Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lots to Learn

Every year at Passover my grandma makes a Matzoh Kugal. I had it in my head that I was going to make it this year. It tastes wonderful and I was even thinking of making two and bringing a bunch to work. I got out my little book of grandma's recipe and found the kugal:

1) saute four vidalia onions in vegetable oil, then cool
2) soak an entire package of matzo in water (2 minutes)
3) squeeze the excess water out of matzo and put the matzo in a bowl
4) mix twelve eggs in a separate bowl
5) add salt to the matzo to taste and then add the onion
6) add eggs & mix
7) grease cake pan, add mixture & put in an oven at 350 degrees
8) bake for an hour and a half to two hours until golden brown

When I made my list of the items I needed for this and various other things I needed for the week I did a double take on the recipe. 12 eggs? Oh my.

Grandma makes a lot of her old recipes with variation now to cut down on cholesterol. I guarantee you that nothing tastes quite right when you do this but 12 eggs? You might as well call it "Cardiac Arrest Kugal." She says that you can cut 6 of the yolks out, but what happened to me this past Sunday was that I got turned off to the idea altogether and didn't bother.

What does this mean? Are some of her recipes going to be lost because I think I am some sort of healthy food snob? Am I too good for a Passover Kugal?

Here is an example of what I made for myself for this week:

Whole wheat pasta with sauteed eggplant and tomato sauce (for Monday and Wednesday)

Stuffed Bell Peppers with rice, spinach, feta, tomatoes, oregano, and basil and baked in tomato sauce leftover from the pasta (Tuesday and Thursday)

Salad for dinner with spinach, lettuce, garbanzo beans, avocado, sliced peppers and tomatoes


Sometimes I don't have time to plan like this and so I do turkey sandwiches just like any normal person but when I have time I plan a week menu. Something will inspire me or something will be on sale and I will just go for it. Last Sunday it was lamb.

After snobby me decided to forgo Matzo Kugal for now, I planned on matzoh ball soup instead and then some sort of main course. Since it was Easter and Passover this past Sunday I thought a proper dinner was in order. I planned on making something with meat but decided I would figure it out at the store. Lamb was on sale. I had never made lamb before, but how hard could it be? And what to serve it with? Yam? Lamb and Yam for Easter/Passover dinner. Yum.

It was lamb leg with bone in. I seasoned well and placed it on a bed of sliced onions. I should have put the yams in later once the meat had been cooking for 45 mins or so but I thought since it was a small piece of meat that it shouldn't cook too long. Yams and carrots went in the oven with it and some red wine.

The lamb tasted nice, I mean the edible parts anyway. Here is the thing; it was all kinds of fatty. Fat and fat and fat everywhere. It was practically marbled. I was grossed out. I would chew a piece and then get to some sort of jelly like substance that was also kind of hard and just eeeeeew. I don't get it. Was it a cheap piece of meat or did I cut it incorrectly? While I think of myself as an intermediate baker and pretty decent home cook, I tend to be a novice when it comes to cooking animal. I have a lot to learn. And there I was thinking that I had made a dinner with less fat then the original idea.

The matzo balls in the soup were pretty good although some were too hard in the middle. The trick to making them light and fluffy instead of rocks is the oil. You put vegetable oil on your hands while you roll them into shape. If you make them large then you have to let them simmer in the soup longer and keep it covered the whole time. Recipes for smaller ones say to let them simmer for 30 minutes, but nope. It's longer. Try 40. Still for this whole dinner, it really didn't take me that long to put it together.

I called Grandma while my soup and lamb were cooking and she sounded down. Her doctor put her on new medication for her pain and she was out of it. She didn't want to talk about cooking or food or anything happy at all really. She mentioned that she doesn't even have the strength to stand in her kitchen and make anything. She said her back hurts so much that when she takes a step she just wants to scream. When she has conversations like this with me it's extraordinarily painful. It would seem that at this point now her age and her pain have taken all her joys away. She used to do needlepoint but now her eyes can't see it well enough. She used to bake and cook like a genius but doesn't remember a lot anymore. She used to take walks across the street but doesn't have the stamina now. The unique thing about my grandma is that she is illiterate and so these simple pleasures meant the world to her. What she does now is watch reruns of old shows and when she has even one shirt to wash she does a load of laundry. She does laundry every single day, sometimes twice a day. My dad complains about the waste of water, but this is the only thing she has found to occupy her time.

Monday afternoon at lunch I finished a chapter in the book I'm reading that brought me pause. In this particular chapter a teenager goes to visit her grandmother in a retirement home, and she says this: "We have to live with the certainty that we'll get old and that it won't look nice or be good or feel happy. And tell ourselves that it's now that matters: to build something, now, at any price, using all our strength. Always remember that there is a retirement home waiting somewhere and so we have to surpass ourselves every day, make every day undying. Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity. That is what the future is for: to build the present, with real plans, made by living people." (taken from The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery)

I don't know if attempting to make lamb with yams and matzo ball soup is my own personal Everest, but it does bring me joy just to try. I think maybe I should try the kugal anyway.

I hope you all had a lovely Passover and Easter.

1 comment:

  1. MMMMMM, kugal. I love the kugal your grandma used to make. There could be 100 eggs in it and I would still eat it.