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Make Kwanzaa Cake for Passover–If You Dare

I don’t watch a lot of Food Network. I like cooking, but I really don’t watch much TV anymore, and when I do, I want to see people fighting and then making out, not stirring things. The point is, I don’t watch the Food Network, but I once saw about 15 minutes of Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee and it pretty much made me lose all hope in humanity. She was all, “Buy a cake! Spread insane amounts of icing on it! Your kids will love it!” I’m sorry, but do we need a show to tell us that? No, we don’t.

Preparing for Passover: Keep it Simple

veggie kebabs

(Cross-posted at Mixed Multitudes)

When Passover approaches, it seems like everyone in the Jewish community goes a little bit (or more than a little bit) crazy. You start hearing about people going through every page of every book in their house, trying to eliminate miniscule crumbs. Kosher stores are clogged with families inspecting the new Passover friendly products, and elaborate Passover recipes are getting passed around, each of which seems to call for potato starch, and 7 egg yolks.

If you don’t have an endless supply of time and money to buy and cook for Passover, then let me give you my foolproof Passover food tip:

Chill out, and go as simple as possible.

The Adventures of Todd & God: Bal Tashhit

This year my New Year’s resolution was to waste less food, and I guess I was on the same page as, um, God, because the newest video from MyJewishLearning.com is all about Bal Tashhit, the commandment from the Torah that prohibits wasteful destruction. In the past God has appeared to Todd as an orange, a female house DJ, and Flava Flav’s long lost twin borther. But this episode, God upped the ante–he appears as Al Gore.

Dessert Hummus?! What is the World Coming To?

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I love hummus. I really do. I had some this morning for breakfast. I will probably have some with dinner. I seriously considered running away with my favorite hummus-seller in Machane Yehuda when I lived in Israel. But even I have never really considered the possibility of a sweet hummus. I mean, at its base hummus is mashed chickpeas. And when I think chickpeas I don’t think dessert.

Well lucky (?) for me, there are people in the world who don’t think the way I do when it comes to chickpeas. They saw hummus as a dessert-in-the-making. And they added some cocoa powder and some sugar (sugar! The humanity!) and they called it Chocolate Hummus.

Shabbat Picnics

picnic

In the winter, there’s nothing I like more than huddling around a table in a warm kitchen with good friends, sharing a Shabbat meal. Matzah ball soup, cholent, kugels, roasted vegetables, and a nice hefty cake–they’re all perfect dishes for December, or year-round if you happen to live in Siberia.

But I live in New York City, and we’re quickly approaching the time of year when I try to divide my time evenly between sitting outside drinking in the sunshine, and lying motionless on my bed, basking in the glory of my ceiling fan and trying not to melt. This means I don’t want to spend tons of time in the kitchen, and I definitely, definitely don’t want to make cholent. In fact, what I really want is to eat my Shabbat meals outside on a picnic bench or a plaid blanket. But what kind of dishes lend themselves to my July requirements? Here’s a roundup of possibilities you can whip up on a Friday afternoon, and relish in the park the next day.

Shabbat Dinner Exploits: The Good, The Bad, and the Commonwealth

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Months ago I had an idea for a themed Shabbat dinner: I would invite all of my friends from Commonwealth countries, and have a Queen’s Shabbat. I could serve Commonwealth inspired foods, and it would be a fun night to hang out with friends from all over the world. Since I host Shabbat meals all the time, the idea didn’t seem particularly daunting, but I never seemed to get around to setting a date and sending out an invitation.

Right before Pesach I met with Rabbi Yoni Sherizen, who runs the Jewish chaplaincy programs in the UK. Jewish chaplains (usually a married couple) are sent to live in a college town or on a university campus in order to help provide Jewish services to students at the local university. It’s a lot like Chabad, but without the rebbe, and it’s especially important in the UK, where there have been crazy amounts of anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Yoni and his wife Dalia were incredibly helpful to me when I was at Oxford in 2004, and I was concerned about how dire Yoni told me the situation was in so many British universities. Plus, the falling economy has meant a lot of funders have had to cut back, and some universities are in danger of losing their Jewish chaplains.

How Jews Eat

MyJewishLearning is proud to present an introspective, intergenerational, intercultural look at the most Jewish of all Jewish holiday activities: eating.

We all do it, but we do it in radically different ways. And with radically different philosophies (for proof, read some of the comments on this very site). And don’t worry, this isn’t a video about how Jews SHOULD eat, it’s about how we do eat, like it or lump it.

Anyway, check it out and let us know what you think.

Careful, Or I’ll Slap You With A Moist Piece of Liver

Good for eating, and slapping.

Sometime during all of the Agriprocessors brouhaha I heard that there had been a kosher meat boycott in 1902. I didn’t know anything about it until I just stumbled upon this article from the Jewish Historical Society: Bravo, Bravo, Bravo, Jewish Women! The Kosher Meat Boycott Of 1902.

The boycott was because the price of kosher meat had gotten too high, so Jewish women banded together, influenced by the labor and union strikes of their time, and organized to boycott kosher meat. Here’s how it went down:

In Memory’s Kitchen: A Cookbook from a Concentration Camp

Photo credit kimberlykv

A few years ago I came across a book called In Memory’s Kitchen, edited by Cara De Silva. The book collects recipes and food memories written by women imprisoned at the Czechoslovakian concentration camp of Theresienstadt. Though they were starving and undernourished, a group gathered to write a book of recipes and food memories to pass down to another generation. The recipes they included were for rich national foods of Czechoslovakia, Germany, and Austria, like fried noodles topped with raisins, cinnamon and vanilla cream, and traditional caramels from Baden Baden.

Food was constantly a topic of discussion, though there was little to go around, and certainly none of the luxurious ingredients a person would need to make many of the cakes and treats included in the book. Discussing and sometimes arguing about the best recipes and methods of preparation for various delicacies was comforting to the women who were starving, and they called this “mouth cooking.”

How Do You Mark Your Passover Kitchen?

Until last year, my mother did the bulk of the Passover preparations in our family, which of course included tons of cooking before and during the holiday. We keep a kosher kitchen, and in the basement my family has boxes and boxes of pots, pans, dishes and kitchen utensils only for use on Passover. There are two full sets of everything, so we can make both meat and dairy meals, and my mother had a system that involved dots of various colors of nail polish to delineate the milk and meat dishes (pink for meat, silver for dairy).

Well Labeled Kitchen

Unfortunately, nail polish chips off, especially after years of use, and the system seems to have been less scientific than we previously thought. As my sister and I forged through the first few days of Passover without my mother we found a puzzling array of kitchen supplies marked in a variety of perplexing ways. Some pots were marked with both pink and silver dots. Spoons and serving utensils sometimes sported a P written in permanent marker. Does this mean that it was pareve, or simply that it was set aside for Pesach? Some containers and pots had been marked with Ms, but that can imply either milk or meat. Many things gave no hints to their gender whatsoever. Cooking felt like a giant guessing game as we reached into boxes of supplies and hoped to find something that we recognized as definitively meat, dairy or pareve.

Championship Matchup! Challah vs. Latkes

challah3

We are down to the final game over at the Mixed Multitudes Jewish Foods Tourney, and the crowd is going wild! Is it Challah, the fluffy sweet bread that goes well with everything from turkey sandwiches to hummus to French toast? Or is it latkes, fried in oil until they’re golden and enjoyed with sour cream and the gentle sweetness of applesauce? Vote now (polls close Thursday night) and wait with bated breath until the winner is announced on Friday, at which point you can do a chest bump with your rabbi and a victory lap with Joan Nathan.

War of the Carbs: Lox and Bagels Takes on Challah

fresh_bread_bagels
Sadly, latkes narrowly beat brisket over at the Jewish food tourney going on for one more week at Mixed Multitudes. I don’t mind telling you I was crushed.

This week’s battle is a rough one–lox and bagels up against challah. Both are so Jewish, and so yummy, it’s hard to know who to pick. When you’ve made your decision head over to the blog and cast your vote!

Jewish Food Tourney—Which is More Jewish, Latkes or Brisket?

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Over at Mixed Multitudes we’ve been running a Jewish food tournament based on March Madness for the past few weeks, and we’re down to the final four. Right now it’s latkes vs. brisket, and early next week we’ll see Challah vs. lox and bagels before the championship matchup. I’m so excited!

I encourage you to head over and vote for your favorite, but Jeremy, who’s running the tourney, wants to make it very clear that we’re voting on which is the most Jewish food, not the food we like best. Since you can get latkes at any diner, to me they don’t scream Jew, but hey, vote however you like. Cast your ballot!

Chinese Takeout in the New Yorker

Last week the New Yorker published a longish piece (registration required) about Orthodox rabbis who criss-cross China certifying that various food manufacturing companies are adhering by all the rules of kashrut. It’s a fascinating little piece about what it really means to be a mashgiach, or a person who checks that food is kosher. Here’s a part that caught my eye:

How does the process of kosher certification inspection work? Here’s a composite scenario, as I witnessed it.
The Schmooze: This takes place in the conference room, which is perhaps adorned with a wood-and-brass captain’s wheel from a ship. On the wall, there might be a framed certificate for “High Tech Enterprise 2006″ or a large painted sign with an adage in English. “Only Faulty Product, No Captious Customer” and “People and Products Working Together” were two that I saw. Among those in attendance could be a plant supervisor, an engineer, an export manager, a sales representative, and a factory-hired translator. There is always a lot of chuckling–about what, I don’t think anyone present ever has a clue. Finally, the mashgiach turns on his laptop, signaling that it is time for…
The Review of the Raw MaterialsMore

(Emphasis mine.)

What struck me is this whole issue of everyone laughing for no reason, a point that is picked up again later in the article. To me, that’s a little microcosm of everything that’s going on in the kashrut industry. Everyone is smiling and chuckling and looking jolly and pious, but no one really knows what’s happening.