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2 medium carrots
3 celery stalks
1/4 fennel bulb
2 garlic cloves
1/2 small red onion
4 jalapeño-stuffed green olives
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups flax meal
Put the carrots, celery, fennel, garlic, onion, olives, and tomatoes in food processor. Blend to a smooth consistency. Add the olive oil, parsley, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Pulse to incorporate. Add the flax meal and pulse to create a spreadable but firm batter. Add up to ½ cup more flax meal if the dough is too wet.
Pour 8 to 10 ½-cup measures of batter onto Teflex-lined dehydrator racks. Use an offset spatula to spread the batter into rounds that are 6 inches in diameter and ¼- to ½- inch thick. Dehydrate for 8 hours. Remove the racks, turn the crusts over, peel off the Teflex sheets, and dehydrate for another 2 hours, until the crusts are firm but not too crisp.
Use as directed immediately in the pizza recipes or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 to 5 days.
Famous in its day: Wolfie’s
Wilfred Cohen was an opener. He’d buy or start up a restaurant and once it became a success he would sell it for a nice profit. The former Catskills busboy came to Miami Beach around 1940 and bought Al’s Sandwich Shop on 23rd St. off Collins Ave., selling it after turning it into a popular spot “known coast to coast.”
Overstuffed sandwiches were his ticket. In a short ten years or so he opened and sold not only Al’s but four other restaurants, among them Wolfie’s at Collins and 21st St., which would become a landmark and continue until 2002. Wilfred “Wolfie” Cohen would keep just one of his restaurants, The Rascal House, located on motel row at 172nd St. Wolfie Cohen died in 1986 but his Rascal House survived until 2008.
In the end the original Wolfie’s at 21st Street became known as “the” Wolfie’s, but at one time there were at least two others of significance, a flashier Wolfie’s at Collins and Lincoln Rd. and another in North Miami Beach. Both closed around 1983. Whether Cohen was involved with all three is unclear but I am fairly sure that the Wolfie’s, original included, were backed by financial syndicates. There were also, at various times, Wolfie’s branches or franchises in St. Petersburg, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville, Cocoa Beach, and Jacksonville. Brooklyn NY’s Wolfie’s, though, was an entirely different operation.
The boom years for Wolfie’s and all of Miami Beach’s deli-style eateries came after World War II when Jewish veterans and retirees, mostly from New York and the Northeast, flowed into Miami Beach by the thousands as permanent residents, snowbirds, and tourists. Then, lines of people often wound around the block waiting to get into Wolfie’s. So closely was Wolfie’s identified with Miami Beach that in 1959 Northeast Airlines chose it to cater meals for Miami-to-NY passengers Lindy’s supplied delicacies to those flying south.
Wolfie’s was a 24-hour-a-day haven for the elderly living in kitchenless beachfront rooming houses (destined to be restored as art deco boutique hotels in the 1990s). It also attracted politicians looking for the liberal vote and visiting borscht-belt performers such as Milton Berle and Henny Youngman, as well as big and little gangsters and bookies with a yen for chicken livers, pastrami, and cheesecake. In the 1970s mobster Meyer Lansky, pursuing the simple life of a philosophical, Chevrolet-driving, book-borrowing library patron, was often spotted noshing in Wolfie’s.
By the mid-1980s, after the original Pumperniks closed (another Wolfie Cohen 1950s start-up), Wolfie’s was one of few, or perhaps the only, large-scale deli left on the South Beach. Pumperniks’ owner Charles Linksman attributed Wolfie’s survival to its proximity to theaters and boxing ring. That and tourism helped it get through the next decade, but a sense of decline was inescapable. The Beach’s population of Jewish retirees dropped dramatically, due to natural causes as well as a flight northward to Broward and Palm Beach counties to escape a perceived threat of crime and a cultural shift.
In its waning days Wolfie’s still managed to draw foreign and domestic tourists, such as moi, seeking vestiges of the old Miami Beach. I can’t remember what I ordered but I’m certain it wasn’t a Bowl of Sour Cream with Cottage Cheese ($4.75). I wasn’t quite in the “what’s a blintz?” category of so many patrons then, but close.
"Making jerk chicken triggered emotions I hadn't addressed" Sarah Kirnon, Miss Ollie's
"In my circle, I've always been the person that cooks for special occasions," said chef Sarah Kirnon. Photograph: Courtesy the chef
For me, this time has really been all about more outdoor cooking – lots and lots of grilling. Which is something I do anyway, but now it's been more intentional, because I still love having people around.
In my circle of friends and family, I've always been the person that cooks for birthdays and special occasions, usually at my house in Oakland, and that feels like a safe way for us all to be together.
My partner and daughter are vegan, so we do veggie and meat grills. And a friend of mine recently gave me this really beautiful smoker/grill she actually bought it with an ex-boyfriend and was convinced it had bad juju, so I inherited it.
On Labor Day, I marinated some jerk chicken and smoked it for four hours. We made the grill the centerpiece of the garden, we had music, it was just a really beautiful day.
The smoke, the smell of the allspice wood, it reminded me of home. Which was a bit sentimental, because this is the first year that I haven't been back to Barbados to see my family. I wasn't sad, but it was emotional. I thought I was dealing with Covid really well, but not being able to see my extended family – who all live in London, Barbados and other islands of the Caribbean – triggered in me emotions I don't think I had addressed.
I was born in the late 60s, when dining out meant you supported a small, neighborhood joint, where you went for birthdays and family occasions. That's changed a lot over the years. So, at the restaurant, it has been beautiful to see people slow down a bit, people being happy to wait, happy to engage with somebody outside their home. I hope that's one of the things we hold onto when things go back to normalcy.
She’s been cooking for a decade, has weathered criticism from Gordon Ramsay, helped revamp a high-profile menu, and gets fan mail from as far away as Australia. The first time she tried to crack an egg, she failed miserably. But don’t hold that against her she was three at the time. Nine years later, in front of a panel of judges and up against hundreds of other hopefuls, she scrambled the egg that would change her life: The audition was the first round of the month-long process that landed her on Fox’s MasterChef Junior. And in round after round of cooking, she kept winning, until the 12-year-old from Milton was crowned the season-five champion last year.
Now 13, Jasmine Stewart somehow finds time to make dinner at home on occasion—when she’s not cooking at a charity event, filming her Jasmine’s Delightful Desserts video series, or juggling school, cheerleading, and Model U.N. One night in late July, she prepared for her parents and older brother a meal riffing on the one she’d made at a fundraiser that brought in $1,500 for antibullying campaign Saving Our Daughters. Like everything else Stewart attempts (that very first egg aside), it’s a winner.
That’s the rub
The spice blend for Stewart’s Caribbean salmon is as imprecise as it is perfect she throws together a mix of options from the pantry, including paprika, cayenne, powdered ginger, cinnamon, and dried rosemary, along with a heap of brown sugar. When her father asks why not use fresh rosemary from the backyard garden she tends, she gives him a patient look and a smile: “This is a rub, so I’m gonna go with dried.” After coating the filets and popping them in the oven for 15 minutes, the fish is perfect—and the kitchen smells like fall leaves.
Rice that excites
Into the boiling water Stewart adds jasmine rice (her go-to variety, of course), plus a few pats of butter, a handful of cilantro, and healthy doses of minced garlic and grated ginger. “I got the ginger idea from my dad. He’s a huge ginger person.”
Noodles of a different stripe
No pot of boiling water is needed for these noodles. Stewart shaves off wide strips of zucchini with a peeler, rolls them into tight cylinders, slices them into perfect spirals, and sautes them with chopped onion, minced garlic, diced tomatoes, and torn cilantro. “It’s a cool way to work veggies into your meal,” she says. Speaking of veggies (and of victories), she gushes: “I just recently got my brother to eat a tomato.”
This article appears in our October 2018 issue .
The verdict on 3 newcomers to Atlanta’s dining scene
El Super Pan at the Battery
Chef Hector Santiago once operated one of the most exquisite and expressive restaurants in Atlanta. The city lost a piece of its culinary soul when he shuttered Pura Vida, a high-end Latin tapas joint, in 2012. That was the same year he also closed his younger sandwich spot, Super Pan, which now has been twice resurrected—first in 2015 as a Ponce City Market stall, then in July at another playground of sorts: the Battery at SunTrust Park. The menus at the Battery and PCM locations are similar. You’ll find seven sandwiches, including both a classic and vegetarian Cubano and a dreamy tuna escabeche on focaccia, a must-order Latina green goddess salad, a bunch of sides (get the maduros), and daily specials. Both locations also are flanked by a near-overload of similarly ambitious dining options. But there’s something extra special about sitting on the El Super Pan patio at the Battery during baseball season, feeding off the ballpark’s energy while sipping on a Margarita de Santiago (tequila blanco and reposado, orange shrub, citrus juice, salt) and feasting on a warmly pressed media noche that’s stacked with porky goodness and cut with crisp pickles and sharp mustard. No stadium dog can possibly compete. 455 Legends Place, 404-521-6500
Firepit Pizza Tavern
Chef Leslie Cohen, who triumphed on the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, now enters a fiercer rivalry: the pizza game. Her new spot in the Larkin development on Memorial will have to compete against longtime neighborhood joint Grant Central Pizza, against newcomer Your Pie just up the street, against no-frills Edgewood Pizzeria, against Varuni Napoli in Krog Street Market, against Ammazza on Edgewood (if it ever reopens), and against Nina + Rafi, the soon-to-come and extremely hyped joint from the owners of O4W Pizza. And that’s just within a one-mile radius. How might Cohen’s Detroit-style pie stack up against its Neapolitan, New York, and New Jersey–style peers? That depends on your taste, but probably somewhere near the middle. Unlike most Motor City pizza, Cohen’s is round (but is still cut into squares), and, unlike Neapolitan pies, hers is a little thicker and sturdier. She uses a blend of mozzarella, cheddar, and provolone, which is sacrilegious in some circles but works in this context. The menu offers five white and five red pizzas, including the Honey pie, which is topped with spicy capicola, caramelized onions, Calabria peppers, fresh basil, and honey ricotta, and is a variation of sorts on the Bee Sting pie popularized at Roberta’s in Brooklyn. This one might have a touch too much honey, but it’s still a fun time—and a worthy contender in Atlanta’s pizza wars. 519 Memorial Drive, 404-495-4777
You know that twinge of disappointment you feel when your favorite scruffy band releases its second album? The follow-up is more polished than the first effort, but it’s also sanitized to the brink of blandness. That’s what many devotees of El Mexicano must feel after the owners of the homey, ramshackle joint on Moreland Avenue closed shop and launched Patria Cocina in the Beacon, a pristine, BeltLine-adjacent development in south Grant Park. With its sleek, vaulted space, its more streamlined menu, and dishes that are often lighter and prettier, the new restaurant is an improvement in some ways but not nearly as endearing. Among the small-plates section of the menu, you’ll find a shrimp and fish ceviche similar to El Mexicano’s, as well as new additions such as the potato-filled, lightly fried tacos de papa, which are crisp and noshable if a little low on flavor. The trio of tacos—shrimp, fried fish, and fried avocado—are cute in their little metal taco holders but pale in comparison to the Mexican Street Tacos that, fortunately, migrated here from El Mexicano. As it turns out, if you stick to the menu offerings that are most like the El Mexicano originals, Patria Cocina—much like that second album—can grow on you. And though it’s not as special as its predecessor, you might become more willing to embrace it out of a yearning for the comfort of El Mexicano and a shimmer of what used to be. 1039 Grant Street, 404-622-3501
After a fire destroyed his studio, Atlanta artist Fahamu Pecou prepares to start over
Photograph by Jarrett Christian
Last week, Atlanta artist Fahamu Pecou was vacationing in Cuba, on his way to a market, when he stopped at one of Havana’s many Wi-Fi parks to check his text messages. As soon as he was able to connect, his phone lit up one alarming message after another.
“Call me right away, it’s an emergency.”
Pecou had no idea what his friends were talking about. He called the person who sent that last message, Scot Dunn. Dunn owns the Inman Park studio space where, for the past four years, Pecou had been creating some of his most magnificent work—paintings exploring African spirituality and “the ways in which we’ve become separated from our cultural memory,” which have appeared in exhibits in New York and Paris. Some of his earlier works can be spotted on screen in shows such as Empire and Black-ish.
When Dunn picked up, he couldn’t contain his crying. A fire had consumed the entire building, which also housed Dunn’s own art studio, a reiki center, and a high-end hair salon, Cameo. Pretty much everything inside the building—located on Waddell Street just south of DeKalb Avenue and dubbed “The Waddi”—was gone.
The following day, September 9, Pecou flew back to Atlanta, dropped his bags at home, and went straight to the wreckage.
“Walking in there for the first time, it was just surreal—because it doesn’t look like the Waddi anymore it really looks like a bomb went off in there,” Pecou says. “The heat kind of singed the outlines of frames that were on the wall. Things almost melted off the wall or evaporated or something. You just see the ghosts of these things on the walls.”
The “ghosts” of Pecou’s framed artwork are still visible on the studio walls.
Photograph by Jarrett Christian
Pecou has dealt with loss before. Six years ago, several of his paintings that were in storage in New York were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The year before, his home was broken into and his computers and hard drives were stolen, meaning all of his records pertaining to his work up to that point disappeared. Infinitely worse is the fire he survived in 1980, when he was four years old. Inside the Brooklyn apartment where he lived with his parents and sister, his father, who’d been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, killed his mother and set their home ablaze.
Photograph courtesy of Fahamu Pecou
Pecou touched on that this week when he talked with his good friend, artist Hebru Brantley. “He actually made a point of saying, ‘You have this thing around you with fire. I don’t know what that means.’ I don’t know what it means, either.”
He says all he knows for sure is that he’s learned to be good at starting over.
After the hurricane and the burglary, Pecou began making it a habit to keep much of his work in off-site storage. Had he not done that, his loss this time around would have been much worse. His current touring exhibit, “Do or Die: Affect, Ritual, Resistance,” was also safe and will soon be transported from Charleston to Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum for a solo show that opens in January.
Still, the fire took nine of his paintings, all recent work that included three pieces he intended to debut at the Atlanta “Do or Die” show, and another three that had already been purchased by collectors. (The collectors have offered to wait for Pecou to recreate the paintings, for which he is grateful.) Also gone is some of Pecou’s personal art collection, including one of his favorite pieces: a portrait Brantley had done of the two of them. He currently estimates the loss of his paintings, the portion of his personal collection, and various supplies to be close to $100,000.
Pecou had planned to spend Monday packing the three paintings to be shipped to the collectors. Instead, he spent the day sifting through the blackened remains of his space. Several large canvases that he had prepped for painting had fallen over and blocked the entrance to a small back room of the studio. He was surprised, when he pulled the damaged canvases away, that they had helped protect that room, which housed two paintings that are relatively, miraculously unharmed.
One of them, All Dat Glitters Aint Goals, was the one that appeared on Empire. The other, from 2006, is called Liberation and shows a man (Pecou) with his back turned and a woman embracing him while staring straight at the viewer.
To help recover some of the losses, Pecou’s wife, Jamila Crawford Pecou, set up a GoFundMe. As of September 14, it had surpassed its $10,000 goal by $3,500.
“It’s a really great affirmation of the sense of community here, that people really stand for and rally for and come to the aid of one another in times of need,” Pecou says. “I’m trying to figure out how I can say thank you to everyone for all that they’ve done. I’ll find a way. Maybe I’ll just make some excellent painting.”
He’s eager to find a new space to get back to work, but he doesn’t want to be hasty. “Wherever I go I want to be sure that I can be there for a while,” he says. As for whether the fire itself might inform some of his future work, he’s not sure. “I would say that remains to be seen, but I do have plans to go back in the space this week and collect some of the ashes and maybe work with them in some kind of way.”
The verdict on 5 newcomers to Atlanta’s dining scene
Photograph by Ryan Pernice
Coalition Food and Beverage
The third restaurant in Ryan Pernice’s North Fulton mini-empire (see also: Table & Main and Osteria Mattone) is meant to be an updated take on the classic American diner. But it does little to channel a diner, modern or otherwise. The space looks to be engineered for millennials—not a bad thing, and a welcome addition to Alpharetta’s quaint downtown. It’s far more hip than its upscale sibling spots, with exposed ductwork looming over iron-and-glass partitions and shiplap walls hung with paintings of oversized boomboxes. The menu more closely resembles that of an Anywhere USA bistro than a new-school diner, and a few of the dishes could use some editing. A veggie plate anchored by a mound of earthy lentils and topped with juicy, grilled zucchini, meaty portobellos, still-crisp asparagus, and creamy feta did not need that half ear of dried-out corn, and the bacon-plantain gravy on the roasted chicken didn’t deliver the merest hint of fruit (and it could’ve used it to cut through the muddiness). On the other hand, the Goserita, essentially a margarita with a Gose-style ale topper, is as on point as boomboxes were in the ’80s. 50 Canton Street, Alpharetta, 470-839-6725
Watchman’s Seafood and Spirits
It’s been nearly five years since Kimball House arrived at a handsomely revamped Decatur train depot and helped class up Atlanta’s oysters and cocktails scene. Finally comes the team’s follow-up project, Watchman’s Seafood and Spirits, next to Ticonderoga Club in Krog Street Market. And it’s well worth the wait. Slightly more casual but no less classy than Kimball House, Watchman’s largely concerns itself with regional, sustainable seafood—and, as is true of Kimball House, there are many knockout dishes here. Order from the first two sections of the menu (cold and hot appetizers, essentially) to best experience the range of talent from chef Daniel Chance, formerly of W.H. Stiles Fish Camp. There’s not a better summer dish in town than the meaty, slightly cured tuna plated with hunks of pickled beets and avocado, a pineapple-coconut mousse-like smear, and crunchy puffed corn. As rich as the tuna is light, the clams steamed in a broth of vermouth, sofrito, chili butter, and culantro are plate-licking delicious, the submerged slice of sourdough a sunken treasure. You’re also here for the cocktails, of course. Barman Miles Macquarrie’s interpretation of the classic Air Mail is, unsurprisingly, genius: a godlike nectar of aged rum, honey, and lime. In lieu of the traditional Champagne topper, Macquarrie adds a high-acidity white wine and then lightly carbonates the entire beverage. At the risk of overwhelming the bar, Krog Market–goers should pop in at Watchman’s whenever they have a moment to spare, just to marvel at the dramatic simplicity of this drink. 99 Krog Street, 404-254-0141
Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
There are plenty of places in Atlanta where you can get Nashville-style hot chicken, but Hattie B’s is the first spot in town that’s fully dedicated to the crazy-spicy fried bird. It’s also the only one to swoop in from Nashville. And Atlantans could hardly wait—though wait they must, in sometimes ridiculously long lines that snake out the front door and into the blazing sun, up Moreland Avenue toward Little Five Points. You want to know if it’s worth the hype, right? Well, that depends. Hattie B’s fried chicken comes in six spice levels, from Southern (no heat) to Shut the Cluck Up (burn notice). If you can generally handle spice, you’ll have no trouble with the Hot (level four). But if reasonable heat is what you’re after, you might be more impressed with the sublime hot chicken sandwich up the street at One Eared Stag, or with the two levels of hot chicken at Richard’s Southern Fried in nearby Krog Street Market, or with the hot chicken option at Mary Hoopa’s House of Fried Chicken & Oysters over in Kirkwood. As of now, however, Hattie B’s is the only local option for burn-your-face-off hot chicken, and that’s why you’re standing in line. The bird’s crust is crackly and crimson with cayenne, though the meat in the sandwich option is juicier and more flavorful than the bone-in chicken. And once the novelty wears off (if not the thrill of the burn), you can bypass the wait and place a to-go order online. 299 Moreland Avenue
Garden & Gun Club
What happens when you take one of the South’s most vaunted magazines and metamorphosize it into a restaurant? And what happens when that restaurant is located not on an idyllic side street in, say, Inman Park but instead in the shadow of antithetical SunTrust Park? The result is fantastical, in every sense of the word. Charleston-based Garden & Gun might be the first magazine to give not just its imprimatur but its actual name to a restaurant. The result, unsurprisingly, is the embodiment of good taste, from the knotty Southern oysters mounded on the raw bar’s chipped ice to the perfectly set egg draped across a medium-rare chopped steak to the flecks of lemon zest floating atop a cocktail of vodka, Cocchi Americano, and apricot. Chef Mike Lata of Charleston’s FIG and the Ordinary created the menu, which is flawlessly carried out by executive chef Ann Kim. The cornmeal-battered shrimp is Exhibit A in contrasting textural ideals the turkey-neck gumbo with Carolina Gold rice is a decadent study in smoke and spice. You will emerge from the air-conditioned, filament-lit, leather-clad environs and find yourself blinking back the glare of the sun or of the ballpark lights—a shocking transition from one dreamscape to another, though not an unpleasant one. The Battery Atlanta, 2605 Circle 75 Parkway, 770-726-0925
Ribs and baked potato salad
Photograph courtesy of King Barbecue
It sounds weird, but the baked beans steal the show at King Barbecue. Baked beans are hardly the ideal barbecue side—a sticky-spicy-sweet protein doesn’t do much to complement a sticky-spicy-sweet protein. The vegetal contrast of crunchy slaw or silky greens holds up better against smoked meat. But beans? Brisket is the signature meat at King Barbecue, the first barbecue venture from Shaun Doty and Lance Gummere (The Federal, Bantam + Biddy). Located in Alpharetta’s lux Avalon shopping complex, in the space that formerly housed the second Bantam + Biddy location, King BBQ boasts a high-end, automated, all-wood smoker from J&R Manufacturing Co., and the brisket cooked in it is a solid mashup of fat, flesh, and char. But it’s eclipsed by those beans. Baked in the pit and flecked with the barkiest hunks of brisket, these smoky beauts are what all other beans aspire to be. Order them by the quart. 4195 Avalon Boulevard, Alpharetta, 678-248-5159
V&S Italian Deli (Boca Raton)
Ever since I read Michael Mayo‘s 2017 South Florida Sun Sentinel review of Boca Raton’s V&S Italian Deli (https://www.vandsdeli.com/), I desperately wanted to go to there, except I’m almost never in South Florida anymore. Even on the rare occasions I get to visit my parents down in Kendall (the boring Miami suburb where I grew up), Boca is still over an hour north of there, and over three hours south of where I live. But a while back, pre-pandemic, while I had a quick-turnaround work trip to Miami. It was a perfect opportunity to make a lunch detour at V&S on my way back to Orlando, since it’s only about ten minutes off I-95. Long-time Saboscrivnerinos know how much I love a good Italian sub, and how delis are my absolute favorite, so I was very glad I drove a little out of my way.
V&S (named for co-founders Vinnie and Sal Falcone*) has been in operation since 1985, in a small storefront space along US-1, also known as North Federal Highway, in Boca. They serve Boar’s Head and Citterio meats and cheeses in their huge, overstuffed sandwiches, and also sell them by the pound. They also feature salads, pasta dishes, and Italian desserts like cannoli. I would have loved to bring home more stuff to try, but I had that three-hour drive ahead of me, and it ended up taking over four due to stopping for this lunch and hitting rough rush hour traffic once I finally hit Orlando.
Beautiful cured meats, just waiting to be sliced by true sandwich craftsmen:
So I ordered two cold subs loaded with cured Italian meats, cheeses, and tasty vegetables, figuring they would hold up okay in the car without spoiling, and would probably even get better over time, with the ingredients melding and marinating together. I devoured half of each of them while sitting at one of the six stools at the little lunch counter in V&S (back when you could do such a thing, but they also have a few small outside tables for those attempting it now), and brought the other halves home for later — a standard Saboscrivner style whenever I visit a new, faraway sandwich joint.
I got the V&S Special, with sopressata, mortadella with pistachios, and provolone, and the Italian Combo, with genoa salami, capicola (GABBAGOOL!), and provolone. I loved how thin the very patient Nick sliced all the meats, fresh for both sandwiches. They both came dressed with finely-shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, thin-sliced onions, hot and sweet peppers, on fresh-baked crusty Italian rolls covered with sesame seeds. I saw they also offered softer Cusano’s rolls, which my beloved local LaSpada’s uses, but I figured for an extra quarter each, go with the fresh bread. Each sandwich cost $13.86 after tax and the minor upcharges of the fresh bread and hot and sweet peppers.
And as if there was any doubt, they held up fine on the long drive back to Orlando, and were even MORE delicious the next day:
V&S is a tiny treasure in Boca Raton, the kind of Italian deli I just love. We’re so lucky here in Orlando to have some real options for great Italian sandwiches: LaSpada’s, Stasio’s, Manzano’s, Tornatore’s, and Bad As’s Sandwich whenever they bring back the Capone sandwich. But I’d add V&S to my regular rotation if it was closer, or if I was. If you’re ever driving on I-95 through Broward or Palm Beach County and find yourself near the Yamato Road exit, definitely make a detour. And if you already live in the area, you’re officially on notice! Next time, though, I’m gonna leave more cash and take the cannoli.
*I draw attention to the names of the founders in part because I have occasionally used the name “Vincent Falcone” as an alias or fake name at random times throughout my life. It’s just a cool-ass name, right? I can think of only one of my regular readers (my best friend) who will grasp the significance and know the backstory, but I’ll be amazed and astonished if any other stalwart, steadfast Saboscrivnerinos figure it out.
Krystal (the all-you-can-eat adventure)
When it comes to food, almost everyone has a guilty pleasure. Maybe yours is Cadbury Creme Eggs (wisely bought on sale after Easter and saved in the depths of your freezer so you can enjoy one every month of the year that follows when nobody else has any), or trashy frozen French bread pizzas that remind you of hanging out at your friends’ houses in high school, or possibly even intimidating sandwiches you painstakingly assemble using two of those French bread pizzas in place of a sub roll, like a true sandwich artiste (particularly going for that self-destructive streak too many artists share). It might be something as simple as ice cream, or fries, or fries dipped in said ice cream. You might have a love-hate relationship with these foods. Indulging might make you feel bad physically after the initial rush of excitement and joy, but you can’t help yourself. Or they might bring you to a happy and comfortable place at the time, but then you feel shame or depression later on, like so many dysfunctional relationships.
After a disastrous attempt at the keto diet back in 2017, I now firmly believe we should eat whatever we want, just maybe a little bit less of it at each sitting, and maybe not indulge quite as often. But life is full of pain and suffering and misery and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly. I say we should just take our pleasures where we can find them — ideally with some modicrum of moderation — and not feel too guilty.
Of course, that’s easier said than done when when of your (by which I mean my) guiltiest food pleasures are cheese Krystals, tiny little cheeseburgers served with mustard, onions, and a pickle slice on soft steamed buns. Krystals (sometimes colloquially referred to as “sliders”) are the signature item from the fast food chain Krystal (https://krystal.com/). If this sounds familiar, you might be thinking of White Castle, a fast food chain located throughout the Northern U.S. We don’t have White Castle here (and I’ve never had a chance to go to one), but Krystal is the Southern equivalent. Founded in 1932 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Krystal’s website claims it is the second-oldest fast food restaurant. Locations are decorated in white and red and have a bit of a retro feel to them, and they’re usually sparkling clean and bright.
As you might guess, the Krystal burgers are very cheap (being a product of the Great Depression), remaining one of the better fast food values today. They are meant to be consumed in mass quantities, and as you might also guess, they are not exactly health food. I usually only go to Krystal once or twice a year, and luckily I have to drive out of my way to go to one, keeping it a rare indulgence. When I go, I usually order a dozen cheese Krystals, and each soft little slider is lovingly tucked into a cardboard sleeve with one open side. I’ll reach into the bag on my passenger seat and wolf down several of them before I even make it home. Hey, I’m not proud.
But perhaps in an attempt to reach out to people like me, Krystal recently instituted an all-you-can-eat deal, offering unlimited Krystals and fries for $5.99. (This deal is for dining in only. You can’t get it to go, and you can’t leave and come back later and hope to get more.) I had to try it, for the sake of this food blog and my dozens of vaguely-interested readers. I figured I would live-blog my experience as I ate more and more sliders, perhaps chronicling my physical and mental decline, and to see how long I could stay in the restaurant, how many they would be willing to serve at a time, whether I could beat my previous Krystal record of eating twelve, and whether or not I’d wear out my welcome before I tapped out. I love the state of journalism in 2019, don’t you?
Here’s a twist: I don’t think Krystal’s fries are anything special, so perhaps for the first time in the very short history of their all-you-can-eat deal, I asked them to hold the fries and just give me cheese Krystals. (The incredulous cashier said “Are you sure? The fries are included!”) Just so ya know, the cheese is a $2 upcharge, but I think it’s totally worth it, as long as we’re indulging. I also ordered a drink, a Sprite slushie for $1. Hey, big spender!
So instead of giving you a tray laden with a precarious leaning tower of burgers like an old Jughead comic book cover, they start you out with four at a time. If I had wanted fries, they would have given me a regular order of fries to begin with as well.
Well, these sliders slide down real easy, so it wasn’t long before I went back to the counter and asked for a re-up. Luckily they weren’t busy. You can tell some time has passed because I drank about a third of the Sprite slushie with the first round. Here’s round two: four more cheese Krystals.
I took my time with those soft, squishy, oniony, mustardy, cheesy little monsters, but I wasn’t ready to surrender to the sweet embrace of oblivion yet. Like I said, my record for Krystals consumed had been twelve — sadly my usual order for the once or twice a year I drive through. Whatever happened, I wanted to at least top that. Why, you ask? I couldn’t really tell you, dear Saboscrivnerinos. Bragging rights? I hardly think this is anything to brag about.
So I asked the nice lady for an order of five more, just so I’d have thirteen in all, and I could reevaluate my options after that. She didn’t even argue with me. I was clearly a man who came to play, who meant business, who could hold his sliders with the best of them. Here they are, the Furious Five with no Grandmaster Flash in sight, and one-third of the slushie remaining.
In case there was any doubt remaining, I inhaled them.
And you know what? After that, I made what might have been the smartest move I made that day — I called it a day. Walked away while I was still on top (so to speak), quit while I was ahead (arguably), didn’t foolishly try to hit some arbitrary new Krystal milestone like 20, or doubling my old record with 24.
I ate thirteen of those things, and they were delicious, and I got it out of my system (pun very much intended). I don’t need to return to Krystal for a while now — I’m good! By the time I make it back, this dangerous all-you-can-eat deal will probably be over, and that’s fine with me. I did the unthinkable that day, fearless readers, and lived to tell about it. It was an intense 15 minutes that afternoon, let me tell you!
The Food of a Younger Land
Edited by Mark Kurlansky, Riverhead, $27.95
As more and more Americans are eating locally grown, nonprocessed food by choice, interest in an era when such an approach was the only possibility makes sense. Kurlansky—author of food histories Salt and Cod—investigates “America Eats,” an effort by the Federal Writers’ Project to document the local idiosyncrasies of American cuisine in the thirties and forties. The book is a thoroughly entertaining collection of highlights from the never-completed project’s archives at the Library of Congress, including recipes like “Squirrel Mulligan” and kitsch traditions. To wit, this description of the “Washington Community Smelt Fry”: “The thousands of guests departed, each content that a good performance had been given and that a most worthy member of the fish family had been eulogized.” –B.M.L.
Click here for a link to the original article. ]]> The Food of a Younger Land , Kurlansky presents what he found to be the most interesting pieces from the “broad and rich mountain of copy” generated for the project, along with the history of the America Eats project and his own commentary.
I will let you know when my review is posted, if you are interested, but the reason I mention this here is because the book starts off with a couple of short sections on Vermont, that I found very interesting. The text was written during a very different time, when Vermont was still a very agricultural-based state and the pretentious flatlanders had yet to settle here.
I thought you’d all get a kick out of the following quote.
As a rule Vermonters are not enthusiastic about salads or fish, favorites with the sophisticated, although Vermont gardens and Vermont lakes and streams offer a wealth of possibilities for both dishes. Fancy foods and frothy things are not popular in the state, whose people go for plain, solid, substantial foodstuffs.
The Vermont recipes in the book are as charming as they are plain, solid, and substantial. I cannot wait to try a few.
Click here for a link to the original article. ]]> The Food of a Younger Land , an anthology and study of writing from the little known Federal Writer's Project project called "America Eats," talked about rootedness.
When he was a kid, growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, he often visited relatives in the Boston area. He must have had thirty or so relatives, he explained, including a grandmother in Dorchester. Now, in a much more mobile world, he continued, he has no relatives in the Boston area.
The America of today - in terms of people and food, he discussed - differs largely because of our current lack of rootedness.
Whereas people and food traditions were more locally rooted in the early 20th century, we currently live in a world of transgressed borders, a world so eloquently and insightfully described by the global observor Pico Iyer. We are, as Iyer describes in his writing, increasingly everywhereians and nowhereians : people without rootedness.
John Muir, the great late 19th century nature writer and conservationist and the subject of historian Donald Worster's voluminous, rich biography which I'm currently reading, was someone who represented these two pulling forces. He was at once rooted and uprooted.
Uprooted in 1849 as a child, his family left Scotland and settled in eastern Wisconsin. In 1860, Muir set out for Madison to attend University, "breaking family ties and getting free of parental control," embarking on a journey which took him far and wide in subsequent years (Worster, A Passion for Nature , 2008, p. 66). It wasn't until finding California, where he eventually married, had children and formed a family of his own, that he developed a sense of rootedness, a counterpoint to his peripateticism. "It became his true and only home, however much he would travel during the rest of his life" (149). The Yosemite Valley, with its "unique qualities of shelter, light, and soaring grandeur of rock," became the spiritual center of that home, Worster explains (149).
On the one hand, Muir, the sage of Yosemite, was a fierce advocate of nature for nature's sake, of people taking time to experience and live in nature in order to understand it on its own terms. And at the same time, he believed that encounters with nature would restore mental health, a necessity in a world where "Few in these hot, dim, strenuous times are quite sane or free. " (Muir quoted on page 372).
In the current debates and discussions about food, we see the same dynamic - rootedness versus lack of rootedness, local versus non-local - which formed Muir's worldview.
It is impossible to turn around these days without bumping into local food, locavorism and regional foodways. And, at the same time, we live in a world of exploded borders and of multinational corporations, a world where a global food behemoth like Frito-Lay North America - owned by PepsiCo - can embark on its own local food marketing blitz.
But much in the same way that Muir saw nature as the salvation of lost people, people "no longer good for themselves" (372), many see local food as a restorative, a means by which to plant roots in a place, a community and an economy.
But Muir's example leads us a little bit deeper along this path.
Is an engagement with local food enough of an engagement with nature? If part of what we seek spiritually is some sort of primeval connection to the land from whence we came, does local food get us there? Or, because this interaction is based on the consumption of agricultural products, on the human manipulation of nature, would it be impossible to satisfy the spiritual hunger that many have?
* A New Deal program of the Works Progress Administration, the Federal Writer's Project put many writers to work in the late 1930's, some of them documenting fascinating and important aspects of American life at the time. Some of the works which I've put to use in the classes that I've taught have been the interviews conducted in the late 1930's with people born into slavery.
Click here for a link to the original article. ]]> The Food of a Younger Land. The book is a delectable slice of culinary anthropology.
Kurlansky, author of fascinating histories of foodstuffs such as cod, salt and oysters, supplies context and background to these essays and recipes from writers forgotten and writers celebrated (Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurston were on the America Eats project). But the pieces also speak volumes on the way we ate before the Food Network: squirrel stew, oyster roasts, pulled candy, lutefisk suppers, vinegar pie, beaver tails and poke sallit. While you don’t need an essay on the Automat to tell you times have changed, the book’s piece on the famous coin-operated food-dispensing restaurant is like stepping into a culinary time warp.
The Food of a Younger Land comes at a time when America is interested in seasonal, locally grown produce and, once again, faces a sagging economy. If there ever was a time we need a recipe for Depression Cake, it’s now.
Greg Morago is the Chronicle’s food editor.
In this photograph by Russell Lee, the Faro Caudill family eats dinner in Pie Town, New Mexico, in October 1940 (Library of Congress). Click image for more info.
In the last years of the 1930s, the last years before interstates and industry turned America into one big, homogenized market, Depression-era writers went out to see what Americans were eating.
They went North, South, East and West. Today, their report reads like a wildly diverse national potluck of very regional, very vivid cuisine.
Spoon bread and burgoo, oyster stew and chicken bog, hush puppies and possum, Johnny cake and hoecake and rabbit and grunion.
This hour, On Point: What we ate before we all ate the same. We’ll read the great American menu — and tuck in.
You can join the conversation — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
Joining us in our studio is Mark Kurlansky, bestselling author of many books, including “Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World” and “Salt: A World History.” His new anthology is “The Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food - from the Lost WPA files.”
Also in our studio is JJ Gonson, a personal chef with a background in short order and home cooking. Boston Magazine named her “Boston’s Best Personal Chef.” She’s founder of Cuisine En Locale, based in Cambridge, Mass., and writes an eponymous blog, where she’s just written about food shopping and economies of scale.
In this video clip, Tom and our guests sample tastes of the ’30s…
Here’s our tasting menu for this hour. These are authentic 1930s dishes taken from Mark Kurlansky’s book.
Plain Maine Chowder
from the recipe of Mabel G. Hall, a Maine historian
- Ingredients: diced salt pork, onions, potatoes, water, salt, a very little bit of milk
Kentucky Wilted Lettuce
“Throughout Kentucky, and particularly in the mountainous area, wilted lettuce is certain to appear on the table of most every household that has a garden.”
- Ingredients: fresh lettuce, fresh green onions, salt, pepper, bacon, bacon grease
from a description of an “Arizona Menudo Party” by J. Del Castillo
- Ingredients: beef tripe, hominy, salt, pepper
Depression Cake (far western U.S.)
from an essay by Michael Kennedy and Edward B. Reynolds, a cake born out of necessity by a woman preparing for a July 4 “picnic, rodeo, and general get-together”
- No eggs, butter, or milk.
- Ingredients: raisin water, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice, bacon drippings, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder.
In the midst of a national farm-to-table movement, special Art Beat correspondent Peter Smith spoke with Mark Kurlansky about the project's origins, the economic stimulus plan that funded it and how the country's food has changed since the advent of interstates, Jell-O and drive-through windows.
--Peter Smith is a writer and food columnist in Portland, Maine.
During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt decided that even unemployed writers needed to be put to work. So as part of the New Deal he created the Federal Writers Project and dispatched scribes to all corners of the nation to document, among other topics, food. "What America Eats" became a national compendium of what people were cooking and eating, region by region. Being a "locavore" is a fashionable lifestyle choice now. But in 1940 you ate locally because you had to—the lack of highways and freezers kept diners to a regional and seasonal menu long before it became chic. Notable writers including Eudora Welty who covered Mississippi meals and Zora Neale Hurston who tackled her favorite Floridian foods all weighed in on regional cuisine for the project. In his new book, "Food of a Younger Land," author Mark Kurlansky revives the unfinished America Eats project. He joins The Takeaway for a look back at the diet of a nation.
As part of the New Deal, writers were employed to document what America eats. (Flickr user garysoup (cc: by-nc-sa))
Indiana Persimmon Pudding
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1/4 cup of shortening
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups of flour
- 4 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon of cloves
- 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons of butter
- 2 cups of seeded persimmons
Cape Fear Johnny Cake.
- 2 cups flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Milks or water for a soft dough
- ¾ shortening, preferably half butter, half lard
- A good pinch of baking power is now used sometimes
Oregon India Pickle
- 12 apples
- 10 ripe tomatoes
- 9 medium onions
- 3 cups vinegar
- 3 cups sugar
- ¼ cup salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
Bistro 82 rolls out new fall menuSeptember 18, 2017
Bistro 82 has recently rolled out their Fall menu, and it is full of fresh seasonal flavors celebrating the harvest.
Bistro 82 has recently rolled out their Fall menu, and it is full of fresh seasonal flavors celebrating the harvest. Joseph VanWagner, Bistro 82 Chef de Cuisine, joined us in the FOX 2 Cooking School to tell us more about the new items on the menu. He also showed us how to prepare their beet salad, which you can get the recipe for below. For more information on Bistro 82, visit www.bistro82.com. CLICK MEDIA LINK BELOW FOR FULL VIDEO & BEET SALAD RECIPE
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It’s a rare thing to be able to use your job skills to help people—especially when you’re a professional drink-slinger. So when I heard about an opportunity to participate in Taste of the Nation, the nation’s premier culinary benefit dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America, I could not resist. I was eager not only to showcase my mixology skills and rub shoulders with some of the top mixologists in the city, but also to be part of a great cause.
The three-hour event took place August 11 on the 16th floor of the brand new Trump Tower, overlooking beautiful downtown Chicago. Silent, live auctions took place throughout the evening and proceeds went to causes fighting childhood hunger. One of the charities benefiting from the event was the Chicago Food Depository, an organization my family has donated time and money to in the past, so I felt even more connected to this worthy event.
Dubbing myself the “Mizvah Mixologist,” I set out early that morning to the supermarket to decide how to spice up an already fabulous cocktail: the Caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink, made from a special Brazillian rum called Cachaca (pronounced ka-sha-sa), lime juice and sugar. It was as if lightning struck me right there in the produce section! I found these ripe, gorgeous Chilean clementines—they are seasonal and have a wonderful color and sweetness that I knew would fit perfectly into my cocktail and turn some heads at the same time!
When making a fabulous cocktail, it is sometimes best to keep it simple. In this case, the recipe seems straightforward, but the drink is about execution and presentation. Traditionally, each drink must be made fresh to order—no batching allowed! Batching is when you premix your ingredients and only need to shake and strain before serving.
For presentation and decorative purposes, I quartered the limes and my special twist – Chilean clementines – so they looked like mini pizza wedges and fit nicely into the small plastic cups we were given to serve our cocktails. Because of the quantity or drinks I’d be making, I chose to shake the drinks in my Boston shaker to speed up the mixing process. In an effort to save time, I also gently stirred the agave nectar and lime juice together to create a homemade lime syrup. That is, until I ran out of agave nectar.
As the night went on, after serving dozens of cocktails, I noticed that I was running dangerously low on my agave nectar, which would close up my station for the rest of the night. Oy Vey! But no worries, like every good mixologist I came prepared with a backup: unrefined demarara sugar, native to Brazil and a fine agave nectar substitute. The only caveat with this change in texture is – you guessed it – muddling! While it became a bit more laborious, it actually allowed me to channel my nervous energy into muddling. It was also an attention-grabber and brought many more people to my station just to watch. It also made it easy to share a few words with each person and get to schmooze them a bit while I worked my magic.
Ari's twist on a traditional cocktail
While I was having a great time mixing cocktails for the masses, I also met lots of great people along the way. For instance, Adam Seger, head bar chef at Nacional 27 at 325 W. Huron, is one of the great mixologists in Chicago. His culinary background serves as an inspirational reference for his crazy cocktails as he breaks barriers and stereotypes that have plagued cocktails for a long time. Here at this event, he was stirring up trouble with his silky smooth Vesper (Gin, Vodka, Lillet Blanc, lemon peel), and even donned a black 1980’s Michael Jackson-type hat to boot!
Mixing right beside him was Lynn House, easily one of the most experienced and talented mixologists around. She runs a superbly chic bar at the Graham Elliot restaurant at 217 W. Huron. My esteemed mentor and friend Charles Joly, who runs the mixology program at the ever-popular Drawing Room at 937 N. Rush, had his Tequila Sunrise tasting like summertime. And of course, the winner of this past season’s Top Chef: Chicago’s own Stephanie Izard, was serving up some tasty dishes at her station alongside season three runner-up Dale Levitski! How cool is that?
Walking out of Trump Tower later that evening with my fellow mixologists, the cool summer night air gently swirling around us, I began to feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment and gratification. I was having an “I just did a mitzvah and boy, it sure feels good,” moment and I was proud to have been a part of such a great event.
Make our own traditional Caipirinha:
1.5 oz Leblon Cachaca
¼ cup 100% Organic agave nectar
4-5 lime wedges
Ice, small cubes or crushed
Directions: Muddle lime wedges and juice with agave nectar in old-fashioned rocks glass for about 15 seconds, making sure not to damage the rinds of the fruit as they contain bitter flavor. Fill the rocks glass with crushed ice, pour the cachaca over the ice, then gently stir the contents with a bar spoon until syrup is mixed in completely.
The modern method asks one to muddle ingredients in the mixing glass, filling it with ice and pouring in the cachaca, shaking for 10 seconds, then dumping the contents directly into the old-fashioned glass.
Traditionalists and modernists alike garnish with a mini wedge or wheel of lime.
Dana’s daughter is learning how to spot a good apple
There is evidence to indicate I have no business contributing to anything called Nosh. My college roommate still recalls the time I removed a cold, hard Idaho potato from its produce bag and asked, “So is this a baked potato, or do I need to do something to it?” Fast forward two college degrees (yes, from accredited universities) and you will witness a similar scene as my husband – in one of his more patient moments – walks me through the complex art of boiling an egg.
Much to his disappointment, I didn’t inherit my Nana’s 36DDs, but I did inherit her inability to kvell over a matzoh ball. Like Nana and my mother before me, I am a Jewish girl who can’t cook. And unfortunately, the trait has gotten progressively worse with each generation.
At least Nana (of blessed memory) had a few dishes that received modest accolades, like rolled meat in cabbage. Her son-in-law makes fun of her liquefied vegetables to this day. Papa, on the other hand, just ate.
As Uncle Eric tells it, Nana spooned out her overcooked meals to Papa day in and day out for over 60 years. On an uncharacteristically solicitous day, Nana asked Papa if he preferred tapioca or rice pudding. “I’ll have rice,” he responded. “I don’t really like tapioca.” “What?! You don’t like tapioca?! Since 1932, I’ve been serving you tapioca. How come you never told me?” “You never asked,” he said.
My own mother has an uncanny ability to serve monochrome meals in shades of yellow and orange. Quiche, mac ‘n cheese, frozen corn, cottage cheese. In other words, would you like some cheese with your cheese?
The men in my family aren’t much better. With the precision of a physician shoving a thermometer up a baby’s ass, my dad routinely gauges the temperature of every slab of meat, every hunk of poultry.
With these roots, does it come as a surprise that I would be perfectly happy subsisting on granola and yogurt, turkey sandwiches, and apples?
Cuisanart? Never used it. China and silver? Nowhere to be found on my wedding registry. Salt and pepper shakers? Empty – never been filled. Brisket? Never tasted it – let alone made it. Baster? What the hell is that?
Food lovers of Oy! Please tell me why I should spend hours making a meal that will be devoured in eight minutes flat. Why buy a bouquet of flowers that is just going to wilt? Why dirty a serving dish when it is far more efficient to plop a bag of chips in the middle of the table? (Or on the floor if the table is too full, as was the case last week.)
I am aware that most Jews equate food with nurturance, ritual and family. As I type this, my husband is upstairs reading a Jewish holiday cookbook to our 5-year old daughter with far more passion than I’ve ever heard him read Goodnight, Moon. He has exclaimed, “Yummy, this is my favorite!” nine times in the past three minutes, and they’ve only finished Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Tu B’Shevat. “Oh ho, look at this chicken. Man, you know what’s inside this? Apples with cinnamon and nuts. Let’s remind savta to make this next time we go to Israel.”
The cookbook was a gift from my mother-in-law, shortly before her poor son married an inept chef. Little did she know he was marrying me and a guy named Joe who would provide many healthy meals for her son. Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe’s, is a guest at most meals at our house. He once said, “In France there isn't all this fuss about pricey, vintage wine. They just pour the stuff and drink it." Now that is an attitude that I can respect.
Joe is so cool, I also take him to work. The current no-fuss contents of my bottom desk drawer include the makings of a Trader Joe's feast: split pea soup, sardines, rice cakes, organic quinoa, soy milk in a box and dried cranberries. To this, my colleague and fellow Oy-ster Sarah Follmer will tearfully attest.
At Chanukah, if Trader Joe’s runs out of frozen potato pancakes, my family heads to Walker Bros. and if the lines there are too long, we are shit out of luck. Year-round, my freezer remains stocked with frozen brown rice, roasted vegetables with balsamic vinegar, and blueberry waffles. So don’t worry, folks. Joe may be a west coast goy who sold his business to a German conglomerate years ago, but he keeps my family well nourished.
My husband helps, too. Benny grew up frequenting shuks with his mama in northern Israel and prides himself on his ability to pick out the juiciest watermelon, the freshest avocado, the most succulent tomatoes. On multiple occasions, he has tried to show me how to cut a mango. I look the other way, as I did when a former secretary tried to show me how to mail merge. I just don’t want to know.
I am starting to realize it is not that I’ve failed as a cook – I just haven’t tried. With apologies to Nana, I do care if the people I love prefer tapioca pudding or rice pudding. It’s just that such requests usually send me to the store, not the kitchen.
Maybe this will be the generation that knows baked from raw and can boil an egg without incident. My girls, familiar with goodnight cookbooks, accompany their abba on his weekend jaunts to the produce market to smell melons. My 5-year old can already make a mean turkey sandwich. My 4-year old loves flowers, wilted or not.
To Cut Or Not To Cut
I’m an avoider. My solution to the circumcision question (to cut or not to cut) is: I’ll only have girls. I am sure that this impractical resolution will result in a family of boys.
I would never even have been thinking about this question had it not been for Chicagoan Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon’s film, Cut . And he would never have been thinking about this issue if not for the time, at 15-years-old, he served as the Sandek, the person who holds the baby during the ritual, for his cousin’s bris in Jerusalem. He was appalled when the Mohel leaned over the baby and came up with blood on his beard. The image stuck with him and today, with Cut, he addresses the issue of whether or not to circumcise religiously, scientifically, ethically, sexually, straightforwardly and graphically through interviews with people from every perspective.
I admit I had to cover my eyes at a few points during the film. I had never seen a circumcision up close before. I had never even thought about it for more than five seconds before watching the film, but my screening prompted a long discussion among friends afterward–which, it turns out falls nicely in line with Ungar-Sargon’s goal of prompting conversation on the subject.
He judges the film’s success not on the number of minds he changes or how many viewers come away agreeing with him, but rather on the dialogues that viewers have after watching. He says this questioning and wrestling with ideas is really what being Jewish is about. After a screening, most stick around for an hour and a half or so discussion. After hearing lots of new information on a taboo topic, it’s only natural that people have questions as they’re processing the information.
Another documentary about circumcision was made in 1995 – Whose Body, Whose Rights – but it was clearly an anti-circumcision film. Ungar-Sargon wanted to make a documentary about his personal experience and viewpoints, while also including the perspectives of others. He tried to portray, “people who vehemently disagree with me in the most flattering light.” He also recognizes that the choice of whether or not to circumcise your sons is a very personal decision.
Ungar-Sargon’s interest in both film and circumcision began as a teenager, but these subjects didn’t come together in the form of Cut until years later. “The first time I saw film as more than just entertainment was in high school in Jerusalem, when I took a film appreciation class because I thought it would be an easy credit,” he says with a smile – it obviously became much more than that. But first he attended medical school for 3 years in England until he decided to venture out to pursue his true passion – film. When he applied to the Art Institute of Chicago, he says he had “never done anything artistic in my life, but I knew how to take pictures.”
Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon “cuts” right to the chase with his film on circumcision
Being raised in an Orthodox home, he DID have a lot of experience with traditional Jewish ideas and how they sometimes conflicted with modern society. One example marking clear conflict between Jewish and secular views is the role of women in traditional Judaism. There is much discussion on this topic and feminism in general, but with circumcision there is almost no discussion. People get uncomfortable questioning something that they perceive as being central or fundamental to being Jewish.
That perception is precisely what Ungar-Sargon wanted to focus on. Cut began in his documentary film class, and expanded into a feature film after he graduated. He and his wife, the co-producer, are now independently distributing the film.
Before starting work on the film, and before his experience as a Sandek, he wasn’t aware of all three steps of a traditional Orthodox Bris. Neither was I. Here’s how he explained it to me.
1. Milah – cutting of the foreskin
2. Pri’ah – removing of the translucent membrane
3. Metzitzah – suction of blood. Usually a sterilized glass tube is used for this step, but historically, and in more traditional movements, oral suction is performed. I won’t get into the controversy surrounding this step – that would have to be a whole separate story.
So the bris is a tradition going back thousands of years, but what about the non-religious reasons for circumcision? Here in the Midwest, 70% of men are circumcised, the highest rate in the United States. I recently heard a story on the radio talking about how circumcision can help prevent HIV/AIDS. Is that true? Ungar-Sargon’s research shows that these types of statements – circumcision can prevent _____(fill in the blank) - have been loosely related to the scariest diseases of the times. In the 19th century, circumcision was supposed to prevent epilepsy and masturbation (apparently considered a disease back in the day). In the 20th century it was linked to syphilis. During World War II, everyone entering the military had to be circumcised for sanitary purposes. Post WWII, it was supposed to prevent cancers, urinary tract infections, and now HIV. Over the years, scientific studies have disproved these connections each time.
That said, the film is not anti-circumcision and Ungar-Sargon doesn’t characterize himself as an anti-circumcision person (those who do prefer to be known as intactivists). The film offers every opinion from those of intactivists to those of a Rabbi who says it is an obligation. After a screening, some people leave no longer wanting to circumcise their sons while others leave with renewed conviction about the practice. Armed with new information, everyone develops her own personal decision.
Ungar-Sargon will continue in his goal to raise awareness and instigate conversation on difficult topics through film. Production of his next feature-length film documenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begins this November.
More information about Cut, screenings, and the DVD can be found at www.cutthefilm.com . Ungar-Sargon is also a guest lecturer in editing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and teaches two classes – Masterpiece Cinema and Holy Athiesm – both available as podcasts on his site, www.eliungar.com .
8 Questions for Rachel Massey, Event Planner, Back Bender, Stevie Nicks Fan
Rachel Massey will make your day
Rachel Massey’s planner is always full. The master organizer plans weddings, meetings and events of all sorts—she’s also a sometimes-yoga instructor. After six years working for hotels including the House of Blues and the InterContinental, she’s gone out on her own. When she’s not in event mode, you’ll find Rachel on a yoga mat or hanging at home with her husband Jeff and their animals—a giant Golden Retriever named Chuck and two cats, Lovie (yup, that Lovie) and Sammy.
So whether you have a big event coming up and need help from a pro, you enjoy yoga or long for travel without airplanes, Rachel Massey is a Jew you should know!
1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a psychologist, I was always the one in my group of friends who was trying to save the world and solve everyone’s problems. I always took in strays—people not animals—and tried to help them. Then, after I went to college and studied psychology, I found I wanted to skip to the part where people lie on the couch and I have a nice office. The end result sounded awesome but the rest of it wasn’t for me.
2. What do you love about what you do today?
I love the flexibility and the variety—each day is different, each event is different and I feel like I have tempered my career with my passion for practicing and teaching yoga. Yoga used to be on the backburner and now I get to make it a bigger part of my life.
3. What are you reading?
I am re-reading Until I Find You by John Irving, he’s my favorite author and I was inspired to re-read it on a recent trip to Europe, because the book is based there. I’m also reading The Historian .
4. What's your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
This one is hard – Thai Village is an all-around winner and, in years of going there, has never disappointed. Magnolia for a fancier night out, I love it there. And I have to say that Mas, which closed down, was one of my favorite places. They were always so busy I just don’t get it! I’m also looking for recommendations in Oak Park if anyone has any, we just moved there.
5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
As an ex-smoker, I’d love to invent a cigarette that would never kill you, cause any health problems, give you wrinkles or make you smell bad. And, I’d also love some kind of transport device that would make flying places on planes unnecessary.
6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or the ability to be invisible?
Fly of course, so I wouldn’t have to take planes!
7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
Lots of Stevie Nicks, I’m a really big fan. Particularly the song “Night Bird."
8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago-in other words, how do you Jew?
In my family, we have what we call the Shabbos Shot. When my parents are in town, or we’re visiting them, we kick off Friday night with a shot of tequila. I also try to host a holiday least one once a year—I’m not religious about which holiday—but I try to host a dinner or party for a group of friends who are not predominantly Jewish.
Getting married? Freaking out? Rachel can help! E-mail her at: [email protected]
Mark Bazer: An Angry Man
“The Incredible Mark Bazer”
My father waited 34 years to tell me the news.
"Bazer," the surname he passed down to me, and which I've long cherished for its uniqueness, its slight air of mystery and its "Z," is, it turns out, hardly innocuous, and even less mysterious.
Dad: Son, I have something to tell you about your name.
Dad: It means 'angry person' in Yiddish. I wanted to tell you now so that . son, what are you doing? I'm just telling you the truth. Put me down. Please! Stop! No.
Alas, my father, may his soul eternally burn in hell, was right.
A quick Web search revealed, according to the Family Education Network, that "Bazer" is a variant of "Beiser," which is a "nickname for a wicked or aggressive person, from Yiddish beyzer (meaning) 'wicked,' 'severe,' 'bad,' 'angry,' 'fierce.'"
What was going on that day in my ancestors' village, or shtetl, when the names were being handed out? When everyone else took on titles befitting their professions, what kind of raving, unemployable lunatic must the original Bazer have been? My word, what possibly could he have done to be given such a name? Murder the fiddler on the roof?
Being saddled with the knowledge that your last name could quite simply mean "bad" is hard enough to take. But then there's the matter of my first name: Mark, which — let's go to the Family Education Network again — means "warring," "warlike" or the much more peaceful "hammer."
So, "Mark Bazer" means "Warlike Angry Person." In other words, it's the most violent, despicable name a human being could have. (Actually, check that. Had my parents gone with "Marc," it'd be worse: "Warlike Angry French Person.")
The question I now face is where to go from here. Once word of the meaning of my name spreads, will my colleagues and friends finally begin to fear me for the power and cruelty they know I can unleash? And do I have to start lifting weights?
Armed with this new knowledge, I've also begun to ponder how much more powerful, how much more evil, some of the greatest villains or all-around angry characters could have been had they benefited from a simple name change.
Would Marvel Comics genius Stan Lee have had more success if he'd discarded the name "Hulk" and gone with "The Incredible Mark Bazer"? Should we now have "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Bazer"? Is it too late to change the White House stationery to read Vice President Mark Bazer?
On the flip side, I wonder if instead of reveling in my newfound badness, I should now be doing everything in my power to distance myself from my name. Should I devote the rest of my days to walking the earth renouncing cruelty wherever I go? To toiling for peace at every opportunity? Or would this tack end horribly wrong, with my birth name ultimately overpowering me and an entire village of kittens slaughtered?
You people, with your names like "Hope" and "Faith" and "Sunday Rose Kidman Urban," can never understand the inner turmoil that I now must face each and every day.
Oh, what could my parents, who back then still remembered their fair share of Yiddish and must have known what my first name meant, been thinking? "Why, pray tell, did you name me Mark Bazer?" I asked my mom this morning.
Alas, it was hard to make out what she was saying from the inside of my trunk.
Mark Bazer can be reached at [email protected] or at www.markbazer.com . He hosts The Interview Show the first Friday of every month at The Hideout ( www.hideoutchicago.com ). His next show, Sept. 5, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., will feature hip-hop poet Kevin Coval, jazz artist Frank Catalano and Blewt! Productions creative director Steve Gadlin.
(c) 2008, Mark Bazer. Distributed by Tribune Media Services. Originally published in Chicago in RedEye.
My brother taking a picture of the Contemporary Jewish Museum
My three days in the Bay Area deviated slightly from the Hemispheres magazine recommended itinerary. No dim sum in Chinatown, no inline skating through the Golden Gate Park. I headed west last month for one reason: to connect with my big brother.
The last time I tried to enter his world, I encountered wizards, orcs and half-elves. Turns out, Dungeons and Dragons was not my thing and I quickly retreated to a more familiar landscape which included cherry Blow Pops, gossip and The Love Boat. That was in 1981.
Me with my brother, wishing he was into The Love Boat
These days, he is a freelance photographer who still orbits his own planet. And I am still the little sister with hopelessly mundane interests—and an interest in whatever planet my brother happens to be on.
He has the entire Bay area arts and culture calendar committed to memory. I know next to nothing about art. I don’t like museums. And I especially don’t like art museums.
But this trip, my brother is my tour guide so I follow him.
From the photo exhibition in the basement of City Hall to the Diego Rivera mural at the Art Institute to the observation tower at the de Young Museum, I try to keep up. We crisscross the city by bus, BART, MUNI, and cable car to the Yerba Buena Cultural Center, the Legion of Honor, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and little galleries in alleys with no names.
I glance (barely) at framed things hanging on walls and take a mental inventory of our differences. I have a 9 to 5 job, a hair stylist named Jerli, manners (sorta), a working stove, a credit card, the ability to maneuver around light posts and other inanimate objects, a spouse, two kids and a god-blessed picket fence. My brother has none of the above.
When he slows down to eat pad Thai, I ask about his love life, his job search, his access to laundry facilities and his long-term plans. I get short answers and a few glares.
We take a 45-minute bus ride to a palace of fine arts by the ocean. I can barely contain my lack of excitement at the prospect of seeing Women Impressionists, or in my mind, blurry old paintings of French women sitting by the pond wearing big skirts. And true, the art does not move me, but the curator’s words on the wall tell a story, four stories, in fact of four women painters -- Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eve Gonzales, and Marie Bracquemond -- who were marginalized due to strict social rules and gender discrimination. On a trip when social norms are anything but normal, I take note.
Flocking to Frida at the SFMOMA
We head to the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, it draws lines that rival those at the opening night of Sex in the City. My brother’s SFMOMA membership serves as a fast pass up the back elevator and I am soon sucked into room after room of intense color, intense pain and raw self-expression. It is Frida’s story of polio, politics, stormy love, ethnic influences, infertility, infidelity, physical anguish and emotional despair. Frida was part-Jewish, my brother comments. I watch him take pictures of people taking pictures of Frida’s pictures. The security guard says nothing.
Over fish tacos, I ask my brother if he is happy. Yes, he responds. I ask him what he would do if money were no object. Take pictures, he responds. And there you have it, I can fly home.
Bay area art as viewed through my brother's lens
The new Contemporary Jewish Museum opened last June in a converted power station with a dramatic addition that stops everyone in their tracks. I do not know how many people pay the $10 admission to actually walk through the doors, but a hell of a lot of people pause to take a picture of the massive, blue steel cubes balancing on their tips. Architect Daniel Libeskind’s bold, angular design was inspired by the Hebrew letters chet-yud (i.e., chai, l’chaim, to life).
My brother with his trademark curls and overflowing bag
If you’re looking for dusty old Torah scrolls, oodles of silver Judaica, or a Holocaust memorial of some sort, don’t bother stopping at the CJM. Connecting art, people, and ideas is the marketing tag. The museum has no permanent collection. Temporary exhibits are presented in its three galleries, one of which is too cockeyed to even hang art on its walls. This space currently houses an auditory exhibit.
My brother and I agree that our favorite of the three exhibits is “From the New Yorker to Shrek: The Art of William Steig.” I read him one of the Steig quotes out loud: I often ask myself, “What would be an ideal life?” I think an ideal life would be just drawing. Maybe my brother, the photographer who takes pictures but has no working stove, let alone a picket fence, is living his ideal life.
On a bus through the Presidio, I ever-so-astutely observe, “Behind the art, there is an artist. And behind the artist, there is a story. Kinda like writing.” He seems to agree.
If we were art, the curator might write: Two out of sync siblings bond, to the best of their ability. And off we go to the next exhibit, so this culturally-deprived jackass can learn another thing or two about art and maybe, if she’s lucky, a little about her brother.
8 Questions for Mark Bazer, columnist, talk show host, all-around funnyman
Mark Bazer will have you laughing in his column featured in next week’s issue of Oy!
Mark Bazer is a syndicated humor columnist for Tribune Media Services and his column—which covers everything from current events to what to talk about with your hair stylist—appears every other Thursday in RedEye and on ChicagoTribune.com. He is also the host of The Interview Show, a live talk show that runs the first Friday of every month at The Hideout and features guests like Bibla Golic, the “Maria Sharapova of Table Tennis” and Doug Sohn, President of Hot Doug’s Encased Meat Emporium, along with artists, musicians and authors. His next show, Friday Sept. 5, will feature Savoy jazz saxophonist Frank Catalano, hip hop poet Kevin Coval and Steve Gadlin, creative director of Blewt! Productions' "Impress These Apes!"
So whether you love reading his column in the RedEye, find Christina Aguilera empowering or just want to have a good laugh, Mark Bazer is a Jew You Should Know.
1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
The American boy cliche: a professional baseball player. But the difference is I wanted to be the bullpen catcher. Many of the perks of being in the Major Leagues but considerably less pressure.
2. What do you love about what you do today?
The deadlines. Really. I like being able to be done with something -- and having to be done with it -- and then go onto the next thing.
3. What are you reading?
"Then We Came to the End" by Joshua Ferris. It's a novel about an advertising agency in Chicago. It's really funny. It's the kind of novel where, during the days you're reading it, you start almost thinking in the mode of the novel, if that makes any sense.
4. What's your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
Sultan's Market in Wicker Park. My wife and I used to live across the street, and it was my first falafel experience. Now, I am inevitably disappointed by any other falafel I have. And I should also probably mention Manny's.
5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
Something that people can use to easily get from one place to another with such ease, comfort and style that it would literally change the world. I'd call it a Segway.
6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or the ability to be invisible?
Fly. I feel like if you were invisible, people would be bumping into you all the time.
7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
Christina Aguilera. But is that guilty? She's really good. And she empowers me.
8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago-in other words, how do you Jew?
Having the occasional Shabbat dinner with my in-laws, my wife and my 3-year-old son at my in-laws' downtown apartment. I like watching my 3-year-old try to sing along. Maybe he'd actually learn the words if we didn't do it so occasionally.
Look for one of Mark’s columns in the Living Jewishly section of next week’s issue of Oy!
My Dad the Jew … Gets Baptized
Heather's dad Joe beams with pride at her graduation
My father's last memory of his father Aaron was in 1937, dad was five. Aaron's car was parked and running outside of the house. In the front seat was my grandfather's new bride, Bessie. My father came running outside of the house to the car. Aaron crouched down to my father, gave him a five dollar bill and said, "Sonny, someday you'll understand." Aaron drove away and my father never saw or heard from him again.
My father, Joseph Hyman Zagrabelsky, didn't understand then and never will.
In 1917 my father's parents emigrated from Odessa, Ukraine to the U.S. miraculously escaping the pogroms of 1919. Aaron, my grandfather, was an Orthodox Rabbi and his wife, Bluma, a homemaker. Dad was the youngest of five. Early in their lives as Americans, the family made a tour of sorts of U.S. synagogues. Apparently, Aaron liked his lady congregants a little too much and was forced to leave several temples. No matter though, the family just moved from one state to another, starting in Maryland and ending up in Los Angeles where Aaron eventually found a suitable young lady to leave his family for.
His father’s departure was a traumatic event that loomed large in Joe's life. At 19 he hitchhiked from LA to New York to pursue his dream of acting. On the way he stopped in Memphis where he knew his father to be living. He looked him up and made a call. Bessie answered the phone and informed Joe that his father had died three months earlier of a heart attack and couldn't he please send some money for a head stone.
But dad made it. He landed in New York where he worked as an actor for many years, even understudying the lead role Come Blow Your Horn on Broadway. Eventually, in the late 1960s, he met Paul Sills, founder of Compass Players and Second City, moved to Chicago and joined his improvisation group.
The rest of the family wasn’t faring quite as well. Dad’s oldest brother Bernie had become a bonafide hermit, relocating to New Hampshire from LA, and eventually kidnapping my sick grandmother. His brother Nathaniel had committed suicide. His sister Diana was living in Nevada with her gentile husband and his brother closest in age, Hershey, became a Jew for Jesus, married and had a mess o' babies. Can you imagine?? Performing must have been, among other things, a welcome respite and distraction from his painful past.
Eventually, my dad met and married my mother, Hope, a granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants, whom he met in one of Viola Spolin's famous improvisation classes. They raised my older brother and I, baptizing us at the local Presbyterian church. Every Sunday, we dutifully went to Sunday School. My father would drop us off and say, "Tell Jesus I said hello. Ask him, can't I get into heaven by association?" We loved that one. But as time went on, I found that I did have to ask my father's question in earnest to those who taught me Christian doctrine. Would my dad go to hell? I posed this question to any poor schmo with a divinity degree. Some said it was up to God's discretion, but most said yes. I was disturbed by this. It took many years of interrogating clergy of all stripes before I settled on, no.
Heather and her dad, a couple of hams
I've always felt a kinship with my father. Perhaps it's because I have his dark hair and sallow skin, or maybe it's just the typical father-daughter bond. Whatever it is, I feel Jewish and have since I was a child. Currently, I am in the midst of the conversion process, a topic of conversation that I have found does not bring out the best in people. Some say, "Why does it matter? Why do you want religion?" My mother is nonplussed, my orthodox friends will never consider me a real Jew, and my father says, "Why do you want to be a Jew? People are always trying to kill us!" It's not that I want to be Jewish, or wish I was Jewish. I simply feel that I am and want to make it official. More than that, my desire to do so is not so much a measured cognitive process as it is a biological urge, like the urge to have children or go to sleep.
After twenty-four years together, my parents called it quits. Dad was single for a while, renting a small apartment and living in typical bachelor squalor. Some years later he married a nice Catholic lady named Jean. Hers, I thought, is a deep but personal faith one I can tolerate, admire even. They quickly moved to a quiet neighborhood in Northwest Indiana to be near Jean's family. Later, I came to find out that many of Jean's family members are Evangelical Christians. Oy.
Now, I am not familiar with all of Indiana, or with all evangelicals, but where my dad lives they actually believe that Obama is a Muslim, and they’d have a problem with it if he was. They must have been salivating as his car pulled up, seeing the passenger as someone who desperately needed saving. Eventually Dad and Jean moved in with Jean's son's family, wonderful people who happen to display their faith in a way I find nauseating. But how could I complain? They love my dad and take wonderful care of him. Sure, when I told them my husband was going into environmental law they told me that environmentalists love trees more than people, but so what, right?
Dad will turn seventy-six this month. Who can blame him for wanting some measure of spirituality in his life? A tried and true hypochondriac—he once called to inform me that he had a new condition, and drove home the severity of the situation with the dramatic pause he had perfected on stage: “Heather,” he said, “I have conjunctivitis.” Yes, my dad had pink eye. And yes, he pulled through. I do kid him for his constant assumption that death is imminent, but getting older and seeing friends die must really reinforce his fears. It makes sense that he might want to chat with his maker.
Knowing Jean’s family’s evangelical bent, I guess I should have seen it coming. But when my dad called announcing that he was to be baptized, I was dumbfounded. Actually, devastated is more like it. Did I mention the baptism was to take place one day before a scheduled surgery? Dad thinks he'll die during routine teeth cleanings! The man was covering his bases. I sobbed. And sobbed. I tried everything. I made an impromptu visit to Indiana, speeding down the Dan Ryan toward the Skyway begging him to rethink his decision. I even took him to see a rabbi in Munster.
The rabbi respectfully inquired into his line of thinking. My dad replied that he now lives with Christians and added, "When in Rome. " Oh well. "What? It's just some water on my head," he barked in a perfect New York Jew accent. "I'm a Jew, Jesus was a Jew, period." When I asked if he believed that Jesus died for his sins and will come back to judge the living and the dead—payback for years of Sunday school I guess—he replied, "What the hell are you talking about?" Sigh. I had to laugh even through my tears. At least the trip wasn't a total loss. It was beautiful to see my father lay tefillin for the first time in more than fifty-five years. He still knew the Hebrew by heart.
A few days after my visit to Indiana, Dad landed in the emergency room (he is fine). Jean left me a voice mail saying, should my father die it's my fault, just so I know. Nice. What could I do? He is my only link to Judaism and without that link, I felt very alone. How can I feel Jewish if he ceases to be a Jew? Can I still convert? I realized that my tears were in large part for myself and what I thought I had lost.
Two weeks after we visited the rabbi, he was baptized. I wasn't there.
How is a Jew whose entire family abandoned Judaism long ago and who lives amongst so many Christians to keep his faith? It would be difficult even for the most observant amongst us. Dad didn't stand a chance.
I think that truth be told, Dad’s baptism mattered more to me than it did to him. I can’t say for sure whether he was covering bases, or agreeing to the ceremony to provide some kind of comfort for the woman he loves. Maybe he doesn’t even see it as getting in the way of his view of his Jewish self, or suddenly at 75, he found Jesus—and I guess it doesn’t matter.
No matter what my dad believes, I am Jewish because of him. Now it’s up to me to figure out how to be the Jew I want to be, that I feel I am.
Inked: A Jew and his Tattoos
Josh Rosenberg, a walking canvas of Jewish pride
We’ve all met Jews with tattoos—people of the Hebrew persuasion who see no conflict between their heritage and their body art. But how about Jews who consider their tattoos to be an expression of their Judaism? Meet Josh Rosenberg, a 28-year-old union pipefitter who wears his heart on his sleeve and his religion just underneath it.
Josh’s left wrist is encircled with tattooed Hebrew script that says: “Ben Yisrael”—son of Israel—and his left elbow is ringed by an enormous Star of David, a twin tribute and statement of loyalty to his parents. “I don’t know the ethnicity of my blood parents, but as far as I am concerned, I am my [adoptive] parents’ son—and they are Jewish,” Josh says. That lineage is intense. His great-aunt, a Holocaust survivor, was among many members of his family who emigrated to Israel after WWII, and her testimony helped convict the notorious Adolph Eichmann of war crimes.
How could the descendent of Holocaust survivors in particular choose to get tattoos? “I think a lot of people these days are embarrassed of being Jewish,” Rosenberg says. “Not too long ago, Jews even had to hide their identity. This is my way of saying I am proud of it.”
Rosenberg’s pride is apparent both coming and going. Just below the nape of his neck is another Jewish tattoo, a colorful lotus flower in full bloom, with a Jewish Star at its heart. “The lotus flower grows in stagnant water,” Rosenberg explains. “Who could believe that something so beautiful grows in something so stagnant, that such beauty grows out of shit?”
Josh’s lotus flower tattoo with a star of David, such beauty growing out of such shit
Speaking of shit—how much does Rosenberg get about his Jewish body art? “I asked my rabbi if it was true that a Jew with tattoos couldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery,” Rosenberg says. “He told me: ‘There are 613 laws, and one of them [also] is not to lie, but if every liar couldn’t be buried [in a Jewish cemetery], there would be no one buried there. Live your life.’”
Rosenberg definitely is a man who does just that. The inside of his right forearm is emblazoned with a dramatic image of Miriam the prophet. “The only problem I have ever had with the Old Testament is women aren’t represented,” Rosenberg says. “The only woman who always stood strong was Miriam. She was amazing. She kept the Jewish people together in the desert, where [a well of] water followed her. Without her, there would be nothing.”
Below the tribute to Miriam is a tribute that is more personal: The monogram “MAM” is emblazoned on his right wrist, a permanent memorial to Rosenberg’s beloved friend, Matthew Aaron Morrison, who died two years ago. “I have known Matt since I was 5,” Rosenberg says, speaking at a party marking what would have been Matt’s 28th birthday. “He was my brother, and I lost him. We were inseparable. Now he is dead and I am not.” The tattoo, he says, is a way of keeping Morrison’s memory with him always.
Rosenberg’s most recent tattoo, inked on his left inside forearm, is less bittersweet, It is a quote from the Torah that declares: “Any place a man turns his eyes to heaven is the holiest of holies.” “It has a lot of relevance in my life today,” says Josh. “The whole reason to have tattoos as a Jew—the whole irony—is that you don’t need a synagogue or a structure to find God or praise God. There is another way.”
My Dinner with Ilyas: Why Concept is King
Stacey's dining companion wants to live here
Zed is the British/French pronunciation of the last letter of the alphabet. 451 is the number of degrees (in Fahrenheit) needed for fire to ignite. So, one would imagine that somehow the creators of this new restaurant are implying that their concept is a culminating point, the end all be all, the point of combustion.
Instead, what works best about this spacious and comfortable space is that ultimately, it is basic--it celebrates the beginning of things and is the starting place. At a time in dining where American Chefs are borrowing the best ideas from other cultures and claiming them as our own, it should be no surprise that the marketing of Zed451 doesn’t ever invoke Italian antipasto, Spanish Tapas, Greek Mezes, or Argentinean churrascuro, (the traditional steakhouse format that has become popularized here with places like Fogo De Chao). And yet, it is the intersection of those dining formats, simply a large salad bar and starter tables followed by an all-you-can-eat festival of meats, grilled on large skewers, and carved tableside, that the team at Zed is doing.
But if the devil is in the details, so is the divine.
My date for the evening is a goddess with a biblical name, who has given me the ultimate gift, a brilliantly blonde and blue-eyed porcelain-skinned goddaughter, who has a 30-something’s vocabulary at the age of three and is dutifully learning the Four Questions for next year’s Passover Seder. She greets me when I visit with a hug and the phrase, “Can I get you a glass of wine or something?” Rachel is a props master and set dresser with impeccable taste, so when she meets me at the expansive central bar and says, “I want to live here” I know that architect Chris Smith, in his first Chicago project, has been extraordinarily successful in creating a comfortable and attractive place, not easy to do in a cavernous space such as this.
Groups gather in Zed's cozy nooks
But cozy nooks abound, the seating at the bar is comfortable enough that you can imagine lingering, and natural touches like warm woods, leather and stone are very welcoming. There is a focus on the ‘fresh’ here, which is highlighted everywhere including on the drinks menu. We start with the bartender’s recommendation, the cucumber sage martini. A blend of freshly muddled cucumber with lemon simple syrup, sage, and Hendrick’s gin, this martini tasted neither of cucumber nor of sage, but was still yummy. slightly sweet and lemony, but not overpowering the smooth piney gin.
We moved to the dining room, a bright and airy space with a round central set of serving tables hugging the circular fire pit, banquettes and tables radiating out from it like a starfish. A small candle, a tiny nosegay of blissfully scentless flowers, a flat-brushed aluminum disc containing two agate river stones rest atop the simple table. We are immediately attended to by Ilyas, a genial gent of Moroccan origin, who indicates that he is there to “explain the experience.”
Again deftly avoiding the use of the words “salad bar” and “Argentinean Steakhouse,” Ilyas explains, (as a fresh set of warm three-cheese biscuits arrive in a cast iron pan with an accompaniment of tangerine butter), that we will begin at the “Harvest Tables,” the circular set of tables we passed en route to our seats. These have soups, charcuterie and cheeses, and prepared salads that we should ‘enjoy to our hearts content’ (read: all you can eat). Once we decide to move on to the entrée portion of the evening, we should move our stones from the metal disc onto the corner of the table, which will indicate to the numerous chefs that we are ready to begin sampling their fares. When we want to take a breather, we should simply move the stones back to their home base, and we will be left to eat in peace until we choose to re-start.
Hot buns! The delightful three-cheese biscuits
Neither Rachel or I are exactly fans of the general idea of a salad bar, associating them with sneeze guards, badly parented children fondling the beets, inexplicable chocolate pudding and big bowls of lettuce swimming in pools of tepid water. But we were pleasantly surprised to find that the Harvest Tables banished those fears. Laid out more like an expansive antipasto bar, the simple white rectangular plates hold interesting options that feel more like serve-it-yourself tapas. The simple cheese platter is nothing new, the charcuterie consists of spicy sopressatta, smooth mortadella, and meaty guianciale, and all are highlighted by house-cured bread-and-butter pickles and fresh baby artichokes, as well as grilled vegetables.
Rachel samples a roasted eggplant soup, adding feta cheese and toasted pine nuts to garnish, which she declares to be like a velvet hug. Some other highlights include a tiny wedge salad, boson lettuce topped with diced tomatoes, a blue cheese dressing, and garlic chips a salad of roasted peaches with new potatoes, grilled red onion and blanched green beans vanilla poached baby carrots with honey yogurt and fresh pineapple with Madagascar vanilla and pepper, which I could probably eat forty-two portions of if no one stopped me. And frankly, at Zed, no one will stop you.
"Fresh" is the main ingredient
There are some misses here as well, a bland cheese ravioli where the filling is so flavorless that it is literally indistinguishable from the pasta that contains it. An uninspired tri-color pasta salad with creamy Italian dressing, while a slightly upscale version of what you see in your local deli case, nevertheless adds nothing of interest. And the genius of poaching carrots in vanilla is not so genius when used on green beans.
There's something for everyone at the non-salad bar
The wine list here has some good choices, although Ilyas was hesitant to make specific recommendations and it was clear that if you want to do any kind of wine pairings, you are on your own. For the Harvest Tables, we ordered Sofia Coppola’s take on champagne, which adorably comes in little pink cans, although we opted out of the included tiny straws, and asked for flutes because Rachel sees enough juice-boxes with a three-year old at home, and I think that champagne thru a plastic straw is about as appealing as beer in a funnel.
The amuse bouche of the night was a shot of chilled yellow pepper soup with lemongrass and chive oil, a nice and refreshing mouthful that was balanced and flavorful. We were clearly the only guests who had thought to request that the parade of skewered proteins we were about to receive begin with seafood and poultry and then move to game and red meats. (It is a touch I might recommend as a standard practice, since it helps with wine ordering, and also preps the palate.) They were happy to accommodate us, and we ordered a glass of buttery Bouterra Viognier and one of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, a fruity white from New Zealand, both of which would stand up well to both fish and poultry. Ilyas placed our stones on the corner of the table, and let us know that “With the rocks out, you’re rockin’!” and reminded us that the chefs are there to please and serve, and special requests are encouraged.
The true genius of Zed451 is its fixed price. If you went to any decent restaurant and ordered a starter, a salad, an entrée and side dishes, you would easily spend more than the $50 per person cost here. And if you ordered wrong, you’d be stuck with your choices. Even at a tapas bar, you pay for every decision, and if you have a budget, it can limit your willingness to taste and try. But with this concept in place, you enjoy your fill of any and all offerings be adventurous, if something doesn’t satisfy, push it aside and wait for the next morsel.
That was a plan that turned out to be necessary. Some of the food that came to us was absolutely fantastic. A citrus-crusted salmon was Rachel’s favorite thing of the evening, while I was torn between the succulent rib eye and the glorious rump roast, both perfectly seasoned top quality beef, cooked to buttery perfection. Other delights were a seared tuna loin with a citrus soy sauce, pistachio crusted duck breast, (marred only minimally by the use of canned mandarin oranges on top), a sweet and smoky spare rib, spicy Portuguese linguica sausage, juicy and fragrant, and a lovely little lamb chop with herbed goat cheese butter and crisp bread crumb crust.
There were however, some problem dishes as well. What would have been a great tempura mahi mahi was sauced well before it came to the table, and while the fish within was flaky and flavorful, the desired balancing crispiness of the batter was absent, having gotten soggy on the way to the table. Both chicken offerings, an herbed breast and roasted leg, were lackluster, the leg under-seasoned, and the breast both over-marinated and overcooked, way too dry to even bother with. Likewise, pork loin with parmesan had all the moistness cooked out of it, rendering it the texture of pressed wood, and the cheese was an off-putting pairing for what should have been sweet and tender meat. The leg of lamb had also suffered from over-marinating, penetrating so far into the meat so that it lost all of its wonderful soft gaminess and tasted only of salt.
The Oregon Pinot Noir and Beaulieu Reserve Red we ordered were both delicious, and necessary on the one hand to enhance the taste of some dishes, and sadly, occasionally to eliminate the flavor of others. Sides too, were somewhat inconsistent. The mashed potato gratin was passable but boring, the butter in the dish leached out into greasiness in the re-baking, but the ratatouille, with chunks of fresh zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, onions and peppers, was light and tasted of summer, and went well with most of the meat offerings. The desserts were hit or miss as well. The highly recommended butterscotch bread pudding tasted mostly of the synthetic butterscotch-flavored chips scattered throughout, and we ended up scraping the delicious house-made toasted marshmallow off the top and abandoning the rest. But the cherry cobbler with cheesecake ice cream had a great base of sweet-tart cherries in an unctuous sauce, which was taken to a whole new level with the rich creamy ice cream, but the cobbles were more like bricks, too thick and with too much cinnamon, so again, we pushed them aside. Our neighbors had the lemon tart, which they raved about, and we saw the chocolate trio walk by and it looked promising.
But ultimately, the inconsistency doesn’t really matter that much here. The price is reasonable, the food that works is better than good, it is delicious, which more than makes up for the missteps. And more importantly, the staff is impeccable. They were present but not obtrusive, accommodating without being obsequious. When we expressed a desire for fresh plates, they arrived in a flash. And even better, with Ilyas guiding our meal and attending to the details, we also got to meet a large cadre of personable chefs, who were uniformly passionate about the food they were bringing us, eager to tempt us with their particular offerings, and desirous of enriching our experience by offering to personally craft off-menu items at our will.
When Rachel jokingly wondered how they might get her scrambled eggs on a skewer, she was asked if she liked her eggs dry or runny and if she would like bacon as well. We both believe that if she had been serious, scrambled eggs would have indeed been forthcoming. Don’t like a seasoning or sauce? Ask for a different one. Want something to have a Middle Eastern or Indian flair? Just let them know. The group is mostly current culinary school students or recent grads, and they truly do want you to challenge them to cook specifically for you and your palate.
For whatever occasional flaws appear on the plates, Corporate Chef John Radcliff, (who checked in periodically with all diners during their meals to ensure that everyone was happy) in his Chicago debut, has put together a wonderful team, and I am sure that as they all find their way, the overall food quality will go nowhere but up. In the meantime, it is a place worth visiting and a fun dining experience, especially for groups. The spectacular roof deck is already part of the see-and-be-seen scene here in Chicago, and was packed to the gills when we visited, but it is a really lovely space, so I’d get there early and snag a table.
And for all you single 20-something gals, be sure to ask for Jory Zimmerman, one of the wandering chefs. He’s a recent culinary school grad who is looking for a nice Jewish girl to cook for.
Yours in good taste,
NOSH of the week: We are in the height of summer, so be sure to support your local farmer’s markets! Some good ones: Green City Market 1750 N. Clark at Stockton, W/SA. 7-1:30, Lincoln Park, 2001 N Orchard in the LPHS parking lot, SA. 7-2, City Farm, 1240 N Clybourn, TU/TH/SA 3-6, Daley Plaza TH 7-3, Logan Square 3107 W. Logan Blvd. SU 10-3, Conuco 2800 W. Division, SA 9-2, Lawndale 3555 W. Ogden Ave. W 7-2 And many more….if you love the one near you, be sure to post the details below for the rest of us!