Crazy for knishes

Fannie Stahl, who opened Mrs. Stahl's Knishes in Brighton Beach in 1935

Fannie Stahl, who opened Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes in Brighton Beach in 1935

Ask any Jew of European origin to describe “Jewish soul food” and you’ll likely get one of several answers. For many people, it would be chicken soup (preferably with matzo balls), also known as “Jewish penicillin.” For some it might be sweet and sour stuffed cabbage, or roast brisket.

But for many, including author Laura Silver, the quintessential Jewish soul food is the knish (rhymes with “dish,” with both the “k” and the “n” voiced).

I can’t disagree. I have wonderful memories of my Philadelphia grandmother’s meat knishes: flaky, melt-in-your mouth pastry wrapped around onion-scented chopped beef and liver. They were heavenly.

A savory potato knish; photo by Robyn Lee via Flickr Creative Commons

A savory potato knish; photo by Robyn Lee via Flickr Creative Commons

A hand-held meal

The knish is the gustatory cognate of many hand-held, savory pastries, including the Cornish pasty, the Italian calzone, the Mexican empanada, the Middle Eastern bourekas and the Indian samosa.

Like those other pastries, knishes were popular with the working classes because they were inexpensive and filling. In the early- to mid-1900s, New York was full of pushcarts and storefronts that sold them.

Knishes also figure prominently in my memories of my other grandparents, who lived in Brooklyn.

They lived in the Brighton Beach area, about a half-mile from the ocean. It was always an adventure to visit them, especially in the summer, because we could walk to the beach and boardwalk.

I was amazed to find beach vendors hawking not only ice cream and sodas but also hot knishes. The ones they sold on the beach were  filled with mashed potatoes and onions and deep fried – kind of like a McDonald’s apple pie made with potatoes. We never bought them – who wanted a hot pastry on the blazingly hot beach?

A Coney Island-style fried potato knish, like those made by Gabila's; photo by Benny Doro via Flickr Creative Commons

A Coney Island-style fried potato knish, like those made by Gabila’s; photo by Benny Doro via Flickr Creative Commons

Memories of Mrs. Stahl’s

But when we walked home it was a different story. At the corner of Brighton Beach Avenue and Coney Island Avenue, we’d pass by Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes. Mrs. Stahl didn’t sell meat knishes, but she sold just about every other kind: potato, kasha (buckwheat), cabbage, spinach, mushroom apple, cherry, cheese, cherry-cheese.

We’d always buy a bagful of knishes and take them back to Grandma and Grandpa’s for a hearty snack.

Turns out Mrs. Stahl’s, a neighborhood staple since 1935, was Laura Silver’s favorite knishery too. She would go there when visiting her Brighton Beach-dwelling grandma. After her grandmother died, eating a hot Mrs. Stahl’s kasha knish was a way for her to rekindle fond memories.

And then in 2005, Silver was heartbroken to discover that Mrs. Stahl’s had morphed into a Subway. After 70 years, the Brighton Beach landmark was gone.

Gabila’s, the primary source of the square Coney Island-style (fried) potato knish, was also gone (though you can still buy their goods wholesale or online), as were many of the knish bakeries in Mahattan’s Lower East Side.

Silver set out to do some research on her favorite food. The result is her book, Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food.

Silver seeks out the descendants of the great knish dynasties of yore and meets Toby Engleberg of San Francisco, and Sara Spatz of New York, granddaughterss of Fannie Stahl (the Mrs. Stahl) who give her the original potato knish recipe, reprinted below.

Yonah Shimmel's Knish Bakery is still open in Manhattan; photo by Pay Paul via Flickr Creative Commons

Yonah Shimmel’s Knish Bakery is still open in Manhattan; photo by Pay Paul via Flickr Creative Commons

She also traces the development of the delicacy back to Eastern Europe. In the process she discovers that some of her own ancestors lived in the Polish town of Knyszyn (pronounced “Nish”), which may or may not have been responsible for the derivation of the word “knish.”

Silver’s book includes a list of 18 places throughout the country where you can still buy a good knish.

A dough so thin it’s transparent

The key to making good knishes is creating a very elastic dough that you can roll out so thin you can just about see through it. Then you oil the pastry as you roll it around the filling; the result will be a very flaky, crispy crust.

My grandmother sliced the log of filled dough with the edge of her hand, which not only separated the individual pastries, it also sealed the cut edge.

If you have a free afternoon and feel adventurous, try your hand at recreating Mrs. Stahl’s potato knishes. Then invite a dozen friends over to get ’em while they’re hot.


Remembering my father with a recipe for Vegetarian Philly Cheesesteak

My parents, Minnie and Harold Naidoff, on their wedding day in 1945. My father was 23.

My parents, Minnie and Harold Naidoff, on their wedding day in 1945. My father was 23.

Sue Holliday

Sue Hollliday

This piece was written by my sister, Sue Holliday, for her blog, Memory Smoothie: random memoir-type stories she is writing for her two sons.

I’ve been thinking about my dad as his birthday approaches, and thought there could be no better tribute than this one, which she wrote three years ago; my dad would have been 93 this year. In addition to being a testament to the love he had for my mother, this letter provides an interesting look a day in the life of a U.S. sailor as he waited to be released from duty after World War II.

It wasn’t easy to relate this to food! My dad was not a cook, but he was comfortable in the kitchen. Every Saturday night was my mother’s “night off” from cooking and he would make dinner. It was almost always hot dogs or steak sandwiches – occasionally chicken pot pies, all meals we kids really looked forward to!

There’s no trick to making hot dogs, and the chicken pot pies were always frozen, not homemade (who even heard of such a thing in the 1950s and 1960s?) So I offer an interesting recipe for a vegetarian version of a Philly cheesesteak as a good way to honor my father’s memory, both because of our steak sandwich dinners and because he was born and bred in Philadelphia and lived there until his mid-50s. It’s quite tasty, and if you can find original Philadelphia Amoroso’s hoagie rolls, it’ll be almost as good as the meat version.

My father, Harold Naidoff, would’ve been 90 years old today, January 11.

When he moved into a new house after he remarried in 1998, he sent a box of old photos to me to be shared among his children. Several of the albums had belonged to my mother before she married, but others are from his early married life and our childhoods, plus some from trips my parents had taken together. Many of the old photos on this blog are from that box.

My dad, the sailor

My dad, the sailor

Stashed among the photo albums were two files of the letters he had written my mother when he was in the Navy, serving as a coppersmith on a repair ship during, and after, World War II. My mother appears to have kept them all, in chronological order.

I hadn’t read any before now.

Some may think that sharing these letters with family and friends betrays my father’s trust. I like to think that he would not be embarrassed by his feelings for his wife expressed in the letters. And while he could have tossed them as he did so much other stuff when he moved, I think he included the letters with the photos because he wanted them to survive.

A letter from China in 1946

Here is one, transcribed from my father’s hand.

[Aboard the U.S.S. Kermit Roosevelt]

Tsingtao, China

12 Jan. 1946

My Dearest Darling Wife,

I love you; the first thought of you that is always in my mind. I love you; a phrase that has become the theme of my life.

Today was wonderful, tiring, joyous, irritating, and beautiful. How can it be all these at one time; well I shall try to explain.

My parents in 1944

My parents in 1944

The morning began as usual, and then a wonderful thing came to pass; the ship received about 50 bags of mail, all packages. The entire morning was devoid of work, and devoted entirely to opening boxes, fondling the contents, nibbling on candy and cake, and having a great time indeed. I received 3 packages from home, 2 of yours, and one from Mom, and everything arrived in very good shape. Now our cupboard is full again. With our own packages, and those of the fellows who have already left, the food locker is again crammed full with various delicacies, and we shall be eating supper in the shop until it is exhausted. You had perfect timing on your birthday gift box, it arrived only a day late, excellent considering the situation. Not only for its contents, but for the way it was presented made it even more enjoyable. Thank you my Dearest. The brushes are very good and I have already used the hair brush. The clothes brush will find plenty of service, but I am afraid the hand brush will be a little neglected. Do you mind very much? The bottle of brandy, most heartily appreciated, will be saved until I learn that I am definitely on draft for home, then it will [be] consumed with a happy heart; the right mood for a good liquor.

The morning passed easily and happy, but then it began. No sooner had work begun in the afternoon when it all began. Dan is sick with a cold and took the afternoon off, on the Q.T. of course, and I took over his job. Then some Marines came in for a rush order for some stovepipe and I had to get them started on that job. I made them do their own work or else they would not get it. They worked. Then George came over and told me to come right over to the Jason so I could pick up my Jap rifle, so I dropped my work, and off I went. Rushed right back, and tried to regain lost ground. First over to the Marines who were having a little difficulty, then back to my own work. One of my strikers was given a job of painting the bulkheads and bitching like hell, making things miserable for me. Then more work to be done in a hurry, and by the time the afternoon was half over I was thouroughly irritated and disgusted. Was I glad when it came time to knock off work. I was never so glad to see a day end, and was more tired than I have been for a long time. One thing I did accomplish was to check my gun at the armory and get one of the carpenters to make me a box so I can mail it home. Guns can now be mailed, so it will save me the task of carrying it. The gun is in poor condition, but that can be remedied when I have it home.

I lay down for awhile and had just fallen asleep when Dan woke me for supper down in the shop. Our meal consisted of delicious fried eggs, bread and butter, coffee, and canned cherries for dessert. Not bad for the shop. Now I have just come from the shower, and I am much relaxed and at ease as I write to my sweetheart.

Tomorrow is holiday routine and early liberty. I am going ashore to take pictures. That fellow Hirsh had a package and among its contents was a camera with 16 rolls of film. Before he left, he gave us permission to open his boxes and only return items of value. Dan was appointed custodian by Hirsh before he left. The camera shall be returned, but we are going to use up the film, and send a letter of explanation to Hirsh.

I hope it is a nice day as it will probably be my last liberty.

Now the day is almost at an end, and whatever difficulties there may have been, it certainly was a most beautiful day, full of memories and love.

Your husband,


Good and Cheap—and a Savory Summer Cobbler!

Good and Cheap

As the capstone project for her master’s degree in food studies at New York University, Leanne Brown decided to write a cookbook for people on the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), better known as food stamps.

There are 47 million of them in the United States. The average SNAP stipend is $126 a month. My husband and I can easily spend twice that, without even living high on the proverbial hog.

Brown created Good and Cheap: A SNAP Cookbook, 132 pages of cooking tips and recipes anyone can make to eat for about $4 a day per person. She produced it as a PDF and made it available as a free download. It’s been downloaded more than 200,000 times since she posted it in June.

Leanne Brown

Leanne Brown

Print copies thanks to Kickstarter

Brown recognized that many people who needed help preparing good, cheap meals might not have ready access to a computer. So she also started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to publish a print version. She had a $10,000 goal and raised nearly $145,000.

Print copies are sold in bulk to nonprofit organizations, which can distribute them to their clients, for $4 apiece. (For information, visit Leanne’s blog.)

Good and Cheap is a great resource for anyone living on a tight budget. I would have loved it when I was newly married and we were living on graduate student assistantships totaling about $7,000 a year. (Granted, that was many years ago, but it was a piddling amount even then.)

To keep the costs down, Brown emphasizes inexpensive vegetables, legumes and grains over costly meat and fish. She loves eggs, a cheap, versatile source of protein.

“Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. In a perfect world, healthy and delicious food would be all around us. It would be easy to choose and easy to enjoy,” says Brown in the book’s introduction. “But of course it’s not a perfect world. There are thousands of barriers that can keep us from eating in a way that nourishes our bodies and satisfies our tastes. Money just needn’t be one of them. Kitchen skill, not budget, is the key to great food. This cookbook is a celebration of the many delicious meals available to those on even the most strict of budgets.”

Many barriers besides cost

She also recognizes that low-income families face other barriers besides cost. A major one is time. Many people in the SNAP program hold down more than one job and then have to deal with children as well. They simply don’t have the time to shop sensibly and cook from scratch, especially when it’s so much easier to buy cheap packaged food or stop at McDonald’s.

An article in Atlanta magazine described the problem perfectly earlier this year when the author and her husband decided to eat on a food stamp budget for a week. “Working mothers can follow [USDA] guidelines and prepare low-cost nutritious foods or can have a paying job … But many find it difficult to do both,” wrote Rebecca Burns. “[O]ur situation embodies the best-case scenario USDA nutritionists have in mind when they produce brochures on healthy cooking tips: We have time to cook, we have a well-equipped kitchen, and mostly importantly we have a car and thus can shop around for the good deals and quality foods.”

Still, says Brown, “The core of my idea is about empowering people through cooking. Cooking can have a tremendously positive impact on our wallets of course, but it’s also an amazing way to show love to yourself and others. It’s so much more satisfying to make food just the way you want it than to microwave a burrito or eat some lackluster  takeout. “Good cooking alone can’t solve hunger in America, but it can make life happier—and that is worth every effort.”

Cornmeal-crusted green beans. Any vegetables can be used, making this dish a kind of oven-baked tempura.

Cornmeal-crusted green beans. Any vegetables can be used, making this dish a kind of oven-baked tempura.

Alternatives to carbs and fast food

Brown says her intent was to give readers alternatives to filling their meals with cheap carbohydrates. And she’s not a slave to the bottom line. Many of her recipes use butter rather than oil. “Butter is not cheap, but it creates flavor, crunch, and richness in a way that cheap oils never can,” she says.

Readers who take Brown’s book seriously will realize it’s as much about method as about recipes. In most cases, a variety of ingredients can be used, so if you can’t find zucchini in the store, use eggplant, or if green beans are too expensive, substitute carrots.

She recommends buying one or two relatively expensive “pantry items” – olive oil, soy sauce, spices – each week. They’ll last a long time and do a lot to enliven your cooking. Some of her recipes need a blender or electric mixers, which her research showed her were fairly common among low-income families. She admits she’s not addressing the food needs of the homeless and others who don’t have access to a functioning kitchen.

Non-preachy advice

The beautiful photographs entice readers to try out the recipes, and there’s none of the preachy style that can sneak into publications aimed at telling poor people how they can and should be eating (compare Brown’s book to the USDA’s pamphlet on Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals, for example). Some advice from Brown, from an interview with Jhenifer Pabillano:

  • Buy things in their most raw state. Like, if you don’t have a lot of money, don’t buy the prewashed spinach. Buy the raw spinach for about half price and wash it. And baby carrots. Many people don’t know this, but they’re just a carrot that a machine has peeled into a baby form. So a pound of baby carrots is $2 a pound, while whole carrots are 80 cents a pound.
  • Compare prices against all the different ways to buy them. Think about canned and frozen too. If you can compare the prices, you can sometimes get better deals on those things.
  • And you do need to make a list before you go, because you don’t want to make impulse buys. Impulse buys are usually fatty things and that won’t last you.

Brown says she regularly hears from people in her target audience who are grateful for the book. “The public reaction has been so amazing and so humbling,” she told Pabillano. “And it’s such a cheesy thing to say, that it’s humbling, but I feel just so responsible to these people. They’re sharing details of their lives because they trust me. I feel so honored, and so motivated.”

Here’s a recipe from the book. Several of the people interviewed for a piece about Brown and her cookbook on NPR’s program, The Salt, said it was their favorite. I made it a week or so ago. I only had two zucchini so I added a small Japanese eggplant. I also found a wrinkled Jalapeno pepper in the bottom of the veggie drawer so I chopped that up and threw that in too, giving the dish a little added zip.

Summer camp: hymns and macaroni and cheese

Kids have fun at the College Settlement camp near Philadelphia.

Kids have fun at the College Settlement camp near Philadelphia.

When the days grow long and hot and the fireflies flit about at night, my thoughts return to summer camp. I went to camp from the age of 7 to 13, and it was always the highlight of my year. Camp was more than a vacation, it was an opportunity stretch my wings, to try new things and make friends with people whom I wouldn’t get to know in my daily life.

For three years, from the ages of 7 to 9, I went to Farm Camp, operated by the College Settlement in Philadelphia. It was located on a former farm in Horsham, Pa., once a rural area and now a suburb of the big city. (It’s no longer called Farm Camp, but it’s still going strong and operated by the College Settlement.)

The younger children slept and had most of their activities in and around the “Mansion House,” a large former home across the street from Main Camp, where we would go to eat, swim and boat. The girls slept in the Mansion House; the boys slept next door in a barracks-like “Bunk House.”

College Settlement camp is a melting pot of children from varied backgrounds.

College Settlement camp is a melting pot of children from varied backgrounds.

My first religious services

Camp was also where I had my first experience with religious services. My family was completely non-observant. My parents didn’t go to synagogue even on the High Holidays. And I was too young to go to church with my friends, which I did occasionally when I got older.

On Sunday mornings at camp, the Jews, Protestants and “nones” from Mansion House (I don’t think there were any Muslims among us, though one year there was a Hindu counselor from India) would troop over to Main Camp for a non-denominational service. The Catholic kids weren’t with us; they were bused into town so they could attend Mass.

We would sit on logs positioned in a large circle. I don’t remember much about the service other than the songs, which have stuck with me all these years.

We sang some standard Protestant hymns, like “Abide With Me” and “Faith of Our Fathers,” and gospel tunes like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,”  and folky tunes like the one about Johnny Appleseed:

Oh the Lord is good to me
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need,
The sun and the rain and the apple tree.
The Lord is good to me.

There were also some Southern Baptist-style hymns with messages I found intriguing, because they were so far from anything I had heard elsewhere: “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through, my treasure is laid up somewhere beyond the blue…”

One song had a tune that evoked a strange yearning in my 7-year-old psyche as the words conjured up images of angels:

White wings, that never grow weary,
They carry me cheerily over the sea.
Soon now, my heart will grow weary,
I’ll put on my white wings and fly home to you.

After all these years one can never be sure one is remembering the words correctly, so I did a little Web search and learned that this was originally a sailing song! The last two lines are usually “Night falls, I long for my dearie, I spread out my white wings, and sail home to thee.” Who knew?

Interfaith sensitivity

The late Leonard Ferguson, longtime director of the College Settlement camp, with campers .

The late Leonard Ferguson, longtime director of the College Settlement camp, with campers.

The thing that impressed me most about the Farm Camp services was how interfaith they were. While they were obviously based on Protestant services, the organizers went to some length to ensure that non-Christians were comfortable. Bible readings were always from the Hebrew scriptures. When we sang “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” the end of each verse was “children of the Lord.” It wasn’t until I started going to school assemblies in fourth grade, where we always opened with a hymn, that I learned the real words are “soldiers of the Cross.”

When I was 10 I moved to another camp that specialized in art and music. My younger sister, Sue, attended Farm Camp for many more years and shares my fond memories.

“I so enjoyed the Sunday service at camp that I felt sorry for the Catholics who had to miss it. I didn’t understand for many years after why Catholics, and not the Protestants, had to go to church,” she told me.

When Sue was about 10, she wrote an essay about why camp was so important to her.

“I don’t recall why I wrote it, but I’d showed it to my counselor, who must have shared it with other counselors. I was asked to read it aloud at one Sunday service,” she said. The essay was also printed on the front page of the camp newsletter, which was a mimeographed job on colored paper produced near the close of every two-week session.

“I was so pleased and proud of myself. I saved it for many years. It’s likely still moldering in our attic in a box.”

“We do indeed still do Sunday service, a chance to be reflective with campers at the campfire site and a chance to share stories,” camp director Karyn McGee told me.

“We pick a theme, and often use great books that we read aloud (and sometimes have staff act out) to generate deeper thought. Mostly we read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Sneeches by Dr. Seuss, and other non-denominational fun yet deep stories.

“Sometimes we plant a tree afterwards, and sometimes we burn a twig each. Twigs gathered from many trees, many sources but combined together in our campfire become the foundation for next session, year, decade’s group who will also sit under these beech and oak trees and share their stories.”

The College Settlement of Philadelphia is still influenced by Quaker values, said Jan Finnegan, the agency’s director of development. “The Sunday service does not have a clergy person or particular format but reflects an understanding of living in harmony with one another and the natural world, being reflective and creating a community of acceptance and equality.

Grace before meals

The dining hall at the College Settlement camp.

The dining hall at the College Settlement camp.

Camp was also where I first encountered grace before meals. Three times a day the entire camp would stand at the tables and sing, to the Westminster chimes tune, “Morning (or afternoon or evening) is here, the board is spread, thanks be to God, who gives us bread. Amen.”

I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who wondered what a “board” had to do with the meal we were about to eat.

By the time my sister Sue was a teen at Farm Camp and it was her bunk’s turn to lead grace, they were able to get away with, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub, yaaaaaay God!”

I encountered numerous new foods at camp, including tapioca pudding and macaroni and cheese. You no doubt did a double-take at that. How could anyone grow up in America without eating macaroni and cheese?

Well, my mother didn’t like it and so she didn’t make it, and it was completely off the radar for my Europe-born grandmothers. We walked home for lunch from school, so I didn’t get it in the school cafeteria.

I still love mac and cheese, and it was another reason I looked forward to camp every summer!

Here’s a good recipe for this all-American staple that’s easy to make because you don’t have to boil the pasta first or make a separate cheese sauce. You do need a blender (regular or immersion). It uses a great deal of cheese, but if you’re worried about fat, you can cut the amount back some with no loss in yumminess.

My first year as a mom and an animal advocate—and a recipe for Black Bean Sloppy Joes

Guest writer Christine Gutleben with her husband, Carl Becker, and son, Colten Becker.

Guest writer Christine Gutleben with her husband, Carl Becker, and son, Colten Becker.

Editor’s note: Today’s guest writer is Christine Gutleben, senior director of Faith Outreach for The Humane Society of the United States. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

WHEN my son was born—from that moment—the reckoning began between the mother I thought I’d be and the mother I was becoming.

So much about parenting is doing what works. Before I had my son, I envisioned only beautiful, handmade wooden toys; cute little cloth diapers; no entertainment from TV, tablets or phones; and daily family meals as rich opportunities for meaningful choices and interaction. I still love that dream for its hopeful naiveté, but our life is very different. If that loud plastic toy keeps him entertained, so be it. If the iPad distracts him while on the plane or in public places, thank goodness. And the cloth diapers, well, we never took them out of the packaging.

Food issues are more important

But, for me, the food issue is different. I am not so relaxed about differences between my hopeful vision and our reality. I am keenly aware of how our food choices impact the lives of billions of animals, the vast majority of whom live lives of complete misery in factory farms. These industrialized agriculture facilities cram egg-laying hens into cages so tiny they can’t spread their wings and stuff breeding pigs into tiny cages where they can’t even sit down properly or turn around for virtually their entire lives.

Free-range hens, photo by John Goodridge via Flickr Creative Commons

Free-range hens, photo by John Goodridge via Flickr Creative Commons

While my son is too young to understand the horrible system of factory farming, he is not too young to love and appreciate animals. By the time he is old enough to understand where his food comes from, I hope we will have cultivated an ethic of kindness and mercy that will guide him as he makes his own choices someday. Fortunately, today there are many alternatives to the most extreme factory-farmed animal products. We can switch, for example, to cage-free eggs or free-range pork instead of buying conventional animal products. And while prices for these products may be higher due to these more humane practices, we can compensate by eating fewer of them.

Increased cost is minimal

It’s also important to know that, in these cases, the increase in production cost is minimal. Industry studies have demonstrated that allowing over 280 million hens to be cage-free can be accomplished for just 1 cent more per egg. A complete nationwide phase-out of gestation crates for pregnant pigs would increase prices by just $0.065 per pound, according to an article by L. Seibert and F.B. Norwood in the 2011 issue of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. As long as consumers create demand, the market will respond. Of course, food is also central to our own health. Healthy food choices contribute to a healthy child. Let’s be honest, we can all stand to eat more vegetables and less meat. In the U.S. we slaughter 9 billion animals per year. That’s an increase of 2 billion just since 1990. As Americans, we eat more than 200 pounds of meat per person annually; that is more meat per capita than virtually any other nation.

Meals are a time to connect

Factory-farmed pigs have no room to move in their cages. Photo by Farm Sanctuary.

Factory-farmed pigs have no room to move in their cages. Photo by Farm Sanctuary.

Meal time, along with careful food selection and preparation, provides us with an opportunity to connect as a family and to teach our son about health and our responsibilities towards other creatures. It’s an opportunity for thankfulness, togetherness and relief from a busy day. It’s one way to push back against a culture that values productivity over family time. It’s a primary way to cultivate health and wellness. It’s a fun and relatively easy way to practice intentionality and to live-out the ideals we believe in. It affords the best way to help stop the destruction of rural America and it’s one of the most effective ways to reduce animal suffering.

By avoiding factory-farmed animal products and choosing plant-based foods in my role as mom, I am choosing what’s right and good for both my family and for creation.

You can often replace meat-based favorites with a vegetarian version. This recipe for Black Bean Sloppy Joes is an affordable, quick and healthy alternative to the usual beef dish.

Eiren Zoyren, a favorite family recipe from Poland (by way of Australia)

Andrea Cooper

Andrea Cooper

Andrea Cooper, the author of today’s column, lives in Melbourne, Australia. We met more than 15 years ago on a listserv for public relations professionals. I can’t remember how long ago it was, but my children were still at home and her son, now in his 20s, was not yet a teenager. We discovered that we had much in common, including traditional Jewish practice, and have been in touch via email and Facebook since. We frequently chat about the similarities and differences in Jewish customs between the U.S. and Australia, not the least of which is their weird way of spelling many of the Yiddish terms that have made their way into English. Andrea currently runs a consulting firm called ComAbility, to help companies and organizations create communications that are accessible to people with disabilities. I’ve kept Andrea’s original British spellings for this week’s column, which reminds us how important it is to get recipes for beloved dishes from our elders. Here’s Andrea …

Most of us remember a special dish our mothers or grandmothers cooked. The flavour lingers in our memories, bringing back family gatherings and meals. When I was growing up, one of the treats Mum might make for Shabbat was an entrée dish called Eiren Zoyren. She often made it for visitors, who would say they’d never had anything like it before.

The author and her grandmother, Pearl Redelman, with whom the recipe originated

The author and her grandmother, Pearl Redelman, with whom the recipe originated.

Eiren Zoyren is served cold. It is essentially eggs poached in a sauce. Over the years, Mum cooked it less often and then not at all. People were cutting back on the number of eggs they ate, fearing that too many might add to their cholesterol levels. The taste has stayed with me all my life. Whenever I would see a new Jewish cookbook, I’d unsuccessfully flip through trying to find the recipe.

Don’t procrastinate—get those recipes!

About a decade ago, when mum was getting near the end with her terminal cancer, it was one of two recipes (the other was her chicken soup) that I requested she show me how to make. We both procrastinated and finally she wasn’t well enough to make it with me. So we talked about how it was made, but not the exact quantities.

After she passed away, I presumed I’d find the recipe online. No luck! Over the years I’ve searched. The nearest is a German recipe that has some similarities, but is clearly different. My mother’s  family comes from Lublin in Poland, so the original source of this recipe is likely to be amongst the Jewish community of that region. (My grandmother  Pearl Redelman’s maiden name was Kelner. I’ve traced her Kelner line back to 1756 in Lublin. In the 1780’s census, a third of Lublin’s population at about 1,400 were Jews.)

Andrea with her mother, Bell Cooper, grandmother and sister Abigail in the 1960s.

Andrea with her mother, Bell Cooper, grandmother and sister Abigail in the 1960s.

My sister and I both were determined not to lose what we began to realise was a unique family specialty. None of my cousins had the recipe written down.

Aunty Dora to the rescue

A few years ago my sister visited my mum’s older sister in Adelaide. In her late 80s, she hadn’t made Eiren Zoyren for many years. Together my aunt and my sister made a batch and wrote down the recipe.

Yesterday, I found my sister’s handwritten copy of this recipe.

Today, I have made it, though with a few adjustments to meet my own taste memories.

In two days’ time, I will proudly serve my Shabbat guests this unique entrée.

Now I am writing this recipe down to share, so it may never again be lost. I present it in memory of my mother, Bell Cooper, and her mother Perl Redelman (nee Kelner), with special thanks to my Aunty Dora Chester and my sister Abigail.

The Foods of Jerusalem

Scenes from Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market

Scenes from Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market

Before we left on our trip to Israel in October, I got my hands on a gorgeous cookbook, called, appropriately enough, Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (published by Ten Speed Press).

The authors have an intriguing story. They were born in Jerusalem in the same year. Yotam, the son of Italian Jewish immigrants, lived on the west side of the city and Sami on the Muslim east side. More than 30 years later, both chefs in London, they met, became friends and then business partners in the Ottolenghi chain of restaurants.

“The flavors and smells of this city are our mother tongue,” says Yotam in the introduction. He goes on to describe the rich tapestry of Jerusalem food, which incorporates the cuisines of many countries of Europe and the Middle East.

As Yotam and Sami discovered in their discussions about food, it’s futile to talk about which culture invented a particular delicacy and which one brought a dish to Jerusalem with them. In many ways, the Jerusalem food scene gives credence to those medieval maps that showed the world with Jerusalem at its center.

Complex recipes

The photos in Jerusalem: A Cookbook  are absolutely gorgeous and will make you want to break out your pots and chopping knives. The problem comes when you start to read the recipes. Not only are they complex, but many include obscure ingredients that could be difficult to procure.

In order to make shakshuka, this week’s recipe, I needed to order harissa (hot pepper paste) online because I couldn’t find it in my local market, even though it has a large section for Middle Eastern goods. Several other recipes look interesting, but so far I’ve been unable to find pomegranate molasses anywhere, even in Israel (I’ll probably make some myself, eventually, by boiling down pomegranate juice). And preserved lemons? Dried barberries? To their credit, the authors give instructions on how to make some of the spice mixtures and condiments.

Shakshuka originated in Tunisia but is very popular in Jerusalem. Sometimes you’ll see several varieties on a menu. I confess the photo with this week’s recipe is from the cookbook. My version wasn’t as pretty, but it was very tasty – and spicy! If you don’t like heat, use less harissa or leave it out altogether. I also used just the whole eggs, without the additional egg yolks.

Street food can’t be beat

Cooking up a mixed grill in Jerusalem.

Cooking up a mixed grill in Jerusalem.

My favorite Jerusalem food is actually street food, especially falafel and shawarma. Falafel, for the uninitiated, are deep-fried balls of ground chickpeas and spices. When I was first introduced to falafel more than 40 years ago, the balls were stuffed into a pita with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers and tahini (sesame) sauce. These days the balls are topped with a variety of salads, pickles and spreads and then with a handful of French fries, making it a complete meal.

A shawarma is similar, but instead of the falafel balls, the pita’s main filling is shreds of lamb or turkey sliced from a huge hunk of meat turning on a vertical rotisserie. With a falafal or shawarma, you can enjoy a satisfying lunch for less than $6.

Instead of a pita, and for a few shekels more, you can get the sandwich in a “laffa”  – a larger, flatter, more rubbery bread that’s folded around the filling. If you’re really brave, you can go for a “mixed grill,” a combo of shredded chicken and meat with grilled onions and mushrooms. It’s extremely yummy but it can be really messy.

There’s a real skill to eating a pita or laffa that’s fairly bursting with its fillings. I think the main trick is to lean out, so wayward bits and drops will land on the table or ground and not on you. By our second week in Jerusalem, we were able to finish one without having to change our shirts because of the sauce or grease we dripped all over ourselves.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook has a recipe for lamb shawarma, but with 16 different herbs and spices, it’s not for the faint of heart. There’s also a recipe for falafal, but by far the easiest way to make it at home is to buy a box of falafel mix!