Sunday, May 26, 2013

An impossible year

This has been an impossible year. This is a year that should not have happened- this period of mourning and memories that slip into mind, inexplicable and without warning.

It's odd and disconcerting, this- that someone who hadn't been part of my everyday life for so very many years, in her absolute absence, should take up so much space in my mind. I think of Bayla once a week, at least. I'll be walking down the street and she'll pop into my head- something she said, something I would like to tell her. And it's odd, because when she was alive, I didn't think of her that often. After all, I knew I could call her; even see her occasionally. Our lives would still intersect. We were still both evolving and changing and meeting at points. If there were things to be told, they would be told. They could be stored up for that time when we sat face to face and recognized each other again in the people we were becoming. So she didn't take up so much space.

Now, she takes up so much space. Her laugh, that short bark of it, I miss it.

This is a mourning of her, but of also all the potential of her. If there is one moment I would rewrite, it would be today, a year ago. I would have just like to have the chance to say: Bay, Bay, look. We'll change, we'll be something else and we'll be the same and what I'd very much like is to know who you are for all these years to come. To sit down once a year, once every other year, and say, how are you? How is your family? Who are you today?

Any maybe there would be rifts. And maybe there would be disagreements. And maybe there would be pain. There already was and there would be again. But there would be other things as well- points of meeting, even if they would only be to reminisce about that time we made a fool of ourselves white-water rafting. But I believe we would have more, that even if the circumstances of our lives changed so much that we would be unrecognizable to our former selves, we would be recognizable to each other. People don't really change. We would always remain those rafting fools somewhere and isn't that a gift?

Bay, I would have like to have had the chance to say that, just once, before you left.

So I guess I miss you and I miss all the meetings we won't have and I miss the person you were and I miss the person you would become. 

It has been an impossible year. This was not within the possibilities of our lives. We should be meeting again. I have a lot to tell you.

There's no recipe today,just this. Just this.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Back to family

This post was supposed to be written days ago, weeks ago, even. That, obviously, did not happen. The days leading up to a holiday are always a bit hectic-frantic- so I should have known better. Well, I should often know better. And then there was a family emergency-ish thing that required worry and time and mostly worry, because if there anything we do in my family it is worry and then talk about our worry. And then there were births and upcoming weddings and a sundry good things that come with celebrations and rituals and baby-snuggles. So it's been a busy time.
Here is the short of it: I have given up on cheesecake.  If I cannot make proper cheesecake without taking out a loan, then there will be no cheesecake. Forever and ever, Amen. So, for lack of cheesecake on Shavuot, I went back to family: I made delkalach. Delkalach (or, turoush tash, as they are called in Hungarian)  are like cheese danishes except maybe not so sweet and  with the cheese filling all wrapped up in this beautiful little square envelope of yeast dough instead of all open-like. They have been a dessert staple of my Shavuot holidays for as long as I can remember. Sometimes my mom would make them, but more often my grandmother would send some, neatly wrapped in silver-foil, all the way from New York with my great-aunt Roizy, who would come to visit her own children (conveniently, our neighbors.  *Hi, Kutner family!*) for the holiday.
In any case, surprisingly enough, this is not a post about delkalach. I mean, my delkalach, were fine- no where near my grandmother's, but good enough. And honestly, most of them got given away to various friends so I didn't even end up eating so many of them. This post is about cocosh. Now, most Hungarians, or people of Hungarian descent, or maybe even just New Yorkers, know cocosh and dream of cocosh and consider cocosh to be part of their cultural heritage. In my mind, my grandmother is synonymous with cocosh. You walk into her house, and there's a plate of cocosh, neatly sliced, on the table. She's comes for a visit, and there's a roll of cocosh, neatly wrapped, emerging from her bag. She even travels with the recipe, so she'll have it with her, just in case. (You never know when you might need an emergency roll of cocosh. Truth.) Cocosh, for those of you who don't have grandmother like mine, is a rolled yeast cake with a cocoa filling. It is the most perfect thing- a childhood memory of warmth and yeast and oozing chocolate, that actually lives up to itself. And here's the thing about cocosh, the yeast dough, that rich buttery base, is the very same yeast dough used to make delkalach.
My grandmother's (all purpose) yeast dough recipe is huge. I mean, literally huge. It calls for three! pounds of flour, for goodness sakes. So, if I was going to make delkalach, I figured I might as well also make cocosh. I was a bit nervous, serving it to my many guests, because when it comes down to it, cocosh isn't bright and shiny. It's not a gorgeous looking cheesecake, or chocolate tart. It's that funny looking, spindely legged horse that ends up winning the Triple-Crown, and sometimes people overlook that horse. But no, everyone loved it.I needn't have worried. It was hit. It was awesome. Going back to family makes sense that way.

My Grandmother's Cocosh

Adapted from Mindie Mermelstein

Notes: As mentioned above, this recipe is huge. You will get three very large rolls of cocosh from it. Feel free to cut it by half, or thirds, if you'd like. On the other hand, cocosh freezes quite well, so you can always just stick the extra loaves in the freezer and save em for another time.
Another note: My grandmother gives a ratio for the filling, but no amounts. True to her recipe, I also didn't really measure the filling and really just used the ratio as a general guideline. This isn't hard science, it's cocosh..


3 lbs flour

3 eggs, at room temperature
1.5 cups butter
1 heaping tablespoon sour cream
1 1/3 cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon of yeast 
 ½ cup warm water + pinch sugar
1 cup of milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Vegetable oil for brushing
3 parts sugar: 1 part cocoa

1 egg yolk mixed with a bit of water

1. In a small bowl, mix together the warm water, yeast and pinch of sugar. Set aside while it proofs. 

2. Whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Cut the butter into the flour. Add the milk, then the sour cream, and then finally the yeast mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl. Knead in the oil. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out your mixing bowl, and lightly grease it. Return the dough to the bowl, turning it to coat it in oil. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

3. When the dough has risen, remove from bowl and divide into three equal parts. Place one piece of dough on a lightly floured surface. Keep the other pieces of dough covered while you work. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about the size of say, a 9x13 sheet pan. You want the dough to be thin, but not so much so that it is transparent. Brush it with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Sprinkle on some of the sugar-cocoa mixture brushing it so that it spreads and becomes paste-like. Add more filling until it no longer forms a paste and you have a layer of sandy looking sugar-cocoa mixture. Starting from the edge of the width closest to you, tightly roll the dough. Once the dough is rolled, tuck the edges in on the themselves so that the filling doesn't spill out, and lay the roll, seam side down, on a baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Cover and let rise until doubled. This will take anywhere from 30-45 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 350 f. When the loaves have finished rising. Brush with egg yolk. Bake for 30 minutes until browned on top. Cool on rack. If serving immediately, slice and serve. If not, loaves are cool, wrap the loaves well and store them in the fridge. Cocosh has the tendency to go stale very, very quickly if not properly stored. The loaves can also be frozen, whole. They'll stay a good while in your freezer-about 2-3 months.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Jerusalem in Jerusalem: Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

Why yes, those are my skeleton hands.

And, why yes, this is a two-in-a-rower.

This week, my friends, this week has been a week. It was a week full of frustration and stress and annoyance and we went straight from freaky cold to oh my God, hot and dry and disgusting, and generally this week is not even worthy of discussion. Thank God for friends and wine and tv shows where impossibly beautiful people do impossible things and this salad- cause honestly, this salad was one of the bright spots in this otherwise shitty week.

This is another Ottolenghi masterpiece. He somehow has this way of taking elements that seem to go together, adding a seemingly disparate twist and making it all work. No, scratch that, he takes disparate elements adds them to something seemingly pedestrian makes the entire dish sing. In this case, it's the pitas. Spinach, dates and almonds, I get. But then there are pitas- fried and tossed with sumac and chili and you think, what? Really? And yet, once it gets all tossed together and plated and you take a bite, you think, yeah. Really.

Deep breath.

Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

From Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and  Yotam Ottolenghi

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
100 grams (3.5 oz) pitted dates, quartered
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pitas, torn into pieces
1/2 almonds, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
150 grams (5 oz) baby spinach
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1.  In a small bowl, toss the onions and dates with the vinegar. Set aside and let marinate for 20 minutes.

2. In the meantime, heat the butter and half of the olive oil in a frying pan over moderate heat. Add the bread and the almonds and fry for around 6 minutes until the pita is crispy. Remove from heat and add the sumac, chile and a good pinch of salt. Let cool.

3. In a large salad bowl, toss the spinach with the pita. Strain the dates and onions and add them along with the remaining olive oil, lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve.