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(article, Liz Crain)

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As chronicled on her blog, Baking and Books, Ariela Pelaia's food forays range from vegetarian to kosher. Often the stories surrounding the recipes are every bit as flavorful as the dishes themselves. And Baking and Books is true to its name; it's heavy not just on baking but on food-related book reviews and ruminations.

Lately, Baking and Books has undergone some changes — such as the fact that Pelaia, on a health kick, is baking sweets only two times a month. But most notably, she's been hired by the Jewish community nonprofit Hazon.

[%image ariela float=right caption="Ariela Pelaia" credit="Photo courtesy Ariela Pelaia"]
p(blue). Blog: Baking and Books
Average posts per month: 10
Blogger: Ariela Pelaia
Age: 26
Blog place of origin: Connecticut
So, you're in graduate school in New York, you're teaching as part of your program, and you're working full-time for Hazon in addition to maintaining Baking and Books? 
I'm a graduate student working towards a master's degree in Jewish education. (I also have a master's degree in Jewish studies from Columbia University.) Hazon is currently my full-time summer job; during the summer, school isn't in session, so I only teach from September through May. 

I'm working primarily on food-related projects, especially Hazon's food conference — an annual gathering of chefs, foodies, and farmers. Participants can watch cooking demos and learn about things like Jewish culture, foods, and sustainable agriculture. I've also been planning a food retreat with Halé Sofia Schatz, the author of [%bookLink code=078686883X "If the Buddha Came to Dinner"].
Now that you're writing professionally for Hazon’s blog, The Jew and the Carrot, do you plan to continue posting regularly on your own blog?
I just can't believe I'm paid to think about food all day. Talk about a dream! But my main blogging focus will still be Baking and Books; I would never give up the total creative freedom that comes with having my own site.

[%image promo-image float=left width=350 caption="The meat-and-pine-nut-filled pastries known as talas boregi." credit="Photo courtesy Ariela Pelaia"]
When you're too busy to cook something elaborate, what are your fall-back recipes?
You may hate me for this, but we plan our menu every weekend, then do all the cooking for the week on Saturday and Sunday. So during the week we have dinners already prepared in the fridge. 
The menu changes every week, so there isn't really a fall-back dish. However, sometimes I'll leave the final stages of dish-making until I get home. For instance, I keep containers filled with homemade beans in the freezer, and when I get home all I have to do is fry up an onion, cook some soy meat, and add the thawed beans along with some ancho or chipotle chile power for a vegetarian chili.
Let's say you can only keep five cookbooks on hand. Which titles would you choose?
Baking, by Dorie Greenspan. Her recipes are flawless, and the warmth of her personality practically jumps off the page. There's a reason Dorie is so very beloved in the food-blog world.
[%bookLink code=0764544136 "Olive Trees and Honey"], by Gil Marks. I'm constantly amazed by Marks' knowledge of Jewish culture and culinary history. Not only do his recipes produce delectable results every time, but each dish introduces you to a different aspect of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, or Ethiopian Jewish culture. 
The Essence of Chocolate, by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg. The recipes in this book are out of this world when it comes to creativity, from elegant favorites like dark chocolate ice cream to recipes for chili or steak that use chocolate as a main ingredient.
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison. Endless ideas for how to put satisfying, wholesome, and delectable meals on the table. I have yet to meet a carnivore who has not been satisfied with the meals we prepare from this book.
[%bookLink code=0756613027 "The Cook's Book"], by Jill Norman. This book is so chock-full of incredible photographs, recipes, and unique techniques that I really think it's a must in any kitchen. My culinary skill increased by leaps and bounds after reading it. 
Give us a brief cooking timeline of your life, from your teens on up.
I didn't do too much cooking or baking in my teens. I loved to make apple cobbler and banana bread, but otherwise I was more than happy to just help my mom in the kitchen and enjoy her cooking. 

During my first year of college, I didn't do any cooking at all, since I was living in a dorm with a kitchen that was temperamental at best. But eventually I moved off campus, into an apartment with a small yet well-appointed kitchen. 
It was then that I began experimenting with pasta sauces, quick breads, soups — all of which gave me such a sense of fulfillment, because I was not only feeding myself, but sharing food I loved with friends and family. 
Baking and ice-cream making are the newest additions to my culinary repertoire. I baked my first loaf of challah a little over a year ago, and made my first batch of ice cream about six months ago. I haven't looked back since; I'm totally addicted. Especially with baking, I've fallen in love with the process. 


h1. Liz's favorite posts


1. Chanukah beignets
2. If Nana had known about Talas Boregi
3. The hot sauce incident
4. My kitchen, it’s full of nuts

What are your favorite Jewish foods and food traditions?
My favorite Jewish food is rugelach, which is a kind of pastry filled with everything from apricot preserves to chocolate. (Chocolate is my favorite.) Homemade rugelach is delicious, of course, but my favorite place to get it is at a little bakery located on the outskirts of the Makhne Yehuda market in Jerusalem. 

Tourists insist the bakery is called Marzipan, but if you ask locals for directions to the Marzipan bakery, they'll have no idea what you're talking about. The last time I was there, a friend and I wandered around for about an hour before we found it — they had changed locations. But the effort was worth it; the rugelach there is so good that Americans often take containers filled with rugelach back to the States for friends and family. 

It's hard to choose just one tradition, since food is such an important part of Jewish life and ritual. In fact, from the challah and wine on Shabbat to Chanukah, I can't think of a Jewish occasion where food isn't involved in some way. If I had to choose just one, I think Pesach (Passover) would be my favorite, because my husband makes a pretty mean matzah lasagna. I love how Pesach forces you to reinvent meals, and matzah lasagna is a particularly delicious example.

p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer in Portland, Oregon.

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