Posts tagged ‘Holiday’

May 7, 2011

May Day

I’ve been a-wandering all the night
And the best part of the day
Now I’m returning home again
I bring you a branch of May

A branch of May, my love, I say
Here at your door I stand
It’s nothing but a sprout, but it’s well budded out
By the work of the Lord’s own hand

My song is done and I must be gone
No longer can I stay,
God bless you all, both great and small,
And bring you a joyful May.

As a child, May Day involved dancing around a May Pole with ribbons, tying May-Day-Wish ribbons to trees, and eating donuts hung on trees (we were told that the fairies had left them for us).  In college May Day also involved mimosas, strawberries and cream (a treat we’ll have to leave until strawberries come in), and taking down the patriarchy (on a holiday which  includes ritual dancing around a large phallic object, it’s important to reverse things a bit).

This year May Day went something like this:

At 8pm we loaded up the car with bundles of sticks, newspaper, and a picnic basket full of food and drove out to the local state park where they proceeded to build a significant, if exceedingly safe, fire on which to make celebratory doughboys.

The ingredients are simple (if not actually seasonal, um, at all) and delicious:

1 pack of crescent rolls

1 jar of raspberry jam

1 pot of melted butter

1 bowl of cinnamon and sugar

Wrap the strips of dough around dowels and cook them over the fire until they look relatively cooked.  It is, of course, best to avoid setting either the dowel or the roll on fire, which can be tricky. When it seems puffy and cooked, carefully pull the doughboy off the dowel and dip in in the butter, sugar, and jam.  Eat, repeat, and be merry.

Lessons from the front:

1. Don’t knock the entire pot of butter onto the grass.

2. Do make sure to have sheets, clothing and extra sweaters available for after you rashly go skinny dipping in the very cold lake.  A fire is warm, but so it being dry.  It also helps to shout “hey hey, ho ho, the patriarchy has got to go” to psych yourself into jumping to said cold water.

3. Don’t let your survival candle lantern blow out, it makes dressing more difficult.

All in all, an excellent May Day.  Complete with yummy sweets, singing, naked swimming (almost as good a May Pole dancing), and fire.  What more could we ask for a pagan beginning of spring celebration?

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March 22, 2011

Purim Part 2: Hamentashen recipe

And now, my mother’s hamentashen recipe:

1 cup sugar

1 cup shortening

1 orange

1 lemon rind

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 1/4-3 1/2 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

3 eggs

 

Filling:

lemon rind

matzo meal (you can use flour if you like)

ground walnuts

jam of choice ( lekvar/prune butter and apricot are traditional; I did apricot and then nutella for the second batch)

Cookies

  1. Cream the sugar and shortening then add the eggs.
  2. Add the rind and juice of one orange.
  3. Add the lemon rind, then the vanilla.
  4. Combine the flour and the baking powder separately (I like to use a whisk to mix dry ingredients together)
  5. Add the flour and baking powder mix.
  6. Make sure everything is smooth and not too sticky.  You can add flour by the tablespoon until you have a smooth, slightly sticky ball.  Now wrap it in a plastic back or something similar and put it in the fridge overnight.

Filling

  1. Mix all the ingredients together until you have a slightly stiff but very sticky mixture.  I did the following quantities:       1 10 oz jar of apricot jam, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 1 1/2 tablespoons matzo meal.
  2. Grind the walnuts in a small cuisineart and then add them to the jam.  Mix until evenly combined.
  3. Add matzo meal in small increments and mix thoroughly.
  4. For Nutella: do just under 1 tablespoon matzo meal and do about 3/4 cup of nutella.  Still use 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.

Now the fun part, putting it all together:

  1. Take the dough out of the fridge and put it on a very heavily floured surface.  You want to work with cold dough and with tons of flour.  Your first few tries may not work out perfectly and you might need to just mix the dough back into itself until you get the rolling correct.  To avoid the dough becoming too warm I cut off chunks and left the rest in the fridge while I worked.  But I have never seen my mother do this.
  2. Gently roll out the dough, flipping often and re-flouring every few moments, until it is about an eight of an inch thick, maybe a little thicker.
  3. Use the top of  a cup to press through the dough making circles.  Peel away the extra dough between the circles.  
  4. Now, place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle and fold three side inward.  You should have a triangle with the filling tucked inside.  Here is my very basic diagram for shaping hamentashen.
  5. Pinch the edges of the flaps so that they stick together well and make sure the corners and pinched shut so the filling doesn’t run out.
  6. Place all your cookies on a very lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes at 375.  They should be just starting to turn golden-brown.
  7. This recipe makes a ton: give them away freely, mail them to your friends and family!  They are best within the first few hours, but usually stay very good for at least a week.

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March 21, 2011

Purim

In honor of Purim, a Jewish holiday about Queen Esther and the saving of the Jews of Persia, I made hamentashen cookies (they’re supposed to be either the hat or the pocket of the story’s bad guy Hamen).  The recipe is in another post.  I used my mother’s recipe and I will here recount my rough version of the Purim story.  Stick with it, there is a lot of build-up and back story before you get to the real action.

Also, a quick note: traditionally you’re supposed to get dressed up as the characters and then get so drunk you can’t tell Hamen from Mordechai.  It’s a little bit like a Jewish Halloween, with more alcohol.

The Story of Purim (more or less, with all the feminist leanings of my upbringing and education):

A long time ago the King Ahashverosh of Persia had a wife named Vashti.  Now Vashit was a proud and beautiful woman.  In some versions of this story Queen Vashti has leprosy, in others something else judgmental and terrible thing has happened to her to anger the king, but in the feminist version Vashti refused to dance naked for the King and his friends at a feast.  So, Vashti, unwilling to debase herself for the king was either killed or sent away.

Which, or course, leaves us with a single king of Persia.  So Ahashverosh held a beauty contest and chose the sweetest, smartest, and most beautiful of the young women to his new wife.  That young woman was Esther, a Jew.  Esther had lost both her parents and had been raised in the capital city by her uncle Mordechai.  When Esther was chosen to be the queen, Mordechai cautioned her not to let Ahashverosh or anyone else in the palace know that she was Jewish.  And so Esther, keeping her identity a secret, became the queen of Persia.

Now, every week, sometimes more than once a week, Mordechai would go visit Esther, so he was always walking by the palace walls and one day he heard two men plotting to assassinate Ahashverosh.  Mordechai immediately told Esther, who told Ahashverosh, who was able to avoid the plot and kill the conspiring men.  Next Ahashverosh went to his chief adviser, a man named Hamen, to ask how to best honor Mordechai.  It went like this:

“Hamen, how should I honor someone to whom I am grateful and who I love?”

Hamen, being conceited, assumed the person in question was himself and answered, “You should dress him in the king’s robes and mount him on the kings horse, and one of your officials will walk with him and proclaim through the city: ‘behold the man the kings loves!’”

“Why Hamen,” said Ahashverosh, who, it seems, took every idea to heart, “that’s a great idea!  Do you want to know who that man is?”

“Yes!” (me) said Hamen.

“It’s Mordechai; he saved my life.  And since I respect you so much, Hamen, you can lead him through the city on my horse, in my robes, calling out how much I love him.”

Hamen was not pleased.  He developed a massive grudge against Mordechai and, once he found out that Mordechai was a Jew, against all Jews.  So over the years Hamen kept conniving and scheming how to punish Mordechai and the Jews.  And finally he came to it:  Hamen met him in the street and told Mordechai to bow because he was chief adviser to the king.  But Mordechai refused, saying he would bow only to god.  Hamen was pissed, angrier than ever, and ready to put his scheme into action.

Hamen went to Ahashverosh and had a nasty manipulative conversation something like this:

“Hey Ahashverosh, shouldn’t all your subjects love you and bow to you?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, what if I told you there was a group of people who loved someone more than you?”

“That’s terrible!  Who are these people?”

“The Jews!  The Jews love their god more than they love you.”

“And what should I do?”

“Kill them, kill them all!”

“Okay, let’s pick a date.” Again with the not thinking for himself.  Ahashverosh is remarkably un-discerning for a king.

So Ahashverosh and Hamen drew lots (I think that’s literally what Purim means) and picked 13th of Adar to be the date on which all the Jews of Persia would be killed.  He put it into law and Hamen was really happy.

Mordechai, however heard and was heartbroken.  He tore his clothing, wept, and laid in the streets.  Then he went to see Esther and told her about the plan.  Esther, seeing that she had the power to prevent this massacre, knew she had to take action.  She decided, given the limited social roles available to women in her time and position, to use her feminine wiles.  She started by fasting for three days and Mordechai organized all the Jews to fast a well and pray for her.  Then Esther faced the challenge of going before Ahashverosh.  To go to the king unannounced and unasked was punishable by death, but Esther knew she had to nonetheless.

She put on her finest clothes and went to the court of King Ahashverosh.  She walked by the open door once, slowly, hoping the king would see her and invite her in, but he did not.  She walked by a second time, and again he didn’t see her.  So a third time she passed by the door.  A third time he did not see her.  And so Esther took a breath and stepped into the court.

At once guards ran to her, pulling out their spears.  But Ahashverosh finally saw her and called out to let her go.  And so Esther came and sat with the king all afternoon and at the end of the day she asked the King to join her for a banquet in her personal chambers.  The king came and had a great feast with Esther.  And she asked him to come back the next night and to bring his adviser and friend Hamen.  Again, they all had a great time.  And Esther asked them both back for one more banquet.

At the end of the third banquet Ahashverosh said to Esther, “Thank you my dear for these banquets, they have been so wonderful.  Please, how can I reward and thank you?  Be it up to half my kingdom, what can I give you?”

And Esther, finally having her moment proceeded carefully, “What would you say, my king, if I told you someone wanted to kill me?”

“What!” Cried the king.

And

“Who? Kill him!” Cried Hamen.

And Ester stood. “Him,” she said, pointing to Hamen.  “Hamen wants to kill all the Jews and I am a Jew.”

Ahashverosh jumped up as well and called for the guards, who took Hamen away and hung him on the gallows he had prepared for the Jews.   But, Ahashverosh still had a problem because he’d already passed a decree to kill all the Jews on the 13th of Adar.  He brought Mordechai into the court and made him an adviser and the two of them put out a decree that the Jews could defend themselves and their neighbors could defend the Jews.  And so Esther saved the Jews of Persia.