Once again Ju-Boy and I packed our bags, made sure children and dog were safe and snug, made sure there was good music in the car, and escaped. We do this often, at least twice or three times a year. With both of us in the Chapter Two of our lives this is something that is not a treat, it is a necessity. Ju-Boy explains this very well: we each have baggage, and we each have packages. The baggage is the flotsam of our previous life without each other that we are still dealing with, sometimes on a daily basis. The packages are the jetsam that we have each brought into the marriage, children, philosophies and political beliefs. As happy as we are with our lives, sometimes we need to escape…
Meet Batya Medad. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time. Since I started blogging myself she’s been a wonderful help and inspiration.
Thumbelina, Thumbelina, tiny little thing
Thumbelina dance, Thumbelina sing,
Thumbelina, what’s the difference if you’re very small?
When your heart is full of love, you’re nine feet tall!
featured in the biographical movie Hans Christian Anderson (1952)
Once upon a time there was a little girl. A very little girl. When she was born, even though she was full term, she weighed so little that they kept her in the preemie ward. I’d like to say that she grew, but she didn’t. Well, she did, but slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y! By the time she was two years old the local Tipat Chalav (well baby clinic) was threatening to call a social worker and charge me with abuse because they thought I wasn’t feeding her. When she was three years old our family doctor became concerned because she wasn’t really gaining any weight. By the time she was four she was the size of a two and a half year old. Tiny little thing. I didn’t even need a stroller for her, I would just carry her around in my pocket.
We actually had a wonderful family doctor, who suspected that she might have a growth hormone deficiency (she did). The winter she was four he sent us off to get a bone age x-ray taken, and then on to an endocrinologist. The x-ray clinic was in the same neighborhood as Machaneh Yehuda, Jerusalem’s outdoor market. It was early in the morning and as we got off the bus I thought it would be fun to walk through the market just as it was waking up for the day. Man plans, God laughs.
I held Sassy’s hand as we walked through the market. At one point we passed a fish stall. The vendor stuck this huge net into a pool of live fish, scooped up a few, and tossed them on to a stall of ice, the freshest fish of the day. One of the fish did not take too kindly to being removed from his pleasant bath and tossed on to a freezing tableau, and literally leaped (do fish leap?) off the ice and straight on to Sassy. I don’t know what kind of fish it was, but it was HUGE, bigger than my little girl for sure. It hit her full on, and knocked her over on to the cobblestones. To add insult to injury, it lay there on top of her, floundering around, rubbing it’s fishiness all over my tiny baby. She lay on the ground screaming, the fish lay on her, flopping, and I was in so much shock I just watched it all happen in slow motion. Mr. Fish Vendor came out of his shop and removed the insulted fish, hurling it back on the ice. And my Sassy, she just screamed and screamed and screamed. Tiny she was, but she had the lung capacity of an opera diva.
Since then, if she knew there was fish on her plate, she never ate it again.
Fast-forward 19 years. Sassy has just become engaged to her superhero, Sabraman. It was time for The Dinner. You know, the two sets of parents get together and strategize about the wedding. Sabraman is half Yemenite, half Turkish. Did I cook a meal that was familiar to his parents (something they see on their table everyday)? Or do I showcase my own ethnic background (Hungarian/Lithuanian)? I came up with a third solution. Sabraman, in spite of his boureka-eating, hilbeh-dipping, meaty upbringing, had a thing for lasagne. So I’d make him lasagne. But I thought that would be too outre for his parents, so I made some fish as well. Yes, I know Sassy was going to have a fishy fit at the table, but she behaved herself well, since she’s a fan of my lasagne.
So there we sat around the table, the six of us: Mr. and Mrs. Sabraman, the future Mr. and Mrs. Sabraman, and me with my Ju-boy. I proudly served dinner: lasagne, a green salad, a chilled bottle of white wine, and my fishy creation — Hungarian/Thai Salmon. The elder Sabraman couple just sat there and stared. What is this stuff? Is she going to poison us with her Ashkenazi food? It was a tense two minutes or so. Sassy was trying not to stare at the fish, Sabraman was dying to dig in to the lasagne but was waiting for his father to help himself first. Finally, in the awkward, cricket-chirping silence, Sabraman stands up, serves his parents and then his bride-to-be and says in his superhero voice, “It’s good, eat!” And eat they did, they even had seconds. That night, Sabraman was also my hero.
Before I post the recipe, just a tiny post-script: Sabraman and Sassy are now living in London, and when I spoke to my daughter last week she said to me, “Here’s an update for your blog, I eat tuna now!” I know this is Sabraman’s doing, he’s my superhero too!
I originally posted the recipe on Recipezaar back in 2001, but it’s undergone a change or two since then. Below is as I make it now.
- 1 (3 lb) salmon fillet
- 1/4 cup Hungarian paprika
- 1 large lemon, washed and dried
- salt and pepper to taste
While the salmon is still partially frozen, cut into serving pieces. I usually serve this as an appetizer so the pieces are smallish squares.
Place the salmon in a large pot and cover with water.
Toss in the paprika.
Zest the lemon with a Microplane zester and toss the zest into the pot. Cut up the balded lemon into approximately 6 slices and toss that into the pot as well. Add the salt and pepper.
Bring the whole thing to a rolling boil and let cook for 20 minutes. Yes, I know you are supposed to gently poach salmon, but listen to Miriyummy. Don’t treat the fish delicately, it can take it, don’t worry.
Turn off the heat, let sit for about 10 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.
Chill for at least two hours and serve.
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.
A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.
— Samuel Johnson
Today Ju-boy and I have been married for five years. A mere seven years ago, if you had told me we would be celebrating this auspicious event, I would have asked you what did you smoke for breakfast? Seven years ago I was married to a different husband, living in a different part of the county and I intended to continue doing so for the rest of my life.
All together now: man plans, God laughs.
I have recently begun to think that one should count second marriages in dog years.
When Ju-boy stepped on the glass under the chuppah on that brilliant Friday morning five years ago the world changed for both of us. Instantly we each acquired four step-children, a step-dog, an elderly parent-in-law (sadly both are no longer with us), brand new siblings, nieces, nephews, friends, mortgages and baggage. Lots of baggage.
Enter my dog years theory. Of course, it goes without saying that we are happy together, thrilled at being able to find “The One” a second time. I’m not saying that each year drags on and feels like seven. What I am trying to say is that because of our (for want of a better word) previous lives, each year is now filled with seven years worth of life.
Warning: Ahhhhhhh moment approaching. Those allergic to corn please avert your eyes.
I am infinitely grateful that in this instance, God did laugh at my plans. I could not have found a better person to love, hate, adore, get up my nose… in short, spend the next 50 years of my life together with him. Which, if you follow my dog years theory, amounts to 350 years. Buckle your seat belt, Ju-boy, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
In my Chapter 2 I have been blessed with a husband who not only appreciates my cooking, but is an amazing cook in his own right. When we were dating he once returned from abroad bearing the gift of, no, not jewelry, no, not perfume, he proudly gave me a blowtorch. One friend asked me if I would now be breaking up with this wierd present giving geek, but those who know my fondness for kitchen toys could already predict a merging of cooking techniques in the near future.
Ju-boy, never one to embrace the mundane, even in the kitchen, uses my (now our) blow torch to brown his beef before roasting. It really works, the meat is moist, the juices sealed in wonderfully. The man can really cook a cow.
Torched Roast Beef
Here in the Miriyummy household we use the #6 cut of meat, falshe fillet. My buddies at israel-food told me that the American equivalent is called chuck calachel. Use whatever works best for you when making roast beef.
1 1/2 kilos (3 pounds) roasting beef
Freshly ground black pepper
Brown the meat by using a blow torch.
Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Roast at 200 degrees C (400 degrees F) for 45 minutes.
This produces what Ju-boy calls the perfect roast, moist, delicious and red all the way through.
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!
Sometimes the most unlikely people make the best roommates.
I made aliya (immigrated to Israel) in 1983 with relative ease. I was single, no household possessions to ship across the Atlantic, no children in tow and zero commitments. I was “engaged to be engaged” (eventually marrying the guy, subsequently divorcing him 21 years later, but that’s another blog post, maybe). Due to my unencumbered status the Powers That Be decided not to send me to a family-oriented absorpton center, but to a hostel for single olim (immigrants).
The hostel decided to place me with a religious roommate. I was religious, she was religious, we should have gotten along beautifully, no? No. Anna was desperately Romanian, desperately incommunicative, desperately wanting to get married. She had placed a singles ad in some Romanian newspaper and the phone calls were coming in fast and furious. This would not have been a problem except for the fact that the only phone was three long flights down. A bell would ring in our room and one would have to run downstairs. Sometimes one would have to get dressed first. Sometimes one was already asleep. Can one see a pattern emerging?
Anna was a nurse who worked odd hours, usually evenings and nights. The bell would ring, I would trudge down three flights of stairs, only to find that the call was for the ever-hopeful yet always absent Anna. I always took a message, even the ones in garbled Romanian (no, I don’t speak Romanian). One message from a Bucharesti lothario made it into Anna’s heart and she eventually went off to live happily ever after with the newfound love of her life.
So now I was roommate free and due for another one. Age lived next door, and she had just had a huge fight with her roommate (also expertly chosen by the hostel staff for their ability to cohabit peacefully). Rather then each of us wait for the next unsuitable roomie, we told the hostel we wanted to move in together. We were told it was impossible, I was religious, Age was secular, we would never get along. After all, they knew better. So the next day we presented them with a fait accompli, and I moved my stuff in with her stuff. We were two people who were total opposites and never should have been roommates. Age was secular, I was religious. Age was neat and tidy, I was a slob (still am). Age liked the folk rock of the Sixties, I liked the hard rock of the Seventies. And yet it worked. Except in the kitchen…
I keep kosher, Age doesn’t. On paper and in practice it worked, 99.99% of the time. I had my dishes, Age had hers. We each had our own food on our own shelves in the fridge. Everything was copacetic, until Age decided to make one of her favorite dishes, chicken with Parmesan cheese. Those of you who know the rules of kashrut can hear the alarm bells ringing, can’t you. Yes, she made this in her own pan. Yes, she ate this off her own plate. But the smell of it cooking… a lifetime of kosher conditioning had me running from the room at the smell! Yes, we were a wonderful example of religious/secular harmony, until Age made her chicken.
In spite of this heinous chicken (sorry, Age), our friendship flourished. Unfortunately, when Age immigrated to Israel she neglected to bring with her one of the most important things in her life, her family. After a few years in Israel she returned to the States. Even across the water we stayed friends (probably better friends now that I couldn’t smell her chicken cooking). First we wrote chatty letters, then we started emailing. Everytime I go back to the States for a visit Age will meet up with me, take my daughters shopping in Target, and we’ll share a meal at one of the many kosher restaurants in Queens. When my mother died last fall Age was there at my side, helping me check into my hotel room, taking me into Queens for some stress-busting hot dog eating and junk food shopping. She drove Ju-boy and me back to the airport, but not before stopping for a slice of pizza. Age always did know how to relax me. One day she’ll come back to Israel to visit and I hope I can give her a good a time as she always makes sure to give me.
I’ve been low-carbing it lately (prepare yourselves for a plethora of recipes in the coming weeks), and as I prepared some chicken breasts for the grill the other day I couldn’t help but think of Age and her Parmy chicken. I can assure you this recipe has no Parmesan cheese. In fact, it doesn’t have many ingredients at all, but it’s a good dish if you’re on a low-carb diet, and a good dish even if you’re not. I like to make up a huge batch, place single servings in little sandwich bags, and freeze the lot of them, taking out a bag or two (or three) at a time for grilling, either stove-top or out on the charcoal.
Miriyummy’s Marinated Chicken Fillets
1 kilo (2.2. pounds) chicken fillets
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon granulated garlic powder
1 tablespoon sumac
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Place the chicken fillets in a large bowl.
- Add the rest of the ingredients. Massage the marinade into the fillets.
- Let the fillets rest in the marinade for 15 minutes, or overnight in the fridge.
- Grill on the stovetop with one of those special lined pans or barbeque outdoors. You only need to grill these babies for two or three minutes on each side. If your fillets are thick, or you are using a big piece of shnitzel, cook for longer until no longer raw and pink in the middle.
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.