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Monday, November 25, 2013

A Word From the Weiss
        Happy Thanksgivukkah to every child, dad, and mom from all of the folks at NiceJewishMom.com!Turkey-shaped pumpkin challah from Voila! Hallah.jpg
        I would love to regale you with novel recipes combining giblets and Jewish jelly donuts (a.k.a. sufganiyot), or challah, pumpkin, and turkey, and then rant at length about how preparing for two holidays at once is making me totally meshugenah and giving me tsuris and spilkes! But under the circumstances, I'm way too busy to come up for air for a split second, even to begin kvetching.
        PumpkinPecanPotatoLatkes.JPGBut all is not lost. Somehow, amidst all the shopping and cooking (and did I mention cleaning?), I still found the time to create and test-drive an actual new recipe that serves as a mash-up of the two holidays. What's better than potato latkes with applesauce and sour cream? How about Pumpkin Pecan Potato Latkes with Cranberry Applesauce? You don't really taste the pumpkin, but I like the nut effect so much that I'm not gonna wait until the next time Thanksgivukkah rolls around the make them again. (See the navigation bar at right for the recipe.)

Menurkey.jpg        I also found a moment to compose and then actually record the little ditty below, celebrating the once-in-an-eon confluence of the two major occasions at hand. Feel free to try singing it yourself around the menorah (or menurkey, if you actually have one of these... soon to be a collector's item and/or begin collecting dust). Or better yet, check out our recording on YouTube. That will only take 51 seconds. Less than a minute. Even with two holidays upon us, I'm sure you have time for that.

        Thanksgivukkah, Thanksgivukkah!
        Eat latkes and turkey
        With the leftovers
        We’ll make latke jerky
        Gather ’round the table
        We’ll give you some gelt
        Gotta carve the bird before the candles melt!
Allegra Sean and Jamie.jpg            
Pass the Manischewitz
Or should I just have
two more beers?
Dreidels and drumsticks!?!
These holidays won’t mix
For 70,000 more year-ear-ear-ears!
ThanksgivukkahHarlanrecordingvideo.jpgDreidels and drumsticks!?!
These holidays won’t mix
For 70,000 more years!!!!

To see my daughter Allegra singing this on YouTube with a little help from Sean McCluskey on the keyboard and her nice Jewish mom at her side, please click on this link:

And once again.... HAPPY THANKSGIVUKKAH!
Hope to see you here again next week!

1:05 pm 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

Kosherfest2013exterior.JPG        Last year, it took more than a little noodging, kvetching, and cajoling to convince my husband to accompany me to Kosherfest, but that’s only because we had never been there before and didn’t quite grasp the mind-boggling magnitude and mouth-watering possibilities of the world’s largest annual kosher trade show, held in the Meadowlands.
        This year, all I had to do was say the word and we were on our way to Secaucus, NJ, where 6,500 food industry professionals packed the Exposition Center and 275 exhibitors from throughout the U. S. as well as Israel, Argentina, the U.K., and elsewhere presented their wares with religious fervor and reams of yummy free samples.Kosherfest2013interior.JPG
The first time around, I’d arrived with the one indispensible thing you need to bring to this extravaganza – a hearty appetite – but otherwise found myself ill-prepared. Now, no longer a noshing novice, I knew the ropes. I went there not only well-rested and with a sturdy canvas bag in which to stash press materials – and any free samples I was too stuffed to consume on the spot – but also a brand new product of my own.
OK, so it wasn’t a product, exactly. It was more like a prize. For after blabbering for years about my life in this blog, I had decided that it was time to expand my sights and scope. I wanted to create a way to recognize products and services that I find worthy of recommendation. You know. Like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Only one thing stumped me – what to call this new form of acknowledgement.The Nice Jewish Mom Spiel of Approval.jpg
Then I finally came up with a name: not a seal. A spiel! The NiceJewishMom.com Spiel of Approval, that is (my spiel being, “I tried it! I liked it!”). And what better place to find Jewish products with enough appeal to deserve my spiel than at Kosherfest?
With that in mind, I designed a bright, colorful certificate, printed out two dozen or so, and headed south across the George Washington Bridge.
Now, before you get too excited about all the rugelach, mandelbreit, and other Jewish foods we were about to indulge in, you should understand that Kosherfest is not open to the public. You need to be a member of the food industry or the press to attend.
        BabkefreesamplesatKosherfest.JPG But being NiceJewishMom.com I easily qualified, and as a newspaper consumer reporter so did Nice Jewish Dad. With over 12 million kosher consumers in the U.S., surely some of our readers would appreciate our stories.
Also, you probably should know right now that I am not an entirely objective critic. When it comes to kosher products, I was raised with a certain inculcated prejudice.
My late mother had an extremely voluble and decisive manner of expressing herself, which my husband termed “speaking with emphasis.” And when it came to food, particularly at Passover, there was one message she was determined to emphasize.Streitsmatzomeal.jpg
“Streit’s!” she would intone emphatically after giving me my great grandmother’s recipe for matzo balls or other family favorites. “The matzo meal has to be Streit’s!”
So it was exciting to enter the exhibition hall and walk smack into a giant pyramid made entirely of matzo – boxes of matzo, actually – as high as a mini Mount Sinai.
Not just any kind of matzo, though. All Streit’s.Streit's mountain of matzo at Kosherfest 2013.JPG
And we’re not just talking your garden variety from those Passover five-packs. There were nearly a dozen different flavors of unleavened bread on display, from Egg & Onion, Salt & Pepper, and unsalted to Mediterranean and Onion & Poppy Moonstrips.
The matzos that most piqued my interest were the Mediterranean kind (flavored with sundried tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil) and 5 Grain (made with apple cider instead of water). That’s because studies show that the typical kosher consumer is 40 and under and looking for gourmet, upscale and healthy products. And although I may not be 40 or under anymore, I favor foods that are gourmet, upscale, and healthy too.Streit's 5 Grain matzo.JPG
One look at that high-fiber 5 Grain and I was all set to present my very first Spiel. But to whom? It would take the rest of the afternoon for me to track down Aaron Gross, a fifth-generation member of the Streit’s family, who was evidently on hand.
        But where?
In the meanwhile, I moved on and soon found myself munching on Matzolah.Matzolah.jpg
That’s “Maht-ZOH-lah,” pronounced to kind of rhyme with granola because that’s essentially what it is -- the love child of granola and matzo, a healthy breakfast alternative suitable to eat during Passover, yet judging from the Whole Wheat Maple Nut variety that I tried (available at Whole Foods or directly from the company), tasty enough to snack on all year ’round.
“We’re called the trail mix of the Exodus,” declared Wayne Silverman, CEO of the company, Foodman LLC, who was there to introduce their latest flavor, Gluten-Free Cranberry Orange.Scott Gantwerker and Wayne Silverman with Matzolah.JPG
I was not the only one awarding accolades at this event, and Matzolah’s original version had been proclaimed Best New Passover Product at Kosherfest in 2012. That didn’t deter Silverman or Foodman executive vice president Scott Gantwerker from reacting with palpable excitement when I presented my first Spiel of Approval to their product.
Why, the way they lit up and readily posed for pictures with their crunchy creation, you might’ve thought I had just awarded them the Nobel Peace Prize.
I got no less ardent a reception from Leah Hadad, whose Tribes-a-Dozen company makes Voilà! Hallah, a ready-to-bake bread mix available in Wholey Wheat, Traditional, and Simply Spelt.VoilaHallah'sLeahHadad.JPG
“It’s designed to taste, bake, and smell just like from scratch,” explained Hadad, an Israeli now based in Washington, D.C., whose bake-at-home challah mixes are sold at Walmarts with kosher sections, Prime Butcher Baker in Manhattan, Chevy Chase Supermarket in Maryland, and other stores, as well as on Amazon.com. “We’re selling not just the mix, but the experience,” she said. “And we’re connecting with tradition.”
The company’s slogan, in fact, is “Break bread, not tradition.” And after biting into a moist, fluffy sample, I followed my own new tradition and instantly proffered a Spiel.
Next came something that was not only worthy of my approval, but the answer to my culinary prayers.
My son’s girlfriend, Kaitlin, is a staunch vegetarian. And as much as I admire her for this, I’ve been flummoxed during Jewish holidays when trying to introduce her to the joys of matzo ball soup.MatzoballsoupImade.JPG
Even though I long ago began substituting olive oil for schmaltz (chicken fat) in the balls themselves, the soup I make for her doesn’t quite measure up to the original when I plop my knaidelach into vegetable broth, rather than my homemade chicken stock.
So I was delighted to come across RC Fine Foods, whose wares were fine indeed. The “chicken broth” in their luscious matzo ball soup smelled and tasted just like the real thing. Yet it had been made from their FlavorMatch soup base, which is low-sodium, gluten-free, and not only vegetarian but vegan, said Gary Cohen, whose family RCFineFoodsmatzoballsoup.JPGcompany bears the initials of its founder, Rubin Cohen, his “father of blessed memory.”
The soup base, also available in beef and vegetable flavors from Amazon.com, comes in 12-ounce jars that make 5 gallons of stock apiece. And after downing a cup and a fluffy ball or two, I didn’t skip a beat before presenting him with my Spiel. He in turn insisted on presenting me with a jar each of his chicken and vegetable flavors.
I could hardly wait till Thanksgivukah.
Speaking of which, the Manischewitz company was there in full force, of course, and it wanted to “give a big shout-out” to that upcoming double holiday, said assistant brand manager Avital Pesser.
As you must know by now, Hanukkah begins on Thanksgiving this year, a confluence of events that won’t reoccur for at least another 70,000 years.ManischewitzThanksgivukahrecipecontest.jpg
To celebrate, the company is holding a special recipe contest. Grand prize: $1,000. To submit a recipe reflecting a mash-up of these two occasions, simply “like” the Man-O-Manischewitz Facebook page, read the rules, and upload your recipe with a photo of the dish. Hurry, though, because the deadline is midnight this Sunday, Nov. 17.PistachioOrangeMacaroons.JPG
Pesser also wanted to give a shout-out to Manischewitz’s many new products, including Manischewitzroastedgarlicandoliveoilcouscous.jpgPistachio Orange Macaroons (the successors to last year’s red velvet variety), three new flavors of couscous (including Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil and Tomato & Spinach), and some additions to their Healthy Innovations line, which contains no MSG.
Despite the plethora of baked goods and briskets on display elsewhere, healthy is clearly the direction in which today’s food is headed, and kosher cuisine is certainly no exception.QuinoasamplesfromPereg.JPG
“We’re going big with the ancient grains, which are more and more becoming popular,” said Gene Belkin, VP of sales for Pereg Gourmet, indicating his company’s colorful exhibit of red quinoa, white quinoa, quinoa with mushrooms, farro, and assorted pastas made of, you guessed it, quinoa.
“Our quinoa pasta is the only 100 percent quinoa pasta on the market,” he asserted proudly, noting that it was both high in fiber and protein and gluten-free.
Now, if that wasn’t worthy of a NiceJewishMom.com Spiel of Approval, then what was?HarlantastingatKosherfest2013.JPG
Don’t imagine that I forked over my award indiscriminately to every item I found, though. For example, my husband enthusiastically sampled what we took to be typical bologna, salami, and hot dogs… until it was explained that these tidbits of luncheon “meat” were made entirely from fish.FishbologneatKosherfest.JPG

        I could understand the purpose of these peculiar concoctions; the rules of kashrut dictate that meat and dairy never mix, but (for reasons that I have never entirely grasped) fish is classified as dairy and may be eaten with milk-based items. Yet however practical these preparations may have been, they were not within the realm of becoming recipients of my Spiel. Like them? I wouldn’t even try them.Worldslargestchickennugget.JPG
Then there were the products that I couldn’t try, although not for lack of desire. Empire Kosher Poultry, for instance, the country’s largest kosher poultry producer, had chosen to do something for the occasion even more compelling than offer free samples. Its submission was certified by not just a rabbi, but also the Guinness Book of World Records.
“This is the world’s largest chicken nugget!” cried Simi Lichtman, the young woman stationed beside a golden brown breaded cutlet weighing in at just over 50 pounds. This hefty behemoth, measuring 3.25 feet long and 2 feet wide, had taken a team of six people three hours to prepare and been cooked in a 500-gallon fryer.
“What do I get if I eat the whole thing?” demanded an awestruck onlooker named Schlomo before reconsidering the prospect, noting that he was “a bit of a health nut.”
“You’re a health nut and you’re at Kosherfest?” countered Lichtman incredulously.DrPraegersveggieburgersbooth.JPG
When it came to considerations like limiting caloric intake, I could see her point. Then again, as I said, kosher today is a world away from what your bubbie ate.
Take, for example, exhibit A. The exhibit at booth #436, that is, from Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods, where they were cooking up Asian veggie burgers, Thai veggie burgers, kale veggie burgers, and root vegetable pancakes, most of them gluten-free.DrPraegersveggieburgers.JPG
I bit into a chunk of the Asian variety, which was zesty and flavorful, the key flavor being cilantro. I was so impressed that I whipped out a Spiel. But there was no one to present it to, other than a young woman who seemed too busy flipping burgers to chat.
        With Shari Marks at Kosherfest.jpg
Just at that moment, I saw Shari Marks stroll by. I had first met Ms. Marks, of KosherWeightLossMaven.com, only the week before at the book release party for Jamie Geller’s Joy of Kosher cookbook, and was very happy now that she had caught me chomping on a veggie burger instead of one of Ms. Geller’s caramel nut brownies.
“What’s that?” she asked with a great show of curiosity, after greeting me warmly. She wasn’t talking about the burger, though. She was pointing to my Spiel of Approval.
Never mind that I hadn’t yet tried the diet program on which she lost 50 pounds. The results looked so good on her that, without hesitation, I gave her a Spiel of her own.Lilly's Bake Shoppe macaroons.JPG
From then on, I began trying to restrain my intake and feast mainly with my eyes. Yet it was hard to resist the butter cookies, babka, or chocolate-covered macaroons from Lilly’s Bake Shoppe, based in Brooklyn, where “Quality is our No. 1 ingredient.”DessertsbyMelissaMintChocolateChipcupcake.JPG
Or the bite-sized stuffed cupcakes and mini-cupcakes dipped in chocolate from Baked by Melissa, which had been designated as Best New Dessert or Baked Good. No, these succulent morsels, available in 10 flavors, including mint chocolate chip, triple chocolate fudge, peanut butter cup, and red velvet, are not exactly new; sold at their 10 shops in Manhattan and online for shipping nationwide, they’ve been around since 2009. But they were new to Kosherfest.Green & Ackerman's rugelach.JPG
Soon I began to feel like a wine connoisseur, one who samples countless vintages but quickly spits them out to avoid getting drunk. But how politely can one really eject a bite of chocolate babka or poppyseed rugelach? And so, just to prevent the pretty young woman in the mink vest from Green & Ackerman Bakery from taking offense, I nibbled, spit out discreetly, then promptly presented her with a Spiel.
Somehow I had no trouble whatsoever swallowing a piping hot sample of Shneider’s chocolate lava cake, though.
        Miracle Noodles.jpg
Yes, while my husband managed to track down something called Miracle Noodles – the miracle being that this pasta, available in angel hair, fettuccine, and other forms, is made from a natural fiber and therefore has no gluten, fat, sugar, calories, or net carbs – I was unearthing a very different sort of miracle: an already-mixed cake batter that you use straight from the pouch and bake into melt-in-your-mouth molten chocolate heaven.ShneidersChocolateLavaCake.JPG
No muss, no fuss. As for the calorie count, no one seemed to be talking about that.
“It’s pour and bake,” stated owner Haim Assaraf, who is based in both NYC and France, where this modern miracle is made. Being French in origin, it has more cocoa in it and less sugar and fat, he assured me. (Less than what? A hot fudge sundae?)
After reveling so rapturously in the sublime from France, I found it easy to resist the ridiculous-sounding Breaded Chicken Fries from KJ Poultry, even though this frozen entree had garnered the judges’ award for Best New Deli Meat.The Passover Center games.JPG
Instead, I checked out the merchandise at The Rite Lite Passover Center, featuring 10 plagues masks and hand puppets, Passover jacks (in which you pick up plastic frogs), Passover Seder Bingo (in which you mark off such things as blood, a shank bone, and death of the first born instead of letters and numbers), and a giant inflatable matzo ball.
But Kosherfest was far from all food and games.
        The Kosher Cook star pancake ring.JPG
Also among my favorite finds – and worthy recipients of my Spiel of Approval – were the wide range of kitchen gadgets from The Kosher Cook, including Star of David and dreidle-shaped silicone rings (suitable for making eggs, pancakes, and potato latkes) and reusable dreidle-shaped plastic ice cubes filled with fluid. “You freeze them, put them in your drink, and then you can use them again,” said the kosher cook herself, Gitelle Steinfeld.
I also can vouch without reservation for the intoxicatingly delicious kosher liqueurs that come in flavors like ginger and jasmine from Koval, based in Chicago and now available in over 20 states.Pattie and Harlan at De La Rosa booth.JPG
Also the Riesling and pinot noir from De La Rosa Vineyards in Florida, which are organic, low sulfite, “and kosher, of course,” said its president’s son, Moshe Girshberg.
But with the day waning and most exhibitors beginning to dismantle their booths and disseminate their remaining wares to eager attendees, I decided it was time to lay off the sauce and look for the fellow I hadn’t yet managed to find.
        The man from Streit’s, Aaron Gross.
When I did, he treated me to something even better than Mediterranean matzo: a trip down memory lane, featuring a company that began in 1916 and still does business the old-fashioned way. “There’s an authenticity about us that doesn’t exist elsewhere,” he said. “We’re the Streit’s family. We’ve been baking matzo for almost 100 years.”Streit's Since 1916.jpg
Although they moved down the street from their original location back in 1925, they’ve been using the same ovens ever since, “so if you buy Streit’s, you get the same product that your grandmother ate and that you grew up with as a kid.”
That product is especially crisp and flavorful, he said, thanks to three basic things.
“Everyone else uses direct heat,” Gross said. Streit’s uses convection ovens instead, which reach 1,000 degrees and pump in the heat, allowing the matzo to bake more evenly on both sides.Streitsmatzo.jpg
He also credited the New York City water – “Everyone says the bagels are better here” – and the fact that they sheet their dough before it goes into the oven, creating layers of air that make the finished product less dense.
Even their matzo meal has more “fines” in it, he said – meaning more dust – helping matzo balls absorb the soup they’re in and therefore provide more taste.Aaron Gross of Streit's.JPG
Maybe my mother knew what she was talking about, after all.
Meanwhile, we were so lost in thoughts about matzo that I didn’t notice when Mr. Silverman of Matzolah approached. As it happens, Streit’s distributes Matzolah. And Matzolah contains Streit’s matzo. So Mr. Silverman knows Ms. Gross.
        Rather well, it seems.
“I got the Spiel of Approval!” Mr. Silverman proceeded to taunt him triumphantly. “You didn’t get the Spiel! I got the Spiel!”
Never mind that the giant mountain of Streit’s matzo already had been carted off by various visitors. I didn’t need to try it. I knew that I liked it. So I whipped out another Spiel.PattietastingatKosherfest2013.JPG
I’m sure that there must have been many another product there worthy of my recognition and esteem. Also, that there are plenty of noteworthy items elsewhere that I have yet to endorse. If you know of one, feel free to write on my comments page and call it to my attention.
Of course, I must reserve the final word.
        You may not approve.
        But, hey. It’s my Spiel.     

4:32 pm 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

redheadinchefshat2.jpg        When I recently revealed my intentions to write a new cookbook featuring Jewish family recipes and the stories behind them – tentatively entitled “Shayna Maidels and Knaidels,” capitalizing in part on the considerable cooking prowess of my women's book group, the Shayna Maidels -- my fellow members could not have been more enthusiastic… with the sole exception of one, who weighed in bluntly that “nobody really needs another Jewish cookbook.”ShalomontheRange.jpg
Sure, an almost infinite number are already out there, ranging from The Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook to Shalom on the Range: A Roundup of Recipes and Jewish Traditions from Colorado Kitchens.TheJoyofKoshercookbookcover.jpg
        Yet had this woman joined me at the recent book release party of Jamie Geller’s new tome, Joy of Kosher, then she would have realized that… well, let’s just say that the world is clearly clamoring for at least one more.JamieGellerofficialheadshot.jpg
Geller, widely referred to as “the Jewish Rachael Ray,” launched her latest book with great flair and even greater flavor late last month on a Monday night in Manhattan. And even if I hadn’t already planned to spend the weekend leading up to it in the city, I would have recognized its e-vite, promising “an exclusive evening of food, wine, fun and swag,” as the Jewish equivalent of one of those offers that you can’t refuse.
OK, I suppose I could have refused. But with such temptations from the book on the menu as Cilantro Corn Cakes with Avocado Aioli, Pretzel-Crusted Chicken Skewers with Herbed Curry Mustard, and Latkes with Caviar and “Cream,” I simply didn’t want to.JoyofKosherLatkeswithCaviar.jpg
I also didn’t really want to attend this illustrious event alone. For one thing, as with almost everything in life, it’s more fun to do it with a friend. For another, I would need to have pictures snapped of myself indulging in all of the above delicacies, not to mention showing me meeting the author and having her sign my complimentary copy of the book (something else the e-vite promised).
So I RSVP’d that I would gladly attend, most probably with a photographer in tow. Then I set about trying to find one – a photographer and/or friend. Preferably one and the same.AllegraatSwing46.jpg
I soon realized that attending the event would oblige me to stay overnight with my daughter in the city. Maybe it was too much to ask that she also serve as my wing woman. But what if that honor came along with actual wings (Geller’s Salt and Pepper Chicken ones, that is)… or even her Sweet and Sticky Citrus Drumsticks? So I dared to ask my favorite shayna maidel if she would not only host me, but also help by coming along for the ride.JoyofKoshercitrusdrumsticks.JPG
“What is this thing, exactly?” Allegra asked, sounding skeptical. I forwarded the invitation. She sounded even more skeptical, but agreed to try to make it. At least she didn’t automatically refuse.
With luck, she managed to get off work early that evening. “Are you sure I’m dressed up enough?” she asked as we sped downtown by subway during rush hour.
She needn’t have worried. The issue turned out to hardly be a matter of dressing up. Rather, it was covering up. At least half the women on the guest list wore a sheitel.
A wig, that is, traditionally worn by Orthodox women after marriage, along with long skirts, blouses with sleeves that cover the elbows, and other understated, modest garb.JoyofKoshersign.JPG
As we entered the cavernous Millesime Brasserie, inside the luxurious Carlton Hotel on Madison and 29th, we were relieved to see a placard on the reception table touting the "JOKBOOKPARTY.” JOK (not JOKE) for Joy of Kosher. Otherwise, I would’ve wondered if we were in the right place.
Food, wine, fun, and swag, indeed, seemed to abound.
        As for the event being an “exclusive” evening, though, well, not quite so much. This party had a cast of hundreds. Why, judging from the decibel level, maybe even thousands.JoyofKoshercrowdscene.JPG
Tickets apparently had gone on sale to the public on the website for Geller’s Joy of Kosher magazine, offered at an early-bird discount of $54, including a copy of the book, and evidently had promptly sold out... to half the population of Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island.
Women, along with quite a few men in kippot, swarmed the premises. There were also wait staffers circulating throughout bearing elegant trays. Inhaling the heady aromas, I could almost taste the latkes. But first we needed to sign in.JoyofKoshermaleguest.JPG
The young woman behind the press table welcomed me warmly, but seemed perplexed at the sight of my companion.  I reminded her that my RSVP had included a photographer.  The woman reached for a blank label and asked Allegra her name.AllegraatTomiJune2013.JPG
        She hesitated to reply. As a young jazz singer, Allegra has never considered adopting a stage name to sound less Jewish, once almost de rigueur in the entertainment world. But in this case, how skeevy would it sound that we both happened to be named Levy?
        The truth is that she needn't have worried; my name tag bore only my maiden name, Weiss. But
she barely skipped a beat before offering her middle name in place of her last. “Allegra Colette,” she replied. Never mind that this sounded both fake and fairly Gentile. We were in!JoyofKosherpartywaiter.JPG
Surveying the room, we saw hordes of people gorging on plates piled sky-high with kosher cuisine.
We passed a staircase just as a procession of waiters descended bearing platters of exquisite hors d’oeuvres. Within seconds, they were surrounded by a stampede of hungry guests reaching out with such fervor that had I been serving, I might have feared losing my balance... or a leg.
By the time they reached us, the platters were bare. But with the next round we managed to snag something succulent and zesty that tasted like ground lamb patties wrapped in pita.JoyofKosherPretzelCrustedChicken.jpg
Then came the pretzel-crusted chicken skewers with mustard dip. Yummm!
These were followed by a platter of colorful sushi rolls coated in sesame seeds. There was, however, no actual raw fish involved. This was Geller’s recipe for Sesame Chicken “Sushi” with Hoisin Garlic Sauce. (And no, the chicken wasn’t raw. It was fully cooked.)JoyofKosherpartyPattiedipping.JPG
All were recipes culled from her latest release, which follows her two earlier successful volumes, Quick and Kosher Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing (published in 2007), and 2010’s Quick & Kosher: Meals in Minutes.JoyofKoshercocktails.JPG 
By then, we had developed a powerful thirst and headed to one of the open bars. Allegra ordered one of the evening’s two featured specialty cocktails, a creamy martini made with kosher sweet potato vodka. I opted for the champagne with passion fruit.
And suddenly I realized that I didn’t just need a photographer to snap me imbibing. We needed a second photographer to capture the two of us.
Enter Liz Rueven, a fellow writer and redhead from Connecticut, who terms herself the “editor and chief eater” of her own website, which is called Kosher Like Me.DinaMannandLizRuevenatJoyofKosher.JPG
Are you Kosher Like Me?” she asks in the introduction to her blog about eating kosher both in and outside the home. “I know a lot of people who are. We keep kosher kitchens at home and honor the rules outside of our homes by eating as vegetarians.”
No, I had to confess, I was merely kosher like me. That is… not so much.
Liz was there with her friend Dina Mann, from BeyondBubbie.com, another Jewish food-oriented website that aims to serve as “an interactive community cookbook and a place to share the stories and memories connected to these recipes.”JoyofKosherpartyPattieandAllegra.JPG
They shot us. We shot them. And soon we were all quick and kosher friends.
Speaking of which… wasn’t it high time to have a quick look at the buffet?
Along with all of the passed hors d’oeuvres, there was a stationary spread ample enough to feed even the ravenous assembled masses.
At its center was a platter of ruddy, sliced beef cooked distinctly on the rare side. Geller’s Balsamic London Broil, perhaps? Or was it her Skirt Steak with Salsa Verde?JoyofKosherpastasalad.jpg
Beside it was a mammoth mound of cold grains with fruit and other tasty stuff mixed in. Rice Salad with Toasted Nuts, Apples, and Onion Dressing, I presumed. Also, a fresh green salad and a pasta and tomato salad arranged on greens.
We helped ourselves, and none too soon, I might add, for before we knew it these platters were suddenly whisked away to make room for the procession of desserts.
It was a groaning board of desserts. A so-called Viennese table, if I ever saw one. Kosher or not, it was a fairyland of confections come to life.JoyofKosherdesserttable.JPG
We could only see this in the distance, though. We couldn’t actually get anywhere near it, because hundreds of eager guests began charging over as if they hadn’t eaten in years, piling the small white plastic plates provided to full capacity and well beyond.
Many of them were assembling plates to share with their table mates. Others could be seen wrapping their pyramids of pastries with plastic wrap to take home.
We decided to restrain ourselves by comparison, and a good thing, too, because no sooner had I snatched a single gooey Nutty Caramel Brownie than I found myself rubbing (covered) elbows and other body parts with Shari Marks, a.k.a. Kosher Weight Loss Maven, a super-svelte mother of six and certified health coach from San Diego who lost nearly 50 pounds (and has kept ’em off) via a program called Take Shape for Life.
“I’m back to the size I was when I was a teenager,” she kvelled exuberantly.
Did that mean I should put my brownie back and shun the dessert display entirely?
Well, maybe just a bite. Or two.JoyofKoshercandyapple.JPG
But it wouldn’t hurt to look, right? No, let’s be honest. You could gain a pound just peering at it. There were bundt cakes, carrot cakes, fruit tarts, a mountain range of brownies, and gorgeous chocolate-dipped apples encrusted with multi-colored sprinkles and nuts.JoyofKosherchocolatebark.jpg
There were also trays heaped with white and dark chocolate bark studded with pretzels, nuts, and candies.
        It felt like we were at a giant, lavish wedding reception, only one without a bride.
I take that back. There was a bride. A bride who once "knew nothing,” but was now an internationally known author and entrepreneur able to marry age-old traditions with social media who had just begun signing cookbooks in the corner.JamieGellersigningbooks.JPG
If Ms. Geller was wearing a sheitel, it was a really good one; you wouldn’t know. But I could only assume that she was.
        “Till I was in my midtwenties, those ‘old dietary restrictions’ never meant much to me,” she writes in her book. She grew up modern and ambitious in Philadelphia (with a little help from her mother's certainty "that I would one day become the first Jewish woman president of the United States"). After studying broadcast journalism and Hebrew language and literature at NYU, she became a successful young television producer.
“Yet somewhere between covering the Oscars and practicing yoga, I gravitated to Jewish observance,” she explains, “a lifestyle that had been dropped by my family in recent generations.”Gellershubby.JPG
This soon led her to marry the man she refers to as her “hubby,” with whom she now has five children, and move to Israel, to which she made aliyah in 2012. Yet not all of her devotees are equally devout.
As she observed on a TV talk show in 2011, keeping kosher isn’t strictly a choice made by observant Jews anymore.  “We’re finding that you don’t have to be kosher to love kosher. The way farm-to-table food was very popular, vegan, gluten-free, kosher is the new trend, and everyone’s jumping on it.”
And as the “Queen of Kosher,” Geller helps them jump with joy.Gellerinkitchen.jpg
Her new book, I’d soon discover, is written in a lively and conversational style. Her recipes are also uncomplicated and basic (although each has both a “dress it up” version to make it worthy of company or “dress it down” version for every day use).
A Jewish Julia Child she is not.
“I am not a natural-born killer cook, and my grandfather would say I’m ‘no balabusta,’ she confesses in the introduction. Then she goes on to explain the Yiddish term.
“Simply, a balabusta is a homemaker,” she writes. “But a 'real balabusta' is someone who serves a ten-course – all homemade, all perfect – meal to fifty people, and she made the place cards and re-covered all the dining room chairs… And her kitchen is spotless after the party, even before her guests leave.”
By contrast, Geller grew up on take-out, learned to cook only by necessity after she married, and claims that she still doesn’t love kitchen duty and enjoys cleaning even less.
“I’m the kind of homemaker who just stares at the dirty dishes in the sink, hoping they will do themselves,” she writes. Then she goes to bed praying for a miracle on par with the parting of the Red Sea that they’ll have cleaned themselves by morning.
“And you already know that if this had happened, you would be holding a very different book.”
        Her book also explains, for the uninitiated, not only cooking basics, but also the basics of cooking kosher – i.e. “Milk and meat (and their products) are never cooked or eaten together.” “Pork and shellfish are off the menu.” And, “Meat must be slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law (which is the most humane method of slaughter) and ‘koshered’ by soaking in water and salting to remove blood.”
Also, processed foods require special certification. This means that a rabbi or rabbinic agency has monitored their preparation and guaranteed that they contain no non-kosher ingredients. "A rabbi does not bless the food," she clarifies. "His job is to keep a sharp eye on the process.”JoyofKosherPattiestillinline.JPG
I meanwhile was keeping a sharp eye on the book-signing line, but not sharp enough for my daughter. To her distress, other guests kept cutting in front of me. At least 20 minutes had passed, and I had barely progressed an inch.
Had we forgone dessert only to begin wandering in the desert for 40 years? Maybe I felt no great sense of urgency, but my offspring-slash-photographer did.JoyofKosherlinecompanion.JPG
So I squished in a little tighter behind the pretty young woman ahead of me. She was an event planner and mother of 6 who shared my maiden name. And a good thing, too. Because we were about to spend so much time together that when we’d finally reached the head of the line, we were practically related.
At least we were now so close to Ms. Geller that I could hear her warmly greeting each guest, many of whom she seemed to know personally.
        I've been told that the Queen of England always asks members of the public she meets, "Did you come far?"
        The Queen of Kosher had a different question.
“Did you get something to eat?” she asked the blonde in the long blue sweater.JoyofKosherPattienextinline.JPG
“Did you get something to eat?” she repeated to my new friend in the white wool coat.
She wasn’t just being a nice Jewish mom, determined to feed everyone to excess. Nor was she any longer the bride who knew nothing. She was now the bride who ate nothing. She was so busy signing books that she hadn’t gotten to take a single bite herself.
But there was no time for even a little nosh now. The line had swelled to epic proportions behind me, but mercifully had dwindled ahead. And suddenly I was next!
I handed my book over and gave her my business card. She smiled. She wrote. Then Allegra moved in for the money shot as Geller let me join her behind the table, and suddenly we two nice Jewish moms were standing cheek to cheek!
Then I gave way to the next woman in line and eagerly opened my book.JamieGellerandme.JPG
“Pattie, Thank you so much for coming,” she had inscribed, then scrawled a heart and her name. As sweet as a Nutty Caramel Brownie, although maybe she was not my new best friend just yet.
No matter. Mission accomplished! Well, maybe not quite. Feeling indebted to my own “hubby,” a.k.a. Nice Jewish Dad, for giving me a night or two off from domesticity, I decided to visit the dessert table one more time, if only to bring him just a little treat.
Oh, well. It now looked like dining Armageddon. After the deluge of doggie-bag takers, little was left beyond a few slivers of cake and some scraps of chocolate bark.JoyofKosheratdesserttable.JPG
A dark-haired woman surveying the remains of the night offered me a chunk of chocolate, wondering aloud what the wait staff would say about us when they got home.
“Will they tell their families we were like buzzards?” she asked with a hearty laugh.
Who knows? All I can tell you is what we said when we got home.
I must confess that I had encouraged Allegra to help herself to a “swag bag” – there were hundreds, and it was the least I could do in return for her help. And after unloading its contents, she opened her own free copy of the book and began to read its contents aloud to her roommates, the excitement mounting in her voice by the minute.JoyofKosherAllegratoasting.JPG
“Coq au Vin with Veal Sausage, Thyme and Merlot!” she exclaimed.
“Blue Cheese, Pear, and Arugula Pizza!”
“Avocado-Stuffed Miso-Glazed Salmon!”
“Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Mousse!"
        So, who needs another Jewish cookbook? Who knows? She may not keep kosher, but there was no mistaking it. This was genuine joy. So there’s evidently room on her shelf.

4:07 pm 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.