Monday, August 18, 2014

Separations

This has been a hard war. All wars are hard, obviously, but everything in all ways nowadays seems hard, hard, hard and too painful to face. Every time I open the news I am hit with a wave of sorrow that seems to swallow my body, so I've stopped reading the news. But it's hard to escape. There are very few degrees of separation in this country.

In the midst of all this, people are coming and people are going. I'm leaving jobs and starting new ones. The hardest one, I think, is my friend Hannah. Hannah is one of my oldest friends here in Israel. She claims we met on a bus. I have zero memory of that interaction. I remember that we met when we were paired together as study partners on a program we both attended. Somehow, we started talking about books and that was that. We were in. We remained study partners for three years. But more than that, we became friends. Hannah and her family sort of adopted me. I was with them for holidays, on the weekends, on family outings, and when things got tough for me, as they often did, those first few years after I moved, I shut myself in their guest room for a few days until I was ready to face the world again. Hannah and I spent years talking about books and boys and movies and life and now she's moved across the ocean. It's a good thing, her move. Her husband is going to educate young minds. Hannah is going to be writing a brilliant dissertation on Conrad and Dickens. But still, I'm going to miss her. I already miss her.

Hannah and I often call each other for cooking tips. One day, we were chatting on the phone about life type of things, when I mentioned that I had an unholy amount of cilantro sitting in my fridge, needing to get used. "Oh," she said, "I've got a recipe for you." The recipe was simple-just eggs, onion, tomato, chili pepper and a lot of cilantro- but great. It's the type of thing you make when you are starving, busy and desperately in need of something warm and delicious to eat. Something about the tomatoes keeps the eggs creamy and soft and the cilantro and pepper give it a burst of flavor and heat.  I've made a few small adjustments over the ten million times I've made it, but mostly it remains just the way Hannah gave it to me. And now I'm giving it to you.

Come home soon, Hannah.


Scrambled Eggs with Onion, Tomato and lots of Cilantro

Adapted from Hannah Landes

butter
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato, diced
1 green chili pepper, (or to taste) diced
a huge bunch of cilantro
a pinch of cumin
salt
pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. When melted and bubbly add the onion. Saute until soft. Add the tomato and pepper. Cook until the tomatoes have started to release liquid and have made a sauce of sort. Season with cumin, salt and pepper. Add the cilantro and give it a toss and then, almost immediately add the eggs. Scramble as you would scramble eggs (everyone has their own method, yes I know), the eggs will remain soft and creamy. Eat with bread and butter, or stuffed in a pita.






Sunday, July 13, 2014

The word for world is forest


These are days to try your soul. You went from worry, to sorrow, to fear, to rage mixed with sorrow and then you went numb, until the fear came again.

You keep everything charged- your cellphone, your computer- just in case. There's bottled water in the hallway, cat food too. You keep as many of the doors as you can closed, keeping the windows out of sight, as if a plank of wood would do much help would they shatter inward- who knows- maybe it would. Sleep in pants, not shorts, just in case. Take short, perfunctory showers. Be prepared.

Your first instinct is to deny, deny, deny. But you know it is true. You know it can happen. People are people. Hate is hate. You open Facebook and all you see are the us and them, the propaganda, the provocation. It feels like a toxic cesspool, to be honest. Nothing can grow here. Despite our geographical proximity, we have so few opportunities to stand face to face and look each other in the eye.

"You don't have to call me every time there's a siren in Tel Aviv," your sister says. "I've checked in on Whatsapp." "I know," you say, and you do, but you want to hear her voice, exasperated as it is. You go about your day as normally as you can: job searches, work, cooking with friends. Others are much braver than you. They go out, they socialize, the travel far distances. Not you. You prefer to stay close to home if you can, to be in a place where at least you have plan of action. You can't always though. "Listen," you tell the cat as you're leaving the house, "if there's a siren, go into the hallway, stay away from the windows." She just flicks her ear at you and goes back to watching the birds. She can be so stupid sometimes.

Your heart-rate speeds up every time you hear the high whine of a motorcycle passing by. It's a strange way of going about your life. You water the plants. You show your neighbor where the public shelter is. One minute you are crouched in the hallway, waiting to hear the tell-tale boom that means a rocket has landed or been intercepted, the next you are sitting in your living room, finishing Americanah.

You are one of the lucky ones. The very, very lucky ones.

You've been thinking a lot about an interpretation of Deuteronomy 13: 18 that you once read (though you cannot, for the life of you, remember where): "And He will grant you mercy, and have compassion on you": In the face of great cruelty and violence it takes an extra measure of grace to remain compassionate and merciful. So much so, that compassion and mercy are considered gifts from God. Those words feel apt these days. May we all, in Jerusalem and Hebron, Tel Aviv and Gaza, be granted that extra measure of compassion in these days and all the days to come.



I'm a stress-baker. It's a thing, for-reals. And when I stress-bake, I don't want anything elegant or delicate. I want chocolate and brown butter, butterscotch and salt. I want comfort food in the form of what is essentially a big-ass chocolate chip cookie. This is what my roommate and I were confronted with when Deb's (of Smitten Kitchen) Blondies came out of the oven. We ate almost half of them right there and then. I put the rest in the freezer, because otherwise I knew I would just pick and pick at them until they were finished. To be honest, that strategy has been only semi-successful, since I now find myself making excuses to open the freezer. Make these, take a bit of comfort.

Brown Butter Blondies

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

8 tablespoons (113 grams) butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt
1 cup flour
3.5 oz (100 grams) dark chocolate, chopped
a handful of walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 f.  Brown the butter. Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often until the butter turns a lovely golden-brown color and begins to smell amazing and nutty. Remove from heat.

2. Combine the butter and brown sugar, and mix until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Then stir in the flour, salt, chocolate and walnuts.

3. Spread batter into a buttered 8x8 pan. Bake for 20-25,  until set. Cool and cut into small squares. Eat in peace and quiet.


Monday, June 30, 2014

If you can't stand the heat...

Quite a few summers ago, my sister and I took a trip to Spain. We spent a few days in Madrid and then wound our way down to Cordoba, where we also intended to spend a few days.   It is safe to say that I did not understand the phrase, "a wall of heat" until I arrived in Cordoba. We stepped off the train and into what could only be described as "a wall of dry heat". It was 40 degrees Celsius and just past midday. The hostel we were staying at was beautiful, but it had no air-conditioning, only an slow-moving ineffectual fan, that moved the hot air around our small room. The only bearable time of day was between 3 and 6 am. We did not like Cordoba. Something about the heat turned everything flat and dull and almost oppressive. Maimonides was everywhere, but there were no Jews. The Meziquita, the Roman bridge, the great city that was once a shining star for the three monotheistic faiths, felt like nothing but a tourist trap. The next day we fled to Seville where we learned how the locals deal with the heat and the reason for the preponderance of public fountains in the city. There is nothing quite like sticking your bare feet into a cold fountain on hot day.

I mention Cordoba because the weather in Jerusalem the past few days has been positively Cordobian. Walking outside is like moving through a furnace. The heat is its own entity.There is no fighting it. You just have to give in. On Friday, I walked out of my apartment with every intention of shopping at the wonderful, cheap green-grocer just a 12 minute walk away. But then, I took one step and said, nope, not happening. I went to the expensive green-grocer around the corner. I did not buy a melon, or anything other than the bare essentials. I walked home as quickly as possible, which is to say not very. The melon is important. The melon is important because without it I could not make Mark Bittman's Tomato-Melon Gazpacho, which is my go-to summer soup. But I needed cold soup. In fact, still now, all I want to eat, forever and ever, until the heat breaks, is cold soup. I had no melon, nor did I have cucumbers or peppers with which to make regular gazpacho. What I did have though was carrots- in abundance- because I had been meaning to write about Kim Boyce's Carrot Muffins from Good to the Grain, which are spectacular, but really, asking anybody to turn on their oven in this weather is just cruel, so I did not write about about them. Chilled carrot soup it was. After a bit of research, I decided I wanted something just a little gingery and sweet, but nothing that would overwhelm the carrot flavor, so I went with a recipe from Food and Wine Magazine, that was pretty much nothing more than onion, carrot, ginger, water and a little sweetener and acid.  It was perfect. Just what I wanted. Just what I want, until the heat is gone.

Chilled Carrot Ginger Soup

Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 pounds of carrots, sliced
2 1/2 cups water or stock
2 inch long knobs of ginger, peeled
2-3 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
salt and freshly ground pepper.

1. In a medium sized pot, warm the coconut oil until melted. Add the onion and cook about 5-10 minutes, until translucent. Add the carrots, water (or stock) and ginger. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer about 25 minutes until the carrots are tender. Remove from heat.

2. When the soup has cooled a bit, remove the ginger and add the lemon juice, honey salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth (a hand blender is useful for this). If the soup is too thick, you can add a bit of water to thin it down. Chill. Serve cold.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Two Years


It's been two years.

Bay, I still think of you when I drink coffee cold, when I put on lipstick and eye-shadow, when I'm in that cafe we sat in- you'd be disappointed, the quality has gone down and the prices have gone up- just like everything these days- and I kind of wish we were sitting together now, and we could sigh, yes, the world has gone to trash, just like the old ladies we should be together. Bay, I think of you in the middle of the day sometimes, for no reason at all- just a thought of you fleeting and there.

I guess this is a thing one must learn, how absence can take up so much space. Time is only a buffer in the sense that it makes things less immediate, but loss never becomes anything other than loss.




The recipe I'm posting today has very little do with what I've written today, but it is about nostalgia.It's about learning to bake bread with my grandmother, her strong forearms and sturdy hands, learning to tell when dough is done by touch and sight. I've never really been successful when trying to replicate my grandmother's challah, which is a thing of beauty, let me tell you, but I have had more success with her whole wheat bread. My grandmother's whole wheat bread is made of 100% whole wheat and yet somehow still manages to remain light and fluffy and slight sweet. It's bread you want to slather in almond butter for your afternoon snack, or just eat plain, straight from the oven. It's whole wheat bread the way you remember it from years back, from your childhood in your grandmother's kitchen.

My Grandmother's Whole Wheat Bread

Adapted from Mindie Mermelstein

2 tablespoons dry yeast
4 tablespoons warm water
pinch of sugar

2 2/3 cups warm water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
7 1/2 cups whole wheat  flour
3 tsp salt

1. Dissolve 2 tablespoons of yeast in 4 tablespoons of water add a pinch of sugar. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. The yeast mixture should start to bubble and froth. If it does not, the yeast is dead. Throw out and start over with new yeast.

2.  Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the water, oil honey and yeast slurry. Combine until a shaggy ball of dough begins to come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and cover your hands in flour as well (though dough will be sticky), knead until it is supple and smooth and is no longer taking in flour. My grandmother says this should take 6-8 minutes. Most people, however, haven't spent a lifetime kneading dough. It took me closer to 15 minutes. Form a nice ball, and  put the dough back into a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover and place in a warm spot to rise for about an hour or until doubled in size.

3. When the dough has finished it's first rise, punch down and remove from bowl. Let it rest for 5 minutes and then knead briefly. Divide the dough in half. Press half of the dough into a rough rectangle, starting from the width closest to you fold the dough over itself in thirds, much like you would fold a letter to fit into an envelope. Place the loaf  into a loaf pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover the two loaf pans and leave to rise until doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

4. While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 350 f.  When the loaves have finished rising, brush the tops with a little bit of water. Bake for about 40 minutes. Tap the bottom of each loaf, if you hear a hollow sound, the loaves are done baking. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Note

My wonderful Aunt Jaimie has started a blog about a sundry of things including (but not limited to) fashion, books, advice and life in Israel. Jaimie is the best the thrifter I know and more importantly, my mentor, friend and the person to teach me that being an introvert is not a weakness, but a strength.

So dear readers, please do pay a visit to Jaimie's blog- Take It/or/Leave It and tell her I say hi.


Monday, May 26, 2014

New beginnings (Super Natural Every-day)


It is a fact well known that you do not truly live in a place until you have cooked in the kitchen. I spent the first few days in my new apartment eating sandwiches and junk food and the occasional egg. The kitchen was the first thing to be unpacked, but for the most part I was still living out of suitcases and boxes. And really, when I say unpacked, what I mean is that my friend and I removed my pots and pans and dishes and things I need but don't really need (i.e. my pasta maker) and shoved them into the nearest available space in any given cabinet. It's going to take a while before I really get the hang of where I want things and how to best make the kitchen flow. But still, my kitchen needed inaugurating.

So we inaugurated it.

My new apartment has high ceilings, big windows and low light because it is on the first floor and tree-shaded. I wake up in the morning to dappled sunlight. It has built-in bookcases in the living room, a small room for a study, a long kitchen and a garden that is mostly my own. Right now, the garden  is still a big of a mess, but I've got a few flowers on the stoop, rose bushes I am trying to coax back to life and a little slip of a blackberry bramble my future roommate bought, waiting to be planted. As I was moving in, one of the movers turned to me and said, "this place is so much better than your old place. So much better." Well, the quality of an apartment has a lot to do with the memories you make in it, but so far I think I"m going to want to stay here for a very long time. Sometimes, if I have a few minutes to spare, I sit on the stoop with my morning cup of coffee and think, how did I get to be so very lucky, living in this apartment on a beautiful quiet street, with a beautiful quiet garden? I have a bad habit of waiting for the bottom to fall out from under me. I'm trying to work on it.

We inaugurated the kitchen with a new cookbook. Before Passover, Naomi and I decided that we were done with Jerusalem. We'd been cooking from it for more than a year and had made most of the recipes that were a) kosher and b) didn't include eggplant (as I am allergic to eggplant). Surprisingly enough, more recipes were invalidated due to eggplant than were invalidated due to kosher concerns. We loved Jerusalem, but the time had come to move on. We chose Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every-day (but not Supernatural Every-day, because that would be something entirely different, probably involving my friend Debbie, pie and a cult TV show with hot guys and an unfortunate penchant for killing off female characters. Um. My geek is showing. Sorry.). We wanted something a little bit different than what we had been doing before- to move away from the middle eastern flavors we had come to love and know and to try something a little bit different. I follow Heidi's great blog, 101 Cookbooks, and have long admired her recipes and her approach to food. We also liked the fact that Super Natural Every-day is a vegetarian cookbook with a focus on natural foods. Naomi is the first to admit that she's a little bit of a hippie (and hence has an obsession with chia seeds that I can't really fathom) and I am happy to avoid the issues with kashrut that a non-vegetarian cookbook would bring (we almost settled on the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, but then decided that kosher concerns would leave us with too many recipes we wouldn't be able to make). So Heidi's cookbook it was.

It's been two weeks of Super Natural Every-day. We made Spinach Chop and Yogurt Biscuits with spelt flour, Chickpea Stew with saffron and Tinto de Verano. Everything has been great. Heidi's recipes have this wonderful simplicity to them that is so very different from Ottolenghi. We keep on reaching for the spice drawer-for the cumin, the allspice, the za'atar, the lemon, only to find that Heidi does without. Where Ottolenghi shined with these great punches of flavor, Ms. Swanson's food is clean and subtle and graceful. It is a nice change of pace, a nice way to start in a new kitchen. (It also doesn't hurt that the cookbook is absolutely gorgeous).

The Spinach Chop made a great brunch and the Chickpea Stew was lovely, but I think in all honesty the recipe I liked most so far is Tinto de Verano, mostly because both Naomi and I were so very dubious about it in the beginning. Tinto de Verano is kind of like chilled out version of sangria. It's not much more than cheap red wine mixed with sparkling lemonade, which makes it cheap and easy. And I know, right now you're wrinkling your nose at the prospect of red wine and lemonade, trust me, we did too, but we were saying goodbye to Naomi's roommate and I had a bottle of cheap red wine so we figured, there's no harm in trusting the cookbook and just going for it. I'm glad we did. It was kind of perfect for a summer evening, light and fruity and cooling and it was clear that we chose the right cookbook. Tinto de Verano, ladies and gentlemen. L'chaim.

Tinto de Verano

From Super Natural Every-day by Heidi Swanson

1 (750ml) bottle of cheap red wine (preferably Spanish)
Sparkling lemonade, chilled (we used Schweppes Bitter Lemon, whatever you use make sure it is not too sweet)
Lemon slices


1. Pour half a cup (120 ml) red wine into a glass. Add half a cup (120 ml) sparkling lemonade. Mix. Add ice cubes, if so desired. Garnish with slices of lemon. Repeat with remaining glasses (recipe will serve 4-6 people). Serve. Pretend you are much fancier than you actually are.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Margaritaville


Here are two things I hate: moving and jet-lag. When I first started writing this post, almost a month ago. I was faced with both of them.


After months of a soul-destroying apartment search, I finally signed a lease on a new place about a month ago-a week before I left to the United States for two weeks to spend Passover with my family. I arrived back in Jerusalem about three week ago, with exactly two weeks to pack up my apartment and move. Needless to say, I haven't been using my kitchen much in the last two to three months. And even when I have been using my kitchen, I haven't been doing much inspired cooking. I'm sorry to say that I've been eating a lot of cereal, pasta and takeout lately- not that those are bad things- but it's been nothing to write home about, so to speak. It's hard to feel inspired when you are so totally in between- in between homes, in between packed and unpacked, in between time zones, in between selves. It's hard to cook and it's hard to write. My kitchen pretty bare for a while right now- waiting to be packed and then unpacked. I kind of feel the same way, slightly empty, dusty and just waiting for a big change.


I did, however, do quite a bit of cooking in my mom's kitchen in Chicago. I always do.I made the usuals- carrot-fennel soup, almond cookies, meringues, braised chicken with garlic and white wine, etc. That's what Passover is for, long stretches in the kitchen, followed by long stretches of eating. I like cooking in my mom's kitchen. I like the silence as I watch the sun come up through the French doors at the back, awake and restless with jetlag during the first days after I land. I like the noise and chaos of three adults and five children, bustling and helping and cooking.  The kitchen in my new apartment actually reminds me a lot of my mom's kitchen. It's quite a bit smaller, but like my mom's kitchen it is long and narrow, with black marble counters and a view of a garden. I hope my garden will one day be as nice as hers. I think it is the kitchen that made me say, yes. This place. I can live here.


Somehow I am the dessert maker hence, the almond cookies, meringues and some spectacular macarons from the New York Times. It's just a thing that happened. I do the desserts. I always want to make ice cream, but my mother doesn't have an ice cream maker and more often than not, we have one or more family members who don't want to be eating semi-raw eggs. This year though, this year I had cream and limes and tequila all staring me in the face. God bless, Nigella Lawson then, for providing me with this pretty glorious recipe. No Churn Margarita Ice Cream, doesn't that just sound spectacular? When I read the recipe, I though maybe the lack of a custard would make the ice cream feel anemic, and that if I didn't churn it it would crystallize and turn horrid and awful when I froze it, but neither of these things happened. The ice cream was smooth and rich and tangy. It all seemed so magical.  So go my friends, get yourself some tequila and limes and cream- or go wild and play around. I bet this recipe can be used as a template for any number of excellent ice cream flavors. The lazy days of summer are about to be upon us. Settle in.

No Churn Margarita Ice Cream

Adapted from Nigella Lawson

1/2 cup lime juice
2.5 tablespoons tequila
2.5 tablespoons orange juice
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
2 cups heavy cream

1.  Pour the lime juice, tequila and juice into a bowl. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the cream and whip with a hand mixer (or in a stand mixer) until thick, but not stiff.

2. Transfer into an airtight container and freeze overnight. Serve in glasses if you're feeling classy like that.