(New York Jewish Week) — What first caught my eye about Jewish food writer Alison Roman was not any one recipe. Rather, it was a photo of her that was published in the New York Times in 2019: Roman was in her tiny Brooklyn kitchen, kneeling in front of her overstuffed and undersized refrigerator. She was wearing jeans and t-shirt — and her feet were bare and dirty. I simply loved the messiness, joy and imperfection of it all.
The photo accompanied a selection of Thanksgiving recipes written by the young and rising star, who was first introduced to the Times’ readership just over a year prior as an heir to Pierre Franey and his quick-to-prepare foods. Roman’s Thanksgiving menu included a dry-brined turkey, hand-torn sourdough bread stuffing with celery and leeks, leafy herb salad spiked with lemon zest, lemon juice and flaky sea salt. The recipes were a reflection of the author: approachable and decidedly not fussy.
That anti-perfect attitude is a hallmark of Roman’s style, and it’s certainly a theme of her latest cookbook, “Sweet Enough,” which comes out at the end of this month. It is her third (“Dining In” and “Nothing Fancy” preceded it) and, according to Variety, pre-publication it has already “shot to the top of bestseller lists.”
This new cookbook is devoted to desserts, although there are a handful of savory recipes, too. Many of the recipes, like her Summer Pudding with Summer Fruit, her bowl of Salted Chocolate Pudding, and her raspberries and sour cream, do not have to be baked, nor do they require fancy know-how or special equipment. She even encourages readers to eat these treats straight from the bowl or the pot in which they were cooked.
Roman became an important part of the food conversation in this country in an impressively short amount of time. By the time she was hired full-time at the Times, at 32, she had had a meteoric rise at Bon Appetit magazine, where she moved from freelance recipe tester to senior food editor in four years. By then, she had already published her first cookbook and had a cookie recipe that went viral on Instagram.
Her fall from grace in May 2020 was even faster. In an interview for the online publication The New Consumer, she criticized two prominent women of color, Japanese organizing guru Marie Kondo and Asian-American model, cookbook author and prominent Twitter user Chrissy Teigen, for licensing their names and essentially “selling out.” In the ensuing weeks, the backlash online was swift and fierce, accusing her of everything from inappropriateness to racism. Amid the moment’s perfect storm — the pandemic and the rapid rise of the Movement for Black Lives — her column at the Times was suspended.
Six weeks later, on June 21, she founded a Substack newsletter, simply titled, “A Newsletter.” She now cranks that out weekly to 229,000 subscribers, and her YouTube channel, “Home Videos,” has some 213,000 subscribers. Looking back, Roman describes that post-interview time period as “challenging,” but, as she told the New York Jewish Week, “it led me to writing more and writing more for myself. And I think that’s a good thing.”
These days, Roman, 37, who describes herself as “half Jewish,” is about to embark on her book tour. Ahead of the release of “Sweet Enough,” she spoke to the New York Jewish Week about her favorite Jewish dishes, her food philosophy, and what she loves about Passover, which begins this year at sundown on Weds., April 5.
This interview has been lightly condensed and edited.
New York Jewish Week: How did the idea for this book come to you?
Roman: I felt there was a need for a dessert book from the perspective of someone who was not a die-hard lover of baked goods or dessert — somewhere between indifferent and enthusiastic. I felt like there were probably others like me.
I embrace the fact that the desserts were not designed to be perfect and they don’t have to be. People accept the flaws of, say, a roast chicken, but if their cake is crooked it ruins their day.
I’m trying to normalize the fact that not everything will be perfect, and it’s OK.
You are from California. How has being in New York changed the way you cook?
Living in New York, I have an emphasis on accessibility. I don’t always have access to the best produce; when things are out of season it becomes more difficult. It makes my work stronger because you have to be resourceful. And since we don’t necessarily have cars in New York, I have to consider: How far do I have to schlep the groceries? Can I do this [dish] with fewer items?
You’ve said on the Jewish Food Society’s podcast that you made many Jewish friends in New York. You attended your first bar mitzvah here. Are you leaning more into Jewish recipes or foods since you are living in New York?
Not necessarily. I just did a new Passover menu, which will come out on March 30 in Passover Home Movies and in an accompanying newsletter. I think that the older I get the more I lean into hosting and doing Shabbat because it feels important to me.
Any Jewish foods that are favorites of yours?
Matzah ball soup is my favorite food of all time. Otherwise, most popular Jewish deli foods are something I gravitate towards, even before I realized they were “Jewish.” Latkes, and things like that. I like Jewish deli culture. And I liked that these foods, that my father and I love and enjoy, are connected to my father’s heritage, which is my heritage. It made me feel closer to it.
What is your favorite Passover dish?
I love my brisket. I don’t love brisket always but I think the one I make is fantastic. I like a really simple Passover menu. Braised meat. Crispy salad with lots of herbs and apples. Crispy potato — this year I made cheeseless gratin with olive oil, potatoes, salt and pepper. You are not grating potatoes or frying anything. It is not eggy like a kugel.
Part of why I like Passover is because, much like Thanksgiving, it’s a time of year when you know what you’re supposed to eat. You don’t have to give it a ton of thought.
Have the past three years, following your comments about Marie Kondo and Chrissy Teigen, changed you as a writer and a food person?
Yes and no. We are all different than we were three years ago. Whether it was time passing or the pandemic or whatever, I think everyone is a bit different. That time was challenging but it led me to writing more and writing more for myself. And I think that’s a good thing.
How would you frame your food philosophy?
“Unfussy” pretty much sums it up. I don’t believe in overthinking too much. The way I cook is very instinctual and very natural. I don’t try to manipulate anything into something it is not. I feel very intuitive. It feels not performative. It feels very genuine to me.
Where did your aesthetic for rustic, carefree, approachable food come from?
I consider myself independent, and most things I do are born from myself and my own intuition. I think, like any person, you will be impacted and influenced by the world around you but ultimately you need to be authentically yourself.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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