Is it too late to share about Purim? I wanted to share all week but I was still recovering - or rather, my house was recovering. I am always amazing at how the house looks like it passed through the eye of a small hurricane over Purim. I mean, Purim is just one day. What gives?
I'm also recovering from my crockpot disaster.
Yeah, that whole crockpot thing.
We hosted the Purim seuda this year - and I have a Persian-Moroccan thing going on. I made a apricot and almond chicken tagine, meat kabobs and laffa bread. I also had other foods that I knew for sure my kids would eat, like wontons from the Chinese place and a roast. A plain, simple, yummy roast that was meant to cook in the crockpot all day long. It was meant to make the house smell yummy and it was meant to save time. And it would have done all those things had I, you know, actually turned on the crockpot. But I didn't.
My first clue -
We returned home from delivering all of these:
And the house smelled like, um, house. Not like a slow-cooked roast.
Our company was coming in twenty minutes and there was not enough food without the meat and it was already marinating for a good 15 hours. I wonder how long meat can marinate on it's own without going bad?
The fix? Searing it over high heat and then leaving it alone in a deep pot on the stove and then praying. It finally cooked but we did eat late. Oh well.
This is the table where we ate all that food:
And this is best family costume ever:
My good friend Goldie, who I speak of often, put it together all by herself - and it was awesome. I had absolutely nothing to do with it, but I am showing the picture here because every time I see it, I laugh. It's such a great idea, executed perfectly and all homemade. I love that.
So now that Purim is over, you can take a break. But only for like a minute because Pesach is coming. Buckle up, it's usually a bumpy ride. Does anyone else feel queasy when they see the Pesach aisle in Shoprite? No? I do. Every single year.
And this, my friends, is why I am not a cookie decorator.
There was a point when I thought it might be fun to go to baking (cooking? pastry? chef?) school and learn to be a professional pastry chef, but I think I am over that.
Because I have say, my wrists are just killing me from all the piping.
I guess that's another career that's ended before it even began. Oh well.
So in case you can't tell (and one of my kids couldn't), these are Haman cookies. Eventually, when they dry, they will be attached to sticks so they will be Haman-on-a-stick cookies. Kind of like Haman hanging from a tree, but not, because I am not making tree cookies. I think I might have mentioned that my wrists are killing me.
You know how sometimes you have a great idea in your head but it just doesn't translate well into real life? I feel like that is what this year's mishloach manot is turning into.
Phase one were these cookies. They looked completely different in my head, but when looked at all together on the cooling rack, they look kind of cute. I hope they look as cute on their own because each mishloach manot is only getting one cookie!
In case you too want to make these cookies, I'll show you the how-to:
Step 1: Bake a truckload of round sugar cookies.
Step 2: Buy some fondant, some brown and purple gel colors and get to work coloring that fondant by working a few drops of gel coloring into the fondant at a time. It's a process - and be sure to keep any fondant not currently being used in a sealed plastic bag or else it will dry out very quickly.
Step 3: Using three different sized mini triangle cookie cutters (I didn't have these at home either, I had to order them) cut out the makings of a hamentaschen hat and Haman's beard.
The largest cookie cutter was used to cut out the brown hamentaschen hats. The smallest cookie cutter was used to cut tiny purple triangles from the fondant to make the filling for the hamentaschen and the medium sized cookie cutter was used to cut out Haman's bead.
Step 4: Use a clean, or better yet, a new paintbrush and very carefully, dab the hamentaschen fondant pieces with a small amount of water and "glue" on the purple filling. Then let all the fondant pieces air-dry overnight. It's time for bed.
Step 5: It's a new day, you're rested and hopefully, your back has stopped hurting from all the baking and fondant cutting from the day before.
Start by melting some chocolate in the microwave - the chocolate will today's "glue." Use the melted chocolate and yesterday's handy paintbrush to glue the fondant pieces to the cookies, giving each cookie a hamentasch hat and a beard. These should dry pretty quickly - by the time I reached the end of the pan, the first half were dry and I was then able to stack them to make room for more cookies.
Step 6: Using some black gel icing (I bought mine at AC Moore, it's the Wilton brand), pipe an evil mustache onto each evil Haman cookies. I'll be honest, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be and no two mustaches came out the same. And again, the whole wrist cramping thing from all the piping.
Step 7: I also bought the same gel icing in blue and I used that to pipe on Haman's eyes. Why blue? Honestly, that's what there was in the baking aisle at AC Moore. I really could have gone with any color and in retrospect, I think I might have gone with black for the eyes as well because I feel like my Hamans look just a little too friendly with those nice blue eyes. My Hamans almost look a little remorseful for all the trouble they caused in the megillah.
Once you're done, let them dry in a safe place in the house. Mine are still sitting on the kitchen counter - and that is most certainly not a safe place. I'm still debating where my safe cookie place is.
Step 8: Go lay down on the couch and watch Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood with the little kids. Have you seen this show? If you grew up watching Mister Roger's Neighborhood, you must check it out. It's a great show, totally relevant to the three-year-old set and has songs that you'll be humming all day. You deserve a little rest before heading out to Shoprite and making dinner.
Where do you run when the dryer full of the hubby's cotton button down shirts and the oven timer both ding at the same time?
Normally, those shirts would take precedence over pretty much everything - I'd do almost anything not to have to iron - but today the oven came first.
Round one of this year's hamentaschen were baking and the little one was so excited to see what we made that she was unable to stand still, dancing all around the kitchen, shaking her container of sprinkles.
We have been using this recipe for hamentaschen for a couple of years and they always come out very yummy and very pretty, which is more than I can say for the many many hamentaschen that I baked in the years pre-recipe. My hamentaschen would open, all the filling spilling out and making a huge mess everywhere. But once my good friend Alissa shared her mom's recipe, we were good to go.
This should be your go-to too.
If you have been following along for a while, you might remember that I have one child who refuses to eat a hamentaschen with fruit as a filling. So the past couple of years found me attempting Hershey kiss filled hamentaschen, hamentaschen made from chocolate dough and chocolate chip hamentaschen. All of them were okay but never got a better comment then eh, it's okay. And eh is code for I feel bad for you, so I'll eat this, but you know, eh.
I don't like that.
So this year, enter the brownie hamentasch.
I had seen a picture of brownie hamentaschen on pinterest but whoever pinned it did not include the link (very bad pinterest etiquette right there, my friends) and so there was no recipe.
What to do?
Experiment. And lucky for me that it all turned out well on the first try because I only had one box of Duncan Hines brownies in the house - which is what you need to get right now if you want to make these. Go ahead, I'll wait.
I mean, I guess you can use a homemade brownie recipe, but really, why? Josh won't even taste a brownie made from scratch. His motto: why mess with perfection?
To start, make a batch of the hamentaschen dough and while it is chilling in the fridge, follow the directions on the back of the Duncan Hines box for the fudgy brownies, not the cake brownies. Mix it all together and bake it in a 9x13" pan for 15 minutes or so. The point is that the brownies should not be baked all the way, they should still be kind of soupy.
Take the brownies out of the oven and stir the batter a little, just to break it up - I needed to do that because the edges of my brownies had started to set. Let the brownies cool and as they cool, they will thicken.
Once everything had chilled and cooled off, roll out the dough and cut out the circles with a cookie cutter or a cup (I used the colored plastic kiddie cups from Ikea). Using a small spoon (the kind your kids would use to eat cereal - I call that a teaspoon), drop the brownie batter on to the circles. If I was using a real measuring spoon, it would most likely be 1/2 teaspoon.
To learn how to shape the hamentaschen, click here and scroll down to the middle.
Once the hamentaschen are shaped, you can either bake them or add the sprinkles.
To add the sprinkles, pour some colored sprinkles onto a plate. Then fill a small cup with water and using a pastry brush or whatever brush you would use to eggwash your challah, brush some water over each hamentasch. Very carefully, pick up each hamentasch and dip each of the three sides into the sprinkles and then bake.
Be sure to place no more than a dozen hamentaschen on one tray because they spread and you will wind up with a hamentaschen cake instead of cookies. It happened to me. It's not a bad little cake, just not what we're looking for today.
Josh really likes samoas so I figured if I was already making brownie hamentaschen, why not add shredded coconut to some of them too? I know samoas also have caramel in them too but I didn't have any caramel in the house. Can you make your own caramel? I don't know. But that sounds like a lot of work. So we're just going to make pretend that samoas are coconut and chocolate and leave it at that.
Anywho, I added a little coconut underneath the brownie batter in about twelve of the hamentaschen - and those are gone. Two of the kids and Josh liked those the best. One kid only hears the siren call of sprinkles so she went for those and my picky, chocolate loving child went straight for the plain brownie, no sprinkles, no coconut hamentaschen.
And me? I'm eating one now, but I'm also ironing a dryer full of shirts. Oh well.
ps Just to recap, three ways to make these:
1. Plain with brownies in the center.
2. Brownies in the center with sprinkles.
3. Plain with brownies and shredded coconut in the center.
My youngest, my little one is turning three in a week or so and this Sunday, we are throwing her a birthday party. She is beyond excited and asks every single morning if her party is today. It's not, but she shrugs it off and goes about her day. She's that kind of kid.
I asked her who she wanted to invite to her party - and after she listed every single family member that she knows and loves, she said she wanted to invite her friends. I was kind of surprised, because as she's not in school yet, she doesn't really have a posse with whom she plays on a regular basis. So we talked:
Me: Who are your friends?
Her: Um, people. I don't know their names.
It was kind of sad and kind of very very funny at the same time. Then we talked about going to nursery in the fall and how she would meet all her friends there and then invite them all to her birthday party then. And she was okay with that so, you know, phew.
We've been getting ready for this party for what feels like ages. We took a trip to the party store where she picked out Strawberry Shortcake paper goods, even though she has never heard of Strawberry Shortcake before. And the butterfly pinata she picked out in Target has been hanging in the living room for a good week already. And today is party baking day.
We are serving brunch food at the party and so this morning, we made cranberry-orange muffins and coffee cake muffins, both of which made the house smell amazing.
And now the little one has decided that the time has come to bring the Birthday Chair* up from the basement.
Birthday Chair? Yeah, years ago I made a birthday chair out of one of the un-needed kitchen chairs from my grandmother's apartment. And it was that chair that started this blog. It was the subject of my first post ever and was quite terrible.
I had still not gotten the hang of my camera at that point and I had no clue as to what was appropriate blog material and what was not. You can look back at that Birthday Chair post and laugh at me. I just did.
Anyway, here is the recipe for these very delicious cranberry-orange muffins. The coffee cake muffins are as yet untasted so I can't share those yet. I mean, you know, they might be gross. But the orange ones are delish, I make them all the time.
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1.5 cup craisins
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients and then add in the craisins. Stir the craisins into the flour mixture. The reason you do this, as opposed to adding the craisins at the end like you would add chocolate chips to cookie dough, is because the flour coating keeps the craisins from falling to the bottom of the muffins while they are baking. See? You learned something today.
Next, add the egg, orange juice and oil and mix with a spoon, just until it's all combined. But really, please, mix until just just combined. Don't keep mixing or you will wind up with hard muffins and you don't want that. You want light and fluffy muffins.
Next, spoon the muffin batter into a paper lined 12 cup muffin pan, dividing the batter evenly between all the muffin paper liners. Bake for 15 minutes and then check to see if they are done with a toothpick. Mine needed another minute or two, but be careful not to overbake them.
Remove the muffins from the pan and let them cool completely. You can eat them right away or store them in a ziploc bag until you need them. They also freeze very well.
*The Birthday Chair - used only on birthdays, not half-birthdays, even though my children have tried to persuade me otherwise - was spray painted blue and decorated with rhinestones and painted letters spelling the words, Happy Birthday. The thing is, it's been through quite a number of birthdays so far and so now the chair reads: AP Y BIRTHDAY. So if it's your birthday, then AP Y BIRTHDAY to you! And if it's not, then hurry and go make a birthday chair before the next family birthday rolls around!
I kind of feel bad that there isn't that much Purim going on here these
days - there's lots to do for the little one's birthday party coming up on
Sunday and so much to do for Purim - there just doesn't seem to be much
time for blogging.
Having said that, just in case you still do not have a mishloach manot
theme (and assuming you actually want one*), here's a short roundup of what
we've done for the past bunch of years. It's a long one, but your Purim inspiration
just might be lurking in here somewhere. And just think, once you find your idea,
you can stop thinking and start shopping.
2013 - well, yeah, you'll have to wait and see. Even I am not totally sure
how this year is going to play out yet.
2012 - Last year we stuffed dollar store flashlights with candy and well,
that was it. We made stickers with a little note about the Jewish nation being a
light unto the other nations and it was lovely and simple and I didn't have to
bake anything. My kind of Purim.
2011 - Two years ago we created a paper bag army - the army of Hashem, if
you will. I cut out tons of eyes and ears and noses and mouths and hair and
bowties or hair bows from colored paper and the kids went to town gluing. It was
great. And then we just stuck in whatever candy was on sale that week in
Shoprite. And I feel like we baked some cookies too, but I can't remember what
2010 - Three years ago - 12 days before Purim - we were blessed with
baby#4. We sent cards that year. Aside from the exhaustion of a new baby and a
complicated c-section, sending the cards was awesome. I highly recommend it
(the cards and the baby too) if you can pull it off.
2009 - Josh had mentioned something about how it's nice to give real food
for mishloach manot, like something people can use at their Purim seudah. And I
have to say, this was probably the easiest mishloach manot in terms of
preparation but the hardest in terms of packing the bags and delivering them.
We made vegetable soup, pasta salad and challah and it was really very well
received. The vegetable soup and pasta salad were easy to make in advance, as
were the challahs, which I had made very much in advance and froze. The problem
was that the food needed to be refrigerated so I could not put the bags together
until it was literally time to deliver them. So I packed a few bags and Josh put
them in the van. Packed a few more and put them in the van. And so on. It
didn't make for the most relaxing Purim morning, but it was still yummy.
2008 - This was the first Purim in our new house, and my husband, being the
friendly guy that he is, felt very strongly about giving mishloach manot to
everyone that he ever spoke with in shul. Or on the way to shul.
So that first year, with two kids age two and under and very pregnant,
we (I) made way over 100 mishloach manot packages entitled "This
Mishloach Manot is brought to you by the letter C and the number 2". Oh, and
Purim was on Friday. We bought rectangular cake boxes and filled them with
(homemade everything - insane, I know) chocolate chip cookies, a challah, a
mini carrot kugel and 2 shabbos t-light candles.
Josh delivered them all - all by himself. The little kids and I were
napping. And then we hosted the seudah. I look back now and cannot understand
what I was thinking. I was obviously insane - the combination of being pregnant
and having an actual house to host things in is a strong combination.
2007 - Cookies and Milk. That's it. Stuck the cookies and chocolate milk
juiceboxes into a brown paper bag and called it a day. Our kids were 18 months and
6 months at the time. I'm not even sure we remembered to actually deliver any
mishloach manot. I think we kind of just gave them to anyone who came to the
door. For all I know, we might have given one to the FedEx guy.
2006 - Starbucks. I was on a huge Starbucks kick at the time and was
determined to use Starbucks coffee cups as my mishloach manot packaging. The
first store I went to would not give me or sell me the coffee cups, so I tried a
second store. I'm not proud of what I did, but I went in to that second Starbucks
and made up a story about how I was throwing a bridal shower for my very
best friend and she just loves loves loves your coffee and I really needed some
cups to use as party favors and I'm happy to buy them off of you, of course.
And the lady agreed and even said I could have them for free! She asked how many
I needed. And I said 50. She looked at me like I was nuts, fifty people at a
bridal shower? But I just stood there, smiling and nodding my head.
I think she was kind of upset that she agreed to give away 50 cups for free
(I had asked for the grande size) but she was gracious about it and handed them
to me. And because I don't know when to quit, I asked for covers too. But then I
saw the look on her face and started laughing and saying, oh, no, I was just
kidding! Thank you so so much! And then I never went into that Starbucks
What was my point here? Oh, a coffee related mishloach manot. Yeah, so I
baked these awesome coffee cake muffins and bought frappachinos in glass bottles
from Costco. Put the frappachinno into the Starbucks cup, topped it with a
plastic wrapped muffin and wrapped the whole thing in cellophane.
2005 - I'm not ashamed to admit that I ordered my mishloach manot through
the shul that year. We were youth directors in a shul that year, we had to throw
a humongous purim carnival the night of megillah reading and I was very pregnant
with my first child (which for some reason makes you more fragile than with any other
pregnancy... you know, dont lift anything, don't exert yourself. And yet, with
any subsequent pregnancy, no one looks at you twice when you carry a 20 pound
toddler and a huge diaper bag and a stroller up three flights. Just saying.)
2004 - This was our first Purim together and we were living all the way
across the country from pretty much everyone we knew and loved. No really, we
were living in Phoenix. Anyway, we wanted to send mishloach manot back to NY and
we had somehow just become the proud owners of a food dehydrator. Don't ask.
Okay, I'll tell you anyway. There was some combination of homemade beef jerky (hence, the food dehydrator), challah rolls, juiceboxes from Trader Joe's - the best store ever and
the store we had never heard of before we moved west - and possibly some other baked
good. There was also some pretty bad poem about living in the desert and Spike, Snoopy's
cousin. For the life of me, I cannot recall what the theme was. Maybe there was no theme, maybe it was just weird stuff in a box.
The worst part - we were both out in Phoenix teaching, on teachers' salaries. And so there were zero extra dollars in the budget. And so when the guy in the post office said that
it would cost us $100 to overnight the mishloach manot to NY, we took a minute to confer with each other and then went with the less expensive option - the ten days in the mail option. Considerably cheaper and considerably longer.
And even worse then the worst part - I'm pretty sure the challah was moldy by the time it
arrived on the east coast. The juiceboxes were fine and the beef jerky, that stuff is gross to
begin with and probably shouldn't be eaten even when fresh.
But you know what the best part is? All those that friends that received surprise boxes of disgustingness from across the country are still our friends today. And that's the mark of a good friend, my friend. (But really, again, if you're one of those friends, we're still really sorry!)
2003 - I have no idea. Not a clue. Purim was exactly five days before our wedding. I'm not even sure we celebrated Purim that year.
I hope some (one?) of these ideas was helpful. It took me years to understand that
mishloach manot is not a contest - as in, no one is giving you a prize for churning out 78
homemade tins of chocolate cake. If you enjoy making elaborate gift baskets, then kol
hakavod, go for it. And if not, then don't. And if like me, you only enjoy it some years,
then only go for it those years.
I think I'm feeling it this year - I haven't for the past few years. My idea is a little
ambitious, so we shall see if I actually pull it off. Wish me luck!
*Sometimes I wish we lived on some small yishuv in Israel where everyone puts a piece of cake and an orange on a plate, wraps it in cellophane, brings it to their neighbor with a big smile and calls it a day.
I know, Purim is coming so really, we should be all-Purim-all-the-time here, but I have to say, my kids have been on a huge banana bread kick lately and I am having trouble keeping up.
Not so much with the baking part, it's more the keeping up with the brown bananas part. My kids go through a lot of bananas and sofor the most part, the bananas on the counter never even have a chance of turning brown - they're gone before they go bad, which normally would be a good thing. Except when you want to bake banana bread.
So what to do? The logical answer is to just buy more bananas. And I did. But the bananas were just not turning brown.
The next logical answer? You got it - google! And you know what I learned? Apparently, if you place a tray of yellow - they must be yellow and not green - bananas in a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes, you will take out a tray of not brown, but black bananas. But on the inside, they will look just like brown bananas. I didn't really read through all the science behind it, but it's something like the heat causes the sugars in the bananas to be released and blah blah blah. I don't reallly care. All I know is that I can bake banana bread and everyone will be happy come breakfast tomorrow morning.
It's the little things in life.
Are you a Mom?
Of course you are,
your shirt is dirty :)