Right now we’re in the middle of “The 9 Days”- the saddest time in Jewish history. From the first of the Jewish month of Av until the 9th is a period of semi-mourning where, among other things, eating meat is not permitted except for Shabbos. The 9th of Av is the date that the Great Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed- both times, it happened on the same Jewish date. A few other sad things in Jewish history happened on this date as well. The 9th itself is a fast day; no eating or drinking anything from sundown the night before until nightfall of that day.
My kids don’t seem to mind the lack of meat for dinner. Jack (type B ) is always perfectly happy to subsist on grains and dairy- the challenge is to get him to eat fruits and veggies. Hannah usually feels better with meat for dinner, but has been doing perfectly fine with eggs, fish, and dairy. She just needs to make sure she gets enough vegetables and protein, and she doesn’t have any noticeable reactions to “avoid” dairy products.
As an O nonnie, I need a lot of animal protein to maintain normal function. While I do well on fish and eggs, I also need red meat to feel my best. Needless to say, I haven’t been feeling my best this week. I made sure to eat meat every day the prior week, and less fish than usual, to help prepare me for a week without red meat or poultry. But I still couldn’t feel satisfied on the first “meatless day” until I ate some cheese, which I’m not supposed to be eating. Too much cheese makes me stuffed up and it can also make me irritable.
After the first day sent me reaching for “avoid” cheeses such as mozzarella and Muenster, I began eating chevre BEFORE the cravings got the better of me. Chevre isn’t listed on my SWAMI at all. I could say “It’s an avoid for O nonnies, and I’m an O nonnie, so it’s an avoid for me.” Indeed, that’s the stance I take most of the year. But goat dairy has always been easier on my system than cow dairy, so I figured it’s my best bet right now. I then decided to look up how chevre is made, and compare that to the cheeses on my neutral and beneficial lists. It’s cultured and then strained, not cooked, making it closer to quark cheese than any other cheese on my dairy list. Quark is a “beneficial” food for me. If the cheese is cultured, strained, then cooked in any way, it would make the chevre more like cottage cheese, which is neutral.
I’m still not sure how I feel about consuming chevre on a regular basis, but for this week, I think it’s my best choice. Remaining unsatisfied isn’t a realistic option either. I’m feeling stuffed up right now, but I don’t know if that’s from the chevre or a continued reaction from the cow’s milk cheeses I ate a few days ago.
For Shabbos, when meat consumption is permitted, I plan to eat meat for most, if not all, of my meals. Normally we make fish and salad for Saturday’s lunch, but this week we’re serving cold cuts with the salads instead. I’m not doing this to be hedonistic or to have a “meat fest” which would be inappropriate at this time of year; I’m simply making enjoyable Shabbos food while also ensuring that I nourish my body with what it needs to make it through the rest of the week, including the upcoming fast.
June was a busy month for us. Leah graduated from high school, as did many of her friends. There were also numerous weddings this month as well- mostly young women a few years older than my daughters whom they know from camp or their youth group- most of these girls were their counselors and mentors, not their peers. Only the girls were invited to the weddings of acquaintances; not the whole family. But one of Leah’s closest friends also got married this month- a girl I knew from the time she was about 13. All 5 of us were invited to this wedding. I can’t believe I’m old enough for my daughters’ friends to be getting married!
The wedding was scheduled for the exact day and time of Leah’s graduation ceremony. After much soul-searching, Leah chose to go to the wedding rather than graduation, so we celebrated her graduation with extended family the Sunday before. Her aunts paid for us to go to a kosher restaurant, and we selected a restaurant that served Middle Eastern food. There were a few salads, several kinds of flavored rice, and we selected kebob trays, family style. Nobody really wanted chicken, which isn’t a good choice for the Bs at the table anyway. So we got lamb, salmon, and two kinds of beef. I tasted everything but the pita bread, and everything was delicious. I’m sure it wasn’t 100% compliant, but it was a very enjoyable afternoon out, and I can afford to eat imperfectly once or twice a year. I’m not likely to eat in another restaurant until we do this again next year for Hannah’s graduation.
Three days later was the wedding. Most of the day was spent getting ready. Hannah had to finish crocheting her gift (bride and groom penguins.) Jack still had school most of the day, and then he had to see if any of the hand-me-down suits actually fit. Leah spent the day preparing little surprises/gag gifts for the bride, to be presented during the dancing. Some of the bride’s other friends presented some silly things to the bride as well. I had to do pick up the veggies from the CSA and then their father from the train station. Things ended up quite stressful the last hour or so before we left. I had to rush my clothing and makeup, and ended up wrapping my own gift to the bride on the car ride there!
All that stress was forgotten once we were there. I ate before heading out to the wedding and packed almonds in my purse, but I managed to find enough safe food to eat that I didn’t touch the almonds at all. Jack had about 7 cups of soda during the evening, but I drank only seltzer and water. I could have had red wine, but found I really didn’t want any. I was too busy dancing to care about much of anything else. We all had a wonderful time- probably a lot more fun than we would have had at the graduation ceremony! It took us all of the next day to recover, and I let Jack miss school the following day. But it was well worth it!
This year, my family joined a CSA- Community Supported Agriculture. In the beginning of the season, we bought a “farm share”, and every week I get to pick up a box of farm-fresh produce. If the harvests are especially good, we’ll get more produce each week. If the harvests are only so-so, we get less produce in the box. We don’t pay extra for the good harvests, nor do we get a refund for the poorer harvests. We’re investing in the farm.
The one we joined comes to about $20 a week and runs for 26 weeks. The farm itself is 50 miles away from us, but the pickup location is only 5 miles away. I pick it up on Wednesday afternoons, and the food is harvested on Wednesday morning- the shares vary slightly for those who pick up on other days of the week, depending on what’s ready that day. The farm sends out emails to tell us what’s in the box each week, so we can do menu planning.
I’m hoping that having fresh produce in the house will encourage my kids to eat more veggies. Jack enjoyed the kale chips I made last week with half the kale we got in the box- I plan to make another batch later today with the rest of it. We also got bok choy in the last box, which I used to make stir-fries. Hannah REALLY enjoyed those stir-fries. I’ll probably make something similar for her with whatever greens we get in this week’s box, as bok choy isn’t in this week’s portion.
The only disadvantage of the CSA is that I have less control over which veggies enter my house. I don’t normally buy bok choy because it’s a “black dot” for me, but I had some this week anyway. It’s organic, grown less than 100 miles from my house, and in limited quantity. I’m going to enjoy it. I even ate one strawberry, even though those are an “avoid” for me. But my kids ate most of both of those. Later in the year, we’ll be getting in things like cabbage and cauliflower, which are “avoids” for me but neutral or beneficial for Jack. I’ll certainly encourage him to eat lots of those foods when we get them- which will be a definite advantage to having this “forced variety” of foods in the house.
A few weeks ago, when I mentioned that the CSA was going to be starting soon, Jack thought it stood for Community Supported Awesomeness. I think he’s right.
I bought a new food processor on Monday. Tuesday morning, I decided I wanted to use the new machine to make muffins. I peeled some pears and mashed them with a fork. They were quite watery, so I added some chia seeds to thicken the mixture. I used 1 tablespoon of chia seeds for 4 small over-ripe pears. I let that thicken while I brought the new food processor in from the car and figured out how to use it. The mixture probably sat about an hour.
I made the banana muffins first, so the chia mixture could thicken longer. I put two over-ripe bananas into the bowl of the food processor, added 2 eggs, and blended. Then I added about ¼ cup of carob powder and 1 teaspoon baking soda and blended again. Then I added a cup of almond meal- a little at a time, blending after each addition. Then I made the pear muffins: First I blended the pear/chia mixture smooth, then added eggs and almond meal, blending after each addition.
This was enough for 6 of each kind of muffin. The texture with the food processor was MUCH smoother than the ones I’d mashed by hand, even smoother than the ones I’d mixed with the electric mixer. Plus adding baking soda helped them get much fluffier- I could have done that on Passover, but I simply didn’t think of it.
Today I made hummus. I’ve been buying ready-made hummus for most of the school year, for my kids to pack in lunches. Hannah literally packs this daily. She’s a creature of habit, and gets annoyed when I change brands. I’ve been hesitant to try making it at home when she likes the ready-made one, but then I realized this is better. I’ll no longer be at the mercy of “what Costco has in stock today.” Nor will I have to compromise on the purity of the ingredients. I can keep making it the exact same way, every time, and she’ll know what to expect.
I wasn’t able to get to the store today to buy anything, as Jack is home sick today. I’d already bought chickpeas earlier in the week, and I soaked them yesterday afternoon and cooked them in the crock pot overnight. I’d forgotten to buy tahini, but I had about ¼ cup of sesame seeds in the spice cabinet. I blended those in the coffee grinder, and then put them in the food processor with lemon juice and spices, as suggested in a recipe I found online. The only glitch was trying to figure out how much home-cooked chick peas were equal to “1 15 ounce can.” I started with a cup, but the hummus was too watery and too spicy. So I added a little more at a time, and ended up using 2 cups total. There were still over 4 cups of chickpeas left, so I froze them in 2 cup portions. It would have been easier to make 3 batches of hummus and freeze it ready-made, but I’m out of sesame seeds. Besides, this way Hannah can comment on the hummus and I can adjust the spices in subsequent batches if needed. I now know that 1 pound of dried chickpeas makes 3 batches of hummus.
My next project is crackers. I made some before Passover, but it was a hassle in my mini-food processor. Besides, the mini food processor is “meaty” since I’ve used it to make chopped liver in the past. This means that any crackers made with that machine cannot be eaten with dairy products. What good are crackers if they can’t be enjoyed with goat cheese? I’m keeping the new machine pareve (neutral) so they can be eaten with anything. I have rice and quinoa cooking in the oven now, and I’ll either make the crackers later today or tomorrow.
During Passover, I have limited ingredients to work with. Rice flour is not permitted to Ashkenazi Jews, and many things that are theoretically acceptable for Passover use are not available with reliable certification. I’ve never been able to find agave or molasses for Passover, so I do allow myself small amounts of honey.
There are certain techniques for baking during Passover that most kosher cooks are familiar with. Even for those without health-related dietary restrictions, Passover cooking is different. Matzah meal can be used in baking, but it won’t act like regular wheat flour. Gluten gives baked goods a nice texture, as it stretches out and holds the dough together before baking. But when you’ve got gluten that’s already been mixed with water and baked before being crumbled and used as a cooking ingredient, it doesn’t have those dough-smoothing properties. While just as hard on your body, the gluten is useless from a baking perspective.
Good kosher cooks have learned how to compensate for the lack of gluten in baking. The most popular technique involves separating eggs. Then you whip up the egg whites in a separate bowl until they’re light and foamy. Meanwhile, the other ingredients (including the egg yolks) get mixed in another bowl. The last step is to gently fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture- if you’re too rough you’ll destroy the fluffiness of the egg whites- and then spoon the batter into prepared baking dishes.
I used this technique to make some banana muffins over Passover. I started by mashing a few over-ripe bananas. Then I added the egg yolks to the mixture while putting the egg whites in another bowl. I also added the pulp from the almond milk I’d made earlier in the week. I added some lemon juice and salt to the egg whites and whipped them up. When they were stiff, I blended together the ingredients in the other bowl. It didn’t seem sweet enough, so I added a little bit of honey to the batter. Then I folded in the egg whites and put it into the muffin papers. I’d prepared 12 muffin papers in my 2 foil cupcake tins, and then realized I’d made too much batter for 12 muffins. I was afraid to keep the batter out too long, in case it fell and the texture was ruined, so I put more muffin papers into a rectangular foil pan. The muffins weren’t as round, but it worked fine. The end result was SO light and fluffy that I wondered if they would have come out better without separating the eggs.
I made more banana muffins later in the week. I didn’t have any more almond pulp, and didn’t need to make any more almond milk, so I used ground almonds instead. This batch didn’t need added honey and overall had a better flavor.
I baked a chocolate cake loosely based on a recipe I found in a kosher cookbook. I did the egg-white thing, mixing a few whole eggs into the egg yolk mixture because the yolks broke when I tried to separate them. I also added brown sugar, vanilla, and cocoa powder. I used some oil and tapioca starch to “grease and flour” the cake pan, and mixed the extra bit of tapioca starch into the batter- probably about a tablespoon total, maybe two. The cocoa powder and dry sugar provided most of the bulk for the cake. That came out light and fluffy and delicious.
I tried to bake a honey cake using the tapioca starch for solidity, and only honey for the sweetener so it would be free of refined sugars. It came out horrible- the edges were too dry and crumbly, and the center was gooey like a pudding. Basically, the batter separated before it could solidify, and the texture was awful. I ended up throwing it out. I guess Passover cakes need something more solid than starch to hold them together- the solid sugar helps provide some texture. A cake made with only honey for sweetness would need nut flour to hold it together.
I baked some more almond meal muffins today, even though Passover is over. I started with an overripe pear- I peeled it then mashed it with a fork and added egg yolks. I beat the egg whites until stiff in another bowl, then blended the pear/egg mixture, then added some almond meal until the texture looked right. It seemed kind of watery- I guess pears are more watery than bananas- so I added a little rice flour too. I folded in the egg whites and put into prepared muffin tins.
But I’d prepared 12 muffin tins and only had enough batter for 6 muffins. So I made more muffin batter. This time I mashed up a ripe banana, and I was too lazy to separate out the eggs so I whipped up the banana with whole eggs until fluffy. Then I added the almond meal and put into muffin tins to bake. I didn’t use any added sweeteners in either of today’s muffins.
The banana muffins came out good even without separating the eggs- though they’re denser than the pear muffins. I still haven’t decided if I’ll bother separating eggs when I make muffins again.