Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our First "Date" Without the Baby

A new spark of romance kindles within me as my husband and I walk hand-in-hand around Inwood, the Manhattan neighborhood we call home. Strange as it is for us to be just a couple again for a bit, at the same time I feel free skipping along the sidewalk excitedly and joking with my Sweety-Pie.

"Let's check out that new grocery store," he suggests. He is referring not to a store that is actually new but to the Fine Fare ( ) at 4776 Broadway that I entered for the first time on December 25th because my usual local grocery store was closed for the Christmas holiday. I'm so glad to share the wondrous discovery of a new food source with my Sweetheart! I recall my pleasure at the site of a huge selection of hummus, salsa, and other dips as I stepped into the surprisingly huge supermarket and my wide-eyed amazement as I spotted the fresh fish counter and requested my usual two pieces of tilapia -- I never thought I could get fresh tilapia so close to home! He stocks up on fresh fruit moments after coming inside.

He adds a big, beautiful eggplant to our cart, saying, "How about eggplant parmesan for dinner?" ( )  As we wander among the long rows of shelves filled with delicacies, adding some choice items to our basket, I worry out loud to my husband: "But we need mozarella cheese. We have parmesan cheese, but we're out of mozzarella and they don't have kosher cheese here." Or do they? We find the cheese section. I give it a quick glance, not expecting to find any kosher cheese, but my husband with his eagle eyes spots one product with a kosher symbol -- and it's even mozzarella! As usual, I was unduly negative, looking for reasons why our plan wouldn't work; and as usual, he proved me wrong.

So I'll be eating tonight, besides eggplant parmesan, the lesson that I should relax, be positive, and expect plans to work out. It's a lesson that I hope we can feed to our baby --though she will have to wait to taste that eggplant parmesan.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Warm Your Belly

The howling winter wind bites at my face like an angry dog as I trudge through the icy white mounds on the ground. My whole body is frozen solid. Just one more block until I'm home, I tell myself. Finally I push open the door to my apartment building, and when I pass through the portal between the merciless open air and the secure shelter, my skin begins to thaw.

It takes more than that to warm my belly, though. Upstairs in my apartment, I greet my family and head straight for the kitchen. I grab a pot and fill it with water. I chop chop chop and toss in this and that, and several minutes later my husband and I are sitting down to savor our hot, steaming bowls of soup....

I don't make soup from a recipe; I make it up every time. Basically, to make a soup that's yummy and a healthy, complete meal I just use:

-Osem or Telma soup mix or chicken broth;
-any combination of veggies, e.g. carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, green beans, zucchini;
-some kind of protein like chicken, beans, nuts, or eggs (to make it eggdrop soup);
-some kind of starch such as brown rice, potatoes, corn, or whole wheat pasta;
-fresh herbs and spices like onions, garlic, ginger, parsley, and/or any kind of dried herbs and spices;
-just a bit of salt, or no salt at all since there's plenty in the broth already
-sometimes pasta sauce and/or soy sauce.

There's no uniform cooking time. Soup with potatoes or dry beans probably needs at least 20 minutes, while chicken needs to be cooked through thoroughly, usually at least a half hour. Brown rice could also be done in a half hour if you cook the soup on high the whole time, but make sure there's plenty of water if you're going to do that. I sometimes end up with rice pilaf instead of soup if I don't put enough water in. Pasta needs the cooking time that's given on the package, while soup without any of these items might actually be done in, like, five minutes. Also, the order of ingredients doesn't matter, but I would recommend putting the water in first and having it cook while you add everything else.

I find, during the winter, that I make soup for dinner several nights a week, but it comes out different every time since I use a different combination of stuff every time.

Please leave comments with other tips, ideas, and/or questions about winter soup!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Our Quest Begins...

…at my late-childhood home in Cincinnati, Ohio.

December 2002.

I’m in 12th grade this year. Sometimes I can’t wait to get out of here, but now is one time I love being at home with my parents and five cats. The Jewish holiday Chanukah starts this evening. Festive music emanates from the living room as I dash up and down the basement stares to gather decorations that are stored there. While helping my parents put them up, I sing and dance joyously with the music. I search through drawers to find the dreidles, special spinning tops that are used for a game that is customarily played on Chanukah. I look forward to playing it again with my parents this year. Even the cats are excited, what with all the new toys for them that have appeared.

My mom brings the tape player into the kitchen. Out come the grater, potatoes, matzah meal, eggs, and salt. It’s time to make latkes, potato pancakes fried in oil that are traditionally eaten on Chanukah. Our family tradition has been to make loads of latkes every year with my mom, enough to last the whole eight-day holiday. We eagerly get busy grating the potatoes, mixing the ingredients, and frying them up. We wait impatiently for some to cool off so we can each have our first taste, and when we do…mmm, sooo good!

Later in the afternoon, when the sun goes down, my parents and I rummage through the box of colorful candles and pick the candles we want to light for the first night of Chanukah. We sing the blessings for the candles in unison, along with some traditional songs. I can’t wait for dinner, which I know will include those delicious latkes. Together as a family, the three of us sit down to dinner and begin enjoying our special holiday treat.

Fast-forward to December 2003. I’m in Israel for the school year, in a post-high-school Jewish studies program. My friends and I light Chanukah candles together and look forward to a special trip and a holiday party. As much fun as I’m having, though, this is the first time I haven’t been home at all for Chanukah, and I’m a little sad about that. I get an email from my mom during the holiday; she says she’s also a little sad that I’m not home. What is it we both miss the most? Not enjoying the music together. Not putting up the decorations. Not lighting candles and singing together. Not even the dreidle game. The most poignant Chanukah tradition for both my mom and me is making latkes together. In fact, my mom says she couldn’t bring herself to make latkes at all this year, without me there.

I’m glad we had such a special time making latkes last year, because I don’t know when I’ll next be home for Chanukah, now that I’m an adult. I’ll hopefully continue the tradition with my own children and thus create meaningful moments with them, like my mom did with me.