Category Archives: Vegetarian

The P Word

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.

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Theory of Relativity

Once upon a time About three months ago I had a birthday.  I woke up to presents, birthday cards, and even baked my own cake.  But way off yonder, in the Frozen North (London), my daughter Sassy and her Sabraman had their own idea for a present.  In the most clandestine of operations, money was transferred into Ju-Boy’s bank account, and he was supposed to take me out for dinner.  It was meant to be a surprise.  And… it was meant to be for my birthday.

As is the case of most of my life, man plans and God laughs.  Dinner plans were made.  First I canceled, then Ju-Boy canceled, then I canceled again.  At one point Ju-Boy decided to almost fly over the handlebars of his bicycle, and instead of going out to dinner I watched him get a few stitches in his leg (he asked the nurse for a lollipop for being such a brave boy).  What I didn’t know was that all this time Sassy was waiting for a report as to how I enjoyed her birthday present.  Ju-Boy finally confessed, and plans were made again, and canceled, and made again.  And canceled…

Do you have a wish list?  I do.  Spending a few days at the Carmel Forest Spa was at the top of the list.  That’s been checked off.  I’d been wanting for years to go to Stonehenge.  Ju-Boy made that dream come true in 2005.  One of my mini-holy grails has been to eat at MC², a gourmet vegetarian restaurant in Bitan Aharon, just north of Netanya.  Reservations were made, and canceled, made again, canceled again.  Finally, this past Monday, which just happened to be Valentine’s Day, it looked like this was going to get checked off my list as well.  We don’t normally celebrate Valentine’s Day, Jews have their own lovers’ holiday, Tu Be’Av, and we celebrated that back in August.  But I wasn’t going to let a little kid in diapers carrying a bow and arrow ruin my birthday evening, no matter how many months after my birthday it was.

The restarant was offering a special chef’s tasting menu that night in honor of Valentine’s Day — 15 courses.  We thought we were going to be in for a night of gluttinous gorging, but the courses were small, tiny, even miniscule, and yet by the end we were stuffed.  And so it began:

 

We started with some crostini with tri-color peppers, and what the restaurant called a "wheat shot" on the side

 

(Coarsely) julienned carrot sticks with a pomegranate sauce. We were underwhelmed by this dish.

Hot foccacia with a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dip -- at this point we were still hungry and fought over the dip.

Each table had a menu printed out specifying each of the courses.  At this point, consulting the list, we realized that the restaurant had skipped a course, the almond pate.  We asked the waitress and she said she would bring it immediately.

It seems that we thought immediately meant right now.  The waitress wasn’t using our dictionary, it seems.

 

The restaurant called this dish Enamored Eggplant. It was topped with tomato sprouts which tasted a lot like coriander. The cheese was feta. This was quite possibly my favorite dish... so far.

Rothschild Salad -- wilted lettuce leaves, tasteless boiled beets, bland ricotta cheese and a few caramelized pecans. I enjoyed the pecans. That's about it. Ju-Boy declared this the worst dish on the menu.

Little circle of goat cheese with nigella seeds, and a dab of pepper puree. We were starting to get bored.

Did I mention that each course, each tiny course, was brought to us and then cleared away before they brought the next course?  It started out as cute.  By the time the goat cheese dish had arrived we were losing patience.

 

Grapefruit and Campari Sorbet — this replaced the eggplant as my favorite dish. I so need to find a recipe for this!

Um… we’ve just had our palettes cleared by the sorbet, we’re ready for the main part of the meal, but where’s that almond pate?  Once again, we asked a passing waiter.  He promised to bring it out…. immediately.

 

Pea soup with walnuts, creme fraiche and chili oil. Ju-Boy loved this! You could just taste the fresh peas, although considering the fact that it was February, you could just taste the frozen peas.

At this point Ju-Boy decided to excuse himself (you know what that euphemism is for).  He came back and told me I just had to check out the restroom, so I went to freshen up (yet another euphemism).

Isn't the bathroom pretty?

This is what happens when you have a restaurant in an old building on top of a nature reserve.

I returned to our table to find that the soup had been cleared away and that Ju-Boy had inquired yet again about the almond pate.  It was coming… immediately.

 

Ravioli in a pear and cream sauce -- delicious! This is probably the one portion I would have liked supersized.

 

Basmati and wild rice, with marinated tofu, sunflower sprouts and a mint and yogurt sauce. This was delicious! Ju-Boy cleaned his plate (and a bit of my plate) and he's not a tofu lover at all!

It was just about now that a very large and beautiful beetle crawled across our table.  It was very colorful and looked like a piece of Egyptian scarab jewelry.  It was quickly whisked off our table by our waiter who apologized and said, “That’s what happens when you are right in the middle of a nature preserve.”  I was fascinated, but unfortunately, our unexpected dinner guest was gone before I could take a picture.

Surprise, surprise! Almond pate! It was NOT worth the wait.

 

The end of the “main course” part of our meal: Root Vegetables in silan (date honey) and olive oil. This was delicious, although we did get into a discussion whether a tuber is a root vegetable or not. Such a romantic meal… hmmmmm…

Dessert was not listed as a course on the menu, but we knew it was coming, and we were ready!

Fruit skewer with chocolate and vanilla sauces. We had to fight over share this. It got ugly.
Affogato: vanilla ice cream and whipped cream with some hot espresso to pour on top. Nice, but nothing to write home (or blog) about.

We had started our meal with a nice glass of shiraz each, which I didn’t photograph.  Ju-Boy ended his meal with an “upside-down” coffee.  We  well-fed and ready to go home.

On the way home, cozy and warm in the car which was lightly pelted with rain, I called Sassy and Sabraman to thank them for my birthday present.  It’s nice to still celebrate your birthday three months after the fact.  Do you think I can drag the event out for the whole year?

Soy Vay!

Goldie From The Block

I once read somewhere, back when blogdom was in its infancy, that one kitchen diva’s nightmare was that guests would arrive and there wouldn’t be anything on the table they were willing to eat.  Haven’t most of us had that nightmare?  You know what I mean… you invite guests over for Shabbat lunch and it turns out they are macrobiotic raw foodists who don’t want to go near your cholent, or snaggle-toothed carnivores who turn up their noses at your tofu curry.  You just can’t win with some people.

I used to be one of those guests, once.  I was a vegan for 5 years back in the mid-90s, eschewing meat, eggs, dairy, any kinds of animal product.  I totally freaked my friends out.  It’s not that I was being kind to animals, it was that animals weren’t kind to me, I had problems digesting animal protein and a vegan diet was the only one that worked for me back then.  These days I’m my old carnivorous self again, although I love catering for veggie guests.  When veggie friends come over I can whip some tofu curry as good as any card-carrying PETA member.  Ju-Boy gets a bit miffed, though, when they reciprocate but don’t sacrifice a cow for his dietary preferences.

Once upon a time, before my vegan days, I had a friend from back in the hood, Goldie From The Block.  Goldie and her very own SugarBear had recently made aliya and I invited them over for dinner.  “You know we’re vegan,” announced Goldie.  My first reaction?  Oy!  I spent two weeks researching a vegan menu worthy of Goldie and SugarBear.  After all, I wanted that meal to be perfect!  I had invited another couple over for dinner as well, and the X (I was married to the X then) said, “This other couple are not used to this alien food, you should make something dairy as well, just as a backup.”

So our guests showed up for dinner, and I started to bring food out on to the table.  Potato and leek soup, lentil pie, tofu and sweet potato curry, couscous and salad.  I had a fruit salad chilling in the fridge for dessert, to be topped with a forest fruits sorbet.  Not a single animal had been harmed or taken advantage of for this meal.  Except for when I brought out the quiche.  If I was going to cater to the vegans, I’d cater to the non-vegans as well, and I had made a small tomato and onion quiche with lots of cheddar cheese, eggs and cream.  As I placed this dairy masterpiece on the table I said, “Everything here is vegan, except for the quiche.”

“Quiche!” exclaimed Goldieblox and her Bear.  “Quiche, we love quiche!”  and they helped themselves to giant portions of enslaved animal products.  “B-b-b-b-b-but,” I blubbered, “you guys are vegans!”  “Yes,” said Goldie, “but we don’t expect people to cater for us when we go out!”  Goldie may have been married to a Bear, but I was the one who growled then.

Goldie, SugarBear and their three cubs

But what’s a little oppressed animal cuisine among friends?  Although Goldie from the Block and SugarBear have given up their vegan ways, they still are very kind to animals and other living things in the guise of lacto-ovo vegetarians.  They live on the other side of town with their three cubs.  Goldie had a birthday the other day, and her friends all got together to throw her a party.  We all brought something to eat, and in memory of those vegan days I brought along a dish of edamame hummous.  No animals were harmed, exploited or taken advantage of in that dish of green.  As Goldie tried some on a cracker she told me that it was “juuuuuuust right!”

Edamame Hummous

Don’t let the fact that this is healthy or vegan deter you, it’s yummy, and a nice alternative to chickpea hummous.

  • 1 bag (400 grams, about 13 ounces) frozen, shelled edamame
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoon tahini
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  1. Bring the edamame to boil in a pot of water for about 3 minutes.  You can also nuke them in the microwave for about 5-7 minutes, until hot.  Drain them in a colander and rinse under running water.
  2. Place the beans in the food processor.  Add the rest of the ingredients and give it all a good zhuzz until the mixture is the consistency of guacamole.  If it’s too thick add a teaspoon of water, one at a time, until the right consistency.
  3. Taste and correct seasonings.
  4. Cover and refrigerate until party time!

Serve with pita chips or strips of red pepper for dipping.

 

My Second Mom

 

My Aunt Zipora on the left, my mom on the right

Famous Israeli saying:

אמא יש רק אחת

You only have one mother

True, or false?

Most people go through life with only one mother.  I feel sorry for them, in a way.  It’s wonderful to have a loving mother who nurtures you, loves you, spoils you…  But what’s even better is two women who would do this for you.

I’m fortunate to have been blessed with two mothers.  Okay, we’re not even going to go into the whole adoption issue, that’s doesn’t even enter into the equation here.  First, there’s my mom.  She may not have carried me under her heart for nine months, but she brought me home from the hospital, and that’s my mom.

Zipora, one year after liberation from Auschwitz, Sweden 1946

When I was seven we spent a considerable time in Norway, and my Aunt Zipora, my father’s baby sister, came up from Israel to visit us.  My father had told me stories about all his brothers and sisters back in Hungary, and I was thrilled to meet the aunt he spoke of so fondly.  She brought me a book in Hebrew and we spent a lot of time reading the stories together.

Aunt Zipora and Uncle Erich

When I was 16 we came out to Israel for the summer, for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah.  I was a rebellious teen, and you could have imagine just how embarrassed I was by my mom.  She kept trying to get me to pose for pictures, she kept trying to buy me dorky clothes, she kept trying to keep me safe.  How embarrassing!  My Aunt Zipora, on the other hand, convinced my mom to let me go off to the beach by myself.  She bought me the sandals that were the “in thing” back in 1979 Tel Aviv, and she taught me curse words in Hungarian!

Didi and her "Savta" Zipora

Throughout the years, while I was in Israel as a kibbutz volunteer, a university student, a new immigrant, a new mom, a new divorcee, my Aunt Zipora was always there to support me in any decision.  She became like a second mother to me.  Since my girls didn’t have grandmothers who lived nearby — my mother lived in New York, their other grandmother in London — Zipora became a grandmother to them.  When my father died in 2002 I went to the States for the funeral, and after my mother and I comforted each other I flew back to Israel and my aunt and I had another good cry together.  When my mother died in 2009 my aunt was there to tell me stories of my parents’ early life together, pre-Miriyummy.

Aunt Zipora and my girlies, June 2005

In 2005 I married for the second time.  My mother couldn’t come out for the wedding, so I had the oddest pleasure in being walked down the aisle to the chuppah by my oldest daughter Sassy and my Aunt Zipora.

I grew up eating Hungarian food, but my Lithuanian mother used to drive me insane giving me recipes.  You put in a bit of this, a bit of that.  There were no measurements in my mother’s cooking style.  With the help of my Aunt Zipora, who actually writes things down, I was able to approximate one of my favorite dishes:

Hungarian Noodles


This dish went by the name of káposztás tészta. I never managed to pronounce the second word correctly, and it all got shortened to Capostash when I put it into our Shabbat rotation. No one else seems to want to call it that, so Hungarian Noodles it is.  Purists will rise up in outrage when they read what I’ve done to the recipe, but this is my blog, and my bastardized recipe, and I’m serving it at my table, so this is my Capostash!

Leave out the shmaltz and the kabanas to make this dish vegetarian/vegan.

  • 500 grams bow-tie noodles, cooked until al dente
  • 2 huge onions, coarsly shredded
  • a few glugs of olive oil, or a chlop of shmaltz
  • 1/2 head of green cabbage, coarsely shredded
  • salt, pepper and paprika to taste
  • 2 heaping tablespoons poppy seeds
  • Optional:  3 kabanas, preferably by Tirat Zvi, cut up (thin, dried sausage)

  1. Caramelize the onions in the olive oil or shmaltz until darkly golden and soft.
  2. Add the cabbage and toss together with the onions until softened.
  3. Add the noodles and mix.  You may need to add 1/4 – 1/3 cup of water to get it mixable.  Add the salt, pepper and paprika and taste.  When you have it juuuuuust right, add the poppy seeds and mix together.  (Add the kabanas.) Serve hot.
  4. If you add the cut up kabanas it takes this dish to a whole new level.  It’s not authentically Hungarian, but it’s authentically delicious!

 

 

No Awful Offal

I grew up in an Eastern European household with the Yiddish flowing like Manischewitz wine, the wine flowing over our kiddush cups every Shabbat, and every Shabbat flowing with chicken soup with matzah balls and my mother’s gehakteh leber.

I loved my mother’s gehakteh leber (that’s chopped liver to those of you (most of you) who didn’t grow up speaking Yiddish).  She made it in a large wooden bowl with a double-bladed chopper called a hakmesser.  The sound of her chopping the liver and hard boiled eggs greeted me every Friday when I came home from school, along with the smell of onions slowly caramelizing in shmaltz.  On Friday night we would start every meal with challah and gehakteh leber, topped with crunchy gribenes (chicken crackling).  It was a delicious heart attack waiting to happen.  My father actually had four of those heart attacks, eventually dying of complications due to quadruple bypass surgery, but I’m sure that if he could, he would tell you that it was worth it, just to have some of my mother’s wonderful chopped liver.  It was, as he often said, geshmak!

Offal Hater

Over the years I’ve tried to replicate my mother’s amazing recipe.  I’ve come close, but it always eludes me.  Perhaps nothings tastes as wonderful as a memory.  Perhaps it’s the enthusiasm of the eaters, or rather, the lack of.  Not a single member of my family’s joy of liver comes close to mine, or my father’s.  A few friends have loved it, the X tolerated it and the kids won’t go near it.  Ju-Boy can be counted among those who are not fans, but I’m not insulted, since he won’t eat liver or any kind of offal, in any form.  It’s not like he’s cheating on me with someone else’s chopped liver, phew!

He does, however, like my vegetarian paté.  It’s almost as labor-intensive as the original, almost, but not quite.  With no liver to kasher and chop, the only real work is the caramelizing of the onions and the cleaning up of the food processor afterwards.  No wooden bowl and hakmesser to give it that authentic Eastern European je ne sais quoi, or as they say in Yiddish, epes geshmak!

 

Liver Lover and Offal Avoider

Miriyummy’s Vegetarian Paté

  • 4 huge onions
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 hard boiled eggs
  • 100 grams (4 ounces) walnuts
  • 2 cups canned peas (1 largish can, must be canned peas), drained
  • salt, pepper and paprika to taste
  1. Chop the onions medium fine.  Heat the oil in a large pan and slowly caramelize the onions.  This can take up to an hour.  Don’t try to rush it, this is what gives the paté its authentic flavor.  The onions will cook down to next to nothing.  When the onions are a gorgeous caramel brown take them off the heat and let cool.
  2. Place the walnuts in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the steel knife.  Zhuzz until finely ground.
  3. Add the peas and zhuzz again.
  4. Add the hard boiled eggs and the onions (scraping every last drop of oil into the mix) and give it a good zhuzz until you get the paté consistency you’re looking for.
  5. Add salt, pepper and paprika to taste.  Turn into a serving bowl or Tupperware and chill in the fridge for at least two hours.
  6. Serve with challah, crackers or fancy shmacy little toast points.
  7. Can be frozen.

Bam! Yummo! It’s A Good Thing!

Meet your next Food Network star -- kitchen courtesy of Sandy

A lot of Food Network chefs have a catch phrase all their own that you instantly recognize when you hear it.  Emeril has his Bam!  Rachael Ray has her Yummo!  (BTW, I can’t stand Rachael Ray, when I hear her say yummo, or EVOO, I just cringe, and quite possibly a small part of me dies.)  Even Martha will tell you that “it’s a good thing!”  I don’t have a special Miriyummy phrase, yet…

Hmmmmm, what’s the phrase that I say most in the kitchen?

Turn up the music!  — No, that doesn’t have anything to do with food, but it does have everything to do with cooking.  I love to cook to Jackson Browne, Barry White, even ABBA.  Not Bruce Springsteen, though.  His music is best for cleaning the house.

Bugger, I just cut my finger again!  — No, that one doesn’t encourage much faith in my kitchen skills.

Argh!  I just dropped an egg, will someone get the dog in here to clean it up? — Forget it, that one is so not made for Food TV!

Dropped eggs are never a problem as long as Shovav is around

How about… This rocks!  I say that a lot after I taste something.  A little hubris-y, I admit, but hey, it does rock!

Okay, so I don’t have my own cooking show (yet), but I’m getting there, one Dalia Bar at a time!  The other day I posted some of my food pics to Facebook.  My friend Debza, who’s been through thick and thin with me since the 8th grade, commented on one picture and said, “Wow, who knew you were Martha Stewart?”  Okay, I’ll take that one as a compliment, although I would much rather be compared to Nigella Lawson or Carine Goren.  Just don’t liken me to Rachael Ray or I’ll gouge your eyes out with a Microplane zester, okay?

Yes, I will admit, I can be a bit Martha-ish in the kitchen.  I bake my own challah for Shabbat, I distill my own liqueurs, I can bubble up some loquat chutney (it rocked, FYI), I’ve made my own marmalade and a while back, thanks to one of my favorite blog reads, Matkonation, I made some Cherry Tomato Jam.  Organic Cherry Tomato Jam, thank you very much…

It’s actually quite simple to make, it set like a dream, and was very yummy at several BBQs we’ve thrown since I first Martha-ed up this concoction.  We spread it on grilled chicken, have it with toasted pita, I’ve even drizzled it on my corn muffins.  It’s a good recipe.  And you know what?

It rocks!

Cherry Tomato Jam

  • 1 kilo (2 pounds) cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 500 grams (1 pound) sugar
  1. Wash and dry the cherry tomatoes.  Place them in a large pot and add the lemon juice.  Using medium heat, bring it up to a boil.  Don’t worry that there’s no additional liquid in there, the tomatoes break down relatively quickly. Once they’ve come to the boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
  2. Add the sugar.  Turn the heat up back to medium and let the stuff come to a boil again, and then turn the heat back down to low and simmer for another 45 minutes to one hour.
  3. To check if the jam is ready place a small amount on a cold plate (I put a plate in the fridge when I started cooking, especially as it was a hot day).  You then put the plate in the freezer for about 2-3 minutes.  When you remove it from the freezer, draw a line through the jam with your finger.  If the line remains, the jam is ready to be poured into your jars.  If not, return the pot to the heat and retest after a few minutes.

Thanksgiving

Every year Ju-Boy throws a little party, replete with charred meat and flowing single malts, to thank his tightly-knit group of friends for lending him their support while he made the transition from the smoking remains of Chapter One to the J-Date Twilight Zone.  I wasn’t there that first year, still trapped in the throes of Chapter One myself.  But I’ve heard the stories… Ju-Boy unkempt, Ju-Boy on his own, Ju-Boy on the loose.  Thankfully, he had his friends to be there for him, eat his culinary experiments and drink his whisky.  And thus was born the First Annual End-of-Summer Party.

Friends giving thanks...

By the time the Second Annual End-of-Summer Party rolled around I was already in the picture.  Ju-Boy and I had been dating for about two months and it was time to run the gauntlet of meeting his friends, his pack, what he likes to call his troupe.  I already knew some of them.  Karen and I were friends back and high school.  Miiiiiiiichael used to fall asleep at my Friday night table when he was single and in the army.  His wife, the Lovely Linder, was a familiar face from mutual friends’ weddings and Bar Mitzvah celebrations.  I had heard about Sweet Caroline from our mutual friend SW, back in the days when we actually wrote letters and didn’t text and chat on Facebook.

Chilling out at the end of summer

It was fun to meet the rest of the bunch.  Just to make sure they liked me, I brought some insurance in the form of sushi, Thai-ish pasta salad and profiteroles.  That evening was the first time I fed the troupe, but not the last.  Just a few weeks ago we served up the Eighth Annual End-of-Summer Party.  Over the years the menu has changed, returned to its roots, changed again, but some things remain the same.  Ju-Boy grills the meat, the whisky flows, and I go to town on the side dishes and desserts.  You could say this was the Ju-Boy/Miriyummy/Troupe version of Thanksgiving.

This year I served up a few new dishes, like the Spicy Carrot Sticks from the new KBD Teens and 20-Somethings cookbook I reviewed — those were a hit.  I doubled the recipe to serve 12 people and I think maybe I should have quadrupled it instead, they went THAT fast.  Another hit this year was the return of my Thai-ish Pasta Salad.  I first came across this recipe back when I lived on a hilltop overlooking Jerusalem.  We put together a community cookbook to raise money for our synagogue and this recipe is one of my favorites (thanks Sherri!).  I’ve changed it a little over the years, and it never fails to please.  I’ve seen dainty eaters inhale the stuff.  Do me a favor, when you make this, try to have your friends and family take human bites, it can get ugly…

Thai-ish Pasta Salad


  • 1 pound (500 grams) pasta — thinnish noodles work best
  • 1/2 cup sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (corn, canola, etc.)
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon crushed dry red pepper
  • 1 shelled peanuts, coarsely ground
  • 1/2 cup chopped coriander (cilantro, cusbara)or parsley, optional
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  1. Cook the pasta as per package instructions, breaking long pieces in half before cooking.  Drain.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat cook the oils, honey, soy sauce and dry pepper and let boil for 2 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl pour the sauce over the pasta.  Cover and refrigerate overnight, letting the flavors seep into the pasta.
  4. Before serving, add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  5. Serve at room temperature.

 

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one." - C.S. Lewis

Irresistible Forces

My mother at one of her dinner parties, Goteborg, Sweden

One of the things I love about Judaism, and being Jewish, is the subjectivity of it all.  Yes, there are rules that say do this, don’t do that, but there is also a lot that is open to interpretation.  How you go about your relationship with God, your relationship with your family and your community is left up to you.  Within the circle you have chosen to live in, your religion is your own.

Growing up in my parents’ house I was shown both side of the religious coin.  My father grew up ultra-Orthodox, he had the requisite peyot (side curls), the right intonation when he prayed and he was a rabbi who taught small children to love the Torah.  He lived in a small village in Hungary where everyone knew everyone else.  And then his entire world was ripped apart.  He lost his family, he lost his community, his livelihood, and as the Holocaust did to so many, he lost his religion.  He took off his hat, cut off his peyot, and lost his faith in God.

My mother with my grandfather and father

My mother, on the other hand, grew up in a home that didn’t have the relationship with God that my father had.  My mother grew up in a secular household, where there was a Jewish tradition, but as they say, it was more of a guideline than a rule.  She lived in Vilna, the capital of Lithuania and the center of Litvak culture, a cosmopolitan town.  And then her entire world was ripped apart.  She lost her family, she lost her childhood, and she lost her trust in everyone, especially in God.  The Nazis did such horrible things to my mother, that when she was liberated she was malnourished, ill, and would never be able to have children.

She and my father were both refugees in Sweden.  How they met has become family legend.  My mother was keeping house for my grandfather, a furrier.  My father was living with his 4 surviving brothers and sisters and they  decided to get my Aunt Toby a fur collar for her coat for her birthday.  My father was the one who stopped by my grandfather’s house to place the order.  He saw a picture of my mother on the hall table, and my grandfather couldn’t help but boast of his daughter who took care of him and cooked him the most amazing meals.  My father was told to come back a week later… which he did… at dinner time.  My parents were married a year later.

For 13 years they took the ashes of their lives and rebuilt them into a life together.  They immigrated to the States in the late 50s, and then, one day, I arrived in their lives.  The adoption of a daughter changed them forever, and my father, who had lost his faith, found it again.  But my mother, who didn’t start out on the same page religiously, was not ready to follow.  My father let her be, and she let him be.  I grew up in a home where religion, as well as secularism, was not only tolerated, but respected.  My mother kept a kosher home for my father, and he let her live her life in the way she felt she needed to live.  I have very interesting memories of my mother making the blessing on the Shabbat candles, and then lighting her cigarette off those very candles.  There are those who will be shocked at this, but in our house, that was how we all got along.

What happens when two irresistible forces meet? The forces can’t resist each other, so they combine into one irresistible force.  This irresistible force became our family, and the interpretation of religion in the end always centered around the table.  My mom was the most amazing cook, and no matter how you felt about God, Judaism or life in general, her dinners took you to heaven.

This past Shabbat was the first yahrzeit (anniversary) of my mother’s death.  I’ve written before how I’ve subjectively taken this year of mourning to be meaningful to me.  My father died eight years ago and every year on his yahrzeit I celebrate his life with a Hungarian dinner.  This year, the first yahrzeit for my mother, I cooked a dinner in her honor which I hope would make her proud of me.  We had good friends over for dinner on Friday night, my daughters Tinky and Didi were there, and Ju-Boy gave a wonderful speech about a woman he never met in life, but knew so well through the love of cooking she passed on to me.  He mentioned how the irresistible force of my father’s faith and the irresistible force of my mother’s lack of belief met together to create an irresistible force of respect.  My father taught me to love books, my mother taught me to love cooking (and feeding), but together they taught me to respect your partner, your children, your family and your fellow travelers in life.

Kasha Varnishkes


My mother served this at least every other Shabbat.  The wonderful nutty flavor of kasha (buckwheat) will always bring me back instantly to the warm Friday night table, candles lit, my father making kiddush on annoyingly sweet wine and my mother hovering over the stove, ready to serve up her amazing food.  I suppose you could say she found her religion in the kitchen.

  • 2-3 tablespoons oil (my mother used shmaltz)
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 1 cup kasha
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cups chicken soup
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces (250 grams) bow tie pasta, cooked
  1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot.  Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until brown and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and cover to keep warm.  Do not clean the pot.
  2. Combine the kasha with the beaten egg until completely coated.  Heat the pot over medium heat and add the egg-coated kasha.  Keep stirring to keep the grains separate and cook for about 3-4 minutes until the kasha becomes dry and toasted.
  3. Add the chicken soup and stir.  Add the salt and pepper to taste.  Lower the heat and cook for about 10-15 minutes  until the kasha is tender and all the water has been absorbed.  Stir with a fork to fluff.
  4. Add the onions and mix well.  Add in the cooked bow ties.  Toss well and serve.

~*~*~*~*~

One of my subjective interpretations of Judaism was how I went about my year of mourning.  One of the traditions I took upon myself was not to cut my hair for the whole year.  When my mother died my hair really needed cutting to start with, so you can imagine how long it grew.  Tonight my daughter Tinky cut my hair.  She’s been studying hairdressing at one of the most prestigious schools in Israel, and since I’ve been paying the tuition I suppose you could say this was my most expensive haircut ever…

 

Zhuzzing

I have a confession to make.  I am an addict.  Not just a food addict, this one is a much more serious addiction, and in order to get my drug into my system I need to use needles.  Family and friends (and bank managers) have tried intervention, but to no avail.  I need to use those needles on a daily basis. 

You see that bag up there in the picture.  I made it myself.  I couldn’t help myself.  One day I wandered into The Gourmet Yarn Shop and Orly, the owner, became my pusher.  She enables me.  She takes my money and I walk out of there with my stash.  My needles.  I need to get that stuff into my system.

This bag has magical properties, it’s a Mary Poppins bag, but it works in the opposite manner.  Instead of all sorts of amazing objects coming out of it, things go in there and never come out.  I buy a few things at the supermarket, put them in my bag (to save the planet and not use the plastic stuff), and they are never seen again.  Knitting needles, crochet hooks, notebooks, chocolate bars, stuff goes in there and never comes out.  I’ll bet Jimmy Hoffa is in there…

The other day I downloaded and printed out a recipe for what looked like a really great cream soup.  It would be perfect to serve right before Tisha B’Av, full of carbs and filling and just right to have before a 25 hour fast.  My mistake?  I put it in my bag, never to be seen again.  This is the Little Shop of Horrors bag (feed me, Miriyummy, feed me all night long).

What to do?  We have a fast coming up and need to load up on the carbs.  Ju-Boy claims that if you give him half an onion, he can have supper ready in half an hour.  I’m the same way with soup, just as long as I have my handy dandy immersion blender, I can make soup out of anything.

Remember this bowl? It was featured in my very first blog post.

Zhuzzed Potato and Leek Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, unpeeled and well scrubbed
  • 1 large zucchini, unpeeled and well scrubbed
  • 1 medium leek (including the green)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 packed cup parsley (just the leaves, no stems)
  • 1 liter (4 cups) water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan.  Add the onions and start sautéeing until golden. 
  2. Cut up the potatoes into smallish dice and add them to the pan, let them get some good color as well.  Chop up the zucchini and the leek, toss them into the pan, keep sautéeing.  Do the same with the garlic, but throw them in whole.  Now add the parsley and give it one final stir. 
  3. Add the water, bring it to the boil, turn the heat down, cover the pot, and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
  4. Now comes the fun part.  Get out your immersion blender.  Take the pot off the flame, stick your stick in the soup, and start zhuzzing.  You don’t know what zhuzz means?  Neither does dictionary.com.  But it’s simple onomatopoeia, you just stick your stick in the soup, and start zhuzzing.  What is so difficult about this?  Need a picture?
  5. Shy-Boy and the fine art of zhuzzing

  6. Add the brown sugar, the salt and freshly ground black pepper and zhuzz one more time.  If you want to add some soup powder, I won’t tell anyone you did. 

I served this soup up with a drizzle of cream, and then added a handful of grated cheddar cheese, which then totally obscured the cream in the picture, so we got the flavor and calories without the visual enjoyment. 

The soup heats up well in the microwave.  You could take some to work with you and it would taste even better.  If I tried it, however, it would probably just get lost in my bag.

Urban Legend

 

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. 

Messily served straight from the oven

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. 

This may have tons of calories but hardly any carbs!

I didn't have grated cheese here, so used sliced mozzarella. Still yummy!

SW!  I’m coming over, put the kettle on!

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