Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project, 2010 Edition

No one writes a modern Haggadah quite like my brother. He does it every year. I wish I could be half as funny.

For those of you new to the story of Exodus, here’s a little hint: This isn’t quite the same as the original. Think of asking a Shouts and Murmers author to rewrite the Bible. You should probably swallow your matzo before reading.

Here’s an excerpt from Exodus:

For a number of happy years long ago, our ancestor Jacob and his son Joseph lived simple, sustainable lives in the prosperous wine country of Canaan.  During a famine, however—caused by a combination of climate change and poor planning—Jake and Joe were forced to give up their small-scale sustainable winery and get jobs as bureaucrats in Sacramento (then known as Egypt), where food and middle-management white collar positions with healthy benefit packages were equally plentiful.  Jacob retired in a time when 401Ks still had value, and his son Joseph soon rose to high position writing environmental policy in the Pharaoh’s court.  Led by Joseph, our people were well-respected and well-regarded, comfortable and secure in the power structure of the time despite an innately unnatural suburban lifestyle and a general dearth of good bagels.

Generations passed and our people remained in the central valley of Egypt.  As rulers came and went, a new Pharaoh ascended to the throne, propelled by a personal fortune made in internet salesmanship and a relentless, self-aggrandizing television ad campaign that positioned her as a prohibitive favorite for a job that nobody else really wanted.  The new Pharaoh felt threatened by the strangers and immigrants in her people’s midst, and noting that we wore funny hats, smelled of gefilte fish, and routinely failed to watch our fair share of NASCAR, she ordered our people enslaved.  Fearing rebellion, Pharaoh decreed that all Hebrew boy-children be sent to semi-religious charter schools in the suburbs.  Blocked by activist judges opposed to bussing, however, she decided he would just kill them instead.

The whole shebang:
A Fool’s Haggadah (PDF)
By Joshua Howe

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Filed under commentary, jewish

The macaroon I was craving

Double Chocolate Macaroon Cake 2

These days, because Graham prefers to monopolize one of my upper appendages at all times with his babooning, my recreational kitchen activity falls into two distinct camps: Things I Can Do While My Child Naps and Things I Cannot Start Until He Goes to Bed. In the former group, I place things like “eat a bowl of cereal,” “empty the dishwasher,” and “throw a salad together for lunch.” Since this time of year, most produce hasn’t quite mastered the art of needing nothing, these are not usually exciting things. The latter hosts more ambitious projects, like making a few pans of lasagna for the freezer, or a batch of chicken and kale stew – you know, useful, dinnerish things. This is not a time in my life for French onion soup, or homemade pasta, or for fancy layer cakes.

But somehow, late last week, in the space of a morning nap, I made a macaroon cake.

By now, you must know I have a weakness for simple cakes. To qualify as “simple,” there are criteria to meet: A simple cake must be made in one bowl, without the aid of anything electric. It must be single-layer. It must beckon the next day at 10 a.m. and at 2 p.m. And, above all, it must be flexible – gussy-up-able for a party, or delicious made in its absolute simplest form, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, and eaten straight out of the pan. Simple cakes are the favorite jeans of the dessert world. (Last week, I retired my favorite jeans. It was time; jeans make better doors than windows. I’m a wreck about it.)

I thought, when I slid it into the oven, that this was a cake that wanted a little drama. It had been so simple to make – just a little melting, a little whisking, and a little folding, plus enough coconut to satisfy last week’s macaroon issue. I thought I heard it cry for frills and lace, in the form of a flood of deep chocolate ganache and a blizzard of toasted large-flake coconut. I melted chocolate. I toasted coconut. Only, when the cake came out, it cried louder to be eaten. I listened. (Pay close attention, readers. Anthropomorphizing desserts enables you to excuse any lack of self-restraint in the kitchen.)

When you have a cake that’s less patient than an almost-one-year-old, there’s not much you can do. I recommend taking a seat on the porch steps, just inside the shade line, so you (and perhaps a small hipster) can watch the camellias absorb a warm spring afternoon. I’m not sure there’s anything nicer.

Well, okay. Two slices is pretty nice, too.

(You Passover people: I’d be willing to bet it’d be fabulous with a scoop of Coconut Bliss.)

Double Chocolate Macaroon Cake

Double Chocolate Macaroon Cake (PDF)

It’s a cake. No, it’s a chocolate macaroon. No, wait, it’s a cake. It’s both! Stuffed with coconut but stirred and baked like a regular cake, this sweet confection is quick to make and absolutely satisfying. Eat it straight up, right out of the pan like brownies, or fancy it up with a drizzle of ganache and a flurry of toasted coconut. (For real drama, make two, and layer it up.) My preference is somewhere in between—topped simply, with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Note: I melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave with good results. In my appliance, two 30-second increments on high power (stirring in between) works well.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 to 10 servings

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (65% to 75% cacao)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch processed)
1 cup unsweetened medium-shredded coconut (such as Bob’s Red Mill)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and center a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of waxed paper or parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Place the butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan and melt over very low heat, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the mixture is smooth, transfer to a large mixing bowl, and stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, blending completely between additions. Sift the cocoa powder over the batter and fold it in gently with a spatula until no dry spots remain. Fold in the coconut, then pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake the cake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the edges of the cake just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center is puffed. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then invert the cake onto a cooling rack, then again onto a round serving plate.

Serve warm or at room temperature. To store, let cool completely, then cover and keep at room temperature up to 3 days.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, jewish, recipe

A good purge

Tomato/Chickpea Curry

That weekend of break-up sex? It was mostly fabulous. (I’ll tell you more about it later, here.) The upshot is this: I got the second round of celiac disease tests back, and they were normal. Which is great, except for the fact that the first gliadin antibody test was still screamingly positive. The doctor suggested I try a gluten-free diet for a couple months, to see if I’m one of those (and apparently there are many of us) who don’t test normally.

So that’s it. That’s what I’m doing. My hope is that on Hogwash, you really won’t notice all that much. Not eating gluten means eating a lot of other things, you see—things I’ve always loved, like fresh produce and great meats and cool new grains. I don’t think it’ll be that hard. Right? Right?

But packing up all the gluten in the house—that was hard. I decimated our pantry, rejecting anything made with wheat, rye, or barley. While my neighbor’s and nanny’s baking drawers grew, I celebrated what might possibly be the first time in history that the contents of my kitchen will fit comfortably within its boundaries. The more I stacked on the counter to give away, though, the more I started to panic: No wheat flour. No bucatini. No saltines!

Newly organized cupboard

So I did what I do best in times of change: I organized. I put all the alternative grains into one bin, all the rices into another. I gathered gluten-free pastas (thank goodness for that assignment) in one place, and stacked gluten-free flours together on the same shelf. It all seemed more promising that way. More controlled.

(For the record, if I were a superhero, I think I’d be the one in charge of reconstructing hopelessly disorganized spaces. I’d swoop in, shooting thunderbolts made of paperclips, and tie offenders up with rubber bands. I’d have secret headquarters inside Storables. I haven’t started marketing myself yet because I just haven’t found the right tagline. Or name, for that matter. The leading candidate, Super Stapler, is too Office Space and just not feminine enough. Please let me know if you’re in the business of building superhero brands.)

Anyway. In my purge, I found two giant bags of unsweetened medium-flake coconut. I have no idea why I bought that specific size, or why I bought two bags, but there they were. I couldn’t stop the normal gears from turning. Coconut cake, I thought. But wait, I . . . can’t. I’m sure I’ll be able to make a gluten-free coconut cake someday. I’m positive it’s not difficult, and that it could taste really, really good. But right now? I feel like a moron. Like none of the organs I normally use to cook and eat food will ever function the same way again. Like I have to somehow learn everything from scratch: Coconut. What is coconut? (This might be the closest I ever come to knowing what it’s like to change one’s sexual orientation.)

I scrapped the cake idea. Macaroons, I thought. Macaroons are a scoop-and-dump operation, and even in their most Americanized form, they’re almost never bad. And they’re often gluten-free. The recipe on the back of the package beckoned. I stirred, and scooped, added a bit more coconut, and some tangerine zest, and dumped, imagining them dipped in chocolate. They puddled on the baking pans, flat and sticky and unappealing.

Was I being mocked? Did I just flunk macaroons? I think I did.

I backed up and started again. Think simple, Jess. I thought of my mom, who’s getting a knee replacement tomorrow. She’ll have to learn how to walk all over again, with more or less the same body—it’ll just be rearranged a bit, that’s all. I’m lucky this little habit shake-up doesn’t require three days in the hospital, right? I have (almost) all the same ingredients, on the grand scale of food. I just have to learn new ways to put them together.

I finished my little pep talk. Then I launched into an Indian-inspired meal, pouring an easy tomato and chickpea curry over quinoa, simmering spinach in coconut milk and ginger, coating chicken in a spicy yogurt mixture. (I do eat more than chickpeas. I swear.)

Then something else happened: I fell miserably, violently ill. I never even tasted my food. My husband took the baby so I could writhe in peace for the first terrible 12 hours, then I spent the next 3 days in various stages of one very bad mood, hardly eating, perfecting my best amoeba impersonation. I couldn’t touch the Indian food. In fact, I still can’t, which is why there’s no recipe here today. (But if you’re looking for a quick no-fail diet, have I got the flu for you!)

Battling sickness without saltines was a new challenge, for sure. I’ve worked up to eating Rice Chex (with milk now), quesadillas on corn tortillas, and rice cakes with peanut butter. (Hello, high school.) Meat and vegetables are still in the no-fly zone. But, on the plus side, my first few days of eating gluten-free have been relatively easy, because I really didn’t have to eat at all.

So there you have it: My new sort-of plan. I hope to be gluten-free through the end of April, and reassess then.

Thanks, by the way, for all your support. You guys have been awesome.

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Filed under commentary, gluten-free, lupus

The List

Oh. God. Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgod.

When I wrote about the cold front, and my sudden lack of appetite, my friend Shauna (who you might know better as Gluten-Free Girl) called me instantly.

“Jess,” she said. “You have to get tested.” Shauna said a lot of people have pregnancy-induced celiac disease, and that it often starts without major gastrointestinal symptoms.

I promised. I put it off until my next rheumatology appointment, a month later, but I did it. That was last week.

Today, the nurse practitioner that had sworn lupus and celiac disease are almost always mutually exclusive called with the test results.

“Your gliadin antibody is high, which would indicate you may have celiac disease,” she said. “Your IGA is normal, though, which is strange – normally people with celiac show positive results to both tests.” She was speaking a language I’d never heard.

So, wait . . . I got tested, but the results are inconclusive?

She ordered more detailed bloodwork. She said it could be a wheat allergy (as opposed to an actual inability to digest gluten), or simply that my body, in its general autoimmune frenzy, just really likes making antibodies. I’ll get the results Monday or Tuesday.

I spent a year in college not eating wheat. I wasn’t religious about it, but I payed enough attention to know it’s a major life change. Back then, the attempt was sort of inconclusive. (Okay, the truth: I moved to Paris. The experiment stopped.)

I plan to spend the weekend having break-up sex with gluten. Just in case. I just took two sticks of butter out, to make my favorite chocolate chunk cookies, and started a list, called Things To Eat.

Suggestions welcome.

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Filed under gluten-free, lupus

Time change

Black Chickpea and Carrot Salad 3

Time baffles me. My father, an engineer, always said you need three things to conquer a new math concept: milk, cookies, and two hours. The first time he told me that, when I had to really study for a math test once, two hours seemed like an ocean of time. I’m pretty sure I cried before the clock started ticking, scared that my little boat of concentration wouldn’t make it to the other shore. But I’ve just spent two hours – that same increment – trying to sweep the debris off my browser and get to the screen now in front of me, and it hardly seems like I’ve had time to breathe, much less take a drink of milk.

Almost two weeks ago, I had lunch at Picnic, a little “food and wine boutique” near me in Seattle that sells mean European-style sandwiches, great soups, and a variety of creative little deli salads. I was with my oldest Seattle friend (someone I went to college with) and my newest Seattle friend, a woman I’ve only recently started getting to know. In round numbers, I’ve known one for ten years and one for ten weeks. Yet somehow, cuddled around the end of the table together, the difference, and the fact that they were meeting for the first time, didn’t seem to matter. We bantered and relaxed like we’d been having lunch together, the three of us, for years.

We all ordered soup, but before it came, one of Picnic’s owners, Jenny, came out with a little tasting plate of the curried chickpea salad we’d all been eying. “New Dehli salad,” said the sign, which made me laugh right out loud. It was spot-on – you certainly wouldn’t find a bright yellow legume mixture studded with golden raisins in the old-fashioned deli of my grandmother’s childhood.

It was the kind of salad that sits in the middle of the table and beckons, its little carrot arms waving wildly. Me, they say. Pick me. Every time my fork wandered toward the plate, I had a little moment of decision anxiety, a tiny panic over which scoop looked tastiest. (The truth: they were all pretty much equally delicious.) I’ve been meaning to tell you about it this whole time, but it’s taken until today – with a green tea latte, a muffin, and two hours – to get it all down.

My own version came together with a bit of serendipity, as we were pulling out of the driveway on our way to Portland, Oregon last week. Jill had sent me a bag of sexy black chickpeas from Montana. They’d been flirting with me the entire month of February, all pearly and exotic-looking, from behind the pantry door. I also had two pounds of gorgeous carrots from my garden – carrots I’d planted last June, forgotten about in September, remembered in November when they were hibernating under two inches of mulch, fretted over in January, and pulled just that morning – waiting patiently for the just the right use. (Carrots are pretty much the perfect vegetable for my current lifestyle: Can’t harvest today? Wait six months. They won’t mind.)

Quite literally, my husband was buckling our son into the carseat while I sautéed shallots with ginger, and yellowed them with curry. I stirred the mixture into the cooked chickpeas, along with toasted pine nuts for a bit of texture (because I didn’t think I had time to soften the raisins in hot water), fresh chives, lemon juice, and those carrots, all grated up.

“We’re ready,” said my husband. “We need to go.”

“Wait. Just a sec. I have to take a photo.”

He stood in the entryway watching me shovel the salad in, not 30 minutes after breakfast. Time stood completely still for three or four bites. I felt the chickpeas rolling over my tongue, and imagined their black skins cracking opening my mouth, revealing creamy insides really not much different from the interior of a regular chickpea. I felt the chives scrunch between my molars, felt the pine nuts collapse beside them. It was a snack for pressing pause.

“Are you going to take one?”

Right. The photograph.

“Yeah,” I muttered, foggy. “I’ll be right there.”

(And yes, of course regular canned or dried chickpeas work fine for this. I used the same amount you’d find in a can.)

Black Chickpea and Carrot Salad 2

Curried Carrot and Chickpea Salad (PDF)

Based on the “New Dehli” salad at a Seattle food and wine boutique called Picnic, this snacky salad combines chickpeas (regular, or black, if you can find them) and carrots with curry, ginger, chives, lemon, and toasted pine nuts. Either canned or dried chickpeas will work.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon coarsely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups cooked chickpeas (rinsed and drained, if canned)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook and stir until very soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the ginger and curry powder, then the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and let bubble for another minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

Combine the chickpeas, chives, pine nuts, lemon juice, and carrots in a mixing bowl. Pour the curry mixture over the top, stir to blend, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, Lunch, salad, side dish, snack, vegetables, vegetarian