Simply perfect grilled chicken, sure fire summer fun


It's hot, you're busy and company's coming for dinner. Nothing's easier than tossing some chicken on the grill. Am I right?

Not at all! Think about it: When was the last time you had a properly cooked piece of chicken from somebody's backyard grill?

“Never” is my guess — even from your own. Don't take it personally. The fact is that hardly anybody knows how to grill chicken that isn’t coal-blackened or outright charred in some places or practically raw in others.

The trouble is the chicken. While it’s a favorite choice for grilling, especially in summer, the how-tos are not obvious. Chicken is nothing like burgers or hot dogs, pork chops or rib steaks; it's tricky to deal with the fat under the skin that drips onto the fire and causes flare-ups. What makes matters worse is marinade, which causes the grill to smoke heavily, turning your chicken gray instead of enticingly browned.

On top of that, it's tough to determine when chicken is done all the way through; it always seems to take longer than it should. So you pull it off too soon and end up with (gulp) pink, undercooked chicken.

So who am I to give advice? Well, I wrote a cookbook all about cooking every cut of grass-fed beef, and now I'm tackling poultry. Listen, I've had my own share of chicken troubles in the past. The worst was when I served underdone chicken to a Muslim exchange student who told me that it was against his religion to eat it. That low point kicked off a self-improvement project: learning the techniques for grilling chicken right.

Top 5 grilling tips

1. Use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces. Grilling experts highly recommend thighs, and I agree that they are the moistest, but legs, breasts and wings also benefit when the bones and skin are left intact, as they help to insulate the meat from overcooking — and they make it taste much better. (However, if you're committed to boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the techniques you practice with the remaining tips will help you master those, too, with practice.) Pasture-raised chickens, especially those from heritage breeds, are not only tastier but also more sustainable than factory-farmed birds, so seek them out in your area at the farmers market or local grocer.

2. Season the chicken well with salt and save the marinades for after cooking. Most people make their first mistake before they even fire up the grill: They don't season the chicken enough. With your best-quality kosher or sea salt, sprinkle all sides of the chicken pieces as if you're dusting them finely with confectioner's sugar. Everyone loves marinated chicken, but submerging your chicken in any sauce — even barbecue sauce — will bring you more cooking complications, not more flavor.

3. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat and control those flames. Unlike other foods that respond well to intense heat, chicken calls for moderate or medium-high heat (between 350 F and 400 F). Whether using a charcoal or gas grill, test the heat patterns by placing your open palm about 5 inches above the grate. If you can hold it there for 5 seconds, you're in range. Also note where the heat is less intense. In the event of a flare-up, immediately move the chicken to these cooler parts of the grill to prevent charring.

4. Brown chicken pieces skin side down for longer than you think you should. Always cook the chicken skin side down first and plan to leave it there for the next 20 minutes or more — or until it is nearly all the way cooked. Why? You'll end up with crispy and beautifully browned skin (remember, it insulates the meat), plus the chicken will be cooked evenly to the bone. In general, it takes 25 to at least 30 minutes to cook bone-in chicken at this temperature, so aim for cooking it skin side down for three-quarters of the total cooking time — 20 to 25 minutes — before flipping and finishing it on the second side.

5. Use your grill like an oven. After laying the chicken pieces on the grate, put on the lid. Now your grill will radiate the heat above as well as below, which is exactly what chicken needs to get cooked all the way through. The lid also controls air flow and keeps the flames on a charcoal grill from getting out of hand. Dripping fat will likely incite flare-ups, so monitor the cooking and move the chicken away from flames to those cooler areas of the grill whenever necessary. If you're at all uncertain that the chicken is done, insert the tip of an instant-read thermometer close to the bone or just cut into the center for a visual check.

Foolproof finishing strategies

Once your chicken is seasoned and fully cooked to an enticing golden brown, let it rest near the heat for 15 minutes or so. Grilled chicken doesn't need much embellishment, although cilantro pesto, peach chutney or avocado salsa — or any other fresh and tangy sauce — will liven it up. [aside]

But what about those pesky marinades? Think wings, which are first deep-fried and then tossed with sauce. The same principle applies to grilled chicken: Cook it well first, then brush or toss it with any homemade or bottled marinade or sauce. Let it warm-marinate until ready to serve or put it back on the grill for a few minutes to marry the sauce to the chicken as it reheats.

Now you're the expert.

Stuffed: Thanksgiving on Hope Street


Last Sunday, my job was to make stuffing for 400 people. I said I’d do it because there’s a part of me that prefers to forget that it’s been 25 years since I was a caterer, and I assumed it would be as easy now as it was then.

Every year for the past nine years, Nashuva, the spiritual community led by my wife, Rabbi Naomi Levy, hosts a Thanksgiving meal at Hope Street Family Center downtown. Hope Street provides childcare, counseling and other social services to thousands of at-risk families. About 100 Nashuva volunteers from the Westside, the Valley and Silver Lake provide a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, along with arts-and-crafts projects for the children and care packages to take home. 

So, on the prior Thursday evening, I went to Costco and bought 20 pounds of onions and 15 pounds each of carrots and celery. I filled my car with enough croutons to stuff a twin-sized mattress. At home, I reached far into our storage closet to find the industrial-sized pot I last used to photograph our infant son in, with his head poking over the rim. He’s 20 now.

Things started simply enough. I chopped the vegetables, sautéed them over two burners in two quarts of canola oil, added seasoning and broth. The kitchen smelled good, like Thanksgiving.

I tossed the croutons with some chopped chestnuts, then portioned it all out in large foil banquet pans. I ladled the hot broth over the croutons and began to mix. I used a big spatula, and the boiling-hot stuffing lifted up and — onto my hands. I screamed. The glutinous mass attached the heat to my skin like culinary napalm. I jumped away — and the whole tray tumbled onto the floor, splattered my ankles. I screamed again. I lurched for the sink, my feet slid in a mound of stuffing, and down I went.

I lay on the floor, burned, bruised. My dogs wandered in to lick the turkey dressing off my wrists, like jackals on the battlefield.

Eventually, I cleaned up, cut my losses and assembled the remaining pans. On Sunday morning, I cooked them, and by lunch they were beside the turkeys in the buffet line, just like I’d planned it.

Hundreds of moms, dads and kids came to the center at Hope Street, just south of Pico, that day. People sat down with their food and began to eat. Tania Benacerraf, director of the family preservation program at Hope Street, spoke about all the things the organization does, day in and day out, to help people raise their children in health and safety. 

Over the years, as Nashuva and Hope Street collaborated on many projects, I’ve listened to the stories — of women escaping abuse; of fathers overcoming addiction; of people working two, or even three jobs to make a life for their children. I’m a very lucky person to be able to complain about my mishaps making stuffing. 

We ate together at long tables in a large function room. On a patio outside, the children created spin-art and decorated picture frames. 

Around this time of year, countless Americans stand where I stood that day: helping to serve Thanksgiving dinners in a homeless shelter, a halfway house or a soup kitchen, doing something small, even symbolic, to share this country’s enormous bounty with those less fortunate.

Nashuva’s Thanksgiving meals with Hope Street have spawned deeper ties between the two organizations. But there can be no pretending that by serving turkey and gravy we are somehow righting deep systemic wrongs. The morning after we volunteered, Congress is still debating a Farm Bill that plans to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — a program so many of the hard-working moms and dads at Hope Street depend upon to feed their kids and help lift their families out of poverty. The morning after, Washington, D.C., is still treating the right to decent health care as a political game, rather than a national priority. The morning after, these people are still struggling, and I have a funny anecdote about stuffing.

But while the debates in D.C. all seem to diminish us as a nation, shared moments can still lift us up. We reach out to help some others, and they are kind enough to accept our need to help. 

Perhaps we need to help because we know from experience that ours is a nation of enormous, almost unbelievable wealth. We have seen with our own eyes that we waste more food than those we serve can ever eat. We have been in private homes larger than all of Hope Street. We need to serve because something needs to change.

Just as the families of Hope Street were settling into the meal, my wife stood and offered a blessing in English, as Julie Drucker, a Nashuva member and organizer of the event together with Carol Taubman, translated Naomi’s prayer into Spanish.

“Sometimes life can be very difficult,” Naomi said. “And we struggle to make a living and take care of our families. Thanksgiving is a time to take hope in the future and to know that together we can help each other to make a better life. And we take a moment to give thanks to God for our lives, for our friends, for the gift of community and for being together here today.”

Amen — and Happy Thanksgiving.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

A Shabbat meal left for those in need


On a recent Thursday evening, instead of reading a book or watching a movie at home with her children, Stacy Kent brought her daughter, Rayna, 9, and son, Ami, 7, to a warehouse on the corner of Pico Boulevard and Wetherly Drive.

Their mission: Help make Shabbat, well, Shabbat for local families in need of assistance by packing boxes full of food.

That’s what the volunteers of Tomchei Shabbos of Los Angeles (tomcheishabbos.org) have been doing for 36 years. Every Thursday at 6 p.m. sharp, dozens of people rush around the group’s small warehouse at 9041 W. Pico Blvd. Some are packing food, some are making boxes, and some are coordinating where filled boxes go. In the hustle and bustle of the Pico-Robertson warehouse, kosher Shabbat staples — challah, grape juice, chicken, rice, fruits, vegetables — are placed into boxes, which are given to families that apply and meet Tomchei Shabbos’ income qualifications to receive Shabbat assistance. Because there are no other organizations that can meet the needs of families that only eat kosher food, Tomchei Shabbos restricts its clientele to families that are strictly kosher, said Steve Berger, who runs the group.

Tomchei Shabbos, literally “supporters of the Sabbath,” was formed in 1977 by three local rabbis. The nonprofit staffed entirely by volunteers now has a $2 million annual budget provided completely through donations and delivers food to about 120 families every week. In a span of 60 to 90 minutes, thanks to an operation fine-tuned over three decades, volunteers pack about 400 chickens, 350 bags of challah and 200 bottles of grape juice.

The group has another location, which operates out of the parking lot of Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Congregation in North Hollywood, to serve families in the San Fernando Valley. 

And there are other offerings, too: Brides worried about breaking the bank can contact Tomchei Shabbos about the dozens of elegant gowns in its warehouse. Families struggling to raise children can purchase diapers at a reduced cost. And the organization provides used furniture and household appliances, among other things, to those in need.

For the weekly Shabbat operation, just who receives the goods is unknown to most involved in the process, as the organization is adamant that the identity of its recipients remains undisclosed. On every box is a sticker with a route number and a family identification number. Only a handful of people involved in the administration of the food know who receives assistance. The volunteers who pack the food have no clue who will benefit from their assistance.

“We leave the food at the front door and we do not introduce ourselves or deal with the recipients,” said Kent, who has been a volunteer for 10 years.

Anyone can come by on a Thursday evening, and Tomchei Shabbos’ staff will immediately put them to work. Stick around long enough and regulars may eventually be coordinating which boxes go where. 

Case in point: Gabriel Sasson, who will be a freshman at UC Irvine this fall. He started with Tomchei Shabbos two years ago packing boxes to the brim with food. He quickly rose through the ranks and now coordinates the section of the warehouse where families (or their friends) come to pick up filled boxes — good managerial experience for a 17-year-old.

After 7 p.m., the warehouse emptied out and the volunteer drivers were on their delivery runs. That’s when Berger, who like an air traffic controller helps direct Tomchei Shabbos’ many moving parts — people and boxes — reflected on the obligation for Jews to help other Jews in need. 

“The world stands, according to Pirkei Avot, on three pillars — study of Torah, worship and acts of kindness.”

A young chef’s guide to the Rosh Hashanah meal


Considering the history of the Jewish people, the fact that Jews are still celebrating the High Holy Days today is a miracle in itself. Strong traditions and lasting rituals have enabled Jews to survive the most threatening periods of history. With the freedoms we have as modern American Jews, it makes sense that we use these same traditions and rituals to enjoy holidays to the fullest. As a chef and registered foodie, the best way I know to relish in the upcoming holidays is by making really delicious food. My plan for this year is to make a multi-course feast that pays homage to great Jewish eating traditions while at the same time represents me and my life as a Jewish chef in Los Angeles.

Watching friends and family nod their heads and smile as they eat the food you have prepared is unbelievably soul-satisfying. It is a great feeling to know that the meal you cooked has enriched the High Holy Day experience for those you love. Great food is part of the equation in making a great meal, but the experience is made complete when you also have time to enjoy the company of friends and family. In order to accomplish this, I turn to the motto of my alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, which states, “Preparation is everything.” Creating a strategy and timeline for a feast at home for guests will enable you as the cook to make great food and eat it too. Mise en place is a cooking term that means “to put into place.” It is what every chef must learn in order to master the craft of cooking. Mise en place represents the prep work done in advance of a meal and the strategy for serving it. If you are going to make the High Holy Day meal of a lifetime and still enjoy eating it, you must first focus on making a prep plan as to when the components of the meal will be made, and a strategy for how to serve the meal. This is what I will discuss as I go through my menu for the holidays.

My first course is Olive Oil Poached Sardine Fillets and Fried Heads With Lemon and Parsley Chips. Serving the fish heads, or the “rosh,” for the holidays has traditionally been a symbol for the fact that we have reached the head of the year, and also the head of life, rather than the tail. Some Jews serve whole fish so there will be a head on the table during dinner. Using this tradition as inspiration, I decided to serve fried sardine heads along with the fillets. Even though this is the first course, it should be last in the prep schedule. Ideally, purchase the fish as close to serving the meal as possible, so that it is at its freshest. The sardines should be cleaned and cooked shortly before serving. Last, they should be eaten immediately after cooking to maximize flavor.

The next course is Chilled Honey-Cucumber Soup. My wife and I own the M.O. Eggrolls food truck in Los Angeles. We are coming to the end of our first summer in business, and it has been a fantastic adventure. Along with the excitement and joy of running our truck comes the fact that we have been hot since April. Between the cooking equipment and the warm California sunshine, our truck heats up. This year, while I am relaxing and enjoying our High Holy Day feast, I want to eat something cool. Cucumber is a cooling ingredient and when paired with honey in a soup takes on a familiar homey sweetness that many Jews would associate with Rosh Hashanah. Along with being tasty, this chilled soup relieves a tremendous amount of stress, because everything can be made the day before, and to serve, it is simply poured into bowls and garnished.

Most chefs begin their careers working “the line.” This refers to the line of equipment in restaurant kitchens, where cooks are divided by stations and are responsible for cooking different items on the restaurant’s menu. Typically, stations are divided by the equipment each cook is responsible for, such as grill, sauté, fry, etc. This is the training ground for all chefs. You must prepare a variety of dishes as quickly as possible, while maintaining the highest-quality standards. The only way to survive the line is with impeccable mise en place.

Approaching a family meal at home as a line cook will enable you to cook a great meal and then have time to enjoy the company of your friends and family.  For the main course, I am serving Apples and Honey Chicken along with Smashed Sweet Potatoes and a Warm Kale-and-Fennel Slaw. Braised chicken is ideal for serving large groups hot food that is tender, moist and flavorful. I prepare all of the ingredients for the chicken the day before. The day of the dinner, I begin to cook the chicken in the early afternoon and let it cook slowly until I am ready to serve it.

The ingredients for the slaw are also prepared the day before, and I create a kit for the dressing. Kitting a recipe is a pillar of the Culinary Institute of America’s curriculum. It means that I have the ingredients for a recipe portioned and organized so that I can quickly assemble the dish when needed. By kitting the dressing, I am able to easily prepare the slaw near the time of serving it without stress. The last component of the entrée is the smashed sweet potatoes. Mashed preparations, like potatoes or squash, can be held in a heat-resistant bowl, covered in plastic wrap on top of a double boiler for long periods of time without compromising its quality. I prepare the sweet potatoes before my family and friends arrive and hold them over a double boiler until I am ready to serve them. Limiting the number of steps I have to take after family has arrived allows me time during the meal to sit with them and enjoy the food and their company.

After a great feast, I prefer a dessert that is petite and pairs well with fine coffee and schnapps. This year I am serving Honey-Olive Oil Cookies with Thyme and Fleur de Sel. The olive oil gives the cookie a biscuit-like texture that pleasantly dries the mouth and creates a craving for something to drink. Relaxing at the end of a holiday meal with the people I love and sharing cookies and schnapps is a tradition that helps me celebrate Jewish life. I hope that you will feel empowered to continue developing your own great Jewish culinary traditions for your friends and family.

I wish you all a delicious and sweet new year. L’shanah tovah!

White House to host dinner for Peres


President Obama will honor Israeli President Shimon Peres with a White House dinner after he awards him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The dinner, to take place on June 13, will have 140 guests, including “former Presidents of the United of States of America, Secretaries of State, Prime Ministers and ministers, senior diplomats and senior figures from the arts, culture and economy in the United States,” according to a statement issued Thursday by Peres’ office.

Peres will spend most of the week in Washington, and will also meet with Leon Panetta, the defense secretary; Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state; and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Obama conferred the 12 of this year’s 13 Medals of Freedom in a ceremony last month at the White House.

At ZOA dinner, Glenn Beck dishes out the pro-Israel meat


The Zionist Organization of America’s annual dinner is a place where conventional thinking about the liberal proclivities of American Jews goes to die. But never quite like Sunday night—when Tea Party darling and Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachman served as the opening act and Glenn Beck was swarmed like a rock star.

Beck, who was on hand to receive the ZOA’s Defender of Israel Award, made his way into the VIP reception at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan shortly after 5 p.m. and almost instantly was beset by a crush of admirers. He found himself wedged into a corner as a crowd of well-wishers surged forward to have their photographs taken with him. Bachmann and her fellow Republican congresswoman, Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, were there, too—but it was clear who the star was.

“Love, love, love, love, love,” Ros-Lehtinen said, extending her hand to Beck, who responded by clasping hers in both of his. All around her, an expanding mass of people pressed in closer, seemingly eager to express the same sentiment.

“I need everyone to back up please,” a photographer practically yelled as he tried to create a cordon around the VIPs to set up his shot. But despite help from Beck’s two bodyguards, an assistant, and assorted publicists and ZOA personnel, the crowd kept pushing ahead.

Crowd control proved to be a recurring problem at the dinner. After the appetizer was served, seemingly half the room converged on Beck and his wife, Tania, tying up the traffic flow in the center of the ballroom and rendering the area impassable. A succession of ZOA officials implored the crowd to sit down so servers could get dinner on the table, but with little effect.

Grabbing the microphone, ZOA President Morton Klein, raised his voice—the first of several times he would do that over the course of the evening—and commanded those standing around to “sit down—NOW!”

Even for a crowd that’s been known to get weak in the knees for foreign policy hawks—including Rep. Shelly Berkley (D-Nev.,), one-time Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer and leading Bush administration neocon John Bolton—the euphoria surrounding Beck’s appearance stood out. And even for a ZOA dinner, the night was unusually partisan: Of the five members of Congress in attendance, all were Republicans.  Anthony Weiner had been a regular attendee in past years, as were fellow New York Democrats Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel. And though Klein announced that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would attend, New York’s senior senator was nowhere in evidence.

Schumer’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The Democratic officeholders didn’t seem to be missed. The polls could be right that nearly 80 percent of American Jews voted for Barack Obama and more than half believe Israel should dismantle at least some settlements as part of a final agreement with the Palestinians. But not in this room.

Bachmann’s cry of “not one inch” brought guests to their feet and prompted screams of “Bachmann for president.” In his remarks, Klein assailed the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee – “Yes, I name names”—for their opposition to a bill on foreign funding of nongovernmental organizations. The measure has been decried by liberals, centrists and even some conservatives, in Israel and abroad, as a grave threat to Israeli democracy.

And Ros-Lehtinen, in a freewheeling and often sarcastic speech, singled out two women in the audience from the West Bank settlement of Kedumim, sardonically identifying them as the obstacles to peace.

“They look harmless,” Ros-Lehtinen said, “but you never know.”

Bachmann began her talk, which sounded much like a campaign stump speech tailored to Jewish ears—well, certain Jewish ears—by invoking the line in Genesis promising that those who bless Israel will be blessed. It’s precisely that sort of religiously inflected politicking that gives many American Jews the willies. But the ZOA crowd is not one to get much exercised about the confluence of God and politics. A clear majority of men in the room wore yarmulkes and speakers repeatedly invoked God’s promise of Israel to the Jews.

After a taped message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went off with only a minor technical glitch, the emcee quipped, “I think that proves that God is on our side because the video actually worked.”

As for Beck, he is arguably the most polarizing media figure in Jewish life. Hundreds of liberal rabbis signed a letter in January asking that he be sanctioned for “completely unacceptable” use of the Holocaust and Nazi imagery. He has urged his listeners to quit their church or synagogue if “social justice” is part of its mission. And in a two-part series that accused left-wing financier and Jewish Holocaust survivor George Soros of collaborating with the Nazis, Beck flirted with what some critics saw as anti-Semitic conspiracies of Jewish control of media and finance.

Occasionally Beck has apologized—as he did after he compared Reform rabbis to Islamists—and then gone on to offend again.

It was in the wake of the Soros spat, when several Jewish groups lined up to express their outrage, that the ZOA bucked the trend. In a news release, Klein said that Beck’s comments were “essentially accurate” and that Soros “merits no defense or sympathy from Jewish leaders.”

“Glenn Beck got in touch with me, thanked me for writing this because no one else in the organized Jewish world was defending him, and he asked if we could get together,” Klein told JTA. “We got together, I asked him if he’d be our honoree, he began to almost cry. Tears welled up in his eyes.”

Asked about the discomfort some feel with Beck’s repeated use of Holocaust analogies, Klein, a child of survivors who was born in a German displaced persons camp, claimed ignorance, saying he didn’t watch Beck’s show often enough to have an opinion.

“I just don’t know,” he said.

That Beck, an unabashed crier, became misty at Klein’s offer is eminently believable. Beck appeared to choke back tears at least four times during his hourlong speech—and that was during his less emotional moments.

When he wasn’t battling the urge to cry, he was issuing a battle cry. With arms flailing wildly and face turning the color of the red caviar served in the VIP room, Beck portrayed the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people in apocalyptic terms—as the ultimate showdown between good and evil. Beck was the only speaker at the dinner whose voice reached a pitch more feverish than Klein’s.

Beck said he came to the ZOA as a brother. “It’s personal,” he said repeatedly.

And clearly he has not been chastened by the urgings of some Jewish groups to tread lightly with the Holocaust analogies. Again and again he invoked them, saying the world stood on a precipice like the one it faced in 1939—only this time it’s worse, as not only is the world ignoring rising evil, he said, it is actively helping it along.

“America is not a collective,” Beck thundered. “America is built on the individual. I am a man and I demand to be counted so others are not numbered again.”

The crowd went wild.

Columbia students disinvited from Ahmadinejad dinner


Members of a Columbia University international relations group will not attend a dinner with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the invitation was withdrawn.

The invitation to about one dozen members of the Columbia International Relations Council and Association was rescinded Monday by the Iranian mission to the United Nations due to the extensive and negative media coverage, the Columbia Spectator reported.

The dinner is still scheduled to take place on Wednesday evening. Other Columbia students, from the university’s School of International and Public Affairs, are still planning to attend the dinner, the Spectator reported.

Some Columbia students had organized an on-campus protest called “Just Say No to Ahma(dinner)jad.”

The university is not involved with the dinner.

Ahmadinejad is in New York to participate in the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. His controversial address at Columbia in 2007 embroiled the campus in a debate over freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dances into the new year


Aish brings together rhythm, beats and davening for their Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dancing spectacle that parodies LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem.  Here’s the chorus from the lyrics, but be sure to watch the video for the full effect.

Rosh Hashanah’s in the house tonight
All the world is passing through the light
Let’s all get written in the book of Life
Shana Tova—it’s High Holiday time

 

Fast meals to beat the Kol Nidre rush


It’s a scramble every year, but Jews somehow manage to beat the clock getting dinner to the table on Yom Kippur eve — the most hurried meal on the holiday calendar.

It isn’t easy to conclude the evening meal with enough leeway to arrive at synagogue for the Kol Nidre service, which ushers in this most solemn holiday.
The challenge is finding the time to pull together a meal that is nourishing and light, exalted but not extravagant, yet effortless. It’s even more difficult when Yom Kippur lands in the middle of the workweek, as it does this year.

“One Yom Kippur I left the office early, raced home and hurled dinner on the table for my daughter and a couple of friends,” recalled Pamela Vassil, the director of marketing and communications at Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. “I inhaled my food in order to arrive at my shul for the 6 p.m. service and get a seat up front. But I ate so quickly, everything sat in my esophagus. It never had a chance to digest. I spent the entire night worried that I’d get sick.”

Wendy Moss, a style and wardrobe consultant in Manhattan, said she used to invite other families who belong to her synagogue.

“But by the time I got to services, I was out of breath and couldn’t relax,” she said.

Moss now cooks only for her immediate family.

Reducing the rush is part of the pre-Yom Kippur experience. Some plan the menu the day after Rosh Hashanah. It’s advisable to select uncomplicated recipes requiring few steps. Plain fare is in line with the serious nature of this holiday.

The pre-fast menu requires special attention. For example, recipes should be low in salt to avoid causing undue thirst on Yom Kippur when drinking anything, including water, is forbidden.

“I do a lot of cooking and freezing in advance,” said Rita Paszamant, a travel agent in Little Silver, N.J. “Since my family expects the same menu every year, preparing for this meal is like falling off a log.”

As an appetizer, Paszamant offers a choice of chopped liver or gefilte fish, which she buys pre-made.

“The dessert is certainly store-bought, too,” she said. “I always serve cinnamon babka, which they all love.”

While purchasing prepared foods is convenient, it can have its down side with the long lines, short tempers, incorrect orders and high prices. Often it’s less stressful to make your family’s favorites at home. Nothing is more nurturing before fasting than the smell of chicken soup and baking apples wafting from the kitchen.

“I do all the cooking myself,” Moss said. “I find it better that way, especially if I plan ahead and stay organized.”

She roasts a chicken — it’s traditional and easy to make.

“I gave up on Cornish hens,” Moss said. “They have to be stuffed. It’s an extra step.”

She suggested that one place to cut corners is serving fresh fruit for dessert.
Hours before the sun sets on Yom Kippur eve, Paszamant defrosts the chicken soup and the potted beef she prepared days earlier. Before serving she adds finishing touches such as freshly chopped vegetables.

To save time, Paszamant sets the dining-room table the night before and washes pots and utensils before dinner time.

“Having a warming drawer has been a blessing,” she said, explaining that the feature in her oven maintains the temperature of hot foods without drying them out.

“My family knows we start eating at 5 p.m. on erev Yom Kippur,” she said.
As in most households, her kitchen clean-up is the final hurdle.

“Everyone helps clear the table, course by course,” Paszamant said.

Observant families refrain from performing any manual labor after sunset, when the holiday begins. Many Jews eat dinner extra early so they can quickly wrap leftovers and wash the dishes before leaving for synagogue.

“In past years, I’ve run out and left the dishes in the sink,” Moss said. “If at all possible, I recommend hiring help to clean up the kitchen. That’s the most important thing I’ve figured out.”

Guests have their own stress.

“I keep looking at my watch, wondering if we’ll get out on time,” Vassil said.
The resourceful find a comfortable solution to the dilemma.

“One year I went to a restaurant a block from my shul,” Vassil recalled. “At first I felt guilty about the decision, but I got over that when I saw people from my synagogue sitting at other tables.”

Now she makes a reservation for every Yom Kippur eve.

“I have a leisurely dinner, including a cup of coffee, something I never had time for when I prepared dinner at home,” Vassil said.

But Moss, like many, prefers a traditional home-cooked meal before starting the 24-hour fast. While she calls herself a perfectionist at heart, Moss has become more realistic.

“I keep the menu simple,” she said. “I don’t prepare anything elaborate. Entertaining in my usual style just got too crazy on Yom Kippur eve.”

“It’s liberating to know on this one night a year, you don’t have to prepare a fancy meal,” Vassil said. “The point is to eat without pressure, to arrive at shul in a peaceful state of mind, in time to get a good seat.”

The following menu can be prepared in 90 minutes. Three of the recipes can share the oven, maximizing time. Start with the squash, which takes the longest time, followed by the apples and the chicken. While those three items are baking, prepare the potatoes. All four dishes should be ready about the same time.
Better still, prepare the recipes a day or two ahead. They can be reheated in 15 minutes.

The recipes are low sodium in deference to the fast.

Maple Glazed Acorn Squash
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 75 minutes

No-stick, vegetable spray
4 small butternut squash
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup, preferably Grade A

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a 10-by-15-inch ovenproof pan with no-stick spray.
Cut squash in half lengthwise, parallel to its ridges. With a spoon, scrape out pits and fibers; discard. Place the eight halves in the prepared baking pan.
Drizzle each half with maple syrup.

Bake for 75 minutes, or until edges brown and flesh is soft when pierced with a fork. Serve immediately.
Makes eight servings.

Lemon Chicken With Dijon Mustard
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45-50 minutes

4 chicken breasts (8 halves), with bones and skin
Juice from 2 fresh lemons
1 1/2 cups white wine
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
No-stick vegetable spray
Disposable broiler pans, optional
Salt to taste, optional
Paprika for coloring, optional

Rinse chicken breasts under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.

In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, white wine and mustard until well incorporated. Place chicken in bowl and coat evenly with lemon juice mixture; reserve.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a roasting pan with a rack with no-stick spray. (For a fast clean up, use disposable broiler pans, coating them with no-stick spray.)
Remove chicken from lemon juice mixture and shake off liquid. Lightly salt and sprinkle with paprika, if desired.

Place chicken skin side down on prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes and turn over breasts. Continue baking for 30 minutes or until juices from the thickest part of the breasts run clean when pierced with a knife. Serve immediately.

Makes eight servings.

Sliced Red Potatoes and Onions
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes

8 red “A” potatoes, 1/4 to 1/2 pound each
2 large onions
6 tablespoons olive oil, or more, if needed
2 14 1/2-ounce cans beef broth (low sodium, if desired)

Wash potatoes and pat dry with paper towels. Keeping skins on, cut potatoes into slices about 1/8-inch thick. Slice onions thin.

Divide olive oil between two large skillets and heat briefly over medium flame.

Place half the potatoes and onions in each skillet. Sauté until onions turn golden and potatoes soften slightly, about 15 minutes. (If they brown too quickly, turn down flame. Some skins may loosen from potatoes.)

Remove pans from flame. Pour one can of beef broth into each pan. Return pans to flame and cover. Simmer until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Makes eight servings.

Cranberry Baked Apples
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes

No-stick, vegetable spray
8 small baking apples (Cortland, Gala, Fuji or any apple recommended for baking — except Granny Smith
2 cups cranberry juice, or more if needed
2/3 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch ovenproof casserole with no-stick spray.

Rinse apples under cold water and dry with paper towels. Core apples with a knife by cutting a wide circle around their stems. Continue to cut in a circular motion. In a funnel shape, the opening will narrow the deeper you go. Remove the seeds and as much core as possible.

Place apples in prepared pan. Pour cranberry juice over the apples. Juice should be about 1/4-inch deep in bottom of pan. Add more juice, if needed.

Bake apples for 55 minutes, basting with pan juice occasionally. (If juice dries up, add more to keep apples in a juice bath.)

Remove pan from oven and fill apple cavities with raisins. Baste with pan juice. Continue baking for five minutes. Apples should be soft but not falling apart. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature.

Makes eight servings.

Good to be the Chief; Get Your Challah On


Good to be the Chief

Health care veteran Tim McGlew has been named chief operating officer and vice president of operations for the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging. The Jewish Home is the largest single-source provider of senior housing in Los Angeles.

“With the recent dedication of the Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center and many other exciting plans in development, the role of chief operating officer is more important than ever,” said Molly Forrest, Jewish Home CEO-president. “We’re committed to meeting the increasing demands for quality senior care, and we see Tim as a major contributor as we fulfill that mission.”

McGlew has 20 years of experience in acute hospital administration and most recently served as vice president and chief operating officer of San Gabriel Valley Medical Center for more than six years. He has extensive skills in operations, information systems, facility construction, and cost management.

“I’m extremely energized to be joining the Jewish Home at such a pivotal time in its history,” McGlew said. “Throughout the health care industry, the Jewish Home is a respected organization, and it’s easy to understand why, given its commitment to serve seniors at all stages of need. The home’s innovative combination of physical, mental and spiritual programs truly makes it a remarkable organization.”

For more information, visit ‘ target=’_blank’>www.challahforhunger.org.

Battle Against Bigotry

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reaffirmed its commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry and prejudice when it recently celebrated with 600 supporters at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel and raised more than $800,000.

Ambassador Rockwell A. Schnabel, chairman of the Sage Group, LLC, and former U.S. ambassador to the European Union and Finland, was presented with the Humanitarian Award by Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles.

International lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg was presented with the jurisprudence Award by federal Judge Stephen Reinhardt. Schoenberg recently recovered Nazi-looted Klimt paintings from Austria in a case that commanded international attention and acclaim.

Keynote speaker Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, addressed the evening’s theme — the ADL vision of “One World” — a world of peaceful co-existence and harmony and the many threats facing that vision, including militant Islam, neo-Nazis, extremists and racists around the world and in our community.

Foxman confers regularly with elected officials and community leaders here and abroad. In October, he was presented the French Legion of Honor for his lifelong service in the fight against anti-Semitism and prejudice and for working to build bridges of understanding among nations and people.

Seen celebrating at the dinner were Lynn and Laurie Konheim; Los Angeles Councilwoman Wendy Gruehl and husband, Dean Schramm; Faith and Jonathan Cookler; Harriet and Steven Nichols; Anita Green; Michael and Stacey Garfinkel; George and Ruth Moss, and Don Pharaoh, ADL director of major gifts and planned Giving.

For more information visit AJ Congress wowed; Shaare Zedek gets record donation; Koufax in the house

Atoning for the sin of rushing dinner to get to Kol Nidre


I consider Yom Kippur eve the sandwich holiday. Not because I would ever serve my family and friends sandwiches before going to synagogue on the eve of a solemn fast. I see the start of Yom Kippur this way, because it’s sandwiched between two days of Rosh Hashanah celebrations and the Day of Atonement. Not to mention the eight-day festival of Sukkot, which rushes in four days later.
 
With the emphasis that night, as it should be, on getting to Kol Nidre services on time, sometimes little thought is given to this very important meal whose menu should be in perfect balance to ready people for the fast ahead. Ideally dinner on Yom Kippur eve should be hearty but light, nourishing but satisfying, tasty but not too luxurious. The challenge is daunting at a time when school and fall activities have just begun, and the Jewish calendar is so full.
 
I recall one year when I was still peeling potatoes an hour before eight people were expected for dinner on erev Yom Kippur. I panicked, fearing that we’d never get to Kol Nidre services on time.
 
Fortunately my husband always comes to the rescue whenever I’m in a jam. He microwaved the potatoes, threw together a salad and broke into a sweat basting the chicken. I set the table, barking orders, as our 9-year-old daughter scampered to her room to avoid my tension. I swore I’d never do that again. Since then, I’ve given much thought to organizing this special dinner to save time, lower stress and serve foods that will facilitate a meaningful fast.

 
With Yom Kippur beginning this year on a Sunday night, people who observe the Sabbath have additional considerations. If possible, they should complete the bulk of their organizing and food preparation by Thursday, leaving Friday free to focus on Shabbat cooking. After Friday evening, their next opportunity to address the Yom Kippur eve meal is Sunday morning, when the countdown begins. Although I’m embarrassed to admit it, I’ve solved this dilemma by imitating a staple of women’s magazines — the make-ahead menu. The day after Rosh Hashanah, while I’m sipping coffee and drizzling honey over a piece of challah, I start planning for Yom Kippur eve. I fine-tune my menu and compose a shopping list.

 
On each of the following days, I prepare a dish and freeze it, or I make most of the steps in the directions, refrigerating foods until I’m ready to proceed. On the day of Yom Kippur eve, I have only a few last-minute touches to handle. I glide into the holiday with a sense of serenity, a far cry from the frenzied person I used to be. For peace of mind, I now serve the same menu every Yom Kippur eve. It meets my most important criteria: healthy, appealing and easy to execute. This menu can be expanded to include additional dishes, but it’s filling enough to stand alone.
 
Inspired by Greek Jews, who often partake in stewed chicken and tomatoes before the Yom Kippur fast, I created my own version of this traditional dish. The chicken is sautéed and then poached in plum tomatoes, which simmer into a sauce that moistens the chicken. However, this dish is fairly bland and doesn’t cause undue thirst the next day. The ample tomato sauce calls for a bed of rice. Throughout the world, chicken and rice are served on Yom Kippur eve, because they are filling and easy to digest. However, many people, particularly when pressed for time, have difficulty finessing rice, which needs some tender loving care. They end up with a sticky ball of starch, rather than a pot of fluffy rice. My recipe, relying on a bit of olive oil, comes out perfectly every time.
 
Roasted Autumn Root Vegetables are a medley of seasonal produce flash-cooked at a high temperature. You can prepare this dish three days in advance, finishing it quickly just minutes before serving dinner.
 
Filled with dried fruits, flakes of oatmeal and a dollop of honey, Baked Stuffed Apples is not an indulgent dessert. For that reason, it’s a nutritious and appropriate way to end the pre-fast meal.
 
When it comes to Yom Kippur eve, my motto is to do as much as possible as soon as it’s feasible. On the morning after Rosh Hashanah, finalize your Yom Kippur eve guest list. Decide what you want to serve. Select which linens you will place on the table. White is traditional on Yom Kippur. If you’re using the tablecloth and napkins from Rosh Hashanah meals, make sure they’re washed and ironed or back from the dry cleaner on time.
 
If you’re expecting a crowd, you may have to expand your dining table. Know in advance how many leaves you’ll require. If you need a folding table, make sure it’s clean and in good condition. If you have to borrow a table and chairs from a family member or friend, organize this well in advance.
 
I suggest setting the table after breakfast that morning. Eat lunch in your kitchen or on the living room coffee table. To make life easy, order a pizza. Although it goes against my creative nature to be repetitive, under certain circumstances, it makes sense.
 
On Yom Kippur eve, I’m a big proponent of the preset menu, one you can follow year after year. Select a combination of recipes you can manage. Of course you can make reasonable substitutions, such as casseroles or other make-ahead dishes. But with so much going on, Yom Kippur eve is not the time to strike a new course or leave things to chance. It’s the time to be methodical and calm, to guide yourself and your family into a peaceful fast.
 

Poached Chicken Breasts and Tomatoes

 
3 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed

Meat meets lemon — brisket gone wild!


One day last month, my husband returned from Trader Joe’s carrying a large slab of brisket.

“I invited our neighbors for dinner,” he announced, “and they’re kosher.” I can cook, but my only attempt at a nice bubbie-style brisket took two days and was a memorable disaster. I’m sure it was digestible, it just wasn’t chewable. I have suffered brisket-phobia ever since.

I had about five hours to get something suitably special on the table. So, I abandoned all my brisket preconceptions, took a deep breath and thought, “Do what you love, do what you know.”

The result was extraordinary.

What I know is how to combine the cooking techniques of my family–Swedish (non-Jewish) Americans given to light but hearty flavors — with all the Mediterranean flavors that have become part of any serious California cook’s repertoire: olives, olive oil, fennel and preserved lemons.

Preserved lemons and brisket? Yes, those salty tart gems are crucial to this dish. I use homemade, but you’ll need three to four weeks advanced preparation for my recipe (Paula Wolfert offers a one-week version in her book, “Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco”). You can also buy preserved lemons at specialty Middle Eastern markets and at Surfas in Culver City.

Couscous and a little green salad with oranges are all you’ll need to complete the meal. For our dessert, I stuffed halved nectarines with a mixture of crumbled store-bought amaretti cookies, chopped almonds and honey.

The honey makes this an ideal Rosh Hashanah meal. And the amaretti cookies were, of course, kosher and pareve. Amazing how fast a Swedish American can catch on to these things.

Brisket with Fennel and Olives

1 3-pound brisket (I use a point cut)
2 large fennel bulbs, cored, trimmed and very thinly sliced. Include any nice fronds.
1 very large Vidalia, Walla Walla or other sweet onion, sliced into 1/4-inch rings
1 cup mixed green and black olives (Greek, kalamata, etc.)
3 preserved lemons, diced, and a couple tablespoons of their juice
1/2 cup water or a mixture of water and dry white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
Chopped Italian parsley

Choose your heaviest dutch oven, or use enameled cast iron. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. On the stovetop, bring the pan to a medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and brown the brisket on both sides, not more than five to seven minutes in total. Remove the meat, and toss the fennel and onions in the pan, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Put the lid on and let them sweat a little. When the vegetables soften, stir in half the olives and one of the diced lemons. Nestle the meat in the mixture and add the 1/2 cup of liquid. Cover tightly, and bake for three to three and a half hours. Add the rest of the lemons, their juice and the olives, return to oven 30 minutes or so.

When ready to serve, remove meat and slice across the grain. Serve on a pla
tter surrounded with the vegetables and drizzle the pan juices over all. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Preserved Lemons
Kosher salt
Lemons to preserve, as thin skinned as possible
Additional lemons for juice

Cut the lemons in quarters from the tip to the stem end without cutting all the way through. Pack the quarters with salt, rubbing it in and close them back up. Place tightly together in a crock or wide mouthed glass jar. Cover with fresh lemon juice and seal tightly, leaving it in a cool dry place for 3-4 weeks. Check every few days to be sure the lemon juice still covers the lemons completely, and top it off if you need to. When ready, remove anything objectionable from the top of the lemon juice and refrigerate.

Stuffed Nectarines a la Chez Panisse
4 ripe nectarines
1 cup pareve amaretti cookies, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped almonds
3 tablespoon (approx.) honey.
Kosher dessert wine (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan with cooking parchment or lightly oil.

Halve nectarines and remove pits. Mix almonds and amaretti cookies together, add honey to moisten mixture. Stuff into cavity of each nectarine, place in pan and drizzle with a little dessert wine, if desired.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or so, then slip the fruits out of their skins before serving. These are good warm or cold.

Déja Date


They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but I’m thinking that when you meet so many strangers in so short a time, familiarity might just breed comfort. You see a guy’s picture 20 times, you begin to feel you know him. Maybe the first time he wrote to you, you weren’t sure about him — maybe he even creeped you out — but a year or two later he practically seems like family (possibly that family member you want to avoid, but family nonetheless).

Maybe that’s why when Eric writes me, his picture appeals to me. He reminds me of someone. Someone … someone like … him!

It takes us a bit before he realizes that we’ve gone out before. It was two years ago — that’s 10 years in dating time — and we actually went out twice. (I guess I wasn’t the one-hit-dating wonder then that I am now.)

Eric wants to know now if I’d like to go out again. Now, two years later. I’m not sure. I can’t recall much about Eric. But maybe that’s because I don’t possess the best memory in the world. OK, my memory is about as good as a stoned amnesiac’s. There are entire years of my life I’ve blocked from my mind, shredded like crucial government documents.

I do remember, though, where we had dinner on the second date. (I’m drawing a complete blank on the first, though. Actually I sincerely doubt we had two dates, but I have to take his word for it — I always have to take other people’s words for the past). I remember that he kissed me. I remember he had a cat. And I know that I was allergic to cats then and still am.

But here’s what I don’t remember: I don’t remember what else was going on in my life at the time; I don’t remember why exactly I didn’t like him, and I don’t remember how exactly it ended.

So here’s the real question. Is timing everything? Is context anything?

Are we malleable, whimsical creatures whose predilections are determined only by the season, our moods, the placement of the moon in the sky?

Or is there a solid core inside, a hard drive of basic preferences and tastes that consistently governs the choices that we make? Are our instincts infallible?

I am someone who goes by instinct. Like most people, I like to think that I have good instincts. On the other hand, my relationship track record might suggest otherwise. My instincts, I suppose, have not always been right.

So in the name of being less picky, I decide to go out with Eric again.

There is a comfort level to our phone conversations that I usually don’t have with strangers. I suppose it’s because he’s not exactly a stranger. He knows things about me that I don’t know how he knows except that I must have told him. He knows that I surf, he knows that I’m allergic to cats (“still?”) and that he really liked me the last time, but I just wasn’t interested.

I’m hoping that when I see Eric, it will all come back to me. That I’d be like one of those characters in a miniseries who is jolted into recovery by the sight of her loved one.

No such luck. When I see Eric, I see why I didn’t recognize his picture in the first place — he doesn’t look like his picture. He does look like someone I might have gone out with already, but then again, maybe not.

I’m checking my instincts, taking my emotional temperature and getting nothing. “No pulse, doctor.” Not a blip on the EKG. Flat-lining.

So I do what I always do in these memory-failure situations. I decide to start from scratch with Eric, find out about him. It goes well, apparently, because he asks me out again. I can’t find a reason to say no — not a good reason, not if I am going by something other than mere instinct.

But what else is there? We live by our gut, our instincts, our heart, whatever you want to call it. Perhaps intuition can be warped, perhaps it needs to be refined, therapized, cauterized, redirected, reshaped — but should we ignore it? To ignore it is to go out on a second — actually fourth — date with a man you don’t like. You don’t know why you don’t like him, you can’t put your finger on it, but you also know you don’t have to put your finger on it.

You can, in the end, just act like a brat and get into some stupid spat with this man you’ll never see again, simply because you’re there in this situation despite your own good judgment.

So I slam down some money, walk out and screech out of the parking lot like a getaway driver, and then I realize that I didn’t remember Eric for a good reason: He wasn’t memorable.

This time I’ll remember him — I hope — or at least I’ll remember this: My intuition may not be good, but for now, it’s the best thing I’ve got.

PASSOVER FOOD: Treats to Leaven Desire for Dessert


Passover desserts are a challenge to the cook because so many ingredients are forbidden, among them flour, grain, cornstarch, baking powder or baking soda. So we substitute matzah meal, potato starch and versatile fresh egg whites to bake all of those traditional favorites — and lots of new ones, too.

The good news is that it is not difficult — all of these carefully tested delicacies are fairly simple to prepare and will be a welcome addition to your seder dinner, as well as for family meals during Passover.

For all the chocolate lovers, the food processor Cocoa-Pecan Cookies will become a favorite. Just prepare the dough and have the children or grandchildren help by dropping them by the spoonful onto the baking sheets. The batter can be kept in the refrigerator and a fresh batch of cookies can be baked each day.

Something new for the holiday, use the charoset ingredients to make a Passover Fruit Cake filled with nuts and dried fruit that offers a tasty and a crunchy treat. It is similar to the Italian delicacy known as Panforte that originated in Sienna. The mixture is tossed together in a large bowl, spooned into parchment-lined baking pans, and baked for an hour and a half. The good news is that these loaves will easily keep for the eight days of the holiday.

During Passover last year we were invited to the home of Alice and Nahum Lainer, who love to entertain. Alice served a delicious Apricot Torte, and I persuaded her to share her recipe for this wonderful pastry. Because some Jewish households do not use matzah meal or cake meal, the combination of egg whites, apricot puree, spices and a topping of apricot jam make an ideal dessert. It is the perfect after-dinner pastry to serve your guests, accompanied by a glass of sweet wine or hot tea.

For another sweet treat, pass a plate of Rocky Road Clusters, everyone’s favorite. They are made with only three ingredients, chocolate, marshmallows and pecans. Simply melt the chocolate, add marshmallows and nuts, and fill small paper cups with the mixture. This is another great project to do with the children.

Bring a platter of the Cocoa Pecan Cookies or Rocky Road Clusters as an edible gift to share with friends and family at the Passover seder meal.

Alice’s Apricot Torte

1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds, plus 1/4 cup sliced for garnish
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine for pan (one-quarter)
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups diced dried apricots
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
8 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup apricot jam
Passover powdered sugar (recipe follows, optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place whole nuts in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and sliced nuts in a single layer on another baking sheet. Toast nuts until golden and aromatic, five to eight minutes. Shake the pans halfway through toasting to make sure nuts brown evenly. Set aside to cool.

Brush a 10-inch spring form pan with melted butter or margarine, sprinkle with sugar and tap out excess. Set aside.

Place 1/4 cup sugar, whole almonds and apricots in the bowl of a food processor; process until finely chopped, one to two minutes. Add lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and pulse to blend. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with salt and lemon juice until frothy. Slowly add 1/4 cup sugar, and continue whisking until peaks are stiff but not dry. Fold beaten whites into egg yolks. Add apricot and almond mixture, and fold in until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. If necessary, cover torte lightly with foil to avoid burning. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the torte, and release from pan. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Place apricot jam in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and strain. Brush onto cooked torte. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.

Makes one 10-inch torte.

Passover Powdered Sugar

1 tablespoon Passover potato starch
1 cup sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, combine potato starch and sugar. Process until very powdery and resembles powdered sugar, about two minutes. Let sugar settle for about one minute before removing processor cover.

Makes about 1 cup.

Passover Fruit Cake

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
2 cups pitted dates, thinly sliced
2 cups dried apricots, quartered
1 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups toasted whole almonds
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts pieces
3/4 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate, optional
3/4 cup matzah cake meal
1 tablespoon potato starch
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or orange juice

Heat the oven to 300 F. Brush one (5-by-9 inch) loaf pan or two (3-by-7 inch) loaf pans with melted unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine and line with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dates, apricots, raisins, almonds, walnuts and chocolate, if using. Combine the matzah cake meal, potato starch and sugar and mix well. Add to fruit mixture and mix evenly. Beat eggs and vanilla to blend. Using a rubber spatula or hands, stir into fruit mixture until well blended. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and spread evenly, press into corners of pan.

Bake until golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pan. Peel off paper and let cool on rack.

Wrap in plastic wrap and foil. Chill at least one day or up to two months. To serve, place cake on a wooden board, and using a sharp knife, cut in thin slices.

Cocoa-Pecan Cookies

1 1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup matzah cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
5 large egg whites
1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine pecans, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, cocoa powder, matzah cake meal and potato starch in a food processor and pulse on and off until nuts are finely grated. Add 1/2 cup of egg whites and pulse to blend.

Transfer batter to a large bowl and stir in the nuts and chocolate. In a separate bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the remaining egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining sugar and beat until a stiff meringue forms. Using a rubber spatula, mix half of the meringue into the pecan/chocolate mixture and then fold in the remaining meringue.

Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving 1 inch between cookies.

Bake for eight minutes. Cookies should be dull, but very soft. If not dull, bake for one more minute. Transfer parchment to a rack to cool, before removing.

Makes about two- or three-dozen cookies.

Rocky Road Clusters

1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup miniature marshmallows or large marshmallows cut in quarters
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate, melted

Place small paper candy cups on top of a large tray and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss pecans and marshmallows together. Add melted chocolate and mix well. Spoon chocolate mixture into the candy cups and refrigerate for several hours until firm. Store in refrigerator.

Makes about 24.

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, March 18

Tonight’s Writers Guild 2006 Screen Laurel Award goes to “that member of the guild who … has advanced the literature of the motion picture through the years….” This year, that guy is writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, responsible for “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi” and “The Big Chill,” to name but a few. The public is invited to attend this evening’s tribute and reception, which includes a screening of Kasdan’s “Grand Canyon” and an on-stage Q-and-A. There’s also a screening series of Kasdan films going on all weekend long at the Writers Guild Theatre.

Sat. evening tribute: $25. Weekend screening series: $45 (weekend package), $30 (screenings only), Free (minors accompanied by paying adults, daytime screenings only). 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (323) 782-4692.


Lawrence Kasdan

Sunday, March 19

Film legend Eli Wallach and his wife and fellow actor Anne Jackson get personal tonight only, in a special one-night performance of “Bits and Pieces,” a collection of poetry, scenes, tales and letters that tells the couple’s story. The event benefits Theatre 40 professional theater company on its 40th birthday.

7 p.m. $25. Reuben Cordova Theatre, Beverly Hills High School Campus, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 364-0535. www.theatre40.org.

 

Monday, March 20

American Israel Defense Forces’ sisters-in-arms discuss their experiences volunteering to fight for Israel in an event sponsored by the Pacific Southwest Branch of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. They share their stories at the University of Judaism this morning.

10:30 a.m. $6. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 476-5359.


Paddi Bregman, left, and Ruth Giden.

Tuesday, March 21

April Fools comes early at the Skirball. Their “twice monthly on Tuesdays” free film series honors comedy duo Abbott and Costello beginning with today’s screening of “The Naughty Nineties.” Attend later this month to see “One Night in the Tropics.” In April, see “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein” and “Little Giant.”

1:30 p.m. (March 21 and 28, April 4 and 18). Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.


Abbott and Costello in “The Naughty Nineties.”

Wednesday, March 22

William Shatner, the Rockumentary? Apparently it’s just the beginning. Tonight, TV Land begins airing new series of its “Living in TV Land” music-reality hybrid show, with the ex-Captain Kirk as their first subject. In this episode, they boldly go everywhere Shatner goes, into the recording studio where he records his spoken-word albums, to Trekkie conventions and his home. Future, um, “rock star” subjects include Barry Williams, Fred Willard, Sherman Hemsley, Adam West and Davy Jones.

10 p.m. www.tvland.com.

Thursday, March 23

Tonight, the Skirball presents Langston Hughes’ words as the poet intended them to be heard — accompanied by jazz. Hughes’ ’60s poetry series “Ask Your Mama” told of America’s history of racism and of African American civil unrest in the late 1950s and 1960s. In those lines, Hughes included musical cues, and today the Ron McCurdy Quartet follows them, layering jazz music onto the spoken-word performance. Adding a visual element, images of the Harlem Renaissance by African American artists and photographers will be projected.

8 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.


Langston Hughes

Friday, March 24

The Purim parties just won’t stop. Tonight’s variation at Valley Beth Shalom features a Persian-themed Shabbat dinner and musical program. “A Night in Shushan: The Mystical Music of the Middle East” is its title, and the show features The Yuval Ron Ensemble with guest singers and dancers Iman Sufi and Tamra Henna. Come for the meal or just the music.

8 p.m. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P. for dinner, (818) 530-4009. www.vbs.org.


Tamra Henna. Photo by Sherif Sonbol

Kitchen Confidential


My guy Scott dined with his friend Kate and her fiance Steve. No biggie. She’s an old friend, she’s taken. Nothing to worry about. I’m not jealous. It’s cool. Till he adds, “She made this puttanesca sauce from scratch. It was really good. It had peppers and tomatoes and basil. It’s a family recipe. It was really good.” Yeah, you mentioned that already.

Think, Carin, think. Launch a witty comeback: “Well, I make good homemade desserts. You like my cookies.”

Witty or lame, either way.

“Yes,” he says laughing. “You make excellent cookies. I just thought it was cool that she made this sauce from scratch. It’s nothing.”

Nothing? Nothing? It’s not nothing. You wouldn’t have mentioned it if it was nothing. It’s something. It’s my relationship crumblin’ like Jericho.

I almost never cook for Scott. We hang a couple times a week, and Teflon rarely hits the stove. On weekends we go out. On weekdays we order in. I don’t make a meal, I make a call. He’s happy. I’m happy. Happy meals all around. Then this puttanesca girl comes into the picture, flaunting her sauce in front of him. Throwing around her tomatoes. I know, I know, she’s engaged, she’s a non-threat. But she planted a bad seed. Now Scott knows he could be dating a woman who cooks, a domestic diva who serves meals that aren’t ordered from a menu and entrees that aren’t referred to by number.

I’m hotter than the average bear and one heck of a catch. There’s no reason some random girl’s cooking should make me insecure. It’s illogical. Inconceivable. Yet, inevitable. ‘Cuz I make tacos from a seasoning pack, turn a box of Bisquick into pancakes and get my pasta sauce from a jar, folks, from a jar. I don’t have a family recipe; I have Paul Newman.

I have no choice. I have to pull an “Iron Chef” and prove I can make a marinara as good as the next girl. Now, Scott never said anything of the sort. He never mentioned the sauce again. I think he forgot about the sauce. But I can’t let it go.

Yes, guys, this is how girls act. We’re competitive. We’re crazy. We’re cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. If you happen to say, “that girl’s in good shape” or “this woman at work is smart” or “Jennifer Garner is hot,” we flip. It’s not that we actually think you’re going to leave us for that girl; it’s that you are obviously taken by that girl, and we want you to be that taken with us. It’s OK if you think another girl is fit or smart or cute, as long as you think we’re fitter, smarter and cuter. We don’t want to give you the room to think there’s someone better out there. We want you to like us.

Of course, you’d probably like us a lot more if we just didn’t act so crazy.

But we do. We’re meshugenah; we’re out of control.

I’ve convinced myself that once Scott tastes my sauce, he’ll think I’m the best thing since sliced challah. So I wake up early Sunday morning, take my ingredient list and my cute tush down to the Santa Monica’s farmer’s market. Tomatoes — check. Garlic — check. Olives — check. I grab a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, I even ask the booth guy the difference between shallots and chives. I’m one babe of a ballabusta.

I chop and mince and dice and drain. I season and simmer and stir and — ugh! Just burned myself. But I’m determined. I can stand the heat; I’m not getting out of the kitchen. As I cook, Scott volunteers to help, which is sweet and fun and only makes me want to impress him more. I’m wearing a sauce-splattered shirt and a garlic stench I won’t ditch for days, but dinner is finally served. Scott goes on about how amazing my meal is. I taste my masterpiece. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. If that whole best way — man’s heart — stomach thing is true, I’m toast. I ask Scott for the truth.

“Is it as good as hers?”

“It’s just different…”

“Different how?”

“It’s hotter…”

“I’m sorry, hotter?”

“No, spicier.”

“Spicier how?”

“Carin, you’re crazy. Your sauce was great. I love that you made it for me. It was really sweet. But she’s Italian. She’s been making sauce for years. So her’s was a little better. It’s like you with Jewish cooking — there’s no way her kugel is as good as yours.”

He’s right, and not just about my blue-ribbon kugel. I get a little crazy, but only ‘cuz I care. I freak out about little things I think are important to our relationship, but what’s really important is Scott digs me. It doesn’t matter who cooks for him, what matters is who kisses him. So after dinner, I show Scott you don’t have to be Italian to spice things up.

Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

 

A Rehearsal Menu to Tickle Your Nose


When Dom Perignon invented the creme de la creme of spirits in the 17th century, little did he know that the drink he discovered while trying to eradicate those “irksome bubbles” from his wine would be considered so romantic that wedding guests wouldn’t think of toasting generations of brides and grooms with anything less.

Since today’s weddings are rife with new traditions, why not serve your guests a rehearsal dinner menu infused with Champagne? It will be good practice for your first official dinner as a couple — which, hopefully, you will be cooking together. While it seems extravagant to heat a liquid so precious — it has sold for as much as $25,000 a bottle — chefs praise the celebratory results.

Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse in Santa Monica cooks with Champagne for the same reason he uses fresh truffles or searches out the best foie gras or caviar.

“A dish is only as elegant as its ingredients,” he said. “Champagne adds a touch of romance, a certain finesse. Its subtle acidity is the perfect foil for butter, which is why I use it in beurre blanc and other fish sauces.”

Citrin often cooks with a more moderately priced Champagne, then finishes the dish with a splash of a more expensive variety.

When deciding on which label of Champagne or sparkling wine to cook with, it’s important to really like the flavor, said Finbar Kinsella, chef at Lily’s in Louisville.

“It doesn’t have to be as expensive as the Champagne you’ll be drinking, but if you don’t like it in the glass you won’t like it on your plate,” he said. “The myth that the taste will be diffused in the cooking process is just that.”

For kosher consumers, wineries such as Baron Herzog, Hagafen, Abarbanel and Yarden make very good Champagnes.

Cooking with the world’s most celebratory drink is perfect for a wedding, New York chef Jerome Vidy said.

Originally from Apt, in the south of France, Vidy remembers, “It’s very French to always have a bottle of wine in the house, but if there’s a bottle of Champagne chilling in the fridge, you know something special is coming up. Carrying over the flavor from your flute to your plate is a wonderful way to toast your love.”

Vidy emphasizes the care aspect of cooking with Champagne since its sparkle rarely lasts more than a half hour.

“Assemble your ingredients, pop the cork and then use it immediately. In between additions, keep it in a cool place. Of course it’s fun to get a head start on celebrating by drinking and toasting as you cook,” he said.

Champagne Leek Soup With Caviar

From Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse Restaurant, Santa Monica.

Soup

1 cup white onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

5 tablespoons butter, or more if needed, divided

2 quarts diced leeks, white part only

Salt to taste

1 cup Champagne

2 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 quart vegetable stock

2 cups water

1/2 cup cream

Garnish

1 cup diced leeks, white part only

1/2 cup cream

1 cup diced white potatoes

1 sprig thyme

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup Champagne

2 ounces kosher caviar

On a low flame sweat onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons butter until translucent, about two minutes, adding more butter if the mixture gets dry. Add leeks and a pinch of salt; continue cooking two minutes longer. Add 1 cup Champagne, raise heat, and reduce the mixture by half, making sure it doesn’t boil. Add Yukon potatoes, thyme, vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add 1/2 cup cream. Bring to a boil again, immediately reduce heat to a simmer; cook for 10 minutes. Blend until smooth. Strain through a chinois sieve.

For garnish, sweat leeks in butter, about three to four minutes. Add 1/2 cup cream; cook until leeks are soft, about two minutes more. Boil potatoes with thyme and bay leaf until just cooked through. Drain and add white potatoes to leek-cream mixture. Mix well.

Heat soup; add 2 tablespoons butter and remaining 1/4 cup Champagne. Blend until light and frothy. Pour into a warmed soup tureen. Reheat leek mixture, adding a bit of butter, if needed.

To serve, place about 1 tablespoon of the leek mixture in the center of six soup bowls. Garnish with caviar. Carefully ladle the soup around the leeks so that the garnish is floating on top.

Makes six servings.

Spinach and Mesclun Salad With Champagne Tarragon Vinaigrette

Adapted from New York chef Jerome Vidy.

For Champagne tarragon vinegar

1 pint Champagne vinegar

1 cup Champagne

1/2 cup tarragon, thyme, and parsley sprigs

4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole

1 teaspoon red, white and black peppercorns

For Champagne tarragon vinaigrette

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon Champagne tarragon vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons chopped shallots

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

For salad

8 cups loosely packed greens

2 tablespoons pine nuts (optional)

2 tablespoons dried cranberries (optional)

For Champagne tarragon vinegar, pour vinegar and Champagne into a sterilized jar. Add herb sprigs along with garlic and peppercorns. Store in cool place for four weeks. When vinegar is finished strain out the herbs, garlic and peppercorns.

For Champagne tarragon vinaigrette, place olive oil, vinegar, Dijon, salt and shallots in a screw-top jar and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to blend thoroughly. Stir in herbs just before dressing salad.

Toss with spinach, mache, mesclun, and, if desired, pine nuts and cranberries.

Makes six servings.

Halibut a L’armoricaine

From Uwe Nettelbeck of Merigot, France. If halibut is unavailable, use another densely fleshed fish such as sea bass. Armagnac is an earthy tasting type of brandy, made in Armagnac, France. Or substitute with a liqueur of your choice.

2 large shallots, peeled and sliced

3 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

8 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and halved

2 cups good fish stock

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup Champagne

2 tablespoons Armagnac

2 pounds boneless and skinless halibut fillets, cut into 2-inch chunks

Salt to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons each parsley, chervil and tarragon, chopped

In a separate pan, sauté shallots and garlic in butter until translucent. Turn heat to low, add tomatoes; cook five minutes longer. Add fish stock, white wine, and Armagnac. Turn heat to medium, add salt and reduce by half. Lower heat, add halibut to liquid. Cook gently for about six to eight minutes, until fish is cooked through. Be careful not to overcook.

Remove fish to platter. Lower heat; add cream, half the parsley, chervil, and tarragon. Gently cook until you have a thick cream sauce. Add fish back into sauce; heat through and serve. Garnish with the remaining tablespoon of chopped parsley.

Makes four servings.

Champagne-Honey Granita

From Vincent Scotto, executive chef at Gonzo Restaurant, New York City.

This smoothing, refreshing granita is delicious served with berries or sliced fruit. You can substitute sparkling wine for the Champagne.

1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry Champagne

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup honey

In a bowl combine Champagne, lemon juice and honey. Stir until honey dissolves. Transfer to a shallow stainless steel pan that fits easily into the freezer.

Freeze for about an hour. Remove and, using a pastry scraper or metal spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the granita, mixing the frozen particles into the less frozen center.

Freeze for about two hours longer and scrape again. Let the granita freeze for three to four hours longer, until completely frozen. Chop the granita into pieces and serve immediately or return to the freezer until ready to serve.

Makes about two quarts.

Gonzo Bellini

From executive chef Vincent Scotto of Gonzo Restaurant, New York City.

1 pint strawberries or peaches

1/4 cup sugar

2 bottles Champagne.

Puree strawberries or peaches; place in pan with the sugar; bring to boil, cool. Add ice and Champagne.

Champagne Apricot Truffles

From Kathy Cary, chef-owner of Lilly’s Restaurant, Louisville. The recipe was inspired by Camille Glenn, the dowager of Southern cookbook writers.

1 cup dried apricots, cut into sixths

1 cup Champagne, or more to cover the apricots

1 pound bitter chocolate

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup Champagne

1/4 pound shelled pistachios, toasted and finely chopped (optional)

Place apricots in a bowl. Add enough Champagne to cover. Soak apricots in Champagne overnight.

To make ganache, melt chocolate in a double boiler. In a separate saucepan warm cream to about the same temperature as the chocolate. Whip the cream into the chocolate mixture. Remove from stove. Add 1/2 cup Champagne to the ganache mixture. Cool.

With a small scoop, shape dollops of the chocolate mixture into walnut-sized balls. Press a few pieces of Champagne-soaked apricots into each of the balls. Roll completed balls in pistachios to coat the balls.

Makes about three dozen truffles.

 

Villaraigosa a Yemenite?


The energy and enthusiasm of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa got ahead of his staff when, at a Rosh Hashanah dinner with consular officials, he suddenly announced his intention to lead a local delegation to Israel.

The pledge had raced across newswires for several days and still the mayor’s staffers pleaded ignorance late last week, saying that they had no details, such as a date, an itinerary or participants.

But Westside City Councilman Jack Weiss, at least, was wise to what was up. He, too, had been at the Beverly Hills home of Ehud Danoch, the regional Israeli Consul General, and his wife, Miki. The Danochs hosted the gathering to celebrate their first Rosh Hashanah in Los Angeles, said Weiss, a close Villaraigosa ally.

“Mayor Villaraigosa said many times during his campaign that he would lead a trip to Israel,” Weiss said in a phone interview. “He feels a strong connection to Israel.”

Villaraigosa’s wife, Corina, and their two children were also among the guests, along with other consular officials. Also on hand was Benny Alagem, co-founder and one-time CEO of Packard Bell NEC. He’d helped arrange the visit to Israel by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Villaraigosa has long had strong ties with the Jewish community. He grew up in Boyle Heights, a former Jewish enclave that became Latino. A Jewish teacher and mentor paid for him to take his college boards. And leading Jewish progressives and funders supported his political rise early on. Weiss said that Villaraigosa already has been to Israel twice before.

But Consul General Danoch, a fluent Spanish speaker, spied another semblance of connection. Danoch’s parents are originally from Yemen and when they “saw a picture of Antonio on television, they told Ehud that he looked like a Yemenite,” Weiss said. “The mayor got a big kick out of that.”

Spectator – The Geffen’s Great Escape


In the 1930s, with the Great Depression at home and Hitler saber-rattling overseas, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, two sharp-witted Jewish lads, kept Broadway and the nation laughing.

Together, they wrote such comedic classics as “Once in a Lifetime,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “I’d Rather Be Right” and “You Can’t Take It With You.”

The latter play, which debuted on Broadway in 1936 and won a Pulitzer Prize and as an Oscar-winning movie two years later, has now been revived by the Geffen Playhouse.

The revival marks the 100th anniversary of Hart’s birth and, to keep the familial connection, is directed by his son, Christopher.

Cunningly constructed, the play relates the adventures and misadventures of the Sycamore Family of New York, whose guiding motto is, do whatever turns you on, however eccentric, and you’ll have lots of fun, avoid ulcers and enjoy a happy ending.

This philosophy may not always work in this harsh world but it surely does on the stage.

The pace of this production is not quite as antic and frantic as we recall from the olden days, but there are enough laughs to get your money’s worth.

Excelling in a somewhat uneven cast is veteran British actor Roy Dotrice as the family patriarch, who quit the rat race 35 years ago and has never looked back.

Also amusing are Conrad John Schuck as an irascible Wall Street tycoon, and Magda Harout, who doubles as an inebriated actress and an aristocratic Russian refugee who has fallen on hard times.

The Geffen’s performances have been in exile on the Veterans Administration grounds while its Westwood playhouse has been undergoing a $17 million facelift.

Included in the renovations are a plusher main stage and audience seats and construction of the smaller Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre.

A grand reopening of the Westwood facility is set for Oct. 17. The inaugural drama on Nov. 4 will be Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” directed by Gilbert Cates and starring John Goodman as Big Daddy.

“You Can’t Take It With You” concludes its run on May 22 at the VA’s Brentwood Theatre. For information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com

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7 Days in the Arts


Saturday, December 18

Tis the season for cocktail parties, so why not one more. The Anti-Defamation League hosts its 2004 Los Angeles Celebration this evening, complete with dinner, dancing, martini bar and keynote speech by Harvard professor/defense attorney/Israel defender Alan Dershowitz.

6:30 p.m. $250. For location and reservations, call (310) 446-8000, ext. 260.

Sunday, December 19

This evening, an aural treat presents itself in the form of the Levantine Cultural Center’s “Middle East Concert for Peace.” The Naser Musa-Adam del Monte Ensemble’s sound is described as “vibrant Arab, Sephardic and Flamenco world music.”

6 p.m. (reception). 7 p.m. (concert). $12-$25. Hollywood United Methodist Church. (310) 559-5544.

Monday, December 20

Cantorial music meets West Coast jazz in trumpeter Steven Bernstein’s new album, “Diaspora Hollywood,” in a way that has many a critic raving. Have a listen live at tonight’s CD release concert at Temple Bar, where Bernstein will perform with Pablo Calogero on brass and woodwinds, DJ Bonebrake on vibraphone, David Piltch on bass and Danny Frankel on drums and percussion.

10:30 p.m. $5. 1026 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. www.templebarlive.com.

Tuesday, December 21

Bruria Finkel has gathered newish and established area artists for Santa Monica Art Studios’ ARENA 1 inaugural exhibition, “Santa Monica Originals.” Featured in the show are pieces that have a historical or contemporary connection to Santa Monica, including works by John Baldessari, Sam Francis, Rachel Lachoicz and Frank Gehry. Interestingly, Gehry’s 1987 model for a 37-acre renovation proposal for the airport commons, which is displayed in the show, would have eliminated many artist studios around the airport, including the one housing this exhibit.

Runs through Feb. 5. 3026 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 397-7456.

Wednesday, December 22

True, Chanukah’s over, but now that you’ve collected your loot, maybe it’s appropriate to give a little back — and get a head start on next year. Hungry for Music is a nonprofit that brings music into the lives of underprivileged kids, and proceeds from their “A Chanukah Feast” CD, featuring 21 Chanukah tunes in just about every style imaginable, benefit the worthy group.

$15.99. www.hungryformusic.com.

Thursday, December 23

Today, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre kicks off its latest series, a tribute to comedy teams of bygone days, “Too Much Monkey Business: The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello and The Three Stooges.” It all adds up to a lot of funny Jews, beginning with tonight’s double feature (and a half) of Groucho & Co. in “Animal Crackers,” followed by Moe, Larry and Curly in “A-Plumbing We Will Go” and ending with Bud and Lou in “Buck Privates.”

7:30 p.m. $6-$9. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-3456.

Friday, November 24

The Fonz gets you in the holiday spirit at today’s free “45th L.A. County Holiday Celebration” at the Music Center. The six-hour performance hosted by Henry Winkler features 39 groups reflecting “the cultural mosaic of Los Angeles,” including America Chinese Dance Association, Celtic Spring Irish Step Dancing, Hollywood Klezmer, Yuval Ron Ensemble, Church of Scientology Choir, Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles and Mariachi Sol de Mexico. Patrons are free to come and go as they please throughout the event. If you can’t make it, be sure to catch the action live on KCET.

3-9 p.m. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. www.holidaycelebration.org.

Calendar


The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three
weeks in advance to: calendar@jewishjournal.com.

By Keren Engelberg

Calendar

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SHABBAT

Valley Beth Shalom Sisterhood:

9 a.m. Women’s Minyan with the theme “The Flame and the Soul: Reflecting God’s Light.” 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 343-3078.

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LECTURES

Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California: 2-4 p.m. “Jewish Sources: Space, Time and Memory” panel discussion on “Too Jewish – Not Jewish Enough: Jewish Art in the Art World.” Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 740-3405.

Kehillat Ma’arav: 7:30 p.m. Trudi Alexi speaks on “Spain and the Jews: A Paradoxical Relationship.” $10-$12. 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

EVENTS

Sinai Temple: 12:30-4 p.m. (Sun.) and 8:30 a.m. –6 p.m. (Mon.) Used book sale in the library. 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3215.

Westside Jewish Community Center: 1-4 p.m. Fiftieth anniversary celebration. Free. 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-2531.

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LECTURES

The New JCC at Milken: 7-9 p.m. “Bringing Meaning by Caring for Others,” part of the “Lights in Action Speaker Series.” Free. Finegood Arts Center, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3300.

Jewish World Watch: 7:30 p.m. “Genocide – Emergency: Sudan – Who Will Survive?” Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 788-6000.

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EVENTS

Daphna and Richard Ziman: 6-8 p.m. Fundraiser reception for mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg. $500-$1,000. Beverly Hills residence. (310) 966-2613.

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EVENTS

Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring:

1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Reading and book signing for Florence Weinberger’s “Carnal Fragrance.” Free. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

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LECTURES

Sherry Frumkin Gallery: 7 p.m. “Meet the Press; How the Media Covers the Israeli-Palestine Conflict” panel discussion with journalists Amy Wilentz, Hussein Ibish and Rob Eshman. Free. Studio 21, Santa Monica Airport, 3026 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 397-7493.

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DECEMBER 17/FRIDAY

CHANUKAH

Sat., Dec. 11
Happy Minyan: 8 p.m. Chanukah concert and stories by Shlomo Katz. Congregation Mogen David, Los Angeles. (310) 285-7777.

Sun., Dec. 12
Klezmer Jews: 9 a.m.–noon. Chanukah Concert. Santa Monica. (310) 398-6055.
The Center for Sport and Jewish Life: Noon-6 p.m. Celebration with L.A.’s largest menorah and celebrity guests. Universal City. (818) 758-1818.
Chabad of Conejo Valley and Friendship Circle: 1-3 p.m. Extravaganza for children with special needs. Los Angeles.
(323) 653-1086.

Chabad of Ventura County: 2-5 p.m. “Chanukah at the Harbor” with the commanding officer of Ventura County Naval Base. Ventura. (805) 658-7441.

Congregation Mishkon Tephilo:
5:30 p.m. Party and Doda Mollie’s “Chanukah Pajamikah” sing-along. (310) 392-3029.
Sephardic Congregation of Northridge: 5:30 p.m. Chanukah celebration. Northridge. (818) 481-9709.

Tuesday, Dec. 14
North Valley JCC: 1 p.m. Seniors (55+) Chanukah Party. Granada Hills.
(818) 360-9384.

Friday, Dec. 17
Cheviot Hills Senior Citizens Club: 10:45 a.m. Latke Party, boutique and live entertainment. West Los Angeles.
(310) 652-7508.

Singles

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Harbor Jewish Singles (55+): 6 p.m. Chanukah party with catered dinner and gift exchange. $12-$14. Private residence in Orange. (714) 939-8540.

Sephardic Singles Havurah (40s-60s):
7 p.m. Chanukah celebration and potluck dinner with candle lighting, prayers, songs and dancing. $5. R.S.V.P.,
(323) 294-6084.

Elite Jewish Theatre Singles: 8 p.m. No-host dinner social followed by the play, “Play It Again, Sam.” $17. Santa Monica area. R.S.V.P., (310) 203-1312.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s and 40s):
8 p.m. Chanukah party. $10. Private Encino residence. R.S.V.P. by Dec. 10, (818) 750-0095.

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Singles Helping Others: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Assist the National Council of Jewish Women with their holiday flea market sale. (323) 663-8378. Also, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sierra Madre 2005 Rose Parade float decorating. (818) 345-8802.

Jewish Outdoor Adventures: 10 a.m. Hike to Saddle Peak via Backbone Trail followed by hot tub and Chanukah party. Free. Piuma Road, Malibu. JewishOutdoor@yahoo.com.

Conversations at Leon’s: 2-5 p.m. “The Modern Wines of China” wine tasting. $15. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

ATID (21-39): 4 p.m. Adventures in Judaism II presents “Chanukah: Lights, Miracles, Action!” $30. 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244.

G.E.E. Super Singles: 7 p.m. Holiday Latke Party. $12-$15. R.S.V.P., (818) 501-0165.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: 10 a.m.-noon. Lox Lattes and Learning program discussion with journalists Bob Baker and Paul Feldman on “Journalism and Israel: Is There an Anti-Israel Bias?” $50-$65. Private residence. R.S.V.P., rabbidennis@aol.com.

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Nexus: 7:30 p.m. Weekly dance classes for beginner and intermediate levels and open dance. $6. 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. www.JewishNexus.org.

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Westwood Jewish Singles (45+): 7:30 p.m. Discussion on “Commitment, the Big C.” $10. West Los Angeles area. R.S.V.P., (310) 444-8986.

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New Age Singles (55+): 6 p.m. “Eat and Schmooze” no-host dinner at Tony Roma’s Restaurant. 50 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 874-9937.

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L.A.’s Fabulous Best Connections: Dinner at Marmalade Cafe. R.S.V.P., (323) 782-0435.

Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “Sex, What Do Men and Women Really Want?” $15-$17. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

New Start/Millionaire’s Circle: 7:30 p.m. Social honoring men who do charity work. Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (323) 461-3137.

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Chai Center (40-55): 7 p.m. Singles Friday Night Shabbat. West Los Angeles area. R.S.V.P., (310) 391-7995.

Upcoming Singles

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DECEMBER 26, SUNDAY


7 Days In Arts


Saturday

The “Los Angeles International Short Film Festival” continues at the ArcLight with a screening of “Tel Aviv.” Filmmakers Richard Goldgewicht, Jeremy Goldscheider and The Journal’s Amy Klein explore what happens when an American Jewish businessman is picked up by a vanload of Arab Palestinians in the Jordan Valley desert.8 p.m., 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 464-4226. www.lashortsfest.com.Commemorate Sept. 11 today at Beth Shir Shalom. This weekend only, the synagogue hosts the American Spirit Quilt Project, a series of 12 handmade quilts memorializing the 2001 attacks. This will be the national exhibit’s only Los Angeles stop.11 a.m.- 7 p.m. (Sat.), Noon-5 p.m. (Sunday), 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Monday). 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 453-3361.

Sunday

Songstress Shalva Berti was an Israeli child star when she performed in the military choir during the Lebanon war. Many years and six CDs later, she’s all grown up and still performing for Israeli and international audiences. The Consulate General in Los Angeles, the Israeli Cultural Awareness Foundation and the Sinai Temple-Israel Action Committee sponsor her concert at Sinai Temple tonight.6:30 p.m. $35-$70. 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 273-8710.

Monday

Tonight, the Ford Amphitheatre offers chamber music less likely to make you sleepy. Los Angeles’ hot young Calder Quartet has been a foursome since their days at USC’s Thornton School of Music. More recently, they participated in Lincoln Center’s “Mostly Mozart Festival,” and this evening offer up Haydn’s Quartet Op. 76, No. 1 and the Bartók Quartet No. 4, reinvigorated.8 p.m. $12-$25. 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.

Tuesday

Renowned political satirist and septuagenarian Mort Sahl shows the younguns how it’s done as he kicks off the first in the “Entertaining Politics” series at Magicopolis tonight. Six more Tuesdays of political humor follow, featuring Paul Krassner, Roy Zimmerman, Robbie Conal, Howard Rosenberg, Emily Levine and Darryl Henriques, among others.7:15 p.m. $35. 1418 Fourth St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 471-3979.

Wednesday

Get in the holiday spirit tonight with Manhattan’sCongregation B’nai Jeshurun’s new CD, “TekiYah: Echoes of the High Holy Days atBJ.” The recording features songs from the Days of Awe sung by Cantor AriPriven, Rabbis Marcelo Bronstein, Rolando Matalon and Felicia Sol, as well asLizzie Draiem and the B’nai Jeshurun Choir. www.hatikvahmusic.com

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Thursday

Unique events and services abound this Rosh Hashanah,many of which are highlighted in our calendar listings on page 63. One we foundintriguing: Rabbi Naomi Levy’s Nashuva service tonight at Venice Beach. Bringbread to throw, a picnic dinner and a percussion instrument — spoons, we’retold, will work — for Tashlich drumming and a shofar service on the sand, led bythe Nashuva Band. 5:15 p.m. Where Venice Boulevard meets the beach. www.nashuva.com

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Friday

Drop some cool cash for a good cause this weekend asCedars-Sinai holds their 32nd annual Merchant of Tennis/Monty Hall/Cedars-SinaiDiabetes Tennis Tournament. Stanley Black is honored for his philanthropy attonight’s fab kick-off cocktail reception hosted by Monty Hall. The rest of theweekend is devoted to tennis and easy living. Tomorrow it’s mixed doubles andmen’s doubles at MountainGate. On Sunday, show up for the championship finalsor, you know, whatever at the Playboy Mansion, where casual gourmet cuisine willalso be served up. $175 (Friday reception), $200 (Sunday championship), $450(per person, men’s doubles), $800 (mixed doubles). (310) 996-1188. www.tennistournament.org

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Dinner Celebrates Families


Aphilanthropic couple and a young family with a preschooler are to be recognized at the 9th annual Jewish Family Service of Orange County (JFS) dinner celebrating family.

The contributions of Gerald and Eleanor Weinstein, of Tustin, are getting notice because Jewish tenets about giving and righting social ills are reflected in their chosen careers and volunteer commitments, said Mel Roth, director of the agency, a provider of psychological services.

Both former health professionals, the couple has known each other for 25 years but only married in September 2001, following the loss of their spouses.

JFS hopes to raise $60,000 from the event, supporting the agency’s $825,000 annual budget. JFS receives 30 percent of its funding from the O.C. Jewish Federation and is its largest beneficiary. The agency’s 11-person staff, including four full-time counselors, annually serve about 7,000 people in support groups, counseling, older adult services, volunteer opportunities, refugee resettlement, information and referral, a healing center and with interest-free loans.

Also under the spotlight are Stacy and Phil Kaplan, of Newport Beach, who met at a young Jewish leadership get-together. The couple, who have a 2-year-old daughter, remain involved in numerous O.C. Federation programs.

"It is a special privilege to honor the Weinsteins and the Kaplans, who set an example of model families enriching the Jewish and general community by teaching the values love, honesty, education, loving kindness and giving back to the community," Roth said.

The $100-per-person dinner is to be held at the Hyatt Newporter Hotel in Newport Beach May 20 at 6 p.m. For more information, call JFS at (714) 445-4950.

Cruise Vacation Worth the Weight


Here’s a tip to non-Jewish travelers looking for a low-cost vacation cruise.

Pick your cruise dates to include the Jewish High Holidays in September or October, because then the ships offer their deepest discounts to fill the empty berths left by the noticeable absence of Jewish passengers.

On the other hand, Jewish vacationers might consider booking dates that include Passover or Chanukah when the ship’s chefs whip up elaborate — and strictly kosher — seder feasts or stir up batches of crisp potato latkes.

We gleaned this information during a gluttonous 11-day cruise in November aboard the $200 million Crystal Harmony. Our voyage started at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., stopped over at the Caribbean islands of St. John, St. Maarten/St. Martin, Antigua and Aruba, passed through the Panama Canal and terminated at the Costa Rican port of Caldera.

Hubert Buelacher, our ship’s food and beverage manager, recalled that two years ago, during another Caribbean cruise, his kitchen made latkes for 200 out of 900 passengers.

It is possible that some knowledgeable non-Jews might have tried to pass as members of the tribe to join the feasting. By way of illustration, we were tipped off that kosher chicken was a specialty of the house and we ordered a couple for ourselves and three other couples who were our traveling companions. The other couples, all old friends and none Jewish, gave the kosher chicken their highest rating.

Buelacher, a sturdy Austrian, conducted us through the separate kosher galley of the huge kitchen and proudly noted that he had become a kashrut maven while supervising Orthodox wedding banquets when he was working as a chef in France.

He reeled off his typical seder meal, consisting of chicken consommé with matzah balls, roasted chicken, carrots, green peas, almonds, roasted potatoes and kosher wine.

Any passenger, at any time, can order a kosher meal in advance, while some Orthodox groups have brought along their own mashgiach (kosher supervisor) said hotel director Herbert Doppler, another Austrian.

For cruises encompassing Passover or Chanukah, a full-time rabbi is on board the Crystal Harmony and the same goes for its sister ship, the Crystal Symphony.

On our November cruise, the ship’s bulletin called for volunteers to conduct Friday evening services, and Alan Iselin, an investment counselor from Albany, N.Y., led some 20 worshippers.

For the occasion, a small Torah and lectern were placed on the stage of the ship’s theater and a sidetable for yarmulkes and prayer books also offered challah, gefilte fish and kosher wine.

Admittedly, this report so far has been mainly about food, but as every cruise veteran knows, life on board ship is a freser’s (glutton’s) delight.

There were elaborate dinners, where the dress code alternated between formal, informal and casual, hefty breakfasts and lunches, specialty Japanese and Italian restaurants, and high teas and evening snacks in between.

The danger in all this, of course, is an expanded waistline, but there are remedies, consisting of a full-scale gym, a feng shui and aerobic spa, swimming pools, Jacuzzis and promenade decks for walking and jogging.

For the more dedicated, there is a golf driving range, a paddle tennis court — where we engaged in spirited matches — and for the really obsessed, a "personally developed cuisine program for the health conscious."

There are other opportunities to work off some fat in long walks and other physical activities during day-long shore excursions.

At a stop at St. Maarten, the Dutch-ruled part of the binational island, we were startled to pass a roadside restaurant proudly named Beth El and a large Star of David spouting from the roof.

We asked the black owner for an explanation and he responded, with considerable dignity, "I am a descendant of Abraham."

Crossing over to St. Martin, the French part of the island, we encountered another Star of David, this one atop an open market stand dubbed the Coconut House. We inquired again and were told, "Oh, it’s just for decoration."

A final chance to slim down before heading home came when our party decided to stay over a couple of days in Costa Rica and visit the Arenal National Park.

There, a four-hour hike through the dense rain forest to the foot of the active Arenal Volcano brought us almost back to our fighting weight.

BJE Celebrates Catskills Style


The Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a visit to the Borscht Belt, where a generation of Jewish immigrants escaped for celebrations and community, with "The Catskills of Orange County" on Oct. 6 at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach.

Seating assignments mean checking in at one of the old bungalow hotels, such as Grossinger’s. The menu? Brisket, of course.

The event’s headliner is Noodles Levenstein, who is described as "a mix of Henney Youngman and Jerry Seinfeld." The Orange County Klezmer band will perform medleys.

Dinner honorees include six people who supported specific youth programs and two BJE directors, Ida Marks Meltzer and Joan S. Kaye.

Proceeds will help support a leadership program that reaches 500 teens, training for synagogue teachers and adult education classes.

For more information, please call (714) 755-4400.

Lieberman Recipes


HADASSAH LIEBERMAN’S PAREVE VEGETABLESOUP

1 medium onion, chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, crushed

3 medium carrots, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 bay leaf

kosher salt

dash of cayenne pepper

dash of cinnamon

Water or vegetable stock to cover (about 11¼2 quarts)

1 large sweet potato, chopped

1 parsnip, chopped

1 zucchini, chopped

1 cup cherry tomatoes

13¼4 cups chickpeas, lima beans or lentils, cooked

olive oil for sautéing (about 2 tablespoons)

1 medium onion, sliced

In a soup kettle sauté onion, garlic, celery, carrots and seasonings for 10 minutes. Cover with water or stock. Bring to boil, lower flame and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Add remaining vegetables, peas or beans; simmer 1¼2 hour more or until vegetables are tender. Meanwhile, pour olive oil into a skillet; add the second onion. Saute until browned but not burnt. Add onion to the soup. Stir thoroughly; simmer 15 minutes more. Serves 12.

LILI DEUTSCH’S HUNGARIAN VEALGOULASH

When Mindy Weisel knows the Liebermans are coming for dinner, she fixes Joe’s favorite Veal Goulash, a recipe she inherited from her mother, Lili. If you prefer a lighter flavor, add more vegetables.

Olive oil for sautéing

2 large yellow onions, chopped (about 11¼2 cups)

4 cloves garlic, chopped, more, if desired

2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika

4 pounds veal, cut into 11¼2-inch cubes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1¼2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more, if desired

1¼2 cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 cups sliced carrots, quartered

1 cup chopped potatoes

1¼ 2 cup sliced celery

2 cups good tomato sauce or 2 cups canned or fresh plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 cups good red wine, such as merlot

2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

Preheat oven to 400. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and garlic; sauté until lightly golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in paprika. Rinse veal with water; pat dry. Return Dutch oven to heat, add veal, salt and pepper, and sauté until meat is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add parsley, marjoram, carrots, celery, tomato sauce, wine and stock. Place cover on pot, place in oven, lower temperature to 375. Bake for 2 hours or until meat is fork tender. If gravy seems too thick, add boiling water, a little at a time. Or you can bake it in a slow oven (250) overnight, which yields a moist, delicious flavor. According to Weisel, this tastes better when made in advance and reheated. Serve with noodles, rice, or cous cous, and Hadassah’s favorites, cabbage and baked sweet potatoes. Serves 10.

HADASSAH’S PISTACHIO RICE PILAF

Turkish apricots are wonderful in this dish.

1¼4 cup currants

1 cup long-grain brown rice, washed and drained

2 cups water or vegetable broth

kosher salt to taste

1¼4 cup dried apricots, cut into strips

1¼2 cup unsalted pistachio nuts

cinnamon

Soak currants for 15 minutes in warm water. Drain and set aside. Wash rice and drain. Toast rice by placing it in a skillet over medium heat; stirring it until dry and lightly browned. Be careful not to burn it. Place rice in a 11¼2 quart saucepan; cover with water or broth. Bring to boil; reduce heat to low; cover with a tight-fitting lid. Simmer for 25 minutes, take off cover; place currants, apricots and nuts on top of rice. Do not stir in. Return lid and continue simmering 20 minutes or until rice is tender and water absorbed. Remove from heat, let stand two minutes.

Using a spatula, turn into a serving dish, being careful to keep the fruit and nuts on top. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Serves 6.

HADASSAH’S STEAMED CABBAGE ANDONIONS

Steaming the cabbage to finish the dish is an Eastern European tradition. For a beautiful look and distinctive taste, use half purple and half green cabbage.

olive oil for sautéing

1 large onion, sliced in chunks

2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 carrots, sliced in rounds

pinch of paprika

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 green cabbage, sliced in thick chunks

1¼2 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)

In a heavy kettle, heat olive oil. Add onion, garlic, carrots, if desired, paprika, salt and pepper. Saute until vegetables are translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add cabbage, caraway seeds, if desired, sauté 5 minutes more. Place kettle in 350 oven to steam, about 15 minutes, or until tender. Serves 6 to 8.

MARCIA LIEBERMAN’S HONEY CAKE

This cake has been one of Joe’s favorites from the time he was a boy.

3 cups cake flour

11¼2 teaspoons baking powder

3¼4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sugar

1¼4 teaspoon ground cloves

1¼4 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup honey

3 eggs

3¼4 cup water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

grated rind of 1 lemon

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon brandy

3¼4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 10-inch tube pan. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon. Place honey, eggs, water, lemon juice and rind, oil, and brandy into a bowl. Beat together until well blended. Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing until combined thoroughly. Fold in walnuts. Pour batter into pan. Bake in oven for one hour or until toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. If desired, serve with the dried fruit topping. Serves 12.

DRIED FRUIT TOPPING

Hadassah likes dried fruit and nuts for dessert. When Mindy entertains the Liebermans, she piles fruits and nuts onto one of her painted ceramic platters. You can also turn them into a fruit and nut topping, which is delicious served with Marcia’s honey cake. If you have purchased very tender dried fruit (e.g., from a Farmer’s Market), you won’t need to cook it. Just marinate it in the liquid.

1 cup brown sugar or honey

3 cups cold water

3 cups dry white wine

1¼2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 pounds mixed dried fruit (apricots, apples, pineapple, figs, peaches, pears, prunes, nectarines, cherries, cherries, white raisins, preferably, unsulphured)

6 thin lemon slices

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1¼2 teaspoon dried lavender

6 lavender leaves

1¼4 cup fruit flavored brandy, whiskey or orange liqueur

1¼2 cup very fresh walnuts

Fresh lavender flowers for garnish (optional)

Bring all ingredients except brandy, walnuts and lavender flowers to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and gently poach until just tender, about 20 minutes. Remove fruit from pan and reserve.

Increase heat to high; boil cooking liquid until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add brandy and return to a boil for 30 seconds. Remove from heat; return the fruit. Spoon warmed fruit topping over honey cake. If desired, garnish with lavender flowers. Serves 6 to 8.

The Four Menches


The haggadah speaks of the Four Sons: the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who doesn’t know how to ask. And on a good night in Hollywood, you can pick up all four. The first Saturday in March is a girls’ night out (with the understanding we intend to pull men). Elizabeth, Sasha, Sarah and I throw on low-cut tops, low-rise pants and do the L.A. barhop thing.

The night kicks off with dinner at Jones. The Wise Son, Scott, sits at the booth next to ours. The waitress-in-training serves this bright young man my seared ahi salad and brings me his loaded pizza. A serendipitous mistake. After straightening out our leggo-my-Eggo sitch, Scott offers to buy me a beer. And we’re rolling.

A consultant, Scott spent four years in investment banking, grabbed an MBA and is now a three-piecer. He’s sharp, sexy and proves to not only be business savvy but flirt savvy. By the time we finish dinner, I know I’d have fun searching for his afikomen. The feeling is mutual, and Scott asks for my number.

He must have taken notes in his B-school communications class, because he phones me that Monday. The Wise Son understands that the rules of dating apply to him and that a timely phone call is key. We head out on a date that Thursday.

I meet the Wicked Son, Marc, at North. This player, armed with a Nokia cell and a helmet of gel, spends more time getting ready than I do. He says this signless Sunset bar is as yesterday as an apple martini, and he’s only here because he knows the hostess.

Despite his slick exterior, there’s something seductive about him. We continue to chat and swap things in common. We like the same films, read the same books and run the same Santa Monica stairs.

The conversation goes well, and next thing I know, I’ve been hit by a smooth criminal. I laugh when he calls the bartender “chief” and smile when he hands me a lemon drop. He invites my gang to an after-hours party, and I coyly accept directions and his cell phone code.

Everything about Marc shouts “buyer beware.” He’s a staple at the Hollywood Hills party circuit, someone who’s always looking for TNBT (the next big thing) and TNNG (the next new girl). And when he finds her, he’ll toss me like yesterday’s Variety. My girls vote no against Proposition After-Party, but I hold onto Marc’s number. This Wicked Son believes dating rules apply to other men, not him. But what can one date hurt?

We girls head west down the strip to Red Rock, where we meet the Simple Son, Josh. This cutie with the tousled hair teaches fifth grade, surfs before class and spends weekends at the beach. His surfer-boy charm and no-worries ‘tude make me want to ride his wave home.

But Josh is a little slow on the draw. I’m flirting my heart out, but nothing seems to penetrate that sea-salt head. Finally, I buy a round of tequila shots. He asks “What is this?” And Sasha explains that women have been freed from the chains of chivalry. An interested girl can now buy a guy a drink. And just when we think all flirting fell flat, Josh scribbles his number on a coaster. Seems Simple Simon just needs things spelled out.

The Fourth, Ryan, is a yummy actor with a cute shankbone. We meet him in the 2 a.m. line at Pink’s. As the girls and I chow cheese fries, the 22-year-old toddler tells us about his plans to make it big. Fresh off the plane, this L.A. newbie brims with wonder, dreams and an incredible smile.

Compared to the bitter herbs Sarah usually meets, Ryan is really refreshing. It’s clear he’s into his Mrs. Robinson, but is too nervous to ask for her number. So the girls and I unleash the wily ways of L.A. dating on this innocent Midwestern boy. We pass along our knowledge of the rules, the game and Sarah’s number to the wide-eyed boy.

Sometimes it seems you need a candle, a feather and a wooden spoon to search out an eligible L.A. man. But more often than not, bedikat-mensch only requires a fun ‘tude, an open mind and a little red tank. In this sprawling city, there’s a new guy around every bar stool, and each is as different as the place you found him.

Now, I’ll admit that not all nights are as successful as that Saturday. But they have the potential to be. And that’s the fun of being single in this city. You never know what an adventure holds. Why will this night be different than all other nights? On all other nights, you turn up as empty as Elijah’s cup, but on this night, you might meet a man. Or in our case — four.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner


Although it might seem a little early for Passover discussions, Jewish law does mandate that one should begin studying the Passover laws and details at least 30 days before the actual holiday. This is probably because no holiday requires more detailed preparation than Passover. Most of the preparations for this holiday tend to focus on koshering our homes, kitchens and utensils, and, of course, the menu for the big seder meal. What we often seem to forget is that the seder is not a meal, per se, nor a gathering to sing Hebrew folk songs, but it is an educational experience that requires no less preparation than koshering your oven or preparing your main dish.

The seder table is a classroom, with the haggadah serving as a curriculum outline, and the main educators being all those who consider themselves knowledgeable enough to conduct and lead a seder. The educational responsibility of the seder leader is to be prepared to teach the meaning of the Exodus and the Passover rituals to a wide variety of audiences.

Parashat Bo sets the stage for how we are to prepare for this great educational event known as a seder. Based on the rabbinic interpretation of three verses from this week’s parsha and one more verse from the Book of Deuteronomy, the rabbis of the Midrash Mekhilta, the Talmud Yerushalmi and the Passover haggadah all state that regarding the mitzvah of teaching the Passover story: "The Torah speaks in reference to four children." Following are the four key areas of focus:

1. "Your children may ask you what is this service to you? You must answer, it is the Passover service to God." (Exodus 12:26-27)

2. "On that day you must tell your child: all of this is because that which the Lord did for me when I came forth from Egypt." (Exodus 13:8)

3."Your child may later ask you what is this? You must answer him, with a show of power God brought us out of Egypt, the place of slavery." (Exodus 13:14)

4. "In the future your child may ask you what are these rituals rules and laws that God has commanded you? You must tell him, we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand." (Deuteronomy 6:20-21)

The rabbis asked why the Torah could not consolidate all of these seemingly repetitive instructions (regarding teaching the Passover story to children) into one unified verse. Why is one mitzvah being repeated four separate times?

The answer is that although on the surface the verses seem thematically repetitive (children, Passover story), each verse actually addresses a different type of child, and, therefore, each verse is teaching its own separate mitzvah. Because of the importance and centrality of the Passover story, the rabbis teach us that each type of child requires a unique and different approach to the effective teaching of this story. When the Mishnah dealing with the Seder in Tractate Pesahim 10:4 states "According to the son’s intelligence, the father instructs him," it means that it is a commandment to address each child in his own appropriate, meaningful and relevant fashion. In other words, know your audience.

The fact that we have an entire year to prepare this Passover lecture implies the power and importance of its message. This annual lecture challenges us to link our past experiences to the present in a relevant, meaningful and updated fashion for every Jew.

So it really isn’t too early to start thinking about Passover. When you stop and think about how difficult and challenging it is to convey a meaningful message to such diverse Jewish audiences, the educational preparation for the seder should take a lot more than 30 days.


Daniel Bouskila is rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.

Guardian Angels


Chatting with Leo Spiwak, one gets the impression that there is no spirit stronger than that which binds members of The Guardians, the fundraising arm for Jewish Home for the Aging of Greater Los Angeles.

As Guardians president, Spiwak, with past President Brad Luster, will co-chair this year’s Above & Beyond Hall of Fame Dinner gala. The dinner will honor devoted Guardians supporters Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer, Harold Foonberg, Paul Goldenberg, Steven Good, Ronald Goodman, Ozzie Goren, Sherman Grancell, Paul Krasnow, Barry Lippman, Perry Silver, Billy Veprin and Allen Ziegler, who died in 1994. Two of the honorees — Eisenberg-Keefer and Grancell — have Jewish Home for the Aging campuses named after them.

"It was difficult to select 12 Guardians, but we were extremely happy that they represent who The Guardians really are," said Spiwak, 67. "It’s a deserving group of people."

Some say that Spiwak himself is earning a place as an esteemed Guardian.

"He brings a sincere dedication and warmth and caring not only to raise funds but to create a tight bond between the Guardians," said Guardians Director Karen Levin. "He’ll have lunches at his home. He fosters camaraderie."

Since he began his yearlong term, Spiwak has helped enact some structural reform within the organization. Among the changes on the executive level were the departure of Executive Director Michael Kaiserman and the installment of Levin in his place.

"I felt that the mission of The Guardians had gotten somewhat fragmented," Spiwak told The Journal. "I saw that one of my mandates was to bring it back to something specific. It was always a networking organization, but while fundraising was always one of its objectives, it was not its prime objective."

Not all of the factors for this fissure were internal. Spiwak noted that the world of nonprofit fundraising has turned into a cottage industry over the last decade and a half, making the playing field much more crowded and expensive.

"Ten years ago, we used to get a whole podium of interesting people," Spiwak said. "Today, you’re talking about $50,000 and $100,000 per speaker. As a nonprofit, it’s become more difficult to have affordable, interesting events. Even if we have 1,000 people, the cost of your average entertainer makes it very difficult to make the money back, and you can’t charge too much for the event."

Bigger stars, who may fetch a fee from $100,000 to $200,000, may still not guarantee a draw sizable enough to recoup expenses. Consequently, Comedy Night, another of the larger annual Guardians events, has seen its attendance shrink from a peak of 800 to about 450 last year. In previous years, Vegas-sized headliners Rodney Dangerfield and David Brenner performed. Last year, the event’s budget could only afford the likes of Robert Klein.

The amount of nonprofit solicitors has grown as well.

"There is a tremendous amount of competition for people’s time, efforts and donations," Spiwak continued. "A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get a request from a charity to donate funds.

"It means we have to work harder and be more creative," Spiwak said. "We have to find more interesting events before they get priced out of range."

Case in point: last year’s inaugural Above & Beyond gala saluted the 63-year-old organization’s past presidents.

"Not only was having all the past presidents a big draw," Spiwak noted, "but it brought 30 inactive presidents back to the fold in a participatory manner."

Spiwak acknowledges the growing role of its young division, Sixth Decade Leadership. The 150-member group, headed by Chairman Randy Banchik, found fundraising success this year with a golf tournament event and a poker night.

"They’re really nice young people," Spiwak said. "They’re raising families, they’re new in business. So, they have a lot of time pressures and a limited amount of money. But they still manage to be more active than the average Guardian. Several of them sit on our board."

Born in Boyle Heights in 1934, Spiwak grew up an only child in Monrovia, then moved to West Los Angeles, where he attended Hamilton High. After majoring in business at UCLA, Spiwak served in the U.S. Army during World War II, during which he was stationed at Ft. Louis, Washington. He returned to Los Angeles in 1958 and entered the auto wrecking business, devoting the next 37 years to manufacturing and distributing truck parts.

In 1960, Spiwak married. he and his wife, Marcia, had two children, Scott and Lisa — now in their 40s. Five years ago Marcia died, and Spiwak promptly sold his companies and retired. He has since married Dr. Susan Krevoy, a psychologist.

Over the years, tzedakah has never been far from Spiwak’s mind. He has actively supported causes such as City of Hope, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the United Jewish Fund.

But it is The Guardians that feels like home. The organization not only informs his philanthropic side, but his social life. The Spiwaks recently returned from a trip to France, where Leo Spiwak cycled through the Bordeaux region with fellow Guardians Norm and Jayne Simon.

"It’s a great cause," Spiwak said, "but what makes The Guardians special is the relationships. My wife is being honored, and I’d say probably 25 percent of the people there will be from The Guardians."

"Most of the other things I do," he continued, "you can’t see and touch what you’re doing. But at the Jewish Home, when you see the residents, you see the impact that we’re making."

In a recent installment of his Guardians newsletter column, "The President’s Podium," Spiwak challenged the reader, asking if he/she truly wants to make a difference:

"Would you like to? I’ll show you the way. Become passionate about something. Put some life in your life. Put some spring in your step. Gain a reason to get out of bed in the morning in addition to going to work."

Not merely words of advice, but the very philosophy that has navigated Spiwak through his 67 years.

The Guardians of the Jewish Home for the Aging will hold their Above & Beyond Hall of Fame Dinner on Nov. 8 at the Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills. To RSVP, call (310) 479-2468.

Family Dinners


"Give me the ‘A,’" my husband, Larry, says.

"There’s no ‘A,’" answers Danny, 10.

"Then give me the ‘R,’" Larry responds.

"No ‘R,’" says Danny, as he gleefully draws a circle for the body.

I’m sitting at Maria’s Italian Kitchen on a Sunday evening, eating and watching my husband and my four sons, ages 10, 12, 14 and 17, play multiple games of Hangman. Or, as my husband prefers to call it, "Stump the Dad."

This is a family dinner. This is what health-care professionals swear will protect my sons from a life of drug, alcohol and tobacco addiction.

This is what I swear will have me begging for an extended stay at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute.

"So," I interrupt, looking to start a conversation, "What do you think about carbon dioxide emissions?"

"Mom…" they moan in unison, rolling their eyes.

"What about salmonella in ground beef?" I ask, vowing to bring along some reading material next time.

But it could be worse. For one thing, I didn’t have to cook this dinner. For another, they’re not calling each other names ("Dirty Diaper" is this week’s epithet of choice) or making rude bodily noises (which usually involves some kind of competition).

According to Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," family dinners occur 33 percent less frequently today than in 1970.

And for many good reasons.

First, let’s talk about the logistics. Let’s talk about the fact that my husband, who, thankfully, is not Jim Anderson or Ward Cleaver, generally returns home after 8 p.m.

Let’s talk about the fact that I generally spend my late afternoons and early evenings picking up carpool, schlepping some child to karate or piano or the orthodontist as well as watching — or feeling guilty about missing — a soccer or baseball game. And that’s before someone invariably pipes up with "Oh, I forgot to tell you that I need 24 kosher cupcakes (or car repair mesh wire and five 3-foot strips of balsa wood or one dozen large, live crickets) for school tomorrow."

Plus, let’s talk about the fact that, for me, cooking — from the preliminary trip to Ralphs to the postprandial cleanup — is about as enjoyable as pulling up weeds, having my gums scraped or standing in line to ride Pirates of the Caribbean.

There’s also the fact that there is not a single dinner menu that appeals to the two vegetarians, the one pescetarian and the three omnivores (one of whom eats only "white" foods) that comprise my family.

Growing up, of course, we were forced to eat whatever was served. Occasionally — and my mother will confirm this — this meant tongue with raisin sauce or pheasant with fresh buckshot or, the worst, wax beans, which even the dog, who sat vigilantly under the table, refused to touch.

In Judaism, the family is sacrosanct; it is the primal, civilizing building block of society. And our tradition mandates that the family, this cohesive and essential unit, engage in certain culinary celebrations — from the weekly Shabbat dinner to the annual seder, from the bar mitzvah banquet to the wedding feast — with certain requisite and ritualistic foods. But nowhere is there a commandment, not in any of the 613 mitzvot, requiring us to sit down together regularly for an evening meal.

No, the concept of family dinners is a modern myth, a psychological and sentimental hoax perpetrated on us already overextended and overburdened mothers by people who have forgotten the taste of tongue with raisin sauce. By people who don’t watch Woody Allen movies. And by people who also think that quality time and home schooling are viable — and valuable — ideas.

So just say no to family dinners that require more than 10 minutes to prepare or pick up and that require the skills of air traffic controllers to coordinate.

And forget that National Merit Scholars, those academically talented high-schoolers who excel on the PSAT test, share the one characteristic of eating dinner with their families at least three times a week.

Instead, remember that what’s truly important is to give our kids a sense of stability and solidarity. To make them feel loved and protected. To nourish them emotionally and physically.

This doesn’t happen at prescribed times with preplanned, multidish meals featuring the four food groups.

No, this happens serendipitously and unexpectedly.

It can happen over a dinner of Team Cheerios, at a table with mismatched bowls and disposal-chewed spoons. It can happen during a spur-of-the-moment midnight run to Krispy Kreme. It can even happen on a Sunday evening at Maria’s Italian Kitchen over pizza, chopped salad and uninterrupted games of Hangman.