My mother would hang the wet laundry on clothes lines that were strung across the rooftop of our building. She carried it up the stairs in a laundry basket with her wooden clothespins resting on top. On her way up she would pass the apartment of an Italian family with a daughter named Rosemary, who was a friend of mine. Her grandmother, Rose, lived next door to them, and sometimes my mother would stop in to see her and share a small glass of wine. Rose spoke very little English so I have no idea how she and my mother communicated but it didn’t seem to matter. With people living in such close proximity language barriers didn’t stand in the way of relationships.
This past week we were invited to friends for Shabbat dinner and I was seated next to a lovely woman in her eighties. Intrigued by her accent, I asked about her background. We spent the next three hours talking, and during that time I learned a lot about her life. An Egyptian Jew, she spoke of her experiences in Israel and the struggles of Sephardic immigrants in a country governed by Ashkenazim. She spoke of her husband and children and the ups and downs one has during a lifetime. Throughout her story, she kept stating that no matter what challenges you are dealt in life, “somehow you adjust.” As I stood up to leave, she took both of my hands in hers and asked me to please come and visit her. On our way home, I told Norm all about this woman and then I realized that we never even learned each other’s names.
That interaction made me wonder about my mother and Rose, who I am sure learned less about each other’s lives in the thirteen years that they were neighbors than this woman revealed in the three hours we spent together. It made me think of friendships and how we define them. The glass of wine that Rose and my mother shared, was no less significant for them than friendships based on a more intimate knowledge of each other’s lives. Sometimes, a glass of wine or a dish of Moussaka is enough.
This is the recipe for the Moussaka that we all shared on Shabbat.
4 globe eggplants
4 onions, diced
2 pounds ground chicken or turkey
1 tsp each of ginger, turmeric, cumin and paprika
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz. can of tomato sauce
1 small can of tomato paste
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
6 eggs, beaten
Drizzle about 3 Tbs of olive oil on a cookie sheet and pre-heat sheet in a 350 degree oven. Peel and slice eggplant, 1/2″ thick, sprinkle with salt, and bake in a single layer on cookie sheet till soft. Turn eggplant slices over and bake other side. (you can fry the eggplant if you prefer but this is a much lighter version) Heat 3 Tbs olive oil in a large heavy pot and add 4 finely diced onions. Saute till golden. Add ground chicken, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, paprika, and salt and pepper. With a wooden spoon, continue breaking up ground chicken till seasonings are incorporated and meat is lightly browned. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, and cilantro to chicken mixture and cook for about 20 minutes over a low flame, stirring frequently.
Grease a 9 x 13 dish and cover the bottom of the dish with half the meat sauce and add a layer of eggplant. Repeat this so that you end with the eggplant on top. Beat 6 eggs and pour over dish. Bake about one hour, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven.