Let Them Drink Coffee

My dad has a theory that free coffee at work – good free coffee – is a sign that the end is nigh for your employer. Based on this theory, the government will outlast us all. At my public sector job, there is no coffee. We do have a kitchen with a sink, which is a pretty sweet deal. At least, it feels that way on the days when we have paper towels. Compared to my friends whose employers set out fresh fruit, stock pantries, or offer Tea Time Tuesdays, I’ve felt like an underprivileged government employee. Little did I know how good I had it.

My agency stopped stocking plastic cutlery.

I embraced the change as a call to environmental arms. I brought in my own utensils, and felt, daily, that I was saving landfill space – and thereby the world. In felt righteous every time I washed my cutlery in the rust-spotted kitchen sink, then shook them in the air to dry because there were no paper towels. Then, one dark and gloomy day, my cutlery broke. Of course, it was the day I brought in soup for lunch. With no alternative, I took to the streets to look for plastic cutlery to get me through one meal.

The reasonable thing may have been to purchase a set of plastic cutlery. A few blocks from my office there are some great discount stores, stocked with party goods. But I already own two packages of plastic spoons, they were just both located in my apartment. But I was unwilling to commit to contributing even more to landfills. So, I went looking for a free spoon. Well, not free. I wasn’t willing to stoop to stealing a spoon, but I was willing to take one in exchange for my continued customer loyalty. My first stop was the Dunkin Donuts next door where I pick up a treat from time to time. But Dunkin Donuts is wise to my kind, and they don’t have spoons. Or, if they do, I couldn’t find them and the cashiers looked harassed enough without hunting down spoons for me.

So I walked the streets looking for a shop with a stack of spoons in the window. It took me 20 minutes, a woman who tried to get me to spend $2.75 on a yogurt, one cup of coffee, and $1.46, but I walked back into the office with several plastic spoons – plus a stack of napkins – for my troubles.

Brownie Fail, or: Cake

Objectively speaking, I cannot make brownies. It doesn’t matter which recipe I use or steps I take, they all come out somewhat awful. Until now, I thought I was alone – but I am not. A friend has fallen into the same problem. Her solution though, isn’t to stay away from brownies. It’s to remake them in her own image.

Here is the original and for those who can’t make brownies:

double the water

double the baking soda

and, from the ashes of failed brownies, you have a cake that was waiting to be born.

Candy Jar: Running on Empty

The candy jar at work remains a mystery. It is filled up sporadically with varied options. The rhyme and reason for who fills it with what is a mystery. Mars bars? Someone loves me. Strawberry-cordial filled dark chocolates?  Who did John* screw over this time? Unfortunately, much of the time there’s nothing to wonder at; the jar sits empty, its cheery orange lid covered in a layer of dust.

On a recent day a coworker walked purposefully toward the candy jar, and stopped abruptly in front of it. He held it up to the light and shook it, as though the clear plastic sides, which showed no candy within, were playing tricks on his eyes.

“Why is there no candy?” he called out, tossing it up forlornly. It was empty because he’d eaten the last of the candy two weeks early, and no one had refilled it since.

“I have m&ms,” I called back. “Do you want some?”

“YES!” he replied, in a tone far different from his usual funereal inflection.

He took a handful, and munching happily, asked, accusatorily, “Why are you hoarding candy?”

“I don’t think it’s called hoarding when I buy candy and eat it,” I suggested.

“It is if you don’t put it in the candy jar,” was the reply.

“Ooh! Can I have some?” pipped in a third coworker, ending our standoff.

I suspect that it’s my coworker’s love of candy, rather than the unpredictable nature of the jar’s filling, that leads to it sitting empty. The candy jar, and now my candy stash as well.

*I don’t work with anyone named John. Even though the security guard told me this week that his brother’s buddy John – handsome and tall – works in the same office. I’ll take his word for it.

They May Not Taste Like It, But They’re Pesachdik

My sister is many things.

She’s a clear communicator. See below if you don’t believe me:

We need to make these next year, they don’t taste pesadik.

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup oil
3/4 bag of chocolate chips
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 250 F for 30-35 minutes
Makes 30 cookies
She is also a truth-telller.
Chag samach!

Healing Sweet Potato Soup

Trust no one.

Don’t buy into the hype.

Don’t try new recipes on guests.

All of the above are good pieces of advice. So when Special Correspondent Ariella told me about an amazing soup that soothed the soul, I didn’t believe her. Years ago, she told me the tale of a soup that came out differently for every person – but tasted delicious each time. She may have used the term magical to describe this phenomena. I ignored her.

Then, she made Healing Sweet Potato Soup when everyone was sick. I loved it – and I don’t even like sweet potatoes – and I healed. I should have trusted her – it lived up to the hype. As you heal this flu season, I recommend you do the same. In fact, I suggest you make it for the first time for lots of guests.

Healing Sweet Potato Soup

1 onion, diced

1 to 2 apples, peeled and diced

3 large or 5 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 cup of cashews, or more to taste

Just enough water to cover the other ingredients

For an extra kick, add green salsa

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until ingredients are soft – about 3 hours. Do not drain the water, use an immersion blender or food processor to achieve the right consistency.

The Lunch of Libraries: Spiced Rice

The days of sacrosanct libraries is coming to an end. In the children’s section, parents are reprimanded for shushing their children with the librarian’s gentle, ‘Libraries are for talking too.’ Phone calls are allowed in designated areas. Magazines litter tables once reserved for dictionaries and encyclopedias. However, one rule remains iron-clad: no food is permitted. Adults who try to eat breakfast are asked to leave. Parents who pull out cheerios are informed that they can take their children outside if they need to snack. Of course, there’s one exception: the library staff.

When I worked in a public library, patrons dropped off food for the staff for every major holiday and some of the minor ones. They treated us like neighbors – the food came in glass dishes, with silver spoons, and instructions on how long to heat it up and what would go best with it. Desserts were generally a favorite, but sometimes grateful patrons dropped off a whole meal. The one the librarians loved best was a giant casserole dish of curried rice with shrimp. The Indian woman who made it was chatty and friendly, with a penchant for romance novels and the occasional best seller. She believed in good manners, as evidenced by her generous and reportedly delicious gift, and her innate understanding that the staff would wash her dishes before her next weekly visit to the library. She was proved right on all accounts.

Although I couldn’t eat what she made, the dish made an impression on me. Curried rice – sans shrimp – seems to me the epitome of an elegant thank-you. However, I’ve never found a recipe which lives up to the mythical hype. I’ve tried a number of curried rice recipes, even recruiting Special Correspondent Ellen to cull her finest curried rice recipes for me. None of them measured up. But, I adapted them and came up with this instead:

Spiced Rice

2 1/4 c water

1 c brown rice

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp salt

Pour everything into the pot, bring water to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover, allow to cook for 30 minutes or until water is fully absorbed.

 

To turn this into a full meal:

1 can of chickpeas, drained

1 green pepper, sliced into thin strips

1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips

1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped

salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

Spray baking pan with oil, toss on all ingredients. Bake at 400 for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes.

Mix together, place in your best dishes – and walk it over to your local library staff. They’ll thank you, and clean your dishes too.

Cabbage Strudel Recipe: Even Google Can’t Find It

Google had never heard of Cabbage Strudel. It knows of apple strudels galore. The search engine has spit back enough cabbage recipes for me to wonder if Slavic languages have as many words for boiled cabbage as the Eskimos do for snow. But, for years I could not find a recipe for cabbage strudel. The closest I got was Nora Ephron’s The Lost Strudel – the title gives away the fact that a decade ago she had already concluded that cabbage strudel was lost to us.

I actually have a recipe for cabbage strudel. Bubby gave me the recipe, but like most recipes she gave me, the directions were vague. When I told her it didn’t work out, she made me read the recipe back to her. She confirmed it, and I could hear her shrug over the phone line. Sometimes, things just don’t work. But most of the time, I just didn’t use enough shmaltz and she couldn’t help me with that.

My dad couldn’t help me either, except to tell me that I probably wasn’t using enough shmaltz – a fair assumption since I wasn’t using any. However, he did mention that the recipe was unique. My Zaidy’s mother was the one in the family who had made cabbage strudel. But Bubby never met her, never had the strudel – and unlike her mother in law, she was not Polish. Rather, her family was from further east. So,when Zayde asked her to make his mother’s dish, she made a cabbage strudel of her own invention.

With that clue, I tried a few new search terms. In return, Google gave me Hungarian Cabbage Strudel. The countries aren’t far apart on the map, but something clearly is lost in translation.

screenshot-2017-01-04-at-17-20-44

In Eastern Europe, they don’t confuse proximity  with similarity         credit: google earth

While my grandmother’s recipe called for soft dough, which could be pulled to translucence, it wasn’t flaky. The Hungarian recipes call for phyllo dough. The Hungarian recipes sometimes call for sugar. Bubby’s called for salt, with more salt if needed.

Then again, Bubby made the recipe up. So, I guess I’ll try the same – на здоровье or zdrowie – either way, it’ll hopefully be delicious.

 

Candy Jar

Most offices have a candy jar. Some have a bowl. Others have a dish. My old office had a drawer. While a drawer full of candy sounds awesome, the size made it hard fill it up at once – making any individual attempt seem paltry and stingy. In order to fill a candy drawer you have to stock up on enough chocolates, chewies, and drops to make the cashier fear that you’re trying to recreate the gingerbread cottage in which Hansel and Gretel were held captive. Which is why I tended to only bring in homemade treats – it’s much easier to fill out a desk space with napkins and such than it in to fill up a deep drawer.

My new office, however, has a candy jar. While significantly smaller than a drawer, it could still comfortably hold a small child. However, I am determined to win the affections and allegiance of my new coworkers. So, with candy sales abounding, I filled up the jar. My coworkers were thrilled with this new infusion of candy – I had strategically waited till the jar was emptied in order to gain maximum impact. I was happy that my plan to worm my way into their good graces had succeeded.

At least, I was glad until someone noticed that one of the candies had arrived in my bag – and then the jar – unwrapped. He made sure that I and everyone knew that he found this oversight unreasonable. He was still explaining the extent of his concern when another coworker leaned over him, grabbed the offending mini twix bar, and ate it. The fearless colleague assured us everything was fine and went back to work.

But the sanitary-conscious coworker wasn’t done listing his concerns about an unwrapped chocolate bar, as small and cute and tasty as it may be. Winding up his speech, he told me that he held me responsible for what had happened. I told him that if he didn’t appreciate my candy provisions, I’d stuff the jar with raisin boxes.

“You wouldn’t!” he said in horror.

“Watch me,” I warned him.

Thus is the battle for hearts and minds won. With lots of candy and a hint of dried-fruit menace.

If I Go, the Ice Cream Goes With Me

With the ring of the cash register, our relationship shifted.

The transaction had started, as it always does, with the struggle of getting the attention of someone behind the counter. That is hard enough to get a server’s attention at a joint Dunkin Donuts-Baskin Robbins at any time of day. It’s twice as hard before 9am. At that time of day the staff’s focus wavers only between the growing line and the rapidly depleting coffee pot. But my sister and I are tactical in our pursuit of ice cream, especially when Baskin Robbins – known for offering 31 flavors – is offering a scoop for $1.31 in honor of the 31st day of the month. We split up for a two-pronged attack; she stood in line while I attempted to wave down an employee behind the counter. She got to them first, I joined her, and we ordered our early-morning ice cream.

The cashier, confused but polite, rang up us. “$4.73,” she said.

“No,” I shook my head in confusion, “it’s not.”

“It’s the 31st of the month,” my sister explained. “The scoops are $1.31 each.”

“No, they are not,” the cashier informed us.

She stared at us. For a moment, we stared at her. Then, I glanced down at the ice cream cones we held and knew that in this stand-off we were guaranteed to win. “Don’t worry,” I assured my sister as the clerk kept her eyes on us as the manager warily approached.

On one side of the counter was the cashier and her manager.

On the other side was me, my sister, two ice cream cones, and a coupon:

IMG_20160402_225318

“We already have the ice cream,” I pointed out to my sister, “and they can’t get it back. As far as they know we could walk out without paying a cent.”

We wouldn’t, but our adversaries didn’t know that.

They looked at our coupon in surprise, looked at the ice cream we were holding on the other side of the counter, and – without looking at us – reentered our order into the cash register.

“$1.31, each,” our cashier said as her manager walked away shaking her head with puzzlement.

We paid.

We ate.

We appreciated the customer service. Especially after my sister re-read the coupon and pointed at that not all Baskin Robbins locations were required to participate in the $1.31 scoop day. It’s not every chain store that will honor the promises of its corporate headquarters. So, thank you to

Baskin Robbins at 1342 Amsterdam Avenue

for honoring coupons,

and for knowing when you’ve been out-maneuvered.