Oh My Darling

People prepare for babies in different ways. Some set up their nurseries and make sure their cribs are positioned for optimal natural light. Others spend the weeks leading up to the big day by pre-washing the little one’s wardrobe. Most everyone has their car seat installed at the local police or fire station.

Unrelated gratuitous baby photo

Unrelated gratuitous baby photo

I faced a dilemma: on the one hand, Jewish tradition frowns on bringing baby things into the house before there is an actual baby; on the other, hand I am an inveterate planner. Perhaps not surprisingly, I found my solution in the kitchen. I spent the weeks leading up to Lilli’s arrival cooking, baking and freezing foods to make the first few months less stressful.

Give the people what they want...

Give the people what they want…

“I need to serve something to our guests that come by for a visit,” I explained to Rich about the added hours I spent in our kitchen. “I’m pretty sure people are supposed to bring you the food, honey,” he replied. And it’s true, a nice meal train has been set up through our synagogue, although it has been somewhat derailed by snowstorms and flu season.

I was vindicated this weekend. We had Lilli’s baby naming on Presidents’ Day (no pressure, Lil). She already had her name, but this was a Jewish ceremony to announce her Hebrew name and explain the origins of her other names. It’s a rough analog of a bris, minus the delicate surgery. If you’re interested, you can watch the video of the service on YouTube:

It was really touching to see all the people who came to celebrate the occasion with us. My guess is around 80 people showed up on Monday morning.

One more, but that's it for now...

One more, but that’s it for now…

On the day before we hosted some of our out-of-town guests at our house: my Cousin David, his girlfriend Wendy and Brian Levinson, who made the drive up from Queens (commiserating about the Mets the entire way, no doubt), and Sylvie and Miriam who had flown up from DC. Suffice it to say, I was quite pleased with myself because I had defrosted this clementine cardamom pound cake I had baked, weeks in advance, for just such an occasion.

Boxes of clementines are pretty ubiquitous on kitchen counters this time of year. In the late stages of my pregnancy, I’d taken to eaten them to spur Lilli, who was an exceptionally quiet fetus, to give me a reassuring kick or two. It became such a thing that for about a week Clementine was a serious baby name candidate.

2013-02-19 10.33.22

Before I ate all of them, I thought it best to bake a cake with some of them. I hunted around the Internet and came up with a Nigella Lawson recipe that called for boiling, grinding and then adding nuts — not unlike this blood orange and pistachio cake Sara and I made last year (although I have a feeling ours was better). Too much work for the ninth month of pregnancy, even for me.

I finally found what I was looking for on Food52. All this recipe called for was zesting and juicing the fruit, and I loved the idea of the cardamom adding a spicy warmth to the cake. Although spices can get expensive, I’ve found bags for very cheap at the Armenian stores in Watertown. Also, one cardamom pod goes a long way, so even if you end up at Whole Foods, in the long run, the price isn’t bad at all.

20130217_160340

After I removed this cake out of the oven and it cooled down, I wrapped it in a few sheets of tin foil, labeled it and stuck it in the freezer. It defrosted beautifully in less than an hour just by unwrapping it and setting it out on the counter.

Clementine Cardamom Pound Cake by SavvyJulie on Food52

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened, plus more for the pan

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 Tablespoon clementine zest, from about 2 clementines

4 Tablespoons clementine juice, from about 2 clementines

1/4 cup milk

Directions

Heat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9x5x3″ loaf pan.

Cream the butter, olive oil and sugars together until smooth.

Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until completely blended.

Stir in 1 cup of the flour, followed by the salt, vanilla, cardamom, clementine zest and juice.

Add the milk and the rest of the flour. Beat until the batter is smooth and consistent, but do not over-beat!

Scrape the cake batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the edges are browned and just pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Run a knife or spatula around the edges of the cake to release it from the pan, and flip onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Riding Out the Storm

Actual texts between me and Brian Levinson during Hurricane Sandy:

Brian: This is the first time in my life I have been afraid that the weather was going to come into my house and kill me. How fares Boston? 8:52PM, Oct. 29

Me: We’re sitting in the dark, eating homemade blondies and playing Trivial Pursuit with help from a candle and a bike helmet light. 9:09PM, Oct. 29

Brian: Not bad, considering. 9:10, Oct. 29

Sure, we lost our power midday, but it wasn’t a big deal. We got it back by midnight.

I lived on the island of Manhattan for seven years. My heart breaks with every photo I see of flooded subway stations, darkened streets and burned down homes. According to Facebook, all my friends and their family members are accounted for.

Like I said, we lost power, but it wasn’t a big deal. Also not a big deal:making these blondies, or, as the recipe calls them, “butterscotch brownies.” I made them right before we lost our power. They took less than 10 minutes to put together, and then a half hour in the oven. I used a Fannie Farmer recipe, although I tweaked it a little bit, changing out one of the two cups of dark brown sugar for one cup of light brown sugar. It just sounded too sweet with two cups of dark brown. The recipe leaves the nuts vague, and I will too. I actually had a packet of mixed nuts on the counter from an Eat Boutique package I won. I think walnuts are pretty traditional, but that’s entirely up to you. I melted the butter in the microwave using a glass mixing bowl at 35 second intervals.

Oh, I won the Trivial Pursuit game. And dessert.

Butterscotch Brownies (Blondies) from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

Ingredients

½ cup melted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup chopped nuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.

Butter a 9×13-inch cake pan.

Mix all of the ingredients together, combining them well. Spread in the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until dry on top and almost firm to the touch. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then cut into small squares.

One Year Later

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been a year since Brian’s fire. I’m relieved to report that everyone is doing well. Except for some scars on Brian’s neck where they did the skin grafting, you’d have no idea that he’d been on fire. As for his friend, Eric aka Jellyboy the Clown, he toured the world this year, performing in Europe and Asia. And, in recognition for his bravery and heroism, Captain James F. Hay of Ladder Company 163 was awarded the M. J. Delehanty Medal by the New York City Fire Department this past spring.

Still, the anniversary (or “burniversary” as Rich has taken to calling it) brings me back to the days after the fire. We heard the news on July 3 and spent July 4 driving down to New York to the hospital. There are little things about visiting people on a burn unit you don’t know about until you get there. Before going into any rooms, you have to cover yourself, head to toe, in hospital gowns and cap, to prevent infection. If you want to leave the room and go to the bathroom, you have to remove the gown and cap, put them into the laundry, and put on a new gown and cap before reentering the room.

Even though the burn unit preferred to keep the visitors down to one or two at a time, there were some afternoons where I’d find myself dragging chairs in from up and down the hallway to provide seats to the piles of people who wanted to see Brian. Someone even asked one of the annoyed nurses if Brian was the most popular person they’d ever had on the unit. She thought about it for a second, then responded that the Shah had had more guests.

There were a few quiet moments when I would sit in a chair by Brian’s bedside, reading, and he’d get to rest in between the afternoon rush of visitors. I found this recipe in the July 11, 2011, issue of New York Magazine. I had my fingers pinched and was about to rip it out but stopped myself. “Brian?” I whispered quietly. “Yes, darling?” he answered, with his eyes still closed. “There’s this recipe in this magazine. Do you think it’d be OK if I clipped it? I mean, I don’t want to take it if…” Brian laughed: “Well, since most of the fire was in the kitchen, oh, and because I burned down my entire apartment, I don’t think I’ll be doing any cooking anytime soon.”

The recipe calls for Panisse Lettuce, which it describes as “frilly lime-green” and “an oak-leaf and a butterhead…with a tender but sturdy-enough leaves and a bittersweet flavor that fairly cries out for a zingy dressing like the pistachio vinaigrette Greenmarket guru Dan Kluger has concocted over at ABC Kitchen.” I know, pistachio vinaigrette? How could I leave that behind?

When I went to the farmer’s market this afternoon, I was told panisse lettuce wouldn’t be available for another week or two. She suggested I substitute a deer head lettuce for something a little different, which I gladly did. It cost me a dollar. I don’t own Champagne vinegar and just used red wine. It was still very delicious. The radishes I had on hand are the ones that came in last week’s CSA; I don’t think you need to go out of your way to find French breakfast ones. And I always keep the garlicky lemon green olives from Whole Foods in my fridge, but if you come across the Sevillano or Manzanilla olives, then definitely use those.

Dan Kluger’s Panisse Lettuce with Pistachio Vinaigrette

Ingredients

For the dressing:

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons raw pistachios

½ Thai chile, seeded and minced

4 teaspoons lemon juice

3 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

2 heads panisse lettuce (or Boston, or Bibb, or Butter)

2 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons oregano, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons mint, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons tarragon, finely chopped

8 French breakfast radishes, thinly sliced into rounds

½ cup Sevillano or Manzanilla olives, pitted and chopped

Directions

For the dressing: In a small pot, heat olive oil and pistachios together over a low flame until warm. Place warm pistachios in food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Immediately pour pistachio mixture into bowl with Thai chile, and let sit for ten minutes. Add lemon juice, Champagnes vinegar, kosher salt and ground pepper.

For the salad: Honestly, I find lettuce from the farmer’s market incredibly gritty, so I’m not going to give you the directions provided about slicing the heads in half. Clean the lettuce leaves by soaking them in a large bowl of cold water. Change the water if you think the lettuce still looks a little gritty. Remove the leaves from the bowl and spin dry in a salad spinner. Rip the leaves and place them on a platter. Sprinkle with the radish and olives. Spoon vinaigrette on top of platter. Make sure to bring the dressing to the table so people may apply more if they really like it.

Fire and Ice

Rocket pops awaiting lift-off. Houston, we have a problem...

I had a plan for this blog post, but life got in the way. It was, and still is, going to be about paletas, Mexican ice pops which, according to a trendologist (yes, that’s an actual job) I profiled last fall, are going to be the next big thing. I hadn’t thought much about them until my neighbor told me about a paletas cookbook she’d come across. I borrowed the book, found a recipe that I wanted to make and began composing my post. I’d even made the ice pops, photographed and served them, to good reviews, as dessert last Sunday night.

But after we bid adieu to our dinner guests and as Rich was in the kitchen cleaning up, I came across this story via Facebook. Our friend Brian Levinson, one of the most important people in the world to me, had been in a horrible fire at his apartment in Queens. He and his childhood friend Eric were (and still are) in the burn unit at New York-Presbyterian hospital.

So instead of writing this blog post, we went to sleep as well as we could, and then in the morning we set out for New York City. Rich had to go back to Boston that night, but I ended up staying the week. I’d been meaning to visit Brian and other friends in New York for vacation this summer, but this was obviously not what I’d had in mind.

Now, I don’t want to be a total downer about this. Brian was in excellent spirits when we got to him and throughout the week. He basically held court in the burn unit, to the mild annoyance of his nurses, who would have preferred if he’d kept his oxygen mask on instead of cracking wise. In his honor, I subbed on his trivia team at the weekly game at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg. Our team name: Fryin’ Levinson. (We won.)

Eventually Friday came around and it was time to start back to Boston. I thought about what I’d written so far for this blog post, but, in all due respect to trendology, it seemed a little trite. Everything seemed a little trite after seeing what my friend was going through. Feeling down, I ended up wandering into the Strand Book Store before catching my bus to Boston. I hadn’t been to the Strand in years, even though it was one of my regular haunts when I lived there. Old habits die hard, and without even thinking about it, I found myself in the cookbook section. And there, tucked into the dessert section, I came across the very same paletas cookbook I’d borrowed from my neighbor. I think it was the universe’s way of calling me back to work.

So get well, soon, Brian and Eric. If you want to help Eric, who is a circus performer and doesn’t have health insurance, check out this benefit event page.

Paletas de Aguacate: Avocado Ice Pops, from Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas by Fany Gerson

Gerson, one of the country’s most authoritative voices on Mexican sweets, is the owner of La Newyorkina, a Mexican frozen treats and sweets business. When I first borrowed her book from my neighbor, I made note of a few pops that tickled my fancy: spicy pineapple; sour cream, cherry and tequila. But when I saw the recipe for the paletas de aguacate, or avocado ice pops, I knew they had to be made that afternoon.

The recipe is very easy: a mix of simple syrup, fresh lime juice and avocado, all whirled up in a blender. The result is more sweet than savory, which might surprise a lot of avocado lovers out there. While most of us in the United States associate avocado with tortilla chips, avocados also have a sweet side and appear in desserts such as avocado milkshakes in places like the Philippines.

This paleta is sweet, creamy and 100% vegan.

Ingredients

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

2 small ripe avocados

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Directions

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise. Remove the pit and scoop the flesh into a blender, along with the cooled syrup and salt. Blend until smooth, scraping the sides as needed. Add the lime juice and blend until combined.

If using conventional molds, divide the mixture among the molds, snap on the lid, and freeze until solid, about 5 hours. If using glasses or other unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set (1 1/2 to 2 hours), then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours. If using an instant pop maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Gerson claims this makes 8 to 10 pops. It made 6 in my wacky rocket ship molds.

Blast off! Get well soon, Brian and Eric.