Sephardic Seder Traditions to Try

Like almost 90 percent of American Jews, we are Ashkenazic. This means that our families came from Eastern Europe – Russia, Ukraine, Poland or Lithuania. When we get ready to celebrate Passover, we think gefilte fish, brisket, roasted chicken and pesachdik kugel (or kigel), but that’s another story.

Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors came from Spain, Portugal, the Mediterranean basin, North Africa and the Middle East, have unique traditions and tastes of their own. When Passover approaches, they might cook stuffed grape leaves (Greece), basmati rice with stewed fruits (Morocco), or chickpea dumplings (Iran).

On the Seder Plate

Haroset is the mixture of chopped fruits and nuts that symbolizes the mortar and bricks the Israelite slaves used to build the pyramids in Egypt. It has a place on honor on the seder plate, but we can’t call the Pope and ask him for the official recipe. There is none. Like much of Judaism, how you make haroset depends a great deal on where your family is from and how your bubbe made haroset. There are scores of different recipes, and they highlight the Ashkenazic-Sephardic culinary divide.

The Ashkenazic version usually includes chopped apples, sweet wine, cinnamon and nuts. Sephardic haroset uses fruits native to the lands where Sephardic Jews live – like figs, dates, pistachios, date syrup, raisins, cardamom and oranges.

Sephardic haroset

Because Jews live all around the world, there are endless variations. Jews in Guatemala use macadamia nuts, which are native there but so expensive in the rest of the world. Haroset in Uganda includes bananas, another native fruit. Jews in Florida are likely to sprinkle some coconut into their mixture. We love the mash-up of traditions.

Telling the Story

It’s traditional for Jews everywhere to act out parts of the haggadah. When directed to “tell the story of how we were slaves in Egypt,” countless seder leaders look for ways to involve the guests and keep the kids interested.

We might pass out silly masks or finger puppets to represent the 10 plagues, sing songs about frogs hopping here and there, and parade around the dining room table as if it were the journey out of Egypt, but we’ve never hit our guests with vegetables like Sephardim often do.

That’s because their tradition calls for seder guests to hit each other with scallions while they sing Dayenu. This represents the part in the Passover story when Egyptian taskmasters whipped the Israelite slaves. The custom was featured in the seder scene in “The Women’s Balcony,” a 2016 Israeli film about a close-knit Sephardic community in Jerusalem. Anyone who has participated in this ritual will probably tell you that the kids got carried away and vegetables were flung.  If you want to see the ritual in action, here’s a video of a family celebrating with scallions.

Irene Kaplan, who lives in Potomac, Maryland, and was past-president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, celebrates many Moroccan Pesach customs with her family. Their seder plate is brought to the table by the most eligible young lady in attendance; tradition says this will bring her good luck in the coming year.

One of Kaplan’s favorite customs is what she calls “bibehilu,” which occurs just after the afikoman is broken into two pieces. “In my house, the seder plate is covered with one of my most treasured possessions, my late great-grandmother’s hand-embroidered shawl,” explains Kaplan. “The covered plate is passed over the heads of everyone at the table three times while we chant, “Bibehilu yazanu mimizrayim ha lahma anya bnei horin” (“In fear, we left Egypt with the bread of affliction; we are now free”).

Kaplan said that the symbolism of passing the seder plate helps guests re-enact the journey out of Egypt. “The plate represents the biblical cloud that protected the Jews on their ancient journey,” she explained. “Each person carries and passes the plate as if to say that they personally left Egypt.”

Some cultures don’t even use a seder plate.

There’s a tradition among North African Jews to place the roasted egg, bitter herb and green vegetables on the table in a reed basket, reminiscent of the story of baby Moses, who was put into a basket and set adrift on the Nile River.

All Jews follow the tradition of hiding a piece of matzah – the afikoman – during the seder. Then, at the appointed time, the kids go hunting for it. In return, they are rewarded with a small toy or some money. In our house, we make sure to have a chocolate bars, stickers, yo-yos and hair barrettes for everyone under the age of 30 so that no one misses out on an afikoman prize.  

We’ve read that hanging on to a piece of the afikoman can bring you good luck in the coming year. That’s why Sephardic Jews might keep a piece in their pocket or somewhere in their home to insure protection against the evil eye. We once found a piece of matzah hidden on the mantle 10 months after Passover. Of course it wasn’t bad housekeeping. We meant to keep it there (kine-ahora!).

Sephardic Jews have always been able to eat kitniyot (rice, beans, corn, peanuts, lentils and seeds) at Passover because these foods were staples of their Mediterranean diet. Ashkenazic Jews jumped on the bandwagon in 2015 when the Rabbinical Assembly declared kitniyot kosher for Passover. Now it’s okay for everyone to put peanut butter on their matzah (like we’ve been doing for years), serve rice pilaf with roast chicken, and snack on hummus and popcorn during Passover.

the Israeli version of Nutella – always delicious on matzah

This all sounds good to us, but we won’t be serving chickpea dumplings in place of matzah balls in our chicken soup. Our tradition – and our kids – demand floaters.

To all our readers, friends and family: A happy, healthy, sweet Passover! And to read more essays like this one, check out our new book, “The Whole Spiel: Funny essays about digital nudniks, seder selfies and chicken soup memories” on Amazon.

A Sephardic Haroset Recipe

Our families like the Ashkenazic version of haroset best – with chopped apples, nuts and sweet red wine, but the past few years we’ve also enjoyed making a Sephardic haroset with dates, pistachios and cardamom. We will not, however, practice the Sephardic ritual of dipping our fingers into that haroset and marking the doorway with a wine-soaked handprint so the Angel of Death will “pass over.”

Combine in a large bowl:

  • 2 cups dates, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • ½ cup sweet wine
  • ½ cup roasted almonds, chopped

To the mixture, added enough additional wine so that all of the ingredients are covered. As it sits, the dried fruit will soak up the wine and soften. Add more liquid (water if you wish) if needed.

Posted in Ashkenazi, haroset, jewish food, Jewish holidays, Passover, Sephardi | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now with 30% more wit and sarcasm! … but no quinoa

Rice Chex cereal has always been 100 percent rice, but now it boasts that it’s gluten-free. It never had gluten. But now that gluten is on the no-fly list, being gluten-free is a bragging point.

This would be like us proclaiming that we now contain “more than 90 percent water with life-enhancing oxygen and iron-rich hemoglobin.”

Products try to entice us in different ways. They trumpet the facts and statistics they want us to focus on, while they gloss over other glaring truths. Their advertising uses current buzzwords, like “cage-free” and “gluten-free,” to tout basically unchanged products as “new and improved.” They are telling us what we want to hear.

Back in the day, we ate saltine crackers, but we didn’t brag about it. Now a lot of products boast about their sprinkle of sea salt. Dark chocolate, ice cream, and flatbread crisps all benefit from cozying up to the mineral. All those years at the beach! How misguided we were when we hosed our kids off. If only we had recognized the potential greatness of sea salt, we could have been in on the ground floor of this trend.

Bad comedians and their dirty jokes have tried for years to convince us that size matters. So do some products. The package of paper towels that reads “6 mega rolls = 9” or “8 super-absorbent rolls = 12” doesn’t fool us. They want us to think we’re getting more for our money, even if that isn’t the case.

We get less applesauce for our money with the new “easier to handle” jar. It’s indented so we can hold it, but it’s 5 ounces smaller than the original version. If politicians followed this formula of turning a bad attribute into a desirable quality, we’d hear them crowing, “Caught in fewer sex scandals than my opponent!”

What used to be considered desirable has also changed over the years. In the old days, a box of Alpha-Bits cereal noted with pride that it was “sugar-sparkled.” Not a good thing today. The marketing team has changed its tune, and the product now has “20g of whole grain per serving, 12 essential vitamins and minerals, and no high-fructose corn syrup.”

A box of Cheerios boasts that it contains ancient grains that “may reduce heart disease.” These super grains — including quinoa, farro, millet, teff, freekeh and kamut — are all mentioned in the bible and are largely unchanged since then. Don’t you remember the story in which Noah tells his sons that millet isn’t just for the birds? “It’s good for you, too. Just eat your bowl of millet.”

These marketing tactics allow us to fool ourselves when we are eating something junky but don’t want it to be a total loss. The chewy, greasy pizza with a crust including an ancient grain, and the Breyers mint chip ice cream made with “no artificial growth hormones used on the cows” must be good for us.

So please pass us the all-organic, gluten-free cheesecake made with eggs from cage-free, happy chickens so we can feel good about eating healthy.

All this savvy packaging has taught us how to market ourselves in this trendy, buzzword-rich world. We are designing a new T-shirt that we can wear to the supermarket. It will brag about our best qualities:

  • “Now with less athletic ability than before!”
  • “Contains larger hips to take up 1-1/2 seats on the bench!”
  • “Includes ancient wisdom and a sprinkle of sea salt.”

 

This article is also published on Newsworks.org, the on-line site of WHYY, Philadelphia’s Public Television and Radio.

Posted in Current Events, modern life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

An Homage to Hamantashen 

In the beginning, there was mun. And it was good.

Mun, sometimes spelled mohn, is the Yiddish word for sweet poppy seed jam. It was a key ingredient in many Eastern European baked goods – from mohnbrötchen (poppy seed bread) to munstrudel (a sweet, swirled pastry). So it’s no surprise that Ashkenazic Jews used mun to fill their hamantashen, the triangular-shaped cookies that are eaten on Purim.hamentosh5

Hamantashen, literally “Haman’s hat,” reminds us of the bad guy from the story of Purim, who hatched a plot to kill the Jews of Persia. But we also have Queen Esther, the story’s heroine, to thank for mun. When Esther was living in the palace with King Ahasuerus, she wanted to keep kosher, so she turned down the lamb tagine and ate a lot of beans and seeds instead. Tradition says that we eat hamantashen filled with poppy seeds in her honor.

painting depicting Esther denouncing Haman

painting depicting Esther denouncing Haman

Back in the day, lekvar, the Hungarian jam made from sweetened prunes or apricots, was also a popular hamantashen filling. It was used in pierogies and cream cheese cookies, too.

When lekvar and mun hamantashen emigrated to America, they were eager to fit in with the Danish pastries and Swiss butter cookies with which they shared the bakery tray. Soon hamantashen stuffed with cherry pie filling and lemon curd were popping up in Lower East Side kitchens, Pittsburgh bakeries and Miami coffee shops.

Today you can find hamantashen filled with Nutella, halvah, apples and chocolate chips. If your daughter is a Girl Scout, she might be interested in a Tagalong hamantashen filled with peanut butter and dipped in chocolate. What could be more American than the mashup of the most popular Girl Scout cookie with the quintessential Jewish pastry?

Savory hamantashen have also been sighted. MyJewishLearning.com offers recipes for one with feta and thyme and another with rosemary and balsamic caramelized onion jam.

Hamantashen lovers argue not only about the filling but also about the dough. Some like theirs cakey soft; others want them cookie hard. This dispute joins the other great Jewish food debates: sinker vs. floater (matzah balls), rugelach vs. shnecken (pastry), and mandelbrodt vs. kamishbrodt (twice-baked cookies).

If the dough is pareve and made with oil, the hamantashen will likely be crumbly and soft. If the dough contains butter, the hamantashen will be crispier and more like shortbread cookies in texture.

The packaged hamantashen that have been on the supermarket shelf with the Hanukkah candles since December and have an expiration date of March 2018 are likely to be cakey soft and crumbly. We think they’re delicious. Perhaps that’s because of all the preservatives in them. Or because we didn’t have to bake them.

Sephardic Jews not only eat Haman’s hats during Purim, they also nosh on Haman’s ears. The Purim cookies known as Oznei Haman, Hebrew for “Haman’s ears,” are thought to have originated in Spain or Italy. The cookie dough is formed into bow-tie shapes, deep fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The cookies are sometimes dipped in a honey-lemon syrup.

Sephardic Jews also put Haman in jail. Their huevos de Haman, or foulares, is a cheese pastry. It features a hard-boiled egg, still in its shell, that’s shackled in crisscrossed dough to represent Haman in his jail cell.

Portuguese folar or Haman in a jail cell. Photo thanks to Porto tour guides, thecitytailors.com

If you don’t want to end up in jail, be a wise man and don’t eat mun hamantashen before a drug test. Poppy seeds contain a small amount of opiates – specifically morphine and codeine. One employment counselor recommends that if you’re worried, bring the receipt from your mun hamantashen with you to your drug test.

Remember the episode of Seinfeld where Elaine fails a drug test and Peterman fires her for being an opium addict? She didn’t know why she kept failing her drug test until a guy in the coffee shop saw her eating a huge lemon poppy muffin and warned her. The Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters also investigated this urban legend. One of the hosts ate a bag of poppyseed bagels; the other downed an entire lemon poppyseed loaf cake. Thirty minutes later they tested their urine, and the one who had eaten the loaf cake tested positive for opioids. The bagel eater was clean. Maybe the poppyseeds had fallen off the bagels.

Hamantashen come around just once a year. That’s why, even though Purim is only one day, we buy or bake enough hamantashen to last for two weeks. Lekvar is our favorite. Cherry is next. For the folks who love mun – not us – the holiday is a rare opportunity to indulge in the gritty, super sweet filling that they adore.mun

We are not binge drinkers, so we won’t stand in the back of the synagogue during the Megillah reading and do shots of whiskey. But we are binge eaters, and we’ll eat hamantashen until we can’t tell the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.” By that time, we probably won’t know the difference between prune and poppy either.

This year, Purim starts Saturday night, March 11. So you have plenty of time to buy and/or bake hamantashen.

purimk

This article also appears in the Forward:   http://forward.com/food/363757/fun-with-hamantaschen/

Posted in jewish food, Jewish holidays, Purim | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

We’re the Old People Now

When we moved from the city to the suburbs many years ago, our children were toddlers and we were young. Our neighbors were the old people – empty nesters, retirees, grandparents – who had lived in the same home for more than 25 years. Imagine that!

Fast-forward a few decades — we’re still at the same addresses. Our neighborhoods have “turned over” and there are other mothers and kids waiting for the school bus at our corner. We’re the old people now.

Yesterday when we were outside, our neighbors strolled by with their brand new baby. We waved them over to cluck at their 8-week-old daughter. We wanted to stroke the baby’s cheek and admire her adorable sweater and blanket. We couldn’t resist telling the parents that when we bought our strollers in 1987 they cost $99 and didn’t come with GPS, seating for three and ultra-padded dashboards. We’re the old people now .

This Trailz stroller sells for $1,149.99

This Trailz stroller sells for $1,149.99

When we go into Philadelphia and try one of the trendy new restaurants, we look around and see that we are the only ones without tattoos and strategically ripped jeans. Well, it is 8 p.m. Maybe our contemporaries were here at 5:30 for the “early bird special.” The other diners are young enough to be our kids. We reminisce about the days when restaurants were quieter and brightly lit and the print on the menu seemed bigger. We’re the old people now .

old-2

When we look at the brochure to choose excursions for an upcoming trip, we have to check out the activity levels. We’re not up for an “ultimate challenge.” We don’t want to ice climb or para-sail into a volcano. The next level down, “strenuous,” involves 3 to 6 hours a day of hiking on mountainous terrain. We’ll stick with “moderate activity.” We can ride a camel or hike a mile or two. We don’t want to do any activity that would require us to get a doctor’s note. We’d much rather shop for souvenirs, take the native food tour, and visit the spa. We’re the old people now.

We used to listen to records. Then there were tapes and CDs. Remember Walkmen? Boom boxes? One of our husbands was super happy with the 200 Motown songs on his iPod. Then his iPod died and his computer was so old it wouldn’t sync with a new iPod.

 

 

We’re much more advanced than that. We listen to music on our phones, even in our car! We can pull up our favorite songs any time we want. We know how to use Bluetooth and have music in our kitchen. But then the kids laughed at us because we don’t use Spotify. We listen to the same old favorite songs over and over again. How do we find out about the latest releases? Who are Frenship and Rob $tone? We’re the old people now.

Maybe that’s why we like joining the 10 a.m. senior-stretch exercise class at the Y, attending the lunch-and-learn sponsored by the synagogue, and lounging by the pool in the gated golf community in Florida. It makes us feel young.

 

Posted in aging, family, modern life | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Hanukkah Wrap-Up 2016

A week before Hanukkah, we wrote an essay that was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was our spin on the Twelve Days of Christmas song, so instead of “eight maids a milking” we had “eight candles burning.” You get the idea.

Right after it appeared, we got a phone call from Inquirer reader Elaine Fein Calvin. She liked our essay but wanted to be sure we knew that there were real, great Hanukkah songs. She sent us links to The Maccabeats and Israeli folksingers on YouTube. Thanks, Elaine. We’ve been singing “I have a little dreidel, I made it out of clay” for 50 years, but it’s always fun to see some new stuff.clay-dreidel

This year, Hanukkah arrived right with Christmas. Joyce thought it was great to celebrate the calendar convergence by being able to light Hanukkah candles and say the blessings at her friend’s annual Christmas party. The menorah sat on a table right next to the Christmas tree. But we still didn’t have maids a milking. We don’t even have cows. Here’s how it turned out:

Eight Candles Burning

We wrote about how we’re glad there are more choices for Hanukkah candles than the washed out ones that come in the blue box. We look forward to a lineup of tie-dyed and rainbow-striped ones. Joyce was certain she had a stash of pretty ones left over from last year, so she didn’t buy any new candles. She forgot that she had sent her candles to her son in Denver, so she had to rush out last minute to the local Acme. What was left? The old blue box with washed-out colors. The only good news – there were now washed-out orange candles among the red, white, blue and yellow ones. A small miracle.

Ellen shlepped three boxes of candles and a menorah to New York City, where her tribe of three children gathered. They lit candles in her son Andy’s NYU dorm room because he’s an RA and he was on duty. He had volunteered to work on Christmas. That’s what Jewish co-workers do.

Seven Latkes Frying

Ellen fried up way more than seven latkes. “Andy cooked a million of them,” she says. “He had two frying pans going. We had friends over for dinner and ate latkes and then had leftovers the next day.”  Joyce wanted photographic proof, so it’s posted below.

andy-latkes

There is, however, no proof that her house smelled like a McDonald’s deep fryer for days afterwards.

Joyce did no latke frying this Hanukkah, although she did latke eating at her friends’ house. Stephanie and Ray served two kinds – potato and parsnip. Joyce was surprised that she preferred the parsnip ones. (Heresy!) With applesauce.

Six Gifts Awaiting

We remember the days when the kids tried to convince us that Hanukkah required eight nights of presents. We used to give them books one night, toys for a few, and then we filled out the rest of the nights with socks and underwear and dreidels and gelt. Ellen’s neighbor, who has two little boys, confirmed this parental practice and proudly showed off the “plastic Star Wars cups” that were night #4 gifts to her boys.

But our kids are older – they’re young adults. And when we asked them what they wanted or needed for Hanukkah, some of them emailed us back links. So we clicked and ordered. Where’s the fun in that?

It’s a little better than going in blind and buying men’s moccasin slippers that we think are “very useful and fashionable” but the boys refuse to wear. That just earned us a trip back to the store to stand in the “returns” line.

Five Kids Arriving

Only three kids actually arrived back at their childhood homes. When Joyce’s son comes for a visit later this month, they’ll have their traditional Christmas Chinese food and a movie celebration. We’re used to moving Hanukkah around on the calendar to suit our kids’ schedules. Just because Hanukkah got the calendar right this year, why should we mess with our traditions?

Four Dreidels Spinning

We hung up the silver dreidel banner and put the laughing Mr. Dreidel on the back door. We bought several bags of gelt – but we didn’t actually get around to playing dreidel. Maybe we’re getting old? Maybe we just forgot? Maybe we like other games better? Maybe one day, when we have grandchildren . . .  dreidelman

We did, however, peel and eat the gelt, but it paled in comparison to the cappuccino truffles and the sea salt caramels we got as gifts.

Three Bubbes Kvelling

This holiday we saw friends and immediate family, but we didn’t get together with cousins, and we missed it. We got our fill of Bubbes – and some Zaydes – at our three book talks in December at local synagogues. And we got an earful from a Bubbe at Trader’s Joe’s when we overheard her stop a young woman who was wearing shorts on a cold rainy day. The Bubbe couldn’t resist warning her, “You’ll catch yourself death of a cold.”

Two Ladies Shopping

Hanukkah was late this year, so we put off doing our shopping. This meant we got caught up in the Christmas shopping madness. We saw lots of ugly Christmas sweaters and fuzzy socks. We resisted most of the sales and all of the half-price wrapping paper.

We did see a new Hanukkah tchotchke, a small, plush doll named Hannah the Hanukkah Hero, from the creators of Mensch on a Bench (the stereotyped Jewish competition to Elf on a Shelf).hannah

 

Hannah comes with a book, which according to her creators tells the story that … “Hannah Maccabee is mad! Her cousins have gone off to face the Greeks and defend the Jewish people, while she’s sitting at the Great Temple, not allowed to help. Luckily, Hannah is smart, strong, and has a heart filled with love. Nothing can stand in her way!“ We’re all for girl power, but we’re kind of glad our daughters are too old for this gift.

All in all, it was a good Hanukkah. We were glad to spend time with the kids. Happy to see our friends. Now it’s time to hope for a not-so-snowy winter and look forward to spring vacations.

The supermarket has already put out a bin of red Valentines hearts. That’s something to be happy about.

Posted in Chanukkah, culture, Hanukkah, jewish food, Jewish holidays | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Song for Hanukkah

Hanukkah, our favorite family holiday, isn’t always convenient for the family. There have been many years when we postponed our celebration until winter break when our kids could make the trek home. This year, thanks to Jewish holiday drift, the calendar is cooperating: Hanukkah begins on Christmas eve.

If we turn on the radio that night when we are frying up the latkes, we’ll undoubtedly hear “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” While we don’t have lords a-leaping or swans a-swimming, we do have dreidels a-twirling. So join with us in singing of the eight nights of Hanukkah.

Eight Candles Burning –  Like sneakers (Keds) and coffee (Maxwell House), there used to be only one choice for Hanukkah candles: the blue box with the washed-out yellow and almost-red candles. Now we have beeswax candles in vibrant colors, tie-dyed striped ones, and artistic ones from the candle factory in Safed, Israel. We love to mix them up in the nightly lineup. Our Bubbe would call our display  ongepotchket (thrown together, not matching), but we love it that way.

hanukkah

We have a silver Hanukkah menorah from a trip to Italy and a ceramic one from the synagogue, but our favorites are the ones our children made. Every year our kids search for the one they crafted — out of clay or cardboard toilet paper rolls. We know better than to choose a favorite. We clear a space on the table and gather all the menorahs.

Seven Latkes Frying – Our families demand tradition, which means potato latkes grated by hand and fried in oil. No zucchini. No parsnips. No newfangled variations. For toppings, the grown-ups prefer sour cream. The younger ones favor applesauce. If you can’t decide? We say you can designate some latkes as the “main course” and eat them with sour cream; then you can eat the “dessert latkes” with applesauce.

latke3

Six Gifts Awaiting – It used to be so much fun to wander the toy store aisles in search of Star Wars LEGOS and a princess dress-up set. Our kids have outgrown plastic toys; they prefer the kind of plastic that fits in their wallet. But transferring money into their account or telling them our Amazon Prime password just doesn’t seem that festive. We search for something tangible that millennials will enjoy and that can fit in their 700-square-foot apartment. We have a feeling we’ll be gift wrapping socks and underwear again this year.

time4

Five Kids Arriving –It’s not a holiday unless the kids come home. We’ll fill the refrigerator with all of their favorite foods so they’ll be thrilled with how thoughtful their mother is and want to come home again soon. If we’re lucky, we’ll convince them to stick around until Dec. 31, when the last night of Hanukkah coincides with New Year’s Eve. We can light all eight Hanukkah candles, drink champagne, and watch the ball drop together.

Four Dreidels Spinning – We will scrounge up pennies or M&Ms so we can play dreidel. Anything we can do together than doesn’t involve an iPhone is a sacred tradition. That’s why, when one of our kids showed us an app that lets you play virtual dreidel, we weren’t impressed. Tapping the screen to spin isn’t the same as twirling a dreidel on the floor. And the prize is a picture of gelt! We’ll take the real thing, thanks. Pass the dark chocolate coins.

????????????????????????????????????

Three Bubbes Kvelling – When we were young, we loved our Hanukkah parties with the whole mishpuchah (extended family). We ate latkes, played dreidel, traded presents, and giggled a lot. We’re lucky to have cousins who carry the torch. It’s nice to attend a family get-together with no dress code and no synagogue attendance — just a chance to ogle new babies, meet new significant others, and catch up on a year’s worth of gossip. It’s especially nice to see your distant relatives somewhere other than at Levine’s Funeral Home.

Two Ladies Shopping – Every year we pull out our box of Hanukkah decorations — and then we go shopping for more. We’re happy when we find one lonely aisle of blue-and-white tchotchkes sandwiched between the snow-covered ceramic villages and the wooden Santas. We’ve seen a glass dreidel too fragile to spin, a “Peace, Love & Hanukkah” pillow, and a Star of David cake pan, but our delight turned to dismay at the “4-piece Hanukkah ornament set.” We aren’t hanging a blue glass ball on a tree.

And on the last night, sing it together now … and a Gutsy Judah Macabee.

Happy Hanukkah !! to all our families, readers and friends.

Best Wishes for a healthy, peaceful New Year

hanukkah-bear

 

This article also appears in The Philadelphia Inquirer on 12/23

Posted in Chanukkah, family, Hanukkah, holidays, jewish food, Jewish holidays | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Little Love for Latkes

We’re thinking about latkes.

Latkes (potato pancakes) usually appear on our dinner table once a year during Hanukkah. Last year Hanukkah started on Dec. 7, so our stomachs are telling us now is the time.

But Jewish holidays drift along the secular calendar. That’s why in 2013 we celebrated Thanksgivukkah, when Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving and the turkey sat right next to the dreidels. This year, Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve, and while our Christian friends might be thinking about eight maids a milking, we’ll be focused on eight latkes a frying. But for now, we have to wait a few more weeks.

You might be wondering why we don’t just make latkes tonight. We could stand alone in the kitchen, grate potatoes and scrape our knuckles, and then make a big oily mess at the stove. But it’s not fun when the kids aren’t home to enjoy them and we’re not lighting candles or having a Hanukkah party.

????????????????????????????????????

Instead we’ll spend our time looking up innovative latke recipes like zucchini and carrot or sweet potato. They’re tempting but we’ll end up discarding them because our families like the traditional potato version. And they like to top them with applesauce or sour cream, not the cranberry chutney that we tried out on Thanksgivukkah.

Latke is the Yiddish word for a fried pancake; in Hebrew they’re called levivot. While Israelis do eat potato pancakes on Hanukkah, sufganiyot, jelly-filled donuts fried in oil, are everywhere – and every Israeli bakery sells them in the month of Kislev. The varieties are almost endless; there are different fillings, icings and toppings. Ne’eman’s, which has 40 bakeries throughout Israel, offers bite-size sufganiyot that include varieties filled with cheesecake cream, chocolate custard, marshmallow fluff or date and halvah flavors, to name just a few. They even created a Bamba-flavored doughnut that tastes vaguely like the ubiquitous crunchy peanut butter snack beloved by Israeli kids.

poster from Roladin's Bakery in Israel advertising all their flavors of sufganiyot

poster from Roladin’s, another bakery in Israel, advertising all their flavors of sufganiyot

When we typed “latke” into the Google search bar, it brought up Ryan Lochte, the American Olympic swimmer. Maybe that’s because Lochte got “fried” in Rio and made a big mess.

As we continued our exhaustive research, we discovered that the merits of latkes have been a topic of debate since 1946, when the University of Chicago hosted the first “Great Latke vs. Hamantashen Debate.” Since then, tongue firmly in cheek, academics, lawyers, philosophers and several Nobel prize winners have pondered this weighty issue at seminars at revered institutions including MIT, Mount Holyoke and Harvard, citing sources and offering educated opinions as to the superiority of either beloved food.

University of Chicago philosophy professor Ted Cohen, moderated the great debates for over 25 years until his death in 2014. He concluded that an analysis of philosophical reasoning would lead one to the latke because “a world without hamantashen would be a wretched world …. but a world without latkes is unthinkable.”

Latkes are fried in oil to remind Jews of the story of Hanukkah, the miracle of the re-dedication of the Temple, when a tiny bit of oil lasted for eight days.

Latkes are fried in oil to remind Jews of the story of Hanukkah, the miracle of the re-dedication of the Temple, when a tiny bit of oil lasted for eight days.

 

In a paper entitled “The Archetypal Hamantash: A Feminist Mythology,” Divinity professor Wendy Doniger wrote that hamantashen are a womb equivalent (because of their shape? because they’re squishy?) and were worshiped in early matriarchal societies.  We’re matriarchs, and we love a good prune hamantashen.

hummies

But we can’t take sides. That’s like asking which child you love the most. We love them both. We’re looking forward to frying latkes in a few weeks and eating them with sour cream and applesauce. And when Purim rolls around in the spring, we’ll be baking and eating cherry, lekvar and mun hamantashen.


 

Posted in Hanukkah, holidays, jewish food, Purim | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment