Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pass the matzo!


I don't really have a particular penchant for it. There are people who consider themselves foodies now. (Or maybe this is an old thing I've just know picked up on.) For these people, eating is an event. They make reservations at fancy places and take their cameras with them, clicking pictures of every detail before devouring their dishes slowly. Some take notes and describe every bite of their meals on their blogs.

I don't understand these people. I'm the girl who will eat Cheerios with skim milk for two meals of the day and think of it as fulfilling and nourishing. If not that, then a Subway sandwich would be nice (six-inch ham on wheat, lettuce, tomato and low-fat mayo, please). And if I'm really being creative: pasta with marinara sauce. Gourmet pizza is my delicacy. Yum.

So, surprisingly, when I saw a flyer for the third annual Jewish Food Festival in Little Rock, I desperately wanted to go.

The Little Rock River Market

I didn't think I'd like much of the food, but I really wanted to make the trip and give it a go. I've had some traditional Jewish food before, but mostly shied away from it. Last Yom Kippur, I mostly stuck to the bagels (plain with plain cream cheese, please).

But I must say: Everything I tried at the food festival was delicious.

This is one of the many food stands
at the festival at the Little Rock River Market.

We only ate the non-meat items because Ryan and I are trying to keep Kosher (more on that in another post), but here is a sampling of what we tried (click on the name for a recipe):

1. Matzo Ball soup
This bland dish is probably my favorite. (That's key. The more bland it is, the more I like it.) I made a really good matzo ball soup for Passover this year. It's not Kosher though, because it uses chicken broth and butter. I'm sure you could substitute something for the broth, and it would be fine. Everyone liked it because it has onions and parsley in it. So I guess I don't like things totally bland.

2. Bagel with Lox
Who knew bagels were a traditional Jewish food? According to the Web site, Judaism 101: The bagel has been a part of Jewish cuisine for at least 400 years. According to Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, there are references to it as far back as Poland in 1610. In America, bagels are traditionally served with cream cheese and lox (smoked salmon) or other fish spreads (herring, whitefish, etc.). They are also quite good with cream cheese and a thick slice of tomato.

3. Latkes
Most people know these as "potato pancakes." They are kind of like that, but I liken them more to hashbrowns. These are traditionally served during Hanukkah.

4. Kugel
From Judaism 101:

Kugel is another dish that encompasses several different things, and the relationship between them is hard to define. The word "kugel" is generally translated as "pudding," although it does not mean pudding in the Jell-O brand dairy dessert sense; more in the sense of bread pudding. The word "kugel" is pronounced "koo-gel" (with the "oo" in "book"; not to rhyme with "google") or "ki-gel," depending on where your grandmother comes from. Kugel can be either a side dish or a dessert. As a side dish, it is a casserole of potatoes, eggs and onions. As a desert, it is usually made with noodles and various fruits and nuts in an egg-based pudding. Kugel made with noodles is called lokshen kugel.

The kugel we had was of the traditional sort. I loved it. It was my second-favorite dish of the festival. I've had "sweet kugel" before, but I liked this better.

5. Blintzes
Again from Judaism 101:

Blintzes are basically Jewish crepes. A blintz is a thin, flat pancake rolled around a filling. It looks a little like an egg roll. As a main dish or side dish, blintzes can be filled with sweetened cottage cheese or mashed potatoes and onion; as a dessert, they can be filled with fruit, such as apple, cherry or blueberry. They are usually pan fried in oil. They are generally served with sour cream and/or applesauce.

Cheese blintzes are the traditional meal for the festival of Shavu'ot, when dairy meals are traditionally eaten. Blintzes are also commonly eaten during Hanukkah, because they are cooked in oil.

The word "blintz" comes from a Ukrainian word meaning "pancake."

Yum. Mine was filled with cream cheese and served with jelly. Almost too sweet.

6. Falafels
Falafel is a traditional Israeli dish, and is popular throughout the Middle East. Our falafels were served in pita bread with humus.

The festival also featured gift shops and informational booths, including one about Jewish weddings.

The future Mr. and Mrs.

I think that was it for our Jewish fare. We took home a challah loaf for this weekend and some hamentaschan, which are filled cookies traditionally served during Purim.

All in all it was a good experience and gave me a sampling of some popular Jewish fare -- hard to do in Arkansas. But believe me, no one ever lets us forget exactly where we live.

I don't think this Razorback is kosher.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Jewish New York

So last week I ventured to the Big Apple, home to scores of bagels, pizza and wedding dresses. My heaven, really.

But as any good Jew-in-training would do, I made sure to take in some of the more Jewish-centered sights as well. Because, frankly, the one shelf at the one store 30 minutes from me is all I've got.

A short recap:


On Saturday, after a tiring and somewhat disappointing day looking for "the dress," Marissa and I dragged our tired feet over to the Jewish Museum. It was free day, so I wasn't going to miss it, because I'm a budget traveler (one who was looking to spend her money on a dress I'm only going to wear and the 100s of times before the big day just to make sure it still fits).

Highlights of this stop:

• Getting scolded for trying to take a picture. Oops.
• The menorah with the red-white-and-blue Statute of Liberty.
• My first celebrity sighting: Michael Imperioli of the Sopranos. I didn't know who he was because I only watched one of the shows, and he happened to have been killed off by that point. But Marissa nonchalantly pointed at him. I thought she was saying he had a hook. Long story.
• The best part of the museum was a video that showed the sounding of an air horn for two minutes throughout Israel on Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was an amazing video of a busy intersection in Jeruselum coming to a complete stop while the air horn sounded. To see an elderly woman start to cry was enough to stir my emotions. It was an excellent video.

Overall this was probably my least favorite of our stops. It was still interesting, but mostly dealt with artwork and artifacts throughout Jewish history. I get the feeling I would have enjoyed it more had I picked up the children's guide.


On Sunday, our Jewish stop for the day was the tenement building at 97 Orchard St. in the Lower East Side, the original garmet district. This was recommended to me by many people, including Jody's friend Patty.


• Authenticity of our tour guide: She was definitely Eastern European and really knew her stuff.
• This was probably the most educational of our stops, because I really didn't know much about Jewish immigration into New York. We took the "Piecing it Together" tour, which took us into two apartments: one of a wealthy sweatshop owner, the other of a poor family.
• It had a super-cute gift shop, in which I bought these cards:


On Monday, Marissa and I hoofed it to our last stop of the Jewish tour: The Museum Of Jewish Heritage.


• Marissa studied Germany, so she was able to read a lot of the propaganda posters.
• This museum probably was the best we visited. They had gallery after gallergy of interesting facts and moving images. It had been a while since I truly studied the Holocaust, and it was all very overwhelming. My favorite installation showcased the faces of the dead. You walked into this area where you were surrounded on all sides by huge, billboard-sized panels containing 5x7 pictures of victims. They were all around you. As you walked from panel to panel, it felt like you were in a crazy house with all the mirrors. It was utterly overwhelming.
• This museum was in Battery Park, and the architecture really took advantage of the views of water and park. If I was a New Yorker, I'd definitely get married here. (Photo courtesy of the museum's Web site.)

Phew. That's my trip. Oh, and I bought a dress. More on that in about a year. :)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Hooked on Phonics

I've cheated in school before.

It's hard to admit that to anyone.

OK, it was minor cheating. It was in Spanish II and my second semester of college. We were required to write a paragraph in Spanish. I loathed that class. Foreign languages are the hardest skill for me to master, and this perfectionist isn't used to B's.

We were allowed to use our dictionaries, so on the inside cover I wrote words to prompt me throughout the timed exercise. I probably didn't need them, but I was so intimidated and scared of not getting an A.

I got caught. Cheaters almost always do. I remember the teacher well, though I don't recall her name. She was a graduate student -- all of them are -- with red hair. She rolled her backpack behind her on the sidewalk. Some of the boys made fun of her for that. She was really nice.

I remember her telling me in an indirect way that she knew I had cut corners on the quiz and would I like to retake it in her office? She said it with a smile on her face, and somehow I knew it was going to be OK.

I got an A in the class that semester.

A few months later, I enrolled in Spanish III. I had to go to the GA's office that summer, too. Not because I cheated, but because I had to take an oral exam. He told me I should major in Spanish because I was a natural. I laughed with him, at him, at myself, silently recalling my last quiz I took in a GA's office.

I'm one who easily picks up on the parallels that run through life. Maybe that's why I love Grey's Anatomy so much. Every operation, every emergency room stay connects with the lives of the doctors.

On Monday, I tried to learn Hebrew. It was hard. Memories of Spanish made a reprisal in my brain, my eyes watered and I stammered over the lesson. I wiped away tears, hoping fervently that no one noticed.

At one point, I thought about giving up, about telling them to skip me, maybe even leaving the room to collect myself. But Ryan, the jerk, wouldn't let me give up and no one else would either.

So I said a few words and made a few sounds, and thank G_d it's over for now.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

New York, here I come!

So I'm heading to New York on Friday to visit my best friend Marissa.

The weekend is going to be devoted to: (1) hanging out with Marissa (obviously), (2) Trying on wedding dresses, (3) Seeing the city (I've never been before) and (4) checking out some Jewish stuff.

I figure, if I'm going to be in the city that has the most Jews outside of Israel, then I should at least immerse myself in it for an afternoon.

So I don't know who reads this anymore -- besides Jody ;) -- but if you're reading this and have a clue where I can go to find shops, markets, etc., to look around on a Sunday afternoon I would appreciate it!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Torah Conga

I did a Torah conga line last night.

I tried -- and almost failed -- to attend Simchat Torah services last night in Fayetteville. I say almost failed because I failed to take into account the absolute horrid event that is Bikes, Blues & BBQ. (Yes, that's BBBBQ. Sigh.) Plus ZZ Top was in town. So I followed a pickup with two people riding in the bed for about 30 minutes for what should have been a 10 minute stretch on I-540.

I was very annoyed.

But, in fact, I would have been even more annoyed had I got there on time because they hadn't started services yet when I got there -- 20 minutes late. So needless to say, I had to leave before services were over because I had to get back to work. My boss had given me a two-hour dinner to attend services.

Simchat Torah is a service on the eighth or ninth day of Sukkot (depending on what brand of Judaism you follow). According to the reform, it fell on Thursday, but because it's a small community down here, the temple combined regular Friday services with the Simchat Torah services. Simchat Torah separates both the end and the beginning of the reading of the Torah. Every year the synagogue reads the five books of the Torah, and during this service, the last section and the first section is read, symbolizing the circular, everlasting nature of the book.

It is traditional to bring out every Torah the synagogue has and dance with them. This consists of throwing them over your shoulder and kind of shifting along while the other members of the synagogue dance around you (such as in a conga line?). For those of you who haven't seen the Torah scrolls, they are fairly large, heavy and have lots of ornamental dressing, so they are hard to handle. And if you drop one, it requires a 40-day fast. It's serious business.

Last night a young girl of about 10 was one of the holders. The rabbi said on Simchat Torah everyone is welcome to dance with the scrolls regardless of faith or age because the Torah is for everyone. When the father placed the Torah over the young girl's shoulder, her eyes got wide and she said "It's so heavy." "Do NOT drop it," the rabbi's wife told her. And she didn't.

It was a good experience, though I had to go alone. Ryan had to cover a football game.

Some of you might wonder about Sukkot. Sukkot is the eight day holiday that celebrates the harvest agriculturally and also symbolizes the 40 years of wandering in the desert historically. It is customary to build a sukkah, which is a booth, during this time and eat your meals in it and some even sleep in it. The synagogue in Bentonville built one and they hosted a potluck in it on Wednesday night. Click here to watch a slideshow of the congregation building the sukkah.

Here's another link of interest: Yet another New York Times article about Temple Shalom.

OK, the game is back on! Rock Chalk Jayhawk!