Friday, October 28, 2011

This Year's Cake

The blueberry base is quite dense as it is a muffin recipe, but nice citrus and tart yogurt flavors. The chocolate cake/arc is super moist and I like that it has olive oil in it - a nod to the olive branch that the dove brought to Noah. The vanilla frosting I made came out a bit thick, but the chocolate frosting was too thin so I added more powdered sugar and it was just right.  I just delivered it to our friends Sara and Gershon, who will be hosting us for dinner. Tallying up the history this will be the third time I have brought the cake over to hosts. I hope everyone likes this years visually tame cake (Top Chef Just Dessert worthy it is not) - I think the flavors are going to outshine the flavor from past years' cakes.

Have Your Cake - Parshat Noach

Sam and I spent a blissful four days with my parents in their home in Upstate NY last weekend. Aside from rediscovering how much I love napping in an indoor hammock, I found a treasure - a picture of an early mabul cake I baked for Parshat Noach.

Mabul cake circa 2000

I had totally forgotten that I made a round version of the cake - it looks so much more elegant than the rectangular aluminum pan version. It's inspired me to revamp the mabul cake this year and class it up a bit. But first, we have the portion to discuss.

Last year we cleared up all the misconceptions about the portion (7 of some animals, not 2, they were in the arc for a lot longer than 40 days and nights). This year I'm pondering what there is to learn from the cataclysmic flood. With messages from the high holidays in the recesses of my mind it's troubling to read of a time when humanity went so far astray, were so corrupt, that repentance wasn't an option. God gives a sliver of creation a second chance by having Noah assemble his family and the back bones of the animal kingdom into the arc. There they wait out God's fury for close to a year as He causes water to burst from every directions and drown all other living things. Cooped up together, possibly in fear, it's a long "time out" until they are released onto dry land to start rebuilding their lives.

But it doesn't seem like the redo improves the situation of the world. Noah starts things off on the right foot by offering a sacrifice to God upon emerging from the arc. In return God displays a rainbow across the sky as a symbol of his covenant with the rest of the generations never to wipe out the world again. But soon after, Noah becomes intoxicated and gets into a scuffle with his children, cursing one of them for generations. Fast forward a few generations and people attempt to build the tower of Babel, which they plan will reach the sky as an expression of their power. God and His angels don't like that attitude and confuse their speech to disperse them.

So the lessons God was trying to convey with the flood, of respect for one's fellow and  devotion to a higher power, weren't so well learned. Yet God can't start over anymore with humanity after his promise with the rainbow covenant. But one thing He does set up is responsibility for humanity going forward: "I will require a reckoning of human life, every man for that of his fellow man." We are responsible for how we treat one another, and this story reminds us of it.

I guess we could make a tower of Babel cake this week, but baking a mabul cake is too strong of a tradition for me to give up.

This year I'm feeling a pull away from the overly sugared technicolor mabul cake tradition and have been thinking about how to achieve the water and arc look in a more natural way. I've made a round base of a blueberry cake which will get white frosting as well as a loaf pan of chocolate cake which I will shape to look like the arc and frost with chocolate. The cake recipes I'm using the following recipe for inspiration for the two parts of the cake:  I'll be adapting this dairy blueberry muffin recipe and this chocolate cupcake recipe (secret ingredient - vinegar).

I'll post again this afternoon after all the pieces have been assembled. Check out this other cute Noah themed cake. 

Mabul Cake 2000 construction - fluff not as strong as hoped
Shifra and Shoshana help with the construction in our Jerusalem dorm

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tumultuous Beginings - Parshat Breishit

I've been blogging for two years now, but haven't written a post about Parshat Breishit - the very first portion in the Torah. In year one I went public a few weeks too late and in year two I got caught up in the swing of the holidays. This year I'm not gonna let that happen. On Wednesday night we'll extend the celebration of Sukkot a few more days with Shmini Atzeret ("The 8th day of stopping") and Simchat Torah ("Rejoicing in the Torah"). On the latter we'll complete the reading of the Torah only to  start reading it all over again the very same day. Then, the next day on Shabbat we read the full portion of Genesis - so I'd better get to it.

In Genesis we read about God creating the world in seven days. He starts with heaven and earth - but it wasn't how we think of them now- at first they are unformed and void, think primordial soup (no, that will not be the recipe this week). God sets about bringing order to chaos - on the first day creating light and dark and proclaiming it a good thing (way before Martha ever did).  Day two brought a distinction between the waters of the earth and the sky. Day three brought the appearance of dry land masses between the seas and sprouting of vegetable and fruit plants. Also good. Day four brought the moon and the stars to shine at night and the sun to distinguish the day - another good idea, a way for us to forever measure time. Day five brought some more living breathing things come into being - creatures of the sea and birds of the sky - not only are they good, they get blessed to increase and multiply. Day six things get crowded - cattle, critters and humans oh my! This was not just good, this was very good. And humans get a special blessing - increase and multiply and master the universe. On day seven it was time to create rest, establish a holy-day, and take a break.

Bringing order to chaos is a favorite activity of mine, under certain conditions. I love transforming a pile of groceries into a few delicious dishes, overturning a basket of laundry onto the bed and then folding it all neatly into drawers, or culling several post it's with messy scrawls into one neat to do list. Perhaps it is the divine impulse in me, or the type A personality, but there is a pull for me towards the unformed. The text calls the state of the world on that first day before order was implemented "Tohu Vavohu." As a play on the word, I've been thinking of a "Tofu Vavohu" stir-fry.



Delicious order

Every time I make a vegetarian stir fry, the tofu doesn't get the kind of crackly, crunchy crust that I'm after. I've tried using a lot of oil in the pan and giving the tofu it's own time in there before involving any vegetables. But the saute pan method wasn't doing it for me so I tried a baking pan. Last time we were making stir fry I tossed cubes of tofu with some of our soy sauce, sugar and sesame seed "dressing" and spread them out on a baking pan. They went unto the oven at 375 for 15 minutes, and came out exactly how I wanted I served them over the stir fried vegetables that I prepared while the tofu was roasting, and I doused it all with our lip smacking dressing. So order was made of yet another mess.

Tofu Vavohu
Makes 2-4 servings depending on how hungry you are.

1 clove garlic
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup of rice wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp grated ginger
pinch of chilli powder
1 package of extra firm tofu
1 red pepper, washed, seeded and sliced into match sticks
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
optional: cooked rice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Drain the tofu and cut into 1 inch cubes.

Mix the first 7 ingredients to form the "dressing." If you are having trouble dissolving the sugar heat the dressing gently over a low flame and stir until it dissolves.

Take half of the dressing and toss it with the cubed tofu. Spread the tofu out on a silpat lined baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes, until golden brown and a bit crackly.

In the mean time, heat the olive oil in a wok or a large saute pan over medium high heat for 1 minute. Add the cut vegetables and stir for 3 minutes until slightly soft. Add 2 tbsp of the dressing and stir fry for another minute.

If you'd like to use rice in this dish, portion some into 2-4 individual bowls. Divide the vegetables into each bowl and spoon the tofu over the vegetables and drizzle another 1-2 tablespoons of the dressing over each bowl. Enjoy warm.

A meat stir fry

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sukkot 2011

Sam helping to build a Cambridge Sukkah last year

Last night was supposed to be the night that Sam and I went to buy our set of four species (lulav/palm frond, etrog/citron, hadasim/myrtle and aravot/willow) for Sukkot, the week long holiday which starts this Wednesday evening commemorating when God settled the nation in sukkot (booths/huts) after the Exodus, marking the beginning of the harvest and judgement time for rain. Shopping two nights before the start of the holiday would have been the most advanced planning in my history of buying lulav and etrog - but alas, a meeting ran long and a Judaica shop closed early, and we again found ourselves buying the night before the holiday.

A harvest bouquet

But I used to cut it even closer. Since I was about eight-years-old, my dad would take me and my brother down to the lower East side on the morning eve of the holiday to look for the best sets at the best prices. Vendors were wrapped along Essex and Grand Streets, hawking their agricultural cum religious goods from rickety folding tables. Long-rectangular card board boxes in front of the tables held dozens of jostled, thin, palm fronds from Israel, and leafy willow and myrtle stalks sprayed in a myriad of directions from white buckets flanking the tables. The table tops were reserved for the crown jewels - individually boxed yellow and green citrons, fragrant and padded by Styrofoam. It's the beauty and the value of those etrogs, sourced from Israel, Spain, Itlay, that drive the price of the sets - and if you've ever seen the movie Ushpizin you know some people are willing to pay A LOT for one. But vendors still burdened with merchandise at the 11th hour were willing to part with their etrogs and accompanying species for rock bottom prices - $30, $20 even $15.

Past him and hers etrog selections

In our hunt for our sets, my father taught us what to look for in each of the four species that makes them kosher - a lulav must have a straight spine and a green tip that isn't split or dried out, an etrog ought to be blemish free and have it's special stem, called a pitom, intact (or grow without one), aravot and hadassim should be healthy and leafy and not have significant gaps between the leaves. Aside from the legal markings, we each had aesthetic preferences that we sought - I like pitom-less green etrogs and a manageable sized lulav - my dad loves large yellow etrogs with an indentation around its middle to grip on to and for his lulav to be covered in brown. Being with someone you love when they find their perfect set gives you the same satisfaction as when a good friend finds their soul mate - though the feeling is shorter lived as the whole process will be repeated this time next year. I have schooled Sam in picking out a set according to Jewish law and according to what is beautiful in the eye of the beholder. He loves yellow etrogs - but it's smell that is more important to him than looks.  Unfortunately, in Beantown we lack the Lower East side fair market for the four species - so we end up shelling out more than double the NY prices to each get a set that we love.

Sam and set circa 2004

Now you may have read all of this and thought - is she nuts? That much money on non-local produce, that much time examining leafy greens? But to me it isn't tedious and it isn't a waste of money - it's a true joy (though slightly obsessive behavior - especially after we get the sets home and debate the best way to store them for the week - Fridge? Vase? Wet paper towel? Tin foil? We want them to look their best during holiday services when we will parade around with them). It is a process that involves appreciating natural beauty and is part of the Biblical commandment for this particular holiday to "rejoice in the holiday and be only happy."

Our High Holiday Vichinsky honey pot - you can get your own at

The other way that we ensure that we are "only happy" is by bundling up to eat warm food at night in the sukkah with friends and continuing to pour honey over round challahs in the face of buzzing bees during the day. I have experienced the holiday of Sukkot in warmer climates - Israel, California - but what those of us stuck in colder climates need is warm soups on cold nights. I have one to share that was a hit over Rosh Hashana - as well as six more so that you can have soup at every meal. I'm hoping that the roasted red pepper soup wards off the threatening rain here. The bright red color perks you up, while and the smooth texture lulls you into relaxation and enjoyment.

Cardulo's Rosh Hashana Specials in Harvard Square

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

8 red peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 potato, peeled and cubed
3 garlic cloves, husk removed
5 cups Vegetable or Chicken broth
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)
Chile or Curry powder (optional, for heat)

Clean and halve the red peppers, remove the seeds and broil them until they are partially blackened and limp. Pop them into a brown bag to cool - you'll then have an easier time removing the peel.

In a large pot saute the onion in olive oil for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the broth, potatoes, garlic cloves. Peel the skin off of the red peppers, add them to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may also want to add a bit of heat with a spice such as curry or chile.

Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Sukkot Soup Round Up:
Here are soups from Double Portion that are sure to continue warming you up in the sukkah
  1. Lentil Soup With a Kick 
  2. Oxtail Soup (buy Osso Bucco at Grow and Behold with the Double Portion discount!)
  3. Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic Soup
  4. Tomato Bisque
  5. Chicken Soup with Ginger
  6. Lamb Chulent

This post is linked to Real Food Digest Sukkot 2011 Blog Carnival.

Farmer's Market harvest