From Costco Samples to Shiva Spreads, Say Goodbye to Free Nosh

This article first appeared on Kveller.com on June 26, 2020.

Illustration design by Grace Yagel

We’re not shnorrers, but we do love a free nosh. The sour pickle at the deli, the black and white cookie at the Jewish bakery, the Dixie-cup coffee sample at Trader Joe’s. We don’t go out of our way for a free taste, and we certainly don’t linger beyond our welcome, but if it’s offered, who are we to say no?

When Costco, the king of freebies, announced on March 6 that it was no longer serving free samples because of the coronavirus, we feared that the free nosh was not long for this world. 

Days later, our fears became true: Albertsons, Trader Joe’s and other food markets we frequent stopped their sampling. Next came the loss of the self-serve items: the gourmet olive bar at Wegmans; the scoop-it-yourself barrels of rice, lentils, and chocolate covered almonds at the health food store; the coffee station at the convenience store, where we mixed the hazelnut and dark roast exactly how we liked it. All gone.

But who are we to complain? Yes, we’ve had to forage for yeast, and we’ve spent countless hours trying to secure an Instacart delivery slot. But we’re grateful that our families are well and our fridges are full — and we recognize the luxury of kvetching about the small stuff amidst a deadly pandemic.

Of course we can live without the supermarket salad bar — but we really miss it. In our deepest heart of hearts, we’ve long known it wasn’t germ-free. When we reached for the chips and salsa atop the deli counter, we’d hear George Costanza in our head accusing the guests of double dipping. Of course, the girl handing out sausage bites wore gloves, but she gazed at her phone in between customers, still wearing those gloves. How sanitary could they be? Intellectually, we had our doubts — but those didn’t stop us from eating. 

As Jews, we grew up noshing — at bubbe’s house, at the kiddush after services, in the back seat while our parents schlepped us to activities. But members of the tribe weren’t the only ones rattled by current free-nosh prohibitions. When Costco suspended its samples, USAToday reported that “consumers mourned the loss of the smorgasbord of free snacks.” The Twitterverse went crazy: One man wondered, “Where am I supposed to get free lunch now?” A young woman wrote, “If I’m going to die at least let me live wild & go to the same sample stand 6 times.”

As the pandemic drags on, we’re shopping less and Zooming more. We realize how much we miss schmoozing with the deli guy, chatting with the supermarket check-out lady, and hanging with our co-workers. We also miss all the snacks we shared. We present this list of lost opportunities:

1. The free sample nosh

Getting free bites at various shops was a treasure hunt, and if we timed it right, we could graze enough to call it a meal. There was gnocchi in truffle sauce and guacamole with baby carrots in the supermarket. At the adjacent farmer’s market, we’d try the cheese and crackers slathered with fig jam. And if it was our lucky day, the local fancy bakery and the Amish stand would both be offering samples of their chocolate chip cookies.

Our kids grew up as members of the supermarket Cookie Club, and the bakery counter was our first stop. On each visit, a bakery employee in a hairnet would invite them to choose a cookie. What kid could say no? We liked the freebie because it was one less bribe for us to make.

2. The deli nosh

At our favorite deli, the guys behind the counter would hand out free samples — salami slices, toothpick-speared pickles — while we waited in line for our takeout order. If we dined in, we’d indulge in the all-you-can-eat, self-serve pickle bar. These days, with the deli offering curbside pickup only, we can only hope they remember to wrap up the pickle and tuck it into our bag.

3. The office nosh

It’s always someone’s birthday at the office, and there’s always a cake. In the before times, we were easily lured out of our cubicles for meetings accompanied by breakfast pastries, mini-sandwiches, and free pizza Fridays! We are already looking back fondly on the days when we’d watch our co-worker touch every sandwich before deciding on the tuna for herself. Now, “work meetings” mean we’re in virtual boxes instead of real cubicles, and we don’t think the convenience of wearing our PJs makes up for the lack of free coffee and danish.

4. The party nosh

Let’s get real for a minute: Hors d’oeuvres are the highlight of any simcha. On the way to the party, we discuss our noshing hopes and dreams — pigs in the blanket, bite-sized knishes and little latkes with a dab of sour cream top our lists. Our husbands wish for mini lamb chops and a good sushi platter. It’s fun to balance a tiny plate and a cocktail as we walk around and shmooze. Now, when we log onto Zoom for a virtual Bat Mitzvah, we warm up some leftovers in time to join the service.

5. The shiva nosh

Food is consolation and comfort, and when we would make a shiva call, we knew that along with paying our respects, we’d be admiring the spread on the dining room table. We looked forward to the plate of rugelach and the fish tray — and our chances of enjoying those delicacies were pretty good. We usually bring a lovely fruit platter, or box from the bakery. With no more in-person shiva gatherings, sending the family a hand-delivered platter of food seems problematic; it just gives the mourners one more thing to worry about.

6. The salad bar

True, salad bars aren’t free, but we couldn’t leave them off this list because we miss them — and yes, we occasionally “sampled” from them — even though they’re loaded with germs. We loved picking exactly what we wanted. No arugula; just spinach. Who wants pickled beets on their salad? We prefer croutons. But now, selection has left the building. Salads come premed in a hygienically sealed plastic container. If we want the salad but not the red onions, we’ve got to take the package home and scoop the onions out – and that’s no fun.

7. The bulk bin

Much like the salad bar, we were regulars at the bulk bins, too. We used to fill our candy bag to the top with a scoop of Sour Patch Kids from the barrel — and we could pretend that we didn’t know we were buying 24 ounces of candy. This is harder to do now that the candy comes in a factory-sealed package with the label (and weight) right on it.

In these unprecedented times, with an abundance of caution, we know we’ll get through this together. That’s why we have to be hopeful this will all end soon. And we’re hopeful that right after they nail down the formula for a vaccine, science will come up with a way to save the free nosh.

 

 

Posted in comfort food, covid-19, jewish food, nosh, free nosh, snacks, coronavirus | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Word Mavens Go Viral – In a Good Way!

The Word Mavens are still in separate quarantines in separate homes at separate computers, so we’ve been taking turns writing Word Maven blogs. Joyce files this report from the wilds of Merion, PA: 

During the current coronavirus quarantine, we’ve found ourselves relying on Yiddish words even more than usual. There is so much to kvetch about. We have shpilkes because we can’t meet our friends for lunch. Figuring how and when it’s safe to open our mail and unload our groceries makes us tsedrayte.

black and brown desk globe

Photo by Bruno Cervera on Pexels.com

So we wrote an article about the Yiddish words that so perfectly describe this craziness: “These 10 Yiddish Words Will Get You Through Quarantine” appeared in the online magazine Kveller on May 8. 

Soon after, it went viral. (That expression makes you think twice now, doesn’t it?)

“Going viral” for two moms who write funny essays about Yiddish words and modern Jewish life is not the same as it is for YouTube stars whose song parodies gets millions of views and land them a spot on The Tonight Show.

But it makes us kvell nonetheless.

In the U.S., our article was picked up by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Intermountain Jewish News and other publications. It spread to Israel (The Jerusalem Post, the Times of Israel), to Canada (The Edmonton Jewish News), and to England, where the Shul By the Sea in Lancashire posted it on their website. We’ve never been to the Shul By the Sea in Lancashire, but doesn’t it just sound great? So picturesque! So very British!  

Please forgive us for bragging. Kine-ahora, poo, poo, poo!Screen Shot 2020-05-26 at 6.36.25 AM

The article was also shared by a number of Facebook groups, including Yiddish Love to Kibbitz,  Jewish Humor, and Jewish Lone Stars, and we made a lot of new Facebook “friends.”

On Kveller’s Facebook page, our article got 676 likes, 400 shares, and 69 comments. This is way more engagement than we get for most of our articles. Of course, we read every single comment. We thought about sending our fans an autographed, glossy photo of a bagel and lox but decided against it. 

Some commenters shared their appreciation for Yiddish words: 

  • “An amazingly expressive language. I love these words, and I grew up with many of them.” – Francine D.
  • “The coolest thing about Yiddish (in my opinion) is the fact that words sound like what they mean!” – Mary M.
  • “Yiddish words express in one word what it would take a sentence to express with such enthusiasm.” – Ellen M.
  • “The Yiddish words I learned from my grandmother are the most amazing language to describe the bullshit we are living through. They are spot on and succinct.” – Amy R.

We couldn’t have said it any better.

While many people talked about learning Yiddish from their family members, one woman wrote that she learned that word bubkes (it literally means “beans” or something that’s of little value) from an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Whaat?

A Google search revealed that “Bupkis” was the title of an episode that aired in 1965, in which Rob wrote a song by that name. And now that we think about it, MOT Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks’ best pal, created (and wrote many episodes of) the show. That explains that.

Because Yiddish words are transliterations; there’s no one correct way to spell them. So bubkes and bupkis could both be valid ways to spell the word. 

Some people offered up words to add to our list. All of your words describe what we are going through. But I would like to add l’chaim, to life, and gai gezunt, good health. This is a tough time for us all but we are all shtarkers, we’re strong, and we will get through. Have faith.” Thanks for the vote of confidence, Sherry B.

Karen L. coined a new word: “You need to add oysegezoompt – too much Zoom – to your list,” she wrote, and we did just that. We’re over Zoom. Mark L. found a new use for an old phrase: “Don’t forget hocking mir a tchynick, which literally means ‘banging on my tea kettle’ and is often used to tell someone to ‘stop bothering me.’ With all the support being shown to health care workers and first responders around 7 p.m. in some large cities, just maybe it’ll take on a new literal meaning.” We love the idea. 

Other commenters dazzled us with their Yiddish prowess:

Marty K. let go a stream of  F-words to describe our current situation: “flablunget, fakochked, fagornished, fastugenha.” 

Our friend Mark Linsey posted, “Seems the Covid-19 virus is more serious for alter-kackers like myself who should stay home and kvetch about how it brings out our own mishegoss and eventually will drive us meshugge.

Joanne S. (who we don’t know but we’re sure we would like), wrote, “The occupier of the White House is a fakakte, ongeblozen engeshparter and shmendrick. He should gay kaken afen yam (go poop on the ocean). Thanks for letting me vent. Oy vey!” 

Our article first appeared five weeks ago. Since then, we’ve been making a list of Yiddish words that we’ll bring out when we can go out again. When that day comes, we’ll change out of our shmattes, get all fapitzed, and hug the whole mishpuchah again. We know we’ll get all farklempt. We can’t wait.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Great Big Jewish Food Fest: Unusual foods, celebrity chefs and virtually no heartburn to be found!

Since The Word Mavens are still in quarantine and not sitting together at one computer, we’re stuck with finding our own ways to pass the time. Ellen files this report from the virtual Great Big Jewish Food Fest:

Last week, if you wanted to get away from the global pandemic, civil rights protests, looting, and stress-inducing news reports, you could have joined in yet another Zoom get-together — and before you groan – this one was a good one. 

Centered around Jewish food in all its variations, the 10-day Great Big Jewish Food Fest (which was live May 19-28) featured online sessions of cooking demonstrations, themed happy hours, interviews with Jewish chefs and restaurant owners, food history from around the world, opportunities for home cooks to try their hand at gourmet creations, and more. It also raised money for a good cause: People who were impacted by closings in the restaurant and hospitality industries.

The cooking demonstrations ranged from those focused on specific foods – like a Shabbat chicken dinner or a family challah bake – to a “Chopped”-style finale competition that challenged viewers to combine pickle brine, canned beans, matzo meal, and something dairy to concoct a dish for  Shavuot.  During the 10-day event, the Great Big Jewish Food Fest updated their robust Facebook and Instagram pages with daily events, photos, live demos and more. 

Event organizers were striving to “celebrate the diversity of Jewish food, from its rich global history, its diversity of flavors and identities, its religious and cultural foundations, and its intersection with modernity. They recognized that “food plays a powerful role in the transmission of familial and collective history, the weaving of our social fabric, and the activation of our personal identities.”

In this unprecedented time of closed restaurants and hospitality industry unemployment, they also hoped that the festival would help connect people:  chefs, cooks, funders and innovators who are thinking about opportunities to inject new energy and business models into the field.

Needless to say, with every library, synagogue and garden group offering free online courses, there are great variations in quality. The sessions of the GBJFF that I watched were very great indeed. 

I had never heard of Leah Koenig before the GBJFF and that’s my loss, because in addition to being the author of several Jewish cookbooks (including a new one all about Jewish sweets!), she was delightful to watch. During her session, “In the Kitchen: A Very Roman Holiday,” she discussed and cooked two foods representative of the venerable Jewish community of Rome.

Her sauteed spinach with raisins and pine nuts was fine, but I tuned in for the fruit- and nut-filled cookies I remembered scarfing down and adoring at Pasticceria Boccione, the 400-year-old bakery in the Roman Ghetto, across the cobbled street from the Grand Synagogue. Koenig  demonstrated how to make the cookies, known as Pizza Ebraica. She offered her own variations on the ingredients, answered numerous (annoying) questions from viewers about recipe substitutions, and showed off what the finished cookies should look like. The day after we watched, my daughter and I baked Pizza Ebraica with great success – and I’ve added Koenig’s recipe to my treasured cookbook binder of “keepers.” Get both recipes here.

 

Pizza Ebraica cookies

The Shabbat dinner demonstration, dubbed “The Great Big Shabbat Cook-Along,” was hosted by Top Chef’s Gail Simmons and featured Philadelphia’s own Mike Solomonov, chef and owner of Zahav, Dizengoff and six other Israeli/Jewish restaurants. Solomonov demonstrated how to make his super-creamy hummus. Spoiler alert: It’s easier than you think.    

that time I had breakfast at K’far and met Chef Solomonov!

 

The demonstration also featured Sephardic chef Einat Admony, who owns the chain of falafel restaurants Taim and the upscale Balaboosta in Manhattan. Admony’s contribution was Moroccan chicken with lemons and olives. The third chef was cookbook author Adeena Sussman, who made jeweled rice and lemon tahini-glazed roasted carrots. 

In this new reality of television personalities broadcasting from their homes, part of the attraction of an online event is that you get to see the celeb in their home, or in this case, their kitchen. For Solomonov, the background was a typical modern kitchen with a steel refrigerator and a tile backsplash. But Adeena Sussman was in her apartment in Tel Aviv, and from the shuttered windows to the fresh veggies from the shuk it was a welcome  glimpse of Israel.

Anyone who has ever been to Israel likely has fond memories of the fresh-squeezed juices – grapefruit, orage, pomegranate and more – that are available from street vendors equipped to extract fresh juice on the spot. Sussman, who noted that she lives near the Tel Aviv shuk and has a fondness for fresh pomegranate juice, was even more charming and authentic when she proudly showed off the large, industrial metal juicer she keeps  in her tiny apartment kitchen. And then she proceeded to juice some huge lemons! 

you can order a juicer from Israel-catalog.com

The sessions were free to watch, but the GBJFF encouraged donations. When it ended, organizers reported that over $150,000 was raised for charities working to provide relief in the wake of coronavirus, including the James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant Relief Fund and the Jewish Food Society’s fund, which feeds healthcare workers on the front lines in New York City. 

In their wrap-up statement, the GBJFF organizers wrote: “Together, we cooked Shabbat dinner with some of our favorite chefs and cookbook authors. We explored Jewish cuisine and history from Rome to the USSR, to Iraq, and beyond. We took a guided tour of vintage cookbooks, listened in on a live podcast taping and said l’chaim with friends and colleagues.”

All of the presentations from the GBJFF have been archived. You can watch them  whenever you want. All of the recipes are available and free to print out. Take a look and make a donation. You’re sure to find something interesting and delicious. 

Posted in cooking, culture, jewish food | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment