Get to Know Jude The Foodie

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Transcript of an interview between Jude The Foodie and Jey Case

Interviewer: Jey Case (JC)

IntervieweeJude The Foodie (JTF)

Interview Setting: A rich imagination

Affiliation with Interviewee: They have so much in common they could be the same person

(Start of Interview)

JC: Hey Jude, it’s very nice to meet you. Do people ever do that…say “Hey Jude?”

JTF: Quite often, Jey.

JC: You have a great name. How did that come about?

JTF: Well, my maiden name is Judith Anne Russo and my family called me Judianne when I was a girl. We all had mashed up names back then. It was the ‘60’s. My father actually starting calling me Jude and that name stuck when I got older. Funny though, I still introduce myself as Judi Caserta (married my college sweetheart in 1980) so there is constant confusion what to call me.

JC: Not exactly the answer I was looking for but interesting, I guess. To be more specific, how did the name Jude The Foodie come about?

JTF: A few years ago a friend of mine was starting an online newspaper to serve our small community which was always under represented by the city newspaper. He asked me to give him some ideas as he posted content and eventually asked me to be a food and wine columnist. I think I used to refer to myself as a foodie so one day he changed the title to Jude The Foodie. I guess you could say “the rest is history.”

JC: You must have quite a resume in the cooking world. Did you go to culinary school?

JTF: No Jey, I did not. I went to Canisius College and studied accounting.

JC: Oh. Did you do graduate work in the cooking field?

JTF: No again, Jey. I work at Canisius in the athletic department. My title is Assistant Athletic Director for Business Affairs. I did my graduate work in Sports Administration.

JC: You’re not giving me much, Jude The Foodie. With your completely unrelated background in Accounting, how did you end up a foodie?

JTF: To begin Jey, accounting and baking are actually intimately related. Baking is very exact where even a teaspoon of something can change the chemical outcome. In accounting we always have to balance. It is the same type of person who spends two hours looking for $1.97 or starts measuring the dry ingredients all over again when they lose count because their phone rang.

And cooking? Well, cooking is not nearly as exacting but is a fantastic creative outlet for me much like music and singing.

JC: You sing?

JTF: I do. I used to sing in church primarily but sadly don’t have the time these days. My singing niche is unique. I sing the National Anthem before sporting events. A few highlights include singing for all of the major teams in Buffalo including the Bill’s, Sabre’s and Bison’s. I’ve sung at Shea Stadium for the New York Mets, in Toronto for the Blue Jays and Raptors, the Cleveland Indians and the Ducks at the Pond in Anaheim.

JC: What does singing the national anthem at sporting events have to do with being a foodie?

JTF: Not a thing. I just thought it would be cool to tell you.

JC: Thank you. But let’s get back on track, shall we? With your analytical background, how is it you began to identify yourself as a foodie.

JTF: I’ve always been a foodie but didn’t know there was a word for it until the last number of years. There’s a name for everything now, you know that? I laughed so hard the other day when I heard someone talking about “home gating” and after listening for a few minutes realized they were talking about having a party at your house during a football game. Seriously? We’ve been doing that for years. Who knew? Oh, and the Weather Channel now names winter storms. Can you believe that? It’s all kind of silly if you ask me. What was your question again?

JC: You are easily distracted, aren’t you?

JTF: Me? No…well, maybe.

JC: When did you first realize food held a fascination for you?

JTF: Ever since I was a little girl most of my memories with my mom involve either cooking or reading. She used to take me to the library every Saturday. I loved that. I used to sit in a leather wing back chair by the fireplace in the historic building in my small town and read. When we went home she would usually bake something.

She often made pie. She baked typical round pies in the winter and created sheet pies in the summer to feed me and my cousins after getting out of the swimming pool. It seemed like it was every weekend but that’s my child like memory. She did everything by hand and had the “touch” with the pie crust. She could tell just how much ice water to add to get the dough into a ball. She rolled it out with the precision of a diamond cutter. It was flaky and tender at the same time. To this day I still cannot make a crust like my mother’s. I can bake cakes, cookies and other confections with ease but pie crust is still my nemesis.

JC: What is the first thing you remember making by yourself?

JTF: Up until I was 14 or so cooking was a spectator sport. I think it may have been that incident when I was 8 and ended up in the emergency room in anaphylactic shock that may have made my mother squeamish about letting me help. It was Christmas time and I begged her to let me help with the cookies. She handed me a bag of nuts, a nutcracker and a pick to remove the meat from the shell. How handy is it that nuts come shelled these days?

Anyway, one for me, one for the bowl until I could hardly breath and I was one big curly haired hive. My helping days were over.

As a pre-teen I subscribed to Seventeen MagazineIn January, 1972 this magazine began my path as a foodie. One of the cover articles was titled Bread: Bake Your Own. And I did. It came out pretty well, too. Prior to that baking experience my grandmother, who lived next door, was the primary bread baker in the family. She made everything from loaves of bread to English muffins. She made the best pizza in the world and even tried her hand at making bagels.

JC: That bread sounds so good. Did your grandmother have a big influence on your life as a foodie?

JTF: Both of my grandmothers did, actually. They both made different things that were family favorites. My paternal grandmother prepared a St. Joseph’s Day feast every year. I still have the actual table used for the meal in my garage. It’s huge and we use it outside for picnics and celebrations.

One of my favorite memories about my grandmothers was when my maternal grandmother (the bread maker next door) and my paternal grandmother collaborated to memorialize the Easter bread recipe.

Let’s just say my grandmothers were not the best of friends. One glorious day when the bickering mothers-in-law declared an unspoken ceasefire, my one grandmother went about baking while the other took the actual “hands full of this and hands full of that” and measured it with cups and spoons and recorded it so we can make the recipe today. I try to bake it every year and can still smell the house in my memory. Actually the smell of anise permeates our house for weeks after baking this bread.

JC: Do you still like to bake bread? Do you have a bread making machine?

JTF: I love baking bread but don’t have as much time as I used to. I do not have a bread making machine but have that handy dough hook attachment to my beloved Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. I actually adapted my grandmothers Easter Bread recipe to my Kitchen Aid and it cuts the prep time in half. All I have to do it make it twice to get the same number of loaves as I used to.

Baking bread is, to me, the single thing that makes a house smell like a home.

JC: You talk about smell a lot. Why is that?

JTF: I have always been very sensory. I can remember as a little girl walking up my driveway when I got off of the school bus trying to guess what was for dinner. I would stand outside the door and smell and announce to my mother what was for dinner before asking her. It was like a game to me and those memories of finding my mother keeping our wonderful home still make me happy.

As I got older and would come home from college she would be sure to have something wonderful on the stove or in the oven for my homecoming. The smell is the first hug of food.

JC: But it’s said that “you eat with your eyes first.” Do you think that’s true?

JTF: Oh, I agree. Pretty food is important. But, it does not need to be fancy to be pretty. You could put a yummy beef stew into a pretty bowl and find that very appealing. I leave the towering entrees and sculpted garnishes for the pros.

JC: Are you sorry you never went to culinary school?

JTF: I am not the least bit sorry I did not go to culinary school. I’m a home cook. I went to the cooking school of mom, did my graduate work with my dozens of cookbooks and my post-graduate work with the Food Network and the internet.

Cooking is a wonderful creative outlet that has gotten me through some very difficult times in my life including the deaths of my first son, my father and my brother. I have had a lifelong struggle with my weight and cooking has actually helped.

JC: How has cooking helped you with your weight issues?

JTF: Nearly two years ago I had lap-band surgery to help me lose weight. It took me about two years to make that decision because the unknown life after surgery was scary. I had no idea what would happen. The result for me, since I went into it with my whole heart, was I learned to put food into its place in my life. It was no longer an obsession (I would wake up in the morning and plan my day based on what I was going to eat and where I was going to eat it. When fast food restaurants started accepting credit cards I gained 20 pounds almost immediately.)

I learned that the first few tastes are all you really remember. And I can taste almost anything. I now regularly order appetizers for my main meal and enjoy everything I eat. If I taste it and do not like it, I stop eating it.

The clean plate club is dangerous. We really must stop thinking that if you don’t eat all of your food someone else will not be hungry. That’s just silly.

Food brings me joy and I love sharing the joy!

JC: Do you think your lack of formal training diminishes your message?

JTF: Not being a trained chef does not diminish my message. Actually, I think it supports it. When I write, it’s just you and me talking to each other. I encourage folks to interact with me because I think monologues are boring. When you walked into a classroom and you knew your teacher was going to talk at you for 50 minutes didn’t you sort of turn off? I know I did. Boring!

Everything I write can be discussed. Every recipe I create is ready to jump in your pot. I want people to make good food.

JC: I understand you have big news: is it true your column will be picked up by WNYPapers.com?

JTF: Yes, for the next 13 weeks Skip and Josh and their crew will be posting my Jude The Foodie column every Monday. I am so excited to expand my audience and express my food and life perspective.

My tagline is “Living a “Glass Half Full” Life!” and having the opportunity to share this with the Grand Island, Niagara Wheatfield and Lewiston Porter communities is a wish fulfilled.

JC: What makes your writing in WNYPapers.com different from JudeTheFoodie.com?

JTF: Good question, Jey! Nothing about my writing really changes. I will continue to post columns about good food, good drink and living a glass half full life. What is different is that the original column will run on WNYPapers.com for one week and then be archived on my JudeTheFoodie.com website.

I’m really excited about the exclusive contest we will have on WNYPapers.com. Often on my website, JudeTheFoodie.com I post Quick Bites or Quick Sips to briefly describe something I either prepared or had at a restaurant. Each month we will award a prize to someone who submits their favorite Quick Bite or Quick Sip based on the monthly theme. Only readers of WNYPapers.com will be able to enter. I think it would be fun to get restaurant patrons involved and get more than one foodie perspective.

And there are prizes! Who doesn’t love prizes?

JC: Why WNYPapers.com? Why now?

JTF: You would never know by reading city newspapers that most people do not live in cities. Don’t get me wrong, life without city newspapers would be a life I would not like to know.

But local publications like the Lewiston-Porter Sentinel, the Island Dispatch and the Niagara-Wheatfield Tribune add life and connection to my writing. This happens to be my hometown but you don’t have to be from here to understand my writing and my message.

My goal is to bring you back to the great memories food can provide, make good food with you and help you make those same memories for your loved ones.

JC: Well Jude, we will see you online.

JTF: Thanks Jey. This interview was fun.

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Francesca another family foodie in the making

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Looking back I should have realized it years ago when we were at a favorite South Florida restaurant, Oceans 234 in Deerfield Beach (link here).

Most children who have outgrown the booster seat but still need to kneel on their chair to reach the table do not eat Edamame, soybeans in the pod.

But there was Francesca Schena, my sister’s youngest child, collecting empty pods in her throw away bowl and building a perfect mound (she is also creative like her artist mother and talented sister). The funniest part of this story to me is that it was my first time tasting edamame and it was Francesca who taught me how.

“Aunt Jude, you sort of suck off the salt and pepper then gently squeeze the pod and kind of pull them out with your teeth. But don’t bite it, that’s gross!”

Since then whenever I eat edamame I think of her.

At first glance, my sister and I are not two soybeans in a pod. She is lean and athletic. I am not. She has long glistening straight hair. Have you ever seen me? I do not. She moved away from home soon after college. I did not. Her children have always eaten what was presented to them. Mine did not. (My son did catch up, however, since I had the ultimate meltdown when he was 3 or 4 and revolted against being a short-order cook. Of course, my mother-in-law was right, you don’t have to kill the monster you don’t create.)

But, close your eyes and hear us talk and you may have a difficult time telling us apart. Get us in the kitchen and you will find the same passion drives us both to not only feed our families but to satisfy that inner hunger that makes us feel loved and grounded. I guess we never gave any thought to our love and passion for food because our mother was the ultimate culinary model of a home cook.

Mom donned that apron and created amazing dishes, both sweet and savory. The Urban Dictionary defines foodie “a person who spends a keen amount attention and energy on knowing the ingredients of food, the proper preparation of food and finds great enjoyment in top-notch ingredients and exemplary preparation.”

If you include the phrase “Francesca is” to the above definition you are describing my 11-year-old niece. She first learned the phrase foodie about a year ago when her friend Crystal told her about a television show on Food Network called “Chopped.”
On that show four chefs are given baskets with secret ingredients and must make an appetizer, main dish and dessert with a chef being eliminated (chopped) after each round. She would come home from school and put Food Network on rather than the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, trying to find “Chopped.”

Occasionally she would, but the rest of the time she would see other shows like “Sweet Genius” or “Cupcake Wars.” She likes competition shows and baking shows best.

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Francesca and her friend Mackenzie play “Chopped” sometimes at home. They will do afterschool snacks or lunch and choose the ingredients the other has to work with. She says the secret is to give each other things they like to eat. This is a really great way to learn to cook because you have to envision how the ingredients work together. There is no judging, just enjoyment.

The topic of crepes came up when we were on vacation together last week. We went to a crepe restaurant in Deerfield Beach but realized we could do way better at home. We did a few dessert crepes then my mother taught her how to make homemade manicotti.

Not only was it a delicious meal, it was made by three generations of Russo women. It’s a memory I will hold dear forever.

I asked her what her favorite food was. Her answer: “a food, a meal or a course?” Seriously?

She says she loves spaghetti and meatballs with Gramma’s sauce. Her favorite food to make is cupcakes. Graham crackers and milk is her favorite afterschool snack and chocolate chip pancakes are her favorite breakfast. Her favorite thing to drink: virgin mango daiquiri. She says she cooks at least once a day.

A few weeks ago, she made deviled eggs. Heck, I don’t make deviled eggs! She gets recipes from cookbooks (she is starting a collection), magazines but rarely online. Some of her favorite things to cook, however, come from the top of her head. I asked her to give me an example.

Here is a favorite dessert or snack.

Francesca’s Ice Cream Sandwich Toast a frozen waffle (or make your own) Cut waffle in half and put a few small scoops of your favorite ice cream on one half and place the other half on top. Top with maple syrup and whipped cream.

Enjoy!

When Francesca is not playing “Chopped” or watching food shows she’s a competitive swimmer, plays soccer, softball and tennis. She is president of the St. Hugo of the Hills children’s church choir in Michigan. When she grows up, she does not see herself doing anything food-related for a living. She does see herself enjoying making food for herself and for her family.

It appears the apple does not fall far from the tree.

And, in our case, where there is an apple, something yummy is sure to follow!

Have a yummy week!

Vacation is just living life

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For several weeks I was planning on writing today’s Foodie column about calamari. Just so you know, this column is not about calamari although calamari probably has some contribution to its content (you will understand this soon).

Becoming “The Foodie” is an ironic twist for me because for the last 18 months I have been on a journey of a lifetime. I “struggled” with my weight for at least 40 years until I took responsibility for it. We all have excuses, reasons why we are the way we are and act the way we act but the simple fact is, if you eat healthy portions of good food, move your body more and try to minimize stressors that control you, you will eventually become healthier, look better and perhaps even lengthen your life.

It may be simple but it is not easy.

This column is not about weight loss, the answers to all of those burning questions we have about diet and exercise. It is about my own experience with just living my life.

As the months have passed something really special happened, quietly creeping first into my subconscious then into the daylight. Food made the beautiful transition from the thing that drove me to a thing that brings pure joy. There was a time when I would plan my day around food. What was I going to eat today? Where was I going to eat? Did I have enough cash for the drive-through or would I have to go to the cash machine. Are you going to finish that? I have to clean my plate.

Now I not only understand portion control, I can visualize the correct amount of food before I put any on my plate or begin eating at a restaurant. I have changed how I value food. Here is an example to highlight my new thinking. I want a rack of lamb at a restaurant. It is a whopping $32. In the past I would do everything but lick the plate to get my “money’s worth.” Now I eat a few ribs (meat suckers, as my friend calls them) picking up the bone and enjoying each bite, taste the side accompaniment and call it a meal. I usually bring some home or share with fellow diners. And guess what? That was worth $32 to me. It is no longer about the quantity but the actual food that I enjoy. Who knew?

Another big part of the changes I have made is changing my environment. My cupboards and refrigerator have been streamlined and I have smaller containers to store food. This helps when I bring food to work.

Now, back to my message of the day. I returned home recently from a wonderful, relaxing vacation with my husband. We spent 10 days in the Florida sunshine eating and drinking and playing golf. We went on walks (though I must admit my husband was much more devoted to the effort), spent time reading and shopping and dining at our favorite restaurants. We ate calamari just about everywhere and drank great wine.

When I got home I weighed myself. I gained seven pounds in ten days. And yet, no one died, the world did not end and I did not go into a tailspin. I did not binge eat thinking that I was a failure giving up and not worrying about the consequences.

No, I just kept living.

Eating like this is the rest of my life. It does not end when I reach any goal (which I do not have, by the way, I figure I will know when I get there) nor does it change my accomplishment of shedding 63 pounds (a little less this week ;o).

No, food and weight are not evil. I am not bad because I gained weight (I’ve already lost half of it in four days). Food is wonderful, brings happiness to all around me and gives me something joyful to talk to you about every week.

I’m just going to keep living, writing and enjoying all that we have.

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Have a yummy week!

NEXT WEEK: Is it the Calamari or is it the Dip?

The Foodie: Watching mom bake pies stirred original interest in cooking

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Little did I know when I e-mailed Tim Schmitt some ideas I had for his concept web-news site that he would invite me to be a food and wine columnist. After only a few pieces he now calls me “The Foodie.” It’s a self-proclaimed title I use because of my ongoing interest of all things culinary.

My food memories cannot be separated from any other childhood memories because food has been central to it all. As far back as I can remember I used to sit at the kitchen table on any given Saturday afternoon (after the hankies were ironed and baseboards dusted – my weekly chores) and watch my mother bake pies. Fruit in season, fruit from cans, puddings and custard … the filling did not matter as much as the crust.

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She had the “touch” … that special skill which knew just the right measurements, just the way to cut the fat into the flour and just the right amount of ice water to lightly toss until the mess became a soft ball nearly ready for the wooden pin (an old smooth commercial pin with the tiny handles removed – she said she “felt” the dough better when she held the pin, not the handles).

Mom does not make many pies these days … says she lost the touch. Still, her crust is better than any bakery and any red box.

I grew up eating cornflake chicken and beef stroganoff. She made us tuna noodle casserole (casseroles were big in the ‘60’s and ’70’s) and chicken cutlets. Homemade spaghetti sauce (seriously, it’s macaroni, not pasta in our house) along with perfect meatballs and braciole made with beef pounded thin filled with a stuffing which included hard boiled eggs. Food was always homemade. We used to beg to have TV dinners and we only got them when they had plans on a Saturday night.

As an adult, I learned to cook mostly by trial and error. We have eaten most of my mistakes but there are also times when the need to order a pizza became apparent. I have a friend who shares my passion for food and when Denise invites me for any meal I know I am in for a treat. We used to plan dinner parties by reviewing 15 cookbooks and 25 cooking magazines. We would test recipes so we would know the actual time of preparation (if you are inexperienced add 50 percent to the time stated).

I started writing a holiday journal about 10 years ago. In it, I write out the menu for the meal, who attended and the outcome. I also try to jot a few memories of my year down and enjoy reading the entries each year.

Food Network has expanded my skill and interest. Since I started watching cooking shows I have a much better attitude about the outcomes in my kitchen. What’s the worst thing that could happen? We order out … no worries.

I would really like to learn about you. Why do you cook? Do you enjoy it or do you fear it? Is there a food memory you have that you would like some help with? Maybe I could help find that recipe or try to recreate it.

Do you have food memories from growing up you would like to share? What are you doing to pass that along to your family?

What can we learn together to help you enjoy playing with your food?

Have a yummy week!