Doesn't everything seem like a saga these days?
Anyway, I have been making these brownies for Pesach every year since I got married,
so if I make roughly 3,4 or 5 trays of brownies each Pesach, and if I am doing my math correctly,
that would mean that I have made this brownie recipe between 30 and 40 times. And
each time, I faithfully follow the recipe and they come out great. Except for
this year, when I ran into some ingredient and kitchen issues, which is not entirely crazy when cooking in someone else's kitchen. Like me, today, in my mom's second kitchen. Well, you'll see.
Here is the Classic Brownie Recipe that has been in use for almost a decade:
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup margarine
2 and 2/3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups cake meal
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the chocolate chips and margarine in the microwave, stirring every thirty seconds until melted. Using a mixer, cream the melted chocolate and margarine and sugar until it's well mixed. Add the eggs and mix again. Add in the cake meal, mixing until fully mixed in. Pour into a 9x13
inch greased pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until set in the center.
I was all set to make four batches of these guys this morning. Little T and I went to my parents' house, lugging a 5lb bag of sugar and 3 dozen eggs. I was going to dig into my mom's Pesach stash for the rest. We deposited everything in the downstairs and kosher for Pesach kitchen and got started. We measured out the 2 cups of chocolate chips and looked around. And then looked around some more before it dawned on me that there was no microwave here. Hmmm. I also didn't have a pot to melt the chocolate in on the stovetop. Oh, and there was no margarine. Once again, I was as prepared as a tipsy Girl Scout.
What to do? Before I could decide to just not bake the brownies and make something else instead, Improvisational Jen came to visit. A few minutes later, the brownie recipe was reworked using what we had on hand. It was gamble because messing with a Pesach recipe usually results in disaster, but happily, these came out so well that I made three more trays.
Now here is the new take on the old classic brownie recipe. Let's just call it the New-Old Brownie Recipe.
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups cake meal
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix the sugar, oil and eggs until totally mixed together.
Then mix it some more because it took a nice long while for it to get itself
together. Add the cocoa powder, salt and cake meal and mix for a good three
minutes. Be prepared for the "dust" from the cake meal to fly everywhere. Add a
few handfuls of chocolate chips into the bowl and mix. Use your good judgement;
you can't really go wrong with extra chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into a greased 9x13 inch pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or
until the center is set.
I admit to tasting this; how could I not when it was a total unknown? I tasted, I liked. But more important, Little T, my chocoholic, tasted it and asked for seconds. Phew.
In a bid to at least pretend that I have started cleaning for Pesach, I
decided to tackle the fridge today. An ambitious project that perhaps should not
have been left for an hour before pick-up time at school, but hey, you live and
I pulled out the bottom shelf and the two attached drawers. Now I'm going to
say "oh my gosh, something spilled down there just a few days ago" and you're going to
nod your head like you believe me and we'll both pretend that it's true.
Anyway, here's the gross spill. I share this in the belief and hope that we
are not here to judge each other but to cheer each other on. Right? Of course,
Now here's the thing with me and cleaning or me and recipes or me and
projects in general. I'm a jumper-inner. I decide to do something and do it -
and generally don't take the time to check that I have everything that I need
(be it a bottle of my fake-healthy cleaner called Green Works or all the
ingredients for a recipes) to finish the job, and that's why I spend a lot of
time improvising. In this case, I forgot to buy more cleaner this morning when I
the supermarket and in
the cleaning stuff aisle, but whatever. What to do?
What to do? Of course we know what to do! Like my mom says - to the Internet!
I googled "cleaning caked on dirt with vinegar" and got here
. A whole website devoted
to cleaning things with vinegar.
Who knew? Well, I kind of did, having some nutty crunchy friends. Yeah, you know
who you are. But I, myself, have never been down this road before. I learned that
if I mix together baking soda and dish soap and vinegar, you will wind up with
something that will clean your fridge. I have to say, I had my doubts, but it worked. Shocking.
Here's what I did.
Gather these things together.
Take 1/4 cup of baking soda.
Add one tablespoon dish soap
Add in vinegar and mix until it forms a paste. I wound up using
three tablespoons of vinegar. And in a 4th grade science class fun sort
of way, when you add the vinegar in to the baking soda mixture, it bubbles
up into a foam, kind of like a super-cleaning-volcano.
Using a paper towel, I covered the spill in the fridge with the mixture. I let
it sit for 5 minutes, scrubbed and hooray! It worked.
This is what the bottom half of my fridge looked like ten minutes later. If that's not a
clean bottom half of a fridge, then I don't know what is.
I know! I was impressed too. And I have to say, I was a little worried
about the house smelling like vinegar, but it doesn't. Maybe a little like
Italian dressing, but that's okay. Maybe the slight smell will get the kids to
eat some salad for dinner.
The other day, this adorable sign came home from school with my five year old. It's meant to be hung on a door or a cabinet that has already been cleaned for Pesach. My five year old walked around the house, searching for somewhere, anywhere, to hang it.
Sadly, there was no where for him to put it. We haven't started cleaning anything at all. There just seems to be no point in cleaning until right before Pesach. I see it like this - I can clean and then spend the next two weeks yelling at people when they so much as sneeze outside the kitchen or I can wait till the last minute and then clean quickly and hopefully, efficiently and most importantly, alone. I go through this internal debate every year and every year I choose the quick and last minute route. I don't like all the yelling.
Back to my son's little sign. Eventually he just hung it on the snack cabinet in the kitchen. Now the sign just sits there all day, mocking me every time I go into the kitchen.
It's okay though, I can take the pressure.
No really, don't laugh, they are yum.
My aunt, who is more like my big sister, makes these every year and every year we just happen to be in her house after she makes them and we just happen to finish them off/slip them into the diaper bag and steal them. Either way, I think she usually makes more after we leave.
My plan is to do my Pesach baking at some point this week, and these guys are first on the list. I am thinking I will quadruple the recipe and if we ration them, four trays should get us through the eight days.
Here's how to make them (but fair warning, they're not good for you, so don't faint when see how much sugar is involved in this experiment):
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil
3 teaspoons of vanilla sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup potato starch*
4 ounces of chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 inch pan. Mix the first three ingredients together and then add in the other ingredients, mixing until everything is incorporated. Pour into the pan and bake for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let the blondies cool completely and then double wrap in aluminum foil. I'd stick the pan into a freezer bag too, just as an extra precaution and freeze 'till Pesach.
*This blondie recipe - or really any recipe made with potato starch, makes a perfect snack for erev Pesach because it does not contain any matzah or cake meal - both items that many have a custom to avoid on the day before Pesach. Hmmm, maybe I should make five trays.
Matzah brei is a huge staple in our house over Pesach. Every year we make
it on day one of Pesach and every year the kids run away screaming.
But by day two, they're pretty hungry and are all happy to
have some. And they even like it - they just never remember that they like it.
This is not something that you can make and freeze, so
I don't have any pictures yet but it's a good recipe that can help you plan
ahead for the many many meals you will need to make over the course of eight
days. We eat matzah brei often, and it works for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I am sure there are many ways to make matzah brei;
this is how we make ours.
1 box of matzah
1 tsp salt (optional)
Really. That's it. Okay, some water too, but that's it. Start by breaking up the matzahs
into medium sized pieces and pile them in a big bowl. Add cold water to the bowl -
just enough to cover the matzah. Let the matzah peices soak in the water for a few minutes,
until they are soft but not totally mushy. Using your hand to keep the matzah in
the bowl, tilt the bowl and drain it of all the water, pressing on the matzah to
get as much liquid out as possible. Don't worry if some matzah escaped into the
sink, it happens to the best of us.
While the matzah is soaking, beat the eggs in a small
bowl and add salt if you like. Heat your (large) frying pan with cooking spray
or butter (relax, it's Pesach, you're supposed to gain 5 pounds in 8 days -
you'll go walking after pesach) and let it heat up. While it is heating, add the
eggs into the matzah pieces, mixing well. Pour the whole thing into the hot
frying pan and let it cook, turning the whole thing with a spatula every one in
a while - kind of how you might make scrambled eggs.
When the egg is done, so is the matzah brei. Serve warm; we like it with ketchup.
Version #2: Cheese Matzah Brei
Do the same thing as above, but add a cup (or more) of
shredded cheese. Continuing with the scrambled egg analogy, it will now be like
a cheese omelet. But not. You know what I mean.
Version #3: Pizza Matzah Brei
Do the same thing as in version #2, but add some marinara sauce. You now have
pizza matzah brei. Of course you can just add sauce and cheese to a piece
of matzah and make matzah pizza in the toaster but this is just a little different.
If you're like me and have several kids who like their matzah brei in all
different ways, don't worry. It's all good.
See here's the thing - you can make all three versions in one pan and make everyone
happy. Start with version #1 and take off some for the kid who likes it plain.
Add in the cheese and then take off some for the kid who just wants cheese and
then add in sauce for whoever wants it with sauce. Three different meals, one
pan. Really, can you ask for anything more? I didn't think so. You're welcome.
Where does the week go? I'll tell ya. It goes to worrying. I've been fretting and
making lists and menus and stuff - all for Pesach (Passover). I have also
accomplished nothing all week, so I have (hopefully, once and for all, but
we know it's not true) proven to myself that worrying does not help.
Making Pesach is very overwhelming on many levels and for most people I have
been speaking with, it's the cleaning.
For me, it's the cooking, and that's why, even thought I have not begun cleaning my
house for Pesach, I have started cooking. Backwards? Probably. But I am a much
calmer and more efficient cleaner when I know that my kids won't be hungry. This
is called grandchild-of-a-Holocaust-survivor syndrome and I have it to the nth
So to make myself feel better, I started cooking this morning. I just love
a good cook and freeze. And thanks to my mom, this year's first Pesach-cook-and-freeze
marathon has been completed. You see, my house only has one kitchen. My
parents' house is much cooler, with two kitchens and my mom took the time this
past Sunday to make that second kitchen kosher for Pesach. All that kitchen
needed was a cook. But my mom works full time and doesn't have that much extra
time during the week. I do. Well, not extra time, just regular time. So Little T
and I packed up the car with all our pesach boxes and headed to my parents'
house this morning. And because my dad is such a good babysitter and because
Little T will just follow him around the house and be happy, I was able to
accomplish more in two hours than I would have in two days in my own house.
The freezer currently contains 4 pounds of breaded (matzah'd?) chicken
cutlets, 2 pounds of hamburgers, 2 meatloaves and an enormous amount of matzah
balls. Not a lot, but at least a dent has been made in the pesach cooking.
Anywho, this is the kitchen. It's tiny.
It's amazing how we can adapt to fit our space. In my kitchen, even though
I like the idea of washing the dishes and pots as I go, I rarely embrace that
philosophy. I usually just wash everything in one long washing marathon when I
am done cooking. But today, because of the size of this kitchen/closet, I washed
as I went - and I have to say, it was SO much better. When I was done cooking,
I was done washing. It's really a much more relaxing way to cook.
I was in a very big rush so I didn't take step by step pictures of what I
made, but really, we all know what chicken cutlets and matzah balls look like. I
will, however, share the recipes. These are tried and true and all freeze very
well. Try and plan ahead and make doubles of what you'd like to have for the
second days of Pesach; that way you won't have to cook again. I just a love a
Hamburgers (Meatloaf, Meatballs)
The plan had been to make meatballs but funny (not haha funny, more like oh
crap funny) I could not, for the life of me, unearth my kosher for pesach can
opener. I searched through all (5) boxes and it just was not there. The thing
was, I had already mixed the ground meat with my meatball recipe. I needed the
can opener to make the sauce. I briefly considered baking the meatballs and
making the sauce at a later time, but I truly believe that Pesach is not a time
to channel your inner Martha and try new things. Stick with what hubby and the
kiddies like and you'll all be happier.
Of course, I found the can opener as soon as the meatloaf and hamburgers
went into the oven. Nu nu.
Here's the recipe:
4 pounds of ground meat
2 cups matzah meal
1 cup ketchup
Mix all. Shape into hamburgers (24) or meatloaf (4) or many many meatballs.
Bake on 350 for about 25 minutes for the hamburgers (flipping hallway through),
an hour for the meatloaf or 30 minutes for the meatballs.
Our favorite meatball sauce (for the 4 pounds of ground meat; use your
fraction skills to halve or third of whatever it):
2 28 ounce cans of tomato sauce
1 can of water
1 small can of tomato paste
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add uncooked meatballs. Simmer,
covered, for 30 minutes. Cool and freeze in the sauce.
The chicken cutlets are even easier:
4 pounds of chicken breasts*, butterflied and thinly sliced
2 cups matzah meal
1/2 cup water
Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl and add the water, mixing them together.
Put the matzah meal in another shallow bowl. Dip each chicken cutlet in the egg
mixture, then in the matzah meal and place in a baking pan. I needed four pans
for four pounds of chicken. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, flip them
over and bake 5 more minutes, until they are cooked through. Cool and freeze.
*My chicken cutlets were purchases at Costco and they were pretty cheap
as chicken goes. However, I feel like when making so much chicken, it's worth it
to pay just a little extra and buy straight from a butcher. That way the butcher
can butterfly all the chicken breasts and you will save a ton of time. Just
So get this - we were featured on a blog called Mod Podge Rocks
the other day. Amy, the master mod podger highlighted our DIY Tea Party Table
. I don't know how many subscribers Amy has, but she has over 20,000 (that's twenty thousand
) followers on Facebook, so I'm guessing it's quite a few.
But here's the real kicker - since then, we've been getting over 300 unique visitors a day! Not bad for a blog written mostly to amuse my mom and my friend Alissa.
And if that wasn't enough fun around here, we have more good news. My newly two year decided, all by herself, to sit in the potty, in front of the TV, for a full half hour, not moving, just watching Caillou. But unlike all my other kids who would do that, she actually made in the potty! I'm not sure who was more surprised, me or her. But either way, we celebrated with chocolate. Go Little T!
Little T is my youngest. Is it time to panic? Will we be out of diapers for good? We've been in diapers consistently for the past almost seven years. I'm not sure what to do - laugh? cry? have another baby? (Ma, breathe. I'm kidding). I think for right now, I'll just have another celebratory chocolate.
In the spirit of this awesome weather we've been having, here's a yummy rainbow salad that feeds a crowd - at least 20. And I know this because that's the number of guests I served it to the other Shabbos. It was delicious and it was all gone.
You can use any salad vegetables that you like, as long as they fit into the rainbow.
Here's what I used:
- 1 bag of shredded purple cabbage
- 1 bag of frozen peas (not defrosted)
- 2 cucumbers, sliced
- 1 container of mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cans of corn, drained and rinsed
- 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 bag of shredded carrots
- 2 orange peppers, diced
- 2 containers of grape tomatoes, halved
Here are some other things you can use, I just didn't have them on hand - red peppers, green lettuce, diced yellow squash, avocado, mandarin oranges, or even any color beans, as long as they are rinsed and drained.
Layer the vegetables in a big trifle bowl. Or you can use a plain glass bowl, it will be just as pretty. In fact, it's so pretty that you just might eat it by accident. Don't do that. It's not nearly as impressive when there's a whole section missing.
Pour your favorite salad dressing over the top, allowing it to flow down the (in)sides of the bowl. Chill and serve. Oh, and this is a total make ahead. I made this Friday morning for the next day's lunch.
While National Disaster Preparedness Month isn't until September*, I thought it might be
a good time to brush up on our survival skills. Today we will be focusing on small
scale disasters, namely - What to do When Your Two-Year-Old Throws-Up in the Supermarket.
Let's set the scene: Baby has a bad phlegmy type cold,
you need some stuff because the fridge is almost empty, but you're not looking
to do a big shop. In and out, hopefully in the express lane. You are pushing the
cart (with a bad wheel, damn those shopping carts!) up the produce aisle and she
starts coughing, but it's okay, you're prepared because you have tissues in your
bag. You wipe her nose and she seems fine. Up and down a few more aisles, and
then somewhere in the middle of the store, she starts hacking away and you start
saying things like, you're okaaay. You're okaaayyy. It's okaaay. Here's
another tissue. You're okay, right? We're almost done, you're okaaay. But
as we all know, mommies start saying you're okaaay over and over when
really, not much is okay. It's almost like we're saying it as much (or more) for
our own benefit than the kid's, kind of pushing the panic down, because you
just know that this kid is going to hurl everywhere and there is nothing you can
do about it.
And of course, she does. All over her coat. And now is that excellent time to brush
up on those survival skills.
If you are not yet a parent, you probably are not aware of the fact that you can open
up anything you want/need in the supermarket and no one will say a word
to you, as long as you remember to pay. And I don't
mean like the little old ladies who walk around the store eating a bag of
(unwashed) grapes and then just don't pay at the checkout line. I'm talking
about having a picnic; laying out a blanket and making sandwiches. The store
will not care, just clean up after yourself and remember to hand over your
credit card before leaving.
The beauty of a supermarket is that they have pretty much everything you could
possibly need while shopping with a child. They have
diapers, milk, (weird) clothes), baby wipes, paper towels, cookies, whatever you
need. Today we needed three things after we threw up. And I say we
because if you know me at all, you will know that when one of my kids gags, I do
too. I didn't throw up in Shoprite, but Josh - who was not with us - would not
have been at all surprised if I did. Anyway, back to those three items -
tissues**, a drink and straws.
First we headed over to the paper aisle to grab the first box of tissues I saw.
It was also the most expensive brand, but whatever.
This was an emergency, hence the need for our review of disaster protocol even
though it's not currently National Disaster Preparedness Month.
All cleaned up, we needed a drink. But she was still coughing, there was no way to
make it three aisles over to the water.
The closest drinks were in the back of the store, which unfortunately, was the milk
section. I hate milk***. No really, I hate milk, with a passion. But my baby
needed a drink, so I grabbed a small bottle of chocolate milk (yes, I know, not
the best choice for someone who just threw up, but remember, this was a small
scale disaster, so any liquid would have had to do). I opened the cap and
offered some to the baby. She just looked at me - and then I realized that there
was no way she could drink from a bottle like that, she didn't know what to do
with it. So back to the paper aisle for straws. Opened a box of straws and we
were in business.
I passed a garbage can on the way to checkout line (I don't think I ever realized before
that there were in-use garbage cans in supermarkets), chucked all the dirty tissues and
got onto the express lane. When our turn came, I put all the stuff on the conveyor
belt and the cashier started scanning things. And because she is a mother too,
she said, "Oh no, did the baby throw up?!"
I couldn't stop laughing while I asked her how she knew. And she
said - and I quote here - "Honey, I have five kids. An open box of tissues, an
open straws and a baby clutching a drink with a frazzled looking mama, either
she's having some tummy issues or her diaper exploded." I laughed all the way to
the car. Once we were back in the safety of the mess that is our van, I said a
silent thank you prayer - an exploding diaper in the middle of Shoprite would
have been way worse. A disaster is a disaster, but remember to be thankful for
the mini-disaster you were given because there always a grosser mini-disaster
that you avoided. Got that? Good, 'cause that's a life lesson.
*Who knew? Not me. But two seconds of googling and look what I learned. What did we do before google? How did we live?
** It wasn't that huge of a mess and we really have a huge case of paper towels at home, so I could not really justify opening up a 15 pack of paper towels.
***Wanna know why? I'll tell you. I have never liked the
taste/smell/texture of milk. Even just writing that senetence made me gag. Milk
just made me naseous, even as a really little kid. But it was never a problem
because I never drank any. And then one day, in first grade, my teacher, Morah
Mandelbaum, whom I loved to pieces, gave me a cup of milk during lunch on a
friday, which, if you have attended a yeshiva day school, you will know that it
was probably tuna fish and corn day. Do you see where this is going? I had
already eaten my tuna and corn when the milk was set before me. I declined. She
told me to drink, I needed a drink. I declined again. She persisiteed. I told
her I would throw up if I drank milk, she told me I wouldn't. As I recall, there
was some more back and forth. Then I drank the milk (I was a very good kid in
school, I NEVER got in trouble.) Can you guess what happened next? Yup, I threw
up. But I didn't just throw up like a normal person, I pushed my chair back from
the table, told my beloved morah that I didn't feel good, turned towards her and
threw up the whole cup of milk, plus all the tuna and corn that I had eaten and
apparently not chewed, all over Morah Mandelbaum's surprisngly nice, low heeled
pumps. And all over her stockings too.
I don't remember much after that, but I do know that my father came to get
me from school and that I never had a teacher offer me a cup of milk again. I
guess news travels fast in the teacher's room.
Without prefacing this with a whole long story, here are our mishloach manot for Purim this year.
We bought these (admittedly crappy) flashlights at the dollar store and filled them with long shaped candy - licorice, laffy taffies, granola bars, lollypops - because anything wider than like an inch just didn't fit inside. Printed up some labels that say "L'yehudim hatya ORAH*... -
Wishing you a Purim filled with (a flash)light and happiness!"
and we were done. So fast, so simple. And so not what we usually do.
I usually spend weeks baking and baking and then baking some more. So even though it wasn't easy filling those flashlights (I even got a blister on my finger!), it was like a vacation. We filled those
flashlights in front of the tv! And I wasn't covered in flour! Do you see how easy it is to make me happy?
But there's more to the flashlights. For the past many months, we have been ardent followers of a little girl named Ayelet Galena
and her parents' journey with her through her illness and subsequent passing.
As we listened to her father speak at her funeral, we heard him say that one of Ayelet's namesakes was the Ayelet HaShachar
, the morning star, the first ray of light. Ayelet was a light not only to her
family but to her whole Ayelet Nation. And if you read through their blog
, you will see that her parents, Hindy and Seth Galena, are themselves not only a light to their family and fellow Jews throughout the world, but a light unto the nations as well - as we should all strive to be while living our lives.
I am having a hard time recalling a bigger kiddush Hashem
than Ayelet's story in a very long time. And not only that, but Hindy and Seth are also an ohr layehudim
, a light for the Jewish nation,
because the miztvot that has been performed on Ayelet's behalf are more numerous than anyone can ever know.
So we added a sentence to our flashlight labels: "Our mitzvah of mishloach manot is being fulfilled in memory of Ayelet Galena, Ayelet Yakira bat Shais Luria, a light to her parents and her 'Ayelet
May Ayelet's neshama have an aliyah.
Wishing you a wonderful Purim - and may it be that we all celebrate Purim next year together in Yerushalayim! *The Hebrew word
Orah means light, hence the flashlight.