Monday, February 18, 2013


Now, you didn’t think I would have worked for over a year on this thing without having at least one post about food, did you? Well, you’re lucky… I was going to title the post “Hail to the Chef” but was talked down from the proverbial ledge for fear of an early death sentence. In any case… here goes muffin, er, nothin’

One of the few – and I mean very few – good things I inherited from my father was the ability to whip up a meal at a moment’s notice, and usually, if I may say so myself, a damned good one. Just today my husband said to me as I was pulling the pots and lids out of the kitchen cabinet: “The fact that you still make sure that your family has a hot meal every night is a rarity. There are a lot of women and a lot of wives out there who don’t cook. What you do is a dying art.” It was the tenderist and frankly, most welcomed compliment I’d received in a long time.

Cooking has become one of those things in life that is both a chore and a pleasure. When I know that the meal I’ve spent either thirty minutes or three-hours on is about to go into the “show dish” (because let’s face it, aren’t they all ‘show’ dishes?) for all of my world to see (my immediate family and the Twitterverse), I feel about as close to god-like as one could. I know that when I look at what I’ve made happily and without regret, there is no greater day-to-day sense of accomplishment, and to be blatant, I just fucking love cooking.

Listed below are a few things that I had to learn over the 20 years I’ve been exploring the various kitchens I’ve cooked in. These are some essentials to what I think could take even the most mediocre of cooks to the next level. They’re not family secrets; just common sense:

Learn to Love Onions – I hate onions. That is to say, I refuse to eat them raw and for the first 30 or so years of my life wouldn’t even go near them cooked. Until the day I figured out that just about every recipe I have ever loved started with some form of onion. Now that I live in the ‘meh’ state of Georgia, Vidalia has become my onion of choice. Usually chopped finely and fried/sweated/sautéed in flavor- infused olive oil/unsalted butter, onions add a flavor that I long tried to convince myself I wasn’t missing.

Kosher Salt is the Greatest Thing since Kosher Pickles – Name a cook on any food-related reality T.V. show that has used regular table salt in their recipes. Go on. I dare you. None? Not a one? Not even that dreadfully weird looking dude-lady (I’m still not sure) with the crazy name (Zarn? Flarb?) from the 4th season of Top Chef? No. That’s right. Not even Klurb from Top Chef used motherfucking table salt, so why the hell would you? And for those of you who salt your food (with table salt, no less) without tasting it, you should be shot. Or rather, hacked to death (I’m a stickler for gun control so, while “being shot” sounds better, I don’t want to appear hypocritical). Salt is not to be feared during the cooking process, but it is to be feared on the tabletop. Why, you say? I don’t know, but it just is, in the same way a steak is to be cooked medium-rare and pasta is to be cooked IN the sauce for about a minute before being served. It’s just the way Edesia (the Roman goddess of food) and Anthony Bourdain (the American god of the same) intended.

Wine Is Not A Color - I cringe every time… EVERY TIME (no hyperbole) I hear some “I’m a data entry professional by day” bartender at some crappy industry-related party ask me if I would like “red or white.” I have to fight back tears when I witness the unforgiveable “Oh, no, I don’t drink red” response, and you know it’s not for medical reasons. No joke, when a person utters that statement you can rest assured I probably experienced a mini-aneurism shortly thereafter. You don’t drink red? You don’t drink RED?? Wine isn’t about color, you dope! It doesn’t come from the paint department at Lowe’s! It was nurtured from grapehood and born in some valley in some region somewhere beautiful that YOU ONLY WISH YOU COULD AFFORD TO LIVE NEAR. It comes from formerly-communist countries and is cared for by survivors of apartheid. It was used as a trophy in celebrations of victories of war and shared amongst tribes who signed agreements of peace. It’s served in church representing a major part in the Last Supper for fuck’s sake, and you reduced it to being a color? Your non-preference of “red” aside, I suggest you educate yourself because the world of wine is vast when you delve into the history of it, and should you delve, that now small and inexperienced palate (and mind) will grow with education, wonder, and pleasure. Come back and see me when you’re done and tell me I wasn’t right. I dare you.  

Soup is for Breakfast and Eggs are for Dinner – The most important rule of cooking is that there are no rules when it comes to time, taste, and tables. “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner” is for boarding schools and prisons (same thing) but here on planet yum, you eat what you want, when you want and where. A steaming hot bowl of Phð with extra heat in the form of chilies at 9 a.m. after a night of fourteen-too-many lemon drops? Do it. A runny quail egg over toasted brioche and fried tomatoes at 3:30 p.m. while downing a hefeweizen or three? YES! Cured meats, smelly cheeses, and olives that cost more than the jacket you’re wearing at noon on a Tuesday in the grass of a baseball field? YOLO, bitches! It’s your party; you can stink if you want to. Just don’t sit too close to me; I still can’t get into the smelly cheese thing, but I would never fault a person who could.

Food is a vital part of who I am. I’ve made clear in the past what a horrible childhood I had growing up but I remember sitting down every night at the dinner table as a family, and as much as I am able, I continue that tradition today with my own. I never believed it to be sexist though I have friends who have ribbed me about playing the June Cleaver role; I believe it to be the way it was meant to be. Cooking comes naturally to me but it also came naturally to my father. As a cook, my mother is an awesome seamstress, but those were the roles played when I was growing up. I believe my husband would sell our oven if I wasn’t around and replace it with a flat-screen-topped beer fridge, and that’s okay too, because cooking isn’t for everyone. Eating is.

So I end today’s post with these final words of wisdom and welcome any recipes you may have in the comments section below, if you’d like to share them: Eat when you’re hungry. Cook what makes you happy. And try, try, try… everything from everywhere. It is vital to the health of your heart and your mind that you experience the world through food and wine even if financially, right now, you aren’t able to through actual travel.

Bon appétit. Thanks for reading. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

64 Days - What To Do When You're Faced With Fire

There is no greater thing I fear in my life than fire.

By definition, fire is able to cause destruction and despair. It can annihilate, disintegrate, and in certain circumstances, kill. We’ve all seen footage of, or worse, experienced a fire in our lives that had destroyed homes, factories, and acres of forest containing all types of wildlife. But in the metaphorical sense, fire can also represent good. It’s usage in describing a sexual encounter, for example. Or it being the thing that say, gets someone up off the couch, or even better, gets them to update their blog with a fresh post ([clears throat]… err, NOTHING!) and so while fire on the whole leaves me fearful of what I could lose in my life, I would also like to share with you my experiences with the positive side of fire, which I have chosen to do in these few vignettes below.


I stood across the Doylestown-area field watching him through the flickering flames. He was dressed as Braveheart, and I was wearing a maid costume and Magenta-style makeup. The heat from the bonfire was more than my cheaply made polyester costume could handle and so against my will and better judgment I decided to go inside for a drink and a break.

I didn’t know many people there. Actually, I didn’t know any people there, so I stood in the kitchen, slightly embarrassed, until one of the men inside struck up a conversation with me.

“How do you know Lisa?” he said. Lisa? I didn’t know Lisa. I didn’t even know Tina. But I knew Braveheart, although, not really, but he was invited and so I was invited by proxy, right?

“I don’t,” I said sheepishly, to which this kind soul replied, “Oh, that’s okay. It’s a party, right? Not everybody knows everyone.” “Right. That’s right,” I said as if I were confirming his point that I was somewhat disappointed in myself for not thinking of beforehand. “I’m Barbara,” I said, to which he replied, “Rob.”

The night carried on well into the next day and by the time I found myself alone with Braveheart, his once beautifully painted face was hidden behind runny blue makeup and his once seemingly interested stare was now glazed over from too many servings of alcohol. I watched him earlier in the night through the orangey-red hues with such desire and burning of my own, but now I could no longer watch him as he stumbled through the living room and fumbled with the laces on his calf-high boots.

It wasn’t our time, fire, desire, or not. And as life went on and years had passed I realized it would never be our time.

About two weeks ago my family found themselves twenty minutes away from not having a home to go home to. A small electrical fire started in the crawl space under the house which we luckily smelled and found in time to call the fire department.

My husband, who is my editor on this blog, took it upon himself to write out what he was feeling and sent his writing along to our neighborhood association. I asked him at the time if I could share what he wrote on my blog. He said that for the time being, it was his, and so I didn’t. Today, however, I think he would agree that the experience, which has long passed, belongs to all of us – our entire family – and so today, I share with you what the man I love wrote about the fire that thankfully, barely was. 

Yesterday started as most; that is to say, uneventful. Children up and started on their day, time for a shower and to steam a shirt. There’s that meeting you have in the afternoon so you need to look spiffy. And in an instant you forget about all of that. You smell something. And you know it isn’t a good smell. It’s not coffee, biscuits, bacon, or anything else you’d associate with the morning. And it is definitely an unwelcome smell. 


After the lightning quick inventory of the most important things in your life (that would be your spouse and kids, in case you paused, wondering) it now becomes a race to find the source of this intruder. Sniff this light fixture; smell that lamp. Did I leave a curling iron on? And, I’m a man, why would I be using a curling iron? You figure out it’s not inside the house and at that point the only place left is underneath it, and so out you go to the crawl space and when you throw open the door that’s when you know you have trouble. That’s when the reality sets in. ‘My house is on fire.’ And that’s when you call 911. 

So you get the kids outside in their coats, and you wait for the sirens that you hear every day and completely ignore, unless they are coming up behind you and slowing you down on your way to that meeting you have. ‘Fucking fire trucks. Don’t they know I am in a hurry!?’ But this time they are coming for you, and you don’t care whom they are slowing down on their way to get to you. You just want them here, and now, and so you are laser focused on their arrival. And the sirens get louder and louder, and then the trucks are rumbling down your little street. They seem so big and over-qualified for the job of tackling your tidy 80-year-old wooden structure. And why do we need two? And an EMT? And a COP? And how will my neighbors get to work with the street blocked? And my, this soup’s delicious.

Focus. Man, you gotta focus. 

The crawl space is small, and the opening smaller, and every single fireman is bigger than I am, and I am not small. And I wonder how they are going to get inside there to fight the fire, and I can’t help but sense that I see that flash of uncertainty cross their faces as they gauge what they are up against. But they go in, and they find the source. And they put it out. And they exit the crawl space in victory, though oddly you can’t tell that they are at all emotionally upbeat about saving your entire home and history and all the artifacts of your short time on earth. Because to them it’s what they do. And unlike some overpaid running back in the NFL, they don’t spike the ball after they do their job. Because doing your job is supposed to be reward in and of itself. They just wait for the ref to move the chains for the first down and do it all over again. At some other place. Some other home. Maybe, even your home…

I hope, with all sincerity, that it never is your home.


The symbol of the Olympic torch dates back to ancient Greece, where a flame was ignited by the sun and then kept burning until the end of the games. The flame itself represents two things: purity and the endeavor for perfection. It starts at the site of the beginning (Mount Olympus) and is carried and passed from runner to runner in relay form until its final destination is reached – the host city. It is an extraordinary tradition showing strength of will, determination, sacrifice, and fellowship. Not much unlike the torch I passed just yesterday to the next person who will continue a journey that I started.

This blog began over a year ago with the idea that I would document my final year of my thirties through stories about the life experiences that ultimately got me to where I was when I turned thirty-nine. I thought it would be a decent idea to throw in the occasional anecdote about my wrinkles and saggy boobs while also sharing with my audience (all four of you) the positives of aging. No one gave me the idea to start this blog, but once it was started, there were a couple of people who encouraged me to never, ever stop. The man who is now running alongside me on this journey or as I like to call him, my fellow torch bearer, was one of them.

Back in 2008, on the last night of a short trip to Philly to visit my family, I received a private message on my Facebook page that stated simply this:

“Are you the Barbara Palumbo who went to St. Donato’s and moved in the fourth grade?”

There were only a handful of times I remember my heart leaping in my life – I mean really leaping, like, “up through the esophagus and into my throat” shit – and this was one of them. Someone had found me. Someone from the school that I always considered one of the few places I ever felt connected to and comfortable in had found me. And most importantly, it wasn’t just anyone. It was my friend; one of my real childhood friends from the earliest years of my life… Anthony SanFilippo. From that moment on, which was twenty-five years after the last moment ever made with him, it was if the years between had never existed at all.

Anthony is a professional writer. Well, he’s not just a writer; he’s also a bit of a celebrity to anyone who knows anything about the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s a natural, this kid. Born to entertain, and yesterday, as he celebrated the thirty-ninth anniversary of the day of his birth, he suddenly found himself as a runner, too, with the launch of his blog, Adam of Forty, which will (like Eve of Forty)document his final year of life in his thirties. And so the fire that guided my way over the last year will now shine brightly for another year to come, and I have to say, I’m quite proud of what I started. Anthony is the perfect person to care for this fire. He is a father, and so he will nurture it, seeing that it neither gets out of control, nor goes out without ever having a chance to really burn. He is a writer and so he will share his stories with you, the reader, about how the fire nearly singed off his eyebrows or how it cooked him a meal of baby back ribs when he was stranded in the forest after a night of hiking and hunting. But most importantly, he is a friend, and so he will do this fire justice by sharing both the honor and the burden of carrying it with me until that dreaded day in April arrives, which is when he will carry it alone. I urge you to read what Anthony will write. He is talented, and funny, and worth every iota of whatever time you can spare for him, so feel free to put on some nice music, dim the lights, and pull up a comfortable and cozy chair over here, where it’s warm…

By the light of the metaphorical fire.