You Should Know … Jennifer Robinson

Jennifer Robinson (photo provided)

Jennifer Robinson (photo provided)

Jennifer Robinson would love to make your acquaintance.

Born and bred in Baltimore, today living in Mount Washington, the 28-year-old is a proud, third-generation producer at local insurance brokerage Mayer & Steinberg. Robinson has honed her top-notch skillset for schmoozing, whether it’s captivating an interested client or (a growing proclivity in her spare free time) manifesting a new networking hub for other up-and-comers in the region.

As the spiritual founder, so to speak, of the recently formed Young Professionals Committee — an ad hoc auxillary of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce — Robinson works to embolden “the workforce of tomorrow with seminars focused on leadership and professional growth,” as the chamber’s website reports.

When she’s not setting up and attending meetings for her work alongside her grandfather and father at Mayer & Steinberg, wrangling new prospects or “providing people with knowledge of the insurance industry and reassurance that they have proper coverage in place to protect their business and themselves personally,” Robinson spends time organizing meetups for her Young Professionals Committee, such as its successful inaugural event at the Mount Washington Tavern this past September.

How did you end up working in your current field?

I went to school at Penn State, where I received my bachelor’s in science with a focus in marketing in 2010. When I was in school, my original plan was to become a buyer for Bloomingdale’s or Saks. There was a career fair I went to before I graduated, and because the job market was pretty rough at the time, I took the first opportunity that came to me. After a little over a year of being a sales manager at JCPenney in White Marsh, I decided to take classes and trained to get my insurance license. Then I shadowed my father and grandfather at our company before I did some account management work for them and then grew into being a producer. I’ve been at the company for almost five years now. I really enjoy providing a service that gives people peace of mind and the knowledge that they’re protected against potential risks or catastrophes.

Do you find any similarities between your previous aspirations in fashion and your current profession?

In both, my outgoing and friendly personality was really helpful. For what I do now, it’s helped me with referral partnerships as well as creating a trust with clients who want to work with me because that’s who people want to do business with in my field. I feel like that’s my top priority when I meet with someone: To have them trust me and feel like I’m someone they want to work with. I feel happy building that relationship; if it’s someone with a small business and, say, they’re a one-person firm looking to become a 20-person firm some day, it’s nice to see their business growing as I grow.

I’m looking forward to continuing the legacy that my grandfather began in 1959. He’s 86 and he still works; that’s incredible. I enjoy working with my dad and grandfather every day, and it inspires me to carry on the traditions and wonderful reputation our agency has.

What then inspired you to help found the Young Professionals Committee?

I’m really good at connecting people; I really enjoy that. I think connecting people is awesome. So I met with chamber board members and said I wanted to create a committee for young, like-minded professionals in the area like me in order for us all to meet business owners, as well as to connect on a personal level, to make friends and support the community we’re all a part of. We started developing the committee in May [2016], had our first meetup in September and have our next one in January [TBD].

This is a way to give back to the community we’re all happy to build, work in and play in together. I think that’s important. I like helping other people make relationships with different people in the community, and it’s also enjoyable for me to see different people that I know — whether they are colleagues or not — form relationships with one another. We’re forming a group of people who can help each other immensely.

So Fast, Sukkot and Simchat Torah Are Here!

One, two, three, where did it go so fast? Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, break-fast — the fastest meals of the year. Now it is Sukkot and Simhcat Torah to end the High Holidays.

Hoping for good weather, all the meals can be made ahead and reheated for home or travel, inside or outside. My friend, Aliza Friedman, makes the very best shakshooka in Baltimore.  She is  Israeli, and her recipe is one from her childhood as her mother made it. It’­s that seasoned sauce that makes the dish so outstanding.

“I don’t really have an exact recipe, says Aliza, but here goes: two onions, sliced or diced; three large cans of plum tomatoes; three pieces of garlic (or to taste), minced; one tablespoon sweet paprika; and salt and pepper to taste.

Fry the onions; add cut-up tomatoes (use only one-half can of liquid from the canned tomatoes); add all the other ingredients; and cook on medium to low heat until the liquid evaporates. Add one teaspoon of sugar and mix well. Personally, I like to add one-half teaspoon of crushed red pepper. Bake in a large casserole dish until hot. Carefully break the eggs on top and place back in the oven until the whites are done but the yolks are still very soft. Watch carefully! I suggest using tiny quail eggs to get more than 12 servings. Sauce can be made in advance in a saucepan and assembled in baking dish to serve.

And me? My go-to recipe is ratatouille. I can use end-of-summer not-so-perfect produce as well as fall produce. It’s the seasonings that make this dish so originally “Southern French.” And it is a filling main course that reheats even better.

I did notice that those end-of-season delicious tomatoes are turning into everything pumpkin very quickly. A friend of mine has solved that problem by roasting half-inch slices of off-season tomatoes in the oven and using them with her bagels. Great idea! She places them on a flat  nonstick aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkles them with a little salt, pepper and a very light spray of olive oil, roasting them at 375 degrees until a little brown. They caramelize and are delish. Or why not include a pumpkin kugel?  The accompanying recipe turned out light and delicious.


(© Patterson)

(© Patterson)

> I see a lot of pomegranate recipes for fall. Why? My spin is that those seeds bring many  delicious blessings!
16 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)
16 ounces sour cream
2 eggs
1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ready-made 6-ounce pie crusts,  defrosted and placed in 9-inch pie dishes (or use 2 graham cracker crusts)
8 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate for chocolate topping
Pomegranate syrup
Pomegranate syrup:
4 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed  lemon juice
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

> Bring ingredients to a boil (allowing sugar to dissolve), then lower flame and stir until thickens. Allow sauce to cool off, then combine it with 1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds.

Directions: Combine cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and vanilla extract until smooth. Slowly add in eggs and beat until combined. Divide batter between the two crusts. Using 1/4 cup of pomegranate syrup for each cheesecake, dot the top and swirl around with a knife. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour. Set aside the remaining syrup for serving. Once the cheesecake has cooled off, melt the baking chocolate and cover the top of the cheesecake with the melted chocolate. Once the chocolate has hardened, drizzle the remaining pomegranate sauce on top of the chocolate topping. Makes two 9-inch pies. Each pie serves 8.



2 large onions, cut in half and sliced thick
1 large eggplant, sliced and cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces
4 small zucchini, sliced
3 garlic gloves, minced
2 large green peppers, deseeded and cut into thin strips
2 large tomatoes, cut into half-inch wedges
8 ounces large white button mushrooms, cleaned (remove ends of stems)

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (important  ingredient)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 ounces canned tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil

Directions: Combine all the seasoning ingredients, except the olive oil and tomato paste, and mix in a bowl. Layer half the vegetables in a large crockpot in this order: onion, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, green pepper and tomatoes. Sprinkle with half the seasonings.  Dot with half the tomato paste. Repeat the layering process with the remaining vegetables, spices and tomato paste.  Drizzle with the olive oil.  Cover and cook on low-medium for 7-9 hours. Add the mushrooms during the last 2 hours.  Refrigerate to store.  Extra good reheated or freeze.  8 servings.

> This recipe is lighter, as it doesn’t have noodles.  The flour takes its place. I also added my own version of a great topping.

11/2 cups cornflakes, crushed coarsely
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 to 3/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds, roughly  chopped
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch salt

1 29-ounce can cooked pumpkin (Libby’s brand large can, not  pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
11/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs
1/2 cup soy milk or nondairy creamer
Dash ground cinnamon

Directions: Beat the pumpkin, white sugar, brown sugar, flour, salt and baking powder together in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and soy milk (or nondairy creamer) together. Fold egg-milk mixture into the pumpkin mixture and blend thoroughly. Pour into a greased 9- by 13-inch pan. Sprinkle with topping ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until firm. Cut into squares and serve. 12-15 servings.

Tips & Tricks

  • Asian, Japanese or Chinese eggplants have less seeds and are less bitter. Their shapes make more uniform slices.
  • A bundt or tube pan can be used as a vertical roaster.  Oil and surround with layers of vegetables; place on a cookie sheet and roast.
  • Freeze red or green seedless grapes to chill wine in glasses.


Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

You Should Know … Amy Bree Becker

Amy Bree Becker (Photo provided)

Amy Bree Becker (Photo provided)

“I think I’ve always been interested in political engagement and young people in particular,” said Amy Bree Becker, 38, in reference to her indomitable passion for the intersection between politics and popular culture.

Often focusing her incisive analysis on how comedy — specifically that in the realm of satire via cinema and such television shows as “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” and recent election “coverage” (so to speak) by “Saturday Night Live” — might affect voter turnouts and decisions, for example, Becker writes commentary for such outlets as The Washington Post and while teaching communications courses at Loyola University Maryland.

Factors that particularly intrigue Becker in the political proscenium include how and why people are driven to feel as they do about political elections and the like, as well as how specific attributes of voter identity along the lines of gender and educational level may come into play.

Originally from Clark, N.J., Becker met her husband — computer scientist Andrew Goldberg — while working toward her Ph.D. in mass communications (with a dissertation on “political comedy”) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After receiving said doctorate in 2010, Becker and her husband moved to Maryland.

Becker taught as an assistant professor at Towson University in that same year until 2014, at which time she started as an assistant professor at Loyola.

Becker has two young children — a son and a daughter — who both attend preschool at Temple Isaiah, where her family have been members for the last year.

How did you end up getting involved in the study of politics and communication?

I was a political pollster before I went back to school. My parents called me “bug” as a kid because I was always asking questions. That was part of what got me into earning my Ph.D. I’m very interested in what happens when entertainment becomes political or when politics becomes entertainment. This does help young people learn about politics; there’s an idea here about comedy providing news information for people who might otherwise not pay attention.

As someone interested in identity, could you discuss your own connection to Judaism?

I am Reform and was raised as such. I’m really committed to being Reform. I really like Temple Isaiah. The rabbi is great, the school is great. It’s familiar in that it’s really similar to the temple I went to when I was growing up in New Jersey. I went to camps and to Israel and that kind of stuff growing up, and it was a pretty important part of my experience. Judaism hasn’t really been a focus of my work, but it has popped up a little, like when I did some studies on Jon Stewart and it came up more than I thought it would. There’s certainly a rich history of Jewish comedians doing satire, but I’m more interested in broader political effects.

Who are some of the specific television hosts you prefer to watch?

I like Colbert. I miss Jon Stewart. I don’t think [current “The Daily Show” host] Trevor Noah has quite filled Stewart’s shoes yet. Seth Meyers is doing some good coverage. Samantha Bee brings in a more diverse voice and perspective. Up until recently, there was just a whole crop of white male hosts, and so it’s a little groundbreaking with her there now too. John Oliver and she, their humor is a little more substantive, and they are kind of attracting more of a diverse audience than “The Daily Show,” which is younger, more male and liberal. Those watching Oliver are certainly liberal, but also an older, more sophisticated audience.

What is the general take on the political scene right now by your students?

The thing that has been really interesting to me is they’re all really disappointed. This is the first election they get to participate in, and they don’t really like either candidate. Some of my female students are excited about the possibility of the first woman president. But most of them, they’re upset about the rhetoric, how divisive and uncivil things have gotten.

Persistence of Vision Hometown hero Jason Michael Berman overcomes with ‘The Birth of a Nation’

Jason Michael Berman (Photo provided)

Malcolm Gladwell dedicates a rather lengthy portion of his New York Times bestselling 2013 book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” — detailing how great adversity often leads to even greater success — to the irrepressibly contrarian notion that certain learning differences, such as dyslexia, may actually make for a more robust spirit in a person living with said aberration.

“An extraordinarily high percentage of entrepreneurs are dyslexic,” Gladwell definitively writes, zeroing in on the juggernaut career of one of Hollywood’s longtime top moguls, Brian Grazer, who is dyslexic, meaning his brain struggles to interpret what it is he’s reading in a cogent way.

And as Gladwell suggests, being a special breed of entrepreneur, Grazer as producer is not alone in succeeding so wildly despite — if not, as it’s posited in Gladwell’s book — perhaps because of his unique learning difference.

“Due to this learning difference, my passion for film came very early on,” said Baltimore’s own native son and producer on the rise Jason Michael Berman about the direct connection he too sees clearly.

Having grown up in Pikesville, where he attended Beth El Congregation (which dedicated the Berman-Rubin Sanctuary in his family’s name this past September), the 34-year-old Berman launched quickly as a bright, flaming comet from one coast to the other, exploding on the scene in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of Southern California’s nationally top-ranked cinema and television program in 2006, trained at one of the most prestigious talent agencies in the world (William Morris) and after a series of selfsame Sammy Glick-esque endeavors, rose to becoming one of the “Top Ten Producers to Watch” according to no less than the industry trade publication Variety in 2011.

It was clear early on that Jason Michael Berman would be a director or producer. “He had more ideas than I could fathom,” said Jemicy School teacher Lisa Needle. (Photo provided)

It was clear early on that Jason Michael Berman would be a director or producer. “He had more ideas than I could fathom,” said Jemicy School teacher Lisa Needle. (Photo provided)

Living in Los Angeles these days, Berman has produced a prodigious procession of projects, most notably 2016’s cause célèbre Oscar contender “The Birth of a Nation.”

“What I gained from being dyslexic was that I was an overachiever,” Berman said, in line with Gladwell’s and Grazer’s own assertions that struggling with typical schoolwork leads some dyslexics toward a brambly path they must blaze on their own in discovering a singular way through that will, in the end, teach them to be more  capable of overcoming such hurdles in the extra-scholastic realm of the industrial rat race or, in this case, the unforgiving hurly-burly of Tinsel Town.

Berman’s indefatigable propensity toward cinema at a preciously young age was a  radiant projection of his “wanting to be in film because it was easier for me to express how I felt through making movies than writing.”

Whereas reading and writing might have been challenging for Berman in his early years, making and watching movies was second nature just as early on, as though he was born with a video camera in hand and viewfinders sprouting from his scopophiliac eyes.

“I’m sure he’ll love it that I’m saying this, but because he’s so persistent and has so many ideas, Jason can be …” Berman’s dance and drama instructor at Owings Mills’ specialized Jemicy School Lisa Needle said, calculating the best descriptive before spurting out through a fusillade of laughter, “exasperating.”

Jason Michael Berman, producer Benjamin Renzo, co-producer Ryan Ahrens, executive producer On set in Savannah, GA.

Jason Michael Berman, producer
Benjamin Renzo, co-producer
Ryan Ahrens, executive producer
On set in Savannah, GA. (Photo provided)

It’s actually the second time she used the word — both times in a fit of laughter at the thought — during the interview in describing what might otherwise euphemistically be called the adamantine tenacity of her former student and longtime friend.

Needle, who’s been at Jemicy for 25 years and is now the lower middle school’s art department chair, said this is “one of those weaknesses that is really a strength,” chuckling that when Berman reached out for her to speak with the JT, if she hadn’t gotten back to him, he would have kept contacting her until she finally connected.

It’s not really a joke, but merely a character trait of Berman’s that he himself sees as integral to his impressive career built on the foundation of an  almost inhuman perseverance that all but disallows him from taking “no” as an answer.

“I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to teach him,” Needle said, her laughter having subsided into the audible sound of eyes watering with pride. “Jason has changed my worldview and the way I  look at children, what they’re capable of.”

Needle went on to describe a series of telling anecdotes chronicling Berman’s blossoming at Jemicy: his constructing an elaborate crane system with his late science teacher Joe Chidester in order to film a student play (which, Needle was sure to point out, happened to star Berman’s sister); his writing a letter to Sony in aid of requesting video equipment donations that, to the surprise of many including Needle, turned out to be fruitful and helped to establish the film program Berman started; and, most revealing to Needle, the time when, while merely a second-grader, Berman essentially took over a student play involving a kind of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” journey through history a la a flying time machine.

It was, in fact, the first instance in which Needle referred to Berman, lightheartedly as  it may have been, as at times  “exasperating.”

“Every single day, this little boy I had only known for about a year came in with new ideas for the time machine and the play,” Needle said.

Left to right: Producers, Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman, Nate Parker, Preston L. Holmes. (Photo by Aaron L. Gilbert)

Left to right: Producers, Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman, Nate Parker, Preston L. Holmes. (Photo by Aaron L. Gilbert)

As jubilant as Needle was by Berman’s innovative mind and exhilarating enthusiasm, she did finally have to pull the pint-sized filmmaker-to-be aside to remind him that one day he would be a director, but on this day, she was the one in charge.

Needle recounted how at the time, Jemicy didn’t necessarily hand out grades but would instead turn in “narratives” of a sort to parents, with Needle including in hers to Berman’s mother the fact that it was clear one day the shining prodigy would be a director or producer because “he has more ideas than I could possibly fathom.”

More than 15 films later, Berman stands at the forefront of what has been a most singular experience for an independent film in this country with his latest, the period piece slave revolt drama based on the life of near mythical hero (or villain, depending on the stories you read about him) Nat Turner, “The Birth of a Nation.”

Considering the provocative nature of the film and the roller-coaster ride the course of its release has taken from its record-breaking Sundance premiere sale to Fox Searchlight to today in which the film’s former stellar reviews have taken a turn due in large part to a cloud of controversy surrounding the director and co-writer’s past, there’s no question, as Berman himself contends, his role as one of five producers on the project continues to put his ever-developing chitinous mettle to the test.

The cast and crew from “The Birth of a Nation" (Photo provided)

The cast and crew from “The Birth of a Nation” (Photo provided)

“It was definitely an arduous process and pushed my limits as a producer,” Berman said. “But we put a great team together and were inspired by [director/lead actor] Nate [Parker] as a terrific leader of 400 people. We ultimately created a powerful movie we’re all very proud of.”

Needle shares in Berman’s and his crew’s pride, which she marvels at as “this incredible thing he has accomplished, this dyslexic kid who made a work that blows me away.”

Berman would meanwhile agree with Needle’s assessment that, “I do believe without a doubt, had he not gone to Jemicy, he wouldn’t have had these opportunities. Nobody else would have said, ‘Yeah, you can be a movie producer’ when he was in second grade.”

For an online exclusive on Berman’s take on the reception to ‘The Birth of a Nation’, visit

‘The Birth of a Nation’ Producer on Controversy Surrounding Film

This piece is an online supplement to the Oct. 21 article “Persistence of Vision.”

From left: Jason Michael Berman, John Cooper (director, Sundance Film Festival), "Birth of a Nation" director Nate Parker and Trevor Groth (director of programming, Sundance Film Festival)

From left: Jason Michael Berman, John Cooper (director, Sundance Film Festival), “Birth of a Nation” director Nate Parker and Trevor Groth (director of programming, Sundance Film Festival)

First, there was the “magical” experience producer Jason Michael Berman and the rest of his crew of 400 enjoyed after receiving impossibly triumphant roars of praise for “The Birth of a Nation” at its effulgent 2016 Sundance premiere that led to a record-breaking sale to distributor Fox Searchlight.

Trade paper Hollywood Reporter raved, with a tinge of what would turn out to be dramatic irony, that this masterful film based on the life of early 19th century era Nat Turner was best described as, “The Slave-Revolt Movie That Will Have Sundance Talking.”

Eight months later the film has begun receiving less-than-cheerful reviews.

As Berman insinuates — and which would be hard to miss in today’s media-saturated “conflict as commodity” environment, as filmmaker Justin Simien has put it in “Dear White People” — the shift in reception may be due in part to an unfortunate fog of controversy brought on by the mainstream media’s revisiting of rape allegations levied at the film’s director and co-writer that have galvanized a torrent of online outrage, college screening cancellations and, yes, a perceptible sea change in critical reviews that went from glowing to muddy in less than a year.

It’s merely another challenge to overcome for Berman, who has lived with learning differences such as dyslexia throughout the course of life and has as such overcome seemingly insuperable odds to attain an enviable level of credibility in the film industry.

Berman, as he notes, is one of those 400 people who invested his heart and soul (“for not a lot of pay,” as the indie mogul on the rise was sure to point out) into a project whose judgment shouldn’t necessarily be based on the past of one or two said members.

There’s the queston of the importance of the story itself, in Berman’s estimation. Berman, his crew and certainly his director/lead actor Nate Parker felt compelled to bring this story of trenchant injustice to a mainstream audience in a time of heated debate and tension throughout the country and global arena overall about such issues.

There’s the question of the film’s aesthetic merits, which are certainly something to behold.

Despite its occasional requisite missteps for a directorial debut that never could have lived up to the titanic buzz it garnered in its salad Sundance days, there’s extant the potent sincerity of the acting, particularly on Parker’s level, and craftsmanship of the same — from its mesmeric cinematography that wavers between transportive realism and intoxicating etherealism, to powerful musical score and pitch-perfect, unobtrusive editing.

This all makes for a film that defies any storytelling stumbles with a powerfully visceral wallop and emotionally intense moviegoing experience not to be missed, regardless of political affiliation or extra-cinematic considerations.

And yet, there are many potential audience members who now refuse to see the film, in fact finding a semblance of surprising solidarity with one of the project’s own actresses, a rape survivor herself, Gabrielle Union, who has recently stated that she understands why there might be some who would boycott the film based on the allegations made against the film’s director/lead actor and co-writer.

There are those who point to what they suggest are the film’s historical inaccuracies — the fact that, for example, these two controverises are inextricably linked by the notion that though in the film Turner springs into bloody action after his wife is brutally raped and beaten by white slavemasters, historical evidence contains no such record.

“This entire situation has gotten blown up by the trades,” Berman suggested during an interview with the JT. Berman went on to opine that “no doubt the controversy was involved” in the film’s disappointing box office returns.

“Look at our reviews from Sundance and look at the reviews now,” Berman said. “It’s totally skewed.”

As for claims of historical innacuracies, particularly in reference to a recent scathing article written by professor and historian Leslie M. Anderson in The Nation, Berman agrees with Parker’s own assertion that there’s a reason the movie is said to be “based on a true story” and not necessarily simply “a true story.” There can be no 100 percent accurate film, Berman and Parker aver.

Berman went on to explain that, according to the mounds of research Parker looked into over the nearly decade-long period of script development, the story of Turner and his 48-hour slave rebellion in pre-Civil War south was recorded and disseminated in large part by those who may have had ulterior motives in how the tale was recounted.

“Yes, there will always be people who will come out and say there were inaccuracies,” Berman said. “But that will be based on their opinions, because really, we don’t know exactly what happened.”

As for the charges of sexual misconduct on the part of the film’s director and co-writer, Berman pronounced that “this is not the Nate Parker story; this movie is much bigger than one person’s” and agrees with Union, who despite her publicly made ambivalence, has nevertheless declared “it’s an important film to see.”

“[The controversy] shouldn’t inhibit you from going,” Berman said.

“We made a controversial enough movie already,” he continued. “And this has really impacted the people involved in this movie.”

Certainly, as has Parker himself confessed, Berman understands that his director was “looking through things from a different lens” when he was a 19-year-old college student.

“I understand that people have the ability to change and become better,” he continued.

“Some of the best art has come from people who have gone through extreme situations,” Berman said. “I know this from working with more than 15 first-time filmmmakers. That’s why they have pulled from these experiences.”

As far as his own experiences in overcoming struggles in his life to accomplish what he’s done as a filmmaker, teacher and entertainment entrepreneur, Berman sees a personal connection to the story of Turner that runs deep into his heritage.

“As Jews, we understand the oppression aspect,” Berman said. “These are the kinds of stories that matter to us. There’s a desire to create right from wrong. It’s ingrained in us as human beings, and that was part of the desire to tell this story.”

Related reading: Woody Allen’s Longtime Writing Partner on Separating the Art from the Artist.

Local Artist, Rabbi Displays Mosaics at Gallery

Rabbi Gila Ruskin of Temple Adas Shalom has been making mosaics for about 10 years, many of which are eminently displayed in various Jewish institutions in Baltimore.

It started out with her creating little crafts to give as gifts. However, after making a tray for someone’s wedding and incorporating their family heirlooms into it, an artist sitting next to her at the wedding said, “You know, that’s art. You should be making art, not just gifts for people.”

“I had never really thought of myself that way, but it really opened things up for me,” said Ruskin. “I started making mosaics based on Jewish and biblical themes and song lyrics and prayers. Sometimes I just make something to teach a concept. It completely changed the way that I was doing mosaics.”

Fast-forward and Ruskin now proudly displays a collection of work solely her own in the Hoffberger Gallery of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. Most of her work uses what she calls “found objects — things you find in the thrift shop, things you find lying on the ground or things that people give you.”

“For example,” she said, “a friend of mine’s mother passed away and I ended up with some of her costume jewelry, which I began using in my pieces. It  became a way for that person to live on through the art. I started to encourage people to bring me things, anything. Now wherever I go, even at services, people will hand me bags with plates that they dropped or old jewelry or something for me to use in my work.”

“I started collecting lots of little things. I put my materials in jars, so I have a jar of fruit, a jar of moons, a jar of sea life, etc. The shelves at my house are covered with these jars filled with stuff by colors, by  category — it’s a wacky artist’s toolshed.”

All of Ruskin’s works are heavily layered before the mosaic is applied. She builds up her canvas with screening material such as wire mesh, then adds mortar to help build it up. This is how she achieves the three-dimensionality of the pieces.

Following are Ruskin’s comments about her mosaics and inspiration, particularly pieces that she made with or for specific people and organizations in mind.


book-of-lifeBook of Life
“Two years ago, I did my first project with a group of people. Everyone that came to Rosh Hashanah that year [at Adas Shalom] participated in making the Book of Life. People would come and drop some glue and some little stones and those represented their deeds in the Book of Life. I like this one because I remember the scene of everyone in the congregation putting down the glue and dropping pieces, it started completely empty, and by the time the holiday was finished, it was completely filled.”


rainbowAlternative Rainbow
“I gave this mosaic to CHANA. We all talk about the rainbow and how it  includes everyone, but there are people who feel that they aren’t included in the rainbow, so these are all alternative colors. It’s not the typical rainbow; this is magenta and gold and chartreuse and teal, all of the off colors. Throughout the piece, there are faces of people — you have to look carefully — who feel that they don’t fit in with the rest of the rainbow.”

“[The mosaic includes] a blessing you say if you see someone who looks  different. That prayer really spoke to me, so everything about this is alternative. Instead of a dove that you normally see with a rainbow,  it is this big, clunky bird. The sun is also black, and it is mirrored. If it is eye level, you can see yourself in the piece. I really wanted a mirrored look for this reason so I specially ordered the blue mirrored tiles.”


how-abundantHow Abundant Are Your Works
“One of my congregants was in Israel working on a dig and brought me some shards which made up this particular mountain in the mosaic. For this other section, I was in Sonoma and picked these up off the ground. This is based on a verse in psalms, ‘how abundant are your works,’ so I tried to include as many species as possible in it — there’s a frog, there’s a dinosaur, there’s even Road Runner from the cartoons.”

day-god-madeDay God Has Made
“I made this piece when my daughter got married. It is partially based on tnai’m, a tradition where mothers-in-law break a plate at the engagement of their children. Each of the parents brought a piece of china from their own family, we broke the four plates together, and they gave them to me, and I made this. They wanted this verse, ‘this is the day that God has made,’ also from psalms.”

simchat-torahSimchat Torah
“This Simchat Torah piece is kinetic. I just wanted to show joy and happiness through color. I tried to re-create a pink sky that I saw in Wisconsin, which was just beautiful.”

“Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh is the mosaic that I just completed. I wanted to create something just in white, so I took the verse from Isaiah where it says ‘holy, holy, holy’ and talks about the angels all flying around. There are a lot of angels all through the piece. I really just tried to capture the feeling of everything being pure and holy.” JT

“Judaic Mosaics” by Rabbi Gila Ruskin runs through Oct. 24 at the Hoffberger Gallery at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore.

‘Licensed to Ill’ Turns 30 Performers, scholars rap about hip-hop’s Jewish-American masterpiece

Y-Love (Y-Love: credit???; Beastie Boys cover: Screenshot)


The notion that one of the seminal shibboleths of the hip-hop realm was produced by three white Jewish punk rockers from the upper echelon of New York’s sybaritic elite may appear at first glance, euphemistically, disharmonious.

How curiouser and curiouser it must seem to many that the album that first launched hip-hop — a fulminating artistic expression of under-represented and (in many cases) poverty-stricken black youths in Queens and the Bronx — into mainstream pop culture was  indisputably the Beastie Boys’ “Licensed to Ill,” the first rap album to top the Billboard chart back when it burst onto the scene as the group’s debut album 30 years ago this Nov. 15.

These 30 years later, it’s nearly  impossible to avoid the influence and direct sounds of the inaugural work of these three Jewish boys, with the album’s perennial and downright ubiquitous hits “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!),” “Girls,” “No Sleep till Brooklyn” and “Brass Monkey” making it of little wonder “Licensed to Ill” went Platinum (selling 1 million copies) less than a year after its release and Diamond (selling 10 million copies) in 2015.

In celebration of this auspicious  occasion for both the hip-hop milieu overall and the group specifically, sadly now lacking one of its three core members after the premature passing of Adam “MCA” Yauch in 2012, both novitiates and longtime listeners alike can purchase a new reissue of the vinyl pressing starting Friday, Oct. 14.

In 2003, Rolling Stone named the album No. 217 on a list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” 10 years later calling it the best debut album of all time.

Among its seemingly unending litany of accolades, “Licensed to Ill”  remains the only album by a Jewish rap group to have received “5 mics”  (a perfect score) by hip-hop’s oldest periodical and gold standard The Source.

beastielicensed“I probably was an immediate fan of the Beastie Boys,” wrote Baltimore-born rapper, writer, activist and speaker  Y-Love (who is currently touring) via email. Real name Yitz Jordan, Y-Love converted to Judaism in 2000 and has since incorporated Yiddish and Hebrew lyrics into his productions.

He also happens to black, which made little difference to his affinity for “Licensed to Ill” as an inquisitive young man who “felt [he] could identify with [the Beasties] more than most other rappers, even as a kid, which may sound incongruous to hear regarding the first white major rap group.”

Although Y-Love would move to Brooklyn in 1999, his “first  encounters with Judaism would all be with the Baltimore Jewish community — from seeing a ‘Happy Passover’ commercial as a child, which piqued my curiosity about all things Jewish at age 7, attending my first Shabbat services at Johns Hopkins University at age 14, attending shuls in Park Heights in high school” and eventually “rhyming initially in yeshiva in Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem (as a way to learn better with my cavruta/study partner, an MC from Long  Island).”

Throughout this period of spiritual awakening for the burgeoning cross-cultural rapper on the international rise, Y-Love saw the video for the Beasties’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” — which has since become, for good or ill, beyond wildly successful in the commercial sense and transcended to being  anthemic for at least two generations of listeners — when he was still in elementary school “probably during the brief period when my family had cable as a kid.”

I don’t know if we can truly envision what hip-hop would be like in 2016 were it not for Jews.” — Y-Love


“I remember thinking that the people I was watching on the screen were probably the coolest people I could imagine in my young mind. … When I would go to summer camp, ‘Girls’ was pretty much a theme song — anyone who didn’t know it by the beginning of camp would have it memorized by the end by sheer osmosis.”

As “ironic” as it might be (in Y-Love’s words), one of the rapper’s first public performances was belting out his own rendition of “Girls” at his camp’s talent show along with his bunkmates.

There’s less an ironic bent here in considering the fact that, when explored more thoroughly, Jews have had an undeniably crucial role in the development of hip-hop from its earliest boom-box blasting days.

“I don’t know if we can truly envision what hip-hop would be like in 2016 were it not for Jews,” Y-Love said.

“Jews have been involved in hip-hop since the very beginning, both on stage and behind the scenes. Would Run DMC and Aerosmith have ever collaborated had [pioneering Jewish producer and co-founder of integral label Def Jam, which put out “Licensed to Ill”] Rick Rubin not brought it up? When would black hip-hop artists have debuted on MTV?”

Fervent in his understanding that “Jews of all colors have contributed at all points of all points of hip-hop history,”  Y-Love notes that “on a larger scale, Jews have been arm-in-arm with communities of color fighting for social justice for generations; given that hip-hop is such a voice of struggle and for social change for communities of color and other communities, it makes sense that such strong solidarity would also express itself mutually.”

Adam Bradley, one of the foremost scholars on hip-hop and associate professor of English at Boulder’s University of Colorado, agrees with Y-Love that the Beasties and “Licensed to Ill” in particular “inhabit this place in hip-hop that is a pivotal moment” that helped to promulgate the very real  intersection between African-Americans and Jews as “people under pressure facing challenge and oppression.”

Traveling around the country as he does as a much sought-after expert on such subjects, Bradley recently presented at a Freedom Seder that celebrated multiculturalism. It was here, Bradley said, that he really  understood that “the power of the art of the language is so central to both of these populations, and so rap seems a natural place to locate that confluence between the black and Jewish community.”

On a highly technical level, Bradley expounded upon the connection between these two cultures as represented by the intersection of rap via the art form’s “wordplay, rhetorical flourishes, chanting and love of storytelling” which he points out are all “common legacies for these groups of people.”

From this larger global perspective, as Bradley put it, “these three kids in ’86 put this album out” and yet, perhaps more “ironically” still, “wore [their Jewish] tradition very lightly, not really paying attention to it.”

Even today, Bradley reflected, many listeners see the Beasties as a “white rap group” more than they might as a “Jewish rap group.”

West Coast Jewish-Latin hip-hop artist Josh Norek concurs that the Beasties “were not perceived by the masses as a Jewish rap group [even though] all members were  assimilated Jewish Americans.”

Norek, also a co-host of  nationally-syndicated NPR show “The Latin Alternative,” said that all the members of his now more or less defunct Hip Hop Hoodios (the latter word a play on the Spanish word for “Jews,”  judíos with rap argot “hood”) were aware of the Beasties’ lack of explicit Jewish signaling in their work and media persona.

Having been a part of the only group that had a punk hip-hop Chanukah song that went into heavy rotation on MTV Latino, it’s no wonder that Norek confesses he “never related at all to white rappers” per se, such as Eminem.

Norek feels whether directly or not, there’s a kind of subconscious nod to the Jewish sensibility for humor and playfulness in the work of the Beasties, meanwhile, especially on such albums as “Licensed to Ill” where the trio were “being openly wise asses.”

This is something Norek and his own hip-hop crew could and did completely relate to and something he feels he sees less of in more standard “white rapper” fare, which he referred to as often being “more dark and extreme.”

Though Norek may not have been particularly spellbound by “Licensed to Ill” on first listen as an 11-year-old who saw the record as embodying more of a “fratrock mentality,” he does feel that one of the reasons it remains the Beasties’ bestselling album 30 years later is, in fact, “because it was a rock album too.”

Hence why he feels the  obvious question of “cultural misappropriation” here with three rich, white Jewish boys seemingly co-opting a black musical expression “from the streets” a la what has been levied in the past at, say, Elvis Presley (rock ‘n’ roll) and the Rolling Stones (the blues), is a moot one.

Norek, in fact, sees the monumental success of the Beasties at this time (and, indeed, throughout their enduring career) in “Licensed to Ill” having “a rock sensibility for a larger white audience” for whom the more arcane, underground hip-hop/rap realm may have been in those early years less accessible or palatable.

“The Beastie Boys were that group who could play [alternative rock festival] Lollapalooza but also were down with [spiritually and aesthetically crucial rap group] Tribe Called Quest,” Norek said.

Y-Love agrees that as someone whose “first musical affinities were all for rock music, starting with hard rock and moving to metal and punk rock,” he “may have gravitated toward the guitar and hardcore vocal styles of the Beasties without even knowing. And as a teenager into punk rock and radical politics, learning that BEASTIE was an acronym for Boys  Entering Anarchistic States Through Internal Excellence only solidified their position in my mind.”

“Most hardcore fans respect them because they were true to themselves and didn’t try to put up a front,” Bradley said, adding that part of the Beasties’ “broadening of that community” came from their inclusion in lyrics new references that hadn’t made it into hip-hop before such as actor Abe Vigoda and comedian-filmmaker Jerry Lewis.

“Hip-hop is about that vernacular process,” Bradley said. “Taking something inherited and making it your own, hence the idea of ‘sampling’ in the music, taking something someone else already did and making it your own through innovation.”

In a way, then, the Beasties’ and “Licensed to Ill’s” Cuisinart sampling of various (and at times ostensibly contrapuntal) aesthetics and cultures is perhaps one of their most indirect Jewish signifiers in consideration of the connection here to the same mentality of reinterpreting, melding and playfully poking fun at same in the Jewish-dominated realm of Vaudeville — in many ways the precursor to pop culture and entertainment in this country — back in the early 20th century.

Despite clarion examples of and claims about rap’s being at times homophobic, misogynistic and, indeed, anti-Semitic,  Y-Love feels that the genre is today “only becoming more inclusive, both in terms of listener demographics and in terms of content.”

“When you have the sense that rap can travel — which has to do with race and sound — it’s all tied up in its being a music for everyone and everything,” Bradley said. “The Beastie Boys, along with Rick Rubin, were really instrumental in that process.”

You Should Know … David BenMoshe

David BenMoshe (photo by Justin Silberman)

David BenMoshe (photo by Justin Silberman)

When David BenMoshe was sentenced to a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence in 2010 for selling guns and drugs to an undercover police officer multiple times, he knew his life was a mess.

Now 29, the Frederick native has rebuilt his life — part of which included finding Judaism while in prison — since being released from a Baltimore halfway house four years ago with less than $20 and no friends or family to speak of.

BenMoshe, who resides in Federal Hill, is currently finishing up his undergraduate degree at Towson University in exercise science while working as an independent personal trainer. After he graduates, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in physical therapy to continue his newfound passion of helping people with their fitness.

In his spare time, BenMoshe volunteers with Charm City Tribe as a community connector, providing young adults living in the city with new and creative ways of tapping into Jewish culture.

What was your upbringing like?

I was raised Christian, and a lot of things about Christianity just didn’t stick with me. When I was younger, around the age of 22, I was going through a rough time in my life. I got into a little bit of trouble and spent 30 months in prison. There’s a lot of time when people don’t do anything in prison, and so I had a lot of time to sit and reflect on life.

One day, I just happened to see someone studying Judaism, so I took it upon myself to do some studying because it looked interesting to me. I quickly learned that everything about Judaism made a lot of sense. For me, I would study a Jewish text, which would lead to more studying of other Jewish texts and so forth. I just really got into it, and things started to click for me once I converted to
become Jewish.

How has discovering Judaism changed your life?

I’m probably connected more now to the Jewish community than I am to the African-American community. Having been through a lot of the things that go on in the African-American community, at some point I feel like all races and ethnicities are going to have to come together. Right now, I think it’s easy to separate from the African-American community, but I want all of us to feel
connected to one another.

It’s interesting in the Jewish community, because when I go places, sometimes people will be extra nice to me. I really don’t get people around who are not doing anything good or nice to me, but I say to myself, ‘Would they be this nice if I wasn’t black?’ I’ve put a lot of work in on my chet, so whenever I give a good chet, people will go, ‘Oh, you must know a little bit of Hebrew.’

How have you connected to the Jewish community since moving to Baltimore?

I met Rabbi Jessy Gross, and she was putting together this initiative for community connectors through Charm City Tribe about a year-and-a-half ago. She told me I was very personable, easy to talk to and had a good idea of everything going on in the Jewish community.

Basically, the idea of the program is to help a lot of the young Jewish people who come into the area, and it’s nice to have them meet with someone, grab a drink and talk about what’s going on in their lives. For those people who are brand new to the area, it’s kind of hard to know what’s going on. But for someone who has been to a lot of these events, a community connector can talk to them about what events they might find appealing to stay connected to their faith.

What is your day-to-day job, and what does it entail?

I am a personal trainer and am also going to school to study physical therapy. So I train my clients at my private studio in Federal Hill during the early morning and at night, and in between that, I spend the bulk of day in class at Towson. It’s a lot of work, but it keeps me busy and focused on what I have to do.

I plan on going to graduate school in the near future for physical therapy and have already started looking at schools in Florida, Atlanta and California. I would like to continue doing personal training while adding more physical therapy into what I already do now.

Chicken Soup for the Gold

A happy group of Cook-Off participants (Provided)

A happy group of Cook-Off participants (Provided)

The Jewish Museum of Maryland served up something piping hot and tasty on Sunday, Oct. 9.

In association with its immersive “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America” exhibit exploring the intersection of medicine and Jewish tradition/culture that began in March and runs until January, the museum held the first-ever Great Chicken Soup Cook-Off in a dashing attempt at finding the very best chicken soup recipe in the state of Maryland.

Although there were a few no-shows at the final moments before samples of the various soups in competition were  ladled out to public tasters popping in to enjoy the festivities, museum executive director Marvin Pinkert reported that there were 14 contestants originally signed up to take part.

There were three categories for entries, including the six contestants who signed up to compete for the best “traditional” soup, six contestants who signed up for the best  “alternative” chicken soup recipe and two who signed up to compete for the best chicken soup recipe in a special category called “free-from,” in which chefs — all amateur, it should be pointed out — were to leave out one key ingredient from the garden variety chicken soup concoction in a bid for a kind of vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free machination.

Wearing a black tie festooned with a cartoon chicken at its base, Pinkert told the JT that it was five years ago — around the time he took on his role — that the museum presented a similar competition called GefilteFest. At that event, professional chefs (three, to be exact), were tasked with creating a uniquely branded gefilte fish, with the winner producing a gefilte fish “fried hot dog,” as Pinkert described it, using  red horseradish as a ketchup substitute.

chickensoup3_10-14-16Since that time, the museum has expanded its operating hours from 16 to 35 hours a week, and Pinkert hopes such competitions as the GefilteFest and Great Chicken Soup Cook-Off will continue into the future.

“It’s a way to bring people into the museum who wouldn’t normally come in,” Pinkert said, adding that not all of the contestants involved in the cook-off are Jewish and yet there’s a definite connection, he feels, between chicken soup as a kind of “Jewish penicillin” and the longstanding heritage of the culture itself.

There’s in fact an element of the “Beyond Chicken Soup” exhibit that specifically highlights the medicinal qualities of such soup that did at one time boast the colloquial moniker “Jewish penicillin.”

“I think it’s a great chance to share in both tradition and  innovation, celebrating food that is part of the Jewish tradition in both a culinary and medicinal way,” Pinkert said.

Adam Yosim, originally from North Carolina and in Baltimore for two years as an Emmy-nominated reporter for Fox 45, gave what he called a “Jewish twist” to Tom Kha Gai in boiling up a batch of his Tom Kha Chai for the “alternative” category of soup entries.

It may seem strange, melding traditional Thai coconut curry soup with “broth that you’d find in your grandma’s soup,” but it resulted in something Yosim referred to as “a melting pot of yumminess.”

Yosim confessed that he had originally intended on entering a “traditional” soup, but when it was relayed to him that there were already too many contestants entering that portion of the competition, he thought he’d see if he was up to the challenge of doing something a little off-kilter.

The gambit clearly worked, as Yosim would end up taking home the trophy for best soup in the “alternative” category.

chickensoup6“I love to cook,” Yosim said, noting that though he has competed in additional foodie competitions in the past — one in Kentucky, for example, in which he took home a “big chicken trophy” — the contest at the museum was for him all about fun, something he had been made aware of rather last minute by his fiancée who works for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“Feel free to jazz up your soup with some accoutrements,” Yosim said in handing over a sample of the opalescent brew teeming with delicious-looking chunks of veggies and chicken.

Such “accoutrements” were an essential part of Marcie Cissel’s “traditional” chicken soup, which she jokingly  referred to as “minimalist.”

“You’ll need some salt and pepper,” she said, handing over her sample and chuckling that, “The recipe is shorter than the directions to make it!”

On the flip-side of such “minimalism” was Amy Fossett’s Maryland Style Chicken Soup, which was entered in the “alternative” category and which, she said, was a typical crab soup without the crab (replaced, of course, with chicken). Fossett took home the People’s Choice trophy at event’s end, a prize based on those attending who were not official judges.

Soup tastings started around 1 p.m., with docent-led tours of the Lloyd Street Synagogue and B’nai Israel taking place along with an interactive set of culinary activities at a table nearby the main proceedings and hosted by Edible Eden Baltimore Foodscapes.

Voting for best chicken soup closed at approximately 2:45 p.m., with the awards ceremony taking place shortly after.

In speaking about what it meant to be brought in as one of the judges, WTMD DJ Sam Gallant mused, “Aren’t we all experts of chicken soup?”

He said that as a longtime fan of the museum, when he first heard of the competition, he contacted the staff and asked how he could both personally and professionally become involved. He would later become not only a judge, but an award ceremony emcee.

“There’s something about chicken soup that makes me really happy,” Gallant said.

“I don’t think I was expecting to necessarily learn anything about it or be blown away by some crazy soup recipe,” he continued.

“It was more about the classics, what might remind me of bubbie’s recipe. And that’s what I was looking for: something that would make me think of my grandfather’s apartment. A certain carrot or onion that snaps me back there.”

Overall winner Betsey Kahn told the JT she had been making her Good Old Fashioned Chicken Soup “for years and years” and hadn’t expected to win.

“When my name was called, I thought, ‘That’s my name!’”

Kahn said the win felt “fabulous” and she was beaming throughout the final award ceremony. The feeling of delight was certainly contagious.

“Depending on how this goes,” Pinkert said, “we may do something like this every fall. I’m pushing for kugel next year.”

For a list of the winners and recipes, visit

Chicken Soup Cook-Off Winners and Recipes

Best Chicken Soup in Maryland: Betsey Kahn’s “Good Old Fashioned Chicken Soup”


1  Roasting chicken
3 Carrots, sliced
4 Celery stalks, sliced
3 medium Onions, sliced
2 large Cloves of garlic
½ large Lemon, juice and rind
1 Tsp Pepper
1 Tbsp Salt
1 Tbsp SeasonAll
6 C Water
1 ½ C medium Barley
2 pkts Chicken HerbOx
2 32 oz Chicken broth
1 16 oz Frozen corn
1 16 oz Frozen peas


  1. Place the chicken, either whole or cut up, in a 4 qt. pot,
  2. Put celery, carrots, onions, and garlic in the pot.
  3. Add 6 cups of water, salt, pepper, lemon juice, lemon rind, and SeasonAll.  Cover the pot and bring the liquid to a boil, turn the heat down and cook for at least 2 hours.  The chicken will be “fall off the bone” at that time.
  4. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the pot to a plate and remove the skin from all the parts.  BE CAREFULL TO REMOVE ALL BONES FROM THE BROTH.
  5. Add as much of the pulled chicken as you want in the broth.
  6. Add the barley to the broth and cook for another ½ hour.
  7. Add frozen corn and peas to the broth as well as the 2 packets of HerbOx and (2) 32 ounce boxes of chicken broth.
  8. Continue cooking for another ½ to ¾  of an hour.


The People’s Choice: Amy Fossett’s “Chicken Soup Maryland Style”


Best Traditional Chicken Soup: Mary Brady’s “Schmaltzy Soup”


  1. Take a chicken, young or “stewing” (e.g., OLD). This recipe does not discriminate.
  2. Discard the neck and Chop up the giblets.
  3. Cover the chicken in cold water in a BIG pot. Boil that devil for a few minutes and then simmer it for an hour, until the meat falls off the bones.
  4. For each chicken, shred a pound of carrots, celery and shallots.
  5. Saute the schredded vegs and giblets in schmaltz for Kosher version; butter for non-Kosher version.
  6. Add Minor chicken base to the stewing chicken (this is the top-knotch chicken stock; available at BJ’s; if you can’t get it use any chicken stock.) Add vegetable stock, as well – about a quart of stock for each bird.
  7. Pick out anything you don’t want to eat, e.g. bones and giant pieces of skin. Leave some skin in.
  8. Combine the sautéed vegs and the meat and simmer all for an hour.
  9. Cool in the fridge overnight and then take off most of the fat – leave about a third.
  10. Bring to a boil – add a pound of Maneschevitz curly egg noodles – cook until the noodles are al dente.
  11. Enjoy!


Best Alternative Chicken Soup: Adam Yosim’s his “Tom Kha Chai”


3 lb chicken wings
1 large onion, quartered
1-2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 quarts water


2-3 quarts chicken broth
1 T ginger, chopped
1 T garlic, chopped
1/4 cup red curry paste
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed and sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 can of coconut milk
1 lb boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
2-3 T fish sauce
2-3 T cilantro
optional: scallions, lime wedges

For the broth:

  1. Place quartered onion, smashed garlic cloves, chicken wings, water, salt and pepper in a crockpot.
  2. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 6-8.
  3. Remove solids and strain broth.

For the soup:

  1. Heat a stock pot to medium heat. Cook garlic, ginger and red curry paste for 5 minutes until fragrant.
  2. Add chicken and stir for 2 minutes.
  3. Add onions, mushrooms and red pepper. Cook for 2-3 more minutes.
  4. Add chicken broth, coconut milk and fish sauce. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Serve with fresh herbs, scallions and squeezed lime juice.


Best “Free From” Chicken Soup: David Guy-Decker’s “No Chicken Chicken Soup”


Director’s Choice: Lan Pham Wilson of Morestomach Blog‘s “Lemongrass Chicken Soup”

Serves 6-8


Homemade stock:
1-2 kosher chicken carcasses, depending on how big they are
3 large carrots, washed, tips trimmed and rough chopped
3 stalks of celery, washed and rough chopped
6 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and slightly bruised
2″ knob of ginger, slightly smashed
3-4 garlic gloves, whole but slightly smashed
handful of kefir lime leaves
1 small-medium onion, quartered
3-4 red thai chilis, whole and scored
palm-full of whole black peppercorns

2-3 carrots, washed, peeled & diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
meat of kosher rotisserie chicken, shredded
1/2 cup rice
1/8-1/4 cup kosher fish sauce (i used Red Boat)
1 TBL oil, olive oil or grapeseed

Extra flavoring:
2-3 lemongrass stalks, slightly bruised
1″ knob of ginger, slightly smashed
1-2 garlic cloves, slightly smashed
1/2 small onion, cut in half
1-2 red thai chilis, whole and scored
splash of neutral oil, like grapeseed

chopped cilantro
chopped red chili (very, very optional)

  1. In a crock pot, add all the stock ingredients in and add water till it covers everything. lid, turn on low and walk away. i’ve done it for as short of amount as 4 hours and for as long as over night (about 7-8 hours). strain and set aside.
  2. to make the extra flavoring, in a small frying pan gently warm a splash of oil and saute all the ingredients. be gentle, you’re just warming the ingredients through so they can release their aroma and flavor. keep on low, kinda sorta ignore and every so often move the ingredients around so they don’t feel neglected and burn.
  3. in a big pot, heat up the oil and saute the diced onion until softened, you’re not looking to caramelize it though so be careful. add in the minced garlic, carrots and celery and mix thoroughly. carefully pour in the stock. add in the extra flavoring & shredded chicken, and bring to a boil.
  4. lower heat.
  5. add in the 1/2 cup of rice, stir, lid and let simmer for 15 minutes, or until rice is cooked.
  6. season with fish sauce, to taste.
  7. at this point, you can fish out the random flavorings, or just avoid them when ladling the soup.
  8. serve with lime wedges and topped with chopped cilantro and chopped red chili.
  9. BAM!


Best Presentation: Beth Hogans’ “Homemade Wonton Chicken Soup”


“A Cluck Above” (Judge’s Special Award): Monica Shuman’s “Omi’s Great Chicken Soup”