31 March 2010

slinging hash: matzoh toffee

Passover is upon us, and in my admittedly limited experience, only gentiles, and Jews of the Greatest Generation actually enjoy matzoh. It has a mouth feel reminiscent of cardboard, tears up the roof of your mouth, and, if that weren't insult enough, swallowing it feels like being stabbed in the esophagus. It is messy, leaving a trail of crumbs in its wake. The less said about the havoc it wreaks on one's digestive tract, the better.

I reached a new low this year when I pulled out the vacuum mid-seder to clean up the mess Sacha made by stomping a piece of matzoh to dust on the rug. I think he did it for the pure sensory joy, but it pretty well summed up my sentiments toward this contemptible cracker.

Aside from the occasional piece of matzoh brei, or slathered with butter and salt, the only redeeming thing I've found to do with matzoh is make matzoh toffee. Although I only discovered it last year, apparently this recipe has been around for eons.

It is salty, sweet, chocolaty, and crunchy; easy to make, impossible to resist. This is wicked, wicked stuff, it's only drawback being that it is very hard to resist. Were it not for the fact that you can substitute saltines for the matzoh, I'd be tempted to say this is good enough to lay in a supply of matzoh.

In keeping with my spirit, as opposed to letter of the law nature, I observe my own made-up dietary restrictions for Passover. I won't eat anything yeasted or risen, but see nothing wrong with rice, so call me Sephardic for a week. I usually make it through the week, on my makeshift rules, but this year, my heart's not in it, and I'm presently working on the assumption that where I'm concerned, when the matzoh runs out, Passover's over. Matzoh toffee disappears quickly, so I may speed this along by making a second batch.

Matzoh Toffee

4 to 5 pieces of matzo
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
generous pinch of kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Place the matzo in one layer on the baking sheet, breaking to fill the pan. 

In a large sauce pan, melt butter and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly. When  mixture reaches a boil, continue to cook for an additional three minutes, stirrin, until thickened and just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat, add pinch of salt, and pour over the matzo, spreading an even layer with a heat-proof spatula.

Put the pan in the oven, then immediately reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Bake for 10-15 minutes, checking frequently beginning at the 10 minute mark to make sure it doesn't burn. If it looks like it's starting to burn, turn heat down to 325.

Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips over the pan. Let sit for five minutes, spread the chocolate evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

Let cool, break into pieces. I store this in the fridge, but room-temperature is also fine.

30 March 2010

She really knows how to work it

Last night we had our Passover seder. On her way up to bed, I had the following conversation with Sarah. 

Sarah: Thanks for dinner mom, all the food was so delicious.

Me: You're welcome, sweetie. Sarah, you are a good kid, and I am happy to cook for you.

Sarah: I know. But my goodness is a testament to my parents.

And thus concludes another scene of domestic harmony.

And yet, as satisfying as it is to pat myself on the back, I can't help but remember Pygmalion, and marvel at the ways in which my charge, a vast improvement on the original, will continue to surpass, outwit, and outsmart me, and generally succeed in getting me to do her bidding.

25 March 2010


I'm not certain what compelled me to reach into the glove box two weeks ago for my auto insurance card, but when I did, I found not the current card, but the one from the policy which expired last December. Figuring I'd forgotten to transfer the new card to the car, I went to retrieve it from my files, but it was not there either.

Sometimes one's depth of self-delusion is impressive, because rather than consider that something was amiss, I assumed I'd accidentally shredded the card along with the old policy, and called our insurance agent to request a replacement. It was at this point that I learned that our policy had lapsed in October.


I called David to see if perhaps he might recall having forgotten to pay our insurance premium? He considered this for a moment, and answered, yes, it had possibly slipped his mind.

I pause now to give thanks for the grace of living in a society where we are the architects of our own destiny. While it may have distressed his mother, it good that David did not enter the medical profession, because he would have made a disastrous surgeon.

A feeling of unease settled in as I began to comprehend that we two reasonably responsible adults, had been driving uninsured for five months.

Did you know that not many reputable companies wish to add drivers with lapsed insurance to their risk pool? Nonetheless, our insurance agent managed to keep us out of the state pool, finding us a policy with a reliable company for an only slightly exorbitant rate. What's more, as a 6-month policy, we have time enough to reinstate our good name, and then shop for a better rate.

Legal once again, I set out on Monday afternoon to pick Sacha up from school, whereupon I proceeded to get into a fender bender while looking for parking. At lunch time. On Bellevue Avenue. In the bone-chilling rain.

Once I regained my mental faculties, established that no one was seriously hurt, and there was no major damage to my car, I remembered to contact David: Been in accident, Bellevue/Valley. No one seriously hurt, car ok, needs work. Good thing we're insured!

To which my ever loving husband fired back: Indeed; I'd hate to see you end up in the clinker!

Friends have expressed disbelief that I wasn't furious with my husband, but truly, I was not.

Had he behaved in a way that was completely out of character, I would have seen a blue streak. But for someone for whom attention to detail is not a strong suit, forgetting to make an insurance payment is unexceptional. Considering what could have happened — injury, penalty, fines, arrest — compared to what did — minor delays, mild embarrassment, inconvenience and expense — it's more an instance of catastrophe narrowly averted, which is just another way of saying grace.

You can't cherry pick your spouse's personality; you fall in love with the whole. On a day to day basis, that means while I can remind David to wipe down the chairs as well as the table, or vacuum with the lights on so as not to miss say, a piece of spicy tuna roll that sat on the rug for 24 hours*, I accept that he most likely won't.

In exchange, he doesn't tolerates my micromanaging his way of doing chores, because he knows that I am controlling, and I can't help myself. Such is the dance; over time, as we exchange some degree of passion for intimacy, we come to know our mate as well as we do ourselves. In this way our vines twine and twine, filling in cracks, and bolstering weak spots, to create something stronger.

*not that this has ever happened

23 March 2010

Putting the FUN in funeral!

Consider yourself lucky not to be related to me, because today I attended my fourth funeral in thirteen months.

My children are now very familiar with Jewish customs of mourning. They've come a long way since October, when David explained that after his mother's funeral we would go back to the shiva house, and people would visit, and there would be food.

"What kind of food?" Gabriel wanted to know.

"Jewish food," David answered.

"You mean, sushi?"

And so today, over breakfast, we discussed how the day would unfold, and Gabriel asked, if David predeceases me, where I would like my children to sit shiva for me. I answered that they should sit wherever they are most comfortable.

To which my most thoughtful, wise, empathetic and also, I now know, pragmatic son replied that he might not be available. I smiled bemusedly and waited for him to explain.

"What?! I want to be a famous trumpet player*, and I may have a concert, and I won't be able to cancel."

"Surely your fans would understand your needing to reschedule?" I asked.

"Yes, but what about my bosses? They won't like it if I ask for time off," he said.

"Well, when the time comes, you won't ask; you will tell them, and they will say okay."

He nodded in agreement — I do have things to teach him yet! — and responded, "Yes, but they won't like it."

True enough; but such is life, and death.

*This from a child who has not yet played a trumpet, and has been working the past three years to improve speech deficiencies including: low oral tone, a reverse tongue thrust, and motor planning issues. I am most impressed by his determination.

18 March 2010

slinging hash: british flapjacks

Until I saw this recipe — ignorant American! — I never knew flapjacks could refer to something other than pancakes. I have since learned that in the British sense, flapjacks are bar cookies. I prefer bar or roll cookies because they are not only easier to prepare, but are often made without leavening, which I find imparts a slight but noticeable chemical flavor.

And yet, as these contain brown sugar and golden syrup, I suspected I would find them too sweet. These objections were overruled because a friend raved about the recipe, from Molly Wizenberg, who I find has a near-unerring palate.

With the possible exception of golden syrup, making flapjacks requires only five ingredients, all pantry staples. Golden syrup, also known as light treacle, has a lovely, true, sweet flavor, and is not impossible to find in American markets. If you are British, or like me, prefer golden syrup to honey (which I'm not wild for; weird, I know), you've got everything you need.

I am glad I did not listen to myself, because these are delicious. Buttery and toothsome, they are like a decadent, sophisticated granola bar, and I would not at all be above serving them for breakfast in a pinch. An undercurrent of burnt sugar adds an appealing bitter edge, and in combination with the salt, keeps the sweetness in check.

What's even more remarkable, I have made them several times, and all my children still like them. With a house full of highly opinionated palates, a cookie that everyone agrees on is a rare thing indeed. Rarer still is that it takes almost no effort.

British Flapjacks  
adapted from Molly Wizenberg's recipe for Bon Appetit

The original recipe calls for quick cooking oats; I prefer old-fashioned, so rather than make a trip to the market, used them. The recipe also calls for a metal pan, and mine is glass. I suspect these changes account for the fact that my flapjacks come out very dense and chewy, as well as the difficulty I had removing them from the pan when cool. I've gotten around this by buttering the pan and lining it with buttered parchment paper, and utilizing my mandible. 

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces 
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar (I sometimes use dark brown sugar, and like it equally well)
1/4 cup golden syrup
2 1/3 cups quick cooking or old-fashioned oats
Generous pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan. Line with buttered parchment paper.

Combine first 3 ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until butter melts, sugar dissolves, and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Add oats and salt; stir until coated. Transfer mixture to prepared pan, spread in an even layer, pressing lightly to compact a bit.
Bake until top is golden (edges will be darker), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 5 minutes. Cut into 4 squares; cut each into 4 triangles (mixture will still be soft). Cool completely in pan before serving.

09 March 2010

Child liberation front

Recently we entered the age of indentured servitude, followed quickly by put the youngest to bed and babysit yourselves.

The evidence is clear; a new era of child rearing is upon us, and we are exploring the contours of the terrain.

Since toilet training, Sacha is marginally less insane, enough that I can leave him in Sarah's care for short periods of time. This means that I now have the luxury of stopping at the market, or doing a carpool run unencumbered.

With this small change, the accumulated pedestrian acts that strung together, form my days, have been transformed into something remarkable.

My children have been in school long enough that having time to myself is not unusual. Yet time to myself while they are home alone is something else entirely. It feels slightly transgressive to leave them on their own, with no qualified child care professional in sight, and stranger still that no money changes hands upon my return. I find it so thrilling that it takes great restraint to keep from approaching strangers in the market and whispering conspiratorially that I have three children, and none of them are with me.

When my children were tiny, I imagined that doing anything without them in tow would be akin to phantom limb syndrome, my heart aching with the pang of their absence. Instead I feel an insatiable longing to make up for ten years of lost alone time.

Lest I become concerned that my behavior is cause for concern about the depth of my maternal attachment, I take comfort in knowing that my children also delight in their independence. They beg to be left alone, and I am impressed with their maturity. Last week, as I left to take Sacha to karate I reminded Sarah and Gabriel that they would need to practice their instruments before the end of the day. I returned home to find Sarah strumming her guitar,  and Gabriel playing piano, and my heart swelled to burst.

Never one to be left behind, Sacha now asks me if he can stay home alone rather than run errands with me. I do my best to keep a straight face while saying no. There is a fine line between responsibility and recklessness, and tempting as it is, I try to stay well away from the edge.

This new found freedom is so completely intoxicating, and dangerously addictive. It's a bit like love sickness, a temporary state of madness spurred by a radical shift to more free time. And so I ration myself, lest I wind up believing that it is not too soon to teach Sarah to drive.

03 March 2010

slinging hash: roasted potato tacos

Let's say I really sold you on the corn tortillas, and you are looking for something to fill them with. There's beef, in its many forms, especially this brisket, which I cannot get enough of lately, or chicken. Or you could keep it simple and make quesadillas. 

I try to serve meat only once or twice a week, and as a result, we eat a lot of pasta. The rhythm of a week's worth of dinners in my house goes something like: beef, pasta, chicken, pasta, fish, pasta. By week's end, determined to make a vegetarian meal that does not involve pasta, I scour blogs and cookbooks to find something new. Often, I expend so much effort looking for a recipe that by the time I'm ready to cook, I've run out of steam, and imagination. When I reach this point, to spice things up, I make a baked pasta.

A few weeks ago, I came across a recipe for roasted potato tacos. It seemed slightly strange, and intriguing. It it quick, easy and tasty, and it works. Plus, it had the added advantage of appealing to one of my general guidelines for feeding children: the starchier, the better.

Roasted Potato Tacos
Adapted from thekitchn

The original recipe called for roasting the potatoes with red pepper as well as onion. I substitute roasted red peppers, but feel free to add one chopped pepper to the potato and onion, or skip it entirely.

I serve this with chipotle mayonnaise, made by whizzing one chipotle pepper in adobo sauce with a cup of mayonnaise and the juice of one lime in the blender.

3 russet potatoes, coarsely chopped
1 medium sized onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Corn or flour tortillas for serving, and any, or all of the following:
grated cheddar cheese
roasted red peppers
lime wedges

Preheat oven to 420 degrees. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly with your hands until potatoes are well coated. Spread out potato mixture on a baking sheet and roast on middle rack in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Serve on tortillas, arranged to your liking.