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Mineolas, Speckled Limas, and Memories

I did not soak dried beans Tuesday. That is unusual because Wednesday is the night I cook dried beans that I've soaked. Instead, I made speckled limas from frozen. Speckled limas bring back a wealth of memories. First, they are not a New York City food. They are rather a Southern delicacy. I remember buying them in Columbus Georgia. I remember making kasha and speckled butter beans for Rosh HaShannah the year of Hurricane Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. We got rain, but there was a weird warm wind. We needed the rain. There was a long drought in Columbus and most of Georgia at the time. Since that Rosh HaShanna, speckled butter peas of some sort have become a holiday tradition. Kasha would be a holiday tradition too, except it is too expensive.

I also remember eating speckled butter peas at a house on Arbor Vista road in Toco Hills when I first started going to services at Beth Jacob. The beans were served with just salt. They were served as a delicacy which makes sense. They were quite good because they always are.

My speckled limas are going to be part of collard corn bread casserole. You don't get more Southern than that, except that kosher Southern cuisine is nearly always dairy. Corn bread is usually dairy. Grits need butter. Biscuits of various types often include butter. You get the idea. I buttered the pan for the cornbread for the dressing for the casserole, so this one will be dairy. The speckled lima beans are in the fridge.

Meanwhile, a day ends with a piece of fruit that might be a mineola orange. I bought five of these because the season for blood oranges is almost over. I bought five of these because they are easy to peel, and they taste great. Mineolas, however always remind me of a friend of mine who is now in Israel. He saw me buy them and disparaged them. He said &quoit;those oranges are grown in Mexico." Actually, like most of the best citrus, they come from California. Anyway, oranges in the winter chase the blues away.

I sometimes wonder what my friend is doing in the land of Jaffa oranges. I've eaten those. I used to consider them quite a deliacy, but mineolas and blood oranges are better. Each to their own. I can walk out of Your DeKalb Farmer's Market with a dozen Rome apples and a happy, anticapatory smile on my silly face. I guess it takes all kinds.

Eileen H. Kramer -- March 31, 2011

Baking Off Chametz

That is what I am doing, but the title does not do justice to the task, and it describes nothing of my personal situation up to a few nights ago. There is an unwritten eleventh commandment in Judaism or at least in the Jewish culture in which I grew up: Thou shalt not run out of food. To run out of food is shameful. I've done it once in my life. My boyfriend lived with me at the time, and he could not fathom my dismay or my relief after blowing seventy dollars at the grocery store. "There are two of us,&quiot; I explained to him, "and we ran out of food!" Gasp, sigh, and almost weep.

The next worst thing to running out of food is running out of bread. Bread is the staff of life. It is precious when you are poor. It is the stuff you make from whatever flour products, baking soda or powder, margarine, and water when you have nothing else so there will be bread. It is home for peanut butter or cheese, but it is also eaten by itself if you are really hungry or just with margarine back in the bad old days. It is the first food you buy in thrift bakery, holding two or three loaves by the necks of their plastic wrappers. It is the food eaten first or along with fruit when you are poor, but like apples, bread never acquires a stink of poverty. The exception to this is moon bread (rough textured soda bread) and plain biscuits (which are made from nothing good.), but yeast bread or muffins or fancy biscuits are good, cheap, and beloved. There is a reason Judaism's highest and most complicated blessing goes to bread and the second fanciest blessing goes to foods that are bread like.

I gave away half my combination muffins on Purim and ate my last piece of spinach bread the Monday after. You can guess what happened to me. Shudder, cringe, and do something fast! What I did fast was make the Settlement Cookbooks Quick Parker House Rolls (There are probably similar recipes on the net) but with 100% whole wheat flour. Parker House rolls are dairy rolls that include melted butter as well as milk. This makes them very nutritious and good for dairy or pareve sandwiches if you shape them right, which I did this time. These little brown, turd shaped rolls were irrisistable, but I only made half the recipe. They were a stop gap.

Sunday, despite an utterly smashing tension headache that forced me to lie down for ten minute stings, I made real bread. I chose raisin bread because I had raisins in the fridge and was determined to have bread I could enjoy wtih chocolate soynut butter or peanut butter and honey spread. This is my favorite bag lunch. It keeps me away from other temptations, and it is wholesome. I chose the Pain au Noix recipe which looks like an odd choice since you know I can't eat whole or chopped nuts, and I had no walnuts in the house. What I did have was most of a box or golden raisins that were still fairly fresh but which were taking up residence in my refridgerator door. Well, they are not there any more. I dreaded kneeding that much hard stuff into bread, but I got it to work somehow, and the dough rose without the aid of soy flour or oil. One reason I like the Pain au Noix recipe even if I make it as either plain or raisin bread is that it is essentially a recipe for Roman Meal (part rye part wheat bread that is not a sour recipe) bread. I make it as all whole wheat instead of part white and wheat bread, and of course I added the rye flour.

I looked at the tiny amount of rye flour left in the small container I had purchased from Your DeKalb Farmer's Market and realized that this year there would be no rye pot pie as a pre-Passover dish. There will be no rye crust pot pie, a pre-Passover tradition. There will be collards and beans (probably speckled butter peas) with corn meal dressing. I'll also make pasta salad one last time and some sort of rice casserole. There may very well be rice muffins or rice pudding or both. This is a kind of Jewish mardi-gras. It is the blowout to use up the chametz so as not to have to box it or put it away. Passover is not realy deprivation, but it is a change, and change hurts, but you know, sometime change can be fun. I look forward to making the corn bread Wednesday nights when I roast the black radishes, beets, and some of those roasted red peppers in a jar. Usually roast beet medleey is a postPassover dish, though there is NO good reason for this. I had a craving for it, so I'm going to make it. Besides the roasted beets in a jar are chametz or kitnyos and the food bank will not take them. I may as well enjoy using them up too.

Eileen H. Kramer -- March 29, 2011

Sh'lach Manot and Gardinera

Some weeks one has a religious holiday for which to prepare. Some weeks one gets lucky. Some weeks both happen at the same time. That is not so bad. I was reading the New York Times somewhat randomly when I found this recipe. I substituted sour milk for buttermilk, peanut oil for canola oil, and mayonaise for one of the eggs. I just rain out of eggs. All I paid for was the corn meal and the rye flour, because I was running low on those. I guess there is now going to be at least one pot pie before Passover. They are just that good. There is even an article about pot pies in the New York Times. Yes, I am a trendy cook, but not horribly so. I've been eating pot pies since I could remember, and always considered them a sort of delicacy, only mine are usually made wtih canned salmon or vegetarian. The pot pie I liked as a kid was the beef version. And yes, one never sees pot pie in Toco Hills. I'm not sure why, since one can easily make a pareve or non-dairy version. The muffins turned out to be cheap and easy, once I had tins for them which I bought Sunday. I have been wanting muffin tins for the longest time. I'll be making more muffins, either before or after Passover.

I also wanted either string bean salad of some type with cooked beans in it (Think two bean salad instead of three with added vegetables of course!), or roast beets as a semi-side dish. There's always peanut butter for protein when you think about it. I'm not as big a gourmet as all that. Well, I saw that prices at the Farmer's Market were exhorbitant but stringbeans were at the marginally reasonable $1.29 a pound, the same as moqua squash. The moqua was expensive. The string beans can go much higher. Everythign is relative. The string beans tasted decent. I also noticed handsome cauliflower at three dollars a head. You say "WHAT!" I say "The scale is my god!" I took one of the larger specimens to the scale. It did not have to be a particularly pristine specimen because it was going to get good and blanched (lightly cooked. I'm not really sure the difference or if it matters.) It weighed in at a hair under three pounds. Cauliflower was cheaper than string beans! I bought it, and did not feel guilty.

I was thrilled. This meant gardinera for Shabbos. Gardinera is salad that is either pickled or marinated and made with carrots, cauliflower, and sometimes peppers, or string or pole beans. If it is main dish gardinera it includes lima beans, butter beans, or in my case fresh cranberry beans. Fresh cranberry beans are among the best of the shelly beans. They sing a siren song. They are easy to shuck. They intimdate with the red-splotched pods. That is kind of a shame, since lima beans or even chick peas are much harder to shuck. There is a whole subculture of folks in this city who shuck beans in front of the TV or computer, but that is another story. Like all shelly beans or field peas, cranberry beans have their vocabulary. They cook up pretty. There is something satisfying about sqeezing or unzipping big but still immature seeds from a pod, and something delightful about the taste of cooked up fresh beans or field peas. Since I am not a Southerner, I have my own shell bean vocabulary. I say that at the Elysian Field Cafe on Mount Olympus the gods eat Auntie Anne's Prezels and various dishes involving fresh cranberry beans and edamamme, and probably also other field peas and beans. Of course if you want to Judaisize this, you can say that at the Feasts of the Scholars and the Righteous there will be kosher freshly made cheese pretzels and plenty of freshly cooked, marinated, served with butter, in pot pie etc... shelly beans and field peas.

And yes, both the caulfilower and the string beans were their own special surprize. Plain old snap beans are usually a second choice with me. I prefer pole beans. I wince when I hear a parent tell their child to choose only the smallest and most delicate string beans. String beans are scrawny enough as it is. You want them, big, plump and meaty. If possible, (and it wasn't last week because the pole beans were vile!), you skip the string beans and buy pole beans because they are bigger and meatier. One makes the decision between the two types of beans by sampling the product raw. If the pole beans are sweet and nonstringy, one can even pay extra for them. Pole beans when good hit heights snap beans never approach. Size matters. When pole beans are vile.... Well that was the case last week, but the string beans were sweet and not that scrawny. Blanched for salad, they were everything good string beans should be.

The cauliflower was even fantastic raw. It was mild with just a little cucurbit bite. Cauliflower is the result of lots of breeding to create a fancy cucurbit with a huge immature flower that becomes vegetable curd. It is a food success story. One of my favorite dishes before I became kosher was caulfilower and bleu cheese dressing salad and corn muffins at Jason's Deli. Jason's is a pretty third rate deli, but this combination from the buffet was just fantastic. Well, this cauliflower put the fresh stuff at Jason's to shame, and once blanched, it was irrisistable. I also had big, bright, sweet carrots as large as baseball bats and only .59 a pound.

And it gets better, basil stopped looking raunchy for the first time in weeks. This winter I have been limping along with either dill or mint as a substitute. Then last weekend, the basil looked good. Open Door got real basil its Italian style moqua squash and dried tomato salad, and I got basil in the gardinera. I also had two leftover myer lemons in the fridge. Salad dressing, there they went! Needless to say, there was a lot of blanching and boiling in my kitchen last night. Picking over the string beans was not as bad as I imagined. Even picking over the basil, a necessity if one obeys kashrus was not particularly onerous. It was worth the work, and I wished I had a camera. The muffins, made Tuesday, the salad for Open Door, and the gardinera all looked like pictures from a cookbook. I'm not that good a cook. I'm enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but I'm no pro, but salads and quick breads are easy. I can follow directions and with good ingredients, any one can have good results, even me. Have a happy Purim.

Eileen H. Kramer -- March 17, 2011