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Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Festival Of Lights

We visited and toured the Holocaust Memorial Museum on our last trip to Washington, D.C.  Upon entering the musuem, we were handed indentification cards representing real life prisoners of Nazi concentration camps.  The I.D. cards contained their photographs, biographical profiles, and accounts of their lives in the concentration camps  from 1933-1939.  We carried those cards with us as we journeyed through the museum experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust. The concept was remarkable because it personalized the journey by matching faces and personel stories to the suffering that was endured in those camps. It was sobering. Somber. Solemn. When we exited the exhibit portion of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, we turned to the final pages of our I.D. cards to find out the ultimate fate of our people.  Did they survive or did they perish?

They perished.

We were so moved by the experience that we purchased a Menorah in the Museum Shop;  and have celebrated Hanukkah every year since that day with the lighting of our Menorah.  Although we are not Jewish, we honor the Jewish traditions with the Festival of Lights.  Hanukkah.  The Menorah.  Candles.  Light.

There are three blessings that are recited at different times when  lighting the Menorah during Hanukkah. The first year we celebrated, we read the blessings in Hebrew. It wasn't pretty. We now recite English translations.  The opening prayer is read only on the first night of Hanukkah.

   Bonukh Ato Adoynoy Eloyheynu Melekh Ho-oyton Asher
   Kiddeshonu Be-mitsvoyosv Va-tsivonu
   Ladhadik Ney Shel khanuko.

   Blessed are You, Lord our God, Kings of the Universe, who has
   sanctified us by his commandments,and
   has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.

The candles are lit at sundown from right to left on successive nights for eight days. They burn until they are gone.

Food is traditionally an integral part of most Jewish holidays.

One of our traditions is to eat Matzoh Ball Soup during the first weekend of Hanukkah. Yeah, pretty safe. But, it's easy and delicious.

I made a very simple chicken stock the night before the actual soup came together.  I pulled chicken backs, parts, and wings from the freezer to thaw before tossing them into a small stock pot with bay leaves, peppercorns, carrots, celery, onions, parsley sprigs, and enough water to barely cover the meat. I brought the stock  to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum, and let it gently bubble away for a few hours.
Unlike traditional stock making, I didn't strain the stock when it was finished.  I placed the cooled pot into the refrigerator to chill and coagulate the chicken fat.  I needed the fat (shmaltz) for the matzoh balls.

The next morning, I pulled  the chicken meat from the bones, tossed the spent vegetables, and skimmed the congealed fat from the surface of the stock. I whipped the shmaltz with two eggs before incorporating it with 3/4 cups matzoh meal, minced parsley, salt, and pepper.  I slid the matzoh batter  into the refrigerator for an hour to allow it to chill and set up.  Once firm, I rolled the dough into balls and simmered them in a large pot of boiling water. While the matzoh balls cooked, I sliced fresh carrots, parsnips, celery, and onion; and added them to simmering  chicken stock  to gently poach and soften.
After an hour of simmering, the vegetables and matzoh balls were ready to combine into  glorious bowls of soup.

I placed a few matzoh balls into large pasta bowls, adding the reserved cooked chicken, the poached vegetables, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and a shower of  snipped chives.

It was a very humble soup.  No thunder claps shook the culinary universe.

It was comforting and warm.  The stock was rich, silken, and bright from the lemon addition. Sweet carrots and parsnips poked through adding body and depth.  The parsley-studded matzoh balls were light and pillowy, having plumped from the long stove top simmer.  Like dumplings, the texture was soft and chewy, but the matzoh meal provided a grainier bite.Tiny snipped chives added fresh grassy hints of onion. Simply delicious.

Happy Hanukkah! 

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