Saturday, April 28, 2012

Unconscious Suburban Aromatic Farming

This week I found out several surprising things.  One of them is that we might be growing an onion crop, right here in our suburban paradise.  Sort of like Dorothy and the ruby slippers – it was there all along, but we had to discover it for ourselves.

At least I think they are onions.  First I saw this growing on our hillside.  

It was hard to distinguish from the weeds and the grass.  I pulled it up and noticed that it looked like an onion.

It smelled like an onion.  My husband confirmed this.  He weed-whacking more suspected onions and laid them in the grass.

I brought them inside, and they acted like onions, although perhaps less robust than the store-bought green onions I already had.  The onion aroma filled the kitchen.
The store-bought onions are at the bottom of the photo.  Can you tell?

I asked my husband what we should do with them.  He said, “Put them in a vase?  They smell nice.”  I decided to ignore the implications this comment had for my housekeeping skills.  I threw out half of them, washed and bundled the rest, and put them in the fridge.  Maybe I will be brave enough to put them in a stir-fry this evening.

We never knowingly planted onions, but then there are a lot of things in life that we don’t consciously do or know, and only discover by chance.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fifteen Seconds of Fame

Last week I had my moment of fame.  But only anonymously, of course, because that’s how introverts like their fame.

One of the ways I wisely spend my time is reading blogs, one of which is Stuff Christians Like.  In a post titled Worship Leader Simon Says, the author wrote about the worship director throwing a “grenade of intimacy,” commanding everyone in the congregation to hug someone before sitting down. 

I commented, “Aaaaaand…. all the introverts run away.”  Apparently 100 people liked my comment.  Yes, I know that compared to the Huffington Post or, 100 clicks is nothing to write home about.  From my perspective, though, my words have never been so liked before in my life.  But when all this liking and feeding of my ego was going on, I missed it because I was at the Old Folks Home.

While I am belatedly drawing extra attention to my fame, I just have to say that I think my church does a pretty good job of including introverts at their own comfort level.  It starts with the children’s sermon.  The minister begins by saying something like, “Good morning, children.”  And the children can say “Good morning” back if they want, and then the minister goes on from there.  This is preferable to expecting the children to respond with a stadium-cheer-volume reply, and if they don’t, cajoling them with, “That’s not good enough.  You can do better than that. I said ‘GOOD MORNING, CHILDREN!’” thereby giving the kids the impression that loud = enthusiastic and loud = good, when in fact, loud is only loud.

At my church we only occasionally (about once every two months) have a time for “passing of the peace,” and we are never commanded to hug one another with the holy hug of Christian love.  I don’t mind shaking a stranger’s hand and saying, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”  In fact, I appreciate the chance to occasionally smile and be smiled at by the people around me in worship. Yes, some people turn it into a ten-minute love-fest or therapy session, but there is no shame coming your way if you greet three people and then sit down. 

But before I get lost in my introverted thoughts, I have to let you know that if you act fast, like, before tonight, you can enter to win a copy of the book “Introverts in the Church” by Rev Adam McHugh, by clicking through to comment on this post at Stuff Christians Like. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

On the Table

The Call to Worship we read at church yesterday seemed custom-written for me. 

Come, sisters and brothers, gather together.
From all the bruises of a busy week, gather.
Plunge your sorrow and worry into the fountain of life.
Here, find comfort and hope.
Place your dreams and concerns on the table of blessing.
Here, find courage and renewal.
Give your questions and doubts to the heart of God.
Here, find a peace that lightens the load and restores the faith.
Come, all of you in this place,
Become a family of love, a community of song, a people of prayer.

I spent three days at the Old Folks Home last week, taking the opportunity while my son was away at All-State Orchestra (parental brag!  Sorry!  Couldn’t help myself!).  I tell you, the Old Folks are in various states of physical or mental disrepair.  They would be worse off if they weren’t at the Home, so I’m grateful that they are able to live there.

I also used those three days as a vacation from nagging my Youngest Daughter.  I did not ask if she did her homework, did not find out if she got up on time, did not remind her to do her practicing and (this is the hardest one for me) did not quiz her about whether she brushed her teeth.  We both survived.  (The jury is still out on whether this vacation from nagging was good for her teeth.)

That’s all I got right now.  Just placing my dreams and concerns on that table of blessing.  I wish for all of you comfort and hope, courage and renewal, and peace.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's a Wrap

When the egg carton looks like this, it’s time for Passover to be over.

And it is, for now.  Next year, in Jerusalem?

Things I learned during this Passover:

For Easter, Jesus did all the hard work.  For Passover, the women do all the hard work.

It is possible to make it through Passover without making a sponge cake.  Whether my husband will enjoy such a Passover is another question.

Regular matzo is the Bread of Affliction for those with a wheat gluten allergy.  And gluten-free matzo doesn’t come cheap.  For the second night of Passover, we visited friends who follow a gluten-free diet.  At one point in the seder, our friends’ teenaged son was reading the haggadah:  “This is the bread of poverty.... which costs $32 a box.”   

For some people, Passover lasts 7 days. 

According to my mother-in-law, “If you make the Passover brownies without the oil, you will lose weight.”

Some photos from the second seder:
The antidote to too much matzo.  Yum!

Second Seder

I love this solution to finding a lamb shankbone!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bagels ARE for Passover

During Passover, one of the most popular foods in the Common Household is “Passover Bagel #1.”  This is what it is called in my self-compiled Passover recipe book.  Of course, there is plenty of matzo around the house, but we much prefer Passover bagels to the Bread of Affliction.

Despite the fact that I had already made two batches of bagels, and one family member is away at college, we were running low tonight.  Hence this post- dinner conversation:

Me:  I think I’d better make another batch of Passover bagels.

Husband, sounding a bit like The People in Numbers Chapter 11:  Can’t you make something different?  Like... Passover scones?  Or how about those other things that you get at Starbucks to dip in your coffee?

Son, with hope:  Doughnuts?  Passover doughnuts? 
(Well, why not.  If there are Passover bagels, why not Passover doughnuts?)

Me: Crumpets?

Husband: No, no, no.  You dip them.  They are usually stale.

Me:  Baguettes?

Husband:  No, it’s like biscotti.  Mandelbread!  Why don’t you make Passover Mandelbread?!

Me: No.  Youngest Daughter has to bring her lunch to school for the next two days because she is going on field trips both days.  So she needs Passover bagels to make into sandwiches.

Son, trying to be helpful:  Mom, maybe next year you should make some Passover food ahead of time.

Me, trying not to grind my teeth:  What do you think I was doing for three solid days before Passover?

Husband:  You know, in the Hanukkah story, the Passover food lasted for eight days!  It was a miracle.

Me:  There are only three Passover bagels left.

Son:  Oooh!  Can I have one?

* * * * *

Meanwhile, where is Youngest Daughter?  Asleep. She slept through dinner. I am wondering if she is going to any field trips at all – perhaps she is coming down with an illness.  But just in case, I made another batch of Passover bagels.

A note about the ingredients:  For several years I could not find potato starch in our grocery store, so a few years ago I ordered some online!  I’m now on my last canister of it, but this year they did sell it here. It’s also very hard to find matzo cake meal (which is more finely ground than matzo meal).  I’m on my last canister of that, too.

We are doing our best to keep Manischewitz in business.

Passover Bagel #1
Makes about 1 dozen small bagels.  15-20 min to prepare.  1 hour to bake.

1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup matzo cake meal
1/2 cup potato starch
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium-sized saucepan, bring oil, water, sugar, and salt to a boil.  Remove from heat. While still hot, add cake meal and potato starch, stirring until smooth.  Cool (about 5 minutes).  Add eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. 

Drop on greased cookie sheet with a tablespoon or moisten hands and shape into bagel.  Poke hole in center.  Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes; lower heat to 325 degrees and bake about 30 minutes more.

The batter has the consistency of oobleck.

It helps if you wet your hands frequently.  Don't pick up the phone in the middle of this process.
You can poke the holes with the end of a wooden spoon.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Dinner - A Good Square Meal

Happy Easter!

I went to the sunrise service at my church yesterday. It's been a long time since I was able to do this.  It was a gift from God.  The weather was chilly but sunny, and warmth was added by cheerful friends, great music, and the promise of new life that Easter holds.  It's not often we get to hold a worship service outside, and not often we are together at that time of the day.  Thank you, worship leaders and musicians!

The apartment building opposite the church patio, complete with sun rising over the trees.
And then after the service - breakfast!  Thanks to some marvelously industrious folks who got up a lot earlier than I did, we had egg-sausage casserole, fruit compote, ham, and muffins. Plus the theologically-required coffee and tea.  Thank you, cooks!  I enjoyed it immensely.

In fact, it's been practically non-stop eating since Friday.  Saturday evening we went to a second Passover seder at a friend's house.  Yum! Sunday night for our Easter Dinner it was a big change from last year.  No Passover Ham this time.  Instead we had leftover beef brisket from Friday and some newly cooked food.  Looking at the dinner, I discovered an interesting geometric theme.  

Potato kugel
Apple Matzo kugel


Apple Matzo Kugel squares

Potato kugel squares

Passover Lemon Squares

The Easter Dinner table.  Much less fancy than the past two nights!
And now I won't be cooking anything, no matter what shape it is, for several days.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Calendar Paradox

Tonight, Jews celebrate the joyous feast of Passover on the same night as Christians commemorate the death of Jesus.  According to my calendar research, the last time this occurred was in 1998.

This leads me to ask, how can I experience the pain and sorrow of the crucifixion at the same time as I am laughing and singing with my Jewish family, as we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt?  Truth be told, these two particular events are connected.  Jesus was a Jew, and his own Passover seder (assuming that’s what the Last Supper was) led directly to the Good Friday cross.  But still, on this particular Friday, with its weight of pain, shame, death, forgiveness, and sadness, how can I sing?

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down;
      there we wept when we remembered Zion.
On the willows near by
      we hung up our harps.
Those who captured us told us to sing;
      they told us to entertain them:
Sing us a song about Zion.
How can we sing a song to the Lord
      in a foreign land?

If things were fair, we’d be able to concentrate on one thing at a time, to devote ourselves to one emotion, to focus on the retelling of each event on its own.  Ecclesiastes tells us that there is
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
neglecting to mention that those times often come at the same moment!  But I’ve found that there often isn’t time to wallow in one feeling or another.  Certainly not if there are children involved.  So I’m trying to remind myself that God is there at each moment, even if I’m weeping and laughing at the same time. 

For some odd reason, these two remembrances occur this year on the same night as baseball’s opening night.  I’m not a rabid fan, but I have been known to enjoy a baseball game now and then.  Today, half of me says, “Go away, baseball, it’s already too busy tonight.”  But the other half of me says, “Play ball!” The third half of me knows that I have to go cook the carrots for tonight’s seder. The fourth half of me is going to the piano play Lenten hymns for half an hour.  But not before asking what you, Dear Reader, will be doing tonight.  Is it just an ordinary Friday for you?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Do Your Balls Measure Up?

Proverb:  The wise person remembers that it is impossible to please everyone; the fool only makes one size of matzo balls. 

During the Passover seder, it is traditional to ask four questions (really, it’s one question and four answers).  But before we even get that far, there are at least four questions that the cook must ask, regarding the holy and ageless issue of The Making of the Matzo Balls:

            1. Dense or fluffy?

            2. Cooked in the soup or boiled separately?

            3. From a mix or from scratch?

And most importantly:
            4. Small or large?

My answers are 1) fluffy; 2) separately, and 3) from a mix.  But I am always in a quandary about the size of the balls. Last fall, as part of our pre-fast meal on the eve of Yom Kippur, I made chicken soup with matzo balls.  Remembering my mother-in-law's comments about my matzo balls the previous year, I decided this time to make the matzo balls into a variety of sizes. 

A lot of food shrinks when cooked, but matzo balls expand.  So if my smallest raw matzo ball was ½ inch in diameter, it would be about ¾ inch when cooked.  To put it scientifically, the raw matzo balls displayed here would range from 0.75 to 1.875 inches in diameter when cooked.  

We are at dinner, and I am serving the soup from the kitchen.  I ask my mother-in-law, “What size matzo ball would you like – small, medium, or large?”  She replies, “Small.”  I serve her the smallest one.  She says, “What’s this?  Is this all the matzo ball I get?”  Husband says, “Ma, you asked for small.  You got small.”

This is probably the same reaction the Israelites had when they left Egypt and started their long trek in the wilderness.  The Israelites said, “Is this all we get?”  And Moses said unto them, “You asked for freedom.  You got freedom.  Start walking.” 

This year I have gained a freedom of my own – my mother-in-law will not be attending our seder.   So I guess our balls can be any size we like.