Restrictions have nothing on her.

A Very Zen Thanksgiving

Posted: November 18th, 2009 | Author: rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays resplendent with color: vibrant oranges, browns and reds; harvest time. A cornucopia centerpiece never graced my family’s table, but if it did, I’d make sure it burst with colorful seasonal fruits. While Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I believe the Japanese have the right idea when it comes to a complete meal: everything should be balanced by the varieties of color, texture and flavor, which is why when creating meals, I strive for harmony, case in point, my colorful dinner party the other week. No better time to put this in practice than now, when seasonal fruits and veggies are a huge component of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

This year I’ll be home and in all likelihood, my mother and aunt will insist on cooking everything themselves. Usually we’ll feature the standards — turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, canned cranberries that none of us will actually eat, and of course pumpkin. Despite autumn’s bounty of seasonal options, my clan tends to go for the heavy stuff and far too many starches.

If I distilled down to a bento box of what Thanksgiving foods mean to me, here’s what I’d feature:

- Pumpkin phyllo cups (hors d’ourves)
- Apple and butternut squash soup
- Arugula and cranberry salad with almond slivers
- Wild rice with parsnip and squash
- Smashed sweet potatoes
- Sauteed collard greens, meatless
- Roast turkey with rosemary sage stuffing
- Pumpkin pie made with homemade whipped non-dairy cream or pumpkin whoopie pies (using Tofutti cream cheese for the filling in this case)

When hosting guests, a great bite-sized hors d’ourves is pumpkin phyllo cups, which are also super easy to make. Take a 15 oz can of pureed pumpkin, stir in 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg; adjust to taste. Scoop them into little phyllo dough cups and bake at 350 on a cookie sheet until phyllo becomes golden. It’s like mini pumpkin pies!

The first time I ever tried pumpkin, in fact, was eating a variation of this, in boreka-like phyllo pockets, rather than cups. My love affair with pumpkin started then.

The rest of the menu has links to their recipes or are pretty standard, but combine well altogether to highlight the bounty that nature brings us this time of year, as well as sharing it with the bounty of our loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!


Anti-food and Yom Kippur

Posted: September 26th, 2009 | Author: rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

After sunset in a couple of days, Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar begins and for the next twenty-five hours there will be no eating or drinking of any kind by Jews all over the world. Fast days, quite literally, are anti-food: in order to ritualistically purify ourselves for the day we have to elevate ourselves spiritually by temporarily denying ourselves unnecessary bodily activities we enjoy, like eating; snacking on cake or samosas, say, won’t put anyone in the right mindset of atoning for a year’s worth of sins. Bakezilla’s samosas however: I’d sin for those any day. Not eating is a method of focusing ourselves, of not being concerned with our regular day-to-day lives but setting that aside in order to concentrate on more spiritual matters and also to be uncomfortable. It is the Day of Atonement after all, who said it had to be comfortable?

As far as I’m aware, there are no particular foods directly associated with either the before or after of Yom Kippur, but there are some guidelines on what to eat beforehand in order to make the fast be as easy as possible.

The first tip requires a little advance planning. If you’re a coffee freak like me, you will definitely want to cut down or wean yourself completely in the weeks before YK. If in general you’re a bleary-eyed, grumbling ogre in the pre-caffinated AM, then that ain’t how you want to be on the day that there is zero you can do about it. Also, coffee withdrawal gives many people headaches, so cutting down from three cups to two, one or none might be annoying at first but you’ll thank yourself later and you can always pick the habit back up the morning after anyway.

Ok, so now your veins are more blood than caffeine. Congrats! Next, you will want to increase your water intake. Drinking more water than usual will keep your body more hydrated (duh) but since you’re not allowed to sip even water on YK, the more your body has to work with in advance, the easier it’s going to be to not pass out from dehydration, especially if celebrating the holiday in a hot, humid place like Florida, which is what I’m doing. Note: I have never passed out from dehydration on YK but some friends of mine have come close, so watch out!

Alright, so far you’ve re-proportioned your coffee and water intake. Say the fast starts this evening and pre-YK dinner is late this afternoon. Pop quiz: what do you make for dinner? If you said huge juicy steak and fries with lots of ketchup and hot sauce you would be… dead wrong! But that sounds really tasty. No, the trick to a successful fast is to eat light and unsalty foods the night before. One of the worst feelings in the world is toddling along with a brick in your stomach from eating too-heavy foods but you have things to do and all you want to do is sleep it off and you’re not allowed! In addition, salty things such as fries (delicious, delicious fries) will make you want to drink lots of water, which you won’t be able to do once the fast starts.

So, what do you eat before a fast?

In my experience, the best preparatory dinner is a salad plus something dairy, perhaps a quiche or pasta dish. Nothing too sweet or any baked goods for dessert, best is fruit, which won’t make you as thirsty.

As it turns out, this type of meal is what you’ll want for the break-fast as well. A lot of people eat bagels with lox and cream cheese once YK is over, because even though you’re starving you’re not going to have the energy to weigh yourself down with any heavy foods.

In honor of Yom Kippur, here’s a recipe for gravalax that you can serve with bagels and cream cheese at your break-fast or at your next DIY brunch.

Gravalax

Note: requires 48 hours of advance prep. You can use inexpensive salmon for this recipe; if it’s too expensive you might as well buy prepared lox!

Ingredients:
- Fillet of salmon (debone beforehand) – can use only 1/4 of a fillet depending on amount of people to serve
- 1/4 cup of kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Couple of bunches of fresh dill, enough to cover one side of fillet
- 1/2 tsp all spice (optional)
- Slice of fresh ginger (optional)
- Fresh pepper

In a bowl, combine salt and spices. Rub both sides of the salmon fillet with the spice mix. If the salmon has its skin, just rub the exposed side. Garnish with fresh pepper and smother it with dill. Slice the fillet in half and fold it together. Wrap the salmon tightly with plastic wrap and place in a ziplock or other airtight bag. Store it in the fridge for 48 hours, minimum, with a weight on top to press down on it, turning it every 12 hours. After refrigeration, rinse off the fillet, pat it dry, slice and serve.

Enjoy!