Food Brings Comfort in Times of Loss and Uncertainty

Oct. 23, 2020

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR.

Last week, I attended an international culinary event about comfort foods in the comfort of my own kitchen. The event was hosted by American Friends of the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF). Founded 25 years ago, PCFF is an Israel-based grassroots organization made up of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost immediate members in the Middle East conflict.

PCFF Members conduct dialogue sessions, give lectures, and engage in projects and activities to support dialogue and reconciliation, which they say is a prerequisite for achieving a sustained peace.

Award-winning chefs Gil Hovav, a leading Israeli culinary personality, Israeli-born American author and restaurateur; Michael Solomonov, and Palestinian author Reem Kassis were invited to talk about their favourite comfort foods and the role of food in easing pain and stress.

Solomonov’s participation in PCFF had particular resonance because he shares a connection with many PCFF members: His younger brother, David, was killed in 2003 at the tail end of his military service in Israel.

Despite this loss, one of Solomonov’s closest friends is Kassis. The two spoke about their friendship and food. Kassis’s book, The Palestinian Table, has been a national bestseller.

Hovav joked that he has attended PCFF dinners – uplifting events where Palestinian mothers and grandmothers take over the kitchen and give the Israelis directions and tasks.

Each of the three chefs shared recipes for their favourite comfort foods. Hovav described his mother-in-law’s Egg Salad, a recipe he described as “simple, but so delicious.” Kassis also suggested an egg dish, IjjehPalestinian Herbed Frittata. 

Solomonov said borekas, his comfort food, evokes memories of his Bulgarian grandmother. She made these flaky pastries from scratch.

He provided his recipe for making the puff pastry dough, which is delicious, but very labour-intensive. He said borekas can also be made from ready-made puff pastry dough, which is what I used for my Feta and Mushroom Borekas. 

I defrosted the dough in my fridge the night before using and I also vented the borekas by making some tiny slits in the dough before baking. The recipes for the fillings come from Solomonov’s awarding winning cookbook, Zahav

EGG SALAD Gil Hovav

4 large yellow onions, diced
½ cup (125 ml) canola oil.
10 large eggs
Kosher salt to taste
Pepper to taste
optional 3 scallions, chopped

In a large sauce pan, add half the oil and half the onions and cook until the onions are browned. Repeat with the remaining oil and onions. Set aside.

While the onions are browning, boil the eggs. When the eggs are cooked, peel and grate them.

Mix with the browned onions and their oil. Add lots of kosher salt and some black pepper. You may add chopped scallions.

IJJEH – PALESTINIAN HERBED FRITTATA Reem Kassis

8 eggs
4 scallions, finely chopped
½ cup (125 ml) flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
½ cup (125 ml) fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional) 
1 scant tsp (5 ml) salt
½ tsp (2 ml) cumin
¼ tsp (1 ml) black pepper
1 tbsp (15 ml) flour
Olive oil, for frying
Labaneh and pita bread, to serve

Place the eggs in a large bowl and whisk until mixture is a pale yellow and starting to froth. Add in the chopped herbs, salt and spices and mix until evenly combined. Sprinkle the flour over the eggs and whisk until incorporated. 

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. You can use one very large pan or a small one and work in batches. 

Once the oil is hot, pour the omelet mixture into the pan, tilting it around to get an even layer of eggs. Cook until the edges start to curl and the top is starting to solidify. Periodically lift the eggs with a spatula to make sure the bottom is not burning. 

When the omelet is no longer runny from the top, flip it over to brown the other side. Continue to cook for another minute or two until done. If using a small pan, repeat, adding more olive oil, until the egg batter is done.

Slide the omelet onto a plate and serve immediately with fresh pita bread and a side of labaneh. Makes 4 servings.

FETA BOREKAS Michael Solomonov

Makes 24 small or 6 large pastries Ingredients

Dough 

Option 1 defrost puff pastry dough and then follow the recipe for filling

Option 2 Puff pastry dough from scratch

2 cups (500 ml) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling 
1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 tsp (5 ml) apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp (15 ml) kosher salt
1 scant cup (250 ml) seltzer, plus more as needed
8 tbsp (125 ml) unsalted butter, softened 
1 egg, for brushing the dough

Combine the flour, oil, vinegar, and salt in a food processor, then add the seltzer. Process until the mixture looks crumbly, then continue for a few minutes more, adding a drop or two more of seltzer until the dough comes together in a ball. Process for 10 seconds, then flour the largest cutting board you have and scrape all the dough onto it. (You can also make the dough by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.)

Press the dough into a rectangle about 6 inches long. (The dough is easiest to work with the closer you get to a perfect rectangle.) Flour your rolling pin and roll the dough out to the size of your cutting board, starting in the centre and rolling in a fluid motion, moving your arms and applying gentle pressure instead of pressing down. When you’re about halfway there, roll up the dough on the rolling pin, set aside, and flour the board again. Unroll the dough on the board.

Place the stick of butter on one end of the dough and, using a butter knife or silicone or offset spatula, spread it evenly in long motions over half the dough, leaving a ½-inch (1 cm) border on the edges.

Fold the unbuttered half of the dough over the buttered half. Fold the edges up and in to keep the butter inside. Fold the right and left edges into the centre of the dough and fold in half again to make a book fold.

Sprinkle a bit of flour on the board, then pat the dough down into a perfect rectangle. It should feel smooth. Transfer the dough to the freezer (right on the cutting board, uncovered) for 15 minutes. 

Remove the board from the freezer and gently press a finger into the dough. It should feel pliable. If you feel a shard of butter, it has hardened too much, so leave the dough out for a few minutes. You want the dough and the butter to be closer to the same temperature so the butter doesn’t crack and they roll out smoothly together.

Feta Filling

2 large eggs
2½ cups (325 ml) crumbled feta
**2 sheets of Boreka dough or store bought puff pastry
2 tbsp (30 ml) poppy seeds (optional)
2 tbsp (30 ml)sesame (optional)

In a mixing bowl beat 1 of the eggs and add the feta

Filling the Pastry:

Place the cold sheet of boreka dough on a floured surface **Cut the dough into 8 4-inch squares.

spoon 2 heaping tbsp (30 ml) of feta filling onto 1 half of the square leaving a ½-inch (1 cm) border at the edge.

Fold the dough over into a rectangle and press the edges to seal. Repeat until all the borekas are filled and formed.

Arrange the borekas on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate 1 hour. They should be cold and firm to touch.

Preheat the oven to 425°F (200°C) with a rack on the upper third, beat the remaining egg and brush the tops of the borekas, then sprinkle the poppy and/or sesame seeds.

Bake until the dough is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Makes 8 large borekas.

**NB: Many Canadian packages of puff pastry dough have smaller sheets. Use 2 sheets to get 8 borekas.

MUSHROOM BOREKAS Michael Solomonov

1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
2 cups (500 ml) mushroom
¼ cup (60 ml) chopped onion
2 garlic cloves minced
½ tsp (2 ml) kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 sheets of the Boreka dough
2 tbsp (30 ml) poppy or sesame seeds

Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the mushrooms, onion, garlic and salt. Cook stirring until the mushrooms and onions are tender and beginning to brown. 

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and cool. Add 1egg and stir into the mushrooms. Refrigerate until the mixture becomes cold.

To fill the pastry follow the directions for the feta borekas

CULINARY CALENDAR

Oct. 25, 12 –1:15 pm: Museum of Jewish Montreal and the Wandering Chew present a virtual Brazilian-Jewish cooking workshop with Mauricio Schuartz. He’ll share his Bubbe Clara’s Brazilian honey cake recipe. Pay-What-You-Can, with a suggested amount of $18. To access the Zoom link, RSVP with Eventbrite link: https://www.eventbrite.ca/o/the-wandering-chew-4691434761 

Oct. 28, 11am –12 pm: Bernard Betel Centre: Virtual Cooking Club: Persian Rice & Lentils with Maryam Roozbeh. To register: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYocuyupjgtHdH4SkYK9XS69aolga5nsjd_

Nov. 8, 2–3:30 pm: Building the Jewish& Cookbook: Pizza Napoletana with Kat Romanow 

Hosted by the Miles Nadal JCC & The Wandering Chew

https://www.amilia.com/store/en/miles-nadal-jcc/shop/activities/2864377

Montréal Sait Faire: Cool Ways to Mark High Holidays

Sept. 15, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL — Six months into the COVID pandemic, Montreal Jewish organizations have come up with creative ways to observe the High Holidays outside the synagogue, while adhering to health regulations and making the best use of technology.

Chabad of Westmount got an early start with “To Life! An Epic Celebration of 5781” at a drive-in theatre held Sept. 14.

The sprawling Royalmount Drive-In Event Theatre opened this summer at the heavily-trafficked intersection of Décarie Boulevard and Highway 40, providing a venue for socially-distanced, open-air live entertainment.

The aim was “to life our spirits and celebrate the coming new year and the new hope it brings,” said Chabad director Rabbi Yossi Shanowitz.

Participants could stay in their car or sit beside it in chairs they brought, maintaining two-metre distancing for movements beyond that.

“To Life!” featured the eight-piece band Shtreiml and a performance by acrobats from Cirque du Soleil, which has been grounded since the start of the pandemic, and a pre-packaged dinner. There was also blowing of the shofar and song.

Jewish National Fund Montreal is also encouraging its supporters to prepare for the new year in a freilich way. It’s presenting a virtual wine tasting and live tour of the Golan Heights Winery in Israel on Sept. 16.

Participants can purchase packages of three, four or seven bottles of its Mount Hermon label vintages in advance to enjoy the tasting for real, and get a partial tax receipt.

Zoomed yoga and mindfulness are part of observance for Montreal Open Shul, a “post-denominational” pop-up project started by Rabbis Sherril Gilbert and Schachar Orenstein and Cantor Heather Batchelor that has been bringing inclusive, participatory Judaism to “unexpected places” like cafés, community centres and yoga studios since 2018.

Its High Holiday services and programs, all online, promise “more joy, less oy.”

The first-day Rosh Hashanah service is accompanied by live music with Fran Avni. On the second day, Orenstein, a certified instructor, leads a hatha yoga practice “through the lens of teshuvah” and a chanting service. Gilbert continues the theme of deep repentence during the Days of Awe through “centring practice.”

The sole in-person component is tashlich and shofar blowing at Beaver Lake on Mount Royal.

Following a Yom Kippur service, American musician, actor and Jewish studies instructor Anita Silvert present a “Bibliodrama” based on the Book of Jonah.

Two American rabbis, Jan Salzman and Mark Novak of the Jewish Renewal movement, join Gilbert and Orenstein for the concluding Yizkor and Neilah observances.

The Mile End Chavurah is also going almost entirely virtual. Founded 11 years ago, the grassroots, multi-generational community describes itself as “irreverently pious,” while seeking to re-imagine religious practice.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services are conducted by ritual leaders, singers and musicians, and aim to be as participatory as is possible with everyone at home.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, four options are offered: a one-day out-of-town retreat for contemplation and study that may involve yoga and nature walks; an apple-picking outing; an outdoor gathering in the city; or the online “Songs of Social Action,” when participants can sing songs on themes ranging from anti-racism to LGBTQ issues to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Museum of Jewish Montreal reports that the virtual cooking workshop on Moroccan Rosh Hashanah cuisine held on Sept. 13, hosted by its partner Wandering Chew, went well.

Ron Arazi of New York Shuk, an artisanal food purveyor specializing in Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jewish cuisine, showed viewers how to make such traditional holiday dishes as tanzeya, a stew of dried fruits, nuts and carmelized onions, and pain petri, an anise-flavoured challah.

Even the annual POP Montreal International Music Festival, which opens Sept. 23 in a hybrid in-person and virtual edition showcasing indie and alternative acts, is getting into the spirit of the season.

It closes Sept. 27 with “Alphabet of Wrongdoing: A Jewish Liturgical Redux,” a live-streamed performance by Daniela Gesundheit from Los Angeles. She sings her composition inspired by the High Holidays liturgy, adapted “for secular audiences and secular spaces.”

Gesundheit, who divides her time between Los Angeles and Toronto, is a cantor and serves Toronto’s LGBTQ-inclusive Congregation Shir Libeynu as musical director. She is also founder and lead vocalist of the indie-pop band Snowblink. 

“Alphabet of Wrongdoing,” which she created a few years ago, is derived from the Yom Kippur prayer Ashamnu during which one confesses sins of the past year – alphabetically.

Her composition draws on its “themes of reckoning, forgiveness, mortality, striving and atonement,” she says, which should resonate with everyone.

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

PAULINE DONALDA – March, 5, 1882 – Oct. 22, 1970

Pauline Donalda
Pauline Donalda

Operatic Soprano, Teacher, Administrator

Aug. 31, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

Jewish musicians often changed their first and/or surnames, as did Pauline Lightstone, born in Montreal to Jewish parents who immigrated to Canada from Russia and Poland. Her family name was Lichtenstein. 

The soon-to-be Canadian prima donna began singing at an early age. After studying at McGill University’s Royal Victoria College with Clara Lichtenstein (no relation), she received a grant in 1902 from the college’s patron, Donald Smith (Lord Strathcona) to attend the Conservatoire de Paris, where she studied voice with Edmond Duvernoy. Collections Canada notes that she adopted her new stage name, Donalda, to honour her patron.

Pauline Donalda

According to Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Donalda’s artistic career burgeoned following a successful 1904 debut singing composer Jules Massenet’s opera Manon in Nice, France. In 1905 she sang the roles of Conception in Maurice Ravel’s L’heure espagnole and Ah-joe in Franco Leoni’s L’Oracolo for Queen Victoria at London’s Covent Garden, and at the Opera de la Monnaie in Brussels. In a Verdi opera, she sang with tenor Enrico Caruso in 1906.

That same year, she sang at the Montreal Arena with her husband, baritone Paul Seveilhac, and then joined the Oscar Hammerstein-founded Manhattan Opera House. But she yearned to return to Europe in 1907 to perform in Paris and London.

But she longed for Canada and chose to remain in Montreal as the First World War began, singing in a variety of music halls and concerts, including appearances in New York and Boston. She organized the Donalda Sunday Afternoon Concerts, with proceeds supporting various war charities.

She married her second husband, Mischa Leon, in 1918, after returning to Paris.

A Museum of Jewish Montreal review noted, “From 1922 on, she devoted herself to teaching voice. Twenty years later, in 1942, she founded the Opera Guild of Montreal, which staged the first Canadian performances of many operas. Among the first women to promote opera, Donalda made an exceptional contribution to the development of the arts in Canada. In so doing, she helped promote both the country and the Jewish community worldwide.”

As president and artistic director of the Opera Guild of Montreal until 1969, Pauline Donalda was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967 “for her contribution to the arts, especially opera, as a singer and founder of the Guild.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner at tcgpr.com and is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.