Most of us are familiar with George Bernard Shaw’s dictum, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Well, of course I realized that saying was just a bunch of bunk. . . until I hit 40, that is. At that point, I realized, “Oh, woe, why did I waste my youth on being young??”
There’s no denying we live in a youth-obsessed culture, one in which the elderly are given little if any respect or recognition (though I bet that will all change once Baby Boomers reach their 70s and 80s. . . they do tend to take over everything, don’t they?).
It’s a truism to say that when a woman reaches her 40s (unless she’s a Cougar like Courtney Cox-Arquette), she becomes more or less invisible to the opposite sex. (Seriously. I’ve walked across the street from a bevy of construction workers in shorts and a T-shirt, with nary a glance. The Girls got more flirting than I did!).
And why do we stuff the elderly into homes with only each other, like a clothing store full of only black socks–and no other varieties? (When I was last in Montreal, The CFO and I visited a retirement residence into which my dad is considering moving. While the place was modern, clean and provided roomy apartments, good food, and weekly entertainment, his first comment upon leaving the building was, “It’s okay. . . but they’re all so old.” This from a guy who’s 88! Truly, if I inherit even half of my dad’s health and longevity genes, I’ll be a lucky woman, indeed.)
I suppose it’s inevitable that “old” becomes synonymous with “useless” in a culture that builds obsolescence into most inventions. Last week I heard a radio interview on CBC’s Q. The host interviewd Anna Jane Grossman, author of Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By. Her focus (and she’s barely reached the tail end of her twenties) was items that have already become outdated within our lifetimes. Think eight-track tapes (and, bringing up a close second, video casettes); think cursive writing (and the poor profs who have to mark hand-written exams they can’t decipher); think corner phone booths (sorry, Superman, you’ll just have to stay on Krypton, because over here, you’re out of a change room); think Mix Tapes (and the recurring pleasure you experience from seeing a friend’s handwriting on the song list–well, if you can decipher it); and, perhaps most alarming, think “looking old” (how about Melanie Griffith, Madonna, Courtney Love or Mickey Rourke? They may not look old, but they don’t exactly look human, either). In our culture, many inventions are superannuated even before some of us can learn to use them (yes, I admit, I still don’t text message).
Well, the recipe for this kugel (really a savory bread pudding) is old. Really old. And, frankly, I still adore it. It was my mom’s recipe, which she got from her mom, who got it from her mom. . . and so on.
This kugel doesn’t include any modern ingredients or preparation methods. You won’t find wasabi paste, matcha green tea powder, or pink sea salt in this baby. You won’t need a hand blender, food processor, or VitaMix to make it. It’s entirely an old-fashioned recipe.
Given my ancestors’ humble Russian beginnings, the ingredients are more reflective of what one might find in a cold-climate farm at the outset of autumn: root vegetables, bread, eggs (which I’ve omitted, of course). And yet, even without flashy ingredients, even without any spiciness or too many seasonings (except fresh dill), this kugel is delicious and remains a long-standing favorite in my home.
The pudding is moist and flavorful, firm in the middle, with low-key flecks of grated carrot, chopped celery and yellow onion. The exterior browns up to a crisp, bronzed crust (in fact, my sisters and I used to wait until Mom placed the platter of kugel on the table, hefty slices piled high, then all pounce at once to be the first to grab a corner piece, as those attained the greatest crust-to-filling ratio after baking).
The dish is quick, easy, and comforting. Great for a holiday (such as the just-passed Rosh Hashanah or the upcoming Thanksgiving) or simply a quiet meal at home. And unlike some other aspect of modern life, the final result will never go out of style.
“Mum, don’t feel bad about that lack of whistles now that you’re. . . um. . . older. I’m sure that if you walked around sans clothing like Elsie and I do, you’d get lots of attention, too.”
My Mother’s Vegetable Bread Kugel
A versatile dish that serves as a wonderful side dish, or can be wrapped and toted along for lunch the next day, eaten at room temperature.
3 Tbsp (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
2 large carrots, grated
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups (480 ml) vegetable broth or stock, divided
1/3-1/2 cup (80-120 ml, to your taste) fresh dill, chopped
6-8 slices heavy, dense bread of choice, preferably a bit stale (I used a quinoa/millet loaf)
1 pkg (12 ounces or 375 g) Mori-Nu firm or extra firm silken tofu (or use regular silken tofu and decrease the broth by about 1/2 cup or 120 ml)
1/4 cup (60 ml) lightly toasted cashews, or cashew butter
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely ground flax seeds
Pepper, to taste (add more salt if the broth wasn’t salty enough)
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line an 8 x 8″ (20 cm) square pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a large, heavy frypan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery and onion and sauté until onion is translucent, 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add 1 cup (240 ml) broth and the dill; cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed and the vegetables have taken on a golden sheen.
Meanwhile, either cut the bread into cubes or crumble in to a large bowl. Set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the tofu, cashews, flax and remaining 1 cup (240 ml) broth, until very smooth and no traces of nuts are visible.
Turn the tofu mixture, along with the cooked vegetable mixture, into the bowl and stir until everything is well combined and all the bread is coated with the mixture. Smooth the top.
Bake in preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, turning once about halfway through, until edges are deep brown and crispy, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean but moist. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before cutting into squares. Makes 9-12 servings. May be frozen.
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