Philly is Primping for #PHLDNC

Constitution Center

Constitution Center

It’s Independence Day weekend in Philadelphia and ohhhh… the sites and sounds. There are spectacular things to do and see… and some things will remain (and be added!) for the DNC Convention the last week in July.

I brought my nieces and my sister-in-law to, of course, the Constitution Center yesterday both to see the newest version of Freedom Rising, and the renovation of the Bronze Room. To me it really is the happiest place on earth. For this weekend, there are displays and demonstrations on the front lawn of Colonial times: a blacksmith and a weaver, just to name two of many.

Remember, the Constitution Center is hosting PoliticalFest, which will run July 22-27. It’s inexpensive and will be a terrific experience. You can get your tickets (good for all six days) at the convention website. If you’re credentialed, PoliticalFest is free.

This is a great place to get a sense of all the historical things you can tour in Philadelphia. Independence Hall. (The original home of the Declaration of Independence, and compilation of the Constitution.) Betsy Ross’ House. (Our first flag!) Effreth’s Alley. (The oldest, continuously occupied street in the United States.)

We then crossed the street to the Independence Visitor Center and at the south end, the Liberty Bell.

In the Visitor Center, we were greeted by two donkeys. There are 57 of them around Philly comprising the Donkeys Around Town program. They are created by local Philly artists to celebrate the states, DC and the territories, all in celebration of the DNC coming to town.

The Vermont Donkey

The Vermont Donkey by Philadelphia artist Sam S. Petner

The Rhode Island Donkey

The Rhode Island Donkey by Philadelphia artist Kathryn Pannepacker

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Rocky Statue formerly located in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Rocky Statue formerly located in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Stilt people at visitor center

Stilt people at visitor center

We then crossed the street to the Independence Visitor Center.

There’s more to see in the Visitor Center, including a Rocky statue and stilt people. Normally, I take visitors out on the second floor veranda of the Constitution Center, point past the Visitor Center, down the grassy mall to Independence Hall and remind them that the Founding Fathers and their families were guilty of treason against the crown, and risked life, limb and everything they held dear to fight so that we could breathe free today. This year, as I looked out at the crowds and the displays all I could wonder was about the juxtaposition of the coming Convention. Would this be Chicago ’68 redux? Would the arrests of the 2000 GOP convention be repeated, with so many people arrested that they were housed in the Armory at NAVSUP? What will happen on the streets and in the hall?

Philadelphia's Chinatown

Philadelphia’s Chinatown

No time to dwell, however, because there was more to see. If you’re coming to Philadelphia for the Convention, and you decide to come down to the Historic Area, you can walk out the north end of the Convention Center, turn east, and you’ll be in Chinatown. Philadelphia’s Chinatown is the third largest in the US, only San Francisco and New York’s are bigger. Our Chinatown is on a path of extension, both up and out towards the north. There’s great food, interesting shops, and I need to spare a word about the bakeries. As someone who is about 99% sweet tooth, I always scope the bakeries, and embrace the differences between, say, the macarons at good French bakeries, the cakes at Austrian bakeries, cannoli at Italian bakeries, and oh I could go on. The Chinatown bakeries should be Chinese, but for some reason, they all seem to carry Philly soft pretzels. Along with cheesesteaks, Philly soft pretzels are considered a delicacy when made right, but, well, not Chinese and I’m a purist.

Jess hugs her favorite delegate: James Madison.

Jess hugs her favorite delegate: James Madison.

Get excited! Come to Philly. The Convention will be a unique undertaking. I close this a picture of myself hugging my favourite delegate of all time at any gathering… James Madison. (And yes, you too can hug your pick fave in the Bronze Hall at the Constitution Center.) I think a lot about his Federalist Paper #10, on factionalism, and wonder what he would think about the upcoming floor fight over the Platform. What all the Founding Fathers would think about the possibilities regarding both Cleveland and Philadelphia. Perhaps they would be enamoured of the idea of sea change taking hold against a country that has become a corporatist country: a concept that didn’t exist in their day.

For Your Next Kosher Occasion: Chef Joseph Poon!

Ronit Treatman

Did you know you could have your kosher simcha catered by a kung fu master who studied with Bruce Lee?  Chef Joseph Poon offers fascinating tours of Chinatown, fruit sculpting lessons, and of course, fabulous kosher food.  

Whether your guests want matzah ball soup that tastes like your Lithuanian grandmother just cooked it, or authentic cuisine from Hong Kong, this master chef can do it all.  Best of all, he can help you plan a fun, exciting, and original celebration.

More after the jump.
Joseph Poon was born in Hong Kong, and attended elementary school with Bruce Lee.  They studied kung fu together.  At school, he also learned the art of Chinese calligraphy.  Joe started his culinary career at Cathay Airlines.  At age twenty-six, he set out to see the world.  In 1972, he visited Israel, spending time in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.  It was here that he saw his first tabun, and tasted his first loaf of bread straight out of the wood-fired brick oven.  In Hong Kong, food is steamed or stir fried, but not baked.  Chef Poon loved the crusty loaf, and the soft, spongy interior.  After spending some time in England, he settled in the United States.  He studied nutrition and classical Italian cuisine at SUNY College at  Oneonta. Chef Poon had lots of Jewish classmates in Oneonta.  “I’m a Chinese Jew!” he tells me.   Joseph cooked for many of their simchas. He taught himself traditional Eastern European Jewish recipes from cookbooks in the Oneonta library to please his friends families’ palates.  Following graduation, he settled in Philadelphia.

How does he make sure everything is kosher?  Joseph Poon starts every Kosher catering assignment with a brand new wok and cooking chopsticks.  It is possible for his clients to hire a mashgiach (kosher supervisor) from the Orthodox Vaad of Philadelphia (215) 725-5181.  Another source of mashgichim is the Rabbinical Assembly.  Chef Poon will follow the supervisor’s directions in order to comply with the rules of Kashrut.  Joseph Poon has experience working with synagogues, having taught cooking classes at Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and at Temple Sinai in Summit, New Jersey .  His specialties include gluten-free foods and dairy-free foods.   Chef Poon uses kosher fish to make traditional Chinese dishes.  One example is:

Chef Poon’s Steamed Whole Sea Bass With Ginger And Scallions  

  • One whole cleaned fresh Striped Bass
  • 1/2 cup diced ginger
  • Diced scallion
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 tbsp. light soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp. hot sesame oil

Sprinkle salt, ginger, and scallion on top of the fish.  Steam the Striped Bass for 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the size of the fish).  After cooking the fish, add the light soy sauce and hot sesame oil.  Serve immediately.

Joseph Poon is full of fun and energy!  That is what the occasions he plans are like.  While working at Cathay Airlines, Joseph Poon observed one of the master chefs creating beautiful fruit sculptures to garnish the dishes of the first class customers.  Joseph bought 50 lbs. of potatoes to learn how to make vegetable roses.  He experimented and discovered that if he submerged his potato roses in a water and white vinegar solution in a clear glass bowl, they would not oxidize, remaining white.  Chef Poon has elevated fruit and vegetable sculpting into an art form.  You can learn how to make some of his fruit and vegetable sculptures from his cookbook, Life Is Short…Cooking Is Fun.  For something different at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration, he can teach the guests how to carve their own vegetable sculptures.  Teenagers growing up with the Iron Chef television program love the opportunity to learn how to make something special with food.  At the end of the party, the guests may know how to carve a pig out of a lemon, and then by squeezing it, make it “pee” lemon juice on someone’s hand.

Chef Poon organizes very creative bridal showers. Under his guidance, the bride and her guests learn how to make their own kosher sushi. The mothers of the bride and groom get to handle really sharp knives while prepping the ingredients!  This sushi makes for a lovely, light repast.  As a special treat, custom fortune cookies can be ordered.  Inside the cookies, Jewish blessings are inscribed!

The most special birthday party I ever planned was Joseph Poon’s  Wok’N Walk tour of Chinatown.  Joe loves kids, and they love him!  He took a group of 10-year old children on an insider’s tour of Chinatown.  First, we went to a restaurant supply store where he showed us the special equipment used in Chinese cuisine.  We saw woks, ginger graters, noodle strainers, and many other interesting items.  Chef Poon asked the children questions about what they were seeing, and awarded them prizes.  They loved that!  We kept going, visiting a Buddhist Temple, and standing on the sidewalk as the Chinese New Year Lion dance pranced past us, and really loud fireworks were set off.  Joe taught us how to say “gong hey fat choy” which means “happy new year” in Chinese.  He took us to a Chinese bakery, where we tasted bubble tea, a sweet, milky tea in which tapioca “pearls” are suspended.  Now that we were re-energized, we followed him to the bookstore, where he demonstrated the art of Chinese calligraphy using special brushes and ink.  We went to a secret underground Chinese supermarket, where Chef Poon showed us traditional herbal medicines, exotic fruits, vegetables, teas, and fish that were so fresh they were still swimming in an aquarium.  Where is this mysterious market?  My elementary krav maga skills are no match for Chef Poon’s martial arts abilities.  My lips are sealed!  Chef Poon concluded the tour with a visit to a fortune cookie factory.  We saw the special conveyor belts, which take round discs of dough through an oven, place a fortune on each cookie while it was still hot, and then pinch it into the familiar fortune cookie shape.  We tasted chocolate, vanilla, and orange flavored fortune cookies.  All this exploring gave us a big appetite, so we went back to Chef Poon’s restaurant.  He prepared crispy vegetarian spring rolls, two types of chicken, rice, and stir fried vegetables.  To conclude the meal, he not only served a beautiful birthday cake, but also his homemade almond cookies.  

Joseph Poon has been invited back to Israel many times since 1972.  His Jewish friends from Oneonta want him to attend their families’ bnai mitzvahs and weddings in Jerusalem.  I asked him, “What would you like to see the most on your next visit?”  He answered, “A menu in a Chinese restaurant, written in Hebrew!”