Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What do we call home?

This past Shabbos, my best friend and neighbor Georganne was here for lunch with her husband James and her wonderful daughters, Elior and Noa. Elior took several helpings of mushrooms and declared they were the best she ever tasted. I told her, "I am glad you like them. I will pack some for you to take home". Her answer brought tears to my eyes. "But this IS my home!"
The same Elior cracked me up some years ago, when I was babysitting her at my house. She grew up in cramped quarters (but this is getting better soon, G-d willing, when they move to a larger house; we will loose our wonderful neighbors, such is the unfortunate story of most New Yorkers' lives)and looked in awe at my comparatively minimally furnished house. She exclaimed "Levana, how come you have no furniture in your house? Is this your country house or something?"
In Elior's small house, I couldn't even begin to enumerate how many guests have poured in, how many fabulous Shabbos and Yom Tov meals, Sheva Brachot, arts and crafts dates, have been hosted. I give them our classical Sephardi bracha: May your house always be full, may your new house become too small for you, may H' constantly expand your space. And on parting, another old Sephardi saying I would like to share with you, which seems to have been composed expressly for them: "Your close neighbor is more precious than your remote brother".

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Paella revisited

Last night I served Paella at a Sheva Brachot we hosted at our home. I love to serve it at buffets, it is a surefirer crowd pleaser. The raves I always get for this dish, including from diners who don't (or used not to) keep kosher, bear out my firm belief: the success of the dish does not depend on the simultaneous presence of fish and meat or poultry (a no-no in kosher cooking), but on a mixture called Sofrito, which gets sautéed in a little olive oil and disperses in the dish in lovely green and red specks. If you find nice lean sausages and want to include them in the dish, add them at the same time you add the rice.
Makes 8 servings.

Sofrito:
1 medium onion, quartered
2 ribs celery, peeled and cut in thirds
4 large cloves garlic
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 small bunch cilantro, stems discarded
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in chunks

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes

3 cup tiny capers
2 cup sliced green pitted olives
2 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
good pinch ground cloves
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon paprika
generous pinch saffron
salt and pepper to taste
8 portions chicken, dark and white meat, or all dark
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups basmati rice
1cup frozen corn kernels, optional

Make Sofrito: Coarsely grind in a food processor the onion, celery, garlic, parsley, cilantro and red pepper (pulse: do not let mixture get watery). This mixture is your Sofrito.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot, and add the Sofrito. Sauté until translucent. Add the tomatoes, and cook until only 1/2 cup of liquid remains in the pot. Add the capers, olives, cayenne, cloves, bay leaves, paprika, saffron, salt, pepper, chicken and wine, and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, for 45 minutes. Add the rice, and cook for 15 more minutes. Add the corn, and cook for 5 more minutes, until the rice and chicken are tender. Serve hot.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mazal Tov!

This proud mother is delighted to announce her daughter Bella's recent engagement, to Meir Pliskin. It seems like only yesterday that I took her to visit a couple of our friends, whose husband is blind and a wizard at all things electronic. As we entered, Michael was standing on his scale, which was telling him the news everyone has so much trepidation about "Your weight is 179 pounds". Bella, a wisp of a child, exclaimed, "This is so cool. The scale is talking to him!" Excited, she in turned stepped on the scale, which announced with great glee, "Congratulations, Michael! You have lost 129 pounds!" Amused, Michael said "Unfortunately, just as soon as Bella leaves, I will gain it all back!" Now Bella is 102 pounds of charm, good humor and kindness, and still beats Michael at the scale game by leaps and bounds. Still, I am sure Michael won't hold it against her and is happy for her!

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