Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Yeast of Eatin'

Top of the evening everyone.

When I was still in Seminary, I started to bake my own hallah. It took a long time to find the right recipe, and then to find the next right recipe. During that time, I switched from using sugar to using honey. We added in a white whole wheat flour that I cannot buy in Canada. Instead of sesame or poppy seeds, I will often use sunflower seeds or sprinkles on the top. Jennifer likes raisins. I prefer dates. Lately, we have not been using either.

Three family stories come to mind. The first took place when we were in Hawaii. I had baked hallah for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and Holiday for you non-Hebrew speakers out there). I had put them out to cool a little bit on the counter. I then made the mistake of leaving the kitchen. I walked back in a few minutes later. Jesse was sitting on the floor with a half-eaten loaf of bread in his lap and another in his hands. This was one of many instances where I really wanted to give him away.

The second story involves Gavriel. When we lived in New York, I had a busy Friday and could not bake for Shabbat. I ran out to one of the kosher bakeries. It was late, so the stock was limited. I grabbed, amongst others, a round loaf made with balls of dough, designed to be pulled apart. When I brought it home, Gavi looked at it and said "it's a cupcake hallah." That created an instant family tradition. We bake one like that for every Shabbat.

The third story occurred when I was out of town. Jennifer did not really bake the hallah. She went to a bakery. The kids yelled at her. This was six years ago, and we have not gone without baking since.

There is some rabbinic debate as to when Shabbat begins. Is it sundown? Is it 18 minutes prior to sundown? Is it at certain points in the liturgy? The answer to all of those questions is a resounding 'no.' Shabbat begins about 10 minutes after putting the hallah in the oven. That is when the smell starts to waft through the house.

When we moved to Toronto, I got a new recipe from a congregant. I have doctored it a little. What has been a real delight here is how many of my colleagues, friends, and congregants bake. Off the top of my head, I can come up with eight or nine families who bake hallah for every Shabbat. We are all very proud of our bread. On those occasions when we have the pleasure of doing Shabbat together, we ask very carefully about whether or not we can bring a loaf of hallah into someone else's home.

To my chagrin, Jennifer does more of the hallah baking now. My schedule allows for it, but she gets to it faster.

My recipe:

1.5 cups of water
3 eggs
2.5 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup of honey (different honeys will yield different flavours) Use the same measuring cup, but measure the oil first. It will help the honey come right out of the cup.
5 2/3 cups of flour
1 tbsp gluten (not crucial, but it adds protein and texture)
3.5 tsps of yeast

Put all ingredients into the bread machine on the dough cycle. Turn on the machine. Come back in 90 minutes.

Sprinkle some corn meal on whatever your chosen baking sheet is. Shape bread however you like it. If you wish to have raisins, now is the time to add them. I recommend soaking them for a couple of hours in rum. Drink the rum. Crack open an egg. Add a sprinkle of salt. Scramble. Paint the hallah.

Let rise until doubled in size (75 minutes or so). Preheat oven to 350. Bake bread for 28-30 minutes. When it sounds hollow on the bottom, it is finished. If you look in between the braids or balls of dough, it should look like light brown toast.

Mine bakes better on the bottom shelf of the oven. The recipe yields four loaves of bread.

Go to sleep.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Tail of Two Kitties

We have two cats.

Our younger cat is Gandalf. He is mostly grey, with a little white ring around his tail. Gandalf is large. He is probably a tad overweight, but is a big boy in any event. He likes to have me pick him up. He lays himself across my shoulder, and is content to be held like that for hours. He usually sleeps with Keren, but has been known to be in any of the beds throughout any given evening (what a floozy). In the morning, he goes room to room with me to help wake everyone up for school.

Then there is Nora. She is about seven years old. Nora is black and white. She is named after a friend of Keren's from junior kindergarten. Nora is graceful. She will often jump up to the banister at the top of the steps and relax there.

We put up a new fence last year. Now, when we are outside, we let the cats come out in the backyard with us. The fence is six feet tall.

Last summer, we failed to fill in carefully around the base of the fence. I found Gandalf happily exploring the neighbour's garage. I filled in the hole. We have had no problems. He is simply too large to consider the rather substantial jump. I thought it was also too high for Nora. It would appear I was wrong.

Today, we had a problem. Nora is graceful, as I mentioned. Nora can jump. Nora was walking along the top of the fence. Then she jumped into our backyard neighbour's yard. I went around. As I caught her, she was getting ready to jump from the ground up to the fence to go back home. I put her up. She jumped down on the other side.

This will make cat ownership more challenging. It will be too difficult to keep an eye on her if we are actually working in the backyard. On the other hand, big Gandalf should not have to suffer being stuck in the house just because his friend is a little too light on her feet.

This is naturally giving me paws for concern.

Good night everyone.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"They Like Me. They Really Like Me."

You are all familiar with that quote. I am having that moment right now. It is because of all of you.

You will all remember that I noted a few weeks back that I had finally gotten to 20 followers. Wow.

I just learned that I can view all of my statistics on this blog. This obviously does not include any of my grades from high school.

Since I started this blog, 8,599 people have viewed it. That is shocking to me. Those people have come from four continents. Countries represented include Canada, the United States, Russia, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Holland, Malaysia, Australia, and Barbados. 12 people have viewed the blog from Malaysia.

The most popular blog entry is my "Rules of Marriage," with 190 visits. That was posted 11 January 2011.

Thank you all.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Difference between a Teenager and a Vacuum

Hi all...

It is amazing to witness.

The other morning, I was trying to put lunches together for the kids to take to school. Gavi and Keren presented no problem. Of late, I have been giving Jesse yogurt, cheese sticks, and some fruit. It is probably not enough, but he brings home half of it anyway. I searched all of the logical places. There was no yogurt. Odd...there had been yogurt the night before.

So I asked Jesse. Did he answer me? No. He gave me a sheepish grin. This grin translates into Latin as 'mea culpa'.

Ok...scramble...find lunch...send kids to school.

Yesterday, he came out on the deck with six little containers of yogurt. This was a snack. To my surprise, he only ate four, with some tortillas and jelly on the side.

A bag of cheese sticks might also make a meal for him.

We never know anymore what exactly will be in the refrigerator from day to day, and from evening to morning.

And the difference between a teenager and the vacuum cleaner? On Shabbat, the vacuum cleaner does not get used.

Have a good evening everyone.