Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sky rockets in flight

Imagine being all excited about your 6th birthday party.

You've been planning for months. Your birthday is around Purim time so you're planning a fancy dress party. Your costume is chosen and ready. Your cake is baked. Your mother has bought all kinds of goodies your health conscious family doesn't usually have in the house.

You've invited friends from all around Israel. You're excited to show them your kibbutz with it's cow shed full of black and white cows. You're very proud of "your" cows.

You're counting down the time left until your party, only just over a day to go.

And then rockets start raining down on southern Israel, air raid sirens blaring night and day sending you and your family and your neighbours scurrying for cover with only seconds to spare. Your mother announces, sorry sweetie, it's just too dangerous to have your party here right now, we can't invite people to our home, it isn't safe.

My own 6 year-old, J, was supposed to be going to A's costume party. She too was all excited, anticipating the games and of course, the thrill of real live cows in the barn.

Only A lives in a kibbutz within rocket range of Gaza and as of Saturday night over 100 rockets had been fired into Israel, the residents of the region staying close to their shelters.

Saturday night we got a call from little A's mother telling us that for the third time in about a year she's had to tell guests not to visit because of the "security situation". This is the third time J was meant to go down to A's southern kibbutz and A's mother has had to cancel because of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.

Poor A as you can imagine was disappointed. And worried about the cows that don't have a shelter like the people do.

Luckily her mother is a resourceful woman and on short notice she figured out that the birthday party could be relocated to parkland just north of their kibbutz, an area still out of range of the rockets from Gaza.

A got to have her party and host all her friends from around Israel. They had a treasure hunt in the woods and pass the parcel, then her big brother did a magic show followed by a feast of falafel, hummous, pita and salad, chips, Bamba (peanut butter puffs - Israel's national kids' snack) and a chocolate crisped rice birthday cake.

J came home bouncing and happy, excited by the surprise location of A's birthday party and by the little individual packs of candy each child received - there were SO many flavours to choose from!

She also came home chattering about all clear signals, sirens, clearing up unexploded bombs and the dangers of unexploded ordinance.

Try as one might, you can't shield the kids from this, even if they aren't in areas directly affected by the rockets. J knows that her friends to the south of us have to live with air raids. She knows that there is a chance that one day we might be in range too. She knows what to do during drills.

After today she also knows first hand from A and other kibbutz children what it's really like, what the adults warn the children to be careful of (if you find bits of shrapnel or exploded rocket when you're out playing don't touch!) and what they do if the siren catches them outdoors or in the car.

I can see that to some extent she is anxious about it all, a little scared, but mostly she is matter of fact, practical and accepting. This is just the way things are. This is the way A has grown up, and for J it's as straight forward as that. Rocket attacks are to her and A as much a force of nature as the theoretical earthquakes we drill for too.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Hamentaschen recipe

 It's that time of year again, stores are chock full of garish costumes and face paint, DH is practicing his theatrical Megilla reading and every evening our peace is disturbed by teenagers throwing firecrackers in the park late at night. Purim must be coming!

Our multitudinous local bakeries have been selling hamentaschen since the day after Hannukah, and as with the Hannukah sufganiyot every year sees new attempts to out do the competition with unusual and bizarre hamentasch flavours.

Our family custom is to make our own, for the younger generation it is one of the highlights of the month of Adar, and just like  the bakeries, we seem to experiment with new fillings each Purim. One thing remains constant though, our basic hamentasch recipe.

I seem to have developed a reputation for being the go to person for wholewheat hamentaschen. "My" recipe is based on my mother-in-law's white flour recipe which I adapted for wholewheat, and just because I can't help tinkering with recipes. What I love about this recipe is that it is simple and kid, even toddler, friendly, so it's fun and easy to turn hamentaschen making into a family project.

Wholewheat hamentaschen dough

2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of one orange (about 1/2 cup)
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup demarara (light brown) sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 3/4 cup wholewheat flour + a little more

Choose a filling of your choice for example a jam of some sort (we like the whole fruit kind), brownie mixture, chocolate chips, dried fruits, dulce de leche, poppy seed, pie filling, English mince pie filling, halva spread, peanut butter, carob spread or even soft cheese with cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 180C or about 350F
1. Mix wet ingredients
2. Add dry ingredients and knead. (If the dough is sticky rather than smooth and easy to work with gradually add a little more flour to the mixture in handfull increments, until the dough has a smooth, non-sticky texture and is easy to shape.)
3. Take a pinch of dough. Roll into a ball and then flatten into a circle. You can take a small pinch to make mini-hamentashen or a largish pinch to make them big, whatever size works for you.
4. Fill with jam or other filling of your choice
5. Fold over the filling and pinch into a triangle shape
6. Do not grease pans
7. Bake at 350 F (about 180C) for around 15 minutes (check after 10)

NB If you're using wholewheat flour this will come out looking darker than with white flour.

a) Mix in some cocoa powder with the flour, even substitute as much as 1/4 cup cocoa powder to the dough.
b) Dilute the orange juice with liquor such as Baileys or other Irish cream, creme de menthe, rum, chocolate or coffee liquor.
c) Replace the vanilla extract with peppermint extract, works especially well with chocolate filling and with added cocoa powder in the dough.

Chocolate hamentasch filling

@250gr dark or bittersweet chocolate
3 tbl oil or softened butter
2/3 cup wholewheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 tsp peppermint extract or vanilla extract
2 tsp coffee
3/4 sugar
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

1. In a microwave proof bowl melt the chocolate, taking care that it doesn't burn. Try it in small increments, the exact time needed will vary according to different power microwaves.
2. Mix in all the rest of the ingredients except for the chocolate chips.
3. Fold in the chocolate chips.
4. Fill hamentaschen (dough recipe above, I usually add cocoa powder to the dough). You will need to work fast as the filling will stiffen and harden as it cools.

Any left over filling can be used to make chocolate drop cookies, bake for about 10 minutes on 180C.