Monthly Archives: May 2011

My fridge runneth over

A full cup symbolizes a wealth of joy and blessings, and an overflowing cup is one that can’t contain all the goodness life has to offer.  Though I typically fill the kiddush cup on Friday night more than half full in a nod to the tradition of saying kiddush over a full cup, this week, I filled it and let the grape juice run down the sides.  With the overwhelming generosity we’ve experienced recently, nothing else seemed appropriate.  Truly, our blessings are overflowing.

Since last Monday, different friends have showed up every night with dinner for us, and even during my best and most ambitious of cooking frenzies, our fridge has never looked like this.  And as much as I love cooking, there’s no way I could muster the energy and organization to do any of it right now, and certainly not at the level of what people are bringing us.  Friday afternoon, separate people brought us groceries, dinner, challah, and grape juice.  I’m just going to keep saying it: overwhelming generosity.

A little googling this morning informed me that the tradition is actually to say kiddush over a full cup, and havdalah over an overflowing cup, but traditions are there to be borrowed and reappropriated (at least this week), and I’m glad our cup ran over.

One of the things that showed up on Friday was 4 loaves of challah, some of the best I’ve had, so here’s the recipe:

Billie Stevens’s Breadmaker Challah, from Lynne LeWitt (made into a non-bread machine recipe by Mattea)

Ingredients:
¾ cup hot water
3 tablespoons sugar, divided (1 tablespoon and 2 tablespoons)
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 large eggs
¼ cup canola oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt
3 cups (plus) all-purpose or bread flour – more in summer, less in winter, probably
up to 3 ½ cups now – if you use 1 cup of whole wheat and 2 cups of white, you
will need extra
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
Sesame seeds or poppy seeds if desired

1. In a small bowl, proof the yeast. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of sugar in the hot water, then add the yeast and let it sit for ten minutes. Bubbles should form (this tells you that the yeast is alive and working).
2. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs and add the canola oil. Add the rest of the
sugar (2 tablespoons) and the salt to the egg/oil mixture.
3. Add the yeast, water, and sugar mixture to the liquids.
4. Gradually add the flour.
5. When the dough holds together, knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth.
6. Clean the bowl and grease it, then return the dough to the bowl. Cover with either a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in a warm place for an hour.
7. Punch the dough down, then cover and allow it to rest for another half hour.
8. Divide the dough into two loaves (or leave it as one large loaf), and then braid the dough. You can use a standard 3-strand braid, or read on for instructions on doing a 6-stranded braid. Put the loaves on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
a. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough
(enough for one loaf) and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each
ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 ½ inches wide. Place the 6 in
a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together.
b. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand
from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and
move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left.
Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are
braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist
into a circle, pinching ends together.
9. Make the egg wash and brush it over the loaves. Allow them to rest 30-60 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 350°F about 20 minutes before baking.
10. Brush more egg wash over the loaves. Sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds if
desired.
11. Bake 25-30 minutes in the center of the oven until golden brown. Cool on cookie sheets.

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Baby’s First Shabbos

Spoiler alert: No, I didn’t cook anything this week (but I did make lots of food for someone…).

Friday night, with my parents, my brother, and  my niece with us, Marc and I said the blessing over children for the first time to Aliza.  It’s really a very simple thing: “May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah,” followed by the traditional priestly blessing: “May God bless you and keep you.  May God show you favor and be gracious to you.  May God show you kindness and grant you peace.”  It’s a beautiful little piece of text, and a lot less pressure than the traditional blessing over a new baby, which hopes that they grow up to enjoy a life of Torah, chuppah (essentially, marriage), and ma’asim tovim (good deeds).  Not that we don’t hope for those things too, but on Shabbat, it’s nice to keep things a little more low key. Plus, we already said those other things when we named her.

We all sang kiddush together, in exactly the way we did when I was a kid, and in a way that I cannot recreate without my father at the table.  My 4-year-old niece sang ha-motzi, which she practices in pre-school every week.  Though poignancy tends to be an aesthetic we try to avoid, when my mom pointed out that her two granddaughters were sharing Shabbat together for the first time, it was a pretty touching experience all around.

For dinner, my dad made pasta with vegetarian “meat” sauce, my mom made a salad, and Marc picked up a couple of really delicious challahs from Swiss House, as well as a chocolate cake full of creamy filling.  Oh yum.

Saturday morning, we partook in the traditional Shabbat bilirubin test, followed by a quick lunch of leftover pasta, and challah in Trader Joe’s lentil masala dip that had somehow magically appeared in our house Saturday morning.  You would not believe how long it took Marc, my dad, and me to remember what we ate yesterday.  Sleep deprivation is really something.

My mom just said, “really, you’re still going to do your blog??” but the answer is an emphatic yes!  I can’t guarantee the posts will be timely, or well-constructed, or that I won’t fall asleep in the middle of typing, but they’ll keep coming.  I can’t guarantee a consistent supply of pictures of food.  But baby pictures?  No problem.

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B’sha’ah Tova

B’sha’ah tova is a Hebrew phrase that translates basically as “all in good time.”  It’s something that gets said a lot to pregnant women, partly as superstition (you don’t want to say congratulations for a baby who isn’t born yet), and partly reassurance (the baby will get here when it gets here).

This past Thursday night, basically everyone I saw at the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia board meeting shared this good wish with me.  Some even went so far as to let me know that they weren’t necessarily expecting to see me at upcoming meetings I’d scheduled.  I reassured them that my June 12 due date was safely in the future, and this baby wasn’t coming anytime soon.

Well, joke’s on me.

Friday morning, Marc and I went to my regularly scheduled midwives appointment to discover that, just maybe, my water  had broken.  Friday afternoon, at the hospital, we discovered that that had indeed happened, and we were at the hospital ever since, until, thankfully, we came home this afternoon.  I think it’s Tuesday, but don’t hold me to that.

I am tempted to write the whole “birth story” here, but, true to my original mission, I’ll instead tell you what I ate over Shabbat.

For most of Friday afternoon leading up to Shabbat, I ate nothing at all besides an illicitly smuggled in banana.  By the time Shabbat arrived, and with it, Beverly and Naomi and food, I was basically starving and facing several hours/days of being told to eat nothing but clear liquids.  But, our friends brought grape juice and homemade challah to our hospital room (along with lots of other goodies that I didn’t get to eat, but Marc did), and despite the chaos around us, and, you know, inside me, we had a lovely start to Shabbat. Other friends showed up later with gatorade and popsicles, which were both instrumental to my not going crazy during those trying hours.

Saturday, the hospital brought me food even though they were telling me not to eat, and I got some bites of something.  That part seems to be kind of a blur.  Most of Saturday was spent playing board games and eating freeze pops, so really not so different from a typical week.  No, seriously, I ate a profound number of popsicles.

Saturday night, right before they started inducing me in earnest, I was told I had one last opportunity to eat, so I gulped down some remaining challah, along with cold mac and cheese, also from Beverly.  I was so worried they were going to tell me to stop eating at any moment that I ate straight out of the large tupperware with my fingers.

There was a whole lot more hospital eating from Sunday-Tuesday, but I’ll save that for when I write the birth story, which I really do plan to do before more of it gets sucked into the post-partum amnesia (wasn’t I just writing about pregnancy amnesia?!?), but I actually think this blog won’t be the place for it.  So if you want more details, just ask.

In the meantime, below is a picture of our perfect little girl, Aliza Rahel Egeth, born Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 6:39 a.m. weighing 5 lbs 5 oz.  Thanks to everyone for their good wishes, offers to help, and support.  It means the world to us.

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No cooking, plenty of eating

Another Shabbat where I cooked NOTHING: really, literally, not a thing. Fortunately for us, we have wonderful friends within minutes of our house who capably fed us throughout Shabbat.

Friday night, Marc and I got home from stroller shopping (yes, seriously) 5 minutes before Shabbat started; I showered, got dressed, lit candles, and walked less then a block to dinner at Joline’s.  We are lucky people!

Back when I could refer to my vegetarianism without irony (around the same time when I didn’t have stains on all my shirts about two inches above my belly button), Marc would tell me about “Shabbos chicken,” a phenomenon he described as gristly, hard to eat, and served exclusively by Jewish institutions on Friday nights.  I didn’t really get it, but now that I eat the occasional Friday night chicken, I’m starting to understand the range of what’s out there: the good, the bad, and the gristle.  As soon as we left dinner on Friday, Marc and I looked at each other, and nearly simultaneously pronounced Joline’s chicken “the antithesis of Shabbos chicken.”  It was flavorful, it was boneless, there was no gristle, and it was cooked perfectly.  Everything else at dinner was delicious, too, most memorably the carrot-apple soup and the green beans, but the chicken was seriously special.

Beverly and Naomi hosted us for lunch on Saturday: polenta, cheesy spinach, baked tofu, salad (from Marcel, with home-grown chives!), and challah with spreads. The spreads were our contribution, and they were leftover from last week’s sandwich extravaganza — it’s not just that I didn’t cook this week, I didn’t even stop at the store.  Wow.  There were whiskey cookies for dessert, which were yummy and all, but mostly just served to make me realize that it’s been a really long time since I’ve had a drink.

Both of these meals were incredibly pleasant, relaxing, and great, but I also can’t pin down any other details.  That doesn’t mean there wasn’t stimulating conversation and incredible company, it just means that my brain seems to be working part-time these days on the outside world and putting in double time on things like, say, the heel lodged in my ribs.  In that spirit, and because there was no food to photograph this week, I’m including a picture of my belly.  Yes, the rest of me is in it too, but I know you (like all the people I passed on the street this week who pretended not to stare) are really looking at my belly.


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The opposite of matzah is…

Bread!  And lots of it!  I feel sufficiently breadified after this Shabbat, so we did something right.

Friday night, Josh made a great feast, in his words, “featuring both chametz and kitniyot.”  There was pasta salad, tofu, broccoli, bread and butter, and a fascinating discussion about how it seems antithetical to our health-conscious personas to like butter, but really, we all love it.  Beverly’s challah took on new dimensions with caramelized honey on the bottom.  Josh also made shepherdess pie, an amazing layered dish of rice, corn, refried beans, and sweet potatoes.  Ah, kitniyot.

(Sometimes I think it’s kitniyot – a strange category mostly consisting of legumes and not eaten by most Ashkenazi Jews during Passover – that I miss the most during the holiday.  I had chana masala as soon as I possibly could last week, and the tofu and refried beans at dinner really hit the spot.  I could write several blog posts just about the issue of eating or not eating kitniyot on Passover, but it only gets people upset, and we have another year before we need to have this debate again in earnest.)

So yeah, dinner was awesome, and especially after the night I had cooking on Thursday, it was a relief not to have to make anything for Friday.

Marc and I hosted Tikvah lunch on Saturday, and we tried to think of the most perfect post-Passover menu we could.  That turned out to be a sandwich bar.  The added advantage, besides featuring 7 kinds of bread, was that it required very little in the way of preparation.  Somehow, Thursday night, covered in pumpkin puree, sweating profusely, and surrounded by melted chocolate ice cream, I wondered if we’d misjudged the situation.

Because the whole “sandwich bar” idea seemed so simple, we decided to make spinach strawberry salad and a cold soup to go along with it, plus an exciting dessert of, what else, ice cream sandwiches.  Sounds simple, right?  Ha.

Ok, the soup turned out to be amazing.  Though I started with a recipe that I quickly abandoned, and though at first it tasted like dirty water, the resulting soup that we served on Saturday was something I was truly proud of.

Pumpkin Apple Soup
(I made this for 30 people, so adjust quantities accordingly)

3 15 oz. cans of pumpkin puree
2-3 granny smith apples
1 large onion
butter and olive oil for sauteeing
parve chicken powder or some kind of salty, flavorful stock
about 6 cups of water (if you’re using the powder)
a whole bunch of some curry powder you like the taste of
salt and pepper

Saute the onion in butter and olive oil (or you could just choose one) until starting to brown.  Add the peeled, chopped apple and cook until it starts to soften.  Add the pumpkin, water, powdered soup, and curry.  Bring to a boil and simmer as long as you can stand it, like 20 minutes or so.  Don’t be discouraged when you taste it and want to cry because it tastes like nothing but you can’t possibly add any more curry.  Add salt and pepper.  Puree with an immersion blender if it’ll fit in the pot, or, if cooking for 30, transfer to a real blender, in hot, annoying batches, and puree until smooth.  Refrigerate overnight, and wait for your own amazement that it actually tastes good in the morning.  Serve chilled.

So that worked out.  The ice cream sandwiches worked out, too, insomuch as we served them and they were cake and ice cream in one dessert.  The process, though: oy.  First, Marc made Mexican chocolate ice cream, a flavor that has quickly become a favorite.  Maybe because we didn’t chill it enough, or maybe there was too much of it, but it didn’t turn into the right consistency in the ice cream maker and required freezing and stirring by hand for a few hours.

I wanted to make eggless cake for the sandwiches and found what seemed like a totally reasonable recipe for white cake.  Turned out to be a gloopy, unspreadably mess of a batter, which meant I couldn’t get it thin enough to be ice cream sandwich size.  I also suffered from “lack of cookie sheet” syndrome due to the fact that I left the one I planned to buy in the shopping cart at the grocery store and couldn’t bear  to walk back across the parking lot to pay for it.

Because the ice cream never really hardened, when we went to fill the oddly misshapen layers of cake with the yummy but runny ice cream, it became a chocolate waterfall onto the floor (and the freezer, and my belly).  If I hadn’t been so distraught, this would have made for good blog pictures, but alas, that was far from my mind at the time.  And my hands were too sticky to reach for a camera.

Now, one flavor of disaster ice cream sandwiches is clearly not sufficient, so we decided we would have chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream as well.  On the previously mentioned shopping trip, I bought cocoa powder to facilitate this part of the project, and when I got home, I saw that the inner seal was ripped, so I just threw the whole thing away.  I took half the gloopy white cake batter and added the bit of cocoa powder I did have in the house, plus a lot of chocolate syrup.  This at least made the consistency better, but it didn’t taste a whole lot like chocolate.  The vanilla ice cream was also a better consistency than the chocolate, so round two of ice cream sandwich-making was somewhat more successful.

The sandwich bar itself was really fun, and I got a huge kick out of hearing everyone compare ingredients and combinations.  My personal favorite was the tofurkey, apple, and honey mustard on rye.

Lunch turned out to be great, I had a lovely time, it was wonderful to have new people there, and I was once again filled with incredible pride for the Tikvah community.  But it was not my smoothest cooking affair, and I must say that recounting the details of this week’s cooking trials has been quite cathartic.  If you are looking for a sandwich in the next few days, let me know, since there are a lot of leftovers!

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