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September 29, 2008

Days of Awe

שָׁנָה טוֹבָה

L'shana tova! A sweet new year to everyone!

It's a reflective time of year, so here's what I'd like to work on in the year 5769. To those I have offended, please, forgive me as I try to do better.

1. More acts of what Maimonides called the highest form of tzedekah--acts of loving kindness and generosity that preserve the dignity of the receiver to the utmost--and often, that means doing so quietly, without calling attention to the fact of the act. No one needs to know but the giver and the recipient. Tzedekah should be about the recipient, not the giver.

2. Taking more time before making judgements of other's behavior, or not making judgements at all. Remembering that it is probable that I am not seeing the full story.

3. Making the time, each and every day, of letting my husband, sons, parents, and friends know how much I value and appreciate them. Every moment with loved ones is important.

4. Turning away from lashon hara (literally, "evil tongue"), not listening to gossip.

And to break the Fast after Yom Kippur next week, I offer my mother's Blintz Souffle recipe. Some atonement may be necessary after this delicious plateful.

Continue reading "Days of Awe" »

February 27, 2009

Purim

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Purim is another fun Jewish holiday, where we're encouraged to be silly, dress in costume, step out of our usual boundaries with wine (for adults) and dramatic play (everyone), and eat hamentashen cookies (shaped like Haman's, the "bad guy's" hat). It celebrates the saving of the Jewish community of Persia by the bravery of Queen Esther, who was secretly Jewish. There's a midrash (rabbinic story) that one dresses in mask and costume to hide, just as Esther hid her identity. The four mitzvot (commandments) associated with the holiday are to listen to the story of Esther that is read from a scroll called a megillah; to give special tzedekah (charity) to the poor, to give gift baskets of food to family and friends, and to have a festive meal. As the megillah is read, the custom is to make as much noise as possible (using a noisemaker called a grogger, and lots of hisses and boos) each time Haman's name is mentioned, to blot out his name.

There's a very good account of the history and development of traditions of the holiday begining here:
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Purim/TO_Purim_History.htm

The megillah contains some harsh realities of life of the times and Jewish communities who had been forced from their home in Israel, and so when we tell the story for young children we need to omit some details, while still imparting the drama of the events. I thought you might enjoy reading the puppet play I wrote a few years back for my class. Purim in a nutshell.

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Continue reading "Purim " »

April 5, 2009

Charoset

As I began my passover planning this year, I thought it would be fun to add to the charoset selection I offer on the table. Charoset is the reddish-brown mixture that is part of the Seder plate of symbolic foods that help people remember the events in the story of the Jewish people leaving slavery in Egypt. The charoset is to remind us of the bricks and morter the slaves used in building. In Hebrew cheres means clay. There are some other interpretations, with scholars wondering why we would choose to symbolize our slavery with something sweet. I like the theory that the European tradition of using apples comes from the midrash (rabbinic story)that the Jewish women would meet their husbands in the apple orchards, in defiance of the Egyptian's rule that Jewish spouses be separated. The sephardic Jews use figs and dates, mentioned in the Song of Songs for their sexual symbolism as well.

Ahem.

In any case, I usually serve both the Ashkenazi charoset of apples, walnuts, cinnamon and wine; and also a Moroccan version of dates, figs, apricots, and pistachios.

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Moroccan Charoset
Here's my general recipe that I got verbally --I tend to fiddle a bit till I get the taste and sweetness I want. Into the food processer goes:

1 cup pitted dates
4-5 dried figs
1 cup dried apricots
a pinch cinnamon
1/2 cup pistachios (imported are best, and necessary this year due to possible Salmonella contamination in the California crop)
sweet wine to taste, to loosen things up as needed.


I thought it would be interesting to find out what the Italian Jews used for charoset. I found many variations using all sorts of fruits and nuts, a Venetian one with almonds, figs and chestuts; but this one from Piemonte sounded most interesting:

From The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Rosen:

Piedmontese Haroset


1/2 lb (250 g) cooked chestnuts

2/3 cup (125 g) blanched almonds

2 hard-boiled egg yolks

Grated zest of 1 orange

Juice of 1 orange

About 3/4 cup (175 ms) sweet red kosher wine

1/3 cup (75 g) sugar or more to taste

Boil the chestnuts for a minute or two, and drain. Grind the almonds fine in the food processor, then add the rest of the ingredients, including the chestnuts, and blend to a paste.

April 8, 2009

Pesach Cook-Along, 2009 Part 1

6:00 am: Put potatoes in the oven, and started sauteeing leeks, carrots, and peppers for Maakud or Mahookha, a Sephardic dish similar to an Ashkenazi potato kugel, but with more vegetables and herbs and somewhat lighter.
6:30 Made Sephardic charoset with dates, figs, apricots, pistachios, cinnamon and wine.
7:00: Sent Larry to the grocery store. Answered several phone calls from Larry about how much ground lamb, do we really need more parsley, and there are no baby red potatoes.
7:30 Peeled and mashed the baked potatoes, prepped spinach for maakud.

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8:00 Finished putting together the maakud while Larry tears the house apart looking for the hagaddahs, which for reasons unknown are not in the china cabinet drawer where they belong.

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8:15 Made another pot of coffee
8:30 Marinated chicken in garlic, vinegar, olive oil, oregano, olives, capers and dried fruit for Chicken Marabella.
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9:00 Cleaned up Kitchen, Larry washed first round of dirty dishes. Larry escaped to the safety of his office
9:30 Started on Lemon Meringue Torts, whipping eggwhites for meringue "crust", filled pans, put pans in oven.

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10:30 Started cleaning house. Still no hagaddahs. And I've managed to jam the garbage disposal. *curtsies*

Maakud, or Mahookha, Sephardic Potato-Leek Dish--serves 12

olive oil
8 large potatoes
2 Tbs. butter or olive oil
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
4 leeks
1 sweet red pepper
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry (important!)
6 eggs
2 tsp. salt
ground pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 cup matzoh meal
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup minced dill

Bake the potatoes in a 350 oven until very soft.
While the potatoes are baking, clean and slice the leeks, and finely dice the pepper. Saute the leeks in a skillet with some oil until tender, then add the pepper and carrots and continue to cook until they're also tender.
Using an oven mitt to protect your hands, peel the potatoes. Mash in a large bowl with the butter or oil, and broth. Stir in the dry spinach, mix to combine. Add to the potatoes, and mix well. Beat the eggs, and add the salt, pepper, cumin, parsley and dill. Mix, then add to the potato mixture. Add the matzoh meal, and stir very well to combine everything. Put into an oiled 9x13 pan, and smooth the top. Before baking, drizle the top with olive oil to prevent drying out. Bake in a 350 oven till puffed and brown on top, about 40 minutes.

April 11, 2009

Pesach Cook-Along, 2009 Part 2

The rest of Wednesday and Thursday was spent in a flurry of cooking, yet more shopping, hunting for the mysteriously disappeared Hagaddahs (which are somewhere in limbo between S&K's house and mine. My theory is that they were in a bag after being returned here, and mistakenly got tossed during a bout of housecleaning last summer), hunting bookstores for more Hagaddahs in the version I like, attending a lovely first night Seder at S&K's house, and hosting second night at mine.

Whew.

Here's a bit more of what I cooked.

Herb-stuffed eggs, to go with gefilte fish as a first course.
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Chicken Marabella
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Cold Salmon with Herb Vinaigrette
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Morrocan Artichokes Stuffed with Lamb
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Moroccan Potato-Leek Mahookha
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Golden Beet Salad
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Sauteed Spinach

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I didn't grab photos of the garlic-roasted potatoes and the salad platter.

Lemon Merengue Torte (before serving I put sliced berrries and whipped cream on top, very pretty. This was a keeper, one I'll absolutely make again)
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We also had awesome desserts brought by others--chocolate macaroons and fantastic homemade chocolates from sister sue and her finacee David; almond torte from cousin Jon, macaroons from cousin karen, and flourless chocolate cake from Mom.


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