Ivan found his customers’ refusal to take leftovers home offensive to his frugal Eastern Bloc upbringing. Kate would cringe with embarrassment as she heard him arguing with patrons about the wasted food.

“Are you sure you don’ vant to take home? Dat is at least breakvast. Maybe breavast and lunch. You have a neighbor might vant? Dog? Do you haf dog? That vould be a lucky dog. No? Okay.”

Kate didn’t mention to her grandfather that many people don’t like soggy hamburgers the next morning. Instead, she offered to take the food.

“I can give it to a homeless person, if you like,” Kate said.

Her deda nodded his approval and wrapped up the leftovers. As he left them on Kate’s table he said, “Give them to a real homeless person. Not vun of those hippie kids, ok?”

from How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

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.

“But seeing his status doesn’t help,” Mindy said. “It’s not like we can do anything about it if he falls behind. This is a pointless task.”

“How long have you worked for the government?” Venkat sighed.

from The Martian

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.

 

Out first job as Democrats must be not to do any more harm. True, we have to remain vigilant in getting rid of programs that don’t work. But as Democrats, we have to be prepared to truly believe that education is not just a headache we’re stuck with. In my opinion education and health care are national investments, as important to our national security as nuclear bombs, planes and armed forces.

-Rep. Charlie Rangel from And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress

The Memoir I Won’t Be Writing

Special Correspondent Perel is convinced that one day I will write a memoir. She’s also convinced that I’d have a captive audience. I won’t. But since I wouldn’t want to disappoint, I’ve composed some chapter titles for her to enjoy instead.

 

Title

You Didn’t Want Me to Say That Out Loud?

Chapters

On my Hometown: Forged in the Valley of Steel

On Growing Up: Rhetorical questions aren’t my forte

On Dating: It’s not as though I’d mind if I never saw him again

On Career: Nowhere pays as much as here for what I’m doing

On Leaning In and/or On Food: I bought their loyalty with snacks

On Confidence: Sometimes people need to be threatened

On Friendship: I have 5 clown noses, and 1 person who could put them to good use

On Travel: You love me. I love you, goats, and ancient printing presses

On Raising Children: If they can get the WD40, they probably know what to do with it

It had been a long twenty-four hours and somehow, after the betrayal and all the screaming, turning my life over to the Bloomingdale’s mafiosi seemed like a reasonable course of action. Besides, I trusted them; unlike my publicist and agent, they were only making commission on the tie.

from Nine Women, One Dress

Power of Peace

I learned lots of things in college. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned is that my dad has theories with which no one else agrees. It’s the one lesson I remember from my international economics professor, a small man who wouldn’t tell us from which member of the former Soviet Union he hailed  – though he preferred speaking with students in Russian about his daughter to discussing the implications of steel tariffs. One day, he asked us which country had the strongest military in the world. My hand shot up before the question was out of the teacher’s mouth, forcing him to call on me.

“Switzerland,” I said with a brisk nod, and went back to eating my dinner.

“Oh – no,” the teacher said, confused. “Switzerland?”

“Yes,” I clarified.

“No,” he said, looking around for more raised hands.

“It is,” I insisted. “When was the last time they fought a war?”

“That’s not the measure of a strong military,” was my teacher’s answer.

“It is,” I explained gently, having taught this by my dad and sure of his reasoning. “It’s armed with 21st century weaponry and they serve mandatory military service. Would you go to war with Switzerland? No. No one would go to war with them because the fighting force would be awesome – and crushing. Because no one goes to war against them they automatically win. It’s the power of deterrence, if you like.”

“That’s ridiculous,” my teacher informed the class. “The strongest military is the one that fights.”

We shook our heads in sorrow at each other’s stupidity. The answer he wanted: United States of America.