The 27th annual book festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta is in full swing. Running through Nov. 18, the event, one of the largest book fests among Jewish centers nationwide, brings more than 45 authors to the organization's campus in Dunwoody.
Big names this year include Hollywood superstars Tom Hanks and Sally Field, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, columnist Anna Quindlen, presidential historian Jon Meacham and radio host Peter Sagal. Those who enjoy flipping pages filled with words and photos of food can look forward to programs that bring national as well as local culinarians to the MJCCA.
On Nov. 5, cooking queen Dorie Greenspan will be on stage. The five-time James Beard Foundation award winner, best-selling author of 13 cookbooks and New York Times Sunday Magazine columnist is known for her highly accessible recipes, the latest of which can be found in her just-released cookbook, “Everyday Dorie.”
“My food has gotten homier and homier,” said Greenspan in a recent phone conversation.
It wasn’t always that way.
“When I started cooking, I didn’t have any training, nor a mother who cooked. I taught myself. My food got so complicated it bordered on baroque. I think in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I was trying to be more restaurant-y. Chefs were doing architectural plating. I wanted to do that. And then I realized it did not interest me in the way good home cooking satisfies.”
Greenspan credits her laid-back recipes of late to time spent in France (“French cooking is down to earth.”) as well as using standard supermarkets as her resource. “I feel it has changed not my style of cooking, but interest in using basic ingredients,” she said. “We are pushed by glossy magazines, beautiful TV shows. Food got glamorous and sexy. I would love everyone to remember the pleasure in making food and preparing it. There’s no law that says our food has to be chef’s table food. We are not chefs.”
Like numerous authors participating in this year’s festival, Greenspan is Jewish. How much does that background influence her cooking? “There are things I will make without thinking that the roots of the dish are Jewish home cooking and realize afterward that that’s where they came from.” An example from “Everyday Dorie” includes a recipe for stuffed cabbage. “That brought back my childhood and memories,” she said, then added, “If ever I could make a great matzo ball, I would be a happy woman. But no one taught me.”
Unlike Greenspan, Susan Stachler’s mother, Laura, did teach her a thing or two about cooking, well, baking, to be precise. Laura and Susan Stachler are the mother-daughter duo behind Susansnaps, a gingersnap business based in Sandy Springs. But when the pair appear at the book festival on Nov. 8, they will be talking about more than their ginger-laden cookies.
The Stachlers are the co-authors of "The Cookie Cure," published this February. In the memoir, they recount a journey that began in 2004 when Susan was 22 years old and diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. During her six-month battle with cancer, she discovered that her mother's homemade ginger snaps helped to soothe the nauseating side effects of chemotherapy. Upon Susan's successful treatment, the pair turned the tasty treat into a business. They launched Susansnaps in 2005 out of their home, and moved it to its current location at 229 Hilderbrand Drive in Sandy Springs in 2009. Today, the same cookie recipe that comforted Susan during her illness is the one they use to bake more than 10,000 gingersnaps daily.
“It’s a wonderful story that resonates with everyone,” Laura Stachler said.
“And cookies make people smile,” added her daughter.
While the Stachlers have a sweet tale to tell, those interested in savoring a chat about Israeli cuisine can mark their calendars for Nov. 16, when Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook will hold an author talk during a kosher luncheon. (Full disclosure: I will be moderating this event.)
Solomonov and Cook are the co-owners of CookNSolo Restaurants, whose Philadelphia eateries include Zahav, Federal Donuts, Abe Fisher, Dizengoff, Goldie and the Rooster. In 2017, the pair co-authored the award-winning cookbook “Zahav,” which makes accessible to the home cook the modern Israeli dishes served at the book’s namesake restaurant. Now, they are back with a second book, “Israeli Soul.” Released in mid-October, it is a narrative-driven collection of recipes and essays that explore the food traditions of the 70-year-old nation.
Whereas Zahav was shot through the prism of their Philadelphia restaurant, with “Israeli Soul,” Solomonov and Cook “wanted to go to Israel and shoot and breathe and eat,” Solomonov said. An eight-day trip took them to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, north to cities like Haifa, Akko and Tzfat, and many stops in between. And it shaped what resulted in a 384-page book that tells the layered stories of the chefs and shop owners they met as well as the histories behind the dishes they prepare.
Solomonov considers it a common misperception to equate Israeli cuisine as “only Middle Eastern or only appropriated from Palestinians” or to oversimplify the food as “only falafel or shawarma.” With “Israeli Soul,” he and Cook unravel some of the complexities of Israeli cuisine. “As you unravel, you tell the multiple stories that make up a place,” he said.
During their research, Solomonov and Cook were struck by the number of second- and third-generation proprietors they met. “You have these people that are three generations doing the same thing. How many people do you know who are three generations making the same sandwich? And it’s been the breadwinning item that has put food on family tables, been people’s livelihood. The impact is much greater than just a sandwich.”
Also eye-opening for them was seeing “the younger generation of people returning back to the things they know — not modernizing it, but taking the soul of it and repurposing it,” said Solomonov, citing a restaurant like Guetta in Tel Aviv that specializes in the Jewish cuisine of Tripoli, Libya. “It’s fascinating to see this person embrace where they came from. Israeli chefs are starting to say, ‘This is who I am.’ It’s part of a greater discussion.”
Book Festival of the MJCCA
All events are held at Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. 678-812-4002, atlantajcc.org.
Dorie Greenspan. “Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook.” Author talk, signing and tasting reception. Noon Nov. 5. $15, members; $20, nonmembers.
Susan Stachler and Laura Stachler. “The Cookie Cure.” Author talk and signing. 10 a.m. Nov. 8. Free. Guests are asked to bring travel-size toiletries, candy canes, or individual packets of hot chocolate for donation to Creating Connected Communities and the Packaged Good.
Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. “Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious.” Kosher lunch, author talk and signing. Noon Nov. 16. $25, members and nonmembers.
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