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My Favorite Shiksa

Dree the Divine

Nature versus nurture, it’s a crap shoot, really.  How much of the person you are today is because of DNA?  How much of your personality is due to your upbringing?  Case in point:  my brother, Skeezix.

Skeezix in the sailor suit, self-fulfilling prophecy?

Skeezix is three years younger than I am.  In spite of my efforts to destroy this interloper into my happy childhood, he’s managed to survive to become one of the defenders of truth, justice and the American way.  Skeezix is a submariner in the US navy, stationed in Pearl Harbor.  We were both raised in the same home, both smothered in chicken soup, sweet kiddush wine and the paranoia of  Holocaust survivor parents.  And yet, we have ended up on opposite sides of the Jewish spectrum.

I am what you would call agressively Jewish.  I am Torah observant, I keep kosher, my week revolves around the spindle of Shabbat.  Judaism for me is not just a religion, it’s a way of life.

Not so for Skeezix.  In his early teens he began to buck against my parents and our way of life.  Today is he a fervent athiest.  He revels in letting me know how delicious pork is, that he has no clue when Yom Kippur is, and it’s really pissing me off that he inherited our mother’s cast iron frying pan and he’s using it to fry up his shark steaks and bacon strips.


Defender of truth, justice and the right to treif up a frying pan

One of the things that drove my parents to despair is that Skeezix married Dree, the Shiksa.  My father sadly shook his head and oy-yoy-yoyed into his Gemara.  My mother threatend to put her head in the oven.  Dree is the epitome of Shiksahood.  Tattooed, pierced in places you can only begin to imagine, this bacon-eating, Santa-loving transplanted surfer girl was every thing my parents dreaded Skeezix would bring home.

I have to admit, I was also prejudiced, at first.  My brother’s description of their wedding included the line, “Dree’s dad got so drunk we had to carry him out to his truck.”  No offense, my darling Dree, but those are words never really heard at an Orthodox Jewish wedding.

Skeezix and I planned a joint trip back to New York, me bringing my two youngest from Israel, Skeezix bringing the Shiksa and her daughter (from her first marriage) from Hawaii.  I was planning on being gracious, but not overly friendly.  I was sure this family reunion was going to set off an Armageddon in the Bronx (as if that didn’t happen all the time).

Dree and Skeezix

I planned on being gracious, and yet again, Miriyummy plans and God laughs.  What I discovered was that Dree was one cool Shiksa.  She’s funny, she’s smart and she refuses to take any crap from  the anti-religious Skeezix.  She’s the one who pushed my brother to light Chanuka candles in my father’s house.  She’s the one who forced him to drink kosher wine at my mother’s Shabbat table.  She made sure the chocolate dreidls they brought my kids from Hawaii were kosher.  She dragged my brother out of the apartmet to smoke in the stairwell so as not to offend my father on Shabbat.  As much as I wanted to not like Dree, I grew to love her.  She respected my parents’ way of life, and made my rebellious brother respect them as well.

Dree and Skeezix are unfortunately separated now, though still married.  I never thought I would say this, but I hope my stupid brother comes to his senses and realizes what a treasure he has in my favorite shiska.  Listen, if your family has to have a token shiksa, let it be one  as cool as Dree.  Aloha au ia ‘oe kuaana!

Chocolate Babka

This is a Carine Goren recipe.  The first time I posted some pictures on Facebook of a chocolate babka I made I got a comment from Dree that she loves that stuff.  So here’s a yeast cake that transcends all religions and brings family together, even when they are 12 time zones apart.

For the dough:
1/2 kilo (3 1/2 cups) flour
1 tablespoon yeast
100 grams (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (300 ml) milk
4 eggs (at room temperature)
scant half cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
100 grams (1/2 cup) very soft butter
1 beaten egg, for brushing on top

To make the dough, place the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand-mixer.  Attach the dough hook.  Melt the butter together and then add the cold milk to the melted butter so the liquid is just lukewarm.  Add th butter/milk mixture to the flour/yeast mixture, together with the eggs and sugar.  Mix at low to medium speed until the dough pulls together, and then add the salt.  Continue mixing until the dough is smooth and just a tiny bit sticky.  Cover and let rise until doubled.

Because the dough is sticky, it’s perhaps best to let it rise halfway in a warm place in your kitchen and then to let it finish rising in your fridger for another two hours.  This way the dough cools down and will be less sticky to work with.  You could also prepare the dough a day before, or let it rise in the fridge overnight.

To make the filling, mix together the sugar, cocoa and the cinnamon in a small bowl, and set aside.

Yes, these are supposed to be rectangular. What are you going to do, call the Babka Police?

Take out the doubled dough and punch it down.  Divide it into two separate (yet equal) pieces.  Roll each piece out into a rectangle about 1/2 centimeter (a little over an inch) thick.  I can never get the perfect rectangles you see on TV, but it really doesn’t matter, because when you roll the whole thing up in the end you can’t tell anyway.

I’ve impressed myself here

Spread the butter over the two rectangles (polygons, blobs) and then try to sprinkle the filling evenly over the buttered dough.  Roll each blob up from the long end, then twist the two rolls together and place in a buttered (or parchment-papered) round cake pan.  Brush with the beaten egg.  When I first made this recipe, as you can probably see in the photo, I didn’t read all the instructions, because, you know, I’m such a hotshot cook.  So I mixed the butter with the sugar, cocoa and cinnamon instead.  It was still spreadable, still edible, but not as good as doing it according to Carine’s instructions.  Hubris bites.

To rise or not to rise?

At this point you should have remembered to preheat your oven to 170 degrees C (340 degrees F).  Place the rolled babka into the oven, there’s no need for an additional rise.  Bake for about 50 minutes until the babka is all brown and yummy and inviting.

The reason you don’t have one more rise before placing the babka in the oven is because that’s the way most of our grandmothers did it.  If you really, really feel you need to let it rise just a bit one more time, go ahead, the Babka Police aren’t going to arrest you.

Mmmmm, babka! Who wants to come over for some coffee and cake?

Coffee and a Movie

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.

My actual mug, won in a contest on Recipezaar

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.
  • Stir.
  • Add sugar to taste (I like my coffee without sugar).
  • Stir. 
  • Add cream. 
  • Stir.
  • Aaaaaaahhhhhh!

Once I was Anti, Now I’m Pro

Happy happy Independence Day!  Israel is 62 years old, the country snoozes off the celebrations of the night before, there’s a lingering smell of fireworks in the air, and I am digging around the kitchen for breakfast.  I love breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day.  So important, in fact, that I could have breakfast for lunch and even dinner.  I should have been a hobbit, don’t they have a meal they call Second Breakfast?

Shovav, my dog, and I are rummaging around the house trying to find something tasty to eat.  Shovav gets his dogbreath chicken liver bits in a bowl, but I’m still looking.  I’m peckish, as my ex-husband used to say.  Not starving, just peckish.

And then I remember — Ju-boy is away in England for the week (and quite possibly longer thanks to the volcano whose name I dare you to pronounce).  While he’s gone I take advantage of the fact and buy certain foods that would never be allowed past his autocratic shopping dictates.  When Ju-boy is away I buy fruit just because it’s “pretty.”  I buy canned and processed goods that would otherwise never make it into the kitchen.  I buy real, dairy ice cream, and don’t share it with anyone!  This time, I was in Meatland, that glorious emporium that caters to a town full of Anglo immigrants who can’t live without their Dr Pepper, Walker’s crisps and biltong.  I was in there there other day looking for my Dr Pepper and Cadbury Crunchie fix when I spotted them, and I knew they had to be mine!

Yes, blueberries are an Israeli fruit.  We don’t really have the right climate to grow blueberries, but up north, in the Golan, you can find them in abundance.  Don’t expect to find them as easily as you would find the oranges, loquats, prickly pears and apricots, being sold on the side of the road.  These babies are meant for export, and off to Europe and even further they go.  I’ve bought Israeli blueberries in New York.  I’ve seen them in London.  And now I bought them in Ra’anana.  They were probably exported to Europe and then imported back into Israel.  At least, the price felt that way.

So blueberries in freezer and now in hand, I defrost them in a colander.  And then I start to play.  I take out a shallow bowl (blue and white, of course, it is Independence Day).  I ladle out a little yogurt, add some blueberries, more yogurt, more blueberries, isn’t that lovely!  A true blue and white breakfast. 

But wait, it needs just one more thing.  And not everything blue and white is actually colored blue or white.  I run (okay, amble) upstairs to my stepson’s windowbox farm.  Shyboy is growing all sorts of interesting things there from “found” objects.  He’s got a tomato plant climbing the walls just from some seeds he found in his salad.  One day he dug a bag of nana (mint) out of the fridge and it had been kept fresh in there for so long it had started to sprout roots.  So he planted it and now we have fresh nana.  I add a nana leaf to the top of my breakfast.  Ju-boy would be so proud, he thinks presentation is very important.

I have started buying pro-biotic yogurt.  Back when I was a little girl in the Bronx I remember my mom shtupping me full of anti-biotics.  And now we eschew those for pro-biotics.    I Googled why pro-biotics are so good for you, but maybe if the explanation had been written in iambic pentameter I would have better absorbed the explantion.  My friend Helene tells me it makes her feel better, lighter, less (or hardly even) bloated, and that’s a good enough explanation for me.  I now buy pro-biotic yogurt. 

Independence Day Breakfast for Two

2 cups of blueberries, fresh if you can get them, if not, frozen and thawed

2 (200 ml) containers of pro-biotic yogurt

1 sprig of nana (mint)

  • Defrost and thaw the blueberries if you don’t have fresh ones.  I did mine in a colander under some lightly running water.  Lightly, lightly, you don’t want Niagara Falls crushing them.
  • Use a blue and white dish, it’s Independence Day!
  • Start with a layer of yogurt, then alternate as many layers as you like, ending with a dollop of yogurt.
  • Top with a sprig of mint, it’s pretty, and you might want to take a picture for posterity.
  • Serves 2.

Man plans, God laughs — this is meant to serve two people.  Last night, sometime close to 11 PM, my daughter Didi and 30 of her best friends climbed into a taxi (think clowns in a Volkwagen) to go off and celebrate in dark and scary south Tel Aviv.  She got home safely and I assume will be asleep for most of the day, so instead of this being a breakfast for two, it was a large and leisurely breakfast for one.  Patriotic and healthy, I don’t feel any guilt whatsoever……

Just a question — if the yogurt is pro-biotic and the blueberries are full of anti-oxidents, have I just canceled everything out?  😉

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