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!

A sukkah by the sea where produce is on the menu


Ellen Hoffman and Neal Castleman live in a contemporary two-story home that covers a narrow lot in Malibu. We have been guests for several years at one of the dinners the couple host during Sukkot, which are held in a sukkah Castleman built on the only space available — their rooftop patio overlooking the sea.

Their sukkah is a wonderful architectural sight; it is built and designed using metal poles and canvas walls, which Castleman carefully reassembles each year.

Hoffman, an interior designer, comes up with original ideas for decorating the sukkah that make it warm and inviting. One such design is a centerpiece consisting of a wire-mesh box that resembles the sukkah and is illuminated from within by a hurricane lamp, which creates magical shadows on the white canvas walls. Glass ornaments and mirrored balls hang from the sukkah’s rooftop and create even more patterns.

Guests who arrive as the sun is setting over Malibu climb a flight of stairs to enjoy a breathtaking view of the sand and the sea from the roof.

Castleman begins the evening by lighting candles. Everyone is asked to light a candle of their own as hosts and guests chant the blessing together. The mood is magical, and everyone begins to feel the evening’s spirit. Wine is poured into a special silver Kiddush set the hosts recently bought in Jerusalem,and we recite a Kiddush over the wine, followed by a motzi over the challah.

While Hoffman doesn’t prepare the meal, she works with Lene Houck, a friend and fabulous caterer who cooks the dinner under her careful guidance. Houck, owner of Food by Lene, explained that since Sukkot is observed early this year, she is able to find beautiful late-summer produce that she uses in her menu at the outdoor farmers market.

The basic preparation of her food relies on the freshness of the fruits and vegetables that are available during the season. Houck does not like to use too many products in the preparation of each dish, as she feels it will take away from the individual taste of the key ingredient.

She begins the evening with fun, fresh vegetable appetizers. Corn off the cob is sautéed in olive oil, and just before serving, it is tossed with thinly sliced fresh basil. The sweetness of the corn and the pungency of the basil are a perfect combination, and the dish is served on Asian spoons.

Other appetizers include Cherry Tomatoes With Fresh Basil and Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette, as well as a platter of Asparagus Straws With Curry Cream.

The dishes are carried up to the rooftop, where Houck’s husband, Mark, also a prep cook, pours the wine and serves each course.

The first sit-down course is Lene’s Gazpacho, a cold tomato soup made with hand-chopped vegetables, cucumbers, celery and green onions.

Since it is a long way from the kitchen to the rooftop sukkah, Houck had to solve the challenge of keeping the main course warm — Red Snapper Baked in Parchment Paper. Fillets of red snapper are placed on a bed of spinach, topped with capers, tomatoes and olives and individually wrapped, sealed and baked in parchment paper that keeps the heat in while being transported to the guests.

Dessert follows the Sukkot theme with Oven-Roasted Berry Short Cakes, which feature a lemon peel to represent the etrog and chocolate-covered dates representing the lulav.

After the meal, Hoffman and Castleman ask each guest to comment on what Sukkot means to them. We go around the table listening to the guests’ thoughts and see the stars peeking through the sukkah roof. The sea air and sound of the waves below add a special meaning to the evening as a happy group of friends climb down the stairs, saying goodbye with the hope of being invited again next year.

Sauteed Fresh Corn Off the Cob
1/4 cup olive oil
3 ears of corn, cut kernels from the cob
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon lime juice (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a skillet, heat olive oil and sauté the corn kernels on medium high for about eight minutes. Remove from the stove. Add the parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and lime juice if you choose. Place corn in Asian soup spoons and serve. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 10 servings.

Cherry Tomatoes With Fresh Basil and Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette
20 cherry tomatoes, rinse and dry
20 small basil leaves, rinse
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinaigrette

Cut the top off of the tomatoes. With tip of a knife, make a small incision and insert basil, leaving the tip sticking out. Place on plate and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar before serving.

A sweet gefilte fish like his Polish grandma used to make


I’ve bought meat from the same kosher butcher shop on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles for many years. But it wasn’t until recently that I asked G&K Kosher Meat owner Herschel Berengut, 58, about the Passover dishes he prepares at his to-go deli next door, Charlie’s. His eyes lit up as he explained how he learned to cook as a young boy in Poland and that preparing food was his real passion.

Lublin-born Berengut said his grandmother Faiga was known to be a wonderful cook. When he was young, Berengut remembers watching her prepare Polish specialties and food for the Passover seder.

As he grew up, he would help in the kitchen when his grandmother catered weddings and banquets. She also cooked for the local church, and during the war she was able to get official papers stating that his family was not Jewish; although it was helpful, not all of them survived.

Although it wasn’t easy being Jewish in Poland, those difficulties never discouraged Berengut’s family from practicing; they observed Passover and all the Jewish holidays.

After graduating from culinary school, Berengut opened a 150-seat restaurant called Frigata, located next to a lake. He catered large parties and was successful, even though he had to pay the Polish government a portion of his profits.

But his dream was to come to America with his family. He corresponded with an uncle who had left Poland for Russia and later immigrated to the United States.
When his uncle invited him to come to Los Angeles, Berengut seized the opportunity to make a better life for his family. Initially leaving his wife and daughter behind, Berengut arrived in America speaking only Polish, Yiddish and Russian.

His first job was as a chef at a Hollywood-area Russian restaurant, where he worked from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Next, Berengut worked a 12-hour shift at a butcher shop, typically sleeping three to four hours a night. Determined to bring his wife and daughter from Poland, Berengut saved money for six years before he was able to reunite his family.

When asked about his memories of the family Passover seder in Poland, Berengut said that the matzah only came in small squares. Since it was not available in Lublin, his family would receive it from cousins who lived in West Wroclaw, a town close to the German border where the matzah was made.

The charoset was a mixture of chopped apples, toasted walnuts, sweet wine and honey; lemon juice was added to keep the mixture from turning brown.

After reading the haggadah and retelling the traditional Passover story, dinner was served buffet style. It began with platters of sweet gefilte fish made with carp, as this bony fish was all that was available. Berengut remembers watching his grandmother wrap each fish skin around the sweet ground mixture, then poaching them in a fish stock.

Since coming to Los Angeles, Berengut has prepared several types of gefilte fish — one year he used only salmon, mixing it with egg, matzah meal and sugar. But now in his take-out deli you will find the traditional Polish gefilte fish made with carp and whitefish. He also grinds fresh horseradish daily to serve with the fish.

The main course for the family seder was lamb or veal, depending on what kosher meat was available. His father had a friend who sold them the whole animal, which they would have butchered by the local rabbi. They sold off the portions they could not use, making enough money to pay for the whole animal.

The meat was roasted with raisins, prunes, apricots, carrots and onions in a heavy pot that was covered and baked for several hours, until it was well done, almost caramelized, like tzimmis. It was served with potato kugel made with chicken fat. Berengut also prepares matzah dipped in broth and fried with eggs, a dish that his grandmother served only during Passover.

The Passover dinner finished with his favorite dessert, dried fruit compote, which is sweetened with honey and sugar and served with a platter of almond cookies.

At the end of the meal, when the children found the afikomen, they were rewarded with pieces of candy. It was a difficult time for his family, and Berengut was sad when the seder was over and everyone left by saying — instead of goodbye — “see you next year in Jerusalem.”

I was able to coax the somewhat reluctant Berengut to share his recipes, assuring him that many people would love to serve his Polish Passover dishes during the holiday.

Herschel Berengut's Polish Gefilte Fish
Stock:
2 onions, diced
3 carrots, thinly sliced
3 stalks celery
2 to 3 pounds fish bones (carp and white fish)
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Fish:
5 pounds fillets of carp and white fish
1 onion, quartered
5 eggs
1 cup matzah meal
3 tablespoons sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large pot, place the onion, carrot, celery, and fish bones. Add water to cover, bring to a boil over high heat and add sugar, salt and pepper. Lower heat and simmer for 90 minutes, uncovered, allowing the liquid to reduce. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Cover and refrigerate or freeze.

In a food grinder, grind the fish and onion. Transfer to a large mixing bowl or wooden chopping bowl and mix in the eggs, matzah meal and sugar, until firm. Mix well and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Wet your hands with cold water and shape fish mixture into oval balls.
In a large shallow pot or roaster, bring the stock to a boil, reduce to simmer and place fish balls into the stock. Cover and simmer for one hour, or until cooked through. Cool, transfer to a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and foil and refrigerate. Serve with horseradish.

Makes about 24 gefilte fish balls.

Macrobiotic principles fit Sukkot meals


Lee Gross, 31, and Ben Newman grew up together in New York. Both loved Hebrew school and dreamed of going to rabbinical school. Twenty years later, their spiritual journeys took them on different professional paths. Newman is a rabbi. Gross is executive chef of M Café de Chaya on Melrose.

However, they are linked by a common belief in the macrobiotic principle that a peaceful, mindful and purposeful existence begins with eating a diet of whole, organic foods that are seasonally appropriate. The seasonal aspect of contemporary macrobiotic cuisine seems to fit Sukkot perfectly, because it is a harvest holiday focused on food and hospitality and is set in an temporary exterior dwelling.

According to Newman, who serves as a consultant to M Café de Chaya and is a Reconstructionist rabbi in Scarsdale, N.Y, “The foods that we eat on Sukkot and the vegetables that we use to decorate the sukkah are traditionally seasonal and local, which mirrors the macrobiotic philosophy. Just as macrobiotics tries to help us remember where our food comes from and to be conscious of what we put in our body, so, too, does the celebration of Jewish agriculturally based holidays, such as Sukkot.”

Remembering his Hebrew school days, chef Gross noted that the Torah not only commands us to have a sukkah roofed with organic materials but also mandates that each sukkah meal must include at least two ounces of grains. All other foods — meat, fruit, vegetables, beverages, etc. — do not constitute a meal and may be combined outside the sukkah. Whole grains are one of the key ingredients of Gross’ menu at M Café de Chaya.

Gross’ voyage to Melrose Avenue parallels his curiosity for spiritual meaning in life. After receiving traditional culinary training the University of Providence, Gross was readying himself to become a chef at five-star restaurants. He worked with notables such as Daniel Bruce at the Boston Harbor Hotel, Philippe Jeanty at Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley, and the famed Al Forno restaurant in Providence, under the tutelage of George Germon and Johanne Killeen.

While these jobs satisfied his passion for food and haute cuisine, Gross’ goal was to combine his social ideals and personal ethics. He began studying the relationship between food, health and the environment at an intensive macrobiotics program at he Kushi Institute, from which he made the commitment to build a new cuisine inspired both by his classical training and ecological and health imperatives.

After meeting in 2001 with celebrity macrobiotic counselor Mina Dobic, Gross became Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal chef. As he traveled the globe, he incorporated dishes from Spain, Italy, Japan, India and England into his repertoire. He also further developed French patisserie items that do not contain refined sugars, eggs or dairy but taste just as good.

The concept of M Café de Chaya was born after a chance encounter in Japan with the Tsunoda family. The family has owned Chaya restaurants in Japan for more than 30 years. Shigefumi Tachibe, executive chef and owner of Chaya U.S., recruited Gross to develop M Café de Chaya, which opened in May 2005.

Located on Melrose Avenue, just west of La Brea Avenue, glass encasings display appetizing and beautiful dishes ranging from traditional bento boxes, paninis (with tofu mozzarella) and French-inspired tarts and patisseries. My personal favorite is the daily selection of salads (particularly the celeri remoulade), sushi and edamame croque-en-bouche (small potato shell bites filled with edamame). Diners can sit at small tables or a large communal table. The atmosphere is both trendy and comfortable.

While the restaurant does not use red meat or dairy, it is not kosher and, in the macrobiotic tradition, serves both fish and shellfish.

However, Gross gave me a few recipes that can be prepared in a kosher kitchen.
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Both Newman and Gross describe M Café de Chaya as “eco-kashrut” for “down-to-earth Judaism.” They both add that there need to be more health-conscious elements to kosher cuisine than just not mixing meat and milk and avoiding pork and shellfish.

Wild Scottish smoked salmon Benedict with soy Hollandaise

Recipe by Lee Gross, adapted by

Do Day School Health Programs Make the Grade?


Twenty parents from the Emek Hebrew Academy in Valley Village have come on a chilly winter evening to hear Dr. Francine Kaufman, a national expert on diabetes and childhood obesity, talk about promoting children’s health. Although the school has 455 families, Rabbi Sholom Strajcher, the school’s dean, is not discouraged by the modest turnout.

“We have to change the culture…. It’s a challenge,” he said.

Strajcher (pronounced Striker) tells the group he’s been overweight since childhood.

“When I was growing up, no doctor or teacher ever mentioned my weight,” he said. “I am reaping the result of all those years.”

He is not alone. In fact, Strajcher’s students are even more likely to struggle with weight issues. According to the Institute of Medicine, an agency under the National Academy of Sciences, more than 9 million U.S. children above the age of 6 are considered overweight or obese. The litany of health consequences associated with obesity — diabetes, cancer and heart disease, to name a few — might result in today’s children becoming the first generation in American history with a lower life expectancy than their parents. For children born in 2000, their lifetime risk of developing diabetes exceeds 30 percent.

Many can name factors contributing to these alarming trends: An increase in sedentary activities, such as television and computers; greater demand for convenience foods; advertisements targeting kids with high-fat foods, and an environment that discourage walking and physical activity. Given the breadth of the problem, solutions require action on all levels of society — from government and business to schools and families. Jewish day schools, which may not see their role in the equation, have been slow to address these concerns.

But some have begun to take action.

Let’s Get Physical

At Jewish day schools, the demands of a dual curriculum coupled with limited outdoor space can cause physical education to take a back seat. This is decidedly not the case at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Day School. When Head of School Sheva Locke joined the Encino school four years ago, one of her first priorities was instituting an athletic program. The school now employs an athletic director and two full-time coaches who supervise physical education classes and activities at recess and lunch.

The athletic department also runs an extensive after-school team sports program. Kindergarteners through third-graders can join in a Junior Sports Club, while fourth- through sixth-graders can participate in competitive sports, including basketball, soccer, football and volleyball — and 98 percent of them do. The teams compete in the San Fernando Valley Private School League. VBS provides transportation to off-site games to make participation easier on parents and children.

“The focus was on getting as many children as possible to participate and to play,” Locke said. “The problem solving and goal setting that goes along with having a physical fitness program is equally as important.”

During the school day itself, VBS provides physical education twice a week, a figure fairly standard in the day school world. For students who don’t participate in after-school physical activities, that amount is woefully inadequate, according to physician Fran Kaufman, professor of pediatrics at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles.”

“Kids should be active for 60 minutes each day,” she said.

The state of California requires that children in first through sixth grade have a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education time per 10 days of school, which averages 20 minutes per day. In seventh through 12th grade, the time requirement doubles. (According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, 51 percent of school districts reviewed failed to meet the state’s minimum requirement for physical education time.)

Those numbers fall far short of the 60 minutes daily recommended by Kaufman and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And as Emek’s Strajcher points out, not all of that time involves being active.

“Even when kids are supposedly playing, how much of that time is spent waiting for a turn?” he asks.

At Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood, instructor Alan Rosen has designed a unique program where lessons on character and values are integrated into physical education. On the play area used by the elementary school students, circles painted on the blacktop list such values as responsibility, humility, effort and cooperation. The words are incorporated into songs and games, and are referred to in the course of regular physical activities.

“If it’s important, you find the time,” said Maimonides’ principal, Rabbi Karmi Gross. “Physical activity doesn’t have to be divorced from what else is being done.”

By the Book

Inside the classroom, the content and amount of wellness-related curriculum varies from school to school. An informal survey taken by the Bureau of Jewish Education of Los Angeles on nutrition education garnered responses from only 10 schools out of more than 30. Of those, half had no “formal” nutrition curriculum, and relied primarily on teacher-generated materials.

Because health is not a subject for which the state requires standardized testing, public school districts vary in the degree of emphasis they give the topic. Los Angeles Unified School District specifies knowledge and abilities that students are expected to master in grades four, seven, and high school.

In both public and private schools, a dedicated health class is generally taught in middle school. Seventh graders at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge take a health and life sciences class that focuses on the physiology and biology of the human body. An eighth-grade nutrition unit includes a screening of the school version of “Super Size Me,” in which the filmmaker traced his odyssey eating McDonald’s fare exclusively three times a day for one month, and how his body suffered as a result.

“We talk about individual choices and about society, and we discuss where responsibility lies,” said science teacher Liz Wenger. “We look at how society is changing the way we eat, such as not eating at home as much, and eating larger quantities and higher fat foods.”

The students calculate their own caloric intake and use a calorimeter to measure the amount of food energy in various foods. They also build pumps to replicate the heart and use stoppers to illustrate cholesterol build-up.

VBS employs a full-time nurse whose duties include teaching health-related lessons to all grade levels. At Milken Community High School, ninth graders take a class, designed with input from a health educator and a rabbi, which explores physical, social and emotional health as well as sexuality and tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse.

Ess, Ess Mein Kind

Learning about nutrition doesn’t necessarily translate into action. Most of the schools interviewed expressed concerns about the food they provided to students, not only through formal meal programs, but also informal means such as class parties or incentives.

Eating can be an emotionally charged issue given its integral role in Jewish practice. The ubiquity of food is illustrated in the oft-repeated definition of Jewish holidays:

They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

“Every time we celebrate, we celebrate with food — and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Emek’s Strajcher. The question is what kind of food and how much. He said that traditionally, when students began to learn the aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet) in school, the rebbe would put a drop of honey on each letter so that the children would associate learning with sweetness. Even in the synagogue itself, congregants throw candy for auf-rufs (engagements), bar mitzvahs and other celebrations.

Some parents are troubled by the amount of sugary snacks given to their children.

Kaufman noted that packaged kosher snacks can be some of the worst offenders in terms of saturated fat content.

Last year, Emek parents formed a committee and worked with the school’s caterer and a nutritionist to improve the healthfulness of school lunches. Parent Amy Leibowitz, who spearheaded the committee, said it was a challenge to satisfy nutritional, budgetary and kashrut considerations simultaneously. The results included adding fruit and salad, subtracting dessert, serving foods that are baked instead of fried, serving leaner, lower-salt meat, and making water available at mealtimes. She said that classes now celebrate all the month’s birthdays at one time to limit the influx of sugary treats.

Maimonides also revised its lunch program, and modified the practice of using food as an incentive. Instead of giving Israeli chocolates as rewards, principal Gross now gives Israeli postcards.

“We’re not yet where we want to be,” he said. “But we’ll eventually get there.”
Vending machine soft drink sales — a tempting source of revenue for some schools — will likely decline due to a decision announced in May by the nation’s largest beverage distributors to discontinue selling beverages with more than 100 calories to schools. It is estimated that the practice will affect 87 percent of the public and private school market.

As schools grapple with decisions regarding food policies, Emek’s Strajcher says that they can look to Judaism for a model of dietary self control.

“Kashrut [shows us that] when it comes to food, there has to be a certain discipline,” he said.

And as Eileen Horowitz, principal at Temple Israel of Hollywood, noted, “The [mission] for a Jewish school is teaching how to make good choices. That applies to how we talk to a neighbor as well as what we put in our mouth.”

Just Do It

Some administrators cited the challenge of fitting in adequate time for physical activity and comprehensive health education on top of an already full dual curriculum.

“There’s tremendous pressure for time,” acknowledged Dr. Roxie Esterle, Heschel’s associate head of school. “It’s a very full day and it gets fuller and fuller,” she said, mentioning computers and technology as examples.

Secular schools also struggle with these issues. A recently released national report found that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was threatening physical education time because subjects that are not tested — including physical education — receive lower priority. In Los Angeles, 68 percent of high school students failed to meet recommended levels of physical activity according to a 2005 study by the CDC.

Yet, practicality dictates that schools take action on this issue: The California Department of Education states that healthy, active and well-nourished children are more likely to attend school and are more prepared and motivated to learn. The 2006 Shape of the Nation Report, issued jointly by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association, recommends that schools across the country “make physical education instruction the cornerstone of a comprehensive school physical activity program that also includes health education, elementary school recess, after-school physical activity clubs and intramurals, high school interscholastic athletics, walk/bike to school programs and staff wellness programs.”

Given that Judaism mandates the care of our bodies, Jewish day schools have an imperative to address these issues.

“If you’re not healthy, it’s hard to serve God with fullness,” Strajcher said. “Your soul can only do what it needs to do when your physical self is intact.”
He hopes to spare his students from facing the weight issues that have plagued him since childhood, and from the dire consequences which may result.

“If this is preventable and we can do something about it, it’s our obligation to do so,” he said.

Health Report Card for Schools

To determine how well your school promotes wellness, here are some questions to ask:

  1. How much physical education time is allotted?

  2. Is the physical education instructor certified?
  3. Are children actively engaged during physical education and recess?
  4. Does the school offer after-school activities or team sports?
  5. Do health lessons address nutrition and physical activity?
  6. What is the content of school lunches, and who determines this?
  7. Are fresh fruits and vegetables offered daily?
  8. Does the school have a policy on desserts and snacks?
  9. Is there a vending machine on campus? What does it offer?

Visit to Ethiopia Changes His Life


In 2004, John Fishel went to Ethiopia as part of a delegation of American Federation leaders. The experience changed his life.

The president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, along with five members of the UJA Federation of New York, visited shantytowns filled with Ethiopians waiting in squalor for the chance to make aliyah — to immigrate to Israel.

Fishel and the delegation saw families living in one-room, windowless huts without electricity or running water, and, if lucky, eating one meal a day. Looking at the desperate faces of the Falash Mura — Ethiopians who have ties to Jews either through relatives or their own ancestry — Fishel vowed that he would do something.

Africa has long captivated Fishel, who has a degree from the University of Michigan in anthropology. He had visited about 20 African countries, including Nigeria, Liberia and Senegal. However, nothing made as indelible impression on him as that first mission to Ethiopia, which tapped into Fishel’s commitment to Jewish people worldwide.

After that trip, the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella organization representing 156 federations and 400 independent Jewish organizations across North America, asked Fishel to co-chair a task force to suggest ways federations could help the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Falash Mura remaining in Ethiopia. Among the group’s recommendations: The UJC should lobby for the acceleration of aliyah and improve health care and other services for the Ethiopian Jews as they wait to immigrate to Israel.

It was partly at Fishel’s instigation that the UJC recently launched Operation Promise, an ambitious campaign that hopes to raise $160 million over the next three years, with $100 million for Ethiopia and $60 million to help Jews in the former Soviet Union. The L.A. Federation has pledged to raise $8.5 million for the campaign over the next three years.

“John has given real leadership to the issue of Ethiopian Jewry,” said Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, who earlier this year went to Ethiopia with Fishel and 100 American Jewish federation members. “He’s always been the first one to speak up and stir the conscience of the federation movement.”

On that trip, Fishel’s second to Ethiopia, the federation contingent accompanied nearly 150 Jewish Ethiopian olim, or immigrants, as they made the emotional journey by plane from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to Ben Gurion Airport in Israel.

“John is a very compassionate person and was very moved by what he saw,” said Susan Stern, a fellow mission participant and chairman of the board of the UJA Federation of New York.

Fishel intends to stir other consciences as well. At every opportunity, he said, he has brought the issue of Ethiopian Jewry to the attention of Israeli leaders, from midlevel bureaucrats to prime ministers, including Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

“I see Jewish issues as global in scope,” Fishel said. “I think Jews are all responsible for one another, whether in Ethiopia or Russia or Argentina or in the Jewish state.”–MB

 

PASSOVER: Don’t Be a Slave to Tradition


When I was growing up, I never had to ask my mother what she would be serving at the seder. It was essentially the same menu every year: dishes like homemade chopped liver, chicken soup with matzah balls, turkey with gravy, mom’s special “Shabbos potatoes” (first boiled then roasted with seasonings) and matzah farfel with mushrooms. All tasty foods, of course, but the predictability was not that exciting, to put it mildly, in deference to my mother, who surely worked hard.

Why is this night the same as every other seder night? I’d ask. “Because that’s what my mother made,” she’d reply.

As she talked about the seders she’d had with her parents and grandparents, her face glowed, as if they were there preparing the seder with her. She even used my grandmother’s cooking methods: She chopped the liver by hand, in a large wooden bowl, using a hockmesser — a sort of cleaver with a rounded blade. She cut up fresh horseradish for maror, instead of using milder romaine lettuce.

Here was my dilemma when I came of age and began making my own seders: Should I maintain tradition even though I didn’t have the same associations with these foods that my mother did? Since Passover celebrates freedom (another traditional name for the holiday is Zman Cheiruteinu, or The Time of Our Freedom), I wanted to express my freedom by making foods of my own choosing, rather than feeling bound by a menu that was “traditional” only due to its roots in Eastern European cuisine.

Over the years I’ve served at some nontraditional dishes at seders, including beanless chili, gazpacho, short ribs and bruschetta served on small pieces of matzah instead of the traditional toast. But my favorite dishes are those that tap back into the deep roots of this holiday. They allow me to create new traditions via foods that took on Passover-related significance.

Another name for the holiday is chag ha’aviv, or the spring holiday. So I focus on foods that are seasonal, whose flavors evoke the freshness of spring. Other dishes aim at connecting with the many ceremonies associated with Passover.

Ceviche is a fish dish of Peruvian origin, now served widely across South America. The fish is marinated in lime or lemon juice, with the citric acid actually cooking the fish without the use of heat. In this version, the two different kinds of fish present a nice mix of color and texture, while the vegetables also add color and flavor. The tangy freshness of this blend awakens the palate, as spring weather does to the body.

While Sephardim have it a bit easier on Passover, Ashkenazim have basically two starches to choose from: potatoes and matzah. Nearly every other starch falls under the category of kitniot, which are literally legumes, but include rice and corn, and are forbidden to Eastern European Jews.

There is, however, another choice that offers variety, along with taste and healthfulness. Quinoa. The grain was never classified as kitniot because it was unknown in Europe at the time the custom was established. It has a vaguely nutty taste, is extremely high in protein and low in carbohydrates. In this recipe, the lemon juice picks up on the ceviche’s citrus, and the dish is prepared almost like tabouli. But the key ingredient is certainly the fresh mint, which adds a perky crispness that clearly recalls spring.

A great centerpiece dish is lamb and Jerusalem artichoke stew. Lamb has particular Passover significance, connecting with the paschal lamb offering both in Egypt, and later in the Temple. And although Jerusalem artichokes are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes (they are actually sunflower tubers with an artichoke-like flavor), the name still reminds us of our annual seder proclamation to celebrate “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Plus, they are fresh in season during March and April, as are many of the wild mushrooms in this hearty stew.

Of course, there are many other dishes that can tap into the seasonal and customary aspects of Passover. Express your freedom by cooking almost anything you’d typically make for a Sabbath meal, just leaving out certain ingredients!

Two-Fish Ceviche

1 1/4 pound tuna steak
1 1/4 pound firm white fish (tilapia, trout or sea bass work great)
2 medium jalapenos, seeds and membranes removed, diced
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
juice of five to 10 limes
lemon juice
1 avocado, sliced

Remove any skin from fish, using a sharp paring knife. Cut tuna into cubes about 1-inch wide. Slice white fish into strips, about 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inches.

In a glass or plastic bowl, mix fish with jalapenos, cilantro and lime. Add juice of limes. If limes did not yield enough juice to cover all fish, add enough lemon juice to cover.

Refrigerate, covered, for 90 minutes to two hours, stirring mixture every 15-20 minutes.

Serve in small bowls or cups. Garnish each with a half-moon of avocado.

Serves eight.

Note: If made earlier in the day, remove most of the juice after two hours (or once all fish has darkened in color) to avoid over-marinating.

Quinoa Pilaf With Fresh Mint

2 cups raw quinoa (available in specialty markets)
4 cups water
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 scallions, diced
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Mix quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce flame and simmer covered for 15 minutes, or until most of the water has been absorbed.

Remove quinoa to a large bowl and let cool.

Add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve at room temperature.

Serves eight.

Lamb and Jerusalem Artichoke Stew

2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups dry light red wine (Chianti or Cote-du-Rhone, for example)
2 cups water
1 1/2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes, peeled, larger ones chopped to uniform size with smaller ones (available in specialty markets, sometimes sold as “sunchokes”)
2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms, chopped thick (cremini or shitake, for example)
2 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 carrots, chopped large
2 small turnips, chopped large
2 white or golden potatoes, chopped large
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme
salt
pepper

In a Dutch oven, brown lamb in 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, approximately five minutes. Add Jerusalem artichokes, wine and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and skim any excess fat from the top of the pot.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add brown mushrooms, stirring, approximately five minutes. Remove to bowl. Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, sweet onions and garlic for about three minutes. Add to mushrooms.

Add carrots, turnips and potatoes to lamb pot. Stir to cover vegetables, and cook for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are softened.

Add mushroom mixture, bay leaves and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook uncovered until liquid reduces by about one-third, then continue covered, 45 minutes to an hour in total.

Remove thyme and bay leaves, and serve on plates.

Serves eight.

Joel Haber (funjoel.blogspot.com) is a freelance writer and screenwriting consultant. He loves to cook because he loves to eat.

PASSOVER: Try to Avoid Asking the Fifth Question


While there are only four questions posed in the haggadah, most seders struggle with the unasked fifth question, “When are we going to eat?” It is asked, not only by hungry children, but also by adults who feel disconnected to the rituals of their ancestors. As if reenacting the hurried way in which the Israelites left Egypt with Pharaoh’s army bearing down upon them, families today rush through the seder. While they are supposed to be reenacting the Exodus through the rituals of the haggadah, instead, unbeknownst to them, they emphasize the hurried nature of the experience. Whether due to hunger or boredom, Jewish families are fast-forwarding to the food and neglecting the command to “see themselves as if they left Egypt.”

I remember my own childhood seders, when eating prior to the motzee (blessing) over the matzah was strictly forbidden. How could a 7-year-old sit for an hour or more in a seder that was largely done by rote and in Hebrew? I was able to remain focused only because I was mesmerized by my zayde (and slightly terrified by the glare he would give if any of his grandchildren got out of order). If I would dare reach for a carrot or any other food item on the table, an adult hand, like one of the Divine plagues unleashed against the Egyptians, would quickly respond with a light slap on my hand. My family did not know about the rabbinic rule stipulating that after reciting the blessing over the karpas (parsley or any green) at the beginning of the seder that any food grown from the ground may be eaten. With great wisdom the ancient rabbis created this rule in order to avoid the fifth question. Therefore, at our seders today we put carrots and celery on the table for people to eat after the parsley.

Once the question of hunger has been resolved, then the issue of boredom can be addressed. Abbreviating the haggadah is fine, if relevance is found in other ways. Ask your own questions, like “Why is it important to remember the Exodus?” and “When do we feel enslaved in our own lives?” as a means of making the seder relevant. Why are questions so important? Because they reflect interest and concern. We ask questions when we care about things. To make the seder relevant, we must ask our own questions and let the answers (there should be no singular answer) give us new meaning.

Reducing the need for the dreaded fifth question beforehand makes us more relaxed until it’s time for the bountiful food, family inside jokes and the rest of a warm and celebratory evening. The seder guests become sated, coffee is served, conversation is plentiful until the announcement, “It is time for the second half of the seder.” During my childhood seders, we never had to make the announcement, because at some point after the meal my uncle would walk a couple of steps over to the couch and take a nap. Some time later (I have no idea whether it was 15 minutes or an hour) when he would wake up, we all knew it was time for the second half of the seder.

Through classes and discussion groups I have discovered that many families do not complete the seder. “Is there really a second half to the seder?” I am asked. But how is this possible? Without the second half, there are only two cups of wine, no afikomen and no opening of the door for Elijah. Without the second half of the seder, there is no completion — there is no hope. So how can families fulfill these second-half rituals? Don’t serve dessert until the very end.

I want to preface this suggestion with an acknowledgement that it is contrary to the traditional Jewish law to eat dessert after partaking of the afikomen. But for families who do not usually complete the rituals of the seder, I would rather they embrace my suggestion. It has become clear to me that most seders fall apart over coffee and cake. Just as the national anthem indicates for many people the beginning of a ball game, dessert means that it is time to go home. With the coffee cup empty and only crumbs remaining on the dessert plate, people begin to think about the next day.

Excuses begin to be offered: “The children need to wake up for school tomorrow” (I would love for children to tell their parents that Passover should be a day off from school), “I have a busy day tomorrow.” Before the haggadot can be brought out again, coats are on, lips are puckered and another Exodus begins. Therefore, finish the meal, clean up some of the plates and then just as they are expecting dessert, bring out the haggadot again. Be gentle with them the first time — perhaps only 15 minutes. But you can do enough in 15 minutes; eat the afikomen, open the door and welcome Elijah, drink two more cups of wine and even sing a couple of songs at the end of the seder. Finally, bring out the coffee and dessert and enjoy the end of an evening that is no longer rushed. Who knows, perhaps they will enjoy the second half so much that, within a couple of years, dessert can be put back in its proper place.

One of my favorite rituals actually occurs during the second half of the seder. Unbeknownst to many Jews, the Cup of Elijah is supposed to remain empty until the fourth cup of wine (see your haggadah). Rather than just pouring wine from the bottle for the Cup of Elijah, it is our custom to pass the Cup of Elijah around the table and each participant pours some wine from their cup into Elijah’s. We open the door each year at Passover with the hope the Elijah will come to announce the coming of a messianic era, a time when wars will cease, hunger will be nonexistent and peace will reign. But we are partners with God in creating this perfect world. So this year, pass around the Cup of Elijah, ask each person to pour a little bit from their cup and as they do, to think about how they will help to bring about the messianic era. What acts of kindness will they perform, how will they save the environment and in what ways will they contribute to the betterment of humanity? How do we acknowledge and thank God for the blessings of life? By engaging in tikkun olam — the perfecting of His world. The full Cup of Elijah represents the Divine-human partnership and serves as a reminder of what ultimately the Exodus should mean to us.

What should be the goal of your Passover seder this year? Make it more meaningful than last year. Ask more questions to show that you care. Challenge more people to reflect on the lessons of the Exodus. Help expedite the coming of Elijah. When your seder is more than just a rushed meal you can truly feel as if you were redeemed from Egypt.

Rabbi Stewart L. Vogel is spiritual leader of Temple Aliyah.

 

PASSOVER FOOD: Treats to Leaven Desire for Dessert


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alice’s Apricot Torte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes one 10-inch torte.

Passover Powdered Sugar

1 tablespoon Passover potato starch
1 cup sugar

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

Makes about 1 cup.

Passover Fruit Cake

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

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

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

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

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

Cocoa-Pecan Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes about two- or three-dozen cookies.

Rocky Road Clusters

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

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

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

Makes about 24.

 

Just One Shabbat


“Just one Shabbos and we’ll all be free,” religious rocker Mordechai Ben David sang back in the 1980s. Well, for the last decade, one Jewish organization has tried to get people to experience Shabbat at least once a year. The National Jewish Outreach Project (NJOP) on March 3 celebrates its 10th anniversary of Shabbat Across America, where more than 650 synagogues of all denominations will host Friday night services and a traditional Shabbat meal around the country.

“Shabbat Across America/Canada allows Jews — many of whom have never enjoyed any Sabbath experience — to come together to get a real feel for one of the Jewish tradition’s greatest treasures,” said Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, founder and director of NJOP.

Buchwald founded NJOP in 1987 to address issues of assimilation and lack of Jewish knowledge. NJOP also provides classes and programs as well as Shabbat Across America, which some 850,000 people have attended over the years.

For the 10th anniversary dinner, held at locations around Los Angeles and the Valley, the organization has produced “Gourmet Shabbat: Recipe for a Friday Night Experience,” a 32-page color booklet that includes an explanation of rituals, prayers and 10 recipes from top chefs around the country. Wolfgang Puck chimes in with gefilte fish, Jean-Georges Vongerichten with brisket, Sara Moulton with Grated Carrot Salad. The booklet — a takeaway gift to all participants and also available online — is meant to provide Shabbat newbies a recipe for a traditional meal.

“Shabbat is not merely a series of gourmet meals,” Buchwald said. “Shabbat is an environment of light, peace, domestic tranquility and song. But most of all, an environment of sanctity.”

The following synagogues are hosting NJOP in Los Angeles:

•Adat Shalom, 3030 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 475-4985

•Temple Bet T’shuvah, 8831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 204-5200

•Helkeinu Foundation (310) 785-0440

•Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, 9350 Civic Center Drive, Beverly Hills (310) 203-0170

•Chabad of Burbank, 1921 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank (818) 954-0070

•Pacific Jewish Center, 505 Oceanfront Walk, Venice (310) 392-8749

•Temple Mishkon Tephilo, 201 Hampton Drive and 206 Main St., Venice (310) 392-3029

•Maohr Torah, 1537 Franklin St., Santa Monica (310) 657-5500

•Temple Sinai, 1212 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale (818) 246-8101

•Temple Beth Hillel, 12326 Riverside Drive, Valley Village (818) 763-9148

•Beth Shir Sholom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica (310) 453-3361

•Congregation Tifereth Jacob, 1829 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach (310) 546-3667

•Makom Ohr Shalom, 5619 Lindley Ave., Tarzana (818) 725-7600

•Jewish Home for the Aging, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda (818) 774-3018

For more information, visit NJOP.org

 

Fit L.A. – The Birthday Party Crasher: Dr. Atkins


Over the past few months, I have relished the apparent collapse of the low-carb industry. Low-carb specialty stores and magazines arrived with much fanfare but soon crumbled like a tired soufflé.

Good riddance to them, I thought — especially the magazine that tried to bilk me after I wrote an article for them. Low-carbism was just another sorry scheme to part consumers from their hard-earned bucks and their bagels.

And who could afford the stuff? I tried an insanely expensive low-carb pasta once. It was heavy, gummy and tasteless — and those were its finer qualities.

But I realized my satisfaction was premature, when I was confronted with the ghost of Dr. Atkins. She was draped in a Size 2 dress and toting a sorry slice of flourless bread between scrawny fingers.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. I was happily toting a batch of homemade bread and a broccoli quiche to a pot-luck birthday party, eager for some good fun and good eats. But I had barely crossed the threshold, when Sandy, the hostess and erstwhile birthday girl, announced that she had lost another 10 pounds on the Atkins plan.

Sandy had always been as slim as an asparagus spear. Why she felt compelled to whittle down to as thin as a blade of wheat grass was beyond me. And telling me bordered on the cruel. I forced a smile at her “achievement” as I placed my culinary contributions on the table.

“Mmmm, smells good,” Sandy said, leaning over to inhale the bread.

If she were still Atkinizing herself, could I blame her for wanting a little inhalation therapy of a wheat product?

“This is home baked, isn’t it?” I detected a plaintive quality to her question.

“Yes, and I made the broccoli quiche, too.”

Hope returned to her voice: “Is it crustless?”

“Uh, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were still no-carbing it.”

“I’m not no-carbing it; I’m low-carbing it,” she clarified.

“But Sandy, it’s your birthday, for crying out loud. Can’t you allow yourself a measly 50 or 60 carbs today? I mean, look at you. When you turn sideways you disappear.”

Sandy was saved from answering by a knock at the door. Linda and Rachel had arrived, the heavenly aroma of something Italian wafting in after them.

Soon, all the guests had settled around the table. I sliced my bread and passed the basket around. Sandy immediately passed the basket to Linda. Meanwhile, I saw her stealthily uncover a very dark, very thin slice of bread filled with sprouty-looking things from under her napkin.

“What is that?” Linda asked.

It appeared to have been made from at least 40 percent recycled paper products.

“It’s flourless protein bread,” Sandy explained. It was called Ezekiel 4.9, “as described in the Holy Bible,” according to the package, made from lentils, barley and spelt, whatever that was.

Just what we all needed: a “friend” seemingly bent on becoming skinnier than Lindsay Lohan and a loaf of bread that quoted scripture. Sandy offered us all a piece, and we each took polite little bites.

“Who says there’s no truth in advertising?” I asked. “This actually tastes biblical.”

“I thought the Atkins thing was over,” Linda chimed in helpfully, washing down her Ezekiel 4.9 with an eight-ounce cup of H2O.

“Not for me,” Sandy said. “I’m almost at my high school cheerleading weight, which is my goal. You may think it’s silly,” she admitted, ejecting a carrot curl from her salad as if it carried the avian flu.

Rachel was busily serving up a nice portion of the broccoli quiche and some low-fat manicotti: “My sister-in-law is going one better than you, Sandy. She’s only eating raw foods.”

“That sounds exhausting,” I said. “Who has that much time to chew?”

“She says it makes her feel light,” Rachel answered.

“If I want to feel that light, I’ll float in the Dead Sea,” I said.

Was I sounding a tad snarky? I couldn’t help it. I had been looking forward to this birthday party, and the guest of honor was ruining it for me. If only Sandy had warned us all in advance, we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble and prepared a meal that she could have eaten without picking out half the ingredients, such as a plate of cheese slices and broiled zucchini. Rachel had made her famous Big Fat Greek Salad, but I was distracted by the sight of Sandy making a little hill of the croutons and shunting aside all the tomatoes, as well. What a waste of all that Vitamin C.

I didn’t say so at the time, but it didn’t seem to me that Dr. Atkins’ dietary brainstorm helped him very much, either. After all, he died after taking a fall. Seems to me that if he had had a little more padding on him, he probably could have just gotten up, dusted himself off and went on his merry way.

Of course, the Atkins people like to keep this quiet, but I also heard his cholesterol was higher than the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Despite all his efforts, you still never hear anybody say, “That’s the greatest thing since sliced celery.”

Inevitably, dessert time arrived. We all sang “Happy Birthday” to Sandy, but I wasn’t feeling so happy anymore. The unspoken pressure during lunch had made me peel off the pasta from the manicotti, and even I was reduced to foregoing the croutons on the Greek salad. It’s amazing how fast mass hysteria can spread.

Rachel served her luscious carrot cake, and Sandy blew out the candles before eating a piece. But no matter how long she sat there, no way could Sandy pick out all the microscopic pieces of carrot from a slab of carrot cake.

However, it all worked out in the end. While the rest of us ate the actual cake, we scraped off the cream cheese frosting and gave it to Sandy.

Judy Gruen (www.judygruen.com) is the author of two award-winning humor books, including “Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout” (Champion, 2002).

 

How to make a seder child’s play


For parents of squirmy kids, a Passover seder can seem longer than the 40 years our ancestors spent wandering through the desert. Fortunately, all it takes is a little forethought and creativity to keep the younger set from getting as jumpy as the frogs in Pharaoh’s bed at the big event. The following suggestions should help you plan a family-friendly Seder that promises to hold the attention of all kinds of kids — wise, wicked, simple and those just plain unable to ask.

Set the Stage
You’ll immediately pull children into the exodus experience by adding scenery to the seder. Drape sheets across the ceiling to give the table a tent-like feel, or pitch a freestanding Bedouin abode in the corner. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, ask guests to sport full Israelite attire. It’s amazing what can be done with some sheets, robes, pillowcases and towels.

Not Quite Ready for Primetime Seders
Set an early seder start time, thus keeping the evil Pharaohs lurking within your kids at bay a bit longer.

It’s in the Bag
Hand out goodie bags at the door to your most wiggly guests. Include Passover stickers, mini-books and kosher-for-Passover candies.

Open a Mini-Matzah Factory
Dig up a matzah recipe on the Internet and let kids have a go at baking the afikomen. The dry crumbly results may not be Manischevitz material, but they’ll leave your pint-sized bakers feeling more a part of Passover, and the extra dough can keep little hands occupied during the seder.

Serve Up Some Plagues
Scatter plastic frogs, beasts and insects (locusts) and other plague-related knick-knacks around the table.

Recline in Style
Help kids use fabric paint to decorate plain pillowcases with Passover related art. Since reclining is the name of the game during the seder, these meaningful creations will be put to good use.

Stretch the Festive Meal
Grumbling tummies are prime perpetrators of seder-night meltdowns. By serving the matzah ball soup upon arrival and offering up platters of carrot and celery sticks as karpas, you can squelch pre-festive meal kvetching faster than your kids can say, “Let my people go!”

Who Wants to be a Matzahnaire?
Passover is all about asking questions, but the big four are only the beginning. Keep kids excited and involved with the seder by intermittently morphing into a game show host. Be sure to award correct answers to holiday-themed questions with special Passover prizes.

Give a Taste of Slavery
Just as little heads are beginning to nod off, “discover” an envelope addressed to all the children at your seder table containing a letter from the Pharoh himself. Read the edict — commanding all children to begin building pyramids, immediately — aloud; pull out the blocks you stored under the table prior to the seder and let the enslavement begin.

Try a Change of Venue
Whether everyone moves to the living room to sing Passover songs or takes a walk outside to the pool to send a baby Moses doll off in a basket, a field trip away from the table during the course of the seder works miracles.

Chop It Up
It’s much more fun to eat a Hillel sandwich when you helped in making the charoset and maror. In my family, making horseradish sauce is an annual pre-seder event complete with Shlomo Carlbach music. Since only those old enough to safely handle a knife are allowed to participate, the kids consider it a virtual rite of passage.

Put a Spotlight on Stories
The true purpose of the seder is to pass the story of Exodus down from one generation to the next. But why stop there? Ask a few of your senior guests to come prepared to share a true and entertaining tale about their lives. When kids start to stray, pass a play microphone to one of these individuals. Their tales are sure to turn little heads back toward the seder table.

Finally, keep in mind that keeping children occupied during a seder is liable to take far more effort than simply bribing squirmy kids with chocolate-covered macaroons or sticking them with a teenage baby sitter in the playroom for the night. By taking the time to orchestrate a kid-friendly seder, you significantly up the odds that your fidgety children will one day do the same for your fidgety grandchildren.

Don’t Get Plagued by Tricky Desserts


Many a great cook has been sent over the edge trying to produce some beautiful Passover baking. Any other time of the year their kitchens produce perfect pies, crunchy cookies and lovely cakes — but the Passover arrives and the kitchen becomes the enemy: cakes flop and the cookies crumble.
This year plan on easy desserts. After a huge meal (is there anybody out there that doesn’t have a huge seder meal?) why not serve coffee with some fresh fruit and an assortment of cookies.

Amoretti Cookies
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups ground almonds

Preheat oven to 300 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Using an electric mixer with a whip attachment beat the egg whites and salt until frothy. Add vanilla and continue beating on high.
As you beat the eggs, slowly add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the eggs are stiff and glossy.
With a spatula, fold in the almonds.
Use two spoons to drop heaping tablespoons of the mixture on the baking sheet.
Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until lightly golden. Cool.

Makes 16-20 cookies.

Chocolate Macaroons
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups coconut, shredded

Using an electric mixer, start beating the egg whites with the salt until frothy and very soft peaks form. Add the vanilla and continue beating on high.
Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, continuing to beat until the eggs are glossy and stiff peaks form. Add the cocoa and beat until incorporated.
Add the coconut and fold in.
Use two spoons to drop batter on a parchment lined baking sheet (they should be heaping tablespoons). Leave the macaroons on the counter for at least 30 minutes before baking.
Place in a preheated 325 F oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the macaroons are no longer glossy.
Remove from oven and cool.

Makes 18-20 cookies.

Pecan Cranberry Passover Biscotti
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups ground pecans
1 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder — (Passover)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup potato starch
1 3/4 cups cake meal
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to combine the eggs, oil, vanilla, sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest and mix on medium to combine well. (You can also use a wooden spoon and mix by hand.)
Turn the machine off and add the potato starch, cake meal and pecans. Turn the machine on low to combine and mix until all of the ingredients come together to form dough.
Add the cranberries and mix to evenly distribute throughout the dough.
Divide the dough in half and form into two logs, approximately 3 inches by 12 inches by 14 inches. If you find the dough too sticky, dust your hands with cake meal to work with the dough. Place the formed logs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place into a preheated 350 F oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes. The biscotti will crack and loose the shine it had when it first went into the oven. Let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F.
Carefully slice the logs into pieces, about 3/4 inches each. Arrange on a cookie sheet so that there is space between each cookie and return to the oven.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until dry.
Makes 20-24 cookies.

 

Let Your Tasteless Chicken Go


 

For many years, my daughter and I were lucky to be invited out for Passover. Besides joining a big group of people, and sampling a variety of Passover foods, I relished the added benefit of not having to plan, shop and cook for the daunting seder (first and second night) meals. Unfortunately, this also meant no leftovers, no matzah kugel in the refrigerator, no beef and vegetable tzimmes to reheat in the microwave or even charoset to sweeten the lone box of matzah sitting on my kitchen counter.

My daughter was just fine with this arrangement — except for matzah ball soup, she is not a fan of Passover fare. One year, she unintentionally lost weight by avoiding all matzah-related dishes, and living off hard-boiled eggs, fruit and cheese.

So, this year I asked myself how I could create a midweek Passover meal she would enjoy, but I could prepare easily with ingredients on hand, still keeping all bread, pasta and pizza out of sight for the required eight days.

The four questions in the haggadah, intended for the youngest person present to read aloud, begins with: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and continues with, “On all other nights we eat either leavened bread or unleavened (matzah); on this night why only unleavened bread?” And, “On all other nights we eat herbs of any kind; why on this night only bitter herbs?” These questions, posed by children but listened to by all, bring into focus the Passover food rituals and their significance.

Somehow, these not-so-easy changes in diet are meant to convey a story — of Jewish slavery in Egypt, of the bitter trials of oppression, the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews as they hurriedly fled their oppressors, and, finally, of the fruitful and brave adaptations leading toward freedom.

For my growing daughter and I, a delicious, moist, homemade chicken meal would be different from all other nights. Because on all other nights of the year, we buy our chicken—fried, roasted or baked—from the store. On all other nights, unless immersed quickly and safely into soup, my chicken ends up dry, undercooked, overcooked or tasteless.

Determined to prepare this simple Passover meal, all I needed to buy was potato starch to replace corn thickeners. The menu: Moist Baked Chicken, New Red Potatoes, Creamed Spinach and a One-Apple Charoset.

When I began the chicken recipe, I was filled with images of past failures and anxious about wasting pounds of poultry, let alone my time. But when we sat down to our colorful meal — with orange carrots, green spinach and seasoned red potatoes surrounding truly tasty chicken — watching my daughter eat two hearty portions made all my trepidation worthwhile. I even started talking about other scary chicken dishes I might attempt.

Like the Passover haggadah emphasizes, important changes do not come about without sacrifice, and often they begin by asking a question.

Moist Baked Chicken With New Potatoes
These are the chicken parts I had in the house, but you can use all legs or breast sections, whatever you prefer. The simple ingredients will deeply flavor and moisten each bite, and it is impossible to mess up.

2 1/4 pounds chicken legs (approximately three chickens)
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless thighs
1/4 cup margarine
7 gloves garlic, cut in half
8 new red potatoes, washed, cut in half
8 baby carrots, washed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 425 F.
In large roasting pan, melt margarine. Scatter garlic and carrots in melted margarine. Arrange chicken, skin side down, and potatoes skin side up, in roasting pan. Sprinkle, salt, pepper and paprika evenly over chicken and potatoes.
Bake 30 minutes. Turn the chicken and baste before baking 15-20 minutes more, or until chicken is fork tender.
Serves eight.

Creamed Spinach
I am not a fan of creamed vegetables. But for Passover, I found a version of this recipe in an old synagogue cookbook and decided a little creaminess during a holiday minus soft bread is a good thing.

1 pound chopped, frozen spinach, thawed
1 1/2 tablespoons margarine
1 glove garlic
1/2 small onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon potato starch

In a medium saucepan, sauté onion and garlic in margarine until the onion is tender. Remove garlic. In a small bowl, mix soy milk with potato starch. Stir in salt and pepper.
Over low heat, gradually add milk mixture to sautéed onions, stirring continually as sauce thickens. Stir in drained spinach, heat through and serve immediately.
Serves six.

One-Apple Charoset
This simple mixture reminds me of the one my mother serves. She uses raisins instead of dates. It would be fun to try different dried fruits and nuts, whatever you have in the house. You can double or triple this recipe as needed, but for a midweek matzah spread, this quantity is quick and perfect.

1 apple, peeled
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup crushed pecans
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
3 medjool dates, chopped small
1 tablespoon kosher-for-Passover red wine

Coarsely grate apple. In small bowl, mix apple and remaining ingredients until mixture is smooth and moist.
Serves four.

 

Hail to the Seder Chief


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I can just imagine my Orthodox grandparents worrying about making the seder come alive for their grandchildren. Grandma was too busy de-feathering chickens and grandpa taking care of business in his violin shop to think about how we might be kept happy at their seder table. Entertainment and seder would never have been uttered in the same sentence in their Bronx home behind the H. Bass Music store.

But I am different. I have the time and the energy to make our seder a swirling, interactive event for my four grandchildren. Why, they can even dip their little feet into my cellophane Red Sea as it parts on my living room floor.

And, to top it off, I am the maven of plague bags. When the kids were very little, the bags were little. The first years they were small, white paper bags with simple black lettering. Simple items went into them: frogs that I had made out of green paper, 99 Cent Store kid’s sunglasses for darkness, wrapping bubbles that popped like boils and small plastic cups colored with red markers to signify the blood.

No grandchild would ever sit tired and glassy eyed just waiting and praying for the meal. We would go through the entire hagaddah, but with enough diversions to allow them to stay ‘with us’ without having a grand melt down before the first course.

In 2003, I went big time. I bought small canvas bags for 99 cents each but then had them machine embroidered by my dressmaker friend Liz. Each child’s name was written in a different font and color. She attached ribbon fringe with multicolored beads to the bags. Creativity and hopes of keeping their attention and in the process teaching them the significance of the seder meal was my goal. And now, my friends were getting involved as well.

Last year, we had our bags, we had our green gummy frogs, we had our boils and our blood. When it came to talk about darkness, I turned out all the lights and each person at the table talked about what darkness meant to them. The kids said bedtime and a few of the adults joked about sex.

But everything seems to pale in comparison to my hail. Now, you have to understand that the previous years’ hail was quite adequate. Small rolled up pieces of silver foil did the trick and could be playfully tossed around the table. But, a few weeks before Passover, I had read in The New York Times about a grandfather (surely he did not own a violin-making store) who also tries to engage his young grandchildren at seder time. During the day, the article said, this man secretly and gently places minimarshmallows on top of the blades of his wooden ceiling fan. My eyes lit up. This would be a real crowd pleaser. When the fan was turned on, the little white pseudo-hail would fly around the room, just like the real thing as all would watch, wide-eyed.

I had a ceiling fan. I would buy the tiny puffs and we too would have our authentic San Fernando Valley hail. Surely the kids and the grown-ups would stand in awe of this my most fabulous creation to date.

Everyone followed me from the table as we marched to my computer room where the fan was silently waiting with its marshmallow topping. One of the kids turned on the fan and as predicted, the tiny white confections started flying. Up, down and on the ground. I waited, if not for deafening applause, at least oohs and ahs from my adoring fans.

Here is what really happened. They looked; some may have even thought, “Wow, that was great!” At least I hoped they did. But no one said much and if they did, it was lost in the shuffling of feet as they scurried back to the seder table.

The marshmallows. I was too tired to even think of cleaning them up that night or even asking for help. We did get a few up, but that was because they had stuck to the bottom of shoes and kept sticking us down as we walked.

The marshmallows a week later? Many still remained where the fan had dutifully blown them the night of our seder. Many more hardened where they lay but I learned to walk gingerly among them. As the days melted into weeks, they began to harden. A friend said, “If you leave them on the floor long enough, next year they will really feel like hail.” She was on to something. My ever creative mind clicked in and I answered:

“Yes, and the kids could wear woolen hats and mufflers and maybe even ski clothing.”

When I started to think about erecting a miniature ski lift next to the pool, I knew, that even for me, that would be going over the edge.

Maybe my grandparents back in the Bronx had the right idea after all.

Barbara Joan Grubman is a retired speech specialist and author of “Introduction to terrariums: A step-by-step guide” (Nash Pub, 1972) She lives in Woodland Hills.

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Blintzes, Cupcakes and Pasta — Oh My!


 

Back in the day, Passover meant meat, matzah and potatoes for eight days of the Passover. But in the last decade, the market for special kosher for Passover food has exploded, and manufacturers and supermarkets are providing a variety of products to almost make you forget it’s even Passover. (Unless otherwise stated, all products listed have been certified by the Orthodox Union [OU].)

The Pasta/Pizza Craving

Many people like to at least simulate foods that contain chametz (leavened goods that contain either wheat, oats, barley, rye or spelt), even if they’re not allowed to eat the real thing on Passover. So for those with a hankering for noodles, Passover noodles made from matzah-meal cake are available from Kedem with the Savion label, while Gefen and Flaum Appetizing also have noodles, but made from potato starch.

Frankel’s has produced frozen potato starch noodles but has also branched out this year with a whole array of kosher for Passover frozen foods including blintzes, waffles and the all-important pizza.

Also selling frozen pizza for the first time this year is Maccabee Pizza, whose product is made from potato starch. Dayenu is also jumping on the frozen food bandwagon with pierogies, pizza ravioli and pizzaroggies made with matzah meal.

In the blintz department, Kineret blintzes made from potato starch will be available, and King Kold of Chicago will be selling blintzes, matzah balls and potato pancakes under the Ratner’s label. All are matzah-meal based. In addition, King Kold has also introduced frozen potato kugel batter, potato pancake batter and matzah ball batter. And Dr. Praeger’s is producing both frozen potato and vegetable pancakes.

Matzah, Matzah, Matzah

While the standard Manischewitz matzah has always been available, the Orthodox Union (OU) this year has certified Aviv, Osem, Yehuda and Rishon matzahs from Israel as long as the OU-P symbol appears on them. Yanovsky matzah, which is baked in Argentina, is also being made available this year.

In addition to its traditional egg matzah, Manischewitz will also make available matzah ashira made from flour and grape juice — for those Ashkenazim who are not permitted to eat regular matzah, and for Sephardim who are allowed to eat kitniyot (legumes).

New on the shmura matzah list (handmade matzah) are those from Gefen, Rokeach and Mishpacha.

Kedem is introducing a new matzah product called Matzah Sticks under the Savion label.

And because Passover begins this year when Shabbat ends, for the first timeHadar manufacturers will be producing an egg matzah under the Star-K label, so that people will be able to eat them with their Shabbat meal, as challah will not be able to be eaten.

For the Munchies

Savion is introducing cupcakes and cookies made with matzah meal. VIP will have macaroons and cookies available as bulk items that contain no matzah meal. Manischewitz is introducing a new sugar-free biscotti and sugar-free macaroons, as well as sugar-free cookies made from matzah meal. Mishpacha is introducing macaroons and kichel made without matzah meal. And Yehuda Passover marble cake, honey cake and chocolate cake made from potato starch will be available from Israel with an OU-P. Gefen will have a line of cake mixes all made without matzah meal. Similarly, the Le Tova OU-P line of baking mixes made from potato starch will be available. Savion will be selling cake mixes and muffin mixes made with matzah meal. And this year Manischewitz is expanding its potato chip line to potato sticks and sweet potato chips.

Dairy Cravings

This year the OU-P will appear on various Cholov Yisroel dairy products. These include milk from Ahava with the Best Moo label as well as yogurt from Ahava with the Slim U label. A new OU company, Dairy Delight, will be selling sour cream and yogurt under the Norman’s label. In addition, Norman’s will also sell Cholov Yisroel ready to eat puddings with the OU-P label. Cholov Yisroel OU-P hard cheese will appear for the first time this year under both the Norman’s label and the Kirkeby label. The Kirkeby cheeses are imported from Europe and also carry the London Beth Din hechsher.

Something Fishy

Manischewitz’s Season line has introduced a number of new sardine items in various sauces for Pesach. Bumble Bee has made a large OU-P production of tuna under its own label. Aside from this, tuna is available with an OU-P from Rokeach, Gefen and Mishpacha. And Dr. Praeger’s has breaded fish fillets and fish sticks made without matzah meal.

The Real Thing

Coca-Cola will again be available with an OU-P for Pesach. Look for the distinctive yellow cap in addition to the OU-P symbol to ensure that the regular corn syrup has been replaced with sugar. The secret Coke recipe, however, has still not been disclosed.

 

Create Festive Table in a Blue Mood


 

Following are pointers on livening up your Chanukah table from “Kosher by Design” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah, 2003).

1. In the Beginning: Dress your dining table with a snazzy tablecloth. A gold one will glitter. Using narrow runners and/or yards of wide ribbons, preferably in shades of blue and gold, weave them under and above each other, creating a lattice effect.

2. Gifted Settings: Create place settings that look like Chanukah presents by using placemat-sized rectangles of Styrofoam (about 2-inches thick). Cover them with blue fabric. Straight pins will secure the fabric to the underside of rectangles. To simulate a bow, wrap gold tulle ribbon on a diagonal around two opposite corners of rectangles.

3. Box Appeal: Find boxes about 3-inches square. Cover boxes with Mylar foil wrapping paper. Tie a bow around them with gold ribbon. With two-sided tape, attach them to the upper left-hand corner of placemats.

4. Got the Gelt: In front of each placemat, situate a gold netted sack of Chanukah gelt. Write each guest’s name in gold ink on place cards. Then, with narrow gold ribbon, tie place cards to gelt sacks.

5. Twinkling Fantasy: Flood the center of the table with as many blue votive candleholders as you can find in every size and shape. Fill them with candles and light just before guests arrive.

6. Gaming Table: Scatter around dreidels in varying sizes and shapes, ones made from silver, gold, porcelain, plastic, wood — and anything blue. Antique dreidels are particularly decorative.

7. Blue Plate Special: Set the table with blue dishes, preferably ones that mix and match. Place a salad plate of one pattern over a dinner plate of another. Wal-Mart sells glass blue plates for $1.25 each.

8. Color Wave Silverware: Set the table with gold-plated flatware or stainless steel with blue plastic handles.

9. Crystal Collection: Buy glasses and wine goblets with blue striations or purchase glassware with a blue tint, found at stores such as Crate and Barrel.

10. Clear Water: Buy mineral water in blue bottles.

11. Fruit of the Vine: Buy wine in blue bottles.

12. Congratulations: You’ve created a show-stopping setting! Photograph your table for inspiration when planning your next holiday meal.

 

Two Views, One Abyss


There were three acts to the small luncheon held last Sunday in a private dining room at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The first act was the only pleasant one.

Ten Los Angeles Jews gathered at the invitation of philanthropists and activists Stanley Sheinbaum and Alan Gleitsman to share a meal and views with Syrian Minister of Expatriots Dr. Buthaina Shaaban, an adviser to President Bashir Assad, and Dr. Imad Moustapha, Syria’s acting ambassador to the United States, on what was their first official visit to Los Angeles.

The meeting was arranged at the initiative of Dr. Hazem Chehabi, a nuclear medicine specialist who also serves as Syria’s honorary consul general in Southern California. The doctor attended the lunch along with his wife and two aides. The idea was to have a frank, cordial and completely on-the-record interchange of views between two groups who rarely, if ever, interact: American Jews and Syrian Muslims.

The frank part turned out not to be a problem.

First came lunch, Act One. There was chitchat about Syrian Jews in Brooklyn, California politics, air travel. British Airways had mislaid the Syrian party’s luggage. The minister said it always does so, but she nevertheless adores British Airways. The Jews couldn’t fathom her loyalty. I sensed things could only go south from there.

The Jewish participants, along with Gleitsman and Sheinbaum, were Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Federation President John Fishel, Rabbi Gary Greenebaum of the American Jewish Committee, Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, Rabbi Kenneth Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple, Radio Sawa founder Norm Pattiz, Daniel Sokatch of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and myself.

Shaaban is an elegant and courteous woman who speaks, as does Ambassador Moustapha, fluent British-inflected English. Cooper mentioned that he had seen her frequently as a guest on BBC and CNN International, and that was her cue to begin Act Two, her analysis of the Mideast problem.

Immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, she said, her government joined the United States in its war against terror.

"We have also suffered from extremists," she said. As noted by various American officials, Syria cooperated with the United States in providing intelligence on terror networks. Moreover, she said, the Syrian government has always been a force for comprehensive Mideast peace, and it fully supports the Arab League proposal that recognizes Israel’s right to exist. But, she went on, American Mideast policy since those early, post-Sept. 11 days has been a slap in the face to Syrian sympathy and cooperation. The war in Iraq, coupled with the Bush administration’s unwavering support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has outraged Arabs throughout the world, and made it difficult for moderate and peace-loving voices like her own to be heard. Their actions, she said, weaken the voices of moderates like herself and others, and create a common feeling of inequity across the Arab world. She appealed to the group: "We moderates must support one another."

There was a moment of silence as the Jews around the table took in the minister’s words. I could sense in many of us the urge to blurt out "You can’t be serious" competed with the civility of the surroundings, and the general sense that one must be diplomatic around diplomats.

Then came Act Three.

It began when Gleitsman, a strong supporter of the Israeli left, asked the minister how her government’s pursuit of peace squared with its approval of the recent broadcast of a television series "Diaspora," which depicts an evil worldwide Jewish conspiracy. The minister said the series was broadcast from Lebanon and "was produced without our knowledge."

Hier then reached into a manila folder and pulled out a reproduction of the cover of a book, written by Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas, which depicts a gaggle of Der Sturmer-style Jews severing the head of an innocent Arab. The book, a "true" report on the infamous Damascus blood libel, was recently republished.

"Do you think it’s right to publish this book?" Hier asked.

The minister bristled.

"Israelis call Palestinians ants," she countered, and she cited the killing by Israeli troops of a 9-year-old Palestinian boy outside his home on the last day of Ramadan.

"Let us not go there," she said, having gone there, "it will not get us anywhere."

Hier said that Israelis want peace, and elected Sharon after Arab governments rejected the Oslo agreements and began a campaign of terror.

"The Arab governments elected Sharon," he said.

Arabs, said the minister, want to live in dignity.

"We are well aware of the problems of the Arab world," she said, but the West can’t solve them by underestimating or humiliating the Arabs. That is what Bush is doing in Iraq, and what Sharon is doing to the Palestinians, she added.

"For everything you say about Sharon," Hier said, "I will cite you something about Assad."

The Arab nations need another leader like the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, he said, who was not afraid to make peace.

"If Sadat made peace," said the minister, "we wouldn’t be here."

Pattiz jumped into the awkward silence that followed. He said his station, Radio Sawa, broadcasts pop music and independent news in order to strengthen the voices of moderation. The Syrian government won’t allow it to transmit from within the country, so it reaches Damascus via transmitters in Jordan. He invited the minister to appear on a new satellite Arabic television station he’s starting. She didn’t leap at the offer.

As for the Mideast conflict, Pattiz said, "My sense is if the radical factions put down their weapons there would be peace, but if Israelis put down their weapons, there would be no Israel."

With varying degrees of heat or diplomacy, Jews around the table pressed the Syrians on anti-Semitic images in Syrian media and educational materials ("We all have children and grandchildren," Fishel said, "you need to build forces of moderation."); on Syrian support for terror sponsors like Hamas and Islamic Jihad ("If the Arab world found a way to get rid of four terror organizations," Hier said, "60 days later you’d have a comprehensive peace treaty."); on why a campaign of terror followed Israeli peace-making attempts at Oslo ("It is hard to understand why that was a sensible peace-directed response," Chasen said.); and on democracy in the Arab world ("Say what you want about Sharon," Greenebaum said, "but this is a democratically elected government that can be brought down at any time.").

To which the minister responded, "I hope so."

Greenebaum accused the minister of not expressing enough sympathy for murdered Israeli children, a charge that seemed to both horrify and offend the minister and the other Syrians.

"I hate any child being killed or I would not be here," she said.

It would be wrong to give the impression that any charge or counter-charge went unanswered. The Syrians asserted their government’s position, dating back to the current leader’s father, that Israel is to blame for all the tension between Syria and the United States and that the only peace treaty Syria could support is one that includes Syria.

"As the West is lumping all Arabs and Muslims together, the Arabs are lumping all Westerners together," she said. "Our image is so bad and it is so undeserved."

When Greenebaum began to say what the root of the Mideast problem is, Hier jumped in, "It’s terrorism," and Shabeen interjected, "It’s the occupation."

The table fell silent. Because there it was: the gap. It was the Arab poverty of dignity confronting the Jewish wealth of insecurity. Behind the Jewish questions was a sense that compromise is a capitulation to terror, and behind the Syrian responses was a feeling that compromise only added to a sense of humiliation.

"What I take from this is that we have a long way to go," Greenebaum said three hours after the meal began. "The tendency is to be very clear in our own minds where the blame lies, and until we can look beyond that to the future, we are not able to have lunch, and we are not able to make peace."

Ease Out of the Yom Kippur Fast With Salmon and Potatoes


Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is a time when Jews are required to fast for 24 hours. At the end of this period, family and friends gather for the traditional break-the-fast meal.

This year at the conclusion of services our family and friends will arrive at our home at various times, since they are coming from synagogues that stretch from San Fernando Valley to West Los Angeles.

The transition from fasting to feasting should be a gradual one. Light, simple food is best. These two quick recipes are perfect for the holiday. Just add a few side dishes to complete the menu.

The first recipe is a dish I served a recent dinner, individual mini-potato salads topped with smoked salmon and garnished with a zesty mustard-dill sauce. Everyone enjoyed them so much, I decided to include them in our break-the-fast menu. The secret to this dish is that the potatoes are boiled for only eight minutes and they can be made in advance.

The second smoked salmon dish was inspired by a Swedish friend, Kerstin Marsh, a great cook, and she often serves this family specialty as a first course with sliced fresh cucumbers.

These two delicious dishes can be prepared ahead of time and chilled until ready to serve. It is comfort to return home from the synagogue and have the perfect dish ready for your guests.

Complete the break-the-fast meal with a fresh fruit salad and serve it with the traditional honey cake, my family’s favorite holiday dessert.

Smoked Salmon with Mini-Potato Salads

2 medium white rose potatoes, 1/2-inch

dice (1 pound)

1 small carrots, diced

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup diced fennel

1/2 cup uncooked corn kernels

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

6 slices smoked salmon (lox)

Mustard-Dill Sauce (recipe follows)

6 sprigs fresh dill

Rinse diced potatoes in cold running water. Bring a large pot of salt water to a rolling boil, drop in diced potatoes and boil for eight to 10 minutes.

Drain into a colander and transfer to a shallow dish to cool. Add carrots, fennel, red bell pepper, corn kernels and enough mayonnaise to moisten, and salt and pepper to taste.

Place a 3-inch ring mold on serving plate and spoon in salad mixture. Trim salmon slices to fit a 3-inch mold. Arrange a slice of smoked salmon on top of salad. Repeat with remaining five serving plates.

Prepare the mustard-dill sauce and spoon around each serving. Garnish with sprigs of fresh dill.

Serves 6.

Mustard-Dill Sauce

This sauce can be prepared several days ahead, Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Try replacing the dill with basil leaves, cilantro, water cress, parsley or sorrel.

3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

1 teaspoon powdered mustard

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1/3 cup oil

3 tablespoons fresh chopped (or snipped) dill

In a small, deep bowl, combine the mustard, powdered mustard, sugar and vinegar and blend well. With a wire whisk, slowly beat in the oil until it forms a thick mayonnaise. Stir in the chopped dill. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about 1 cup.

Kerstin’s Swedish Potato and Gravlax Casserole

Unsalted butter for the baking dish

Eight (1 3/4 pounds) white or red

new potatoes, steamed, peeled,

and thinly sliced

8 large slices gravlax or smoked salmon

1/2 small yellow onion,

peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill

Salt and freshly ground black

pepper to taste

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

3 tablespoons bread crumbs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter,

cut into pieces

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Brush an 8-inch square baking dish with butter. Arrange half of the sliced potatoes on the bottom. Arrange the slices of gravlax on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle with the onion and dill. Repeat with a top layer of the remaining sliced potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, beat the cream and egg and pour over the potato mixture.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs and pieces of butter over the potatoes. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Serve hot or cold.

Makes 6 servings

Note: Whole new unpeeled potatoes, steamed, take about 20 minutes to cook, depending on the size of the potatoes. Peeled and sliced potatoes, boiled, take only five minutes.

A Tuna After Atonement


Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a holiday for serious fasting — no food or drink for 24 hours. At the end of the day, thoughts inevitably turn to what to eat at sundown, and breaking the fast with family and friends.

Our family tradition has been to serve dairy and seafood dishes when we return from the synagogue. I found the perfect fish dishes to prepare for this meal when I attended a food fair at the Skirball Cultural Center. The highlight of the festival was a series of cooking demonstrations, given by well-known local chefs. They were on a stage in front of a movie-size screen so the audience could see what they were demonstrating. During each session everyone was invited to taste what the chefs had prepared.

Chef Neal Fraser, formerly of Boxer Restaurant, gave the first demonstration. He is planning his own restaurant, Grace on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. Neal prepared a dish that he called Big Eye Tuna Carpaccio With a Spanish Touch. He offered several cooking tips as he went along, and the audience clearly enjoyed his presentation. The tuna fillet was placed between wax paper and pounded until almost translucent. Neal transferred the tuna onto a plate and prepared a mixed vegetable salad that he placed on top of the tuna.

This can all be prepared in advance, and served as part of a break-the-fast meal. He also showed how to roll the tuna with the salad tucked inside and then sliced into bite-size portions, to be served as a finger food.

Next came Chef Kazuto Matsusaka, formerly of Chinois on Main, and his wife, chef Vicki Fan, who assisted him. Kazuto prepared Infused Sake, Cilantro Cured Salmon (my favorite), Vegetable Dumplings With Ponzu Sauce and Seared Ahi Tuna With a Daikon Vinaigrette. This handsome Japanese chef and his wife were a great team, adding humor and charm to their dumpling mix.

This year I will add these dishes to our traditional family buffet along with bagels, cream cheese, platters of herring and smoked salmon and a wonderful array of cold salads. Serve a variety of baked delicacies including honey cake, an assortment of sweet rolls and fruit salad for dessert.

Neal’s Big Eye Tuna Carpaccio with a Spanish
Touch

8 ounces Big Eye Ahi Tuna, cleaned

of sinew and cut into 2-ounce medallions

Olive oil

4 ounces baby arugula

1 ounce capers, chopped

3 ounces Spanish green olives,

pitted and chopped

1 ounce olive tapenade

1 bunch parsley, chopped

2 ounces sherry wine vinegar

1 ounce balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 ounces shallots, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 ounces haricot vert, blanched

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 Roma tomato, seeded and diced*

For the Tuna:

Brush the fish with a little olive oil. Place between two pieces of plastic wrap.

Using a hammer or tenderizer pound the tuna until almost translucent and reserve. Repeat with remaining medallions.*

For the Vinaigrette:

In a medium-size bowl, add all of the ingredients except the tomato and arugula, and mix with a wire whisk. Season with salt and pepper. Add enough olive oil so that it is balanced with the vinegar. (The ratio of oil to vinegar is 3:1) Taste and add the peppers and tomatoes at the end.

To serve, remove the top piece of plastic wrap from the tuna, and using the remaining plastic wrap as a guide, invert the tuna onto a serving plate and peel off the remaining plastic wrap (repeat with remaining tuna). Season with salt and pepper. Toss the arugula with the vinaigrette and carefully arrange on top of the tuna.

*Variation: Remove the top piece of plastic wrap from the tuna and place a small portion of the salad on top of the tuna. Roll up the tuna and slice it into bite-size pieces.

Kazuto’s Cilantro Cured Salmon

1 (4-pound) salmon fillet, skin on

6 bunches washed and picked

cilantro leaves, chopped (about 3 cups)

1¼3 cup salt

1¼3 cup sugar

2¼3 cup freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons tequila

With a sharp knife, score the skin of the salmon in four or five places about 2 inches apart.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the cilantro, salt, sugar and pepper. Place a small handful of the cilantro mixture on the bottom of a large glass baking dish. Place the salmon fillet skin side down on top. Cover completely with the remaining cilantro mixture. Cover with plastic wrap, lightly weight it down and refrigerate for 72 hours or until salmon is firm to the touch.

Wipe off the cilantro mixture to clean the salmon filet. If serving as an hors d’oeuvres or appetizer, slice thinly. Serve with a cucumber salad, on a toasted bagel or with a German-style potato salad.

If you wish, you may also slice the salmon into 1-inch-thick slices, sauté and serve with a cucumber salad, on a toasted bagel or with a German-style potato salad. If you wish, you may also slice the salmon into 1-inch-thick slices, sauté and serve with a honey mustard sauce and mixed green salad.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Daniel Bouskila is rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.

Baskets Full of Joy


When the Jews of ancient Persia celebrated their unlikely salvation from Haman with gifts of food to each other, they probably didn’t go for the tropical-themed basket with gummy fish, rock candy and dried papaya, wrapped in a sweep of turquoise cellophane.

Clearly, the holiday custom of exchanging gifts of food, called by the Hebrew term mishloach manot [MEESH-lo-ach MAN-oat] has changed with the times.

But even in L.A., where fulfilling the Purim mitzvah has been raised to new levels, the basic idea behind mishloach manot remains the same: to promote a joyous spirit of friendship and unity among a scattered nation.

Mishloach manot is one of four mitzvot of Purim, along with charity to the poor (matanot la’evyonim), holding a festive meal (seudah) and reading the Megillah. The fulfillment of mishloach manot requires sending to one person, on Purim day, a gift of two ready-to-eat foods with different brachot, blessings.

Rabbi Avrohom Czapnik, director of the Jewish Learning Exchange and assistant principal at Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn-Toras Emes, says the unity and friendship that results when we exchange gifts is a theme central to the Purim story.

When getting approval for his evil plot from King Achashverosh, Haman refers to the Jewish people as a nations scattered and dispersed among the other nations.

“This was a spiritual indictment. You don’t have unity, and therefore we have the ability to conquer you,” Czapnik explains. Esther’s response, then, was to create a greater sense of Jewish unity by telling Mordechai to gather all the Jewish people to fast and pray for her.

Shabbat in Style


Anybody can make a Shabbat meal that tastes good, but not everybody can make one that looks good. For a lot of people, holiday decorating begins and ends with a pair of candlesticks and a kiddush cup.

Home decor is the weak link in a lot of Jewish celebrations. I’m not talking about aping Martha Stewart, or stringing blue and white X-mas tree lights at Chanuka time. But with just a little effort, you can use decorating to add mood, even emotion, to holiday events.

True, the meaning and warmth of a holiday don’t come from the table settings. Ritual, tradition, family — of course these things matter most. But the table itself can become a memorable part of the holiday, something to look forward to and something to cherish, as much a part of holiday memories as friends, family and food.

To get started, you’ll need to keep in mind these three simple concepts :

Use Nature For Bountiful Displays

I rush home from work about one hour before our friends are arriving for Shabbat. As I start to take out olives and wine, I also retrieve my garden clippers (kept by the kitchen sink) and set my gaze on one of Shabbat’s blessings — a chance to visit my garden.

During the week, I barely have time to even look at it, so I look forward to pruning a display as sunset approaches. Dismiss the idea of only displaying flowers — think about large, inspiring branches. A favorite of mine are eucalyptus branches, towering out of a French flower-stall bucket.

Remember to include herbs as displays. A vase of rosemary, dill or parsley looks great in the kitchen or on the table, and you can pick them up when you are at the market.

You don’t have to have a garden to use nature. Try store-bought carrots with their leafy fronds still intact, or exotic fruits in season like passion fruit. A tray decorated with abundant artichokes and lemons is beautiful. Keep it seasonal (pomegranates in fall, peaches and plums in summer) and make sure each piece is wiped clean. The point is that you do not even need to prepare the food — just display it.

Use White For

Understated

Glamour

A table finished with a white tablecloth is not just traditional, it’s also elegant. Also use white oversized dinner napkins. For Shabbat white implies bride-like purity.

Laundering may seem a nuisance, but a linen cloth can be placed in a hot wash with bleach, removing most stains. First try treating the stain with a little salt and seltzer.

Use Surprise for Distraction

and Humor.

A little surprise doesn’t take a lot of planning. Place something unexpected at the table, especially helpful when children are arriving. The surprise will add a little distraction at a time when you need to take a breath, and attend to the final details of the meal. You can slip a gold chocolate coin under each plate, or a tuck an inexpensive toy into the napkins.

These style suggestions are just that, suggestions. Add details to your own table that reflect you and your family’s personality. The days jumble by, and Shabbat seems to be the only time we can step back and reassess life’s purpose and true meaning. Giving attention to the aesthetics of the Shabbat table is one more way to set the day apart and make it special.

Last week we went to our friend’s home for Shabbat, and the table was prepared beautifully, white linen tablecloth and all. As we said the blessings, their son poured sweet red wine into his kiddush cup –with some extra spilling onto the tablecloth. No one even flinched. The point is that he loves Shabbat in his home, and he poured the wine himself. That is style. The real glamour is you.


Naomi Zimmerman is an interior designer in Los Angeles.

Marco Polo Redux


Travelers Meiand John Krich

The affinity of Jews to Chinese food reaches its apotheosis inJohn Krich’s “Won Ton Lust: Adventures in Search of the World’s BestChinese Restaurant” (Kodansha, $24). It’s no outrageous stereotype tostate that, as a people, American Jews seem to need a good Chinesemeal to kick-start us into the week. It’s nothing to be ashamed of;neither is it anything to take lightly.

For those of us who agonize over the lack of great Chinese cuisinewest of Monetrey Park or, at least, west of Chinatown, imagine thejoy luck of Manhattan native John Krich. Raised, as were many of us,in “the particularly Jewish-American ritual of ingesting illicitspare ribs, accompanied by bowls of pretzel-like prefab noodles,”Krich met and wed a native of Shanghai, Mei, and together they setoff on a mission to find the best Chinese food not in their SanFrancisco home, not in America, not even in China, but in the wholeworld.

Since the Chinese diaspora at least equals another one we know of,that meant that the Krich’s dined everywhere from Chez Vong in Paris,to Li Li’s in West Melbourne, to Vancouver’s Kowloon, to Kong Yi Jiin Beijing, to Avalon in Gallup, N.M., to Shun Lee Palace in NewYork, to Yujean Kang in Pasadena — 450 meals at 350 restaurants in23 countries over a 15-month span. If you haven’t tried the BuddhaJumps Over the Wall at the Hai Tian Lo in Singapore — a seafood soupcosting $200 per bowl — you deserve the take-out you get.

The couple begins their enviable journey in Venice, Italy, fromwhere Marco Polo once set out to discover the best ice cream,gunpowder and noodles. The Kriches find that — surprise — the wholeworld is crazy over good Chinese. Fortunately, the Chinese themselvesare among its biggest fans, and their single-minded dedication to thecrispiest duck skin or the perfect cup of tea greatly improves theodds of finding an excellent Chinese meal anywhere. (And afterreading “Won Ton Lust,” you’ll never be so thick as to lump all foodfrom China in as broad a term as “Chinese.”)

Even in humble Los Angeles, the Kriches are amused but notdisappointed. They dismiss Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois and the trendyMandarette as more image than eats. But Krich, 47, appreciates YujeanKang, adores the tableside-poached flounder at Charming Garden inMonterey Park (who wouldn’t?) and swoons over the Mint and DuckTongue at Good Chances in the San Gabriel Valley, whose chef oncecooked for Mao.

Throughout, Krich’s writing is chatty and familiar. The book has ahelpful ranking system, a few mostly indifferent recipes and — amajor oversight — no index. But Krich’s eagerness and appetite isinfectious, whether he’s writing about the Taft (néTaffapolski) branch of his family in Melbourne or about New York’sfamed Shun Lee Palace, which reminds him as nothing so much as “animperial Jewish deli.” And there’s more than a little perception inthat description.


Beef with Ginger and Scallions in Clay Pot

This recipe comes from Charming Garden in Monterey Park, courtesyof “Won Ton Lust.”

Ingredients:

1/2 pound sliced beef

4 cloves garlic

6 green onions

3 slices ginger

1 tbs. Chinese marinated black beans

1/4 tbs. cornstarch

1/4 cup peanut oil

Marinade:

1 egg white

1/2 tsp. soy sauce

1/4 tsp. rice wine

1/2 tsp. cornstarch

Sauce:

1 tbs. rice wine

2 tbs. chicken broth

Slice the beef thinly against the grain. Combine the marinadeingredients and pour over sliced beef. Stir together.

Crush the garlic and slice green onions into 2-inch pieces. Placethe beans in water, let stand 10 minutes, then drain and mash thebeans. In a separate bowl, blend the cornstarch and 1 tbs. wateruntil smooth.

Heat the oil in a wok. Sauté the beef briefly, then remove.Add garlic and beans, and sauté briefly; add the beef to thepan, and stir-fry until fully cooked. Add the sauce, then thecornstarch mixture. Cook 30 seconds.

Add a little oil to a clay pot or other heat-proof vessel. Placeon the stove until hot, add scallion and ginger. Cook until fragrant,then add beef mixture and serve.


Shalom, Hunan

To say that Shalom Hunan is the best kosherChinese food in Los Angeles is not the left-handed compliment itseems.

Granted, the competition is not stiff. This cityand its environs has some of the best Chinese restaurants in theworld (see book review) — the kind of places where I imagine thestaff of Shalom Hunan goes to feast on days off. But the kosherChinese choices I’ve tried — and I haven’t tried them all — seem tostick to bland, oily versions of mid-1970s takeout favorites: kungpao chicken, fried rice, broccoli beef.

Shalom Hunan, a branch of a popular Brookline,Mass., restaurant owned and operated by Chinese-Americans, aimshigher, and mostly succeeds.

It would be easy to fault the restaurant for notliving up to the flavors of other Chinese establishments, butconsider its limitations. Chinese cuisine is the antithesis of kosher– a fact that probably accounts for its rampant popularity amongmany Jews. Its governing laws have everything to do with the complexbalance of clear flavors, in whatever natural form they occur. Kosherlaws severely limit the choice of those forms. None of the standbys,such as shellfish or pork, are allowed, of course. Neither arestandard Chinese condiments, such as oyster sauce. On the plus side,the cooking naturally is dairy-free, so the bane of kosher cuisine –dairy substitutes — needn’t appear.

Unfortunately, while stunning, completelyvegetarian Chinese cuisines exist (try the non-hechshered Fragrant Vegetable inMonterey Park), Chinese kosher chefs feel compelled to imitate themenus of non-kosher restaurants. That’s where Shalom Hunan’sweaknesses show. Appetizers such as “spareribs” ($3.50), beef eggrolls ($1.95) and chicken in foil ($3.95) are notable for the flavorsthey lack. Beef with Broccoli ($10.95) is simply salty, not complexor intense.

But there are many successes. Egg Drop Soup($2.50), thick as a bog, can be a flavorful cold-weather boost.Flavors of citrus and garlic burst forth from Orange Flavored Chicken($12.95) and Shredded Beef with Garlic Sauce ($10.95). You might askfor more heat with your Hunan Fish ($16.95) and Kung Pao Chicken($9.50), but the dishes don’t disappoint.

The lunch specials, a mid-city bargain at around$6.50, are usually filling and flavorful. I can’t help but think thatbehind the pots and pans at Shalom Hunan is a chef who, given theopportunity, could really impress.

And it is no small fact that Shalom Hunan,situated in the former home of the Shanghai Winter Garden, issumptuous in a way restaurants used to be. Deep booths, rich woodcarvings, scarlet rugs, paper lamps dripping gold tassels, etchedscreens setting off quiet rooms in the large elegant space — nokosher restaurant in Los Angeles, period, can boast such atmosphere.And few have Shalom Hunan’s attentive, efficient servers.

At Shalom Hunan, you can wait for your friends inthe bar, sipping a scotch or an Israeli red, then eat a kosherChinese banquet that is, as the movie says, as good as itgets.

Shalom Hunan, 5651 Wilshire Blvd. (213)934-0505. –Robert Eshman

Tips for an Easier Fast


An expert at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center hasinvaluable advice for your Yom Kippur fast.

According to Dr. Elliot Berry, head of clinical nutrition at theHebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, there are a number ofthings you can do in advance to ease your fasting:

  • Take frequent drinks of water throughout the day before the fast begins.
  • Your last meal before the fast should include complex carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, potatoes and whole-grain bread. When complex carbohydrates are stored in the liver, water is retained so that the body suffers less dehydration during a fast.
  • But be sure to eat a balanced meal before the fast. Proteins and fats are absorbed more slowly than sugars and provide the necessary energy. You should balance your meal with 55 percent complex carbs, 15 percent proteins and 30 percent fats.
  • Do not overeat before you fast.
  • Do not take salty or sweet foods or beverages before the fast, because they may make you thirsty.

Dr. Berry also has sound advice on the best way to break the fast:Break your fast with a drink (not carbonated) and a slice of bread ordry cake. After an hour, enjoy a full meal. — Jewish TelegraphicAgency

The Only Holiday Hallmark Hasn’t Designed a Card For


Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning in commemoration of the destruction of the two Temples, is notable for at least two reasons. For one, it may be the only holiday that Hallmark hasn’t designed a card for. And it seems to be the one holiday that most Jews have heard of, but few seem to know much about. As with quarks and RNA and Rothko, we can drop “Tisha B’Av” into a conversation, hoping all the while that we won’t be asked to actually explain it.

Here’s how to fix that: On Aug. 11, at 5:30 p.m., in the social hall of Congregation Etz Jacob (7659 Beverly Blvd.), you can attend a free meal as part of the observance of the holy day. The meal will be served prior to the beginning of the fast and will include a discussion with Rabbi Rubin Huttler on the laws and customs of the meal, the fast and the day of observance.

The meal will conclude across the street from the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument Amphitheatre in Pan Pacific Park. There, participants will eat the traditional hard-boiled egg dipped in ashes, and hear two speakers discuss another traumatic time in Jewish history: the prisoner uprising in the Treblinka concentration camp. U.S. Immigration Judge Bruce J. Einhorn, Adjunct Professor of International Human Rights Law and War Crime Studies at Pepperdine University School of Law, will speak on the lessons of the Temple destructions and Treblinka, and businessman and philanthropist Fred Kort, one of the few remaining survivors of Treblinka, will offer his recollection of the camp.

After the two addresses, the audience will read from the Book of Lamentations under the stars, using only flashlights for illumination. “It’s a very dramatic atmosphere,” Miriam Huttler told Up Front. “It’s a very moving way to mark Tisha B’Av.”

For reservations for the complementary meal, phone (213) 938-2619.

How To Mark Tisha B’Av, Part II

At the Westwood Kehilla Synagogue, a full day of special presentations will mark the Jewish day of mourning, beginning on Monday evening, Aug. 11, and running through Tuesday. In addition to the traditional services, Rabbi Eli Stern will speak about the “conceptual underpinning of the root causes of the various tragedies marked by Tisha B’Av and offer a paradigm for the bringing about of the Messianic redemption of the Jewish people,” according to synagogue publicity. Yaakov Glasser will discuss the elegies that commemorate the tragic events in Jewish history. This is no lighthearted holy day.

At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the kehilla will join more than 100 synagogues worldwide in sharing a special made-for-Tisha B’Av video featuring Rabbi Yissacher Frand of Baltimore and Paysach Krohn of New York. Both will speak on “Peace Among Jews” and offer practical advice for interpersonal relationships. Why this subject? It was baseless hatred among Jews that brought about the destruction of the Second Temple, writes the Talmud. So why not work to prevent it from happening again?

For more information, call the Westwood Kehilla Synagogue at (310) 441-5288.

How To Mark Tisha B’Av, Part III

One way Up Front chooses to mark the destruction of the Temples is to update readers on the increasingly inevitable destruction of a local one. After The Journal reported last year on efforts to save Boyle Heights’ historic and once-magnificent Breed Street Shul, the Los Angeles Times ran a similar article. A public outcry followed both articles, and the Los Angeles City Council, prompted by the Southern California Jewish Historical Society, enacted a measure to surround the shul with a high fence to keep out the vandals, crack addicts and prostitutes who called it home.

Meanwhile, the parties contesting the future of the shul — the SCJHS, on one side, and Rabbi Mordechai Ganzweig, who claims title to the property, on the other — convened at the behest of an interested community member in an attempt to reach an agreement.

According to a source present at the negotiations — which nearly broke apart in acrimonious debate — the SCJHS agreed to buy the property from the rabbi for a price that the organization would determine. The purchase funds would be put into escrow and distributed to a charity chosen by the widow of Osher Zilberstein, the synagogue’s longtime former rabbi. The SCJHS, in return, signed a covenantal agreement with Ganzweig that the structure would never be used for any religious services other than Jewish. Sources estimate a possible purchase price at around $100,000.

For a while, everybody seemed happy.

But that was August 1996. One year later, the SCJHS has yet to make a firm offer to Ganzweig. One source told Up Front that the historical society is looking into the possibility that the rabbi cannot sell what he doesn’t legally own. Ganzweig’s lawyer claimed during the negotiations that he can produce a clear and unencumbered title to the property. The parties have not been in contact, and none were available for comment as The Journal went to press.

In the meantime, the stately old shul off Cesar Chavez Boulevard — one of the last remaining monuments to that era of Los Angeles Jewish history — continues to decay.

“Tear it down; make it into a social center or a museum — I don’t care what they do with it,” said one of the participants in last year’s meeting. “Whatever they decide, they should have done it already.”

Music, Solemn and Otherwise

To bring you into that Tisha B’Av mood — and to lift you out of it — we can recommend a newly released album available on CD or cassette. In “The Covenant,” keyboardist/producer/arranger Wally Brill combines original recordings of the great cantors of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, lifted from original 78-rpm recordings, with creative vocalizations and new instrumentation. The technique is called sampling, and if it has worked for a generation of great rap artists, why not for a past generation of great cantors.

And it does work. Take the first track, “Kiddush L’Shabbat.” As Cantor Ben Zion Kapov-Kagen sings the traditional blessing over the wine, Ari Langer weaves his lyrical violin work around the cantor’s voice. The same magic is worked in “Rtzeh,” featuring a chilling recording by Cantor Gershon Sirota. And in “A Typical Day,” Brill mixes the descriptions of life in Auschwitz by survivor Helen Lazar with a stunning liturgy sung by Cantor Samuel Malavsky.

Using instruments ranging from the Indian tabla to the Australian didgeridoo, Brill has managed to enrich, not cheapen, these great cantorial recordings. We’ll be listening to it long after this Tisha B’Av, and the next. “The Covenant” is available at most record stores.