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.
Yesterday, Leah and I did some Passover shopping. The local supermarket has a special “Kosher for Passover” kiosk in the produce department with dried fruits, nuts, macaroons, and candies. When I was there buying nuts and dried fruits, they had a plate of free samples.
On that plate, they had some chocolate covered jelly rings, cut in half. Those used to be one of my favorites as a child, though I haven’t eaten them in years. I cut all artificial colors out of our diets 9 years ago when I put Hannah on the Feingold diet to control her ADD symptoms. Then, of course, I haven’t eaten much sugar since starting BTD. There’s simply no way I would even consider buying these jelly rings- there are just too many reasons my family shouldn’t be eating them.
However, the candy sitting on the plate was tempting. How much harm can half a candy really do? I took a piece as I walked away with my purchases.
It tasted NASTY!!! The flavor reminded me of cough syrup, not happy childhood memories. There I was, walking through the produce department, not sure what to do with 3/8 of a candy in my hand, since I didn’t want another bite! Leah took a small bite and fully agreed with my assessment of the flavor. Eventually we found a trash can and threw the rest of it away.
I don’t think I’ll ever be tempted by another jelly ring! The stuff we make at home is so much better!
Most people are familiar with the basic concepts of eating matzah instead of bread at Passover time. This is to remind us of what the Israelites ate during the Exodus from Egypt. They left in a hurry and had to prepare food for the journey. There wasn’t time to let the dough rise before cooking, so flatbreads were baked instead. G-d then commanded us to keep a week-long festival and not to have any chametz (leaven) during that time. The first and last days are “Yom Tov” which literally means “good days”, but has a specific meaning in Jewish law. It’s almost like the Sabbath days, but the rules aren’t quite as strict.
Matzah has several Mitzvot (commandments) associated with it. There is a special Mitzvah (commandment) to eat matzah at the Passover Seders, on the first 2 nights of Passover. There is also a Mitzvah to have “bread” at Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. Since the only “bread” we can have this week is matzah, this means that matzah must also be eaten at other festive meals during the week. That leaves the daytime meals for the first 2 days of Passover, the Shabbos meals on Friday night and Saturday, and the evening and daytime meals for the last two days of Passover, when it’s Yom Tov again.
In order for a baked product to be considered Matzah, it must be made of only flour and water; no other additives. The flour must come from one or more of the following five grains: wheat, spelt, barley, rye, and oats. Wheat matzah is the easiest to find and the least expensive. I just got a 5 pound box of it for free at a local supermarket- that box is going to a friend!
Before I identified my food sensitivities, we always used wheat matzah. When I discovered that I did well on a gluten-free diet, I tried the gluten-free oat matzah, while using the cheap wheat matzah for the rest of the family. I then continued using the oat matzah as my "bread" for Shabbos for several months afterwards. I realized I didn’t feel well during that time, so I stopped eating gluten-free oats of any kind.
After discovering BTD for my family, I switched to spelt matzah for them. I’d also discovered my topical wheat allergy- meaning that I’d get sick from even touching wheat. It’s far easier for me to feed them spelt than it is to wear gloves whenever I clean up the kitchen. That year I also bought rye matzah for myself. I still didn’t know if I was a secretor or a non-secretor, so rye seemed like the safest choice. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the label carefully enough- the “rye matzah” was like most “rye bread” available in stores, just in Passover form. It wasn’t 100% rye matzah, but a mixture of rye and whole wheat! This wasn’t discovered until after I’d eaten some. I figured the damage was already done, so I may as well fulfill the Mitzvot of eating matzah. Needless to say, I got sick that year as well.
Last year, I tried to find 100% rye matzah, but was unsuccessful. I knew that oats and spelt were BOTH avoids, and I’d already tried oat matzah and done poorly on it, so I decided to give spelt matzah a shot. It didn’t go well. My fibromyalgia symptoms returned with a vengeance. I didn’t fulfill the Mitzvot of eating “bread” with meals on the last two days of Yom Tov because the spelt made me too sick at the beginning of the holiday.
This year, I still couldn’t find any 100% rye matzah. The only options were wheat, wheat/rye, spelt, or gluten-free oat. Looking back on the time I ate the oat matzah, I realized my reactions were rather subtle. I noticed that I lacked vitality after several months of eating it, not after only one week. So I ordered a box of oat matzah. If I still get sick from that, I’ll talk to a rabbi about what I should do in the future.
I’m hoping that rye matzah becomes available. If enough Orthodox Jews start following BTD, then there will surely be other O nonnies creating a demand for 100% rye matzah.
This past weekend was the Jewish holiday of Purim, which commemorates a time in Jewish history when our enemies almost annihilated us, but we prevailed. Many of you are probably familiar with the Biblical Book of Esther, which tells the story of Purim. Esther, a Jewish woman, becomes Queen of Persia, but keeps her nationality hidden from the king. Haman, the king’s second-in-command, wants to destroy the entire Jewish people because he hates Mordechai, Esther’s uncle. At just the right moment, Esther reveals her Jewish identity to the king, who then has Haman executed and Mordechai is promoted in his place. The Jews rejoice and proclaim a new holiday.
Purim is celebrated by listening to the Book of Esther read out loud from a kosher scroll. These scrolls are hand-written with quill on parchment, just as they’ve been written for centuries. This is often referred to as “The Megilla Reading” because Megilla is the Hebrew word for “scroll.” Other observances include giving charity, having a festive meal, and giving gifts of food. It’s customary to dress up in costumes for the holiday as well. Many people eat hamentashen for the holiday. These are jam-filled triangular cookies said to be in the shape of Haman’s hat.
While the Mitzvah (commandment) can be fulfilled by giving a gift of 2 kinds of food to one person, it’s become customary to give to all your friends. There were friends in the neighborhood we wanted to give to, and my children wanted to give to some of their classmates and most of their teachers as well. This can get complicated and expensive, so we try to keep it simple.
Hamentashen are traditionally a part of the gift baskets, but the truth is that many people get tired of eating so many of them. We usually make chocolate chip cookies to give out instead. They’re less work to make and much more appreciated. We’ve been giving out popcorn before we started BTD, and we’ve continued to do so. It’s relatively inexpensive and easy to make, and people enjoy receiving it. Of course my kids will eat the leftovers, but Purim only comes once a year and I don’t worry so much about keeping things 100% compliant for this holiday. I need to keep a wheat-free house, but I don’t get sick from touching popcorn. So, rather than tons of candy and store-bought hamentashen, we give out pretty bags with mini chocolate chip cookies and popcorn.
We did make some hamentashen for ourselves. I’d intended to make a batch with rice flour so I could eat a couple, but forgot to buy enough rice flour. The kids made one batch of hamentashen with spelt flour; some filled with chocolate chips and some filled with apricot jam. Since I couldn’t eat the spelt cookies, I put some butter and jam on a rice cake and baked that. It wasn’t hamentashen shaped, but it had all the buttery goodness and baked jam flavor, it was totally compliant for me, and I wasn’t tempted to overeat because I only made one.
After all my careful planning for our own Purim goodies, of course we received many gift bags from our friends as well. Most of these contained things like corn syrup, wheat flour, and artificial colors. Leah brought a lot of candy to school with her the day after Purim, to share with her classmates. Some is in a bag destined for a food pantry. And some we kept, to be doled out slowly over the next few weeks so nobody gets sick from eating too much junk.
It’s my half-birthday today. Interestingly enough, it’s my half-birthday on the Jewish calendar as well. I know that my actual birthday will line up in both calendars every 19 years, but I have no clue how often my half-birthday does! This is truly a momentous occasion!
Or not. I’m forty and a half. I stopped keeping track of those halves when I was about eight, and only picked it up again a few years ago when my kids pointed it out. Is this really a day for celebrations and unhealthy foods?
Last Friday, when I made my little discovery with the calendar, I decided I’d celebrate my half-birthday with a mug of that delicious smelling vanilla-hazelnut coffee I’d bought for my daughter. But then I ended up having a cup on Friday afternoon instead, when she brewed some for herself and I asked her to make some extra for me. I poured in a little coconut milk and completely enjoyed the beverage. It was all natural and chemical free, but it was also 100% avoids. I’m not supposed to have vanilla, hazelnuts, coffee, or coconut milk- but none of those foods are things that REALLY affect me. I still kept away from corn, wheat, milk, and sugar.
Yesterday we were invited to a friends’ house. The kids went sledding in the backyard while I chatted with the adults. Again, I didn’t have anything truly toxic for me, but I didn’t make perfect food choices either. I had things like mandarin orange flavored seltzer- I shouldn’t have oranges and who knows what’s in the “natural flavors”? When we ordered from a pizza place, I got a tuna salad and nibbled a bit of my daughters’ gluten-free pizza. Again, I stayed away from “the biggies” but I don’t know for certain what oils were in the tuna, and I know I ate tomatoes and cucumbers in the salad, along with a little tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese in the bits of pizza.
Between the coffee on Friday, too many carbs all weekend long, and dinner at a friend’s house yesterday, I’ve really had my share of “avoids” for quite some time! I decided that I’ll celebrate my half-birthday by having a 100% compliant day, and I’ll even do a little detox by making it a grain-free and dairy-free day as well. I’m celebrating by taking extra-good care of myself today.