What happens next

I remember last Channuka well. My friend Sharon Kitchens asked me to submit a few paragraphs about the holiday for her blog, based out of Maine, to give readers a feel for the winter season here in Israel. Mustering all the positive feelings I could regarding the cold and rain that had recently befallen us, I wrote what I hoped was a cozy little piece , that more or less summed up the ambiance ’round the festival of lights in my neck of the woods.

This year, with Channuka arriving a bit early (coinciding with Thanksgiving) and with the weather today upwards of 80°F, the holiday took me a bit by surprise. For the first time in years, we did not greet the first candle with potato latkes (though I did make these earlier in the week) and tomorrow we will be eating pumpkin pie rather than jelly doughnuts.
I won’t pretend to be such an Israeli that I don’t feel twinges of nostalgia and longing for the sharp sun and crisp air of New England’s November days, but since this is our last Channuka in Israel for the foreseeable future, I feel it less than I have in past years.
This year is all about the ‘last this and that’, as we are obligated to return to North America in July so that Jeff can fulfill his teaching commitment for his educator’s/master’s program. Honestly, though I am trying very hard to live in the moment (and our moments are full of wonderful friends, meals, the colors of the shuk, Jerusalem at sunset…) it is extremely difficult not to wonder what next year will be like. I am already heartsick for this place and for the life we have built here, even as I struggle through mundane tasks (laundry, school pick-ups, list-making, etc). Additionally, we are different people than we were when we returned to Israel in 2010 and I am anticipating a pretty intense re-integration into American life.
With all that in mind, I hope to spend a little more time between now and July documenting our [food] life here on my blog. Each place we’ve lived has shaped me as a cook and shaped our family’s eating-style in a unique way, and none more than our time in Nachlaot. The DIY culture of this neighborhood (and of Israeli society in general) as well as the incredibly rich cultural influences around us every day, help me keep in mind why I’ve always been so drawn to the kitchen and to food as the great connector, comforter, and equalizer.
Happy Channuka to All!
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What’s Been Cookin’

Hi there.

Here’s what’s been cooking at the casa de Amshalem

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That there is Alma Sarah at 3 weeks or so- She is now 7 weeks old and an adorably chunky 12+ pounds.

Amazingly, I have still been finding time to cook, bake and sew, although some days I feel burnt out from trying to be productive in the free moments. Nevertheless, I will say that mothering a baby is a thousand times easier the second time around, without all the new-mom anxieties and uncertainties. Also, knock on wood, Alma is an wonderfully happy baby, who has been fairly calm and content since the moment she entered the world.

Late pregnancy and the time that follows are not a time to experiment with new recipes, so we’ve been relying on some comforting, not-too-complex recipes of late. Other than my usual granola, tomato sauce & moussaka, carrot muffins, and challah, we’ve also been eating the following dishes quite a bit:

Zucchini Pashtida (quiche-meets-fritatta)

Spelt Honey Bread

Jerusalem Kugel (I like Liz’s recipe, but add the noodles INTO the caramelized sugar, instead of the other way around- I find that there is less caramel-clumps that way.)

Vegetable Tagine 

 

I wish you all a Shana Tova and happy Fall! And as always, I love to chat about food/cooking/recipes, so feel free to contact me with questions about the above recipes, or anything you’ve been cooking!

 

The rest

Loquat (shesek) tree hangs over our balcony

It’s May in Jerusalem and nothing could be more delightful. The days are warm, the evenings are breezy, and our loquat tree is bursting with fruit. The old ladies that wander the shuk with their backyard-offerings are selling a variety of basil that lasts for weeks in a glass of water set out on our table (it even starts to root), and smells amazing. My fruit and vegetable guy had organic lettuce this week, grown by his teenage neighbor, and bright, sweet cherries, also grown without pesticides. I know that the heavy, sticky heat is imminent and I am enjoying every second of this season.

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I’ve been making a pitcher of my favorite iced tea every few days, which is basically just a fruity tea mix with berries, apples and hibiscus, sometimes mixed with a little white or mild green tea, steeped in a litre of just-boiled water for a few minutes, cooled, chilled and served over ice. Sometimes I mix it with bought or homemade lemonade and sprigs of fresh mint and verbena.

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And after our five week stay in Boston this winter reminded ever more how lucky I am to have access to cheap lemons (80 cents a piece at the markets in Boston!!) I have been also been using them in everything from salad dressing, to dips, to this lovely tea cake adapted from The New York Times Cookbook:

Simple Lemon Cake

1.5 cups flour – I used 50-50 white and whole wheat (you could also use part spelt)

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 lb butter (~125 grams)

2 large eggs, at room temp

3/4 cup sugar

6 Tbs milk

2-3 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice

2-3 Tbs lemon zest

tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F/180C, grease and flour a loaf pan (English cake pan)

Add a little of the lemon juice to the milk to curdle it.

Sift flours, baking soda, powder and salt together in a bowl, set aside.

In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, and then beat in lemon zest and vanilla.

Alternately beat in flour mixture and liquids. Beginning with flour, then adding a bit of the milk and lemon juice etc, ending with flour. Do not overmix.

Spread batter into loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes on the center oven rack.

Happy Spring, listen to this if you haven’t yet (or even if you have).

Mirroring

I know it is the tendency of every parent to see elements of themselves in their children. I certainly expected that my child would be like me, both physically and otherwise. But on the days when Auralee is so much like me that I feel as though I am looking in the mirror or hearing a voice recording of myself, I feel a unique mix of utter delight and paralyzing terror. My daughter – as nearly everyone who knows us well, points out – is not “like me”, she is me, only small. She makes the same sarcastic/silly/surprised faces I make, we have the same sense of humor (which is not saying something particularly flattering or sophisticated about me, sharing my sense of humor with a 5 year-old), and we both get ridiculously silly and hyper right before bedtime. We both love goat cheese, and ginger cookies and watching youtube videos of Swan Lake and baby animals doing funny things. We both stomp. A lot. And feel a great sense of injustice over the denial of our basic desires, like having a cat or being able to teleport ourselves to Boston whenever we want. And like me, Auralee excels at creative endeavors, such as arranging my cookie cutters and pastry equipment to resemble a city or a forest, and drawing pictures of flowers, houses, animals and trees.

The joy in this is seeing the funny, quirky, whimsical parts of myself, embodied in an adorable person , while the terror comes from knowing that there is often an inevitable and drastic mood change lurking beyond the next moment. Seeing my own perfectionism, controlling tendencies, and inconsistent (and sometimes, volatile) reactions to basic, every day  life tasks, makes me worry and fear for this little-me, and for the future of our relationship. These are normal, parental feelings and I know that I follow in the footsteps of millions of mothers before me, but no amount of that knowing, or of watching others, can better inform my relationship with Auralee, beyond the simple fact that I am not alone.

In conclusion, there is no conclusion. Just the patient, wonderful, difficult, maddening, amazing process of building a relationship with my daughter (and by extension, myself). And all the learning and failing and sometimes succeeding.

And with the cold weather, and unusually terrible rain, sleet and wind, Auralee and I are spending many hours in close quarters, tucked into our little living room, which we have curtained off from the rest of the drafty apartment. Huddled close to the space heater, we tell stories, draw, play Candy Land, and watch endless episodes of her favorite show, Redwall. When I do leave our blanket pile, it is to turn on the oven, or the stove, and cook or bake. And since there is only so much soup a person can eat (though many of my friends have tried to convince me that endless cups of soup are bound to improve my mood this winter), I am posting a recipe for a black bean quinoa dish that is laughably simple, but very tasty, and a baked tofu recipe with honey mustard sauce. Enjoy!

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Ari’s Black Bean Quinoa

1 cup uncooked quinoa

1.5 cups cooked (or canned) black beans

3 Tbs chopped chives

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 small cucumber, finely chopped

3-4 Tbs red wine vinegar

olive oil

salt and pepper

chili flakes (optional)

Rinse quinoa very well (it has a bitter coating on it that must be washed off) and put in a pot with 2 cups water, a little olive oil and salt. Bring to boil, then simmer until quinoa is tender and water has been absorbed ~15 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix quinoa, black beans, chives, cucumbers and cilantro. Whisk red wine vinegar and olive oil together with salt and pepper and chili flakes. Pour over quinoa and mix. Taste, adjust seasoning as needed. Serve warm!

Baked Tofu with honey mustard sauce

Tofu, sliced into thin rectangles, enough to cover the bottom of a 9-inch square pan (or you can double the recipe and use a lasagna-size pan)

2-3 Tbs mustard (not grainy)

Tbs honey/sugar/agave

tamari or soy sauce as needed

water/sesame oil

Whisk together mustard and honey and add enough soy sauce to make it into a dressing-like consistency. Taste, and if it is too salty, or no thick enough to pour over tofu add a little water or same oil.

Bake at 375°F/180°C for 20-25 minutes, until the tofu has absorbed the sauce and is a bit brown.

Vegetarian Enchiladas

A few weeks ago my favorite chef instructor from culinary school sent me a message to check in and see how I was doing. “I’ve been checking your blog,” she said, “But you haven’t posted in so long I was starting to get worried.” Oy.

She’s so right. My little neglected blog sits here growing more and more dusty as life whirls on and I come to terms with the fact that I cannot do it all. When I first started my blog in 2009, I was happy and excited with how much joy it brought me, both because I felt proud and inspired by being a part of the online food-blogging community, and because of the responses I got from friends and strangers. At the time, Auralee was just 2 and I had also recently taken over the ballet school I had been teaching at for many years, while often teaching at the culinary school on the weekends. Friends would cheer me on with encouraging words like, “I don’t know how you do it all!” And I did feel rather super-human. But the truth was that I had a charmed life.

Twelve years in the same city (the longest I’d ever lived anywhere, consecutively), afforded me connections and the support of friends and family. We had stumbled into a housing situation with friends in which we paid an amount of rent so low for the area it was unheard of. From the comfort of our little third floor, Victorian apartment, I cooked and blogged in the mornings, while my uniquely independent child played with her toys and entertained herself for hours. When Jeff got home in the afternoon, I was off to teach my dance students, take class myself, and come home to our little bohemian life with some Thai take-out and hand-crafted beers from the gourmet market on the corner.

When we decided to move to Israel, part of the decision had to do with Jeff’s school. I knew that our life would be drastically different when he began his rigorous master’s program, and I theorized that the low tuition we would pay if he went to school in Israel would make life easier for us than it would be in Boston. I’ll never know how true that is, since I have no basis for comparison. And while it should not have come a surprise that having a husband in school full time and a small child, while trying to work and make ends meet, would be difficult, I still was not prepared for the full weight of it.

Luckily, humans are adaptable, and as long as I don’t think too much about real Pad Thai, I am able to truly enjoy the unique and often magical things about being here, of which there are many.

But I love my blog, and since I don’t want to let it die, I might need to scrape together a little extra energy to share some cooking with you all (which of course happens every day, whether I manage to write about it or not!). Thanks to those of you who still read and comment, even as my posting-frequency dwindles, and to Chef Martha for reminding me that some folks use it as a way to check up on me while we are far away.

Corn tortillas

Corn tortillas, found at the Gluten and Sugar Free store on Agripas St, Jerusalem. Ingredients: Corn, water & salt.

Shabbat Enchiladas

After several attempts over the last few weeks at making Pad-Thai that tastes even vaguely similar to the stuff we get at our beloved Rod Dee (not going to happen without lime and whatever other magical mystery ingredients they put in there), I finally stepped into more familiar and successful territory with old staples, like veggie maki rolls (hurray! So easy and Auralee will eat them too) and mexican-ish food, which is also not to be found here unless made at home. After consulting with some food-friends, I hunted down corn tortillas at the Gluten Free store on Agripas here in Jerusalem. They sell them frozen, but I thought they were pretty good, and they did not break or crack too much when I rolled them. If you need info/directions to the Gluten Free store feel free to message me. This recipe is entirely my own, and not authentic in the least. Enjoy!

Ingredients

8 corn tortillas

1 cup dried black beans (you can also use canned)

large red onion, chopped

2 small zucchinis, chopped

2 small yellow zucchinis (summer squash), chopped

1 cup canned/frozen corn kernels

fresh spinach, washed well and coarsely chopped

cilantro, to taste

spice blend- I had my favorite spice guy (Hamami on Rechov HaShazif in the shuk) mix up a blend of mexican-ish spices for me. He used smoked paprika, oregano, cracked red chile, and a chicken spice-rub, but you can play with this and make your own.

3-4 cups tomato puree (I used the organic kind they sell in a glass bottle at the health food store)

salt & pepper to taste

olive oil

1 -2 cups grated, good quality cheddar cheese (only at Basher)

chopped fresh green chili pepper for garnish

Prep

Leave tortillas out to defrost while you make the filling.

If you are thinking ahead, you can soak the beans the night before, and they will boil up quickly. Otherwise, just check them for stones, and put them in pot, covered by a few inches with water, bring to a boil (do NOT ADD SALT) and let simmer until tender ~ 1.5 hours.

In a wide saute pan, gently heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil and add onions, sauteing until very soft. Add a few pinches of your spice mix and the chopped zucchini and summer squash. Saute everything over medium heat, adding salt and pepper and more spice mix of you choose. Stir in corn and beans when they are ready along with chopped cilantro, to taste. Taste and adjust spices.

Set veggie mixture aside.

In a clean pan and using nothing other than the water clinging to their leaves, gently cook spinach until wilted. Set aside.

Heat the tomato puree, adding some of your spice mixture, salt, pepper and any other embellishments you choose. Set aside.

Now you have all your enchilada components ready. Heat oven to 350°F/170°C and have a lasagna pan ready. Pour about a cup of the tomato puree into the bottom of the lasagna pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle the cooked spinach over the puree and season it with a little salt and pepper. On a cutting board, lay out corn tortilla and fill with zucchini mixture (1/4-1/3 cup filling). Roll the tortilla up and place seam-down in the pan. Repeat with the 7 remaining tortillas (or however many you can fit), you may have some leftover filling, which is delicious on it’s own or in an omelet. When all your tortillas are snugly rolled up side by side, pour the remaining spiced puree over them, trying to make sure to cover all the tortillas so they don’t get too dry, top everything with the grated cheddar cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes or so, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is nicely melted. If one of those things starts happening too fast, you can cover the pan with some greased foil (so the cheese doesn’t stick to it).

Serve hot, with chopped more cilantro and fresh green chilis.

The Language of the Shuk

When new English-speaking acquaintances ask me how I learned to speak Hebrew, it is always in the same tone of voice: slightly bewildered surprise. They are often struggling themselves with modern Hebrew, even after years of study in a Hebrew school or Jewish day school. I will speak freely here about one thing I do well, since it is through no exceptional talent that my Hebrew is nearly unrecognizable as anything other than native (on good days). I lived here as a child, I tell them, and usually the conversation ends there. The truth is more complex, and (I think) more interesting than that, however. I learned Hebrew very carefully, and through a system I began devising (somewhat unknowingly) when I was 9 years old.

When my family moved to Jerusalem a few months before my 10th birthday, Hebrew was already familiar to my ears. We had spent summers here and during the school year I attended a Jewish day school outside of Boston where we learned the Hebrew alphabet alongside the English one. Still, I was hardly prepared to be thrust into an Israeli public school on the first day of 5th grade, my loud and aggressive classmates barking in quick, clipped slang as they disobeyed the teacher’s orders to sit down and open their notebooks. When a red-headed girl spoke to me, I recognized only three words in her sentence: “you”, “new”, and “mine”. It was in that moment that I understood that my survival hinged on two things: the red-headed girl’s kind, open smile, and my ability to listen very, very well.

Fifth grade was boot camp for my Hebrew. I can’t say that I learned one other thing that year (certainly not math), but by the time 6th grade began, I sounded exactly like the other children in my neighborhood, at school, and in my Scouts troupe. Had we stayed on as a family, my reading, writing and, in fact, my entire identity would have been quick to follow suit. But my Israeli story is in parts. In the 7th grade we returned to the States, and the next time I lived in Israel was in high school. My 5th grade Hebrew had some catching up to do, and I fell back on a familiar strategy — I listened, parroted, and soon the teenage phrases in the air became my own.

As a college student in Beer Sheva the outdoor market was my favorite place to practice my more grown-up Hebrew. Half the shuk being Arab in Beer Sheva, I learned Arabic words and slang that still tinge my speaking today, occasionally confusing others when my outer appearance does not match the Sepahrdi-colloquial-working class lilt of my words. “Where are you from?” Israelis sometimes ask –not because they cannot place my accent outside the country, but because they cannot place me in it. “Are you French?” “From Bat Yam (a lower-class suburb of Tel Aviv)?” I give them the short answer, not bothering to explain that I learned my Hebrew from children, from the Shuk, from Eyal Golan songs, and from the street.

And now back in (a much more religious) Jerusalem, home to Hebrew University but also Machane Yehuda, I listen to the Hebrew of the Persian spice vendors (musical), to my Kurdish neighbors (colloquial), and to the young women who come for alterations at my shop (educated), and my varied collection of sayings and of ways of expressing myself continue to grow. And even though it fails me from time to time, and little old Ashkenazi ladies who probably taught the language to the Pioneers correct my grammar, I love my spoken Hebrew and its mix of inflections. I love that it is mine.

A couple of readers have asked  for the recipe for the Tomato Zucchini gratin, pictured above, left, in the photo from this week’s meals for the L Family.  It is a fairly simple recipe and I am posting the link here. A couple notes: no need to salt and sweat the zucchini. The tomatoes however do benefit from being drained. You can just saute all the zucchini at once if you have a wide enough saute pan. If cow’s milk cheese is a problem, you can use pecorino, which is made from sheep’s milk. Enjoy!

Cooking at the Casa de L

sweet potato ravioli have been a regular request at my private chef-gig

Last spring we were very sad to say goodbye to one of our favorite families in Nachloat, the Fisch’s. Mo, Caitlin, and Ben were possibly the first family we’ve ever known where each of us liked our counterpart in their family, as well as the whole. Caitlin and I would chat happily while Ben and Auralee played after school, Jeff and Mo talked easily about their shared interests, and Auralee confessed that she would like to marry Ben, after we explained that she could neither marry Jeff nor Saba (my dad). When they departed Jerusalem for greener pastures, Caitlin left me a parting gift whose great value I was soon to discover — her private chef gig.

After a grueling 10 months at the cafe I was lucky to fall into two work situations that are so perfect for me, and for our current lifestyle, that I feel that the universe has more than compensated for those long hours and exhausting work in the cafe’s kitchen: the seamstress shop and cooking for the L family. The L’s are not only vegetarians with a kitchen that would make any professional cook swoon, they are adventurous eaters! Hurray! With balanced sensibilities (they love veggie stir-fry, but are not afraid of puff pastry or butter), and a fondness for Asian dishes (pad thai) as well as comfort food (moussaka, lasagna, minestrone soup), I am constantly able to try out new recipes and have fun searching the outdoor market for obscure ingredients.

The L’s have won my little foodie heart with their outspoken appreciation of my cooking, their sunny kitchen, and their really, really kick-ass coffee maker. And I have decided not to waste anymore Mondays without sharing some of the meals I cook for them. Enjoy!

Every Monday I make three large dishes for the L’s to eat throughout the week. This week I made sweet potato ravioli (my own recipe, which can be found here) a baked tomato, zucchini and kalamata dish from this weeks Vegetarian Times, and an African peanut stew, which is my own riff on a chicken version from Gourmet.

Spicy African Peanut Stew

medium onion, diced

1-2 red chili peppers, diced (I used one in the stew and one for garnish)

2-3 celery ribs

4 cloves garlic, minced

1.5 Tbs finely chopped ginger

3 large carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1.5 cups peeled, diced tomatoes

2.5 cups chopped butternut squash

couple handfuls of broccoli or cauliflower florets

1/3 cup peanut butter

2 cups vegetable stock or water

fresh basil or cilantro for garnish

Heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and celery and saute until onion is translucent. Mix in garlic, ginger and chili pepper and saute just a minute or two more before adding the carrots. Cover until carrots have begun to soften then add the squash and tomatoes. Cover until bubbling and add the broccoli and 2 cups of water or stock. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or so until all veggies are soft. Mix 1/3 cup peanut butter with 1/3 cup boiling water, and stir this into the stew. Add salt and simmer until the stew has thickened. Garnish with fresh basil or cilantro and more chili peppers. Enjoy over rice.