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Posts Tagged ‘challah’

There comes a time in every C-19 lockdowner’s life when she can’t handle Zoom meetings, semi- or entirely tasteless virus fashion memes and washing her face mask for the 119th time and hies her bottom to the safety of the kitchen. Fine, okay, I confess I reached this point several weeks ago.

I’ve been baking so much that I’ve been telling people that I’m stocking up in case, God forbid, I get sick and can’t get out for food. That’s an incidental Plan B, but the legitimate truth is I can’t stop — and the more oddball and unlikely the recipe, the better.

Forgive the largesse of these; my pc says the resizing took, but the smaller pics are nowhere to be found on my hard drive. OY. Here’s a four-strand challah, right on the heels of that oy. The middle went a little wonky.

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Crumpets. Easy and absolutely addictive.

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Chocolate pudding cake. They have a delightfully ooshy middle. Recommended before 9a Zooms.

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Naan. The crushed coriander (right) was my favorite. My Indian co-worker gently scolded me for using olive oil instead of butter. I *would* have, but I was worried that I’d like it too much.

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English muffins. These are fantastic, but olive oil struck out here, too. They need a little time to cook on the stovetop, and the smoke point is too low with olive oil. When the smoke died down, I feasted.

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I made Everything bagels today and they were a total gas. The recipe, like the English muffin recipe, came from a mid-century Joy of Cooking that I am utterly enamored with. Every recipe in this book makes a heap of food; this made 18 bagels! I guess people had bigger families back then. And the authors offer serving suggestions, like toasted with cream cheese and lox or butter. Bagels must have been a new thing back then and they needed to give readers a leg up.

This morning I minced fresh garlic and a fistful of wild onions I pulled yesterday from the edge of a harrowed farm field and dried them in a very low oven for about a half hour. Then I mixed them with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and sea salt. I like a lot of stuff on my bagels.

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Are you all staying healthy? What are you baking? Tease me.

 

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It was a dark and poopy night.

Quite of few of them, actually, recently. Nothing earth shattering as the cause, but as all humans know, it’s not always earth shattering. A week ago I moved out of one building and into another, and whether this situation will be more positive is anybody’s guess. Didn’t get depressed—I’m lucky that that doesn’t really happen to me. But I go into new things with optimism and a lot of heart, and sometimes just splat the pavement. Another thing every human knows from. I was discouraged. The feeling went on for a week or so.

Then all of this madman* stuff started happening. And it’s wild enough that I put my planned post on hold till next week to tell you about it.

The First Thing: I’m walking to my car last week to unload more stuff, thinking poopily, wondering/hoping/wishing my luck would be better this time around, when a chimney sweep truck drives past me. I’ve never seen one, not ever. Who cares? says you, the thinking reader. I do, and history’s on my side: for centuries chimney sweeps have been considered to be harbingers of good luck. ‘A sweep is as lucky as lucky can be,’ right, from Mary Poppins? Apparently you can even hire them out for your wedding if you’re waffling about your chances. I’m serious. So this was kind of a knockout.

The Second Thing: Two days ago I walk past an empty house in town. A bit rundown, but I find beauty in hundred-year-old rundown houses. And although I’ve passed this house many times, I quite suddenly felt compelled to go across the lawn and look into the windows of the carriage house.

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This hook on the front of the carriage house is bigger than my hand. I wonder if it was used for the horses somehow. Does anyone know?

On my way up the lawn I look left at the overgrown hedges and see orange and yellow flowers. No way. Honeysuckle?! A few weeks back I had wanted to make a recipe with it, searched in all of the places I know it grows and found nothing. Figured it had died back for the season, and lamented about it in my ‘edible wild–late summer’ post. I taste the nectar of one, but it’s October and it had dried up. No matter. It was nothing short of a miracle for me that I was even seeing them. But there they were! I was aghast.

The Third Thing: As I turn to head home, I look down at the grass and see a tiny bright red spot. A flower? I kneel in the dew and touch it. It is a very, very small strawberry. But not just any. The kind that grows wild, the Alpine strawberry, the fraise des bois, the wild woodland strawberry. Coveted around the world for its intense flavor, and no bigger than a pea, it is my Holy Grail. This is no exaggeration.** It’s occasionally found growing around property borders. I know two people who have them in their yards, but they never get to eat them because the deer get to them first. But deer never come to houses a block from the beach.

And it wasn’t a fluke of a berry. I sweep my gaze across the grass and see dozens. Everywhere! In the overcast, early evening light, they sparkle like scattered rubies. I taste one. Like the honeysuckle, its time had passed. But now I know where to go on Memorial Day weekend next year, when they’re in fruit again.

I wish I could explain what this was like. I’m trying. It was so utterly, bewilderingly, galactically unexpected, and so exactly what I needed, that I actually choked back tears. Alpine freaking strawberries…in Allenhurst…that no one knows about. I went again yesterday just to be sure it wasn’t a hallucination brought on by the night air and poopy-thought saturation. They were there again.

So here’s the takeaway.

1) Whatever compels you, whatever you feel drawn toward, go to it. Okay, fine, as long as it’s not illegal, go. You can figure out what you were meant to learn later. Or sometimes the universe hands the lesson right to you. I have felt a pull like this many times in my life, and I always give in to it, no matter how inconvenient, because it always leads me somewhere I need to be.*** In my case: Relax. Everything’s going to be okay. And next summer you have two new wild treats to feast upon.

2) Keep your eyes open. There were in fact TWO strawberry patches, and one of them I walked right over as I was crossing to the carriage house.

For their weekly Shabbat dinner, observant Jews have two challah loaves on the table to signify God’s enormous generosity to them. He doesn’t just give them what they need; He gives them more—extra. The same sentiment is expressed in the Hebrew word and song ‘Dayenu’. It means ‘It would have been enough.’ God gives this and this and this and this and it would have been enough, but He keeps giving. This is how it felt—I was overwhelmed with custom-made treats. How to explain this? I guess it’s not necessary.

Still reeling at having found these berries; to imagine what I’m going to make with them seems downright greedy. But maybe by mid-winter I’ll sink into my sofa, imagine what they’ll taste like, and dream.

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Soaked the knees of my jeans to shoot this 🙂

*Hugs to Holden Caulfield for that one.

**Every girl needs a Holy Grail. And I’m not into Dolce & Gabbana handbags.

***Whovians will know from what episode this is paraphrased. Mad props to anyone who names it.

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The last few days have been busy ones for me, as they always are this time of year. I’ve taken over a three-generation tradition of baking and delivering Easter bread, begun by my grandmother.

I make six chocolate cinnamon babkas and distribute them across the county to friends and family. When the last bread is delivered and everyone’s mouths—my own included—are sticky from eating slice after slice of this glorious stuff, I rest. This year I’m resting and reflecting.

It’s been a tumultuous year for me between this Easter and last. Lots of loss, I don’t mind saying. Got divorced. Got hit by a car. Had to move two weeks after being hit by a car, which was all kinds of fun. I lost friends whom I thought would be permanent fixtures in my life.

There were gains as well, like writing and editing for a food magazine I’ve always wanted to work with, and there were other gains which, oddly, I realized because of the losses. After divorcing I learned I was stronger than I thought. After the accident that resulted in a concussion and a broken clavicle, I learned I was even stronger. And some of the new friends I met this year came into my life, I think, to teach me exactly what kind of people I want around me, what really good friends are, and do. Lemonade out of lemons, I suppose.

In my chocolate-laced stupor, feet up, I started thinking about the shape in which I make the breads. I’m an amateur folklorist, with a special interest in holiday lore, and realized how often the circle or spiral features in symbolism throughout the year. It’s usually at the equinox, as the sunlight weakens or strengthens.

Think about Rosh Ha’Shana, the start of the new Jewish year in the fall, when challah is made in the shape of a circle or spiral. Halloween, or Samhain, marks the end of the pagan year. It was then that buns called soul cakes were shaped into spirals and distributed from door to door. The recipients were the earliest trick-or-treaters. Think about Christmastime, and how Christians adapted the wreath from pagan tradition. Have you ever wondered why wreaths are round? It’s because they, like the challah and soul cakes, are meant to show the turn of the year, the assurance—maybe reassurance is a better word—that things keep moving. That life keeps moving. It’s one of the intractable facts of life, the reality of constant beginnings and endings, and it’s one we reinforce for ourselves again and again by shaping stuff into circles. What goes up must come down, and vice versa. Expect it.

When I was growing up, the breads my dad, sister and I made for Easter were braided and made into a circle. Later, when I took over the baking and found the babka recipe I now use, it called for the dough to be baked in a loaf pan, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. The dough gets rolled out, scattered with chocolate, butter, cinnamon and sugar, rolled up, twisted…and then coiled into a spiral. And it’s not just because I grew up with it that way. It’s because life’s precarious. I need to see that spiral.

Maybe The Wizard of Oz offers the best example. Do you remember what the very start of the yellow brick road looked like? Exactly. It’s good to have reassurances from time to time, during the holidays or whenever. We’re all in Dorothy’s red shoes.

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