Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Back in the Saddle

As some of you might know, for the past eight months I had been working part-time as a translator for a news agency. I liked the work, I loved the people, I hated the hours. I think maybe, somewhere in the world  there are people (namely, my former colleagues) who can get to work at 6am twice a week and still function as human beings. I am not one of those people. Waking up at 5:30 am screwed with my equilibrium. The work was shift-work so my early mornings did not occur on a set schedule-except for the last 4-5 months when I consistently worked every Sunday morning and one other day of the week. My sleep schedule was a wreck. I was losing evenings to early nights, and hours of other freelance work post-shift when I would wake up from my nap groggy and slow. It goes without saying that I haven't been doing much entertaining over the past few months. Weekends were a time to breath, to gather myself in quiet before I had to go stumbling out into the early morning dark again. A lot of friends have fed me over the past little while. A lot of friends provided me with books to read so I could sooth my brain. I am incredibly grateful to those lot of friends.

I started a new job about two and a half weeks ago. It's too early to tell whether I like the job or not. I'm still getting adjusted, but so far it's been pretty good. The people at my new office seem nice and the work is more interesting than I had anticipated. To be honest though, the best things about my new job so far are the hours and the location. I start work at 9:30 am, and live about a 10 minute walk from my new office. This means I can wake up at 7:30 like a normal person. I can shower, drink my coffee, get dressed, put on make-up, pack a lunch and still have time to check my email before I mosey on down the block to work. For this reason alone I hope I am able to keep this job for a long, long time.

 I have my life back. Suddenly I want to talk to my friends. I want go out. I want to cook new foods. I want to entertain. So entertain, I did. For the first time in ages, I hosted friends over the weekend. We ate outside in my garden, where surprisingly, both the strawberry and blackberry plants have survived the winter. We ate tacos. We drank cocktails with too much gin in them. We talked for long whiles. It was glorious. 10/10 would host again.

Also glorious was the alternative lentil-walnut filling I made for the tacos. I had originally planned to just make fish tacos, but two of my guests hated fish, so I needed another, non-meat filling for the tacos. Generally, I am wary of foods that are not meat but claim to be like meat. Meat is meat. Other food is other food. But I found this recipe on Food52 and generally Food52 has never let me down, so I figured I would give it a shot. It was by far the most popular dish on the table. And sure, it doesn't look like much-but damn, is it good-meaty and tangy- and pretty much everything you want to put in your taco.

Lentil Walnut Taco Filling

Lightly adapted from Gena Hamshaw on Food52

1 1/4 cups walnuts, toasted
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 clove of garlic
1/2 cup tightly packed sun-dried tomatoes (oil packed is best)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (or more, to taste)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils

1. Place the walnuts in a food processor and pulse a few times to coarsely chop. Add the soy sauce, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, spices and vinegar and pulse a few more times. Add the lentils and pulse until the mixture is incorporated. Hamshaw says the mixture should look crumbly-mine was smooth and had the texture of pate.  Serve in tortillas or taco shells with lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, slaw and any other fun taco accouterments of your choosing.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Chaos Rising

Passover is chaos. There really is no other word for it, the explosion of noise and activity that lands on my parent's house over the holiday. It's inevitable and there's nothing to do but to embrace it and hold on tight.

I always have big plans for what I want to cook over Passover. My mother and I begin swapping recipes months in advance and I'm always looking for the most exciting, interesting things to make. My mother, on the other hand, is more practical, and is always looking for the things that are the easy and traditional. This year, our positions are reversed. I sent my mother the easiest, simplest recipe for roast I have ever encountered. It is also one of the best. My mother said, well, I was thinking about lamb if I could find it.

I envision my mother's Passover kitchen-long and narrow. Someone, one my nieces, is asking for a sweet omelet for breakfast. Another wants yogurt. A third is asking if they can help with the meringues, because I am always making meringues. My brother is making coffee. My hands are probably coated in sugar, or egg whites, or something. This is Passover. I think, lamb. Yes, lamb is good. I love lamb, though I'm really the only one in my family who does. Lamb should be seared, just right, then eased  between carrots and potatoes and onion and garlic and red wine. I envision myself standing over the stove searing that lamb, the oil jumping and hitting my skin, while my sister is reaching over me putting up a pot of potatoes to boil and my mother wants to check on something in the oven. I think, nah. Why don't we do away with the searing, and the onions and potatoes and carrots. Let's just open a can of tomatoes, leave the garlic unpeeled and just stick everything in the oven. It doesn't all have to be chaos and noise.

 Let's just do that.

Happy Passover.

Braised Beef with Tomatoes and Garlic

From Smitten Kitchen

28 ounces canned tomatoes
1 3 lb chuck roast
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, but unpeeled.

1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. If using whole canned tomatoes, give em a good chop. If not, place the roast in a heavy oven-proof pot or casserole. Pour the tomatoes over the meat and then add the garlic. Season well with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and braise for 3-4 hours, until tender. Serve sliced or just falling apart with the sauce and garlic.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Continuing a trend from my previous post, I am not very good at this whole "do it yourself" thing. I'd like to be making my own jam, but I'm also afraid of giving everybody botulism. I've made my own ricotta cheese a few times, and it's been pretty good, but I can't really find a recipe that I like enough to keep on ruining perfectly good cotton towels for (don't get me started on the lack of cheesecloth around here).Once, I tried to make a necklace out of an old t-shirt, because Pinterest said it was easy. I don't want to talk about the results. But the internet promised homemade Kahlua  with no waiting time, and it was almost Purim, and I was working from home and I needed to procrastinate take a break, what else was I going to do? It was the perfect procrastinating break recipe, after all- just a few ingredients, and almost zero work time. I was dubious, but I figured, why not?

I have never gotten so many requests for a recipe before. It's possible that said requests were the result of inebriation and not the quality of the actual liquor, but having tasted the liquor while sober, I have to say it was pretty gosh-darn good. It was sweet without being cloying and had a deep coffee flavor that somehow managed to not be overwhelming. I even got a few coffee-haters (heathens) to drink it and like it. Beat that, suckers.

So here, by request, is Homemade Kahlua:
Adapted from The Graceful Kitchen

I cut this recipe in half, because 4 cups of liquor is a lot if you don't have empty bottles to store it in. Feel free to use the original measurements.

1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee
1 cup vodka (don't waste the good stuff on this-use something cheap)
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, water and coffee. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 2-2 1/2 hours until you are left with a dark thick coffee-flavored syrup. Cool.

2. When cool add the vodka and the vanilla extract and bottle.

Happy Drinking!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Simple Living

I have a reputation for being a little bit of a fussy cook. Certainly I have a reputation as a fussy baker. Now, fussy is a pretty relative term. All things being equal, I think I'm pretty un-fussy. In fact one might say, I am the opposite of fussy. I won't decorate cakes. I won't do writing. The last time I tried to make a frosting flower it came out looking like a sad lump of pink. My double layer cakes are often crooked.But I think what people tend to mean when they say I am fussy, is that I don't often make anything that can be just dumped in a bowl/pan/pot. The recipes I make often have multiple steps and use numerous cooking utensils. I have been known on occasion to even brown butter in recipes that do not call for browned butter, just because I can. Now, this is not a value judgment. No one way of cooking is better than the other. It is simply the way I cook. I like the meditative qualities of cooking and baking-so for me, extra time in the kitchen is something I value. Other people don't find cooking as calming, or don't have the time to spend puttering around, trying new things. That's fine, too.

The cake (which is honestly more a bar than a cake) I am sharing with you today is about as un-fussy as you can get. It is quick, easy and endlessly adaptable. The recipe is my mom's and it's one of those cakes that showed up a lot in my childhood-along with the ubiquitous Wacky Cake. Often times my mother would make it with apples, though I seem to remember that sometimes it appeared in a blueberry version. When I made it a few weeks ago,for the first time in forever, I used strawberries and rhubarb, because that's what I had in the house. But really, probably any fruit would do. I have a bunch of cranberries sitting in my freezer and I have a feeling they're going to be my next experiment. It'll probably be delicious. That's not bragging. It's just that this cake is really, really hard to screw up. It is not much more than a crumble of flour, sugar, oil and baking powder that gets pressed into a pan, covered with fruit, and then topped with the remaining crumble. The result is more than the sum of its parts. What more could you ask from a cake?

My Mom's All-Purpose Crumble Cake
Adapted from Ricky Krakowski

The Crumble:

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup vegetable oil

6 medium apples, sliced, or about 3 cups of your desired fruit
1/2 cup sugar
a pinch of cinnamon (or any other spices you feel like playing around with)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 f. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the egg and oil and mix until crumbly. In another bowl, toss the fruit with the sugar and desired spices.

3. Grease a 9x13 pan. Press 3/4 of the crumble into the pan. Spread fruit over the dough, then top the fruit with the remaining crumble. Do not press. Allow it to remain pebbly and sandy. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and the fruit is jammy and bubbling. Cool and cut into squares. Serve.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

There and Back Again

It's been a while. I have been there and back again. And sick with endless cold/sinus thing. And slammed with work. I've barely had a moment to stop and find the headspace to just write, which is sad, because it feels like I have eaten all the food over past month or so. In Chicago, I discovered possibly the best coffee I have ever tasted from a small little company called Dark Matter coffee. It was a revelation. In New York, I had the best lamb chop I have ever had in my life, and learned the smoky tang of a cranberry marshmallow at Pardes, only the best kosher restaurant ever. But these are not important.

This is what is important: a meal eaten on a fold out table in my parent's room as my mom recovers from knee surgery. Talking with old friends-on the couch, in a car, on the subway, for five minutes, outside of a store. Sitting in the back of minivan, listening to my nieces argue over Harry Potter. It's coming back to my grandmother's house, cold and tired and full and sitting down to a hot cup of tea and cocosh. That's what's important. The moments in between. The just being together.

 I made these muffins for my mom, because she asked for muffins and I couldn't resist the fresh cranberries when I saw them at Trader Joe's. I've since made them again using rhubarb instead of cranberries, thinking they would impart a similar tartness, but to be honest, it's better with the cranberries. Cranberries are always better. I take these muffins to work with me now. I eat them blearily in the early morning. I think of my mother. I wonder if she is still eating the ones I left in her freezer. It's a way of being together, sharing a quiet moment, even when we're not.

Cranberry-Orange Muffins

Lightly adapted from Williams Sonoma

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of one orange
1 egg
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup of pecans, chopped.

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a muffin tin with muffin liners. Whisk together the flour, sugars, baking powder salt and orange zest.  In another bowl, mix the egg, oil, milk and orange juice. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix until just combined. Fold in the cranberries and the nuts. Spoon batter into the tin (I find that an ice cream scoop works well for this).

2. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Eat. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

On Tolerance

One of my favorite books as a child was Molly's Pilgrim. Molly's Pilgrim is the story a young Jewish immigrant from Russia in turn of the century America. Molly is relentlessly teased by her classmates- for talking funny, for dressing funny, for not knowing the right words for things. As Thanksgiving approaches, her teacher assigns the students the task of making Pilgrim clothespin dolls for their Thanksgiving diorama. Molly's mother, who does not have an historical context for Pilgrims, makes her a doll dressed as a Russian immigrant. For as her mother explains, Molly told her that Pilgrims were people who came to America seeking religious freedom- their family came to America seeking religious freedom, hence they are Pilgrims. Molly anticipates that the teasing will get worse when she brings the doll to school the next day. But to her surprise, the teacher likes her doll best, using it to teach the class a gentle lesson about freedom, difference, and tolerance.

Obviously, as Jewish girl living in America, the story spoke to me deeply and informed the way I grew to think about America and the values that I admired, etched into one of the country's seminal origin stories.

Of course, most origin stories, hagiographies that they are, are problematic and ahistoric. The story America's foundation sets no benchmark for tolerance, freedom or a celebration of differences. Even today, centuries later, the issues of race, class, freedom of religion, personal freedom and the rights of the strangers in our midst are among the most fraught issues in American society. And yet, my mind often strays to the words of George Washington in his letter of reply to the Jewish congregation in Newport. He writes: 
  "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of the inherent natural rights. For happily the government of the United States, which give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens...."

Washington's words have stayed with me since I first read them in college. It is due to them that I remain uncomfortable with the word tolerance and use it only for lack of a better term. We do not tolerate those who are different than us, for toleration implies that it is within our purview to "indulge" them, as Washington said, in what is their natural right. But that indulgence is not our to give. "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship."
It is for this reason that I continue to celebrate Thanksgiving though I have not lived in the United States for over a decade. I am thankful to have lived in a country where these values, despite the failures and the fault lines and the racism and intolerance and bigotry that are woven, like dark threads, into American history, could be expressed and advocated as a truth by the first President of the United States. That truth and those values inform my ideals here, in my second home, where even tolerance has been hard to come by lately- in so many ways and in so many places. And that is why I celebrate and am thankful. 

   "May the Father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us  all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way, everlastingly happy." 

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Marcus Samuelsson knows a thing or two about diversity and immigration. He was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and now lives in the United States. His Thanksgiving menu, published in November's Food and Wine reflects that. It is eclectic and unique, and diverse in its inspirations. I wanted to try every single recipe, and maybe I will, but for now, I limited myself to one.

 For years, I've been missing kale and other deep leafy greens. Until recently is has been almost impossible to find anything other than mangold (beet greens) and spinach here in Israel- no kale, no collards, no mustard greens (which is ridiculous, since wild mustard grows in abundance here). But to my great joy over the past few years, kale has begun to appear in Israeli supermarket. It's still on the expensive side, so I only buy it on occasion.However, I do believe that a Marcus Samuelsson recipe qualifies as an occasion. His kale salad with root vegetables and apple is a revelation. It will make a kale-hater love kale, and I know this because that is exactly what happened when I served the salad a few weeks ago. My guests and I, kale-hater and all, decimated it. It was that good. I made a few changes, but those were due to necessity, not choice (I have yet to find a rutabaga in Israel, and two pounds of kale can be expensive,) so I am posting the original recipe with options. 

Kale Salad with Root Vegetables and Apple

Adapted from Marcus Samuelsson in Food and Wine November, 2014

2 pounds kale, washed stemmed and sliced, or 1 pound kale and 1 pound beet greens, washed, stemmed and sliced.
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
1 carrot, julienned
1 apple, peeled and julienned
1 cup rutabaga or kohlrabi peeled and julienned
2 scallions sliced thin

1. In a big bowl, massage the kale with vinegar, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Set aside at room temperature for half an hour. 

2. In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice, zest, syrup or honey, soy sauce, the 1/4 cup of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. 

3. Add the carrot, apple, rutabaga or kholrabi and scallions to the kale. Toss. Add the dressing and mix again. Serve. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A World on Its Own

There is a lot of food to talk about. A lot of food that was made and consumed over the holidays. There is a lot of food being planned. Thanksgiving is coming up. I've just received a subscription to Food and Wine (thanks, Tobes) which has filled me with ideas and thoughts and just plain, I want to make that. I am sorry for my extended silence especially when I have so much to say.

The older I get, the more I come to realize that life seldom goes the way you planned, for yourself or for the people you love best. Over the course of two weeks I received spectacular news from a friend, and then on one joyous, terrible day I received very very good news from another friend while yet another friend shared news that was absolutely devastating. I think each of these friends would say that this was not the way that they expected their lives to be. This was not the story we told ourselves-this makes the joy all the more joyous and pain all the more painful.

There is a Jewish custom of bringing round foods to a house of mourning (hence the bagels) as a symbol of the circle of life and the ever turning world. I've always sort of hated this custom because at that moment, in that house of mourning, the world does not continue to spin. A world on its own is gone and destroyed in the lack and the absence. And if anything, life is not a circle, but a series of concentric ones, an extended Venn diagram, where you and your loved ones meet and overlap, laugh and cry in conjunction, but separate. Or maybe it is this, we  are each our own boat, in the same river, holding out a hand to steady each other against the current. People come into our lives, husbands, wives, friends, babies and people, new and old, leave our lives. We travel together, we travel apart.

It's an emotional buffeting to be both so very happy and so very sad.

For the reasons mentioned above lentils are also often brought to a house of mourning. I did not make these lentils in mourning, in fact, I was in a pretty good mood when I made these on Sukkot- happy to be sharing the holiday with my friends. They are sweet and sour, these lentils and I was surprised by them, because generally, sweet and sour disagrees with me. But I've been thinking about them a lot since I made, and not just because they were delicious and easy and filling, but because my life has seemed so sweet and sour as of late.

Emily's Sweet and Sour Lentils

Adapted from Becky Haendel (I do not know who Emily is, but whoever and wherever you are, Emily, thank you.)

I've made a few changes to the recipe- mostly I've halved it, because 3 cups of lentils is an insane amount of lentils, and cut the sweetness a bit. If you want to go with the original proportions- it was 3/4 cup of honey to 3 cups of brown lentils).

1/8 cup soy sauce
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/8 cup honey
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups brown or green lentils

1. The recipe is as simple as this: Mix all the ingredients in a small-medium pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer, covered for 40-45 minutes until the lentils are soft and most of the liquid has been dissolved. Serve hot or at room temperature, over rice or with  warm pita.