Thursday, April 28, 2016

Getting ready for the last gasp of the holiday

Getting ready for the last Yom Tov bit of the holiday has provided me with some frustrations and some real pleasures.

First two bits of frustrations. 
Frustration bit number one

Eliana wanted white lightning bolts on the underside of her tallit.  I started out making two bad lightning bolts couching silver thread to the tallit with many rows of zig zagging. I have spent a couple pf hours picking out the stitching and not cursing.
This is a much improved lightning bolt. It's easier to construct. After the holiday I will make more of them. I think I have picked out every stitch of my failed attempts.

Frustration Two
We have been invited to dinner tomorrow night and lunch on Shabbat. I had planned to make a batch of meringues and an orange version of the cranberry chocolate tarts I had made for seder. In thinking about this dessert combination I had thought that I could be clever and put the egg yolks into the nut crust. The yolks and the whites could all be used up evenly with no waste.

For some inane reason I had trouble remembering which bowl got the whites and which the yolks so I ended up with a really eggy crust. The tangerines I had purchased to roast to top the tart were  not flavorful enough, not enough in terms of quantity and I had sort of burned them. So I ran some dried apricots and orange juice through the food processor and ended up with this

And now for two pleasure of the last couple of days. Both are food related and related to the wonders of the internet

Pleasure 1
When my sister came for Passover she brought a manila envelope in which my mother had collected recipes. Lots of the recipes were cut out of newspapers. Some were recipes for dishes my mother had eaten at my older sister's house. There were though a couple of real treasures. This was one.

This is the original of my mother's matza ball recipe. the recipe was written out by the ever elegant Marilyn Katz who looked in those days like a Jewish version of Mary Tyler Moore in her Laura Petrie years.The recipe came from her mother in law, Celia, or in the correct form in the early 1960's Mrs. Isadore Katz.

Yesterday I shared these images in Facebook and had a wonderful exchange with Marilyn's daughter who had no idea how essential this recipe is for my family. There is no Pesach without these kneidlach.

Pleasure 2

I know, it is the same tart that is a series of fixes for various fails. However, it is also the result with a conversation with a cousin. My cousin Nancy lives in Florida. She loved the idea of my cranberry tart, and decided to make a variation of it using not cranberries but a citrus fruit similar to kumquat. As we chatted back and forth about making this, I realized that her branch of the family and mine have not cooked together since 1922.Nancy pinpointed that to October of 1922 when her grandmother, my great Aunt died in childbirth.  I look forward to many other opportunities to cook virtually and actually with my cousin Nancy.

I love how my blog and Facebook have helped to span generations and and great distance so that friends and relatives can  cook together, and prepare for the holidays together even though they are far away from one another. 

Chag sameach!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Post Seder Blog-salad

 The big Passover embroidered table cloth is at the dry-cleaner's. The napkins we used for Seder are washed, dried and ironed and will, after I finish this blog post be put away.
Since the photo of the napkins is right here, I just want to spend a moment on the napkins. Unlike my mother, I don't always set my table with identical napkins. This batch of napkins has arrived in my house from a variety of sources. Some were my mother's. Most of them came into my house in the what is now usual for me method. A relative of a friend dies. there are odds and ends of linens left when the house is broken up. The cut-work embroidered linen napkins are too lovely to throw away and most people can't imagine ironing napkins. So these napkins find a home in my house and are used  for fancier dinners.When my sister was setting the table she noted how the mixed napkins worked well together on the table. They were probably all made within a generation of one another. Some are mad out of nicer linen or have more elaborate or better quality embroidery but  in the end, just like the people who  sit around our table, not identical, not from the same place and yet willing to have delightful conversations with one another.

Out Seders were made better by  everyone who was around the table. They were also improved by the introduction of a fancy KP tequila that our friend Mike brought. Starting the evening with tequila shots is something that I would consider  making a tradition.

This year's maror tasted like a skinflinty mean old man.
The actual tree pit, a few days after my meaningful encounter with a homeless man
The morning of the first day of Passover I was on my way to services. A homeless man with his shopping cart was sitting perched on the edge of the little fence around one of the tree pits in front of my building. he asked me for a dollar. I told him that I had no cash on me because it was a Jewish holiday.

The homeless man asked me which holiday it was. I told him that it was Passover. He then asked me if I had reached the mountain. I understood what he meant, had we reached the anniversary of our standing at Sinai.I told the man that that would take place in 50 days. 

He then asked me if I had crossed the sea yet. I told him that I would cross the sea the next week. I loved how this man's questions had me extend that understanding of in every generation to each moment beyond the seder.

He then asked me some questions about the difference between Hebrews and Jews, mentioned that he had once worked at a Jewish bakery...but I really did have to go to services, my daughter was reading the Haftara and I didn't want to be late. 

Often when we encounter homeless people we don't really look at their faces. I loved that this man engaged me so I really did see the humanity and the sweetness in his face.

I did get to services in time to hear my daughter, and without a moment to spare.

We have been eating well, really well all week. I do have sewing to do so off to that.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


For those of you still cooking, this lemon almond cake is the best Passover cake in my repertoire. It is baking in my oven as I type this. Each time I make it I am amazed by what a beautiful cake batter it is.
One of the things I love about my local fish monger is that if you ask for say,  1 3/4 lbs of salmon he will slice off EXACTLY that amount. The lemon cake needed a cup of ground nuts. I tossed some into the food processor. It came out to be exactly one cup ground. It's a good thing to be able to develop and eye for the work one does.
This is the 2016 version of the lemon almond cake. There is a layer of tart lemon custard underneath the sliced almonds. 

I also made the must be served the first night of Passover flour-less chocolate nut torte.
last night I made the also must be served at Seder meringues.
No, I am still not done, closer but not yet there. I did take some time to escape to the park with my neighbor and sit in the sunshine


The break left me ready to get more work done.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Chag ha Aviv- The Spring festival and the cooking continues

The weather is just the peak of spring perfection but the Passover meals are not going to cook themselves.  I was outside enough to be able to at least notice that it was a gorgeous day.
The beef is cooked, sliced bag and in the freezer joining the chickens. I have inherited my mother's ability to pack the freezer like a clown car.

The charoset is completed and the flavors are melding in the fridge door. It ought to be perfect by Seder.

We need to eat even thought it is not yet Seder.

I pulled out all of the chicken from the soup, and made a giant chicken loaf. 
To be honest, in this state it tasted a bit like reconstituted sawdust. My son mentioned that it needed some sort of a sauce. He was, as usual correct. I made a tomato sauce out of two cans of crushed tomatoes and caramelized onions. It was both acidic and slightly sweet and transformed the chicken loaf into something really delicious. 

The kiddush cups all got kashered.

My friend Sue posted a question on Facebook today asking for Passover recipes that are so good one would eat them at any time of the year.
The dessert I made last night falls into that category.

Cranberry Chocolate Tart
pre heat oven to 350
Make a nut crust.
I love pecans so ground up pecans in the food processor added shredded coconut because I like the texture, some brown sugar, cinnamon, a bit of salt to balance the sweetness and then about a tablespoon of matza meal and a few tablespoons of water. Pulse the mixture until it becomes a coherent ball.

Press the mixture into a pan. If you want this to be a pie, use a pie tin. I have found that my husband eats this dessert with much greater enthusiasm if I bake it in a rectangular pan and cut it into squares.  This time I used my large jelly-roll pan.  I had mis - calculated the amount of crust so mid way had to mix up some more.I'm telling you this so you understand that this recipe is really flexible.The end result should be a nice balance ofslightly sweet with a hint of salt.

Press the mixture into your desired pan.You want the crust to be fairly thin. use the skills you learned making mud pies as a kid to smoosh the crust to it is evenly spread over the surface of the pan. If you are making this in a pie pan you will want the crust to go up the sides of the pan. if you are baking this in a rectangular pan lining the pan with parchment paper is just a good idea. Bake the crust for about ten minutes.

Chocolate. This Israeli cocoa spread is perfect. 
If the chocolate has trouble spreading pop the pan into the oven for a minute. The chocolate spreads better with a knife, just saying.

Top the chocolate with raw cranberries. I saved a big bag from the fall.I think that Whole Foods sells frozen cranberries. Sprinkle sugar over the berries.

Bake until the berries either pop or look wilted/cooked.
If this were the only dessert i was serving I would cut this into large squares. For Seder, this will be part of a cookie platter, So I cut the tart up into small rectangles. I figured out last night that it makes lots of sense to cut this tart while it is still warm. Once it was cool I packaged it all up and put it in the fridge. I saved the ugly ends for my son and he ate them for breakfast.  My husband is usually not a dessert kind of a guy. He had already gone to bed but came into the kitchen last night to ask for a piece to nibble on. It's that good.

I love the contrast of the dark cocoa with the bright tart cranberries. To answer Sue, This is a dessert we eat during the fall and early winter when cranberries are plentiful.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In answer to my friend Martha Ann

Today I received the following email from my friend Martha Ann

Sarah, sometime when your life isn’t at such an “Olympic” stage, why don’t you write a post about what you have to do to get ready?  Are there other occasions where you have to do other things as well.  I understand about the wheat but what about the dishes, cooking utensils and all the aluminum foil???  I’m sure there are a 1000 other things I could be asking but for those of us who are not familiar with Jewish holidays/celebrations/etc, I don’t even know enough to ask questions!  Maybe it isn’t something to share but thought I would ask - could be there are others who grew up unfamiliar with other religions might like to know as well.  Martha Ann

In other words, what is this insanity around Passover?This is a great question that sort of cracks open the evolution of Jewish law from biblical times until today.

Here from Chapter 12 of the book of Exodus is the source
טו  שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵלוּ--אַךְ בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, תַּשְׁבִּיתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם:  כִּי כָּל-אֹכֵל חָמֵץ, וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל--מִיּוֹם הָרִאשֹׁן, עַד-יוֹם הַשְּׁבִעִי.15 Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; howbeit the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.
טז  וּבַיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם:  כָּל-מְלָאכָה, לֹא-יֵעָשֶׂה בָהֶם--אַךְ אֲשֶׁר יֵאָכֵל לְכָל-נֶפֶשׁ, הוּא לְבַדּוֹ יֵעָשֶׂה לָכֶם.16 And in the first day there shall be to you a holy convocation, and in the seventh day a holy convocation; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done by you.
יז  וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-הַמַּצּוֹת, כִּי בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, הוֹצֵאתִי אֶת-צִבְאוֹתֵיכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם--חֻקַּת עוֹלָם.17 And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore shall ye observe this day throughout your generations by an ordinance for ever.
יח  בָּרִאשֹׁן בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ, בָּעֶרֶב, תֹּאכְלוּ, מַצֹּת:  עַד יוֹם הָאֶחָד וְעֶשְׂרִים, לַחֹדֶשׁ--בָּעָרֶב.18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.
יט  שִׁבְעַת יָמִים--שְׂאֹר, לֹא יִמָּצֵא בְּבָתֵּיכֶם:  כִּי כָּל-אֹכֵל מַחְמֶצֶת, וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מֵעֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל--בַּגֵּר, וּבְאֶזְרַח הָאָרֶץ.19 Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses; for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a sojourner, or one that is born in the land.
כ  כָּל-מַחְמֶצֶת, לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ; בְּכֹל, מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם, תֹּאכְלוּ,
מַצּוֹת.  {פ}
20 Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.' {P}

So what you learn from these verses are a few things.
  • Eat unleavened bread for seven days ( that's matza)
  • Get the leavened stuff out of your house
  • Eating leavened food during Passover is REALLY bad ( Cutting the soul off is a big deal punishment)
  • The first and last day are observed with the same strictures as Shabbat ( no work, no lighting fire, no cooking, no commerce)
  • Leavened stuff can't exist in your house

Most Jewish Holidays have particular food practices associated with them, and holiday meals that need to be cooked for them.Because there are restrictions on buying and cooking on the holiday all the prep has to happen in advance.

Passover though adds additional complications to the matter. It isn't just bread that is forbidden. All foods made with five particular grains ( wheat ,oats,barley, spelt and rye) unless they were already baked into matza. are forbidden. Anything made with grain alcohol is forbidden, no beer or single malt scotch or vanilla extract.Even trace amounts of these ingredients are forbidden.

Additionally if your family like mine comes from Eastern Europe where bread flours were often stretched with bean flours, legumes and also rice and corn is forbidden as well. 

So now you get a sense of how during Passover large swaths of the supermarket are off limits. When I shop for Passover I can buy fruits, vegetables, kosher meat and fish without too much trouble. there are also packaged Kosher for Passover goods available. You can buy packages of stuff that looks like breakfast cereal( it's awful unless you are under ten).

But if you look at the biblical text it says that you can't have leavened stuff in your house.Other sources say that you can't own Chametz ( the catch all word for food you can't eat on Passover)  you can't see it and you can't find it on Passover.  This is the source for the crazy cleaning. The crumbs behind the fridge need to be cleaned up as do the ones behind the stove and inside any of the cabinets. 

On the morning before Passover I sell all of my reamining Chametz to my doorman. He gets to own the stuff I know about( like the bottles of booze, and the stuff I don't know aboutlike a forgotten piece of Halloween candy. My doorman also retains ownership of the spaces underneath all of the Chametz in my apartment.

Different communities and families establish standards of what makes a kitchen OK for Passover. I cover all of the surfaces that might get in touch with food. I cover all of my kitchen counters, and the burners on my stove.T do a self clean on my oven and then turn it all the way up to high. During Passover I probably wouldn't eat at the home of someone who did not do the same. 

I use a completely different set of pots and pans, silverware and dishes (and dish drainers and silverware organizers and sponges and glasses) during Passover.

We all get new toothbrushes at Passover. 

And all of that is before you start to cook. The first two nights of Passover you have Seder, which means order. Seder is both a meal and a service ( elements of the mass come from the Seder). 

At the beginning of the Seder we recite a formula inviting all who are hungry to come and eat. Our table is open to it's fullest and every seat is filled with family and friends and community members who don't have a Seder to attend. I am making and serving a multi course fancy dinner for twelve, two nights in a row. In addition to that, I am also feeding breakfast and lunch to everyone staying with us. Because the first day of the holiday is on Shabbat, that adds another level of complication to the food prep. Some kinds of cooking are allowed on a holiday but are not allowed on Shabbat so that's more prep that has to be done before the holiday starts.

After the first two days of the holiday buying food is more complicated. There are additional strictures about what is OK to buy during the holiday. So it makes sense to buy everything before the holiday begins. If I lived in a big suburban house I would have a big freezer in my basement.I live in a Manhattan apartment and have a not very big fridge. managing fridge and freezer space for so much food, for so many days is not easy.
A matza cover I made, the text is a core one from the haggadah
In every generation each person is obligated to see themselves as if they were personally liberated from Egypt, as it is written' You will tell your children on that day saying...'

So that in a nutshell are some of the reasons for the Passover cooking Olympics.

I am leaving out the power of transmitting this tradition to my kids, the power of evoking my parents as we go through each aspect of the preparation, the power of evoking generations and generations of people before me doing the same thing so we can celebrate freedom from slavery and hope for full liberation for all of us.

If you have other questions, by all meals ask.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Pesach Cookling Olympics part 2

 The Soup event for this year, begun last night
and completed just a little bit ago.

Ten quarts of beautiful soup and one gallon bag of boiled to death chicken bits.
I also made six chickens in two flavors. They are also all bagged up and in the freezer.

I finally figured out that squeezing out the vegetables is much easier if you let them cool first.For the first time making this soup my hands are not burned, but are just sore. My son laughed at me when he realized how many years of burned hands it took me to figure out this much less painful method.

Two are vaguely Indian with tumeric, cinnamon black pepper and dried fruit.

The four are flavored in a fancy version of the take out chicken my husband grew up on( smoked paprika, sumac and black pepper)

I have perfected a great method of moving whole chickens from pan to plastic bag without greasing my hands up. 

I am sure that there are kitchen wear stores that sell a tool invented exactly for this job.

A giant work spoon did the job brilliantly.
The Passover Cooking Olympics continue tomorrow with the beef, fish  and charoset events.

Friday, April 15, 2016


Yesterday, after my son got home from school and work we got to work switching the house over. 

Many small tasks add up to be sort of monumental. The Passover stuff is hidden away all over the apartment. My son and I just kept plugging away until we got the kitchen more or less in order. 

I knew that as soon as we got set up I had to get my first cooking task done. Several years ago we went on vacation to Lancaster County. While most of the Amish delicacies were not foods we could eat, we fell in love with pickled beet eggs.They taste good, but the color is insane. The white of a properly pickled beet egg is magenta. The line where the yolk and the white meet is positively technicolor. I don't remember which one of us suggested that we could serve pickled beet eggs on our Seder plate. Those Amish beet eggs have been part of our Seders ever since that vacation.

So as soon as I unpacked the dishes and pots I put two dozen eggs up to boil. Once they had cooled I measured the juice from two cans of beets and then measured out the same amount of sugar and vinegar. (There is also a variant of the recipe made with salt but you know how to use Google too)) I simmered the beet juice, sugar and vinegar in a pot and then added the eggs and let the whole concoction simmer for about twenty minutes and let the whole thing cool. Once it was cool I filled the jar with the eggs, the beet brine and the cut up beets. 

By Seder the eggs will be gorgeous. Some of the people sitting at the table don't like beets, they will get plain eggs.

I  invited us to a friend's house for Shabbat dinner. My friend had wanted to take our son out for lunch to celebrate his birthday. I figured I could bring all of the food, and my bread loving family could get their challah for Shabbat. 

Through a couple of complicated but sweet plot turns there will be a whole lot more people at the table (all of whom we love) and I don't have to be responsible forall that much of the meal.
We are bringing THIS

It looks a bit like the photo parody of getting ready for Passover that has been floating around Facebook, where an entire living room is completely covered in foil. This is not a bed of foil . The smaller package holds spicy meatballs in a tomato reduction. The larger package holds

flanken bones served with caramelized onions. The Brussels Sprouts roasted with mushrooms and chestnuts are in the fridge. 

I start the vat-o-soup after Shabbat. I have a tower of 7.5 dozen eggs in my fridge.The serious cooking starts soon. I am surprised that my credit card hasn't melted from all the use it has been getting.

Shabbat shalom!