Wednesday, March 16, 2011

For Sudy

I certainly don't want to ignore the fact that our friends in Japan are suffering from a horrible environmental disaster and a looming nuclear emergency.  It's something that's very much on my mind as I know it is on yours.  I hope and pray for the earthquake / tsunami survivors and for those who have lost or are missing a loved one.

I want, however, to focus this post on a very personal tragedy in my own family.  While I don't often share personal facts on this blog, it seems somehow impossible to move forward without sharing, the form of a tribute, what happened in our family a few weeks ago.

On February 19th, my mother-in-law, Sudy Reinauer Zane, passed away suddenly.  She was a beautiful, loving, vivacious women full of spunk, spirit and adventure.  She was game for anything.  Death always comes as a shock, but this was beyond shocking.  It was without notice.  She was healthy and fit with no near-term health issues to worry about.  She had more energy than most people I know.  She looked and acted many years younger than her already young self.  We were not able to say goodbye.

She had so many friends and family who loved her dearly.  She was one of those people you could say anything to and you felt like you knew her right away.  She could put a roomful of people at ease.  She loved children and my son was her special first grand child by blood.

We feel her absence every hour.  I know at some point our feelings will turn from shock and grief to fond memories.  Right now, however, we are still going over the details in our heads and still in disbelief that we have lost her.  She was going to be a great presence in our son's life for sure, and we are equally sad for him that he will not have her with him as he grows up.
It had been an unusually long period of time since we'd seen her (several months). She had scheduled a trip to visit us that would have occurred about a week after she passed away.  The last time we saw her, it was for a long weekend in December.  In hindsight, it seems so sadly too short.

The last evening she was here, we cooked a big meal in.  Something we don't do that often but we somehow decided to.  Sudy's husband, Alan, offered to make his famous potato latkes.  I decided to make a rack of veal and vegetables to go with them.  I remember deciding last minute to run out to Eataly to pick up their wonderful organic, milk-fed, Amish veal.  It was a bit of an extravagance but it seemed like an apt occasion.  Sudy loved the veal so much she decided to make it for a New Year's dinner she would later host for friends.

Food was something we shared an interest in and talked about often.  She commented frequently on this blog and often used the recipes.  She's call from some far-off supermarket to get clarification on ingredients or approach.  I was always flattered that she liked my recipes and trusted my advice.  In turn, she taught me a lot about Southern cooking.  She was always interested when I expressed an interest in an authentic dish.  I would often get inspired to make a dish I learned about when visiting her and would need her to mail me a critical ingredient that could not be sourced up North.  She always obliged, sending me spices or Sorghum or whatever my whimsy required.  She also was an amazing salad-maker and spoiled us with her finely-chopped, chock-full salad creations which usually involved lots of craisins and some finely shaved cheese.  She always indulged our salad requests: she even once brought produce in her handbag on the plane.

Her New Year's dinner was a typical collaboration.  We talked about veal preparation, cooking time, and temperature readings.  I suggested she make a verjus-based sauce that I had photographed for the New York Times and she trusted my recommendation even though she had not had the sauce or even heard of verjus (nor had I prior to my shoot).  In typical fashion she enthusiastically ran around until she found a bottle of verjus in Houston.  She was so excited to make her meal, and I was proud that she took my recommendation.

On New Year's Eve I couldn't help but call to see how it went.  They just finished dinner and apparently everyone raved and she was thrilled.  Honestly, even if it had been a flop she probably would have reassured me that everything had gone as prescribed.

I cannot describe how much I am going to miss everything about her: from all of the little back and forths we had during a week, to the support and encouragement she gave me in my career and as a new mom, to all of the love I know she would have bestowed upon our son.  I hope she knows how much we love her and how much we wish she were still here.

Rack of veal

1 rack of veal or number of ribs desired (un-separated)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Very generously season veal with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.   Cook for approximately 3 hours (start checking a bit before) until the internal temperature reaches 155 and eventually rises to 160 out of the oven.

Verjus sauce

1 cup chicken stock
5 Tbs verjus (I like Roland)
2 Tbs fresh thyme
2 Tbs dijon mustard

Follow this recipe from the New York Times, starting when with the pan drippings from the veal when cooking is complete, adding the verjus, chicken stock, thyme and mustard as directed.  For more information on verjus, please see here.

Tomato couscous

2 cups tomato couscous
2 cups chicken stock plus a little extra
3/4 cup craisins
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Combine tomato couscous, chicken stock 1/4 tsp salt, craisins and almonds in the bowl of a rice cooker.  Swirl to combine.  Add a splash of olive oil.  Cook on the regular cycle until done.  Fluff with a fork and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes on the keep warm cycle.  Adjust seasonings to taste.