Slice of Life: Cooking with pears


One of my favorite best childhood foodie memories was sharing the plate of sliced pears and cheese that my mom had waiting for me after a long day at grade school. I so loved the concept of sharing a healthy snack and continued the tradition with my boys. Finding out that not only were they lactose intolerant but allergic to pears (and bananas and a few other fruits I’d been giving them on a regular basis) put kind of a kink in my good mom armor. Needless to say they ate other stuff after school and I ate my pears all by myself.   My boys are now men, have moved on to other locations to feed themselves so I’ve decided to bring back the pear with a vengeance.

Pears are super delicious fall fruit that is related to apples and can often be substituted for them. Like apples, the color of the skin of the different varieties of pears range from yellow to green to brown and red or a combination of two or more of the colors. The inside fruit is dcream colored, juicy and runs the gamut from tart to sweet. They’re a terrific source of fiber and vitamin C. for only 100 calories per serving. Add to the fact that they’re sodium free, fat free, and cholesterol free and you have one excellent fruit.

Pears, like apples, come in a multitude of sizes and types. There are two main varieties, the bell shaped European varieties and the round Asian pears there most popular varieties available in your grocery or farmers markets include but are not limited to:

Anjou pears they are red and green, sweet can be cooked

Asian pears are round and crunchy, great raw

Bartlett’s are the juiciest of the pears, great raw, not for cooking

Bosc pears are great raw or cooked. These are the ones with brownish skin

Comice pears great raw.

Seckel pears are smaller, tart and have a green/red skin. Can be cooked

To find the best pears look for ones that give a little when pressed at their neck and have a slight floral fragrance. Most people don’t know that pears actually ripen off the tree and if they’re hard when you buy them they will soft soften when left at room temperature or stored in a sealed paper bag with a banana for a few days.

The following recipes are all yummy and can be used to introduce your youngsters to the joy of pears as well as reminding you that sometimes a simple plate of cheese and fruit is all you need to bring back the best of your childhood.


CARAMEL COATED PEARS (dairy or pareve)

  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons butter or margarine
  • 2 medium firm ripe pears
  • sweetened whipped cream or pareve whipped  topping
  • 2 teaspoons sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350. In a small sauce pan combine sugar, water, and butter. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove the caramel mixture from heat and set aside. Peel and core pears, and cut pears in half lengthwise. Arrange pear halves, cut sides up, in a baking dish and drizzle the caramel mixture over the top of the pears. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 25 minutes or until tender.  Place pear halves in dessert dishes; spoon 2 tablespoons of caramel mixture evenly over pears. Top with whipped cream and almonds.

Serves 2 to 4.

My files, source unknown


PEAR, MANGO AND CABBAGE SLAW (pareve)

  • 3 ripe pears, cubed
  • 2 cups fresh mango peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups green cabbage sliced very thin
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seed
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 dash salt

In a large salad bowl combine the pears, mangos and cabbage. Toss to combine. In a jar with a tight fitting lid combine the vinegar, oil, soy sauce, sugar, garlic powder and salt. Shake to combine. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Sprinkle the seeds over the top and serve.

Serves 6 to 8.

My file, source unknown 


CHICKEN WITH SAUTEED PEARS WITH ROSEMARY SAUCE (meat) 

  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 Bosc pear, quartered, cored, thinly sliced
  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 cup Marsala

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add apple juice, red wine, vinegar, rosemary, thyme and crushed red pepper; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until mixture is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Strain mixture into small saucepan; discard solids. Add cream and simmer until reduced to sauce consistency, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile heat 2 teaspoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add pear slices; sauté until tender and golden brown, about 8 minutes. (Sauce and pears can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate. Rewarm pears over medium-low heat before serving.)

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add to skillet and sauté until cooked through and golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Add Marsala and bring to boil. Stir in reserved sauce, turning chicken once to coat. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes longer.

Divide chicken among 4 plates. Spoons some sauce around chicken on each plate. Garnish with pear slices.

Modified from Bon Appétit April 1997

Salmonella outbreak linked to smoked salmon brand sold by Costco


Smoked salmon tainted with salmonella bacteria has sickened hundreds of people in the Netherlands and the United States, sparking a major recall, health authorities said Tuesday.

The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said the salmon has been traced to Dutch company Foppen, which sells fish to many major Dutch supermarkets and to stores around the world, including the United States.

Read more at MercuryNews.com.

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!

Following the carp — the fish in gefilte — from lake to plate


Big fish, cheap fish; sport fish, gefilte fish.

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, that’s a decent summary of the situation for carp today.

The fish has its share of devoted fans — some like it dead on a plate, others prefer it alive and tugging on a hook — nevertheless, by and large, carp still struggles with a bad reputation that’s as hard to shake as fish oil smell from clothes.

“I’m not a carp expert, but it’s a major ingredient for us in gefilte fish,” Paul Bensabat, one of the Manischewitz Co.’s two CEOs, told me.

“Carp, mullet, whitefish,” Bensabat said, rattling off some of the species that go into gefilte fish, a food with no particular symbolism that has long been a staple on the Sabbath and festival tables of Ashkenazi Jews, and is widely consumed every Passover. “Depending on the type of formulation you want, there’s more fish or less fish in the different styles,” he added.

The fish are shipped whole from the Great Lakes region where they’re caught to the Manischewitz factory in New Jersey, where they are processed into more than 50 different varieties of gefilte fish. The vast majority of Manischewitz-brand gefilte fish, Bensabat said, includes carp.

But even a gefilte fishmonger like Bensabat can’t deny that, broadly speaking, carp isn’t a highly regarded species.

“Carp doesn’t have a great name, for reasons that are beyond me,” he said.

That it’s cheap might have something to do with it.

“I was told that, by your family recipe of gefilte fish, you can tell how well-off people were,” Motti Polityko, the owner of Gordon’s Fish Emporium on Pico, said. “If the recipe consists primarily or solely of carp, it means you were dirt poor — and that was my family.”

Every year, around Rosh Hashanah and Passover, Polityko spends the week prior to the holiday filling orders for people making gefilte fish, and each order is slightly different from the next. Most customers buy his “classic fish mix,” made from three different types of fish (he wouldn’t say which kinds); a good number of customers want to make their gefilte fish exactly according to their grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s recipe.

“Some people will take a filet and grind it at home,” Polityko said. “Some people will not only allow me to grind it, but they will also allow me to season the fish and shape it so they can take it home and cook it. And some people want me to cook it here also, and they pick it up here already cooked. We meet them at every stage of the way.” The stock is fresh but not alive; it comes packed on ice from the Great Lakes, including German carp and Buffalo carp as well as Spiegel carp, but the last has to be special-ordered.

A tiny fraction of Gordon’s customers actually ask for the fish whole, without even a slit in its belly. Usually that’s for reasons of kashrut — Passover is a time when many Jews observe more stringent restrictions on what they will and won’t eat, after all — but there is also another time of year when Polityko sells whole carp.

“Chrismastime, I have lots of Poles, Czechs and Germans calling me for carp as well,” he said. “Guess what they call it — ‘Jewish carp.’ ”

It was a Christmas carp at a friend’s house that turned Reggie McLeod, the publisher and editor of Big River, a bimonthly lifestyle magazine that covers the upper Mississippi River, into a carp fan. He remembers how his own father always told him that carp was inedible, but now he counts the fish among his favorites.

“People are kind of crazy about these sorts of things,” McLeod said of various food prejudices. “A lot of people like shrimp and lobster — and they’re bugs.”

Some call carp ugly, but McLeod notes that koi, the very expensive and beautifully colored fish that can be found swimming in Japanese gardens around the world, are relatives of the common carp.

“It’s exactly the same fish,” McLeod said.

In 2008, McLeod started a carp-cooking contest in Big River magazine as a way of promoting carp as a fish worth eating. “We had two entries last year,” he said, “and not surprisingly, they both won — first and second prize.”

McLeod still remembers that first Christmas carp, though; it was in his friend’s basement — alive, swimming around in a tub of water.

“I said, ‘Joe, there’s a carp in your washtub,’ ” McLeod recalled. “And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s Christmas dinner.’ ”

“The Carp in the Bathtub” is the title of Barbara Cohen’s 1972 children’s book, in which two children try to save a fish from meeting its fate in advance of their Passover seder. Cooks traditionally put the carp in the tub for a few days to fatten it up before cooking.

These days, for Jews in Los Angeles wanting to follow exactingly the old traditions, there is at least one store where live carp can be purchased — the Seafood Paradise Fish Market in Rosemead, which gets its stock from a farm in Northern California. According to manager Vincent Truong, almost all of Seafood Paradise’s customers are Asian or Asian-American, and most of those who buy carp are Chinese and Vietnamese.

“We usually cook it with soup,” Truong said. “It’s very tasty.”

There’s also one more way to find a live carp in Los Angeles: Grab a pole.

“Carp are in virtually every body of fresh water in Southern California,” Andrew Hughan of the California Department of Fish and Game told me. “They’re what’s called a non-regulated species. There’s no limit and no season — so you can catch them to your heart’s content.”

Most anglers who fish for carp don’t eat what they catch, though.

“We practice catch and release angling purely out of respect for another animal’s life along with the environment it lives in,” Wayne Boon,  director of the American Carp Society, wrote in an e-mail. Boon mostly fishes the lakes around L.A., but he said that some sections of the Los Angeles River are known to be home to carp as well.

Whether the carp in any given body of water is safe to eat is another matter. “Carp are in the middle range among game fish,” said Sherri Norris, executive director of the California Indian Environmental Alliance, a group that works to educate members of tribal communities about the dangers posed by legacy mining toxins, like mercury, that can seep into certain species of fish that live in particular areas.

In some waterways, carp is off limits to all people; in others, adult men and women beyond childbearing age may eat the fish sparingly.

“In that case,” Norris said, “you really do need to know for a fish like carp whether the body is highly contaminated or not.”

For instance, the carp in Magic Johnson Park Lake, an urban lake in South Los Angeles that is stocked by the California Department of Fish and Game with trout and catfish, should not be eaten by anyone, according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Anglers, for their part, are mostly out in search of big carp to catch — and those might be the most dangerous carp to eat. Carp can live for decades, and the longer they stay in any body of water, the more pollutants they can pick up.

What’s more, the big carp are also believed to be less tasty.

“In the case of Carp, the smaller fish — up to 10 pounds — are the tastiest, so I’m told,” Boon told me.

Then again, if your carp’s ultimate destiny is to become gefilte fish, you can just douse it in horseradish.

But Is It Kosher?


In September 2003, Whole Foods quietly removed one brand of kosher chicken from its shelves and replaced it with a different brand.

The switch received little notice — outside of a Jewish Journal article — but it caught my eye. A representative for Whole Foods claimed the previous chicken brand didn’t meet the chain’s standard; its feed was not organic, and the chickens weren’t raised and slaughtered in the most humane way possible.

Up until then I’d assumed that kosher meant, well, kosher. It surprised me that a company well-known for its concern for animal well-being and food safety would deem anything kosher treif, or unfit. Long before Whole Foods was even a glimmer in the eye of the Prius-tocracy, hadn’t we Jews been telling ourselves and others that we were practicing humane slaughter and thoughtful animal husbandry — embodied in the very laws of kashrut? What did Whole Foods know that I didn’t?

It turns out Whole Foods was on to something seriously wrong with the kosher food industry, and the industry is due for a change.

I grew up eating meat of all kinds. One afternoon during my sophomore year at college, I found myself on an idyllic Maine isle, plunging a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. By dusk I was a vegetarian, and I stayed that way for the next 14 years. I wasn’t squeamish: I’d fished my whole life, and even hunted. As a cook in various restaurants, I’d gutted shoals of fish, whacked through sides of beef and deconstructed flocks of poultry. But at that moment I figured, if I could survive without taking another life, so much the better.

Then I met my wife, Naomi Levy, rabbi and carnivore.

I loved the woman very much, so I had to come to terms with two of her seemingly contradictory traits: She loved meat, and she didn’t cook. I still love her; she still loves meat, and she still doesn’t cook.

The thought of cooking two entrees a night for the rest of our lives didn’t appeal to me. I compromised and began eating fish. Then came the first of many Friday night meals together. I put a piece of grilled salmon on the Sabbath table, and Naomi put on her best game face: What’s Sabbath without roasted chicken? So I started eating chicken. And then came her pregnancies, when she expressed numerous times that a) she would kill for a big juicy grilled steak and b) she was carrying our baby.

So there was the occasional steak.

All along, I rationalized the meat on our table by its kosher pedigree. In my mind, and in the minds of most Jews, the meaning of “kosher” had long swelled beyond its strict Levitical denotation of permitted and forbidden animals and their prescribed method of slaughter. I believed that “kosher” meant a higher concern for cleanliness, for the health and welfare of the animals, for the sanctity of Creation.

And it wasn’t just me. The dictionary definition of “kosher” includes “genuine and legitimate.” If I had to kill to eat, at least the meat was kosher.

But the alarm bell that Whole Food rang was soon followed by a cacophony of criticism and investigation.

In December 2004, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released an undercover video taken at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant, a kosher beef abattoir in Postville, Iowa. The plant supplies kosher beef for the Aaron’s Best/Rubashkin brand. The tape showed practices that were obviously cruel and created a firestorm of criticism and countercharges. The Orthodox Union, which overseas the kashrut of the plant, said the offending practices would be corrected — they have been — and accused PETA of launching an assault on the institution of shechitah (kosher slaughter) itself.

The made-for-media PETA fracas birthed a larger, more thoughtful crossdenominational concern over current kosher slaughter practices. Earlier this year, Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the best-selling novel “Everything Is Illuminated” (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) and last year’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (Houghton Mifflin), released a PETA-produced video over the Internet that condemned modern kosher slaughter practices, calling them anathema to the spirit of the kosher laws.

The author’s calm, well-reasoned arguments are buttressed by on-camera interviews with Rabbi David Wolpe of the Conservative Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, the Orthodox founder of CLAL — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

The video, titled “If This Is Kosher …,” is available for download at www.HumaneKosher.com. It interweaves Foer’s and the rabbis’ comments with footage from the AgriProccessors plant and from kosher egg and meat suppliers in Israel. In one scene, egg industry workers fill a plastic-lined, 55-gallon garbage can with live male chicks, superfluous to the process. In another shot, the bags are sealed and dumped.

“To be Jewish,” Foer says in the video, “is to strive to make the world less cruel and more just — not only for oneself and not only for one’s people but for everyone. One doesn’t have to consider animals as equal to humans — I don’t — to give them a place in this inspiring idea.”

Wolpe and Greenberg — both vegetarians — signed on to a letter, along with dozens of rabbis, calling on the Orthodox Union to do more to promote humane treatment of animals in the kosher facilities it oversees.

In the midst of these criticisms came the results of another investigation by The Forward newspaper last month charging the Rubashkin factory with unfair labor practices, unsafe working conditions and labor intimidation. “AgriProcessors’ final product — sold under the nationally popular Aaron’s Best brand — is priced significantly higher than standard meat,” reporter Nathaniel Popper wrote. “Its kosher seal gives it a seeming moral imprimatur in an industry known for harsh working conditions. But even in the unhappy world of meatpacking, people with comparative knowledge of AgriProcessors and other plants — including local religious leaders, professors, and union organizers — say that AgriProcessors stands out for its poor treatment of workers.”

The manager of the plant, Sholom Rubashkin, denied the charges, but the plant has been subject to half the violations in all Iowa meatpacking plants so far this year, according to The Forward’s analysis of OSHA statistics.

“The bottom line here is that I’m not sure these devout Jews are using Jewish ethics to treat their workers,” one critic said.

I don’t know if Rubashkin is the exception or the rule in an industry that is increasingly concentrated in a few large hands, and whose imprimatur of kashrut comes from a handful of rabbinic authorities.

But I do know my definition of kosher is now much more narrow. In marketing terms, the brand has been tarnished. Kosher is not necessarily clean, or humane, or just. Long synonymous in our hearts and minds with good and pure, kosher is in danger of meaning just one small group’s interpretation of what’s legal.

What happened?

The purveyors of kosher goods became prey to the same market forces that have undermined the integrity of the entire American food chain. The food industry has fed America’s insatiable appetite by disregarding health concerns and riding roughshod over animal welfare and environmental welfare.

The demand for meat has led to the industrialization of farming, to feedlots holding up to 100,000 cattle, to the rapid and often sloppy dispatch of thousands of animals per day.

Kosher slaughterers piggyback — so to speak — on this industry by sending rabbis into nonkosher slaughterhouses to kill selected animals. Rubashkin itself noted that it slaughtered 18,000 cows in a seven-week period, which it said inevitably leads to error.

Kosher food, which we had always taken to stand apart from and above from the larger culture, has acquiesced to some of the industry’s worst practices.

Strictly speaking, the laws of kashrut do not address issues of responsible, ethical food production and healthful eating.

“The nature of kashrut is thus at once mysterious and obvious,” scholar Meir Soloveichik wrote in a penetrating essay in the journal Azure’s winter issue. “While God does not explain the importance of cud-chewing or leaping, of split hooves or scales, the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.”

The exact meaning of these laws may remain obscure, but they are clearly meant to set us apart and elevate our souls.

For someone who loves both to pet animals and to eat them, the laws of kashrut speak to the tension between our higher and lower impulses, between the hunter Esau and the shepherd Jacob; between the carnivore wife and the conflicted husband.

Perhaps no religion better understands this eternal and inherent contradiction than Judaism. The laws of kashrut help us shuttle between our hungry selves and our compassionate ones, between the sanctity of all God’s creatures and their deliciousness.

If the kosher food industry is interested in retaining the deeper meaning of the label it bestows, its manufacturers and rabbis must figure out how to restore the spirit of kashrut to kashrut. The Jewish teaching of tza’ar ba’alei chayim — forbidding cruelty to animals because they are part of God’s creation — is the obvious place to start.

Kosher certifiers should cooperate with organizations like Animal Compassion Foundation, founded with a grant from Whole Foods, which are in the vanguard of conscientious animal husbandry and slaughter. The kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.

 

Wake Up and Smell the Fish


For UCLA geography professor Jared Diamond, the fall of a great civilization can come down to fish.

“Fish prices have tripled; fish form a significant part of our diet,” Diamond told The Journal. “At the rate we’re going, most of the world’s major fisheries will be gone within a decade.”

He doesn’t expect Los Angelenos to obsess about it. “Fish don’t focus the attention the way a single earthquake does,” he said.

But Diamond knows what he’s talking about. He’s the author of the best-selling nonfiction book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” (Viking, 2004). His book is the inspiration for a special exhibit at the L.A. County Natural History Museum. Diamond will talk about his book and his ideas on Jan. 10 at a Writers Bloc Presents lecture at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Diamond, who received a 1985 MacArthur Foundation genius grant, won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction with his earlier book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” (W. W. Norton & Company). The scope of Diamond’s research spans not only geography, but also ornithology, physiology and environmental history.

In the earlier book, Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. “Collapse” looks at the flip side: What caused some of the great civilizations to collapse into ruin and what can people today learn from their fates?

Some of what happens could come down to fish, Diamond said, or to other somewhat overlooked factors. Diamond expects a future massive fish decline to be a global version of the New Orleans levees breaking during Hurricane Katrina. A world without fish, he said, will result in “countries collapsing…. A substantial fraction of the world’s people rely on fish for protein.”

The Cambridge-educated Diamond, who is Jewish, said he has not found evidence that Jews, Judaism or any other major religion played a dominant role in why a civilization ended.

“I have not noticed that one particular religion is more prone or less prone to collapse,” he said.

Nor does he list the modern scourge of terrorism among crucial factors — at least it doesn’t rank nearly in importance with the supply of fish. “People don’t get excited about the gradual disappearance of fish,” he said, “until 2 billion people start sending out terrorists because they’re starving.”

Jared Diamond will discuss “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” at Writers Bloc Presents on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 7:30 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 855-0005.

Remembrances of Passover Food Past


Ruth Reichl, Gourmet magazine’s editor in chief, reminisced about the versatility of matzah brie in her memoir, "Tender at the Bone."

Likewise, Elizabeth Ehrlich wrote of her longing for the salty gefilte fish of her childhood, comparing it to her mother-in-law’s sweeter variety in "Miriam’s Kitchen," her memoir on kosher cooking.

Although neither of these dishes achieved the renown of Marcel Proust’s madeleines, the memories of these authors resonated for millions of readers.

Many people feel passionately about foods associated with Passover, the Jewish holiday claiming the largest number of courses per meal, but not everyone has the talent to weave tasty morsels into literature. Although gefilte fish and matzah ball soup are most often linked to the holiday, there are other foods connected to peoples’ cherished memories.

Family and friends who gather for Passover at attorney Lorraine Abraham’s apartment in Fort Lee, N.J., anticipate a tangy treat when she ladles soup from a tureen on her table.

Abraham also initiated another Passover tradition — pickled salmon. Her recipe is practically foolproof. It involves freezing salmon for 48 hours to knock out dangerous organisms, before submerging fillets in pickling brine for several days.

Juggling a demanding career with Passover preparations, Abraham makes the salmon the weekend before the holiday; it holds for at least a week. It is faster and easier to finesse than its competition — gefilte fish. "I gravitated to pickled salmon 20 years ago, because it’s delicious and I’m forever pressed for time." She describes a zesty marinade of spices and thinly sliced onions, claiming she whips up twice as much fish as she needs. Not one spec goes to waste, because her sons, 30-something bachelors, consume leftovers with gusto. "They even love the onions, which they pull from the marinade and place on plain matzah."

While some people dedicate certain foods exclusively to Passover, other families partake in dishes they enjoy all year.

"If you like the crunch of freshly fried latkes, you’ll love my potato kugel," says Nelly David, a retired shopkeeper living in Boca Raton, Fla. "When I was a girl in Germany, my mother taught me how to make this recipe." By now it has been passed down through four generations of women in her family.

When David’s daughters were growing up, she lit Shabbat candles every Friday night and served roasted chicken, chicken soup and, because her family loved it so much, potato kugel. This delectable dish always graced her seder table.

"My children would die if they didn’t have potato kugel at Passover," says Manhattan resident Lynda Sobel, one of David’s daughters. She prefers it when her mother visits at Passover because she prepares the holiday kugels.

"If my mother is not here, I make her kugel recipe, but it never tastes the same," says Sobel, explaining that her mother sprinkles in love as she grates potatoes by hand. Sobel cheats and uses a food processor, which turns potatoes watery.

During the flourless chocolate cake craze of the 1980s, I began baking a chocolate almond torte, which achieves its loft from whipped egg whites instead of starch of any kind. Although I always cover my sideboard with a variety of homemade desserts, my torte is so popular that I must bake two of them to get through one seder.

My daughter claims that she could survive without the four kinds of charoset I serve, the special way I brown hard-boiled eggs and soften matzah so it tastes like pasta in vegetable lasagna. But, my daughter said, "It wouldn’t be Passover without the bittersweet chocolate of your almond torte."

Yet, before I introduced this dessert, she had adored my marzipan macaroons, meringue cookies and lemon chiffon sponge cake, too. Over the years, I kept collecting recipes and adding more marvelous foods to our family’s Passover traditions.

Between ridding the household of leavened foods and the amount of cooking Passover generates, the holiday is labor intensive. This accounts for the popularity of bottled gefilte fish, canned macaroons and packaged foods on supermarket shelves, although manufacturers can never duplicate the magic that people infuse into delicacies they prepare at home.

The events of the past fall have catapulted home-cooked foods to the front burner, as people have become increasingly nostalgic for a less stressful past. Passover, the most cherished of Jewish holidays, is the perfect time to please loved ones by renewing castoff culinary traditions or by adding new recipes to your repertoire. Tantalizing aromas and warm feelings will fill your dining room, and if you’re lucky, a budding writer at the table will immortalize your Passover fare.

Pickled Pink Salmon

Marinade

2 1/2 cups white vinegar

1 1/2 cups water

6 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons salt

3 cloves garlic, whole

1 stalk celery, halved

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Place ingredients in a saucepan and stir. Boil for five minutes. Cool to room temperature. Remove garlic and celery.

Reserve.

Salmon

2 pounds salmon, skin and bones removed

2 tablespoons pickling spice

5 bay leaves

2 medium-sized Vidalia onions, sliced thin

Garnish: one seedless cucumber and 3 tablespoons minced dill

1. Freeze salmon for 48 hours.

2. During defrosting, while fillets are still partially frozen but slightly flexible, cut into 1-inch-by-3-inch pieces.

3. Spread a layer of fillets on the bottom of a large glass bowl. Sprinkle with half the pickling spice, bay leaves and onions. Repeat for a second layer. Pour marinade over the top. Cover.

Refrigerate for four days.

4. Drain salmon and remove bay leaves and pickling spice. Serve cold on a platter surrounded by sliced cucumbers. Sprinkle dill over fillets and cucumbers.

Yield: 20 pieces.

Piscatorial Compassion


"Fish is meat," announces Danny, my 9-year-old vegetarian son.

"Fish is fish," responds Larry, my 50-something pescetarian husband.

Judaism backs up Larry, classifying fish as pareve, neither dairy nor meat, and telling us that fish first appeared almost 6,000 years ago, on the fifth day of creation, when God commanded, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures" (Genesis 1:20). God later elaborated, "anything in water, whether in the seas or in the streams, that has fins and scales — these you may eat" (Leviticus 11:9).

But the National Audubon Society supports Danny, categorizing fish as wildlife, and, along with other ecological and animal rights groups, raising questions that transcend the mere availability and codification of fish and directly challenge our ethical obligations as both fish-eaters and fish-catchers.

Indeed, with the yearly haul for all sea food estimated at 100 million metric tons, according to Britain’s Marine Conservation Society, and with 30 percent of the world’s fishes listed on the World Conservation Union’s "2000 Red List of Threatened Species," can we, in light of various Jewish moral precepts, continue to serve salmon at Shabbat dinner or take our kids fishing off the Santa Monica pier?

The Jewish mitzvah of bal tashit, do not destroy, can be traced back to Deuteronomy 20:19-20: "When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them."

Thus, the rabbis have interpreted, if we are prohibited from destroying fruit-bearing trees even during the extreme conditions of wartime, imagine our responsibility to earth’s living plants and creatures under normal circumstances.

And so, we must pay heed when National Audubon Society, through its Living Oceans marine conservation program, alerts us that certain fish are abused, endangered or nearly depleted.

Wild salmon, for example, except in Alaska, are in serious trouble. Orange roughy, which became very popular in the 1980s, are fished out, as are Chilean sea bass, which may, according to some sources, face extinction by 2005. Additionally, the shark population is decreasing, especially in the Atlantic where they are overfished and depleted, and groupers, flounders, red snapper and swordfish are in serious trouble.

Plus, commercial fishing for many of these species results in the accidental catching and killing of other aquatic life as well as damage to the ocean habitats and ecosystems. For example, for every pound of shrimp caught, never mind that it’s halachically off-limits to us anyway, another four to ten pounds of sea life is killed or destroyed.

The National Audubon Society encourages us to select fish from a well-managed fishery. Among the kosher ones are tilapia, pacific cod, striped bass, pacific halibut, dolphinfish (aka mahi mahi or dorado) and wild Alaska salmon.

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), founded in 1993 to bring a Jewish perspective and response to the environmental crisis, reiterates the need to safeguard the diversity of all life. According to Executive Director Mark K. Jacobs, "Based in the very beginning of Jewish tradition, in the story of Noah, we believe we have an obligation to preserve all the species we find on this planet."

And so my pescetarian husband has sworn off swordfish and orange roughy. He eats wild salmon only from Alaska.

But my vegetarian son, who has already sworn off eating fish, has a more difficult task in store for him; he must swear off fishing, which his older brother Gabe says, not entirely ironically, is the leading cause of death among fishes.

The Jewish concept of tzaar baalei hayyim (showing kindness to animals) puts fishing as a sport in the same category as hunting. In fact, when 18th century Rabbi Ezekiel Landau was questioned about hunting, he replied, "In the Torah the sport of hunting is imputed only to fierce characters like Nimrod and Esau, never to any of the patriarchs and their descendants… When the act of killing is prompted by that of sport, it is downright cruelty."

"But I throw the fish back," is the defensive response of anglers.

"But the fish are not even aware of their own existence," they protest. "They can’t feel pain."

Wrong. According to various scientific studies, including The Medway Report, sponsored by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, published in 1980 and updated in 1994, fish do suffer. They have a brain, a central nervous system and pain receptors throughout their bodies.

Thus, hooking a fish on a line and subsequently releasing it hardly qualifies as compassionate behavior. A fish’s mouth is covered with nerve endings, causing it to experience pain — as well as fear — as soon as it is snagged. Also, once out of water, a fish begins to suffocate, often causing its gills to collapse. And even returned to the water, a fish can die of trauma, infection or serve as a vulnerable target for a predator, including another "catch and release" fisherman.

The challenge for us Jews, based on what our tradition teaches us, lies not in reeling in the "big one" and mounting it conspicuously on our den wall. Nor does it lie in elevating animal rights over human rights. Rather, the challenge lies in finding a balance that respects and preserves all life.

As COEJL’s Jacobs says, "Fishing in and of itself is a good way for humankind to harvest the food that it needs. But it must be done in a way that is going to sustain the fish population."

For more information about the National Audubon Society’s Living Oceans program, please visitwww.audubon.org/campaign/lo

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