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Archive for May, 2009

hagiga

The past two days in the US (sundown May 28 – sundown May 30) marked the Jewish holiday of Shavuot that celebrates Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. One of the ways that many people celebrate this holiday is by staying up and learning Torah all night in what is referred to as a “tikkun leil shavuot.”

green roses for shavout

one shavuot tradition is to decorate with flowers

In recent years (or perhaps not so recent, but I can only speak about what I know…), I have noticed a trend towards incorporating less traditional ways of learning into these tikkuns. I first participated in one of these a few years ago at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and co-sponsored by Alma NY and several other organizations. It was described this year as follows:

Learn, laugh, and nosh your way through an evening of music, film, dance, traditional (and not-so-traditional) study along with coffee, cheese cake and more! Educators and artists from New York and Israel will present engaging programs  until sunrise in a contemporary twist on the age-old tradition of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, free and open to everyone at every level of Jewish observance or knowledge.

- The Alma Tikkun

In attending these tikkuns over the past few years, I have participated in discussions about the election of Sarcozy in France with a political history expert, gone to cooking classes (my favorite and the source of a great summer salad recipe to be shared when I have a chance) with Israeli chefs, seen a re-creation of a Tel Aviv night club with trance music for those comfortable listening to music on a yomtov (holiday), and tried out an aerial yoga class. Classes span the height of the JCC building on at least six of their floors including the indoor pool, and the building is literally crawling with all generations, manners of dress, religious levels, and languages. I loved that there was truly something for everyone and that so many different people came together for this celebration of learning and art in what some think of as a “just religious” holiday.

When I was given the opportunity to teach a class this year at the tikkun run by my own minyan (lay-led prayer group, for lack of a better term), I embraced to chance to attempt a not-so-traditional class. I led a dance and movement session for a handful of friends and community members (with a diversity of dance, yoga, and movement backgrounds), based largely on key elements of jazz dance. In researching other dance-related Shavuot celebrations for inspiration, I came across two that took place in Israel this year, one called Hagiga (celebration or festival in Hebrew; article in DanceInIsrael.com) and hosted by Vertigo Dance Company in their Eco-Art Village and another called Hagiga Levana (“White Festival;” article in DanceInIsrael.com) hosted by Adama in the Negev desert. Below is a video about Vertigo Dance Company’s “Birth of the Phoenix” piece that they performed at this year’s Hagiga (the set incorporates a traveling geodesic dome — think Epcot Center).

In my own jazz class Thursday night (the first one I’ve taught in a while), I tried to incorporate some of the fluidity of modern and contemporary dance movement into a workshop focused on isolating body parts (head, shoulders, ribcage, hips) and counting out different rhythms.

***

Another Shavuot tradition is to eat dairy, so my minyan sponsored a dairy potluck before our tikkun. I prepared this tart as an alternative to quiche. I have to say that though I am rarely a fan of potlucks (how many pasta salads can one person eat???), I think our minyan must be the foodiest of all groups I have ever encountered. There was amazing variety (polenta, veggie chili, watermelon feta salad, and bucatini just name just a few), healthy options, and lots of vegetables. I am in the process to pulling together everyone’s recipes to share.

Zucchini Tart with Raclette

zucchini and raclette tart from above

Adapted from a recipe prepared by Natasha at 5 Star Foodie when she made a 7 course French-inspired brunch for her daughter’s birthday (!!!). I’ve been waiting for the right occasion to make this tart and Shavuot seemed perfect. Most people make quiche, but I hate making crusts and I’m not a fan of heavy creams or custards.

The original recipe calls for swiss cheese, but I wanted to try something a little  bit different and was planning to make it with brie. When I couldn’t find Président brie in Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods (what, you think I plan these things in advance after thinking about the food for weeks? No, I just embrace spontaneous action after way too much thought — see my first ever post, “notranches de racletten pensare, fare” — and it usually works out pretty well!), I discussed various options with the cheesemonger at Whole Foods and realized I had an amazing cheese – a Raclette made by Ermitage and imported from France – right in my fridge. Raclette is a Swiss cheese that I think has a nicer texture and flavor (nutty?) than the traditional holey and plasticy “swiss cheese” I grew up with in the US. It has a semi-hard texture and is fabulous melted with apples or pear thinly sliced and poached in white wine.

Serves 10-12 as side dish.

Ingredients:

- 2 cups large zucchini, grated (about 2 zucchini)

- 1 cup leeks, minced (1-2leeks, white parts only)

- 2 eggs

- 1/2 cup flour

- 1 tablespoon baking powder

- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

- 1/2 teaspoon salt

- 1 1/2 cup shredded raclette cheese – 2 oz (1/2 a package) – this is a pricey cheese from France ($18/4 oz from the Kosher Marketplace — see Resources) – aha, I still have some left to make a fruity, winey melted dish!

- Butter

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients together to blend well.

Batter will be thick. I initially freaked out because unlike quiches, this is not liquidy and there is no custard. But, it’s OK. Just butter your tart pan (you can use one with a removable bottom or a nice porcelain one like I did…either should work since this won’t drip out), spoon the batter in, and spread it evenly. The tart will rise a bit as it bakes.

zucchini and raclette tart entering oven

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. At 45 minutes, mine was still a bit jiggly, so I kept it in for another 10 minutes — if you’re counting, that’s 55 minutes total. At that point, it pulled away beautifully from the sides of the pan. Mine showed a little bit more green zucchini than Natasha’s, cut beautifully, and was dense and tasty without being overwhelming.

zucchini and raclette tart

And of course, I will leave you with an excerpt of one of Vertigo’s more recent pieces, called White Noise:

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city living

One of the perils of city living is that when the temperature rises, there is little respite. I have lived in most of the major cities along the northeast coast, so I can officially attest to this. Growing up in the suburbs, we could easily escape to our neighborhood pool where my sister and I spent many summers on the swim team. Or just sit on the deck in the sun. And while I love the excitement of living in a city, the hundreds of options right outside my doorstep, the (relatively easy…well, in NY) public transportation, the culture, the art, the vibrancy, I do miss having a large kitchen and easy access to an outdoor grill.

Granted, I fully believe that like washing dishes and taking out the trash, grilling should be largely relegated to men. But miss it nonetheless I do, or at least the authentic flavors. I have made do in many of my apartments, and I think I’ve done a decent job adapting. I once actually made an entire Fourth of July barbecue on a collection of George Foreman grills (culled from friends and neighbors).

While it’s not quite corn season yet, I have recently been making corn-on-the-cob in my oven and if I may brag, it might not be grilled  … but it’s really pretty good.

Oven-Roasted Corn-on-the-Cob

 The technique here is similar to grilling in that I use a high heat in the oven and steam the corn in its husk. After dousing with some butter and salt, cover the corn with grated cheese.

The cheese that I’m loving right now is 5 Spoke Creamery‘s Tumbleweed. This kosher (Kof-K) artisanal dairy had caused a bit of a stir in kosher and non-kosher circles, being mentioned in articles here (along with Sugar River Cheese Co.) and here, and in a recipe for cheese croutons featured in the New Yorker magazine a few months ago by Dirt Candy (a vegetarian restaurant in NY) chef-owner Amanda Cohen. I can’t wait to try her salad recipe, though I’m not sure I’ll actually candy the grapefruit. I’ll leave you to read what others have written about the Tumbleweed, but I would describe it as creamy, European tasting (probably because it is made with raw – aka unpasteurized – milk) if that makes any sense, and with a strong tangy slightly earthy flavor. It has a nice melt-in-your-mouth feel and it spreads well without being too soft. Let it come to room temperature before eating (but if you’re going to grate it, feel free to pull it right from the fridge).

Serves how ever many cobs you make.

- Corn-on-the-cob

- Butter (optional)

- Salt

- Cheese – such as 5 Spoke Creamery’s Tumbleweed

Preheat oven to 425ºF and put rack in middle of oven.

While oven is heating, pull the husks back and remove silks from corn. Replace husks over corn and wrap end of corn with aluminum foil if necessary to seal so that the corn will steam in its own little packet. Cobs don’t need to be completely covered – the burnt parts are nice…you just don’t want everything to completely dry out.

Place cobs directly on the oven rack and cook for ~20 minutes until corn is tender but still crisp.

Allow corn to cool a bit and then unwrap, peel back husk, and use one or two husk strands to tie the remaining ones together, creating a handle of sorts.

Slather with butter if you’d like, throw on a pinch of salt, and generously grate cheese over the top. Eat immediately.

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Eurovision update

Well, Noa and Mira Awad, who I first mentioned here represented Israel well in Eurovision 2009, coming in 16th place, but Norway took first place with Alexander Rybak  singing “Fairytale.”

One of my favorites among the top 10 is Hadise from Turkey (came in 4th), singing “Düm Tek Tek” — it’s the Middle Eastern rhythms that I like.

I was not a fan of the song sung by one my favorite singers, Patricia Kaas, to whom I was introduced by the family I lived with during a summer exchange in the Loire Valley and the Vendée,  who represented France. I did really like Estonia’s  “Rändajad” performed by Urban Symphony (came in 6th).




Rändajad

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playing hooky

I was supposed to go to a dance class last night (my new Wednesday evening ritual…yeah!), but after a few too many days of forgetting to wear sunblock (1 day is too many and I really should know better!) and then relishing in the sunshine that had been hiding from us here on the East coast, I realized that I was just a little too pink and weary to make it through a 2+ hour fabulous but exhausting and requiring-full-concentration modern jazz class.

Of course, I had already prepared a light veggie dinner in anticipation of a hungry return from class on which I gladly munched away  as I readied myself for an evening of dancing that would be a little less about concentration, technique, positioning, and placement. My friend Tammie and I decided to kick back and check out a live Brazilian band at Beehive. Complete with caiparinhas (the national drink of Brazil made from Cachaça [a sugarcane alcohol], sugar and lime that I first tried at my friends’ wedding in São Paulo), a demonstration of the  steamy Rio-style partner dance called Samba de Gafieira (followed by our own feeble attempts at emulating some of the hip-swaying fast-and-fancy footwork), an ad-hoc capoiera circle, and good conversation with friends new and old, the evening provided a wonderful respite from the sun.

Rejuvenated and armed with two different kinds of sunblock (yes, they are both from Europe – Piz Buin and La Roche-Posay Anthelios), I’m ready to spring/summer smarter and return to the Wednesday dance classes that I have quickly grown to adore.

Marinated Zucchini Salad

-163 sharp

Many marinated zucchini salads call for cooking your vegetables first, but in a heat wave, I try to do anything to avoid turning on my oven or stove. This salad, drawing from a Greek-inspired dish from Saveur and an Italian recipe from RecipeZaar, is a great use for zucchinis that are in abundance starting this time of year through the end of summer. Some of my other favorite recipes for zucchini include zucchini bread and zucchini parmigiana (instead of eggplant).  Choose zucchinis that are firm and dark green and not too large.

Serves 4-6.

- 2 medium-sized zucchinis or 3-4 small zucchinis

- 6-8 white mushrooms

- 1 bunch spring onions (4-5)

- fresh dill

- juice of 1 lemon (~1/4 C) or 1/4 C white wine vinegar

- 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

- kosher salt or other coarse salt

- pepper

zucchini, mushrooms, dill, wild spring onions

Cut zucchini into thick matchsticks. You could use a mandoline or a julienne peeler, but I don’t have the former and the latter makes strips that are far too thin for this recipe. I just hand slice everything.

Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel to remove any clinging dirt or debris. Don’t submerge in water or the mushrooms will become water-logged and soggy. Remove ends of stems and slice lengthwise.

Slice whites and light greens parts of the spring onions into thin circles.

Rinse dill, pat dry, and finely chop. Add as much as you’d like. In the batch I made without mushrooms, I added a few T. In the batch I made with mushrooms, I added a large handful.

Toss all vegetables  and dill into a large bowl.

Make dressing: juice one lemon into a medium sized bowl (should yield ~1/4 C) and then pour in an equal amount of extra virgin olive oil while quickly whisking the mixture to make a quick emulsification (this is pretty cool when you realize you can do it yourself and it’s really easy — it took me about 30 seconds). Add salt and pepper to taste (~ 1-2 t of salt or more, 5-6 grinds of pepper) and whisk again. Taste by dipping a thin slice of mushroom.When the dressing is to your liking, pour atop the veggies and dill and toss everything together.

If you’re feeling particularly lazy, you can just drizzle the olive oil and lemon juice over the veggies and throw salt and pepper on top, then toss everything together. I was feeling a little fancy.

If you don’t have a lemon, or want a slightly different flavor, you can use white wine vinegar as your acid, or even try a mixture of the two.

marinated zucchini with lemon and white wine vinegar (no mushrooms)

Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. The salad gets better with time. After a few hours, I usually taste it and find that I need to add a little more salt (much better than it being too salty).

Enjoy after a dance class, while dressing for a night out on the town, or at a picnic with friends.

zucchini and mushrooms marinated in lemon with loads of dill

***

Since I did indeed miss my dance class to go see a Brazilian band, I wanted to share a video of the great contemporary Brazilian dance company, Grupo Corpo, that I saw a few years ago at BAM. Lau had come to visit from London, and the infamous foursome – Jeremy, Thierry, Lau and me – was reunited for an amazing non-date evening. Here is a video of one of the pieces that we saw that night. What I love about this number, besides its infectious music, is the choreography’s playfulness and freedom, the use of light and shadow to make it look almost like there are extra dancers, the simplistic costumes so the audience can focus on the purety of the dance, and how the dancers incorporate the unique back curtain into the entrances and exits.

What I love about Grupo Corpo is the incredible variety of their numbers and their musicality, their pulling from folk dances and rhythms from their local environs and the broader cultures (Asia, Africa) that make up the melting pot of their own home. Below is a trailer to a documentary with excerpts from many of their numbers, showing off their versatility.

Another one of my favorite numbers is Lecuona – a series of duets filled with longing, desire, and passion (of all types) danced to music written by Cuban Ernesto Lecuona, including this sexy tango…

… culminating in a waltz of 6 couples (starts at 3:25) that looks like a black-and-white movie.

I want one of those white flowy dresses with the open backs!

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not so traditional

 

 

 

pile o' cookies with ranunculus

I called up my friend Joanne on her birthday last month to see if I could make her anything in her last few weeks of pregnancy. In typical fashion, she said, “Oh you know me, I’ll eat anything.” We started tossing around ideas of things that would travel well and as we were chatting, I realized that the almond butter chocolate chunk cookies that I have been making for some years — a somewhat less traditional variation on plain old chocolate chip cookies — would be perfect.

See, Joanne revels in being not-so-traditional. Not as a form of rebellion, but just in a happy, come as you are, no apologies manner.

In a high school where we were told that if you’re good in math and science, you go on to medical school, she eventually went to veterinary school. And she studied in the Caribbean. She announced to me and most others in attendance at the dinner the night before her wedding that she was pregnant. And then there was her father’s poem and toast at the wedding itself. I cannot repeat it here but suffice it to say, it will never be forgotten by anyone in attendance.

So, I raise my glass (of milk) to Joanne — and Jordan — for continued, um, bliss.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

cookies and milk

I initially adapted this from a recipe in the December 2003 Bon Appétit Christmas cookie issue –Hazelnut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. Extra bonus points if you can find, cut, and paste the amusing commentary that I wrote in to Epicurious a few years ago.

Makes 6 dozen bite-sized cookies (2-3 nibbles). The cookies are pretty decadent, so keeping them small is a good idea, but somewhat dangerous because you can keep popping them in your mouth. The nut butter keeps them moist and chewy while fully cooked. Set your timer for 12 minutes which really is the perfect amount of time for baking per batch.

- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
– 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, room temperature
– 1 cup creamy unsalted almond butter
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
– 2 large eggs
– 1 teaspoon rosewater, orange blossom water or vanilla extract (I used orange blossom water today)
– 2 C add-ins: 1 C  semisweet chocolate chips (I personally hand-chop a Callebaut (information in Resources) semisweet – 54.5% cocoa – bar) + 1 C slivered almonds OR  1 12-ounce package semisweet mini chocolate chips (2 cups) OR 2 C slivered almonds if you do not like chocolate

Stir almond butter to incorporate any oil that may have risen to the top (I sometimes microwave mine for ~30 seconds if necessary).

Using electric mixer, beat butter/margarine, almond butter, and both sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and extract (orange flower water, rosewater, or vanilla).

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into bowl and mix. Dough will be very crumbly.

Chop the chocolate and gently stir into mix with almonds if using.

Callebaut semisweet chocolate, chopped

Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Soften dough slightly at room temperature before shaping.)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat.

Using 1 level tablespoon for each cookie, roll dough between palms of hands into 1-inch balls and then flatten slightly. Arrange 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are golden brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets on racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool.

cookies cooling on rack

Store in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature. Will stay fresh up to 5 days and will survive an overnight journey in the mail!

almond butter chocolate chunk cookies

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on to the finals

About six weeks ago, I wrote about one of my favorite duets representing Israel in the Eurovision contest in Moscow.

http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1085211.html

Noa and Mira Awad after performing in the 2009 Eurovision Semifinals (AP)

Well, Noa and Mira Awad made it to the Finals last night and will be competing on Saturday, May 16th against Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, Malta, Finland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania, Armenia and Iceland.

Good luck, ladies!

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Almost everything I own has a story. Part of that is because when I travel, I love to shop.  And I don’t just shop for clothing and shoes… I usually bring home an extra bag of local (kosher) food that I can’t find at home so that I can extend the experience of my trip and share it with those back home. I hope to share some of these finds with you in the future, as the spirit moves me.

I spent a few weeks in South Africa in 2003, mainly in Cape Town, working on a health care project with some classmates for the city of Cape Town under the direction of the late Ivan Toms. We worked hard in city health clinics  every day (my team was charged with uncovering the cause of an 8 million Rand increase in drug costs) and had the opportunity to explore different aspects of Cape Town live in the evenings and on the weekend.

jackass penguins near Cape of Good Hope

After my first weekend spent in Seapoint, I was fortunate enough to befriend a local, Tali, who showed me around much of the local scene beyond tourist spots. We ate out, went to bars off the beaten track, shopped beyond the V&A Waterfront, and I met people whom I imagine I would have been friends with had I lived there.  We even went to grocery stores and this is where my habit of seriously bringing home  local ingredients began. Besides sweeties (mmmm….Sally Williams nougat), one of the most interesting things that Michal introduced me to were uniquely flavored salts. I bought one such salt mixture that Tali recommended called “Darling Buds” made by The Cape Herb Company that contains coarse sea salt and various dried flowers – rose petals and buds, lavender, cornflowers, chamomile, and calendula. The smell is heavenly and I often use it in place of regular salt. There are many other varieties with interesting ingredients and most, if not all, are kosher. The bottles are refillable and you can easily adjust the grind size.

darling buds, grinder removed

Luckily, these salts and many of the spice mixtures made by The Cape Herb Company have made it stateside, and I have seen (and purchased them) in Fairway (see Resources for further info). They can also be ordered online at Chelsea Market Basket.

Floral Roasted Potatoes

This recipe actually has nothing to do with South Africa; it just uses the “Darling Buds” salt to accentuate the herbes de Provence spice mix with lavender to give regular roasted potatoes a delicate floral scent and flavor. I love lavender and use it as often as I can!

This is just a good guideline for roasted potatoes. Here I used all-purpose russet potatoes that I purchased for potato peels. The crunch comes from the high heat. You can cut the potatoes into larger chunks, but I chose more of a  home fries-size; bigger chunks = roast for longer. You can obviously use any spice mixture you want — good traditional alternatives include garlic, rosemary, dill, or some heat from red pepper flakes or cayenne.

Serves 2-3.

4 potatoes

1-2 t Olive oil

Herbes de Provence (with lavender)

Salt and Pepper (I used black pepper and “Darling Buds” made by The Cape Herb Company)

Preheat oven to 450°F

Cut potatoes (can peel for a more delicate look) into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes. Soak in water for at least 30 minutes (or longer) to draw some of the starch out, keep crisp, and to make sure the potatoes don’t turn turn color from air exposure.

Drain water and lightly pat the potatoes dry. Spread potato chunks out onto a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil. Drizzle with a few splashes of extra virgin olive oil (~1-2 T) and toss with herbes de Provence (~1.5 T), 5-6 grinds of Darlings Buds floral salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Herbes de Provence

"Contains chevril, basil, rosemary, tarragon, garlic, lavender, marjoram, savory, thyme, and parsley"

Bake for about 30 minute or until edges are golden brown and crisp, shaking the sheet occasionally to free up any potatoes that are sticking.  The smell of the lavender and other flowers is divine as the potatoes are crisping up in the oven.

Allow to cool a few minutes before eating (if you can…I always burn my tongue and the roof of my mouth). These are great anytime.

roasted floral potatoes

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Is it really the thought that counts? I sure hope so, because my little mother’s day gift this year got somewhat thwarted. I baked two cute zucchini loaves, one to send to my own mother and one to send to my good friend, Reva — the first friend of mine to become a mother.

2 little zucchini loaves

Reva is an amazing mother to her two adorable, smiley, fun-loving sons. I could talk about Isaac and Ely (to whom I am Tante Gayle), but today is all about celebrating how amazing their mom is. Because Reva’s birthday always falls close to Mother’s Day (and that of her kids), I wanted to make sure that she gets the full attention she deserves.

Reva with Yitz and Ely

Reva and I met during the first few weeks of medical school and became fast friends. I mean, come on, we met on a train traveling from Philadelphia to New York! The most telling story I have about her is that she was the only person to be honest with me when she didn’t like one of my boyfriends. It take real guts to tell someone something she doesn’t want to hear.

little gift for Reva

little gifts for mommy

So, I packed up my little zucchini loaves in wrapping appropriate for each special woman – wax paper and black tulle for Reva (she’s always been a bit of a health nut, which for some reason I associate with wax paper; and black for NY); green for my mom because it’s one of her colors and a little extra box of notecards that match.

And I went to the post office to overnight them on Friday, excited for the surprise each would receive on Saturday – Reva on her birthday, my mom one day before mother’s day. Alas, I was the one who was surprised with 2 notices on my door Saturday afternoon letting me know that both packages were attempted to be returned to me. I could not clear this up on Saturday because though the notices said that the packages would be available after 5:30, the post office closes at 5. Yup – our tax dollars at work, ladies and gentleman.

Off to the post office I trotted today to fix the dilemma. Turns out the two packages were returned for insufficient postage (I inadvertently used the flat rate for flat envelopes rather than the flat rate for small boxes <sigh>). I had to double my expenditure to send my packages again and hope that the loaves will arrive fresh and not moldy.

Well, ladies, my apologies. Next time I’ll hand deliver. Clearly a trip to Maryland is due.

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shake it off

Hangin’ around

Nothing to do but frown

Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down.

That Carpenters song is sometimes hard to kick when the beginning of the week goes something like this:  rainy Monday, rainy Tuesday, rainy Wednesday, rainy Thursday…

I like songs that go with my mood, but there’s a problem when that mood sticks around for too long. And, I don’t need to tell you how hard it is to get a song out of your head once its stuck.

But then there’s the power of music to change your surroundings. My friend Tammie suggested a song yesterday when we were chatting, and I liked its title, “Shake It Off” and its chill beat. (Apologies for not embedding, but Mariah’s business team seems to be blocking all embed abilities – which I can respect – protect those artists’ dollars!).

The best part of yesterday was my decision to take a modern jazz dance class. And it was a great class. Just what I needed and long overdue. The teacher (more info below the recipe) focused on technique and positioning and placement. Her warm-up and choreography were organic and felt good. And there was no rush to end class – the 90 minute class ran well over 2 hours. We finished the evening with a several minute cool-down and stretch. I returned home feeling great.

Knowing that I would be ravenous after class, I was thankfully prepared. I made a salad that required several hours of marinating. So it was waiting patiently to replenish my body after the music and dance class had replenished my spirit.

Panzanella

Panzanella is a bit like a savory Italian version of pain perdu (French toast) — coming up with a use for one- or two-day old, stale bread. I make it with baguette because that’s what tends to go stale on me these days. There are endless varieties and I found a few that I’ve tucked away in my files, such as an artichoke version from Sam at Becks & Posh and Giada De Laurentiis’ traditional version with capers, olives, and peppers in addition to tomatoes. I just stuck to what I had in my fridge and pantry – the cucumbers give it a nice crunch. This can be tossed atop a bed of greens, or eaten as is.

Makes 3-4 servings, depending on how hungry you are. All measurements are very approximate.

Slice stale baguette and then cube (~3/4 inch).

2-day old baguette

Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper and toast in oven for 5-10  minutes (250ºF).

Prepare remaining vegetables that you will add to salad by cutting into bite-sized pieces. I decided to use 1 cucumber for crunch, 1 yellow tomato, and about 3/4 C of slow roasted tomatoes (the remains of a pint that I had roasted the other day – directions here). Chiffonade some basil as well.

my mise-en-place!

Place the toasted bread cubes in a large bowl with the cut vegetables and basil. Toss with ~ 2-3 T extra virgin olive oil and ~2-3 T good balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to marinate for 1-3 hours at room temperature, adding additional oil and vinegar (in equal quantities) if necessary to help bread soak up (but not drown in) the vegetable juices.

panzanella

***

As usual, in any post that mentions dance, I must leave you with a video. I chose my class carefully based on location (so that I could hopefully return) and the reputation of the teacher. Andy Taylor-Blenis teaches at the premier Boston jazz dance school – the Jeannette Neill Dance Studio where I took classes when I was in college (I only took with Jeannette) — so I knew she was quality. She is a senior company member with Prometheus Dance and has a history in folk dance which I explored last year when I performed with Nishmat Hatzafon. This seemed like a great blend of where my dance has come from and where it’s heading, since I want to start a Nishmat-like group up here mixing lyrical jazz, emotion, Jewish and Israeli themes, hopes of peace, and a rich sense of history. I found this excerpt of some Prometheus pieces to share.

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quite a reputation

happy birthday Meira(actual birthday, April 28)

Meira is the type of person whose reputation precedes her and who then proceeds to surpass it.

When learning that I would be moving to Philadelphia, my friend “super Tirza” (an email address – and the name stuck) told me that I just had to meet her friend Meira whom she knew from Atlanta and who was starting business school in the Fall. She said we would undoubtedly be friends. Meira and I might have exchanged an email or two and then promptly forgot about each other. In the Spring, I became one of the first denizens of a warehouse renovated into a large apartment building a few blocks east of campus. Meira moved up north at the end of the Summer to a small apartment building west of campus.  The new semester started, and those 15 blocks that separated us were like two different worlds.

Then, one day I received a somewhat urgent email and call from a vaguely familiar sounding person inquiring about my apartment building. Within a few days, Meira became my almost roommate (just one floor removed). Within a few months, my same age sister. Before the year was out, I had a new Southern family since my own family had moved West and it was difficult to go home for the holidays. By now I feel like a true family member, warmly embraced by relatives whom I have never even met.

And while I like to think that I’m special, Meira manages to make everyone she spends time with feel this way.

When I needed surgery and couldn’t sleep through the night, Meira came over at 3 am to watch Flashdance with me. And when my father came to town when I was recovering in the hospital, Meira invited him for shabbat dinner and had everyone introduce themselves by sharing their favorite invention. She knew just how to make my father feel at home (engineers unite – he loves the transistor!), and she is one of the few friends that my father asks about by name. She might have even made a chocolate dessert!

zucchini bread, cooling

Meira is one of the people to whom this little project is dedicated. Personally, professionally, and culinarily (we’re both fans of making up our own words!), she is one of those people who has helped (and continues to help) me figure out who I am. In many circles, and around here, she is probably most well known as Dodah Meira to her beautiful niece and full-of-character nephew and for supplying the nuggets recipe.

Meira is usually the first of my friends to try new ideas and products and she shares generously. As a trained industrial engineer with an MBA in marketing and operations, she laughs with me over ridiculous product placement in stores, especially new (ahem, The Fresh Grocer in West Philadelphia???) or newly renovated grocery stores.

Actually, we giggle over many things and I can always count on Meira to randomly call me when an ad for a cheesy dance movie  comes out straight to video and she knows that we will be NetFlixing it for a chill evening, or possibly, now that we live in separate cities, somehow telepathically stumbling up0n it on the same evening. Meira appreciates and helps me laugh at some of my own foibles and helps remind me to put things into perspective. I always know I’m in for a good time when I answer my phone and the conversation begins, “I just know you’ll appreciate this story….”

Meira also has a beautiful spiritual side. She has explored this in many ways, publicly and privately. For example, in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, she and her sister, Caroline, make sure that all of their father’s collection of machzors (high holiday prayer books) get used so none will feel lonely. It sounds a bit funny until you see how beautiful it is – my sister and I love watching and helping in this particular annual ritual. One way that Meira shares her spirituality with many close to her is in sending out annual memories of her father and “fatherly advice” to help guide her and her friends through the upcoming year. This past year, she looked at the meaning in numbers and letters, using gematria (Jewish numerology), prayer, mathematics (the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio- gotta love the woman!), and visualization. She concluded,

I wish all of you the power of being in the now and the power to be open to all that life brings.

Thank you, Meira, for all you do for me and everyone you touch.

zucchini bread

Healthy-ish Zucchini Bread

This is the zucchini bread that I have been making for years. I actually printed out this recipe from Cooking Light magazine and have been working off the same piece of paper, crinkled and splattered and marked up with adaptations in all colors of pen. It was only when I was sitting down to type this up that I noticed the date that I had printed off this particular recipe — 9/30/01 — the month when I met Meira. And Meira is just the person to see beyond the coincidence and realize that it’s bashert — that this healthy-ish zucchini bread is absolutely 100% meant for her and I could not have possibly chosen anything else to bake for her birthday.

Makes 2 loaves (or 1 loaf + 1 dozen muffins or 2 dozen muffins)

- 3-4 medium sized zucchinis (to be grated into 2 C)

- 2 C flour (I split this evenly between whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour)

- 1 C sugar

- 1/2 C brown sugar (can probably use 1.5 c white sugar total, or if you really want lower calorie, just leave out this extra 1/2 C sugar)

- 1 t salt

- 1 t baking soda

- 1 t baking powder

- 1 T cinnamon (or more!)

- 3/4 C applesauce

- 1/4 C oil

- 3 eggs

- 1 t vanilla (optional – I forgot to add to Meira’s loaf, but added it to the rest of the batter…)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line colander with paper towels.

Wash zucchini and the grate with medium holes (not tiniest) of box grater into lined colander, set atop a shallow bowl to catch any liquid.

grating zucchini

Allow zucchini to sit on paper towels for up to 30 minutes, pressing down periodically, to release some of the water. You can add paper towels This will prevent your zucchini bread from being too soggy.

grated zucchini, draining

While zucchini is draining, in a large bowl (I prefer glass so you can check that everything is mixed), stir together the dry ingredients – the flours, sugars (you can use all white sugar, or even cut sugar down to 1 C…most recipes call for 2 C white sugar), salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon (you can double the cinnamon, I often do!).

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add applesauce, oil, eggs (check for bloodspots in a small glass bowl and then break up the yolk before adding), vanilla, and drained zucchini. Most recipes suggest mixing these ingredients together first in a separate bowl, but I hate having to clean extra dishes. I’ve found that you can just stir the wet ingredients together in the well and then incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet.

Don’t over mix the batter. The beauty of a glass bowl is you can see if you’ve missed any flour at the bottom. I like using a “spoonula” to scrap the bowl edges for flour.

Divide batter between two small loaf pans or muffin tins sprayed with oil (~3 C batter per loaf pan). I made one loaf and a dozen muffins so that I could test the recipe before sending. The loaf takes ~ 65-75 minutes to bake. Muffins take 45 -60 minutes. You know the loaf/muffin is done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean and without crumbs. Allow to cool completely on a rack.

zucchini loaf

zucchini muffinsI baked these zucchini muffins in silicone “moules à tartelette et muffins” (made by Mastrad - that produces Orka brand silicone oven mitts) that I did indeed purchase in France, as if you had to ask…

zucchini muffinI had to test one before sending the loaf to Meira!

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