Laurie Boris’ Boychik
Reading this book took me back to the tastes and smells of my Dad’s deli—the sour pickles, the corned beef sandwiches, the lox and the deli salads. Set for much of the novel in Brooklyn in two neighborhoods, Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg, both neighborhoods with which I am very familiar.
Like main characters, cousins Eli and Artie Abramowitz, my dad was born in Williamsburg and was only 2 years younger than Eli. His dream was to own a deli, which he did many years later.
In Brooklyn Heights, a wealthy neighborhood then and now, another main character grows up, Evelyn Rosenstein, daughter of Murder Incorporated mobster. What happens when these characters meet is an absorbing story, filled with romance, crime, and dreams, where Hollywood and life intertwine.
Evelyn grows up in a wealthy but troubled family. Even at 17, she is chauffeured by a bodyguard everywhere and resents the lack of freedom she sees others have. She loves the Jewish traditions and thinks, “She liked lighting the menorah with her mother on Hanukkah. She liked the Seder dinner. They felt like invisible threads connecting her to Bubbe and Zayde, and all the family going back for generations.” Yet there is a coldness in her father, things that cannot be discussed, memories of bruises on her mother’s face.
Eli grows up in a warm family who work hard to survive. His cousin Artie wears a brace from childhood polio. Nonetheless, there is joy and support for each other in their homes. A highlight was in the weekly movies the cousins go to, relishing the gangster movies. Movies and Hollywood were a way of escaping the harsh realities of the Depression. My mom, now 104, remembers fondly how she went to the movies each week and loved it for the glamour and the fantasies she was able to build.
Eli begins to write screen plays for movies, some about gangsters, and sends them to the famous Hollywood produce, Jack Warner and even receives letters back, encouraging him to continue. He and Artie dream of going to Hollywood and building careers there, even though it means leaving their families.
I asked Laurie what was most important in a family. “Having a foundation of love and trust so that when you go out in the world and make the mistakes you have to make, you have coping skills, and when those don’t work, you have people who will have your back.”
One day, Evelyn escapes from her bodyguard and decides she wants an egg cream, a drink that is a favorite in New York. She winds up at Abramowitz Deli and meets Eli. The spark between them is immediate but the relationship seems doomed, with Evelyn promised to the son of a Murder Incorporated bigwig and her fiancé threatening the Abramowitz family and deli.
Murder Incorporated doesn’t take kindly to those thwarting their plans. Rough times await our main characters with tension and uncertainty right up until the story’s end. No spoilers here!
Of course, for a recipe, I had to choose the celebrated Jewish Deli Pastrami sandwich with my Dad’s Cole Slaw Recipe, a sandwich I had many times at my Dad’s and others delis, and, as well, at home. While I have not done 2 recipes for a book previously, there is no way I could leave out the egg cream, a link throughout the entire story. Come back next week for that recipe!
Dad’s Cole Slaw
As a Deli man’s daughter, I couldn’t resist matching a Pastrami on Rye sandwich with this month’s Foodie Lit choice, much of which takes place in a Deli. My Dad,always made the sandwich on Rye with Russian Dressing. While some have the coleslaw on the side, in true Jewish Deli fashion, my coleslaw was placed on the sandwich, dripping a little as I ate.
When I entered my Dad’s Deli, my mouth used to water upon seeing the barrel of sour pickles. I would put my hand into the barrel and oh! the puckering of the mouth and the ecstasy of the sourness.
While there are few pickle barrels today, the sour pickles I eat from a jar are almost as good as I remember. I’m including my Dad’s Cole Slaw recipe and Russian Dressing recipe below.
Measurements in parentheses are for 1/2 the recipe, serving 4.
2 cups (1) sugar
1 cup (1/2) cup water
4 (2) tablespoons kosher salt
¼ cup (2 tablespoons) apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon (1/2 ) pepper
2 teaspoons (1) celery salt
2 (1) cloves garlic, minced
2 cups (1) cup mayonnaise
¼ cup (2 tablespoons) onions, minced
1 (1/2) medium cabbage, cored and chopped
2 (1) green pepper, cored, deseeded and finely sliced
2 (1) carrot, grated
Heat water to near boiling.
Mix sugar and hot water together in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Add salt, vinegar, pepper, celery salt and garlic. Stir. Add mayonnaise. Mix together until lumpy. (My Dad called the liquid the “soup.”
Add onions, cabbage, peppers and carrots. Stir to have “soup” cover vegetables.
Let stand for 3 hours or overnight in refrigerator before serving.
Spread Russian Dressing on both slices of rye bread.
Place pastrami in aluminum foil and heat in oven or toaster oven on 350F for 8-10 minutes or until meat is warm. You can also heat the pastrami on a plate in the microwave, wrapped in parchment paper. Heat for 2-3 minutes on a medium level or until warm. Drain any liquid.
Place several slices of pastrami on one slice of bread. Drain the Cole Slaw before putting it on the sandwich.
Slice the sandwich in half and place a sour pickle on the plate. If it were for me, I would place several pickles.
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon white horseradish, optional
Mix all ingredients together until smooth. Refrigerate until using and after using.
Meat: You can use corned beef instead of pastrami or a combination of the two. The combo is my husband’s favorite.
Allium free: Substitute 2 tablespoons radishes, finely chopped for onions and garlic. Diabetic: Substitute stevia for sugar, following package instructions for conversion measurements
Red Bell Pepper: Add 1/2 red bell pepper for color.