Holy Smoke!

Sorry I didn’t get back to you right away, but I have been working hard at work.

I tried to get a decent bonfire picture for you, but the bonfire down the street was a bit pitiful. It looked more like a campfire than a bonfire. Actually, I am not so upset about this because it was one less bonfire to ruin our environment. Yes, I know it is a religious holiday, but I am concerned about the environment and global warming.

Lag B’Omer is a bit complicated to explain. Lag, which is spelled לג (Lamed Gimmel) in Hebrew is also the number 33 and, therefore Lag B’Omer means “the 33rd day of the Omer”. The Omer is the period of 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (Festival of Weeks); Shavuot is the harvest festival as well as the day on which according to tradition the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, and it was important to count the days accurately in order to bring in the harvest at the optimum time.

During the time of the Bar Kochva revolt against the Romans, a plague killed 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva during the counting of the Omer, but miraculously stopped on the 33rd day. Over the centuries, the Jewish people experienced more tragedies (massacres, pogroms, etc.) during this seven week period. To commemorate these tragedies, it has become customary to observe a period of semi-mourning during the Counting of the Omer. Weddings and other festivities are not held, music is not heard, and hair is not cut.

On Lag B’Omer, an interruption in the period of mourning is observed. Weddings, festivities, music, dancing and haircuts are allowed (many 3-year-old boys receive their first haircut called Upsherin). Many celebrate by lighting very large bonfires which symbolize the light of the Torah which was revealed by the Zohar (Radiance), Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who wrote the book of Kabbalah (not the type that Brittany and Madonna practice!).

In Israel, many travel to the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the Upper Galilee moshav (cooperative village) of Meron.

Even though the bonfire pictures didn’t work out, the short ribs I made were delicious. You could taste the ginger and orange, but it was not overpowering. The meat was juicy and tender. I will definitely use this marinade again. It would be great on chicken, but I would not marinate the chicken overnight. I would probably marinate it for an hour or so. I served it with steamed artichokes and brown rice.

Orange-Ginger BBQ Short Ribs

Serving Size: 2 to 4

1.36kg (3lb) short ribs

1 cup orange juice

1/3 cup lemon juice

1/3 cup honey

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

1 Tbsp. fresh ginger peeled and grated

1 Tbsp. garlic peeled and minced

2 tsp. lemon zest grated

1 tsp. salt

1/3 cup brandy

Hot chili oil to taste

Trim excess fat from the short ribs. Combine all other ingredients. Mix well and pour over ribs. Cover and marinate in refrigerator overnight, but no longer than 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 220C (425F). Remove ribs from marinade. Reserve marinade in a saucepan. Place ribs on a rack over a pan of hot water in oven. Roast 1 hour, turning once halfway through the cooking until browned and crisp. Reduce marinade to a glaze-like consistency (about 1-1/2 cups). Reduce oven heat to 190C (375F). Brush ribs with glaze, roast 15 minutes, turn, brush with glaze and roast 15 minutes more.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2007/05/09/holy-smoke/

Your Great-Great Grandfather’s House is Still Standing!

These are the words of an email that I read in shock last April.

I received an email via JewishGen from a man from my paternal great-grandmother’s hometown, Giershagen, Hochsauerland, Nord Rhein-Westphalia, Germany. He asked if he could be of assistance and I wrote him back. We exchanged a few emails and after I explained who I was and which relative lived in Giershagen he proceeded to tell me that my great-great-grandfather’s house and the synagogue that he attended are still standing. I cried. I lived in Germany for two-half years, rather close to Giershagen and never went there. Okay, I was young and stupid.

Since my job takes me to Germany every 3-4 months, I decided on the next trip I would drive up to Giershagen. Fortunately, my husband was able to join me for the weekend.

David and I drove for almost 3 hours to the beautiful Hochsauerland village of Olsberg and stayed at a lovely hotel recommended by our host, Wolfgang.

Olsberg is 30km from Giershagen. While we were driving on dark winding roads at night, my husband remarked, “Leave it to your family to live in the middle of nowhere!”, but when he woke up the next morning and saw the beauty of the area, he said that he understood why our family lived here. It is green and hilly and really picturesque.

Wolfgang met us at our hotel for breakfast and then our journey began. First, at his lovely home, where he showed me letters, newspaper clippings and photographs of the area. Some of the letters were quite humorous. One of them was from a woman originally from Giershagen who heard from a distant relative that one of my great aunts had grown very fat! It reminded me of living in my hometown.

We then stopped in the village of Padberg to see the synagogue where my great-great grandfather, nicknamed Chicken Opa, prayed and had to walk 7km one way to get to. I found out that he would walk to synagogue and walk right back. Walking 7 km was “no big deal” back then. We walk 2 km to our synagogue.

The synagogue is the oldest half-timbered (fachwerk) synagogue in Westphalia, first mentioned in 1751, and is on the property of a local farmer. The Jews in Beringhausen, Giershagen, Helminghausen, Madfeld, Messinghausen and Roesenbeck were all members of the Padberg synagogue.

The synagogue is so tiny. Maybe 30 men could sit on the ground floor and 15 women on the top floor. It was quite emotional being in the synagogue, I could almost see people praying there…I felt their presence. The synagogue survived Kristalnacht in 1939 because the building was sold in 1932 when the congregation could no longer get a minyan together. The synagogue was made into a memorial and small museum in 1999. Some of the prayer books, a mezuzah and other artifacts are on display.

After looking at all of the pictures, architectural drawings and prayer books in the synagogue we headed to the cemetery in Beringhausen where some of my family are buried. The cemetery is located on a hill in the middle of the forest. It is a beautiful resting place.

The cemetery has 38 tombstones dating from 1862 to 1932. Some of the tombstones were turned over during the war, but the town of Marsberg put the stones in their proper place after the war.

Our first stop in Giershagen was to see the Jewish path. The 7 km path through forest and up and down hills to the Padberg synagogue. It wouldn’t have been fun to walk that in the rain or snow, but I want to go back and do the walk. It must be a beautiful walk in good weather. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any photos of this. There is even a marker at the beginning of the path that says Judenpfad or Jewish Path.

We went to visit a neighbor of Chicken Opa who was about 6 or 7 when my great-great grandfather left in 1937. Chicken Opa baby-sat him from time to time while his parents tended their fields. He had nothing but fond memories of going to his house. He told us that Chicken Opa had the largest apple tree in the village and that he could play and make as much noise as he wanted, except when Opa was praying. He also told us that when the house was sold to someone else, he went over and got a sausage hanging rack that Opa used to hang the beef sausages he made.

He then asked to be excused for a minute and he came back to the room with this:

He explained that Chicken Opa bought a Leica camera before he left Germany and he gave him the box with some money before my great-great grandfather, one daughter and my grandparents left for Alabama in December 1937. I was quite moved that he still had this box. It was all I could do to keep from crying. I was speechless. He was also teary when he told us how sad he and his family was when Chicken Opa left. He then gave me a glass with the crest of Giershagen on it and we said good-bye. It was really a lovely meeting and I hope to spend more time with him the next time I go back.

Then, we left his house and stood in the street and saw the one thing that brought me here in the first place, the house:

The house has been completely renovated and looks nothing like the original one in the picture below, but I know that the heart of the home is still there and Chicken Opa is smiling somewhere knowing that I went back to see where his life began.

Solomon Freibaum, a.k.a Chicken Opa, left his home and all his possessions at the age of 81 to go to a country where he didn’t speak the language, that didn’t have kosher food for him and didn’t pray like he did. But he lived to the ripe old age of 88. My grandfather told me a lovely story about him. Chicken Opa was Orthodox and he always wore a kippah and a hat when he went to synagogue in Germany. The first time he went to the ultra-reform (at the time) synagogue in my hometown he wore his kippah and hat. He noticed that no one was wearing a kippah let alone a hat and he removed them. My grandfather said, “Opa, it is ok; you can keep your hat on.”, to which he replied, “Child, I pray with my heart, not with my hat.”

Passover Preparations

We are going to my cousin’s in Jerusalem as we do every year and we always bring the charoset, chicken soup with matza balls and dessert. I always try to bring a different dessert.

I am still trying decide what to bring this year. Maybe one of these:

  • Torta di Carote from the Veneto region
  • Persian Rice Cookies
  • Super Moist Banana & Almond Cake
  • Chocolate Almond Torte with cinnamon, allspice, cloves and a dark chocolate glaze

Last year I made Gâteau à l’Orange et au Gingembre from one of my favourite blogs, Chocolate & Zucchini. It is a moist cake that has an intense orange and ginger flavour. I might be tempted to make it again this year. It was a huge hit. And, it is very easy to make.

Gâteau à l'Orange et au Gingembre

Serving Size: 8 - 10

Orange and Ginger Cake From Chocolate and Zucchini

For the cake:

3 small oranges or 2 large oranges (preferably organic)

6 eggs

250g (1-1/3 cups) sugar

250g (1-1/3 cups) almond flour or almond meal

Thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger

1/4 C candied ginger

1 teaspoon baking powder

For the glaze:

Zest and juice of a lemon

60 g (1/3 cup) thick sugar crystals, the type used as a topping for chouquettes or brioches

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Grease a 24 cm (8-inch) springform cake pan.

Clean and scrub the oranges well. Put them in a medium saucepan, and cover with water. Put the saucepan over medium heat, and simmer for two hours, adding a little hot water when the level gets too low (note : you may, like me, find the smell of whole oranges boiling very unpleasant, but it has nothing to do with the smell or taste of the finished product). Drain, and let cool. Cut in quarters and puree in the food processor.

Peel and chop the fresh ginger. Cut the candied ginger in small dice. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. Whisk in the orange puree, the sugar, the almonds, the baking powder, the fresh ginger, until well blended. Fold in the bits of candied ginger.

Pour the batter in the cake pan, and bake for about an hour, until puffy and golden. Let cool for a few minutes on a rack, while you prepare the frosting. Run a knife around the cake to loosen it, and remove the sides of the pan.

Put the sugar crystals in a small bowl with the lemon juice and zest. Spoon this mixture evenly onto the top of the cake. Let cool completely before serving. It can be made a day ahead, wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2007/03/14/passover-preparations/

The second dessert I made were chocolate-covered Weesper Moppen, which are Dutch almond cookies. They are chewy cookies with a wonderful almond flavour which can be made plain and rolled in coarse sugar or covered in dark chocolate. I like them because they are not very sweet.

Chocolate- Covered Weesper Moppen

Yield: About 20 cookies

250g (8oz + 2 tablespoons) coarse almond paste or grind 125g//1/2 cup of blanched almonds and 125g (1/2 cup) of fine sugar

1 tsp lemon zest

1 small egg

200g (8oz) 80% dark chocolate (Valrhona or some other premium brand), melted

Mix everything except the chocolate together until you have a soft paste.

Wet your hands with cold water, and roll the paste into log. It will still be very sticky and a bit hard to manage. You could roll them in a little kosher for Pesach icing sugar or put the dough in plastic wrap and roll it into a log and place into the refrigerator for 10 minutes to firm up a little.

With a sharp knife (wipe it between cuts) cut the dough into 20 rounds about 1/2 inch or 1cm thick. Place them cut side down on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or a silpat liner.

Let them dry out for about 2 hours. I put them in a cold oven, with the fan on, for one hour, which worked excellently!

Then, preheat the oven to 200 C / 375 F. When the oven is hot, bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes. Check that they don't brown too much. Remove them from the sheet, let them cool.

After they have cooled, dip them in the melted chocolate. You can either cover the entire cookie or just one side.

They will dry out a bit more as they cool, but they should still be slightly chewy. They are best served the same day or the following day.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2007/03/14/passover-preparations/

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