Thursday, December 27, 2012

Old friends

Last month, when I was in Chicago, my oldest friend gave birth to her third child.  It was nice to be able to be around for such a joyous occasion and to be able to meet the little munchkin (see below) who I'm fairly certain will grow up to be just as fat-cheeked, precocious and funny as her two older siblings. It was nice to feel, if only for a few days, like I could contribute to this community of old friends in a real, tangible way (as opposed to my usual virtual contributions).

Nick is literally my oldest friend. We've known each other since infanthood and from the time we entered pre-nursery to the time we graduated high school, we were pretty much inseparable. We did everything together. We were in the same class in elementary school, we went to summer camp and summer school together. Our parents attend the same synagogue, and on Saturday afternoons, either she was at my house, or I was at hers. She has an older brother my brother's age and a younger brother my sister's age. Our families just sort of fit together. We just sort of fit together. We read the same books. We played vividly imaginative games in the stands of trees in the park we called "the woods". We did strange art projects. At summer camp we protected each other- from the mean girls, from the burden of having to fit in. We both grew into smart, bookish, slightly introverted teen-agers with a core group of friends in high-school- women we still count as friends. It was good for both of us, I think, to find that we had a group; that there were like-minded people in the world. And it was good, certainly for me, that even in our group there was one person who knew me forever and ever. And while after high-school our paths diverged some, they never diverged totally. Because even though I live in Israel and she lives in Chicago, and even though I am a single woman, a refugee from academia, doing my words and food thing, with nothing to tie me down but my cat and my own unwillingness to move, and she is a mother of three, with a husband and house and a dog and degree in special education, she's still one of my best friends.

So maybe it was more than nice to have been there when her baby was born, maybe it was moving. And maybe it was moving to walk through her very adult house, with her adult kitchen and her adult furniture and her kids running under-foot and find little remnants of my childhood scattered about. A painting I painted for her hangs in her children's room. The mantel in the stairway is home to a little, odd misshapen candle- a souvenir from summer camp. And it's odd sort of thing to see your own history displayed like that in a house that isn't yours. It's an ache and a joy all and rush of care and love all at once. It's old, old friends. The oldest. And there I am, holding her baby, who's only a few days old and warm and light against my shoulder and her son and her daughter are running through the house, saying, Mommy, Mommy. Who would have thought we'd be here, in this moment? Really, who would've thought it could happen?

I made Nick and her family fried fish, glazed carrots, green beans, and scones. I make scones often-  usually Alice Water's recipe- because they're easy and they're good and they make me feel British. But a few weeks prior to my trip to Chicago I saw Deb's recipe for roasted pear and chocolate chunk scones over on Smitten Kitchen, and I couldn't not make them. Feeding Nick's family seemed like all the excuse I needed. Afterwards, Nick asked for the recipe. I told her I'd blog it. So here I am blogging it. Nick, give those kiddos kisses from me and then go make some scones. xo.

Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones
From Smitten Kitchen

3 medium pears, peeled and cut into a 1-inch dice
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar + 1 tablespoon for the topping
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
2 eggs
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate (I used 65%), cut into chunks

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Arrange the pears on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Roast until they are browning a bit and have lost a bit of moisture- about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together, the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add in the butter, cream, pear chunks and 1 egg. Mix on low using the paddle attachment, until a wet dough forms. This will only take about a minute- maybe less. Add the chocolate. Mix for 5 more seconds until just encorperated.

3. Pour the dough out on to a well-floured surface and pat into a 6-inch round. It will be sticky. Fear not. Cut into 6 even wedges. Place the wedges, well spaced on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

4. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining egg, a drop of water and a good pinch of salt. Brush the wedges with the egg wash and then sprinkle them with remaining the tablespoon of sugar. Bake until golden, 25-30 minutes.

Monday, December 10, 2012

When I think about

I first encountered churros on a trip to Spain. So when I think about churros, I think about Spain.  And when I think Spain I think about wandering in a foreign country, not speaking the language, not being able to eat the food and getting lost in the dark somewhere in the maze of the old city of Cordoba. But I also think about Granada and the magnificence of the Alhambra and sticking my bare feet into a public fountain to cool off- because evidently that's the way they roll in Seville- and that time my sister got stuck in the doors of a train in Madrid. So I liked Spain and I didn't like Spain and I kept on thinking that ironically enough, if I maybe knew a little less about the history of the country I would like Spain more.

Here is another association I have with churros: It is New Year's Eve, 2008 (maybe). My friend Chana and I, have just finished studying. Neither of us have plans. Neither of us have significant others. So we wander into one of the only Latin American restaurant in the city. We order churros and champagne and sit and talk and laugh that is how we ring in the new year. It was a good year, and it's a good memory to have. And so now I associate churros with friends and private little celebrations and the marking of time (and Spain). 

The obvious thing to fry on Chanukah is latkes, and fry potato pancakes I will. But this year I wanted to try something different as well- something that wasn't made of potatoes. I went for churros. I decided on churros (as opposed to say, sufganiyot) because I wanted to mark time and to think about friendship and wanderings and history. Chanukah does that to me, gets me thinking thinky thoughts. It's the end of the year. It's almost my birthday. The nights are long. It's time to light a few candles. Face them outwards, towards a window. I wanted to start a tradition with a food that had meaning to me. So I invited a friend over (Hi Naoms!) and together we tested the recipe. It wasn't perfect- the recipe, that is- but it felt like a start; like something I could build on for years to come.

Happy Chanukah to all those who celebrate.

Spiced Churros with Mexican Hot Chocolate
So here's the thing: as I mentioned above, the recipe wasn't perfect. For spiced churros, they were just a little bland. So the next time I make them, I'm thinking to up the sugar and the spices and maybe add some chilli powder

Adapted from Poiresauchocolat on Food52 and SavvyJuly, also on Food52

1/2 cup flour
a pinch cloves
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 ounces butter
1/2 cup water
a pinch of salt
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
canola (or any other neutral frying) oil
sugar, (for tossing)

1.  Combine the flour, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl.

2. Cube the butter and put in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the water, salt and sugar. Bring to a simmer.

3. Add the flour mixture all at once, and beat with wooden spoon until the batter comes together in a smooth shiny ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan.

4. Remove from heat. Let cool a minute or so. Add the egg and beat to incorporate. This may take a bit of elbow grease. Add the vanilla and beat in.

5. Fill a pastry bag with a medium star-tip with the batter.

6. Pour about 2-3 inches of oil into a large saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and wait until it is hot, but not smoking (alternatively, stick a candy thermometer in there and wait till it stabilizes at 375. This is the best way to do it). Have handy- a wad a paper towels and a plate of sugar.

7. When the oil is hot, pipe in 4-5 inch lengths of dough, using a knife to cut. Fry for 2-2 1/2 minutes, turning with a slotted spoon half way through. Remove from oil and let cool for a minute on the paper towels. Toss in the sugar to coat. Repeat with the remaining batter. Eat while warm.

Mexican Hot Chocolate For Two

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
a pinch chilli powder (or to taste)

1. In a small saucepan, over low heat, stir together the chocolate, cocoa, spices and half the milk. Mix until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk, sugar and salt. Stir. Heat until steaming. Drink.