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.

Akara: Black-Eyed Pea Fritters

What should you serve when the last night of Hanukkah abuts the secular New Year’s Eve? The Yoruba tribe of West Africa offers the perfect recipe for a mash-up of traditions. It makes it possible for you to combine the American southern custom of serving black-eyed peas for good luck with the Hanukkah tradition of serving latkes. The result is akara, one of the most popular snacks in West Africa. [Read more…]

Hanukkah Rosettes

639px-rosettecookieWould you like to serve a fried treat that is delicious and beautiful this Hanukkah? Surprise your family and friends with a delicate rose, created from batter, shaped by a metal cookie cutter, and cooked in olive oil. This ethereal treat harks back to ancient Persia, medieval German woodcutters, and the Ottoman Empire.

The technique of deep-frying foods originated in the Mediterranean in the 5th Century BCE. The most commonly used oil was olive oil. As traders took this art to Persia, cooks poured batter into the hot oil, and then immersed the fritter in a syrup of rosewater and sugar. In the 15th Century CE elaborate wooden molds were carved in Europe for shaping gingerbread cookies. Both the mold carving and gingerbread baking were controlled by guilds. In the 18th Century CE the wood was replaced by tin, and shaped cookies were democratized. Everyone could bake their own fancy cookies! The cooks of the Ottoman Empire brought all these traditions together to create a beautiful fritter called demir tatlisi. They dipped iron molds in the shape of flowers in batter and deep-fried them. A warm syrup of sugar, water, and lemon was allowed to simmer on the side. After all the cookies were fried, they were dipped in the syrup and served. Visiting European diplomats brought these recipes to Europe, where they were adopted. Scandinavia fell in love with the flower cookies, calling them Struva. The syrup was replaced with powdered sugar. When the British discovered them, they named them rosettes. You may surprise your Hanukkah guests with beautiful flower shaped fritters.

Hanukkah Rosettes
Adapted from Kari Diehl

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • Powdered sugar
  • Olive oil or vegetable oil
  • Special equipment: you will need a rosette mold https://www.amazon.com/Norpro-Swedish-Rosette-Timbale-3286/dp/B0000VLYB8

    1. Mix the flour, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt.
    2. Refrigerate the batter for 2 hours.
    3. Heat the oil in a heavy pot to 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
    4. Pour the batter into a shallow casserole dish.
    5. Heat the rosette mold in the oil.
    6. Dip the hot mold in the batter so that the bottom and sides are coated, but not the top.
    7. Submerge the mold and batter in the hot oil.
    8. Fry until golden brown.
    9. Place the rosettes on a paper towel to blot the excess oil.
    10. Arrange the rosettes on a plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

    Being Jewish During Christmas: 10 Easy Steps

    Photo by Joe Goldberg https://www.flickr.com/photos/goldberg/

    Photo by Joe Goldberg

    Being Jewish in the diaspora is especially difficult during Christmas. Christmas is such a shiny and beautiful celebration, that it is hard for Hanukkah not to be eclipsed by it. I decided to rise to the challenge. Here is how I did it.

    1) Acknowledge the beauty of Christmas

    Honesty is key. The Christmas decorations and lights are lovely. There is no harm in saying so. My family enjoyed admiring them all around us. At no time were christmas decorations allowed in our home, and my kids were never permitted to help their friends decorate a Christmas tree.

    2) Control the radio and television

    As soon as Thanksgiving is over, the broadcast media inundates everyone with Christmas music and movies. We made a point of listening to Hanukkah and Israeli music, and to watch movies about Hanukkah. We created our own Hanukkah bubble, which was surrounded by Christmas.

    3) Instill pride with the retelling of the story of the Maccabees

    Tell your kids the story of the bravery of the Maccabees. Use whatever resources you have at your disposal to bring it to life. Most kids are fascinated to discover that the weapon of mass destruction during their time was the war elephant.

    4) Make Hanukkah crafts

    We made our own beeswax candles and hanukiot. It was so much more meaningful for the children to light a menorah they had made themselves.

    5) Participate in community celebrations

    Your family may join an ice menorah sculpting and lighting happening, or go to the Latkepalooza to taste non-traditional latkes. Communal menorah lightings and celebrations are a wonderful way to feel part of your People during Hanukkah.

    Photo by MathKnight https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MathKnight

    Photo by MathKnight https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MathKnight

    6) Create your own Hanukkah fun

    We celebrated Hanukkah by making our own gelt, preparing latkes and sufganiot, and hosting at least one Hanukkah party. It is fun to serve Israeli foods during a Hanukkah party, as well as Sephardic treats and specialties from other Jewish communities. Of course, no Hanukkah party is complete without the dreidel game.

    7) Light an olive oil menorah

    Lighting an olive oil menorah transports you back in time to the Temple in Jerusalem. Your family can relive the rededication of the Temple after the victory of the Maccabees, and the lighting of the pure oil.

    8) Give great presents!

    If you examine the reasons young children are envious of Christmas, one of the main ones is that gifts are involved. This one is easy to solve. I told my kids that while children who celebrate Christmas get gifts during only one day, kids who celebrate Hanukkah get gifts during eight nights. Then, I went out and bought eight great gifts for each of them. They had something to look forward to every day. When Christmas and Hanukkah were over, all the kids at school compared what they had received. My children were satisfied with their gifts.

    9) Bond with other Jews

    There is a special bond that forms in December between Jews. There are enough of us in the Philadelphia area that together we share a special Christmas tradition. Have dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown, and then go to a movie. Check the Jewish community listings for special activities and events scheduled on December 24 and 25. Single people in our community should go to the matzah ball where they can mingle with other eligible single Jews. Even when Christmas and Hanukkah don’t overlap, non-Christmas feels like our own special holiday.

    10) Be genuinely happy for your Christian friends.

    I always wish my Christian friends a happy Christmas, and I mean it. I love hearing about their different traditions and recipes. I have modeled this behavior for my family.

    My kids are now young adults. I asked them what they thought of their Hanukkah experience growing up in the United States. They told me that Christmas is a beautiful holiday, and that they feel so lucky to be Jews celebrating Hanukkah.

    Hanukkah Chili

    As winter descends over Philadelphia, we get to drive away the darkness with our Hanukkah lights. One way to make our Hanukkah parties more festive is to cook a large pot of chili. Served with corn chips or some fresh crusty bread and assorted garnishes, it is the perfect main course to enjoy before the latkes, sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), and chocolate gelt make their appearance. [Read more…]

    The Bounty of the Sea

    Photo by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

    Photo by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris.

    It is common to visualize the Thanksgiving feast as a beautifully set table with a large, golden-brown roasted turkey at the center, surrounded by fall vegetables and cornbread. Perhaps it would be more accurate, though, to feature a platter of fish. The Wampanoag tribe, who celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims in Plymouth in 1621, depended on the Atlantic Ocean for much of their sustenance. The Native Americans foraged for mushrooms, berries, wild herbs and nuts to supplement their diet, and they shared this bounty with the Pilgrims.

    One of the most plentiful species of fish found in the Atlantic Ocean was cod. The recipe below is inspired by ingredients that would have been easily available to the Native Americans and Pilgrims. [Read more…]

    The Savory Pumpkin Pie

    How can you make something for Thanksgiving dinner in a hurry? Many people dread having to cook all the traditional dishes. They lack the time and expertise to roast the perfect whole turkey. One dish that combines many of the traditional fall flavors associated with Thanksgiving is the savory chicken pumpkin pot pie.

    This delicious pie can be prepared using convenience and canned goods from the supermarket. It is a very versatile recipe, and you may use any fresh or frozen vegetables at hand to enhance it. If you prefer, you may use a store-bought roasted turkey in the recipe instead of the chicken.

    Photo by Alvin Smith https://www.flickr.com/photos/heather_joy/

    Photo: Alvin Smith.

    Chicken Pumpkin Pie

    • 1 roasted chicken, cut up
    • 1 can of plain pumpkin puree
    • 1 onion, cubed
    • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
    • 1/4 cup minced parsley
    • 1/2 cups fresh sage leaves, minced
    • 1 tbsp. olive oil
    • 1 tbsp. flour
    • 3 tbsp. chicken broth
    • 2 frozen pie crusts or individual tart shells
    • Salt and black pepper to taste
    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
    2. Heat the oil in a heavy pot.
    3. Brown the onion over medium heat.
    4. Add the minced garlic.
    5. Mix in the flour, and then add the broth.
    6. Stir until you have a smooth sauce.
    7. Place the chicken, pumpkin, parsley, and sage in a large bowl.
    8. Season with salt and pepper.
    9. Stir the contents of the bowl into the sauce.
    10. Pour the pumpkin-chicken mixture into the pie crust or tart shells.
    11. Top the pie crust or tart with the second pie crust or flattened tart shell, pinching the edges shut.
    12. Cut a few slits in the top crust to allow the steam to escape.
    13. Bake for 45 minutes for a large pie, around 15 minutes for individual tarts.

    Ful Nabed: Sukkot Fava Bean Soup

    When the Ancient Israelites left Egypt, they carried the memories of the foods they enjoyed with them. Of all the vegetables, they missed fava beans the most. Fava beans, which have been in Egypt for over 8,000 years, have been found in the tombs of the pharaohs as part of the indispensable items that must be brought to the afterlife. Egyptian Jews have retained the tradition of eating fava beans when celebrating happy occasions. On the sixth night of Sukkot, a delicious soup made with fava beans, called Ful Nabed, is served. [Read more…]

    American Jewish Committee: The Dean of American Jewish Organizations

    The American Jewish Committee (AJC) The AJC was founded in 1906. The impetus for creating this organization was the news of the pogroms against Jews in the Russian Empire. The AJC’s mission was to “prevent infringement of the civil and religious rights of Jews and to alleviate the consequences of persecution,” no matter where they were occurring. The AJC is still going strong today, advocating for religious pluralism, Muslim-Jewish relations, and Jewish students on campus. One of the AJC’s most important areas of activism is in combating the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement. [Read more…]