Jewish Book Publicity

Interview with Rabbi Michael Broyde author of A Concise Code of Jewish Law for Converts

 

I am pleased to have interviewed Rabbi Michael Broydeauthor of A Concise Code of Jewish Law for Converts  (Urim Publications, 2017) about his new book.

Conversion is constantly in the Jewish news cycle. Does your book address the various controversies surrounding conversion to Judaism?

The current controversies are always about how people convert. My book is about what happens after people convert and become Jewish, which is an incredibly important issue.

The reason conversion is such a “hot button” topic today is because there is a huge sociological [and halachic] change taking place in our community where so many people are seeking to and actually converting to Judaism.
Modern Judaism is changing through conversion, just like 30 years ago the ba’al teshuva movement changed our community in very basic ways as so many Jews began practicing Orthodox Judaism.
We are being changed by righteous converts who are choosing to join our people. And many times we are not treating them correctly.

What is the key message of your book?

Although the focus on how to convert and the standards for conversion seems important, actually how we treat people who have already converted to Judaism in our community is much more important a measure of us as a Jewish community. 

Why did you write this book?

For a few reasons. I was astonished to discover no one else had written this book in either English or Hebrew.  Due to the increase in the number of sincere converts to Judaism, both in the US and Israel, this book is needed. Conversion is much more common now than ever before.

Another reason is because converts are the most admirable segment of our community. These are people who have a choice and they choose to be Jews.

Did anything surprise you as you wrote the book?

Yes.  Besides the fact that no one else had done this, I saw the large variety of issues and the need for categorization. So I focused the book on what I found to be six basic underlying questions which exist when approaching the topic of conversions and converts. These are things like how a convert relates to their family of origin, the obligation all Jews have to love converts, issues that arise when dealing with marriage or converts holding positions of authority and more. 

Do you think this book could have been published 150 years ago? 50 years ago?  

In pre-modern times conversion was very rare and this book would not have been needed as much as now.  It would still provide material to learn as interesting theory, but it would have been less practical.

Who did you write this book for?

There are a number of audiences for this book; intellectuals and academics. People who are considering conversion to Judaism as well as people who have already undergone conversion. An additional audience are the Rabbis and Rabbinic courts which carry out conversions.

Do you think the phenomenon of conversions to Judaism today is unique? How so?  How does it differ from other countries?

I think that the total lack of secular stigma is the unique feature of our generation.  Someone who converts to Judaism in the US can tell people at work about their conversion without losing their job or damaging their career.

How does conversion today differ from those of, say, 25 years ago? Or 50 years ago?

The growth of serious, observant Judaism has given rise to more serious converts and conversion. Conversion to Judaism is common and normal today and this is good.

Book Giveaway! The Jewish Fact Finder. Win a copy of this amazing resource.

 

 

Fact finder cover

I’m excited to run my first book giveaway.  Actually it isn’t my first. I have probably run hundreds of book giveaways on various websites, blogs and social media platforms, but I have not used my own site. So let’s get started……

Newly revised and updated, the Jewish Fact Finder by Yaffa Ganz is a classic which has been a treasure-house of basic Jewish information for decades. It contains information on everything Jewish that one might need. Feldheim describes the book has having everything “from Torah to Talmud to Temple; from prophets to plagues to prayers; seasons and cities; measurements and mountains; and lots more, designed to be available right at your fingertips”.

It’s an essential quick-reference guide and will be useful for students, young and old, and for their parents and teachers as well. To describe it in 2016 terms, it is like having Google available at all times (including when you can’t access the internet).

Click below and enter to win!  The book will be shipped for the winner to USA addresses only (sorry).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Kosher Baking Revolution Brought to You by Paula Shoyer

Paula Shoyer

I discovered Paula Shoyer through her Chocolate Chip Mandelbread. Rosh Hashana was approaching and mandelbread seemed, to me, to be the only dessert option on the horizon. Nothing would be complete without it. I asked around and someone shared Paula’s recipe with me. I recall having a few questions and Gil Marks z”l was kind enough to coach me. (Tragically, Gil passed away recently, but this mandelbread experience was a typical example of his friendly and helpful personality.)

When I met Paula at the first Kosher Bloggers Conference, I introduced myself so I could rave about her recipe to the source. We schmoozed, talked shop and discussed how we might work together one day. Paula is visiting Israel soon and I am excited to be working with her on the publicity for the trip and a special event with the spouse of the US ambassador in Israel, Ms. Julie Shapiro. Paula is on a constant book and food demo tour and has a new book coming out in 2 months (The New Passover MenuSterling Epicure) so I appreciate that she took the time to be part of 8 for 8!

Holiday Kosher Bakery

Paula’s latest book. A new one for Passover 2015 is coming out very soon.

Paula, besides growing up in the US, you have also lived abroad.  What stands out for you about celebrating Chanukah in the US and in other countries? Any special food memories?

Chanukah in the US is about latkes and in other places it is about donuts.  Even in Geneva, Switzerland, we got sufganiyot from the local kosher bakery. I will never forget spending Chanukah in the hospital in the US in 1999 when I was on bed rest waiting for my twins to be born. I lit candles in my room every night and prayed that my babies would be healthy. One was 7 pounds at birth- pretty much our own Chanukah miracle. We have often had combined chanukah/birthday parties for the boys.

How has your Chanukah changed since you became a chef and author?

Before I was a chef, Chanukah was just about latkes, As a chef, the world of possibilities has opened up to me. I make different flavors of latkes and apple sauce, experiment with different flavors of dough  and fillings for donuts and even developed desserts baked with olive oil.

How does your family celebrate Chanukah?

We love to sing so we make sure  we all light candles together every night. We get together with friends and family, if possible. My mother buys great gifts for the kids that they wear right away, like snuggies and bathrobes.

Rehearsal - Home & family

Rehearsal before Paula was featured on Hallmark Home & Family recently.

What are you eating for Chanukah this year?

Every year we try something new. I am working on chocolate flavored funnel cake and cannoli donuts this year.

What are the top questions people ask you about baking for Chanukah? For other holidays?

People are afraid of yeast doughs and afraid of frying so I get a lot of questions. I get emails with questions up to an hour before every major Jewish holiday. They are usually about ingredients or equipment people do not have. But sometimes people change my recipes and write to ask me why the dessert does not taste good.

What is one dish you must eat during Chanukah no matter what? Potato latkes fresh out of the frying pan.

Finally: Latkes or sufganiot?

Latkes – I am surrounded by sugar all day every day and I just crave salty food.

Paula Kosher Fest

What recipe are you sharing with us?

My Almond and Olive Oil Cake. It is perfect fit for Chanukah with the olive oil, yet not the usual dessert. Enjoy!

ALMOND AND OLIVE OIL CAKE

Serves 8 to 12

The use of olive oil in cakes dates back farther than the Chanukah story itself. Olive oil was used in baked offerings at the Temple. This is a super easy teatime cake that reminds me of simple cakes I have eaten in Italy. If you are feeling decadent, serve this with whipped cream.

¾ cup (90g) sliced almonds (with or without skins)

1 cup (200g) sugar

3 large eggs

½ cup (120ml) extra virgin olive oil

1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour

½ cup (60g) ground almonds

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon almond extract

½ teaspoon orange zest (from one orange)

spray oil containing flour 

PREHEAT OVEN to 350°F (180°C). Trace an 8-inch (20-cm) round pan on parchment paper and cut it out with scissors. Grease and flour the pan, press in the parchment circle; and grease and flour the top of the parchment and sides of the pan. Sprinkle and spread the sliced almonds on the bottom of the pan to cover it. 

IN A MEDIUM BOWL, beat the sugar, eggs, and olive oil for about one minute at medium speed until creamy. Add the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, salt, almond extract, and orange zest and beat until combined. Pour the mixture over the sliced nuts. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. 

LET THE CAKE COOL in the pan for 10 minutes and then run a knife around the sides. Turn the cake  onto a wire rack and let it cool. Serve the cake almond side up. Store it covered at room temperature for up to four days or freeze for up to three months.

Credit line: Reprinted with permission from Holiday Kosher Baker © 2013 by Paula Shoyer, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography byMichael Bennett Kress

Celebrating Chanukah with Levana: Foodie Innovator of NYC

Levana restaurant   credit  AJ Wilhelm, Carmen Lopez

Levana restaurant , NYC credit AJ Wilhelm, Carmen Lopez

A recent article claimed that Jews who keep kosher have all become “foodies”. If there is one person to credit for kicking off this phenomenon, it is probably Levana. She brought upscale kosher dining to NY when the stereotype and expectation of kosher food was that it was deli food. And while there is nothing wrong with great deli, Levana showed everyone that there is much more to kosher food than ethnic food. Here restaurant (called, surprise, Levana) was a game changer for NY kosher restaurants. Today there are many fine kosher restaurants in NY, Levana set the standard. Open for decades, serving food people loved and looked forward to, Levana introduced many to new foods, warm hospitality and higher standards.

Levana & bookSince then, Levana has been very prolific and published a number of critically acclaimed cookbooks as well as speaking, doing food demos and educating widely about how delicious recipes can also be healthy and relatively simple to prepare. She is a woman with a mission and quite busy, so I am super pleased that Levana is taking part in the 8 for 8 celebration of Chanukah here on my blog!

Levana, do you have memories of celebrating Chanukah in Morocco? What are some highlights? Any special food related memories?

To be frank, growing up in Morocco, Chanukah was absolutely no big deal in terms of social gatherings. We made a much greater deal of Tu BiShvat and Purim, they were huge bashes. On Chanukkah, in each house, everyone made their favorite fried treat, just one night. My mom made the Arabic donuts, Sfenj. But that was about it, beside Chanukah lighting every night, of course.

What do you do to create a special holiday atmosphere for your family during Chanukah?

Seriously: Lots of Latkas! Homemade a must!

 How has your Chanukah celebration changed over the years?

I have happily adopted my husband’s minhagim (customs), which include making a much greater deal of celebrating Chanukah than I ever did in the past. Lots of Latkas (not just potato Latkas), donuts, kids presents, menorah lighting at home and in public places. My son Yakov and his wife Elisheva are Chabad Shluchim in Washington Heights, which means menorah lighting in one of the Washington Heights Parks, a kids Chanukah party etc. It’s always a wonderful time to put family and friends together, and do silly stuff. We need all the fun we can get!
What was it like to be a restaurant owner during Chanukah?

It meant getting ready for more family reservations. It also meant always including Latkas on the menu to go with dinner, and even whole Chanukah parties with fun menus including Latkas and fritters, both savory and sweet.

Latkes or sufganiot?

I’m going with Latkas!

What are the things you must eat or do during Chanukah, no matter what?

I must get all my kids and grandkids together one of the Chanukkah nights, make lots of Latkas, and a homemade apple sauce, and watch it get all devoured. Give out gifts to everyone big and small. Loving Bubbie, loving Zaidie, what do you expect?

Will you please share a few Chanukah recipes with us?

Happy to share! I am going to share my latka recipe plus my thoughts of “fear of frying therapy” (which you can also find on  my blog).

 

Levana Latkas4Latkas from Levana:

Ingredients: Makes 24 latkas.

vegetable oil for frying

1 cup flour, any flour, including gluten-free

4 eggs

1 medium onion, grated in a food processor

salt and pepper to taste

pinch nutmeg

8 large Idaho or russet potatoes, peeled

Instructions:

Heat 1/3 inch oil in a heavy frying pan until very hot. While the oil is heating, place the flour, eggs, onion, salt and pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl, and mix thoroughly. Quickly grate the potatoes in a food processor, and immediately stir them into the batter, making sure not to squeeze so as not to extract unwanted extra moisture. Work very quickly so they do not have time to get discolored. Form small patties, and lower them into the hot oil, or drop the batter by heaping tablespoons. Fry until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve with applesauce (try my homemade applesauce: nothing to it, and it’s wonderful!), or plain yogurt.

Variations:

Vegetable latkes: Replace the potatoes with a mixture of zucchini, carrots and parsnips. Add seasonings of your choice such as oregano, minced fresh garlic and basil.

Sweet potato latkes: Substitute sweet potatoes for the regular potatoes, and add brown sugar, cinnamon, curry and ginger to taste. Try serving them with my Hot Pepper Jelly!

Potato Kugel: That’s right: What else is it but a giant latka? Add 1/3 cup of vegetable oil to the potato latka batter. Pour the batter into a greased loaf or square pan, and bake uncovered in a preheated 375*F oven for one hour or until the top is golden brown.

 

Levana’s Frying Tips

I rarely fry anything, but there is no Chanukkah without Frying! In my catering career and for my friends and family at home, I have made thousands upon thousands of them and always watch them disappear at a flatteringly alarming rate. There is no doubt about it: latkas are a heavenly treat, and once we enter a house where the glorious fragrance of latkas frying wafts through the kitchen, even a very spartan dieter (whom I have yet to meet) will sheepishly watch his or her noble resolution not to “get near it” turn to dust.

You may have guessed it: I have nothing nice to say about frying. Getting burned long ago while fishing out a schnitzel from the frying pan, which eluded me and defiantly jumped back into the pan splattering my hand, turning it into a human dumpling for days and leaving its ugly scar for many months, didn’t help endear this method of cooking to me. But my love for latkas has not suffered at all, thank you.

Frying (stir-frying does not fall into this category, as it requires very little oil and minimal cooking) is the nemesis of every health-conscious cook, this one included. However, fried foods are irresistibly delicious. I am happy to provide a few frying tips and guidelines for making occasional treats efficiently and safely: consider the following frying tips a mini crash course on conquering the fear of frying! These frying tips apply not only to latkas (any latkas, savory and sweet) but anything you might be frying (shnitzels, fish fillets, etc…)
– Keep it dry. Too much moisture will steam food instead of frying it, yielding soggy results. Be sure to dry whatever you are frying thoroughly with paper towels.
– Keep it thick. With a firm (not runny) batter, you will be able to form thicker patties, which will absorb much less oil than thinner ones. The ouside will be crisp and the center will be tender yet cooked through.
– Keep it hot. Less-than-hot oil will seep into your food, making it inedibly greasy. If you are adding oil to your pan while frying, chances are your oil was not hot enough to begin with. When your oil is good and hot, you will need to add very little if any to finish frying an entire batch of food. How hot is hot enough? Drop a smidgen of batter into the oil. If it sizzles and rises to the surface, the oil is hot and ready for frying.
– Keep it steady. Do not crowd the pan. First of all, you will make handling the food more difficult. Also, crowding will bring down the temperature of the oil. Adding what you are frying at steady intervals ensures that the oil has time to return to the desired temperature.
– Keep it lean. I have my mother to thank for this advice. Rather than using spatulas or slotted spoons, work with two forks when frying. Lift each fried item with a fork on each side, and hold it vertically for a second or two over the frying pan: You will be surprised by how much oil drips off it. Immediately place the items on a plate lined with several layers of paper towels, which will absorb any remaining unwanted grease.
– Keep it white. This applies only to potato dishes. Peeled potatoes will oxidate when exposed to air and turn an unappealing gray color. So when making latkes (or a potato kugel), get everything ready and peel and grate the potatoes last, adding them immediately to the otherwise finished batter.
– Keep it fresh and hot. A word about freezing and reheating. If you are entertaining a large group, it won’t be enormous fun spending the afternoon frying while everyone is having a good time. If you must fry in advance, follow all the above guidelines, but fry each item until it is ninety percent cooked through, no more. Store it in a shallow pan in one layer. You can also place the latkas in the pan vertically, like a deck of cards; you will be able to fit quite a few in a pan in this position (again, one layer). Cover tightly. Refrigerate or freeze, depending on how long in advance you are preparing the dish. Reheat uncovered, at about 350*F, for fifteen to twenty minutes if it was frozen, until golden and crisp.

 

 

8 for 8 with Ronnie Fein! Eight Cookbook Authors for Eight Days of Chanukah.

Welcome to the 8 for 8 series in honor of Chanukah 2014. We will be focusing on 8 cookbook authors, one for each day of the holiday. Let’s talk to these foodies and see how they celebrate Chanukah and what they are cooking, baking and enjoying! I do not promise that we will spell “Chanukah” consistently all 8 days.

Ronnie Fein is a renowned cookbook author who literally wrote the Idiot’s Guides to Cooking. Ronnie has just released The Modern Kosher Kitchen (Fair Winds Press)  with a forward by Jamie Geller.

Ronnie Fein

Ronnie’s new book focuses on creative and interesting recipes while not being intimidating. There is a lot of buzz surrounding the book which is really nice to see. I had the pleasure to work with Ronnie over the past year as she edited the new cookbook Gluten Free Around the World by Aviva Kanoff which I coordinated. (Aviva will be featured in 8 for 8 this week!). It is always terrific to work with such nice and professional people and I am grateful that Ronnie agreed to be part of 8 for 8 and I am thrilled to kick off the series by speaking with her.

Ronnie pic

What stands out for you about celebrating Chanukah as you grew up? What about when you were raising a family? Do you have any special food memories?

 Chanukah wasn’t as important when I was a youngster as it seems to be today. Purim and Passover were the bigger holidays. Still, it was festive enough, but there weren’t elaborate preparations, special blue giftwrap and certainly not 8 days worth of presents. I do remember it as a special time because that’s when my Aunt Roz and Uncle Mac would take me, my brother Jeff and cousin Leslie ice skating. What a treat, especially the year we got satin lined skating outfits and our own ice skates for Chanukah! And of course we got gelt, chocolate of course, gold wrapped in mesh bags! We each got our own bag and I still remember clawing the wrappers open to get to the chocolate.

hanukkah-gelt-msn-divine-chocolate

Chanukah became a more celebratory event when I was raising my own children. There was more talk about it at school, even though the majority of children were not Jewish, in an effort to be more inclusive. So it more or less had become a well known Americanized holiday that everyone knew about, not just Jewish families. My husband Ed and I also gave the children 8 gifts, usually one or two big ones, the others that were just fun or silly. My kids were excited to open one each night to see whether it was the “good” one or not. And they still joke about the socks, which was always one of the eight. As for food – they also got gelt, same awful chocolate, same mesh bags.

 Has your Chanukah changed since you became a chef and author?

Significantly. As I read more and more about Chanukah in order to prepare for my food articles, I learned about the historical events that preceded our celebration. More to the point, not only did I understand the Maccabee victory and what it meant for the future of the Jewish people, but I learned about the part that Judith played. Judith was a brave widow who lived in the town of Bethulia in Judea in the second century BCE. Who knows what the outcome would have been if Judith hadn’t dined with Holofernes, a general in the enemy’s army? She made him eat plates and plates of salty cheese, which got him thirsty and so he drank lots of wine and fell asleep, whereupon she decapitated him! When they learned their general was dead, the Greek army was confused and broken, allowing the Jews to launch their victorious attack.

I have two daughters and it was important for me to tell them about a woman’s role in the victory. I retold the story every year and made sure that we had a cheese-oriented meal, in honor of Judith. Now I have three grand daughters and we still follow that tradition. Some say Shavuot is the cheese holiday, but for us, it’s Chanukah. 

What is Chanukah like with the Fein family?

Our family is kind of tribal! We get together for every major holiday. My children and grand children sleep over, the kids play together and we eat lots of good food. I make fresh, hot, crispy latkes every year, no matter what else I cook. Cheese latkes and potato latkes and sometimes a new variety (last year it was sweet potato latkes with dried cranberries). For Chanukah we line the kids’ presents up on our hearth and on top of the pile we put that old classic, a mesh bag filled with chocolate Chanukah gelt. This year it will be a little different. I wrote an article for the Jewish Week on “gourmet gelt” – upscale chocolate coins. When our family got together for Thanksgiving, the older kids saw the boxes in my cabinet and were curious. They said they are expecting the “good” chocolate gelt this year!

Are you eating different foods for Chanukah now than you did in the past? What are they?

Most definitely. My parents didn’t know that Chanukah was originally a holiday on which people ate cheese. As a historical matter, centuries ago, the first latkes people ate to celebrate Chanukah were made with cheese. Unfortunately, many Jews in some of the northern countries such as Russia and Poland, were very poor and couldn’t afford cheese, so they made their latkes with potatoes. As Hillel says, “the rest is commentary.” Maybe not being able to buy cheese was not so unfortunate! Can you imagine life or Chanukah without potato latkes?!

In my growing up there were always potato latkes on Chanukah but these days I serve cheese dishes in addition so the event is one big dairy feast. Some of our favorite Chanukah foods are gougeres (cheese puffs), spinach pie, macaroni and cheese and Chocolate Cheesecake brownies

I serve old fashioned dairy sour cream with the latkes (although some prefer applesauce) but over the years I have also created some interesting dips to go with the latkes, including an interesting tangy one made with plain yogurt and lemongrass.

What are the top questions people ask you about baking for Chanukah? For other holidays?

 I always get questions about my challah, no matter what holiday and frankly, even when it isn’t a holiday. It’s a recipe I developed from my grandmother’s notes that had no real measurements and no instructions. I have to brag – it’s the best challah, the very best (it  is the only traditional recipe in my new book). One of the most poignant, touching moments of my life came this year when my daughter asked me to bake the challah for my grandson Zev’s bar mitzvah. I will treasure that request to my dying day.

Challah

I also get requests for rugelach, butter cookies and Grand Finale Cookies (in my book, Hip Kosher), which is a combination of chocolate chip and oatmeal-raisin cookies. These recipes are all available at www.ronniefein.com.

Finally: Latkes or sufganiot?

Ach, it’s not even close. Potato latkes.  Everything else is extra. I like sufganiot but fried potatoes? It’s my “what one food would you take to a desert island if you could only choose one” choice. Anyone who knows me knows I love modern food and have spent my life creating new recipes. But there is no food quite so delicious as potato latkes (and challah!).

Ronnie shared a few recipes with us – just reading them and looking at the pics will likely make you want to include them on your holiday menu:

Chanukah-Levivot-13 (Large)
Potato Latkes with Lemongrass Yogurt Dip

4 large peeled baking potatoes

1 large onion

3 tablespoons matzo meal, breadcrumbs or potato starch

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

vegetable oil for frying

Grate the potatoes and onion into a bowl or, if using a food processor, shred the potatoes and onion together. If you prefer latkes softer, after shredding, place the shreds back into the food processor and use the S-blade. Process the potatoes and onions to a fine consistency. Either squeeze the vegetables in a kitchen towel over a bowl or place the mixture in a rigid strainer set over a bowl and press the vegetables. In either case, wring or squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place the vegetables in a large bowl. Add the matzo meal or breadcrumbs or use the solid potato starch that remains at the bottom of the bowl containing the squeezed liquid. Stir in the eggs, salt, pepper and baking powder. Heat about 1/4” vegetable oil in a cast iron or other heavy heat retaining skillet over moderately high heat. Drop some of the potato mixture into the pan, using equal amounts to make each pancake. Fry for 2-3 minutes per side or until the pancakes are golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Serve with dairy sour cream, nonfat plain yogurt, applesauce or Lemongrass-Yogurt Sauce (below) Makes 12-16

Zucchini-Pancakes-45 (Large)

Lemongrass-Yogurt Dip

1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1 scallion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons finely chopped lemongrass

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped chili pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh lime peel

2 tablespoons lime juice

salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly to distribute them evenly. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving. Makes about one cup

 

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies   Ronnie Fein Choc. Cheese cake

1 cup butter

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2-1/2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt,

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

1 cup chopped nuts, optional

Lightly grease a 13”x9” baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan set over low heat (or in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water). When the butter and chocolate have melted, blend them and stir in 2 cups of the sugar and 3 of the eggs. Whisk ingredients thoroughly. Add the flour, salt, nuts (if used) and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and stir in the ingredients with a large wooden spoon. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until thoroughly blended. Spoon blobs of the cream cheese mixture on top of the chocolate batter. Cut through the cheese, making swirls in the chocolate mixture. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool. Cut into bars with a sharp knife dipped into hot water. Refrigerate. Makes 24-36 pieces

 

Ronnie Fein Herb and Cheese Gougeres

Herb and Cheese Gougeres (Choux Puffs)

 

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons water

1/4 pound unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 cup all purpose flour, sifted

3/4 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mixed herbs, or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese

pinch cayenne pepper

egg glaze: 1 large egg mixed with 2 teaspoons water, optional

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cook the water and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and salt all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is well blended and begins to come away from the sides of the pan. Remove pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.* Add the herbs, cheese and cayenne pepper and blend them in thoroughly.

Butter and flour a baking sheet. Drop 3/4 to 1-inch mounds of dough from a teaspoon onto the sheet. Leave space between the mounds for the puffs to rise. For a shiny surface on the puffs, lightly brush the tops of the mounds with some of the egg wash. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the puffs are lightly brown and crispy. Lower the heat to 300 degrees and bake for another 5-6 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the puffs in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Or cut them open and fill them. Makes about 60

*Incorporating the eggs is what most people find difficult. Be sure to add them one at a time. Use a sturdy wooden spoon to help you. The mixture will be sticky and at first you think it will never come together, but keep mixing and you’ll see that it does come together. After each egg is incorporated the mixture becomes softer and pastier and stickier. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

 

Score! A Jerusalem Bookstore. A Jewel.

IMG_20141113_112012245

A modest, somewhat misleading storefront

 

I know Jerusalem very well. When I see a store I can recall what was there before that store and the one before that. So discovering a great bookstore is rare. Almost a holiday. While I have been to The Book Gallery in Jerusalem before, I’d never entered far enough to realize that room after room of used books awaited me. I am unsure how this treasure eluded me but I don’t want to cry over book experiences missed when the future looks so bright.

IMG_20141113_111942151

Upon entering, there is an understated invitation to visit downstairs

 

Wow. What a store. As one of the employees told me “We are like an iceberg. You only see the top but underneath there is so much to be seen.” True. Outside there are some tables and shelves with books selling at about $2.50 US. And upon entering, a modestly sized book store greets visitors (or so it seems). A quick look around and one could just be on their way. But take the steps downstairs and an underground expanse of books awaits.

Hebrew, English, French, Yiddish….it is all there. Every genre. History. Fiction. Zoology. Records. Posters. And the staff? When asked if they have a somewhat obscure title they answered almost as one “We don’t have that now”. OK. A bookstore with a staff that actually…well…knows books! Score.

Moshe Bar, owner of the store, sat dusting and repairing books while explaining that their website  offers tens of thousand of titles with delivery world wide. But if you are in Jerusalem, visit them at Schatz 6.

Prices were very reasonable for used books in good condition. And the music was great. More pics below. Visit. It is better than the pictures.

 

IMG_20141113_113101605

The background music could have been playing from these records

IMG_20141113_112257091

IMG_20141113_112317224_HDRIMG_20141113_112958215IMG_20141113_112553568

Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Best Reads for the High Holiday Season?

 

Photo: Karen Horton

Photo: Karen Horton

Books are dead? Not this year. I am always pleased to see an article like this one which appears in Jewish Action Magazine in advance of the High Holidays this year. A number of Jewish “movers & shakers” were asked what they read to prepare for this important season.  People like Allison Josephs, the innovative founder of Jew in the City, well known writer and public commentator Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and other respected and interesting Jewish thinkers and educators shared their choice books for holiday inspiration and growth. Their selections will be helpful to many but either way this sort of article is an important vote of confidence and reminder of just how relevant and important books are.

A Jewish Werewolf – Unorthodox Fiction from an Orthodox Jewish Author

Possible book cover photo

Wolves are “in”. Werewolves seem to be even more “in”. A few years ago someone approached me with a book about Jewish vampires and I wasn’t sure there would be readers for it. By the time Ira Berkowitz called me about his book A Wolf in the Soul, I knew it was time. This theme seemed to be popping up everywhere I looked and I thought his book was really good.  I have heard many readers (especially younger ones) complain that they don’t connect with fiction written for Orthodox Jews. Wolf in the Soul was not written for Orthodox Jews – yet it is something that many will feel is “kosher” and doesn’t offend their sensibilities or values. Yet, it is out of the box. It is definitely not “same old, same old”. The reviews have been great. And you read more of them here, here and here. It has been fun to work with Ira on getting his book published as well as seeing how much readers enjoy it. The following interview with Ira ought to help readers know him better. Enjoy!

Why did you undertake the huge task of writing fiction?

Shortly before I undertook writing this novel, I was dying to be an actor. I talked about acting, read about acting, took acting classes, and even prayed to God that I’d fulfill my dream of being an actor.

But it was nearly impossible to be an actor, both because I’m an Orthodox Jew and because my dream meant too much to me. Acting was too daunting to undertake! But writing, which I knew I could do, didn’t intimidate me so much. So I put my creative energy into that instead.

 Your book is not typical of what is seen as “Orthodox Jewish Fiction” – do you see your book as part of that genre?

In a word, no. Orthodox Jewish fiction is meant exclusively for Orthodox readers. It assumes a common background and common values. My book doesn’t assume either. So while Orthodox Jews (albeit somewhat daring ones) can enjoy my book, so can other types of Jews and  non-Jews. In fact, three non-Jewish readers told me personally that they liked the book.

How much of the book is biographical?

Okay, I’m going to state this for the record: I did not become a werewolf when I was a freshman at Columbia!

I was a senior in high school when it happened.

In all seriousness, I can say that–not surprisingly–some of the book is autobiographical and some of it isn’t. Like Greg Samstag, the main character, I did grow up on Long Island, and I did attend a modern Orthodox yeshiva, and I did attend Columbia University.

But my family was Orthodox, unlike Greg’s. And my parents were very close to each other, unlike Greg’s parents.

Which details of Greg’s life correspond to my life? I’m not telling!

You write detailed descriptions of what a wolf senses, feels and does. How did you learn about this? What sort of research did you do?

At the age of 10 or 11, I became interested in wolves. A teacher of mine, named Mrs. Fox (no, I’m not making this up), gave me an LP narrated by the actor Robert Redford that gave a glimpse into wolf behavior and provided some great recordings of wolf howls. I loved it. In my 20’s, I read books and articles by Barry Lopez, L. David Mech, and others. In preparation for this book, I did even more reading and studied videos of wolves. It became something of an obsession.

Cover

How did you know how to craft the dialogue and banter between the characters in your book – so much of it is specific to certain age groups, etc?

I’m flattered by the question. Really, I just try to imagine how a particular character would speak. It takes more work, though, imagining the dialogue of female characters.

And working with a good editor certainly helps if you’ve struck a wrong note! Deborah Meghnagi Bailey‘s advice was invaluable.

What tips do you have for someone who is interested in writing fiction?

Okay, a few tips. But I’m not a veteran writer.

1) Writing an outline for a novel is a good idea. Even if you veer from the outline, you’ll still feel more secure if you have one. Also, sketching interiors is a good idea. You don’t want to put the stove on one side of the kitchen on page 14 and then end up putting it on the other side of the kitchen on page 237.

2) For Heaven’s sakes, write notes for yourself. If you try to keep all your ideas in your head, you’ll literally give yourself a headache. I wrote notes on two small whiteboards in my study. They saved my sanity.

3) Say a psalm or two and give a coin to charity before you start a writing session. Ask God for help.

4) I learned this one from Joseph Kaufman: Every part of your book should be as good as every other part. If you think one section is a little weak, you’ve got a problem.

5) If something sounds awkward, it is.

6) Take care of tiny details that no one else would notice.

7) No matter how hard you work, the book is not going to be perfect. You have to accept that.

8) Writing a book is not an impossible job, nor is it an exalted calling. Don’t idolize some famous authors, and in the process, disqualify your own work.

9) Write the kind of book that you yourself would like to read.

That’s it!