Monthly Archives: October 2011

South to North

Between Shabbat dinner and Shabbat lunch, we basically traversed all the parts of Philly I would ever expect to go to.  Throw in an aufruf, some snow, and an awesome pumpkin cheesecake, and I’d say it was a pretty good Shabbat.

Warren had us over for dinner Friday night and asked me to bring challah.  It was gratifying to be able to pull homemade challah out of the freezer and still have it taste good, but that was the end of it, so I definitely need to make more.  (Though, when Marc called me from the grocery store Friday afternoon to ask what we needed, I couldn’t think of anything, instead coming up with my new favorite adage about cooking with a baby around: We don’t need more ingredients, we just need more time.)

As always, Warren’s food was stunning, including a whole fish he named Ed, and another one he named Mike.  We also had a Spanish tapas dish that I could only describe as a cross between a latke and an omelette, green onion and citrus risotto, and incredible beets that I am excited to make (crossing my fingers for next week’s CSA!).  And then there was the pumpkin cheesecake.  Oh man.

Warren’s Quick Beets

2-4 Beets
2-4 Tbs butter (depending on taste)
salt and pepper
About 1 Tbs. lemon juice

1) Peel beets and trim away any hard parts.
2) Use a food processor with grater attachment or hand grater and grate beets using course grater option.
3) Melt butter in frying pan.  Add beets and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring beets every now and then.
4) Add about 1/4 cup water to the frying pan and cover with a lid.  Let cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Check the beets.  They should be tender at this point.  If not and the water has cooked off, add some more water and continue cooking.
5) When the beets are done, season with salt, pepper, and a splash of lemon juice.  You can also add a little more butter at this point to bump up the flavor (Warren says, “I personally like the beets on the buttery side.”).

Conversation at dinner ranged from what’s going to happen to the Occupy movement as the season changes, to wondering if, as adults, we could go trick-or-treating for things we actually need.  For example, that whole razor scare of the 80’s got people all vigilant or whatever about checking their kids’ candy, but actually, razors are expensive, so maybe we could knock on a neighbor’s door and ask for one?

Saturday morning, we woke up to what can only be called a wintry mix and, though I remember at least one Halloween growing up where we trick-or-treated in snow, it felt vaguely apocalyptic.  Or at least anachronistic.  Or fill in another “a” word of your choice.  It also fit with this week’s Torah portion where we read the story of Noah and the flood, and though I don’t usually go in for this kind of statement, it sort of feels like some higher power is trying to send us a message.

Noah has another significance, too, which is that it is Aileen and Brian’s “parshaversary.”  They met on parshat Noach and they celebrated their aufruf (being called to the Torah before a wedding), on parshat Noach, and I don’t know if they coined that term or not, but it’s caught on, and it was a huge honor to celebrate with them.  I don’t know how I never realized this before, but Noah builds the ark out of gopher wood — good Goucher girl that Aileen is, of course this resonates with her.  It’s not often that you get to yell “go Gophers” during services!

Also, since Aileen and I went to college together and spent time together in Philly, it was pretty awesome to walk into services and see so many good, good people from so many different parts of my life.  Their co-d’var Torah was pretty cute, too.  And since the RRC contingent was there, there were also a lot of little kids, and it was a nice change to have Aliza around so many other babies. She also helped open the ark, inasmuch as someone can open the ark who still can’t really control her hands…

Lunch was a beautiful spread from Boscov’s (who knew?!), and the desserts were especially impressive, in that no one would have guessed they were pareve (no meat or dairy) if they hadn’t also seen the deli platters.  It was a beautiful morning and bodes well for the start of a wonderful partnership.  (The dessert at the wedding was also delicious, and most certainly not pareve!  See below.)

So with all this warmth and goodwill, why even come back to the snow?  Because it’s weird!  Snow in October!  Plus, we realized that despite my snowy Western New York upbringing, we have no idea what to do with a baby in the winter.  Though at least, thanks to Nancy, Aliza has a hat!


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In the beginning…

Judaism gives us a lot of chances to start fresh.  Sure, many of them are within a few weeks of each other, but this Shabbat, at the end of this long string of holidays, when we started reading the Torah over at the beginning, I felt really lucky to be able to use my tradition to set parameters for my own new beginnings.  I can’t even really elaborate on what that means, so you’ll have to take my word for it.  Talk about a teaser!

This Shabbat was also part of another three day yontif (holiday), connected to perhaps the most confusing holiday configuration in all of Judaism: Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.  Every year, in my capacity as a Jewish educator, I feel like I have the responsibility to be able to explain what the heck happens at the end of Sukkot, and this year, I finally feel like I can say, with great confidence: it’s just confusing!  So if you don’t understand why Sukkot is 7 days followed by a two-day holiday, you’re in fabulous company.

A quick rundown of the pre-Shabbat eating festivities: Marc and I had dinner with just the two of us on Wednesday night, and it a was blissfully calm evening of baked ziti followed by root beer ice cream.  The local, terrible grocery store came through with root beer extract – the only place I’ve ever seen it!  Thursday, we had lunch at Mattea’s and seriously enjoyed the gingerbread apple pie.  Thursday night was Simchat Torah, which means we danced more than we ate.  Though I was looking forward to the drinking part of the festivities, pregnancy and breastfeeding have totally killed my taste for anything other than the occasional beer or glass of wine.  Bummer.  But I made Mexican layered dip that turned out to be a big hit.  I was told it made up for the bottle of 99 Bananas that we keep trying to pawn off on people.

Mexican layered dip

First layer: black bean hummus – Put two cans of rinsed black beans in the Cuisinart with some cumin, olive oil, salt, and a clove or two of garlic.  Add cilantro if Josh isn’t around.  Puree.

Second layer: guacamole – Everyone seems to have their favorite way to do it, but I mash the avocados with a potato masher, add 1-2 cloves of minced garlic, some lemon and/or lime juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Third layer: sour cream – One of a category of things including mayonaise that I claim to hate but actually enjoy in the right context.

Fourth layer: salsa – Store-bought in this case, but if you make your own, even better, unless your salsa, like mine, never actually is as good as store-bought.

Fifth layer: shredded cheese – I also claim to hate this unless it’s melted, but again, it’s all about context.  Serve with tortilla chips.  Lick the bowl when no one’s looking.

Friday, we had lunch at Beverly and Naomi’s then had to make a quick retreat home to get ready for dinner.  I reprised Bon Appetit’s citrus basil shortbread cookies, and they were just as good as I remembered.

And that brings us to Shabbat!  (And let me be honest: I’m rushing a bit here.  We’re going out of town tomorrow, it’s midnight, Aliza’s still awake, and I haven’t packed yet.)

We had another sort of themed meal, this time with Indian food.  I made mulligatawny soup, which turned out fabulously, and chana masala absolutely without a recipe, which turned out surprisingly similar to the recipes I’ve followed, but with a lot less hassle.  I’ll break it down: sauteed onions and garlic, chick peas, canned tomatoes, a whole lot of spices.  Everything pretty much got made in the hour before Shabbat started, and I was hot, hassled, and totally impressed with the timing.

Minyan Tikvah met this Shabbat morning (in addition to Thursday night for Simchat Torah!), and Marc was in charge of lunch.  Last weekend, he and Mattea made four dozen bagels for the occasion, and our freezer has been a bit full since then.  For dessert, we had donuts from the new kosher Krispy Kreme in town.  Yes, it’s a novelty, but they’re also delicious and helped complete a very holey lunch.  (Not that funny, but irresistible.)



I gave the d’var Torah during services and was a bit daunted by the prospect, since the first parsha of Bereshit (Genesis) spans the creation of the world up through Noah.  And that’s a lot to cover.  So here’s the crux of what I said.  1) We read the Torah over the course of the year, and it does a pretty good job of spanning all of emotions, experiences, and minutia we as readers might experience in a year.  2) During creation, the 7th day is holy because nothing is created, so we should all enjoy and respect the times when we are not doing or creating anything at least as much as when we are.

And that brings us to the end of the holiday season.  Whew.  I’d stop and take a breath except I don’t have time.  Ironic, I realize, given my drash this morning.  Then again, I took a nap this afternoon that was longer than any other consecutive sleep I’ve had in days.   And speaking of sleep, Aliza was still asleep when it was time to leave for shul, so she got to spend the day in her pj’s.  Once in five months isn’t bad, and she had lots of Tikvah-goers pining for her monkey feet.  And on that note, shavua tov, have a great week!


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Z’man Simchateinu

The holiday of Sukkot is known as z’man simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing, or, as Marc has dubbed it, “happy times.”  And, after a couple of really solemn holidays, we deserve a big ol’ party, which is pretty much what the last three days have been. Read on for lots of little snippets of stories about meals, bunches of recipes, a sukkah count, and some of the cutest pictures of Aliza to date.  This is a long one.

The party started last week, when, as I mentioned, we built a sukkah on the roof (1).  Basically, a sukkah is a temporary structure with a bunch of rabbinic specifications for what makes a wall and what it means to be able to see the stars.  Last year, we had a ginormous sukkah on our roof that seated 20 comfortably, but the whole thing was a little rickety and, ultimately held up by a flip flop.  Really and truly.  (This year, the flip flops were only decoration.)  With a baby and a lot of other things going on, we decided this year’s sukkah should be off our kitchen instead.  So last week, I went up to the roof to start bringing down materials, and instead, I remembered how awesome our roof is and stayed up there.  I am now putting this in writing for my future self of next Sukkot: go for ground level.

In case you  can’t tell that Aliza’s in this picture, here’s a closer up.

When we have these three day holidays, they all blend together and into Shabbat, and into one glorious indulgent taste memory.  Wednesday night, Warren hosted a potluck and requested my sesame noodles, so I made a double batch to have for the Grad Network potluck on Friday as well.  Lots of people requested the recipe, which, back in January, I wrote up here.

The potluck and Warren’s sukkah (2) were both lovely, and we managed not to get stuck in too much rain during the walk in either direction, though it was chilly enough to debut Aliza’s amazing full body sweater.  Thanks, Gill!

All the food was great, and Warren’s butternut squash soup and cider cream were especially noteworthy.  Though I rarely give much attention in this blog to store-bought items, Fred bought a pumpkin roll filled with cream cheese frosting that I’ve been thinking about for days.  I also found out at this dinner that some people who I don’t know read this blog.  Hi strangers!  Thanks for reading!

Ilana had me over for lunch on Thursday, and she made spaghetti squash and cheese, which is another recipe that people have requested recently.  It’s actually my favorite mac and cheese recipe, with cooked spaghetti squash instead of macaroni and spinach instead of sweet potatoes.  Ilana also wins the distinction of the cutest little sukkah (3) in the whole wide world, which sits on her front steps.

Thursday night we ate at Beverly and Naomi’s, and I was responsible for dessert.  I had the brilliant idea to make chocolate covered caramel apples, because it could be made during the holiday and only had a couple of ingredients.  Long story short, it turned into a huge sticky mess, and I made chocolate almond pudding instead.  Then I brought the apples to dinner anyway and also brought some cookies, too, just in case we needed more dessert.  The pudding is our favorite and much-linked-to Mexican chocolate gelato recipe, minus the cinnamon, plus almond extract, and put in the fridge instead of the ice cream bowl.

Friday, we hosted lunch.  Marc wanted to highlight the ephemeral nature of the holiday, and we wanted to minimize what needed to be schlepped to the roof, so we made an almost utensil-less Ethiopian-style meal.  Marc made injera, the spongy Ethiopian bread that I never would have attempted, but which worked quite well as a backdrop to everything else.  Turns out, we still needed plates, and we needed a lot of napkins, and we probably owe Jonathan for his dry-cleaning bill.  Marc also made glasses out ice and a kiddush cup out of grape juice, and though they might not all have “worked” in the sense of holding liquid, it was definitely a novelty, and once they went back in their cup molds, they kept our drinks pleasantly chilled.

The rest of the meal consisted of pumpkin saag from Veganomicon; potato stew, cabbage stew, and red lentil stew all sort of from Olive Trees and Honey but kind of made up as I went along; and a tomato salad of the last-minute Jewish food paranoia variety that actually really rounded out the flavors of everything else.  For a utensil-less dessert, we had vanilla almond ice cream in individual graham cracker crusts.

Potato Stew, Ethiopian Style (sort of)

2 onions
olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tomato sauce
5-8 potatoes, a mixture of white and sweet, cubed
chili peppers, minced (optional)
cumin seeds, ground curim, a dash of sriracha sauce, a dash of cardamom, about 1 teaspoon turmeric, minced fresh ginger, ground coriander, ground mustard, salt and pepper

Saute the onions and garlic, the add the spices (except turmeric) and saute a little bit more.  I haven’t given you amounts since I just kept tasting and adding.  The cardamom is likely to be the most overpowering flavor, so use it sparingly.  Add half the tomato sauce and about 1/4 cup water and stir and simmer until it’s thickened.  Add the potatoes, turmeric, the rest of the tomato sauce and another 1/4 cup or so of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are done.  Taste and adjust spices.  Cook uncovered until the sauce reached the desired thickness. 

What if I don’t have enough food tomato salad

fresh, local tomatoes, chopped
chopped fresh parsley
lemon juice
red wine vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper

Mix it all together and enjoy with mushy, spicy stews.  Or by itself.  But do it quick, ‘cuz tomato season’s almost over.

Then the wind picked up and rain started just as we were finishing, and everyone left the roof very happy and very full and in quite a hurry.  Everyone, that is, except for Naomi and me, who decided that the tarp wall was going to pose a hazard in the wind, so we took it down.  After accomplishing that task, we left the roof very happy, very full, and completely drenched from head to toe.  By the time we got dried off and in fresh clothes, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.  But it just wouldn’t be Sukkot without these kinds of antics.

And, 900 or so words in, I’ve finally reached the Shabbat part of the three day yontif…(Yiddish for chag, which is Hebrew for holiday).  Friday night, Molly and Jon graciously hosted the Grad Network potluck in their sukkah (4), and our new spreadsheet system seems to have taken care of any food issues, and there was more than enough yumminess to go around.  Laura’s kugel was great, and so was Molly’s mom’s ratatouille.

Saturday, we actually didn’t have lunch plans, and we went down to City Hall to visit Occupy Philly and the sukkah there (5).  I was so glad to see Chana, and it was nice to feel part of the scene there for a little while.  A woman was visiting from Des Moines and came to the sukkah for a minyan to say kaddish, which was pretty cool.  An older woman and her husband came by with freshly baked cookies, and another couple came by to say that this was the first time they’d ever seen a sukkah at a protest.  Though I’m still a little unclear on the goals of the Occupy movement, which I realize is kind of the point, I was impressed with the kindness and communal feeling around City Hall, and also struck by the medic volunteer who thanked us for bringing the baby and said it lent credibility to the movement to have people with kids walking around.

Saturday afternoon, in lieu of hosting lunch or expecting anyone else to, we had a Sukkot open house.  Except the wind was kind of crazy, bamboo poles kept falling, Aliza wouldn’t stop crying, we had to keep all the food in bags so it wouldn’t blow away, and we came inside.  Oh well.  It was still a lot of fun, though the quantity of junk food far exceeded pretty much any other event we’ve ever hosted, and my tongue actually hurt from eating cheese puffs.  And I can’t decided whether to be happy or sad about how many cookies were leftover.  Also, as requested, my cookie recipe: it’s the Nestle tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe plus about 2 cups of oatmeal and some butterscotch chips.

To keep the count going, we also visited the BZBI sukkah (6), Sara’s sukkah for a Penn Med gathering (7), and we’ll be in the Penn Hillel sukkah tomorrow for Sangria in the Sukkah (8).  That’s three more sukkot than the number of months old Aliza turned yesterday.  Oh yeah, and the holiday keeps going, and the holidays keep coming, so there’s more food and more celebrating just around the corner.


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G’mar Tov

For the day that’s supposed to be Shabbat Shabbatot, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, having Yom Kippur on Shabbat really made it feel like we didn’t have Shabbat this week.  Is that a confusing sentence, or what?!  (Also, that was basically a direct quote from Ilana, but I was thinking it, too!)

So, to write a food blog about a fast day…

  • We had an amazing pre-fast meal at Joline’s, highlights being the incredible BBQ brisket and Laura’s brownies.
  • I gave the sermon at Kol Nidrei services at Penn, which was a pretty cool experience.  I spent a lot of time writing it but forgot to practice reading it until we got to dinner.  Central message: The Book of Jonah teaches us that if you can’t control what’s going to happen, you might as well be happy and kind while you’re going through things.
  • As it turns out, this was the first Yom Kippur since the year before my Bat Mitzvah that I didn’t fast, and it really changed my experience of the holiday. While I know I had to eat, it’s kind of weird to admit it.
  • I mostly ate Cherrios and hard boiled eggs, so culinarily, you didn’t miss much.
  • For such highly developed creatures as we humans are supposed to be, it’s hard to believe what a few hours without food does for our functioning.  And our moods.  And our breath.
  • I spent some of the afternoon reading Kosher Nation, an interesting counterpoint.
  • There was an article in the New York Times (thanks Emily!) about how breaking the fast used to be a family affair, and now has become another excuse for a big party.  The Grad Network used that to our full advantage.  But it was a pretty subdued party.  See above re: moods.  Even so, New York Bagel makes an awesome tuna salad, and it goes well with orange juice.
  • The typical Yom Kippur greeting is “g’mar chatima tova,” may you be sealed in the book of life, or “g’mar tov,” finish well.  It’s kind of like the day after Yom Kippur is the first day of the rest of your life.
  • So we spent the first day of the rest of our lives on the roof building a sukkah.  More on that next week!

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Shana tova!

This week, we went from two days of Rosh Hashana right into Shabbat, which means there were two extra days of Shabbat-quality (and quantity) eating.  It’s a cliche to expound on how Jewish holidays are centered around food, but they are, and it’s wonderful.  And there’s no way I could write about Shabbat food this week without talking about our Rosh Hashana meals, too.

Wednesday night I had to work, but it really was a pleasure to celebrate with the Grad Network community.  Thursday night, though, was the main event for us, with a carefully thought-out menu, multiple courses, good friends, a beautifully set table, and a massive amount of food.  It’s true, I really don’t know how to cook for a single-digit number of guests.

On the first night of Rosh Hashana, when we say kiddush (the blessing over the wine), we also say the shehechianu, the blessing for new things, holidays, and other momentous occasions.  It makes sense to say the shehechianu on the first night of Rosh Hashana: it’s the first time on this holiday in this year.  But tradition dictates we say it on the second night as well, so our ancestors decided in order to justify this blessing, we should have new fruits on the table when we say it.

“New fruits” is usually understood as “fruits you haven’t eaten in long enough to be able to say this blessing over them,” but we like to challenge ourselves to eat fruits we’ve never eaten before, and this year, we challenged our guests to help us find such things.  Marc bought a red pear, Belina brought the cutest little purple peppers, I put a tiny CSA pumpkin on the table, and Josh brought my usual new fruits choice of concord grapes.  But Ilana, oh Ilana, showed us all up with her contribution of rambutan.  Never seen one before?  Neither had I, but it reignited my fear of sea urchins (a story for another blog, my friends).

Lucky for us, Marc was surreptitiously taking pictures of all the food throughout the meal.

Friday night, we ended up having an impromptu dinner here, and as much as we missed Warren’s company (greatly!), I was happy to be able to host a meal for people who wanted a place to go (even after two days of holiday!), and it was a relief to have help eating the leftovers.  Though somehow a lot more food also showed up…

If the way a year starts has anything to do how it proceeds, and I hope it does, that means the coming year will be filled with a new sense of calmness, wonderful friends, a whole lot of food, an increasing amount of sleep, and, oh yeah, a really awesome baby.

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