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Meet Rebecca: Jewish Swapples Maker of the Week

In preparation for the day you’ll be spending dreaming about food you are not consuming, we figured now is the perfect time to introduce you to DC’s resident Swapple maker. “What are Swapples? You may be asking. Swapples are like waffles, except healthy. They’re made entirely from Yucca root and use only whole fruits and vegetables. And, wait for it, delicious.

Founder, owner, and CEO Rebecca Peress is ready to share how she became a food innovator/business owner by age 23 and why she really might be a spy working for the CIA.

becca

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Rebecca: I came to DC in 2010 to start undergrad at GW and never left. I thought I wanted to work for the CIA/FBI, so I came here for that. After an interview with the Secret Service for a summer internship, I almost got it and then they were like “no, sorry”. I didn’t have anything to do that summer, so I interned with a food/beverage director at a golf course and fell in love with food/hospitality and totally changed courses.

Allie: Hold up. You wanted to be in the CIA?

Rebecca: I wanted to serve the country. I’m also a true crime junkie. My cousins still think I am a secret agent and that Swapples is just a cover.

Allie: How did you come up with the idea for Swapples?

Rebecca: One Saturday when I was bored, I was messing around in my kitchen and put Yucca Root in my waffle iron. I wanted to see what would happen. I’ve been interested in nutrition since I took my first health class. I was having really bad blood sugar issues my senior year of college, and my doctor had me take out all sugar for an entire year. That was really hard. But that year changed my palette and brought to light how much bad stuff I was actually eating.

I started eating more plant-based and had taken out grain, but I wanted something crispy and bread-y.

Allie: What was the first flavor of Swapples you ever made?

Rebecca: The Everything Spice was my first flavor because I grew up with bagels in New York and missed them.

Allie: Who was your first customer?

Rebecca: I tell my former boss that Swapples would not exist if not for him asking for a bite of it one day and then telling me he would pay me for them! Then other people started ordering them, and I realized there was a market for this. I was 23. I had no boyfriend, no dog, not a lot of savings, I already worked like crazy so I didn’t really see my friends much. I had nothing to lose.

Allie: What’s the hardest part of starting and owning your own company?

Rebecca: There is no rule book for it. You’re figuring it out as you go. I am not a risk taker; I don’t like the uncertainty of it.

Allie: What’s the most rewarding part?

Rebecca: Being able to share them with people. Getting emails from people about how Swapples changed their life, or helped their gut issues, or how they finally have a gluten-free waffle they can eat with their family. That is why I do it.

becca

Allie: What’s your dream for the future of Swapples?

Rebecca: For it to go national. Then, I’d want to sell it to a larger company so it can be spread wider. If I can put something out in this world that makes it easier to eat whole foods and fruits and vegetables, I want to do that.

Allie: Favorite Swapples flavor?

Rebecca: Garlic and greens.

Allie: Do you serve Swapples at Jewish holiday meals?

Rebecca Swapples can be used in place of matzo because they’re kosher for Passover! I’ve also served them at Shabbats in place of challah, and at Hanukkah parties as latkes.

Allie: What advice do you have for someone dreaming of starting their own business?

Rebecca: Take care of yourself. I get eight hours of sleep every night and work out every day. Working out is so important to me.

Allie: What do you like about working out?

Rebecca: I like high intensity training (HiIT) workouts and boot camps. I like to be dripping in a pool of my own sweat. I don’t drink, smoke, or eat a ton of sugar, so working out is my release. If I don’t workout for more than two days in a row I go crazy. I’ll work out anywhere. Once, I was on a 14 hour plane to China and was going crazy so I started doing lunges, squats and pushups in the middle of the aisle. People were staring at me but I didn’t care it felt so good.

Allie: What’s something people might be surprised to find out about you?

Rebecca: I started dating my boyfriend after we talked at a OneTable Shabbat dinner.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Rebecca: They eat.

becca

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Spotted in Jewish DC: Alex Levin’s Rosh Hashanah Pop-Up Bakeshop!

We’ve smelled, er spotted, something delicious baking in Jewish DC. It’s a pop-up bakeshop for Rosh Hashanah complete with things like hazelnut chocolate rugelach, caramelized apple pie, whipped ricotta cheesecake, honey challah with raisins.

Your stomach grumbling yet?

The man behind the pastries, Chef Alex Levin, took a quick break from the kitchen to chat with us about the best things to order from this bakeshop, his New Year resolutions, and where he eats when he’s not working.

P.S. GatherDC-ers can get their hands on these baked goods for 10% off with code GatherDC at checkout.

chef levin

Allie: What number pop-up bakeshop is this for you?

Chef Alex: This is the 3rd Annual Rosh Hashanah Pop-Up Bakeshop. Each year, the interest and popularity of this grows exponentially. We have increased our production potential to make sure we have challah and desserts for everyone who is interested. I’ve also done pop-ups in the past for Thanksgiving and other holidays. This year, we’re considering extending the pop-up to offer some items for Yom Kippur too. Stay tuned!

Allie: What item(s) are you most excited about whipping up for the public to nosh on?

Chef Alex: When the Rosh Hashanah meal starts off with an fabulous challah, the year begins on a high note. My challah recipe started with my beloved grandmother. Then, it got a “pastry chef” upgrade after I learned how to make bread professionally. The bread is rich in flavor with a dark, golden crust. We use honey, wheat flour, raisins for those who wish, and shape the bread in the traditional circle.

I love rugelach.  So does everyone else! We have the very popular Hazelnut Chocolate Crunch Rugelach available.

We also organized “The Ultimate Rosh Hashanah Spread” which gives you one of everything. 

challah

Allie: How can GatherDC readers can their hands on these goodies?

Chef Alex: Click here or click on the link in my Instagram profile @chefalexlevin and enter promo code GatherDC for 10% off your order. You can have everything delivered to your home or pickup your order in person from a couple of central locations in the city. If you have any special requests,or if price is an issue for anyone, reach out to me on Instagram. I will make it work for you.

Allie: What is your favorite way to celebrate the Jewish New Year?

Chef Alex: I love spending the holiday with my family. Right after the last delivery is made from the pop-up, I hop on a quick flight to New York to spend two days with them. My parents host a large gathering on the second day of Rosh Hashanah for lunch and I usually have the privilege of baking challah and desserts for that.

Allie: Do you have any personal resolutions for the Jewish New Year?

Chef Alex: To host Shabbat dinners on a regular basis. 

Allie: What’s your favorite restaurant in DC…that you don’t work at/for?

Chef Alex: Little Serow. When you walk in the front door, the team gives the warmest greeting. And of course the food is delicious – full of heat, bright flavors, and always changing.

Allie: Do you have any other plans to curate Jewish holiday related menus throughout the year?

Chef Alex: For Hanukkah, I have a big party planned at Casolare Ristorante + Bar for all of the synagogues in the city to come together and celebrate the holiday with all the staples (e.g. crispy latkes, sufganiyot). Alta Strada will host a Hanukkah dinner that Michael Schlow, Matt Adler, and I will cook for. For Passover, we will have a Passover Seder Feast at Riggsby and Alta Strada. Also, anyone that ever wants a special holiday meal in their home or a shabbat dinner in their home, just reach out to me.

Allie: I heard you traveled to Israel this year, how did that trip inspire you and your role as a chef in the city?

Chef Alex: The trip was called REALITY Taste and organized by the Schusterman Foundation. While it’s impossible to properly answer this question in any short way, what I can say is that the trip imparted a warrior-level need to impart the value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) into all of my activities as a human being, and my duty as a leader in the community. So, this pop-up bakeshop – in this context – is an opportunity to bring a delicious and sweet Jewish New Year to anyone that is interested. 

dessert

Allie: What are you most excited for in the year ahead?

Chef Alex: This past year has been a hugely foundational moment of time. I just moved into a new condo in Bloomingdale, have been lucky to become super close with family and friends and have had the exciting pleasure of becoming an uncle. This year I am looking forward to settling down even more, getting involved in the board of a nonprofit here in the city and of course baking my head off for everyone that I can find!

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challahYou can place an order from Chef Alex Levin’s Rosh Hashanah Pop-Up Bakeshop here. Delivery and pickup options available on Saturday, 9/8 and Sunday, 9/9. For questions, email alevin@schlowrg.com.

*Use promo code GatherDC for 10% off.*

 

 

 

 

 

 


The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Artichoke is the New Shrimp

The precedent

July 11, 1883, is one of most disastrous, non-violent days in recent Jewish memory: the date of the infamous Trefa Banquet.

During the graduation celebration for the first class to attend Hebrew Union College, dishes were served featuring shrimp, crab, and meat alongside ice cream! It is still unclear to this day if it was a caterer’s mistake, or done intentionally. Whatever happened, it was followed by the Head of the College, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, skipping apologies entirely, and eating the forbidden food under the eyes of hundreds of speechless guests. Since that momentous event, many who identity with Reform Judaism are inclined to eat shrimp and other non-kosher shellfish, differentiating them from Orthodox and Conservative communities.

In sum, this sole dinner helped launch the first true schism in modern Jewish history.

The current crisis

Why am I talking about this banquet more than a century later? Because another, although smaller, culinary and cultural schism may be on the horizon.

This time, the bone of contention is a dish very close to my heart (and mouth): the carciofo alla giudia, better known as the Roman artichoke (AKA: a deep fried artichoke). This succulent dish is the pride of the Rome’s Jewish community, and has been one of its most important symbols for centuries. This year, just a few days before the beginning of Passover, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate declared the artichoke to be non-kosher after receiving a package of Roman artichokes full of worms. The Israeli rabbinate stated that the artichoke is not safe to eat since worms can be hidden on the inside of the vegetable, rendering it non-kosher.

The reactions

As you can imagine, the reaction of the Italian Jewish community was at first of incredulity, followed thereafter by a rebellion that has caused a break within the community itself.

The Jews of Rome stayed faithful to their beloved dish and, led by their Chief Rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, continued to offer fried artichoke in the ghetto’s restaurants. To emphasize the point,Rabbi Di Segni wished everybody a “Happy Passover” in a video during which he peeled artichokes in front of a synagogue. The Jewish community of Milan, however, has instead decided to follow the decision of the Israeli rabbinate, and removed the dish from its Jewish restaurants.

The solution(s)

As my grandma says, “for each problem there is a solution.” When applied to the Jewish world, this saying becomes, “for each problem, there are several different solutions.”

Milan’s answer: The Jews of Milan are reinventing the dish and making it 100% kosher by cutting it up and cleaning the vegetable before frying it. The artichoke is now re-composed directly on the plate.

Rome’s answer: The Jews of Rome followed their own Chief Rabbi and continue to eat the artichoke according to their tradition. After all, as Mr. Pavoncello (owner of Nonna Betta, one of the Roman ghetto’s Jewish restaurants) said, “There is no pope [in Judaism]”. He explained that each community can make its own decision about which fruits and vegetables are proper to eat.

Naples’ answer: Rabbi Umberto Piperno, chief rabbi of the Jewish community of Naples, is trying to create and patent an ultrasound, flying-bug repellent which could tell with a 100% certainty if there are worms/bugs inside the artichokes without needing to open them.

My personal answer: Since my personal kashrut rules are limited to not eating pork or bringing shellfish home (mostly to avoid the complaints of my husband, who keeps kosher), the artichoke issue is not a problem. However, this debate continues to feel very personal to me because it involves the Italian Jewish community of which I am a part. I try to eat at least one Jewish artichoke every time I go to Rome. Last time, during a nasty NYC-snowstorm-induced layover, I had the signature dish in Rome’s airport as part of my wedding anniversary celebration!

After reading all about the controversy around this dish, I started to crave some good, deep fried artichokes myself. So, I decided to try the two DC restaurants that I knew were serving the delicacy: Etto and Lupo Verde.

Lupo Verde, which is designed to serve typical Roman food, was the uncontested winner! Their fried artichokes were so delicious that they made me almost feel like I was home.

If this article triggered your own fried artichoke craving, here are some recipes you can try out at home. Bete’avon!

Fried Artichoke from The New York Times

Jewish Style Fried Artichokes from My Jewish Learning

[Video] Artichokes Jewish-style, Italian recipe

 

 

About the Author: Daniela is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group.

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Jourdi: Jewish Food-Instagramer of the Week

Food lovers rejoice! The amazing human behind @District_Foodie is ready to set down her plate, set aside her iPhone, and chat with a big fan (me) about her successful Instagram account, favorite Jewish foods, and why Bruce Springsteen holds a special place in her heart. Dig into this exclusive interview with Jourdi Tobias, AKA: @District_Foodie! WARNING: Food cravings may ensue – so, we encourage you to #treatyoself to a Valentine’s Day goody while reading.

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Jourdi: I went to University of Maryland – go Terps! And I got a job here after school, am from the area and have always loved it, so I wound up staying.

Allie: What do you love most about living in DC?

Jourdi: I love that it feels like a city, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel too overwhelming. It’s been easy to find great friends and feel a part of the community, and I also really enjoy the food scene here.

Allie: So I hear you run a popular food Instagram account…..

Jourdi: Yes! One night, my friends and I were in New York and trying to figure out where to go out to eat. They were all looking at photos on Instagram to decide where to go. As someone who has always been passionate about trying new foods, and loves going out to eat, I realized that I wanted to be that person in DC who helped others figure out where and what to eat. So, I started a food Instagram account, District Foodie.

I was going out to eat and taking photos of the food anyway, so the account happened pretty naturally. The more I kept posting, the more popular the page started to be. Today, we have 15,000 followers! I think it’s been so successful because it’s food I actually try, and restaurants I go to and love, so everything is real!

Allie: Top 3 favorite DC restaurants?

Jourdi: Little Cocos – a really delicious Italian restaurant in Columbia Heights; Rasika – incredible Indian food; and Red Hen – also amazing Italian food.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Jourdi: Shawarma! I’d love a shawarma platter with everything – hummus, pickled onions, tzatzi, banana peppers, spicy peppers, and a pita on the side. I also am a big fan of potato latkes.

Allie: If you had a free day in DC to do ANYTHING you wanted, how would you spend it?

Jourdi: I’d start the day at a fun all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink brunch place, like AmBar in Eastern Market. Then, I’d walk around Eastern Market for a bit. After that, I’d head down to the National Mall and walk around the monuments. Even though I’ve lived in the DC area for most of my life, I still feel like a tourist every time I go see the monuments. I also would love to go to the Botanical Gardens because I love flowers. I’d unwind from the day with a nice dinner at a Michelin Star restaurant like Pineapple and Pearls, which I’ve never been to.

Allie: Any surprising facts about yourself you’d like to share?

Jourdi: My mom went into labor with me at a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Jourdi: There should be food and drinks!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.