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
salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
pepper
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.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

Into the Wild


I've been avoiding writing this post for a while now. It feels premature. I'm not ready to write about my year- to sum up, to take stock. We had no summer. Where did the summer go? How is it September already? What is this turning of the seasons?

In some ways, this has been a very good year. I moved into a beautiful new apartment. I have a lovely new roommate. And as I keep telling anybody who will listen- I have a garden which gives me an inordinate amount of joy. In other ways it's been a very difficult year. The job that I thought would be steady and stable turned out to be neither steady nor stable, so I left and am now, once again, job searching. My cat spent a good few months being terribly sick and even now I am continually surprised that she is still alive And then, of course, there was the war and the growing feeling of disillusionment  and dread that accompanied it.

But lo, the new year is upon us, for better or for worse. That is the way time works, evidently.  This year is into the wild. It's a shmitta year. Shmitta is the Biblical injunction to let your land lie fallow every seven years (among other things) It is a sabbath for the land, which is a lovely concept. The truth is,though, shmitta is kind of a pain on so many levels. I've just planted my garden and am now faced with the prospect of just letting it be- no fertilizing, no pruning, no weeding- just watering and the bare minimum that needs to be done to keep it alive. It's hard. Every morning, I go outside. I check on my succulent with the pink-red flowers first, then the aphid-ravished jasmine, then the newly planted purple basil, the strawberry plant, the blackberry, the rosemary, the zaatar, the oregano and the thyme. I deadhead the plant with the white flowers, the multi-colored petunias and move back to the succulent to deadhead it too. I watch the natural drama unfolding. The little black cat, who's still half a kitten, has climbed up into the pear tree, and all the birds- the sparrows, the chickadees, the bright-stomached hummingbirds, the jays and four spectacular green wild parrots- come out in furious concert to yell at the intruder. I know that the flowering plants and some of the herbs probably won't survive the winter, but there's nothing I can do about it, and I won't be able to replace them until next September. What will this garden look like come spring, I wonder. I'm giving it over to the wild. It's out of my hands.

I don't know how to say things, to wish things, about the coming year. It's come too early. The war's cold fingers are still digging themselves into my ribs and it's hard to shake them off, to see clearly, to have a plan. I'm going into this one with my eyes shut tight. I'm laying down seeds and hoping.


Two recipes for the new year:

Roast Chicken and Potatoes with Silan (Date Honey)

Adapted from Lisa Rubin

1 whole chicken
4 tablespoons of silan
about half an inch of fresh ginger, grated
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
salt
pepper
a good bunch of thyme
3-4 potatoes, peeled, sliced and parboiled


1. If you have time, season the chicken with salt and pepper and let sit overnight. If not, preheat the oven to 400 F. In a small bowl, mix together the silan, ginger, garlic and olive oil. Toss the potatoes with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and then place them at the bottom of a crock or dutch oven (enameled cast iron is best for this). Take a handful of thyme and place over the potatoes. Place the chicken over the thyme breast-side down. Pour the silan mixture over the chicken, rubbing it under the skin and into the cavity. Stuff the cavity with the rest of the thyme. Roast uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the internal of the chicken temperature reaches 160 F.


Apple-Celery Salad with Pomegranate-Mustard Vinaigrette

This is not so much a recipe as it is a list of instructions. Do as you like

Roast a handful of almonds, allow to cool and chop. Dice an apple (or two) and a fewish stalks of celery. Slice some red onion thin, thin thin. Wash some lettuce, if you'd like, or leave it out if you don't.  Pour some vinegar into a small bowl, add a good pinch of salt and wait for it to dissolve. Add a grind of pepper, a few good glugs of pomegranate molasses, more if you like things tart, a nice teaspoon or more of Dijon mustard and some olive oil. Whisk to combine. In a large bowl, mix together the apples, celery, red onion, almonds and lettuce, if using. If you'd like add some nice, mild cheese, but it's totally optional. Dress with the vinaigrette. Eat.

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.