The bread of my (sinus) affliction

Colds are a downer. Spring colds are a special kind of downer because it’s so gorgeous outside, I’d rather be patioing on this lovely Friday evening than sitting in here in my jammies contemplating going back to bed. After waking up from my two-hour post-work nap, I decided to have some leftover soup and realized I hadn’t written about this week’s cooking. Silly me.

Easter gets a lot of play and all, but my focus this week was Passover. It’s that special time of year where I get to eat gefilte fish. Hubster thinks it is one of the most revolting things he’s ever encountered (even more than mayonnaise, I think) but I find it to be heavenly. And I don’t mess mine up with a bunch of condiments. Straight out of the jar for me, thank you Manichewitz.

Passover is one of those holidays that gives me warm fuzzies because: our family was always together, it was the one time a year we would break out the good china, and it was the first time I got drunk. You didn’t think this would be entirely serious did you?

Passover in our house had two forms – formal and picnic-style. First seder was generally the formal one featuring the china, the fancy silverware and Zada’s old Haggadot with pictures of Streit’s Matzos and Maxwell House Coffee from the 1950s. Second seder would just be the four of us and some years we decided to picnic on the floor in the living room. Mom and Dad would put down a blanket, we’d use paper plates and lounge. Totally in the spirit of the holiday which commands that you recline, as that was the sign of a free person back in the days of Hebrew slavery in Egypt. Plus it was fun for me and my brother because we didn’t have to sit up straight.

Picnic seder the year after my bat mitzvah was an event because, as I saw it, I was now considered an “adult” by the Jewish community, so I should get to have real wine for Passover. Note: during the Passover seder, one is supposed to consume four glasses of wine. My parents, having the foresight they did, decided it would be an excellent time to teach a lesson about drinking. And it was one I learned because, after that evening, I didn’t have another drink until I was practically in college. Again, thank you Manichewitz.

So this year, thanks to a quick after-workout trip to Tom Thumb on Monday, I had my usual Passover ingredients ready. To be honest, we don’t do a full seder at my house. Two reasons: 1. I know I wouldn’t create one as great as my mom’s; 2. Hubster would likely fall asleep on his non-gefilte-fish-covered plate. Instead, we opt for some delicious matzo ball soup, charoset and macaroons. I keep matzo, hard boiled eggs and some of the other foods around for consumption throughout the week-long holiday, but we keep it simple those first couple of nights.

Matzo ball soup

Mom’s matzo ball soup is all about the matzo ball. Very little in the way of veggies and the like. Mostly broth and ball. In my house, we do it a little differently, creating a hearty chicken soup with carrots, celery, leeks and big chunks of chicken, capped off with a good number of fluffy matzo balls.

Creating the perfect matzo ball is difficult. Sometimes they work for you. Other times they don’t. Two important notes when creating matzo balls: 1. once you’ve put them in the pot, KEEP THE LID ON. Don’t go peeking at your balls. The steam helps them poof up. 2. For extra poofiness, use a little club soda in your matzo ball mix. The bubbles help.

It’s okay to buy the matzo ball mix…but skip the soup mix. Make your own. Trust me.

Charoset with a side of macaroons

To accompany the soup, I always make charoset. Charoset has always been my favorite Passover food because it is so simple and so incredibly tasty. It is simply shredded apples, chopped walnuts (or pecans), cinnamon, sugar and wine. For full flavor, it is best to make it a day ahead, so the flavors have a chance to come together and all of that delicious wine can be absorbed. The sugar is optional, and I only add it if I’ve used a particularly dry wine in the recipe. If you’re going traditional and opt for Mogen David or Manichewitz to make your charoset, you won’t need sugar. The wine will bring enough sweetness.

You’re probably expecting a recipe here, but I honestly can’t give you mine because I eyeball all of it. In the case of this year’s charoset, I shredded three apples, used 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts and then seasoned and wined to taste. The apple to nut ratio is totally up to you. Get crazy.

If you paid attention to the title of this post, you’re probably left a little bit confused as there has been no mention of bread. Matzo is often called the “bread of affliction” because it was made in haste as the Hebrews were fleeing Egypt. As the story goes, they didn’t have time to let their bread rise, so we eat these flat (and very dry, might I add) crackery things as our bread during the holiday. I like to think it isn’t a coincidence that, out of matzo (bread of affliction) we get matzo ball soup (Jewish penicillin).

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