Archive for the ‘My Family’ Category

Salami and Eggs and Abe

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
My Father

My Father

Today would have been my father’s 94th birthday. Abe died in 1998, and I think of him every year on his birthday … just as my mother thought of HER father every day on his. I miss him, but I enjoy remembering his wise, funny spirit.

I have learned a few things in the past year about my father. As most of you know, my book about my mother is coming out in June (look here for a preview!). The book deals mostly with her last year, but I couldn’t write about the end of her life without meandering a bit through the rest of that life. My research and writing about her inevitably led to my father.

Here are three of the things I have learned recently about Abe Weisblat.

1. Abe actually considered becoming a farmer.

My father’s family came to this country from Poland when he was a little under two years old. At some point in college, he became interested in agricultural economics—in large part, I think, because he saw that field as a way of helping poor agrarian people in the United States and abroad move into parity with their urban, often richer, neighbors.

He was never interested in actually GROWING things—or so I thought! In one of my mother’s scrapbooks, however, I came across an article about him in the November 1943 newsletter of the Hillel Foundation of the University of Wisconsin (where my father went to graduate school). It says:

At present Abe is a graduate student in [agricultural economics]. He hopes to own a 120 acre farm and teach at the University someday. Added to all this is an interest in sports, a lust for square dancing, and a hobby of collecting first editions.

I have a feeling that the desire to farm (along with the love of square dancing) disappeared sometime within the next year as my father did a little work on a farm near the university. Here he is with his friend Ervin Long in a radish patch. My understanding is that my father managed to grow exactly one radish and never tried growing anything ever again.

ABE with Erven Long 1944 web

Abe (left) and Ervin rest after their labors.

Still, it’s fun to know that he actually considered farming.

2. Another fact I have learned is that my father wrote letters home from a trip he took in the winter of 1946-1947 to Occupied Japan. (I had known about the trip but not about the letters.) He was then working for the Department of Agriculture in Washington. He and a few other social scientists were borrowed by the Army to conduct a survey of American forces in Japan to determine what new dress uniforms the troops would like to wear.

The topic was so bizarre that many of his friends thought he was actually spying, that the uniform survey was a cover. He always maintained that the survey was genuine, however. And he was emphatically NOT the spying type.

His analysis of the plight of the residents of the cities he visited–which included Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya–is heartbreaking. He went on this mission at the coldest time of the year, and his heart went out to people trying to stay warm in a country that was still pretty much bombed out. He was highly critical of the U.S. military personnel he met, who frequently took advantage of the Japanese.

I’m hoping to write an article about these letters soon; they are insightful and touching.

My father took this photo of bomb damage in Nogoya in February 1947.

My father took this photo of bomb damage in Nagoya in February 1947.

3. My last big revelation about my father isn’t a revelation at all, but a reminder. He was deeply thoughtful and very smart. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to my mother in 1953 (they were briefly separated during a trip to Europe) after visiting the cathedral in Toledo, Spain.

The Cathedral dominates all—for there is none comparable to it in Europe. The wealth of South America and Spain is in that church. It’s hard to describe—iron grill works that have to be seen to be believed, treasures that defy description, a gold replica of the church, one of the loveliest Madonnas encrusted with jewels, the jewel of the El Greco collection. At least 24 of his greatest works—illuminated manuscripts—one magnificent altar after another. Its structure is elaborate Gothic and simply goes on and on.

But I must say that it left me with a completely different feeling from Chartres. At Chartres I felt I understood why people came to worship God. Here all I felt was the power of the Catholic church—its ability to command an edifice that combines all the wealth of many centuries. It’s proud of its church and rightly so—but to worship in it would leave me in awe and fear—it’s so grand—so bewildering—so mystical. Chartres was warm—it felt like you were where God would be kind and listen and be with you. At Toledo he would simply look down.

I love the way in which his prose moves from a description of architecture and decoration in a church to what the architecture and decoration say about hierarchy and theology.

This is the only photo I have of my father from that trip in 1953; here he is in Holland with my mother and my older brother.

This is the only photo I have of my father from that trip in 1953; here he is in Holland with my mother and my older brother.

I could go on and on, but I know I have to stick a recipe in here. So here is one of Abe’s standbys.

He was emphatically NOT a cook. As I wrote in my last post about him, when he was alone his favorite evening meal was a martini accompanied by pickled herring on matzo. He enjoyed this repast because he could get by with washing only a glass, a small plate, and a fork. And he believed that putting several olives in his martini gave the meal balance.

One of his other favorite meals was salami and eggs. This particular recipe does involve a small amount of chopping and a small amount of cooking. Nevertheless, it calls for only two ingredients. And the chopping and cooking take five minutes tops. My father could eat salami and eggs for breakfast, lunch, or supper.

Luckily, my dear friends Peter and Ken sent me a special treat for Christmas from Zabar’s. (They know that one of the things I miss most about the New York area is kosher food!) The New York Sandwich Kit included pastrami, corned beef, deli mustard, rye bread, and kosher salami—all in a cute little Zabar’s insulated tote.

My family and I polished off the other meats and the bread almost immediately, but we knew that the salami would last for a while in the refrigerator so I have only recently opened it. I’m enjoying hugely … as I am enjoying remembering my father.

cuttingweb

Salami and Eggs

Ingredients:

2 slices (between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick) kosher salami
2 eggs
(You may add a little pepper if you like—but you don’t really need to. And there’s enough sodium in the salami to preserve your guts for weeks so don’t worry about salt!)

Instructions:

Cut the salami slices into 5 or 6 pieces, and cut some of those pieces in half.

Pop the salami pieces into a small, nonstick frying pan over medium heat. (In the olden days my father didn’t use a nonstick pan, but believe it or not kosher salami isn’t quite as fatty is it used to be, so the nonstick pan helps.) Toss them around until they brown.

Whisk the eggs together, pour them over the salami pieces, and quickly toss and cook.

Depending on hunger and time of day (and what if anything else is being served), this serves 1 to 2. I ate most of a recipe for lunch yesterday, with a little left over for my dog.

I leave you with one more dear quotation from Abe. This was on the back of a postcard he sent to my brother and me  when we were very little, after his first visit to the Parthenon.

There is a lovely story that God’s hand touches those who have seen the Taj Mahal and Parthenon. NOW I know why—and someday he will touch both of you.

eggsweb

Taffy’s Succotash

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Taffy last year with the faithful Truffle (also a big fan of succotash!)

Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday. Jan Hallett Weisblat (a.k.a. Taffy) would have turned 94 this September 26. So naturally I’m thinking about her. And it’s only a small step from thinking about her to cooking her favorite dishes. Both the thoughts and the food make me smile.

Each year that I can remember she kept her eyes open in August and September for what she called “pink beans.” They are also known as cranberry beans; when I purchased them recently at Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield, Massachusetts, they were labeled simply “shell beans.”

These fresh beans are encased in pink-and-white-mottled skins. When removed from their shells the beans themselves are also white with pink flecks, although they trade those colors for a less exciting uniform beige when cooked.

Whenever my mother saw them, she would buy them, take them home, and make succotash. I have a feeling the beans were grown on her grandparents’ farm when she was growing up because they represented home to her. Now they speak of home to me as well.

I made pink-bean succotash a couple of weeks ago in Taffy’s memory. She never actually measured the beans or the corn or the cream so the quantities below are approximate. If you want to dress up your succotash, add a little sautéed onion, some herbs, and/or a little bacon garnish. My mother never did so the recipe below is rather plain.

Its flavor is far from plain, however. The beans have a subtle but unmistakable nutty taste. When you throw in the corn and the cream (or half and half) and grind a small hill of pepper on top you end up with a dish fit for a queen.

The succotash embodies my mother’s ability to take joy in simple, everyday pleasures. If I can be half as joyful in my lifetime, I will count myself lucky.

Succotash à la Taffy

Ingredients:

2 cups shelled cranberry beans
2 cups water, plus more water as needed
salt to taste
the cooked kernels from 3 ears of corn
cream or half and half as needed (between 1/2 cup and 1 cup)
lots of freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

Pick over the beans, removing any that have turned brown.

In a medium saucepan bring the cranberry beans, water, and salt to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer until the beans are tender but not mushy. This will take between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on the age of the beans. (The younger they are, the less time it will take.)

Stir the beans from time to time while they simmer, and be sure to add more water if you need to. At the end of the simmering process the beans should still have a little—but not a lot of—liquid in their pan. Do not drain off this liquid.

Stir in corn and cream or half and half to taste. The beans should be in a gentle liquid bath but shouldn’t be drowning. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until everything is heated through.

Grind pepper over the succotash and serve it. Serves 6 to 8 hearty eaters.

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Funeral Baked Meats

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

No comfort food in the world can compete with macaroni and cheese!

My friend Alice from Dallas and I talk from time to time about writing a book called “Food to Die For.” Like most Americans, Alice and I grew up in communities in which cooking was the natural thing to do when a friend, relative, or neighbor died.

Sometimes there isn’t much one can do for the bereaved other than feed them. Food represents all the love we feel, all the caring remarks we’d like to make, and all the memories we cherish.

And let’s face it: cooking is a heck of a lot more constructive than crying.

Alice grew up in Louisiana so her family brought gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines to the bereaved. I grew up in the northeast so my family tended toward more standard New England-y comfort food—ham, macaroni and cheese, and brownies.

I know people who bring bagels and lox to houses of mourning, as well as stews, soups, cookies, and lasagna. The trick is to identify comfort foods that can be prepared in advance and don’t take much effort to reheat.

My mother Jan often billed herself as a “specialist in funeral baked meats.” When a neighbor died she quickly and efficiently helped relatives, friends, and neighbors organize the feast after the funeral or memorial service. Sometimes this included the favorite dishes of the deceased. Sometimes the menu consisted of any foods that could be prepared in a hurry.

My mother’s funereal feasts were always well received. People liked (and still like) to munch while sharing memories and condolences.

It seems appropriate then, that my mother’s own memorial service on January 7 was followed by copious and delectable food.

Right after the speeches and hymns at the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts, the church’s pastoral care committee put on a lavish spread of both savory and sweet finger food. It lived up to my memories of the events catered by the now defunct Charlemont Ladies Aid Society.

Later in the day relatives (some by blood, some in spirit) gathered at our house to chat about Jan and life … and of course to eat and drink some more.

Not being my mother, who liked to be thorough and was highly organized, I didn’t make both a turkey and a ham. I made only a ham. (Actually, I didn’t even make it myself since when my neighbors Will and Lisa offered to do something I handed the ham to them for baking!) There was plenty of food, however.

My friend Peter, who considered himself Jan’s third child, brought a huge dish of herbed chicken meatballs. Our neighbors Stu and Cathy prepared the world’s largest bowl of salad. My mother’s honorary goddaughter, Anna, brought fabulous artisan bread. My cousin’s daughter Kyra made yummy cupcakes decorated with snowflakes. And Jan’s aide Pam contributed her dense, delicious applesauce cake.

I had very little to make: a quick appetizer, the salad dressing, my grandmother’s key-lime angel pudding, and a large portion of macaroni and cheese. If I have to be honest, I must say that I didn’t make all of those either since Pam helped A LOT! But I organized them.

Macaroni and cheese was among my mother’s funereal standbys. It is easy to prepare in advance, and it pretty much defines comfort food. So I decided to make it for her.

My standard mac and cheese recipe isn’t elegant and it isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty darn tasty, however. And it comforted me not only to eat it but to prepare it in memory of my mother. She would have enjoyed her party.

The recipe below may be expanded pretty much as much as you like. I hope it graces the table at your next memorial service—or even your next cozy supper party.

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons flour
2-1/2 cups milk
paprika to taste
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)
1 cup grated cheese (sharp Cheddar or Swiss or a combination; a little Parmesan is nice in here, too), divided
1/2 pound cooked and drained macaroni (I like seashells or wagon wheels, but elbows are fine, too)
more milk to taste (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy saucepan melt the butter, and stir in the mustard. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for a minute or two. You want the mixture (the roux) to cook and merge but not to get brown.

Add the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly. Bring the sauce to a boil. Add paprika to give it a pink tint plus salt and pepper to taste. I love salt, but remember that the cheese you are about to stir in is salty; I’d start with 1/2 teaspoon and add more later as needed.

Reduce the heat and cook, whisking, for 2 more minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and use a spoon to stir in 3/4 cup of the cheese. (If you continue to whisk with the cheese, your whisk will get gummy!)

In a 1-1/2 to 2-quart casserole dish combine the macaroni and the sauce. Your casserole should be nice and moist. If for some reason it looks a little dry (this can happen if your cheese is very absorbent), stir in a little more milk. It will evaporate in the oven. Take a tiny taste of your sauce and add more salt if you need to.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the macaroni mixture, and top with a little more paprika. Cover the dish and place it in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes; then uncover your macaroni and cheese and continue to cook until it is nice and bubbly, 10 to 15 minutes more. Serves 4 to 6.

 

Jan with the faithful Truffle

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New Year’s Changes

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

 
Greetings, readers, and happy 2011!
 
As usual at this time of year I’ve been thinking about what lies behind me and ahead of me—in general and also on this blog.
 
I have adored our time together “In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens,” and I don’t want to end it.
 
I do intend to curtail it a bit. Here’s why.
 
My hope when I started writing here in September 2008 was that I would grow as a writer and a cook by having a regular outlet.
 
I also hoped to strengthen my “brand”—the recognition and readership of Tinky—so that when it was time to transform the blog into my second cookbook I would have a ready-made audience for that book (and thus a great argument to any publisher that I should be included in its lists).
 
I got halfway there. I think I’ve DEFINITELY improved as a writer and a cook. Nevertheless, my career hasn’t prospered as much as I hoped it would.
 
I have a small but loyal readership, for which I am grateful. But my blog’s statistics actually went down this year instead of growing. So clearly I’m doing something wrong.
 
Part of my problem, I’m sure, stems from timing. I first started writing about food more than 15 years ago because it was one of the few areas of journalism in which there seemed to be a growing demand for writers. Most newspapers had weekly food pages, and they didn’t seem to have the staff to fill those pages.
 
Since I loved cooking and knew that I could relate food to just about any topic, I was happy to move into this niche.
 
Things have changed, however. Today, the U.S. has more food writers than ever before. And it has a ton of food bloggers. So my blog and I simply don’t stand out.
 
I will keep posting here from time to time in the hope that I can figure out how to turn around my fate and that of “In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.”
 
Much of my creative energy will be devoted to a new project, however. As regular readers know, I have been busy lately trying to keep up with my aging mother.
 
My new writing project will explore our journey together as her dementia progresses.
 
I plan to put vignettes from our life and from this new writing project on the internet on a blog called “Pulling Taffy” (Taffy is one of my names for my mother, thanks to her affection for swimming in salt water.)
 
So please do keep up with me here and there as we try to be true to ourselves and each other.
 
Meanwhile, happy New Year to all….
 
Tinky 

P.S. You DO deserve a recipe on January 1–but since I don’t have a new one here’s something appropriate from this past year: black-eyed peas, a traditional (and hearty) new year’s dish! Enjoy……..

My Favorite Flank Steak

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

 
I don’t post a lot of meat recipes on this blog. I’m not sure why. I do eat meat. Somehow it doesn’t stimulate my memory, senses, and creative juices as vegetables, breads, desserts, and appetizers do, however.
 
Today I’m popping a quick meat recipe on anyway. Whenever I see a flank steak at the meat counter of Avery’s General Store I’m tempted to make this truly easy dish. I love marinating things, and flank steak really rewards you with flavor and texture if you marinate it.
 
I’m sorry that the measurements aren’t exact. Luckily, you can’t really go wrong with the recipe.
 
Next time I make it I’ll try to get something written down. But this is just one of those weeks!  Lots of phone calls to make and answer, lots of recipes to test and write up, a number of songs to practice, and a bored elderly mother to entertain.
 
Earlier today in her infatuation with the autumn sun Jan made an unauthorized break from the house with her walker. I thought she was napping until the Hawley, Massachusetts, road crew showed up at the door.
 
“Your mother seems to be hiking to Charlemont,” Wayne Clark told me in his laconic drawl.
 
When I found my mother she was WAY down the street chatting unrepentantly with a man she had found while walking.
 
(Believe me, it’s not easy to find stray men here in Hawley!)
 
“I knew you’d find me,” she said with a big grin on her face. I had to grin back as I thanked the man and the road crew.
 
Thank goodness for small towns! It takes a village to care for more than just children…….
 
The Flank Steak
 
Ingredients:
 
1 flank steak (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
several cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced into tiny slices
soy sauce as needed (enough to cover but not submerge your steak)
 
Instructions:
 
With a small sharp knife make small slits all over one side of your flank steak. Insert pieces of garlic into each slit.
 
Pour soy sauce onto the steak; then turn it over and repeat the cutting, inserting, and pouring on that side as well.
 
Allow the steak to marinate at room temperature for at least 1-1/2 hours (a little longer is best, but if you want to marinate it for several hours you’ll need to refrigerate it). Turn it every 1/2 hour or so to make sure both sides stay moist.
 
Remove the steak from the soy sauce and place it on a hot grill (or on a grill pan). Grill it for about 4 minutes on each side—maybe a little longer—so that it is rare. If you overcook your steak it will be tough. It doesn’t have to be as rare as the photo above, however. (I love rare steak!)
 
Slice the warm steak against the grain.
 
Serves 4 to 6.


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