Wendy’s Word

Not your mama’s blog….

Hamentashen March 21, 2009

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 11:02 pm

A few weeks ago, my sister, daughters, niece, and I enjoyed our yearly ritual of making hamentaschen, the triangular filled pastry made for the Jewish holiday, Purim.  The baking process is almost more important than the end product — we’ve been doing this for years, using our Aunt Frieda’s recipe.  We get together at my sister’s house, each with our jobs of rolling out dough, cutting out circles, filling and shaping, and baking.  In earlier years, the kids would get bored partway through and my sister and I would do the lion’s share of the work, and even my nephew would deign to make a few hamentaschen.  This year, my nephew, being a teenage boy, was uninterested but the girls stuck it out to the end, and my daughter made an excellent playlist to accompany our work.  The right music is essential to cooking. 

Every year I agonize about what dough recipe to use.  Aunt Frieda’s recipe is ok, but it’s a strange recipe, calling for cream cheese and sour cream in addition to butter or margarine and shortning.  Since Jewish mothers don’t tend to use recipes, the proportions are strange, calling for 5 heaping cups of flour.  Heaping cups?  I thought baking was supposed to be such an exact science!  Also, the methods are different from the usual methods of making dough.  I suppose I could use my cooking knowledge to adapt the recipe, but that seems like too much work.  I’ve tried other recipes over the years, such as Joan Nathan’s, but I haven’t found a good one yet.  So Aunt Frieda’s it is.  At least I’ve learned that it’s essential to make the dough the day before and make sure it’s well refrigerated before rolling out.

We made prune, apricot, cherry, and strawberry hamentaschen, and they came out pretty well.  They’re always great right out of the oven, but become soft after being stored.  This year I tried a trick suggested by my chef neighbor, who recommended that I put a small bag of rice with holes poked in the bag into the larger storage bag with the hamentaschen, to absorb the excess moisture.  I think it worked somewhat.

Next to the baking process, the best part of hamentaschen is giving them away.  It’s traditional at Purim to give Shalach Manot baskets filled with hamentaschen and other goodies to friends.  We give to teachers, neighbors, and good friends.  Even if they look a little funny or turned a bit soft, hey, they were made with love.  I’m sure that next year, I’ll scour my cookbooks and the internet looking for the perfect recipe only to settle on Aunt Frieda’s again.  And I cherish every year that the kids bake with us.  For me, there’s no better way to celebrate the holiday.


The Know-It-All, by A.J. Jacobs

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 10:18 pm

I enjoyed A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically so much that when I came across his earlier book, The Know-It-All, in the library, I couldn’t resist giving it a read.  Like Year of Living Biblically, Know-It-All is a highly entertaining read and had me laughing aloud at the gym, causing curious glances.  (Of course it’s curious I’d be at the gym in the first place, but that’s another story…)

In an attempt to fill in the gaps in his knowledge and to regain his status (or so he thought when he was a child) as smartest person in the world, A.J. Jacobs decided to read the Encyclopaedia Brittanica from cover to cover.  This obsessive project is similar to his project of living according to the Bible’s rules for one year, as he did in Living Biblically.  The book is organized alphabetically by encyclopedia subject, and mixes education and trivia on the subjects with musings on Jacobs’ life and the larger lessons he learns from the project.  

Over the course of the book, Jacobs’ vacillates between enjoying and being proud of the new facts he’s learning, and wondering about the nature of intelligence and whether cramming facts into his brain can actually make him smarter.  He distinguishes between actually experiencing life and reading about it, and he prefers the latter.  He is also partially driven by competition with his overachiever father, who had abandoned his attempt to read the encyclopedia cover to cover. 

There is a hilarious description of Jacobs’ attempts to go on Jeopardy and later going on Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire, and lest his quest be all about reading, Jacobs employs his journalistic skills by interviewing Mensa members, Alex Trebec, a rabbi, and a professor.  He also goes back to his childhood school for a day, participates in a college debate, goes to a Mensa convention, takes speed-reading and memory improvement courses, and visits the Encyclopaedia Brittanica headquarters.  Since the book is part memoir, Jacobs shares his experiences with the difficult process of trying to start a family.

Jacobs is hilarious – I laughed aloud on almost every page — and can be a smart-ass, as you might imagine from someone whose day job is an Esquire magazine editor.  But he’s also introspective, does not take himself too seriously, and the book has touching moments.


Salt March 14, 2009

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 9:21 pm

When I first heard that the public health community was taking on salt intake as an issue, I groaned.  Silently, of course, since I like my job!  Trans fat, high fructose corn syrup, restaurant menu labeling – those issues I understand, but salt?  I love salt!  Food cooked without salt is tasteless.  A pinch of salt in a recipe doesn’t necessarily make the dish taste salty – it brings out the flavor of the dish.

However, after hearing my boss give a talk recently about reducing salt intake, I not only became convinced, but I realized that salt reduction is actually compatible with good cooking and eating.  

We only need about 1,500 mg. per day of sodium, and the tolerable upper limit is 2,300 mg. per day.  However, the average adult takes in more than 3,400 mg. a day, which is higher than the upper limit by a lot.  Our lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure is 90%, and we all know that high blood pressure leads to strokes and other cardiovascular disease.  High blood pressure also increases the risk for renal disease.

Most of the salt we get comes from processed or restaurant foods.  My favorite chart in the presentation shows where our sodium comes from.  12% is inherent in the foods we eat, 6% is added at the table, 5% is added during cooking, and 77% comes from processed and restaurant foods.  Voila!  The answer is not to cook bland, tasteless food with no salt.  The answer is to cook meals yourself, with fresh, unprocessed ingredients, so you can control your salt level.  We rely heavily on restaurant food in this country.  Expenditures on food eaten away from home have increased steadily over the years, and while there are options that seem healthy (i.e. low in fat), they are often high in sodium.  For example, a McDonald’s grilled chicken sandwich has 1,190 mg. of sodium, almost our daily allotment.

I’m not advocating for going to extremes.  As I said in my posting on Mark Bittman’s article on purging our kitchens for the new year, I’m not about to make my own stock when I can open a can (or carton).  However, I try to choose a healthier brand.  And I think adding a pinch of salt to a recipe brings out the flavor better than adding extra spices or herbs.  But I will be mindful of minimizing my use of processed foods.  After all, that is consistent with good cooking.  If it promotes health benefits also, so much the better!

Check out the presentation at  http://lahealthaction.org/library/Dr_Fieldings_ppt_reducing_salt_intake.v2.pdf



Filed under: Books — wendy @ 8:24 pm

A co-worker asked me to get my blog readers’ thoughts on the new Kindle.  Has anyone tried it, and if so, what do you think?

Call me old-fashioned, but I like my paper.  I like to read books, and I don’t even read the newspaper online.  I enjoy browsing through the paper over morning coffee, seeing what articles strike my eye.  I’m about as low tech as someone who writes a blog can possibly be.

But my co-worker makes a good point about the Kindle saving paper and saving space.  Our house looks like a library, and our coffee table has been turned into a horizontal bookcase/magazine rack.  Still, I’ll be sticking to non-electronic reading methods.  Any recommendations for my friend though?


Larchmont Village Wine Spirits & Cheese March 6, 2009

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 9:10 pm

I would have liked Larchmont Village Wine Spirits & Cheese much better if I didn’t have The Cheese Store of Silverlake  to compare it to.  (see blog entry for Cheese Store of Silverlake categorized under “food” or in the December archives)  I was in Larchmont Village the other day (a charming area, if you haven’t been there) and saw loads of people getting these gourmet looking sandwiches and had to give it a try.  Since I adore the sandwiches at Cheese Store of Silverlake, I thought they might be comparable.

LV Wine Spirits & Cheese is more of a wine and gourmet food shop than a cheese shop, so their sandwiches don’t feature exotic cheeses like the Cheese Store of SL sandwiches.  I think that was the main source of my disappointment.  The sandwich was good, don’t get me wrong.  It just wasn’t the heavenly experience I was hoping for.

One major difference between LV and SL is that  they you can watch them make the sandwiches at LV.  Since it’s crowded, they are making numerous sandwiches at once, Subway style.  You see a huge mound of ciabatta rolls and baguettes, giant bags of greens, and vats of sun-dried tomato spread and other spreads.  You watch them slap the sandwiches together and feel like yelling out, not so much balsamic vinegar!  Not so romantic.  They’re probably doing the same thing at SL, but it’s in a back room, so all we see are the beautifully wrapped sandwiches coming out.

The sandwiches at LV are a good value for the money.  For $7.50, I got a large sandwich on a crusty baguette with sopprasetta salami, Spanish manchega cheese, a sun-dried tomato mayo spread, greens, and olive oil and balsamic.  It was good, much better than your average deli sandwich, but not really something I’d go out of my way for, especially since there are so many good food options in Larchmont Village.


The Saucier’s Apprentice, by Bob Spitz March 1, 2009

Filed under: Books,Food — wendy @ 10:32 pm

Actually, the whole title is The Saucier’s Apprentice: One Long Strange Trip Through the Great Cooking Schools of Europe.  I’m a sucker for any book that involves eating and/or cooking your way through Europe.  After completing an eight-year long project writing a book about the Beatles and a messy divorce, Bob Spitz decides to indulge his passion for cooking by going to various cooking schools in France and Italy.  This book covers two types of books I love – regular person learns how to be a chef, of which Making of a Chef and Soul of a Chef, by Michael Ruhlman are great examples, and travel books.  Heat, by Bill Buford, is an excellent example of regular guy (he was a New Yorker writer and editor) learning to cook, and travelling to Italy as part of his cooking journey.  The Saucier’s Apprentice is entertaining.  Bob Spitz is an intense guy and rubs people the wrong way on his trip, but he’s not too self-serious in his writing.  The book also has recipes (which I haven’t tried so can’t vouch for).