Monthly Archives: March 2011

Manischewitz Cook-Off National Finals 2011

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

The Fifth Annual Man-O-Manischewitz National Cook Off just finished, and, man, I’m still buzzing. There was some serious high-octane, high-pressure, high-quality cooking, and I don’t think I expected to see any of that. I mean, this is Manischewitz you’re talking about — the matzah and wine people.

But this wasn’t your bubbe’s Manischewitz. Not only was the competition a slick, well-presented show at the stylin’ Uptown JCC, with speakers that emphasized the broad variety of Manischewitz products and repeatedly mentioned the word “innovation,” but there was an undertone of foodie-ism that wouldn’t have seemed out of place at a trendy restaurant or gourmet food blog. And the day opened with a tasting by none other than Jacques Pépin, a celebrity chef and TV host. In an interview (we’ll be posting it on our Youtube channel), Pepin was unexpectedly and pleasantly straight-up about Manischewitz. “They know how to make things taste good,” he said.

The day started off with a tasting hosted by Pepin, who also assisted Manischewitz and the JCC’s crew in their preparation. Yes, it was weird to serve chicken and mushroom soup at 10 A.M. But when you’re settling into an entire day where you’re going to be assailed with fine food, why waste time with cereal?

After the tasting, we went upstairs and met the contestants. The five finalists, chosen from a pool of 2,000 entries, really were pulled from all over. Two were from New Jersey, which was sort of expected, but two were from the South — from Miami, Florida, and Sophia, West Virginia — and the fifth hailed from Baltimore. They weren’t all Jewish and they didn’t all keep kosher, which raised some eyebrows among audience members, but seemed bizarrely representative of Manischewitz. It’s a brand that, one way or another, everyone manages to come into contact with sooner or later, even my deep-South ex-roommate’s mother, who loved using matzo meal for breading her pork cutlets.

The rules of the competition were simple. Recipes had to be simple, and easily reproducable. You could use no more than nine ingredients. And at least two of those ingredients had to be Manischewitz products.

The whole affair smacked more of a family reunion than a competition, where everyone was friendly and welcoming. Dena Burcat, 26, was cooking a Shallot Smothered Chicken (“My friends told me I should call it “ManiShallots,” she gushed to me), but rather than honing her skills or quaking nervously, she was just happy to talk food. Yes, there was a $25,000 prize at stake (a new kitchen makeover, including a new GE oven), but the finalists all just seemed happy to be there in the first place. Suzanne Banfield, 61, developed her Simple Fisherman’s Stew after eating a similarly-tasting recipe with shellfish in an Italian restaurant and wanted to create a healthier kosher version. And then, of course, there was the good old-fashioned Jewish geography — Stuart Davis, 45, was telling me the story about his Chicken and Egg Donburi — a kind of Japanese chicken soup — when I noticed that he was from Cherry Hill. “Hey,” I said, “My aunt lives in Cherry Hill!”

“Oh, really?” he said. “What part?”

I began to explain that I wasn’t quite sure, but they had a sort of yellowy-beige house with brown siding, when a woman next to me said, “Oh, Steven and Marilyn?” I was astounded that my description of their house was so spot-on. It turned out that she just noticed my press badge and matched up our names. But I was still pretty darn impressed.

The competition started. The contestants had an hour to cook and plate their dishes, after which they’d be presented to the judges. Meanwhile, a catering company had taken the recipes and served them to the audience (not the judges, though)…and so we munched. And socialized. And silently judged, even as we hovered by the contestants’ tables, watching them cook and scurry and fry their dishes into existence.

Throughout the day, Manischewitz tried to remind us that they were focused on innovation and new recipes. It’s an uphill battle, considering that the Manischewitz brand is imprinted on Jews since birth — the way most people will see the colors red and yellow together and think McDonald’s, we see orange and green and think Matzah! and Syrupy wine in a square bottle! The Manischewitz emblem was everywhere, so it was kind of hard to miss:

The judges called time. Some of the contestants hurried to finish the last touches on their plating. Suzanne, whose soup was boiling away and who didn’t plan to remove it until just before serving, folded her arms quietly. Stuart finished stacking his donburi, which had started to look like a wedding cake. Earlier, he said how every culture had its own version of chicken soup. I thought just then that, although every culture also has a different idea of what the perfect dish tastes like, almost everyone has the same aesthetic of food presentation. Not too much, not too little. Arranged a little bit weirdly, but not too weirdly.

The judges tasted. It was actually more of a pleasure watching them eat than it was to eat the food itself.* Jacques Pepin looks unspeakably cute shoveling food into his mouth, which is not something I’d ever say about another man.

And then they deliberated and added up scores — a wreaking process, especially since our babysitter got locked out of the house during that time and we were freaking out about our kids on one hand, and our picks for the winner on the other, and Itta eventually just ran for the subway while I stayed around to film the conclusion — and then co-CEO Paul Bensabat announced the winner. It was the guy who knew my aunt!

If you want to recreate the competition at home, here’s the winning entry: Chicken and Egg Donburi. The other recipes are on there, too.

I still have to admit, it’s hard to take Manischewitz seriously. I say this as a guaranteed lover of Manischewitz, as someone who grew up on their matzah and soup mixes and square wine bottles. Right now, as I type these words, I’m eating a packet of barbecue-flavored Tam-Tams that came inside the cookoff’s press kit (and who even knew Tam-Tams came in flavors besides garlic & onion?).

No matter what they do to improve their image, Manischewitz will always mean certain things to many of us. But the company is revitalizing their image — they’ve released 35 new products in the past year alone. “Our company has a goal of revolutionizing the kosher food industry,” said Bensabat in a speech that, forget a family reunion, had faint but unmistakable rumblings of world domination. “No longer will you say on Passover, ‘I can’t eat this.’ We have a kosher-for-Passover cupcake kit for kids. We have Moroccan fish meatballs. We have everything you could imagine.”

I think that kosher-for-Passover Moroccan fish meatballs (a dish, Bensabat later pointed out, that comes from his mother’s recipe) is officially one level beyond anything I could ever imagine. Even so, my dreams tonight are going to be swimming with Manischewitz recipes. To say nothing of my future midnight snack cravings for barbecue Tam-Tams.

______

* — Not that I should talk, since I’m a vegetarian and didn’t get to eat most of this — my report here is generated mostly through my wife, and the people we were hanging out with (thanks Farrah and HaDassah and Rachel Shukert), and because I love watching strangers eat. Which, I realize, is a little strange itself. On the other hand, they had really good fudge brownies, and I got a total head start on them.

Posted on March 31, 2011

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AJWS Dvar Tzedek Fellowship

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

Our good friends at AJWS are looking for a few more good women and men to write their social justice commentaries. It’s a great opportunity for writers and activists of all kinds.

AJWS is pleased to announce that we are accepting applications for the Dvar Tzedek Lisa Goldberg Memorial Writers’ Fellowship for 5772 / 2011-2012. AJWS Dvar Tzedek Fellows write insightful and articulate commentaries on the weekly Torah portion designed to inspire readers to engage in the pursuit of global justice. Dvar Tzedek currently reaches over 6,000 subscribers a week over e-mail.

Click here to download the application. Visit www.ajws.org/dvartzedek to see examples of Dvar Tzedek commentaries.

Applications are due on May 2, 2011. For more information, please contact lexler@ajws.org.

Fellows receive a generous stipend and attend a one-day orientation.

Posted on March 31, 2011

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A Good Looking Pastrami

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

There is no other restaurant in New York that makes me feel fatter than when I leave than the 2nd Ave. Deli. And I mean that as a good thing. You might think you’ve eaten good deli before, but if you’ve never been to 2nd Ave., then I’m telling you, you’ve never truly had good deli.

And for all the great things that are on their menu, nothing, not even the matzah ball soup, tops their pastrami. It’s mouth watering. The greatest thing that has ever touched my fair lips.

Not convinced yet? Watch this video where we learn how they make their most iconic sandwich.

Posted on March 30, 2011

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Crumbs Cupcakes: A Passover Tease

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

Crumbs Bake Shop has a line of Passover inspired cupcakes this year. Passover inspired, which is apparently very different from Kosher for Passover. Here’s their description of the cupcake teases:

Our collection of flourless cupcakes for Passover includes the Holy Moses – Chocolate Cake, fudge filling, chocolate cream cheese frosting covered in chocolate fondant and sprinkles, two Chocolate and Vanilla Commandments – chocolate cake, vanilla cream cheese filling, vanilla fondant with rainbow sprinkles, two Raspberry Red Sea cupcakes – nut cake filled with raspberry preserve, raspberry vanilla cream cheese frosting, sliced almonds and raspberry drizzle and Elijah’s Delight- nut cake with fudge filling, chocolate buttercream frosting and chocolate shavings. Our cupcakes are not Kosher for Passover.

I am kind of over the whole cupcake insanity, but I have to admit, these sound awesome, and anything that doesn’t call for 11 pounds of matzah meal is an improvement over most of the baked goods one finds on Passover. That’s why it’s such a bummer that these cakes are not actually okay to eat on Passover.

Crumbs, baby, why do you have to lead me on like this? You’re such a tease, cupcake.

Posted on March 30, 2011

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Downloading The Haggadah

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

At my parents house, we routinely have anywhere between 15-20 people at our Passover seders, occasionally even more. And while no one at the table even notices, my parents are able to provide a haggadah for every single person at the table. Not only that, we have more than one set of haggadahs! That comes out to about 50 books. That’s quite the financial commitment.

But what if you’ve never hosted a seder before? Should be expected to shell out hundreds of dollars just to be able to provide the proper reading material for your guests? And even more than that, what if you are all beginners, and don’t know the slightest thing about Passover or seders? Is it really worth it to invest in 20 books?

Luckily, the internet exists.

And inside the internet, JewishBoston.com has actually created a free downloadable basic Haggadah for your Passover seder. It’s very user friendly and, again, its free.

I wouldn’t say that their Haggadah is the most in depth Haggadah out there. So if you have a doctorate in Jewish Studies and have been hosting a seder for 50 years, this might not be the Haggadah for you.

But if you weren’t considering having a seder this year, partially because you didn’t even know how to have one, you should check out JewishBoston.com. I came away impressed.

Posted on March 29, 2011

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Jews in Odd Places

This entry was posted in Life on by .

When I told the people at my Orthodox Jewish high school that I was going to University of Iowa for college people were typically…puzzled. Why would anyone move to Iowa? Where would I go to shul? Where would I meet my beshert? To my shock, and the shock of pretty much everyone I knew in Chicago, going to school in Iowa made me more religious (and I’ve become less observant since moving to New York). Go figure.

Anyway, my own strange story makes it easy for me to believe and understand this story about the traditionally Lutheran Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania:

One of the hottest college campuses in the U.S. for Jewish students is also one of the unlikeliest: a small Lutheran school erected around a soaring stone chapel with a cross on top.

In what is being called a testament to word of mouth in the Jewish community, approximately 34 percent of Muhlenberg College’s 2,200 students are Jewish. And the biggest gains have come in the past five years or so.

Perhaps equally noteworthy is how Muhlenberg has responded: offering a kosher menu at the student union, creating a partnership with the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and expanding its Hillel House, a social hub for Jews.

Posted on March 28, 2011

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Best of the Week

This entry was posted in General on by .

Hey now (I’ve been watching a lot of The Larry Sanders Show)!!! The weekend is ever so close. I can almost taste it through my horrible cold.

Uh-oh. Passover is creeping up on us. Here are some good recipes to help you get rid of all your bread. Hey now.

When did klezmer music become popular? Hey now, this article will tell you everything you need to know.

Jews and Muslims have had a…hey now…interesting, if not tension filled history together. Read more about their relationship today.

Hey now! If you’re from the East Coast, you’d have no clue it was actually Spring. But it is. Read all about the connection between Spring and Passover.

All hail Hank Kingsley. Shabbat Shalom.

Posted on March 25, 2011

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A New Haggadah to Get Excited About

This entry was posted in Holidays, Texts on by .

Guess what? The Maxwell House Haggadah is being reissued this year, and it’s new and improved…but let’s face it, probably still solidly mediocre.

If you’re looking to add something new to your Haggadah collection this year, I recommend the brand new JPS haggadah, Go Forth and Learn: A Passover Haggadah written by Rabbi David Silver with Rachel Furst.

There’s two parts to this Haggadah–the traditional Haggadah text with commentary, and then a section of essays and longer commentaries on the Exodus story. The regular Haggadah part is good, but I didn’t find it as fun and interesting as the longer commentaries. One of my pet peeves about Passover is that we all make a big deal about how we’re going to tell the story of the Exodus, and then we end up talking about staying up all night, and the korban pesach and I just want to poke my eyes out with the shank bone. Where is the actual story of living in Egypt and then leaving? It’s here in Rabbi Silber’s book. He devotes a large chunk of the text to the stories that lead to the Jews ending up in Egypt, including Abraham and Hagar (usually not big players in Pesach celebrations) and an equally large chunk to meditations on what the Exodus meant for a people. I also really enjoyed the chapter that examined the creation themes in the ten plagues.

I don’t think I’d buy this Haggadah to give to everyone at my seder, but it’s a nice one to have as an added resource at the seder, with lots of interesting tidbits to add to the discussion.

And I say all this as someone who really hates Pesach and (usually) seders.

Posted on March 25, 2011

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Jews Fighting Jews

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Jon Stewart is at it again. It seems like every month or so, they pull out an exclusively Jewish segment that must confuse many of their non-Jewish watchers. And last night was no exception.

I didn’t actually know anything about this story prior to the expose last night. But it’s kind of messed up. The Orthodox community (I guess not exclusively Orthodox, but the campaign is being led by the Orthodox) in the Hamptons has been pushing to get an eruv set up in area so that shomer Shabbat Jews could carry things on Saturday.

Not a big deal. There are eruvs set up all across the country and most people don’t even know they are there. I’d even place a bet that 99% of non-Jews (and probably most Jews) who live within an eruv, don’t even realize it. Why? Because eruvs are next to invisible.

However, there are a bunch of anti-religious Jews in Westhampton, New York who are campaigning to not allow the eruv to be built. Within all their veiled reasoning is that they plain and simply don’t want religious Jews moving into their community. Hatred. Plain and simple. Here is the story in more detail.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t make fun of it.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Thin Jew Line
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

Posted on March 24, 2011

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Today Could Have Gone Better

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

For many years my homepage on my computer was the Jerusalem Post, not because I found them to be the world’s best or most accurate news source, but because I had friends and family in Israel, and Jpost would immediately note if there had been a bombing in Israel, and how many had been killed. But there have been a few years of relative quiet when it comes to bombs that kill Israeli civilians, and so Jpost is no longer the first thing I see in the morning when I turn on my computer.

Today there was a bombing in Jerusalem for the first time in four years, and I briefly considered changing my homepage back to Jpost. I won’t, but I’m so sad that it’s even something I considered.

This is maybe a good time to revisit one of my all-time favorite poems, The Diameter of the Bomb by Yehuda Amichai:

The Diameter of the Bomb

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making
a circle with no end and no God.

–Yehuda Amichai

On a related note: Three kids playing soccer and a grandfather were killed by Israeli rockets in Gaza yesterday. They were not the intended targets, but I’m not sure Netanyahu could have sounded any less sorry when he said, “It is regrettable that Hamas continues to intentionally rain down dozens of rockets on Israeli civilians even as it uses civilians as human shields.”

Posted on March 23, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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