Tag Archives: family

Happy Father’s Day: Hawaiian Pizza

20 Jun

In honor of Father’s Day, a few days late, I thought I’d offer this little anecdote from The Vegetarian’s Guide to Eating Meat — the book-in-progress — about the part my Dad played in my development into a foodie…sort of:

Both my father and I are incredibly picky eaters, while, for my mother and sisters, eating is a contact sport. Why anyone would bother to turn down a food they’ve never tried before is beyond their understanding. When I was growing up, they argued their position often, trying to convince my father and I that this restaurant’s Thai satay sauce didn’t really taste like tahini, or that really, a samosa is a lot like a French fry. We remained unconvinced, a fortress together. My father adamantly refuses any parmesan cheese on his pasta—in fact, refuses to eat pasta in any shape other than long spaghetti. With a father who turns down the cheese on a cheeseburger that he orders hockey puck hard, my aversions towards eggplant, lentils, broccoli, or mushrooms never seemed too strange.

Our shared food fussiness meant we were a team on the home turf, strong enough in our protests for anything too weird to invade the family dinner table. We certainly were not going to tolerate any ethnic food on our kitchen table. Once every few months, to indulge their taste for the spicy, my mother and sisters would have what they called “girls’ night out.” They would dress up a little, taking the excuse to use their curling irons to wear heels and eyeliner, and head out on the town for a more international approach to fine dining, and to catch a romantic comedy at the theater by the mall.

I stayed home with my father, relieved to have narrowly avoided getting roped into what I thought of then as far too girly a night, lucky to have missed out on the raw fish or the latest Meg Ryan flick. We’d order a couple of pizzas—plain cheese for him, Hawaiian for me—and he’d let me watch him watch ESPN while I ate off a paper plate on the living room floor. He’d drink a Sam Adams straight from the bottle while we watched the Celtics rattle the backboards at the Garden, him leaping up dramatically with each basket made. We’d laugh as I imitated him, launching myself into the air, coming down on one knee and pumping my elbow backwards, yelling yeah, baby!

These nights with my father were my private victories, my first little rebellions against the culture of womanhood, a culture that seemed to me based mostly on hair and makeup and a far too adventurous approach to food. I knew I shared more in common with my father than either of my sisters, despite the fact that they actually played on the basketball and soccer teams he coached. We liked pizza better than Indian food and we were never going to change.

I must have sensed at the time that I was missing out on something, watching them from a distance as they learned to use chopsticks and hair straighteners, wrinkling my nose at the mysterious cardboard containers they brought home, bottoms spotted with grease from thick yogurt sauces, or round aluminum plates with crumpled edges full of seaweed rolls and thin strips of ginger. My decisions not to go along with my mother and sisters were perhaps too voracious, too full of scorn. I decided I didn’t want to learn that way to be a woman—perhaps because I sensed I wouldn’t be much good at it.

I’ve branched out a bit since then, discovering an adult taste for a good California roll and a vodka martini, tuning in for my fair share of Sex and the City. But I was a quiet, clumsy girl surrounded by brassy, confident women, comfortable in heels or in the kitchen. People who met my family for the first time assumed I was adopted. Rather than be left out, branded the too-awkward tomboy, I chose a different identity for myself. My father was my closest physical analog in the family, and so I took my first steps in self-identity towards him, away from the kitchen. Away from femininity, and towards pizza off paper plates with ESPN.

What are your favorite food & family memories? Leave a comment, or email me to share your story!

Ragazza Sottile

9 Mar

First, a shameless plug. I have a new (totally non-food-related) essay up at The Nervous Breakdown on why presidential candidates need to remember what they learned in Comp 101, so if you like logic, you should check it out!

But now on to We*Meat*Again business: My post last week on Comfort & Food (which included my Nona’s ravioli recipe) got a pretty good response, so I thought I’d leave you all this week with another recently trimmed excerpt from the book — a scene of our family eating that ravioli! Mangi, all.


These meals were the driving force, the reason, the purpose, the very life blood of my hunched, world weary Italian great-great relatives. As a child, they terrified and mesmerized me, full of big booming voices and the incessant, overlapping chatter of too many people who have shared so much history. We packed in around Nona’s good table, her china cabinet shaking with our laughter. The hutch served as an extra table, because there usually isn’t enough space on the main table for all the dishes—homemade pasta, olives, tomatoes, spinach and ricotta cheese, sausages stuffed to the brim with my Nona’s bare, meaty hands.

At Nona’s table, my mother’s brother Paul would always sit next to me, on my left, because he is left-handed.  Paul is a small, dark brown man, thin and straight, a natural with a short-sleeved, white, collared shirt and a cigarette hanging casually from beneath his small black moustache. He is thirty, unemployed and living at home, and he already has an ulcer. Paul is like all of the Italian men in my family. Small and straight, with gigantic appetites and metabolisms faster than my mother can speak, and all completely dependent on their women.

Even after my vision was corrected and I no longer had to wear my massive glasses, every woman at my family’s holiday tables seemed larger than life to me. My mother, her rich, shiny brown hair tightly curled and pulled away from her face. She wears purple and turquoise eyeliner; that’s how strong her skin is. My Nana, who is German, and married into this family, a small, angry woman, who still insists I sit on her lap every time I see her. My Nona, the modest, white-haired matriarch, hands like a map, greasy with meat and the juices of fresh tomatoes, nodding her head vigorously in the direction of my half-full plate.

“What’s wrong with your lasagna?” she bellows, “You didn’t finish!”

“Oh, I’m just not hungry anymore, Nona,” I reply.

But Nona is stubborn, like all good Italians, and she pretends not to understand the things she doesn’t like to hear. “Don-na be silly, ragazza sottile, skinny girl,” she shakes her head at me, “Pass me your plate, I get you some more.”


Readers: I need your input. I’m looking for request for future We*Meat*Again posts, so if there’s an ingredient or technique you’d like profile, a recipe you’d like made-over with healthier options, some whole foods-eating advice or how-to posts, or food news and policies you’d like to see explored creatively or otherwise, leave a comment, tweet at me, drop me an email — let me know any way you can!


Mom’s Apple Snacking Cake

8 Nov

Since I haven’t shared a baked-goods recipe with you all for awhile, I decided to devote this week’s recipe post to a sweet snack. And this one comes, not from a magazine or cookbook, but from my very own recipe box!

Well, ok, from my mom’s recipe box, where I coped this down from. Don’t worry, I got her permission to share this one with you. Mom’s Apple Snacking Cake.

In New England, where I grew up, autumn looks like this.

Yeah. And we celebrate fall like nobody’s  business — state fairs, haunted hay rides, pine needle houses (this is where there are so many pine needles in your front yard, that when tasked with helping your father rake the leaves, you have to learn how to separate out the sticky needles, and you and your sisters shape them into the outlines of houses to play in. Multi-room pine needle mansions, complete with pine needle beds to lay on).

One of my family’s most treasured fall rituals is apple picking. Now plenty of people will hit up a U-Pick orchard in fall, but there were seven of us, which meant we left with BUSHELS of apples of five or six varieties, and had to come up with a lot of things to do with them.

(Note: I definitely did not ask my little sister’s permission to use an old photo of her wearing braces in this post. File under hazards of knowing a nonfiction writer. Love you, Caitlin!)

We’d have apple crisp, of course. My parents would invite their friends over for cider-pressing parties. My mother has developed an epic applesauce factory. But my favorite treat was always apple snacking cake.

We call it “snacking cake” because it serves many purposes: you can eat this sweet but fruited cake for breakfast, an after-school snack, or for dessert. Versatile and delicious.

It’s not burdened with the syrupy-sweetness of a caramel apple, but neither is it overly tart. The apples melt away into the cake, leaving it incredibly moist, even after weeks in the refrigerator or freezer. The best part is the secret ingredient — rice krispies! –  leave these little crystallized pockets of chewiness in the cake without adding too much sweetness.

Here’s the recipe…

Mom’s Apple Snacking Cake


  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c. oil
  • 2 c. rice krispies
  • 2 c. apples, peeled and sliced not too thin
  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer. Add sugar and continue to beat until fluffy.
  3. Add flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt, and mix.
  4. Add oil, vanilla and apples, stirring gently.
  5. Fold in rice krispies
  6. Pour batter into a 13 x 9 – inch pan (glass, ceramic or aluminum will do, but I prefer glass) coated with cooking spray.
  7. Bake 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Enjoy with tea, milk or fresh whipped cream. Cake will keep in freezer.


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