the page most splattered
of all the pages, of all the books that line the walls of this old house, page 82 in one of them is the one that looks like jackson pollock left his calling card.
it’s so splattered, it needs a wash-n-rinse, but the binding, i am thinking, might protest. might fall apart, instead of only being wobbly.
looks like there’s a big fat splat of bloody lamb juice that landed just last night, a cooking asteroid that crashed into the page. don’t tell the county health department but i’m pretty sure the crusted-over little bit of once-mushy brown-rice-and-broth is now, um, 17 years old. i even think there’s a fleck of dried-on apple skin.
ykkh, you’re thinking, that page is gross. downright revolting, you might even whisper to the neighbors.
in fact, it’s most delicious. and all the splatters attest to that. i do believe that you can rank the zeitgeist of a dish by the number of splatters on the pages, tucked away there on your bookshelves.
page 82 is the one that as a cooking coalition we love the best. we return to more than any other.
and the darn thing there is we do so usually only once a year. see, me and the man i married we do not do a lot of rhumbas in the kitchen. not together anyway. oh, sure we slather bagels. he scrambles eggs sometimes. on winter afternoons, he goes gaga for making chili the cincinnati way (that is, with as many carbohydrates in the bowl as you can fit: pasta, beans, onions, oyster crackers, and i am leaving out a few, believe me). i steer clear, far as i can run.
the one dance we do do, the one we return to every year, is the one page 82 refers to as “lamb and brown rice pilaf,” but we call it, simply, succinctly, rosh hashanah stew. that’s the thing we make together.
and not to brag or anything, but we make it rather swell. i chop, he stirs. i stir, he chops. last night he even volunteered to be the one to stay up to midnight on the cool patrol so we could tuck it in the fridge without melting all the cottage cheese.
when you start with five pounds of chopped-up leg of lamb, add buckets of brown rice, gallons of broth, you wind up with a vat that demands shelves be removed so it can spend the night sleeping in the ice box.
we make it in industrial-sized amounts because the only way to eat lamb stew is in a crowd. a crowd that every year gets big and bigger. tonight i think there’re 85. only kidding. but it almost feels that big.
we’ve been eating lamb stew since our beginning, and that, of all the ingredients, is the one that makes it most delicious.
a hundred years ago, the day after the night that my beloved hauled me over the threshold (he really did, up and grunted, i don’t say these things so lightly) just home from our mountain-hiking honeymoon, i rubbed my aching legs and my brand-new husband set out to stir tradition.
he yanked some book right off the shelf, a book i’d given him and inscribed before i knew i’d be his bride. the jewish holiday cookbook, it is simply called. and i wrote something to the effect of how i hoped his home would always be warm and glowing at its heart. i did not think i would be in that kitchen, back in the days when the jewish-catholic hurdle seemed too high to climb.
i can’t recall why he landed on 82, the page that starts and ends it all. perhaps it was the cinnamon and apples. or the allspice and onions. or the gobs of lamb.
but i do remember, as if this very day, him standing there at the teeny-tiny table chopping, chopping, chopping. i do recall the landlady coming to check on all the racket.
and that, as you so deeply dearly know, is what makes every thing worth cooking once a year so sweet you’d lick the spoon, the pot, even the pot lid.
page 82 is no longer just a way to get a pot onto the table. it is not some step-by-step follow the bouncing lamb.
it is, in all its splattered glory, the essence of who we are: catholic girl gives jewish cookbook to boy she thinks will cook in someone else’s kitchen. but instead he cooks from it on the day their life at home begins. for years and years now it’s been ladled onto plates at tables that have moved from house to house to house.
there’ve been babies at those tables, now big enough to shave. and pregnant bellies that could barely stand the smell. my mama’s sat there, bald from chemo once, not so hungry that hard year. there’ve been friends who’ve moved. and one who died. there’ve been friends who came as couples, now are split apart. and sometimes, like tonight, we welcome back those who’ve been away, far far away, far too long.
it’s a coming-and-a-going sort of dish, the kind that holds a life together.
the ingredients, year after year, are all the same. but the story of the serving is always slightly changed. that’s what makes it rich, the richest stew i know.
and that’s the point of all the splattered pages: they hold the journey of your life. you crack open the book, to a page that needs no marker. and all the stories spill right out, there beside the wooden spoon. you are not just filling the house with cookstove perfume, the alchemy of meat and spice and autumn fruits. you are crowding the kitchen and the dining room with all the souls from all the years.
it brings us back, it carries us forward. that’s the point of splattered pages. the stuff that sticks there, it’s not just flecks of rice and old dried apple; it’s our hearts, and all of those we’ve loved.
and here, so you can do the same, page 82, not quite so splattered.
blair’s lamb stew, a recipe…..
from “the jewish holiday cookbook: an international collection of recipes and customs,” by gloria kaufer greene
6 Tbsp margarine
2 lg onions
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
4 celery stalks, chopped
3 cups long-grain brown rice
2 to 3 pounds boneless lamb, trimmed of fat and gristle, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 cups beef broth or bouillon
2 15- to 16-ounce can chick peas, drained
1-1/2 cups dark or light raisins
1 apple, chopped
1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper, preferably freshly ground
1/4 tsp salt
in 5- to 6-qt pot or dutch oven, over medium high heat, melt the margarine; then cook onions, garlic, celery, stirring till tender.
add rice and cook, stirring, one minute longer.
then add lamb cubes, and stir till brown on all sides.
stir in broth, chickpeas, raisins, apple, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, thyme, pepper and salt. bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat. simmer covered, for about 45 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.
toss with a fork before serving.
makes about 8 servings.
invite people you love. lick the plate.
note: we use more garlic, apple, raisins and lamb than called for, just to make it yummier.
okay, friends, that’s a long one. but before i go, one simple question: what’s the dish in your house that tells your whole life story? the one you come back to every year, or once a week?
because my questions never end, do you have a cooking partner? one you share the chopping with? tell us of the rhumbas in your kitchen. i wish we did it more. we always say we will. tell us what it’s like. please.
I love this! Happy Rosh Hashana and happy stew eating! Happy table gathering and happy page-splashing!
I guess if there was one dish–although picking just one is hard–that marks my entire life it might be an old Sunset Magazine recipe, Aztec Pumpkin Stew, that my mother always made for our annual pumpkin party. That soup was with me all through growing up and then came along to the midwest where I made it myself (never quite as good) for others who came to our smaller version of the pumpkin party. It’s still being made–just once a year of course. Dicing a pumpkin is such a pain that I can only bring myself to do it once a year. That’s how these foods are. They’re once-a-year because they’re a little too much of a pain, and they’re especially memorable and good time-markers because they’re only once a year.
Blessings on your table tonight!
Friday, September 14, 2007 – 11:08 AM
you are simply amazing! so THAT’s why we love lamb stew. and i thought it was just the food. that makes tonight so much richer.
Friday, September 14, 2007 – 11:27 AM
va (m) in pv
Wow………i wish i hadn’t applied my mascara yet today……now I’ll have to do it again…….maybe it’s because i’m just under a month away from beginning what will be the most blessed years of my life……..the rest of my life………..I can’t wait to see which of our pages will be the ‘most splattered’ …………I love you guys…….. soon we hope to be one of those regularly or at least ‘semi-regularly’ in attendance for ‘fred and fred’s’ specialty’…………..In the meantime, I look forward to my own kitchen ‘rhumbas’ with my own “rhumbee’ (okay, maybe not a word, but you get the picture)…………bam, soon you will owe me a new mascara!
Friday, September 14, 2007 – 01:59 PM
hey, before we let her wiggle away, you, jcv, get back here with that aztec pumpkin thingie. i love love love love pumkins–to eat them (the only person in history perhaps to even eat that stuff out of a can. plain, with cinnamon, spread on a graham cracker), to cut them, to plunk them all around the tables and door stoops. but not to wear them. i do not wear pumpkins. not ever.
anyway, darlin’ cough it up. maybe some day when we all pull up chairs in real time we will pull them up with our most splattered pages….oh, what a feast that would be…….
and va (m), so sorry bout that there mascara……i’ve been skipping mine lately. or when i wear it, it’s gotta be waterproof, an old swimmer’s trick……..okay, now to get that stew on the table…..
Friday, September 14, 2007 – 02:48 PM
Without a doubt, it would be the apple crisp. Many moons ago ,while in Door County(pre marrige,pre-children!) ,when I took the time to READ a cookbook, I found a simple recipe. Butter,sugar,cinnamon,and loads of apples. Apple crisp was an instant success. Mom served it at bridge, sisters at bunco and nieces learned to measure and chop.
Fast forward to Sept. 12,2001. Living right outside of Washington D.C.,
friends and I were wondering what to do. Schools were closed and we were panicky. We couldnt turn the TV on. We gathered the kids and drove 45mins away to an apple orchard and picked to our hearts content in the quiet solitude.What started as a feeble attempt to shelter our kids has become a yearly tradition .Without missing a beat, the same group plus others gather their kids. Yesterday was the first time that 5 of the “kids” were missing–off to college. The one constant is that when the apples are home and washed- apple crisp is made.
Friday, September 14, 2007 – 04:14 PM
Maybe it should be called “Happy Stew Year”!
Lovely story, can’t wait to make the recipe.
Friday, September 14, 2007 – 04:37 PM
Wonderful story….great spattering of history, herstory, love, and tradition.
I have an affinity for lamb because it is my maiden name…yep! I am sure you all can imagine the creative nicknames I was blessed with in my younger years. My crumpled, spattered “once a year” recipe copy came from the Tribune cooking section, somewhere back in the late 80s’. I write “came” because I coudn’t find it this year, but I think I have it down by now. I was looking for a St. Patrick’s day recipe and came across one for lamb stew. The dance of preparation involves anyone who jigs by! We belong to a “tribe” of friends that has remained bonded together since the mid-seventies and our annual gathering responsibility has been St. Patrick’s day. The lamb stew replaced corned beef and cabbage that year and it has remained a constant favorite. Our babies have grown into teens and adults, but they still make an effort to come by for that event. The evening is also graced with home made music and dance…..there is just something so great about lamb stews….I will be tryin out this new recipe this fall.
Thanks for sharing…..as always
Friday, September 14, 2007 – 05:43 PM
I can’t wait to make the stew. We have a bunch of stained pages, but the one that immediately comes to mind is the purple smears on the summer blueberry pie recipe in the Ravinia cookbook. I make it once a year in late August to celebrate my husband’s birthday. It’s tradition.
Guilty as charged on the short-order cook essay earlier this week I am that friend who call increduously and sort of, kind of said “really, you did that!”
Shame on me because you know what I did this morning. Without the props, I offered to be the short order cook and made lumpy (to order) cream of wheat for one soccer player, a cheese omelet for the other soccer player and a spicy cheese omelet for the ballerina. The only difference was that I omitted the whimsy and do it on weekends only, they are mostly on their own during the week. That includes laundry even though I cringe at the overstuffed washer, or conversely the 4 items my daugher washes every other night.
BAM forgive me.
And on the Rosh Hashanh front, our family (really only high holiday observers) changed its Jewish stripes this year. We went from the intellectual Reform variety (which I grew up with and which my Catholic husband goes along with) and tried being a Jewish renewalist with some other families from our Jewish/Catholic group. I loved the accessibility to the prayers and explanation of what we do and why we do it, but I could only ohm the Shema twice of what turned out to be 5 consecutive ohm recitations. I found much to be over the top. My body language was palable with discomfort. My arms folded across my body as many danced throughout the congregation made a human chain and “danced.” BAM I marvel at your innate ability to embrace religious ritual.
Ever the uptight white woman, I bid all a good weekend.
Saturday, September 15, 2007 – 10:28 AM
dear reluctant to om,
bless your dear heart for being brave enough to tell the world you were the one checking up on my noggin, making sure its lid hadn’t flipped. everyone needs a friend who knows you enough and loves you enough to check in when you think a screw has gone loose. bless you for asking and not just thinking…..which was why i mentioned it in the first place.
as for that blueberry pie, might we all get a taste? through the recipe, perhaps? or is your page too blueberry-splattered to read anymore. than can happen. then you’re really up a creek…..hmm, is that a 3 under that splat or is that a 4. these little digits can make a mean difference.
and finally, you made me laugh at the vision of folks swayin’ and ommin’ in the aisles while you stood there, arms crossed, unwilling to do any sort of a pelvic wiggle to ring in the blessed new year. not even a rhumba….
love, the original short order mama
Saturday, September 15, 2007 – 07:23 PM