In Which Humble Pie is Eaten, Along with Cookies (or “The Adventures of Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy”)

It turned out that Sarah had long-ago scheduled to go away this weekend as well, and my memory being what it is (more like a steel sieve than a steel trap), I had forgotten until two weeks ago.  So all of a sudden, I found myself with another opportunity for a civilization game!  Hooray!  That one which I had thought would be the last pre-kidlet would merely be the penultimate, simple, cozy, and all could be right in the universe.

I invited a bunch of folks, most of whom hadn’t been able to make it to recent games, and one of whom has a gluten and soy intolerance, necessitating calling the amazing chosenbites.com: two dozen soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free cookies made of pure awesomeness would soon be mine!  Muh-wah-hah-ha-ha!!  The chocolate chip cookies are great, but the ginger snaps are magnificent.

Of course, Der Menscht trakht und Gott Lakht (man plans and God laughs), or “life is apparently what happens while you’re busy making other plans” (John Lennon).

I ended up in the hospital this week for unexplained vomiting which the ER docs thought might be my gall bladder due to a worrisome ultrasound.  An amusing side note: Sarah posted a note to Facebook mentioning that we were in the hospital and mentioning “ultrasound” -and apparently a bunch of folks thought we were there for her which thankfully was not the case (I had a bunch of folks tell me that they were glad it was me and not her – me too!).

Sibley Hospital is still really nice, and their staff is still the most pleasant of any hospital I’ve ever been to.  However, I think with their purchase by the JHU team, they’ve now been discovered by some of the rest of region- the ER was actually really crowded and we had a multi-hour wait (which is much more typical for the region).  The staff said they hadn’t seen it that crowded before.

They kept me there for about a day and a half on some saline, Phenergan and some IV antibiotics.  Interestingly, the nurse told me this time about some people’s complications from IV Phenergan, and that they try to use Zofran instead, but I’ve never had the slightest benefit from Zofran.  Looking now at the pharmacological differences, that makes total sense – they work on completely different receptors, and one of Zofran’s known side effects is headache (while I’ve gotten Phenergan for migraine-triggered nausea in the past).  Anyway, I was kept NPO because the ultrasound and physical exam showed me as a possible surgical candidate.  It’s like Tisha b’Av, but colder!

So they performed a HIDA scan, which was my first exposure to nuclear medicine.  I was injected with Technetium-99m (and some other goop), and told to lie very very still for about 90 minutes. Frustratingly, Sarah was not told how long this test was.  Happily, I apparently studied hard, because I passed this test with a negative, and managed to avoid surgery.  The half-life of the Tc-99m is about 6 hours, so it should be quite gone by now, but I figure I did a reasonable Tony Stark impersonation for a while there, so at least that’s some geek cred.  I had a good time talking to the doctor about how the detector worked and what it was showing.

Sarah did a heck of a job taking care of me through this – I fast really poorly, and so my ability to think straight was reduced.  I can’t say enough how much that meant.  She’s the best.

After they reviewed my results with me, they let me eat (I have never been so happy to see a hospital TV dinner in my life) and let me leave.  They didn’t punch my frequent-flyer card.

But then came the game!  Sarah decided that she was too wiped out from taking care of me to travel for multiple hours each way (and enjoy where she was planning on going) so she stayed, but because she is awesome, she was ok with Civ happening anyway.

The game was shorter than usual, and ended one turn earlier than we thought we would – one player needed to leave, and we called it then.  I got the first civil war early on, and then an iconoclasm & heresy in the last turn took me down to two cities in the final round.  Ouch!  Africa was our bye country, and interestingly, that was precisely what rebelled during my civil war, and I never actually rebuilt any cities there.

Final scores:

Italy: David: 1336

Illyria: Merideth: 1655

Thrace: Erin: 1642

Crete: Michael: 1853

Asia: Toby: 1585

Assyria: Rich: 1534

Babylon: Shoshana: 1933 (winner)

Egypt: Larry: 1425 (new)

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garlic-ring pineapple fried rice (no added salt/gluten/soy free)

one wasserman & lemberger garlic ring (like a bratwurst)

one can pineapple tidbits (or chunks, but cut the chunks in half).  Drain, but reserve the juice.

bunch of scallions

2c cooked white rice, chilled.

three halves of peppers (red/yellow/orange) chopped finely

one onion, chopped finely

three cloves garlic, minced.

sriracha (optional)

 

I needed to make a dish with no added salt, gluten or soy for a fleishig meal, and didn’t have time to make it to a market for many ingredients – I think this experiment pretty much worked, so I’m preserving it.

I don’t have a wok, so I had to use a flat-bottom skillet.  Chop the garlic ring into bite-sized pieces.  Sauté the garlic ring, and that will produce grease for the pan.  After the garlic ring is browned, add the onion & garlic until the onion begins to get translucent.  Stir often because it will tend to stick.  Add the rice, stir often.  When it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a little of the pineapple juice.  Repeat this for about 7 minutes or so.  Add the peppers, most of the scallions and sriracha, continue frying until they start to soften, and then add the pineapple and the juice.  Cover and reduce the heat until the liquid is absorbed.  Garnish with some of the green parts of the scallions.

Gimme Some of the Good Stuff

First and foremost, The Franchise is coming back to the DC night life, with our comeback gig scheduled for May 2 @ 8PM at the newly-opening Treehouse Lounge over at 1006 Florida Ave NE. W00t!

We’ll be doing a half-and-half set – about half old favorites, and half stuff from our forthcoming album Movers and Shakers. (Aside: remember when “groups of songs you buy on iTunes” were called “albums”? I liked that name…). We’re still finalizing the set list now…

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Our Sedarim were good, although our first one went from 9 people to 5 people abruptly (all due to illness, boo!), and so we ended up with brisket and chicken soup coming out of our ears. Now, it’s good brisket and chicken soup, so that’s not a bad thing, but it was too bad that we didn’t get to see Sarah’s sister, our nephew, and a pair of dear friends. C’est la vie

We did have a few treats – the awesome cookies made by Rella – clearly, she wants to see more of me! Also, we had some fabulous wine: a 2011 hagafen pinot noir was my personal favorite, although a 2009 Chateau le Bourdieu Bordeaux Medoc and a 2011 Tishbi Cabernet Sauvignon were close contenders. A disappointment was the Yogev Cab / Petit Verdot blend, but it suffered from being cups 3/4 – it’s extremely tannic, and so is an extremely bad fit for drinking quickly without complimenting really, really heavy beef (and those cups were *after* the meal).

A surprise hit this year was Sarah’s marmouna from Foods of Israel Today (excellent book – everything in it is good) – she made it with serrano peppers, and it was hot in a way that very little Jewish cuisine is, and it was fantastic.

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After all of the sturm und drang, we didn’t end up making any quinoa so far this year. Go figure. I’ll have to make some for the last days, or I’ll feel silly.

Gobble, Bobble, Weeble, Wobble

We had a delightful crowd for Thanksgiving – some we knew, some we didn’t, and I think it was one of our best hosting experiences in a long time. Everything just clicked, significantly owing to Sarah’s awesome culinary and hostessing skills.

My contribution was The WSJ’s cipolline in agrodolce, which is a fancy way of saying “sweet & sour cipolline onions” (cipolline onions look like vidalias which were left in the dryer way too long). That was delicious, but was fantastically labor-intensive – we made the error of tripling the recipe, requiring making two batches. The right approach would be to double the recipe, which would still fit in one sauté pan. Additionally, this isn’t a good “only” recipe for a cook – it traps you in the kitchen, so it’s better to be making this along with something else, although be warned: peeling all those onions takes a LONG time (it took me ~50 minutes to do 3lbs, because you’re trying to leave them whole, but peeled). Budget more than 2 hours from start to finish.

Quoted here in case the link goes away: In a large sauté pan heat 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and 2 ounces butter over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until butter is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add 1 bay leaf and 1 pound medium whole cipolline onions, peeled. Season with salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are browned and caramelized on both sides, about 12 minutes. (12 minutes my tuchus – it takes longer). Add 2 tablespoons sugar and cook until all granules have dissolved. Add 1 cup red wine vinegar and simmer until reduced completely, about 20 minutes. (this too takes longer). Add 1 cup chicken stock, then turn heat down to low. Simmer until onions are tender and liquid is reduced by half. Remove pan from heat and finish with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I discovered two new wines: a 2010 Gabriele pinot noir, which was delicious (although light, so went well with the turkey), and a 2011 Binyamina Reserve Sauvignon Blanc which had a crisp mineral taste which offset the sweet richness of the onions particularly well.

The overwhelming consensus at the table was the people were most grateful for their families and friends. An amusing bit of the meal was when I referred to the proper name of Sarah’s sugar-free cranberry sauce as “abstinent,” and folks decided that the other one, with sugar, was clearly properly described as “promiscuous.” Heh. None of that for me, then – I don’t know where it’s been!

All in all, fabulous!

A most civilized affair

Sarah’s off at a silent retreat until tomorrow, and as is my custom, I hosted a civilization game, which was a blast.

I successfully managed to navigate a large variety of food allergies without killing any of the guests, and even got to make chocolate (not so) salty balls, which were a huge hit. Now “balls” might not quite be the right image: my ineptness as a confectionary baker was quite clear, and they looked more like either UFOs or Amish hats, but in any case they were extremely tasty. I had to watch out for both salt and soy (!) which is a typical pareve margarine ingredient.

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David’s chocolate (not so) salty balls:
1 jar natural valencia peanut butter (Trader Joe’s)
2T Earth Balance soy-free buttery spread
1c confectioner’s sugar
1.5 bags dark chocolate chips (365 brand is pareve)
wax paper + cookie sheet

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (or jury-rigged equivalent), and while that’s going on mix the other ingredients by hand in a bowl. Make 1″ diameter peanut butter balls, and dip them in the chocolate, and then set them on the wax-papered cookie sheet. Once all of the peanut butter has been used, put the cookie sheet with the balls in the freezer until ready to serve. These will melt in your hand, so be prepared for that.
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We had decided to use the Western expansion, but when one player did not show up that meant that the board was relatively sparse. The pay was extremely non-aggressive – for example, at no point did I have a conflict with another player.

Michael (Africa): 2984
Me (Illyria): 2942
Shoshana (Asia): 2761
Avidan (Babylon): 2337
David (Iberia): 1921
Rebecca (Assyria): 1565
Josh (Egypt): 1510

A good and fun game all around. For a full history of the civ games so far, check out my old livejournal.

But the best part of the week while Sarah’s away is that she left me a whole bunch of affectionate notes around the house, and I got all warm-fuzzy when I’d find one.

Beef Stock + Israeli Onion Soup

I had planned on making chicken soup for the Seder, but we read on the kol foods brisket cooking tips site that brisket is particularly absorbent, and that it’s a waste to cook good meat in bad beef stock.

So we ordered a whole passel of bones from kol – mostly beef with a few lamb (I needed a couple for the shank bones anyway), and made homemade beef stock. I was guided by the stock recipe from simplyrecipes.com, and here’s how I did it:

6 lbs beef bones
2 lbs lamb bones
2 onions
2 carrots
5 cloves garlic

a bunch of peppercorns
parsley
a couple of bay leaves
(note: no salt!)

I did need to buy a bigger stock pot: I got a 16 quart stock pot, which includes a lid with a small vent hole in it – this is a critical component, because a regular pot (a) won’t be big enough and (b) tilting the lid to vent is a huge PITA.

First, roast the upper-half of the list in a 400° oven until the bones are browned, turning once or twice – it took me about an hour. After roasting, put all of the roasted stuff, along with the lower half list into the pot and cover with water. Simmer on very, very low heat (barely simmering is ideal) for ~8 hours. If it goes long, that’s fine. Occasionally skim the surface for fat or scum. After it’s done, remove the bones & vegetables with tongs and discard (or give a bone to a dog, who will like it a great deal). Strain the stock through cheesecloth+colander and let cool. This will require several very large containers – it took 3 13cup containers and a small one. Refrigerate the stock overnight. After refrigeration, imperfectly remove the fat that has congealed on the surface of the broth (i.e. don’t worry about missing a little bit, but get rid of most of it).

In the morning, I started to make onion soup – I was guided by the obviously non-kosher simplyrecipes french onion soup recipe. Obviously, cheese & bread were right out, and I didn’t have the little oven-crocks, so here’s how I did it (I’m calling it “Israeli Onion Soup” to differentiate it from the cheese-loaded French Onion):

Passel of onions, very thinly sliced (about 5 medium-sized ones)
garlic, finely minced
olive oil
fresh thyme, minced
bay leaf
8c homemade beef broth
2.5-3 teaspoons salt
pepper
1/2c dry white wine

Caramelize the onions & garlic in the olive oil (medium heat, minimal stirring, they should be a nice dark color) – this will take ~35 minutes or so. Add the white wine, and use that to pick up any of the bits of onion that are stuck to the sauté pan. Add the beef broth, thyme and bay leaf. Salt and pepper to taste – I was concerned about a guest who has to track salt, so that’s why I measured it. 3 teaspoons is about right for most tastes, but it could easily be reduced to 2.5 without much loss. 2 would taste like a “low-salt” recipe, without actually being “low-salt.” Typical Jewish soup salt levels are probably about twice the salt content of this recipe.

I made this in two batches and then joined them. Cook them on the stove for ~ an hour and serve as desired. This soup refrigerates well, although the stock is pretty gelatinous, so don’t be too surprised.

Couscous or quinoa (gluten-free/passover) pilaf

I often make a pilaf as a starch side-dish, and this is how:

pine nuts (pinoli)
1 large or 2 medium onions, finely minced
2 peppers (red/yellow/orange), finely minced
chicken broth
quinoa or Israeli couscous
pepper
rubbed sage

Toast a handful of pinoli in olive oil over low heat until half of them are deep brown. Remove the nuts from the oil, and add the onions – sauté until they are almost clear, and then add the peppers. Add sage and fresh ground pepper , and sauté until the onions are transparent. Add the quinoa or couscous, using chicken broth for about half of the required liquid (1.5:1 for couscous, 2:1 for quinoa), and re-add the nuts. Simmer on low heat until the liquid is absorbed. Fluff and enjoy!

Provincial chicken

This is a very useful recipe if you don’t have a lot of time or need to make vast quantities. The biggest key to it is the quality of the spices. I prefer Penzey’s spices. According to the opinion of RDBF, spices which are not themselves ḥarif (sharp) only need supervision due to drying agents and the like. Penzey’s doesn’t use those, and brags agout it, and thus he said they were fine when I asked.

Several chickens, cut into eighths.

skin and flense the chicken parts
brush lightly with olive oil
spinkle heavily with herbes de Provence (“from Province” => “provincial”)
bake at 350 for around 45 minutes, check temperature of several pieces: chicken needs to be at or above 165 at an absolute minimum.

Applesauce

12-15 apples of various varieties (I tend to get 4 granny smith, 4 gala, and then the rest whatever happens to look good at the instant – recently it was fuji/honey crisp/braeburn)
crock pot
ground cinnamon
ground cloves, ginger, allspice, nutmeg

Peel the apples and coarsely chop them (not the cores, because cyanide isn’t your friend). Toss them into the crock pot, add several shakes of cinnamon and a pinch of the other spices.

For those of you who like precision, it should be three parts cinnamon, and one part each of the other spices.

Add about a shot of water (just enough to wash a little of the spices to the bottom), and cook on “low” overnight. DO NOT OPEN THE LID. After the time has elapsed, remove from heat, stir well, and enjoy.

Gluten-Free Hallah

One of my popular recipes is gluten-free “hallah”, which I make for Sarah regularly. It freezes well, and is pretty tasty. If you’re used to regular bread recipes, the only surprise will be that the bread tends to fall apart during kneading etc – gluten is the protein which provides the strength to most breads, so that is to be expected. I put “hallah” in quotes because this has no ingredient which qualifies as mezonot, and so to anyone who is not koveah seudah on it, it would just be shehakol, and there is no quantity where one would need to take hallah from it (per the opinion of RDBF, although that’s normative halakhah.

I used to use Namaste Perfect Four blend, which is a mix of tapioca, rice, arrowroot and xanthan gum, but then learned that the hashgaha (kosher supervision) which it has (square-K) is not considered reliable in my community, so I changed over to Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-purpose Baking Flour. There isn’t a huge difference in the use of the products, but the BRM comes in smaller packages – about one bag makes 9 rolls.

First proof yeast: heat some water to a bit over yad soledet bo (but not boiling or extremely hot). Put one packet of yeast in a good-size bowl with 1/4-1/2 cup sugar, mix a bit, and then add about 3/4 cup water. Stir a bit, and wait for about 10 minutes – the yeast should get good & foamy.

While waiting, beat three eggs (eggs need to be checked for blood spots individually), and add about 1t salt to the eggs. Once the yeast has proofed, add the eggs, about 3 cups of flour, 2t white vinegar, 1/4 c oil, and some honey (maybe 8 squeezes or thereabouts). Mix very well with a paddle or spoon. The dough should be relatively stiff.

Take a piece of plastic wrap, and put a bit of oil in it. Put this plastic wrap over the dough in the bowl (the oil is just to keep it from sticking), and cover the bowl with a towel or apron. Let rise for about an hour.

Beat another egg.

Preheat the oven to 325°. Take the dough out, and knead on a breadboard. You’ll need to add a bunch more flour to keep it from sticking – that’s normal. After kneading, slice off a 1″ thick piece, and roll a snake of it. Tie this piece into a simple overhand knot, and place on an oiled baking sheet. Do this with all of the loaf, brush the knots with egg, and bake for about 20 minutes (until deep golden).

If you want to add seeds, do that after brushing with egg. If you want to add cinnamon and/or raisins, do that during the kneading. If you want to add cardamom, add that during the initial mixing.

Cholent Min-haShamayim

Josh received cholent from Heaven and transmitted it to Charlie; Charlie to Daniel; and Daniel handed it down to David. David said three things: be careful with peelers and sharp objects, transmit the recipe to many people, and make sure to start the cholent well before shabbat.*

2 fleshig kishkes
1 lb stew meat, rinsed
2 onions, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled, chopped
1/2 bag cholent mix beans or baby lima beans
1/2 bag barley
chili powder
handful of kosher salt, dissolved in a bowl of water
pepper

Put the ingredients in this order:

1 onion
1 kishke
chopped stew meat
potatoes
beans
barley
chili powder
pepper
1 onion
salt water (cover everything with water)
1 kishke

Put it on about 11AM-1PM or so for it to be ready at lunchtime. Serves most of a minyan.

* If this paragraph doesn’t make much sense, try reading Pirkei Avot 1:1.