Sweet Haman's Ears
There is only one mandatory action on Purim, that is to hear the story of the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of their enemy, Haman. One might debate whether this was due to Esther’s sexual manipulation of the king at her uncle Mordecai’s urging or it was in fact due to divine intervention.
What is not in debate however is the ferocity of the Jewish observance of the event. Jewish custom is to get stinking drunk and yell, scream and stomp every time Haman’s name is read aloud and generally remind everyone that we hold grudges for a very long time.[Don't believe me, the Jews are the only people to remember the tribe of Amelek- just so we can observe the commandment to blot out their memory. That's more than 2000 years of holding a grudge because they tried to jump us in the desert.]
This extends into the foods consumed on Purim. Oznai Haman (Haman’s Ears) come in several forms, ranging from stuffed cookies to this interesting fried pasta recipe I found. Of all of the Purim foods I have seen these turned out to be the most life-like and perhaps raising the greatest number of questions for a liberal western Jew to answer as he presents a plate of these fried ears to his kids.
I invite you to offer your own thoughts on consuming something that looks so much like a body part, and remind you that between Haman and his 10 sons (who were all impaled on wood spikes) there would have been 22 ears, snacks for everyone.
I know I have mentioned this on an individual basis, but about two years ago all five of us heathens took a week long trip to New Orleans together (along with about 30 others). We spent five days gutting the homes of some amazing families, who had endured unbelievable turmoil in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, so they could begin rebuilding and getting their lives back together. After the work we headed for a much needed weekend with real beds, showers and some seriously good times in the French Quarter. I believe all of us went on at least one other service trip to NOLA, but that one where we were all there together stands out in my memory as the one where we did the most meaningful work and where we also had the most fun. I recall beginning our Friday night with the five of us chillin’ in a delightful window booth in the amazing club, d.b.a on Frenchman St. They have probably the greatest selection of whiskeys (along with an array of draft beers) I’ve encountered, with the addition of mellow live music to boot. We had some great food that weekend too, but nothing topped the homemade red beans and rice, jambalaya and barbecued chicken the homeowners made us during the week. With Mardi Gras approaching on Tuesday I wanted to give a little nod to the Crescent City and tried to think of a way to add a Jewish flair to a French Quarter classic. Given the propensity of deliciously trafyey pork and shellfish in NOLA cuisine this was proving to be a bit of a stretch, but once again my inspiration came from the Cooks Illustrated magazine. They had an article recently which had determined that Challah makes the best bread pudding. I had found my Jewish angle and I also love bread pudding. I suspect the gene for loving bread pudding is located closely to the one that had me develop a taste for scotch and bourbon, and I can thank my dad for both. I also got to combine those two joys by adding some bourbon to the bread pudding. I’ll warn you, this recipe is not for the literal faint of heart, and Lipitor may be an advisable accompaniment with dessert, but as they say in the Big Easy … “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!”
Time for Dessert
“Just how Jewish is that?” Good question, the answer is not very. After all there weren’t any Jews on the Mayflower. But it is downright American. Pumpkins (along with their fellow squashes not to mention peppers, tomatoes and bison) are native to the Americas. This baked custard has been a holiday classic for decades and since my family has been here for over 100 years, I think we can safely embrace our native culture with the same relish we took on potatoes in Poland (after all, Jews aren’t really from Poland and potatoes aren’t either).
My take on pumpkin pie starts with a good pumpkin. This year I found mine at Perry Farms. I asked about a good pie pumpkin and they suggested a variety called a Sweetie Pie. Now there is perfectly good pumpkin available in cans, but I like the sense of starting from scratch. I also had my still new(ish) grinder and it made the work of pureeing the roasted pumpkin as simple as feeding the chunks down the tube- as opposed to a good half an hour of hand cranking my food mill. My other personal touch is the addition of Bourbon whiskey (Jefferson’s Reserve this year). I like the oaken note it adds to the mix. I don’t use cloves, although it is popular in many pumpkin based recipes I find it too strong.
Of course when I got around to making my pie on a busy Friday afternoon my sense of “from scratch” was at war with my sense of “cook everything before dinner” and that’s when I caved in and bought a frozen crust. While it lacks the charm of personal touch, it saved me an hour of work and prep. It also looks so much better than any crust I have managed to pull off.
Recipe after the break
With Rosh Hashana approaching I’ve been contemplating recipes with honey (including honey cake, but more on that later). When I realized just how much honey I was going to need for baking over the next week, and looked in my pantry, I came to the conclusion that I have a little bit of a honey problem:
I love honey. I love honey in any sweet item. I love topping vanilla ice cream with honey. I love honey in my tea. I’ve been know to occasionally stick a spoon in a jar of honey and lick it. Due to my ridiculous hay fever, I have also developed an obsession over local honeys, because someone once casually mentioned to me that it might be a homeopathic remedy. Seriously, set up a stand at my farmers market, tell me its local and I’ll pay way more than I