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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Fresh Horseradish


What with learning more about Passover traditions and trying to change up our family dinner menus, horseradish has been on my mind lately.  It’s a great relish all on its own and adds zest to all sorts of dishes when used as a seasoning.  It is often that ingredient that people can’t identify in a dish that they really enjoy.

I was very pleased when my friend Susan offered me some fresh horseradish.  Her neighbour had given it to her but she’d never prepared horseradish from scratch so she passed it on to me. 

This is Susan


and this is the horseradish she gave me.


There was a lot of it!

Unlike the large roots I’m accustomed to buying, this horseradish was mostly a tangle of smaller roots. 

I decided to work in batches.  Susan and I made the first batch together. 

I trimmed some of the roots from the clump and cleaned them.  After several soaks in the sink and a good scrubbing with a vegetable brush, they looked like this:


We peeled the horseradish roots, then shredded them using the fine shredding disk in my food processor.

We measured the shredded horseradish


then we fitted the food processor with its chopping blade and returned the shredded horseradish to the processor carafe.  We added 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 Tablespoons of white vinegar for every cup of shredded horseradish and began processing it. 

We continued to add vinegar and to process the horseradish until it reached the consistency we wanted.  (We ended up using a total of about 1/4 cup of vinegar for every cup of shredded horseradish.)

In the course of processing, the horseradish broke down further, into a fine texture, and reduced in volume by about half.  It was still coarser than the horseradish you buy in the store.  If you like a very smooth paste, I would recommend using a blender instead of a food processor.

When it was done, we spooned the horseradish into sterilized jars


and capped them with sterilized lids.

Horseradish prepared in this manner will keep in the fridge for about two months.  It can be used just as it is, mixed with an equal quantity of shredded raw beet, or stirred into Dijon mustard. 

I saved some of the horseradish for replanting.  It’s very invasive so I’ll grow mine in a large container.  As long as I replant a small portion of it every time I dig it up, I’ll have a perpetual supply of horseradish for as long as I care to use it.


A word of warning:  The fumes from horseradish are very pungent.  They'll clear your sinuses and bring tears to your eyes.  A good ventilation fan helps buy you're still likely to cry while processing it.  Do persevere though.  The flavour is well worth the effort.
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This post is linked to Hearth and Soul Blog Hop hosted by Premeditated Leftovers, The 21st Century Housewife, Zesty South Indian Kitchen, and Penniless Parenting.

 Hearth and Soul blog hop at Zesty South Indian Kitchen

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Pesach


Passover (Pesach) begins at sunset on April 6 this year.  On this evening, Jewish families will celebrate the first of two Passover Seders, a formalized meal during which the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt is remembered both in words and prayers and in the food they eat.

To understand Seder, you need to understand the Passover story.  You can find a good recounting on line at http://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/1850/jewish/History.htm.   
It’s a nuanced story and many of the nuances are reflected in Passover tradition.  

I can't pretend to have enough knowledge to recount the story and its subsequent traditions in detail.  In a nutshell, though, the Jews emigrated to Egypt where they prospered to such an extent that the Egyptians perceived them to be a threat.  They enslaved the Jews and put them to work building treasure houses.  When the Jews continued to prosper, the pharaoh ordered that all newborn Jewish males be put to death. 

Moses survived the death edict because he was born prematurely and his mother was able to hide the fact of his birth.  Moses’ mother hid him in a basket and left him floating at the edge of the Nile, where he was found by the pharaoh’s daughter.  She took him back to the palace and raised him as her son.

As a young man, Moses killed an Egyptian for beating a Jew and was forced to flee to the desert.  He married there and worked as a shepherd, caring for his father-in-law’s sheep.  While herding the sheep, Moses heard the voice of God speaking from a burning bush, instructing him to return to help his people.

 Moses and his brother Aaron returned to Egypt and began to rouse the Jewish people.  The pharaoh was greatly angered.  He met with Moses and Aaron but refused to release the Jews, instead increasing their burden of labour.

God punished the pharaoh by sending the Egyptians ten plagues.  The last plague killed all of the firstborn males in every Egyptian household.  The Jews had sacrificed lambs and spread the sacrificial blood on the lintel posts of their doors.  The lambs’ blood identified their homes so that the angel of death passed them over, sparing Jewish children from the plague.

After the tenth plague, the pharaoh gave the Jews permission to leave Egypt but he sent his armies after them.  The Jews departed so hastily that they didn’t even take time to leaven their bread.  Their only provisions for their journey were unleavened.

During Passover, Jews remember the Exodus by removing all leaven from their possession for seven days, eating matzah, and telling the story of their redemption to their children.

During the days preceding Passover, Jews methodically clean their homes, removing any trace of chametz (leavened grain products). They prepare a Passover kitchen and take pains to use dishes and utensils that have not been used to serve chametz. 

Because kosher foods prepared the rest of the year can - and often do - contain chametz, they are not necessarily kosher for Passover.   Passover foods are specially prepared and certified to be free of leavened grain. 

Having grown up in a household where holiday traditions were largely centered on socializing, I’m intrigued and impressed by a holiday tradition so deeply centered upon honouring history and spiritual beliefs.  I find the symbolism of the Passover Seder fascinating. 

If you, like me, are interested in learning more about Pesach, it’s history, it’s traditions, and the meanings behind its observances, you’ll find the websites listed below to be of interest:


Enjoy your reading. 
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image source: http://minos-minal-omfalos.blogspot.ca/2011/04/hag-sameach-pesach.html

Thursday, 15 March 2012

My Heart in a Box


Anyone who’s been married for any length of time will tell you that it’s not about riding into the sunset and living happily every after.   Just as in any other aspect of life, within marriage happiness comes and goes.  It does so unexpectedly too:  When there are no clouds visible on the horizon, you can suddenly find yourself struggling to maintain your commitment, and to remember why you made it.  And sometimes when times are really challenging, you find that you and your spouse have drawn closer than you ever imagined you could.

I’ve been married for thirty years now.  (I know! When did I get that old? It snuck up on me!)  We’ve had our bad times, to be sure.  Right now, though, we’re dwelling in a moment of grace.  It’s surprising too, because it’s been a challenging year. 

I have never been more grateful for my husband than I have been in recent months and, although I try hard to say it and act it every day, I find myself wanting to make some extra gesture to tell him how much I appreciate him. 

We don’t have the means for dinners out or for vacations.  We don’t have money to buy gifts.  Whatever gestures I choose make have to be made with what we have on hand.

A few Christmases ago, our elder daughter sent us a small photo album she’d assembled out of card stock.  When closed, the album looks like a little gift box.  Opened, it has room for thirteen photos or journal entries.  I’ve made several of these albums since receiving her gift.  A very personal small album would be a perfect gesture of appreciation for my husband.  

I made
 Jack's album with photos that meant something to both of us and wrote notes to go with each photo, telling him about a special quality of his the photo brings to mind.  Each note shared a little piece of my heart, and all those notes are wrapped up in one small gift box.

Here’s how I made it.

To make a photo box, you’ll need:
  • Two 12-inch square sheets of card stock, plus one extra piece that is 5-7/8 inches square.  (I used one piece of cardstock with different patterns on each side and one piece that was a solid colour.  The 5-7/8 inch square was of the two sided card stock.)
  • A ruler
  • An X-acto knife
  • A glue stick
  • 1/8 inch wide double sided tape
  • Photos or writing to put in the album
  • Embellishments for the top of the box 

Begin by scoring and cutting the cardstock you’ll be using for the outside of the box.  Mark the paper at 3-3/4 inches, 7-1/2 inches, and 11-1/4 inches at both the top and bottom edge.  Score lines from top to bottom at 3-3/4 inches and 7-1/2 inches.  Cut the paper from top to bottom at 11-1/4 inches.  Turn the paper 90 degrees and repeat these steps.  You’ll end up with an 11-1/4 inch square that is scored into nine smaller squares.

Using the scored lines as guidelines, cut out a square from each corner of the 11-1/4  inch sheet.  Your cut sheet should look like this.


Save the trimmings.  You can use them for embellishments or for other projects.

Fold along the scored lines, toward the center of the square.


Set this piece aside and prepare the second sheet.
For the second sheet, mark the paper at 3-1/2 inches, 7 inches, and 10-1/2 inches.  Score and cut this sheet just as you did the first. 


Fold the finished piece towards the center of the square, just as you did the first.


Turn this piece over so that the folds are downward and the center square is the highest point. 


Gently flatten the paper and apply glue to the center square.  Attach the second sheet to the first, making sure that it’s centered.


Mount your photos in the album.

I started with the center square.  I thought to tape the photo down on three sides, making a pocket, and then to write my message on a card that would fit inside the pocket.  It worked, but the card was awkward to remove and it was a little difficult to put back again once it had been taken out.


Since the pocket idea didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, I approached the rest of the photos in a different way.  I put a single line of tape across the top edge of the back of the photos.  Then I scored a line just below the tape and carefully folded it.  When mounted, the photos could be lifted like a flap to view the notes written underneath.  This technique worked quite well.


Once the photos were all in place, I made the lid for the box.  The album we received from our daughter had a lid that was 4 inches square when finished.  I prefer a slightly smaller lid, so that the corners of the box fit more tightly together when the album is closed.

Cut a piece of cardstock that is 5-7/8 inches square.  Mark and score a line 1 inch from each edge of the square.  Fold along the scored lines and then flatten the paper again.  This will make the folds more visible.


There will be a 1-inch scored square at each corner of the paper.  Cut diagonally across these squares and then along one right angle score, to remove a triangle from each corner. 


Apply a piece of tape or some glue to each of the triangular pieces at the corners of the paper.


Fold the edges of the paper to form the edges of the lid, adhering the corner flaps inside the lid. 


Embellish the lid if you wish to.  I used the 3/4 inch strips trimmed from the first piece of paper to make “ribbons” for the top of the box and made a tag from one of the corner squares trimmed from the second piece of paper.  I added two Christmas tree ornaments I’d purchased at a Boxing Day sale a couple of years ago, tying them and the tag onto the box with a little twine. 


I gave the box to my husband a couple of days ago.  He's gone back to it several times, re-reading the notes and looking at the pictures.  It was a good gift.  He was happy to receive it, and I was happy to make it.
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This post is linked to the Gallery of Favorites hosted by The 21st Century Housewife and Premeditated Leftovers, and to Think Pink Sunday hosted by Flamingo Toes, to Making Monday Marvelous hosted by C.R.A.F.T., and to Craft-O-Maniac Monday hosted by Craft-O-Maniac, to Sunday Roundup with Kayla, Heather and Rose hosted by Heatherly Loves, and to Show Me Extraordinary...Link Party hosted by The 36th Avenue.

Gallery of Favorites



DIY projects and crafts





The 36th AVENUE

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Pi Day


March 14 (3.14) is National Pi Day in the U.S. 

Most of us, even the least mathematically inclined, are familiar with the concept of pi but, just as a refresher, here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

“π (sometimes written pi) is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of any Euclidean[1] circle's circumference to its diameter. π is approximately equal to 3.14. Many formulae in mathematics, science, and engineering involve π, which makes it one of the most important mathematical constants.[2] For instance, the area of a circle is equal to π times the square of the radius of the circle.
π is an irrational number, which means that its value cannot be expressed exactly as a fraction having integers in both the numerator and denominator (unlike 22/7). Consequently, its decimal representation never ends and never repeats. π is also a transcendental number, which implies, among other things, that no finite sequence of algebraic operations on integers (powers, roots, sums, etc.) can render its value; proving this fact was a significant mathematical achievement of the 19th century.
Throughout the history of mathematics, there has been much effort to determine π more accurately and to understand its nature; fascination with the number has even carried over into non-mathematical culture. Perhaps because of the simplicity of its definition, π has become more entrenched in popular culture than almost any other mathematical concept,[3] and is firm common ground between mathematicians and non-mathematicians.[4] Reports on the latest, most-precise calculation of π are common news items;[5][6][7] the record as of September 2011, if verified, stands at 5 trillion decimal digits.[8]


There’s something fascinating about a concept so easily defined that results in a number that is an infinite, never repeating fraction.  Perhaps that's why Pi Day has such a place popular culture.  (It probably also helps that March 14 was Einstein’s birthday, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog.)

Pi Day affords a golden opportunity for educators to introduce math related activities to their students.  There’s a rich trove of on line learning resources, with suggestions for learning activities.   For those of you who are curious, I’ve listed a few links below this post. 

What’s Pi Day to me?  Well I love a good pun.  The opportunity to celebrate a math concept by baking something good to eat appeals to my sense of whimsy.  Heck, any reason to bake a pie is a good reason in my world!  The fact that it involves word play is just a bonus.

As many of you know, I plan my meals daily, based upon what we have on hand.  It’s rare for me to pre-plan a series of meals—or even a single meal—because, with just the two of us, it’s difficult to know how many leftovers we’ll have.  Not using those leftovers as ingredients in subsequent meals results in too much waste.  Pi Day is kind of an exception to my “no planning” rule though, because I have yet to see a pie of any sort go to waste around here. 

Today’s menu was actually decided long in advance, when I picked up our good food box almost a month ago.  There was broccoli in the box so I blanched some and froze it with today’s supper in mind.  In honour of Pi Day we’ll be having a broccoli and cheddar quiche for supper tonight, and applesauce pie for dessert.  Look for both recipes in coming posts.

Will you be celebrating Pi Day at your house?  Do you do any Pi Day activities with your kids?  I’d love to hear about them.

Pi Day Activity Links:
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image source: sciencebuzz.org


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Remembering Esther


Today, Jews are celebrating the festival of Purim, which remembers and honours the story of Mordechai and Esther.  It’s a happy, raucous festival that has its roots in the past and its flowering branches right here in the present.  It’s a story of threats and intrigues, of reversals and successes, that has all the elements of the best adventures. 

For those unfamiliar with the story of Esther, it took place in the Babylonian city of Susa, about 6 centuries BCE. 

Aheasurus, the king of Persia, celebrated his ascension to the throne by throwing a 180-day-long party for all of his subjects.  Following the big celebration he hosted a smaller week-long feast for the dignitaries of his capital city.  While hosting this smaller party, he urged his queen—Vashti—to appear before his male guests so that he might show them her beauty.  The queen, being a modest woman, refused his request and was, as a consequence, put to death.

When Aheasurus grew lonely for a wife, he ordered his courtiers to bring him the most beautiful women in the land.  He would choose among them for a new queen to take the place of Vashti. 

One of the women brought to Aheausrus was Esther; a beautiful young woman who had been raised by her cousin Mordechai, a leader of the Jewish community. Esther was taken to the king against her will and refused to beautify herself in order to capture his attention, but the king chose her nonetheless.   Esther became Aheasurus’ queen but—instructed by Mordechai—did not tell him that she was a Jew.

Shortly after Esther became queen, Mordechai overheard a plot to assassinate the king.  He reported it, and the king’s life was saved.

At the same time, the king appointed a new prime minister—Haman—and issued a decree that all citizens show their respect to Haman by bowing down before him.  As a Jew, Mordechai was forbidden by his religious beliefs to bow down before any person.  He refused to bow down before Haman, and Haman, infuriated by the refusal, resolved to take revenge upon the Jews.  He was determined to punish them for their pride.

Haman offered the king 10,000 talents in exchange for permission to punish the Jews, but the king—no lover of Jews himself—told him "The money is yours to keep, and the nation is yours to do with as you please."[i] Haman, taking this as the king’s permission, sent a proclamation throughout the land, sealed with the king’s seal.  The proclamation ordered that, on the 13th day of Adar, citizens would rise up and kill all the Jews in Persia.

When Mordechai heard about the proclamation to kill the Jews, he sent a message to Esther requesting that she intervene on behalf of her people. 

At first, Esther refused to intervene.  Anyone who entered the king’s presence unsummoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned to the king in more than thirty days.  Mordechai persuaded Esther to act though, by reminding her that if she chose not to help and the people were saved by some other means, she and her descendants would reap the consequences.

Esther formed a plan to persuade the king by hosting two feasts for the king and Haman.  Mordechai stood at the gate as the king and Haman went in to the first feast, but again he refused to bow down.  Haman was so infuriated by Mordechai’s continued refusal to bow that he decided to hang Mordechai, and ordered a gallows to be built for that purpose.

At the same time Haman was having the gallows erected, the king was reviewing the royal chronicles and learned of Mordechai’s act to save his life.  When he next saw Haman, the king ordered him to honour Mordechai for his heroism by dressing him in royal garments and parading him through town on a royal horse. You can imagine how Haman felt about that!

At the second feast she hosted for the king and Haman, Esther pleaded with the king to spare the Jews and, in doing so, to spare both Malachai and herself.  The king became very angry with Haman for his plan to kill the Jews and, upon learning about the gallows intended for Mordechai, ordered that Haman be hung on the gallows instead.

Royal decrees could not be repealed so, to counter Haman’s plan, the king issued a new decree  permitting the Jews to defend themselves against their attackers. He also appointed Mordechai prime minster. 

On the 13th day of Adar the Jews mobilized and killed the enemies who would have harmed them, including Haman’s sons, who lived in Susa.  Mordechai and Esther decreed that, from that time, the 13th day of Adar would commemorate these events in the festival of Purim.  Purim continues to be celebrated to this day.

Why does this holiday continue to hold relevance centuries later?
  • It’s a story of adventure and intrigue that captures the imaginations of those who hear it. 
  • It teaches the importance of standing by your beliefs in the face of difficult consequences.
  • It demonstrates that taking a stand and making difficult moral choices will be ultimately be rewarded. 

On a cultural note, Purim is the first Jewish festival to arise from the diaspora.  This was a triumph of Jewish people and culture surviving outside of Judea.  It’s celebrated by Jews worldwide.

If you’d like to learn more about the story of Esther, you can find a movie version  of the story on line here.

If you’d like to celebrate Purim with some traditional Jewish cooking, you can find some good recipes here.

Happy Purim to all my Jewish friends.  Standing by your beliefs is always something to be honoured, and remembering your history cause for celebration.  I’m wishing you joy today.

[i] http://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/645995/jewish/The-Basic-Purim-Story.htm

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Hello Deer!


These are our friends Alfie and Peter.  We lived next-door to them for years and could not have asked for better neighbours. 

Alfie and Peter’s father-and-son bachelor household is mostly centered around sports, hunting and fishing.  Cooking has never been their strong suit.  I, on the other hand, don’t care at all for sports, or for hunting and fishing, but do love to cook. What Alfie and Peter do have in common with my husband and I is a love of good food, and of sharing that food in good company.  Over shared meals we’ve discovered many shared interests, and we've ended up fast friends.

Because there are only my husband and I in our household, there’s always a danger that my love of cooking will lead to overeating, and to eating too many of the wrong things.  I’ve always addressed these concerns by sharing the things I cook with friends and neighbours.  I used to bake eight or ten loaves of bread every couple of weeks and distribute them among my neighbours up and down the street.  I was also in the habit of sharing extra portions of supper or dessert with our bachelor buddies next-door. 

It was a kindness to me that our neighbours took this extra food.  It enabled me to experiment with new recipes and techniques without fear of excessive kitchen waste.  I shared the food I made without expectation of receiving anything in return but Alfie and Peter often reciprocated by sharing with us the fish they caught and the game they shot.   Both my husband and I enjoyed these wild meats very much.

We no longer live next-door to Alfie and Peter but we’ve stayed in touch.  We miss their pleasant company and are always glad to hear their news.  You can imagine then, how pleased we were when Alfie came to visit us this week.  It’s the first time he’s seen our new home and we were delighted to welcome him.

Alfie brought us a lovely housewarming gift:  A cooler full of venison and several salmon.  I cooked some of the venison last night and, while eating dinner, realized how much I’d missed having it on hand.  He couldn’t have given us a better present.

The word “venison” originated from the Latin word vēnor, which means “to hunt or to pursue,” and referred to all sorts of game meats.   Now, we understand it to specifically refer to deer meat.


Venison is a very lean meat, rich in protein, iron, and zinc but quite low in saturated fat.  It’s a good source of B vitamins, specifically niacin (vitamin B2), riboflavin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.  These B vitamins bring with them a number of health benefits including a reduced risk of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, reduced risk of colon cancer, improved oxygen based energy production, a diminishment in the frequency and severity of migraines, improved immune system response, a reduction of the risk for osteoarthritis, and the more efficient conversion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats into energy. [i]

That’s quite a list of benefits!  I’m glad to know that venison is so good for me because it’s certainly delicious. 

So, thank you Alfie and Peter, both for your friendship and for the wonderful housewarming gift.  We’re very grateful to have them.