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]
Feijoada one Brazilian’s national dishes is adored by rich and poor alike. It’s soul food: black beans and many kinds of pork meat stewed together in one pungent, satisfying dish. When I lived in Rio de Janeiro as a teenager, my mother’s cook would sometimes concoct a kosher rendition for us on a Sunday, or when my parents entertained visitors from abroad. Made with a variety of fresh, dried and smoked kosher meats, it was never as heavy and fatty as the pork-laden original, but the taste was as Brazilian as samba.
Legend has it that feijoada was invented by 16th century slaves in the north of Brazil. According to this story, African kitchen slaves in the vast sugar plantations and mining estates of colonial Brazil were allowed to take offal — pork ears, tails, trotters, and organs — back to the slave compounds. There they enriched their daily beans and manioc gruel with these meats rejected by their Portuguese masters. Sniffing regretfully at the delicious smells wafting from the big communal pots, their slave masters, eventually tasted and adopted the slaves’ mess of beans and meat.
People come to Da Peppe Pizzeria Napoletana, on Tel Aviv’s Ibn Gabirol Street, not only for the genuine, Neapolitan-style pizza but also, and perhaps mainly, because of the owner. Giuseppe (Peppe) Giordano moved to Israel from Naples a year ago and opened the pizza parlor about six months ago. Giordano, who wrestled in high school, is a temperamental yet sensitive, artistic and funny type. He turns every anecdote into a juicy story, but doesn’t take his eyes off the oven, which he imported from Italy, for a moment.
Facts about Giordano: He drinks his cola from a small glass — “Just like life, good but too short.” The ringtone on his cellphone is a recording of a conversation between the crew of the Costa Concordia cruise ship and the captain who fled from it as it sank off the Italian coast in January — “They’re asking him to return to the boat and he won’t.” His red Vespa is always parked outside the restaurant, but he refuses to make deliveries − “Anyone who wants to taste my pizza has to come here and feel the atmosphere.”
The Park Slope Food Coop is finally inching closer to a resolution in a debate that seems to rival only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its intractability.
On March 27th, members of the Brooklyn food coop will meet in a nearby high school auditorium to decide whether or not to bring a ban on Israeli goods to a vote, the Wall Street Journal reports.
I never thought that I would yearn for Andy Cohen, the host of Bravo TV’s surprisingly popular talk show, “Watch What Happens Live,” but that’s exactly what Gail Simmons’s new memoir, “Talking With My Mouth Full,” made me do.
Simmons, a frequent judge on “Top Chef”, and the host of “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” writes in a fluid conversational style that’s easy to approach. The subtitle promises “My Life as a Professional Eater” and that’s exactly what’s here: her early internships with Canadian magazines; time in a professional kitchen; how coincidence led to a personal assistantship with the legendary Vogue food writer Jeffrey Steingarten — which led to a job for Daniel Boulud, then onto Food + Wine, the “Top Chef” franchise, and, oh yes, a wedding catered by Daniel Boulud. If you are wondering whether Daniel Boulud is an excellent caterer, he is.
Simmons comes across as charming, likable (it’s hard to remember that she was once considered the ‘mean’ judge on “Top Chef”), and, if you’re Jewish and between the ages of 26 and 40, someone you probably met once at a friend’s wedding, or on a teen tour. The experience of the book is better described as listening to a casual friend tell you about her life than it is reading a serious, culinary memoir.
Through my study of anthropology, I have found one area particularly compelling: the relation of food and culture. For instance, the well-known anthropologist Sidney Mintz has devoted his research to find the cultural implications of certain foods, specifically the link between the taste of sweetness and the power divisions it inspires. Mintz argues, “The foods of different peoples, shaped by habitat and by our history, would become a vivid marker of difference, symbols both of belonging and of being excluded.” For me, my interest in food and culture began as an innocent observation of a particular phenomenon: the attraction of Jewish college students to any event that promised free meat. I witnessed friends flock to any event that offered kosher meat, and even celebrate the opportunity to eat meat on Shabbat. And although I first noticed this in college, in fact this phenomenon is deeply ingrained in every Jewish community to which I’ve belonged. My curiosity peaked. I wondered, what was the cultural connection between Jews and meat?
Come Purim, I know what my friends are expecting from me. They want to find a bottle of home-made limoncello or coffee liqueur nestled among the hamentaschen in their Mishlochei Manot, Purim care-packages and I’m happy to oblige. Limoncello’s bright lemon taste is true to the fruit, while the coffee liqueur releases a wonderful hit of intense coffee flavor in the mouth. Neither are over-sweet nor artificially cloying, which is one reason they’re so popular, but they are also simply a beautiful, flavorful and unique holiday gift to give to friends.
I’ve been an avid home-brewer for 15 years, but compared to making wine, making these liqueurs is child’s play. There’s no fermentation involved here, the base is vodka and all you have to do is infuse it — which is phenomenally simple. Well, you do have to strain the solids from the liquids, then bottle your liqueur. Which takes about 10 minutes. And of course, your bottles will need labels, which can be hand-written or worked out with some fancy font on your printer. My labels bear my name and a Happy Purim message.
My mother-in-law’s favorite restaurant is a deli called TooJay’s. Whenever I visit her in Florida from my home in Portland, Oregon, that is where she wants to eat. It is rarely where I want to eat. I’d much rather sit out on a sunny deck and drink a margarita than squish inside an unprepossessing diner and eat greasy meat. One day we tried to sate her craving by bringing Too Jay’s takeout back to the pool. Come dinnertime, I asked her if she had any restaurant suggestions.
“How about TooJay’s?”
This winter hasn’t been the coldest, but we’re still craving bowls of steaming delicious soups. Leah Koenig rounds up her nine favorite Jewish soups from around the globe. Spoons up! [Forward]
Chocolate Babka Bread Pudding. Need we say more? [Serious Eats]
A new fellowship in organic plant breeding is getting off the ground, thanks to the Clif Bar Family Foundation. [LA Times]
These might just be the most interesting rugelach we’ve ever heard of. Try out a recipe for pumpkin, sage and walnut rugelach. [Food 52]
A chance encounter last summer in the produce section of the vegetarian co-op Rainbow Grocery proved to be the catalyst for a rich culinary mentorship blossoming at 12 Tribes, a Bay Area kosher catering operation headed up by the legendary ‘Rabbi Chef’ Becky Joseph.
Jordon Daugherty, a transplant from the great Midwest, and at 24, the newest addition to the 12 Tribes team, remembers the meeting fondly: “She helped me understand a good green bean,” recalls Jordon. Standing amongst bins of deliciously greens, swollen figs, and tomatoes, Becky invited him to visit the 12 Tribes kitchen at the JCCSF, and soon thereafter, offered him a one of a kind apprenticeship.
Yael Krigman arrived at our interview with a bag of frozen chocolate rugelach in hand. Well, almost frozen. “People are always asking me if my products freeze well,” she explained. “I figured I should find out.”
This sort of diligence is the norm for Krigman, 30, who started Baked by Yael, which specializes in bagels and cake-pops as well as deli favorites like rugelach and black and white cookies, in Cleveland Park, a neighborhood in Northwest Washington, DC, about a year and half ago.
From time to time I like to dig into my past on the Internet, as many of us do. Sometimes I go digging for details from my old yeshiva in Baltimore, which is difficult, because it doesn’t have much of what you might call a web presence. But recently I came across a Twitter feed identifying itself with the yeshiva. I have no idea who’s behind it (though they did thank me for the follow), and their tweets are not that colorful. Mostly, they report to the Twitterverse the yeshiva’s schedule, and what’s on the menu that evening in the dining room.
Those details, though, did take me back some. In my yeshiva the food had a reputation for being pretty good, as yeshiva food goes. Well, good would be an overstatement. But it was edible and there was plenty of it and there was usually some kind of alternative to the main course, like tuna fish. Many guys lived on tuna fish, I believe.
Sometimes in Nashville, keeping kosher is about more than just the haksher (kosher symbol) on the packaging, it’s about finding the ingredients to begin with.
Last week, I was tasked with making a Tu B’Shvat treat with my Sunday School class. I had also promised the class that we’d make a dessert. I’m sure they had cake in mind, but I’m not one to settle for something as simple as cake. Besides, cake takes more than 40 minutes to make, and that’s all I get each week with the kids. That time is either spent in the kitchen, in the Shul’s garden (from which the mint for this recipe was picked), or doing crafts; next week we’re making decorations for the Shul’s fundraiser in March, “Shtetl Home Companion.” In and of itself, making a dessert is no big deal.
Generally, I give the Cantor my ingredient list, and he buys whatever is kosher and available. I frequently give him alternative ingredients, which is great, since I’m a “throw-a-little-of-this-or-that-in-there” kind of cook. Not being great at following recipes, it is fun to see what the Cantor is able to come up with on the fly. Barring that, it’s fun to get phone calls from him as he’s trying to describe what part of the grocery store he’s checking for my items.
I have often wondered what would happen if I was able to meet the matriarchs and patriarchs of Jewish food in one place. In my mind, I imagine a council of dignified cooks, cookbook authors, culinary historians and restaurant critics, some donning aprons and carrying wooden spoons, others carrying historic Jewish cookbooks, all passionately debating the best Jewish food. In this dream, there’s smorgasbord of global Jewish food.
In reality, when five of the major thinkers in Jewish food gathered to speak at the Roger Smith Hotel Cookbook Conference’s panel “Eat and Be Satisfied: Jewish Cookbooks, Past Present and Future” last Friday the situation wasn’t terribly different from what I had imagined — minus the smorgasbord and aprons. Cookbook authors Gil Marks and Joan Nathan were joined by historian Jenna Weissman Joselit and James Beard Foundation VP, Mitchell Davis for a series of mini-lectures moderated by food historian and writer Cara De Silva.
When I was growing up, southern food represented Gentile culture in my imagination. Movies and books depicted church lunches spread out on trestle tables under magnolia trees. Piles of hot biscuits, barbeque ribs, fried chicken, green beans cooked for hours with a lump of bacon, chicken and dumplings cooked in milk and butter. It all seemed mysterious and vaguely disquieting. So much pork!
When I was ten, a song came out on the radio: “Bread and Butter,” sung in a rough falsetto by a trio called The Newbeats. It was great rock and roll with quirky lyrics. A man who loves plain bread and butter comes home early one day to find “Baby” eating chicken and dumplings — with another man. I didn’t understand the implications when I was little, but now it still tickles me somehow. And the song made me curious about this chicken and dumplings dish. What’s so voluptuous about it that the faithless girl would naturally share it with her partner in crime?