*The Fan Club

 Now that you have an idea of who I am–it’s equally as important that I introduce you to the cast of people who have helped shape me into the unique person that I am today.   There would be no FAN in Fanny without these quirky characters that make up the story that is my life.

Mom and Dad

brownies

I spent my early years over the stove with my dad standing on a chair learning how to decorate scrambled eggs with sage.  My mom taught me words like kale, leeks, and avocado; and food turned out to be my very first language.  Having two parents who successfully created, owned, and operated a world famous brownie business over thirty years ago certainly didn’t hurt my upbringing.  The buttery smell of brown sugar and chocolate chips baking is an aroma that will always take me back to my childhood.  My curiosity for being inventive in the kitchen sprouted the first time I ever saw my dad slicing chicken breast, dredging it in flour, and rolling it in breadcrumbs and herbs.  As he slid the pan of paprika-coated strips into the oven, I wondered how McDonald’s was able to deliver my chicken McNuggets in a matter of minutes–while his method seemed to take a bit more time and care.  I took my first bite into the crispy, perfectly-seasoned tenders and my love affair for made-from-scratch meals began right there.  Although my mom is equally as talented in the kitchen, it’s her love for each individual ingredient that I appreciate the most.  Have you ever been in the aisles of Whole Foods and heard someone shout, “Would you just LOOK at this gorgeous heirloom tomato?!”

That was my mom.

Have you ever been told the story of the little girl who cherished a nostalgic breakfast item so much that she wrapped it up in plastic and saved it forever?

No?

Wait, your mom doesn’t have a 46 year old piece of french toast from her beloved childhood camp in Maine?  Oh, right.

That was my mom.

Whether it’s adding cherry tomatoes to her salad because “it needed some red” or stocking our cheese drawer with eleven different types of brie, my mom has always instilled in me that every single ingredient deserves a round of applause.  My parents have not only approved of, but constantly encouraged, my passion for being in the kitchen.  They advised me to never take life too seriously and to always play with my food.  They taught me how to find love in things like caramelized onions and toasted english muffins, and most importantly–how to share that love with others.

mom and dad updated-001

Sarah (Sar #1)

When I was three, I looked up to my big sister like she invented mashed potatoes.  There was nothing I wanted more than to be just as cool as her.  And by “cool” in 1988, I mean: wear side ponytails with neon scrunchies, have jean jackets with over-sized metal clips instead of buttons, and know elaborate dance choreography to songs like Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.  I admired her so much that the first time she ever asked me to make her breakfast, I told myself that every bit of it had to be impressive.  It’s likely that at age eight, the very breakfast I prepared for her was probably cheese toast.  But to her–it was the best cheese toast she had ever had.

…Because it was made by someone else.

As much as Sarah enjoys spending time in the kitchen with my dad and I learning how to make zucchini fritters, it’s the post-cooking portion that she appreciates the most.  She now lives on the other side of the coconuts in Hawaii and I can only imagine the number of times she wakes up and begs her cat Nani to make her an omelet.  In those wonderful moments when the universe puts all four of us back under the same roof, nothing makes me happier than to see the expression on her face when dinner is ready.  Since I’ve been exercising my whisking arm, now more than ever I look forward to those rare times I get to be her personal chef again.  Cheese toast may have been swapped off of the menu for lemon-ricotta bruschetta with fresh herbs–but the smile on my big sister’s face is all the same.

Sara (Sar #2)

Unfortunately I didn’t know Sara at this age.

Nevertheless, I have seen her seen her empty a bowl or two of cake batter in her twenties. The first time I ever watched Sara study a menu with the curiosity of someone absorbed in a Nicholas Sparks novel–I knew I had found my best friend. Her enthusiasm for mealtime–whether it be a plateful of her mom’s homemade spaghetti or a stack of blackberry pancakes from Cracker Barrel–is one of the many bonds we share. She has a passionate relationship with Thai food and it’s one of the traits I appreciate most about her. While others wander aimlessly for years without a clue as to what will make them truly happy, Sara is in pure bliss with a bowl of Pad Thai and a pile of spring rolls. Many life-changing decisions, discussions, and heart-to-hearts have occurred over shared noodles and crab rangoons. The kitchen table–well, living room floor–is not only a place of common ground for us, but a means of finding our way back to each other.

…Even if one of us has moved to California.

“I’m so excited for the tailgate this weekend, Sar. I marinated steak in lemongrass all night and I’m making Vietnamese Bahn Mi’s with Asian slaw and cilantro mayo on foccacia!”

“Fanny, do you have any idea how to make, you know, just like a ham sandwich?”

 

Sara encourages my infatuation for food and keeps me on my toes by reminding me that I stand out from the rest with expressions like “oh, Fan”, “only you”, and “you have the hand-writing of a serial killer.” In another life we met on a playground exchanging carrots and celery for Nutter Butters; but in reality–Sara and I have grown up together in our own ways. She believes that if the Chinese place only gave you one set of chopsticks, you haven’t ordered enough food; and that unassuming roadside bakeries are where you find the soul of a small town. I love that she approaches every meal with excitement, and that she’ll bake an entire pecan pie for no reason at all. Sara is the reason I began blogging in the first place and for that, I will be forever grateful to her. Like best friends are meant to, she lifts me up and fills my life with laughter every day. Through our mutual adoration of eating, writing, and Lifetime movies–Sara and I share a friendship that I wouldn’t trade for all the peanut butter M&M’s in the world.

Bea Bea 

There is something extraordinary about a woman who will mail you a sandwich on your birthday.

My grandmother Bea–affectionately named Bea Bea–has always supported my fascination with eating. My sister and I once requested Lucky Charms for our visit to New Jersey, and for each of the twenty years following that trip–she never failed to stock her pantry with at least six mini boxes of the crispy marshmallow cereal. If you ask her for bacon with your eggs, brace yourself to be presented with all twelve pieces that come in the Hormel box. If you mentioned a craving for ice cream–the entire Ben & Jerry collection will populate her freezer before you’ve even finished your sentence.

Just recently in a conversation over the phone I commented that I had never tried her butterscotch pie. One week later, everything I needed to prepare the dessert appeared on my doorstep along with an old cookbook, a recipe organizer, and a hand-written note.

Childhood memories at my grandparents’ house on Warwick Circle in New Jersey are always centered around two things: food and lottery tickets. The minute our airport cab would pull into their flower-studded driveway–my Grandma Bea and Aunt Annette would fling off their rubber dish gloves and come running to the front porch. The suitcase handles hadn’t even left our fingertips before the four of us were whisked into the kitchen and flooded with questions like: “Do you want a cream soda?” and “Potato chips, potato salad, or both?!”

I’d stare down the long dining room table at the feast big enough to feed all of Springfield. In that moment I could never decide if I was more excited about what was on top of my plate…or what was under it. The shiny white wax paper that enclosed the beauty that was a russian dressing-filled, over-stuffed, triple-decker Friday Special was only matched by the untouched lottery ticket that lay beneath my lunch. Bea Bea knew that if I won two dollars, I would sprint up and down her hallway proclaiming my riches to the world; but if I scratched my heart out only to find mismatched numbers–I would still be rewarded with the world’s most magnificent sandwich.

She knows that simple things like pickles, Gulden’s Mustard, and chocolate chip muffins are the ingredients to my happiness. When she saw my love for cooking grow, she sent me home with her mandolin and a spaghetti pot the size of my apartment. As much as I love the Lucky Charms, the crispy bacon, and the potato salad from King’s–Bea Bea is the reason I really hit the New Jersey jackpot.

Olive

olive

If you assumed that all cats had no interest in balsamic reductions,
you would be wrong.

Typical pets are partial to human foods like turkey or chicken. Not to say that Olive isn’t drawn to lunch meat–but her palate seems to be more advanced that most other felines. I once turned my head from a pizza for half a second and by the time my eyes returned to the plate, she had hooked a pepperoni with her claw and was enjoying it on the loveseat. It’s not just her quirky personality that I adore, but it’s the following ways she assures me that she is, without a doubt, my cat:

The crinkle of a pack of a peanut butter crackers will wake her from the deepest slumber.
She believes that it’s perfectly acceptable to put her head into the bag of pretzels in front of strangers.
She insists that fresh strands of basil are to be delicately scooped up and licked.
She refuses wet food plainly named “fish” or “chicken” and prefers a company that labels their cans with titles such as “nautical nirvana” and “shrimply divine.”
When the pasta pot is boiling over, the minced garlic is burning, and the red wine reduction is coming to a simmer–without fail, Olive steps in with her tiny spatula and saves dinner.

Okay, that last part was a lie.
But look at this face…wouldn’t you trust her as your Sous Chef if you were in a bind?