Category Archives: Shabbat

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…

 

The Story of Noah — Good Friends in High Places

Rainbow Chocolate Balls

We all know the story of Noah — it rains, people start getting wet, but the ark is warm and cozy and in the end Noah finds a nice spot, high and dry and don’t we all love a happy ending?

 

Noah's Ark by Rebecca Shore

 

It was going to be a great Friday!  Ju-Boy and I were in the supermarket shopping for Shabbat when the heavens opened and the rain started coming down.  Everyone was smiling, rain is something we so desperately need here in Israel, and everyone loves the yoreh, the first rain of the season.  And how appropriate, since this was the Shabbat where we read Parshat Noach, the story of Noah.  Some of the checkout ladies started dancing in the parking lot, oblivious to the wet.  The guy who had fight with me at the cheese counter (he claims I cut in front of him, but how was I to know, he was standing in line at the meat counter at the time) smiled at me, and I smiled back.  Everyone here loves the first rain.  The weather hasn’t yet turned cold and after a long, hot summer, the first rain makes everyone happy.  Driving home while the drops pounded on the roof of the car, I watched the streets flood (in Ra’anana the streets flood even after a drizzle) and turned to Ju-Boy and said, “This is going to be a great Shabbat Noach!”  I couldn’t wait to get home and start braiding my challot and cook in my cozy house, filled with light and music and the smells of Shabbat coming out of my oven.

And then… boom!  Literally and figuratively.  A flash of lightning, the boom of thunder, and the lights flickered.  I quickly unplugged the computer and went back to braiding the challah.  Whew, that was close!  And then… boom!  And once again, I planned, God laughed, and the lights went out!  You could hear my scream all the way to Mount Ararat!  So the house darkened, the oven went cold, and we waited.  Then the lights flickered, our spirits were raised, and then, boom!  The lights went out again and the Miriyummy household entered the Middle Ages.  No electricity!  I had such plans for that electricity — I was going to bake challot, chickens, whip eggs whites and cream, even Ju-Boy was tenderly blow-torching a roast that was then going to get some oven time.  I quickly stuck my braided challah into the fridge and waited for the lights to come back on.  In the meantime, we started cooking on top of the stove (if you have an electric oven, you should have a gas hob).

Good friends in high (and dry) places

We called the Electric Company and heard a recording that the power cut was massive — Ra’anana, Kfar Saba, Hod Hasharon, Herzliya, Ramat Hasharon, we were all in the dark.  We had some friends who still had electricity, some friends who were busy hunting for candles.  Remember Serene Shar and Peaceful Perry from Headless Chicken?  They had electricity and said we could use their oven.  I quickly drove my challot over, leaving Ju-Boy to deal with the rest of the cooking over the stove in the darkening house.  The Electric Company promised to reconnect us at 4 PM, and when that came and went I quickly drove home through the flooded streets (and no working stoplights!) to get the chickens and shove those in Shar’s oven.  Shabbat was coming faster than a tsunami of floodwater and that’s when Shar and Perry truly proved that they were foul-weather friends and issued an invitation to eat with them that Friday night, a mingling of food and friends, 17 of us around the table basking in the light of the house and the light of Shabbat.  By the time we returned home around 10 PM that evening the lights were on and the day had been saved.  Don’t we all love a happy ending?

Rainbow Chocolate Balls

Even before the thunder went boom and the lights went out I had decided that we were going to have a dessert straight out of the story of Noah — everyone needs a rainbow.

The recipe isn’t mine, it’s Shy-Boy’s, so he’s my guest chef this week.  One of the best things about this recipe?  No electricity needed!

 

The ingredients

 

  • About 50 plain biscuits (we use petit beurre, two sleeves worth)
  • 200 grams (1 cup) margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa (we use Dutch processed)
  • 1 egg
  • A few glugs of wine
  • Rainbow sprinkles

 

Crush the biscuits with a rolling pin. We normally use a food processor, but that's when we took electricity for granted.

 

 

Try to get a fine a crumb as possible.

 

 

Work the margarine in with your fingers until well blended.

 

 

Add one cup of sugar.

 

 

Blend well. The crumbs should have the texture of wet sand.

 

 

Add one cup of cocoa.

 

 

Blend well. The crumbs should have the texture of cocoa-colored wet sand.

 

 

Add the egg.

 

 

Add a few glugs of wine.

 

 

The crumbs should now have the texture of a stiff goop -- you know, you should be able to form balls that won't fall apart.

 

 

Get your paper casings ready. We started out with size #3 (pictured here) but quickly moved to a smaller #2.

 

 

Rainbow sprinkles are good for a Noah-themed chocolate ball. Shy-Boy claims the best coating is flaked coconut.

 

 

You should form the balls with damp hands. Having a bowl of water nearby (or a faucet) is a huge help.

 

 

You should make the balls about yea-big, but in actuality, make them any size you like.

 

 

Roll the balls in the rainbow spinkles until coated. This was the only part of the recipe in which I got to help. Shy-Boy was busy making the balls, I was busy rolling them in the sprinkles, it was a real Lucy and Ethel moment for us.

 

 

One perfect ball...

 

 

The recipe makes about 50 balls or so. Your mileage may vary depending on how big or small you make these babies...

 

Chill the balls in the refrigerator for at least an hour or so before serving.

We brought these to Shar and Perry’s house where they were a hit for dessert.  We brought them home to have with kiddush and for dessert for lunch the next day.  Keep them in a Tupperware in the fridge, handy for snacking, great with a cup of coffee, a bit of whisky, or just a colorful nosh on a rainy day.

Headless Chicken

Ju-Boy's End of Summer Party -- 2009

 

I gave up many thing when I married Ju-Boy.  I gave up the Jerusalem mountain air.  I gave up quiet streets and living in a town with no stoplights.  I gave up a certain amount of my independence.  What I feel the most, however, is that I gave up my friends.  Okay, they are still my friends, but because I now live a one-hour’s drive away (long distance in the Israeli psyche), I don’t get to see them often, or at all.  I don’t get to bump into them at the grocery store, wave to them as I take my evening power-walk (oh yeah, I also gave up power-walks), I don’t get to exchange gossip outside the synagogue, and I don’t get to just hang out with them, either at the Shabbat table or for a coffee evening during the week.  I miss them. 

I gained many things when I married Ju-Boy.  I gained a house with stairs (my first time living in a house, not an apartment).  I gained living in a somewhat cosmopolitan city with a main street full of fun shops.  I gained the Cooking Channel (the X said we couldn’t afford it because we were already paying the cable company a ton for all his sports channels).  I gained the use of Ju-Boy’s amazing turbo oven, and I gained his friends. 

When we spoke about them I used to call them “your friends,” and he would always correct me and say “our friends.”  But, tachles,  they started out as his friends, and I then began to refer to them as my friends-in-law.  Regardless of the fact that I even knew some of them longer than he did, they were his friends.  But little by little, I have taken over.  Shar calls on the phone and Ju-Boy is ready for a chat, but she wants to speak to me!  Yummy Mummy calls my cell phone for the Shabbat meal invitation.  Most of them read my blog, but how many of them even know he has one, huh? 

John shows off his hands-free drinking technique

 

I like his, erm, my friends, they’re good people, and they make sure that with all the hustle and bustle of busy families, smachot, grandchildren and life in general, that we still get together for a laugh.  We make sheva brachot celebrations together for our children, we try to go away together for a Shabbat here or there, we drink Marc’s whisky and eat Yummy Mummy’s cake creations.  We’re in and out of each other’s houses on Shabbatot for meals, and a few times a year we get together for holiday potlucks. 

It was the annual Simchat Torah potluck that made me go headless chicken.  I had just started a new job and needed to put in some time on erev chag.  Shar was hosting the event at her house (at least 50 people were expected) and Ju-Boy had volunteered four dishes — challah, fish pie, couscous salad and chocolate babka.  Isn’t he the most altruistic husband you can imagine?  Four dishes, when most people were making only two.  But both of us cook, so that makes sense.  What doesn’t make sense is that all four dishes are MY specialities.  Ju-Boy helped by giving a running critique of my fish-skinning skills.  Brave boy, I was holding a sharp knife… 

So it’s erev chag and I have four dishes to make in two hours. I didn’t get a chance to make any the night before because we were out late (visiting one of my, erm, our friends from my Jerusalem days), and that morning my boss decided he needed just one more email, just one more thing, just one more… aaaaaaarrrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!   I got home from the office, saw the mess in the kitchen, the mayhem in the rest of the house, and that’s when I went headless chicken! 

like a headless chicken  (British) also like a chicken with its head cut off (American

if you do something like a headless chicken, you do it very quickly and without thinking carefully about what you are doing (usually in continuous tenses) I’ve got so much work to do – I’ve been running around like a headless chicken all week. He was racing around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to do the work of two people.
Definition thanks to The Free Dictionary
One of the great miracles of Judaism is that no matter how early or how late the holiday or Shabbat starts, you are always ready at the last minute.  Amazingly, everything got done on time, and when I lit the candles and ushered in the final holiday of the season, the house was relatively calm, I was relatively calm, and even the floors were clean.  That night it was just the family for dinner, the quiet before the storm.

 

We arrived at Shar’s house the next day after all the singing and dancing  and boozing lechayims at shul.  Since we probably live the furthest away, we were the last to arrive.  The house was full of friends, their kids, their kids’ kids, invited guests and Shar and Perrys dog Chief looking for attention (their cat was smart and found a hiding place).  And yet Shar was amazingly calm.  Whether she had started on the whisky early, or had swallowed a bottle of Rescue Remedy, I wanted some of that!  I think it was just her natural personality, Serene Shar and Peaceful Perry, surrounded by good friends, safe in the knowledge that we all pull together to celebrate en masse.  The next time I go headless chicken I need to channel me some of that…
Couscous Salad

I first tasted this at my (our) friend Shosh’s house back when I lived in Givat Ze’ev.  I politely took a portion, then seconds, then thirds, this was yummy!  I got the recipe, and over the years it’s evolved to what it is today.
  • 350 grams couscous (1 package)
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon soup mix
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 5 carrots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 teaspoons grated gingerroot (or to taste, I use almost a tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  1. Pour the couscous into a large bowl.  Mix in the soup powder and olive oil, stir well to combine (I use a fork).  Add the boiling water and let soak until all the water has been absorbed.
  2. Place the carrots and parsley in a food processor (steel knife).  Zest the lemon with a Microplane and add it to the food processor.  Process until a minced finely.  Add the juice from the lemon, olive oil, ginger and pepper.  Process until a paste has been formed.
  3. Add paste to the ready couscous and mix together.
  4. Add the chickpeas and mix together.
  5. Turn into a salad bowl and chill for at least two hours.

This is a great dish to serve on Saturday lunch, or to take to a potluck with 50 of your best and newest friends. 

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


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.

Viva La Diva

Ju-boy claims that I make friends quickly.  He doesn’t mean this as a compliment.

Let me clarify.  The man claims that the Brits take years to cultivate a friendship.  Anyone that he has known for less than twenty years is merely an acquaintance.  Friendship is reserved for those loyal enough to have stuck with him for a score of years.  My opinion?  If you’ve managed to be friends with my at (most) times ascerbic husband, you deserve a medal and a rubber room.  Actually, my experience with British friends are that they are a loyal bunch.  Unfortunately, in my life I have had the chance to see fair-weather friends at play, and really can’t count a Brit among them. 

But Ju-boy is correct, I do make friends quickly.  What he considers a liability I consider a gift.   When I first moved to Stepford Teaneck Ra’anana I was fortunate that Ju-boy came with his own set of friends (befriend one, get the whole set).  But I also made my own friends in the community, and one of them is Vida.  Vida had made aliya to Israel a few years before I moved to Ra’anana, and she is one of the most interesting (and vocal) people I have ever met.  What started out as basically a stepmom support group for two became a valid friendship.  Vida has a blog of her own, feel free to check it out. 

The other day she asked me if I would blog about spelt bread.  As she said, it’s now in fashion, and what do a I think about it?  I didn’t think anything about it, I’ve never been fashionable, and had never even eaten spelt bread before.  But I’m always up for a challenge, and this past week was in Eden Teva Market and bought a kilo of organic whole spelt flour.  Wow, that’s some expensive flour!  I tried to cut corners and looked for non-organic refined spelt flour, but there doesn’t appear to be such an animal.  If there is, not one of the “in” health food stores in the area carried it. 

Spelt loaves about to escape

I’ve been told never to experiment in the kitchen when guests are coming, but I usually do.  In this case, however, I was a little hesitant.  With just family here for Shabbat (including a visit from Scarlet and Sasquatch) I thought this would be a good venue to premiere my spelt challah.  Being such a spelt newbie I first asked my buddies over at israel-food, and they were very helpful, helpful in confusing me!  Reduce liquids, add more liquid, don’t overmix, add gluten, don’t let it rise too much.  A lot of this also contradicted with the instructions for making spelt bread on the flour package itself.  The recipe had lots of water and said to mix the dough for 10 minutes.  My food guru Ruth said to use less water and don’t mix for over 4 minutes. 

Spelt challah ready for Shabbat

Good thing I listened to Ruth.  This spelt dough was quite the little diva.  It doesn’t like being handled too much, nor does it like being left alone.  The instruction on the flour package said to let the dough rise for an hour and a half, shape into loaves and then let it rise again at another hour and a half.  The first rise went well, but 30 minutes into the second rise that dough was knock knock knockin’ on my kitchen door.  I heard that if you let the diva dough rise too much it thrown a hissy fit and deflates, so I quickly preheated the oven and threw it in there.  35 minutes later they were already cooling.  One loaf I saved for dinner tonight, but Ju-boy and I just had to do a little quality control with loaf #2.  The jury is still out on this one.  It produces a really crumby (not crummy) loaf.  I think the recipe would have benefited from an egg or two.  Slathered in butter it’s delicious, but a bit heavy as a stand-alone slice. 

Okay, Vida, you happy now?

Spelt Challah (recipe adapted from the Adama brand whole spelt organic flour package)

1 kilo (2.2. pounds, roughly 7 cups) whole spelt flour

2 tablespoons dried yeast

4 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2 1/2 cups warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil

  • Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Lastly, add the water and olive oil.
  • Knead for 4 minutes (the package says 10 minutes, don’t listen to it).
  • Let the dough rise for about an hour and a half in the bowl, until doubled.  Keep the bowl covered with a damp towel.
  • Punch the dough to release the air trapped inside and shape into loaves.  The dough is sticky.
  • Let it rise again.  The package says another hour and a half, but after half an hour my dough was ready to pack its bags and run away from home.  Again, cover the rising dough with a damp towel.
  • Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F).  Bake at this temperature for 10 minutes, then lower your oven to 180 degrees C (350 F) and bake for another 35 minutes (my loaves were ready in 25).

Normally I’m a fearless challah baker, but actually was a bit trepidacious in the face of this challenge.  I suppose if I actually had one recipe instead of several ones that all contradicted each other (the Internet isn’t always the most helpful tool) things would have gone a little more smoothly.  I don’t know if I’ll make this again.  I don’t suffer divas lightly.  And in the end, this was quite a heavy diva.

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