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Spring Cleaning

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Spring Cleaning photo

Fridays are frenetic, frantic and leave me frizzled! I run around like a maniac so that I can rush home to make an elaborate dinner for my family and friends. I don’t usually question if I could be doing a better job of “doing a Friday,” I just accept it and run around trying to make it all happen.

Several weeks ago I had a weak moment. I woke up on Friday morning at 5 a.m. and ran downtown to my kitchen at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, got my work done, jumped back in the car and sped up north to pick up my son Jonah from school and stopped at the grocery store to get the few items I needed to round out the Shabbat meal. All was going well…until the trip to the store—I bought a challah! I had not started my dough that morning or Thursday night. I was tired, frazzled, fschizzled (as Jonah would say) and just not in the mood.

Let me say before I go on—we always have homemade challah on Friday night. It’s like the mail service—through snowstorm, blinding rain, extreme heat and whatever else….we will have homemade challah. Except that one day.

The challah was made at a local kosher bakery and shipped directly to my regular grocery haunt. I knew something was wrong the second I picked up the offending item. It was light as a feather. Too light. Not normal. I was rushing and blowing through the store—I had no choice.

Table set, dinner ready, dessert divine (as always) and the challah was really scaring me. It was unnaturally brown but without the crust, it weighed next to nothing and smelled faintly of fake vanilla. You know that smell, the one that is usually associated with soft serve ice cream. Sort of vanilla-y, but not really.

Candles, blessings, wine etc….and the moment of truth. Awful! No texture, no density, no flavor other than the fake vanilla and worst of all, NO SOUL! We joked about it, discussed whether or not I was losing “it” and ate the meal. I was seriously upset. I bought another one the next week as an experiment (I made the real one). I inspected it closely. It was made up of a fine network of gluten strands and air. I pushed it down and it made a ‘swoosh” sound and bounced back up. I did it again and the same thing happened. Over and over again the challah defied the laws of physics. I put it back in its plastic bag and enjoyed the dinner with our homemade challah.

I sort of forgot about the challah until a few days ago. I had stuck it in the microwave (to me it is a bread box-I never use it) out of sight, out of mind.

The challah had not changed. It was still the same. It did not mold and still defied physics. This was one sturdy little challah, which is not normal and not good.

In Chicago we boast a major Jewish community. Why can’t we get a decent kosher bakery? The breads have no heart. I buy breads for events all the time. It is hit or miss. I am concerned as to why we don’t have an artisanal bakery. I am thinking of gorgeous baguettes all crispy and crusty and NATURAL brown colored. How about challot that are dense and heavy with eggs, bread flour, honey and natural fats-say oil for example? This is a trend folks. Not a fad. Great bread is in! A good baguette is the new black this year. How about it? When did the amber waves of grain become synonymous with soulless, artificially flavored puffballs of dough? Am I the only one who is upset by this? Does anyone else see the difference in the great breads out in the world and the wretched loaves we get? Seriously, walk by a bakery or look one up on line, call me for examples and check out what everyone else is eating.

As we approach Pesach and purge our kitchens from flour and grains, we also should do some serious spring cleaning of another kind. Let’s all agree to stop eating what isn’t good for us, doesn’t taste wonderful and is made with less than great products. Just because it has a hechsher does not mean it is quality.

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