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Kiss The Cook

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The vowel at the end of my last name is a dead give-away to my heritage, Italian. Well, half my heritage. Consider me one part Italian, then two equal parts Norwegian and German. Like a lot of people in my generation, I am a melting pot of nationalities.

I’ve been surrounded by Italians my entire life. First, of course there is 
the family – my Italian side of the family—not the family. Then add in
 where I grew up – West Caldwell, in that part of Essex County where most
 of my friends, teachers and coaches all had vowels at the ends of their last
 names. Not a lot of blue-eyed, blonde-haired Mayflower type kids in my 
school. I even had a softball coach who told us the best way to break in a 
new leather glove was to rub it with olive oil. And I did. I had another coach who challenged us to reach certain goals and, if we did, she cooked us each a spaghetti and meatball dinner. Italians and food and cooking. Mmmm.

Except, I don’t cook. All that chopping and dicing and waiting for the pot to boil, it’s just not exciting to me. I only cook simple meals. I like meat: chicken, steak, pork, and I like it grilled. I like fresh vegetables and salads. So I cook, but only to survive. And I’ll never turn down someone else’s home-cooked meal.

My Italian friends (they all cook really well!) say I am Italian only by name. My dad used to joke with me that I was the worst Italian he knew. I hate being in the kitchen. I don’t drink wine. And I’m not big on spicy Italian food. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like food, foods of all kinds.

My mom is a great cook. Growing up she cooked all sorts of food. Most meals were the basics— meat, potato/rice and vegetables—always fresh and tasty. But every once in a while she would make, what I thought, were these incredible meals. Stuffed Cornish game hen for Easter, each of us getting our own little hen. Lamb and beef shish kabobs with grilled veggies and rice pilaf for our Labor Day celebration. She learned to make stuffed grape leaves and other ethnic dishes from my dad’s business partners’ wives. They were all Armenian. She makes killer spare ribs in the oven, a taste unlike any other rib recipe out there and she has been making her own version of mac and cheese for as long as I can remember. Ox tails. How many of you can say you’ve feasted on a potful of gooey, tasty ox tails?

Jump a few decades from living at my parents’ house where, by law, they had to feed me, through life to present day, where I’m on my own. If I don’t cook, how did I survive all these years? I know people. I know people who cook—who like to cook and hate to clean up. If you will cook a meal for me, I will clean the kitchen for you. It’s the routine I have with my sister and brother-in-law (great cooks, great bakers) and my sister-in-law (great cook) and brother (even he can cook, if you count cooking for 200 Boy Scouts during summer camp). It’s the routine I have with my friends as well.

On our website we feature Barbara Simmons, a language (German, Italian and Chinese) teacher by trade but a cook at heart. In her column, “Cooking With Scratch,” she brings us into her kitchen with stories and recipes from her past, growing up on Lake Hopatcong and learning to cook from her mother, Gertrude. I have tasted some of the food she has cooked. Mmmm.

I’d also like to introduce you to our newest columnist, Esther Poulsen, who will write about life on the lake in her column, “Life in LakeLandia.”

Beginning Friday morning, the latest issue of Lake Hopatcong News magazine will be distributed to over 200 locations in all four towns around the lake, including all the local post offices and municipal buildings. The magazine is loaded with interesting articles about the people and places that make up the lake community, including cooking instructor Paula Chaney who gives us two quick and easy summer recipes that can be eaten on the deck, on the boat or on a picnic. I can’t wait for my friends to try some of these recipes!

Also in the Memorial Day issue we meet Justin Beckerman, an 18-year-old who has built and is testing his own submarine and exploring the water around his family boathouse in Hopatcong. Beckerman is not the only whiz kid featured. You’ll also meet eight amazing eighth-graders from Jefferson Township Middle School who have developed their own Lake Hopatcong app, Invase Erase. They recently met with representatives from the Lake Hopatacong Foundation who also developed a Lake Hopatcong app.

And you’ll meet Bridgette Hobart Janeczko, a long distance swimmer who has been swimming in the lake since April. She is training for the third leg of the Triple Crown of Open Swimming, the English Channel.

Please enjoy the first of the four summer issues of LHN. Our next issue will be out on July 3, followed in August by a mid-summer edition and finishing with our Labor Day edition.

Don’t forget to visit the website. We will be posting stories, covering events and adding to our calendar every day throughout the summer.

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