U-Bet!

It will be Pesach in a few hours.  I should run over to the Mollie Stone’s and pick up some things.  Mollie’s has the most extensive selection of kosher food in town.

I wonder if the market will be overrun by last-minute shoppers.  I imagine no parking, crowded aisles, and empty shelves.  I suspect this is how the goyim feel when they must go to the toy store the last day before Christmas.

Maybe there is nothing so urgent.  My natural superfood meal plan is good to go 364 days a year.

Some while back, me and my friend Elaine got to talking about the Passover foods of our youth.  Uy, how I hated the processed, preserved, packaged provisions that plagued us for eight long days.

The tasteless and crumbly plain matzah in the cardboard box was no substitute for the sweet and pliable seedless rye we got from Dave Jacobs’ bakery on the nights that were not different from all other nights.

The canned macaroons were sticky to the touch and tasted nothing like a Mounds bar — the closest we’d ever come to a real coconut.  You would chew and chew these so-called cookies only to form a dry paste that never felt quite ready to swallow.

Worst of all were the jars of gefilte fish.  The plops — which bore no resemblance to flounder or tuna or salmon in appearance or texture or flavor — floated around in this disgusting gelatinous goop like some science experiment gone badly wrong.

(In her diary, Anne Frank writes that she and the others hiding in the secret annex had to urinate and defecate into glass jars.  The first time I read this, an image of those gefilte fish jars immediately sprung to mind.)

But, I told Elaine, there was one thing that I really, really, really liked and that was Fox’s U-bet, a chocolate-flavored syrup.  We only got to have it during Pesach and we used it to make chocolate milk, so much better than an egg cream.

Fox’s U-bet was different from all other chocolate syrups.  The special ingredient was milk powder, which gave it a kind of malted quality.  Otherwise, it was terribly sweet and unsophisticated.  I just loved it.

A few weeks later, Elaine brought to me a gift.  A large jar of U-bet!  It was absolutely perfect.  An exodus from the ordinary.  A liberation for the palate.  It made me to feel very, very happy.

Chag sameach!

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Secret Ingredient

When I was in graduate school, there were a lot of “potluck” events where each person would bring food to share with the other people.

At the time, I didn’t know how to cook anything besides breakfast.  Needless to say, you couldn’t bring scrambled eggs or French toast to a dinner thing.  Especially if the faculty would be there.

My roommate decided it was time for me to learn to cook something.  She settled on Nestlé Toll House cookies, reasoning they were easy to prepare, appropriate for any occasion, and liked by everyone if you leave out the nuts.  This turned out to be a wise decision as the reviews were rave.

Upon starting my professional career, I found that the potluck was alive and well in the corporate world.  With new confidence in my kitchen capabilities, I signed up to make the cookies whenever a gathering required a culinary contribution.

Time and again, people would proclaim my delectable disks as the best chocolate chip cookies they had ever tasted and plead with me to share the incredible recipe.  With some embarrassment, I had to admit it was just the recipe printed on the back of the chocolate chip package.  Oddly, the tasters didn’t believe my humble confessions and accused me of guarding some trademark mix-in or method.

Anyway, one day a friend is keeping me company while I bake the golden goodies.  As she watched me add the baking soda, she exclaimed, “That’s disgusting!”  “What?” I asked with confusion, “It’s just baking soda.”

See, the only baking soda in the house was the yellow box of Arm & Hammer I kept in the refrigerator to absorb the unpleasant food odors.  It had never occurred to me to buy a separate box for baking purposes.

So, I get a fresh box of baking soda to be used exclusively for food preparation.  Suddenly, the cookie compliments cease completely.  The magic in the munchies?  Gone.

Of course, the only explanation is that my cookies did incorporate a secret ingredient.  A fusion so unconventional that no pâtissier could have possibly imagined its potency.  An essence so well hidden that even I was not aware of its presence.

Fumes of raw onion!

Mark my words, you will see this on the Top Chef.  And when you do, remember you heard it here first.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Food Glorious Food

For most Jewish-Americans, the eating season seems to be year-round.  We have many holidays and each one has particular foods associated with it.  Even by Yom Kippur, the day upon which we fast, most families have special traditions for the last meal before the fast and for the first meal after the fast.

For most Christian-Americans, the eating season seems to be focused around the Christmas.  The parties start right after the Thanksgiving and culminate with the Christmas Eve dinner, then the Christmas Day breakfast, and finally the Christmas Day feast.

No matter their heritage, this time of year finds friends sharing happy memories about sharing food with their families.  These stories always fascinate me because eating was such a torture during my childhood and teenage years.

My mother hated to cook.  She made only the smallest of effort and the outcome was invariably tough and tasteless.  She ate very little at all, and never her own cooking, so perhaps she was unaware, though more likely, she simply didn’t care.

Everything she overcooked.  We thought hamburgers were supposed to have a hard crust.  She served blackened chicken long before the fashion.  She did not believe in seasoning.  She kept only two spices: salt (used only during the Passover Seder for mixing with water to represent tears) and paprika (used only during the Thanksgiving to give the turkey some color).

Here is the recipe for her signature dish:

1.    Boil macaroni until it is the consistency of lumpy Farina.
2.    Sauté ground beef until it breaks down into tiny pebbles.
3.    Add a handful of frozen chopped onion and green pepper.
4.    Combine above in a baking pan.  Do NOT add any sauce.
5.    Bake at 500° until a knife CANNOT be inserted anywhere.

On the first night, it was awful.  We ate as little as possible.  My mother would refrigerate the pan of leftovers and re-heat it in the oven the next night and the night after that and every night until it was gone.  After a few days, it was inedible; truly impossible to chew and swallow.  Unfortunately, when the pan was empty, chances were pretty good that my mother would whip up another batch of her specialty.

Maybe you wonder why we didn’t offer to cook or why we didn’t have sandwiches or just make a salad.  We would never dare to give my mother a suggestion that she might perceive as the least bit critical; the consequences would be far more perilous than enduring her cuisine.

© 2012 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.