Category Archives: Holiday cooking

The P Word

Before I start my discussion of the P word, the good and the bad of it, I just wanted to mention that yesterday was one year since Miriyummy came into being, all because Ju-Boy got trapped in England due to a volcano.  So if you love or hate my blog, you can all Blame It On The Volcano.

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Don’t Pass Over These Recipes

 

Okay, the house is clean, you are exhausted, the table is set, the guests are hungry, what are you going to serve?

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There’s A Hole In My Donut

A summer's day in Oslo, you can tell she's cold

Once upon a time, in 1970, my family spent some time in Norway.  There’s not much I remember, I was 7 at the time, but what I do remember was that I got to hang with some cool cousins, I got to say Jeg ikke gjør det oppfatte (I don’t understand) a lot, and I was cold, always cold.  Even in the summer.

You can tell it's summer in Oslo, we're only wearing sweaters

My family of four moved in with my uncle’s family of four.  Eight people in one house, two women sharing one kitchen.  My mother and aunt were in each other’s pots and pans and dinnertime was always a combination of my once Lithuanian now American mother, and my once Hungarian now Norwegian aunt.  We had a few weird combinations.  It was in Oslo that I learned to eat hot dogs with ketchup, which I still love to this day.  It was in Oslo that I learned to eat chunks of bread mixed with sour cream and sprinkled with sugar.  I’ve never seen that combo before, and quite frankly, am happy to never see it again.  And it was in Oslo that I had the most amazing jams, made from the most amazing berries.  They have berries up there that I’ve never seen in the States or in Israel.  I put jam on everything back then, except for hot dogs.

Cousin Rebecca and family in Sweden

My cousin Rebecca, that sweet little bald thing up there in the picture, the cutie on the right, left the frozen fjords of Norway and now lives in the frozen hustle bustle of Sweden.  I haven’t seen her in a while, but we chat on Facebook.  Just today I was complaining about how hot it is here in Israel.  It’s Chanuka, it’s not supposed to be hot on Chanuka.  We’re supposed to be wearing sweaters, eating hot latkes, drinking hot chocolate, and instead I’m trying to stay cool in the hot sunshine while walking to work.  Rebecca said she would trade places with me, she’s drinking her mug of hot tea while staring out into the brisk Swedish weather, with the temps a cozy -15 degrees C.  Yes, that’s minus 15.

So I’m trying to conjure up some memories of Norway to cool me off.  They say foodie memories can be very strong, so I’m making the traditional Chanuka sufganiya, otherwise known as the jelly donut.  Carine Goren, my favorite dessert diva, posted her recipe for sufganiyot on Facebook this morning, and the dough is rising now, ready for a bath of hot oil and then some yummy jam.  The last time we were in Ikea I picked up some Swedish lingonberry jam, and some of that spread on a slice of Rykrisp took my straight back to those white Oslo nights.  I think a little lingonberry jam on my Chanuka sufganiyot is the perfect remedy for a balmy Chanuka.

Jammy Donut Holes

Rising holes

I very rarely make full-blown jelly donuts for Chanuka, they’re a pain to fry, I never manage to get them just right on the outside, just right on the inside, and oy, all that oil!  So I make donuts holes, and we all get to dip them in whatever we like, and the filling becomes a topping.

This is Carine Goren’s recipe for sufganiyot, but she uses a whole kilo of flour to make 30 huge donuts.  I’ve halved the recipe, to make lots of little holes.

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon freeze-dried yeast
  • 2/3 cups milk (I use soy milk), heated to lukewarm
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • Grated rind of half a lemon
  • canola oil, for deep frying
  • jam for filling
  • powdered sugar for dusting
  1. Place all the ingredients except for the oil, jam and powdered sugar in the mixer fitter with a dough hook.  Mix until the dough is smooth, it should feel like your earlobe, go ahead, give it a pinch.
  2. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.
  3. When the dough has doubled its bulk punch it down, knead by hand for about two minutes, and then pull off pieces and roll into balls.  The size of the piece should be based on the size of the sufganiya you want.  Golfball sized pieces will give you a full-size sufganiya.  We like to make bite-sized donuts, so our pieces are about a third of a golfball.
  4. Put the balls to rise again on pieces of parchment paper.  Let rise again for about 20 minutes.
  5. In the meantime bring the oil to a low boil in a pan.  I’m not going to tell you how big of a pot and how much oil, since that should be a cooking preference.  Big pots, lots of oil, lots of room for many large donuts.  I use a small saucepan with about 2-3 inches of oil, and fry about 4 or 5 holes at a time.
  6. Carefully lower the balls into the hot oil and fry for 2 minutes on each side for the big boys, 1 minute or less for the babies.  Remove with a slotted spoon and let rest on some paper towels to sop up any extra oil.
  7. Fill with the jam and dust with the powdered sugar.  Or do it Miriyummy-style, serving up the plain donut holes with the jam on the side, and dip at will.

Happy Chanuka!  May your holiday be filled with light, and yummy little holes!

Beet It

God does great work...

I have been blessed with four of the most gorgeous, stunning daughters on the planet.  This is not news, I’ve mentioned my girls before, but am always happy to marvel at God’s and my handiwork.  Gorgeous they may be, good-hearted most assuredly, and skinny?  My girls are skinny!

There are a few levels of man plans, God laughs here:

Skinny Miriyummy at 16, no cellulite, no sunscreen!

1) I used to be skinny.  My mother used to say that I was hovering around ghetto weight (Warsaw, not Harlem).  I was a picky eater as a child, but totally scarfed down the calories as a teen.  A regular high school lunch would include two slices of pizza, half a felafel, both washed down with a large Tab (remember Tab?), a brownie from Heisler’s bakery and a cone from Baskin Robbin’s to eat on the way back to school.  I never gained an ounce.  My metabolism was freakishly fast until the age of 32, when I turned into an inflated lifeboat overnight.  It’s as if God pulled the string and pffffffft!

 

I Googled British food and came up with this picture. Point made.

2) I love to cook.  Even more than that, I love to feed!  What’s the use of cooking something if you can’t shtup it to your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and strangers you meet at the bus stop?  I must have been a French fois gras farmer in a previous life.  God had a good giggle when he introduced me to the X.  The man grew up on Jewish/Polish/English cuisine, meaning his mother’s overboiled, under-seasoned chicken, potatoes and wilted green stuff (the vegetables in that house were usually unidentifiable by the time they hit the plate, and actually, they weren’t very green by then as well).  I would serve him a meal lightly seasoned with a few spices, he would take one bite and reach for the water glass, gasping, “Are you trying to kill me?”

 

Nothing to eat in the house, how sad!

3) The X passed his food genes on to my babies.  I love to feed, they love to say “Don’t like!”  Sassy, my oldest, can eat one lettuce leaf, push back her plate and say, “Thanks, I’m full.”  Nomush is the vegetarian who hates vegetables.  Tinky is my best eater, she will actually finish a whole plate of food (a small plate), but that will satisfy her for the rest of the week.  Didi will come into the kitchen after Ju-Boy and I have filled the fridge and the larder with the weekly shopping, look at it all in disdain and say, “There’s nothing to eat in this house!”

 

Photo by Yummy! by Yemi -- my cupcakes were eaten before I could photograph them (I should always have such hardships in life)

I like to play in the kitchen, experimenting with different techniques, interesting foods, freaky recipes.  One of the ways I get my picky progeny to eat a balanced diet is to sneak certain ingredients into their favorite dishes while they’re not looking.  Kidney beans and brown rice can be cleverly disguised in a zhuzzed soup, especially if you bling up the bowl with croutons and grated cheese.  Whizz up a few carrots in the food processor with the steel knife, hide them in the pasta sauce and the kids just might believe it’s bolognese.  My lastest sneaky coup has been to hide (are you ready for this?) beets into chocolate cake.  Strange but true!  I found the recipe on a food blog called Yummy! byYemi (any blog with the word yummy in is has to be good).

Don’t overdo it with the beets.  You want to enrich the cake, but too much pureed beet adds an earthy flavor to the chocolate, and you don’t want your cover blown.

 

Hilalee and Didi jumping for joy -- cupcakes for dessert again!

I first tried this dessert on Rosh Hashana, as beets are one of the simanim.  We don’t do the simanim thingy per se, but I try to incorporate them into the meal itself.  I made the recipe into chocolate/beet cupcakes, and received the Hillalee Seal of Approval.  Hilalee is Didi’s friend, and she’s the antithesis of Mickey from the Life Cereal commercial from the 70s.  Hilalee doesn’t like or eat anything (she could be one of my kids).  But she did like my mini beet chocolate cupcakes.  And if Hilalee likes them, you might love them.

 

 

Pick Me Up Cake

Yemi calls this Pick Me Up Cake, which is a much more attractive name than Chocolate Beet Cake.  We emailed back and forth a bit when I asked for the recipe, and she told me that she made it up herself!  In her own words:

  • 2 cups steamed beets
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons rice flour (or regular flour)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Coat a 9 or 10 inch cake pan with vegetable cooking spray.  Set aside.
  2. In a blender puree the beets, and vanilla extract until smooth.  Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl combine the cocoa powder, rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar for one minute with an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs for about 5 minutes. Beat in the beets, until the mixture is nice and smooth.
  5. Stir in the contents of the small bowl containing the cocoa powder into the batter carefully until it is completely mixed in.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  7. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy!

Thanks Yemi!

 

Unstuffed Sukkah

Sukkah Lights in the City of David

Some people are amazed at the lengths (and depths) I will go to in the kitchen to put a meal on the table, or tempt you with something sweet to have with your coffee.  Yes, we do have home-baked challah every Shabbat (the last time store-bought challot graced our Shabbat table was… um… I can’t remember… 2003?).  Yes, I will patchkeh around with the pastry bag and make a legion of profiteroles.  Yes, I will concoct my own liqueurs potent enough to knock you out after a tiny shnapps glassful.  Yes, I have been known to make my own jams, youghurt, chutneys, even marzipan.  But I draw the line somewhere.  I’m not a fan of rolling out pastry dough (I’ll do it, but grumble throughout).  Unless you count krepach (Jewish wontons), I’ve never made my own pasta.  And I hate, hate, HATE stuffing cabbage.  Back in the late 90s I came across a recipe for Unstuffed Cabbage and my life changed forever.  I made it every Sukkot, when it’s traditional to eat stuffed cabbage.  I made it all throughout the winter, and well into the summer.  It was yummy and easy and a hit.


Not Ju-boy's stuffed cabbage, but an exact replica

Then I married Ju-Boy.  He thinks Unstuffed Cabbage is an abomination.  He had it once at my house while we were dating, and decided to quote Rabbi Meir Kahane and say “Never again!”  He makes his own stuffed cabbage and that is the only kind allowed in his sukkah.  Why do we eat stuffed cabbage on Sukkot in the first place.  I Googled and Googled, but it seems I’m handier in the kitchen then on Google, since all I could find was a bunch of websites explaining that one eats stuffed foods on Sukkot, but not why.   And then I came upon Interesting Thing of the Day.  It took a non-Jew to give me an explanation I can identify with:

Although there are no explicit rules as to what foods must be eaten during Sukkot, stuffed foods are extremely common. These may include stuffed peppers, eggplants, or cabbage, stuffed fruits and pastries, knishes, kreplach, main-dish pies, or even ravioli. Though no one knows for sure, there are several theories as to how the metaphor of stuffing came to be associated with Sukkot. Some commentators liken the stuffed foods to miniature cornucopia, representing a bountiful harvest. The cornucopia originated in Greek mythology, so the terminology is not historically accurate, but the symbolism may nevertheless be correct. In terms of the harvest that Sukkot celebrates, produce such as peppers and eggplant will have been gathered recently, and Mark suggested that stuffing them with the other late-summer vegetables may represent the completion of the harvest. Sukkot also includes the notion of welcoming guests (both living and historical heroes) into the sukkah, thus “stuffing” them into a wrapper of sorts.

I like this explanation a lot.  And it goes with my Jewish mother philosophy of life of stuffing people with food.

But for those of you who don’t agree with this philosophy, or don’t like patchkeying around in the kitchen, or just like a quick dish to put together for the holiday, I bring you…

Unstuffed Cabbage

  • 750 ml (3 cups)  ketchup
  • 1 liter (4 cups) ginger ale
  • 1 whole medium  cabbage, very coarsely shredded
  • 1 kilo (2 pounds)  ground beef
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs or matza meal
  • garlic powder
  • paprika
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt
  1. Put the ketchup and ginger ale into a large soup pot and bring to the boil.
  2. Add the cabbage and lower the heat so it simmers.
  3. In a large bowl mix the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Wet hands and form large balls, place gently into the simmering cabbage in the pot.
  5. Bring to the boil again, turn heat down, cover and let simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
  6. Serve with something to mop up the juices (like my challah, hint, hint).

Photo courtesy of Chia from Recipezaar

One of the advantages to living in a blended family is that we combined not only our families, kitchens, pets and furniture, we also combined our sukkot.  Ju-Boy puts together both frames not to create one giant sukka, but a two-roomed suite, complete with dining area and separate bedroom.  I’d like to show you a picture, but can’t.  We never photographed our sukka.  How remiss of us.  So instead, I’ve garnered a few funky pix of sukkot that might entertain.  A few are from my album on Facebook, Only in Israel, and when you see them, you’ll see why.  Enjoy…

Sukka on a yacht, courtesy of Doubletapper's blog

Gotta have your Whopper in the sukkah

Latte in the sukkah -- photo courtesy of Elie Lederman

Lulav? Check. Etrog? Check? Hadas and arava? Check? Automatic weapons? Of course!

Sukkot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn -- any piece of open sky will do...

And finally…

I wish our sukkah got built that quickly and efficiently!  And look at the size of the dining room table — I want one!


Wishing you all a Happy Sukkot!

!חג סוכות שמח


Food Snob? Moi?

Photo by *Parsley* of Recipezaar.com

I can be a snob about many things.  I am a coffee snob.  I am a spice snob.  I wish I could afford to be a saucepan snob.  But one thing I am not is a food snob.  Ju-Boy wonders at the fact that I can whip up something almost gourmet using the choicest juicy chunks of fresh Cornish ram’s bladder, emptied, steamed, flavoured with sesame seeds whipped into a fondue and garnished with lark’s vomit (10 points for guessing the source of that one), while at the same time using such mundane ingredients such as onion soup mix, ketchup and Coca Cola.

A generation raised on Hawaiian Punch and Ding Dongs

Yes, I cook with Coca Cola and I admit it.  When I was a little girl my mother wouldn’t let me near the stuff, claiming it wasn’t good for me.  She let me drink Hawaiian Punch instead (sold in lead cans).  And when she finally caved into progeny pressure it was bottles of the local no-frills cola that appeared on  the supper table, none of that heady stuff that came out of Atlanta.

I remember the first time she caught me pouring myself a glass of the stuff at breakfast.  “Miraleh, are you meshugah?  Drinking cola for breakfast?  So unhealthy!  Have a glass of milk instead, and pass me that can of Maxwell House coffee, please?”

Some Of The Joys Of Being An Adult

  • Buying what’s in fashion, not what’s sensible
  • Eating a tub of ice cream, on the couch, in front of the television
  • Naptime, once dreaded, is now your friend
  • Knowing what the words mean in that song
  • Drinking Coke for breakfast!

I have a few vices, but the only one I will find hard to give up is my Diet Coke fix.  I’ve quit smoking (so long ago most of my friends don’t even realize I ever did smoke).  I probably could give up alcohol (but I don’t wanna).  I have given up (at various times) coffee, dairy, meat, MSG and trashy novels.  But I always cave when it comes to giving up that lovely, fizzy, artificial, sweet, heavenly cola.

Back to snobby cooking… at home we are now trying to cook healthily.  That means buying more organic, less processed, fresher and tastier.  But Rosh Hashana is coming around the corner (very fast), and one of my favorite things to cook, serve and eat is a tender brisket, slow cooked in the crock pot, swimming with artificial yumminess.

The original recipe was given to me yonks ago by a co-worker, Lea Bruce.  It’s mine now…

You don’t need a crock pot for this, you could simmer it over low heat on top of the stove, or roast it in a slow oven.

Crock Pot Brisket

  • 2 kilos (4 pounds) brisket (in Israel I use a #5 cut)
  • 1/2 cup mustard (plain yellow is best, don’t get too pretentious with the Dijon)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons onion soup mix
  • 2 cups Coca Cola (don’t use the diet stuff unless it’s made with Splenda, not aspartime)
  • salt, pepper and paprika to taste
  1. Place the brisket in the crock pot.  You may have to cut it in half to fit.
  2. Mix all the remaining ingredients together and pour over the brisket.
  3. Cook on high for about 8 hours, or overnight on low.
  4. Let it cool down a bit before slicing.

Talking To God

Photo by jewishsearch.com

I am not a spiritual Jew.  I am a social Jew.  If you happen to find me in shul (synagogue) on a Shabbat morning, you will see that I talk more to my friends than I do to God.  No disrespect intended, honestly, but I will admit that I am not a fan of prayer… in shul, that is.  I don’t connect with words written hundreds of years ago by some man with a beard who spent his days with the holy texts while his wife struggled to get Shabbat on the table.  Now, if she had written these prayers I might feel more connected.

God is in the details

It’s not that I don’t believe in God, I do.  How can you not look at nature and see God in the details?  I see God in my four beautiful daughters.  I see God in music, in solar eclipses, even in evolution.  There is no way that something as twisted as the human race evolved on its own from the muck, we had help.  And God certainly has a sense of humor, don’t you agree?

While I do believe in God, my belief is limited to the fact that once he set up the game of Life, he didn’t hang around to play much.  I think there’s something more interesting out there than the likes of us.  But just because I don’t think he’s listening, that doesn’t mean I still don’t talk to him.  I have my chats with God every day, with the hope that at some point he’s going to pick up his messages.  In my mind, life on Earth is just a macro set to run until God sees fit to check up on us.  He helps those who help themselves, so my chats with God aren’t so much prayers asking for something, but rather little personal updates, verbal thank you cards, and sometimes a letter of complaint or a note in the Suggestion Box.

So this Rosh Hashana you really won’t see me hanging out much in shul.  I’d rather give my seat to someone who wants it, who needs the connection via the words written in the machzor.  I’ll be at home having a cup of coffee with the Big Guy, I’ve got my dialogue worked out already.

Rosh Hashana Honey Cake

One of the proofs of God’s existence has got to be honey.  A whole colony of buzzing bees work so hard to bring us such wonderful yummy sweetness.  Yes, I know there are quite a few people out there who don’t like honey and, even worse, hate honey cake.  God makes all kinds…

The original recipe comes from Ruth Sirkis, doyenne of Israeli cookbooks.  I’ve been making this honey cake every single Rosh Hashana since 1983.

  • 3 teaspoons instant coffee
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup honey (about 12 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup oil (not olive, use soy or canola)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I leave this out)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (I usually use nutmeg)
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees F).
  2. Get a baking pan with a 7 cup capacity.  Grease lightly and set it aside.  You could also use parchment paper, my favorite trick.
  3. Prepare a strong cup of coffee with the hot water and the instant coffee.  Let it cool down a bit so it’s not boiling.
  4. Separate the eggs.  Put the yolks into a big mixing bowl and the whites into a medium one.
  5. Beat the yolks with the sugar until creamy.
  6. Add the oil, then the honey, beating after each addition. Beat until the mixture is totally smooth and creamy.
    Sift the flour and combine with the salt, baking powder, baking soda and the spices.
  7. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture alternately with the coffee, stirring with a spatula or a wooden spoon.  Do NOT use and electric mixer for this one.  Stir only until all the ingredients are well blended, do not overmix.
  8. Clean and dry the mixer beaters.  Whip the egg whites until they are stiff and can hold their shape.  Don’t overbeat the whites or you will end up with little islands of egg white that will never be blended into the batter.
  9. Add one third of the beaten whites at a time to the batter.  Fold in gently until the batter is smooth.
  10. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 80 to 90 minutes.  The cake is done when a toothpick comes out dry and clean.   This cake keeps really well.  In fact, it gets better with a little aging, so bake it several days ahead.

Angelic saboteur of honey cakes

I can’t bake this cake without remembering way back in 1986 when I was still in my baby-induced coma.  Nomush has just had her first birthday and suddenly Sassy was so grown up at the age of 2 and one month.  I decided to let her help me make the honey cake while Nomush took her nap.  I lifted my little helper up on to the counter and she was thrilled to be able to stir the batter.  I was so proud of myself, thinking I was training my sweet little angel to make honey cake at the age of two.  And then (man plans, God laughs) my little angel took the measuring cup, dipped it into the sink full of dishes soaking in soapy water, and poured a cup of that stuff into the batter….

Place Me As A Seal Upon Your Heart

For the Jewish holiday of love, Tu B’Av, Ima 2 Seven was tagged in a meme where you have to post your favorite Jewish love song.  She then tagged Immahlady, who has now tagged me.  It’s been a week and a half since we celebrated Tu B’Av, but I’m always in favor of prolonging celebrations, especially one as feel-goody as this one.

Back in 1979 I was in Israel for the first time, and I fell in love with the country.  Back then, Ofra Haza came out with her Love Song, and it was the perfect soundtrack for my heart over heels falling in love with my home.

The lyrics aren’t lyrics at all.  It comes from Solomon’s Song of Songs, chapter 8, verses 6 and 7:

Place me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; because love is as strong as death is, insistence on exclusive devotion is as unyielding as She′ol is. Its blazings are the blazings of a fire, the flame of Jah. Many waters themselves are not able to extinguish love, nor can rivers themselves wash it away. If a man would give all the valuable things of his house for love, persons would positively despise them.

Are we still tagging?  In that case, I tag Avital of This and That, and Toby of A Time of the Signs.

I received a complaint or two that my last post didn’t have any food in it, not really, so to tie this all in to my love song subject…

Sara and Chaim -- may you have a long life together filled with love, happiness, much laughter, good food and wonderful friends!

This is dedicated to Sara and Chaim Azoulay, who got married on Tuesday night.  We’re making Sheva Brachot for them tonight together with the Lovely Linder and her Miiiiiiiichael, and here’s a photo of the Sgulah Challah I’m bringing.  The recipe can be found here.  I used one whole recipe for this challah, braiding it with six strands, and used 4 kinds of seeds on top as sgulah for fertility.

!מזל טוב חיים ושרה

Good Mourning

I have always had a love affair with Jerusalem, even before I first came into contact with what is one of the most beloved cities in the world.  My first time was at the age of 16.  My family was here for the summer to celebrate my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, and my favorite uncle, Abi, rented a car and drove us to Jerusalem, taking us first to the Kotel.  My first reaction was very emotional.  This wall, for me, is the symbol of how high we have risen, how low we have fallen.  In the countless times I have paid a visit to this wall since that bright summer’s day in 1979, my emotional state has wavered between joy and sadness, but those white stones with the tiny bits of paper stuck in the cracks, messages to Hashem, always evokes a tear, an intaking of breath, a special beat to my heart.

This Monday night we begin the fast of Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.  This day is the culmination of a three-week period of mourning which began with the fast of 17 Tammuz, the date on which the outer walls of the city of Jerusalem were breached during the siege. On the 9th of Av, the temple was destroyed.

My father taught me that this date is the Jewish Friday the 13th, when so many horrible things have befallen the Jewish people.  It is the date that the stronghold of Beitar fell to the Romans during the Bar Kochba revolt.  It is the date of the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition.  It is the date when the Nazis began the deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto.  Any Jew who feels the collective emotion of our people cannot help but mourn on this day.

On Tisha B’Av we fast.  In Judaism, the purpose of a fast is to lower the volume on our physical pursuits in order to focus more acutely on our spiritual selves.  This doesn’t work for me.  I find myself thinking of food.  What will I serve to break the fast?  How much longer until we break the fast?  I find myself drawn to foodie blogs, cookbooks, even the Food Channel on television.  I have a one track mind.

In my previous life, my girls and I would break the fast on pizza.  We would call the local pizza place half an hour before it was time to eat, the pizza would arrive five minutes before the fast was over.  I believe that in those five minutes all the agony, the suffering of the Jewish people, was felt.  No amount of Bible study, no amount of keening for what once was, could rival the emotions of those last five minutes.  It sounds horrible, doesn’t it, that in the last five minutes something as trivial as pizza could cause us to feel the collective suffering of our people. 

Now that we are living in Chapter Two, we have adopted Ju-Boy’s family traditions (although I believe Shy-Boy would like us to keep with the pizza tradition).  We first break with some fresh orange juice, then a cup of tea (with milk, Brit style), together with a piece of cake or a boureka.  Only later do we start digging around to find leftovers from the meal we ate before the fast, and whatever else we can find in the kitchen.  There is no set dinner for after Tisha B’Av in our house, we become the scavengers our people must have become when the Temple was destroyed. 

This year I will be home during the day of Tisha B’Av.  Normally I am in the office, but there is no office for me this year.  I will have no distractions except the worst ones:  what will we eat later after the fast is over?  I think I am going to occupy myself with cheesecake, I have been told I have a commitment to cheesecake.  I have one cheesecake in my repetoire that usually makes people cringe, until they taste it — Smoked Salmon Cheesecake.  This is not something you serve for dessert, it’s an appetizer, a salmon/cheese pate that, once you get used to the idea, is perfect for a hot summer’s night when you need to break a fast. 

Have you ever eaten something heavy after not having eaten all day?  Horrible feeling, no?  That’s why this is a perfect meal for Tuesday night, after we haven’t eaten since the evening before.  Try to wrap your head around it.

Smoked Salmon Cheesecake

  • 2 cups savory cracker crumbs
  • 100 grams (half a stick, half a cup) melted butter
  • 200 grams (1/2 pound) smoked salmon
  • 1 cup fresh dill
  • 500 grams (16 ounces) cream cheese (I use 5% fat white cheese)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon flour or corn starch
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F).
  2. Crush the crackers to fine crumbs.  Add the melted butter and then pat into a springform pan.
  3. In a food processor, using the steel knife, puree the smoked salmon.  It won’t come out like paste, more like salmon granules.  Add the dill and give it a whirl until it has reached a spreadable consistency.  Place this mixture into a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add the cream cheese, eggs and sour cream and mix until all is just combined.  Then sprinkle over the flour, salt and pepper.  I use a sifter for this so I don’t get clumps of flour.  Mix again until all is just combined.  You don’t want to incorporate air into the mixture, this will just cause your cheesecake to puff up and crack in the oven.
  5. Pour this into the cracker crust.  Bake this in the hot oven for 10 minutes only.  Then turn the oven down to 110 degrees C (220 F) and bake for another hour.  Set a timer!  When the timer dings, turn the oven off and let the fishy cheesecake rest in there for another 45 minutes to one hour.  Then transfer it to the refrigerator, and let it hang out in there for at least 4 hours.
  6. Serve cold, or even at room temperature.  It makes a good nighttime snack a few hours later as well.

A few years ago my daughter Sassy taught me that it is not the right thing to do to wish someone a good fast.  You are meant to suffer.  So I wish those of you that will be fasting on Tuesday a צום מועיל (tzom mo’il), a meaningful fast. 

Barge Pole

  

I’ve mentioned before that I can be a bit spontaneous.  Sometimes that’s not such a good trait.  Spontaneity can combust, and it will, and God will sit back and laugh.  For example…  

Cara, one of my favorite friends, tried to fix me up with a friend of hers a mere 16 hours after I had just gotten divorced.  “Are you crazy?” I asked.  “I just got divorced yesterday!  YESTERDAY!  And I know this guy, he’s not my type, and besides, he lives all the way across the country, it would never work.”  I was determined to keep my impetuous nature in check, at least where Cara’s matchmaking was concerned.   

It seems that Bachelor #1 was also not interested. I heard he told Cara that considering I really had just gotten divorced 18 hours before she called him, he wouldn’t, and I quote, “touch me with a barge pole.”  

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a match

Ah, Cara, bless her cotton socks, as she likes to say (Brits really do say strange things).  She’s a sneaky little thing, my friend Cara.  A few weeks later she phones up single and fancy-free me to invite me over for a meal on Shabbat.  And guess who was there, without his barge pole?  

We celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary last month.  At our wedding, under the chuppah, I could hear God chuckling away, and Cara sat there, looking so smug!   

Yes, I stuck my tongue out at the photographer while under the chuppah...

One of the things Ju-boy had to get used to in Chapter Two is that he was now married to someone addicted to baking.  When I moved into his house he had no baking supplies whatsoever.  There was half a kilo of self-raising flour in his fridge, but I think that was a remnant of Chapter One.  I suppose he got custody of the flour.  I moved in and immediately stocked the kitchen with flour, yeast, baking powder, all things unfamiliar to this dedicated meat roaster.  A few weeks after the wedding we went to the supermarket together.  I noticed him in the ready-made cake section, holding up one of those marble loaves, and I rushed over, intending to slap the offending cake out of his hand.  What does he need that for?  He’s got me!  As I approached I saw him shaking his head, and heard him muttering to himself, “I never have to buy one of these things again!”  Doesn’t he say the sweetest things?  

Painted and seeded and ready for the oven

Galit, over at Minnesota Mamaleh, talks about traditions in families.  One of the traditions I brought to my new household is home-baked challot, every Shabbat.  It’s one of the traditions that we’ve Brady-bunched, mixing some from my family, adding new ones from his, making this tradition now ours.  My challah recipe is an easy one to make, and easy to eat.  It has no eggs, but tastes rich and yummy, and I have a secret ingredient to making it taste special, which I share with you below.  Also, I use bread flour (Stybel #2 here in Israel).  I find it gives the challot a wonderful texture.  I have also made this recipe with plain white flour,100% whole wheat, half white/half whole wheat, and also using the 70 ww/30 flour available here in Israel at Nitzat HaDuvdevan.  Use what you prefer, but I get my best results, both in texture and taste with first the bread flour, then the 70 ww/30 mix. 
 
Rich and Yummy Challah  

  • 1 kilo (2.2 pounds, ~7 cups) flour
  • 2 tablespoons instant dry yeast
  • 7 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla (my secret ingredient)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • sesame seeds, nigella seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, you decide

  1. Place the flour, yeast, sugar, vanilla and oil in a large mixing bowl.  Mix together at low speed using the dough hook (or knead manually).  This will still be very floury, this is just to get the ingredients mixed together.
  2. Now add the salt.  The reason I do it this way is that some say the yeast is “allergic” to salt and shouldn’t come in contact with it directly.  Some say this is nonsense.  I figure, it’s no problem to keep them apart, so I do.
  3. While the mixer is running at low speed, add the water.  It shouldn’t be too hot that you end up killing all the yeasty beasties.  You just want to warm them up a little.
  4. Now get the mixer running at medium speed, kneading for at least ten minutes.  I let it go sometimes for 20 minutes, depending on how hypnotized I get by watching the dough go around and around, and whether I’ve had my morning coffee yet.  The dough is ready when it has the texture of your earlobe. 
  5. Cover the dough with either a plastic bag or a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm part of your kitchen until doubled.  Depending on the day, season, moon phase or alien activity, this can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours.  On a sluggish day (usually cold winter mornings) I like to give it a kick start by placing the bowl in the microwave and zapping on high for 15 seconds.  Feel free to punch down the dough and let it rise a second time, if you have/need the time or the inclination.
  6. Once the dough has risen to your satisfaction, give it a good sucker punch to release the air and knead the dough manually for a few minutes.  Now it’s time to braid the dough.  There are many different ways you can braid, or weave the dough.  I like to do a four-strand knotted weave (see the round challot in the picture above).  Ju-boy’s middle son, Chip, taught me the one-strand S twist, which is the free form most often seen in Israeli supermarkets.  This is one area where you can really let your creativity flow.  And just in case you need a little help, try this easy method for a six strand challah.
  7. Once you have your challah braided, place it on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper.  Let it rise again for another 20 minutes or so.  Paint the risen challah with the beaten egg (a silicone brush is best for this) and then sprinkle with whatever seeds you have chosen.
  8. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F).  I know this seems low, but trust me, this works.  The slow heat helps the dough rise even more before it starts to brown.  If you don’t believe me, ask Cara.  She can vouch this works.  Look her up in the Yellow Pages under matchmakers.
  9. The challah should bake for about 1/2 an hour to 45 minutes.  This is all dependent  on your oven and whether you bake free-form or use a mold.  I find that free-form takes a shorter amount of time.  I once saw one of Israel’s premier bread bakers, Erez Komrovsky of Lechem Erez, on a Food Channel show, and he said that when the house smells wonderfully of baked challah, it’s done.
  10. Remove the challot from the oven and let cool.  These babies are amazing when fresh, but if you are going to freeze them wrap them well.

While challah is delicious on Shabbat and on holidays, it’s also majorly yummy when allowed to go stale a bit, and then used in French toast. 

Shabbat shalom!

While challah is the cornerstone of Shabbat, I like how it’s managed to bind the family together as well.   Ju-boy and I actually started our Chapter Two over a loaf of challah at Cara’s house, may we continute to share many loaves together over the years to come.

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