Purim is a crazy, "anything goes" holiday, where it's even encouraged to drink heavily. Kids and adults alike masquerade in costumes. Girls love to be Queen Esther, with sparkly crowns and dresses; for boys, it's the wicked Haman, with big false nose, floppy ears and the notorious tricorn hat.
During services, Haman is mocked with groggers, booing, hissing and the loud stamping of feet, while the Megillah -- the Scroll of Esther -- is read. It's a riotous celebration marking the triumph of Persian Jews over their enemy, Haman, who was planning to exterminate the entire Jewish population.
But the most meaningful Purim custom is the giving of edible gifts to friends and family. At Purim, giving is a mitzvah -- a good deed. Shalach manot platters or baskets filled with at least two varieties of little sweets and savories used to be carried to neighbors' homes by children.
Today, you probably pile the gifts in the car, and drive to family and neighbors. Synagogue Sisterhoods make up shalach manot plates as a fundraising tool, delivering them to congregants. It's also a mitzvah to give tzedakah, a gift of money to the poor that today may be done by donating to a favorite charity.
Sweets are not necessarily the only makings of contemporary shalach manot baskets. Create your own depending on the recipients' tastes. On a diet? Arrange a selection of coffee and teas in a container, then wrap in plastic and tie with ribbon.
They love to cook? Include the makings of a pasta supper: whole-wheat pasta, a good marinara sauce, a hunk of Parmesan cheese and garlic bread ready to pop into the oven. Or you could attach the recipe for your favorite cookies or scones to a basket containing the recipe ingredients. For the containers, recycle baskets and tins you've stored away; it's also a responsible way to "think green."
In keeping with the spirit of Purim giving, here are some last-minute treats that the kids can help with after school. All recipes may be doubled.
Little Fruit Balls
Any combination of dried fruit may be used as long as it adds up to about 4 cups.
2 cups dried mixed berries
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup shredded coconut or pecan halves
3-4 Tbsps. orange juice
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
Place the dried berries, dates, apricots and coconut in a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
Add 3 tablespoons of orange juice and pulse several times to mix well. If too dry and crumbly, add a little more juice. Chill for 30 minutes.
Roll into balls about 3/4-inch in diameter. Toss in confectioners' sugar.
Cover and leave at room temperature 2 to 3 hours.
Makes 26 to 30 balls.
Approximate nutrients per ball: calories, 81; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 18 g; fat, 1 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 10 mg.
Variation: Melt 3/4 cup pareve or dairy chocolate chips in the microwave. Using a fork or skewer, dip the fruit balls in the melted chocolate. Place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Chill.
Rocky Poppy-Seed Cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsps. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/8 cup orange juice
11/2 Tbsps. poppy seeds
cinnamon-sugar to sprinkle (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°.
Spray a large cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and baking powder.
In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg, oil and orange juice.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the egg mixture, along with the poppy seeds. Mix well.
In rough heaps, drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden-brown.
Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar, if using. Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 1 dozen.
Approximate nutrients per cookie: calories, 103; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 12 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 18 mg; sodium, 26 mg.
3 Tbsps. margarine, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
11/2 tsps. baking powder
2 Tbsps. sugar
1/2 cup (scant) milk
1 banana, thinly sliced
2 tsps. lemon juice
2 Tbsps. chopped dates
cinnamon to sprinkle
Preheat oven to 425°.
Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Microwave 1 tablespoon margarine for 15 seconds at high or until melted.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and sugar. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons margarine into small pieces. Rub into the flour mixture to resemble breadcrumbs.
Make a well in center. Add just enough milk to make a stiff dough.
Roll out on a floured board to a rectangle approximately 1/4-inch thick. Brush with melted margarine.
Cover with banana slices to within 1/2-inch of edges. Scatter the dates over top.
Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Beginning at the long edge, roll up tightly like a jelly-roll. Press ends to seal.
With a sharp, serrated knife, cut into 3/4-inch thick slices.
Place cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet.
Place the sealed ends on the baking sheet so that cut sides are up. Press to flatten slightly.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until risen and lightly browned.
Approximate nutrients per scone: calories, 127; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 30 g; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 11 mg; sodium, 265 mg.
Prompto Fruit-Tree Cookies
12 round sugar cookies
1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
2 kiwi fruit, peeled and cut crosswise in 1/4-inch thick slices
12 mandarin-orange segments
1/2 large banana, peeled and cut in 12 slices
2 Tbsps. honey
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Spread each cookie with a thin layer of cream cheese.
Arrange the fruit attractively on top: 1 slice kiwi, topped with 2 blueberries, 1 orange segment and 1 slice banana.
Warm the honey and lemon juice in the microwave, about 20 seconds. Stir to combine. Using a pastry brush, dab over the fruit.
Makes 1 dozen.
Approximate nutrients per cookie: calories, 88; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 13 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 10 mg; sodium, 45 mg.
1/2 cup prune butter (lekvar) or filling of your choice
1 Tbsp. grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 package (7.5 oz.) refrigerated biscuits (makes 10 biscuits)
2 Tbsps. warmed honey or confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 400°.
In a small bowl, mix prune butter, lemon peel and cinnamon.
Separate the biscuits. On a lightly floured board, flatten each biscuit into a round about 21/2-inches in diameter.
Place 1 rounded teaspoonful of filling in the center of each biscuit. Dampen the edges with water. Fold the dough up over the filling to form a flat three-sided pyramid, leaving some of the filling uncovered. Place on a large ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden-brown. Brush with warm honey or dust with confectioners' sugar.
Approximate nutrients per cookie: calories, 93; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 4 g; fat, 7 g; cholesterol, 7 mg; sodium, 10 mg.