♦ Indulgence

Dear Shaina,

Thank you for the compliment.  It is comforting to know that I haven’t lost my touch completely … if only, to make you call home.

Time does fly.  It’s bad enough when its my life, but at least I can review the markers in real time.  As far as your life goes, it’s harder to track.  Whole chunks of space go missing…and the moments of missing are sharp and ever present. Talking with you helps calm my anxieties and gives me enough tidbits of your daily doings to activate my vicarious pleasure (or angst). So, thanks for indulging me.

Mazel Tov on your success in Arabic.  I know how much time and effort you sweated over it.  And congratulations on allowing yourself an indulgent vacation.  I have yet to regret any of my indulgences and only wish I had allowed myself more over the years.  I am making up for it.

Yoga is my current indulgence. I am surprised by how much pleasure I am experiencing in practicing yoga.  Five days this week…I have never in my life done any physical activity five days a week! It’s not that it’s easy and I fully understand why its called a practice.  There’s just something about the physicality and the restoration, the striving and the serenity and the total focus on…my breathing, my heartbeat, my sore joints and stiff muscles, my body’s imperfect capacity, my gratitude for my strength…and my life…and the stilling of my mind.  I am fully indulging myself in this pursuit of balance, acceptance and peace. I feel good! Maybe it’s just all that seratonin leeching out into my brain…whatever!

Dad and I spent four days iced in at our winter chalet at the top of the hill.  I didn’t want to leave.  We were very comfortable being holed up together, safe and warm with plenty of good food and books…and no obligations or commitments. Having always been so outwardly driven and people-needy, it was a sweet surprise to experience another part of myself.

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Being home put me into full blown cooking mode. My super sized pots have been getting a workout.  Pea Soup, chicken soup and, this week, an actual red-meat chili!  Dad always brings home the Wednesday NY Times from the office and gives me the Dining Section. This week it had a recipe for Chinese Chili that intrigued  both of us. It’s made with brisket cut up in chunks…I haven’t made a red meat dish for as long as I can remember, especially a chili.  It was delicious! I made enough to bring to the Hirsch’s (he’s still in the hospital) and for Shabbat dinner with family and friends.

The rarity of my making a recipe with meat made me realize how much of our eating is influenced by your vegetarianism. I shop and cook as if you live around the corner and might drop in for dinner at any moment.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to start serving meat at every meal.  Dad and I still enjoy eating vegetarian style most nights.  But maybe this Chinese Brisket Chili is a sign of reality seeping into my pots affirming the separation of our lives…as it should be.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop missing you anytime soon.

Love, Mom

xooxoxoxoxoxox

Easy Low-Fat Eggplant Parmesan (Lasagna Style)
Vegetarian, Gluten Free

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I promised you my eggplant parmesan recipe this week…the perfect meal to pull out of the freezer when it’s freezing outside. I love eggplant parmesan and I love vegetarian lasagna.  I don’t love all the breading and frying in traditional eggplant parmesans and I don’t love the heavy pasta load in traditional lasagnas. So I made up this recipe,taking the best of both dishes and eliminating the high calorie elements. You can make your own sauce or buy your favorite ready-made spaghetti sauce or combine the two. Surprisingly, this satisfies all my Italian cravings without leaving me feeling one little bit deprived.

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I made these in late fall when the last harvest of eggplants and basil abounded. My measurements are imprecise, so if you end up with extra of one of the components, not to worry.  It can be reused for something else.  Extra roasted eggplant makes a great side vegetable or can be used in a stir-fry dish.  Extra sauce can be used on pasta or frozen for later use.  Extra ricotta with spinach is perfect for stuffing manicotti and rebaking smothered in tomato sauce. All good in these cold winter months!

Preheat oven to 375° convection bake or 425° on regular bake setting

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Japanese Eggplant

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Traditional Eggplant

Eggplant

  • 3-6 medium sized eggplants or the equivalent amount of Japanese eggplants (long thin eggplants)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Cheese Filling

  • 1 pound low fat Ricotta Cheese
  • Basil, Oregano and any other favorite Italian seasonings, fresh or dried
  • 16 oz package chopped frozen spinach defrosted or fresh spinach sautéed and chopped

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 – 3 quarts Tomato sauce
  • 2 large onions
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Boxed or canned plum or diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar or agave
  • Salt, Pepper and Italian seasonings ( basil, oregano, parsley)
  • (Your favorite store bought tomato sauce is a great timesaving alternative)

Topping

  •  1 pound low fat mozzarella cheese, grated


Eggplant

Slice eggplant in 1/2 inch horizontal slices.  If using regular eggplants, lay out on a sheet pan and sprinkle with salt. Let sit about 30 minutes.  Salt removes the bitterness and excess water.  After 30 minutes, rinse in cold water and pat dry.  If using Japanese eggplants, you can skip the salt step and just slice 1/2 inch round slices.

Place up eggplant in a large bowl and lightly drizzle with EVOO (olive oil).  Lightly salt and pepper.  Stir eggplant around in bowl until lightly oiled and seasoned. Place parchment paper on a large baking sheet and arrange prepared eggplant in a single layer on the sheet. Place in pre-heated oven for 15 to 25 minutes until lightly browned and slightly crisp, but not burned. It may take several baking sheets to bake all the eggplant. The roasted eggplant at this stage is delicious as it is!  When roasting eggplant to use as a side vegetable I just cut the eggplant in chunks and bake it the same way.

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Tomato Sauce
In the meantime, if you are making your own sauce or doing some combo of homemade and store bought, you can prepare it now.  I usually sauté onions and garlic in a little olive oil, add a jar of store bought vegetarian tomato sauce and a couple boxes or cans of plum or diced tomatoes. I season with salt, pepper, a tad of sugar or agave if needed, basil and oregano and simmer over low heat until it tastes like I like it. Set aside when done.

Cheese/Spinach Mixture
Drain the liquid from the defrosted spinach or cook (sauté or microwave) the fresh spinach and drain off any liquid.  Mix the drained spinach into the ricotta cheese.  Add pepper and basil to taste. Set aside.

Assembly
Spray casserole dishes with a non-stick spray.  I use pyrex loaf pans or casserole dishes at least 3 inches deep.

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Cover the bottom of the casserole with tomato sauce and layer the eggplant on the bottom of the dish. Cover with a thin layer of tomato sauce.  Sprinkle a light amount of grated mozzarella over the eggplant layer.  Spread a 1/2 – 3/4 inch layer of the ricotta cheese/spinach mixture over that.  Continue to layer tomato sauce, eggplant and tomato sauce and end with a generous topping of grated mozzarella cheese.

To Bake and serve immediately:

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Place loosely covered (aluminum foil) casserole on a cookie sheet and place in a 350° preheated oven.  Bake about 30 minutes or until bubbly.  Remove foil covering and continue baking another five or ten minutes until cheese topping is browned lightly or the way you like it.  Remove from oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes.  Serve with extra tomato sauce, a fresh green salad and some garlic bread.

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To Freeze:

Finish assembly and wrap tightly in freezer wrap and plastic freezer bags.  Freeze immediately.  Thaw when ready to use and bake according to instructions.

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