Tuesday, September 22, 2015

50 years after college graduation

50 years after college graduation

1965 After graduation, I found a job in New York City. Nothing worth pursuing. I saw Jay, we parted ways, we….
1966 got married. He was already in the Army, and by September he was on his way to Vietnam, with enough sense to get office work. I got another job while I lived with my parents. We meet in Honolulu for a week – and his parents came too.
1967 Trip to Japan to see Jay shortly after our 1st anniversary. In September, Jay returns, I quit the job and start subbing in Jr High. Not so good with no training! We share an interest in cooking, which becomes a passion.
1969, 1970, 1973, 1975 and 1979 – children arrive and bump the cooking passion to #2. We move from apartment to apartment to house. I’m a happy housewife, mostly, and gardener.
1977 We become initiates of an Indian path which shapes and comforts me. I embrace vegetarian eating and cooking with pleasure.
1978 As an involved co-op member, I see what’s happening in the nascent natural food products on the market, and Jay pushes me when I say I can do better (and at lower cost).  I develop a line of mixes which we find a packer for, and a marketing direction. Manna Meals is born!
1981 The business has reached a stage where we and our 2 sales people decide to become partners in a natural food store in New Hampshire. We pack up, put the house on the market, and (coincidentally) fulfill my longtime vision of living in a small college town in New England, in sight of mountains. Foodstuffs in Keene NH is the right place for us!
We are excited to be there, doing that. The kids love the new freedom they have. However, our inexperience leads to letting a partner overstock and overspend, to the point where we had to buy him out. The other partner went, after a couple years (and an egg throwing episode by his wife… but that’s not ‘about’ me).
I gradually became more and more involved in running the business, and when we opened a 2nd store, completely took on the management – after being bookkeeper, produce manager, deli manager, grocery buyer, etc. Nice run up the ladder.
More years like that: business growing and changing, a restaurant called Butternuts that people still talk about, kids growing and changing. The words of our first pediatrician, ‘Little children, little problems’ are proven true over and over.
1975, 1994, 1996, 1998 – I visit Israel, where my sister and her family live. First with 2 children, pregnant; then for the oldest son’s wedding; then for 1st and 2nd grandchildren.

More of the same, until 2010 when we retired. By this time, all of the kids were on their own, populating the world with our grandchildren.
I returned to cooking with a new sense of competence and freedom. I found a website where some of my original recipes are posted (www.food52.com, as ‘susan g’). We took short trips around New England, finding large and small museums with treasures in towns with good restaurants. I read a lot in a very undisciplined way, leaning and enjoying virtual travel through time and space. I take a variety of courses, from the Great Courses company and on Coursera.
We live in an even smaller town near Keene, in a house with beautiful trees that preclude lawn or garden. At the price of recurring power outages, I love the sight of the changing seasons through our windows and outside our doors.
My life has not been one that has changed the world, but I know I have changed or improved some people’s lives. We have become involved again in Judaism on the small close scale of a Chavurah group. I am grateful for my ‘own’ in-house St Johnnie who still has opinions and retains a perceptive view of what we read and hear, and even if I don’t agree with him, he can provide the stimulus to open my mind.

After 49 years of marriage, we are parents to 4, in-laws to 4 more, grandparents to 10, and happy to have each other. Age has brought its intimations of a  physical body yielding to stress. In the past year I have had a mild stroke and Bell’s Palsy, as well as served as caregiver to Jay during a year of cancer surgery and after his recent stroke.  50 years after our St John’s graduation, I am grateful to the college for opening my mind, opening up worlds of ‘great’ thought in great books, and (I think) teaching me to listen with a critical mind, and sort what is important from what is less so. 

Written for a collection of personal essays, Class of 1965, St. John's College, Annapolis MD

Saturday, May 16, 2015


I might be an anomaly. I’m a vegetarian who seeks out meat recipes. Selectively, yes.. but why?

It’s all about taste. I am lured by the seductive taste and smell - not of the meat (or chicken or seafood) itself, but the techniques of cooking and the fabulous sauces I discover. However I get there, I want to share the tagines, curries, and chilis, the foods of every continent and cuisine. I want to do it without the lamb, chicken or beef.

It’s all about nutrition. We eat to live, we live to eat, and both must be considered. Sometimes all I have to do is take out the meat, and there’s still a meal in the works. I like to look at the balance of everything that goes with the meal so that all the parts leave me well fed.

It’s all about satisfaction. More than a full feeling, I love to have the pleasure of the aftertaste.  I like my house to hold on to the scent of spices, or the chemistry of the sauce in a frying pan or oven. Sometimes, there’s the satisfaction that I have been able to recreate a recipe to my own needs and still retain the clarity and purpose of the original.

Some of my favorites from The Perfect Pantry are the ones I’ve redirected for my vegetarian meals: Southwestern Beef Brisket and Nasi Goreng are two that I enjoy with only a little shift of ingredients. Then there’s Floribean Chicken Chili: first I omitted the chicken, since both beans and (vegetarian) sausage were enough for me. I wanted to taste those Florida-Caribbean flavors! Delicious, but I kept experimenting… if you’d like to see how it is now, here’s the adapted, still evolving, recipe.


Broth: Put ½ onion and 1 carrot (cut in rough chunks), 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp  ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp chili powder, 4 black peppercorns in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Strain into a container, pressing out as much liquid as you can.

Saute: Cut into ½” dice 1 sweet pepper (red or green or a combination), ½ onion, 1 medium sweet potato; 1-2 carrots sliced diagonally, ½”. In your soup pot, saute vegetables in 1 Tb neutral oil (like sunflower or canola) until they start to soften. Stir in ½ tsp crushed chiles, ¼ tsp chipotle powder (or 1 chile in adobo), 2 tsp ground cumin, 2 tsp ground coriander, 2 tsp chili powder, 1-2 spicy vegetarian sausages cut in ½” pieces. Stir for 1-2 minutes to release the fragrance.

Chili:  Add to the pot the strained broth, 14 oz crushed tomatoes, 1 T red wine vinegar, 1 T kecap manis, 1 ½ cup cooked pinto or black beans (or 1 15 oz can). Simmer ½ hour.

Thicken: Sprinkle 1-2 T Goya Masa Rica (or cornstarch dissolved in some of the liquid).  Simmer 5 minutes. If not thick enough for you, you can increase the amount or evaporate some of the liquid.

Finish: Stir in juice of ½ lime, sprinkle with ¼ cup chopped cilantro.
The original recipe on The Perfect Pantry suggests wonderful garnishes - sour cream, chopped mango, diced tomatoes, grated cheese.

Makes about 2 quarts

Written as a guest post for www.theperfectpantry.com