Monthly Archives: November 2011

Dinner Disasters

This was the week for appliances to break.  First, our immersion blender stopped blending.  Then the ice cream maker started leaking anti-freeze (seriously).  But don’t worry: I have emails into both companies asking for replacements.  But actually, worry just a little, because something else is going to break before this story is over.

Marc, as you may remember, really likes making ice cream.  He also really likes making pizza.  We’d already written off ice cream as a Shabbat dinner possibility (see above), but, since Marc’s birthday is this week, I got him a pizza peel to help with the pizza making, and it seemed like a good time to try it out.  This is also a good time to mention that, thank goodness, no one else was depending on us for dinner.

So, Marc made the pizza dough, set the pizza stone to preheat for an hour in a 500 degree oven, covered the pizza peel in cornmeal, and then constructed a gorgeous pineapple pizza on top of it.  Then it was the moment of truth: the time to slide the pizza off the peel onto the hot stone.  Yeah.  Right.  The first few attempts at a gentle slide resulted in nothing but a few pieces of pineapple falling into the oven, so, against our better judgment , we removed the stone from the oven and tried to get the pizza off that way.  No luck, until it all rolled off in a giant heap of doughy cheesy mess.  Think Jabba the Hut in a scorched Cheez-It factory.  There was smoke, there was a fire alarm, there was  a coughing baby.  We think this (ok, maybe not exactly this) is how calzones were invented.

While all this was happening, I was making another of Marc’s favorites: curried butternut squash soup.  I’d only ever done this with the immersion blender, but again, see above.  I figured, one extra step, fine, I’d just do it in the regular blender.  If you’ve ever blended hot soup, which, thanks to the immersion blender, I hadn’t, you know where this is heading.  Basically, the first two batches pureed to a perfect, smooth consistency, and the third batch exploded ever so slightly, enough to get my arm and a bit of the counter.  But I was not to be deterred!  So I blended that fateful third batch again, which resulted in the lid of the blender expanding such that the plastic bit in the middle of the lid went into the spinning blender, and got all nice and chopped up with our soup, and everything in the kitchen within a three food radius got covered with a thin layer of orange goopiness.

I was just about to upload the pictures of the failed pizza and the cabinets covered in soup, but I decided against it.  They don’t look as catastrophic as it felt at the time, and the truth is, the second attempt at pizza worked pretty well and tasted pretty good, and the part of the soup that was salvageable was also just as good as it ever is, and I already ordered a replacement blender part for $2, and actually, in hindsight, none of this seems so bad, which is a great lesson about keeping things in perspective and blah blah blah outlook on life, throw care to the wind, even about run-on sentences, and for me, that’s saying a lot.  But at the time, you know, it was kind of a bummer.

~~~

For lunch on Saturday, Ilana hosted a Thanksgiving leftovers potluck.  It was at this exact event last year that we told everyone that I was pregnant, so it was a little surreal to have a rolling around little baby hanging out with us this year.  Also, it seems that pretty much what people had leftover was dessert.  Ilana made yummy spinach, mac and cheese (apparently based on “my” recipe!), and then I think I had like 12 kinds of dessert.  Go team!

Aliza’s new food this Shabbat was avocado, and I feel confident in saying that we’re instilling this girl with good taste.  With the other solids so far, even applesauce, she’s sort of humored us and casually eaten it if the spoon happened to get in her mouth.  But for three days in a row now, she’s sucked down the avocado like it’s the best thing she’s ever eaten.  Which, at six months, maybe it actually is.

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Potlucks and Crockpots

It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it: potlucks and crockpots?  Goes well with the getting-colder weather, the earlier sundowns, the crunchy leaves, and the hunkering down with family and friends.  Not so much with the smell of ginkgo trees, but you can’t win them all.  (I really, really hate those trees.)

Friday night, Abigail hosted the Grad Network vegetarian potluck Shabbat dinner, and it was just, simply, a great night.  The food is getting steadily more impressive at each of these dinners, and my old standard of baked tofu in soyaki was yummy, but totally shamed by the other amazing food there, including not one, but two, impressive fish dishes, Laura’s baked ziti, and Molly’s adorable little cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches (see last week’s post for how much I suddenly love this sandwich).

The fish, though, brings up an interesting point about how Jews think that fish is vegetarian.  For years, I called myself a vegetarian even though I ate fish, and I even know people who call themselves “Jewish vegetarians,” which is what the rest of the world calls pescatarians.  Here’s what it comes down to: fish is pareve, which in the laws of keeping kosher, means neither milk nor meat.  That means it can be eaten with dairy or meat meals and used with any dishes and silverware.  However, that special status does not make it vegetarian.  And yet, I have a feeling that fish will continue to have a place at Jewish vegetarian potlucks.  It’s like we already have enough categories to keep track of or something.

We went to Joline’s for lunch on Saturday, and everything was so, so good:  roasted root veggies, brussels sprouts and green beans, leftover kugel from Ilana’s work, my favorite Trader Joe’s lentil spread that I only ever eat at Joline’s, and crockpot rice and lentils.  This is really a revelation, because I learned a new method of Shabbat crockpot cooking: turn it on high for a couple hours before sundown, then turn it to warm until lunch.  (I usually keep it on low for 20 hours, which might explain while all my spices cooked off last week and all my cholent always tastes exactly the same.)

“I learned something new” crockpot rice and lentils, from Joline

2 cups basmati rice
1 cup lentils
6 cups broth
1 cup water
1 chopped onion
2 T curry powder
garlic powder, salt, and cayenne to taste

Put it all in the crockpot on high for 2 hours.  Turn to warm until lunch.  Amaze Miriam.

I also had a special affinity with this lunch because we ran into Joline at Trader Joe’s on Friday afternoon, and the timing was perfect for us to be able to drive her home.  While the cashier ringing me out was teasing me for how my job could possibly involve so much tofu (3 lbs.), Joline’s cashier was trying to help her find lentils.  But I overheard and said I had lentils she could use, prompting another cashier to say, “Sure, lentils — it’s like borrowing a cup of sugar.”

Having neighbors is awesome, and sharing ingredients is an honest, tangible, super-practical, and warm-and-fuzzy way to be part of a community.  Not unlike a potluck, so how about dem apples?

Speaking of which, Aliza had her first taste of applesauce on Saturday afternoon, and judging by the ratio of mouth to bib, I think she liked it.

Apropos of nothing other than extreme cuteness.

Postscript: I wrote this Saturday night, but I didn’t publish it because the camera was in Aliza’s room, and she was sleeping, and I wanted Marc to read it first, and he was sleeping.  Then a bunch of other things happened, making me even more thankful to have neighbors/friends and to be able to be a good neighbor/friend.  And Sara’s “Friends Thanksgiving”  not only brought all this home even more, but it was un-freaking-believably delicious.

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Cholent Masala

I heard somewhere that once you get to Wednesday, you can start wishing people a Shabbat shalom.  While that helps get through hump day, for sure, by the same token, I think it means that, now that it’s Wednesday, I’ve kind of missed the boat on writing about last Shabbat.  Nonetheless, I proceed…

Friday night, 11/11/11, was the Gershman Y 20s and 30s Shabbat dinner.  Heymish had services first at the Y, which were followed by the dinner, and it was wonderful that 1) the dinner sold out, 2) so many grad students were there, and 3) there were people there who aren’t the usual suspects at Center City Jewish events.  And even though the Grad Network was co-sponsoring, I didn’t feel like I had to be “on” all night, and I really enjoyed myself.

Best of all, when I got home from the dinner, my parents were here!  (In addition to being very happy to see them, they brought with them the promise of sleep, in the form of early morning babysitting.  What a gift!!)

For lunch on Saturday, I finally tried something that Marc and I have been talking about for ages: cholent masala.  If you’ve been paying attention, you know about our obsession with chana masala, Indian spiced chickpeas, and it seemed a short step from making it in a crockpot to making it in a crockpot and letting it cook for 20 hours.  So Friday afternoon, I threw a bunch of things in the crockpot and turned it on.

It smelled amazing all through the night, but it gradually smelled less like curry and more like plain old cholent; seems like the spices all cooked away overnight.  But Marc re-spiced it before lunch, and it was really good!  Plus, even though it’s Wednesday, and even though I thought I made a totally reasonable amount, we’re still eating leftovers.

Cholent Masala
(draft one: I expect there will be future attempts)

2 onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bag of dried chickpeas
2 cans stewed tomatoes with liquid
1 can ginger ale
2 white potatoes
2 sweet potatoes
water to cover

lots of curry powder
red pepper flakes and/or sriracha
ground ginger
ground cumin
salt

Put everything except the spices in the crockpot and turn on low for 20 hours (presuming you’re making this during the time of year when Shabbat starts in the middle of the afternoon…)  Try to sleep through the tantalizing smell.  Before you serve, add spices and taste until it’s just right.  (I know there’s a halachic [Jewish legal] issue about adding ingredients while something’s cooking, so use your best judgment.)

I also thought I made a reasonable amount of baby food green beans.  Actually, I thought I made a puny, pathetic amount, and I couldn’t believe I’d dirtied a pot and the blender and the strainer for the tiniest little pile of green puree ever.  But actually, I made the same misjudgment as for the cholent, and made far more than Aliza could possibly eat.  Turns out one spoonful of the stuff goes a long way: all the way into her hair, eyes, eyebrows, between her fingers, on her pants, and all over me.  Yum.

After a brief afternoon break where everyone fell asleep except me, it was time for Tikvah’s first ever minchah (afternoon) service, followed by seudah shlishit (third meal), learning, singing, maariv (evening service), and havdalah (the service that ends Shabbat).  Marc was in charge of food, and we had yummy little pre-made sandwiches, lots of varieties of potato chips, and sandwich cookies.  Cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches might be on my new short list of grab and go meals.

Thanks for everyone’s votes and comments about next year’s blogging potential.  And Shabbat shalom!  It is Wednesday, after all.

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Oh November

Most people, at least before the era of the BlackBerry, had the dictum to avoid bringing their work home with them.  That’s never really worked for me: not when I ran a tutoring program out of my apartment in Cambridge, not when I taught 3rd grade and worked late into the night preparing for the next day, and certainly not as the director of the Grad Network, when part of my job is specifically centered around having students in my home.

And though that part of my job has waned a bit in recent months, coinciding, oddly enough, with Aliza’s arrival in our lives, it was with that part of my job in mind that Marc and I spent much of the day on Friday cooking, cleaning, and making our dining room look as though a candy-colored tornado hadn’t recently come through.  (Have I mentioned I’m starting to hate the color pink?)

I (sort of) fondly remember the days in our previous house when we’d have twenty+ grad students over for dinner, and people would end up eating on the stairs, sharing chairs, and taking over the bottom two floors of our teeny tiny trinity-style house.  This Friday, we had a total of ten people all sitting around one table, and we could even all be part of the same conversation.  And while it’s always risky to invite over eight people who I know, none of whom know each other, by the point in the evening where Marc and I had retired to the couches and everyone else stayed at the table talking, it seemed like the dinner had been a success.

The menu was fairly straightforward, culled right from those big Rodman Street dinners, but it’s an incredibly different experience to prep everything with a baby around.  Thursday night, I felt especially ambitious and decided it would be easy to bake challah while Aliza was awake.  Halfway through trying to knead the dough while putting her pacifier back in her mouth, I discovered how wrong I was, but at that point, there was nothing to do but press on.  Literally.  Miraculously, the challah turned out quite well, but it was a harrowing experience and made me quite nervous for Friday’s cooking.

Which also turned out fine, and forced Marc to remind me that things usually work out.  I made a green salad, two lasagnas, roasted butternut squash (which always takes longer to cook and makes a smaller amount than I expect), and the beet recipe from last week, which I’ve been advised to call “Quick Buttery Beets.”  I advocate serving them at room temperature, possibly a day after making them, since I liked them even more on Saturday than I did on Friday night.  I also made tzatziki, black bean hummus, and red pepper dip to go with the challah, and brownies (out of a box) for dessert, which we served with a super quick vanilla ice cream, courtesy of Marc.

Everyone left, we patted ourselves on the back for still managing to be gracious hosts in this new baby era, did a little clean up, and talked about the calm we were looking forward to in the coming week.

Then we woke up Saturday morning, and Marc couldn’t move his neck or get out of bed.  After the very un-Shabbos-like experience of calling the doctor, determining that it’s probably “just” a sore muscle, and going to the drugstore for a muscle relaxant, we set about changing our lunch plans.  Since it was just going to be us, Beverly, Naomi, and Sara, it was pretty easy to change location to our house.  I mean, they did bring over a thermos full of hot water for make-your-own miso soup (!), but they also provided me with yet another opportunity to remark on how lucky we are to have such great friends.  Plus they got to help eat the leftover beets!

And here’s where it really gets crazy: Aliza ate some food, too!  Just as Shabbat was ending, we thought it was the right time for her first taste of solid food, so we said a shehechianu, Naomi held her on her lap and kept her hands out of her mouth, we put her in her Scrabble letter A-L-I-Z-A bib (thank you, Suzy!), and fed her half a tablespoon of rice cereal.  The verdict: she loves the spoon.  So, you can look forward in the next seven weeks to finding out what new solids we’re serving Aliza, in addition to what the rest of us are eating.

(I know I usually end with a baby picture, but there’s more below.  More!  Below!)

Which brings me to my last topic, which I know I’ve written about before, but hey, I’m writing about it again: what to do with the blog when 2011 ends.  Here are the possibilities on the table so far, but I really am interested in what you, dear reader, think about my options.

1.  Keep going as I’ve been doing, writing about my Shabbat meals each week.  Yeah, I said it would only be for 2011, but it’s fun, and people read it, so, onward.

2.  Stop at the end of the year. Because, seriously, I’m kind of busy right now.  And when a year-long project reaches the end of a year, it’s best to stick to the terms.

3.  Thanks to Joline for this idea: Allot another year to blogging, but this time, have a different person write about their Shabbat experience each week, with me “curating” the guest bloggers and still providing a creative outlet for people to think about Shabbat in new ways.

4.  Come up with some new writing project.  Possibilities include a Jewish-themed advice column, some sort of recipe challenge a la Julie and Julia, or writing about non-Shabbat goings-on in the Philadelphia young adult Jewish community.

5.  I love Aliza very much, but there are enough Mommy blogs out there, so no, it’s not going to turn into that (though maybe some of you think it already has).

I would actually really love feedback on this, and I will take your silence to mean that choice number two is your preference.  I will not be insulted.  I might even be relieved.

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