86 posts categorized "Diary"

01 December 2010

Chanukah 2010

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah. I want to wish everyone a very Happy Chanukah, full of as many deep fried things and presents as you could possible consume.

Given that it is that time of year of unbridled consumerism and gluttony, can I point to you to my very own shop, kindly hosted by Amazon.  I've listed some of my favourite books and kitchen equipment.  If you're particularly looking for bookish inspiration, I've got more listed in what I've pompously named my library.

If you just want a bit of schmaltz, then watch the video below.  Take it away Harrison Avenue School 2007 Kindergarten.


11 October 2010

Passion at last: Gefiltefest

Most of the time I cannot help but feel despondent about kosher food.  External threats, in particular to shechita are a regular occurence, but appear to be gaining a particular head of steam at the moment with some illogical legislation that is passing through the European Parliament. 

The really depressing thing though is the attitude of the community itself.  There is a saying, ask two Jews a question and you'll get three opinions.  Yet, it seems to me that when it comes to food, this argumentative community goes mute and loses its critical faculties.

Consumers don't seem to care what they're eating.  Producers, regulators and suppliers are seemingly happy with the status quo given the lack of dynamism.  As a result, when we face a threat like we are currently doing from the European Parliament, there are very few knowledagable advocates for kashrut. 

Lots of people can tell you the laws of kashrut and the religious reasons for keeping them.  Very few can defend it in a wider context, can argue against the incorrect view that shechita is cruel or that stunning animals is humane.  Very few are willing to fight to be heard that some of the inherent rules of kashrut do mean that animals are better cared for than in many secular abattoirs.  Equally, there are very few people who walk into a kosher supermarket and balk at the unseemly quantity of over-processed foods that weigh down the aisles.

And then Gefiltefest happens and my hope starts to be restored.  On a soggy Sunday almost 300 people gathered to discuss Jewish food.

Yes, calling something Gefiltefest is meshugah, but come on it is a brilliant name and I for one am ever so slightly peeved I didn't think of it first.  I suppose I could always start a rival, Schmaltzfest. 

Anyway, whilst the name may have got my attention initially, what warmed my heart was seeing so many people in one place, passionate about Jewish food.  True, there were a lot of eccentrics, but I've come to realise that all too often campaigners are denigrated for what makes them so interesting.

It wasn't just an opportunity to fress, although there was plenty of that.  It was also an opportunity to learn, discuss and think about what next.  And as you might gather from the adage above, there were a lot of opinions, but in my view, now is exactly the time we need some vigorous debate.

The talks I went to were diverse and pretty fascinating:  Maureen Kendler on the history of Jewish cookbooks; Kevin Sefton on the attempt for making the Jewish community self-sufficient in Rosh Hashanah honey or Leon Pein on organic kosher food.  I didn't agree with everything I heard, some of it was pretty wacky, but everyone cared deeply.

I was delighted to hear from organiser Michael Leventhal that Gefiltefest 2011 is already booked for May 22nd.  My wishlist for that event would be for it to have kosher food, but delicious, interesting and exciting food provided by someone passionate with what they're serving.  This is not a plea for the same old viennas and latkes (however tasty they may be).  I'd like to discover small kosher producers and suppliers, again people with a passion.  I'd love to hear a debate between a kosher caterer, a butcher, a kosher shop owner and someone from the London Beth Din to discuss regulation and food pricing.  Organising the programme is not my thing, I'll leave that to Michael.  I'll just offer up another opinion.

22 September 2010

Gefiltefest 2010, 3 October

image from www.silverbrowonfood.com
It's a bloody brilliant name.  It's informative and amusing at the same time.  It's catchy and I'd guess trademarkeable. Gefiltefest 2010.  You know what it's about.  There's going to be fressing and kibbitzing about nosh.

Receiving the email from indomitable organiser Michael Leventhal I'd assumed this was going to be another New York based event that I could only wish to attend.  But no, this is taking place in London on 3 October. 

The programme looks interesting and varied and a great start. I'm particularly pleased to see the involvement of Hazon, a US based organisation focused on improving the food we eat.  There are other elements I'd like to see in the future, such as orthodox rabbis attending.  I also think that these sorts of events should be under kosher supervision, but I appreciate that is a logistical and financial nightmare - again maybe something for next time.

I'm hoping to go along.  If you want to as well, then let Michael know if you're interested [email protected].

One important point: if you do go, you should try to take along any kosher (i.e. with a hechsher) sealed  products that you have spare.  Something like tuna, soup packets, crackers, barley, rice, pasta, cereals, tea, coffee, to leave in a collection box that will be distributed on the day.  The food collected will be given to www.jgift.org, which will then distribute the food to the needy.

07 September 2010

Shana Tova Umetukah

To all my readers who observe such things, I hope you and your families have a very happy and healthy new year and keep well over the fast.

In the past I've made some irreverant remarks linking Rosh Hashanah to the grub I've been eating in the past year, or my plans for the coming year.  I don't feel that way inclined today.  

Instead, I'm genuinely looking forward to the time the Yomim Noraim will give me to reflect and think.  I hope you have a peaceful one as well.

31 August 2010

Rosh Hashanah 2010

That nip in the air this morning means only one thing: Rosh Hashanah is around the corner and that means time to think of large quantities of food to feed the masses.

Actually, this year the masses are a bit depleted, so I reckon bollito misto is a bit too full on.  Perhaps time to reprise salt beef or pot au feu?  Certainly an opportunity for chopped liver and chicken soup is a given.  I'm not sure I'm in the mood for kreplach (which I now see I've never written about, something else to add to the to do list), but they are very good, so they might make the cut.

I think I will delve into one of the Ottolenghi books for some salad inspiration.  With the lunar calendar dictating that Rosh Hashanah falls relatively early this year, I might just still be able to take advantage of some late summer bounty.  It also means that I'm late in the game thinking about my menus a week and a half in advance.

I always get a bit stumped on desserts although my apple and pepper sorbet tends to be quite popular and family can always be trusted to bring cake, fruit and other delights.  Maybe I should make a second sorbet, something berry related might work well.

Time to get thinking and ordering.

08 December 2009

Latkes in Covent Garden

Last week's latkes were sensational.  I have it on good authority that this week's are set to be an improvement. 

To the uninintiated a latke is a food that deserves due reverence.  To dismiss it as a bit of fried potato, onion and egg is to misunderstand the alchemy that occurs when those three ingredients are combined, salt is added and they're deep fried to a crisp puck.

The University of Chicago is the home of some of the greatest (/most controversial) economists of our time.  It is also home of the annual Latke vs Hamantaschen debate.  You don't need to worry about what Hamantaschen are, but suffice to say latkes are the clear winners, however obscure the debate gets.

Chanukah starts this Friday, and as I mentioned last week, we tend to eat fried foods on Chanukah and that means eating latkes.

Which is why Dan Young of Young and Foodish is not only freezing his tuches off in Covent Garden this Thursday and Friday, but will also be lighting chanukkah candles on Friday at 4pm.  I'll overlook the minor issue that he'll be lighting candles once Shabbat has come in and instead focus on the fact that he's a mensch.

Fress and be merry.

25 November 2009

It's holid-a-a-a-a-y time

We are entering what is euphemistically called the 'holiday season'.  That period when we are too afraid to insult others by pointing out what we'll be doing during the month of December.  So being Jewish, it goes without saying I'd be horrified if anyone acknowledged that December 25th was Christmas, and similarly any Christians out there don't need to worry about the signficance of the eight days of Chanukah, and all of us can do as we did last year and turn to Google to remind ourselves what Kwanzaa is.  If I've missed out any holidays, do forgive me, I blame a combination of my ignorance and lack of political correctedness.

Nonetheless, whichever way you cut it, there be food and gifts in many of our immediate futures.

Because I assume there are others out there as ignorant as me, here is a quick summary of Chanukah: it is a celebration of light.  It commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple and the miracle that the Neir Tamid - the eternal flame - in the Temple stayed alight for eight days. 

But as I say, most people don't really care about the history, they want to know how we celebrate.  So the answer is with a bit of singing, but most importantly eating fried things, sfuganyot (doughnuts) are a particular favourite and giving gifts.  And as there are eight nights, tradition has it that you give gifts on each of those eight.

So, for those of you looking to give gifts to your foodie loving friends here are my top 8 recommendations for gifts:
  1. A subscription to Fire & Knives.  The first edition has just been published and it promises to be one of the more exciting developments in food writing.  Beautifully presented and packed full of articles from those you will have heard of and some you won't.  I was swiftly reminded that there is something visceral about the printed word that is sadly lacking from pixels on a screen.
  2. To continue the theme of the printed word, the cookbook I was both most pleased and saddest to see this year was the re-print of Floyd on Food.  The death of Keith Floyd was a sad moment, but this slim tome is a reminder of why so many of us held him in such affection.
  3. Last year I waxed lyrical about The Big Fat Duck Cookbook.  This year, they brought out the slimmer The Fat Duck Cookbook.  It's the same content but not with all the artsy fartsy presentation (which I still think was worth the money) which means that at current Amazon prices that is £19.21 against £78.94.
  4. Because this is Chanukah, we need a bit of a Jewish theme.  David Sax's Save the Deli, based on his excellent blog, has just been published.  It's a social history of Jews, primarily in the US told through the medium of meat.
  5. But of course, David Sax is actually talking about Ashkenazi food because there is no such thing as Jewish food in the same way there is no such thing as Indian food.  Geography is everything as Mama Nazima's Jewish Iraqi Cuisine reminds us.  It's not necessarily the most accessible of books, but it is a fascinating read into a dying culture.
  6. You'll need to be on your toes for all this reading so caffeine is a must.  You can't do better than a six or twelve month subscription from Square Mile Coffee Roasters.  You'll get some of the best coffees there are delivered to your door (or that of your loved one) every month.
  7. Whilst we're on the topic of hot drinks, it wouldn't be very British of me if I didn't mention tea.  And when I do mention tea the only person worth talking about is the Rare Tea Lady, Henrietta Lovell.   One of her finest offerings is the Jasmine Silver Tip, very possibly the best way to relax with your clothes on (or off, I suppose). 
  8. It wouldn't be a holiday without a bit of tipple and the drink of choice for so many of my brethren is whiskey - to do with laws on wine - and it doesn't come much better than Compass Box.  They're not easy to find, but they are worth digging out.  Although I'm not a Laphroaig fan The Peat Monster is pretty special.
Happy holidays one and all.