Monday, February 27, 2012

The Very Not Kosher Banquet: A Theoretical Exercise of Halakha, Creativity, and Truly Bizarre Culinary Mathematics

I spend a lot of time thinking about kosher food and keeping kosher, particularly given that I've kept a form of kosher for a year and a half now.

I don't keep the strictest kashrut by any measure. I eat out, I'll eat non-kosher meat that's slaughtered in ways as un-barbaric as slaughter can be, I don't mind if food is prepared on Shabbat. I don't follow some of the stricter measures. Some people say I just keep kosher-style, but I prefer "liberal kashrut." Particularly given that I expressly refuse to eat meat from certain kosher providers, because of a) animal treatment and b) not paying their workers and c) bad health inspection.

At the same time, I don't eat expressly forbidden things. I'm still insane about reading ingredients on packaged food, I wait between milk and meat and meat and milk, and if you put breadcrumbs near me during Passover I will throw things at you. 

As you can see, I can go on and on about kashrut.

So sometimes I go into classic kashrut mode: what is the most treif dish I could construct?

This exercise is a pretty common form of self-entertainment for us Jews. However, it tends to crash after 15 minutes - as my friend Michael says:

You just end up eating a cheeseburger on Passover.

On Passover.

That's pretty unsatisfying. I've spent a lot of procrastinating time over the past few months trying to construct the Ur-Treif. I thought I was pretty good when I got up to vulture soup and complex bouillabaisses. Then I got bested. At NUJLS last weekend, I got handed human blood garnishes and bathroom cuisine by two other friends. They win.

I realized: well, this is becoming an immensely complex dish. Then it occurred to me: a banquet!

This menu is the result of a lot of thought, theoretical exercise, and scouring my brain for possible laws to break. It covers a range of violations from the very basic (bacon) to the very arcane, rarely followed (open water around serpents). I've ruined some traditional Jewish dishes, and created some other ones. And I borrowed two from our ancient friends in Rome, as well as our Filipino, Laotian and Southern friends.

Feel free to add to this list. So many obscure prohibitions; so few items on this list.

Credit to: Hillel for the chicken, Douglas G. for the sushi ingredient, Danya for reminding me of the apple rule, Sarah O. for the garnish on the salad, Zach B. for the cholent cooking location, and Michael F. for the last item. 


The Very Not Kosher Banquet:
1. Challah, made with water left open in proximity to Belinda, a young cobra
2. Israeli Salad with a garnish of the chef’s own blood
3. Potato kugel with bacon bits
4. Matzoh ball soup in a vulture-based broth
5. Gefilte fish with catfish and carp
6. Deviled eggs with shrimp filling
7. Steamed vegetables with untithed grain
8. Cholent, left to cook uncovered in a bathroom stall
9. French onion soup, with animal-rennet cheddar
10. Ribs
11. Balut
12. Eel and cod bouillabaisse
13. Monkfish sushi
14. Apple custard pie, made with apples from a one-year-old tree
15. Caesar salad, with croutons from bread baked on 17 Nisan (3rd day of Pesach)
16. Sciatic nerves, stir-fried in garlic oil
17. Roast chicken in a cilantro-yogurt sauce
18. Roman-style stuffed dormice
19. Wine made by the monks of Monte Argentario for Communion
20. Wine produced by a South German pig farmer
21. Venison Carpaccio, made with a freshly shot deer
22. Bee larvae soufflé
23. Potato latkes, fried in beef kidney fats
24. Roast turkey, prepared from a bird with a broken wing
25. Chicken wings from live chickens
26. Cake, made from flour of Israeli, newly-planted wheat from the Nahal’al kibbutz
27. Brussels sprouts grown in the shade of a grapevine
28. Tuna-Beef Casserole
29. Passover Cheeseburger Sliders

Bee larvae

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Errata of NUJLS: 10 Small Notes

I went to an awesome conference over the weekend in Washington DC called the National Union of Jewish LGBT Students. While there was a lot of community organizing education, spiritual exploration, and meeting epic folks, I'm still trying to digest so much of the experience. Thus, as a consolation, I give you: ten errata from the conference.

The errata of NUJLS:

1. Bucket list goal achieved: praying in an exclusively LGBT-space.

2. Tips on de-koshering food: your own blood is a wonderful garnish, or you can take it into the loo. Credits to Sarah and Zach for smashing any record that David Blair previously set.

3. Escalators are appropriate people-conveyors. Aaron did not die, thankfully.

4. I may be responsible for bringing a strain of the common cold to the Midwest. Apologies.

5. The real origin of the "orange on the seder plate" debate came from a discussion of the inclusion of lesbians in Jewish rituals.

6. Gay Methodist seminarians exist.

7. The term "bagel-chaser." It is awesome. So are the terms "pre-Rab" (hey Steven!) and "jweer."

8. AU's Spiritual Center looks like an immolating cupcake. Ali noted this.

9. I learned a non-standard tune to Aleinu. I thought no one did that.

10. My friend told me that I need to learn to talk to straight people again.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tu BiShvat is Awesome: Pomegranate Date-Raisin Muffins

Tu BiShvat is awesome. It's the Jewish New Year for trees - traditionally, from this day, the age of a planted tree is counted. This count is done because Jews traditionally don't eat fruit from trees that are under a certain age. It's also a day where one traditionally plants trees, eats certain fruits, and celebrates the land, agriculture, and renewal. Spring starts around now in Israel.

Tu BiShvat was on Wednesday.

While I held a little impromptu get-together on the day itself for my friends - dates, cranberries, and ice cream, and talking about trees - that wasn't quite enough for me. I was originally going to bake muffins that used all seven species traditionally consumed on the day, but that recipe was too complicated, and had a ton of common allergens in it.

At the same time, I really wanted to make something celebratory. Not only was it Tu biShvat, but my prayer group also took a "field trip" on Friday to visit another, larger group holding services that week in Hyde Park. Why not open the celebration to even more people?

So I took my muffin knowledge and made this recipe with four of the traditional species - pomegranates, dates, grapes, and wheat. The muffins seemed to go down pretty well, and I've gotten a request for the recipe. Here it is!

And Happy New Year!

Pomegranate Date-Raisin Muffins (Pareve!)
makes ~30-40 muffins

(I'm not a native user of Imperial, so a few of the measures may be slightly off)

1 cup dried, pitted, and chopped dates
1 cup raisins
7 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup pomegranate juice (from or not from concentrate; POM might work well for this)
2 2/3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt

1. Soak the dates and raisins in nearly-boiling water (but off the flame) for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

2. Preheat your oven to 350F/175C. Grease muffin tins (use olive oil if you want to be very Tu BiShvat-like), or insert parchment paper (recommended).

3. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl until blended well. Add the pomegranate juice and mix until the mixture is a consistent, brown-grey color.

4. Add the flour, 2/3 of a cup at a time, into the mixture and blend evenly with the mixture. Add the baking powder with one of the cups of flour. You should get a batter that is thick, but not doughy. If it's too thin, add more flour; too thick, add more pomegranate juice.

5. Add the dates, raisins, and salt. Blend such that the dates and raisins are evenly distributed in the batter.

6. Spoon the mixture into each muffin tin such that each cup is about halfway full.

7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a fork/toothpick comes out cleanly after insertion. Let cool and serve.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Eurovision: Deliciously Addictive

Friends, Romans, countrymen:

I admit it. I love Eurovision.

Eurovision is basically the American Idol of Europe. It's way older though. It's an annual, international competition between national broadcasters who put forth one pop-singing representative to represent that country in the competition. Viewer votes decide which country wins, and the victor hosts the contest next year. This year, it's in Baku, Azerbaijan.

What's not to like about trashy pop, countries going to the throat over whose diva can get more people to shake their booties as they watch on sofas from Faro to Murmansk, Eilat to Glencombcille, Malta to Tromsø?

(Nina, Caroban, Serbia 2011)

(Also Eurovision is partly responsible for one of my most active friendships. Our first "nerd out" and "freak out everyone else in the room" was discussing Eurovision and Ke$ha.)

The spectacle! The lights, the crowds, the terrifying outfits. It's almost a Grand Prix of bubblegum-hood, Ke$ha on a thousand steroids. 

And not to mention the music videos: raw pop culture at its best. Half of what I know about gender theory, power dynamics, and sexual agency, I've learned through a Eurovision lens. This video alone, from Slovenia's 2007 contribution, provides enough for at least thirty minutes of discussion.

And the song is fucking awesome. Daj ga na prsi svoje, naj spomin ti bo na mene...

(Alenka Gotar, Cvet z juga, Slovenia 2007)

So, Eurovision is intellectually stimulating, indeed. There are so many layers of analysis: voting pattern geography, types of music that get selected, the music itself, the culture behind.

But Eurovision is also fun. The music, as "bad" as it is, usually has a fair few fun songs. (Anyone who knows me well knows that I love trashy music, to the point of singing Milkshake while admiring Rubens paintings at art museums.) Actually, the music isn't completely bad. There's some really good stuff in there. Particularly if you like fast-paced dance-track type things. 

Snobbery is all well and good, but let's face it. It's eleven at night, you're working hard on your midterm paper for History of Urban Spain, and you need music to pick you up and keep you going. Are you going to pick the hipster on a guitar singing about all of his melancholy semi-breakups, or are you going to pick Magdalena Tul's truly awesome Jestem?

(Magdalena Tul, Jestem, Poland 2011)

And then there are the contributions that are catastrophically bad.

Even these has value.

Firstly: in the cultured Europe versus uncultured America war, Eurovision provides us Americans oodles of ammunition. As much as you can blame Americanization, it takes a certain amount of personal culture-fail to produce something like this:

(Sieneke, Ik Ben Verliefd, Netherlands 2010)

That tune...that outfit...that background...

And then, the lyrics. The chorus goes "shalalie shalala, shalalie shalala, it can't leave my head, shalalie shalala, shalalie shalala, it's there when I get up in the morning." Besides being filled with unfortunate innuendo, it's absolutely...empty. And traumatic if you understand Dutch.

And then there's just terrifying, terrifying music.

(Eric Saade, Popular, Sweden 2011)

Besides the awkward GaGa imitation, there's also the sheer nonsensicalness of the lyrics. When you look up the translations of the lyrics for Cvet z juga and Jestem, you find a certain poetry to the lyrics. This song is more of a whiny-teenager manifesto! "I will be popular, I will be popular..." simply does not compete with "my white world, my faraway flower (moj beli svet, moj daljni cvet)."

Finally, it's a forum for the national prides and rivalries that today's European governments like to suppress. Representatives are very patriotic, and supporters are loud and proud about being Dutch/Georgian/Belorussian/Irish. As a result, you get a lot of little swipes. Croatia and Serbia go at each other's throats (let it be noted that Serbia's submissions are often way better), and Greece never votes for Turkey. And then you get magnificent trolls - a troll that

a) I will leave you off with and
b) proves why I'm damn proud to be a Lithuanian Jew. Grizti i Lietuva!

(LT United. We Are The Winners of Eurovision, Lithuania 2006).

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Two short recipes (This is basically a cooking blog now)

Parve Applesauce Cake

1 1/2 cups applesauce
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cups sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2-3/4 cup cooking oil

1. Preheat an oven to 375 F. Grease a 8 x 8 cake tin.

2. Mix the ingredients except for the cooking oil until well blended.

3. Add cooking oil, first as a half cup. Mix well and check the consistency - it should be a thick batter but without doughy bits. If there are doughy bits, add another 1/4 cup of cooking oil.

4. Decant into the pan and bake for 35 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean but the cake is still soft. Cool and serve.

Pumpkin Custard

12-15 oz pureed pumpkin (use canned if you want to save time)
5 eggs
1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2-3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup baking powder

1. Preheat an oven to 375 F. Prepare a pie crust if you wish.

2. Mix the pumpkin, eggs and milk until well blended.

3. Add the dry ingredients. Mix until you have a loose batter with some thickness.

4. Pour into your holding mechanism and bake for 45 minutes, or until the custard has set and a knife comes out clean. Cool and serve.