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Matzah Brie 

15 Apr

Why do I only make matzah brie during Passover?  I truly love it. I heat up my frying pan and make it at least twice each year. And I always make enough to last two days. But once the holiday is over, my desire for matzah brie disappears. 

I have learned over the years that not everyone makes matzah brie the same way.  Nor do they call it the same thing. I say matzah brie, others say matzah briet or matzah brun. There might be even more names. 

My husband’s cousin would break a piece of matzah in half and soak both halves in a egg mixture before deep frying them. It was delicious, but not my style at all.

 I wonder if the area of Europe a family came from or perhaps where in the USA they settled impacts how the matzah brie is made? 

Making matzah brie is something I learned as a child. In my family we make the same batter we do for French toast. Eggs and vanilla mixed together.  Then we run the matzah under water, breaking it down to smallervand smaller pieces till we crumble the matzah into the batter.  The number of matzah we use is determined by the number of eggs we use; about two pieces of matzah for every egg. 


I then take the mixture and place it into a frying pan that I have place a small amount of oil and have  preheated. I smooth out the top of the mixture and make sure I fill the entire pan. Then it cooks. I like mine golden brown. I use a spatula to divide it in half to easily turn it. Then cook the other side.  The smell is enticing. 


Finally I cut it to smaller pieces and I am ready to eat. In my house there is just one way to it eat, with sugar sprinkled over the top. I know some use syrup, but I am a sugar purest. 

Another delicious Passover memory.  But I know when the holiday passes, I will once again crave my Sunday morning challah French toast. All thoughts of matzah brie wil be gone till next spring! 

Hope everyone is having a zissel Pesach! 

Missing Mom’s Passover Recipes

13 Mar

The recipes filled a bag.

There were many little issues that appeared during the year that my parents died. Little things that you do not realize will cause distress. But for my sister and me, one of these issues was my Mom’s recipes. They were gone. We searched the house and could not find them. Most recipes we knew because we continued to make them.

But a few seemed lost forever, these included her Passover recipes. Since we used them only once a year, they were not etched into our memories. And so we had to use recipes from books or from others, or just not make that item. Without her recipes, we felt a bit lost.

My parents would come to me each year for the second night of Pesach.   They did the first Seder in New Jersey with my siblings and their families. Mom would cook her share of the meal, and leave all the leftovers for my brother and sister’s families. Because the next morning, bright and early, my parents would fly out to stay with me for second Seder and the rest of the holiday.

My children went to the Jewish Day School, so they were off that week. It was a perfect time for my parents to have grandparent adventures with the children.

Mom would arrive and join me in cooking. We always spent the first seder with other families at friends. But I alternated second night seder with another friend, and so often it would be at my house. Eventually, second night became my domain.

Whatever the case, there were certain foods I did not make until Mom got here. She knew exactly what to do, even though she might have had the recipes written down. After making seders for so many years, she knew her recipes. Whereas, my sister and I depended on her memory to help us.

So I should have known what happened to the recipes. But it never occurred to me.

About a year or so after both my parents passed away, they did so quickly and within nine months of each other, I finally cleaned out the bedroom in my house where they always stayed. We had already cleaned out their condo apartment in New Jersey; had told the managers of the apartment they rented in Florida to take what they wanted and donate the rest, and we had mostly cleaned out the house in the Catskill. So now it was time for me to do the final cleaning and pack up and donate what they had left behind in my house.

They had their own space, and I had avoided going into it, but my son wanted to move into this larger room, with its own separated entrance.

I finally opened the closet and packed my dad’s jeans and shirts and jackets. I started cleaning out the drawers. Putting tops and items into bags to donate.

There in the bottom drawer, covered by tops, was a small, stuffed plastic bag filled with papers. Recipes. Lots and lots of recipes. She was in the process of rewriting in her beautiful teacher’s handwriting. Passover was back: Vegetarian Chopped Liver, Matzah balls for 10-12 people, Farfel pudding from Sylvia, Baked Gifilte Fish from Lola, Potato Kugel, Stuffed cabbage.

Mixed in were many other recipes, including Hamantasch from Phyllis and my Uncle Stanley’s cookie recipe, which she called Cookies by Stanley. (He was baker and passed away in January 2017, a week before his 90th birthday, on my Mother’s sixth Yahrzeit.)

I would like to say I used these recipes. But I did not.  I put them in my room, in a box, waiting to be used.  I did not share them.  I did not look at them.  I just could not.  Now, I know I need to scan the recipes and send them to my brother and sister. I know that. But for four years they have sat in their bag while I have looked at it as a locked time chest, unable to really sort through the notes left by my Mom.

I decided this year was the time. I was ready.   We are done missing my Mom’s recipes.

Perhaps We Really Do Deserve The Senior Citizen Discount

26 May

I admit that I am now over 60, but I cannot understand why restaurants and theaters are giving me the senior citizen discount without me even asking for it!

It started innocently enough. My husband and I went to our local movie theater. It is our theater of choice and we go there almost exclusively to see movies. About a year ago I went up to pay the ticket and I noticed the discount.   I was surprised.

“You gave me the senior citizen discount,” I said. “I am not 65.”

“Oh our discounts start at 55,” she answered sweetly.

“Well that is okay then,” I responded. And happily walked off with an extra dollar.

But that was then. Now it is different.

The last two times when I went to my favorite bagel store, part of a big chain, I was stunned when I looked at my bill. The first time was in mid April. I took my children to lunch and was surprised to see ten percent removed from the bill. I showed it to my daughter.

“Look, he gave me the senior citizen discount. Do you think I should tell him I am not a senior?” I asked my daughter.

She looked down at me (she is 4 ½ inches taller). “Mom, you are a senior,” she responded. Really. I do not think so.

A few days later I went back with my sister in law. Once again I was given the senior discount. This time I felt better. My sister in law is two years older than me. It was much more legitimate. But I was still shocked that it was just given to me without even asking.

Okay I do have very grey hair. Some might even say that the hair that frames my face is white. But honestly, in the back it is quite black. And I really have no wrinkles.

I guess I do not see myself as getting older. But it is obvious that some younger people see me in a different way.

However, this week, I realized my husband and I get the senior citizen discount for a good reason.

My husband and I love the chicken noodle soup at a local deli, D’Bronx. It has the all time best ever chicken noodle soup with a matzah ball.   I love it. I have encouraged many people to become addicted to this soup. For months my husband and I ate there almost every Monday night after our ballroom dancing class. But a few months ago, our instructor left, and we stopped our lessons. So we stopped going out for soup every Monday.

This past weekend we were bemoaning the fact that we missed our soup. So I announced that we would go out for dinner on Monday and have D’Bronx soup. It was planned!

This is where the senior citizen part comes in.

Monday evening came, and my husband arrived home from work. “What’s for dinner?” He asked. There was obviously nothing planned.

“We are going out for soup,” I announced.

Then we talked for a while about where we wanted to go. And ended up at a restaurant close to our house with a wonderful salad bar, but horrible chicken noodle soup.

When I paid the bill, you go through a buffet and pay at the end, the young man gave me the senior citizen discount. Once again I bemoaned this discount to my husband.   But I accepted my $2.34 discount.

While we were eating dinner, I mentioned how much I did not like the soup. In fact I stopped eating it and threw my paper napkin into the bowl. It was that bland and yucky.

D'Bronx Chicken Noodle Matzah Ball Soup

D’Bronx Chicken Noodle Matzah Ball Soup

My husband said, “We should have gone to D’Bronx. We love their soup.”

We both stopped.

“Oh my G-d!” I laughed. “Now I know why we get the senior citizen discount. We cannot even remember where we wanted to go eat. That was the purpose of going out tonight; to go to get chicken noodle soup at D’Bronx. And we both forgot!!!”

We had a wonderful laugh.

I will never bemoan the senior citizen discount again.

 

 

(To be honest on Tuesday, I went over to D’Bronx by myself and had a bowl of soup for lunch.)

Am I A Passover Slacker?

14 Apr

I am feeling like a slacker. I was at a meeting recently with several other Jewish women. One said “I made my chicken soup today. ”

We all knew what she meant. She was getting her food ready for Pesach. Wow. I am always amazed at those who start cooking over a week in advance.

I have not even started cooking. I have started cleaning. And I did start buying matzah and other staples. But cooking. No!

I really felt badly when the numbers started coming. 30, 25, 24. I am only having 14 and only second night. First night I am going to a friend who is hosting 45 people. All of these women either empty their family rooms of all furniture or set the Seder up in their basements. With just 14, I can use my dining room. I am a Pesach slacker!

Seder Table

2014 Passover Seder. 

However we all agreed that under 25 is the best number for Seder. Large enough to be inclusive but not so big you feel overwhelmed.

There is a definite learning experience that comes with making a Seder. I think it is Passover Seder that creates the ability for most Jewish mothers to easily have extra people for dinner. After preparing a Seder any other meal is simply a breeze.  After cleaning, chopping, cooking and creating the festive Seder meal, nothing can faze me.

We learn so young. I cannot remember the first time I helped prepare for a Seder. I learned to make charosets as a small child. I loved sprinkling the cinnamon into the mixture. There are a few recipes that were only pulled out for Pesach. Most we could just cook as we went along. It was a brain memory. But at the time for the Seder all was in order.

We always did one Seder with my Dad’s family when I was little.  It was at my Uncle Bernie and Aunt Mickey’s house after my grandmother could no longer fit us all in.  And we did the second seder at my Mother’s family.  Sometimes Mom made it, sometimes my Aunt Paula and Uncle Stanley.  But we all knew the routine. And everyone brought something to the table.

I have friends who ask me how I can make a party or dinner without days of planning?  And I am surprised. Without the need to make charosets, Maror, five courses and all the other special  foods demanded for the Seder meal,  any other dinner creates no anxiety. It just easily occurs.

Like so many, I always prepare more food than we need. I never want anyone to go hungry and there always has to be enough for one more, or two, if needed.

Preparing the Pesach Seders taught me how to organize, use my time wisely, plan for the future and make my guests comfortable while running an extraordinary busy meal. We learn to have everything set to go and how to effectively clean between courses and after the meal.

I have a special scrapper just to get the matzah crumbs off the table!

Perhaps I am not a Passover slacker!  My Seder meal will be ready when we need it as it has been in the past and will be in the future.

Grandpa Nat Loved His Four Roses

24 Dec

My Grandpa Nat was a baker. This meant he was often going to bed soon after we were getting up, as he would work all night baking the breads and cakes for the next day.   Or if not all night, at least he would get up pretty early in the morning to start baking.

So often when we were having breakfast, Grandpa was having his lunch or even his dinner. But before he had dinner or anything else to eat, Grandpa always had a schnapps, a shot glass of Four Roses whiskey.

When I was little, I loved that bottle. It had four roses on it. So I thought it was pretty. He kept the bottle in a little cabinet beneath the counter in the kitchen in the Catskills. We were not allowed to touch. It was Grandpa’s special orange juice, or so we were told.

My Grandpa was from Galicia. His family owned a farm there, with grain silos and a tavern. One of his favorite stories to tell was when he and a cousin were sent to clean out the grain silo and got drunk on the fumes. They got really sick. I have learned that people can die from the fumes in a grain silo. Luckily that did not happen to Grandpa.

But I remember the first time I saw “Fiddle on The Roof” with him. His eyes filled with tears. I asked what was wrong. And he said it reminded him of his home. His family had a tavern like the one in the movie. And so like in the tavern scene when they sing “To Life”: “We’ll raise a glass and sip a drop of schnapps in honor of the great good luck that favors you,” my grandfather had a schnapps for many occasions.

(I should say he cried for a reason, his entire family was murdered in the Shoah.  He cried for the life that was gone forever.)

His Four Roses was his special treat. He said his one glass a day kept him healthy! Since he lived to almost 90, perhaps it did!

He kept a bottle in his New Jersey home as well. I believe it was in the kitchen. I remember him having a ‘shot’ of whiskey there as well. But I think because I was so young when they moved into the home in the Catskills, I have better memories of him having his Four Roses in the Catskills. Also we spent three months of the summer with them, so I had more opportunity to be with my grandparents in the mornings.

Grandpa sold his bakery in the 1960s because he had baker’s asthma and needed to retire. Perhaps he has some heart condition as well, but I am not sure about that. However, in the summertime he worked for Katz’s and helped to bake for the summer crowds.

In fact, my brother got one of his first adult summer jobs as a baker: going to the bakery with my grandfather and learning all there was to be a baker. I think that is why my brother became a chemist… You have to know formulas to bake as well. So my brother often came home early in the morning with Grandpa and had a schnapps along with him.

My brother went to college at Penn State and would sometimes drive to my grandparent’s home in the Catskill for the weekend in the fall or winter. He remembers being offered some schnapps as soon as he arrived to warm up.

My brother said, “I would show up for a weekend Grandpa would greet me with a shot of schnapps from the shot glasses that were never washed just dried and stored under the cabinet!” Alcohol sterilizes the glasses, according to Grandpa!

My grandfather would share his schnapps with my Dad and other adult men. I never saw any women drink the schnapps. It was orange juice for men.

When I got older, I had no desire to drink it! I understood that it was whiskey, and not exactly a good whiskey.  And I did taste it once when I was in the Catskill during the winter. After we shoveled snow and were outside for almost an hour, Grandpa had some schnapps and offered me a taste. I had to try. To be honest, it was disgusting! I never tried it again.

Grandpa and Schnapps

My Dad gave my Grandpa a bottle of “good’ stuff for Hanukkah.

My Dad was always trying to get my Grandpa to try something better. He called Four Roses rotgut cause it would rot your guts. He would say that Four Roses was not smooth when it went down, instead it burned your intestines. For Hanukkah he would buy my grandfather some of the Good stuff, which my Grandpa would promptly put away. Perhaps he used it for guests?

Grandpa would sometimes have another shot of schnapps when something special or unusual was happening.

For example, Woodstock: after watching the thousands upon thousands of young adults pass our property that first day, Grandpa turned to my Dad and to George, his tenant and my dad’s friend, and said, “Come we have a schnapps.” He definitely needed a schnapps or two that weekend! It was a very strange time, and a little fortitude was needed.

Good news was also the time to celebrate with schnapps. There were libations of schnapps as each grandchild became engaged and then married. More schnapps with the birth of the six great grandchildren he was alive to meet. I know that when the next two arrived, my Dad had schnapps to continue the tradition.

I can still close my eyes and see my Grandpa move one of the high stools in the kitchen and bend over to reach into the small cabinet to get out his bottle of Four Roses. The only thing in the cabinet was his schnapps and some shot glasses.

We never went into that cabinet without Grandpa. It was his special cabinet with his cherish Four Roses.

 

Honey for Rosh Hashannah and a Sweet, Wonderful Year!

11 Sep
Honey, apples, serving dishes, flowers and my kitten make the holiday sweet and happy.

Honey, apples, serving dishes, flowers and my kitten make the holiday sweet and happy.

We must have honey for Rosh Hashannah: honey for our apples, honey for our challah, honey in our cakes. Honey brings the knowledge that the year will be sweet. And even in times of sorrow, we must think of the happy sweetness of honey.

For over ten years my local section of National Council of Jewish Women has been selling honey for Rosh Hashannah. A dedicated group of women organize this fund raising mitzvah. We enjoy the camaraderie of packing the honey and signing cards. Each year we send out almost 1000 boxes of honey throughout the USA to family and friends.

I enjoy helping with this fundraiser both as a volunteer and as a contributor. It is one good deed, one act of Tzedakah, that I truly enjoy. Each year it seems that I send out more and more honey to my family and friends. Most of the honey I send out goes to people who live far from me. It is a way for me to be part of their holiday experience.

It is a joy to know that these people/families will have honey for the holidays. And they will know that my husband and I are thinking of them.

For many it has become a tradition. I get phone calls and emails asking me if the honey is still coming. Of course it is. I will continue to buy honey as long as NCJW has this fundraiser.

I love getting the thank you emails when the honey arrives. One friend even sent me a photo of her honey in her thanks. Another cousin in California told me that she would definitely be using her honey. From New York I heard “We got your honey! Thank you!” A friend in Massachusetts sent a note that just entitled “Sweetness,” because getting honey is that!

I know getting honey makes people happy, which makes me happy. The recipients know my family and I am sending them love as well as sweetness. We are helping to make their holiday and New Year as wonderful as can be. And sweetness from honey helps.

When my daughter was in college, I sent honey to her and her friends, some who were not even Jewish. They called it the ‘holy honey’ and used it not only for Rosh Hashannah, but also whenever they were feeling sick or blue. Tea and ‘holy honey’ cheered everyone up! What a way to make a year sweet and healthy!

On Rosh Hashannah I take out my special honey and apple set. I actually have several now. The one I used when the children were little looks like a bee hive. They loved it.   I also have the honey bowl my parents used for their holiday. Each year I use them as we dip our apples and challah into honey.

The holiday is soon. My raisin challah and honey cake are ordered. My NCJW honey is ready to be opened. My holiday meals are planned. Whenever I get ready for Rosh Hashannah, I remember celebrating the holidays with my family, with my maternal grandparents.  My grandfather was a baker and his special, round Rosh Hashannah challahs were delicious.  So sweet and so wonderful dipped in honey.

As we celebrate I try to think of all the joy and happiness that is in the world, and block out the sadness. Although we cannot forget what is happening, for this moment in time we celebrate and prepare for the time of forgiveness and repentance. But for now:

L’shana tova u metuka! May you all have a good and sweet year.

Watermelon Helps Make Summers Wonderful

28 Jul

image

I love watermelon.

In the summer, on a hot day, it is the MOST refreshing of all fruits.

I love eating it cut up in chunks. I love eating it in wedges.

I love it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I eat watermelon for snacks.

Buying me a watermelon is buying me joy.

This week, with the temperatures and heat index going above 100, I knew I had to get one.   So I went to Costco, walked to the giant bins of bright green watermelons and searched for the best. I picked a few up and thumped. And finally I heard the noise I liked the best. I had found my perfect watermelon. Total Joy!

When I was little my brother and sister taunted me by singing, “Ellen, Ellen Watermelon.” I actually remember all the cousins and other children at the bungalows singing it as well. It was my Catskills nickname as a child. In fact, there are a couple of adult friends of mine who still call me Ellen Ellen Watermelon. It might have bothered me a little bit when I was younger. But truth be told, I love watermelon. So now I do not care at all.

I always got a thrill when I saw my Dad bring a watermelon into the bungalow. He would be the one to cut it up, not my Mom. He would usually cut it into quarters and then make triangular strips. That meant it was really just for us.

If he cut it out of the rind and made chunks, that usually meant he was making it for lots of people and it might be part of a fruit salad. My Dad would make one side of the watermelon into a giant bowl and put the fruit salad back into it. I never do that. But I always helped him by making the cantaloupe and honeydew balls with a special scoop.

I learned to make fruit salad from my Dad. Now, I love to make fruit salad. I like chopping up fruit to make the best combination of fruit flavors. It brings me memories of Dad, and for some reason chopping fruit relaxes me. Whenever I go to a pot-luck dinner, I bring the fruit salad.

Personally, for me just watermelon would be fine.   I like it best cut up into inch to two-inch chunks. Then I fill up a bowl and just snack away. I usually like it on its own, not mixed into a salad. Why mess up the best fruit ever, well except for blueberries, by mixing it with other melons. Yes some like cantaloupe and honeydew. But for me, only the watermelon is enough to make me happy. Although I have been known to mix blueberries and watermelon together for a special treat.

Watermelon has other uses as well.   There have been many a watermelon seed spitting contests at our home in the Catskills. And it is not just for children. I have seen many a grown man and woman spit out their seeds to see whose goes the furthest.

What other fruit gives you the joy of eating and the ability to play with it without anyone yelling, “Stop playing with your food.” Even my Dad would spit watermelon seeds. I remember one contest in particular that included my husband, brother, brother-in-law, Dad and a first cousin.   We were all adults. And we cheer them on.

Best fruit ever, watermelon always helps to make summers wonderful.