Welcome to 29 Portsmouth Terrace, Apt. 3

Warning: Not for the faint of heart.

Welcome to a blog that is born out of loss. In it, I will cook my way through grief. My name is Becca. On May 19th, 2018 my best friend Abby died unexpectedly leaving me forever changed. This solo exercise is a way to honor her memory, remember our connection and heal my way forward through the comfort of a kitchen, a physical space where I feel safe. I am a home cook with a knack for finding exceptional recipes. The kitchen I will post from is in a studio apartment I leased for one year starting June 2019 and ending May 2020. I do not live there. I cook and contemplate there.

I have chosen 12 cookbooks from my library. I will cook and bake my way through as many recipes as possible each month. The plan: each recipe will be a first trial. Like in life…no practice run. The idea is to begin with the books I have collected over the years but never had the time to seriously explore and learn. And what has also occurred to me in this grief process is the importance of practicing presence with whatever I am feeling. I don’t need anything more than a beginner’s mind and an open heart. That feels like an authentic launching point. Abby would have been pleased. Here I go. Let’s get cooking!

  • June: My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss
  • July: Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe
  • August: Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown
  • September: 660 Curries by Raghaven Iyer
  • October: Market Cooking by David Tanis
  • November: Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
  • December: Eat by Nigel Slater
  • January: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
  • February: Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibanez
  • March: Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi
  • April: Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
  • May: Together: Our Community Cookbook: The Hubb Community Kitchen

Month of May: “Together: Our Community Kitchen” Recipe: Oxana Sinitsyna’s Russian Semolina and Kefir Cake

“Your memory feels like home to me. So when ever my mind wanders, it always finds it’s way back to you” Renata Suzuki

Kefir is fermented milk that originated in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia. Added here to this all semolina flour cake it adds a little tang to the sweetness. It is a dense but spongy cake, not too sweet. Delicious with tea.

Abby and I loved the outdoors. No insights bubbling up, only hill and mountain memories on this memorial day. A picture is worth a thousand words so here are four thousand.

Ingredients: 1 cup plus 2 tbsp course semolina, 1 cup plain kefir, 7 tbsp unsalted room temperature butter, 1/4 tsp salt, 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar, 1/2 vanilla bean paste ( I used 1 tsp. vanilla), 2 eggs, 1 tsp baking soda, condensed milk (optional)

1.Place the semolina and kefir in a bowl and blend. Let set for 2 hours and cover with a clean kitchen towel over it.

2. Preheat oven to 400F. Butter a 8 or 9 inch cake pan. Beat butter until soft, add salt and brown sugar and beat until creamy and slightly lighter in color. Add vanilla and eggs one at a time. Gradually incorporate the semolina mixture, then the baking soda. Beat well after each addition. Pour batter into cake pan and cook for 35-40 minutes until brown and spongy to the touch. Let cool in pan. Serve with condensed milk if using. I sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.

Month of May: “Together: Our Community Cookbook” Recipe: Intlak Alsaiegh’s Beef and Eggplant Casserole

“We write to taste life in the moment and in retrospect. ” Anais Nin

This Persian recipe takes a little time to prepare. Each ingredient is gently pan fried and then assembled together for a final roasting. I didn’t have any tamarind paste so I substituted lime with brown sugar. I also didn’t have fresh tomatoes so I made sauce instead. The sweetness of the sauce makes for a delightful surprising combination to enhance the soft eggplant and brings all the flavors together.

Yesterday I started packing up my studio. I have just a few more days there and then my grief blog is ready to come to a years end. I thought about how much Abby and I loved to communicate with each other as I organized a shoe box of letters I had written her that she lovingly had saved over the years. I have re-read each letter that spans a decade of the 1990’s. I have come to see this as a box of longing. Longing to be in Driftless region of southwest Wisconsin… longing to be near my friend, year after year, letter after letter. The box also includes romantic letters I must have given her from an old love. She knew all to well that I had a tendency to throw away things out of anger and pain. I am so glad she hung onto them for me. There was also a letter from a few friends and lovers of hers, photos, cards and some poetic scribblings as well. The day of her memorial her daughter Rita gave me this cherished gift. I had no idea Abby still had these.

I thought about the last thing that Abby had ever communicated with me. Days before she sent her last text we were having a phone conversation while I was taking a walk. I remember it was a warm early morning and the crab apple blossoms were all over the sidewalk were I was standing. I was looking down. She said Rita had come to get the kids and she needed to hang up. We were trying to agree upon a good date for a visit. I was finally coming back to the Midwest to see her. That next morning she texted me. ” I’m sorry I had to go so abruptly….I feel there was something else you wanted to say.” Those were her last words to me….. I responded with a “nope” and a winking emoji.

But I was wrong. I was very wrong. There were many many many more things I wanted to say….hence “A Year at Portsmouth.”

Ingredients: 3/4 pound ground beef, 4 large minced garlic cloves, 3/4 tsp curry powder, 2 eggplants about 1.5 pounds cut into 1/2 inch slices, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 large potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices, 1 large onion peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices, 1 large green pepper cored and sliced ( I used red), 1.5 cups water, 4 tbsp tamarind paste, 1.5 tbsp sugar, 3 ripe tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch slices, salt and pepper.

1.Preheat oven to 400. Place the beef and half the garlic into a bowl, add curry powder ( I used ground cumin and turmeric) and mix. Make into 12 small meatballs and set aside.

2. Heat a large non stick pan to medium high heat. Brush the eggplant with oil on both sides and cook for 4-5 minutes each side until golden. Brush the potato slices with oil and cook for about 6 minutes on each side. They should be golden but not cooked all the way through. Set aside.

3.Cook the onion slices and pepper in about 2 tbsp of oil for about 5 minutes. At last minute put in remaining garlic and set aside. Cook meatballs for about 2-3 minutes until golden but not cooked through.

4. In a measuring cup mix the water with the tamarind paste and sugar until blended. Arrange the eggplant, potato, onion, pepper, tomatoes and meatballs in a 12 inch round baking dish overlapping them. Pour over the sauce. Cover with foil and cook for 30 minutes then uncover and cook 20 minutes more. Serve with basmati rice.

Month of May: “Together: Our Community Cookbook” Recipe: Leila Hedjem’s Spiced Mint Tea

“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it out.” Song of Solomon 8:6

May 19, 2018 at 5 am. I set my alarm to get up in the dark and tune in to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I, along with millions of others watched an unprecedented historical event occur…the union of two people representing a changing of the traditional guard. A world where race, position and title did not matter. All that mattered was the love of two hearts. All I remember from those early hours was how high I felt listening to a black minister set Windsor’s St George’s Chapel on fire speaking of the power of all kinds of love, not just romantic love. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr who said, ““We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.” I was soaring…internally I felt I had changed…that this sermon somehow set me on a different course.

Hours later, I would prove my feelings correct.

I received a call from whom I presumed was Abby as her name came across my phone. I couldn’t wait to share with her my internal shift I had felt that morning. Then I heard Rita, Abby’s daughter’s voice. “Rebecca, this is Rita. My mom died this morning.” Her voice was low, soft, shaky. All I remember after that is saying “No, no, no, no!!!” Then Andy came into the kitchen asking what had happened. Rita needed to know if I knew of any living will or papers her mom might had stored away. I did not. We cried together and Rita said she would need to call me back. We hung up.

I fell to my knees and sobbed.

Meanwhile, right outside my window, at the same time, my magnolia tree and purple irises were in full bloom.

Ingredients: mint leaves, 1 clove, 1 cinnamon stick

  1. Take 3/4 cup of mint leaves and spices and add to a pot with 3 cups boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and serve with 1 tsp of honey or sugar to sweeten.

Month of May: “Together: Our Community Cookbook” Recipe: Dayo Gilmour’s Fennel and Orange Salad

“My recipe for dealing with anger and frustration: set the kitchen timer for twenty minutes, cry, rant and rave, and at the sound of the bell, simmer down and go about business as usual.” Phyllis Diller

Fennel and orange are an Italian match made in heaven. Here is one of the easiest salads to make as long as you have a good knife or mandoline for slicing. No frustrating recipe here.

Deep breath…sigh.

It’s been a few frustrating days around here lately. My computer is on the fritz, temporarily unemployed, husband preparing for an upcoming surgery, the nation has gone mad with virus and collective rage, everywhere the stress and anxiety is high and everything is taking all my patience and strength. Anyone else feeling this way lately??

Abby was my go to person for decades. She knew me very well. She knew my story. She listened…deeply. I miss not being about to reach out to her and it doesn’t seem to get much easier with time, especially during times like these.

Deep breath…sigh

Well, think I will put the timer on for twenty minutes, rant first, rave second. Then pick myself up and go back to business as unusual.

Ingredients: 2 fennel bulbs, 2 large oranges, 2 tbsp. raisins, 1 tsp, apple cider vinegar, 5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 3 tbsp. toasted pine nuts, 1 tbsp. pumpkin seeds, sea salt

1.Trim the fennel bulb. discarding the bases , core and tough outer layers. Cut off the tops and reserve a few fronds. Using a mandoline or very sharp nice, slice the fennel as thinly as possible. Transfer to a bowl of ice water until ready to assemble, which will prevent browning and keep it crisp. Squeeze one orange and place juice in bowl. Peel the other orange and cut into small chunks.

2.. For dressing, add vinegar and salt to orange juice and then whisk in oil. Place fennel, reserved fronds, orange chunks, raisins, pumpkins seeds and pine nuts in mixing bowl. Add dressing and gently toss. Serve on platter.

Abby learning to roller skate.

Month of May: “Together: Our Community Cookbook Recipe: Munira Mahmud’s Spiced Lamb Pilao and Aysha Bora’s Indian Shortbread

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind however small. And in return, life – and travel, leave marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though they hurt.” Anthony Bourdain

These words resonate with my own life experience. These words and this recipe resonate with my memories of India.

In 2006 I flew 20 hours in one direction away from my homeland. I spent three weeks in the monsoon season of May in Calcutta assisting the nuns of Mother Teresa’s missionary caring for the sick and dying. Intense is an understatement to the poverty, the pollution, the heat, the suffering I witnessed there. Yet, strangely and utterly surprising, among the discomfort and pain I also found profound kindnesses and love unimaginable.

A paradox, an ambiguity.

Just like this grief journey.

Month of May: “Together: Our Community Cookbook” Recipe: Leila Hedjem’s Baked Fish with Tahini and Pomegranate

“One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” Dr Seuss

Well, I think I just discovered an indispensable sauce for all fish! Tahini sauce. Minutes to assemble. But please don’t underestimate this Algerian recipe by its simplicity. With the first bite the fish is suddenly elevated to a whole new level where you think, ‘I can’t imagine fish ever again without this.” 

From the time Abby was very little, she loved to fish. She loved to be on the water near them, she loved to catch them, she loved to smoke them, she loved to eat them. I remember many wild pale orange fleshed colored trout she would catch in the Kickapoo river and bring back for us to cook. One vivid memory comes to mind was when I first came to the valley in the time of early spring where we prepared and shared a completely wild caught and harvested meal. It consisted of morel mushrooms found hiding near rotting elm trees,  secret patches of wild asparagus and river run trout…all brought to the cabin table by Abby’s knowledge of the seasons and plants, keen eye and natural talents. It was a remarkable meal and an experience I will always remember.

Just as I will remember my Uncle Newt who took me as a small girl out on the clean beautiful waters of the Finger lakes of New York state to fish with him in his small one motor metal row boat on summer days. We ate lovingly prepared sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and drank iced tea from a Coleman container that I still have to this day. He fished for perch and bass and our family’s freezers were always filled with aluminum foil packages layered with boneless fillets. He was the one that gave me the eternally grateful gift of appreciating the great outdoors…and fishing.

These are the things that are priceless in our lives, aren’t they? How we touch one another in our simple acts of generosity and love. Ordinary sharing that over time becomes much much more than anything but ordinary.

Ingredients: 4 boneless skinless filets of cod or other fish about 5 oz. each, 1 tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper, 4 tbsp. of tahini, juice of 1 lemon, 1 garlic clove minced, 2-4 tbsp. warm water, 1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, 1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds, 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts.

1.Preheat oven to 400F. Place fish in a baking dish and drizzle with oil and season. Cook for 10-12 minutes depending on thickness of your fish.

2. In a bowl, mix the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Gradually add warm water until you reach the consistency of plain yogurt.

3. When fish is done, pour sauce over it and garnish with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and parsley.

Month of May: “Together: Our Community Cookbook” Recipe: Cherine Mallah’s Moroccan Pancakes with Honey and Almond Butter

“My mother was my first country, the first place I ever lived.” Nayyirah Waheed

Moroccan pancakes! What a delightful discovery! They are kind of a cross between a pancake and a crumpet. What makes them unique is you don’t flip them! Yeasty and filling, made with semolina flour and virtually no fat. The possibilities are endless.

Abby and I both became pregnant the same year and had our babies in 1985. Pregnant together…children having children. Abby had her Rita in June and I had my Sean in August.  Chasca was not far behind in May of 1988. They all became our North stars and everything that followed, for better or worse, was for them. 

Ingredients: For the pancakes: 1 cup fine semolina, 1/2 cup self rising flour, 1 tsp. fast acting dried yeast, 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. sugar, pinch of salt, 1.5 cups warm water (about 110-115F) For the amlou (almond butter and honey) 1/4 cup almond butter, 3 tbsp. honey, 1 tsp. argan oil ( I didn’t have, so I used hazelnut oil, any nutty oil will do)

  1. Put all the pancake ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to make a smooth batter. Cover loosely with a towel and let rise for about 45 minutes until plenty of bubbles have formed and the batter has risen. Meanwhile, put the amlou ingredients in a small bowl, mix and set aside.
  2. Heat a non stick frying pan over medium-low heat, when hot, add a small ladleful to the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the surface has lots of bubbles and has dried. DO NOT FLIP! Transfer to parchment paper and repeat with the rest of the batter for a total of 12 pancakes. Let pancakes cool slightly before you stack them, or they may stick together. Serve warm with drizzled amlou.