Travel Town – For Laura Sabbat, cooking is all about love.
She first learned to cook while growing up in Detroit in what she describes as “meat and potato culture.” Her family had a garden, however, and her mother gave her the freedom to control the kitchen.
“For me, it was always a creative opportunity,” said Sabbat, 67, who retired in 2008 from Northern Lakes Community Mental Health and lives in Traverse City with her longtime partner, Fred Roh. “I love the whole process of thinking about it, planning it and executing it.
“I love trying different recipes and experiencing different cultures and their food. For me, it’s just a creative outlet, honestly. Plus I love cooking for my family. Food is love.”
These days, Sabbat likes to keep their menus simple, relying on items they are likely to have on hand. She also prefers to use fresh ingredients when possible, making most things from scratch if she can.
“With only the two of us there most of the time, it’s also a challenge to use everything,” she says. “Sometimes I make dishes where I can draw from what I have in the fridge, whether it’s a bowl of chicken or a bowl of pork teriyaki — I just use my fresh ingredients and somehow put them in a bowl.”
Sabat recently acquired a huge wooden plank that it used in a variety of ways for gatherings. On one occasion, I put romaine wedges on it surrounded by a variety of toppings so everyone could make their own salad.
For her grandchildren, she filled the board with miniature shrimp cocktails, ramekins of macaroni and cheese, chopped greens, apples, grapes, crackers, and “whatever the kid eats,” she says.
Each is carefully planned in advance.
“I did one when my brother and sister-in-law were here recently – a hamburger – and I had a place to put everything written on the diagram,” Sabat said. “My sister-in-law says, ‘Seriously, did you write everything down how you want it to look? ‘ I said, ‘Yes, I’m very special when it comes to presentation.’
Since she and Roh were able to travel, she enjoyed trying foods in other countries and trying to imitate them.
“We’ve taken several trips to South America, and one of our favorites is the empanadas,” she says. “I still haven’t mastered it yet. I think the right dough recipe is where I miss it.”
Sabbat also loves to collect cooking-related items while she travels. They include a paella pan in Spain, a spaetzle maker in Germany, a ravioli cutter in Italy, and hand-carved spoons—things that are easy to pack and take home.
She finds most of her recipes online, based on a collection that goes back years and includes many of her recipes from her mother. She also continues to prepare dishes that her long-time mother-in-law shares, which are still family favorites.
She has actually organized her recipes so that they are all on her computer now.
“Before I retired and had Fred on hand, he wrote them all down for me in a format I could use and organize them all on my iPad,” she says. So I have a form that I can use that I can go into and add to the categories I create.
“I’ve been able to put it on a CD and give it to my kids so they can take it and put it on their computer.”
Both of her sons are primary chefs and meal planners in their own homes.
“They were always in the kitchen with me doing something (when they were growing up),” she says.
That part hasn’t changed, as the family often gathers for meals and continues traditions like the annual Polish dinner Sabbat used to do with her parents when they all get together and make pierogi, kielpasa, and sauerkraut. The last time, she was helped by her 3-year-old granddaughter, who also loves to be in the kitchen.
“She crimps the edges and sprinkles them with flour so they don’t stick,” Sabat says.
But whether it’s cooking with the whole family or preparing a meal for two, Sabbat enjoys the process.
“It’s just really creative,” she says. “It’s a little bit of chemistry. It’s a little presentation. All the flavors a little bit.”
Moroccan couscous and chicken salad
3 m chicken broth
1 T. chopped parsley
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t. curry powder
Freshly ground black pepper
1 C. cooked chicken
½ bell pepper (optional)
¼ C. Roasted almonds
1 C. Uncooked couscous
½ t. dried thyme
2 T olive oil
1/8 ton. crushed red pepper
2 c soft cooked snow peas
¾ C. green onions (about 4)
Cook the broth, add the parsley, thyme and couscous and leave for five minutes. Whisk together lemon juice, oil, curry and pepper. Add couscous and stir until covered. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Makes 4-6 servings.
Shrimp and avocado salad
Baby lettuce, washed and chopped
8 medium shrimp, cooked and cleaned
1 ripe avocado, chopped
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 corn cob, cut from the cob and lightly cooked
olive oil spray
squeeze lemon wedge
Arrange the lettuce on a plate. Stir the rest of the ingredients and put them on top of the lettuce. Reduce the balsamic by putting three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over low heat and letting it simmer for a minute or two until reduced by half. Sprinkle vinegar around and over the salad.