Mary Poppins

I was incredibly lucky to be born into a family that asked for help with their kids when my Mom went back to teaching school very soon after both my Sister and I were born. Many of my important childhood memories are of the times I spent with my godmother, Sandy. She was my superhero, my disciplinarian, my best playmate, and the person I aimed to please nearly everyday. She and her husband Larry helped raise me like I was one of their own and are hugely responsible for the woman I am today.  

When I moved to New York City to be an actress, I did what nearly every showbiz hopeful does, I became a waitress. One summer I came back into town from being on the road in a musical theatre tour. Instead of going back to my restaurant job, I was encouraged by a friend to go on an interview to be a nanny. Raise your hand if you’ve been a child care giver. It is no joke. It is life changing. Disney made it all spoonfuls of sugar and supercalifragilistic, but Mary P. had a tough job. 

I was gifted two brothers as my charges. Alec, age 3, and Harry, age 5, were as impossible as they were adorable. Every day that I didn’t quit being their nanny was a triumph. Every day I wasn’t fired was a surprise. I still can’t believe I was trusted and invited into the world of shaping these little lives. At some point, the challenging and impossible days lessened and we became an adventurous threesome. I was their trusted superhero, their best playmate, their disciplinarian, and someone they aimed to please every day. I became important.

The African Proverb, It takes a village to raise a child, is one of the truest statements ever uttered. Many times Moms and Dads do it alone. If a child is lucky, help is available by way of friends, relatives, neighbors, babysitter/nannies, after school programs, and siblings pitching in. Mary Poppins comes in all forms.

The love of a child is intoxicating, truly. That nanny job came with many, MANY perks and experiences I never imagined I would have. In weighing them all, the material things I gained and the experiences I was privy to, have faded away, but the love I gave and received from those boys is lasting.

When I went back to showbiz and began to develop my personal chef business, I came across a quote: 

 “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a child.” - anonymous

Many nights I would come home from failed auditions and horrible catering jobs feeling defeated and hopeless. I would look at that quote and think of Harry and Alec and our time together. I felt better. I remembered my superhero powers. I remembered I was important. I would wake up the next day feeling stronger and renewed. The memories of those boys were my saving grace on many occasions. I’ve written about this family before, touching more on their mother and how cooking with her helped shape my food business. There truly isn’t a day that I don’t step into my kitchen and think about that family and how they impacted my life.

This weekend I was incredibly fortunate to be part of a celebration honoring the boys’ mother, Jo Ann. I knew I would see Harry and Alec. I had no idea how many tears I would cry. I wasn’t prepared for how proud I would be. I never imagined how the flood of memories would overwhelm me. They are now 21 and 24. They are men. Beautiful men. Working on life and trying to figure things out. For me, it was one of the happiest reunions ever. I think they might have been caught off guard with how emotional I was and from all of the stories tumbling out of my head and heart and mouth.

When I sat down to write this blog, I looked up that quote. It has been misquoted by many all this time. It originally read:

“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a boy.” -Forest Witcraft

I want my boys, Harry and Alec, to know that as they continue on with their lives and encounter days of seeming failure and possible hopelessness, that they were important in the life of a 20something who was working on life and trying to figure things out as she made her way through New York City. They turned me into a superhero. They made me important. I’m so grateful their parents asked for help in raising their kids so many years ago.

This week’s recipe is actually from their mother, Jo Ann. I continue to cook dinner parties and special events for Jo and her husband Randy after all these years. I was at their house this week to help with a dinner and a version of this was on the menu.

Nori-Crusted Sirloin recipe adapted from Food and Wine contributor Josh Dechellis

  • Kosher salt and coarse black pepper
  • 1 pound sirloin steak, 1 1/4 inches thick
  • Three 8-inch-square sheets of nori (dried seaweed), torn into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oi
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. 
  2. Season the steak with salt. In a food processor, coarsely grind the nori with the sesame seeds, red pepper and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Spread the nori mixture on a plate and dredge the steak in it.
  3. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the steak and cook over moderately high heat until the nori is toasted, about 4 minutes per side. Place the steak on a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the meat registers 130° for medium rare. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the tamari with the mirin, lemon juice and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
  5. Slice the steak 1/4 inch thick and arrange it on plates. Drizzle the soy sauce mixture over the steak and serve.