Tag Archives: sukkot

091313_sweet_savory_lg

Sweet & Savory

091313_sweet_savory1

Photos by David Stuck

It happened so fast. Who pressed the fast-forward button on summer? It felt as if Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur got the bum’s rush from the Jewish calendar. I went from the hot sweat of August to the cold sweat of preparing my Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur menus. Now, just as I take a deep breath, here comes Sukkot. This year, the joyous holiday starts at sunset on Sept. 18 and runs through sunset
on Sept. 25.

Sukkot 101: It is a celebration of history and agriculture.

Historically, it recalls the time during which the children of Israel wandered in the desert and lived in temporary shelters for more than 40 years. Agriculturally, it commemorates an ample harvest. If you need to know more on the basics of Sukkot, there is a cornucopia of information on the Internet. You can even find a How to Celebrate Sukkot page on wikiHow.

Your sukkah can be purchased or become a do-it-yourself project. Some actually live in the sukkah for seven days; some only eat meals there. For children, decorating a sukkah can be a fantastic experience. Again, on the Internet, you can get a range of ideas from formal chandeliers to more artsy-craftsy homemade decorations. But for me, it’s all about the food.

Fortunately, Sukkot has a more relaxed food vibe than the High Holidays, which are tied to a list of traditional foods, such as apples, honey and round challah. Even though food is key to this holiday, Sukkot does not have a list of specific and/or traditional dishes. Sukkot has a real anything-goes tradition when it comes to what you eat. For me, Sukkot is a foodie’s free-for-all. Many scholars believe the Pilgrims adapted Sukkot for Thanksgiving. Since it is a harvest festival, it seems natural to focus on fresh fruit and vegetables.

At this time of year, Maryland offers a wide selection of locally grown items. You can find fall fruits and veggies in supermarkets, farmers’ markets and at local farms that have stands or pick-your-own fields. I recently discovered a terrific website from the University of Maryland to help guide those of us who want true farm-fresh. Go to marylandagriculture.com for descriptions, locations, days and operating hours of more than 100 markets and farms all over the state. Again, local supermarkets have plenty, too, including dried fruits, which are terrific for sukkah snacks and desserts.

On Sukkot, we are often reminded to include figs, dates, pomegranates and grapes. But don’t let that hem you in. Be bold. There are green grapes, red grapes and tiny champagne grapes. Pomegranates, especially, have come out of the closet lately. You can enhance salads with pomegranate seeds that can be bought in containers. Pomegranate juice, widely available, is wonderful for drinking over ice or mixing with other juices, making salad dressings and more. There are Medjool dates and Deglet Noor dates, and some specialty markets have other varieties. Don’t forget rambutans and figs.

The ABCs of local fruits and veggies? Here’s a list of some of the items now available: apples, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupes, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, green beans, kale, melons, mushrooms, nectarines, okra, peaches, pears, peppers, plums and pluots, raspberries, scallions, squash, tomatoes, turnips, watermelons and zucchini.

Stuffed foods remind us of a bountiful harvest, which often means stuffed cabbage or other stuffed vegetable dishes, such as stuffed tomatoes or zucchini.

Locally prepared foods are abundant, too. Gourmet Again sells sliced smoked brisket with a side of barbeque sauce and onions. The brisket is so tasty, you don’t even need the sides, and they sell out whenever they have it. With a great sliced challah or challah rolls, you can create a smoked Baltimore brisket bar in your sukkah. I am a great fan of food bars that feature a main course and an array of condiments for personalizing your plate. My family is partial to my homemade mandel bread, and I intend to have a mandel bread bar. Right next to my coffee and tea station, I place a tray of mandel bread with little dishes of toppings for dipping. (No double dipping allowed!)

Challah is always welcome, but here is a way to really ratchet up the yum factor. If you make your own challahs, try adding some flavors, sweet or savory, such as caramelized chopped onions, chopped apples and cinnamon, chocolate or berries. If you like this idea but aren’t up to baking it yourself, try going to shopchallywood.com. Challywood is a kosher pareve bakery in Queens, N.Y., that has all the flavors I mentioned and more. It delivers, often overnight. The prices are super reasonable, with free shipping for a minimum order. Challywood bakes luscious flavors: choco-cherry, choco-coconut, blueberry pull-apart and more. I have had them, and they are scrumptious. And like all challahs, you can freeze them if you need to. Yes, you can have a Sukkot challah bar, too. I know I will.

Continue the harvest theme in your table décor. No fancy flowered centerpieces for me on Sukkot. I use mason jars, shallow trays, glasses and other containers to create a tablescape of dried and fresh fruits and veggies. I admit that I sometimes use Pinterest to look at table décor and to borrow ideas. I searched Pinterest for Sukkah décor and found photos of unique, easy-to-make candle holders for evening in the Sukkah. Slice off the tops of apples and/or colorful gourds, and hollow them out far enough to set a tea light inside each one.

Here are some more kitchen tips and recipes. Enjoy the bounty and the leeway that allow you to make new creations and traditions for your sweet and savory Sukkot.

091313_green_golan_sm

Green Golan

091313_green_golan1Israel is renowned for creating innovative solutions for dealing with a scarcity of natural resources from seawater desalination to drip irrigation. Indeed, these technologies have been sold internationally and are aiding the solution of dire water and food shortages in the developing world. Israel has now begun to focus on a new challenge, that of moving toward a greener economy. The Golan Heights region is one such area that, despite its pastoral serenity, has seen tremendous economic growth and in turn faces detrimental effects on its picturesque landscape.

The Golan Heights is a welcome island of green in a predominantly arid country. The green hills, peppered with vineyards and orc-hards, the bubbling streams and the snow-capped Hermon Mountain, are all gems in Israel’s geography. Likewise, they are all at risk of increased environmental pollution and the negative consequences of climate change. In a report released last year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection declared that “Israel recognizes the necessity to decouple the destructive link between economic growth and environmental degradation and is forging forward with a new green growth agenda.”

Towering over the Golan Heights region lies the wind farm at Tel Asania. While solar energy provisions are costly and space intensive, wind farms produce energy efficiently on significantly less land space. The reg-ion’s gusty plateau is the perfect location for Israel’s first-ever wind farm, which provides electricity for one of its largest employers, the Golan Heights Winery, other regional ind-ustries and a proportion of the area’s residents. It was announced earlier this year that a new wind farm containing 50 turbines, the height of the Azrielli centers in Tel Aviv, will be built in the region at a cost of $332 million. It is predicted that by 2015, the new 120-megawatt wind farm will begin producing electricity and that the farm will become the largest in the entire Middle East region.

The Golan Heights Winery is committed to increasing its positive impact on the area.

The Golan Heights Winery is committed to increasing its positive impact on the area.

The Golan Heights’ businesses and industries have gone on board outlining new strategies to minimize their carbon footprints and develop policies to protect the region for the generations to come. Katzrin, the capital of the region, is home to one of the region’s greatest prides, the Golan Heights Winery. As one of the region’s largest employers and the country’s leading wine producer, it takes responsibility for leading the way in environmental responsibility.

“The Golan Heights Winery is totally indebted to the incredible natural offerings of the region,” said Yael Gai, head of International Marketing for the Golan Heights Winery. “The mineral-rich basalt soil and the perfect weather conditions enable us to grow the fantastic grapes that are produced year after year. For that reason, one of our main goals is to increase the positive impact that we have on the environment.”

“There is a growing trend in the wine world to move toward organic farming and sustainable agriculture,” noted Golan Chief Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld. “We work on a system of biodynamic agriculture, which aims to strengthen the connection between man, nature, animal and plants.”

To this end, the Golan Heights Winery has made strides to paint the Golan green in more ways than one.

For the past 15 years, the Golan Heights Winery has been cultivating its unique Odem organic vineyard.

“Organic wine growing not only expresses, to the fullest extent possible, the unique terroir (soil and climate) of the Odem Vineyard, but it also positively influences its quality,” said Schoenfeld, “In light of our successful experience with organic wine growing in the Odem Vineyard, and following extensive study of the topic, we implemented organic methodologies in additional vineyards across the Golan Heights, thus reducing the use of environment damaging chemicals in the whole region.”

Without using powerful chemicals to deter unwanted guests, the Golan Heights Winery went back to basics employing a parliament of barn owls to guard the vines and using pheromones to confuse pests and preclude breeding. Any grape waste from these vineyards is then turned into organic compost and there-after used in over 40 percent of the winery’s vineyards.

In addition to the use of wind turbine-produced energy, the winery invests heavily in reducing water usage through an innovative drip-irrigation and advanced water-measurement system. This enables the winey use the absolute minimum amount of water required to water the vines. The large quantity of water used in winemaking and cleaning the vast vats is rerouted through a unique purification device enabling the efficient recycling of waste water. The organic waste is then broken down into gases by anaerobic bacteria, which in turn power an electricity-producing turbine. Finally, the winery has ceased to use non-recyclable plastic bags and in its place uses eco-friendly, biodegradable packaging.

“We still have a long way to go to ensure that our environmental sustainability remains in line with our expansion,” said Schoenfeld. “But we are making real headway and setting an example to the whole region.”

In addition to high-tech solutions and innovative energy conservation devices, the Golan Heights also relies on a team of volunteers to maintain its lush green habitat. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) has launched a number of programs to try to combat the deterioration of the Golan’s natural water sources including the many streams, rivers, springs and wetlands in the region.

“Israel’s rivers are in a state of crisis,” reads SPNI’s report on the current situation. “Israel’s rivers and wetlands have changed beyond recognition. Rivers and wetlands have become dumping grounds for sewage, industrial and agricultural runoff.”

In part due to the increased usage of desalinated water for urban water consumption, SPNI has taken the opportunity to launch the Longing for the Streams campaign to improve the way natural water sources are managed. In addition to rehabilitation programs and new legislation, it runs a River Guardian program for school-age children to learn what they can do to protect the area’s water sources.

Keeping the Golan green is a combined effort. Together with the leading businesses in the area, such as the Golan Heights Winery, Israel’s governmental, charitable and CleanTech organizations are all playing their part in protecting one of Israel’s most beautiful regions. While the Golan Heights is now blooming with flora and fauna, the area’s residents are acutely aware that they bear responsibility for its preservation for the generations to come.

Anna Harwood writes for IMP Media Group.

Say No To Sukkot Weight Gain

Rosh Hashanah has its shofar, apples and honey. Yom Kippur has its tefillot (prayers) and fasting. Chanukah has its menorah and draidel. Pesach has its Seders. Shavuot has its Torah.

Sukkot, except for several symbols, is really about the joy of eating in the sukkah and enjoying the friends and family you have invited.

This year, it’s a three-day holiday, with Shabbat following right after, and we will be eating six meals in the sukkah, one after another. There are many challenges related to a three-day holiday, a schedule that comes every so often in the Jewish calendar. These challenges include having enough food available, especially if entertaining many family members and friends, and having a variety of foods to keep it fresh and inviting. There’s also the stress of avoiding significant weight gain.

When you think about it, this year, the month of September, spanning from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot, mimics Thanksgiving to New Year’s, when average weight gain could be three to five pounds. Also, since the holidays are a month earlier, we light the candles later, and we are eating our meals at a later hour.

What are the reasons for weight gain during these marathon holidays?

Eating a large amount of food during mealtime.
Especially if the weather is nice, it is enjoyable to sit out in the sukkah, sharing with friends and family and consuming wonderful food. Some dishes are made especially for the holiday. In addition, the food is likely to remain on the table, encouraging second helpings and nibbling, rather than being taken off the table and into the house.

Eating much later at night.
Consuming a large meal and then going to sleep, after spending most of the evening in the sukkah, soaking up great conversation and singing, causes weight gain.

Lack of exercise.
During the holidays, when one is grocery shopping, cooking and eating and then grocery shopping, cooking and eating some more, there is much less time for regimented exercise or taking time out for a walk, let alone a trip to the gym.

So how do we avoid excessive weight gain and keep it reasonable and manageable so that we can lose it quickly when the holiday is over? Here are some easy tips:

Pace, pace, pace yourself.
Realize that if you don’t taste a delicacy at one meal, it will probably show up at another of the meals. At dinnertime, when we are probably eating at 8 p.m., don’t forget the importance of monitoring portion sizes.

Try to avoid excess fat and sodium while putting together your menus.
Include lots of dishes that are baked, broiled and grilled instead of fried, or include items with lots and lots of sauces. There is nothing more wonderful than a platter of perfectly grilled carrots, onions, sweet potatoes and turnips.

Consider mindful eating.
It is important to really experience your food, using all five of your senses. No time is more critical to be mindful than during a three-day holiday spent with friends and family, catching up on a whole year of events and happenings. Do not go into autopilot and lose yourself in spirited conversation, while consuming way more calories than necessary. Enjoy those you love and haven’t seen for a year, but be mindful of every bite of food at the same time.

Do yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
These exercises will help to keep you centered and mindful and help get you through what could be a stressful time. Even taking a walk after meals with a family member can have wonderful benefits.

Adriane Stein Kozlovsky, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a licensed registered dietitian in private practice, working with individuals, groups, corporations and nonprofits. She recently completed a 200-hour yoga teacher-training course at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Center for Integrative Medicine and is teaching individual and group yoga classes. Visit ChaiLifeNutritionForU.com.

At Sukkot, Turning Oy Into The Season Of Joy

In open opposition to Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), which tells us on Sukkot “there is nothing new under the sun,” I decided to build a solar sukkah this fall. To energize my plan, I went to the 99 Cent Store to buy some solar yard lights to adapt for use on the roof.

However, while driving home and accessing the construction work required for the upcoming holiday, I realized that my sukkah was not the only thing that was low energy.

I had put up our sukkah umpteen years in a row, and this year I was thinking about giving the shack building a rest. The solar idea was nice, but in the end it wasn’t enough — just an artificial way of rekindling my interest in what had become an annual task.

Couldn’t we just manage an invite from a couple of the families we had invited into our sukkah in previous years?

Not an option: Among our friends there was a sukkah shortage. Over time, it seems, people get so used to visiting your sukkah that they lose touch with building their own.

Sukkot is supposed to be “the season of our joy,” but after the chest pounding, shofar blowing and pleading for my life, the joy this year was hard to find. Was there a way to reset my spiritual clock and get my sukkah built?

Psychology tells us that motivation comes in two forms: “intrinsic,” an internal desire to perform a particular task that gives us pleasure, such as knowing that putting up a sukkah is a mitzvah; and “extrinsic,” factors external and unrelated to a particular task but a kind of reward, such as praise from friends for putting up a sukkah.

Searching for motivation, I read where a college rabbi at Duke had run a program called “Sex and the Sukkah.” It certainly piqued my interest (although I was confused as to whether the motivation was extrinsic or intrinsic). Apparently sex is part of the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah. But we don’t even sleep out there, and my wife wondered nervously about the neighbors.

With our children in their 20s, the motivation of putting up the sukkah for them was missing, too. Balancing on a ladder in our shaky shack just so we could hang the decorations they made in school was no longer a starter.

Hanging signs of their more recent achievements — term papers, pay stubs and renderings (one of them is studying to be an architect) — was an interesting updating of the tradition, but I didn’t think the public display would be appreciated.

Since with each day the pile of weathered boards and rolls of bamboo seemed to be receding farther and farther into the depths of my garage, and wondering if others might be having a similar problem, I sat down to interview a psychologist.

“A lack of motivation and apathy could be a sign of depression,” said Rae Freed, a clinical social worker in private practice in Los Angeles who sees patients of all ages. Depression could show itself through “a lack of energy, fatigue, in difficulty in making a decision or lack of focus.”

As we talked about the social component of the sukkah — inviting over guests — Freed suggested that potential sukkah builders might think the effort requires “too much energy to participate in a social interaction.”

“That sounded about right,” I thought, thinking also of the effort it took in past years to call people to negotiate the “right” night.

Freed also spoke about seasonal depression that comes with the shortening of days from a Jewish point of view.

“You build up to the High Holy Days, spending time with family, and afterwards feel the loss,” she said.

“Especially when they live on the other side of the county or have passed away,” I thought.

Over time, “age and strength” become factors as well, Freed said.

“Yeah, that too,” I thought, then asked, “How do you get over it?”

For Freed, simply pretending and putting on a “mask of joy” was not going to cover it. She countered my question with questions: “Ask yourself, ‘How did you feel in the past when you did that? Was it positive?’”

“Having guests over did make me feel good,” I thought.

Explaining further, Freed suggested that even if you don’t feel like doing something, it might be motivating to remember the pleasure the activity brought, especially the communal associations.

Recall the “memories of earlier Sukkots,” said Freed, who pleasantly recalled that she had spent her teen years living in an art deco hotel run by her father that catered to vacationing Jews in south Miami Beach, Fla.

I remembered hosting several groups of people the previous year. It was kind of like running a sukkah hotel — tons of work, yet they sang, played instruments and filled our evenings with camaraderie.

“People feel alone and isolated if they are not surrounded by family,” Freed said, suggesting the sukkah is a way of “bringing together a temporary family.”

“A temporary structure for a temporary family,” I thought.

Later, thinking over Freed’s words, my low-energy thoughts dissipated. Going into the recesses of my garage, I found what it would take to build my sukkah.

Edmon J. Rodman writes for JTA Wire Service.

091313_fish_farming_sm

Fish Farming

091313_fish_farming

Ellen Perlman, owner of Chesapeake Aquaponics in Reisterstown, has
increased lettuce production and is now growing about 30 varieties.

When Ellen Perlman heard about aquaponics through a chance meeting, it perked up the environmentalist in her.

“I am very interested in saving the planet and sustainability,” she said. “I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d be farming fish.”

After taking a course in Florida taught by James Rakocy, the father of modern aquaponics, Perlman decided to start Chesapeake Aquaponics in 2011. The sustainable food production system combines aquaculture and hydroponics, a method of growing plants in water without soil.

In a nutshell, fish expel their waste into water, the plants absorb the nutrients from the water after solid waste is removed, and the clean water at the end of the process is pumped back into the fish tanks.

“We like their poop,” Perlman said of the fish. “They make great poop.”

The plants don’t need to be watered, and many in the aquaponics world say the plants grow faster this way.

“It’s sort of like a fish farm with an add-on produce business,” said Stuart Fink, Perlman’s business partner.

Chesapeake Aquaponics has four tanks — three with about 500 tilapia each and one with about 30 adult coy — that have helped grow sage, purple basil, mint, Swiss chard, chives, string beans, lavender and lettuce. As summer turns to fall, Perlman and Fink are moving their focus to 30 varieties of lettuce. They hope to install plumbing in a third greenhouse before the winter.

In operation since spring 2012, the company already has made a name for itself locally, selling its products to The Grill at Harryman House in Reisterstown, Linwoods in Owings Mills, Suburban Club and Gourmet Again in Pikesville, and at the Reisterstown farmers’ market.

Andy Hoffman, owner of Gourmet Again, said his company is selling Chesapeake Aquaponics’ herbs and lettuce and using the lettuce in its salad bar. Hoffman said it was a no-brainer to bring the products in.

“It allowed us to really tell people we’re selling an organic product that’s grown right up the road,” he said, adding that some customers need to be educated about organic products, but that most can taste the difference.

Chesapeake Aquaponics also attracted the attention of Jessica Normington, executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce. The chamber’s farmers’ market didn’t have anyone selling fresh herbs, and customers were asking for organic products.

“It’s the hot topic of conversation,” Normington said.

Earlier this month, Chesapeake Aquaponics became the first aquaponics farm to be certified under the Good Agricultural Practices program by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

In addition to the sustainable and organic aspects, aquaponics has the advantage that it works anywhere and requires very little water be added to the system. Sylvia Bernstein, founder of The Aquaponic Source in Colorado, said aquaponics is taking off in warm and water-challenged environments in the U.S., such as Florida and Texas. Internationally, aquaponics is used in Australia, Israel and throughout the Middle East.

“There’s very little human interaction beyond feeding the fish, basic plant care and some monitoring,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein, whose company sells systems, supplies and educational materials and teaches courses, said aquaponics maintains the benefits of its parent disciplines — aquaculture and hydroponics — but subtracts some of the environmental costs. Hydroponics is chemical-intensive, and aquaculture does not recycle the water and the waste the way aquaponics does.

“An aquaponics system doesn’t get out of balance,” Bernstein said. “You don’t ever have to dump that water.”

While they do add a few nutrients to the water at Chesapeake Aquaponics, they are constantly trying to get the operation closer to sustainability.

“Our goal is to demonstrate that we can make this work,” Fink said.

And the operation has to be green. Adding chemicals to the water would hurt the plants, and spraying pesticides on the plants would hurt the fish. To get other insects off of the plants, they bring in lady bugs. Solid waste is composted, and they even hope to add solar panels so they can be less reliant on propane, at least in the warmer months.

“I’m really impressed with their operation, and it’s great to have a commercial operator in the area that we can point to as a model for how to take the farm to the next level,” said Dave Love, assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, which has its own aquaponics project.

As Chesapeake Aquaponics hones its lettuce operation, its local customers will have lettuce tastings so they can make their own seed mixes. Fink said each lettuce tastes different.

“Our kids, they won’t eat regular lettuce when they go out to restaurants,” said Fink. “They’ve become lettuce snobs.”

Although they are divorced, Fink joined Perlman in September to help take the business to the next level.

Much like the seed mixes they’ll be making in the near future, running an aquaponics farm requires careful attention and constant innovation.

Perlman and Fink work every day, and only recently hired some help. There’s never a dull moment, as they are constantly learning new things and tweaking the system, having recently added heat to the fish tanks after noticing a slowdown in winter production.

“It’s hasn’t gotten routine,” Fink said. “It’s always something new and exciting.”

Although Perlman never thought she’d be farming fish, a chance meeting with someone interested in aquaponics led her to take the course that inspired her. As the system gets tweaked and more efficient over time, she and Fink hope to continue to grow the business.

“I’m just your average soccer mom, and I learned how to do something complicated,” Perlman said.