Friday, February 24, 2012

My Avo

The reason I created this blog has taken on a new level of dedication and appreciation for the amazing women in my life. Women who have raised me & shaped the person I am today.

On January 30th, the woman who (besides my mother) has had the biggest influence on my life, passed away. My maternal grandmother, my Avo. She wasn't just any grandmother, she was my second mom. My parents would drop me & my siblings off at her home every day, where she would play with us, teach us, feed us, feed us some more & care for us while my parents worked to create the life they dreamt of for their family. Then after we'd go home she'd spend the night cleaning large bank buildings downtown to make sure there was enough money to always keep the cookie jar filled to the top & milk in the fridge. She worked incredibly hard, loved even harder & was a true hero.

When my grandmother found out I was becoming frum, her love didn't diminish an ounce (despite the fact that she lived a different lifestyle). When I introduced her to the love of my life she had three questions: does he love you? Does he respect you? Does he make you happy? That's all that she needed to know. Sure we couldn't eat food from her kitchen, a valued aspect of Portuguese culture, but we're her grandkids and that's all that ever mattered.

There aren't enough words to celebrate how amazing she was. And truthfully, I have yet to come to terms with everything that has happened to even consider writing about her in past tense any more than I have. It's my hope that this blog can be a tribute to her and all that she has taught me. I can only hope to be half the woman she was. I hope to continue to show and give the love that she so selflessly gave to her family and all who knew her.

In honor of my grandmother, I have decided to share my Challah recipe in time for Shabbos. The first time my grandmother ever came to my apartment I gave her a loaf of Challah and the pride in her eyes was all the confirmation I needed that regardless of my life choices she still loved me. Every time I would bring a homemade Challah to my parents house for dinner she would stare at it with admiration and gave me the only compliment that I had ever hoped for, "It takes just like mine!"

The image of my grandmother making her bread ("massa") in her kitchen, hair wrapped up, patchwork blankets covering large aluminum bowls everywhere, and the smell of the bread rising is something I hope to keep with me forever. I loved her massa so much that I remember wanting to take a loaf as a birthday cake to school in grade three (regardless of the fact that it was frozen and straight out of the freezer!).

This year for the holidays, my grandmother bought me my first Kitchenaid mixer, something that I've wanted since I was sixteen years old. When I went to University, instead of moving into a dorm, I moved into my grandmother's house and lived with her. Every Friday I would make desserts for my coworkers and leave her one under her glass cake dome. I used her vintage mixer happily only to discover she had replaced it with a Kitchenaid so that I could make my treats in my coveted machine. When she got me my own this year it was surreal. Now, each Friday as I make my Challah in it, it will always be a team effort.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, (the first that I tweaked and worked with on my own!). I hope it brings warmth to your Shabbos tables, kitchens and hearts.

Challah (yeilds 4-5 medium sized loaves)

2 cups water
1/2 cup margarine
8 1/2 cups of flour (plus more for dusting)
1 1/4 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon of active dry yeast
3/4 tablespoon of salt
4 eggs
1 egg beaten

In a saucepan, add water and margarine and stir until melted but not boiling
Mix 3 1/2 cups of flour, sugars, yeast and salt
Add water mixture & beat well
Add one egg at a time, making sure each egg is incorporated well before adding the next
Stir in the remaining flour, approximately 1/2 to 3/4 cups at a time
Knead the dough for 2 minutes and place in a prepared bowl (I usually use either margarine or oil to grease the bowl)
Cover with a clean, damp towel and allow to rise for one hour
Remove the dough from the bowl onto a floured surface ( make sure that your hands are covered in flour as well!)
Knead the dough lightly for 2 minutes (this helps to achieve a softer consistency, don't over do the kneading, for a softer bread!)
Divide the dough into 7 strips (I use my large, serrated bread knife to cut through the dough). Cut those seven strips into three squares each. Roll each square into a long strip. Braid three strips to make one Challah. Continue with remaining dough
Place dough either into bread pans or onto a baking sheet (I wouldn't do more than 2 loaves on a baking sheet at a time)
Cover the loaves with the damp cloth for 20 minutes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Brush the loaves lightly with the remaining beaten egg
Bake loaves for approximately 35 minutes
Allow to cool for 10 minutes

These freeze especially well! I put them into clear plastic bags (the kind you bring vegetables home in from the supermarket) and then into a shopping bag, knotted. They take about 1-2 hours to defrost depending on how long they've been frozen.



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