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My Breakfast with the Gefilteria Gang (Repost from The Forward)

17 Aug

The following was originally published by The Forward on August 16, 2016.  One of the subjects of the article, Jeffrey Yoskowitz, is the son of Sarasota resident Dr. Arnold Yoskowitz.  Here is the link to the original article.

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By Leah Koenig

w-alpern-yoskowitz-1471293480Last week, I had breakfast with Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern (pictured above: photo credit Lauren Volo) — co-founders of the boutique Jewish food company, Gefilteria, and authors of the forthcoming cookbook “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods”.

We gathered for bagels at Hudson Eats, an upscale food court on the southern tip of Manhattan that has become a mothership of artisanal foods, including a kiosk of the wood fired bagel shop, Black Seed Bagels. Inside a glass-filled atrium with Gucci and Burberry shops looming nearby, our surroundings felt oddly opulent. But the bagels were still warm, and the wide tables overlooking the glinting river outside were great for catching up with some old friends.

For the near-decade that I have known, dined with and occasionally collaborated with Jeff and Liz, they have always felt like kindred spirits. Like me, they are people who got into the world of Jewish food not because it was trendy, but because it felt like an authentic expression of who they are, and because they sensed they might have something to add to the conversation.

Starting from scratch, they wrote a manifesto about the importance of reclaiming Jewish cuisine’s time-honored foods and launched their business with a high-quality take on Ashkenazi cuisine’s most infamous appetizer, gefilte fish. Their version is a far-cry from the soulless jarred stuff that most people associate with gefilte fish. It is made in small batches, uses sustainable fish, and is truly delicious, even without a dollop of horseradish.

In the days before Passover in 2012 — their first holiday in business as gefilte fish makers — they spent hours in a cramped synagogue kitchen in New York’s East Village grinding hundreds of pounds of fish while a young Yiddish singer (another friend of mine, Benjy Fox-Rosen), played a CD-release concert in the social hall outside. Quite an auspicious way to start a Jewish food business, no?

“Everything we did for the first three years of our company was new to us. We just had to jump in and learn on the job,” Yoskowitz said. As someone who has made a career as a food writer without formal culinary training or a degree in journalism, I know the feeling. “Luckily, people took the leap of faith with us,” Alpern said. “And soon, we became the gefilte people.”

Early on, they toyed with what it might mean to scale up their artisanal gefilte fish to compete with the big boys of Jewish food production like Manischewitz or Rokeach. But they quickly realized that was not the path they wanted. “The bigger you get, the more divorced you become from the food you’re producing,” Alpern said. “We couldn’t imagine sitting in some board room making decisions far away from the actual food.”

“What we really wanted was to put our recipes directly in people’s hands and give them the confidence to make this food,” Yoskowitz said. So they doubled doubled down on the educational portion of their mission. While continuing to offer their gefilte fish seasonally (around Passover and Rosh Hashanah), they began to travel around the country to teach cooking classes and host pop up events and dinners — including the Passover seder at the James Beard Foundation — that showcase Ashkenazi food at its best.

Their book, out in mid-September, is another major step in that direction. The collection of recipes aims to, as Yoskowitz put it, “recover the flavors of Ashkenazi cooking that got lost as Jews moved from Eastern Europe to America, or even from the Lower East Side to the suburbs and beyond.” So there’s a chapter on soups and dumplings and another on the many varieties of pickles that once brightened up the Ashkenazi table in the dead of winter. There are recipes for creamy noodle kugels with spiced plums, home-cured pastrami and updated classics like kimchi-stuffed cabbage. One of my favorite recipes is a homemade butter flavored with everything-bagel spice — a perfect breakfast spread to pair with a slice of Jewish rye or a bialy (both recipes that can be found in the book.)

Another delightful case in point is the cookbook’s recipe for Roast goose with apples and onions. In the old country, geese were prized within the Jewish household for their ribbons of fat (great for rendering into schmaltz), their feathers for down pillows, and, of course, their meat for roasting. “In the early 20th century, you could find Jews trying to raise geese on the Lower East Side,” Yoskowitz said. Of course, the practice of raising backyard poultry didn’t stick in Manhattan, and geese were replaced by the more industrial-friendly chicken. “The Gefilte Manifesto’s” recipe, then, helps capture a food that once delighted our ancestors, and brings it to the contemporary table.

For those cooks who might be intimidated by the thought of roasting a whole goose or making homemade pickled beets, fret not. Many of the dishes in “The Gefilte Manifesto” fall into the quick-and-easy category. And for those that are more of a project, Yoskowitz and Alpern offer substitutions and workarounds. “We provide shortcuts that don’t dilute the quality or spirit of the dishes,” Yoskowitz said. In other words, you won’t find wonton wrappers subbing in for dough in their kreplach. But if you don’t have a batch of homemade lacto-fermented pickles on hand to make their pickle brine bread, they suggest subbing in the liquid from a store-bought jar.

Talking with my friends over breakfast, I couldn’t help but kvell for them. Their gefilte fish, their events and now their cookbook are changing the conversation of what it means to make and connect with Ashkenazi Jewish food.

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Feeding with All Faiths Food Bank

20 Nov

All Faiths Food Bank

 

All Faiths Food Drive

The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee granted $25,000 to the Campaign Against Summer Hunger this year. We wanted to show you in real numbers just how far donor dollars go.

“Our new mobile pantry grew by the minute! We served 250 children and families in just 2 hours. I will never forget the smiles on the faces of those children!”
~ Chuck Bonura, AFFB Mobile Pantry Coordinator

 

In the first 2 weeks of the program:
• 3,232 children were given backpacks with food for the weekend
• 1,300 children received snacks
• 2,102 children and 4,069 of their adult family members (6,171 total) received food from our mobile pantries

In addition:
• 14,419 breakfasts were served
• 29,406 lunches were served
• 3,000 dinners were served

Howard Tevlowitz, Federation Executive Director; Sandra Frank,  All Faiths CEO; Ilene Fox; Mark Harrison and kids from Wilkinson Elementry

Howard Tevlowitz, Federation Executive Director; Sandra Frank, All Faiths CEO; Ilene Fox; Mark Harrison and kids from Wilkinson Elementry

 

You are the Jewish community.
This is your Federation.
Together, we do extraordinary things.

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100 Days of Impact from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee

100 Days of Impact from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee

 

100 Days of Impact started on September 22 and will run through the end of 2014. Each week we will demonstrate the the collaborative impact that we and our donors make locally and globally.

MAKE A DONATION

We couldn’t do it without your generous support.

 

100 Days of Impact: Empowering

30 Oct

Temple Beth Sholom Schools Donates Harvested Garden Veggies
to All Faiths Food Bank Sprout Program

“As part of our Native American studies curriculum at TBS Schools, our Second and Third graders planted corn, beans and squash this season. We thought partnering with All Faiths Food Bank for this harvest would truly exemplify our service based initiatives here at the school, demonstrating to our students how important it is to give back to the community,” said Robin Sweeting, assistant principal at TBS Schools.

TBS Schools students with All Faiths Food Bank staff in front of the Sprout mobile food truck with their harvest

TBS Schools students with All Faiths Food Bank staff in front of the Sprout mobile food truck with their harvest

In addition to the corn, beans and squash, students harvested onions, kale, radishes, and several other vegetables that were full grown. Students picked the fresh veggies and loaded them onto the All Faiths Food Bank Sprout truck. The Sprout mobile produce program is the first of its kind in the area, which delivers fresh fruits and veggies to almost 5,000 families in Sarasota County. “We could not be more thrilled to see kids helping kids in the community,” said Sandra Frank, executive director of All Faiths Food Bank, who stopped by to thank the children personally.

TBS Schools look forward to expanding their student service learning projects for the 2014/2015 school year with a generous grant from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota–Manatee. The grant, “Family, School, Community, The World!” will provide an opportunity to expand the connections already developed, as well as foster new service learning projects with additional organizations in our community.

TBS School Kids

In addition to working with All Faiths Food Bank, the students have provided technology training to seniors at the Kobernick House, led craft and cooking activities for young adults at Easter Seals, tutored children at Everyday Blessings, and baked goods, created Thanksgiving decorations, and donated clothing and household items to the Salvation Army Family Shelter. Now with the support of The Jewish Federation of Sarasota–Manatee, they will be able to impact our community in an even greater way.

***

100 Days of Impact from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee

100 Days of Impact from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee

 

100 Days of Impact started on September 22 and will run through the end of 2014. Each week we will demonstrate the the collaborative impact that we and our donors make locally and globally.

MAKE A DONATION

You are the Jewish community. This is your Federation. Together, we do extraordinary things!

My First Thanksgivukkah!

5 Dec

ImageTalk about once in a lifetime events! For the first time since 1888, Chanukah and Thanksgiving fell on the same day and it was certainly an event to remember. Who thought that these two non-related holidays could mesh so well… of course I’m talking about the food at the table.  This collision of what have become food-centered holidays in the minds of many was quite the treat. Luckily our friends at BuzzFeed provided a plethora of innovative ideas to combine the holidays and my family may have stolen a recipe or two.  Our dinner table consisted of items such as your traditional turkey (cooked by yours truly), latkes but we X’ed the apple sauce and sour cream for cranberry sauce instead; we even tried this crazy idea of challah stuffing and it was incredible! It’s funny how we get accustomed to the same traditional foods and practices but when there is an uncontrollable change such as the clash we encountered last week, it opens up a whole new world for us. I can certainly tell you that I will not be reverting back to just the traditional turkey and sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving, even though the convergence of these holidays will not happen again for almost another 80,000 years (or something like that)! Good thing though as I think most of us are still in food coma recovery mode.

What new traditions or foods did your family try this Thanksgivukkah?  Inquiring minds want to know…

Len Steinberg is the Assistant Program Director at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee and the Youth Group Director at Temple Sinai.

Thanksgivukkah: A New Tradition

14 Nov

On November 28th, 2013, Jews around the United States will be celebrating a hybrid holiday—Thanksgiving and Hannukah. Happening last in 1888 and not occurring again for another 77,798 years, the conjunction of Thanksgiving and Hannukah is going to be oh so special. The second night of Hannukah, or the first full day of the Holiday, is miraculously occurring on the American’s annual day to give thanks for our friends, family, and remember the Pilgrim’s notable arrival at Plymouth in 1621.

Bloggers, rabbis, and the like are all commenting on this special occurrence. Recipe websites like this one and alternative candle-lighting ceremonies have popped up all over the Internet. Foodies are suggesting latkes with cranberry sauce, Maneschewitz-brined roast turkey, and challah-apple stuffing. Jews are rejoicing in the fact that this is the only time these two holidays will combine in their lives. From what I’ve seen online, they’re definitely getting creative with food options and finding innovative ways to intertwine the deeper meaning of the two celebrations.

It will surely be exciting to go around the table, person-to-person, giving thanks for the important things and people in our lives while also gazing over at a partially-lit Menorah. I am happy I get to experience this hybrid holiday this year!

thanksgivikah

Sammy Robbins is the Joseph J. Edlin Journalism Intern at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.

Day Seven: The Art of Kabbalah

20 Jun

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On the seventh day in Israel, we woke up later than usual, at 8 am which was much needed. We ate breakfast at the kibbutz and left promptly after finishing. We drove about 30 minutes to the town of Tzfat which is where Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, was founded. The first place we stopped at in Tzfat was the art studio of Avraham, formerly known as Robert in the states. He gave us a small lesson on Kabbalah and told us the importance of our Hebrew names to us as individuals. He explained some of his pieces and he had a lot for sale. After that, we walked through the town and learned that light blue is a recurring color in the town to match the sky. We maneuvered through the crowds of Birthright kids in the small alleyways and did some shopping. There was a a magnificent candle factory that created elaborate scenes such as David slaying Goliath all from wax. They had the biggest and craziest candles I’ve ever seen in my life. After that we waked to both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogues in the town and learned the history of them. Both of synagogues had light blue painting in them coinciding with the light blue theme of the town. One thing that this small community did not lack was art and jewelry. We shopped and explored the art galleries and jewelry shops. We left Tzfat and drove about 30 minutes to eat lunch at Jewish Yemenite couple’s house. This was easily the best part of the day. This man’s house looked like it came out of a Salvador Dali painting with mosaics all over and and surreal sculptures everywhere. His house was surrounded by olive trees and he pressed and bottled his own olive oil as well. The lunch he prepared for us was the best meal I’ve had on this trip…so far. There was Israeli salad, hummus, chicken kabobs, warm pita, and ice cold lemonade with mint. There’s nothing better than a home made meal because it’s unmatchable.
After our lavish feast, we said goodbye to our amiable host and his house that I wish I lived in and drove another 30 minutes to a waterfall. Before we reached the waterfall we had to walk about half an hour through a creek and up the side of a mountain. Upon reaching the destination, we discovered that it was not a waterfall but two pipes spewing cold water out of a wall. Not quite a waterfall but it works. After we returned to the kibbutz where we were staying, had dinner, and had a nice talk outside on the grass about our highlights and lowlights of the trip so far. Everyone had trouble coming up with lowlights and couldn’t stop coming up with highlights to share. I can’t wait to see what other highlights we’ll have over the next seven days.

-Ike Pintchuck, Bob Malkin Young Ambassador 2013

Day Six: A Sweet Adventure in the Golan

19 Jun

Today the group awoke early and departed quickly as to avoid the most brutal heat of the day that was to come later. Following a bus ride through the rolling hills and peaking crests of the Golan Heights, we exited at the magnificent Banias waterfall. We then proceeded to experience a hike through the Israeli brushland until reaching the valley of the falls. With the water roaring in our ears, we descended to the bottom of the base of the falls to appreciate the grandeur of the rushing water. After the descending to the bottom of the falls, the group crossed the river and then began the arduous journey up the steps and out of the valley. As the temperature of the day rose, we embarked on a rafting trip down the Dan River, a main tributary of the Jordan River. Donning life jackets and grabbing paddles, the group divided up and clambered into the cool water aboard inflatable rafts. With dozens of other rafts on the water, the time spent on the river was devoted to splashing other rafts, throwing one’s raftmates into the water, and consequentially struggling to get back into the rafts. Fortunately, at the conclusion of the river journey, everyone was refreshed and famished, for what awaited us was a feast of an American favorite, pizza, done the Israeli way and made right in front of us. Topped with corn, tuna, and other local favorites, the group refueled for the next adventure, a wet and wild zipline. Fastening our harnesses, each of us took our turn careening down the cables into the chilly waters once more. Those not springing for the zipline chose to try their hand (and feet) on the complex’s rock climbing wall. Regardless of which adrenaline inducing activity one chose, we were all thoroughly exhausted, which showed itself on the way to De Karina Chocolate factory. Arriving sleepily at this family owned factory, we were given a tour of the chocolate productions, all hand-made of course. Next, we were ushered into an interactive workshop where everyone let their creativity flow as we constructed out own cocoa confections. Leaving De Karina, our expert chauffeur, Uzi, navigated the group up to the summit of Mount Bental. Sitting amongst the fortifying walls of an old Israeli Defense Force bunker, the Israeli-Syrian border clearly visible only a few hundred yards distant, our tour guide, Nataly, shared details about the cruel battles Israel faced on this very peak. Complete with personal anecdotes from her father’s battles on this very mountain, Nataly provided us with the chance to get a feel for the chaos of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The journey back to the kibbutz was a winding one, avoiding fenced off fields marked with signs warning of land mines, a stark reminder that the land on which we traveled was not so long ago an area ridden with violence. After dinner and some time to rest at the kibbutz, the group reunited to gather kindling and ignite a bonfire of both flame and fun. Singing, joking, and snacking on s’mores late into the night left us all wearily wandering back to our rooms to rejuvenate for the next day’s schedule.

-Jake Hurwitz, Bob Malkin Young Ambassadors 2013

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