I don’t know when it happened, but one day I started liking a little spice in my food. It started slowly, little by little, and before I knew it, I found myself sprinkling red pepper flakes or squirting Sriracha on many of my meals. Not to say that I don’t appreciate non-spicy cuisine. On the contrary, I love simple roasted vegetables with the perfect sprinkle of sea salt, or a sun-warmed summer tomato with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. But I also love reaching for hot sauce to give certain dishes a kick. Not one for Tabasco-style sauces (no flaming XXX bottles here), I started experimenting with more complex chili sauces. After a recent affair with North African cuisine inspired by picking up a few recipes from a friend’s Jewish Moroccan mother, I have been enjoying harissa, a blended hot pepper condiment. Most people think Jewish food is quite tame in the spice department, but not so! This fiery condiment is a testament the diversity of Jewish culinary roots, and our love of flavor. If you’ve ever asked for your falafel “spicy” — then you, too, have had harissa.
I have often wondered, during yet another endless Yom Kippur service, why we couldn’t do something more engaging of our full selves. Emulate, say, some Native American traditions and have a peyote ritual. Something sweaty, visceral, more likely to have me encounter the Divine than an endless repetition of blood spattering in the Temple. Put the “high” in High Holidays, if you will.
And yet I’m drawn to Jewish tradition. I find myself looking to contextualize new, powerful experiences in the language of Judaism, to ritualize them through the religion of my ancestors. I love deep fried food, hence “Deep Fried Shabbat” has become a staple event in our house for Shabbos Hanukkah.
Purim’s always been the rebel, the James Dean of Jewish Holidays — you get drunk, dress up, get to go trick-or treating (ok, not really but that’s what you told yourself in yeshiva when your mom wouldn’t let you out of the house with so much as a decoder ring on October 31). So it was the natural place for me to create a new ritual, born of something utterly secular and fascinating.
If there’s anything that reminds me of a day’s end, it’s a hot pot of tomato sauce bubbling on a stovetop. There was often one in my home on Friday nights growing up, attended to diligently by my mother, who would stir the ground veal meatballs within gently.
Spaghetti and meatballs: the perfect Shabbat meal. My lawyer father worked brutal hours early in his career, and though we didn’t eat dinner as a family every night, on Friday we waited until he finished with work, made it through rush hour traffic, offloaded his briefcase, snapped open a bottle of beer and plopped down to eat. The meatballs would simmer away patiently, soaking up sauce and getting only more delicious as we waited.
When finished, they were spooned over bowls of whatever noodles we had in the house. Sometimes it was spaghetti and sometimes it was cappellini, but if it was linguini, my father might muster his best Felix Unger and say: “It’s not spaghetti, it’s linguini!” We’d laugh, recalling the scene from “The Odd Couple” in which Walter Matthau, at his wit’s end, throws Jack Lemmon’s plate of noodles at the wall and proclaims, “Now it’s garbage!”
The sky didn’t fall, the earth didn’t stop turning, and most importantly, the smoked meat didn’t stop coming from the cramped galley at Schwartz’s, the legendary Montreal deli that was sold yesterday to a group of investors including Mr. and Mrs. Celine Dion.
As the Forward reported last month, news of Schwartz’s pending sale sparked rumors of – horrors! – franchises and brand extensions. But Schwartz’s officially changed hands Monday afternoon, according to the Montreal Gazette, and new owner Paul Nakis, who leads a consortium of investors, has pledged that there are “absolutely no plans to franchise” the deli.
Hy Diamond, who bought Schwartz’s in 1999 and sold it to the group, said he will “coach” the new owners on the running of the place, according to the Gazette.
It’s been over two decades since Zohar Zohar, the dark-haired, soft-spoken owner of Zucker Bakery, a new Israeli pastry shop and café in the East Village that serves Jewish delights, has lived on Kibbutz Sarid in northern Israel. She grew up there with her grandparents and parents (most of her extended family lived in Czechoslovakia and died in the Holocaust), running around the grounds with playmates as a child and working in the kitchen, cooking rice and chicken for the thousand person community, as an adult. Her most vivid memories were visiting her grandparents, relaxing in their living room and eating homemade cookies. “I think there is something special about the way you feel when you go to your grandparents,” she says. “And that’s the way I remember it.”
Although Zohar, who left the Kibbutz when she was 21, has lived in New York City for 17 years, finished culinary school, worked 90-hour weeks at prestigious restaurants such as Daniel and Bouley and raised two kids, she still craves those moments of being at her grandmother’s house on the kibbutz. With Zucker Bakery, which she opened in September, she’s on a mission to recreate them with treats like rugelach and babka, along with Israeli treats like honey almond fingers, each of which has a personal story behind it.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Oreo this week, writer Jeffrey Yoskowitz ruminates on the cookie’s unique legacy. When the Nabisco corporation released kosher Oreos in 1998, it was only after one of the most expensive kosher transformations in corporate history. The result: An iconic American snack food that was once manufactured with lard was finally accessible to the Jewish community.
In January of 1998, my social studies teacher Mrs. Vaknin brought the newly available kosher Oreos into my middle school classroom. She passed around the cookies to my Jewish day school class as if they were spectacles to behold, even though my peers and I were pretty familiar with kosher crème-centered-chocolate cookies — after all, we had eaten plenty of Hydrox in our lives. But the Oreo was different, we were told. This cookie was somehow vastly more significant than most other cookies.
To be fair, I was pretty excited about the Oreo going kosher, and I found it more than amusing when Rabbi Joshua Hammerman wrote in the oft-quoted op-ed in The New York Times that the kosher Oreo was “a telltale sign that Jews have finally made it.” Hammerman also wrote that the Oreo going kosher was the biggest thing to happen next to a Jewish president. He didn’t have to outright say it, but he was pretty much ushering what can best be described as a new Jewish epoch: the Age of Oreo Judaism.
As a newly-minted 27-year-old, this winter was my last chance to participate in a Birthright trip to Israel. But as a serious foodie, I was looking for something more than tourist shawarma at the Western Wall.
Enter the new Birthright culinary tour, which combines Masada and the Dead Sea with amateur culinary anthropology. After retooling 2010’s pilot trip, IsraelExperts sent 60 North American and 20 Israeli epicureans, myself included, in the mid-February rains to explore the question, “What is Israeli food?”
“We want to show how the food is connected to the country and how the country is connected to the food,” said Bill Frankel, who oversaw the program, at our opening wine and sheep’s-milk cheese reception at Nachshon Winery.
Growing up, I remember assembling shalach manot baskets with my mom as part of our synagogue’s Sisterhood tradition. After months of baking, and then freezing, thousands of hamentaschen, we would spend the week leading up to Purim assembling shalach manot packages for families in the synagogue. The shalach manot packages were always the same: two or three brittle, dry hamentaschen, some all-too-salty trail mix, super processed chips or pretzels, and a bottle of grape juice all packaged in a little box that wished people a happy Purim. Though the gestures of these were certainly nice, I have always felt that these mass-produced shalach manot were neither healthy, nor sustainable.
Many people observe the mitzvah of giving shalach manot to friends, family, and neighbors on Purim. This tradition is rooted in Megillah Esther, which tells people to observe the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar by “[making] them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor (Esther 9:22).” This practice ensures that everyone has food provided for the Purim feast, regardless of economic standing, and serves to contrast Haman’s accusation that strife exists among Jews. Traditionally, shalach manot should be given to at least two people and should include at least two different food items, one of which you should prepare. This removes the burden of preparing food if someone is unable to do so.
In taking care of those around us, we must also be aware of the world around us. Sending shalach manot provides the opportunity to increase the sustainability of your Purim celebration. From packing your shalach manot, to what to put inside, Hazon offers the following tips (and more!) to make your Purim celebration healthier and more sustainable.
Now commonly seen – at least in America and Europe — as a sweet and innocent event for the enjoyment of children, in the past Purim was once quite different. For the Jews of 16th and 17th century Italy, the holiday was a quite an extravagant affair, celebrated (in the wealthier homes) with close to 30 course dinners accompanied with profuse quantities of wine. Dinner guests donned costumes and masks, inspiring the modern tradition of children playing dress up for the holiday. Several historians cite the celebrations of Carnival, the days up to lent which take place around the same time as Purim, as inspiration for these fests of gluttony.
Wearing costumes and masks while intoxicated was obviously bound to encourage all kinds of inappropriate behaviors, from promiscuous contact with non-Jews to episodes of violence. Still, some prominent rabbis of the time viewed all the wine and merrymaking as central to the spirit of the holiday, and went as far as to allow normally “taboo” activities, even mixed dancing.
Well, it looks like the Internet meme we were all hoping would finally disappear hasn’t quite done so quite yet. In a bid to cash in on the final vestiges of our interest in “Sh*t People Say,” the LA-based spiritual and animal rights center Shamayim V’Aretz Institute has put out a video of Mayim Bialik letting us in on “Stuff Kosher Meat-Eaters Say To Kosher Vegans.” Bialik, of course, is the poster child for kosher veganism…and for attachment parenting…and for young women with dual neuroscience research and successful showbiz careers…and…
The video is a promo for Bialik’s participation in Shamayim V’Aretz’s upcoming spiritual retreat, which will focus on the intersection of the issues of animal welfare activism, kosher veganism and Jewish spirituality.
So what exactly do kosher meat-eaters say to kosher vegans?
TGI Shabbat: Check out this lovely challah recipe. [Food 52]
Kosher, vegan restaurant mini-chain, Blossom expands into the world of baking with their first bakery. [Diner’s Journal]
Incase you missed it, this Monday was Occupy Our Food Supply Day. Check out some essays on the day over at Grist.
Yiddish Cooking: Learn to make two types of hamantaschen with the Forverts cooking video (with English subtitles). [Forverts]
New York made “Seinfeld”; London got the reruns on late night cable TV. It’s a generalization worth risking that, outside of the Golders Green and Stamford Hill epicenters, Judaism on this side of the ocean doesn’t stake its cultural and culinary claim loudly. So it’s fun to sit down in Mishkin’s, Russel Norman’s “kind of Jewish deli with cocktails” spot which opened last December in Covent Garden, and feel the familiar so earnestly and stylishly played with: a little kitsch, without the shtick.
“To me, Jewish food is comfort food,” Norman told The Jewish Chronicle soon after the restaurant opened. “It was eating in some of the New York delis which weren’t obviously branded Jewish that made me think you could take that as a starting point but still have fun with it.”
“This just makes common sense, and—I think—it makes Jewish sense.”
I was privileged to watch this briefing in action. The panelists, Barbara Weinstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC); Josh Protas of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA); Mia Hubbard of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger; and Timi Gerson of AJWS, had addressed an audience earlier that day in the one of the Senate conference rooms: a spacious, red-carpeted room bedecked with large portraits of senators past and present. This second briefing was in a smaller, more intimate room, not substantially different from the Multi-Purpose Room of my childhood synagogue in suburban New Jersey.
In the 1970’s I lived in an off campus college apartment in St. Louis — a madhouse of four Jewish girls living across the hall from four Jewish boys. I was the only cook — which was fine by me, as my dear roomies did all the buying and clean-up — and I had big ideas about what to serve for Shabbat dinner, dishes like beef wellington and chateaubriand with béarnaise sauce. In preparation for these meals, I’d scour “The Times” and “Julia” for recipes, most of which were, of course, unsuitable for a kosher table. I have to say that the weekly horde, which could come to twelve or more, were perfect guinea pigs for my culinary experiments, a captive audience whose appetites didn’t quit.
For one Shabbat, the dish I had my eye on was Poulet Veronique — a heavenly combo of chicken, grapes and, yes, butter and cream. I loved the idea of the grapes, a traditional French garnish for a number of savory preparations.
To an American ex-pat, there’s something incredibly nostalgic about an old-fashioned corned beef sandwich. After 40 years abroad, there are few American foods I miss anymore; in fact I shamelessly brag about Israel’s beautiful, fresh, flavorful, local food, all the time. And although corned beef all ready for cooking may be found in Israeli supermarkets, it often has an unpleasant chemical overtone unless you buy from an expensive private butcher. For that American-style taste that I remembered, which came from a delicious mix of pickling spices, I waited till I flew to New York to visit family.
My son, who’s a proud New Yorker, offered a jet-lagged me anything I wanted for my first dinner in town. Something French? Chinese? No. What I craved was a corned beef sandwich, the kind I used to eat when I was little and lived in Long Beach, NY. “Lead me to a deli,” I said.
As a devoted, dessert-first, dentally-challenged lover of sweets I have often been disappointed by the hamantaschen. This iconic Purim cookie seems to me like a baked good whose main concern is its shape. The sweet center hardly ever extends itself past its expected core of apricot, prune, or poppy seed. The cookie crust that encloses its traditional center is often pale and plain in flavor and crumb, leaving nothing much to excited about beyond the triangle. I am calling for a hamentaschen makeover, because, really, a cookie is a terrible thing to waste.
Instead of using this Purim as an opportunity to try out chocolate fancies and other sweet ‘n creamy curiosities, I am dedicating it to the pursuit of delicious and different hamantaschen. I am devising a Purim baking plan. My goal is to come up with 3 or 4 uncommon, completely delicious, and totally fresh three-cornered holiday treats.
Step inside Sticky Fingers Bakery in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and nothing seems amiss amongst the packed crowds and gleaming displays packed full with sweets like strawberry crème cupcakes, frosted sticky buns flecked with walnuts, and orange cranberry scones. That is, until you realize everything is vegan.
But, these baked goods fly off the shelves. Recently, a selection of the shop’s cupcakes even beat out traditional sweets on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars All-Stars,” making Sticky Fingers the first vegan bakery to win the competition program. The shop’s success recently culminated in a cookbook released this month, “Sticky Fingers’ Sweets! 100 Super-Secret Vegan Recipes.”
In the 1977 classic, “Annie Hall,” Jewish Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) sits down for dinner with Annie Hall’s (Diane Keaton) WASP family. Alvy imagines that the Hall family views him as a Hasidic Jew. They have imprinted upon him their one misguided image of a Jew, regardless of what Alfie says, does, or eats.
This scene kept coming to mind when I was reading David M. Freidenreich’s “Foreigners and Their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Law.” Just as in the “Annie Hall” dinner scene, “Foreigners and Their Food” illustrates the way different religions project characteristics on the “other” in order to preserve their own sense of community or authority.
Despite its complex analysis of ancient religious prohibitions, “Foreigners and Their Food” is really about the simple act of breaking bread. In examining the laws regarding with whom we can and cannot share a challah loaf, Freidenreich seeks to answer the larger question of how we define “Us” and “Them” and, even more significantly, how we maintain this distinction over time.
In permaculture, Bill Mollison advises all gardeners and farmers to live in a tent on their land for a year before they start their design for one reason: observation. When immersed in a place, one can best observe important elements such as the amount of rainfall, where the water flows, the minimum and maximum temperatures, how the plants, animals, and humans interact on the site, the wind direction, sun-path and shading, micro-climates and the general topography, the resources on hand, the skills and knowledge of the people present, the physical and fiscal boundaries, and the history of the land.
So I, Persephone Rivka, and my comrade, Sophie Vener, have been living at Camp Newman after the summer-camp season ended, for six months now, observing the land and helping camp develop Kibbutz Yarok. Three summers ago, Sophie and I met each other at URJ Kutz Camp, not knowing that in the following year both our paths would lead us to Kibbutz Lotan’s Green Apprenticeship program, that our lives would be rocked forever, and that we’d come out of the program with a passion for building Eco-Villages at Jewish summer camps. Well, that’s the dream at least.
The most divine interpretation of a blintz we have ever heard of — Orange Ricotta Pillows With Lillet Kumquat Compote. [Food 52]
A great primer on single malt scotch. Just in time for Purim. [Serious Eats]
Borscht no longer comes just in a bowl. Here are some recommendations for beet and dill ice cream as well as a beet-horseradish pie. [Fork in the Road]
Incase you missed Prince Charles’s seminal speech on healthy, sustainable farming last year, you can now read excerpts of it from his new book. [the Atlantic]