We lucky ones have traditions, passed down through the generations, to continue celebrating the joy of life in the ways of our elders. From my Mom’s side, my favorite tradition is Passover. When I was little, we attended Passover at my grandparents’ house. We all sat at a long table covered in fancy-plated food, surrounded by relatives. Two small silver swans held salt and peppers in the middle of the long table, and we’d scoop out our seasonings with little spoons. The years since we’ve celebrated my favorite Jewish holiday in that manner have glazed my memories with warm light, peace, and happiness, as time does. I’m sure some dinners were a bit loud or hectic, but I’ve found that loud conversations spur loud laughter much more than quiet, almost-awkward niceties!
The silver swans now grace our table. We use them every evening during dinner, and especially when we host fancy dinners (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, parties – really, any excuse to get dressed up and host!) those swans warm my heart. My brothers have joined us for Thanksgiving for the past few years, and I think I’ve told them the origin of the swans each time. Using them with family, as we forge new traditions built on the ones I remember from my childhood, fills my soul to the point of tears. It makes me grateful for my incredible family, the holidays we’ve celebrated together years ago and for years to come, for my own childlike fascination with the silver swans, and my grandparents’ generosity in recognizing what they’d mean to me and gifting the swans to my husband and me as an engagement gift.
From my Dad’s side, baking with my Grandma’s recipe, great Grandpa George Mosler’s cloth and mixing bowl is a sacred, quiet ritual I revere. I don’t bake as much as I’d like to, and our family’s recipe is a bit of a process so I usually set aside a calm weekend day to make bread. Waking up early to my lamp-lit coffee and fruit, anticipating creating this bread, feels mystical in and of itself. I’ll gather the simple ingredients quickly and line them up on a long, cleared-off countertop. An apron is crucial to any hope of clean clothes post-dough kneading, and shorter sleeves are better. But let’s be honest, flour gets everywhere anyway. I have an adorable apron that I love wearing, gifted to me by a close family friend for my bridal shower. Once the flour, salt, flax and vanilla powder are all gathered around Grandpa George’s giant metal bowl, it’s time to combine and play!
The dry ingredients and then the wet ingredients go in the bowl, and Grandma told me the best mixing is done with our hands, so my hands also go in the bowl. Combining a group of different ingredients, escorting ingredients from separate to a whole dough, is one of the simplest and truest pleasures I’ve found in life! It always makes me giggle, reminding me of playing with Play Doh as a kid, or in the mud. And then once the dough is covered with the bread cloth and left to rise, I feel like a perspicacious homesteader at one with the universe and my family. It goes into the oven awhile later and comes out when knocking on the bottom of the bread produces a low, hollow sound. Whole wheat, flax and honey challah bread, or “OMG bread” (patent pending by 1-800-GRANDMA), is absolutely delicious. I allow myself a slow, heady sniff of fresh baked bread before I cover any slice with almond butter, coconut oil and avocado, or spinach and an egg. It doesn’t get much yummier than that.
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At this moment, while I write, I’m savoring a slice of fresh bread topped with almond butter and cinnamon, and I am honored to share our family’s recipe with you. Here is a preface from Grandma herself, followed by the recipe.
My grandfather, Samuel Mosler, and two of his brothers, Simon in NY and Harry in Portland were also professional bakers. Although my great Uncle Harry Mosler has been gone for many years, I still meet people from Portland who say that there has been no good rye bread in Portland since Harry Mosler retired!
3 cups whole wheat flour
2-4 cups white flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 packages Rapid Rise Yeast
1 ½ tsp. Cook’s Vanilla Powder (my secret ingredient to fabulous tasting bread)
¼ cup flax seed
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup honey
¼ cup canned pumpkin, save the rest in the freezer for the next time you bake this bread, because believe me, you’ll make it again
1 cup half and half, warmed to lukewarm
1 cups warm water
6 Tbsp canola oil
1 egg, beaten
- Stir together whole wheat flour, 2 cups white flour, and all other dry ingredients, including yeast.
- Add remaining ingredients and combine thoroughly. Add more white flour as necessary to make a dough that is the right consistency to turn out onto floured board to knead.
- Dust board with white flour. Knead, adding more flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking, for 8-10 minutes.
- Place in bowl, cover with a towel and let rise until double in bulk about 1 ½ hours.
- Punch down and let rise again ½ hour.
- Divide into two equal parts. Round up each piece of dough and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Shape into a loaf by following directions below. Place into two lightly greased 9 x 5 loaf pans. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes.
- Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, until loaf sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom, or measures 190 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Remove from pans onto cooling rack and brush top with butter or margarine.
To form a loaf, shape, shape dough into a rectangle. Fold in the short ends of the dough until it is approximately the length of the pan. Then, fold the far, long edge over to the middle. Fold over the other long sides and compress it gently to form a tight cylinder. Place seam-side down in the lightly greased bread pan. These directions are from a wonderful web site.
And there you have it. It’s worth gathering the ingredients, since as Grandma says, “Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven!”
From our home to yours, with love and warmth – thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy and would love to learn about your traditions.
A Happy Wife