I prepared for Sandy’s arrival by searching unsuccessfully for D batteries, stocking up on canned goods and other non-perishables, and baking a Banana Peanut Butter Crumble Loaf. The electricity cut out at 4:00 on Monday afternoon, I responded by swinging into Survivalist Cook mode and stirring up a Rice ‘n Beans dish for dinner that night. Natural disasters definitely go down better with a home cooked meal, that’s one thing I took away from my Sandy experience. Of course, the kids couldn’t be more pleased: no school for an entire week! A continually burning fire! and bunking together throughout it all made it feel like a camping adventure for them.
But for us grown-ups it was a bleaker picture: Our area was a mess of fallen trees and dangling wires. Having no power for an extended amount of time makes for a grim and gloomy atmosphere. The gas shortage and long lines and all around misery made everything seem desperate and slightly apocalyptic. And then on Friday 5 days after Sandy’s arrival I left for Houston. The change of scenery couldn’t be more startling. The Evelyn Rubinstein JCC in Houston had scheduled a cooking demonstration/book signing with me for their Book Fair back in June. I was feeling more than a little guilty when I was greeted in Houston with beautiful sunny weather, abundant electricity, and bright smiles. But the text I got from my next door neighbor back home, shortly before sun-down on Friday, informing me that electricity was back up felt like a miracle, and then I was ready to relax and have some fun.
Houston is a huge, sprawling, flat city. Driving from one side to another can take hours, and will show you the wide range of ethnic neighborhoods that fill the city- from Indian to Muslim to Jewish to Hispanic. Texas hospitality is more than a cliche. My hosts from the JCC went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable and well-taken care of. The hotel I stayed at was large and bustling and was hosting a couple of high school football teams, and a dance competition and the competitors (and their Moms) in their sparkles, glitter, and pep. After a shabbat shalom spent mainly in my room reading and napping and basically decompressing from Sandy’s visit, I was ready to sample some delicious Texan fare.
I learned about Hugo’s Mexican restaurant in my foodie mags, and was really excited to visit. And was not disappointed. Beginning with a crisp green salad with cotija cheese and dressed in a pomegranate vinaigrette, and moving on to smoky grilled tuna tacos, and ending with crispy cinnamon-ey churros with dulce de leche and chocolate dipping sauces. Every bite was delicioso.
Sunday was show time y’all! We started the program with a fun and rowdy Mama Doni concert- Yeehaw! Then it was my turn, we decided on a Kosher Thanksgiving-themed program. All the recipes came from the book, of course, and began with Barbecue Snack Mix, because what else do you do on Thanksgiving while the big meal is being prepped and all the cooks are busy in the kitchen fretting and fuming, but watch football and the Macy’s Day Parade on the tube. And you can’t do that without having a yummy snack to munch on, right? And then because we’re in Texas we made a pan of cornbread, which is perfect for stuffing, or to make crunchy croutons for your salad with, or to just eat plain alongside the turkey and all the fixin’s. And for dessert? Why Pumpkin Pie of course!
What makes these recipes different from all other recipes? I asked the assembled group. ” There’s no bacon?” piped up one of the kids. Yes, true, absolutely, but these are recipes that usually require some kind of dairy ingredient to make it yummy. Instead of butter in the snack mix we use olive oil. Cornbread usually needs buttermilk or cream and butter to make it moist and tasty- but my secret ingredient is creamed corn. I gave them a hint regarding the secret ingredient in the pumpkin pie…it is a milk but it’s not dairy. Condensed milk?….umm no. Soy milk? getting closer. Coconut milk!
It was hands on, and lots of fun. As we cooked we came up with a Stirring song, and a sorta-dance to go along with it. Stir it up, stir it up, stir it up…combined with wide butter-churning arm motions. Even the grown-ups got into it. The catering staff at the JCC had made a few batches of each recipe, so everyone got to try what we were making right there and then.
In between the cooking demo and the next Mama Doni concert we took a brief field trip to the
Chocolate Bar. This place is my idea of heaven. I was fixated on the super-sized layer cakes splendidly displayed for all to dreamily stare at. I love cake- it’s my favorite sweet treat, but these Texas sized slices, were too much even for me. I settled on a couple of chocolate covered cereal bonbons (cinnamon toast crunch and cap’n crunch) and a truffle- all delectable.
We zoomed back to the JCC for another rollicking good time concert, a book signing, and then before I knew it I was back in New York. Back into the thick of it all, with a few ideas brewing thanks to my Texas trip. Still feeling the warmth of down-home Texas hospitality. And remembering as I survey the damage that Sandy wrought, that crazy storms are a semi regular occurrence down South, and that if you have your friends and family (and some cake) you’re doing pretty well.