Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In a Bind - Parshat Beshalach

Last year we talked about this being the parsha of the double portion - so if you're in the mood for some challah baking, go revisit it. As a brief challah update - these days I have been taking the time to make an egg wash to glaze the challah (a combo of one yolk and a tsp of water) and then grinding an herbed salt mix over the top before baking. The crunchy savory outside is a great prelude to the lightly sweet and doughy inside.

But this year we're going to talk about dilemmas. Sure we all come up against them in life and in the kitchen - should I leave out some oil to save my waist but sacrifice on taste ... how can I save my batch of oatmeal white chocolate cookies when I discover that we're out of oats ... should I take the time to chisel away at that brown sugar that has gone hard again or just use white sugar in the recipe? We each have our own ways of reaching a decision in these difficult dilemmas, and in this week's portion, Parshat Bishalach, God has to make His own decisions to save the nation from a few dilemmas.

Pharoh has finally let the people go, but God is a bit nervous that if the newly freed nation sees that they have a hard journey ahead they'll do an about face and scramble back to their Egyptian huts. So, God decides to take them on a longer rout, leading them away from warring nations that they might come upon, and taking them through the wilderness instead, to the Sea of Reeds.

While one crisis is averted another pops right up. Don't you hate that? While the Israelites are camping out near the sea Pharoh gets word and his heart starts to stiffen. He misses his slaves so he leads his warriors on chariots after the nation. But it's all part of God's plan to lead the nation to freedom with some pizazz.

As the Israelites start to hear the thundering of Pharoh's army chariots they started to panic. An army on one side of them and water on the other! They cried out to God to solve their dire situation. But it's not really what God wanted to hear - actually, they say exactly what He was trying to avoid earlier. "Did you drag us out here because there weren't enough graves in Egypt? Take us back, we'd rather have the life of a slave than die in the wilderness."

Moses calms them and says - just sit back and watch this great show God has got in store for you to get you out of this bind. And just them Moses receives word to raise his staff in his hand over the water and split the sea, making a dry passageway, an escape route for the nation. They start scurrying between the two walls of water, fleeing the pursuing army, and again they are sandwiched - but this time in a good way. Acting as a buffer between them and the Egyptian army that's still on their tails is a moving pillar of cloud and another of fire. After a lengthy crossing, when the last souls of Israel make it through to the other side of the sea unscathed, God brings the water of the sea crashing over the Egyptian chariots - and Pharoh finally bites the dust. And that certainly wows the nation - for a little while they're in awe of God, true believers.

Permit me a bit of a stretch this week with the food connection (not unlike the many times you've done so before). This is a case where I've made something yummy that I'd love to share with you, and I'm going to try and fit it into the story. My mom recently sent me a slew of cookbooks for my birthday, and this morning, in honor of a snow day, I cooked up a batch of delicious wheat-corn muffins that have a little surprise sandwiched in the middle. Home made jam (but I won't tell if you buy yours from the store).

OK so what's the connection? These sandwich-esque muffins are reminiscent of the times the Israelites find themselves in a sandwich this week - between the sea and the army, between the walls of water and between protective pillars of clouds and fire. The muffins are quite fluffy, airy and cloud like - and if you use a red jam, like my raspberry peach I made over the summer, it's quite fiery looking. Trust me, you'll enjoy the muffins more than this explanation.

Muffin Jelly "Sandwiches"
Adapted from Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2002

There is no cornmeal in the original recipe, but I was really in the mood for a toned down corn muffin and this hit the spot. I filled 6 of the muffins with a sweet raspberry peach jam and 6 with a tart quince jam that I made right after Rosh Hashana. Both went very well with the taste of the muffins.

1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg white (you can save the other yolk here for glazing your challah)
3 tbsp canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 jam or jelly of your choice - feel free to use more than one kind
1 tsp granulated sugar

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the flours and corn meal in a large bowl. Add the salt, baking powder and baking soda.

In a separate bowl beat the egg, egg white, and brown sugar. Then add in the buttermilk, vanilla and canola oil.

Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until moist - don't over stir.

Let is sit for 5 minutes to fluff up.

Prepare 12 muffin holders (I like to use silicone) on a baking sheet. Spoon 1.5 tbsps into the bottom of each muffin cup. Then add 1 tsp jam to each cup. Finally, top with 1 tbsp of batter, smooth the batter nicely to cover over all the jam.

Sprinkle each muffin with some of the granulated sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes, allow to cool and enjoy.

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