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Kosher Like Me
Liz keeps a Kosher kitchen at home and food truly excites her. She is always on the lookout for great restaurants, farmers markets, food festivals, and passionate food innovators. Liz spends much of her time researching and exploring extraordinary dining and food events. And today, we’re going to chat about the Jewish holidays and, of course, the food that surrounds them.
I am so happy to have Liz Rueven, editor and chief eater of Kosher Like Me, here today.
(*All photos below are Liz’s.)
On the Five Jewish Holidays Starting the Fall:
So, we begin with Rosh Hashanah, which literally means, the head of the New Year and it’s the Jewish New Year. We eat foods that are symbolic of new beginnings and good luck. So we often eat sweet things. There’s an association most people know between apples and honey. Apples are an early fall fruit, and the honey is really part of the beginning of most meals where we dip the apple in honey, and we wish everyone a sweet New Year. A lot of the other foods are really about, bountiful, full wishes, for example, pomegranates.
Pomegranates have many, many seeds. I know that you read my post and my recipe for pomegranate and honey glazed chicken on one of my favorite websites, a website I contribute to, called The Nosher. Pomegranates have like millions of gazillions of seeds, they’re very difficult to dislodge, as you know, because I gave a little technique that I borrowed from a fellow blogger, a blogger friend of mine. But, the pomegranate is so plentiful in the fruit that we use it as a symbolic food, wishing that all of the good omens and good wishes will be as plentiful as the number of seeds in that fruit.
There are many other foods associated with Rosh Hashanah but, 10 days after that we go on to Yom Kippur, which is the most solemn day in the year, and there’s no food. So we fast for what turns out to be about 26/27 hours. But at the end of that fast, of course, there’s a feast, like in every culture after a fast. There are many traditional foods, that I don’t know are really symbolic, but we just tend to eat them. Different cultures eat different things, my background is Eastern European, I would say the most quintessential thing that we eat is a noodle pudding or kugel.
On my blog, every year, I post a different recipe for noodle kugel. I have a very traditional one, and then last year I posted one with lemon and ricotta cheese. This year we’re posting a recipe for a noodle pudding or kugel with apple and fennel. It’s a great thing to eat because it’s very satisfying, and it’s very comforting, and it’s very filling. That’s what happens at the end of the fast.
And then, right after that, we have a harvest festival called Sukkot, and people erect temporary structures outside, and people who are really observant, live in those, eat all three meals in those, and sleep in those. They’re called a sukkah, and when, for those of us who don’t eat every meal in them, we often try to eat dinner in them.
Invariably, it’s cold and rainy, all of a sudden the weather shifts in the northeast at that time, probably in Vancouver, too. And so the focus is really, not only on the harvest foods, but I always focus on the warming foods, so I start to integrate warming spices and dishes like soups and casseroles. It’s usually when I take out my slow cooker also. So this year, we’ll be posting a butternut squash soup, that should be really delicious. Butternut squash grows in the northeast at this time of year and it’s a great thing to just throw in the slow cooker and just have simmering.
If you’re eating outside in your sukkah, you’re going to want something like that and warm foods. All of the sudden we shift from the salads to things like that.
Then, we have the next holiday, which is a celebration of the laws that were given to us in Sinai, and it’s called Simchat Torah, which really means the joy of Torah, which are the laws. And in general, people do stuffed foods for this holiday. Things that imply full bounty, so that there’s a lot of joy. And then, we end the five holidays with Hanukkah, which is always focused on oil, which we never really eat very much of.
We fry things, donuts, potato latkes, all variations of things fried in celebration of the miracle that occurred, historically, when a vessel of oil that was supposed to last only a few days, lasted a whole week. Which, was enough time to produce more oil. So the oil thing gets really big, and what’s really fun is making lots of different kinds of pancakes, wheat pancakes, potato pancakes, sweet potato pancakes, zucchini, or apple, all sorts of pancakes, deep-fried, so for those of us who are more health conscious, it’s like a time of year where we say, “What the heck, we’re eating fried, it’s Hanukkah.”
So, that’s the five holidays.
On Starting Kosher Like Me:
My home is strictly Kosher, and when we’re away from our home, we do exactly what my grandparents did. My grandparents were immigrants from Poland, they came to the lower east side of New York City, and they found that there were a lot of choices of things to eat. They just started eating fish and vegetarian when they were away from their Kosher home. Today, we have so many great choices of vegetarian and vegan restaurants that it’s really almost effortless. In those days, people would have a side order of string beans, because that was what was available if you didn’t want to eat chicken, or meat, or whatever was offered in a restaurant, so it’s completely different today.
My intention was really to be a resource for people who honor the rules like I do, because when I travel, I do a lot of research. Friends would say, “If I’m going to Aspen, where should I eat? Where do they have a lot of vegetarian choices?” But what’s happened is, I write so much about vegetarian and vegan, because I write so much about what I do outside of my kitchen, that I have a much broader base of followers than I ever expected. I have vegetarian, vegan, Jewish, not Jewish, Muslim, all sorts of people who are also just interested in healthy food. Because I really only eat and only write about things that are happening seasonally anyway. It’s a trend and people really are interested in it. For us, it’s just the way we always eat.
On the Best Part of Being Editor and Chief Eater of Kosher Like Me:
I would say I love meeting with creative people who are either, small producers, for example, honey makers, who have small backyard apiaries, or people who are making inventive products like my friends at the Gefilteria in Brooklyn, who have revived the old tradition of making gefilte fish and they’re making it sustainable, interesting, healthy, hip again. I really love meeting with the makers and the farmers. I do a lot of work at farms, especially trying to support my Connecticut agricultural scene. I love meeting the farmers, and the growers, and the makers. I like that better than eating in restaurants and writing food reviews, actually.
When I started writing four or five years ago, the approach to reinventing traditional Jewish foods was not as vibrant as it is now. For example, I’m part of a kosher food bloggers network, and that’s what we call ourselves, The Kosher Food Bloggers Network, and we are all across the country, and there was so much interesting rethinking of traditional foods. Four or five years ago, it wasn’t as energetic or vibrant a community or a scene. I would say that has been a big and wonderful exciting surprise.
Whitney and Amy, from Jewhungry and What Jew Wanna Eat, as you know, I co-authored a book with them. Those are my friends. What was really exciting was that we brought such different perspectives to it, Amy coming from Connecticut originally but living in Austin, Texas, has a completely different view of things than I do here. Whitney was in Miami, she has since moved to LA, so now her view has changed again, but she was a southern girl. I have these roots deep in the New York area and there was one other, there were four of us who wrote the book, and we called the book, Four Bloggers Dish.
The other person who contributed was Sarah Lasry, and she comes from a much more observant background. She brought a whole different perspective, and she was the one who kept saying, “I think we need more meat in this book guys,” and the three of us are like, “I don’t know.” It was great, yeah, you’ve met some of the cream of the crop.
On Her Passion for Food:
I went back recently and I read my first blog post, which was in 2011, and I wrote about my grandfather. My grandfather was a traditional Jewish baker, and he came from Poland, he had three or four years as a young teen, as an apprentice, where he was sent away from his family, and he learned how to bake bread. When he came to this country, he baked bread and lots of other things, and I grew up with my grandparents coming to my home every Sunday. He would bring things like the most delicious rye bread, and onion rolls, and challah, and jelly donuts. So, he was one of my inspirations, but I have to say that my grandmother was a brilliant baker in her own right.
So it was just interesting that even though he would bring stuff home from the bakery, she baked also. The reason she baked, this really blew me away when I really thought about it, is because so many members of my family had food allergies, so she baked at home in order to avoid using eggs and dairy. She was a vegan baker. She was born at the end of the 1800s and she developed all of these recipes, never wrote them down, she couldn’t read, she couldn’t write, she was illiterate. But she developed all of these recipes, and it turns out, as I thought about it, they were vegan.
It’s just crazy because half my cousins and my sister were allergic to eggs and dairy. So, I would say my grandparents are my greatest inspiration.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
Well, there’s a new show about to launch, that I really am very excited about, it’s called Holy and Hungry, and it’s with Sherri Shepherd, and she goes to lots of different people who cook with an eye towards their religious background. She interviews people with Hindu perspectives and beliefs, and Muslim perspectives, and Orthodox Jewish perspectives, she goes to Christian cooks who are making foods from the Bible.
This show to me is super exciting, you have to look for it, it’s called Holy and Hungry. To me, that’s the most exciting.
I love Chopped, of course, because I really can’t get over the kinds of ingredients that they throw at these poor contestants. I really admire them for being so responsive and clever and being able to keep their wits about them. I would just have a total meltdown but, that’s why they’re competing. The opposite of that is Ina Garten because she’s so soothing and you want to be in her buttery arms, and they’re very, not her arms, but the food is so buttery. So I would say those would be three shows that I do love.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Well, I don’t know if you read The Kitchn, I really love The Kitchn, my daughter, who’s in her 20s, turned me on to it. It’s just such a huge resource. It covers so much and I love her how-tos, how to make a Caesar salad, how to handle winter squashes. I love what she does in that blog. I know she’s got a whole team.
I read and contribute to a blog called The Nosher, and so to nosh means to snack, so The Nosher really covers a ton of Jewish food trends, and edited by someone named Shannon Sarna, so her voice is very prominent in there, she’s like a master challah baker, she does all sorts of crazy and wacky challah recipes.
But of equal importance, she solicits posts from kosher and Jewish food bloggers who have very different perspectives on things. So there’s this great overview of what people are doing across the country and I love that. There’s a blog called, May I Have That Recipe, and it’s two sisters, I think they’re in Philly, and they write vegetarian, and vegan, and kosher, and their recipes are really inventive, and I’ve met them through my bloggers network. I really love what they’re doing. They’re smaller so props to them. They have a big readership, they really do. You can hear their voices in there, it’s really beautiful, and they act like such sisters, really fun.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
Okay. My favorite feed on Instagram is called, MyGarbage.
When you look at this, to me, it is the most beautiful feed on Instagram. He, I think it’s a he, shoots his rectangular, white, garbage pail with all of the scraps from a dish that he’s made, but he arranges them. They look incredibly gorgeous, and I think for me, there’s a little message about food waste, which is that we could be reducing and we could be reusing, well not reusing the waste, but using it differently because he doesn’t even post his recipes, he just posts the ingredients which you see in the garbage pail. All of his photos are identically set up. And it’s very rhythmic and interesting to see them.
I love, love, love him. I love David Lebovitz, who is in Paris. He’s got a very funny voice, and he writes all about baking and cooking as an American in Paris, and he’s a brilliant photographer, and he’s very funny. There’s another person from Philly, and her feed is called Food In Jars, and it’s all about her preserving, and conserving, and putting up ingredients that she loves, and I just find it fascinating to see what she’s doing. Food In Jars, it’s great.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
Well, I have a beautiful collection of ceramic handmade, plates, platters, bowls. I’m a really big sucker for big platters, big bowls. When I travel, I buy these things, which are really, really inconvenient and difficult to carry back. But I don’t care, I just feel like I’m bringing back the soul of an artist. I just get stuff, if you saw my kitchen right now, I have piles of tomatoes on a platter, and I have all sorts of things piled, like pears here in Connecticut in a big, deep, gorgeous hand-thrown ceramic bowl, so I would say, those are my most precious items.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
I don’t know, there aren’t that many things that I’ve really converted to liking. I like most things, the one thing I don’t like and I haven’t gotten to like it at all is smoky profiles. I just feel like I’m licking an ashtray. I have no interest in that at all. So if people gift me smoky salts, whoever is around is really lucky because I’ll pass them on right away. So I can’t say that I started to like something that I didn’t like, I would just say that’s what I don’t like.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Well, by training, I’m an art historian, so I think that I really love to read food history. I took a fantastic class at the New School in New York City, the teacher was Andrew Smith, and he wrote an encyclopedic book called, The Oxford Companion to American Eating and Drinking. If it’s 4th of July, or I’m thinking about, I don’t know, avocados or something, whatever it is, I might turn to his book first and see what he has to say about it.
Parallel to that, and right next to it on my shelf, is an encyclopedia, it’s called, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods, by someone who unfortunately has passed away. His name was Gil Marks, and he was a brilliant inspiration and researcher to his community, and so when a holiday comes up, I always look to him first, and I get an overview and a refresher. He covers everything, he covers the meaning of the holiday and the meaning of a food. And you can also just look into his book, just look up an ingredient, so it could be something like peaches. And he’ll talk about peaches, or he’ll at least lead you to a recipe for peaches. But beyond the history, I really loved The Forest Feast.
I love her work. I love these hand drawings and the simplicity of her recipes. It helps me to get out of my head and just keep it really simple. Also, I love Beatrice Peltre, La Tartine Gourmande, her photographs I think are among the most beautiful food photographs I’ve ever seen, and when I look at her work, her blog, or her book, which I have, that’s really awe inspiring.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
Well, I really like hearing The Stones when I cook, The Rolling Stones. That’s real rock and roll and I’ll listen to anything The Stones have ever done and just be happy to play with that.
On Keeping Posted with Liz:
Well, a lot of my readers are still turning to Facebook. Everything is @KosherLikeMe. I post probably numerous times a day on Instagram, and you can subscribe to my blog and see what I’m up to each week.