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Delicious Dairy Dishes for Shavuot

Wednesday, June 08, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Sophie Siegel

Shavuot is a celebration of when the Jewish people received the Torah on Mount Sinai. In the Jewish tradition, Shavuot is celebrated by indulging in meals cooked with dairy products. In some cultures, people observe the holiday by staying up all night to learn the Torah, and some communities take advantage of the spring weather by organizing large picnics.

The origins of these traditions are often disputed. One explanation is that we eat dairy to commemorate the giving of the Torah, which King Solomon compares to milk: "Like honey and milk, it lies under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). Another explanation is that since the Torah was given on Shabbat, no cattle could be slaughtered or dish made kosher, so they chose to eat dairy. Regardless of the origin, the use of dairy products makes for many inventive and delicious meals.

The Holiday Kosher Baker provides great recipes for delicious holiday dishes. The author, Paula Shoyer, includes recipes made specifically for the Jewish holidays: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot. For Shavuot, Shoyer abides by the traditional customs of the holiday, providing rich-in-dairy recipes that do not have dairy-free alternatives. Shoyer’s background in the art of French pastries led her to convert her favorite dairy desserts into “parve versions.” Some of her most delightful dairy desserts include her family’s noodle kugel recipe, caramelized cakes called cannelés, caramelized mocha and vanilla bean napoleons, chocolate mille-crêpes cake, white chocolate mousse cake, and brioche challah.

The recipes in Ina Pinkney’s autobiographical cookbook Ina’s Kitchen: Taste Memories and Recipes from the Breakfast Queen are easy to make and aesthetically pleasing. Some of her recipes are prepared with dairy products, perfect for Shavuot, including a pasta frittata layered with many types of cheeses. In The New Persian Kitchen, a compilation of Louisa Shafia’s reimagined Persian recipes, Shafia includes a recipe for Greek-style yogurt, which can be paired with vegetables, fruit, and pita or can accompany any entrée. For dessert, readers have the choice between her dairy-filled recipes for mulberry yogurt cake and saffron frozen yogurt and cardamom pizzelle sandwiches.

In The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen, Amelia Saltsman brings a fresh approach to traditional Jewish cooking. For Shavuot, she shares many dairy based recipes. Especially enticing is her pashtida, Israeli noodle or egg casserole: Saltsman’s recipe calls for baked pasta, spinach, ricotta, and brown butter. Another appetizing meal for Shavuot from Saltsman’s trove is a cheese and honey filo pie, which integrates three different kinds of cheese and is served with warm honey atop to create a perfect blend of sweet and savory.

Dairy-based desserts are a rich indulgence during Shavuot, as they are rarely consumed in kosher households following a traditional meat meal for most other holidays and occasions. Milk and honey are transformed into culinary delicacies in Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, written by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. Their recipe for chocolate babka is mouth-watering, filled to the brim with chocolate. Their recipe for honey cake with apple confit is traditional, but can be paired with both sweet and savory foods like coffee or goat cheese.

Although Shavuot is a big holiday for dairy and wheat-based dishes, there are some really great alternatives to suit different dietary needs. In The New Yiddish Kitchen: Gluten-Free and Paleo Kosher Recipes for the Holidays and Every Day, Simone Miller and Jennifer Robins share their gluten-free and kosher recipes for the holidays. Sprinkled into the mix are original substitutions to condiments and sauces, including recipes for dairy-free sour cream and dairy-free butter.

These cookbooks provide you with the necessary foundations for creating the perfect Shavuot meal: dairy from start to finish!

Sophie Siegel is a student at Emory University and a current intern for the Jewish Book Council.

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Internal Dialogue: What's With All the Social Justice Seders?

Thursday, April 09, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

I’m afraid to admit it, but I have little patience for Passover. Almost none. And the seder least of all.

Don’t get me wrong: I observe the holiday to the letter. I clean out the house, sell my chametz, and subsist on a standard diet of matzah, cream cheese, and eggs with the variable vegetable and odd protein for the entire week, and I not only endure but participate in both seders with my family as I have done since the good ol’ Ma Nishtana days. And I hate every minute of it.

Partly, I just don’t do well with structure. As both a product and proponent of alternative education, I struggle with the hours of prescribed “order” that we’re all forced to adhere to on this so different a night: stand up, sit down, lean to the left, say this, drink that, eat this, eat that, now sing… It feels more like a rigid second grade day school classroom than a meal, let alone a celebratory feast. And, much like that same second grade classroom, the strictly regimented agenda doesn’t yield proportionate efficiency—in fact, it feels, just the opposite.

Mainly, though, it’s the repetition that gets to me: the required regurgitation of the same story year after year. It’s gone from boring to insufferable and at some moments even oppressive—and that’s just the impatience, before the late hour or physical hunger sets in—but I bear through the retelling two nights in a row every year because that part is unquestionably essential to Judaism and Jewish identity—for, as we know all too well, in every generation one must see oneself as though they, too, left Egypt.

There are many in the Jewish community who have chosen to interpret that imperative as a summons to reflect on the events and ills of our lifetime and more recent history: college chaplains organize “freedom seders” joining Jewish and black students on campus; women convene on feminist seders and family members clash over current Israeli policies; rabbis at the pulpit bring up the uncomfortable realities of slavery in our time—on that note, if you read one other essay today, make it this one (although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t written by a rabbi).

The seder also becomes a fertile millennial arena for the social justice bender Jews in their twenties and thirties are on with renewed fervency at the approach of every holiday. This year more than any other (yet), social media housed countless queries and responses for social justice haggadot and supplements—, for example, assembles their top ten picks of new social justice-themed Passover resources each year—and that’s a wonderful thing. But even with the obvious parallelable narratives of freedom and oppression, there’s something curious about an entire generation insisting on telling a multitude of other peoples’ stories on a night we’re supposed to focus entirely on our own one. Is the Exodus somehow less meaningful, less critical to Jewish history or the modern experience, if it isn’t directly relatable to the world around us and its victims? Why on this night do we continue to layer stories on top of the one we’re required to tell?

Reading The Lost Book of Mormon (it’s a Jewish book—very Jewish, I promise, bear with me here) I was inspired to think of the social justice seder phenomenon in terms of a book—more accurately, in terms of a book series, or any narrative-driven franchise. In relating new stories and new struggles to the Passover narrative, these supplements create a sequel to the Exodus. Seder participants take one of our most glorious tales and stretch it across centuries so as to continue to enjoy the original by connecting with not only to the story but the storytelling itself. As Avi Steinberg observes in in his new memoir:

Maybe our tendency to make sequels is somehow embedded in how we think. Just as we want and need a story to end, we also want and need a story to never end. We make sequels as a way of bringing our stories closer to life. As a matter of convention and convenience, stories have endings, but if we were to tell them honestly, stories would never end, just like life, whose dramas dip in and out of time and memory, are recalled, shared, stolen, reprised, recovered, revised—anything but neatly concluded. A sequel may well be a deformed kind of story, a pale likeness—as its critics have long charged—but even if it’s silly or tragic or nobly deluded or tainted by a shameless profit motive, or, more likely, all of these at one, then all the more is it like life.

Steinberg’s rumination on the sequel began with watching new episodes of The Simpsons at his laundromat and realizing that in two decades since the show premiered, nothing in the animated world of Springfield had ever changed, its denizens stuck in a bright, eternal Groundhog Day:

Sequels don’t necessarily believe in progress, but they do insist on the passing of time, or at the very least a change of place. By contrast, a serial like The Simpsons can remain in a state of animated paralysis for eternity.

Critic Terry Castle has described sequels as tragic because they are motivated by a desperate human need to reproduce the original sensation of some pleasurable experience, an impulse, a “mad hope,” she says, that is fated to miserable disappointment. But when I saw Bart still throwing spitballs at Springfield Elementary over twenty years later, that to me seemed like the tragedy of repetition: Sisyphus on a skateboard.

At the Passover seder each year, Judaism makes that same attempt to reproduce the original sensation of one of the greatest miracles ever witnessed by our ancestors: the Israelites’ liberation from slavery, by the hand of God. But the haggadic retelling isn’t a sequel; it’s a loop; it’s Bart Simpson’s same old antics week after week; it’s forty years circling the same patch of desert. We know that experience all too well—and how it can lead to communal loss of faith, rebellion, kvetching, and even idol worship [see: Golden Calf].

In finding a sequel to the Passover story—in the histories and current issues of Civil Rights, feminism, and modern social justice movements—perhaps we restore our faith by breaking out of that cycle, just enough to bring it closer to life. It reifies that the story didn’t end—that the story of the Jewish people didn’t end—with Exodus, that it is an evolving legacy rather than an outgrown or outgrowable childhood tale. We want to relive the experience of leaving Egypt without despairing of it, without growing bored, without losing appreciation for this among the narrative pillars of Jewish history.

The power of the sequel, Avi Steinberg discovered, “meant that the old biblical saga wouldn’t simply replay forever but somehow, some way, find a way out, maybe even a way forward. It boldly reentered the original and steered it in a different direction. Maybe the sequel isn’t the tragedy of repetition: it’s a solution to it.”

So maybe I just need to find my Passover sequel. Maybe one day I’ll write my own.

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7 Snazzy Sukkah Suggestions, 5775

Wednesday, October 08, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein.

Sukkot is one of my mother’s favorite holidays. She considers it more or less the Jewish version of Christmas: we decorate our sukkah like a yuletide tree—our skhkakh is usually pine boughs, too!—and much like our neighbors string up twinkle lights the day after Thanksgiving, we have an unofficial fixed sukkah-building date the day after Yom Kippur. I guess the parallel mostly ends there, but it’s reason enough to create a list of decorations to make your snazziest sukkah yet!

Item 1: Paper Garlands

If your childhood was anything like mine, you, too, spent hours with the stapler and strips of construction paper, creating a multi-colored chain that your family’s sukkah simply could not do without. I am happy to share with you all that I have since moved on to recycled paper strips, courtesy of The Scrapbox, and continue to staple that ghastly garland for my parents’ sukkah—naturally, I realize this a task most children eschew after the third or fourth grade. Oh well.

Those of you without a faithful legion of paper chain makers—or with very sophisticated ones—might enjoy a very bookish twist on the traditional Jewish American sukkah decorating standard:



Item 2: Lighting

Personally, I love taking advantage of the allowance for transferring flames on this holiday above all others—candlelight dinner under the stars is the best romantic redundancy there is. Hang glass lanterns in your sukkah like it’s a Moroccan bazaar and fire up the tea lights just before your guests arrive for the evening:


How about some lovely wind chimes to fill the night air?

Item 3: Honey

The tradition of drizzling honey over (everything, but namely) round challahs continues through Sukkot, so go on and indulge that sweet tooth! Our family hosts an apples and honey tasting event in the sukkah every year, and the reigning favorites are fujis and Green Toe Gardens’ wild honey from natural hives in backyards, schools, and community gardens of Detroit. Yes, Detroit. Check them out!

Did you know you can also get multi-colored honey sticks! And definitely take a gander at these thoughtful suggestions for vegan honey alternatives—there are some great surprises on the list!

Item 4: The Four Species

Traditionally, every Jew is obliged to obtain their own set of the Four Species: a palm heart, myrtle and willow leaves, and citron. It’s best to contact your local rabbi for these items, but if you’re more interested in the spirit—or essence, if you will—of these plants, I love the idea of this Four Species essential oils set:

And here a couple small representatives of arbaat haminim with which to adorn yourself:


Item 5: Kohelet

Since we’re on jewelry already, some charming Ecclesiastical pieces:


Item 6: Stay Warm!

It can get brisk outside in mid-October. If you’re planning to spend lengthier periods in the sukkah, make sure to dress appropriately for the weather—especially in the evenings!

Bare legs can be brutal in the cold. Keep them wrapped in poetry!



Need something a little more heavy-duty? I’m really into this cape.

But if you’re looking for a more traditional piece of outerwear, this jacket is a pretty chic variation:

Item 7: Feast

One time I made pumpkin soup for Sukkot and served it in hand-hollowed sugar pumpkins baked soft enough to scoop the meat out of. Everyone thought it was delicious—including my dog, who all but swallowed an unsupervised setting and was subsequently sick for two days. Poor dog.

So you understand why I think these ceramic “bakers” are pretty nifty:

Pomegranates, coasters, and a puzzle? This is the kind of tableware I dream about:


Of course, you’ll need to serve food to make it a meal. Looking for some culinary inspiration? Here are some JBC staff favorite cookbooks for autumn recipes:


Also, apparently fried maple leaves is a thing now? Perfect for the season.

Above all, always make your guests—ushpizin and mortal—feel welcome:

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Eight Nights of Stories

Monday, November 04, 2013 | Permalink

We know, it seems far too early to be planning for Chanukah. For all the “Thanksgivingukkah” frenzy that’s been about since the start of autumn, the calendric propinquity between now and those eight oil-saturated nights still hasn’t really sunk in. But guess what? It’s already the first day of Kislev. That’s right, Chanukah is only a few weeks away. Ready or not, it’s time to rev up that festive mood you usually store for another month into the Gregorian year. So place your jelly-filled order to the bakery, stock up on potatoes, start scraping the remnants of last year’s candles off the chanukkiot from the plastic storage bin in your basement, and make some space on your bookshelves for eight nights of reading.

There’s really only one night of Chanukah I distinctly remember out of all the eight-day Festivals of Lights from my childhood and adult life so far. It wasn’t really part of the Festival at all.

Long after the cheap candles had burned down to multicolored nubs of rehardened wax, my mother assembled her pajamaed brood under the floral bed canopy that matched the Pepto-Bismol walls of “the pink room”—the room my sister and I practically shared, owing to the trundle cot that rolled out from under the bed’s thick wooden frame and the convenience of combining two bedtime routines into one, when we had been much younger. By now my sister and I had been reading quietly to ourselves for years, and our mother’s insistence that we join our younger siblings for a bedtime story was unprecedented. Bewildered and, admittedly, slightly disgruntled, we listened with heaving patience as our reader delivered a prologue on the lengths she went to in order to procure this book, only recently released in the United States, in time for the holiday. It was expected, she told us, to be something quite spectacular. “Chapter One,” she finally began: “The Boy Who Lived.”

We had no idea what we were in for.

Outside of day school classrooms, American Jews don’t necessarily think of Chanukah as a story-driven holiday. We focus on the aesthetics: the candles in the window, the overly (for us) melodious blessings and recitations, the golden/chocolate winnings and oil-drenched foods—and of course, I’ll go ahead and throw in a critique about American consumerism here. But there’s no seder, there’s no table to sit down to for hours of required retelling, and that really is a shame. Every night of Chanukah is a great night for stories—and not just Harry Potter.

I have a childhood friend whose family was required to sit around a table each night after lighting the candles. With all other illumination in the house extinguished, his father would read aloud by the light of the shamash—the rest of the candles left for spectacle only, as stipulated in hanerot hallallu, on the windowsill. Some of it was traditional learning, but most of that time was dedicated to fantastical epics and curious stories: tales that brought magic, both real and fictional, back into those eight miraculous nights; that challenge our understanding of the world and ourselves.

Chanukah is a celebration commemorating a jar of oil lasting for eight days, rather than the incredible events of human achievement and resistance leading up to that quiet miracle—and it isn’t easy to get excited about the denoument of the story. But in way that’s one of the luxuries of this most profane of Jewish holidays: we aren’t held to telling this one narrative, alone. So for each of the eight nights of Chanukah, the Jewish Book Council is out to help you find more stories—to read to your children, to share with young adults, and to read after the kids are all in bed.

Find all of the posts in the Eight Nights of Stories series here.

Passover Roundup

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Jackie Anzaroot

Passover is only two weeks away! For Passover book recommendations, check out our list of our Passover favorites as well as our list of children's Passover books. Our longer Passover reading list can be found here.

For some more ideas on Haggadot to use, here are some that we've featured on our ProsenPeople blog over the years: the artistic Passover Haggadah by Dov Bleichfeld; In Every Generation, the JDC Haggadah; Alef Betty's Urban Family Haggadah; and Slate's highly condensed version of the Haggadah, "A Passover Service for the Impatient." Also check out last week's Visiting Scribe posts by Jan Aronson, where she discusses illustrating the new Bronfmann Haggadah.

If you're still unsure about your choice of Haggadah or are looking to try something new, we've asked some of our readers about their choices for this year and the most popular Haggadah seems to be Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander's The New American HaggadahOther popular choices include the classic Maxwell House Haggadah, A Passover Haggadah: As Commented Upon by Elie Wiesel and Illustrated by Mark Podwal and A Night to Remember by Mishael and Noam Zion.

You can also take advantage of the offer at the top (and left) of this page for a 20% discount off of Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family.