Food memories have become central to the stuff of culinary themed memoirs, lately.
I don’t see the trend ending any time soon, either. Almost every major event in our lives is connected to celebrating with foods we love. It makes for great story telling and transports us across cultures and eras.
This tender photo shows my grandparents sharing some love in my parents’ dining room in 1971. The celebration was in honor of their 55th wedding anniversary on September 22. (Love the jar of Coffee Mate non-dairy powdered creamer on the table. It must have been a meat meal.)
It is just the way I remember them; their bronzed skin, heavy rimmed glasses, my grandmother wearing her gold “rope” necklace, a gift she treasured. After she died, we had it cut and divided it among the six adoring granddaughters.
Reflecting on the past while embracing the future was on my mind as we began to plan a low key evening for New Year’s Eve. We hosted a last minute gathering of close friends.
Putting a menu together was a cinch.
Everyone loves a table covered with lots of choices so I landed on Middle Eastern for the theme. I got to work preparing platters of sizzling falafel. I whipped up velvety hummus topped with rich olive oil and chopped parsley, chunky baba ganoush, roasted and blended with tehini and tabouli with finely minced mint.
My winter farmers’ market still had some late harvest carrots so I nabbed them for Moroccan carrot salad with fresh garlic, olive oil, mint and lemon.
Small, tight heads of cauliflower beckoned to be roasted. I tossed them periodically until the florets turned golden brown and then I combined them with pomegranate seeds and candied walnuts, olive oil and spritz of mild rice vinegar.
I veered from local and seasonal (true confessions) and combined roughly chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and red peppers for Israeli salad, topped with creamy , sliced, ripe avocado and simply seasoned with Farmer Freed’s “Dilly Goat” organic salt.
While I spent much of the day chopping and running to and fro to place things on my screened in porch (my oversized outdoor refrigerator) my thoughts kept drifting to my grandparents.
Late in the eve, as we noshed away on the salads and spreads, it all came together for me when Stephanie, who is of Greek descent, closed her eyes and hummed a little as she bit into the flaky, golden pastry of the mushroom borekas. She was transported back to her childhood as she described her Mom’s spanakopita, similar dough filled triangles with seasoned chopped beef.
A variation on the theme.
I stopped to think about how utterly different our New Year’s offerings were from any of the more traditional American/Jewish spreads I grew up with.
Which leads me to food memories and how aromas and stories catapult us back to our childhood homes and those of our Bubbies.
Thanks for allowing me to wander here. You trusted me to wind back to this, didn’t you?
Bubbie is a Yiddish word for grandmother. For me, Bubbie summons up images of fragrant sweet dough rising in my Nanny’s simple kitchen. Chicken seemed to always be simmering gently in a stock pot yielding golden, rich broth. Her soft hands were often busy kneading, chopping, mixing, tossing love to into a dish she seemed to whip up effortlessly.
It’s likely that your food memories are completely different than mine, but maybe not. I am sure they are just as powerful. I hope they are equally vivid.
Spanakopita and borekas. Kreplach, dumplings, ravioli, wantons, samosas, pirogi, they are more interconnected than ever.
If you love to collect family recipes and enjoy reading about other families’ traditions, check out Beyond Bubbie. The project was born as participants in Reboot, a non-profit group designed to re-imagine the cultures, traditions and ritual of Jewish life, realized that powerful food memoies were central to many of their conversations. “Memories that owed a lot to Bubbies, both real and metaphorical, and we longed to bring those memoires back to life.”
Dina Mann, National Marketing and Outreach Coordinator for Reboot explained, “This idea of a Bubbie is cross-cultural and intergenerational. We have recipes from Poland to Iraq to the Philippines. The stomach is truly the key to many people’s hearts.”
She continued, “With Beyond Bubbie, we are working to create a national communal conversation about the people who made us who we are and the food that nourishes our bodies and souls.”
I was inspired to contribute this photo, story and recipe to Beyond Bubbie after Thanksgiving. After meeting Dina at a kosher bloggers conference, I hoped that writing a recipe for Thanksgiving stuffing, from leftover challah, would be interesting enough for her to add to the recipe collection.
I loved my daughter’s enthusiasm for making it as a surprise for my Mom, who never saw a piece of bread she didn’t like. That’s what happens when you are the daughter of a baker. Seems my grandfather’s baking gene skipped a couple of generations and is now embedded in my daughter, who loves to bake.
What’s your story? Beyond Bubbie would like to know. Click here to learn how to share.
My mother’s father was a baker from Poland who came to the Lower East Side of NYC and moved to Stamford, CT. where he baked professionally until he was in his 70's. Breads of all kinds were plentiful in my mother’s home. Moist, square onion rolls with flecks of chopped onions folded into the middle, sliced rye bread with seeds, and challah for every Shabbat.
When my Mom joined us for Thanksgiving, my daughter, Lani, surprised her with this challah stuffing. My Mom loved it, and told stories about how her Mom NEVER let bread go to waste.
Why would you throw away stale challah when it makes such a great stuffing?
- 1 large onion diced
- 4 TBS. olive oil
- 2 TB margarine (pan)
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 large red pepper diced
- 1/2-3/4 cup shredded or finely diced carrot
- 1.5 pounds sliced mushrooms. An assortment is best, but mostly portobellos
- 8 cups dried challah bread crumbs (really challah chunks). see note
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup parsley chopped
- 1 cup mixed fresh herbs, chopped. Use thyme, rosemary,sage, tarragon or a combo of all of them.
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup warmed veggie, chicken or mushroom broth. More, if needed. It should be moderately wet but not soaked.
- Slice 2 challah and lay out on drying rack for 2 days. The slices will dry out and harden. When ready to prepare stuffing, break slices into pieces in a large mixing bowl. Pieces should be no larger than 2 inches.
- Saute onion in oil until softened.
- Add fresh garlic, red peppers and carrot. Combine and cook for 10 mins.
- Add mushrooms and saute until heated through and soft.
- Pour 1 cup broth over mixture.
- Beat the eggs in a bowl, and combine with challah in large mixing bowl or large pan.
- Add fresh herbs last so they stay bright and flavorful. Mix well. Mixture should be well integrated and challah chunks should be moist. Add more broth if needed.
- Generously grease a 9×11 glass pyrex pan with margarine.
- Spoon mixture into pan. Bake for 45 minutes at 325, uncovered, or until golden.
- Using a syringe or large spoon, put drippings from bottom of turkey or chicken pan over the entire surface of the stuffing and allow to cook for another 10 minutes or until it is glazed and browned.