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Archive for May, 2010

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I thought it was high time to honor the crazy, high-class foodie who brought me into this world.

Behold Jeanie: gastronomic purveyor extraordinaire, wife, mother, and lover of all things edible!

My mother did a lot to shape me in the ways of food-a-nomics.  Even though my father was the biggest cook in the house – blessed to have been taught the wonders of cooking by his old country grandmother and having an in-bred natural talent for all things kitchen-related, it was my mom who inspired me most when it came to the fundamentals of foodiness.

My mom was not a natural cook, or at least that’s how it seems on the surface of her well oiled skillet.  There is a well-known story in her youth of her apparently peeling a Yukon Gold so fervently, it was about the size of a golf ball by the time anyone noticed.  Inheriting the stove at the age of 17 after her own mother died, with absolutely no prior cooking experience, there are many, many hilarious stories of her kitchen faux pas floating around that inspire me as an amateur cook.

The fact that the older she got, the better her cooking became is a real lesson to keep on pressing when it comes to my own, sometimes disasterous adventures with, say, baking (not my biggest forte).

Although nothing beats the eggs to a foamy pulp like the story of The Beans.

The Beans came to my apartment one clear summer day in a brown clay pot, circa 1975 (the pot, not the beans).  It was the day of my first annual cookout as a single gal living on my own, and I had asked everyone to bring a dish.  Mom brought The Beans, and the memory of them still lingers like their saucy aroma.

The Beans weren’t anything extra ordinary or spectacular.  Just a pot of good ol’ Summer BBQ baked beans, sprinkled with my mom’s special little touches, simmered until they were nice and smooth and melting in their own beany juices.  You wouldn’t look down at them and say, “Now, that’s trouble, there,” but oh behold – the excitement had just begun.

The party was on and my mom decided to head upstairs and heat up her dish just a touch.  This seemed like a normal thing to do.  No one shakes a head or wags a finger at a well meaning person minding their own business by the microwave with a pot of Great Northerns.  They obviously knew nothing of this particular person.

Picture my face as I gazed downward toward a shaking hand holding none other than the plastic power panel of my microwave oven!  Gaze longingly  into my bewildered eyes as I almost unintelligibly mumbled  a soon-to-be famous phrase!  Dare to stare at the embarassed woman bashfully holding said piece of broken black plastic!  Look back at me as I crinkled my forehead in disbelief!

And then suddenly, listen for the howling voice that somehow came from my mouth as I gasped,

But what about the beans???????!!!!!!!

I don’t know how she did it.  I will never be able to explain how a woman barely above 5 feet was able to rip half of my microwave off of it’s sturdy hinges, but somehow she did just that.  Four years later, it has become one of the best family stories of all time.  Then, it took half of my soon-to-be in-laws, some brave cousins and a very soothing man to calm the hysterics.  Apparently, I was convinced that either the whole microwave was going to have to be trashed, Beans and all, or that The Beans would be left to fester and congeal for all eternity in an electrically-run sealed box-from-hell  in my extremely small rented apartment kitchen.

I will never forget the look on Tim’s nephews face, for example, who obviously never grew up in a screaming Italian bi-polar household, and didn’t realize that howling in pain for a crock of legumes wasn’t anything near some of the worst family blowouts in Denaro history.  The poor guy spent the rest of the cookout completely entranced by a paintbrush with remarkably smooth bristles that we had to pry out of his white-knuckled hands by the end of the night!

All in all, the story of The Beans is one of those classic tales that goes down in history because it’s highlights the exact nature of the quirky soul who raised me: it’s the woman who survived the loss of her mother at a young age, a dysfuctional marriage, her own battle with alcohol addiction, mental illness, poverty and numerous trials and tribulations but couldn’t push a damn button to open up a standard-grade microwave to save her life! Yep, that’s mom!

For this story and all of the others,  I say “Thank You.”

Happy Mother’s day, Mom.

Mary Regina ‘Jeanie’ Denaro

1949-2009

Love,

Cellina

The Hopeful Foodie

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Got Me Feeling Emotions………

My name is Cellina…..and I’m a binge-a-holic.

There is a reason I blog about food.  It’s not just about the fact that I adore the art and science of all things edible, or the absolute joy it brings me to share these up and down adventures in gluten-free/sugar-free, allergy modified eating because I know that somewhere out there it’s bringing some down-trodden, swelled-up foodie hope.

It most absolutely goes deeper than that.  It goes down, people – way, way down, and if you’ll attach your SCUBA mask now and join me, I promise you we’ll get back to the surface in one big, flaky piece.

I had a revelation this week that showed me, through screaming fits, globs of mayonnaise, and pickle resistance that my food issues go way beyond yeasts and molds.  I’m learning that no matter how bad the sugar cravings get I won’t touch the stuff unless I’m seriously triggered.  The triggers have nothing to do with those globs of mayo, gooey squares of choco-chip banana bread, and drippy, rich vinegar marinades.

They all have to do with me.

I can stay on the wagon and eat in moderation until the grass-fed, free range cows come home.  Eating healthy is that good!  So what has pushed me off 5 separate times this year?  What has caused the eruption of four horrible migraines in one week?  What has me buying boxes of creamy mac and cheese that I would never touch during a so-called elimination?

Let me introduce to you: My Childhood.

It probably all started with a can of Manwich, a band of screaming parents, a hungry belly, and the will to live.

I remember being young and cooking.  I wish the setting to this memory was more pleasant, but nonetheless, it was probably the proudest moment of my life.  My parents were nuts.  I mean, like, “Take this child out of here and run for nearest functional household,” crazy.  Still, at age 9, I loved them to death.  Tippy-toeing at the stove, making my first real meal all by myself was a proud moment, mostly because in the middle of all of that dysfunction I found something I could do to survive.  If you need clean air you go outside. If you need a break, you hang with a friend.  But this was something that would help me live.  I wasn’t about to starve, so I picked up a can opener, scowled at them with disgust, and started cooking.

I don’t think I’ve stopped since.

Cooking helps me and that little child inside, as well as brings joy to others.  The fighting stopped at the dinner table that night as my parents sat in awe of what was in front of them.  It was more than an average meal – it was a really good meal (even if it came from a can) made by a child who had otherwise just watched in the kitchen.  Dinner was actually on the table.  Cellina did something right. She made the fighting stop and made people happy.

Oh, triggers.

I’d love to say that from then on,  cooking and eating was just pure joy.  What’s a story without tragedy and heartache, however?

The “tragedy” and “heartache” in this romantic tale of a girl and her fridge started when she got sick.  Learning that there was definitely something wrong with the way I was eating was a low blow.  Learning I had to completely modify the way I lived was even lower.

Mold allergies, Candidiasis, Systemic Yeast Disorder, aye yi, yi.  These terms and their symptoms were like a knife to the heart.  But I persevered.  I researched, I shopped, I payed $200 to see a Holistic MD, I eliminated. But I don’t think I’ve ever fully accepted this fate.  So I got angry, real angry, like a volcano of old, stale,  bitter, 100% cacao chocolate deep down inside, and when pushed – “Boom!”

Hello, bingeing.

The bitter end came to me yesterday after bloating up horribly during a party.  Un-named in-law was too wrapped up in keeping up appearances to even tell me what was in the spread.  This has been an on-going problem with this particular sister-in-law, who I suspects either doesn’t believe that I have genuine, call-the-ambulance food allergies; just thinks I’m a drama-queen; simply doesn’t care; or thinks that asking what’s in the fucking chicken skewers is a total violation of her “shut-your-mouth-and-enjoy-the-show” party etiquette.

Those of us who aren’t crazy know that the real violation is ignorance of what one is shoving down their pristine pie hole.  If it was mushrooms or eggplant my mouth would have blown up ten times its size.  Nothing ruins perfect party image like the human blimp being carried out of the perfectly painted front door in a stretcher by two tattooed lesbian EMTs on a Sunday afternoon in Perfectville!

Grrrr!  I didn’t blow up facially, mind you, but I was ignored, and I felt, denied my basic needs by someone who is supposed to be a caring family member (familiar, perhaps?).  I was pissed, offended and hungry.  So I ate.

I ate the chicken.  Fine.  I also ate the stupid sour cream potato salad (that wasn’t that good anyway) whose ingredients were not disclosed to me until after they were half-way digested.  Then, I went on to the deviled eggs, vinegar-drenched salad, skipping the parm-encrusted asparagus, and washed it all down with a big glass of Chesapeake Bay tap water.  Mmmmmm.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled (as my cousin, GlutenFreeWallflower said with a giggle last night as I screamed and vented into the reciever) with the wonders of gourmet delights, but God – if I’m gonna get sick and bloated can’t it at least be with good food that was worth it?

I wish the drama could have ended there, but as I started this entry with my confessional, I must indeed elaborate: as sick as I was, I binged.  I don’t know how, but I did.  That’s when it hit me:  after the nausea and pain, the sweating and flu-like symptoms, with a fork to my mouth and yet a second helping of homemade strawberry rhubarb pie on my plate, there I was, eating away the pain, my childhood, my mom, everything.

Sigh.

It’s the next day and after downing 15 supplements,  a shot of homemade Alka-Seltzer(thank you, Tim), and a charcoal-licorice root mixture I lovingly call Colon Blow, I’m feeling better.  If there is any lesson here, it’s to listen to one’s self and to love that flawed jumble of organ systems, blood, brains, heart and emotions as unconditionally as the human soul allows.

That, I will do, one biscuit and one step, at a time.

-Cellina

The Hopeful Foodie

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