Archive for August, 2009

No London Love for Sephardi Kashrus

Posted in Food, Funny?, Kashrus on August 31, 2009 by frumpunk

I have relatives in London and travel there at least once every few years. For the uninitiated, London is in England, or so they tell me. Personally, I have my doubts. I’ve been there a few times and I still haven’t seen any royalty tromp through on horses, lopping peasants heads off. Not even so much as a public hanging. But I digress.

Keeping kosher in England is sort of like keeping kosher in Brooklyn in 1930. Almost everything you buy is from a Jewish owned company (who are usually better known for their standards of kashrus than their standards of taste), very few things in general have hechshers, and most of what you buy is kosher by word of mouth. Is this okay? “Of course! Everyone I know buys it!” But it says “boiled in only the finest pig anuses”. And the company is called “Porkeys McTreif”. “You see that guy? See how long his beard is? Well he buys it! You think someone who looks that chashuv would buy treif? Plus, my friend buys this all the time. Are you calling my friend a bad Jew?”

Luckily for the Kosher Konsumer, the London Beis Din publishes a yearly guide to everything on store shelves thats kosher. It’s quite good, and quite comprehensive. Or it looks that way until you realize the duplicates. For example, you can buy veggie/soy meat products from Tivall, Tesco and Sainsburys. But if you check the packaging, you find out that it’s all the exact same thing, made by Tivall. In general, it’s not bad though, and there’s most of the good stuff. By which I mean, they tell me that Ben & Jerrys and Baskin Robbins are kosher, and that’s really all one needs to survive.

Some stuff is sorely missing though, such as fries not made by Rakusens or yogurts not made by Herzl Dairies. I’m sorry, but I like my YoPlait with the candy in the lid. It’s not bad for you when mixed in strawberry yogurt! But going back to the first point, last time I went shopping there with my cousin, I was surprised to see him grab a bag of McCains fries and toss them into the cart. Even more surprised when he picked up a pack of Kingsmill Pancakes for my aunt. It’s a horrible revelation to find out that your Golders Green living, black hat wearing, very chareidi cousins don’t keep kosher. My head was spinning, wondering what the pork content of the cholent on shabbos must have been. Considering the fact that he was my ride and all my stuff was at his house, I decided to try the teshuvah approach before throwing stones. To be safe though, I still grasped a rock behind my back like it was made of gold.

I took out the book and tried to make him aware of the grave sin he was committing, buying products not sanctioned by the London Beis Din. He smiled the gentle smile of the wise man, or maybe he was just trying to disarm me before I hurled my rock, and flipped the packages around to show me the “SKA” printed on the back of each bag. Now I adore ska as a form of music, but whats it doing on the back of these glatt treif products? Turns out it stands for “Sephardi Kashrus Authority”. But if these things were kosher, why weren’t they in the book? Surely everyone should know that they have more options for their culinary delights, if you consider fries and pancakes to be a culinary delight. For the record, I do. But then I’m the type to consider anything edible if it has enough chocolate or melted cheese over it.

The London Beis Dins book lists everything kosher, whether certified by them or not. Hundreds of products are listed under every type of reputable kashrus possible. But apparently not by Londons own Sephardi kashrus. I don’t know what the politics are, but that’s a shame. Because living in kosher England is like being one of those little chassidic kids you feel sorry for on summer days, when you’re sucking down your Iced Mocha Crapachelli Strawberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream and all they have to eat is a tub of Kleins Kosher ice cream, made in Brooklyn since 1934, and each batch appears to have been made in 1934. Basically, it’s the color and consistency of frozen pus. You know I’m right.

Thrifting Around

Posted in Books, Me, Music on August 27, 2009 by frumpunk

Here’s a secret: I was raised in thrift stores. Everything I ever owned for the first twenty or so years of my life once belonged to someone else. I got my first new clothes when I was eighteen. Green cargos and a blue plaid shirt from the clearance rack at Marshalls. I found it odd when I first met people who shopped at thrift stores when they didn’t have to. For my family it was a necessity. For them it’s fashion or some sort of cultural statement. I could wax poetic on my feeling towards people from affluent backgrounds who slum to pretend to be like people from my actual background, but that’s for another rant that will probably never get written. Fun fact: most of my rants never get written. I just don’t like being negative, not to mention judgmental. And now that I’ve followed my usual habit of digressing from the point in the first paragraph, let’s talk about thrift stores.

Even now that I don’t have to, I still love going back into thrift stores. It’s a blend of reasons, from the personal pride in no longer having to dig through racks of corporate picnic t-shirts to find something vaguely wearable, defined in my adolescence as not being something that my classmates, most of whom were the more affluent sort, to the fond memories of the little treasures dotted around that I’d spend hours with. While my siblings looked for clothes I’d browse the thousands of old and strange books that only thrift stores seem to have or dig through old electronics and computer systems from the eighties.  There’s a line from an Oasis song “my body is young, but my mind is very old”. It resonates with me because my experience of things is from a timeline inconsistent with my age. My first computer was state of the art in 1980, with its green and black screen, dot matrix printer and no hard drive. I was using it in the days when my friends had Windows 95. I read books that were given as Christmas gifts in 1975, when other people were lining up for the latest Goosebumps release. The age of my clothes was a given. I apparently rocked out at Seths bar mitzvah, even though I was only seven at the time.

Thrift stores contain all the little treasures of the past that society has discarded. I’ve never owned a record player but I did own LP’s, because I couldn’t think of anything cooler than owning the original Star Wars soundtrack.  Those cassettes came in handy when I turned seventeen and owned my first car, which in true thrift life aesthetic, was older than I was. A 1984 Pontiac 6000. Originally baby blue, it was involuntarily brown by the time it passed into my hands. And while my classmates got new cars with fuel injection (oooh, how fancy!) I was rocking a carburetor in a rust colored piece of Detroit vintage. In retrospect, I may have unintentionally been an ironic hipster, except there was nothing ironic about it and I wasn’t very hip.

I went back into a thrift store today in a whim. I took in the sights and smells. Appreciated the fact I can now afford to wear clothes that weren’t previously sweated in, and headed to the one part that I’ll never leave. The book racks. After a gut wrenching decision, I left with three new reads I’d never have heard of otherwise. But when I got home I discovered I literally can’t fit any more books on my shelf. I hadn’t realized I was at that point yet. Maybe I should donate some to a thrift store?

In The Freezer

Posted in Food, Funny?, Me, Yom Tov on August 19, 2009 by frumpunk

Fooled you, didn’t I? Admit it, you saw the title and thought “oh a shidduch post. He hasn’t done one of those in ages.” Well, nope. If I wrote on that topic, I’d be like a billion other bloggers, and my goal is to be unique. That’s why I blog on wordpress and refuse to wear pants whilst writing, brainstorming or shopping.

I came home this morning to the sweet smell of that most delicate of Ashkenazi foods, the meat boureka. It’s unknown in any other culture, because they’re just not good enough to have it, and it’s a rarity in my parents house because my mother usually refuses to make anything involving pastry, oil, or anything else that might make food, to use a technical term, “delicious”. She saves that stuff for yom tov, and when I tried to “borrow one”, she told me that these were for succos, right after slamming my thieving hand with a rolling pin. The lesson here is not to try and take one when your mother is still rolling out pastry, but the secondary lesson is that the freezer simply stops time. Food does not age in the freezer, as long as it’s both in there, and wrapped in foil.

Whether or not this is true, my mother truly believe it is. She sometimes will look in the freezer and dig out an unidentifiable lump of something, frost-bitten and wrapped in tinfoil. She will then bring it to me to see if I know what it is. If I don’t she takes it to everyone else in the house. If noone is sure what exactly it is, she’ll defrost it and eat it just to find out. I swear I’m not kidding. The number of times I’ve asked her later if she found out what the freezer lump was, only to have her tell me that she microwaved and ate it is staggering. “Oh, it was chicken soup”. “Oh, it was brisket”. “I’m not sure what it was, but it tasted good with a little salt”.

Now that I’m technically an adult, and have gone out into the world a little, I’m starting to realize a lot of strange things about my parents, mostly regarding food. One of my favorite books is “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris. (If you haven’t read it, get it. I can’t recommend it highly enough, it’s just plain hilarious). The last story is about how his father hoards food for years, usually in the bathroom cabinet. I found it funny, but creepily familiar. If you check any of my fathers jackets, including suit jackets you will always find chocolate in the inside pocket, usually in the form of Raisinets, but also Kit Kats, Twix and chocolate covered coffee beans. Basically, my dad likes to have chocolate handy at any time. And it has no expiration date for him. They can be there for years and he will still snack on them next time he puts on that jacket. He also shares my mothers freezer mentality (maybe that’s why they married?) as he will buy anything chocolate or snack related and put it in the freezer. There’s nothing better than frostbitten caramel, is there? We all complain, and I don’t know how he eats the stuff. I really don’t because none of us have ever seen my dad eat any of the things he keeps in the freezer. Much like David Sedaris’s father, my dad will buy anything at a discount, then keep it in the freezer for years. Meat that expires the day he buys it goes into the freezer for weeks before he’ll eat it. He doesn’t equate “quick sale” with “immediate consumption”.

This has gone on way too long, considering my original point was meant to be the question: does anyone actually know if things kept in the freezer stay edible forever? Or am I being slowly poisoned by chicken slaughtered in the Roman era, by all probability.

Be Considerate

Posted in Food, Heimish, Me, Rants on August 13, 2009 by frumpunk

You know why you can’t park on certain roads? It’s not because the city is hoping you will park there and make some money off of you, (although I’m not discounting that that’s a bonus for the bean counters at city hall). It’s because it’s dangerous to park there.

Let me set this up. I go for my Thursday night store run to get some beef shin to add some heimishness to my cholent experience. This store is on a main road, but there is a parking lot at the side. Let me emphasize that – at the side –  not even all the way around the back. Literally a right turn from the front door. And there’s plenty of parking. I know, because I saw the empty spaces next to my car. So I try to make the turn onto the main road, because I need to get home and get this baby in the crock pot, because we all know that your cholent meat loses a bit of heimishness as soon as it leaves the heimish store, heimishness that can only be restored by placing it back into that most heimish of environments, the cholent pot. But I can’t see around the corner, because you idiots had to park both your minivans, illegally, in front of the doors. Five feet away from the corner where the parking lot begins. With the empty spaces next to my car.

I guess because when you have to make that trip, you have to save every second. No matter the price. If I hit another car or yours, that’s just collateral damage.

You Can Take It With You

Posted in Food, Frum, Funny?, Heimish, Israel, Uncategorized on August 7, 2009 by frumpunk

It’s an odd time of the year to write this, considering now is the time when the fresh crop is heading to Israel, but I’ve just left my summer inspiration tour, so deal with it. In fact, you should probably print this out and tape it up in your dorm room so you know what to do when you get back home. How do you take the holiness and heimishness of your year in Israel back with you? Here’s what to do when you get homesick:

Burn A Trash Can

Thursday night schwarma just isn’t the same without the sweet smell of burning plastic in the air. Bring a little back with you by tossing your lighter into the first dumpster you see. Crowd around, bring the marshmallows. If someone asks you what you’re doing, simply yell “free the yenta!”, give the black power salute, and run away.

Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate

Bring the art of negotiating the price of everything back as a keepsake. Before taking the subway, go up to one of the booths and offer them fifteen cents to take you to Long Island. Go as high as forty if you have to. If you reach a standstill just walk away. They’ll call you back.

Bring Some Penguins

You might get sick of seeing colors other than black, white and cholent everywhere. In fact, a leading cause of post Israel hospitalizations is stress shock brought on by depriving the brain of vivid colors for a year and then going to the village (or wherever it is the kids hang out these days. On that note, gettoff my lawn).

Am I saying you should rob a zoo? No. I’m just suggesting you populate the streets with a life form that walks upright and wears only yeshivish colors. I might also be handing you a map of the best back entrances to a zoo, but if you get caught, you never knew me. You can also try pandas, but since they’re not upright you might find yourself more accurately recreating purim.

Add Some Grease

Lets face it. What you’re eating isn’t really food unless you find that when you wrap it in a laffa you have a puddle of grease on your plate from the residue dripping out the bottom. Otherwise, what you have there might be more appropriately be termed “quasi food. Semi food. The Diet Coke of food.”

Furthermore, Israel is widely considered to be the second most heimish place in the world (right after Brooklyn). As you know, I’m something of a heimishologist and while the subject requires further research, I firmly believe that the addition of grease raises the heimish in your average foodstuff by several thousand percent. And heimish means frum. And don’t we all want to be frummer?