“Do you know how to make p’tcha?” Shalom asks Rena, his wife of two weeks. The starry-eyed newlyweds are in the midst of comprising their first Shabbos menu together.
“Uh…I’m sure I can! I’ll be happy to!” Rena answers confidently. Never mind that she doesn’t even know what p’tcha is. If her husband is requesting that she make it, she’ll find a good recipe for it, wonderful eishes chayil that she is, and she’ll make him the best p’tcha he’s ever tasted!
“Oh, good.” Shalom smiles. “My mother makes it, and it’s one of my best foods.”
It’s only a few days later, when Shalom goes grocery shopping for Rena, and she sees the calves feet staring at her in the face from the kitchen counter, that she realizes she has no idea what she’s gotten herself into.
“Shalom! What is this?!”
Shalom comes running, concern written all over his face; he’s nothing if not a faithful hubby. “What is what? What’s wrong, Rena?”
“This! This! This!” Rena wails, unable to bring herself to say the words “cow’s feet.”
“You mean the calves feet?” Shalom’s expression is the picture of innocence. “But you said you’d be happy to make p’tcha for me… How else can you make it if not with calves feet?”
And so Rena, American girl that she is, with a knowledge of Hungarian foods that’s limited to “rugelach” and maybe “babka,” is introduced to her husband’s idea of gastronomical pleasures; for him, p’tcha and gribenes and schav are normal fare…
It happens to the best of us. We marry, and then discover, sometimes to our surprise, sometimes to our dismay, that our spouse grew up on very different foods than we did…and oftentimes, said spouse actually expects us to make that kind of food in our own homes, too!
It happened to Barbara Bensoussan. As a young woman, this acclaimed author always thought she’d marry a nice Jewish boy from New York, just like her mother had. But her life took a distinctly different turn when entered the Orthodox world, and her nice Jewish boy turned out to hail from Casablanca! Suddenly she found herself the Sephardic version of the bride-who-knew-nothing, with a husband who thought the chicken soup she adored was little more than flavored water, and who’d grown up eating the head of a lamb—teeth showing—on Rosh Hashanah.
But Barbara did her best to absorb the culture and cuisine of the Sephardic world—and the literary result of this is The Well-Spiced Life, an authentic food memoir that combines the best of pleasure reading with excellent recipes. Packed with delightful anecdotes, culinary tips culled from her years spent cooking for a “mixed” (Ashkenazic/Sephardic) family, loads of exotic recipes, and an abundance of comic relief (a necessary ingredient in every culinary undertaking!), this is a book that belongs on the shelf of every respectable balabusta, Sephardic and Ashkenazic alike.
So I hope you’re reading this, Rena—because this is a book definitely for you!
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