Once upon a time there was a young princess, Sassy. One day, on the bus to Eilat, she met a fiery young man who turned out to be a superhero. After a wonderful courtship he proposed on a mountaintop in the Galil. They were married on a cold March evening near Jerusalem, and settled on a moshav near the airport, so near, in fact, that sometimes a landing plane would snag their laundry line. But they didn’t care, because they had perfected the secret to living happily ever after. Do you want to know what it is?
This Friday Ju-Boy and I are celebrating having survived six years shackled to each other in matrimony.
The wonderful holiday of Shavuot is coming up, it starts tomorrow night, culminating with cheesecake overload on Wednesday night. And then you have just a mere 48 hours before you begin to stuff yourselves with the wonders of Shabbat. Ju-Boy and I have been planning our menu for a while now…
I have always had a love affair with Jerusalem, even before I first came into contact with what is one of the most beloved cities in the world. My first time was at the age of 16. My family was here for the summer to celebrate my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, and my favorite uncle, Abi, rented a car and drove us to Jerusalem, taking us first to the Kotel. My first reaction was very emotional. This wall, for me, is the symbol of how high we have risen, how low we have fallen. In the countless times I have paid a visit to this wall since that bright summer’s day in 1979, my emotional state has wavered between joy and sadness, but those white stones with the tiny bits of paper stuck in the cracks, messages to Hashem, always evokes a tear, an intaking of breath, a special beat to my heart.
This Monday night we begin the fast of Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. This day is the culmination of a three-week period of mourning which began with the fast of 17 Tammuz, the date on which the outer walls of the city of Jerusalem were breached during the siege. On the 9th of Av, the temple was destroyed.
My father taught me that this date is the Jewish Friday the 13th, when so many horrible things have befallen the Jewish people. It is the date that the stronghold of Beitar fell to the Romans during the Bar Kochba revolt. It is the date of the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition. It is the date when the Nazis began the deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Any Jew who feels the collective emotion of our people cannot help but mourn on this day.
On Tisha B’Av we fast. In Judaism, the purpose of a fast is to lower the volume on our physical pursuits in order to focus more acutely on our spiritual selves. This doesn’t work for me. I find myself thinking of food. What will I serve to break the fast? How much longer until we break the fast? I find myself drawn to foodie blogs, cookbooks, even the Food Channel on television. I have a one track mind.
In my previous life, my girls and I would break the fast on pizza. We would call the local pizza place half an hour before it was time to eat, the pizza would arrive five minutes before the fast was over. I believe that in those five minutes all the agony, the suffering of the Jewish people, was felt. No amount of Bible study, no amount of keening for what once was, could rival the emotions of those last five minutes. It sounds horrible, doesn’t it, that in the last five minutes something as trivial as pizza could cause us to feel the collective suffering of our people.
Now that we are living in Chapter Two, we have adopted Ju-Boy’s family traditions (although I believe Shy-Boy would like us to keep with the pizza tradition). We first break with some fresh orange juice, then a cup of tea (with milk, Brit style), together with a piece of cake or a boureka. Only later do we start digging around to find leftovers from the meal we ate before the fast, and whatever else we can find in the kitchen. There is no set dinner for after Tisha B’Av in our house, we become the scavengers our people must have become when the Temple was destroyed.
This year I will be home during the day of Tisha B’Av. Normally I am in the office, but there is no office for me this year. I will have no distractions except the worst ones: what will we eat later after the fast is over? I think I am going to occupy myself with cheesecake, I have been told I have a commitment to cheesecake. I have one cheesecake in my repetoire that usually makes people cringe, until they taste it — Smoked Salmon Cheesecake. This is not something you serve for dessert, it’s an appetizer, a salmon/cheese pate that, once you get used to the idea, is perfect for a hot summer’s night when you need to break a fast.
Have you ever eaten something heavy after not having eaten all day? Horrible feeling, no? That’s why this is a perfect meal for Tuesday night, after we haven’t eaten since the evening before. Try to wrap your head around it.
Smoked Salmon Cheesecake
- 2 cups savory cracker crumbs
- 100 grams (half a stick, half a cup) melted butter
- 200 grams (1/2 pound) smoked salmon
- 1 cup fresh dill
- 500 grams (16 ounces) cream cheese (I use 5% fat white cheese)
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1 tablespoon flour or corn starch
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F).
- Crush the crackers to fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and then pat into a springform pan.
- In a food processor, using the steel knife, puree the smoked salmon. It won’t come out like paste, more like salmon granules. Add the dill and give it a whirl until it has reached a spreadable consistency. Place this mixture into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the cream cheese, eggs and sour cream and mix until all is just combined. Then sprinkle over the flour, salt and pepper. I use a sifter for this so I don’t get clumps of flour. Mix again until all is just combined. You don’t want to incorporate air into the mixture, this will just cause your cheesecake to puff up and crack in the oven.
- Pour this into the cracker crust. Bake this in the hot oven for 10 minutes only. Then turn the oven down to 110 degrees C (220 F) and bake for another hour. Set a timer! When the timer dings, turn the oven off and let the fishy cheesecake rest in there for another 45 minutes to one hour. Then transfer it to the refrigerator, and let it hang out in there for at least 4 hours.
- Serve cold, or even at room temperature. It makes a good nighttime snack a few hours later as well.
A few years ago my daughter Sassy taught me that it is not the right thing to do to wish someone a good fast. You are meant to suffer. So I wish those of you that will be fasting on Tuesday a צום מועיל (tzom mo’il), a meaningful fast.
When Ju-boy and I got married five years ago we each brought four children into the mix. Every now and again, for the past five years, someone has asked us if we plan to have any children together. You know, a Yours, Mine and Ours kid. We thought long and hard (about 10 minutes), and decided the answer was no. We can barely take care of our geriatric dog, let alone a drooling, pooing, projectile vomiting, adorable combination of our DNA. At least that’s what we thought….
I survived a pulmonary embolism 7 1/2 years ago, and while I technically can have another baby, it’s not going to be fun (has it ever been fun?). But a short while ago the proverbial light bulb went off over our heads (note to self: buy more light bulbs) and we thought, why not adopt? I, myself, am adopted, why not pay it forward? Adoption seems to be the perfect answer for our Brady Bunch on speed. I have a few friends who have adopted children here in Israel, and the consensus is the younger the baby the more difficult it is to adopt. However, there are plenty of older children out there just waiting for a mommy and daddy to love him. That’s the tack we have chosen to take, and have settled upon the perfect child for our family. Do you want to see a picture of him?
It makes perfect sense. A certified dog trainer by trade, Dog-boy is a weekly visitor to our house, our own Mr. Clean. He keeps our chaotic mess at bay, and we always look forward to his Thursday afternoon visit. Didi, on the bus home from Afula will call and ask, “Has Dog-boy been there yet? Yay!” Shy-boy has his usual million and one questions for him, which Dog-boy patiently answers. Even Shovav the dog loves it when Thursday afternoon rolls around, because Dog-boy will bring his Belgian Shepherd, Cola, and the two will romp around the house and garden, while Dog-boy deals with all the house’s messy nooks and crannies. Dog-boy will whizz around the house, headphones on, listening to his Beavis Butthead music (you have to add your own heh-heh-hehs), the two dogs frolic in the garden, Shy-boy looks on in worship, such an idyll! It’s practically a Normal Rockwell painting. I should call a lawyer and get those adoption papers drawn up right away. Who says you can’t adopt a 29 year old man?
Dog-boy has one other talent. He’s one of my favorite taste-testers. Thursday afternoon, right before the cleaning supplies come out and the headphones get plugged in, I shove a plate of some experiment in front of Dog-boy and wait for his honest reaction. I am guaranteed a very favorable reaction if one of the ingredients is dulce de leche. Known in Hebrew as ריבת חלב, this stuff rivals Nutella as a favorite flavoring/spread in this house. Dog-boy loves the stuff. I could plunk down a plate of dulce de leche covered spinach patties and the boy would be licking his fingers afterwards. Then he would probably throw up. But that’s okay, he’s good at cleaning up after himself.
This past Shabbat we had one of my favorite vegetarian friends and her meat-eating family over for lunch, so I took pleasure in making a dairy meal, with some Dulce de Leche Cheesecake for dessert. There’s a piece still in the fridge with Dog-boy’s name on it, under lock and key. Thursday is coming soon…..
BTW, if you are in the market for a Dog Whisperer, I’m Dog-boy’s pimp. Let me know and I’ll put you in touch.
Dulce de Leche Cheesecake
- 1 sleeve petit beurre cookies (roughly 33 cookies)
- 100 grams butter (1/2 stick)
- 500 grams (1 pound) cream cheese (I use 9% Ski cheese)
- 4 eggs
- 1 packet (3 1/2 ounces, 85 grams) instant vanilla pudding
- 1/4 cup sugar (I used light brown)
- dash salt
- 1 tub (roughly 2 1/2 cups) dulce de leche (caramel or butterscotch spread)
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 F).
- Place the cookies in the food processor and grind to fine crumbs. Add the butter in chunks and whizz around until it’s all the texture of wet sand. Empty out into a prepared springform pan (25 centimeters diameter, 10 inch), press into a crust on the bottom and up the sides of the pan and set aside.
- Place the rest of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix at low speed until just completely combined. You do not want this stuff whizzing around at light speed, you do not want to incorporate air into your cheesecake. This is not a light and fluffy cheesecake, it is dense and sinful.
- Pour the cheese mixture over the cookie crumb crust and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Use a timer and thank me later.
- When the timer rings after 10 minutes (you can thank me now), turn the heat down to 110 degrees C (225 F) and let the cheesecake hang out in the oven for another hour. Setting the timer is a good idea again.
- When the timer goes off after an hour, turn off the oven, but leave the cheesecake in there for at least another hour. You don’t need to set a timer, leaving it in there for longer (I’m talking hours, not days) won’t do it any damage. Then transfer to the fridge and let it hang out in there for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
I was going to serve this cheesecake with crushed sugared almonds on top, but you know how those last hours are before Shabbat. You start going headless chicken, running around to make sure the right lights are on, the wrongs lights are off, the plata is plugged in, the iron has been unplugged, and in all this chaos I forgot to grind the sugared almonds. They’re sitting there in my baking drawer, calling my name. “Miriyummy, Miriyummy, we’re in here…. we know you want to nosh on us… come into the light of the kitchen, Miriyummy…”
I always used to get a kick out of mentioning my cousins in Hong Kong. Doesn’t that sound exotic? Back when I was in high school it used to engender visions that I had relatives who were part of the ten lost tribes. In its most unembellished version, they at least had a great recipe for dim sum. In truth, my wonderfully foreign and mysterious family are Israeli. I still get a kick out of saying I have cousins in Hong Kong. I used to have cousins in Sri Lanka as well, but they got boring and moved to Hong Kong.
Ifat is my first cousin Moti’s daughter. Her grandmother, Zipora, is my most favorite aunt in the world, my father’s baby sister. She’s not so exotic, she lives in Kfar Saba, but she’s the best second mother a teen let loose in Israel could have. Thirty years later she’s still the best second mother you could ever imagine. Back in 1979 we were here for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, and so was Ifat, only in utero. I couldn’t wait for her to be born, but little diva that she is, she waited, and waited, and waited, driving her mother insane in the Israeli heat, and finally made her appearance… the day after we went back to the States. Great timing, girl.
Ifat and Ste have been together for the longest time, and last year they finally made it official in not one, not two, but three weddings. These are very thorough people. One civil wedding in Hong Kong, one Jewish wedding in Los Angeles, and one total blowout wedding to end all weddings in Phuket. My Aunt Zipora flew out for that one and she said it was absolutely beautiful. We got to meet Ste on the many occasions that Ifat has shlepped him out to Israel. The man has a yummy British accent. And now that they have the official blessing of the Chinese government, the California rabbinate and the Thai tourist board, they’ve decided to kick it up a notch. That’s the notch at the top of this post, due in about six months.
Despite Ifat’s slim figure, the girl likes her food. I’ve seen her attack a plate of hummus, inhale broiled chicken breast and make giant inroads in some chocolate mousse cake. On one of our more recent Facebook chats we were discussing some of her favorite foods, cheese, fruit and chocolate. I got an idea for some lovely little pregnant pillows to honor Ifat, Black Forest Blintzes. I’ve been kicking a few ideas around the last two weeks or so, and with Shavuot on the horizon, made up a batch of these babies this afternoon.
Black Forest Blintzes
20 blintz leaves (you can make them yourself, I buy mine frozen) (can use crepes)
750 grams (3 packages) (1 1/2 pounds) white baking cheese — in Israel I use Tuv Tam by Tara Dairies, in the States you could sub farmer cheese
1 box instant vanilla pudding (80 grams, 3 1/2 ounces)
1 cup dried cherries, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes
Butter for frying
- Prepare the blintz leaves according to your favorite recipe, or, in my case, defrost them.
- Mix the cheese, eggs and vanila pudding until well combined. Drain the cherries well and add them to the cheese mixture.
- Place about a tablespoonful of cheese/cherry mixture in the center of the blintz leaf. Fold over the edges to create a square, a nice little pregnant pillow of yummy cheesiness.
- Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Fry the blintzes first folded side down to meld the edges together. When the bottom has browned nicely, flip the blintzes over and fry on the other side.
- Serve hot with chocolate syrup.
!חג שבועות שמח