Archive for October 11th, 2010

11
Oct
10

Preserving or Policing the Dilemma?


Basil, a great little kosher neighborhood restaurant, sitting on the periphery of the Lubavitcher community finds itself caught in the middle of a socio-religious maelstrom, one that has even attracted the scrutinizing eye of the New York Times Magazine (provocative stories about religious Jews do sell papers!). Basil has an urban chic that  draws a diverse clientele.  Now it seems that this unlikely utopian gastronomic convergence is causing a bit of an uproar.

It’s ironic that one of the hallmarks of the Lubavitcher community is its uncanny ability to plant branches in even the most remote areas around the globe, offering friendly outreach services that attract affiliated and unaffiliated Jews. Often you’ll find Lubavitcher shluchim inviting Jews to connect and come closer to their spiritual heritage through the mitzvah of Sabbath candle lighting, or donning philacteries, shaking a lulav, or offering assistance to travelers by joining them for prayers, a meal or a farbrengen (a chassidic gathering where various aspects of chassidus are taught, stories the past are told, etc.). So, here we are in their homestead – the 770 heartland – and chillin’ Basil is getting more than it’s share of being chilled out by protesting neighbors and others seemingly concerned for the spiritual well being of their community.

Their kosher supervising organization has been called in to check up, not on their kashrut protocols which are being adhered to the letter, but on those entering the restaurant and whether the eatery is putting their Jewish clientele in some sort of spiritual jeopardy by allowing all manner of clients and get up to enter their premises. Tell me, gentle reader, are we so fragile that we need this kind of policing?  Do we really need to remove ourselves from our very environs in order to thrive and survive? Should we return to the ghettoes of yesteryear Europe? Shall we perhaps move into a 21st century American version of Rome’s 2000 year old Lungotevere Cenci – right next to the ruins of the Roman Forum and a few blocks from the Colisseum – where some Roman Jews still live, surrounded by fortress like walls with the Papal Arms at the gate? Where do we draw the line on what a supervisory organization can or cannot control in its granting of supervision? If they don’t like the music being played or who walks in off the street for a snack or a drink, can they pull their kosher certification?  Clearly, we have the tenets of kashrus which must be followed scrupulously, and we understand that Basil does so.

Photo by: brownstoner.com

When we interviewed Chef Adam, the first time we visited Basil, he mentioned – in passing – how time consuming it was to check the vegetables for bugs and how their culinary artistry is somewhat limited by the constraints of the high standards of kashrus they have to adhere to; yet, he was very proud of the fact that given the constraints they were still able to deliver the high quality and taste that brings customers back time and again.

We remember how Clara, the manager, discussed the attire and attitude of the staff as representing not just a place to eat, but also adhering and respecting the values of the Lubavitch community in whose midst they are located. When some felt the music had too much of a hip beat, Basil‘s management changed it to classical, which didn’t really detract at all (frankly, I thought it made it classier). But… the complaints continued; some protested the type of clientele, some objected to immodest modes of dress, others about speech and behavior, and talk swarmed around to whether kosher certification should be revoked if Basil allows such clients into their restaurant.

I suppose they could have a dress code – as some of the finer restaurants do – jacket and tie- no bare feet, no whatever… should they ban bare shoulders? short skirts? tattoos? foul language? touching? I mean, where do you draw the line? Should they start policing? Should they start handing out shawls, skirts and fig leaves to cover any uncovered areas?

Should the supervising organization threaten to remove their certification if they observe immodest clients eating or snuggling at the restaurant? Should such a dress and behavioral code be enforced throughout the NYC tri-state area? You can be sure that if such enforcement ever takes root, many a prestigious eatery will turn to less qualified, less careful kashrus organizations and the losers will be all of us – the kosher consumers. The fact remains that many of the higher end kosher establishments could not make it if their clientele consisted strictly of Orthodox Jews . I can just see our metropolis now – business men and women being thrown out of the finest kosher dining establishments because a dress is cut too low or a couple has been caught hugging or smooching between courses? Should we require horse blinders for humans and sell them at Basil‘s counter along with the frappé and cappuccino?

We live IN the world, not OUTSIDE of it. The true man of G-d knows how to walk among men and hold his own, gird his loins, look away when necessary, and mind his own counsel despite his surroundings. A true Jew knows how to be a beacon of light by living the Torah and not snuffing out all that glitters. We are the nation that since many a millenia has been turning sparks of ensoulment into huge flames of spiritual warmth and enlightenment. We hold our own in diversity and that is what makes us strong, that is what allowed us to endure after every mighty nation of yore is remembered mostly by its ever present ruins and tales of past glory.

Every upscale kosher restaurant and almost every other kind is constantly faced with the dilemma, but… guess what? A restaurant is not a shul, it is a public place and anyone might come in. Those who are bothered by the proximity of someone who does not meet their standards are under no obligation to patronize such an establishment.

What do you think, gentle reader? We’d love to hear your comments, pro or con.

SYR

11
Oct
10

It Isn’t Just for Kids Anymore


As a kid I used to love macaroni & cheese, my kids loved/love it, so do my grandkids AND… I still like it! Looking at one my favorite Chef’s blog (Chef Laura Frankel), Laura’s Kosher Kitchen, I came across her adult version of a lifelong favorite:

Macaroni and Cheese

Let me have it, let me have it! (Photo by: Elle239 on BlissfullyDomestic.com)

Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

Serves 6 generously

Ingredients

  • 1 pound macaroni or favorite pasta shape
  • 3 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 shallot, minced finely
  • 2 cloves garlic minced finely
  • 2 cups of milk (I use whole milk for this)
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese-grated (I use White Sharp Cheddar)
  • 1 cup Emmentaler or Swiss cheese-grated
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • ½ cup bread crumbs-Panko* is perfect for this
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350. Bring a large saucepan with water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente (about 10 minutes depending upon size of pasta). Drain and set aside.
  2. Place a large sauté over medium low heat. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add chopped shallot and garlic and sweat the vegetables until they are very soft (about 2 minutes). Add flour and stir together. Cook the mixture for several minutes to remove the raw flour flavor.
  3. In a separate pan heat the milk until simmering. Add all at once to flour mixture. Whisk to prevent lumps. Add the hot sauce and cook until thickened (about 3-5 minutes). Remove from heat. Add grated cheese and stir until melted and incorporated.
  4. Stir sour cream with cooked pasta. Add cheese mixture and stir to combine. Place in a lightly greased casserole.
  5. Stir bread crumbs with melted butter and sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake at 350 until bubbly and golden (about 30 minutes).

As Chef Laura explains in her intro to this dish:

Use the best quality cheese you can find-do not skimp and by all means, have some fun with it and try your favorite cheeses. I have made this dish with a sprinkling of Blue cheese for an adult version. I also have substituted whole wheat pasta instead of the traditional semolina pasta and no one complained. Attention all comfort food cravers-Skip the box and go for the good stuff-we are after all adults even if we need a bit of comfort now and then.

After a hard, tiring day at work, on any cold day, I find that macaroni and cheese just warms one up as it recharges the batteries…

Enjoy!

CS




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