Growing up I was convinced I was Italian. As a kid all of my friends were either Catholic or Jewish. Imagine your childhood in a time and place where delicious ethnic cuisine was a couple of blocks away. The businesses were always family businesses. The food was wonderful. Naturally my favorites were southern Italian and anything you’d find in a good Jewish deli (except Borscht which I never liked nor understood). Bagel with cream cheese and lox? Love it. Sunday gravy with meatballs and sausage? Isn’t this what every family makes and eats on Sundays? Didn’t everyone go to synagogue on Saturdays and church on Sundays? When I was around 12 or 13 I began my spiritual quest. We had the big Sunday meal with family but for some reason we didn’t go to church or synagogue. I was confused about faith. So I turned to The Wise One of the family for guidance.
“Father, why don’t we go to church or synagogue?”
The Wise One did not hesitate with his response.
“You don’t find God. God finds you.”
Now imagine being around 12 years old and having that thought stuck in your brain.
Faith is a funny thing. You either believe or not. So the thought that I might have some Italian blood persisted my entire life. This belief persisted until this past week. My brother got one of those DNA ancestry tests done and graciously gave me permission to share the most intimate details of our genetic heritage in a public post.
Well, I’m not Italian. And I’m not 100% of what I thought I was. I might be Vietnamese.
Well this puts a different slant on everything.
My Grandmother Was Italian. Why Aren’t My Genes Italian?
We do have the genes we inherit — 50 percent from each parent. But Elissa Levin, a genetic counselor and the director of policy and clinical affairs of Helix, says a process called recombination means that each egg and each sperm carries a different mix of a parent’s genes.
“When we talk about the 50 percent that gets inherited from Mom, there’s a chance that you have a recombination that just gave you more of the northwest European part than the Italian part of your Mom’s ancestry DNA,” she says. That’s also why siblings can have different ancestry results.
In the bookstore the other day I could hardly contain my excitement. I found a used copy of Mollie Katzen’s 2013 cookbook The Heart of the Platefor six dollars! Middle and Early Boomers might remember her Moosewood cookbook.I still have a copy of that cookbook in my collection. There are a few recipes from The Heart of the Plate I want to try. The first one was Peruvian Potato-Bean Stew. But immediately I saw a problem.
I’m not in Peru. 4000 to pick from and the recipe calls for the blue one. Since I wasn’t going to find blue potatoes I figured I might as well just mess with the rest of the recipe too. So here’s my version inspired by Mollie.
Adapted from The Heart of Plate by Mollie Katzen
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground red chili
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, 1/2 inch dice
3 cups cooked Mayocabo beans with cooking liquid
15-ounce can diced tomatoes with roasted garlic and onion
freshly squeezed lime juice
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.
Add oil, onions, chili powder, ground chili, oregano and cumin . Gently saute for 5 minutes.
Add the bell pepper, garlic, and salt. Saute for another 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes.. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the bean cooking liquid, canned tomatoes, cover again, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Add the beans, reduce heat to low and simmer until beans are warmed through.
Season individual servings with lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.
If you like chili you’ll like this recipe. It’s basically a potato and bean chili, no meat. If you cannot find Mayocabo beans use pintos. It won’t taste the same but will still be excellent, kind of like using yellow potatoes instead of the blue ones. Pinto beans will hold their shape better whereas the Mayocabo is creamier and tends to fall apart with prolonged cooking.
For the beans I used a pound dried, rinsed multiple times and soaked overnight. The next day I tossed the beans into a pot, added water to one inch above the beans with about a teaspoon each of cumin, Mexican oregano, garlic powder and a bay leaf.
I am alone this Christmas for the first time. The day started early, another byproduct of the aging process. For months I’ve known that I would be home alone today. The Boss is out of town to experience the joy of Christmas with our first Tiny Human Grandchild and her clan in Providence RI. Our other Number One Son is hiking somewhere in the Colorado Rockies. This Christmas I am home alone with my thoughts and memories.
The funny thing is I really don’t mind being home alone on Christmas. I don’t have a problem being alone. Some people get lonely when no one else is around. That’s not me. You can be in a room full of people and feel lonely. Or you can be alone and feel completely surrounded by the love of family and friends. There are just so many wonderful memories of Christmas all fighting for my attention right now. All day long these memories will begin bubbling to the surface. And believe it or not I just got a Merry Christmas text message from an old college buddy. This simple gesture brings back fond memories of Sweet and Sour Tripe (trust me, you don’t want to know the rest of this story). I can’t stop smiling.
The tree lights are on. Christmas music is in the air. I’m wearing my Life is Good tee with Jake’s dog on it (the one I wear every Christmas). I started a pot of Mayocabo beans early and they might even be ready for lunch later. The smiles keep coming because the memories are surfacing from places and times nearly forgotten. I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel home alone today but I’m fine. I have time to read and write. Dinner tonight will be with friends gathered together for some good food and good company. Believe it or not I just got a message from my stomach. It’s time to make my world famous multi-grain pancakes for Christmas breakfast.
1 can Great Northern White Beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup tahini, organic, unsalted
1 and 1/2 large lemons, juiced
1 tsp pure maple syrup
½ tsp cumin
Salt to taste
The Office Christmas party is at the house this year. I was asked to make some hummus for the event. Since I was going to dirty up the juicer and the food processor I decided to try something different. I made more hummus. There was a leftover baked sweet potato in the fridge. A quick Google search turned up this recipe which I’ll credit as my inspiration.
Bake the sweet potato for around 75 minutes or until soft to the touch. I actually had my potato in the oven for 2 hours at 425F because I forgot about it. Allow to cool and set aside.
Process the garlic first.
Toss everything else in the pool and process until smooth and creamy.
Did you take the skin off the potato?
Find some pita bread or crackers STAT.
The first thing is to avoid any arguments about whether or not you can call this dip hummus. It has no chickpeas so technically it’s not hummus. Google “is hummus without chickpeas really hummus” and take a side. The second thing you have to get used to is the color.
Pink. The dip comes out pink.
Put this hummus out at a party and tell everyone it’s a salmon dip.
Have your smartphone cameras ready for your guests’ reactions.