Thursday, July 15, 2021

Too Bad You Can't Speak Hebrew

6 Av 5781

    In a small grocery store in Modi'in, I met a wizened little Israeli as I was purchasing blueberries and a telescoping back scratcher. She was buying cigarettes, pitot and a small bottle of Arak. I marveled that there are indeed miracles visible to us, if only we choose to see, and wondered if my diet would get me to her age. She, however, was fascinated by the back scratcher, and wanted it explained to her. Fortunately, the young clerk explained in rapid Hebrew as I looked on, nodding and smiling and demonstrating like Carol Merrill on The Price is Right.
    Later, I met the same elderly lady at the crosswalk. "Third time, ice cream!" I quipped.
    She smiled at me. "You are not Israeli?"
    "Now I am," I replied proudly.
    "Where do you live?"
    "In Neve Daniel, in Gush Etzion. About half an hour south of Jerusalem." She didn't recognize the area, but she placed it in proximity to Jerusalem.
    "Where did you come from?"
    "The United States."
    "You don't speak Hebrew? How long have you been in Israel?"
    Aware of my deficiencies, I responded, "I'm embarrassed to say, almost fourteen years."
    "So long! You should speak Hebrew!"
    "I know, I know. I'm trying to learn. Ah! Here's our light. Have an amazing day!"
    As we crossed the street, she gave me many, many blessings, as is the custom of Mizrahi Jews. She ended with, "Stay healthy, Mahmee."
    "Amen! You, too, and all of us!"
     Why am I writing about this rather mundane conversation? Because the entire thing, every word, was in Hebrew. It may not have been perfect Hebrew, but there was not one word of English.
    I laughed to myself for some time as I walked to my children's apartment to babysit their youngest daughter so they could get at least a little work done in peace. We all are guilty of being stuck in our preconceptions sometimes, to the extent that we cannot even hear what language the other person is speaking. The best we can do is the best we can do... and love each other around our miscommunications, and laugh.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Where Everybody Knows Your Name: Prohibition Pickle

 23 Elul 5780.

I usually have cantaloupe or Greek yogurt with toasted almonds and goji berries and chia seeds for breakfast. But today I had a very unusual breakfast: I dined on Prohibition Pickle pickles.


I am easily tempted to try new flavors and to support local vendors. For this home business, I have a particular fondness. I have known Chaim Davids since he was a wee lad. His father, Rabbi Moshe Davids, taught each of my sons his bar mitzvah parasha. And his mother Shula was a local mikveh lady and a wonderful friend.

    

Many years ago, Chaim showed up at my door a few hours before he was to be a Shabbat guest... and proceeded to wow me with his kitchen expertise. He was humble about it. He played the role of respectful sous chef, and I gushed that he was one of the five people on the planet I can stand to work with in my kitchen. It wasn’t until later that I learned he had attended the Baltimore International College School of Culinary Arts and Hotel/Restaurant Management and had subsequently worked for California restaurants and wineries, as well as working as a mashgiach for the OU and the Vaad Hakashrut of NorCal. 


    

I have followed Chaim’s endeavors over the years since his aliyah. Besides marrying the lovely Batya and helping to bring into the world three adorable daughters, Chaim has created and locally-distributed ginger beer and beef jerky, and has helped to launch several popular food establishments such as Beer Bazaar in Mahane Yehuda, as well as maintaining a thriving personal chef business. 

    His most recent venture is pickling. What follows is my initial impression of some of these delicacies.




    Full Sour  These were nice and crispy, which is my first requirement for a pickle, but a bit too high-salt for my tastes, if eaten straight out of the jar (my usual preference); but chopped up and added to salad or inserted in a burger, they should be lovely. I'm hoping as the company grows, a lower-salt option will be available, because the other seasonings are quite enjoyable. 

              Not Quite Kraut  This one ended up surprisingly being my favorite, as I usually am not a sauerkraut fan. But the big chunks of cabbage and carrot were very tasty. Again, the brine itself is well-seasoned. 

              Bread and Butter  These days, we are avoiding sugar; but were not making a religion of it. To his credit, Chef Chaim Davids does call this one junk food, which is very fair. Who doesn't want to cheat a little now and then on the strict diet? These B&B pickles were not overly sweet; I loved that they were made of zucchini (that retained just the right amount of crispness); and the seasonings were tasty and intriguing. 

             All the pickles were beautiful and fragrant. The simply-designed labels are a pleasure. 

               I discussed my few problems with Chaim, and received very satisfactory answers:  

RE: Chaim, I would love an ingredient list and a little more information about the process. How much sugar am I eating? Is it refined sugar, or some healthier version? Is this more a brine (salt) recipe or vinegar recipe? What about the process are you especially proud of? (For example, are we talking probiotic here? If so, that should be trumpeted, as its all the rage these days.) 

CD: I need to find an affordable way to convey the product’s qualities, as labels are very expensive, and production is too small to justify bulk purchase. An ingredient list in my catalog is next  thanks for the tip! By the way, the only sugar is in the bread and butter pickles. And yes, most of the products are probiotic. And  wink-wink  one of the secret ingredients in the Mixed Dancing Spice Mix is nutritional yeast. I like to think that the products are a reflection of my personality, because I want them to be bold and punchy, but also wholesome and nutritious.

RE: What about the saltiness? 

CD: The main thing in fermenting is to win the war between good bacteria and bad bacteria. The high salt level comes with reason: being lacto-fermented, the brine needs to be between 3.5-4% salinity at least or I risk losing it to mold and Kahm yeast. I use no firming agents or preservatives in the full sours and cabbage, hence the full salt flavor. As you said, incorporated into meals is a great application.  If people want to learn more about fermenting, Im offering a pickling workshop series soon. You can follow us on our Facebook page for details.


             And then came lunch time... 

             Aryeh and his adorable son Coby came by and barbecued for us. (Well, Aryeh manned the grill. I followed Coby around as he taste-tested rocks, twigs, leaves and other assorted backyard goodies, insisting that none of them get an actual roll-around in the mouth. Even very cool boy-grandmas must set some limits.) I asked Aryeh’s honest opinion of the various pickles and condiments... and received my answers in wide-eyed yummy sounds. Verdict: these pickles are GREAT at enhancing burgers!



             As I am not interested in eating burger buns, I had my burgers on a bed of crispy Romaine, and tried each of Prohibition Pickle’s spreads and sauces. 



             The Dude Shemesh jalapeño-garlic sauce (besides being delightfully named, for Israelis) is gentler, but quite tasty. The G’Henom habanero sauce was hotter, and even more to my liking. I really enjoyed the Beet & Horseradish “gefilta enhancer,” and plan to use it for our yearly Rosh Hashana nod to eating gefilte fish. It is much more flavorful and has a more interesting texture than other chrain recipes we’ve tried. And now  drum roll, please  Ladies and gentlemen, I have found my new favorite mustard. It doesn’t have a name yet, beyond “Awesome Mustard,” but it is fragrant, flavorful, spicy, nicely-textured... in short, it is magnifique. (How about Magnifique Mustard, Mon Ami? Don’t thank me. I’m a giver.)

  


   While there is no official kashrut certification at this time, Chaim asserts that all ingredients are kosher mehadrinAfter the initial soft launch to determine which products offer the most mass appeal, he is planning to pursue certification. Until such time as he gets certification (an expensive proposition, as people in the food and beverage business know), all I can say is that I would eat in Chaim’s kitchen. 

   In short, the prices are no higher than you would expect for homemade craft products, the quality is exceptional, the flavors are, as they like to say in New Yawk, “to die for.” Check out Prohibition Pickle at https://www.facebook.com/Prohibitionpickle/ 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Where Everybody Knows Your Name: The M&M Gottlieb File

6 Tamuz 5780.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything for the “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” segment of my blog. COVID-19 has scared us out of nearly all dining away from home, which means there was a little money in the budget for a couple of adventures.

Also, in these economically-devastating times, if you’re going to spend your money at all, why not spend it to try to support the local small businesses of your choice? The team of Miriam and Marc Gottlieb does such remarkably fine work, we love to do business with them. Miriam crafts beautiful, light-and-color mosaic masterpieces. 

We have needed small tables for food and beverage, because replacing computers due to spillage is far outside our family budget. And Miriam communicates zealously to be sure that the finished product suits your individual tastes. The Dearly Beloved chose a guitar motif. He was happily surprised at how perfect and full of joyful color was the resulting work. I chose a colorful naïve-art house that looks like a place from which music and poetry might spring. Miriam is available at her Facebook page Mosaics by Miriam not only to create something you will love, but to teach classes in the art of making your own beautiful mosaics.

With so much time at home, learning a new art, especially along with family members, can add a lot of joy to the coming summer days.

Since the lads were all converging on us with their families for a pre-Shabbat birthday barbecue bash for two of the little girls, and it would be the first time we were seeing all of them together since Chanukah, we decided to give Marc the gift of allowing him to provide our Shabbat feast. And an elegant feast it was!

We had the Boeuf Bourguignon and the Magret d’Oie Fumée (my personal favorite). The Dearly Beloved really loved the beef, remarking several times that the dish was tender and flavorful, and that the mushrooms were absolutely delicious. I felt like royalty dining on the simultaneously rich and delicate goose breast, a treat I taste maybe twice every half-century. I always worry that breast meat will end up being dry; but this need not have concerned me. This dish was sublimeI’m not eating white potatoes these days, but the Dearly Beloved remarked, “Ah. This is exactly the way I like my potatoes!”

Speaking of royalty – the Duet de Tartinades is a dance on your taste-buds you must try at least once before you drop off the twig. Short of John Keats level poetry, I’m not sure I can give over to you how lovely this little duet was. “I feel like I could get used to being a rich person with a personal chef,” I remarked to the Dearly Beloved.  You never tasted chicken liver as refined as the Pâté de foie de poulet, graced with a not-overwhelming enhancement of wine. The Rillettes d’oie is perhaps the fanciest spread I have ever tasted, consisting of an awe-inspiring blend of bits of goose leg in oil and seasonings. It is so rich that I will be having a smidgen of it with my lunch for at least a week, reaching around to see where I left my queens crown every few moments.

We chose the Salade Grillée to accompany the mains. While among the dishes, this is the one I could have made myself, it was prepared perfectly, with finely grilled vegetables on a variety of fresh lettuces. We’re not usually dressing fans, but this one was perfectly balanced, worth throwing care to the winds and risking the extra calories.

There was no room for dessert, so we saved the very rich and tasty Tarte au Chocolat for Seudat Shlishit. The low-sugar recipe kept the chocolate cream from being cloyingly sweet. Rather, it was very satisfying to whatever sweet-tooth we still possess after years of dialing back our sugar addiction.

Marc is a culinary artist. Just as any musician or writer or painter crafts their work, Marc delights in making of food a thing of beauty and a joy forever. And when it’s in celebration of his birthday and of that of his favorite chef, Anthony Bourdain (may he rest in peace), he spares no artistic effort.

All I can say is that Tony would be proud.


To get your (delicious) meat-fix in before the Nine Days, check out Marc’s weekly S’wichboard menu for sumptuous and generous sandwiches. Not only is the meat (and vegetarian fare) varied and delicious, but the prices are extremely reasonable, and he delivers to Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. There’s even the added attraction of a “buy 9, the 10th is free” membership card. B’teyavon!

Photos either my own or used with permission.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Nuance in the Question

5 Kislev 5780.

A really great marriage has moments over the decades of falling in love again.

There are certain things about Israel that make me fall in love with her over and over again, even after 12 years.

I needed to travel via three buses covering many kilometers and a couple of hours to make a shiva visit yesterday. My friend was here from America saying her last goodbyes to her dear mother. Without a large community of friends and family around, all of us former Baltimoreans feared she might be alone. So we did our best to take shifts.

During my travel time there and back, I met several interesting women. My new tutor, Leah, will be so proud of me: most of my conversations were necessarily in Hebrew. I heard stories of Jewish refugees from Arab and African countries. A beautiful but deeply-scarred woman gave me a first-hand account of crossing the Sudan for ultimate rescue via Operation Moses in 1984. I heard another story about a family's struggle to get from Tripoli to Tunisia -- being in a concentration camp there, fed bread with cockroaches in it, and the rescue that came just as this Libyan camp was preparing to follow the crematorium practice of Germany. Another elderly lady gave me spontaneous brachot (blessings) for the health that she herself clearly felt was slipping away. Our five minutes together were made entirely of the acknowledgement that health is everything, and mutual blessings for each other and for all our families, and of course, lots of "Amen." A young Sephardi woman spent several seconds giving me brachot and calling me "neshama," then gave up her seat to an elderly passenger. The older woman declined. "Shvi, Mahmee, shvi!" (Sit, dearie, sit!) The young woman wasn't having any of that, so they both stood for a while before the older lady finally gave in.

Once we got past the "where are you from?" part of the discussions, every one of them asked me: "Mi yesh lach po?" (Literally, "Who have you here?")

First, some background. In America in the Olden Days -- young people: "the Olden Days" refers to all time before humans were plugged into their individual cell phone worlds, sort of a pre-Matrix existence -- you could have some fascinating conversations with complete strangers on buses, trains and airplanes. Travelers might share their itineraries, and locals would politely ask things like, "So, what brings you to town?" Or perhaps, more abruptly, "Why are you here?" (They meant it in the nicest possible way, bless their hearts.)

In Israel, the fellow travelers (who dispense brachot like Tic Tac mints) most often ask, "Who is here that brings you all this way?"

I love people and I have loved traveling in different countries, immersing in other cultural styles of communication.

But my favorite, the love of my life, is this Israeli family-centric culture. Even after 12 years of living here, I never tire of the "who" of Israel that supersedes the "what."

Who brings you here, neshama? I give you brachot for health and long life and much joy from your families, those you've built or those you've adopted.

Photo credit: Elana Dressler