Saturday, November 24, 2007
My Thanksgiving dinner broke all of her rules. There were thirteen of us around the table. Actually, my table only holds twelve comfortably - but with good friends --- we scrunched up a bit and all was fine. We were four married couples, one gay, two widows and two married women whose husbands couldn't attend.
Having broken all of the rules with my guest list - the dinner went on to be very traditional. Two turkeys as we can't get anything bigger than an eight kilo turkey here (about 17 pounds) and there has to be enough to go around generously plus leftovers for whoever wants to take home a "care package", chestnut stuffing, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potato-glazed carrot-pumpkin souffle, corn pudding, green bean-cream of mushroom soup (parve of course)-and French's onion ring casserole, Brussels sprouts and smoked goose breast (in place of pancetta), gravy, cranberry sauce and cranberry relish.
We finished with apple pie, pecan pie and lemon meringue pie. All accompanied by wonderful red wine - Merlot and Notera - from my friend Arnon's yekev (winery) "Anatot".
Mind you, this did not go off without a hitch or two. My microwave packed in on Tuesday evening - how to warm everything up to get to the table hot? I called my trusty and reliable repair-man - a renaissance man if ever there was one - Graeme Stone - an Australian psychologist cum repair man cum contractor and soon-to-be tour guide - and he saved the day. It was just a blown fuse (did you know microwave ovens have fuses inside?) and he changed the fuse on the spot.
I heard on FoxNews in the morning the statistic that full-grown turkeys have approximately 3500 feathers. Luckily my friend Myra was coming over on Wednesday to cook with me - because each of those turkeys had at least that many feathers, if not more. For those lucky Americans who buy turkeys completely denuded - you don't know just how lucky you are. Here, the major feathers are removed but there are always hundreds of pin-feathers which have managed to escape and are thus left on the chicken or turkey - we simply think of them as extra protein! Myra and I spent two hours - each - on cleaning the turkeys. That's four man-hours just for the turkeys. Not to mention all the other peeling and chopping and cutting. But we did it - with time to spare.
One last almost faschla (mix-up) - which was averted at the last minute. One friend thought that Thanksgiving was next week - so she had dinner at home and when another guest called to ask her for a lift to my house she almost fainted. Good sport that she is - she quickly dressed, picked him up, came to the party, ate a second dinner - and only told us about it afterward.
So while my dinner party broke all of my ex-friends' rules - we had a marvelous time. As always - we ate, laughed, drank, told jokes and funny stories - and were all happy to be together for yet another Thanksgiving. I've been friends with most of the guests for at least thirty years - the "newest" friend for more than ten years. And that's something to be thankful for.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
But - I'll write anyway. There's no way you can shut this girl up. It's now Sunday evening and my preparations have already started. Four days until the big dinner. The turkeys are ordered and will be picked up on Wednesday. The vegetables for the stuffing are already sauteed and in the freezer - ditto the turkey stock for the gravy, also in the freezer. The breads for the stuffing are in the fridge getting a bit stale - as they should be - so I can toast them before making the stuffing.
Have already done most of the marketing except for the fresh vegetables. Have ironed the napkins and will iron the tablecloth on Wednesday just before I put it on the table - remember? - I hate cupboard folds in my cloths. (How neurotic can you be?)
Did you read THE GREAT CRANBERRY CAPER Blog? Well - another wonderful cranberry gift came my way on Thursday. I went to my friend Susan's house to pay a shiva call (the seven days you sit in mourning after someone close to you dies). I mean no disrespect when I say it wasn't a particularly sad occasion. Yes - it's always sad when you lose a parent - but - her Dad was 96-and-a-half when he died and he lived a very good and happy and useful life - and the people at the shiva spent the time celebrating his life instead of mourning his death - what a lucky man. Anyway - after everyone had gone and Susan and I were still sitting around and talking she said "Come into the kitchen". And she opened her freezer and gave me a bag of cranberries she'd brought back from New York!! And I hadn't even told her about my cranberry trials. She simply gave me a gift.
So now I have plenty of cranberries - on Tuesday I'll make fresh cranberry sauce and fresh cranberry relish - and I won't have to worry about saying FHB - remember that? - it means Family Hold Back - what your mother always said when there were too many unexpected guests and she wasn't sure there was enough food to go around. Of course you lost both ways - not only didn't you get enough to eat - you also didn't get any dessert because your mother then said "You didn't eat your dinner - now you don't get any dessert!".
And - the best thing of all - this year I don't have to get into a swivet about making pie shells. The company that makes phyllo dough and puff pastry just came out with rolls of pie dough - so this year it's three pies for sure - no sweat.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
THE SHIRT OFF HER BACK
Two weeks ago I opened my computer to find an email that had been "lost" along the way telling me that Myra's and my friends, Sheherazad and her business partner Prashant, had to be in Jerusalem for an unexpected meeting and asking if we would be free on Saturday evening.
All well and good - but the message only arrived late Saturday afternoon and when I sent a message back to Prashant's Blackberry (don't you just love this new technology?) - they were already here. What to do? I was free - Myra was free - and I invited them to my house. After all, friends are friends and as they live in India and we live here we don't get to see each other very often. So any chance to get together is a chance not to be missed.
We had only a few hours between the time we spoke and the time they were due at my house. Achat, steym (literally one,two) Myra and I pulled things out of our freezers and fridges - she had cookies and rolls and salad stuff and I had salmon and tosfot (accompaniments) - and we all had a wonderful dinner and talked and talked until after midnight.
Sheherazad was wearing the most beautiful salwar kamize - she is stunning and wears the most elegant clothes - I remember when we all went to a wedding in Delhi and she said she was going to wear just a simple sari - and she turned up looking like something out of a fashion magazine - and so she turned up here in the most striking outfit - which I admired extravagantly. Peach colored pants, an olive green top and a scarf incorporating both those colors. Once again like something out of a fashion magazine.
Incidentally, I should tell you that Prashant's wife, Muna, is also a knockout. When I noticed her at the wedding I didn't realize she was Prashant's wife and I was going to ask her - a complete stranger at the time - if I could take her picture - she was wearing a drop-dead sari in marigold and deep wine - and I have the pictures to prove it.
The next day they were free and Myra (she is a tour guide) and I went with them on a tour of the Old City. And when we all met up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Sheherazad handed me a large bag - and inside was the salwar kamize!! What shall I say - I cried. She literally gave me the salwar kamize off her back. Did you ever hear of such a friend?
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
THE GREAT CRANBERRY CAPER
I've been planning for weeks - the guests are all invited - the turkeys are ordered - some of the marketing is done - but, wait - there are no fresh cranberries to be had in Israel. What to do.
So there I was having lunch with my dear friend _____ (all of the names have been omitted to protect the innocent) - who, incidentally is not coming this year as he has to be abroad - and I said "I have no fresh cranberries - I can't believe that I'm going to have to serve tinned cranberry sauce". A shonda (yiddish - a shame - a fate worse than death.) And _____ said, "I have a friend in the States who is coming here before Thanksgiving. I'll just ask _____ to bring some fresh cranberries for you."
After many emails back and forth - what kind do I want - what's the best way to transport them - will they still be edible after two weeks in transit (!) - my cranberries were on their way.
Their first stop was Frankfort - then on to Teheran - then on to Dubai - then on to Amman - and finally to Jerusalem - at long last. And they were in perfect shape. At each stop they were put into a refrigerator - with notes reminding _____ not to forget to take the cranberries.
And so it was that last week _____ invited me for a drink and to meet _____ who schlepped my care package halfway around the world.
And why am I protecting the innocent? Because I'm not absolutely sure that it's OK to import fresh cranberries into Israel - although I do it very often and also had _____ do it for me last year. You see, cranberries are only in the markets in the States just before Thanksgiving - where do they hide for the rest of the year? - and you can't always get them. So it falls to people who visit here around November to bring those precious berries. It's not as if I can go to New York in July and bring back cranberries and then put them in the freezer. Why should life be so simple?
Here's a thought - the cranberries have been to countries I've never visited - and will never be allowed to visit. How's that for irony? I wonder if Mr. Ahmadinejad knows he was sheltering cranberries for this nice Jewish girl?
Dear _____ and _____ - many thanks and my deepest appreciation. You will never fully understand just how happy you made me - and my guests.
I'll tell you all about my preparations and the big day as the week goes on - lots to do but I'll find time to write.
Friday, November 09, 2007
CATALONIA - CATALUNYA - part II
So let me tell you about the food there. It's much different from the rest of Spain - although I think of Catalonia as a different country - as, indeed, do the people from there. I recall eating much more meat, more vegetables as part of a meal and different kinds of soups, especially sopa de ajo (garlic soup) in the rest of Spain. The tapas (tiny one or two bite snacks) are also different. In Catalonia the tapas are more sandwich-y things - small pieces of crusty bread with spreads and that delicious Serrano ham and sausages. There wasn't a day at breakfast that I didn't have some of that ham and sausages.
Off the Rambla there is a market - "Mercat de La Boqueria" - which has stalls of the most gorgeous fruits and vegetables and meats and fish and spices. At the very back of the market is a restaurant - or rather a three-sided counter, where one perches on high stools, on the fourth side of which is a grill where the food is prepared. Only fish and shellfish, great bread for sopping up the sauces of olive oil, garlic (lots of garlic) and fresh parsley, Crema Catalan (the ubiquitous custard dessert) and beer, or wine or Cava - the Spanish sparkling wine. The restaurant is called the "Central Bar".
The menu is written on a chalkboard which hangs on the wall - and changes every day according to which fresh fish they have. As I didn't know what to order, I simply walked along the counter and looked at what people were eating and then chose. Three locals sitting next to us ordered a plate of the tiniest clams I have ever seen - each clam no larger than my thumbnail - simply done on the grill with the olive oil, garlic and parsley. The clams were piled high on the plate - and were absolutely delicious. A lot of work for a lot of clams - and absolutely worth it. We also ate fresh dorado and shrimp and razor clams - and drank Cava.
One night we ate patatas bravas - roasted or fried nuggets of potatoes with a spicy sauce, and the best grilled cuttlefish I have ever eaten....this time we drank sangria.
During the course of our stay we ate three kinds of paella - the usual seafood kind - one with black squid-ink tinting the rice and shellfish and a paella particular to Catalonia - fideua - made with tiny noodles instead of rice. When I came home I tried to replicate the paella using chicken instead of the shellfish - but it wasn't nearly as good. I think you really need the shellfish in the dish.
In Bilbao we ate in the Old Town at a famous old restaurant called "Victor Montes". We originally went there just to have some of their famous tapas and Cava - but the food was so good that when we saw them setting up for dinner we decided to stay on. The place was filled with locals - there was one table of fifteen celebrating something - and a number of smaller tables. We ate warm salt-cod salad, beans with foie gras and sweetbreads Catalan style - and, of course, Cava.
The next day in Bilbao we were exhausted from our five hours in the museum and decided to try the restaurant in our hotel - it wasn't part of the hotel, they just rented space there. The restaurant - "Zuria" - was absolutely first rate. It was decorated all in white - very striking - and the food was heavenly. We started with Zuria Croquettes - deep-fried little fish balls filled with salt-cod and cheese - ethereal. Then we went on to main courses of monkfish and cod - which we shared so we could taste more of everything - a cheese plate, bread pudding and coffee - and, of course, a crisp cold white wine.
I won't detail every meal - just more of pulpo (octopus), seafood, paella, great fish soup, salt cod, really good bread - one evening we stopped for oysters and Cava before going on to dinner - sangria, wine, surprisingly good coffee all over and imaginative tapas.
With all that good food available, just imagine how shocked I was to hear a couple near us asking someone for directions to the closest McDonalds!!! Can you believe it?
Saturday, November 03, 2007
If I told a lie
If I made you cry
When I said goodbye
From the bottom of my heart, Dear
Does anyone even remember Billy Eckstein?
So - I apologize to you. I was just about to close down shop - I wrote and wrote and never received any comments from anyone. I thought that no one was reading me anymore and no one cared.
And then - yesterday - on my email I received lots and lots of "comments" - all dated weeks and weeks ago. I then "found" a whole page on which there are lot of other "comments" - all dated a long time ago - and which I cannot open. Have these "comments" been floating around in the ether all this time? Where have they been? They have certainly never reached my Blog or my email.
I apologize to all of you who have written for not replying to you. I didn't even know you were there and now that I do know I can't retrieve the messages. I click and click and nothing seems to happen. I think that my computer has a mind of its own.
My CM (computer mumche) seems to have disappeared for the nonce. I'll try him once more and then I'll try a new CM whom Yoav suggested I use. Maybe he - they - will come up with a solution for me.
In the meantime - if you want to get in touch with me about any of my BlogsI think you had better send your "comments" directly to my email for the time being ----- Rena.Isaacson@gmail.com
I'll keep on writing and you keep on commenting - and so it goes.