Sunday, September 25, 2011


After years of resistance, I became a Soccer Mom. It wasn’t the stereotype that kept me at bay. My mom was also a Soccer Mom. Given, she was never the sweater-draped-smartly –over-your -shoulders variety. Jeanne was more the scream-really-loudly-even-if-your-kid-stinks sort.

No, my aversion to soccer stemmed from a refusal to give up Sundays with the family. All week, we shuttle the kids around from school to gymnastics/play date/religious school to homework to dinner to collapse. As anyone with kids knows, life often feels like a tag-team marathon. So, why should I sacrifice Sundays (especially football Sundays) at the altar of more organized activity?

In the end, I decided that our kids needed to learn how to play on teams. As a true suburbanite, I played soccer, softball, and swam. I was horrible at all three, but cherished the experience –the uniform, the camaraderie, keeping track of our records. For some reason, being the best never factored into my equation of team sports. Call me a sacrilegious competitor, but I hope my kids will feel the same. So, last weekend, my daughter donned her first pair of shin guards and free Sundays faded into our family’s past, like diapers and pacifiers.

In my nostalgic state, I couldn’t help think about the Germans. During my junior year in college, I spent a semester studying in Berlin –one of those mind-blowing experiences where I sucked down history, language and culture with a passion only 20-year olds can sustain. But amid the Sprockets and squatters, I discovered one particularly endearing German tradition: Spazieren gehen, translated literally as “Outside going.” On any given Sunday, Germany’s gardens, parks, and forests host a bevy of sausage-legged women walking sausage-shaped dogs. They amble around, chatting and exposing themselves to the all-important fresh air. Germans are big on fresh air.

After dutifully airing themselves out for roughly an hour, Germans always stop –with clocklike precision—to eat cake, “Kuchen Essen.” Usually, the cake was good enough to entice me –even in my laziest and most hung over state—to partake in Spazierengehen. My favorite was a plum tart known in Germany as Pflaumenkuchen. I always loved the custard-like pockets of batter that formed around each plum. And, as is the custom in Germany, this cake is usually served with Schlag, or fresh unsweetened whipped cream. Like wine and parmesan cheese, everything is better with Schlag.

A few days before the Dawn of the Soccer Era, I had a dream about Pflaumenkuchen . Convinced that this dream held some deep message of providence, I immediately set out to find the perfect recipe. Dorie Greenspan delivered a pretty darn good one, Flip-Over Plum Cake from Baking: From My Home to Yours. Since plums are still in season, I picked up some small Italian ones at the Farmer’s Market.

My daughter’s first soccer game was a success. She was not the star of the team, but seemed to enjoy discussing the final score with her teammates. Her soccer uniform (which she wears more like a gown) is adorable. After a lovely day gallivanting in the soccer fields of Manhattan, we went home for Pflaumenkuchen. Maybe the Soccer Era won’t be so bad after all.

Flip-Over Plum Cake

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours


2 lb ripe but firm plums, preferable Italian prune plums, pitted

1 ½ cups sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground coriander

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

1 cup whole milk

½ tsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp pure almond extract

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces (NOTE: I used ½ a stick, which was more than enough.)


Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have at hand a 9X12-inch baking pan, preferably Pyrex or porcelain.

Cut each plum into 4 to 6 pieces and toss into a bowl. Add ½ cup of the sugar, the cinnamon, ginger, and coriander, stir the plums around and then let them sit, stirring from time to time, while you prepare the batter. They will give up some juice and syrup will develop.

Put the remaining 1 cup sugar,; the flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl. Whisk to blend, then pour in the milk and extracts and whisk again, so you have a nice smooth batter.

Put the butter in the baking pan and melt it in the oven, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven.

Give the batter a light whisking and pour it over the hot butter –it will probably set around the edges immediately. Scatter the plums over the batter and drizzle over whatever syrup has accumulated in the bowl.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the top is golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes, or let cool to room temperatures.

Sunday, September 18, 2011



“You have to leave room for serendipity,” The Jeanne once told me. While Mom was no wordsmith, this may have been her most eloquent –and most sage— bit of advice. I interpret her philosophy as: Take risks! Act! If you plan every detail of your life, all you end up with is an incredibly boring, uninspired life. Or worse, you just plan and never do. Alas, this is exactly what has ailed my long-neglected blog.

About five or six months, I grew a bit bored with “Cooking With Jeanne.” Not only was my recipe box running low on meals, but the blog’s premise had grown stale. I was no longer riveted by Mom’s recipe box; Nor did I spend my down time discovering ways her cooking could inspire my everyday life. At its inception, Cooking With Jeanne felt like a magical passageway to connecting with my mother. Yet whenever I sat down to write this spring or summer, I was overwhelmed with the sense that I was just another self-indulgent mother blogging about herself --the epitomy of what I detest about blogs.

So I stopped. Instead, I told myself I would give poor Cooking With Jeanne a makeover. She would come back polished, smarter and certainly more marketable. (I have an image of my mother wearing gobs of makeup looking confused by her newfound glamour!) Yet no measure of researching, outlining or talking seemed to get me closer to a new idea. Unlike, the original premise for Cooking With Jeanne –one that simply struck me as I was cooking on a lazy Sunday— nothing came naturally. Planning and goals had edged out serendipity.

Simply writing is the only option I have left. At first I thought I would simply keep a private journal and see what happens. But you know what? There’s no risk in my private ruminations. Blogging may be self-indulgent, but there is also a real danger to putting your thoughts out in a public space. You open yourself up to praise, criticism, and –worst of all—the inevitable eye-roll.

With that said, I am returning to the blog with a Seinfeldian shift –it may be about nothing. I’ll still write about my mother, talk about raising a family, and include recipes. However, I cannot guarantee I will do this every week. The idea is to recapture the magic. Not invent a better formula.

When I worked at Fortune, my editor John Huey used to say that ideas were like pasta. “You have to throw it against the wall to see what sticks.” In that vein, let’s begin with Spaghetti and Meatballs.


The great thing about meatballs is that my kids love to help. Since they were very small, my kids could dump the ingredients into a bowl. Now that they are older, I will even let them roll the balls themselves. That’s always a crowd pleaser. (Except tonight, of course, when my son simply said, “Nah! You can cook them, Mommy,” and returned to watching Disney Channel .)


For Meatballs:

1 – 1 1/2lb ground beef or ground turkey *

1 egg

¼ cup bread crumb, seasoned or unseasoned

¼ cup, parmesan cheese

1 tsp, dried basil

1 tsp, dried oregano

1 tsp, thyme

Roughly 1 tsp of garlic salt

Fresh parsley (if the spirit moves you)

Salt and pepper to taste

For Sauce

1 Tbsp, olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed and diced

1 onion, finely diced

2 tsp, basil

2 tsp, oregano

2 tsp thyme

2 bay leaves

2 cans of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz each) can use fresh if available

1-2 cans of crushed tomatoes (28 oz each), depending on number of servings

1 small can, tomato paste

Red wine (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine meat, spices, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and egg in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. I like to do this with my hands, good primordial release!

3. Form 1-inch diameter balls in hand (Hint: To avoid getting the meat mixture stuck to your hands, wet hands under faucet before each meat ball. Place them on baking sheet lined with foil.

4. Brush meatballs with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic salt

5. Place in oven, bake for 20 minutes.

6. While meatballs are baking, chop onions and garlic and sautee with olive oil in large stock pot for about 5 minutes or until soft.

7. Add bay leaves, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste. Cook on medium high heat until bubbling gently.

8. Add spices, reduce heat, and cover.

9. Once meatballs are ready, add them to sauce too.

10. Let simmer for one hour.

11. Serve over pasta.

NOTE: This time I actually added a couple of yellow peach tomatoes I picked up at the farmers market. To pick up on their light, late summer flavor, I added a dry white Loire wine. Lovely.

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