Category Archives: Culture

Great Women, Cut Short

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Trina Robbins is the author of the just-released Lily Renee: Escape Artist, the Jewish superhero comic book GoGirl, and tons of other books.

Today I’m recovering from my annual Worst Cold Ever, trying to take it easy with a book and hot chai — and I’m angry. The book I’m reading is Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, written in lily reneepencil in tiny cramped handwriting on the pages of a worn notebook while she was hiding from the Nazis in 1942. Nemirovsky was already a famous and successful author, but that didn’t matter to the Nazis, who eventually found her, arrested her, and murdered her in Auschwitz. Her two young daughters spent the war years in hiding, first in a convent, then moving from house to house. When they fled from the Vichy gendarmes Denise, the older daughter, took Nemirovsky’s notebook with her, not because she knew what was in it, but because it was something of her mother’s that she could keep. It was many years before the sisters could bring themselves to read the contents of the notebook, but when they did they realized that they had been carrying around their mother’s last novel, about Parisians fleeing the 1940 Nazi invasion.

“Suite Francaise” was finally published 64 years after her death.

Earlier this month I went to the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum to see a selection of Charlotte Salomon’s exquisite art from her opus, “Life? Or Theater?” (The entire work, at over one thousand pages, would have been impossible to exhibit.) There has recently been much talk about Jewish women artists drawing autobiographical comics (there has been a traveling exhibition on the subject) and, told sequentially. Although each picture is on a separate page rather than being contained within panel borders, “Life? Or Theater?” is clearly the first graphic novel autobiography by a Jewish woman artist.

Pregnant and 25 years old, Salomon and her husband were arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, and like Nemirovsky, taken to Auschwitz and there murdered. I’m beyond angry. Two young and vibrant, immensely talented beautiful women murdered by creatures that don’t even deserve to be called human. How many others were there, who never got to write their novels, draw their stories?

Which brings us to Lily Renee and my graphic novel, Lily Renee: Escape Artist. If Lily’s story had not had a happy ending, I would not have been able to bring myself to tell it. If the Jewish teenager, Lily Renee Wilheim, had not been able to escape Nazi-occupied Vienna on one of the last Kindertransport trains to England, but instead had become one of the 1.5 million children murdered by the Nazis, there would have been no Lily to grow up and draw comics in America, to become one of the best and most famous women comics artists of the 1940s. How many others were there?

In the histories I’ve written about early 20th century women cartoonists, I’ve always devoted as much space as possible to the artist who drew Nazi-fighting women like aviatrix Jane Martin and glamorous counterspy Senorita Rio, and signed her comics with the sexually ambiguous name “L. Renee.” But that wasn’t much space because I didn’t know lily reneeanything about Lily, until one day I received an email that began, “I am Lily Renee’s daughter…” I found out that Lily Renee Wilheim Philips was alive and well and living in New York City, and when I met this elegant, cultured, and gracious lady and learned her harrowing story, I knew I had to tell it.

As I said, this story has a happy ending. When England went to war with Germany, Lily lost touch with the parents she’d had to leave behind in Vienna, and didn’t know that they had escaped to America. But they found her, and Lily sailed to America, where, after living the hand-to-mouth existence of poor refugees, Lily eventually found work drawing comics for the comic book publisher, Fiction House. At last, on paper, she was able to beat the Nazis!

So yeah, Lily Renee: Escape Artist is a comic by a Jewish woman about a Jewish woman who drew comics. And it’s for Charlotte Salomon and Irene Nemirovsky, and the 1.5 million kids who never had the chance to grow up and produce comics or novels or graphic novels.

Lily Renee: Escape Artist is a graphic novel for younger readers, but that only means that there’s no cursing and no sex in the book. I write my graphic novels for young readers exactly as I would wish to read them; I never write down. For interested New Yorkers, Lily and I will be talking about and signing the graphic novel at the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art (MOCCA) on November 3, from 7-9 P.M. and on November 6, at Books of Wonder, 18 West 18th Street, from 3-5 P.M. If you live in San Francisco like me, I’ll be presenting a talk and PowerPoint slide show at the main branch of the San Francisco public library (alas, without Lily) on November 29.

Trina Robbins will be blogging all week. Check out her new book, Lily Renee: Escape Artist.

Posted on October 25, 2011

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Anti-Semitism of a Complex Kind

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Ned Beauman is the author of Boxer,Beetle. It was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize upon its initial UK release last year, and has recently been praised by the New York Times as ‘funny, raw and stylish’.
In 1893 the German writer Oscar Panizza published a story called “The Operated Jew,” a synopsis of which reads like a racially charged David Cronenberg film: a young Jewish doctor submits to a serious of painful surgical procedures to conceal his heritage, culminating with a blood transfusion from pure Ayran virgins, but just before his wedding to a blonde German woman, the operations lose their hold and he melts into a puddle on the floor. That same decade, the Zionist Theodor Herzl began using the term ‘anti-Semite of Jewish origin’, which would soon be simplified to ‘self-hating Jew’.

These days you don’t very often hear ‘self-hating Jew’ from level-headed people, but to a novelist, a self-hating anything is inherently juicy material, and “The Operated Jew,” if it had been written by a Jewish author, would probably now be a major text in Jewish Studies.

Most of us are already familiar with the story of Dan Burros, the Jewish Ku Klux Klan member
whose story was the basis for the 2001 Ryan Gosling film The Believer. But my own favourite ‘self-hating Jew’ is the German-Jewish scholar Oscar Levy. ‘We who have posed as the saviours of the world, we, who have even boasted of having given it “the” Saviour, we are to-day nothing else but the world’s seducers, its destroyers, its incendiaries, its executioners,’ wrote boxer,beetleLevy in 1920. ‘We who have promised to lead you to a new Heaven, we have finally succeeded in landing you into a new Hell.’ As a result of the storm of publicity over this article, Levy was kicked out of his adopted home of Great Britain, even as the anti-Semitic newspaper The Hidden Hand or Jewry Über Alles praised him as ‘the most courageous and honest Jew living.’

But as Dan Stone explains in his book Breeding Superman, Levy’s anti-Semitism was of a complex kind. Levy was one of the first translators of Nietzsche into English, and like Nietzsche, he didn’t acknowledge much of a distinction between Jews and Christians: both were equally at fault for the dismal state of the world, although it happened to be the Jews who’d helped to begin that decline.

And the Jews could still do something about it. ‘Yes, there is hope, my friend,’ he wrote, ‘for we are still here, our last word is not yet spoken, our last deed is not yet done, our last revolution is not yet made.’ As Stone summarises his position: ‘The Jews, the underminers of western civilisation, are the only people able to rescue that civilisation from further deterioration. Self-hatred is yet self-aggrandisement.’ To anticipate Levy in The Operated Jew, perhaps Panizza would have had to write something closer to The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde – with his young doctor as a penitent by day but also a revolutionary by night.

Ned Beauman was born in London and currently lives in New York. His debut novel Boxer,Beetle (Bloomsbury) was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize upon its initial UK release last year, and has recently been praised by the New York Times as ‘funny, raw and stylish’.


Posted on October 3, 2011

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Marc Maron Hates Williamsburg

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I am not a huge fan of the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron. I listen to it every once in a while, but it’s not one of those podcasts that I anxiously wait to be updated every week. But yesterday, out of necessity—none of my other podcasts were new—I listened to Maron’s latest podcast, which is a recording of a live show he did in Brooklyn. The show is…it’s outrageously good, with an emphasis on the outrageous. Maron opens with a short monologue about being dropped off at a hotel in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Surrounded by Hasids and directly across the street from the Sukkah Depot, he has a freakout. A Jew himself, being around Hasids creeps him out. He admits its problematic and possibly anti-Semitic, but it’s refreshingly honest. Though I found myself uncomfortable listening to this part, it was impossible not to recognize that that feeling—the feeling of being spooked by any serious display of religion—is a genuine one, and one that comes from (in this case) bad relations within the Jewish community, and the overall fear/distrust of the Other.

Later in the show Marc chats with an astounding number of guests, including Ira Glass, who is hilarious, and a comic and writer who recently left her observant Mormon life. Elna Baker talks about the weirdness of transitioning from being religious to not being religious. That in-between state where you haven’t quite been able to leave, but your heart is not in it at all. It’s pretty amazing. And then more comics come on and they talk about Jewish summer camp, pooping, being an alcoholic, and many other serious/hilarious things.

I don’t think it was the intention of the show to be be particularly about religion, and being uncomfortable with religion, but in the end it’s largely about that, and it’s genius. At this time of year, when we’re about to spend a lot of time in services, and probably for some of that time we’ll be thinking, “Wow, I hate this” it’s nice to hear some people being painfully honest about the way religion ties them in knots. You can subscribe to the WTF podcast on iTunes, or just head over to the WTFpod website and listen to it there.

Marc Maron Hates Williamsburg

 

I am not a huge fan of the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron. I listen to it every once in a while, but it’s not one of those podcasts that I anxiously wait to be updated every week. But yesterday, out of necessity—none of my other podcasts were new—I listened to Maron’s latest podcast, which is a recording of a live show he did in Brooklyn. The show is…it’s outrageously good, with an emphasis on the outrageous. Maron opens with a short monologue about being dropped off at a hotel in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Surrounded by Hasids and directly across the street from the Sukkos Depot, he has a freakout. A Jew himself, being around Hasids creeps him out. He admits its problematic and possibly anti-Semitic, but it’s refreshingly honest. Though I found myself uncomfortable listening to this part, it was impossible not to recognize that that feeling—the feeling of being spooked by any serious display of religion—is a genuine one, and one that comes from (in this case) bad relations within the Jewish community, and the overall fear/distrust of the Other.

 

Later in the show Marc chats with an astounding number of guests, including Ira Glass, who is hilarious, and a comic and writer who recently left her observant Mormon life. Elna Baker talks about the weirdness of transitioning from being religious to not being religious. That in-between state where you haven’t quite been able to leave, but your heart is not in it at all. It’s pretty amazing. And then more comics come on and they talk about Jewish summer camp, pooping, being an alcoholic, and many other serious/hilarious things.

 

I don’t think it was the intention of the show to be be particularly about religion, and being uncomfortable with religion, but in the end it’s largely about that, and it’s genius. At this time of year, when we’re about to spend a lot of time in services, and probably for some of that time we’ll be thinking, “Wow, I hate this” it’s nice to hear some people being painfully honest about the way religion ties them in knots. You can subscribe to the WTF podcast on iTunes, or just head over to the WTFpod website and listen to it there.

Posted on September 27, 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

There’s So Much I Don’t Know About Jews and Sports

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I have a confession to make. I just took the MJL quiz about Jews and Sports and only got 7/10. I should be embarrassed about that, but the truth is, it’s a miracle that I got seven right. And I won’t even tell you how many I got right the first time I took the Thinkers and Thought quiz, I’ll just say it was not a high number.

Our quizzes are an awesome way to quickly find out just how much you know about any one subject, and brush up on some basics at the same time. The awesome bonus? Every month we’re giving away an Amazon.com giftcard to the person who answers the most quiz questions correctly. If I won, I might have to buy Great Jews in Sports.

Register and start taking quizzes today, to win your own giftcard!

Posted on September 26, 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

Lost and Found in Brooklyn

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Earlier this week, Lucette Lagnado wrote about an arrogant revolution and about mourning her Arab Spring. She has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

This past weekend I was lost — and found — in Brooklyn.

My Sunday began with an appearance on a panel about the Arab Spring at the chic, hipsterish Brooklyn Book Festival. It was an animated discussion, and my fellow panel-members were amiable, but I felt lonely, very much in the minority as I spoke out against the brutal attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. The attempted storming of the embassy last week was a turning point as far as I was concerned, a time to start asking tough questions about the revolution and whether it had gone seriously off-track, to demand to know what happened to the early goals of democracy and peace on Tahrir Square.

The consensus, though, was that revolutions took time to play out – one member suggested 100 years.

And I thought there was such a desperate need for change – immediate reforms.
One thoughtful panel member from Cairo did suggest that many Egyptians were shocked by the attack, that it was unexpected; I was heartened to hear at least that there was a sense of shame about it in Egypt.

I walked out feeling oddly blue, melancholy. Here I was in Brooklyn, where I grew up, and yet I was struck by that feeling of not belonging that returns to haunt me every once in a while.

As I wandered the streets of Brooklyn Heights with its multi-million dollar mansions and elegant residents, and then of nearby Park Slope which is, if possible, looking even sleeker these days, I realized that this fashionable Brooklyn had nothing to do with the Brooklyn of my childhood, the borough where my family and I had once sought refuge, where we had found a haven among equally impoverished refugees from the Levant.

I also knew the only possible way to cope with my funk was to go immediately to that Brooklyn.

* * * *

I have always thought it was odd that with this Brooklyn renaissance, the fact that some of the borough’s most God forsaken areas have become de rigueur, my little enclave of Bensonhurst has remained decidedly un-chic.

I return every few months and find it to be pretty much the same as it was in my childhood – staid and lacking in the coolness factor.

Some more immigrant groups have moved in, to be sure, I see a lot of Russians, and even some Hassids – but not a single hipster. Not one.

Nor any of the young professional families that favor organic food co-ops.
No, those quiet somewhat dreary blocks are pretty much the way they were when I was a kid, longing to escape and wishing there was more excitement.

My trips to Bensonhurst always have a ritual quality to them, like a religious pilgrimage. I must go to this block, I tell myself, I must pay my respects to that building.

There are no people left there that I knew, not a single familiar face — my community long moved out — yet I keep returning.

The ritual includes taking my (very obliging) husband to key markers of my childhood and pointing them out all over again.

“This was our first apartment in America,” I’ll say, “This was where Key Food, my first American supermarket was situated.”

The high point of all such trips is a visit to 67th street, the block of the Magen David Synagogue (“The Shield of David” in my book), once the center of Syrian Jewish life in New York, and its frail little neighbor, the building that housed my shul.

Magen David is still there, but it is a mortuary now. I have been told there are occasional services, possibly even for the high holidays, but it is central function is clear, and has been clear for years – it is where the community comes to honor its dead.

No matter how many times I hear that, it still shocks me, still makes me sad. As for the little annex, the one that I refer to as the Shield of Young David in my memoir, it has gone through a thousand incarnations since it was sold in the 1970s. These days, it appears to be a religious school.

On this Sunday afternoon, I make a discovery that actually helps me combat my Brooklyn Heights blues. There in the front of the building of my old shul are children – young Orthodox children scampering about, running around the courtyard.

“They are playing in the courtyard, the way you did as a child,” my husband points out.

It has taken years, decades, yet I realize that against the odds, hope has come back to this small corner of Brooklyn that continues to haunt my imagination as nowhere else on earth.

Lucette Lagnado’s most recent book, The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn, is now available. Lucette won the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World.

Posted on September 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

Sing Along with Kveller

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Do you live in Brooklyn? Do you like music?

If the answer’s yes to the first question, then come out to Kveller’s weekly singalong in Park Slope. It’s a fun, casual venue for kids and parents. And if the answer’s no to the first question and yes to the second, then just watch this video to see 55 seconds of the most fun you can have with music and puppets.

Eagle-eyed viewers might recognize a cameo from the puppets of our Purim video, Purim with Puppets — and the folks of Yellow Sneaker Productions, who helped us make it. The next singalong is tomorrow morning, so bring your baby! Or just bring yourself! Or just stand in the corner if you’re shy and nod your head in time to the beat! We won’t think any less of you, we promise.

Posted on September 21, 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

Settling a Debate in an NYC Cab

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Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her perfect day, her Jewish culinary journey and unraveled the mystery of Jewish food. She will be blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

As a New Yorker, I brave the cracked pavement, dodge the deliverymen on bicycles and boast of my worn MetroCard. But there is one mode of transportation that, while costly, can be more than a way to get from point A to Point B. I relish my place firmly seated and belted into the back of the iconic yellow New York City cab. I proudly raise my hand, a little sweaty in the sweltering summer heat or snuggly gloved on a cold winter’s day, to hail the cabs that whiz by. I am that rare passenger who notes the driver’s name not because I am sure I will have to report him to the taxi and limousine commission, but because I want to engage him in conversation and knowing his name makes our ride more personal and relatable.

So what do we talk about? Invariably politics arises, as most of the cabbies hail from somewhere else and came to America for a better life. They are at the same time grateful for America welcoming them and vocal about the mishandling of many current issues. The typical cabbie has the radio on the entire day and their stations seem to hover on talk radio where they are inundated with political views and pundits weighing in. I find that whether they moved from West Africa to West Harlem or Jamaica in the Caribbean to Jamaica Queens, they have focused opinions and a clearer understanding of how politics function (or don’t) than they do of which route is faster and cheaper.

While I too am fascinated with current events, I find my conversation always turns to food. The intriguing accents prompt me to ask, “where are you originally from?” I have met drivers from just about every region Rand McNally can map. There is no doubt that there are a disproportionate number of drivers from Pakistan, India, and Middle Eastern countries. From kippahs to turbans, the drivers represent their region with pride. On one short ride from the Upper East Side to midtown Manhattan I had the pleasure of talking to a Jewish cabbie who immediately sensed I was Jewish as well. We talked about children and parents and then I slipped into the conversation that I had just completed writing a cookbook called The Kosher Carnivore. “Ah,” he said, “you are the perfect person to end a debate for me.”

“Happily,” I replied. He began to tell me that for years his wife would prepare kosher chicken for Shabbat. When he would offer to stop at a regular market to buy a bird, she would reply adamantly, “it needs to be a kosher bird.” “Why?” he would ask, “we’re not kosher.” “Oh,” she would reply, “what do you know? My mother tells me it’s a better bird.” He then asked me for my informed opinion.

I was in a position to settle an argument that had endured for decades. I could bring glory to the driver who was right in saying it didn’t matter or lend credence to his mother-in-law who felt it decidedly did. What to do, what to do??? I find the truth and the facts always work best, so I replied with clear conviction. “A kosher chicken is superior!”

That’s not only my professional opinion, but a conclusion reached by America’s test kitchens and published in their magazine Cooks Illustrated. After testing a number of well-known brands, they concluded without a doubt that kosher chickens are the best. It makes sense. After all, kosher birds are essentially brined as a result of the koshering process and while they can be a bit more feathered and in need of electrolysis when you get them home, they are definitely plumper and juicier.

He looked a bit dejected and sorry that he ever brought the discussion up. I told him he would need to make peace with both his wife and, more humbling, with his mother-in-law. He then shared with me that his wife had passed several years ago and his mother-in-law long before that. He now felt he owed them both an apology that was impossible to deliver. I apologized for enlightening him and ending the debate not as he hoped I would. He chuckled and said, “at least the next time I go to Scarsdale for Shabbat dinner at my daughter’s, I will be sure to tell her I can stop at the kosher butcher to pick up the chicken. She will be so impressed that I knew instinctually which bird to buy!”

Simple Spatchcocked Chicken and roasted root vegetables

Grab your dictionary and you’ll find that spatchcock is a method of splitting (butterflying) achicken. It’s a fun word, which you can use to impress your friends or win at Scrabble. If time is crunching, but you want to make a crispy, flavorful roast chicken, butterflying is a great option.

Behind the Counter
Have your butcher, butterfly the chickens. You can do this yourself by removing the backbone and pressing down on the breast till flat.

Alternate cut turkey parts(=$)
About 2 to 4 servings
Start to Finish Under 1 ½ hours

1 (3 1/2 -to-4-pound) chicken
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium celery root, trimmed, peeled and cut into small dice
1 medium leek, split and rinsed, white part only
4 sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 head of garlic, unpeeled, with the top cut off
1 to 2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon corn starch

Dry the chicken and place the bird on a paper towel-lined plate, refrigerate, uncovered for 1 hour. This can be done earlier in the day, cover the chicken if it sits longer than an hour. When ready to roast, preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and take the chicken out of the fridge. Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and season both sides with salt, pepper and paprika.

Prepare the veggies by cutting the carrots, parsnips and celery root into 1-inch thick pieces. For the celery root, remove the Medusa looking end and stand the celery root on this flat side. Using a wide knife, cut around the root, holding one hand on top of the celery root and turning it as you go. Cut off the remaining end. Cut the celery root into rounds, then into cubes.

For the leeks, remove the tough green ends. Split the leeks down the middle lengthwise, andthen cut them lengthwise again. Rinse them thoroughly under cold running water, pat dry. Donot separate the leeks into strands, they roast better when they are left intact.

Place the leeks, rosemary and thyme in the center of a roasting pan. Lay the chicken, skin side down on top of the leeks. Sprinkle the carrots, parsnips, garlic and celery root around the chicken. Drizzle a little olive oil over the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Pour 1 cup of stock into the pan.

Roast at 425 degrees, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Using tongs, turn the chicken over and continue roasting for 20 minutes longer. Position the legs so they slightly cover the breast, this will help the legs brown while preventing the breast from overcooking. Baste the chicken with the collected juices, and roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh portion reads 160 to 165 degrees. Remove the chickens to a plate, and cover loosely with foil. They will gain 5 to 10 degrees while resting.

Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and cover to keep warm. Remove the garlic cloves and squeeze the garlic from each clove, into the roasting pan. Discard the outer skins. Take the roasting pan and place it on the stove. Skim off some of the fat, and then add the remaining stock, wine, lemon and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Whisk to pick up any brown bits in the pan and incorporate the ingredients, being sure to mash the garlic into the sauce. Heat the sauce until it thickens. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and vegetables and serve.

June Hersh has been blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council’s Author Blog. Her new book is The Kosher Carnivore.

Win free cookbooks! Enter MyJewishLearning’s Rosh Hashanah Recipe Contest!

Posted on September 16, 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

Share Your Rosh Hashanah Menu and Win a Cookbook

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

Well, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when I try to figure out who I’m going to invite to Rosh Hashanah (there’s a spreadsheet!) and what I’m going to make. Actually, it was that time of year about a week and a half ago, but my kitchen only got fully assembled last night, so I’m playing catch up.

So, what am I going to make? Last year I did a breakfast themed meal with fancy breakfast foods. And I did a more traditional meal, with some Rosh Hashanah classics like matzah ball soup and an amazing apple cake. This year I am drawing a blank. I think yes for matzah ball soup. I feel strongly I should include a kugel. But what of main dishes? Fish? A vegetable medley? What about dessert? Also, this is a three day holiday, so there is a LOT of food to buy and prepare ahead of time.
[This picture is what happens when you search for "menu planning" in our stock photo service. Which reminds me--enter our Holiday Photo Contest!]

To help me figure out what to make I am rifling through some of my favorite cookbooks and clicking through the archives at some of my favorite food blogs. Which mostly is making me hungry.

So, what are you making for your Rosh Hashanah celebration? Share your menu, or the highlights of your menu, in the comments. We’ll pick the tastiest-sounding menu and send you a copy of the Enyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks. This is basically the Jewish cookbook to end all Jewish cookbooks. With information and stories about everything from Apple Cake to Zimstern.

Contest ends on Friday September 23rd at midnight, so share your menu now! Good luck and Shanah Tovah!

PS—Don’t forget to enter your photos in our holiday photo contest, too!

Posted on September 15, 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

A Picture Perfect Day

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Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her Jewish culinary journey and unraveled the mystery of Jewish food. She will be blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

I am not Martha Stewart, and I don’t have a staff of twenty to help me prepare a dish or stage a photo.  But I didn’t need her perks on a sunny August day when I was preparing to photograph my food for The Kosher Carnivore, my second book.  My first book, Recipes Remembered, featured historic and archival photos of the survivors whose stories I told.  Glossy color shots and well-set vignettes were not appropriate for a book focused on the Holocaust.  But for The Kosher Carnivore, we wanted to show the yummy food in all its glory, and that meant me and my digital camera would need to be replaced by a professional photographer.

I was not stranded on my kitchen island without some assistance.  My two supportive daughters were there to lend a hand.  Jennifer would be my enthusiastic sous chef and cleaner-upper — a skill she inherited from her very meticulous and helpful father.  Allison, would be my set designer, as she has a creative flair and an eye for photography.  But the real hero would be noted food photographer Ben Fink.  He has shot images for celebrity chefs and Food Network icons, and now he was coming to my house to film my food.

The night before I diligently enforced the three words that every chef evokes: mise en place.  In French, that translates to mean “everything in place,” and for cooks it is what stands between disaster and delicious.  Prepping ingredients, stocking my pantry, and setting a timeline were part of my late night homework.  Ziploc bags became filled with chopped onions, diced carrots and julienned leeks.  The fridge was loaded with uncorked wine, lemons waiting to be zested and meat and poultry marinating the night away.

I didn’t need a rooster to wake me as I barely closed my eyes, reviewing my notes and plotting my course.  I had the daunting task of preparing 19 separate dishes to shoot the 11 photos we had hoped to capture. I needed to be part circus juggler, part Julia Child and part Zen master as without calm the day would be a catastrophe.

With ovens preheating exactly on time, pans sizzling when they were supposed to and pots boiling in anticipation, I began my day well before the morning pundits were delivering the news.  As the beef was seasoned and speedily tucked into the oven, the first of several timers was set.  The bird was butterflied for the spatchcocked chicken and it waited its turn patiently as the roast began to brown.  If the food emerges too soon it withers while the shot is being set up. Too late and you lose precious time and natural light.  Ben and my personal assistants were terrific.  Like Rocky retreating to his corner, I was given quick shoulder rubs, short pep talks and the occasional pat on the tush with a “go get em mom” to renew my energy!

At the end of the day we had some fabulous photos and more meat lining my counter than a butcher shop the day before Passover.  I was in a veritable food coma as we devoured every dish that emerged.  We ate prime rib and Yorkshire pudding for breakfast, fried chicken and mashed potatoes for mid-morning snack and herb crusted lamb chops with creamed spinach (that’s right, without cream or butter) for lunch.  Dessert was veal Milanese topped with field greens. Our midday feeding frenzy began with sliced hanger steak followed by pasta tossed with broccoli rabe and kosher sausage.  With not much room left, we nibbled on brisket and kasha, pretzel rolled hotdogs and lamb sliders. We washed it all down with the last dish of the day, Asian chicken noodle soup.

I was happily exhausted as the sun began to set and the photos uploaded to Ben’s laptop.  My hair was tussled, my apron stained, my feet aching – no one said it would be glamorous.  But in a whirlwind 24 hours, I gained confidence – and pounds – and was completely satisfied with both.

Abundant Asian Noodle Soup

I like to think of this soup as a salad bar in a soup bowl, where everyone can add their own favorite vegetables to the sublime flavor of the sweet and sour broth.

About 4 servings

Start to Finish  Under 30 minutes

1 quart chicken stock
¾ pound bok choy, rinsed, white part chopped, leafy portion cut into strips.
½ pound Napa cabbage, leafy part only, chopped
6 ounces white mushrooms sliced very thin, caps only
1 (7-ounce) jar baby corn, drained
1 garlic clove, smashed
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Pinch of ground ginger
1 (3-ounce) package ramen, shirataki or udon noodles, prepared as directed
2 cups shredded chicken (see pages136-137 to prepare freshly roasted breasts, or use “ bonus” chicken)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Garnish
2 scallions, chopped
Chili-garlic sauce, to taste

In a large soup pot add the stock and heat just until simmering. Add the white portion of the chopped bok choy, chopped Napa cabbage, sliced mushrooms, baby corn and garlic clove to the soup. In a small bowl, mix together the soy, mirin, vinegar and ginger, and then add to the soup pot.  Heat for about 15 minutes on a low flame.

While the soup cooks, prepare the noodles according to package directions, reserve.

Add the chicken pieces and strips of the bok choy leaves to the soup and cook until everything is heated through, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and adjust the soy (for salty), mirin (for sweet) and vinegar (for sour) to balance the taste.  Evenly divide the prepared noodles into the soup bowls and ladle the hot soup over them.  Sprinkle with the chopped scallions and for those who like it spicy, top with a shot of chili-garlic sauce.

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The mixture of vegetables is endless, and you can easily add more veggies to this pot, you’ll have less broth to solid ration, but that’s OK.  Straw mushrooms, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots can all be added after being drained and rinsed. Fresh vegetable options include snow peas, green peas, thinly sliced carrots, and fresh bean sprouts. Use your imagination and your family’s personal favorites to create the perfect mélange.

Check back tomorrow for June Hersh’s final post and recipe for the MJL/JBC Author Blog.

 

Posted on September 15, 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

Unraveling the Mystery of Jewish Food

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

On Monday, June Hersh gave a recipe for Moroccan lamb shanks. She is the author of The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Book, available this week. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

As a food writer you need to be prepared to answer just about any question tossed at you during a Q&A. I like to feel I know my subject matter inside and out, and I admit to late night Googling (that sounds x-rated) to research something I am not 100% certain of. While I should be dreaming of food, I am instead trying to unravel its mysteries. My obsession with information is justified as I have been asked if a free-range chicken is happier than its caged neighbor, or whether America’s fascination with hummus is a fad or here to stay. Understanding food is my job, and the better my understanding the more clearly I can communicate the power of food through the recipes I write. No query has kept me awake more nights then a question I was asked during a radio interview: what is Jewish food? Truth is, it’s a great question with no easy answer.

In my first book, Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival, I told the stories of Holocaust survivors and recreated their cherished recipes. No one would question that the kugel I tasted, the matzo ball soup I slurped and the brisket I devoured were Jewish foods. They have been eaten in every Jewish home, prepared in a myriad of ways and while ingredients and techniques vary, they definitely fall into the Jewish food arena.

My second book, The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Book, was designed to be a departure from the typical Jewish cookbook, focusing on techniques and recipes that crossed borders and time-zones and appealed to both Jewish and non-Jewish cooks alike. Using a meaty cut of osso buco or a testosterone driven capon, I prepared what I consider to be eclectic but unexpected kosher food. Yet once the word kosher is involved in a book title, the perception is you are presenting Jewish food.

The real issue is how do we define Jewish food when we don’t have a specific country we can point to for culinary inspiration? It’s not as if Israeli food represents Jewish food, or that there is a country where Jewish food is the mainstay cuisine.

Consider this: we’ve been thrown out of all the best countries in the world, so we have incorporated in our cooking style the best of every culture’s culinary point of view. We have cleverly adapted or adopted cooking from regions we have found ourselves in and made those styles our own.

Additionally, we don’t have a cooking icon who defines our cuisine. Proud Americans can point to James Beard or Julia Child, Italian cooks marvel over Mario, or the British single out…OK bad example. There are many great chefs who happen to be Jewish but they are not celebrated for preparing what many consider Jewish food.

So what makes a food Jewish? Here’s my theory: I think that beef bourguignon is Jewish food when made by a woman who endured the Holocaust on the outskirts of Paris and learned to make this classic French dish for Rosh Hashanah dinner. I propose that the Sephardic meat cakes that I helped my grandmother make every Passover typify the ultimate Jewish food for my family. It is a dish I now make annually and one I hope will endure for years to come. I contend it’s watching your favorite aunt make her signature latkes and serving them every Chanukah. And isn’t that what makes a food truly Jewish? It is the process of learning to make that dish with someone you love, it is the hope that dish will find a legacy, it is the association of that food with a family gathering. It is an indefinable cuisine with tradition being the main ingredient.

Some scholars maintain that matzo is the only true Jewish food. And who with any culinary pride or pedigree would want to lay claim to that? As far as I know there are no restaurants called “Matzo and More” or “Mostly Matzo.” So, in our search for a Jewish restaurant, is our local deli the only fix for traditional Jewish fixings?

Absolutely not. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to detect the ubiquitous Jewish dishes disguised in many of today’s trendiest restaurants. Visit the newest three-star eatery where the decibel level is only exceeded by the number of young things stacked at the bar. Order the toasted buckwheat with farfalle and smile, because you’re eating kasha varnishkes. Try the paper-thin dumplings stuffed with beef and onions and understand they are kreplach answering to another name. Care to cool off with chilled roasted beet soup? That’s borscht in my book. And when you order biscotti for dessert, remember, twice baked mandel bread is biscotti’s Jewish cousin with less effective PR.

And what about buzz words like locavore and organic, which might seem new and flashy? Jewish cooks were organic locavores long before the terms became fashionable. They knew that if it grew in your backyard or was raised on the farm next door, it was dinner. These cooks can prepare cabbage a hundred different ways and manage to nuance sweet and sour so that your tongue delights like a choreographed dance. In writing and researching both books, it struck me that the more we move forward in our food trends the closer we get to the Jewish food our grandparents prepared. If we ate like 85-year-old Polish peasants, we could skip the occasional spin class, lighten up on the energy bars and enjoy a shot of schnapps a little more often.

Tonight when I am awake at a time I should be asleep and I am tempted to Google some obscure food, I should turn off the light, shut down the computer and be contented that I am satisfied with my answer to the question “what is Jewish food?” It is not limited by region, not constrained by ingredients, and never short on love and tradition. It might be difficult to define, hard to categorize or even digest. But, it is the food that has always nurtured and nourished us, and is happily enjoying a spirited revival in the hands of a new generation of Jewish cooks.

Mediterranean Osso Buco with zesty gremolata

This dish, which has its roots in Milan, is braised in wine and aromatics and served over saffronscented rice. Osso Buco actually translates to mean, “ hole bone”, alluding to the rich melt inyour mouth marrow contained in the center. Be sure to provide small forks or little knives tocoax out the soft delicacy. This recipe calls for a dash of balsamic vinegar and the option ofadding olives and anchovies to give the dish a little extra intrigue. The gremolata topping isoptional, but lends a vibrant note when spooned over the veal.

Behind the Counter Have your butcher cut the shanks into 2 ½ – to – 3-inch pieces (about10 ounces each). Ask your butcher to tie kitchen twine around the outside of the meat, as ifcinching the shank with a belt at the waist, so that it does not fall off the bone when cooking.Alternate cuts There is no exact substitute that will produce the same dish, but you can use thesesame ingredients and method to prepare veal spare ribs (-$) or lamb shanks (-$).

About 4 servings
Start to Finish: Under 2 ½ hours

4 veal shanks cut osso buco style
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup flour for dredging, seasoned with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground blackpepper and 1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup pitted and halved Kalamata olives, optional
2 to 3 small anchovy filets, finely minced or 1 tablespoon anchovy paste, optional
¾ cup white wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups chicken stock
1 bouquet garni- 1 bay leaf, 4 sprigs thyme, wrapped and tied in cheesecloth, pouch or with kitchen twine. (If you are not preparing the gremolata, then add 6 sprigs of parsley to the bouquet.)

Gremolata
½ cup freshly minced flat – leaf parsley
1 lemon peel, zested
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil in a braising pot. Pat the veal dry, and dredge theveal in the seasoned flour. Brown the veal on both sides, over medium – high heat, until a nicebrown crust forms on each piece. Remove the veal to a plate. In the same pot, cook the carrotsand onions over medium heat, until lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add the smashed garlic, andthe olives and anchovies if using, and cook 5 minutes longer. Pour the wine and vinegar intothe pot, scraping up any bits that collected on the bottom and cook until the liquid is reduced by
half, about 10 minutes. Place the veal back into the pot, along with any liquid that collected on the plate. Add the tomatoes and stock. The liquids shouldn’t drown the meat; the top portion ofeach shank should show. Nestle the bouquet garni in the sauce. Cover and cook at 325 degreesfor 1 ½ to 2 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Prepare the gremolata, by combining all the ingredients, reserve. When the meat is finished cooking, carefully remove the meat and vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon. Removeand discard the bouquet garni and bring the sauce to a slow boil. To thicken the sauce, createa slurry by mixing 2 teaspoons of cornstarch with 4 teaspoons of water, stir back into the pot,heat and repeat if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the veal(remove the string) and top each serving with a generous pinch of gremolata.

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Osso Buco and rice Milanese have enjoyed a long marriage. Preparing rice Milanese is as easyas making boiled rice, with the addition of golden saffron threads, which add the mellow yellowcolor and a burst of flavor. This precious spice comes from the dried stigma of a saffron crocusand by weight is the most expensive spice in the world. You only need a pinch to impart itsdistinctive taste and distinguishing color. Prepare your white rice as directed on the package andadd a pinch of saffron to the cooking liquid. If you replace the water with chicken or vegetablestock, the flavor will be even more amplified.

Check back all week for more posts and recipes from June Hersh.

Posted on September 14, 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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