Cooking from the Heart

Call me old-fashioned, but I really enjoy being a wife. Especially the part about cooking for my hubby. Cooking is one way that I show love. I often wish that I had a full dinner table every night, because it’s such a great feeling to feed the ones I love!

As a child, I spent a lot of time inside and at home, mostly due to my health. For the first 13 years of life, I very thin, despite eating a lot of food. In addition to having seconds and thirds at meals, I ate plenty of snacks and sometimes needed to drink high-calorie shakes. Because I was home so frequently, I spent a lot of time with both my mother and grandmother (who lived next door!) in their kitchens.

Me, as a toddler, eating a huge chicken leg!

Me, as a toddler, eating a huge chicken leg!

Many CF patients – 85 % – are Pancreatic Insufficient. The pancreas, which is responsible for creating and excreting digestive enzymes, becomes damaged due to mucous in the organ, so in addition to taking supplements every time we eat, we often have to eat more to both keep our weight at a healthy range. In addition, CF patients often have vitamin deficiencies, which must be supplemented to maintain healthy levels.

Cooking became part of my treatment regimen. Most of my ingredients are fresh, whole foods. None of my recipes are difficult to make or too expensive. Quite a few years ago, my husband and I realized that we could cook a lot of the dishes that we liked to eat at restaurants, for a fraction of the cost, and knowing exactly what was in each dish.

My homemade sauce, with influences from both my mother and my grandmother

My homemade sauce, with influences from both my mother and my grandmother

My mother grew up with her grandmother, who taught her how to bake everything from cookies to cakes to pies and delicate pastries, how to cook juicy roasts of beef, pork, turkey and chicken, as well as traditional eastern European staples such as dumplings and stews. Upon marrying my father, who is from Italy, she mastered her own homemade recipes – sauce (tomato),  lasagna, stuffed shells (manicotti), meatballs, stuffed peppers, pizza, and traditional Italian cookies and desserts.

Italian meatballs based on my mom's style

Italian meatballs based on my mom’s style

My grandmother cooked everything “old-country”. One of my favorites, she made homemade pasta using fresh ingredients, rolled and cut by hand, sometimes stuffed with cheese or potatoes. Her sauce (tomato), which she called gravy, was made using freshly picked (or carefully canned during the summer) tomatoes, onions, peppers, basil and oregano, all of which she grew in their urban backyard garden. She’d also toss in my grandfather’s home-cured pepperoni or sausage.

Dinner wasn’t complete unless you had fresh rolls and a glass of my grandfather’s wine – made in his basement and shared with the neighborhood and the local Catholic church.

My first homemade pizza. Didn't taste as good as it looked, but it was a first try.

My first homemade pizza. Didn’t taste as good as it looked, but it was a first try.

My turn!

I guess I picked up a lot along the way.

One chilly day last year, my mother had visited, and I made chicken soup. Not any soup, but my own hearty recipe that I’ve perfected over the years. Now, my mother isn’t one to criticize someone else’s cooking (unless a restaurant has messed up her order). If it’s something that she doesn’t really like, she will say nothing. Even if asked, she won’t say that it wasn’t good.

My hearty chicken soup

My hearty chicken soup

So it surprised me when, after the first spoonful, she told me “this is delicious! I mean it…” She takes another spoonful. “This isn’t just soup, it’s a stew…” Another spoonful. “Where did you get this recipe?”

I told her that I just made it up as I went along. I never measure anything.

She then asked, “Did you get the potatoes pre-cut?” to which I replied, no.

I told her that I liked to cut things into somewhat uniform sizes so that you get a taste of everything in a single spoonful. She got really excited about that, because she had just seen a cooking show that mentioned the practice of getting “everything” into a single bite. I didn’t think it was a big deal, because I do so only because I am a little OCD. I guess my OCD is a virtue when it comes to cooking!

I sent my mom home with some of the soup, so that she could have it later or even the next day. About 30 minutes after she had left, she called me to confess that she couldn’t resist eating it right away, because it was so good. I then admitted that I, too, had eaten a second helping.

Moist, chocolately, Black Magic Cake, made from scratch

Moist, chocolately, Black Magic Cake, made from scratch

I’ve experimented a lot in the past fifteen or so years. I’ve only had a few cooking failures. For example, I tried to make potato pancakes. Not a fan of manual graters or frying in inches of vegetable oil, mine turned out grey and unevenly cooked. (I have since mastered Potato Pancakes!!). Last year, I messed up a cake recipe – Black Magic Cake – that my mom’s been making since we were kids, but my second attempt was a success.

I was so happy, because we grew up preferring this cake to other desserts, even “regular” birthday cake. It’s so moist that you don’t need frosting or icing, though it does taste really good with Marshmallow Fluff on top.

At 99 cents a pound and only two hours to prepare, this is a winner!

At 99 cents a pound and only two hours to prepare, this is a winner!

I now have a few hands full of go-to dishes that my husband and I just don’t tire of eating. One easy meal is a fresh, whole, roasted chicken. It’s practically a steal at 99 cents a pound at the grocery store. They are usually 6-8 pounds and so easy to prepare and cook, clocking in at around 2 to 2 1/2 hours. They come out tasting like they had been dipped in butter. I’m not sure why it’s so dang yummy, but the two of us absolutely devour it.

Sweet and Sour Chicken – took a long time to prepare but it was insanely delicious!

Sweet and Sour Chicken – took a long time to prepare but it was insanely delicious!

Most of my recipes come from knowing what flavors work together. It’s a lot of trial and error, since I don’t like to use recipes unless it’s something I have had before or it’s a dessert that needs precise ingredients. The only problem with making yummy food is that you’re tempted to eat more of it, and since I learned to cook for six or more people and there’s just hubby and me, we either gobble it up or have leftovers to deal with.

So stay tuned for step-by-step recipes of our favorite dishes.

And remember, there’s always room at the table for one more. Mangia, mangia!!

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