Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
This story begins right before Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year. It’s the generational story of a family tradition that was started by my late grandmother and was continued by my mom until she, too, had passed.
It was the first year without my mom, and for me it was the time to face the reality and to make the decision: to keep the tradition alive, let it go, or just make a dinner to bring family together?
I was on the phone with Bella, a friend of mine for twenty years. We first met when we just arrived as refugees to this country, with four hundred dollars in our pocket and without knowing what will happen to us next. The time and life that we all shared in the suburbs of Chicago made us more than just friends; we became a family. Our children, not even us, made such a strong statement.
With the holidays around the corner, Bella and I were talking about what we will make for the dinner.
I don’t remember who asked first about gefilte fish, a very important dish that has to be served at such a time and, without it, it would be not considered a Jewish holiday dinner.
These days when everybody is busy, you can buy the fish ready to serve. You can order it with delivery an hour before the dinner and it would be okay. But, when the woman of the house makes the fish at home, only then is the meal considered to be a holiday dinner!
The fish, the gefilte fish, becomes the center of attention, the subject of the conversation, a main dish, no matter what else would be served that evening.
There we were, two friends, two women who grew up by traditions with traditions, talking about holidays and talking about gefilte fish. Who asked whom first and who said next, I don’t remember but it was close to this:
“Bella, what would we do with the fish?”
“I thought about it, but I don’t know, yet. Do you know how to make it?”
“I think, if I would start making it, I would remember. I didn’t do it for a long time but I can try,” I said, not even thinking where it will bring me and us. “Do you know how to make it?”
“Well, when my mom used to make the fish I tried to be there, some place around, mostly in her way, so mom would look at me and say, ‘Please, Bella, do me a favor just go and do what ever you want to do, don’t try to help me. I am fine to be here by myself. I can still take care of this. Your time will come, don’t worry!’ So, I would happily leave, but I saw what she did and some of it I do remember…Lily, what, if we tried to make the fish together?” she asked me. “You remember some and I remember what I saw. Let’s do it?”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” I asked my friend.
“Yes, I am. What do we have to lose? We will spend time together and, who knows? Maybe between the two of us, we would remember and we would have our gefilte fish on the table.”
“Well,” I said, “let’s do it. I still have pots and pans for all of this. In some of them, my grandma used to cook and we called them ‘The Golden Pots.’ They are from my old home.”
“We can’t use your stuff,” quietly said my friend. “I am sorry, but we can’t. They are not kosher.”
For a brief moment, I was so excited that I forgot that my friend keeps kosher and you can’t mix and use anything that is not kosher in the house.
“Well, what can we do?” I asked her with the all excitement gone. “Too bad, my friend, that you don’t have pots to cook the fish.”
“I have. I do have the pots in which my mom made the fish.”
“Great, so what is the problem? We will use yours. What the difference?”
“We can’t use them, either” Bella replied in a very apologetic voice.
“Why not?” I asked her, not understanding what she is talking about.
“They are not kosher, either,” she answered quietly.
“What?” I think that as much as my friend’s voice was quiet, mine was loud. “What?” I repeated myself. “You are telling me that your mom’s pots, where she cooked the fish for all the holidays through all the years, are not kosher? Bella, what then is kosher, if not your mom’s pots and pans?”
“Please,” said my friend, “don’t be so upset with me! I know. I know, I understand why you are so upset, but I can’t use them because they are not kosher.”
Well. I couldn’t stop, so upset I was with such a statement. I knew her mother. I knew the woman whose life was nothing but devotion to my friend and to her family, whose love was so unconditional that to me refusing her pots was an insult to her life.
“Well, my friend, let me tell you,” I said in the same very upset and loud voice, “you had better go to your shul and talk to your Rabbi. Go and tell him how upset I am and ask him what else can be more kosher in life than pots where your mom, your Jewish mom, in the best meaning of the world, cooked gefilte fish.”
“Ok, I will do it.”
“Yes, I promise you.”
The time passed by and in two weeks Bella called.
“I have the news for you,” she said as she started laughing. “We have kosher pots and pans for the fish!”
“What do you mean by this?” I asked.
“Well,” she continued to smile and started telling the story. “I did go to the Rabbi and told him about our conversation. He listened to me and then he said that the pots we brought from the old country are made from such material that it is almost impossible to bring them to the cleaning condition so that they can be called kosher. But, he promised to talk to another Rabbi who may have a solution. So he called in a few days and said that another Rabbi cannot also make such a decision and that Rabbi needs to talk to somebody else. I don’t want to make up or to say more than I know,” she continued the story, “but I think the question was brought to the Rabbi from the Rabbinical Court. Well, they told me that, considering the circumstances and my wish, they can make a special cleaning for these pots and pans and they can make them kosher.”
My friend was happy and continued laughing telling me the ordeal it was to make it happen. I was listening to my friend, holding tears and thinking about life at large, about all the twists and changes we went through. The gefilte fish that was made by our grandmas in the old country and our moms coming to a different continent and bringing the pots and pans for the special cooked fish, the gefilte fish.
I thought of the tradition that was kept by our ancestors in the country where everything and anything Jewish was forbidden. I thought how they kept it all and without words and explanations, taught us something very special: to keep the tradition alive, no matter where the destiny will bring our families and us.
I thought what our moms would say. Would they smile, or just quietly shake their heads? Our moms, who were watching and listening to us from above. So, we cooked! We cooked gefilte fish the way it was made centuries ago, the way it was made in our homes, and the way we saw and remembered.
In my friend’s large, brand new kitchen that was built before the holidays and was expected and blessed as a kosher, on the new stove in all its’ shining glory, was standing an old, big pot full of gefilte fish - the same pot that was brought from the old country and in which my friend’s mother used to cook the fish before this special day!
The most kosher pot in the world!
When holiday came and our families and children were sitting at the table, we told them this story: the story of memories, the story of love and the story of a tradition we all wish and hope they will continue after us.
When I pop open the bottle, I must put my nose right up to the spout and take a deep, lung-filling whiff. That's always followed up by a quiet smile, as the memories come flooding back. When I was about eight, my oldest son's age, my dad took up Chinese cooking as a hobby. We lived in an old Chicago Bungalow, and in the unfinished basement there was a tiny little gas stove. He would cook down there, keeping the heat and oil splatters out of our miniscule kitchen...and ensuring that little kids didn't get underfoot and burned. Once he mastered complex stir-fries, he moved on to our favorite, Hot and Sour Soup. He perfected a recipe that included a drizzle of sesame oil on top, the heat releasing its nutty scent.
It brings back the memory of being young and carefree and happy, with a dad who loved to experiment in the kitchen and share that with his family. We had delicious food, and dinners around the table, and leftovers I'd have for breakfast in the morning. No, really, I did. My sons don't get it either. It brings back the memory of recreating my dad's Hot and Sour Soup recipe in college, going to the only Oriental grocery store in Normal, Illinois to get the precious ingredients. Filling my pit of an apartment with the warm aromas of soup and sesame oil.
With one whiff, the scent of sesame oil transports me back to all those times. Better than any time machine.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
So I decided to do something new and different for dinner. I took some spices; smoked paprika, ground ginger, cumin, fennel seeds, garlic and a few other things, mixed it into the ground lamb and made small little balls. Added that into a crock pot with hot olive oil, garlic, onions and mushrooms. Let that cook for about 10 minutes. Then added some chimichuri sauce; I know, a bit of the Latin flavor. After another 10 min added the shrimp, and calamari with some dried up rosemary. Cooked that for 10 more min and done.
It was actually pretty good. Had some rice on the side. The only thing I would do is add some tomato paste and a touch of cinnamon into the meatballs to give it a little extra.
Friday, November 20, 2009
and then you get these...
Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of the whole feast, because as I said the photographer got sick, but she did wake up for the most important part -- Four hours, 15 rolls, 120 pieces of sushi later... It was probably too much, but I did enjoy making it, and it seemed everyone loved eating it... It beats going out anytime!
Funny thing, though, is that I don't like to cook. Sigh.... Yes, it's true. My name is Jen, I contribute to two different food-related blogs, and I don't like to cook. Eat, yes. Cook, not so much. But Thanksgiving is different. I have the whole day, in fact several days, to prepare food. I'm not the only one cooking. And if it doesn't turn out, I can drown it all in gravy and everyone's happy. And if the gravy is lumpy, then let them all eat pie! Pecan. Hot. With ice cream.
It got tougher last year when it was the first Thanksgiving that I had to eat gluten-free. My husband's world famous stuffing suffered mightily from the terrible gluten-free bread we used. I wept, for I usually want to bathe in that stuffing it's so good. We tried again at Christmas and it was a little better, but not much. I have high hopes for this year since finding a wonderful bread mix (Bob's Red Mill, I love you. Mwah!).
We have a few traditional foods, but not many. The bird. Stuffing. Cranberry sauce, the kind with the lines (for easy slicing, right?) AND homemade. Apple salad...yes, it's healthy on this day even though it's covered in Cool Whip. Sweet potatoes. Pie. My husband must have his spiced apple rings or the day is a depressing failure. Anything else for the groaning table varies depending on what recipes caught our eye that year. And everything must be gluten-free.
Parade, lounging around in yoga pants all day, mouth-watering aromas from the kitchen, the gleeful voices of cousins pounding on one another...this is Thanksgiving.
Even if I do have to cook.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
My fathers mother, Grandma Donahue, that's who! She is the one who instilled in me the love of food. And not just any food — the-made-from-scratch kind of food. I barely remember my Grandmother buying anything in a box or a can. But what I do remember is that anytime Grandma Donahue was around you could bet you were going to learn to cook!
Food is the heart of the Mexican family and has a mystique all its own. Cooking in a Mexican family is more than an act of feeding the family. Cooking is an expression of love and caring and eating the food is an expression of appreciation. Mexican mothers pour their heart and soul in every meal they create and we know it. If they can’t buy you everything you want, at least you will always have good food made by the hands that love you and with a taste you can’t find anywhere else. The meal is one of those things that bind families together and sharing it as a family is one of those rituals that stitch the family together and embed us with lifelong memories of hearth and home that we struggle to recreate for the rest of our lives.
One ritual that stands out above all the others is that of making and eating tamales. Tamales are a traditional celebratory food typically made during the holidays when the whole family gets together. One of the reasons they are used for family celebrations is that they take a long time to make and because you’re feeding a large group with over 100 tamales, you need everyone’s help in making them (typical of Mexican families, women are usually the ones who cook them). The men are left to do man stuff while the children hang out in the kitchen watching the whole thing unfold before them.
The family begins gathering the night before when the various matriarchs get together, under the tutelage of the grandmothers, to begin preparation. First there is the masa (or dough) to make, then the filling, then the softening and laying out of the corn husks, then assembling the tamales, then the steaming while other dishes are prepared. In order to have tamales ready for the family to eat on Christmas morning, the process begins the night before and goes on through the whole night.
But the process is more than an assembly line. It is the bonding among the women that happens as the art of tamale making is passed from one generation to another. Recipes are passed down, spices are tested for the right flavor, consistency is taught and everything is made by hand, the slow way. In the midst of spending the whole night getting the consistency of the masa just right, the preparation of the meat just right, the salsas to just the right bite and potency, the women share life stories and histories together, motherly advice is passed on, problems are talked through and all the while the women are aware that with their hands they are creating a special meal filled with love and the bonding they are experiencing for the entire family. It’s as if that special cross-generational bond occurring at that moment becomes a secret ingredient in the tamales. You can almost see the passing of the torch from one generation to another occurring as the younger women absorb the knowledge and secrets of the older ones. The children sit by or run around and eagerly try to lend a helping hand (the boy children just try to annoy the girl children who think they are becoming women by helping).
As the tamale ingredients are ready to be put together into the finished product, each one is handled with care. Each corn husk must be perfect and free from tears, they are laid out flat and the masa is applied to the inside in even strokes. Every tamale gets a generous portion of filling and sauce spread evenly throughout to make sure that nobody gets an imperfect or unsatisfactory one. They are then perfectly rolled and hand tied with a string and a simple knot. Each one is perfection and carefully and lovingly prepared. At around 3 in the morning, they are arranged standing up in the steamers and left to steam while the women clean up the kitchen and prepare the table for breakfast. The kids have long since pooped out and were put to bed by various women. Now the real talking can begin while they prepare the beans, rice, potatoes, and anything else they need for the morning.
In the down time while the tamales steam, the real juicy stuff is talked about. There is a lot of laughing and giggling and one or a few of the ladies will take a quick nap. It’s one of the few times you can see all the women of the family together and exchanging life’s lessons. Grandmothers, aunts, cousins, daughters, wives, from 80 years old to 20 are all there in the kitchen sharing and bonding.
All of that bonding is expressed in the tamales. As the men and children wake up or start arriving from their own homes, the sweet and meaty scent of the tamales wafts through the house like an open invitation. Everyone starts gathering in the kitchen, the women are scurrying to get all the plates and glasses and utensils laid out.
As the voluminous greetings of the men begin to reverberate through the house, you can almost feel the energy mounting. Everybody is here. The anticipation of the tamales is building. The men have waited months for a tamale occasion and know the women have been working on them through the whole night. Over a hundred tamales, beans, rice, handmade tortillas, potatoes, chiles, red sauce, green sauce, mole sauce, nopales (cactus), and anything else you can think of has been put together while we were all asleep. The women are tired but look none the worse for wear having spent a spiritual night of bonding while creating a meal of love together for the whole family.
As the men and the children sit down, we are giddy with anticipation as the women scurry about getting everyone served. Most of them already sampled everything before the men got there so they are not starving like we are. The men relish the attention being given to them by their mothers, their wives, their aunts, their grandmothers, and their nieces. The women are waiting in anticipation for the men to taste their first tamale and exclaim their appreciation with wide eyes and wide smiles.
The tamales are not only delicious they are creations of love and effort. The women are seeing the fruit of their labor in the glee and cheerfulness of the entire family gathered together by the tamales. The matriarchs are proud to have passed on their tradition to the mothers of the future and that their families are at that moment bound together by their special talent and the special ingredient, their love for their family. Everyone is aware of the work that went into them and the appreciation is boundless.
The men, despite their machismo, know that they are nothing without the women who care for them and can get together to perform such a culinary feat for them for this is a special gift of family that no broken family can recreate. For the young women who learned that night, this is a moment of transcendence from a girl to an accepted equal among the matriarchs. For the children, it’s a special memory of seeing the women of the family work as one proudly through the night, the wisdom of the old passed on, the special bonds shared and seeing the men of the family utterly so appreciative and happy for they know that by eating the tamales they are partaking of the tremendous love and care that was cooked into each and every one of those tamales and because of that love and care, they are the most delicious tamales they have ever had.
For that moment, the whole family is one big harmonious loving unit, the warmth is imprinted on every child’s memory, when everyone is happy, laughing, smiling, happy to be together, bound together through the delicious and tender tamales exuding that special ingredient of love and warmth and that the mothers of the family, the matriarchs, are the ones responsible. They are the key to keeping the family together and the tamale is the symbol of the love required to keep the family together. From that point on, eating a tamale alone is almost sacrilegious and doesn’t taste anywhere as good as when the whole family is together under the loving watchful eyes of the matriarchs.
And if you do have to eat one alone, the spirit of the matriarchs is always there with you; grandma, momma, and your favorite aunt. Maybe that’s why tamales are the ultimate Mexican comfort food.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
We wanted to have lunch and initially decided on sushi, but after passing by Verve, tucked away under a large CSU billboard, we, ok, I, took a u-turn in the middle of a four lane street and we parked in the adjacent parking lot. When we entered Verve, we immediately sensed a new energy, an energy that didn't feel very Cleveland. Unlike the social restaurants in the Warehouse District or the commercially successful East 4th Street gastronomic mecca, with its open, industrial and minimalist feel, large windows overlooking busy Carnegie and sophisticated and professionally-dressed customers filling almost every white tablecloth covered table, Verve felt more like it belonged in (dare I say it?) Chicago.
Sonia and I were seated right away by the nice hostess, who also took my raincoat. Our waiter approached us quickly and provided the menus, that listed items like Verve Fries (hand cut potato with sausage gravy), Roasted Onion and Garlic Soup (w/grilled fontina cheese bread) and City Chicken (crispy pork and applesauce). The restaurant menu is like an album of classic 60's rock songs covered by your favorite 90's bands: you recognize the titles, but Verve puts its own spin on things.
After Sonia and I ordered soup and a few salads, I excused myself to go to the ladies room. First, I noticed that instead of "men"/"women," the doors were marked with framed photos of gender-appropriate children. Very clever and cute. Once inside, in the mirror I also realized that all this time my sunglasses were on me - not on my head, but on my face. I felt so pretentious and silly and took them off, thinking that, perhaps, the staff was being so super nice to both of us because they thought I was someone far more important than I really am. (It was either the sunglasses or my continuous photo-taking with the iPhone.) But, then, perhaps something about Verve, and the aura of "important discussions happen while people eat our soup" resonated in the subconscious and allowed me to play dress up.
- Rocky Mountain Oysters
- Denver has cuisine?
- Boy, that game last night against the Steelers was brutal!
- Home of the Vegan Lifestyle
- Boulder has cuisine? Can college kids afford cuisine?
- Damned pot-smoking dippy hippies, get off the lawn!
There are wonderful places in Colorado to eat. I've been out here 12 years now, have had many memorable meals, and not one has included an omelet or deep fried bull testicles. There's The Fort west of Denver, which is the place to take a date...or the in-laws. Fancy-schmancy restaurant, specializing in Old West cuisine, with a killer view of the lights of Denver from the foothills. Is seafood more your thing? Try Jax Fish House in Boulder (which will be our next dinner out). What? Seafood in the mountains? Dude, yeah. The kitchen is run by Top Chef Season 5 winner Hosea Rosenberg. There is also a wide variety of little joints beloved by regulars; you need only to ask a local.
Now, the question is, "Jen, do you really go out that often?" Nooo...I wish; see aforementioned young monkeys...erm... children. We save dining for adult time, and take full advantage of a fantastic week in February. Denver Restaurant Week (also known as cheap week to eat out), is the week that we suck it up, get a couple of sitters and hit the top restaurants on our "to try" list. Restaurants have a set menu, priced at $52.80 for two...and not just the inexpensive items on the list. They showcase some of their best meals; it's the only way we were able to dine at The Fort a few years ago. It started a few years back and was such an stunning hit that many restaurants participate for two weeks, and the list of restaurants grows every year. I highly recommend planning a ski trip around Restaurant Week. I may eat rattlesnake that week, but certainly not bull testicles. A girl's gotta have limits, you know!
Denver may not have a signature item, like Chicago's deep dish pizza or hot dogs (ooh...I could go for one of those right now), but this is a food town. Just a very quiet food town. If people came here and realized how beautiful the weather and town and mountains were AND we had good food, no one would leave. Come to think of it, that might explain all the California license plates...
Saturday, November 7, 2009
My wife's family goes on and on about this family tradition they have of these little fried potato dough chunks called Knefles. They have a flavor akin to a potato pierogie but are much starchier. It is one of the few foods that actually has the feeling of rocks settling in my stomach.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Currently teaching a screenwriting class at the local college, I keep asking the students 3 questions:
1. Who is your protagonist?
2. What does he want?
3. What is his obstacle?
Without these key ingredients, there is no story. Perhaps an anecdote. But no story.
This past Friday, Daniel and I embarked on our favorite Cleveland journey: dinner and a movie. Usually we head east to the Cedar Lee, which quenches our thirst for films not targeted at 18-year-old boys. Prior to watching the grown up / indi / foreign films, we tend to have dinner at the local Thai place and, if the film ends early enough, we then head to the Starbuck's on Cedar / Fairmount to discuss the main characters, plots points, story, etc. Little did we know, that on Halloween Eve, we'd end up as the characters in someone else's tale.
Because the Capitol Theater, run by the same management company as the Cedar Lee, has just been renovated and is closer to my West Side home, we decided to meet by the marquee and give the old / new film house on West 65th and Detroit a try. Unknown to us, having a meal prior to the evening showing of "Where the Wild Things Are" was not going to be easy. No, it was going to be ridiculous.
Some pseudo-punk kids saw us looking out of place and recommended the coffee shop across the street. With bright lights and a warm wood interior, it looked friendly enough, but Daniel and I craved dinner food, thus we walked right past the pleasant aroma corner shop. We then saw a sign for a family type restaurant and as we approached the sign, realized the location itself was a closed art gallery. We then crossed the street where we saw a pub and agreed getting a burger wasn't so bad. But as we walked near the door, and peeked in, the narrow dark interior, the several decade old absorbed stench of nicotine and the sole patron at the bar gave indication that perhaps the culinary skills were not to be trusted here.
Next, we headed in the western direction, as we spotted a Mexican dive. And for Daniel, nothing is better than Mexican food. For my educated, world-traveled and uber cultured friend, chips and salsa are the earth's most perfect food. In fact, this blog concept was named after him. As we approached the door to the Mexican restaurant, also brightly lit in contrast to the dark, mostly vacant street, we saw that the sign indicated an 8PM closing. It was 7:45. We hoped. We prayed. But when the owner walked up, unlocked the door and asked us if it's "to go" she might as well have yelled "No chips for you!"
Next, we meandered to the fast food places: a neighboring sub and pizza chain. Unfortunately for us, neither establishment had any seating room. And was filled with patrons of the most interesting appearances. Now, I lived my first three years in America in Chicago's housing projects. I also spent most of my college years riding the el, boarding and departing on stations in good neighborhoods and in shady ones. Street life does not frighten me. And if it did, I would never show it. Until this night.
With growling stomachs, frustrated by the lack of gastronomic choices in an "up-and-coming" neighborhood, on an unusually warm night - especially since, whenever Daniel and I go to the Cedar Lee, summer or winter, we always complain of how cold it is - we finally decided to bite the proverbial bullet, because, well, we needed a bite of something. And we saw the familiar arches that have, in a Pavlovian manner, given millions of us a sense of calm and exhale, especially on long cross-country road trips: McDonalds. "I guess we're having Big Macs tonight," said a happy Daniel. "I guess we are," I replied.
As we entered the standardly constructed location we could both sense that the clientele had reached its lifecycle ceiling: not in age, but in everything else; this was as good as anything would ever be for the adults and children dining in this particular fast food restaurant. It felt kind of sad, because, well, sometimes destinies are created and sometimes they are born into. This group fell into the latter. And, just as Daniel and I were going to order our Big Macs, my good friend, with his eyes wide open, signaled me to look at one of the patrons. As I turned around I saw a thug: tall, almost albino-pale, relatively young man, extremely overweight, wearing all black. But what I didn't immediately see was the large black gun in his right pocket. Ready to be used at any minute. Very quickly, Daniel and I exited the golden arches. And, again, we were back on our quest for food, with West 65th and Detoit as our obstacle.
The one restaurant that we noticed as soon as our adventure commenced was Luxe: bright signage, sophisticated glass with writing on it and packed interior. We initially wanted to avoid Luxe as a. we had no reservations b. we weren't in the mood to drop snooty restaurant money for a casual night. As we walked in, we were pleasantly surprised: a. they don't take reservations b. they could seat us within 10 or so minutes. And, about 15 minutes later, we had a wonderful table.
We ordered burgers - the cheapest item on the menu - no apps, no alcohol and two soft drinks. They must have loved us. The music was great, the food pretty good and yet, the evening's contrasting surprises continued: crystals chandeliers hung from the ceilings while, in place of tablecloths and napkins, the restaurant uses coarse, wrinkly dish towels. Given the evening's David Lynch like unveiling, I'll take dishtowels over a gun anytime.
As we exited Luxe and crossed the street we both commented on the very cool outdoor public benches: curvy and lit up from underneath, solidly situated in what are clearly new sidewalks. You can sit in this neighborhood. You just can't dine in this neighborhood.
Finally, we entered the Capitol Theater - beautifully redone, with a staff friendliness not yet eroded as it is at the Cedar Lee. We bought our popcorn and soft drinks and headed upstairs, to a beautiful 2nd floor lobby, complete with luxurious couches, a fireplace and vintage artwork. We proceeded to the small theater, what was once considered the balcony, and is now sectioned off from the main screen downstairs. Exhaling from the evening's adventures, we sat down. And within a few seconds, didn't know if someone was playing a joke on us: the original cement, preserved, created the steps to the tiered seating and, like passengers on a regional jet, we both realized that the leg room is missing a good six inches. Not to mention no cup holders for our soft drinks.
At last, the movie started. A film about a little boy who creates a fantasy world on a desolate island, complete with war, happy music and giant monsters. Monsters who could eat that boy at any minute. How lucky for them.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Autumn’s well on its way and the glorious seasonal foods gently nudge the corners of the mind. Heeding the cue, grandmothers everywhere have begun to sort through recipes, old and new, in search of the perfect holiday foods for their families to enjoy.
Jewish grandmothers are no exception, pulling out their favorite traditional recipes for the fall and winter holiday months. Rosh Hashanah, or the High Holidays, which was celebrated in September, is a joyful occasion for celebration, often marked by having dinner with friends and family and passing on the traditional flavors to the next generation.
OY! So many decisions. Brisket or chicken – or both? Noodle kugel or potato kugel – or both? Matzo ball soup? Definitely. Apples and honey for a sweet year? Of course. And no traditional meal was ever complete without the sweet treat of Bubbie’s Old Country Honey Cake.
Bubbie, (my grandmother of blessed memory) like many of our mothers and grandmothers, never wrote down her recipes. She used a bisseleh (a little) of this, a handful of that, and a glazel (glass) of whatever. Her liquid measuring cup was often a jelly jar glass or a glass left over from a Yahrzeit (memorial) candle. One thing’s for sure – this lovable, robust woman who always smelled of vanilla (a dab behind each ear made her irresistible to Zeidi (my grandfather of blessed memory) didn’t use standardized measurements. She baked instinctively, using her taste buds, experience, and love.
In honor of Jewish mothers and grandmothers everywhere, here is THE recipe – painstakingly remeasured for standardization -- copied down, step by step while she was still alive -- for Bubbie’s honey cake. Unlike the store-bought variety, which often tastes like fruitcake gone bad, this one’s moist, delicious, and easy to bake. It’s best the next day.
Bubbie’s Old Country Honey Cake
1 Cup sugar
½ Cup oil
½ Cup honey
½ Cup nuts (optional)
1 Cup golden raisins
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp allspice (optional)
½ tsp cloves (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Cups flour
1 Cup strong coffee (fresh brewed or 1 C luke warm water + 1 Tbs. instant coffee)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line large loaf pan with waxed paper.
3. Using electric mixer on high, beat eggs and sugar until they’re frothy.
4. Add oil and beat.
5. Add honey and beat.
6. Add baking soda, baking powder, spices, and vanilla.
7. Add flour, alternating with coffee and beat well on low speed.
8. Fold in nuts and raisins (optional) and mix well.
9. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees or till top splits slightly.
10. Remove cake from oven and cool on rack.
11. Wrap tightly in foil until serving. Honey cake will stay moist for several days.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I am always very interested in other's special culinary traditions, especially ethnic. So please post some comments about them. I will take on finding them and trying them out. My mother also blesses our family with an old Norwegian treat each Christmas that was handed down from my grandmother on my Dad's side, Lefse. You will be seeing more posts about this in the future.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The globe is going through a tough time. So, while politics, economics and war continue to divide friends, coworkers and neighbors, it's food and music that anchor us as the universal truths. Who doesn't like a good meal? And, it seems like when I introduce folks, 90% of the time the topic automatically reverts to what everyone's been eating lately and where. Thus, all this brought me to the idea of creating the blog - combining a few of the things I love most - to eat and to write.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Anthony Bourdain and, several months later, Michael Symon - both talented, poetic and down to earth chefs who make a big gastronomic impact on our food pallets. But my favorite chef of all time was my Grandma. She's been on my mind a lot lately, so I think she's channeling some of this energy at the moment. I miss her rich red borscht with sour cream, her grilled potato perogis with onions, (varenikis, in Russian) and her Napoleon cake - with layers and layers of delicate filo dough and her trademark cream. I'm dedicating this blog to her.
But the purpose of this new creative journey is way bigger than one person - it's really all about you and your food loves. Do you grow your own vegetables? Do you go apple or mushroom picking? Have you discovered a recipe that others would enjoy? Are there favorite restaurants, chefs or food trends that you always have an opinion on but haven't developed the audience?
If "yes" to any of these, let me know and I'll add you to the contributor list. My hope is that there's lots of readers and lots of writers, from all the various continents, benefitting from this experiment. With our family and social circles scatterred all over the world, a hungry soul in Manhattan may want to know about the best paella in Madrid. And you get to tell us all about it.
No food related topic is off limits.
We survived. Let's eat!
- Alexsandra Sukhoy.