My mother’s family is German-Jewish. They lived in a small village in Germany for hundreds of years. They were successful and a part of the fabric of the community. Some owned shops; one served as the headmaster for the entire town. My grandfather was a scholar, earning his PhD in Classics and Archaeology before he was 27. One of his brothers was a chemist; the other, a doctor.
One day in the early 1930s, my grandfather woke up to find he was no longer allowed to sit on park benches. So they left. During World War II my grandparents hid in Provence, France, taking on the roles of French peasants and ran a silk worm farm. That’s where my uncle and mother were both born. Thankfully, they survived, but the Vichy turned in my Great Uncle Freidl.
After World War II they were blessed with the opportunity to come to America in the late 1940s. My grandfather, who had two PhDs at this point, spent his days working in a factory. At night he taught Classics at Yeshiva University. Eventually, he secured a job as head of a language department at a small college in Springfield, Mass.
When I was a little girl, my sister and I would spend Shabbat with my grandmother, my Oma. I will never forget hearing her screams in the middle of the night. We’d run into her room, and she would say that she had a nightmare that the Nazis found her. “You’re safe, Oma. You’re in America.”
It’s been just about a week since Donald Trump was awarded the electoral votes he needed to become the President-Elect of the United States. Yesterday he appointed Steve Bannon, an avowed anti-Semite and white nationalist, as his Chief Policy Advisor.
And I am terrified.
I keep on thinking about my grandparents, my grandmother’s screams, and my own children’s safety. I worry about my sister, a gay Jew, and the status of her marriage and the status of her wife’s adoption of their son. I worry about my fellow Jews, Muslims, people of color, and especially women of color.
There are petitions going round, people encouraging others to take a stand and sign. But I won’t sign anything. I’m too scared to have my name on a list.
The recipe I have for today was chosen for a few reasons. The first is because it’s from Yotam Ottolenghi, a gay Israeli who is married with two sons and has a Palestinian business partner. I would worry about him if he lived in the United States right now, but he’s currently based in the United Kingdom, a country that is also going through a hard right turn.
The second reason I am sharing this recipe is because it features sweet potatoes. When my family hid in France, they ate what they grew and had access to. Apparently sweet potatoes were a daily part of their diet. After they made it to America, my Uncle Marcel vowed to never eat another sweet potato. As far as I know, he has kept his vow for nearly 70 years.
I can only assure him that this dish is very delicious and the roasting of the fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs fills the house with a warm, lovely scent – very comforting after a terrible week.
Roasted Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinaigrette from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
4 parsnips (1 ½ lbs. total – I just used the entire bag)
4 medium red onions
2/3 cup olive oil
4 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1head garlic, halved horizontally
Salt and black pepper
2 medium sweet potatoes (1 ¼ lbs. total)
30 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 Tbsp lemon juice
4 Tbsp small capers (roughly chopped if large)
½ Tbsp maple syrup
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375F. Peel the parsnips and cut into two or three segments, depending on their lengths. Then cut each piece lengthways into two or four. You want the pieces roughly two inches long and ½-inch wide. Peel the onions and cut each into six wedges.
Place the parsnips and onions in a large mixing bowl and add ½ cup of the olive oil, the thyme, rosemary, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Mix well and spread out in a large roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes.
While the parsnips are cooking, trim both ends of the sweet potatoes. Cut them (with their skins) widthways in half, then each half into six wedges. Add the potatoes to the pan with the parsnips and onion and stir well. Return to the oven to roast for further 40 to 50 minutes.
When all the vegetables are cooked through and have taken on a golden color, stir in the halved tomatoes. Roast for 10 minutes more. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, capers, maple syrup, mustard, remaining 2 tablespoons oil and ½ teaspoon salt.
Pour the dressing over the roasted vegetables as soon as you take them out of the oven. Stir well, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Scatter the sesame seeds over the vegetables if using and serve at the table in the roasting pan.