Archive for The Jewish Mother

Happy Hanukkah–The Best Latkes are Your Very Own

A few years ago my friend Shari and I decided to pool our latke-making skills and begin what has become our neighborhood tradition of “Shari and Jane’s Latke Party.” All our friends look forward to this. Having been taught by “the master” (my mom) I thought my latkes were pretty good—potato taste with just the right amount of crisp. What I didn’t expect was that there was an aspect to what made a great latke: it’s even edges.

Shari and Jane Making Latkes

When Shari (in white shirt) came to my house our first year, with her pans of latkes to stick in my large freezer, I was kind of amazed and perplexed. Her latkes definitely were much prettier then mine! I had prided myself on the funky, jagged edges of mine (maybe how I see myself with my funky curly hair? But her hair is even curlier then mine!). Whatever the reason, I took on the challenge to see if I could “clean up” my latkes and see if I could make them prettier. I have succeeded to some extent. Shari taught me that the key is to compress them onto a large spoon and glide them off the spoon into the oil then press them gently. It has definitely made a difference.

But the interesting thing about this is that I realized that we all cook our latkes differently—loose, tight, with sour cream on the side, without, with onion, without, etc. But in the end they are all yummy and do the job. To me, the most important part is that we are making them ourselves, from scratch.

Sherry and her girls

Sherry and her girls; Newly Minted Latke Mavens

Just before Thanksgiving, Sherry (Challah Connection Director of Customer Service) came to work looking forlorn. Her mother in law was visiting and had asked Sherry if she had any jobs for her while Sherry was at work. Sherry asked her if she would make 4 dozen latkes—“No” was the answer (actually—it was a tall order). When I asked Sherry why she was so upset by that, she confessed to me that she had never made latkes and was actually a bit intimidated by the process. I was fairly surprised since she and her daughters are great cooks who make lots of ambitious recipes. I offered my extra large pan and gave her a pep talk: I knew she could do it. Sure enough, Monday after Thanksgiving she came to work with a new confidence about her—her aura was different. She had conquered her latke fear and made 4 dozen perfect latkes!

Harry

Harry--His cooking specialites are eggs and latkes

Tomorrow night, we will be going to my parents’ house for a pre-Hanukkah party while my brother and his 4 kids who live in Israel will be visiting. My 17-year old, Harry, will be manning the latke pan while the rest of us admire his work and pop them in our greedy mouths. Whatever shape your latkes are, I know they will be great and you’ll be so proud that you made them yourself!
Happy frying and here is Shari’s recipe. By the way, we have a perfect apron for the occasion: our chic latke apron.

Latke Apron

Grandma Anne’s Latkes
Simple, but the best traditional latkes. She always threw in a little of this and a little of that, but when pushed for exact quantities, here’s what I got-and they are delicious!
For a crowd-serves about 12
15 big white potatoes of your choice
3 large or 4 medium brown or yellow onions
6 large eggs
1 cup flour or matzo meal
3 tbl salt
1 ½ tbl white pepper
-Peel potatoes and place in cold water to retain color
-Grate onions and potatoes in batches, squeezing out and draining excess water as you go, but don’t take out the water from the last batch
-Add the eggs and mix
-Add flour, salt and pepper and mix well
-To cook the latkes, drop large spoonfuls into a pan of ¼ inch of very hot oil. Using the spoon, quickly and gently press the potato mixture to form a flat oval shape, then loosen from the bottom if it sticks slightly. Turn once, cooking until each side is golden brown. Remove to drain on a baking sheet covered in paper towels
-Serve immediately or keep warm in a 200 degree oven
-To make ahead, freeze latkes in a single layer, then place frozen pancakes in a plastic freezer bag. To reheat, place on a cookie sheet in a single layer and heat for 7 minutes at 375 degrees

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Surviving Chanukah

TBHAN-Large-1

Raising three sons is not unlike living on the Galapagos Islands–you know–where Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest is demonstrated best? Those finches with the really sharp beaks are a whole lot better at cracking open nuts than their round-beaked cousins.

Sometimes the competition to survive in our household was akin to that. Instead of beaks, picture head locks and other wrestling games that required the weakest to scream “uncle” repeatedly.

So I wasn’t all that surprised–even on the day after Thanksgiving –that the usual competitive urges were being demonstrated for my benefit. Now, instead of head locks, there was a bit of verbal jousting going on as we sat around the table eating delicious leftovers. My youngest son Mike rubbed it in to my oldest son Sam that he, Sam wouldn’t be home for the first night of Hanukkah. Sam, Mike explained, would miss out on the following:

1. Mom’s challah stuffing
2. Harry’s crispy Golden Latkes complete with home-made apple sauce and cold, delicious sour cream.
3. Roasted Chicken
4.blue and white cookies.
5. Gelt
6. The first night gift.

“Too bad for you,” Mike said through a mouthful of leftover Thanksgiving turkey. “Aren’t you going to be taking finals that week?”

Sam nodded glumly.

“All the more for me,” Harry chimed in. “Mmmm, I can’t wait to hog down some latkes. Last year I think I set a record.”

My husband Josh said, “I think you made it to 12. It was kind of horrifying to watch.”

“I can’t help it if I appreciate my own cooking,” Harry protested, helping himself to more cranberry sauce.  It was true; Harry had become an expert latke maker, cooking golden brown latkes to perfection in an enormous frying pan given to our family by none other than my mom, Becky Mark.

Sam, 19 years old and usually high up there on the whole Survival of The Fittest thing, was looking pretty upset.

It was time for an intervention.

“Actually, Mike, Harry…I happen to have a lot of great Hanukkah presents for college students. And I’m pretty sure Sam will be getting something in the mail. Cookies to keep his energy up while he studies, plus lots of other goodies to help him celebrate.”

Sam instantly brightened.

“Thanks, Mom.”

I still hadn’t delivered my coup de grace. “And Sam, remember you mentioned your hillel was having a Chanukah party? We’re actually sending blue and white cookies for it. And challah.”

“Cool!”

Mike looked up from his plate. “Mom! There’s not going to be enough left for us.”

I smiled sweetly at him, my round-beaked finch. “Well, Sam is out there on his own. We have to make sure he’s taken care of.”

It was Mike’s turn to look sad.

I relented. “But there are plenty of Chanukah goodies for everyone.”  han56mirlg

It was Westport, after all, not The Galapagos Islands. We could do more than survive Chanukah. We could share the celebration, even hundreds of miles apart.

Happy Chanukah!

Jane

p.s. And sure enough, Sam headed back to college with a carload of challah and blue and white cookies!

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The Original “Green” Mom

Going green is the buzzword of the day.
But I hate to break the news to you. My mother was green long ago…and she didn’t even know it. She called it “cooking.” She’s Old School, where nothing but nothing goes to waste. To understand, you’d need to peek into my mother’s freezer. I once did. Then never again. In there, Mom had orange peels, egg shells, fish heads, chicken…things, bananas beyond the deep brown suitable for banana bread.

Don’t get me wrong. My mother is an intuitive, fabulous cook. Her all American name, Becky Mark, is in contrast to her Sephardic (Mediterranean) roots–half Greek and half Turkish–but her knowledge of spices is proof. Her kitchen is fragrant with spices–turmeric, garlic and onion mingle with cinnamon and mint in heavenly combinations. Invitations to dine at her table are coveted and fiercely lied about among my four siblings.

“What are you doing for dinner on Sunday night?” my sister might ask me on the phone.

“Oh, nothing, maybe some Chinese,” I might reply evasively, trying to cover up the fact that I plan to be gorging myself on one of my Mom’s luscious eggplant lasagna.

I love her cooking now, and I loved in when I was growing up in the 1960s. Every single night my mother served a delicious meal. She went through phases, too. One of my favorite’s was her chicken phase. Just saying the phrase Chicken Marbella (yes, the famous Silver Palate recipe) makes my mouth water, and I will cancel plans if she tells me she’s making Chicken Veronique. She also had a delicious beef phase (Julia Child’s Beef Bourgignon as translated by Mom was to die for) as well as an Italian phase (fresh tomato sauce, herbed meatballs).

I’m grateful to my mother for not just feeding me but teaching my sisters and me how to cook. Of course, none of us approach her mastery, and when she’s cooking, clear out of the kitchen (you wouldn’t ask Einstein to share his chalkboard or Elvis to move off the stage, right?).

Even though one time Josh and I cleaned out her freezer (shudder) when my parents were away, I’m proud of Mom for being able to transform orange peels into duck a la orange, potato peels into steaming broth, and me, a hungry child, into a Mom who can nourish her own family with good food.

Below, Mom has graciously allowed me to share the recipe for her Easy and Delicious Fruit Tart. Enjoy!

Best,

Jane Moritz, Challah Connection Owner

Becky’s Easy and Delicious Fruit Tart

Becky is my Mom, who is a truly excellent baker and cook. Her challah, brisket, bourekas, spanikotopica (she is Sephardic), apple pie and this tart are some of my favorites.

Prepare a 10″ (11″ ok too) pan with removable rim by buttering bottom and sides. Preheat oven to 350.

Peel 4 large apples [about 4 cups or so] or pears or peaches or combination of any fruit you’d normally want to bake. If it’s more than 4 cups it’s okay…

Put in the bowl of a cuisinart:

1/2 stick of unsalted butter

1 cup sugar + 1 cup flour

1 ts baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt

Pulse a few times until it has an oatmeal consistency, then add 1 large egg and pulse to mix.

Dump the entire mixture into the prepared pan and push it around until it covers the bottom of the pan. Now put the fruit on top (if you have the patience you can do a concentric circle, but this is not necessary) and push some of the fruit into the mix.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes

For the topping, which is put on after the tart has baked for 45 minutes, mix in the food processor:

1 egg

1/2 stick of butter

1/3 cup of sugar

1 rounded tsp cinnamon

Bake and additional 1/2 hour.

If you use wet fruit, such as blueberries and peachs, bake a bit longer, especially on the second round.

Copyright 2009, Challah Connection

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Eight Stress Free Nights of Hanukkah

My friend Erica was babbling into the phone.  Something about evil and December and a plot to drive people crazy.

“Erica,” I said. “How many cups of coffee have you had today?”

“Four, but that’s not the point.”

“Okay…well, why did you just say that you loathe the month of December?”

“Because…between my family, and my in-laws, and my office, and my husband’s office, and my kids’ and their friends, and my friends…I just got out a calculator and realized that I have to purchase 64 gifts for Hanukkah this year.”

“Wow.  Well, you don’t have to get really expensive stuff.”

“That’s only one issue.  It’s the combing of websites, it’s the clicking through order forms.  And then I finally order it, and the company wraps it in Christmas paper.  That’s why I’m calling you.  I thought, well, maybe I’ll just ask Challah Connection to send out 64 chocolate babkas.  Or 64 blue and white cookies.”

“Erica, we could do 64 babkas, 64 Hanukkah Candy Platters, whatever you want,” I said. “But don’t you want your gifts to be…you know…unique as the people you’re giving them to?”

“That’s too much to hope for.  Isn’t it?”

“What if I told you that I could send 8 nights of wrapped Chanukah gifts to one address for you and you’d only pay one shipping charge?”
GIFTS1lg

“You have such a service?”

“Yes!”

“It’s a Chanukah miracle.”

“It’s just something Sherry and I thought of to help busy people–like us.”

“But I really only need to do 3 nights for my sister’s kids.”

“No problem.”


“You mean, I don’t have to run out and buy tape and wrapping paper and Hanukkah gelt and a menorah and something nice for my Aunt Betsy like maybe…oh, God, what can I get Aunt Betsy?”

“How about “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking” wrapped and shipped for the first night?”Jewish Holiday Baking

“She’ll love that.”

It was music to my ears.

Here’s to a stress-free Hanukkah!

Best,

Jane

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All I want for Hanukkah is…

Jewish mothers, step right up and be heard if you, like me, suffer from Christmas envy. Come on, you’ve seen the ads on TV at that time of the year. Women in pink robes unwrapping gifts by the fireside, a steaming mug of cocoa nearby. There’s usually a diamond pendant or maybe a really nice cashmere sweater. The music alone on these commercials is enough to make you sob with envy.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for these women, being honored by their families, and celebrating their holiday. Good for them!

It’s just…Hanukkah in my family has always been about the kids. Eight nights times three kids…I don’t need to do the math. I’m pretty sure it’s engraved on my brain. Even if we do simple gifts for seven of those nights, I’ve always wanted to mark each night with something special. For them.

Now, let me just add that I have sons. For those of you with daughters out there, it may be a different story. But for me, there hasn’t really been a Hanukkah where I have sat with a mug of cocoa. It’s more likely that I’ll be standing in with a spatula. Yelling. As in, “How many latkes can one person eat, Harry?”

I have never unwrapped a cashmere sweater under a tree or even nearby my Ficus plant.

Since my boys are now 19, 17, and 13, and since we live in an eco-friendly household where a daily attempt is made to keep trash to a minimum, we don’t really wrap presents anyway.

And over the years, my husband has given me many wonderful presents (thanks, dear!).

So if I don’t want a nice big box covered in wrapping paper, what do I want?

As I am pondering this question, my youngest son Mike comes crashing into the room, home from school. He’s so excited about something I can barely understand what he’s saying. He jumps up and down. Finally he calms down enough so that I can make out what he’s saying.

He got a part in the play.

And I got the answer to my question.

I guess (sigh) that’s what all mothers–Jewish and Christian and Muslim–want. A look of joy on her child’s face.

Hope today brings you and your family some joy,

mike2

Mike, our budding actor, in Anything Goes

Jane

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Necessity is the Mother of Invention…and Our New Get Well Basket

As a Mom to 3 sons, I’ve done my share of taking care of sick kids. From a little case of the sniffles to a full-blown case of chicken pox, my kids have brought out the Florence Nightingale in me. When the sick kid makes an appearance, I’m ready to dispense medication, put a cold washcloth on a feverish brow, and make sure he drinks plenty of fluids.

Call me confident. Call me cocky. I thought I had a handle on taking care of sick kids. M.D.? Who needs one when you have a mother’s instinct? When you can drop everything, take off from work, do what it takes to nurse your child back to health.

But what happens when your baby goes to college? What happens when you’re 1,000 miles away instead of in the other room? I have to admit, I didn’t see this one coming. Last week my oldest son Sam called me from school. “Mom,” he croaked. “I don’t feel good. I think I have the flu.”

“Have you been to the Health Center?” I asked him, trying very hard to keep the panic from my voice. Meanwhile, my husband shot me a look. What was going on?

“No, should I do that?” My son. He had gone off to college knowing how to balance a checkbook, do laundry, write a term paper, speak passable Spanish, and solve a calculus problem. But he didn’t know enough to take himself to the health center when he was sick.

“Yes, take some ibuprofen and then go to the Health Center.”

“I B what?”

“Take some Tylenol.”

“I don’t have any.”

“Okay, just go to the health center and tell them your symptoms. They’ll give you what you need.”
Two anxious hours later—after I told my husband what was going on and after he persuaded me NOT to hop in the car and drive 8 hours to our son’s campus—Sam called back and told us what was going on.

Correction. He called, dropped the phone and ran to the toilet. We could just make out the sounds of him throwing up in the background. He came back to the phone, where I was quietly hyperventilating. “Okay, I feel better. The Health Center nurse told me to go back to my dorm and “self-isolate” and drink lots of fluids and rest. She said not to leave the dorm till I was fever free for 24 hours.”

Sam promised to call when he woke up and let us know how he was doing. After I hung up, I ran out and put together a care package.

I’m happy to report that 3 days later, Sam’s feeling MUCH better, and so am I. It was really hard to be so far away when he was sick, but I was glad to be able to talk to him on the phone and coach him through the flu. He loved the care package and said it really helped. The Teddy bear now rests on his bed, a reminder that Mom (and Dad) are always there for him, even if we are a few thousand miles away.

Strangely enough, a customer called just yesterday. Her daughter in college also came down with the flu. Did I have a gift basket especially for someone sick?

As a matter of fact…yes!

May you and yours be healthy and happy,

Jane
Samjane709

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