Nina’s Apple Cake

Nina’s apple cake

This is the story of an apple cake. But not the ingredients or how to make it. It’s the story of its maker—someone who brought warmth and joy to my family’s home for Shabbat meals and holidays and who selflessly cared for so many people (including painstakingly preparing a beloved cake for voracious eaters!) despite a past that was far from sweet.

The baker of the famous apple cake is Nina Merrick, an 89-year-old resident of Silver Spring, Maryland. She and her husband, Leon, have been friends of my family’s ever since I first began to study with her to prepare for my bat mitzvah, a connection that came about thanks to her lifelong commitment to teaching Judaism. Click here to get the recipe and read the full story that I wrote for the Jewish Food Experience.

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Tu B’shevat Toasts

Tu B’shevat toasts

Tu B’shevat–the new year celebration of trees and also known as the Jewish Earth Day–means eating lots of delicious fruits with edible interiors, edible exteriors, and edible everything at holiday seders.  For the holiday this year (which starts on Sunday evening), I created a DIY “toast toppings” to enjoy during that meal that includes most of the seven species of ancient Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, olives, figs, dates and pomegranates), along with other significant fruits-including carob–and a nut butter. Continue reading

Vegan Cholent

Cholent is truly a Jewish food. Jewish communities around the world prepare it specially for Shabbat, each with its own variation in name and ingredients. Also called dafina or skinha (Morocco) and hamin (Sephardic in general), the common thread of cholent recipes are that each is slowly cooked overnight so that it’s ready for Shabbat lunch. You cannot cook cholent quickly in a microwave or pressure cooker. It is a long process, and like Shabbat, it requires one to slow down from the rapid pace of weekday life. And no matter what goes into it, cholent is usually so hearty and filling that a Shabbat meal can be complete with it and nothing else. Click here to read the full post and get my recipe on the Jewish Food Experience site.

Simchat Torah: Stuffed Cabbage

Simchat Torah Stuffed Cabbage

Serving stuffed cabbage is a common dish for Simchat Torah. The recipe I share with you is from a dear friend–like a family member–who lives in Tel Aviv. I have had countless Shabbat and holiday meals at her home. Whether in the kitchen or dining room, the tables are always inevitably overflowing with dishes that she painstakingly prepared over a few days after spending hours picking out and discussing with the shopkeeper about the most beautiful produce at her local tiny fruit and vegetable market. Mindful of my plant-based diet, she not only would worry that I have enough to eat, but also creatively updated some of her meat dishes to be vegan. I have had this incredible stuffed cabbage dish at her home many times and every time she excitedly and proudly presents it on a platter to guests. I humbly present  my best attempt to try to recreate her delicious recipe. Continue reading

Sukkot: Poverty and Ecology (and Stuffed Spaghetti Squash)

Sukkot Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays for the obvious reasons: a harvest festival, the ultimate farm-to-table holiday filled with delicious meals eaten outside. I offer my recipe this year–inspired by the abundance of delicious apples and squash at farmers markets–with the note that the holiday, especially after Hurricane Florence, is a time for us to reflect upon and examine our fragility and impermanence, ourselves, our food systems and the world around us. Continue reading

Yom Kippur Break-fast: Scottish Pea and Mint Soup

I had approached a recent 10 day summer holiday in Scotland with a bit of trepidation, expecting endless cold rain and being stuck in pubs eating chips for lack of any other food. Instead, it was unexpectedly filled with mostly sunshine and great vegan food. Except for having to eat a potato chip sandwich and cashews during a 17 mile hike, I found vegan food everywhere–even in a tiny town with only one pub. Another memorable hike was one with endless wild blackberry bushes; those berries not eaten instantly were picked and turned into jam that evening and enjoyed for the remainder of the trip on crackers. And, best of all, Glasgow was crowned with the glorious title of being the vegan capital of the UK.

Continue reading

Rosh Hashana: Easy Baked Apples

Baked apples for Rosh Hashana

I love visiting farmers markets wherever I am in the world to explore the diversity of local produce and foods, talk with farmers, and soak in the festive atmosphere. And, I am never disappointed in my regular jaunts to markets when visiting family in Chicago. During my recent visit, I found an incredible offering of apples I had never heard of grown by Nichol’s Farm. They had colorful bins arranged in two long parallel lines, fully stocked with apples arranged from the most tart to the sweetest.

I decided to experiment with many of these beautiful apple varieties by simply baking them with a touch of maple syrup and doused in cinnamon, with the intention of letting their flavors and textures be the centerpiece of the dish. The fruit alone would stand out for each of its deliciousness. And, what better (and super easy) dessert for Rosh Hashana? Continue reading

Harissa and more Morocco

Harissa

My Jewish-centric trip to Morocco began and ended in Casablanca, a sprawling coastal mega-city that is choked with traffic and filled with endless buildings of peeling white paint.  The city is home to 1,000 Jews and an incredible 20 active synagogues, plus a cemetery and museum of Jewish history.   I quickly felt comfortable in the city when I walked into the apartment building lobby of my Airbnb. I noticed a huge mezuzah affixed to an apartment near the entrance. With impeccable timing, the apartment door opened and two women walked out, saw my friend and me pointing at the mezuzah and warmly greeted us. Immediate Moroccan hospitality. Continue reading

Shabbat with Fassis

Fes potato dish

I took a whirlwind trip to Morocco just before Pesach that focused on visits to historic Jewish sites and spending time with remaining Jewish communities. The 2,000 year history of Jews in Morocco is evident everywhere–from Jewish areas of towns (mellahs), to cemeteries to synagogues–and I grappled with the simultaneous historical nature of the trip along with immersing myself in dwindling communities. I traveled with a friend who is fluent in French (a bonus since I last spoke French my first year of college and rarely anyone speaks English). It was a chaotic start to our trip with missed flights, lost luggage and a bad hotel. But, we set out to track down these people and places without a proper guide, which was not always an easy feat. Through a contact my friend had in Israel along with some rabbis she met on her flight, our paper trail began to unfold. Most importantly, we planned to spend Shabbat in Fes (Fassis is what people in Fes are called) and a connection to  “the butcher” there ensured we were with the community. Continue reading

Rishikesh, Kitchari, and Passover

I spent a good chunk of last year in India. While there are still tiny remaining Indian Jewish communities (read my Fort Cochin post), there is now a transient Jewish population of tens of thousands of mostly post-army Israelis who generally travel through the country generally along a route known as the “Hummus Trail”. The trail is easy to figure out because in each location there are Chabads and other Jewish outreach organizations. For Passover, I joined the Hummus Trail community and went to Rishikesh. Continue reading