THIS IS JUST TO SAY

In October, Jill & I applied to become adoptive parents.

(The future-baby’s nickname is “Peanut.”  A food name, of course.)

There are many reasons I have not written about this before, which I’m sure you can appreciate.  The baby thing is a very intimate and emotional process for everyone, regardless of whether they conceive or adopt, are straight or gay, single or coupled, face infertility or get pregnant right away—as much fun as it is to share such exciting news, all of the unknowns make it a little bit nerve-wracking, too.

But when I sat down to write today’s blog post and tried to write about other things, it all came out like a bunch of disingenuous crap.  Because it was.  Because the truth is, I cannot think about much else these days besides the Peanut.  And how much I hate waiting for him or her.

Please note: I know that six months—our wait time so far—is not a very long time at all, not really.  I know that most adoptive couples wait two or three times that long, at least, and I know that there are many, many, many biological parents who face their own heartbreaking roads of infertility and sorrow.  I have walked with friends through a few of these experiences, and my own parents endured several miscarriages and years of grief before they had a healthy child (me).  I do not wish to compare, demean, or judge.  I can only talk about what it’s like over here for me, with the hope that my sharing about it may be of use to someone else.

I am a card-carrying control freak.  I often wish so desperately that I weren’t, but in my thrown nature, that’s who I am.  I love to plan things almost as much as I love to eat—scary but true.  I am good at getting shit done, and this makes me useful in many, many situations.  But not this one.

Everywhere I go, there are babies.  There are babies at Target, there are babies at the grocery store, there are pregnant women and new parents all over the school where I work and all up in my Twitter feed and in my group of friends.  There were ridiculously adorable babies all over Washington D.C. whom my awesome boss offered to help me steal, though I don’t think it will come to that.  But if it does, y’all will cover my bail money, right?

Deep down inside, underneath the control freak I hilariously try to control to be less controlling, there is a faithful woman who trusts and is patient.  I know that a baby will come our way, and that that baby will be our baby, and life will never be the same.  I can’t wait—but I will have to.  And I’m not sure for how long.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few peanut-related recipes, from this blog and others, and my very sincere thanks for being out there, and reading.  Your presence is meaningful always, but especially today.  I needed you.  Thank you.

sweet

salted peanut cookies with white chocolate
peanut butter-almond butter cookies
peanut butter pie
boiled peanuts
peanut butter banana bread

savory

shrimp pad thai
Vietnamese egg rolls with peanut sauce
lime & peanut coleslaw

canine

peanut butter dog treats

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GUEST POST: COOKING IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY

Lauren Bernstein and I attended the same high school in Memphis; thanks to the magic of Facebook, we’ve been able to keep up with each other’s lives over the last few years. I have watched in admiration as she and her husband Justin (see picture at the end of this post) quit their jobs in New York and joined the Peace Corps, heading to Morocco to teach English.  

You can follow Lauren and Justin’s adventures in teaching, travel, and adapting to a brand new culture on Lauren’s blog, Life is calling.  Her pictures (especially of food!) are wonderful, as are her explanations of the sights they’ve seen and the work they are doing.  

Below, Lauren talks about what it’s like to cook in Morocco, as opposed to cooking back home, and shares a recipe for Moroccan-style white beans and homemade tortillas.  When we made the white beans, we served them with this recipe for Moroccan-style roasted vegetables.  Many thanks to Lauren for taking the time to share with us!  –NJM

Last week, my husband and I decided to make dinner for our family who hosted us when we first moved into our community in Morocco. We wanted to make an American-style meal, so we settled on fajitas and apple pie. As I undertook the process of planning and making the meal, I thought back upon how much has changed in my cooking since I came to this country. For fun, I compared the process that went into this meal to what it would have been in America:

AMERICA

Night before:
–    Research and choose recipes, make list of ingredients needed .

Morning of:
–    Go to the grocery store and buy everything I need: pre-packaged chicken breasts, vegetables, pre-made pie crust (if I’m being lazy), bag of tortillas, some packaged pre-shredded cheese.

Afternoon:
–    Cut up and saute meat and vegetables, prepare pie and set it to bake at the oven’s standard temperature, set the timer, walk away and have a glass of wine!
–    Take tortillas and cheese out of their packages when ready.

MOROCCO

Night before:

–    Research and choose recipes, make list of ingredients needed .
–    Figure out what ingredients are actually available here (no brown sugar for the apple pie!) and adjust with substitutions.
–    Make sure I know how to say or write everything that I need in Moroccan Arabic (still don’t know how to ask for nutmeg, though I don’t think I could find it here anyway!).

Morning of:
–    Go to the local market and visit each individual stall to get what I need: the onion guy, the peppers guy, the cheese guy, the spices guy, the egg guy, the oil guy (squeezed fresh from olives!), the flour guy, the butter guy… and let’s not forget the chicken guy. I choose my chicken and they slaughter and clean it for me.

Afternoon:

–    Wash and clean the chicken to remove excess feathers. Take out the innards (most of which I am still unsure of what they are exactly). Then break down the chicken and cut into small pieces to be sautéed.
–    Prepare pie crust (from scratch) and refrigerate.
–    Prepare tortillas (from scratch) and put aside.
–    Cut up and sauté meat and vegetables and grate cheese.
–    Prepare apple pie, put in oven and check it obsessively because the oven here doesn’t have regulated temperatures and I have yet to get it totally right yet. The top burns a little but easy enough to scrape off.

Total meal prep in America: 4 hours

Total meal prep in Morocco: 10 hours

As you can see, it’s quite a different experience! Each meal here is a challenge in learning how to plan, buy, and prepare foods in a totally new way. But I have already learned some valuable lessons that I will bring back with me when I return to the U.S.:

* Food tastes better fresh! None of this pre-packaged nonsense. Make the below tortilla recipe and you will never eat the packaged ones again

* Knowing where my meat comes from: You always hear in the U.S. about being separated from the source of your food but you don’t realize it until you see it the other way. While it’s tough to deal with an animal being killed in front of you for food, it makes you think much harder about what you choose to eat.

* Less meat, more beans and vegetables: In Morocco, meat is a lot more expensive than most other food items and families tend to eat a lot of beans instead. I have rediscovered my love for white beans and I will never be the same!

* New methods and tools for cooking: I am going to single-handedly bring the pressure cooker back into fashion in the U.S… why more people don’t use it, I don’t know! But every Moroccan household uses it and it is truly amazing.

In my cooking experiments here, two of my most favorite recipes have been some of the simplest. I hope you enjoy the below recipes; when you make them, think about how your experiences might be different if you were cooking somewhere unfamiliar or in a new way. And be happy you don’t have to learn how to say each ingredient in Arabic!

MOROCCAN-STYLE WHITE BEANS
Adapted from About.com
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

This recipe calls for dry beans and uses a pressure cooker (I told you I am bringing the pressure cooker back into style!). You should soak your beans in water overnight before you cook them. And if you happen to buy them from a big sack in the market like I do, you may need to spend an hour or so pulling out the twigs and rocks and thoroughly cleaning them!

ingredients:

1lb. dry white haricot or Cannellini beans, soaked overnight and drained
3 ripe tomatoes, grated or diced
1 medium onion, grated or diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 T chopped fresh parsley
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
1 T salt
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup olive oil
2 quarts water

Mix all ingredients in a pressure cooker. Cover and cook on pressure over medium heat for about 40 minutes, or until the beans are tender. (Note: “On pressure” here means that you start timing it once the top on the pressure cooker starts spinning around).  Run the cooker under cold water before opening the lid carefully.  If the beans are still submerged in sauce, cook uncovered for a bit to reduce the liquids until the sauce is thick (just keep an eye on it to make sure that the beans don’t burn). Adjust the seasoning if desired, and serve.

Editor’s note: If you don’t have a pressure cooker or don’t want to use it, I recommend using a slow-cooker instead.  You can sauté the onion & garlic in a saucepan on the stovetop first, then toss them, along with the rest of the ingredients, into the slow cooker and let them cook on “high” for several hours, or until the beans have reached the desired tenderness. You can also cook in a covered pot on the stove top for several hours, but the convenience of a slow-cooker means you can walk away while the beans cook!

HOMEMADE TORTILLAS
Adapted from Peace Corps Morocco’s “Kitchen Guide,” provided to all new volunteers
Yield: 8-10 small (6-inch) tortillas, or 4-6 large (8-10 inch) tortillas

Editor’s note: We have also, in my house, become obsessed with homemade tortillas.  I tend to make mine with lard, using this recipe, but when cooking for vegetarian/non-pork-eating friends, I plan to use Lauren’s recipe below.

ingredients:

2 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder (optional)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp olive or vegetable oil
¾ cup warm water

Preparation:
Sift flour, baking powder (optional), and salt together (for larger tortillas, omit baking powder, which will keep them from stretching). Work in oil and mix well. Slowly add water and knead until dough is springy. Divide dough into 8 balls for small tortillas, or 6 balls for large tortillas, and place on a clean surface; cover and let rest for 20-30 minutes. After the dough has rested, one at a time place the dough ball on a lightly floured surface, pat it out to about a 4” circle, and then roll out from the center to create thin circles (6” across for small tortillas, 8-10” across for large tortillas). Bake on a hot un-greased griddle until speckled brown on both sides (keep a close eye on them or they can burn). If tortilla puffs while cooking, just press it down.

Let tortillas cool before storing in an airtight container or plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Lauren’s note: I made this recently with 1cup semolina flour and 1 cup regular white flour and it has a less floury, more corny taste (but not super corny). I also varied the thickness of the tortilla when I rolled it out, and I found that I liked them really thin. The more you play with it the more you’ll love them!

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SAFFRON-CARDAMOM YOGURT WITH FRUIT & SEEDS

Today’s recipe is short, simple, and perfect for a weekend brunch/breakfast.  It’s inspired by shrikhand, a Gujrati dessert that holds a special place in the memory file of my childhood.  My version is not really a dessert, as it’s barely sweetened, but more like a variation on a fruit salad.  We’ve served it a few times to friends, and they’ve raved; the best part is that you can prepare the components ahead of time, then let everyone assemble their own bowl when it’s time to eat.

I make my own yogurt to use here, but you don’t have to.  If you are interested in learning how to make your own yogurt, I highly encourage you to give it a whirl.  You do NOT need a “yogurt maker,” just milk, a yogurt “starter,” and basic kitchen equipment.  After a few hit-or-miss tries, you will easily get the hang of the timing/temperature business and be thrilled to discover that your homemade yogurt is more delicious and a whole heck of a lot cheaper than the store-bought variety.

There are tons of recipes and methods out there, some way more complicated than they need to be if you ask me—then again, I learned using the “finger test” (as opposed to a thermometer) and the descendant of a yogurt culture my mom smuggled from India some twenty years ago.  This post from The Kitchn breaks down the yogurt-making process quite simply, and pretty well parallels what I do, just with more precision.  No matter what method you try, be sure to use at least 2% milk to achieve a thick texture.

I’ve been making homemade yogurt consistently the last few years—I got Jill hooked (she loves hers in a big bowl with two smushed up bananas), and eat some myself almost every day.  I also love using yogurt in baked goods and smoothies, and we use thick, strained yogurt in place of sour cream and don’t even miss the latter.

But that’s enough yogurt proselytizing for one night. I hope everyone is doing well as we come upon mid-March (when the heck did that happen?).  Sunday I leave for Washington, D.C. with 60 eighth graders and five fellow chaperones; please pray for us.  I’ve got a special guest post lined up while I’m away!

SAFFRON-CARDAMOM YOGURT

Note: “hanging” or draining the whey from the yogurt will considerably reduce its volume, so take into consideration when planning how much to serve.  I find that planning on ½ cup of yogurt (pre-drained) per person is about right.

ingredients:

2 cups whole-milk or 2% yogurt
2 T honey—feel free to bump up if you’d like your yogurt sweeter
½ to 1 tsp. ground cardamom—I like I lot, but then again, I’m brown
pinch saffron threads

assorted fruit, seeds, and/or nuts of your choice: apple, strawberry, blueberry, orange segments, banana, mango, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sliced almonds,  etc.

The day before you plan to serve the yogurt, line a colander with a cheesecloth and measure the yogurt into it.  Gently gather the cheesecloth around the yogurt to form a ball, tying or rubber-banding the excess cloth at the top.  If you can, hang the cheesecloth bundle from your kitchen sink faucet, letting the whey from the yogurt drain out and through the colander—you can also just let the bundle sit in the colander, lifting and applying pressure occasionally.

(I like to place a bowl underneath the colander, saving the whey for all kinds of uses!)

Allow the yogurt to drain for at least one hour, longer if you want a thicker product, as I do when making a sour cream substitute.  Turn the thickened yogurt into a plastic storage container.

In a microwave-safe bowl or small saucepan, heat the honey until it is quite runny and warm.  Sprinkle the saffron threads onto the honey, stirring well.  Let the honey mixture cool, then fold into the yogurt.  Mix in the cardamom as well, then refrigerate the yogurt overnight.

The next day, you’ll see the saffron threads “bleeding” their color and flavor into the container of yogurt.  Stir thoroughly before serving with the fruit, seeds, and/or nuts of your choice.

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CHERRY-CRANBERRY HAMANTASCHEN

If you know me or you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know at least one of the following things about me:

a)    I was a religious studies major in college (this is also how I met Jill).
b)    I was raised Hindu, but attended an Episcopal school for twelve years.
c)    I remain a practicing Hindu, and have taught at a Jewish school for the last five years.

The end result of all of this is that I find myself open to and appreciative of the religious traditions of others—I like hearing and learning about how others practice, observe, and ritualize—and I believe that, even if a tradition is not my own, it can bring value to my life.

Which is why I’m blogging about hamantaschen.

These cookies are traditionally made to celebrate the holiday of Purim which commemorates the heroism of Queen Esther, who foiled the evil Haman and saved the Jewish people in her husband’s kingdom from being killed.  Hamantaschen are always triangular, supposedly to resemble the three-cornered hat that Haman wore.  As a Jewish friend & colleague put it, “Haman is just so evil.  We must eat his hat.”

CHERRY-CRANBERRY HAMANTASCHEN
adapted from Epicurious

Fun fact: Hinduism & Judaism both operate on a modified lunar calendar, allowing holidays to stay in the same season of the year (spring, fall, etc.) while shifting exact date.  This shared calendar often results in shared holidays or neighboring celebrations, and this year the Hindu holiday of Holi, which is a bit raucous, a cause for the blurring of societal norms (in the form of throwing colored pigment at each other) and celebrates the springtime, falls on the same day as Purim, which is also a bit raucous, a cause for the blurring of societal norms (in the form of outlandish costumes), and celebrates a brave woman.  Best of all, both religions know how to celebrate with food.

My hamantaschen recipe calls for dried cherries & cranberries, but more traditional fillings are apricot, prune, and poppy seed.  And chocolate-filled hamantaschen are most popular with the kiddos!

for the dough:

2/3 cup butter or margarine
½ cup sugar
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
½ tsp. vanilla
2 ½ – 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt

You can make the dough in the food processor, a stand mixer, or by hand.  Cream the butter and sugar, adding the egg & egg yolk and mixing until smooth.  Add the dry ingredients and process until a ball of dough forms (you may need to add a sprinkling of water).

Cover the dough and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

for the filling:

1 cup dried cherries
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup walnuts
1 green apple: peeled, seeded, & chopped
½ cup water
juice of 1 lemon or ½ orange, plus zest (optional)
4 T sugar

Simmer the dried fruit, water, fruit juice/zest, & sugar in a covered medium saucepan for 10-15 minutes.  Fruit should be soft but still firm, and liquid should have reduced considerably.  Move off the heat, keep covered, and let the reconstituted fruit cool a bit.

Process the dried fruit mixture, chopped apple, & walnuts in a food processor until the mixture is spreadable.

Once the dough is ready, flour a work surface and roll about a quarter of the dough out at a time, to 1/8” thickness.  Use a biscuit cutter or water glass to cut the dough into circles with an approximately 2-inch diameter.  Drop 1 tsp. of the filling into the center of each circle, then dip your finger in cool water and run it around the edges of each circle.

Gather the dough toward the center, pinching together in three corners to form a triangle.  Place the assembled cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet, baking for 12-15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown in places.

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