Monthly Archives: April 2012

Limmud Philly Shabbat

It’s pretty extraordinary that in addition to running an amazing Limmud weekend, Brian came home at the end of it and wrote this blog post before the weekend was even over.  And in the spirit of volunteerism that runs through Limmud, I hope you’ll be inspired to sign up to blog for a week!

Thank you to Miriam for giving me this wonderful forum to share my Shabbat experiences this past weekend. I was happy to have her and the entire mishpacha (family) “over” for Shabbat.

Over one year of care and preparation resulted in an amazing feat this past week: the fourth annual LimmudPhilly conference. Over 400 people (exact numbers to be tabulated soon – give a guy a break!) gathered together for a weekend weekend of shmoozing, eating, and learning. As co-chair of this volunteer-driven event, I was incredibly pleased with the outcome – especially the Shabbat portion. This was only our second time hosting people for Shabbat services, sit-down meals, and engaging sessions, but it was more successful than ever.

I suppose I should give you some background: LimmudPhilly is a weekend-long conference run entirely by volunteers (including presenters who volunteer their time freely) wherein participants learn, shmooze, and eat in a variety of sessions. From lectures on the prophets to Jewish-themed tap-dancing and a performance by the Maccabeats – we had it all.

My favorite part of the weekend is obviously Shabbat, which is why I asked to write on this blog. Last year we planned for 100 participants and had 150. This year we planned for 150 and registered 175! Apparently, people like the atmosphere; and I am most definitely one of those people.

One of the main differences between Shabbat and the rest of the conference is the fact that meals are sit-down, allowing more of a sense of community to build. Many blessings are conducted communally and effort is placed to encourage sharing: a jigsaw puzzle was spread around the room, requiring the “ingathering of exiled pieces” and trivia questions were placed on tables, just begging to be asked. While I was often working on putting out small metaphorical fires, these meals were often the only times when I could truly relax.

So, in conclusion, I want to encourage everyone who reads this blog to consider taking part in our amazing work over the year. There will be Tastes of LimmudPhilly to come and the next conference is only one year away!

For the recipe this week, I chose to take a more metaphorical route:


• Interested, engaging guests (some of whom you don’t know)
• Plentiful and tasty food (accommodating all food requirements/allergies) – shout out to Cherry Grill!
• Context for conversation (be it a conference or a simply Jewish pop culture trivia sheet)
• Few time constraints (everyone just stays)
• A willingness to think outside the “box”

Shavua tov and enjoy your week! For your picture, I have chosen one of the best I’ve ever taken: with Aliza, of course!

In case you can’t read it, her shirt says, “so smart.”


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The Annotated Mac and Cheese

I am so delighted that Jonathan is blogging for us this week, both because he’s a great advertisement for the Grad Network potlucks and because I am a huge sucker for annotated family recipes.  Before we get to his post, though, two points of advertising: 1) LimmudPhilly is next weekend, and if you live here, you should be there.  It’s an amazing volunteer-run event that’s an intersection of lots of parts of the Jewish community all centered around learning, and I’m teaching a class on Sunday that has a lot to do with the conversation at dinner that Jonathan references below. And 2) Please write for this blog!  You can write whatever you want about Shabbat, and you can sign up here.  

I am a much better writer than I am a cook, I admit. That may be because
writing is part of what I do for a living, and cooking is not.

But when I started coming to Grad Network potlucks, I felt that I shouldn’t
arrive empty-handed. Since I also didn’t want to screw up whatever I would
bring, I decided to go for the simplest recipe I have: my maternal
grandmother’s macaroni and cheese.

In addition to being easy to make, it’s easy to carry on a SEPTA bus when
crossing town. This makes it an even better dish to bring to someone else’s

Molly hosted this month’s potluck, as she has done many times in the past.
Unfortunately this one only attracted a half-dozen or so people, but we had
a great time anyway. Whatever we lacked in food, we made up for with a long
after-dinner conversation about all kinds of Jewish topics. [Miriam’s note: As nice it is when 20+ people show up to a Grad Network potluck, there’s something also extraordinarily nice about being able to have one conversation that involves everyone.  And while we didn’t have a huge variety of food, there was definitely enough quantity!]

While we were eating, I told Miriam that the macaroni and cheese recipe had
a story behind it, and that I would tell that story in this blog post. So
here goes.

As I headed to the supermarket down the street from me to pick up a few
ingredients Friday afternoon, I realized that this was the first time I was
making my grandmother’s recipe since she passed away in late February.

She lived just a few miles away from my parents’ house in Washington, D.C. I
am lucky to be able to say that all of my grandparents live or lived in the
Washington area. So I got to spend a lot of time with them growing up. My
paternal grandmother is still going strong at 97, which is a wonderful

A lot of the memories I have of time spent with my grandparents involve
food. There were birthdays and other holiday celebrations, of course, but
also plenty of low-key family dinners together.

I doubt I’ll ever be as good a cook as my grandmother was. I’m sure I’ll
never come close to matching her baking skills. Trust me when I say that her
oatmeal cookies are the best dessert that anyone in my family has ever

But at least I’m able to carry her memory in this recipe. As simple as it
is, that’s more than enough for me.

Natalie Gossels’ macaroni and cheese (annotated edition)
To start, let me admit that the portion sizes are purposely a bit vague. The
recipe is hard to screw up if you follow it, even for someone of my limited
cooking skills. But you can also easily adapt it in whatever way seems right
for you. I’ve used different kinds of pastas and cheeses over the years, and
this is the version that I like best.

By the way, most of the numbers involved come from the recipe booklet that
my mother gave me when I moved to Philadelphia full-time in 2006. So this
recipe covers many generations of my family.


– Half a box of elbow macaroni
(That’s what it says on the recipe card. There’s a picture below to prove
it. Don’t buy a huge box, obviously. The right size box is about 16 ounces.
Also, I use whole wheat macaroni to make it a little bit healthier.)

– One eight-ounce bag of shredded cheddar cheese, or the equivalent amount
of hand-shredded cheese
(The recipe card calls for four to five ounces of cheese. I almost always
end up using the entire bag. Oh well.)

– One cup of milk
(The recipe card just says “milk” without specifying a quantity. You’ll see
why in the instructions. I’ve never officially measured it, but judging from
how much milk I pour out of the jug, this is my best guess. It doesn’t
matter what kind of milk you use; I use 1% because it’s what I usually have
at home.)

Cooking instructions

1. Boil the pasta.
2. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
3. Grease a 1 ½ or two-quart casserole dish. I use a circular dish that is
about 9.5 inches in diameter and about an inch deep.
4. Drain the pasta.
5. Put a layer of pasta n the casserole dish that covers the entire surface,
but isn’t too thick.
6. Sprinkle a layer of cheese on top.
7. Put a second layer of pasta on top of the cheese.
8. Put a second layer of cheese on top of that pasta.
9. Pour milk into the dish so that it goes about 2/3 of the way up the
10. Put the dish in the oven for an hour.

* – Now you know why the recipe is vague about the specific amount of milk
involved. You might need a little more than a cup, or you might need a
little less. From my experience, it’s better to not put too much milk in,
because it won’t fully set around the pasta if you do.

Once the hour is up, take the dish out of the oven and let it sit for 10
minutes. You can serve it hot or cold… or lukewarm at a potluck dinner
with lots of friends. It’s easy to slice into pieces, and it keeps for quite
a while if you refrigerate it.

The best compliment I’ve ever received on this recipe is that when I bring
it to Grad Network potlucks, everybody eats some. If you’re one of those
people, thanks! And thanks to Miriam for letting me write here, and for
inviting me into the Grad Network community.

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Happy Chametz

A post-Passover double dose of blogging today!  Thanks to Jo for writing this week and finally sharing her challah recipe.  Happy chametz indeed!

Here is a not-so-shameful admission: Sometimes, when there are too many meal options in one weekend, or I’m tired from work and/or don’t feel like being social, I go to my mom’s house for Shabbat.  She likes to feed me, and I like to eat, so it’s an arrangement that works out quite nicely.

Before candle lighting and kiddush, we ate artichokes with mayo/horseradish/honey dip.  Later we had vegetable soup with matzah balls, arugula salad with sundried tomatoes and citrus dressing (a nod to the salad we had at Pietro’s the night before Seder), pareve kishka, and broccoli.  The meal also included some Seder leftovers: Moroccan lamb stew (symbolic, because it’s made of lamb, like the Pesach offering.  Yummy, because it’s made with lamb), and quinoa (everyone’s favorite Passover grain substitute).  It was a veritable feast, eaten slowly with many breaks for talking and reading ridiculous articles from Elle magazine.  Cuz we’re cool like that.

Saturday morning I went to shul, and then to a “bring-your-Passover-leftovers” potluck lunch.  I didn’t contribute anything to the meal, which was fine since there was plenty of food.  Most notably, I shared some KoJel/Jello shots with Ilana and Sarah.  The shots (with wine, not vodka, for the holiday), were served in orange peel slices.  We were told the trick is to cut the orange in half, scoop out the orange part and pour the Jello mixture in.  Then once it’s more solid, cut the orange into slices.  Yum!  The best part about the potluck was sitting on the deck in the sunshine.  Looks like 15-20 minutes with no sunscreen is enough for a nice burn for me these days (you’d think I’d know that as a nurse, but hey, I’m allowed to be stupid sometimes).

After lunch, Ilana and Sarah and I walked to Mattea’s for some Bananagrams and Set-playing with Josh, Rebecca, Dan and Melissa.  Afterwards, even though there were intentions to spend more time outside, I walked home, read and took a nap, and got ready for my roommate’s birthday party.

I thought about what recipe to include in this entry.  Even though the Moroccan lamb stew is delicious, and supposedly easy to make, that seemed like cheating.  So instead, in the spirit of having Passed Over the holiday, I’m including my often-asked-for recipe for challah.


 Rapid-Rise Method with a bread machine, modified from my mom’s recipe, modified from Harriet Friedenreich’s recipe.  Gotta give credit where credit is due.

(numbers in parentheses are for double batch)

Yield: 1 (2) large or 2 (3) small loaves.

 Mix together in large bowl and then add to bread machine first:

1 (2) cups very warm water
½ (1) cup oil
2 (4) eggs 

Add to liquids in bread machine but do not mix, just pour on top:

¼ (1/2 ) cup sugar
2 (4) teaspoons salt
4 ½ (7) cups of bread flour

Make a “well” in the flour and pour 1 (2) packets of rapid rise yeast inside.

Turn the bread machine onto “dough” setting.  Let it start kneading for 10 minutes then make sure to scrape down the sides with a spatula, otherwise there will be weird lumpy parts at the end.   

Once the dough is done in the machine, take it out and form however you like.  The most impressive thing I do is also one of the easiest: divide the dough into 16 equal pieces.  Then stretch each piece and knot it, placing it into greased, 9″ round cake pan.  When baked this will make the challah a “pull-apart.”  Most people like it because it’s pretty.  I like it because it means fewer people’s cooties are on my piece.  Germaphobia: an occupational hazard for a healthcare professional.  Anyway…

Brush with egg, sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.

Bake in 350 degree, un-preheated oven, for 30 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when knocked with a knuckle.

As for a picture, here’s what I ate for dinner after Shabbat/Passover were over.  Happy Chametz, y’all!


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Mine eyes have seen the glory

The first seder this Passover was on Shabbat, and Joline valiantly offered to tackle that for us, on top of the law school schedule she describes below.  Even though Passover ended this past Saturday, and there’s a certain relief that goes along with the end of the holiday, reading this post gave me chills, as it encapsulates so much of the amazing power and beauty of the holiday.

First off, hello again dear readers of Miriam’s blog. My sincerest apologies for the incredible delay, I have been a busier law student than I expected, and haven’t had time to sit and write a proper reflection on the first days of Passover, so here goes.

Passover this year brought with it a whole range of emotions. To start with, it’s one of the only Jewish holidays I grew up really doing, and so this year, as with the last five or so, I felt a twinge of sadness that I was not able to go home to California and celebrate with my family. In addition, Passover, with two days worth of meals, including two Seders (aka super meals), means more meals to plan for. Add to it all that I am going through the busiest semester of my law school life, including weekly trips to DC for an internship, making it impossible to clean my kitchen to a standard where I would feel comfortable hosting, and I was a little afraid that I wouldn’t have any Seders or meals to go to.

Luckily, I have wonderful friends with families that are much more local than mine, and they made sure I wasn’t stranded for Seders. I spent the first night Seder with Ilana, her parents, and about 40 of their closest family and friends. While a bit chaotic, it was a wonderful, quick Seder, and the food was amazing. Multiple kinds of meat, delicious matzo ball soup, amazing matzo kugel, and that’s just what I’m still drooling about a week later.

Second night I had the pleasure of spending Seder with Robin and Johannah and some of their family and friends. At 10 people, it felt small and intimate. We moved somewhat quickly through the seder, but also discussed some interesting points that came up, mostly from the New American Haggadah, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer, and I was able to share some insights from my Haggadah (A Night to Remember by Mishael Zion and Noam Zion, which I highly recommend for those with wandering attention spans during seders). Robin made delicious food, including lemon chicken that I couldn’t stop eating. I left both Seders full and satisfied, both from food and from discussion.

In terms of lunches, I didn’t have any plans the first day, but I ended up going to Ilana’s for lunch on the second day, and it was a lovely light salad bar lunch, perfect after two seders filled with eating. She also served amaaaaaaaaazing chocolate covered matzo for dessert, and I probably ate two pieces of matzo worth over the course of an hour.

Passover is a time where I have lots of thoughts about freedom and slavery and justice, but for now, I will leave you with an excerpt from Martin Luther King, from a speech delivered in Memphis the night before his assassination:

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I
may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

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The Shabbat before Passover is always a fascinating collection of leavened leftovers, and it sounds like Ilana’s Shabbat meals were no exception.  While I’m a little embarrassed for being known for stuffing and cheese, it’s oh so good, and it helped empty our cabinets.  I think we’re ready, so bring on Pesach!  Oh, and Ilana: she’s awesome.

I haven’t found the opportunity or time to host at lot of Shabbat meals lately, but Friday seemed like the perfect combination of events: First, I was looking down the barrel of Passover and really needed to use some “safety” challah I had stowed in the freezer and, second, my friend Michelle was available to come in from far, far away Mt. Airy. It was cause for celebration! So I invited over a bunch of girls and we all tried—and failed—to eat a sick amount of chametz.

Dinner started, of course, with the aforementioned challahs, which, I’m pretty sure, got bigger while they were in the freezer, and some incredible homemade humus from Sarah.  I requested extra garlic, and Sarah complied, giving it an awesome garlic-spiciness. Plus, it was super easy. We’re so doing that from now on.

Next, came the obvious first course: pizza! While at the supermarket trying to figure out what to do with some frozen pizza dough we had, Sarah and I came up with a brilliant idea—let’s put tomato sauce and cheese on it (yes, it took me a second to realize that might not be as novel as I thought).  I was also thinking basil, but Sarah suggested arugula, which proved to be a really nice

Main course went straight to the heart of the matter: artichoke macaroni and cheese with a side of Israeli couscous. We had no intention of skimping on the chametz, and even the salad had chametzy crunchy noodles. Plus Brussels sprouts, cause that seems to have become my staple. Of course, after the pizza and challah, no one could really eat anything else, so I’m not really sure how the food tasted (except for as leftovers). Still, it was a great group of girls, some of whom had never visited my Shabbat table before, and it made for a really fun night.

I was a little bit unclear what I was going to do for lunch on Saturday (though I figured Friday’s leftover would play some role), and so I ended up going to two lunches. The first was an extended Kiddush after services at BZBI (something I learned from a very young age never to miss), which included a really nice concert from the Penn a capella choir, The Shabbatones, and those adorable mini tuna sandwiches that I love so much.

Afterwards, I decided I would still go by Beverly and Naomi’s chametz fest “picnic,” which got moved to Sara’s because of the rain. Even though I was still full from Friday night (and the lunch I had just eaten), I managed to try the last bite of Sara’s vegetable gratin and a slice of Miriam’s new standby (thank you for that!) stuffing with cheese. Both were totally worth the stomachache. Everything else looked tasty as well, and I was amazed by the variety of chametz dishes that were on the table. Mostly, it was nice to sit on Sara’s floor, watch Aliza play, and hang out with new and old friends for a couple hours.

Still, I bailed a little early (or, as I found out later, a lot early) to go home and meet Alex and Jonathan so we could all take advantage of the long Shabbat afternoon. We played a game of Rummikub (which Alex won!), tried to see if we could make a dent in the candy bowl before Pesach, and generally got to catch up. In fact, the whole day was a classic Shabbat and reminded me of how large and multi-faceted our Shabbat community is becoming. Which is a good thing to realize now, because chag, chag, and more chag, here we come! Shavua tov, and chag sameach!

Artichoke Macaroni and Cheese
In addition to getting rid of chametz, this recipe was also an effort to get rid of all the miscellaneous dairy in the fridge. You’ll see.

1 stick of butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 package of cream cheese
12 oz sour cream
16 oz (or more) shredded cheddar cheese
2 cans of artichoke hearts, chopped
2 lbs of pasta

Boil water and cook pasta until tender. Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter on medium heat in a large pot and sauté the onions. Add cream cheese and sour cream until they melt. Melt in cheese and then add chopped artichokes until everything is smooth and saucy. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne, or whatever suits you. Put cooked pasta in a casserole dish and pour cheese sauce on top. Cook for 30 minutes or until top is brown.


1 can chick peas
3 cloves garlic
a few squirts of garlic
a few shakes of olive oil
a little tahini

Put everything in food processor and go crazy! (Sarah suggests draining the chick peas but reserving the water to add in at the end.)


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