Shmoozing With the Word Mavens


Time to Relive the Favorites of Summer
July 6, 2015, 9:47 am
Filed under: calendar, family, Jewish mothers, summer | Tags: , , , , , ,

This article first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, July 5.

When we were kids, summertime meant: “Go outside and play.”

Hopping on our three-speed Schwinn bikes gave us freedom. There was no need for helmets, no stranger danger. We could ride to the drug store and get a milkshake at the soda fountain. We could pedal to the playground, where we would find a friend, swing on the swings, and hang out till dark.

When we heard the jingle of the Jack and Jill ice cream truck, we’d grab a few coins from our allowance and run outside to be first in line. Then there was the decision to be made between the chocolate éclair and the Firecracker pop.

Our cousins lived nearby. Together we’d listen to the latest 45s, read Mad magazine, and play Monopoly and gin rummy while the aunts and uncles sat around the dining room table and talked. As the sun went down and the kids started to whine — “Are we ever going to have dinner?” — Uncle Sid would lumber outside, drag the grill to the patio, douse the coals with lighter fluid, and pull out a package of Hebrew National hot dogs.

Ellen, age 10 (left) and her sister Susan, 7, swimming in Barnegat Bay.  and my sister Susan is on the right, swimming in the bay. I'm 3 years older, so I think I'm 10 and she's 7?

Ellen, age 10 (left) and her sister Susan, 7, swimming in Barnegat Bay. 

On family trips to the shore, we would race to the sand while the adults unpacked the car. No sunscreen, no hats, no shoes. We’d sunburn and peel, sunburn and peel, throughout the summer. We couldn’t wait to jump into the ocean, no matter what the temperature.

Then we got married and had children. Our kids gave us a reason to do our favorite things all over again.

We joined the community pool because we wanted to sit on the edge of the pool and chat with the other moms from the neighborhood while our kids splashed around. We wouldn’t take the plunge until they begged us to put our heads under water so we could see them do a handstand.

If the ice cream truck arrived right before dinnertime, we didn’t deny our kids because we wanted ice cream, too. We’d stand in line with them, helping them choose and then we’d ask them for a bite.

We brought our bikes out of the garage, filled the tires with air, and bought a baby seat for the back. This time around, we all wore helmets. When the kids graduated to two-wheelers, we taught them to stop at the stop signs and watch out for cars. We’d bike along the West River Drive or ride with them to the variety store to get a fresh bottle of bubbles or a new balsa wood glider.

When our children were young, we loved going to places like Sesame Place and Hershey Park. With a brave face, we’d climb the stairs of the tall water slide to show the kids it wasn’t scary. We enjoyed the Muppet musical stage show as much as they did. Closer to home, we’d watch them wheel a mini shopping cart through the Please Touch supermarket, purchasing play food and empty boxes. At the Franklin Institute, we would lead the way down tight, dimly lit passageways through the chambers of the heart. We always enthusiastically boarded the huge indoor locomotive for the 10-foot ride.

Joyce, age 5, playing with her hula hoop on the lawn of her apartment complex.

Joyce, age 5, playing with her hula hoop on the lawn of her apartment complex.

We wanted our kids to spend time with their cousins, but now it involved coordinating calendars around summer camp schedules and family vacations. It required advance planning: We’d drive miles to each other’s houses for a barbecue or plan field trips to a Phillies’ game, an amusement park, or the beach so we could all be together.

Now our children are grown. We don’t yet have grandchildren. We have no excuse for childlike behavior, and we miss it.

When we hear the ice cream truck’s song, we still get excited, but we don’t run outside. Instead, we open the freezer and pull out a Haagen-Dazs dixie cup with a little plastic spoon tucked into the lid. Sitting at the kitchen table eating it brings back fond memories.

Now we have bicycles with comfy seats and 18 gears and we love them, but by the time we load them into the car and get the water bottles, suntan lotion, and bike helmets, we’re exhausted. It doesn’t help that when we’re riding, our husbands constantly warn us, “Car! Car!” They aren’t quite as bad as those “professional cyclists” in head-to-toe Spandex who zoom past and shout, “On your left!”

At the beach, we wait until the ocean temperature is nice and warm before we wade in. We look out for jellyfish, stay where the lifeguard can see us, and reapply SPF 100-plus when we get out of the water.

We wanted to check out the new Please Touch Museum, but we couldn’t find a kid to rent. We didn’t get into the building until recently when we attended a fund-raiser there. We saw the carousel but we couldn’t ride it.

When Frozen came out, we didn’t want to go alone to the movie theater to see it. We felt out of the loop with all the Olaf lunchboxes and Princess Elsa pajamas. Who is Elsa and why is she so cold? The next time our kids came home, we forced them to sit on the sofa and watch it with us on Netflix so we could see what all the fuss was about.

When a business trip took us to Orlando, we couldn’t resist going to Universal Studios. It wasn’t embarrassing to wait in line for the Harry Potter and Spider-Man rides without children in tow, but when we climbed aboard the flying couch for the Cat in the Hat Ride — “2 adults, please” — we felt like showing photos of our kids to prove we weren’t stalkers.

It’s not that we’re not having fun anymore; it’s just grown-up fun. Perusing the list of specialty summer cocktails and ordering the lemonade vodka freeze is pretty darn fun. So is going to the movies any night of the week without having to hire a babysitter. So, hey, ice cream man, please wait. There’s a middle-aged lady chasing your truck down the street.



You Say Wonton; I Say Kreplach
June 25, 2015, 11:09 am
Filed under: ethnicity, jewish food | Tags: , , , , , , ,

This essay appears in today’s edition of The Forward – on their beautiful newly redesigned on-line Food section. Here’s the link or just keep reading below: 

 

 

“Pumpernickel is Jewish; white bread is goyish,” said comedian Lenny Bruce in the early 1960s, asserting that Jews instinctively categorize everything as Jewish or not. We agree, especially when it comes to food.

Fast-forward 50 years. Much has changed on the culinary landscape since Bruce got arrested for using the word shmuck onstage. These days, we are just as likely to eat chicken tikka masala as a corned beef special and to order our salmon atop sushi rice instead of a bagel — but we do have fondness for foods that evoke our bubbes’ kitchens, foods that are honorary members of the Tribe. This might explain why the two of us eat chopped liver but not liver paté. Why we make egg salad but not deviled eggs.

Almost every country has a doughy pastry filled with potatoes, vegetables or meat. The Spanish empanada , the Indian samosa and the Italian calzone are all cousins to the knish. Given a choice, our order is: “One kasha knish and one mushroom knish, please.” Knishes make an appearance at many a Yom Kippur break-fast and bar mitzvah cocktail hour, but they weren’t always saved for special occasions. At the turn of the last century, Jewish immigrants brought knishes to work in their lunch boxes, just like Irish workers brought their meat pies, explains Joan Nathan in “Jewish Cooking in America.”

the knish display at Lipkin's

the knish display at Lipkin’s

When summer comes, cold soups are on the menu. We remember when borscht, that magenta-colored beet soup, would make an appearance on our childhood dinner tables. The grown-ups would swirl in a dollop of sour cream, and we would cringe in horror as they slurped down the brightly colored liquid.

In the shtetls of Eastern Europe, potatoes and beets were plentiful — hence latkes and kugel (yay!) and borscht (nay!). Leafy greens were few, with the exception of sorrel. That’s why borscht has a cold green cousin named shav. These days, cooks combine spinach with sorrel to make shav, but we don’t know anyone who actually eats it.food

Thanks to CSAs (community-supported agriculture programs), farmer’s markets and the bounty of our summer gardens, we have no shortage of vegetables. It’s hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t have gazpacho on its menu. We often order it. Tomatoes, cucumbers and red peppers trump beets any day.

Anyone who has sat through a Seder has had a Jewish macaroon, the ubiquitous Passover sweet. This flourless, chewy, ball-shaped cookie is made with ground nuts, shredded coconut and egg whites. We buy them at the supermarket and eat them straight out of the can.

We wouldn’t have thought to add the adjective Jewish to macaroon until a few years ago, when the classy French-accented macaron stole the spotlight. These elegant, brightly colored meringue-and-almond sandwich cookies come neatly arranged in doily-lined boxes from fancy bakeries. They cost five times as much as the kosher cookie with the similar name, but you’d never confuse the two once you’ve tasted them. And you won’t find a food truck cruising your city selling Jewish macaroons.macaron

Gefilte fish also has a fancy French cousin — the quenelle . Both are made with chopped fish but then they swim in opposite directions. Quenelles are held together with breadcrumbs, gefilte fish with matzo meal. Quenelles are fancy; they can be served with lemon sauce and nestled next to a grilled scallop. Gefilte fish are dumped from the gel onto a lettuce leaf and dressed up with a carrot curl. We found a recipe for quenellesin “Larousse Gastronomique,” a bible of French cuisine; our recipe for gefilte fish is scrawled on a food-stained 3×5 card that Aunt Miriam pressed into our hand at Passover in April 1986.passgefilte

We would never ask the deli guy for a half-pound of smoked salmon. We call it lox, which is the Yiddish word for salmon. You can distinguish the two by the company they keep. Lox is served atop a bagel shmeared with cream cheese. If you’re fancy, you can add a little red onion and a slice of cucumber. Smoked salmon sits alongside brown bread triangles. It is fancy, so it’s served with capers and lemon slices.

Texas barbecue is described as meat cooked “low and slow” — which sounds just like the way we cook brisket. Brisket is a particular cut of beef; how you cook it and what you serve it with determines its ethnicity. If you rub it with spices and smoke it over mesquite, it becomes a cowboy brisket sandwich, served on a paper plate alongside beans. If you roast it on cut-up onions and potatoes, put some ketchup on top, cover the pan with silver foil, and put it in the oven for hours, it becomes Jewish holiday fare, served on a china dinner plate beside kugel. Much like the Friday night roasted chicken, there’s nothing uniquely Jewish about brisket — except that we say so.

We have a lot to say: When we wait in line at Starbucks for our tall skim lattes, we want to tell the barista that the jar of biscotti on the counter is mislabeled. We call it mandelbrodt.

 



It’s been a quiet month on the blog front

We don’t usually talk about our writing. We simply write. But recently, all’s been quiet on the blog front because we’ve been doing our writing business in other locations. By location, we don’t mean sitting in a beach chair by the pool with a margarita in hand. We’ve been glued to our desks and computers writing essays that will appear in publications beyond our blog.

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After years of writing together, it finally occurred to us that we should write about our experiences writing together as a team. Creating personal essays together – and still liking each other after 15 years – is unusual. Many marriages don’t last that long. In fact, at our book talks we used to start off by introducing ourselves with: “Hi, I’m Ellen, and this is my partner, Joyce.” Then we realized that people didn’t know that we are married to two men, not to each other. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

We’re thrilled that The Writer bought our essay about writing together for the October issue of its magazine. In it, we talk about the process of writing together, our complementary skills, and confess how we meld our two families into one enormous lump so as not to embarrass a particular person – but the kids are always sure we are talking about them.

“Mom, I don’t hate your broccoli casserole…”

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We recently wrote an entire essay about food, in which we pondered the difference between kreplach and wontons, macarons and macaroons, and why chopped liver is Jewish and pâté is not. It will be appearing in The Forward’s Food section soon.

The business of writing includes shmoozing with editors, agents and colleagues, and we did just that at the recent Philadelphia Writers Conference. We took an interesting class on memoir writing with Tom McAllister, author of Bury Me in My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and Philly.  

We also had a chance to shmooze with Lu Ann Cahn, former NBC 10 news reporter, and we were happy to take her class on writing nonfiction books. Optimistic, perky and full of energy, Lu Ann recently wrote a book entitled:  I Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every Day.” She started her year of new experiences by taking a polar bear plunge and moved on to hula hooping and zip-lining across a crocodile-infested lake.

Inspired by Lu Ann, we plan to:

  • serve liver pâté at the next holiday dinner.
  • refrain from phoning, texting, or messaging our children for 24 hours.
  • pay it forward and thank the waiter who forgot to refill our coffee and bring the check.

We were thrilled to slip Lu Ann an autographed copy of the Dictionary of Jewish Words, and we wish her only mazel with her next adventures.

The conference also offered writers the change to “speed date” with agents and editors. The Word Mavens were lucky enough to meet with five, four of whom showed interest in our work and our ideas for future projects. So this week, like polite Bar/Bat Mitzvah teens, we’ve been sending thank you notes to the agents – by email, not snail mail. We didn’t order the personalized pink and purple thank you stationery to match our invitations.

Thanks for reading as we kvell a bit about ourselves. You’ll be the first to know when we have news to report.

 



A Quick Quiz on Jewish Food

Some days, we get a lot of junk in our in-box.  But a recent invitation to take a short on-line quiz titled What’s Treif? caught our attention. After all, we wrote definitions for treif, kosher, pareve and more in our Dictionary of Jewish Words and wanted to test our skills. Let’s cut to the chase: We got a perfect score. We kind of think you will too.

Question 1: Which of the following dishes can’t be kosher?

a. Broiled salmon

b. Blackened catfish

c. Poached red snapper

d. Spicy tuna sushi

Were they trying to fool us with those delicious menu adjectives? They didn’t. To be kosher, a fish has to have fins and scales that can be easily removed with a knife without tearing the skin (of the fish, not the fisherman.) Catfish have fins and those creepy whiskers, but not true fish scales. And anyway, who wants to eat a fish that eats the stuff that sits on the bottom of the ocean? Answer: b.

catfish

Question 2: For a food to be kosher it must have been:

a. Blessed by a rabbi

b. Made in Israel

c. Made by Jews

d. Made in accordance with Jewish law

The laws of kashrut – keeping kosher – dictate a lot of things when it comes to food: No mixing of milk and meat. No shrimp. No eating your hamburger on a milchig (dairy) plate, and lots more.  While the correct answer is d, we say c. If we go to the trouble of making you a roast beef sandwich with pesto, lettuce and tomato on a nice Kaiser roll for lunch, you better eat it.

Question 3: Which of the following is a classic Shabbat dinner?

a. Hamantaschen

b. Roast chicken

c. Matzah brei

d. Halvah

We know they wanted us to pick roast chicken b, but we’re up for a good piece of halvah or a hamantaschen anytime. And if we have a box of leftover matzah in the cabinet, what’s wrong with eating matzah brie for Shabbat dinner in February?

Question 4: Which of the following is a traditional dish for Yom Kippur afternoon?

a. Roast chicken

b. Potato kugel

c. Challah with raisins

d. No food is served on Yom Kippur.

First of all, what’s with all the roast chicken? There’s nothing wrong with making a nice brisket now and then. And challah with raisins? We don’t want fruitcake. Our families like their challah plain – no strange fruits, no weird things mixed in.

round challah

The obvious – and correct – answer is d. Yom Kippur is a long, hungry, grumpy day. No challah. We look forward to that cup of coffee at 5 p.m. along with knishes and a bagel shmeered with cream cheese.

Because the quiz was so short, we came up with a few questions of our own.

Question 5: Proper matzah balls should be:

a. Floaters

b. Sinkers

c. From the Manischewitz packet in the little box

d. Modernized with saffron and spinach

matzah ball soup

Our guests are divided between lovers of a and b, so at this year’s Passover seder, Joyce served everyone one floater (big and fluffy) and two sinkers (small and dense). Years ago, hoping to make her matzah balls very light and fluffy, Ellen handled the dough lightly and barely shaped each ball. When she lifted the lid, she saw that the matzah balls had disintegrated and the pieces had scattered like feathers into the soup. On second thought, we are going to add a fifth option: e. bought ready-made from the deli.

Question 6: For a bagel to be legit, it needs to be:

a. Baked in New York City

b. Sesame, lightly toasted

c. Bright green because St. Patty’s Day is coming

d. An everything bagel

Our answer is b, although we wouldn’t mark a wrong. New Yorkers think they are the best at everything, and we hate to admit it but when it comes to bagels, they’re right. Answer c? We put a dyed-green bagel in the same category as a jalapeno bagel – and just say no. Answer d, the everything bagel, may work for the undecided, but we think it’s a pain in the neck. It needs to be sequestered in its own bag so the onions don’t contaminate the other bagels.

Question 7: What does blech mean?

a. What we say when they sprinkle capers on top of our pizza

b. How we feel about the new paint color you picked for the bathroom

c. The metal plate on the stove to keep the flame lit on Shabbat

d. A synonym for yuck

When we say talk about blech during our book talk, our audience thinks we are referring to a, b, and d, but since this is a quiz about Jewish food, you could correctly assume that the answer is c. Blech is the Yiddish word for tin, and a blech is a metal sheet that can be placed over the burners on a stove to keep your roast chicken or brisket warm. There’s a modern version of a blech that’s electric and looks like a warming tray for hors d’oeuvres. They call it a “Shabbat warming tray” (and the full write-up says “electric belch”) Here it is on Amazon!



A New Baby Princess! We’re Enchanted

We are each mothers of a daughter. We were overjoyed to learn that Prince William and Kate’s second baby is a girl – Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. She is the first daughter born into the British monarchy in 25 years. We send a hearty mazel tov to the parents and big brother George.

Of course, we love our sons. They’re great guys, but for a mother there is nothing like a daughter. Now Kate will have someone who wants to go shoe shopping with her. Someone who will tell her that her pants look like Mom jeans. She’ll be able to talk about clothes and haircuts with someone who actually cares. She will have someone who is interested in gossiping about why the Duke of Norfolk has RSVPed “no” to their party and why the Duchess of Manchester never sends a thank-you note.

So welcome to your pampered, treasured corner of the world your Royal Highness Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge.

We can’t help but offer you some advice:

Share your toys: There aren’t too many little girls who can count on receiving gifts from around the world – but you can. After all, when your parents took George with them on their recent trip to Australia, he was gifted with a rocking horse, sheepskin boots, rugby gear and more than 600 other stuffed animals, toys, pictures, and articles of clothing by both officials and adoring fans. That’s way too many teddy bears to fit on your IKEA toy organizer, so get used to sharing and donating much of your bounty.  princess2

Don’t play the princess card too often: When your 7th grade friends get annoying – and we know there will be mean girls at those upper-crust private schools you will attend ­­– it will be tempting to pull the princess card. When a classmate brags that she is going to Cannes on her private jet for the holidays, refrain from informing her that your Daddy is the absolute monarch of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Let the other girls have their Disney Frozen lunch boxes. You are a real, live princess.

elsa

Don’t fight with your brother: Of course siblings will squabble, especially when you two are young. But George will be king one day, so the old “He touched me first” whine probably won’t get much sympathy. You don’t want your quarrels to escalate. Remember the Tower of London?

princess3

Try new foods: Don’t be a picky eater. We know it will be hard to be enthusiastic about some of those traditional British foods. Really, bangers and mash for dinner again? But you don’t want Mummy to have to send the page to tell the butler to go back to the kitchen to order the chef to prepare another meal for the princess. Just eat your bubble and squeak like a good little girl. You can laugh about the name later.

Don’t touch anything when you go to great grandma’s house: You’re lucky to have your Mummy’s mom, Carole Middleton, as your grandmom. From what we’ve seen in the press, she’s the sort of mom we love. She has a close, loving relationship with her daughter and dotes on her grandson, George. That’s a good thing, because dad’s side of the family is highborn but complicated. We can’t imagine your step-grandmom, Camilla, cuddling or romping in the nursery. And when you visit great-grandmom Elizabeth, be sure to curtsy. It’s commanded that her subjects do so. We just hope she knows enough to (have the servants) put away all the precious tchotchkes when the grandkids come over.

 



Passover Pilpul: Why is This Seder Different from All Other Seders
April 2, 2015, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Passover | Tags: , , , , , ,

The modern American Seder is as varied as the families who gather to celebrate it. There are more than 1,600 Haggadot to choose from, including a hip-hop version for those who want to rap their Seder tunes, an ecological Haggadah that asks us to consider the trees and a 30-Minute Seder that has you nibbling the gefilte fish sooner rather than later. There’s no single right way to conduct a Seder.

Here’s 10 ways we’ll be adding some fun to our family festivities this year.

ANYA ULINICH

Kiddush
When you say the blessing over the first cup of wine, it’s traditional to recline and lean to the left, as royalty did in ancient times. After all, “now we are free” to sit any way we want, even if we are stuck sitting on a dusty, rickety, folding chair that was schlepped up from the basement. We’ll pass out pillows and tell everyone to relax and lean any way desired. We’re pretty sure that our nephew who goes to Oberlin will lean to the left, while Uncle Murray, who voted for George W., will tilt to the right.

Karpas
We dip parsley, a symbol of spring, in salt water, which represents the tears of the Israelite slaves. We’ve been crying over subzero temperatures this long winter. The Gates of Freedom Haggadah instructs us to ask guests to step outside to look for a sprouting crocus. We’ll also ask them to put the snow shovel back in the garage.

Magid
When it comes to retelling the story of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, you find out to what kind of Seder you’ve been invited to. If the preschoolers grab costumes and masks, you know the host will be passing the macaroons before 8 p.m. If the person sitting next to you hands you a 10-page script and a bongo drum and says, “Your part is Shifra, the midwife,” it’s going to be a very long night.

Mah Nishtanah
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” Because we have a few more questions:

1) Who told Uncle Murray he could bring his new lady friend?

2) Why is a box of Pesachdik brownie mix $8.19 when Duncan Hines is $3.99?

3) Will anybody eat the Sephardic charoset, with dates and figs?

4) Why do we gain weight on Passover when the food is so bad?

The Four Sons
Traditional Haggadot include the story of the four children: wise, wicked, simple and the one who does not know how to ask a question. We have always disliked this name-calling. Experts warn us not to label our kids; and how dare anyone call one of the kids simple?! He just has learning differences when it comes to math. Last year, when we looked around the table we saw one child Googling to find out what animal a shank bone comes from. Another was texting that the matzo balls are sinkers. The youngest was posting selfies on Instagram, and Joshie wasn’t asking any questions — he had his headphones on. Maybe there’s something to this old rabbinical parable after all.

ANYA ULINICH
 The Seder Plate

We’ve been known to move Hanukkah to a more convenient date during winter break, and we know people who move things around on the Seder plate. Vegans say to replace the roasted egg, the beitzah, with a small white eggplant, or substitute a nice piece of tempeh for the shank bone, the zeroa. We once substituted a random chicken bone when the supermarket ran out of lamb bones.

Although charoset is a ritual food, there’s no official recipe. Ashkenazi Jews use sweet wine, apples and nuts; Sephardic Jews dip their fingers into the charoset and make a wine-soaked handprint under their mezuza, marking the doorway so that the Angel of Death will “pass over.” We prefer the less messy Sephardic custom of putting dried apricots and dates in the recipe. When it comes time to taste the bitter herbs, called maror, authors Rabbi Alan and Jo Kay suggest in “Make Your Own Passover Seder” to ask guests to share a bitter moment, like the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job. This sounds like an idea from the Buzz-Kill Haggadah.

The sixth spot on the Seder plate is for chazeret, a second bitter vegetable. We don’t need more bitter. Instead, we’ll fill this spot with a bridge toll receipt, symbolic of the many rivers our family and friends drove across to get to the Seder.

Matzo
Everyone looks forward to that first bite, but it gets old quick — long before the other four and half boxes in the family pack get eaten. The kids look forward to the afikomen — and we hide multiple pieces of matzo so that no child is a loser when the prizes are given out. This year we will be downloading the Find My Afikomen app so that an undiscovered piece of matzo doesn’t get left in the piano bench for eight months.

ANYA ULINICH

Elijah’s Cup
We’ve always invited Elijah to our Seder. In recent years, we’ve extended an invitation to Miriam, Moses’ sister, too, filling a Miriam’s Cup with spring water to represent the healing waters of her well and the contributions of women to the Passover story. This year we will add a Bubbe’s Cup filled with fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice as a symbol of the grandmother’s return from the promised land of Florida in time to attend the family Seder.

Singing Songs
We won’t pick on the cat, the dog and the little goat of Had Gadya, because we know too many people who love this nightmare-inducing nursery rhyme. Likewise, “Echad Mi Yodea” is beloved, no matter how long it takes to sing all the verses. In fact, this year we will add a few: “Who knows 14? I know 14. Fourteen are the cold leftover matzo balls. Who knows 15? I know 15. Fifteen are the trips we make to the kitchen, clearing the table and loading the dishwasher.”

Concluding the Article
We end the Seder with “Le shanah ha b’ah b’Yerushalim (Next year in Jerusalem).” We consider this to be a travel suggestion. We would love to do a destination Seder next year. While Israel would be great, we’ve been tempted by glossy advertisements for glatt kosher, all-inclusive, weeklong Passover vacations. The kids would surely join us if we celebrate beachside. “Le shanah ha b’ah b’Puerto Rico.”

 

 



Perusing the Pesachdik Products: New Tastes for an Ancient Holiday

While all Jewish holidays seem to be food-centered, Passover is about what you can’t eat. (OK, Yom Kippur, we are not talking about you. You’re in a league of your own.) With the holiday fast approaching – it begins this Friday night, April 3 – we’re fixated on some of the new products we can and will be eating this year.

Once again, we were inspired by our pilgrimage to the amazing ShopRite supermarket in Cherry Hill, NJ, with its “Kosher Experience,” aisles loaded with Pesachdik groceries and products imported from Israel. (We wrote about it a few years ago.) This year, we trolled the Internet, read our Jewish Twitter feed, and perused the “Takeout Seder Menu” from local gourmet stores. We discovered that there are a few new tastes available for this old holiday.

 

passgefilte

What would Passover be without an oval of gefilte fish attractively placed on a bed of lettuce, on a little plate and topped with a carrot curl? We bought a few jars in the supermarket, the native habitat of gefilte fish. Gefilte fish don’t swim in any ocean; they live in a glass jar, nestled in goo. We didn’t have a choice of farm-raised or wild gefilte fish either. They are all tame, bland and captive.

We were drawn to the Rokeach brand because we saw the Yiddish word heimeshe on the label. Huh? First of all, we spell it haimish and we wrote the book. We define haimish as “unpretentious and homey, informal and friendly.” We would enjoy an appetizer that fits this description, but how exactly can gefilte fish be unpretentious? We guess they just sit there politely and wait to be eaten.

We do know a pretentious gefilte fish when we see it: the sustainably sourced, “artisanal small-batch gourmet loaf” with a layer of salmon on top marketed by the hipster chefs at Gefilteria in Brooklyn. Our mass-produced gefilte fish have no illusions that they are special. They know that they are the exact same as their jar mates.

 

passkitni

One way to expand our Passover palate this year is to embrace our hidden Sephardic ancestry (Jews whose ancestors come from Mediterranean countries) and eat kitniyot, the rice, corn, soybeans, peas, lentils and peanuts that Ashkenazic Jews traditionally don’t eat on Passover. We’ve visited the Sephardic synagogue in Florence and enjoyed Istanbul. That’s good enough for us. We’ve read that everyone is descended from the same eight people anyway, so we’ll be putting peanut butter on our matzah this year.

Evidently, Manischewitz has some Sephardic relatives too. The venerable Jewish foods company has a new line of  Pesachdik “Kitni” products that include tahini, rice cakes, popcorn and peanut butter. Marketing to Sephardic Jews – that’s targeted segmentation! Just make sure you read the little cautionary note on the label: “Acceptable for those who consume kitniyot on Passover.”

As a side note, we’ve noticed that Sephardic recipes are in vogue, too. This year, The New York Times’ Cooking section includes Passover recipes for fried artichokes (Italian), lamb with dried fruit (Israeli/Middle East), and stuffed grape leaves (Greek/Turkey). Even Jewish cooking maven Joan Nathan, an Ashkenazic Jew, is jumping on the bandwagon. We love her recipes, and this year her haroset includes dried figs, pitted dates, apricot preserves and cardamom, all ingredients usually found in Sephardic haroset.

 

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The ubiquitous Passover sweet is the macaroon, the flourless, chewy, ball-shaped cookie made with ground nuts, shredded coconut and egg whites. You could serve a macaron, the elegant French-accented meringue and almond sandwich cookie that’s trending right now. In fact, macarons are kosher for Passover, but you’d never confuse the two once you’ve tasted them – and there’s no food truck cruising the city selling Passover macaroons.

Each year manufacturers invent new flavors of the Passover macaroon. Last year it was Rocky Road. Ooh, Rocky Road…. We anticipated breaking the seal on the can, only to discover that it was the same old chocolate chip macaroon – with a small shred of marshmallow added in. Disappointment. For Pesach 2015, Manischewitz is touting red velvet, pistachio orange, and carrot cake macaroons as hot new flavors. We can can’t wait. Instead of wasting calories on Red Velvet macaroons, we’ll be hunting down that macaron food truck.

 

haroset icecream

This year, Ben & Jerry’s has introduced a new flavor for Passover – Charoset Swirl ice cream. It costs 20 shekels (about $5) because it’s only available in Israel. We can’t taste test it for you so we’ll have to rely on the description of Elli Fischer, a writer for the Times of Israel, who described it as “vanilla based with apples and cinnamon and lots of walnuts.” He added, “While it’s definitely premium ice cream and quite tasty, it’s also not very haroset-y.”  Maybe we can buy a pint of vanilla and swirl in our leftover haroset. Ben & Jerry’s is known for creative flavor concoctions, like Chubby Hubby and Pumpkin Cheesecake. Haroset is sweet and delicious. It is a good choice. We’re just happy they didn’t decide on “Chunky Gefilte Fish Swirl.”

 

Happy Passover to all our readers, friends and family!

 

 

 

 

 

 




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