Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Nosh This, That and Especially Page 72

I have several vices, or virtues, depending on how you look at it, which, during the High Holiday season, is an interesting thing to ponder. One of them is books, which encompasses the love of the written word, an appreciation for the creativity of illustrators, and also the physical aspect of books that define almost all the rooms of my home. As Marcus Tullius Cicero said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” In the Jewish home, the kitchen is often the soul of the house. Providing nutritious, sustaining meals and enhancing holidays with customary and symbolic foods are integral functions of this room. How many people have warm memories of special foods made by a loving mother or relative, the smell or taste of which floods the senses with nostalgia?
Another vice (or virtue) is baking. Mixing ingredients and seeing them transform into a delicious dessert, the aroma of freshly baked items, and the fact that you normally don’t have to bake every day make it a little more special than cooking, which has to be done every day. Baking challah is a one way we transform a physical act into a spiritual one with intention and prayer (if you are separating challah).
So the intersection of books and baking is cookbooks. My collection ranges from an old notebook in which my grandmother wrote down recipes after some prodding. The secret recipes with “a handful of flour,” or “fill this cup half full of water” had to be converted to standard measurements because my mother’s and my hands are bigger than my grandmother’s and neither of us has her special cup. Then I have plenty of those spiral bound ones that were compiled by a local sisterhood or PTA. Though not very pretty, some of my best recipes come from these: simple and tasty. I also have several of the “cookbook as memoir” variety, where stories are dispersed amongst the recipes, or maybe the recipes are dispersed through the narrative. I’m a purist: although I love to look through cookbooks, I like to either cook/bake or read, not do both at the same time.
Then there are recent cookbooks, which are beautiful, with clear color illustrations accompanying every recipe, lots of white space around the recipe so it is easy to read, and detailed indexes of the content.
But what do you do when, because of food sensitivities, your family cannot partake in the treats of yesteryear made with wheat flour? You run, do not walk to the store (physical or online) and get the brand new Nosh on This: Gluten-Free Baking from a Jewish-American Kitchen by Lisa Stander-Horel and Tim Horel. It is published by The Experiment and distributed by Workman Books, and I thank my friends at both places for providing a PDF. I’ve hit the trifecta again:
  • a gorgeous cookbook
  • with recipes the whole family can enjoy that include some traditional Jewish favorites,
  • created by someone whose ancestors come from the same corner of the world as mine (Romania/Hungary/Transylvania).

In my case, it was my great-aunt who pined, “It’s so fresh, and it’s so dahlicious, and if you don’t eat it, I will have to throw it in the garbage.”
Many of the recipes are available on the author’s blog, Gluten-Free Canteen, but as already discussed, it’s just not the same unless you’re holding this book in your hands and debating whether to make another batch of Rugelach or try the Chocolate Babka (or make both because you never know you might stop by!)
Although all the recipes sound amazing, there are several that invoke the High Holiday spirit – the Apple Upside Down Cake with Pomegranate Honey Syrup (yes, on page 72), or the Honey Cake (page 71), or the Baked Honey Bites (page 138). One could even argue that the Linzer Hearts would remind us to open our hearts and that the Black and White cookies are a nice visual for illustrating the darkness of sins versus the whiteness of purification. But we decided to go even deeper than that. The mazal or astrological sign for this season is Libra, the scales. So as our good deeds are weighed in the Heavenly Court, we’re going to have some coffee and Goldie’s Pound Cake!
May we all be inscribed for a year of health, happiness, peace, and delicious gluten-free baked goods.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

E-Reading and Jerusalem

I recently joined the 21st century by purchasing an e-reader. For as long as I’ve felt like a Luddite, I’ve also felt ambivalent about getting one. I love the physical book. I love collecting books, holding books, looking through books, the smell of books, the sound of pages turning – a totally sensory experience before I even get to the contents of a book. But as they taught in library school, the content has not changed, just the format. So I wonder if those who had to “upgrade” from papyrus to codex, or from codex to book were feeling the same way.

Truth be told, there are some advantages. In the past, when I ordered books, there was the thrill of anticipation waiting for them to be delivered. Now, it’s pretty thrilling to have the books load into the e-reader automatically, especially when I need information immediately. I love highlighting passages, and I kind of like the estimated reading time. Two distinct disadvantages: if I’m in the middle of a good book, I can’t continue reading it on the Sabbath; or if the juice runs out at a really good part in the book, I have to stay close to an electrical outlet. Another disadvantage is that if you want to lend your friend a book, you have to lend her the e-reader, too, which I’m sure people do, but at the rate that people return borrowed books to me, I would not do it without taking some collateral (passport, first-born, etc.)
Thank you to Anna Levine for sending me The New York Times article “Books to Have and to Hold” by Verlyn Klinkenborg. She discusses her relationship with her e-reader, and she has similar concerns. “Physical books are constant reminders of what I’ve read. They say, ‘We’re still here,’ or ‘Remember us?’ These are the very things that e-books cannot say, hidden under layers of software, tucked away in the cloud, utterly absent when the iPad goes dark.”

Here’s what I’ve been reading.

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is getting a lot of attention. For those of us in Israel, we know the phrase in Arabic as Bukra fe mesh mesh. The apricot season here is relatively short, and people love apricots. In fact, the children collect the pits and play a game called “Gogo’im,” often creating elaborate boards with holes in which to pitch the pits.

But the deeper meaning is a little more quixotic, a little Orpan Annie, a little Scarlett O’Hara. It’s looking forward to something in an idealistic way. Just as I go to the supermarket waiting for the apricots to appear, and when they do, hoping they last for at least three weeks, my other hopes and dreams include world peace, an end to world hunger, and thin thighs. Tomorrow there will be apricots!

Back to the book. It has been getting rave reviews, and one friend finished it in less than three days. It started slow for me. The narration switches between Lorca, a fourteen-year-old girl who cuts herself as well as inflicting other types of wounds;  and Victoria, who gave up a daughter for adoption. Victoria’s husband, Joseph has passed away, and she and Lorca develop a relationship as Lorca takes cooking lessons from Victoria. I will not give away any more details. It stayed a slow read for me. I liked many of descriptions of food, weather, etc. by Jessica Soffer. Lorca and Victoria are sensitive women who feel their pain and sadness profoundly, so while some will revel in the depth of emotion, it was not my cup of tea. It wasn’t until the very end of the book that I felt the hopefulness implied in the title.

I was also happy to find a rather old one available as an e-book: My Name Is Asher Lev. I had to read this book, and, as mentioned above, it was amazing to have it download immediately, be able to highlight the book, and be able to carry it with me wherever I went. Why did I have to read this book?

I had the pleasure of representing the Association of Jewish Libraries at the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies. My presentation was entitled “Off the Derech and Onto the Page,” and I discussed books about Orthodox Jews that either leave the community completely or become less religious. Check the AJL Website for the bibliography. It was great to see other AJL members, and hear about a variety of library-related topics.

The view of Jerusalem from Hebrew University. Amazing!

Finally, I love Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen with illustrations by Shahar Kober (Kar-Ben, 2008). This multi-purpose book about the first train from Jaffa to Jerusalem manages to combine history, Israel, trains, and the meaning of a Jewish holiday. I enjoyed a visit to the old Jerusalem train station, which has been spruced up and includes shops, restaurants, a very cool train display, and plenty of space to walk around. As I walked along the tracks that remain, I thought about that journey in 1892.


Coming soon: Cooking for the Jewish holidays.