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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.

Spotted in Jewish DC: Hill Country BBQ’s Passover Brisket

When you think Passover food, Texan BBQ is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But, local DC BBQ joint, Hill Country BBQ, has somehow magically combined these two forces to create a mouthwatering, traditional Texan BBQ brisket ready-to-order for Passover.

Get the lowdown on this seder-worthy dish from Hill Country BBQ’s Chef de Cuisine, Dan Farber, and Director of Operations, Chris Schaller.

Allie: I hear you have some delicious brisket on sale for Passover. What makes this brisket special?

Chris: Our founder, Marc Glosserman, grew up in the BBQ capital of Texas, where central Texas BBQ is a true celebration of the quality of meat. Our brisket reflects this, and is made with a heavy rub of cayenne, salt, and pepper, and then we soak it over Texas post oak wood from 13-15 hours. By the time it comes out, its very tender, melts in your mouth.

Allie: How can I get this brisket at my Passover seder?

Chris: You can order it online here, pick it up at Hill Country BBQ, or we can do drop-off catering whenever possible – depending on the amount.

Allie: What’s your favorite Passover food?

Dan: Hmmm that’s a hard one because isn’t all Passover food really amazing? 🙂 I would probably say a delicious brisket of course, and a good, flavorful matzo ball soup with the perfect consistency matzo balls (somewhere between floater and sinker). I don’t mind gefilte fish and I can tolerate matzo when it’s served with some butter or as matzo pizza. Of course, in the morning you can’t pass up matzo brei!

Allie: Do you have any other foods at Hill Country you suggest for Passover?

Chris: We serve a healthy amount of lamb, and some great sides like cucumber salad. These can all be ordered for delivery to a Passover seder.

Allie: Is there a discount GatherDC readers can get on the brisket?

Dan: We are happy to extend a 10% discount for GatherDC-ers, just mention this article when ordering.

 

Check out our 2018 Passover Guide for more DC restaurants with seder foods, Passover recipes, and much more.

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: The brisket at Hill Country BBQ is not kosher.

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 Ben, Ben, Ben, AND Ben! (yes, you read that right)

GatherDC’s winter 2018 Beyond the Tent retreat was an amazing experience for young adults to get outside of DC for a weekend, unpack 21st century Judaism, and explore their Jewish identity over deep, meaningful conversations. Among the 30 participants, zero were named Rachel…but FOUR were named Ben! This week, the Bens of Beyond the Tent share their unique perspectives on Jewish DC and life in general – proving, once and for all, that not all Bens are the same. Get to know them…

 

Ben D. – Former Jewish Guy of the Week!

Allie: Where does your unique name come from? Do any of you have a cool story behind why you were named Ben?

Ben D.: I was going to be named after my grandfather, Sidney, which is now my middle name. As a result, my hebrew name is Simcha.

Ben F.: It was passed down from my great-grandfather.

Ben R.: I don’t know. Does that make me a bad Jew? Fake Jew? Typical Jew?

Ben L.: No, but my family and I grew a bit tired of our names last year (we’ve been using them for decades…) and so we used nicknames for a few good months. I went by Josh.

Ben F.

 

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

Ben D.: DC brings the best and the brightest young people from around the country, who come here specifically to make a difference in the world. DC is a springboard for young leaders.

Ben F.: Great collection of educated citizens that aren’t afraid to challenge the establishment. Ask questions, drive for change, and push forward.

Ben R.: All within a few miles and by way of a mass-public transportation train, there’s movies, comedy, craft beer, rock climbing, pour-over coffee shops, and challenging hikes. What else is there in life?

Ben L.: The monuments at night.

 

Allie: If you could pick a new name for yourself right now, what would it be and why?

Ben D.: I usually go by my full name “Ben Droz”, (rhymes with “Ben Rose”).  I like it just the way it is.

Ben F.: Staying with Ben. Simple name but yet plenty of clever nicknames.

Ben R.: When I was 26 years old, my first book was published. I had unlimited options for the name that was published on the cover: I could have chosen Ben, Benjy, Ben-jammin, Ben-jammmmmmmmmin, Benjamin, or an alias. I chose Benjamin, the name by which my loving parents chose to call me. And, I’m sticking with it.

Ben L.: Josh. Worked before. Could work again.

Allie: I hear you all recently went on GatherDC’s Beyond the Tent retreat with Rabbi Aaron! First, how was it? Second, was it weird, awesome, or both meeting 3 other Bens?

Ben D.: Beyond the Tent was a great experience, to get out of the DC bubble and make time for deep reflection. It helped to highlight that any person can define Judaism for themselves. I am used to there being other Bens around throughout my life, which is one reason why I usually go by my full name. But this time, we made up more than 10% of the whole group, so yes, that was both weird and awesome.

Ben F.: Beyond the Tent was a mind-changing experience. Rabbi Aaron encouraged us to ask difficult questions and not to be afraid to stand behind our beliefs. In terms of meeting all the Bens, I think we embraced it – it was like our own little breakout group in itself.

Ben R.: Beyond the Tent impacted my life positively, partly because I was one of four individuals named Ben. Never again in my life, I’m certain of this, will I be in the same place with three other friends named Ben. That’s “Beyond the Awesome”.

Ben L.: It was a thought provoking weekend. I’m a regular attendee of the weekly secret underground gatherings of the Bens, so nothing too new.

 

Allie: Favorite thing to do on a free Sunday in the city?

Ben D.: There are always so many events in DC that I like to see what is going on and base my decision on that.  Last weekend I randomly went to the Zoo, which was fun.

Ben F.: Go for a run along the National Mall.

Ben R.: Watch professional football. Oh wait, I live and die by the Washington Redskins and football season is over? Dang it!

Ben L.: Park. I really enjoy not having to use the meter.

 

Allie: Favorite Jewish food? Ben R., we already know you hate hummus

Ben D.: Chicken Soup.

Ben F.: Might be a classic choice, but Apples and Honey.

Ben R.: [haha. Yep]. Not hummus.

Ben L.: My mom’s challah. All of her’s are good, but I’d say that 1 out of 4 is truly something divine, especially when my two year-old niece helps. Shout out to Maya, Talia, and Andrew, my favorite Jews in DC!

 

Allie: Any surprising facts about yourself?

Ben D.: I had a spiritual experience at Burning Man and now want to incorporate spirituality into my life in new ways.

Ben F.: I was born without two normal teeth and with all 4 wisdom teeth. Call me strange I guess!

Ben R.: Every morning, I touch my three tattoos and say aloud a blessing of gratitude about having my third chance in life and about accepting myself and others as we are. Thanks to Beyond the Tent, I realize now that, for me, this is a deeply Jewish and spiritual ritual.

Ben L.: I used to tear it up at table tennis tournaments as a kid.

 

Allie: Favorite Jewish holiday and how do you celebrate it?

Ben D.: Passover, because there is so much relating to the holiday (I follow sephardic food rules so that I can still enjoy rice and lentils). I like to celebrate by re-interpreting the Haggadah from a post-modern perspective.

Ben F.: Rosh Hashanah. And I try to spend time back home to reminisce on the year prior and look at new ways to seize the future.

Ben R.: Purim because my friend is baking me hamentashen. Ask me again in April, and I may say a different holiday if a friend bakes me something else.

Ben L.: Havdalah. I like to hear the candle’s flame slowly go out in the wine. Judaism places a lot of emphasis on transitions throughout one’s day, week, or year and when in crisis, and I think that’s smart.

 

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

Ben D.: They will always find connection and meaning.

Ben F.: If meeting for the first time, you’ll probably get a first question like what you do for a living or where are you from.

Ben R.: They still congregate around the hummus.

Ben L.: You’ll never be the one with the best question or the best answer. That means it’ll be pretty exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

JUDITH VS. DONUTS: The DC Donut Taste-Test

8 Days of Hanukkah means the PERFECT excuse to take advantage of eight chances to indulge in some of the best, most delectable, most fried, most well frosted, most heavily sprinkled, most — ugh, we’re getting so hungry right now — donuts throughout DC. This week, we highly encourage you to go have fun tasting the best donuts across the city as you explore new neighborhoods, surprise your friends with exciting flavors (sweet and savory), and get in as much fried food as possible before the New Year!

We did some preliminary “research” to help steer you to the tastiest treats, and away from those not worth the calories — we took a few caloric hits for the team. Use our highly scientific Donut Deliciousness Meter (out of 4 ✡) to decipher which donuts are worth the splurge. You’re welcome!

Dunkin’ Donuts

While these donuts are great for a cheap office treat, looks are very much deceiving as we encountered tasty looking but…we hate to say it…stale donuts! We tried both a classic glazed (very dry) and an apple-filled (more like one bite of filling in the corner of a very dry donut), throwing out both donuts after one bite. 🙁 But, we did pick these donuts up in the afternoon, so perhaps they are best enjoyed with your morning Dunkin’ coffee run.

Donut Deliciousness Meter: ✡

B. Doughnut

Due to the overwhelming popularity of these particular fried and frosted circles, we were unable to quench our B.Doughnut taste buds. These donuts sold out by 11am! (DC donut lovers – we’re impressed.) Although I cannot speak from personal experience, we’ve heard these are definitely ones to have on your list…along with an alarm clock set for sunrise. Using a Hawaiian style Malasada recipe instead of the traditional fried fritter (making for an eggy, yeast dough), these doughnuts are filled with pastry crème or cream cheese. With a pop-up shop at Union Market, you can swing by on the weekend and grab a LOX bagel doughnut! Yes, that is a real thing.

Donut Deliciousness Meter: Too late to tell!

202 Donuts

You can find these handmade donuts at Bold Bite in Downtown DC. While deceptively small, these donuts pack a punch of flavor – and were one of our favorite bites of all! The donut itself has a strong yeast flavor and isn’t very sweet, which actually pairs miraculously well with the sugary toppings and fillings. Go for the Dulce de Leche for a creamy caramel treat or the Samoa if you’re missing your favorite Girl Scout cookie.

Donut Deliciousness Meter: ✡✡✡✡

District Doughnut

With drool-worthy flavors like Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee, Brown Butter, and Cannoli, this local donut shop (started in Union Kitchen) spreads happiness through its mouthwatering, handcrafted donuts in a wide variety of flavors. They have a special strawberry jam filled Sufganiyot for Hanukkah, and are one of the few places that serve cake donuts in addition to the classic yeasted variety.

Donut Deliciousness Meter: ✡✡✡

Image courtesy of Astro Doughnuts,  Scott Suchman

Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken

Founded by two Jews who met while playing hockey (they were the first native Washingtonians to play for the Capitals), this donut shop fries up sweet treats AND crispy chicken! Combining their two childhood comfort foods, Jeff Halpern and Elliot Spaisman brought the very first chicken and donut sandwich to DC. You can get classic donuts with or without the chicken, or a special box of sufganiyot donuts for Hanukkah (traditional jelly-filled, crème brulee topped with gelt, and Hanukkah cookie!). These flavors will be available from 12/12 – 12/20/17, so stop by this week to give ‘em a try!

Donut Deliciousness Meter: ✡✡✡✡

Honorable Mentions:

Shake Shack, Donuts Are Forever Concrete: Milkshake heaven made of Astro Doughnut’s coconut flavored doughnut, Vanilla custard, strawberry jam, and rainbow sprinkles.

Munch Ice Cream Donut Sandwich

Chocolate Frosted Entenmann’s Donut

 

 

About the Author: Judith  Rontal  is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! Judith hails from wintry Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she grew up in a family that always managed to eat dinner together, even if that was at 10 pm. She’s continued that connection between food, family and culture in her blog, Aluminum Foiled Kitchen, and in her daily life in DC where she works in PR, focusing on media relations. When not in the kitchen working on a new recipe to serve at her next dinner party, you can find Judith sweating it out at yoga or running the Rock Creek Park trails. Follow her food adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

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: Baked by Yael

Baked by Yael was founded in 2010 by recovering attorney Yael Krigman. After operating Baked by Yael as an online business for several years, Yael finally opened DC’s very first Cake-poppery® in 2015. Today, Baked by Yael has claimed the illustrious distinction of having cake pops that Washingtonian Magazine called “Best of Washington.” Side note – her bagels are truly a hidden gem of DC, and you must try them.

Now, bite into this exclusive interview with Yael as she digs into the trials and tribulations of running her very own cake pop shop in our nation’s capital.

Allie:  I heard you used to be a lawyer. So…how did you wind up opening Baked by Yael?

Yael: When I worked at a big law firm, I used to bake for fun and I’d bring in my baked goods to share with coworkers each week. People would crowd in my office to try the latest “Monday Treat.”  They would tell me I was a fine attorney… but that if it didn’t work out, I should start a bakery. I figured there was no reason to wait, so I started Baked by Yael. A part-time side gig eventually turned into a full-time passion.

Allie: When did you first start baking? Who taught you?

Yael: I remember making cookies with my family when I was little, but I started baking regularly when I was in law school. It’s amazing the skills you can develop when you’re trying to avoid studying for the bar exam!

My baking as an adult began with bagels. It was so hard to find a good bagel in DC. I finally gave up and decided to make my own. From there, I branched out to black & white cookies and rugelach, and then of course to cake pops!

Allie: How did you find the courage to take a risk and start your own business?

Yael: It wasn’t easy. I had a stable, well-paying job in the legal field. After a while, I started to realize that I had one job I worked because of the money and another job I worked because of the joy it gave me.

It was an email from the then-popular Daily Candy that really gave me the push I needed to leave my day job.  They sent an email to all of their subscribers with the subject “The best bagel we’ve ever eaten.” That really put Baked by Yael on the map. The rest, as they say, is history!

Allie: Any new treats coming out this season that you’re particularly excited about?

Yael: We had our honey cake pops for Rosh Hashanah, and we’ll be rolling out some more seasonal flavors in the coming weeks. We’re also thinking of doing a spin on “Christmas in July” with hamantaschen in November.  Stay tuned 🙂

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

Yael: Keep your eye on the prize and be prepared to develop thick skin! The journey of a small business owner is quite the emotional rollercoaster.  You need a solid plan, a great product, and a strong support network of family, friends, and customers.

Allie: What do you like to do for fun outside of work?

Yael: I try to find time throughout the year for short trips or visits to the symphony. The highlight of my week is mentoring a middle school student. This is my fifth year with her. It brings me such joy to watch her grow and to know that I’m playing a small role in the life of an extraordinary young girl.

Allie: How are are you involved in DC’s local Jewish community?

Yael: I’m a member of Adas Israel, which is only a few blocks from Baked by Yael, and I’ve helped support the Edlavitch DCJCC by catering several fundraising events. I’m proud to provide one of the only options for fresh kosher food in DC.

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish food?

Yael: Oh man, that’s like asking a mother to choose between her children. If I had to pick one, I would probably say the black & white cookie. I used to only like the chocolate side, then I switched to preferring vanilla, and now I love both sides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baked by Yael is located at 3000 Connecticut Avenue (directly across from the National Zoo) or online at bestcakepopever.com. Baked by Yael offers curbside pickup at their bakery, as well as local delivery and nationwide shipping. You can also find Baked by Yael on weekends at the Cleveland Park and Palisades farmers’ markets in DC and the Old Town and Del Ray farmers’ markets in Alexandria. Baked by Yael’s products are nut-free and kosher, and have lots of gluten-free and vegan options as well. Kids and kids at heart can hold cake pop parties in Baked by Yael’s kitchen, offering all the fun of rolling, dipping, and decorating without the usual mess.

 

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.

The Jewish Food Experience

JFE“Inspired by tradition.  Delivered with a twist.”

The Jewish Food Experience (JFE), a new DC-based site, provides a platform for the community to come together through food.  JFE brings Jewish food with a modern twist:  The project allows foodies, including chefs, restaurateurs, food critics and writers, to share recipes, stories, international flavors, news about the local Jewish food scene, and volunteer efforts to fight hunger.  Steven A. Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, explains, “Food is a shared experience, and we expect this new project will provide opportunities for local Jews to not only experience food with family and friends old and new, but also engage the Jewish community in a deeper way.”  In addition to online activities, JFE will create shared moments around food through events and programs such as tastings, volunteer opportunities, book signings, cooking series, films, and more.

photo (2)

Chef Todd Gray giving a cooking demo at the JFE launch.

Susan Barocas, JFE Project Director, explains, “The Jewish Food Experience is the first of its kind – a project that combines an appetizing website chock full of stories, recipes, and resources with exciting programs and partnerships.  There is something so elemental and natural about exploring, discussing, cooking, tasting, and sharing food that brings people together in a way few things can do.  And food is also a way to bring memory and tradition together with innovation and creativity.  It’s exciting to think about the possibilities of connecting people through food and contributing to richer, more satisfying ways to connect to Jewish heritage and culture.”

JFE held it’s official launch party on Tuesday, March 12.  The morning began with a bit of schmoozing (in true Jewish fashion) and breakfast consisting of twists on traditional Jewish foods and new innovative recipes.  Fritatta of wild mushrooms and muenster cheese, poached salmon mousse with cucumber salad, and matzah brei with strawberry compote were some of the delicious foods that attendees munched on.  While enjoying the breakfast fare, Chef Todd Gray, co-author of The New Jewish Table and member of the JFE Advisory Council, treated us to a cooking demo.  All who attended left with satisfied bellies and excitement for the Jewish Food Experience.

Check out the The Jewish Food Experience today!

All but Observant Welcome

not kosh

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews. Read GTJ’s response here.

By profession, I am an officer in the United States Army.  My job has brought me all around the world.  I have both kept kosher and helped arrange Jewish servicemember events, always kosher, in locations as diverse as Seoul, Korea, Schweinfurt (Pig’s Crossing), Germany, and Baghdad, Iraq.  It perplexes me then why some Jewish organizations, which tout their inclusiveness, insist on the exclusion of observant Jews by serving non-kosher food.  At a time when far too many Jews are completely unaffiliated and totally disengaged from American Jewish communal life, Jewish organizations which have non-kosher events send a unmistakable “We don’t want you” message to observant Jews – a group which tends towards the most engagement, affiliation, and participation.   Jewish organizations of every ideological stripe, which claim to welcome the entire community, act in this exclusionary fashion.  A few examples:

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is dedicated to “to work(ing) towards a world in which all peoples (are) accorded respect and dignity” by promoting “pluralistic and democratic societies.”  Apparently, observant Jews aren’t a part of this “pluralism,” or necessarily in line for “respect and dignity.”  Last month, the AJC held a Winter Access DC party at which it served non-kosher food and wine.  I asked Jason Harris, the Assistant Director of AJC’s Washington Office, why the AJC holds non-kosher events.  He responded by stating that the AJC serves “’kosher-style’ (food) when we host events at any bars or reception halls…” and that it is just too hard to find kosher food or catering in Washington.

J-Street claims that it is “rooted in commitment to Jewish values.”  Evidentially, kashrut isn’t a part of the “Jewish values” in which J-Street is rooted.  The 2011 J-Street National Conference featured only non-kosher food.  Google “J-Street kosher” and you can read about the experiences of observant participants who had nothing to eat for three days.  Benjamin Silverstein, New Media Associate with J-Street, states “the food at our events is at a minimum kosher style” and J-Street will “accomodate (sic) for specific needs.”  At least if the blogosphere is accurate, at the 2011 National Conference, BLTs and Turkey and Cheese sandwiches qualify as “kosher-style” and “accommodation” in J-Street parlance.

I went to a Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Hanukah party and found waitresses strolling with (non-kosher) lamb appetizers and butter sauce.  I find this conduct distasteful, and stopped attending RJC functions.  Just recently, I got an email from an RJC staffer, asking me and other Jewish Republicans to come back to the organization.  I asked the RJC’s staffer whether the RJC had changed its practices.  She stated that the RJC tries “to keep our events as kosher (or kosher-style) as possible.”

“Too hard.”  “Accommodation.” “As kosher-style as possible.” Really?  To be clear, “kosher style” food is not kosher and has the same status under halacha (Jewish law) as bacon.  Observant Jews do not and cannot eat it.  Anyone who organizes a Jewish event is or should be completely conscious of the fact that he or she excludes a portion of our community by serving “kosher-style (ie non-kosher) food.   Why, then, do it?

Some argue “well, it is just too difficult” or “it costs too much” to have a kosher event.  I am unmoved by tepid demurrer concerning the logistical difficulties of obedience to basic Jewish law.  During my military career, adherence to Jewish law has not always been easy.  Sometimes, when organizing Jewish events, loyalty to Jewish standards has meant serving potato chips and soda.  Throwing hands-in-air, exclaiming “O well, too hard/too expensive,” and serving non-kosher food was never a thought – not for me, and not for the other participants, many of whom were not necessarily religious and did not keep kosher.  Such surrender would be to the collective denial of Judaism and to the individual exclusion of the observant members of the community who would be unable to participate (and yes, there are observant Jews in the American military).  If Jewish events can be kosher in Korea and Iraq- in the middle of a war- why not here, in Washington, where there are kosher caterers, kosher restaurants, and even non-Jewish venues with kosher kitchens?

There is no reason and no excuse for a non-kosher Jewish community event.  It can be done here, and can be done with relative ease.
DC-based Jewish organizations of both local and national reach, including The Jewish Federation of Washington, the DCJCC, Hillel, AIPAC, and Gather the Jews only sponsor events which are kosher and have policies against serving non-kosher food.  If these groups can do it, all can do it.

Others may ask “So you don’t eat… So what?”  I doubt very seriously that anyone in community leadership would dare organize a joint event with Muslims which featured a beer/wine guzzle, or propose a Catholic-Jewish symposium centered around a beef barbeque on Friday during Lent.  A liquor-based event would show profound disrespect to the sacred traditions of Islam.  A meat-centric event during Lent would send a highly offensive message to Catholics.  In both examples, Catholics or Muslims are consigned second-class status because they cannot fully participate and cannot eat.  The same leaders, however, are perfectly content to send the same offensive, exclusionary and disrespectful message to observant Jews when their organizations serve non-kosher food – the message that the religious traditions of our people are unimportant and may be whimsically disregarded.

I, and many others who are observant, decline the exclusionary attitude and second-class status offered by Jewish community organizations which serve non-kosher food at their events.  Members of these organizations should insist on change.  It can be “kosher-style” or it can be “inclusive,” but it can’t be both and we, the observant members of the community, will not participate in your organizations so long as your dismissive posture remains.

Note from the RJC: The author of this piece references an incident that occurred several years ago and the author is no longer affiliated with or involved with the RJC.  We would like to highlight a point omitted by the author that all the major events that the organization has hosted, including the Presidential Candidates Forum and events at the GOP convention in Tampa, were strictly kosher.

“Buttermilk” Fried Chicken

I just returned from a road trip through the Deep South, where even the vegetables have pork in them.  You’ll probably see a few trip-inspired recipes over the next few months, but for this week, I wanted to do one that fit with the last few weeks of summer/picnic weather.  Traditional Southern fried chicken is soaked in buttermilk to keep the chicken juicy.  That’s obviously a non-starter kosher-wise.  To get the same effect — while keeping Kosher — I made my own buttermilk using soy milk and followed a recipe from “Country Living” magazine for the rest.  The chicken turned out moist on the inside and crispy on the outside, with not a taste of soy to be found!

Total time: 45 min. active, plus 2-12 hours unattended

Yield: 8 servings

Level: Moderate*

Ingredients

  • 2 cups minus 2 tbsp unsweetened soy milk
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • Vegetable oil

Directions

  1. Combine vinegar and soy milk and let rest for 5-10 minutes, until it begins to look curdled.  Stir in Dijon mustard, 1 tsp salt, dry mustard, cayenne, and black pepper. Place chicken pieces in a gallon-size zip-top bag, and pour the buttermilk mixture over them.  Turn pieces to coat.  Seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. In a 13-inch by 9-inch by 2-inch pan, whisk together flour, baking powder, dry garlic, and ½ tsp salt. Add chicken pieces and turn to coat thickly. Let the chicken stand 10 minutes, turning occasionally to recoat with flour. Shake off excess flour before frying.
  3. Add ¾-1” oil to a 12” heavy-gauge, non non-stick skillet, fitted with a thermometer.  Heat over medium-high heat to 360 degrees.  Add the chicken and fry for about 10 minutes per side, turning with tongs.  Keep an eye on the thermometer and adjust to keep it 350-360 degrees.
  4. Transfer to a wire rack on a baking sheet and place in 150 degree oven or tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat the procedure for the remaining batches. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*The steps of this recipe are not too difficult for a cook with reasonable skills, but you do need some equipment not everyone has: 1) a thermometer; 2) a non-nonstick skillet or deep, wide pot; 3) a wire rack to drain the oil (paper towels alone won’t work); 4) a splatter shield (not strictly necessary, but speaking as someone prone to burns, it’s useful).

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Star & Shamrock — A restaurant that unites my peoples! (redheads and Jews)*

All mediocre photography is the fault of Stephen I. Richer.

The number of meals I have at Jewish-themed restaurants is sometimes overwhelming (2 in the past 55 days…).

On November 30, 2011, I took my Canadian date to a sumptuous meal at DISTRIKT Bistro — DC’s newest kosher restaurant (see my review here).

Unfazed by this Jewish culinary outing, I lunched on Sunday at Star and Shamrock Tavern and Deli, 1341 H Street, NE.

I’ve been meaning to try Star and Shamrock for a long time.  It opened in early 2011, but my interest was really piqued when the Washington Post mentioned both Star and Shamrock and GTJ in this December article on young DC Jews.

Better late than never!

……..

From the outside, Star and Shamrock could not be better.  A tavern-style sign bears a giant Star of David with an Irish clover in the middle.  If that doesn’t draw your attention, then the restaurant’s storefront title surely will:  “Star” — written in what looks like Irish characters — and “Shamrock” — written in what looks like Hebrew characters.  So great.

Almost by definition, the inside couldn’t be as good as the outside, but it was still pretty solid.  The restaurant features a Jewish-style deli and an Irish-style pub.  All of your favorite deli sandwiches are there: Corned beef, pastrami, beef brisket, liverwurst, etc.  Other Jewish staples also make appearances throughout the menu: Latkes, reubens, Hebrew National franks, Jewish rye bread, etc.  (see the menu here)

Lame as I am, I went with a tuna sandwich, but my date — a tall brunette (**) with an obsession for yogurt, tennis, and model rockets — was a bit more adventuresome and ordered the Latke Madness: “3 potato pancakes, hot corned beef, griddle sauerkraut, swiss.”

I finished my sandwich quickly in the hopes of trying a bit of the Latke Madness.  It worked.  I got to try it.  “And it was good.”  (Genesis 1:31)  My date, admittedly a picky eater, praised the food in less divine terms, but still gave it a thumbs up.

……

Beyond the deli sandwiches, Star and Shamrock is also a place to drink (drink menu), watch sports (lots of TVs), and socialize.  On Monday nights, S&S hosts a trivia night; Tuesday night is kids eat free night (defined by age, not maturity level… damn!); and Thursday night has live music (see full “Happenings” list).

……

You may not be able to see it, but trust me, it's a picture of a menorah on a mantel.

I would have liked a stronger Jewish theme to the restaurant.  As it is, Judaism is limited to the exterior, the menu, and the menorahs on the mantel.  Perhaps this is best for attracting the non-Jewish customer, but I was definitely disappointed when I got a “no” upon asking the waiter if I could answer Jewish trivia for a discount (I guess that’s the Mr. Yogato in me).   There’s also the fact that the restaurant is NOT kosher, which of course detracts from the Jewishness of the place, though I can hardly blame the owners given my own experience with the Kosher process.  (Speaking of kosher food… Maoz recently closed, so we’re back to just two NW kosher restaurants)

The other problem is the obvious one: location.  I can count the number of times I’ve been to NE on two hands, and most GTJ readers are similarly ensconced in NW.  I haven’t explored how to get around the metro limitation — I would imagine Mike Weinberg knows of a bus that goes to H Street, NE — so for now, the only times I’ll go to S&S are when I can bum a ride.

But overall, the restaurant is very solid and definitely worth checking out if you’re on H Street, NE.

……

Souvenir S&S t-shirts.

Our meal, with tip, wound up costing $30 — probably about average for a $10 sandwich shop.

In true Twenty First Century fashion, we split the bill.

……….

To learn more about the restaurant and the owners Jewish/Irish background, see this Washington Post review.

I emailed the owner to get more information on the restaurant and to see if GTJ readers can have a discount, but I am impatient and didn’t want to wait to post this.  I will update the post when he replies.

(*) Though I am a redheaded Jew, I’m only 1/8 Irish, and the red hair probably doesn’t come from that side of the family…

(**) My date’s self-described hair color:  “A luxurious blend of mahogany and chestnut.”