Category Archives: Holidays (fiestas judias)

An Affair To Remember

Whenever she felt like expanding her cooking repertoire my mother, who was raised on Ottoman Sephardic food, naturally gravitated toward recipes that reflected her cultural sensibility. In cookbooks and the magazine pages of mid-century America, she found much inspiration in things French.

America’s love affair with French cuisine took off like a rocket in the early 1960’s under the influence of Julia Child, but the relationship was already well established. As recent immigrants to New York in the early 20th century, my grandfather and his brothers, all fluent in French, became salesmen for Nabisco,

My papu & his brothers wore straw boaters like these on their sales calls for Nabisco. (This isn't them; they weren't smokers!)

My dapper papu & his brothers wore straw boaters like these on their sales calls for Nabisco. This isn’t them, but the guy on the lower right looks a lot like like my papu!

which in those days catered to the city’s finer hotels and restaurants where the language, like the fancy food, was French. (Fun fact: Nabisco’s New York operation was housed in the complex that is now the Chelsea Market on Ninth Avenue & 15th Street). My grandparents, of course, had received a French education in Turkey, where they’d attended the schools of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. French culture was already a comfortable fit for them when they arrived here from Rhodes.

To the delight of her family and friends, my mother knew how to pick winners and she turned them out beautifully. Continue reading

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Tu Bish What?

And it’s yet another Jewish New Year, this time in celebration of nature. Nice, huh. Today Tu B’Shvat is referred to as the New Year of the Trees, but its celebratory roots are in 16th century mysticism and the arrival of springtime. That’s got to seem pretty crazy in late January, especially if you’re anywhere on the East Coast right now and buried in the weekend’s massive snowfall. Over here in the Barcelona hills, the ground may still say winter but the almond and mimosa trees have already been in full bloom for two weeks. Granted they’re way ahead of schedule this year, but it is normal for daffodils to push through the earth in February, and to see and feel springtime well on its way to returning.

Almond blossoms

Almond blossoms in January

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Recipe for a sweet & abundant New Year

The article I’d planned on posting next is so grisly,  I just can’t post it now.  Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tomorrow, and with it a very beautiful season of renewal. So I’ve set the article aside, but not without sharing that with each grisly discovery or insight I have into history, the more deeply I appreciate being able to celebrate my holidays, eat my foods and just be my authentic self. This is something I truly wish for all people. Αll. The world would be a sweeter place.

On Rosh Hashana we wish for a sweet new year. The theme is traditionally emphasized by eating honey, whereas beans, often in the form of black eyed peas, are consumed to encourage abundance and prosperity. Eating beans for prosperity is a Sephardic New Year tradition, though we’re not alone; on December 31st Italians eat lentils for the same reason, and modern Spaniards eat twelve grapes at the stroke of midnight. Continue reading

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Where’s the Beef? (All About Mina, and Some Medieval Haggadahs)

Last weekend I went to see the Medieval Haggadah exhibition that’s just opened at the Barcelona History Museum. For the first time since the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, eight illuminated Haggadot produced in Catalunya in the 14th & 15th centuries are in their country of origin, after having been smuggled out hundreds of years ago to save them from destruction.

Barcelona Haggadah 28v29r.lI was hoping one or two of them might be opened to illustrations of a Medieval Catalan Seder table (like the illustration to the right), and that among the foods represented I might spot a mina. It wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. Mina is a meat pie that’s unique to Spanish Jews, essential to our Passover meal, and as significant for us as any ritual element of the Seder. But the why of its importance has been a huge mystery for generations. I grew up without ever hearing any explanation for its presence on the table, only that it must (!) be there. And no wonder: it took me years to unravel the mystery  myself, and I had to move to Spain to finally get to the bottom of it. Today I begin to explain it all for you. If pies could talk… Continue reading

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