A Shout-Out to All The Cooks This Holiday Season

Happy Thanksgiving weekend and a happy start to the most wonderful time of the year!

For holiday chefs, the pressure to make the perfect turkey, turducken, Christmas ham, apple pie, or whatever it is you may be cooking this season, can be daunting. I’m reminded of how I felt back in 2013 leading up to the first Team CMMD Food Fight. The very same meticulous planning and maximum efficiency that rendered the evening a massive success for Team CMMD is also a necessity for many of you for your holidays. However, I sincerely hope you and your family are not tasked with serving 520 plates of food in a three-hour period. Only Santa himself could pull off such a feat… oh, and my kitchen team. ;)

Whatever your plans may be, I wish you a stress-free holiday season and I offer a heartfelt reminder of why the season exists: an opportunity to give thanks with loved ones, to praise the faith you celebrate, and to wish for peace on Earth.

Among the many things I’m thankful for are the recent accolades “The Longest Mile” has received in the community. From winning the Gold Medal in the 2016 Living Now Book Awards and becoming a 2016 USA Best Book Awards Finalist for Social Change to being named “The Being in the Community” Book of the Year by local writer Phoebe Farag, I couldn’t be more grateful for these honors. Most especially, I am appreciative of my family and friends who supported me by going through the process with me, buying, reading, reviewing and sharing the book.

Shamelessly, I’ll also remind my friends and readers that the amount of books that have been purchased as gifts has astonished me, and if you’re looking for a unique present for a cancer fighter, mom, runner, foodie, nurse, or doctor in your life, I’d love the honor of sharing my story with more hearts. Pick up a copy at your local bookstore or right here on Amazon: http://bit.ly/buylongestmile

With that, I leave you with an excerpt from the book. With only a few months until the first Food Fight, I found myself perfecting my braised short ribs by feeding many versions to my greatest food tester, Chris. I hope as you read this you think about the recipes you enjoy with your own families – those that have been passed down, perfected, and have warmed the hearts and tummies of your kids and loved ones. For me, food is a big part of the holiday season because it is a tradition, and traditions are some of the very best gifts we can give. Happy holidays, and enjoy! 

Excerpt from The Longest Mile

Chapter 6 No Cake. No Spinach.

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.

—Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Chris looked deflated as I set the small bowl in front of him. It was the eighth time in three weeks that I had forced him to eat my braised short ribs. I was living, breathing, and sleeping this food fight, and my family was along for the ride. As soon as our 104 tickets had sold out, I had begun creating a menu and building recipes. One of the most important rules of our contest was that all of our dishes had to be original, not re-created from another recipe or copied from a celebrity chef. Five courses meant five recipes to write, practice, and fine-tune. Almost since its inception, the food fight had been one of the most anticipated events in our community, and it had to live up to the hype.

But for me, pulling off the massive task, raising money for the American Cancer Society, and serving our guests not one, but two, perfect meals were secondary goals. I needed to win this contest. I needed to win for Tant, Rosella, Debi, and Joe. I needed to be good at something again.

The Egyptian food of my childhood is simple and rustic. Rozz and molokhia are created with more soul than science; family recipes are handed down without mention of measurements, temperatures, and cooking times. Egyptian women like Tant seem to have a cooking instinct that renders the need for those guidelines obsolete.

When I was in middle school, I had to complete an assignment to prepare an authentic Egyptian dish, provide the recipe, and demonstrate how the dish was made. My teacher was forced to give me a C for the project. “I’m sorry,” she wrote on my paper. “A coffee cup is not a one-cup measure and ‘kinda like this’ is not a proper instruction. The stuffed grape leaves were delicious, however!”

At home, I cooked with that same instinct, but for this contest, I needed to channel my innermost scientist, mathematician, and engineer. My food fight meal had to be painstakingly planned, from recipe to prep to execution to plating. I could leave nothing to chance.

While I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to make, I was certain of a few facts. First, I would absolutely not make anything that night that I’d never made before. Second, my dishes would be sophisticated in flavor profile and plating but relatively simple to put together. I had to be able to do as many things ahead of time as possible. My team and I were going to serve 520 plates of food in a three-hour period. Meticulous planning and maximum efficiency would be critical to pulling off this massive event.

 Chris didn’t have quite the same enthusiasm for my eighth rib trial as he had for the first, but he smiled at me. I must have been a sight that dreary Sunday afternoon. My hair was a frazzled mess piled high on my head. Splotches of sauce dotted my apron, pants, and right cheek. My kitchen had been in a state of destruction for days, as I cooked, tested, and forced Chris to taste. During those weeks, I would come home from work, pull out my massive notebook, put an apron on over my work clothes, and get down to business. The first nights were great, because we had better weeknight dinners than ever, but by now, Chris and the kids were developing “taster fatigue.”

In our marriage, one thing was a given: I cooked, and Chris cleaned up after me. Yet even during these crazy weeks leading up to the food fight, even as he washed and scrubbed and dried, only to repeat the same ritual night after night, his tone never got edgy. In fact, with every dishwasher load he emptied, he seemed to brighten.

Something about the way Chris was looking at me that Sunday afternoon of the rib trial made me pause. “What? Don’t you like it? Too much soy sauce? Last time better? No. It was the third one—the one with twice the soy and half the tomato. That was the best, wasn’t it?” As I rambled, I smoothed my dirty apron nervously over my thigh and blew a rogue curl off my face.

Chris put down his fork and walked over to me. As he tucked the stubborn curl behind my ear, he said, “No. I don’t know which short ribs were the best. All I know is that seeing you pattering around the kitchen again gives me peace. If I have to eat short ribs every day for the rest of my life to see that smile, so be it. And, just so you know, these are the worst ones yet— you’re overthinking it.” With that, he kissed my cheek, shrugged on his coat, and headed out.


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