During Friday night dinner at the home of close friends - there were 11 people altogether - the conversation was meandering along, as it does, when one guest, a teacher, sat up and said briskly: "OK, in my house, we give everyone two minutes to talk about something interesting that happened to them during the week, anything you like."
There were murmurs of surprise, even shock, but it was clear she meant business; and so, one after the other, we spoke briefly about recent events that had made an impression on us.
One or two of the men gave short Torah insights. Our hostess told a story heard that week about a family saved from a deadly Jerusalem restaurant bombing by the father's conviction - though with no sense of impending tragedy - that they had to leave now, despite having been overcharged on their bill.
A young man, a recent recruit to an elite army unit, described how the officer in charge of discipline had punished him for "daring" to ask a personal question. His mother, busy organizing a charity dinner, explained that the five-star hotel that had served them well in the past was reluctant to answer a specific catering request "now that times are better and tourists are returning. They don't need us any more." I recounted a moment of helpfulness I had witnessed on the street. The energetic lady who had prompted the exercise spoke about initially finding a Gemara class "quite boring," but then discovering a richness that made her want to carry on.
All these stories prompted comment and what I call "real talk," as opposed to the usual gossip about acquaintances and this and that. By the end of the meal we all knew something genuine about our table partners, and were glad of it.
Next time someone suggests the two-minute-talk routine, I won't hesitate. Who knows, I might even initiate it.
I DIDN'T bid goodbye to my old friend Angela in Monchengladbach, Germany, last month without securing a couple of good recipes.
WARMING PUMPKIN SOUP
2 onions or leeks, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 or 3 cloves garlic
500 gr. pumpkin or squash, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 fresh, fleshy tomatoes
2 green apples, unpeeled and chopped
1 flat tsp. ginger
1 Tbsp. curry powder, mild or hot
salt and pepper to taste
enough vegetable stock to cover well
Saute the onion in the oil for a few minutes, then add the garlic. Add everything else. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Mash roughly with a fork to thicken the soup.
I COULDN'T resist renaming this delicious fruit crumble we had for dessert during my stay. You can make it using apples only, or with plums.
3 apples, peeled and chopped
1 small quince (havush), peeled and chopped
50-100 gr. butter
4 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. oatmeal
3 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
*Make lemon sugar by grating the zest of a lemon or two, putting it in a very small plastic container, covering it with sugar and keeping the closed box in the fridge.
Sprinkle the apple and quince with 3 tablespoons of lemon sugar and allow to stand in a buttered baking dish for an hour. Rub the butter, salt, sugar, oatmeal and flour between your fingertips to form crumbs. Cover the fruit with the crumbs and bake in a 200 oven until the top browns.
I WAS surprised to hear that Angela and her family enjoy labane yogurt cheese as much as we do in Israel - and even more surprised to see how easily she makes it herself.
1â„2 liter yogurt (3 small containers)
11â„2 tsp. salt
Mix the yogurt well with the salt and spoon into a Melitta-type filter coffee holder lined with filter paper placed over a cup (or use a clean piece of muslin, or cotton cut from an old T-shirt to line a small plastic strainer and place over a small bowl). Cover with a plate and leave standing for 12 hours; quite a bit of water will drip into the cup.
Transfer the cheese to a dish, cover, and refrigerate.
I STAND corrected by ex-Brit reader Philippa Kushnir regarding Aero chocolate, which I recently attributed to the Cadbury's company.
Aero, she gently reprimanded me, was originally manufactured by Rowntree Mackintosh and is now produced by Nestle.
I suppose the only thing to do after a blooper like that is to have another piece of (dark) chocolate.