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.