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Valentine’s Day. How does this fit into a Jewish or interfaith home? Technically, yes, Valentine’s Day is named for a saint. It was first instituted by Pope Gelasius I in 496 C.E. to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Valentine. Yet scholars know almost nothing about this St. Valentine. There is an abundant amount of literature on St. Valentine but most of it is not historical but based on legend. And, truth be told, Valentine’s Day is not a “religious” holiday. The association of a saint does not necessary make it so. I’m sure some might take issues with the previous sentences but to my estimation, Valentine’s Day is an American “holiday” and perfect for families that celebrate Jewish and non-Jewish holidays.
My kids go to private Jewish preschool. They haven’t come in contact yet with Valentine’s Day. But, our oldest will be headed to public Kindergarten next year and we can almost guarantee that we will be met with Valentines. And I ask you? What’s not “Jewish” about showing your like and care with the giving of sweet cards and yummy treats? But, if you’re like me and you’re still struggling with the concept of bringing Valentine’s Day into your home, then why not make it a little more Jewish with the inclusion of seemingly “Jewish” foods like, I don’t know, tahini!
Therefore, I bring you a simple and delicious tahini and vanilla ice box cake. I love ice box cakes. They’re great for impressing your family and friends while not having to actually cook anything. I mean, what says, “I love you” more than frozen tahini in the shape of hearts set in a pink ice cream cake!?
Tahini Vanilla Icebox Cake
Ingredients for Halva:
Ingredients for Icebox Cake:
Directions for Halva Hearts:
1. Heat honey on medium heat until your candy or instant-read thermometer reads 240˚ F, or indicates the “soft ball” stage of candy making. To confirm that you are at the “soft ball” stage, drop a bit of the honey into a cup of cold water. It should form a sticky and soft ball that flattens when removed from the water.
2. Have the tahini ready to heat in a separate small pot, and once the honey is at the appropriate temperature, set the honey aside and heat tahini to 120˚ F.
3. Add the warmed tahini to the honey and mix with a wooden spoon to combine. At first it will look separated but after a few minutes, the mixture will come together smoothly.
4. Continue to mix until the mixture starts to stiffen, for a good 6-8 minutes. Pour mixture into a well-greased and parchment paper-lined 8 x 8 deep-set baking sheet or loaf pan (it MUST have at least 1 inch sides on the pan you use as it’ll keep the tahini within the pan), or into a greased and parchment paper-lined cake pan with a removable bottom.
5. Let cool to room temperature and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Leave in the refrigerator for up to 36 hours. This will allow the sugar crystals to form, which will give the halvah its distinctive texture.
6. Once done, cut out at least 8 – 10 hearts using a sharp, metal cookie cutter.
Directions for Vanilla Ice Box Cake:
1. In a chilled bowl combine vanilla ice cream and food coloring. Cover and freeze for 1 hour or until mixture is spreadable.
2. Line a 9-inch Pullman or a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with two sheets of plastic wrap, enough to cover the bottom and sides, allowing plastic wrap to extend over sides of pan. Spread half of the vanilla ice cream evenly in the bottom of the pan.
3. Place the tahini stars down the center of the ice cream pressing down so that the bottom points of the stars are completely submerged in the pink ice cream and the tops are just visible, and placing stars so that they are touching. Freeze for 1 hour.
4. Spread the rest of the pink vanilla ice cream in an even layer over the stars to cover. Cover the top of the cake with heaps of rainbow sprinkles. Freeze for 24 hours or until very firm.
5. Use the plastic wrap to lift mixture from pan. Transfer to a serving plate and cut about an inch into the cake to reveal the first heart. Enjoy!
Shavuot. The “Festival of Weeks.” If ever there was a confusing holiday (Shmini Atzeret aside), Shavuot is it. The definition of “Shavuot” alone is confusing enough. Festival of Weeks? Who wants to celebrate a festival of weeks!? That said, if ever there was an example of why one should never judge anything by its name alone, Shavuot is such an example.
So what are we celebrating, exactly? First, there is the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai (kind of a big deal). Then there is the completion of the counting of the Omer (the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, thus, “Festival of WEEKS”). The counting of the Omer reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavuot: Passover freed the Jews physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed the Jews spiritually from bondage to idolatry and immorality. But I always wonder, have we really been “freed” from our bondage to idolatry? I’m gonna go with a hard, “NO” on that one.
In my role as a high school counselor, I am often meeting and talking with students about their personal expectations. Too often, adolescents (and their parents, for that matter) have expectations for themselves that are not remotely attainable. Whether it’s trying to fit their body or personal image to that of a celebrity or the pursuit of academic perfection, I would argue that we are still very much bound to worshiping of idols. As a society, we have given so much power to fame and perfection, it is worshiped as truth. Adolescents “follow” celebrities and try in vain to emulate their lifestyle in such a way that they are willing to risk their financial status and physical, mental and emotional health. If that’s not worshiping of an idol, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of worship, Shavuot has recently become of my most favorite holidays due to the foods that are traditionally eaten on this day: dairy foods and spring/summer veggies and fruit. I’m talking foods such as cheesecakes and fresh green salads and gorgeous, ripe fruit. It’s a time of newness and of a re-commitment to learning and spirituality. I dream of hosting a huge picnic in a kibbutz sometime, the sun shining down upon my family and friends and eating salads and cakes until we feel we’re about to burst! One of the cakes I’ll be offering up during a meal this Shavuot is this gorgeous Semolina Cara Cara Orange Cake. Not only does it lend itself to a beautiful presentation, it just so happens to taste good as well. A double threat, if you will.
Semolina Cara Cara Orange Cake
Candied Orange Peel with Syrup Topping:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring sugar, honey, cardamom and 3 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add orange slices.
2. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, turning orange slices occasionally until tender and syrup is reduced to 3 1/4 cups, about 40 minutes.
3. Arrange orange slices in a single layer on prepared baking sheet; remove cardamom pods and seeds. Strain syrup.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover syrup and orange slices separately; chill. Return orange slices to room temperature and rewarm syrup slightly before using.
Ingredients for Cake
Directions for Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. Place the butter in a small bowl and melt in the microwave. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine together the sugar and yogurt. Now add in the semolina, baking powder and milk. Finally stir in the melted butter and let the mixture sit briefly so that the butter is absorbed.
4. Transfer the semolina mixture into a lightly greased 9″-round cake pan or baking dish. Bake for about 40-45 minutes.
5. Pierce the hot cake all over with a metal skewer. Slowly drizzle 3/4 cup warm syrup all over. When syrup is absorbed, slowly pour 3/4 cup more syrup over the top. Reserve remaining syrup for serving. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack. Once cool, run a thin knife around edge of pan to release cake. Remove pan sides. Arrange candied orange slices over top.