September 8, 2007
Meme’s in the kitchen, making memories
Sephardic Rosh Hashana table blessings
(Page 2 - Previous Page)And where would I find a professional photographer on such short notice?
It's great when God smiles on your projects. My sister, Sandra, ran around town getting the special ingredients -- including pomegranates and dates on leaves -- for the traditional blessings Sephardim do at the Rosh Hashanah table (see side bar). My other sister, Kathy, got the rest: meat, fish, couscous, vegetables, etc. And my third sister, Judy, did the real heavy lifting: she took a group of hyperactive kids on an outing -- any outing, we told her -- very far away from Meme's tiny kitchen.
This was serious business. The photographer was coming over in a few hours, and a complete Rosh Hashanah table had to be laid out, in all its glory.
That same morning, the photographer called to cancel -- she said her flash blew out. But get this: Our original No. 1 choice, a star photographer who is a friend of the family, Raphael Ohayon, had just become available because the wedding he was supposed to shoot that night ... got cancelled! I can't tell you how guilty I felt that I was grateful for the cancellation.
I was also grateful for my brother-in-law, Paul Starr, who has this talent for fixing broken circuits on kitchen stoves very early on Sunday mornings.
So now we had all the ingredients, and in the middle of the tiny kitchen was Meme, with Kathy assisting, doing her usual dance frying bastillas, caramelizing onions, roasting lamb, steaming couscous, chopping up vegetables and mixing them with dried fruit and nuts, simmering pumpkin soup -- and all this while taking mazal tov calls from overseas.
As I absorbed the scene from a distance, my own childhood memories returned. It must have been the tiny kitchen, which is all I saw growing up.
When Meme cooked in the big kitchen back in Los Angeles, she created a whole new set of childhood memories -- for my kids. But here in her tiny kitchen in Montreal, these were my childhood memories. Memories of a small apartment kitchen where Meme cooked for 100 people who came for my brother Samy's bar mitzvah, in 1967. Memories of seders, Shabbat meals, hot soups on winter nights, summer picnics, afternoon snacks -- big meals, small meals or spectacular meals, always coming out of tiny kitchens.
I wondered: Can our children's memories have the same meaning today, when so many of them see only spaciousness, abundance and luxury? Can you feel love as deeply when it emanates from a large modern kitchen, as when it comes from a tiny kitchen?
If I asked my mother those questions, I'm sure she'd tell me to stop getting so schmaltzy and to send her a plane ticket pronto, so she can get back to that big, spacious, luxurious, sun-drenched kitchen right here in the hood -- where more than a few people with sharp memories are awaiting her return engagement.
Meme's in the Kitchen Recipes Prepared by Kathy Shapiro
1 whole small chicken (see note)
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon mixed poultry herbs
2 large onions, chopped
3 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
6 eggs, beaten with 1 teaspoon salt added
2/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup chopped toasted almonds
10-14 sheets filo dough*
1 cup melted margarine or shortening or oil
Powdered sugar and cinnamon for serving and presentation
Note: Alternatively, you can use 5 cups of coarsely chopped moist leftover chicken.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Dilute saffron in 1/2 cup boiling water. Rub cleaned and dried chicken with olive oil and season, inside and out, with salt, pepper, herbs and 1/4 cup of the saffron water. Roast, breast side down, for 45 minutes to an hour.
Cool slightly, strain pan juices and set aside. Remove skin and bones and cut up chicken meat into small morsels. Toss with reserved juices in a large bowl.
In a large skillet, sauté onions in oil until golden, add cinnamon and sugar and continue until browned. Add to chicken. Combine cilantro, eggs and remaining 1/4 cup saffron water and, in the same skillet, scramble over medium heat until fluffy. Add to chicken mixture along with toasted almonds and gently toss to combine all ingredients.
Cut rectangle filo sheets in half, widthwise. Place one on clean board and keep remaining sheets covered to prevent from drying. Brush the sheet with margarine or oil. Place an additional sheet on top and brush with margarine. Place about 2-3 tablespoons filling toward the bottom, 3 inches from bottom edge. Fold left and right edges of filo over filling, all the way from bottom to top. Start rolling from bottom, burrito-style, until sealed. Brush with margarine and place on baking sheet, seam side down. Continue with remaining sheets. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. To serve, dust with powdered sugar and sprinkle ribbons of cinnamon.
*In Morocco, we use special handmade dough, called "waarkah" or "feuille de bricke." These sheets are similar to spring roll dough, except for the uneven edges characteristic of the handmade technique of slapping a handful of soft dough, in several motions, onto the underside of a heavy skillet inverted over high heat. Each circular "leaf" is immediately peeled off and stacked as the process continues. When using this authentic dough, Bastilla Pastelles are not baked, but instead deep-fried until golden brown, offering an exquisite exterior crunch to a delicate filling.
Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Almonds
3 pounds lamb stew meat, some pieces with bones