“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Joseph Campbell
Challah is a special bread that is often eaten on Jewish ceremonial occasions. Historically it holds additional significance worth mentioning. A portion of the dough was separated from the braid as an offering and it connotes letting go of something. I had planned on making this bread earlier this morning and had no idea of its meaning until now. Today was my last day of working as a hospice nurse. For twenty years I have been a companion to the dying and hopefully a comfort to some of the hundreds of patients and families I have met along the way. I was dreading working for some reason and wanted to move through it as quickly as possible. I was done…spent. The universe apparently had other plans I guess. On my last visit I just happened to run into a physician whom I admire who also works with the dying. I would go even further to say that he is my favorite physician to work with as he is very kind as well as an exceptional listener willing to put himself aside in order to bear witness and see the person in front of him. We chatted and I shared with him that today was my last hospice meeting. He then told me some very sad news about someone we both know. I couldn’t believe it! I was stunned! Even in this work, we still are shocked when hearing of an illness or impending death of a friend, colleague or family member. It is the human condition. We talked about grief and he said something that struck me about the “loneliness of grief” and later that “many of us are together in our perceived aloneness.” Grief is solitary work. It is uniquely personal and if we are lucky we have loved ones willing to listen and support but no one can really experience it with us. We must go it alone. Yet we all share the predicament. So today I am letting go of a very large part of my career and my life. I have learned volumes, more than I can ever attempt to put into language. It is something felt deep in my being. I have offered myself to others for years but now in my own grief I need to offer myself to myself. I will stumble. I will fall into the abyss. And I will stop and marvel at the recovered treasures along the way. (in offering I dedicate this to LH)
Ingredients: 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water, 2 packets of dry yeast, 1/4 cup honey, 1 cup dry milk, 2 eggs beaten, 7 cups of all purpose flour, 4 teaspoons salt, 1/3 cup butter and more flour for kneading.
Proceed with the directions from the Tassajara yeasted bread recipe adding the beaten eggs after stirring in the dry milk. Braid. Makes 2 loaves. Bake at 350F until golden.
It’s August! This month I am tackling bread. The Washington Post endorsed this book in 1970 (!) as “the bible for bread baking.” We shall see if the oldie remains goodie! The author, Edward Espe Brown is a Zen monk famous for his baking and classes at the Tassajara Mountain Zen Center in California. For years I have used his guest recipe cookbook but this book is apparently a classic and I am both excited and intimidated to begin exploring these recipes. I am starting with the foundational Tassajara yeast bread from which many variations follow. I made a mistake right out of the chute though for substituting scalded milk for dry milk. He explains that we can exchange but somehow forgets to warn us to decrease some water so I ended up with a very sticky dough that required way more flour to correct my mistake. The result was a denser crumb than I expected. Conclusion: Bread is daunting! Bread is an art! Bread takes patience! Earlier I drove to my studio, ready to roll up my sleeves and dive into August only to discover a large festival was taking place this weekend, along with all the parking spaces. I absolutely could not find one spot! Discouraged and disappointed I drove back home. I started making the bread sponge, you know, the yeasty wet starter and found the warmest spot in the kitchen for rising was the window sill. As I placed it on the ledge I noticed a juvenile robin in the driveway just sitting in the hot sun. I went outside and clearly there was something wrong. It looked healthy enough and the wings appeared uninjured. All of a sudden the bird peeped and its mother appeared. I went back into the house to get out of her way and just like that the little one tipped over and started to die. The mother robin began squeaking and squawking and out of nowhere an entourage of sparrows appeared for curiosity and support fluttering here and there.I was amazed at the commotion. Within minutes the juvenile was dead while the mother chirped and flitted the whole time, helpless yet present and very much aware. It was so intense and so strange and so quick. I just watched in awe wondering why this was happening and realized if I had been at the studio I would not have witnessed this. It was both sad and oddly beautiful and weird and natural. Life and death. It made me think of Abby and how she died so quickly, one moment alive drinking her beloved coffee at breakfast and the next one gone. Her father who was present told me “no pain” when we spoke of it. Quick. No Pain. Not alone. Just like this beautiful robin…
Ingredients: 3 cups lukewarm water (85 to 105F), 2 packets of active yeast, 1/4 cup honey, 1 cup dry milk (or 1 cup scalded and cooled milk but decrease water by 1 cup), 7 cups whole wheat flour (I used half white), 4 teaspoons salt, 1/3 cup butter, egg wash of 1 beaten egg with 2 tablespoons milk or water.
Dissolve the yeast in water, Stir in sweetening and dry milk, Stir in 4 cups of flour, Beat well with spoon 100 strokes, let rest for 45 minutes, fold in the salt and oil, fold in additional 3 cups flour until dough comes away for the sides of the bowl, knead on floured board adding more flour (about 1 cup) until dough stops sticking, about 8 to 10 minutes until smooth. Rise again for 60 minutes. Punch down. Let rise 40 to 50 minutes until doubles in size. Shape into loaves and place in pans. Rise for 20 to 25 minutes. Brush tops with egg wash. Bake at 350F for one hour or until golden.
Today’s gluten free cake is my last post from this exquisite cookbook. July is almost over. I hope you have enjoyed seeing or better yet cooking some of these amazing creations as much as I have. Which leads me to reflect on even more amazement. Lately strange things have been happening. It seems like every day something magical or out of the ordinary occurs. I swear I am not making this stuff up!! This morning on our walk, my husband and I were talking about future plans. One of mine is to enroll in culinary classes in NYC, particularly for artisanal breads. We remembered the landmark society house tour this year and meeting a middle aged guy in our neighborhood who took classes for fun at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Suddenly there he was… in his yard gardening! Had a thought and poof! Later, at the co-op looking for the difficult to find hazelnut flour, I ran into a very dear old friend. He is a brilliant engineer and a good photographer who knew Abby and whom had taken many photos of us at Longwood gardens, PA when we were all younger and different people. He was going to Maine with his lady to a plein air workshop and paint outdoors for eight hours a day. It was wonderful to see him. It got me wondering about two themes of the day: the FUTURE and FRIENDS. Here I am unexpectedly getting ready for something new as I unravel something old. Wonder what lies ahead? What new miraculous relationships are waiting? By facing grief my heart is cracking open. And all alone in this studio, in my very private space, I catch little clues, like segments, leading me onward, forward, upward and backward. It’s multi directional, not linear and all I can focus on for some reason is what is directly in front of me. Rumi is right…what I am seeking is seeking me. Go figure.
Ingredients: for the syrup: 1 1/4 cup superfine sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons orange juice, 2 1/2 tablespoons orange flower water ( I used less than half) and grated zest of 1 orange. for the cake: 5 large eggs, 1 cup superfine sugar ( I used less), 2 1/4 cup hazelnut flour. to serve: greek style yogurt and pulp of passion fruits ( I could not find so omitted)
To make the syrup: bring 2/3 cup of water to boil, add sugar and orange juice and simmer for 10-12 minutes until mixture gets syrupy. Cool. Stir in orange flour water and orange zest.
Make the cake but beating eggs with sugar until pale and thick. Fold in hazelnut flour. Beat egg whites until stiff and glossy and very carefully and slowly, gently mix egg whites into hazelnut mixture. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes until golden brown. Loaf pan 8/4 inch and pan should be greased with parchment paper in bottom.
Remove cake from oven and pour syrup over cake. Serve with yogurt. (I put the syrup on the side.)
I stopped at the grocery store to get a fillet of monkfish…rose petal salt was made days ago. A single red rose caught my eye in the florist department and I thought it would be a nice touch to spread some petals around the fish. While checking out, the cashier said with excitement, “Oh, a single red rose! It reminds me of Beauty and the Beast!” She laughed and I smiled and thought, “This is perfect.” Unwittingly, this blog has been evolving into writing about whatever insights bubble up that day and so many amazing things happen! Beginner’s mind. So here we are. Beauty and the Beast. Once again this takes me back to the concept of duality, you know, both sides of the one coin thing. It really is frustratingly true. Those damn fairy tales aren’t such fairy tales after all, huh? I guess we all the want the beauty without the beast. But maybe today, this means something else. Maybe the beauty is the love and the beast is the grief. It made me think of a passage from Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle. She writes so eloquently that “Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: LOOK! LOVE WAS ONCE MINE. I LOVED WELL. HERE IS THE PROOF THAT I PAID THE PRICE!” That rings so loud and so clear to me. Maybe that is why I feel like I have been grieving for centuries…I love, I just love. And maybe, just maybe, the grief is OK because it means that love was once mine and that I loved well. What else can I ask for? I think I’m beginning to understand.
Ingredients: petals of 1 large unsprayed red rose washed and dried, 2 tablespoons Maldon salt, 1 1/2 pds monkfish fillet, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter.
One day in advance make the rose petal salt. Place the petals and salt on a platter and rub together, don’t overwork the mixture. Transfer to a jar and let infuse overnight.
On the day of serving, cut the monkfish into 12 chunky pieces. Lightly oil the fish. Heat the clarified butter in a large skillet. Add the fish and cook turning one about 2 1/2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Serve hot with a generous portion of rose petal salt on top.
July 25th is a day for those of us who know Abby to remember and celebrate her would be 55th year. Happy Birthday my sister wherever your spirit resides! I have a delicious lunch prepared for us today. I know Abby would have preferred fish tacos with avocado, papaya, pineapple and mangos but this month we are not doing Mexican dishes. We are in the Eastern Mediterranean region so we will have to settle for suzme, which is a twenty four hour drained yogurt mixed with goat cheese and rolled in spices. We are serving this with homemade Syrian bread and a side salad of greens with lemon and pomegranate molasses. Above is a freshly picked bouquet of thyme from my garden and any bouquet of flowers often reminds me of Abby. She loved flowers and she was brilliant at arranging and growing them. Thyme is derived from the Greek word thymus which means courage. This is so fitting and I swear these things just play out without any planning. Abby was courageous in a myriad of ways, it’s one of the characteristics of her personality that drew me to her; she was fearless. So on this summer day in the sign of Leo, I humbly offer her this floral symbol in her honor. Thank you for knowing me…I love you eternally.
Suzme Rolled in Za’atar, Sumac and Pistachios
Ingredients: 1 quart whole milk plain yogurt, not Greek style, 7 ounces of goat cheese, 1/3 cup finely chopped pistachios, 2 tablespoons Za’atar (recipe in previous post) 2 tablespoons crushed sumac, sea salt and pepper, 2 pieces of cheescloth, wild greens for serving, warm crusty bread for serving.
One or two days in advance make the suzme by placing the yogurt in the center of the cheesecloth. Standing over a sink, twist the muslin around the yogurt until you have a tight ball and tie it to the tap overnight. You will end up with a thick consistency which is know in the Eastern Mediterranean as suzme. You should have about 1 1/2 cups. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
On the day of serving: Place the suzme in a bowl with the goat cheese and combine until mixed and smooth. Shape the mixture into ovals. Roll 1/3 into za’atar, 1/3 into sumac and 1/3 into pistachios.
Arrange on a platter and serve.
Syrian Za’atar Bread with Thyme Flowers
Ingredients: 3/4 cup warm water (105-115F), 1 tablespoon active dry yeast, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm milk, 4 2/3 cup all purpose flour, 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 tablespoons za’atar, scant 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 2 tablespoons thyme flowers
In a bowl combine yeast with warm water and let sit for 10 minutes. Add the warm milk. Sift flours into a large separate bowl and make a well. Add the liquid to the flour and combine. Knead into a soft sticky dough.( I found the recipe needed less flour so I added the flour a little at a time.) Shape into a ball and place in a flour dusted bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour.
Preheat oven to 475F. When the dough has risen punch it down once with fist to knock out air. Cut the dough into 16 pieces rolling each piece into a ball. Using a rolling pin flatten them into disks, 5 inches in diameter. Arrange with disks on baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise another 20-30 minutes.
Miz the za’atar with olive oil and drizzle over the risen disks. Press the disks down with your thumb and season liberally. Bake for about 4-5 minutes until they puff up, keeping an eye on their progress. as this bread can burn very easily.
Sprinkle with fresh thyme flowers and serve warm or cold.
A helva is a sweet semolina Ottoman dessert recipe centuries old, like fifteenth century old. Nowadays it is made on religious events or births or deaths.
It’s funny how this cooking experiment brings up such corresponding insights. I feel like I have been grieving for centuries. Not just about Abby but about so many things in my life. I am tired of carrying this heaviness. Even in writing this my stomach feels heavy from the sweet semolina. Yet surprisingly I never seem to give up hope that one day I can release the hold it has on my heart. I try. Lord knows I try.
Ingredients: 2 cups milk, 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, 1 cup sugar, 6 tablespoons of butter, 1 scant cup of semolina, 3/4 cup lightly roasted and ground pistachios.
Heat 2 tablespoons of milk and add saffron and let soak for 30 minutes.
Stir sugar into remaining milk over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Keep warm. In a separate saucepan melt the butter, add the semolina and stirring constantly over low heat for 20-25 minutes watch for semolina to brown.
Stir the saffron infused milk into the warm sugar milk mixture and add to the semolina stirring vigorously. Add a little at a time to get the right pudding like consistency. Turn off the heat and let stand for 15 minutes covered in a warm area.
Serve at room temperature with sprinkled pistachios and garnish with a few saffron threads.
This lentil based soup, a mahluta, comes from Al Halabi, Four Seasons, in Damascus. The longer I try her recipes, the more I realize… this woman knows what she is doing! It’s more like a meal than a soup and it’s protein packed. By the time I got to the bottom of the bowl I was stuffed. Comfortably stuffed full of deliciousness. Not a bad place to be. I think I’ll linger here for awhile.
Ingredients:1/1/4 cups red lentils, 1/4 cup Arborio rice, sea salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 grated onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 tablespoons ground cumin, 5 ounces ground lamb, coconut (fresh) or garnish with sprig of oregano
Place the lentils and rice in a saucepan, add 6 cups of water and season. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
Gently heat the olive oil and saute the onion, garlic and cumin for a few minutes. Add the lamb and cook for 5 minutes until browned. Add the lamb to the lentils and rice and cook for about 30 minutes, until the lentils and rice tender.
If using fresh cocount, shave and toast until golden. (next time I think it would be easier to just add coconut flakes.)