♦ Life Lessons

Dear Shaina,

And you didn’t even like puzzles when you were a child! I am moved by your willingness to give yourself over to your work despite the emotional confrontation it requires of you. You seem to have landed exactly where you need to be at this particular moment of your life. Looking back at how you got here, your process was both random and intentional, rational and gutsy and always trusting of your instincts. You stayed in the pursuit, many times not knowing where it would lead, until you found a path that felt on target…and you took it. What a life lesson! You have mastered it and it will serve you well throughout your life. Life is a series of intentional meanderings and instinctive pursuits of ever-evolving targets. You are well prepared and I am proud of you!

It was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, last week. I wrote a memory story about Bubbe for a community program. Of course, it was about food. Food was and is such a big deal in all our lives. Bubbe and Zayde’s early experiences of extreme hunger insured that no one in our family would ever have the opportunity (at least not under their watch) to encounter even a remote sensation of hunger. Stuffed was the only satisfactory response to “did you have enough?” And we carry on that legacy of physical and emotional sustenance through food.

I had a strong urge to make Bubbe’s Blintzes this week. I hadn’t made them in years and the last time, it was difficult. The dough skins were thicker than hers and stuck to the frying pan or fell apart when I filled them. I struggled. They were good, but I knew I hadn’t yet achieved the Bubbe Blintz standard of excellence. The blintz cheese waiting in my freezer was calling to me to try again.

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With my shmata on my head and my ceramic non-stick pan in hand, I swirled the first spoonful of batter over the lightly buttered pan.DSCF7001
I knew from that very first blintz dough that my hands were moving in Bubbe motion. I turned out 60 or so paper thin crepe skins with ease and relative perfection.

I was transported back to Bubbe’s kitchen…watching her magically flip a perfect circle of translucent lightly browned dough onto a waiting torn open brown paper grocery sack…waiting for her to mess one up so I could eat it fresh out of the buttery frying pan. Sometimes she would mess one up on purpose because she knew how much I loved them. The very same taste and texture came out of my kitchen. Bubbe’s Blintzes have become mine. Taste memory has the amazing capacity to immortalize and transform in the same moment. It is the closest I can get to comprehending the concept of a Time Machine.

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It’s your birthday! You were born on Earth Day.It always seemed so fitting. You dare to make this earth your home and  you have experienced the diversity and richness and suffering that exists beyond your footprint. Twenty-seven years old!! Your footprint has already left indelible marks in many people’s lives.

Happy Earth Day and Happy Birthday, Shaina…may you continue to follow your instincts, to share your goodness with everyone you encounter and to live on this earth in peace and good health always.

You are a wondrous joy in my life.
Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoox

Bubbe’s Cheese Blintzes

I have been on a baking binge. It rained all last week and I entertained myself in the kitchen. I am sharing the Blintz recipe again with some refinements. I learned a few tricks from a Russian friend of ours who made delicious Blinis for brunch. Blini dough is a little pancake-ier than Blintz dough and is eaten in more of a crepe style, but the basic principles are the same.

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Bring all ingredients to room temperature. This recipe makes 4 to 5 dozen depending on how much cheese you use, how thick your blintz skins are and the size of your crepe pan.

Blintz Crepe Batter

  • 3 Cups flour
  • 6 – 7 Cups skim milk
  • 7 Eggs
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix ingredients in a blender or in a large deep bowl using an immersion stick blender until there are no visible lumps*. Let batter rest for about 30 minutes.

*Having a hard time with the lumps in the batter? Try pouring the batter through a mesh strainer over a bowl. Mash up the lumps with a spoon, adding additional milk if needed or if your pressed for time, just throw the lumps away and start cooking.

Blintz Filling

  • 3 pounds Farmer Cheese* (it looks like very small curd dried cottage cheese) *It can be stored in the freezer for a very long time if it is vacuum packed…and it is as good as new when defrosted!
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients together by hand or with a stick blender or electric beater. Set aside while making Blintz crepes.

Use a non-stick or stainless steel or cast iron crepe pan or small shallow frying pan. Heat pan over medium heat before smearing butter lightly on pan. I use wax paper to hold the butter and lightly spread it on the pan.IMG_5823

Pour about ¼ to ⅓ cup of batter into the pan and swirl it around the bottom of the heated pan to cover the pan with a thin layer of batter. It may take a few times to get the pan to the right temperature and the right amount of batter to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin coating of batter.

Cook on one side only until you can see the bottom of the crepe bubbling up from the bottom of the pan a bit and   the edges come away from the sides of the pan. Don’t be discouraged if you mess up the first few crepes. They are delicious plain, so enjoy your mistakes. Flip the crepe out of the pan onto parchment paper or brown paper sacks cooked side face up.

Repeat process until all the batter is gone.IMG_5819

Once the crepe is cooled. Place a couple tablespoons of the cheese mixture at the bottom of the circle of dough on the cooked side of the dough. Roll the dough over the cheese to form a tube about the size of a roll of quarters. Roll the dough over once and fold the sides in. Then continue to roll the dough until the blintz is formed. The uncooked side of the dough should form the outside of the blintz. Place the completed blintz with the seam down on a fresh piece of wax paper on a metal baking sheet. You can use more or less cheese filling based on your preference, but don’t overfill.

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At this stage, the Blintzes are ready to be sautéed in a small amount of butter until the outsides of the Blintz are lightly browned. Blintzes may also be flash frozen prior to sautéing and placed in freezer bags to be prepared and served at another time.

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Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate

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My baking binge didn’t stop with the Blintzes. I decided to try making some Biscotti.  I knew I hit on a good recipe when some friends came over to play mahjong and between dad and them, they made a serious dent in the Biscotti I was planning on serving to a Book Group I was hosting the next morning. It was all good. I just made another batch. They are easy to make and satisfying to eat. Hope you like the ones I sent to you. This recipe makes between 30 -50 Biscotti depending on how big you make them.

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons of Brandy or Amaretto
  • 1 tablespoon of Almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole almonds lightly toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or melting chocolate
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips or melting chocolate
  • sea salt (optional)
  • toasted slivered almonds (optional)

Mix together sugar, melted butter, brandy and extracts in a large bowl. Add eggs and almonds and stir together well.

Mix together flour, baking powder and salt and add to egg mixture, mixing until combined.
Chill dough for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°.
Using moistened hands, halve dough and form 2 (12” x 3”) loaves and place on parchment paper on a large baking sheet.

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Bake until pale golden, about 30 minutes.
Carefully transfer the loaves to a rack and cool for 15 minutes.
Cut loaves into 1/2”-3/4” slices with a serrated knife.
Arrange biscotti on a baking sheet and bake until golden, about 25 minutes.
Cool completely.

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Place white and dark chocolate in separate pint mason jars and melt carefully in the microwave at a low power. Check every 15-30 seconds stirring to see if chocolate is completely melted. Do not over heat as chocolate can burn easily.

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Dip ends of cooled biscotti in the chocolate as desired. White chocolate can be drizzled over a dark chocolate dipped biscotti or vice versa. Sprinkle with slivered almonds and a little sea salt if desired.

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