Thursday, November 29, 2012

The things you cannot have

For me, being an ex-pat means having two selves. I have two passports. I have two homes. I board an airplane and I slip from one self to the other. In both places nothing has changed and everything is different. The streets of Chicago are still straight lines. East toward the lake. The wooden floors in my parents house still creak comfortingly under bare feet. My friends are still my friends. In this Chicago self, I navigate the city by instinct, like its set in my bones and it is. I have a role and a personhood there among people who have known me and loved me since I was a child; where love is effortless and just there. But my friends have children now, and the skyline is a little bit fuller, a little different, every I see it.  My brother lives in another part of the country now; his Chicago bungalow traded for a stately old house in New Jersey. So the shape and rhythm of things are different. Everyone has lives without me as I have a life without them. 

Jerusalem is the same also when I return. The light is still bright. The road up from the airport is still familiar: I feel the twists in the road as I doze and I know where we are. My apartment is still my apartment. The cat still wheezes her way into my bed at night. My friends are still my friends. And yet, somehow in the two weeks I was away, there was a war, or a skirmish, or a something that was pretty horrible, but could have been worse. Something is born. I don't know what it is. A terrible beauty, perhaps, or just something terrible. It's too early to tell how these politics will play out. In the meantime, there is my Israeli self- the walk to the supermarket; the wet winter smell of rain; dinner with friends; sunlight in my kitchen; that job to apply to. Everything is the same here, but very different.

It's like this: My life is like a comic strip. There's the weekday strip, in black and white and the Sunday strip in full color. The characters are different, the storylines are different and they don't converge. One would think that with the years, this feeling of a double life would fade, but no, the weekday strip gets longer and more convoluted. The Sunday strip gets brighter and more complicated. They remain apart and divergent and real. The paradox remains.

There is here and there is there and I can't have them both.

Here is another thing I cannot have in Israel- brussels sprouts. They just don't grow here. So as much as I would like to make my Mom's brussels sprouts with chestnuts, I cannot. She made them for our (second) Thanksgiving dinner (our first proper one was held the home of old friends and was awesome. This second one was on Friday night at home. Why do one Thanksgiving dinner when you can do two?) I never really liked brussels sprouts when I was kid. I suspect most kids don't. Too often they are boiled into submission and emerge watery, squishy and pungently cloying. My mom goes a different route entirely. Instead of boiling the sprouts, she shaves them thin and browns them in a hot wok, where they become sweet and slick and caramelized. At the very end, she adds a handful of roasted chestnuts, which play off and highlight the nutty sweetness of the vegetables. I'd like to say that this dish is the adult version of boiled brussels sprouts, but really it is a different creature entirely. What I can say is that this dish makes my Israeli-self mourn her lack of brussels sprouts, which is something I have never thought I would find myself saying, ever.

But brussels sprouts are there and I am here and I can't have them both.

My Mother's Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Roasted Chestnuts

Adapted from Ricky Krakowski

As with most good home cooks, my mother doesn't really measure when she cooks. I've estimated her amounts and times.

 2 medium (or 1 large) onion, diced
1.5 pounds brussels sprouts (more-or-less), thinly shaved
one 3.5 oz bag of peeled, vacuum-packed chestnuts
a few good glugs of olive oil

1. Place a large, heavy wok over a med heat. When hot, pour in enough olive oil to coat. Add the onion. Saute, stirring often, until translucent. Turn the heat up to med-high. Add the brussels sprouts and salt and pepper to taste. Stir occasionally, but mostly let them sit and soften and caramelize. They are done when they are soft and a beautiful caramel brown. Turn off the heat. Crumble the chestnuts and toss them into the wok. Stir to incorporate. Serve.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The best laid plans

This was the plan: Tel-Aviv-Madrid, Madrid-London, London-New York. It wasn’t a great plan, as travel plans go, but when you buy a ticket on miles you gotta take what you’re given. There was general chaos at Ben Gurion when I arrived at 3 am. Well, Ben Gurion is generally chaotic. When I reached the Iberia counter to check in, I began to hear the word strike being thrown around by my fellow passengers. The lady at the counter, who managed to be both aggressive and apathetic all at the same time, vehemently insisted that I wouldn’t be affected. She also refused to give me any details. This was the first I’d heard of any strike, and I had no idea if it was upcoming, ongoing or past. The last thing I wanted to do was to get stuck in Spain. London, sure- I wouldn’t mind some time in London. I know people there. I speak the language. I could easily figure out where to procure Kosher food. Madrid, on the other hand, was not so enticing. My Spanish is pretty minimal- I learned it from Sesame Street after all.  I know nobody in Spain and the Spanish, having expelled the Jews and Muslims in 1492, have proceeded to make pig their national dish, which makes finding Kosher food in Spain phenomenally difficult. There at the check-in counter in Ben Gurion I was having nightmarish visions of days stuck in an airport with nothing to eat but the food I had packed, Snickers bars and Coke.
I made it to Madrid. My flight to London was indeed canceled, but the very sweet and competent woman at the counter found me a seat on the Madrid-New York flight later that afternoon, leaving me with five hours to wander around the airport. And this how I have come to be writing this blog post, sitting on the floor of the U terminal in the Madrid airport, slightly delirious (2 hours of sleep in the past 32 hours. Yeah, not so much with the functioning) and very, very glad for my 3 sandwiches, 2 chocolate bars, 1 apple, 1 clementine, bag of granola, and bag of homemade trail-mix. Because while the very nice lady told me that she would try to get me Kosher food, I have high doubts about that actually happening (she also told me that my luggage would get on to the flight. I can count on my hand the number of times I have arrived at my destination at the same time as my luggage. The luggage gods hate me. Not holding my breath for that one either.) And while that amount of food is not enough to last me days of being stranded, it is quite enough to last me a 5 hour stopover + an 8 hour flight. My aunt will feed me when I arrive in New York, of that I am sure. (And then I am going straight to bed.)
Edit: I had Kosher food! And my luggage arrived! It's a Thanksgiving miracle. I am now in NY, doing New Yorky things. Soon I will be in Chicago.
I travel internationally quite a bit because I like seeing my parents, and my brother and sister-in-law and my five neicettes and my grandmother and my aunts and my cousins and my friends and because I like to see the world. Travel, when you keep Kosher, is not always straight forward. I have learned to carry a lot of food with me. I have also discovered that it’s best to pretend you are going on a hike. International travel is a long, bleary disgusting marathon of canned air and uncomfortable seats. It requires energy and non-perishable foods. And that’s why homemade trail-mix is a god send. For my trail-mix I use, raisins, Cheerios, dark chocolate and the clincher, David Lebovitz’s candied nuts. In his recipe, David uses peanuts, but because I am terrified of accidentally killing someone and because I like them, I use almonds. Almonds are cool.
So if you're traveling for Thanksgiving, I hope your travels go smoothly and safely. Happy trails. 


Adapted from David Lebovitz

2 cups raw almonds
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
a sprinkle of salt
dark chocolate, chopped

1. In  a wide, heavy skillet, mix together the nuts, sugar and water. Cook on medium, stirring frequently, until the liquid begins to seize up. It will take a bit of time. The nuts will start to become dry and sandy. Don't worry. Turn the heat to low and keep stirring. The "sand" will slowly begin to melt into a syrup. Keep turning and stirring the nuts until they are coated in the syrup. Be patient. When the nuts are fully coated and deeply roasted, remove from heat. Pour out onto a cookie to cool. Once cool break into small pieces.

2. Combine the almonds, Cheerios, raisins and chocolate. Travel.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

And a Bottle of Rum

In general, I am not a very spontaneous person. Occasionally I will go and do something entirely on a whim (like for instance,  join NaNoWriMo, which I instantly regretted, because 50,000 words. I have work, and deadlines and travel and 50,000 is a hella lota words). But for the most part, I am the type of person who needs to sit with an idea, to let it settle and incubate until I am saturated with it. I like letting things sort of luxuriate in my head. I like letting them evolve and become themselves before they take their final form- which is fine. I'm thinky thoughts sort of person.

All of this, was a very long (and slightly lyrical) way of saying that I have been thinking about this recipe for a while. And when I say recipe- what I mean is a conglomeration of two recipes. The first recipe, Coconut Panna Cotta with Lime Curd, has been a dessert staple for over a year. Except sometimes, I don't use lime curd. Sometime I use lemon curd, or rhubarb curd. Whatever I use it's a good dessert. The type of dessert that makes me wonder why this sort of thing doesn't happen in restaurants more often. And by this sort of thing, I mean panna cotta made of coconut milk. It seems obvious and yet it is so rare.

The second recipe, Rum-Spiked Roasted Caramelized Mango, is new to my repertoire. I came across it this summer, also on Food52, and was instantly smitten. Mango, caramel, cardamom, vanilla and rum? How could I not be smitten? How could anyone not be smitten?  The first time I made it, I was taken aback. I had expected, given the ingredients, for it to be the intense sort of dish that just sort of wallops you with flavor. But when I tasted it, I was surprised to find that somehow the combination of rum, vanilla, cardamom and caramel turned the mango into something delicate and floral, like turning a piece of velvet into lace. I loved it. And though the comments on the original recipe called for vanilla ice cream as an accompaniment, all I could think of was coconut panna cotta.

And so a dessert was born.

And yes, it took a while. I spent a long time with it sitting in my head, playing around, but when I did finally make it, it was wonderful. It was flavorful and light and one last sunny day before the rain begins.

Coconut Panna Cotta with Rum-Spike Roasted Caramelized Mango
 Adapted from Couldn't Be Parve and EmilyC

For the Panna Cotta:
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1/2 cup of water, divided

1. Combine the gelatin with 1/4 cup of the water. Set aside and let sit for 5 minutes.

2. In a small saucepan, mix together the coconut milk, sugar and the remaining water. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Add a quarter cup of the coconut mixture to the gelatin to temper it, then pour the gelatin mixture into the rest of the coconut milk.

3. Divide evenly between 6 individual serving dishes (I uses glasses). Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours until set.

For the Rum-Spiked Roasted Caramelized Mango:
2 ripe mangoes
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
8-10 green cardamom pods
1/3 cup rum
sea salt, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Peel the mangoes and chop into 1/2 inch chunks or slices.

2.  In an oven proof skillet, or a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water, vanilla and cardamom pods. Place over a high heat. Be patient. Stir often. The water will begin to boil away and leave you with a golden, syrupy substance that we like to call caramel. This can take up to 10 minutes.

3. Remove from heat. Add the rum. Lower the heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until the rum and caramel are smoothly combined, about 5 minutes. You want the caramel to thin and light. Add the mango. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Give the pan a shake to evenly coat the mango with the rum-caramel sauce.

4. Transfer the pan to the oven. Roast for 5-7 minutes. Remove pan from oven. Add salt and remove cardamom pods. Let cool.

Spoon the mango over the panna cotta. Serve.