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.


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.