It’s the End of the World As We Know It

And how’s everyone’s week going so far? Let’s see, at noon on Friday, January 20, I closed my computer, stepped away from my desk, and got my ears repierced. I realized I’d rather have someone insert large needles through my body than watch the end of American Democracy. I’m so sickened by what’s going on that I’ve laid low on all forms of news media since November. Off went my radio, television, and most news. I listen to Lite Rock and only read the local newspapers. I spend a lot of time on Pinterest – I owe you all photos of the girls’ play room.

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Rich needs to pay attention for work, but he’s been distracting himself with house décor as well, sifting through vintage shops around town. No, seriously, there are now five chairs in my living room. To make sure we get in a laugh every day, we watch an episode of My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend every night, now that it’s finally on Netflix.

Despite my best efforts, I’m still not missing much. If it’s important, it still floats to the top. I know about “alternative facts,” Bad(ass)lands Twitter, the muffling of the EPA — you know, the crumbling of American Democracy. I’m sure there’s even more, but I’m not going there.

I’ve also dug deep into my cookbooks as most of them had been boxed up since last May. The girls and I made cumin meringues, an old Ana Sortun recipe (I enjoyed them; my mother did not.) I delved into a really great cookbook my dad sent me for my birthday last year that was boxed up pretty much right after I received it. The New Mediterranean Jewish Table is actually pretty academic, as cookbooks go. There’s always background and history for each recipe, which I love.

And when I came to the mint vinaigrette that is “ubiquitous” in “Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, and the countries of the Arab world,” I perked up immediately. This had to be the mint dressing they serve at Amanouz Cafe, the incredible Moroccan restaurant in town. Seriously, though. Aleza came for a visit, and we went here, and I made her eat my salad in hopes that she could pin down what exactly was in it. Well, it turns out she couldn’t, but agreed that it was very nice.

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There’s something sweet about it, and there’s some citrus to it, given all the lemon. As the author Joyce Goldstein explains, this dressing is “excellent on spinach salad, bean and grain salads, citrus salads, and on cooked carrots, beets, asparagus, and potatoes, and it can be delicious spooned over cooked fish.” In my own kitchen, I served it on a salad of spinach, pickled red cabbage (another Ana Sortun recipe), beets, carrots (I’m really into using a peeler for preparation these days), feta, green olives, cucumbers, and avocado.

You’ll need to make an infusion of mint and lemon juice, which honestly takes about 10 minutes, with most of that time hands off. Although the recipe says it will last two to three days, it will last a little longer than that. Just be sure to refrigerate it.

I’ll be back soon with many more recipes. The kitchen has been a great distraction, and we’re going to run out of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episodes before the end of February.

Mint Vinaigrette from The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home by Joyce Goldstein

Ingredients

INFUSION

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup chopped fresh mint

1 ¼ cups mild, fruity extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ cup packed chopped fresh mint

1 teaspoon honey

½ teaspoon salt

Directions

To make the infusion, combine the lemon juice and mint in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and remove from the heat. Let steep for about 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl, pressing against the mint to extract all of the liquid. You should have about ¼ cup. It will no longer be green because of the lemon juice, but it will be intensely minty.

To finish the vinaigrette, whisk the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mint, honey and salt into the infusion. Leftover vinaigrette can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Bring to room temperature, then whisk in a little fresh mint. Taste for salt and acidity and adjust if needed.

 

 

 

Sick Days

Sorry to disappear there for a few weeks. We’ve been sick. All of us. No real diagnosis, except the girls’ coughing still sounds pretty terrible, and we always need to have tissues close at hand for little noses. (Update: Lilli was up all night with what clearly is a stomach bug.) The best way to describe how I’m doing is that I sometimes feel hungover, which is pretty frustrating as I cut out all alcohol last year. The migraines aren’t worth it, but boy could I go for a gin and tonic this week.

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When I feel a cold coming on I cook up a different sort of tonic. It’s one from my childhood friend’s mom. This and her Salad Olivier are pretty essential to my life. My friend is originally from Latvia; I think her mom is from Lithuania, so I guess we can call it Baltic? Soviet? Eastern European? From the Old Country?

Despite being tasty and having magical healing powers, it hadn’t occurred to me to even share it here. But I was reading one of my new cookbooks given to me over the holidays – Small Victories by Julia Turshen – and she totally shares her “Cold Elixir” on page 255! I skip the cinnamon and cayenne pepper and use lemon, instead. She makes a big batch of it then keeps it in the refrigerator for up to two days and heats it up as she needs it. I make mine one glass at a time, though I see the benefit of cooking up a large batch. But I promise you, if you drink this right when you feel a cold coming on, it stops it in its tracks.

When I woke up last week feeling meh, I made myself a mug of this and settled down with a pile of my cookbooks. “Be careful, please,” Rich said as he saw me with a hot liquid and all the new books. Obviously I spilled my drink within 35 seconds of that. The books were fine, and Lilli actually jumped up from the couch, saying she would refill my glass. I heard her pushing her Kitchen Helper around the kitchen, turning on the faucet and collecting the ingredients; granted I was a little nervous for her to be using the microplane, but I knew she was psyched to use the reamer for the lemon. When she brought it to me, my heart basically melted all over the floor. It was quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever had in my life.

I made her the same drink the following week, but skipped the vinegar because I thought it would be too bracing. Her reaction? “Yuck!” Which is the same thing her sister said when she licked the cat a couple days ago. But that’s another story.

I measured this out so I could share the recipe here. As always, I recommend keeping your fresh ginger root in the freezer; just use a microplane to grate it into the hot water. If you have access to local honey, use it; among other things, like supporting a local business, you will be ingesting local pollen and lessening any allergies you might have to your surroundings.

Brigita’s Cold Elixir

Ingredients

8 oz. boiling water

Juice of ¼ lemon (or half of one if you think it’ll help)

½ or up to 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated or chopped

1 Tablespoon honey

A splash, or up to 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Directions

Combine the water, ginger, vinegar, honey and lemon in a mug and stir until the honey dissolves. Drink soon as it’s cooled down enough to sip.

Snowstorms and Squash

 

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Oy, 2016. There were many moments I (we? Most everyone?) would like to forget, although I am happy that this year brought me back to Western Mass. The last week of the year, for me, at least, was really lovely. My girls and I all had off from our schools so we spent the entire week together. When Beatrix wasn’t watching Frozen (“Elsa! Elsa!”) we squeezed in a few adventures.

We explored Great Barrington in the Berkshires (only about an hour from here) in search of the best grilled cheese in the Northeast. We had fun at Forbes Library, whose cookbook and media collection continues to impress me. (More on those in upcoming posts.) We made it to two children’s museums, including a New Year’s Eve Jr. celebration that allowed Bea endless rides on the carousel.

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One of Rich’s brothers gave us a gift card for Marshall’s/TJ Maxx/Home Goods for Christmas, and Lilli was quite pleased to find both dinosaur pasta and a cookie and cupcake decorating kit in the “Home” section. The design kit came in very handy during last week’s snowstorms, again between Frozen screenings.

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That decorating kit also brings us to today’s recipe. Because one cannot decorate cupcakes without frosting, and the only frosting worth making involves cream cheese. Which means I had cream cheese in the house, and that was the one ingredient I was missing to make this twice-baked butternut squash.

I knew it was a keeper as soon as I saw it, and, given its cheesiness, it was a good addition to our Chanukah table. I served it next to potato latkes, a salad of butter lettuce, dates, slivered red onion (soaked in ice cold water to take the snap out), sprinkles of blue cheese and a balsamic brown sugar dressing. Now that I think about it, there was also a lentil stew with rutabaga and kale to start things off.

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Grandparents, don’t panic. She got a haircut soon after this photo was taken.

The recipe actually calls for the squash to first get a steam in the microwave, so it moves the process along a bit quicker than if you did everything in the oven. Ditto with the sweet potatoes, which I know you can do in a microwave, as my old co-worker reminded me every day. I don’t own a 9×13 microwavable dish, so I used a glass pie pan and the squash ends hung over the sides. It still worked. I then transferred the squash halves to a large baking sheet.

This is not an everyday recipe, although it’s not as rich as the stuffed pumpkin that makes me giddy. I hope you’ll give it a shot. It’s actually very simple to make and tastes even better than you think it will.

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Learn from my mistakes. Don’t use parchment paper to bake and broil. It burns after a certain point.

Twice-Baked Butternut Squash from “Real Simple” December 2016

Ingredients

1 (3- to 3 ½-pound) butternut squash

¼ cup water

2 (8- to 9-ounce) sweet potatoes

3 ounces cream cheese, softened

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1½ teaspoons table salt

¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (optional – I skipped it.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove and discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut sides down, in a microwave-safe 13- x 9-inch baking dish and add ¼ cup water. Cover dish with plastic wrap and pierce 3 to 4 times with a knife. Microwave on HIGH 10 minutes. Carefully drain water out of dish. Turn squash halves over, and bake in preheated oven until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Let stand about 5 minutes. Scoop flesh from squash, leaving a ¼-inch-thick shell and transfer to a medium bowl; reserve shells and return to baking dish.

Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork several times then microwave them on HIGH until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Peel potatoes and add flesh to bowl with squash along with cream cheese, butter, salt, nutmeg, and pepper; mash with a potato masher or a fork until mostly smooth.

Preheat broiler with oven rack 6 inches from heat. Scoop squash mixture into reserved squash shells and top with cheddar and Parmesan. Broil until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with chives.