Dorothy Trepal: Bumps in the Soup – A Slovenian Legacy

Dorothy Trepal's Slovenian Soup with Bumps

by Laura Martin Bacon

My Aunt Dorothy would have been the first to tell you that she wasn’t a cook. It’s what she told me when I asked her to describe the Slovenian recipes I remember her preparing when I was growing up.

But that can’t be right. I know this because, in a long-ago kitchen inside my mind, I can see myself sitting at a speckled Formica table spooning up a fragrant elixir so powerful it could transform even the bleakest day into something good and true.

“What about soup?” I ask my aunt one late-winter morning, when snowdrifts are piled like icy mountains against the windows of her Ohio living room.

“Oh, well, soup,” she says, settling back in her recliner. “That’s not cooking. Everybody makes soup.”

I start to protest, “But they don’t. Almost nobody bothers with homemade soup anymore. Usually, it comes out of a can. Or if they really want to go gourmet, they buy it ready-made from Whole Foods.”

Aunt Dorothy doesn’t reply – she’s fallen fast asleep, a normal occurrence for her these days. Her old body, stricken with a raging infection, is failing fast. I’ve traveled from my home in California to the state where I was born, paying her what the doctors say will likely be a last visit.

My optimism is as incurable as Aunt Dorothy’s illness. My plan is to help her get well by learning to cook her favorite recipes and bringing them to her apartment at the assisted-living facility. Continue reading


Vince Rafello’s S.F. Cioppino: A Vintage Taste of Fisherman’s Wharf

Rafello Fish Market - Main Photo

by Laura Martin Bacon

If anyone knows the historic secrets of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s my friend Vince Rafello. This coastside cook combines a briny Sicilian-Portuguese pedigree with a fishing heritage that dates back nearly three centuries.

“We’re seafaring folks,” he tells me. “I’m pretty sure we’ve all got saltwater running through our veins.”

On a cool, windy coastal afternoon, I sit by the fire with Vince and his wife Ruth as he shares fond memories of a dockside childhood. I’m fascinated by his stories of happy years spent helping out at the family’s fish market – one of the first on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Rafello’s Fish Market was founded in 1915 by Vince’s grandfather, a local fisherman who ran the business with the help of his wife and two sons. Continue reading

Chuck Williams at 99: Celebrating the Pleasures of Cooking

Chuck Watercolor - Framed

by Laura Martin Bacon

Writer’s Update – October, 2015: In celebration of Chuck’s 100th birthday, I had the privilege of writing a four-part story of my culinary mentor’s long and intriguing life, beginning back in 1915. If you’d like to read it, you’ll find it here.

Whenever I visit with my friend Chuck, I feel as though time has stopped—or as though I’ve entered a magical time-out-of-time. Of course, the colors of the San Francisco sky and bay outside the window are always changing, as are the jewel hues of the ever-dapper Chuck’s beloved cashmere sweaters.

But regardless of the weather or sweater, there’s a twinkle in Chuck’s eye and an energetic curiosity in his posture as he leans forward to ask a question or clarify a point. And there are decades of memories hidden on bookshelves or nestled comfortably in antique armchairs, just waiting to take shape in one of Chuck’s stories.

Sitting with Chuck as we sip tea and indulge in chewy molasses cookies or buttery chocolate shortbread, it seems as though there is all the time in the world. Nothing about Chuck is rushed—his soft southern voice is as warm and careful and orderly as the culinary landscapes he has created.

Over the years, Chuck has patiently – often passionately – answered my questions by reaching back into the memories of a long and delicious life. Chuck’s culinary vision has made history—and his own plain-spoken words tell it best.

Chuck at Age 12 -ZeBlog Continue reading

Chef Jack’s Secret Ingredient: Love

Jack Shaping-Meatballs

by Laura Martin Bacon

“Food has more love when it’s homemade – it just tastes better. For me, my mom’s cooking is comfort food that’s almost like medicine. All those weeks in the hospital, it helped me heal and feel better.”

My buddy Jack Witherspoon is barely twelve years old – but he knows a lot about secret ingredients for recipes and life. And he says love is the most important of all.

Jack was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two, went through years of hospital stays and chemotherapy – then relapsed when he was six. His mom, Lisa, recalls: “When Jack relapsed, I was devastated. It meant the chances were down to 50% that he’d survive. They weren’t guaranteeing us anything.”

But in a world with no guarantees, Jack and his mom found something they could always count on.

During one of Jack’s hospital sojourns, he discovered the magic of cooking. “I was channel surfing and found the Food Network. I was totally intrigued!” Jack says. “I asked my mom to write down ingredients so we could make the recipes together when I went home. Cooking was something super-fun that even having leukemia couldn’t stop me from doing.”

Jacks Family Photos

Lisa remembers when her six-year-old son announced that he had a new life goal. “Jack looked so little sitting there in the back seat of the car. He didn’t have any hair, but he had a big smile on his face when he told me ‘Mom, I want to be a chef when I grow up’.

“I told Jack that now when we cooked together, he would be in training for his new profession,” Lisa tells me. “It’s funny: I’d never paid much attention to cooking before – I was always so busy. But when your child tells you something like that, everything changes.

“Cooking together gave us a focus that kept everyone’s energy going. Instead of concentrating on all the negative things, we found a positive energy that’s helped get us through some of the hardest times.”

Continue reading