Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pass Me the Passover, Please

Another Passover holiday almost over, and I already miss the food.



Growing up in Jerusalem, all non-kosher for Passover food disappeared from store shelves. We loved some of what replaced it, but by the time the holiday was over we couldn’t wait to resume eating bread, ice cream sandwiches and cookies, and for Ashkenazi Jews— rice, beans or corn.


There were the foods that only appeared on Passover. Truthfully, Matzo and Gefilte fish were available year round. Even beet horseradish might appear on the table at other times. Some mothers went as far as to make matzo balls for soup year round, when they didn’t have to avoid all other noodle/dumpling soup swimmers.


But one food I never saw except at the Seder table was Charoset. It so happens that it is, by far, my favorite of all Passover foods. This homely mush tastes divine, and I cannot imagine it came down to our ancestors from any other source but the creator.


There are many versions of Charoset. Some are made with dates, and some have exotic spices. But I’ll share the one I grew up with because it is simple, wholesome, and too good to keep to myself.


3 large tart firm apples, peeled
I cup chopped walnuts
½-cup honey
½-cup sweet red wine
1 T. cinnamon


Grate the apples and add the rest. If the oxidized browning of the apples in a turn off, add the juice of one lemon right after grating. But, really, Charoset is supposed to resemble the mortar that built the pyramids, (long story, this Passover tale) and the browning is part of the deal. Another thing is to not use fancy good wine, such as sweet aged port of sherry. Manischewitz or Kedem wine from Israel are preferable, because they are super cheap, sweet, lower in alcohol and because they have no oaky residues.



This Charoset will last for a few days in the refrigerator. It’s good on Matzo, with yogurt, mixed with granola or cold breakfast cereal, and just as a perfect pick-me-up when life doesn’t.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Party?

I often say that I’m not a party-person.

After sending a note to a friend, where I mentioned I avoid parties, I got to thinking.
(This is not about Democrats and Republicans, though I’m not fond of those kinds of parties, either.)


What is a party? If I’m not going to like ‘em, I should define what I don’t like. Don’t you think?


Small dinner parties are fine. Eight or fewer people can have a meaningful conversation, and even benign conversations will at least leave me with a sense of connection.

As soon as that word, connection, popped in— I realized what sort of parties bothered me: the ones where a connection was not possible.

You know what I mean, right? Even if you like to go and let loose at such, you must know what I’m talking about. The ones that are all Rah-Rah-Boom-Boom-Hop-Hop--isn’t-it-swell-and aren’t-we-swell-to-be-here gatherings.
Only the young’uns replaced the word “Swell” with “chill.”


Either way, it’s a form of feeling part of something, which always left me feeling less part of anything.


Nothing makes me feel lonelier than a large, noisy gathering. Being alone in my room feels less lonely.

I can’t find a word for my affliction. It’s not a phobia, fear of crowds, or social anxiety per se. It’s a dislike, such as you may have for eating sardines. (Yes, I picked that one because sardines get crowded, too.) I don’t break into a cold sweat, and I appear functional. You wouldn't know I didn't belong.

And afterwards I feel emptier than before.


This post is a long-winded way of explaining why you won’t find me at rallies, birthday mega-bashes, marches, galas, or national conventions.

You will find me here, writing just to you.
Incidentally, this is my #300 blog post, and this is the party for it.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

SHHH... Sweet Spice Surprise

DS just had a birthday. As he’s about to embark on the rest of his life away from here, I relished the opportunity to make him an honest to goodness non-virtual birthday cake. Who knows when I’ll get to do it again on his actual birthday?
 
 
In years past, it was easy. The choice was always chocolate. Sometimes it was chocolate with chocolate chips and dark chocolate frosting.
 
 
“Chocolate, right? “ I said.
“No,” he said. “Not chocolate this time, and please surprise me.”
They do grow up, don’t they.
But then he added, “Make it something weird. And don’t tell me.”
A weird surprise. Okay, maybe he’s still a kid at heart.
 
 
But what should I make?
 
I did not want to make something weird for weird’s sake, as a sort of joke that after a brief chuckle will not be edible. Weird is one thing, but if I make a cake I want it to be good.
 
 
I remembered that years ago I made just such a cake. It was popular briefly across the land. It was good, surprisingly so. It was a spice cake made with a full can of condensed tomato soup.
It seemed a bit weird even then. But to the millennials it qualifies as uncanny, pun intended.
 
 
And so I made a Tomato Soup Spice Cake, with cream cheese frosting, and added candied angelica and cherries glace on top.
 
 
 
Result?
 

One good cake—


 

And one happy son—

 
 

 Recipe:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Condensed Tomato Soup
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 egg
  • ¼ cup water

 

Step 1

Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9” inch baking pans.

Step 2

Stir the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, allspice, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves in a large bowl. Add the soup, butter, eggs and water. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed just until blended. Increase the speed to high and beat for 2 minutes. Pour the batter into the pans.

Step 3

Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack to room temperature before frosting.