Thursday, April 23, 2015

Farewell Rosie, Hello Matzah

The model for Rosie the Riveter died today, at age 92. Besides being a woman who deals with holes on a regular basis, what, you may ask, is the classic icon’s connection with this week’s baking project: matzah? I’ll tell you: BICEPS, baby, BICEPS!

If I had to choose someone with whom to flee those nasty Egyptians, and wander in the desert for forty years with only the sun on my back to bake my flattened bread, I’m counting on a woman like Rosie. She’s a can-do kind of girl. And with those muscles, I bet she could pound out a matzah faster than you could say “Let my people go.”

Back in the 40s, Rosie the Riveter changed the face of the war effort at home. This little baking project, while not exactly single-handedly taking on Hitler, still has defeated a fearsome foe of it’s own at the Passover table this year.

Slide over Streitz; move on, pasty Manishevitz. We don’t need your colon-clogging cardboard anymore. Oh, tender, homemade, sesame-tinged, peppery roundish matzah —where have you been all my life?

Despite the muscle needed to roll out the dough, I’d highly recommend that you make your own matzah for a Passover seder next year. It’s worth the extra effort. Please believe me. Your mother, your Great Aunt Rosie, and especially your biceps, will thank you. 

Here's the photo album:

Bronzed and gorgeous

Loving my new bread bags! Perfect for traveling to the seder.
On my mother's matzah plate
The process, from the Baking With Julia cook book, via the incomparable Lauren Groveman, really is quite simple (for the full recipe buy the book):

1. A quick mix for the dough (include the pepper and the sesame seeds – it needs them); no rising time for obvious reasons.
2. Divide the dough into smaller balls, and use those strong arms to roll it all out as thin as you possibly can.
3. Poke tons of holes in the dough with a fork.  
4. Bake each piece on an upside-down baking sheet for approximately one minute on each side. 

No problem. We're strong, capable, independent women (who may or may not have enlisted the help of a big strong husband to roll out the dough when the going got tough). Aren't we?

This project was part of the Tuesdays with Dorie bake-along. Check out other bakers' experiences here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I'm Short! (listed, that is)

I'm thrilled to announce that my story was short-listed for a flash fiction contest hosted by Mash Stories. You can read (and vote for it, and comment on it) here.

Here are the guidelines:

  • It's a flash-fiction contest, which means my story had to be 500 words or less, using three key words somewhere in the copy. (This round included "criminal," "fashion," and "ankle" -- you'll see these words highlighted within the text.)

  • Because it's on the short-list, Mash Stories will have a professional voice actor read my story and turn it into a podcast. How cool is that? So keep an ear out for that on the Mash Stories website as well.

  • Your vote, and your thoughtful comments, matter to the judges, but the final decision is up to them. Grand prize is $100 and a free Skype chat with a professional writing coach to discuss career growth. Again, kinda cool, right?

So spread the word and comment away, please! Thank you for your support.

PS: For those of you haven't met me, I really am short. And short-listed. (I just wanted an excuse to say short-listed again.)

Coconut-Topped Brown Sugar Bars: An OK Day

As days go, yesterday was pretty ordinary. Nobody died, but nobody won the lottery either (nobody I know, anyway). We did ordinary things – we went to work, went to school, made lots of dishes. We bickered too much and hugged too little. It was an OK day.

And that’s appropriate, because yesterday was National OK Day. March 23, 1839 is the date the word entered the lexicon, and there are folks who still celebrate this milestone today. 

Of course, OK can mean dozens of different things. It can mean “oll korrect,” or signify approval, agreement, resignation, or simply mediocre. The fabled history of the word is much more interesting than the coconut bars we made and ate yesterday, which were also OK -- in the “meh, it’s fine. I probably won’t make them again,” sense.

This recipe, from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi cookbook, leans heavily toward candy. With the coconut and chocolate, I achieved the Mounds Bar quality I’d been searching for. But even though I combined sweetened and raw coconut to cut back on the sugar, I still felt the urge to brush my teeth within seconds of wiping the crumbs from my face. Also, the brown sugar base was too crunchy and sweet, even though I under baked it, as other bloggers had suggested.

I’m happy to see that other TWD BCM bloggers (“Doristas” as we’re now calling ourselves) enjoyed the bars more than I did. Clearly these bloggers didn’t have a problem using the caramelized Rice Krispies topping that originally was called for in this recipe.

Let’s face it, I’m just a cereal snob. I’m OK with that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bialy-Blended Eastern European Rye

Inspired by a recent visit to New York, I played with this recipe for Eastern European Rye, from Lauren Groveman, via Baking With Julia

In the window at Zaro's Bakery, I noticed a rye loaf with poppy seeds and onions. Genius! I thought -- what could be better than a bialy-blended rye bread?

I still think this two-for-one bread idea is just this side of a miracle, but my execution of it was a bit off. Here's what I'll change when I make it again:

  • First, I'll start with my favorite rye bread recipe, from the Cook's Illustrated Baking Book. This is the bread that's in regular rotation in my house, and the one that we sing about. (Think One Direction: "Best Rye Ever.") It is simple, richer, and slightly healthier, in that it calls for canola oil instead of butter and vegetable shortening. Also the texture is not quite as soft, and therefore makes slices more spread-ready.
  • Though I sautéed a full onion in a large hunk of butter, the flavor got lost in the dough. Next time I will use dried onion flakes as well as onions sautéed in oil. (Maybe a few for the top as well?)
  • As much as I love caraway, the Groveman recipe called for double the amount of seeds as our favorite recipe (some whole and some ground).  As a result, it overpowered the mere tablespoon of poppy seeds I added. One tablespoon of each, plus a little extra for the top of the loaf should be perfect.
  • I will skip the sling rise, and just use a floured towel or couche. I've tried the recipe both ways, and the results are the same, with less fuss.
  • I'll also skip the salt on top. Although my gut told me this would pump up the intensity of the crust, it turns out sometimes your gut can be wrong. The salt just didn't blend well with the other flavors in the bread.

Still, I'm looking forward to perfecting the bialy-rye loaf. Stay tuned for more adventures in bread-baking.

To see how other bakers fared, check out their links here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

Here's another "cookie" from Baking With Julia. They're called mint-chocolate nightcaps. The nightcap refers to the 'hat' of ganache on top. Cute, huh?

Mint, chocolate, cookies, ganache. What could go wrong? 

Turns out, quite a bit.

When you're hoping for a gussied up homemade mint oreo* and you end up with this, there's bound to be some disappointment among the wee ones (and among the big folks too). 

The cookie sandwiches were really cake in disguise, which was very difficult to eat with your hands. More importantly, the cookies did not compliment the texture of the filling. Perhaps I was a bit heavy-handed on the mint in the ganache, because what I ended up with as both stuffer and sombrero could only be described as mint chocolate toothpaste. Sounds delicious, right?


After snapping a few photos, we ended up scrapping the ganache all together. Then, after licking the sticky chocolate remains off our fingers for a few more days, most of the cookie-cakes also landed in the trash.

Ah well, they can't all be winners. It looks like some of the other TWD bakers may have fared better. Check out their results here.

PS: It turns out there really is such a thing as mint-chocolate toothpaste. Check out these food-inspired toothpastes, from Crest. The flavors were created based on customer feedback, so somebody must have thought it was a good idea. Yeah, me too.

*I can't remember the last time I actually ate an Oreo, mint or otherwise, but they definitely made an impression.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where I'm From: Food Edition

I am a different eater now, but I have not forgotten where I am from.

I am from Lauren’s salty chocolate chip cookies, from Good Season’s Italian dressing on iceberg lettuce, and take-in double-cheese Bocce Pizza while we watch the game on Sundays, always. I am from weekly chicken fingers at the Four Seasons Diner, hands and face dripping with chunky-tangy Rudy’s blue cheese.

I am from home-baked chicken dinner with steamed broccoli and Uncle Ben’s wild rice pilaf. Four people at the dinner table, every weeknight; TV off. I am from Lauren and Arthur, bickering, bickering. A kiss. A smile. Bickering more.

I am from “how was school today?” and “pass your chicken bones to Dad” and “yes you can have seconds on dessert.” My sister talks about Grease rehearsal  while Dad Hoovers the drumsticks clean. They wait forever for me to finish my broccoli stalks (tops go to mom).

I am from thumbs on the wishbone, pulling hard, and taking turns for chores: Aimee set, so Tammy clears.

I am from a camera shop owner and a Catholic-turned-Jew. I am from a boy scout troop leader and a dentist who found chickens and eggs on his doorstep as payment for pulled teeth. I am from theater people. They wrote their own stories and sang them. I am from travelers. I am from Poland and Russia and New York and Syracuse and Buffalo.

I am from sloppy/sappy/noisy/crowded Christmukkah in our brown living room, where dozens of family and near-strangers gathered to devour a mountain of presents and bagels and lox and sweetsweet kugel. High on holiday spirits, dripping brisket juice and applesauce onto the shag rug, the guests pledged lifelong devotion to my parents. They made good on their word. 

I am from 30 Jews and adopted Jews stuffed around the Passover table, helping themselves to seconds on everything except the lousy kosher desserts. They sing about four flawed brothers to the tune of Clementine and belt out God Bless America in honor of Irving Berlin. Slowly I progress from "the one who cannot ask at all" to "the wise son."

I am from shore lunches on the rocks of the Georgian Bay and Sahlen’s hot dogs charred and steaming from the grill, indoors or out. I am from Lauren’s fresh blueberry pie at family reunions by the stream. I am from Easter in the woods with The Woods, where I helped peel potatoes for thirty. I stole my annual taste of ham and gorged on peanut butter cups from my Easter basket while Aimee was off fishing with the boys. 

Today, I am the keeper of half-forgotten recipes. I’m from “add a little of this and a little of that” followed by the shock of “yours doesn’t taste like mine.” I am from much more sugar. I am from a significant amount of real butter.

I am the owner of Synagogue cookbooks and the handwritten matzah ball soup letter (“because someday you’ll want to know how to make my soup and I won’t be around to tell you.”) I have bound copies of the close-enough zucchini bread recipe card and the transcribed, “best I can remember” ratios of potato to egg for Aunt Robin’s scalable potato kugel. My own record-keeping has not been much better.

And my children will inherit this tangled mass of edible history. They will know that the food we eat is bound up in our identity. It is part of every story we tell about ourselves and about our families. As in all cultures, our food links us to our past and helps define our future. 

My childen will understand their place in my history and reconcile it with their place in their father’s very different food legacy. They will eat with us at the table (screens off); they will hear our stories, and they will add their own. They will know their food, and they will know where they are from.

# # #

Thank you to Nina Badzin, via Brain Child Magazine, and Galit Breen, via Mamalode for introducing me to this template and prompt. Also thanks to MamaKat's Writer's Workshop, for reviving the template again. It was a perfect jumping-off point to help remember the food that defined my childhood.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


They look cute, but don't be fooled.
I've faced off against my perpetual enemy, Italian pastry, and I've lost.

I'm admitting defeat but I'm taking a stand.  I've had it with those anti-butter, anti-flour cookie fascists. From this point forward, I'm swearing off Italian desserts. I WILL NOT EAT A SINGLE AMARETTI.

At least not one that I bake.

Because my amaretti are truly atrocious.

I tried to make friends with this recipe, I really did. I chunked up the almond paste, eggs and sugar, and piped my little heart out, giving them a friendly pat with a wet finger, and a tiny chocolate chip peck for good luck. (Somehow I knew that investing in pine nuts would be a waste.) I had my doubts, but I baked on in good faith. Really I did.

Apparently the almond paste I used had an arsenal of it's own sugar, because the cookies I baked came out of the oven ready for battle with my teeth. They were helmet-hard and cloyingly sweet -- brutally mocking my attempts at a truce. After one bite, I knew the Jewish-Italian cultural cookie divide could not be breached. An entire plate of amaretti -- trashed.

This TWD recipe was enough to turn me off Italian desserts forever. Except maybe for cannoli. I'll take the cannoli.

Weapons of cookie destruction: plastic bag for piping, scissors for snipping the corner off the bag, and Rollerworks ruler (acquired at a birthday party circa 1987) for ensuring consistent size of cookies.

Other bakers fared better than I did, it seems. To learn more, check out their posts at Tuesdays With Dorie.