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The Derma Diaries

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What kind of Yiddish cookbook contains a recipe for a Chinese roast-pork sandwich on Italian garlic bread? Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking (Ten Speed Press; $35), the Brooklyn-born “Food Maven’s” loving celebration of a culture and cuisine that still, in some ways, defines New York City. That scandalous sandwich, born in the Catskills restaurant Herbie’s and made famous by the nightclub entertainers who hung out there, is more than just a sandwich in Schwartz’s eyes. It’s a symbol of Jewish assimilation and acculturation, and of Jews’ inherent love of exotic, sometimes forbidden foods. (In an essay entitled “Why Jews Like Chinese Food,” Schwartz invokes religion, sociocultural status, proximity, and price.) The prose is interspersed with family memories, his own and others’, that define a particular age, in the same way pungent flavors such as chicken fat and fried onions define a cuisine. The book is folksy but also instructive: Not only will readers be able to tell their knaidlach (matzo balls) from their kreplach (meat dumplings, or “Jewish tortellini”); they’ll also pick up pointers on where to go for exemplary lox, eggs, and onions (Fairway Café) and a proper egg cream (Brooklyn Diner). Schwartz makes a noble effort to “contemporize” the sort of indigestion-inducing recipes of a cooking tradition that he claims “originated the concept of super-sized.” But only up to a point. The author’s true nature is exposed in a caveat at the end of a noodle-pudding recipe. “Naturally, if you go for every possible fat reduction, it won’t be the same recipe and I can’t guarantee it will give the same pleasure.”


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