Animals, Pandemics, & Shavuot

vegan blintzes with extra filling.

Living through a pandemic has become the ultimate opportunity to look at our food sources and the interconnectedness between what we eat and a host of global issues.

More than 70 billion land animals are raised and killed each year for food and other products around the world, including nine billion in the US alone. Animal agriculture is the main cause of an array of global crises, including climate change, pandemics, water pollution, poverty and hunger.

Zoonosis, the transmission of diseases from animals to humans is, according to the CDC, the source of 75% of all new viruses facing humans. It is happening at a rapid pace because of how animals are raised and slaughtered, primarily in industrial animal agriculture factories and live “wet” markets. From the origination of COVID-19 at an animal market in China to swine flu at an industrial farm in the US to mad cow disease in the UK, the raising and killing of wild and domesticated animals is causing pandemics. Continue reading

Dusseldorf and Date Cake

Date cake

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

Covid19 and Italian Corn Bread

Italian corn bread

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

Simchat Torah: Zucchini Quiche

Simchat Torah–which starts Monday night– is the end of a long season of holidays and marked by both completing and beginning the reading of the Torah. But, we are not starting over in the same place with the Torah or in life. Rather, we are like spirals, moving into a new place that is deeply connected to the past. How will we understand or be guided by the Torah in this new cycle and year?

The foods of Simchat Torah usually elongated to represent the Torah scrolls  or round to represent hakafot–the circles one dances in to celebrate the holiday.   This year, I prepared a vegan zucchini quiche with lots of circles. It’s a great way to use up the season’s last bits of zucchini and is easy to prepare. There are many zucchini varieties and it would be interesting to try an assortment in this dish. Though, I perhaps should have made a dish with the super popular spiralized zucchini! Continue reading

Sukkot: Environmental Refugees and Stuffed Kabocha Squash

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

Yom Kippur Break-Fast: Easy Squash Soup

Break-fast squash soup

Fasting is hard for me and I prepare by spending days whittling down meals, drinking an excessive amount of water, and gobbling as many nuts as possible just before the fast begins. I then struggle at break-fasts because there’s few foods that feel good in my stomach. Even if vegan, the pre-requisite bagels and cream cheese, cakes, kugels, cookies, and more feel like poison darts shooting through my now parched mouth and queasy stomach. I prefer to end the fast with fresh pressed juices, soups, and other gentle foods that are digestible and energizing as I transition my body back to heavier foods. So, to add to my options, this year, I prepared a butternut squash soup that is incredible easy to prepare, has minimal ingredients, and is satiating and filling (i.e. good for the tummy).  Continue reading

Rosh Hashana: Apple Galette & a Plant Forward New Year

Apple galette

As we reflect on our own behaviors of the past year during the High Holidays, we must examine the impacts of our food choices. We are living in a world that is experiencing the effects of climate change (1/5 of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from livestock for meat and dairy consumption), the unprecedented burning of the Amazon for livestock grazing and food along with the horrific treatment and killing of farm animals for food (including for kosher slaughter), dwindling freshwater sources and water pollution.

Though these global issues can seem overwhelming and daunting, we are living also in an incredible moment where we have the resources to help to solve these problems, guided by Jewish values and ethics. Judaism challenges us to live to the highest standards, including how and what we eat; bringing more humane and environmentally sensitive plant-based foods to our tables will reduce climate emissions, cut water consumption and protect animals. Continue reading

Salad at Hummus Yossef

My Hummus Yossef’s salad.

I don’t have the guts to declare one place with the best hummus. I will decidedly write, though, that I eat a lot of hummus, and taste test it the way some do with wines, (albeit a lot cheaper). And, I will argue that Hummus Yossef, from Pardes Hanna Karkur–and now with some locations in Tel Aviv–has some of the best hummus I have ever eaten. It is made fresh for each customer (check out their Cuisinart blenders whirring by the cash register) At its modest first shop—with an outdoor seating area that protected us from the searing sun with intensely blowing fans and a tarp roof –a bowl of Galilee-style hummus was presented to us. It is creamy, very lemony hummus, and heavy enough to seemingly cut it with a knife. Presented in a deep, nearly overflowing bowl, the hummus is immersed in a thorough amount of fruity olive oil, while flecked with whole chickpeas, drizzled with green delightful spicy schug, pillowy drops of tahini, and sprinkled with freshly chopped parsley.  The hummus decidedly strong flavors were enhanced by the perfect balance of spicy, mild and fruity liquid toppings. It made a regular “plain” bowl of hummus seem almost bland or naked in comparison. Continue reading

Tel Aviv Tivoni

The ubiquitous “vegan friendly” sign at the Tel Aviv Vegan Fest

Tel Aviv, aptly called the global vegan (tivoni) capital of the world, is the hub of a culinary, social and consciousness movement that is sweeping Israel. Within the White City’s concrete jungle of bauhaus buildings, abutting glass and steel skyscrapers, is a city teeming with “vegan friendly” signs proudly affixed to businesses, from restaurants to markets to stores. The culinary and social atmosphere is decidedly one that gravitates towards conscious plant-based eating. The breadth of this fascinating Israeli social movement was evident at the city’s two day vegan fest that attracted a shocking 40,000 people (and yes, overwhelmingly Israelis). More people turned out for it than Eurovision the previous week. From labane to burgers, the throngs of Tel Avivians of all stripes lined up to eat from local restaurants, taste new Israeli vegan food brands and celebrate in an atmosphere that was decidedly positive, welcoming of everyone.

Continue reading

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. Continue reading