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Betsy Block

Make Mama Look Good

Make Mama Look Good Enough

"It's time," I shouted up the stairs. Ten-year-old E was in his room with the door shut. Slammed shut, that is.

"Oh, time for what?" he called back sweetly.

Until that moment, I had been the penultimate Zen Mama all afternoon: endlessly patient, non-reactive and non-judgmental, even though for the past hour and a half, since school had ended, E had been trying to get a rise out of me: I'm dumb, a pain in the ass, there was no way in hell he was going to the woodworking class I'd signed him up for without his consent. Despite wanting to put tape over his mouth, I kept taking deep breaths and letting it all slide, because I knew reacting wouldn't help with my ultimate goal: getting him out of the house (and my life) for the next two hours.

However, at this point, the class started in 15 minutes and my peaceable tactics weren't working.

"Time for what?" I yelled brusquely. "Time to get your ass downstairs!"

"And what happens if I don't?" he yelled, still with bravado, but less of it.

"Do you really want to find out?" roared Mean Mom.

It had been that kind of a week: everything was starting out rough.

For the first nine days of kindergarten, P had come home complaining of a boy in her class who was teasing her, touching her during quiet time, and "running her down." In hushed, Soprano-like voices, we told E to take care of the little thug, then we laughed uproariously, only we weren't completely kidding.

And the morning of the Great Woodworking Fight, when I finally had time to cook this incredible-looking recipe from one of Boston's top pastry chefs, I couldn't find the fabulous organic tahini I'd been saving for the occasion. Turned out that BD had accidentally thrown out the jar (I know he doesn't like tahini, but he didn't have to get so aggressive about it); meanwhile, my friend L was due to arrive for a lunch of borekas with tahini sauce in about an hour. Plus, the puff pastry was getting too warm and sticky and the triangles I was making didn't look so good.

But somehow, just when I start to think that all is lost, help often arrives in one form or another. BD said he had to go to the bank anyway so would I like him to buy some tahini and drop it off at the house? Next, I managed to get E to his woodworking class on time, only to find that it was even better than expected. (It took him a while to admit I'd been right, though he made sure to retain all rights to wreaking more havoc before the next week's class.) That same afternoon P reported that she and her nemesis had bonded over hating music class, which normally might be considered bad news, but on this day seemed like a ray of sunshine. As for the borekas, the ones that went into the oven looking like a careless child had formed them, to my delight and shock they emerged looking perfect, and tasting even better: crisp, airy, buttery puff pastry enclosing a delicious, absurdly simple and unlikely combination of cheeses and egg.

A few bites into this warm, rich, comforting lunch, Zen Mom reappeared, lovingly whispering that, in fact, everything was all right just as it was. Yelling at my kid, handling conflict imperfectly, and being a klutz with the dough might not be ideal, but it's definitely real life. Having even just a little patience, time and help from friends usually means that somehow, most of the kinks work themselves out.

A note from Tal:

"While I spend most of the week creating new desserts and pastries at Rialto, at home I try to find the time for simple savory dishes for my family. I grew up in Israel and have been living in the Boston area for the last several years.

For my family (my husband and two daughters, ages 10 and five) and myself, Sunday is "stock-up-for-the-week" day. We usually go food shopping together; many times we come up with ideas for our meals while at the store. The fun part comes when the whole family cooks together and later we all sit down to eat. We love cooking Israeli and Mediterranean foods, which remind us of home.

For Mama Cooks, I have included one of our favorite recipes, for feta cheese borekas, green tahini and a salad."

Feta Cheese Borekas

by Tal Shofman-Schejter, executive pastry chef,

Yields 18 borekas

"These originated in Jewish communities in Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. A pastry stuffed with a variety of fillings: cheeses, meats, eggplants and spinach."

4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 egg yolks
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 box puff pastry, a total of two sheets, thawed (available in the frozen food section)
1 whole egg
1 tsp. water
sesame seeds

Line two sheet trays with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl combine the cheeses, yolks and pepper until well combined, but not a paste. You don't want to break the feta texture. Set aside.

Unfold each package of puff pastry sheets on your work surface and cut into a total of 18 three-inch squares.

To make egg wash, in a small bowl whisk together the whole egg and water and set aside.

Place 2 teaspoons of the filling in the center of each square. Brush the inner rim of the square with egg wash and fold into a triangle. Pinch dough with your fingers to seal, then fold edges over by  inch and crimp with a fork.

Set each completed pastry on the sheet pan and when they're completed, bruch the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour, or until firm.

Preheat oven too 400 degrees.

Remove plastic wrap and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the borekas are golden brown. Serve warm with green tahini sauce.

Green Tahini Sauce
From Tal: "Like my mom makes it, I like to add a lot of fresh parsley leaves to give the tahini a distinct green color. I also like to serve this with raw vegetables as a healthy afterschool snack for my kids."

From Betsy: I didn't use as much parsley as planned - as I said, it was one of those days - so your tahini will certainly look even fresher, greener, livelier than mine.

1 cup sesame tahini paste (Joyva brand is what Tal uses), mix well before using
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to tase
1 bunch parsley leaves only, washed and dried
salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup water

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, using only  water to start, and pulse until combined. If you like your tahini looser, add more water. Adjust flavor with water, salt, pepper and lemon juice. If you don't have a food processor, this recipe can easily be made by finely chopping the parsley and whisking all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Mixed greens with corn, tomatoes and walnuts

For vinaigrette:
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon shallot, minced
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For salad:
1 corn on the cob, cooked
cup coarsely chopped raw walnuts
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup grape tomatoes, washed and halved
5 cups mesclun lettuce mix, washed and dried

In a medium bowl combine the garlic, shallot and balsamic vinegar. Whisk in the oil, season with salt and pepper.

Strip kernels from the cob. Place walnuts and oil in a small saucepan. Over medium heat stir nuts with a wooden spoon until toasted; place in a small bowl and set aside to cool.

In a large serving bowl toss the corn, walnuts, tomatoes and lettuce with just enough dressing to coat well.