Posts Tagged 'Judaism'

A Taste of Honey

I know that I said a few days ago that I would post some Passover menus and recipes. With everything that has been going on with Avi, I have not had the time, or for much of the time the desire. But Passover is coming regardless of Avi’s location, and we are concentrating on our preparations. Noam is very excited about Passover. He is learning a lot of the songs in school and we go over some of them each night. Noam is thriving at Schechter and I for his sake (and ours as well) we will have great Passover Seders. Shayna is getting into the act too and she has learned at least the first of the four questions.

Our Seder plans are basically firmed at this point, with 21 the first night and 22 the second. Our menu is mostly complete as well, and I will include that below. One thing that is always an issue, especially when you have Seders with a lot of kids is how to keep them occupied with the Seder (you can look at some sample pages of my Haggadah where I discuss this as well). One thought that I got from our friend Lisa (who will be at our Seder) is to have a list of questions prepared for the kids. The lists can be set up in so that you have questions that are age appropriate and then you ask questions throughout the Seder. Whoever answers the question correct gets a win ticket or a token. At the end of the Seder, the kids can trade in their tickets for prizes (which we will pick up at the dollar store). This way, everyone will get something, and there will be less rivalry in terms of finding the Afikoman. Also it helps the kids want to stay at the table during the Seder. I don’t know how well it will work, but I will report back after the Seders.

Now let’s get back onto the main topic of this blog entry, FOOD! It is interesting to note that of the 5 main mitzvoth surrounding Passover, 4 of them have to do with food and eating. We are commanded to eat Matza, Marror (the bitter herb) and the Pesah sacrifice (during the time of the Temple in Jerusalem). We are also commanded to stop eating food that come from the five grains (wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye). And people wonder why there is always food at Jewish events! The whole Seder is built surrounding a festive meal. Without food there really is no Passover.

Our menu this year is actually very much the same as in past years. We begin our Seder this year at about 6:30 which is actually too early to start Passover. We do this because starting at the correct time makes getting to the meal very late. In order to make sure that we do not say Kiddush before the proper time (about 7:05) we will start with serving soup and fish first, and then start the Seder with the Kiddush. We do the same the second night just starting a little bit later.

So here is the menu:

Chicken Soup with Matza Balls
Gefilte Fish – We use the frozen logs that you cook in a pot with your own extras
Roast Turkey
Chestnut Stuffing – This is Lisa’s and I will try to post the recipe
Pot Roast with Orange and Dates
Quinoa – We have not yet determined how we will make the Quinoa
Green Beans, Broccoli, Cauliflower
Apple Cake
Fruit Ice

And probably some more surprises!

I want to end off with the recipe for Haroset that we use at our Seders. This is a Mizrahi recipe rather than the traditional Ashkenazi recipes that many of us are familiar with. Mizrahi means eastern and it is a term used to describe Jews from the eastern Arabic speaking lands. Often this is called Sefardic, but that really is a term for Jews of Spanish origin.

Before the recipe, I have to throw in some Jewish education. Sorry it’s my nature. Haroset is the sweet apple mixture that is found on the Seder plate. The tradition of Haroset goes all the way back to Mishnaic times (before 200 CE) as it is mentioned in the Mishna as something brought to the table on Passover. The Rabbis come up with three reasons for its inclusion. Everyone will probably think of the first which is in remembrance of the mortar that the Hebrew slaves used to make the bricks. This is one. The second reason is in remembrance of the apple. Why the apple? Well the Midrash tells us that the Jewish people survived in Egypt because of the actions of the women. Pharaoh decreed that the men and women should be kept apart in order to stop childbirth. According to the Midrash, during the heat of the day, the women would lure the men under the apple trees and have relations. So to remember this, we have apples in the Haroset. The third reason is to remember the blood by using wine in the Haroset. So to this day, EVERY Haroset recipe (and there are hundreds) have three things in common. They all use apples, they are all thick like the mortar and they all have wine. Beyond that, the sky is the limit. There are traditions to add cinnamon or ginger in remembrance of the straw that was used in the brick making. Some have the tradition to add the fruits mentioned in Song of Songs in the bible.

Here then is my recipe which my mother got from a Mizrahi Women cookbook.

2 Apples
½ C Dates
¼ C Walnuts (or pecans)
1/3 C Sweet wine
½ C Raisins
¼ C Almonds
1 tsp. Ginger
1 tsp. Cinnamon

Quarter and core the apples. Grind apples, raisins, dates and nuts. Add ginger and cinnamon and wine. Mix Well

That is the original recipe. I do it a little differently. First off, for one Seder we make 4 or 5 times this recipe. Second, I core and quarter the apples and put them in the food processor. I process them for a minute. Then I add the rest of the fruit and nuts and process until it starts to get smooth but is still a bit chunky. Then mix in the wine and spices (you can do that in the processor as well, just add and pulse for 20 seconds).


Phil’s World Famous Never Fail Hamentashen

OK, maybe not world famous, but it was published on a long ago defunct website called JCN (Jewish Communications Network) where I wrote their cooking column.  It is very easy and creates about 2 dozen great Hamentashen.  I posted this here last year, but here I add some commentary.

Ingredients –

1.  1 stick of margerine (or 1/2 C of Crisco)
2.  1 C sugar
3.  1 large egg
4.  1 1/2 t baking powder
5.  1 t vanilla
6.  2 C flour

1.  Cream the margerine and the sugar in a large bowl.  Creaming just means mixing fat (usually butter) with sugar.  You want it well mixed together .  I use my kitchen aid standing mixer, and highly recommend using a mixer.

2.  Add the egg and mix well.

3.  Add the baking powder and vanilla and mix.

4.  Add one cup of the flour and mix in.  Depending on many factors you may use any amount of the second cup of flour (perhaps even a bit more).  The most major factor is humidity.  The more humid, the more flour you will use.  Today for example, doing a double batch I only needed 3 cups of flour!  I suggest adding the second cup by quarter cups.  You want the dough to be like cookie dough, but just a bit dryer as you will need to roll it out.  You also do not want too much flour as you will add flour to the board when you roll.  I like to let the dough stand for a short while to allow everything to incorporate.  You can wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for about an hour.

5.  Roll out to about 1/4″ thickness and then cut out circles with a cookie cutter or a glass.  I use an “old fashion” glass which is about 3 inches in diameter.

6.  Put about 1/2 t of filling in each and then fold up the edges to make a hamentashen (see photo).  Place on cookie sheet sprayed with non stick spray.

7.  Bake in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes.  You want the hamentashen to just start browning.  Don’t let them get dark brown.  Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.

Fillings –

This is not meant to be an endorsement, but I have tried them all. The best filling that one can buy for Hamentashen is Solo brand pie filling. It has the best consistency of the pie fillings I have found. Traditional flavors would be Prune, Poppy or Apricot, though they have many different flavors. You could also use Chocolate Chips, or Nutella, which is a hazelnut chocolate combination.  Be careful with Chocolate chips though as the cookie will dry up when baking.  I like to put a small amount of raspberry or strawberry filling in the center and put two or three chocolate chips in the filling.

If you would like to make your own fillings, you should take your fresh fruit, peel then and take out any seeds or pits and then cut them into smaller pieces. Place in a pot and put in some sugar to taste. If the fruit dried, like apricot, you should just cover the fruit with water.  Cook this down slowly until you are left with a thick syrup. If it is not the right consistency, mix one teaspoon of corn starch with 1 teaspoon water in a glass. Pour into the fruit mixture. It will thicken up quickly.

You can use 1/2 stick of regular Margarine and 1/2 stick light margarine to cut down on some of the calories.

You can use your food processor for this recipe. Put the Margarine and the sugar in the bowl of the food processor, and process for 30 seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients except the flour and process for about 1 minute until mixed through. Add the flour and process until the dough begins to form a ball in the center of the bowl. At this point, take it out and finish it on your floured board.

It is best to chill the dough before rolling so it is easier to work with.


Elijah is coming to town

You better watch out…

Now that the football season is over our minds and hearts can turn to that spring pastime that we call


Believe it or not, there are only 49 shopping days until Passover! And just to be sure that you are aware, the grocery stores have begun putting in their Passover food section (at least in NJ). Of course we still have Purim coming and most people have hardly given any thought to Passover, but it’s here and they want you to buy.

Not that we have not already begun thinking about it. For those who read my blog last year, the three moms (Marsha and two friends) have already made preliminary plans to do the Seders together again, and that puts us at about 23 people each night already.

So as we begin the season of Passover purchasing I will leave you with this youtube video.


Jews on TV

It’s no surprise that I like Television. In fact, I may like it too much. I watch way too much TV, either from our DVR with my wife or I watch a lot on my computer going to and from work on the train. I noticed a long time ago, as did many others, that the depiction of Jews in Television is not exactly what we are like in the real world. There have been a number of books written on this subject and I do not want to get into a scholarly discussion.

I have actually noticed a decline in the number of Jewish characters on TV these days. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is good because it give us a chance to stop seeing the false depiction of the Jew on Television. It is a bad thing, because it is important for our younger coreligionists to see positive role models on tv who are Jewish.

Of all of the shows I watch regularly (and irregularly) I can come up with six shows that depict Jews, and in each case it is different from the rest. One is a situation comedy (which in the past most Jewish characters were to be found) and the rest dramas.

The comedy is called “The Big Bang Theory“. I happen to think this is one of the funniest shows on television right now and highly recommend it to anyone (especially since there are very few good comedies out there today). The story revolves around two roommates who are both Physicists at a university. One is a child prodigy who has not understanding of the world and the other is a guy who had to come by his accomplishments by really working at it. A pretty girl moves in across the hall and that is where the situation comes from. Surprisingly it is neither of the main characters who are Jewish, but one of their friends. The character of Howard Wolowitz (play beautifully by Simon Helberg who is Jewish) is shown as a 20 something engineer who still lives at home with his mother and cannot get a date. How stereotypical! Truth be told, I have yet to meet anyone like this in real life, and I would imagine that there were more non-Jewish men in their 20s living at home with their mothers than there are Jewish men.

First two drama with Characters who look and sound Jewish but we have not been told if they are or not. In “House” we have Doctor Taub, played by Peter Jacobson (Jewish) who is on Dr. House’s team. As viewers we are pretty sure he is Jewish but there is no proof of this. This is a common thing I have found. We have Jewish Characters and they don’t want to deal with this. I am not sure why they make the character Jewish, but sometimes when a character is around for a while they get to dealing with this. The other one, in the show “Life” (which was created by someone in the grade above me when I was at Solomon Schechter) is the character of Ted Early played by Adam Arkin (Jewish). We think he might be Jewish only because Adam Arkin is Jewish, but you never know.

The next show is a show I fell in love with after just one episode. It is called “Being Erica” and unfortunately you cannot see it on American TV. It is a Canadian show (and by the way they are producing some very good television) and you can download or watch it on the net. The main character, Erica Strange, has spent her life making many mistakes and has many regrets. An odd therapist allows her to go back in time to correct these mistakes and there of course is a lesson at the end of the show. Now I had no clue during the first episode that Erica was Jewish until late in the show, her parents show up at her apartment. Her dad has a tee shirt that says I’m with Moses and he is wearing a small suede kippah on his head. WOW. A Jewish character who perhaps is going to be shown as really Jewish. I am waiting to see. BTW, there was a show called “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill” starring Sharon Gless in 1992. Ron Rifkin played her boss and the character was a Shomer Shabbat Jew and on one episode Rosie goes to his home for Shabbat Dinner.

Which brings me to “Brothers and Sisters” starring Sally Field. The show is about the Walker family, a wealthy family where the mom is Jewish and the father (who dies in the first episode) is not. The entire family here is technically Jewish. The only time is ever came into play was one episode where they did the famous Hanukkah Christmas dilemma. I hate that! The worst offending show that ever did this was the otherwise good “Thirtysomething“.

Finally the one shining light on TV today and it took five seasons to get there. Numb3rs is a show about an FBI agent and his Math genius brother who helps him solve crimes, stars not one, not two, but three Jewish actors in the top three roles. Rob Morrow (who also played a great Jewish character in “Northern Exposure“) stars as the FBI agent Don Epps, David Krumholtz as his brother and Judd Hirsh as their father. They did not cover up from the start that they were Jewish, but it was obvious that they had no connection to their religion. In the last few episodes, Don (Rob Morrow) has decided to learn more about his Jewishness by meeting regularly with a Rabbi and going to Synagogue. We’ll see where that goes.

OK, for a guy who promised not to write a dissertation, I sure did a bad job. Sorry for the length, but it has been on my mind.


Rosh Hashana and Politics

Is it possible to have a blog post about both?

Happy Holidays!


Cooking Class

I have not posted any recipes in a while, and given that I am quite hungry right now, I thought I would post my recipe for Noddle Kugel.  To be fair, I got this recipe from my mother, so it is really not mine, but it is perhaps the best non-dairy kugel I have ever tasted.

The usual translation of a kugel in English is pudding. Not a pudding like a tapioca or a chocolate pudding, but like an English bread pudding. You mix your ingredients in your bowl, pour them into a casserole dish and then bake in the oven. What could be easier! Jews have been making Kugels for hundreds of years. No matter where you came from, there was always at least two or more kugel recipes. If you came from northeastern Europe you called them Kugels and if you came from southeastern Europe you called them kigels. No matter what you call them they are some of the best foods that Jewish cooking has ever created.

There are many different kinds of Kugels out there. The most well know of course is the lukshen kugel. Lukshen means noodles, so this is the ever famous noodle kugel or noodle pudding. If you have never had a sweet noodle kugel, I urge you to stop reading here and go directly to the recipe, make it and then eat! Those of you who have had noodle kugel know what we’re talking about.

Basic Noodle Kugel

1.   8 oz. wide egg noodles (the wider the better!)
2.   1/2 C Margarine, melted
3.   4 eggs beaten
4.   1/2 C Sugar
5.   1 t Vanilla
6.   8 oz. can of crushed pineapple with juice
7.   1/4 C raisins
8.   cinnamon/sugar

  1. Cook noodles so they are just a little bit under done.
  2. Drain noodles and rinse with water.  This will get rid of the extra starch and make them easier to work with.
  3. Put the noodles in a large bowl.  Add the melted margarine and mix well
  4. Add the eggs and mix well and then add the rest of the ingredients except the cinnamon/sugar.  When adding the pineapple, make sure to add the juice as well.
  5. Prepare 8″x8″ glass baking dish with non-stick spray.
  6. Pour mixture into dish.
  7. Generously sprinkle top with cinnamon/sugar.  Make sure to cover the entire surface.
  8. Place in pre-heated 350° oven for about 45 minutes.  The top should be nicely caramelized and brown.
  9. Let stand 5 – 10 minutes before serving.

We always double this recipe and you can also cut down by 1 egg and use only 2/3 of the margarine if you like.  I rarely do this though.

That is it!  You can take out the pineapple if you like but increase the suge by 1/4 C.  You can also make a savory kugel by taking out the sugar and fruit and adding a tsp of salt and pepper.  We also love to add sauted onions and chopped fresh spinach to our savory kugel.



Throughout my posts in this blog it is fairly obvious that I am an observant Jew. I am Shomer Shabbat, I eat only kosher food and I try to live my life in accordance with the laws and customs of traditional Judaism. What I have never really talked about my personal Jewish commitment and why I do what I do. As I begin to write this post, I cannot say that that is what I will write, but an article in the New York Times from about a week ago caught my eye and I wanted to comment on it and on my own choices.

The article is entitled “Among Orthodox Jews, More Openness on Sexuality“. I never liked the way newspapers and magazine title their articles. But I understand that they need to sell their product and titles help that (and that is a total different topic). I recommend reading the entire article as it is very interesting, but I will summarize. In the right wing Orthodox Jewish world, there is little talk about sexuality and when young adults are getting married, they really have no idea what to do. Some in the Orthodox world are working to solve this problem and I hope they are successful.

I bring up this article to highlight a reason why I am not an Orthodox Jew. I consider myself a Conservative Jew. To try to explain the differences between Orthodoxy and Conservatism can (and does) take books, so I will not attempt to do that here. In many ways, from the outside, I look no different from a Modern Orthodox Jew. I wear a kippah all the time. I eat only kosher food and I observe Shabbat. The difference is in my beliefs. For example, while I believe in the divinity of the Torah, I see it as a document that records man’s understanding of divine revelation. That is to say that God reveled himself at Sinai to the Israelites and the Torah is their understanding of what they experienced.

Everything else is commentary. I am not saying that the laws that came later have no authority, but I do believe that they are not written in stone and although the earlier interpretations need to be given much weight, I do believe that everything is still open for discussion. A friend of mine, Rabbi Geoff Haber used to explain the difference between Orthodoxy and Conservatism with this simple analogy. It may be a bit too simple, but it works.

Imagine Jewish law as a chess game. Each piece has a specific role in the game. Pawns can only move one square, bishops on the diagonal, etc. Before moves are made, the players will look at every move and what the other player might do based on their move, and they will try to do this as many moves out as they can. Finally, after careful examination, a move is made. In Jewish law this was the way it was for many years. Rabbis would examine everything and after that careful examination, they would make a ruling. But what happened is that by the middle of the last century, when Jews gained a level of freedom they never had before, the Rabbis countered by placing a clear case over the chess game. The game could still be studied, but the moves could no longer be made. Conservative Judaism still proceeds with the game open.

As I said that is simplistic, but it does work. If the Rabbis had chosen to allow certain things, they could have, but they chose not to. I prefer to be involved with Judaism that is still willing to interpret laws based on the changes in society around us, not a Judaism that reacts to the world by closing themselves off from the world.

Getting back to the article, I want to focus on the part where the teacher told her class (women who were about to be married) that sex was horrible and painful. This is an example of an even further reaction by Orthodox today where they are not only closing themselves off, but they are making things even more difficult. The fear is that if people were to think that sex was a beautiful and enjoyable experience, then people might start trying to experience it outside of marriage. Better people should think sex is horrible then the community have to deal with teaching young people sex education.

These stringencies are appearing in every aspect of Jewish life, from kosher laws to sabbath laws. This is why I choose to be involved with Conservatism. Do I agree with everything in the Conservative movement? No, of course not. But I do believe it is the most authentic way to be Jewish. All I can do is try my hardest to live my life the way I think God wants me to. I hope I am doing my best.

I want to end with a joke (this post was a bit serious) and a youtube video.

A man comes to his Rabbi and asks, “Rabbi, is it ok for my wife and me to try different positions when we have sex?” The Rabbi says “of course.” “So it’s ok if she is on top” he asks. “Yes” says the Rabbi. “What about if she is on her knees and I am behind her like a dog?” “Whatever you do in the bedroom is fine” answers the Rabbi again. “Rabbi, what about having sex standing up?” “NO” says the Rabbi sternly. “Absolutely not!” “It might lead to mixed dancing!”

In the same vein, here is a wonderful number from “Fiddler on the Roof”. This number was for whatever reason left out of the movie (and it is too bad, because it perhaps one of the funniest moments in the show!) I added this myself on youtube. Listen to the whole thing, as the “punchline” is at the very end.

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