Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!
Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Passover Foods: Charoses



Sheryl and I at Passover 2015
***I know Passover was in the beginning of April, but I still wanted to post this piece for my series in "Cooking Through Family" as I used a family recipe.
Thanks. :) Marc

Passover is one of those Jewish holidays which inspires excitement and dread for me at the same time. And the reason for both is purely selfish. I am excited because I love the foods surrounding this holiday. I dread it because of how long the Seder (the ritual dinner) may last. 
The holy Jewish festival occurs each Spring and commemorates the Jews' exodus from slavery by their oppressors in Egypt. It is one of the most celebrated of holidays and lasts 8 days or 7 depending on whether or not you are in America, Israel, or the rest of the world. The length of the festival also depends on how religious a Jew you are.

Sheryl set a beautiful table!
The first night of Passover is all about the special ritual dinner called the Seder. Many Jews in America celebrate the second night of Passover with a second Seder. The second Seder often included close friends and other family members who could not or did not take part in the first one. The second Seder was not seen as the 'B' list of the Passover holiday. HAHA. From a social standpoint, the second night included others to help you celebrate it who weren't able to make the first night. Religiously, certain Jewish groups have stated that a second night is needed to absorb the seriousness of the holiday.
The Seder recounts in detail, the story and prayers of the Jews' flight from Egypt. It discusses all the symbols and rituals associated with this holy holiday. There is wine drinking, the eating of bitter herbs, charoses, and matzoh (unleavened bread), the inclusion of family in asking questions of why do we do certain things, and the singing of songs.  It is traditionally done in Hebrew and in English, depending on the faith of the family hosting the Seder. It is a beautifully cultural experience which as it's only downside in my eyes, can sometimes go painfully long. I jest but think of it as the movie "The English Patient." Ha ha. It can go so loooong.

The traditional Seder plate with all of the Passover symbols.
My sister, brother, and I have warm loving memories of Seders from years past at my grandparents, our cousins Anne and Jennifer's home, Aunt Emmy and Uncle Chic's home, our own home growing up, and  now at my sister's home each year. During the ceremony, the youngest person, traditionally son in conservative homes, asks four important questions of the "leader" who runs the Seder. These questions are integral to the reasons behind the Seder and it's symbolism. The questions encourage the youth to become interested in the traditions of Passover. The head of the household or family, traditionally the eldest man, is the leader. It was a sign of respect that was not taken or given lightly.
For years, I was the youngest and asked these questions. When we had a Seder with my niece Angelica, and nephew Johnny, they both took over the roll of asking the questions. We wanted them to each share in the experience.  I was the leader the year Adam's kids asked the questions. Dad was usually the leader at our family Seders, or my Uncle Chic, Cousin Gilbert, or Grandpop Herman.

Me, acting as the leader of the Seder.
For the last couple years, my sister has designated me as the leader but believe me, she sure has jumped in to correct me or add some wisdom. God love her. We had the Seder at Sheryl's home again this year. Sheryl has started the wonderful tradition including family, friends, and neighbors. Sheryl's neighbor, Kelly, represented the youngest child (she's like 20, LOL) and asked me the questions. It was a great evening filled with tradition, not to mention incredible foods cooked by Sheryl and friends.
Charoses, also called charoset or haroset, is a sweetened paste mixture with fruits and nuts. In the Passover Seder, it represents the mortar the Jews used to made mud bricks. It is also great on the matzoh. I made a charoses recipe below selected by Mom. I didn't realize that Sheryl also had the one Dad made until later or else I would have made that one as well. Sheryl made a Moroccan-style recipe as well which included apricots, cranberries, and dates. The great thing about Charoses is that there are so many varied recipes for it which you can find and experiment with. Other recipes call for raisins, honey, poppy or sesame seeds, dates, pistachios, and or figs.
Charoses (Recipe selected by Mom)
Chop together two apples and 1/2 cup of walnuts (rough chop) (I used Red Delicious.)
Moisten with 1/4 cup of sweet wine (I used Blackberry Manischewitz wine.)
Traditional Charoses (recipe selected by Mom)

Add 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Chill
This is a basic traditional Ashkenazi-style recipe.
Charoses (Recipe by Dad)
Granny Smith apples
Ground almonds
Raisins
Pine nuts
Rum
Cinnamon

Dad's recipe seems to have more of a Sephardic twist.


Moroccan Charoses (Recipe selected by my sister Sheryl)

Nuts are finely chopped in food processor.
Dried fruit is done by hand chopping.
Use your judgment and preference on how much of each.

Almonds/Pistachios (or both)
- Dried Cranberries
-  Dried Apricots
-  Dried (pitiless) Dates
-  Golden raisins (not the brown raisins)
-  Dried Figs (optional)
-  ¼ cup of a sweet wine (white/rose)

Combine all the ingredients, mix well and refrigerate.
Best to do night before or early in the morning so ingredients can marinate.


***Bloggers note:  In the above picture of the Seder plate, you will see a LARGE bone. I couldn't find a lamb shank bone as is traditionally used and had to settle for a dinosaur bone instead.  That's what happens when you hit the supermarket last minute. :)  


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Visiting Mom at 5 Years


Visiting Mom and our traditions
What a difficult month this has been for me. I'm not asking for a pity party and actually I'm finally getting out of my funk. You all lend me your ears and that's all I can ask for. J I have a couple blog posts written and am in the process of polishing them up to post soon. I wanted to explain my absence though.

It was the 5th anniversary of Mom's passing this year. A sad time every year. At least I don't sob openly in public anymore. Those who have lost someone close know how easily that can happen during the first couple years.

The pain is still there, very raw. I am very very sad. But I process it, sometimes confront it, sometimes overwhelmed by it. That sob comes in private. I then put it back in its place until the next year when the scab is ripped off again and the process starts all over. Each year, the wound gets smaller, but still pain hurts just as much. You just learn how to deal with it better. Hope this makes sense. 

I started feeling my funk coming on a couple weeks prior to the end of March. Coincidentally, I stopped writing just about then. I became lethargic and tired. Just so down and so negative on everything. Damn it, I hate this time of year. I came off of a bad winter with a bout of winter blues and then right into the anniversary of Mom's death.

I started nursing my emotional wounds and was able to get together with my sister Sheryl for Passover and then the following weekend she came out for the day to visit Mom's grave. It turned out to be a nice day. We shed some tears and Sheryl brought daffodils to place on the grave. They were one of Mom's favorite flowers.

There are so many traditions surrounding visiting gravesites, one of the most common being the laying of flowers. You also see personal momentos and photographs left. I always know my stepdad Barry has been out to the cemetery to visit Mom because I see pennies left on the headstone. It's comforting know that Mom is being visited by us.


"During the Vietnam War, it became popular to leave coins on the graves of fallen soldiers."  In addition, "Pennies are left on graves most of all, in remembrance of the deceased. Leaving a coin from your pocket is a way to leave a part of yourself at the burial site. The coin is a visual reminder that, even in death, the memory of the deceased lives on. It is also a sign of respect to the dead, as it shows that their memory has value to you and is something you want to commemorate."

Jewish tradition, of which of course I follow, calls for one to leave stones on the headstones to show that you were there. It shows others that you were there and actively visit. It doesn't matter what the stones look like: round, square, imperfect, smooth, or jagged. You see little piles of stones on graves and it is comforting knowing that that person is still mourned, loved, and visited.
 
View of the cemetery from the grove
Online, Rabbis offer "official reasons" for the marking of a headstone with pebbles and stones which range from the poignant, to the practical and to the deeply religious. You can find these reasons through an online search. I leave the stones because it shows I have been there, still desperately miss my loved ones, and it brings me closer to my Jewish faith.
 
Since Mom was laid to rest at Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, my personal tradition is that every year I bring a bag of various nuts for the squirrels. She loved wildlife and the squirrels (and deer) are so abundant there. It completely enhances the calming nature of the cemetery for misty eyed reflection and soul searching.
 
I take the big bag and scatter the nuts up in a grove just above the grave markers of 100s of soldiers and/or their wives. I sometimes see squirrels eagerly making their way down the trees for their prize, gathering up one or two nuts. They race back up to a branch overlooking the green lawn and begin feasting on their newly found treats. I always smile at this sight and it helps to bring me peace.