Passover Cleaning, Passover Cogitation

OK, put down your cleaning rag for a second and let’s talk about Passover.

What does it mean to you? For me, it is a time of deep cleaning and introspection, which leads to gratitude. It used to mean more–I would make the whole house kosher according to Chaya Kaufman rules, which meant a separation between meat and dairy by two hours and separate dishes, pots and sponges and dish racks. I don’t do that anymore because of an incident with shellfish in Japan, but that’s another blog post.

I welcome the turning the house upside down and looking for crumbs, because I always seem to find a few, and that is enough reason to clean. I am a person who attracts dirt and clutter. I swear, I used to clean my room, sit in the middle of it, and watch stuff fall off the shelves without me moving a muscle. It takes a miracle to get me to put things in order, and Passover happens to have a few of those, and also it’s a good excuse to hire my cleaning lady for a couple of extra days, and she brings a couple of helpers, and the expense is worth it, even a a mitzvah, because I’m honoring the holiday.

And Passover is a chance for me to throw out all the impulse purchases and free samples I get during the year. Yes,I’m looking at you, Karo syrup, for the marshmallows I might make someday. And you, natural snooze water that came in a “Goodies” box service, which mailed 6 new foods a month for $10/year until the company realized that there were cheaper ways to find what products would sell. And throwing out the baking powder and baking soda is just good practice.

I may be messy by nature, but I know that I don’t have any antique food. And once a year, the house gets clean.

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The Swarm was a hot property!

I was just thinking about laying down for a Sunday afternoon nap when my doorbell rang.

I retreated to the bathroom and let my husband deal with it. As usual, it didn’t work. When I came out of the bathroom, he heard the door open and came upstairs. R, the adorable six year old son of one of our neighbors on the alley, was waiting on our walk, with his bicycle, and urgent news.

“There’s billions of bees flying around and dead bees on the driveway.”

I have a beehive, and so, even though it is only a small hive that I don’t do very much to, and I have only had it two years, and opened it once, and have to call on a more experience beekeeper to do anything with it, I am the gal to call.

 

“I had to hurry so fast I took my sister’s bike!” R is blond and blue eyed and adorable, and six, and with just a bit longer hair he could be Christopher Robin. He and his sister ride bikes and run and play and draw on the driveway most days.  I am more of an EEyore, but listening to them does my heart good.

 

So I went to the driveway, which is a private dead end alley shared between five houses, and did not see a billion bees. But there were an unusual number of dead bees on the concrete. I got a dustpan and swept them up, there were about 30.

 

R’s dad was sitting on a bench  they had set up under a Bradford pear tree that was at the corner of their fence next to the garage and the driveway, and we talked. He kept batting away dazed bees, and then he looked straight up, and saw that

 a branch was completely covered with bees–there was a football shaped mass of bees, called a swarm, directly above him. Swarms happen in the spring when food is plentiful, a queen bee hatches, and she does not want to have a duel to the death with the the queen that is already established. Almost all bees are female, but only one is fertile and lays eggs, and she will kill a rival–so often, the rival sends some sort of signal for her neighbors to eat as much honey as they can, then  the group picks up and flies away in search of a new home.

The bunch of bees, all huddled together to keep warm, perches on a tree or the side of a house (I had one on my house once)  until the scout bees find a good new place. A swarm is prized among beekeepers much as wild salmon and free-range poultry are prized among gourmets.  They are seen as hardier and apt to be more successful.

I could not gather in the swarm, because I have only one hive and that hive is full, in fact, was probably the source of the swarm, but 24  hours later,  the bees were carted off by a volunteer beekeeper from the Santa Clara County Beekeeper’s guild, who had climbed a ladder, sawed off the branch the swarm was on, and shook them into a portable hive IN THE POURING RAIN to take somewhere else.

So if you see a swarm, call your local beekeeping guild. They will happily take it away for you.

 

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Live Below the Line–why?

On Monday, I got a Tweet  and an email from Zhanna Veyts, the director of online engagement for HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. She will “live below the line,” from April 28 to May 2, that is, she will eat and drink on $1.50 a day, for 5 days, to raise awareness of extreme poverty and help raise $30,000 for HIAS. Zhanna claims she was inspired by Aisha, a Darfuri refugee just exactly her age, who is dependent on HIAS for survival and yet has big dreams for the future of her newborn son.

This is something the young people with social consciences seem to do today, deny themselves for others, thinking it will help somehow, ‘raise consciousness.’

I think it’s nuts, as irrational as mothers in the 40s, 50s, and 60s saying ‘finish your food, there are children starving in _____,” was.

Now I spend about $1.50 a day paying Weight Watchers to help me track my food so I can lose weight.  I didn’t go to the guidelines, so I don’t know if spending $1.50 a day to NOT eat is the same as spending $1.50 a day to eat, or if it entitles me to spend $3.00 a day, or what.

Me being hungry is not going to feed the refugees around the world today, just as me finishing my dinner wasn’t going to help them 50 years ago. What will help is actually making the donations to the charities that actually feed people, like the JDC and HIAS and the Red Cross and other NGOS who actually feed refugees. Starving yourself will not help anyone. But watching Hugh Jackman is fun, so I’ll include his “live below the line” video here.

The “Live Below the Line” meme was created in 2009, in Australia, by a couple of activists in a ‘share house,’ who wanted to raise awareness of extreme poverty. Hugh Jackman is Australian. Coincidence? I think not.

For a person in a civilized Western country to follow these guidelines is just a stunt, like sitting on a pole or stuffing a phone booth, or a walkathon, or readathon, or even a charity run or ride or marathon.

Can you tell I’ve been giving money away for 45 years, 52 years if you count Unicef and JNF boxes I used as a child, and I’ve gotten jaded?

I’m going to look at those guidelines now, and see if you can use stuff already in your house during the challenge.  I could probably eat a bland, starchy diet, supplemented by greens from my garden, for 5 days without spending a dime.

Perfect to clean the house before Passover.

 

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Weight Watchers? What Weight Watchers? Tracking points?

I try not to whine about being on a diet, which involves using the Weight Watchers iphone app to track my ‘points,’  the WW term for unionized calories, for the day and trying to keep within the proposed guidelines. But (whine) it’s very hard going to celebrations and not eating too much. Especially when the celebrations are with my Jewish family on the East Coast, where no celebration is complete unless it requires an  Alka-Seltzer afterwards.

I did well on the airplane for a change–I usually buy myself a Pringles out of boredom–by taking lots of cut up vegetables and eating them instead of the salty, fatty snacks they offer, but once I landed in New Jersey and joined the family, dieting got much harder.
The first order of business was a meal, which I welcomed because all I had had all day was cut up vegetables. There was eggplant parmiagiana (read: deep fried bread crumbs and cheese, served over pasta) and chicken marsala ( lightly fried chicken breasts, also served over pasta) for dinner.
Breakfast was a buffet in the hotel. By taking miniscule portions and sticking to plain eggs and lots of fruit, I did OK, and I fit into my shapewear (ahem, girdle?) and dress for the synagogue–did I mention this was a Bat Mitzvah?

The Bat Mitzvah girl did a great job, the parents were proud, it was wonderful, but immediately after the service, the carbohydrates came out. First the traditional kiddush wine, which is so sweet that it can be used as a syrup, is served, fortunately in 1-ounce servings. If you don’t want the wine because you are avoiding sugar, don’t worry–there is sweet grape juice as an alternative. Does anyone know a rabbi that speaks pancreas, to explain this to my insulin levels?  Then we bless and eat and  a lovely challah (3 points a slice)  and wash that down with a selection of cakes and donuts  (  I avoided).

Then we went to what I thought would be a luncheon but was instead a full-on party, the same as would happen at night on the West Coast.

Well, it wasn’t exactly the same.
I had forgotten that in the New York area, simcha (celebratory) meals are preceded by cocktail hours, where everyone ignores the bar and mobs a complete selection of appetizers, served buffet style. Fortunately I caught myself before I filled my plate with delightful high-carb delights like the pasta and cheeses that were right near the door, and loaded up my plate with a lot of roasted vegetables(zero points) –which I promptly covered with short ribs and mashed potatoes (not zero points), and,when I saw them at another table tucked away in a corner, smoked fish and sushi.

Then I sat down  feeling righteous. If I squinted and crossed my eyes, I didn’t have THAT much on my plate. But that East Coast ethic–too much is barely enough–torpedoed any hope I had for keeping my consumption down to what was on my plate. Servers came around to the tables and brought hors’ d’ouevres to us. Sweet potato puffs, in crumbly (high carb, high fat) pastry. I just had one. Vegetable (fried) egg rolls with apricot sauce (I didn’t have any) Chicken Teriyaki, which would have been OK if the dark meat chicken had the skin taken off, but then they wouldn’t have been so good! I had two, which must have been 5 points each.  Then the servers brought cocktail franks wrapped in pastry, aka pigs in blankets. PIGS IN BLANKETS, my favorite simcha food of all time.

I resisted. But then I had to have myself  a beer.

Then there was dinner, or linner,  or dunch, or the Senior Super Special, considering the first course was served at 3:00 pm. I left a lot of food on my plate (which contained a whole day’s worth of points, easily) and danced for at least 30 minutes (OK, take two points off) Then there was cake (4 points), and coffee, and  then the REAL dessert (fugheddaboutit).

Oh, dear, dessert was creme brulee, with lots of nutmeg and it was just soo good, I ate my husband’s also. The simcha was over at 5:30, and we met my cousins for a little snack at a diner at 9 pm.
It’s Jersey, ya gotta go to a diner, right?

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Let’s call them the Wednesday Hamentashen

I made striped Chocolate Ganache Hamentashen last year for Purim which was near the middle of March.  I’ll be making them again this year on Wednesday March 4 at 1 pm at Etz Chayim. Etz Women only, please…

stripeprocesspreeva

This is me showing off my striped bricks of dough last year.

my delectable striped hamantashen

my delectable striped hamantashen

Chocolate Hamantaschen

Filling

1 stick butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cold eggs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler, stirring frequently. Remove the top of the double boiler and add the sugar, vanilla extract and salt and continue stirring. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring to incorporate each completely before adding the next. Finally, stir in the flour and beat with a wooden spoon by hand for about a minute. The filling will turn glossy and begin to come away from the bowl. Transfer to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate until needed. NOTE: If you make the filling ahead of time and freeze it, it separates a tiny bit, but frozen or very cold ganache scoops much more easily with the teeny tiny cookie scoop, especially if you dip the scooper in warm water from time to time.

Cookie Dough

2 cups flour (for chocolate dough, substitute 1/4 cup Ghirardelli or Hershey’s cocoa for 1/4 cup flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, softened but not squishy
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix the first three ingredients with a whisk and set aside. In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar for about 3 – 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and the vanilla, and then, on low speed, beat in the flour until just incorporated. Form the dough into two r patties, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. Dough freezes well.

ASSEMBLY

With the oven preheated to 350, remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to warm until it becomes supple enough to roll out. Roll each brick individually to a thickness of about 1/8″. It is easiest to do this between two sheets of wax paper. You may want to turn the dough over a couple of times, keeping it between the two sheets, to ensure that no deep creases form.

Cut cookies out using a 3″ round cutter and transfer cookie rounds to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Put a leveled teaspoon of filling in the center of each cookie round, then bring 3 sides of each round up to partially cover the filling. Pinch the sides together. Cookies should be spaced about 1/2″ apart on the sheet.

 

 

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Hamantashen MADNESS

My hamentashen are great, but as far as wacky goes, they are extremely tame. If you follow this link and go to “Kitchen Tested,” which is the food blog of Melinda Strauss, you can see rainbow ones, where the author uses food coloring to create seven different shades and layers them.

From "Kitchen Tested" blog:'

From “Kitchen Tested” blog:’

http://kitchen-tested.com/2014/02/20/rainbow-hamantaschen/

Or go to the Forward blog, and see savory ones that use cream cheese and salmon:

http://blogs.forward.com/the-jew-and-the-carrot/194284/-wackiest-hamantaschen-on-the-web/

I even tried something new, s’mores hamentashen:

http://www.couldntbeparve.com/2012/03/smore-hamentashen/

using a recipe from "it couldn't be pareve"

using a recipe from “it couldn’t be pareve”

But I’m sticking to my Hamentashen, with the addition of stripes.

my delectable striped hamantashen

my delectable striped hamantashen

The predecessors of these striped cookies are Alice Medrich’s Chocolate Hamantaschen.

I won the Congregation Etz Chayim hamantaschen bake-off in with them in 2003. One dad called them “heroin hamantaschen,” because they were so addictive, he could not stop eating them. I can’t blame him. They have two of the best flavors in the world in one bite—the cookie is a rich vanilla butter cookie and the filling is chocolate brownie, a ganache actually. Alice Medrich published the recipe in her book A Year in Chocolate.

You should know a few things: that this filling recipe makes enough for almost two batches of cookie dough, a teeny tiny little 1/2 tsp cookie scoop is the fastest way to parcel out the filling, and that you should wet the edges of the cookies and pinch the sides of the hamantaschen together very carefully to make sure they do not fall apart in the oven.

Chocolate Hamantaschen

Filling

1 stick butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cold eggs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler, stirring frequently. Remove the top of the double boiler and add the sugar, vanilla extract and salt and continue stirring. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring to incorporate each completely before adding the next. Finally, stir in the flour and beat with a wooden spoon by hand for about a minute. The filling will turn glossy and begin to come away from the bowl. Transfer to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate until needed. NOTE: If you make the filling ahead of time and freeze it, it separates a tiny bit, but frozen or very cold ganache scoops much more easily with the teeny tiny cookie scoop, especially if you dip the scooper in warm water from time to time.

Cookie Dough

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, softened but not squishy
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix the first three ingredients with a whisk and set aside. In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar for about 3 – 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and the vanilla, and then, on low speed, beat in the flour until just incorporated. Form the dough into two bricks, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. NOTE: DOUGH FREEZES BEAUTIFULLY.

With the oven preheated to 350, remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to warm until it becomes supple enough to roll out. Roll each brick individually to a thickness of about 1/8″. It is easiest to do this between two sheets of wax paper. You may want to turn the dough over a couple of times, keeping it between the two sheets, to ensure that no deep creases form.

Cut cookies out using a 3″ round cutter and transfer cookie rounds to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Put a leveled teaspoon of filling in the center of each cookie round, then bring 3 sides of each round up to partially cover the filling. Pinch the sides together. Cookies should be spaced about 1/2″ apart on the sheet.

Bake for a total of 16-18 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through baking. Let cool briefly on cookie sheet, and allow to cool completely on racks.I give mine away as soon as I make them, because they are too good.

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S’more Hamentashen

S’more Hamentashen Graham cracker dough adapted from Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery via Smitten Kitchen 2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (375 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour 
1 cup (176 grams) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
 1 teaspoon

via S’more Hamentashen.

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