The Bread of Affection

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By Alex Grossberg, Preschool Assistant Director and Pedagogista

As the students and teachers of our Preschool began preparing for Passover, there was a lot of discussion about the symbols of the holiday. The one symbol that the students kept mentioning was matzah! Unlike most adults, children usually seem to enjoy matzah. As one three year old said, “It’s like a super giant Passover cracker!”

Each year teachers all over the country explain to their preschool students that we eat matzah to remind us of the exodus from Egypt. As an adult, I have a hard time understanding the correlation, so how do we expect a group of two–five year olds to grasp such an abstract concept? During the days before Passover, the students were invited to participate in a matzah factory at the DCJCC.

After talking about the history of the Jews leaving Egypt, the students went through the entire 18-minute process (we were not too strict on time, especially for the younger ones) of making matzah.  We then served it at our Seder in Song the week before Passover.  Here is what the process looked like in the words of our preschoolers:

  1. “We used flour and water. And we mixed it up (motioning mixing the ingredients together).” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  2. “And we rolled it. We rolled it really flat.” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  3. “We need some flour on the rollers so it doesn’t stick.” – Peelim (4.5 yr old) student
  4. “I made a pancake!” – Etzim (2 yr old) student
  5. “Squish it! Look how flat I made it. It looks like a state. Or a chicken. And this is the head. It looks like a triangle. It looks like a pyramid. Hey! It looks like a pyramid of Egypt.” – Bogrim (5 yr old) student
  6. “We poke holes so it doesn’t rise.” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  7. “Don’t let it rise! But, yesterday, my mom made bread. And she put it near the heater on my little chair. We had to wait for it to rise. It took a long time. I got to try a little piece, but it was past my bedtime.” – Bogrim (5 yr old) student
  8. “That doesn’t look like real matzah. It looks to be like real bread. It doesn’t look matzah-shaped. Matzah is square shaped, and ours is a circle.”  – Peelim (4.5 yr old) student
  9. “And now we are baking it in the oven” – Teacher; “We don’t put bacon in the oven!” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  10. “I made a gorgeous matzah!” – Yanshoofim (3 yr old) student
  11. “It’s the best matzah I ever ate!” – Kochavim (3.5 yr old) student
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Shabbat Surfing: Feeling Good

Earlier this week, NPR aired a story about the new Pakistani Muslim owners of Coney Island Bialys and Bagels. A family business started in 1920 by a Polish immigrant from Bialystock, the shop claims to be the oldest bialy bakery in New York City.  The new owners have promised to keep everything the same: the ingredients and suppliers, hand-rolling and properly boiling the bagels, and the kosher supervision.

In the Bronx, an Islamic Center has opened its doors to a  Chabad synagogue so that they have a place to hold Shabbat services. The two houses of worship have a history of supporting each other and  have formed a deep bond.

The New York Times  took its sports section readers to Kiryat Shmona, one of Israel’s smallest cities, in a feature about its professional soccer team. The small club beat power team Hapoel Tel Aviv to capture the Toto Cup and sits atop Israel’s Premier League with an 11-point lead. The club is full of promise  and on the course for its first league championship. If Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona captures the championship, it will certainly be well-deserved.

The Big Waste

It was one of those nights where I found myself at home lying on the couch flipping channels. The Food Network is usually the last channel I go to to find something to watch. Don’t get me wrong, I love their shows, but for some reason whenever I watch I end up eating when I’m not hungry.  It is The Food Network!

Well this night was different, the show that night was The Big Waste, and it made me think a bit more than usual (and not about food).

The Big Waste: First class chefs Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Anne Burrell and Alex Guarnaschelli tackle one of the most massive problems in food today – waste! Divided into two teams, with only 48 hours on the clock, they are challenged to create a multi course gourmet banquet worthy of their great reputations, but with a big twist; they can only use food that is on its way to the trash.

To an extent, we do this for Hunger Action (we accept donations and most of the shopping is done at the Capital Area Food Bank), but Bobby, Michael, Anne and Alex took things to a new level. Maybe the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service should try some of their recipes!

Or maybe we should be all be freegans. Freeganism is the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded.  On The Big Waste, Anne spends the evening with a freegan dumpster diving and checking out garbage bags of food being tossed out by restaurants.

The group also went to local bakeries and farms and took waste from there: eggs that weren’t a uniform size, chickens with broken wings, fruits or vegetables with a few brown spots.  All perfectly good to eat but not something most would pick from a store shelf.

Do you have a contact at a restaurant, a bakery or a local farm? Do you buy the non-perfect fruits and vegetables at the grocery? If we all pitch in and collect food that might be thrown out, think of the difference we could make.  Donate it to Hunger Action, DC Central Kitchen or give it someone living on the street.

One-third of the world’s food is wasted. What are you going to do?

Honey Cake, Hold the Sin, er…nuts

by Jean Graubart, Director of the Leo & Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time of hope, reflection and great optimism.  Along with the prayers that mark the occasion  the foods we eat are a way to ensure sweetness in the year ahead. 

Honey cake is the much revered and traditional dessert at the holiday table.  It may be superstition that keeps us eating this sweet, but it’s one that’s been handed down through the generations and certainly can’t do us any harm! Take the opportunity to wish your friends and family sweetness in the new year and to carry on a delicious tradition. 

There is some debate as to whether or not to put NUTS in the honey cake.  The Hebrew word for walnut is אגוז-“egoz” and its numerical value is 17 (much like הי -“chai”/life is 18).  17 is also the numerical value for חטא-“het” the Hebrew word for sin.  During the holiday we are asking forgiveness for our sins and so some say that to eat walnuts would be putting sins into our body.  Those who are especially cautious (some might say especially superstitious) avoid all nuts during the holiday.  Sort of the “better to be safe than sorry” model for living.  But if you love nuts, why not throw in a handful of pecans.

Honey cakes come in many forms, some dense and spicy, others filled with raisins.  My favorite is one that tastes primarily of honey and is not overcome by other flavors.  

ROSH HASHANAH (and all year round) delicious Honey Cake

Zest of 1 lemon or orange (large or small pieces are fine)    1 cup water
1 cup honey
½ cup brown sugar packed (I like dark)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs (large or extra large)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda

Preparation time is about 15 minutes
Baking time about 1 hour
Yields about 10 slices

Preheat oven to 325

  1. Combine zest and water in a small sauce pan and heat to a boil for 1 minute, remove from stove, cover and set aside
  2. Combine oil, honey and brown sugar and mix well (wooden spoon or electric mixer)
  3. Add eggs 1 at a time beating/mixing well after each one
  4. Strain zest from water and discard zest
  5. Add 1/3 cup of the warm water to the bowl and beat on low speed 1 minute or with wooden spoon for 1 minute
  6. Add flour and baking soda slowly as you mix in
  7. Put in last 1/3 of lemon or orange water and mix until smooth  (Batter will be very thin)
  8. Pour into a greased loaf pan (9”5”)  (spraying well with Pam or the like is best)
  9. Place loaf pan on a baking sheet.
  10. Bake until cake springs back when touched very lightly in the center or when a wooden pick inserted in the center, comes clean, about 1 hour
  11. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes, turn out

This cake lasts throughout the holiday so enjoy.  Keep fresh by covering  with tin foil or plastic wrap.

Remember to add honey to your homemade round challah and to dip it into honey, rather than the salt used for dipping on Shabbat. If you want to go all out, keep all bitter or sour foods off the table for your holiday meal.

And finally, be sure to say the blessing that marks the festive occasion:
“May it be Thy will to renew unto us a good and sweet year.” 

And so is our wish to you and your families from the staff at the Washington DCJCC.

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Happy Birthday Faye Moskowitz

In honor of the incredible Faye Moskowitz’s 80th Birthday, past particpants in the annual Washington DCJCC Writer’s Retreat created a collection of essays and stories surrounding food and cooking — a topic close to Faye’s heart. The only requirement for submissions was that you share a recipe. Despite not having attended the retreat, but out of my enormous respect and love for Faye, I was allowed to make the following contribution. The collection was presented to Faye last night at the 8th annual Retreat, so now I am safe to post this…

My mother writes to me:

So I have no recipe for chicken marsala – I just make it from memory

Pound the chicken cutlets until they are thin
Dip in seasoned flour and brown in olive oil

Place cutlets in a baking dish

Slice fresh mozzarella cheese and put a slice on each cutlet (this is your memory)
Slice mushrooms and lightly coat with flour mixture
Lightly sauté mushrooms – add more olive oil if needed
With mushrooms still in pan, add a cup of chicken broth, ½ cup white wine and mix until sauce thickens

Pour sauce over cutlets – cover lightly with foil and bake at 350 for ½ hour – longer for thicker cutlets
Remove foil for last few minutes

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityhunter12/

Photo by 2-Dog-Farm. Used under Creative Commons License.

This was my favorite dinner that my mother would make when I was growing up. I have not eaten it in many years – not since I began keeping kosher and forsook all that combined milk and meat. Intellectually, I have problems with the dictum that milk and meat should apply to poultry at all: the commandment tells us to “not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.” The logic goes that to do so – to literally boil the slaughtered flesh of a premature lamb in the substance it’s mother’s body excretes with the intent to nourish it –would be cruel. I can see their point.

But chickens produce no milk. They do produce eggs in abundance, but there is no similar prohibition against dipping butchered fowl in a yolky-albumen cocktail of its never-to-be-born offspring. Such are the vagaries of kashrut. There is, of course, a lengthy chain of Talmudic logic that gets you from cheeseburgers to chicken parm. I will not trouble you with it here. It is a logic I begrudgingly accept as an article of faith, in part because the logic is so extended and because I doubt faith supported by less serpentine logic would qualify as faith at-all.

It is for that dubious faith that my mother’s Chicken Marsala is now a dish consumed only in my memory where it comes out of the oven piping hot, bathed in brown gravy with stray whorls of mozzarella cheese floating about, tempting you to pluck them out at the expense of singed fingers and scalded tongue. Once cooled and served with a healthy portion of rice pilaf (via Rice-A-Roni), the dish is a perfect combination of the slight crunch of tender chicken, the milky sweetness of gooey cheese and the earthy, savory warmth of that gravy. Honestly, I could drink that gravy and many times I literally licked my plate. If I were a deer, that gravy would be my salt-lick, and the last thought that would go through my mind before the bullet sent it, along with my skull and six-point antlers to the wall of some survivalist supply store would be, “Yum.”

My mother claims that the detail of the cheese on top of the chicken is an invented memory, belonging only to me. Technically, she is correct that traditional Chicken Marsala is prepared without cheese. But if we were to get technical then I would be compelled to note that nowhere in my mother’s recipe does the ingredient Marsala wine appear. And come to think of it, I don’t remember any mushrooms either. That detail doesn’t jibe with a dish that was imprinted on my psyche at an age when I was most certainly not yet reconciled to the view of fungi as fit for human consumption. And looking at the recipe, there is no reason I couldn’t make this dish now and stay within the bounds of kashrut by simply withholding the (possibly fantastical) cheese.

And perhaps some day I will. But I am already bracing myself for the letdown when, inevitably, the alchemy of this childhood dish fails to reactivate. Even if the cheese is a pure fabrication, it stands in-place for the one-way passage that delivers us from childhood and the comforts thereof. I can no more be the little boy licking his plate clean than I can convince the Sanhedrin that dairy and poultry really is kosher. Would that I could do either.

(cross-posted to Not-For-Profit Dad)

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Rosh Hashanah Foods Besides Apples and Honey

by Jean Graubart
Director of the Leo and Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning

Rosh Hashana, part of the Days of Awe, is a spiritual holiday, calling us to the task of inner reflection, soul searching, and forgiveness. It is also a time to find hope and sweetness in the New Year, and what better way to do that than through food? The most well-known symbol is honey, served on a round challah to represent the cycle of the year.

But there are more traditional treats from many different Sephardic cultures. Some of these Jews serve chewy dates for more sweetness; Moroccan Jews dip the dates into a tasty mixture of ground sesame seeds, aniseeds and powdered sugar. There is even a prayer to be recited over dates: “As we eat this date, may we date the New Year that is beginning as one of happiness and blessings and peace.”

Veggies have a place too. Many Sephardic Jews cook pumpkins or gourds to express the hope that as this vegetable is protected by a thick covering, so may we be protected and kept strong. Leeks are eaten for luck and spinach or Swiss chard or the leafy part of the beet root are eaten to “beat” off enemies and keep us from those who might do us harm. The greens are said to build strength. Israeli Jews often eat at least seven kinds of fruits and vegetables to symbolize the hope for a plentiful year. One favorite dish is carrot salad, with the carrots cut in rounds to represent coins and the hope of a prosperous year. Orange lentils are prepared for the same reason.

Shana Tova says the FishRosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year,” and in many Israeli and Sephardic homes, a fish head is given to a special guest or the head of the household to eat. Besides being a test for the stomach, the food represents the hope that the family will move forward and come out ahead in the coming year.

The pomegranate has become a fixture on the Rosh Hashana table. It is said that every pomegranate contains exactly 613 seeds, the exact number of the mitzvot, Biblical commandments, that Jews are obligated to fulfill. The prayer for this fruit asks that the coming year will be filled with as many good deeds as the pomegranate has seeds. Also, the top of the fruit is said to look like the crown of the Torah, and it is believed that the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility.

Of course there is the classic. Apples are dipped in honey because the fruit’s roundness symbolizes a hope that the New Year will be joyous from start to finish, full circle.

We at the Washington DCJCC, wish you a “Shana Tova”, a year of sweetness and good

Getting Ready for Pesach With National Noodle Month

Well folks we just learned that it is National Noodle Month and to honor it we are sharing a favorite noodle recipe with you.  We figure it must have been a Jew who created this special month since it is just at the time we are clearing out our chametz for Passover.  Enjoy this and feel you are doing your part to celebrate the noodle and also to prepare the house for the upcoming holiday.

Spinach Noodle Kugel
1 bag noodles (I prefer medium but thin will do as well.  Use what you have)
1 bag or box of frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
2 large diced onions sautéed in oil and golden brown
4-6 eggs to hold it all together
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all together
Heat oil in a large pyrex rectangular pan on 450 until nice and hot
Add the noodle mixture to the hot pan and bake at 350 (lower the oven) until golden and crisp on top ½ hour to 45 minutes or however long it takes.
Enjoy hot or room temperature or cold the next day. 

Happy Noodle Month!

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