Maine Magic

Sutton Island is a small island just off the coast of Mount Desert Island in Maine. There are only 22 houses on the island and the only way to get there is by boat. Each time I’ve gone there, I feel as if I’ve slipped through a portal into another dimension.Walking in the forest on Sutton, we were bouncing, stepping on soft glowing green lichen and moss covered mounds, breathing in sweet air perfumed by the most delicate blend of sea salt and pine needles.


 I spend my time there literally not believing my eyes, charmed and overwhelmed by the combination of elegant old money New England families’ summer mansions and the raw and rustic beauty of the rocks, woods, lobstermen’s boats, open skies, and sparkling ocean. To spend time in this watery world is a gift. Cranberry Isles

A gift that I came to share through the love and generosity of my Detroit family. There is a perhaps surprisingly deep historic connection between this awe-inspiring tranquil island off the coast of Maine and the awe-inspiring intense city in the middle of the country. The Cranberry Isles (of which Sutton Island is a part) were granted (in the grand European tradition of giving people land that didn’t belong to them) to the Sieur de Cadillac back in the mid-1600’s, before Cadillac made his way inland to develop Detroit as a trading post. ConversationsInMaine

Centuries later, Grace Lee Boggs and Jimmy Boggs, started a decades long tradition of spending August on Sutton Island with other visionaries and organizers working to transform society. They published a book sharing the questions and ideas that came out of these gatherings. Since then, our generation has been welcomed there by Shea Howell, the most wise, good-humored, open-hearted, warm, grounded mentor and friend. She shares with us the secrets of the forest, the history of the islands, the stories of the houses. She is our guide to the goodness of this place. Oh Captain, My Captain

After our return to the mainland a few weeks ago, Kymberlie, a dear friend and fierce mama from Maine originally, wrote to all of us who had ventured there together:

“I could not have even imagined what magic that tiny ocean paradise had in store, and I feel like it was such a gift to get to discover it with you.  I’m also really happy about Elliot getting to romp around with all of you awesome grownups.  It’s hard to believe that a week ago we were playing in sea spray at the edge of the continent, eating lobster daily and sunning ourselves with mid-day glasses of rosé in hand.  I’m thinking about how to incorporate a little Sutton Island into my daily life…suggestions?” LittleGilly

Given that we experienced such joy and sense of place through kayaking out to the rock right beyond our shore to gather mussels, boating to the next island over to get lobster directly from the fishermen’s cooperative on their collectively owned dock, walking through the forest foraging chanterelles and cranberries, and strolling through our neighbor’s garden picking herbs, sharing some of the menus and recipes for the meals we made together is one of the most concrete ways we could think of for incorporating the essence of Sutton Island into our daily lives! HarvestingMussels

The reason that we made it all the way out to this dream land on the edge of things, is one of my favorite people on the planet- Mike Medow. He is an infrastructure man, handling the business of pleasure and the work that makes the good work possible.  The entire time we were there, so aware of the precious nourishment we were getting, we were strategizing about how to sustain our connection to this place and widen the circle of people who could come revel in its magic. So we’re beginning by giving everyone a taste. Perhaps in the future, you’ll join us at the table!

The Crew

Here are three recipes for dishes we really enjoyed. I’ve also included the menus for each meal. It’s amazing how much just knowing what we ate and how we ate it can give you a sense of our time on the island! Kymberlie and her brother, Nick, shared some of these photos and Kymberlie helped remember and describe all of the sumptuous feasts.

Fig Manhattan

2 oz Bourbon

1 oz sweet Vermouth

1 teaspoon fig preserves

Shake vigorously with ice in a cocktail shaker (or mason jar if you’re in a rustic cabin like we were). Pour into a rocks glass over a few cubes of ice.

Romesco Sauce

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 roasted red peppers (see below for the process)

2 cloves of garlic

2 tomatoes

2 or 3 tablespoons sherry or white wine vinegar

1/2 cup slivered toasted almonds

a dash of cayenne

1/3 of a baguette or a couple of slices of another kind of bread

fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

I like mine nice and smooth and creamy so I throw all of the ingredients in a strong blender and womp it up. If you want more texture, use a food processor.

To roast the red peppers, place each on the open flame of a gas burner. Use tongs to rotate it until each side is charred and blistering. Then remove them from the heat and place in a tupperware and close the lid to “sweat” them. After about 15 minutes, once cool enough to touch, peel the skin off, slice them open, scrape out the seeds, and then add into the blender.

Wifey Salad


1 bunch of lacinato kale de-stemmed and shredded

3 carrots grated

2 large beets roasted and cubed

2 cups of cooked farro

4 or 5 eggs hardboiled, peeled, and chopped

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds or pepitas

1 block of feta crumbled


1/4 cup of olive oil

1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt

juice of 2 lemons

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

2 or 3 tablespoons of tamari sauce

a few dashes of hot sauce

2 cloves of garlic

a big handful of dill

a big handful of parsley

1 or 2 tablespoons of yellow mustard

1 or 2 tablespoons of honey

salt and pepper to taste

To make the dressing, just throw all of the ingredients in a blender! Adjust the flavor according to your taste- if you want more brightness/acidity, add more lemons. If you want it sharper, add another clove of garlic. You want the dill to be a prominent flavor because that’s what makes the salad so refreshing. So add more if it isn’t coming through enough. And of course salt and sweetness always add depth and bind flavors together more so if it needs that, adjust the salt and/or honey.

To make the salad, first cook about 1 cup of farro in about 1.5 cups of broth. I make my own vegetable stock but you can use whatever you have. Bring the farro and broth to a boil and then cover and simmer for a while. Check after 10 minutes. You should turn it off when the farro has a nice chewiness but isn’t hard at all. There might be some liquid left- that’s ok! Lightly and briefly massage the shredded kale with a drizzle of olive oil. Add the grated carrots, roasted and cubed beets, and the farro with whatever liquid is left in it (that will help soften the kale a bit and add flavor to the dressing). Add the dressing and toss thoroughly. Then add in the feta, eggs, and seeds and toss lightly- just enough to integrate them.


Curry Night

Coconut curry with ginger, basil, kale, zucchini, brown rice

Marinated and baked tofu

Stir-fried shiitake mushrooms with garlic scapes

After dinner: Fireplace roasted smores and fig Manhattans

Frittata Breakfast

Cherry tomatoes, cheddar, chard, leek


Corn on the cob

Garlic roasted new potatoes with crème fraiche and chives

Green salad

Cozy Afternoon Delight

Orzo, chickpea, spinach soup

Dollop of sour cream

Taco Bonanza

Mussels in coconut basil curry broth

Roasted garlic, tomato, cilantro salsa

Romesco Sauce

Avocado Cream

Chickpeas sautéed in garlic, onion, cumin, lemon

Kale salad with carmelized shallots, feta

Spanish rice

Punch: Bourbon, Campari, Domaine de Canton, Lemon, Soda, Prosecco

Southern Comfort Brunch

Smoked Gouda Grits

Poached Egg

sautéed kale in special sauce

Salsa and romesco

Dockside Happy Hour

Cocktail: Cava, Campari, Gin, Lemon, Vermouth

Snack: Basil, balsamic, garlic marinated and roasted fairytale eggplant with sliced baguette and basil crème fraiche

Farewell Midnight Banquet

linguine with pan roasted chanterelles, parsley, shallots, and parmesan

Garlic roasted new potatoes with crème fraiche and chives

Salad: mixed greens, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers in an herb, yogurt dressing

Baked haddock with lemon, parsley, dill, garlic, and paprika

Blueberry Pie from Little Notch Bakery

Breakfast for the road

Frittatini with zucchini, cheddar, onions, roasted red peppers

Fermentation Rumination


I love pickles.

I love gherkins and dills and bread-and-butter chips. I love dilly beans and vinegary blueberries. I love pickled okra and beet-stained turnip pickles and pretty much any kind of pickle you can think of.

But I am hands-down crazy about half-sours.

Half sour pickles (and their puckery cousin the full-sour) are to me what a pickle should be – crispy and salty and refreshing. None of this limp, neon-green nonsense that you see in the salad aisle.

The thing that makes half-sours so crispy and delicious is that they are fermented, not cooked or heat-processed. Surprisingly, the worldwideweb is a little thin on half-sour recipes, so I thought I’d share mine here.

Half-Sour Pickles

Yield: 2 1-quart jars of pickly goodness

Protip 1: use the freshest possible pickle cukes. I try to pick and pickle in the same day.

Protip 2: Pickle cucumbers are not just smaller salad cucumbers. They’re a different kind of cuke, generally full grown at six inches or so, and paler green, sometimes with light-colored stripes lengthwise down the skin – not dark green like a salad cuke. They’ve got a thicker skin and crisper flesh then other cucumbers.


  • 10 -12 pickling cucumbers, very fresh with the stem trimmed off
  • 1/2 tsp. whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. pepper corns
  • 1/2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp. dill seeds
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 4 mature dill blossoms
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic
  • ¼ cup pickling salt (don’t mess with this and use sea salt or table salt. You need pickle salt.)
  • 5 cups purified water


1. Soak your cucumbers in a bowl of icy water for about 15 minutes while you prepare the pickling spice.

picklebath2. Dissolve the salt in the water.

3. Put all your dry spices into a plastic bag and hit them with a hammer. (I tried grinding them with a pestle and they got too ground up, but a few whacks with a hammer – or firm rolls with a rolling pin – cracks your mustard seeds open and busts up your pepper flakes without pulverizing anything.

hammertime4. Split the garlic cloves, pickle spices, and dill blossoms evenly between your jars.

5. Cram pickles into the jars. I usually chop up a few into half-sizes and throw them in the bottom, and then line the perimeter of the jar with pickles sliced in half lengthwise (skin facing in), and then shove a few whole cukes into the center of each jar. Try to keep your pickles tucked underneath the shoulders of the jar.

6. Pour your brine into each jar, making sure that all your pickles are fully submerged.

7. Put your pickle jars in a pan (in case the fermentation makes them spill over a bit) and put the lids on loosely.

8. Store your pickles in a cool dark place for a few days. Start tasting them at the end of each day – mine were ready to go in 48 hours. The longer they sit, the more they sour – so for half-sours, a few days should be fine, and for full sours, it may take up to a week. Things that may happen and are normal include: the water gets cloudy, they fizz and foam, the garlic turns turquoise (although using fresh garlic will prevent this last one).


9. When they’ve fermented to where you want them, tighten the lids and refrigerate. You can keep them for months – they will keep fermenting, but very very slowly once in the fridge.





Let It Pour: Meditations on Liquid Ritual & Culture- Recipe Edition

My dear friend Cyrus, whose combined qualities of humble enthusiasm and the wisdom of a sage, make him an absolute delight to be with, has asked for smoothie support. Smoothie

Since my household begins every morning with a smoothie, I am happy to oblige his request. Giovanna and I share the need for our first food of the day to be fresh and healthful. We love baked goods!….but these need to come later, after our bodies have woken up.

There is one thing to note about this recipe- it is dependent on a Vitamix, or another extremely powerful blender. Our Vitamix, inherited from a fierce woman who passed away two years ago, is our prized possession. We practically worship it around here. Its significance increased even more when Giovanna broke her jaw in a bike accident and pureé was the name of the game for weeks. My advice to all who want to cook decent food on a regular basis- do not skimp on a blender- go for quality. A strong one can do the work of a juicer and a food processor without as much of the hassle and clean up.

Morning Elixer SmoothieCircle

1 or 2 dates (pitted)

1 banana

1 large leaf of kale

1/2 cup of yogurt (plain or maple)

1 tablespoon almond butter

1 teaspoon bee pollen

1 tablespoon flax seed oil

1 apple (cored and cut into pieces)

1 3/4 teaspoon of ginger (peeled and chopped)

3/4 cup carrot or apple juice

a few mint leaves

a few dashes of cinnamon

Put all of it in a blender with a few ice cubes and blend! Add more liquid if you want it smoother. Opt out of the supplements if you don’t have them or don’t want to spend the money.


Storm Love

Waking up in Brooklyn today, still dark, windy, and rainy, we’re so grateful to not have been directly impacted by the power of the storm. However, we are so saddened by the damage done to our beloved city and all of our neighboring communities.

Last night we were looking at the mostly dark Manhattan skyline that normally twinkles in my bedroom window. We were thinking about our fellow traveler, Una, and her family, as they were going through the madness of the storm’s impact on their home just across the river–Stuyvesant Town in Alphabet City. It is one of the most confusing elements of the human experience–the way that one can be so close to and have such dramatically different experiences from others. (The different daily realities between neighborhoods in the same city, the different experiences people have walking down the same street in bodies that are read and responded to differently, the different levels of mobility and freedom people experience at borders and checkpoints and airports, etc.)

For those of us in this part of the Global North, we are accustomed to the damage and difference in experience being separated from us by many more miles and borders. With fires raging in the Rockaways, flooding shutting down lower Manhattan and the edges of Brooklyn, and Staten Island devastated, we are now experiencing the sadness and stress of the kinds of powerful storms we’ve watched hit other communities further away throughout the past several years.

So we were very cognizant of this existential dilemma as we hunkered down in Crown Heights, with wind pounding the building and lights flickering, but us safe and dry inside our cozy home. As we kept track of the storm’s path and the whereabouts of the people we love, we joined our fellow New Yorkers who were able, in gathering our peeps to cook, drink, and take care of each other. It was kind of an organic and surreal celebration of the goodness of life, home, and community borne of necessity. We created so much color and warmth within these walls, countering the scary night outside.

Blessed by a tribe of loved ones too big to fit in one Brooklyn apartment, we had two encampments a few blocks apart. Seeing as food is the most natural and immediate way we know how to connect with each other, we devised a playful process for merging–brunch in our two households became a creative culinary competition judged by the Honorable Judge Miriam of Big Ceci fame.

Each “team” prepared our menus, plated our food, and sent our write up and photographs to Miriam for judging. Here is what ensued:

The Bergen Brunch Boos

Maple bourbon pancakes with apricot peach preserves & maple yogurt
Rosemary purple potato hash
Hurricane harvest garden kale-cheddar-corn scramble

The Honorable Judge Miriam’s pronouncement:

Team Bergen Street brought a strong showing to the competition, with careful attention to form and technique in their preparation of maple bourbon pancakes, topped with apricot-peach preserves and maple yogurt; purple and red potato hash w/garlic and rosemary; hurricane harvest garden kale, corn, and cheddar scramble.  The plate demonstrated a sophisticated use of color and texture, and held a strong seasonal resonance.  In essence, this brunch created an idyllic autumn day that was a perfect foil to the apocalyptic demon storm raging outside.  This judge would recommend a slightly more acidic preserve to balance the sweetness of the maple-bourbon pancakes.  The tang of the yogurt helped a bit but a citrus or tart component might add more balance to the plate.  The hurricane harvest kale was an immediate crowd-pleaser, and elevated this traditional egg preparation to an innovative and delicious farm-to-fork level.

Presentation: 9.0 out of 10
Creativity: 9.2 out of 10
Balance: 8.6 out of 10
Concept: 9.8 out of 10

Overall score: 9.15 out of 10

Team Sandy Brunch Bonanza 

Spiced-apple pancakes with homemade apple butter
Veggie-sausage nutmeg greens
Zuke-tomato-basil-cheddar scramble
Sweet potato home fries

The Honorable Judge Miriam’s pronouncement:

Team Sandy Brunch Bonanza drew an immediate wow-factor with their precarious-crane-in-a-hurricane reminiscent stack of spiced apple pancakes with homemade apple butter.  Accented with sides including veggie-sausage nutmeg greens and a zucchini-basil-tomato scramble, and served with sweet potato home fries, this summer-to-fall harvest feast brought diners a compelling tale of two seasons, where the summery warm sea temperature flavors of zuke/basil/tomato collided with the winter storm system of apples, nutmeg, and sweet potatoes.  A thoughtful eye to color and palate made brunch stand out, and the brilliant marriage of sweet and savory flavor profiles made this a complex and inspired meal.  This plate’s greatest strength may have also swung as its deepest challenge; the heft of this hearty meal could intimidate the carb-sensitive or starchaphobe.  A lighter lifting aioli for the home fries, or a touch of parsley or fresh green salad might help this meal slide more confidently into the clean-plate club, but overall this july-september romance of a plate could convince even the firmest brunch cynic to fall in love again with the meal that knows no bounds – hurricane brunch.

Presentation: 9.6 out of 10
Creativity: 9.1 out of 10
Balance: 9.4 out of 10
Concept: 8.5 out of 10

Overall score:  9.15 out of 10

The Good, The Bad, and The Bubbly

During the last week of April I joyfully drove to Jersey to pick up Ryvka from the airport. She was returning from a 6 month stay in Bethlehem where she was doing research on the tourism industry (stay tuned for more on the political, economic, discursive, and environmental battles Israel wages on Palestinians under the guise of eco-tourism).  I wanted Ryvka to feel good coming back to the holy land of Brooklyn and I knew that a big part of that was going to be assuring her that good, fresh dairy exists here (even if not as prevalent or accessible as in the Middle East).  Luckily, there happened to be that very evening an Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn event entitled “Good Dairy.” After letting her nap for a bit, I escorted her directly to the most appropriate homecoming ever.

Stocking up on some delicious dairy goodies at Edible’s Good Dairy event.

Now one might assume that this is a post about dairy. That would be a fair assumption. However, this is actually about seltzer- a beverage that I’m not very passionate about but is very dear to the hearts of many of my loved ones. How are we making this transition? Well…upon arrival at the Good Dairy event, the first vendors we encountered were the charming gentlemen behind Brooklyn Gin. They were enthusiastic about their small batch locally distilled spirit and so were we. We thoroughly enjoyed the on-the-spot carbonated cocktail they were serving featuring their citrusy liquor. However, Ryvka pointed out to all of us that the origin of the seltzer maker they were using sadly was not such a pure or locally-based process. SodaStream, an Israeli company producing a do-it-yourself, countertop seltzer and soda maker, has been marketing its wares as a “green alternative” to soda cans and bottles. But SodaStream’s main production site is in Mishor Edomim, a settlement and industrial zone in the occupied West Bank, on confiscated Palestinian land. The company is participating in the theft of Palestinian land and exploits Palestinian labor while selling its product with a “Made in Israel” label.

Our new Brooklyn Gin friends were shocked to hear about the oppressive system of production behind their seltzer maker and were really receptive to Ryvka’s suggestion that they find another way to make their cocktails that aligns more with their vision for quality on all levels (taste and process).

Ryvka, being the thorough lady that she is, followed up with an email just the other day. She was excited to discover that there is an alternative to SodaStream that matches the local pride of Brooklyn Gin- Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie, Brooklyn! Gomberg Seltzer Works is the last remaining seltzer factory in NYC and Ronny Beberman is the Brooklyn Seltzer Man. He’s 63 years old and still drives a wooden slatted truck full of vintage glass bottles. You can watch “Seltzer Works,” a documentary film about Gomberg Seltzer, at Rooftop Films on July 17th, and you can read a brief and entertaining write-up of this old school seltzer making and delivering operation here:

So…getting into Gomberg Seltzer Works is a way to divest from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and invest in the traditional liquid culture of Brooklyn.

Speaking of tradition, liquid culture, and seltzer…while I was home in Cincinnati celebrating the 20th anniversary of my father being the rabbi of his synagogue, I made up a little summer spritzer cocktail to loosen us up before diving into the 600 person dinner (at which the CEO of SodaStream was a surprise performer, being a dear friend of my family’s and the high holiday cantor of our shul. Oh the complexity of the universe). I don’t remember exact measurements but here’s the gist of it:

The Roaring Twentieth

1 oz Cointreau

1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 generous bar spoon of mixed berry preserves

2-3 oz Sauvignon Blanc (or any available dry-ish white wine)

top off with seltzer

Shake all of the ingredients (except for the seltzer) with ice in a cocktail shaker. Then strain into a chilled wine or champagne glass and top with seltzer. Garnish with a lemon or lime twist. Then clink glasses and toast all to the people fighting the good fight to make food and drink not just delicious but ethical! L’chaim!

Manouche Impossible

“And so it had taken me all of sixty years to understand that water is the finest drink, and bread the most delicious food, and that art is worthless unless it plants a measure of splendor in people’s hearts.”

– from “Twigs” by Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali

I spent my birthday weekend this past March visiting the town Cosoleacaque in Veracruz, Mexico.  Friends of mine were living in a house there along with several musicians.  The town is known for being the birthplace of Son Jarocho music, a folkloric music played on mandolin-size guitars called Jaranas.  The players of the Jarana are called Jaraneros and my friends, along with their housemates, were all Jaraneros.

Within the first 12 hours of my arrival I had to redefine my idea of “bare necessities”.  There was no running water and I had to fill a bucket from the well outside the house, and that bucket had to suffice.  When I finished taking my birdbath I asked for a towel and I was handed a pretty, bright turquoise bandana. When I asked for coffee, that same bandana was pulled off the clothesline and used as a coffee filter.  Then it was washed again and used as (drum roll) a bandana!  So you get the idea what we are working with here.

On the second day we decided to go to the beach.  We were going to get up early the next day (my birthday) and drive to a remote beach, stopping at some majestic waterfalls that were on the way. Along the way we would pick up another Jaranero, one that makes his own guitars, and proceed to the falls.  My friend Ximena suggested that it would be delightful to have home-made manouche to eat at our stop at the waterfalls.  Manouche is a type of Lebanese pizza that I had mentioned in a previous post in The Big Ceci.  It is basically a pizza with the zaatar spice and whatever else you want to add to it.

Now this is tricky business as it is hard enough to get it together to make the manouche at home, let alone in an unequipped kitchen with so many unknowns.  I always tell people that I am a chemist and not a cook and that is particularly true when it comes to baked goods.  The oven in the house was not working so that meant that we would have to make the dough and fixings the night before and then stop at one of the Jaraneros’ houses on the way out.  So we set to working on the dough and one of the musicians asked me to teach him how to make the dough as he had aspirations to become a baker.  So I did a batch and taught him how to do one.  Since there were no measuring utensils, it was all a wild guess and I had no idea what the batches will look like when they rise (if they rise at all).  You usually have to let the dough rise for an hour and half but in this case we had to let them sit overnight.

The next morning I saw that the dough did rise properly (and optimally).  We set out to our first stop, to cook the manouche.  The kitchen there was tiny with barely any utensils. The oven was small and narrow, looking more like something belonging to a playhouse.  We quartered the batches of dough, letting them rise and then washed a bottle of wine and set about rolling out the dough into pizzas.  In the meantime, my friend Anna made desert for the picnic, lemon bars in a Pyrex dish.

Guitar maker that we picked up on the way to the waterfall.

We put the Pyrex dish on the bottom rack of the oven, and the first batch of pizzas on the top rack.  We checked 10 minutes later and saw that nothing was heating up much.  So our host turned up the oven full blast.  Ten minutes later there was a constant flow of white smoke seeping from the back of the oven.  Our host inspected it, waved her hand at the smoke and let things be, the room was well ventilated.  We finished baking our first batch batch of Manouche and put in the second.  A few minutes later the Pyrex dish that contained our dessert, turned out not to be “Pyrex” (thought labeled so) and it exploded.  The oven was opened; the lump of lemon bar and fractured glass was removed from the oven and set on the oven door to salvage some of the dessert from the wreckage.  The manouche was unharmed by the explosion and I continued to place batch after batch, some with zaatar and cheese and some with cheese.  After removing the manouche we added fresh mint and tomatoes and stacked the manouches on top of each other and wrapped them up in tin foil.

When we got to the waterfall there was no one else there.  There were three different falls pouring into a simmering lagoon.  We sat around on the rocks and the jaraneros pulled out their Jaranas and began to strum while we set about preparing the food.  When Anna reached into the bag to pull out the wrapped maouches she looked up and beamed at me.  “They’re still hot!”

Still life with Jarana Player and Manouche

The basic dough recipe that I used is one from which makes for good grilling pizza.  This is great for barbeques, especially when you have a vegetable garden and are able to pick fresh spearmint and tomatoes and plop them on the pizza.  Just make sure that you mix the tomatoes with salt and let them drain so you don’t get a soggy pizza.

Here is the dough recipe:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup water (8 ounces), room temperature

2 cups bread flour (11 ounces), plus more for work surface

1 tablespoon whole wheat flour (optional)

2 teaspoons sugar

1 ¼ teaspoons table salt

1 teaspoon instant yeast

I forgot the onions!

My friend Sandra, organizer extraordinaire, once said to me that whenever she’s organizing a meeting she makes sure to put some food on the table for people to share. She said that food can play a powerful role in bringing people together (or something like that; it was a long time ago).

Whatever the exact words, her idea that the simple act of sharing food has a powerful impact stuck with me. For me, the best thing about cooking has always been the way sharing a meal helps people come together, have a good time, and feel the love.

I find cooking really relaxing and fun, one of the few ways I get to express some creativity (given that I’m the world’s worst singer and can’t draw at all). I love to come home on a Friday evening and cook a meal with my partner Judy and spend the evening with her. The meal doesn’t have to be fancy, just something that we prepare with care. We often make pasta with broccoli rabe or some other green cooked in a little olive oil with garlic and hot pepper. We open a bottle of wine and wind down from the week together.

And I do find it relaxing. Still, everyone in our family can recall at least a few moments when I go, “OH, NO!” – most likely when I’m trying to slide a pizza that I’ve spent a few hours preparing into the oven, and it sticks to the peel.

One such moment occurred on New Year’s Eve. We had some friends over for dinner as we usually do. A chance to catch up with each other and talk about the state of the world as we pass into a new year – in this case, the multitude of ways that the Obama administration hasn’t been much better than the Bush fiasco, and how heartened we are by Occupy Wall Street. Not all of us were that hopeful, but still…

I started cooking early and made a couple of pizzas (a la Jim Lahey) as appetizers, and two galettes from a recipe given to me by my daughter and great cook, Naomi. Everyone thought they were amazing. Very rich, though; I wouldn’t make them too often. I also made a Palestinian lentil and rice dish that’s always a favorite, and Judy made one of her great salads. We were halfway through the meal. I put out the rice; everybody liked it, but it didn’t feel like anything special. All of a sudden, Judy says, “John, you forgot to put the onions on the rice!”

The thing is, the onions are what make the dish special. It’s a very simple recipe. Lentils and rice, a little cumin. But you caramelize a couple of big onions and sprinkle them on top and, lo and behold, the dish is amazing.

I had spent about a half hour sautéing the onions that afternoon. When they were a beautiful brown color, I took them out of the pan and put them on a plate between layers of paper towels to remove some of the oil, and there they sat.  I totally forgot to add them in when I put out the rice. I was bummed out. But, of course, no one else cared. We were all having too nice a time to worry about that. We finished the meal and walked up to the park to watch the fireworks.

That's the galette in the foreground and the Palestinian Rice and Lentils (desperately needing onions) in the rear

Here’s the recipe, with only slight modifications, from World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey…try it. I think you’ll like it. Just don’t forget the onions!

½ cup of lentils, picked over and washed
2 cups basmati rice, washed and drained
¼ cup of olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt

Soak the lentils for 3-4 hours. Drain.

Soak the rice in cold water for 30 minutes. Then drain.

While the rice is soaking, caramelize the onions. This takes a while. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onions. Cook them over medium high heat at first and gradually turn down the heat as they get soft. When they turn brown, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spread them out on a paper towel to absorb the oil.

Turn the heat back to medium and add the drained lentils and rice to the remaining oil. Add the cumin, black pepper and salt. Sauté, stirring gently, for several minutes, so the rice gets coated with the onion flavored oil. Add 3 ½ cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, turn the heat down low, and cook for about 25 minutes. There’s some variability to the cooking time and the amount of water you need because of the lentils, so I make sure to check the rice at about 20 minutes and add some water if I need to.

Turn the lentils out into a serving platter, fluff them up, and sprinkle with the caramelized onions.