Families get excited when they hear that popular children’s entertainer Mama Doni and her band are coming to town. Their “Funky Music with a Jewish Twist” is designed to get folks up and dancing as they play an eclectic range of musical styles, including reggae, rock, disco, Latin, klezmer, and “Jewgrass” — all steeped in the rich brew of Jewish culture.
Mama Doni (aka Doni Zasloff Thomas) increased her considerable fan base last year; now, not just music lovers but lovers of good cooking have joined the cheering section. Her first book, Get Cooking! A Jewish American Family Cookbook & Rockin’ Mama Doni Celebration, written with Rachel Harkham (“Recipe Rachel”), is “so much more than a cookbook,” Mama Doni, who lives with her family in Montclair, told NJ Jewish News in a phone interview. “It’s a guide for ways to spice up family celebrations.”
Get Cooking! will be available for sale at the free concert the band will present Friday, Jan. 10, at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County in Marlboro. The performance, which is open to the public, is in celebration of Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song. The Mama Doni Band received two Parents’ Choice Awards for their CDs Emunah and Shabbat Shaboom as well as the Simcha Award for “Inspiring Joy Through Music” at the International Jewish Music Festival in Amsterdam.
Get Cooking! includes recipes, family activities, jokes, cartoons, and holiday stories. “It’s for the Jewish-American family, so I like to say it covers from Sukkot to the Super Bowl. It’s for the family that celebrates Thanksgiving and Hanukka, Shabbat, and the Jewish New Year and the regular New Year,” she said.
Zasloff Thomas admits her hectic recording and touring schedule limits her time in the kitchen. “I cook as much as I can,” she said. “I am busy, but I feel like no matter what’s going on in my life, I can always have Shabbat, and that’s a message I want to share with other families.”
For the literary project, she said, she tried to take “the essence of the big, traditional Shabbats I grew up with and find…a new vibe. The goal is to help Jewish families of all different backgrounds — from Reform to Orthodox to everything in between.”
Get Cooking! takes readers through a year of holidays with fun, “menschy” activities for every season and recipes that give American cuisine a Jewish twist, Lime-in-the-Coconut Charoset for Passover, Rockin’ Moroccan Meatballs for Rosh Hashana, Berry Mint Chill-O for the Fourth of July, Sunny Citrus Mint Salad for Yom Kippur, and Hamantaschen with Lemon Cream Filling for Purim (see sidebar).
For rockin’ the kitchen, the book comes with a CD that includes such songs as “Get Ready, Get Set, Get Cooking,” “Shabbat in My House,” “Synagoguersize,” “Tu BiShevat Tree Love Song,” and “Falafafull.”
When it comes to the music, Zasloff Thomas said, she tries to write “what the kids are going to like but also sophisticated enough for parents, and fun.” She said she tries to make her concerts “a total celebration — in a hip way — of being Jewish” and hopes kids gain an appreciation that “being Jewish is big and exciting and there are Jews all over the world, and we can help each other.”
The singer/songwriter/author/cook said her favorite recipe in her new book is “Uncle Milton’s Mandlebread.”
“That alone is worth it,” Zasloff Thomas said. “Every time I see my Uncle Milton, he gives me a big Tupperware filled with mandlebread. Since I was little, that just equaled love.”