Sunday, June 6, 2010

My First Brooklyn Shabbat, or Chilled Pea Soup with Challah Croutons

This past Friday Alex and I observed Shabbat for the first time in our apartment. Just before sundown, we opened a bottle of Chardonnay (somehow I feel like it's supposed to be red wine, but it was all we had), lit two candles, and shared a thick slice of challah from an enormous Zaro's loaf.

Alex said the prayers one line at a time and I repeated them. It's going to be a long time before I know them by heart. I felt like I was just copying the sounds. Later, when I told this to my friend Robbie, he nodded and joked, "like a Japanese schoolgirl singing Lady Gaga," which I thought was pretty funny.

Still, even though I was a bit lost, I found the experience moving and, in a way, cathartic. There is something very pleasing about the act of lighting candles--watching the flame flicker and the wax melt and dribble down in beads. Somehow you can't help but relax and reflect. As we sipped our wine, I suddenly remembered a bizarre ritual my family had when I was growing up.

While (of course) I would devour anything you put in front of me, my younger brother was a very picky eater. For a while, one of the only ways my parents could get him to finish his dinner was to light a candle and let him blow it out for each bite he took. I remember staring across the table at him, over our bowls of macaroni and cheese, feeling insanely jealous that he got to blow out so many candles--like it was his birthday every single night. I guess it just goes to show that even children understand that there is something satisfying, sacred, and important about striking a match, lighting a wick, and watching the shadows dance across a table.

But enough misty memories. On Saturday, I was confronted with a very real dilemma: what to do with all that challah! I decided to make giant, buttery croutons for one of my favorite dishes: chilled pea soup with mint. The recipe, which is a tweaked version of Ina Garten's, is incredibly easy and filled with all the verdant flavors of summer. Pair it with a tomato and mozzarella salad and you can't go wrong. (Recipe after the jump.)

Friday, June 4, 2010


I grew up spending my summers on Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Every weekend there were weddings at the Old Whaling Church, a soaring Greek revival structure that dates back to 1843. I used to get a black raspberry ice cream cone and then sit on a sidewalk bench across the street, watching the brides climb in and out of limousines in their puffy white dresses. I always thought that someday I would get married there, too: a classic church wedding in a traditional, Protestant New England town.

It turns out my childhood fantasy couldn't have been further from the truth. After I graduated from college I moved to Brooklyn, New York, and at the age of twenty-five I met and fell in love with Alex, who happens to come from the same family that produced the likes of Larry David. On one of our earliest dates, we went to a deli where he bought me my very first egg cream. As our relationship grew more serious, I began to accompany Alex to temple on the high holidays, and to his relatives' houses for Passover Seders.

I also became more interested in my own Jewish heritage. While my mother is not Jewish, my father is--he grew up in New York City the son of Lucy Eisenberg, a painter and textile designer, and the grandson of Isadore Charles Eisenberg and Lilly Goldbaum Eisenberg, who emigrated from Berlin in 1890. They were members of Congregation Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue, and are buried at the temple's graveyard in Queens.

When Alex got down on one knee and asked me to marry him in February of 2010 I said yes immediately. Deciding that we wanted to spend our lives together was easy, but there were many questions that followed. Should we move to a bigger apartment? Were we ready to get a miniature daschund? Was I going to change my name? One thing I was sure of was that I wanted to raise my children Jewish, and I wanted to fully convert myself before our wedding.

Since I'm a cookbook author, my natural inclination is to learn about my heritage and my new faith through writing and eating. This blog is going to be a record of my experiences, and my attempts to master Jewish cuisine--from traditional dishes to newfangled interpretations. Someday, just maybe it will also turn into my second book. But at the very least, I'm determined to learn how to make the fluffiest matzo balls, the laciest latkes, and the sweetest honey cake. Thanks for reading!