantial stash of cookbooks after a recent kitchen painting project, I unearthed mouthwatering recipe after recipe with chicken as the star and felt a sense of urgency that we had to try them before it was too late.

Week One:  It’s September, school has recently started and there is an unseasonable (for Seattle) chill in the air.  What better night to serve something the NY Times magazine (who adapted it from Chez Panisse Fruit) calls Poulet a la Normande and my French cookbooks confirm is indeed a classic from the Normandy region of France — chicken in a cream sauce flavored with apples and Calvados.  The kids remind me that they lapped it up like kittens.  I think European Chicken Night is going to be a success.

Week Two:  It’s too hot to cook, much less think about eating chicken. I find a vaguely Greek recipe for barbecued chicken skewers but I am missing some key marinade ingredients and make poor substitutions.  There is one odd ingredient in the recipe that we all agree is out of place.  The meal, the ingredient and the recipe are quickly forgotten.

Week Three:  This night will be unforgettable.  I have found a recipe for Roast Chicken with Apples that comes from the town of Metz in the Lorraine region of France, where the first Jews settled in 221 AD.  Though we are a secular household, I think this is the perfect dish to commemorate the Jewish New Year and I spend the day in happy anticipation.  Reality check:  one daughter comes unglued after school, my husband wants to know why no one ever told him about European Chicken Night, the daughter who hasn’t come unglued gets tired of behaving and I want to throw the chicken at all of them.  I wonder if French women ever feel that way.  But then, voila!  Small miracle.  We sit down and tuck into the sweetly cinnamon-flavored chicken and apples and everyone calms down.  I tell them about the Jews of Metz and about the history of the accompanying pilau, a rice dish which originated in Persia and has traveled around the world.  We happily reminisce about meals we have eaten in other countries.  This is my little tribe and I love them. (I got this recipe from epicurious.com.   It comes from Joan Nathan’s new book about Jewish cooking in France.)

Week Four is upon us.  My husband and I will be like two ships passing in the night.  He will return from a business trip only in time to eat whatever leftovers remain from ECN.  I leave the next morning for a long weekend.  He departs the morning after my return for another business trip, with more time in the air then on the ground. Everyone is battling a cold. Though my taste buds are craving the exotic, I know better than to impose my whims on the kids or to burden myself with an ambitious cooking project.  So I think I will rely on a favorite standby – the Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Fresh Sage in Patricia Well’s book Trattoria.  I’m sure Patricia doesn’t make this with defrosted Costco chicken breasts, but it doesn’t matter. There are some cookbook authors you can depend on no matter what and I love it when I can follow a recipe to a T. Anyway, if I weren’t a harried fifty year-old soccer mom in a rainy city with ravenous kids who will be gone before I know it, I might be dining peacefully in a charming trattoria in an undiscovered village in Italy.

I think it’s a night for pretending.

Some trusty classics