There are no Pigs in Deb Joanne’s Pig Out

This week’s theme is Comfort Food, surely an important part of any writer’s survival toolkit.

As you all know by now, I’m Jewish. Which, by definition means I have a Jewish mother, which by definition means I ate a lot as a kid (and it showed, as I wasn’t lucky enough to have the same speedy metabolism of my tall, lean brothers). So that means I’m qualified to teach you about all the Jewish food groups: cheese, fried anything, carbs, meat and sugar.

So here I am, sharing some of my favorite Jewish comfort foods with you and when they might be appropriate for writers to eat them. Kind of a literary-Jewish food primer, if you will (as well as an homage to my mother, who is a wonderful cook–just ask her, she’ll tell you herself).

This is my mom's cooking bible and probably exists in every Canadian Jewish kitchen. I believe it was published in 1968 as a fundraiser and can still be found at Chapters/Indigo, if you're so inclined.

Cabbage Borscht. This is my favorite soup my mom makes. It’s a tomato based broth with cabbage and a bunch of other stuff (including about a ton of sugar) and flanken, which is some kind of beef. Don’t ask me what part of the cow this comes from. Maybe my mom will leave a comment and educate us all*. If you’re lucky, and you brother hasn’t gotten to the vat of soup first, you might even get a marrow bone or two—the real prize of this dish. This soup is great for that time when you’ve written some important scenes, but need it to percolate so you can go back and tweak and fix before moving on. Walk away from the computer and sit down with a big, steaming bowl of borscht, and the glucose will seep into your brain and help figure out those manuscript issues. This fulfills the meat and sugar food groups—a twofer.

Brisket. Fall-apart meat that’s been braised in onion soup mix and is amazing on a plate with some farfel (some sort of pasta or grain – I have no idea, really, it’s just filler that my mom makes) or even better the next day, heated up in its own gravy and draped over a slab of bread that soaks up the juices. HEAVEN. This dish is perfect for the editing phase. You put it in the oven and walk away for a few hours while you edit and tweak your manuscript. Then, when the timer dings,  you slice it, make some boxed mashed potatoes and shove it in front of your husband and say, “Don’t say I never cook for you,” before you return to your computer with three slabs of the beef wedged between slices of bread, and get back to your editing. See? This is a good hand-eating food, too.

Latkes. Potato pancakes. No matter how much paper-towel blotting you do, these things are always greasy-licious. They’re great with applesauce or sour cream or brisket (I’m kidding—or am I?) and are so comforting in the way they coat your stomach with oil. Delish. These wonderful items are perfect for that special time when writers need that extra boost to channel their inner angst and guilt onto the page. For example, “My God, I can’t believe I just ate eighteen latkes. That has to be something like eight-hundred-thousand calories. I have just ruined my diet again and no one will ever love me and I might just die fat and alone with empty tubs of sour cream and oil-soaked paper towels around me–wait—this is exactly what my main character would be feeling after leaving her family dinner! EUREKA!” This dish fulfills the carbs and the anything fried categories—another twofer! Score!

Cream cheese and lox on bagels. This one doesn’t require much explanation, but it’s still one of my favorite staples. But beware: it’s got to be the right bagels—the really chewy, yeasty ones that have obviously been boiled. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can get a good bagel that hasn’t been boiled. Hogwash!* AND it needs to be the right cream cheese—the really creamy spreadable kind with chives mixed right in. Don’t bother with Philly, go right to a Jewish deli and get them to scoop it from their dairy deli case into a container for you. Then lay the slices of lox on top and you’ve got yourself something. Some people put on capers and onions and maybe even a tomato slice or two, but I’m a purist, just give me the carbs, cheese and fish (which counts as meat). Threefer! This dish is an excellent breakfast that’s a perfect writing-marathon starter. It’s not quite enough carbs to send you down for the count, and it’s got some protein to keep you going for the long haul. If you put enough lox on there, you can probably even skip lunch.

This is not my mom's kugel, but is pretty close. Just imagine chunks of apple in there between the noodles.

Kugel. Noodle pudding. This dish is hard to describe, but it’s egg noodles mixed with egg and apple pie filling and baked with a sweet brown sugar and corn flake crumb topping. It comes out as a solid that you cut into brownie-sized pieces. Yum. I still eat way too much of it around the holidays.  This dish fulfills the carb food group and is good for when you’re done with a draft because you will eat a ton of it and then you’re going to need to sleep it off for a good long time.

So there you go, an intro to Jewish food for writers. I hope you’ve found this interesting and informative. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to my mom’s to beg her to cook for me. But in the interim, I’d love to hear about your favorite Jewish or Jewish-inspired comfort food. There are lots of them out there, from the ones I’ve mentioned here to matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, knishes or even what almost all Jews eat on Christmas—Chinese food, which still counts in my book.



*I just looked it up and flanken is actually just short ribs. But I’m going to continue to call it flanken because it’s fun to say. Say it with me: flanken. Flanken. FLANKEN!

**As I’m typing this, I’m wondering where the word hogwash came from; I’m guessing it wasn’t from Jewish culture.

27 Replies to “There are no Pigs in Deb Joanne’s Pig Out”

  1. Oh ho can I chime in on this? My kids eat gluten and dairy free – Passover is my favorite holiday because our grocery stores here in the NE load up on foods that we can eat! I have a Gefen chocolate cake in the fridge to die for. Prepared cakes from Israel. Corn free powdered sugar. Dye free marshmallows! Black and white cookies from Brooklyn! Even Costco brings in a lot of great Passobver treats. I’ve made GF Hamentashen. And nothing is as comforting as a bowl of matzoh ball soup – the giant one in the middle of the broth, though it’s not GF. Italian and Jewish – food, family and guilt. Pretty darn close! 🙂 Happy Passover.

    1. Hi Kim, I’ve always thought Italian and Jewish cultures are very similar for the reasons you mention: food, family and guilt – where would we be without them? And I’m so glad you’ve been able to harvest great Passover foods for your family! I didn’t know some of those things even existed! But I’m with you on the soup-my mom makes great broth and ginormous matzo balls! This is going to be a very drooly day. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Good morning! Oh, I’ve been looking forward to this week! Joanne, I think I’ve shared my kugel love before now, but it bears repeating–I LOVE KUGEL! My dad’s family is Jewish so I have lots of experience (and love!) for many of these foods. Matzo ball soup and kugel top the list. I’ve never known about the apple pie filling–wow! I’m beginning to think kugel recipes are like gumbo recipes–there are many different ones depending on your family’s traditions which I think makes it all the more wonderful. I want to say canned peaches are in my family’s recipe. And cornflakes? I’ll have to check on that…

    1. I have seen kugel with raisins in it, but never peaches. Huh. I wonder if my mom’s recipe got apples when someone made it for the new year (Apples are traditional Rosh Hashanah food). And I think you’re probably right that the recipes vary by family and maybe geography.

  3. Well for a first thing Monday morning post, this definitely did not whet my appetite. Maybe I should come back and re-read this post as it approaches lunch or dinner!

    But thanks for sharing! I love learning about new foods. I only knew about Latkes as I ate those when in grad school in Minnesota.

    1. Ha! I get that -it’s a bit early yet, but do come back later and hopefully something sounds appealing. Even the bagels-I know not everyone is into early morning fish! Thanks for coming by, Missy.

      1. When I went grocery shopping yesterday, I came across the 7 layer cake. Because it had Passover and Kosher written all over it, it made me think of you (my appetite had also improved). Little did I know, it was also gluten free! So I picked up one for sampling.

    1. Mandelbrot! Of course-reading your book gave me a horrible craving for my Aunt Rosie’s amazing mandelbrot (the Jewish version of biscotti, for anyone not familiar). Oh this is going to be a tough day to stick to the diet. Good thing there are no delis around here.

  4. YUM! My daughter kids that she converted to Judaism for the food. (Hmmm. Maybe she’s not kidding…) Anyway, since she was never a big white potato fan when she was growing up, she makes her latkes with sweet potatoes, and they are to die for! They’re great with applesauce, of course, but also extremely yummy with sugar and cinnamon, or even with just a little salt.

    I a huge bagel fan, too. You’re right–don’t even try to pretend it’s a real bagel if it hasn’t been boiled. I’m sorry, if it hasn’t been boiled, it’s just a bread doughnut.

  5. In Newton MA where I grew up, the majority of us were either Jewish or Italian, and there were some fabulous Jewish delis, Italian bakeries and Chinese food restaurants!! I was never a fan of gefilte fish, but I have a soft spot for Manischewitz blackberry wine! My daughter just outgrew her dairy allergy last year, but if I gave her hotdogs, I made sure they were kosher because they were the only ones I trusted not to have milk. Your mom’s kugel sounds amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Gina, come here and my mom will make her kugel for you (you think I’m kidding). Good idea with the hot dogs – wow, so many food issues are solved by kosher and kosher for Passover foods! Love hearing about this stuff. And do not get me started on Manischewitz wine…oy.

  6. I was raised in a isolated timber town — we didn’t know what bagels were until the mid-80s. But then we got a Mexican-Jewish bagelry called Los Bagels in town and never looked back. Ever celebrate Day of the Dead with lox? mmmmm. But no kugel. Can I get in on that if I visit you?

  7. Oy, Joanne I AM IN HEAVEN with today`s post. Okay Debs and anyone else out there, I am ready to do the cooking spread and it is only 10 in the morning. Joanne you forgot to tell everyone about the amazing carrot tzmis with kishka and prunes and pinapple, (oy I need to cook)for you all, or shall I say the amazing carrot tzmis Joanne makes for Pesach and for Rosh Hashana.
    Now, if you really want to end your Pesach dinner you need to come and taste my Chocolate Sponge cake that stand`s so high out of the pan (and yes my children your hands will be slapped when you take off the top and roll it, perhaps Joanne would like to explain this one).
    Yesterday I made a kugel for a very dear friend who is very ill and took it with us to visit, it is called comfort food (for me and for them). This is my passion in life is to make sure everyone who comes for dinner including my family goes home with there pants opened and their belly`s so full that they have to come back for more.
    So Debs the recipe`s in my book, second helpings have all been changed cooking lessons will start when ever you are ready, COME ON DOWN and we will have a blast and you will go home full happy and very much satisfied I promise. I will also teach you how to cook Italian as many years ago I had a wonderful Nona who lived next door to us and one day she said to me if you teach me to cook Jewish I will teach you to cook Italian,what a wonderful experience I had plus many many fond memories of a fine lady.
    Well (as Joanne will atest to) I could go on for ever and ever but I need to go find some bagels, lox and cream cheese with a Tim Horton`s coffee and get ready for my next favourite thing playing maj. Have a wonderful day everyone and just keep dreaming of coming to Bubby Marcia`s for a filling experience. Looking forward to it.

    1. Marcia, consider yourself the official cook of the 2012 Deb Ball. Please tell us you’ll be catering Joanne’s launch!

      Joanne and I were discussing kugel recipes–my family’s uses canned peaches. Have you ever heard of this?

    2. Hi Mom! I knew you’d like this post. I’ve been hungry since I started writing it on the weekend! And for anyone who is wondering what Marcia means about the sponge cake – my BROTHERS (never, ever me) would always take off the top crust, because it’s the best part of the cake, and then would roll the rest into little sponge cake balls and either pop them into their mouths, or throw them at each other when Mom wasn’t looking (although somehow she always saw, even when Dad did it, too).

  8. Hi Erika,

    No I am not catering Joanne’s launch I am going to sit back and let everyone tell me what a wonderful talented daughter I have. It will be cocktail style so we are going to have it catered, but if you tell me you are joining us dinner will be ready for Friday night?????????
    I have not personally used peaches as I find that they tend to make the kugel to saucy, my friend tried it and than she called me and said come over and fix my kugel it didn’t work!!!!!!!!! Oh I forgot to also tell you all about my blintze soufflee (oh so good, right Joanne) also I have a recipe for the most amazing dairy kugel you have ever eaten (gain 20 lbs so fast). Lesson’s begin when you all arrive. Okay J I am stopping now.

      1. Blintz souffle? Oh, that settles it. We need to get together and have a blintz-off and a kugel-off. My mother’s blintz recipe has garnered me marriage proposals. (Okay, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but it’s REALLY GOOD.)

  9. It isn’t even ten am and I’m already hungry. I’m trying to figure out what I’ll now make for dinner. I love love love good bagels, oh kugel, you are a thing of beauty and latkes—-yes. yes. yes.

    1. Being the foodie you are, I’m not surprised you’re over here drooling on my post. It’s not fancy high-tea food, but it sure does the trick. Someday you will get to try my mom’s kugel – this I vow!

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