But even if you are not Jewish, and are just curious about the daily decisions people make when they observe religious dietary laws, please do read on.
I’m always hungry for blog hits!
Tuesday night, it was time to use up the vegetarian beef crumbles. Wegmans (of course I was going to mention Wegmans in a blog about food, right?) has created this great vegan product called “Don’t Have a Cow” Beef Crumbles.
Disclaimer here: this food product does NOT have a kosher certification. However it is labeled as vegan, so this is good enough in my kitchen.
Like I said, not all would consider the way I keep kosher, kosher. But it works for our family.
Back to the main story…..
I’ve used these fake crumbles many times before with a thumbs up from the kids. It was great in vegetarian chili and Sloppy Joes. I thought it would also be great in a baked pasta dish. What could be bad???
So there I was in the kitchen, using up a two boxes of pasta, a jar of tomato sauce, some mozzarella cheese and good, FULL FAT ricotta cheese from my fridge… my Italian neighbors back in the old neighborhood in Staten Island would be so proud of me. Then, defrosted from the ever-increasingly-empty freezer, I added the fake beef crumbles.
I mixed all the ingredients together and popped them into the oven. The cheese melted so dreamily, a wonderful smell filled my kitchen.
I am going to win the kids over with this creation, I thought. My kids will gobble this down, I mean, it’s pasta covered with CHEESE!
With “meat” in it. It’s like we’re being baaaaad!
Dinner time. Baseball game rained out. No rushing. Perfect. I spooned out plates of baked pasta. I awaited upon their approval.
“Mom, what’s IN this pasta?”
“The texture is WEIRD!!!”
“Even if the meat is fake, it just doesn’t feel RIGHT to eat this!.”
My first reaction was to get really mad. And feel completely unappreciated. But on further examination of their reaction to this meal, I realized that I have raised truly Kosher eating kids.
From their earliest ages, of asking which forks need to be used with which meal, I have raised children who will go even into adulthood that what they eat reminds them of who they are. Even if, every once in a while, they screw up by setting the table with the wrong set of silverware, or ask if pepperoni can be picked off the last piece of pizza in the public school cafeteria, the level of kosher observance we have instilled in them will remain long after they leave our family table for tables of their own.
In our house, the kitchen has become our test lab for being Jewish.
Question for you: If you are Jewish and keep kosher, at any level, what eating choices have your kids made, inside or outside of the house, that make you realize you’ve done a good job in instilling Jewish values in their eating habits?
It’s been an emotional weekend.
Our friends, neighbors, and extended community threw us not one but two good-bye/sendoff parties on Sunday. One was a brunch in the morning and the other a dinner in the evening.
Hubby and I, as we saw friends file in bearing platters of fruit and food, agreed that we felt the love. But to hubby, who has already moved on, who is already living in Detroit and only coming “home” on weekends, the day was anti-climactic.
I asked, what was he expecting?
He said, finality. Closure.
But to many of us, maybe all of us, good-bye is too hard a word. So instead of hearing good-bye, when friends left the party they gave us a departing hug with the reassurance of “I know I’ll see you in the neighborhood before you go” or “I’m sure I’ll see you again before you take off.”
Maybe their claims are true and maybe they are not. But it’s easier to say than “when will we ever see each other again?” or “I’m going to miss you so much!” That stuff is for high school. For the end of camp. Not for a move in mid-life.
Between the morning good-bye brunch and the evening good-bye dinner, the new owners of our house stopped by for an hour-long visit.
The newly-minted home owners are a sweet couple who cannot be more than 30. The young woman held a 16-month infant boy with cherubic lips in her arms.
They told us how much they loved the old charm of the house and it’s “flow” for entertaining and living. They loved the basket-weave tile (original from 1929) in the bathrooms. She loved the shady backyard and the swing set that my dad and husband built for our kids.
Now I know who will be sleeping in “our” bedrooms when we leave. Now I know there will be a tiny boy sleeping in the room with the sailboat wallpaper, the pattern I picked out for my own little boy 13 years ago.
Outside of friends that have come into our life, there is Rochester itself. I’ll say it:
I am going to miss you, Rochester. A lot.
To all those friends from “downstate” New York Metro area (and that means you too, New Jersey girls and boys) who ever told me they would love to come up and visit me in Rochester, New York, your time has run out.
It’s too late babies, it’s too late.
Maybe the reality of moving has given me perspective on just how great a little city like Rochester can be. Maybe the coming move has finally made this Rochester transplant feel like a native.
Even though I will no longer be living here, a trip to Rochester in the summer, the fall, and yes, even the winter is totally worth it. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Wegmans -
My first twinges of separation anxiety about leaving the Rochester happened not in the company of friends, but in the produce, health food, and patisserie departments of the world’s greatest supermarket. Yes, Wegmans has elevated food shopping from a mundane chore to an art form. What other supermarket will employees approach you if you seem puzzled and proactively ask you “are you finding everything okay?” And if you cannot find that box of pre-cut Asian gourmet mushrooms, they will send out an APB throughout the store, and check their latest shipment, to make sure they get it for you. What other grocer has designated employees waiting for you in the parking lot with huge golf umbrellas, eager to help you put your groceries in your car in the rain, or who will help mothers with young children?
Wegmans, you have spoiled me for life.
So, Michigan grocers, I give you my warning. If someone in your check-out line starts to cry or whimper because you didn’t give me a smile and a hello while you asked if I prefer my milk in a bag, or you didn’t bag all my frozen items together (or maybe you don’t bag customer groceries at all!), that will be me. And you’ll have to comfort me and give me a tissue because I am mourning and pining for my WEGMANS!
2 – Small size – On our first area tour of Rochester, our realtor drove us West on Monroe Avenue. In the immediate horizon stood three or four tallish buildings. “There’s our Rochester skyline!” she proudly boasted.
The big city New York City woman in the back seat covered her mouth supress a laugh. That’s a skyline? I’ll show you a skyline, she thought smugly, thinking of the imposing New York City skyline of her childhood.
But now, I so appreciate a city where it’s not a huge production to get into “the city.”
In 10 minutes, I can leave my house, find a parking spot on the street or in a $5 garage and be downtown. To take in a museum, a parade on Memorial Day or a film at The Little Theatre, meet a friend for lunch or coffee, or a concert at the Eastman Theatre.
3. Festivals – Rochesterians relish the weather when the snows melt and the sun finally arrives.Nearly every week from May through October, there is a festival going on somewhere, complete with great food, crafts and music. From the Lilac Festival, to the Xerox International Jazz Festival
The Barrel House Blues Band performed for free last year at the RG&E Fusion Stage
(it’s become one of the best in the country, no lie!), to the Park Avenue and Clothesline Festivals, there is something to enjoy every week.
4. Music – Spiraling out from the Eastman School of Music, Rochester has fantastic musical resources. My kids took lessons and had recitals starting in preschool at the Hochstein School of Music. There has never been a shortage of dedicated and talented music teachers to share their love and gift with our children. Time and time again, the Brighton School District, as others in the Rochester area, have been bestowed awards in excellence for music education. My children each play several instruments and have been exposed to so many opportunities to perform. Most recently, my youngest, along with other local young musicians had his budding piano skills tested by the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music. Thank you to the dedication of his piano teacher Sherry McCarthy for bringing this program to Rochester for the first time this year!
5. Rochester Public Market – When the weather warms, I skip my trip to Wegmans and make my way to the century-old Rochester Public Market. Voted one of the best public spaces in the world (yes, right up there with Seattle’s Pike Market), it has grown from a market where you can get the best local corn New York has to offer after July 15, to a center for music, plant sales, a newly established Food Truck Rodeo each Wednesday this summer, and yes, another great venue for local festivals.
That’s about all the nostalgia I can handle for one post. Tomorrow, reasons 6-10.
Rochesterians, what would YOU have a hard time leaving behind?
Detroit: what do you have in store for me to explore?
I’m all ears.
On my latest trip to Wegmans, my shopper’s club card failed to scan after many attempts to swipe it though the machine. It seems I have used this card so many times I’ve worn it down. Now, if a girl’s Wegmans shoppers club card no longer functions, I guess that’s another sign that it’s time for me to leave town.
Here is my final column in the Democrat & Chronicle. Thank you to all the readers, including the cashiers at Wegmans who recognized me with my groceries, who all made me feel like a celebrity.
Tomorrow, we head to Detroit for a “vacation” of looking at houses that are already pending a sale, houses that just went on the market only days ago.
Maybe at least this time, we won’t get a flat tire on the way.
Never underestimate the power of a smile. If you attended a CenterStage show at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester in Brighton, Cora Holliday’s smile from the box office booth was almost as unforgettable as the performance.
For the last several years, Cora was box office manager for the theater. When she sold me tickets to shows, we always chatted about how rehearsals were going and how excited she was for opening night as she browsed her computer screen to find me the best available seats.
“Even if you came to just one play at the JCC, you would remember Cora. She just had that way about her that made everyone feel special in her presence,” said Ralph Meranto, director of JCC CenterStage.
Behind that smile, Cora was fighting diabetes, a battle she succumbed to on March 13. She was 50. Even after having her second leg amputated, Cora’s positive attitude never faltered as she planned to soon be driving and yes, dancing on her prosthetic legs. The JCC in January held a fundraiser in her honor to offset her medical bills and to retrofit her car.
A celebration of her life is planned for 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 3, at the Jewish Community Center, 1200 Edgewood Ave., Brighton. Donations in her memory can be made to the JCC or the National Kidney Foundation, 15 Prince St, Rochester, NY 14607.
Thanks to all who shared stories
Goodbyes are tough. I have been dreading writing this final column for weeks now, but it is time for me to focus on my family and our big move to Detroit.
To all the readers and all who made my job so easy by pitching me story ideas over the last three years, I thank you. I especially want to thank the Democrat and Chronicle for helping me find my voice in reporting on all the local heroes in our midst. It gave me such a sense of connection and belonging in Rochester to know that this column helped raise funds and awareness for so many of the causes that you support. It truly has been a privilege to write it each and every week.
I will be sticking around for a few more months, so say hello if we bump into one another in the Pittsford Wegmans. You also can follow my Motor City musings and adventures at my blog atwww.stacylynngittleman.com or @slgittleman on Twitter.
Starting next week, please welcome Missy Rosenberry to this column.
A graduate of Cornell University, Missy has lived in the Penfield/Webster area with her husband and three children for 11 years. In addition to writing this column, she is a teaching assistant for the Webster School district and a part-time karate instructor. Please send her the latest happenings in your town to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for me, it is time to plan my life’s next chapter. Once I get to Detroit, I hope to find a writing gig as good as this one.
I also look forward to making many new friends in a city poised for an economic and cultural renaissance.
I hope to take part in Detroit’s gardening movement as it sets to turn its urban blight into the world’s largest urban farm.
And when new friends ask me where I am from, after living here for 13 years, I have earned the right to proudly declare, “I am from Rochester!”
Everyone in my nuclear family loves LOVES pumpkin pie. And for only the second time in 12 years, my pumpkin-pie eating little family of five will not be going over the NY Thruway and through any tunnels or bridges to New York City. Nope, as much as we love seeing the family and sitting in 10 hours of traffic, this year, we are staying put.
When you are Transplantednorth, there are some disadvantages of being a nuclear family in a town where it seems you are surrounded by friends who all have extended family in town. Come holidays like Thanksgiving, you once again become the disappearing transplant.
I’m not complaining, really. This was my choice to stay “home.” But can a place be home where there are no extended family within 300 miles? The rest of the year, Rochester indeed feels like home. Come holidays, without aunts, uncles cousins and grandparents around, it can feel like how the Ingalls family must have felt on the wild, windblown frontier.
But this is a story about pareve pumpkin pie.
One small advantage of staying put (okay my kids will think a big advantage) is that at our Thanksgiving table, we’ll have pumpkin pie.
As much as she has tried to like it, my mom does not like anything pumpkin. My kids, however, can’t get enough of the orange stuff. I put it in breads, waffles and pancakes. I even made a pumpkin challah just so I can make pumpkin challah stuffing.
But, most of you know that pumpkin pie calls for milk, cream, condensed milk, or some other dairy ingredient. This poses a challenge to Jewish families like ours who observe the dietary laws of keeping kosher.
There are ways to get around the dairy dilemma by finding pareve ingredients.
What is pareve? Not many know. It is so esoteric, the word does not appear in the WordPress spellcheck.
It’s a term meaning food that is neither meat or dairy. It’s neutral. Like Switzerland. Does it taste as creamy and delicious as real cream? No. But, I’d rather have an imitation dairy dessert any day than serving a Tofurky at my Thanksgiving feast!
Here is the recipe. I based it on a recipe used from Martha Stewart Living, I just replaced the dairy ingredients with some stuff called Coffee Rich, found in the frozen section of most grocery stores. For those of you in upstate New York, I found this chemical-laden substance at Tops, and not Wegmans this year. But I still love you, Wegmans.
All-purpose flour, for surface
- Pate Brisee for Traditional Pumpkin Pie
- 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
- 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1 Cup Pareve Nondairy Creamer, like Coffee Rich
- Ground cloves
- Whipped cream, for serving
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll pate brisee disk 1/8 inch thick, then cut into a 16-inch circle. Fit circle into a 9-inch deep-dish pie dish, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold edges under. Shape large, loose half circles at edge of dough, then fold into a wavelike pattern to create a fluted edge. Prick bottom of dough all over with a fork. Freeze for 15 minutes. Cut a circle of parchment, at least 16 inches wide, and fit into pie shell. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. – Buy a premade Pareve piecrust. Bake until edges of crust begin to turn gold, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool.
- Meanwhile, whisk pumpkin, sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, eggs, creamer, and a pinch of cloves in a large bowl.
- Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Transfer pie dish to a rimmed baking sheet, and pour pumpkin mixture into cooled crust. Bake until center is set but still a bit wobbly, 50 to 55 minutes. (If crust browns too quickly, tent edges with a strip of foil folded in half lengthwise.) Let cool in pie dish on a wire rack. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours (preferably overnight.
“Are you doing anything special this Hanukkah?”
I guess Steve the check-out cashier figured out I was Jewish. After all, from my grocery cart, I unloaded a bag of potatoes, onions, some Chanukkah napkins, blue and white M&Ms and a box of beeswax candles.
“Not much,” I replied. “Just going to my son’s band concert tonight, and then down to New York City for a family occasion.” I didn’t want to say it was for a Bat Mitzvah. That’s just too complicated if you don’t know what a Bat Mitzvah is.
“Ooooh, New York City! That’s where they seriously get into Chanukkah! I mean, the big menorah displays, and the food — the matzah ball soup! Even in the diners, they make French toast out of challah down in New York City,” he went on.
Now, you don’t have to be Jewish to love matzah ball soup or challah French toast. And, I am pretty sure, you can get challah French toast up here in Rochester.
But the sentimentality in his voice towards matzah ball soup, the way he so dreamily spoke of the menorahs as he scanned my clementines and sweet Mayan onions, I had to ask:
“Um, are you Jewish?”
Now, this is not a question I would ask a complete stranger. But around this time of year, when the enormity of Christmas seeps into every crevice of the American landscape, Jews have this desire to connect to one other, to stick together. Judaism as a topic of conversation is a subject that would be avoided by the most disenfranchised, unaffiliated Jew for most of the year. But talking about one’s Jewish identity in the face of Christmastime, is, like a plate of freshly fried potato latkes, on the table and up for grabs.
At any other time of year, a suburban housewife and a 20something college kid working in a grocery store wouldn’t openly discuss being Jewish. But that night, right before the lighting of the first Chanukkah candle, amidst the Christmas Muzak playing and the Christmas tree displays twinkling, it felt like the right time.
As he carefully bagged my groceries with the expertise only possessed by a Wegmans employee, Steven continued to tell me his plans for the Festival of Lights.
“Yeah, there’s this Chanukkah celebration thing going on at the University of Rochester tonight. From – you know – Hillel? I think I might check it out. I haven’t gone to many Hillel events, but I think I should check it out.”
“Good for you!” I replied. This did my heart good. I told him that I worked for the Hillel – the organization that supports Jewish life on college campuses around the world – a number of years back. With so many negative statistics out there pointing out the demise of Jewish practice among today’s young American Jews, Steven telling me of his plans to do something Jewish, to be with other Jews that night, just made me feel all warm inside.
Chanukkah is such a small holiday in importance on the Jewish calendar. But it celebrates something so big – the world’s first fight for religious freedom. It was the first time a people – though meek and small – said NO to an occupying power. Judah Maccabee and his brothers were the first who had the chutzpah — the balls, if you will — to say, NO! We will not stop being Jewish. We will not stop teaching our children how to be Jewish. You can put up statues of your idols, you can outlaw Jewish practice, you can threaten us, but we will survive.
And survive we did, and we have, in spite of history. And in spite of the dreary outlook for the American Jewish landscape, Steven, the college kid who worked at Wegmans, was going to go out of his way to celebrate Chanukkah, to celebrate being Jewish.
Happy Chanukkah to Steven and to all who celebrate freedom.
When I was a newlywed living out in California, I would stop on my way home from work at the Safeway to pick up groceries for dinner. I would cut, clip, and shop for gourmet recipes involving roasted peppers and wild rice and pumpkin ravioli to cook for my new husband. Cooking for two was fun and it seemed we had all the time in the world to prepare a meal.
One of the checkout cashiers would play this little game of guessing what I was making for dinner, or what kind of night was ahead, based on the contents of my shopping cart.
One night was pretty easy: Romaine lettuce. Anchovy Paste. Parmesan Cheese.
“Ahh, I’ve guessed it!” He exclaimed. “You must be making Cesar Salad! The anchovy paste is the key ingredient for a good Cesar salad,” he said with a big smile. I guess in his line of work he played this game a lot to stave off boredom.
The contents of my shopping cart have changed over the years. The newlywed lifestyle ingredients were first replaced by boxes of diapers and jars of baby food, and these items have been replaced by the basic stuff of lunchbox meals and quick meals at home: Bread. Eggs. Milk. Peanut Butter. Turkey Slices.
This weekend, as I unloaded my last item onto the belt, a young single man got in line behind me. He had cropped sandy blond hair and wore a light brown hooded sweatshirt with apparent skulls embroidered into it. I couldn’t help notice that each time he reached into his cart, me and everyone around him got a glimpse of striped, bright pastel underwear that ballooned out on top of his low-cut jeans. Really. WHY do low-hanging jeans remain in fashion?
On the conveyor belt, right next to my boring cut up chicken and bag of Yukon gold potatoes, he placed one, single-serving Baked Alaska from the patisserie. Yes, my local supermarket, Wegmans, has a real French patisserie inside, along with a real wood-burning oven for artisan breads, a sushi kiosk and a Kosher deli.
But this blog post isn’t about Wegmans, and it’s not about the Helping Hands at Wegmans who will on rainy days escort you to your car with a huge golf umbrella and unload the grocery bags into your cart. This is about the groceries of the single man.
So, this dainty treat, with its broiled meringue topping, was carefully placed inside a clear plastic container. This dessert for one, maybe two, also included its own garnish: five raspberries and three thin slices of what looked like the perfectly ripened peach. A perfectly ripened peach — in October.
The single man continued to load other contents of his cart onto the checkout belt – a big bottle of Listerine Complete that whitened teeth while it freshened breath. Several boxes of frozen gourmet gnocchi, and a box of flatbread sausage pizza.
In my head, I silently wished single man good luck for whatever his evening entailed, and hope that whatever girl was on the receiving end of that Baked Alaska appreciated that a man would buy her a Baked Alaska, complete with a raspberry garnish, for dinner on a Sunday night.