24 March, 2010

of matzoh balls, liver, and dentistry

Let's see, this evening we're in a moment of calm between an adventure in Golders Green, a magnificent weekend in the country, and Avery's dental surgery tomorrow. We'll start with the matzoh balls.

Because that is why I went to Golders Green, deep in North London. Having spent a fair amount of my adult life in New York City, I feel a deep and abiding love for most things Jewish, and all things Jewish food. Chicken soup with matzoh balls. Potato Latkes, pastrami, bagels. I miss it all. And so when my foodie friend Janet arrived for one of her all-too-infreqent trips to London from LA, off we went to Golders Green, on a pilgrimage to find the perfect spot for lunch. And we did, in Blooms.

"What are kneidlach?" I asked my adorable young waitress.

"Those are the, how do you say, the... noodles. Homemade."

"Thank you. What are kreplach?"

"Those are the dumplings, they are filled with minced meat."

"Excellent. What are lokschen?"

"Those are the matzoh balls."

"Fine, I'll have chicken soup with ALL of them."

This was lovely. Golden, rich, simple, with that flavor that can be imparted, I truly believe, only by a Jewish hand, and with love of the dish. I have made it myself, to no real success (and I'm a mean soup-maker, I'd say). But get my friend Alyssa in front of a stove, in my very own kitchen, and her chicken soup with matzoh balls is a revelation in health-giving, life-giving elixir. It's about the love.

There is no one like my friend Janet to have a food adventure with. We wandered into a Polish delicatessen where she encouraged me to buy kielbasa, sauerkraut from an old wooden barrel, little chocolate cookies and little sugar cookies in the shape of leaves ("leaf novelties" as I later translated the label).

And then the next day, our little Cinquecento stuffed like a tick with our overnight gear AND one of the children of our hosts, we were off to the country.

One gorgeous house, five wonderful children, a tennis court, an all-singing, all-dancing kitchen with an Aga, AND the family was happy for me to cook dinner! Meatballs stuffed with mozzarella, with one of the middle daughters as my helper, garlic bread and sauteed sugar snap peas. The dad made bread in a machine, overnight! I am researching buying just such a machine... the aroma was irresistible. During the weekend I was taken to Beechcroft Farm where I hugged no fewer than two baby lambs, one born the day before, and met several newborn calves and pigs, and bought pork sausages, bacon, sirloin steaks and lambs' liver. Let me elaborate.

Lambs' Liver with Marsala Wine, Bacon and Onions
(serves 4)

4 slices bacon, cut in small pieces
3 tbsps butter
2 white onions, sliced thick
3 tbsps Marsala wine
squeeze lemon juice
sea salt and pepper to taste
8 slices lambs' liver
scattering of fresh chives

Fry the bacon in a medium skillet and push to the edges of it, then add butter and fry onions until soft. Pour in the Marsala and scrape up all the little bits from the bottom, then add lemon juice and salt and pepper. Push everything to the sides and place the slices of liver in the center. Fry gently perhaps 3 minutes on the first side and 2 on the other. This timing will depend on several things: how thick the slices are, how high your heat, and how rare you like your liver. I mean, THE liver.

Pile everything on a nice platter and scatter chives over. Serve with some sharp salad, like lentils with a chilli dressing, beetroot with balsamic vinegar, tomatoes with lemon juice. Also toasted baguette if you like. Rich with iron, only a small serving needed: elemental.


Long walks in the countryside as you see, with girls all around to make us laugh.

Tonight was the first night for pierrade! Huge platters of thinly-sliced duck and the sirloin from Beechcroft: peerless and delicious. Served with Sate sauce, Hoisin sauce, Dijon mustard. Plus dauphinoise potatoes (not beautiful, as you see, but gorgeously rich and creamy) and roasted carrots and parsnips. Spring HEAVEN, although it sounds wintry. But to eat outside, to saute each bite for oneself in the spring evening, EVEN though we were being rained on ever so slightly... heaven.

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
(serves 4)

8 carrots
3 parsnips
drizzle chilli oil
scattering brown sugar
pinch sea salt
8 sage leaves
1 tbsp butter

Halve the carrots lengthwise (unpeeled, but washed), and quarter the parsnips lengthwise (peeled). Lay in a baking dish and drizzle with chilli oil, then scatter brown sugar over, and salt, then scatter sage over all. Roast in a hot oven (200C, 400F) for 30 minutes, then take dish out and add butter and toss the vegetables in the accumulated oil and butter. Place in oven for another 10 minutes. Perfect.


All this has been lovely. Tennis, even though I keep straining some muscle/joint in my elbow. Lost Property: the Sale of goods made a record amount of money yesterday! Twelve mothers, 6 hours, and we raised... £400. Well, it's something, and most important, it's tradition and we were there, and the ways of Avery's school go on.

Today saw me writing up the Sales Proceeds, making up the rota for next term, a schedule of requests for next term's fabulous Luncheon, generally accomplishing things. And worrying. About Avery and tomorrow.

One wouldn't think that a child's perfectly routine surgery could throw a family into a tailspin, but we are, a bit, simply because of our lack of experience with... Avery being in pain.

I just don't like it. I know without a doubt that she will be absolutely fine, by tomorrow evening she will be safely ensconced back in the circle of my arm (with a secret present in her hands), and a Chilly Billy to suck on, if she wants to.

But it seems to me, as I sweat and fret and worry, that there is something elemental in a parent's makeup that says, "No pain, please, for my child." We would always rather go through it ourselves, whatever it is, even though we know that the experience of pain is normal, part of life, and something that everyone learns to submit to, to overcome. In fact, I suppose, the job of a parent is not to smooth the path for the child, to take away all potential sources of pain, but to teach her to shoulder up to pain, to make friends with it, to set it on the side of the road and move on.

But I don't like it.

Onward and upward to tomorrow afternoon, Avery and her bravery and whatever chew-less foods I can invent, as long as she needs them.


Anonymous said...

Based entirely on an episode of Seinfeld I have made chocolate babka a couple of times. It had so much chocolate in it I thought my heart was going to jump out of my body. I'm not sure it's Jewish but it makes me feel like NYC is just around the corner.

Your time in the country sounds wonderful. I think one of my favorite English things is wellies.

Oh, JaPRA is what I call the girl who has the Just a Plane Ride Away website.

Renée said...

Like a good Jewish mother, I must correct you. Kneidlach are the matzoh balls and lokschen are the noodles. There, I feel better.

Kristen In London said...

AAARGH, Renee, I woke up in the middle of the night knowing I got them wrong, but too lazy to correct it. I will, mea culpa.

Julia, I love JaPRA!

Shelley said...

Erik says that for not being Jewish, I make a mean matzoh ball. I corrected him and said that I make a mean "goy" ball.

Kristen In London said...

Goy ball! I love it...