Monday, April 6, 2009

Eating matzo all by herself

There are lots of reasons to love spring. The weather starts to turn (though the snow falling outside my window today, covering the sad little forsythia blooms just trying to make their way in the early spring sun, has a different agenda). The perennials peek up from the winter-ravaged mulch, unfurling themselves to remind me that they're still alive down there in the cold soil. The gas bill goes down as I take advantage of those in-between days when neither furnace nor air conditioner is necessary and I can open the windows for the first time in months. Everything is a little more colorful. Stores are well-stocked with Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs.

Even with all that seasonal glory, however, I can think of a few reasons not to love spring. It is the beginning of baseball season, which rationally I'd cheer but given the fact that Husband works for Major League Baseball, well, I kind of despise it. Opening Day means that he has to be out of town for business, and though he loves his job and I love that he loves his job, I still hate when he is away. Opening Day also means the beginning of the fantasy baseball leagues, and Husband participates in no fewer than 3,402 of them. So in addition to being away for work, he travels 'round to his various drafts, performing some beloved make-believe task that he assures me is awesome because it might result in his winning a behemoth Stanley-Cup like trophy which I will have to "display" in the house for a year.

All of these baseball-related events take place within the span of the same few weeks each year, which means that late March/early April is kind of a loss for me, at least as it relates to trying to plan things with Husband. It also means that Husband is unavailable to celebrate Easter with me and is similarly not home to share his Passover traditions. But since I am a cook and am always keen to learn new foods and new traditions, I still like to explore kosher-for-Passover recipes even when Husband's away. This means that I am home alone making and consuming various Passover specialties, a lonely Catholic eating matzo all by herself.

Well, not all by herself. I have Gil Marks to keep me company. The author of several excellent books on Jewish and Jewish holiday cuisine, Mr. Marks occupies quite a bit of real estate on my cookbook shelf. I spent some quality time with him last night, sifting through the "Passover" sections in each of his indices. I did not select recipes based on personal tradition or authenticity, as logically, not being Jewish, I did not grow up with these dishes. I chose them purely based on their names and whether or not they sounded delicious to me. You will note I am not making homemade gefilte fish.

So today, macaroons! What a perfect confection, light thanks to egg whites and rich thanks to almonds. It is a shame that Husband is three states over, baseball-full but macaroon-less. I will try to save some for him for when he returns next week, but if there's one thing I know it's that the goyim like macaroons, too. So while he should cross his fingers that the Mets do well this year, he shouldn't hold his breath that there will be any macaroons left when he gets home.


Adapted from The World of Jewish Cooking, by Gil Marks

Gil sez, "Almonds are a prominent feature in Sephardic cooking and the basis for many pastries." Gil also says that you can make a version along the lines of what Iraqi Jews would make, simply by omitting the almond extract and adding 1/2 to 3/4 t. ground cardamom. (Iraqi Jews serve these cookies on Purim and at the meal following Yom Kippur.) Intriguing, no?

I added a tiny piece of dried apricot on top of some of my macaroons, though dried fruit is not technically kosher for Passover (apparently there is a possibility that the dried fruit you've purchased was rolled in flour to keep the individual pieces separate). Husband tells me he would eat dried fruit at Passover, but if you follow a stricter diet, go ahead and top all your cookies with a sliced or slivered almond.

One more note, about the blanching: I bring a medium pot of water to a boil, then drop in the whole raw almonds for 1-2 minutes. Strain the almonds then pop them out of their skins, drying them on a paper towel before using.

1 lb. blanched almonds
1 1/4 c. sugar
3 large egg whites
1 t. almond extract (or 1 T. rose water or orange blossom water)
Sliced or slivered almonds, for topping
A few dried apricots, chopped, for topping

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 baking sheets with Silpats, or grease them and dust with potato starch. (I rarely have potato starch on hand, so I prefer the Silpats.)

In a food processor, grind together the almonds and sugar until fine. In a large bowl, lightly whisk the egg whites and almond extract (or rose water or orange blossom water) until foamy. Add the almond-sugar mixture and stir together until the mixture resembles a wet paste.

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls (or use a spring-loaded ice-cream scoop) onto the prepared baking sheets. If desired, top the cookies with sliced almonds and/or dried apricots.

Bake 15-18 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool for about 10 minutes on the sheet before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy, preferably with a cup of hot coffee.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature or in the freezer.


Laura said...

This was a great post and entertained me immensely. I am a big baseball fan myself, but I dated a guy once who was nuts for the fantasy stuff and, well, yipes! Now of course I am married to a guy who does not like sports and I would say he dislikes March as well, because of the NCAA tournament.

And I love that you're not learning to make gifilte fish (did I even spell that right??).

Dianne said...

Thank you, Laura! I am glad that you enjoyed the post. I have always been a baseball fan, too (though not as big as fan as Husband). I try not to let his work schedule dampen my enthusiasm for the game, but I'm not going to lie to you: sometimes it's hard!

My friend's husband refers to gefilte fish as "a fish hot dog," which is hysterical and perfectly describes why I have no desire to eat it.

Arlene Delloro said...

I adore macaroons and these look wonderful, Kosher or not. I, too, am a Catholic who dabbles in Jewish dishes just because I like to. I love to make potato latkes for Hannukah (they're best with mimosas). Thank heavens my SO is not a sports enthusiast. He played football and baseball in his day, but doesn't watch anything on TV. Hooray!