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.

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