Grape granita

By | August 6, 2014


This recipe and story first appeared in the July 28, 2014 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my cooking column in Binah magazine.

As a teenager, I probably spent just as many Shabboses in my own house as I did in the home of my best friend. The Steins [pseudonym alert!] lived in a different section of town than I did, but the families there came to recognize me soon enough. I always got a warm “good Shabbos” from their shul’s rebbetzin, and many of Mrs. Stein’s friends would greet me personally, too. Whether I was at the Steins’ table, in shul, at the women’s shiur, or at the Shabbos afternoon Tehillim group, I slid into place as if I had always belonged.

Although I showed up each of those Friday afternoons with a hostess gift and left on Motzoei Shabbos only after a sincere thank you, I often wished I could do something in return for this family that opened their home to me week after week. And then, nine years after I graduated high school, there was something. Their youngest daughter was coming to Eretz Yisrael for her year in seminary. She didn’t have any family here, but she had me! My husband was on board, so it was all settled: Avigail Stein was going to come for Shabbos all the time.

I knew her parents would be nervous about her traveling to our yishuv, what with public transportation being via bulletproof bus. But Avigail and I figured it was just a matter of time. Give them a couple of weeks, and they’d get used to the idea. I was sure that we’d soon be scheduling our first Shabbos. But the weeks came, the weeks went, and Tishrei turned into Cheshvan, which turned into Kislev. What? How could it be Kislev if she hadn’t come yet?

Each time we spoke, my question was the same: So when can we have you over? She was dying to come, but we still didn’t have her parents’ okay. She thought they might be ready soon, though, and she’d definitely let me know when they gave her the thumbs-up. As we waited, I felt guiltier and guiltier. Not about Shabbos, exactly. I wished she could come, but I knew that wasn’t my choice. It was more about the other things I felt I should be doing.

I had wanted to be her home away from home, and here I hadn’t seen her even once. It wasn’t as if her seminary was in some far-flung city, either; she was in Yerushalayim. But I don’t get to the city often – maybe once every three months on average – and when I do, it’s because I have back-to-back-to-back appointments, and then I catch the bus home right afterward so I don’t get stuck tremping.

If Shabbos wasn’t happening, and if lunch dates in town weren’t happening, there was at least the phone. Somehow, though, that proved equally difficult. My newly minted one-year-old was obsessed with phones, and he just could not tolerate me using one. You know how it goes: I’d make a call on the land line and give him my cell phone as a distraction, but he only wanted the land line. So I’d call the person back on my cell and hand him the land line, only to find him begging for the cell. Phone calls while he was awake were just impossible. And when he napped or went to bed for the night? That was when I “went to the office,” desperately trying to work as much as possible before he woke up.

Sometimes, I tried calling Avigail in the early evening while I pushed the stroller to the park, but early evening is class time for seminary girls. I tried calling her on Fridays, which is often not a workday for me, but have you ever tried reaching a seminary girl on a Friday? That’s when they’re shopping in Geula and hurriedly packing up for Shabbos and riding a noisy bus to get to their hosts. Before I knew it, it was Purim night and she was calling to wish me a happy Purim. Not that we actually spoke – I heard my phone ring in the other room, but I was in the middle of making our costumes and let the call go to voicemail. I picked up her message a couple of hours later, too late to call her back.

It wasn’t until Pesach, though, that I officially gave up hope of hosting Avigail for Shabbos. Miraculously, I finished cooking for the last day of Yom Tov at the same time that my husband took our son out for a walk. It was a rare opportunity to use the phone uninterrupted, so I plugged in our Magic Jack and dialed my mother to wish her a chag sameach. When she didn’t pick up, I switched to my cell phone and called Avigail. She was packing up for Har Nof (aren’t they all?) but had a few minutes to talk. No, her parents hadn’t changed their minds, and that’s right, it didn’t look like they ever would.

I was disappointed, but what can you do? Trying to reciprocate years of the Steins’ Shabbos hospitality by hosting their daughter in a place that makes them feel unsafe is no help at all. By that point in the year, I was quickly closing in on my ninth month with baby #2, and day trips to Yerushalayim were becoming increasingly less likely. Had I done anything at all for Avigail other than be a friendly voice on the other end of the line from time to time? No, not really. Lots of good intentions, lots of plans, and lots of missed connections.

As a teen, one of my classic Shabbos gift standbys was a fancy bottle of grape juice, usually with a piece of curled ribbon tied around the neck. Whether at the Steins’ or another family, it always went over well. Most of us probably associate grape juice with kiddush, but (good news!) you can also use it as the sole ingredient in grape granita, a refreshing dessert or snack with no added sugar. This frozen treat is similar to ices but requires no special equipment or complicated techniques – if you can wield a fork, you can make granita. Make some for your guests this summer, and they’ll be hoping for an invitation back. And if you happen to have Avigail over, please say hi for me.

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MIRIAM on August 6, 2014 at 8:46 am.

I hope you don’t mind me asking but what Yishuv do you live on??


Tali Simon on August 6, 2014 at 7:32 pm.

Sure, Kochav HaShachar.


Sara on August 12, 2014 at 12:37 am.

How long will this keep at a good consistency in the freezer?


Tali Simon on August 12, 2014 at 11:53 pm.

The nature of granita is that whenever you’re ready to serve, you’ll be re-scraping it anyway to get it into a bowl (and that restores the consistency). So I’d say it keeps for just about forever!


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