Posted by Rob Eshman
The New York Times is late to the backyard chicken trend story, which has appeared for years in every paper from The New Yorker (three years ago) the Petersborough Examiner (4 days ago) to the Intermountain Jewish News (this week). Google News lists 302 results for “backyard chicken” stories in 2012 alone.
But The Times story makes it official: everybody’s raising chickens in their backyards.
What amazed me about the story is the comments section. Times readers are the elite, right? They’re not stupid, they’re smart, right? And yet even they don’t understand where eggs come from.
This comment from “jdpolicano from East Hampton” was typical of many:
One of the most delightful experiences of my life was visiting my uncle’s country place in New Jersey 50 years ago and feeding (and being fed) the eggs and (gasp!) the chickens. But is it practical for me to raise some on a one acre lot in what is really a subburban setting in East Hampton? Won’t the rooster drive everyone crazy? Do I even need a rooster? ... Tell me if it can be done and how to go about it. Thanks so much.
Do you even need a rooster? To be fair to JD and his fellow rooster-curious commenters, when people visit my backyard hens, they invariably ask the exact same question. Smart people. Doctors even. All f them stare like kindergartners at my birds and at some point, “Don;t you need roosters?” Which is essentially like a grownup asking, “Where do babies come from?”
No, I explain, you don’t need a rooster to make eggs. Eggs are not nature’s little abortions. They are the result of unfertilized ovulation, the end of a chicken’s menstrual cycle. To be graphic, humans have live birth, so unfertilized eggs come out in a period. Chickens give birth in shells, so that’s how theirs’ comes out.
It’s even cooler than that: Google chicken anatomy and you’ll see how all this plus more—pee and poop—emerges from one chute, the cloaca, and yet the eggs come out clean and sweet-smelling. You’ll be amazed how they pull off that trick.
Did I know any of this before I began raising chickens, 22 years ago? Nope. I learned about the cloaca the hard way.
One evening Naomi and I came home to find one of our chickens listless. We called my sister, who’s a veterinarian. Sometimes, rarely, an egg gets stuck. If you don’t pull it out, the chicken will die. It’s called egg bound. Lisa said we should try to massage the lump out, but if that didn’t work—it didn’t—one of us had to stick our fingers into the chicken and pull the egg free.
“Nomi,” I said, “you have smaller fingers.”
We sat in our yard, the chicken on Nomi’s lap, and began to search for the exit hole. Lisa said, “There’s only one.”
I watched Naomi’s face as I said this, and the implications struck her immediately.
“It’s called the cloaca,” Lisa said. “Naomi will want to put some oil on her fingers.”
Naomi lubed up and poked gently around, and slightly into, the cloaca. The chicken hardly moved. Both of us squirmed like crazy. A lot of “ews” passed between us. It was like some demented Lamaza teacher’s idea of a dry run.
Lisa explained that the chicken had been sick when we got to her, and despite our best efforts, it wasn’t surprising we couldn’t save her. Up until then I had eaten hundreds if not thousands of chickens. That was the first time I understood chickens actually died. We think we know the birds and the bees, but we don’t.
The fact that we don’t know how eggs and baby chickens are made is just another sign of how divorced we are from the sources of our own food. But there is a cost to our ignorance: if we’re not clear on where our food comes from, how can we know what’s in it?
In the same Times issue, April 4, Nicholas Kristof wrote a column entitled, “Arsenic in Our Chicken?.” ( I know, it always seems awkward when he poaches on Mark Bittman’s beat. How would Nick feel if Mark started interviewing Sumatran sex slaves? Is Kristof next going to write a Maureen Dowd-like snarkumn comparing Mitt Romney to Pete in “Mad Men?” Aren’t there lines over there?) This column was about a recent set of studies that show our factory-farmed chicken contains arsenic, Benadryl, caffeine, antibiotics and assorted other drugs.
“The same study also found that one-third of feather-meal samples contained an antihistamine that is the active ingredient of Benadryl” Kristof reported. “The great majority of feather meal contained acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. And feather-meal samples from China contained an antidepressant that is the active ingredient in Prozac.”
Anyone who eats factory-farmed chickens or meats is playing Russian roulette with their short- and long-term health. It doesn’t take long to learn how chickens make babies, or where to find healthier sources of meat, or how to forego meat altogether. We don’t all have to start a flock in your backyard—though I do recommend it—but we do have to open our eyes.
5.16.13 at 12:18 pm | The Internet is a dangerous place, full of bad. . .
5.8.13 at 5:11 pm | The best Israeli breakfast in LA is at
5.1.13 at 3:31 pm | A beautiful article on Erez Komarovsky & Galilee. . .
4.25.13 at 2:36 pm | For us Nissan Leaf drivers, relief
4.11.13 at 3:08 pm | A pre-Passover tradition goes on..and on
4.10.13 at 11:14 am | When I hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, I have. . .
5.16.13 at 12:18 pm | The Internet is a dangerous place, full of bad. . . (1910)
5.8.13 at 5:11 pm | The best Israeli breakfast in LA is at (125)
3.15.11 at 4:50 pm | It's time for Tony Bourdain to go to Israel (65)
March 29, 2012 | 5:09 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife Rachel stopped by our house last week bearing two perfect pre-Passover gifts.
The first was a bottle of Shirah Wines 2009 Power to the People, a Syrah blend from Santa Barbara county grapes that The New York Jewish Week picked, out of 200 wines, as the Best Kosher Wine at its tasting this year.
It was exceptional. It made me not want to stop drinking it, ever.
The second bottle was even more special.
The Booksteins spent several years in Poland helping revitalize the Jewish community there. We started talking about how Israel feels like a “homeland,” but Poland just feels like home. The food, the people—it all feels so familiar to us Ashkenazi Jews who are, at the end of the day, only a couple generations removed. Of course I was going on about the vodka and slivovitz, and that’s when Rabbi Yonah reached into his magic bag and pulled out Mosby—an artisinal kosher slivovitz produced for the first time this year under his rabbinical supervision.
We toasted with it and oh….my….God.
Forget the tongue-searing stuff they put out in shul after services. Forget the swill your relatives let you sip that made you want to vomit. Mosby is made from wild plums collected in Medoc County, CA. It is distilled by people with drinking in mind. It is smooth, deeply flavorful ( I mean, strong and alcoholic—this isn’t plum wine, it’s plum grappa). I’ve poured some glasses for people who won’t touch grappa or slivovitz—they made all gone.
It’s expensive—around 50 bucks a bottle (like the Shirah Wine). It’s hard to get. (See below). But after a long good dinner, it’s nice to have around.
Below is a press release I just received from Rabbi Bookstein about Mosby. The smiling rabbi in the hat on the label? That’s Yonah Bookstein. Probably after a glass or two.
CALIFORNIA HAND-CRAFTED PLUM BRANDY KOSHER FOR PASSOVER 2012
Enhance Your Passover With Award Winning Slivovitz
Plum Brandy aka Slivovitz is making a comeback and was recently discussed in a major article in The Forward.
California is blessed with some of the best plums in the country, which have gone into making Mosby Slivovitz. Harvested from a small orchard in San Benito County, California. These perfectly ripened plums were artfully fermented and distilled by Bill Mosby under the careful Rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.
This exceptional brandy was awarded a Silver medal at the 2010 International Review of Spirits, and a Bronze medal at the San Francisco Chronicle spirits competition.
Damson Plum:$55, Wild Plum $75
For more information and to order contact Rabbi Yonah Bookstein firstname.lastname@example.org
March 26, 2012 | 4:36 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Something is happening in the food world when Frank Bruni is a hijiki frond away from going full vegan. In his Friday New York Times column, the paper’s former restaurant critic declared that due to a recent diagnosis of gout, he has completely reformed his diet. Gone are the beef filets larded with foie gras, the multiple bottles of red wine and the cold-and-colder running martinis. Now Bruni drinks seltzer and eats mostly vegetables. He still allows himself eggs and cheese and the occasional glass of wine— but clearly the days of 40 ounce porterhouses are behind him.
It’s happening everywhere. At our Shabbat table over the past month, our friend Helene announced she had gone vegan. This, from the daughter from a Boro Park butcher for whom heaven was brisket and roast chicken. She lost 30 pounds and just completed a 100 mile bike ride. My brother, an investment banker whose celebratory meals in Manhattan usually meant steaks, announced he was no longer eating meat or chicken. He’s doing Cross Fit and at 53 looks like he’s on a high school track team. Mind you these are the people we know. Celebrities like Zooey Deschanel are high profile public vegans, as out as Ellen.
The same is happening in restaurants. In Santa Monica, there’s a 40 minute wait AT LUNCH, for True Food, the restaurant partly owned by the health guru Dr. Andrew Weil. You can order meat at True Food (sustainable, local, mostly lean, and a lot of fish), but the menu is focused on vegetables. The same with Mendocino Farms, whose location in Marina Del Rey always has a line out the door. There you can get Vegan Tortas with seitan in BBQ chipotle sauce. Yes there’s pulled organic pork and grass fed beef banh mi, but most of the menu is about pushing vegetables. Mendocino Farms is expanding, Tender Greens is growing.
If anything, Bruni is a bit late to the party-pooping.
Of course, he didn’t choose his new diet as much as beg for it. Gout is painful. The build up of uric acid inflames the joints to the point where simply standing up feels like childbirth. “All I know is that when gout pays a visit to one of my feet,” he writes, “I can’t stand on it or put a sock on it or even place a thin sheet over it; pretty much all I can do is stare at it, swear at it and bang my fist on the nearest hard surface while waiting for the industrial-strength anti-inflammatories my doctor has prescribed to kick in.” Bruni would have started eating nothing but lawn clippings and sawdust to stop it.
What happened to him is a neat summary of what happened to the generation of Boomers and yuppies departing middle age. The food pendulum has swung. They have indulged enough. They let Emeril convince them that the more bacon they ate, the better. They followed the trends to upscale steakhouses. They explored cigars and cocktails and lardo and foie gras. Bruni did it better and to greater excess and with a fatter expense account and far greater eloquence than the rest. When they dared not stuff themselves with one more marrow bone, they could read his accounts of Mario’s salumi. When they couldn’t possibly take another bite, he did it for them.
So now, the kale-colored writing on the wall. First for Bruni, but really for all of us. It’s time to pull back, to try to eek out a few more years of disease-free living by tossing the meat and booze overboard.
I wonder why we always, as a culture, seemed condemned to swing between the extremes. We overdo it, then we overreact. Instead of knowing from the start what seems obvious—enjoy a little of the rich foods, a little of the alcohol, but balance it with lots of the green stuff, and plenty of exercise. Instead, we go all out, then pull all the way back.
It’s not unlike the debate over atheism: the first wave of modern atheists, the Sam Harris/Richard Dawkins/ Christopher Hitchens z”l volley, tried to completely dispose of God and religion. But that didn’t appear to move the needle on faith and belief. Now come people like Alain de Botton, with his new book, Religion for Atheists, presenting a kind of Athiesim 2.0, that acknowledges the important things that faith and religion bring into one’s life, while still leaving room to question it.
That’s not a bad rule of thumb for looking at our food choices. You don’t need to go full carnivore to enjoy meat, or full vegan to live healthfully.
Meanwhile, I hope Frank Bruni feels better. I’m one of those people who has avoided indulging (well, maybe except for the red wine part) partly because I could live vicariously through his descriptions. Writers like him and Jonathan Gold do such a good, Liebling-esque job relaying the far excesses of consumption, I’m full by the time I’ve turned the page.
That way I can go about eating, well, sensibly.
For example, this Gnocchi with Italian dandelion and parmesan I made last night for my daughter and myself. You can go semi-vegan and serve without the parmesan—sprinkle on porcini mushroom powder instead. Or you can live what now seems positivey dangerously and have a bit of cheese.
Mr. Bruni, this one’s for you: thanks for the memories.
[RECIPE] Gnocchi alla Bruni
1 ½ pound Russet potatoes
1 large egg
1 cup all purpose flour, approximately
salt and pepper
Parmesan or Porcini Mushroom powder
2 bunches Italian dandelion (6-8 cups chopped raw)
3 cloves Garlic
¼ t. red Chili flakes
½ cup Olive oil
Place a large pot of salted water on high heat and bring to boil.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with flour.
Boil the potatoes until very soft. Drain water then cook potatoes in hot pan until they appear dry, just a minute or two. As soon as you possibly can, peel the potatoes.
Mash potatoes in food mill or with a hand masher, or in mixer with whisk attachment. Add egg, salt and pepper. Blend well then add flour, about a cup to start. When dough comes together into a rollable but still soft mass, roll into ropes about 3/4 inch thick. Cut ropes into ¾ inch pieces.
Transfer to the baking sheet lined with parchment paper an dusted with flour.
When the water boils, add dandelion. Boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a cutting board and chop fine.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet. Add olive oil and, when hot, add garlic. Fry a couple minutes until fragrant, then add red pepper and greens. Saute for several minutes, then reduce heat to low.
When the dandelion water returns to a boil, add gnocchi and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon into skillet with greens. Gently stir until the gnocchi are coated with the greens. Add parmesan or mushroom powder.
Spoon into shallow bowls and serve with additional parmesan or porcini mushroom powder.
March 21, 2012 | 4:09 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
STREET restaurant is offering a second night seder menu for April 7 that looks… delicious. Not exactly sure what seder and street food have in common, except, well, the Israelites probably just had time to grab a bite before they made their hasty exodus.
So in that spirit, chefs/owners Susan Feniger and Sasha Alger are offering a traditional and a vegetarian menu, served family style, at $55 per person. Menu and my commentary below. There will be a seder plate on each table. It is NOT BYOR (Bring Your Own Rabbi). Chef Alger’s very own rabbi (check back for the name) will lead a STREET-friendly seder.
No it’s not kosher.
Doors open at 5 pm, the food service starts at 6 pm. Which answers the ancient Jewish question: When do we eat?
Here’s the menu:
WHEN: Saturday, April 7th
[RECIPE] Fava Bean Bessara
2 cups fava beans, soaked overnight
4 garlic cloves
1 c. packed parsley leaves
1 c. packed fresh cilantro
1 c. fresh fresh dill
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
Salt and pepper, to taste
Roast cumin seeds in a hot dry skillet until fragrant, then crush. (or use good quality cumin powder).
Put all the above ingredients into a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to boil. Boil gently until beans are soft, about 40 minutes, careful to add more water if dry.
Let cool slightly, then puree in food processor or good blender until creamy.
You can top with caramelized onions, and serve warm or chilled with pita.
March 21, 2012 | 2:32 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Forty four years and two days ago, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech at the University of Kansas that outlined his vision for America. He had just declared his candidacy for President. Here’s what RFK said:
If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America. And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction—purpose and dignity—that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product—if we judge the United States of America by that—that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
It’s inspiring—even if a bit depressing to compare these words to those of the current crop of candidates.
But it also reaffirms what we keep having to remind ourselves of: that the measure of our success, of our happiness, is ultimately spiritual.
March 15, 2012 | 6:44 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
[NOTE: THE RESTAURANT REVIEWED BELOW IS NOT KOSHER. If this offends you, please don’t keep reading. However, two points: The vast majority of Jews don’t eat at exclusively kosher restaurants, even if they follow some kosher precepts. Second, if you are strictly kosher, reading about how non-kosher restaurants prepare and serve food may inspire you, and lead to better food and service in kosher restaurants. Which couldn’t hurt…. ]
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is a pop up restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Capri.
After you read this review, just get in the car and go eat there. If you wait much longer, you’ll likely wait forever.
For as long as we’ve lived near Abbot Kinney Blvd.—15 years—Capri was the place we went when no place else would have us. It was dependably empty. Valentines Day, Mothers Day—it was our oops-we-forgot-to-plan-ahead restaurant.
Aside from the fact that the food wasn’t that good, or original, or fussed-over, it was always good enough. They made a decent pumpkin ravioli with sage butter. They could grill a piece of fish and toss some lemon and capers on it. It was walking distance from our house. They had wine. And best of all, it was quiet.
As Abbot Kinney filled up with the city’s hippest new restaurants, where you had to hack into Open Table just to get a 10 pm reservation in three months (Gjelina), and then, once seated, you had to scream over the sound of 4000 people all gushing at once over their hand-squeezed cocktail (Tasting Kitchen), at Capri what you gave up in terms of food, you gained in solitude. The place was never exactly packed. We’ve eaten there practically alone some nights.
Even so, it never had that happy-to-see-you atmosphere. And for me, a restaurant has to feel welcoming. Fancy or fast food, it has to feel at least a bit like home. Capri, with its stark white walls and stiff mesh metal chairs, was tantalizing close to home, but nothing like it.
Then this new pop up restaurant moves in and: bam.
Last night we arrived at 6. By 7 you couldn’t get in the door. By 8 people were standing on the sidewalk waiting for a table. For good reason.
The chef/owners, who are renting space from Capri’s owners, are from Joe’s and Axe, and cook a gastro-bistro take on Southern food. But they aren’t orthodox about it. There’s pickled shrimp with fried green tomatoes—four large crisp shrimp spiraled around perfectly fried, ungreasy slices of tomato. But there is also raclette with potatoes and cornichons. The chef broils the potato slices in the melted cheese, so it’s a very good goo.
Housemade pickles are big here. You can order that day’s selection as an appetizer (6 bucks, do it) and they come with the potted smoked trout with avocado toast, and the raclette.
The South rises again in the quail with corn cake, which features a crisp and juicy little bird atop a pudding that has sponged up the juices. The vegetarian standouts are a polenta cake with mushrooms and parmesan, and a kale salad (who doesn’t have a kale salad these days?), in which the kale is chiffonaded and tossed with dates and sheep milk cheese.
For dessert we had the apple pie with artisan cheddar, a hybrid crumbly, tart, cakey pie , all good.
The servers are excited by the food, and they care, as does the chef with the tattoos up to his neck and the dagger-like knife in his belt. It all costs about the same as Capri, around 25-40 bucks per person with wine or one of their curated beers, but you get to eat food cooked by owners who really, really care.
Yes it’s crowded and popular and it’s only going to get busier. But it feels like home.
March 13, 2012 | 1:50 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
How do you know it’s Spring? The gefilte fish are running. The news is full of stories, references and recipes to the iconic Passover food.
This morning on the Howard Stern Show, supermodel Elle MacPherson weighed in by recounting how she hand-fed her first boyfriend gefilte fish, he threw up, and she’s a had a thing for “Jewish boys” ever since. (Her first husband Gilles Bensimon is one of them and her last husband Arpad Busson may well be, but who can untwist his uber-complicated Hungarian bloodlines and, really, who cares?).
In today’s Haaretz.com, there’s a report on a new food cart in Brooklyn called, Gefilteria, which offers gourmet, homemade takes on classic Ashkenazic food like kvass and of course gefilte fish.
As to what inspired them to choose these specific hard-core Ashkenazi staples, Liz said: “The pushcart was one of our earliest inspirations. We loved the image of Jewish street food and the community interactions that surround it. That said, we also feel connected to foods with a purpose- foods that are served at the holidays, foods that are labor intensive and symbolic. The Gefilteria is a combination of both of those sources of inspiration - and it isn’t so different than the deli revival that is going on now.”
“We want people to feel empowered to reclaim their holiday table and to serve things that they can be proud of,” she said.
The three plan to sell their boutique gefilte fish loaves around New York City for Passover, together with two horseradish relishes, beets and carrots. They will also sell DIY kits for making gefilte fish in your own kitchen “urging all of us to bring back the home preparation of these critical foods.” Later in the spring they plan to sell their foods in festivals around NYC.
The Gefilteria’s gefilte fish loaves are made with whitefish, pike and salmon. And, in keeping with current food ideals of their prospect clientele and their own, all fish are sustainably sourced.
I’ve made gefilte fish a couple times using Joan Nathan’s classic gefilte fish recipe, but I’ve long ago moved on to more crowd-friendly Passover fish dishes, like ceviche and crudo. If Elle MacPherson had spoon fed her boyfriend my ceviche, I promise he wouldn’t have done a Rick Santorum on her.
Elle: here’s my Ceviche-Stuffed “Gefilte” Lettuce recipe. Enjoy.
February 23, 2012 | 12:30 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Our friend Danny Brookman’s dad lingered for months, then died.
The news came like much news does these days, in a text message. Dec. 15, 2011, 8:54 a.m.
“Need you guys: My Dad just passed.”
What caught me up short was the plural: you guys. I know he needed my wife, Naomi Levy, a rabbi — she was to do the funeral. But me, too? I’ve never considered myself particularly adept around the bereaved.
I doubt I’m alone in my particular uncertainty. In a culture that denies death, giving it over to professionals in sectioned-off hospitals, many of us grow up not knowing how to react in its presence. Add to that the natural male discomfort in the presence of unbridled emotion, and you have a perfect storm of awkward.
But as you get older, it turns out, people die. You can’t avoid funerals. In the beginning, my salvation was in those explanatory sheets many funeral homes pass out to visitors, along with yarmulkes and prayer books, spelling out proper etiquette for such occasions. “Do not tell the aggrieved, ‘It’s probably all for the best.’ We all want to fix things. We all want to take the grief away. But we cannot.”
I liked those insights. Left to my own devices, I proved myself capable of foul-ups and embarrassments of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-like proportions.
In Israel, for instance, a friend once told me she was taking the day off to be with her parents for her uncle’s shloshim.
“Mazel tov!” I said.
She looked at me like I was some sort of monster. Shloshim in Hebrew means 30, and I assumed she meant her uncle was celebrating a birthday. How was I supposed to know it’s also the name for the end of the 30-day period following the death of a loved one?
What I know now, I’ve learned by watching my wife. Naomi is a talented rabbi, but of all her talents in that field, among the greatest is her ability to comfort mourners. She is as at home in a cemetery as I am uneasy there. She’s on the phone when the bad news is freshest; she’s at the home when the grief is at its most raw.
Over the years, I have learned from her. She listens more than she speaks, and when she talks, she combines comforting words with a gentle walk-through of Jewish ritual. I’ve come to appreciate that ritual as utterly brilliant in its approach to death and dying. It gives a kind of floor to the bottomless pit of loss. This is what you do first. Then this. Then this. I’ve seen people who reject every other aspect of religion follow these funeral rites to the letter. Like recipes perfected over centuries, they work.
After Naomi hung up the phone with Danny, she said she was going to their home later that evening. All the family would be gathering, and she wanted to sit among them, hear their stories of their father and grandfather, Bob Brookman, to prepare for the funeral.
As much as I love Danny and his family, I couldn’t imagine my role there. Naomi was there to guide them from the shock of loss to the beginning of the process of grieving. What could I do?
By now, of course, I knew I didn’t have to do anything, just be with the family and listen. But just showing up didn’t seem to be enough. I knew there’s nothing necessarily to do, no way to make things right, but that didn’t stop me from feeling the need to do something to make things better.
Then it struck me. I could cook. I texted Danny’s wife, Linda, and told her I’d be bringing over dinner that night. I didn’t have the words, but I felt comfortable in the language of food. So I cooked.
I suppose those meals during mourning are the ultimate comfort food. Jewish law actually has a name for the first meal after a funeral, seudat hevrah, and offers stipulations about not just what to eat, but how. The meal must be cooked by others, not the mourners. It is customary to start with an egg, to symbolize the circle of life, and mourners are to be handed their first piece of bread. Our job, literally, is to force life in the midst of death.
In my case, the funeral hadn’t taken place yet, and I wanted to do better than just an egg. Part of the comfort of food, I figured, was its ability, through smell and taste, to give pleasure in the midst of pain.
And making the food was my way of showing I was with Danny — there for him and his family in the best way I knew how. If the food comforted them, cooking it comforted me.
We sat at a long dining table. What we ate was nothing elaborate — grilled skirt steak, chimichurri, cauliflower puree — but it was homemade. Danny’s brother, Gary, a winemaker in Napa, opened some special bottles of his Brookman Cabernet. It was enough to elevate my simple food into something memorable.
Afterward, we all moved into the living room, and Naomi led the family in recounting their memories of Bob. I joined the circle and kept quiet. But for once, maybe for the first time, I felt at home in the house of mourning.
People love this. I often use it instead of mashed potatoes to serve alongside roasted or grilled meats. The juices run into the puree, mingle, and yes, it’s really good. It works best with flavorful, rich extra virgin olive oil.
2 heads cauliflower
½ cup excellent olive oil
salt and pepper
In a large pot bring plenty of salted water to boil.
Add whole cauliflowers and boil until very tender. A fork should pierce them to the core with no resistance. Remove from water, but don’t discard the cooking liquid.
Transfer warm cauliflower to a blender, not a food processor, in batches. In each batch add some of the olive oil and enough cooking liquid to make a smooth, creamy puree. At the end, add alt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
This time of year (early early spring) the parsnips are extra sweet. I use this same process to make a pure, parsnip puree, which emerges from the blender snow white and sweet.
Just peel and trim about two pounds of fresh, crisp parsnips, boil whole as above (or cut in chunks for faster cooking), and proceed with recipe.