Purim Cocktail!

Ok, so maybe my kids didn't get the homemade hamantaschen experience this year, but at least the Man and I got our drink on. This drink (I'll post again below) is delicious! I used orange and ginger marmalade, but I would also try apricot preserves as well.

You can taste the Aquavit and, while the drink is sweet, it isn't


sweet. Deelish. But it needs a name other than the "Ethel". I like the Scandinavian/Jewish nature of it. Just like me and the Man.

1 1/2 oz North Shore Aquavit

¾ Galliano l’authentico

Spoon orange marmalade

¾ lemon juice

¼ oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice, shake, and strain into chilled cocktail coupe. Use a vegetable peeler to cut a strip of orange peel, mist cocktail with oil, and place decoratively.


Hamantaschen Fail. Now What?

Well, they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions... So, I


meant to make hamataschen this year. In fact, I was so close. My youngest was in a flour-covered smock and everything. We made the dough, smelled the delicious orange zest, and put it in the fridge. But then I was tired. So I took a nap. And then the kids had a birthday party to go to. And when we got back, the Man and I were wrecked. So the next morning I pulled out the bowl and... Totally dried out block of cookie dough. Rock hard. Solid. I left it out to thaw, but it didn't. Sadness in the house. And now I'm tired. So: addendum to my recipe. Refrigerate for

half an hour

, not overnight!!!

But, let's talk Purim Party!

While my last post had to do with


attempting to make delicious hamantaschen, today's has to do with the holiday itself. In addition to sending gifts of food, Jews are obligated to have a


, a feast with symbolic foods. Foods typically eaten are filled foods (for holding secrets) such as kreplach, a dumpling much like a wonton. Some Jews eat chickpeas and other beans because tradition suggests that Esther kept vegetarian in the king's palace in order to avoid breaking the kosher dietary laws.

But the fun thing about this feast (for adults) is the drinking.

This is what we in the ritual biz call a "tension release" holiday. Alcohol is liberally consumed, making the festival unusual in Jewish custom. It is in fact a tradition to get so wasted that one doesn't know the difference between "Blessed be Mordechai" (the good guy) and "Cursed be Haman" (the bad guy).

A classic reversal holiday such as Mardi Gras, there is a carnival-like atmosphere to Purim. In late 19th and early 20th century America, German Jewish women used the holiday for fundraising balls, throwing lavish masquerade parties. Eclipsed in the mid-twentieth century by the growing importance of Chanukah, Purim is enjoying a resurgence among American Jews of all movements. Among the Orthodox, this holiday functions much like Halloween (which they do not celebrate). The children (and adults) dress in costume and consume candy and other sweets by the handful.

But, for those of you who know the Culinary Converter, you know that what I'm really interested in here are the cocktails. Help me brainstorm:

My instinct would be to go in the direction of pomegranate in order to suggest the Persian influence on the holiday, but my favorite cocktail that I've found online is the Ethel. It's a hamantaschen-inspired cocktail designed by Chicago-based Charles Joly, the chief mixologist at the Drawing Room:

1 1/2 oz North Shore Aquavit

¾ Galliano l’authentico

Spoon orange marmalade

¾ lemon juice

¼ oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice, shake, and strain into chilled cocktail coupe. Use a vegetable peeler to cut a strip of orange peel, mist cocktail with oil, and place decoratively.

Read more about this here: http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/93349/tis-the-season/

I'm totally making this after work, mainly because I have all the ingredients. I'll let you know!

Purim and Planning

My husband looked up at me from his IPad the other day and said, "What about roast lamb shoulder with parsnip fries?" I responded, "For when? This weekend?" He said, "No, for Passover." To which my response was, incredulously, "Like, as in April? Passover??"

But this is what we do. We haven't even hit Purim yet, but the planning for Passover has begun. For my family (the Jewish side), Passover and Thanksgiving are the big holidays. And my beloved Presbyterian-raised partner has embraced them both with gusto. For me, Passover is the apex of everything I love about holidays. With the rich symbolism of the food stuffs served to family and friends, I'm in ritual heaven.

But for my man, Passover is a culinary challenge. And I don't mean challenge as in problem, but more like an Iron Chef challenge. What is the most amazing food he can prepare without using some of the most common ingredients in cooking? Stay tuned. It's going to get crazy here.

But for now, we find Purim in the offing.

Purim is a Jewish holiday that takes place in early spring to commemorate events detailed in the biblical Scroll of Esther/Megillat Esther. The book describes a failed genocidal plot against the Jews of Persia. The scheme, led by the king's advisor, Haman, was uncovered by Mordecai. Esther, the niece of Mordecai, won the heart of King Ahasuerus. Through her bravery in speaking up for her people, Haman's evil plot was foiled and the Jews were spared their planned execution.

The holiday falls on the 14th day of Adar in the Hebrew Calendar, which takes place in early spring. The rituals of Purim come from the Scroll of Esther and two obligations involve food. According to the text, Purim is to be a festival "of feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor" (Esther 9:22). In adherence to this text, Jews are obligated to feast on Purim afternoon and to do mishloach manot [sending portions]. The mishloach manot are gifts containing two different foods that are ready to eat with no needed preparation (including beverages) to at least one person. These gifts are often sent through a third party, usually a child. Oh, and did I mention the costumes? The first time we actually had someone bring us mishloach manot, it was a father-son duo dressed as firemen. My husband saw them coming up the walk and panicked, "Do we give them something?? Like on Halloween?" Once I realized what was happening, I said, "Um, no. I think


are bringing us something!"

There is often great creativity expressed in theme baskets, and some may become quite elaborate. In the United States, sweets, particularly hamantaschen are the most common of gifts. Known alternatively as "Haman's Hats" or "Haman's Ears", hamantaschen are three cornered cookies stuffed with filling.

The traditional Ashkenazic (Eastern European and German) flavors are prune and poppy seed, but I never make those (although my sister-in law keeps hinting that she really likes the prune ones; maybe this year will be the year!). These cookies can include endless varieties of fruit fillings, as well as chocolate and even Nutella. Some Jews bake hamantaschen in order to use up their flour before Passover, much like the pancakes consumed on Fat Tuesday before the Lenten season begins.

So what is the plan for Purim in the Culinary Converter's house this year? Hamantaschen, of course. I say that like I make them every year. Which I don't,much to my husband's despair. But I have really good intentions this year. Sadly Purim falls during Lent this year, so there may be some of my dear friends who may have to abstain from the yummy cookies this time. Luckily, these freeze well!

This recipe is adapted from

Sundays at the Moosewood

. I only use the dough recipe, because I like that these cookies come out cake-y rather than crumbly (like other recipes I've tried). Also, the citrus flavor is great, I added orange zest to the juice. As for fillings, I tend to use fruit preserves. My daughters have requested chocolate this year. And I think I need to try the Nutella version.


For the Dough:

1 cup butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

4 tsp baking powder

5 cups flour

4 tsp orange juice and the zest of one orange

2 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and mix. In a separate bowl, stir the baking powder into the flour. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the juice/zest to the butter/sugar/eggs mixture. Stir in vanilla. Refrigerate dough for at least ½ an hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Take half the dough and on a well-floured surface, roll to ¼ inch thickness. Cut into circles w/a 3 inch cookie cutter (I use a glass).

3. Put one teaspoon of filling in the middle of each circle. Pull 3 points of the circle toward the center (over the filling) in order to form a triangle. Pinch the dough together along the seams.

4. Repeat steps 2-3 w/leftover dough as well as with reworked scraps from the first batch. Place hamantaschen 2 inches apart on buttered baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes, until lightly browned.

Makes about 40 hamantaschen.

Any other ideas for filling? Or maybe for making mishloach manot?

Eating and Mourning

People are kind. Incredibly kind.

I've taken an extended break from my new practice of blogging in order to mourn the passing of my father. I don't plan to write about this loss here, except to say that food seems to be integral to the mourning process. Jewish practice is for mourners to be served a "meal of consolation" after they return home from the funeral. This meal frequently features hard-boiled eggs as eggs are almost universal symbols of new life, whether the meaning be fertility, resurrection, or the cycle of creation. However, almost any round food will do. While this meal is imbued with symbolism, this practice also serves as a way to make sure that the mourners eat something, as they might not feel hungry during their grief. I will say that personally, I ate a ton during shiva (the week-long period after the funeral). Partially, this was due to feeling incredibly sad and being convinced that my pain was physical. Not being able to determine what was wrong with me, I just assumed I was hungry. I attempted to fill the void with traditional Jewish soul food: deli and Chinese. No, really. All I wanted was pastrami, wonton soup, and Singapore noodles. And people brought so much food. But it turned out, despite my massive consumption of carbs and salted meats, I was not hungry. I was just sad.

One of the most jarring features of the shiva was being in my mother's house and not seeing her cook. Not once. She barely used the stove to make her constantly brewing moka pot of espresso (a neighbor lent us her Keurig). I like to say that I come from food. And from cooking. And that all comes from my mother's warm and hospitable kitchen. And I know that cooking makes her happy. But when you're mourning a loss of a loved one, you can't do things that make you happy. And so this post includes no recipes.

Have you any associations with eating and mourning? Any cultural traditions? Sad or funny stories?

Fasting and Feasting

Jews talk a lot about eating, but this post is [mainly] about not eating.

The Jewish ritual year calls for abstention from food on six occasions, the most well-known and observed fast being that of our upcoming Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. According to the latest National Jewish Population Survey, 60% of American Jews fast on Yom Kippur, a number that is significantly higher than those who belong to synagogues (47%). Among those Jews who are affiliated, the number is higher (79%) a percentage that comes close to the 83% who light Chanukah candles and dwarfs the lighting of Shabbat candles (48%).

Why is this particular observance so popular?

1. Fasting on Yom Kippur can be redefined as a physical purification akin to the contemporary “cleanse” detox diet. Or it can be spiritually purifying on a variety of levels. While many people fast as a repentant effort to have God hear their prayers, others may take advantage of this day of hunger to think of those who have no food. 2. Fasting on Yom Kippur—unlike adopting a strictly kosher lifestyle—is a twenty-five hour annual experiment. When it’s over, you don’t have to look back. Plus you usually do it with your friends and family. Which brings us to

3. Other Jews are doing it all over the world at the same time. Fasters may feel linked to their ancestors and their community through this annual shared experience.

My parents never fasted, without apology. My sister and I have often reminisced about the difficulties of attempting to fast on a particular Yom Kippur morning with the delicious smells of breakfast wafting upstairs. Due to my own spotty observance, the first time I fasted on Yom Kippur—I mean really fasted—was six years ago when Pakistan was hit with a tragic earthquake which killed tens of thousands and left even more homeless. The quake hit during the fasting month of Ramadan and I kept hearing news stories of survivors continuing their daily fasts as the world fell apart around them. I thought, a bit sheepishly, if they could do it under those conditions, I—in my comfortable house in Connecticut—certainly could do it. The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas taught that “saying grace is an act of the greatest importance….We do not recognize the miracle this represents because we live in a world which, for the moment, has plenty of everything, and because our memory is short. Yet those who live in less fortunate countries understand that to be able to satisfy one’s hunger is the marvel of marvels…” Similarly, the ability to choose to fast when others go hungry not by choice is an important lesson in privilege and inequality.

In my class on foodways, I spend some time discussing Ramadan. My students are usually split on their responses to the fasting and feasting that occurs during that auspicious Islamic month. “Are you really thinking of the poor when you are preparing to party after sundown?” they ask. Ramadan is in fact a time when many Muslims increase their regular practice of


, or alms giving. While there is a tradition of celebrating grand iftars well into the night, those who have nothing are remembered more keenly in light of the celebrations of plenty. Similarly for Jews, we should remember the Talmudic passage that declares that the “The merit of fasting is the charity [dispensed]” (Berachot 6b). Many synagogues do host food drives during the month of Elul, so we should think of the food we are not eating on Yom Kippur and donate the money we likely would have spent on food to the poor.

My students are usually appeased when I explain that the purpose of Ramadan is actually closer in spirit to Christmas than Yom Kippur as it commemorates the literal word of God being given to the world as manifested in the Qur’an, much as Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus. In fact, for many Catholics and Orthodox Christians, Christmas Eve is a fast day followed by the celebratory feasting on Christmas Day. Despite these historical precedents, there remains discomfort for some with the idea of celebrating after a day of fasting.

Discomfort aside, the late twentieth century has seen a rise in such celebrations among American Jews. The first Break Fast I hosted fell during Ramadan. Coincidentally (or maybe not), my guests were all families with one Jewish parent and one Gentile parent. As a gesture to my Muslim brothers and sisters, I chose to serve apricot juice and dates—the traditional iftar foods. My good interfaith intentions fell by the wayside however when a dear friend showed up with some really good-looking smoked fish and ice-cold vodka. Immediately the juice and dates were moved to the kids’ table. In a recent New York Times


, religion reporter Mark Oppenheimer explores the Break Fast rituals in America and quotes Alana Newhouse saying that the best part of breaking the fast “is breaking the fast on some kind of liquor. It’s better than any hallucinogenic drug. It’s a European tradition. It is the closest I have come to a mystical experience.” I concur with Newhouse.

The new American Break Fast Feast as it is now observed, I submit to you, fills a need not just for those of that are hungry after 25 hours of self-denial, but also for those American Jews who have been able to engage with the Jewish ritual calendar mainly through the embrace of secular symbols such as dreidels and potato pancakes. So what are we celebrating when we eat our bagels and whitefish after sundown? That we made it through the day? I think that we are offering a thanksgiving for our ability to share food with our loved ones and our community.

Rosh HaShanah Recap

Happy New Year! It is now officially 5772 and we are in the midst of the countdown to Yom Kippur (more on that to come).

Well, I kept up with my southern-themed feast as planned and have been happily eating leftovers of barbecued brisket and greens for the past two days.

Additions to the plan:

Signature Cocktail

I adapted a cocktail recipe from


in honor of the new year. It is a gingery,


, apple cider concoction spiked with bourbon. I'm a big fan of the rum-spiked hot cider in the fall season, but this was something special and lovely. It needs a festive name though: any nominations?

(photo by Todd Coleman)


1 cup sugar

2 tbsp. whole cloves, crushed

1 3″ piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

1 cinnamon stick

3 oz. apple cider

1½ oz. bourbon

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Apple slice, to garnish


1. Boil 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Remove from heat; stir in sugar, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon; let sit for 1 hour. Strain and chill syrup.

2. Mix ¾ oz. ginger syrup, cider, bourbon, and juice in a shaker with ice; shake to chill. Strain into a martini glass; garnish with apple.

The Man (which I will be referring to my partner as until I come up with a snappy enough code name) and I went apple picking today with the girls and two dear friends. We loaded up the car with Cortlands and Honey Crisps (and fry cakes) and the world smelled of cider the whole ride home.

Pull-Apart Challah



For years I made challah with a recipe from a cookbook writer I


And for years, it came out awful. It was very tasty, but somehow it never cooked through in the right places. One day, I thought, maybe it's not me. Maybe it's actually the recipe. So a few months ago, I switched it up and adapted a 1976 Sweet Challah


from the New York Times. I used half whole wheat flour instead and substituted honey for the sugar, but otherwise followed it. I'm not sure if it's the substitutions, but the challah came out a bit hard to braid and ultimately less aesthetically pleasing. However, totally delicious and perfect texture.

On Wednesday, however, I decided to jump on the "pull-apart challah" bandwagon that's sweeping the nation.


has been taking me so long? Lightly oil a cake pan, roll the challah into a small, evenly sized balls (some do twelve for the twelve tribes of Israel), throw it into the pan, let rise, brush w/egg wash and voila! Beautiful challah. I stupidly did not photograph it (am still getting the hang of this blogging thing), but it came out perfect (the recipe above makes two).

A sweet and happy start to the New Year was had in the Culinary Converter's household. How was your meal?

Rosh HaShanah; New Year, New Blog


So this is the first post for this blog, which is fitting given the time of year.

It's the New Year in the Hebrew Calendar and my family is determining the menu with which we will greet the year. When discussing symbolic foods, I mentioned black-eyed peas, which are eaten by Jews on Rosh HaShanah but are also eaten by southerners on New Year's Day (for luck). My husband then suggested we make this vegetarian version of Hoppin' John from a favorite Chapel Hill restaurant (Crook's Corner). We figured we would make a traditional, southern bbq plate with slaw (but we'd substitute beef brisket for the pork). And this year I swear off honey cake for good. It's not my thing, it's never great, and I need to own that. Besides, if you were to have a honey-based dessert wouldn't you want Greek loukoumades or Italian struffoli? I would.

So the menu this year is tentatively as follows:

The ubiquitous apples and honey,
Slow-cooked BBQ Brisket
Crook's Corner's Hoppin' John
Rick Bayless' Hickory House Sour Slaw
and some sort of greens, possibly collards
sweet honey fried something like the aforementioned deliciousness.

A specialty cocktail is in the works. What are you cooking?