(by Erica Pressberg)
Food is love. I’ve always heard and felt that since I was a kid, when my parents instilled the value of eating dinner together every night. It was a time to connect as a family unit over delicious and creative meals prepared by my mom, Sheryl. Even when I was on the road following my dream of being a musician, she made sure I came home every few months for a big feast, the whole family under one roof, bonding over her food.
Growing up with grandparents who were Holocaust survivors and were literally starved for part of their lives, it’s no wonder meals are important in our family. My grandmother always insisted that we eat up and clean our plates, so much so that we nearly rolled out the door each time we left her house. In a precursor to my future vegetarian and later gluten-free self, my grandmother (whom I later tricked into buying my first electric guitar when my parents wouldn’t) always told me that when we kids were visiting her, even when I was as young as five, my brothers and cousins always asked for piles of junk food, but I would only ask for fruit and cottage cheese. We still laugh at how talented my grandmother was at cooking complex Jewish meals, from gefilte fish to potato latkes, but how much she sucked at cooking simple dishes that our friends ate like pasta or burgers.
My mom was always flexible with whatever wrench I threw into her meal plans, adapting recipes during my six years as a vegetarian–I ate a ton of tofu parmigiana–and for the past 11 years that I’ve been gluten-free. Food is love, after all.
Now my mom and I are business colleagues, part of the team running a boutique hotel built by my grandfather and my father just in time for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The rule is: We leave work at work so that when we get together over a nice meal, it is purely family time. My family nicknamed me “Aldrich,” like the famous spy, Aldrich Ames, because I have the reputation of constantly uncovering things that could be improved about our family business. But Mom calls me “Aldrich” too when it comes to finding gluten in a restaurant dish or any of the meals she makes for me.
Even though we spend so much time together, our personalities are completely different, and we respect those differences. My mom is a strong, extroverted alpha woman, the kind of person who always has a large group of friends and a busy social life. I’m an introvert. I keep a tight circle of friends and enjoy my alone time to create and think. The coolest thing about getting older is that parents and children can become peers and friends. My mom relies on me to make choices that affect our business and seeks my advice from time to time. When I’ve made mistakes, I’m treated like a partner, not a child. When I disagree with a business decision, we take nothing personally. I actually refer to both of my parents by their first names in emails and when speaking about them to other colleagues.
The changing family dynamic really came to light recently when I took my parents out for dinner and a movie, and I paid the bill. Yes, there was a fight, but the gesture made me proud—one of life’s little full circles.
Erica Pressberg is the director of marketing for her family's hotel, The Orlando, in Los Angeles, California.
1/2 c. olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 lb. portobello mushrooms, sliced
4 stalks celery, sliced
4 zucchini, sliced
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried basil
1 t. garlic powder
pinch of salt
1 t. black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded into cutlets
2 eggs, beaten
approximately 1/2 c. bread crumbs or gluten-free panko
2 25-oz. jars prepared marinara sauce
1 c. grated mozzarella cheese
1 lb. penne or gluten-free pasta
In a large skillet, heat 1/4 c. olive oil and add onion, garlic, mushrooms, celery, and zucchini.
Add oregano, basil, garlic powder, salt and black pepper.
Sauté until vegetables are lightly browned, and set aside.
Dredge chicken cutlets in egg and bread crumbs (or gluten-free panko).
Heat 1/4 c. olive oil, and sauté chicken until browned on both sides, about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Place vegetables and half of the sauce in an ovenproof glass baking dish.
Add chicken and remaining sauce.
Bake for 45 minutes.
Add cheese and return to the oven until browned, approximately 15 minutes.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes while cooking pasta in boiling salted water.
Serve chicken and sauce over pasta.