Monday, August 21, 2006

Cooking Project

I swam Sunday after work. I tire more than usual but I'm way stronger than I was during the 1st trimester. I am very floaty. Must be the extra body fat! I felt so happy though to be strong enough to swim and safe enough to swim outside at my gym in Haifa.

But then I drove home and hit post-war (example: usual) traffic. I wanted to scream. In fact, I did scream though no one heard me because I had the AC on and the windows closed. It took me 30 minutes to get home. I know that may not sound like too bad of a commute to some people, but it's almost 3X what it should take with no traffic. Plus usually I listen to books on tape in the car. Even a bad book on tape makes traffic bearable. But I ran out of tapes. I borrow them for free from a great library in Tsfat but because various complications (example: war, example, bedrest) I got into some trouble with the library and they may have cut me off. I hope this issue can be resolved. Meanwhile, I am tapeless.
I know that theoretically I should be able to download stuff and put it on an MP3 player or something but a)it would force me to spend more time futzing on the computer than I already do b)I feel too old to have figured out that download thing. That's Adi's department and c) without investing in new equipment, I'd need to listen on headphones which are not as comforatable as the car stereo speakers. With the tapes, It is really just "plug 'n play" the way so many new fangled technologies want to be.

OK, so I tried to relax while driving by meditating. Not as in OM so much as trying to think in a focused manner about future plans. That sort of frustrated me so I turned to more immediate plans. What to make for dinner?

Julie and Julia

Inspired by the terrific book Joanie sent me, Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, I'm thinking about a cooking project. The book is about a frustrated 29 year old who decides somewhat randomly, to cook her way throuh Julia Child's classic "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Her decision becomes a kind of obsession but also an adventure. And oh yeah, she wrote about her adventures in a blog!

Julia learned to cook at age 37. I remember her in her blue dress and white apron apearing on public television when I was growing up in Boston. She was something of a local icon, larger than life, but was sometimes spotted shopping at our local kosher butcher and natural foods store. I might have seen her live too but if so I don't remember.

Her cooking, French cooking, is a bit too heavy on the treyf for me and my kitchen. At present I am not at all opposed to buckets of butter, but I am opposed to drowning steaks in them.

So who would be a good Julia for me? I want something dated enough to be foreign. Something that will expose me to new challenges but will not be absurdly difficult. Thinking to please my carnivorous husband, I thought about exploring the fatty underbelly of Ashkenazi cuisine. But a lot of it is just too bland to excite me.

I thought about going though the encyclopedic Chabbad cookbook, "The Spice and Spirit of Jewish Cooking". I have the Passover version. The recipes tend to be tasty and straightforward. Here's an example kuggel recipe:

6 poatoes
4 eggs
salt, pepper

Grate potatoes. Mix with other ingredients in big pan. Serves 12. Can be doubled.

OK, that's not an exact quote but you get the idea. Few ingredients, huge amounts. But satisfying and tasty.

Well one setback is that I don't own that cookbook. It's a big heavy thing too. I know because I bought a copy for my mother.

I did some research on the web for classic Jewish cookbooks. The Settlement cookbook seems intreaguing. But too many crazy, confused cookbooks out there.

For now I settled on Faye Levy's International Jewish Cookbook. Its cover boasts "over 250 New and Tradtional Recipes for Holidays and Every Day". I got it as a college graduation gift from my Catholic aunt back in 1992. It was a great gift. I've used it regularly over the years, mostly for holiday foods. I think Aunt Jill also gave me my most used cookbook too, "Moosewood Cooks at Home".

So back to Faye Levy. She looks to me like she should be a Leah. Like maybe her Hebrew name is Leah. She lives in LA but clearly spent time in Israel and, I just read, in France. Her roots would apear to be Ashkenazi, but she married a Yemenite. I'm going to make some guesses here and bet that her husband comes from a large Israeli family which connects her with an interesting shmorgasboard of inlaws such as an Indian (Jewish) sister-in-law.
I've always liked that she covers cous cous and cholent within the same covers. And she likes to sautee her apples in butter when she can. What really won her over to me as being project worthy is that she includes instructions for rendering chicken fat. Yep, she tells you how to make your own shmaltz.

I will work my way up to that one. Meanwhile I thought I'd start smaller, like with a pepper salad.

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