Lag B'Omer, this year takes place on Tuesday, May 12, on the 33rd day after the second day of Passover in the midst of the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot. ("Lag" is the Hebrew numerical equivalent of 33).
For me and my husband, Lag B'Omer is a doubly special celebration. A few decades ago, we were married on Lag B'Omer. This is the only day between Passover and Shavuot when celebrations such as weddings are permitted.
In Israel, Lag B'Omer is a holiday from school. Hikes, field trips and backyard picnics are organized. With longer days now, this is becoming a popular custom all across America.
At our house, we plan a picnic on the deck or at my daughter's beach house. This year, the glorious finale will be a rich, decadent chocolate torte -- our anniversary cake, and one that's deceptively simple to make.
This recipe has been shared by my friend Albert ("Buddy") Mendel, who in his spare time whips up dozens of tantalizing desserts to the never-ending delight of those of us privileged to indulge.
Note that the cake is flourless, and as such is also perfect for Passover. If you've picnicked away from home, leave the chocolate torte in the refrigerator. Later in the evening, serve a dark, dense wedge, topped with a dollop of cinnamon-scented whipped cream. Then toast the day with flutes of chilled champagne, fitting for a memorable celebration.
It so happens that this year, Lag B'Omer comes on the heels of Mother's Day. Largely due to the persistent efforts of Anna Jarvis, in 1914 a Joint Resolution was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Woodrow Wilson officially recognizing Mother's Day to be celebrated on the second Sunday in May.
It's a day where mothers expect and deserve to be pampered. Maybe it's breakfast in bed, a picnic in the family room or dinner outdoors; the key is that the meal is prepared by someone other than Mom.
The menu below is easy -- and impressive enough -- for Lag B'Omer, or choose several dishes to surprise the woman in your life on Mother's Day.
Tips for Outdoor Eating
· Invest in a sturdy ice chest. Many come with vacuum flasks and containers to keep foods hot or cold. Fill one of the flasks with hot coffee or tea, which will easily hold for 12 hours or so.
· Don't clutter the ice chest with cups and plastic flatware. Pack separately.
· Think green -- unbreakable cups, plates and flatware packed in a separate box. Rinse off at picnic site, but take home to wash thoroughly and recycle.
· Terry dishcloths are thick and absorbent. Use as napkins, then launder and reuse.
· Use thermos containers to keep hot foods hot, and tight-lidded containers and small freezer packs to keep cold foods cold.
· For dessert, plan on something simple, like a basket of hard fruit, such as (organic) plums, pears and apples.
· For an al fresco coffee break, pick up iced lattes at a nearby coffee shop.
Honeydew, cantaloupe or a mixture of melon cubes may be used to make up the 5 cups of melon. Calvados is a dry apple brandy produced in Calvados, in the northern region of France.
5 cups watermelon chunks, seeded
2 cups apple juice and 1 cup Calvados, or 3 cups chilled apple juice
2 Tbsps. fresh mint leaves, packed
4 ice cubes
3-4 cups chilled Sprite or lemon soda
In a blender jar, place the watermelon chunks, apple juice, Calvados (if using), mint and ice cubes. Whirl at high till blended.
Pour into a thermos. Pack the Sprite or lemon soda separately.
To Serve: Pour the watermelon mixture into unbreakable cups. Top off with Sprite or soda.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 179; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 49 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 28 mg.
Tilapia in a Pastry Pocket
2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
4 pieces tilapia fillet, 4 oz. each
1 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 green onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 sheet (about 8.5 oz.) prepared puff pastry, thawed
2 halved marinated artichoke hearts, each cut in half
2 tsps. fresh tarragon, chopped or 3/4 tsp. dried
salt and pepper
2 Tbsps. beaten egg
Preheat oven to 400°.
Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Add the tilapia. Cook for 3 minutes on each side to lightly brown. Remove to drain on paper towels.
Add the mushrooms and onion to the skillet (no need to wash it first). Sauté over medium-high heat until mushrooms lose their raw look, 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meantime, unfold the pastry sheet; place on a lightly floured board. Roll into a 14-inch square. Cut into four 7-inch squares.
Place a piece of tilapia on each square. Brush with mustard. Top with the cooled mushroom mixture and a piece of artichoke. Sprinkle with tarragon, salt and pepper.
Brush the pastry edges with a little water. Fold corners of the pastry to the center to cover the tilapia. Press edges to seal.
Place seam-side down on a baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg. Cut two slits in each pocket for steam to escape.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until pastry is puffed and golden.
Cool completely before wrapping in foil to eat at room temperature.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 564; protein, 27 g; carbohydrates, 28 g; fat, 38 g; cholesterol, 95 mg; sodium, 337 mg.
Crustless Green-and-Gold Quiche
To quickly thaw frozen spinach, place in a wire sieve. Run warm water over, crumbling with your hands. Squeeze dry and use.
1 medium yellow zucchini, thinly sliced
1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
11/2 cups soft breadcrumbs
5 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350°.
Spray a quiche dish or 9-inch pie dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well to mix.
Transfer to prepared dish.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffy and nicely browned.
Cool completely before wrapping in foil.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 174; protein, 9 g; carbohydrates, 7 g; fat, 12 g; cholesterol, 159 mg; sodium, 417 mg.
Save time and use the packaged shredded coleslaw mix.
6 cups shredded cabbage
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup grated jicama
1/2 cup snipped fresh dill
2 tsps. celery seed
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsps. cider vinegar
2 Tbsps. low-fat mayonnaise
2 tsps. Dijon-style mustard
salt and pepper to taste
Place cabbage in a large bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and salt.
Using your hands, press the sugar and salt into the cabbage. This slightly softens the cabbage.
Add the radishes, jicama, dill and celery seed.
In a cup or small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, vinegar, mayonnaise and mustard.
Pour over the cabbage mixture and toss gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serves 6 to 8.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 13; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 372 mg.
Midget Citrus-Berry Loaves
Easy to pack and freezes well. You will need 7 mini loaf pans. Each loaf makes 6 slices.
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. orange extract
1/3 cup orange juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
31/2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 350°.
Spray loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, beat the butter or margarine, sugar and orange extract until pale, about 2 minutes.
Add the orange juice and egg with a little of the flour. Blend.
Gradually add the remaining flour, baking powder and salt alternately with the milk, mixing well. Fold in nuts and cherries.
Spoon into the prepared loaf pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool 10 minutes in pan before cooling on a wire rack.
Cool completely before slicing with serrated knife.
Makes 7 loaves.
Approximate nutrients per slice: calories, 83; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 13 g; fat, 3 g; cholesterol, 10 mg; sodium, 101 mg.
Buddy's Chocolate Torte
1/2 cup cold strong coffee
1/2 lb. semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cut in 16 pieces
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 250°.
Line a 10-inch flan pan with removable bottom with aluminum foil to come about 1-inch above the rim. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the coffee, chocolate, sugar and butter.
Cook over medium heat, stirring very often. Heat to 130° on a candy thermometer, or until lukewarm and mixture is thoroughly combined. Cool slightly.
Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 55 minutes. Center should appear uncooked; as the torte cools, it will firm up. Chill overnight.
Garnish with rosettes of cinnamon-scented whipped cream.
Serves 12 to 15.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 252; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 23 g; fat, 18 g; cholesterol, 90 mg; sodium, 20 mg.
3/4 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsps. confectioners' sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
Whip the cream until it peaks softly. Add the confectioners' sugar and cinnamon; whip till stiff.
Garnish torte with rosettes using a large star pipe and pastry bag, or top with tiny teaspoonfuls of cream around the torte edges.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. E-mail: [email protected] .