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October 16, 2015
Irene Saiger

16 comments

Fall Soup

IMG_3283It simmered and simmered, slowly taking shape. I didn’t rush it because I wanted to get it right and so I allowed myself the luxury of spending hours thinking about how to step into this new role that I would be adding to my others. Daughter, wife, sister, sister-in-law, mother, daughter-in-law, and mother-in-law, but for the first time I was able to choose what I would be called.  Like sorting through a closet when going somewhere special, I tried on grandma, bubbie, nanny, safta, saftush, but none quite fit.  As in so many other parts of my life, I wanted something worn, something old, something that not only had character but had history, and that thing I love most, some connection. Then in the middle of one night, at about 3 a.m., just a few weeks before our granddaughter was born, I  chose Mima, deciding to pay tribute to the woman who saved my mother’s life.

During the war my mother’s paternal aunt Dina Rosen, came to my grandmother and told her that she was going to try to get into a work camp, hoping against all odds that she’de have a better chance of surviving the war that way.  Dina wanted to take her two youngest nieces with her.  My grandmother let my mother go, but not the baby of the family. With that single act of bravery, Dina saved her own life as well as my mother’s.  To us, she wasn’t brave, or heroic, she was just “the Mima.”

Little did I know that our granddaughter would be named Manya after my mother, and so it feels right that she has a Mima just as her namesake did.  My Mima was the only grandparent figure I had, and although I wouldn’t describe her as being overly demonstrative,  I could feel her love, especailly towards my mother who she continued to protect, adore, and treat like a daughter for the rest of her life.  By extension, I too was treated more like a grandchild than a great-niece.

Manya may choose her own name for me one day, but for now, when I call myself Mima, I think of my Mima, of her strength, her love and her bravery, and when I say Manya, I am reminded of my mother who was the object of so much love, from every member of the family.  Manya started life with four grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and others who love and adore her.  How lucky she is, and may it always be so.

Today was just the kind of day that brings back memories, cloudy, gray, with an occasional drizzle.  It made me feel hopeful that the weather is changing, and so I put on a pot of soup, golden in color, slightly sweet in taste.   It feels a little bit like fall.

Fall Soup

1 medium Kabocha squash

1 medium brown onion, coarsely diced

2 carrots, cut into large dice

2 stalks celery, sliced

3 Tb olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

dash cinnamon

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Using a sharp knife, cut squash into chunks.  Toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 450 degree oven till tender and brown.  In a soup pot, add olive oil along with diced carrots, onion and celery and cook over high heat till vegetables are  translucent.  Using a large spoon, remove squash meat from skin and add to soup pot. Add about 5 cups of water, or stock, and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and cover pot with lid.  Simmer for about 45 minutes.  Puree soup, adjust seasoning and add a dash of cinnamon. Serve with toasted pumpkin seeds. Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

September 11, 2015
Irene Saiger

16 comments

Manya’s Pineapple Kugel

IMG_3136Superstition comes to me easily.  I can’t take all the credit, some of it was passed down by my Eastern European Mom who would be very proud of how successful she was in training me to look for “signs” everywhere, both good and bad.  Unfortunately there were a few minor glitches that happened to me this week, but the fact that they happened right before Rosh Hashana raised every superstitious hair on my head.

First it was a missing cookbook that I spent hours looking for over a period of a week or more.  Then I misplaced my reading glasses which was problematic since I was trying to look through cookbooks, and then yesterday there was a third (they say bad things happen in threes) “incident.”  I  took my very large brisket outside to place in the back fridge, opened the garage, made room in the fridge, closed the fridge and the garage, and completely forgot about the brisket sitting on the ledge.  It sat in the 95 degree heat for over 8 hours, cooking.  I called my sister and she had the perfect response, she said “kapparah,” and added that she hopes that’s the worse thing that happens to me in the coming year.  Amen.

Then things turned around, I found my cookbook, Norm found my glasses, my friend Judy bought me the first in the series of that cookbook which made me realize that I had owned the second, and I made short ribs in place of brisket. My mood lifted, maybe the signs weren’t so bad after all.   

Today, I spent the day cooking a completely traditional meal that didn’t need much thought or creativity.  It is pretty much a duplicate of my mother’s yontif meal which was always the same. Growing up there were two things that were predictable when it came to the holidays.  What would be served for dinner and what you wore to Shul.  There was an unspoken dress code that included delicate ankle socks , black patent leather Mary Jane’s, a new dress for the New Year,  and hair neatly combed back out of my face with the help of  a thin velvet hair band.  Dinner was  Gefilte fish, chopped liver, chicken soup with kreplach, garlic chicken with roast potatoes, pineapple kugel and apple cake for dessert.   Predictability can be good, but clearly it doesn’t always work out as you hope.  

So as we head into the New Year, I hope that most of the signs I see are good ones, and as my mom always said, may the New Year be better, and no worse.  Here is a family favorite to help sweeten the year.

Manya’s Pineapple Kugel

1 pound wide egg noodles

pinch salt

5 large eggs, beaten

1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple in juice

1 cup sugar

1/ 2 stick pareve margarine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Boil noodles per directions on package but for no more than about 6 or 7 minutes. Drain.  Place noodles in a large bowl, add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Pour into 9 x 13 greased Pyrex and bake for about 45 minutes.  Serves 10-12

Enjoy,

Irene

August 3, 2015
Irene Saiger

10 comments

Blueberry Cobbler

IMG_2911It’s on summer days when the hours are long, that I miss it the most, the kind of communal feeling  that existed when I was growing up in our apartment in the Bronx.  It was a time when everyone knew the names of their neighbors, and had a relationship with them.  Most of the women stayed home, and although they worked hard, they also socialized, played cards, caught up with each other while hanging laundry on the roof, shopped together, had a glazileh tea over something they baked, or sometimes even a small glass of wine.  They took turns looking after each other’s children, one day a week my sister and I had lunch at Fanny’s,  and once a week Sarah and Liba came to us. I think our mothers went to the Lower East Side on their days off.  There was no day care, and no nannies.  Need was their motivation and it was expected that you pitched in to help each other out.

Even though the various accents could have presented a barrier, these women had a common language, the language of immigrants sharing a similar experience.  The kids?  We had no barriers, we all went to the same public school, we came home to milk and cookies, and we went back outside to play.  There were so many parallels, including the fact that we all  had one thing to do before we were really free for the day, the Italian kids had to go for religious instruction at the local Catholic church, and we had to go to Hebrew school.

There was never any lack of companionship.  If you were bored, your nearest neighbor was less than a foot away.  We didn’t feel that an unexpected knock at the door was intrusive, or invasive, we didn’t worry about boundaries, or setting limits. Women wanted to get together and if your neighbor wasn’t home, you walked downstairs to the stoop, where someone was always taking a break from the sweltering apartment heat.

This week I baked a blueberry cobbler, (blueberries were and still are my favorite berry to use in desserts) but we didn’t finish it and sadly there was nobody upstairs or downstairs to call and invite over to share a piece, with or without a glazileh tea.  So that’s what I miss.

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Blueberry Cobbler  adapted from Mark Bittman

5 cups blueberries, washed and strained

1/2  cup sugar plus 2 Tb

1 tsp lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and place in a lightly greased pie dish.

In your food processor, combine flour, margarine or butter, baking powder and salt and process for less than a minute, just till blended.  Then remove blade and mix in egg and vanilla.  Use a large spoon and drop dough over fruit but don’t spread it.

1 stick frozen margarine (for pareve cobbler) or cold sweet butter, sliced into 6 pieces.

1 /2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg, beaten

pinch salt

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Bake cobbler till golden, about 40 minutes.
Enjoy,

Irene

June 12, 2015
Irene Saiger

8 comments

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

IMG_2739June gloom has settled over Los Angeles.  After a tough week, I couldn’t wait to get home this afternoon knowing just what to do to help me feel “sunny,”  even if the weather isn’t cooperating.

Lately I’ve been keeping a close eye on my backyard. I’ve picked the first blackberries from the bush we planted just a few months ago, enjoyed some truly vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, and made schav borscht with freshly picked sorrel.  A gray dove has built a nest under the eaves of my patio, and twice a day, morning and afternoon, I check to see if she is still there.  She is as devoted a mother as any I have ever seen, sitting there hour after hour, without food or water from what I can tell.  I’ve only seen the male come by once and he managed to stay for about three minutes, flying off before the female returned. I stood watch till she did, worried about crows and squirrels stealing the eggs.

So when I arrived at home this afternoon, I baked.  Standing in the kitchen with a glass mixing bowl that belonged to my mother-in-law, slowly creaming together four basic ingredients, I made peanut butter and jelly cookies.  I have house guests who arrived just in time to try them.  David said he loves peanut butter and told me his wife Lauren makes him a PB&J sandwich every day. Exactly!  Just like the sandwich, something about that combination makes you feel better, even on a sunless day.

ingreeni

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

2 cups natural chunky peanut butter

2 cups baker’s sugar

2 tsp vanilla

2 large eggs, slightly beaten

some strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper but do not grease.  In a large bowl mix all ingredients other than jam.  Take small pieces of dough and roll into balls, and place on cookie sheet.  Using the back of a spoon, gently press down on cookies. Then take the tip of the spoon and make a small indentation and fill with strawberry jam using a very tiny amount. Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Yielded 60 cookies.

Note: I made some of them by just pressing down gently with a shot glass and sprinkling a tiny drop of sea salt on top.  (no jam)

Enjoy,

irene

May 17, 2015
Irene Saiger

2 comments

Blueberry Pop Tarts

IMG_2589With Shavuot less than a week away, I’ve been thinking of the trips that our family took with the Androns,  specifically during this holiday.  We would each pack up our Volvo wagons and take to the road, heading to Palm Springs, Sequoia National Park and Forest, Santa Barbara, and places I no longer remember.  We have shared countless meals together, watched each other’s children grow, participated in family simchas, and supported each other during challenging times.  I used to tease Susan about her L.A. upbringing and how that influenced her cooking, and Saul would tease me about growing up in the Bronx.  The kids (we each have three children, all the same ages) were like siblings, laughing, fighting, having sleepovers, and getting into trouble.  It is a friendship that has continued for 34 years. This past week Saul celebrated a BIG birthday and although Norm and I missed the celebration, we are hoping to see him and Susan next week.  So today, this post is in honor of you Saul, may we have many more opportunities to spend Yontif together, and may our children continue the tradition.

In the meantime, as we prepare to head East for Shavuot, and in spite of a personal pledge that I was going to “stay out of the kitchen” I couldn’t resist baking. I wanted to make something with blueberries that would be easy to transport, easy to serve, and appropriate for the holiday.  So I baked little individual pies that look like pop tarts.

To sweet endings, lazy summers, fresh blueberries, happy birthdays, a growing family, and old friends.  By the way,  guess who’s living in The Bronx now?  Chag Sameach.

Enjoy,

Irene

Blueberry Pop Tarts

Crust Recipe  (enough for about 14 pop tarts)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 sticks chilled sweet butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Put flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture looks like coarse meal. Slowly add 1/2 cup ice water and pulse, only adding more water if dry.  Dough will start to stick together. Remove and gently shape into a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill  for about 2 hours.  Remove when ready to bake and allow dough  to soften before rolling.

Filling

4 cups blueberries

1/2 Tb flour

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup plus 1 Tb sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 Tb whipped cream cheese per pop tart

1 large egg, whisked with 1 teaspoon water

2 -3 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   Cut dough in half for easier handling.  Roll half the dough on a floured surface to about a 15×12-inch rectangle. Trim edges with a knife.  Cut dough into 6 rectangles.
Toss blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, flour and salt in a medium bowl. Brush edges of rectangles with a little but of water. Using a knife, spread about 1 tb cream cheese across the dough.  Spoon some blueberries in the  center of each rectangle and then fold dough over in half. Using a fork, press edges to seal. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until pop tarts are golden brown, about 35–40 minutes.  Don’t worry when you see that the blueberry juices will run onto parchment. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.  This recipe yielded 16 pop tarts.

Enjoy,

IreneIMG_2583-2

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April 23, 2015
Irene Saiger

12 comments

Chicken Shawarma

FullSizeRenderMoshe Blatman was my cousin’s brother-in-law, and on my first trip to Israel I was told to make sure to visit him, that he was like family.  He and his wife Frieda lived in an apartment in Tel Aviv, and owned a small cosmetics shop on Rehov Shenken, (in the 70s  it was not as hip as it is today).  I was looking forward to spending time in Tel Aviv and wanted to go out and explore the city, but they wouldn’t hear of it.  After taking a brief walk, Moshe took me home for dinner, there was not to be any exploring or wandering, and no letting me out of their sight.

I remember that Frieda prepared a meatloaf made with veal, and I was surprised that her food was similar to my mother’s.  Their apartment was perfectly kept and neat as a pin, and the decor felt so European that it was easier to imagine that you were in Austria (where Frieda was from) than the Middle East.  Moshe who was Polish had learned to speak German, the only language that his wife knew in spite of the fact that she had lived in Israel for over 20 years.  She had not learned a word of Hebrew, English or Yiddish.  Frieda wore her white hair tightly coiled in a bun at the back of her head and her clothing was formal and conservative, with black sturdy shoes that had tie up laces.  Although we couldn’t communicate, she had kind eyes and I wondered what it was like for this woman to live in a country so different from her native Austria.  The next day I asked Moshe to take a walk with me so I could buy a falafel at the local stand but Moshe refused, saying I would get sick if I ate street food.

During each visit to Israel I think of Moshe and Frieda, and other “family members”  like Manya and Yosek and Sonja, people who were devoted Zionists, who moved to Israel living out their lives in an adopted homeland that must have felt very strange to these Eastern Europeans.  A homeland that turned 67 today.  If Moshe were alive, I wonder what he would think of  today’s Israel, would he eventually have become integrated into Israeli culture, would he have become just a little more comfortable being in the Middle East, and would he agree to celebrate this Yom HaAtzmaut by having a falafel with me, or maybe a plate of Shawarma.

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Chicken Shawarma  (adapted from a recipe in the NY Times, this is one that we keep making over and over)

2 lemons
½ cup  olive oil
6 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
Red-pepper flakes, to taste
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large red onion, peeled and quartered

Mix the lemon juice with the olive oil and spices in a large glass baking dish. Add the chicken thighs, and turn several times in marinade.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least a few hours.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss quartered red onion with chicken thighs.  Put silver foil on a cookie sheet, remove chicken and onion from the marinade, and spread on cookie sheet.
Roast chicken thighs for about 30 to 40 minutes. Meat should look slightly crisp at edges. Remove from the oven and after a few minutes, thinly slice.  Serve with pita, Israeli salad and chumus.  Serves 2 – 4 depending….

B’tayavon,

Irene

March 29, 2015
Irene Saiger

10 comments

Cherry Tomato Jam

IMG_2500It had been seven years since our last visit but as soon as we exited the plane everything felt familiar.  We drove straight to Jerusalem where we spent the next several days.  Staying in Rechavia, we walked everywhere, but mainly we returned to the places we had been before, including two of my favorites, Yemin Moshe and Machane Yehuda.  Walking through the shuk was a great reminder of Israel’s love affair with fresh fruits and vegetables.   The consumers were passionate, maybe more so than the vendors, both young and old, men and women, looking in stall after stall before making their final choices.  There were things I had not seen before, miniature dark green acorn squash just big enough for an individual serving,  mounds of colorful mixes of dried fruits for tea infusions, dried legumes including roasted and salted fava beans ready to eat, tiny melons the size of a grapefruit, and of course the spices….

We had one week to pack in as much as possible.  The days revolved around seeing our family and friends but always over a meal.  The food, much of it home cooked, was always delicious, but for me the highlight were the breakfasts.  From Glenda’s cheesecake on Shabbat morning (recipe coming soon) to Debbie’s pashtedot, to the numerous borekas that we sampled.  I loved the small plates served as sides to the main dish,  little bowls of leben, tuna, olives, pickled lemon, tehina, etc.  I tasted two new kinds of jam, one made with eggplant and the other with cherry tomatoes.  The small servings were just enough to tempt your palette but left you wanting more.

We didn’t get to do everything we had hoped to do, or see everyone we had wanted to see.  Like the sides served at breakfast, it was just a taste, a reminder to come back soon, and though we left happy, of course we also left wanting more.  Chag Sameach.

Note: My mom used to tell me about a tomato jam that they ate in Poland.  With Pesach around the corner, and the tastes of Israel still fresh in my mind, I tried this cherry tomato version which I’ll serve with matzoh and butter, but not for another week!!

Cherry Tomato Jam

20 oz.  cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half

1/2 cup plus 4 Tb sugar

1 packet vanillin sugar (for Pesach use)

2 Tb freshly squeezed orange juice

1 Tb orange zest, thinly sliced

1 cinnamon stick

Bring all ingredients to a boil and then reduce to medium high heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, for about one hour or until thickened.  Strain to remove tomato skins and cinnamon stick.  Allow to cool, place in clean jar and refrigerate till ready to use.  This is perishable so it will only be good for about a week or so.

Enjoy,

Irene