I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “What’s it like to be the child of Holocaust survivors?”
Before I start my discussion of the P word, the good and the bad of it, I just wanted to mention that yesterday was one year since Miriyummy came into being, all because Ju-Boy got trapped in England due to a volcano. So if you love or hate my blog, you can all Blame It On The Volcano.
Okay, the house is clean, you are exhausted, the table is set, the guests are hungry, what are you going to serve?
The other day I was standing in line at the local post office. I was about to do something I hadn’t done in quite a while: buy a stamp and mail a letter. It was a long line, and the Ministry of Communication has generously provided two wide-screen televisions for our entertainment. All they played was an endless and very short loop of commercials touting the postal services now available over the Internet. Usually I do most of the official errands over the net. I used to run around town, from the post office, to the bank, to the National Insurance Institute, but now I do it all online. Instantly. Even writing mail is online and instant. Except for when I need a stamp.
I started thinking about the instant world we now live in. We can do many things over the Internet today that we couldn’t even envision a decade ago. Send a chatty little letter to a far-away friend? No need, just shoot off a quick email and click on send. Or post something to your friends’ wall on Facebook. Just want to say hi? Send them a text on your cell phone. Mail a letter? Who does that anymore?
Amazingly accurate predictions from 1993 — but tell me, what’s a phone booth?
All I find in my mailbox these days are credit card statements and junk mail. Even the credit card companies are imploring me to sign up online, log in and save a tree. Everyone wants to save paper and take up byte space.
As it was almost my turn (remember, I’m still in the post office), a young girl, around 11 years old or so, approached the clerk and told him she needed to send a letter to America, but she didn’t know how. The clerk smiled (as did everyone ever the age of 30 in line). When I was 11 I was writing letters to my friends just because we loved getting mail. I had a good friend in Brooklyn, we didn’t speak on the phone for years, we just sent letters. It was a huge thing to get really cool stationary for your birthday. Getting a letter was the most exciting thing next to the season premiere of Mork and Mindy! And here was this young girl, weaned on cell phones and instant chat screens, needing to send a letter for the first time, and she didn’t even know how. The clerk was patient, sold her a stamp, showed her where to stick it, and took the letter and posted it.
When it was my turn I also asked for a stamp. Again, the clerk smiled. “Not too many kids mail letters these days,” he said to me. “The whole world wants something in an instant.
It’s true. We just want to blink our eyes, wriggle our noses and everything arrives in an instant. Communication, knowledge, the television show you missed last night, even food. I want my calories and I want them now!
We need to slow down, before we burn out. So come travel with me, back to the past, when we were more patient. Remember when food was worth waiting for?
Forest Fruits Sorbet
This refreshing and delicious dessert can take a while to make, especially if you use an ice cream machine and forget to chill the container for 24 hours beforehand (which is what happened to me). Still worth the wait!
- 2/3 cup water
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 cups pureed forest fruits
- Boil the water and sugar together. The sugar should be dissolved and then let the syrup boil for another two minutes. Cool. Be patient, the stuff has to get to room temperature at least. Feel free to stick the pan in the fridge.
- Mix the sugar syrup together with the fruit puree. Pour into your ice cream machine and process according to the machine’s instructions.
- Alternatively, you can just place the stuff in a big Tupperware bowl and bung it in the freezer. Every two hours take it out and mix the stuff around to combine and get nice and slushy. Do this two or three times. By this time tomorrow you should have a wonderful sorbet, patiently refreshing.
Back in May, for Mother’s Day, I posted an homage to my mother, who passed away in October 2009. At that time I referenced a recipe for shmaltz, but wrote that I don’t even have a picture to show you, since I don’t make it anymore. Well, I’ve started making shmaltz recently. I can hear God chuckling in the background, and I can hear my arteries hardening as well, but what a way to go!
I just made a batch. Ju-boy, a self-proclaimed parsimonious bastard, refuses to buy our chickens cut up by the butcher in the supermarket, saying they taste better if you roast them whole. He skins the chickies (yes, we roast our chickens naked) and gets rid of every available scrap of fat. Usually he tosses the chicken dross into the sink, intending to clean it out, usually ADD-ing on to some new project, leaving me to clean the sink (actually, he’s gotten better at this lately, so pretend I didn’t just say what I did). But for the last two weeks I’ve appealed to the parsimonious side of the Parsimonious Bastard, and convinced him that I should channel my mother and make some shmaltz.
So for all of you that haven’t been grossed out by the idea of rendered chicken fat, read on…
- chicken fat, cleaned from 3 chickens
- chicken skin (optional, only if you like the gribenes, the cracklings, so to speak)
- 1 large onion
- salt, to taste
In a heavy, preferably non-stick pot, place the chicken fat and the skin. Over a medium-high fire, let it cook until the fat has melted and the skin is beginning to get golden brown. Add the onion and the salt (you decide how much). Once you add the onions, don’t leave the pot alone. Mix frequently to avoid sticking and buring. Keep cooking until the onions are a gorgeous golden brown color and the skin pieces are dark brown (but not black).
The skin has now turned into something heavenly called gribenes.
Remove the pot from the flame.
Let cool and then strain the mixture into a glass or metal bowl.
Pat the gribenes with a paper towel.
You can now pour the cooled shmaltz into a jar and keep it indefinitely in the fridge or freezer.
Keep the gribenes separate from the shmaltz in another jar.
Your shmaltz is now ready to be used in matzo balls, kugels, chopped liver, and for frying. Gribenes are best eaten in a sandwich with chopped liver, or sprinkled on the chopped liver as an edible garnish.
The shmaltz you see in the photos was made about a half hour ago. The aroma of the shmaltz being rendered together with the onion took me back to the Friday mornings of my childhood, the kitchen steamy and aromatic with all the wonderful things my mother was cooking. They say smell can invoke the strongest memories. This morning, in my own kitchen, I so remembered my mom. And I miss her.
When you consider yourself to be a decent cook, adroit in the kitchen, you take certain things for granted. Ju-boy, the technical writer, has always told me that you write for your audience. Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge exactly who makes up your audience. Do I discuss the intricacies of proofing yeast, or am I wasting your time, and even worse, word count? Am I talking above your head, or treating you like a culinary child? Where exactly do I start to take things for granted?
Which brings me to a little piece of high school apocrypha. The story I am about to relate may or may not be true. Even the participants don’t remember the exact details. But in the mumble mumble years since 11th grade this story has grown wings and taken flight, becoming an urban legend within the limited demographic in which it took place.
Back in the Seventies SW and her family were refugees from South Africa. Her parents saw what was happening to the country in general and the Jewish community in particular and moved the family across the ocean to another hemisphere, and settled in New York. South Africa’s loss was my gain, she and I became friends. And so begins the legend.
In our New York eyes SW had grown up in a very priviledged state. We studied apartheid in school and whatever propagaganda we heard led us to believe that our friend was a modern day Scarlet O’Hara, with her own personal staff to tie her shoes, fetch her breakfast, brush her hair. One day one of our little group (no one remembers whom anymore) received a phone call…
SW: I’m alone in the house and I want to make some tea.
SW’s Friend: That’s nice.
SW: Urm, I’ve never done this before, how do you make tea?
SWF: You put the tea bag in the cup, and then you add boiling water.
SW: Urm, how do you boil water?
If this is the case with some of you, then perhaps my recipes are a little too complicated. Do you really need me to hold your hand and tell you how to cook pasta or peel a potato? Just in case you are a total newbie cook, Recipezaar has two wonderful recipes just for you: Boiled Water and Ice Cubes.
So whatever happened to SW? We’re still friends, so many mumble mumble years later. I’d like to tell you that she went on to master boiling water and is now a famous Food Network chef, but my good friend does not count cooking among her hobbies. She views it as something she *has* to do. Every now and then I will get a frantic phone call with SW on the other end of the line, “The family is coming over for dinner, what can I do with a tub of cottage cheese and an onion?” Miriyummy to save the day! Actually, I exaggerate for the sake of what I hope passes as humor. SW is an excellent, if unwilling, vegetarian cook. I was at her house a few weeks ago and she made me a great cup of instant coffee, and I can vouch that she boiled the water beautifully.
I actually had SW in mind the other week when I started playing around with some vegetables and cheese. As I may have mentioned before, I’m low carbing it at the moment, and came up with this version of lasagne that doesn’t involve noodles. Those of you that dread recipes that start out with the words “one pound of pasta, cooked” may now breathe a sigh of relief.
Pasta Free La Sag Nee (Lasagne)
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, grated
olive oil for sauteeing
1 largish eggplant, unpeeled and thinly sliced into rounds
2 medium zucchini, unpeeled and thinly sliced into rounds
3 cups of your favorite pasta sauce (buy it, make it from scratch, borrow from your neighbor, you get to choose)
400 grams (1 pound) grated cheese (again, you get to choose, I use a mix of mozzarella and the Israeli Gilboa, an Edam-like cheese)
oregano, basil, salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).
- Saute the onion in the olive oil until golden. Add the grated carrots and saute for one minute or two more. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
- Coat the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ (33 x 23 cm) pan with a bit of the pasta sauce. This is to prevent the food from sticking to the pan. It will still stick a bit, but at least you tried.
- Layer half of the eggplant rounds on the bottom of the pan. Add the carroty-onions and spread evenly over the eggplant.
- Add a layer of sauce and then a layer of cheese. Sprinkle with oregano, basil, salt and pepper, to taste.
- Layer the zucchini rounds next. Add another layer of sauce, then another layer of cheese. Sprinkle with oregano, basil, salt and pepper, to taste.
- Add a last layer of eggplant rounds. Now add the cheese, and then the sauce. This is to prevent the cheese from burning and sticking to the silver foil that you will use to cover the whole thing.
- Cover the whole thing with silver foil (for those who didn’t bother to read the above instruction).
- Bake for about 50 minutes.
Let it cool for a bit before slicing into servings. In fact, this serves up prettiest when completely cooled in the fridge and then cut into neat, serving-size squares which are then reheated in the microwave. If you like your food fresh and messy, then serve up straight from the oven. When low carbing it I usually make up a batch of this stuff and eat it throughout the week. This also freezes well.
SW! I’m coming over, put the kettle on!
Remember my first post, the one that launched this blog? I still can’t pronounce the name of that volcano. It seems that I am not alone, and am, in fact, in the overwhelming majority. If you really want to try, you can jump over to this website and actually hear it being pronounced. I have to admit, after hearing the name over and over again, I think I’m still going to call it “That Volcano With the Unpronounceable Name.”
I’ve pretty much forgotten all about Eyjafjallajoekull (thank God for cut and paste there), and Ju-boy’s story of being stranded in England has also been demoted to the family apocrypha (he only tells it about once a day now). This morning, however, I couldn’t help but be amazed at a time-lapse video posted on my friend Avital’s blog, This and That. Avital is a talented amateur photographer. She blogs about her various hobbies and I have to admit I certainly envy her needlework.
This morning, with coffee cup in hand, I watched this video several times. Such a pretty little volcano, does it even realize the havoc it caused a few weeks ago?
I’ve actually been to Iceland, it’s aptly named. We were there in the summer of 1970 and there are pictures of my brother and me running around in shorts and heavy sweaters. Watching this video brought back memories of freezing in the summer, so I was grateful for the cup of coffee in hand.
I used to be a major coffee snob, buying the best beans, grinding them myself, looking down my nose at people who drank instant coffee. But my taste in coffee has deteriorated over the years. I still buy good coffee, but now it’s of the instant variety. How the snobby have fallen! Back in 2003 I was on a no-carb diet. It worked wonderfully, but makes you very cranky. Coffee helped me get through the day. Back then I posted this recipe on Recipezaar, but that mug of coffee has evolved to what I drink today.
Luscious Mug of Coffee (the Miriyummy version, 2010)
1 heaping teaspoon instant espresso (I use a tablespoon, actually, but am being gentle with you)
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup cream (not milk, not skim milk, real cream)
- Place coffee in mug.
- Add boiling water.
- Add sugar to taste (I like my coffee without sugar).
- Add cream.
When I was two years old my mom and I would sit side by side in ancient beach chairs on top of a mountain in the Catskills and soak up the sun and she would tell me stories of what it was like to be a little girl in the Vilna Ghetto. I just loved hanging out with my mom.
When I was six years old and had a friend over to play my mom would peek her head into the bedroom, disrupting whatever drama was unfolding in the Barbie house, I wished my mom would go back into the kitchen where she belonged.
When I was 10 years old and my mom came to my school for Parents Day and she was the only mom dressed there in pants (and polyester pants, noch!) I just wanted to keep on asking for the bathroom pass and leave the room for the whole day.
When I was 13 and we were back in the Catskill Mountains and all my cool friends where sneaking off to smoke cigarettes in the woods and my mom insisted I come and sit with her and my grandmother in the shade of our bungalow and work on my knitting. I had such a crush on Leon but so did Debbie and she was out there with him and I was stuck with my mom knitting and my life was over. “But, Ma, everybody is there!” “You’re not everybody!” was her answer, always her answer….
When I was 16 and we were all going to go down to Rockefeller Center to go ice skating, and it’s only $25 dollars for 15 minutes, and it’s just two hours on the subway (that stops every five minutes in the South Bronx and in Harlem) and my mom didn’t let me go. “But Ma, everybody is going!” And my mother would reply, as always, “You’re not everybody!”
And then I was 20 and leaving home forever and moving to Israel. My parents came with me to the airport and both cried but I was too excited to get on the plane to notice. A few months later my parents themselves made the trip when I married The X. They smiled and hugged and let me have my Bridezilla moments, all the while not liking the person I with whom I had chosen to spend the rest of my life. But they smiled, because deep down my mom had a secret — I am not everybody.
And then I was 28 and the mother of four darling daughters, and I started taking them to New York to visit their grandparents. “Don’t take them to the zoo,” my mother warned, “it’s dangerous.” She didn’t let me introduce them to the narishkeit (nonsense) of my life and made sure I fed them healthy food instead of Entenman’s donuts for breakfast. When I wanted to drag my then 14 and 13 year old daughters down to Fifth Avenue to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade (in the rain), she put a stop to that. “But, Ma, everybody needs to go down there at least once!” And her reply, “You are not everybody!”
And then I was 41 and my father had just died the year before, and I was going through a divorce, my mom was the most supportive mother in the world. I discovered many secrets that year that she didn’t want me to know, and through it all, when I wanted to go and yell out my anger and frustration to the world, my mom put a gentle hand on my arm and said, “You are not everybody.”
And then I was 42, and getting married to a man that I just know my father would have adored, getting married to a man who would treat my mother with respect (even though she never could get his name right), and my mom was too weak and too scared to make the flight out to Israel for the wedding. “But, Ma, everybody’s mother comes out for their wedding.” And you know, by now, what my mother would have said to that.
Six months ago I was proudly shlepping my husband out to finally meet my mom. I don’t know who was more nervous, but this meeting was finally going to happen. And then, Man plans, God laughs. The night before our flight we got the news that my mom had died quietly in her sleep, a burst aortic aneurism. She went in death as she never would have in life, quietly, no fuss, just a small sigh while she slept.
And she is so right — I am not everybody! So to commemorate my first Mother’s Day without my mom, I offer you her recipe for shmaltz. This stuff accompanied me throughout my childhood, always there, ready to support whatever meal my mother placed in front of me. Always there, ready to support, just like my mom.
You can see my mom’s recipe for shmaltz as I originally posted it on Recipezaar in 2004. I wish I made it more often. I wish I had a picture of the stuff to show you, but I don’t, and thanks to widening family waistlines, I won’t be making this anytime soon. But if I ever do think of shmaltz, it always brings back wonderful memories of my mother.