Monthly Archives: August 2011

Stickers and storms

I thought about calling this post “Potlucks and preparedness” or “Heymish, haftorah, and hurricanes,” or even “I dine with Irene.”  The most accurate would probably have been, “We’re all a bunch of suckers for local news hysteria.”  Either way, I’m very happy to report that everyone in Philly seems to be ok, our basement is only slightly damp, and we never even lost power.

This hurricane is boring me.

Friday night, I went to my first Grad Network Shabbat dinner in a very long time, and it was lovely and a little surreal to be back and to have Aliza in tow.  It was a really nice crowd, lots of new people, and even though challah was the main food group represented, everyone had more than enough to eat.

On my way home, Marc joined me, and we stopped off at Ilana’s, where she had hosted Heymish that night, too.  While, both as a Jewish professional and as a, you know, human, I think it’s often best to avoid scheduling conflicts, I also think it represents the real health of the Philly young adult Jewish community that more than one such event can happen on the same night, be well-attended, and not create any animosity over “competition.”  So I swooped into Ilana’s, ate some funfetti cake, some of Sara’s frittata, some bits of at least three other things, and a whole mess of watermelon, then we left.  Funfetti and frittata are surprisingly similar words, and yes, though everyone had enough to eat at the other potluck, I was still ready for round 2.

Minyan Tikvah met on Saturday, and we had an awesome crowd considering the weather panic descending on the city.  This week was parshat Re’eh, my bat mitzvah parsha, and I read haftorah for the first time in, that’s right, 18 years.  I also got a real kick out of imagining telling my 12-year-old self, “The next time you’ll read this haftorah, it will be at a minyan that you and your husband helped to start in Philadelphia, your 3-month-old baby will roll over for the first time at services right before you have to read, and everyone will be waiting for a hurricane.”  One thing I know for sure is that my 12-year-old self would have been super psyched about the stickers.

This week was Tikvah’s first ever potluck lunch, and while there are still kinks to work out, I declare it a pretty awesome success.  See, while many people feel like they can answer “yes” or “no” to the question “Do you keep kosher?” it’s really never that straightforward.  So, in order to address the various food values of people in our community, we created a sticker chart.  I know it’s overly complicated, and I’m sure it’s going to be revised before the next potluck, but I am really, really proud of this innovation.


In an effort to address other environmental values, we used compostable plates and cutlery, and while the forks held up fine, it was basically like I was holding my food in my hand while the plate disintegrated around it.  But maybe that’s, in part, because I ate a lot of my own pasta salad, and it was full of olive-oily goodness.

We spent the rest of the day hunkered down at home, except for the part where we were on the roof in the rain trying to secure items that might blow away or cause damage.  We also spent some time discussing how power outages are like a forced extended Shabbat.  And as much as people were worried, and as relieved as we are to have power and water and safety, I think a lot of us were also looking forward to some extra hours before having to go back to the craziness of normal time.  We’ll just have to make it for ourselves.

My new favorite pasta salad

Half a box of pasta, any shape including spaghetti will be good
1 zucchini or summer squash or a combination
1 onion
1-2 garlic cloves, minced or sliced very thinly
A large handful of cherry or grape tomatoes
A can of chickpeas
olive oil
salt, pepper, crushed red pepper

The most important thing here is to caramelize the onions.  The yummy sweetness makes this all work.  Slice the onion thinly and saute in the olive oil until it starts to brown.  Boil the pasta while this is happening.  Add the garlic, sliced squash, and halved tomatoes, and saute, stirring frequently, until everything is soft and a little bit broken down.  If you want to serve it hot, add the chickpeas to the veggies, but if you’re serving it cold, you can add them afterwards.  Season to taste.  Don’t use a compostable plate.

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More bread, more babies

Fourteen weeks ago, we spent Shabbat in the hospital waiting for Aliza to be born, and we spent this Shabbat waiting to hear news about Aliza’s new baby cousin.  He arrived in that 25th hour between sundown and havdalah, not exactly Shabbat, but not the rest of the week either, a seemingly auspicious time to enter this world.  We can’t wait to meet him!

But in between numbered text message updates, we had Shabbat in Philly with our baby.  (Perhaps it’s a sign that I’ve spent too much time in academia, but I keep thinking that now she’s a semester old.)

Friday afternoon, Val came over to bake challah, and I felt much emboldened after last week’s success.  We used only white flour, I was surprised that it took a full cup more to get the right consistency, and it was still a little sticky.  Also, I have to say that as much as I like the health value of using part whole wheat flour, the moist cake-y-ness of this week’s batch was incomparable.

Friday night dinner was just Marc, Aliza, and me, and we enjoyed the challah along with tomato soup, grilled cheese, homemade potato chips, and a little beet salad.  It was perfect comfort food and nice to have a quiet dinner to complement the thunderstorms.

We had Shabbat lunch at Ilana’s, just the three plus one of us.  Ilana makes a mean baked tofu, which I was hoping she’d have at lunch; I was not disappointed, and the tofu went perfectly with the sesame noodles and bean salad.  She also introduced me to putting peaches into green salad, and it was amazing with raspberry vinegarette.  I was also happy to see my neglected popsicle maker given new life with peach and pink lemonade popsicles.

I had no idea I would be writing about so many seudah shlishit meals (I know that translates as “third meal meals,” but my Hebrew is just not good enough to say it another way).  We spent a lovely time at Sara’s Saturday evening eating all kinds of beautiful little bites of things, including an awesome tapenade from Israel and a tuna salad with curry that Marc whipped up on the spot.  I made a fruit crisp for dessert (but photographed it before it got its delicious buttery topping).

Walking home from Sara’s, we got the final text update about the baby.  A lot can happen in 25 hours.

Tomato Soup

So much easier to make from scratch than  you might think, and such a good use of the season’s fresh tomatoes!

4 slicing tomatoes (I don’t know if this is an official term, but it’s what our CSA calls them – think of what you’d put on a sandwich)
1 can tomato paste
3 shallots or 1 large onion
fresh basil
olive oil or butter
salt and pepper
water or stock

First you have to peel and seed the tomatoes.  This is really the only fussy part of making this soup.  Cut out the core, then score an x in the bottom of the tomato.  Put in a pot of boiling water for about 10 seconds then move to a bowl of cold water.  The peel will slip off and you can just squeeze out the seeds.  Coarsely chop the tomatoes.

Chop and saute the onion/shallots in butter or olive oil.  Add the tomato paste and some water or stock.  I added some sliced basil here, but you can wait until closer to the end.  Bring to a boil then simmer until the tomatoes fall apart.  Blend with an immersion blender  then add water until it’s the right consistency.  Add salt and pepper and a little milk or cream if you want to.

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We have awesome friends

In case that wasn’t apparent from nearly eight months of blog posts, it’s worth stating explicitly.  Between Thursday and Saturday, we spent time with  friends who I grew up with in Fredonia, friends from my post-college days in Boston, and friends from our Philly community.

It’s incredible to have love and support from not only across the east coast, but also from across the different phases of my life, and it’s amazing to realize my friends’ far-reaching influence.  Jenny and I learned to read together, and now we’re teaching our daughters to play together (and looking forward to adding a little baby boy to that mix soon!).  Lieba showed me that there’s always room for one (or four) more around your Shabbat table, and I think about her hospitality often when I’m adding a chair to the table.  What a gift to have these people in my life.

Also (segue!), our friends are great cooks.  This is Warren’s week to shine, since we were finally able to accept his generous invitations and go to his place for Shabbat dinner.  The weather was blissfully pleasant for our walk with Sara to and from South Philly, and the food was transcendent.  Whereas I am especially skilled at quantity, Warren is a master of detail, flavor, and presentation.  He has courses.  He plates his food.  It’s all freaking incredible.

Dinner started with challah that I made (more on that in a bit) and was followed by crostini of peas, parmesan, and mint, and another of red pepper and feta.  Bonus points for serving a finger food at the exact moment that I had to feed Aliza!  Next, we had roasted potato and garlic soup served at just the right temperature for a summer night (recipe all the way at the bottom).

Then, get this: there was a palette cleanser!  Cantaloupe anise sorbet to be exact.  It was a perfect couple of bites, and I think we’re going to have to add it to our ice cream flavor queue.  I meant to have more with dessert, but I was too full (as I said at the time, my mouth wanted more but my stomach didn’t).  The main course was salmon with a mustard dill sauce and a side of corn and tomato salsa.  And finally, for dessert, we had rosemary pear cake with whipped cream, paired with a Riesling.  Really.

The four of us got into some pretty heated discussion about relationships and life choices, but we didn’t solve any of the big questions, even with a second dessert of papa bubble hard candies.   On the walk home, Marc told Sara and me that this was one of his top two home-cooked meals ever, the second of the pair being a Sunday evening dinner we had at Sara’s a few weeks ago, where she served homemade baguettes and tomatoes so fresh it was as if we were eating them off the vine.  I helped out by saying, “you mean the top two meals you’ve had outside our house,” which of course was what he meant (if ever there were a time for a 😉 in my blog, this would be it).

On Thursday, while we were visiting with Lieba and Danny, I got an email from Jenny asking if we were free on Saturday.  We were, and our lack of plans rewarded us with a visit from Jenny, Jim, and Annea!  A two-year-old’s fascination with a baby is seemingly endless, as is my gratitude that the sequence of the past 30 years have provided me with life-long friends like these.

Annea looked at the challah on the table, then at Marc, and said, “I want this.”  She was pretty adept at tearing off the pieces that she wanted, and even more impressively, absolutely willing to try everything.  We should all be blessed with two year olds who eat like she does!  We had a full CSA array, including babaganoush, potato salad, more caprese since I didn’t have nearly enough last week and the gorgeous tomatoes just keep coming, and cinnamon chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.

After a walk in Rittenhouse to introduce Annea to the goat (aka child magnet), they left for the bus, and we went to Mattea’s.  She had a beautiful spread of her own CSA-inspired goodies, and it warms my heart that beet dip has caught on as the most popular bright pink item to grace Shabbat tables across Philly, though the plate of luscious watermelon slices was a close second as bright pink food goes.

All this brings me back to the challah that I made for Warren’s dinner, since I used Mattea’s recipe.  A grad student asked me to teach her to make challah, and since it had been a looong time since I’d made my own, I had to make sure I still could, and why not throw in a new recipe while I was at it?!  Rather than narrate, here’s the project in photographs.  Turns out, I CAN make challah!

Potato and Roasted Garlic Soup (from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) as adapted by Warren

2 whole heads of garlic
2 Tbls olive oil
2 onions, finely diced
3 small bay leaves
2 pounds of potatoes, peeled
salt and pepper
Cream
Chives

1. Roast 2 heads of unpeeled garlic cloves in the oven at 350 degrees.  Pour some oil over the heads and wrap them in aluminum foil.  Set them in a tray or dish in the oven.  Bake for about an hour or so until garlic is soft.  You should be able to squeeze a garlic clove open when it’s ready.

2. Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over medium heat, add the onions and bay leaves, and cook slowly.  Meanwhile, quarter each potato lengthwise, then thinly slice.

3.  Add the potatoes, raise the heat, and saute, strirring frequently, until the onions begin to color and a glaze builds up on the botttom of the pan, about 10 minutes.  Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 cup water. Scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen the solids.  Add 2 quarts water and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered until the potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes.  Towards the end of the cooking (last 5 minutes or so), add in the roasted garlic whole (do not peel or open the cloves) and the oil from the roasting tray.  If the soup is very watery, remove the lid and cook down/reduce the broth a little.

4. Remove the bay leaves.  Run the whole soup, cloves and all, through a food mill.  Taste for salt, and add pepper.  If the soup is still watery at this point, you can continue to reduce it back in the pot.  Add a few touches of cream and garnish with some snipped chives.  [Note: if you don’t have a food mill, I suppose you could squeeze the cloves into the soup broth and then blend the soup in a blender).

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Home hospitality

I didn’t leave the house for the 25 hours of Shabbat, plus a few hours on either end.  But with a constant stream of good food and good company, I actually didn’t notice I hadn’t seen daylight until it was all over.  Pretty soon, Aliza won’t be the only one in the house who needs a daily dose of vitamin D.

Friday night, Marc and I had beige frozen food for dinner: fish sticks, mini quiches, and like 5 french fries left in the bottom of the bag.  It sounds a lot more pathetic than it was (though this part is exactly as pathetic as it sounds: we didn’t have any challah, so we said motzi over matzah…).  It was just what we wanted, it took almost no prep time, and it provided a remarkable counterpoint to the incredibly fresh, colorful, and homemade meal we had planned for Saturday.  Also, Aliza flashed the most beautiful smiles while we sang Shalom Aleichem, and everything else was pretty irrelevant after that.

Saturday afternoon, Minyan Tikvah, courtesy of Joline, organized home hospitality lunches.  It was refreshing to host a Tikvah meal where everyone could fit comfortably around the table and have one conversation at a time.  Even with only 7 of us for lunch, over the course of the day, we still managed to use all of the spoons in the house.

Here’s what lunch looked like:

  • A variety of dips and spreads (guacamole, black bean dip, yogurt and beet dip, skordalia) with Stacy’s pita chips and challah.  Basically, any yummy ingredient plus garlic, olive oil, and salt in the food processor becomes amazingness.  The green guac next to the fuchsia beet dip was a special kind of beautiful.  I wish I had a picture, but I don’t.  However, Aliza in her pink onesie on her green blanket is a pretty good verisimilitude.

  • Refrigerator pickles (my dad calls them marinated cucumbers, but I decided to give them a new name today)
  • Caprese salad with the sweetest CSA tomatoes ever and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar
  • Baked tofu in a homemade peanut-free pineapple satay sauce that Marc and I would be eating with a spoon, but they’re all dirty, so we’re drinking the sauce out of the bowl, instead.  Ah, dear reader, the things I admit to.
  • Chocolate orange ice cream and dairy free almond ice cream
  • Cherries and strawberries

There was a reasonable quantity of leftovers at the end of the meal: enough to know that no one was still hungry, but not so much that I could be accused of insane Jewish food paranoia.  By the end of havdalah, though, the only thing left was the tofu, which I was selfishly hoarding for ourselves and which we’ve completely polished off since then.

Following lunch, there was couch-sitting.  Then folks from Ilana’s home hospitality lunch came over.  There was Settlers-playing.  There was leftovers-eating, both from our meal and from Ilana’s.  There was talking.  There was baby-passing, baby-admiring, baby-drooling.  There was more Settlers-playing.  There was leftovers-finishing.  There was havdalah, a little more than 25 hours after candle-lighting, since even though the afternoon stretched on and on, no one really wanted it to end.


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