From Tu B’Shvat (Jewish Arbor Day), we may develop a clearer understanding that the well being of trees is intimately connected to the well being of all creation. From the point of view of practical Jewish philosophy and everyday living, the “Tree of Life” symbolizes the wisdom of the Torah: “Man is like a tree in the field (Deut. 20:19).” By extension, there is a remarkable degree of similarity between a person’s physical development — even his/her spiritual development, and that of a tree. We, too, have roots, which are the equivalent of our spiritual selves that one can’t see, possess a trunk as the body manifested in our physical selves, and produce fruit- our children.
Traditionally, Kabbalists, the ancient mystic Rabbis who deciphered the esoteric teachings of Judaism, use the tree metaphor to understand God’s relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds. According to Kabbalist thought, we attain a state of wholeness only when — like a tree — we bear fruit that affects our friends and neighbors in such a manner that they, too, are inspired to fulfill the purpose of their creation.
Headed to the Super Bowl this weekend? We’re jealous! While you’re there, check out the giant kosher tailgate party being hosted by Chabad. [Chabad.org]
Downtown Manhattan just got a little slice of Israel. A new Aroma Espresso bar opened near Wall Street (and the Forward!). [Midtown Lunch]
Adam Berman, founder of Urban Adamah chats about Jewish farming. [Grist]
Food in Art: the Jewish Museum looks at the artistic side of Tu B’Shvat, from the 1940s to the present. [Jewish Museum Blog]
I’ll admit it: I have no idea what teams are playing in the Super Bowl. My Sundays are normally spent eating brunch and baking cookies… basically avoiding all the places that might be crowded with fans watching a football game. Admittedly, I would care if my hometown team (the Chicago Bears) was in the running, but usually I assume they’re not and sadly I am usually right (…I think).
Everything I know about football I learned by watching my high school team from the marching band section of the bleachers, which doesn’t amount to much knowledge of the sport. Yet every year I make it a point to block off the latter part of Super Bowl Sunday to go to a friend’s Super Bowl party. During the game, I do not watch football: I fill the void of pigs in blankets that was left open when the Bar Mitzvah era of my life ended.
The date palm is tall and majestic. The olive tree locks oil in its plentiful fruit that anoints kings. The bountiful orange trees were the crown jewels of early Zionism. Yet it is the humble almond tree that grabs our attention when we celebrate the new year of the trees, Tu B’Shvat.
According to the Jewish calendar, the new year for trees begins on the 15th of the month of Av, or February 8th this year. Harkening back to the roots of Judaism which were tied to the agricultural cycles of the land of Israel, the holiday comes just as winter in the land of Israel looses its hold. Winter, with the heavy rains and the shortened days, can feel dreary and relentless. But early in the spring, the extraordinary white and pink blossoms of the almond tree dot the landscape, announcing the beginning of a new season, making almonds the perfect food to eat on Tu B’Shvat.
Chefs from the White House, the Kremlin, the Elysee Palace and the Chancellery of Germany are touring Israel and will cook a gala dinner for peace.
The delegation from the the group Club des Chefs des Chefs, or Chefs of the Heads of State, arrived Wednesday in Israel at the invitation of Shalom Kadosh, executive chef of the Fattal Hotel Group. The elite chefs will travel throughout the country, meet local chefs and cook a gala dinner called “Cooking for Peace” at the Herods Hotel in Tel Aviv.
Each chef will prepare a dish that is representative of their local kitchen with Israeli and Palestinian chefs. Proceeds from the dinner will be donated to the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv-Jaffa to support its youth programs.
There is something to be said about men who can cook, and even more to be said about men who can’t cook but at least put in the effort. This post is for neither of those types. This is for those bachelors who probably live with other dudes in their first apartment out of college, celebrate Shabbat, and who are too busy going to the gym to realize that deli rolls and salads where a key ingredient is fake crab meat are not the key to a classy Shabbat dinner.
Take my neighbors for example: three dashing young gentlemen who host Friday dinners regularly, but like many, are often strapped for prep time, especially in the winter. A challenge indeed, but never in my worst nightmares did I expect to walk into their place one Friday afternoon to see a metal pan filled with fake crab meat and iceberg lettuce and Dan sitting on the couch, mixing up a boxed chocolate cake mix. Cue the forehead smacking. Call me a total snob, but no neighbor of mine will eat like that.
It’s coming up on Tu B’Shvat, and for many, the holiday poses a dilemma. On the one hand, the kabbalistic roots of the holiday invite us to connect to the land of Israel through its food. Many of the symbolic foods at Tu B’Shvat seders are among the Seven Species of crops mentioned in Deuteronomy that have grown in the land of Israel since ancient times. Anyone who has bitten into a juicy pomegranate, or tasted perfect techina sauce, knows the experience of being transported to another world by food. (*Pop Quiz time: Seven Species include: Barley, Wheat, Pomegranates, Dates, Figs, Olives and Grapes).
And yet. Here we are, in the dead of winter, trying to eat locally (and wondering exactly what that means), live in harmony with the seasons, pay attention to the world around us. For many in the United States, Israel’s flora is decidedly exotic and not available at your local farmer’s market. What then are we to do?
True, it’s just the end of January. But farmers are already planning their crops for 2012, and you want them to plan with you in mind!
If you’re already a member of a Community-Supported Agriculture project, you know that you have a special relationship with your personal vegetable grower. In exchange for a payment up front, now or sometime soon, your farmer will bring you all the bounty of the harvest, once a week throughout the entire growing season, starting June (in the Northeast, at least).
If you haven’t already joined a CSA, maybe you’ve heard a thing or two about them. For instance, your friends might have brought a kohlrabi salad to your potluck. It’s a two-for-one vegetable that grows well in colder weather, they tell you, perfect to get an early start on the season. You can eat the stems and the bulbous stalk that, once peeled, is sweet like broccoli. Who knew it was so easy to become an expert on season extension, local crops, and exotic brassicas?! But this is just one benefit of being part of a CSA. As one member from Ansche Chesed CSA in Manhattan explained, “Being part of a CSA means I eat a greater variety of vegetables, and I try to think about cooking with what’s fresh and available rather than choosing a recipe and then buying ingredients.”
They say the more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s perhaps a cliché, but it is true of Toronto’s United Bakers Dairy Restaurant, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. While the menu of this, the oldest family restaurant in the city, has changed with the times, it has also remained faithful to the dishes that attracted its first customers in 1912.
“Young people like old food,” posited Philip Ladovsky, who co-owns the restaurant with his sister, Ruthie, as a main reason for the restaurant’s longevity. As a reporter for The Jew and the Carrot sat down with the siblings over a bowl of United Bakers’ famous beet borscht and a boiled potato, they recounted how the business got started and reflected on the food that brings approximately 1,000 patrons — many of them regulars — through the door every day. They believe that it is their menu’s balance between traditional “dorfishe cooking” (Middle and Eastern European country cuisine) and current standard family restaurant fare, along with the famous Ladovsky hospitality, that has kept United Bakers going strong for three generations.
The New York Daily News broke the sad news yesterday: the last H & H Bagel shop (on West 46th St.) is now closed. Legal troubles and economic woes are to blame. Oy. [New York Daily News]
College Prowler ranks the best Kosher campuses. Brandeis is not (quite) first. [College Prowler]
The last H&H Bagels store was evicted from its last New York location for failing to pay back rent, the New York Daily News reported.
The iconic bakery outlet on W. 46th Street in Manhattan was chained shut Thursday after owner Helmer Toro failed to pay about $600,000 to the landlord the paper said.
“It’s the end,” Yann Geron, a building official told the paper.
H&H was best known for its location on W. 80th Street on the upper West Side, near famed deli Zabar’s. That shop closed last year, to tears from schmear-lovers.
Septuagenarian Fuad Haba was a long way from his birthplace of Iraq and his family’s famous bakery on Agrippas Street in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market as he made laffa bread in a taboon oven in suburban Toronto. But neither he nor the customers at the new Dr. Laffa restaurant, where the retiree is hard at work, seemed to be deterred by the freezing weather on a recent wintery night.
Fuad was in Toronto helping his son Sasi and Sasi’s business partner Yoram Gabay with their new venture, which brings the tastes, smells and atmosphere of the shuk to an unsuspecting location tucked inside a business park northwest of the city’s main Jewish neighborhoods along the Bathurst Street corridor. The kosher restaurant offers all the typical Israeli (meat) comfort foods, but it is the delicious, fresh laffa — a full foot in diameter — that is its biggest draw.
There are many foods and dishes that help define the space of a holiday—that help to give the celebration many layers of sensory textures. Because of that relationship, such foods sometimes turn into a symbol of the holiday and carry memories and connotations whenever they appear in a grocery store or meal.
Are you into quinoa?
That’s sooo 2011! Let me introduce you to the hip grain of 2012 - the freekeh. This smoked green wheat that comes from the levant was lately on the shortlist of Bon Appétit magazine for pantry staples for a healthier eating and appeared suddenly on the shelves of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s across the country.
While freekeh is relatively new in the U.S., it is in fact an ancient grain that has been used throughout the Middle East. So ancient, in fact, it is mentioned in the bible in Leviticus, including even a description of how it is prepared. (Leviticus, chapter 2, v.14).
Israelis, masters of spotting culinary trends, saw the freekeh phenomenon spreading throughout the country a few years ago. It was around for centuries, but was introduced to the masses by celebrity chef Erez Komarovsky, who learned about the freekeh from the Arabs living in the Galilee. It wasn’t long before you could find freekeh in fashionable restaurants and grocery stores across Tel Aviv.
For more, go to Haaretz.com
“Stop picking,” my grandmother always scolded, swatting away our little hands. “There won’t be enough for everybody else.”
While waiting for the men to return from synagogue, my grandmother and all the women in our family busied themselves in the kitchen, beautifully arranging plates of food. We grandchildren stealthily poached samples from those plates, grabbing the bite-sized Syrian pastries that comprise the first course — mazza — for Sabbath and holiday meals.
“Come on, Grandma,” we begged, “at least give us the rejects.”
Not in the way you might think—I wasn’t standing over a cutting board, knife in hand, sobbing my way through an extended dicing activity. The onions that made me cry were whole, bagged and stacked about 5 feet high, in a small village in Western Senegal, where I was travelling with American Jewish World Service.
I cried because of the story behind this stack of onions, a story of thwarted ambition, injustice, and our broken global food system. Working with a local Non-Governmental Organization called GREEN Senegal, farmers from this village had implemented new farming practices, such as drip irrigation that vastly improved their efficiency and productivity. With much less time and effort, they had increased the quantity and quality of their onion crop, and were ready to bring their goods to market. In addition to the economic gain the villagers hoped to see through their efforts, the new efficiencies had the side benefits of allowing children to spend more time in school, rather than in the fields helping with the harvest, and mothers to spend more time in the home caring for their families.
As a Japanese chef specializing in modern Japanese fare, Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro in Washington finds cooking a kosher meal fairly easy.
Shellfish aside, Kaz’s Japanese cuisine relies mainly on fish and uses sauces made of soy sauce, miso and mirin, all of which can be easily converted to kosher without making too many compromises. This is why Kaz wasn’t daunted by the task of preparing a kosher Japanese meal, and his kosher supper last Sunday night, at the D.C. home of Laurie Moskowitz and Steve Rabinowitz, which included Tai snapper carpaccio and miso-marinated Chilean sea bass, was absolutely fabulous.
This meal was part of an annual fundraiser, Sunday Night Suppers, that was launched four years ago by Alice Waters, Joan Nathan and Jose Andres. The three manage to bring together chefs from Washington and across the country, and they all team together to raise money for Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen.
Every year they put together Sunday dinners in private homes around town, each hosting about 20 guests, all willing to part from $550 for the cause and in return to enjoy not only the gift of helping needy families, but also an amazing meal cooked just for them by some of the country’s top chefs.
For more, go to Haaretz.com
Well, it is indeed winter here in the Holy Land. The warming lights of Hannukah have passed us by, and the days are still feeling short. Temperatures in the Tel Aviv area usually fall between 10C and 22C (50F-72F), while folks in the Jerusalem area suffer a bit more with temperatures getting as low as 0C (32F). Perhaps this seems laughable to folks in colder regions of North America, but keep in mind that our homes are not equipped for the cold, with most everyone depending on space heaters or dual heating/cooling air conditioner units. Luckily, Israelis are a warm and open people and are perfectly comfortable snuggling up with one another during these cold months. We all get by.
Yet winter is a time of growth and renewal in Israel. Winter satiates the earth’s thirst with its rains, and with that comes a blanket of green that envelops the land. As it has for thousands of years, the land continues to feed and nourish its inhabitants despite the temperature shifts. Fall and early winter offerings, fruits like guavas and persimmons, and nuts like walnuts and pecans, are nearing the end of their time, while the citrus trees continue to bless the land with their beauty and their tasty fruits. A quick drive through any residential area will reveal a multitude of lemon, orange, clementine, pomello, kumquat, and limequat (a key-lime and kumquat hybrid) trees, lovely and heavy with fruit. Meanwhile, closer to the earth grow the brassicas, one of nature’s nutritional monarchs, packed full of fiber and anti-cancer compounds. Broccoli, turnips, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, and mustards all fit into this category and thrive during Israel’s colder, wetter months. Not to be forgotten, spinach, beets, carrots, and peas are also flourishing these days.
In her modest, shack-like home in southern Israel, my great aunt Toya served some of the best food I’ve ever tasted.
After my Iraqi grandmother, Rachel, passed away, her cousin Toya (Victoria) Levy took it upon herself to fill void in our hearts and in our bellies. One of her duties was to prepare tbeet for us on shabbat.
Tbeet is the Iraqi version of a Shabbat overnight stew. A chicken is stuffed with a mixture made of its inner parts, rice and spices, then covered with more rice, topped with hard boiled eggs and cooked overnight. The rice comes out moist and flavorful, the chicken so soft you can literally chew the bones.
The tradition of the Shabbat overnight stews grew from the desire to serve a hot meal on Shabbat, while keeping the Jewish law that prohibited lighting fire on the holy day. Women prepared the dish on Friday and baked it overnight, usually in a communal bakery, so it was ready at lunch time the next day when the men came back from synagogue.
Many people are familiar with the Ashkenazi (Eastern-European) Shabbat stew, the cholent, that is made of beans, potatoes and meat.
But Shabbat stews developed all over the Diaspora, and each community had its own version, using some of the local spices and ingredient that were available to them.
For more, go to Haaretz.com
MIT hosted its annual hummus taste-off for the fifth year in a row. It being MIT, the event featured math and science competitions involving chickpeas. [Boston.com]
Los Angeles gets its first “Jewnese” food truck. Owned by an Israeli Jewish couple, the truck serves up kosher eggrolls — including a dessert roll called Challah Pain Perdu. [Jewish Journal]
A Muslim inmate on death row in Ohio has settled a lawsuit that accused the state of infringing on his religious freedoms. The inmate complained that no halal food is available for Muslims in the Ohio prison system, while Jewish inmates are provided with kosher options. [Chicago Tribune]