This week HG has been eating in Jerusalem (culinarily speaking). Thankfully, HG doesn’t have to be in Jerusalem, because no matter how holy Jerusalem is supposed to be (HG, a non-believer, finds this notion spurious) HG has always identified it as a city with a long history of super bloody violence. Read “Jerusalem: The Biography” by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Wade through 3,000 years of slaughter, madness and fanaticism (much in the name of “faith.”). However, there are two guys who have surmounted the nuttiness of Jerusalem (sensibly, they live in London). The two native Jerusalemites are Yotam Ottllenghi (an Israeli) and Sami Tamimi (an Arab). Business partners, former lovers and proprietors of a number of very successful London restaurants, Yotam and Sami have written a cookbook entitled “Jerusalem.” Illustrated with evocative photographs, the book is a treasure house of savory, enticing recipes. This week, much to the delight of HG/BSK and Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia, dinner has been pure Jerusalem. First night was “Sweet and Sour Fish.”. Cod was fried lightly and then covered with onions, peppers, tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, olive oil, curry powder and a host of other spices. Heated until cod was cooked through. Served at room temperature. Perfect as an appetizer or main.dish. Next night was “Lamb meatballs with Fava Beans and Lemon.” The cookbook describes these meatballs as “Fresh, sharp and very, very tasty.” Accurate description. BSK served them with couscous which soaked up the lush sauce. Next night: “Turkey & Zucchini Burgers with Green Onion and Cumin.” HG made a sauce of Greek yogurt, sour cream, Aleppo pepper, sea salt, much garlic, olive oil, sumac and zaatar. A blast of taste. So, does the Yotam-Sami partnership and their focus on the magnificent Israeli-Arab food of the city they were raised in hold out hope for amity in Jerusalem? HG’s answer, sadly, is “No.”
Snow was falling last night. Big, wet flakes turned the HG/BSK meadow a glittering white. Temp took a dip. (No fear. Snow rapidly disappears in the high and dry warmth of New Mexican sunshine). Snowfall here means a roaring fireplace, much to drink and comfort food on the table. That’s the way it was when talented pals Polly B. (the brilliant photographer) and David F. (novelist/historian/educator) joined HG/BSK and Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia for dinner. Flutes of Prosecco (with a dash of Aperol, Venetian style) were sipped as BSK’s latest pots were admired. At the table there was a cold bottle of very good Champagne and a platter of Zabar’s Nova Scotia smoked salmon. This was followed by the paragon of comfort food: Meat loaf. This was no ordinary meat loaf. It was Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun Meat Loaf, loaded with spicy New Orleans flavors. BSK showered it with mushroom sauce and flanked it with BSK’s unique smashed potatoes. Much red wine. Meal ended with Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Ice Cream and ginger cookies. Good food. Good wine. Good friends. Let it snow, let it snow.
The Big Guy in the Sky may summon the Moloch Hamoves, the black, winged Angel of Death, at any time with little warning (HG is 85, after all). But, until that dramatic moment HG will have a delightful time in New Mexico, appropriately named The Land of Enchantment. Today, for example. Our pal, Karen K., the distinguished film maker, dessert creator extraordinary, etc, suggested brunch at Sugar Nymphs Bistro, a tiny eatery in the little town of Penasco, located on the high road to Taos between Santa Fe and Taos. There is no more beautiful drive in America than motoring through the historic towns of Chimayo, Truces and Cordova with vistas of mesas and mountains unfolding before your eyes. We were particularly fortunate on this drive because the skies were blue and cloudless, the light was pure and the air was crisp and fragrant. The food at Sugar Nymphs was delicious and touched with a particular kind of New Mexican goodness. Our group had egg scrambles with three kinds of cheese, onions, peppers plus sides of home fries and chiles. Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia had a giant, green chile cheeseburger on a home baked bun which she said was the best burger ever. There were many warm biscuits with cherry jam to accompany the good coffee. A memorable brunch. On the way back to our homes in the Pojoaque Valley, our group stopped at a few cemeteries in the region. There is nothing quite like these New Mexico Latino cemeteries. There is a love and reverence for the dead. Graves are carefully tended and adorned with bunches of artificial flowers. Portraits of the dead adorn many of the graves. Sadly, there are too many graves of young men (auto accident? drug overdose? violence?) with tombstones placed by their grieving mothers. There is no adequate way to describe these cemeteries with their atmosphere of fervent religious faith, belief in the hereafter and acceptance of untimely death. They are just the essence of blood-and-history drenched New Mexico. And, HG/BSK/GG Sofia had the perfect guide, New Mexico native Karen K.
HG has long believed that the only proper role of beets was to provide the basis for ice cold, pink (with the addition of sour cream) borscht, a summer staple of HG’s youth. Nobody ever made it better than HG’s Mom, the late Ida Kopkind Freeman. HG did not like any other preparation of beets. Roast (or braised) beets seemed incompatible with wine. HG did not share the enthusiasm for salads of beets with goat (or blue) cheese and walnuts. Thus, HG did not look forward with anticipation to the beets BSK prepared last night to accompany a meal of pan fried Icelandic cod, steamed haricots vert and tiny potatoes. Surprise. BSK’s beets were a mind changer: Sweet, Spicy, Smoky. How did creative BSK do it? Golden and red beets were cut into small cubes. They were then sautéed with chopped sweet onion in Sicilian olive oil. Lots of smoked black pepper plus some sea salt. Pan was covered and the mix was cooked until the beets softened. The final touch. BSK took off the cover and poured in some syrupy, old balsamic vinegar (the real stuff, not the insipid liquid found on most supermarket shelves). Pan was covered again and cooking went on for a few more minutes so the vinegar could infuse the beets and onions. The result: A revelation.
The recent post on HG’s long ago Bar Mitzvah posed a challenge to those unfamiliar with Yiddish pronunciation. The ultimate hazard is the proper way to say ch. No, it is not pronounced like “charm” or “change” or “chance.” Thus, the word bucher is not pronounced similar to Sidney “Bechet” or like “butcher” with the elimination of the “t”. In Yiddish “ch” is a guttural sound. Like clearing your throat. It is the “ch” of challah (the egg bread baked with a distinctive twist and consumed on the Sabbath) and other essential culinary words such as chrain (horseradish, the eternal companion of gefilte fish). The sound is hard to master. Even BSK, a trained actress and perfect elocutionist, took some time to make the sound. Of course, after decades of marriage to HG, BSK’s Yiddish “ch” is as good as that of Molly Picon, the late, great star of the Yiddish musical stage. Many Yiddish words have entered common English usage. The only “ch” word that has gained popularity is chutzpah (nervy, arrogant behavior). HG grew up in a Yiddish speaking home. The language was often combined with English in a colorful conglomerate that could be dubbed “Yinglish.” When HG’s parents discussed topics forbidden to little HG like sex they spoke in Russian. The little fellow thought the language sounded musical.
HG is so proud and delighted. Restaurateur Daughter Victoria Freeman (Cookshop, Hundred Acres, soon to open Rosies’s) has a big hit on her hands. The first review of her new restaurant, Vic’s, just appeared…New York Magazine gave Vic’s four stars calling the food “Big, Bold and Batali-esque.” Read about chef Hillary Sterling’s flavorful dishes and you’ll get ravenously hungry. Make your reservation now before the wait becomes interminable. Vic’s (31 Great Jones Street near Lafayette) replaces Five Points, the pioneering restaurant Vicki and husband/chef Marc Meyer opened 15 years ago. Five Points was one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in New York and its Sunday brunch quickly became a New York legend. Vicki and Marc thought it was time for a change. A redo of the decor, new name, new chef, new menu. Obviously, a very good idea. The name “Vic’s” is a bow to the past. “Vix” was Vicki’s first restaurant. She hired Marc Meyer as the chef. The rest is New York culinary history. HG/BSK will be in New York for pre-Christmas visit. Will dine at Vic’s. Looking forward.
Oh, what a splendid holiday is Thanksgiving. Eat (to excess). Drink (to excess). Laugh, Enjoy. Insightful SJ has noted, there are no religious overtones to mar the holiday jollity. Joining HG/BSK for days of feasting were BSK’s sister, Noel M. and husband Yossi plus son Matthew. (Noel and Yossi acquired a lovely Prince Edward Island property this summer so joint good times are planned for the future). The Thanksgiving Day feasting followed tradition: Squash soup (from the recipe of HG’s beloved sister, the late Beulah Naomi Katz). Roast turkey. Smashed (not mashed) potatoes. Brussel sprouts enlivened by shallots and bacon. Not too sweet cranberry sauce. Abundant giblet gravy. A surprise hit was the stuffing. BSK used lots of sage, sausage and mushrooms to make a stuffing that demanded seconds and thirds. Cornbread (made from a mix) turned out dry and inedible. It was tossed. Two desserts: BSK’s great pear crisp and store bought (not so great) pecan pie. Lots of vanilla ice cream accompanied. HG/BSK and Yossi drank much of this year’s good Beaujolais Nouveau. Bass Ale for Matthew and water for abstemious Noel. Post-dessert there was Bushmill’s Irish Honey whiskey, Calvdaos brandy, Amaretto. Two varieties of peanut brittle. Italian Amaretti cookies. Chocolate truffles. A super sweet finale. The menu was repeated the next night. There was just enough turkey left to make an Asian shredded turkey salad for dinner after Noel, Yossi and Matthew departed for Denver and Las Vegas. The turkey carcass has been bubbling in a pot on the kitchen range with onions, parsley and other greens. A very good turkey broth is anticipated. Turkey is a gift that keeps on giving.
Some 72 years ago (1942), in a Bar Mitzvah ceremony at the Kingsbridge Heights Jewish Center on Eames Place in The Bronx, HG became defined as an adult Jew, qualified to participate in a “minyun” (the minimum number of adult Jews necessary to conduct religious services). The ceremony did not engender religious belief in HG, a confirmed atheist who identifies culturally with the Jewish people. HG’s lack of faith was not the fault of the presiding Rabbi, a man admired by HG. Israel Miller (1913-2002), had just been appointed Rabbi of the congregation and HG was the young, 29-year-old Rabbi’s first Bar Mitzvah ceremony in the synagogue. In the coming years (as a college student and later as a journalist), HG would consult Rabbi Miller on questions of Jewish history, politics, etc. The Rabbi would gently chide HG about his lack of religious observance. Oddly, he never criticized HG’s marriage to the beautiful, gifted, decidedly non-Jewish BSK. Rabbi Miller (who left Kingsbridge Heights Jewish Center in 1968) went on to a distinguished career as a religious writer and scholar and leader of important national and international Jewish organizations. He was particularly close to the Jewish population of South Africa and was a vigorous foe of apartheid. He took time out from his busy schedule to preside over the funeral of HG’s beloved father. Other than working to become a man, HG found some attractive side benefits to his Bar Mitzvah studies. HG would rush to the synagogue for HG’s five p.m. sessions with a stern teacher of Hebrew who would tutor, hector and scold HG in preparation for the Bar Mitzvah. HG would be bruised and scuffed from violent football games on the field hockey turf of the nearby all-girls Walton High School. Upon leaving his lessons, HG would pass a basement room where a group of old men (some luxuriously bearded) would gather daily to study and dispute portions of the Talmud, the multi volume compendium of Jewish law and religious practice. They were a loud and merry crew (their merriment nourished by bottles of whiskey and plates of herring and pumpernickel on the study table). Upon spotting HG they would issue an invitation: “Bar Mitzvah bucher (young man), hub ah brumfen (have an alcoholic drink).” Even then, HG needed little urging. A sturdy shot of Park & Tilford rye with some herring as a chaser. “Nuch ah mul? (once more) was inquired, HG nodded Yes. Another hearty drink. “A shiker!! (drunkard),” laughed the Talmudists. Yes, HG was a bit woozy when he arrived home for dinner and homework. BSK claims, with some justification, that HG continues to overdo pre-dinner alcohol, substituting vodka for the whiskey of yesteryear.
Karen K., HG/BSK’s pal and neighbor, is a multi-talented woman. A veteran movie producer/director, she is a talented gardener, guardian of chickens who provide super eggs; a trim, energetic hiker, skier and much else. HG has dubbed Karen K. “The Dessert Queen” because she creates the best desserts on earth: goat milk ice cream (HG, at first dubious, was overwhelmed by its goodness), flan that combines Mexican and French flavors with ecstatic results and many varieties of healthy, flavorful baked goodies. Karen K. lives a few hundred yards from HG/BSK/s New Mexico home in Las Barrancas, a cluster of lovely, old adobe dwellings (condominium ownership) created by Cady Wells (1904-1954). Wells, who died much too young, was one of the greatest New Mexico painters (as good as Georgia O’Keefe in HG’s opinion). One of the pleasures of Las Barrancas is “The Kitchen House”. This is a separate building containing a kitchen and a dining room. It evokes a beautiful, romantic past. Many southwestern touches (including a warming kiva fireplace in the dining room). This was the setting for a delightful dinner party hosted by Karen K. a few nights ago. Present were two of Karen’s friends from the film industry–Lisa, retired from a long career as an eminent set decorator and Laurie, also retired, acknowledged as a premier movie still photographer. Lucky HG. The only male at a dinner table with four lively, entertaining and attractive women. HG provided the appetizer, baba ganoush, the middle eastern eggplant dip. Karen served a cajun meat loaf (lots of New Orleans flavors and just enough heat from jalapeño peppers) accompanied by a moist cornbread. Spaghetti squash, roast carrots, tiny potatoes and something braised (was it celery?) rounded the meal out. Sumptuous food, perfect for a very chilly evening. Much red wine was drunk (HG led the way) as the flames flickered in the kiva. A very good salad of baby greens. Then dessert. The Dessert Queen continued her reign. Moist, lush gingerbread topped with traditional hard sauce. A graceful bow to the past. Generous Karen poured HG some wonderful calvados, HG’s favorite brandy. And, there was another happy surprise for HG. Knowing HG’s predilections, Laurie gave HG a bottle of Russian vodka as a birthday present. HG immediately sampled it. Nazdrovya !! A great party.
BSK is a seasonal and inventive cook. For example, a few weeks back: Green tomatoes. BSK found some nice green tomatoes at the Pojoaque Farmers Market close to HG/BSK’s New Mexico home. Traditionally, green tomatoes are sliced, dipped in egg and spicy corn meal and fried (preferably in bacon fat). A staple of down home Southern tables. That’s not what BSK did.. BSK cooked a batch of the green guys with chicken broth, onions, coriander, cumin, cardamon, pepper and salt. When done, the mix went into the blender and was pureed. The smooth stuff was gently reheated. Voila!! Green tomato soup. Tangy. Spicy. Perfect way to start a meal.