Posts by onwhomtorely

The best way to find an answer is to ask a question.

Mediterranean Meal

I have as much storage space in my apartment as a midshipman at sea: lucky if I can smuggle some granola bars and a bottle of whiskey on board. If you don’t pack in enough food, you may go hungry late one night. But bring on board too much and you may get court-martialed – or your food disposed of. While none of my roommates have had the ability to court martial me, some have made me wish I’d been dishonorably discharged from our lease agreement. So, rather than anger anyone I limit my food purchasing. Since it’s vital to always be stocked for a natural or national disaster, that means I’ve cut corners. For example, I only have one type of grain at a time in my kitchen. If I already have rice, I’m not buying millet. If I have groats, barley won’t make it on the shopping list.

As with every rule, to this one there is an exception. That exception is Smitten Kitchen’s Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad. The food on that site is reliable and tasty and they only promise what they can deliver. So, when this recipe promised “..if I had more of this Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad right now, I’d eat it for lunch and then dinner again,” and, “I have done you a disservice by not mentioning this for two weeks, as you could have have already eaten it twice! Maybe even four times!” I went out and bought all the ingredients – even though I was only half-way through a bag of rice. And it was worth it the lose of storage space to have this salad on hand.

It was so good that it made me reckless and I decided that any recipe labeled Mediterranean had to be good. So I let the internet lead me away to the sunny shores of the Mediterranean Sea. It took me straight to The Mediterranean Dish’s Za’atar Roasted Chicken Breast.

While I trust Smitten Kitchen to know what’s best for me, I don’t know The Mediterranean Dish from a hole in a wall. So, rather than follow the recipe, I adapted and adjusted and the result is:

Mediterranean Sumac Chicken, based on a true recipe

3-4 lbs chicken

1/2 c lemon juice

1 c olive oil

2 tbsp sumac

2 tbsp allspice

2 tbsp cinnamon

2 tbsp za’atar

2 tsp paprika

10 cloves of garlic, minced

1 onion, sliced

1 lemon, sliced.

Marinate chicken in all ingredients. If you have the time, combine the oil and spices into a marinade and let sit overnight. Otherwise, the add the oil and spices to the chicken already in the pan, coating evenly. Add in garlic, onion, and lemon. Roast at 400F for 45-60 minutes – for the first 30 minutes, cover the pan.

Next up on my Mediterranean menu: baklava?

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Even the Best Investigators Miss Things

Detective Sergeant Hayes reached Fleet Street at half past eleven and decided to ask at the offices of The Times. The young receptionist was reading a paperback Christie and biting her nails.

“Detective Sergeant Hayes. Metropolitan Police. I do’t know if you remember – I was here earlier with James Wingate.”

“Different shift I’m afraid, sir. I would have been older and more of a man, probably.”

from Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson

Shoe Repair Shop: MIA

Everyone survived, but I didn’t know that when I saw that my shoe repair shop was closed on a frigid Tuesday afternoon. Thankfully, the shock of the closed gate kept me standing stock still, disbelieving both the locked gate and taped-up “CLOSED STORE” sign. It was a passerby who informed me that everyone was alive and well. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone’s life was in danger – even though I once suggested the place looked like a human smuggling front.

There had been a fire in the back, the well-heeled woman informed me, and all the shops on the block were irreparably damaged. I pressed her for details about my Russian pals, the not-so-friendly faces behind thousands of shoe repairs. She told me their business was over, and they weren’t coming back. I nodded as she gave me unsolicited directions to a nearby shoe repair, as though all shoe repairs were interchangeable. When she started eyeing me with concern, I thanked her and walked back the way I’d come.

For the remainder of the week, I spent my lunch breaks looking for a new show repair. My only requirement: the shop must be willing and able to repair anything I could carry – shoes, watches, leather goods, etc. Instead, I found shoe repairs that didn’t fix watches and watch repairs that didn’t fix shoes. Finally, I just walked into a barber shop and asked if they could fix my stopped watch. The young barber told me he’d be happy to, but it would have to wait till after 3pm. I didn’t want to wait, so he sent me to his buddy who runs the jewelry store down the block. A personal recommendation? I couldn’t turn it down.

The jewelry shop, a store smaller than my apartment’s living room, had three staff and no customers. The greeter and floor manager spent the 10-minutes it took the owner to take apart my watch beaming at me; the greeter from his station at the door and the floor manager within a foot of my face. The shop keeper, uninterested in eye contact, told me that my watch was broken and cheap. He asked me a few times if I’d put the watch in water; I assured him that I hadn’t, since it would have broken the watch. He nodded, and told me that in the future I shouldn’t put my watch in water. I liked the place, but they do not repair shoes. Possibly, they don’t repair watches either.

My time in the jewelry shop was heartening. Just as no barber can be sure that my watch is fixable, a woman in the street can’t judge what my shoe repairmen will do. Those guys are an unpredictable lot; hardy and fearless. Since never answered direct questions about anything, from the weekend weather forecast to their country of origin, it’s impossible to know exactly what they’ve been through. But the tidbits I managed to extract from them made it clear that they never thought they’d make it to America nor work in shoe repair. So, no matter what’s happened to them, I wouldn’t count them out. I’ll keep an eye out for them, and hope that when I find them, they’ll do the same for me.

On the Road

I’ve been on highways, byways, and backways. I will happily travel over hill and dale, under bridges and through snowstorms – as long as I have snacks. I don’t travel with much; just some books, a change of clothing, and my weight in snacks.

It’s important to balance your car snacks, like so:

  • Water
  • Fresh fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Pretzels and/or crackers
  • Cookies and/or muffins
  • Chocolate
  • String cheese, or other easily transported protein that should probably be refrigerated, and thus not doing so adds some excitement to your life
  • Napkins
  • Trash bag

 

Of course, if you’re going to spend more than 2 hours in transit, you’ll need to bring a meal. Preferably, one you can heat up on the car engine.

 

 

Autumn Cookies, or De-Martha’d Double-Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

The air has gone crisp. Yellow leaves have blown into my bedroom – or perhaps traveled in on rain boots. The cranberries have arrived at Trader Joe’s! This can mean only one thing: autumn is here.

Cookies are always on tap in my kitchen. And there are no cookies like autumn cookies. But gingersnaps, pfeffernusse, and mint chocolate are de regueur. For this autumn, I wanted something special. Something that makes use of those fresh cranberries in the store. So I hit google and discovered that Martha Stewart authored a double-chocolate cranberry cookie. With Martha, you can’t go wrong, so I started in on the recipe. Except she called for sweetened dried cranberries, and I wanted tart fresh ones. She requires bittersweet chocolate, and I don’t have that on hand. And frankly, she uses way more butter than I can stomach.

Join me on the dark side of Martha, or use the presumably-perfect Martha version. Either way, happy autumn!

 

Double-Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted in a microwave

1 cup 2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled) 

3 tbsp unsweetened dark cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt sprinkle salt, if you want

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature margarine, at whatever temperature 

little less than 3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup dried cranberries about 1 cup fresh cranberries, mashed in a food processor

Cream margarine and sugars; add eggs and vanilla. Stir in melted chocolate and canberries. Mix together dry ingredients and stir into creamed mixture. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes.

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Autumn Cookies and Apple Spice Loaf, at your service

There’s More to Be Said: Happy Blog Anniversary

As of today: Happy six years of reading this blog! For my new readers – I’m looking at you Filipino bots – happy one year anniversary! In honor of the occasion, here’s a conversation – or unsolicited advice – I’d gladly have with each of you:

Perel, discussing a colleague who uniformly flatters: He definitely does that to everyone.

Me: Treat him like the really nice guy he probably is –

Perel: You think so?!

Me: Yes. That way if he’s plotting you’ll have lulled him into a false sense of complacency.

 

Novel Approach to Getting What You Want

Like most Russian women she is full of practical relationship advice that only works if you are dealing with another Russian: “Of course, when I want something, like new refrigerator, I tell my husband, ‘I think your idea is good and we should get new refrigerator,’ and he say ‘Eh?’ and I say, ‘Yes, yes, at first I think you were wrong and we not need this thing, but now I see you were right and so maybe yes,’ and even though he never say these things about refrigerator now he say, ‘I told you this and was right thing,’ and ‘You should listen to me, Iri,’ and I say, ‘Yes, yes, you were right,’ and he go to store and bring me refrigerator next day.”

 from The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

Membership is More Than Money

If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try, again!

My first attempt to convince a shul that membership dues are a thing of the past failed. I thought my letter to leadership was comprehensive and persuasive. I was wrong on at least one count: they were not persuaded.

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Fearless Leaders,

As you gear up for the membership drive, please consider the shul’s long-time failure to gain or retain members. A prime reason is membership costs. The currentlsystem  disincentivizes becoming a member for those who are struggling financially. Rather than allow people to pay what they wish, you demand that they demean themselves by telling the shul office that they are too poor to pay full price. Effectively, you’re saying that they can join us, but since they’re poor they can’t be counted as regular members of the community.

New graduates, the majority of the annual communal influx, are unlikely to spend an amount totaling their first paycheck on shul membership. Because you miss that initial window when someone first moves in, they adjust to not being a shul member. By making the membership price out of their reach, we all lose out. But a member isn’t just a person who pays a subscription fee; it’s someone engaged in the community. In many ways, the failure to bring in members has weakened the volunteer basis on which shuls operate. Volunteering in shul activities strengthens peoples’ bond to the shul, making them more active members of the community. So make volunteering part of membership. Allow people to pledge their time, and make that the standard for their membership fee. Let those who wish to do so pay off their membership in hours rather than dollars.
Those who currently volunteer for the shul are the selfsame people who already give back more than they receive; and that’s the same thing we want from all members – to invest themselves in the shul’s future. By enabling people to be members by giving their time, they’ll see how much further their money can go. And when they have the means, they’ll bring that too.
The ideas above are part of a larger conversation. Meanwhile, I beg that you change one thing immediately – don’t force people to contact the office to say that they don’t have the money to be a full-fledged member of the community. Allow them the option to sign up online as a member, in good standing, at whatever amount they can afford.
Thank you.
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As you can imagine, the powers that be didn’t bite. But I’m not giving up yet. I think maybe they just couldn’t visualize what such a membership sign-up would look like. So, I’ve written it for them:
Hello! I’m delighted to become the newest shul member and pillar upon which the community rests. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m up to the challenge. Here’s what I’ll be doing to keep the community running:
Hero Membership
I ain’t got much to  give, but what I got, I’ll give to you. 18 hours of my priceless time, plus $18 so you can get yourself something nice – like salt for those winter sidewalks.
Welcome Membership
It takes money to keep the shul open for each of us. But what kind of shul would it be if we didn’t always have room for one more? At $2,000, welcome in the stranger on me!
Utility Membership
It takes $1,000 per person to keep the shul open. Keep the doors unlocked and the ac pumping and you have yourself a deal.
Choose Your Own Adventure Membership
I’m happy to pay the most affordable shul membership fee of $[my choice] I’ll ever be asked to pay!
Because, at the end of the day, if you want to be a member – you should be a member. If you don’t want to be a member, don’t be a member. Either way, you’re always welcome here.