the homestretch

My eyelids are refusing to cooperate this morning, as I find myself fighting to keep them open. Changing the clocks ahead one little hour this weekend is proving to be more challenging than the six hour time difference I so often encounter when I go to France. I figure you’re all feeling sort of sluggish and sleepy today too, and what better way to jolt you than with some fun news surrounding the release of Homemade with Love. If you’ve preordered the book, then you likely got the same email I did on Sunday—it’s shipping earlier than expected. As in you may have it as soon as the weekend depending on the shipping method you chose!

The love, security and sense of self I derive from being in the kitchen are feelings I hope to spark in all of you once Homemade with Love becomes a part of your lives. My reason for wanting to write a cookbook four years ago was simple. It wasn’t about vanity or dreams of fame. I wanted all of my positive experiences in the kitchen to become contagious. I wanted to show people in a very genuine way that cooking is about so much more than just eating. It is about feeding your soul, and enriching the lives of the people you love.

Creating a sense of home is more than just the objects filling the walls and rooms. For me, it’s about a sense of warmth, love and feeling safe and secure. My home is my sanctuary, and one I’ve been working to rebuild little by little since things started to go awry in my own family when I little kid. In many ways, I lost my sense of home after my nana passed away the summer of 1981. My parents moved around a lot during the six years following her death. It wasn’t until I met Mikey that I felt like I was finally making my way back home.

Now I live just a few blocks from where my nana, a single mother herself, raised four children in the 1940′s in a railroad-style one bedroom apartment. Her name was Jennie, and she worked in a factory on Hicks Street, on the other side of the BQE. She is the person who this blog is really named for—the original Jennie, as I often refer to her when showing people a photo. My memories of her are amazingly vibrant and strong, considering our time together was so short, and so long ago.  She made hair notions, terry cloth robes and the like. My mom still has a bag of the elastics she made, which I cherish more than the air I breath. In my purse, I carry a cloth handkerchief with a delicate pink “J” embroidered in script. I forget if my mother or auntie gave it to me, but I remember them telling me it was Jennie’s. When I’m having a tough day, a quick dab with that handkerchief is like getting a gentle hug from her.

I often daydream about what it would’ve been like to cook side-by-side with her. It would’ve been close quarters, no doubt, since she had a very narrow galley kitchen in her apartment on Union Street. My only food memories of her are watching her fry up meatballs in a pink and white speckled skillet, and a funny story about oatmeal. Apple cinnamon instant oatmeal was my older sister’s favorite, and whenever we spent the night at my nana’s, I would beg for it too the next day. Nana would always ask “Are you going to eat it this time?”, to which I would reply, “yes, this time I promise!”. I loved watching the flakes pour from the packet, and the warm smell of cinnamon and sweet apples when the packet’s contents made contact with boiling water. I would stir it all together, then look at the mushy mess in my bowl and realize I just couldn’t do it. She continued this dance the morning after each sleepover.

For years, I tried to like instant oatmeal as a way to connect back to her, and that memory. A few months ago, intrigued by this recipe from Martha Stewart, I made my own instant oatmeal, convinced that it would be better than the prepackaged stuff, and make me a convert. No such luck, and as I wrinkled my nose during my taste test, I imagined nana laughing somewhere.

See folks, this is the real power of food. It can heal our hearts with the memories it creates. Every meal we share with someone we love nourishes our souls. Sure, Homemade with Love is about cooking from scratch, but the premise is rooted deeper than that. Every clove of garlic you saute, or onion you chop is a layer of memories that seep into your consciousness. As time passes, those memories simmer and sustain you when you need it most. This is why I venture into the kitchen every day. The meals I cook today will become the moments that keep me alive in my daughters’ minds long after I’m gone. They are an everlasting gift you give to your family and friends.

This is why I’m especially excited about a kids’ cooking event I’m hosting with my friends Rebecca and Nancy, the founders of KidzVuz. Our kids really are the future, and it thrills me beyond words when I hear a friend say their son or daughter loves searching my blog for recipes. Soon they will be able to curl up with my book, and mark up the pages as I do in my favorite cookbooks.

I’d like to invite one lucky kiddo to join me, Rebecca, Nancy and a few of our friends on Saturday, April 6th in NYC. All you need to do to enter the contest is submit a video at KidzVuz about your favorite cooking or food memory. The contest is open to children ages 7 to 13—sorry adults! I thought it would be fun to turn this into a parent-kid bonding experience, so I’m throwing in a one-night stay on Friday, April 5th, at a 3-star NYC hotel (more details on that soon). Parents/guardians will be responsible for transportation to and from NYC and the event (and be present at the event too), which will be on the Upper Westside—a huge thank you to Chef Toni for donating the space for our event.

So, kids get your cameras ready. Of course make sure mom and/or dad are cool with it, and hop on over to KidzVuz to upload your video. The contest will close at 11:59pm on Friday, March 22nd. The winner will be chosen at random, and notified by Wednesday, March 27th. The official rules for the contest can be found here.

Music Pairing: Our House by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

About Kidzvuz

KidzVuz is a totally safe video review sharing site for kids age 7-12.  It’s the ONLY online destination exclusively dedicated to letting tweens have their say and share their views about the stuff they love.  Kids make reviews about food, travel, books, movies, TV, fashion and more!  All videos are watched before they go up, and all comments are read – so there is no bullying, and kids learn how to make and share videos responsibly and safely.  KidzVuz is the site for kids to have their say!

About Chef Toni’s Cooking Adventures

As a uniquely designed cooking “adventure” for children ages 2-16 that focuses on “farm-to-table” cooking, C.T.C.A’s vision is for each child to experience the pleasure of socializing around healthy cooking while learning to grow into a top “junior chef”. Chef Toni’s Cooking Adventures teaches the fundamentals of: Farm-to-Table Cooking, Healthy Food Choices, Smart Shopping Skills, Culinary Techniques, and Basic Manners & Etiquette.​

Comments

  • Rose D. Frenchtown, NJ: I’m so looking forward to receiving my book!!!

  • Mary: Your memories of your nana are so familiar. My grandmother lived with us from the time my mom and dad were married. She was Italian and my memories are of the homemade pasta she would make and the little homemaker type things she taught me. She was a single mother during the Depression who raised three daughters by working three jobs, after kicking out her husband who was abusive. I always thought she favored my sister but all these years later, I remember more and more the things she taught me – how to measure flour by cutting into the cup and dragging the knife across, how to make bread, how to iron sheets and pillowcases (I LOVED to do that) – and I realize my love of baking came from her.

    My mother cooked because it was necessary but she was a good cook. The day we disconnected her from life support after cardiac arrest, I held her hands in mine and to my face. I could smell the garlic on her hands from the rice pilaf she had made the night before. It is a smell I will never forget and will always remind me of my mother.

    Cooking is such a thread that binds so many generations. I never realized how emotional it can be. Thanks for your blog. It is thought provoking. Can’t wait for my cookbook to arrive. Mary.

  • Beth G from South Jersey: My Grandmother was a wonderful cook born and raised in Mississippi. I have the most wonderful memories of baking so many wonderful treats and cooking tons of things, most notably corn bread at every holiday (not sweet, no way never!) and shrimp jambalya every Easter. I’d always sneak in the kitchen and pick the shrimp out to eat before it was served. She was master sewer too and made clothes with matching ones for my dolls. Sadly, by the time I was old enough to really appreciate and learn from Grandma she was blind. She guided me the best she could and answered all my questions, but it was difficult for her to “teach” me when she couldn’t see.
    Thanks for sharing your memories and this post..
    I feel the same way about creating memories for my kids and I know one that will always be a favorite for them our your buttermilk pancakes every Sunday morning!

  • jess: love this…living 6 hours away from my mom, it always makes me feel better when i make a dish she is famous for. my mom was never big on desserts so now, as a pastry chef, i take pride in what i can share with her. she often calls for cake/cookie recipes and it makes my heart smile. and passing that on to my daughter…knowing that one day my daughter will remember her mothers “famous lemon cookies” or how every birthday cake was ‘homemade with love’ makes it all worth it. food truly does speak to the soul

  • elissapr: This post really resonated with me. One of the reasons I started working from home – was so my daughter could smell MY cooking when she came through the door after school. On Friday afternoons, I always wait for her comment: “Mmmmm, smells good in here…..”

  • Missi: Just ordered your cookbook! So excited!

  • Selfish Mom: This made me smile for many reasons, one of which was that my grandmother used to make me instant apple-cinnamon oatmeal too. Of course, I loved it, but you probably already guessed that.

  • Brandi: Jennie, I feel like I ordered your book six months ago and was so excited to get the email on Sunday. I can’t wait for my book to arrive! There are many things in this world that I wish I was good at or enjoyed more. But I know that I love cooking and sharing that with others, whether it is my family or just a friend who could use a lift – I am happy to show my love through cooking. I learned it from my mother and grandmothers and hope that my children will learn this from me. Maybe my daughter will make a video and we can win!

  • Caroline: You have me teary. We share the same philosophy on food. The memories I hold dearest are the ones that involve being in the kitchen with my Mother, or being around the dinner table with my family. Every once in a while I taste something or smell something that just takes me right back to my childhood kitchen. THAT is why I blog as well. I wish that type of relationship with cooking and eating for everyone.

  • Katie: Jennie,
    I got that email this weekend and got a little thrill to know it was coming early. There’s nothing quite like flipping through the pages of a new cookbook, especially one you’ve been looking forward to. It arrived today and I have to say, it’s beautiful. The printing-geek in me loves the heft of it. The feel of the cover and the coating and the paper. But, most importantly, it’s got “you” (or, at least, the “you” I’ve come to know through your writing) all over it. Congratulations.

  • irene: i pre-ordered my book in october and just checked the status and it is out for delivery today!!! i’m so excited to cook and bake this weekend!

  • Rocky Mountain Woman: I love your memories of your nana. I hope my little guys remember their “Henna” with the same amount of fondness…

  • Cindy: Hi Jennie – I received my copy of your cookbook yesterday and it looks beautiful! It’s the perfect combination of beauty, inspiration and hardworking so I don’t have to feel guilty splattering on it. And I do plan to splatter on it! Congratulations and I wish you all the best in this new part of your journey!

  • Ellynn: Just got my copy of the book. Can”t wait to read it and to start cooking! Thank you so much for sharing your love of food through your book and your inherent love of life, despite everything, through your blog.

  • SusanR: Got my copy of the book! It is really very beautiful. Congratulations! May this wonderful moment, albeit bittersweet, help you move into only good things. Know that Mikey would be so, so proud of you, feel his warmth and love, and celebrate this moment as he would have wanted you to.

  • Devon Cretella: Jennie: Your cookbook arrived yesterday afternoon. I put all of my work aside, made a cup of coffee, and read the entire book in one sitting! Your stories make me cry, your ability to carry on through such adversity inspires me, and your recipes make me anticipate all of the cooking that I usually do on the weekends. Grocery shopped last night…can’t wait to get started. Blessings to you!

  • RobynB: Received your book on Thursday (Thanks, Amazon Prime!) and went through it all weekend. It’s beautiful! I want to take the time to savor each individual story with each recipe, but I did go through and skim the sections. I’m really looking forward to trying a few things. Your story comes through loud and clear, and so does the love you always infuse into your writing. This book is a lovely gift.

  • Angie @ Big Bear’s Wife: What a wonderful event for kids! And I love your memories of your Nana. My nana passed away a few years ago and I wish that I had had more time with her as an adult. We got married and moved away and were gone for a few years only to move back to town the year she passed away. I have such fond kitchen memories of her and my papa. Some of the best memories I have.

  • Tracet: Good Morning Jennie,
    Nana sounds so special. Your writing is a treat to me.
    Wishing you the best days, filled with sunshine, happy memories and oatmeal. By the way, I don’t like it either! I have to force myself to eat a few bites every once in awhile!

  • Tracey: Typo in my name but I am guessing you know who it is!

  • Amy: Jennie, the cookbook is fabulous!! I made the vegetable fried rice and the orange scented chocolate chunk scones. Both wonderful! My 10 year old daughter has been looking through it as she plans a family dessert. Thank you for sharing your talents and tricks of the trade with us!

  • Diane: Just wanted to say I got my book today and I cant tell you how much i love it! I have a million sticky notes marking all the recipies i plan to make. Thanks and good luck!

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