Food Chat: Just a Pinch

By Hannah Lee

When you might think of Jewish cooking in America, you might conjure the iconic Ashkenazic staples of gefilte fish and noodle kugel, but the earliest Jewish cooking in the Americas was Sephardic, said Emily August, Public Programs Manager, in her role as moderator for a program, “Just a Pinch: A Brief and Unofficial History of Jewish Cooking in America,” held on the 24th at the National Museum of American Jewish History. Jews immigrating from Brazil brought their taste for almond pudding and fish fried in oil, which became a favorite food of our third president Thomas Jefferson, citing Ronit Treatman’s article in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Drawing upon the food-themed artifacts from its museum collections, she proceeded to delight and enlighten the audience with the assistance of the dramatic reading talents of four people: Francine Berk, currently playing the role of Bubbie in The Stoop on Orchard Street; B.D. Boudreaux, director of and playing Old Man in The Stoop on Orchard Street; Siobhan Reardon, the President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia; and restauranteur Audrey Claire Taichman, owner of Audrey Claire and Twenty Manning Grill. Multilingual volunteers from the audience also participated in descriptive narration.

In 1889, Bloch Publishing Company, the oldest Jewish publishing firm in the United States, issued Aunt Babette’s Cook Book: Foreign and Domestic Receipts for the Household. It encouraged accommodation to American life with recipes for Easter, oysters, and treyfe (sic).

In 1901, The Settlement Cook Book: The Way to a Man’s Heart was published by the Milwaukee Settlement House and it became an important staple of the American kitchen for more than 50 years. In an interview before his death in 1985, the noted gourmet and author, James Beard, known as “The Father of American Gastronomy,” called this cookbook his personal favorite.  This cookbook was to serve as a guidebook for the new immigrants, to help them learn about middle-class American culture.

In 1914, the Hebrew Publishing Company issued the first Yiddish cookbook and it encouraged readers to adopt modern ways of cooking, moving from gefilte fish to American cuisine. It was printed with recipe instruction in both English and Yiddish, to avoid the language gap, so that the immigrant and first-generation members could cook together.

World War I brought the Lever Food and Fuel Control Act, to ensure an adequate supply of essential supplies to our soldiers and allies in Europe. The U.S. government printed and distributed pamphlets in diverse languages — such as Italian, Polish, Russian, and Yiddish — to guide homemakers on healthy and delicious substitutions for wheat, meat, fats, and sugar. Among the tips were: one meatless meal a week and no second helpings. Herbert Hoover, then head of the Food Administration, set the moral tone with his slogan, “Food will win the war.  Don’t waste it.”

The Catskills grew in prominence as a vacation spot for middle class Jews, after the Grossinger family purchased its 100-acre estate in Ferndale, New York. Several postcards from these resorts and summer camp were read aloud by audience members: they all highlighted the food, whether delicious, as from the former, and terrible, as from the latter.

Another major culinary milestone was the introduction of Crisco in 1911. Proctor & Gamble made a special effort to target the Jewish homemaker, touting its product as pareve, light, sweet-tasting, and shelf-stable. In 1933, they distributed the 77-page pamphlet, Crisco Recipes for the Jewish Housewife, printed in Yiddish and English.  The product, ranging from a 1-lb to 9-lb cans, displayed a blue-and-white label.

As an antidote to the growing secularism of American Jews, the The Jewish Home Beautiful, published in 1941, was an attempt to preserve Jewish ritual with Jewish tableaux (pictures of set tables). As an example of its attention to minute detail, the book recommends for Shavuot: serve two blintzes dusted with 10 lines of cinnamon, to represent the Ten Commandments.

In 1955, Gertrude Berg published The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook, written in the voice of her television persona. Its marketing success was a testament of the purchasing power of the Jewish viewer.

The next major culinary milestone was the formation of Hebrew National and its campaign to promote its frankfurters with the pamphlet 31 Ways to Make Hot Meals Out of Hot Dogs issued in 1955. Soon, its success lead other manufacturers to also appeal to the Jewish market. Planters issued Manna About Town in 1965 to promote its peanut oil. In it, “heirloom recipes…[are] lovingly laced with legend and lore.” Manischewitz introduced a Passover menu planner cookbook in 1963 (and its Passover Hagadah has become a fixture on the Jewish table). The editors knew their stuff and listed as the first ingredient for breakfast, prune juice.

Finally, Bon Appetit magazine featured the resurgence of the Jewish deli in its recent September issue. Its Editor-in-Chief, Adam Rapoport, in an interview in Haaretz, gave a fitting conclusion to this program: “If you find a good recipe, hold onto it, but share it with a friend.”

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/2630/food-chat-just-a-pinch

The Disconnect for Patrons at Farmers’ Markets

Flickr: ghbrett

I usually avoid a fight in which you’re bound to lose (because it is really hard to change a person’s opinion with your own opinion).  However, I do get riled up when people make uneducated claims about farmers’ markets and CSAs.  I’ve heard plenty in my three years as a CSA host. Then a few weeks ago, I was a guest at a luncheon in which people disparaged the prices at our local farmers’ market, including the statement, “The prices at my daughter’s farmers’ market are cheaper.”

On my way to the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market in Philadelphia on Sunday morning, I was still fuming about the conversation, so I decided to seek some knowledgeable answers.

Nicole Sugarman of Weaver’s Way Farm said that the label, “farmers’ market,” does not mean that everything sold is from a local farmer nor are the growing practices necessarily organic and sustainable.  A farmer from Lancaster County said that his neighbors have been known to truck in produce from larger farms down south, presumably with egregious farming and labor practices.  Finally, Katy Wich, the Manager of the Farmers’ Market program of The Food Trust, said that there are other complex issues involved.

First, what are a farmer’s labor costs?  The Asian research scientist of Queen’s Farm sells his wife’s lovingly tended vegetables and his young daughter helps him on market days.  Another farm employs college interns, who’re only paid a small stipend.  The Amish farmers often rely on family to plant and harvest.  I‘ve visited Tom Culton on his farm and, while he is touted as a “superstar” farmer, I saw how hard he works and under what conditions.

Second, what is the time frame for a crop?  When a farmer is desperate to get his produce to market such as before spoilage or a storm, he/she might resort to a farmer’s auction such as the one in Leola in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  There, the farmer is paid a pittance — such as $6 for a crate of eggplant — for his season of hard work.  There, middlemen buy the produce and re-sell it at a profit.  The customers at a discount store such as Produce Junction will save money, but at the expense of the farmers.  I also recall reading about the beleaguered dairy farmers in Japan after the tsunami this spring when they were told that they couldn’t sell their milk, because of radiation contamination.  The farmers spilt all of the milk because they had no market.

Finally, what should a vegetable cost?  How could we complain when we’ve never sweated for our food?  Recently on NPR, an anthropologist spoke about how our bodies have evolved for the hunter/gatherer lifestyle, not for the sedentary life of a technologically-focused world.  We should be on our feet for several hours a day, looking for food.  The only looking we have to do is in the fridge.

I shop at a farmers’ market for the freshest produce, to keep within the season’s offerings, and to support our local farmers.  It is not to save money.  Remember the adage that we get what we pay for?  Where would we be, if we only had to rely on industrial farms?  A captive audience for the next E. coli outbreak, that’s where.

Hannah Lee writes from her home in suburban Philadelphia about issues that engage her.

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/the-jew-and-the-carrot/142007/#ixzz1WXruMkaF

Smaller Plates and Bigger Forks Lead the Way to Healthier Eating Habits

Flickr: Sean Rogers1

Our daily need for food means that people who need to lose weight have a hard time, as we cannot simply withdraw from food’s siren song, unlike the non-essential addictions for cigarettes or alcohol. The most interesting research for me has been the work of Brian Wansink and his colleagues at Cornell, who’ve studied how and why we keep on eating “mindlessly.” I was fascinated by the description of their clever experiments in his 2006 book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think including the study in which unsuspecting participants eat soup from bowls engineered to automatically refill until the researchers called it quits — the soup eaters did not, as they saw there was still liquid in their bowls! Another experiment involved inviting college students for a free movie and handing them buckets of popcorn, the students gorged themselves on the snack, even though it was three days old. What they might have rejected otherwise as stale and unpalatable, was consumed uncomplainingly, because they were distracted by the movie and because they had been ingrained to eat at the cinema. Dr. Wansink taught his readership how easy it is to be fooled into over-eating by our circumstances.

After reading Dr. Wansink’s book, I switched my family’s dinner plates to a smaller size (except for Shabbat) and I now plate the food from the kitchen, allowing only the vegetables on the dinner table, as they are hard to over-eat (except by my husband). It’s harder to manage portion control when we have company for meals, but I know of one family who plates everyone’s food even for Shabbat and Yom Tov. This past Pesach, they offered pre-prepared menus to their guests who were advised to indicate their choice of entrée by placing a sticker next to their choice. (Their kitchen is large enough for the assembly-line plating, although mine is not.) Not only did they help their guests manage their intake of food, they told me that there was less waste too.

Last week, Peter Smith, a columnist for Good, reported on a forthcoming study in The Journal of Consumer Science, in which scientists at the University of Utah invited undergraduates to meals at a popular Italian restaurant. Over two days and four meals, they were served with “custom cutlery” — researchers had swapped forks that were either 20 percent smaller or 20 percent larger than the standard utensil. Their surprising finding? Students using the bigger forks ate less than those eating off the smaller ones.

Why should the results be so counterintuitive? The scientists reason that when one uses the smaller forks, each forkful hardly makes a dent in the dish. But with the larger forks, each bite makes a distinguishable difference in the amount of food consumed (note: it’s still the food remaining, not the amount consumed). Smith wrote, “fork size could be the quickest dietary fix since chewing.” The researchers claim, “[I]f we are not chewing longer, then consuming from a larger fork may actually be more helpful in controlling over-consumption.”

In another upcoming study in Food Quality and Preference, researchers Charles Spence and his colleagues offered Greek yogurt in two kinds of bowls to volunteers. Those given the yogurt in the heavier bowls rated their yogurt as “weightier,” — both denser and more expensive — than participants who ate the same yogurt in lightweight (such as Styrofoam) bowls.

The combined take-home lesson? Use a smaller plate — no take-out containers! — but a larger fork. You’ll feel more satisfied and eat less at the same time.

Hannah Lee does not use Styrofoam and she finds it easier to use a smaller plate than to chew more.

 

Creating Community, Part 2: Better Than Couch Surfing

This on-going series will explore some of the ways that Jews have created a sense of kehillah (community), both traditional and modern.  Part 1 focused on a contemporary approach, the list-serve; in this article, I will explore the traditional method of hospitality; future articles will focus on Chabad, a group of Jews with phenomenal outreach as well as integral cohesion, and how one religious institution, Lower Merion Synagogue, has managed to send so many of its youth to make aliyah (immigration to Israel), and even to serve in Tzahal (the Israeli Army).

Recently, my daughter’s new apartment was burglarized, so I found myself making travel arrangements on short notice.  I couldn’t find hotel space close to her Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago, so I reserved the bedroom and bathroom offered by a young couple on the Airbnb website.  My daughter stayed with me there for two nights and it was perfect for our needs.  Later this month, I will return for another visit, this time with my teen daughter.  The very day I landed in Chicago, the New York Times ran a feature on Airbnb and its placement service in its Business section.

As comfy as were my accommodations– far better than couch surfing!– the placement service does not yet compare to the generous hospitality that I know in the Jewish community in my role as Hospitality Coordinator for my shul, Lower Merion Synagogue.  Orthodox Jews have such a strong sense of connection with other Shabbat-observant Jews that we can travel the world over and ask for (free) Shabbat and Yom Tov (holy day) hospitality from local Jews.  Usually, it’s because of work or non-Orthodox family celebrations that we find ourselves far from an Orthodox synagogue.  (We also get the occasional appeal from a shul member overwhelmed by the number of out-of-town guests for a simcha (religious celebration)).  But it is also when we travel for pleasure that we can ask for help finding kosher food and accommodations.

However, we Jews have been thinking a lot about trust and safety recently after the little boy, Leiby Kletzky, was murdered in Brooklyn, after he asked for directions from a man who looked legit, like someone who held the same values.  Similarly, Airbnb had to revise its policy after several hosts complained of paying guests who trashed their homes and stolen personal property.  A few days after my return home, I received a letter from Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb, stating their commitment to supporting their hosts with a newly instituted guarantee coverage for up to $50,000 in damages from paying guests.  So, how do we deal with the issue in my community?

Some people would say we’re crazy for opening up our homes to strangers.  I have even placed guests in local homes while the owners were away.  In one incidence, the guests were coming from London for a bar mitzvah, they later connected with their hosts, and the shul family’s daughter was able to stay with them while she was doing her semester abroad.  In a dramatic example of the Biblical quote from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) that can be translated as “Cast your bread on the waters, for you shall find it after many days”,  this same host family found themselves in need of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) this summer when they made a wedding for one of their daughters and their machatanim (parents of the other member of the wedding couple, in this case, the groom) asked for an empty house, because the groom’s father is wheelchair-bound and he has to use a hospital bed.  To my amazement, with my very first phone call, I was able to make the shidduch (match).  Another example came four summers ago, when I got a frantic call on a Friday afternoon.  A woman was stranded at the airport because her plane had been delayed and she needed a place to stay for Shabbat.  I made the shidduch, then because her luggage had been routed to Boston (where the rest of her family was headed), she wore her host family’s daughter’s power suit to shul the next day.  The only marvel to me was that she, a mature woman in her late 50s, was the same size as her host family’s 19-year-old daughter.

After the boy’s murder, my Rabbi gave a drasha (sermon) on Shabbat about reaching out to the loners in our midst.  He also reassured me that we were doing just fine with our hospitality placements.  I later consulted with my co-coordinator  about changes we might have to make, as we are not in a position to offer any monetary guarantees against damages.  We decided to continue with our modus operandus, by inquiring about the community that a prospective guest hails from and how did they find us, as a community referral is best.

We are not unique in our commitment to hachnasat orchim. The website Shabbat.com was created by a web designer in Monsey, NY in 2010 and, after the webmaster of LMShuls posted a notice about it on our list-serve, about 20 local families signed up as hosts that week.  We cannot make the bad headline news go away, but we can focus on building community in the way we know, one mitzvah at a time.

This series will continue in September.