Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Menu Plan Week 6

We’ve been thinking about our finances recently and how we can make some savings and generally get things looking more healthy. A few years ago we managed to get really organised so we could save up for our wedding and it’s high time we tried to get back to that. Obviously losing my salary made a big difference (even though it was negligible it was still considerably more than I get now) but on the other hand, I have more time now to cook things from scratch, budget etc.

Where I can really make a difference is with food. We’re cutting down on some luxuries (fancy cheese was becoming a serious habit) and I want to get a bit simpler with my cooking. I made a basic tuna and veg pasta for me and Daniel on Saturday and he ate practically his own bodyweight in it, which makes me think he’d appreciate a bit more simplicity sometimes too! Also more batch cooking on days when I have some time to spare so that we have quick things in the freezer. That should cut down on the time/effort-saving-but-correspondingly-expensive meals that we’ve been resorting to far too often.

Now that Daniel spends more time doing his own thing, I can have more time playing in the kitchen. I’m especially starting to plan things like pickles, jams and chutneys which are useful not only for ourselves but also fantastic for Christmas presents. Our own garden wasn’t particularly productive this year but a couple of relatives have offered surplus apples etc. One presented me with last year’s (now empty) Kilner jar and the offer of more apples… I’m taking that as a hint!

We’re more than halfway through our food week now (starts on Thursday with the Farmers’ Market) but with Yom Kippur we got off to a slow start. So here goes:

Homity pies from the market with rainbow chard.

Pre-Yom Kippur trip to Pizza Express. Expensive but we do it every year and it makes life a lot easier with the timings.

Just me and Daniel as DH was fasting. Whipped up a super-quick tuna/tomato/veg macaroni thing.

At my parents’. We also splashed out at lunchtime as my parents took Daniel for a few hours so we could have a VERY rare date. It’s been months since we had any time with just the two of us (especially as D doesn’t go to bed until we do) and we felt it was worth it.

Aubergine and red lentil moussaka, bulked up with some mushrooms and kale too. I didn't love the topping for this but I had some leftover ricotta that needed using up. There was enough to make a little one for the freezer but I forgot about it and it burned to a cinder in the oven. Oops! 

Romanesco cauliflower goulash. Lots of this left over for the freezer. 

Synagogue sukkah celebration. I’ll make some butternut squash soup to take in thermos flasks and serve in paper cups – the weather here has just realised it’s autumn, so this feels like a good thing to take. Anything left can go in the freezer for quick lunches or suppers.

I also have a red cabbage which I’ll cook and freeze in batches to go with various meals (beef sausages and mash, grilled halloumi cheese and potato salad, that kind of thing) and I’m preparing for our sukkah party on Saturday. If I can get hold of a pumpkin, I’ll do mini pumpkin and feta pasties, but with Halloween still a few weeks off I’m not holding my breath. 

High Holydays Review and Week 5 Menu (sort of)

Warning: This has got a bit rambly but I want to remember it for future reference! There’s a lot of religious terminology in this post, so I’ve put a glossary at the bottom for anyone who wants to know.

Phew, the High Holydays are over and it’s time to relax – sort of, except that Sukkot starts tomorrow evening! This is definitely the festival month, with Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) ten days later, followed 5 days after that by Sukkot, and then Simchat Torah the following week. After that there’s a long break until Chanukah (in mid-December this year).

All the tidying and cleaning did get done before Rosh Hashanah, largely due to a sterling effort by DH, who could be found defrosting the freezer at 1am the day before! Lest this sound like overkill, let me explain that the ice cube trays were welded into the top drawer and this was the only way to make sure we could do proper drinks before dinner on Wednesday. He also did various other lengthy and unpleasant jobs and generally helped make the whole thing happen. Our house is now more sorted than it’s been since we moved in!
The Erev Rosh Hashanah meal was lovely and the timings for cooking all worked out well. DH teamed up with YouTube and managed to deseed three pomegranates in about 20mins (thus gaining himself a job for life). I did pretty much all the rest of the cooking over the two or three days leading up to it. The apple-stuffed challahs turned out enormous and very yummy, though could have done with being covered in foil and given an extra 20 minutes (at least) in the oven – mental note for next year.

The lamb was fantastic, and ideal for this kind of meal. I got a whole leg weighing something in the region of 3.4 kilos. With this recipe I just had to throw a few ingredients in a bowl and mix them, pour them over the lamb in a roasting tin, cover and stick it in the oven at 1.30. I then ignored it until 6.30 when I removed the foil and ignored it for another half an hour, got it out and left it to rest until we were ready to eat. Simples!

All in all, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and my mum and DH pitched into the clearing up so it was all done by the time we went to bed. The leftovers were useful too – the salads lasted the next two nights and the rice went well with the vegetarian ghormeh sabzi on Thursday evening. The lamb was hugely expensive (we get locally-reared organic) BUT there was enough left to make a really nice moussaka on Friday night and about 8 pasties of various sizes. All together I worked out that we got about 20 portions from it, so it doesn’t work out too badly, especially considering it was a special occasion.

On Rosh Hashanah I stayed at home with Daniel during the morning and we made cardboard shofars and Rosh Hashanah cards for the people he knows best at shul. These were just apple and leaf shapes cut out of felt and glued onto blank cards – a good way of killing half an hour and he’s always up for a bit of glueing. We arrived at shul bang on time for the shofar service, as planned. Daniel heard the first blast of the shofar and instantly whipped out his cardboard version and gave a loud TOOT! The shofar-blower didn’t miss a beat, though DH says he did let out a chuckle, but everyone else was in stitches. At least he understood what it was for!

On Saturday we decided to have a family day out and took off to Stonehenge. It’s nearly 2 hours away but we have English Heritage membership so entry is free once we get there and we took a picnic (lamb pasties featured heavily) to eat in the field outside. The place has changed hugely since I last went as a child, with an enormous visitors’ centre (mostly consisting of a café and a large shop aimed mostly at Chinese tourists) and a fairly lengthy shuttle bus/train-thing ride to get to Stonehenge itself. For a toddler, though, this was ideal, and he enjoyed being outside in the sun and being able to run around.

We treated ourselves to hot chocolate in the café afterwards, where they have tried to become more efficient by avoiding using anything that needs washing up. In real terms this means paper cups, plastic spoons etc, all justified with the excuse that it’s all “recyclable, reusable or compostable”. I’m not convinced that it takes less energy to recycle most of that stuff than it does to wash up, but there you go. I was more irritated that the staff cleaning the tables between customers were just sweeping everything onto the floor, which was filthy. Still, the weather was nice, the pasties were lovely, we learned some interesting things about Stonehenge and it was good to spend time together as a family without a list of jobs that needed doing. For a relatively inexpensive day out it was well worth it.

On Monday we had a trip to a local-ish honey farm with some other HE families. I’ve been considering going for a while and it was the perfect outing for the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because honey is such an important food at RH (for a sweet new year). Since we were driving nearly an hour to get there, it made sense to see if anyone else wanted to go. There were 6 families, some we knew already and some we were meeting for the first time, and a range of ages. The exhibition bit of the place was underwhelming but it was a good springboard for further investigation into bees etc and they had a fantastic jungle gym in the café.

I have absolutely no recollection of what we ate for the rest of the week but I do know that pasties came up more than once, accompanied by mashed swede, cabbage and gravy, which worked surprisingy well. I’d forgotten how much I like straightforward cabbage – must get it more often.

 On Yom Kippur we all went to shul for Kol Nidrei because I play Bruch’s version on my violin to start the service. I’ve been doing it for more years than I can remember but this year had managed to squeeze in some proper practise time in the week leading up. I think this was the best I’ve ever played it :-) We were hoping to stay for the whole service but Dan was tired and didn’t understand why, in a packed shul, he couldn’t run around like he usually does, so I took him home early while DH waited to bring the cantor back to ours. Daniel cried ALL the way home!

When we got back I got out a mini yad I recently got from eBay for about £8. I’d been planning to save it until nearer Simchat Torah, but this seemed like a good time. He helped me unwrap it and instantly recognised what it was, so I got out my miniature replica Torah scroll (had it for years to use during school visits) and he spent nearly an hour processing around the living room with it and practising gelilah. He seemed to feel this made up for having to leave shul early!

To put this into context, the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah we went to shul in the evening for a Selichot service, during which they planned to change the Torah mantles to the High Holyday white ones. It was the first time we’d done this in Exeter (at least for a very long time) and there were only a handful of people there, most of whom we know well. They were lovely with Daniel, making sure he was completely involved and standing him on the table so he could very solemnly lift the yad and rimmonim off each Sefer. He even got to help carry the smallest one from the Ark and he looked so proud! It was beautiful watching all the adult men with our tiny little boy in the middle, taking his part in the community and looking fit to burst with pride. One of those times you wish it was even vaguely ok to take a photo, but it really wasn’t!

On the day itself (Saturday) Daniel and I pottered around at home doing painting and making decorations for our sukkah – not really right for Yom Kippur but it was raining and I couldn’t think of anything else. The afternoon service was planned especially for kids and we went in for that, with the children all helping to get the Torah out, and the aliyot were given to various parents with their children – e.g. “Avraham ben Yosef, Abba shel Daniel.” (Hebrew name used when being called up, followed by “Daddy of Daniel”). Daniel had brought the mini Torah from home and carried in the procession. Fortunately, although he put it in the Ark with the others, he took it out again before the doors were shut, otherwise he’d have spent the next hour asking to get it back! Afterwards we all went upstairs with the cantor and another member of the congregation and had songs and stories for a bit. I really hope this is done again at the High Holydays because it was great, really family-friendly in a way that a lot of those services just aren’t.

The next festival, Sukkot, starts tomorrow evening and we’ll be going to the synagogue celebration (in someone’s garden) to help decorate the sukkah and generally do all the things you do at Sukkot. We have our own Arba Minim this year so Daniel will get to investigate it properly over the week, and our sukkah will go up on Saturday (a few days late) when we have the Jewish toddler group and various friends and family coming round for a Sukkah party. There are two large cheesecakes in the freezer already and my head is buzzing with all the other things I want to make for it! Now that Daniel is more aware of the festivals and understands a bit more I’m trying to really build on it, and also involve other people so it becomes something he can share in the same way that other people have Christmas parties.

So there we are!

aliyah (pl. aliyot) – being called up to read the Torah
arba minim – four species of plants used at Sukkot
ark – cupboard in a synagogue where the Torah scrolls are kept
gelilah – dressing and undressing the Torah scroll
Kol Nidrei – service on the evening beginning Yom Kippur
rimmonim – finials on top of the Torah scroll
Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year
Sefer Torah – Torah scroll
shofar – ram’s horn blown at the New Year
shul – synagogue
Simchat Torah – festival when we finish the annual cycle of Torah readings and start again at the beginning
Sukkah – shelter built for Sukkot and decorated with foliage, crafts etc
Sukkot – Feast of Tabernacles
yad – Torah pointer

Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement