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Winter Melon Soup

I had no heat this weekend, and the Thanksgiving food is almost gone except for the bread. It is amazing how fast cranberry relish, the main dish, and the boniato bake disappear. There is just a bit of boniato bake and a lot of bread left. I needed something to eat. I needed it to be warm. I remembered that the DeKalb Farmer's Market had winter melon for a song.

Winter melon is a huge, white fleshed, cucurbit that you can use either like a zucchini or like a cucumber. Winter melons are huge, so the market sells them in hunks. No one has invented a fun size or family size winter melon yet. There are fun size calabazza.

To use winter melon, seed it out and cut off the rind and cut it in pieces. You could eat it raw with your favorite salad dressing. It tastes fine with just a bit of salt. You can also cook it. The Chinese cook it in chicken stock with their spices. I treat it like zucchini, which means that I put it in tomato vegetable soup. I made a kind of Italian soup Sunday night with tomoat puree, carrots, scallion bottoms that had gotten fairly raunchy, black olives, and Mancini fried peppers. I ate it over torn tomato-herb bread.

I was glad to have something hot for dinner. The soup was easy to make. I am glad I live in Atlanta that is a food city.

I want to stay out of my food rut in the weeks to come. I am making cranberry bean picnic salad with macaroni this weekend and grated beet salad with amber sweet orange sections. Next Shabbos I need to find an all cornmeal corn bread recipe and make corn bread dressing with green peas. I haven't had that in a cat's age. I'm not sure what I want for a side dish. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to try making grated rutabega salad. Maybe I'll go for a chayote bake since I haven't had one of those in a while.

I also want to bake bread again and will probably make Roman meal style wheat. I have plenty of rye flour and enough whole wheat flour for two more loaves, though I should check first. It is amazing how much food one uses.

Eileen H. Kramer -- November 30, 2010

Persimmons and Celery Root

Trying new recipes is fun. It really is. It may even be good for one's mental health, though I am not sure of this. I first saw a recipe for persimmon bars in a flower magazine when I went visiting my late grandmother at the world famous, Heatherwood. I wrote down the magazine's URL. I was too high tech to steal it and found the persimmon cookie recipe on the web. I made the cookies for my mother Christmas of 2003.

There is a funny story attached to these cookies. In addition to persimmon bars, I also baked fig cookies that Christmas. To bake the cookies, of course I needed persimmons and figs. I bought both at the Publix on Macon Road. I had the prize produce in my basket and someone who was getting his holiday sweets pointed out my basket and said: "Look that lady is eating healthy for the holidays." I don't embarass easily, but I did set the gentleman staright. "No," I laughed. "I'm going to be making cookies with this stuff." My guess is the man had no idea you could make cookies or pastry with fresh or dried fruit. Some people are quite ignorant.

Well I lost my original persimmon bar recipe, and it's been a few years. Fortunately, Cooks.com came to my rescue. I found a persimmon bread recipe that is really a loaf cake. My new blender made short work of four cut up persimmons. I still have three left. I guess Mom is going to get a snack.

The persimmon cakes even depanned properly. That is unusual. I have a terrible track record for beaking or tearing cakes and breads. The persimmon cakes were just lucky things.

Celery root remoulade is another story. I like celery root. I deal with it whenever I can find the nerve to peel it. It is worth the work because it has the great taste of celery and a texture similar to potato. I rememer trying to make celery root remoulade when I was in eighth grade. It was a French salad and we were having a French luncheon in my French class at school. Of course this was 1975, and celery roots were not to be had. The cookbook said I could substitute potato, so I made very good French potato salad which tasted something like German potato salad and to which some nasty student accused me of adding snot. Hey, it was middle school.

Well, I've always remembered my "celery root remoulade," and now that I eat celery root at least once a month, I thought why not. Celery root is easier to digest than potatoes or cabbage. Mom and I both have issues. I reasoned that it couldn't be too hard to make. I looked up the recipes using IxQuick, and let's just say I'm ready to start the fun Wednesday night. For some reason, the recipes say that you can't make celery root remoulade more than two days in advance. I suspect it has a much longer shelf life, but I'm not about to experiment that way. Yes, my Mom is the guinea pig, but she likes being in that roll. I'll let everyhone know how this dish turns out.

Eileen H. Kramer -- November 22, 2010

Out of the Rut

Considering I have to bake and clean the kitchen, somehow I escaped from my rut where both Thanksgiving and Shabbos are concerned. Special thanks goes to the New York Times for the squash salad recipe. I had a three pound hubbard squash (a hubbardola!) on top of my refridgerator. I dreaded peeling it. Seeding and cutting up a winter squash is a no brainer in my book. The hubbard peeled with a carrot peeler and just a bit of knife work. I think I used too much dressing on the salad and still not enough souring agent or a not strong enough one. I'll see what happens after the squash stands. I used powdered ginger, which is just fine, salt, and Mrs. Dash for the seasonings, doubled the raisins, using both black and blonde ones and also used a can of apricots.

My original plan had been to make twice baked squash with apricots and tangerines. You can see how hard I have been trying to climb out of my rut. The New York Times, gave me an extra boost. Now I know that I can peel hubbardolas. I can make them as a single roast dish with fruit or other vegetables. I'm also anxious to try grating raw rutabega for a raw rutabega salad. I commonly blanch rutabega for salad, but the raw rutabega I cut up last night, was so sweet, and no it did not go into the squash salad.

It is in a dish awaiting being made into a kind of strange casserole. Winter delight casserole (or autumn delight if you prefer) is a casserole using rice or barley (or soup pasta) beans, carrots, rutabega, and other winter vegetables. Usually I sautee these and then mix the whole business together and bake it. I cook the beans and rice the night before. Think of them as purpose-made leftovers. I just never have leftovers. Then last summer, my friend Dov, left me with a forty-eight ounce jar of Jif Creamy. This stuff is good to cook with as well as eat on sandwiches so along came tomato peanut casserole wtih black radishes. The radishes add a kick to a rich and mild tomato sauce. Tonight's casserole is a cross between last summer's peanut butter casserole and a typical winter delight job.

This time I have soybeans instead of peanut butter. Sites on perimenopause say eating soybeans eases perimenopausal symptoms. Soybeans taste good. They taste a bit like edamamme but more mature. Edamamme taste like lima beans. Dried soybeans are way milder in flavor than edamamme which taste quite a bit like baby limas. Dried lima beans have a strong, but pleasant flavor. They make excellent soups and casseroles. I wish someone would say they are good for perimenopause.

Meanwhile, I have to figure out how to season the sauce. It's going to be a tomato sauce, but there are lots of ways to make a good sauce with tomato puree and sauteed vegetables. I want to use Szechuan seasoning, but it is old. It is unreplaceable, and that makes me sad. I can also try curry powder. I have plenty of that and supplement it with a bit or red pepper and cumin.

Then tonight is also the night, I am going to finally puree the persimmons and make persimmon bread. This is something I approach with trepidation because depanning cakes is not my strong suit. I broke a pear cake last year. One of the persimmon cakes is going to the firemen. One I am keeping for dessert on Thanksgiving Day. The persimmon cake is the last of my Thanksgiving baking. Then it's on to cooking. I need to make five dishes, including five pounds of carrot salad for The Open Door. I drop this off the morning, I pick up Mom at the airport. The other dishes are some old and some new. The celery root remoulade is a new idea. The boniato bake is a slight riff on last year's Christmas dish with sweet potatoes. The stuff treat is as old as the hills and is a new tradition. The cranberry relish is my mother's recipe minus the nuts. It's another tradition as are home made bread and rolls. Maybe I am getting somewhere. Certainly, I am well out of my rut.

Eileen H. Kramer -- November 18, 2010

Cucurbits Cucurbits Cucurbits!

It's just this crazy week. Sunday I bought four moqua squash (about five pounds worth). Moqua look like oversize cucumbers but are almost never bitter or sour. You do have to scrub the peach fuzz off of them, but otherwise they are great value wtih great taste. I also bought a portion of a calabazza. Don't ask me where all the family or fun size calabazza went. Calabazza is Mexican milk pumpkin. It was my squash of choice for winter squash all summer long. Now I want to bake with it to make really good pumpkin rolls for Thanksgiving. Then there is the spaghetti squash which I'm going to mix with fried peppers and carrots for this week's Shabbos side dish. That makes alnmost ten pounds of squash and three squashes. I think the moqua is one genus removed from the others, but they are squashes all the same.

I eat a lot of squash. I think I eat it because my mother fed me cucumbers when I was a toddler and winter squash as I grew older. Zucchini in red sauce is one of my favorite comfort foods. Twice baked winter squash in various forms and permutations of forms graces my Shabbos table regularly whenver I crave it, but even for me, this parade of cucurbits is excessive.

I guess I have to ask how I got here. Well, my mom is partly to blame. To humor me one year she turned my Halloween pumpkin into pumpkin rolls. I ate them for lunch with peanut butter, and they were so good, she made them again and again. The second culprit is spaghetti squash. It's a relative novelty that appeared in the markets some time while I was in college. It used to be pale green. Now it is an attractive yellow and occasionally gold. It's mildly sweet flesh is attractively stringy and no, you don't fix it like spahgetti. You use light sauces, herbs, butter, flavors that let the mild, sweet flavor shine through.

The moqua squash salad is a descendent of the zucchini salad served at Cornell Dining in the 1980's and my mother's zucchini salad. Moqua is cheaper and better, an improved zucchini. OK, I can't get cucurbits out of my blood. I can't keep them out of my stomach or off the Thanksgiving or Shabbos table. I don't even mind pureeing them in the blender, seeding them out, roasting them, cutting them up.... Life without squash would be hard indeed.

That said, I feel bad for my queen cat, Lysistrata. Like any normal feline of good sense, she hates mechanical noises. When I run the blender tonight, she will wonder why I am defiling her nest with cacophany. The reason is that I am obsessed with cucurbits!

Eileen H. Kramer -- November 10, 2010

I Need a Twenty-Seven Hour Day

Why settle for a twenty-five hour day when you can ask for one that is longer. You won't get it, which is why I'm having trouble finding time to bake bread. I will make cornbread tonight, but cornbread is a quick bread. I really need to make sandwich bread with yeast. Without bread for sandwiches, there is no lunch. That is serious. That is too serious to contemplate.

The boniatos had a few nicks in them and they did turn a bit brownish while they waited in the bowl for me to cut up the beets and the scallion bottoms, but they had no really gross spots, and they were not as slimey as white potatoes, and they tasted terrific in a stir fry wtih beets, cabbage, and scallions. I made the stir fry, and some of the boniato stuck to the bottom of the pan. That made my big, blanche kettle a total bear to clean, but it's clean now. All in all, the experience was rewarding. Boniatoes, like other sweet potatoes are much easier to digest than white potatoes. They'd make a good potato salad with dried tomatoes or a good roast dish with carrots and dried tomatoes.

I think some of my fear of boniatoes is that the first ones I bought were in Columbus, Georgia. The Publix on Macon Road in that city received and probably still receives an A for effort. They were not a huge store but had all sorts of produce, cheese, jams, and pickles crammed under their small roof. I bought oyster mushrooms there regularly, and in the fall, they supplied me with hubbard squash, the legandary blue "hubbardolas." I am not one bit afraid of hubbard squash. Preparing winter squash is fast and very routine. They had dried tomatoes. They had fresh herbs, and yes, they had boniatoes.

Face it, a cook gets bored, and you need to try something different. Columbus was also where I discovered chaytoes. My mom, who is the Number Two Produce Warrior (Guess who Number One is) discovered chayotes independently around the same time. Hey, Mom, great minds think alike. Of course I live in Atlanta which is a shipping hub, and that means I can get all sorts of great produce, inexpensive and intersting foods. This makes keeping kosher very easy.

Now if I could only find the time to bake bread. Baking bread like processing a "hubbardola" isn't hard. It just takes time because yeast has to do its work. I need to make time tonight or Saturday night. I need bread. It's the staff of life.

Eileen H. Kramer -- November 4, 2010

I'm Afraid of Boniatoes

OK, for those of you who don't know, a boniato is a white sweet potato that tastes like a cross between an Irish potato and a sweet potato. I bought two good size ones at the Farmer's Market Sunday to add oomph to a stir fry I planned to make this week. Well tonight is crunch night, and I'm scaird. I'm not scaird of the leftover beets. I'm going to peel them, cut them up, and stir fry them. Yes, they will turn everything either pink or purple. The juice washes off. I can do beets with my eyes closed. I am not afraid of the five pounds of carrots, I am going to make into carrot salad. I can grate carrots all day long. I am not even afraid of the half a head of cabbage from last week, that was strong and old when I made it into cole slaw, and which is now probably only good for cooking.

It's the boniatoes that have me scaird. It's been ages since I've had boniatoes. They are delicious in tomato soup and most vegetable soup recipes. They make interesting potato salad. It's just I remember them turning brown. I think they'll peel badly.

This fear is of course utterly irrational. I've peeled both jicama and celery roots and those take a knife. I'll be able to get my boniatoes peeled with a peeler. I remember them turning brown though. I hope these will stay fresh looking until them meet with the hot oil in the big blanche kettle. I hope they taste good with cabbage, beets, and scallion bottoms, though there is no reason they should not. The gardinera from last week disappeared fast. One can't have cauliflower or winter squash every week. Cabbage is back down to a rational but high price and when there is leftover cabbage or leftover anything, there is stir fry. If one wants a truely gloppy stir fry experience, bonatioes are it. You can't have the same vegetables all the time. Variety is important, and maybe it is just good to get out of my comfort zone.

If I want to be really afraid, what I should fear is the tomato bread baking. Tomato bread is unnatural stuff. It uses 7 tsp of yeast to compensate for the added acid. That should tell you something right there. I have a few shortcuts for the recipe. I use canned tomato puree and hold the onions. I want to eat my tomato bread wtih sunflower butter. Also half this batch of tomato bread which I am not baking tonight is going to be tomato rolls for Thanksgiving. I think my Mom will like these. I also want to make pumpkin rolls. We are really going to roll with the punches. Now if only I could lose my fear of boniatoes.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 11/2/10