Sunday, May 20, 2012

Scalloped Potatoes and The Happiness Box

Many years ago when, my boys were small, when we wanted to teach certain lessons we would look for books in the Jewish Bookstore that would reinforce the messages we were trying to convey.   We have collected a number of wonderful books over the years and have read them to each of our children.  We still periodically read those stories to our girls, although they are getting big themselves.  One of my favorite all time stories is “The Happiness Box” by Bracha Goetz.  The story begins with a school age boy who is never happy with what he has.  He is constantly grumbling and complaining.  One day his parents get a new washing machine and his father gives him the huge box the machine came in as a gift, with the following message:  “This is a happiness box.  You may only think happy thoughts when you play in it.  Negative thoughts are not allowed.”  The boy goes in the box and forces himself to only think happy thoughts.  As time goes on, he comes to rely upon the happiness box and his whole negative outlook on life becomes a positive one.  (Spoiler alert!) One day, when he is going off to camp he worried that he wouldn’t be able to take his huge Happiness Box with him.  What would he do when he got sad or became worried.  He then had an epiphany…the Happiness Box was really his head, and realized he had the ability to be happy all along.  I love that story!!!  Even as a grown-up it spoke to me about the power we have over our thoughts and feelings.

However, that being said, sometimes life is a little harder and more challenging and the solution doesn’t come in the shape of a washing machine box.  The consolation however might come in a much bigger box…in the shape of say…a kitchen!  It’s true.  I love my kitchen. Many years ago, when we literally ran out of bedroom space for our children we ended up adding on to our house.  The bonus was that I ended up with an incredible kitchen.  My father (z”l) and I spent years designing and re-working the plans for the kitchen so that it would be incredibly functional and efficient, and one that I would love spending hours in.  It was an incredibly special gift he gave me – the gift of working with him to create something long lasting.  I really spend more time in the kitchen than any other room in the house!  Even before my father passed away a few weeks ago, the kitchen was really my favorite room in the house.  So much so that we all lovingly call it my “Happiness Box”.  I have found that on some of my hardest days, there is nothing better than losing myself in a recipe or baking great volumes of cakes, cupcakes & treats.  It’s incredibly cathartic. 

Creamy and delicious!!!
I also have found that I love my friends in my online community.  I routinely check and comment on several Kosher and general cooking sites and feel like I’m part of an extended family.  If I need help with a recipe, I’ll often post it on one of the facebook groups and will likely get back excellent advice in a relatively short time.  I recently noticed someone asking for a recipe for Scalloped Potatoes.  I actually was pretty excited about it because I have had a fabulous one that I have used for years.  It can be made dairy or pareve (both are equally good), it’s fairly low in fat (healthy bonus!), and with Shavuot around the corner it’s a perfect dish to serve with your dairy meal.  It’s fairly fast to make too – especially if you use a food processor or mandolin.  I prefer the mandolin, I find that it allows for more uniform potato slices, but either would work to make this a quick recipe.  When the potatoes come out of the oven they are wonderfully creamy with a beautifully browned top.  They are also excellent reheated, which bodes well for making them in advance – always good when having to make a lot of Yom Tov and Shabbat food.

I love preparing food in my personal “Happiness Box” kitchen.  I wouldn’t change a single thing about it, except for wishing that my dear father (z”l) were still here with me in it, laughing as he shnookered food out of pans on the island.

The Happiness Box By: Bracha Goetz
I must have laughed right out loud
The moment it was clear.
The Box was right there with me
There was no need to fear!

The Box is never far away.
That Box is here with me to stay.
Where was my Box?  Can you guess where?
Above my eyes! Below my hair!

There’s a Happiness Box in your head, you see.
It’s a Happiness Box if you let it be!
But if it’s hard to use your head,
Just get a cardboard box instead!
Scalloped Potatoes (Pareve or Dairy)
  • 5 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 ½ cups soy milk or dairy milk
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 4 tablespoons margarine (I used Earths Balance), or butter
  • non-stick vegetable spray
Preheat oven to 375° F.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.
Spray a large 9x13 inch casserole dish with non-stick vegetable spray.  Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the casserole, completely covering the bottom of the pan.  Evenly distribute some of the onions over the potatoes.  Sprinkle ½ tablespoon of the flour mixture over the potatoes and onions.  Evenly place another layer of potatoes, onions, and flour over the previous layer, repeating until no ingredients remain, ending with flour mixture.  Dot the top of the potatoes with the margarine.  Pour the milk and water over the potatoes.  Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil and bake for one hour.  Uncover and bake for an additional 30 minutes until lightly browned on the top.  Serve warm.

 All the ingredients...
 Note the evenly sliced potatoes!
 Thinly sliced onions and flour mixture...
 Place an even layer of potatoes in the pan.
They can even overlap slightly.
 Distribute some of the onions...
 Sprinkle with some of the flour mixture...
 Dot with margarine, add the liquids...
 Cover tightly and into the oven it goes.
 One hour later...
 Uncover and put back into the oven for another hour.
 Out of the oven it comes!
Creamy, savory, deliciousness!!
 Even better close up!

Kosher Everyday is dedicated to the memory of my father
Dr. Theodore Saltzberg - Tuvia Ben Nachum Z”L
May his memory be for a blessing - Yihi zichro baruch.

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