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As August drew to a close, I escaped the city and spent a week in Bermuda for a change of scenery to help reignite my creativity. One of my goals was to find a place where water and a hammock were always within reach, and I accomplished that expertly. I packed more bathing suits than t-shirts.

The first half of my trip I spent at an historic old estate on two acres of land, which sounds like a lot and indeed is a lot on an island smaller than Manhattan. Sharing this land, along with the home’s owners and a honeymooning couple, were three dogs, a goat named Billy, a goose, and an egg-laying hen. Across the road lolled a small bay filled with bobbing boats, the water salty enough to make it difficult to swim but easy to float.

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The sliver of a beach was small to begin with – perhaps three towels wide, maybe only two – and as the days drew to a close, the tide came in and the beach disappeared. I waded through ankle deep water to grab my shoes and coverup and silently thanked myself for the gift that was this vacation.

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I ate most lunches in restaurants and used that time to explore a tiny bit of the island, while my mornings and evenings were lazy and filled with sun and sea and pool and books and writing and music. The rest of my meals came from the kitchenette in my room, which meant lots of coffee and yogurt and fruit. This was by design – not an effort to keep costs down, but an effort to keep effort down.

About an hour after landing, I eagerly agreed when my taxi taxi driver offered to stop to pick up some food before dropping me off at my home for a few days “What produce is local?” I asked innocently. The driver chuckled as as he eased down the narrow winding roads, tooting his horn at other drivers, waving at pedestrians. “The only thing we export is our smiles; everything else we import.” The produce aisle looked eerily similar to the ones at home, just double or triple the price.

One of the best meals of the week was sourced from the neighbors. First, fish. A red hind caught that morning and filleted before my eyes by Pete whose boat I could swim to from my beach. Next, the rest. The honeymooners in the other suite and I pooled our fridge contents. Dinner was cobbled together by the pool, with lemon-drenched grilled fish, a cheese omelette, sautéed cauliflower, and margarine-rubbed rolls. It was eclectic and bizarre and we ate it as it rained.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto-sep-01-2-30-31-pm-crOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMidway through my trip, I took a ferry to St. George. The fact that everyone recommended the same two restaurants was less a statement on how good they were than on the size of the town and its food options.

Here I stayed in an apartment immaculately staged as the old sea captain’s quarters that it had been way back when. Wide plank floors. A dark wooden table surrounded by studded leather chairs. A telescope and a mariner’s spinning globe.

Perched high above town and overlooking the harbor, I waited out a storm my first morning.

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In his September newsletter, David Leibovitz wrote about “a vacation where you work,” and that’s what this trip was for me. Sure, I’m back to making my living in healthcare, but I’m still writing for myself and writing for The Forward and with so many new cookbooks out this fall, I had a lot of catching up to do.

I sat by the pool, on the porch, by the blasting A/C and I wrote.

I had conducted some interviews in the days before I left so I spent a good few hours listening and transcribing. As a result, I replayed in my mind a story that Elissa Altman shared when discussing her most recent memoir Treyf. Her grandmother’s brisket, an “elemental” dish of  just meat and onions, had seemed lost for years. The scrawled recipe referenced adding a glass of water, and she and her cousins had started with shot glasses and worked their way up to try to reproduce it. It was only when Altman was living in her late grandmother’s apartment, rummaging through her drawers, finding a five pound cleaver that her great grandmother had schlepped from Czernowitz, cooking on her stove in a kitchen tinged with schmaltz, that she looked up from the sink to discover an empty yahrtzeit glass. A perfect ten ounces, it yielded the brisket of her memory.

Altman told me this story to illustrate why in a memoir where food was featured so prominently, she didn’t include recipes. As a cookbook editor, she gets the need for precision and exacting measurements. But she felt that the food in Treyf was tied to place and time: “Food and the act of cooking is live, it’s organic, it’s ever-changing. And we actually have to take it at more than just face value, which is why when everyone asked whether I was going to put recipes in Treyf, I said no, there’s lots of food in it, but I don’t want to think about the food in the book that way.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon after returning from Bermuda, I saw a photo Altman posted of dinner one night. She described it: “pan-roasted corn and zucchini with red chile and local sheep feta.” We then had the following exchange:

Me: I pretty much have all these ingredients – I think I know what tomorrow’s lunch will be!

Altman: Sauté the corn first, remove, add the zucchini, brown it, then add the corn back……
Me: Oh, thanks for the advice! Can’t wait to try it out…
Altman: and then squeeze lime (not lemon) over it.
Me: Lime….interesting…now, that I don’t have, but would be great with that corn. Might just pop over to my corner fruit guy in the morning…
Altman: think Mexican: squash, corn, queso fresco, lime
This dish, one that I’ve repeated several times since and will continue to churn out as long as zucchini and corn are in season, doesn’t need a recipe. It captures place and time, a return to my own kitchen while eking out the last days of summer.

 

 

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My mother keeps packets of Gulden’s spicy brown mustard in her purse.

There used to be a kosher grocery store in Maryland that my parents frequented and, in the front of the store was a hot dog stand. The stand only provided bright yellow mustard, but my dad likes his mustard deli-style spicy. So he would slip a jar of mustard from the store into my mom’s cart to squirt on the one dog that he’d eat. After this happened a few times, my mom got smart. Even thought the store and the hot dog stand are no longer around, she still stashes my dad’s favorite mustard for hot dog emergencies.

It shouldn’t come as such a surprise that I homed in on the recipe for spicy whole-grain mustard in The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods. I spoke to co- authors and Gefilteria co-founders Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern last month, and you can find our discussion over on The Forward. The conversation and article is peppered with words like gospel and ambassador, and this book gives even more evidence that these two are leading the next generation of Jewish food historians, champions, makers, and fressers.

Their approach to recipe development is as deliberate as their philosophy and, if you wanted, you could buy the book just for the instructions (but why would you?). As someone who has reviewed my fair share of cookbooks, it was clear to me that the recipes were double, triple, quadruple tested and the abundant notes and variations make the book approachable to anyone. That’s not to say that the dishes are quick and easy – in fact, many of them are quite involved – but you can rest assured that if you read the recipes all the way through (beware of long fermentation, soaking, and rising times), you’re in safe hands.

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Before we get to the recipe, a few notes. This mustard is sinus-clearingly intense, and I’ll be giving a jar to my parents over Rosh Hashanah. The recipe requires an overnight soak and then two days to mellow, so prepare for that. If you want to lower the heat, I’ve done a little research and think that substituting milder yellow mustard seeds for brown will help; Jeffrey also suggested upping the honey or trying a more delicate vinegar.

Spicy whole-grain mustard

Reprinted from The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods

Mustard is a key player in Ashkenazi cooking. The mustard plant, a member of the Brassica family, has some pretty important relatives in cabbage and horseradish. Can you imagine eastern European Jewish cooking without them? Probably not. And you also probably can’t imagine a hot deli pastrami sandwich without spicy ground mustard. Personally, I can’t fathom life without a hot deli pastrami sandwich.

Why make your own mustard? Some store-bought mustard contains thickeners and unnamed “spices.” But more important, homemade mustard is just really good. Liz and I cooked a four-course pop-up dinner one January night at Barjot, a restaurant in Seattle. We made almost everything ourselves, from the schmaltz to the pastries. But we didn’t make mustard because Barjot makes its own. After the meal, a guest pulled me aside and said, “Everything was great, but the mustard is out of this world.” Oof. It was time for us to make our own. This recipe is inspired by Barjot’s.

Ashkenazi mustard should have bite and texture. Smear it on Home-Cured Pastrami (page 210) and Home-Cured Corned Beef (page 207), eat it with savory Roasted Garlic Potato Knishes (see page 195), and use it for salad dressings.

1 cup whole brown mustard seeds

1¼ cups apple cider vinegar

¼ cup mustard powder

2½ tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1. Place the mustard seeds and vinegar in an airtight glass container and let sit at room temperature until the seeds absorb the vinegar and plump up, at least overnight or up to 24 hours.

2. Pour the seed mixture into a food processor and add the mustard powder, honey, and salt. Process for a minute or two until a paste forms.

3. Scoop the mustard into a glass jar, seal, and refrigerate for about 2 days to allow the flavor to mellow out. Don’t be alarmed if the initial smell is rather pungent. The mustard will keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 months.

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new surroundings

I went back to Buvette last week where I ordered the carottes râpées and croque forestière, a grilled mushroom sandwich wrapped in gruyere. As you may recall, I do have a thing for carrot salads from France.

This time, the date showed up but he asked to split the bill. So we’re on to the next one.

Then I spent the weekend downtown, cat sitting or a friend, and took advantage of the new surroundings and colorful cookware to try out a recipe. Buvette’s carrots were on the menu and even though most of my meals took place in restaurants (my parents were in town), I managed to squeeze in a salad and a few fun shots.

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Speaking of new surroundings, I’m actually traveling right now. At the last minute, I booked what I’m calling a creative retreat to Bermuda. I’ve wanted to come here since my friends and I were subjected to a emergency landing on the island, trapped for several hours in the airport with only one vending machine, and tortured with a view of pink houses. I know it may seem extravagant given that I’ve just returned from Iceland. And yet, a bunch of projects over the past month have made it nearly impossible to catch up on a pile of writing – both here and over at the Forward. With the Jewish holidays and several upcoming cookbook releases on the horizon, I wanted to dedicate a little time to my “craft.” I’ve also brought my real camera and hope to play around with photographing things that aren’t food.

You can follow my travels over on Instagram. Today, there were bus rides (including an impromptu sunbathing session sitting on a stone wall at the bus stop, my feet mere inches from the cars, trucks, and bikes – but no bus for nearly an hour – winding their way towards me), reading on a beach that slowly disappeared as the tide came in, and a massage by the pool while the sun set. When I finish posting this, I’m taking a night swim.

And now, before y’all hate me, the recipe.

Buvette’s carottes râpées with pistachios and coriander vinaigrette

Adapted from Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food. Jody Williams calls this vinaigrette “an assertive lemon dressing” and it’s bracing in its acidity on its own, but mixed with sweet carrots and salty pistachios, it works. This makes a little more dressing than you’ll need. You can use a food processor to grate the carrots, but I prefer to use a julienne peeler for longer, thicker pieces. 

– ¼ C freshly squeezed lemon juice (my lemons were a little sad, so I needed 4; typically you can get ¼ cup juice from 2 lemons)

– ½ C extra virgin olive oil

– 1 medium garlic clove, grated on a Microplane (or finely minced)

– Large pinch sea salt

– Large pinch red chili flakes

– 1 t coriander seeds, toasted

– 4 C grated carrots (approximately 6 carrots hand grated)

– ½ C shelled pistachios (I used roasted salted nuts)

– Handful fresh cilantro leaves

Whisk. Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, and chili flakes. 

Crush. With a mortar and pestle (I used the other end of a wooden spoon) or the flat side of a knife blade, gently crush the coriander seeds and add them to the dressing.

Marinate. Pour the dressing over the carrots, pistachios, and cilantro. Allow to sit for at least half an hour before serving.

Chill. The salad will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for a few days.

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I just lit the candles on my menorah and want to wish you a happy Hanukkah if you’re celebrating. You can make latkes or sufganiyot if you’re feeling traditional, or, you can fry up something a little different this year. Recently I made panelle, chickpea fritters eaten as street food all over Sicily, often stuffed into a bun for an on-the-run lunch. Sounds a little like falafel, right?

panelle sandwich

I first learned of panelle when I was in Sicily over the summer, taking a food writing workshop at Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School. We made these crispy snacks during our last kitchen lesson and ate them with abandon as a pre-dinner snack. With wine, of course.

panelle

For more on our cooking lesson, head over the Forward where I’ve written about the experience. Otherwise, just jump right in with the recipe below.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Panelle chickpea fritters

You can prepare the recipe (adapted from Fabrizia Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily) in advance cutting the dough into wedges and then refrigerate the raw panelle in a zip top bag with a few paper towels to absorb any moisture, pulling out the dough when you’re ready to fry.

Serves 6

– 2 1/3 cup chickpea flour, preferably Sicilian (or Bob’s Red Mill)
– 3 cups cold water
– Fine sea salt
– Black pepper
– Vegetable or olive oil for frying

Cook. Combine the flour, water and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium saucepan and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens considerably (like a very stiff polenta). Reduce the heat if necessary to keep from burning. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Dry. Working quickly, spread the mixture with a wooden spatula onto 4 or 5 dinner plates so that it is about ¼-inch thick. Cool for 15 to 20 minutes.

Cut. When the dough is cool, loosen the edges with a small, sharp knife. Peel the dough off the plates and place on a work surface, stacking one on top of another. Cut the stack into 12–16 wedges.

panelle, ready to fry

Fry. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the chickpea wedges in batches, and fry, flipping occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Serve hot.

panelle

 

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Sukkot starts tonight and I’m excited to be meeting a few friends for dinner in one of the many temporary buildings that have popped up in parking lots all over the city. I wrote another piece about my time in Sicily for the Forward. I’ve pasted it below along with a recipe for casatelle – ricotta-filled turnovers that I fried up a few weeks ago.

Pavillion in the edible garden

Living in an apartment 20 stories above the streets of Manhattan can make relating to the holiday of Sukkot and its harvest celebration somewhat difficult. But spending time this summer in Sicily, an island with a dramatic and rich agricultural heritage, re-acquainted me with the agrarian setting in which so many of our holidays originated.

During my week at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, we picked lettuces for our salad, drank wine from the vineyard just up the street and ate ricotta from neighboring sheep. One morning, awakened by cooing birds outside my window, I spent a pre-breakfast hour writing in a small pavilion situated in the edible garden just a few stairs from my room. Surrounded on three sides by blue and white striped canvas walls, I scribbled away. As my stomach signaled time to eat, lazy plops of rain hit the bamboo roof. I took it all in — the temporary shelter, the vegetation, the gentle scent of fertilizer — and felt a sense of being tied to the land and at the mercy of the weather. I left my sukkah and ran to the kitchen for coffee.

Our final cooking lesson included cassatelle, fried turnovers filled with ricotta made by the shepherd we had visited earlier in the week. They reminded me of the Sukkot tradition of cooking stuffed foods to signify the abundance of the harvest. Back in my own kitchen, I prepare for the holiday by rolling out dough and wrapping it around soft blobs of cinnamon-scented cheese, frying up the pastries in sputtering oil and eating them warm with just a dusting of powdered sugar. As I lick my sweet fingers, I’m thankful for the abbondanza of my own life.

cassatelle

Cassatelle

Adapted from Fabrizia Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily. Cassatelle are ricotta-filled turnovers common in the eastern part of Sicily, and Mario, Executive Chef of the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, attributes their origins to Arab and Spanish flavors and techniques. The dough uses semolina flour and feels like fresh pasta. Wine in the dough provides both flavor (a bit of sweetness) and texture, helping with the formation of bubbles in the pasties as they fry; dry Marsala works well.

The recipe calls for a pasta machine to help knead the dough and roll it out to a uniform thickness. Alternatively separate the dough into five pieces and roll each out into a 9-by-9 square before cutting out circles.

These pastries are best fresh, but you can freeze the filled turnovers and then thaw and fry them up when you’re ready to eat.

Makes about 20 pastries

– ½ C white wine (or dry Marsala)
– ¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
– 2–4 T water
– 2 C semolina flour
– Pinch fine sea salt
– 1½ C whole-milk ricotta, preferably sheep’s milk
– 5 T granulated sugar
– 1 t ground cinnamon, plus more for garnish
– Vegetable oil for frying (several cups, depending on size of pan)
– Powdered sugar, for garnish

Warm. Combine the wine and oil in a small saucepan and heat until just warm (not hot). You can also use a microwave.

Knead. Mound the flour on a work surface or in a very large bowl (the latter is my preference), and make a well in the center. Add the wine-oil mixture and salt to the well, and with a fork, carefully incorporate it into the flour. Knead the dough with your hands, adding drops of water until smooth and elastic, about 8–10 minutes. The dough should slowly spring back when you poke it with your finger.

Rest. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and rest for 30 minutes on the counter.

Mix. In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Roll. Set a pasta machine to the widest setting. Run a piece of dough through the machine about 5 times at this setting, folding the dough in half each time before rolling it again. When the dough is very even, move the dial to the next setting and roll it through 2 to 3 times more, folding it each time. Move the dial to the third setting and roll it through 2 or 3 more times.

Cut. Lay out the dough on a floured work surface, and cut out circles with a 4-inch round cookie cutter.

Fill. Place a spoonful of ricotta just off-center, then moisten the edges of the dough with water and fold over. Pinch or use a fork to seal. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Fry. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, heavy skillet or Dutch oven (higher sides will limit splattering). Drop in a scrap of dough — the oil is hot enough when the dough floats and oil rapidly bubbles around it. Add the cassatelle in batches and fry, flipping occasionally, until deep golden, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer to paper towels to drain.

cassatelle

Serve. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Serve warm.

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I had my last piece of this cake for breakfast this morning.

apricot amaretti cake

It’s the apricot cake I made for shabbat last week and after I shared it with my guests, I made another one for myself. All for me!

It’s a variation on the cake I’ve started calling my “back pocket cake” – I wrote about it for the Forward this week and it’s a cake that’s so incredibly simple and versatile that I make it all the time with whatever fruit looks good. I’ve even developed a super cheesy mnemonic so that I no longer have to refer to the recipe. I quote (myself): “So far, my best attempt has been counting it out like a bandleader revving up his crew with a few snaps of his fingers: a 1, and a 2, and a 1-2-3-4. If you squint and cock your head to the side and use a little imagination, you’ll remember this stands for a one (cup flour), and a two (eggs), and a one-half (cup oil) three-fourths (cup sugar). It’s a bit of a stretch, but once you make it, you’ll never need the recipe again.”

I first made the cake with apples just a few months into this blog when I was hosting my first ever Rosh Hashanah dinner. It is, I believe, the most linked-to post on my blog and the recipe that my friends make year after year for their own families. Some actually refer to it at Gayle’s apple cake. I’m blushing.

Today’s version is apricots with amaretti. Amaretti are crunchy little meringue cookies that have an almond flavor but are actually made with ground up apricot kernels (which are sometimes known as the poor man’s almonds because they taste like the nut, only slightly more bitter). Clearly a perfect match for the apricots I found in the market.

Now, up until last week, I’d never tried a fresh apricot and I’m not really sure I was missing much. I twisted one open and it tasted like a lesser version of a peach, as if it was unwilling to share itself with anyone. But I had made up my mind to bake them into a cake, so I went ahead with my plan. Worst case, I had ice ream.

Now fresh apricots might not be much to talk about, but cooked? Whew, cooked is where they shine. The heat loosens up their greedy grip on flavor and they transform. In the cake, they slump into the batter and release syrup that pools in the wells left by the pits and leaks into the cake.

Out of the oven, the cake has a dense crumb – just the way I like it – with pockets of sticky apricot and the crunch of almond-flavored cookies. A little reminiscent of coffee cake, which, again makes me feel justified eating it for breakfast.

apricot amaretti cake

Apricot and amaretti cake

This is a variation on my any-fruit back-pocket cake (see below).

Serves 8-10

–  1/2 C canola oil
–  3/4 C sugar
–  2 eggs
–  ½ t vanilla extract
–  ½ t almond extract
–  1 C flour
–  1 t baking powder
– ½ t kosher salt
– 7-8 apricots, sliced into halves or quarters
– 3 T crushed amaretti cookies (6-8 cookies)

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform.

Mix. Mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, and extracts until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and continue mix by hand until the ingredients just come together.

Arrange. Tip the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the fruit however you want. Halves skin-side down make a dramatic cake as the fruits sink quite a lot and you end up with a craggy cake moonscape. Quarters balanced on their sides allow the cake to rise more evenly, resulting in a more, well, traditional cake. Sprinkle with the crushed cookies.

Bake. Bake the cake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Watch the fruit to make sure its juices don’t burn.

Back pocket, any-fruit cake

This recipe was adapted from Marian Burros’ plum torte published in the New York Times. I replaced the butter with oil to make it parve and like to use different fruits depending on what’s in season. The batter is thick but still pourable; a few swipes of a spatula gets it right into the pan. The fruit juices ooze all over and dribble beautiful color throughout the cake. Any type of juicy fruit works.

A few suggested flavor combinations:

apple or pear, vanilla, cinnamon
– blueberries or raspberries, vanilla, lemon zest
plums, rose water, lime zest
– peaches or nectarines, vanilla
– apricots, almond extract, cardamom, amaretti cookies crumbled on top

Serves 8-10

–  1/2 C canola oil
–  3/4 C sugar
–  2 eggs
–  1 t extract (vanilla, almond, rose water, orange blossom water)
– 1 t citrus zest (lemon, lime, orange)
–  1 C flour
–  1 t baking powder
– ½ t kosher salt
– 2 cups fruit
– Optional: 2-3 T raw sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform.

Mix. Mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, extract, and zest until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and continue mix by hand until the ingredients just come together.

Arrange. Tip the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the fruit however you want and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake. Bake the cake for 40-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Apples and pears take close to the full hour; stone fruits burn more quickly, so I take them out around 45 minutes.

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Just a super quick hello and a garlic scape dressing before these curlicue young stems and buds disappear from the market.garlic scapes

Last time these funny little guys showed up here was pesto, my first foray into scapedom. Since then, I’ve played around a bit, notably folding them into eggs, but these days I’ve been whirring them into a bright green dressing with a soft garlic flavor and a bright splash of lemon juice. I cannot stop eating it. I’ve added the dressing to a kale and radicchio salad – I know, kale is the old black, but I still love it, particularly the young leaves that one of the farmers at my local greenmarket sells – and a provençal-style salad of roasted potatoes, blanched green beans, radishes, and eggs (think salade niçoise, but warm and all mixed together). I made a similar version at Meira’s as a marinade for grilled vegetables and, just today, dipped some cherry tomatoes in it for a quick snack.

Now hurry up, scape season is almost gone.

kale and radicchio with garlic scape dressing

Garlic scape dressing

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

– 3 oz (about 4) garlic scapes, roughly chopped

– 1/4 C lemon juice (approximately 2 medium lemons)

– 1/2 t salt (or more, to taste)

– freshly ground black pepper

– 3/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

Puree. Using an immersion or regular blender, puree the garlic, juice, salt and a few grinds of pepper until relatively smooth. Slowly pour in the oil while continuing to puree until you have a bright, nearly fluorescent, green emulsified dressing.

***

If you are going the kale and radicchio route, I suggest making croutons. I typically have a few slices of unseeded rye in the freezer, so I pull out a pair and cut them into rough cubes. Heat some olive oil in a pan, shake the bread into an even layer, sprinkle a nice pinch of salt and let the cubes toast on one side – this takes a minute or two if the pan is really hot. Then, sauté: here I’m using the original French term – sauter, to jump – quite literally. Using a smooth forward and back motion and a little pop at the end, help the the bread cubes jump out of the pan for a sec and flip onto their backs. You might lose a few until you get really practiced, but I just pluck the runaways off the stove (or, more likely, the floor) and thrown them back into the pan.

rye croutons

Croutons

I like to use a nice big crusty rye boule, but any fairly sturdy loaf – think sourdough or pullman – should work well.

Makes 1 heaping cup

– 1 1/2 T extra-virgin olive oil

– 2 slices bread, cut into cubes

– pinch of kosher salt

Heat. Heat oil over medium high heat until shimmering in a pan with sloped sides.

Sauté. Spread the cubes in the hot pan, sprinkle with salt, and let toast on one side until lightly golden. Using a forward and back motion with your hand, toss the bread crumbs over the edge of the pan and catch them in the middle. Do this a few times until most surfaces of the croutons are golden brown.

quickie croutons – 1-2 slices rye boule, slice into cubes. heat olive oil, drop in the cubes, sprinkle on salt, salute – let the cubes jump!

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Looking for some summer reading recommendations? I’ve got a few for you.

First off, Stir. It’s the debut book – a memoir with recipes – of Jessica Fechtor whom some of you might know from her blog Sweet Amandine. It’s about life and illness, food and cooking, hosting and guesting, love and identity. I say debut because I think we’ll be reading a lot more from Jess: when we discussed the book for an article I was writing for the Forward, she told me that her PhD dissertation is about representations of food in Jewish literature and she is hoping to span academic and popular readership.

Jess Fechtor's butter almond cake

Next up, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. David Leite is organizing a virtual book club and this is our first assignment. I’m about a third of the way through this book that takes place in France and Germany during WWII and I’m really loving it so far. Bonus: if you want to know what the author is reading, check out this New York Times interview with him.

For those of you who keep a pile of cookbooks on the nightstand, one of my writing teachers in Italy, Rachel Roddy, recently published her first cookbook. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and ordered the British version, Five Quarters; it comes out in the US early next year under a different title. Rachel moved from England to Italy a while back and created a life for herself in Rome. She is a vivid story teller and I hear Rachel’s animated accent when I read her essays and musing on living in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome and her instructions for the food that she turns out of her kitchen. Just the other day, I found myself chucking chickpeas and white beans into a grocery cart, making plans for paste e ceci soup (it might be a very soupy summer) and bruchetta con cannellini. No surprise that I have Italy on my mind, having just spent nearly two weeks in Sicily, but Five Quarters is filling my dreams with images of linguini con zucchine (which is where my bookmark currently resides and rhymes in a lovely way when you say it aloud) and riding around on a motorino. 

Speaking of Italy, I’m reliving my meals at Case Vecchie, drooling my way through Fabrizio Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily. I think there’s a crema di limone pudding in the very near future.

During our workshop, we read various passages, articles, and book chapters to help us explore different ways of beginning a piece of writing. A couple on the food of Sicily have made their way to my library queue (You do have a library card, right?): Mary Taylor Simeti’s Pomp and Sustenance and Helena Attlee’s The Land Where Lemons Grow.

And one more book that has come highly recommended by many friends: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.

In case you want more immediate gratification, here are a few articles that are just a click away:

Tamar Adler’s A Philosophy of Herbs. Perhaps this is the article I had in mind when, after reading the whole pea-camole brouhaha, I ignored the published recipe and made my own pea mash with avocado, mint, lemon juice and salt.

How cookbook author Paula Wolfert is using food to keep Alzheimer’s dementia at bay.

The story of The Day Jacques Pépin Saved My Life.

Now that I’ve adjusted back to a quotidian life without wine at lunch, The Guardian on drinking in the middle of the day.

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And finally, to fuel all that reading, I give you cake.

Marcella’s butter almond cake

Reprinted with permission from Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor.  

This cake was created by Marcella Sarne, who entered it in a baking contest sponsored by C&H Sugar and won, to the tune of a grand-prize custom kitchen. Sprinkling salt over the batter together with the toasted almonds and sugar is genius. Covered and stored at room temperature, this cake keeps well for several days.

Serves 8 to 10

Butter and flour for the pan
3 heaped tablespoons sliced almonds
¾ cup (1½ sticks; 170 grams) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for finishing
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons pure almond extract
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1½ cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
A pinch of sea salt flakes, like Maldon, if using (see headnote)

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F, and butter and flour a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

Spread the sliced almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in a preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until fragrant. They should color only lightly.

Whisk together the melted butter and 1½ cups sugar in a large bowl. Add one egg, whisk until fully incorporated, then add the other and whisk some more. Add the almond extract, vanilla and salt, and whisk well, until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and scatter the toasted almonds, sea salt flakes, if using, and 1 tablespoon sugar over top. Bake for 35 minutes, until the cake peeking through the almonds takes on a faintly rosy color (this cake blushes more than it browns), and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack until nearly room temperature, then ease the cake out of the pan and cool the rest of the way.

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It’s well past midnight and I’m sitting in a boxed-up apartment, unable to finish packing and unable to go to sleep. The bookshelf is empty, the furniture sold or given away, the art propped against the wall. It must sound funny to you that I’m about to wax nostalgic about an apartment that I’ve lived in for a mere handful of months. But I will. And I hope you’ll indulge me.

4F is Julie‘s apartment and has always been a vortex of social gathering. It’s located in a complex of buildings spanning three square blocks and surrounding an outdoor space, now more concrete than green, that we came to call Melrose Place for its centrality to dozens of friend and the high probability of running into one of them on the way home. 4F faces that urban courtyard of sorts and from its fourth floor perch, you can take in the comings and goings. Julie’s place is where we gather for shabbat. For leftovers. For birthday partying. For pre-partying. For hey-I-made-too-much-soup-so-come-over. For I’m-coming-into-town-and-need-a-place-to-crash-tomorrow.

I moved to New York after graduate school knowing no one. 4F is where I made most of my friends.

This time around, after five years in Boston, I took over Julie’s lease for a few months. That was in October. When I carted my suitcases of clothing and boxes of too-heavy pots into 4F with an air of uncertainty about the future – my future – I felt welcomed immediately by the comfort of Julie’s home.

The lease ends tomorrow and Julie came over this morning to pack up more of her stuff. In between knocks on the door and visits from neighbors, I slid a batch of granola into the oven.

Maple pecan granola

I’ve  been slow to jump on the homemade granola bandwagon. That all changed when, just a few days into the new year, I went to dinner at Eleven Madison Park – a  restaurant about as far a cry as you can get from granola’s hippy-dippy connotation of my youth – and they sent me home with a jar of their house-made cereal. The next morning, I showered EMP’s granola over plain yogurt, tasting the embodiment of hospitality as dinner extended to breakfast and the meal continued from the restaurant into my own kitchen. I was hooked.

Maple pecan granola Maple pecan granola

The scent of maple and toasted pecans linger as I continue to sit here – so well past midnight that it’s more morning than night, really. I have a jar of granola ready for Julie to pack up when she comes by tomorrow. I mean today.

As for 4F, it’ll be in good hands. My friend Jessica is moving in later this month.

The old joke goes that that Jews say goodbye without  leaving and I’m no exception, so rather than letting this elegy to an apartment go on and on, I’m gonna ghost.

Maple pecan granola

This recipe is a hybrid of  Eleven Madison Park’s granola and Megan Gordon’s general granola guidelines. The flavors are inspired by the most breakfast-y scones I’ve ever made. I recommend throwing a big handful atop a bowl of plain Greek yogurt drizzled with maple syrup. Also, it’s not so bad with vanilla ice cream. Just in case you were wondering.

There is a fair amount of salt in my granola, which may not suit everyone’s taste, so I’d suggest starting with only 1 teaspoon for your first batch. If you like your granola clumpy, don’t stir it while it’s cooking. And if you like it really clumpy, add an egg white to better bind everything together. 

Makes about 6 cups

– 3 C rolled oats

– 1 ½ C chopped pecans

– ½ C sliced almonds

– ½ C pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

– 2 T flax seeds (mix of dark and light)

– 1 – 1 ½ t salt

– ⅓ C brown sugar

– ½ C maple syrup (Grade B)

– ⅓ C olive oil

Prep. Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, nuts, and seeds.

Warm. In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat.

Mix again. Fold the liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.

Bake. Spread the granola in a thin layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes, checking and stirring the granola every 10-15 minutes. It’s ready when the oats have darkened to a golden brown and the mixture is no longer sticky. As the granola cools, it will harden.

Store. Allow the granola to cool to room temperature and transfer to an air-tight container. It should keep for about 10 days.

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And, just like that, it’s September. 

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That was the opening line I planned to use as I scrambled to get this post out before sunset last Wednesday as Rosh Hashanah rushed in. Instead, I used those last few hours to curl up with a good book (well, two good books) and enter the Jewish New Year calmly and with anticipation rather than racing the clock with rushed dread of not finishing and disappointing. Disappointing whom? I guess myself.

Now, ten days later, I finish this post minutes before Yom Kippur begins because after some time for reflection, this is how I want to start my new year. Right. Now.

***

In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, I thought about the secular new year, eight months ago, when newlyweds Veronica and Brian and nearly a hundred friends and family members and I took plane, train, and automobile to reach Sacred Valley, Peru.

Mere days before the wedding ceremony, I met most of the guests in Lima at the rooftop cocktail reception that started our ten-day wedding extravaganza. While in the capital, we toured the city, tested the choppy Pacific waters, bought more alpaca gifts than any sane person should, and ate and drank.

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Each evening brought a party and each party brought music and dancing. There was a rocking ukulele at the rehearsal dinner. And the dance floor at the wedding opened with Veronica and Brian’s first dance (with a well-rehearsed lift) and ended with la hora loca, the “crazy hour” that went on well into the morning, leaving everyone covered in confetti, dressed in flowered necklaces and Incan headdresses, and dancing with human-sized furry cuy – guinea pigs – that, when not entertaining, serve as traditional Andean dinner rather than childhood pet. 

After the four days of wedding festivities, the adventure began with that plane-train-automobile trip to Sacred Valley, not too far from the Incan capital of Cusco.

After settling in to our new digs, we started up the New Year’s Eve party, complete with beer and wine and coca tea, with streamers and sparklers and silly hats (and a certain bride wearing traditional yellow underwear). We barely made it to midnight before we started dropping off like flies, mumbling something about setting a 5 am alarm and where’d I put that raincoat and will they have breakfast for us.

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The next morning, I dragged my groggy self out of bed, tied on my just-barely-broken-in hiking books, and surrendered to a backpack filled with every possible item I just might need. Bug spray and sunscreen. Poncho. Protein bars. Water. More water. T-shirt. Long-sleeved shirt. Hat. Change of socks. Flashlight.

A short bus ride, and we walked past a flurry of retail activity to get to the train that would get us to the Inca trail. Along that short walk, hawkers cried out their wares. Good hat to protect from sun! Coca gum for altitude! Umbrella! Hiking stick!

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The train dropped us off at KM104 and we started out the first day of the New Year under a brilliant sun.

From this side of the mountain, eight months later, the details are a blessed blur. There were ups and downs, zigs and zags, slippery rocks, narrow cliffs, rain and wind, and never enough water. The poncho went on and off and on again as the weather changed moods like Mercury himself.

By the end of the first mile, I was falling back. By the end of the second mile, I was holding up the caboose. There were a few of us back there, pacing ourselves, enjoying the view, breathing the air. Or, perhaps merely catching our breath. Or, many breaths. We crawled up the nearly vertical “gringo killer” stairs, and caught a few more breaths. We climbed the just-100-more, I-mean-200-more , I-mean-350-more, see-you’re-almost-there steps. Guides can be cruel like that.

And then, we really were almost there. We reached Intipunkuthe Sun Gate. As the clouds parted and the fog lifted and we shed our rain gear, we shared a clear view of Machu Picchu that those who had rushed ahead of us missed.

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We all made it up. We all made it down. We all returned to explore Machu Picchu the next day.

Which, strangely enough, brings us back to that fish photographed up top.

On Rosh Hashanah, we decorate our table with fish or lambs’ heads, or just a whole roasted fish. We make a blessing that we be like the head, and not the tail. A leader, and not a follower. And not someone who falls behind.

Earlier this summer, in June, I bought paiche, a sustainable Peruvian fish because it was on sale and its thick, firm fillets looked like they would cook perfectly evenly. No head. No tail. Just the good stuff in the middle. I asked Facebook whether anyone had ideas about how to cook the fish, and continued to haphazardly throw items in my basket. Brian, now settled into Lima, and waiting for Veronica to join him, embraced his new heritage and suggested that I “cook it in some banana leaves! Amazon style.”

I looked in my pantry, and just could not find any banana leaves. Crazy, that. No banana leaves. But I tucked the idea away for another day.

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I did however remember a spicy fish dish that I had I had dogeared in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem months prior. I skimmed through the recipe and it looked pretty simple. Pan fry some fish, add a few pantry staples, and voilà, a quick dinner. Or so I thought.

Had I read the instructions top to bottom, I might have realized that this was no quick dish. Three hours of well-past-prime-time-TV marinating and pan frying and stirring and simmering and saucing on a night when I had wanted to eat minutes after key in door, I was annoyed. I finally sat down with fork and knife at 11 pm.

I stayed annoyed until the next afternoon, when, over a lunch of leftover paiche and couscous, I read my friend Leah‘s blog post entitled “Are we being held hostage by the 30-minute meal?“. Leah is writing her second cookbook (you might recognize a few recipes from here in her first!) and was testing time-intensive chocolate babka after time-intensive chocolate babka after time-intensive chocolate babka until she got the recipe just right. During these hours upon hours of kneading, rising, waiting, twisting, baking, cooling , Leah found herself considering quick, get-it-on-the-table cooking versus the attention and time for reflection afforded by more complex recipes.

“When we allow everyday cooking to be the only cooking we do,” Leah says, “I think we ultimately lose out. By elevating and idealizing the 30-minute meal, we inherently discredit any recipe that takes longer to make. We abandon the deeper pleasure of tackling a difficult recipe head-on and emerging on the other side, battle-scarred but victorious. “

I realized the next day that I had indeed gone to bed victorious. emerging with merely a small battle-scar burn on my finger. Because, man, that fish was good. And the prior evening was calm, the work sometimes complex, sometimes messy, sometimes slow. Once I realized that this was going to be an evening project, I got there on my own pace. I breathed. And then breathed again.

Reflecting on the my Peruvian New Year, and my Brooklyn Rosh Hashanah, and my Brooklyn Yom Kippur, I wish for me and for you the ability to lead well and follow well, to slow down and watch the fog clear, to enjoy the quiet moments, to accept the scars, and to just get through it however you do.

This year in particular is one of new beginnings for me, and I hope to embrace each experience and learn from it. Before I get all hokey on you, l’m going to escape to light some candles. Let’s hope I don’t burn myself on the match.

L’shana tova and G’mar chatima tova. Let each and every one of us have a good year, a safe, easy, and meaningful fast, and a year of beautiful moments.

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Pan-fried paiche with harissa and rose

The original recipe in Jerusalem calls for sea bass, but I figured that any firm white fish would be a good substitute. I found paiche, a South American fish, on sale and it worked perfectly. I suspect halibut or snapper would be great too. I left out the currants. This fish is spicy. Really spicy. I made the recipe with a full 3 tablespoons of harissa and next time I’ll only use 2 tablespoons. I had to serve it with couscous to counteract the spiciness. I happened to have some dried rosebuds tucked away in the back of my pantry, originally purchased as tea infusions. I’d say they’re completely optional, but are lovely for color if you have them. 

The longest part of this recipe is marinating for 2 hours, and then cooking takes about 45 minutes. I don’t think the recipe will suffer if you marinate it in the morning and leave it, covered, in the refrigerator, until evening or if you give it a quick 30-minute counter top marinate.

Serves 3-4

– 2-3T harissa, divided in half for marinade and sauce

-1 t ground cumin

– 1 lb firm white fish, skin removed (paiche, sea bass, snapper, halibut, etc.)

– all purpose flour, for dusting

– 2 medium onions

– 2 T olive oil

– 6.5 T red wine vinegar (~1/3 C plus 1 T)

– 1 t ground cinnamon

– scant 1 C water

– 1.5 t honey

– 1 T rose water

– 1 T mint leaves (optional)

– 1 t dried edible rose petals (optional)

– salt and pepper

Marinate. Cut the fish into 3 or 4 pieces. Mix together half the harissa (1-1.5 T, depending on how spicy you like things), cumin, and a few pinches of salt in a bowl. Pat the fish dry and then coat with the marinade on all sides. Place the fish on a plate and let marinate for 2 hours in the fridge. While I normally marinate meat in a plastic bag, fish is too delicate and might fall apart.

Slice. Slice the onions into half moons. The original recipe calls for finely chopping the onion, but I like the longer strips.

Fry. Spread a handful of flour onto another plate. Dredge the marinated fish fillets through the flour and gently shake off the excess. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and fry the fish for two minutes on each side. Remove the fish, but keep the oil in the pan.

Cook. Now that the fish is out of the pan, add the sliced onions and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring, until the onions are golden. Add the remaining harissa (1-1.5 T), vinegar, cinnamon, a few pinches of salt, and several grinds of pepper.

Simmer. Pour in the water, lower the heat, and let the sauce simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, until quite thick. Add the honey and rose water to the pan, and simmer gently for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning and salt. Return the fish fillets to the pan. Spoon sauce over the fish as it warms up in the simmering sauce. This should take about 3 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, add a few tablespoons of water.

Sprinkle. Serve the fish warm or at room temperature with some couscous. Sprinkle with torn mint leaves and crumbled rose petals. Keep the couscous and a glass of water nearby.

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