Buying fair trade chocolate — in the form of gelt, or even sufganiyot — makes particular sense on Hanukkah, when we celebrate freedom from tyranny. Photo courtesy of Ilana Schatz.
When I first learned about the issue of trafficked child labor in cocoa fields, I immediately thought of the gelt that I’ve eaten every Hanukkah since I was a young girl. The sweetness of its taste in my mouth while playing dreidel is deeply embedded in my memory.
But now I had been introduced to its true bittersweet character.
Today, young children are trafficked and forced into working on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, where more than half the world’s cocoa is grown. Many have been kidnapped from surrounding countries and brought to the Ivory Coast against their will. They are forced to work long hours, often without pay, and receive no education. Their work involves hazardous chemicals and pesticides and dangerous machetes.
On Rosh Hashanah, we manifest the greeting, Shanah Tovah u’Metukah, “may it be a good and sweet year” through our apples dipped into honey, or the raisins added to our customary round challah, or our honey cake and taiglach (small donuts) we drown in honey. Nu, where’s the chocolate? Chocoholics have to wonder.
Since Israel’s Operation Protective Edge began I have taken a break from my almost daily social media posts about chocolate. I want to mourn the devastation of the war. I want to respect the sacrifices being made by those in the Israel Defense Forces, their families and the entire country. I want to honor the injuries and the loss of life throughout in the conflict. Chocolate seems frivolous during such tragic events.
ChocoChicken’s chocolate fried chicken and duckfat fries. // Twitter/KristieHang
Looking for a new way to eat all-American food on Independence Day? Try any of Adam Fleischman’s restaurants.
Who is he, you ask? Why, the founder of the famous Umami Burger, of course!
In 2009, Umami Burger was a single burger joint on La Brea Avenue, in Los Angeles. Since then, the chain has exploded to more than 20 locations in New York, Florida and California. After his first year in business, he had four restaurants that garnered him about 1 million dollars a month.
When Umami Burger opened in New York City, the line curved around the block.
Known for its gourmet burgers like the Truffle Burger, with house-made truffle cheese and glaze, the Hatch Burger, with four types of green chilies and house cheese, and the Umami Burger, with Parmesan crisp, shiitake mushrooms and house ketchup, Umami Burger has revolutionized burgers. “When I created the Umami burger, I wanted a forward-looking burger,” Fleischman said in an interview. “I wanted a burger that was global and that had all sorts of modern influences.”
(JTA) — I love all things that involve chocolate, sesame or taste like halva. Nevertheless I was skeptical when Soom Foods wanted to send me a jar of their Chocolate Sesame Butter. I have nutella already, and I like it just fine. But try it I did. And so did my two year old. Let me say: I am totally in love. It is rich, a little salty and I like to pretend its super healthful since sesame is supposedly so good for you.
I didn’t have a chance yet to bake it into anything yummy, but I am sure it would go great inside rugelach or make a fabulous frosting on cake. I did have time to try it out in a post-workout smoothie and it was divine. The result was a chocolatey, slightly savory smoothie that really satisfied my craving for a milk shake.
But perhaps our favorite way to eat it was right out of the jar on slices of apple or mini pretzels as an afternoon snack.
And now through June 30 Soom Foods is running a “From the Jar” contest to feature their fans’ photos eating the chocolate sesame spread straight from the jar. You can enter on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter by using the hashtag #fromthejar with a photo of yourself or someone you love eating Soom Chocolate Sesame Butter straight from the jar. So go ahead, get messy and have fun with those pics.
You can also check out Soom Foods’ full line of products and order straight from Amazon.
Chocolate Sesame Banana Smoothie
1 cup ice
1-2 Tbsp Soom Foods chocolate sesame spread
1/2 cup lowfat milk
1 scoop chocolate protein powder (optional)
Place all ingredients in a blender. Pulse until desired smoothness.
Serve cold with a straw.
New food crazes pop up every few months in Israel: chocolate-filled syringes, the cupcake, the kurtosh (a Hungarian cylinder shaped cake which comes in many flavors), and even the cronut made its debut in Tel Aviv this year. So it was only a matter of time until someone created a gimmicky dessert with Israeli sugar addicts in mind. Introducing: the Chocolate Shwarma.
The concept is simple: replace the rotating meat pole with a chocolate one. The chocolate is simply shaved off the pole the way shawarma meat is and put inside a crepe which stands in for pita.
Like any good shwarma sandwich in Israel, toppings are abundant at ChocoKebab in Jerusalem. Here you can choose from halva, marshmallows, chocolate chips and nuts. If you’re looking for a creamy base, you can add a schmear of maple syrup, whipped cream or even dulce de leche to the crepe.
There is definitely something appealing about creating a sweet version of a savory dish. Many have done it before, like Max Brenner’s Chocolate Pizza. But to be honest, the ChocoKebab is nothing more than a crepe, and crepes are not new around here. They have been sold in stands in almost every mall in Israel for years. So the only new thing about the chocolate shawarma the preparation and the packaging.
Although it “screams Israel”, the Choco-Kebab was not actually invented in the country: it was brought to the holy land by Oded Cohen, a newbie to the food industry who came across a similar concept during a trip to Sicily.
The first branch opened in Jerusalem a few months ago. Today, there are choco-shawarma stands in Hod HaSharon, Modi’in, and Ness Ziona. More branches are expected to open across the country, including in Tel Aviv.
But Israel’s love for ever-changing trends means they usually don’t last very long — the average life expectancy of a Tel Aviv bar is approximately one year. After that, they usually close, make a few upgrades in decoration and re-open under a new name. Only time will tell the fate of the Choco-shawarma, but be assured: chocolate and crepe connoisseurs will not be fooled.
I’ve started noticing hamentaschen showing up in local bakeries, and it made me wonder if one of the reasons we say “Purim Sameach/Happy Purim” is because we know that we’ll be eating lots of hamentaschen, the traditional Eastern-European Purim dessert. This joyous day celebrates the repeal of the death decree against the Jewish inhabitants of ancient Persia (“They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”).
Consume a lot of alcohol on Purim. As the Talmud pushes, “A person is obligated to drink on Purim to confuse the difference between the phrases ‘cursed be Haman)’ and ‘blessed be Mordecai.’ Megillah (7b). That would be a lot of drinking and any number of intoxicants could fulfill this mitzvah. This year you may wish to consider delectable chocolate liqueurs.
Who knew there could be good chocolate Hanukkah gelt? I figured it had to be waxy and tasteless, left in its foil to decorate a festive table rather than my mouth. A lovely audience in New Jersey shared their favorite Jewish chocolate experiences with me recently and mentioned, among other things, chocolate covered matzah and chocolate macaroons. They did not mention gelt. When I noted that omission, one woman sharply retorted, “Chocolate gelt is sucky.”
And so it often is. Or has been.
Several companies sell gelt. My quality test sampled some, not all. My criteria for gelt goodness includes whether the product is fair trade, kosher, and/or organic. I also care about appearance and taste and quality.
The West Bank is often in the limelight making political headlines, not gastronomic ones. But hidden beneath political and religious agendas, are a small group of artisans turning out various boutique edibles.
Located only half an hour outside of Jerusalem, the Gush (short for Gush Etzion: settlement areas that were built after the 1967 war) is host to vineyards and endless fields of olive trees. Members of local communities are utilizing ingredients that are grown nearby to create and sell organic wine, small-batch ales and brined goods. Small coffee roasters are opening as are companies making hand-crafted chocolates.
While accessible by bus, the best way to get into Gush Etzion is with a car. You can easily eat your way through the “block.” Try to arrange ahead of time, as many of these businesses are small and require reservations.
I work for the largest Jewish environmental organization in the United States. The kind that has a written food values policy which outlines the steps we, as an organization, take to ensure that the food we serve to our guests, participants, and each other is kosher, ethical, healthy, delicious, and a conversation starter.
Why then, do I have a five-pound bag of Halloween chocolates in my desk drawer?
Because somewhere around 4pm, it’s time for chocolate. And I don’t mean the good-quality, fair trade, dark chocolate (I keep that hidden in a different drawer), I mean that sugary, processed, preservative-laden, “exactly what I wanted right now” chocolate.
This year make room for chocolate in your Sukkot celebration. Sukkot’s theme of openness symbolized by the leafy ceiling and flimsy walls tempts creative approaches to menus, decorations, and customs. Deuteronomy 16:14’s challenge “v’samachta b’chagecha” (to rejoice in the festival) could easily be fulfilled by layering chocolate onto the holiday’s menus. Sukkot’s custom of welcoming honored guests, known as ushpizin, (traditionally Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David; additionally more recently, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Abigail, Esther) into the Sukkah. What better way to honor a guest than to treat them to tantalizing chocolate concoctions.
It could also be fun to recall some of the earlier Jews with significant connections to chocolate by extending a symbolic Sukkah invitation of ushpizin to colonial American traders, retailers and manufacturers such as Aaron Lopez, Rebecca Gomez and Daniel Gomez. From the first of the Jewish chocolate makers ever, in Bayonne, France, include Abraham D’Andrade. Cite Jews who developed the navigational sciences of the 15th-16th centuries which in turn created the opportunity for European first contact with cocoa beans, such as Abraham Ben Samuel Zacuto.
One year ago I was sitting in an overly warm classroom at the University of California, Davis, at a workshop called “Chocolate: Our Dark Addiction,” which was part of the 2011 Hazon Food Conference. The session begins with the question, “What is good chocolate?” Hands shoot up and comments immediately start flying: “Texture”; “Mouth feel”; “Creaminess”; “Cacao percentage”; “Ratio of bitter to sweet; “Added ingredients like fruits and nuts”; “No fruits and nuts.” Etc.
I think about the word “good,” and then I raise my hand. “Chocolate that is produced without slave and child labor, by workers paid a fair wage?” I ask. I am a bit tentative, because I don’t want to sound like one of those holier-than-thou food-obsessed people who proclaim their ethical choices in a manner calculated to shame those around them . One of the two presenters pauses for a moment, smiles slightly, and says, “That’s what we’re going to talk about today: other meanings of ‘good’ as it pertains to chocolate.”
With Shavuot around the corner, I’m thinking about milk chocolate and Israel, where there are several unique local options. As Janna Gur, Editor of Israel’s Al Hashulchan–The Israeli Gastronomic Monthly explained to me in a phone conversation, Israelis love chocolate and have a distinct preference for milk chocolate. The history of these chocolates tells us something about the growing years of the country itself.
The Elite brand developed several favorites in the milky realm. M’kupelet, bars of thinly folded milk chocolate similar to the Flake Bar of Cadbury from 1920, have been produced by Elite since 1935. The fondly remembered Hayal-Hayelet, a fifty-gram milk chocolate bar, was sold to Israeli soldiers at subsidized prices at canteens. Chocolate eating in the Tzava, the Israeli army, provided, as one person described to me, another means to klitah or absorption into Israeli society for what he called “exotic populations, immigrant groups from Morocco, Yemen, Ethiopia.”
“In every generation a person is obligated to see him or herself as though he/she had personally been redeemed from Eqypt,” we read in the Haggadah during our Passover seders. In recalling our people’s experience in Egypt, we are urged to remember that we were once slaves. We tell the details of the story, act it out, and eat charoset, symbolizing the mortar with which our ancestors made bricks for the Egyptians — we attempt to “experience” what slavery felt like.
Though we may not be actual slaves ourselves today, our history moves us to ask “Where does slavery exist today?,” “Who is enslaved?,” “What is that slavery like?” Unfortunately, this is the issue with most chocolate in the world. The majority of all cocoa is grown in West Africa, where hundreds of thousands of children have been documented working in their cocoa fields. They spend long hours working in hazardous conditions, and losing their childhoods to bring us our favorite chocolate treats. The situation is particularly serious in the Ivory Coast (the source of about 50% of our cocoa), where the U. S. Department of State estimates that more than 109,000 children in Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa industry work under “the worst forms of child labor,” and that some 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. Those who labor as slaves also suffer frequent beatings and other cruel treatment.
Imagine a modern, hip Israeli incarnation of Willy Wonka and you have a picture of Shimon Pinhas, the man behind Raw Chocolate Love. His company is one among a handful in New York that produces raw vegan chocolate, and one of the few with kosher certification. Shimon, whose dark curly hair protrudes in every direction and almost resembles steel wool, gives the impression that he is a man who can do anything, a presumption that is not far from the truth. When he arrived in New York twenty years ago without a word of English, he had already worked in construction, electrical work, and theater in his native Israel. His present occupation as a chocolatier on the border between Brooklyn and Queens follows an 18-year career running a music studio in the East Village.
Chocolate balls are as iconic as falafel in Israel, yet most tourists have never heard of them. After all, nobody is hawking these colorful confections on street corners. Kadorei shokolad, as they are known in Hebrew, are part of the quintessential Israeli childhood but they’re rarely seen outside the home. They might be ignored by culinary aficionados but insiders know that the very best are made by enthusiastic kindergarteners.
It’s a one bowl wonder, made with cocoa, sugar, milk and biscuits, all mashed together into a dark brown goop. Preschoolers are usually relegated to bashing the biscuits with a rolling pin, a job they do with gleeful abandon. Little lopsided balls of the mixture are rolled into shredded coconut or colored candies and placed on a serving tray to set or popped straight into their mouths. It’s a plebian version of Belgium truffles.
Elaine Benes was onto something when she declared “You can’t beat a babka” in a 1994 episode of “Seinfeld” (clip below). Next to brisket and latkes, babka may be the ultimate Jewish comfort food. (For those unfamiliar, babka is yeasty, risen dough that twists around a sweet filling to create striations, or, in laymen’s terms, layers of deliciousness.) Sometimes spelled bobke, recipes for this treat have been passed down by Eastern European grandmothers throughout the Diaspora. And while it may appear as though chocolate is the traditional babka (didn’t Elaine also declare cinnamon “the lesser babka”?), the truth is that it is a decadent, twentieth century American addition.
According to Gil Marks in “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food”, babka originated in Poland or Ukraine where the word baba (similar to the Yiddish word bubbe) means grandmother. Babka is the diminutive, and the name arose either because grandmothers were the primary purveyors of this treat or because the tall, fluted pans originally used resembled folds in a grandmother’s skirt. Marks notes that the Jewish-style loaves probably came about in the mid-nineteenth century as a way to turn extra challah dough into a Shabbat treat.
There’s something about an egg cream that can bring out the debate in some people. “There is egg cream on your face,” wrote one reader, “if you fall for those explanations of the egg cream.” Another simply wrote “Hogwash!” Luckily these were letters not to us but the New York Times, throughout the 1970s, in response to articles making one claim or another about the correct way to mix the drink. No egg cream article comes without a slew of detractors. Luckily our readers were more polite in response to Leah Koenig’s recent article, “Egg Creams Make a Comeback”, but were no less contentious. When Koenig described the delicious drink re-imagined to include maple, coffee, and even olive oil, some readers cried foul.
Arguments over the correct way to make an egg cream are nothing new. Disagreements can arise about the ingredients (most traditionalists say nothing will do but Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer), the order they’re placed in the glass, or the proper length of the mixing spoon. As a publication of record, the Forward might not be able to settle this historic debate, but we can at least contribute to the latest round. We want to hear from you on the new breed of egg creams, from the return to classic to the provocative nouveau. To get it started, we asked a range of experts for their take on the topic, inquiring, “What do you think of non-traditional egg creams?” Check out their positions below and add your own.
Last August, my husband and I chose to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary by going to Costa Rica. It was our first vacation with an ecological focus, as recommended by old friends who have more refined tastes and more stringent religious commitments. We were delighted to have our girls accompany us. It was a vigorous vacation with hiking, snorkeling in Puerto Viejo (newly discovered by surfers) and daily yoga sessions. My husband was able to decompress faster — and remain relaxed longer — than on any other trip and my review of our stay at the Samasati Nature Retreat posted on TripAdvisor has been read by enough viewers to garner me a free Shutterfly photo album (which, alas, I was too late to redeem). This was a great way to unplug from the world — no phone, no Internet, no television.
Our bungalow overlooked the mountainside and we woke each day to the sunrise (about 5 am) and the chattering of the monkeys. It was the off season in the Caribbean coast, so we had the resort mostly to ourselves. My family had de facto private sessions with the yoga teacher in the beautiful, octagonal studio.
It rained hard most days we were there but at different times of the day. In the capital city of San Jose, the streets have deep and wide gutters, up to two feet in parts. The locals, called Ticos, carry their babies everywhere, not bothering with carriages, strollers or even slings. People can even steer their bicycles, while holding up umbrellas.