Monthly Archives: January 2011

Deep Breath Mole

Shabbat started on Thursday night this week with Deep Breath Baking.  Fifteen fabulous women from the Grad Network gathered in Emily’s apartment to bake challah and do yoga, both perfect antidotes to the ridiculously snowy conditions outside.  The most memorable thing I got out of the experience was the idea that just as “rest is in the recipe” for making challah, rest is in the recipe for life in the form of Shabbat.  If you ever have the chance to take Michal’s workshop, I highly recommend it!

Because I baked my dough tonight instead of before Shabbat (and I know we’ll eat it all before next Shabbat), I didn’t bother braiding it, but here’s how it turned out in my mini loafs.  (Full disclosure: we’ve gone through one and a half of these loaves in the time it’s taken me to write this post…  Maybe they won’t even last through the weekend.)

Friday night was the Grad Network/OCP-GAP (Orthodox Community at Penn’s grad students) Shabbat dinner.  We expected 50, then 60, and ended up with over 70 people, and it was amazing to have such an overwhelming response and to have such a mix of people from different schools, disciplines, and Jewish backgrounds.  Many thanks to Glatt Delight for catering such a great meal: they’re a well-kept secret, but a great place to get kosher meat right in Center City at 12th and Sansom.

With my non-denominational mindset, it was especially noteworthy for me to have dinner with such a large number of people who specifically identify as Orthodox.  I spent a lot of time last night thinking about what that means in the context of my Jewish identity and the identities of a lot of the people I spend time with.  I am amazed by the incredible variety of Jewish expression I encounter in any given week, and I want to affirm the legitimacy of all of these expressions every chance I get.  I was really happy to hear from several people this week about enjoying the blog, and I continue to hope that this is one more way for me to affirm the value of all the different ways Judaism looks to the people around me.

I also really enjoyed having some pretty great theological discussions about this week’s Torah portion at dinner. This week is Mishpatim, which features a whole bunch of laws, many of which are troubling to a modern sensibility.  It’s always a little thrilling when these topics come up at a meal and when people who typically spend their time studying law, or medicine, or some other discipline, find something in Jewish tradition that gets them fired up.  Even when Judaism makes us uncomfortable, enaging with the Torah and our tradition on any level is valuable and nourishing and authentic.  Too preachy?  Eh, I guess this is what gets me fired up!

Shabbat lunch today was Mexican chocolate-themed, which can only mean super yummy-ness (and that Marc made more Mexican chocolate gelato).  Beverly made enchilada lasagna with mole, Mattea made roasted squash with chile lime dressing, and along with the gelato, there were Mexican chocolate snickerdoodles for dessert.  Oh man, it was good.

Here is the easiest mole recipe I’ve ever found, and the one that we enjoyed today.  The steps are easy, but it does actually take some time, so plan ahead.  It’s great with any combination of beans and cheese, and it might be considered addictive.  And to give credit where it’s due, I took this recipe nearly exactly from this site.

  • 4 1/2 cups veggie broth (pareve chicken powder in water works perfectly)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 smallish onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 oz. dark chocolate (the original post recommends Hershey Special Dark, but whatever, it’s chocolate, right?)

    Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon.  Cover and cook until onion is almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  Mix in chili powder and flour, stir for 3 minutes.  Gradually whisk in broth.

    Increase heat to medium-high.  Boil until reduced, about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.  (This is the point at which I feel like I’m making whipped cream, and it’s just impossible to believe it’s going to turn into the right thing.  Ever.  But be patient!  It’s worth it!)

    Remove from heat.  Whisk in chocolate.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Use in whatever recipe you’re planning to make.  Enjoy!

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    Sushi Fridge Tetris

    This is the first time I’m not writing on Saturday night.  That’s because last night, I was still engaged in a marathon day of social engagements.  Everyone in Philly seems to have decided to have a party this weekend, and I’m exhausted.

    Actually, the partying started back on Wednesday night, when there were at least four Tu B’Shevat seders happening around the city.   There’s nothing prettier than a tray of fruit, especially when it’s 20 degrees outside.

    Friday afternoon, Ilana and I took a trip out to the ‘burbs to pick up six trays of sushi, commenting repeatedly on how everyone was going to be taking home doggy bags (spoiler alert: it turns out 30 people CAN eat 6 trays of sushi).  We also got caught in the freakiest of freak snow storms that only lasted 5 minutes and was centered exclusively in the Genuardi’s parking lot.

    Lucky for us, Thursday night, Naomi managed to Tetris our fridge such that all six trays of sushi fit inside (and Ilana figured out that if we removed the lid on one of them, then they’d really fit).

    Friday night, I had a lovely time at the Gershman Y Shabbat dinner, until I almost feel asleep at the table and decided I had to go home and go to sleep.  Immediately.  And then I realized it was only 8:00 p.m…

    So, what was all the sushi for?  Minyan Tikvah lunch!  Tikvah was so fabulous this week: great energy, new people, lots of singing.  There may have also been a jointly delivered d’var Torah comprised of correspondences between Marc and me about this week’s Torah portion. (This week was Yitro, and I highly recommend checking it out – it has great advice about delegation, plus the Ten Commandments, featuring the “zachor” [remember] version of the Shabbat commandment, a distinction from “shamor” [guard/observe] that I really like talking about.  But, ultimately, this has very little to do with sushi.)

    In addition to all the sushi (you know how when you use a word too much, it stops making sense?!), we had Asian cabbage slaw (thanks to Beverly’s recipe), and Peanut-free Peanut Noodles (thanks to my sister’s recipe).

    Peanut-free Peanut Noodles

    In a blender, combine:
    1/2 cup soy nut butter (Some almond butter or sunflower nut butter also work well, but using only almond butter produces a too-thick sauce)
    1/4 cup soy sauce
    1/3 cup warm water
    2 T peeled fresh ginger (2 teaspoons of powdered ginger will work if you’re all of fresh, but it’s just not as good)
    1 garlic clove
    2 T red wine vinegar
    1 1/2 T toasted sesame oil
    1 t red pepper flakes

    In a large bowl mix together:
    3/4 pound cooked spaghetti
    4 thinly sliced scallions
    1/4 sliced red pepper
    1/2 sliced cucumber
    3 T toasted sesame seeds (optional)

    Toss pasta and veggies with the dressing and chill.  If you’ll be serving it the  next day, cut the veggies and keep them separate from the dressed pasta, and add them right before serving.

    For dessert, we had green tea ice cream, ginger ice cream, and, yes, the pickle ice cream made another appearance.  Here’s the green tea concoction getting concocted.

    Once we got cleaned up, finished the remaining noodles right out of the bowl, and sent 30 lovely people out into the cold, Marc and I moved on to Susan’s for appetizers and havdalah.  Susan made the best green salsa I’ve ever had.  There were also wonderful people, soulful music, and a smiley 5-month old to admire.  And I learned that I’m not the only pregnant lady who drinks chocolate milk by the gallon.

    The remaining social events of the night were not actually Shabbat-related, so I’ll restrain myself, but if ever there were a weekend to prove that young Jewish Philadelphia is an amazing place to be, this was it, though I know there’ll be many more opportunities in the coming year that will prove it just as well.

    As it turns out, 30 people can eat most of six trays of sushi, but there’s still enough left for breakfast.


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    Potluck, hibernation, and a little dating advice

    Potluck and hibernation are the main themes here, but dating as a topic is also going to make an appearance.  I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures this week, but the dating bit is at the bottom, so hopefully that will keep your attention even without illustrations.

    Last night was the first Grad Network Shabbat dinner of 2011, and I’m pretty thrilled about the whole thing.  For one, Emily is an extraordinary hostess, and she insists it was no trouble and that she wants to host again (and soon!).  For another, the dinner proved that people are really willing to step up and provide enough deliciousness that no one will go hungry (and leftovers will abound!).  And finally, there were people there for whom this was their first event, or at least their first Shabbat event, which means that mixing up our format for these things attracts different people.

    I made rice and lentils with caramelized onions, and it was definitely not the start of the show.  As thrilled as I am about Veganomican, my newly acquired cookbook that the recipe came from, it just wasn’t that great.  Plus I was a little bitter that it dripped all over me on the way to the potluck…

    There was some amazing food last night, and again, the fact that there was plenty to go around made this a potluck to remember.  Mattea’s challah and Edward’s tzatziki were especially memorable, and I heard that Suzanne’s peanut butter brownies were out of this world.  Resident wine expert Jonathan also reported that the wine selection was pretty decent.

    Emily’s lasagna, though.  Wow.  It especially gives me joy to talk about her lasagna, because the first time I made lasagna that turned out really well, Emily was there cooking with me.  It was also one of the first times we spent any time together, so us and lasagna, we have some history.  She made two versions: eggplant and spinach.  In both cases, she reports the secret to her success was roasting the veggies (cherry tomatoes, onions, and the eggplant) before putting them in with the sauce and cheese.  She also used no-bake noodles, which, we both agree, is the only logical way to make lasagna.  So, roasted veggies, noodles, sauce and cheese.  At 375 until it’s browned and her apartment smells amazing.

    Today was kind of a quintessential winter Shabbat day.  I managed to sleep nearly 12 hours last night, which means by the time I woke up, ate some leftover rice and lentils (much improved by adding hot sauce), some of Emily’s leftover lasagna (still amazing), and some homemade ice cream (we’re down to only 3 flavors in the freezer, and one more in process), Shabbat was nearly over.

    Which brings me to one of the reasons I wanted to write this blog in the first place.  Shabbat can be whatever you want it to be, as long as it works for you. Plenty of people left the potluck last night and went to a bar.  Others drove home, while others walked and wouldn’t be using anything electric until 5:40 pm tonight.  And it’s all Shabbat, and it’s all great!  I’m not new to this job or organizing in the Jewish community, but it’s still incredibly special to me that so many people with so many different understandings of Shabbat (and of kashrut for that matter) can come together and cultivate a feeling of rest and inclusiveness while sharing a meal and a few calm hours.

    Ok, so about dating.  (No, this is not especially Shabbat-related, but it is Jewish community-related and relevant to oh so many people I interact with, so thanks for indulging this departure from my main theme.)  After a winter break hiatus, I’ve gotten back into GradMatch this week.  In the last week, I also read a book by Patti Stanger (of Millionaire Matchmaker fame), so I’m a little fired up right now.  Plus I got to have a lovely (and hopefully helpful) conversation with some wonderful woman last night about dating.  In the course of all this, I realized another niche that needs filling: online dating profile critique/coaching.    While I would, truly, be happy to read your profile and give suggestions to anyone, in case you don’t want to take me up on that, here are a few helpful hints:

    1.  Share only your best qualities when you write about yourself.  If you get to know someone better, they’re going to learn your flaws, so there’s no need to advertise all (or any) of them up front.  And if you’re not going to get to know them better, why bother badmouthing yourself?  It’s your great qualities that will attract the person in the first place.  Your flaws they’ll learn to live with.

    2. Don’t put up a picture that you wouldn’t want to be the first thing your future mother-in-law sees of you.  That is, put up something tasteful but attractive, and if possible, post more than one picture.  These pictures should be of you, and only you.  No cropped arms of best friends (or, worse, former significant others), no pets, no babies.  And please no bikinis or bare chests.

    3. Get someone to look over your profile before you post it.  This person should not be your mother or your father.

    4.  When you write about what you’re looking for in another person, keep it positive.  A list of things you’re NOT looking for is going to translate into other people NOT being interested in you.

    5.  Realize that online dating is completely different than meeting someone in person, but try to use the same social skill set.  If you meet someone in person, the first things you find out about him or her are not age, body type, and typical synagogue attendance.  But those might be the first things you read on an online profile.  Yes, you see the person, but the way you perceive someone’s body type standing there in front of him or her might be different than the description you’d see online.  Allow for human variation.  Allow for attraction even if the person’s type doesn’t fit into the box you clicked on your profile.  People are a lot, lot more than the sum of an online questionnaire.  Online dating is a great tool, but it pains me that this last bit seems to have gotten lost in the process.

    I’m sure it will not surprise you to know that I could go on, but instead, I’ll get off my soapbox and head to the kitchen for some more leftovers.

    A note about next Shabbat: the Gershman Y is having a community Shabbat dinner Friday night, and Minyan Tikvah is hosting services and lunch on Saturday.  And there will be a lot of sushi at lunch.  I’m just saying, you might want to be there…  Shavua tov – have a great week!

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    Happy birthday to me!

    Yesterday was my birthday, and so far, 30 feels great and has been filled with really excellent food.

    For dinner on my birthday (as per my specific request) we had pizza delivered just before Shabbat started, and though not gourmet, it was incredibly satisfying.  But in terms of quality, things got better from there.

    Thursday night, Marc and I collaborated on the fanciest and fussiest cake I’ve ever made, a chocolate raspberry layer cake from Bon Appetit.   The cake itself was actually pretty straightforward, and it was frosted with chocolate ganache, which it turns out is just cream and melted chocolate (and will be a feature in many future desserts now that I know how easy it is).    The assembly is really what made it tough, but it sure was pretty, felt like a real accomplishment, and it tasted amazing (plus we have leftovers!).

    Our freezer door popped open during the night this week, meaning the box of frozen spanikopita I was saving for my birthday party was no longer usable, and, sadly, BJ’s was out of them.  Desperate times and all that, so I made my own!  I can’t recommend this one enough.  At my party, there were also vegetarian “pigs” in blankets (veggie hot dogs in puff pastry!), homemade almond ice cream to go with the cake, and, courtesy of Marc, homemade pickle ice cream, which was surprisingly much better than it sounds!

    Mini Spanikopita

    2 boxes frozen spinach
    6-8 ounces feta cheese
    2 small onions or one large one
    a couple spoonfuls of farmers cheese
    handful of fresh parsley
    fresh or dried dill to taste
    freshly ground pepper
    6 boxes of frozen phyllo shells

    Chop the onion and saute in olive oil until it browns but doesn’t quite caramelize.  Defrost and drain the spinach.  Put everything in the food processor (or chop the onion smaller and chop the parsley and dill and mix everything together really well if you don’t have a food processor).   Taste it and add more of whatever spicing you think it needs.  But try not to eat all of it!  Spoon a small amount into each shell and bake at 350 until warmed through, 10-15 minutes.  You can also halve the recipe or save extra filling for eating by the spoonful out of the fridge.  It probably freezes well, too.

    My birthday party was absolutely the perfect evening, and I am so grateful and delighted to have had good friends there to celebrate with me.  I got to have Shabbat and birthday goodness all wrapped up into one night, and it was just awesome.

    We had lunch today at Joline’s, and since our only contribution to the meal was bringing chairs, I can’t take credit for any of the food.  I had my first ever meat cholent, and I was surprised by how much it tasted like my vegetarian version.  There was also a corn and bean salad, green salad with blueberries, and green beans and almonds.  Super yum all around!   Jonathan made a “you can’t believe it’s pareve” apple cake for dessert (pareve means neither  meat nor dairy, and pareve desserts, made without butter, aren’t usually as good as, for example, things covered in ganache, but this cake is in its own category).  We also learned about a cake comb, some sort of antique cake server that  no one but Josh had ever heard of.

    Next week, the semester is back in full swing, which means no more quiet Friday nights for a few months.  But I hope you’ll enjoy reading about, and hopefully attending, a lot of the big dinners coming up, and thanks for all the birthday wishes!


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    Top 10 of 2010

    As requested, here is my top 10 list of Shabbat meals from 2010 listed in approximate reverse chronological order.  Absolutely no snubs intended, so if you think I’ve missed an important one, please comment and set the record straight!

    10.  Christmas Eve at Alex’s house –  Just over a week ago, and I can still taste the unbelievable onion soup, chicken stew, and homemade crackers and dips.

    9. Pajama Shabbats – In the first 3 months of pregnancy, I didn’t much feel like going out, especially on Friday nights, so I invited people over for a series of uber-casual Shabbat meals with a pajama dress code.  We even had a read-aloud of “Where the Wild Things Are” at one of them.

    8.  Heymish reinvented – Heymish means something between home and comfy, and Heymish Minyan returned to its roots meeting in different people’s homes with inspiring, participatory davening (prayer) and a potluck of impressive culinary diversity.

    7.  Tikvah lunch in our rooftop sukkah –  Marc and I built a sukkah together for the first time this year, and we seated 20+ people in it during Sukkot.  The assembly line of people who helped get all the food to the roof was a true illustration of community.  Plus, the taco salad was pretty darn good!

    6.  Salon/Shabbat dinners – Every 6-8 weeks, the Grad Network hosts a Shabbat dinner with a salon, which means we discuss some interesting article, usually connecting back to the essence of Jewish identity.  There was a very lively discussion about Israel at our house at the end of the summer, and another in partnership with the Gershman Y and Shabbat Potluck Coalition (and more than 30 people!) in November.  We keep reinventing the format, but the discussions are always invigorating.

    5. Ilana’s going away/welcome back dinners – These are two separate events, but they bookended the summer very nicely.  And one involved an entire bottle of scotch.

    4.  Independent Minyan conference meals – The Minyan Tikvah organizing committee traveled to New York to attend this conference run by Mechon Hadar.  It was amazing to share meals with so many people from around the world committed to building communities!

    3.  Mix ’em up meals –  The best thing about these 17 dinners that all happened all over Philly on the same night was that I didn’t go to any of them!  I sat at home eating dinner with Marc while over 80 grad students had Shabbat meals together.  I loved knowing that the Grad Network could help make this happen but that my actual presence isn’t always required.

    2. Pesach Shabbat dinner with a broken finger – I broke my finger in March, and an incredible number of people stepped up to help me cook for the 20 people I had coming over for dinner 2 days later.  The matzah lasagna turned out perfectly, and it was truly touching that the community that so many people were there for me when I needed help.

    1.  Not Shabbat, but two really special holiday meals – The Tikvah progressive Purim seudah (meal) took us throughout Philly in our costumes to four different themed courses.  Warren’s Rosh Hashana dinner was an incredible example of actual fine dining that got the Jewish new year off to a strong culinary start.

    Ok, there’s the list!  Thanks for reading!

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    Happy New Year!

    What an astoundingly delicious start to 2011!  I think that bodes well for the year and for this project, so let’s get started!

    Since I’ve been on vacation this week, I’ve had a lot of time to cook and try out some new things.  Thursday night, Marc and I made two kinds of ice cream, banana and chocolate (we’ve now made this recipe with and without the cinnamon), with his Chanukah present (the Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment, which I am going to benefit from more than seems fair).  It was an exciting and awfully messy night in the kitchen, but with great results.

    On Friday, I made cinnamon rolls, not specifically for any Shabbat meal, but because I thought they’d be nice to have around, and oh boy – the filling leaked out of the rolls and formed an incredible caramel on the bottom.  Cinnabon, eat your heart out.

    Ok, so Friday night, Ariel and Ilana treated us to a real sit-down, full-service dinner party in honor of the new year.  We had salad (with apparently amazing candied pecans), spicy carrot soup (recipe coming soon), chicken, pilaf, and brussels sprouts, and chocolate mousse for dessert.   I was full and happy.  Very full.  Very happy.  One thing about Shabbat meals is I’m not taking pictures at them, so use your imagination!

    I also told my dining companions about this blog, and I got some great feedback and reactions.  For one, there seems to be some concern that I might deem a particular meal or dish not worthy and, rather than criticize it, show my disdain by omission.  Well!  We’ll just see about that…  (I’m nice!  No passive aggression here!)

    They also said that knowing their food might be written about means that they’ll really have to step up and “bring it” with their cooking in the coming year.  So now I’m really looking forward to a lot of fabulous meals.  Quite a few friends expressed their willingness to cook me meat, so I guess this new “fleyshik fad” is here to stay for the foreseeable future.  (Fleyshik means meat, as in flesh.  Yum, right?)  Finally, we recounted highlights of 2010 Shabbat meals that shouldn’t be forgotten, so stay tuned for that post in the next couple days.

    Following dinner, we went over to Josh’s and learned a new board game, Dixit.  I can’t recommend it enough.  I was too full to eat anything, but the pareve cupcakes (with sprinkles!) looked divine, and the sparkling pomegranate juice was a perfect thing to toast with at midnight.

    Lunch today was at our place with a very small crowd (who had all been warned I was making a new cholent variation and didn’ t know how it would turn out).  We started with round whole wheat bread I’d made earlier in the week, sprinkled with honey.  (Rosh Hashana traditions on Jan. 1?  Why not!)   We had spinach salad with apples, baked tofu marinated in tropical Soy Vey sauce with pineapple, a new vegetarian cholent concotion, and then the aforementioned ice cream for dessert.  Following that, we went out to see the Mummers.  A very happy new year indeed.

    Vegetarian cholent
    This is a vague recipe, with thanks to my sister for the first variation, and my own trust that it would all work out for the second.  Cholent is forgiving, so give it a try.  You do need a crockpot, though, which I recommend greasing first, and soaking for a long time after lunch is over.

    An onion or two
    Some potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and/or other root veggies
    About a cup of barley
    A cup or so of a combination of chick peas, kidney beans, and/or white beans (dried beans, unsoaked is fine, rinsed if you care)
    1 cup ketchup
    1 can beer or coke
    Paprika, salt, and garlic powder (you’ll probably have to add more after it’s done cooking – the 20 hours simmering away seems to absorb all spicing)

    Onions and garlic
    Potatoes and sweet potatoes
    Half a pound lentils and a cup or so chickpeas
    1 can V-8
    Some tomato paste
    Salt, red pepper flakes, hot sauce, soy sauce, and a bay leaf (remove before serving, or at least warn your guests)

    With either combination of ingredients or something else you dream up, cook it the same way: cover with water to right around the top of the ingredients.  Cook on low for 20 hours.  Be prepared to spice it again at the table (preferably generously with the hot sauce).


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