Wild Capers

TallGirl’s friend broke my heart.

“I think I’m too old to try new things. ”  She is 22.  She was talking about butternut squash.

Maybe I was particularly sensitive to the sentiment because I’d recently had an argument with a travel article titled 30 Places to Visit Before You Are 30.  If beer-bellies can yell at TV sports, dark-rims can raise their voices to a magazine.  Only fair.  I am post-30, and I can totally justify skipping Milan because I don’t own the wardrobe befitting their sidewalks.  Besides, they have a Starbucks,  so why bother?  It’s practically Parsippany, now isn’t it?  But do they mean to tell me Venice has nothing to offer now that the bloom is off my flower?  At my age, is it so hard to believe that I might appreciate the history of Budapest a little more than I would have twenty years ago when my biggest struggle was keeping up with a scrunchy?  Just kidding.  Twenty years ago, I had a toddler and my first broken marriage to navigate.  I will concede this article wasn’t written for me, or people like me at that age.  Still, I think it was a little short-sighted to write a travel article that specifically excludes me, and people like me now, who – precisely because of age, have the time and disposable income to visit the boutique hotels being shilled in the glossy pages of this magazine.  But that’s just me.

Through middle and high school, TallGirl’s friend was a frequent visitor to our dinner table.  Scratch that.  She wasn’t a visitor.  She was family; there was always a chair for her.  Without fail, every single meal, she ate something for the first time.  When we knew she was coming, it became a game of mine to guess, while I was cooking, what would follow her, I’ve never had declaration.  Sausage, chocolate chip pancakes, pork chops, broccoli with cheese.  We aren’t talking exotic fare, here.  After graduation, they chose different paths, and she is now a vestigial daughter, visiting only once or twice a year.  We miss her, and I’d forgotten her sheltered culinary life.  That she’d never had butternut squash before was only surprising in that I hadn’t even considered it before dinner was served.

But here’s my confession.  I have passed the halfway mark in my forty-second year of life and last night, I ate capers for the first time.  Ever.  I was aware of capers.  My first knowledge of them came from Heartburn, by Nora Ephron.  I read it about two decades ago, during those tumultuous, family breaking years when apparently I should have been traipsing the globe instead of potty training my beautiful daughter.  Between you and me, I made the wiser choice.  My life is rich beyond measure because she is in it, and hers is measurably improved by being potty trained.  You’re welcome, BooBoo.

Nora Ephron has been accused for years of steering women wrong by romanticizing the troubling character flaws of both women and their male counterparts in her romantic comedies.  Forget that.  Neuroses are funny to everyone (save for those closely related to the afflicted, and to a lesser extent, the afflicted themselves), and it is exceedingly difficult to move a plot along if everyone in the story behaves rationally.  She did what she had to do as a writer, and I, for one, admire both her chops and the battles she fought to be allowed to flex them.  Where I take issue with her though, God rest her soul, is the terrible advice she gave in Heartburn.  “…The truth is that any dish that tastes good with capers in it tastes even better with capers not in it.”

Living in the homogeneous suburbs of the south-east, it’s not like I had to go out of my way to avoid capers.  They were always something that existed in the world but that I would likely never try, not unlike puffer fish or haggis.  And equally, I assumed I wasn’t missing anything special; possibly, I was saving my own life by not trying them.

By the laws established by the governing body of dieters everywhere, I think I am required to tell you that I am starting the Whole30 Program.  I am probably breaking some cardinal rule by not posting Insta pictures of every meal, or talking incessantly about what I am obsessing about eating, or not eating, next.  But that’s just not who I am.  I am only telling you this now because I have a cookbook that tells me exactly what to make to stay compliant and last night’s dinner involved capers.  I considered leaving them out because Nora Ephron didn’t like them.  The ghost of Nora Ephron wasn’t even invited to dinner, so is that nuts, or what?

Nuts, by the way, are allowed on the Whole 30, but not a wise nutritional choice.  Now you know.

And you know what?  I loved them.  I loved them so much that I want to invite TallGirl’s friend over for dinner, even though TallGirl is still away at school, and make her eat them with me.

Oh, the capers these walls have seen!

Last spring I was in Rome.  I don’t know if that is a city on that stupid 30 Before 30 list, but I can tell you, no matter how old you are, get there.  Our apartment backed up to the Aurelian Walls, and there were lush, green cascades of vegetation with pretty, wispy, white flowers growing freely from the cracks in the ancient brick.  I asked a local what they were, and she thought a moment as she consulted her English vocabulary.  More like a question of her own than an answer to mine, she said, “Wild capers?”

Because of the way she wrinkled her nose when she said it, and because of my Ephron association with the little beasts, I agreed with her that yes, those must be wild capers.  I probably even wrinkled my own nose in solidarity.


I consider myself to be adventurous, but just like TallGirl’s friend, even I sometimes forego new experiences due to preconceived notions, or have those intrusive thoughts that I might be too told to try a new thing.  I’ll try harder to recognize them, and nip them in the bud.

We are never too old for wild capers.

As a cautionary side, Whole30 was a terrible time to try capers.  They have the same effect on my breath as a pickled garlic-onion might, and gum – all gum – is forbidden.  If I accidentally breathe on you this month, I apologize in advance.



When life hands you persimmons, share maybe?

20170109_171854.jpgI fumbled my mom’s old recipe box on the night before Thanksgiving. A hundred recipes fanned out on the kitchen floor and the box landed in two pieces.  I ferreted out the pineapple casserole I was looking for, and shoved everything back in the box as best it would go, telling myself that I’d sort through it in the next couple of days, but knowing that was a lie.

Facing my third ice-bound day, this morning seemed like a good time to put recipes back in order. I settled in with my hot tea (Numi – Monkey King, if you must know), and got to work sorting the age yellowed, typed index cards and hand written, notebook paper recipes back to their proper section.

And then my phone rang. It was Donna, the friendly taxidermist calling me back. We had a lively discussion about pets we have loved and agreed that her daughter, Nora is a gem. When we got around to the business of why I’d left her a message – Woody – she was very tender in asking me the questions a taxidermist needs answered concerning a possible mount. I tried to let her know these discussions don’t bother me. When he’s gone I will miss him and grieve him terribly, but I can handle matters of his body with complete detachment. I told her I’ve already made arrangements for myself and stopped short of telling her I did the same for my mother just five years ago.

Five years ago, today.

She passed that morning before I could get back in to hospice to visit. When we left the night before, I think we all knew it was the last time. She talked about how heavy her ham was and I told her to put it down.

The thought of that, on the phone with Ms. Donna, kind of took my breath away. When we hung up, I returned to my recipe sorting, thinking that maybe I’d find a nice ham recipe to make for dinner tonight in her memory.  And maybe I’d make the cherry chocolate cake my dad loved, too; in another two weeks he’ll have been gone 10 whole years.

When the jellies and breads and pickles and puddings were all tucked away in orderly fashion behind their tabbed labels, I noticed there wasn’t a single ham recipe.  In fact, except for a magazine clipping of how to saute a chicken and what to do with it once you have, the whole meat section of her box was empty.  I will attribute this to the thirty or so cook books I confiscated when my father passed away.  Meat was his favorite genre and  I’m guessing he didn’t give her much opportunity to collect any of her own recipes in that medium.

Don’t get all excited about that scotch chocolate cake recipe in the background like I did – it contains no actual scotch.

I ran across eight recipes for persimmons; bread, cake, cookies, pickled, pie, and three puddings.  She took the time to type or tape each of these recipes onto index cards, I’m guessing, in the early 70’s.  The paper has a scent I recognize from my childhood.  But here’s my question – Did persimmons go extinct?  I’ve never seen one and I can say with certainty that the stains on these recipes were not made during my lifetime.

If you know what and where a persimmon is, maybe you can send me one (a few).  In return, I’ll share this recipe with you.

Browns, Vaginas, And a Recipe!

Seventeen years ago today was a Monday.  The Cleveland Browns returned to the field for the first time in four years and they beat the Dallas Cowboys by 3 points.  My boyfriend, being from Pittsburgh, was a natural enemy of Cleveland anything.  He was, by law, a Steelers fan, but I’ve always suspected that if he’d been born with free will, he’d have chosen them, anyway.

Being of somewhat average intelligence with a strong sense of right and wrong, I naturally detested the Cowboys.  I grew up in a virtual football desert; The Carolina Panthers didn’t exist until I was an adult, which is probably why I don’t count them as a real team, even as they turn 21 this year.  Wipe that look off your face, neighbor; it’s the same as when you couldn’t embrace green ketchup even though it tastes the same.

Carolina Panthers.  Green Ketchup.  There’s a choking metaphor in there somewhere.

Speaking of choking, Miami Dolphins.  That was my team, I thought.  Most of my school buddies chose to pull for the closest teams to our north or to our south – Redskins or Falcons.  I chose my team by far more scientific methods; I thought Dan Marino was gorgeous.  Years and years later I’d realize I was really only his fan.  The rest of the team just didn’t interest me that much.

“I’m going to marry him.  What’s his name?” I declared just moments before he lost the last Super Bowl he ever played.  It’s possible, I bet, that I’m the jinx he could never shake.

But seventeen years ago today, he wasn’t playing, and neither were the Steelers.  We were simply celebrating the return of Monday Night Football.  We cooked several pots of chili and invited some friends over.  The Browns emerged victorious and the bowls were all loaded into the dishwasher when we lay down to unwind on the couch before bed.  I was not expecting what happened next.  At least, not that moment.

See, I totally ignored that whole don’t get your meat from the same place you get your bread rule and started dating a co-worker.  He had a goofy sense of humor and perfectly straight teeth; apparently the only standards I possessed at the time.  One day he overheard as I was espousing to another co-worker the superiority of Dan Marino over every other human, living or dead.  He stuck out his hand to shake and said, “Hi.  I went to high school with Dan Marino.”

And that’s when I was sold.

I may as well have ordered a side of Brooklyn Bridge or beach front property in Arizona because as it turned out, he only went to the same high school as Dan Marino.  Thirteen years later.  But that’s another story.

A year and a half after his little white lie, I was laying on the couch with him in my apartment when I said, “Hey, you know what I really want?”

He said he thought he did, and told me to close my eyes.  I complied and after a few seconds he told me I could open them.

He was still lying there, beside me.

“Where’s my chocolate?”

He looked confused.

“You said you had chocolate.”

“What?  No I didn’t!”

I looked confused.

“Look down.”

There, sitting on top of the afghan I’d thrown over us was a square box.  It contained the thing I’d been anxiously avoiding for a couple of weeks.

On one occasion he’d asked if I ever looked through the jar of sand I kept on my kitchen counter.  I saw the tip of the diamond and a couple of gold prongs poking out and said, “Why?  It’s just sand,” before quickly leaving the room.

On another occasion he asked me to bring him something from the dresser drawer I’d designated as his.  The box was right on top, but I moved it to the side and took him the item he requested.

If my memory serves me, there was another near miss, but I’ve forgotten the details.  I definitely didn’t expect or want what he was trying to give me.  Before him, I’d dated a guy who casually said he thought I’d look good in a dress he saw in a magazine.  It was white.  So I read between the lines and did the only proper thing; I waited a few days and told him I moved to Alaska.

But there I was, trapped between him and the sofa cushions with an afghan and two ton diamond ring on my chest.  It was almost a karat, but the weight.  Oh my God, the weight.

He asked the obvious question and I said yes.  It would have been rude not to.

That sounds like bullshit, but it would have.  I did not want marriage, but he did.  And since it meant something to him, but not to me, it seemed a small price to pay for someone I had come to love.

Plus, I’d grown up a little bit since that time I didn’t actually move to Alaska.

Ten years later, I suspect to the day, Mr. I Didn’t Really, Actually, Truly Go to High School with Dan Marino went on a business trip and fell into the vagina of the co-worker he’d been making fun of on the way to the airport a few days earlier.  At that time, Dan Marino had been retired nine years, and was hiding the illegitimate love child he’d created when he fell into a co-worker’s vagina.  Be careful, guys.   It is a va-jungle out there.  Apparently.

I’ve gotten rid of both the Dolphins and the Dan Marino paraphernalia that’s been foisted on me, usually by in-laws, over the years.  Except for a few pictures in each of the kid’s rooms (and the kids themselves), I’ve also rid the house of any ex-husband memorabilia.

I wouldn’t even bring this up, and anniversaries like this one would go completely unremembered if not for the Facebook Memories feature.  But lest you think this is all depressing commentary, let me assure you this is actually very, very good news.

I don’t actually follow football anymore.  My team was probably never really my team, my player let me down, and I have remarried a man who’s far more into soccer and is content to let me ignore that sport, too.  But the laws of space and time dictate that if this is the seventeenth anniversary of a preseason football game, this – here, now – must also be football preseason, too!

Unless the laws of physics have completely broken, autumn is on the way, ya’ll!  Here’s a recipe so you can celebrate, too.  Leave out the karats.



Takes 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 hours. Serves lots and lots of people and one soon-to-be hurting dog if you leave it out on the counter.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 onions chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
3 pound brisket
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, no casing
2 pound butternut squash, diced.
3 (14.5 ounce) cans peeled and diced tomatoes with juice
3 bottles of Shiner Bock (pour the other three on your garden to kill slugs)
3 cups strong brewed coffee
4 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
3 (14 ounce) can beef broth
3/4 cup chili powder
1/2 cup cocoa power
3 tablespoons ground cumin
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoon dried oregano
3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 teaspoon ground coriander
3 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon wasabi paste  (or to taste)
5 (15 ounce) cans kidney beans
5 Anaheim chili peppers, chopped
3 serrano pepper, chopped
Place brisket in large roasting pan.  Brown Italian sausage and add to brisket pan.
Sautee onions and garlic in the grease from the sausage, add to brisket and sausage.  Pour in the tomatoes, coffee, tomato paste, beans, and broth. Add all dry seasonings.  Roast at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Cook Anaheim and serrano peppers, 5 to 10 minutes. Add to roasting pan, along with one Shiner Bock and return to oven.  In one more hour, add another Shiner Bock.  In another hour, add the last Shiner Bock and the diced butternut squash.  Continue cooking until the brisket is easily pulled apart with a fork.
Remove from oven and do that, then stir all together.  If you prefer more heat, you can add habanero to the skillet with Anaheim and serrano peppers.  They make my teeth hurt, so I don’t use them.
Serve with your favorite toppings; we like sour cream, cheese, and fresh green onions.

Oh, and bread.  Preferably homemade, but if you don’t live with Martha Stewart, use whatever you like.