Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Rabbi, the Shofar and the Dog

Warning: do NOT be eating or drinking while watching this.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spinach-Tuna-Noodle Caserole

This is sort of like a tuna florentine... Really easy to make. The original recipe has microwave directions. Since I don't own a microwave, I simply did it stove top and bake bake in the oven. Came out really nice too.

1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach
2 cups ricotta cheese (I simply used 5% cottage cheese)
1/4 cup mayo or salad dressing
1 egg
2 teaspoons dried chives
1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed (I used oregano)
1/2 teaspoon dill
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 ounces wide egg noodles or fusilli, cooked and drained
1 can (9 1/4 ounces tuna, drained and broken into chunks
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Place opened spinach package in a shallow microwavable bowl. Cook uncovered on high for 4 to 6 minutes or until thawed, turning every 2 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes. Drain well and squeeze out excess moisture. In a blender or food processor, combine spinach, ricotta, mayo, egg and seasonings. Cover and process until smooth.

In a 9x9x2 inch microwavable casserole dish, spread the cooked noodles. Top with tuna, then spread cheese mixture over tuna. Cover loosely; microwave in high for 8 to 11 minutes or until mixture is hot in the center. Sprinkle mozzarella over the top. Let stand , covered for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. Makes 4 servings.

(I cooked the spinach in a pot on the stove with a little water and drained it. Mixed with cottage cheese, egg, seasonings and mayo. Layered as directed but added the cheese on top right away. Baked uncovered for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F)

Monday, August 17, 2009

The concept of 'generic brands'

In recent months our local supermarket has had an influx of their generic brand stocking the shelves.

Except not one item is actually priced less than the brand name and in some cases it's actually MORE expensive.

I imagine the real 'savings' is if you have their credit card, but that costs 140NIS/month. Doesn't seem like much of a savings to me.

I think the corporate board needs a lesson in the mechanics of 'generic brand'. I need a reason to buy your brand as opposed to the just as- or slightly more expensive name brand and in today's penny-pinching world, price is a big motivator to get me to drop your brand into my cart over the other guy's.

Mega has their own canned tuna in both water and oil. I bought a can to taste test and it's actually really good. Up there with the available Starkist. Starkist is priced... either 5.19 or 5.29... or maybe even 5.39. Mega brand is labeled 4.93. After deciding that we like it, I've started buying it.

Last week I noticed that it rang up at 5.29/can. It was labeled 4.93. Unfortunately I didn't notice this until I was already home and no, I never got around to taking the receipt back to complain.

However when I bought the Mega tuna again today, still labeled at 4.93/can and it rang up at 5.29, I DID say something. The cashier called over the manager and the manager had the nerve to say 'why is she complaining about 40 agurot?'.

I couldn't help myself. I told her that it wasn't an issue of 40 agurot. But 40 agurot times the 5 cans I'm buying now, and the 4 cans I bought last week.

They corrected the bill and I got the tuna for 4.93/can.

I wonder if I go back tomorrow if the cans will be labeled 5.29. If they are, I'll probably go back to buying Starkist.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cinnamon Buns

Basic Sweet Dough
1/2 cup sugar
2 packages dry yeast
1 1/2 yeapoon salt
6 1/2 - 7 cups flour
1 1/4 cups apple juice
1 cup margarine
3 eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixer bowl, combine sugar, yeast, salt and 2 cups flour. In a 1 quart saucepan, heat apple juice and margarine until warm. (Margarine doesn't have to melt).

Gradually add warm liquid to dry ingredients beating with mixer at low speed. Increase speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and 2 1/2 cups of flour. Beat 2 more minutes. By hand stir in enough additional flour to make a stiff dough, about 2 cups.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and knead 8 to 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if necessary.

Place dough in a well oiled bowl and turn to oil the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour until doubled in size. Punch down, turn onto floured board, cover with bowl and allow to rest 15 minutes for easier shaping.

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup margarine, melted or oil

1 cup confectioner's sugar
4 teaspoons water

Combine brown sugar, walnuts, raisins and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Roll out dough into an 18 x 12 inch rectangle. Brush with melted margarine and sprinkle with sugar mixture. Starting with 18 inch side, roll dough jelly roll fashion, pinch seam to close. With seam side down cut roll crosswise into 18 1 inch wide pieces.

Place on a baking sheet, cover and let rise for about 40 minutes, until double in size.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and bake for 20 minutes.

Glaze: While the buns are baking whisk together sugar and water to make glaze. Brush tops with glaze after they've cooled for about 10 minutes.

Way to be supportive, Mom

Is there a rolling eyes emoticon I can use here?

I'm a non-believing Jew but my son wants a barmitzvah

Annabel Wright and her husband are atheists. The idea of raising their children within her lapsed Jewish faith had never occurred to them. So what to do when their 12-year-old son searched his soul and suddenly got religion?

When my son Marcus was born, the last thing on my mind as a Jewish mother was circumcision. I am a non-practising Jew and my husband, Jonathan, is lapsed Church of England, and we both felt that, as our son grew up, he would want to "match" his daddy. Indeed, my husband and I are confirmed atheists, and although I have been known to make a deal with God on turbulent flights, my promise is invariably broken after touchdown.

The Torah, the sacred book of Jewish laws, states resolutely that God commands all Jewish males to be circumcised. Without this procedure a boy is not considered a Jew and will be shunned. But I am firmly against the idea, viewing it as a form of genital mutilation. How could I have known that this would present a potential problem some years later …

There we were, 12 years down the road, mooching around a north London synagogue. It was only the second time my son had set foot in one – friends had invited us to the annual Hanukah (Festival of Lights) bazaar. Although I didn't feel quite like a gefilte fish out of water, I didn't feel especially at home either. I sensed a lack of belonging to a tight-knit group.

I left Marcus to his own devices and went to find his two younger sisters. When I next saw him he was fingering a variety of kippas (Jewish skull caps) with rather more interest than I'd have liked. As he balanced one on the back of his head I stifled a laugh and playfully remarked, "Suits you."

"Don't laugh," he replied, a grave expression clouding his face. "I'm not trying these on for a joke. I want to buy one. In fact, I've been thinking lately and I want to be, well, more Jewish."

"You are Jewish, because I am," I reminded him, hoping that would be the end of it but instinctively knowing that it wouldn't. In the Jewish faith, children take their racial and religious identity from the mother, a fact over which my husband and I have had the odd tussle.

"I know that I'm Jewish because of you," replied Marcus, "but I'd like to do it properly – you know, the festivals, the food, maybe even a barmitzvah …"

I almost choked on my salmon bagel. A barmitzvah! Did he have any idea how many years ahead you had to book the Crystal Suite at the Dorchester? Where had this sudden interest in Judaism come from? Not from me, and certainly not from his dad.

I had "married out" and hadn't given the whole Jewish thing much thought thereafter. I never imagined I would have a fair-haired, blue-eyed son wanting to embrace Judaism – or any religion for that matter. How naive of me to assume my children would unquestioningly follow my atheist lead.

But I respect my son's integrity; he has an emotional intelligence beyond his years. His announcement demanded further exploration. My husband and I would have to take him seriously.

As the daughter of German Jewish refugees, I have spent a lifetime pulling away from my roots. The message I absorbed from my parents was that being Jewish was dangerous, even life-threatening. When I started secondary school, about the same age that my mother was when she found herself the victim of antisemitism, she warned me to assimilate and to avoid getting into a "ghetto" with the Jewish girls. I was further perplexed by my mother's ambivalent relationship with Judaism. She insisted on attending synagogue on holidays, but for the rest of the year we played at being as British and non-Jewish as could be.

My father wanted nothing to do with the religion. I was always embarrassed at relatives' weddings when he had to wear a disposable paper kippa, customarily on offer to the non-Jews. He didn't deny his roots (he was barmitzvahed as a boy), but he didn't go out of his way to advertise his racial heritage either. When I finally married, at the geriatric age of 32 (in Jewish spinster years that's about 55), my parents were delighted at my choice of partner: a non-Jewish lawyer. Operation Assimilation complete. Here was a man who could hide me under the floorboards should the Nazis return.

And luckily, here was a man who, despite his antipathy towards organised religion, was happy to let Marcus satisfy his curiosity about his mother's heritage – though he made it clear he wouldn't be coming along for the ride.

In the weeks that followed, Marcus asked if I could find a synagogue that might consider taking him on with a view to studying for his barmitzvah. I knew this would be a tall order. There was no way he could cram the necessary knowledge in one year. And would a synagogue take him at all? A friend had warned me that hers probably wouldn't, given Marcus's uncircumcised status. I was incensed that what was in his pants was more important than what was in his heart. But I also felt that it would be wrong to deny my son the chance to explore his roots.

We sat Marcus down for some soul-searching. "I like the idea of belonging to something special," he told us. "I feel proud to be Jewish. It feels unique. And there are so few of us left it seems a shame not to do something about it. I want to do this because it's about the religion and believing in God."

And so began my quest to find a synagogue liberal enough to take us on. An easier proposition than I'd feared – we live in north London, after all – and I found one in Golders Green. Progressive, liberal and welcoming to mixed-faith couples, although my husband was taken aback by the £750 annual fee. "That's more than a year's subscription to Sky Sports," he half-joked, threatening to offer Marcus an ultimatum: Sky or synagogue?

Marcus and I met the rabbi, and I delicately raised the issue of his physical predicament. I was relieved by the response. "It's true that some synagogues, particularly the more orthodox, would see this as a bar to entry, but not us. You're Jewish, so your son is Jewish," he said.

His advice was that Marcus and I join their family classes to give both of us an idea of what would be ahead. We all agreed that it was too ambitious to aim for a ceremony at 13. "It's a misconception that you have to have one then," explained the rabbi. "Although 13 is usual, you can study for it at any age. Men who were boys in the war and missed out have been known to have barmitzvahs in their 70s."

In the early weeks, I managed to affect a spray-on enthusiasm. But as time wore on, I realised that if Marcus was to follow the faith, I just couldn't do it with him. The subject matter (dissecting parts of the Old Testament, examining the meaning of Jewish festivals) was just too dry, too archaic, despite the rabbi's valiant attempts to make it relevant to life today.

At the end of the first term, I told Marcus that he would have to go it alone. He could join the Sunday classes, where no parental input is required. He was upset by this but realised that he couldn't expect me to embrace a religion that held no appeal. We hugged each other and cried.

But some weeks later, Marcus said that he just couldn't do it on his own. "It's just too unrealistic, Mum. How can I celebrate the festivals and follow all the other stuff without you and Dad and the girls? I guess it's time to quit."

That was 18 months ago and Marcus is now 13, the traditional age for barmitzvah. We are watching some of his friends go through the process and my husband and I have a lingering feeling that we may have denied him something important. A sense of belonging and a supportive community to fall back on, beyond home and school, are no bad things in the world we live in. But what are we saying? Organised religion is a club that we simply don't want to join.

Yet I am a Jew, and fiercely protective of my race. My grandparents survived the Nazi concentration camps and my parents avoided a similar fate by a whisker. Just don't ask me to get involved in the religious shenanigans. My husband, meanwhile, is relieved that Marcus has moved away from the religion. Would Christianity have been more acceptable I asked him. "At least the services are in English and the music is great. But ultimately no, because I don't believe in any of it."

Marcus himself is sanguine about the experience. "Now that some of my mates are going through barmitzvah I can see what's involved and I don't think it would have been right for me. Anyway, I can always go back to it when I'm older," he says. And he can. The velvet kippa is in the top drawer of his bedside table, awaiting the day.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009
I am NOT old enough to have an 18 year old.

But as of today I do, so I guess I am.

Happy birthday TC and many more.