Welcome to Naomi Kooker's blog.

At age 6 my mother let me into the kitchen, alone. By seventh grade I was feigning sick to stay home from school, "miraculously" feeling good enough to make baked-stuffed pork chops for dinner. My passion for cooking led me to a job as a sous chef in a Manhattan restaurant and, later, to stand quietly in the corner of (and eventually do one thing in) Restaurant Guy Savoy's kitchen in Paris. I overcame the ultimate cooking challenge when I made butter cream icing over a Bunsen burner at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. It was for a friend's wedding cake, the centerpiece at the reception the next day. It was midnight. With just hours to go, I managed to whip up the icing, then carefully place the last few candied violets onto the cake before the reception. Oh, how grateful I was for that Bunsen burner and the corner bodega that was open 24 hours.

It all worked out in the end. It always does.

Food, cooking and eating are inextricably linked to life. Life is better when good food is involved, and even better when good company is part of the eating.

Thank you for stopping in and being part of a growing dinner party of readers.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Private Tour de France

Be forewarned: This blog post is an out-of-the-kitchen experience, though it ends with a mean limeade recipe because there's nothing like an icy lime drink to cool off with this triple-digit heat. The biking? Don't try that at home. I am training for my second PanMass Challenge, a two-day, 192-mile bike ride that raises money for cancer research and to eradicate the disease.

First confession: I’ve learned to love hills, even the straight-up kind. The long, slogging kind, not so much. OK, so I don’t love, love them per se. I find when I’m on them, I might as well surrender. Because I’m not going anywhere but up, and there’s always a down. The key is to keep pedaling, especially when you don’t feel like it.

Second confession: Tour de France rider I am not—while my focus remains on the road ahead, I tend to greet my fellow riders with at least a nod, sometimes a four-finger salute from the handlebar, or an all out Hello. I could’ve missed something, but all the hours watching Alberto Contador pace-lining the Pyrenes on the TV’s Tour de France coverage, he doesn’t give a damn about his fellow riders, not even a nod to establish they exist. Oh, the rudeness of competition.

Many fellow riders, heading in the opposite direction, like to keep their heads down. That’s fine. I’ve clocked it; I can say Hello and keep riding at just about the same pace, sometimes picking up a few seconds—just like when I slip in a sip from my water bottle. Being friendly, I find, pumps me up; not slows me down.

I’m not exactly fast. My 90-mile ride recently, while neither leisure nor a race, cost me seven hours and 7.26 minutes, not bad for a formerly chubby-legged girl who had a hard time finding a sport to call her own. But I am rewarded by enjoying the accomplishment and feeling solid-legged not spent the next day.

And while I’m not racing against anyone except my own time, I have made improvements. One of my first rides in May I clocked 12.3 mph at about 12 miles. My latest 12-mile ride in July? 14.5 mph.

I contribute four things to being better: my own consistent training rides and determination to improve; a few rides with the Charles River Wheelman—a local cycling club, where veteran cyclist Richard taught me the rules of the road, let me draft and find my own cadence, and cheered me on; my boyfriend, Chris, whose peanut butter-and-honey lectures and road-crew support allow me to traverse the tundra; and, most importantly, my mom Demaris, my friends Andrea, Steve, Sarah, Patty and many others whose lives have been interrupted by cancer. Yet, they continue to win their own private Tours de France every day.

So, it’s not about Contador or the mini pelotons I pass—or that, more truthfully, pass me—coming and going along the leafy green roads of MetroWest. It’s the fact that I am able to ride and do, and in the moments of finding beauty in a flowering pink geranium on a windowsill or dodging a chipmunk scampering across the road, I realize this is living. Hills and all.

No-Pressure Limeade

4 Tablespoons sugar

4 Tablespoons hot water

2 limes

1 lemon



Put the sugar in a heat-proof glass measuring cup. Add the hot water and stir vigorously until the liquid turns clear -- this is simple syrup, what bartenders use all the time to sweeten drinks.

Into a large pitcher squeeze the juices of the limes and lemon. Add the simple syrup. Stir. Add two cups cold water and two cups of ice. Stir. Pour into a glass stacked with ice and sip to chill out.