Archive for the 'Jewish customs' Category

05
Jan
12

Something to Break Today’s Fast With


I’ve been looking to break the assoro beteives fast with something different than my usual (cheeses sandwiches, yogurt, orange juice, danish and coffee), considering it’s winter and it’s quite cold, I figured I should go for some of my youth’s comfort food, like my mother’s fritattas. I barely remembered her ingredients (and yet I dare call them comfort food), thus I had to go looking on the web and I found something made with ingredients I have on hand.

Here is one recipe I adapted from chow.com:

Onion, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Mini Frittatas Recipe

by Amy Wisniewski

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for coating the pan
  • 1 medium yellow onion, medium dice
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms
  • 4 ounces chèvre (goat cheese)
  • 9 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning the onions and mushrooms

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Generously coat the wells of a 12-well muffin pan with butter; set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and the measured butter in a medium frying pan over medium heat until the oil is shimmering and the butter has melted.
  3. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring rarely, until it is a deep golden brown, adjusting the heat as necessary if it starts to brown too much, about 30 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper, add the thyme, and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl.
  4. Meanwhile, clean, trim, and slice the mushrooms 1/2 inch thick; set aside. Crumble the goat cheese into pea-sized pieces and set aside.
  5. Return the frying pan to medium heat, add the remaining tablespoon of oil, and heat until shimmering. Add the sliced mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring rarely, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add to the bowl with the onion. Add the goat cheese to the bowl and stir to evenly combine; set aside.
  6. Place the eggs and milk in a large bowl and whisk until the eggs are broken up and evenly combined with the milk, about 1 minute. Add the measured salt and whisk to combine.
  7. Divide the onion-mushroom-cheese mixture evenly among the wells of the prepared muffin pan. Fill each well almost to the top with the egg mixture.
  8. Bake until each frittata is puffed and the center is just set, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan to a wire rack until it’s cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes (the frittatas will deflate). Run a small knife around the perimeter of each well to loosen and remove the frittatas. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy, gentle reader, enjoy and have an easy fast!

CS

28
Sep
11

Some Thoughts for Rosh Hashana


Rosh Hashana starts this evening, and as I look at the news, as I tremble over my personal flaws, shortcomings and misdeeds of the past year I can only hope that my repentance will hold and shield me from repeating the same things, from having the same thoughts again, and that the world will change for the better starting with each one of us…

On September 29th, 2008, I posted the following on my political blog:

The world is embroiled in war, tyrants walk around arrogant and defiant, massacres in almost every continent are mostly ignored by the world community. The UN Human Rights Council, seems to concern itself with anything except the trampling of human rights around the globe. Women’s rights are of little concern to a world that prides itself of its extreme liberalness and unheard of freedoms, while rape is used as a political weapon in the Congo, in Sudan, etc… and women are merely chattel to husbands, fathers, sons and brothers in a major portion of this planet. To say the least, it is obvious that in spite of an enlightened 21st century we have never really evolved from the atrocities of the Barbarian Age even as our weapons and rhetoric are more sophisticated, more intellectual, ostensibly more enlightened in our attitudes

While the situation in Sudan has changed for the better, while the Arab Spring has brought about the downfall of various Arab despots, the aftermath has so far not seen any of the sought after freedoms but merely replaced old dictators with a new set… Yet, the UN Human Rights Council has not found the time to condemn repression, the denial of human rights, or to defend freedom of religion anywhere where it may be ignored in the world…

Frankly, the world – at this moment – with all its freedoms and all its horrors is far from ideal. Political ideologies, masquerading as religion, pose new threats to the free world as they aim to destroy all the hard fought for rights and freedoms of the Western world. Meanwhile the West seems to have lost its soul and wonders around like a drunkard in its search for meaning, coexistence and peace…

Tonight, gentle reader, Jews around the world begin the celebration of Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year. No, it is not a time filled with drunken parties and silly noise-making but rather a time when one searches in the most recondite crevices, the most hidden places of one’s existence and asks oneself why, how, when, what? Why did I fail to do all that I set out to do? How could I be so lazy, so complacent and not try harder… or at least just try? When will I rise from this lethargy and do my duty as a human, to my Lord, to my fellow humans, to myself? What will it take for me to wake up, while I still am capable of waking up?

The answers are often shameful, sometimes gut wrenching. Nevertheless they afford every Jew a chance to reach out of his/her comfortable shell and do that which he or she is capable of doing, of reaching one’s potential if the individual truly wants it. But sometimes, even if in our prayers we take firm resolve to make a difference, even when the tears of repentance stream from the deepest recesses of the heart, in a few days we settle back in the comfort of emptiness and inaction. More often than not, the answers are too hard, too strenuous on our pampered selves, for us to truly rise above the comfort of merely being discomforted by the world around us or take any action to change it.

In the Rosh Hashama prayers, there is one I must particularly single out as I pronounce it with heavy trepidation in my heart as the clarion call of the Shofar is sounded:

Attah ZocherYou remember – the deeds done in the Universe and You recall all the creatures fashioned since the earliest times. Before You all hidden things are revealed and the multitude of mysteries since the beginning of Creation, for there is no forgetfulness before Your Throne of Glory and nothing is hidden before Your eyes. You remember everything ever done and not a single creature is hidden from you. Everything is revealed and known before You, Lord our God, Who keeps watch and sees to the very end of all generations, when You bring about a decreed time of remembrance for every spirit and soul to be recalled, for abundant deeds and a multitude of creatures withoutt limit to be remembered….

[...] Regarding countries, it is said on this day which is destined for the sword and which for peace, which for hunger and which for abundance; and creatures are recalled on it to remember them for life or death. Who is not recalled on this day? For the remembrance of everything fashioned comes before You: everyone’s deed and mission, the accomplishments of man’s activity, man’s thoughts and schemes, and the motives behind man’s deeds.

May this coming year, 5769 in the Jewish calendar, bring about that very elusive, very prayed for, long hoped for, universally expected peace. May each one of us walking this earth, know no more strife, no more hunger, no more pain. KTIVAH VECHATIMA TOVAH – MAY [WE ALL] BE INSCRIBED AND SEALED FOR GOODNESS, may abundance and health break rampant, may universal peace bathe this earth and the realization of one’s fondest dreams bring sweetness and the total banishment of sorrow to every one on this lowly plane of existence.

Chicken Marinated with pomegranate molasses, honey and spices, stuffed with brown rice, on a bed of rice. Photo from: Los Angeles Times

The year is now 5772 and hardly anything of substance has changed, tramplers of human rights are afforded what once an honored pulpit at the United Nations, a place where they freely spew their lies, where they proudly show off the perversion of their minds, their utter disregard for any human values and yet are applauded for such. The United Nations, founded on the noble principles of safeguarding human rights and ensuring peace around the world, has degenerated into what Bibi Netanyahu just described as “theater of the absurd,” as it shows itself totally unwilling, totally unable to live up to its mandate.

Hakadosh baruch Hu is warning us, urging us to return to Him and yet in spite of the warnings, in spite of all the evidence in front of our eyes, we refuse to heed the call, as we’ve been seduced by a seemingly liberal world plunging head on into a global tyranny where lies are the new truth, where falsehoods replace true values… May it be His will, that we wake up this coming year and with renewed vigor we embark in an era filled with goodness and wholesome values, an era where evil will be defeated and war will disappear…

May we all be inscribed in the Sefer Hachaim – the Book of Life and may we only know health, prosperity and happiness and at peace within and without.

KTIVA VECHATIMA TOVA!!!!

CS

18
May
11

Hillula d’Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness


Last evening, SYR and I had the privilege to be at Sidney and Tammy Cohen‘s (partners at 18 Restaurant) apartment in Manhattan. We were there to commemorate the Hilula (yohrtzeit, as we ashkenazim call it) of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness. I had never heard of this custom until I got Tammy’s email last week… How I wish I had known of it earlier in my life!

Among walls covered with portraits of a very young Baba Sali (whose haunting eyes seemed to pierce right through me) and Chagall like paintings, the crowd, the tfilot, the candles, the food, made it all very special…

Dips galore, mashed potatoes, fish, couscous, chicken, beef and more...

Who was Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness? The Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Gittin 56a relates:

As he [Nero] came close, he shot an arrow towards the east and it fell in Jerusalem. He then shot an arrow to the west and it fell in Jerusalem. [He shot] towards the four points of the compass and it fell in Jerusalem. He then asked a [passing] boy, “Tell me the verse [from Scripture] you learned [today].” He [the boy] said, “I will place my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel [Ezekiel 25:14].” He [Nero] said, “The Holy One, blessed be He, wishes to destroy His House and lay the blame on me.” He [Nero] ran away and became a proselyte. From him came Rabbi Meir.”

Rabbi Meir, the descendant of a former Roman emperor, eventually became a staunch supporter of Bar Kochba‘s rebellion against the Romans. Why was he called Meir, when tradition says that his name was either Nahori or Misha? “Meir” means “Illuminator,” as someone who illuminated the mind’s eye of students and scholars alike to give them an understanding of both the Written and the Oral Laws, he came to be known as Meir.

“Ba’al Haness” means “Master of Miracles,” why was that name added to him? It is related that on a certain occasion when a pack of wild dogs ran over to tear him apart, Rabbi Meir cried out: “Eloka d’Meir aneini – God of Meir answer me,” the dogs retreated. The Roman guard of a brothel was about to be hanged for having taken a bribe. He was bribed so as to allow Rabbi Meir‘s wife (Bruriah‘s) sister to escape (while still untouched) from the brothel where the Romans had condemned her to live her life in shame (after they killed her parents, the saintly R. Chananya ben Teradyon - one of the 10 martyrs we mention in the kinot of Tisha B’Av – and his wife). As the noose was tightened around the guard’s neck he cried out, “God of Meir answer me,” the rope tore – to everyone’s amazement – and the guard was saved!

Harav Raphael Benchimol, rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, very eloquently told the evening’s participants that the specific date 14th of Nissan (Pessach Sheini). was a very propitious time for asking Rabbi Meir Baal Haness to intercede in one’s behalf. As I walked around the room, I heard touching, gripping stories of people’s prayers being answered. Even over this last weekend in Providence, RI, I heard one such story…

Rabbi Benchimol: "If you need anything, or if you have lost your way, Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness will help you find it..."

After Ma’ariv, people lit candles – on a specially set up table – while saying twice, “Eloka d’Meir aneini,” as each silently concentrated on his/her requests…

The emotions, the fervor, were contagious...

Meeting friends and friendly strangers, praying with them mincha and later ma’ariv, listening to the Rabbi’s divrey Torah, pouring out my heart as I concentrated on my personal requests – while lighting my candle – the delicious food, the drinks, made this a very inspiring and enchanted evening. Thank you Sidney, thank you Tammy.

Eloka d’Meir aneinU! God of Meir, answer US all!

CS

03
Jan
11

This Week’s Upcoming Internet Radio Show


Elizabeth Bland, photo from her website (cheesemistress.com/)

Last Wednesday we had a very interesting discussion on cheese and kosher cheese in particular with Elizabeth Bland (we will soon post, on these very pages, a supermarket trip with Mrs. Bland where we will look at various kosher cheeses. Meanwhile you can hear an .mp3 file of our radio show here.

This coming Wednesday – January 5, 2011 – our guest will be Gill Marks. Gill recently published the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. What are Gill Marks credentials? What qualifies him to talk or write about food? As his website states:

Gill Marks, at The James Beard Foundation. Photo from gilmarks.com

An author, rabbi, historian, chef, and social worker, Gil Marks is a leading authority on culinary subjects in general and Jewish cuisine in particular. Among his published books are Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Wiley: 2010), James Beard Award-winning Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World (Wiley 2004), and James Beard Award finalist The World of Jewish Cooking (Simon & Schuster, 1996). Marks was included in the Jewish Forward’s annual “Forward 50,” a list of the fifty most influential Jewish-Americans in the year 2010. http://www.forward.com/forward-50/

A self-taught chef, Marks entertained at his New York City home, earning a reputation as a gourmet cook. He began moonlighting for several caterers before branching out on his own. Some of his early jobs involved baking 150 apple pies for a cooking spray promotion, an all-dessert bat mitzvah, and a health food wedding. In 1986, Marks combined his interests in food, history, Judaism, and writing to become founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine, a position he held for six years. After leaving Kosher Gourmet, Marks turned his attention to writing fiction and biblical research as well as continuing his work on culinary subjects. His efforts include two plays, Therapist, and, in collaboration with Stanley Allan Sherman, The Golem of Gavah. His other books are The World of Jewish Desserts (Simon & Schuster, September 2000) and The World of Jewish Entertaining (Simon & Schuster, 1998) and he was also among the international team of contributors to the prestigious Meals in Science and Practice: Interdisciplinary Research and Business Applications (Woodhead Publishing, 2009).

Marks has also written articles for numerous magazines; served as a guest lecturer at the Culinary Institute of America,HazonKosherfest, and Drisha Institute; acted as consultant for various companies and organizations; and given presentations throughout the world, including the 92nd Street Y, Macy’s DeGustibus Cooking SchoolThe Learning Annex, the Kislak Adult Center, and the Fresh Start Program at New York’s Rikers Island. Marks continues to write, research, lecture, and perform cooking demonstrations for groups across the country and make appearances on various television and radio programs.

When I first contacted Mr. Marks to arrange the radio interview I thought it would be a short call, instead I was totally fascinated listening to his stories and the call was rather a long one. He is a captivating repository of anecdotes and history, this upcoming show promises to be a very interesting one!

Please, listen in on Wednesday at 8:00pm on Jewish Radio Network. Click on the red “here” under the white “Radio,” then wait about 90 to 180 seconds for the application to start streaming.

CS

07
Sep
10

“May it be Your Will…” – Symbolic Foods


It is customary to eat symbolic foods on Rosh Hashana, these symbols represent the individual’s requests for a better life for one self, for one’s family, etc… How did the custom begin?  The Talmud in Tractate Krisus states on page 6a: “Now that you say that an omen means something, each person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets and dates…” As a result, we partake of these and other foods, all representing good things and the individual’s hopes for more and better. The foods mentioned are of types that grow fast and/or are very sweet.

Why do we eat them on Rosh Hashana, specifically, as opposed to any other time of the year? When we ask the Almighty to grant us something, just as when we would ask a king to give us something, we must invoke some merit or reason why we feel we deserve it. Therefore, these foods serve as a reminder that we must do tshuvah – repentance. Rosh Hashana being the time when the Almighty looks at the past year’s deeds and when we ask to be inscribed in the Book of Life, it is – of course – a time of self examination and repentance. Thus, these foods serve to remind us of our pressing need to repent, to resolve to be better and stronger Jews for the coming New Year.

These symbols blend in with the spirit of Rosh Hashana, as as Rabbi Yehuda Prero says on torah.org:

…If one looks over the prayers on Rosh HaShana, one will find that the basic theme is one of proclaiming the kingship and greatness of Hashem. Although Rosh HaShana is the day on which we are being judged, we do not make requests for sustenance, health, long life, etc.. We instead demonstrate how we have accepted Hashem as our king, and that we will listen to Him and follow His dictates.

By asking Hashem for our needs we obviously acknowledge Him as our King, upon whom we depend as the source of life, as the source of everything on this plane (and every other) plane of existence. The omens are a way of covertly asking the Boreh Olam – Creator of the Universe for our needs without being too blatant about it.

Immediately preceding each of these  foods we say a “Yehi ratzon – may it be Your will…” Each food, whether through a pun on its name, or through its very nature, alludes to our request.

A holiday plate with traditional symbolic foods

The Yehi ratzons are as follows:

“Yehi Ratzon Milfanecha, Ad-noi El-heinu Vei’l-hai Avosainu…”

“May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers…”

For fenugreek (most Ashkenazim use carrots, in yiddish Mehren – which can also mean “to increase,”):

“…Sheiyirbu zechuyosainu.”

“…that our merits increase.”

For leek or cabbage:

“…Sheiyikarsu sonainu.”

“…that our enemies be decimated.”

For beets:

“…Sheiyistalku oyvainu.”

“…that our adversaries disappear”

For dates:

“…Sheyitamu sonainu.”

“…that our enemies be consumed.”

For gourd:

“…Sheyikora gzar dinainu vyikaru lefanecha zechuyosainu.”

“…that the decree of our sentance be torn up and may our merits be proclaimed before you.”

For the apple in the honey:

“…shetichadesh aleinu shana tova umtuka.”

“…that you renew us for a good and sweet year.”

For pomegranate:

“…shenirbeh zechuyos kerimon”

“…that our merits increase like (the seeds of) a pomegranate.”

For fish:

“…Shenifreh vnirbeh kedagim.”

“…that we be fruitful and multiply like fish.”

For the head of a fish or sheep:

“…Shenihiyeh lerosh velo lezanav.”

“…that we be as the head and not as the tail.”

There are also many personal symbols that some people add, for example among some of my relatives it’s long been customary to have a lettuce leave, half a raisin and a piece of celery stalk… What is the pun and its meaning? “May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, to let us have a raise in salary.

Do you have any personal or family symbols you add on Rosh Hashana? Please share them with the rest of us, we’d like to see them!

May this be the year, when everyone of us is granted all of his/her needs, as we acknowledge Hashem’s kingship!

CS




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