For Shavuot, try this easy strawberry rhubarb trifle


Forget fancy pastries, cakes or tarts: Trifles are the best dessert you can make for entertaining. They are delicious and look beautiful and impressive, but are actually one of the easiest desserts you can make.

The first time I made a trifle was actually after a baking mistake. My Bundt cake had fallen apart mere hours before Shabbat dinner, and I was in a pinch to throw together a dessert. I threw the botched cake into a trifle dish, added some fresh fruit and chocolate mousse and voila – I was able to salvage dessert.

Shavuot is traditionally a time when we serve cheesecake, blintzes and other delicious, but heavy, dairy dishes. This trifle sings of spring flavors while being much lighter than your average cheesecake. And there’s no baking required — and only minimal cooking — since I suggest using a store-bought pound cake. Which leaves you more time for your all-night Shavuot studying. Or sitting outside with a glass of iced tea and a bowl full of trifle.

STRAWBERRY RHUBARB TRIFLE

  • 2 pounds rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 pint strawberries, cut in half and stems removed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Juice of half lemon plus zest
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Store-bought pound cake
  • Additional strawberries and mint for garnish (optional)

To make the strawberry rhubarb compote, combine the chopped rhubarb, hulled strawberries, sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until pieces of rhubarb have broken down and the mixture is soft.

Place rhubarb mixture into a food processor fitted with blade attachment. Pulse a few times to smooth out mixture or until it has reached your desired consistency.

To make the whipped cream, place the heavy cream in a large chilled bowl and mix on low speed using a hand mixer or stand mixer for 2 minutes. Increase speed to high and add vanilla. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and mix until you have stiff peaks.

To assemble, crumble the pound cake on the bottom of a trifle dish or large glass bowl. Add 1/2 to 1 cup rhubarb compote on top. Cover with whipped cream. Repeat layers until you have reached the top.

Add fresh strawberries and mint on top if desired.

Milking it: Israel leads the way in dairy tech


Decades ago Israeli dairy farmers confronted a quandary – how could they provide milk to a fast-growing population in a country that is two-thirds desert, with little grazing land?

They turned to technology, developing equipment that boosted output – from cooling systems to milk meters and biometrics – and have made Israeli cows the most productive in the world.

Science rules today, with cows' health, output, genetics and fertility closely monitored by management systems. In kibbutzes, or communal farms, across the country, they line up by the dozens to enter climate-controlled sheds, awaiting the latest innovations in robotic milking that drive up efficiency.

This has put the country's agricultural tech, and the companies that provide it, in demand around the world as – with populations and dairy consumption on the rise – traditional farming methods are no longer cutting it.

Smallholder and grazing farms are, for the most part, not competitive. Large, mechanised farms that intensely monitor production and maximise yields are the order of the day.

In the United States, for example, milk production has risen by almost half since 1970, even though the number of cows has declined by about a quarter.

Developing countries, particularly in Asia, want to upgrade their outdated dairy industries and are looking to Israel for products and expertise. So are foreign investors hoping to stay ahead of the curve.

India is the biggest milk producer in the world, but most of it comes from farmers with few resources. Average production levels per cow are low, to the frustration of policymakers.

“We're missing a huge export opportunity to Europe and other countries,” said Devendra Fadnavis, chief minister of Maharashtra state, who came to Israel to find a solution.

“I think with Israeli technology we can take our farms to the next level.”

In Vietnam, a group of Israeli companies led by systems developer Afimilk is building a $200 million dairy farm, one of the largest projects of its kind in the world. It will eventually supply half the milk in Vietnam.

Israeli agriculture has benefited from a boom in the country's wider hi-tech industry, which has become a major growth engine and investment magnet. The country leads the OECD when it comes to R&D, spending 4.3 percent of GDP on it, nearly twice the OECD average, according to Ernst & Young.

Companies often tap into the skills of workers trained in the military or intelligence sectors and start-ups benefit from tax breaks and government funding.

MILK CLOUD

The global market for dairy farming technologies is worth about $850 million a year, according to industry sources. Israel exports in the sector totalled $110 million in 2014, up 7 percent rise from a year earlier, according to the country's export institute.

Software company Akol runs a database that monitors the output, health, genetics and fertility of every cow in Israel. The database helped lift productivity to a world record of 12,083 kg per cow in 2014. By comparison, in the United States the average was 10,097 kg.

Akol has partnered with Microsoft in a joint venture to bring the technology to the developing world.

“We understood that to reach the world we need a strong cloud computing system that analyses every component of the quality of the milk. Microsoft saw this could be a breakthrough,” said Akol Chief Executive Ron Shani.

He would not disclose how much the software giant invested in the venture, but Akol has put in more than $10 million.

Start-up miRobot wants to take milking to the next level and says it has developed a prototype of an inexpensive, lightweight robotic arm that can clean, stimulate and attach the milking pump to the cow's udder entirely on its own. It can be added on to existing systems, cutting the need for extra manpower.

Such Israeli technologies have not gone unnoticed.

France-based Allflex, a designer of animal identification systems with factories in the United States, Brazil, New Zealand and China, bought Israeli milking technology company SCR in December for $250 million.

In another vote of confidence, China's vast Bright Food conglomerate bought Tnuva, Israel's largest dairy firm, for $1.1 billion earlier this year.

“The macro conditions, are very favourable for Israel's dairy tech industry,” said Arama Kukutai, managing director of California-based Finistere Ventures that has a $150 million agtech fund. “The country's high-tech pedigree extends into agriculture, and we've been looking at opportunities to invest.” 

Trader Joe’s comes up against some tough cookies


Trader Joe’s got slammed last week by a combination of hysteria and hoarding by kosher bakers when word leaked out that its semisweet chocolate chips were going from pareve to dairy.

“It’s just really sad,” said Shana Fishman, a Beverlywood mother of four who stocked up on 20 bags of chocolate chips at the Trader Joe’s in West Hollywood last week. “It means that I’ll have to use bitter chocolate chips in my cookies, and it means that I’ll have to pay more for my chocolate chips.”

Trader Joe’s semisweet chocolate chips were widely valued as the best, most affordable non-dairy chocolate chips on the market. Until now they have borne an “OK pareve” designation, essential for kosher consumers who do not eat meat and dairy products in the same meal. But the supplier for Trader Joe’s has changed its production procedure, and the chips will now be designated as dairy by Brooklyn-based OK-Kosher Certification.

“We are meeting with Trader Joe’s and encouraging them to go back to the old protocol and get those chips back to pareve,” Rabbi Chaim Fogelman, director of public relations at the OK, said on May 21. “So far, there is no movement in that area, but we are working on it.”

Trader Joe’s released a statement last week defending its chocolate chips.

“The ingredients used in our semisweet chocolate chips have not changed, there are no dairy ingredients in the item, and the chips are made on equipment dedicated to non-dairy chocolate,” a company statement said.

But the chips are bagged on machinery that also bags milk chocolate chips, and the supplier recently switched from a wet to a dry cleaning regimen on the bagging machine. “These changes … triggered the need for an FDA regulated, dairy-related allergen statement, and this in turn brought about a change in the Kosher certification for our item — going from ‘Kosher Parve’ to ‘Kosher Dairy,’ ” the statement read.

An officer at OK Kosher Certification said supervising rabbis can no longer guarantee that no errant milk chocolate chips are included in the semisweet bags.

“Currently, the monitoring of the level of separation between pareve and dairy is no longer sufficient to meet the requirements of OK Pareve,” a statement released by the OK read.

As the news leaked out through mournful Facebook posts, kosher bakers — along with vegans and the lactose intolerant — flooded Trader Joe’s with an unprecedented barrage of calls and e-mails. A petition created on change.org had 4,100 signatures as of the middle of this week.

Trader Joe’s locations reported that consumers were buying 20, 80, even 170 bags at a time.

While many so-called “haimish” brands – Jewish companies that make only kosher foods — produce pareve chocolate chips, those chips are generally waxy and flavorless. The silky, rich Trader Joe’s morsels melt to perfect consistency in cookies and taste like actual chocolate. They are good enough to almost make up for the fact that kosher bakers have to forgo real butter in cookies they serve after a Shabbat lunch of grilled chicken, roasted vegetables and quinoa salad.

Chocolate manufacturing requires cocoa butter and cocoa, but those are expensive ingredients when not purchased in massive volumes. Small kosher brands know their consumers aren’t willing to pay what it would cost to produce premium chocolate chips, said Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, director of the Kosher Information Bureau.

“They often can’t even legally call it chocolate. It’s ‘chocolate flavored,’ ” Eidlitz said.

Whole Foods carries Enjoy Life chocolate chips that are kosher pareve. They run $4.99 a bag, while the Trader Joe’s chips are $2.29 a bag. Kosher brands range between $2 and $4.

Some consumers were hoping the Trader Joe’s chips would be designated as the less restrictive DE, which stands for dairy equipment, signifying that the chips were manufactured on equipment also used for dairy.

But OK said the chips have to be considered actually dairy because milk chocolate chips could end up in the bags. Eidlitz said because the chips are complete units that do not fully dissolve into the other ingredients, the “one-sixtieth rule” that can be used to nullify trace amounts of dairy does not apply.

But Eidlitz is holding out hope. In 2006, Duncan Hines cake mixes went dairy, and consumer blowback brought the pareve label back. Same with Stella D’oro cookies, which in 2003 nixed a plan to switch to dairy after a kosher outcry.

A spokesman at the OK said the story is not over.

“We are working to rectify this issue with the manufacturer, and hopefully we will have good news soon,” the OK officer said.

On May 17, Trader Joe’s issued the following glimmer of hope: “We are evaluating our options and although we cannot guarantee a specific outcome at this time, we realize that for some of our customers this is an important issue.”

The goat herd: A story of chevre, Shavuot and backyard goats [RECIPE]


The most common question people ask when they visit our home is: “Why the goats?”

We live in the city. A few houses west of us, four lanes of Lincoln

Boulevard traffic roar past day and night. Planes from cursed Santa Monica Airport buzz overhead. And on any given night, sometime between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., an LAPD helicopter will make sure to flood our bedroom with its searchlight. It’s Venice, man.

Two years ago, into this urban landscape, I brought our first goat.

Yes, I said goat. Yes, I said first.

My daughter and I were at John’s Feed, buying chickens. John’s, I assume, is a holdover from the days when Huntington Park was surrounded by farmland; there is no other reason for a ramshackle feed store in the midst of a treeless landscape of warehouses and strip malls. 

John’s Feed stockpiles the chickens that end up next door at a live butcher shop called La Princesa. I usually buy chickens there for egg-laying. They are already full-grown, and I get the added pleasure of taking a creature off death row. On this day, when my daughter and I showed up, we noticed that, in the same crowded, feces-filled pen with the chickens, stood one miserable goat.

She was standing on her hind legs, straining to look out the window to the street.

We took her.

But why have goats? I often wonder if it’s in my blood. Eskimos have 30 words for snow. Jews have more than a dozen words for goat. You and I are generations removed from our agrarian ancestors, but their relationship with the world’s first domesticated animal lives on in our language. Azmaveth and tsaphir are he-goats. Gaddiel, a holy goat. Gedi, a young goat. Jaala and seirah are young she-goats. Ez, a she goat. Tayish, a butting he goat. Uzzah, a strong goat. Zibiah and aqqo, zemer, dishon and yael — mountain and desert goats. Ancient Jews depended on goat meat and milk for food; they slept in goat-hair tents. Their closeness created empathy: Jews were revolted by the thought of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, and so, today, we can’t eat cheeseburgers. There is a Hebrew word for hell: azazel, familiar to us from Yom Kippur. It translates literally as “lost goat.” Hell, for Hebrew, was when you lost your goat.

The Christians saw goats as the devil. The apostles saw themselves as sheep and Jesus as their shepherd.

Sheep huddle together and look to the shepherd for direction. Goats are stubborn and willful. The word capricious, meaning picky and discerning, comes from the Latin capro, for goat. Goats break fences and, thus, rules. Sheep are grazers, content to munch the grass at their feet. Goats are browsers — they refuse the grass and strive to eat the trees and bushes just beyond their reach.

Goats are deeply communal, bonded to one another. Sheep run, goats stand their ground. (Thoroughbred trainers used to calm their skittish horses by placing a fearless goat in their stall. To throw a race, you would sneak into the stall at night and get someone’s goat. A cliché was born.)

Story continues after the jump.

Rob Eshman’s goats: Ollie, left, and Goldie Horn

In Matthew 25:33, the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, Jesus tells how he will judge nations when he returns: “And [Jesus] will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on his left.” Sheep go to heaven, goats to hell. The horns Christians imagined on Jewish heads did not make them look like the devil: They made them look like goats.

Is it any wonder that goat beside the butcher shop called out to me? It’s not just that I couldn’t see her ending up as birria — Mexican goat stew — or chavito — split, grilled goat. It’s that we shared cultural DNA.

I had driven my wife’s Prius to John’s Feed Store that day. The goat, a black-and-white Nigerian pygmy about the size of a small spaniel, went into a cardboard box and into the trunk. Somewhere on the 110 Freeway North, I heard a crash. Her two devilish horns had busted the packing tape, and I drove home with a goat in the rear view mirror.

We named her Goldie Horn. When my wife arrived home from a work trip, she found her car had been completely waxed outside and detailed inside. She said I was the nicest husband in the world. Then she saw the goat.

We moved Goldie into a spacious side yard. But goats, every goat book informed me, care about two things: food and companionship. See, I explained to my wife, they are Jewish. Soon my daughter and I visited a goat rescue and returned with a dun-colored mutt goat we named Ollie.

But why goats, people still ask.

To which I often answer: Why not? Nobody walks into your house and asks, “Why dogs?” even if your pet is not fit to protect, or hunt, or even play. No one asks, “Why fish?” though you can’t eat them, or, “Why canaries?” though they don’t lay eggs. And no one asks, “Why cats?”— except me.

Goats don’t bark or scratch. In our urban ecosystem, their odorless pellets work like plant steroids, replacing the need to buy fertilizer. They come when I call them, will stand on two legs for treats and enjoy a good scratch. As I write this, Goldie is rubbing her head against the card table I’ve set up in my backyard. In a moment, I’ll let her butt the palm of my hand.  It’s a game we play.

It is weird, I know, but it really isn’t.

On Sunday mornings, I use a broom and dustbin to scoop up the layer of goat pellets, crushed dry hay and soil that carpets the animal pen. The dust plumes up and coats my face and fills my nostrils. It’s a fantastic smell — exactly like a fine unlit cigar passed under your nose. Next time someone is reaching for words to describe their $200 Cohiba, just say, “Hay, dust and goat s—-.”

I don’t even mind when I forget to feed them first thing in the morning. I have to go out after I’ve showered and dressed in my suit, carrying a slice of timothy hay, their pebbly poops squishing under my black polished shoes. I can see my wife, Naomi, at the window, watching — just like she did at the window of the Mendocino B&B one morning of our honeymoon when she saw me down by the shore tasting the seaweed. It’s a look that says, “Who, exactly, did I marry?”

I don’t tell her that when they break out of their pen and tiptoe into my study, Goldie always tries to nip a page from the same book — one of Naomi’s ancient Hebrew treatises on Jewish mysticism.

These goats, I swear to her, have made me a better Jew. Abraham, Itzhak, Yaakov, Moses and David were not scholars or preachers. They were the original men who stare at goats. Not surprisingly, the cycles of our holidays play out according to the cycles of these animals. That’s especially true now, during the holiday of Shavuot. 

Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It’s traditional to eat dairy foods like cheesecake and blintzes during the festival. The rabbis will tell you that’s because Torah is like mother’s milk to us. But my goats teach me something different.

Goldie and Ollie have been fixed. But when spring arrives, Ollie still yearns after Goldie, and a long-dead urge reawakens, and he tries. If they weren’t city goats, rescued from other people’s appetites, Goldie would be kidding now, her milk flowing. There would be more than we could drink, and we would be making cheese, and out of the cheese, blintzes.

The first milk the Hebrews drank, the first simple cheese they made, came from goats.

“Why goats?” people ask, and then they answer their own question with another: “Do you milk them?”

No, but a few months ago, my goats inspired me to take a cheese-making class from Steve Rudicel, owner of Mariposa Creamery in Altadena, the only goat dairy in Los Angeles. Rudicel, a young, sturdy farmer type, started the class with a brief explanation.

“Milk needs to be small,” he said. “Milk needs to be local. Seek out quality dairy ingredients. It makes a big difference in the lives of the animals. The hardest-working part of the dairy farm is the animals. We’ve lost respect for the animals.”

Rudicel paused. 

“Goats are some of the sweetest creatures I’ve ever met,” he went on. “I’m often moved by the milk we make.”

In front of about 75 people, Rudicel had to stop to compose himself. 

“Why goats?” That’s the answer. These animals start out in your blood, but they quickly make their way to your heart.

STEVE RUDICEL’S CHEVRE CHEESE

Fresh goat cheese is one of the easiest foods you can make. It takes five minutes of active cooking time, over two days. And its taste is far superior to the standard logs of chevre cheese product available in gourmet stores.
All specialty items are available by mail-order at dairyconnection.com.

Tools:

Good liquid thermometer
Large spoon
Large, clean pot
Cheese maker’s muslin or molds

Ingredients: 

1 gallon pasteurized goat milk (I use Summerhill Dairy, which is readily available at Trader Joe’s. It costs $3 quart, or $12 a gallon, which yields just over 1 pound of goat cheese.)
1/8 teaspoon MM100 or MM101 starter cultures 
3 drops vegetable rennet
1/4 cup spring or distilled (not tap) water 

Heat milk gently to 74 degrees F.

Add a scant 1/8 teaspoon starter culture and stir for two minutes.

Dissolve rennet in spring water. Add to milk and stir for 2 minutes.

Drape a towel over pot and leave at room temperature for 12 to 20 hours. The curds are ready when they appear solidified and liquid whey floats on top. 

Ladle curds into cheese maker’s muslin, tie around a wooden spoon or dowel and suspend over a pot. Allow to drip at room temperature overnight. Or, you can ladle into cheese molds and allow to drain overnight.

Unwrap cheese, sprinkle with sea salt, drizzle with great olive oil, and it’s ready to eat. You can also stir in seasonings (salt, chives, etc.), then cover and refrigerate.

Makes slightly more than 1 pound of cheese, enough to fill about 6 chevre molds.

Tnuva drops Brooklyn distributor following labor campaign


Tnuva, Israel’s largest dairy company, said it will not renew its contract with its Brooklyn distributor, which is accused of underpaying workers and firing employees illegally.

A campaign by organized labor and Jewish groups had urged Tnuva to break from Flaum Appetizing, which distributes the Israeli firm’s cheese in the United States and also produces hummus.

The National Labor Board ruled in 2009 that Flaum abused workers by paying them below minimum wage without overtime and firing workers who complained about workplace conditions.

The ruling ordered that Flaum pay $270,000 in restitutions. Flaum has appealed, arguing that it is not obligated to pay back wages to undocumented immigrants. According to Flaum officials, Tnuva accounted for less than 20 percent of the distributor’s business.

“This is an important step,” Ari Hart told the Daily News. Hart is founder of Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox group that encourages “ethically kosher” or “yosher” products. “I think Tnuva heard loud and clear the voices of kosher consumers and Jewish leaders.”

In August after a protest led by Uri L’Tzedek, Tnuva USA issued a statement to JTA saying that the company had “received assurances from Flaum’s management that Flaum … abides by all legal requirements,” and urged Flaum to “act judiciously and fast to solve their internal matters.”

In June, a nationwide boycott of Tnuva’s goods in Israel prompted the food company to reduce the price of cottage cheese by 20 percent.

Say Cheese: Recipes for Shavuot


During Shavuot, it’s a custom to serve dairy foods, such as cheese blintzes, cheese noodle kugels, cheesecake and even ice cream. But have you wondered where this tradition comes from?

There are many explanations, but I like the theory that, at this time of the year, sheep and goats are still feeding their young, and milk products abound.

Dishes prepared with wheat, barley, honey, olives and other “first fruits” of the spring harvest are also customary.

Using many of these ingredients and updating the traditional Shavuot dairy dishes, this menu includes some of my favorite dishes, inspired by my new Italian cookbook, “Italy Cooks.”

When your guests sit down for the holiday meal, welcome everyone by sharing a platter, placed in the center of the table, containing a goat cheese and tomato appetizer. It is a great way to start the evening.      

Cold tomato soup topped with mozzarella cheese is a refreshing perfect first course, as it can be prepared in advance, stored in the refrigerator and ladled into soup bowls when you are ready. I developed this recipe while we were renting a house in Italy, where we often picked tomatoes from the garden. Based on the famous Italian caprese salad, it is fresh, colorful and easy to prepare, especially if you have a tomato press. (This handy little Italian-made gadget separates the seeds and skins from the pulp, leaving a fresh tomato puree. The device is made of heavy red acrylic, with a stainless steel strainer and a strong suction cup on the bottom that attaches to any work surface. You can find it at most cookware stores.)   

Zucchini squash blossoms are easily found in farmers’ markets at this time of the year. Stuff these delicate flowers with a ricotta mixture and bake in the oven.  Serve with a classic marinara sauce. This light vegetable dish makes a perfect small course for a dinner that consists entirely of primi piatti (first plates).

Instead of the traditional farmers cheese-filled blintzes, prepare crepes filled with ricotta cheese and spinach, baked and served with a chunky, spicy tomato sauce. It is an Italian country crepe dish known as Crespelle con Ricotta e Spinaci.  This recipe is most appealing with the filled crespelle (crepes) presented on a pool of tomato sauce.  Think blintzes, with an Italian accent.

Fried Cheese is another dish that is perfect to serve during Shavuot. This one is so impressive in Italian restaurants, and easy to replicate at home. It’s just a mixture of mozzarella cheese, eggs, breadcrumbs and seasoning, cut into squares. The mozzarella squares should be soft and melted inside, so it’s important to fry them just moments before serving. Have the fresh tomato sauce prepared and ready to spoon onto the individual serving plates, place the fried cheese on top, and serve at once. (Recipe online.) 

GOAT CHEESE AND TOMATO APPETIZER 

8 ounces montrachet or other goat cheese
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup mascarpone (optional) 
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped basil
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil or more to taste
Classic Marinara Sauce (recipe follows)

Combine the montrachet, cream cheese, mascarpone, garlic, basil, salt and olive oil in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Mix until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Add more olive oil if needed for smoother consistency.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, preheat broiler. Cover bottom of 12 small (3-inch) shallow custard cups or ramekins with Classic Marinara Sauce. Using an ice cream scoop, place a scoop of cheese mixture in the center of each custard cup or ramekin. Heat under the broiler for about 5 minutes, or until top is brown. Do not let the cheese mixture melt. Sprinkle with parsley and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Makes 12 servings.


FRIED CHEESE WITH CLASSIC MARINARA SAUCE

It is important to fry the mozzarella cheese cubes just before serving so they will be soft and melted on the inside. The sauce can be prepared in advance; simply spoon onto individual plates when serving.

1 pound mozzarella cheese, finely diced
6 eggs
1 1/4 cups dried bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons dry vermouth or brandy
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 parsley sprigs, stems removed
4 fresh basil leaves
1 cup flour
Vegetable oil for frying
Classic Marinara Sauce (see recipe)

In a double boiler, soften the mozzarella over hot water. Transfer the softened cheese to the large bowl of an electric mixer and beat in two of the eggs at medium speed. Add 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the oregano, half the garlic and the salt; mix well. Press the cheese mixture into a lightly oiled 5-by-7-inch glass dish. Cover and chill at least 1 hour, or until firm.

In a bowl, lightly beat the remaining four eggs. Blend in the vermouth. Set aside.

In a food processor or blender, blend the remaining 1 cup bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, basil and remaining garlic. Set aside.

Cut the cheese mixture into 1/2-inch cubes (about 15 pieces). Dip each into the flour, then the egg-vermouth mixture, and finally into the bread crumb mixture to coat evenly. Place on paper towels and chill 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

In a heavy skillet or deep fryer, heat 3 inches of oil until it registers 375 F on a deep-frying thermometer. Fry the cheese cubes, a few at a time, until evenly golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve at once with Classic Marinara Sauce.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


 
CLASSIC MARINARA SAUCE

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 small white onions, finely diced
1 can (1 pound, 12 ounces) whole plum tomatoes, with liquid
4 cups peeled, seeded and chopped fresh tomatoes
8 whole basil leaves, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Minced parsley for garnish
Olive oil for drizzling

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook gently until browned. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the canned and fresh tomatoes, basil, and simmer until soft, about 5 minutes. Using a wire whisk or fork, mash the tomatoes. Simmer over low heat until the mixture thickens into a sauce, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Let cool. May cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or in freezer for up to one month.

Makes about 4 cups.


 
CRESPELLE WITH RICOTTA AND SPINACH

24 Blini (recipe follows)
1 pound ricotta cheese
8 ounces spinach, steamed, squeezed dry and finely chopped
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Salt to taste
Classic Marinara Sauce (see recipe)

Prepare Blini; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

If ricotta is very soft, place in a strainer set over a medium bowl for 30 minutes to drain. Mix the drained ricotta, spinach, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To assemble, spread about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta-spinach filling over the entire surface of each crepe. Fold 2 inches of each side over the filling and roll up tight. Cut each roll into 4 pieces and place on the baking sheet. Bake at 350 F until heated through, about 5 minutes.

To serve, heat the Classic Marinara Sauce and spoon some in the center of each plate. Arrange 4 or 5 rolled crepes, cut side up, on top of the sauce. 

Makes 12 servings.  


BLINI (Crepes)

5 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 3/4 cups flour
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

In bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs and egg yolks. Blend in milk and cream.  Add flour, salt, and oil; blend well.  Pour into a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl and allow to slowly drip through.  Or push batter through the strainer with a rubber spatula. Batter should be the consistency of heavy cream.  If too thick, add a little more milk.  It can be used immediately or covered with plastic wrap, refrigerated, and used the next day.

Brush a well-seasoned crepe pan with butter and heat. Pour in about 3 tablespoons batter; tilt and rotate the pan to distribute it evenly and thinly, pouring off any excess.  The first crepe will be thicker than the rest.  Cook until underside is lightly browned around the edges, 2 to 3 minutes.  Turn and cook on other side 1 to 2 minutes.  Repeat with remaining batter, stacking cooked crepes on a dish with a piece of wax paper between each one.

Makes about 12 crepes.

Say ‘grazie’ for ricotta-filled Italian delights


Shavuot begins exactly seven weeks after Passover and brings with it centuries of food traditions.

Because some say milk and cheese symbolize the purity of the Torah, it is the festival when dairy foods are normally served. The holiday also celebrates the spring harvest, a time when a new crop of fresh vegetables and fruits begin to appear.

This year I am inspired to prepare a few of my favorite Italian dishes, which I discovered on one of our trips to Italy. We usually spend two to three months a year there, renting a house and shopping at the local open markets where we find wonderful treasures of fresh vegetables along with a selection of wonderful cheeses, like aged Parmesan and fresh ricotta. There are probably more Italian recipes that contain dairy products than in any other country.

For a fun first course, serve fresh fava beans, which you can find in your open farmer’s market. No recipe necessary, just boil the shelled fava beans, remove the outer skin, toss them in olive oil with diced pecorino cheese, season with salt and pepper and spoon the mixture into small cappuccino cups.

Follow with an Onion-Anchovie Pizza, which features an easy-to-make pizza dough. Roll it out very thin and top with a rich and savory mixture of slow-cooked sweet onions and garlic.

Garnish with pungent anchovies, Parmesan cheese and drizzle with olive oil. Simply bake for 30 minutes in a hot oven, cut into wedges and serve.

When we are cooking in Italy we can’t resist buying zucchini squash blossoms at the marketplace. They make a delicious taste treat for the holiday and are now available. They take a little effort, but are worth it. Fill with a ricotta cheese mixture and when baked they puff up like little pillows.

Risotto is the carrier for almost any ingredient, but spring vegetables are the perfect combination. To be truly delicious it should be made just before serving. It takes exactly 18 minutes to cook and you must stir constantly, while adding broth. Invite your guests to join you in the kitchen, offer them a glass of wine and a chance to stir the risotto.

Individual ricotta cheese souffles are a wonderful dessert. Mix the cheese, egg yolks and lemon zest several hours before the guests arrive. Then after dinner, fold the egg white meringue into the mixture, fill the souffle molds and bake. No one minds waiting a few extra minutes to taste these warm, light and flavorful desserts.

Enjoy Shavuot with your family and friends, and Buon Appetito.

Fresh Fava Beans With Pecorino Cheese
3 pounds fresh, young fava beans (about 2 cups)
1 cup diced pecorino cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Shell fava beans and discard the pods. Parboil the fava beans in boiling water, about five minutes. Cool and pop them out of their skins.

Just before serving, spoon the fava beans and pecorino into a bowl. Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon into serving bowls or cups.

Makes six to eight servings.

Onion-Anchovy Pizza
Pizza dough (recipe follows)
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds (3 or 4 large) onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 2-ounce can anchovy fillets, drained
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Cornmeal

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Prepare the pizza dough, cover with a towel and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low heat for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Do not allow onions to brown. Makes about three cups.

Divide pizza dough in four equal parts and roll one part in a round circle. Brush a round pizza baking dish with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place the onion mixture on the pizza round. Garnish with anchovies in a circular pattern. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top (optional). Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Repeat with remaining dough.

Makes four pizzas.

Pizza Dough
2 packages active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (110-115 F)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Dissolve the yeast with the sugar in 1/2 cup of the water and set aside until foamy.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup water, the olive oil and yeast mixture.

Stir in the flour and salt and stir in 1 cup at a time, until the dough begins to come together into a rough ball. Spoon onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, oil its top, cover, and set in a warm place for about 15 minutes, or use immediately.

Ricotta Filled Zucchini Squash Blossoms
20 squash blossoms, with tiny zucchini attached, when available
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 egg yolks or whole eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Carefully open blossoms wide and remove the pistils (fuzzy yellow floret) from inside the center of the zucchini blossoms and discard. Set aside.

To prepare the stuffing: In a large bowl, beat the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, and salt until smooth. Taste for seasoning; the mixture should be highly seasoned. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To fill the blossoms: Spoon the filling into a large pastry bag, or a small spoon will do. Fill the blossoms about three quarters full and gently squeeze and twist the petals, over the filling, together at the top.

Brush two 8-by-10-inch baking dishes with olive oil and arrange the stuffed zucchini flowers in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the blossoms with salt, pepper and olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until cheese is puffy and the juices that run from the blossoms begin to bubble.

Got Shavuot?


The hottest word in marketing today is “interactive.” After decades of treating consumers like passive targets, marketers have learned that the best way to get people excited about your product is to create some kind of interaction — to make consumers feel and experience the uniqueness of your product.

It’s also called “high-touch” or “relationship” marketing. I’ve seen this evolution with all kinds of clients, from baby food to luxury cars. But what I find fascinating is that based on this new trend, Judaism is bursting with marketing potential.

Look at some of our holidays. In the middle of winter, while most of the world sits around a little tree lit with electricity, we go old school and harness the iconic power of candles — beautiful, flickering, magical candles. We don’t just look at light, we create it.

At springtime, God comes to us with one of life’s most satisfying experiences: He instructs us to clean up every little corner of our homes. Not only do we end up finding loose change in the sofas, but we feel like we’re back in control of our messy lives. And when our homes are nice and orderly, what do we do? We have an elaborate meal full of interactive rituals to celebrate that most valuable of consumer products — human freedom.

To make sure we take none of our comforts for granted, Judaism doesn’t settle for charismatic preaching or simple prayer. Like they say in marketing, that would be “me too-ish,” and certainly not very interactive. So come fall, Judaism instructs us to build a frail, little hut in our backyards — and eat there for eight days.

This instinct for high-touch marketing never ends. We are the People of the Book, so what do we do at the very end of our religious year, when we’ve just finished reading that Book? We take it out, raise it high, dance, drink and have a huge party around it. Talk about interactive.

Marketers know the importance of kids, and so does Judaism. You could fill a 24-hour cable channel with news of interactive games and art projects for kids that flow out of Jewish holidays.

You wonder sometimes if God and his helpers hired an ad agency to help them come up with all these super-creative, interactive holidays. I guess when you have 613 commandments, it’s not like you can’t use a little marketing help.

One of my favorite high-touch holidays on the Jewish calendar is the one that tells us to chill for one day a week — no cell phones, no “Grey’s Anatomy,” no Beverly Center — so that we can recharge our batteries for the coming week. That’s some foresight they must have had at Sinai, to anticipate that 3,300 years later, we’d all be sleeping with our BlackBerries — desperate for a weekly dose of unplugged bliss.

And just when you think you’ve hit a lull in the Jewish holiday calendar, you get hit with a happening like a bonfire on the beach to celebrate a great mystic, or the planting of trees to celebrate the biblical imperative to renew and protect the earth. This is interactive marketing at its finest: high consumer involvement, with hardly ever a dull moment.

Which brings me to what may arguably be the dullest moment in the Jewish calendar: the holiday of Shavuot, which is now upon us.

It pains me to think that God’s ad agency might have taken the day off on this one. What a blunder! On the one holiday that the People of the Book celebrate the receipt of that very book, what do they come up with? Cheese blintzes? A dairy festival? Didn’t they anticipate all those news reports of the mucus-inducing properties of milk and other dairy products?

It’s not fair. More attention must be paid to this holiday. Of course, here in the hood, as in all observant communities, the two days of Shavuot are as important as the two days of Rosh Hashanah — the kids are off school and everybody’s in shul. It’s holiday business as usual.

But unlike Rosh Hashanah — which has the irresistible attraction of a new year and a new beginning — and other holidays that have their own attractions, Shavuot seems to miss that special sizzle that could engage mainstream Judaism.

We can change that. The truth is, some of our most creative customs and ideas have evolved over the centuries. So why not find creative ways to get more Jews to “interact” with Shavuot?

If Judaism were my client, here’s what I would recommend: Make Shavuot the coolest holiday of the year by playing up the little-known Shavuot custom of staying up all night — just like the ancient mystics.

Think about the times in your life — except for final exams — when you’ve stayed up all night. Isn’t there something a little rebellious and bohemian about this idea of the night that never ends? OK, you won’t be in a jazz bar or partying on a beach in Bali, but you’ll be breaking the boundaries of your everyday routine, and isn’t that worth something?

The observant Jews who stay up all night on Shavuot usually do a lot of learning, with some Sephardic Jews doing certain prayers of rectification. But get creative. Bring out your favorite Jewish books, read Jewish poetry, tell Jewish stories, sing a few songs, meditate — in other words, create your own all-night Shavuot salon, and make sure you have plenty of Turkish coffee.

That’s my idea. Now get interactive and e-mail me your own ideas. Winning entry gets a free cheesecake.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Kids Page


The Dairy Queen

Do you like ice cream? Cheesecake? Blintzes?

Well, Shavuot is the holiday for you. That’s when the dairy queen grants us our wish: to eat all the sweetest, milkiest foods we want. The rabbis tell us one reason for this custom: The Jews did not eat kosher meat until they learned about it in the Torah. Once the Torah was given, they realized that their dishes and pots were still non-kosher from previous use. Until they could get new ones, the Jewish people ate only dairy.

Piece of Cake

No-Bake Cheese Cake

Ingredients:

1 large package of graham crackers

3 containers of soft cream cheese

1 cup of milk

1 package of vanilla pudding

1. Combine the cream cheese, milk and vanilla pudding together in a mixing bowl.

2. Use a mixer to combine the ingredients (make sure to have an adult help you).

3. While the mixer is mixing, take the graham crackers and line the bottom of a large tray so that they completely cover the bottom of the pan.

4. Add the mix on top of the graham crackers and refrigerate. It will thicken in the refrigerator overnight and be ready in the morning.

You can use different flavored puddings and add any topping you like: fruit, nuts, chocolate sauce — mmmmm.

Enjoy!

 

Dining Out…


As a rule, you don’t go to museums to eat. Unless you’re like me — someone who, when push comes to shove, prefers great food to great art. I make no apologies: The last time I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I ate a tasteless, watery and expensive fruit salad in the cafe there. That I remember. What exhibit I was there to see I’ve long forgotten. It had something to do with famous dead artists.

Zeidler’s Cafe at the Skirball Cultural Center is memorable — for all the right reasons. Forget that it’s located in a museum lobby. If Zeidler’s Cafe were on Ventura or Wilshire boulevards, you’d have to reserve a table for lunch.

The light, large space shares a stone floor with the outdoor patio, which stretches out past a wall of plate glass. Somewhere beyond the atrium, the city and Valley lie far beneath you. Never mind that the Mulholland Drive exit on the 405 is only a few hundred yards away — this place feels like a getaway.

The menu at Zeidler’s mixes deli with California creative — not surprising, considering that it is owned by Marvin and Judy Zeidler, who also own the Broadway Deli and Citrus. (Zeidler’s is dairy, but not kosher.) You’ll find crisp, generous pizzas with Puck-esque top-quality ingredients (around $7 to $8) such as kalamata olives and smoked Gouda. The sandwiches (around $6) are simple and clean-flavored: tuna, egg, salmon salad; no olive pastes and sun-dried tomato spreads lurking under the bread.

About a half pound of nicely seared tuna comes with the seared ahi salad. Though the fish is ice-cold — I like mine still warm on the outside from the sear — it is perfectly cooked, high-quality tuna, crusted with black and white sesame seeds. The bright composed salad beneath it is lightly dressed with a sesame dressing and laced through with peppery daikon sprouts.

Mushroom pot sticker salad is flavorful, if a little too much like…pot sticker salad. And who needs that?

The barley soup has a swell peppery kick, the meatless cousin to the barley shitake mushroom soup down at the Broadway Deli. Other deli selections, such as latkes ($2.50) and rich, light blintzes tangy with lemon peel ($6.95), make Zeidler’s a good choice for Sunday brunch.

The desserts, made on premises, are large and homey. Cheesecake tastes more of New York than Los Angeles. It’s a good-sized wedge, perfumed with vanilla and creamy at the core.

I like the service at Zeidler’s too. A manager comes by to check the water level in my teapot. When I sent back a cup of coffee because it tasted sour, the teapot and some black tea appeared in seconds, with a smile.

Zeidler’s is, of course, the place to eat when visiting the Skirball. But it may be the perfect midpoint spot for friends coming from the Valley and the city to rendezvous, and a good choice for pre- or post- Getty Center viewing. That little place should be so lucky to house a Zeidler’s of its own.

Zeidler’s Cafe is open weekdays (except Monday), 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and weekends, noon-5 p m. (310) 440-4515.

Haute Latkes

Ashkenazic Jews eat latkes because they’re fried in oil, and well-oiled foods symbolize the Chanukah miracle of the oil lamp that burned in the sanctuary for eight days. Italian Jews make an ethereal fried chicken for the holiday, using lemon peel in the batter. And Sephardic Jews have a battery of fried desserts. Israelis eat jelly doughnuts, sufganyot, baseball-sized blobs of dough stuffed with a red goo that might share some distant lineage with a real fruit.

But I like latkes.

The recipes that follow are from Zeidler’s Cafe at the Skirball Cultural Center. Created by Chef Jim Herringer, they push the envelope of Jewish tradition while incorporating traditional Mexican and French ingredients. These might not be your first choice for a Chanukah latke, but they’ll work well as an hors d’oeuvre any time of year.

Southwestern Latke with Chunky Salsa

4 medium russet potatoes

2 Eggs

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

2 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese

8 ounces chunky salsa

1) Halve the potatoes and grate on a coarse panel grater.

2) Beat the eggs in a bowl and fold in the cilantro and potatoes.

3) Heat the oil and form small circles with the potato mixture. Fry to golden brown, remove from the skillet and top with salsa.

4) Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

Chunky Salsa:

1 pound ripe tomatoes

4 serrano chile peppers

1 clove garlic

salt to taste

1) Preheat broiler and place the tomatoes and chile peppers on the broiler pan. Broil, turning frequently, until the skins are blistered and slightly charred.

2) Allow the tomatoes and chili peppers to cool at room temperature. Remove the skin and seeds.

3) In a food processor, process the garlic and chile peppers on the chop setting. Add tomatoes and salt to taste. Pulse on and off until chopped, not puréed.

4) Place a dollop of salsa atop each latke just prior to service.

Crisp Potato Latke with Goat Cheese

4 russet potatoes, peeled

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives

8 ounces goat cheese

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

1) Halve the potatoes and grate on a coarse panel grater. Do not rinse potatoes. Squeeze moisture from potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

2) Add one tablespoon of oil to a large skillet. Lay out a thin layer of grated potatoes, forming a circle. Top the potato circle with one ounce of goat cheese, sprinkle generously with chives. Cover the goat cheese with another thin layer of potato, ensuring that the cheese is completely covered. Add remaining oil and carefully turn the latke over and cook to golden brown on both sides. Repeat, making a total of eight latkes.

A Hole in Kosher L.A.


A Hole in Kosher L.A.

By deciding to introduce meat products into itsformerly all-dairy outlets, Noah’s Bagels has provoked a strongresponse from observant Jewish noshers

By Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor

You can tinker with the “classic” Coke recipe, add color to thegray New York Times, but don’t mess with my kosher Sunday-morninghangout. That’s the message observant Jews have been sending toNoah’s Bagels since the Northern California-based company decided tointroduce meat products into its formerly kosher, all-dairy LosAngeles outlets Nov. 1.

First, a bit of bagel background may be in order: Noah’s Bagels,which sells deli salads, knishes, lox, cream cheeses and Jewishbakery items, was originally a private company run by its founder,Noah Alper. In February 1996, Noah’s was bought by Einstein Bros.Bagels Corp., and the joint enterprise went public in August of thatyear. Boston Chicken is now the corporation’s majority shareholder.

Today, Noah’s familiar logo remains, dotting storefronts up anddown the West Coast. Here in Los Angeles, Noah’s attracts briskweekend traffic to its many outlets, several of which are situated inthe same sorts of trendy retail nexuses that house Starbucks Coffee,Tower Records and various juice shops.

The abrupt change in the kosher foodie landscape caused by Noah’smenu changeover has provoked strong community response in areas wherethere is a critical mass of observant Jewish noshers. Two Noah’sstores are in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Another is on Beverlyand Detroit, adjacent to Hancock Park. Both areas are home to highconcentrations of Orthodox Jews, who have stayed away from Noah’ssince the decision.

Gary Narin, a resident of Beverlywood and a Modern Orthodox Noah’sdevotee, has been active in trying to resolve this conflict overcorporate bagel kashrut. Along with other members of thePico-Robertson community, he contacted Noah’s main office about theNovember decision, urging the company to maintain kashrut at thoselocations that serve an observant clientele. Noah’s agreed to keepthe stores at Beverwil and Pico, Olympic and Doheny, and Beverly andDetroit as all-dairy restaurants.

So what’s the beef? When deli meats were introduced at thecompany’s other Southland sites, Rabbinical Council of Californiarabbis felt compelled to withdraw Noah’s local certification acrossthe board. Rabbi Abraham Union of the RCC was unavailable for commentat press time, but lay people affiliated with the board have venturedthat part of the reason the RCC no longer wanted to certify thosethree stores was because of the potential for confusion and erroramong customers who would be patronizing a bagel chain that waskosher in some neighborhoods and treif in others.

Another factor blocking certification is the issue of whetherNoah’s would agree to close on Shabbat. Although it’s a publicly heldfirm that’s not obligated by Jewish law to do so, the November menuchanges prompted the RCC to regard each outlet as a separate shop tobe considered individually, according to Dr. Mark Goldenberg, a laymember of the RCC. Noah’s is not willing to close down on Saturdays,so progress has been stalled. For the time being, these three dairyNoah’s are in uncertified kosher limbo, a status that disturbs Narinfor reasons that go beyond the loss of a good onion bialy.

“We were a little frustrated because they were losing theircertification, and it’s not because we couldn’t find a kosher bagel,”Narin said. “That’s not it at all. Noah’s was a great meetingplace…a place where all Jews could eat together.”

Narin said that he’s committed to building bridges between theOrthodox and non-Orthodox communities. And, in its own way, heexplained, Noah’s was part of that positive effort. “In my mind, itwas like a little Jewish community center, where everyone could sitand have a cup of coffee and a bagel. Non-Orthodox Jews who may notgravitate to other kosher places would go there…. In some ways,Noah’s did as much good in the community as some synagogues orFederation projects. It really became known as a gathering place.”

Narin is quick to point out that representatives from Noah’s wereresponsive to his complaints. At its Irvine and Granada Hillslocations, the company decided to maintain kashrut after the Jewishcommunities in those areas lobbied hard for them to do so.Certification didn’t come through the RCC, of course, but byindependent rabbinic supervision, something Noah’s is now shoppingfor in order to get its Pico-Robertson and Hancock Park outletsrecertified.

“The way we found independent supervision for the stores inGranada Hills and Irvine is through people in those communities whocontacted their rabbis, who then contacted us,” said Sydney DrellReiner, Noah’s director of community relations. “We’re still lookingfor supervision for the other three stores, and we’d like to get thatdone as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet.Frankly, we’re open to suggestions.”

Why bother with meat at all if it’s going to cause such abyzantine bagel brouhaha? The answer, of course, is dough, and notthe chewy kind. Kosher consumers are a minority of Noah’s diversecustomer base. According to Reiner, “Noah’s made the decision inOctober, based on the requests of a vast number of our customers –about 90 percent — who wanted us to expand our menu to include morechoices for breakfast and lunch. So in Seattle, Portland and LosAngeles, we introduced those products, which are doing quite well bythe way. But we always had the intention of maintaining koshersupervision at other outlets, as we do in Northern California.”

In other parts of the Los Angeles region where Noah’s serves asignificant Jewish clientele — such as Studio City, Sherman Oaks andSanta Monica, to name a few — there has been a low-level lamentabout the menu changeover too. Is it too late for those neighborhoodsto lobby for continued kosher status? Not at all, said Reiner. “We’reopen. We’re real open.”

Customers may call the company at 1-800-931-NOAH.

The Real Noah Speaks Out

By Robert Eshman,

Associate Editor

Go into any Noah’s New York Bagels these days, order a roast beefwith Swiss cheese, and they’ll give it to you, faster than you canspell Leviticus. The treifing of Noah’s, at one time the most visibleand contemporary of kosher food outlets, has upset many observantJews, and has even inspired organized protest (see accompanyingstory). Among those who are most upset: Noah himself.

Speaking with The Journal by phone from Jerusalem, Noah Alperwants to make it perfectly clear that he is no longer affiliated withthe chain that bears his name. “I get a feeling if the public werepolled, most of them would say, ‘He’s still in the back room makingbagels,'” said Alper. “I’d like to let the public know I’m notassociated with the business.”

Alper sold Noah’s to Einstein Bros. Bagels Corp. in 1996 andstayed on to help with the transition. But last February, he resignedfrom the board and went on to fulfill a lifelong dream: studyingJudaism in Israel.

“I’m over here making up for everything I never learned,” saidAlper. Last summer, he moved with his wife, Hope, and two children toa rented home in the German Colony section of Jerusalem. Alper’soldest son attends Brandeis University. The family expects to returnto their Bay Area home in July.

Alper, 50, takes classes at the Pardes Institute for JewishLearning, a progressive, traditional Jewish studies center headed byRabbi Daniel Landes, the former senior rabbi at Congregation B’naiDavid Judea in Los Angeles.

As he leads a more observant life, the stores that bear Alper’sname have become decidedly less observant. Alper said that he canunderstand the thinking behind it — Orthodox customers neveraccounted for more than 5 percent to 10 percent of sales. Even so,the corporate decision was made after he left the board.

Alper said his insistence that his stores keep kosher was nevermotivated by the bottom line. From the store’
s founding in 1989,Alper wanted Noah’s to reflect the joy and richness of Jewish life,and being kosher was part of that. His stores resembled tiled LowerEast Side delis. Their walls were adorned with photos from the Jewishpantheon– the Brooklyn Dodgers, Golda Meir, rebbes and radicals, andeven Alper family photos.

The overall effect certainly created strong brand identity.Einstein’s bought Noah’s 35 stores for $100 million (Alper receivedabout $10 million). The corporation paid the same price for more than300 Bruegger’s Bagels outlets. Noah’s was a marketing phenomenon,like Gap or Starbucks, which owned 20 percent of the chain. WhileEinstein’s corporate M.O. has been to buy up bagel chains and renamethe stores, it left the Noah’s name untouched, even opening numerousnew locations. Einstein’s was paying for a well-tended image –something more valuable than bagel-vending real estate.

Those who know Alper say that the Noah’s image accuratelyreflected the man. Murray Kalis, whose Pacific Palisades advertisingagency Kalis & Savage designed many of Noah’s ads and brochures,said Alper took his store’s commitment to Jewish communal lifeseriously. When visiting Los Angeles, he made sure to attend servicesat Temple Mishkon Tephilo on Main Street in Venice, just down thestreet from the company’s first Santa Monica store, and he donatedprofits and goods from his stores to local Jewish charities.

Now Noah Alper is, by his own admission, out of the loop. “I takemy kids to school and soccer practice,” said Alper, “and I study.”

Of course, even as he deepens his understanding of his heritage,he has had time to sample the bagels of Israel. “They’re not bad,” hesaid, “but I don’t think they’re as good as Noah’s.”

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