Monday, December 8, 2014

The shopping trip that transported me back into my Baba’s kitchen with one bite.

We just got back from our bi-weekly shopping trip to Trader Joe’s. We have a very specific route through the store and after filling our cart and checking out, our next stop is almost always Sahadi’s, a specialty Middle Eastern food shop, where we fill our cart with aromatic roasted nuts, savory pastries, and breads. Once through the door, you are transported into a different world, and we savor the experience of being there, as much as the delicacies we enjoy eating at home until our next shopping trip.

This week Marc was looking for a particular item that he had read about in a New York Times article —Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas. He found them after some searching and we added one package to our order.

When we were finally home and unpacked, it was time for lunch and we both looked forward to tasting our newest acquisition.

The packaging was quite deceiving, and we both thought we were in possession of some kind of pita like savory/sweet bread that would go well with the cream of mushroom soup sitting in front of us. “Oh!” I said, surprised as I opened the individually wrapped tortas. “They are hard, not soft and there is sugar on top”. Then I took a bite.

That one bite took me back ... way back to my grandmother’s kitchen. My Baba Fruman, as we called her, had a white apron on and I was about 4 years old. There were well used and well oiled cookie sheets everywhere. On the flowered table in front of us she was very skillfully rolling out a very stretchy dough. Once it was evenly rolled, she took a feather pastry brush (I hate to think what kind of feathers or how I even remember this detail, but it is as clear as day in my memory), and carefully oiled the surface of the dough. Then she took the bowl of white granulated sugar, and with a few practiced motions, spread an even layer of sugar crystals over the glistening surface.

It took only a few more seconds for her to cut three or four lines in both directions with a sharp knife across the oiled and sugared surface. Together we carefully transferred the delicate squares to the cookie sheets. If they had lost their shape in the transfer, it was easy to pull at one corner or another to pull them back into a square shape. The dough was completely malleable at this stage, but that would change soon enough!

The oven was by now at the perfect temperature, and each of the many cookie sheets made their way in, each one covered with glistening flat squares. They were removed 10 minutes later, transformed into the best cookies I had eaten then or since. She called them kichel. They had puffed up and the corners were all wonky. Some bubbled up, and there were a few where the sugar had caramelized slightly. Those were the best, and I tried to save those all for myself. They were crispy and sweet. Sooooo delicious!

I couldn't tell you exactly how many times we made them together, but they were a staple at Baba’s house and we lived across the street until I was six, so I had my share of kichel until then. After we moved to Winnipeg, Baba regularly sent us care packages with kichel and all of the other amazing sweets she made at that table on those same cookie sheets.

When my Baba passed away, I was already living in Israel, and I remember writing to family members to ask for the recipe. I realize now that it must have really been important to me because I still have the hand written instructions. But I have to admit that I was never able to do it justice, even though I tried it a few times with limited success. They never tasted like the batches we made together. So you can understand my delight after that first bite of Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas.

These Spanish tortas are not exactly like my Baba’s kichel. They have an added ingredient — aniseed — which is wonderful, and they are round and not square. But the taste of that first bite, was as nostalgic as it was sweet. I plan on giving the recipe another try, and, if all else fails, I know where I can get my fix.

It is so comforting to travel back to a wonderful memory, brought on by such a delicious sensory experience. I think I will make a cup of hot tea right now, eat a whole torta and remember how much fun it was to bake with my Baba, and what a wonderful impression it made on me when I was such a little girl. She was not a particularly warm or happy person. I am sure she had her reasons. But in the kitchen she was generous. And I am happy I had the opportunity to know her in that way.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Fresh ideas I can relate to: Jeanette Kuvin Oren

copyright - Jeanette Kuvin Oren
The art of paper cutting has a special place in my heart. It is steeped in tradition that has found its way into both Ashkenazi and Sephardic folk art going back to the 15th century and perhaps even earlier. Interestingly Ashkenazi and Sephardic designs were in fact quite different in style, the first being very decorative, filling every space with intricate designs, while the latter being less complicated and simpler in symbolism.

In the 20th century, this art form had a rebirth of sorts. Today there are many artists pushing the limits of this craft to new levels.

Ketubah - copyright Jeanette Kuvin Oren
The work of Jeanette Kuvin Oren is an example where paper cut technique meets fiber art/stained glass/ laser cut metal in a blend of ancient tradition and modern creative brilliance. The breadth of her portfolio and the lengths to which she is undeterred by the various material limitations is very inspiring.

Torah cover - copyright Jeanette Kuvin Oren
Jeanette is self-trained in all of these mediums. After completing a Masters degree in Public Health and most of her PhD in Epidemiology at the prestigious Universities of Princeton and Yale, she decided to go with her passion full time — creating commissioned Judaic art and graphic design. Her accomplishments are substantial. She has created more than 350 installation pieces worldwide, in many mediums including mosaics, fiber art, paper cutting, painting, laser cut metal and sometimes combinations of these mediums. Aside from large installations, she also does commissions for individual ketubot as well as other Judaica related fiber art.

Chuppah - copyright Jeanette Kuvin Oren
I came across her work as I was doing some research on paper cut ketubah design. As I mentioned, I really love this craft, and I really appreciate the symbolism of using an age-old tradition to create unique and meaningful ketubah design for today’s modern couples. Her integration of fiber art with paper cut technique especially intrigues me. Her work in this area shows not only her creativity, but also her knowledge of craft at the highest level.

Laser cut metal gates - copyright Jeanette Kuvin Oren
Ketubah - copyright Jeanette Kuvin Oren
You can find out more about Jeanette and see more of her work on her website. Here is her facebook page, and a link to her shop. If you spend some time looking at her work, I believe you will be as inspired as I was.

Ketubah - copyright Jeanette Kuvin Oren
There are several other paper cut artists I am going to be writing about soon. There are too many amazing artists out there, to limit myself to sharing only one!

Until next time!

(all images copyright to Jeanette Kuvin Oren)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Fresh Ideas I can relate to: Masha Manapov

House Blessing Premium Print
copyright - Masha Manapov

I have not written a blog post in a really long time, so I thought what better way to reinvigorate my blog than to introduce you to an amazing artist that I can't stop thinking about. Her name is Masha Manapov and she lives in Tel Aviv. She is a graduate of the Bazalel Academy of Art and Design with a major in illustration. She writes on her website, that her work focuses mainly on print and press media. But I found her on etsy.

I was doing my usual monthly search on etsy to see who is new to the growing list of ketubah artists opening their shops and offering ketubot for sale. I am always looking for innovation in style and fresh ideas. Masha’s work drew me in immediately. When I looked deeper and had a look at her blogwebsite and etsy shop, I knew I my first instinct was spot on. Her work is fresh, unique, fun, and completely loveable.

She calls her shop “Dvash” which means honey in Hebrew. I love the name and it is so appropriate. Looking at her work is like trying to decide on a which candy to choose in a candy shop full of delights. She explains on her website: 
“ The shop was born from the need to design original high-quality Jewish & decor products with a fresh perspective. Driven by a passion for creating something new and a bit different I am looking to provide products that will brighten up your small moments and big celebrations.”
And that is exactly what you will find in her shop. I have read through her website and shop descriptions and I have not found out exactly what her process is. Her work is full of texture and whimsey and speaks loudly to my aesthetic.

Green Modern Romantic Ketubah 
copyright - Masha Manapov

Blue Ketubah for the modern couple
copyright - Masha Manapov

Masha launched her Ketubah Collection on Feb 14, 2014 so it is still fresh and new. I hope she will continue to add new designs as I think she has a unique style that will be very popular with young couples looking for something new and refreshing. Her subject matter is traditional, but her approach is very new.

Ketubot are just one aspect of her work. She is best known for her illustration work, but I for one think that her Judaica portfolio is first rate and I am sure the world will agree with me!

I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do. (all images are copyright to Masha Manapov)

Lions Holiday Set
copyright - Masha Manapov