Kosher Style, Treif Style, Jewish Style

December 19, 2012

Last weekend I was once again obliged to attend the bar-mitzvah of some child I had never met. Happily it was the great nephew of my dear friend Moshe, so at least I had someone to whom I could complain about the catering.

Complaining is no fun if the person on the receiving end is trained to be polite and leave you feeling even more furious that when you started out, like they are in call-centres. Satisfaction is only arrived at when the other person loses his cool. Moshe takes every criticism personally, even when the criticism is aimed at someone else, in this case, his niece. That Moshe is so easy to infuriate is the main reason I like him.

On the spectrum of religiosity, Moshe’s niece is, well, not religious. I therefore requested a special meal because this was not a kosher catered function, it was a kosher-style catered function.

For readers who are not aware of the concept of “kosher-style”, it follows the same restrictions in terms of what foods may be eaten, but does not go so far as to adhere to the rituals in terms of slaughter and separation.

For the not-so-religious Jew kosher-style catering comes in at a fraction of the price of the supervised version, and guests can enjoy meat that looks and taste just like the real halachic thing.

The other advantage of kosher-style food is that it includes proper heimishe chicken soup with butter laden matzah balls using a recipe made famous by the gentile-style Nigella Lawson. Nigella believes that made this way in Kensington, the matzah balls taste much more sophisticated than the ones usually found in north-west London.

As someone who keeps proper kosher, kosher-style holds little appeal. I can see why it suits some, but it means that at a Jewish function I’m labelled the religious nut as the glare of 200 pairs of eyes burn into my flesh while I unwrap the several yards of cling film from my plate of real kosher food that has been carefully created to match the kosher-style menu other guests are enjoying. My authentic kosher meal is a fake of a fake kosher meal.

Which is why I much prefer treif-style to kosher-style. Treif-style is genuine kosher food that looks and tastes just like the forbidden foods you have always craved.

Of course treif-style is nothing new. Dairy-free dairy foods concocted to be consumed at the same sitting as meat have courted controversy for many years. I have often heard people argue that following meat with non-dairy ice cream, for example, flies in the face of the spirit of the law which serves to remind us of our responsibilities towards animal welfare. My response to this is straightforward: “you have clearly never tasted dairy-free ice cream. If you had you would know that eating it can only serve to remind us that we should never ingest dangerous and vile tasting chemicals”.

My favourite treif-style food is foie gras. Jews make the best foie gras in the world. You can be sure that if anyone knows how to feed a goose to death, it’s us Jews. Every time I went to my grandmother’s house as a child I was subjected to gavage.

When it comes to foie gras the whole question of animal welfare is quietly put to one side. To be kosher the bird must be killed humanely, but no mention is made of the suffering the creature endures during its lifetime, so it’s definitely good for a sprauncy simcha especially when served in typical Jewish portions, just so guests can experience what life was like for the bird when it lived.

If foie gras doesn’t do it for you, There’s a wide range of kosher sea-food including faux crab-meat, prawns, shrimps and the somewhat less popular mock turtle.

Back at the barmitzvah, the meal came to a conclusion and I was all ready to get going with the specially printed benschers that had been provided, but no bensching took place. It turned out that the books were no more than souvenirs of a Jewish-style simcha.

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Passover is Finally Over

August 23, 2011

Passover is finally over.  The more religiously observant amongst you may find this a rather unusual statement to make in the middle of August, but this week I finally found the pizza cutter languishing at the back of a kitchen drawer where we throw all those daft things and tape up for the week of affliction.  I marked the discovery by returning the boxes of Pesach crockery, cutlery and cooking utensils to the garage.  They had been waiting patiently by the front door for me to perform the task.  You’ll have gathered that it’s not something I see as a particular priority, but my wife had, a couple of days earlier, threatened to leave me if she tripped over the frying pan handle that protrudes from the opening of one of the boxes one more time.

 

August is not my record.  A few years ago I succeeded in not returning the boxes for the entire year simply by hiding them under a large sheet.  However, since we had the hall decorated Mrs J has put her foot down.  Frankly, I don’t see the point of stowing it all away.  It’s always such a balagan unpacking it all.  Inevitably one box of particularly heavy items will collapse under its own weight and all for what, exactly?  A week of eating off the tatty crockery we inherited from my grandmother, that’s what.  It was tatty crockery when I was a child.  Now the dog looks upon us with pity before turning back to eat from his shiny stainless steel bowl.

 

The almighty will, I hope, forgive me when I tell you that Pesach is my least favourite festival.  It doesn’t even make my top ten.  I’d happily do all the fasts instead of Pesach. In fact the only reason I don’t currently observe all the fasts is in anticipation that the Lord will somehow offer me the deal I have in mind.  If nothing else, such an arrangement would free me from the havoc that Passover food plays with my constitution.  Every morning for days I’m reminded of what a pitiful soul I have become.

 

Nothing drags on like Seder night, not even 25 hours without food, and from me that’s really saying something; I’m a man who doesn’t eat between meals, but only because I eat eight meals a day.  Having to spend two nights in a row in the company of some fifty family members ranging from screaming overtired infants to snoring overtired geriatrics seems to be a more profound form of penitence than sitting in synagogue without food for a day.  It’s on Seder night that I make my silent petition for forgiveness for the sins I must clearly have committed to be punished in such an excruciating way, not Yom Kippur.

 

Of course the solution to all this would be to spend Passover in Israel.  That way my wife would never need to clean the house again and I’d be able to put grandma’s crockery on e-bay.  You would find me spending the week waited on, hand and foot.  I would turn up at the hotel dining room in time for the Seder meal and leave just as the songs about goats and counting start, and nobody would care a jot.  What bliss!

 

Unfortunately this is, and can only be, a dream.  Why?  Because that’s exactly what all the local alta cacas do and there’s no way I’m paying for flights to Israel at their most expensive for Seder night in a freezing air-conditioned warehouse of a hotel when half the guests are the people I see every week in shul.

 

The good thing is that at least Pesach, like my son-in-law, only visits once a year, and now it’s finally over there’s still 8 months to go before it comes round again.


How Kosher are You?

April 13, 2010

Our rabbi and “teacher” ascended the pulpit to give his sermon last Shabbat.  “Sermon”, in the singular, is the significant word here.  It’s the same sermon week after week the message of which is  “You don’t keep a kosher enough home”.  As a teacher he’s certainly teaching us about kosher homes, that’s for sure.

I know he’s looking at me when he’s talking.  I’m aware that stabbing a meaty knife five times into a plant pot does not necessarily render it clean after accidentally using it to spread butter, but at least I own separate sets of cutlery.

As the rabbi embarked on his admonishment I began to consider the levels of kashrut people keep and came up with a useful five-point scale.  I’m hoping it will save embarrassment concerning dinner invitations because rather than there being any doubts as to whether the host stabs the knife only five rather than the acceptable six times, by simply stating their level the invitee will be able to wriggle out, thus:

“Would you like to come back to ours, we’re having chicken schnitzels?  We’re level three.”

“That’s a lovely invitation but we’re already going somewhere else.  Come to us next week.  We’re level four”.

“Message received loud and clear.”

So here’s the scale.

Level 1.  You buy a box of matzah at Pesach.  Other than that kashrut laws apply to wandering tribes in hot countries who cannot keep food fresh.  You’re looking forward to the day when you see rock badger on a menu.

Level 2.  You eat shellfish and bacon but not roast pork (because it’s just too goyishe).  At your son’s Barmitzvah you provided “kosher-style” food.

Level 3.  You keep a vaguely kosher home but you enjoy Indian and Chinese takeaways as long as they are eaten from the carton and with disposable cutlery.  Foreign countries do not have kosher laws as far as you are aware so anything goes when on holiday.  You think that Halal means “almost kosher”.

Level 4.  You separate milk and meat but never look at a clock between consuming them instead relying on your rather inaccurate sense of how long three hours takes to pass.  You go to Eilat because you can’t be bothered to clean the house for Pesach.   When shopping you read the list of ingredients on a package and if you don’t see certain obvious words it’s probably OK.

Level 5.  Visitors are perplexed to find four separate kitchens in your house: one milky, one meaty, and two more for Pesach.  Your many children wonder whether going vegetarian might not be a bad idea if it frees up some space for beds.  You feel uneasy buying glatt just in case it’s not glatt enough.  You wait six days after eating meat before consuming dairy.

Yesterday my wife coyly admitted that she had invited the rabbi for lunch.  I think I’ll show him the scale and proudly explain how we’re working towards level 2.  That should put him off.


A guide to orthodox weddings.

February 22, 2010

I’ve attended a Hindu Annaprashan, a Catholic wake and even a Zoroastrian Navjote ceremony.  However, none of these events left me feeling quite as much an outsider as the ultra-orthodox Jewish wedding I attended recently.

At a non-Jewish function I can get away with making mistakes.  If I do I’ll be politely guided in the right direction, usually the bar, but with Jews I feel I should know better, and I don’t.

Here follows what advice I can offer based on my limited experience.

The fundamental differences between frum and mainstream Jewish weddings are worth noting.  Firstly, there is no free kippah at a frum wedding.  It is assumed you will bring your own.   Make sure you do so. You do get benchers but they’re of no use because there’s no English to tell you which bits to skip. Bensching is virtually impossible to follow because everyone goes solo after the first few words. The way to handle this is to “humble” (that’s mumbling and humming at the same time), tap the table after about 4 minutes then humble again for a minute.  You’ll know when the bensching is over because riotous singing begins.

Also, the food at the simcha I attended was so unbelievably glatt kosher that those of us who are less observant were provided with an individually wrapped and sealed non-kosher meal.

Should you ever find yourself at a frum function you’ll notice that most people spend the entire time on their mobile phones. The reason is that a person never sees his or her spouse.  The phone is the way by which a wife finds out what is happening on her husband’s side of the mechitsa, and how a husband finds out when he’s supposed to leave.

Non-orthodox women who wish to fit in should tug at their hair every now and again.  This will make it look as if they are wearing a sheitl.  Pretending to be wearing a sheitl does not, however, remove the requirement for a woman to cover her hair.  Double cover is the height of fashion in chassidishe circles.

Finally, instead of an embarrassing best man’s speech (so you see, charedi weddings do have something to commend them), you are treated to a series of interminable droshas delivered by various rabbis and heads of yeshivas, largely in a language I call  “100mph Yiddish”. Each will pound on about the groom: he’s a talmud chocham, such chesed, a good son, he’s sure to make a fine husband, etc.

Similarly, the bride will be lauded: her father is a talmud chocham, such chesed, a fine father, etc.

But let’s not dwell too long on the girl.  Let’s talk about the marvellous groom.  A talmud chocham, such chesed…

It’s not polite to leave during the speeches so order your taxi for no earlier than 2am.  Sorry.


My wife likes a drink after a long day.

February 8, 2010

She has a drink problem and I don’t know what to do about it.

She doesn’t drink that much. We have a well stocked drinks cabinet that contains pretty much the same bottles that it has contained since we got married. The cherry brandy has hardly been touched. The Advocaat gets sniffed once in a blue moon. There are a few decent bottles of whisky that get to blink every now and again when they are brought out into the light and there’s a large bottle of Cointreau that my wife bought for a desert she was experimenting with. Judging by how much is left in the bottle it must have been one of her rare failed culinary experiments. In the fridge sits plenty of beer and there’s always the odd bottle of new world wine knocking around.

Oh, and there’s some green stuff. Neither of us has a clue what it is. I’m not even sure it was green when we first acquired it.

You’d have thought that would be a sufficient range from which to find something to flop down with after a long day having her nails painted, but no. What’s her tipple of choice? Kiddush wine.

She likes the sweetness. Is there any other component to kiddush wine?

She tells me it’s cheap and it’s kosher so why am I complaining?

I wasn’t complaining until this Friday evening when I went to fill the bechers for dinner and found that the last bottle of kiddush wine was empty. I was furious. Friday night dinner without proper, horrible kiddush wine is not Friday night dinner. We may as well have cancelled Shabbat.

Saying the bracha over a Snowball isn’t quite the same is it?


Lechem Lout

November 20, 2009

I was once banned from the bread shop.  It was a few years ago so my conviction is now spent and I can talk about it without risking my reputation as an upstanding member of the Jewish community.

When I was a teenager I would go to pubs with friends, some of whom may not have been Jewish.  One was banned from the local where we liked to play pool.  He had drunk a fair bit more than he needed then started a fight with someone about something insignificant.  I was in awe.  Banned from a pub. Could I ever reach these heights of street cred?  Not by nursing a pint of weak shandy for 3 hours I couldn’t.  I considered switching my tipple of choice to something harder but wasn’t sure nursing a pint of cherry brandy was such a good idea either.  Still, if you can’t be banned from a pub, at least be banned from a bakery.

This particular Friday morning I was, as always, in a hurry on account of participating in Jewish blood sports.  I was the fox; the traffic warden was the hound.  The idea is to park, run in for the bread and get back to the car before a ticket is slapped on the windscreen.  This is especially challenging in Golders Green Road as the wardens have any number of places to hide so lulling shoppers into a false sense of security before pouncing.  Any rational person would stump up for a ticket, but I resent paying the council 30p just so I can buy a couple of loaves of bread, and besides, I can’t resist an adrenalin pumping contest when the prize is to get back to the car and smile provocatively at the warden just as he thinks he’s earned his first commission of the day.

So there I was in the shop, hopping from one foot to the other, one eye on the vicinity of the car, the other on my place in the queue. When I say queue, of course I mean I was keeping an eye on the person I had randomly decided had pitched up after me, so as to ensure that they didn’t get served before me.

I placed my order:  two medium challahs and two sesame bagels. Off the assistant trotted and returned with my bag.  I quickly paid and dashed out to the car just as one of the corporation’s finest was making his way towards my motor.

As I arrived home I realised there was something wrong.  The bag wasn’t bulky enough.  Sure enough I was one loaf light.  I was furious.  It was Friday morning for heaven’s sake. Who buys only one loaf of challah on a Friday?  Surely these dimwits would at least have been putting two loaves in every bag by muscle memory if, as in this case, they lacked the capacity to understand a simple instruction?

I stormed back to the shop and demanded to see the supervisor.  “If it wasn’t for your stupid assistants chatting with each other instead of concentrating on the job in hand…” I huffed, “…you people are USELESS!”

As cool as you like the woman took my bag, checked the contents, reached into the till, extracted the appropriate sum and handed it to me with the following quiet admonishment:  “It’s not acceptable to talk like that. Take your money.  You’re not welcome here again”.

I was flabbergasted.  I was talking in an unacceptable way?  I am English.  An Israeli was accusing me of being rude?

Mumbling something feeble along the lines of having no intention of ever setting foot in the shop again, I departed.  The coup de grace was the plastic yellow envelope attached to my windscreen as I sloped back to the car with as much dignity as anyone could muster following defeat by a four year old in an arm-wrestle.

Still, I had the last laugh.  They didn’t recognise me in the shop the following Friday morning when I went to buy my challah.


Purim Rap

March 6, 2009

I’m sure I’m not alone with my deep fear for the future of Anglo-Jewry.  Perhaps it’s the fault of soap operas, Facebook and texting, I don’t know.  One thing’s for sure, a good proportion of our young people have the attention span of a gnat with ADHD.  They can’t concentrate for longer than 30 seconds and, furthermore, they talk as if they were brought up in the ghetto – not the Jewish one, the Elvis one.

Purim approaches.  How are we to ensure that our children are able to pass on the tale to future generations?  I have the answer.

Here’s a three minute purim rap (by my calculation the average teenager should only need to deal with five texts in that time) written in a language that will hopefully make sense to them, if not the rest of us.

“ Yo Vashti, let me see you dance”.
“Soz” she said, “you’ve got no chance”.
“You’re dissin’ me, get off the scene
I’ll find myself another queen”.

Virgins from across the nation
Competed to be his relation
Mordechai thought “I’ll eat my hat,
If he don’t think cuz’ Esther’s phat”.

“Esther, try to be his bride
You might as well, there’s no downside.
But keep well shtum, don’t give a clue
That you were born a lowly Jew”.

Dressed up in a fancy gown
Esther won the bling bling crown
While Mordi, waiting by the gates
Heard a plot hatched by two mates.

He’s like “Warn Ahashverosh,
So he can put on the kibosh”.
She’s to the king “these homeys are spies
They want you dead before sunrise”.

Later the King says “Haman’s cool,
I’m gonna let him help me rule”
The people bowed when he passed by
Except the Jew called Mordechai.

Now Haman he was truly wicked
No, I mean really wicked, not like, wicked.
I mean to say he was terribly bad.
I’m saying, bad, not, you know, bad.

So Haman made this evil plan
And mentioned it to the main man.
He goes: “I’m gonna kill the Jews.
Send messengers to spread the news.”

Now Mordechai knew what occurred
But didn’t know if Esther’d heard.
Hatach came back with news at last
And Esther told the Jews to fast.

She then went off to see her husband
Who offered to give her half all his land.
“Come to my place”, she goes, “for food
And bring with you that Haman dude”.

The King said “mmm, this food is sick,
But why d’you call us?  What’s drastic?”
She goes, “come back again tomorrow
I’ll tell you then about my sorrow”.

By now old Haman’s really miffed
Cos Mordi doesn’t get his drift.
“Build some gallows”, Zeresh said
“And in the morning see him dead”.

That night the king had trouble zizzing
So he got up to do some admin,
And decided to reward the man
Who’d grassed on Teresh and Bigtan.

He’s like: “how do I big up someone
Who’s served me better than anyone?”
Haman thinks “he must mean me”
And suggests a procession for all to see.

“Do it for Mordechai who sits at the gate,
Hurry blood, don’t be late”.
Reluctantly he performed the honour
Then rushed off for the second dinner.

Once again the King asked Esther
“Tell me what it is that’s vexed yer”.
She’s like “This Haman and his creeps
Have planned to murder all my peeps.”

Then Charvonah spoke and revealed
The gallows Haman had concealed
The King said “hang the Agagite,
And give Esther his whole estate”.

He then made Mordechai the estate’s new master
While Esther reminded him of the impending disaster
So to help the Jews in fear of attack
He gave them permission to all fight back.

Mordi was safe, reckoned the King
So he made the rules, and he used his ring.
The gentiles were scared and some went over
To Judaism before Passover.

On the thirteenth day of the month of Adar
Jews sought and killed Parshandata
And his bruvs; the sons of Haman
Plus 500, just in Shushan

Two whole days saw Jewish retribution
For Haman’s plan to inflict persecution
Thousands were stabbed, the place was trashed,
And that is the reason we now get mashed.

Innit.