296: Making Zelnik at the Sibling Reunion

296: Making Zelnik at the Sibling Reunion

296: Making Zelnik at the Sibling Reunion

Making Zelnik at the Sibling Reunion
by Karen Paul Holmes

Though the Babas mixed filo dough from scratch,
rolling it thin as onion skin, we use frozen.
But the feta must be sheep’s milk in brine,
and we never make zelnik without
heeding Mother’s warning in our heads:
Sand can hide inside the leeks!
Fill the sink with water, separate, swish, scrub.

Philip chops the stalks with chef’s precision,
channeling our father. Eileen touches his shoulder,
sautés the hillock of pale green
crescent moons to tender in a bubbling inch of butter.
We discuss how many eggs, what ratio
of cottage cheese to feta—zelnik needs its salty sour bite.

Nancy and Beth handle the thawed filo quickly
so it won’t dry and crumble like a dragonfly wing.
They peel and place each translucent sheet
while Phil and I swiftly brush with running butter,
Eileen at the ready to melt another stick.

After eight layers we spoon and spread the leek filling,
then finish off with filo, buttering more
and more to brown and crisp.

Over 50 finers roll the crust’s edges to seal the hollow
we’ll feel tomorrow. We each peer into the 350° oven,
discuss if it’s time. No one waits for our pastry
to cool—though it tastes better warm than hot-hot.
Next day, we split the last piece five ways, then
fly off to five cities in three states, crossing ourselves
on takeoff as Mother instructed
when she kissed us goodbye.

"Making Zelnik at the Sibling Reunion," by Karen Paul Holmes, from NO SUCH THING AS DISTANCE by Karen Paul Holmes, copyright © 2018 Terrapin Books. Used by permission of Terrapin Books.