Returning to Reality

We are creatures of comfort. We thrive around the things that make us comfortable. Outside of our spheres, we are awkward, edgy, perhaps shy, dispirited, and uncomfortable. Sure, we are capable of adapting and acclimating to these new areas, but do we really want to? And while we assimilate, a part of us still holds on to that comfort zone, longing for the intimate setting that safely and securely envelopes each of us.

After a ridiculously intense day in the lab, I was relieved to slide back my keyboard tray, turn off the monitor, push my chair out, grab my things and exit. I was looking forward to my comfort zone, Family Dinner, where friends and friendships abound. Just a few short hours of convivial conversation, catching up on each other’s lives over bowls of hearty bell pepper soup; consoling each other over trays of pita and hummus; celebrating each other with glasses of satiating banana shakes – the Bible word for this is Love.

This particular Family reunion was Turkish themed, in honor of Jessica’s new Turkish cookbook. As I came out of work late, I was frantically scheming of what I could make for dinner. What IS Turkish anyway? I certainly had no idea, so I decided on a mere craving – Baklava! I have a horrible sweet tooth, and only something as strong as Baklava can cure it. If you’ve never had it, let me tell you, it is food of the gods! Layers of flakey, buttery phyllo pastry, filled with a sweet and sticky nut and honey medley. Delicious. I’ve been meaning to make Baklava for a while now, and have looked up quite a few recipes, all of which have their own idiosyncrasies and what not. But due to the time pressure, I did not work from a recipe, but memory and intuition. And thank God for intuition, because after much anticipation and impatience (from Jessica!!), they came out beautifully. Wouldn’t you agree?
The Baklava was preceded by a simple Roasted Bell Pepper Soup, Bell Pepper and Feta Couscous, Pita and Hummus, and several rounds of thick and creamy Banana Shakes. I will post the soup recipe when I receive it from Jimmy James.

Anh’s Quickie Baklava
Thanks Jimmy for pre-buying all the ingredients for me!

1 cup melted butter
1 lb. (18 sheets) phyllo pastry sheets, thawed but kept moist under a damp rag
*1 lb. coarsely chopped pistachios (or walnuts, or a mixture of your choice nuts)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbs cinnamon
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup honey
1 stick cinnamon
zest of 1 lemon

*Because Jimmy was brilliant, he bought a pound of shelled pistachios. Now, being on a time crunch, that was a ridiculous amount of work because I spent the better half of an hour shucking the shells off those things. What a pain! Thank you soo much for helping me! 🙂 Anyway step one, de-shell pistachios.

Preheat oven to 350*F.
Generously grease a 9×13″ cake pan (or large casserole dish works too I think).
In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon and crushed nuts. Set aside.
Lay one sheet of phyllo down into the pan and brush ample amounts of butter onto the sheet. Repeat for 3 more sheets. On the top of the forth, brush on more butter, then sprinkle about 1/3 (or just enough to cover the sheet) of the nut mixture over the top. If you have phyllo dough hanging off the side of your pan, simply fold them over the nuts as well, making sure to generously butter all the sheets. The butter really helps to make the phyllo dough crunch up, if not, you get this soggy sticky mess… Over the nuts, lay another phyllo sheet on top, butter the sheet and repeat until you have 4 sheets on top of the nut mixture. Again, on that top sheet, butter and sprinkle another 1/3 over the top. Repeat until you have 3 layers of nuts sandwiched between 12 phyllo sheets. The remaining sheets will be placed over the last nut layer, again buttering each sheet you place down. With a sharp knife, cut the entire tray into individual pieces. Some people like triangles/diamonds, but I opted for the simpler rectangle.
Bake in oven for 30 minutes or so, keeping a vigilant eye. At some point, the top was browning too quickly for me, so I tented it in foil and continued baking.
While baking, heat in a saucepan the water, honey, lemon zest, and cinnamon stick. Allow to simmer and thicken up. My syrup was a bit watery, so I suggest 1/3 cup of sugar or something to thicken it up. Set aside.
Once golden brown and beautiful, remove baklava cake pan from oven and drizzle syrup over the hot baklava. Allow to cool before serving. I had left over filling, which I also sprinkled on top just for aesthetics. Voila. Simple as cake… no, as baklava!

J^2 Banana Shakes

I don’t like shakes. It’s funny because I always advertise the Falafel Drive-In‘s banana shakes, when I never even order them (ask someoneiknow). But these Banana Shakes were just too good, forcing me to get over my dislike of milkshakes. You have to try them. They are particularly tasty on a fine summer evening like last night… and they are another great way to use up bananas past their prime. The following ingredients makes 1 serving.

250 mL milk
1 banana
1 tbs honey
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Blend all ingredients together and serve chilled.

After dinner, we all took up a few bikes and rode around the Oakland-Berkeley Telegraph area. It was really cute because there was a tandem which the girls took, and I hung on to Jimmy James for dear life on the back of a beat-up Schwinn. I really think we should have busted out to “Sound of Music.” It would have been icing on the cake. But that was the wonderful end to what would have been a terrible day. Thank you all so much for the company, the friendship, the food, the family. You will be hearing from me shortly on the upcoming family dinner events and other random kitchen events. I plan to crank out as much food as possible before school starts, at which point I will go back to starving again. But thanks for reading and until soon fair readers!


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2 Responses to Returning to Reality

  1. Amrita says:

    ooh..that baklava looks yummy!

  2. Christine L says:

    Your food looks yummm. If only I had to time to bake :[ Though I guess I have time because I just got back from an hour long trip to Safeway at midnight to get fooooood. 😛 But you were in town! What were you doing last Thursday?? I randomly drove through Berkeley and thought about calling you, but figured you were still off exploring the world. *sigh

    Anyyyways, hope you’re doing wonderfully. :]

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