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?
If it can go wrong, it will.
Take the picture above, for example. I was out with a bunch of hungry bloggers one evening and this was on the menu at the restaurant. Since my friend Toby has a blog featuring jewels such as this one, I snapped a pic on my phone and sent it to her. Now that I needed the picture for my own blog post, I couldn’t find it. Luckily, I just hopped over to Toby’s blog and snatched it back.
I wish all of my life could be this easy. But “man plans, God laughs” seems to be the theme song of my life. Take last Friday night for example…
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…
It’s a known constant in my life that man plans, God laughs. Yesterday I said in my Honey Honey blog post:
So I could leave you with a cute little video of buzzing bees or those singing worms in the apple wishing you a happy new year, but I won’t.
Wrong. Sort of.
Even though my mother was secular my father was observant, and I grew up in a kosher home. As a child I watched my fair share of television, and desperately wanted to eat what those of us growing up in the Sixties and Seventies were brainwashed to eat. But I couldn’t. Most of those wonderfully-colored, chemically-enhanced, MSG-laden and gelatin-laced yummies were not kosher and therefore never made it over the threshold of the house or on to my tastebuds.
Once upon a time, not that long ago, but long ago enough that it happened in Chapter One, I was in the mall one evening and there was some kind of a New Age fair being held in the middle. There was a woman sitting at a table with a pile of Tarot cards and a few pretty pebbles, and she told me that if I would cross her palm with silver (or a 20 shekel note) she would read mine (palm, not the money). I’m not even sure if I believe in palm readings, but, why not? I sat down and she took my hand in hers.
“You are going to have many children,” she told me.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Dessert was not listed as a course on the menu, but we knew it was coming, and we were ready!
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?
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.
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!”
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
- 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.
- 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.
- Taste and correct seasonings.
- Cover and refrigerate until party time!
I have been blessed with four of the most gorgeous, stunning daughters on the planet. This is not news, I’ve mentioned my girls before, but am always happy to marvel at God’s and my handiwork. Gorgeous they may be, good-hearted most assuredly, and skinny? My girls are skinny!
There are a few levels of man plans, God laughs here:
1) I used to be skinny. My mother used to say that I was hovering around ghetto weight (Warsaw, not Harlem). I was a picky eater as a child, but totally scarfed down the calories as a teen. A regular high school lunch would include two slices of pizza, half a felafel, both washed down with a large Tab (remember Tab?), a brownie from Heisler’s bakery and a cone from Baskin Robbin’s to eat on the way back to school. I never gained an ounce. My metabolism was freakishly fast until the age of 32, when I turned into an inflated lifeboat overnight. It’s as if God pulled the string and pffffffft!
2) I love to cook. Even more than that, I love to feed! What’s the use of cooking something if you can’t shtup it to your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and strangers you meet at the bus stop? I must have been a French fois gras farmer in a previous life. God had a good giggle when he introduced me to the X. The man grew up on Jewish/Polish/English cuisine, meaning his mother’s overboiled, under-seasoned chicken, potatoes and wilted green stuff (the vegetables in that house were usually unidentifiable by the time they hit the plate, and actually, they weren’t very green by then as well). I would serve him a meal lightly seasoned with a few spices, he would take one bite and reach for the water glass, gasping, “Are you trying to kill me?”
3) The X passed his food genes on to my babies. I love to feed, they love to say “Don’t like!” Sassy, my oldest, can eat one lettuce leaf, push back her plate and say, “Thanks, I’m full.” Nomush is the vegetarian who hates vegetables. Tinky is my best eater, she will actually finish a whole plate of food (a small plate), but that will satisfy her for the rest of the week. Didi will come into the kitchen after Ju-Boy and I have filled the fridge and the larder with the weekly shopping, look at it all in disdain and say, “There’s nothing to eat in this house!”
I like to play in the kitchen, experimenting with different techniques, interesting foods, freaky recipes. One of the ways I get my picky progeny to eat a balanced diet is to sneak certain ingredients into their favorite dishes while they’re not looking. Kidney beans and brown rice can be cleverly disguised in a zhuzzed soup, especially if you bling up the bowl with croutons and grated cheese. Whizz up a few carrots in the food processor with the steel knife, hide them in the pasta sauce and the kids just might believe it’s bolognese. My lastest sneaky coup has been to hide (are you ready for this?) beets into chocolate cake. Strange but true! I found the recipe on a food blog called Yummy! byYemi (any blog with the word yummy in is has to be good).
Don’t overdo it with the beets. You want to enrich the cake, but too much pureed beet adds an earthy flavor to the chocolate, and you don’t want your cover blown.
I first tried this dessert on Rosh Hashana, as beets are one of the simanim. We don’t do the simanim thingy per se, but I try to incorporate them into the meal itself. I made the recipe into chocolate/beet cupcakes, and received the Hillalee Seal of Approval. Hilalee is Didi’s friend, and she’s the antithesis of Mickey from the Life Cereal commercial from the 70s. Hilalee doesn’t like or eat anything (she could be one of my kids). But she did like my mini beet chocolate cupcakes. And if Hilalee likes them, you might love them.
Pick Me Up Cake
Yemi calls this Pick Me Up Cake, which is a much more attractive name than Chocolate Beet Cake. We emailed back and forth a bit when I asked for the recipe, and she told me that she made it up herself! In her own words:
- 2 cups steamed beets
- 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 3 tablespoons rice flour (or regular flour)
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat a 9 or 10 inch cake pan with vegetable cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a blender puree the beets, and vanilla extract until smooth. Set aside.
- In a small bowl combine the cocoa powder, rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar for one minute with an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs for about 5 minutes. Beat in the beets, until the mixture is nice and smooth.
- Stir in the contents of the small bowl containing the cocoa powder into the batter carefully until it is completely mixed in.
- Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy!