Memories/Recipes from The Russian Tea Room

The Russian Tea Room  originally opened it’s doors in 1926

in New York City.

Situated around the corner from Carnegie Hall on 57th St,

It  was a Chocolate Shop and Tea Room ,

opened by Expat Dancers from the Russian Royal Ballet,

who had fled Russia to avoid the Bolsheviks.


They wanted to create a little piece of home for their fellow dancers in New York.

The first time I entered this magical realm was as a teenager in the mid 1960’s,

when it was still in it’s original incarnation.

It was so exotic and I felt sophisticated just being there.

( but of course, I wasn’t!)

Every year,when the Holidays come,

I always remember dining at the Russian Tea Room

with my parents.

Trips to New York City were special

and we each had our

favorites for those wonderful occasions.

My choice was always

The Russian Tea Room.


Their Beef Stroganoff was the only thing I ever ordered.

I had no interest in anything else.

It saddens me because

The Original Russian Tea Room is no more.

But then again, nothing is forever.

In fact, since the original Tea Room,

there have been two more incarnations.

I choose to keep those amazing memories undisturbed by the present.

I haven’t been back since the 80’s.


However, I have located the recipe for their

Original Beef Stroganoff.

I believe the original recipe was published in a 1996 issue of Gourmet Magazine.

It’s a luxurious melange of textures and flavors

and it remains one of my absolute favorites.

Consider it for a Holiday party,

Christmas Dinner,

or prepare it some cold, winter night

and dine by the fire.

Whenever you try it-the evening will turn into a special occasion.


The Original Russian Tea Room Beef Stroganoff

1 1/2 lbs Beef Filet

( only use filet)

1 T vegetable oil

3T unsalted butter

1 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 lb portobello mushroom ( trimmed & sliced)

1/2 cup dry, white wine

1/2 cup beef broth

2 cups sour cream

2 T dijon mustard

Garnish: fresh dill

Directions:  Cut the filet crosswise into 1″ slices, then cut slices into 1/2″ thick strips.

Heat oil and 1 Tbsp butter & sear beef in batches-

30 seconds to 1 minute per side until brown but still rare.

Transfer Beef to platter. Let it rest.

Add remaining 2 tbsp. butter to the pan and cook onion and garlic until soft.

Add mushrooms, mustard, salt and pepper and cook over high.

When liquid from mushrooms evaporates add wine and boil.

Stir in beef broth, sour cream, mustard, beef and cook until heated through.

Serve over buttered noodles and garnish with fresh dill.



Crazy for the Holidays

  There is a special form of insanity that comes with the Holidays. It is highly contagious and we have all contracted it. Symptoms include: Excessive Shopping, Decorating, Baking, Wrapping, Cooking, Eating, Drinking, Partying , & The Ultimate Insanity……. Putting … Continue reading

Chasing Perfection

We should fear the concept of perfection, my friends;

we really should.

It has been responsible for destroying so much joy and satisfaction in the lives of those who pursue it.

I am one of those people.

We  perfectionists function within society ,

looking normal and smart and funny and accomplished.

People are always saying: “oh- you are so talented”.

You can do anything.

No, I can’t!

 Inside is this insidious voice that always says:” You are no good.”

You must be perfect.

Nothing less will do.

Last weekend, I did flowers for a lovely wedding.

The bouquets were amazing,

the tablescapes spectacular ,

the wedding arch was perfection.( haha)

I didn’t charge her for a bunch of things

because I was trying to make things perfect for her.

But I forgot 4 boutonnieres.

Oh my God!

I cannot tell you how awful ( and incredibly stupid I felt)

I don’t make mistakes like this…..

Aside from the weather, I am always in control!


I am working on the weather thing!

My weddings are always perfection.

( Except for the outdoor wedding a few weeks ago when an entire cake slid off the table

…. due to the excessive heat)

and hit the grass.

I stood there, frozen with horror.

This never happens to me!

This is a wedding planners’ worst nightmare.

I have heard all sorts of horror stories about things going wrong at weddings;

but until that moment,

I had never experienced any of them.

I mean, things go wrong all the time, but nothing I haven’t been able to fix.

That’s what people in my profession do.

We fix things before anyone notices there was even a problem.

So, today…. after two catastrophes in just a few weeks,

I am feeling demoralized, stupid and completely incompetent.

One of my designers said:” Don’t worry, Jan.

Things like this happen all the time.

Not to me, they don’t!

Until now.

Being good at what you do always brings expectation.

Being really good at what you do suggests you might not have any limitations.

People see what you do and have expectations that nothing will ever go wrong!

So, what do I do?

I suppose I shouldn’t promise perfect.

The thing is- we are all guilty of this!

We all want the PERFECT wedding,

the PERFECT marriage,

the PERFECT children,

the PERFECT House,

The PERFECT Pie Crust

The Perfect Body or whatever…

and it simply does not exist.

We are not capable of perfection.

But when people hire us to provide services to them,

They will settle for nothing less than perfection.

They paid for perfection and they want it.

If it isn’t Perfect-  It’s Crap!

Couldn’t there be something in-between perfection and crap?

Apparently not when money is exchanged.

Here is something I can do:

I will now stop promising perfection.

Perfection is only achieved by chance,

brought to us by the Gods of Fortune.

No amount of talent can produce it.

 I will continue to pursue perfection because I cannot seem to help myself.

The thing is- perhaps in  the process of chasing perfection

I will achieve excellence and

that should be enough for anyone………

even me.

Terry and the Perfect Meatball Recipe

Beginning in 1954 and for over forty years thereafter….

my family frequented a little Italian restaurant in our town,

along the river called:

 Terry’s Tavern.

Driving past this unremarkable structure,

you might not think of stopping,

But if you did stop, you wouldn’t regret it!

In the early days,

the decor consisted of grapevine and plastic bunches of grapes,

hanging from the ceiling;

painted murals of Portofino on the walls and

on each table- red and white checkered cloths and

a chianti bottle hidden under layers of dripping wax.

Italian music was always playing and

I seem to recall listening to a lot of  Jerry Vale!

To this day, when I hear Jerry Vale-

it takes me right back to Terrys.

One of my favorites was “Al di la”,

probably because it was in a 1961 movie called

“Rome Adventure”with Troy Donahue.

I LOVED Troy Donahue.

But I digress……..


 The most important thing was the food.

Terry made the

BEST meatballs, pizza, bread, ravioli, lasagna

(All homemade).

Servers, coming through the swinging doors from the kitchen ,

their arms laden with large oval platters of delicious food,

always had beads of perspiration all over their faces.

It was like a blast furnace in that kitchen!

Terry had huge pots of sauce and meatballs on the giant old stove.

There were steaming pots of spaghetti,

crusty loaves of bread being pulled from the oven


my personal favorite…” light as air” lasagne ,

bubbling in it’s own little individual baking dish.

It was heaven. All of it.

There were regular patrons for all the years we went there.

We would all meet on Friday & Saturday nights and chat away with each other.

It was a kind of clubhouse for those of us who came regularly.

We bonded over our love of the food and the place itself;

a delightful little secret unknown to most people- but us!

Bob & Terry owned the restaurant until I was in my late 30’s

and without fail- we ate there every week.

Bob attended to duties as bartender and bon vivant


Terry worked in the kitchen,

coming out occasionally for some air and a cigarette!

We used to sit at the “family table” a lot

and they would sit down and talk when they could.

Then, in 1981, they retired and sold the business

to another husband and wife.

She was French, he was Greek.

The food was still good, but

nothing was really ever the same again.

Even in Italy, I never found anything that satisfied

my appetite and my soul

as Terry’s food did.


She gave me her meatball recipe and her sauce recipe,

but even though they were basic and simple to follow,

nothing has ever come close to the deliciousness of the food she created.

My entire life has been a quest to find or duplicate her perfect meatballs.

After years of hoping, dreaming, experimenting,

I’m sad to report:

There is No Perfect Meatball

now that Terry is gone.

I’m sure no matter how magnificent one might be-

it will never satisfy the memory

of those moist, tender, incredibly luscious, perfectly formed orbs

I swooned over so many years ago.

Part of it is the memory of those wonderful experiences we had dining there.

I’m sure the flavor of all that

was some how infused into those meatballs;

a combination never to be found again….

like most childhood experiences.

It’s interesting how many of my wonderful memories involve food and

revolve around meals, picnics, and big family dinners.

 Terry’s meatballs may be gone and

I know I will never find anything that compares.

I have to live with that!

Having said that… here is the good news.

All is not lost!

After years of trying every recipe I could find ,

I recently acquired one from the Meatball Shop in NYC

and I find

those meatballs are almost worthy of my inexplicable obsession with

the meatball- as an art form!

The secret is Ricotta Cheese in your basic meatball recipe!

( the complete recipe follows)

So…. fellow lovers of authentic Italian food…

what have we learned from this life long quest of mine?

Yes, that’s right…..

We cannot ever go back.

When something is gone, it’s gone.

The memory of the food, mixes with the experience surrounding it

and it simply cannot be duplicated.

So, don’t compare something against an old memory.

The old memory always wins.

Just enjoy everything, every day!

And remember:

Perfect meatballs are found but once in a lifetime

and that’s why:

we must settle for merely Great Meatballs.

I think you’ll like these!

Meatball Shop Meatballs

2 lbs ground beef

1 cup ricotta cheese

2 large eggs

1/2 cup bread crumbs

salt & pepper

1 tbsp. oregano

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

mix thoroughly with hands,

make golf ball size meatballs,

place on a lightly greased (olive oil) baking sheet

make sure meatballs touch each other

Bake at 450 for 15 min.

Remove from oven, add 1 cup tomato sauce and bake for another 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and place in bubbling sauce.


Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys

A few years ago, when the French refused to participate in one of our fun foreign wars,

the comedian, Dennis Miller took to calling them :

“Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys”.

I really hate that phrase because it belittles an entire culture.

Clearly, he is missing the point of the French Way of Life.

In America, we just want to get through life.

In France (and most of Europe, as well)

the goal is to savor life.

Let’s do a simple comparison and see how the French

live in comparison to Americans.

In America we love efficiency

The French love beauty.


We communicate with e-mail

the French chat over espresso at a cafe


We gobble our food at fast food places.

The French savor a meal over several hours


We like bargains

the French love quality


We worship celebrity

the French worship art


We believe more is more

The French believe less is more


We buy fake flowers

The French visit markets every day for fresh flowers


We like new and shiny

the French prefer old with patina


We like our desserts BIG.

The French love theirs, small, beautiful and delicious


On Sundays, we go to malls….

 The French stand in line to get into the Louvre


We work 40-60-80 hours per week

They rest each afternoon


We get a couple of weeks vacation

They vacation for the entire month of August


At lunch we run errands

they read a book  or picnic by the Seine


In Summer, we drive hours to get to the beach.

They bring the beach to Paris


Paris Plages..

they bring sand to make a beach every summer on the Seine

These are just a few of our differences.

I know it’s fashionable to dismiss the French and many other cultures,

because they are not us!

But honestly, there are so many wonderful things about the way other people live.

I can only assume people who dismiss them are either jealous or grossly misinformed.

There is a lot about life in our country that is good.

Our freedom alone makes everything worthwhile.

But life here is frenzied.

We didn’t get this far in 240 years by being lazy slackers.

We are movers and shakers.

We zip through our lives at “mach 2 with our hair on fire”.

But, in doing so, we have sacrificed many things that disappear at high speed…

Including the view all around us

It wouldn’t hurt to slow down a bit, enjoy our lives and all the beauty .

It wouldn’t hurt to take a page from someone else’s book and learn how to “savor” life.

We could learn a lot from other cultures.

Maybe then we could have the best of every thing life has to offer.

It’s just a thought.

Take a little time to consider it.

Falling out of Summer

As Summer gently falls away,

she leaves me with a myriad of vivid memories,

all worth savoring and remembering.

They are coming with me

as Autumn sends a note of small brown leaves floating on air ,

 announcing her arrival.

The seasons are all visitors .

I’m happy to see them come and I’m sad when they go,

but there is always another coming

and that is exciting.

Sometimes, it’s good to remember just how wonderful life really is!

These are some memories my Summer leaves behind:


Bright Starry Nights………Fawns in Our Vineyard……..

Living in nature’s beauty……….Sounds of the Stream………Great Finds at the Flea Market.

My Peaceful Garden……Hot, Sunny Days……Fresh Peaches

Crazy Hail Storms…..Hummingbirds & Honeysuckle….. Beautiful Weddings

Tomato & Cheese on white with mayo……Dozens of baby goldfish in the pond.

A Profusion of Pink Water Lilies……..Wonderful visits with old friends

 Ice Cream………The Majesty of Thunder & Lightening Storms……Fun at the Beach

Shadows & Sun moving on the Mountain…..Wind Chimes…….The Solar Eclipse

A few wonderful days away……..The Sound of Cicadas…….Sadness at another season passing….


Joy that I was here to see it.


I’ve stopped making too many plans,

thinking about the future too much

because the truth is:

You just don’t know what’s coming.

So…..Swim in the present moment

“until your fingers get all pruny”.

That’s the only sensible thing to do!

Now, relax and wait for your friend Autumn to appear

in all her splendor.

More wonderful things are on the way!




For much of my youth

PEACE was a sign,


a decorative design on earrings,

a rally,

a reason to march,

a two finger greeting


something that seemed unlikely in Vietnam.

For many years,

I truly believed the world would find Peace.

If we marched enough, cared enough and did enough,

I thought we could change every thing.

But it didn’t happen that way.

In my mind,

Peace was a global state of existence.

I didn’t understand it as a state of mind,

heart and being for each of us

as individuals.

One day I started to look at it differently.

Instead of creating peace externally,

it needed to begin within  us.

I realized the seeds were already there.

I needed to find a way to tap into it.

It came over time and not without effort.

In large part, it was connected to letting go of my fear.

When you chip away at your fear,

Peace can enter through the cracks.

It can transform you and become your steady center.

When that happens,

you feel differently about others, as well.

It’s then that we stop judging and ridiculing others,

persecuting them and denying their struggles.

When Peace enters your heart,

it fills you with acceptance , compassion, and gratitude.

Only then, can anything really change.

Now, after all these years I know Peace is not the absence of war .

It’s not retreating from the world.

It’s the ability to feel quiet & peaceful while the craziness swirls around us.

Don’t wait for Peace to come to the world.

Seek it out and cultivate it in your own heart and soul.

Help others find it.

Be an instrument of Peace,

in your little corner of the world.

Only then will we ever have a chance for Peace in the world.

We must all play a part in it’s creation.