Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lemon Almond Scones

Enough with the ranting. It's time to get back into the holiday spirit. Here is an original recipe for lemon almond scones. I cut them into Star of David shapes to make them festive for Chanukah.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
3 tablespoons powdered milk
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup slivered almonds
1 egg mixed with 2 teaspoons of water

Preheat oven to 375 deg F.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, powdered milk, egg, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture.

Grease a baking sheet with oil or shortening. Sprinkle some flour on a sheet of waxed paper and spread out the dough on the paper. With a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Using a biscuit cutter or a Star of David cookie cutter, cut out individual scones and place them on the baking sheet at least 2 inches from each other. Baste each scone with the egg mixture, and sprinkle almonds over each scone.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until they are lightly browned and slightly firm to the touch (or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean).

Remove the baking sheet to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer the scones to the wire rack to cool.

Makes about 20 small scones.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Annual Chanukah Rant

And now for my annual Chanukah rant.

Why are there so few quality commercial songs for Chanukah? For an industry long dominated by Jews, you would think we would have tossed ourselves a bone every now and then. I feel like the cobbler's children...never wearing good shoes because the cobbler sells all the good ones.

To be fair, percentage-wise there are very few quality Christmas songs as well. The difference is that Christmas has sheer volume on its side. For every 1000 pieces of Christina Aguilera/ Vanessa Hudgens/ Perry Como holiday treacle, the industry produces at least 10 pieces that you wouldn't mind hearing the other eleven months of the year, such as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Wizards in Winter (although even that has pretty much run itself into the ground).

I have four basic rules for judging the quality of commercial Chanukah music:

  1. It should not retell the story of Chanukah.

  2. It should not compare Chanukah to Christmas.

  3. It's sole purpose should not be to retread an old joke.

  4. I should be able to listen to it in July without vomiting.

For example, Adam Sandler's Chanukah Song violates rule #2 and comes close to violating rule #3. In fact, by now the song has been so overplayed, that it has become a joke of itself.

Mama Doni's song Chanukah Fever breaks rules #1, #2, and #4, although I might listen to it again just to hear the word "latkefied."

Chanukah in Santa Monica, an old song by Tom Lehrer, religously follows every one of the rules to the letter. It tells you absolutely nothing about Chanukah, It doesn't mention Christmas at all, it finds humor in geography rather than food, neuroses, or assimilation, and I still find it funny in July. Furthermore, any song that rhymes "Shavuos" with "St. Louis" is destined for greatness.

I am willing to bend some of these rules for music that is truly innovative, entertaining, or just plain different. For example, my pick for last year's Chanukah album of the year was definitely Erran Baron Cohen's Songs in the Key of Hanukkah. To quote his Website:

The record is indeed a collection of songs that brings the ancient music of Hanukkah kicking and screaming straight into the 21st Century.

The album is collaboration between Baron Cohen and an eclectic group of Jewish musicians ranging from Ladino singer Yasmin Levy to the black orthodox Jewish rapper Y-Love. My personal vote for the breakout song of the year was Yasmin Levy's Ocho Kandelikas who puts more passion into a single word than the rest of us put into our entire honeymoon. However, my family voted for Baron Cohen's own "Dreidel" which took what could have been simply another rehash of "I Had a Little Dreidel" and made it innovative, interesting, and very cool.

But that was last year. What is the breakout album or song for 2009/5770?

I personally am leaning toward Senator Orrin Hatch's Hanukkah Song. Hatch resides far, far outside my own political Zip code, but I love the idea of a Mormon U.S. senator writing the lyrics to a Chanukah song, putting the song to music by a Jewish woman who writes Christian songs in Nashville, and getting a Syrian-American woman from Terre Haute, Indiana to record it. I mean really...only in America.

I am also putting in a vote for Ocho Kandelikas by Hip Hop Hoodios because I am always willing to support a Jewish Latino Hip Hop group on novelty alone.

So, dear reader, I leave it to you. Who am I missing? What is the best new Chanukah song or album for 2009?

Happy Chanukah!

I was not ready for Chanukah.

I think I have finally caught up with the holiday now that we are well into the third night, but it really should not have taken me this long to wrap my brain around the 25th of Kislev. I mean, we have been well into December for almost two weeks now, and I should have been marking off the days with my own Jewish version of an Advent calendar.

Excecpt that I didn't. Maybe my subconscious was rebelling against the over-hyping of the December holiday season, and I was trying to place the holiday in its proper medium-grade cultural and religious context by reducing my anticipation. Or perhaps my brain was focusing on the imagery of the final night with all the candles burning bright instead of the first night with its scintilla of illumination. Or maybe I just haven't been getting enough sleep these days.

To make matters worse, we can't find all of our best Chanukiot (Chanukah menorahs), and we are relegated to a palsley two. I have until the end of the holiday to find the rest of the chanukiot so we can appropriately celebrate what I lovingly refer to as, "The Fire Hazard Night."

Thankfully, the holiday lasts eight nights, which gives me time to catch up. I've already made latkes and sufganiyot. I've already played dreidel with my kindergarten students. I've already watched my children open up two nights of presents. I think I've caught up to the holiday.

All I need now is a small paper fire on the mantel, and the holiday will be completely kosher.