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Kiwi, Sheep, and Middle Earth 

Kia ora! We’re off to explore New Zealand (!!) for the next few weeks, so my kitchen and blog will be quiet until 2015. Since this is my first year blogging, I’m letting myself off the hook for not posting any holiday recipes. I promise loads of new stuff when I get back, and maybe even a vacation food post along the way!

Happy Holidays and looking forward to cooking with you in the new year!

Pssst! Here’s a sneak peek at what’s up next when we’re back:

EatWith September: On the Menu

About 6 months ago we started hosting dinners in our home through EatWith, a global community that connects guests with welcoming hosts to eat meals in the hosts home. It’s kind of like AirBnb, but for eating. These are also much more than meals you would have if you went to a restaurant, these are experiences.

Every meal we’ve hosted has been amazing. We’ve done mostly Shabbat dinners for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is the night of the week that we typically have people over, and I cook for two days regardless. Secondly, we love to share our traditions about Shabbat. Our meals have been mixes of friends and strangers, locals and tourists, and a mix of different beliefs and religions.

We put a lot into these meals. How we frame them on the website, how the flow of the evening looks, who should meet or sit next to whom, and of course, the menu. I spend so many hours putting together a menu, and then editing it until it feels perfect. Since I have this blog space now I wanted to share the menus and the experience of welcoming a group of perfect strangers into our home for an intimate dinner. It’s really very awesome.

This month’s “Shabbat Table Astoria” was unique in that all our eight guests worked for the same company in Sweden and were in New York City for a work event. None of them were Jewish, but all were very excited to hear about our traditions and participate.

When I plan a menu it tends to be very vegetarian friendly with only one meat dish and plenty of seasonal produce featured throughout. I serve family style, so dishes get passed and everything is homemade. This was the menu:

To Start:
Two loaves of homemade challah, one plain and one za’atar
White bean herb dip with sage, parsley, mint and lemon
Avocado hummus
Roasted tomato tart with caramelized onions, topped with fresh basil
Mixed baby kale salad with a pomegranate vinaigrette
For the Main: 
Herbed and lemon roasted chicken
Roasted sweet potatoes and grapes with rosemary in honey balsamic reduction
Zucchini, corn, and cilantro frittata
Grilled portobello mushrooms with chimichurri sauce

Something Sweet: 
Lemon olive oil cake
Mint Tea

To Take-Home: 
Chocolate chip cookie sandwich

The menu is designed for a dinner party. It keeps in mind when the stove needs to be used and at what temp, what can be prepared in advance and warmed up in the oven last minute, and what can be served at room temperature. For instance the frittata’s ingredients were prepared in advanced, re-heated in the pan, and the eggs were added while Ari was carving chickens because to cook the eggs and cut up the bird take about the same amount of time. Plus you get hot frittata.

When hosting and cooking a meal for complete strangers there’s a balance that I’m still learning how to master. When you host you need to be available to your guests, make sure everyone is comfortable, and that food, drink, and conversation are flowing.
Sometimes that means compromising on other things, like plating. That’s not to say that I don’t work super hard to make sure my food looks beautiful but when I’m shuttling between two rooms and trying to keep a balance they often don’t end up as picture perfect as I would like. But they are family style and rustic.

It also means that I forget to snap photos of all my food. Ari holding chickens was actually shot by Clay Williams for EatWith months ago. Plus the lighting in our apartment by night is so eh..what I’m trying to say is: forgive me!

The dinner turned out really wonderful. We had such great conversation and sharing of cultures and countries. The group happened to be all women, many of them mothers, and hearing about how Sweden takes care of its working parents (very well) was amazing. It also turned out that not all of our guests knew each other because they work for such a large company, so there was meeting new people all around the table.
Ultimately the purpose of this post is to share with you the complete (and easily replicable) menu, and a little of the experience of hosting in our home. Because we host monthly I’ll share a different side of the experience in future posts. It’s really a unique experience on both ends. I highly recommend checking out the website to see who’s hosting in your area, or getting in touch with the company about setting up your own offerings!
If there are dishes from this menu that you’d like the recipe for let me know and I’ll put together a post for that specifically!

Origins of a Name

After some serious furrowed brow thinking I decided to go with a name for this blog that was about as true to myself, my love of food and story, and my heritage as I could get. Most folks don’t understand what I see in a plate of schmaltz herring, onion, and potato and I completely understand. It’s pungent and oily and its colors range from the white of the potato and onion to the yellow of the oil and to the silver/gray and pink of the fish. Photographing it in any instagram-appealing way would be a serious challenge. 

But to me it’s perfect. 

Herring and potatoes are comfort and love on a plate. Not only because my roots trace back across the Baltic Sea towards what were the shifting borders across eastern Europe and especially Poland but also because this dish was one of my bubbe’s most favorite things to eat. 

Stopping at Russ & Daughters on the way home (Bubbe and I were roommates for a little) in the dead of winter, I would ask for a small cup of chicken liver salad, a quarter pound halva, and a schmaltz herring cut up with fresh onions on top. My order typically drew a raised eyebrow because my age didn’t match up with the things I was asking for and so I would smile and say it was for my bubbe. Ahh, that makes sense, their smiles and nods would seem to reply. 

Coming into the apartment I would toss a couple potatoes in the microwave while Bubbe and I shared stories from our day. Well usually I was the one to share since by this point she was homebound without much will or ability to go outside and her days ran into each other. Sitting at the kitchen table she would ask me what I wanted to eat and what she could make for me even though I was busy opening containers and pulling down plates. 

Nothing Bubbe! I brought home a surprise for us, I would say. 
Something good I hope, she’d respond with a smile. 
I promise you’ll like it, I’d reply as I’d drop a fork into the onions and oil, “fishing” for the herring. 

The microwave would beep and I grabbed our hot potatoes and quartered them on the plate watching the steam spill out. On top of each I’d arrange the herring and onions and drizzle a little extra oil. Placing the plates on the table I would watch bubbe’s eyes light up as she sat up a little straighter getting ready. I’d place two big glasses of water on the table to gulp down after our salty treats and maybe we’d open a beer to share. 

Eating at the speed of light we wouldn’t talk but nod back and forth about how good it was. Our forks felt like they were for show only – there to help us pretend we were civilized – as though eating with our hands was entirely unplanned. We’d pick out the bones with our fingers and make little herring-potato-onion sandwiches and quickly gobble them up. Soon there was nothing left and we’d each lean back contented, our eyes glazed over and our souls happy. 

Picture

Schmaltz herring over baby potatoes with oil and loads of onions (BYO breath mints and leave the fork at home)

Can I get you anything else? I’d ask
No, I’m full up to here she would say patting the underside of her chin with the back of hand. Up to here. 

Eating herring and bulbes brought back memories of her home and the past. As we let our supper settle bubbe would share stories about her family, food, and shtetl life. Now it was my turn to listen.

Bubbe’s left us now and I eat herring a little less often. But whenever I’m on the Lower East Side I stop in to pick up a schmaltz herring and yes, please, raw onions on top. Then my husband and I sit in our kitchen remembering Bubbe, sharing stories, and eating plates full of herring and potatoes until we’re up to here. 

Picture

My bubbe and my mom. Bubbe hated being in photos and while I have some amazing photos of her eating food (we did that so well together) she would have killed me for sharing any of them…even though those are always my favorites.