Daniel Asher, a Jewish chef based in Denver, has promoted sustainable food in two restaurants in the Mile High City. Asher whips up organic delicacies at Linger, which opened in June of this year, as well as the Denver institution of Root Down, which opened in 2008.
The son of a Romanian father and a French-Canadian mother, Asher said food was always a part of his upbringing in Montreal and Chicago. “Our house was very food-focused, without a doubt,” Asher said during a lunchtime interview in Linger, which features a view overlooking downtown Denver.
Nestled in America’s heartland, off the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is an inviting location for visitors in search of such activities as theatrical productions, the aquarium, sports venues, art museums and, of course, food. Culinarily, the Windy City holds its own. With Chicago-style hot dogs, deep-dish pizza and ethnic food options, there are many palatable choices for any taste bud.
The majority of kosher dining options, which serve some of Chicago’s 260,000 Jews, are located in Chicago’s suburbs but are well worth the schlep. While you will find vegetarian fare available in Chicago proper, the kosher alternatives often have the freshest and finest ingredients. With a bit of searching, you’ll find some of the best hummus, good sushi and a flavorful steak at kosher establishments in Chicago. The rail system called the L connects the city with outlying areas, which makes kosher dining reasonably accessible via public transit.
As the saying goes, too many cooks in the kitchen can be disastrous. But for Tamar Adler, author of “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace,” which came out this month, it’s a way of life. A former Harper’s magazine editor-turned chef, food educator and now cookbook author, Adler comes from a food-obsessed family. Indeed she, her mother and her brother are all professional chefs.
“An Everlasting Meal” highlights Adler’s passion for simple, seasonal cooking, which she discovered in her mother’s kitchen and honed while working at restaurants like Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse (Waters contributed the book’s foreword). Part cookbook and part literary food book, it focuses on cooking with instinct, employing all five senses to the task, promoting thrift by using every part of an ingredient, and elevating simple food to the sublime. Unlike most cookbook authors, Adler offers just a handful of traditional recipes, filling in the book’s pages with recipe riffs and kitchen wisdom. For example, she writes:
All ingredients need salt. The noodle or tender spring pea would be narcissistic to imagine it already contained within its cell walls all the perfection it would ever need. We seem, too, to fear that we are failures at being tender and springy if we need to be seasoned. It’s not so: it doesn’t reflect badly on pea or person that either needs help to be most itself.
One of the most difficult moments of my stint as Ramah Outdoor Adventure’s first Food Educator came moments before we welcomed in our second Shabbat of the season. Like many camps, Ramah holds a weekly competition for the cleanest bunk (or tent, in this case) every Friday. And like many camps, Ramah was rewarding the inhabitants of the tidiest space with sugar — the first week’s winners got Fruit Loops for breakfast. As the in-house advocate for whole foods, I was displeased with the arrangement, so when the camp ran out of Fruit Loops after a week I set out to make a change. I suggested to the camp director, Rabbi Eliav Bock, that we award the cleanest bunk a different special breakfast on Sundays: Rocky Mountain toast made with eggs from our hens. Bock gave me a look that said “What kid on this planet would get as excited over eggs as sugar?” but told me that if I got the go-ahead from the chef then it would be fine.
Four miscommunications and several days later, I was making my way to Kabbalat Shabbat when I heard someone behind me say “Sorry, Yael,” and turned around to see the Camp Abba (Camp Dad) standing at the door of the winning tent with an armload of Hershey’s bars.
This weekend “Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture And American Jewish Identity,” an exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Maryland opens. “Not only does it look at what we eat… but also where we eat it and how food defines us as a people.” [Baltimore Jewish Times]
Pastrami is no longer just for the deli. You can make it in your own backyard. [Serious Eats]
Food & Wine seeks to name the top 25 cookbooks of the year. What’s your pick? [Food & Wine]
One of the best parts of the internet is free online classes like the 13 week long course “Edible Education: The Rise and Future of the Food Movement” hosted by UC Berkeley. [The Kitchn]
Until recently, my conception of pita was probably similar to that of most Americans: thin, dry stuff that lacks in taste… a poor translation of Israel’s version. Anyone who has been to Israel or any Israeli restaurant with house-made pita knows what I’m talking about — a thick, spongy, warm little loaf that has a perfectly sized pocket that maintains its composure as you stuff it full of falafel. It’s a staple in Israel, but a luxury in America; a phenomenon that I was completely oblivious to until moving to New York City.
So imagine my alarm last week when out of nowhere, like a pregnant woman craving pickles, I needed Israeli pita. Every day. Lunch and Dinner. Maybe for a snack in between. My go-to places in New York were draining my wallet, those cardboard-like things from the grocery store weren’t going to cut it, and, oops, landlord forgot to install the wood-fired 1000-degree oven. Crap.
I know, I know. The last thing you want to think about right now is another holiday in October. As much as many of us love the High Holidays — the sweetness, the reflection time, the motley collection of creative community sukkahs, the lulavs and etrogs, and joy — there’s a point at which (probably around now), we’re done.
But there’s one non-religious day I want you to add to your calendar now that this month of Jewish holidays is almost over.
The First Annual Food Day is Monday, October 24, with events happening all around the country. Food Day is billed broadly as a day to change how Americans eat and think about food. It’s also a very specific opportunity for individuals and organizations to make our advocacy for sustainable, fair food systems go even further.
Growing up in Mexico City, each Sunday Susan Schmidt would stand on a chair a few feet behind her Hungarian grandmother — who emigrated from Budapest to Mexico in the late 1920’s — and watch her prepare nokedli, Hungarian dumpling, served with chicken and paprika. But, Susan didn’t start cooking on her own till she was married to a fellow Mexican Jew and moved to L.A. where she still lives today. At that point, her cuisine was not only influenced by her grandmother’s Hungarian heritage and her own Mexican upbringing, but by her mother-in-law’s Polish cooking and her family’s decision to start keeping kosher. Now, she melds the Eastern European roots with her Mexican childhood creating recipes like schnitzel tortas, schnitzel served on a Mexican roll, and fideos, which she calls “Mexican lokshen,” on the cooking blog Challa-peño, that she launched this summer with her oldest daughter Alex.
The blog allows me to “write a memoir in the context of food,” says Susan, explaining that it contains more than just recipes. But, as someone who is used to just adding a pinch here and a pinch there, writing recipes has proven challenging for her. She looks to Diana Kennedy, whom some call the “Julia Child of Mexican cooking” for guidance. Once she and Alex have enough recipes, they plan to create a cookbook “to preserve and continue the culinary traditions of our family,” she writes on the blog. She hopes to combine the traditions of her grandmother and her mother-in-law with the ingredients and recipes she encountered in Mexico, creating what she calls “a fusion of flavors.”
(Watch the cooking video below)
Upper West Siders practically sat shiva when the beleaguered H & H Bagels shuttered its iconic West 80th Street store in July.
But round baked goods may rise again in those cold, dormant ovens. DNAInfo reported today that Queens-based Davidovich Bakery, which bills itself as “the only manufacturer in the world that makes hand-rolled kettle-boiled bagels for the wholesale community,” may open its first retail location in the hallowed space where H & H sated bagel cravings, 24/7, for nearly 40 years.
(For a history of the bagel, check out our timeline)
In this two-part series Eitan Kensky takes a sharp look at food travel shows and the evolution of Adam Richman’s popular show “Man vs. Food.” Read Part 1 here.
One of the most striking elements of “Man vs. Food” was the way it flattened all ethnicities into generic American challenges. The idea of de-emphasizing difference made it rare, if not unique among food shows. Both of Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern’s shows were built around the idea of eating local and indigenous cuisines that most American’s find disgusting, such as unborn chicken eggs, squirrel and calf (testicles) — especially when the exotic locations Zimmern traveled to were in America, like the Gulf Coast, or the immigrant neighborhoods of New York and Los Angeles. “Man vs. Food,” however, didn’t exoticize ethnic foods or treat them as an other to be discovered; rather ethnic restaurants were just another way to experience over-sized, over-seasoned, or over-spiced American portions.
This approach was especially prominent during the first season when Richman visited Katz’s Deli in New York. The show went out of its way to not make reference to Katz’s Jewish origins. None of the patrons interviewed appeared to be Jewish and Richman treated Katz’s only as a general New York institution that serves very meaty sandwiches. There were, it’s true, a few codes for Jewishness in the presentation. Richman’s mother came to share the food with him, and he referred to her as the person who first introduced him to Deli, but he left out why she introduced him to it in the first place. His mother worried that his upcoming challenge would be “unhealthy,” making shtick out of the stereotype of the over-protective Jewish mother, but it backfires. Given the toxic spiciness of the food Richman is going to ingest later that night, the Brick Lane Curry House’s spicy p’haal, allegedly the world’s hottest curry, she isn’t so much the over-protective Jewish mother as the voice of reason. Nonetheless, it was striking that a 21st century food show didn’t mention that Deli is a Jewish food par excellence, and Richman’s mother presumably took him to delis as part of his heritage.
Sukkot is the holiday that celebrates the autumn harvest. The last of the three annual pilgrimage festivals on the Jewish calendar (if we’re counting from Pesach), these were the days in ancient times when our ancestors would gather the best of their seasonal produce and travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to give thanks as a community. In modern times, the communal table often takes the place of the Temple, bringing people together to give thanks for the abundance of the harvest. At the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center’s Sukkahfest more than a hundred people from all denominations of Judaism come together to celebrate and give thanks for the fruits of the season. Participants are able to see firsthand the source of their sustenance, with opportunities to visit our farm, orchard, and barnyard. Another way to show gratitude for the abundance of the harvest, and to continue to feed oneself with locally grown produce through the colder months, is preservation.
At Isabella Freedman we make every effort to utilize our farm’s produce when it is a fresh as possible — when it tastes the best and has the most nutritional value. Much of the produce grown on the Adamah farm is made into live cultured, lacto fermented pickled products. After the first frost in the fall, cabbages are harvested, chopped, salted, and made into sauerkraut. Scallions, daikon radishes, carrots, Napa cabbage, and hot peppers are mixed together to create our spicy kim chi. The last of the season’s hot peppers are mixed with sugar and cooked down to produce Bomb Jelly. After the jelly is finished cooking, it is poured into sterilized jars and canned, making a shelf stable product that can be stored anywhere in the kitchen. Lacto fermentation and canning are two time-tested preservation methods. One can imagine our ancestors marveling at their harvest of cucumbers, cabbages, or beets and covering the abundance in a brine of salted water to keep for the coming seasons.
In this two-part series Eitan Kensky takes a sharp look at food travel shows and the evolution of Adam Richman’s popular show “Man vs. Food.”
Travel food shows are mysteries with the host as detective. Our host takes us to a dark, unknown corner of the globe to try to discover something new and ostensibly worth eating. Rather than a crime, the emphasis is on the uncovering of the meal, and the moment of truth: was it as delicious as rumored? The host’s smile, mouth covering (with a napkin or with an open palm) and immediate urge to take another bite let us know for sure. Case closed.
These shows are also mysteries on another level: what is the best way to translate the experience of eating to a visual medium where the viewer can never taste the food? The similarities between the filmic techniques of cooking shows and those of pornography are now well-established. Cue the right music and camera angles and we’ll lust for anything, no matter how unappetizing it may otherwise be. The recent documentary “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress” took a different approach, going, not always successfully, for food as magic. In comes sweet potatoes, and out, after unexplained alchemy, comes something previously unimaginable. The problem with the “Cooking in Progress” approach is that food and cooking is the opposite of alchemy. Half the fun of molecular gastronomy is learning about the processes that transform food, which the film elides to preserve our wonder at the final dish.
Why was a group of rabbis singing around some tomatoes at a Publix supermarket in Naples, Fla.? No, it wasn’t a new ritual about mindful eating, but rather an act of protest. Would you pay one penny more per pound for tomatoes to ensure a better wage and a more dignified workplace for farmworkers? That’s the underlying question our prayer circle was asking.
Through Rabbis for Human Rights-North America (where I run a campaign on modern slavery), the fifteen of us have traveled from all over the country to learn about the abuses of the Florida tomato industry: sub-poverty wages, violence and sexual harassment, wage theft, exposure to dangerous pesticides, and — in six successfully prosecuted cases over the past ten years (resulting in more than 1,000 people being freed) — modern slavery. Florida produces most off-season tomatoes eaten by those of us who live east of the Mississippi, so the chances are pretty high that if you’ve eaten a fresh tomato in the winter, it came from Florida. Immokalee, where we were visiting, has been called “ground zero” of modern slavery by a federal prosecutor.
Still looking for some delicious recipes for the holiday? Check out a Sukkot-Inspired Harvest Feast and a lovely story about celebrating Sukkot in the orthodox neighborhood Crown Heights in Brooklyn. [Saveur]
Myra Goodman, co-founder of Earthbound Farm, is a quiet and unlikely pioneer for organic farming but, “If you’re buying organic baby spinach at a Whole Foods in December, chances are it’s from Earthbound,” writes Ben Harris. [Tablet]Chef
Target’s fish is going sustainable: “The second largest discount retailer in the U.S. announced Thursday that it will sell only sustainable, traceable fish by 2015.” [The LA Times]
About 30 miles outside of downtown Portland, Oregon in the heart of the Willamette Valley, is the AlexEli Vineyard and Winery, home to Oregon’s only kosher wine producing vineyard. Vintner Phil Kramer, 28, who co-owns the vineyard with his mother, Anita, purchased the 18-acre estate four years ago and has been producing wine ever since.
This October, he bottled his first kosher variety, a Pinot Noir. Inspired in part by his extended family, who keep kosher, Kramer said he has been thinking about producing a kosher variety for a couple of years, but wanted to get a good bearing on wine production before he started.
As the Jewish holiday season progresses from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur toward Sukkot, each holiday has a special relationship to food that builds on the preceding holiday. Rosh Hashanah is a time of feasting: succulent apples and honey and round raisin challah, a table of sweetened abundance. Yom Kippur, in contrast, is a day of fasting, and even though we are only hungry for a day, the holiday encourages empathy for those who face hunger every day, including 1.4 million New York City residents (according to the NYC Coalition Against Hunger) and millions of people world-wide. Finally, during the harvest festival of Sukkot, we combine feasting with our obligation to feed the hungry.
Leviticus 23:22 describes the harvest commandment of peah, according to which we must leave the four corners of our field to be gleaned by the poor and the stranger. In the system of peah, leaving the corners of one’s field unharvested provides for the hungry in a way that addresses their needs while simultaneously preserving their dignity: the hungry can take produce as needed without the embarrassment or shame that could accompany receiving charity. For those of us living in an urban area, where the majority of the residents are not farmers, we can use the tradition of peah as guidance for the way we address local food insecurity.
This Sukkot, a program called Care to Share is doing just that.
The peach dumpling I’m eating as I write this looks like a starchy, speckled globe: a whole peach, wrapped in a dumpling shell and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. It’s certainly tasty, but it’s not as good as the ones my grandmother used to make. I did the best I could, picking out the ripest fruit at the supermarket and carefully following the recipe. But my first stab at Grandma Millie’s Czech fruit dumplings —”knedliky,” she called them — just didn’t quite measure up to hers. And I’m okay with that. After all, Millie made knedliky for decades. My dad has memories from the 1950s of eating them alongside his three younger brothers in their childhood home in a small town southwest of Chicago.
Like my dad, my childhood is also dotted with memories of Millie’s fruit dumplings. They’re the only dish I can remember any of my grandparents preparing for me. When I was little, my parents and I would fly from Oregon to visit my dad’s family in Illinois. Grandma Millie would typically whip up at least one batch during our visit. She’d bring containers of the still-warm dumplings to my aunt and uncle’s house, where they didn’t last long. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about as we dove into the warm peach-, plum- and nectarine-stuffed dumplings. Instead, most of what I remember revolves around the melted butter and cinnamon sugar slathered on top of the chewy dumpling shell, and the plump, cooked fruit inside it.
I have often thought how strange Sukkot must appear to those who are not familiar with the holiday. I imagine my neighbors thinking something like, “I thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre after my neighbor built this hut in her backyard, but now she is out there holding a lemon and shaking a bunch of leaves!” Even for those of us who are familiar with the rituals of the holiday, as city dwellers we have become so removed from agriculture that it is often hard to connect with this fall harvest festival. But for our ancestors, the harvest was so central to their lives that Sukkot was known simply as chag, the holiday. It was the time of year when they celebrated the completion of the harvest but also looked toward the future recognizing that without the proper conditions, they might not survive to celebrate Sukkot the next year.
As we face our world, threatened by global warming and a depleted water supply, Sukkot offers us a wonderful opportunity to remind ourselves how central the environment is to our survival. But reflection is not enough. During the week of Sukkot our ancestors fervently prayed for rain to ensure their future survival. We too must take action during Sukkot to work towards a more sustainable future. One action we can take is eating locally and sustainably during Sukkot.
There are countless benefits to eating locally and sustainably. Below are a few reasons why it is especially important to eat locally and sustainably during Sukkot:
Sukkot is one of the rare Jewish holidays that lacks traditional dishes, which is ironic since as a harvest holiday, it’s really all about the food. There’s plenty of instruction as to what belongs on the sukkah — figs, grapes, dates, and pomegranates are often sited. But when it comes to the meals that fill this week long celebration, each family is left to their own devices.
While there are no specific dishes for Sukkot, vegetables and fruit fit well with the harvest theme. And with everyone from Mark Bittman to Bill Clinton reconsidering their meat-eating habits, it seems natural timing to create a hearty vegetarian menu for the occasion. What better way to celebrate a harvest holiday?
On Yom Kippur this year, I felt my ancestors calling me more than ever before. Normally I spend Yom Kippur in synagogue, but this year I did my t’shuvah (repentance) on the road, walking through neighborhoods, cities and country landscapes as part of the Right2Know March to get genetically modified (GM) foods labeled. As I fasted and marched alongside 50 other people — some fasting, some not — I felt deeply moved and spiritually motivated to share my Yom Kippur journey and determination to label GM foods with other Jews.
In America today, there is no way to know if we are eating foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Right2Know March is built of a community of organizations, businesses and individuals who are walking to the White House with a simple message: label our food that contains GMOs. The march started on October 1 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn and is arriving in Washington, DC on World Food Day, October 16. We are walking 313 miles because we are deeply concerned about the health and environmental risks of GM foods and believe that everyone has the right to know what is in their food. As a Jew, I believe that GM foods are not kosher and are not in line with how the Torah teaches us to take care of the earth.