Category Archives: spring

Spring supper (or breakfast)–with asparagus

IT WAS NEARLY DINNER TIME and I had just decided what to have. Asparagus with baked or fried eggs, a few roasted potatoes and some buttered toast. That sounded about perfect, as I had just bought some nice asparagus the day before.

asparagus in jar

My daughter taught me you could put asparagus in a glass or jar with cold water and it would keep really well. And in the meantime, it looks good too.

Asparagus and eggs seems like a natural combination. Nutritionists go back and forth about whether eggs are good for you or not. But in any case, one egg won’t kill you. I remembered that I once wrote a blog post about this dish, so I looked it up. Yes, it’s funny that I had to consult my own blog — but when you think about it, it’s just like consulting all those little recipe cards I’ve kept over the years.

The original inspiration for the dish came from something I’d read that had baked eggs on top of steamed asparagus. I never did find the recipe I was looking for, (though I later saw a similar recipe for asparagus with eggs that was called “Asparagus Milanese.”) — but I ended up making a variation with roasted potatoes and asparagus.

Here’s how it went: I cut up a few Yukon Gold potatoes and half an onion, tossed them in a tablespoon or two of olive oil and some salt and pepper and put them on a cookie sheet in the oven (400 degrees) to roast……

After about 15 minutes or so (20?) I tossed some asparagus on top of the potatoes (I also drizzled a little oil over them, and sprinkled on some salt) and then, after those were mostly done — the timing so far doesn’t need to be really precise–I cracked open an egg and carefully let it sink over the asparagus (if I’d had the asparagus a little flatter, the egg might have looked even better.) The original recipe called for one egg for each person, by the way.  I just kept checking to see if the egg was as done as I like it, the yolk still a little runny (but not so much. It’s hard to order an egg like this in a cafe, by the way. You have to say “over medium — plus a little more). A guideline for the eggs is somewhere between 8 and 12 minutes.

In the last minute or so, I sprinkled on just a tiny bit of  grated cheese. Parmeggiano, Romano, pecorino or sharp cheddar — any of these would do.  Or skip it.

asparagus and eggs

In the original post,  I baked the eggs, but this time I didn’t feel like waiting and checking the oven so often, so I opted to simply fry them in the pan, while I melted a bit of Parmeggiano over the asparagus in the oven.

I had some nice bread to make toast with this tonight, but in my original post I was more ambitious and made biscuits. You might have noticed that I have a lot of posts about biscuits, but just in case you’d like that recipe again and don’t want to search for it, I’ll keep it here as well. Happy asparagus season to you all.

_________________________________

Years ago I wrote about biscuits in an essay called “Still Living with a Biscuit State of Mind.”  (published in Christian Science Monitor). That essay still applies, except I now dispense with the two knives and just use my fingers to “cut,” or more precisely, rub the butter into the flour….

And here’s that biscuit recipe once again:

Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut in four pieces
  • 3/4 cup cold buttermilk

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and soda together in a bowl and cut or rub in the butter until it’s in little pieces. Stir in the buttermilk with a fork until the mixture comes together as a moist, but not sticky dough.

Turn onto a floured board and knead just a couple times (you never want to overwork a baking powder/soda dough). Roll out the dough about 3/4″ thick with a rolling pin (or a wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling pin), cut into biscuit shapes with a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour. You’ll have 10 to 12 biscuits or so. Any leftover dough can be just formed by hand into a little patty (or you can make them all this way).

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, or till they’re golden. The time will vary depending on the size of your biscuit cutter. Serve hot.

Tip: I like to roll out the dough, then fold it in half and roll again. This makes it so the biscuits break open neatly in the middle when you want to put on some butter, jam, honey, etc.

This is my favorite biscuit cutter, which I’ve had for about 100 years. Well, at least 25.

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Filed under baked goods, spring, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables

Edible, tangible memories of Passover

 Matzoh, unleavened bread, is eaten in place of bread during Passover to remind us that Hebrew slaves fled Egypt so quickly that their bread did not have time to rise.

Passover is a holiday full of symbolic foods to help recall the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. It’s a favorite holiday of most Jews, including secular ones, for its meaningful ritual and celebration of spring, life and freedom.  When I think that people have celebrated this holiday in this way for more than 2,000 years, it never fails to move me.

During the seder, a ritual meal, the story of the Exodus is retold using special foods on the seder plate as edible reminders. One of those foods is charoset (you don’t pronounce the “c” but it makes the “h” more guttural), a mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon that is said to represent the mortar the Hebrew slaves used in building structures for their taskmasters in ancient Egypt.

There are actually many varieties of charoset made around the world, some with sugar or honey, some with dates or other dried fruit, some cooked for a long time and some that look a lot more like mortar than my family’s version.

Ours is simple: Just mince apples and walnuts, add some sweet wine (yes, Manischewitz is traditional) and cinnamon.

Making the charoset this morning, I used this old-fashioned nut chopper with a spring, which I use only once a year. Actually there are two choppers, and I think the other, a double handled curving affair works better for the apples, I think. I inherited both from my mother.

Usually, I try to avoid cluttering my kitchen with things I use so seldom, but the nut choppers definitely get a pass. They are tangible reminders of my childhood, when my mother always gave me the pleasurable assignment of chopping the apples and nuts for charoset, using the special nut choppers and a wooden bowl.

How many apples and nuts, how much wine and cinnamon? There is no recipe; just do whatever seems right.

Memories flooded back as I chopped the sweet apples and walnuts with the springy nut chopper, and remembered all the things my parents did to prepare for Passover, as well as all the things they kept that we would use only once a year during the holiday.  Two complete sets of dishes (as they kept kosher and needed separate dishes for the holiday), two sets of silverware, pots and pans — we hauled all of these up from the basement in  a series of orchestrated loads, while my parents taped up the cabinets holding the usual dishes, pots and pans so they would be clearly off limits.

Anything from the rest of the year that had to be used during Passover was “kashered,” a ritual that captured our rapt attention on the night before the holiday. A giant pot, containing the items covered in water, was set in the middle of the kitchen floor, while my father heated a large stone on the kitchen burner until it turned blazing red. Then, handling it with tongs, he dropped it into the water. Sitting at a safe distance on the stairway steps, we watched with fascination as the water erupted into a furiously bubbling boil.

This was my favorite of the Passover plates, with an image of apple pickers!

I think my mother might have gotten these dishes with A & P Grocery store coupons. I used to like to try to count all the apples in the picture before or after eating.

Though I love bread and baked goods (as anyone who has read this blog knows) I enjoy the restrictions of Passover too–and all the edible and tangible memories it brings with it.

For a sweet treat–since one can’t make the usual pies, cakes and cookies–sometimes I make meringues, adding grated orange zest to the recipe below. I also often love making a chocolate nut torte, with no flour — a cake with a great history, which I’ve written about here.

MatzoCrunch

And this year, I am bringing a fruit salad and some non-traditional but very popular matzo-toffee-crunch (click the link for a recipe) for dessert to Seder at a friend’s home.

Whatever you decide to make for Passover, it’s best not to get too stressed about a holiday that celebrates freedom. And I always try to find some calm and quiet moments to contemplate the Passover apple plate, and see if I can count all the apples…..

Note: This post was originally published in 2011 and edited and added to in 2018

Nut-and-chocolate-studded meringues
Makes about 25-30 — you can cut recipe in half if you like

  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into tiny cubes (or use chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and lay a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) atop a cookie sheet, and lightly flour with matzo meal.

  1. Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they form soft peaks; then add 1/2 cup of sugar, beating until whites are very shiny and gradually adding the rest of the sugar in two batches.
  2. Fold in the nuts and the chocolate (and if you like, some grated orange rind), and spoon the mixture in mounds on the baking sheet, using about one tablespoon for each meringue. If you like, place a pecan or other nut half on top of each one (I didn’t do that).
  3. Bake for 30 minutes; then reduce the oven to 250 degrees and bake another 30 minutes until firm and dry and easy to remove. Cool and store in an airtight container. If meringues become sticky, you can re-crisp them in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes.

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Spring is still soup season

THE OTHER DAY IT WAS SO BLUSTERY AND COLD that I decided soup was in order. A nice between-season soup is the leek-potato one, and you can add fresh parsley or other greens to it just before serving to give it a fresher spring flavor. I found that I’d written a blog about it years ago, and it sounded good enough to recycle. It reminded me to sweat those leeks (awful as it sounds)! And though I was lacking stock or broth of any kind, I just used water and it was still just fine. With some bread or popovers, and perhaps a salad — I’d call it a meal fit for the season.

Fresh leeks are a glorious, yet humble, sign of spring. A few years ago, when I was visiting Cathy in California, a neighbor brought over a big bagful of freshly picked leeks, and I set to work on some leek-potato soup.

Most of this work took place around the sink, as leeks like to hold on to dirt in their layers, so they demand a lot of cleaning.  Basically, you cut off the dark green leaves and the root-y bottoms, then run the rest (the white and light green parts) under running water, making sure you clean between the layers. (Alternatively, sometimes  you can find trimmed, cleaned leeks in your grocery store.)

If the leeks are very fat, slice them vertically before cutting your horizontal slices.

I had never been quite happy with the texture of leeks in the soup I’ve made previously, so this time I consulted Cathy’s cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen, and these experts supplied the ultimate tip: sweat the leeks.

It’s not the most attractive term, but basically it means that you saute the slices of leeks in some oil or butter (use your judgement for how much) and then put a lid on top for 15 minutes or so. The leeks continue to cook in their own moisture, and they will become meltingly soft and intense.

Now all you need to do is to add some vegetable or chicken broth, a bay leaf and perhaps some thyme, salt and pepper, and a few potatoes — red or white or Yukon gold — cleaned and cut into about 1/2-inch dice. You can leave the skins on if you like. Cook till the potatoes are soft, then smash some of them against the side of the pot to thicken the soup.

It’s nice left chunky like this, with pieces of potato and leek in your soup bowl, or you can blend some or all of it for a silkier texture. Some minced parsley or other greens, and a dusting of Parmesan, is good just before serving.

I found this advertisement in a store flier. Were the mushrooms leaking out of the strudel?

Do not confuse a leek with a leak. If in doubt, please contact me for proofreading advice.

 

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Filed under fall, Praise for other cooks, soup, spring, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

Almost-summer pleasures

farmersmktLunchSOMETIMES it is refreshing not to cook, but rather to assemble a few choice items together on your plate. Such was this light lunch after a bicycle trip to the local farmers’ market, where we got the fresh snow peas, radishes, cucumber and a loaf of delicious hearty Mountain Rye from Raven Breads. We already had some butter and cheese to complete the late spring/early summer plate. The fresh colors of the peas, cucumber and radishes looked especially attractive, I thought. And it all tasted as fresh and lovely as it looked.

Just in case that lunch seems a little too minimalist, let me assure you that last week I also embraced the late-spring/ almost-summer season more decadently with my usual passion for rhubarb pie. It was  delicious — and all too quickly devoured, before I even thought about getting ice cream to go with it (unnecessary, it turned out).

RhubarbpieTopcrust

FOR THIS PIE, I used the top crust only, cutting the scalloped shapes with my biscuit cutter and roughly twisting strips of dough around the rim. Steve said he didn’t even realize there was no bottom crust! (True, you have to scoop it rather than slice it — but trust me, if you are serving any rhubarb-lovers, they won’t mind.)

The filling: 4 cups of chopped rhubarb, scant 1 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour and some fresh orange zest. Dot with one or two tablespoons of butter before putting on the crust.

As to the crust, I used about 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon of sugar and a little salt, into which I cut 7 tablespoons of cold butter, then just enough ice water with a little bit of apple cider vinegar to hold the dough together. Refrigerate for half an hour, then roll out on lightly floured parchment paper or pastry cloth and cut into shapes or strips.

rosyrhubarb

MY RHUBARB-LOVE was not quite satiated, but I did find more rhubarb at the farmers’ market, and made a simple rhubarb sauce (again with orange zest). A dollop of that sauce with my yogurt is a more modest, but still satisfying, late-spring pleasure!

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Fruit salad, any day

fruit saladEvery year on Mother’s Day, my daughter used to make fruit salad for me. What a treat — the colors and flavors combining in a joyous medley.

This year, she’s far away, but I’ll still be eating fruit salad tomorrow morning. Why not? Who says you have to wait for a holiday or for someone else to make it for you? Fruit salad is great any time — healthful and delicious.

And there are countless variations to suit your taste. I like it with the simplest of dressings — a little lemon juice, some zest and a bit of sugar — or none at all. You can add other flavorings, spices, or vanilla; you can serve with yogurt or sour cream or crème fraiche; you can put nuts or dried fruit in your fruit salad, or whatever you like. 

As spring turns to summer, the choices for fresh ripe fruit increase, of course, but at this time of year I still rely on one of my all-time beloved fruits, the pineapple.  As one of my friends pointed out, if you consider the cost per pound of a pineapple, it is one of the best fruit bargains. (I have written two pineapple posts on this blog — here‘s one of them.)

Happy Fruit Salad Day to you!

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Edible, tangible memories of Passover

 Matzoh, unleavened bread, is eaten in place of bread during Passover to remind us that Hebrew slaves fled Egypt so quickly that their bread did not have time to rise.

Passover is a holiday full of symbolic foods to help recall the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. It’s a favorite holiday of most Jews, including secular ones, for its meaningful ritual and celebration of spring, life and freedom.  When I think that people have celebrated this holiday in this way for more than 2,000 years, it never fails to move me.

During the seder, a ritual meal, the story of the Exodus is retold using special foods on the seder plate as edible reminders. One of those foods is charoset (you don’t pronounce the “c” but it makes the “h” more guttural), a mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon that is said to represent the mortar the Hebrew slaves used in building structures for their taskmasters in ancient Egypt.

There are actually many varieties of charoset made around the world, some with sugar or honey, some with dates or other dried fruit, some cooked for a long time and some that look a lot more like mortar than my family’s version.

Ours is simple: Just mince apples and walnuts, add some sweet wine (yes, Manischewitz is traditional) and cinnamon.

Making the charoset this morning, I used this old-fashioned nut chopper with a spring, which I use only once a year. Actually there are two choppers, and I think the other, a double handled curving affair works better for the apples, I think. I inherited both from my mother.

Usually, I try to avoid cluttering my kitchen with things I use so seldom, but the nut choppers definitely get a pass. They are tangible reminders of my childhood, when my mother always gave me the pleasurable assignment of chopping the apples and nuts for charoset, using the special nut choppers and a wooden bowl.

How many apples and nuts, how much wine and cinnamon? There is no recipe; just do whatever seems right.

Memories flooded back as I chopped the sweet apples and walnuts with the springy nut chopper, and remembered all the things my parents did to prepare for Passover, as well as all the things they kept that we would use only once a year during the holiday.  Two complete sets of dishes (as they kept kosher and needed separate dishes for the holiday), two sets of silverware, pots and pans — we hauled all of these up from the basement in  a series of orchestrated loads, while my parents taped up the cabinets holding the usual dishes, pots and pans so they would be clearly off limits.

Anything from the rest of the year that had to be used during Passover was “kashered,” a ritual that captured our rapt attention on the night before the holiday. A giant pot, containing the items covered in water, was set in the middle of the kitchen floor, while my father heated a large stone on the kitchen burner until it turned blazing red. Then, handling it with tongs, he dropped it into the water. Sitting at a safe distance on the stairway steps, we watched with fascination as the water erupted into a furiously bubbling boil.

This was my favorite of the Passover plates, with an image of apple pickers!

I think my mother might have gotten these dishes with A & P Grocery store coupons. I used to like to try to count all the apples in the picture before or after eating.

Though I love bread and baked goods (as anyone who has read this blog knows) I enjoy the restrictions of Passover too–and all the edible and tangible memories it brings with it.

For a sweet treat–since one can’t make the usual pies, cakes and cookies–sometimes I make meringues, adding grated orange zest to the recipe below. I also often love making a chocolate nut torte, with no flour — a cake with a great history, which I’ve written about here.

MatzoCrunch

And this year, I am bringing a fruit salad and some non-traditional but very popular matzo-toffee-crunch (click the link for a recipe) for dessert to Seder at a friend’s home.

Whatever you decide to make for Passover, it’s best not to get too stressed about a holiday that celebrates freedom. And I always try to find some calm and quiet moments to contemplate the Passover apple plate, and see if I can count all the apples…..

Note: This post was originally published in 2011 and edited and added to in 2018

Nut-and-chocolate-studded meringues
Makes about 25-30 — you can cut recipe in half if you like

  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into tiny cubes (or use chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and lay a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) atop a cookie sheet, and lightly flour with matzo meal.

  1. Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they form soft peaks; then add 1/2 cup of sugar, beating until whites are very shiny and gradually adding the rest of the sugar in two batches.
  2. Fold in the nuts and the chocolate (and if you like, some grated orange rind), and spoon the mixture in mounds on the baking sheet, using about one tablespoon for each meringue. If you like, place a pecan or other nut half on top of each one (I didn’t do that).
  3. Bake for 30 minutes; then reduce the oven to 250 degrees and bake another 30 minutes until firm and dry and easy to remove. Cool and store in an airtight container. If meringues become sticky, you can re-crisp them in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes.

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Eating green

It’s time for a St. Patrick’s Day post — so I’m recycling this one from 7 years ago. I just made my favorite green soup (parsley-potato) and I’m keeping things simple this year, with a toast to my Dad and the idea of America welcoming immigrants!

toby's kitchen notes

My family always celebrates St. Patrick’s Day.

It’s not that our Jewish family has any Irish ancestry. But my father always talked about the “Irish luck” that allowed him to escape Nazi Germany and arrive in the United States on March 17, 1939.

After he’d made the decision to leave–in 1936, when he lost his job after his boss was ordered to dismiss all Jewish employees–it took years and many obstacles before he could obtain a visa to America. By that time, February, 1939, there were no more boats leaving Germany. He packed a few belongings in a brown steamer trunk, said goodbye to his parents and brother, and took a train to Holland.

In early March, he boarded a small ship bound for America.  Because of rough seas, the voyage lasted fourteen days and the ship arrived in New York on March 17, 1939 – St. Patrick’s Day.

A…

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Pie plant season

Just in case you’re lucky enough to have some rhubarb around!

prettyhalfpierrhubarb

After reading my own post below, well, I just had to make my annual rhubarb pie! It’s really a half-pie, or anyway a top-crust only pie, with a little border too.

toby's kitchen notes

rosyrhubarb Thank you, Maggie, for the rhubarb!

It’s the season to celebrate rhubarb once again — and what better way than pie? After all, its nickname is pie plant, and every spring I seem to write about rhubarb pie — so why break the tradition? This time I decided to just take some photos along the way and show you how I spent my Sunday afternoon, along with some simple instructions if you’d like to make a delicious late-spring pie.

chopped rhubarb Chop the rhubarb — you’ll need 4 cups or a little more for a small 8-inch pie — and make enough pie dough for a double crust, pat into two circles and refrigerate for an hour.  Then go for a walk while the dough is chilling.

Sunday afternoon was the perfect time for pie making.

rpie2 To the chopped rhubarb, add a cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, some orange or lemon…

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Edible, tangible memories of Passover

 Matzoh, unleavened bread, is eaten in place of bread during Passover to remind us that Hebrew slaves fled Egypt so quickly that their bread did not have time to rise.

Passover is a holiday full of symbolic foods to help recall the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. It’s a favorite holiday of most Jews, including secular ones, for its meaningful ritual and celebration of spring, life and freedom.  When I think that people have celebrated this holiday in this way for more than 2,000 years, it never fails to move me.

During the seder, a ritual meal, the story of the Exodus is retold using special foods on the seder plate as edible reminders. One of those foods is charoset (you don’t pronounce the “c” but it makes the “h” more guttural), a mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon that is said to represent the mortar the Hebrew slaves used in building structures for their taskmasters in ancient Egypt.

There are actually many varieties of charoset made around the world, some with sugar or honey, some with dates or other dried fruit, some cooked for a long time and some that look a lot more like mortar than my family’s version.

Ours is simple: Just mince apples and walnuts, add some sweet wine (yes, Manischewitz is traditional) and cinnamon.

Making the charoset this morning, I used this old-fashioned nut chopper with a spring, which I use only once a year.

Usually, I try to avoid cluttering my kitchen with things I use so seldom, but the nut chopper definitely gets a pass. It’s a tangible reminder of my childhood, when my mother always gave me the pleasurable assignment of chopping the apples and nuts for charoset, using the special nut chopper and a wooden bowl.

How many apples and nuts, how much wine and cinnamon? There is no recipe; just do whatever seems right.

Memories flooded back as I chopped the sweet apples and walnuts with the springy nut chopper, and remembered all the things my parents did to prepare for Passover, as well as all the things they kept that we would use only once a year during the holiday.  Two complete sets of dishes (as they kept kosher and needed separate dishes for the holiday), two sets of silverware, pots and pans — we hauled all of these up from the basement in  a series of orchestrated loads, while my parents taped up the cabinets holding the usual dishes, pots and pans so they would be clearly off limits.

Anything from the rest of the year that had to be used during Passover was “kashered,” a ritual that captured our rapt attention on the night before the holiday. A giant pot, containing the items covered in water, was set in the middle of the kitchen floor, while my father heated a large stone on the kitchen burner until it turned blazing red. Then, handling it with tongs, he dropped it into the water. Sitting at a safe distance on the stairway steps, we watched with fascination as the water erupted into a furiously bubbling boil.

This was my favorite of the Passover plates, with an image of apple pickers!

I think my mother might have gotten these dishes with A & P Grocery store coupons. I used to like to try to count all the apples in the picture before or after eating.

Though I love bread and baked goods (as anyone who has read this blog knows) I enjoy the restrictions of Passover too–and all the edible and tangible memories it brings with it.

For a sweet treat today–since one can’t make the usual pies, cakes and cookies–I made some meringues, adding grated orange zest to the recipe below.

The meringues are simple, though they take some time to bake. But that just gave me some extra moments to contemplate the Passover apple plate, and see if I could count all the apples…..

Note: This post was originally published in 2011.

Nut-and-chocolate-studded meringues
Makes about 25-30 — you can cut recipe in half if you like

  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into tiny cubes (or use chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and lay a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) atop a cookie sheet, and lightly flour with matzo meal.

  1. Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they form soft peaks; then add 1/2 cup of sugar, beating until whites are very shiny and gradually adding the rest of the sugar in two batches.
  2. Fold in the nuts and the chocolate (and if you like, some grated orange rind), and spoon the mixture in mounds on the baking sheet, using about one tablespoon for each meringue. If you like, place a pecan or other nut half on top of each one (I didn’t do that).
  3. Bake for 30 minutes; then reduce the oven to 250 degrees and bake another 30 minutes until firm and dry and easy to remove. Cool and store in an airtight container. If meringues become sticky, you can re-crisp them in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes.

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Matzo Caffee a la Dad

ON  PASSOVER, WHEN WE’RE FORBIDDEN to eat any of the five grains–wheat, oats spelt, rye, barley — except in the form of matzo,  naturally a number of specific recipes involving matzo developed. I’ve been thinking about all the food traditions I grew up with on this holiday, realizing that I make an effort to keep some of them, fail to keep others and toss some away without regret.

For example, I do make kneidlach (matzo balls) for a chicken or vegetarian soup and matzo brei for a special breakfast, but I don’t make a roasted turkey with my mother’s wonderful matzo-mushroom stuffing. I fail to make an authentic fermented beet borscht as my Baba (my mother’s mother) did — but come to think of it, I don’t remember my mother making this either. Perhaps she made it before I was of an age to remember, and gave it up.  She let Manischewitz handle the borscht-making and served the ruby-colored soup hot or cold, pouring it into bowls in which we’d crumbled matzo pieces and topping it with a dollop of sour cream, great for a Passover lunch.

And despite my fond memories of making sponge cake with my mother for the Seder dinner — besides the matzo meal, nine eggs were required, with silky-beaten yolks and whipped egg whites in the batter, and a frosting of egg whites and honey — I prefer my own custom of making flourless chocolate walnut torte.

One of my favorite Passover matzo traditions  is one that my father introduced,  a simple European treat that he would make nearly every day of the eight-day holiday, starting on the first morning: Matzo Coffee. We knew by its German name, Matzo Kaffee. Or, in a more personal rendition, Matzo Caffee a la Dad.

Matzah Kaffee 1

Passover in Chicago, April 2000. Dad was 89 then.

Dad would break most of a sheet of matzo into his coffee cup, crunching it into small pieces, then adding sugar and milk to the cup.

Matzah Kaffee 2

Finally, he poured hot coffee into the cup, right to the brim.

The result was softened, sweetened matzo floating about in some milky coffee. We made a similar children’s version, Matzo Cocoa, which was simply broken-up matzo pieces covered with hot chocolate. Both Matzo Kaffee and Matzo Cocoa are hybrids of food-and-beverage: you take sips of the coffee or cocoa and spoon out the softened bits of flavored matzo. Mmmmm.

I admit, it’s not for everyone. It has very little nutritional value, and doesn’t hold a candle to a good coffee and buttered toast or a croissant. Most people who didn’t grow up with it look upon it with disdain, as if you had torn up a piece of toast into little pieces and tossed them into a cup of cappuccino.

It’s certainly not an essential food for Passover, but rather a minor tradition, probably born of the monotony of eating dry, unsalted matzo day after day. Whatever others thought, we  loved it and had it (or the cocoa version) often, either for breakfast or for an afternoon snack. Still today, for me the taste and messy consumption of Matzo Caffee ala Dad  carries so many pleasurable associations.

My father — in a play on the word Seder, which means order — insisted there was a also a certain order to be observed when making Matzo Kaffee. On the last Passover of his life, when he was 93, he wrote the instructions for each of us four children in his inimitable handwriting.

Matzah Kaffee order

I love the “WOW!! What a TREAT!!” which captures my Dad’s vitality and almost childlike enthusiasm, while the instruction “Do NOT change order to do it o.k.”  reminds me of the authoritarian side of his character.

Twelve years after he wrote it, this little card is one of my most treasured documents from my father. And, yes, of course, I’m still enjoying that special Passover treat, Matzo Caffee a la Dad.

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