Schnitz Und Knepp

26 03 2007

And the endless feast continues…this weekend’s highlight is an old family tradition called Schnitz Und Knepp, perfect on a cold and blustery winter’s day. According to the wikipedia, schnitz und knepp is a “staple in the cuisine of the Pennsylvania Dutch.”

Schnitz refers to unpeeled dried apple slices. And knepp (or sometimes gnepp pronounced in either case with the k or g silent) to me has always been dough although when I googled it, many translated it to dumplings. offers the most succinct, accurate description. “A Pennslyvania Dutch dish consisting of dried apples that are soaked in water before being cooked in that liquid with ham. At the end of the cooking time, spoonfuls of batter are added to the cooking liquid to make dumplings.”

And that is, in short, how one cooks this delicacy. What it doesn’t tell you is how one eats this dish, which, to me, makes it truly unique. In our family, we place the boiled dumplings in a bowl with some ham, spoon on hot schnitz, and pour over it a mixture of milk slightly sweetened with brown sugar.

I know all my Jewish friends are likely to barf after reading that, but what can I say. I absolutely LOVE this dish. The saltiness of the ham balances the sweetness of the milk and that combined with the schnitz makes an exotic sweet and savory meal.

Schnitz und knepp nights were very special occasions in my family history, almost more special than Christmas or Thanksgiving. They only happened once, maybe twice if we were lucky, each year.  It’s nearly an all-day affair for the cooks since the ham boils all afternoon and since our dumplings are a yeast-raised dough, in contrast to every other recipe calling for baking powder that popped up when I googled it. And the recipe we make, yields large quantities. So if you weren’t cooking for a mass of people, you were wasting perfectly good food!

I can remember my grandmother Viola and sometimes her sisters, particularly Dorothy, Annie, and Pauline, gathering together in the afternoon to begin preparations. With such lengthy wait times, of course, preparing this dish was more of a social event than an all-hands-on-deck cooking marathon. Such occasions generated incredibly strong family bonds.

And family members would come from miles and miles around to partake. I can still see my aunts, uncles, and cousins crowded around my grandmother’s tiny dining room table. With heads bent over our plates, conversation during the first round, anyway, was often minimal. But my grandmother kept bringing out more and more and more platters of dough. We’d eat our fill, rest, joke around, and eat some more.

I know, it sounds gluttonous, doesn’t it. Indeed, it was. But, I have such fond memories of those occasions. I remember the belly laughs, my grandfather’s Bosco song, the sense of belonging, and feelings of safety and comfort and complete happiness.  While I still crave and relish the taste of this meal, I think the real reason I nag my mother to make it once a year, is to reconnect with those memories and step back, if only momentarily, into that bubble of love.


Paybacks are a Beatch

26 03 2007

Ugh! We’re having a bout of a nasty, nasty stomach bug here…well, so far, Ian is having a bout of it. But I think it’s all paybacks for him…seems that he and his buddies connived an extended visit on Saturday after their ultimate practice.

 Using a measure of teenage trickery and deceit…like when asked, “Where’s your dad?” He answers, “Uh, I don’t know. I think he’s at a party.” Or, “What time is your dad coming home?” “Uh, he’ll call me.” …Ian extended an hour or so visit into a 6-hour stay at his friend Wesley’s house. Like, “Ian are you moving in or what?”

 The bad news for Ian, is that Wesley’s mom was sick with a stomach bug last Thursday and Friday. So I’m guessing that he picked up that contagion while hanging out and now is paying the price.

Of course, ultimately, it’s mom who has the lucky chore of fetching this and that and cleaning up the puke and, likely, infecting herself in the process. Pee-yew..the stench of 10-hour partially digested pizza…it’s enough to make you gag even if you’re not feeling ill.

 Oh well, and if I get sick, I’m sure it’s payback for something silly I’ve done, too, and on and on…Hey whatever happened to “Pay It Forward?”

200 Cadillacs

20 03 2007

On Sunday evening I saw this interesting little film called 200 Cadillacs. It’s an inside look at Elvis Presley’s habit of giving cars as gifts to friends, acquaintences, employees, fans, and, yes, sometimes total strangers.

Elvis mythology says that he gave away 200 Cadillac cars through the years. Rex Fowler, who conceived and produced the movie, believes that Elvis may indeed have given away 200 cars in his lifetime although not all of them were Cadillacs. The gambit of outrageous gifts extended beyond cars to include expensive jewelry, custom-made jewelry, dogs, horses, and houses among other things.

200 Cadillacs is not an award-winning production, but the movie does an admirable job of capturing the generosity of Elvis’ spirit. While I think his practice of surprising people with fabulously expensive gifts was ultimately a subversive power-trip and a not-so-subtle attention-grabbing behavior, I do think some part of Elvis’ soul was truly altruistic and wanted to help out those who he perceived were less financially well off than he.  And even though I could think of 200 ways of spending such wealth far more efficiently and effectively in a manner that could benefit far more people, I’ve got to believe that, on some level, “the King” really meant well.

In any case, I think the time to watch 200 Cadillacs is well spent. I found the movie listed in the IMDB  and on Netflix, if any of you want to take a peek. The movie soundtrack includes original works from Rex Fowler and the Jersey band called The Cucumbers. Both  Rex and half of The Cucumbers performed live for us following the movie. Rex is a member of a group called Aztec Two-Step.

And bravo to Sanctuary Concerts for making the whole thing possible and providing authentic Elvis food — fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches and fried peanut butter, jelly and bacon sandwiches, a unique culinary sensation. I know how hard it is to draw suburban New Jerseyans from the comfort of their over-sized family rooms to attend any sort of culturally interesting, but a little off-beat performing arts event…keep at it…sooner or later they’ll get it!

Africa Jacket Update

17 03 2007

Africa Sweatshirt Jacket Front View

In my original post on this topic I promised to post photos. This is a jacket that I made using a sweatshirt, fabric that I purchased in Africa and at home, and machine-stitched crazy quilting techniques. If you would like more information about this, leave a comment below. My blog software will ask you for your email address, and I’ll get back to you.  

From the back:

 Africa Sweatshirt Jacket Back View

Detail of button decorations and lining:

 Africa Sweatshirt Jacket Detail 1

Additional detail:

 Africa Jacket Detail 2

The DAD mark:

 DAD label

The Robins Are Back

16 03 2007

The robins are back although they look a little bewildered today. We’ve got a spring nor’easter brewing here in NJ…lots of sleet, snow, rain…general ick. And, only 2 days ago it was 70 degrees outside. Go figure.

 I ventured out earlier for a doctor appointment and noticed a plethora of robins in my neighborhood for the first time this spring. They were everywhere along the 2 mile drive to my appointment. I was amazed. I hadn’t noticed them earlier in the week.

  According to the Journey North robin migration site the robins have been back for at least a week and maybe longer. Poor little guys…not too many worms to be had with snow on the ground. What do robins do when it snows?

 I threw some sunflower seeds on the ground beneath my bird feeder this morning before much snow accumulated. The cardinals, sparrows and juncos have been flitting back and forth all day entertaining my cats. But I haven’t seen the robins in the backyard.

Hi I’m Denise and I’m Addicted to Tagalongs

16 03 2007

Well my lucky day arrived yesterday, ironically, on the ides of March. My brother delivered my Tagalongs AND my son left town for skiing in Vermont BEFORE the delivery. Woohoo!! I have them all to myself for the entire weekend…the “crack cocaine of baked goods” indeed! I AM addicted.

Thank you Scott for dropping them off!

Peace in the Middle East

15 03 2007

Last night, at our church’s Lenten Soup Supper, Ian and I heard Dr. Saliba Sarsar share his thoughts on peace in the Middle East.

Dr. Sarsar is currently a professor of Political Science and associate vice president for Academic Program Initiative at Monmouth University. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. As a child he lived through the Six-Day War and attended a Christian school in the Old City of Jerusalem. He completed his undergraduate education at Monmouth and received his Ph.D in political science from Rutgers University.

In his analysis of how to achieve peace, Dr. Sarsar distinguished peace-making activities from peace-building ones. The former, he said, is peace from the “top down” such as when government leaders sign accords that assert peace. The latter, and arguably the more effective, peace-building, happens from the “ground up” where individuals take action as part of their daily activities to build bridges and find common ground with their enemies.

Presently, Dr. Sarsar is a member of the American Task Force on Palestine and recently completed a peace-making tour of Jordan, the Palestinian territories, and Israel as part of a 10-member delegation. He speaks and writes actively on the topic of achieving peace in the Middle East, drawing heavily from his personal experiences and his theories on how such peace might be possible.

Dr. Sarsar is also active on a peace-building level. He described his on-going efforts  in a 5-year project to bring together Israeli and Palestinian people to compose a side-by-side narrative of their stories.

Dr. Sarsar tells a fascinating story about his childhood in Jerusalem, his Greek Orthodox and Russian roots, and his journey to the United States. His views on Middle East relations and how to bring about a peaceful coexistence in such a complex and sensitive situation are plausible and thought-provoking.

Although realistic about what can be achieved, his overall outlook is optimistic and hopeful. I left the dinner thinking that leaders like Dr. Sarsar could actually diffuse the tensions and bring about change…if only they could be allowed to work their “magic” without interference from divisive and destructive forces or “hard-liners” as he refers to them.

Bravo, Dr. Sarsar, for all your peace-making and peace-building efforts! It takes guts (and boundless energy) to continue to speak out, to reach out, and to be involved in such a prodigious undertaking.