A Mountain of Blintzes

Mountain of BlintzesStone soup is overrated and recipes from children’s books seldom appeal to me. Several months ago, however, our family received a wonderful book from the PJ Library

We sat down to read A Mountain of Blintzes, which is about a poor Jewish family living in the Catskills in the late 1920′s. This loving family wanted to make blintzes for Shavout, a Spring holiday. Recognizing that they couldn’t afford the ingredients, each family member took on an extra job without telling the other. The story culminates in the making of a mountain of blintzes, which the family spread jam on, then feasted on around a festive holiday table.

For months, Caleb and Sadie have been begging to make the recipe from Mountain of Blintzes. This weekend, with all of the ingredients in our pantry, we finally did.

On Sunday morning, the kids took turns pouring, mixing, and assembling the ingredients and before we knew it, we were gently placing our neatly folded blintzes into a pan of sizzling butter. When each side had turned golden brown, we put the blintzes in the oven. Next, we prepared a simple berry sauce on the stove top. In about 45 minutes, we had our own ‘mountain of blintzes’. Well, not really. They were gorgeous looking, but a little too delicate to pile on top of each other.

I placed a spoonful of warm berry sauce atop each golden blintz and passed the plates around the table. The blintzes were sensational and elicited rave reviews from each family member. This may not be Spring, but there was nothing unseasonable about this recipe. Spirits bloomed, our family came closer together, and our bellies were well-rewarded for our hard work. We were even treated to an impromptu performance from Mateo who is teaching himself guitar on the weekends.

Later in the day, when we were walking with the kids, Sadie volunteered, “I liked the blintzes, but I don’t think we made a mountain!” We laughed and I thought, but like in the book, the family came together and did everything it took to make and enjoy blintzes. I was grateful too for the inspiration to make food from our roots.

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A Recipe for Your Own Mountain of Blintzes

Adapted from the book by Barbara Diamond Goldin

Batter

3 large eggs, well beaten

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup water

¾ cup flour

Filling (mixed together in separate bowl)

1 pound dry cottage cheese or drained regular cottage cheese

¾ tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¾ teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

Dash of salt

Berry Sauce

1 bag frozen mixed berries from TJ’s

4-6 tablespoons sugar (to taste)

½ lemon squeezed

1 tablespoon flour

Butter for frying; sour cream, jam, and cinnamon for topping.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine eggs, salt, and water, and beat well. Gradually stir flour in until batter is smooth, with a syrupy consistency.

Grease a six-inch frying or crepe pan (we used a pancake griddle). Spoon enough batter to make a thin pancake. Tip the pan from side to side to spread the batter. Cook both sides of the pancake over medium to high heat, until lightly browned all over. Turn the pancake out onto a clean plate.

To fill the pancake, spoon a generous tablespoon of the cheese mixture onto the center. Fold in the sides and the ends to make an ‘envelope’ around the filling. Set aside. Continue making pancakes until all the batter and the filling have been used.

To make the sauce, add the frozen berries to a small saucepan, along with sugar and lemon juice. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat until berries have softened, then add flour to thicken (whisk, until flour has dissolved into sauce).

To serve, stack the blintzes to look like a mountain on a serving plate (ours were a little too delicate for this). You can also sprinkle cinnamon, and serve with sour cream, jam, or my quick berry sauce.

8 Nights of Chanukah (A Carol)

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Chanukah has ended and the long-abandoned treadmill is calling my name. My muffin top has been upgraded to a fallen soufflé. Latkes were inhaled and precious time was spent with friends and family as we lit the menorah, spun dreidels, and sang Chanukah songs. Good food was enjoyed, gifts were exchanged, and lifetime memories were made. In the spirit of Chanukah, I adapted this song for Jews and non-Jews alike.

Please sing along…

To the tune of ’12 Days of Christmas’ because why should goys have all the fun!?

On the first night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the second night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the third night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the fourth night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Four calling cards (“To call your mother who’s worried sick about you!”),
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the fifth night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Five golden latkes,
Four calling cards,
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the sixth night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Six relatives a-kvetching,
Five golden latkes,
Four calling cards,
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the seventh night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Seven alka seltzers,
Six relatives a-kvetching,
Five golden latkes,
Four calling cards,
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the eighth night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Eight candles glowing

Seven alka seltzers,
Six relatives a-kvetching,
Five golden latkes,
Four calling cards,
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

Sending you light and love, peace and good health this holiday season. From our family to yours.

Our Family Seder

This is a guest post written by my big sister, Niki. Not just a sister, but a second mother, a best friend, counselor, and confidante. Every year, we celebrate Passover at her home, which is always filled with good smells, warmth, laughter, family love, and the best matzoh ball soup I’ve ever tasted! I hope you enjoy her thoughtful and personal take on this family tradition.

Why is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

Is the question asked by the youngest child at the Passover Seder. Seder in Hebrew means “order” – it refers to the specific order of retelling the story of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. Retold by Jews all over the world, we are required to remember our religious, cultural, and ethnic history and to experience the story as though reliving it every year.

Passover lasts seven days and the Seder is held on the first night. Outside of Israel, some Jews also hold a Seder on the second night. A tradition of long ago, fires were lit on mountain tops to signal the start of the holiday. It took time to be sighted by the closest community and light their fire for the next community so some of us celebrate the first and second night to make sure we don’t miss the actual Holiday. In our family there are many of us and it takes months of planning to find a date that works for all of us: our clan is happy if our celebration falls somewhere during the week of Passover. We gathered this past Saturday starting a “little” later than called for (some call this Jewish Standard Time – if you want everyone to arrive at 5:00 pm, it is imperative to set 4:00 pm as dinner time).

Passover is one of the Jewish Holidays that I look forward to every year. Usually I host our family Seder at our family home, and this year for the second time, in our new home in Sonoma. Because we were all raised to contribute, everyone in the family shares responsibility for our festive meal. I make the entrée, the matzoh ball soup, the charoset, and provide the matzoh. Various family members volunteer to fill out the rest of our dinner. I also prepare the Seder Plate. The Seder Plate contains the symbolic foods eaten at our Seder:

  • Bitter herbs (horseradish) – symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of slavery, which we endured in Egypt.
  • Charoset – a mixture traditionally made from apples, chopped nuts, cinnamon and sweet wine representing the mortar used by Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt.
  • Parsley – dipped into salt water representing the tears we shed as slaves.
  • Shankbone (chicken wing, or beet) – representing the Paschal lamb and the sacrifices we have made to survive.*2 Before the tenth plague, our people slaughtered lambs and marked our doors with blood: because of this marking, the Angel of Death passed over our homes and our first-born were spared – not so for the Egyptian first-born. This was the last of the plagues sent to convince the Pharaoh to allow the Jews to leave Egypt.
  • Hard-boiled egg – representing the offering brought to the Temple. In more recent years has come to signify spring, and our rebirth or renewal.
  • Matzoh– the unleavened bread that we had to make in a hurry to sustain us on our journey through the desert.
  • Orange – a modern addition to the Seder Plate. Jewish feminists introduced the custom of adding an orange to the Seder plate. It is said to be a symbol of the fruitfulness of all Jews, including women and members of the gay community.

The table is set, and a cup for the Prophet Elijah is filled. We open the door to invite him into join our Seder. Elijah has been the Jewish savior and redeemer throughout time.

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Our family Haggadah (from the Hebrew Lehagid – to tell) has undergone changes throughout the years. Originally compiled from a variety of texts, we have added poetry and songs, and our own traditions to reading the story of our Exodus from Egypt. We have been celebrating Passover now for many decades. It has been so moving to observe my children, my siblings’ children, and now Anya’s children taking turns reading from the Haggadah. Many years passed since their first attempts at reading, my sons are now leading the Seder. Caleb, now one of the youngest at the table, read the Four Questions. We all clapped – as we did for the children before him – as he is our new beginning reader. We swell with pride at the milestones our children have accomplished.

At our Seder table chaos reigns. Attention wanders, children get up and return, side conversations abound, we are starving and it takes too long to read the entire Haggadah (which is already shortened). It is time to finally eat!  Delicious. We give thanks for coming together year after year:  for retelling the story of our ancestors; for our bounty in eating plenty when others have little; for the love we share with each other. As my great Grandfather used to say:  I am a lucky Jew!

Next Year in Jerusalem!

Caleb Reading the Haggadah for the First Time

Chinese Food and a Movie!

I just can’t seem to stay away from Chinese food around Christmas time! I’m Jewish…it’s in my DNA!

We are in the middle of a family vacation from work and school. Yesterday, Caleb and I were in much need of some ‘us time’, so we grabbed our coats, jumped in the car and headed for College Avenue in Berkeley.

First, we enjoyed a tasty lunch at Shen Hua, where we feasted on pork buns, poststickers, and har gao (steamed shrimp dumplings). While delighting in our delicious dim sum, we sipped on ginger ale and gabbed about our favorite activities so far on our vacation, which has been full of cool plans such as a Christmas trip to Reno to see family, ice skating in San Francisco, a trip to Saul’s Deli to eat latkes for Chanukah, fun cooking experiments, trips to Lawrence Hall of Science, etc.

I savor this time with Caleb. Normally, the four of us hang out, involved in a fun family activity. Apart from our cooking adventures, Caleb and I rarely get time to just hold hands, be silly, and catch up.

Once we cleared our plates, we skipped and ran hand-in-hand over to the Elmwood Movie Theater where we watched the Muppets. Caleb sat on my lap for much of the movie, while we ate Raisinettes (Caleb’s first time eating them and he kept calling them “raisin-nuts”) and popcorn. I sat there spending more time hugging and nuzzling him, and enjoying the moment. The movie was fun too. Ask Caleb about Fozzie Bear and the ‘fart shoes’ and he won’t stop laughing!

If you haven’t already caught on, I’m huge on making memories for our kids. I want them to look back at their childhood and site the many memorable and delicious adventures they went on. One day, perhaps, they’ll take their kids on a ‘Chinese food and a movie’ adventure and tell them how fun it was to do the same with me when they were little.

We’ll follow up soon with homemade ice cream. Stay tuned!

Guest Post: Mema’s Mandel Bread

In my last post, you met Caleb’s friend, Jordan and his mom, Robyn. I asked Robyn to write a guest post about her grandmother’s mandel bread recipe – known also as mandelbrot. This post kicks off a new tradition of including the stories of other families cooking in their kitchens or sharing stories of family food traditions. If you would like to contribute to a future guest post, please let me know – you could write about cooking with your kids, share memories of cooking with your mom when you were a child, or just some fabulous food memories from childhood. I would love that! I hope you enjoy Robyn’s story as I did. Happy Holidays! Warmly, Anya 

By Robyn Barfield

I’m not a writer or a blogger, and I’m certainly no great chef; however, I do love to eat and talk about food. So, it seems I should have no problem sharing my grandmother’s recipe for mandel bread (a Jewish dessert) and telling you about the memories it conjures up every time I make it.

I think of myself as “semi-Jewish.” Both of my parents come from Jewish families, but my Jewish upbringing consisted of no more than eating at my grandparents’ house for the Jewish holidays. At this point in my life, married and a mother to 2 boys (Jordan-4 and Evan-1), I don’t consider myself religiously or culturally Jewish. But when the Jewish holidays come around and I hear people talking about Jewish dishes and traditions, it is always a happy reminder of my grandparents, especially my maternal grandmother who I called “Mema.”

Robyn’s “Mema”

Anya thought I could tell you about making mandel bread with my Mema. The thing is, I can’t actually remember making it with her. Mema really wasn’t much of a cook. She obviously did cook some – the taste of her mandel bread, turkey tetrazzini and brisket are perfectly clear to me. But my favorite food memory of Mema is something that requires no recipe.

My sister, Dana, and I spent the night at Mema’s house once a month. Mema always slept later than we did in the morning, so she left breakfast waiting for us in the fridge – a bowl of corn flakes covered with saran wrap accompanied by a glass of milk to pour on top. After eating our corn flakes, Dana and I would wait anxiously for Mema to wake up so she could make us breakfast #2, something we thought of as a real treat. What was this very special second breakfast?  Frozen Lender’s bagels toasted to perfection with melted butter spread on top and a mug of hot chocolate!   Frozen or not, when food is delivered with love, nothing tastes better.

When Anya and I discussed getting together to make latkes, I said I’d make Mema’s mandel bread recipe since it’s the only Jewish thing I know how to cook. I love making (and eating) mandel bread, as it brings me back to a time when I was a little girl sitting with Mema in her yellow kitchen. My son, Jordan, helped me make the mandel bread. As we made it, I shared stories with him about Mema. Jordan measured and poured all the ingredients, but when it came time to mix all the ingredients by hand, he let me take over. He has apparently inherited the tidy gene from his Dad.

Jordan helping make the bread

In honor of my sweet, sweet Mema, who died peacefully 3 days after I told her I was going to be a Mom, here is her recipe for mandel bread. It’s biscotti-like, but way better in my opinion!  Mema’s recipe, not surprisingly, says nothing about mixing dry and wet ingredients separately, but you can go ahead and do that if it makes you feel better! 

Mema’s Mandel bread (made with walnuts, not the more traditional almonds)

¾ c oil

3 eggs

¾ c sugar

3c flour

1 ¼ tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

½ small pack of walnut pieces (that’s what her recipe says!  We used ½ c)

1 c golden raisins

More sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling

Mix all the ingredients (except for the extra sugar and cinnamon used for sprinkling) thoroughly.

Shape the dough into 4 oval patties.

Bake at 350o for 30 minutes.

Take the Mandel bread out of the oven and slice it (I slice into 1-1 ½ inch slices).

Sprinkle the sliced Mandel bread with sugar and cinnamon (as little or as much as you want. I tend to sprinkle generously.)

Put the Mandel bread back in the oven for 20 minutes with the oven turned off.

Enjoy!