Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Project 2995: Alona Avraham

Early September 2001 must have seemed like a dream come true to 30 year-old Alona Avraham. Israel in September is hot, and dusty, a nightmare of bombings and shootings, where every day could be your last. Boston, in contrast, was a sunny, cool vision of peace and beauty.

Alona arrived in Boston on August 30, and spent ten days visiting friends there... she went whale watching, shopping in Cambridge, with the changing of seasons and the cries of the coxswains on the Charles River as her backdrop. When she talked to her mother, she enthusiastically related her adventures, as well as plans for picnics and sightseeing with her friends.

On September 10, Alona called her parents and told them of her plans to fly to Los Angeles to visit her aunt and uncle for Rosh Hashanah. She would be home by Yom Kippur, she told them. She then gave them her flight information- United Airlines flight 175- talked about her excitement to see California, and said goodbye. Peretz and Miriam Avraham would never speak to their daughter again.

When news of the attacks reached the Avraham family in Ashdod, Israel, they feared the worst. As soon as they were able to travel safely to the United States, they came, with photos of Alona pinned to their clothes. In this way, they hoped that someone would recognize their daughter as one of the survivors and end their nightmare. They left New York disappointed, but they did not give up hope... as long as there was no evidence of her death, they could continue to believe she might be out there, somewhere. Still, as is the custom in the Jewish faith, the family sat shiva* for 7 days, always hoping that it was not needed.

It was late 2007 when the family received word that some of the recovered remains from the South Tower of the World Trade Center matched their daughter's DNA. It was both a relief and a reopening of old wounds: they would relive the anguish again, but at least they would have something of her to bury, a place to visit their daughter and pray. Miriam Avraham asked that the news not be released until the remains arrived in Israel. They arrived inside a box, placed on a stretcher and draped with an American flag. All that remained of her little girl, fit inside a box.

Little more is known of Alona's life. She had completed her MBA and was an industrial engineer at Applied Materials, known for working long hours. She was the eldest of three children, leaving behind a brother and sister in addition to her loving parents. She was independent, religious, and loved to travel. Her fateful trip was her first trip to the United States, where she particularly enjoyed the cool weather, low prices, modern cities, and the respite from the violence she experienced back home in Israel. She looked forward to making many return trips to the United States.

She was a young woman who had dreams and plans, like so many of us, and who was ripped away from her family and the world far too soon, and far too violently. Let us keep her in our memories and never forget the loss we all experienced that terrible, dark day.

To read more tributes, or to volunteer to write your own, please click here.

*sat shiva= a seven-day period of grief and mourning in the Jewish religion, reserved for the closest members of the family (mother, father, daughter, son, brother, sister, and spouse). Most regular activity is halted, hence 'sit' shiva.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Couscous is a funny word

Hi there! You seem relatively intelligent, so I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and figure that you can tell by the lack of other posts that this is the first. I used to blog over on MySpace before it got all seedy; someday maybe I'll migrate those over here. I think some of them are at least worthy of a giggle. Probably not much more than that, though. Sorry.

I'm going to start off with, of all things, a recipe. This is decidedly the last thing you should expect from me, but since I promised a great many people on Twitter and in my book club that I would share it, I'm willing to buck tradition. Just for you guys. You're welcome. This post one will borrow heavily from a previous MySpace post because I'm lazy because it fits the topic...

There's something I think you should know about me... I'd say it's actually a pretty well known fact in the family, but I try not to let the outside world in on it.

I can't cook. There, I said it.

I'm not saying I can't cook
anything. I am perfectly capable of starting a microwave, after a few miscues (still reliving the Jell-O incident of 2004; it wasn't pretty). And I can usually follow directions, as long as it doesn't involve any actual common sense. And boiling water? Hooboy! If it were an Olympic event, I could totally... okay, I could maybe be a judge. Or the analyst who doesn't know thing 1 about the sport but is just there to be funny. Except I probably wouldn't be very funny.

Aaaaanyway, when left to fend for myself, dinner is pretty much like this: open cabinet/fridge/freezer. Search wildly for something that requires nothing more difficult than the microwave, or possibly the oven, if I'm really desperate. Then close the fridge/freezer and grab a box of cereal. When David (my husband) leaves for business trips, the entire stock of Pop Tarts in the Houston area will suddenly go missing. David can cook... he can take a frozen sausage link, one leaf of lettuce, a box of stale crackers and a peanut and turn out something that would make Emeril weep with joy. If I put those things together (probably in the blender, I can work that), I would likely be sick for a week.

So when my turn to host Book Club comes up, David usually cooks for me. He is fabulous that way. This time, though, I determined that I was making the food. Our book was 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' (I may post a review later), and it seemed appropriate to make something somewhat exotic... spices, unusual (for me) ingredients, etc. I settled on a chicken dish, made with couscous, chickpeas, almonds, carrot, and red onion. It. Was. NOM. And as I said before, many people asked for the recipe. It follows below. Please note, this should feed about 6-8 people, assuming you don't have one of those guests who really piles it on. You know, the guy you always put at the END of the buffet line. Yeah, that guy.

Teri's Moroccan Chicken and Couscous

1 pkg. chicken thighs and 1 pkg. chicken breasts with rib meat, cubed
4 TB Ras El Hanout (Moroccan couscous spice blend), divided
Olive oil (2TB for the couscous, plus some for cooking the chicken)
1 cup plain couscous
1/3 red onion, chopped small
1/4 cup almonds, roasted
1 can (approx. 15oz) chickpeas
1 large carrot, shredded or shaved
1 1/3 cup chicken broth or water
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup white wine

Use approx. 3 TB of the spice to season the chicken. Stir well to coat and set aside in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Brown the chicken in a large saucepan (we browned it in batches and set the finished chicken aside). In the meantime, boil the chicken broth or water. Add 1 cup coucous and 1 TB spice mix, stir, and remove from heat. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes.

When the chicken is finished, use the wine to deglaze the pan. Reduce heat to low, add all remaining ingredients (chicken, couscous, onion, carrot, chickpeas, almonds, and olive oil) and stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.

*Notes: I served this with feta cheese, and it was a hit. David thought it needed salt, but most of my book club ladies thought it was great as-is. I think it would adapt well to different vegetables (other suggestions included broccoli florets, asparagus, cauliflower, etc.), and I think it would be nice with more curry powder added, but I have no complaints. I don't know that I have ever cooked a dish from scratch that worked so well! I bought some mix for a naan to serve with it, but I ran out of time for that. Would have been nice to have the naan or pita to go along.

There. I have posted a recipe. If the world ends now, please think well of me.

Happy eating,