Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Finger of God - Parshat Vae'ira

Did you know that the Pharoh of the Exodus story was a pretty hygienic fellow? Each morning he would bathe in the Nile - and in fact that is where Moses often has his confrontations with him during the period of the plagues. And did you know that Moses was 80 years old when he goes to confront Pharoh and his brother Aron is 83? In this portion the two of them team up with God to bring seven out of the ten plagues to bear on Pharoh's court and country.

Moses's first demand of Pharoh is to just let his nation go on a three day road trip to sacrifice to God. But Pharoh isn't even cool with that. So then come the plagues. The first happens right as Pharoh is bathing in the Nile - it turns to blood and he is grossed out when dead fish start to surface around him. Pretty soon all of Egypt is smelling pretty putrid and there's no potable water. But, since Pharoh's magicians were able to do the same to the water with their spells, Pharoh is unimpressed.

Next, Moses threatens Pharoh with a frog infestation so bad they'll be in people's beds, oven and mixing bowls. At first Pharoh doesn't flinch, but he does get irked by the multitude of frogs that Moses summons from the Nile and begs for Moses to reverse the plague. So all the frogs die, making Egypt smell even worse. But Pharoh goes back to being stubborn and refusing to let anyone go anywhere.

It isn't until the third plague rolls around that Pharoh and his assistants finally recognize God's handiwork. When Aron turns all the dust of the earth to lice with a flick of his rod the little creatures crawl over every Egyptian human and animal. Try as Pharoh's magician's might they can't produce the same effect with their wands, nor can they reverse Aron's plague. The magician's declare, "This is the finger of God." But of course this revelation is short lived as Pharoh again refuses to let the people go. And even after Moses, Aron and God bring on swarms of insects, a blight on livestock, blistering skin boils, and deadly flaming hail, Pharoh is unmoved.

Not to gross you out but I've got a recipe that combines the first and third plague. There will be no actual blood or lice, but this savory rice dish is colored bright pink from beets which results in a well seasoned and visually pleasing bite. I had never thought to add beets to rice but when I saw the recipe in my Italian Jewish cookbook I knew it would probably be as good as everything else I've made from it. And indeed, it's made repeat appearances on our Shabbat table and will likely leave you wanting double portions..

Beet Rice
This recipe is adapted from Classic Italian Jewish Cooking by Edda Servi Machlin

3 large beets, washed and peeled
1 cup basmati rice
2-3 cups water
Pinch of salt

Place the peeled beets in a medium pan and cover with water. Boil for 15 minutes, until you can easily poke a fork 1/2 an inch into the beets. Remove the boiled beets from the water and measure out 2 cups of beet water. If you have less than two cups add regular water to get two cups total.

Lay the beets on a cutting board to cool down and place the 2 cups of beet water into a clean pot. Add one cup of rice to the liquid and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Dice the beets and mix the pieces into the cooked rice and serve.

New Year

Lot's of blogs that I read are doing a year in review this week, highlighting some of their favorite posts from the last year. I'd actually like to take an opportunity to share some things from the last year that never made it to the blog because I couldn't make a portion connection. Mostly, they're things I ate around town and want to share.

I had my second kosher hot dog at Fenway this year. The first time I had one I kept our seats warm while Sam procured the hot dogs. But this summer, on a small work outing, I got to see the workings of the kosher hot dog machine myself. The machine is located under a large Kosher Food sign and you get a glimpse into it's working mechanism. Digital messages narrate the process - "Your Bun is Warming" sent Emily and I into a laughing fit. Sadly, they were a bit more exciting than the hot dogs themselves. The bun and the hot dog were both rather limp and I was wanting for some sour kraut.

On a tastier note, Sam and I discovered new bourekas at Cafe Eilat (the Brookline Pizza Shop) and one tasted like a kosher croque monsieur in a triangular crispy puff pastry packet, with muenster cheese, tomato and instead of ham, some black olives. Yum.

Around Chanukah time I finally made it out to Donuts with a Difference in Medford, an off-the-beaten path kosher shop with a small window of operating hours. Holiday jelly donuts seemed worth the early morning pre-work venture and indeed they were the best jelly donuts I've eaten outside of Israel. The dark blueberry/strawberry jelly was well distributed inside of each donut - half of the ones I bought were covered in thick gooey sugar glaze and the other half we're powdered (Sam favored the latter and I the former). Every bite was thick and doughy, giving me a good teeth sinking experience, and while at first my Hebrew College coworkers stayed away claiming necessary diets, there were soon chunks missing from donuts and a family trip planned to sample the plethora of other different donut flavors.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Parshat Shemot

Last time around for Parshat Shemot, we talked about the trepidatious beginning of Moses's life. This time, let's take a look at how the guy turns out. Despite having grown up in the palace of Pharoh, his allegiance doesn't lie with the Egyptian king. When he witnesses an Egyptian task master beating one of the Hebrew slaves he's unable to stand by and watch such a ghastly act. Moses confirms that the coast is clear before he knocks off that Egyptian task master and buries him in the sand.

Moses continues on this valiant path and next reproaches two Hebrews for fighting with each other. They do not take kindly to this feedback and ask Moses "So, what are ya gonna do about it? Kill us like you did that Egyptian?" That's when he realizes he's in trouble and soon Pharoh sets out to kill him so Moses flees. And like the good Israelite that he is, he ends up at a well outside of the Kingdom of Egypt. It's evident that Moses is a descendant of Jacob when he flexes a little muscle well-side and saves damsels in distress from some harassing traveling herdsmen. The impressed women bring Moses to their father, the king of Midyan. Grateful for Mose's bravery he gives him his daughter Tziporah's hand in marriage.

Now a family man, Moses lives in Midyan until the Pharoh with the vendetta against him dies. It is after this that he encounters God in the form of a burning bush while tending his flock. God calls on him from amidst those branches, to be the leader that will take the Hebrew nation out of Egypt. But despite the fact that he's already stood up to power in three situations, this makes Moses nervous.

His self confidence gets put to the test when he finally makes it back to Egypt, and together with his brother Aron goes to face the new Pharoh. Despite Moses' cry to let his people go, Pharoh is unmoved. Instead he decides to make the Hebrew nation's work even harder; from now on, he orders, we won't provide the slaves with straw to make bricks, they'll have to go and collect the straw themselves. And they'll still have to meet the same daily quota for brick production. The nation blames Moses for this harsher situation they find themselves in, which isn't much of a confidence booster for Moses. But God assures Moses that He's on his side and that soon Pharoh will bow to a greater power and let them go. But you'll have to wait till next week to see how that gets resolved.

In the mean time, I've got the idea to make something related to the straw in the story. Not that straw itself is a particularly delicious ingredient, but a dish that looks like straw could actually be quite tasty. Especially if that dish is puff pastry strips twisted into sticks (or straws if you will) and dusted with zaatar. Sounds delicious and easy right? Zaatar is a Middle Eastern spice that has a green color and is made up of sesame seeds, thyme, marjoram, and sumac. It's musky flavor is used in falafel balls as well as Israeli cheeses and salad dressing. Most pizza shops in Israel will also have some zaatar in a glass salt shaker next to the requisite garlic salt and red pepper flakes. You can buy zaatar in specialty or kosher supermarkets and I promise that after you use it in this recipe you'll find many other ways to enjoy it (it's great over eggs, baked with chicken and labane yogurt with pita).

Zaatar Straws
I found this delectable recipe at recipes.com

1/2 cup flour
1 package of puff pastry
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp zaatar
1 egg
2 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Set the puff pastry dough onto a floured surface and roll the dough out with a rolling pin to an perfect 8 x 12 inch rectangle.

Brush the olive oil all over the dough and sprinkle one half of the rectangle with zaatar. Fold the clean half over the zaatar covered half. Sprinkle with flour and roll out to an 8 x 12 rectangle again. Again brush with oil, sprinkle zaatar over one half of the rectangle and fold the clean half over the zaatar half. Roll with a pin a few times and then slice with a sharp knife into 1/4 inch long strips aka straws.

Take each straw one at a time and twist a few times. Lay the twisted straws on a baking sheet. Mix the egg with water and paint the mixture over the straws.

Bake the straws for 12 minutes until golden brown. Let cool for a minute before loosening from baking sheet. Serve alone or with a dip like hummus or tatziki.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bless You - Parshat Vayechi

Did you miss me last week? Sorry about that - with Chanukah celebrations, a trip to visit family in Florida and adjusting to the new job (which is going very well!) I didn't make it over to Double Portion. But I'm back for the final portion in the Book of Genesis, Parshat Vayechi.

We loose two of our trusty Biblical characters in this portion and learn of the legacy they leave behind. At the age of 147 Jacob passes away surrounded by his family and at the end of the portion his son Joseph passes at 110. But before either of them expire Jacob leaves Joseph with a double portion of inheritance for his two sons Ephrayim and Menasheh.

These two boys are the first Jacob wishes to bless when he is ailing. He announces that these grandsons will be like actual children to him. "Ephrayim and Menasheh shall be mine no less than Reuven and Shimon." Grief and a feeling of loss are what motivates him - since his beloved wife Rachel was taken before she was able to have more children. We know that her two children we're Jacob's favorite, and the fact that they have healthy children of their own is a blessing to Jacob "I never expected to see you again Joseph, and here God has let me see your children as well."

These words must have made Joseph swell with pride, but a moment later he is confused by his father's actions. As Jacob stretches out his hands to bless his grandchildren, he puts his right hand on the younger Ephrayim. However, the right hand is typically used to bless the older child and Joseph tries to correct his father. But it becomes clear that Jacob wasn't experiencing any confusion himself. He explains that though the older son Menasheh will become a great people, the younger one will be even greater.

The blessing that he gives them are now lyrics to the children's lullaby "Hamalach Hagoel" (which translates to the redeeming angel) -
The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked
The God who has been my Shepard from birth till today
The angel who has redeemed me from harm, bless these boys.
In them may my name be recalled and the names of my fathers Abraham and Issac and may they be teeming nations upon the earth.

Jacob concludes the blessing by stating that all parents of Israel will bless their children to be like Ephrayim and Menasheh and indeed, to this day parents bless their sons before Shabbat Dinner with "May God make you like Ephrayim and Menasheh. May God bless you and guard you ..." (daughters get blessed to be like Sara, Rivkah, Rachel and Lea). Sam's father calls each week before Shabbat to give him this blessing over the phone lines, and my father does the same for me and my brother when we aren't together for Shabbat. But in our families we are strict about giving these blessings in birth order - I get mine before my brother gets his. However, Jacob does just the opposite with his grandchildren and succeeds in switching the status of Ephrayim to that of the older and Menasheh to the younger. This flip flop reminds me of the way Jacob stole the rite of the first born from his brother Esav and got his blessing from his dad. I guess that old habits die hard for Jacob.

To remember this Ephrayim and Menasheh switch we're going to take an item that appears at the beginning of the meal and bring it back at the end - to serve challah for dessert. I've found a bread pudding recipe that you can make in a crock pot! Now I love to cook in the crock pot, but I have never ventured into the realm of slow cooker desserts. I got the idea from a cookbook that I recently added to my collection - Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes by Laura Frankel. So far I have only tried one recipe from her book because I'm finding that the recipes call for a bit too much hands on attention for a cooking method that is praise for the fact that one can throw a bunch of things in and come back eight hours later to a savory dish with well developed flavors. But I guess I should trust this kosher chef who worked for Wolfgang Puck.

I can't share pics because my plan it to put it in the crock pot about an hour before Shabbat and then keep it on warm until dessert time - which is sounding like a perfect idea after seeing that the temperature is going to drop to 22 degrees here in Cambridge!

Slow Cooker Bread Pudding
Adapted from Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes by Laura Frankel

2 tbsp shortening (like buttery sticks, see image below)
1 lb challah loaf
4 eggs
4 cups full fat soy milk
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 sugar
1/4 maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/ cup chopped toasted pecans
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Optional Sauce
1.5 cups maple syrup
1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp cinnamon

Grease the bottom of the slow cooker insert with some shortening. Slice the challah into 1.5 inch slices and lay them in the bottom of the insert.

In a bowl whisk the eggs, soy milk, sugars, syrup, vanilla, pecans, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour this mixture over the bread and cook on high for 3 hours. Keep on warm until ready to serve.

If you would like to make the sauce, bring the syrup, honey and cinnamon to a boil in a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve this drizzled over your plated dessert.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Parshat Miketz and Chanukah Roundup

Up till now Joseph's life has been like a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs. But that ride finally starts to slow down and keep an even keel (though at a high altitude) in this week's portion, Parshat Miketz.

That roller coaster ride started with a steep ascent when Joseph was doted on by his father and then took a real dive when he was beat down and almost killed by his brothers then sold into slavery. His ride took an upturn when he was sold to a man who was the chief steward of Pharoh, who treated Joseph with respect and gave him a good deal of responsibility.

But the ride plummets again when that man's wife falsely accuses Joseph, a pretty handsome guy, of unwanted advances and he is thrown into jail. The ride starts to slowly chug up an incline when he successfully interprets the dreams of two of Pharoh's stewards who he meets in jail. In return Joseph asks that they try and get him out of jail. But they forget all about him and Joseph's ride races downhill.

In this week's portion one of his former jail mates finally remembers Joseph when Pharoh is seeking some explanation for his own dreams. In Pharoh's first dream sickly sheaves of wheat swallow fat sheaves but don't look any fatter - in the second the same thing happens with skinny and fat cows.

They bring Joseph out of jail and spiffy him up so that he'll be presentable to Pharoh - the ride is slowly chugging upwards. He tells Pharoh that the two dreams mean the same thing - they're a sign of the next 14 years to come. First there will be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine.

Joseph suggests Pharoh appoint someone to oversee the years of plenty and put some wheat away into a silo savings account to dole out during the years of plenty. Pharoh deems that here is no better person to do so than Joseph and at the age of 30 he is made Pharoh's second in command. His ride is no longer in danger of dropping after this ascent.

Pharoh pimps Joseph's ride - giving him a kingly signet ring, a gold chained necklace, royal robes and his own chariot to ride in. He also gives him an Egyptian name - Tzafnat Panea- and a wife named Osnat.

Joseph becomes a successful family man and his smooth ride continues. He has two children, Ephrayim and Menashe, and he collects so much grain in the time of plenty that he can't even measure it. When the famine hits, the people of Egypt complain to Pharoh for bread and Joseph rations out grain to all the Egyptians. And when people start coming from far and wide because the famine had spread all over Joseph is able to help them all too.

It's a no-brainer that this week's recipe needs to involve some kind of grain or bread. I've decide to share a corn bread recipe with you. It's completely dairy free but, in my opinion, tastes just as good as the versions that contain butter and milk. I've had a Southern friend challenge me but it's true, I've just got to get him to taste some. I think you'll appreciate this dish whether you're famished or not.

P.S. Thanks to Sam for all the transportation shots. What you can't see in the shots is me in the background tapping my foot and looking at my watch and wondering when he's going to stop taking pictures of the train/bus/car etc and let us get onto the next site. But now I can appreciate this habit of his as these shots are a great addition to this post and quite artistic when I look at each one on its own.

Corn Bread
This recipe is adapted from Cooking Light’s Annual Recipes 2004 Cook Book
1.5 cups flour
1.5 cups of cornmeal
2 tbsp sugar
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
5 ears of corn
1 and 1/4 cup of water
4 tbsp of oil, divided
2 eggs
Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a 9 inch round cast iron skillet into the oven.
In a medium bowl mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder.
Shuck the 5 ears of corn and then cut off the tips of the ears. One by one balance the ear on the cut off ends and slide the knife down the sides of the cob to remove the corn kernels. After you have done this with each ear divide the corn kernels in half.
In a food processor, blend half the corn, 2 tbsp oil, and water for a minute and a half. Add the eggs and process until combined. Add this wet mixture to the dry flour mixture. Add the rest of the corn kernels and stir until incorporated.
Using an oven mitt pull the cast iron skillet out of the oven and add 2 tbsp of oil and swirl while it melts to cover the bottom and sides of the skillet. Add the corn bread batter to the skillet. Bake for 25 minutes.
Serve warm.

Have you noticed that this year there is more to retail Chanukah than shiny gelt and gilded menorahs?

On a recent shopping trip to Target I noticed three end caps devoted to new and cool Chanukah paraphernalia like candle counter place mats that rotate to reveal another lit candle each night. At Bed Bath and Beyond they've got silver colored mats to place under your menorah flecked with star bursts and the blessings in Hebrew.

CVS also had, in my own estimation, 50% more Chanukah cards to choose from than ever before. I was drawn by the humor and art on many of them that I ended up buying a whole bunch to send out - and I am not much of a card sender.

I'm also feeling a greater devotion of cyberspace to the Festival of Lights. Target's website has returns 12 pages for a "hanukah" search - I'm loving the woman of valor recipe card holder and the ballet menorah. And if you're looking for more menorahs check out Apartment Therapy - they rounded up their favorite "modern" menorah's in a post today.

If what you're really after though is food, visit Bon Appetit's website and dig through their Chanukah menus from the last several years. There are some great choices that go well beyond golden latkas: chickpea latkas with harissa, latkas with zucchini and sage and porcini paprika latkas.

This year Chanukah starts on Wednesday night.

Aside from all the traditional fried food, there's also a tradition to eat dairy foods on Chanukah. This comes from the story of Yehudit, a woman who lived in the time of the Maccabees and had access to a Greek army general. She fed him some salty cheese to make him thirsty and then gave him plenty of wine to quench his thirst, and he promptly fell asleep. Yehudit then killed him which threw the Greek army into a state of panic and they fled from their posts.

Suggested Double Portion Recipes for Chanukah

Fried Goat Cheese and Roasted Beet Salad
Lox and Cream Cheese Roll Ups
Crostini with Fig Spread and Chevre
Date Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Pistachios

Main Course
Green and Red Onion Latkas
Garden Vegetable Lasagna
Smoked Salmon and Swiss Chard Quiche

Drinks and Dessert
Winter Sangria
Key Lime Cheesecake

Have a Happy Chanukah!

And Happy Roni V'Simchi Abba!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Post Thanksgiving

It's nice and quite here in Cambridge. Yesterday we slept in until 11 and then I spent a leisurely afternoon in the kitchen whipping up our Thanksgiving dinner for two. Trying to evoke my family Thanksgiving table, I set ours with some candles and autumnal flowers and encircled them with the dishes I prepared. For our own touch we lit a fire in the fire place and put on some bluesy music. For cooking my first Thanksgiving meal on my own things came out pretty well.

I loved the new recipe for cranberry salsa- the lime juice and cilantro are some of my favorite flavors in guacamole, corn salad and other Mexican dishes that we often make at home. The pepitas gave the dish a good crunch and the bright pink cranberries paired beautifully with the green herbs.

This dish actually inspired a last minute cocktail for our meal - I boiled down some cranberries with water and sugar in a saucepan and then mixed it in a blender with fresh lime juice, tequila and triple sec to make a cranberry margarita.

My stuffing came out a little dry - I would add another cup of stock as well as an egg next time and cover it while baking (I've edited this in the recipe from my last post). I also heard a neat trick on npr this week from Alton Brown - put your turkey wings on top of your stuffing while cooking to add flavor and moisture. Too bad we ended up without any turkey wings.

That's right, my bargain turkey was actually a turkey breast and back. I didn't notice anything was missing until Sam came into the kitchen to help me prep the bird and he said - where are the legs? Huh. We looked at the package and peeled away the Shaw's supermarket label that said turkey to find another label that said turkey breast. Oh well. I still was able to stuff the bird with lemon, sage, thyme and rosemary and I cooked it breast side down which made the meat very moist- even palatable to Sam who normally prefers dark meat.

Dessert was a hit -a combination of pumpkin topped with candied pecans a la mode with surprisingly creamy non dairy mocha fudge ripple ice cream. After all was eaten, and we'd rested on the couch we went out to see Harry Potter in IMAX with our friends Oren and Tamara. I won't spoil anything for you - I'll just say that I had to hold Sam's hand a lot and that Tamara and I were glad that we bot have husbands who like to stay until the very last credit has rolls off the screen - it left no need to explain ourselves.

This morning we had leftover turkey and cranberry salsa with scrambled eggs in a warm tortilla! And now our house smells like chocolate from baking this cake to take to our Shabbat dinner hosts tonight.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Interpreting Dreams - Parshat Vayeshev

Joseph gets his start interpreting dreams way before another famous Jew capitalizes on the skill. Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with the two dreams that Joseph dreams in this week's portion, Parshat Vayeshev, as well as the two dreams that he interprets for some new found friends. But what matters more is what Joseph thought of them.

As we talked about last year, Joseph - the son whom Rachel had yearned for so long, turns out to be a real brat. He's always following after his brothers to report if they fell out of line, and he clearly thinks himself better than the rest of the brood. This comes through in two dreams that Joseph has in the portion - and while he doesn't explicitly share his interpretations, their meanings are obvious to his family. In his first dream Joseph and his brothers were binding sheaves of wheat when Joseph's sheaf stood up on its own and the others gathered around and bowed to his.

"Do you mean to reign over us?" his brothers exclaimed on hearing his dream. Without answering he continues to tell them about another dream - this time the sun, moon and eleven stars were bowing down to Joseph. Now his father is the one to get annoyed "What is this dream? Are your mother and brothers and I going to bow to you?" Again we get no answer from Joseph, and the dream sharing leads to his brothers plot to kill Joseph.

When that plot goes awry and Joseph ends up in an Egyptian jail he meets two men whose dreams he interprets. First, a sommelier tells him that he saw a vine in front of him with three branches, that rapidly sprouted grapes, and he pressed them into Pharoh's cup. Joseph explains that the dream means in three days Pharoh will pardon the sommelier and give his job back. Next, a baker tells that in his dream there were three open baskets of baked goods on his head and birds were eating from the top one. Joseph explains that the three baskets represented three days, in which time Pharoh will behead him.

Indeed, the interpretations of these dreams do come true, as do the first dreams that Joseph shared. In homage to Joseph's dreaming and his ability to interpret the dreams of others I've got a savory dish of sun chokes sauteed with sun dried tomatoes and yellow peppers, reminiscent of the sun in his dream that bows down to Joseph's star.


I hope everyone has a very happy turkey day. This year Sam and I are celebrating just the two of us in Cambridge, and we're keeping it simple. I bought a 7.5lb turkey for $11 (I'm so proud of that deal) which I'll smother in fake butter and stuff with herbs, lemon and onion. To go along with that I'll be making my mother's stuffing with roasted chestnuts, celery and challah (the recipe is below) and trying out a new cranberry relish recipe upon Sam's request - cranberry salsa with cilantro and pepitas that appeared in this month's bon appetit.

Sauteed Sun Choke, Yellow Pepper and Sun Dried Tomato

2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 yellow peppers, seeded and sliced
5 small sun chokes, peeled and sliced
5 sun dried tomatoes chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a medium pan, heat olive oil and garlic. Add the onions and sun dried tomatoes and stir for 3 minutes. Then add the yellow peppers and sun chokes and saute for five minutes more. The sun chokes will be crunchy and sweet and the garlic, onion, pepper combo will be soft and rich in your mouth.

Thanksgiving Stuffing

1 loaf of 5 day old challah
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, washed and chopped
1 cup chestnuts, roasted, peeled and chopped
1 egg
2 cup stock
2 tbsp poultry seasoning

Slice the challah and toast in a warm oven for 5 minutes, until golden brown. Let the slices cool a bit and then cube them and toss them into a bowl.

Saute the onion and celery until the onions become translucent. Add to the bowl of bread cubes. Add the shelled roasted chestnuts and season it all with slat and pepper.

Mix the poultry seasoning with the stock and slowly pour over the bread cubes and vegetables. Beat the egg and pour that over as well ans then stir it all together.

Transfer the mixture to a baking dish, cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Soups On - Parshat Vayishlach

The season is changing and this week marks a big change for me. After being at CJP for four and a half years - first as an intern and subsequently working in the Young Leadership Division - my time there is coming to a close. I have had some incredible experiences in the role - leading Missions to Israel, creating Jewishly rich and creative programs and connecting young adults to their philanthropic passions - all while working with amazing volunteers. I will be taking a short vacation and then starting a brand new job at Hebrew College in Newton Center. For those of you non locals that's still in the Boston vicinity. Now I'll be driving to work instead of taking the subway, which I'm actually kind of looking forward to (replace dark tunnels with tree lined Charles River and sneezing passengers with extra wbur listening).

I am someone who has always faced change with feelings of excitement and anticipation. Just as I like seeing new emails, meeting new people and trying new recipes - there's a rush when I face a big new situation in my life. I am especially anticipating this new job since I have been wanting to transition into the field of Jewish teaching and learning. It is something I am truly passionate about and that I manage to incorporate into my life via this blog and other teaching moments, but until now hasn't been my full time focus. I am very much looking forward to running the community programs that I will be working on at Hebrew College for parents and young professionals.

Speaking of changes, in this week's portion, Parshat Vayishlach, Jacob has an about face. Instead of making sure he stays as far away from his brother Esav as possible - since last he heard his brother wanted to kill him for stealing his birthright and his blessing - Jacob actually seeks him out. And he brings gifts - a huge heard of cows, camels, sheep and goats - preempting a strike from Esav. Jacob thinks that if he butters his brother up with gifts, Esav will forget all the bad blood that's between them.

There's a very strange vibe between the brothers in the text. They are overly nice to one another. Their words drip with saccharin "I have enough, keep your gifts" says Esav, at first refusing Jacob's herd. "But," Jacob responds "seeing your face is like seeing the face of God." That seemed to do the trick for Esav. "Let's travel together - after you my brother."
"No no you should travel first, my family goes quite slowly."

I'm not sure who they are fooling with all these niceties, but it may be helping them each deflect their true feelings. Jacob is trying to conceal his fear of his brother by being so generous and Esav is masking his anger and vengeance by returning the niceties.

In my humble opinion I think Jacob would've been better off offering Esav some no-strings-attached soup in place of that large herd. First of all, he knows Esav likes to eat more than he likes to cook - so why hand him a whole bunch of raw ingredients? And it could really patch things up from that time he made him that lentil soup but first made Esav hand over his birthright before Jacob gave him the soup. If Jacob would have cooked up some comforting, fall like soup, I think it would have been a much quicker path to honest reconciliation.

If it were me I would have served Esav a bowl of roasted butternut squash and garlic soup. I discovered the recipe in a friend's blog - Noshing Confessions - and of course ended up taking a few short cuts on my test run. Right off the bat I knew I didn't have it in me to peel any more raw butternut squash this season and get my hands covered in that filmy itch-oranginess. So I stuck two whole squashes into a 400 degree oven for an hour or so and deconstructed them once they had cooled down and were incredibly submissive under my knife. I also eliminated the beer when I realized that Sam and I had consumed the last bottle the night before. Oops. It still turned out rich and tasted like roasted fall goodness.

I met Leah-the-Nosher at a Jewish educators conference this summer in Boston and am thrilled to serve it up this week as I mark my transition into an official role in that field.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic Soup

Adapted from Leah's Roasted Garlic and Fall Squash Soup at Noshing Confessions

2 whole butternut squash
1 onion
1 entire head of garlic
5 cups water
1 tbsp onion soup mix
Fresh thyme
1/4 cup of Balsamic vinegar

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the two butternut squash in a large baking dish, along with the entire head of garlic with the peels on, and cook in the oven for one hour. Let cool completely so that it is comfortable to hand with your bare hands. This can be done way ahead of when you're going to make your soup.

Once the squash are cool to the touch cut each in half and scoop the seeds out with a spoon. You can either discard the seeds or rinse and roast and save for another use (like healthy snacking). Using a clean spoon start scraping the squash flesh into a large pot that you will cook the soup in. Once you have gotten all of the squash into the pot (and none of the peel) chop the onion and add it to the pot as well.

Add the water, onion soup mix and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Turn the flame down to low and add the salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. Simmer for 30 - 40 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to get the soup to a chunky/smooth consistency. Add a bit more salt to taste and serve warm.

And here's some eye candy - a pear cranberry tart I made this week - so seasonal and so flavorful with a not to sweet crispy crust and a gingery sweet compote inside.