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Archive for the ‘NaBloPoMo’ Category

Just a quick post (and recipe) tonight because I’m running out the door and I’m already late for a party.

This butternut squash dish is the second recipe that I made from Yotam Ottolenghi‘s and Sami Tamimi‘s newest cookbook, Jerusalem. (You may have already seen the recipe in this article).

I fashioned the photographs after the ones in the cookbook to reflect the authors’ cooking philosophy. In their first cookbook collaboration, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, the pair explains, “Like the market vendor, we make the best of what we have and don’t interfere with it too much. We keep foods as natural as possible, deliberately avoiding complicated cooking methods.” Their cooking technique keeps ingredients close to their origins; for example, they eschew tiny brunoise dicing in favor of bite-sized chunks to allow each individual element to shine.

I suspect this approach to food, the analogy to the market vendor displaying his wares, is very much informed by their childhoods in a country where markets remain a significant part of cultural and daily life. We can talk more about this, but I’ve got a birthday to celebrate (not mine – that’s in a few weeks).

See you back here tomorrow morning. Well, actually probably more like afternoon.

Roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahina and za’atar

Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. The combination of roasting and za’atar give the dish a smoky flavor. Feel free to experiment with other types of squash and pumpkin – just adjust the roasting time accordingly. You probably won’t need all of the tahina sauce – just drizzle lightly and add more if necessary. 

Serves 4 as a side dish

- 1 large butternut squash (about 2 – 2 ½ lbs)

- 2 red onions

- 4 T olive oil, divided

- 3 heaping T tahina

- 1 lemon for juice (approximately 2-3 T, depending on your lemon)

- 1 T water

- 1 clove garlic

- 3 T pine nuts

- 1 T za’atar

- 1 T coarsely chopped parsley (optional)

- Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 475˚F.

Cut. Peel and seed squash, and cut into thin (3/4–inch) wedges approximately 2-inches long. Cut the onions into 1-inch wedges.

Mix. In a large bowl, toss the squash and onions with 3 tablespoons of oil, and  sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Roast. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spread the vegetables on the sheet and roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes. They’re ready when they start to brown and are tender. The onions will probably cook faster than the squash, so check and remove them early if necessary so they don’t burn.

Whisk. While the vegetables are roasting, place in a bowl the tahina, 1½ tablespoon lemon juice, water, and minced garlic. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey, adding water or tehina if necessary. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and more lemon juice if you’d like.

Toast. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small pan over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts with a pinch of salt and cook for 2-3 minutes until the nuts start to brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts into a small bowl to stop the cooking.

Serve. To serve, spread the vegetables on a platter, drizzle with tahina (you probably won’t need all of it), and sprinkle with za’atar, pine nuts, and parsley (if using). I like to eat this at room temperature.

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the rest

I’m catching up on my NPR over here, this time a Splendid Table broadcast from a few weeks ago. (Listen to the first 9 minutes or read the transcript here.) It’s a conversation with Penny De Los Santos, photographer extraordinaire. I almost wrote food photographer, but, when you hear her talking, you realize that she doesn’t just photograph food, she captures moments and feelings.

So I flipped through the pages of this blog. I’d say I mostly shot food. Nice food, but food nonetheless. I take pictures I think are pretty, that demonstrate a method, that show you what your breakfast-lunch-dinner-snack-dessert might look like if you try out a recipe. The blog is largely recipes with a little life thrown in. Often I struggle with talking about that life. Or photographing it.

I do sometimes photograph moments. A shared lunch, a week on another coast, a long day. But the majority of my photos feel like this, inside:

I’m standing on a chair, alone in my apartment, taking pictures of something I’ve made.

Most of the time, you’ll see a single piece of something that I’m eating. Alone.

Usually, I’m bringing the rest to friends.

So, today I tried to focus on the rest. The best part.

Not that cooking – the tap-tap as you chop potatoes, the tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap as you chop herbs, the rising of a cake, the wiping your hands on a towel (or, if you’re me, on your jeans), the digging your hands in — isn’t the best. But it’s not enough. And I’d like my pictures to express that more.

So, as I try to write in a different way, I’ll also experiment with photographing in a different way.

(Non-dairy) skillet cornbread with cayenne

I was searching for a non-dairy cornbread to bring’s to a friend’s dinner, and Elisha came to the rescue with a recipe that doesn’t require milk substitutes or margarine.

(A few other people suggested using coconut oil. Barella, a high school classmate, even offered to send me a recipe for a “vegan butter spread made with coconut oil, flax oil, and agave nectar among other things”. Clearly she remembers me from my overly ambitions teen years.)

There’s a little bit of magic in this recipe. You purée the corn with oil and water and eggs, which creates a creamy replacement for the milk or buttermilk that most recipes use. You don’t miss the buttery taste because the corn taste is nice as strong. I don’t like whole corn kernels in my cornbread, but if you do, feel free to throw an extra cup or so into the batter. I also added a bit of cayenne for a little heat at the end of each bite. I increased the recipe by half because I only had a large (11-inch skillet); the original calls for a 9-inch skillet, so check out Elisha’s blog for the right measurements if you have that size.

Finally, I have a few words on technique. It will probably take your oven a while to heat. You might be tempted to mix all of the ingredients together and then wait. Do the opposite – wait until the oven reaches the right temperature, and then blend everything together. Cornbread is a quick bread and it rises due the chemical reaction of baking powder and liquid (and eggs). Once you mix the wet and dry ingredients, you’ll notice bubbles. You don’t want all the bubbles to form and break before they hit the oven of you’ll get a flat dense bread. (Ever tried to make pancakes from yesterday’s batter? They’re thin and tough. Same reason). So, mix up the dry ingredients, puree the corn with the wet ingredients and just barely stir everything together right before you pour it into the skillet.

Now, about that pan. You want the pan to be really hot before you add the batter so you’ll get a nice sizzle. Keep in in the oven while it’s heating up. Then take it out (oven mitts, don’t forget oven mitts), grease with a little oil and add the batter. I let my pan cool down a bit too long, so I stuck the filled pan on a burner for a few minutes to make sure the bottom would get nice and crisp.

Ok, finally, on to the recipe. It’s much easier than the length of my notes would have you believe.

Serves 8-10

- 2 1/2 C flour

- 1 3/4 C fine cornmeal

- 1/2 C coarse cornmeal

- 1/4 C sugar

- 2 t salt

- 2 t baking powder

- 1/2 t cayenne pepper

- 1 C corn kernels (I used frozen and thawed them before use)

- 2 C less 2 T water

- 5 T oil (I used canola), divided

- 3 eggs

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Place a large oven-proof cast-iron skillet on the middle rack. 

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together flour, both cornmeals, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cayenne. Set aside.

Purée. Place the corn, water and 3 tablespoons of oil into a blender (or food processor) and puree for about 2 minutes until it’s smooth and no corn pieces remain. Add the eggs and continue to blend everything together.

Wait. Wait until the oven is hot before adding the wet ingredients to the dry.

Stir. Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Stir until all the ingredients are incorporated (don’t over-mix), scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure you don’t miss any flour.

Swirl. Take the skillet out of the oven (don’t forget the oven mitts!) and pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, swirling so that it coats the bottom and sides of the skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet – is should sizzle as it hits the hot pan.

Bake. Bake for 20-25 minutes. I broiled it for the last few minutes to get a golden brown top. Serve warm right out of the pan. Again, oven mitts. Don’t forget the oven mitts.

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When I started this blog, it was about the recipes. It was a way for me to capture what I was cooking and eating. A way for me to end the search for that recipe that I made that time with the stuff, it was on the right side of page in that cookbook, I think. It replaced the spreadsheet (yup, geek here) that I devised to track the recipes I made and wanted to make, a spreadsheet with pivot tables (yup, doubling down on geek here) to easily pull up a list of all Greek soups with tomato as the main ingredient.

In those early days, my cookbooks filled one shelf, my cooking magazines two. The book section grew to two and pushed out the magazines. In a big purge, I spent dozens of night on the floor in front of my bookshelf with a pile of magazines. I flipped and I ripped, taking only the best recipes and filling a blue folder. Then a red folder. The cookbook shelves soon counted three, but a new shelf was emerging. A shelf of writing about food, not just recipes.

It started with Adam Gopnik’s writings about Paris, which was about the city, which meant it was about the food. Then, somewhat predictably, MFK Fisher. I jumped right in with her 744-page, five-books-in-one tome. I’m still pawing my way through that one. These days there’s Ruth Reichl, a handful of other food memoirs and recipes with stories, and more recently, the type of magazine that I don’t throw away.

I was driving to a meeting today, listening to NPR, and I realized that I don’t just think about food and read about food and write about food. I also think about writing. Today’s Fresh Air was an interview with Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay for the recently-released Lincoln movie. The story of the film’s development was interesting enough, but skip ahead to 11:57:

Dave Davies: I read that when you wrote this screenplay, you gathered just the right fountain pens and notebooks. What’s the role of that?

Tony Kushner: I write everything with a fountain pen, I don’t know why. I’ve done it since I was bar mitzvahed. I was given a fountain pen, a Parker fountain pen, and I loved it. And I never liked writing anything with pencils or ballpoints. I just can’t stand it. Fountain pens have very expressive lines. When  you’re upset and you’re writing really hard, it gets thicker and darker. And when you’re tentative, it’s thinner and more spidery… I keep notebooks and write in them. I’m 56 years old and I find it easier to write when I’m first pulling everything together with a pen and paper. The noise of the computer feels like impatience. It’s the sound of impatience to me. And I like having a paper trail of what I’ve crossed out because sometimes I go back and realize I shouldn’t have done that. It’s a more natural way for me to write. I’m sure I’m the last generation that will ever say anything like that.

When I got home, I pulled a small notebook from my purse, a fountain pen from the drawer, and tried to draw a line. The ink had dried up, and right now that pen tip is sitting in a shallow bowl of ever-bluer water, waiting to be filled again.

As I’m typing now, I hear that sound of impatience.

Once the nib is all clean and I’ve refilled the cartridge (brown ink this time?), I’m going to sneak away from my computer every now and again. I’ll go into a different room and maybe put my feet up and write. I’ll make scribbles and draw arrows and squeeze in extra notes perpendicular to the lines using smaller and smaller print until I hit the corner of the page. And then draw another arrow and keep writing.

I’ll hear the scratch of the tip. It will be the sound of writing.

I’m not sure how this will go.

I’ll keep you posted. (Get it, post-ed?)

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I’ve lived in Cambridge for four years and three months. That’s the longest I’ve stayed in a city since I left my childhood  home when I was 17. Which has gotten me thinking about what home is. And what it means to me to have really planted roots. Oh, not in the get married/buy a house/make babies/get a dog/build a picket fence kind of way, but roots nonetheless.

But when I say I’m going home, I always think of the city where I grew up and the house where my parents still live. Nothing new here, of course, and many of you probably share the sentiment. But nowhere have I seen this feeling of home so poignantly captured as in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi‘s most recent cookbook collaboration.    

I’ve written about this London-based pair before and shared a small handful of their recipes. But their latest venture is much more than a cookbook. It’s a journey to their shared home of Jerusalem, where they grew up on opposite sides of the city.

In the introduction to the book, they explain: “It is more than twenty years since we both left the city…Yet we still think of Jerusalem as our home. Not home in the sense of the place you conduct your daily life or constantly return too. In fact, Jerusalem is our home almost against our wills. It is our home because it defines us, whether we like it or not.”

They continue, “the flavors and smells of this city are our mother tongue.” I love that. Our mother tongue. I get that.

I speak street food. Hummus and tahina, falafel and schwarma, all wrapped up in warm pita and laffa. Fresh carrot juice and bourekas.

I speak market food. Tomatoes and pickles, goat cheese and sheep cheese, rugelach and, well, more rugelach.

I speak home food. Spicy carrots and eggplant dips, chicken soup and harira, syrup-drenched cakes and pistachios by the handful.

I speak these foods and they inform my cooking  even though each of my visits to Jerusalem have been brief. I can only imagine what it’s like to have grown up there. And then to make the journey back, senses more keenly aware of everything after an absence.

I can imagine. And I can cook now that I have the recipes. And I can share them with you. Here is my first taste from the cookbook.

(For more discussion of the cookbook, check out my column this month in the Jerusalem Post. You’ll also get a non-so-sneak peek at another recipe before I post it here in a few days.)

Roasted cauliflower with tahina

Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. The original recipe calls for frying the cauliflower, but I simplified it with a  quick roast in the oven. I made it with multi-colored cauliflower, having found purple, green, and yellow varieties in the grocery store. This makes a lot of dressing. I had enough left over after five heads of cauliflower to drizzle over a few more brassica vegetables – a head of broccoli and a few kale salads. Feel free to make only half of the dressing.

A few notes on tahina  Make sure to refrigerate it after opening because it can go rancid quickly (the same is true of sesame and nut oils). If the tahina separates, heat it up slightly to make it easier to mix. When you first add liquid to the tahina  it will thicken but quickly loosen up as you stir. For this recipe, add enough liquid so the sauce becomes about same consistency of honey. I’ve been told the most authentic brand you can buy outside of Israel is Roland. 

Serves at least 10 as a side dish

- 3 heads of cauliflower

- 8-10 scallions

- 1 small bunch parsley

- 1 small bunch mint

- 3 cloves garlic

- 2 lemons for zest and juice

- 4 T olive oil, divided

- ¾ C tahina

- 2/3 C Greek yogurt (I used 1% fat)

- 1 t pomegranate molasses (sometimes called pomegranate syrup), plus extra for drizzling

- About ¾ C water

- Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.

Prep. Trim the end of each cauliflower and then quarter them through their cores. Cut out the cores and then break the vegetable apart into bite-sized florets. Cut the scallions in 2- to 3-inch pieces. Roughly chop the parsley and mint – you’ll need ¼ cup of each for the dressing; reserve any extra for garnish. Mince the garlic.  Zest one lemon. Juice both lemons – this should yield a little over ¼ cup.

Toss. Toss the cauliflower in a bowl with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a few pinches of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Roast. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spread the cauliflower on the pan in a single layer and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the cauliflower is crisp and parts of it have turned golden brown. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Saute. Heat up the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small pan. When the oil is shimmering, add the scallions and sauté for about 5 minutes until they begin to color. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Whisk. Spoon the tahina into a bowl and mix in the  yogurt, garlic, herbs, lemon zest, ¼ cup of lemon juice, pomegranate molasses. Slowly pour in the water, whisking with each addition. Only add enough water to get  the sauce to a thick, smooth pourable consistency, similar to honey. Taste a floret dipped in the sauce, and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Serve. Mix the vegetables with a some of the sauce, enough to coat the vegetables without drowning them. (As I mentioned, there will be leftover sauce!) Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and any leftover parsley or mint.

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Yesterday I mentioned soup that inspired, well, yesterday’s soup. And I figure it’s only fair that I give you a glimpse of that soup and the cafe where I tried it.

So get out the popcorn and click on the picture. I made you a little movie!

(Thanks, Directr, for turning me into a fancy pants film maker. You guys rock!)

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I promised you soup yesterday. And pictures too. I do want to warn you that there’s also a favor I need to ask, but we’ll get to that later.

First, let’s eat.

Timing’s a bit off because this is a soup for a cold night when the first wafts of fireplace fill the brisk air. Instead, today was sunny and nearly 70 degrees here in Boston. One of those open-all-the-doors-and-windows kind of days. But soup I wanted, and soup I made.

This whole thing started with a mushroom wheat berry soup at a favorite cafe. The soup was dark-colored and light-flavored, rich with mushroom-y earthiness.  The wheat berries, surpassing barley and farro along the firm and chewy spectrum, gave the soup enough heft to be filling  but not so much as to be heavy. And a sprinkle of dill brightened the whole thing up. I was determined to recreate the soup while its aroma and texture and flavor was still fresh in my memory, weather be damned. Which is how we got to where we are today.

I realize that this soup might sound like a certain other soup I made last week, what with the mushrooms and ancient grains and all. But that one was barley soup with mushroom. This one is mushroom soup with wheat berries. (Barley and farro would work well here too.)

Here’s what makes this a soup with grains rather than a grain soup: I cooked the grains and the soup separately. If you cook the grains in the soup, you get a starch soup. If you cook the grains in advance (or in parallel) and then drain them of their starchy water, you get a broth with chunks of vegetables, slices of mushrooms, and nuggets of wheat berries.

I’m sure you’re probably thinking that it’s a pain to pre-cook the wheat berries, but hear me out. Wheat berries take a bit of time to cook, generally at least an hour and often with an overnight soak first (though the brand I used was parboiled and only took about 15 minutes), so it’s great to have them on hand when you have a craving. Cook up a big batch and keep some in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for many weeks. (This works particularly well if you recently made some extra space in your freezer by using up those blueberries that you tucked away over the summer). Pull the grains out in the next few days or weeks to top a salad, throw in a soup, or bolster up some vegetables.

While we’re on the subject of cooking grains, here’s where the favor comes in. I know you were searching for it, skipping past the pictures, scrolling down the text. So I’ll repeat it: here’s where favor comes in.

Click on the picture of the wheat berries and take a close look. See how they’re split? The same thing happens whenever I make barley and farro. I can’t seem to figure out how to get those beautiful, smooth little kernels that everyone else seems to achieve with ease. Mine always end up popped open, their fluffy little insides spilling out.

Can anyone tell me the secret to cooking up perfect grains? I have a pantry full of wheat berries, farro, and barley waiting.

Mushroom soup with wheat berries

This soup is adapted from Smitten Kitchen who made it with farro and who adapted it from the New York Times‘s Marian Burros who made it with barley. Rather than cooking the grains in the soup, I cooked them in advance. As for the best way to cook the wheat berries, well, that’s where I need your help. For now, I’m just following the directions on the bag I bought, but hopefully I’ll figure this out soon (hint hint).

A few notes on ingredients that you may not have lying around. I used one tablespoon of tomato paste which gives the soup a richer flavor. If you don’t feel like opening a can, you can skip it. I keep in my freezer a bag of tablespoon-sized cubes of tomato paste that I froze in an ice cube tray way back when. If you don’t have sherry, I’ve heard that you can replace it with half the amount of cider vinegar. Try it and let me know how it works out. If you don’t have a bunch of fresh herbs sitting around, add a few pinches of dry dill. It will be almost as good. Or add your favorite herbs – thyme would work great here. 

Makes about 6 cups

- 1/2 C dried or 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries (or farro, pearled barley, or spelt)

- 1/2 cup dried mushrooms like porcini

- 1 medium onion

- 1 medium carrot

- 2 stalks celery

- 2 cloves garlic

- 1 lb mushrooms (I used 1/2 white button and 1/2 cremini)

- 2 T olive oil

- 1 T tomato paste

- 4 C vegetable (or other) stock

- 1/4 C dry sherry

- Salt and pepper to taste

- handful of parsley (~1/4 C chopped)

- handful of dill (~1/4 C chopped)

Make grains. Follow the directions on your wheat berries package. The brand I bought is parboiled, so it only took about 15 minutes to make. Most recipes, such as this one, suggest first rinsing the grains, then simmering them in water (3:1 ratio) for about an hour. I’ll get back to you once I get a good method down.

Soak. Boil 1 1/2 cups of water. Cover dried mushrooms with the water, and set aside for 20 minutes. When the mushrooms have softened, drain them and reserve the liquid (you’ll be straining it and then  adding it to the soup later). Finely chop the mushrooms.

Chop. Finely chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Slice the fresh mushrooms.

Sauté. Heat the oil in heavy-bottomed deep pot. Sauté onion, celery, and carrot over medium heat until onions begin to color, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds. Then add the fresh mushrooms and sauté for 5-10 minutes, until they begin to release liquid. Keep sautéing until the mushrooms reabsorb their liquid. Add the re-hydrated chopped mushrooms and  the tomato paste.  Strain the reserved mushroom liquid to remove any grit and add it to the pot. I used a coffee filter in a manual drip coffee cone for this. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get up any browned bits that are stuck.

Simmer. Add the vegetable stock and sherry and adjust the heat so the soup comes to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes and then add the cooked wheat berries, simmering for just a few more minutes until the grains warm up.

Sprinkle. Chop up the parsley and dill and stir into the soup, reserving a few pinches to garnish each bowl.  

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Lunch today was not pretty, folks. Oh, it was good, but it wasn’t much of a looker. That’s why I don’t have any pictures for you.

It was one of those clear-out-the-fridge-to-make-room-for-new-groceries lunches. You might also call it an eat-before-going-shopping-to-buy-said-groceries-so-you-don’t-buy-out-the-store lunch. The two clearly go together. And you can probably guess how I spent the afternoon.

Lunch started with a bowl of wheat berries. Wheat berries are one of those ancient grains that seem to be the newest thing these days. Or maybe it was the newest thing a few years ago. Which would make ancient grains old news. Which, I suppose they are. Anyway, wheat berries surpass barley and farro along the firm and chewy spectrum. They’re a little nutty, but not crazy nutty.

Getting back to lunch, I cooked up some wheat berries and piled them into a bowl. Then I sautéed some onion and lots of garlic, added some vegetables (whatever is lurking in your fridge), sprinkled  some spices, and heaped everything on top of the wheat berries.

Finally, empty fridge and full belly, I was ready to go shopping.

A few hours later, full fridge, still-full belly, I started making soup for the week. More on that, pictures and all, tomorrow. See you then.

Wheat berries with greens and tomatoes

Serves 1

Make 1/4 cup hard wheat berries,  Follow the directions on your wheat berries package. The brand I bought is parboiled, so it only took about 15 minutes to make). Most recipes, such as this one, suggest first rinsing the grains, then simmering them in water (3:1 ratio) for about an hour.

While the wheat berries are simmering, prep your vegetables. Dice 1/2 an onion. Mince 3 cloves of garlic. Roughly chop 2 medium tomatoes and 3 handfuls of hearty greens. I used baby kale and arugula; plain leaved or lacinato kale, chard or spinach should work really well too; if you’re using any of these larger greens, remove the leaves from the ribs first.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion  and sauté for 3-4 minutes until soft and translucent, stirring so it doesn’t brown. Add the rest of the ingredients in the following order and keep sautéeing and stirring: garlic for 1 minute, then the tomatoes, a pinch of cayenne, and a few pinches of baharat*. Keep stirring over heat for 5 more minutes until the tomatoes to break down. Taste for salt. Add the greens and stir until they wilt.

Drain the wheat  berries (1/4 cup should yield about 1/2 cup) and scoop into a bowl. Surround with the vegetables. Eat and go grocery shopping.

* If you don’t have baharat, you can substitute a mixture of cumin and cinnamon.

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I took a walk today.

I peeked onto a neighbor’s front porch.

I listened to some music.

I marveled at a garden.

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Some things get easier as we get older. But making new friends is not one of them. Sure, we make acquaintances. We have people to go out to dinner with. And brunch. We befriend the parents of our kids’ friends based on play dates and carpools and school projects. But friends who know you like your high school and college friends do? Those are few and far between, and they get fewer and farther between as time goes by.

When my parents moved out to Palo Alto over a decade ago, they were in a bind. New coast, new city, new life. They knew no one. They were, to some extent, starting over. They quickly joined a synagogue, but lived several miles away, too far to walk to shabbat services as the congregation was wont to do. So they stayed in a nearby hotel on many Friday nights and relied on the community’s hospitality for shabbat dinners and lunches. It’s a hard position to be in, not being able to reciprocate.

One of my mother’s first friends in California was Stephanie. In a recent email, my mother described Stephanie as “the quintessential Palo Alto hostess … If there was an extra person or two in synagogue who needed hospitality, she could always stretch a meal to accommodate them and no one knew it was a stretch.  That was definitely a talent.” It may sound strange to think of people “needing” to be fed, but on shabbat, one of the main tenets, at least my favorite one, is eating with family and community. While she started by welcoming my parents to the community, Stephanie quickly became family. She and my mom spoke nearly every night. They even shared a birthday – February 12 – and my parents threw Stephanie a celebratory brunch when she hit a big something-oh.

Stephanie and her mother both died of ovarian cancer a few years back. In their matriarchs’ honor, the family started the Stephanie Sussman and Ann Nadrich Memorial Fund through Sharsheret, an organization that supports Jewish women facing breast and ovarian cancer. Soon Stephanie’s  daughters, Adeena and Sharon, started the Pies for Prevention Thanksgiving bake sale to raise ovarian cancer awareness and to support Sharsheret’s Ovarian Cancer Program. The bake sale has grown, gained press coverage and, now in its fourth year, you can buy pies (and breads) in eight cities across the nation, including up here in the Boston area (more on that later).

(Stephanie was clearly beautiful on the inside, and her daughters are testament to how stunning she was on the outside.)

When my family crowded around our Thanksgiving table last year, drowsy from too much turkey, we greeted our pies with greedy eyes and large plates that were soon crumb-covered. Our bellies were full, and so were our hearts.

If you’re in the Boston area and would like to order some goodies but can’t make it out to Sharon to pick them up, I’m going to be making a pie and bread run so you can grab their orders from my place the two evenings  before the holiday.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread

Adeena Sussman shared this recipe with me. She’s a great chef and food writer, and this quick bread is a good example of her talent for recipe development.  When we ate it last year, we couldn’t figure out whether to serve it with the meal or for dessert. If you can, hide a few leftover slices, then toast them up and slather them with butter for breakfast the next morning. You can always go to the gym next week.

Makes two 9-inch loaves or three 8-inch loaves  

- One 15 oz can solid-pack pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

- 4 eggs

- 1 cup vegetable oil

- 2/3 cup water

- 2 cups white sugar

- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

- 2 teaspoons baking soda

- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

- 1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch or three 8-inch loaf pans and reserve.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.

Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Gently stir in cranberries. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for 60-65 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

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Enough chit-chat. Let’s cook, shall we?

See that up there? The New York Times calls it barley soup with mushrooms and kale. Barley soup with mushrooms.

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re thinking: why isn’t it called mushroom barley soup with kale?

Is it barley-er than the classic soup? Is it less mushroom-y? No and no. The mushroom and barley get equal billing here (and share very nicely with supporting actor kale). Which really should make it mushroom barley soup with kale.

If I had to compare it to what I know of mushroom barley soup, I’d say it’s, well, soupier.

Maybe we should call it soup with barley, mushrooms, and kale.

But that just sounds odd, don’t you think?

Barley soup with mushrooms and kale

I adapted this recipe from the New York Times, skipping the dried mushrooms and upping the garlic. I’m still working up the guts to use regular kale, but for now I’m dipping my toe in with the more tender baby kale. Be patient with me, people, be patient. I’m getting there. 

So here’s the thing: I’ve never been a fan of mushroom  barley soup – it always seemed thick and slimy. But this one is, as I said before, soupier. And it’s good. Good enough that I ate it for lunch four days in a row. As it sits in the fridge, the barley will absorb more of the liquid, so you’ll have to add some liquid (I just used water) to thin the soup a bit. To keep it bright, I squeezed some lemon and chopped some parsley after re-heating. Admittedly, by day four, I was happy to see the bottom of the pot.

Serves 4-6

- 1-2 T olive oil

- 1 large onion

- 1/2 lb cremini mushrooms (sometimes called baby portabellas)

- 4 cloves garlic

- 2 qt (8 C) water

- 3/4 C pearl barley

- a handful of fresh parsley, divided

- a few sprigs thyme

- parmesan rind

- 5 oz baby kale

- lemon for juice

- kosher salt and black pepper

Chop, cook, and stir. Cover the bottom of a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven with the olive oil and heat over medium until shimmering. While the oil is heating, chop the onion and thickly slice the mushrooms. Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring frequently until just tender (don’t let it brown), about 5 minutes. Then add the mushrooms, continuing to stir for another 3 minutes or so until they start to soften and release their moisture. Mince the garlic and add it to the pot with a good pinch of salt. Cook and stir for another 5 minutes until the mushrooms start to reabsorb their moisture and the whole mix dries out.

Simmer. Add the water, barley, a few sprigs each of parsley and thyme, and parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes. The barley won’t yet be cooked through.

Slice. Stack the kale leaves in bunches and slice crosswise into slivers.

Keep simmering. Add the kale to the simmering soup and continue to simmer, covered,  for another 15-20 minutes.

Serve. Remove the parsley and thyme sprigs, taste for salt and pepper, and stir in a few squeezes of lemon. Chop the remaining parsley and sprinkle a pinch over each bowl.

Store. The soup should keep in the fridge for a few days, but the barley will absorb liquid. Just add a bit more water before you reheat to get the right consistency. Don’t forget the lemon and parsley. I suspect that the soup also freezes well.

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