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Procrastifry
(prə-kra-stə-frī)
verb: to make latkes instead of working when you realize it’s your last chance to fry before the end of Hanukkah because you’re heading out of town for your birthday

I guess the question though is whether I had put off the frying or the working. Or, at this point over a month later, whether I put off the posting as well. Clearly all three.

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It began when I attended a discussion at 92Y (disclosure, I received a press ticket) between Melissa Clark and the duo behind the new cookbook Israeli Soul (and Zahav and Federal Donuts and The Rooster and, and, and…), Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook. Towards the end of the evening, the subject of latkes came up, and Clark probed for any tips. Solomonov wondered out loud whether starting with frozen hash brown potato shreds could be a good strategy – not because they’re easier (though they are), but because they are often par-cooked so you avoid the burnt outside raw inside problem. He explained how at Goldie, their vegan falafel spot, their famously extra crispy fries are achieved not by double or triple frying like most places but by par-cooking the potato sticks and then freezing them overnight to dehydrate the surface. Pre-cooked potatoes need less time in oil; dehydrated potatoes get less greasy.

Picking up a bag of hash browns on the way home – this was Wednesday night, if you’re keeping track – I fell asleep awash in the blue glow of my phone, opening page after page of how-tos on frying latkes and, by extension, hash browns, focusing on how to par-cook and dry out the spuds. Thursday, I poked around a little more. And more. And more.

I decided I was going to base my latkes off of Bonnie Benwick’s recipe for hash brown latkes in the Washington Post (which is adapted from Kosher Everyday, the only change is subbing caramelized onions for diced) and one from America’s Test Kitchen because, you know, they test things annoyingly painfully thoroughly. To be even more complete, I checked out Serious Eats for latke tips and those for hash browns. And a little bit of frying science. And, oh my god, are you exhausted yet? Because I am. No wonder I couldn’t face the oil until Friday.

To save you the time and effort of reading every. single. one. of. these. links. here are the main things I learned:

  1. hash browns are a good shortcut
  2. but most of the time, they’re not actually par-cooked
  3. par-cooking is helpful and is most easily achieved in the microwave – 2 minutes for a pound
  4. par-cooking does two things – first, the latke outsides are less likely to burn before the insides are cooked since they’re, you know, already mostly cooked
  5. second, it dehydrates the potato shreds
  6. apparently, when the starch in potatoes is heated above 137F (if we’re going to be exact, thank you Amerca’s Test Kitchen), it absorbs water molecules and the mixture becomes a gel and the surface is essentially drier
  7. too much moisture on the surface of the potatoes lowers the temperature of the oil, lengthens the time it takes for the crust to form, and allows too much oil to enter the inside of the latke, hence greasy latkes
  8. little moisture and lots of starch on the surface of the potatoes allows the oil to very quickly form a crust out of the starch which blocks too much oil from come inside the latke while also maintaining a fairly stable oil temperature
  9. or, according to a food scientist whose blog I found, “In general, the amount of oil absorbed into the food is equal to the amount of water that is removed during frying”
  10. this is also why you want to wring out as much liquid from the potatoes as you can before the whole microwaving thing begins

If you glossed over this, the only thing to remember is to wring out and microwave your hash browns, and then proceed however you normally do.

Also, don’t wait until the last minute. Unless you want to miss your train home for the weekend.

Hash brown latkes

Makes about a dozen 2-inch latkes

Defrost 1 lb hash browns overnight on a paper towel-lined baking sheet in the refrigerator. Gather the potato shreds in a thin cotton towel or several layers of cheese cloth along with 1/2 an onion, grated (about 1/4 cup), and twist until you wring out as much moisture as you can. Transfer the potatoes mixture from towel to a bowl, and microwave for 2 minutes. Mix in 1/4 t baking powder, 2 T potato starch, 1 t kosher salt, and 1 egg. 

If you’re going to eat the latkes immediately, line a plate or baking sheet with more paper towels. If you’re going to freeze the latkes, set out a cooling rack over a baking sheet.

Heat about a quarter-inch of vegetable oil in a cast iron pan – it’s ready when you drop in a potato shred and it bubbles like crazy and quickly browns but doesn’t burn. If you want, use a thermometer – the temperature should be around 350F. Make a small test latke to see if you need to add any salt, and adjust if necessary. Then gently drop large spoonfuls of batter into the oil – about 3-4 depending on the size of your pan – and spread the out a little bit. After about 2-3 minutes, a golden crust should have formed up the sides of each latke and it’s time to flip. Another 2-3 minutes and you’re done. Transfer the warm latkes to the paper towels or cooling rack, and do it all over again. You may need to adjust the flame if the latkes are cooking too fast or too slow (or, you know, pull out the thermometer again). Between batches, remove any rogue burnt bits of potato.

Eat with applesauce (homemade if you’re fancy). Sour cream, if you must.

Otherwise, put the latkes in bags in the freezer (if you’re lucky enough to have a huge freezer, first freeze the latkes in a single layer so they don’t stick together in the bag) until you’re ready to eat at which point you can pop the, straight into a 425F oven for 15-20 minutes. (Since you didn’t mop up all the oil straight out of the pan, the latkes won’t dry out when reheating.) Then, eat with applesauce.

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Someone recently suggested that I write about protest food, as I spent a lot of time in Washington DC – on the lawn of the Capitol, on the steps of SCOTUS, roaming the halls of Hart and Dirkin – in the weeks leading up to most recent Supreme Court justice confirmation (*sigh*). But on the day of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, when a group of alumnae from her high school – my high school – gathered in the Senate building to show our support, I got through most of the day on un-toasted English muffins and apples – two of each – lukewarm Dunkin Donuts coffee provided by a friend and then by Planned Parenthood, and eventually a late afternoon trip to the Senate cafe for a soup and sandwich to eat back upstairs in a conference room that Maryland senators had reserved for the 25 or so alumnae who stuck around to watch the nominee’s testimony. I’m glad we watched it together because I could not have handled that on my own.

So, I don’t really have any protest food for you, per se, and there’s a whole book on that anyway: Julia Turshen’s Feeding the Resistance which came out just a few weeks ago, filled with recipes that are quick to prepare and easily portable, serve a crowd, nourish the soul, and replenish the energy it takes to scream in the face of patriarchy again, and again, and again, and again.

What I do have, though, is a tart of sorts that I hope will serve you well when you need to leave town without much notice (as I’ve done too many times these past few months for personal reasons) and face a fridge of produce that won’t last until your return. It’s a great option for transforming vegetables and odds and ends of cheese into an easily-transportable, as-delicious-cold-as-warm-as-hot, looks-fancier-than-it-is dish to feed friends and family when you’re on the move. Also great for an elegant brunch. Or cutting into wedges and stuffing into sandwich bags and throwing into your purse or backpack.

It started as a recreation of one of my very first recipes, a zucchini and leek tart, published when this nearly double digits blog was a wee four-month old. About six weeks ago, I went overboard with late season zucchini that I knew would be a soggy mess when I got back, so I grated it and substituted whatever I had on hand. Onion for leeks. Cheddar for Raclette. A commoner’s version of what in its original form (before it got to me) was prepared as part of a French-inspired seven-course birthday brunch to make a blogger’s daughter feel like a princess.

Zucchini onion cheddar tart

A modification of this recipe, inspired by 5-Star Foodie, a blog that unfortunately no longer exists. This follows a pretty basic formula – 3 eggs, 3 cups vegetables (cooked or raw), 1.5 cups grated cheese – that can really be fudged in any direction. I’ve played around with other flavor combinations, such as sautéed riced cauliflower, schug or harissa, and feta. 

The size of your baking dish will determine how long the tart will take to cook. This was photographed in a 10-inch solid-bottom tart pan which is approximately the same volume as a 9-inch deep dish pie plate; I’ve also made this in a springform pan and served on a platter like a savory cake. 

For the neatest slices, allow the tart to cool completely (or even refrigerate). Otherwise, eat messy slices while it’s hot. Leftovers travel very well. 

Serves 8

– 3 T butter, plus more for greasing pan
– 1 lb zucchini (1 large or 2 small zucchini), grated (2 heaping cups total)
– – 1/2 t kosher salt, divided
– 2 medium onions (any type – I used one red, one white), finely chopped
– 3 eggs
– 3/4 C flour
– 1 T baking powder
– 1/2 t nutmeg
– 10 oz sharp cheddar (this is one of my favorites), grated (1½ cups)

Prep. Heat oven to 350°F.

Drain. Toss the zucchini with ¼ teaspoon salt and set it in a colander until it releases some liquid, approximately 15 minutes.

Cook. While the zucchini is training, In a skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter and cook the onions  with ¼ teaspoon of the salt, stirring occasionally, for approximately 15 minutes until translucent but not yet browned. You don’t want these to caramelize. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Mix. Mix  the drained zucchini with the eggs, flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and cheese. Add the cooled onions (if they’re still hot, they might cook the eggs and the tart will cook up unevenly) and continue to mix until everything is evenly distributed. The batter will be very thick.

Bake. Butter a 10-inch tart pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Spread the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and there is just the tiniest bit of jiggle left. If you stick a toothpick in, it should come out a little bit eggy (completely dry and its overdone). Let cool 10-15 minutes before diving in.

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Last weekend, a good friend threw a birthday party, complete with a candy bar (as in a bar stocked with candies like green apple licorice and jelly beans stacked by color in sand art layers) and a piñata. Let me just state here and now that whacking a papier mâché unicorn blind-folded until it poops a rainbow of sweets is something we as a society must do more of. It was the best of childhood, with alcohol.

As for that alcohol, my friend charged me with mixers. Despite a stash of just-in-case just-add-spirits lemon drop and appletini, I of course couldn’t leave easy enough alone. With a hope, a need, for Spring to stick around for more than a day or two at a time, I conjured a vision of something fresh and verdant, something that smelled (visions have scents, right?) of morning-mowed grass flooded by an afternoon shower.

My first (and only) thought: spa water. Yes, that cucumber-infused concoction that’s supposed to pamper and relax you. Add lime for brightness, mint to cool things off, and just enough sugar to remind you that you’re not eating a salad. But, if you want, you can think of it as salad.

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Spa-tail (cucumber-lime-mint) mixer

This makes a big match of mixer that you can spike with gin or vodka for as strong or as weak a drink as you’d like. My favorite combination for one cocktail is 1/2 cup mixer, 2 tablespoons (1 oz) gin, and a splash of Cointreau (or other orange liqueur). If you want to make up a big batch in advance, add to the 6 cups of mixer 1 1/2 cups of gin or vodka, and 1/2 cup of Cointreau.

The mixer does separate, so make sure to shake or stir well before pouring. 

Makes 6 cups of mixer

– 3 large English cucumbers, unpeeled and roughly chopped, plus 1/2 cucumber, unpeeled and thinly sliced for garnish

– 1/2 C packed mint leaves (about 80)

– 1 C simple syrup (boil 3/4 C water with 3/4 C sugar until dissolved; allow to cool)

– 1 C fresh lime juice (about 2 lbs)

– kosher salt

Puree. In a blender, puree the cucumbers and mint until as smooth as possible. You should have about 5 cups of mush.

Strain. Strain through a fine sieve, using a spoon to press down on any solids. This should yield 4 cups of juice.

Mix. Add the simple syrup, lime juice, and a big three-finger pinch of salt, and mix (or put in a large jar and shake).

Serve. Stir in vodka or gin, and a splash of Cointreau as above, or to your own liking. Float a few slices of cucumber on top.

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the soupiest

Winter is soup time chez moi. Probably chez toi as well. When the temperature drops – and whew, how it’s dropped! – all I want is hot lunch or dinner in a bowl that I can warm my hands around and lift to my lips when too tired or lazy to bother with a spoon until I get to the bottom. Since Thanksgiving, I’ve pulled down a rainbow of cocottes (Dutch ovens, if you must) from the narrow space between my kitchen cabinets and the ceiling. There was a riff on Marcella’s tomato sauce, Joanne Chang’s hot and sour soup thickened with not cornstarch but egg swirled in like the egg-drop soup of my childhood, a return to my long-ago Ukrainian roots with an unstuffed cabbage soup, and a clean-out-the-fridge minestrone.

Today’s soup is tortilla — piquant with jalapeño, loaded with shredded chicken (that you sear in the pot so as not to dirty an extra pan) and black beans, scented with cilantro, doused in lime, and topped with baked stale tortillas (or crispy chips if you have them around) and avocado. It’s kept me going the past few days and I froze a quart to save me the next time I’m resigned to Rice Krispies for dinner.

On another note, since I know you check this blog every few days (ha!) and have been wondering where I’ve been (ha!), I wish I had a fun story to tell. There’s been lots of family time and a bit of travel over a bunch of holidays, an intense project that required a recovery longer than the work itself, and a good number of library books. There are a bunch of recipes that I’ve written up and just need to get out there, so stay tuned.

In the interim, here are some things that are worth checking out, while warming up with a steaming bowl in the soupiest time of year.

This article and music video.

Photos from a pencil factory.

I love flour tortillas and use them in this soup even though most recipes call for corn – this made me feel less bad about it.

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Tortilla soup

Inspired by Simply Recipes and The Pioneer Woman

This is the type of soup that’s an entire meal. I’d say a serving is about 2 cups, and then you’re good for the afternoon or evening. Kale is clearly not traditional, but I wanted to slip in some extra vegetables. Leave it in, leave it out, or add in other vegetables – corn (frozen works just fine here), bell peppers, and maybe some small diced butternut squash or other pumpkin. 

This has a nice heat, but you could definitely add another half jalapeño if you like things on the spicier side or a tablespoon or so of chipotle in adobo sauce (I always have leftovers when I make this vegetarian chili, a smooth black bean soup with a kick, or salpicon and then freeze it in ice cube trays in one-tablespoon scoops). Make sure to add a squeeze of lime before you serve, and don’t skimp on toppings either – especially fresh cilantro and, of course, the tortilla strips.

Makes just under 3 quarts (12 cups)

– 3-4 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
– 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, any large pieces cut in half
– Kosher salt and pepper
– 1 – 1.5 onion, roughly chopped (1 – 1.5 C)
– 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced
– 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
– 1½ t cumin
– 1 t coriander
– 1 t chili powder
– 1/2 t garlic powder
– 1/2 t onion powder
– 10-12 stems kale, sliced into small pieces (2 cups)
– 28 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
– 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
– 4 C chicken or vegetable broth
– 1/2 bunch cilantro (10-12 stems), stems wrapped in twine so you can easily remove
– 1-2 limes, cut into quarters or sixths, depending on the size of the citrus

Toppings: tortilla strips (recipe below, or store-bought), extra shredded chicken, avocado, finely diced red onion, chopped tomatoes,

Cook. Pour enough extra-virgin olive oil, about 3 tablespoons, to cover the bottom of a medium to large heavy-bottomed pot (I used a 4-quart Staub cocotte – thanks Mom! – which was just big enough), and turn heat to medium. Once oil is hot (a drop of water should make it splatter), add 3 chicken breasts or thighs and a large pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Sear on one side until the chicken forms a crust and releases itself from the pot, about 10 minutes. Turn over and repeat, cooking until the chicken is just done on the inside. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool to the touch, shred the chicken with your fingers.

Saute. Add 1 more tablespoon olive oil to pot if too dry. Add onion and jalapeño pepper, and saute for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables start to soften but don’t brown. Stir in garlic, cumin, coriander, chili, garlic poster, and onion powder. Turn the heat down a tad if the garlic starts to burn. After a few minutes, add the kale and stir until it begins to wilt, another 3 minutes or so.

Boil and simmer. Add the black beans, tomatoes, broth, and cilantro. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, then taste for salt and spice, adding salt and chili powder as necessary. Add most of the shredded chicken (set aside about a half-cup to use as a topping) and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the cilantro.

Serve. Ladle into large bowls. Top with a squirt of lime, extra chicken, slices of avocado, tortilla strips, cilantro leaves, fresh tomatoes, minced red onions, or some combination thereof. But do not skip the lime and fresh cilantro.

***

Baked tortilla strips

– 2 flour tortillas (I used whole wheat) or 3 corn tortillas
– 1-2 T extra-virgin olive oil
– 1/2 t kosher salt

Preheat. Heat the oven to 350ºF.

Cut. Using a large knife or pizza wheel, cut the tortillas into strips about 1/4-inch wide and 2-inches long.

Toss. Toss the strips with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Bake. Bake for 7-10 minutes until toasted but not burnt. Allow to cool.

 

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I’ve got a lot to tell you about – some amazing travel and a skyr dessert from last year’s Iceland adventure – but this recipe has been sitting in my draft pile since May and despite these long sticky days of summer when all you want to do is crawl into your freezer, I’m here to encourage you to turn on your oven and sweat it out.

There’s no backstory to this recipe, no seasonal ingredients, no science, but I’ve made it more than a handful of times and it’s a keeper. I call it tofu candy because the brown sugar in the teriyaki marinade caramelizes during a long bake in the oven, and I can’t help but paw little cube after little cube into my not-so-little mouth and end up eating an entire block of tofu (nearly a pound of the stuff) before I realize. I mean, seriously, these are the Jelly Bellies of the hippie dippie crunchy granola world.

Roast some broccoli at the same time if you want to call it dinner.

Teryaki tofu (aka, tofu candy)

Adapted from Cooking Light. If you want to add some vegetables, slide a baking sheet of broccoli (tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper) in the oven ten minutes into the baking process – it should be ready around the same time as the tofu. Double or triple the marinade so you can toss in some pressed tofu and have candy on a whim (plus about 40 minutes of oven time).

Serves 1 or 2 as dinner

– 1 (14-oz) package extra-firm tofu, drained

– 1 T brown sugar

– 1 t grated fresh ginger

– 1 garlic clove, minced

– 1 T low sodium soy sauce

– 1 t rice wine vinegar

– 1 t toasted sesame oil

– dash hot sesame oil

– cooking spray

– 1 T toasted sesame seeds

Drain. Cut the tofu crosswise into 5 (1-inch-thick) slices. Place slices on several layers of paper towels and cover with additional paper towels. Place a cutting board on top and weigh down with several cans. Let stand 20 minutes, pressing down occasionally.

Whisk. While the tofu is pressing, whisk together the sugar, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, oils, and sesame seeds.

Cube. Cut each tofu slice into 1/2-inch cubes.

Soak. Add tofu to marinade and toss to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes. Heat oven on to 375ºF.

Bake. Arrange tofu in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375°, stirring periodically, for 30 – 40 minutes or until tofu is browned on all sides. Toss with sesame seeds.

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I made an E(ggplant)BLT. You can read about it here.

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The eggplant bacon – essentially spiced and smoked (with liquid smoke) eggplant chips – may not taste naughty, but the combo of juicy tomato, crisp lettuce, creamy mayo, and smoky salty crispy strips between lightly toasted pullman slices made me feel a little sacrilegious.

While the recipe says that the bacon loses its crispness quickly, I found that it kept well in an airtight container and was delicious the next day crumbled over a salad with chicken for a faux cobb.

PS – please ignore my reflection in the photo of the colander!

Eggplant Bacon for an EBLT

Recipe by Raquel Pelzel in Eggplant.

The key to making thin strips of eggplant crisp like bacon is time. First, salt the eggplant and let it sit for at least an hour so it lets go of all of the excess water. Then marinate it with high-octane stuff like maple syrup and liquid smoke (just a little won’t kill you, I swear) overnight. Then slowly bake it in a barely warm oven. The result is kind of like smoky-sweet eggplant chips, and yes, they can totally stand in for bacon in a BLT or even for chips with baba ghanouj.

2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound total)
1 tablespoon puls ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
¼ cup apple cider
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (optional, but c’mon, just do it)
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Nonstick cooking spray or oil for greasing the rack

1) Cut the ends off of the eggplants, then slice a sliver off of one side lengthwise so the eggplant doesn’t roll around when you slice it. Cut each eggplant into think planks, about 1/8- to ¼-inch thick (use a mandoline if you have one), so you have at least 20 slices (some will break). Place the eggplant in a colander and toss with 1 tablespoon of the salt, then set the colander in the sink and let it drain for about 1 hour. Pat the eggplant slices dry with paper towel.

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2) In a large bowl, mix together the apple cider, maple syrup, soy sauce, liquid smoke (if using), rosemary, smoked paprika, cayenne and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Add the eggplant and toss to combine, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight, shaking the container (make sure that lid is on tight!) every now and then.

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3) Preheat the oven to 225° F. Lightly coat a wire rack with nonstick cooking spray (or brush with a little oil) and set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Lay the eggplant slices on the rack and bake until they’re dry, crisp and golden brown, about 1½ hours.

Note: The eggplant bacon loses its crispness quickly, so eat it up tout suite.

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American poet Jane Kenyon once gave a lecture entitled “Everything I Know About Writing Poetry,” the notes from which I have learned were published posthumously in A Hundred White Daffodils. In her notes, she wrote:

“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”

Author and writing professor Dani Shapiro shared these words – she tacks them above her desk – during a workshop I attended at Kripalu two weekends ago. It was called “The Stories We Carry.” I couldn’t remember the name of the course the entire time I was at the yoga retreat center (even though once the workshop was over I realized how perfect of a title it was) and when people asked me what program I was on, I mumbled something about writing and meditation.

I started to meditate a little over a year ago, taking a course at the JCC led by Bernice Todres and have continued attending monthly refresher courses. I can’t say I’ve really perfected my practice, but I try. Or I try to try. And I guess that’s why they call it a practice, right? The fact that I’ve even considered meditation is a big deal – see how far I’ve come from this article back in 2011.

Anyway, one of the first meditations that Dani led us through our first day was what she called a metta (which I of course heard as meta, which led to some confusing roundabout logic in my mind). Metta, which I looked it up, means loving-kindness and is apparently a Buddhist practice offering heartfelt wishes for the well-being of oneself and others.

We sat on the floor, on chairs, on these things called backjacks, legs crossed or not, posture straight or not, eyes closed. Dani started: May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease. Now think of someone in your life. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Think of someone you have difficulty with. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Think of a known stranger, someone you see every day, but do not really know. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease.

As the first day drew to a close, she suggested that we continue our evening in quiet and that we go to sleep with good sentences in our ears.

I went back to my room, cocooned in my blanket, and picked up the novel that I would carry around with me everywhere, a safety blanket of sorts as I decided how much to engage in the weekend. I finished a chapter entitled “Fifteen Days of Five Thousand Years” – a staccato chronology of a (fake) natural disaster in the Middle East that leads to political unrest, told through news reports, politician statements, and war declarations – and had to close the book because it was so draining.

Have good sentences in your ears.

I recited the Shema prayer that I used to sing with my Bubbie when I stayed at her house in Philadelphia. I couldn’t fall asleep.

Have good sentences in your ears.

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Safe. Happy. Strong. Ease.

The weekend was one of fitful nights, failed naps, skipped yoga classes, yet it was punctuated by spurts of inspiration. I shared my writing, connected with strangers, and sat quietly.

I then went home and started a flurry of preparations for Rosh  Hashanah. More on that in the next post.

Last night, I stuck a card in the business book I’ve been plodding through, and picked up Molly on the Range. I wanted good sentences in my ears. And, my god, does Molly deliver! I slept better than I have in weeks, and woke up with a vision of Israeli breakfast.

I had everything in house thanks to some holiday leftovers, a trip to the green market yesterday, the #fridayfairy, and spices sent from my friend‘s restaurant.

Fueled by an iced coffee (well, maybe two), I chopped and fried and swooshed and sliced and spread and sprinkled.

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And I ate at the table, the moody sky trying to poke through the window.

I sat down to write and for the first time in a long time, the words flowed easily. I refueled with some French toast. And I hit “publish.”

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Israeli breakfast

Inspired by Molly on the Range and Molly herself. 

Make Israeli salad: Chop a tomato or two, removing the seeds that you can easily scoop out  and drain in a sieve while you take care of the rest. Here are the other diced vegetables I added: cucumber, radish, and red onion soaked in a little salt and vinegar. Mix with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Sprinkle with flat-leaf parsley, za’atar, cumin, and sumac.

Fry an egg.

Scoop plain Greek yogurt on one side of a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with spices and salt. Slide the egg on one side and pile Israeli salad on the other. Add a slice of challah and keep a jar of tahini nearby for spreading, drizzling, and slurping. Don’t forget the coffee, if you have any left over after all that chopping.

Challah French toast

In a shallow bowl, use a fork to combine an egg, a splash of milk, and a dash of orange blossom water or vanilla (and if you want to be all fancy, a little orange zest). Soak two slices of challah in the mixture until saturated. Melt butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Toast both sides of the challah and serve with dark maple syrup.

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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 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.

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Midway 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 on this corner of the island.

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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.”

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Soon 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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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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On Sunday, I watched the documentary film In Search of Israeli Cuisine as part of a celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. Afterwards, a friend and I followed our grumbling stomachs to a nearby Israeli restaurant for an early dinner. (And, of course, dessert.) If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have a lot of wonderful things to say about Michael Solomonov, the film’s guide through the country and its restaurant and home kitchens.

Unable to get the food porn out of my head, I made a late lunch today inspired by sabich, an Iraqi sandwich often sold in Israel alongside falafel and schwarma. It’s a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, chopped vegetables, hummus, and tehina, all drizzled with amba, a pickled mango sauce seasoned with turmeric and fenugreek.

Before we go any further, there’s some fun etymology to discuss – and you know how I like my etymology. First off, sabich. There are a few theories about the origins of the name of this sandwich introduced to Israel by Iraqi Jews who fled anti-Semitic violence in the 1040s and 50s. It may be a variation on sabah which means morning in Arabic and refers to the fact that Iraqi Jews eat cold eggplant and eggs and the mezze on shabbat morning. Or perhaps it’s a Hebrew acronym for the main ingredients – salat (salad), beitzim (eggs), chatzilim (eggplant). Or even the first name of an enterprising gentleman who opened a sabich stand soon after immigrating. As for the word amba, it is Sanskrit for mango and the ingredient is thought to be a version of mango chutney brought back from India by Baghdadi Jewish merchants.

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For my sandwich, I used what I had in the house. A hunk of rye. A small eggplant that I sliced and broiled. A few hard-boiled eggs that I guillotined with my newest gadget. Some tehina that I picked up at Seed + Mill. (Have you been yet? No? Well, what are you waiting for? Unless you don’t like fresh tehina, funky flavors of halva, and goat milk soft serve.) And a jar of amba. I ate it open faced and call it a tartine because I’m fancy like that.

For more history on sabich, read what Saveur published a few years back. For a more authentic recipe, see what Yotam Ottolenghi has to say on the topic. And if you live in New York and just want to eat, head over to Taim (kosher).

Sabich tartine

Not really a recipe, here are some guidelines to make a simplified sabich-style open-faced sandwich.

In my experience, sabich always makes a mess – probably because it’s usually served in over-stuffed pita – but a particularly damning one since amba stains whatever it drips on. Though a bit precious, I ate one of my tartines with knife and fork. The second one I folded in half, wrapped in several paper towels, and ate on the run as I rushed to pilates class. Classy, I know. You can also roll the ingredients into a tortilla. To make this Iraqi sandwich more traditional, chop up some tomato and cucumber salad salad, slice a  few pickles, and stuff everything into a pita with hummus. 

Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches

Turn on your broiler.

Put 2 eggs in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, and then remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes to cook (or just hard-cook them however you’d like). Run the eggs under cold water until cool enough to touch and remove shells. Thinly slice.

While the eggs are cooking, slice a small eggplant (mine was a petite 5-inch American/Italian variety) into ~1/4-inch rounds. Arrange the eggplant on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and brush each side with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil for 3-8 minutes (depends how close your pan is to the broiler) until starting to brown, and then flip and broil for another 3-8 minutes.

Mix 1/4 cup tehina with about 2 tablespoons cold water. It will seize up and thicken – that’s OK for now. Squeeze in half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons juice) and keep mixing. Stir in more cold water, teaspoon by teaspoon, until you reach the consistency you want. I wanted more of a spread (as opposed to a sauce), so I used about 3 tablespoons of water total.

Spread tehina on two slices of rye bread (I like Balthazar’s rye boule). Layer the eggs and eggplant. Drizzle with amba (I found mine at Holyland Market on Saint Mark’s Place).

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