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Oma & Bella

Oma and Bella

Have you heard about a documentary called Oma & Bella? It's about two best friends, Regina and Bella, who live together in an apartment in Berlin and cook all the livelong day. Kreplach and borscht, cream cheese cookies and chicken soup. They shop at the same places I do. They don patterned cotton house dresses when they putter in the kitchen. The filmmaker is Regina's granddaughter. (Oma means grandmother in German).

The granddaughter films Regina and Bella as they cook together, as they tell her about their childhood, their German tinged with melodious Yiddish accents. Regina and Bella are Holocaust survivors. They were young girls during the war, when they went into the camps. Regina came from Poland, Bella from Lithuania. Their families were murdered. They were the only survivors.

I watched the film the other night perched at my desk, the apartment dark around me as Oma and Bella's kitchen glowed warmly from my computer screen. I watched and listened to the banal, everyday details of their life interspersed with the incomprehensible. It broke my heart.

After it was over, I sat near the radiator in the living room warming my feet and looking out into the night, little lights in the city twinkling on the horizon. I tried to imagine, as I have so often before, what it must have been like once upon a time in this city, this country, this whole region. For people to have been not just turned out of jobs or stripped of licenses, refused service or denied entrance somewhere, anywhere, but to have been hunted down like animals, eliminated, exterminated like pests. To have been turned out of their homes, stripped of their things and their identities, their names forcibly changed. Murdered in the street, in a gas chamber, on a train car, in a camp bed. Anywere. Everywhere.

And then I tried to imagine the gaping horror of being the only one of a family to survive such a thing. To have witnessed how, one by one, every person was picked off but you. To have the burden, the privilege - yes - but also the burden, of growing old without them. Suddenly I thought of Hugo sleeping in his little warm bedroom in the back of the apartment, all wrapped up and safe and quiet. It felt almost obscene to have those two thoughts in my head at once.

Oma&Bella cookbook

Due to high demand for Oma and Bella's recipes after the film was first released, Alexa Karolinski, the filmmaker, published a gorgeous little cookbook as a companion to the film. I'm so glad she did. When I watched Regina roll up blintzes or Bella nudge the browning onions in a pan, my stomach growled. In one scene, Bella made borscht and I thought, that's what I want for lunch tomorrow.

The next day, I went out to the bookstore and bought the book. It's a slim little thing, clothbound, with sweet illustrations and 36 meticulously written recipes in English and in German. Alexa got Oma and Bella to share their recipes with her and then spent years transforming the vague instructions they gave her into recipes that work, with ingredients that are available both here and in the US. Having had a little experience into the difficulty of this kind of work with my own book, I tip my hat to Alexa - she did a wonderful job.

I especially loved that reading the recipes made me think of my own grandmother, who's been gone for almost 14 years now. She would have loved this book, I think. The movie, too. My grandmother loved kreplach and borscht and she also thought that food was the best way to show how much you cared for someone. She would have adored the idea of a granddaughter filming her doting grandmother as she cooked in the kitchen.

Red borscht

Somewhere towards the end of the movie, we see a Sabbath dinner with Oma and Bella's children and grandchildren. The table is long, there are so many guests. Candles are lit, vodka is thrown back, there is happiness in the air. You, as the viewer, long to be there at that table, too. You wish you could sit next to Bella and ask her questions about her glamorous post-war life when she danced in Berlin's discos and owned a nice clothing shop, or what her secrets are to creating such a happy family. But a few scenes later, when she and Oma are at an outdoor café, sitting across from each other, you realize just how fleeting their happiness can ever be. You see how close to the surface the trauma lingers for them both. It is always there, their grief, inescapable.

To rent or purchase the film online, click here.

To purchase the cookbook online or to find a list of bookstores that stock it in Berlin, New York, Toronto, Vancouver or San Francisco, click here.

Marcella Hazan's Broccoli and Pasta Soup

Broccoli pasta soup

I'm sorry about dropping off the face of the earth last week. I really had no intention of going silent, but Hugo stopped napping - just stopped, yes, the horror - from one day to the next and the days went by in a blur. I was trying to keep things together while Hugo was flying on what must have been fumes and one evening, after he'd finally gone to bed, I sort of sat and whimpered in defeat in the kitchen for a bit. There might have been some cheese.

Anyway! Luckily for us all, but, let's face it, mostly me, Hugo has started napping again (praisegodthealmightyforeverandeveramen). And better yet, I have found the best soup of the year. I know it's only February 25, but I'm going to wager that this is it for the rest of 2013.

People, it is fabulous.

Blanched broccoli

Okay, now you're going to think it seems a little fussy to start. And you would be right, technically. There's the dissection of the broccoli, the blanching in two steps, the pan-frying, the pureeing. Yes. But that's really it for the work - the soup itself is a silly little throw-together. Put broth and broccoli stalk purée in a pan, then add some pasta to cook, then add the remaining sautéed broccoli. Parmesan on top of each serving and that's it! See? Not so bad, after all.

Because you cook the broccoli so briefly (you must follow Marcella Hazan's cooking directions to the minute, lest you want pallid results), it retains vibrant color, a fresh flavor and its wonderful just-tender quality - you know, almost rubbery, but in a good way? The pasta adds pleasing nubbiness to each spoonful and the Parmesan and garlic and broth all come together in the way they should, reliably producing the taste of Italy in your soup spoon. Magic.

Pureed broccoli

I imagine this is not news to most of you, but just in case there's someone out there who has yet to figure it out, Marcella Hazan's cookbook, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, is sort of a non-negotiable acquisition if you want to know what Italian food really tastes like. It has no photos and Marcella's tone is severe - she doesn't want to pal around with you, she wants you to do what she says, just like any bossy Italian lady worth her salt - but it is such a valuable resource.

(Since I can pretty much guarantee that Marcella doesn't read this blog and I therefore won't incur her wrath, I shall confess the following: the original soup calls for homemade meat broth and homemade pasta. I, er, used my trusty Better Than Bouillon (scraping the bottom of the jar! thank goodness we fly to the States on Friday) and Barilla soup pasta. The soup was divine, life is short, do what your conscience tells you.)

(Oh! And one more thing: a certain 8-month old ate more of this soup than he did of his dinner. So it's baby-approved, too.)

Marcella Hazan's Broccoli and Pasta Soup
From The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Serves 6

1 medium bunch of broccoli
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped garlic (or two whole cloves)
2 cups beef or chicken broth
1/2 cup small, coarse soup pasta (I used these)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Detach the broccoli florets from the stalks. Trim away about 1/2 inch from the tough end of the stalks. With a sharp paring knife, peel away the dark green skin on the stalks. Split very thick stems in two lengthwise. Wash and set aside.

2. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, which will keep the broccoli green, and put in the stalks. When the water returns to a boil, wait 2 minutes, then add the florets. If they float to the surface, dunk them from time to time to keep them from losing color. When the water returns to a boil again, wait 1 minute, then retrieve all the broccoli with a slotted spoon. Do not discard the water in the pot.

3. Choose a sauté pan that can accommodate all the stalks and florets without overlapping. Put in the oil and garlic, and turn the heat to medium. Sauté the garlic until it turns pale gold. Add all the broccoli, some salt, and turn the heat up to high. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli florets to a plate and set aside. Do not discard the oil from the pan.

5. Put the broccoli stalks into a food processor, pulse for a moment, then add all the oil from the pan plus 1 tablespoon of the broccoli water. Finish processing to a smooth purée.

6. Put the purée into a soup pot, add the broth, and bring to a moderate boil. Add the pasta. Cook at a steady, gentle boil until the pasta is tender, but firm. Depending on the thickness and freshness of the pasta, it should take about 10 minutes. You will probably need to dilute the soup as it cooks, because it tends to become too dense. To thin it out, use some of the reserved broccoli water. Take care not to make the soup too runny.

7. While the pasta is cooking, separate the broccoli florets into bite-size pieces. As soon as the pasta is done, put the florets in the soup and continue cooking for 1 more minute. Taste and correct for salt, and serve the soup promptly with the grated Parmesan on top.

Monday Giveaway!

The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook
You know what is a total buzzkill? Fitting triumphantly into your skinniest pre-pregnancy skinny jeans one week and the next having someone ask you if you're pregnant again. You know, because of your belly?


Yes! (I mean Yes! that happened. Not Yes! I'm pregnant.)


Yogurt date cups

It's okay, I've mostly gotten over it and I do think this friend is far more mortified (still) than I was. Also, I'm still nursing and my belly was never my best feature, let's be honest, and yadda yadda yadda, I have a beautiful baby boy in exchange, so who really cares, right? Except of course that one does care even if one is sort of amazed at how much less one cares now than one would have before one became a mother. Oh, self! You contain multitudes.

Luckily for me, I can identify pretty clearly the factors standing between me and Rock! Hard! Abs!, or, you know, Abs That Do Not Look Like They Are Encasing A Fetus. And those factors would be 1. Total and absolute sedentariness (is that a word?) and 2. My afternoon cookie-cake-whatever-as-long-as-it-is-sweet-and-delicious break that I've been doing religiously since Hugo's birth.

Mashed dates

Since daily exercise is really limited only to what I can do at home during Hugo's naptime, it's the afternoon cookie break that I'm training my eyes on. It needs serious reforming and Sara Forte's The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook is currently my reform master.

Specifically, her recipe for Sesame Date Yogurt Cups, which jumped out at me last year when I was reviewing the pages for a blurb (full disclosure!) and hadn't left my mind since. They're so simple - just dates mashed with sesame seeds and then layered with yogurt that's been flavored with a pinch of cinnamon and crisped brown rice - but so much more than the sum of the parts. I mean, flavoring yogurt with cinnamon? So good. Pairing dates and sesame seeds? Of course! Putting them together with crisped rice on top for texture? Lady, you are so smart. These lovely little treats are as satisfying as they are virtuous. I really love them.

(If salt is your vice, not sugar, may I direct you to the recipe for nori popcorn on page 161? You're welcome.)

Empty cup

Sara's cookbook is full of little gems like that; healthy ingredients matched up in inspired ways that would have never occurred to me and that taste so, so good. Sara's idea of enlivening that old standby pesto with lemon zest and lemon juice to serve with lentil meatballs is so easy and yet I'd never tried it before. I usually ignore pesto, but now I plan on using this combination as a dressing for grain salads and cooked beans, anything, really, that needs a little kick. I loved her zucchini roll-ups, in which za'atar and Greek yogurt give grilled zucchini slices new style. And I cannot wait to try what sounds like breakfast cereal nirvana: pearled barley cooked in coconut mik and cardamom, then topped with toasted coconut, pomegranate seeds and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. Yes?


Happily, I have an extra copy of this lovely book for a giveaway! So for a chance to win a copy of The Sprouted Kitchen, please leave a comment below and I'll pick a winner at random tomorrow. Good luck!

Update: Erin is the winner and has been emailed! Thank you all for participating - comments are now closed.

Sara Forte's Sesame Date Yogurt Cups
Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen
Serves 4

7 Medjool dates, pitted
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, plus more for sprinkling
Sea salt, optional
2 cups whole-milk plain yogurt (or Greek or goat's milk)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup crisped brown rice

1. Soak the dates in warm water for 10 minutes to soften. If the dates are soft enough, skip the soaking. Put the dates in a bowl with the sesame seeds and a pinch of salt, if using. Mash together to create a chunky paste. Press a fourth of the date mixture into the bottom of four small glasses.

2. In a bowl, stir together the yogurt and cinnamon, then spoon 1/2 cup of the yogurt into each jar. Sprinkle a few sesame seeds and a couple of spoonfuls of the crisped rice on top. Eat immediately.

Friday Link Love

Instagram Weekly Pics

This week I bought myself striped (!) tulips, made an excursion to the other side of town (also known as Prenzlauer Berg), took 101 photos of Hugo sitting on his own without toppling over (double !!) and started my next home improvement project (but the shade of red is just a smidge too orange in real life - gah!) These are just a few photos from the past week on my Instagram feed - you can find me there at wednesdaychef or by clicking here.

Max came home today after having been away for almost two weeks and I honestly don't know who was the most excited, me, him or the baby (who now points and smiles whenever he sees a photo of his daddy). I'm looking forward to a weekend of cuddles with my two guys.


Homemade nutella, yow.

This London-based, European-wide-delivery foodie webshop is my dream come true.

Love the look of this winter green galette.

Kelsey is doing a giveaway of my book! For a chance to win, leave a comment on her interview with me before February 19th.

Dried plums (uh, prunes) in a Moroccan carrot salad? Yes, please.

The lovely Susan Spungen has a wonderful new website.

If my long romp in Seville oranges has you longing for your own orange project, check out these two posts on candied orange peel, thick, thin and unsugared.

And finally, to take you into the weekend feeling transported and slightly melancholy, this longish piece (with video and photos) on Lee Radziwill is just marvelous.

Have a good one!

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Spicy Feta-Olive Salad


The other day, I missed Hugo's dinnertime window by ten minutes. Ten measly minutes! By the time I sat him in his high chair, it was all over. He refused everything - even the yogurt, people, it was dire - so there was nothing left to do but put him to bed and then, do you want to know what I did?

I ate his baby food for dinner.

Yes. It was one of my lowest moments as a parent so far.


Now there's no use in trying to make me feel better about this. I didn't feel resourceful or inventive or like a supermultitaskingnumberonemommy. I just felt sort of pathetic. Pureed vegetables are super-sexy in a soup with cream, maybe, but eaten out of your kid's Beatrix Potter bowl, with a smear of yogurt on the side? The culinary equivalent of ratty, gray granny panties and don't try to tell me otherwise.

Thank goodness the internet came to the rescue of my dignity the next night. Gemma mentioned some sweet potatoes that she eats once a week (those have to be good sweet potatoes, right?) topped with a spicy feta salad, which led me to this lovely place and the sweet sensation of relief when I realized every single ingredient required was already in my house.


I'll say this, it's kind of a weird concept: piping hot, melty sweet potatoes and the boldly flavored, spicy, cold olive-feta salad on top. But it works! Each mouthful contains all these different kooky elements and yet they work together - punching each other up, cooling each other down - to make for a very interesting dinner and I mean that in a nice way, not in an "innnn-teresting" kind of way.

Plus, it was decidedly not baby-friendly and that pleased me very much indeed.

So join me in muttering my new mantra, won't you? Baby food is for baby! Adult food is for me! (That's so it, uh, rhymes.) And so it shall be evermore.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Spicy Feta-Olive Salad
Makes 2 servings

Adapted from Traveler's Lunchbox

2 large sweet potatoes
1/2 pound (200 grams) feta cheese, cut into small cubes
2/3 cup black oil-cured olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 to 2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon za'atar (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt to taste
A spoonful of sour cream or yogurt

1. Heat the oven to 375 F (190 C). Wash the potatoes to rid them of any dirt and place on a foil-lined baking pan in the oven. Bake until they are completely soft, about 45 to 60 minutes (depending on their size).

2. While the potatoes are roasting, make the salad. Mix together all the salad ingredients in a bowl and set aside to marinate until the potatoes are done (add a little more olive oil if it seems dry).

3. When the potatoes are fully roasted, remove them from the oven and place on plates. Slice each potato lengthwise down the center, folding open to reveal the orange flesh inside. Pile half the feta salad on each potato, season to taste, dollop yogurt or sour cream on top and serve.

Seville Orange Marmalade

Sour orange marmalade
I have made many a jar of jam in my life - I really like making jam, you guys - but nothing, not strawberries almost candied with lemon grass, not rhubarb and grapefruit preserves, not even the oven-baked, spiced plum butter from my book has ever come close to the experience that making that little cluster of Seville orange marmalade jars up there was. It was transcendental and I know that that might sound like it's bordering on the absurd, but what can I say? Perhaps it takes very little to transport me these days.

Or perhaps, Seville orange marmalade is like the Mount Everest of marmalades - the zenith of jam-making, if you will. And I climbed it at a point in my life when I sort of assumed that nothing of the sort was going to happen any time soon. I mean, you have a baby and then your kitchen priorities shift. You know? I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I just figured that if I could barely make myself a hot dinner the other day, then jam-making, multi-day jam-making, was a far-off glimmer in the future.

But the other day, on one of my market walks, I came across a stand selling Seville oranges (also known as sour or bitter oranges, depending on where you live). This is not a common occurence. In fact, I don't think I'd ever seen them in the flesh before. Over the years, I'd hear now and again in February of someone finding a few knocking about in a bin at some market. But I personally had never had the privilege. In fact, I'd long ago resigned myself to buying orange marmalade, having it be the only store-bought jam in my pantry. Once, on a trip to London a few years ago, I bought a big can of Mamade thin-cut Seville oranges and I made marmalade that I liked very much, but I couldn't help but think, each time I opened a fresh jar, that it was a little pathetic to be eating jam made from canned fruit. There was something so Soviet about it or something.

So there I was, standing in front of this bin of Seville oranges in the biting cold, with my mouth agape and the baby in the stroller next to me. You can imagine that it took me about three seconds flat to buy two kilos.

But then, after I got home with my haul, I got scared. I let the oranges sit on the kitchen table for three whole days while I worked up my courage to deal with them. I knew it was going to take a lot of elbow grease and time - two things I'm really short on these days. When, on the fourth day, I saw a telltale spot of white mold blooming on the peel of one of the oranges, I shook myself out of my stupor. It was time to make orange marmalade, come hell, high water OR a screaming baby. There was no time like the present.

Peeling sour oranges

I consulted The Kitchen Diaries II and a bunch of recipes online (like this one and this one) to figure out just how get started. I liked that Nigel Slater has you score the peel off the fruit without puncturing the orange flesh, so that you start by slicing up the peel before doing anything else, rather than slicing the oranges whole. I put the baby to bed, turned on the radio and got to work.

Sliced sour orange peel

Once all the peel was thinly sliced (you can cut it thicker, if that's what you prefer) and resting in my big cast-iron pot, I juiced the oranges into the pot and then extracted every single last sticky seed from the flesh. Seville oranges aren't like regular oranges - they're drier and have more nooks and crannies for the seeds to hide out in. The best way to ferret out those seeds is to push the squeezed orange flesh around on the cutting board - eventually the remaining seeds will squirt out the sides. The de-seeded flesh got chopped up and added to the peel and the seeds went into a mesh metal spice ball that my mother-in-law gave me a few Christmases ago. (I could never really figure out what to use it for, but now that it has redeemed itself as a VIKU, a Very Important Kitchen Utensil, I am considering having it gilded.) I put the mesh seed ball into the pot with the peel and the juice and flesh, filled it up with water and then went straight to bed, my fingers all pruney from having been sunk into sour oranges for two hours.

The next night I brought the pot to a boil and let it cook for a good long while until the peel was translucent and the liquid level in the pot was much reduced. (All of this, the overnight soaking and the long boil, helps get the harsh bitter edge off the oranges, leaving behind a rounded, more agreeable bitterness, if that makes any sense.) Only then did I add the sugar.

Now. Every recipe I consulted has you add twice as much sugar - in weight - as there is fruit. This seems to be somewhat of a rule in orange-marmalade-making. But I could not put that much sugar into the pot. I couldn't! I wanted to, I really did! I like following the rules! But in this case, it hurt my teeth just to look at it (I usually do a ratio of 50%-50% fruit to sugar with regular jams). Since Nigel's original numbers were the following: 1.3 kilos of fruit (he uses Seville oranges and some lemons) and 2.6 kilos of sugar, I decided to do 1.3 kilos of fruit (only oranges) and 2 kilos of sugar. And you know what? My marmalade turned out plenty sweet. In fact, I think I could probably have pushed it even a little lower. Not much, but a little.

You let the sugar dissolve in the hot liquid and then you bring the whole thing to the boil again and let it cook until a little dish of jam stuck in the freezer for a few minutes develops a skin. It took my jam an hour to get to that point. One long, glorious, orange-scented hour. Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I've found my new favorite cooking smell. Bread? Brownies? Roast chicken? Scram, pals.

While the marmalade cooks, you have to skim it a bit, so that your marmalade is sure to be translucent and beautiful when it's done, but I spent most of that hour on the couch watching this, thinking deep thoughts about what Berlin could have been, what Germany could have become, what it squandered and destroyed instead. So the marmalade doesn't really require too much of you.

When it's done, you need your clean jars and lids at the ready, and then you just have to be quick, filling the jars to the brim, wiping off the rims, closing the lids tightly and turning them upside-down. (Letting them cool upside-down overnight gives you a vacuum seal on the jar. And readers: there is absolutely, positively no danger of this jam going bad - the amount of sugar, even the reduced amount that I used, will keep the marmalade safe and delicious for at least a year.)

Seville orange marmalade on toast

The next morning, in the cold, blue, early morning light of wintertime Berlin, I toasted a piece of bread, spread it with salted butter (ever since reading this and then trying it, I have to put salted butter under my orange marmalade - only one example of the many ways Amanda Hesser has given me an education in food over the years) and then put a thin layer of my fresh Seville orange marmalade on top. And. Well. You know.

It was beyond.

It put all those store-bought marmalades and canned-fruit marmalades to shame. This orange marmalade, folks, it tasted alive, for lack of a better word. It was so fresh, I could almost faintly pick out orange blossoms and sunshine in my mouth. I'm not even kidding! The flavor was out of this world. Life-changing. Transcendental.

(Hugo stared at me with such outrage on his little face while I was eating my toast and he was stuck with baby Bircher müsli that I put a corner of my buttered, bitter-oranged toast in his mouth, figuring he'd recoil at the grown-up flavor. HA. He licked his chops and opened his mouth up for more.)

And you know, it was such a thrill. The best part, besides my little arsenal of bitter sunshine in a jar, was really the doing of it all. I'm already excited for next February and that is saying a lot. BERLIN.

Seville Orange Marmalade
Makes about 9 jam jars
Inspired by Nigel Slater's recipe in Kitchen Diaries II

1.3 kilos Seville oranges
2 kilos granulated sugar

1. Wash the oranges. Score the peel of each orange with a sharp knife in quarters and remove without damaging the fruit. Slice the peel thinly or thickly, depending on your taste, and put into a very large cast-iron pot. Squeeze the peeled oranges into the pot, taking care to put any seeds aside. Deseed the remaining flesh. Chop the flesh and add it to the peel. Put the seeds into a mesh tea ball or a muslin bag and put in the pot. Fill the pot with 2.5 liters of cold water. Cover the pot and let sit for 24 hours (I left mine on the stove.)

2. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil. Uncover the pot and let simmer for 45 minutes or until your peel is, as Nigel says, "soft and translucent."

3. Remove the bag or ball of seeds from the pot, squeezing or scraping it for every last bit of pectin. Add the sugar to the fruit mixture and stir well. Raise the heat and bring the marmalade to boil. Let cook for anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the marmalade, when spooned onto a little plate that you put in the freezer, forms a thin skin. Ladle the marmalade into clean jars, close them tightly and turn them upside-down to cool overnight. You can wipe any remnants of sticky jam off them in the morning (freshly filled, they'll be too hot to clean up).