Category Archives: Jewish cooking

My Second Mom

 

My Aunt Zipora on the left, my mom on the right

Famous Israeli saying:

אמא יש רק אחת

You only have one mother

True, or false?

Most people go through life with only one mother.  I feel sorry for them, in a way.  It’s wonderful to have a loving mother who nurtures you, loves you, spoils you…  But what’s even better is two women who would do this for you.

I’m fortunate to have been blessed with two mothers.  Okay, we’re not even going to go into the whole adoption issue, that’s doesn’t even enter into the equation here.  First, there’s my mom.  She may not have carried me under her heart for nine months, but she brought me home from the hospital, and that’s my mom.

Zipora, one year after liberation from Auschwitz, Sweden 1946

When I was seven we spent a considerable time in Norway, and my Aunt Zipora, my father’s baby sister, came up from Israel to visit us.  My father had told me stories about all his brothers and sisters back in Hungary, and I was thrilled to meet the aunt he spoke of so fondly.  She brought me a book in Hebrew and we spent a lot of time reading the stories together.

Aunt Zipora and Uncle Erich

When I was 16 we came out to Israel for the summer, for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah.  I was a rebellious teen, and you could have imagine just how embarrassed I was by my mom.  She kept trying to get me to pose for pictures, she kept trying to buy me dorky clothes, she kept trying to keep me safe.  How embarrassing!  My Aunt Zipora, on the other hand, convinced my mom to let me go off to the beach by myself.  She bought me the sandals that were the “in thing” back in 1979 Tel Aviv, and she taught me curse words in Hungarian!

Didi and her "Savta" Zipora

Throughout the years, while I was in Israel as a kibbutz volunteer, a university student, a new immigrant, a new mom, a new divorcee, my Aunt Zipora was always there to support me in any decision.  She became like a second mother to me.  Since my girls didn’t have grandmothers who lived nearby — my mother lived in New York, their other grandmother in London — Zipora became a grandmother to them.  When my father died in 2002 I went to the States for the funeral, and after my mother and I comforted each other I flew back to Israel and my aunt and I had another good cry together.  When my mother died in 2009 my aunt was there to tell me stories of my parents’ early life together, pre-Miriyummy.

Aunt Zipora and my girlies, June 2005

In 2005 I married for the second time.  My mother couldn’t come out for the wedding, so I had the oddest pleasure in being walked down the aisle to the chuppah by my oldest daughter Sassy and my Aunt Zipora.

I grew up eating Hungarian food, but my Lithuanian mother used to drive me insane giving me recipes.  You put in a bit of this, a bit of that.  There were no measurements in my mother’s cooking style.  With the help of my Aunt Zipora, who actually writes things down, I was able to approximate one of my favorite dishes:

Hungarian Noodles


This dish went by the name of káposztás tészta. I never managed to pronounce the second word correctly, and it all got shortened to Capostash when I put it into our Shabbat rotation. No one else seems to want to call it that, so Hungarian Noodles it is.  Purists will rise up in outrage when they read what I’ve done to the recipe, but this is my blog, and my bastardized recipe, and I’m serving it at my table, so this is my Capostash!

Leave out the shmaltz and the kabanas to make this dish vegetarian/vegan.

  • 500 grams bow-tie noodles, cooked until al dente
  • 2 huge onions, coarsly shredded
  • a few glugs of olive oil, or a chlop of shmaltz
  • 1/2 head of green cabbage, coarsely shredded
  • salt, pepper and paprika to taste
  • 2 heaping tablespoons poppy seeds
  • Optional:  3 kabanas, preferably by Tirat Zvi, cut up (thin, dried sausage)

  1. Caramelize the onions in the olive oil or shmaltz until darkly golden and soft.
  2. Add the cabbage and toss together with the onions until softened.
  3. Add the noodles and mix.  You may need to add 1/4 – 1/3 cup of water to get it mixable.  Add the salt, pepper and paprika and taste.  When you have it juuuuuust right, add the poppy seeds and mix together.  (Add the kabanas.) Serve hot.
  4. If you add the cut up kabanas it takes this dish to a whole new level.  It’s not authentically Hungarian, but it’s authentically delicious!

 

 

No Awful Offal

I grew up in an Eastern European household with the Yiddish flowing like Manischewitz wine, the wine flowing over our kiddush cups every Shabbat, and every Shabbat flowing with chicken soup with matzah balls and my mother’s gehakteh leber.

I loved my mother’s gehakteh leber (that’s chopped liver to those of you (most of you) who didn’t grow up speaking Yiddish).  She made it in a large wooden bowl with a double-bladed chopper called a hakmesser.  The sound of her chopping the liver and hard boiled eggs greeted me every Friday when I came home from school, along with the smell of onions slowly caramelizing in shmaltz.  On Friday night we would start every meal with challah and gehakteh leber, topped with crunchy gribenes (chicken crackling).  It was a delicious heart attack waiting to happen.  My father actually had four of those heart attacks, eventually dying of complications due to quadruple bypass surgery, but I’m sure that if he could, he would tell you that it was worth it, just to have some of my mother’s wonderful chopped liver.  It was, as he often said, geshmak!

Offal Hater

Over the years I’ve tried to replicate my mother’s amazing recipe.  I’ve come close, but it always eludes me.  Perhaps nothings tastes as wonderful as a memory.  Perhaps it’s the enthusiasm of the eaters, or rather, the lack of.  Not a single member of my family’s joy of liver comes close to mine, or my father’s.  A few friends have loved it, the X tolerated it and the kids won’t go near it.  Ju-Boy can be counted among those who are not fans, but I’m not insulted, since he won’t eat liver or any kind of offal, in any form.  It’s not like he’s cheating on me with someone else’s chopped liver, phew!

He does, however, like my vegetarian paté.  It’s almost as labor-intensive as the original, almost, but not quite.  With no liver to kasher and chop, the only real work is the caramelizing of the onions and the cleaning up of the food processor afterwards.  No wooden bowl and hakmesser to give it that authentic Eastern European je ne sais quoi, or as they say in Yiddish, epes geshmak!

 

Liver Lover and Offal Avoider

Miriyummy’s Vegetarian Paté

  • 4 huge onions
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 hard boiled eggs
  • 100 grams (4 ounces) walnuts
  • 2 cups canned peas (1 largish can, must be canned peas), drained
  • salt, pepper and paprika to taste
  1. Chop the onions medium fine.  Heat the oil in a large pan and slowly caramelize the onions.  This can take up to an hour.  Don’t try to rush it, this is what gives the paté its authentic flavor.  The onions will cook down to next to nothing.  When the onions are a gorgeous caramel brown take them off the heat and let cool.
  2. Place the walnuts in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the steel knife.  Zhuzz until finely ground.
  3. Add the peas and zhuzz again.
  4. Add the hard boiled eggs and the onions (scraping every last drop of oil into the mix) and give it a good zhuzz until you get the paté consistency you’re looking for.
  5. Add salt, pepper and paprika to taste.  Turn into a serving bowl or Tupperware and chill in the fridge for at least two hours.
  6. Serve with challah, crackers or fancy shmacy little toast points.
  7. Can be frozen.

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!

Irresistible Forces

My mother at one of her dinner parties, Goteborg, Sweden

One of the things I love about Judaism, and being Jewish, is the subjectivity of it all.  Yes, there are rules that say do this, don’t do that, but there is also a lot that is open to interpretation.  How you go about your relationship with God, your relationship with your family and your community is left up to you.  Within the circle you have chosen to live in, your religion is your own.

Growing up in my parents’ house I was shown both side of the religious coin.  My father grew up ultra-Orthodox, he had the requisite peyot (side curls), the right intonation when he prayed and he was a rabbi who taught small children to love the Torah.  He lived in a small village in Hungary where everyone knew everyone else.  And then his entire world was ripped apart.  He lost his family, he lost his community, his livelihood, and as the Holocaust did to so many, he lost his religion.  He took off his hat, cut off his peyot, and lost his faith in God.

My mother with my grandfather and father

My mother, on the other hand, grew up in a home that didn’t have the relationship with God that my father had.  My mother grew up in a secular household, where there was a Jewish tradition, but as they say, it was more of a guideline than a rule.  She lived in Vilna, the capital of Lithuania and the center of Litvak culture, a cosmopolitan town.  And then her entire world was ripped apart.  She lost her family, she lost her childhood, and she lost her trust in everyone, especially in God.  The Nazis did such horrible things to my mother, that when she was liberated she was malnourished, ill, and would never be able to have children.

She and my father were both refugees in Sweden.  How they met has become family legend.  My mother was keeping house for my grandfather, a furrier.  My father was living with his 4 surviving brothers and sisters and they  decided to get my Aunt Toby a fur collar for her coat for her birthday.  My father was the one who stopped by my grandfather’s house to place the order.  He saw a picture of my mother on the hall table, and my grandfather couldn’t help but boast of his daughter who took care of him and cooked him the most amazing meals.  My father was told to come back a week later… which he did… at dinner time.  My parents were married a year later.

For 13 years they took the ashes of their lives and rebuilt them into a life together.  They immigrated to the States in the late 50s, and then, one day, I arrived in their lives.  The adoption of a daughter changed them forever, and my father, who had lost his faith, found it again.  But my mother, who didn’t start out on the same page religiously, was not ready to follow.  My father let her be, and she let him be.  I grew up in a home where religion, as well as secularism, was not only tolerated, but respected.  My mother kept a kosher home for my father, and he let her live her life in the way she felt she needed to live.  I have very interesting memories of my mother making the blessing on the Shabbat candles, and then lighting her cigarette off those very candles.  There are those who will be shocked at this, but in our house, that was how we all got along.

What happens when two irresistible forces meet? The forces can’t resist each other, so they combine into one irresistible force.  This irresistible force became our family, and the interpretation of religion in the end always centered around the table.  My mom was the most amazing cook, and no matter how you felt about God, Judaism or life in general, her dinners took you to heaven.

This past Shabbat was the first yahrzeit (anniversary) of my mother’s death.  I’ve written before how I’ve subjectively taken this year of mourning to be meaningful to me.  My father died eight years ago and every year on his yahrzeit I celebrate his life with a Hungarian dinner.  This year, the first yahrzeit for my mother, I cooked a dinner in her honor which I hope would make her proud of me.  We had good friends over for dinner on Friday night, my daughters Tinky and Didi were there, and Ju-Boy gave a wonderful speech about a woman he never met in life, but knew so well through the love of cooking she passed on to me.  He mentioned how the irresistible force of my father’s faith and the irresistible force of my mother’s lack of belief met together to create an irresistible force of respect.  My father taught me to love books, my mother taught me to love cooking (and feeding), but together they taught me to respect your partner, your children, your family and your fellow travelers in life.

Kasha Varnishkes


My mother served this at least every other Shabbat.  The wonderful nutty flavor of kasha (buckwheat) will always bring me back instantly to the warm Friday night table, candles lit, my father making kiddush on annoyingly sweet wine and my mother hovering over the stove, ready to serve up her amazing food.  I suppose you could say she found her religion in the kitchen.

  • 2-3 tablespoons oil (my mother used shmaltz)
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 1 cup kasha
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cups chicken soup
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces (250 grams) bow tie pasta, cooked
  1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot.  Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until brown and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and cover to keep warm.  Do not clean the pot.
  2. Combine the kasha with the beaten egg until completely coated.  Heat the pot over medium heat and add the egg-coated kasha.  Keep stirring to keep the grains separate and cook for about 3-4 minutes until the kasha becomes dry and toasted.
  3. Add the chicken soup and stir.  Add the salt and pepper to taste.  Lower the heat and cook for about 10-15 minutes  until the kasha is tender and all the water has been absorbed.  Stir with a fork to fluff.
  4. Add the onions and mix well.  Add in the cooked bow ties.  Toss well and serve.

~*~*~*~*~

One of my subjective interpretations of Judaism was how I went about my year of mourning.  One of the traditions I took upon myself was not to cut my hair for the whole year.  When my mother died my hair really needed cutting to start with, so you can imagine how long it grew.  Tonight my daughter Tinky cut my hair.  She’s been studying hairdressing at one of the most prestigious schools in Israel, and since I’ve been paying the tuition I suppose you could say this was my most expensive haircut ever…

 

My Favorite Shiksa

Dree the Divine

Nature versus nurture, it’s a crap shoot, really.  How much of the person you are today is because of DNA?  How much of your personality is due to your upbringing?  Case in point:  my brother, Skeezix.

Skeezix in the sailor suit, self-fulfilling prophecy?

Skeezix is three years younger than I am.  In spite of my efforts to destroy this interloper into my happy childhood, he’s managed to survive to become one of the defenders of truth, justice and the American way.  Skeezix is a submariner in the US navy, stationed in Pearl Harbor.  We were both raised in the same home, both smothered in chicken soup, sweet kiddush wine and the paranoia of  Holocaust survivor parents.  And yet, we have ended up on opposite sides of the Jewish spectrum.

I am what you would call agressively Jewish.  I am Torah observant, I keep kosher, my week revolves around the spindle of Shabbat.  Judaism for me is not just a religion, it’s a way of life.

Not so for Skeezix.  In his early teens he began to buck against my parents and our way of life.  Today is he a fervent athiest.  He revels in letting me know how delicious pork is, that he has no clue when Yom Kippur is, and it’s really pissing me off that he inherited our mother’s cast iron frying pan and he’s using it to fry up his shark steaks and bacon strips.


Defender of truth, justice and the right to treif up a frying pan

One of the things that drove my parents to despair is that Skeezix married Dree, the Shiksa.  My father sadly shook his head and oy-yoy-yoyed into his Gemara.  My mother threatend to put her head in the oven.  Dree is the epitome of Shiksahood.  Tattooed, pierced in places you can only begin to imagine, this bacon-eating, Santa-loving transplanted surfer girl was every thing my parents dreaded Skeezix would bring home.

I have to admit, I was also prejudiced, at first.  My brother’s description of their wedding included the line, “Dree’s dad got so drunk we had to carry him out to his truck.”  No offense, my darling Dree, but those are words never really heard at an Orthodox Jewish wedding.

Skeezix and I planned a joint trip back to New York, me bringing my two youngest from Israel, Skeezix bringing the Shiksa and her daughter (from her first marriage) from Hawaii.  I was planning on being gracious, but not overly friendly.  I was sure this family reunion was going to set off an Armageddon in the Bronx (as if that didn’t happen all the time).

Dree and Skeezix

I planned on being gracious, and yet again, Miriyummy plans and God laughs.  What I discovered was that Dree was one cool Shiksa.  She’s funny, she’s smart and she refuses to take any crap from  the anti-religious Skeezix.  She’s the one who pushed my brother to light Chanuka candles in my father’s house.  She’s the one who forced him to drink kosher wine at my mother’s Shabbat table.  She made sure the chocolate dreidls they brought my kids from Hawaii were kosher.  She dragged my brother out of the apartmet to smoke in the stairwell so as not to offend my father on Shabbat.  As much as I wanted to not like Dree, I grew to love her.  She respected my parents’ way of life, and made my rebellious brother respect them as well.

Dree and Skeezix are unfortunately separated now, though still married.  I never thought I would say this, but I hope my stupid brother comes to his senses and realizes what a treasure he has in my favorite shiska.  Listen, if your family has to have a token shiksa, let it be one  as cool as Dree.  Aloha au ia ‘oe kuaana!

Chocolate Babka

This is a Carine Goren recipe.  The first time I posted some pictures on Facebook of a chocolate babka I made I got a comment from Dree that she loves that stuff.  So here’s a yeast cake that transcends all religions and brings family together, even when they are 12 time zones apart.

For the dough:
1/2 kilo (3 1/2 cups) flour
1 tablespoon yeast
100 grams (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (300 ml) milk
4 eggs (at room temperature)
scant half cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
100 grams (1/2 cup) very soft butter
1 beaten egg, for brushing on top

To make the dough, place the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand-mixer.  Attach the dough hook.  Melt the butter together and then add the cold milk to the melted butter so the liquid is just lukewarm.  Add th butter/milk mixture to the flour/yeast mixture, together with the eggs and sugar.  Mix at low to medium speed until the dough pulls together, and then add the salt.  Continue mixing until the dough is smooth and just a tiny bit sticky.  Cover and let rise until doubled.

Because the dough is sticky, it’s perhaps best to let it rise halfway in a warm place in your kitchen and then to let it finish rising in your fridger for another two hours.  This way the dough cools down and will be less sticky to work with.  You could also prepare the dough a day before, or let it rise in the fridge overnight.

To make the filling, mix together the sugar, cocoa and the cinnamon in a small bowl, and set aside.

Yes, these are supposed to be rectangular. What are you going to do, call the Babka Police?

Take out the doubled dough and punch it down.  Divide it into two separate (yet equal) pieces.  Roll each piece out into a rectangle about 1/2 centimeter (a little over an inch) thick.  I can never get the perfect rectangles you see on TV, but it really doesn’t matter, because when you roll the whole thing up in the end you can’t tell anyway.

I’ve impressed myself here

Spread the butter over the two rectangles (polygons, blobs) and then try to sprinkle the filling evenly over the buttered dough.  Roll each blob up from the long end, then twist the two rolls together and place in a buttered (or parchment-papered) round cake pan.  Brush with the beaten egg.  When I first made this recipe, as you can probably see in the photo, I didn’t read all the instructions, because, you know, I’m such a hotshot cook.  So I mixed the butter with the sugar, cocoa and cinnamon instead.  It was still spreadable, still edible, but not as good as doing it according to Carine’s instructions.  Hubris bites.

To rise or not to rise?

At this point you should have remembered to preheat your oven to 170 degrees C (340 degrees F).  Place the rolled babka into the oven, there’s no need for an additional rise.  Bake for about 50 minutes until the babka is all brown and yummy and inviting.

The reason you don’t have one more rise before placing the babka in the oven is because that’s the way most of our grandmothers did it.  If you really, really feel you need to let it rise just a bit one more time, go ahead, the Babka Police aren’t going to arrest you.

Mmmmm, babka! Who wants to come over for some coffee and cake?

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

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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