Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Western European Makes Pirogi

So, I've got a lot of catching up to do... I've been busy, and I've been bad about blogging. Well, let's see if we can't fix that, shall we?

(This post written for Monday, 6/1)

Tonight for dinner, I had intended to make cabbage pirogi. Cabbage is in season in my part of the world right now, and I've actually become a big fan of the stuff. It fills out stews and soups nicely, and the Bohemian in me is addicted to the flavor. So I picked up some Napa cabbage, and figured I was ready to go. Unfortunately, when I got home, I realized that my Napa cabbage was covered with small black flecks. Everything that I could find online indicated that this was either a result of a) bad handling and/or storage, as it turns out Napa is kind of fragile, or b) a fungal infection.

I decided not to eat it.

So instead, I figured I'd go for farmer's-cheese-filled pirogi. Farmer's cheese is the somewhat more accurate name for that ricotta that I've been making, with whole milk and something acidic. I didn't have lemons, only limes, but a lot of people argue that limes, with their greater acidity, are the better choice anyway. I used an entire half-gallon of whole milk this time, and came up with a whole lotta delicious ricotta.

While my cheese drained in the sink, I chopped up and sauteed two shallots and two cloves of garlic. I love shallots, more than I can possibly say. They have a darker, milder flavor than onions, and make for an interesting substitution. Between them and leeks, I hardly even buy onions anymore. When they were softened, I mashed the garlic-shallot mixture into the cheese with a fork, and voila: filling for pirogi.

At this point, I needed dough for the wrappers. Thankfully, Deb of SmittenKitchen is pretty into pirogi (and dumplings of all kinds, it would appear). She's got a great recipe for pirogi dough over on her site, which I followed to the letter, and it turned out wonderfully. Well, okay - I did make some changes. But it still turned out great.

Pirogi Dough

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water

In a large bowl, mound the flour up and make a well in the center. Add all the other ingredients to the well, and with a fork, begin whisking them together. As you do this, flour should begin to incorporate itself into the mixture. Keep this process going, nice and slow - it will end up taking maybe 20 minutes to incorporate all the flour that the liquid will handle. Once you have a soft dough, dump it out on a floured surface and knead it, adding flour as necessary to keep it from sticking. Keep this up for about 8 minutes, and you'll wind up with a very soft dough. Throw some plastic wrap over it, and let it sit for 30 minutes.

At this point, roll the dough out as thin as you can get it (or, if you're one of those people who likes doing things the easy way, send it through a pasta roller). Cut out circles with a fancy cutting implement - I call mine a "drinking glass". Place about a tablespoon of filling in each circle. Using your finger, wet the edges of the dough circle, and then pinch them together to seal the pirogi in a half-moon shape.

Once you've used up all your filling or all your dough or just got sick of doing this really tedious thing that you could buy at a store instead, set some water on to boil, and set out a skillet. Plop the pierogis in the boiling water. After a minute or two, they'll start to float; once they do, let them cook until tender, say 15 to 18 minutes. In the meantime, splash a little oil into that skillet and cook up some slices of onion (or, y'know, shallots or leeks). Keep it over a low heat and let them caramelize and crisp around the edges. Once the pirogis are done, take them out of the water with a slotted spoon and toss them in the skillet. Stir fry them up with the onions until they're a little bit browned. Then serve them, with a nice fat dollop of sour cream on top.

Man, I'm really hungry.

An Egypt post!

So there I was, telling my mother the story of my ill-fated Egyptian border crossing, when she realized that hey, this is an Egypt story! And hey, I should convince my crazy-ass daughter to post it on her blog! So here you go, as told to my mother - the story of my border crossing from Israel to Egypt. It starts in Taba, Egypt. The full trip started with a bus ride from Jerusalem, but you might just have to hear me tell that one in person.

: Well when you're in - let's say Egypt - sometimes you have to pay a little extra
me: oh, well, of course
in egypt that's just how things work
12:27 PM Lynn: But you can't pay anything to influence contract decision, government decisions, etc.
me: i didn't figure they'd be down with that in the states, though
Lynn: They say it's a fine line - thus teh record keeping.
me: gotcha
Lynn: But I think they're also realistic in that you can be put in very difficult positions to conduct legitimate business
12:28 PM me: right, fair enough
i guess i wasn't thinking in terms of international business
'cuz yeah - it's the only way to get anything done in egypt
if i've learned anything, it is that
also, pay close attention to who is a border guard and who is not
but that's a different story
12:29 PM :-P
Lynn: One I porbably haven't heard all the details on...
me: haha yeah
well, it's not all that bad
the border crossing at taba is really confusing
it looks like a damn resort hotel
12:30 PM and there are buildings and roadways and such, and none of this barricaded "you must go this way" business like you've got in most places
Lynn: No that doesn't sound typical
me: so yeah, they don't railroad you anywhere, but there are DEFINITELY tracks
and if you start going somewhere you're not supposed to, all of a sudden fifteen men in white uniforms show up and start yelling at you
i know this from experience
12:31 PM and then when i came out the other side, well, i wasn't sure i was quite out the other side
Lynn: Oh Lord -
me: because, well, resort hotel, right?
so i'm keeping my head down
i'm exhausted
i just spent four hours getting shitty sleep on a bus from jerusalem, and five hours getting shitty sleep in a backwater bus station on top of my bags, and an hour and a half hanging out in the open-air reception area of the egyptian consulate
i do NOT want to be fucked with at this point
12:32 PM so i think i'm out of the border crossing, and i'm walking down the sidewalk when i hear something that sounds an awful lot like a thick Arabic accent saying "Taxi?"
and I ignore it
and keep walking, without looking up
because I'm used to this bullshit by now
12:33 PM I shake my head no, and keep walking
more insistently now: "Taxi!"
I lift my head, but don't look at the guy - he's standing maybe 20 feet away
12:34 PM and I roll my eyes, give a half smile while still looking straight ahead, and in an EXTREMELY exasperated voice, I say, "No!" and shake my head
and then I hear, "Taxi! Taxi!"
and I think to myself, wait, that doesn't sound like "Taxi"...
that actually sounds an awful lot like "Passport!", now that I think about it
12:35 PM and I look up, and it's a border guard, shouting at me and demanding my passport
Lynn: OMG
me: at which point I promptly shit myself, turn bright red, and grovel
a lot
while handing him my passport
and trying to explain in English that he will understand why I walked away from him
because he is asking me repeatedly why I did so
12:36 PM even though he doesn't speak English and can't understand my response
so, he hands me back my passport with an undeniably disgusted look on his face, and goes back over to his folding chair with his buddies by the side of the road, where they're all smoking cigarettes
12:37 PM (I don't think I can really be blamed for the confusion, frankly)
Lynn: And then...
12:38 PM Are you in or out?
me: hahahaha
well, that's what I thought to myself
because i had no idea!
12:39 PM so, um, I kept my head up and kept walking, and kept a really close eye out for border guards
and then arrived in an area full of a whole bunch of skeevy taxi drivers
turns out i had underestimated the skeeviness of taxi drivers in the middle of Egyptian nowhere
and they are quite distinguishable from only slightly-skeevy border guards
so yeah
i made it through
12:40 PM Lynn: Well going this summer will be a non-event then
me: seriously
the border crossing is NUTS
and is not the way to get to cairo in my book
seriously, just fly from Tel Aviv or Aqaba
but it's a story for the grandkids, anyway
12:41 PM and that's not even counting the six-hour ride through the desert
Lynn: True - you'll be one adventurous granny someday
me: yup
i really should at least write up the story of GETTING to cairo
because it was outrageous
12:42 PM i mean, i can't even hardly believe i made it there
Lynn: No duh
me: after six hours of driving through the desert, i got dropped off at ramesses station, in the middle of downtown cairo
i had to borrow the cab driver's cell phone to call lisy
and here i am with everything i own in the world slung across my shoulders
12:43 PM and i've got to figure out how to get on the metro and get to her neighborhood
NUTS, i say
Lynn: Were you freaked out?
Cuz' I would be
me: well, at that point i was kind of too tired to be freaked out
and i was a little numb to the fact that i was in totally outrageous situations
12:44 PM Lynn: I guess you get past caring at some point
me: with little to no fallback help
i had basically realized that so long as i keep moving and keep trying, things work out
Lynn: Profound statement that
me: heh yeah
12:45 PM it's when i got scared, sat down, and stalled out that things had any real potential of getting bad
and my backup plan was to tell someone to take me to the museum
and then explain that i was a friend of wahied helmy-shahat
in my broke-ass arabic
12:46 PM Lynn: That's a lot more than some people would have...
me: hehehe
Lynn: So how can I copy what you just wrote and add it to your blog
me: /snicker
tell you what, i'll post this conversation, word for word
12:47 PM hell, i'll do it right now
Lynn: Really?
me: yep