How to makeover matzo, a traditional Passover staple

NEW YORK – When Amy Kritzer was growing up in Connecticut, her mother made lasagna from matzo each Passover.

The holiday, which commemorates the end of slavery for the Hebrews in ancient Egypt, calls for Jews to avoid leavened grain in products like regular pasta and bread, so it’s matzo’s biggest moment of the year. But lasagna?

“We almost never ate lasagna the rest of the year,” Kritzer, 31, laughed. “I was sure I could live without it that one week. But it was like a little challenge, what to do with the matzo.”

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RECIPE: Herbed matzo-stuffed roasted chicken

In recent years, matzo has undergone a makeover as the people who churn it out – by hand or machine – and the people who eat it have come up with new recipes and flavours for the large cracker with a big place at the Seder table – but a bad rep in the taste department.

“It turns out it’s a pretty darn good canvas,” said Lucinda Scala Quinn, executive editorial director of food at Martha Stewart Living, where the company’s test kitchen has been coming up with new ways to use matzo. “We live in an age where everybody, it seems, is an inventive cook. Matzo has been this undiscovered ingredient waiting to be used beyond just kind of breaking it at the Seder,” she said.

RECIPE: Spring matzo ball soup

This year, Passover begins the evening of April 14, and at Kritzer’s house in Austin, Texas, where she often hosts Seders, matzo has some new buddies.

“Ironically, all of my non-Jewish friends love matzo,” said Kritzer, who has a recipe blog called Whatjewwannaeat. “I think because they don’t have to eat it, they’re like, ‘Matzo, it’s delicious.’ And all of the Jews are like, ‘What, I don’t want to eat this.”‘

In addition to boxed matzo, from onion-poppy to chocolate-covered, we now have Matzolah, a commercial matzo granola that was 35 years in the making in Wayne Silverman’s kitchen.

This March 3, 2014 photo shows herbed matzo stuffed roasted chicken in Concord, N.H.

AP Photo/Matthew Mead

He put it on the market last year, after selling it in stores briefly over a decade ago, and earned accolades at Kosherfest, an annual showcase for kosher foods. There’s maple nut, whole wheat maple nut and gluten-free cranberry orange.

“When a Jewish person sees matzo they say, ‘Oy, matzo.’ Dry, sticks to the roof of my mouth. And when they see a product for Passover they say, ‘Oy, Passover. Even worse.’ We’ve tried to get people away from that notion,” said Silverman, in Decatur, Ga.

He chose “The Trail Mix of the Exodus” as Matzolah’s slogan.

Doug Freilich of Middletown Springs, Vt., makes small batches of artisanal matzah he calls Vermatzah. He started production about six years ago with help from his wife and two daughters. He makes his matzo in the more traditional round shape using grain he grows and grinds himself, then pops it into his wood-fired oven and wraps it in parchment paper with a delicate tie before gently placing six pieces in metal tins of bright green, red and yellow.

This Mar. 3, 2014 photo shows spring matzo ball soup in Concord, N.H.

AP Photo/Matthew Mead

Freilich sells online and ships around the country, also using simple cardboard boxes. Sisterhoods at synagogues like his matzo, as do customers at food co-ops around the Northeast.

“We want to stay small and sustainable and really hold on to that quality,” he said, noting that his matzo is “eco-kosher” but does not meet the stricter kosher rules for Passover.

The DIYers are in full force on the matzo front. They’re going online to show off chocolate-dribbled matzo s’mores, matzo melted cheese sandwiches, matzo brei cupcakes (named for a matzo-egg dish) and matzo napkin rings made of colour-copied prints of the real thing.

Taking a cue from gingerbread houses, matzo houses incorporate traditional Passover treats as decorations and chocolate as mortar. Other matzo creations include nutty, fruity brittles and barks in chocolate and caramel, matzo-layered ice cream cakes, toasted matzo crumbles on salads and matzo-crusted chicken cutlets. Quinn likes spreading herb, spiced or lemon zest-infused olive oil on matzo, then baking it, or giving the oil as a Passover gift in a fancy bottle. Matzo-themed kitchen timers, aprons and iPhone cases are abundant.

“There’s been quite a bit of movement in the matzo,” observed Menachem Lubinsky, Koshertoday杭州夜网 editor and co-producer of Kosherfest, an event he helped found 25 years ago. “I think the sky’s the limit here. The opportunities are enormous.” Kosherfest is scheduled to take place in November in New Jersey this year. Last year, it featured about 11 flavours of matzo, he said.

With only two major mass manufacturers of matzo left in the U.S., Manischewitz in Newark, N.J., and family-owned Streit’s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, American box matzo has lost ground to imports, primarily from Israel, Lubinsky said. More traditional, round and extra crispy handmade matzo – especially “shmura” made of a carefully guarded grain, is also popular.

Lubinsky and others see increasing interest in matzo among non-Jews, and from Jews year-round. “We do just as much matzo during the year as we do for Passover. It wasn’t always that way. It used to be probably 80 per cent Passover, 20 per cent daily,” said Aaron Gross, in the fifth generation of the Streit family.

The U.S. matzo market is worth about $86 million a year and the Israeli market more than $100 million, Lubinsky estimated.

Even old-school matzo makers like Streit’s offer a variety year-round – including whole wheat and Mediterranean, with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil. But the company sticks closer to basics for Passover, adhering to special procedures that include thorough cleanings of the nearly century-old factory, a six-story plant in a string of old tenements. Equipment is scrubbed again and again between batches, and the matzo must bake within 18 minutes once the water and wheat are mixed – all under rabbinical supervision.

Streit’s produces 2,000 pounds of kosher-for-Passover matzo an hour between September and two weeks before the holiday begins. “It’s just a very painstaking, long, labour-intensive process, and we’ve been doing it the same way all these years,” said Gross, who runs the plant with two cousins.

“They say the most difficult things to make are with the fewest ingredients,” he added. “You can’t get much fewer than flour and water, right?”

©2014The Associated Press

Quebec election not about a referendum: Marois

MONTREAL – Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois rejected suggestions Friday her referendum position is confusing.

Any independence referendum will be held only when Quebecers are ready, Marois told a news conference.

“There is no confusion,” she said. “The issue of this election is not a referendum. The issue of this election is the choice of a government to lead Quebec.”

READ MORE: A separated Quebec would ditch Canada, keep its currency: Marois

“We will not push Quebecers to take this decision. We will take the time. And when it is time, we will propose something if we are ready and Quebecers are ready.”

That’s exactly what the PQ leader said repeatedly during the televised leaders’ debate Thursday night.

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After the debate, however, Marois left the door open to a plebiscite in the next four years if the PQ wins a majority government April 7 and she considers Quebecers to be referendum-ready.

Meanwhile, the PQ attempted to shift the focus once again away from sovereignty to the party’s proposed secular charter and its economic team.

Marois was accompanied Friday by star candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau and the lead minister on the charter file, Bernard Drainville.

Peladeau, the media mogul whose splashy entrance into the campaign and commitment to create a country for his children caused a stir, refused to discuss sovereignty. He repeated that the Quebec economy was why he took the political plunge.

“If I had directed Quebecor as the Liberals led Quebec, I would have lost my business and I would have been replaced,” said Peladeau.

The owner of media and telecom giant Quebecor also said his political donations over the years were not indicative of his political leanings. Donation records show Peladeau donated extensively to the Liberals over the past decade – and actually gave them more than he did to the PQ.

A screenshot from the website of the Directeur général des élections du Québec, showing Karl Pierre Peladeau’s donations.

Directeur général des élections du Québec

He also contributed financially to the now defunct Action democratique du Quebec.

Peladeau was asked why he gave to the Liberals – a party he now calls unethical.

“I always believe in democracy,” Peladeau replied. “I think this is the strongest thing for this country, and political parties are a part of this democracy so it was no problem for me to donate to all parties in Quebec.”

Peladeau noted he has long supported the PQ and added he voted Yes in the 1980 referendum. He did not say whether he went Yes or No in 1995.

Drainville, meanwhile, made yet another case for the PQ’s secular charter, which would forbid state employees from wearing certain religious garb. The minister has said over and over in recent days that the only way to save the charter is with a majority PQ government.

On Friday, Drainville was asked if any common ground could be found with the Liberals on the issue.

“There’s room for consensus if the Liberals agree with us,” Drainville replied dryly.

©2014The Canadian Press

Gallery: Superheroes scale the walls at Ontario hospital

TORONTO – Superman, Spider-Man and Wolverine lent their powerful hands to clean the windows at an Ontario hospital Friday.

Lakeridge Health in Oshawa welcomed the superheroes as children in the paediatric ward gathered inside to watch the trio do their work.

According to a hospital press release, Superman said he enjoyed seeing the kids and other patients, and was especially grateful for one thing.

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“I’m always nervous about kryptonite build-up, but this hospital is spic and span clean,” he said.

Lisa Shiozaki, executive vice president and chief nursing executive at Lakeridge Health, noted patients can find it jarring when a window washer appears in their window, no matter how much notice is given, and that anxiety can be exacerbated for children.

“In our hospital we have real-life superheroes walking the halls every day. But these guys can fly, so that makes them pretty cool,” said Shiozaki.

This isn’t the first time superheroes have descended on hospitals in order to bring some cheer to patients. Last October, Superman and Captain America did the same in Brazil to commemorate Children’s Day.

A bird? A plane? Curious onlookers look up as superheroes wash windows at Lakeridge Health on Friday March 21, 2014.

Lakeridge Health/Facebook

A young patient in the Paediatric Ward watches from his room as a window washer in a Spiderman costume washes the windows at Lakeridge Health in Oshawa, Ontario, on Friday, March 21, 2014.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

Superman appears on the roof with his friends Spiderman and Wolverine.

Lakeridge Health/Facebook

Window washers in superhero costumes wash the windows at Lakeridge Health in Oshawa, Ontario, on Friday, March 21, 2014.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

Window washers in superhero costumes wash the windows at Lakeridge Health in Oshawa, Ontario, on Friday, March 21, 2014.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

©2014Shaw Media

Clear the clutter: how to organize all of your excess stuff

VICTORIA – Disorganized and cluttered homes are often the result of busy lives, but tackling the stuff in a home is an important step in freeing a space of disorder while relieving stress for its owner.

Maggie Megenbir, Victoria professional organizer, says clutter is unnecessary weight in a space.

“They are things that weigh people down,” says Megenbir. “Clutter is stuff that doesn’t contribute to the life that we want for ourselves.”

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The stuff that accumulates in a home can contribute to both physical and mental clutter, says Megenbir.

“I hear from my clients over and over, when they clear physical clutter they feel much more clear in their mind,” she says. “It clears up the mental clutter and has an internal impact for them.”

According to Megenbir, homeowners lead such busy lives that they often become overwhelmed and just don’t have the time to stay on top of the contents of their homes.

Developing effective organization systems for a home is key to keeping a handle on clutter.

“They need to work well for the person who is using them,” says Megenbir. “The systems also need to be easy to use, and just make sense in general.”

Storing items near where they are most often used is an important way to battle clutter. Megenbir says if a homeowner is using a blender, but has to go down the hall to put it away in a closet or pantry, it is more likely to stay on the counter.

“If the blender is stored in a cupboard right near where it is most often used, then it is easy to just put it away,” she says.

A Calgary professional organizer says homeowners come up with many reasons to avoid the task of organizing and purging excess items.

“People get stuck,” says Paula Blundell. “People get overwhelmed and can’t make a decision about getting rid of something. They come up with all sorts of reasons for keeping items.”

Blundell says homeowners should keep an item if it is something they absolutely love, and if it fits the vision they have for their life and home.

“If you walk into your master bedroom the first question to ask yourself is what vision do you have for the space? How do I want it to feel?” she says. “If the answer is I want this space to be sacred and calm, then your kids’ toys and your laptop probably shouldn’t be in that space.”

While Blundell has heard many good reasons for keeping items, she has also heard several bad ones, the most common being “I paid so much for that.”

“That is not a good reason because it is just a cost. You’ve already spent the money and you’re not getting it back,” she says.

Many people also keep unwanted items out of obligation or guilt, and Blundell says the person who gave the gift would be happier knowing it’s not a burden in their life.

Once the decision has been made to start organizing and purging clutter, the most important step is to be prepared.

Blundell says a homeowner should schedule it in their week, and start small. Dealing with a cupboard, drawer or half a closet will give a homeowner a sense of accomplishment rather than feeling discouraged.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

“Everything you own has some sort of story or meaning in your life,” says Blundell. “When you bring in an outside third party like a friend to help you clean up, they are able to see stuff as just stuff and can make decisions of what to get rid of much easier.”

©2014The Canadian Press

Scientists searching for meteorites in southern Ontario – Toronto

LONDON – Astronomers from a southwestern Ontario university are seeking the public’s help to find meteorites that may have crashed near St. Thomas, Ont.

Researchers from Western University say a basketball-sized meteor that was almost as bright as the full moon lit up the skies of southwestern Ontario this week.

Western astronomers are now hoping for help from local residents in recovering one or more possible meteorites that may have crashed just north of St. Thomas.

Western’s faculty of science has a network of all-sky cameras in southern Ontario that scan the atmosphere monitoring for meteors.

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Peter Brown, who specializes in the study of meteors and meteorites, says that on the evening of March 18 a long-lasting fireball was detected by seven all-sky cameras.

Read More: Explaining meteors and meteorites

The brilliant fireball started near Port Dover, Ont., at a height of 75 kilometres and moved westward before ending at an altitude of 32 kilometres between Aylmer, Ont., and St. Thomas. One or more meteorites were produced by the slow fireball based on the video records from the cameras.

Researchers are interested in hearing from anyone approximately five kilometres north or northwest of St. Thomas, who may have witnessed or recorded the event, or who may have found possible fragments of the freshly fallen meteorite.

In Canada, meteorites belong to the owner of the land upon which they are discovered.

Meteorites may best be recognized by their dark and scalloped exterior, and are usually denser than normal rock and will often attract a fridge magnet due to their metal content.

©2014The Canadian Press