Heymish at home

Marc and I hosted Heymish Minyan Friday night, and since dinner was potluck, that meant I only had to cook one thing, and because it was at our place, it meant I didn’t have to go anywhere.  Best of all possible worlds!  It was a really nice crowd in terms of both size and the people who were there, and, the blessing of the potluck, the combination and quantity of food was really perfect.

I made crustless mozzarella, tomato, and basil quiche, and in the process, I learned from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” that quiche filling is essentially 6 eggs, 2 cups of milk or cream, and up to two cups of add-ins, in this case, cheese and veggies, plus salt and pepper.

Speaking of add-ins, Marc made “mint chocolate grit” ice cream, which means he made awesome mint chocolate chip, and thanks to the many different types of chocolate and cocoa nibs in there, the texture was on the gritty side.  But no matter – it was delicious.  It was also the largest quantity of ice cream he’s ever made at one time, and nearly all of it disappeared.  Click on the picture below for this huge batch of awesome in progress.

Everything was really delicious, but the one dish I keep coming back to in my mind is Sara’s spinach, tomato polenta pie.  It was a simple, perfect combination of flavors.  Plus, because I never make polenta, it seems fancy and mysterious to me. And, speaking of fancy, Warren made homemade pasta, and it too was really great!  (I worry about my level of effusiveness in these posts coming across as less than genuine, but I really do delight in the access I have to so much incredibly good food.)

Though the commandment for Shabbat is to eat three meals, our eating on Saturday was kind of a blur of constant noshing, including leftover quiche, honey ricotta ice cream from earlier in the week with bananas, and (this was actually pretty meal-like) chicken with satay/mole sauce that Marc also made earlier in the week and was just perfect after our long Shabbos nap.

There’s no transition here, just something else I want to talk about…

This week, we start reading the book Vayikra, Leviticus.  There is a whole lot about sacrifices and about the salt required for sprinkling on some of these sacrifices.  I knew there was some connection between the sacrifices and why we sprinkle salt on challah on Shabbat, but it wasn’t all that clear to me, and I spent some time with the google learning more.

As with most elements of Judaism, there are multiple explanations for the custom of salt on challah.  One of the most common is that since we no longer have the Temple in which to perform sacrifices, our table is like an altar – not one where we make sacrifices, but a place where we have an obligation towards holiness.  Salt is a way to remember the Temple, yes, but also a way to remember our obligations that go beyond the Temple.

Another that I came across this week is that salt is a symbol of hospitality: it makes guests feel welcome to know they can season their food to their taste.  Some commentators recommend keeping salt on the table at all times to communicate that sense of hospitality.  Apparently Lot’s wife was not so forthcoming with the salt, and she got what was coming to her in the end.

With this much variety, hopefully guests feel welcome in our home:

I learned two other good tidbits in my research: I’ve often seen people do kind of a fake-out knife cut on their challah before saying ha-motzi, and I found out that this is because nothing is supposed to stand in the way of eating the food once you’ve said the blessing on it.  But, because on Shabbat, the commandment is to say ha-motzi over two whole loaves, you can’t cut them in advance.  This little scratch on the surface represents starting to cut the bread while still allowing them to stay intact for the blessing.  A perfect Talmudic compromise.

And why two loaves?  To represent the double portion of manna the Jews received in the desert on Shabbat so that they didn’t have to work to gather their food on the day of rest.  One explanation goes on to say that the manna was covered in dew above and below, and that’s why we have the challah on a board and with a cloth on top.  I do like the other popular explanation that the challah would be embarrassed during kiddush if it weren’t covered up, but this one’s nice, too.

Finally, it’s now been two weeks since I first had the donut muffins, and I actually made them this week, which is a helpful reminder to include the recipe.  I used half whole wheat flour and a whole lot less butter on top, but the results were still incredibly yummy!

And, just so you know spring is on the way, here’s the current scene on my dining room table:

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