I found this link on the Chocolate Lady's blog roll.
I did some great cooking for Shabbat this week, but have been too obsessed with reading Harry Potter novels, and bizarrely, Harry Potter fan fiction, to blog it. (Since when do I like fan fiction? But suddenly, I'm really into it. Perhaps there is a jinx called fanis fictionis.) Also, crazed anti-Semites are leafletting my neighborhood with anti-Semitic propaganda, which is distractingly icky. Plus I am working on a grant proposal in a flailing about kind of way.
Nevertheless, I am happy to be a Jew at this moment, at whatever it is o'clock in the morning, because I just got an email from this amazingly cool blogger. I can't believe that there is someone out there reading Yiddish books on the names of vegetables and blogging about schav. Plus she sent me her Yiddish-inflected vegetarian Pesach survival guide. I am in lurve.
I know that I need to write a post here about using the crockpot to make cholent. One of my readers asked in the comments if I know how to make the crockpot or slow cooker actually work! The only tips I have so far are:
1. Make sure your lid fits tightly so that the water doesn't escape. If it doesn't, use some foil. I believe that in many Jewish cultures it was traditional to use dough to seal the pot lid.
2. Presoak or even precook your beans to be on the safe side!
3. If you are using onions (and you probably are!) make sure to precook those. Preferrably sauté them in oil, but if you are trying to eat very low fat, sauté in wine or stock before you put them in the pot.
I am taking additional suggestions. I have heard good things about Robin Robertson's book Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, but I have not cooked from it yet!
I have researched the history of cholent, or hamin, in the past. This is the traditional stew that observant Jews set up to heat and finish cooking on Friday in order to have something hot for Saturday lunch. (Is that an accurate definition?) I am lucky though: instead of having to dig up my old notes, my friend and fellow anonymous Jewish blogger Kaspit has put up a very interesting post on the origins of cholent and their relationship to environmental regulations. This blog is a lot of fun! If you are reading and thinking, "I don't know if he's being silly and joking, or if he's saying something so brilliant that I can't understand it"--he's just like that in real life, and it's probably both. I am a bit jealous that there is a ready-made comic book superhero to fit his web personna. I couldn't find one for mine. Maybe this one:
This is from The Jewish Superhero Corps--this is Sabbath Queen. Looks just like me, kind of.
My mom never cooked brussel sprouts, even though my dad really likes them. I think there is a theme here, that my mom cooks only vegetables that she likes. Anyway I never pushed myself to learn to make them, because the times I tried they were either mushy or tough. Even with the X on the bottom!
Brussel sprouts are my new girlfriend.
Okay, how can you resist that? I might buy some at the store when I'm there with my son later this morning. I'll let you know if I do.
I decided to give Clotilde's game a try today, since it is my birthday. (I am 39 years old, for the first and only time!) I made a bunch of papers with the names of ingredients and put them in an empty tea box.
The first combination I came up with was spinach-curry-almonds. It would be easy to make up my own curried spinach with almonds, but I would probably want to use some kind of fat or oil because curry spice combinations are generally fried in oil. Through google, I found this spinach curry with almonds and a lot of other ingredients. It looks pretty good.
Second combination was tofu-black beans-broccoli. So let's say that "black beans" can include the Chinese salted black soybeans! There's a nice three-ingredient dish. I will try to make it...but maybe not until after Passover. Google found me several recipes along the same lines, this one looks credible.
My third was artichokes-chickpeas-chipotle. My first thought was to make a chipotle hummus filling and stuff the artichokes with it. None of the search engines came up with a recipe with this combo. Alternately I could stew artichoke hearts with chickpeas and chipotle, or make a salad of cooked chickpeas with artichoke hearts in a mildly chipotle flavored vinagrette. That's probably the best one.
I think maybe my ingredients are too boring. I will try again another time. For now, my plan is to come up with exciting things for my friend to do with the apricots her trees produce. She has several apricot trees! She said, and I quote, " I want to take two of them out because they are so crowded and because we can only deal with so many freakin' apricots. If we give the lady next door a bucket full, she turns them into jam for us." I just got this email and I am determined to help her come to her senses! Or find a way for her to mail me apricots without having them turn to mush. (Mish-mish mush!)
I really liked Clotilde's idea about randomly generating new dishes. I read her post before Shabbat and then all through Shabbat was thinking about what I was going to do with it.
At breakfast this morning I had the thought: "If only I could randomly generate the recipes using the computer. Oh, wait, I do this all the time already. I enter two or three ingredients into Google or the Epicurious database and then generate recipes."
Then I thought: "Oh, that's not the point. She wants to come up with original recipes. Also, with only three ingredients. I almost never make anything with only three ingredients."
Then I thought: "Well, my way is fun, too. You get to try all kinds of new things that you wouldn't have considered otherwise, like cooking chickpea flour like polenta or putting mayonaise into cooked food. The computer has helped me a lot, I used to do this only with the indexes of my cookbooks, and you can only search one ingredient at a time that way."
So I am going to try Clotilde's game her way, and also try it my way, and see what ideas emerge and whether I actually want to eat any of them. I'll post again to let you know. I think for the sake of being ready for Pesach, I had better stick to "favorite ingredients" that I want to consume before the big clean up, and vegetables that I can use afterward.
I can't believe that I spent almost all of Friday cooking in my pajamas! I must get my act together. I remember I used to work full time and also cook, now I have this little part time gig and I can barely plan a weekday meal. Parenthood can take it out of you. I know that if I had planned ahead more, I would have had to work a lot less.
These were the menus I planned this week:
red lentil soup (Claudia Roden's infinitely adaptable recipe)
cauliflower and tempeh coconut milk curry (loosely based on a Lorna Sass recipe)
fenugreek sprouts and potatoes curry (based on a Julie Sahni recipe from
Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking)
pineapple fried rice (from Real Vegetarian Thai--really good and easy)
Black bean chili (?) in the crock pot
corn bread muffins
leftovers from Friday night
cucumber salad with sushi dressing from Moosewood New Classics
The lentil soup was really good as always, and even better, I just found the recipe posted on the web by this neat peacenik blogger. So now I am even happier that I made it. Sharing a recipe is almost as good as having someone at your table. I hope that somehow the happy sighing of my sweet guests over the good honest soup at my table will mingle with similar sighs of contentment over at Leila's house.
The problem with cooking "ethnic" food is that it's basically any food that is not from one's own culture. Which means that you have work really hard to get familiar enough to improvise. I am not familiar enough with many Thai and Indonesian ingredients to improvise. For example, lemongrass--I have no idea how to use it correctly. I think from now on, instead of buying fresh lemongrass, I'm going to get bags of lemongrass tea. This time, I was going to use a recipe from Lorna Sass' New Soy Cookbook for tempeh with lemongrass and coconut milk. I didn't have quite enough coconut milk, I thought abstractedly as I chopped the fresh lemongrass into tiny pieces. Then I reread the recipe--uh oh. Didn't I do this once before? You are supposed to put the lemongrass in with other vegetables, and then remove it from the stew before serving. No way I could remove these tiny pieces! So I soaked the lemongrass in boiling water, and then poured off the resulting tea, and then soaked coconut in that, and then removed it, squeezing out the coconut.
So much for the easy recipe I was going to follow to the letter. Anyway, I didn't have the vegetables she called for either, except for the leeks. So then I boiled some cauliflower in water seasoned with turmeric, salt and ginger, and added it to the tempeh with some carrots and frozen organic greenbeans. I also thickened the sauce with cornstarch. It was really an entirely different recipe--bright yellow and really pretty.
The fenugreek sprouts dish calls for fenugreek greens and tiny new potatoes, and butter. I figured sprouts that had greened would have the same bitter flavor as the greens, cut up old winter potatoes would be similar if not the same, and ghee would work instead of butter. All true, but it was definitely not the same dish. I really like the way the sweetness of the potatoes emerges in the bitter greens, butter and black pepper sauce.
(If you want to sprout fenugreek seeds, you can follow the directions here. I let mine green up instead of leaving them small and sweet, since I wanted them for this recipe. This company sells sprouting devices, including the really simple one I have--a perforated plastic lid for a wide-mouth canning jar. I didn't buy mine from them, I got them some 15 years ago at the local food co-op.)
The pineapple rice was also good.
For Saturday lunch I made black bean soup again. It was really improvised, but to give you a feel for it, I soaked and pre-cooked 2 cups of black turtle beans, fried an onion and some garlic in the olive oil from the bottom of the dried tomato jar, and threw it all together with chopped up bits of canned and dried tomato, chipotles in adobo, and salt. I realized that with my crockpot, presoaking and even pre-cooking the beans can really help. We finished the soup before Shabbat ended.
My husband and the baby went out and bought frozen dessert and cookies before Shabbos. He thinks it's not a Shabbat meal without dessert. I am afraid the baby is getting his sweet tooth, but he doesn't really get the concept of cookies. He just demands cold cereal. I really think I need to reconsider my ideas about menu planning!
My friend D. sent me a link to a Live Journal of one of his friends, someone else who likes to post her Shabbat meals. I noticed that she likes to make lists, I can definitely relate to that.
(There is a poem that begins, "What I like best is making lists of what I like best" but I cannot find it in my bookshelf or through Google. It might not be as good a poem as I remember, but I wish I could post more than that first line here! If you are reading this and know the poem, please let me know what it is.)
I was thinking in schul this past Shabbat morning about the piyyutim (liturgical poems) between the Barchu and the Shma. I realized that the impulse to catalog the things we like is liturgical. Well, okay, I'm being disingenuous because my husband wrote a graduate paper on how this works in Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and the ways that Whitman was consciously using biblical parallelism. So I know that making long lists of things you love is a feature of liturgical writing. But what came to me, again, on Saturday morning, was the ways that abstract concepts join more representational images in praising God in this section of the liturgy. So, the moon and stars praise God, and the seraphim and ophanim (various holy/angelic beings) but also the abstract concepts of Tiferet and Gedulah, the Hebrew alphabet, and the Sabbath day itself.
Well, okay and why do I think this is related to blogging? What I like when I read someone else's blog, especially a food blog, is the way that they can evoke their everyday experiences and sensations. It's the same thing that I like about all reading, really, is the "the letters invented by the clever Romans long ago to fool time and distance" (a line from a Grace Paley short story)--the way you can know someone else, even someone very different, and know their life and story. This happens, I think, the way that people attempt to know God, through litanies--I mean through lists, menus, catalogs.
This is why I was so distressed about the issue of lost languages. What you lose are untranslatable jokes, little songs that your great-grandmother made up to sing to your grandmother, and the recipes that she used to make her dinner. All the dumb things that you can't believe people are posting on the Internet, which it turns out are the most important thing in the world.
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't search around and look for the "coolest" book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.
The book nearest to Pamela when she played this blog game was by Alfie Kohn, the radical educational theorist. Next to me on the couch as I read this blog post? Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford, or as I generally call it, the great big book of bubbeh-meisehs. Fifth sentence on page 123: "It is a major structural component of the brain, and is found in the retina of the eye and in sperm." (What is "it" you ask? DHA or docohexaenoic acid, one of the Omega-3 fatty acids.) Okay, that's probably true. I got lucky.
I went to visit the blog Baraita, because the author hadn't updated in so long I was afraid she had quit, and I wanted to blogroll her. There was a new post about her engagment to be married, to a fellow she met over a Shabbat meal! Okay!
So we went to a lot more services, listened to each other read Torah almost every week, started deliberately counterharmonizing during the Aleinu as well as the Birkat***, spent a lot more time together in between services, and introduced our parents to each other at Thanksgiving (told you I was displacing anxiety about kashrut ). Everyone was appropriately fond of each other -- happily, D.'s parents are wonderful people independent of their son -- so we proceeded with the next phase of our plan, which involved quite a bit of advance work. D. flew out to Coast City to join us at Aunt Miriam's a few days before New Year's, and on December 30th we made it up to Gotham to visit his grandparents. On New Year's Eve, my entire immediate-extended family had Shabbat dinner at Aunt Miriam's, and D. and I talked them into concluding with the full Birkat, which I led. Then -- before anyone could doff their headgear -- D. told everyone the story of how the Birkat had featured in our courtship, and he worked around to talking about his great-grandparents (who have nothing at all to do with the Birkat, but some of my relatives were starting to catch on at this point), and finally he gave me his great-grandmother's engagement ring.
Wow! Is that great or what! I don't even know this woman and I am feeling the naches about now! Mazal Tov!
Now of course Shabbat meals are where everyone meets her beshert, I know that. I met my husband at a shabbat meal, myself. I just dig happy endings, or happy beginnings, don't you?