Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Getting Back on Track Part II: Challenge 2

I'm not a big fan of the Superbowl to begin with, and it particularly annoys me that, in the midst of the Egyptian  revolution that has the potential to rock the world, the morning news shows were doing extensive analyses with experts of the Superbowl commercials this morning.  I swear, the United States is the epitome of a nation that fiddles while Rome burns.  This distaste is why I take particular pride in having found a way to have the TV on (for the sake of my guests) but basically pay no attention to the Superbowl this year.  And that was to continue working on my challenge of becoming a better cook by trying some recipes for foods that had a more prominent place in my diet during my years as a graduate student at Brandeis -- stereotypically Jewish food.

The idea of a night of Jewish cooking emerged from a car-ride conversation (during last week's trip to the Boston SGAC conference) with Josh, my student/friend/fellow activist who has featured prominently in many of the posts over the last year or so of new things and challenges.  We were comparing notes on food and got started talking about foods we don't eat as often now, and for both of us, latkes and matzo balls came up.  We agreed that the next cooking session for challenge 2 needed to include these dishes, and an idea was born.  Happily, Ali, Kate, Ben and Dan were all pleased to participate as well, and soon the soup and potato pancakes were joined with plans to do a kugel and challah bread.
If in doubt, go on-line.  At least that was the strategy that worked for Josh and me in finding recipes.

Pulling it all together was a little dicey because we'd all had very late nights the night before and our morning plans (rock climbing for me, skiing for Ali and Josh) had become afternoon plans, which pushed our afternoon cooking session into the evening.  But happily, after a few small snafus (try buying sour cream at Price Chopper on Super Bowl Sunday) I got most of the ingredients and Josh and Ali took care of the rest, together with bringing over a food processor to grate potatoes. 
Kate, Dan and Ali making matzo balls

My first-ever loaf of braided bread!  It's lots of fun to make, actually.

As my sister warned me, the key to latkes staying together is twisting out the water in the grated potatoes.  We all thought Ben did a fine job, but it turns out that you need to do a SUPER-FINE job to hold it all together.

Ben also mixed up the kugel -- which turned out to quite wonderful
Once everyone was assembled, the other big challenge was timing for all the dishes, which was complicated by two competing goals: having them all finish at the same time and being able to make all them with the cookware I own (for example, one large mixing bowl and one large pot).  We developed a pretty good division of labor though, and everyone helped with at least one of the major dishes.  The results suprised us a bit.  High on the list were the matzo balls, which had shredded carrot and dill in them and were quite flavorful, and all of us really liked the noodle kugel, which we decided would be a perfect pot luck dish. The challah turned out really well -- very pretty and shiny and tasted great.  The latkes were the most stubbornly problematic, and it took a call to Josh's mom to find out that a little flour mixed in would help bind the grated potato together but in the end, they tasted great too, and we ate every single one of them.
The finished product -- a lovely loaf of challah bread

Potato latkes;warning (which I forgot to heed from my friend Lilly) the only downside is the fumes from frying that linger long after the yummy pancakes are gone..

Challenge Plans

As I noted in Part I of this update, things have been a little off-track the last few weeks, but this last weekend injected some energy back into many of my challenges.  As I keep realizing (I guess I'm a slow learner), the more you do, the more you realize you're capable of doing, and I found myself not only taking some steps on some of the challenges I set up for this year, but making plans for some of the others.  Here's a quick run-down:

New Things: I'm still committed to at least one (preferably more) new things per month, and Siham, Leah and I have decided that we do want to try dog sledding this winter.  Both Siham and Leah had birthdays in January, and I was a shamefully bad friend who didn't buy presents at the appropriate time.  But now I am going to amend my ways and buy us all a ride with the Vermont Peace Pups as our belated celebration

Challenge 1. Become a better skier/snowboarder.  Sadly, I had to turn down not one but two invitations from Alexsis to go to Smuggs, plus one from Paul for Bolton because of, all things, work.  I hate when that happens.  Happily, Alexsis has forgiven me and we are on to go skiing on Friday (I don't teach on Fridays this semester) at Smuggs.

Challenge 2.  Become a better cook. Given what a smashing success our Jewish food cook-a-thon was, I think another is in order very soon. Kate and I agreed we should stay with some theme cooking. We might do another "ethnic" night or we might go Iron Chef style and pick an ingredient to center several different dishes around.

Challenge 3. Become a better ice skater.  At long last, this woefully neglected goal is getting dusted off and put into play.  Ali, who teaches ice skating as part of her job, has agreed to go skating together  Wednesday morning at the Leddy Park rink, and we will set up a schedule for regular skating after that.

Challenge 4. Finish a marathon.  I'm still working on this one, though it feels like lots of things have been conspiring against it.  I'm taking a sort of marathon prep class at the Y on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but since I teach at 8:30 am those mornings as well, I'm always having to finish early and rush off, or do my own thing without the group.  And I lost a week last week from being ill.  But I did do my scheduled long run this weekend, albeit at the slowest pace imaginable through the horrible messy snow on the sidewalks all over town.  If anyone has any clout with Mother Nature, please explain to her that she's wreaking havoc on my attempts to stay on any kind of schedule with this thing.

Challenge 5. Become a better rock climber.  Climbing this last weekend revealed an unpleasant truth to me.  I now know that if you don't go, you regress.  So, I'm determined to get on some kind of regular schedule with one or more climbing partners so I can actually start improving again

Challenge 6. Write a book with students.  The meeting this last weekend was very productive, and I think we all feel like that we gained some momentum, which is a big deal when working with twenty-something authors at once. 

Challenges 7-12.  Still not ready to add any more right now; I need to keep working till the ones I've already started are nicely incorporated into regular schedules and activities, and then worry about the others.

There is no question that taking on a challenge is infinitely easier with a partner, so if anyone wants to commit to working on any of these together, whether at the same time and place or in-tandem but long-distance please let me know.  For now, hope everyone's been able to dig out of the snow wherever they are!


  1. I am really glad you had such a great night and while in general I would agree with your statements about the US fiddling, I love the Superbowl. I think it is a fun tradition and a nice break from what is going on in the world. I think that you can be entertained and still be aware of what is going on.

  2. I love seeing all these challenges that you want to dive into. You are inspiring Trish!

  3. I REALLY wish I could have been there for the "Jewish Soul Food" night of cooking!