La Casa de Isaac

While visiting the Gourmet Non Cook’s family in Highland Park, Illinois, we had lunch at La Casa de Isaac.  Issac, the owner/proprietor, is one of 12 children from a Mexican family.  The twist is that his family converted [one assumes from Roman Catholicism] to Judaism so the restaurant is closed Friday evening and Saturday day, in observation of the sabbath.  However, the Kosher rules of no meat with dairy seem not to apply here, as the steak enchiladas were smothered with cheese.  They were also perfectly flavored with a delicate, subtle green salsa.

The advertised house specialty is King David’s Quesadillas with lox, cream cheese and onions, but for my money the specialty of the house is the pozole, a soup traditionally made with hominy and pork but, since this is Issac’s house, is here made with chicken.

Served alongside is a tiny plate of the traditional garnishes including lime, avocado, diced onion, red chili flakes, and dried oregano.  I added more lime and more red pepper as I ate, upping the spice ante with each spoonful.

My father, a true aficionado of Mexican food, says that pozole is like meatloaf–every house has its own recipe.  If you’re anywhere near Highland Park, Isaac’s recipe is definitely worth checking out!

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Rock a Roll – sushi fun for everyone!

Last night, Christmas Eve, the Gourmet Non-Cook, our two housemates, and I set a table for 17 and invited a wonderful collection of friends to “rock a roll” and make their own sushi.  A good time was had by all and, once again, I felt incredibly blessed to share a wonderful meal with wonderful people.

Ace and Alicia made plates out of pine planks covered in parchment paper, an idea that came to the GNC in a dream (and which was a dream to clean up–just peel away the paper!):

We rearranged the furniture (when else do you clean in the corners?!) and set a long table:

Joanna and Amanda supervised the peeling, chopping, blanching and marinating of carrots, asparagus, sweet potatoes and portabella mushrooms:

And Peter sliced the tuna, fresh as can be thanks to the Uncommon Market:

Mary, Peter, and Joanna were the rolling coaches extraordinaire:

Patient…

…talented…

…and creative.

Amanda collected the finished rolls and took them to the table,

where they were much admired.

With great laughter and toasting we gathered to enjoy each others’ company and celebrate our community of the moment.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Surely, they ate.

At some point this season it occurred to me that something is missing from the Biblical Christmas story.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)

And then the shepherds came to visit.   Methinks the story misses a key element.

Surely, they ate.

I picture the regret on the innkeeper’s face as he turned them away, feeling sorry despite his practiced indifference.  I picture his wife behind the counter, imploring her husband to find some space for the bedraggled young couple.

I picture her then moving away from the exchange and heading to her kitchen, assembling a meal to take out to the barn.  Meaty stew or thin soup; fresh figs or dried apricots; leftover crusts of the morning’s bread.  Something to welcome the road-weary, anxious pair.  I bet she sent a son or daughter to the tiny shop next door for bread or tea or dried lentils.

(I also picture her boiling some water and calling the local midwife.  But that’s another story.)

I feel sure that someone brought food to the new parents, tucked away in the barn behind the busy inn.   And I feel sure that everyone was grateful–Joseph and Mary for the hospitality, the others for the chance to share their daily bread with strangers in need.

A shared meal is a powerful thing.  This Christmas, I feel very fortunate to be sitting down to meals with both biological and chosen family, creating new meal traditions and celebrating old ones.  With each meal, we play out the age-old story of the shared table, creating a community in that moment.  I am blessed.

Tulsi Tea Room

Sunday last, as snow finally fell for the first time this year, I was transported back in time and halfway around the globe to Dharmasalam, India.  Several years ago I had the good fortune to travel in northern India; because I was there during the winter, my companions and I spent quite a bit of time in teahouses, warming ourselves with pots of spicy chai (tea) and watching the snow fall.

Tulsi Tea Room, on Elm Street, has recreated this teahouse experience quite wonderfully.    A dozen tea blends are steeped by the cup or by the pot; enjoy with Solenne Thompson’s  vegan whole-foods sweet-treats as well as freshly-baked muffins and cookies.  At lunch time there’s an Ayurvedic lunch offering.  My favorite part is a cozy cushion-covered floor space perfect for relaxing with a group of friends.

Read the whole story in the December issue of the Montpelier Bridge, on newsstands now!

And visit the Tea Room, on Elm Street next to Royal Orchid Thai, Wednesday-Saturday from 10-5:30.

Food to be thankful for…which to be thankful

Every meal with, or en route to, family has a purpose, because it’s part of the larger narrative, the timeless story about people gathering together to eat and celebrate. So here’s mine:

The Gourmet Non-Cook and I started with meatloaf and Caesar salad at the counter of the Original General Store in Pittsfield (a Vermont Fresh Network member) en route to Goshen, NY. We made it in time for family dinner before the big day: Aunt Betsy’s chicken chili, with cornbread and laughter.

Thanksgiving: Coffee and a hard roll to fuel up. A 21-pound turkey from Tangletown Farm, brined overnight in a cooler in the garage and enjoyed with my sweetie’s mother, brother, aunts, cousins–a family with whom I was grateful to be gathered. Later, apple crisp, pumpkin cheesecake, and cinnamon ice cream from Strafford Organic Creamery–though I’m not sure how I ate another bite.

Black Friday: goodbye to her family via Joe Fix Its; we picked up rugelach and flourless chocolate cake from the Goshen Gourmet Cafe next door, to take to mine. Mole polle y nino en vuelta on Arthur Avenue with mom and sis and bro-in-law, then a stop down the street at Mike’s Deli in the Italian market for prosciutto and parmesan and salad fixings. Helped my sis make turkey rice soup–while leaving enough leftovers for sandwiches, of course.

Saturday: A breeze through the Union Square Greenmarket holiday market (no food, but a beautiful spice stall) en route to Chinatown, where we ate Pho and Vietnamese dumplings at Nha Trang on Baxter Ave. Visited the Buddhist temple and the Chinese groceries before heading to Babycakes for gluten free doughnuts and chocolate chip cookies.

All good things must come to an end: Turkey sandwiches for the road, and a vanilla latte at the Haymarket Cafe in Northhampton, Mass, were a gentle ending to a weekend of good food with family and friends. May I always remember to be as grateful for food and family as I was this weekend!