Author, psychiatrist Judith Orloff on the power of emotional freedom


Dr. Judith Orloff’s adolescence reads like a Jewish version of “Girl, Interrupted,” the 1999 film starring Wynona Ryder as teenage social misfit whose parents sent her to a psych ward. However, there is a happier ending in Orloff’s story.

In the opening chapter of her New York Times best-seller, “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life,” Orloff describes how she felt suffocated growing up as a teenager in the upper-middle-class Jewish milieu of 1960s West Los Angeles. She rebelled against the social conventions of her parents’ Jewish country club, Hillcrest, flouted synagogue services, slept in her “holey” jeans and got involved in the drug scene. But what really unnerved her parents were her intuitions and dreams. Orloff describes how she had an uncanny connectedness to her inner world, even predicting her grandfather’s death through a dream.

“From the very beginning, I had a strong sense of God, since I’ve been little,” Orloff said from her home in Marina del Rey in a living room furnished in white and wicker. The red-haired, blue-eyed Orloff faces the Pacific Ocean through large paneled windows, sitting with a calm poise that likely comes from daily meditation and walks along the shore. “I had a strong connection to nature and God, and that seemed more real to me than what was happening here.”

But what Orloff saw as a spiritual gift of intuition, her parents saw as a mental health problem. They checked her into the adolescent substance abuse unit of Westwood Psychiatric Hospital, where she befriended Windy, a “comrade in captivity,” who organized an escape plan with Orloff. Not long after, through the help of a wise psychiatrist, Orloff realized that she was never really free — that her life was simply a reaction to her parents and her surroundings. That’s when her path to emotional freedom began. Two decades later, she returned to that same hospital, treating patients as a well-known psychiatrist.

Orloff is a pioneer in marrying traditional medicine, intuition, energy and dreams in an approach she calls “energy psychiatry,” which she uses in her private practice in Century City. 

Orloff defines emotional freedom as the transformation of negative emotions — fear, depression, anxiety, frustration, loneliness, jealousy and anger — into positive ones: courage, joy, calm, patience, connectivity, self-esteem and compassion. In “Emotional Freedom,” she provides meditation exercises to foster intuitive awareness, discusses the instructional power of dreams, outlines various emotional types and “vampires,” and methodically analyzes major emotions — their physiological, spiritual and psychological sources. 

She often candidly culls from her own personal experiences to demonstrate her points, and a figure that fits prominently into her tales is her mother.

“My mother never wanted me to incorporate intuition in medicine,” she said. “She was afraid it would be thought of as weird.”

Also a physician, her mother ran a thriving practice in family medicine into her 70s, yet Orloff describes her mother as constantly living with a sense of inadequacy. She observed how traditional Jewish services didn’t usually offer the spiritual grounding to relieve her stress and fear.

But on her deathbed, her mother finally revealed to Orloff a secret: She came from a line of intuitive healers, which Orloff is quick to point out doesn’t translate into “psychics,” a term she doesn’t like to use.

Orloff never became the conventional doctor her mother dreamed she would be, married to another Jewish doctor. On the lookout for her beshert, she has always been more attracted to creative types — writers, poets, artists — although in the book, she described a relationship with a devout Orthodox scholar, whose linear, intellectual path to spirituality stifled his feeling of connectedness to “God.” He rejected her suggestions for new meditation techniques, and the relationship ended after his rabbi called Orloff a witch.

Orloff has longed healed the rebel inside and connects to Judaism through its spiritual and mystical tradition. Rabbi Donald Singer, the leader of the Shir Hadash community and a Zen Buddhist, is her personal rabbi.

“The Jewish practice primed me to an openhearted, loving connection to God with beautiful ritual chants and God and a sense of family and community,” Orloff said.

In her study, which is dominated by a large Mac on her desk, a mat for yoga and stretching, and a corner with cushions for meditation, she looks lovingly at a picture of her parents.

After they passed on, she returned to a major source of her teenage rebellion, Hillcrest Country Club, and gave a lecture about her second book, “Second Sight,” to a very receptive audience. Orloff recently completely a book tour and is currently conducting workshops across the country.

“I’d give anything to have mother sitting there dressed to the nines in the front row,” she writes, “just once, even though I know she’s cheering from the Other Side.”

Orloff will be holding a workshop on “The Power of Intuition and Emotions to Heal,” Oct. 28-30 at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Her Web site is

Dig, plant, grow, give — sharing the bounty of food


If there’s one thing Gabe Goldman wishes more Angelenos would do next spring, it’s get their hands dirty.

The American Jewish University (AJU) professor and director of experiential education is signing up students, synagogues and anyone else with a piece of land and a green thumb to plant small, personal gardens next March and donate their produce to local food pantries. The project, Helping Hands Gardens, aims to stock the shelves of overburdened Los Angeles pantries with organic fare as need across the region soars.

“I found out from food agencies that the number of people coming through their doors in the last six months has been overwhelming because of the economic downturn,” Goldman said.

Goldman brought his sophomore service-learning students to SOVA Food Pantry in 2007 to get a feel for what the agency, an arm of Jewish Family Service, does. They found that the pantry’s clients weren’t just unemployed adults anymore — they were often the children of families who can no longer make ends meet.

SOVA’s troubles sprang to mind as Goldman worked in the organic garden at AJU’s Brandeis-Bardin campus in Simi Valley last summer. After a bumper crop of tomatoes, he realized he and his students could help fill a need in the community. “I thought, boy, this would be a good time to take a portion of our food and start donating it,” he recalled.

In fact, he began to envision dozens of volunteer gardeners across Los Angeles doing the same. A small, 10-by-12-foot organic garden might only produce 20 pounds of food in a season, but a network of bite-sized food-growing operations could collectively help alleviate the strain on local food banks.

“One-hundred of these small gardens could produce more than a ton of food,” Goldman said. “These gardens are small, they don’t cost a lot, and they’re easy to take care of. Anyone with a backyard can do it.”

The project is a boon to SOVA Executive Director Joan Mithers, who has seen the number of monthly visits to the agency’s three pantries climb steadily since the economy began to sour last summer. In 2002, SOVA provided food to 2,500 clients per month. That number had risen to 5,000 by 2007. A record 6,200 L.A. residents lined up at SOVA locations this September. The agency has struggled to accommodate a 40 percent spike in client visits over the past year alone, between requests for food and financial service referrals, Mithers said.

“We have no indicator that it’s going to get better soon,” she said, noting that the pantry’s donations of surplus food from the USDA have been dwindling in recent years (the agency also receives food from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the Westside Food Bank and community food drives). “The common belief is that it will get worse before it gets better. With so many people, it would be great to have more food coming in.”

Goldman’s crop this summer at the AJU garden was a start. He and his students set aside a 50-by-50-foot portion of the one- acre plot for the Helping Hands Gardens project and ended up donating 200 pounds of food to pantries around Los Angeles, including SOVA and Simi Valley’s Care & Share food bank. The organic offerings featured zucchini and butternut squash, sweet corn, roma and beefeater tomatoes, onions and carrots.

Mithers said the project would improve not just the quantity, but also the quality of food at SOVA’s pantries.

“This is healthy food,” she said. “When people have limited income, they tend to have to buy the kinds of things that fill them up quickly and inexpensively, and those aren’t always the healthiest products. We want to provide our clients with healthy food, and you don’t get much healthier than fresh, organic produce.”

Studies have shown that the act of gardening also carries health benefits — and a sense of pride — for the gardeners themselves, according to Goldman.

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” he said. “The people who are least able to afford organic food will have it provided for them. The students at our institution won’t just be learning about social problems; they’re taking an active role in the planning process — getting their hands dirty in the fields — and that changes them. Then the people in these agencies and schools who have these gardens get this tremendous sense of pride because they put a seed in the ground and helped it grow.”

Educators at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles have already seen this phenomenon in the two years since they planted a community garden at their religious school. Students there are no strangers to tikkun olam (healing the world) — they currently grow flowers to bring to patients at local hospitals alongside Passover herbs and Israeli plants.

“There is a glow in their eyes when they show me the dirt under their fingernails,” said Avram Mandell, education director at Leo Baeck. “There’s something about nurturing something from start to finish that you can’t teach out of a book.”

Next spring, the school will dedicate a portion of its garden to Helping Hands. Children in grades K-6 will care for the vegetables, harvest them, and donate them to help feed the hungry.

“We want students to connect to their community through the earth,” Mandell said. “This is an amazing opportunity to teach them about contributing to society.”

That’s how Rabbi Dara Frimmer feels about her young congregants at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles. The synagogue, whose unique Green Team encourages recycling and energy conservation, got on board with the Helping Hands project as a way to educate their 400 preschool students about sustainability.

“We want to teach our kids where food comes from,” Frimmer said. “We want them not only to have the pretty green plants in their courtyard, but also to teach them about having something they can use and work with and donate.”

Because of space restrictions on synagogue grounds, members will install several large planters around the property — namely in the playground area and in the preschool courtyard — so kids will interact with the gardens each day.

Until planting season begins in March, Goldman is reaching out to churches, synagogues, Hillels, senior centers and other potential participants to join the effort. Helping Hands Gardens will train AJU students to work with each facility as they set up their garden, which volunteer hosts will tend themselves. Goldman wants to see the project grow to a size where they can donate to food pantries throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

“Every community in the country could have Helping Hands Gardens,” he said. “I am a firm believer that any social problem we create, we can solve. We have a lot of people and a lot of kids who need help now, through no fault of their own. We’re here and we can help them, so we should.”

Delivery chef unable to savor his culinary success


Crab cakes drizzled with zesty chipotle lime sauce and peppercorn brandy glazed pork loin are a few of the entrées The Fresh Diet delivers to clients. But its Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, who developed most of the dishes offered on the meal-delivery program’s menu, has never actually sampled his own dishes, which have been praised by Phil Lempert, food trends editor for NBC’s “Today.”

While it might seem odd for a head chef to have not tasted any of his or her own creations, Yosef Schwartz can’t; he keeps kosher.

The Fresh Diet is one of about 50 meal-delivery programs nationwide that can help take the time-consuming preparation — as well as portion-control and guesswork — out of eating healthy. In the next few weeks, Miami-based Fresh Diet will start delivering to homes and offices in Los Angeles. And if there’s enough of a call for it, Schwartz is hoping to start a kosher version of Fresh Diet here after he returns to the Southland this month.

Schwartz, 27, grew up in Westwood and Mar Vista, attended Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad near Hancock Park and received his smicha in Israel. While you can call him a rabbi, he would rather be thought of as a chef.

Schwartz wanted to cook from the time he was a teenager. His rabbi father and rebbetzin mother would host 50 people for dinner each Friday night, and Schwartz says he would spend Thursdays and Fridays after school cooking with his mother. “I knew by 14 years old that I wanted to go to culinary school,” he said.

After he received his rabbinic degree in 2001, Schwartz immediately applied to California Culinary Academy to hone a variety of cooking skills.

“My parents were very supportive,” he said.

As far as working with treif ingredients like pork and shellfish at California Culinary Academy and now Fresh Diet, Schwartz says it took some getting used to.

“Once I started working with the product, I was really fine with it,” he said. “There are other senses besides taste. I like to think of myself as a food technician.”

Schwartz worked with a variety of local kosher caterers while he studied in Pasadena. And after graduating from California Culinary Academy in 2004, his high school friends encouraged him to consider joining them to start a food-delivery business based on Dr. Barry Sears’ Zone Diet, which features 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent proteins and 30 percent good fats.

The prices for the Fresh Diet delivery service, which currently reaches South Florida, Chicago and the New York Tri-State area, range from $35 to $60 per day. The meals are delivered in cooler bags overnight and include three entrees and two snacks.

“We’ve had people who said they’ve saved money,” he said, referring to busy clients who would tend to eat in restaurants several times each day. “It’s basically a little present at your door every morning.”

Schwartz says exercise and his own kosher version of the meal system have helped him lose weight. He weighed 300 pounds when he started the business with his friends. His shirt size has since gone from XXL to large, having dropped down to 210 pounds.

“I was thinking about doing it kosher before we even started the company,” he said, adding that it would take 30 to 50 subscribers to start a similar kosher service in the Southern California. “If there’s a demand for it, we will do it.”

A healthy hut — lighter side of Sukkot cooking


As you look forward to Sukkot, you may have a few lingering thoughts from the reflection and retrospection of the High Holidays. Perhaps you promised to treat your body to more healthful, nutritious food. Or maybe your new goal is to take time out to observe Jewish holidays, or to just relax with friends over a good meal.

This can be a frustrating set of goals, since it often seems as though celebrating the Jewish holidays through food while still eating healthfully are irreconcilable endeavors. Cheesy blintzes, creamy kugel and schmaltz are hardly lean cuisine. However, a growing number of new cookbooks are oriented towards the more health conscious Jewish cook. One such book is Nechama Cohen’s “Enlitened Kosher Cooking,” published just this year.

Founder of the Jewish Diabetes Association, Cohen took her personal plight of cooking Jewish food as a diabetic and extended it through the work of her organization, whose goal is “to educate and guide individuals facing the challenges of managing diabetes within the framework of a Jewish lifestyle.”

To this end, her book not only contains hundreds of recipes that meet low-carb, low-sugar and low-fat dietary needs, but also contains a useful set of appendices with health reference information, and a holiday-by-holiday guide to her recipes.

This Sukkot, try her Etrog Compote. Or, if you would rather make a dessert with the etrog’s (citron’s) modern counterpart, I recommend the Luscious Lemon Ice Cream. At once tangy and creamy, its refreshing taste is sure to please anyone you have welcomed into your sukkah.

Another great dish is the Baked Spinach-Cheese Delight.
Due to the recent FDA warning, I used 3/4 cups frozen spinach instead of fresh. A healthier carb alternative to quiche crust, the triangles of bread also give the dish some textural variety. I used challah for a dash of Jewishness. Don’t fill the dish with much bread — it expands considerably while baking. I also halved the amount of cheese to make it even healthier, sprinkling it on the top where it is the most flavorful. As with the kugel, I recommend adding herbs to taste; this time I used dill, basil, and some ground pepper.

With both healthier versions of traditional Jewish dishes and other healthy recipes of non-Jewish food, this book appeals to a wide range of Jewish (and non Jewish) palates. While sometimes Cohen’s aim for simplicity and accessibility leaves dishes slightly unseasoned, this book is certainly a worthy primer for the cook uninitiated into the ways of more healthful cooking
(For the main course, one of the dishes Cohen suggested was the “Enlitened Mock Noodle Kugel.” Made with spaghetti squash to reduce the carbs and calories, this dish lacks the unmistakable toothsome quality of traditional kugels, but is quite tasty nonetheless.)

The more experienced cook can use the recipes as a jumping-off point for experimentation. You might just find a few dishes even your bubbe would have enjoyed, and a few others that the rest of us could learn to cherish as much as their less lean counterparts. What better way to welcome people into your sukkah than with some healthy new favorites?

Baked spinach-cheese delight

Nonstick cooking spray
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
3/4 cup 1 percent milk or low-fat, low-carb soymilk
3 slices day-old light bread, cut into small triangles
1 cup fresh spinach, finely chopped, or 3/4 cup frozen spinach
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom of an 8-inch Springform pan with baking paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and egg whites until frothy.

Add the milk, spinach and cheese. Stir to blend.

Pour into the prepared pan.

Immerse the dried bread triangles in the mixture. After they are coated with the mixture, raise one point of each piece with a fork so that they peek out at the top.

Bake uncovered until lightly browned, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
Loosen the edges by cutting around the outside with a knife. Remove from the pan and place on a heatproof plate.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes six servings.

Luscious lemon ice creamam

1 (4 ounce) container light whipped topping
4 egg whites
2 eggs, separated
Sugar substitute equal to 1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup lemon juice

Beat whipped topping until stiff.
In a separated bowl, beat egg whites together with half of sugar substitute. In another bowl, beat egg yolk with other half of sugar substitute. When thick, fold in lemon juice. Fold all three mixtures together until well blended.

Freeze.

Pistachio variation:

For a delectable pistachio-flavored ice cream, omit the lemon juice and add 1 teaspoon almond extract, 1/3 cup chopped pistachios and two to three drops of green food coloring.

Makes eight servings.

PASSOVER: Yemenite Flavor at the Seder


For me, Yemenite cooking is the taste of home. My parents were born in Sharab, a region in southwest Yemen. I was born in Tel Aviv, and grew up on my mother and father’s traditional cooking. The food in our home was always fresh, simple and richly spiced. On Passover, the fragrance of the traditional chicken soup, full of tumeric and cumin, filled our house, and we looked forward to eating our candy-like charoset, made from dates and walnuts.

I came to America in 1976, and opened Magic Carpet, named after the airlift of Yemenite Jews to Israel, in 1993. The Yemenite food we serve is a warm and constant reminder of my childhood.

Of course, now it turns out it might also be good for you — really good for you.

Yemenite Jews in Israel live longer and healthier lives than other Israelis. Over the years, many researchers have attributed the Yemenite’s good health to the simplicity of their cooking and their use of herbs and spices. Fenugreek, for example, a staple spice in our kitchens, has shown promise in research to treat diabetes and high cholesterol.

Beef, chicken, fish and vegetables require the use of hawa’age, a curry-like spice mixture that consists of turmeric, cumin, coriander and black pepper in proportions that vary from town to town. On top of that, we add fresh garlic, onion, tomatoes and cilantro to many of our dishes. Hilbeh, a viscuous, spicy relish made from freshly ground fenugreek, and schug, a bright green mix of cilantro and chili, are served separately and added to food according to taste. A few meals like this, and you are on your way to a healthy Yemenite life.

Below are traditional Yemenite Passover foods. Some, like chicken soup, we serve in the restaurant. For the rest, you’d have to come to my house.

Baked Eggs

Oven-baked eggs become brown and flavorful, with a creamy texture.

Just cover eggs in water at room temperature. Add salt to minimize cracking. Cover and cook in your oven at low heat (250 F) overnight or at least 12 hours. Serve hot or cold.

Charoset

This is our version of charoset, which Ashkenazim make from apples, walnuts and wine. We use charoset as jelly on matzah through the holiday.

1 pound dates, pitted and mashed
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook for about an hour or until the mixture is thickened to a jelly-like consistency. Serve cold.

Matzah Cereal

This was our breakfast throughout the holiday. What makes it special is the spice mixture.

Break two matzah into small pieces. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of hot milk and one tablespoon of butter, mix with the same spice mix as the charoset. Add honey to your taste.

Yemenite Chicken Soup

We would often serve this by placing broken soaked matzah in our soup bowls, then ladling the broth over it.

One 4-pound chicken cut in quarters
5 quarts water
1 large head garlic
1 large tomato
1 large onion
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
1/3 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon of coriander
black pepper
salt

Put whole onion, garlic and tomato in the pot of water and bring to a boil. Add chicken pieces and cook for 25 minutes. Add spices and fresh cilantro, peeled tomato and if you like, add some sliced zucchini. Salt and paper to taste. Cook for 25 more minutes.

Nili Goldstein is co-owner of the kosher Yemeni-Israeli Magic Carpet Restaurant, 8566 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-8547.

 

Taking Women’s Health to Heart


 

Nancy Kearson knew she had high blood pressure, but she wasn’t aware of any other health problems until a friend urged her to see a physician four years ago. That exam may have saved her life.

Kearson, who at the time was 53 years old and working for a demanding CPA firm, discovered she was at high risk for a heart attack. Her doctor prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication and baby aspirin daily, and suggested changes to Kearson’s diet.

“I was surprised that the risks were as great as they were,” she said. “I thought I had good health and would always have it.”

Heart disease, often perceived as a men’s health issue, affects more than 6 million women in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease claims more lives among women than cancer, killing one woman every minute. Yet only 13 percent of women consider heart disease their greatest health risk. In an effort to encourage women and men to learn more about heart disease prevention, February was designated as American Heart Month under President Bill Clinton, who himself recently underwent a bypass operation.

“Heart disease is the leading killer of women. [Yet] it is predictable and preventable,” said Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz, medical director of the Women’s Health Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. In the case of breast cancer, she said, “We empowered women to pay attention — to go in and get screening and to demand that they be treated and taken seriously. Now we hope to do the same with heart disease.”

Becoming familiar with risk factors and controlling lifestyle choices are the first steps in combating heart disease. Risk factors include cigarette smoking, high blood cholesterol or blood pressure, diabetes, physical inactivity and a family history of heart disease. Research suggests that women can lower their heart disease risk by as much as 82 percent through lifestyle changes (see sidebar).

Screening is equally important.

“Just as they do for a mammogram, women should make an appointment to have a heart-risk assessment each year,” Bairey Merz said.

The assessment looks at weight, blood pressure, overall cholesterol level, the level of HDL (good) cholesterol and other factors to determine risk levels. After receiving results, women need to follow with action, Bairey Merz said.

Kearson now sees her cardiologist, Bairey Merz, regularly to have blood work and prevention consultations. She also changed her diet, left her high-stress job to open her own practice and takes morning walks every day.

“I realized my [previous] lifestyle came with a price,” she said.

Earlier this month, the American Heart Association announced new guidelines for preventing heart disease and strokes in women, which highlights the need to adopt healthy lifestyle habits throughout life, rather than waiting for a problem to occur.

“The concept of cardiovascular disease as a ‘have or have not’ condition has been replaced with the idea that [it] develops over time and every woman is somewhere on the continuum,” said Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and chair of the group that developed the guidelines.

The guidelines also address treatment, recommending that its aggressiveness be linked to whether a woman has low, intermediate or high risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years. For high-risk women, aspirin and drug therapy are recommended. Quitting smoking, getting 30 minutes of daily vigorous exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are lifestyle changes recommend for all women.

Bairey Merz said that women must be assertive to get proper care. Women suffering from heart disease are twice as likely to die from it as men, but are less likely to be evaluated for cardiac symptoms — such as heart palpitations, chest pains and shortness of breath — and may receive less aggressive treatment once diagnosed.

There are now several national efforts designed to increase attention to women’s heart health. They include the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s The Heart Truth program; and Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation’s National Women’s Heart Day.

Bairey Merz hopes that these efforts will result in increased vigilance — and decreased deaths.

“Society in general has not valued women’s health as much as men’s health,” she said. “We need to be our own advocates.”

 

Salami Shortage No Baloney


 

Five hunks of Hebrew National salami lie side by side in a glass display case at Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen in midtown Manhattan. When compared with the crispy corn dogs and enormous latkes, they don’t look like much. But the takeout counter guy is relieved he has any salami to sell at all.

For the last several months, a shortage of Hebrew National products has hit kosher restaurants and food distributors across North America, forcing some to fill the gap with other meat products — ones that don’t “answer to a higher authority,” as the Hebrew National famous advertisement put it.

The shortage comes at what should be a time of celebration, as Hebrew National, which was founded on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, celebrates its 100th birthday.

“At this point, we’ve been working very hard to increase production,” said Julie DeYoung, a spokeswoman for ConAgra Foods Inc., the Omaha-based food giant that bought Hebrew National in 1993. They just built a new manufacturing facility in Quincy, Mich. She said shortages on some of the most popular products — hot dogs and lunchmeats like turkey and salami — would continue for some time.

Hebrew National has seen “several-digit growth” in demand for its hot dogs in recent years, DeYoung said.

Demand is strongest on the East Coast, she said, though it is picking up on the West Coast. And, as super-retailers like Costco begin stocking Hebrew National products, DeYoung said, the company is becoming, as its name suggests, national.

Overall, kosher products have experienced growing popularity in recent years, fueled, in part, by the belief that kosher products are healthier. Also, other groups like to eat kosher products, such as Muslims who buy kosher for the meat, or lactose-intolerants who purchase pareve products.

But for the man behind the counter at Ben’s, the reasons for Hebrew National’s success are much simpler.

“You can’t beat their hot dogs,” he said. — Chanan Tigay, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

Pomegranates: The Healthy, Spiritual High Holiday Fruit


When you cut open a pomegranate, first removing its turreted crown, then scoring its red, leathery skin, before breaking it apart under water (so the juices won’t squirt and stain your clothes), you are presented with sacks of glistening, abundant garnet fruit caviar.

These fruit drops are called arils, and when you bite into them, bursting through the shiny membrane, you get a spray of sweet, tart juice in your mouth, less acrid than cranberry, more nuanced than apple, before you reach the white seed, which is hard but edible and full of fiber.

This Rosh Hashanah, Jews all over the world are going to be indulging in pomegranates, a fruit that has much religious significance for the Jewish people. But the High Holidays also conveniently coincide with pomegranate season in America. In the past few years — thanks to health researchers touting the benefits of pomegranate consumption, and some large fruit companies making sure that pomegranates became a more high-profile part of the produce department — this regal-looking fruit has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in America.

For Jews, pomegranates have never gone out of style. We know that Jews have been eating pomegranate from the time that they were slaves in Egypt, because during one of those rough patches that happened while they were wandering in the desert for 40 years, they complained to Moses saying, “Why did you bring us up from Egypt to this evil place? This place has no seeds, or figs or grapes or pomegranates….” Later, when God was enticing the Jews to enter Israel, God promised them a land fecund with “wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates…” which no doubt appeased the Children of Israel somewhat, seeing as they were hankering for that fruit.

Pomegranates appeared in other places, too. “Turquoise, purple and scarlet” wool pomegranates adorned the clothing of the cohen gadol (the high priest). Engraved pomegranates decorated the pillars in the First Temple, built by King Solomon. In fact, a thimble-sized, ivory pomegranate bearing an ancient Hebrew inscription is the only relic ever recovered from the Solomon’s Temple. In the “Song of Songs,” a part of the biblical canon attributed to Solomon, the comely protagonist is told that, “Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate,” and she is invited to go to the vineyards, to see “if the blossoms have opened, and the pomegranates are in bloom.”

But on Rosh Hashanah we eat pomegranates not as an erotic allure but as a symbol of abundant goodness. Jewish tradition holds that a pomegranate has 613 seeds, representing the 613 mitzvot that we are supposed to keep. According to Reish Lakish, a talmudic sage, even the sinners among the Children of Israel have as many good deeds as the seeds of a pomegranate. And on Rosh Hashanah, when we are being judged on high and want to accumulate points in our favor so that God will feel obliged to grant us a coming year full of health and happiness, we eat pomegranates as a symbolic gesture in the hope that our merits will increase like the seeds of a pomegranate.

Luckily, Rosh Hashanah falls at prime pomegranate time. Pomegranate shrubs grow to be 12 to 16-feet tall, and the fruits start to ripen in September, with the season lasting until December. In the past three years, California has become the largest national producer of pomegranates, thanks to efforts of a Beverly Hills-based Jewish couple, Stewart and Lynda Resnick.

The Resnicks, owners of the Franklin Mint and Teleflora, acquired some farming land in the San Joaquin Valley in the late 1980s. The land had some nut trees on it, as well as some pomegranate shrubs. The Resnicks weren’t sure what to do with the shrubs. Pomegranates were an exotic and untasted fruit for most Americans — only 5 percent had ever had on., So the Resnicks didn’t know whether it was worth keeping the plants or using the space to grow more nuts and other fruit.

But the pomegranates grown on the land were sweet and juicy, and knowing that the pomegranate came shrouded in mythology, Lynda Resnick was intrigued by the fruit. She started researching the market potential for it, and found that pomegranates many health benefits. She planted more shrubs on the land, and in 2000, when the shrubs started producing fruit, the Resnicks founded the Pom Wonderful company, named after the variety of pomegranates grown on their land. Pom Wonderful is now the largest pomegranate growing and distribution company in America.

The Resnicks started distributing the fruit to supermarkets, and squeezing the Pom Wonderful pomegranates for their juice, which they sell in bottles that look like pomegranates stacked on top of one another. They funded research into the health benefits of pomegranates, and discovered that eating the fruit can help unclog plaque-blocked arteries. They also found that pomegranates and pomegranate juice had more antioxidants than any other juice or beverage, including green tea and red wine. Antioxidants inhibit free radicals in the body, which can cause cancer, premature aging and Alzheimer’s. Finding all this out made Lynda Resnick the pomegranate’s most ardent crusader.

“I’m up all night worrying that we won’t have enough pomegranates,” she told The New York Times.

In response to this research, Pom Wonderful launched an advertising campaign promoting the fruit with tag lines like “It’s been around for 5,000 years. Drink it and you might be, too,” and “Not all miracle workers are people.” Pom Wonderful has also continued to fund pomegranate research, and is currently supporting 13 independent studies in nine universities in four countries.

Which all means that come this Rosh Hashanah, the pomegranate is not only a spiritual food to eat, but a healthy one as well.

In some Jewish households, the pomegranate will be eaten in a special Rosh Hashanah seder in conjunction with other spiritually significant foods. These foods are called the simanim (omens or signifiers), and, like the pomegranates, they symbolize good fortune for the year to come and are eaten after saying a small “yahi ratzon” (let it be thy will) prayer. Thus, gourds are eaten, because the Hebrew word for gourd is kra, which also means both read and tear, and we hope that our good deeds will be proclaimed and a bad decree (if any) torn up. We eat fenugreek because the Hebrew word for it is rubia, which also means to increase, and we hope that our merits will increase. We eat leeks or cabbage, because karsi (leeks) sounds like kares (to cut off), and we want our enemies to be cut off; beets because silka (beets) sounds like siluk (removal), and we want our enemies to be removed; and dates because tamar sounds like sheyitamu (to be consumed), which is what we want our enemies to be. (Our enemies get a real bum rap over Rosh Hashanah.) And, finally, we eat apple and challah dipped in honey, a symbol of the sweet new year.

But the pomegranate remains one of the most intriguing fruits in Jewish lore. The Talmud says that if a sage dreams of a pomegranate, it is an omen of wisdom; if an ignoramus dreams of one, it is an omen of good deeds. Jewish sages taught that the pomegranate is significant because, unlike other fruits, the red pulp, which is of primary interest to the human consumer but of little interest to the tree because it is only there to protect the seed, and the seed, which the consumer tends to throw away, are one and the same. The primary and the secondary, the future and the present part of the fruit are united. This, the sages tell us, represents a high level of blessing, a sign of totality and perfection, a perfect symbol of the New Year.

Orange Salad With Pomegranates

1 cup red onion slices, cut paper thin and broken into strips

1/2 cup lemon juice

6 large Valencia oranges

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 medium-sized cucumber, pared and diced (about 1 cup)

1 cup pomegranate arils

4 ounces black, oil cured olives, preferably Moroccan

Salt to taste

1 tablespoons finely chopped mint

About one hour before making the salad, place onion slices in a bowl and marinate in lemon juice. Peel oranges and cut into thin, round slices with a very sharp knife. Cut rounds in half and pick out the seeds.

Place oranges in a large work bowl, drain onion of all excess liquid and add onion to oranges. Sprinkle mixture with pepper. Combine oil and vinegar to make the vinaigrette.

Pour over oranges, cover and set aside in a cool place to infuse for 30 minutes.

Add cucumber, pomegranate arils and olives. Adjust seasoning to taste, then scatter mint on top and serve.

Makes six servings.

Pomegranate Eggplant Relish

1/3 cup olive oil

1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch squares

1 medium red onion, diced small

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 cup tomato juice

1 cup pomegranate juice

1/3 cup of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/2 cup pomegranate arils

Combine pomegranate juice and sugar in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until reduced to 1/3 cup. Remove from flame and cool.

In a large sauté pan, heat oil over high heat until hot, but not smoking.

Add eggplant and cook, stirring until well-seared and quite soft, about five to seven minutes.

Reduce heat to medium, add onion and cook, stirring, for two to three minutes.

Add garlic and continue to stir for one minute.

Add in tomato juice and pomegranate syrup and bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for five minutes.

Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Score a whole pomegranate and place in a bowl of water. Break open the pomegranate to free the arils. The arils will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the membrane will float to the top. Sieve and put the arils into a separate bowl.

Stir in mint and pomegranate arils and serve hot or cold with crackers, bread, or over chicken.

Makes four cups.

Pomegranate-Honey Roasted Game Hens

1 cup pomegranate juice*

1/2 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

6 clove of garlic, chopped

3 game hens, split in half

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons honey

* For one cup of juice, put 1-1/2 to 2 cups of arils and seeds in a blender; blend until liquefied. Pour mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or sieve.

Garnish:

1/2 cup of pomegranate arils

Chopped roasted pistachio nuts

Mix pomegranate juice, 1/2 cup

honey and spices. Pour over hens.

Cover, and marinate overnight or for eight hours in the refrigerator. Turn occasionally.

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Drain hens, reserving marinade. Simmer marinade in small saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes; reserve.

Season hens with salt and pepper.

Bake at 450 F, basting frequently with reserved marinade, until hens are just firm to touch, about 25 minutes.

Remove hens from oven; let rest covered with a ten towel for five minutes. Brush each half with 1/2 tablespoon honey.

Score a whole pomegranate and place in a bowl of water. Break open pomegranate to free the arils. The arils will sink to the bottom and the membrane will float to the top. Sieve and put the arils into a separate bowl.

Garnish hens with pomegranate arils and chopped pistachios.

This recipe can also be made with chicken.

Makes six servings

Recipes courtesy POM Wonderful.

Taking the Schmaltz Out of Our Food


At sundown on Monday we usher in the happiest day of our calendar, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. For the next 10 days we’ll be called upon to reexamine our lives — to wake up and not only smell the roses, but plant them for other people to enjoy.

The Days of Awe end at sundown on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we’ll spend the day in temple fasting and praying. Our sundown to sundown fast brings us agony and ecstasy as we internalize how fleeting life is, promise to make amends for acts we’re not proud of, realize we have a whole new year ahead of us to make a difference.

As we hurriedly leave the temple with visions of chopped liver, lokshen kugel and our beloved cheese blintzes dancing in our heads, we know it’s just a matter of moments before we can eat.

Lately though, we’ve had to rethink this. Though it’s a beloved family tradition to break the fast with our favorite Ashkenazi dishes, we also know they contain ingredients that top the cardiologist’s list of no-no’s — red meat, schmaltz, cottage cheese, sour cream and butter. Fat, fat and more fat.

In response, creative Jewish cooks have been hard at work adapting these recipes. And, as rabbi and cookbook author Gil Marks says, with a laugh, "Healthy Jewish cooking is no longer an oxymoron."

Marks modifies traditional holiday recipes in "The World of Jewish Entertaining" (Simon & Schuster, 1998). He uses meat sparingly, as a flavoring instead of the main event. He also uses recipes from the Sephardim, who migrated to areas as diverse as North and South Africa, the Middle East, India and later to the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Their cuisine revolved around the three main ingredients mentioned in the Bible: grains, wine and olive oil.

As for our traditional Ashkenazi delicacies, which nourish our souls more than our bodies, Marks substitutes yogurt for sour cream in blintzes, kugels and borsht, uses olive oil instead of schmaltz for chopped liver — or even eliminates liver altogether in favor of a pate of mushrooms, onions and string beans. Instead of stuffing chicken with oil-soaked bread cubes, he suggests apples and spinach, traditional ingredients for the New Year.

Marks has also gone where few men have ventured before him — perfecting a recipe for whole wheat challah, which subtracts eggs and extra fat, adding whole wheat, wheat germ and honey for moisture. He sweetens dishes with fruits instead of sugar. But, he cautions, "Be smart with substitutions. Don’t serve a dish just because it’s low fat. Experiment until you’re happy with the flavor."

Since we’re trying to modify tradition, not break it, instead of asking a Jewish matriarch for our Break the Fast menu, we went to premier Jewish chef and caterer, David Rubell, who serves the Break the Fast Meal at Temple Shalom for the Arts in Los Angeles.

Rubell learned about "food from the old country" from the closest person to him — his Nana Willner. "On Yom Kippur, she’d shine," he says. "Because she knew she’d be in shul all day, and exhausted when she got home, she developed a technique that I, as a caterer, use to this day.

"Nana was meticulously organized. The day before Yom Kippur, she’d assemble her ingredients, then slice, dice, and, in some cases, partially cook, then refrigerate the dishes. When she got home from shul, she’d finish each recipe and have it on the table — piping hot or ice cold — almost instantly. Nothing ever tasted like it had been sitting in the refrigerator all night. Everything was always delicious.

"I learned another lesson from Nana," Rubell says slyly. "Seltzer water in matzah balls. ‘Most people use fat, eggs and too much matzo meal,’ she’d scoff, in her inimitable Russian-Brooklyn accent. ‘And they handle them too much. Of course, they’re like lead.’

"Not my Nana’s," he says. "Hers were always light as a feather. I used to laugh, because when we’d eat at my other grandma’s, Nana Rubell, her matzah balls were like sinkers. We never told her our secret.

"When Nana made blintzes she’d insist on filling them with pot cheese. When she couldn’t find it, she’d substitute Farmer’s. Of course, she’d grouse every time. The mystery ingredient in her sweet blintzes was salt. Just like the infamous spoonful of sugar, ‘A pinch of salt makes us remember who we are and where we came from,’ she’d tell me. ‘Life is not all sweetness and honey. Never forget that!’ This is especially relevant on Yom Kippur, which is all about that little dose of reality," Rubell muses.

As Rubell grew older and started working as a professional chef, his beloved nana took sick with pancreatic cancer. He trudged down to Florida and cooked her all of her favorite meals. "That meant more to her than anything," he says, his eyes welling up. It made him start thinking about lightening the traditional Jewish foods he’d grown up with.

Today when he’s doing a menu, he starts with the dishes she’d taught him, then replaces them with healthier variations.

For example, Rubell replaces the customary sour cream topping for the blintzes with fresh berry compote. Instead of sweet, heavy babkas that "will lay in your stomach for the next three days," he’ll serve a fresh peach cobbler. Since tuna salad with gobs of mayo is a staple on many buffets, Rubell created savory Chinese Seared Ahi Tuna Salad. Instead of the traditional sweet, heavy kugel, he’ll serve a vegetable frittata. According to Rubell, "We never forget our cultural traditions, but we’re reinterpreting them for today’s healthier lifestyles."

Have a happy and healthy New Year!


Recipes for taking out the Schmaltz from Jewish food

All recipes from Chef David Rubell.

Smoked Whitefish Salad (A favorite of Theodore Bikel’s)
Smoked Trout may be substituted for the whitefish.

1 smoked whitefish, approximately 2 lbs., carefully boned
1/3-1/2 cup mayonnaise (low fat or regular)
1 bunch scallions, green part only, sliced thin

Pulse all ingredients in food processor until just smooth. Refrigerate. Serve as appetizer with crackers or challah, or as first course with baby greens and tomato.

Serves 8 to 10.

Chinese Seared Ahi Tuna Salad with Mango

1/2 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon wasabi
1 1/2 pounds, fresh ahi tuna
1/4 cup canola oil
1 One-pound package wonton skins
1 quart canola oil for frying noodles
1/2 Six-ounce package saifun or dry
bean thread noodles, broken in half
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup dry roasted, salted cashews
1 head iceberg lettuce, sliced very thin
1/2 head Savoy cabbage, sliced very thin
2 bunches green onion, green part sliced diagonally
2 mangoes, peeled and sliced thin

For Dressing:
2 ounces pickled ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 bunch scallions, white only
1 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup Chinese sweet and sour sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup toasted sesame oil

Mix together soy sauce and wasabi. Marinate tuna in mixture for 20 minutes. Sear tuna in hot, nonstick skillet with 1/4 cup oil approximately 1 minute per side. Refrigerate immediately after removing tuna from heat. Allow to cool at least 1/2 hour before slicing for salad. Slice tuna into 1 1/2 inch pieces, reserving odd sizes to incorporate into body of salad.

Slice wonton skins into very thin julienne strips. Fry noodles in very hot oil in 3 separate batches, so as not to decrease oil temperature. Cook noodles approximately 1 minute, tossing constantly. Drain on paper towels.

Bring oil back to temperature. Fry saifun noodle halves separately from each other as they expand rapidly upon hitting the oil. Turn once, remove from pot; drain on paper towel. Repeat until all noodles are fried.

For Dressing:

Place all ingredients in blender and mix for 3 minutes.

To Assemble:

Reserving small handful of wonton noodles and nuts for garnish, toss with dressing, lettuce, cabbage, green onion, nuts, saifun and wonton noodles, and odd pieces of tuna. Place on platter; arrange remaining tuna slices and mangoes decoratively around salad. Top with additional noodles and nuts.

Serves 8 to 10.

Holiday Cheese Blintzes Topped with a Trio of Fresh Berries

(This recipe is from David’s beloved Nana Willner, who told him, “With every bit of sugar, you need a pinch of salt.”)

The pancakes may be purchased ready-made in the produce section of the supermarket.

For the pancake batter: