I have had the great opportunity to trample through the woods and fields just outside Rock Creek National Park to forage for edible plants, berries, flowers and mushrooms this fall. Foraging aside, I have spent endless hours during Covid inside Rock Creek park. I joke that it is my second home but it really is: I don’t start any morning now without hiking or biking in it, no matter the weather, and end many days with a quick jaunt on trails. Spending so much time in Rock Creek has made me keenly aware of the subtle changes every day to the spectacular landscape from the multitude of distinct shades of green leaves in early spring to the trails disappearing afoot as they become layered with leaf cover in the fall. And, my connection to the land has deepened as I have learned about the myriad edible plants and mushrooms living in it.
Bread, a basic, humble food represents so much of what is happening during the pandemic. While some are fortunate to nourish their creativity and yearning for comfort foods by becoming amateur bakers, others line up 24 hours in advance at food banks to secure loaves of bread and other foods. Bread highlights so many of our society’s problems, from the injustices of food access and increasing food insecurity during COVID, to the brokenness of food systems (such as the contrasting shortages of flour in supermarkets compared with food banks), to access to healthy foods (homemade breads, sometimes with heirloom grains versus processed), and the luxury of those of us with time and resources to delve into baking bread. Continue reading
While we continue to hunker down at home, the competition to secure flour and yeast has become more challenging perhaps than buying hand sanitizer. I go through waves of intense cooking and baking, trying to conjure inspiration to keep my meals interesting, even when everything else in life has become so routine (and other times when I am not inspired and just have smoothies or oatmeal for dinner). I have spent the past year or so trying to recreate many of my grandmother’s recipes and being stuck inside now during COVID19 has encouraged me to make more. She was a voracious cook who commanded her kitchen: you didn’t wander around because she would insist on putting together or finding for you whatever you thought perhaps you might want to eat (in a quantity larger than you needed). And, I never left her home without tins of her mandelbrot. Continue reading
This is a frightening moment. It’s hard to write about recipes and food during this time when I incessantly read the news and my mind is mostly devoid of non-coronavirus thoughts or ideas. I have noticed, though, that when I get especially anxious about what is happening, I am drawn to being in my kitchen. Chopping, cooking, baking all calm my nerves a bit and give me something purposeful to do. My sweet elderly dog patiently sits nearby, his intense eyes gazing at me, wondering if any crumbs might drop by his paws, completely unaware of the global crisis and singularly focused on food scraps.
In this challenging moment, my appreciation and awareness of beautiful, sometimes seemingly mundane things in life has become accentuated.
I have taped to my computer a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Our goal should be to live in radical amazement. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” Continue reading
I recently spent time exploring the Lower South of the US, delving into the emotionally fraught history and legacy of enslavement and civil rights, overlaid with an exploration of Southern Jewish life. It was a provoking, at times emotionally draining, visceral, and absolutely fascinating trip that challenged me every day to examine and reflect upon the impact of our nation’s history of slavery and to explore the extraordinary and unique life of Jews in the South. Continue reading
Sukkot is a harvest festival that allows us to experience and reflect upon our vulnerability and fragility in the world. All of the practices of this holiday–celebrating fall harvest foods, inviting community and strangers to one’s sukkah and living in an impermanent dwelling for a week–can be examined through the lens of how we are addressing and will deal with the impacts of climate change crisis. Continue reading
Though we are in the midst of counting the Omer each night, from Passover to Shavuot, I am sharing a recipe and number that has zero relevance to the Omer. It is the number 206, the name of a Tel Aviv restaurant–really an institution–that has sat on a suburban thoroughfare with a car park in front, for decades. It is my spot for the best no-frills Israeli food. The decor is plain and likewise there are zero airs to the food. There’s some magic happening in the kitchen and their unfussy food outshines much of the high end Israeli food now dotting the globe. Before the worldwide roasted cauliflower craze, 206 was serving heaps of it, smothered in tahini sauce on little white saucer plates. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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