Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Feasting, Faking (a little), and Letting Go

I love holidays. Especially holidays that merit a feast. I think we need more of those days.
So, it might not surprise you that we celebrated Rosh Hashanah for the first time this year. This wasn’t a pre-meditated thing at all. I found out it was Rosh Hashanah on the day of while I was in the office and threw together some funny mish mosh of a feast.

It had been a long, trying week and we needed something. Something to encourage us to practice the discipline of celebration, of thankfulness. Conveniently, it was the start of the Jewish New Year Festivities that night. So that was our something!
I googled where to find the best challah bread in town and planned our Rosh Hashanah menu. I bought honeycrisp apples and a pomegranate, butternut squash and Israeli couscous.

Then I went to Upper Crust Bakery to buy challah bread. I hesitated in the parking lot, unsure that they would have any challah left, that I might have to present some sort of ID confirming that I was actually Jewish and could partake, that I’d pronounce it incorrectly and be exposed. Ultimately, the smell from the dumpster pushed me to act, so onward I went, nodding to a couple on their way to the car, cradling their lumpy loaf.

I stood in the line, mentally reciting my pronunciation, looking to see where they might be storing the bread. Many were set on shelves and boxes with nametags on them. Apparently most people call ahead and reserve their challah. There were only two loaves left unclaimed, sitting on the glass display case. They looked so modest and beautiful, all braided and softly shining like Rachel herself must have been.
 I heard a man a few people in front of me teaching the girl the correct pronunciation of challah. She was saying it ‘holla’ which made me feel a little more confident that I wouldn’t totally butcher it, and he was practically hocking a loogy on her: “HHHHallAH!”

In the midst of all this, I realized that I was engaging in something ancient. I was surrounded by Jews- by a people who had endured, a people of tradition and intentionality. I wondered how the people around me had been affected by the Holocaust, I wondered what stories their families share at the table? Who is missing from around it?

This is why God told Israel to feast. He knew that feasts bring us together even when we are scattered.
Feasting reminds us what we have to celebrate, what unites us. I didn’t know anyone in the Bakery, but I knew that I and all of these people had some beliefs in common as we purchased our matching loaves of challah bread. I knew that they would all take it home to their families and friends, dip apples in honey, and listen to the blowing of the Shofar. They would share Bible stories and toast “Next year in Jerusalem, Next year in the Holy City.”

My parents were kind enough to join us for our last minute celebration, and we all talked about tradition, about the Jewish faith, about the God of Israel, and about the recipes. As we all tried our first bites of Challah bread, we pulled off a tenth, our tithe to the Lord. For Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews are supposed to take breadcrumbs (or empty their pockets) into running water.  For Israel, this was to symbolize releasing their sins of the previous year.
We had decided our tithe would be symbolic too, a letting-go of all the parts of us that had gone stale over this past year, of dropping those burdens that we don’t want to carry anymore.

I was saving our challah tithe in the refrigerator because, as you may know, it’s a little difficult to find running water in central Texas. Until I realized that I, in my characteristic fashion, was literally holding onto the thing I was supposed to be letting go of. I was refrigerating the stale parts of me so they would keep longer!

So this weekend, we’re letting go. We’ll take the tithe to the lake by our church and scatter the crumbs and watch the turtles snatch them up, and we’ll pray, and we’ll say “Next year in Jerusalem, Next year in the Holy City.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An Autumn List

 Fall is here tra la la la laaaaa, at least it is for this week. Which merits an Autumn List!

Here are some of the Autumn activities we’re looking forward to: 
-Making pumpkin pie. From an actual pumpkin. Nothing against Libby, but this is something I've wanted to try for a long time. I'll let you know how it goes!
-Movies in the backyard, homemade apple cider in hand. Yet another long-time recipe ambition.

-Pumpkin patch trip and carving party.

-Friendsgiving! We’ll have the band over around Thanksgiving and have a little dinner party potluck/ thankfulness time. Basically, it’s just an excuse to have two Thanksgivings.

- Cooking with the windows open. This is seriously one of the greatest joys of fall for me- the house smells so fresh with the fall air blowing through, and I also don’t roast myself when the oven is on.

- Pumpkin candles. Nuff said.

-Wearing sweaters. Every. Single. Day.

-So, funny story. Here I was going to put a snarky comment like, “Visit Apple Orchard. But wait, this is Texas and that’s not a thing.” Until I asked Mr. Google if there were any apple orchards in Texas and there are. There are!!!! This must happen.

I asked the Bird what I was missing and he said, “Evening walks, sitting around the fire in the backyard, and reading at the park by our house where the grass is cold.”

And then my whole face melted off with love for him.

Your turn! What are some of your favorite fall activities?

Friday, October 3, 2014

What My Mother Taught Me

My mom’s birthday was last week. We celebrated her with balsamic grilled chicken and ratatouille, pumpkin flavored coffees and hummingbird cake. In my family, we have the notion of ‘birthday week.’ It’s like birthday Hannukah. Because the folks in our family are so awesome it takes several days to celebrate them properly. Obviously.

A while back, I read one of Shauna’s posts called “What my Mother Taught Me”, (which you should definitely read) in celebration of her mother. I thought that was a grand idea. So, here is what my mother taught me.

My mom taught me to love coffee, the smell of pumpkin candles, herb gardens, and cleaning the house with the windows open. She pushed me to try (and love!) vegetables in the Year of the Expansion of the Palate when previously, I was satisfied exclusively with meat, cheese, fruit, and carbs.

Yes, we did actually call it the year of the expansion of the palate. Because we’re that awesome. Hence a whole week for birthdays. Anyway.

My mom taught me to love food, and more importantly, to show love to people through food. From a very young age I was tagging along with her, taking food to people who had babies or were recovering from surgery or who had lost family members, and I learned that sometimes food is seriously the only thing that can bring some comfort. She taught me how to identify a ripe fig from an unripe one, and how to turn some stray dewberries into a slam-bang dessert. She taught me how to put a fussy child to sleep (tickle their backs and read them another story) and how to take care of a sick husband.

She taught me how to speak up for myself, how to roast a turkey, how to carry myself in intimidating situations, and how to intentionally serve people. She has taught me how to apply for jobs and how to graciously quit jobs, to put myself out there and to show restraint. She taught me that it’s okay to say “I can” confidently, when my first reaction is to say “I can’t.” She taught me that making other people feel loved and valued is the most important and honest thing we can do in this life, even when it means making ourselves feel a little less important.

Thank you for dedicating so much of your life to so diligently teaching me. Happy Birthday, Moth.

Hummingbird Cake

Very slightly adapted from Kinfolk Cookbook

                For the cake:

1 8 oz. can crushed pineapple

3 ripe bananas, finely chopped

¾ c. shredded sweetened coconut

1 tsp. cinnamon

3 c. flour

1 3/4c. sugar ( I haven’t tried it, but I imagine this would be very good with brown sugar too.)

1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. salt 

3 large eggs, beaten 

1 cup oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 
3/4 c. chopped pecans

For the frosting:

2 8 oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (dont die.) 

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4 c. confectioners sugar

Remaining pecans for garnish

Arrange oven racks so that the oven is split into thirds. Preheat oven to 350. Grease two 9' round cake pans (preferably spring form) with butter. Dust with flour and then discard excess.

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix in chopped bananas, crushed pineapple, pecans, eggs, and coconut. Mix until just combined. Pour half of the mixture into each prepared pan. 
Set one pan on the top rack, one on the bottom and switch halfway through baking. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to racks and cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then let them cool directly on the racks for about an hour. 

While the cake cools, beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Decrease speed to low and slowing add the confectioners sugar and vanilla. Beat for 3 additional minutes. 
To assemble, spread the frosting between the layers, scattering some of the remaining pecans in between. Frost the top and sides, press remaining chopped pecans onto the sides and serve with all the befitting pomp and circumstance.

Eat with the people you love. (And serve with a big glass of milk.)

Serves 8.