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Schmaltzy Spotlight / Idan Cohen: Home is where the garden is

Schmaltzy Spotlight / Idan Cohen: Home is where the garden is

Idan and his daughter Ellie on their rooftop garden in the East Village.

Idan and his daughter Ellie on their rooftop garden in the East Village.

Genetics are funny. It’s hard to tell if it’s nature or nurture that connects us to the relatives we’ve never met before. In Idan Cohen’s case, it seems to be the former. 

When Idan was growing up in Israel, he would wake up every Friday morning to loud clanging in the kitchen and the whirring of a mixer. His mom was baking. She was making desserts for the week, the rationale being that it’s better to eat sweets at home because at least she knew what was in them. 

Idan’s favorite cake was one of the most complicated. It was a recipe passed down from a grandmother he had never met, an excellent baker who had fled Nazi Germany to live in Israel. The cake was a layered confection with marzipan, coffee meringue, jam, and a yeast dough that was so soft and butter-logged that it was temperamental in the Israeli heat, hence Idan’s mother’s distaste for making it.

It wasn’t just the cake that aligned Idan with the grandmother he never knew. When she moved to Israel, she had kept chickens and a garden. At the time, if you wanted to eat it, you had to grow it yourself. Though Idan didn’t having a garden at his childhood home, he was always drawn to the flora and fauna of Israel. Whether it was as a kid playing outside or as a soldier in the field, time spent outdoors left an imprint on him. 

Many years later, Idan relocated to New York City for work. The produce that was so excellent in Israel was—how to put it delicately?—lacking. In his first attempt to remedy this, Idan made relationships at the farmer’s market, where he upgraded his produce and came closer to the tastes of home. Then, recalling his grandmother’s green thumb, he started to cultivate a rooftop garden of his own. It took a while, but he worked up to growing over 250 pounds of produce in a season, feeding his friends and the family that he eventually started. It’s a passion that skipped a generation, and it all began with a cake.

Idan performed his story live on March 7, 2017 at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City as part of the Schmaltzy storytelling event.

Listen to the recording here:

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