Blue Ribbon Challah — 10 Year Anniversary of my Visit to the New Mexico State Fair

Dori taking the kids out in the Swedish double-buggy.

Picture this photo with a five year-old standing on a running board between my arms, and two large, braided loaves of challah riding on the rack beneath the little kids’ bottoms. That was the image the time this city girl decided to enter her bread in the New Mexico State Fair. (And I’m pretty sure that’s the day the buggy exceeded it’s weight limit, and one of the wheels became warped.)

We were living in the mountains just outside of Albuquerque, in a somewhat isolated area, where a trip to the big grocery store meant a 20 mile car ride. With three kids at home, ages 5, 4 and 2, I was happy to putter around the house, rather than wrangle them all into the car, and so it happened that I spent a lot of time baking bread. I challenged myself to go without using store-bought bread. Through a co-op we belonged to at the time, I ordered 50 pound bags of different kinds of flour. I baked whole wheat bread, molasses bread and a beautiful two-toned swirly bread, but our favorite was the challah I learned to bake from my Cousin Betty’s recipe.

Our mountain newspaper had a notice that the New Mexico State Fair was coming to Albuquerque. Being raised in a North Shore suburb of Chicago, I’d never so much as set foot in a state fair before, but I knew that people took bread and had it judged there. Doug was out of the country for two weeks and I was looking for something interesting to do, so I decided to enter.

I entered two separate contests: The Fleischmann’s Yeast Bread contest (with a cash prize), and the New Mexico State Fair bread contest. As I filled out the paperwork the official asked me for my empty Fleischmann’s yeast packages so she could staple them to the entry form. I’m a pretty loyal Red Star yeast user, so her request made me pause. She didn’t miss a beat, thankfully, and handed me a three-pack and a pair of scissors. “There’s a trash can under the table.” I snipped off the ends, emptied that sad yeast into the trash can, and handed her the packages to staple to my Fleischmann’s entry form.

My sister-in-law, Donna, a veteran fair goer, later informed me that picking one’s category is crucial when entering a contest. But at the time I didn’t give it a lot of thought and I chose the “holiday bread” category because challah is a Jewish sabbath bread, and the sabbath is our most important holiday — right? Unfortunately, Easter sticky buns fell into the same category. In fact, there were over 30 breads in the holiday bread competition.

The judging was fascinating. A celebrity food judge from one of the local television stations was tasting the breads for the Fleischmann’s contest. I watched with my three squirmy kids, still buckled into the buggy, while the judge took a slice from the very center of each loaf, holding some up as examples of having a good “crumb” or crust.

The kids held out long enough for my bread to be held up by the judge, who said that he was from Philadelphia and he knew what challah tasted like and that this was the best challah he’d ever had. I won a big fancy third place ribbon, and $30, which almost paid for parking and four ice creams. Later, when I talked with the judge, he told me that I should have entered in the international category. Maybe next time.

I had to drive the 20 miles back up into the mountains so that I could get Max to afternoon kindergarten, and I missed the judging of my other loaf. I called later to find out the results and learned that I had won the first place ribbon in the New Mexico bread contest. They put the bread on display in the case for the 10 remaining days of the fair and asked if I wanted it back at the end. I said no. But I did go to town to fetch my ribbons, and I framed them to display in my kitchen. With thanks to Betty Jane for her fine recipe.

My framed ribbons on the right. On the left is a “Santo,” a painted image of a saint that I got in Taos, New Mexico. On the back it says: Saint Marta. Patroness of housewives, dietitians, domestic workers, waitresses and lay sisters, invoked to protect the home.

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 1 package yeast (2¼ tsp.)
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 2 c. warm water
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbs. oil
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 4 c. (about) white flour

Mix together and brush on before baking:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbs. honey

Sprinkle with:

  • sunflower, poppy and/or sesame seeds, about ¼  cup total

 

Directions

  1. Proof the yeast: Mix together the yeast and sugar, add the warm water, stir, and let it sit for 20 minutes. It should get foamy.
  2. Add the rest of the dough ingredients, putting in just enough white flour to make a smooth, not sticky dough.
    Knead for about 10 minutes.
  3. Cover and let rise for about 3 hours, or until doubled in size. Shape into two small loaves or one large loaf. Place loaves on a greased cookie sheet or into greased loaf pans if you want sandwich-shaped loaves. Cover and let rise for one more hour.
  4. Brush with the egg/honey mixture and sprinkle with some seeds. Bake at 350˚ for 35–40 minutes.

 

You can find this recipe (and many more!) in these cookbooks:

The Plate is My Canvas: Recipes and Stories from My Family’s Interfaith Kitchen

Plate promo shot

and

You Can’t Have Dry Coffee: Papa’s Excuse to Have a Nosh And Nana’s Perfect Pastries

Dry Coffee promo

Bharathi Shares Her Kitchen

My first attempt at Indian cooking included cholae and fried rice.

Indian food is one of my favorites, but the spices are a mystery to me. On Friday, AJ and I were invited to our friend Bharathi’s kitchen for an Indian cooking lesson. Bharathi is eager to learn some American recipes and suggested that we exchange some native recipes and cooking tips. She taught us fried rice with mint, cloves and cumin; cholae — a dish with garbanzo beans, tomatoes and about a dozen wonderful spices; and toor dal, again made with 6 or 8 lovely spices.

I love how Bharathi’s kitchen is filled with containers of legumes and, of course, spice after spice. She taught me the names of the spices, and let me hold them and smell their fragrance. Although her ingredients are somewhat different then mine, her cooking style is very much like mine. She does not measure, nor does she follow a prescribed recipe. Her cooking is a work of art, dappled with exotic spices with names like hing, amchur and chana masala.

My hand-scrawled notes with the names and procedures are a bit ragged and I was anxious to give some the recipes a try while the instructions were clear in my head, and the memory of the taste was vivid. So today, Doug and I visited the Indian grocery store and bought the ingredients, and then I made up a batch of cholae and fried rice for dinner. The spices and flavors are so complex — I’m quite beside myself that I’m learning to create with a new palette of flavors!

Do you want to learn a new cuisine? Is there someone you know who cooks something that you admire? Invite them to participate in a cooking exchange with you. Next week I plan on teaching Bharathi my brownie recipe, from scratch.

Fried Rice (Indian Style)

  • 3 c. basmati rice
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. ginger, minced
  • 2-3 c. mixed vegetables, frozen or finely chopped fresh
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 6 c. water

Heat butter and oil, add onion and saute until soft. Add garlic, ginger, cloves, and cumin seeds. Stir for one minute, then add rice and stir 2-3 minutes. Add salt, vegetable and water, and cook as you normally do for rice, for about 45-50 minutes.

Cholae (a spicy, flavorful, garbanzo bean and tomato stew)

  • 1 Tbs. oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 5 c. cooked garbanzo beans
  • 1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes (use the juice as well)
  • 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbs. amchoor powder (dried mango powder)
  • 2-3 tsp. channa masala (cholae masala) seasoning
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 whole bay leaves

Heat oil, add onion and saute until soft. Add garlic, ginger, cholae masala, turmeric, bay leaves, tomatoes and tomato sauce. Heat over medium heat for a few minutes and then stir in garbanzo beans, amchoor, salt and a little water (to adjust consistency). Heat over low heat for 30 minutes or more.

Easy Japanese Dinner — Gyoza (potstickers)

 

Mr. Sugiyama, the former Miss Gordon, Mr. Walker, Mrs. Sugiyama, Sept. 2, 1990, Glencoe, Illinois.

 

Mrs. Sugiyama, my karate teacher’s wife, taught me  Japanese cooking in 1989. I went to their house every Friday morning to help Mr. Sugiyama paste up his new karate book, 25 Shotokan Kata. This was in the dark ages when we used a waxer to coat the backs of the pages and an x-acto knife to trim the edges. After I arrived at 10:00, we would have some tea, and then Sensei and I would get to work on the pages, while gossiping about the people in the dojo. “Gordon-san,” he would ask me, “How do you think of Miss Fallon? Who would be a good match for her?” And so we would talk about good match-ups for all of his students. At around 11:00 it was time for a break, and my cooking lesson with Mrs. Sugiyama began. I would go into the kitchen where she taught me the art of stuffing and hand crimping the little dumplings, and frying-then-steaming the little pot-stickers or gyoza. She used fresh pork and cabbage, seasoned with green onions. They were lovely. I remember how to make them, and every couple of years I will go to the small effort, but the easiest way to capture that crunchy, chewy dumpling experience is to head to your nearest Asian grocery store, and buy a bag of the frozen. That’s what I’m doing tomorrow. I’ll post a picture after I fry them up. Go out tomorrow and buy a bag — you can get vegetarian ones as well — and we can enjoy them together (virtually). Also, pick up some soy sauce, rice vinegar and some chili oil so we can make the dipping sauce.

My most memorable gossip session with  Sensei Sugiyama was when I asked him what he thought about Mr. Walker. “As a boyfriend, Gordon-san?”

“Yes, Sensei.”

“I can not recommend him. There is a certain sharpness in his eyes.”

While I respected Mr. Sugiyama, thankfully I did not follow his advice, and 20 years later Mr. Walker and I are still enjoying gyoza together. And, I should add, that when Mr. Walker announced our engagement right in the middle of a karate class, Sensei ran over to him and gave him a big bear hug.

 

Prepared, frozen gyoza. For the sauce mix 1 part soy sauce with 1/2 part rice vinegar and just a few drops of chili oil. Adjust to taste.

 

Eingie is short for eingemacht.

For favorite Passover recipes from my kitchen, please see Essential Passover from Scratch: Recipes and Stories from My Mother’s Kitchen

With Passover beginning in three days, I continued with my preparations today by visiting several grocery stores, calling my sister every 20 minutes to ask was she bringing the horseradish? kosher wine? cucumbers? and cooking up some eingie. My grandmother, Mollye, made eingie for the entire family every year. She made it for us and also shipped it to California to her son’s family. Later my mother, Ruth, took over the eingie duty, making it ahead and shipping it to her kids. Now I make the eingie.

Eingie is short for eingemacht, which is Yiddish for preserve. In this case it is an apricot-pineapple jam, something like a marmalade in consistency. In our family we spoon it liberally on top of fried matzo and on matzo meal pancakes. Other families eat their Passover breakfast matzo plain, but to me these dishes just don’t taste right without a large spoonful of eingie.

While I was running around town today I found myself close to my mother’s nursing home. She has dementia, and visiting her always makes me sad, so I don’t go to see her very often. Today I felt the need to see her, to make that connection to the women who came before me, to hold her hand and let her know that I am making the eingie this year.

Our traditional eingie is on the left. On the right is a batch made with dried cherries — something new that I think my brother-in-law Leo will especially enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 1¾ lbs. dried apricots, soaked overnight
  • 2 20-ounce cans
    unsweetened crushed
    pineapple, drained
  • 4 c. sugar

Directions

Drain and chop the apricots, then combine all ingredients in a large pot. Cook until very hot and bubbly, and slightly thick. Spoon into hot, sterilized jars and process, or store in covered jars in refrigerator.