“Green Card Gardener” is my story, a work in progress about how I came to America on a Diversity Visa that I won in the Green Card Lottery, how I became a passionate gardener on a remote rural hilltop in Pennsylvania, and how with every gardening season I feel more at home in America. Yet, there is not a day I forget where I come from, a family of diverse identities, traditions and heritage.
By renaming this blog “Green Card Gardener” I speak as an immigrant to this country. As an immigrant and gardener, citizen and woman, mother, wife and cook, I stand with all who are also deeply troubled by the outcome of the presidential election and fearful of what’s in store for them and for America.
I am half-German, half-Arab. As a child and young adult in Germany, I struggled with my mixed genes and non-German looks and name. Only in America was I finally able to be myself because here I am surrounded by people who are just like me, who came from somewhere else to make a better life in the New World. When I moved to the United States, the promise of diversity, E pluribus unum, was just as important to me as the immigration visa itself.
My Tunisian grandmother was married off at the age of 13. She was also illiterate, which was not unusual for a woman in 1930s French colonial Tunisia. She was forced to live door-to-door with the second wife my grandfather took, which was also not unusual before Tunisia became the first Arab country to abolish polygamy in 1956. She wore the distinctive traditional Tunisian garb. My grandmother prayed five times a day. Her religion had nothing to do with ideology or fanaticism; it was the same Islam practiced by the almost 2 billion Muslims around the world.
My German grandmother became a war widow in the winter of 1942 at the age of 28 after my grandfather went missing in Stalingrad. She raised her three children alone.Often when I work in my garden or in my kitchen, I imagine my two grandmothers looking down on me and nodding in approval about how I live as a woman, and as a citizen of a free and democratic country. My life in America is better than any of the previous generations in my family could have dreamed.
Today, things are changed. These days I am deeply worried about America. My list is long. Civil rights. The treatment of minorities. The rights of women. Respect for women. America’s relations with other countries. Protecting the environment. Affordable healthcare for all. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Political ethics.
I have spent my entire adult life trying to wrap my head around why so many in my grandparents’ generation in Germany did not speak up after 1933, when Hitler came to power. They were silent. Drawing parallels between Germany back then and the United States today is tempting but I don’t think it’s fair to America. The Weimar Republic was a young democracy, only 14 years old, with a weak and flawed system at that, which could be easily undermined and destroyed. America is a veteran democracy, 17 times older than the Weimar Republic was when it collapsed. The United States is not perfect, but what has been achieved needs to be protected, not dismantled.
Eight years ago I became an American citizen. My civic duties as an American go beyond obeying the law, voting, paying taxes, being called for jury duty and volunteering as a Master Gardener. Speaking up and being watchful to help protect what I cherish and value about America are also my duties as an American citizen. I am heartened to see so many others are doing the same.
Yeasted Fruit-Filled Sweet Bread (Immigrant Challah)
This fruit-filled rhubarb challah has something of everything that makes up my heritage and my life in America: the dough of the traditional Jewish Sabbath bread, a family favorite from my husband’s side; rhubarb, which is popular in Germany and I have loved since childhood and now grow in my garden; and a distinct orange flavor, which for me is indelibly linked with the oranges in my Tunisian grandmother’s courtyard garden. Rhubarb-orange jam is also a specialty in Pennsylvania Dutch country where I live. This challah makes our life come full circle.
I have also made this challah with orange-flavored German Plum Butter (Pflaumenmus) or with blueberry jam, both of which are equally delicious.
The mock braid technique is not only decorative but it also prevents the jam from oozing out.
Rhubarb jam filling:
1¼ pounds (550 g) washed and trimmed pink rhubarb, cut into chunks
¼ cup (60 ml) orange juice
Finely grated zest of 1 organic orange
1¼ cups (250 g) sugar
2 teaspoons organic orange extract
Plum butter filling:
1 cup (300 g) German plum butter (find the recipe in my German cookbook)
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied orange peeel, preferably homemade
½ teaspoon organic orange extract
1 to 2 tablespoon orange juice
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup + 2 tablespoons (125 ml) lukewarm water
2 1/3 cups (330 g/11.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg, beaten, plus 1 egg for glazing
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Swedish pearl sugar for sprinkling
1. For the rhubarb jam filling, put the rhubarb in a heavy non-reactive saucepan with 2 to 3 tablespoons water. Cover and cook until the rhubarb is soft and falling apart, about 10 minutes. Stir often at the beginning to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
2. Add the orange juice, zest and sugar and cook uncovered, for 1 hour, or until the rhubarb jam is no longer runny. Remove from the heat and add the orange extract. Cool and use right away, or pour the hot jam in a sterilized jar with a screwtop lid and cool, then refrigerate until ready to use.
3. Or, for the German plum butter filling, if it is stiff (authentic German plum butter usually is) heat the orange juice in the microwave and stir in into the plum butter to soften. Add the orange peel and orange extract and stil well to combine. Set aside.
3. For the challah combine the yeast with the lukewarm water in a small bowl and let stand for 10 minutes, until frothy.
4. Mix the flour with the salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the beaten egg, yeast mixture and oil. Knead into a smooth dough using the kneading attachment of an electric mixer. Cover and let stand for 2 hours in a warm place.
5. Knead the dough briefly on a floured surface to remove any air pockets. Place a large piece of parchment paper on the work surface and lightly dust it with flour. Roll the dough into a 10 x 15 inch rectangle. Lightly mark two lines lengthwise with the tip of a sharp knife to divide the rectangle into three sections of equal width.
6. Generously spread the filling onto the middle section of the dough, leaving 1 inch free on both short ends. Using a pastry wheel, make diagonal cuts in the right-side section of the dough at every ¾ inch. Cut the dough to within about ½ inch of the filling. Repeat this on the left section of the dough.
7. Starting at one end, gently lift a cut strip of dough and place it all the way over the filling, alternating a strip from the right section and the left section of the dough. Pinch both ends of the braid together to seal and tuck them under. Carefully transfer the parchment with the braid onto a baking sheet. Cover and let stand for 45 minutes in a warm place.
8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly beat the remaining egg with 2 teaspoons water. Just before baking, brush the braid with the egg wash and sprinkle it with pearl sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.
Makes 1 loaf
Photos by Ted Rosen