Rainbow Challah for a Rainbow Wedding

Monday Morning Musings

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”

– Robert Browning

So this post does not really involve musing, unless you want to think about how wonderful bread is–both to bake and to eat.

As many of you know, my younger daughter got married recently. She had a rainbow themed wedding—planned before the Supreme Court decision–but oh so timely! What a trendsetter, she is. Naturally, I wanted to surprise her and her groom with a rainbow challah. I’m sure that’s the first thing that most people think of when they hear rainbow wedding. If you don’t know, challah is a type of rich, egg bread. At traditional Jewish weddings, which this was not, the bride and groom often cut a challah and distribute it to guests. Since they weren’t going to have a challah at their wedding, I gave it to them the day before the wedding. You know, so they wouldn’t be hungry while getting ready and faint during the ceremony. That’s a thing that could happen, right? (Jewish moms everywhere, “But what if there isn’t enough food?” There must always be plenty of food available at all times in case of emergency.)

I totally stole the idea of rainbow challah from Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat

Sorry, not sorry.

If you want a detailed recipe and braiding directions, check out her blog. She has a real food blog. The kind that has real directions and great photos. But keep on reading because I’m fun, and I will kind of sort of tell you how to make it. And provide not very good photos that I take on my iPhone camera. But—here’s the important part–

I made my Aunt Sima’s famous challah recipe. It is famous because I’ve written about it before. Also, it’s delicious.

It’s a great recipe, and if by chance you were to decide to bake two loaves (two batches) before 6 AM when you haven’t even finished your coffee because you want to make sure they get done before your daughter and her wife arrive for your other daughter’s wedding and you still have to clean the house, go to the gym, and work on your page proofs—and well, you might have—perhaps—added too much water to the recipe because it seemed then to need more flour than usual, but you’re not positive if you actually did add too much water.. . .well, IF this ever happened to you, rest assured that the bread will still come out great.

Because mine did.

AND, it looked like this.

Rainbow Challah

Rainbow Challah

Pretty impressive, right?

I used gel food dye. Important tip—wear gloves—well, unless you want your hands to be stained with a variety of colors. But if you want rainbow hands to go with a rainbow themed event? Fine. I will not stand in the way of your art. Otherwise, wear gloves.

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My husband bought me a huge box of these gloves, so now I can make 37 more rainbow challahs before I need to buy more gloves.

Instead of dividing the dough into 3 sections, as usual with this recipe, I divided it into 6.

I know you can see only 5 balls, but there were 6!

I know you can see only 5 balls, but there were 6!

Then I colored each a different color. I couldn’t figure out how to mix in the dye at first, and that took some time. I finally decided to use plastic knives to scoop out a bit of dye and added it to a ball of dough.

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I then kneaded each ball to distribute the dye. Each dough ball was well kneaded by the time I got through adding dye and kneading it. Very well kneaded. The most well kneaded dough I’ve ever made. You will need to use more dye for the darker colors. I then rolled each ball into a rope and braided the 6 ropes. It took so long to add dye and knead each ball that I didn’t really do much of a second rising after I braided the dough. Maybe 10 minutes or so.

Braided dough before baking.

Braided dough before baking.

Then I brushed the braided loaf with the egg yolk glaze and baked. Totally NOT Gluten Free! Stunning, colorful, and delicious!

My Aunt Sima’s World Famous Challah

Makes one large, scrumptious loaf

1¼ cups warm water

1 Package dry yeast

pinch of sugar

–Mix above ingredients, allow to stand and dissolve until frothy.

3 Tbsp. melted butter

3 Thsp. Sugar

1 Tbsp. salt

1 Egg

–Beat above ingredients and add to yeast mixture.

Add enough flour for a stiff dough. [Start with 2 cups and then go from there.] Knead and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled (about 1 hr. to 1 ½ hours). Knead again. Take off 1/3, if you want a “topknot.” Divide the rest of the dough into three sections, then braid the 1/3 and set on top. Or divide dough into 6 sections and braid. (For a round challah, you can braid and then connect the ends so it forms a circle.) Let rise briefly on a greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Coat with a mixture of 1 egg yolk and 1 Tbsp. milk. Sprinkle with poppy and sesame seeds. I usually use both, but didn’t do either for the rainbow version. Bake at 350° until golden brown. You can thump the bottom and it should sound hollow if it’s done.

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Mother’s Day: Celebrating as a Mother and as a Daughter

 I had eight birds hatcht in one nest,

Four cocks were there, and Hens the rest.

I nurst them up with pain and care,

No cost nor labour did I spare

Till a the last they felt their wing,

Mounted the Trees and learned to sing.

–Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672), “In Reference to Her Children, 23 June 1659,” Full text here.

 Monday Morning Musings

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, at least here in the US. The holiday began as efforts to help poor mothers, fight injustice, and oppose war. Anna Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia fought to bring sanitation facilities and clean water to people in parts of Appalachia. In 1858, she organized Mother’s Work Days. After the Civil War she gathered mothers and soldiers from both sides of the conflict in a Mother’s Friendship Day. Her daughter–also Anna–wanted to continue her mother’s fight. After Anna Jarvis, the mother, died in 1905, her daughter wanted to organize a Mother’s Day celebration to honor all mothers and the sacrifices they make for their children. She lobbied politicians and wrote letters to newspapers, and finally President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation in 1914 that established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Jarvis became outraged by the flowers, candy, and greeting card commercialism that the holiday assumed. She ultimately disowned the holiday entirely. (Historian Ruth Rosen discusses the activism and antiwar origins of the Mother’s Day here.)

I certainly understand those who decry the artificiality and commercialism of the holiday. At the same time, I like it. I recently thought about my very first mother’s day as a mother. On my way to my mother’s, my husband and I stopped at a friend’s house to show off our new daughter, who was about 3 months old. I, of course, was madly in love with my little girl, and I thought she was the most beautiful creature in existence, bald head and all. Our friend’s mother, made a big fuss, told me to sit down and waited on me. She said to me, “This is your first mother’s day, and you should feel special.” All these years later, I still remember that. And I did feel special.

Over the past few years, our mother’s day tradition has been to gather at my sister’s house. We have brunch or lunch, and then take my mom clothes shopping. Last Mother’s Day, she wanted to buy an outfit to wear for my older daughter’s wedding; this year, she wanted to buy an outfit to wear for my younger’s daughter wedding. It is a bit of an ordeal to take my mom shopping—she can’t move or see very well—but with four of us, my younger daughter, my sister-niece, and my sister—we got the job done. We had to help dress her in the dressing room, which actually led to many laughs. When I think about it, it seems only fair that we help her dress. After all, how many times did she do it for all of us? Happily, she did find an outfit to wear.

My mom and me. I'm about 3 years old.

My mom and me. I’m about 3 years old.

Before we left for the mall, my sister and sister-in-law fortified us with pasta, salad, and bread—all delicious. My sister-in-law, “the men,” and children remained behind at the house. After we returned from our long shopping expedition, we had dessert—a chocolate extravaganza. Did you doubt this? I get my love of chocolate from my mom—so I baked a flourless chocolate cake topped with chocolate glaze and sea salt and my Mandelbrot cookies, which are called “Mommy Cookies” at my house. (I have several posts dedicated to this, my favorite cookie. Just do a search.) I kind of had to bake those, didn’t I? My sister added 2 boxes of chocolate to the dessert feast, just in case we didn’t have enough. We sat outside on my sister and sister-in-law’s deck and enjoyed the warm weather and evening breeze.

During dessert we attempted to FaceTime chat with my older daughter, but it didn’t work too well. Still, I did get to talk to her a bit. My younger daughter made me a wonderful Super Momma card that made me feel special—and some baking pans. Chocolate and baking genes run through the generations in my family!

When my mom is no longer with us, Mother’s Day will certainly be different. My siblings and I will no longer have a reason to get together for it, just as we no longer get together on Father’s Day. Although we might grumble about taking my mom shopping, I will miss that tradition and the crazy dressing room antics.

Mothers and Daughters

Mothers and Daughters

Escape

 Monday Morning Musings

I’ve been immersed in my World of the American Revolution. The wonderful members of the editorial staff at ABC-CLIO have selected over one hundred images for the book. It’s been my job to go through them, and if I approve them, then to write captions for the images. This has taken longer than I expected it would because I’ve had to research most of the images selected, as well as go back to the entries to determine if the images work or not.

And then. . . well, there’s the copyedited manuscript itself, which is sitting in files on my computer desktop making me feel guilty because I need to finish going through it. Ahem. Yes, getting to it. Now. Soon.

So I apologize for not reading or responding to many other blogs for the past week or so. I’ve tried to respond to comments, but I’m behind on that, too.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the word “escape.” The word is derived from the Latin and then French meaning to literally get out of or from one’s cape or mantel. Of course, the word came to have a broader meaning, one escapes from slavery, from an unhappy home, or even from day-to-day drudgery.

On Passover, we tell the story of how the Jews escaped slavery in Egypt. Even today, people are enslaved and try to escape.

Before the abolition of slavery in the United States, which occurred only after a Civil War and then the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, enslaved men and women desperately sought their freedom. Aided by other African-Americans, both free and slave, as well as white citizens who were opposed to slavery, they struggled to find a means of escape. Slaves escaped in a variety of ways. One of the most creative methods was that used by Henry Box Brown (c.1815-1889), who escaped, you guessed it, in a box. Brown was a skilled worker who worked in a tobacco factory in Richmond, VA. He managed to save enough money to rent a house for his wife and family. Nonetheless, he and his family were still slaves, and in 1848, his wife’s master decided to sell her and their children. With no reason to remain in Richmond, Brown decided to escape with the help of a free black dentist and a white shoemaker and other abolitionists. The men sealed him in a box and shipped the box to Philadelphia, where after twenty-six hours, he arrived at the Philadelphia Antislavery Society. Although some abolitionists felt Brown should keep his story a secret, he did not. Brown lectured and reenacted his escape in a box before audiences. When the new Fugitive Slave Act made it too dangerous for him to remain in the United States, he fled to England where he performed as a “mesmerist” with his new wife Jane. He returned to the US in 1875 with Jane and their daughter Annie, with a magic shows, as well as his original box performances.

Fortunately, my loved ones and I have never had to escape the horrors of captivity in any form. My escapes have been mundane, merely brief respites from work and day-to-day life. We all want to take breaks when—and if—we can.

This past weekend, I took a brief work break, and my husband and I escaped for a few hours to a local winery. It was a glorious, spring day. The air was warm, the sun was shining, and the grass was green with that unique young green of springtime. And so we sat with the sun gently bathing us in a warm glow, and we drank wine, ate cheese, and talked. Sometimes, fortunately, escape is that simple.

“ Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Anne Lamott

Wine and sunshine!

Wine and sunshine!

Several weeks ago, as the snow fell once again, and it seemed spring would never come, I made a delicious fruit crisp with rhubarb, strawberries, and blackberries. It was my attempt to escape winter by conjuring sunshine and warmth through the ripe fruits of spring and summer. I love the tartness of the rhubarb combined with the berries. You could use any fruit though, or mix different berries. When I make it with apples, I add a little bit of cider to the apples, so that the crisp doesn’t get too dry. You can reduce the butter some, although honestly, when I’ve tried it that way, it’s simply not as good. I do like the mix of whole wheat and white flour though, which gives it a sort of nutty taste. Of course, you could add nuts, as well. The goal is to end up with a dessert that is full of sweet bubbly fruit and crunchy “crisp,” but it is not the type of baking that has to be precise. I forgot to take a photo of the crisp until after I had started eating it. (Reason #52, Why I don’t actually write a food blog.)

Pretending It’s Spring Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

Approximately 4 cups of Fruit, sliced or chopped

Sugar, to taste

I added about ½ tsp. of nutmeg, along with some orange zest and juice.

Allow the fruit to sit, sugared for about ½ hour or so until juice is released.

Crisp:

Combine 1 cup oats, ¾ cup brown sugar, ¾ cup flour (I used half whole wheat and half white), 7-8 tablespoons of butter, 1 tsp. cinnamon. Melt butter and combine it with the other ingredients until crumbly.

Sprinkle half the crumbs in a greased 8-inch pan. Pour fruit on top. Top with the rest of the crumbs. Bake for about 35 minutes at 350° until bubbly and brown, depending on the type of fruit, it may take a bit longer. Serve as is, or top with ice cream. (Butter pecan is good, just sayin’.) Bite into it and enjoy the taste of spring and summer.

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Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

A Stab at Pie, or Life’s Constants

Monday Morning Musings

Saturday was Pi Day, Sunday was the Ides of March, and tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. What do these things have in common? Through food and art, my husband and I paid homage—of a sort–to all of them this weekend.

Confession: math was almost my least favorite subject in school. I can’t remember numbers, and I tend to skip over the graphs, charts, and number parts of any article I read. But I do know that Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. (Gosh, I hope that’s right.) It’s a constant—that is, it’s fixed and doesn’t change, the opposite of variable. (In case anyone is interested, my favorite episode of the TV series Lost was the episode called “The Constant,” in which we learn that Penny is Desmond’s constant throughout time—and a constant is apparently necessary when time traveling.) Pi is also an infinite number 3.1415. . . .

Here in the US, March 14 is sometimes written as 3/14 (month, day). With the year added, it becomes 3/14/15, so this year Pi Day was extra special.

Pi Day was not a thing when I was growing up. I don’t remember anyone mentioning it or celebrating it, so I decided to look into when Pi Day started.

It turns out that although pi has been know for thousands of years, Pi Day was not invented until 1988 when physicist Larry Shaw of San Francisco’s Exploratorium created it. I found several great articles about Pi Day. This one by astronomer Phil Plait for Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog is a wonderful post of Pi facts, including some myth-busting information. OK, it’s possible I skipped some of the real math in it, but it was still interesting.

Danica McKellar’s Youtube video on pi and Pi Day is also great fun.

So I was going to bake pies on Friday for Pi Eve for my husband, the high school math teacher—because math and pie. If we can have Pi Day, then why not Pi Day Eve? However, it turned out my husband had a school event that night, so I didn’t bake a pie then. We also had plans on Saturday. One of these plans was to see a performance of Macbeth at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia. (If you’re in the area, it was an exciting and well-staged production, a display of sight and sound. Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth was particularly good.) Modern western theater had its inception in the dramatic works of the ancient Greeks, who as I mentioned above, also most likely first calculated pi. And pies were eaten in the time William Shakespeare. So pi is linked to Shakespeare through pie. Or pi is linked to theater. Either way. Are you following me? Anyway, the pies of Shakespeare’s time were often meat pies. Sometimes the pie crusts, called coffins, were merely shells to hold the meat fillings.* William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, set in eleventh-century Scotland, and he also wrote the play, Julius Caesar, which includes the soothsayer’s line “Beware the ides of March.” Both plays involve tyrants, nation building, and stabbings. Lots of stabbing, lots of blood, and death. Well, they’re tragedies, after all. (See ancient Greek drama.) Pies appear in Hamlet and gruesomely in Titus Andronicus, and Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost at a banquet, which may or may not have featured pies.

On Sunday, the Ides of March, we went out again. This time, to see the movie, ’71, about an English soldier who gets left behind during a skirmish in Belfast in 1971. It was an intense movie, heart-pounding intense, but very good. As my husband and I agreed, the action took place in Belfast at a particular time and place, and that situation was unique. Nonetheless, many of the themes were universal and could apply to wartime settings during any period in history. As it is set in Northern Ireland, I told my husband it was our St. Patrick movie, albeit a grim one. There was a stabbing in the movie, too.

In ancient Greece, ancient Rome, eleventh-century Scotland, and 1970s Belfast, people celebrated and ate, as do we. It is a constant. As living beings, we must eat to live. Sometimes we eat pie. As humans we are also compelled to create works of art to express our emotions in music, dance, poetry, drama, and visual art. We also have the physical brains and the imagination to make abstract leaps, to think about math and science.

I baked my Pi Day pie (Apple-Cranberry Crumb Pie) on Sunday the 15th of March, the Ides of March. At dinner we had zucchini, which I had “spiralized”. The ancient Romans would not have zucchini or tomatoes, but they did have olive oil and garlic. (Top it with slivered Parmesan.) And zucchini is green, so there you go. Pi Day, Ides of March, and St. Patrick’s Day—connected through history, food, and art.

Spiralized Zucchini sauteed with garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes

Spiralized Zucchini sauteed with garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes

Perhaps my reasoning is circular, but it ends in pie. Sometimes we all need a bit of sweetness in our lives. That’s a constant. Enjoy!

Apple-Cranberry Crumb Pie

Apple-Cranberry Crumb Pie

Apple-Cranberry Crumb Pie

Crust:

I used Mark Bittman’s “Sweet Piecrust” (from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian). Here’s a simplified version:

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (about 5 oz.)

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

8 Tbsp. butter, cut into about 8 pieces

3 Tbsp ice water, plus more if necessary (I always need a bit more).

Combine dry ingredients in food processor, pulse once or twice to mix. Add butter and process just until the butter is mixed into the dry ingredients. It should look like cornmeal. Bittman says about 10 seconds. I usually pulse it off and on. I keep the mixture in the food processor and add the water. Process only until the mixture begins to come together. Form into a ball and wrap in plastic. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes. It can be made several days in advance or frozen.

Roll and press into pie pan. I just now noticed he says to refrigerate the piecrust for about an hour before filling. Ooops. Well, I’ve never done that, and it seems to be fine.

Filling:

Apples: I used 4 large apples and 1 smaller one, peeled and sliced thinly. My food processor blade worked well for this.

¾ cup, more less to taste, dried cranberries

¼ cup light brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. ginger

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Butter to dot top (I’m not sure if this is necessary or not. The recipe I looked at used 4 Tbsp. I used about 11/2. I think you can eliminate it, if you want to reduce the fat a bit.)

Crumb Topping:

¾ cup flour

½ cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

5 Tbsp. butter

½ cup ground nuts (I planned to use walnuts, but I already had almonds ground. Yup, that’s how I do things.)

Combine filling ingredients together in a large bowl. My apples were very bland, adjust spices and sugar to your own tastes and needs. You should have enough to mound into a pie plate.

Combine crumb topping ingredients. I used my fingers to blend the butter in. Cover top of pie with the topping.

Bake at 350° for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the top gets too brown, cover it loosely with foil. The pie should be bubbling when it’s ready.

*For a history of pie, see Janet Clarkson, Pie: A Global History(London: Reakton Books, 2009).

I also discuss pie in my History of American Cooking (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2013).

International Women’s Day–Make It Happen

“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”

— Hillary Clinton

“If you’re beautiful, you’re led to believe that you can’t also be smart. But you can be fun and fit and social and be really smart. And the smarter you are, the more capable you’ll be to handle whatever challenges come up in life.”

— Danica McKellar

Monday Morning Musings

Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day 2015. I had intended to have this post ready then, but other projects and the change to Daylight Savings Time through off my schedule. (Can I just say how much I hate time changes? Forward or back, it makes me miserable and takes me days to adjust.) It is now March 9, but I don’t think the world has changed overnight.

While driving home from visiting my mother-in-law on Saturday, my husband and I listened to a program on the Baltimore NPR station. One segment of the show featured three female surgeons at different stages of their careers. All three had contributed to an anthology, Being a Woman Surgeon. All of them discussed their lack of role models as they began their studies, and even after they became physicians.

The story made me reminisce about my own graduate school days. When I started my graduate studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, there were only one or two female history professors in the department. (A few years later, a female history professor at a large Midwestern university would tell a group of women at a dinner meeting that I attended that when her department was finally about one-third female, some of the male professors started complaining about all the women in the department.) There were no women in my department who covered my fields of study when I began grad school. After I began work on my dissertation, there was a female professor who I asked to be on my dissertation committee. She was a wonderful scholar who always attempted “to prime the pump” as we discussed my work.

It’s funny, but when I first began grad school, I didn’t really think about the lack of women professors in the department or the lack of role models. My father had received his Ph.D. in history at Temple only a few years before. The same professor chaired both of our dissertation committees. There were other women grad students who became my friends, and there was a cohort of slightly older women who had successfully defended their dissertations and had jobs in the field, although some were temporary. I had role models in the generation of female historians who had written important articles and books that influenced the course of my work. These women dared to write about women in history, recognizing the obvious fact that both men and women lived in the past, as well as the present. They also wrote on social issues such as divorce and birth control.

Looking back, I think what I lacked were female role models who were professional scholars and parents. I remember one well-know historian, a brilliant scholar and someone I admire, saying that she arranged her pregnancies so that she gave birth in the summer during break. She seemed to imply that women who didn’t do so were somehow lacking in foresight. But delivering a baby during a break between terms only covers birth and the short time after that. What happens after that?

I held a one-year position at a nearby college. My younger daughter was about seven months old then, and I was still breastfeeding her. Fortunately, she began drinking from a cup at six months, so my daycare provider could give her a bit of formula and food. I would nurse her, take the girls to the sitter, and pick them up a few hours later, the benefits of an academic schedule. The two other women in the department had children, but they were older. The one time I called out sick because one of the children was sick, I realized I should have said I was sick. Being a mother was okay, but having childcare issues was not. And breastfeeding is still an issue. Female breasts can be seen in movies, but not when feeding infants. Breastfeeding is still something that must be hidden.

One of the female surgeons in the radio interview acknowledged the same problems of childcare and breastfeeding—although her schedule was much more grueling than mine had been. She described secretly pumping breast milk in a closet, her motherhood something that could not be acknowledged.

Of course, childcare is a parental issue. Mothers and fathers should be able to have parental leave to be with their children. Obtaining quality childcare should not be such a difficult issue.

Later, after my one-year position was over, I taught some courses here and there—always late in the afternoon or at night or weekends, when my husband could take care of the girls. One time a friend arranged for me to teach a course. He didn’t tell me in advance, but simply announced it to me as a fait accompli. I told him that it was too difficult for me to find someone to watch my younger daughter or pick up the older one from school. I had tried it the previous semester, and it was awful. All of the work to prepare for a course, the half-hour drive there and back, leaving my child unhappy, and the actual cost of the care—it wasn’t worth it. I don’t think he understood at all, and he was annoyed at me for turning down the offer.

I’ve been bothered lately by people who think feminism is a bad word, or a word that has to be qualified. Feminism means women and men should have the same rights. Do you believe women have the right to be educated? To get a job? To vote? If not, you probably don’t want to read my blog.

All over the world–including the United States–there are people who think women do not deserve to be educated. There are some who believe it is fine for girls as young as nine or ten to be married. There are many who believe that any woman who dresses in a way they do not consider appropriate or modest enough, or any woman who ventures outside her home unaccompanied by a man is asking to be raped. There are horrible reports of global sex trafficking, rape, and abuse of women. Rape is used as a tactic of war, as it has been for centuries. (For a brief report see this. Also see the Women Under Siege Project.)

I’m am fortunate to have had strong women as role models—my mother, my immigrant grandmothers, and my mother-in-law, among them. I also had a piano/music teacher who was a single mother and a singular free spirit. She helped to boost my confidence during my shaky, emotional teenage years, and then became a friend. Both of my parents believed I could do anything, be anything I wanted to be.

I have not been much of a marcher or organizer. I haven’t given speeches, or rallied the troops. I did not continue with an academic career. I’ve occasionally heard that my books have inspired others, and I’ve been asked to chair conference sessions and write letters of recommendation. But my husband and I have done something right. We have two strong, wonderful, brilliant, talented daughters. They are proud feminists, as am I.

“Extremists have shown what frightens them the most: a girl with a book.”

– Malala Yousafzai

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I’ve never thought being a feminist means I can’t enjoy cooking. My gender has nothing to do with it. I don’t cook because I’m a woman and that’s my role. I cook because I want to cook. Here’s a recipe that I’ve written about before. I made these cookies for archivists while working on my dissertation, which became my first book, Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord in Pennsylvania, 1730-1830. The cookies are called “Mommy Cookies” at my house because they are my favorite. Enjoy!

Mandelbrot

3 ¾ cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 cup oil

2 tsp. baking powder

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla and a little bit of almond extract (maybe about ¼ tsp?)

dash or two of salt

Chocolate chips (I use a whole bag of Ghiardelli bittersweet chocolate chips.

Some people might prefer less, although I can’t imagine why)

Finely chopped nuts (I use a mixture of walnuts and almonds. Maybe about ¾ cup?)

Cinnamon and sugar mixed together to sprinkle on top

Beat eggs with whisk; then add sugar, oil, vanilla/almond. Add dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips and nuts. The dough should be able to form loaves on a cookie sheet. Add a little more flour if necessary.

Oil your hands and lightly oil 2 cookie sheets. Parchment paper lined sheets help. Shape the dough into 4 “loaves” on the cookie sheets. I make these cookies all the time and my loaves are never the same. Sprinkle the loaves with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar—thoroughly cover them and try to get the sides, as well.

Bake at 350 degrees for ½ hour. Then cut each loaf into slices. Put slices back in the oven for about 10 minutes, turn and put them back for another 10 minutes.

Purim, Savory and Sweet

The rain has finally turned to snow here in south Jersey. My husband’s school is closed, and we won’t be going anywhere, so it’s a good thing our house is stocked with Hamantaschen, the triangular cookies traditionally made for Purim. And wine! The cookies are named for Haman, the villain of the Biblical Book of Esther. I always thought it was odd that cookies were named for him. Shouldn’t cookies be named for Esther instead? Well, no one asked me. Purim is normally celebrated with the reading of the story, in which Esther saves the Jews of Persia, noisemakers are used to drown out the name of Haman, people dress in costumes, and there are celebrations with lots of food—and lots of drinking, too!

I just found this quick cheat sheet on Purim. I Google so you don’t have to! (And yes, Google is now a verb.)

When I was growing up, we didn’t celebrate Purim. My mom sometimes bought Hamantaschen. They were never that exciting to me, and as a child I was not thrilled by the traditional poppy seed filling. Now, Hamantaschen recipes are all over the Internet. (Really, just Google it. I’ll let you do it this time.) Fillings are only limited by imagination–and good taste, or what you think tastes good.

So this year I made chocolate Hamantaschen filled with chocolate chip cookie dough, and some filled with Nutella. If you have to ask why, these are not the cookies for you. I followed this recipe, using Special Dark cocoa and butter in the chocolate chip dough. (Actually, my sister found the recipe, so I could make the cookies for her.)

Chocolate Hamantaschen with Chocolate chip filling and Nutella filling

Chocolate Hamantaschen with Chocolate chip filling and Nutella filling

Then I made more traditional Hamantaschen, which I filled with a variety of flavors: some of the leftover chocolate chip dough—because you can never have too much chocolate, Nutella—because chocolate and hazelnut—and then I made a new flavor for this year. It’s what I like to think of as Sephardic meets Ashkenazi in one delightful cookie. The filling is Clementine-Almond.

Here’s what I did. I was inventing it as I went along, so no measurements. There’s a surprise, right?

Clementine-Almond Filling

Boil Clementines (I used 3) for about 1 hour, or until soft. I removed the stems. Drain, and chop the entire fruit, peels and all, in a food processor until it’s like a sauce. Return to pot, and add some sugar. I didn’t want it to be too sweet, but I also didn’t want it too bitter, so you just have to taste it. Cook until sugar is dissolved and the mixture seems thick enough to use as a filling. I then added about a teaspoon of honey, which made it perfect, and finely ground roasted almonds.

Clementine-Almond Filling

Clementine-Almond Filling

An assortment of Hamantaschen

An assortment of Hamantaschen

With some many hours wasted spent in baking (did I mention I went to the gym first where I thought about this filling the entire time?), I decided I might as well continue instead of actually doing any work. So, I thought, what about a savory Hamantaschen for dinner? I am brilliant. I adapted some recipes for mushroom turnovers and made Mushroom Hamantaschen. Dinner and dessert Hamantaschen. YES!

Jewish holidays tend to be reminders of sorrow and joy in life, the bitter and the sweet–so I think I’ve got it covered.

Mushroom Hamantaschen

Dough: Mix 8 oz. cream cheese, 1 cup butter, and 1 ½ cups of flour together. Add a pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter. Chill dough.

Filling: Finely chop 1 onion, about ¾ lb. of mushrooms (your choice). I used some baby bellas. Cook in oil for a few minutes until softened. Add salt, pepper, and ground thyme to taste. Sprinkle with a tsp or two of flour, and stir in ¼ cup of sour cream.

Roll out dough and cut into rounds. Put a spoonful of mushroom filling on each round and shape into triangles. Bake on parchment lined baking sheet at 350° for about 15 minutes.

Mushroom Hamentaschen

Mushroom Hamantaschen

So what’s today’s work-avoiding project? I think a pot of yellow split pea-pumpkin soup sounds perfect. With Hamantaschen. And wine, of course.

****Sorry about the quality of the photos–this is why I don’t actually write a food blog!

The Snowstorm That Wasn’t and Was, or Making Your Garden Grow

 Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes, and to add to other peoples store of it.”

Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

The expected blizzard of 2015 did not take place in South Jersey this week. Weather forecasters kept changing the numbers. The amount of snow expected kept changing—we’re going to get a foot of snow; we’re going to get 6 to 12 inches; we’re going to get somewhere between 2 inches and 13 inches. The timing for this anticipated snowstorm kept changing, as well. First we were going to get a storm with 1 to 3 inches of snow on Monday morning, then later in the day and into the next day we’d get the “real” storm.

Based on the forecast, my husband’s school, as well as all of the schools in the area, made plans the night before to close. The governor of New Jersey declared a state of emergency, and people were not supposed to drive. When I woke up early Tuesday morning, I discovered we had received less than an inch of snow. So much for the snowstorm. But everything was quiet and still, and we had a snow day.

Not exactly a blizzard

Not exactly a blizzard

I thought about real snowstorms we had had. There was one huge blizzard when our daughters were small, and we had about two feet of snow, and more where the snow drifted. Our daughters’ school was closed for the week, and so was my husband’s. We were cocooned inside our house, and I baked lots of treats—something different every day. It was somehow relaxing knowing that we could not go anywhere.

My daughters playing in the snow many years ago.

My daughters playing in the snow many years ago.

On Tuesday, though the roads were fine later in the day, my husband and I treated the day as a “snow day.” He did some schoolwork, and I did a bit of work, too. But we also relaxed. We watched four episodes of  “Fringe” on Netflix throughout the day. I read; he napped (have I mentioned that my husband is a champion napper?). Of course, on snow days, one must cook and bake. Well, one must if you’re me. I had already made a pot of red lentil soup and homemade black bread, so I baked an apple cake.

I know for some the unnecessary snow day was a burden or a day of missed income, and I know others north of us really did have a snowstorm, but for me, the day was an excuse to slow down and relax, to not go anywhere, or follow a schedule—well, except for feeding the cats at their usual time.

We will probably get more snow at some point before the winter turns to spring, but I’m eagerly waiting for sprouts of green to appear on lawns and trees and to feel the warm sunshine upon my face and shoulders. In the meantime, I’ll delight in happiness when it comes, and appreciate unexpected pleasures. Sometimes life’s storms never materialize. Sometimes they’re followed by periods of calm. And sometimes it’s fine to just take the time to watch Netflix and bake goodies.

The word “garden” popped randomly into my head this morning, followed by this song, “Make Our Garden Grow,” the finale from Leonard Bernstein’s operetta, Candide, based on Voltaire’s novella. I love this song, and it’s possible I listened to it several times today. Here’s “Make Our Garden Grow” from the PBS version that was a favorite in our house.

“We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow…
And make our garden grow.”

From Leonard Bernstein, “Make Our Garden Grow,” Candide

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Sometimes there’s a snowstorm, and sometimes you get an unexpected gift of a day. Sometimes you see snow, dream of gardens, and find happiness where you can. And sometimes you bake a loaf of bread.

Wheatberry Bread

Wheatberry Bread

Rain, or the Slightly Scary Inner Workings of My Mind

It’s a cold and rainy day in southern New Jersey. One of the spin instructors at my gym always says, “It’s a beautiful day. You woke up. It’s a beautiful day.” So there is that. The sky is the light, slightly pearlescent gray that would be attractive in a sweater or scarf, but not so much in the winter sky where it blends into the darker gray of the wet street. I started thinking about weather and wondered how often it figured in literary plots. I thought of reading Wuthering Heights when I was in sixth grade–it was one of my prized Scholastic Books purchases—and remembered the scene in which Lockwood, the narrator, is caught in a storm and forced to seek shelter for the night at Wuthering Heights. After dozing off, he is awakened by the tapping of a branch on the windowpane. When he opens the window he sees a ghostly figure, and then when he reaches out, his hand is clasped by an ice-cold hand and voice asking to be let in. Ohhhhh. . .those delicious chills you get from reading about ghosts while wrapped snugly in a warm and cozy place.

This memory of my long ago young self sparked yet another memory of coming home from the movies with my mom and older sister in a storm in Dallas, where we lived at the time. There was hail, which was scary—at some point, then or another time, we had hail that actually broke a window in our house. My mom made us hot dogs and hot cocoa, which at the time seemed very comforting.

(I think hot dogs are repulsive, and I’ve never really liked them, so I think what I actually found comforting were the toasted rolls. Toast is always comforting, especially when it is eaten with cocoa. When my daughters were little, I always made them cinnamon toast and cocoa when they came in from playing in the snow. My husband was the designated snow player, and I was the designated toast and cocoa maker. Cinnamon toast and cocoa would probably be my top comfort food, although I can’t remember when I last had it. Now I’m craving cinnamon toast, aren’t you? My husband will say it always comes back to food with me, and I will say, yes, and what’s the problem? And now I feel the need to make a sour cream coffee cake with cinnamon streusel with perhaps a touch of cocoa this afternoon. You want some, too, don’t you? This is why I go to the gym even on a miserable rainy day.)

(Second digression—my husband said to me the other day in the car, how do you come up with these things? I tend to suddenly ask him weird things or make comments that seem totally random. We were on our way to see a play, The Body of an American, which deals with journalism, writing, war photography, unlikely friendships, ghosts, dysfunctional families, and unlikely friendships—among other things. I said, “We should buy a cheap tray table that we can keep in the car for when we go to wineries and things.” He thought this comment was totally out of the blue. I explained: we had been discussing rehearsal dinners, and I thought of when our older daughter got married last summer. The night before the rehearsal dinner, we went to a local winery and sat outside with my homemade challah and some cheese and drank some wine, but didn’t have a table to put the food on. My husband agreed it was a brilliant idea. And yes, it does always come back to food.)

So back to weather and literature. I think it would be difficult to write a book and never mention the weather. Sometimes it creates a necessary plot device—for example, the blizzard in Stephen King’s The Shining. I recently read Jane Smiley’s Some Luck. Focusing on the everyday life of one family, there are scenes in which it seems like nothing much happens, and yet it is so elegant in its simplicity. That is what life is like for most people. It is made up of the chores we do at home, the conversations we have with our family members and friends, our work, and yes, the weather.

“It was a dark and stormy night. . .” is the opening of the much-parodied sentence by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. (See information on the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest here.)

But sometimes it actually is a dark and stormy night. Or a gray and rainy day. And sometimes the weather sparks memories, and sometimes memories spark baking. And these things may or may not lead to good writing. They may lead simply to some great food—and more memories.

And now it’s time for lunch.

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
–Langston Hughes, “April Rain Song”

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.”

–Bill Watterson, The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book

“Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?”

–Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

In Memoriam: Monuments, Cookies, and Tea

 

In the United States, this past weekend marked the celebration of Memorial Day (on Monday), and the Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day is a day for remembering the men and women who died serving in the US armed forces. It is observed with parades, visits to cemeteries, and other solemn events at monuments, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The weekend is also celebrated as the unofficial start of summer with people traveling to the beach and attending other outdoor events, such as picnics and barbecues. Over the past few days, I’ve pondered this dichotomy. On NPR I heard the father of a son killed in Afghanistan say that he never faults people for having a good time on Memorial Day because it never meant anything to him until his own son was killed—and this man was on active duty at the time. (Link to the story here.)

I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a child, parent, spouse, or friend in war. I don’t know how I would react, or how I would grieve. Yet to those who are not grieving, the mixture of solemnity, remembrance, and frivolous fun that takes place over the Memorial Day weekend seem fitting to me because that is what life is about, isn’t it? It’s solemn moments of remembrance, honoring and sharing memories of those gone but not forgotten, and then going on with life and creating new memories.

I’ve also pondered another aspect of Memorial Day—how do we honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country without condoning war itself? As far as I know, there is only one veteran in my family, my mother’s father. His duty to his adopted country is ironic because he fled the country of his birth to escape being drafted into the Tsar’s army—or at least that’s the story I’ve been told. Whether that story is true or not, it is true that Russia was going through a turbulent time, and such times are often even worse for Jews. My grandfather must have left Russia just before the war and revolution. In any case, he did not serve in the country of his birth. He had only lived in the US, his adopted country, for a brief time before the nation entered WWI, and he was drafted. I never spoke to him about his early life, or about his service in the US navy. I imagine it was not something he particularly wanted or chose to do. If someone were to ask me if I was proud of him for his military service, I would say yes, but since I know nothing about his service, I am more proud of him for having the courage to leave his homeland and travel across the ocean (the recent movie, The Immigrant is a vivid portrayal of the perils of immigration in the early 1920s just after WWI), of learning to speak, read, and write English, of making a living during the Depression, of raising two wonderful children, my mother and my uncle, and of living a full and rewarding life after the tragic death of my grandmother in a car accident. He was the driver.

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My Grandfather Jack, taken during WWI. He looks so young. I wonder if he had this photograph taken for his family or for my grandmother?

He was a fun grandfather. He took my little sister and me for long walks when he visited us and played games with us—the type of activities he did not have time for when his own children were young.

I’ve been thinking about war recently. There has been a recent bounty of material on WWI, which began one hundred years ago with the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 in Sarajevo. It was the war that brought soldiers to the hell of trench warfare. It was the first war to use particular forms of machinery, such as machine guns and flamethrowers, as well as poisonous gas. The war decimated the young male population of countries throughout Europe, and left thousands of men physically or mentally damaged—“shell shocked,” as it was called then.

For my current book project I’ve been reading and writing about the American Revolution. It was a different type of warfare from WWI, with different causes and different aims. Similarly, WWII was different from WWI. Each generation fights over different territory; each invents new ways to fight, but the result is still death. I’m an idealist, but not totally naïve. I understand that there have always been wars, and that people will always argue whether they are “justified” or not. I honor those who have served in both war and peace, but I don’t think war should be glorified, even if necessary to fight evil. There is nothing glorious about war and killing people.

The British war poet, Wilfred Owen, who fought during WWI, and who ultimately died in combat, expressed these sentiments better than I ever could; he also captured the absolute horror of war in his poetry. His poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” ends with these words:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 (You can access the full poem here. )

We memorialize wars publicly with monuments and parades, but we build private memorials in our hearts and minds. We remember what our loved ones enjoyed or disliked, what they wore, said, and did. So perhaps moving from war to memories of food here is not such a stretch. After all, people often bring food to those who are grieving. The preparing of food brings comfort to those who wonder how to help or what to do, while eating and sharing meals brings its own comfort.

Thinking about my grandfather, reminded me of these cookies pictured below, which I have probably not made in twenty years. They are labeled “Aunt Rae Cookies” on my recipe card, named for my grandfather’s second wife. My mom told me though that all of her aunts made similar cookies. They are dry, rather bland cookies. My grandparents and their relatives did not like sweet, gooey treats. Their cakes and cookies tended to be dry and only slightly sweet—something to have with tea. Memories have compelled me to try them again. So in memory of those long gone, and with the memory of my own teenage self learning to bake and collecting recipes, here are the slightly updated version of Aunt Rae Cookies. Although they are not “Wow” cookies, they are strangely addictive. I “tasted” one, and then ate three more. The recipe has ingredients, but no real directions. Also, I’m not certain if I didn’t count correctly, or if the cookies simply needed an extra cup of flour, so it might be 3 cups or 4 cups. OK. I’m not a professional. I’ve added some flavoring—vanilla and almond extract—to the recipe, along with some finely ground walnuts, and a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon. I think I would add more nuts next time. Enjoy with a cup of tea, coffee, or a glass of wine—and your own memories, of course.

 

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Aunt Rae Cookies

3 (or 4) Cups Flour

1 Cup Sugar

3 Eggs

2 Tsp. Baking Powder

¼ tsp. Salt

¾ cup Vegetable oil

Optional: Flavoring, Ground nuts, cinnamon and sugar

Whisk eggs until light, whisk in sugar, oil, and flavoring, if desired. (I used about 1 tsp vanilla extract and ½ tsp. almond extract). Stir in flour, baking powder, salt, and nuts. I used about ¼ cup finely ground walnuts and almonds. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Bake at 350° for about 10 minutes.

 

Beware the Hammantaschen?

Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.

Caesar: What man is that?

Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

–William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2

 So. . .I just realized that this year Purim falls on the Ides of March. I guess that means you should be extra wary while consuming your wine and hope you don’t choke on your Hamantaschen. And stay away from theaters. And people with knives. You know, just in case.

The Ides of March simply means the middle of the month. Other Roman months also had Ides, but Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 BCE. So that event—and then Shakespeare’s words–imparted a meaning to the date that had not existed before.

True confession: Despite a Ph.D. in history, I’ve never had a course in ancient world history. My lack of knowledge of Greek and Roman history is only matched by my even greater lack of knowledge about other ancient civilizations. I did have a book of mythology by Edith Hamilton that I used to like to read when I was a child. I think I “borrowed” it from my older sister. Yes, I was a nerdy child. What I have learned about ancient Rome I’ve gathered from my own browsing through texts, watching I, Claudius (I’m convinced that Claudius sounded exactly like Derek Jacobi and spoke with an English accent), and hearing my daughters discuss the information they acquired in their Latin classes in high school. Shout out to their wonderful Latin teacher!  Woot! I also witnessed a couple of “reenactments” of historical events in Rome and Pompeii during a trip to Italy with Latin students from my daughters’ high school. That was the same trip in which I discussed sex in ancient Rome with a grad student chaperone, and the girls’ Latin teacher and I compared the Rape of the Sabine Women with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (Clearly, I transitioned from nerdy child to nerdy adult.)

Second True Confession: I haven’t read Julius Caesar since I was in ninth grade. I do remember reading some of Calpurnia’s lines to my then boyfriend, now husband’s Caesar. And for some reason, “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look” became a favorite phrase in our little ninth grade group. I have no idea why now. I guess because we were ninth graders–and nerdy.

I do know that Romans, including Caesar, drank wine.

Caesar: Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me.

And we, like friends, will straightway go together.

Brutus: (aside) That every “like” is not the same, O Caesar,

The heart of Brutus earns to think upon.

—Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 2, Scene 2

And that they had feasts, during which they reclined. Maybe because they were drinking wine, too. That’s a joke. Perhaps.  (The men—I’m not sure about the women–participating in the feasts reclined. Their slaves did not, which is why we’re told, to recline on Passover, since we are free.) Ancient Roman food often consisted of simple fare, such as bread, salty cheese, and fruit. Porridge-like dishes were common. Banquets featured more elaborate preparations, and the households of the wealthy displayed their wealth through the use of exotic ingredients. Dishes were often boiled or fried in olive oil—and strongly flavored sauces were essential. Garum, a fermented fish sauce was very popular. They also liked sweets made with honey.

On Purim, you’re supposed to drink wine, eat sweets, and celebrate! Traditional Purim foods often focus on beans, seeds, nuts, and dairy, as Queen Esther, it is said, did not want to eat food that was not kosher.

So what to eat for an Ides of March/ Purim feast? I haven’t quite decided. I’m thinking perhaps homemade falafel, pita bread, along with some feta or goat cheese and olives. The Romans ate chickpeas, if not exactly falalfels, and goat cheese, and olives. Queen Esther may also have eaten those foods. You’re welcome to top your falafel with some garum, if you want and happen to have it handy, but I think I’ll pass. Of course, top off the feast with lots of wine and Hamantaschen!

This is also the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, when many cities in the US host special bar crawls, and revelers in green hats and clothing stumble through the streets. For some who partake, the crawl will no doubt be literal. Feel free to add green food coloring to your Hamantaschen if you feel the need to eat green food. I don’t.

Enjoy your food and drink this weekend, whatever your cultural background. You might even want to start off your gastronomic weekend with a pie for Pi Day today! But remember,  if a soothsayer tells you to avoid going somewhere tomorrow, you might want to heed his or her advice.

I wanted to try more recipes for Hammantaschen, but with looming deadlines and various projects, I didn’t get a chance this week. This is the recipe that I’ve used in the past, and which I prepared for a talk I gave this week. It uses oil instead of butter, but it has a great orange flavor. I made prune and apricot fillinggs. Just cook the fruit with some water, orange juice, lemon, and sugar until they’re soft and then mash them and chill. I also mixed some ground walnut and coconut into blueberry jam. Experiment with various jams and fruit fillings. YUM!

I used large eggs instead of extra large eggs, and it came out fine.

Hamantaschen

(This recipe was in The Philadelphia Inquirer several years ago, but I don’t know who created it.)

5 extra large eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup corn/vegetable oil

½ cup orange juice

Grated rind of 1 orange

Grated rind of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. vanilla extract

6 ½ cups flour

1 ½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

Beat eggs until thick, but not foamy. Beat in sugar. Add oil, OJ, grated orange and lemon rinds, lemon juice, and vanilla. Mix at low speed. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt; slowly stir into egg mixture to moisten. Do not overbeat. Dough will be sticky. Spread dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet; cut into quarters and chill at least 3 hrs., up to 3 days. (Dough may be frozen. To use defrost overnight in refrigerator.)

When ready to proceed, work with one-quarter of dough at a time, leaving the rest refrigerated. Lightly dust a cutting board with flour. Gently knead the dough pliable. Roll to ¼-inch thickness. Cut into circles, fill, and shape into triangles.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 -25 minutes until golden. Makes about 60 cookies.

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