In my life outside of work, I run a book blog called Chick Lit Central. I have connected with authors from all over the world, including some who live locally. Back in 2011, I met Dana Bate at an event in DC, where she lived for five years before moving to Philadelphia. I found out that not only was she Jewish, but she was writing a foodie book about a woman living in DC. When this book, The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs, was finally published, it featured a Jewish woman, and one of the supper club themes was Rosh Hashanah food. It became one of my 2013 favorites. Dana recently published A Second Bite at the Apple, which also features a Jewish woman, food and DC. Her third novel, Too Many Cooks, will be published this fall.
Jewish Food Experience: What was a memorable Jewish food experience for you when you were living in DC?
Dana Bate: Introducing my friends to home-cooked Jewish food! When we lived there, we hung with a pretty international crowd. We had friends from South Africa, Slovakia, France and St. Croix, among other places. Some had distant Jewish roots; most did not. But even those with Jewish roots had very different experiences than I’d had growing up in a Jewish suburb outside of Philadelphia. So I loved introducing them to foods I’d grown up with: hamantashen at Purim, latkes at Hanukkah, brisket any time! It was fun seeing which foods were the most popular. Apparently mun (poppy seed) filling is an acquired taste.
JFE: When you describe food for your novels, how do you find ways to make readers feel like it’s right in front of them?
DB: I favor strong, descriptive words, using as many of the five senses as possible. Telling a reader that something is “delicious” or “tasty” doesn’t help him or her know what that dish actually tastes like. Okay, it’s delicious, but delicious how? Is it tender and juicy, or crisp and crunchy? Is the flavor light and floral, or rich and smoky? How does it feel in your mouth? What does it smell like? Does it make a sound when it’s cooking or when you bite into it?
JFE: What is a Jewish food recipe that you wish someone in your family had passed along to you?
DB: My mom-mom’s stuffed cabbage. She dictated the recipe to me a few years before she died, but it was shortly before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so there were a lot of inaccuracies, and I’ve never been able to recreate the dish exactly as she made it. But it lives on in my memory. It was a little sweet, a little sour and totally delicious.
JFE: Now that you’re a mother, what are some Jewish foods you’re teaching your son about?
DB: All of them! He already loves brisket, latkes and challah. The first time I fed him gefilte fish, I held my breath, but he loved it! Having said that, he is now two, so he’s more fickle than he used to be; he may not green light the gefilte fish this year. When he’s a bit older, I can’t wait to bake hamantashen with him; that’s one of the first recipes I remember making as a child, in my nursery school class.
JFE: Your latest novel, A Second Bite at the Apple, has a lot of scenes at a DC farmers market. Which DC farmers market or business would you recommend for good Jewish food items?
DB: Hmm. Good question. When I lived in DC, I didn’t encounter any Jewish foods, per se, but EcoFriendly foods sold excellent cuts of meat, including brisket, that I could turn into Jewish dishes. And their chicken was wonderful—I’m sure it would make fantastic chicken soup (aka Jewish penicillin)!
JFE: What is a holiday food that you’d eat year-round if you knew you wouldn’t become satiated?
DB: Haroset. I love haroset. One year, my mom made four different kinds, all from different parts of the world, and I loved them all. My favorite is probably the traditional Ashkenazi version (with apples, walnuts and cinnamon), but she made a Sephardic version with dates and bananas that was really delicious!