Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Week Away

How easily I've slipped back into my life. Less than a week ago I was traversing the narrow alleys and crowded squares of the Old City of Jerusalem. Dodging tourists and pilgrims, rabbi's and priests, merchants and yeshiva students. Time was all my own, there was nowhere I needed to be and nothing I needed to do, I was released into my own custody. I was free. I'm not going to lie and say that this freedom was anything other than fantasic. But this real life is good too, because contained within it's folds are these moments of freedom, joy and discovery.
The night I arrived Debo's family held a Henna. A Henna is a pre-wedding event that is a custom among Moroccans. It is a celebration that features all the best life has to offer: Food, music, dancing, family and friends and a bit of ritual in the form of a dab of henna on the palm for luck and good fortune. I had seconds and thirds of the couscous (however I couldn't go all the way with the lambs brains). I busted out some of my belly dancing moves, and gratefully offered my palm for a nice shmear. I got to meet many of Debo's French and Moroccan relatives, they were demure and lovely, and if they thought I was a loud and gauche American with my vocal praise and even adoration, of French culture they did not let on.
The next morning I enjoyed one of those tasty Israeli breakfasts that are an essential part of Israel for me. Hub's brother and sister and sis-in-law are really like blood family to me, and the deliciousness of this breakfast definitely was due in large part to their easy and warm company. I feel loved and appreciated by them in a way that can only come with a deep connection. And I felt satisfied and well cared for after my skillet of shakshuka (which included roasted eggplant and feta crumbles) in a way that only comfort food can. The pita served alongside was soft, fluffy and warm, the tea was strong, sweet and minty. For me, these are the flavors of Israel: warm, aromatic, and decisive.
After breakfast it was on to Jerusalem. My uncle has a house in an old neighborhood called Yemin Moshe. It is right outside the walls of the Old City, and if you go out onto the balcony you can see the walls, and the church, mosque and other ancient structures contained within. At night this sight is breathtaking! The lights reflect off the famous Jerusalem stone and it appears mythical and magical like some medieval fantasy. And the sounds.... I fell asleep on friday night, which happened to be Christmas Eve, to the steady ringing of heavy ancient bells coming from somewhere behind those walls. I woke up on shabbat to the faint sound of a twisting and winding muezzin. I visited the Kotel, the Wailing Wall, and really understood the meaning of Shabbat Shalom, it's a peacefulness and tranquility that the sabbath brings that separates it from the rest of the week. Nowhere is this more evident than in Jerusalem.
Sunday brought us to Safed, a mystical arts colony up North. We toured the cobblestone arcade which is the main drag of the arts district. Every doorway was an opening to another mini-gallery/art studio. A lot of the subject matter in Safed is biblical and kabbalistic, probably because it is an ancient center for Kabbalistic and mystical study. I was so excited by seeing local art that I bought a couple of lithographs from the first gallery I visited. I probably should have been a little more restrained. The bright colors and organic shapes in the folksy lithographs that I purchased are attractive and engaging, but I probably would have been happier with the oil painting of a pomegranate a few doors down.
While in Safed, I had one of those "Sliding Doors" moments. I stopped in one of the studios, to get a closer look at a painting. I started talking to the Gallerist/Artist, and I felt an instant connection, a sort of magnetic tug, the attraction of chemicals and ions an neutrons and all of those wordless things. It surprised me, because things like that don't usually happen to me. I rarely feel instant connections, and almost never with strange men. It had me thinking on the two hour drive to Tel Aviv about how in life you can go in a multitude of directions. I met Hub, was instantly attracted, and ten years later we got married. We lead our life together with our kids in our home and our friends. But what if I did something else? What if when I went to Israel on one of my trips I met Safed guy and we got together, had kids, lived in a little boho domecile in the hills near Safed, scraped together a living and I was never the wiser about Hub and the kiddles? Until one day while visiting New York, I stopped to get a coffee and positioned near the natural sugar was Hub, and the shape of his glasses and the way his hair flopped over his forehead ignited a chemical reaction.
On the day of my brother's wedding, I had my second skillet of great shakshuka at a cafe in Jerusalem. This version was spicy and wonderfully savory. I covered squares of onion focaccia with the Israeli equivalent of cream cheese, really a cross between sour cream and cream cheese, and piled the shakshuka on top. I was licking my fingers and scraping the skillet it was thatm good.

Scene: The reason for my trip to Israel- my brother Leo's wedding. Since my arrival the weather had been great- shortsleeves kind of weather. An outdoor wedding in December seemed obvious, and the setting could not be more gorgeous. Hors d'oeuvres were called for 7, guests arrived through a gate and all along the wooden walkway were lit torches guiding the way to the smorgasbord stations. On the grass behind the stations glowing chinese paper lanterns the size of beach balls were strewn hither and thither. As guests arrived every one marvelled at the sparkling glamor of the location. The appetizer selection was impressive, they had sushi, chinese noodles, merguez sausages, salads, carving station, and a well-stocked bar. After an hour or so of small bites and chitchat it was chuppah time. The chuppah faced rows of wooden benches, and was covered in beautiful fresh flowers. I told myself I wouldn't cry, but the minute I caught sight of Debo coming down the aisle flanked by her parents and twin brother the tears broke through my resolve. Weddings always make me cry, I feel like they are where hope, and expectations, uncertainty, and romantic celebration converge. After the ceremony we all went into the hall, which was large and open and airy due to the wall of windows. And we danced- all night long. It was fun.
The next morning got off to a late start, and the third shakshuka of my trip was not so good, it was bland and overboiled. After brunch, my Mother and I went to Mahane Yehudah; a very large and old marketplace in Jerusalem. Mom and I decided we would host a post wedding dinner for the new couple and assorted family and friends. We had most of it catered with the usual Israeli standards. Despite my adamant declaration that I would not cook for the entire week, I knew that a few homemade dishes would be just what the dinner menu needed. I decided on a big bowl of Pasta Aglio Olio, a chinese cole slaw, and a french potato salad made with dijon moutarde and tarragon.
If I was a movie locations scout and needed a spot for a middle eastern bazaar scene, Mahane Yehudah would fit perfectly. In Hebrew it is called the Shuk, and it is crammed. Crammed with people- merchants hawking their wares, and customers trying to get the best deal. Crammed with products laid out on the tables and stands of each stall; fruits, veggies, spice mixes, pita, baked goods, fish, candy, chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, prayer books.... And it also contains, in my opinion, the best and worst of Israeli types. At one stall I wanted to purchase a lemon- the merchant was a mean unsmiling type who stared me down and scoffed at my accented Hebrew. I was so infuriated I threw down the lemon and stormed off. Remembering that I needed shallots I stopped at a stall a few feet away. The vendor smiled at me and brushed away the money I offered him "I like you" he said, and gifted me with the shallots.
That's the thing about Israel, there'll always be some jerk who will trip you, but then there'll be someone to help you up to your feet, and then of course a chorus of bystanders to yell at the jerk for tripping you.
The dinner party was convivial. I chatted with my extended family and Leo's new family and we recalled highlights from the wedding the night before. My Aglio Olio was well received, the cole slaw as well, the French potato salad had good flavor but the potatoes were a bit too al dente. My dishes confirmed what I already know; homemade food conveys a message that goes beyond flavor and nutrition, it's effects can almost be magical.
And then, even before I had time to be tired or jet lagged I was back in the airport going through the seven rings of security on the way back to New York. It'd be overstatement to say I came back a different person, but it would be accurate to say I came back lighter, more balanced. It's almost as if my week in Israel took away some of the junk and clutter that was weighing me down. I got a little perspective when I sat up on my uncle's balcony and faced those ancient and durable walls. People are always going through stuff, their own disappointments and setbacks, minor betrayals and petty dramas- but if you can remove yourself every so often and realize there is a whole world out there to discover, a zillion personal stories that spread throughout time, there is something quite liberating about that.
I missed the kids and Hub and I enjoyed feeling that kind of longing. Searching for the perfect gift for each of them was a pleasurable experience. Thinking about them and deciding what object would please them the best made me feel close to them. I looked forward to calling them whenever time permitted, and delighted in hearing their voices. I felt loved and appreciated by Hub when he urged me to enjoy myself and my free time. And I now know that I love cooking for people. I get a thrill from conjuring the right dish and choosing the best ingredients and then preparing it.
Bolstered by these impressions I've slipped back into my life. I went to the supermarket to restock bare cupboards and an empty fridge. I made a big pot of spaghetti bolognese. I was getting stymied by the foot notes, I needed to stand back to get the big story.

French Potato Salad

3-4 lbs. new potatoes
3 tbsp. grainy dijon mustard
1 tbsp. honey
juice of half a lemon
2 diced shallots
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. finely chopped tarragon or parsley

Cover potatoes with water and boil until they yield smoothly to a knife. While potatoes are boiling, prepare dressing in a small bowl: mix together mustard, honey, lemon juice, and diced shallots- slowly and in a steady stream whisk in olive oil.
Once potatoes are ready, drain, and cut into quarters. Pour half of the dressing over steaming potatoes so that the potatoes absorb the flavor. Sprinkle with chopped tarragon or parsley and the remaining dressing just before serving.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Going Solo

I leave for Israel the day after tomorrow and the timing could not be more ideal. I am going to my brother's wedding, sans les enfants et sans le Hub! I don't have the imagination to even wonder what this will be like, the longest I've been away from them was for 2 nights. I've arranged for my FIL and their babysitter to help out when Hub is at work. I've stashed a few homecooked meals in the freezer. I've stocked up on snacks and baked a jar full of oatmeal cookies. I'll make lists and schedules and a copy of my key. I'll leave them each a note and small gifts on their beds. I think I'll miss them, but I'm not sure. It's been a tenuous few weeks, their mouths are overused and their attitudes are overdeveloped. Their bickering and the surly undercurrent that swirls through the house is tough to take. Sometimes I feel like all they want is a Rent-a-Mom: someone to cook for them, ferry them around, help them with their homework. Anyone will do as long as their only reason for existing is to take care of them and their many needs. Lately Hub has me feeling like a 1950's housewife. It's true I've recently gotten into "Mad Men", and even though Don Draper is a steaming hot dish of a man, I think I'd poison the guy after a while. So, in short, I'm about ready to sprint to the airport without even a backwards glance.
But on the other hand, a week without them seems like a very long time. A week of being ten thousand miles away feels almost impossible. A week devoid of planning meals, food shopping, cooking, and then cleaning up the mess....well, that just seems like a nice slice of chilled time.
It has been a bit of a drag lately, but maybe it's not all their fault. OK, so I have a case of the blues, there's no getting around it. I've been a little low for a few weeks now, but it's nothing that a little sun and a little sleep can't redress. This trip will be like hitting the reset button on the treadmill that I feel like I've been dragging myself on. It will be good to spend some time with my Mom and Dad and three brothers. It will be good to flee the kitchen for a few days. It will be good to miss Hub and the kids. I think that after a few days away I will begin to crave them- like someone on a diet who misses her favorite sweets.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Light and Dark Of Hanukkah

I'm far too compulsively Jewish to let Hanukkah end without some sort of commentary. For me, Hanukkah is the perfect holiday. It doesn't require religious observance any more rigorous than lighting the candles. And the glow that a lit menorah emits amidst the wintry darkness is spectacular. Bringing light to dimness and bleakness, is what the greater message of Hanukkah is about, and one that I think of during this holiday season. Sometimes it all feels so dark and murky, it's as if the world is passing through a period of shadows and obscurity. The news is never good, people are really suffering, and good manners and thoughtful behavior seem to be an outmoded way of being. It is depressing to think too much about it. All there is left to do is to provide sparks of light in the form of positivity and kind acts.
So from dark chocolate I made light joy and easy bliss in the form a nice-sized Hanukkah order. There are a few things that are as irrefutable as: " Everyone's favorite thing is free chocolate". As hokey and corn-fed as it sounds, I get a real thrill from making something that gives people such enjoyment and happiness. Nice work if you can get it.... and I get it sometimes.
Another brilliant thing about Hanukkah is the food. Most Jewish holidays and festivals have some sort of food association, but Hanukkah fare outshines all the rest in that fried food is encouraged and celebrated, and surely those calories do not count if it's practically a mitzvah (good deed) to eat all that good stuff. Hanukkah eating traditions include potato latkes and jelly donuts, but as I wrote in my December article the main point of Hanukkah cuisine is using oil which commemorates the miracle of the small vial of olive oil found in the desecrated temple that burned for 8 days. In light of this, I decided that my Hanukkah article would be a break from my usual health-conscious and balanced eating recipes and I let loose with some truly decadent fried treats. The piece featured recipes for crispy mac 'n cheese squares and crunchy fried ice cream scoops.
At home, for the family, I made potato latkes, and also Indian onion bhajees. Onion bhajees are thin sliced onions coated in batter and fried up until they're crispy and delicious- with a sweet chili sauce to dip them in, they definitely give the humble latke some serious competition. Tonight is the last night and I tried to make some Thai corn fritters, which really weren't as successful as the bhajees. On Sunday I made an Olive Oil Cake that considering the amount of olive oil I used was surprisingly dry.
This year the light/dark motif of Hanukkah took on a personal aspect. Due to the solitary nature of what I do; writing and cooking, I have been struggling with what I call a winter-state-of-mind which is internal, secluded, and at times cold and lonely. I both guard and value my personal space but also need external stimulation on a regular basis, for whatever reason, a couple of the friends I turn to when coming up for air and out for light, weren't there. Relationships are like years, both are subject to cycles. Right now I am deep into winter. Winter is bare but can also be pure. Winter is cold darkness, it is austere and difficult, but if you are lucky, it is also a warm glowing fireplace, hot chocolate, and soul-saving cuddles. Challenging the dark with the light, I need to get into a Hanukkah-state-of -mind.

Onion Bhajees
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
4 onions, thinly sliced
1/2 c. parsley, finely chopped
oil for frying

Combine well first five ingredients in a large bowl, until a batter forms. Mix onion slices in and then parsley until onion is coated in batter. Heat oil in frying pan over medium high heat. Drop large spoonfuls of onion batter in pan and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side- until golden brown and crispy. Let drain on paper towels, serve while still hot.

Crispy Mac 'n Cheese Squares
1 casserole pan of prepared macaroni and cheese, chilled overnight and cut into 12-15 squares
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 egg beaten + 1 tbsp. water
1 1/2 c. crushed cornflakes
Oil for frying

In a heavy frying pan, heat up about 2 " of oil (approx 2 cups) until it reaches 350F. Lightly coat the mac 'n cheese squares with flour, dip in egg mixture and then coat in cornflake crumbs. Carefully slip into hot oil and fry for about a minute on each side. Remove and let drain on paper towels. Enjoy immediately.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

I am thankful for my family, good food, good people, good music, and of course, a good cocktail now and then. I embarked on Thanksgiving 2010 using all that good stuff as my guide. The menu was a few weeks in the making, flipping through my trustee yellow steno pad "documents" the evolution of the meal. I was set on a modern version of the traditional American fare, until I came across the December issue of "Saveur" magazine, in it was a feature called the "Roots of the Deli" by David Sax. In the piece the writer traces the origins of Jewish deli food, of course, back to Eastern Europe. He writes about how the original pastrami's were made from smoked and cured duck and goose. He included recipes in the piece as a way of preserving this old style of cooking that in the article he laments is disappearing. "It hits me that it's nothing short of a miracle that these foods, these traditions, have survived".
Me being me, I was really taken by this article (as was Hub). It had me thinking about culture and tradition and then trying to figure out how to meld a really historied culture, heavy with tradition and customs with a culture that is all about new and fresh and forward moving energy. It had Hub hankering for goose and duck. Using a recipe for potato knishes that Sax included in his piece, I seasonized it by making a sweet potato filling whipped up with fried onions it was a savory version of the Thanksgiving Sweet Potato. Served as a Hors d'oeuvre with horseradish sauce, it was fairly recieved. The dough was a problem for me, I think in the next version I'll roll the dough out much thinner, and bake them longer and in a less crowded oven.
Continuing with the Sweet Potato Thanksgiving standard I made a sweet potato kugel with a pecan streusel topping. Well recieved, although maybe a bit too ginger-y for the blander palates in the dining room. At Hub's urging I made a couple of ducks, and I am still trying to process the experience. Next time I make duck, I need to concentrate on just those duckies, they deserve undivided attention. They were competing with the stuff-a-palooza that was going on at the same time. I made a sausage cornbread stuffing with homemade dairy-free corn bread, I found a great recipe that does not include dairy in the ingredients- but still yields a nice, moist crumb. I also made a classic type herb stuffing, with sourdough bread- without a doubt my favorite Thanksgiving dish. For the helluva it I made an aloo gobi style stuffing with cauliflower, carrots, celery, onions and a little garam masala. Next time I'll use na'an instead of the baguette the recipe called for, or maybe a dense nut bread cut into small croutons?
I have an article on slow cooker dishes due on Friday so I made a pot full of meatballs in cranberry barbecue sauce, very popular with the kids and the men. While still on the slow cooker bend I made spareribs (on special) in a plum hoisin sauce, and then for dessert a mocha pudding cake that was so simple for such fantastic results. I dumped all the ingredients in the pot, mixed, covered, set on low and then 3 hours- Voila! Something wonderfully similar to a warm fallen chocolate souffle. I of course had to give the Thanksgiving desserts a night of prep all their own (Tuesday). I made an apple tart with a homemade crust that needs work, but the apple layer was great. I cut the apples thin and arranged them in concentric circles, made a cider-bourbon sauce that I poured over the slices and baked to a beautiful glossy caramelized appearance and taste. I made a tray of cranberry layer bars that were the surprise of the night for me. I think that the bars are the favorite new recipe from Thanksgiving 2010- sweet and tart, with a homemade cranberry filling.
I really enjoyed working with cranberries (I also made a cranberry relish and a cran-apple chutney). They're tart and they're bright and hardy- but when you put them in a saucepan with a little cider or water they just burst into jam. I saluted the cranberry with a champagne cocktail in it's honor. I got it from December Bon Appetit, just in time. 1 measure cranberry juice concentrate to 3 parts champagne, and decorated with a single floating whole cranberry.
And then there was a very pleasing chocolate pecan pie spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon. I attemped a pear-almond crumble made with almond butter which was disappointing in flavor and texture, and I did not serve.
Our guests arrived, an assortment of family, relatives, friends and some their extended families. I rented 3 round tables and chairs and made our living room the dining hall- good thing we never furnished the largest room in our house, it's perfect for parties. The food was laid our buffet style in the dining room, and people rotated their seats with every helping. It was a friendly and thankful air that filled the room. We were lucky enough to have a newly arrived Canadian who was celebrating her first American Thanksgiving- a real life pilgrim! I don't think it will be her last.
I made a totally unrehearsed quasi toast/benediction? that came out a little jumbled and confusing. But I said we all had so much to be thankful because no matter how bad it feels there at least half a billion who have it worse. A little heavy- but I blame it on my eastern european half. In the back of my mind and at the bottom of my heart, throughout the meal and the preparation for the feast was the knowledge that the baby would be due on the monday after Thanksgiving. When I found out when he was due I remember being so excited about the possibility that this kid's birthday could fall smack onto Thanksgiving over several birthdays in his life. I guess I need to be thankful or at least accepting of whatever happened and remind myself that it was just how it was supposed to be, there's no other way that makes sense for me.

So that was Thanksgiving 2010; family , friends, good food and lots of it, football, and my Thanksgiving playlist. The night ended penultimately with a soak in the hot tub- before leftovers were packed up and dishes were washed. Good thing Hanukkah starts on wednesday night- no time for post-party depression.

The Final Thanksgiving Menu:

Hors d'oeuvres
* mini sweet potato knishes
*cranberry barbecue meatballs
*spicy maple chicken wings

The Main Event
* FIL's turkey and yummy potatoes
* hoisin plum spareribs
* crispy balsamic duck
* corned beef in a mustard glaze
*sweet potato kugel with pecan streusel topping
* classic herb sourdough stuffing
*sausage cornbread stuffing
*aloo gobi stuffing
*cranberry relish
*cran-apple chutney
* Lea's green beans
*Avra's salad


* Sandy's Apple Cake
*cranberry crumb bars
*chocolate pecan pie
*apple tart
*mocha pudding cake
*Lisa's cookies

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Raclette Rocks!

I feel like I've been on a tilt-a-whirl for the past few days. Donz and I got news from the publisher- they're going to do it! As the reality trickled in the whooping euphoria gave way to the usual roundabout of self defeating questions. But I am excited- in a terrified kind of way. Recipe thoughts and ideas are swirling around my head. I've been trying out some of these ideas on the Kiddles and Hub. My eezy-cheezy macaroni and cheese recipe experienced a whole new life once I added half a teaspoon of smoked paprika to it. And I think I have the beginning of something with the blueberry pancake muffins with a maple syrup glaze I baked yesterday.
My everyday life has continued, despite me being lost in a cookbook haze. I have a chocolate order due tomorrow. The 2 older Kiddles had Parent-Teacher conference last night. My parents are coming in tonight and staying for the weekend. We're going to have a large Shabbat event here the day after tomorrow at the house, and I volunteered to cook for it. I had a 1100 word article due on Monday, and I have another one on fried treats for Hanukkah due this Monday. I'm thinking about going totally over-the-top with crispy mac 'n cheese squares and fried ice cream (like at El Torito).
And then placed artfully in the middle of all this responsibility and commitment was Raclette Night at Noemi's. This dinner will definitely be shelved in my top ten. Noemi's apartment is on the Upper West Side, and it has a very single-citygirl-chic aesthetic to it. Her guests sat comfortably around a large dining table. In the center of that table was a Raclette set. Noemi is Swiss, so this was the real thing. It made my purist heart sing a song as clear as the alpine air. The cheese was melted on little trays and a whole array of accoutrements were laid out around the Raclette. There was a seasoned pepper that I took a shine to, cornichons or more accurately; gherkins, pickled pearl onions, grilled peppers and zucchini, and of course boiled new potatoes to slather the melted cheese on-mmmm.
Most of her guests are Raclette pro's, being Swiss or closely related to a Swiss person. Everyone had their own combinations. I settled on a 3 slice system, kicked up with a liberal amount of seasoned pepper- once melted, it covered my baby potatoes in a silky layer of cheesey bliss. Happy-Happy Joy-Joy!
Of course in order to be in the top-ten it must be about more than the food. It's also about the company. The crowd was definitely International in flavor as well as accent- friendly and funny too. Swiss Misster told a story about the Raclette gathering he hosted where his friend brought a friend who hated cheese. I could just imagine the look of nausea that crept across her face when she was assaulted full frontally by a very powerful fromage odor. The British Lass to my left had me sitting back in my chair and chuckling heartily as she told me about her baking misadventures. Noemi was the perfect hostess, the slices of raclette cheese were endless, and the peppermint tea she urged as a raclette companion went together as well as pizza and beer.

For dessert I brought a buttermilk pound cake that was as simple and as sweet as a fresh daisy. Raclette Night at Noemi's could not have happened at a better time for me. I had taken some disappointing news from a friend a few days earlier and it was refreshing to get out of my little world. At some point I took a Raclette break by the window that overlooked the West Side, with the mom of brand new twins. We chatted amiably about mom-stuff but in a different context that I'm used to. The night was a delicious reminder that there is so much more to discover and so many more people to meet.

Buttermilk Pound Cake
3 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soad
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, softened
2 1/2 c. sugar
6 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a bundt pan or a tube pan. In a medium bowl mix together flour, baking soda, and salt- set aside. In a big bowl, beat butter with sugar. Mix in the eggs- one at a time- beating well after each addition. Fold in the vanilla extract. Mix in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 60-75 minutes. WHen the top of the cake is a warm golden color, and a toothpick inserted in it's center comes out clean- the cake is done.

* 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice/lemon rind?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lunch at the Comfort Cafe

Thursday 10/21 9:12
I had a few winner dinners this week. Monday Night- Vegetarian Paella: brown rice, green beans, garbanzo beans, a cookbook keeper- even the veggie averse Girlette, and rice challenged Big Bro, finished their servings. Tuesday Night- Tofu Pad Thai: rice noodles, bean sprouts, lime, thai chili roasted tofu nuggets, red pepper strips, crushed peanuts- lots of color and lots of spicy flavor. Wednesday Night- Black Bean Burger: Could've been good, however, I forgot to add bread crumbs so they were an amorphous mess. Thursday Night- Pizza Night: Margherita pizza for the kiddles, tomato sauce base, thick slices of mozzarella, torn fresh basil, and a sprinkling of romano. For Hub I sauteed fresh spinach in some olive oil and and chopped garlic and spread it over the dough and scattered with goat cheese crumbles.
Tonight I start my cooking semi-marathon. We're having a few distinguished guests over for lunch on saturday, as well as some old friends we haven't seen in a while. I decided on a comfort food theme for the meal. Starting with Maryland Krab Kakes (imitation crab, old bay seasoning, saltine crumbs, mayo). Going on to roasted chicken, blue plate special meatloaf, garlic and herb roasted potatoes and yams, green beans. For the vegetarians: sesame pan fried tofu on a bed of sesame ginger rice. And I'll finish up with a half-sheet chocolate birthday cake.
Got my red re-up'd (salon visit), and am feeling particularly fiery and revved up. Might sneak in some red chili flakes here and there.
10/22 12:15
Meatloaf -done. Roasted Chicken- done. Chocolate cake- done. Krab Kakes-done. Sesame ginger tofu and rice-done. Herb roasted potatoes and yams- almost done. Still to do: green beans. Lately, I've been hearing a lot about Pop-Ups. In this economy there are a lot of vacant stores and locations everywhere. Cafes and shops rent these vacant locations for a few days as a temporary spot to sell their wares. It's a long-held dream of mine to have a cafe, but I'm not there yet for a handful of reasons. So I view these stints in entertaining as my own pop-up. I devise a menu, a theme, and a setting. Tomorrow will be my Pop-Up Comfort Cafe.
10/23 9:55 pm
Comfort Cafe was well recieved. The greatest hit was the krab kakes. They were savory and light and had a pleasing texture. Next time I'll serve them with a creamy horseradish dipping sauce. The dissappointment was the chocolate cake- I think I overbaked it, so it was a little too dry. I think the recipe has potential so I'll have another go at it.

Krab Kakes

1 package surimi imitation crab
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbsp. Old Bay
bunch of scallions, finely chopped
juice of half lemon
1 sleeve of saltines, crushed
dash of sriracha optional

Using a food processor finely chop surimi. Empty surimi into a large bowl and fold in eggs, Old Bay, chopped scallions, lemon juice. Add saltine crumbs one handful at a time, mixing after each handful. If desired: add dash of sriracha and mix in.
With a serving spoon, drop rounded heaps of surimi mixture in sizzling vegetable oil. Cook 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Allow to cool on paper towels

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fan Mail

Dear Aimee Bender:
I'm not the type to write fan mail, but I just finished your very excellent book " The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" and feel that I must register my complete appreciation. I dove eagerly into your novel as soon as I read the hardcover flap. I loved the story of this young girl, Rose, who can magically taste the emotions of the cook in the food they prepare. An idea definitely worth exploring, and something that I could really sink my teeth into (da-da-da dum!). I suppose I was half expecting some high-end and soaring food writing, and while there was some of that- you're writing is lovely and true, what really affected me was the effect this magical ability had on Rose. Being placed in a position she didn't want to be in-Rose at a very young age was privy to information she just didn't want to know. I got how this extraordinary talent became an unbearable burden for her, so that all she enjoyed eating was Doritos and Oreos because they were made in factories by machines that are devoid of pain and emotions.
Of course, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have this ability. Initially I think it would be amazing, but once the novelty wore off I think it would be pretty awful, actually. Imagine eating your Mom's chicken and tasting unhappiness and emptiness, which is of course what happened to Rose. Or biting into a chocolate chip cookie baked by your friend and tasting insecurity and envy. Feelings like sadness, anger, jealousy are probably not at all tasty or nourishing. Joy, contentment, good humor, inspiration are probably delicious, but how often would one come across these emotions? Rose doesn't encounter very much of it during the novel. It is a world of pain and disconnection that she lives in.
Rose's story is an allegorical view of the plight of a highly sensitive person, someone who internalizes other people's feelings and reactions and thoughts and moods, and the kind of misery that heightened awareness brings. It was written so well and was so rooted in reality that the fairytale aspects of the book were easy to accept. It had me thinking about so much, I couldn't fall asleep after finishing it at 1:00 am. My mind was like a glass with a bee trapped inside it.
Something that I thought a lot about was the idea of tasting feelings through food. I know when I'm angry or in a bad mood while cooking it gets dumped into the food. And when I'm feeling cheery and open my cakes and desserts have an added warmth and yumminess to it. The culinary aspect of the book added a whole other layer of identification for me.
Anyway, just a nod to your fantastic book. Thanks for writing it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


It's 1:30 am and I'm in the throes of party prep mania! Tomorrow we're having a birthday party for Girlette who is turning 6 on tuesday. It'll be a manicure receiving/jewellery-making/pink lemonade sipping/ cupcake decorating tea party.

T-25 minutes. I think I have everything under control. Made the tea sandwiches (cucumber, egg-lox, and brie fuji pear). I made this dreamy caramel dip at the last minute, it will be perfect with the tart crisp green grannies I just bought. The table is set, my odds and ends are finally being put to use. The cupcakes are a little too golden for my liking- but oh well, nothing is perfect.

4:10 Party Over. I think it went well. The kitchen/dining area looks like a huge pink bubble burst and left behind a sticky, sweet, pink mess . Girlette's favorite color isn't even pink (it's gold- but of course) but nothing says tea party like 21 shades of pink. Does it mean we're Tea Party people, if we had an actual Tea Party? It's true the crowd was pretty homogenous- young girls, all with common themes: sparkles, beads, and sugar.

Now that the party is behind me, I have time to be exhausted. The TP, closely followed a very fun, very late Saturday night in the city. We met up with our friend Zelig and his friend, and our fellow chow hound, Noemi- and did it up.

Sleep is like a drug with no side effects. I got a nice fix last night- 9 hours! Everything is clear and sharp today. And I can think without it hurting. Girlette's party was a success, from the personalized manicures that I hired our supercool teenaged neighbor to give each girl, to the jewellery station- where they made friendship bracelets. After a while we gathered around the dining room table which was laid out with all my mismatching tea-time tschochkes. I baked a batch of cupcakes and made 3 different types of frostings (chocolate, raspberry, and caramel) and bought a whole bunch of decorative type candies and embellishments (pink crystal sugar, pearl dragees, gold glitter dust...). They each expressed themselves in sweet and colorful ways. After we sang a couple of rounds of Happy Birthday in a couple of different languages- the pink lemonade was flowing, and the tea sandwiches were nibbled. At Girlette's request I made her favorite chocolate truffles (creme brulee and cookies 'n cream), and chocolate covered strawberries.
The Moms were as into it as their girls- duh, why wouldn't they be? Tea and delicious snacks enjoyed with your girlfriends in the middle of a wet and gray day, a time and place to express your inner girlishness. Three curtsies for the Tea Party! I am a proud member. As a finishing touch I ordereded a bunch of precious little tea cups and saucers as a party favors. Most importantly Girlette had a grand time, she even mentioned gratefully how she's glad that we always have birthday parties at home "because you can do whatever you want in your house".

So now that we're done with the hearts, flowers, cupcakes, and tea portion of this post- onto our night in the City. The only thing it had in common with the tea party, was the color of the drinks. I served pink lemonade in tea cups at Girlette's party, and drank pink concoctions in martini glasses throughout our night in the City. We started out at Flutes where I ordered an Elderberry Kir Royale and a beer for Hub (beer at a champagne lounge?), their french fries were thick cut but good. Once the City Slickers arrived we decided to cut out and try somewhere else. Zelig always knows the hippest, most au courant spots- and he took us somewhere so full of cheeky New York charm that I feel heady just thinking about it. He took us to a speakeasy called Raines Law Room. To begin with, it was so New York cool, it didn't even have a sign. You had to go down a few steps to a heavy bolted door with a small window and pretty much beg the door man to let you in. There were a few rings of hipness we had to jump through. He told us there was an hour wait time, but he'd call us when he was ready for us (Don't call us-we'll call you). We diverted our attention to Rye and waited it out over cocktails. After an hour we returned, the door gendarme was still pretty noncommittal. But there was no way I wasn't getting into this place- I was wearing a new dress that was the requisite black, but velvet and asymetrical and just slightly avant garde. My dress needed to be inside that exclusive little joint. After a little chit chat with the man at the door, and a subtle bribe in the form of a homemade truffle (new flavor: bourbon shortbread- a keeper I'm told), we got in.
It was dark in there, and it was swanky. It was like being in someone's living room, if that someone had great taste, lots of books, and an appreciation for dark wood. We proceeded to the bar area, which was kind of like the kitchen annex to this fantastic apartment. I knew right away that the woman behind the bar was a mixologist and not a bartender. The menu was extensive and leather bound. The juices and syrups were all housemade. The drinks were well considered, balanced and different. I had a few Lion's Tails which were so easy, that I was downing them like Shirley Temples. They were more like Lindsey Lohans. We eventually had to concede that the evening was over due to our real life which was just a few hours away. The night ended ceremoniously in a hot pink mess- but enough about that. It was a night so resplendent with New York-iness that I think I'm good for a while.

Caramel Dip

1/2 stick of butter
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. reg sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 container mascarpone
2 tbsp. bourbon (optional)

In a heavy saucepan over med. high heat melt butter, mix in sugars and vanilla until thick and syrupy. Remove from heat, mix mascarpone into caramel. Add bourbon, if you desire. Serve with sliced apples, pears, vanilla biscuits.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Now what?" is what I'm thinking. We submitted our cookbook proposal on monday and are waiting for feedback. I don't know what I was expecting- maybe in my deepest heart I was hoping for an instantaneous "We love it! Of course we'll publish it!". I know very well that things are rarely that easy. It's usually a struggle, and a "journey" with important lessons learned along the way. My problem has always been that I give up when the going gets tough, or more accurately, boring. The fear that I'm a lightweight, a dilettante plays in the back of my head. I realized pretty recently that in order to do anything really worthwhile, you really have to work at. It all takes diligence; relationships, parenting, cooking, baking, writing, being an upstanding individual, fill in the blank- it all takes effort to be better than average and OK.
To be honest, I think the proposal and "conceptual" part of the process is actually the easy part. Testing the recipes until they're perfect is the hard part- the tedious part. Writing the segues to each recipe- so that it's real and not hackneyed and corny, is the hard part.
What I hope to do through the cookbook is to show a way to celebrate every part of life from the mundane to the sacred. Family, friends, good food, good music, good conversation is what makes it all worthwhile: the dissappointments, the boredom, the struggle. It's a Celebrationist Handbook. I'm not sure if I have the ability and skills to pull it off- but I need to try at least.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Birthday # 37- and almost as many cakes...

You know the saying about death and taxes being the only certainty in life, you can add birthdays to that short list. My birthday was yesterday. Being a Celebrationist I decided to acknowledge it, being 37 I decided it had to be with subtlety and a bit of taste. Hub and I went into the City on sunday night to see a modern dance performance at the Joyce Theater . I enjoyed the performance, Hub not so much. It was on the avant-garde side, especially the piece that involved the dancers smearing mud all over their faces and bodies. I'll be honest, I didn't really get it, the narrative and idea behind it all kinda flew over my prosaic little head. What I really love most about dance is the beauty and grace and sheer power of the human form and all of it's spectacular configurations and contortions. The piece of the program I enjoyed best of all was the one performed to Ravel's Bolero- there may have been a story there but I was concentrating too intently on the movement and music to figure it out.

Before the performance, we had dinner at The Viceroy, which was practicaly across the street from the theater. I had a very seasonal and very delicious Pomegranate Martini, and a juicy ahi tuna burger that came with New England-esque french fries. We deferred dessert until after the performance, when we strolled over to Billy's Bakery on 21st Street. If only I was a good enough writer to adequately describe the splendiferousness that is Billy's. It's a little nook of a bakery, brightly lit, with retro wallpaper, an L shaped glass counter filled with rows of cupcakes, mini tarts, and other heavenly morsels. On top of the counters were cakestands displaying perfectly frosted layer cakes and overstuffed pies. As a Libra I was in a specific version of heaven/hell.....too many choices. I am not the least bit embarassed to reveal that I ordered 4 slices of sweet nirvana: chocolate cake with mocha frosting, red velvet, peanut butter pie, chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, and a slice of peach pie for Hub. We took our booty to go, all packaged up in a white cardboard cake box. As indulgent as it is to order that much cake, and knowing I would not be able to consume it all, I still had to try each one. Call it research. The chocolate cake with mocha frosting was my favorite. The red velvet was also great. The peanut butter pie was simply too much for me.
For my actual birthday, which was Monday, I volunteered to host Book Club. This month's selection was The Help, which I really enjoyed. For the meal I decided on a Autumn theme, with Southern accents on account of the new season and the book's setting. For hors d'oeuvres I made a pimento cheese dip which was nice and sharp. Dinner started with a thick butternut squash soup with a hint of creaminess and a suggestion of spice thanks to a little sriracha sprinkled into the mix as a last minute addition. For the main course I made a balsamic onion blue cheese tart (sweet and salty and quite good), a big pot of wild mushroom risotto, and Eustacia made a crisp salad accented with black-eyed peas. Dessert was my chance to trot out the line I've been waiting to utter all year: Today's the day I can bake my cakes and eat 'em too. Inspired by a theme in the book I made a caramel cake, and just because I felt like it- a chocolate peanut butter tart. Good and gooder. The caramel cake was pretty simple- but something to curl yourself around- sweet gooey comfort. The peanut butter tart, was everything I need in a dessert: crunchy, smooth, sweet, chocolatey, also subtle - considering all the components. Unlike Billy's Peanut Butter Pie it was a thin little number- a half inch layer of chocolate cookie crust, a 1" layer of peanut butter cream and then a thin gloss of choclate ganache to pull it all together. Happy Birthday indeed.

Peanut Butter Tart
1 1/2 c. crushed oreos (about 20)
4 tbsp. melted butter
1 1/2 c. half and half
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3 egg yolks
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. semisweet choc chips
1/2 c. cream
2 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350F. For crust: In bowl combine cookie crumbs and melted butter. Press crumbs onto bottom of a tart pan with a detachable bottom. Bake for about 10 mins. Let cool.
For filling: In a saucepan, combine half and half, flour and salt. Cook over med. heat until simmering, frequently stirring. In a small bowl combine egg yolks, sugar. Gradually whisk hot half and half mixtue into egg mixture. Return egg yolk mix to the saucepan. Cook and mix over med heat until thick and bubbly. Remove. Whisk in peanut butter and vanilla until combined. Pour into crust, spread evenly. Cover and chill for 3 hours.
Ganache: In a saucepan combine chocolate and cream, stir until melted and glossy, add butter pieces and stir until melted in. Spread in a thin layer over peanut butter filling. Chill until ready to serve.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pity Party Table For One

Welcome to my pity party. On the menu -sour grapes and spilt milk. "Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda" is playing on an endless loop. I feel a migraine coming on, and tonight's dinner is definitely at risk. My Fall Pasta article is due tomorrow, but I'm thinking why bother? Does anyone actually read it, let alone try the recipes? Is there anyone out there at all, or am I just a figment of my own imagination? I should "market myself", take advantage of the "new media"; tweet and friend and text, I guess it's the old curmudgeon in me that just thinks that stuff is frivolous and dumb- and not to mention, hard to work out.
Blaming the world is a very easy option and somewhat enjoyable in a bittertart kinda way, but the real truth is obvious. It's me. It's my procrastination and disorganization. It's my way of avoiding the time consuming and hard work. It's my lack of focus. It's my self consciousness. It's my injured sense of"what about me?". Someone with something to really say or offer just pushes through and says it or offers it in the most effective way they know.

Brussels Sprouts and Sausage Pasta
1 lb. brussels sprouts
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. sausages, cut into 1" pieces
1 c. veg stock
1 lb. pasta
salt and pepper
crushed red pepper, optional

Rinse and dry brussels sprouts, cut larger sprouts in half- steam or boil until they're bright green. In the meantime: heat olive oil in a skillet and cook garlic for a minute or until fragrant add sausages and brown (5-8 mins). Add steamed brussels sprouts to the pan and saute for 2-3 minutes, pour in vegetable stock and lower heat and cover for 5 minutes and half of the liquid is evaporated. While Sausage- Brussel Sprout combo is cooking, boil pasta 'til slightly al dente. Drain and toss with the pan's contents. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add red pepper for a spicy touch if desired.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Of course I had to get one in before the New Year. The past few weeks have been a whirligig of activity. When I last left off I was in the sweet and buttery throes of Cake Party prep. The Party, which feels like a million Saturdays ago, was well attended, and I took the lack of leftovers as a good sign. I made an Upside Down Caramel Peach Pecan cake, which was really great looking- but I did not taste. "Whipped Key Lime Pie In the Rye" was the Summer's greatest hit, I loved it for it's cool and tart mouth. The Chocolate Tart was rich and decadent and unapologetically darkly chocolate. How could it not be amazing when I was using Lindt chocolate? The thing could practically bake itself after all that beautiful chocolate. Since I am a little obsessed with my morning lattes I decided on a Cafe Latte Cheesecake. It was really fun to make, for the "foam"on top of the dense, rich and creamy espress layer I doubled the white frosting I used in the Coconut Layer Cake. It was made with fresh whipped cream, sour cream, vanilla, and of course, sugar- light, fluffy, and a delightful finale. This frosting took on a different character when combined with dried coconut flakes and lushly spread on and in between 3 golden layers of cake. The simple Buttermilk Pound Cake, was Hub's favorite , I gotta give the guy credit, he goes in for simple and pure beauty. It couldn't be easier to make. I used all great quality fresh ingredients; buttermilk, butter, vanilla. The taste was so comforting and sweet and simple, kind of like a Homecoming Queen hiding behind a Plain Jane exterior. Dressed up with a little whipped cream, and tarted up a bit with red strawberries and raspberries- it drew some attention, and was well appreciated. However it was at a disadvantage because it was placed next to a towering Chocolate Layer Cake- that was rescued from deformity by my Mother's spectacular garnishing skills. Of course there had to be something for Munch, it being his 3rd birthday and all. For weeks prior I had him so excited about the Monkey Cupcakes I was going to make, they came out as good as the magazine picture, and bingo! required no artificial coloring. The cupcake was buttermilk banana, but it was neither banana-ny nor fluffy enough. It was saved by the chocolate ganache frosting- but the kids didn't seem to even get beyond the nutter butters and M&M's and 'Nilla Wafers that made up the monkeyface. To round things out I made a tray of shot glass ButterScotchRum Puddings .

With the Cake Party behind me I could focus on my newspaper articles; One, a New Year's menu. The other After-School Snacks Ideas. I decided the theme of the New Year's piece would be how your year should be like a good meal. There was a recipe for a fresh, fruity, sweet, sour, ripe Grilled Fig Salad with a Honey Vinaigrette. And then sweet and sour Pomegranate Barbecue Chicken with Israeli Couscous. The meal ended on an uncompromisingly sweet note with a Greek Honey Cake; the addition of orange extract and rind added an element of brightness to it all. For the After-School Snacks I included the Honey Peanut Butter Cookie recipe, and Apple Oatmeal Muffin to acknowledge that brisk Fall will be here soon. And then a Yogurt Ranch Dip.

We went camping in The Adirondacks for Labor Day weekend, nothing much to say about the cuisinary aspect of the trip- although the pizza and pasta we had for dinner in town was pretty good, especially after a few days of hiking, outdoor adventure, and generally roughing it. We got back just in time for bed, bath, and beyond (Laundry). School began today, and tomorrow is Rosh Hashana Eve. I've been spared from heavy kitchen labor, we're going to Hub's cousin's family. I can't very well go empty handed, so I made a Caramel Cake, a Chocolate Tart (January post), and an Oreo Pudding for the kiddles.
Also due tomorrow is a Dairy-Free Flourless Chocolate Cake with a Chocolate Glaze I was commissioned to make by a neighbor. I had fun with it, and I think it's worth the $40 she's paying me for it.

After New Year I have a whole new crop of projects and commitments. First off: a piece Autumn Pasta dishes. Next Book Club, the menu will have an Autumnal in the South slant, as we read The Help and it will be held during the fall festival of Succot. I am planning to try out a new truffle flavor as well, maybe the Ladies will be my testers?

I always appreciate how Back-to-School and Rosh Hashana are close together, both symbolize fresh starts- where time stretches before you and there is hope that great things will fill it. Have a full and happy new year.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Words and Flavors

I'm languishing in a sea of flavors and words. Presently I'm working on the two articles due on friday- after a fair bit of flips and flops I ended up with a Broiled Fig Salad (with tart green apple slices and toasted pine nuts , arugula-butter lettuce mix, and drizzled with a balsamic honey vinaigrette). Roasted Chicken in a pomegranate barbecue sauce on Israeli Couscous for the main. Ending off with a Greek Honey Cake which is super sweet due to the honey syrup the cake soaks in. I added orange extract to the syrup for a bright and sunny finale. This is my Jewish New Year menu.
For the After School Snacks piece I included the Honey Peanut Butter Cookie recipe, an Apple Oameal muffin recipe, and a Yogurt Ranch Dip for crudite- tasty, wholesome, homey fare that aims to soften and sweeten the sharp and pointy edges of a long day at school.
I've started my marathon baking for the Cake Party on Saturday. I'm going with the southern motif of a Cake Party on a hot summer's afternoon, by complementing the cakes and pies with homemade lemonade and sweet tea. I can cross the banana cupcakes, the buttermilk pound cake, and the Caffe Latte cheesecake off of my list. Tomorrow's baking roster includes whipped key lime pie, a dense chocolate tart, and a pecan peach upside down cake.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

It's Already August?

The pace is picking up as back-to-school and the Jewish High Holidays are coming up on us. Can't believe that more than half of summer is over, gone, done with. I was assigned 2 articles for the September issue- One on afterschool snacks (peanut butter cookies, lemon cornbread with honey butter, and a yogurt ranch dip for cut-up veggies)- I have already tried all these recipes, except I made lemon cornmeal cookies which were sunny and sweet and simple and summery. I'll give it an Autumnal makeover by making it into lemon cornbread and the honey butter will be seasonally relevant.
The other piece is on a Rosh Hashana - New Year meal. I've been thinking quite a bit about this menu, and honestly- I feel slightly out of my league. Moving forward: I'm thinking a vaguely middle eastern/sephardic flavored/early Autumn meal. A salad of roasted figs and pear chips and pomegranate kernels in a honey balsamic vinaigrette, to begin with. Then pomegranate glazed chicken with a moroccan toasted couscous with a honey citrus dressing (adapted from the wholefood's recipe). Dessert will be a citrus scented Baklava. Great- now get busy and start testing.
Closely following the articles' deadline comes the CakeQuake for McMunch's b'day. I decided to make it an open house and have sort of narrowed down the cake list to: Banana cupcakes with a chocolate frosting and decorated to look like Monkey's with strategically placed cookies and M&M's. Cafe Latte Cheesecake. Coconut Layer Cake (More about this in a future post). A good old fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake (3 layers). Peach Pecan Upside Down Cake- because the idea of a Saturday afternoon Cake Party just feels so southern. Whipped Key Lime Pie for the non-phonies. A Buttermilk Pound Cake- ripe raspberries and strawberries and fresh whipped cream served alongside. Butterscoth pudding in shot glasses.
Also been working on The Cookbook. Had a few winners in the past couple of weeks: Cornflake Chicken, a really refreshing watermelon feta salad, a reduced fat but full flavored Tuna Noodle Casserole, Ground Turkey Bimbimbop (The Korean take on the composed salad), an applicious fresh berry terrine. OK- back to my kitchen unorder.

Lemon Cornmeal Cookies

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp.baking soda
1/4 tsp. groung ginger
6 tbsp. softened butter
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. In medium bowl whisk together first four ingredients. In separate bowl, beat on med. speed butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and mix well. Beat in lemon juice, zest, and vanilla. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until just incorporated. Spoon batter with a kitchen tbsp. onto parchment lined bake sheet about 3 inched apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly browned around the edges.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cookie Trials

Not a good day for me in the kitchen. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about cookies, trying to come up with a few novel mix-ins and combo's for the classics- also trying to make them over in a more healthful way without sacrificing taste. Cookies are not supposed to be healthful or healthy, they're supposed to be sweet and buttery and comforting and make you think of "home". These are my essential characteristics of a good homemade cookie. So unless home is a vegetarian kibbutz or a macrobiotic commune, wholewheat doesn't really cut it. The Peanut Butter Honey Cookies I made a week or so ago were good; chewy, sweet, and slightly peanutty. Next time I will make them peanuttier. This afternoon's Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Cookies were a disappoinment. The flavor was OK. I think that the rough oats stand up admirably to wholewheat flour, and that the grated apples went well in the mix. They were a fright to look at though- bulbous and bloated and beige.
What's with the cookie preoccupation?..... I really need to get going on this cookbook I'm writing with Donz. And I'm stuck on having a small sub-chapter on afternoon tea/afterschool snack. A cozy and yummy sweet snack after getting home from school, when dinner is still a few hours away. I want to include a couple of classic cookie recipes with a healthier edge, combining wholewheat flour with regular flour, using honey and brown sugar, and reducing the butter without sacrificing flavor or cookie monster appeal. I also have a nice moroccan mint tea recipe that I would love to add, as well as a super-chocolatey hot cocoa recipe. A good and hearty scone recipe wouldn't go astray either.
I finally understand, after almost 37 years of living in this world, that if you want to accomplish something, if you want to realize a dream- you have to work for it. Work really hard. It's like the Yiddish saying: "If you have a dream- don't sleep". Only for the very fortunate few do things come easy, for everyone else it's effort, and perserverence, and the sweat off one's brow. And just the way the cookie crumbles.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Whipped Key Lime Pie in the Rye

Last night was a Very Special Book Club. To begin with, we read one of my all-time favorites "The Catcher In The Rye". That goddam book really had me going when I first read it in highschool, it really did. Old Holden Caufield and his three lost days in New York City. He killed me, he really did.

When I originally read the book, in tenth grade, it kind of changed my life. While living in my teenage world I would often wonder wwHd (what would Holden do?) or wwHs (what would Holden say) or wwHt (what would Holden think). Holden Caufield the patron saint of teenage angst. And as I said at Book Club last night, I owe a tiny little corner of my personality to him. I'm not kidding, I really do.

I made a whipped key lime pie for the occasion, which was well received- even by me. It was bright and sweet, but mostly tart (kind of like Holden). It's the texture that really did it for me- fluffy and light and smooth. A great non-phony summer dessert.

Whipped Key Lime Pie
Graham Cracker Crust: In a medium sized bowl combine 1 c. graham cracker crumbs and 3 tbsp. sugar. Add 1/4 c. melted butter and toss to coat. Press graham cracker crumbs evenly onto the bottom and sides of a pie plate. Cover and chill for about an hour.
Key Lime Filling: In bowl combine 14 oz. can of condensed milk, 1 tsp. of finely grated lime or key lime peel, and 1/2 c. key lime juice. In a seperate bowl with an electric mixer beat 1 c. heavy cream and 1 tsp vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream into the key lime mixture. Spoon filling into the graham cracker crust. Cover and freeze 2 -3 hours until firm. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

Full disclosure: So that I won't be accused of being a phony, the picture was taken from Real Simple Recipes, my pie kinda sorta looked like that.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bake Therapy

This morning's bake-therapy session concluded with a batch of Honey Peanut Butter Cookies. I've decided that my kitchen is better than any therapist's couch, it's cheaper and yields better results. The act of creating something is restorative. Baking cookies is good for the soul. The warm and sweet aroma that flows from the kitchen works as well as any anti-depressant. Music is the same way- put on some Bob Marley and let the healing begin. Combine baking and music and a beautiful summer's morning? And the results are wonderful in the truest sense of the word.

Honey Peanut Butter Cookies
Preheat oven to 350F. In large mixing bowl mix 1/2 c. softened butter, 1 c. creamy peanut butter, 1 c. honey. Add 2 lightly beaten eggs and 1 tsp. vanilla extract to the mixture and mix well. In a separate smaller bowl combine 1 1/2 c. wholewheat flour, 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, 1 c. brown sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. baking soad, 1 tsp. baking powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Gradually add to peanut butter batter and mix well. Scoop up cookie batter with a kitchen tablespoon and roll into balls and place on baking sheets, flatten with a fork dipped in flour. Bake for 10-15 minutes depending on your personal cookie preference (soft and chewy vs. crispy and crunchy)
Post scipt: The next incarnation of these cookies will have 1/4 c. more peanut butter and a 1/4 c. less brown sugar.

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 4th

It was a wonderful Fourth of July. Hub, realizing I needed a bit of a pick-me-up, booked a weekend stay for us, kids included, at the Rittenhouse in Philly. Since almost all our family lives far away, the idea of spending the holiday alone seemed interminably depressing. And Philly was the perfect 4th of July destination.

To begin with the hotel was, as always, perfect. A stay there softens the rough edges of daily life. From the chocolate dipped strawberries and flutes of champagne graciously offered at check-in, to the toy chest filled with awesome toys that the kiddles had their pick of, and of course we won't forget the tray of milk and fresh baked cookies that arrived in our spacious room soon after we did. My entire being let out a sigh of relief and gratitude as soon as I entered our room. My tension was eased magically by this hotel, which seems to me an establishment that time forgot-in the best way possible. Old fashioned civility and customer service reign supreme at the Rittenhouse, and that it's off of Rittenhouse Square a city park/promenade right out of the pages of a Henry James novel adds to it's old world charm.

After dinner on friday night we walked over to Independence Hall to hear the Philly Pops play an assortment of American Classics by Copland, Bernstein, Gershwin, John Williams as well as the theme from "Rocky". American flags were handed out to all and at some points I really felt like I could have been a mother and wife from centuries past enjoying some contructive recreation with my family on the green in front of the great Independence Hall.

After a good night's sleep, no doubt facilitated by our trek across the city and back. We awoke and headed downstairs to La Croix, the Rittenhouse's restaurant, for breakfast. My coffee was good to the last drop, and made perfect by the serene setting as well as the beautiful clean design of the cup and saucer. For me, it's the small details that go into a great cup of coffee, and I believe a truly great establishment understands this: a great cup of coffee/tea is as much a state of mind as proportions and ratios.

The kiddles and Hub visited an old synagogue that was reportedly quite impressive as I strolled and window shopped on Walnut and Sansone Streets. After lunch everyone napped as I read my novel on a bench in Rittenhouse Square, the weather was perfect and scenes of weekend relaxation and frivolity played out all around. I felt as I was being restored by the bright and warm sun as well as the displays of friendship, love and camaraderie that surrounded me.

Girlette and I had a reservation for tea at 4:00 p.m. at The Mary Cassatt Room at the Hotel. I always have tea when I stay at The Rittenhouse, it being just the kind of anachronistic fantasy that I long for, and enjoying tea with almost 6 year old uber-girly Girlette was just perfect. Again, I marvelled at the lemon curd and the currant scones, as Girlette nibbled her chocolate covered strawberries and sipped her hot chocolate.

After the business of Afternoon Tea was done with, we all walked over to Penn's Landing to secure a spot to watch the fireworks and Philadelphia Orchestra on the riverfront. The music was stirring and patriotic, and the fireworks were spectacular!

Sunday, July 4th, began at the Liberty Bell, moved on to Market Street where we watched the colorful and festive Parade march by, and ended in front of the Art Museum were there was a fair with music and food and eventually fireworks which we missed, deciding to beat the traffic home and be satisfied with the fireworks of the previous evening. We arrived home just in time for a bed time story on the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a truly wonderful 4th of July weekend that hopefully the kiddles will always remember- I know I will.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Some Bad News

I have been solemnly contemplating over the past few days how I would proceed with the following blog post. Something major and majorly personal occured very recently, something that affects my life on a daily basis, and I was wondering how to present it- or to even present it at all in this blog. After some consideration I decided that since this is "my life through food" I had to be honest and write about it.

I lost the baby. It was a freak occurence that I can't understand and probably never will. It was a four day ordeal that began on tuesday with my water breaking, leaving the baby in an amniotic sac devoid of any amniotic fluid for it to grow and flourish in. 17 weeks is much too early for the water to break, I was so confused (and still am). After consulting and being examined by many doctors, we had to come to terms with the fact that the pregnancy was no longer viable and that the baby was not going to survive. On thursday it was decided that I would be checked into Einstein Hospital in the Bronx. Of course it being New York City, I had to wait for a bed to be available. Having time to bide Hub and I decided to go into the City to wait for the doctor to call to tell us we had a bed. Hub attended his pre-scheduled business meeting and I decided to hang out in mid-town, do some window shopping to keep my mind off things. Fat chance. I immediately got a few pieces of chocolates from the Michel Cluizel chocolate boutique, which were probably delicious but I didn't have the heart to really enjoy. I dragged myself aimlessly on the streets of Fifth Avenue, until I decided that I should treat myself to a nice lunch. At first I thought I'd head up to The Plaza or Pierre, but those 6-8 city blocks uptown felt so far away, like an unendurable trek. And then I turned and saw an awning that spelled out "La Grenouille" standing out like a pristine mirage in my sweaty, gritty, unpleasant day. I opened the door and was greeted by french men in white dinner jackets bowing and welcoming me with "bonjour, madamoiselle". I was escorted to the bar where a lavish setting was laid out for me. Before settling in I excused myself for the Ladies room to "freshen up", and was politely directed by a dozen or so professional waiters. The bathroom was a miniature boudoir where I splashed some cool water on my face, applied a little lip gloss, and convinced myself to try and the enjoy the dining experience I was about to have.

When I returned to my seat, laid out for me at the bar was a small bowl of picholine olives, a larger bowl of housemade potato chips, and a small platter of almonds, as well as my perrier. Brian, the bartender, was a gentle and kind soul who was very supportive and effusive of my menu choices.

Despite the complete disorder and dismay and disarray I was feeling inside, this restaurant was like a balm. Like a soothing sedative. Everything was the way it should be, everything was beautiful, everything was pleasant, everything was in harmony. It was so transportive, I actually enjoyed my lunch. To begin with I had asparagus with poached egg on top, then I moved on to the gnocchi with fresh peas and ramps, and for dessert a cup of cafe au lait and a plate of tiny madeleines. It was all impeccable from the portion size to the vibrant colors of the veggies, to the rich and fresh flavors of the food. Brian was a soothing and calming presence in my day, and informed me that many people stop at La Grenouille before they get on a flight or go to the hospital.

As I was leaving the therapuetic confines of La Grenouille I got a call from Hub who told me that my room was ready for me at the hospital, and wham! I was back on the streets of New York and back to my bad dream. Well, it's enough to say that there was no more French food for me. The next 36 hours were as intense as I've ever experienced. I've had the weekend to gently recover with Hub serving as my loyal and loving nursemaid. The kiddles are at my in-laws, and I'm starting to process it all. I feel like I have no more tears left and that I'll never really understand why this happened. The baby (which was a boy) was healthy and thriving.

Hub, the medical and hospital staff really helped me through this ordeal. I feel enveloped by love and good wishes. The phone calls I've recieved from family and friends have also been so touching and let me know I am loved and cared about. That I have three healthy wonderful children is also a great comfort, but there is still emptiness and confusion and unredeemed maternal love . I can't forget or erase the presence of this little baby from my heart. I will be OK, regular life will continue, I will cook and bake and teach classes and make chocolate, write and do all the things I love doing- but something feels slightly altered in me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

12 Days In Israel

Shalom from the Tasty Land, where some seriously good eating has happened over the past couple of weeks and which has contributed mightily to my steadily expanding waistline. The official reason for our trip to Israel was to visit family; brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandparents- we have practically every kind of family here in Israel. However, a hugely motivating factor for me behind this visit was the food- specifically the produce and dairy. Since I got pregnant I have been chasing after the perfect piece of fruit, pursuing an exemplary tomato, dreaming about a cup of yogurt that strikes the creamy balance between sweet and tangy, all the while maintaining the outstanding quality of freshness. Well Haverim (friends), I'm pleased to report, on the final day of my gustatory pilgrimmage, mission accomplished.

Day 1: After a lengthy journey from New York to Tel Aviv, which included a brief pause in Dusseldorf, we arrived at my bro/sis-in-law's (Darvid and Mish) beautiful new digs in Modi'in to a full scale barbecue that was worthy of the 4th of July. I've been off meat for a while now (and even more so after the eating events of day 2- TBC...), but the sliced tomatoes that accompanied the fresh grilled burgers, were everything I want from my tomatoes; ripe, firm, deep red in color, juicy, and delicious. It had been a while since I savored a tomato that didn't taste freeze dried and weak , and I knew that we were off to a great start!

Day 2: A quick visit to Jerusalem, where we met up with one of my brothers, stopped at the Western Wall, and explored the Old City for a while. Hub's shwarma was uninspiring, and we fed a good amount of it to the skinny semi-feral cats that prey on the tender pet-loving hearts of American tourists. My freshly squeezed orange juice on the other hand was gulped down greedily, and reinforcements were ordered for the kiddles.

After trying unsuccessfully to settle the kids in bed at night, and deciding to leave the dirty work to the babysitters, we left with Darvid and Mish for Tel Aviv to a swanky hotel restaurant on the beach. The bread basket set a promising tone for the evening's meal. The artichoke soup I started with was good enough- creamy, smooth with a pleasing tang. So far everything's fine- better than fine- sababa, maxim ("great" and "awesome" in the vernacular). But then, against my better judgement- ignoring all my pregnancy cues, I order the mullard as my second course. Mullard I am told is a cross between a duck and a goose. Duck, duck, goose...and your "it". "It" being an awful nausea and a generally debilitating grossness that visited upon me the next day, and had me lying flat on my back all day long at my sis-in-law's house up in the Galillee. I should've know when I had to peel off a half an inch of fat off the top of the medallions that this dish was not for me. I should have stuck with all things green. I should have surrendered to my gut's desire from the get go. I guess I needed to learn all this the hard way, but from here forward on our trip I was a vegetarian, veering on the militant (with one minor infraction- see day 8...).

Day 3: Due to my Mull-aise I had to sit out the quintessential Israeli breakfast that Hub, the kiddles, and in laws tore into before we set out for the Galilee. An Israeli breakfast consists of fresh salads, cheeses, flavorful sweet and savory spreads, fresh baked bread, and eggs- in other words: heaven. I huddled over my tea with na'na (fresh mint) and dry toast.

For the rest of the day and night I lay on the couch in Hub's sis' beautiful airy new house in the Galilee, and watched the action unfold around me, cursing the moment I met mullard. The kiddles and their Israeli counterparts were thick as thieves, my sis-in-law was busy in the kitchen preparing friday night dinner, the aromas were incredible! I had to forgo her specialty dish: Yemenite Soup, my biggest regret of the trip.

Day 4: I woke up feeling revived and headed straight to the fridge were I raided the produce drawer. Oh the apricots, the plums, the sweetest grapes that ever passed my lips. The watermelon.... The fresh mint that grows outside her kitchen window! For lunch she made a mexican fiesta, that I happily participated in. It was a beautiful carefree day in the North of the country, where the kids ran wild and barefoot, and I was just barefoot and pregnant.

Day 5: Determined to get my Israeli breakfast on, and propelled by memories from our last visit to the North, I insisted we visit Lotem, a kibbutz that hosts a restaurant with outdoor seating and a great view, as well as a menu full of delicious choices. After much deliberation I settled on a Fattoush salad and the bread basket with a variety of spreads. The breads were fresh baked and hearty, my favorite spread was the tzatziki, second was the raasted pepper. The Fattoush salad was crisp and full of middle eastern flavor. The piece de resistance was my latte at meals end which came with a plate of tiny scrumptious oatmeal-esque cookies. I was so content as I sipped my coffee and nibbled on my cookies, nothing- not even the kiddles unruliness and Munch's dirty diaper could yank me out of my state of bliss.

Day 6: Beach Day! Off the Tel Aviv Beach we went. The bunch of us bleached out Northerners were lathered up with SPF 55, but that still didn't save me from the tenacious Middle Eastern sun. Normally I shun all beach-like scenario's, I feel that the grit and the heat and the general discomfort are not worth the effort and the burn. Tel Aviv Beach is an exception- the water was a clear aqua and so warm, it kind of reminded me of Miami Beach in that way, which is the only other beach I've ever enjoyed. But who cares about me- the kids were having a grand old time, running in and out of the surf, collecting sea shells, sucking on arctics (Israelspeak for popsicles).

We had lunch at an airy beachfront cafe called "Frishman". My grilled halloumi salad was memorable- the sauce/dressing had strong spicy asian flavor which worked well with the non-descript halloumi cheese. For dessert I ordered watermelon and feta. The kiddles cheese toasts (grilled cheese sandwiches) were enormous so I had some of theirs too.

After the beach Hub took the kiddles back to Modi'in, as I settled in at my brother's Tel Aviv flat and anticipated the pain that would come over the next few days. I got sunburnt pretty bad- but it was totally worth it. Bro #3, Leonardo, allowed me to sit on his veranda and not do a damn thing as he and his lovely French fiancee prepared the feast we were to enjoy that night in honor of bro #2, Rabdul's, birthday. Dinner was delicious and festive, Debo made a wonderful curry and a tasty artichoke side dish. Dessert was suitably french-alicious; raspberry coulis and cream. YUM!

Day 7: Back to Jerusalem to visit my grandparents. My grandmother prepared lunch which included my favorite cole slaw and her miraculously light and fluffy sponge cake, so good I've never even attempted it. A word about my grandparents: my grandfather is in his 90's and is still sharp as a tack. My grandmother? Well, no one really knows her age, but whatever it is- she looks good! Which gives me hope. She is brisk and busy and doesn't slow down for a minute.
For dinner that night Mish made a really good mac 'n cheese for the kids, and a pasta of sweet potatoes, leeks and pine nuts for the adults. Thoroughly yum.

Day 8: Back to the beach.....sun, sand, surf, plenty of sunscreen. We had dinner with Debo and Leonardo at the burger joint around the corner from their flat "Magic Burger", and despite being a born-again vegetarian, these burgers were magically delicious. Juicy, substantial, with all the fixin's- pickles, grilled onions, sliced ripe tomatoes, mustard, special sauce, a nice fluffy bun. The fries were thin sliced and really really good.
Came home after our deluxe burger meal put the kiddles to bed- which was a snap after a long hot day at the beach.

Day 9: Field trip to an Israeli supermarket in order to stock up for the weekend up North. I love doing this kind of touring whenever I'm on new terrain. The supermarket is a great way to get a feel for a culture. As you'd expect the produce section was brimming with colorful abundance, only featuring what was seasonal and locally grown- but there was plenty. The cheese counter was also impressive, with a nice variety of soft, semi-soft, and hard cheeses. We chose a nice sampling; a bleu, a sheep's milk, a swiss, a gouda, and a camembert. My favorite was the bleu-pungent but not crazy aggressive. The bakery section was strong in the bread department, but not so dazzling with the cake/pastry. Their homemade pita was excellent as well as the fresh baked borekas that we purchased hot out of the oven. Next up the dairy case, where the selection of yogurts, puddings, and cottage cheeses was good enough for me. The major difference I noticed between American supermarkets and Israeli supermarkets, is the size and variety of products. Israel is a tiny country with a population of 7 million, so 25 different brands and varieties of potato chips are just not necessary- they make do with 6 or 7. In some ways it makes life easier, having less of a choice makes for less deliberation and confusion. I have a very clear memory of going to the supermarket in Seattle with my Mother when I was around 10, and a woman with a thick slavic accent turning to us and asking which butter she should get- there were just too many for her to contemplate. Speaking of butter, I picked up some amazing French butter at the supermarket in Israel that contributed greatly to a very fine lemon layer cake that I made in Mish's excellent kitchen in honor of Hub's birthday.

That night, after a few slices of the aforementioned cake, ice cream, candles and a round of Happy Birthday sung in Hebrew and English, Hub and I got dressed up and headed out to a wedding in Bet Shemesh. We didn't stay for the whole event as Rabdul was having a housewarming/birthday party at his apartment in Jerusalem and we weren't going to miss getting a slice of his life. The party made me feel simultaneously old and young. Young because I remembered going to and having that kind of party, where everyone hangs out with their friends in clusters, music is loud, beer and booze is cheap but totally functional and plenteous, smoke is thick, and the eats are no-frills (although I polished off the entire bowl of licorice and gummy snakes). Old because I am pregnant with my fourth kid and about a decade older than most of the kids there, and because when a popular 80's song started playing, some kid blurted out: turn this old timer shit off!

Day 10& 11: Began the day with another great Israeli breakfast. I ordered Shakshuka (eggs in a tomato sauce) and fell in love with the fig jam that came nestled in my basket of fresh breads. And then our little tribe began the journey northwards where we (Us, Hub's bro and sis and families) rented cabins for the weekend. We brought coolers full of food- I was in charge of breakfast (yogurt, fruit, sweet pastry, and borekas), snacks (chips, pudding, brownies), and cheese (see above). The North o Israel is literally a breath of fresh air- it's greener than the rest of the land as well as more spacious.

We were all instantly charmed by our individual deluxe wooden cabins, and to make a long travelogue a little shorter: the weekend was wonderful. The kids spent much time in the pool, we ate well, the days meandered lazily as a holiday in the country should. On a personal note- I felt like I had captured a little slice of heaven between the comfy airy canopy bed in our room, a good read, fresh fruit and veggies, temperate weather, happy kids and hub, an awesome porch swing, fresh air, and regular strains of the meuzzin echoing through the area.

Day 12: The end is here- we woke up and packed up the cabins and all met for breakfast at a vegetarian kibbutz in Amirim. We sat down and the food came out in waves. The fresh bread was wonderful, so was the eggplant in tahini. I also really enjoyed the herb omelette. Tea and cake served on the verandah was a final sweet touch. I wonder which part of the meal made Hub so sick? After we got back to Darvid and Mish's, Hub excused himself and then emerged drenched in sweat and sickly green in coloring. He lay still on the couch, trying not to distrurb his bilious stomach, as various relatives came to bid us farewell and enjoy an impromptu pizza party (as far as as I'm concerned, whenever there's pizza it's a party!).

Day 13: Hub's a bit better, but now Girlette is puking and lolling about- she vomits on the shuttle bus to the airport, a rather dramatic ending to our Israeli tour. I drag her through the airport like a rag doll, as we go through the 7 rings of security. We finally settle into our seats on the plane, but not before I take note of the uptight kid-hater in the row in front of us. Twelve Hours Later Girlette weakly sips ginger ale and sleeps most of the time. Kid 1 is enthralled with his personal TV screen and the fact that I'm not regulating how much TV he watches- I don't hear a word from him until we land. Munch is pretty good for an almost 3 year old and only cries and whines 25% of the time- which prompts the wicked witch in front of us to progress from dirty looks to declaring our kid to be "completely obnoxious".

Home sweet home! Travelling is wonderful and educational, but after a long trip away from home there's no sight I love better than my sweet and soft bed.

June 21: It's taken a week but I think we've all shrugged off the jet lag and re-entered our regular lives. Our trip to Israel has left me with an almost unsatiable need for fresh fruit and lots of it. I also have plans to recreate those breakfasts. But what I miss most about Israel is the people; family and friends- whose company made those meals truly fantastic.