Category Archives: Recipes & Food

One Couple, Two Faiths, Endless Flavor – Jewish Food Experience by Stacey Viera

Plantain latkes at Chanukah. Arroz y habichuelas (rice and beans) on the Rosh Hashanah table next to Big Mama Tillie’s roast brisket. Flan de queso crema (cream cheese custard) for Shavuot.

While those might be run-of-the-mill Jewish holiday dishes in some parts of the world, it was completely unheard of in my Ashkenazi upbringing in Silver Spring, Maryland. Of course, that is before I met Luis.

Seventeen years ago, I dragged myself off of my sofa in my apartment on Capitol Hill to go to a party in Ballston. Why? Because a friend told me that a cute Jewish guy was going to be there.

I met the Jewish guy. Eh, he wasn’t for me. But the person who really impressed me was his roommate, Luis, a Puerto Rican man who spoke with kindness and humor in heavily accented English.

We started dating with few expectations about where the relationship would go, though after a few months, it became clear that this was It. However, Luis wasn’t Jewish, and I wouldn’t ask him to convert. What would this mean for my Jewish identity—and the eventual children I hoped to have and raise as Conservative Jews?

Dr. Marion Usher’s new book, One Couple, Two Faiths: Stories of Love and Religion, contains scores of personal stories, like my own, illuminating the different paths that couples and families follow when deciding how to build relationships based on—and despite—religious differences.

Usher takes decades of expertise in counseling interfaith couples and their loved ones in Washington, DC, and provides a practical guide to making Judaism a “center of gravity” in a family, as it was in hers growing up in Montreal, Canada.

As Usher describes in detail and through multiple anecdotes, Judaism isn’t just a religion or an ethnicity; it’s a myriad of things to myriad people who identify as Jewish in their own way. The question she prompts the reader to ask herself is: How do I express my Judaism?

This is the same question I had to ask myself once my relationship with Luis got serious. I went to my grandma Tillie (aka Big Mama), who was a spry, lucid 88 at the time (she’ll be 103 this October, kinahora) and asked her, “Mama, can I marry a non-Jew?”

What would my deeply traditional Big Mama—who had as dedicated and loving a Jewish marriage as anyone could dream for—say about marrying a non-Jew?

In her frank and honest manner, Mama said, “Is he kind? That’s what matters. You found a nice man who is nice to you and good for you.” And in her not-so-subtle way of reminding me that I am far from a perfect person, she added, “I hope that you’re good for him.”

Our interfaith and interracial Jewish marriage is not without its challenges, yet over the past 13 years we have chosen to work together and use our trials to strengthen our partnership. I’ve learned Spanish to better communicate with Luis’ family, and Luis took Hebrew classes with our synagogue’s Adult Education program. He also learned a little Yiddish, much to Mama’s delight and amusement. While he’s never developed a taste for gefilte fish, Mama always makes sure there is a bowl of tuna salad on our holiday table just for Luis. And so many culinary delights, such as plantain latkes, have sprung from our union of Jewish and Puerto Rican cuisine.

Luis and I use our shared values to keep the Jewish home and raise the Jewish family that is right for us. Conservative Judaism didn’t lose a daughter when I intermarried; it gained a son.

We recognize the responsibilities that come with the privileges afforded to us. It is not enough that we signed a ketubah and danced the hora at our wedding. Several months before we decided to marry, we promised each other that it is our sacred responsibility to teach our eventual children about Jewish values and Torah, as well as the value of building significant relationships with the local Jewish community and with Israel.

We are blessed to have found Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington, Virginia, a welcoming spiritual home based in Conservative Jewish liturgy with a rabbi who is open to meeting families where they are in Jewish observance. Accepting our intermarried status inspired Luis and me to become involved in the community and, as a result, more rigorous in our Jewish observance.

This is absolutely key, according to Usher: “The greater Jewish community must take responsibility for including and incorporating interfaith families and allowing the families to experience what Judaism has to offer as a religion and as a caring community.”

The 2017 Greater Washington Jewish Community Demographic Study revealed that as intermarried couples outnumber those who are in-married, more Washington-area Jews attend services and programs than belong/pay dues to synagogues. Just 31 percent of area Jews belong to a synagogue, below the 39-percent national average.

Usher sees this as less of a challenge than an opportunity for traditional “brick-and-mortar” synagogues, particularly within the Conservative movement. “It’s all about nuance,” she said, “Pushing the edges where they can be pushed and where people can feel included.”

She states that if individual synagogue boards of directors are open to inclusion, the congregation will follow. She uses the example of the interfaith aufruf performed by Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, formerly of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, to illustrate this point. Usher recalled, “While he couldn’t marry the interfaith couple, he made a blessing on the bima to bless the couple. That was a huge statement.”

Whatever our martial status, we each have unique circumstances and challenges that require varied solutions. Usher explains what binds us as Jews: “Being charitable is one of the three important tenets of Judaism. These pillars are tefillah, teshuvah and tzedakah—studying, remembering what gives meaning to our lives and doing acts of kindness.”

Ultimately, this all comes back to food and the power of food to draw people together. We could be called the People of the (Recipe) Book. Unsure how to reach out to an interfaith family in your community? A meaningful, low-barrier way to make them feel welcomed and build relationships is through sharing recipes and meals. This theme crops up time and again in One Couple, Two Faiths. Try making one of Dr. Usher’s family recipes, my interpretation of tuna noodle kugel, or a dish based on your heritage and that of the couple you wish to honor.

These small gestures, Usher says, are “not earth shattering; it’s just once inch at a time.” As Big Mama Tillie would advise, it’s the kind thing to do. And that’s what matters.

Dr. Marion Usher’s guide to interfaith relationships, One Couple, Two Faiths: Stories of Love and Religion, is available locally at Politics & Prose Bookstore and on Amazon.

–Stacey Viera

Stacey Viera has held multiple leadership positions at Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington, VA. She currently serves as Secretary. She is a Communications Strategist, Storyteller and Food Writer & Photographer.

Website – www.StaceyViera.com
Blog – www.everyfoodfits.com
Twitter – @staceyviera

Photos: Mishloach Manot for Arlington Seniors Project

Todah Rabah to the many congregants and Preschool families that contributed to and participated in our Mishloach Manot for Arlington Seniors project on Sunday, February 11!

Photo by Chris Kagy
Photo by Chris Kagy
Photo by Chris Kagy
Photo by Chris Kagy
Photo by Chris Kagy
Photo by Alexis Joyce
Photo by Rabbi Lia Bass
Photo by Rabbi Lia Bass
Photo by Rabbi Lia Bass
Photo by Rabbi Lia Bass
Photo by Rabbi Lia Bass
Photo by Rabbi Lia Bass
Photo by Alexis Joyce
Photo by Alexis Joyce
Photo by Alexis Joyce
Photo by Alexis Joyce

A Jewish Founding Father? New Cookbook by Laura Kumin

The release of The Hamilton Cookbook: Cooking, Eating & Entertaining in Hamilton’s World arrived at the perfect time—and not just for the reasons you might think.

Click here to read the full article by Stacey Viera about the new Hamilton cookbook, written by Laura Kumin. Kumin taught at Etz Hayim’s Religious School, and will lead the Adult Education class “Foods of Purim Around the World” on February 11, 2018. 

Omer Recipes 2017: Day 49 | Jacob’s Lentil Stew

Enjoying these recipes? Interested in purchasing a hard copy cookbook version of them? If so, register your interest here. Thanks!

Cap off counting of the Omer by joining us for Shavuot Ice Cream Study led by Howard Shatz: “Out of the Desert: The origins and future of the Islamic State (and what it means for Israel)”, Tuesday, May 30, 8:30pm (at the home of Rabbi Bass).
Today is 49 days, which is 7 weeks of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

And here’s today’s recipe, contributed by Ben S..

Jacob’s Lentil Stew

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro (coriander), divided
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks, including leaves
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups dry red lentils
  • 1/4 cup pearl barley (omit for GF)
  • 2 qts. vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp hyssop or parsley
  • 1/2 tsp sumac (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • Roughly chop the cilantro. Scrub the carrots, then cut them into chunks (do not peel). Cut celery into chunks, including leaves. Reserve.
  • In a medium sized soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute till translucent.
  • Add garlic, carrot chunks, and celery. Continue to saute till onion turns golden and ingredients begin to caramelize. Add red lentils and barley to the pot, stir. Cover mixture with 2 qts. of broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add 1/4 cup of the fresh cilantro to the pot along with the cumin, hyssop or parsley, sumac (optional) and bay leaf; stir.
  • Cover the pot and let the stew simmer slowly for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes, until barley is tender and the stew is thickened.
This recipe was devloped by Tori Avey as an authentic version of the stew Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for. It’s meticulously researched, see the full description here: http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2011/02/jacobs-lentil-stew-2/.

Gluten Free Modification: Omit the barley for a more soup-like texture, or substitute 1/4 cup brown rice for the barley. Rice is not a Biblical-era grain, but it makes a delicious substitute for those struggling with Celiac or gluten intolerance.

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Omer Recipes 2017: Day 48 | Hot Dog Surprise

Enjoying these recipes? Interested in purchasing a hard copy cookbook version of them? If so, register your interest here. Thanks!

Cap off counting of the Omer by joining us for Shavuot Ice Cream Study led by Howard Shatz: “Out of the Desert: The origins and future of the Islamic State (and what it means for Israel)”, Tuesday, May 30, 8:30pm (at the home of Rabbi Bass).
Today is 48 days, which is 6 weeks and 6 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

And here’s today’s recipe, contributed by Shira S..

Hot Dog Surprise

Ingredients

  • Mashed potatoes
  • Hot dogs
  • Sauerkraut

Directions

  • Make mashed potatoes (homemade are the best, but can use pareve Croyden House or other instant mashed potatoes, too).
  • Slice 1-2 packages of hot dogs (depending on how large a pan you use and layer on bottom of pan.
  • Top with sauerkraut.
  • Top with mashed potatoes.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Missed a recipe? Find them all here.

Omer Recipes 2017: Day 47 | Challah French toast bake

Enjoying these recipes? Interested in purchasing a hard copy cookbook version of them? If so, register your interest here. Thanks!

Cap off counting of the Omer by joining us for Shavuot Ice Cream Study led by Howard Shatz: “Out of the Desert: The origins and future of the Islamic State (and what it means for Israel)”, Tuesday, May 30, 8:30pm (at the home of Rabbi Bass).
Today is 47 days, which is 6 weeks and 5 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

And here’s today’s recipe, contributed by Stacey V..

Challah French toast bake

Ingredients

  • 1lb challah (cubed)
  • 6 eggs
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk

Directions

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cube the stale bread or dry out cubes by leaving out overnight or in heating oven.
  • In a large bowl, mix eggs, and add vanilla, sugar, salt and milk.
  • Grease 2-quart lidded baking dish. Mix half of bread cubes with half of egg mixture. In the large bowl, add remaining bread to remaining egg mixture. Allow bread to stand for several minutes to soak up liquid. Once liquid is absorbed, dump contents of large bowl into baking dish and mix together.
  • Place lid on baking dish and bake for 20 minutes at 350. Uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes until edges brown. Edges will be firm and crunchy while center of challah bake will be soft and gooey.

Missed a recipe? Find them all here.

Omer Recipes 2017: Day 46 | Sweet Potato Pie

Enjoying these recipes? Interested in purchasing a hard copy cookbook version of them? If so, register your interest here. Thanks!

Cap off counting of the Omer by joining us for Shavuot Ice Cream Study led by Howard Shatz: “Out of the Desert: The origins and future of the Islamic State (and what it means for Israel)”, Tuesday, May 30, 8:30pm (at the home of Rabbi Bass).
Today is 46 days, which is 6 weeks and 4 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

And here’s today’s recipe, contributed by Noa A..

Sweet Potato Pie

Ingredients

  • 9-inch unbaked pie crust
  • 1/4 cup margarine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup top milk
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 3 eggs separated
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 large sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed through sieve

Directions

  • Cream margarine until soft.
  • Add salt and sugar and cream until sugar is blended.
  • Add lemon juice and rind.
  • Add beaten egg yolks, cinnamon and sieved potatoes and milk.
  • Mix thoroughly.
  • Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.
  • Brush pie crust with unbeaten egg white.
  • Pour mixture into pie crust.
  • Bake in hot oven ten minutes then lower temperature to moderate
  • Bake another 40 minutes or until inserted in center comes out clean.

Missed a recipe? Find them all here.

Omer Recipes 2017: Day 45 | Brigadeiro

Enjoying these recipes? Interested in purchasing a hard copy cookbook version of them? If so, register your interest here. Thanks!

Cap off counting of the Omer by joining us for Shavuot Ice Cream Study led by Howard Shatz: “Out of the Desert: The origins and future of the Islamic State (and what it means for Israel)”, Tuesday, May 30, 8:30pm (at the home of Rabbi Bass).
Today is 45 days, which is 6 weeks and 3 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

And here’s today’s recipe, contributed by Rabbi B..

Brigadeiro

Ingredients

  • 2 cans of sweet condensed milk
  • 5 heaping tablespoons of Ghirardelli ground chocolate or Nesquick
  • 4 tablespoons of butter, plus 1 tablespoon for rolling.
  • Chocolate sprinkles for rolling the candy

Directions

  • Put all ingredients in a 6 quart pot.
  • In medium/high heat stir constantly, allowing the mixture to start boiling.
  • Keep stirring until as you stir with the spatula or wooden spoon the bottom of the pot can be seen.
  • Put the mixture on glass or ceramic pot and wait 2 hours or more, until you can handle the mixture comfortably.
  • Coat your hands with butter.
  • Take a teaspoon of the mixture, roll it on your hands until a ball is formed, and roll it to cover with chocolate sprinkles.
  • Put them on a platter, and enjoy!
Brazilians put their brigadeiros in little cupcake wrappers, but they are virtually impossible to find here, so you can leave them on a platter. They freeze really well, in an airtight container.

Missed a recipe? Find them all here.

Omer Recipes 2017: Day 44 | Foolproof Chocolate Fudge

Enjoying these recipes? Interested in purchasing a hard copy cookbook version of them? If so, register your interest here. Thanks!

Cap off counting of the Omer by joining us for Shavuot Ice Cream Study led by Howard Shatz: “Out of the Desert: The origins and future of the Islamic State (and what it means for Israel)”, Tuesday, May 30, 8:30pm (at the home of Rabbi Bass).
Today is 44 days, which is 6 weeks and 2 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

And here’s today’s recipe, contributed by Noa A..

Foolproof Chocolate Fudge

Ingredients

  • 3 (6-ounce) packages of semi-sweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 (14-ounce) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Directions

  • In heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt morsels with Eagle Brand.
  • Remove from heat; stir in remaining ingredients.
  • Spread evenly into wax paper lined 8-inch square pan.
  • Chill 2 to 3 hours or until firm.
  • Turn fudge onto cutting board; peel off paper and cut into squares.
  • Store loosely covered at room temperature
Makes about 1 3/4 pounds fudge. Also good made with only twelve ounces of semi-sweet morsels.

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