Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Ends In Disappointment, Hope, and Peppers Stuffed With Couscous

In September, at the start of the Jewish New Year (5771), I started this blog seriously intending to spend less time in the kitchen and more time doing my part to make the world a better place. (See the first post- Honoring An Old Recipe For Social Change In America). Now that the start of 2011 is upon us, it’s another opportunity to take stock. I am disappointed to tell you that despite the efforts of myself and countless others, the world isn’t a better place yet. Surprise! There’s still a lot to do if you’re so inclined. Our homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries still face a booming demand.

Because it’s a new year, I’m hopeful that next year, we’ll make some more progress. After all, the health care bill was passed and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. Maybe in 2011, we can further social and economic justice in some way, perhaps by reforming our immigration laws.

In the meantime, I vowed to spend less time in the kitchen and more time making the world a better place. While trying recipes from Peace de Resistance, the Women’s Strike for Peace cookbook published in the 1960’s, I found some quick, nutritious recipes; but, alas, trying new recipes takes time and I probably spent more time in the kitchen than I had planned. I did get involved in some projects to make the world better and I’ll be talking more about them in the weeks to come.

The week between Christmas and New Years is a slow one in which most activities take a respite. It gave me time to experiment with another recipe and so I tried peppers stuffed with couscous in tomato/lemon sauce. It serves four and the preparation time is about 20 minutes. My husband, who isn’t a vegetarian, raved that it was delicious.  I highly recommend it.

Peppers Stuffed With Couscous In Tomato/Lemon Sauce

4 red or yellow peppers
4 tbsp olive oil
½ cup couscous
½ cup water
1 onion, chopped fine
2 tbsp minced garlic
¼ cup almond slivers
2 tbsp raisins
lemon juice
mint leaves
1 egg, beaten
½ cup vegetarian tomato sauce
½ lemon cut into pieces
garlic powder, parsley, pepper to taste

1.Cut the tops off the peppers and take out the cores. Set aside.

2. Couscous

Boil the water and add a tbsp of oil, garlic powder, and lemon juice. While the water is boiling, sauté the onion and minced garlic in olive oil. When the water is boiled, stir in the couscous. Turn off heat and let stand 5 minutes. Add the sautéed onions and minced garlic, raisins, almond slivers, beaten egg, mint leaves, coriander, and cinnamon.

3. Stuff the peppers with the couscous mixture.

4.Tomato Sauce

Put the tomato sauce, lemon, juice from lemon, parsley, garlic powder, and pepper in deep skillet. Mix together. Cook on low to medium heat on top of the stove covered.

5. Add the peppers to the sauce and cook for about 45 minutes on a low to medium heat.

It goes well with Greek salad.

Happy New Year everyone. I hope we all have a joyous, healthy, and peaceful year.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Observing A Jewish Christmas

When I first moved to the Midwest, people would often ask me what I was doing for Christmas. When I said, “I’m Jewish,” the response was often, “Yes, but what are you doing for Christmas?”

Coming from New York, that response always amazed me. Nevertheless, I’ve come to enjoy being here in the vast minority. When life was more hectic, I appreciated the enforced chill out day. It was a day off work in which nothing was open except the movies and Chinese restaurants (That stereotype is totally true. We all love Chinese food.) so we were forced to relax.

 Now that my life isn’t as busy, I don’t need to chill out as much. When we lived in Painesville, Ohio, our whole congregation volunteered. My husband and I volunteered at the local hospital in a group effort to give our neighbors a day off on their holiday. I’ve always looked back on that as a great idea.

 In a larger community, that kind of group effort isn’t possible. Nevertheless, there are a lot of opportunities to volunteer for those who want to. In Chicago, the Tov Network has many volunteer opportunities during the Christmas Season although none on Christmas day itself. Being curious, I googled volunteer opportunities on Christmas in Chicago and got too many possibilities to mention all of them. The first two that I came across were and another one I found was There are many things to do on a local level if you're interested. And remember, a lot of people volunteer on Christmas but there’s need all year. All these organizations have many opportunities if you want to volunteer in 2011.

This year, I’m volunteering at home by being on call for the Red Cross disaster Mental Health team. While I’m home hoping that the phone doesn’t ring because someone has suffered a terrible disaster, I’ll be doing some cooking. Winter weather always makes me want to stay in and cook. Arghhh! As Toad said to Frog in the memorable children’s book by Arnold Lobel, “Wake me up about half past May.”

I tried this recipe yesterday from Peace de Resistance. This book was written by busy women. Most of their recipes are quick, tasty, and nutritious. If you try this one, you’ll have plenty of time left over to volunteer and help make the world - or at least your corner of it -a better place. Preparation time was 15 to 20 minutes. Clams and spinach serves 8. It’s good served over spaghetti.

                                    Clams and Spinach

4 packages frozen spinach chopped  
1 can mushroom soup, undiluted
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cans minced clams, drained
4 tbsp. Butter
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Pepper
¼ cup slivered almonds or pine nuts
garlic powder, oregano, and basil to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°. Either cook the spinach per directions or defrost in the morning. Fully drain the spinach. Add the mushroom soup, eggs, clams, butter in small chunks, salt, pepper, and other seasoning. Mix and put into a shallow casserole. Sprinkle with nuts and bake in a 350° oven for about 30 or 40 minutes. It’s very easy and tastes good. Now I think I’ll try some other recipes. There’s plenty of time leftover.

Merry Christmas everyone!




Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ensnared On the Internet, I Find Tangine

           The internet is supposedly making the world smaller connecting us all to each other. I’m amazed by how I am instantaneously connected with people as far away as Europe, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, and Australia. At the same time, we’re each connecting in our own houses on our individual computers.

            While we connect on-line with people from around the world, we forget how to treat those we encounter every day. How many of you are surprised by announcements on the bus or the el to give priority seating to the elderly, the disabled, and pregnant women? Didn’t everyone know that before? How annoying is it that at plays and movies people have to be reminded to turn off their cell phones? About a year ago, we went to a play during which a woman received three cell phone calls. We’re so used to watching movies on DVD’s in our own spaces that we forget how to be courteous in public, a major downside of the internet age.

            A positive are the instant surprising connections. I had a bunch of sweet potatoes that I needed to use up and decided to look on the internet for a recipe for sweet potato tangine. It’s a Moroccan dish that I probably wouldn’t have even heard of 15 or 20 years ago. A couple of clicks on Google led me to a choice of 10 or 20 recipes. I chose the following recipe for sweet potato tangine with lemon couscous. It serves about 4 to 6 people. The preparation time was about 30 minutes most of it spent getting the ingredients together, but we now have plenty of. We tried it last night and it was really good.

                                                            Sweet Potato Tangine

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thickly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp ras-el-hanout (Even in ethnically diverse Skokie, I didn’t know what that was nor where to look for it so I left it out of the recipe.)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp smoked sweet paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2lb4oz sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp honey
½ tsp saffron
7 fl oz water
1 ½ oz. Preserved lemons finely chopped (I cheated and used lemon juice)
4 ½ oz dried apricots
4 oz green olives
1 ½ oz whole almonds
1 small bunch coriander (I didn’t have that in the house either and used the powder)

Heat a large, deep frying pan with a lid until hot. Add the olive oil, onions and garlic and cook 2-3 minutes.
Add all the spices and fry for one minute.
Add the sweet potatoes and stir well.
Add all the remaining ingredients, stir well, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

                                                            Lemon Couscous

7 oz couscous
2 tbsp olive oil
½ oz preserved lemons, rinsed, drained, pulp removed finely chopped
½ lemon, juice only
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves to serve

Place the couscous in enough boiling water to cover.
Add the olive oil, preserved lemon and lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Stir well and set aside for 3-5 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed.
Add the coriander leaves.

Serve the couscous and then serve the tangine over it. It was so good even with some substitute ingredients. Imagine what the real thing would taste like.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Underground Railroad Museum, Potato Latkes, and the Hunger for Freedom

           On Thanksgiving weekend, we had a few free hours in Cincinnati so we toured the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Expecting to stay an hour or two, we were surprised when five hours later we realized it was time to leave. The museum, with its combination of exhibits and videos, sends anyone visiting a powerful message. In it, the story of the slave trade in America is told from the beginning to the end, celebrating the bravery of slaves as they risked their lives on the Underground Railroad and helped others to escape as well. It also celebrates the bravery of the Abolitionists who assisted them. Since Cincinnati is just across the river from Kentucky, it was the first stop across the Mason-Dixon line for many slaves running to freedom. Although they had a long way to go until they were truly safe, Cincinnati is the appropriate place for this museum. If any of you find yourself in Cincinnati, I definitely recommend spending a few hours there.

            The visit inspired me to read Amistad by Alexs Pate. (I had never seen the movie.) This inspiring book based on an actual historical event was the story of the people aboard a slave ship bound for Cuba who resisted becoming slaves and struggled to regain their freedom with the help of abolitionists and eventually, former President John Quincy Adams. Highlighting the leader of the revolt, the author was able to personalize the universal quest for respect and human dignity in a way that enabled readers to connect.

            These two events – visiting the Underground Railroad Museum and reading Amistad- happened right before and during Chanukah, a holiday celebrating another victory for freedom. I actually finished reading Amistad on the eighth day of Chanukah. This calls for potato latkes (pancakes). They are traditionally eaten on Chanukah because they are fried in oil symbolizing the oil lasting in the Temple for eight days. They’re also eaten because they’re delicious.

            I used the recipe for latkes that my mother-in-law Mildred Sachs gave me many years ago. The one flaw in this recipe is that no matter how many are made, it’s never enough. Everyone eats them until they’re gone. You won’t have leftovers from this recipe, but you’ll enjoy eating them while they last.

                                                            Potato Latkes

2 big white potatoes peeled and grated
1 onion diced small
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons of flour
2 Tablespoons of matzoh meal
A dash of baking powder
2 eggs
Vegetable oil

  1. Dice the onion
  2. Peel and grate the potato and strain to get extra starch out
  3. Beat the eggs.
  4. Mix all the ingredients into a batter
  5. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan. Make the batter into patties with a spoon and drop in the oil to fry. When they’re golden brown on bottom side, turn them over to fry on the other side.
  6. Serve with sour cream or applesauce.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

American Girl In the 2007 Recession

             My three and a half year old granddaughter was thrilled to receive an American Girl catalog last week. She loves looking at the pictures and calls it “my magazine.” What she likes best is the pictures of doll Rebecca’s furniture, especially her sideboard and Sabbath set. Of course, she wanted to know when she could have one for herself. (Probably no time soon.) The sideboard costs $135; its accessories can be had for an additional $63. For the uninitiated, Rebecca is the latest American Girl doll, a Jewish girl circa 1914 from the Lower East Side in New York. [American Girl dolls are a set of dolls with historic stories each with optional accessories.] Ironically, in 1914 Rebecca’s family probably could have lived on that amount for many months.

            Rebecca’s little friend Josefina Montoya from New Mexico circa 1824 has a clothes chest that is priced at $159 and a table and chairs set for $75. All the dolls in the catalog can have a clothes storage cabinet that costs $349. These dolls and their accompanying books each cost $95.

            Last time, I wrote about how people receiving Food Stamps have to try stretch their food budgets to eat on $21 per week per person. At the same time, other people are buying $349 storage cabinets for their daughters’ doll clothes. A main center for The American Girl is a store in Chicago’s Water Tower Place so we have observed people going there in large numbers. Obviously, there’s a large market for these items. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this picture?

            For those of you who are stretching your food budgets and aren’t shopping at the American Girl Store, here’s the recipe for 7 Layer Dinner from Peace de Resistance. Preparation time is 10 minutes and it feeds four. The ingredients can be bought for a lot less than an outfit for Rebecca or Josefina.  I really believe that Women’s Strike for Peace would have been boycotting the American Girl Store on general principals.

                                                            7 Layer Dinner

2 potatoes, peeled and sliced
½ cup raw rice
1 onion sliced
1 lb. ground beef
1 large can solid packed tomatoes
6- 10 carrots, thinly sliced
1 large green pepper cut in eighths
Salt and pepper

Layer ingredients in order listed in a large, greased casserole. Salt and pepper each layer generously. Cut green peppers in crescent shapes and arrange in a sunburst effect on top. Cover casserole and bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 ½ hours until carrots are done.