This blog is a joint effort between my son Daniel and I to express the joy we feel when cooking and sharing recipes. The idea began when Daniel was a senior in high school and created a food blog as part of a Senior Studies project. As another part of the project he worked in a wonderful local restaurant whose chef was a James Beard nominee, Chef Brian Huston of Boltwood. At around the same time, I began to compile recipes and photos for my own food blog. Eventually we decided to share a blog as we have shared a kitchen for so many years.
We would like to thank family and friends who have contributed to our palates and our skills: Francois for being an excellent taster and dishwasher as well as taking us to Spain and France, my mother and Daniel’s grandmother Leona, for many years of tutelage and providing us with the opportunity to visit England, Italy and many states in the U.S., Uncle Mike for his homemade sausage lessons, Aunt Jo and Uncle Jim for their patient gnocchi lessons, Aunt Kay for giving us her secret recipe for Southern fried catfish and shrimp, Minnie Wartell for teaching Julie how to make puff pastry and how to be fearless in the kitchen, Marie-Paule, Tata Danielle, Tata Marlene and Philip for their recipes and help, Chef Mark Gross of Oceanique for giving me my first job in the restaurant business and for his infinite patience, and Chef Brian Huston for his incredible kindness to Daniel when he worked as a high schooler at Boltwood.
Like many Americans my origins are mixed. I am half Sicilian, and the other half, Eastern European. I grew up in a family that loved to cook and married into a French/Algerian family of wonderful cooks. My love of cooking led me to a few jobs in the restaurant business after retiring from being a practicing lawyer. My recipes are an assortment of Sicilian, French, North African and other influences I’ve picked up along the way through travel and sharing with friends and family.
My greatest collaborator is my son Daniel. My first food memory involving Daniel is when he was a baby. He was 5 months old and still eating the classic bland diet that everyone’s pediatrician recommended, but he used to push his rice cereal aside and hang over the table with his mouth open, watching my husband and I eat what he clearly thought, and rightfully so, was more interesting. So, one evening I gave him a forkful of Pasta Arrabiata and he loved it! From then on we introduced salty, sour, sweet and spicy things. He loved them all! When Daniel was about three years old I began to teach him how to cook, as my mother had done with me, and we’ve cooked together ever since. Early on he become completely independent in the kitchen with his own creative sensibilities.
I have worked in the commercial pastry world since 1973. I’m privileged to be currently working at Beth’s Little Bakeshop in Evanston Illinois. Come stop by and sample our confections. Some of the recipes on this site are available in the shop. I’m lucky to have a boss that lets me play and explore new ideas, who has an impeccable palate and skill.
My very first memory in the kitchen is stirring chocolate chip cookie dough with my mom as a toddler. My mom is a retired pastry chef, and my Sicilian grandma and great grandma always had flour on their aprons, a spoon in one hand, and a scrawled out family recipe in the other. From stirring cookies as a toddler to icing luscious red velvet cakes and roasting whole lamb shoulders as a young adult, I’ve done a lot of growing.
My family has inspired a lot of my love of food. Our whole world revolves around food. When we eat one meal, we are thinking about the next. Unlike most people, who go on vacation and plan what sights they’re going to see, we plan out which restaurants and bakeries/pastry shops we want to try. My dad is a French immigrant and most of his family lives in France (mainly Paris) so we travel there during the summer. I can confidently say I’ve literally eaten my way through Paris.
Like most students I look forward to my weekends, but not for typical reasons. Saturdays often mean dinner parties at my house. My mom and I wake up early to shop at various markets and then spend the rest of the day cooking. Wander into the de Lara household on a Sunday morning and you’ll most likely be greeted by the scent of something baking in the oven. Weekend baking is how my mom and I stay close in our hectic lives. In my mind family and food go hand in hand.
I’ve learned many important life lessons from behind a kitchen counter. Waiting for the timer to sound taught me patience. Recipes taught me how to follow directions, and refraining from eating everything I made taught me how to share.