For those of you who know my past history with food and cooking, you’ll know of my late-ish start at the ripe old age of 25. Before cooking, there was canned soup, preferably Chunky beef stew. And before that, I survived on falafel sandwiches from the deli, cheeseburgers, Harvey’s poutine because, yes, I’m Canadian, and that’s how we roll with fast food in high school.

But in my 20s, things magically changed. I picked up a chef’s knife for the first time and learned to wield my way through pounds of onions, mountains of garlic, and bushels of tomatoes.

My first few meals felt like a Herculean accomplishment. I’ll never forget the first Pad Thai that I made at my Dad’s house, mounded on a platter, decorated with cilantro and quartered limes. The creamy soup that I couldn’t wait to serve my first ever dinner guests. The mortification over missing the directions to take the soup off the heat before adding the dairy…rendering my velvet beast into a curdled nightmare, more reminiscent of Chinese egg drop soup than anything vaguely Italian-ish.

And I will never, ever forget that first risotto, my first real accomplishment in the kitchen. The smell of the white wine hitting the pan to deglaze the sweet onions. The homemade stock, ladled into the pan one loving spoonful at a time. Making risotto always transported me into my grandmother’s kitchen. Such a cliché admission these days, the reminiscing about kitchens that once were. The domain of family matriarchs whose immigrant kitchens spawned earnest food from the homeland.

But it’s truth, plain and simple. My Nana ran that oregano-infused kitchen with an iron fist. And she loved risotto. Her house smelled like risotto. And though she never got to see me cook, or learn of my passion for food, I always feel as though I’m channeling her spirit when I stand at the stove and stir. And stir. I sip wine and I stir.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a dinner hosted by the feedfeed and Austerity Wines. Austerity had co-hosted an event in New York in the spring of ’17 and I’d remember getting pleasantly buzzed off of their velvety Cabarnet and a spicy Pinot Noir. This year I was game to try their wines again and was amped to start off the evening with sangria featuring their bright and tropical fruit-forward Chardonnay.

The dinner was effortlessly chic, cooked by chef Michael Chernow of Seamore’s restaurants in New York City. Winemaker Steven DeCosta spoke to us about Austerity’s production process and growing conditions for all of those lip-smacking grapes. Austerity’s Chardonnay comes from Monterey County’s Salinas Valley with its cool winds and warm midday sun, ideal growing conditions we learned. And as I teetered home after clinking glasses with some of my favorite NY cooks ), I started to brainstorm ideas for eating and pairing these jewels of the California wine country.

Starting with their Chardonnay- a bright and mineral flavor, perfectly paired with any spring meal. I confess that Chardonnay isn’t always my first choice when it comes to white wine – I find that an overly oaky taste is too much for my palate and tend to stick to grassier numbers – new world Sauvignon Blancs or a dry Pinot Gris. But I can enthusiastically get behind Austerity’s Chardonnay, smooth and buttery and with only a light oak flavor since much of the fermentation process happens in steel casks. It’s so enjoyable as a crisp drinking wine, that I almost considered not cooking with it and saving it for our Greenwood Lake sunset viewing sessions.

Almost.

Risotto was on my mind, as per usual. And just a splash of Chardonnay goes a long way to infuse the rice with a fruit-forward flavor, leaving the rest for me and my stirring/drinking habit.

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Squash 075

I know that it’s early November, but it’s never too early to talk about Thanksgiving. Especially when I’m giving you a piece of advice about something that you may have to pre-order. And I’m not talking about the turkey.

Let’s talk about last year for a minute.

It’s not my favorite characteristic, but my husband is exceptionally good at getting sick on major holidays.

Although technically it’s not his fault, he has a tendency to eat suspicious mayonnaise-based products the morning of a major event. Several years ago he ate a greenish chicken salad from a local deli and was violently ill during Thanksgiving dinner. Years before it was funky sushi the day of his birthday party.

I should have prepared for another Thanksgiving disaster last year, brought in special backup teams or outsourced the meal preparation. In my world, heading into Thanksgiving without a backup plan is like hosting an outdoor wedding in May. 

Thanksgiving morning I rolled out of bed, the world my oyster, the dishes that I’d lovingly cook for our family and friends sketched out on a piece of paper. Rodney had graciously offered to take care of the kids to give me some much-needed space in the kitchen.

I walked out of our bedroom and found Rodney hunched over the toilet.

Rodney: “I feel sick. My stomach hurts.”

Me: “Ha, that’s a good one.”

Rodney: “I’m serious, I feel really sick.”

Me: “You can’t be sick today, not allowed. Sorry.”

Rodney: “I feel like I’m going to throw up. I literally can’t move.”

Me: “Oh, my, God. Every year. Ev-ver-ry year. Why do I do this to myself. What did you eat last night?”

Rodney: “A burrito.”

Me: “From where?”

Rodney: “Duane Reade.”

Apparently in a fit of hunger, instead of reaching into our perfectly stocked fridge for dinner, he panicked and bought himself a pork burrito from our local drugstore’s freezer case.

So rather than watching him get ready to take the kids to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, our first time buying tickets, the tickets we’d gotten so that the kids could be out my hair while I cooked dinner for 16 people – rather than watching him do that……I now had to witness him crawl over to the couch and lie down in the fetal position with a bucket wedged next to his head.

Missing the parade was not an option at this point. The kids had been talking about it for weeks. Tears would be shed. Hearts would be broken.

So I did what any calm and collected Thanksgiving hostess would do in this situation. I swore like a sailor and stopped breathing for a solid minute, just until I became faint-headed enough to believe that this was actually a cruel joke and not my reality. As I regained consciousness, I figured out my plan.

We’d switch places, I’d take the kids to the parade. He would cook. Terrifying, all of it, but it was the only option.

Macys

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