Cooking For Sig

A Sous Chef and Her Stories


Fish Cakes and Dinner Parties

My mother likes to tell the story of the night she went into labor with me. She had been climbing a ladder at a client’s house just a few hours before, installing new drapes and valances in their living room. For dinner that night she and dad had salmon croquettes. And then a little while later her water broke and I arrived just before one in the morning on my due date. It’s a random little string of inconsequential events that she would otherwise never have remembered except that it happened to precede the birth of her only child.

galetteI’m not sure if it’s the repetition of this story throughout my childhood or the fact that my final in utero meal was a salmon croquette, but I have always been incredibly found of all manner of fish cakes. I love the strange chewy Vietnamese fish balls in pho, I adore crab cakes and salt cod croquettes. It had been a long time since I had made fish cakes at home, so I was pretty excited to make a middle eastern inspired cod cake in a spicy, smoky tomato sauce for dinner on Saturday night. I thought they were delicious. Matt thought they were interesting. I wanted to call my mom and tell her that I had one-upped her salmon croquettes, but I didn’t. Continue reading


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Preserved Lemons and Well-Washed Greens

carrotsSometimes I have moments when I catch myself doing something that I very clearly learned from my dad. This happened on Saturday as I stood over a pile of freshly washed cilantro and dutifully plucked the leaves from the stems. This was my dad’s ritual. Every Saturday morning when we returned from the grocery store, he would immediately begin the process of cleaning his vegetables, paying extra care to the leafy greens. He would rinse them three times in ice cold water, spin them dry, remove any blemished leaves, trim the stems, and roll them up in a clean dish towel to dry. Several hours later he would remove the bundle of greens from the fridge, unfurl the towel, put the greens in a plastic produce bag, and gently press the air out of the bag to form a vacuum-like seal. Continue reading

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For the Birds

jerkTonight, Matt and I are eating jerk chicken for dinner, which I’ve been making for years. I used to cheat and use a bottled sauce, but ever since I discovered the glories of homemade jerk, I will never go back. Habanero, fresh ginger, garlic, and scallions. The house smells like the Caribbean and the warm September weather has me tricked into believing that summer has just begun. Continue reading

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New Jobs, Old Friends, and Baked Oatmeal

Since Monday, I’ve been promising Matt that I would make him a big batch of oatmeal so that he has something in the house for breakfast besides toast. But here it is, Thursday, and Matt ate a bowl of spaghetti bolognese before heading to work because I still hadn’t manged to boil a pot of water with oats.

This is my week off between jobs, so one might wonder why I haven’t managed to accomplish something so simple. The short answer is that I’ve gone on a home and self improvement tear. I am laying the groundwork for a truly fresh start at my new job on Monday. I bought new clothes and makeup, donated bags of old clothes, reorganized closets, rearranged all of our art objects, rearranged shelves, dusted and scrubbed everything, and sorted through old memorabilia and added odds and ends from four years of work memories to the box.

oatmealThe longer answer is that all my time and energy is focused on coping with my major life change. I usually welcome change and seek it out every once in a while just to give me new purpose and make sure that I’m still actively engaged in life and not just coasting through. Over the past eight years, I’ve held eight different positions in five different offices, so I am no stranger to picking up and starting again. But this feels different. Maybe it’s because I’m older, maybe it’s because I’m leaving behind my best friend, and an office full of coworkers who have become my closest companions in DC. Or maybe it’s because I’m not sure I’ve made the right decision, a fear that has been eating at me for weeks. Continue reading

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Meatball Season

meatballsTonight we’re eating meatballs. I went through an obsessive meatball phase in early spring, when the weather was still cool and dinner required something warm and satisfying. Now that summer is winding down, it seemed like the appropriate time to bring the meatballs back. I love this time of year. Not late summer in particular, but that little window between seasons when the weather starts to change. I’ve always liked those transitional times more than any season itself. This morning the air was cool and dry and scentless, bringing back memories of standing in the front yard in my favorite plaid dress while mom took my picture before the first day of school. I was that child who got excited to buy new pencils and notebooks and rulers and always eagerly anticipated the start of the school year. Continue reading

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Weekday Dessert with Dad

Tuesday was a rough morning. I woke up at 2am and never fell back asleep. I managed to slog through my 5am run, but by the time I got in the shower, whatever autopilot I had been functioning on turned off and I forgot my usual order of operations. First I turned off the water before I had even touched the soap. Once I turned the water back on, I managed to soap up my washcloth and scrub myself down not once, but twice, because at some point in the interim I forgot that I had already done it.

When mlemon barsy dad was near the end of his life, he had a similar habit of repeating tasks over and over again. He would spend twenty minutes in front of the bathroom mirror brushing his teeth obsessively three times in a row. The cancer had spread to his brain and it gave him a strange type of short term amnesia. It made him confused and threw him off balance. It also created a strange childlike fascination wth very simple things, like the veins on the back of his hands. My mom used to ask me to follow him up the stairs in case he fell and he would whine at me, “Sarah, stop it,” while I hovered a step behind him with my arms out as if he were a toddler who had just learned to walk. It sounds awful and it was, but it was also fascinating, watching the power that every little brain cell has to alter our behavior, control our thoughts, and ultimately change the very core of who we are. Continue reading

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Father-Daughter Lentils and a Lasting Friendship

farfalleWe just returned from another weekend away, but this time I really wasn’t ready to come home. For the past four years, we’ve been going to Ocean City with my best friend Jeremy, his wife Sara, and for the first time this year, their cherubic son Jackson. We spent lazy hours on the beach, in the pool, drinking beers in the hot tub, and eating family dinners on our deck. It’s always difficult to leave the beach, that magical edge of the world where no one wears a watch and only your appetite and the tides dictate your schedule. But this year it was particularly bittersweet, because Jeremy and Sara and Jackson are moving to Florida in two months and this will likely be our last annual trip to Ocean City. Continue reading

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Plum Crunch (Part One) and a Mandolin

kirWednesday night we’re having dinner at our downstairs neighbors’ apartment (have I mentioned how much I love our building?) and I offered to bring dessert. I have a habit of baking chocolate desserts, partly because Matt and I are both chocoholics and partly because I have several absurdly easy and insanely delicious chocolate dessert recipes in my repertoire. And yet, I feel very strongly that summer desserts should be fruit-based; it just seems seasonally appropriate. All summer long in Maine, my mother made fruit pies with whatever berry was in season: strawberry rhubarb pie, blueberry pie, and (if we were really ambitious and went out to pick wild berries) tri-berry pie. I know mom’s pie crust recipe by heart, but I could never match a Janice pie. They are magazine cover pies and I just don’t have her magic touch or the patience to acquire it, so I am making a plum crunch instead. Continue reading


The Last Perfect Season

virginia 2Since I spent about a minute between arriving home from the airport and heading out to the grocery store yesterday evening, I didn’t have time for my usual cookbook browsing and neurotic shopping list assembly. Instead, I turned my cravings into recipes in my head and shopped accordingly. I was craving homey, carb-rich, comfort foods from my past and I knew I needed to eat my mom’s favorite party dish – Virginia Lee’s Chicken and Cold Noodles with Spicy Sauce. Continue reading

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Home Sweet Home

Matt and I are home after three consecutive weekends of travel and we could not be happier. It’s amazing the things that one finds gratifying after being away for an extended period of time – having our neighbor Robin hold the front door open for us, finding the glass of vinegar we set out to catch the gnats in our kitchen filled with tiny bugs, and smelling the lavender candle in the second bedroom wafting down the hall.

While it’s great to be home, it was also a beautiful weekend. Matt’s brother got married in Chicago. I was a bridesmaid for the first time and I was unsure what to expect. The hours of makeup and hair intimidated me. It was a long day. I was tired and grumpy. But the second the ceremony started, I was overcome with emotion. I walked down the aisle, escorted by my youngest brother-in-law. I felt the gravitational pull of family, the spine-tingling and butterfly-inducing promise of a life-long commitment, and the honor of being so close to someone on one of the happiest days of her life. Plus, the food was delicious, the hotel room was gorgeous, and I danced so hard my legs still hurt. Continue reading