Have Mercy on Us for We Know Not What We Have Cooked

Person: Monica
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Recipe: Gazpacho

Monica smiling before the storm.

We were battening down the hatches in the apartment, Monica and I. Hurricane Irene was drawing near, and New York City had begun shutting its collective doors to all but the most intrepid. Subway service was on its way to being suspended citywide. And as early as 5 p.m., bodegas were slamming their gates in preparation for the impending storm; shelves had already been emptied of water, bread, and milk. Soon, as Monica and I knew but never voiced, we would be one another’s sole ballast.

Watch out hurricane! You haven't reached Brooklyn yet.

Faced with impending doom, it’s natural to supplicate oneself to God in hopes of finding tea and sympathy. Luckily for me, Monica sang in a gospel choir in Barcelona, so we were that much closer to heaven. Steering clear of actual prayers though, as she claimed her interest in gospel was musical rather than religious, we instead eased our minds by filling the larder with God’s essentials: bread and water. I ran the tap and collected clear H2O in pots, then made a quick run to a grocery store to see what could still be had for love or money: jars of artichokes and capers, tins of tuna, perhaps a lemon. Two bottles of wine and some nectarines and apples I’d bought days earlier at the farmer’s market would keep us sane with sangria.

Calm before the storm.

That night, we huddled at the table while outside the wind whipped at trees and buildings. Rain pounded the glass, as we ate in silence under dim lights to conserve energy, hoping we’d be spared the rude awakening of even more thunder and lightning deep in the night.

It's going to be a rough night.

Dinner was modest – bread and cheese and olives at 10 p.m. – which Monica said was the typical dinner hour in Spain, even without a hurricane. Apparently, she couldn’t cook a lick herself, despite her mother’s job as a teacher to younger chefs. The skill had skipped her and her younger brother, while catching hold with the three eldest siblings.

The next morning, with further deluge still threatening, we turned into castaways on a desert island, tearing at the food in the refrigerator as if we’d been out in the elements all night rather than tucked cozily in our respective beds.

But as the day wore on, and we remained trapped, waiting, for what more we did not know, I began to go slightly mad, and before reason could grab hold of me, I began cooking as if my life depended on it. No piece of food went untouched. Whatever was there, I turned it into something. Guacamole. Tzatziki. Spanish gazpacho. Mexican chocolate ice cream. Nectarine-mojto pie. I was a whirling dervish of rolling pins and spatulas.

Nectarine-mojito pie. Take Martha Stewart's peach pie recipe, substitute nectarines, and marinate with rum, mint, and lime.

By the time I was done, there was enough food to feed a small army, not two solitary women trying to watch their summer weight for a few weeks more. What would we do? If we ate it all ourselves, surely we would have arrived post-storm two sizes bigger than we began. Then again, perhaps we needed to conserve. Who knew how long we’d be without another infusion of comestibles.

But just then, we heard a knock at the door, and standing outside were two unexpected guests, friends from afar who had travelled through the storm to see if we were okay. We invited them in and offered them sustenance. Soon a party atmosphere took over.

The Hurricane Singers.

The Lillet and sangria flowed. And, before we knew it, we were singing to God and the heavens, asking to be spared. Save us Yahweh. For we know not what we have done. We have been gluttonous with gazpacho and sangria and nectarine-mojito pie and Mexican chocolate ice cream. Oh, please, thou Anointed One, let us see daybreak the same dress size as how we beganeth the day. Forgive us, Lord, for we know not what we have cooked.

And lo, our prayers were answered. And She was good. And our basement was spared from water damage. Later, we wandered the streets of Red Hook looking to see how others had fared, and found many not so lucky.

A flooded basement in Red Hook.

We prayed for their safe recovery and secretly offered thanks to the sky. Had they been gorging themselves on chips and beer, we wondered? But their kitchens held their own secrets, and it was left to us to imagine what had transpired.

What happened in THAT Red Hook kitchen?

Recipe: Spanish Gazpacho
Serves: 4-6
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Monica's Spanish gazpacho. And a sunflower to ward off more rain.

Ingredients:

1 1/4 pounds very ripe, plum tomatoes – 630 grams
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons diced cucumber – 28 grams
1/4 cup diced green pepper – 53 grams
4 ounces olive oil – 118 millilitres
2 ounces red wine vinegar – 59 millilitres
Optional: Croutons (fresh or slightly stale bread brushed with olive oil and baked briefly in oven to crisp)

1. Roughly dice tomatoes into small cubes.
2. Place all ingredients except for olive oil and vinegar in a bowl or blender.
3. Blend with a hand mixer or in the blender until smooth.
4. Add olive oil followed by red wine vinegar. Blend again to emulsify. Approximately 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Top with croutons and a drizzle of olive oil.
6. Allow gazpacho to chill for a few hours to enrich flavor.
7. Serve cold or slightly chilled.

To take a spiritual tour of Brooklyn with one of our visitors, check out Dr. Kevin Dann’s Time Spirit Tours Web site.

Waves hit the shore in Red Hook.

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A Very German-Jewish Christmas

My best friend, the annoyingly multi-talented, Kurt

My best friend, the annoyingly multi-talented, Kurt

Location: Catskills + Germany
Person: Kurt, my best friend
Recipe: Rothkohl, German Red Cabbage

We had another snowstorm in New York the other night. Bad news for a lot of people, but great news for the Couchsurfing Cook because it’s a perfect lead in for me to share my recent snowy Christmas adventure couchsurfing in the Catskills with my best friend Kurt.

Technically I wasn’t couchsurfing, just visiting, but when you’re staying with a guy who owns three goats, three dogs, two cats, and a mess o’ chickens, it’s more than likely all the beds will be taken and you’re just as likely to find yourself curled up on the divan as nestled under a blanket in a bedroom.

Goats eating dinner

Goats eating dinner

Kurt’s been my best friend since the first hour I moved to New York City 11 years ago when our dogs met in the park in Williamsburg and we realized we knew each other from a dog run in Chicago where we’d both formerly lived. Kurt’s also one of the most talented people I know. He’s an architectural designer, furniture maker, farmer, gardener, marathon runner and, most importantly for us, a great cook, the kind who never opens a cookbook yet can still prepare an Oktoberfest for 50 without blinking an eye. In short, I hate him…and he’s my best friend.

The funny thing about our friendship though is that while he’s off-the-boat German and I’m Jewish, it’s never been an issue between us (though sometimes I do get upset when he orders me to wash the dishes after one of his fetes).

But when his Christmas party this year consisted of him and three Jews, I thought it was an occasion worth documenting for posterity.

Luckily, in addition to being a fabulous cook, Kurt’s also a great sport who was kind enough to share with me his recipe for Rothkohl, German red cabbage. The New York Times health writer Tara Parker Pope lists cabbage as one of the 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating. So start those New Year’s Resolutions now! Eat your cabbage! Or Kurt and I will get VERY, VERY ANGRY!!

Just kidding… : )

And check out the video to see what happened when a German and three Jews celebrated Christmas together:

RothKohl

Servings: 8 as side dish
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients:

1 medium to large head red cabbage
2 Granny Smith apples
1 medium-sized yellow onion
1 Idaho potato
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1 cup dry red table wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
approximately 1/8 cup whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon each salt and pepper or to taste

Rothkohl ingredients

Rothkohl ingredients

Directions:

1. Peel outer skin from onion. Push whole cloves into onion, spacing evenly apart to cover onion entirely. Set aside.

2. Peel apples. Cut in quarters. Remove seeds and center core. Cut each piece in half again. Set aside.

3. Skin and coarsely grate potato. Set aside.

4. Rinse cabbage under cool water. Pat dry. Remove outer leaves.

5. With large kitchen knife, cut cabbage in half. Remove tough end and inner white core. Cut each half into long 1″ wide strips. Cut strips in half again and separate into chunks.

6. On stovetop over low heat, melt butter in large, deep saucepan. Add cabbage and stir. Cover and allow to cook until cabbage is slightly softened. Approximately 5-7 minutes.

7. To cabbage add red wine vinegar and stir to combine.

8. Place spiked onion in pot.

9. Add bay leaves and green apples.

10. Add potato, first squeezing out excess liquid potato starch.

11. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix ingredients with wooden spoon to combine letting onion remain whole.

12. Raise heat to medium. Cook cabbage covered approximately 10 minutes until apples begin to break apart.

13. Remove cover. Stir to loosen cabbage from pan. Lower heat and add red wine. Stir to combine.

14. Allow to cook covered one hour over low heat until very soft, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent cabbage sticking to pan.

15. After an hour, remove bay leaves and onion.

16. Serve hot. Tastes better eaten days later and can be frozen to keep for up to a month.

“We had no idea just how desperate people would be…”

Chicken and pie living side by side.

Yes, that’s a quote from the head chef at Hill Country Chicken, referring to their fried Texas-style chicken. As someone who can’t eat chicken because I’m allergic to it (Yes, it’s true. People never believe me!), I was still desperate myself to try the sides and pies at Hill Country, which I did the other night in the middle of a frigid winter storm.

Read the sign: Cowboy Pie

All I can say is there’s nothing like coming out of the cold and into the warmth of your mama’s kitchen circa 1950. And that’s just what it’s like entering Hill Country Chicken. I was already a fan of their Texas-style brisket barbecue joint located around the corner and down the street. This time, while I couldn’t eat the main attraction, I had a yummy comfort food-y bowl of mashed ‘taters with pimento cheese with a side of fire-and-ice pickles. (God I love food with dashes.) Both were fab-tastic (my own invented dash-y word). The pickles were so good — flavored intensely with dried coriander and chili pepper flakes — I did something I’ve never done: DRANK THE JUICE!

Carbs and curbs


Honestly, it may be the tackiest thing I’ve ever done.

Here’s their address if you want to try the whole bird:
1123 Broadway @ the corner of 25th Street

For some reason my link to their Website isn’t working… : (

In Which My Okna is Broken by a Handsome Czech

cmunda

Cmunda with sauerkraut and ham. Focus on the cmunda.

 

“Every story begins with an event. This event is understood as the incursion of one logic into the world of another logic initiating what every story grows out of and draws nourishment from: situations, relationships, conflict…The logic of a story resembles the logic of games, a logic of tension between what is known and not known, between rules and chance, between the inevitable and the unforeseeable…For this reason alone, mystery is a dimension of every story.”

– from Stories and Totalitarianism by Czechoslovakian Playwright Václav Havel

A play written after Czech couchsurfer Eda stayed with me, then had an accident in my house. Can you guess what happened? Can you solve the mystery? Read on to figure it out…

Characters:
COUCHSURFING COOK
UNSEEN PERSON

A small room.  The COUCHSURFING COOK sits forlornly in a chair head resting in her hands.  She appears sad and slightly frustrated.  The UNSEEN PERSON asks a question that is only heard by the COUCHSURFING COOK.

CS COOK:
You ask me what is cmunda?  Hlupák! Pitomec! Again we must speak of this? Everyone knows cmunda!  It is like your pizza.  So common.  Only those who spend their lives in holes covered with leaves hiding from communists do not know cmunda!

Why just the other day Babicovy Dobroty, the Rachael Ray of Czechoslovakia, and I made cmunda together.

Babicovy Dobroty and I make cmunda.

What do you mean it does not look like me?  Perhaps I cut my hair.  Perhaps I gained weight over the holidays.  It is possible!  Anything is possible!

You say the last time I spoke of cmunda was after couchsurfer Eda stayed at my home? Perhaps this is true.  But why must you bring him up?  You know I am trying to forget Eda.  You know this!

You want me to tell the story again?  Why must you force me to speak of this? Do you not recall how I told you of the incident with the klimatizace?

You want to hear it again?  Agh!  You hlupák!  Fine.  I will tell the story:

Many months ago, there came to my home a man.  A young man.  A handsome man.  Blond.  Tall. Maybe six feet.  I don’t know!  Stop asking questions!

He brought cookies.  Like wafers.  Only bigger.  They were filled with chocolate.  They were a little dry, but that is a story for another day…

Eda brings me chocolate wafers. They were a little dry.

No matter.  He said he was grateful to be at my home and that he would be good to me. And I, hlupák that I am, believed him. But then, without warning, he broke my okna…and my klimatizace!  Ah, and afterwards, I was hot.  So very, very hot.  I thought I could not go on.

And my heart.  It too was broken.  Like the okna.  Because, blázen that I must be, I trusted him. It is true.  I opened my heart and trusted.

But then, as I explained to you months ago, but which, stupidní člověk, you have forgotten, I realized, after he left, that there is no okna klimatizace where he is from!

How do I know this?
Because there is no other explanation for what happened next…

He saw the klimatizace.
It was sitting in the okna.
And yet he opened it.

Hovno!
What was he thinking?

There were five oknas in the apartment.
Did he HAVE to open the one with the klimatizace in it?
He did not.
He was not thinking. Perhaps he is hloupý. This was my thought.

Unless…what if they have no okna klimatizace where he is from?
Is such a thing possible? No okna klimatizace?
Ano!  It’s true.

See. Klimatizace on the floor. Not in the okna.

After he left, I looked through the broken okna and stared at the ground below.

No more okna.
Goodbye okna.
No more klimatizace. Goodbye klimatizace.

I am happy you have fresh air Eda.
But could you have chosen another okna?
Or at least the one without the klimitizace?

And that is it.  That is the end of my story.
What?  You say it is not a story unless there is a happy ending?

Fine!  I will tell you this:  After he left, I made cmunda. There. Are you happy?

Because, as babička says, there’s no better way to wash the taste of a broken okna and klimatizace out of your mouth than with a piping, hot plate of cmunda.

And with that I say, “šťastný stravování!
And you? Enough!  No more stories!

cmunda ingredients

All you need to make cmunda.

 

Cmunda: Czech Potato Pancakes*

*Best eaten after your air conditioner has fallen to the ground because your Czech couchsurfer Eda opened the window in which it was sitting. God knows why he chose that one out of the five other windows in the apartment!

Servings:  Makes 14 medium-sized pancakes

Ingredients:

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes (you can peel the potatoes, but I prefer to leave the skin on.  That’s where all the nutrition is!)
6 small to medium garlic cloves
1 egg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 Tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons regular salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons marjoram (can substitute oregano if marjoram can’t be found; trust me, it’s hard)
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 ounces butter or vegetable oil for frying.  Both work.  Butter is richer.

Directions:

1.  Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees.
2.  In a food processor or by hand, grate potatoes into thin strips.
3.  Put potatoes in colander over bowl and squeeze out liquid, then discard.
4.  Transfer drained potatoes into bowl and add milk, eggs, flour, and spices.  Mix well until fully combined.
5.  Heat 1-2 Tablespoons of butter or oil in cast iron skillet or non-stick pan over medium heat until hot but not brown.
6.  Fill 1/2 cup measuring cup with grated potato mixture and add to pan.  Flatten with back of spatula into thin, medium-sized pancake.  Potato mixture may stick slightly to spatula.
7.  Let pancake cook on bottom until brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.  Flip and repeat on other side.  Pancakes will cook faster as pan continues to heat.
8.  Remove from pan and place on plate covered with paper towel to absorb excess oil.
9.  Put pancakes in oven to stay warm until ready to serve.