Tag Archives: passover

Passover Baking And Business

This Foodie Friday, we are most of the way through the period during which observant Jews don’t eat leavened goods. That means no bread or anything else that involves flour or anything that could make the baked good rise. Think about anything that you bake. I’m guessing that it has flour or baking powder or baking soda or yeast. All of those things are big no-nos to those that observe Passover.

I’m not a baker, as I’ve written before, but since I’m often tasked with preparing the food for Passover I’ve learned quite a bit about baking during this time of the year. Oddly, it doesn’t really require a huge shift in your thinking these days since many people are on some sort of gluten-free diet. That accounts for shifting away from flour and into things such as finely ground nuts, which are totally fine for Passover. In fact, my Aunt Ileen’s nut cake was always in demand and it wasn’t until recently that I realized it was gluten-free. Who knew 30 years ago when I got the recipe from her!

How do you make cakes rise with no leavening agents? Whipped egg whites will get the job done. Everything becomes a sort of chiffon cake (or a tart of sorts). Then, of course, there are things such as macaroons (not the delicate French kind) that are just scoops of coconut or almonds held together with sugar syrup and often dipped in chocolate.

What does this have to do with business? While the easiest thing to do at this time of the year is not to bake due to the conditions having changed, instead people learned to adapt. If you have anyone with gluten intolerance in your life, you may have already begun to make that change, not realizing that it would come in handy in other situations. Businesses need to be prepared to do this sort of thing as well. Markets and business conditions are constantly shifting, and the ability to adapt and change is one of the most important things a business can have. Maybe it’s a supply-chain disruption. Maybe it’s the loss of key personnel or of an important client. Continuing on in your business, even if you have to make product changes to serve the customer, is paramount at all times of the year, unlike Passover.

I’m very much looking forward to getting back to leavened bread but I’ve come to appreciate what we can learn from how the rules shifted this week. You?

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Dishing On The Holidays

As seems to happen so often after a decade of blogging, I find that a post I wrote some time ago says what I want to say today. Of course, it’s Foodie Friday and it’s also Good Friday, the start of the Easter weekend. This post, originally titled “Tsimmes,” captures the food and business themes. Enjoy the post, enjoy whatever holidays you celebrate, and enjoy the weekend!

This week’s Foodie Friday coincides with the start of Passover. As with most festivals of any religion, certain foods appear for the Seder that rarely show up at other times during the year. One of those is Tsimmis, a combination of sweet potatoes, dried fruit, and carrots. I use a recipe written down by my mother years ago (from her mother) and as with many family recipes it requires some interpretation and local knowledge. It calls for a “large can” of yams (how large exactly?), a box of prunes (which is how many ounces?) and a few other equally vague references. Of course, my inclination as a cook is to use fresh ingredients. Fresh sweet potato instead of canned, fresh carrots in place of the bag of frozen ones called for, etc. I don’t, however, and the reason why I don’t is a good business point too.

If I were to serve the dish made with fresh ingredients my family, who have been eating my mother’s recipe at seders for decades, would notice a difference.  Holidays are built around traditions and those traditions contain expectations.  Would the dish taste better?  Probably.  It would be more healthy as well – canned yams in syrup are not the best thing.  But the folks around that table aren’t looking for healthy or better.  They want the comfort of the familiar.

We often forget that in business as we’re always trying to make or products or services “better.”  History is littered with products that represent good companies making bad decisions by making the very familiar different.  New Coke, the Arch Deluxe burger, and others represent variants on successful products that seemed the same but resulted in an experience that didn’t match consumers’ expectations.  Of course we need to improve but we need to do so in a way that brings our customers along for the ride.  Presenting them with a dish that they expect to be one thing but which is very different probably isn’t going to have a great outcome.

It can be done.  Another Foodie Friday example.  After years of roasting turkeys for Thanksgiving I wanted to switch to frying them (it freed up my ovens, was quicker and they taste better too!).  I didn’t just switch them one year.  I did both and let the family come to their own conclusions.  My mother was able to answer her “darling, won’t they be very greasy?” question by comparing the methods side by side.  Now, we only fry.

As brands, we can cajole, request, and demonstrate.  We can’t impose.  We need to meet expectations with the dishes that live in their memories and for which they keep coming back.

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Bilkies And Bunnies

Handmade shmura matzo

Image via Wikipedia

It’s Foodie Friday, and this year I’ve decided to repost something from a Foodie Friday in 2009. Originally titled “Jewish Thanksgiving,” I’m putting it back up because many of you are new readers since 2009 and because my family is gathering this evening to celebrate. That means I’m busy making bilkies. Making what? Read on!

This week’s Foodie Fun Friday post is dedicated to all of you who won’t be using the bathroom for the next week.  You know who you are.  But the gentiles out there are wondering “what could he possibly mean?  What could possibly stop someone up that badly?”  Well, dear readers, Passover started Wednesday night and by now, most Jewish homes have had two Seders. With those Seders goes matzo and when we say hello to the matzo, we say “buh-bye” to regularity.

As some of you know, my view is that most Jewish holidays can be summarized thusly:

Someone tried to kill all the Jews;
The Lord saved us;
Let’s eat.

Passover typifies this more than any other holiday. It’s really Jewish thanksgiving with brisket substituted for turkey and various other beige and brown foods substituting for the rest. Passover is a great culinary challenge on many levels.  Think about how often you use breadcrumbs or cornstarch when you cook and you’ll begin to understand.  Sure, matzo meal and potato starch are substitutes but they change the flavor, consistency, and appearance of the food in which they’re used.  Oy!

One dish that’s made in our family is something I’ve not seen elsewhere.  We call it a “bilkie or bilky” – not sure of the spelling.  It’s sort of a knish without the outside.  One cooks down some onions in schmaltz (don’t ask – these are really delicious and really not healthy) and adds them to mashed potatoes.  Some more schmaltz, matzo meal, and some eggs to bind.  Then one forms patties, glazes them with egg wash, and bakes them at 500 degrees until brown.  I usually make a few dozen of these and there are NEVER any left – my relatives put what they don’t eat in their purses, which isn’t easy since they’re the approximate size and weight of a compact car hubcap.   I’d love to know if any of you have ever heard of anything similar?

I love this holiday and love that it coincides with Easter.  Everyone has a reason to eat even if we can’t exactly share a lot of the desserts.  And in a week when we go back to eating as we regularly do, we all hope that the rest of us becomes as regular as our eating habits.   On to Memorial Day, the next great pig-out!

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Tsimmis

This week’s Foodie Friday coincides with the start of Passover. As with most festivals of any religion, certain foods appear for the Seder that rarely show up at other times during the year. One of those is Tsimmis, a combination of sweet potatoes, dried fruit, and carrots. I use a recipe written down by my mother years ago (from her mother) and as with many family recipes it requires some interpretation and local knowledge. It calls for a “large can” of yams (how large exactly?), a box of prunes (which is how many ounces?) and a few other equally vague references. Of course, my inclination as a cook is to use fresh ingredients. Fresh sweet potato instead of canned, fresh carrots in place of the bag of frozen ones called for, etc. I don’t, however, and the reason why I don’t is a good business point too.

If I were to serve the dish made with fresh ingredients my family, who have been eating my mother’s recipe at seders for decades, would notice a difference.  Holidays are built around traditions and those traditions contain expectations.  Would the dish taste better?  Probably.  It would be more healthy as well – canned yams in syrup are not the best thing.  But the folks around that table aren’t looking for healthy or better.  They want the comfort of the familiar.

We often forget that in business as we’re always trying to make or products or services “better.”  History is littered with products that represent good companies making bad decisions by making the very familiar different.  New Coke, the Arch Deluxe burger, and others represent variants on successful products that seemed the same but resulted in an experience that didn’t match consumers’ expectations.  Of course we need to improve but we need to do so in a way that brings our customers along for the ride.  Presenting them with a dish that they expect to be one thing but which is very different probably isn’t going to have a great outcome.

It can be done.  Another Foodie Friday example.  After years of roasting turkeys for Thanksgiving I wanted to switch to frying them (it freed up my ovens, was quicker and they taste better too!).  I didn’t just switch them one year.  I did both and let the family come to their own conclusions.  My mother was able to answer her “darling, won’t they be very greasy?” question by comparing the methods side by side.  Now, we only fry.

As brand we can cajole, request, and demonstrate.  We can’t impose.  We need to meet expectations with the dishes that live in their memories and for which they keep coming back.

Leave a comment

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Top Foodie Friday Post Of 2014

Since it’s Friday I thought I’d finish the week of reviewing the most-read posts of last year with the most-read Foodie Friday post.  This one is from April 11 and was originally called “Sinkers vs. Floaters.”  In all candor it tied two other posts – “Pumpkin Eggnog” and “Why Saving The Pots Is Bad Business” – as most read.  Since it was the oldest and kind of one of my favorites, I’m reposting it.  Enjoy – back to new rants next week!

It’s Foodie Friday and this is the last food-related post before the start of Passover.

matzah ball soup

Photo credit: h-bomb)

In honor of that, I thought I’d raise one of the most important questions this time of year brings:  sinkers or floaters?   I’m talking about matzo balls, of course, and the question of whether they should float in the soup like little clouds or sink to the bottom like rocks is a matter of serious debate around the Seder table.  As it turns out, the debate contains some instructive business thinking as well.

I’ll preface what I am about to say with an acknowledgment that I am not a neutral party.  I have some definite thoughts about matzo balls.  I should also add that here in the New York area, many non-Jews eat a lot of matzo ball soup year round so the debate isn’t limited to Passover tables.

The basic recipe for matzo balls is simple.  Matzoh meal, eggs, fat of some sort, and liquid.  That’s where agreement stops.  The primary aspects of the discussion involve the following (almost Talmudic) questions:

  • Should the kneidlach (Yiddish for matzo balls) sink or float in the soup?
  • Should they contain schmaltz (chicken fat) or margarine or oil?
  • Should seltzer be used to “leaven” them?
  • Should the egg whites be separated and whipped to add lightness?
  • Should they be boiled in salted water or in the soup broth?
  • Should they be the size of golf balls or tennis balls?

There are some minor issues including the use of parsley and other seasoning but the above are the main elements.  Every family has their own answers and even within a family there is disagreement, especially if there are two grandmothers involved.  Which brings us to the business point.

There are few things more simple and yet as complex as these little dumplings.  The risk one runs when just assuming they can make them without careful thought to each of the above is that the debate rears its ugly head at the table and a familial brouhaha ensues.  The same problem happens in business.  We often look at seemingly simple issues without a fully thinking through the many complex underlying issues that can affect how well the final product fares.  That can be a huge mistake and it’s always worth a few minutes thinking through those issues before jumping into a problem.

Floaters with a nice “chew”, by the way.  Yours?

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Sinkers Vs. Floaters

It’s Foodie Friday and this is the last food-related post before the start of Passover.

matzah ball soup

Photo credit: h-bomb)

In honor of that, I thought I’d raise one of the most important questions this time of year brings:  sinkers or floaters?   I’m talking about matzo balls, of course, and the question of whether they should float in the soup like little clouds or sink to the bottom like rocks is a matter of serious debate around the Seder table.  As it turns out, the debate contains some instructive business thinking as well.

I’ll preface what I am about to say with an acknowledgment that I am not a neutral party.  I have some definite thoughts about matzo balls.  I should also add that here in the New York area, many non-Jews eat a lot of matzo ball soup year round so the debate isn’t limited to Passover tables.

The basic recipe for matzo balls is simple.  Matzoh meal, eggs, fat of some sort, and liquid.  That’s where agreement stops.  The primary aspects of the discussion involve the following (almost Talmudic) questions:

  • Should the kneidlach (Yiddish for matzo balls) sink or float in the soup?
  • Should they contain schmaltz (chicken fat) or margarine or oil?
  • Should seltzer be used to “leaven” them?
  • Should the egg whites be separated and whipped to add lightness?
  • Should they be boiled in salted water or in the soup broth?
  • Should they be the size of golf balls or tennis balls?

There are some minor issues including the use of parsley and other seasoning but the above are the main elements.  Every family has their own answers and even within a family there is disagreement, especially if there are two grandmothers involved.  Which brings us to the business point.

There are few things more simple and yet as complex as these little dumplings.  The risk one runs when just assuming they can make them without careful thought to each of the above is that the debate rears its ugly head at the table and a familial brouhaha ensues.  The same problem happens in business.  We often look at seemingly simple issues without a fully thinking through the many complex underlying issues that can affect how well the final product fares.  That can be a huge mistake and it’s always worth a few minutes thinking through those issues before jumping into a problem.

Floaters with a nice “chew”, by the way.  Yours?

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An Unleavened Week Of Business

This week’s Foodie Friday Fun is our annual reflection on Passover.  The holiday starts Monday night although in many homes the cooking will begin over the weekend.  What – you eat your brisket on the day it’s made?  Despite debates over what exactly species of fish is a “gefilte” (it means “filled, by the way), there are no debates that this seems to be the favorite holiday of many Jews as well as of the non-Jews who join in the celebratory dinner.

English: Passover plate with symbolic foods: m...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thing about Passover that raises a business thought today is that it’s a week of eating that’s out of the ordinary.  While the first question in the dinner service is “why is this night different,” it’s the week without leavened foods of any sort that’s the biggest change for many.  Some Jews won’t eat anything that swells up – beans, rice, etc. – as well as abstaining from bread and cakes made with leavening agents.  It’s a subtile reminder throughout the week that the escape from Egypt, the deliverance of the people, and the lessons learned from those events shouldn’t be forgotten.  Which is the business point as well.

What if every business designated a week during which something they did on a daily basis was changed?  Maybe they turned of internal email and made face to face conversations happen.  Maybe they let everyone work on projects that were important to the people involved rather than things important to the business.  Or just maybe they refused to let anyone use the word “can’t” or the phrases “bad idea” or “not do-able”.  I’m sure you can think of a few things that your organization could do differently for a time to cause everyone involved to focus on something other than the day-to-day routine.

The Jews spent 40 years wandering around in the desert after they left Egypt.  Many businesses spend a lot of time figuratively wandering around as well.  Maybe a week of change can provide a better focus and get you to your goals more effectively.  Worth a shot?

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