Earlier this week, Efrat Libfroind wrote about cooking and self-improvement, being a mother and a full-time pastry chef and the only kosher cooking student in class. Her new cookbook, Kosher Elegance, is now available.
At times, Israel can feel like a very divided country. It is as if we Israelis all belong to our specific tribe and never come into contact with the others tribes unless forced to.
Publishing my cookbook has been a wonderful experience because I have come into contact with many Israelis who on the face of things, belong to a different tribe than me. I have enjoyed working with all sorts of people in the production of my book (photographers, food stylists, journalists etc). What I find really eye-opening is when the reactions these people have when they meet me. I have loved every minute of it.
At the same time, I speak fluent English, I run a business and have traveled. I keep up with trends in the world of food and cooking accessories. So, I do live within my tribe but I am quite aware of what is happening with other tribes. So while I don’t live or work all that much with members of other Israeli tribes…..I have a pretty good understanding of what is happening in the wider Israeli reality.
However, I think for many people I have been meeting due to my book….I am the first. The first ultra-Orthodox Jew that they are dealing with in an “up close & personal” way.
An example was when recently a reporter from a prestigious Israeli (secular) newspaper spent 6 hours with me at my home in order to discuss my new book and to watch me in action (in the kitchen). I loved spending so much time with her – she was wonderful, a real pleasure to talk to. For her, I think it was an anthropological experience. She couldn’t get over how I have 6 kids, run a successful business, published a cookbook in 2 languages and my husband learns Torah. It is true she did find me in the kitchen but….I think our time together broke down a lot of stereotypes for her. For, me it has been heartwarming to feel the openness and interest of so many of my fellow Israelis for members of “other” tribes (like me! ). I mean, the news seems to say we don’t get along! But I have been finding otherwise. Time and time again. Seems kosher gourmet food is a great connector.
Sweet and Sour Avocado Salad
Avocado is one of my favorite fruits. Its neutral taste goes well with a variety of unusual flavors. In this salad I created a sweet and sour combination. It’s quick and easy to prepare – just make sure you have all the ingredients on hand.
Serves approximately 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon date syrup or honey
Peel avocado and cut into small chunks. Pit dates and cut into cubes. Dice the peppers and red onion, and cut scallions into thin strips. Transfer fruit andvegetables to a deep bowl. Add the dried cranberriesand almonds. In a small bowl, mix the dressing, pourover the salad, and toss.
Tip: For an original presentation, purchasedecorative serving spoons at a paper goods store and serve individual portions of salad in them.
A mezuzah case made from a PEZ dispenser is a hoot. And unique, apparently — or so said Google at the moment of my epiphany, despite how inevitable it felt. I loved the idea and the look of repurposing an iconic, candy-enabling toy, and could not wait to share my mezuzah mashup with the world.
But the world–or the tiny corner where some of my Jewish friends hang–was not nearly as pleased as I had hoped. A PEZ-uzah, apparently, might not be the thing. I concede it is a bit ironic to post a Piglet PEZ dispenser on the doorframe of my kosher kitchen, but damn, it’s funny. Perhaps a Hello Kitty PEZ-uzah would pose fewer layers of problematic meaning? No, it still creeped my buddies that I’d be touching a shaped, plastic image with reverence, and raising my fingers to my lips. I’d be kissing Hello Kitty like she was the Shema herself. (Which might be true if I actually remembered to touch any of the mezuzot in my house.)
My PEZ problem–for now, my thrilling invention had become a problem–made me ponder mezuzah rules anew. I’ve been obsessed with mezuzot since Kveller.com ran my article on making a mezuzah with kids. I saw potential mezuzah cases everywhere: empty lip balm, the cardboard tube on a dry-cleaner hanger, a toothpaste box, the fat straw in my bubble tea, a HotWheels van and so on. It felt Freudian: anything longer than it was wide could be a mezuzah. But sometimes, a cigar case is just a cigar case.
The PEZ dispenser was a revelation. It co-opted a toy for ritual use, was kid-friendly, cheap, readily available and it assumed the role with minimum modification. It’s an icon of American pop culture and, not coincidentally, irresistible to operate: pull up the head, insert the candy and dispense each piece with a backwards nod. Already similar in size and shape to a standard mezuzah case, a PEZ dispenser even has a built-in cavity for stashing a scroll. Slap some foam tape on the back and bingo: a PEZ-uzah!
But my frum friends made me wonder, is a PEZ-uzah kosher? That’s when I put down my shin stickers and candy and got busy.
Some PEZ candy is kosher, but not every variety: Only the packs distributed by Paskesz Candy, Inc., the worthies who also give us heckshered Haribo gummy bears and Orbitz gum. A PEZ dispenser is kosher, if it’s new. But, edibility aside, is it kosher as the case for a ritual object? What about that endlessly tricky Second Commandment:
“You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth” (Exodus 20:3-4).
Every PEZ dispenser is a “sculptured image,” a “likeness” of an animal, licensed character, object or human. That’s part of what makes PEZ so iconic. But they aren’t real icons in the rabbinical sense, even if they align with the pristine Greek word (eikon means image). PEZ images are kosher because they aren’t meant to elicit veneration, just to eject candy. The big picture is that the second commandment is concerned with the making of idols, not with prohibiting a Visual Tradition. No PEZ dispenser is intended as “a material representation of divinity,” even the 2007 limited edition Elvis Presley.
If your particular minhag (custom) forbids human representation, note well that PEZ makes relatively few human-shaped dispensers, and fewer based on actual people. Another consideration is that the Talmudic injunction against producing faces does not apply to those created by nonJews. I wondered if any of the injection-mold operators at the PEZ factories were Jewish, but after PEZ Candy, Inc. told me they don’t even know if its founder, Austrian physician/entrepreneur Eduard Haas III, was Jewish, I didn’t think it feasible to ask. However, Talmudic faces aside, any mezuzah case made by a nonJew is acceptable.
More significantly, the Shulhan Arukh (16th century code of Jewish law) weighs in on the side of the PEZ-uzah. Yoreh Deah 141-142 sanctions “depictions of the human body that are somehow incomplete.” “Somehow incomplete” certainly describes characters on a PEZ dispenser, human or otherwise: a head on a stick.
Is a PEZ-uzah too irreverent? Yes of course, for some. I mean no disrespect. But to me, a PEZ-uzah is irresistible and Jewish, two modifiers not used in the same sentence often enough. Converting a well-loved, secular object into Jewish ritual art is an exercise in seeing the world through Jewish eyes. Everything is Jewish, one way or another, once you start to look. My favorite book for early childhood educators is What’s Jewish About Butterflies? by Maxine Segal Handelman, whose well-supported answer to the titular question is, “What isn’t?” Jewish values are everywhere. In other words, sometimes, a cigar case is actually a mezuzah case.
The important thing about a mezuzah case is that it protects what is inside: the mezuzah itself, the kosher scroll hand-lettered with the Shema, Judaism’s central prayer (Deuteronomy 6:9 and 11:13-21). Affixing the scroll to a doorpost is a mitzvah, a commandment, and putting it in a case is a practical, protective measure. Traditionally, a case is an anything-goes category. The first ones were probably hollow reeds plucked from the riverbank in Egypt. I remember the startling DIY bivalve-shell version in The Jewish Catalog (treif to eat, but kosher to hang). As long as it is affixed properly to the proper door with the proper blessing, it’s fine. A standard PEZ dispenser can house any scroll up to 2 ¼ inches tall. It also facilitates the mandatory twice-every-seven-year inspection to make sure each letter is still legible. No need to back out screws or pry up nailheads: just slide it open in situ. Love it! Not many cases are such a boon to the observant.
There’s a Jewish tradition to beautify a commandment, hiddur mitzvah, and the beauty of the PEZ-uzah is eminently in the eye of its beholders. If a Hello Kitty PEZ-uzah looks good to me in my house, then it works. The only traditional modification a dispenser might require is the addition of the letter shin for Shaddai, one of the names of God. Use permanent ink, a sticker or glitter glue.
True to the spirit and the letter of Torah, the PEZ-uzah innovates the ritual with a cheeky sweetness. Isn’t Torah supposed to be sweet? We still initiate our kids into Hebrew School with honey and Hebrew letters. Spending time with them while making something Jewish—a ritual object, no less—is the best recommendation. Here’s another plus: a PEZ-uzah, being so noticeable, invites passersby to see and touch it, thus fulfilling its function as a reminder of the message within. The original “interactive candy” nudges us toward interactive Judaism, dispensing menschlichkeit instead of mints.
Disclaimer: The ideas and opinions expressed here are not authorized, sponsored or endorsed by PEZ Candy, Inc.
Part of my business is providing continuing education courses to Israeli public school teachers. In Israel, these courses have a bit more of a “sabbatical year” feel to them, so fun topics like cooking and pastry baking are acceptable choices. I love teaching these courses.Teaching cooking and baking to large numbers of women over the years has been very enlightening. It has become clear to me that while teaching these courses, I am a psychologist as well as a chef and baker.
The groups I click with the most are the women who are upbeat and happy. They come to each class with high hopes and expectations and they drink it all in. They obediently take notes of every word I utter and the have a digital camera going non-stop in order to record every move I make. It is always fun when I put together the various parts of a recipe. There are ‘wows’ from all over the room and cameras clicking so furiously from every possible angle that I feel like I am at a press conference with the Prime Minister.
Another type of student is the more….aggressive type. I have gotten used to this type of student over the years. They come to the course all ready to fail. When this type of student tries a recipe, if it doesn’t look exactly like what I modeled….she attacks. She doesn’t throw eggs, but it is a flood of complaints and frustration. I have learned how to calmly coach this sort of student out of the black hole of recipe failure. It is an art, believe me.
There are students who are so excited about their cooking efforts outside the classroom that they bring in pictures as part of an adult version of “show and tell.” Often, what they made looks nothing like what I taught them…but they are thrilled and proud. Nothing stops them. I love when this happens and I just keep encouraging them.
I often teach women who have a strong desire to achieve and express themselves. I find that the cooking or baking skills they learn become tools in these efforts. They may not find such expression in their jobs and maybe even at home. Often, it seems that their entry into the world of more creative cooking and baking allows these women to grow in life generally. Who knew? Baking for self esteem! Cooking for overall well being! This could be the new yoga.
Over the years I have developed a sense for identifying these women and I really try to give them special attention and encourage them to experiment and to create and…to take pictures every step of the way! This way they can show others and always refer to the great things they have done and (hopefully) continue to do. It really gives me a lot of personal satisfaction working with these women – especially when I see the look in their eyes…..I realize we’ve done a lot more than learned to cook together.
Stuffed Chicken Wedges
Tzippy is a close friend and an accomplished chef in her own right. Before every event she hosts, she calls me and we go over every detail of the menu from A to Z. When she called before her most recent party, she told me we would only discuss the details of the main course and on — she’d already planned the first course. She sounded a little secretive, but since I was attending the event in question, I didn’t pressure her to reveal her secret. This recipe was that surprise dish. It won rave reviews, and I received permission from Tzippy to share it with you.
9 chicken breasts, pounded thin
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 small leek, cut into strips
2 cloves garlic, chopped
15 sun-dried tomato halves, diced (to make your own, see page 74)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bunch chives, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
Filling: Saute onion and leek in olive oil for 10 minutes. Add sun-dried tomatoes. Add remaining ingredients and saute for about 5 more minutes. Arrange 3 of the chicken breast slices on the bottom of a 9-inch round pan so that the entire base of the pan is covered. Spread half of the filling over the chicken and cover with another layer of chicken. Spread the remaining half of the filling on the chicken and top with the last three chicken breasts.
Mix olive oil and paprika and brush the top layer of chicken with the mixture. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes at 350°F. Cool slightly and sprinkle with chopped chives. Cut into wedges and serve.
Tip: For a special presentation, bake individual servings in 2-inch food rings.
I’ll never forget the first time I entered the lecture hall at the most famous cooking school in the world. Even though I was already the mother of 3 children, I felt like a little girl on my first day of school.
Around me I heard a babble of languages from all over the world – something that was very new to me. I was convinced everyone was looking at me, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman with a wig on her head.
In the first lecture (“Intro to Food Technology”) I was unable to concentrate for the first half hour – I was way too self-conscious. I finally relaxed a bit and was able to lose myself in what turned out to be a very fascinating topic.
As the course progressed, I realized that I was not very different than my fellow students except for my headgear. Regardless, somehow, most of the students realized I was Jewish. If they didn’t, they figured it out soon enough.
As you might imagine, a big part of professional cooking courses is tasting foods. Besides the pleasure of eating gorgeous cakes and other creations there is also the important aspect of being able to taste various ingredients, to feel the textures and understand firsthand what was discussed in the lectures. So the first time when everyone stood around the chef and started tasting foods and
schmoozing about the dishes I just wanted to disappear into a corner so I couldn’t be seen. I was the “kosher student”. Now I was forced to deal with it.
Soon after, a kind-hearted American woman, about 60, came running over to me with a plate of something wonderful and could not understand why I wasn’t trying it out. I explained that as an observant Jew, I wouldn’t eat food that wasn’t kosher and cooked in kosher utensils. She didn’t really get it, and then a few other students leaned in to take part in the conversation (some have since become well-known chefs!).
They tried to make sense of what I was saying. “You won’t taste anything here? Never? So what are you doing here?” I did my best to explain what observing the laws of kashrut meant and how that played out in my life (and in cooking school!).
Since then, a lot of cooking and baking has happened for all of us. My first trial by fire wasn’t so easy but once I got used to the various responses I received….I was fine. Plus, I was pretty popular since I always gave away my food to others!
Over the years as I have participated in numerous professional courses I have developed a much better sense of smell which helps me during tests or other times when tasting food is important.
So while I have missed out on many food tastings (and calories) over the years…..I have learned a ton.
Being a full-time mom and also a full time professional chef and pastry chef is well….extraordinary. I have 6 kids and I have built an active business which focuses on teaching cooking, baking and now…..a cookbook.
I am, of course, the mom who makes the fancy cakes for all my kids’ school and birthday parties. And when my daughters have a party with some friends I always find myself “volunteered” to make the desert. Sometimes they leave it up to me what to make but always say “Mom, choose what you want to make, just as long as it has at least 4 layers….”
I find it very adorable when my kids’ friends come over to our house to play. Somehow, they often seem to find their way to the kitchen and watch me doing my thing with big eyes. My kids show off a bit and then always find a way to share the goodies. In Israeli Orthodox circles (and some American as well) my name has become “known” since I often write in magazines and hundreds of women have taken my courses. I think my older kids enjoy this. When people ask their names, they increasingly get the “are you the child of….?” treatment. Then the next question is always “So how come are you so thin?”
My kids always seem to know more about food than anyone their age. Recently my daughter in nursery school jumped into a class discussion on chocolate saying that her favorite is Ganache with chocolate liqueur. When the teacher asked her to elaborate my daughter told her “just call my Mom, she is good at it.” Of course, my kids know all the cuts of meat and the names of the latest & hippest fish that everyone is eating now. I must smile since I couldn’t even make an omelet when I got married.
Shabbat and holiday meals are really a highlight for my family. My family are my guinea pigs and they know (and love) it. This is when I try out everything, all my culinary experiments. So I roll out all the new recipes and decorations I am trying. It is always a big celebration. It is nice to have guests during these meals, because they usually love it as well, and I think it makes my kids feel great to see the reactions. The only problem is that we don’t get invited out all that often. Some have told me that having me eat their food makes them feel pressured or judged since I am a chef. They have obviously not heard the pearl of wisdom that “everything tastes great when made by someone else”.
So my career is important – no question about it. I teach, I write, I cook non-stop but my family and husband come first. If I can combine the two…that is a real plus. So considering how involved my family is with my food….I may be succeeding.
Makes approximately 2 cups
Ganache is a fundamental ingredient in many petits fours, miniatures, and desserts. It can be used as a liquid or solid. When preparing ganache it will first be liquid, and after cooling at room temperature (not in the fridge!) it will solidify. Liquid ganache is used to fill silicone molds to form components of petits fours. Solid ganache is used for decorating desserts and as a glue to connect various parts.
My professional secret for making perfect ganache is to add margarine to chocolate in a 1 to 10 ratio. The margarine makes the ganache glossier as well as easier to work with.
10 1/2 ounces pareve bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons margarine
1 8-ounce container Rich’s Whip
3 tablespoons good-quality liqueur
Makes 20 shells
1 recipe ganache
2 tablespoons rolled fondant (available at specialty baking stores)
Basic ganache: Melt chocolate and margarine in microwave. Add RichWhip and beat with a handheld whisk until a smooth, shiny cream forms. Add liqueur. If ganache hardens while you’re working with it, return it to microwave to remelt it.
Ganache seashells: Use Pavoni-brand molds, model xp006. Fill molds while ganache is still liquid. Freeze for 1 hour and release from molds. Shape fondant into pearl-sized balls. Connect the back edges of two seashells with a drop of ganache and place a fondant pearl inside the opening of the double shell.
Tip: If you want an especially firm ganache that will hold up for a few hours out of the fridge, increase the chocolate in the recipe by 20 percent.
Come back all week to read stories and recipes from Efrat Libfroind. Her new book, Kosher Elegance, is now available.
“The man who seeks to wipe out his own past is thrown into a state of constant hatred of himself….The old cannot be cut out clean. There ensues a sort of spiritual gangrene.”
–Shmarya Levin, Youth in Revolt
Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.
Earlier this week, David Albahari explained the motive behind the madness of one-paragraph novels and the author’s voice. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Counciland MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.
Being a Jewish writer is no different from being any other kind of writer. I don’t believe that Jewish writers have any special mission, or that they see the world in a different way, which would give them any advantage over other writers. Only one thing matters when you are a writer: the way you use your language and what you do with it. It does not matter whether you are religious or secular, formally educated or uneducated, involved in tradition or having nothing to do with it – the only thing that matters is your ability to tell stories or sing songs in a way that has not been done before.
So how do we define a Jewish writer? This question is sometimes very important for Jewish writers who live in small secular Jewish communities in the Diaspora, like the one in Serbia where I come from. For me, a Jewish writer is a writer of Jewish origin who writes mainly on Jewish themes.
It can be argued that when a national literature is defined we never base our definition on the themes of literary works. This is true but it is because we have other criteria such as language and territory. We could introduce language into our definition of the Jewish writer, and there would obviously be at least three: Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino, but then we would lose a large number of Jewish writers writing in non-Jewish languages, writers such as Joseph Roth, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, or Danilo Kis. And finally, it is impossible to include any specific territory in our definition as Jewish writers live all over the world.
The unique history of the Jewish people has contributed to the unique position of Jewish literature. Serbian Jewish literature is both part of a national literature – because of the fact that Serbian Jewish writers write in Serbian – and part of multilingual worldwide Jewish literature. This means that it would be seen as one of a number of ethnic literatures that belong to Serbian literature in general. In other words, worldwide Jewish literature consists of a large number of ethnic Jewish literatures just as the world Jewish community consists of many different Jewish communities. It is diversity that makes us – both as a people and as writers – what we truly are.
I’ve been a vegetarian for almost twenty years, but I’m intentionally chill about it. I won’t eat meat or poultry but I never tell anyone they should follow my lead. I honestly don’t care if other people are carnivores or not as long as my plate stays meat-free. But I have to be honest and say that reading this article in the Harvard Business Review did make me feel a weensie bit self righteous. The article says that if you want to reduce your carbon footprint you can try eating local, but even if everything you buy is local, you’ll still do better by just cutting the meat out of your diet.
• Food is transported a long way, going about 1,000 miles in delivery and over 4,000 miles across the supply chain.
• But 83% of the average U.S. household’s carbon footprint for food comes from growing and producing it. Transportation is only 11%.
• Different foods have vastly different greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity, with meat requiring far more energy to produce, and red meat being particularly egregious, requiring 150% more energy than even chicken.
So the journal article adds this up to an obvious conclusion: if you want to reduce your food’s carbon footprint, eat less meat. In short, “Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.”
So if you’re trying to compensate for all the air conditioning you’re using this summer by using a bit less fossil fuels in other parts of your life, how about having a vegetarian Shabbat this week? Here at MJL we already have a nice little database of Vegetarian Entrees, but here are four more of my favorites:
What are your favorite vegetarian Shabbat entrees?
I think it was Saul Bellow who once said that writers do not have tasks or duties – they only have their inspiration and that’s the only voice they should listen to. We can discuss where that voice is coming from – from our mind or our heart or that mysterious entity called the human soul – but we cannot change the fact that writers are the scribes who try to write down everything the voice of inspiration tells them. So writers do not write in order to say something to somebody; they write in order to hear and write down what that voice has to tell us. I am not trying to say that writing is an altogether mysterious, secret thing but some part of writing definitely is. The other part, written because we were told to write it, definitely is not. Most of it should be classified as propaganda – promotion of different literary, ideological, political, psychological, cultural ideas. There have always been writers who openly believed in a political system or a party, and in many cases readers and other writers have refused to deal with them. I am not saying that writers should not get involved in a political struggle but they should do it not as writers but as human beings. Unfortunately, once they are seen as human beings many writers turn out to be not very interesting creatures. In fact, they become like everybody else. Only a very small number of writers are really outstanding beings who truly understand the beauty and horror of our world.
Last night, stand-up comedy sensation and ghostwriter to the stars Jeremy Moses — otherwise known as our former Editorial Fellow, who’s moved on to bigger and better — had his debut performance. I’m not even going to try to reiterate what he talked about (in the space of four minutes, he covered race relations, kids’ obsession with eating, pornography, and why everybody loves fruit) but you should know, he was a raging success.
Host and M.C. Andrew Singer (who’s also been featured on MJL) captured Jeremy’s performance in pictures. There are no words — which, I guess, is more or less the essence of stand-up comedy — but he captured Jeremy’s very dignified bearing and his wacky facial expressions.
This one is classic. It says like nothing else, “My father is a rabbi.”
This photo, I think, captures the essence of religious performance. More in a Mahalia Jackson way than, well, Moses, but it does the job.
And that face — well, that is just Jeremy. Thank the L-rd.
(And coincidentally, Shemspeed.com reprinted Jeremy’s interview with Shir HaShirim singer Benyamin Brody today! Go check it out — and make sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter.)