I knew of Mary perhaps six months prior to meeting her. My mother, also an Ann Arborite, first turned me onto Mary via her food column on AnnArbor.com. Since I was still just planning my blog at the time – a little apprehensive, a little jittery – I bookmarked her for future contact.
I couldn’t be happier that the future is now and that I did contact the Floozie. Not only is she friendly, supportive and beyond creative and experienced in the kitchen, she’s just plain FUN.
“I write about my adventures in the kitchen – making dinner, celebrating holidays (sacred, obscure, literary, whatever!), entering cooking contests, eating out … whatever strikes my fancy,” she says about her blog. “I work at a religious institution by day, but my passion is to cook, bake, write, and build a community; because people bond over food, both in real life and in cyberspace.”
Mary, the floor is yours.
First, I want to offer a huge “thank you” to the fabulous and amazing Cindy for inviting me to babble and pontificate here in her little corner of cyberspace – I’m so honored and flattered! I’ll try not to drone on too terribly, and to amuse and entertain you while we talk about food. Pour a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and let’s chat!
Passover began this past Friday, April 6. Rather than merely lasting for one day, as with most holidays, Pesach ([PAY-sahk] = Hebrew for “Passover”) is an 8-day commemoration of the Jews’ flight from Egypt and escape from slavery.
Now, one might find it a bit odd that a girl who spent 13 years in Catholic school but considers herself a secular Jew, and who works in the Jewish community, might be doing a guest post here on Once Upon a Loaf during a holiday in which leavened products – most notably bread – are forbidden. Well, partly it’s because Cindy and I have good senses of humor and a wicked sense of irony!
But, in all seriousness … while I didn’t bake a loaf of light, airy, yeasty goodness for today’s installment, I did, indeed, still bake bread.
I made matzah [MAHT-suh], the bread of affliction.
Matzah, the flat bread which serves as a remembrance of the chaotic rush in which the Jews fled to freedom, with no time to let dough rise.
Matzah, which Jews are commanded to eat during the ritual Seder on the first and second nights of Pesach, but traditionally eat each day of the holiday … thus leading to 8 days of kvetching about GI problems and a longing for something – anything – more interesting to eat than matzah pizza. Lemme tell ya – even Wonder bread looks good after 8 days of matzah!
But you know what? This is because they’re eating the cardboard-like matzah that you find at the grocery store, which could be leftover from last year but who could tell??? The secret to enjoying matzah is to bake your own.
Except that this is more difficult than it sounds.
It’s not just about stirring together some flour and water, rolling out the dough, and baking it – that part’s easy. I even thought it was fun! But then, I’m a little odd ….
There are very specific rules about this process, and I’ll spare you the dissertation about Jewish law. Suffice it to say that to make officially sanctioned matzah, the flour used must be guarded against contact with water that would cause the grains to ferment and become leavened; some Jews will only eat shmurah matzah, which has been guarded since harvesting. And then, once the grain has been ground, it must be quickly mixed with a bit of water to make a dough, rolled, pricked (to avoid bubbling), and baked within a mere 18 minutes, with a rabbi supervising at all times.
Needless to say, no rabbis were hanging out at my house – where I regularly eat bacon, among other treyf ([trayf] = non-kosher) foods – making sure that I hustled my little tuckus to get this all done properly! I honor the spirit of the law, but it would not be humanly possible for me to honor the letter of the law.
However, I’m not officially Jewish, so the rules don’t count at my house! I made my own matzah, and will never eat the store-bought slabs again. This was absolutely addictive just schmeared with a bit of butter; use it to make my Chocolate Caramel Matzah, and you may need to find a 12-step program.
I can’t claim that this is my own concoction; and frankly, it’s so good and is so notable that I wouldn’t dare to tinker with it. This matzah recipe has survived for 500 years because it is a part of history. It was submitted as evidence against Angelina de Leon during the Spanish Inquisition, during a trial that convicted her of being a Jew.
“It was a few days before Passover in 1503 in northern Spain. Angelina de Leon was kneading a dough of white flour, eggs and olive oil, flavored with pepper and honey. She formed walnut-size balls, flattening them into round cakes and pricking them with a fork.
Maria Sancho, the family maid, was watching. This was exactly the sort of recipe that the Inquisition authorities had told servants to report …. All of which would provide proof that this was a household of secret Jews – (Conversos) who had ostensibly converted to Catholicism under pressure from the Church but who had clung to their Jewish rituals.”
Baking my own matzah is a ritual that I only adopted for the first time this year, but one which I will cling to each Pesach from now on.
Before I say goodbye, I have one last crumb to throw you (oy!). Because we’re not using yeast or baking soda or any other type of leavening today, it only seemed appropriate to lighten things up – ha! – with this little ditty:
Chag Pesach Sameach! [HAHG PAY-sahk sah-MAY-ahk] = “Happy Passover”
Angelina de Leon’s Matzah
(from The New York Times Passover Cookbook)
2 cups white flour
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl, combine the flour and pepper. Stir together the eggs, honey, oil and water; pour over the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
Divide the dough into 6 portions. One by one, roll them out into 8″ rounds; prick all over with a fork, then place onto a very lightly greased baking sheet.
Repeat with remaining dough, to make 6 matzot.br> br>