Sephardic Seder Flavors

Too Good To Passover, by Jennifer Abadi, is an exploration of the diversity of Sephardic and Mizrahi Passover traditions. Abadi spent six years interviewing people from Jewish communities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Along with their sentimental memoirs, her subjects shared treasured family Passover recipes. [Read more…]

Seven Decades of Israeli Film

Scene of two men sitting at a table eating from the movie "Maktub" (Fate)

The movie “Maktub” (Fate)

It has been 70 years since Israel declared its independence.  So this year, the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia (IFF) will showcase films that highlight different aspects of the region’s history. The movies will be shown at various locations in Philadelphia and the nearby suburbs from March 3 to March 25.

Several of the documentaries and feature films epitomize the struggles that the infant Israeli nation underwent as it transitioned from survival mode to inclusion. Others deal with the acceptance of minorities, modern day dilemmas, and affairs of the heart. [Read more…]

Drunken Purim Babka

Portrait of King Stanislaus Leszczyński.

To really celebrate Purim, we should consume so much alcohol that we cannot tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai. Unlike at all the other Jewish holidays, alcohol takes center stage during Purim. Why not extend this pleasure to all the recipients of your mishloach manot packages? Mishloach manot are the gifts of food that are traditionally given out during Purim. One delicious Purim food from the Polish Jewish community that can be added to a gift package is shikkor babka, or drunken babka. [Read more…]

“Milky” Chocolate Pudding: From Childhood Treat to Adult Extravagance

How can you steal someone’s heart? One effective way is to cook a dish that transports them back to a happy childhood memory. For many people that I grew up with in Israel, the treat that accomplishes this is called “Milky.” “Milky” is a chocolate pudding snack topped with whipped cream. It is manufactured by the Strauss Group near Tel Aviv. While many of us still love this childhood nosh exactly the way it is, it can be fun to prepare our own grownup homemade version of it.

Preparing a dessert like “Milky” is not very difficult. You begin with a base of chocolate pudding made from scratch. Give it an adult touch by adding any combination of whisky, rum, chocolate liqueur, or coffee liqueur to it. Then, you may whip your own heavy cream to garnish the pudding. A final elegant touch of chocolate shavings turns a childhood treat into a refined adult extravagance.

Photo pudding with whipped cream and chocolate. by pengrin https://www.flickr.com/photos/pengrin/

Pudding. Photo: Pengrin

Homemade Chocolate Pudding

  • 5 squares quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 6 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup liquor
  1. Mix the cornstarch, sugar, and cocoa in a pot.
  2. Add the milk, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove the pot from the flame when the pudding has thickened.
  4. Stir in the chopped chocolate and vanilla extract.
  5. Pour the pudding into a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator.

To serve:

  1. Mix the chocolate pudding with 1 cup of the liquor of your choice. You may combine several types of liquor.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  3. Prepare the whipped cream.

Whipped cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  1. Combine the heavy cream and sugar together in a bowl.
  2. Whisk until the cream forms stiff peaks.

Add toppings

  1. Spoon some chocolate pudding into a small bowl.
  2. Top with whipped cream.
  3. Garnish with chocolate shavings.

Exotic Winter Waffles

I stumbled upon a jewel while exploring the Queen Village neighborhood of Philadelphia: the Queen Village Food Market, which is a Turkish grocery store. Its shelves are stacked with exotic imported spreads, nuts, dried fruits, olives, spices, tea and coffee. The refrigerator offers a selection of Turkish cheeses, and the freezer has an array of sweet and savory stuffed pastries. I could not resist purchasing some intriguing spreads and some of that traditional Middle Eastern gelatinous confection called Turkish Delight.

I walked home in the ice, snow and frigid temperature that this January has brought us. To the joy of my daughter and her teachers, the weather conditions had resulted in a snow day. One way to enjoy this special time off and to make our home cozier was to bake. After my visit to the Turkish grocery store, I was inspired to prepare some exotic homemade waffles. [Read more…]

Philadelphia’s Hebrew Charter School: Take Two

In the fall of 2019, pending approval of the charter from the School Reform Commission, a Hebrew charter school will open in the East Falls neighborhood in Philadelphia. This will be the second attempt to establish a Hebrew charter school in the area. The Solomon Charter School, Philadelphia’s first Hebrew charter cyber school, closed in 2013 after only five months of operation. The reason for the closure was a failure to operate within the charter and cyber school laws. But Hebrew Public, the umbrella organization that is leading the establishment of the Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School, is confident that this new school will succeed and grow.

Hebrew Public, funded by the Steinhardt Foundation, spent more than two years researching potential locations to house the new Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School before they settled on the former site of the Women’s Medical College Hospital in East Falls.

Charters schools are public schools, so the Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School will not be a Jewish school. The focus of the school will be on the study of Modern Hebrew, Israel and it’s culture, and history. When the students reach the eighth grade, they will be eligible to participate in a fully-funded trip to Israel. Initially, the school will offer classes for kindergarten and first grade. The plan is to add an additional grade each year until it reaches the eighth grade.

Diverse by design, the administrators intend to enroll students from all over the city. Thus far, they  have visited a number of  nursery schools to invite families to consider applying.

Hebrew will be taught using the proficiency approach developed by Dr. Vardit Ringvald. Instead of spending years drilling conjugations, the focus will be on the students’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing abilities. The teachers will be able to use their creativity to select songs, stories, advertisements, and any other media they like to help their students be immersed in Modern Hebrew.

The Hebrew Public umbrella organization encourages its teachers to experience Israel by applying for a summer fellowship to teach English in the country at Talma, an organization for low-income students to learn Hebrew and English. Talma is a public summer school program in Israel that is organized by a partnership between the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Schusterman and Steinhardt Foundations. Fellows are placed in schools that serve Arab, Jewish, Bedouin, and mixed Arab-Jewish schools. This is an opportunity for the teachers to explore Israel and grow professionally as part of an international group of teachers.

Currently, Hebrew Public directly manages and supports Hebrew charter schools in New York, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington DC, and California. The demographic data for the whole network of schools from the fall of 2016-2017 shows that 50% of the students are caucasian, 27% African American, 11% hispanic, and Multiracial and Asian make up the rest. Of the languages spoken at home, 66% of the students speak English, 11% speak Hebrew, 8% speak Russian, and 8% speak Spanish. These pupils are called “heritage speakers,” as they grow up immersed in a language other than English at home, which adds to the global orientation of the schools.

The School Reform Commission will hold hearings on the charter application in December and January, and vote in February. There is already a lot of interest in the new school in Philadelphia from families who are pre-registering before the charter has even been approved. If it is approved, with Hebrew Charter’s experience and track record of successful schools, Philadelphia’s Hebrew Charter School will be off to a very promising beginning.

Hanukkah Food Hacks

What can be more festive than delicious holiday specialties made from scratch? For many of us, that is a voyeuristic pleasure, to be enjoyed in a magazine. Real life does not play out that way. Lack of time or attention span is no reason not to enjoy preparing your own Hanukkah treats. Here are some easy shortcuts that will help you fill your home with the aromas and flavors of homemade delicacies.

Latkes (Potato Pancakes) Photo: Jacob Kaplan-Moss https://www.flickr.com/photos/jacobian/

Photo: Jacob Kaplan-Moss.

Latkes

An easy shortcut to fresh homemade latkes is purchasing frozen shredded potatoes, or hash browns, and frozen diced onions. [Read more…]

Armenian Thanksgiving Pumpkin

Photos of cooked pumpkins by Raffi http://www.armeniapedia.org/wiki/User:Raffi

Photo: Raffi

What should you prepare with all those apples and pumpkins? Many people confront this question after the celebratory hayride and apple and pumpkin-picking excursion. I love to try exotic recipes with my pumpkins. This year I am making a fall dish from Armenia called Ghapama. This vegan dish, dramatically presented inside a whole roasted pumpkin, can be the star of your Thanksgiving table.

Ghapama is a harvest dish with its own special rituals. First, a fresh pumpkin is picked. Then the whole family helps to clean the pumpkin, stuff it with rice, fresh apples, dry fruits, and nuts. Then they enjoy each other’s company while the pumpkin bakes. When it is ready, everyone eats it straight out of the oven while it is piping hot. [Read more…]

Forbidden Foods of the Spanish Inquisition

Did you know that eating a lunch of eggplants, chickpeas, and a green salad could get you burned at the stake during the Middle Ages? This information was concealed in the archives of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1991, access to some of the records was granted to scholars for the first time. David Gitlitz and Linda Davidson were given the opportunity to examine some of these documents. They co-wrote A Drizzle of Honey based on the information they uncovered in the chronicles of the Inquisition trials. It is a scholarly masterpiece and a cookbook that reveals the customs and prejudices of medieval Spain.

The book describes the types of foods that aroused suspicion mentioned in the archives of the Spanish Inquisition. According to Dr. Gitlitz, the Inquisitors looked for Jewish ritual foods, such as matza (unleavened bread) and haroset (a mixture of nuts and dry fruits), which would be prepared for Passover. They also examined the ways in which these foods were prepared, such as not cooking on Saturday (the Sabbath). The authors extracted this information from accusations and confessions recorded by the Inquisitors.

In order to figure out what the recipes may have been, Gitlitz and Davidson referred to medieval cookbooks, translating from Catalan, Portuguese, Castilian, and Arabic. Only six cookbooks written before 1492 in the Iberian Peninsula survive to the present. The ingredients described depended on the region and the season. Since the Inquisition lasted seven hundred years, the time period during which each book was written was also relevant. Some telltale ingredients and cooking techniques flagged by the Inquisition included frying in olive oil, butchering one’s own meat and soaking it in salt water, and serving foods at room temperature.

Every recipe is accompanied by a narrative of what the accused had done to arouse suspicion, and to be reported to the Inquisitors. Bathing, wearing clean clothes, and enjoying food with friends were all actionable wrongs, used to accuse people of observing Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. Some recent converts to Catholicism got in trouble for not knowing when to abstain from certain foods, according to the Catholic tradition. In one case, Aldonza Lainez served a cheese casserole to some workers during Lent. She was reported to the Inquisition, and had to explain this oversight.

You may try some of these forbidden recipes on November 5, 2017 at the Mikveh Israel Synagogue. Chef Chad Satanoffsky will prepare several dishes from A Drizzle of Honey. The social hour will begin at 6:00 PM, and dinner will be at 7:00 PM. Dr. Gitlitz will attend. You may sign up just for the dinner. Please go to the a la carte options. The cost is $55. If you would like to explore this topic further, here is the information about the  Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies conference.

Hebrew Cookies for Simchat Torah

IMG_6068Simchat Torah is the celebration of the never-ending circle of Torah. One wonderful way to celebrate is by baking cookies in the shape of the first word in the Torah.

Simchat Torah services begin at sunset on Thursday, October 12. The last chapter of Deuteronomy is read, followed by the first chapter of Genesis. This is the only time of the year that the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark at night.

photo

The first sentence of Genesis in Hebrew.

The first phrase in Genesis is “In the beginning.” In Hebrew, this is written as one word, “Bereishit.”

The whole family can have fun mixing sugar cookie dough, rolling it out, and cutting out the shapes of the Hebrew letters. You may use Alef-Bet cookie cutters, or a knife. A fun tactile activity is to sculpt the letters with the dough. This is much less fussy than rolling and cutting it.

Refrigerated sugar cookie dough is perfect for this if you are pressed for time. Alternatively, if you are too busy to bake, you may purchase some Alef Bet cookies. If you like, you may decorate your cookies with icing and colorful sugar sprinkles. As you bite into each sweet letter, you will be reminded of the sweetness of learning Torah.

Sugar CookiesIMG_6067

Adapted from Alton Brown

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  4. Roll out the dough.
  5. Cut out the letter shapes.
  6. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  7. Bake for about 10 minutes.