Published in the Shiur Times Magazine, October 2008
The rain has been pouring down hard tonight. I feel relief. It’s back to this. Always this. A hot mug of Earl Grey, a cookie to dunk, a good book, a purring cat, this bright warm corner of the world and a window from which to look out upon the rest of it – shelter from the storm. The chagim are over. As cathartic, joyful, and fulfilling as they were, this first month of the year – my first Tishrei in Israel – was a marathon of a whirlwind of a rollercoaster. A clearly confused, chaotically ordered, tear-peppered laughter, ever-moving, ever-so-long of a month. It’s high time for some comfort.
Cheshvan, the month without holidays, is anomalous indeed in the Jewish calendar. I, on the other hand, am thankful for it. There is nothing wrong with a month of normal. In fact, it makes sense. The dull task of getting back to the business of life is actually rather important. After every beginning, we need to build the rest. Because it’s coming on winter – a darker and colder time, by nature – and it’s a time to be sensible, to work, to prepare. For me, the absence of holidays does not mean the absence of joyful moments. In fact, getting back to basic routines highlights those simplest of pleasures. It’s the perfectly spicy-tangy-dripping shakshuka during my lunch break; the midnight PB&J I shovel into my happy American mouth; and the blessing of hot chicken soup and challah on Shabbat.
In America, the tail end of November brings Thanksgiving, which beside Pesach, is my favorite holiday. A celebration after the harvest, before the worst of winter comes to call. Like with many Jewish holidays, I relish the opportunity to reflect collectively on the blessings of our lives. And of course, there is the never-ending parade of comfort foods. As I grew up, I absorbed the meaning of “labor of love” through my fingers, flesh, and aching bones while creating these feasts – my vast array of spiced pies, chestnut stuffing, orange-zesty cranberry sauce, and of course the succulent herb-crusted bird. I grew to understand that the pleasure was as much in the work as it was in devouring the delectable meal.
We equate food with comfort, and rightly so. Food activates the release of chemicals which physically calm us. Food is one of the most powerful triggers of memories. And food brings people together. Altogether, when we eat, we become physically content, remember happy memories, and are usually joined by friends and family. We don’t need festivals and holidays to eat. We must eat every day, and best more than once. Every time we do, we comfort ourselves and each other. Whether a crust of bread or a lavish banquet, every meal is a celebration – a celebration of our hard work and survival.
Last year, as a very new olah, I went to a massive catered Thanksgiving dinner at a hotel. Nice as it was to not be alone, this year will be different. I’m looking forward to these cold nights ahead, listening to the deafening drumming of the raindrops outside. After all, I’ve got a gigantic menu to plan.
You, dear readers, in the simple act of your reading, are participating in an unprecedented event: I am sharing my most prized recipe. It came down from my father through his first secretary, and I am not exaggerating when I say that these are the best brownies in the world. I dislike the word “best,” in all its impossible, immeasurable, innate exclusivity. But in this case, it just happens to be true. They are at once decadent and the epitome of comfort food. A dish that would be as much in its element at the Ritz as it would be at the corner deli. This recipe has been one of my life’s greatest comforts. In my younger years, I protected this recipe with my life. I know better now. Thank you, Daddy, for making these for us, and thank you Maria for sharing the recipe with him.
4 oz. (115 grams) Bittersweet chocolate
½ C. Butter
2 C. Sugar
1 C. Flour
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 C. Chocolate Chips
2 C. Mini-marshmallows
1 C. chopped walnuts
1) Preheat oven to 350˚ F (180˚ C). Grease a 13” X 9” (33 cm x 23 cm) pan.
2) Melt chocolate and butter together. Let cool slightly. Beat in sugar well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Mix in flour.
3) In a separate bowl, combine chocolate chips, marshmallows, and walnuts. Add to batter and mix well.
4) Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth even. Bake 40-45 minutes. Let cool until set. Cut and serve.
Red Lentil, Pumpkin and Apricot Soup
A very easy, very interesting, very comforting winter soup. With thanks to Jeremy Collins, who may have the right to claim this recipe; to Diana Pyatov for watching him make it and attempting to replicate it with me; and to the internet and my culinary school education, for helping me refine the technique and amounts. Amazing how recipes are created, compressed, stretched, torn to pieces and put back together again!
1kg of pumpkin (or any hard squash, i.e. butternut), peeled and de-seeded, cut into small chunks
150g red lentils, rinsed and drained
50g dried apricots, roughly chopped
2 tbs. olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
4 cups boiling water
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1) Pour the olive oil into a soup pot, and over a medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic until softened. Sprinkle in the ground turmeric, ground coriander, and ground cumin. Cook, stirring constantly for another minute.
2) Add the pumpkin, red lentils, apricots, and boiling water. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce heat. Simmer for 30-45 minutes or until the pumpkin and lentils are soft. Take the pot off the stove to cool slightly.
3) Strain the solids from the broth, and proceed to blend the vegetables, adding the broth back little by little in the process, until the soup is smooth and the desired thickness has been achieved. If no food processor or blender is available, a potato masher and some elbow grease can do the trick.
4) Taste and season with salt and pepper before returning the soup to the pot and reheating.