November 28, 2010

Honey-Spelt Bread

Filed under: Cooking, Food, Personal Blog, Recipes — marcstober @ 9:24 am

Here’s the recipe for the rolls I brought to Thanksgiving dinner.

I came up with this recipe while searching for a way to make egg-free challah and while this isn’t quite challah (although it can be braided if you like) found it to be a great rich, vegan homemade bread recipe. Whole spelt flour has the heartiness of whole wheat flour without the roughness.

My own experience is that while bread machines were a gimmick, a good stand mixer is essential to making homemade bread. This lets you keep the dough rather sticky, which is impossible to knead by by hand, and gives better results. (An extreme version of this principle is the New York Times’ No-Knead Bread Recipe.) There is no virtue in hard work of kneading by hand–do you really think any commercial bread you enjoy is completely hand-kneaded? (My wife bought me a mint-green KitchenAid Artisan a few years ago, so there are probably other brands that work, but I haven’t researched them.)

Put in mixer:

3 cups King Arthur unbleached white flour

2 cups whole spelt flour

¼ cup wheat gluten

1 packet instant yeast

1 ½ tsp salt

Mix for a minute to combine these ingredients. Then mix in gradually:

¼ cup honey (I like clover honey from a single source if I can find it)

6 tbsp Crisco (I said this was egg-less, not good for you! :))

1-2 cups water

Add water gradually so that puddles do not form in the mixer, until it is slightly sticker than you could knead by hand, but still doughy, then knead for at least 2 minutes (depending on your mixer, the time may vary) so it cleans the sides of the bowl and looks like bread dough.

Place in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray, cover loosely, and leave it to rise. If you want it to rise slowly (all day/overnight), you can put in the fridge.

(Alternatively, I find that a way to make it rise quickly–in an hour or two–is to put on the stove [turned off!], with the hot halogen floodlights of my range hood above, to give it just a tiny amount of heat, taking advantage of the greenhouse effect by covering loosely with clear plastic wrap. Which really just proves that halogen lights are inefficient and, when the prices come down, we should all switch to more environmentally-friendly LED’s…but that’s another topic.)

When it has risen, punch down, knead a bit on a floured board, shape, and place on a nonstick (maybe greased or parchment-lined if you don’t have nonstick) dark baking sheet. If making a challah, you can sprinkle with some sugar to give it a bit of a glaze (thought it won’t be like the traditional egg wash). Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-45 minutes. Enjoy fresh from the oven, or freeze and reheat.

Tip: The wheat gluten is very sticky. I recommend washing the mixer parts with hot water and a paper towel you can throw away as it will get stuck in the holes of a sponge or scrubbing pad.

June 7, 2010

When food hurts – The Boston Globe

Filed under: Allergies, Food, Health, Personal Blog — marcstober @ 1:00 pm

It remains a mystery why, in some people, the immune system responds like a fly swatter to a food allergen while in others, the cavalry is summoned, cannons blasting.

via When food hurts – The Boston Globe.

The “fly swatter” resonates with me. It is indeed a confusing mystery as to whether some itch or tingle is an allergy, something else (which still wouldn’t explain the positive allergy tests), or just me being overly sensitive. Or God forbid, a warning of a worse reaction, which I’ve never had but is in my family history. It’s just good to see the popular media acknowledge this. Everything you find online (including from the food-allergy advocacy groups, unfortunately) tends be along the lines of “kids can die from food allergies; and if it doesn’t kill you, you’re just making it up.”

My only issue that this doesn’t cover is trying to keep kosher but ordering the steak because who knows what combination of nuts and seeds the veggie burger will be fortified with (and I don’t really want to go into it all with the server).

December 7, 2009

Pancakes on Saturday Morning

Filed under: Food, Judaism, Parenting — marcstober @ 11:17 pm

In my family, we have a ritual on Saturday morning. Max and I are usually the first ones up, so I take him downstairs and let the girls sleep. And by the time they are up, I’m doing actual cooking for breakfast, which we don’t do any other day of the week. At one point, challah french toast was the favorite; more recently, it’s been pancakes or banana muffins or even vegan double-chocolate waffles and pumpkin scones.

Saturday, of course, is also the Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat. Shabbat should be about resting and recharging and spending peaceful time together as a family, and my ritual fits nicely with this. Waking up early, rushing out the door after a bowl of cereal and stopping to buy coffee on the way to where we’re going would not be in the spirit of Shabbat. The only problem is that cooking breakfast isn’t really in the spirit of Shabbat, either; cooking itself is a type of work that traditional Jews don’t do on the Sabbath at all.

This past week I did something different. Every Saturday at 8:30 a.m. our rabbi holds a study session. He e-mails the congregation the day before with the topic. It’s always an interesting topic, but not usually reason enough to leave my wife with both children on her hands on the one day she can stay in bed a little late. This week, however, the topic was so personally compelling that I put a batch of banana muffins in the oven, kissed the family goodbye, and went to learn about why Jacob Neusner, a prominent academic Conservative Rabbi who was raised Reform (like I was) was is returning to reform.

The interesting topic is not Neusner’s choice per se, but what differentiates two denominations that, in real ways, are competing and converging. Our rabbi said that he and a colleague in the Reform movement he is friends with both describe their jobs as encouraging congregants to “make Jewish choices,” and if that meant they are much the same, so what?

Having been fairly involved myself in both movements for different parts of my life I have my own ideas about the differences, and think that when lifelong Conservative Jews call our left-of-center (using “left” colloquially in a non-political sense) Conservative synagogue “like Reform” it’s because they don’t really know the Reform movement. It’s like when people say France is Americanized because of McDonald’s and a Disney park, ignoring the system of laws, work ethic, decentralized public education, religious history, etc. that make America unique.

The next day, I recalled a conversation that made the difference crystal clear. A couple years ago, I had the chance to talk to a local Reform rabbi about my Shabbat observance as a participant in CJP’s Ikkarim program. I asked him specifically about my pancakes-on-Saturday-morning conundrum: how it felt appropriate for my young family, but wasn’t the highest level of observance that I hoped to eventually (like, when the kids went off to college) achieve. His answer was that if cooking breakfast is the Shabbat practice that works for me, I should do it. From the Reform perspective, making a Jewish choice was not about making a choice guided by Jewish law, and there was no “credit” given to a choice that was not meaningful just because it honored Jewish law. This appeals to a lot of people, but it left me unsatisfied. And that’s why even though I agree with Jabob Neusner’s platform, I’m still not a Reform Jew.

Michael Chabon, in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (admittedly a novel, not religious teaching) writes about the “shortfall…. Between commandment and observance, heaven and earth, husband and wife, Zion and Jew. They called the shortfall ‘the world.'” Pancakes on Shabbat are part of “the world.” Figuring out how to live in the world is the challenge.

November 24, 2009

Two Weeks on a Vegan Diet

Filed under: Allergies, Food, Health — marcstober @ 12:06 am

At the urging of a health care provider, and armed with a new copy of Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, I tried an essentially vegan diet for two weeks. This means no mean, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy. It also means no cream in my coffee, and rules out most commercial baked goods, which usually contain some egg or dairy ingredient.

How did it work out? I feel great! Then again, I expected I would; for whatever reason, I’ve never particularly enjoyed a lot of meat in my diet. I feel more relaxed and energetic, and may have even started to lose a little weight.

Of couse, I can’t tell if I’m actually reducing my risk of diabetes or cancer, as Colin Campbell claims of no-animal-protein diets in The China Study. I’m not sure anyone can conclusively prove that one long-term diet is better than another, and discern its impact from genetic and other factors that cause disease. But it seems right, and it doesn’t make sense to ignore reasonable evidence when it’s impossible to have a conclusive proof.

I feel that the whole exercise was a bit of a Trojan Horse. For two weeks, I did a lot of cooking from scratch, ate more and better vegetables and less junk food, and rarely ate from restaurants. I think I would have been healthier than usual on that plan even with a piece of fish or even a hamburger added in.

This experience did cement in my mind the uselessness of an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. There was a period in my early 20’s when I primarily ate “kosher dairy” that included fish, dairy products (lots of cheese), and eggs. I don’t think this is particularly healthy, especially as it’s pretty easy to follow such a diet eating processed junk foods (which was its appeal to me at the time. 🙂 And, from a moral perspective, did your egg-laying hen really have a better life than its cousin in the oven? And does not eating them maybe acknowledge them a little less?

(I should mention that I don’t have a moral or ethical desire to be a vegan to not harm animals. I do make some efforts at keeping kosher, out of respect for God and what He’s created; and as a very general moral principle don’t want to leave a larger “footprint” on the planet than I have to. But I consider humans eating meat just part of the whole circle of life.)

So, do I continue? I timed the suggested two-week trial period to fit in between two trips out of town. Yesterday, the two weeks up, I put some cream in my coffee when I was out of the house, rather than taking it black. Then, I decided to cook a chicken that had been in my freezer for at least two weeks, but I let the rest of the family eat it and didn’t have any myself. This is the hard part: it’s great to eat a plant-based diet when I can cook at home, but I don’t always want to have to cook at home, or seek out special food everywhere. I want to be able to travel and eat meals with people in restaurants or as a guest in their homes (plus, I still need to worry about foods I’ve tested allergic to). I expect I’ll keep putting soy milk in my coffee and trying to bake without eggs at home, but I’m not sure I’ll avoid Dunkin Donuts completely.

October 25, 2009

Slate Discusses the Economics of Apple Picking

Filed under: Business, Economics, Elsewhere, Food — marcstober @ 8:31 pm

Especially now that I am allergic to apples it feels very much like going to a low-budget amusement park. The horticulture is better at Disney World or Storyland anyway:

Apple picking is a cherished rite of fall, a wholesome and fun family outing, a throwback to a simpler time when people weren't so disconnected from the production of their sustenance. I look forward to it every year. It's also a wasteful scam.

via What pick-your-own-apple orchards teach about the American economy. – By Daniel Gross – Slate Magazine.

July 9, 2009

Food Allergies Unsimplified

Filed under: Allergies, Food, Health, Personal Blog — marcstober @ 1:34 am

A few months ago I was diagnosed with some food allergies. These days people tend to associate food allergies with children, but food allergies have always impacted me, since my mom is allergic to peanuts and some other things. Reading labels on food packages and worrying at restaurants has always been part of my life.

Here are the foods I’m avoiding, along with the allergy test results and some comments.

Sesame seed (Skin prick test reaction. In hindsight, this was probably a main source of problems for me, as I can recall several incidents of mostly mild but disturbingly unexplainable irritation in my mouth, face and lips after eating hummus [with tahini – Trader Joe’s now has a tahini-free version!], Asian sesame dressing, sesame seed bagels and Kashi cereal.)
Sunflower (Skin prick; surprisingly, this was my most severe skin prick test reaction for a food.)
Hazelnut (Skin prick, class 3 RAST [blood] test reaction.)
Almond (Skin prick.)
Walnut (Skin prick.)
Peanuts (Negative, but avoiding them anyway based on family and personal history.)
Cherry (Skin prick, class 2 RAST.)
Peach (Class 2 RAST.)
Apricot (Class 2 RAST.)
Plum (Negative test, but had an episode of severe itching at the back of my throat to eating a fresh plum a few years ago, and in the same family as the above 3 foods.)
Nectarine (Not in the doctor’s orders, but similar to plum and peach, so I’m avoiding it.)
Apple (Class 2 RAST and an equivocal skin prick test – I’ve definitely eaten apple, although I’ve never enjoyed whole apples much, maybe that was a sign.)
Black bean (Class 1 RAST – I’ve definitely eaten them so this test is equivocal, but why not eat pinto beans instead?)
Corn (Class 1 RAST – although it’s nearly impossible to avoid corn as an ingredient, I’m going to avoid whole corn; corn-on-the-cob always sounded better than it was anyway. Heavy cornmeal coatings like on the bottom of some bread or used as breading seems to irritate me a bit.)
Green beans (Skin prick – again, never enjoyed them much as compared to other vegetables – these days we tend to do more broccoli, cauliflower, or sometimes squash.)
Lobster (Skin prick, haven’t eaten in years for religious reasons anyway.)
Clam (Ditto.)
Eggs (Negative, but I have a long history sensitivity of some sort that results in gastrointestinal symptoms rather than throat/mouth reactions, as confirmed by increased avoidance over much of the past year. Still eating them as an ingredient but avoiding whole eggs and mayonaise, although I’ll still order a tuna salad sandwich sometimes [at home I make it without mayo now, though].)

I also was tested for environmental allergens by a skin prick test. I was also tested for these as a child, so I pretty much knew about these, and for the most part had much larger reactions to these than to the food allergens:

Grass (Various types.)
Dust mite
Cat pelt (Nothing personal, Molly and Pepper!)
Aspergillus mold
Hormodendrum mold

(I didn’t clearly react to dog, which I did as a child. I’m not sure if this means we can get a dog.)

The earlier diagnosis of environmental allergies and oral symptoms to food seem consistent with something like oral allergy syndrome although I don’t exactly fit the plant/food pairings (no problem with tomatoes!) and don’t want to diagnose myself on Wikipedia.

What made me go to an allergist? In addition to personal and family history, I felt my environmental allergies had been getting worse over the past few years, and that it included stuffy noses and sore throats that didn’t really follow any allergy season. (This site suggests that could be a mold allergy, which probably explains some of it, and why I’m allergic to damp basements.) I sometimes had irritation around my lips and the roof of my mouth that wasn’t consistent with benign effects such as from salty, spicy, or acidic foods, but couldn’t pinpoint the offending food. Also, Hannah has been tested for allergies several times starting with a concern raised at day care when she was 1, with consistently inconclusive results.

Results have been mixed. I’ve been avoiding foods and taking non-drowsy over-the-counter antihistamines (Claritin or Zyrtec, or more likely the store brand) on a regular basis with good effect. Along with a medication for migraines prescribed by my primary care doctor, I’m feeling better than I have in years. I really feel “clear,” like on the Claritin and Zyrtec TV ads. With the exception of corn, which is an ingredient in everything but I’m barely allergic to it, all of the food allergens are pretty easy to avoid. Essentially, I have some environmental allergies and some fortunately mild food allergies, and I can feel better by avoiding the foods but probably won’t have any bad reaction if I somehow consume one from cross contamination.

However, I have a lot of anxiety now. My allergist prescribed an EpiPen, which I was told I’d probably never need. I should think of it like a life insurance policy, that I don’t often think about and can relax knowing I have it, but it serves more as a reminder that there is a small but clinically significant chance I could die from this. I’ve had a panic attacks that were most likely caused by my (psychologically) overreacting to some insignificant, non-allergy itch, like one time when my tounge felt itchy after eating some salty pretzels. I may have even been reacting to general stress–the incident with the pretzels happened during a particularly stressful time at home and work. Unfortunately, taking Benadryl, which can be indicated for a real allergic reaction, can make you jittery, hypertensive, and unable to concentrate all at the same time; in other words, it makes a little panic attack much worse. Rationally, my anxiety is out of proportion to the reality of the allergies, but that’s not how it feels sometimes. So, I take a deep breath, remind myself that I’m not having trouble breathing, and that there are people around who would take me to the hospital or call 911 if I needed it.

I write this in the hope that it will explain to friends and family (who might see me picking at food, etc.) what’s going on; and also in the hopes that it will be useful to someone else with similar issues out there on the Internet. (Note: This is a partial description of my patient experience; feel free to compare notes but more importantly get advice from a good doctor.) Plus, it’s a good way to deal with the issues in my head. There is more I want to write: about what I eat; social/political issues of food allergies; allergies vs. kashrut and other physically and spiritually healthy ways to eat; and maybe even some recipes. But I so rarely get a chance to write as it is, so I’ll save rest for some other time.

November 10, 2008

Star Market considered kosher butcher in Chestnut Hill?

Filed under: Food, Judaism, Newton — marcstober @ 10:01 am

Cross-posted to

An article in Friday’s Jewish Advocate said that Star Market had been considering, but decided against, including a kosher butcher in their store being rebuilt in Chestnut Hill. The company didn’t comment on the plans in the article, citing only that they would be including a kosher bakery as part of balancing customer needs within the “footprint” of the store. The source for the article was Rabbi Mendy Uminer of Chabad Lubavitch of Chestnut Hill, who said had been in discussions with store management and he believed it was financial decision.

Of course, a kosher butcher, which would requires a whole second butcher operation, needs more room than a kosher bakery, where you are basically just certifying the same products you’d be selling anyway. The whole south of Newton seems to be under-served by grocery stores, probably a result of Newton zoning that makes it very difficult to build commercial structures as large as most new grocery stores, so it doesn’t seem like a problem specific to kosher-keeping Jews.

On a positive note: I noticed while shopping in Shaw’s in Newtonville yesterday the return of pre-packaged Empire kosher chicken along with Meal Mart kosher beef. A while back they switched exclusively to the Rubashkin’s brand, which has since gotten a lot of bad publicity for its labor practices. I’m not qualified to judge them, but I’d rather not buy a brand tainted by scandal. Still, a couple sections of pre-packaged meat really doesn’t compare in terms of price and selection to what you can get at a place like the Butcherie in Brookline.

I guess if Jews have waited thousands of years for a return to Zion and are still waiting for the Messiah, we can wait a bit longer for a place to buy kosher meat with adequate parking. 🙂

November 9, 2006

Gordon and Alperin

Filed under: Food, Judaism, Newton — marcstober @ 9:21 pm

I made my first trip to the new Gordon and Alperin kosher grocery store.

The first thing I noticed is that their meat department is full service. That means no reaching in the case for meat on foam trays: you order at the counter. It’s no different, really, than a deli counter (in fact their deli is the other end of the same counter), and you can get more exactly what you need, and you have some options of how they pack it for you. It’s great, but I’ve never shopped this way. (Actually, they don’t use foam trays; they vacuum pack your order in plastic. I’ve seen meat packed like this for restaurants. Just don’t expect to see the plastic-wrapped trays of hamburger you get elsewhere.)

I do wish they would put up some signs at least. Maybe they have something, or have a good price on something, that I’d like but I don’t know about. (Seems to be a pattern among small shops in the area. I go to Lincoln Street Coffee a few times a week, and can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard them recite their muffins and bagel selections until they finally put up a small sign.)

I tried a couple new items. I bought both Country Apple and Smoked Andouille sausage from Neshama Gourmet (these were in a self-serve freezer case) because I’ve never seen kosher versions of these varieties before. I also bought some Osem bread crumbs from Israel that looked better than the leading brand of pareve bread crumbs.

The meat is glatt kosher, which is never cheap, but the prices on groceries seemed good. They have a produce case, but no produce. I asked about it and was told (by who I assume was the owner) that because of the cost of electricity, he can’t compete with larger stores. That’s too bad; I’ll end up elsewhere when I only have time to make one stop. Everything is shiny and new, and there’s lots of space for growth.

September 26, 2006

A True Pizza Recipe

Filed under: Food — marcstober @ 10:40 am

A guy has figured out and posted a pizza recipe to rival those of the great pizzerias.
I’m not actually going to duplicate it; it’s far too complicated for a home cook (e.g., hacking your oven to cook at 800 degrees). But it’s credible because it’s probably the easiest way to make pizza in a restaurant where you have the right mixers, ovens, daily rhythm of prep work for later service. A lot of the work is in letting the dough sit at certain points and learning how to let the mixer do the kneading work.

Not surprisingly the guy is also the founder of a software company!