Shakshuka for Ha'atzmaut (and a Bugbaffler, too)
After a horrible evening yesterday, I woke up to find my beautiful sister, Stacey, addressing the impending termite swarming season on Facebook.
After losing her house and possessions to hurricane Katrina, Stacey moved from our hometown of Chalmette to Slidell, on the Northshore of New Orleans. Stacey loved everything about the Northshore except for the annual plague of Formosa termites. Taking to the sky during the May mating season, the termites nuptial flight of frenzy is a sight once witnessed, will not soon be forgotten.
Not only did Stacey’s move force her witness it each year, but she is thrown into the middle of the melee every evening when she gets home from work. Part of going home means you have to actually get from your car into the house. This was impossible to do without the termites flying into her hair, her clothes, her doorway and eventually, into her bed.
Stacey will be the first to tell you that she is not "a critter person" to use her exact words.
In fact she might even say it has something to do with her sister locking her in a chicken coop when she was a kid. An accusation I will neither confirm nor deny. Personally, I think Stacey's animal aversion has to do with that German Shepherd who bit her on the behind when she was eight. But I am getting way off track here.
One of the beautiful things about Stacey is that she is relentless. And she is unashamed. "I'm not scared," yelled after a drink or two, has been her battle cry for years. It is a cry that has been often duplicated by my in-laws (Y’all know who you are.), though they can never quite duplicate the charm of Stacey’s New Orleans accent. “I’m not scayered,” giggles my sister-in-law, Lisa.
Stacey’s determination led to a solution to the termite situation. She posted a picture of herself modeling it on Facebook. From the top of her head to below her knees, she is wearing a Bugbaffler. (I know, I know. Bugbafflers, Blingers. If you read my Traveling Tea Party post, you know what a Blinger is. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.) I cannot help but smile when I see her covered in the Bugbaffler insect protective suit and her bed trussed up in mosquito netting. Though she may hate termites and other critters with a passion, she has found a way to live with them in harmony. Something we can all learn from.
After seeing Stacey's post, I scrolled through a Whatsapp recipe group that a friend had referred me to. Tomorrow is Haatzmaut, it said.
Haatzmaut? What is that, I wondered? Sounds like hazmat. Made me think again of Stacey's suit. Hmm. Maybe I can make whatever this haatzmaut thing is today for my blog. Stacey's hazmat suit and haatzmaut sound like a good combo.
Of course, the Google god has since enlightened me that Ha'atzmaut is not a dish, but it is the name of Israel's Independence Day. Had I read further along the recipe thread (which of course, I later did), I would have realized my interpretation was incorrect. The moderator said, "Think of something Israeli that you can make for your family today."
Reading that, my mind immediately went to shakshuka, that divine dish of poached eggs swimming in spicy tomato sauce. Sam and I enjoyed some at the beginning of quarantine, but that was already over six weeks ago. Definitely time to make it again.
My misinterpretation of the word, ha'atzmaut, made me think of Stacey again. I've been wanting to write about her, not just because she is amazing and I love her, but because she makes me laugh in a way that no one else can.
She is the most pure of heart person I have ever known. She is also one of the funniest. She sometimes mispronounces or misspells words in a context that makes it especially funny.
Like, for example, the first time she posted a picture of herself in the termite suit. She wrote these words, "The termiNAtes are not going to get me." If seeing her in the suit weren't funny enough, her misspelling of termites also appealed to my juvenile sense of humor.
Don't misunderstand me. Stacey is an incredibly smart woman. She runs an office of over thirty people, and has been in leadership positions since her early twenties. The kind of paperwork she executes on a daily basis would have me blubbering in the corner of a padded room, wearing a straightjacket and swallowing meds were someone to ask me to do the same. Additionally, since it’s not uncommon for me to misplace my reading glasses, misspellings have become the norm for me as well.
That said, she still cracks me up. Seeing her again in the Bugbaffler, followed so quickly by the revelation that Ha'atzmoat is not a food, but Israel's Independence Day, reminded me of a time long ago.
My mother, father, Stacey and I were gathered around the kitchen table having breakfast. It was 1986. Pan Am flight 73 had been hijacked.
"What the hell?" My father was furious. "Those Arabs are out of their minds?"
"Dad!" Stacey yelled at him. "You can't talk like that. Tracey's an Arab now!"
We all looked at her and burst out laughing. Although I was raised Catholic, I had recently converted to Judaism. One would think that 34 years later, I would know what Ha'atzmaut meant. Just as we thought back then that Stacey would know I was now Jewish, not Arabic.
No matter. Jew/Arab/Catholic. Call me what you will. I would always be the same sister that Stacey has stood by and loved.
Way back when I was having my first client party for my husband, Marty, nervous because I was catering and cooking food for over a hundred people, Stacey came to the rescue. She packed up her husband and a ton of fish, driving through the night from Louisiana to South Florida. Though Stacey didn’t cook, she helped him set up a fry station, then helped me with anything necessary to make the party a success. Marty's clients were thrilled.
Stacey always comes through. Like she did yesterday. The evening was so difficult because yesterday we had to say goodbye to Laura and Kenton’s beloved dog, Lola. Knowing that I loved Lola as much as Laura’s family, Stacey reached out to offer me comfort and sympathy.
Fifteen years ago, Kenton saved this sweet, butter colored Pitbull from certain death. Not only was she a breed of dog feared by many, but she was badly injured. Kenton nursed her injuries, then made sure that no matter where life took them, Lola had a home at their sides.
From Florida to New Orleans for college. From New Orleans back to Florida when Katrina hit. Back to Slidell, when our family members built four houses in a row, post hurricane.
It was here that Stacey shone again. As terrified of dogs as she has been since that childhood bite, as big and scary as a Pitbull can be, it was Stacey who volunteered to babysit Lola whenever Laura and Kenton went out of town.
Stacey has so much love in her that the fear of Lola didn't stop her from helping. It was just a few weeks ago, in fact, that she posted a short video on Facebook, of a woman being pulled across the yard by a dog.
"This reminds me of that time I babysat Lola," she said. In the video, the woman threw the dog a treat, not realizing that she was still holding on to the dog's leash. It was the same thing that Stacey had done with Lola.
Afraid to get close enough to Lola to hand her a treat, Stacey threw it across the yard. My mom sat in her lawn chair, screaming laughing when Lola lunged after the cookie, launching Stacey into the air right behind her.
That Stacey can always laugh at herself, says so much. She is the first person to remind us of those incidents, not being embarrassed by her mishaps, but taking joy in watching the people she loves smile. Of all the things I've wanted in the world, being more like my sister is at the top of my list.
It's three in the afternoon and Sam will waking up soon. He has his days and nights mixed up. Kind of like the bread I tried to make yesterday. It didn’t rise. It could have been the cook’s error, of course. Who would think that swapping out some rye flour for all-purpose flour, as well as adding molasses and caraway seeds would change the outcome of a normally successful sourdough? Surely it was the bread getting its holidays mixed up. Bread isn't supposed to rise on Passover, right?
Only tomorrow is Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Happy birthday, Israel. I’m on my way to the kitchen. Sam is stirring. I’m going to make him shakshuka for breakfast.
Though the origins and spelling of shakshuka are debated, it cannot be denied that this spicy dish of eggs poached in tomatoes is beloved in many cultures. Similar to the eggs in purgatory found in Italian cuisine, the recipes for shakshuka are rich and varied. It is a dish that lends itself to play. Have some Za’atar in the house? Throw it in. Baharat? That works, too. Neither? That’s okay. Red pepper flakes and garlic will do the trick. Adjust the recipe to your family’s taste and tolerance for spice.
Serves 2 to 4, depending on appetite
¼ cup canola oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small poblano pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped or pressed
3 tablespoons dried parsley
Red pepper flakes to taste
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
4 to 6 eggs, depending on how many people you are feeding
Heat oil on medium high in a sauté pan. Add onions and poblanos, cooking until softened. Add garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes. Simmer for just a minute, being careful not to brown the garlic. Browning the garlic will make the dish bitter. Turn the heat to low and add the tomatoes. Cover and simmer on very low for 30 minutes. Turn the heat back up to medium and add the eggs, one at a time.
Break the eggs into a tiny bowl before adding, if you wish. This way they will not only slide into the pan easier, but stray shells can be plucked out without disturbing the whole dish. Cover and let simmer until the eggs are done to your liking. We like ours soft but not runny. It took about five minutes. Time will vary depending on your stove.
We serve this straight from the pan, to avoid breaking up the eggs by moving them into a serving dish. You’ll definitely want to include some kind of bread on the side for dipping. Preferably not the epic flop you see in my picture. Pita is more traditional, but French bread works well, too.
Are there any variations of this dish that your family enjoys? I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me a note or comment below.