elijah, easter bunny both take a pass

Well, looks like neither Easter nor Passover will happen this year, and I’m fine with that.  I’ve become very blasé about holidays. This is hard to fathom, somehow, since I grew up in a family that hit every holiday hard. Easter, for example, was celebrated three times, maybe four times if you count dinner, in a row at different relatives’ houses.  We never did that doling out of holidays by relative thing that many families manage to do.

And since Retrogrouch and I don’t have kids and don’t have much interest in celebrating holidays with kids and all our friends are having kids, the gesture gets more hollow by the year.  Eh. No biggie.  I’d rather be out in the garden prepping food production this time of year anyway.  That seems more of an escape from bondage, more of a celebration of rebirth, than hostessing to me.  Praying with your feet, to paraphrase Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama.  I pray with my trowel.

But that doesn’t mean my thoughts aren’t filled with holiday swag when the holidays roll around.  In the grocery store, in particular, when one is bombarded with temptations.  I think about my grandmother, the one who doesn’t cook, who would spend weeks each year finding the best, coolest candy for Easter baskets for my sister and me.  I always keep my eye out, in her spirit, for weird and wondrous sugar bombs for my nephews, to send to them when I can. I rarely can time it like she did, but I have a more perverse sense of humor. Surely, my colleague who surprised me in line at Market of Choice while buying two IV bags of lurid red sugar blood at Halloween must have wondered what recipe I was dreaming up…

There was something very comforting in holidays, a temporal sureness.  That’s the pleasure of a middle class upbringing: heteronormative, reproductive time.  It’s hard to imagine there’s any other acceptable way when you grow up like that.  A part of me is sad I’ll never transubstantiate those particular joys or cyclical comfort, but my freedom to garden instead of cook, write instead of wash the seder plate, browse the Easter candy baskets instead of buying, means I won’t model the treacherous, complex groove of reproductive time for a little girl like me who would one day be sad.  This is not without its consequences, though.  The knowledge I have of the holidays — all the domestic rituals and rites — is thus rendered “heavy with useless experience,” to turn dear Adrienne Rich on her head.

I’ve never liked the Easter message, and my husband says he doesn’t like Passover anymore, because it celebrates vengeance.  “It would have been enough, dayenu,” he says. “But god needed more plagues, celebrated by drops of the blood of your enemy.”  He wants a holiday of moderation, where “it is enough.” As much as this concept horrifies me and I profoundly disagree in my middle class sureness, acknowledging the carnivalesque need for celebrations of life, where excess is sometimes very appropriate and wonderful and even blessed, I see his point. “The knife edge of fact.” The sacrificial lamb.

It’s just never enough.

of mortar, sandwiches, and feline elijah: passover 2011

Chag sameach, happy Passover, and all that.  Yes, that’s a knob of ginger standing in for the shank bone.  It’s brown and elongated, no?  For bitterness, we have a slightly mauve maror, since I added a bit of pickled beet as filler to the hand-harvested horseradish, and arugula flowers.  Karpas is from my healthy parsley crop. The haroset is a properly leaden mortar (oops).  Still, not bad for a relatively quickly organized pseudoseder.

Proof of participation, Ikea miniature whitefish dumplings.  Guess who was seduced by the idea of EZ cocktail gefilte fishies?  (Alas.  They tasted slightly better with the carrot salad on top.)

And my friend’s almond torte wasn’t bad at all, and not the least bit dry with a sauce made of last year’s frozen sour cherries.  And yes, that’s a meat-based white dollop there.  Shh. Don’t tell Elijah.

Actually, this year was a little bittersweet.  One year when we lived in a tiny house in Berkeley where the dining/living room opened up to the front porch, we opened up the door for Elijah at the appropriate time in the seder.  And lo, there sat our beloved cat Sylvia, who made the grand entrance of her life, to the delighted exclamations of everyone present.  This is the first year she hasn’t been with us in person, as she passed away in November.  A little part of me thought she might be there when I opened the door this year.  So indeed, she was.  And will be next year, too.

Passover Menu 2011

  • Bitter tears and spring greens
  • Deviled eggs
  • Bread of affliction (with and without freshly ground horseradish)
  • Hillel sandwiches with pear-date-almond and apple-pear-walnut-pine nut mortars*
  • Miniature Scandinavian gefilte-fish disks d’Ikea topped with carrot salad**
  • Braised beef brisket à la mode de Joan Nathan, tomatoes and red wine
  • Roasted fingerling and butterball garlic rosemary potatoes with crunchy potato croutons***
  • Asparagus with caperberries and bay leaves
  • Foraged arugulas, fennel fronds, and pine nuts with apricot vinaigrette
  • Almond-meal torte with local sour cherries****
  • Evesham Wood Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Coffee

*why is it on this night only do we eat Hillel sandwiches?

**why is it on this night only do we serve garbage fish from cans and jars to complement those delicious sandwiches?

***why is it on this night only do we gild the lily?

****why is it on this night only do non-practicing Jews omit the crème fraiche?

niblets: multicultural edition

So much to announce, and I just haven’t had the will to do it.  Started this post three times today.  Bad news, since it’s still freezing cold and wet and I have fullblown spring fever.  So I’ll keep it short.  Consider it the World Literature Survey of dining niblets from your favorite home town.

– Japanese.  Go to Kamitori on 11th and Willamette.  It’s worth every (inexpensive) penny. Go especially if you’re into real Japanese food, not just chicken teriyaki, even if they do have that, too.  And tell the chef how much you appreciate the authenticity (but it’s ok if you recommend axing the krab salad in the kaisen (left).  I’m actually ready to come to blows if someone ruins this place.

– Lebanese.  Go to the new Middle Eastern Deli at Plaza Latina on 7th a few blocks east of Chambers.  She’s still working out the kinks and setting the menu and prices, so go and defend your favorites.  I found the tabouli (top photo, with various pies, hummus and tahini) particularly good — the parsley is not smushed to soggy bits with a heavy knife and loaded down with bulgar wheat.  Just as it should be.

– Jewish.  Tomorrow night starts Passover.  Got my brisket in gear and am cooking it as we speak, a Joan Nathan recipe.  I hope this is a good compromise between my two recipes, one called “Traditional (If Dull) Passover Brisket,” and the other one, “Cranberry Brisket,” which I love but has been vetoed by the no-fruit-with-meat half of my relationship.  This half also absconded with one of the apples for the haroset, so I made apple-pear-haroset.   Yeah, I know.  But it’s supposed to be like mortar in texture and color, right?  Right.  I’m glad to hear that Humble Beagle will be serving matzoh ball soup all week, since it’s the one thing we’re not making due to the hilariously quirky mismatched dietary profiles of my guests.

– Thai.  I perused the menu and spoke to someone who had the authority of an owner at Sabai, a new “Pacific Rim” or “Thai Fusion” restaurant in Oakway.  I’ll be nice and just say these two terms make me shudder unlike any other.  The good news is (at least for fans of the popular American-style Thai Ta Ra Rin restaurant), is that the menu is very similar to Ta Ra Rin.  The authority figure told me that they were planning to introduce Indonesian dishes, which would indeed be a nice addition to our local ethnic cuisine.  I’d just really like to see 1) serious attention to reducing the sweetness of all of the dishes if the menu is indeed based on Ta Ra Rin’s; and (2) offering non-sweet dishes with a vinegar or even just dry-fried, salt-and-pepper profile.  All Americans don’t like Thai food that’s achingly sweet.  Indonesian food can be way too sweet too, so it’s going to be a rough ride.

– White.  White flour, that is.  Excellent article about Tom Hunton (right, at the Saturday farmers market) and Camas Country Mill in the Register-Guard today.  It discusses the mill engineering and Tom’s decision to diversify from grass crops to wheat and other grains, including teff.  The article acknowledges the liberal-conservative partnerships that can (and need to) happen with food system changes, and shows how Tom’s making it work with his partners. Way to go, Diane Dietz!  That was the best food reporting I’ve seen in the R-G in a while.  So why was it in the Business section?

– Mexican.  Still loving taco night on Sundays and Mondays at Belly, and hope the owners have a good time scouting out new menu items on their vacation down south.  The restaurant will be open only for taco nights this week.  But a small grump: I am sad the tortillas are now being served cold instead of nicely griddled.  Can we change that?  I fully realize that after a couple of margaritas I don’t notice anymore but still.  Shh.  And kudos to Belly for being mentioned in visiting LA food critic Jonathan Gold’s twitter — he was in town for a UO School of Journalism award and said the tripe and trotters on toast gave him “a lot of happiness for $8.”  I like a man who gets his cheap thrills in organ meats.

– Polish.  And speaking of organs, I bought my Easter kielbasa a couple of weeks ago at Benedetti’s Meat Market.  Fresh kielbasa is always hard to find in Eugene, so go check ’em out.  You can bet your dupa I’ll be making my Easter soup this year. Our cup overfloweth with fresh eggs, since the farm chickens have decided the weather be damned; it is spring!

– Italian.  But if you’re not in the mood for Polish Easter soup, check out Sfizio for their Umbrian regional dinner on Easter Sunday.  I haven’t seen the menu, surely by some fault of my own, since they usually send ’em by now.  But it’s a good option to staying home and eating too many Cadbury eggs and jelly beans.

– Fermentation Nation.  Thanks to everyone for coming out to the Master Food Preserver class on fermented foods.  We had about three dozen attendees for the demo, and everyone was so enthusiastic and full of questions it really energized all of the teachers.  We really had a great time discussing kefir, yogurt, kim chi, sauerkraut, cider vinegar, chocolate, and sourdough bread.  The next class is on emergency planning and we’re offering a canning basics series this summer after the produce starts to come in to the market.  We’ll be teaching pickling, jamming, water bath canning (with tomatoes), and pressure canning in four classes for $40 (see a full schedule of courses here).  Yes, that’s $40 for four classes TOTAL, not each.  We’re also starting to connect with other MFP programs nationwide on our Facebook page.  Follow us and let us know what you’re interested in canning and cooking this summer!

So how’s that for short?  Don’t forget, I am a professor.  We don’t do short.