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.

Return Again

We lost my Great Uncle Harry this year. He really was great. He always had a fun story to tell, or a perfect song to sing. He was a vegetarian and for decades built these wonderful, multilayered Dagwood sandwiches for Shabbat breakfast. We were all lucky enough to visit Uncle Harry and Auntie Julie about two months before he died, because we went to a family reunion in London right around New Year’s. We flew in from Boston; Sylvie, Miriam and Leo flew in from DC; my Cousin Larry and Ashley flew in from New Jersey; and my dad came in from Jerusalem. It was Sylvie’s idea, really. She wanted the kids to meet the British relatives before it was too late — a good call on her part.

Weinbergfest

We were only in London for a couple of days, but we were able to score a table at NoPi. We ordered every vegetable dish on the menu, and a perfect piece of fish. I had a kumquat and passionfruit mocktail and rhubarb Eaton mess. It was everything I wanted it to be. Pro tip: They only have two high chairs in the whole restaurant, and no changing table in their amazing mirrored bathroom, so plan accordingly.

Lilli and I caught something on the plane on the way over, and because I was 20 weeks pregnant and had no immune system, I couldn’t really do much touring. Or stand. Or make conversation. But Rich did get to see a real football match with my cousin Jonah. By the time I made it to my doctor’s office on New Year’s Eve, my temp had spiked to 102.8F. But the trip was still well worth it, and I really miss my Cousin Jenny. Hopefully we’ll get to see Jonah soon; he is in Philadelphia for the year studying at Temple and drinking American beer.

Nopi

It was never the right time to talk about finally eating at Ottolenghi’s restaurant, because it never felt right to talk about Uncle Harry. But it’s Day of the Dead on Sunday, and I’m looking forward to joining my friend Tania and her family for her holiday, so it seems appropriate to honor Harry, as well Rich’s Uncle Tommy and Auntie Ruthie and his professor Svetlana Boym, all of whom we lost far too soon this year.

If I find my blanched almonds in time, I’ll be making this horchata for the occasion. It’s a traditional Mexican sweetened rice drink, and it has become my litmus test of whether a Mexican restaurant is worth my time. Aleza introduced me to the beverage when we stumbled into a real hole in the wall in Williamsburg. This was in 2002, back when there were still holes in walls in Williamsburg.

mirrored bathroom

This particular recipe is from the Ultimate Nachos cookbook, also the cookbook for these pickled red onions I use all the time. The drink is vegan, and you need a blender and an overnight to make it work. Sure, it’s really meant for a hot summer’s day, but I think it will also work at the ofrenda.

Horchata from Ultimate Nachos by Lee Frank & Rachel Anderson

Ingredients

1 cup long-grain rice, rinsed and drained

1 cup blanched almonds

4 cinnamon sticks

1 quart water

¾ cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups ice cubes

Ground cinnamon, to taste

Ingredients

Put the rice, almonds, and cinnamon sticks in a blender. Blend the mixture into a powder.

Add the water, sugar, and vanilla and blend for 90 seconds.

Chill the mixture overnight in the fridge.

Strain the liquid into glasses over ice cubes and serve, sprinkled with ground cinnamon to taste.

Fizzy Lifting Drink

Among my mother’s many kitchen talents, right up there with her potato salad, is her knack for choosing a good melon. I have not inherited this skill, which means things are often hit or miss in the melon department. If it’s a hit, or good piece of fruit in general, I’ll call Sylvie, and vice versa. Our phones pretty much ring non-stop during stone fruit season, and yes, we have had actual conversations about: 1. Mom’s potato salad, and 2. The way she just knows when it’s a good melon.

Cantaloupe agua fresca

Last week I bought a cantaloupe. It, like the one from the week before, was pretty meh. I nibble on bits of melon while I clean it, chop it, and stash it in cleaned out yogurt containers. (Fact: Half a cantaloupe always seems to fits in a large-sized yogurt container.) This week’s melon was sweet in parts but completely dull in other bites. A decent enough snack, but certainly not call-Sylvie amazing.

Not wanting to eat the cantaloupe on its own but not wanting to toss it either, I started searching my cookbooks for a recipe. For the past few days Boston’s been in a bit of a heat wave, and heat waves just call for a refreshing beverage, at least in our house. So I opened the artisanal soda cookbook I received last year and found this recipe for fizzy cantaloupe agua fresca, which was easy, delicious and extremely refreshing.

So delicious!

Lilli was very helpful in looking for a recipe to use up the cantaloupe.

Some background on the whole “artisanal soda” thing. This year, I some used my birthday money to renew my membership to the Museum of Fine Arts and to purchase a Soda Stream. (As Rich quipped, “Who said nothing good has come out of the settlements?”) Syl has had a Soda Stream for a few years now, so when I was sent the artisanal soda cookbook last year, I passed it to her. When I joined club Soda Stream last month, she kindly sent the book back to me.

So far I have tried a couple of the recipes, with mixed results. The brown sugar banana soda needed more oomph, and although I liked the taste of the lemon thyme syrup itself, I thought it lost its zest and tasted a little musty once the carbonated water was added to it. Fortunately, this particular recipe was easy, delicious, refreshing, and make excellent use of my not-so-excellent melon.

The recipe calls for agave nectar, but feel free to substitute – a simple syrup or even a ginger syrup would also be great. Also, you don’t need a Soda Stream to use this recipe. You can use store-bought seltzer, or even still water for a more traditional agua fresca. Or you can do what Rich did with the leftover syrup when he came back from his run tonight: make a slushy with some ice and orange juice in the blender.

Fizzy Cantaloupe Agua Fresca from The Artisan Soda Workshop by Andrea Lynn

Ingredients for Cantaloupe Juice

2 ½ cups cubed cantaloupe

1 Tablespoon agave syrup

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice (The recipe book says lemon juice up top but lime in the directions. I went with lime and was pleased with the results.)

Directions

In a food processor or blender, combine the cantaloupe, agave (sweetener), and lime juice. Blend until all the cantaloupe is puréed, 1 to 2 minutes. Then, fit a bowl with a fine-mesh sieve, and pour the juice through the strainer to catch the pulp. Make sure to press the puréed fruit against the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible, and discard the pulp. (Note: If by discard you mean eat; it was light and refreshing.) Refrigerate the cantaloupe juice in a covered container (used mustard or jelly jar) for up to 3 days.

To make Fizzy Cantaloupe Aqua Fresca: Add 3 to 4 Tablespoons of cantaloupe liquid to a glass, then add 8 ounces of cold seltzer. Stir and enjoy.

Slosh Hashana

Wednesday night marks the beginning of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana. Many of the traditional foods for the holiday, like apples dipped in honey, are sweet, symbolizing our wishes for a sweet new year. But my favorite food moment actually comes on the second night of Rosh Hashana. Not all Jews celebrate a second night, but those who do usually make a point of eating a “new” fruit – one that’s just come into season and we haven’t gotten to eat yet — so we can make the blessing shehechiyanu, giving thanks for the new and unusual experience.

Now my mom takes this as an opportunity to serve fruits that are well out of ordinary, like the golden star fruit or the dimpled passion fruit. But no matter what exotic produce she finds, there is always a pomegranate which my sister will have expertly deseeded in a bowl of water. Pomegranates, or rimonim as they are called in Hebrew, are in season right now in Israel, and have popped up in Jewish thought since Biblical times. They are ripe with symbolism; tradition holds that each fruit contains 613 seeds, which is the number of mitzvot, or commandments, in the Torah.

Most blog posts I’ve seen for Rosh Hashana offer a good apple dish or honey cake, but in honor of our second night tradition, I’m sharing a tasty cocktail featuring pomegranate molasses, honey and rum. You can find the molasses at most Middle Eastern shops for just a couple of dollars; I’ve heard that Whole Foods sells it as well. And while the rum isn’t exactly a symbol of the Jewish new year, it is sweet. Besides, if you’re hosting guests for both nights of Rosh Hashana, you might be ready to say shehechiyanu over a stiff drink.

Pomegranate Cooler for Rosh Hashana (with help from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

1 ounce dark rum

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

5 mint leaves

Ice cubes

4 ounces seltzer

Directions

Stir together dark rum, honey, pomegranate molasses, and mint leaves in a small glass, crushing mint with the back of a spoon. Add ice cubes and top with seltzer.

A Summer Shandy

I never developed a taste for red wine; I blame it on the migraines. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself a tasty beverage when we were in Spain, the land of Rioja. When in Madrid, I fell in love with clara con limon, or simply, clara. Otherwise called a shandy, it’s light beer mixed with a citrusy soda, poured over ice.

I hadn’t really thought about clara since we got back from our trip. But when Rich came home from a bachelor party this past weekend with a leftover case of Narragansett, it all came back to me.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler: Pour half a can of macro-American lager (‘Gansett, PBR, even Amstel Light, etc) into a glass with three ice cubes, then top it with an equal amount of lemon-lime soda. We used a lemon Italian soda from Whole Foods, but some recipes call for plain old 7-Up.

The only tricky part is the ice: sometimes Rich forgets the recipe and we have empty trays in the freezer. Ahem.

Cardamom Jag

We once had a roommate who went on food jags. One month, he ate a thick bowl of oatmeal every day for dinner.  Another month, there were endless waffles drizzled with syrup. He was very full after the month of Hungry Man dinners, and he swore to never eat another bite of buffalo chicken anything after his month of binging on the spicy wings.

I am in the throes of my own food spree right now: I am full-on in a cardamom jag. Today I’m offering up two recipes with cardamom, next week there will be a third. I hope by then the urge to sniff and savor this woody, floral spice will be out of my system.

My affair with the green pods started innocently enough; in fact, it caught me by surprise. (Isn’t that always the way with life’s great romances, though?) Last week we went to a ginger party, where guests were invited to bring a ginger-spiced dish to share with the group. There was ginger tea, maki rolls made with pear and candied ginger, cucumbers quick-pickled with rice vinegar and ginger, and sundry ginger-flecked baked goods. I used a Ming Tsai recipe I had bookmarked a few months earlier. It was his version of a fruit cake, East/West-style, with molasses, candied ginger and an array of spices. It was decent enough. I mean, it was cake, and, as a general rule, cake is good. But it was really the whipped cream that was served atop the cake that was the best part. Freshly whipped with cardamom and brown sugar, I may have licked the entire Kitchen Aid Mixer bowl and whisk before even letting Rich know what we were bringing to the party.  (I actually just walked into the kitchen in time to see Rich flat out dipping his entire hand into the  mixer to scoop up a fist full of cream. For reals.)

The next morning I gchatted with my sister-in-law, who informed me that they were drinking the world’s best hot chocolate. The secret? Cardamom. Oh no, I argued, the world’s best hot chocolate could only be the world’s best if it was topped with the fresh cardamom whipped cream from last night. A perfect drink was born.

Some might argue that cardamom is not a cheap spice, but I beg to differ. You can pick up a hefty bag for a couple bucks at the  Armenian stores in Watertown. What you want are the black seeds inside the fibrous pods. For this dish, I slit open the pods, shook out the black seeds, and ground them up until I had the right amount.

(Today I used my spice grinder — a coffee grinder I picked up at Ocean State Job Lot for $15 last year. Ordinarily, I might have used my mortar and pestle that rests on the counter, but Rich borrowed it last week and lost the pestle. Not to worry, he finally found the pestle on Friday morning. It was in the garbage disposal. Rich owes me a new mortar and pestle.)

You can always buy cardamom already ground, but it will not last quite as long as using the seeds from the pod. It’s a good idea to have the pods on-hand if you’re interested in exploring Indian dishes. It’s cardamom you’re tasting in an Indian restaurant’s rice; a few pods tossed in while the rice is simmering is what beckons a Bombay banquet.

Cardamom Hot Chocolate

Serves one

1 1/2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (I used Ghiradelli because that’s what I have in my cupboard. I am sure any brand will be great.)

1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar

1 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

A sprinkle of cinnamon

Directions

Mix cocoa, sugar and spices in a small dish. Pour milk into a small pan, add the cocoa mixture and stir. Heat, while stirring, until steaming.

Top with…

Cardamom Whipped Cream with help from Blue Ginger: East Meets West Cooking with Ming Tsai

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

In a chilled bowl (I put the bowl of my mixer in the freezer for about a half hour the first time I did this recipe, the second time, I didn’t bother), combine the cream, brown sugar and cardamom until stiff peaks form.

To assemble, find the biggest mug in your kitchen — trust me, you’ll want as much of this as possible — and fill it about 3/4 of the way full with the hot chocolate. Then, fill the rest of the mug with the whipped cream.

There’s enough whipped cream for several servings. I’m not sure how many. My guess would be four or five. But the amount will correspond directly with the will-power of those assembled. I make no promises.

Cheap Beets Gift Tip#2: Bring Beer or Cider Instead of Wine

This is one of my favorite beers of all times, but just a warning, it's very very sour.

Flipping through December food magazines, I’ve noticed a trend: recommendations for really good bottles of wine that cost less than $15. Now, I’m not much of a wine drinker — reds give me a headache — but I do like a good bottle of Belgian beer, or a crisp, hard cider. Which leads me to Cheap Beets Gift Tip#2: for the same price you would pay for a decent bottle of wine, you can get a world-class bottle of beer or cider. Continue reading