Therefore the Jews of the rural areas... make the fourteenth day of the month Adar a holiday for rejoicing and feasting and sending portions of food to one another.
(Esther 9:19, New American Standard Bible)
A colleague's remark set me musing about Purim, which is (already?) around the corner, and about what people put into their mishloah manot, the "portions" we are enjoined by Jewish law to send to at least one person - comprising a minimum of two different types of ready-to-eat food, each requiring a different blessing.
Asked what goes into his manot, my co-worker replied, firmly: "You don't want to see adults giving adults the kind of candies that only children really enjoy."
I received unexpected corroboration of this sentiment from a Jerusalem matron of my acquaintance who happened to be passing my office while I was writing this column and stepped inside to complain about a well-known enterprise that sends out gift packages for festivals and other occasions.
"I wanted to send some mishloah manot, and was angry at the preponderance of empty, calorific items in their baskets," she fumed. "Everything they had was super-sweet - cakes, cookies and other nosh - and for $85, no less! It made me nauseous."
"What's wrong with olive oil, honey and dried fruit?" she asked, calming down a bit. "I'd like to see some variety."
I agree. From year to year, we see too much of the gooey, chewy, oversweet stuff, bad for kids and sad for those of us whose tastes have, or ought to have, become more refined.
For children, I'd include some interesting-looking chocolate, a little cake or some cookies, raisins, popcorn, an attractive bit of fruit and (for older kids) nuts.
For adults, I'd pack some not-too-sweet cakes or cookies, homemade if possible; beautiful or unusual fruit; a bottle of wine; and a packet, can or jar of "something extra" - exotic tea, coffee, jam without added sugar, chutney or olive spread. (There are miniature jars and bottles everywhere this time of year.)
Sometimes I've added colorful packets of paprika - in the hope that the recipients will have a sweet year, with just a little piquancy to make their lives interesting.
WRITES "Miki" on allrecipes.com: "I love to cook traditional Eastern European foods. They remind me of childhood days in the kitchen with my grandmother. Both of my grandmothers taught me the painstaking traditions of preparing food and cakes for all the holidays and for Sabbath.
"This is an old fashioned recipe we serve on holidays and the Sabbath. It is impressive-looking and the taste is amazing. My family loves this. Once you get the hang of it, it's easy to make."
STUFFED BREAST OF VEAL
1â„4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1â„4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1â„2 cup water, or as needed
salt and pepper to taste
8 cups cubed bread
2.25 kg. veal breast
1 tsp. paprika
1â„2 tsp. onion powder
3â„4 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 200Â°. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for 1-2 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the carrot, celery and onion; cook and stir until the carrot begins to soften, 5-10 minutes. Turn the heat off and stir in the garlic and parsley; set aside.
Beat the eggs and water with salt and pepper in a large bowl. Fold in the bread cubes until they absorb the egg mixture, then fold in the cooked vegetables; set aside. Cut a deep pocket into the veal breast with a long, narrow knife. Stuff the veal with the bread and vegetable mixture, and season with paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan and cover loosely with aluminum foil.
Bake for 31â„2 hours, then remove the foil. Baste the veal breast with pan drippings and continue cooking for 30 minutes more. When done, tent some foil over the veal and allow it to rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
I TURNED to the Internet (myJewishlearning.com) in search of some holiday wit, and came across a Purim spiel titled West Side Tsorys. When I got to "Plotz Summary," I decided to quit while the going was good. A little Purim humor goes a long way, I find.