The Frog Toss

You know, my husband and I said, way back when, we did this for our kids.  They were little back then.  Like, really little.  They wouldn’t sit through a Passover Seder, the long, tedious amounts of reading, praying, and singing I’d been subjected to as a kid.  I remember feeling that night to be endless, even if I had the coveted spot of sitting in between my mom and my dad.

And don’t get me wrong.  My dad was quite the show man, and Pessach was no exception.  No one could sing Dayenu faster than him.  No one could storytell like he could.  Glasses of wine stopped being counted, heck, in fact, we had a huge plastic bin filled to the rim with homemade Sangria providing a constant flow for those longing to remain sweetly and happily inebriated.

But there was still tradition.  My father was still, after all, the son of Itzaak Abbady.  And even though I never met my grandfather, I knew he was a hard core traditionalist.  I’d heard from my dad, the rebel and adventurer of the family, as he sizzled up bacon on Saturday mornings in our Venezuelan home.

“Your saba would turn in his grave,” he say with mischief in his eye, nodding towards the pan as he flipped over a piece of bacon.  I never knew if he was serious or not.  I grew up on a steady diet of Jewish law rule-breaking, but, when it came to Passover, the Haggadah was pulled out and read from front to end.

 

I was always starving throughout it all.  Matzoh, I tell you, isn’t much of an appetite repellent.

 

So when my husband and I found ourselves in the role of hosting the Seder, we turned to The Rugrats, our 2-year old’s favorite cartoon show.  They, apparently, covered the whole thing in 32 bright and funny picture book pages.

 

That first Seder was a huge success.  We cut up an ocean-themed shower curtain, nailed it over the front door, and announced everyone would cross the Red Sea.  Craft paper covered our front entrance, paint brushes were handed out, and instructions shouted: “Here!  Paint!  Mark the house so God will pass over us!”

 

When we read about the 10 plagues, toy frogs and wild animals whirled across the table at each other, making sure Eliyahu’s cup didn’t get knocked over.

So, here’s the secret:

If you include a shower curtain, red paint, and toys in your Passover Seder, people pay attention, people come back.

The funny thing is that, as you have also figured, kids grow up.  From babies to teens, ours, and everyone else’s grew in front of Eliyahu.   But the Rugrats still reigned during Passover Seder.  The Rugrats, actually, are still in high demand.

This year my daughter will graduate from high school, but in between making her list for what she will need for college and figuring out what classes she will take once there, she is still a killer frog thrower.  Knows how to zonk one right on her dad’s forehead.

Those things hurt, you know.

They are small and plastic and surprisingly pick up speed, efficiently bypassing plates of chariest and half a rosemary-infused lamb.  My husband may flinch at first impact, but he does what makes this night even more special, he laughs, and immediately throws one right back.

That’s all you can do.  It’s a war zone of flying plastic frogs at our Seder.  Attack or be attacked.

We keep a fresh supply of plastic frogs handy. Next year they’ll all come back again.

 


Rosemary-infused lamb

Ingredients

  • 1/2 a lamb (leg, ribs, and shoulder)
  • 10-12 garlic cloves, slivered
  • 6 tablespoons rosemary (preferably fresh)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Have your butcher divide the lamb up for you.
  2. Insert tiny slivers with a sharp knife throughout the lamb.
  3. Stuff a sliver of garlic in each one.
  4. Coat the lamb with remaining ingredients.
  5. Place in the oven for 1 hour (for rare).
  6. Remove and let sit for 20 minutes before carving.
  7. Serves 15
http://culinarycompulsion.com/2017/04/the-frog-toss/

Cranberry Poetry Slam

cranberry-can-pic

I was walking along a crowded, brightly lit passageway.

Filled with food.

All kinds of food.

That was lovely, of course.

But then I turned the corner.

And saw the cans.

Lots of them.

More of them; all the same.

Stacked up so neatly that I was afraid.

To breathe, to blink, daresay to sneeze.

Lest these cans come tumbling down.

 

All in a sea of white and red.  With characteristic blue font as well.

The cans haunt.

Taunt.

Judge.

Glare.

 

It is my supermarket and it is November.

Thanksgiving is upon us.

So the cranberry cans come out to play.

Along with bags of fresh cranberries shoppers rush by wondering nervously, “now what would I do with that?”

 

So much easier to pick up a can, take it home, and turnturnturn the old rusted opener.

Flip the cylinder upside.

Wait.

Ooze squeeze slip plunk.

A gelatinous cranberry mass (oh what fun, can rings and all) is birthed onto the awaiting serving plate.

Passed around.

For a cloying addition to a fabulously toiled-over turkey

hoping its dinner date is more than this.

 

I don’t give the can

a place by my gravy.

Stop.

Take those bags of fresh cranberries and mix them into a magical mold

Crunchy, tangy, sweet, nutty wonder.

A relish of flavor.

 

Passed around and praised.

Perhaps surpassing the turkey

even if you’ve given it a unique star’s name:

Keanu, Denzel, Scarlett or Cameron

 

Or made extra stuffing (yes, Mother’s famous recipe.)

People will leave full, happy, and wondering,

What was in that cranberry crown? What did she make?

 

So I am peaceful again in my market.

Walking purposefully,

Proudly,

Victoriously.

Past vast terrain of cans forever erased.

cranberry-relish

Cranberry Relish

This recipe comes straight from my sister-in-law, Maria Neesman, or as she’s known to her family, Koko.

Ingredients

  • 1 (9 ounce) can crushed pineapple in syrup
  • 1(6 ounce) package cherry gelatin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup ground fresh cranberries

Instructions

  1. Drain the pineapple and save the syrup. In medium bowl, dissolve the gelatin and sugar in 1 cup hot water. Add the reserved syrup and lemon juice.
  2. Chill until partly set, 30 minutes.
  3. Add the celery, walnuts, pineapple and cranberries.
  4. Chill overnight in a 5-cup ring mold. Remove from the ring mold and serve.
  5. Serves 8-10
http://culinarycompulsion.com/2016/11/cranberry-poetry-slam/

Comfort Me With Pasta

Amatrice

This is not how I wanted you to learn of Amatrice.  No.  Not this way.  Not this footage of distraught relatives, of broken families.  Of rubble.  Of desperation.  Of so many lost lives.

 

I want you to learn of the Amatrice I first discovered as a recent college graduate in 1992, the Amatrice that greeted a young, curious foodie exploring the culinary treasures nestled in the smallest Italian towns.

 

“Where to next?” my traveling partner had asked, and I had replied, “Amatrice,” with my finger set on the tiny spot half-way down our weathered Italian map.

 

The earthquake that hit Italy on August 24, 2016 destroyed most of the town I visited almost twenty-five years ago.  “Amatrice is not here anymore,” the mayor was quoted as saying in response to the earthquake that registered a 6.2 magnitude.  I, like the rest of the world, stopped at the gravity of those words, wondering, how can an entire town be gone, just like that?

 

My partner did not know of this town, I could tell by the confused look he gave me as my finger froze over a web of lines and names.   But he could tell from my smile that I did. Because even back then, in an era before Tripadvisor or Yelp or Google, I did my research of where to eat what, when.  I did this recognizance old school-  namely scouring through a dog-eared copy of The Lonely Planet and by asking as many locals as I could in broken Italian (courtesy of my 9th grade language teacher, Signora DiLeo) :

 

Dove è il posto migliore per mangiare? Where is the best place to eat?

 

The failproof source to ask were old men sitting at the piazza, chatting and chain smoking.  Every town had them.  They’d glow at the opportunity to dazzle a pretty young Americana and would always steer me well.

 

Amatrice!  Amatrice!”,  these chosen men had answered in unison, their face falling a bit when they noticed The Boyfriend staring protectively by the fontana over there. But they had all been young once and surely in love, and of course, still knew how to eat well, so they nodded in approval at him and continued, “Prove la pasta!”

 

They were right.  Spaghetti all’amatriciana is a delight and, as it turns out, quite simple to make.

 

Guanciale (pork jowl), is one of the local ingredients used in this dish.  It is hard to come by here in the States, but pancetta serves as a worthy replacement. Bucatini, also known as perciatelli, is a thicker spaghetti with a hole running through it, and is the pasta traditionally used.  The long strand is perfect for absorbing the rich, smoky flavors of sun and meat.

 

This is what I remember of Amatrice.  This splendid meal I had on a bright sunny day, amongst friendly, kind people with the man I most loved and still most love today.  It is simple, pure comfort food, what one is craving in sadness and happiness as well.

 

Pasta All'amatriciana

When it comes to Italian cooking, the irreplaceable expertise of Marcella Hazan is an indisputable win. This recipe is inspired from her incredible book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 4 oz. diced pancetta
  • 1 ½ cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, drained and cut up
  • ¼ - ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)
  • salt, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese
  • 1 pound pasta

Instructions

  1. Place the oil, butter, and onion in a saucepan and turn the heat on to medium. Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes, then add the pancetta. Cook for 1 minute, stirring.
  2. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and salt and cook in the uncovered pan at a low simmer for 25 minutes.
  3. Taste and correct for salt and pepper flakes.
  4. In a large pot, cook pasta, as directed on package.
  5. When pasta is done, toss with the sauce, then add both cheeses and toss thoroughly again.
  6. Serves 4
http://culinarycompulsion.com/2016/09/comfort-me-with-pasta/

One Day I Will: A Life In Outline Form

FullSizeRender

  1. Call Him More
  2. Sleep
  3. Be Less Angry at
    1. Old Ladies Driving
      1. They all have a story
      2. If I’m lucky, one day I will be an old lady driving
    2. Teenagers
      1. They all have a story
      2. They all [think] they have a story
      3. I was a teenager, like… yesterday?
  4. Be More Grateful, And Not In A It-Looks-Good-To-Post-On-FaceBook Kinda Way, In A Real Way.
    1. Look Up! Count the Colors in the Sunset (Six, Yesterday: blue, grey, pink, white, coral, yellow)
    2. Smell Earth
      1. Gardening (which means not just staring out the windowloathing the weeds that have taken over my backyard.)
      2. Grabbing fresh radishes covered in dirt, not the shriveled up impostors that come hermetically sealed and mummified in a tiny plastic bag.
      3. Check out an earthworm doing its earthworm thing.
  5. Help Fight Ignorance, Not Just Bitch About It
    1. Read more (yes, kids, it’s never enough)
    2. Vote (for the right candidate, good God, for the right candidate)
  6. They’re Old Enough, Have Been For A While (YIN)
    1. Get Your Own Damn Water
    2. I Don’t Even Wear Glasses: YOU Find Them!
    3. I Don’t Care If Rachel’s Mom Lets Her
  7. They’re Old Enough, Have Been For A While (YANG)
    1. More Hugs
      1. Because They Still Let Me
      2. Because I Want a Day Without Them (But Not Really)
      3. Because They Make Me A Better Person
      4. Because They Link Me To Someone Very Special (Refer To: I )
  8. Eat Now, Exercise Later
    1. I’m Not Shunning Exercise, I’m Just Sayin’
      1. Tacos De Carne Asada
      2. Freshly Baked Blondies
      3. Golden Challah Bread (The Kind Butter Just Gives In To)
      4. Spicy Red Lentil Soup With Fresh Mint
      5. Homemade Guacamole with A Bag of Chips, A Bag, Not A Bowl, A Bag with No Restrictions
    2. There Are Never Too Many Instagram Photos To Take
      1. #foodporn
      2. #nomnom
      3. #nofilter
      4. #middleagedbutstillcoolmom
    3. Life Is Better Shared Over A Good Meal
      1. Yes, We Are Sitting At The Table Tonight
      2. Don’t Eat Yet! I Gotta Take A Photo And Send It To Your Father!
      3. Call Him More Just To Tell Him How Good It Is! Yes, definitely, Call Him More.

Tacos De Carne Asada

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped plus some extra for serving
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 large white onion, sliced crosswise into ¾"-thick rings, plus 1/2 cup roughly chopped, for serving
  • Juice of 2 limes, plus lime wedges for serving
  • 1 lbs. skirt steak, cut crosswise into 4 steaks
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 jalapeño, stemmed
  • Warm tortillas, for serving

Instructions

  1. Combine the first three ingredients in a bowl.  Add steak and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, flipping over after 15 minutes.  If you are not in a rush, you can allow steak to marinate (turning over a few times) for up to 3 hours.
  2. Heat a grill pan over high heat and grill, 5 minutes on each side (for medium/rare.)
  3. Remove meat from pan, add salt and pepper, and let rest for 5 more minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, place remaining onion and jalapeño on grill, and cook, turning as needed, until charred and softened, about 10 minutes.
  5. Slice steaks into 1” strips and serve with grilled vegetables and warm tortillas.
  6. Add fresh lime juice, chopped onion and cilantro.  If you like, you can serve pico de gallo or salsa verde on the side.
  7. Serves 4
http://culinarycompulsion.com/2016/03/one-day-i-will-a-life-in-outline/

A Girl Can Dream: Raspberry Crepes

ccPicture of Raspberry Crepe

What I want to do is surprise Husband with an elaborate dinner, one that involved hours of wrapping homemade puff pastry around fancy cuts of meats stuffed with equally extravagant aphrodisiac delicacies like oysters or asparagus or shaved truffles.

Of course, I’d wear the strappy stilettos.

“What strappy stilettos? You only wear those nasty slip-on sneaker things. You always say your feet weren’t designed for heels.”

Ignore that. That is my child in the background.

I do have strappy stilettos. They are midnight black and come equipped with thin sparkly straps that secure themselves around my slender (yes, slender) feet with the same expertise Christian Grey would secure Anastasia in his Red Room. There is no safe word with these shoes.

That’s how I’d start the evening.

“What about us? What are we having for dinner?”

That’s the other kid. Excuse me while I kick a box of cereal in that direction.

The house would be aglow in romantic scented candles.

“Fire hazard, Mom. Gosh. Don’t you know ANYTHING???”

That’s the sixteen year-old. Of course, that’s the sixteen year-old.

“And you can’t do scented anything, remember? Cause YOU…GET… HEADACHES!!!”

Okay. That was really, really loud. Where was I? The house aglow in romantic, scented candles. Me in sexy shoes.

I’d be wearing a silk something or other, something to show off that amazing flat stomach.

…One second please.

“STOP THAT LAUGHING! It was flat before YOU PEOPLE RUINED IT!!!!!!!”

Anyhow, there’d be smooth jazz playing, maybe some Miles Davis Autumn Leaves

“Hey, isn’t that the song you wanted papi to learn to play on the saxophone you bought him? The sax that’s been sitting there gathering dust for a hundred years?”

Ignore them. As I said, Autumn Leaves would be playing in the background. I’d serve dinner. I’d look amazing. Husband would gaze into my eyes and…

“Ewwwww…get a room!”

“BTW papi isn’t here, remember?”

So they are in stereo now?

Okay fine. I’ll make this quick:

I look hot. I’ve made this fancy dinner. There’s dim lighting and sexy music.

There’s no children. There’s no children. There’s no children.

There’s just Husband and I. Maybe he’s gotten me roses or a gift or both (I don’t need it, I don’t need any of it, just him, but, hey, it’s not like I am going to say no) and we gaze into each other’s eyes and smile and say, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

But here is how it really goes guys:

Husband is off in some other country for work, as usual. These kids, good God, these kids that I sometimes wanna kill (in the most loving way) are here. And they’re hungry. And dinner isn’t ready yet. So I’ve gotta do something quick. Something simple. I’ll throw a steak on the grill, make some mashed potatoes, offer up a nice green salad.

“We hate salad, Mother…”

Okay, whatever. Hopefully one day they’ll eat salad. One day after meals and meals and meals of watching their mother eat salad, something will click and they’ll eat a salad.

And then dessert, because after all, it’s still Valentine’s Day.

I need something to commemorate my love to my man, albeit apart and long distance. Something that would follow that amazing entrée I’ve made up in my head.

I’m thinking crepes.

Don’t be afraid!

Crepes are easy, really.

You can super cheat and buy them premade. (I’ve super cheated, yes I have.)

Or you can whip up a batch and keep them in the fridge- just pull them out whenever you want. They’ll last up to two weeks like that.

Raspberries go great with crepes and feel fancy. And you’re gonna love this: all you do is spread your favorite raspberry jam inside the crepe, roll it up, and sprinkle the outside with raspberries, confectioner’s sugar, and fresh whipped cream. Seriously! That’s it!

“Wait, did you say crepes?”

“Yes, yes! We want crepes! Can we have crepes?”

Oh no. They’re still here?

“Can we just have dessert for dinner, Mom?”

“Ooooh, yeah, dessert for dinner! Dessert for dinner! Dessert for dinner!”

Someone help me.

“Please?”

“Please?”

“Pleeeeeaaaase???”

Please.

 

Romantic Raspberry Crepes

Ingredients

  • Basic Crepe Recipe
  • 1 ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Filling
  • ½ cup fresh raspberries
  • favorite raspberry jam
  • confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 mint sprigs, as decoration

Instructions

  1. Throw everything into the blender (start with the wet ingredients first.)
  2. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute.
  3. Let batter sit for at least 30 minutes. If you are organized and plan ahead, letting it sit overnight in an airtight container is the die-hard way to go (just mix it up when ready to use)! But don’t worry. I am unorganized and impulsive when it comes to food cravings which leads me to wanting crepes RIGHT NOW, i.e., letting the batter rest a half an hour works just fine.
  4. Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  5. Lightly coat with butter or Pam.
  6. Add 1/3 cup of the batter and swirl it around so it coats the whole skillet.
  7. Cook for 2 minutes..
  8. Use a spatula to carefully flip. Cook 1 minute.
  9. Slide crepe off and repeat, coating pan each time.
  10. You can keep crepes warm in a preheated oven or just store them in the refrigerator in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, taking out what you need as you go. To heat, just microwave on high for 10 seconds.
  11. Assembly:
  12. Use 4 crepes (2 per person.)
  13. Pick your favorite raspberry jam. Add 2 teaspoons in center of warm crepe and spread all around. Roll up crepe.
  14. Sprinkle with fresh raspberries and confectioner’s sugar and add a dollop of whipped cream.
  15. If you want it super fancy, include a sprig of mint for extra color. Repeat.
  16. Serves 2 lovebirds.
http://culinarycompulsion.com/2016/02/a-girl-can-dream-raspberry-crepes/