Story and photography by Jane Kaufman
As Kimberly Setnik greets guests carrying colorful dishes, her daughter Olivia Kushner puts the finishing touches on a centerpiece she designed with baby’s breath, eucalyptus branches, gerbera daisies and candles of varying height.
“It’s not my forté,” Setnik says of preparing tables. But on this particular Sunday evening, space must be made for the 16 women stopping by her Beachwood home to share an abundant feast and warm camaraderie.
Each guest brings her rendition of a recipe by Tieghan Gerard, a native Northeast Ohioan who’s author of both a blog and cookbook titled “Half Baked Harvest.”
The women gather around the table and introduce their creation, explaining the alterations, adaptations and surprises entailed in making the recipes, like whether the love-it-or-hate-it herb cilantro was left in or taken out.
Conversations are animated. The room buzzes as people catch up with old friends and newcomers are embraced by members of the group.
This may sound like your typical potluck, but in many ways, it isn’t.
This is the Cleveland Kosher Cookbook Club, a group that is by and for women. Some know each other; others don’t. What group members generally have in common are a passion for cooking, a desire to expand their horizons in the kosher kitchen and a willingness to meet new people who share their interests and lifestyle.
Operating as a Facebook group and consisting of about 125 members, the Cleveland Kosher Cookbook Club describes itself as “a group of friends (who) all make recipes from the same cookbook and gather to share the results, a crowdsourced feast.”
It was co-founded in 2018 by Shoshana Socher of Beachwood and Navah Amar of University Heights. Amar learned of the idea from a cousin in Brooklyn, N.Y., who started a group there after reading about the concept online.
“She added me to her Facebook group,” Amar says. “I mimicked it here.”
Amar and Socher worked together to get the group, which meets monthly, up and running.
Per standard kashrut guidelines, meals are set up in advance to be either dairy or meat, thus far alternating between the two every month. Each time a different person offers her home as a setting. That entails offering a beautifully set table. By design, the hostess doesn’t cook.
Using Perfect Potluck software, people sign up for an appetizer, entrée or other dish on the Facebook site on a first-come, first-served basis. When the number of people interested exceeds the number of potential place settings at the hostess’ table, a wait list forms.
The Cleveland Kosher Cookbook Club’s first meal in November was a meat meal. The women cooked recipes by Busy in Brooklyn blogger Chanie Apfelbaum, who had just released her cookbook, “Millennial Kosher.”
Amar counts the first gathering as her favorite.
“It was so new for everyone,” she says. “It was so exciting, and the food was delicious. So, that was definitely my favorite in terms of the overall event.”
December’s was a dairy meal, using recipes from Deb Perelman’s “The Smitten Kitchen.” For January, recipes of prize-winning Israeli chef and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi were used.
“Literally every dish was so delicious,” Amar recalls. “It was very different. It was a very fun twist to have very Mediterranean/Israeli style.”
Socher concurs. “I think our very top was the Yotam Ottolenghi (meal),” she says.
Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews’ “Love & Lemons” was the source of recipes for February’s dairy meal.
Food and friends
The March gathering was Cleveland Kosher Cookbook Club’s fifth. For the first time, the founders polled members as to which blogger or cookbook author they wanted to use. Gerard’s “Half Baked Harvest” won. Gerard is not a kosher cook, so many of the recipes needed to be adapted.
Sarah Braun, who blogs about kosher food as The Rustic Maidel “on the side,” proposed Gerard.
“Without thinking about it, you could creatively adapt (one of Gerard’s recipes) to be a kosher recipe,” says the South Euclid resident and member of Waxman Chabad Center in Beachwood, adding she enjoys converting non-kosher recipes into kosher dishes. “It kind of shows people that you can use all kinds of food-blogging recipes, all kinds of inspiration. … Kosher doesn’t have to be brisket and kugel.”
She made oven-fried Korean popcorn chicken for the March dinner. The recipe called for dipping the chicken in buttermilk, so she used a nut-based milk instead.
Braun also enjoys the camaraderie of the group.
“It’s fun, social,” she says. “It’s a mixed group of people. It’s really like women from all the shuls, the different schools. It’s fun. That’s why I keep going back.”
Braun speaks of Cleveland’s limited number of kosher restaurants as a source of frustration and creativity.
“We love cooking. We host our own parties. We have a smoker. We smoke our own meats,” she says. “It’s tough here, and the community’s grown so much.”
Ellie Berlin joined for her first time in March. While she had known about the group and knows both co-founders, previous meetings conflicted with her schedule.
“It looked so appealing,” says the Beachwood resident who attends the Waxman Chabad Center.
“I love to cook when it’s not under pressure,” she says. “I usually just cook because food needs to be eaten. It’ll be nice to try a bunch of new things that maybe I can add to my repertoire. … I like that there’s no actual agenda other than eating and socializing.”
Berlin is married and has three children ages 2 to 7 years old. For the dinner, she made a double recipe of her contribution – veggie spring rolls with a mango dipping sauce – partly to share with her husband. She planned to tuck her children in before going to the
7:30 p.m. event.
After that, she says, “It’s in his hands.”
Another first-time participant, Gill Wolovitz, made sweet potato bisque with sage pesto and cashew “cheese.” The dish received rave reviews, and she fielded questions about how she made both the soup and the cheese.
Wolowitz, who is originally from Cape Town, South Africa, grew up in an Orthodox home and now eats an entirely plant-based, whole-foods diet.
“It’s so lovely to be here,” says the Cleveland Heights resident and member of Congregation Shomre Shabbos in Cleveland Heights. “There were certain things I could eat.”
After the meal, Berlin says the experience lived up to her expectations.
“This was awesome,” she says. “I’m very full and satisfied. This was fun.”
Hostess Setnik, who attends Heights Jewish Center in Cleveland Heights and Jewish Family Experience in Beachwood, looks forward to meeting new attendees.
“It’s different people each time,” she says. “There’s so many new people in Cleveland now, (and) I love to make new friends.” JS
Pack a plate
To join Cleveland Kosher Cookbook Club, go to the group’s Facebook page. For information about how to start your own group, call Shoshana Socher at 216-255-7377.