Things have been pretty busy over here and I haven’t had a chance to update this blog since I my trip to Florida last month. You can see how much fun we had on Hutchinson Island, Florida in my recent post on Travelingmom.com under TravelingKosherMom.
I still have so much to share about our kosher dining experiences at Walt Disney World as well as our meat lunch in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, at David’s East Side Deli. The place was clean and hip. The food was delicious, and the service friendly and fast. I had salad with a huge scoop of tuna fish salad on top, the portion was large and I even took some back to our room in Hutchinson Island, just 40 minutes north of David’s. It was well worth the drive and can be combined with some shopping in the area. This worked well for us because we were visiting family that were styaing literally a block away from the deli. Even though our family does not keep kosher, they loved the great tasting latkas, hamburg, whitefish salad, and hot dogs.
It was so nice to get rave reviews from our non-kosher foodie family members and I think they will be heading back to David’s again soon, even without us kosher relatives in town.
A couple of weeks ago, I sent my husband to a foodie event in Manhattan promoting “America’s Most Wanted Recipes,” a new book just put out by Simon and Schuster. The part that had me most interested in this event was that they had requested that people make a kosher version of the over 200 secret recipes from 57 of America’s most popular food chains. As a kosher mom blogger and advocate for kosher food, I just had to be there. Unfortunately, my babysitting budget had been depleted so that I could attend the OU Advanced Kashrut Seminar for Women, a week long seminar that discussed what kosher is and what kosher is not. I learned so much and met some incredible people (I was even quoted in both The Jewish Press and OU.org). So, I sent my husband and main chef in our home, to the event. I advised him to schmooze with the people from the media and get the scoop.
My husband had fun at the event and even came home with an assignment for us. We were asked to cook one of the recipes and convert it to a kosher one. When I saw one of my favorite appetizers from Houston’s (I used to eat there before I started keeping kosher), I couldn’t wait to get started. I remember eating at Houston’s in Chicago with my friends and sharing Houston’s Spinach and Artichoke Dip. Now, I could make a kosher version of this appetizer in my own home and eat as much as I wanted (that is a really scary thought). Another recipe I wanted to kosherize was the Olive Garden’s Salad Dressing. I remember the days of all you can eat salad at Olive Garden topped off with a tangy, basil balanced salad dressing. I also saw this as an opportunity for my husband and me to get creative with date night as well as good content to post on my blogs, which would also be posted on Epicurious.com.
We agreed to take a shot at a kosher version of Chili’s Southwestern Egg Rolls. Right off the bat we saw something we needed to change with the recipe. The recipe had a combination of chicken and Monterey Jack Cheese. Not kosher! Milk and meat (meat and dairy) are never mixed together. So, we decided to make the dish dairy. We both felt that the cheese was a key component to the success of the recipe. My husband and I both love large amounts of melted cheese on eggs, potatoes, Challah, pizza, and bagels and there is no shortage of cheese in our house (thanks to Costco and their affordable and delicious Natural & Organic Kosher Cheese). Yes, I do get very excited when discussing cheese! We substituted the boneless, skinless chicken breast with Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Chik’n Strips, also kosher pareve. In order to get the grilled like sensation, we threw the pieces into a pan with a little canola oil for a few minutes. Yum. We also made our own avocado-ranch salad dressing with Hellman’s mayonnaise, avocado, and oil. All of the other ingredients were okay to use in our kosher version of the recipe. The final result, delicious and a new addition to our Shabbos and Yom Tov meals.
Even though Rosh Hashanah is just a few days away, families in Kew Gardens Hills, NY (Queens) have been preparing for the Jewish New Year for over a month or more. No matter how far in advance we plan, there is always something that comes up and we need to run out to the store and buy more eggs, apples, honey, challah, chicken, or pomegranates. On Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills, there is no shortage of these items whatsoever. The bakeries have been working overtime and the sweet smells of honey cake and challah are in the air! This is a really fun time to visit the local bakeries and take some of these sweet desserts home. We just love G & I Bakeries, located at 69-40 Main Street. We always purchase a few delicious round challahs for our meals on Rosh Hashanah. What s challah? Challah is braided bread that we eat every Shabbat and holiday, except for Passover when we eat only Matzos for eight days. Challah is usually a braided loaf of bread, but for Rosh Hashanah we eat round challahs to symbolize the continuous cycle of life. Even though our grandparents are not with us physically, they are with us in spirit. I look at my children and I am in awe of how they represent the past, present, and future of our Jewish heritage. They have a piece of all of our family members that are no longer with us and those that still are in their young faces and that is pretty awesome.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for focusing on good things for the year to come, so we add extra sweetness to our menu. How sweet it is! Honey, honey cake, and raisins are added to challah to bring on the extra sweetness. Chicken and side dishes are topped with honey, oranges, and raisins. We also say a special blessing before taking a slice of apple and dipping it in a cup of honey. This blessing is one that we say to request that the new year be full of good “sweet” things in our lives.
There are some more eclectic food items that add meaning to our Rosh Hashanah meal and most of them can be found in the stores on Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills. Not your typical, everyday side dishes, but definitely significant for the new year. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, apples are eaten, but on the second night, the not so familiar fruits are eaten for the purpose of welcoming the new season. When we eat this new fruit, we say a special blessing, or shehechiyanu to thank G-d for providing us with these new fruits. Fruits like pomegranate, which have 613 seeds, is the same number of mitzvot or “good deeds” that we should provide for our friends and family. There is a great fruit store on Main Street between 76th Road and 76th Avenue and right before Shabbos and Jewish Holidays this place is packed. If you’ve been to open markets in ethnic neighborhoods, the scene at this fruit and vegetable store will be quite familiar. My husband always comes back home with bags full of exotic new fruits. Thank G-d he loves to shop.
Yes, that is a fish head on the table. Since, Rosh means “head” in Hebrew, we eat the head of a fish because we should always be the leaders of our people and perform acts of kindness to all people. Fish also symbolize fertility and abundance, something we should always aspire to achieve in our lives.
Here are some other symbolic dishes and food items with a straight forward explanation from about.comhttp://judaism.about.com/od/roshhashana/a/shana_food.htm
Head of Lamb, Sweet Chicken or Meat Dish
Head of lamb symbolizes our hope that the Jewish people will lead other nations through their righteousness. The sweet entree symbolizes our wish for a sweet year.
Tzimmes is an eastern European recipe for honey baked carrots. The Yiddish word “meren” means carrots and to increase. Carrots symbolize our hope that we increase our good deeds in the coming year. Some tzimmes recipes add prunes, sweet potatoes or even meat to the sweet carrots.
Spinach symbolizes a green year with plenty of produce.
Rice symbolizes abundance.
Honey Cake “This day is holy to God, your God; do not mourn and do not weep…for the joy of God is your strength.” (Nechemiah 8:9-10). It is said that the Prophet Nechemiah introduced to the ancient Israelites the Persian custom of eating sweet foods to celebrate the New Year.
Fenugreek Less common than round challah, apples, honey or even fish heads, fenugreek is traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah by Jewish people of Middle Eastern descent. The tradition likely started since the Hebrew word for fenugreek sounds similar to the Hebrew word for “increase”. When eating the fenugreek, a special prayer is recited asking G-d to increase our merits.
Leeks, Beets & Dates There are a handful of foods traditionally eaten during Rosh Hashanah that are intended invoke G-d’s protection of the Jewish people from their enemies. Leeks, beets and dates all fit this category.
Another thing I love about my neighborhood is kosher pre-made meals for Shabbos and Holidays. You can get an entire Rosh Hashanah meal complete with all the side dishes and symbolic food items right on Main Street and they can eve deliver it to their home. Even if you did have time to prepare most of the items in advance, you can find what you need to make your meal complete at Mauzone 7230 Main St, Meal Mart 72-10 Main Street, Supersol 6818 Main St,, or Wasserman’s, 7268 Main Street.
What do I, a kosher mommy blogger, a Rebbetzin from Boro Park, and a Mashgicha-a female Mashgiach- from Albany, NY, have in common? I was hungry for information on kosher food certification processes and the laws that make them kosher. These women, some of them from generations of kosher kitchens and some of them that just wanted to increase their own personal kosher curiosity. Last week, I spent the entire week with 24 of these incredible women at the OU Advanced Kashrut Seminar For Women and had an in depth look at “what’s cooking” and “what’s not cooking” in kosher cuisine today. Rabbi Grossman, Director of OU Kosher Education, organized this opportunity for women after he had received requests from over 80 women for such a seminar last year. The week long seminar addressed the areas of kosher food management such as checking lettuce for insects (we did find one on our lettuce); baking bread (challah); blood spots in eggs; meat and dairy control; identifying and purchasing kosher fish and chicken; and becoming an educated kosher consumer.
The seminar also included a couple of field trips to OU certified factories, hotel kitchens and food service establishments. It is incredible the amount of detailed processes, check lists, and quality control required for working in a large kosher kitchen or an OU certified factory. I was so impressed by the OU kosher rabbinic staff – both those who are based in the OU office (rabbinic coordinators) and those who work outside (rabbinic field representatives) – and their extensive knowledge of animals, natural history, chemicals, medicine, and Halacha (Jewish Law) in their areas of concentration.
I have been kosher for less than a decade, but after this course I can’t understand why anybody would not choose to keep kosher. You don’t have to be a Jew or even an Orthodox Jew to benefit from kosher certification. In fact, Phyllis Koegel, OU New Business Development/Marketing Associate, shared some information on kosher consumers that I found most interesting. According to Mintel Market Research, “Kosher Foods Market – US Report,” January, 2009, The U.S. Kosher Marketplace is growing steadily. According to the report, nearly 80% of All Kosher Food Sales are Outside of the “Traditional” Jewish Market. These markets include Muslim, Seventh Day Adventists, Vegetarians, and Vegans. Mintel also discovered that general consumers believe kosher food is safer, healthier, and better. Then there is the consumer with Dietary Restrictions such as Lactose, Shellfish, and Gluten Intolerant. This research confirms my personal opinion that consumers don’t have to be Jewish to love kosher food. However, if they are health concious consumers with food nutrition as a major priotity, Jewish or not, this is something we can all agree on. Still not convinced?
You can bring a world expert on kashrut — one of the Rabbanim and Mashgichim of the Orthodox Union — to your institution to share his expertise. Arrangements may be made for small adult groups to visit OU headquarters for an in-house session, seminar or shiur with an OU rabbinic expert. For more information, contact Rabbi Eliyahu Safran at email@example.com or 212.613.8115.
While I was awake in the early hours of Shabbos, I had some great ideas about how to help my friends and family that don’t keep kosher understand my dietary choices. I will be traveling a lot with my family this summer and that means that the conveniences of New York kosher cuisine won’t be as plentiful. So, what is a kosher observant family supposed to do when traveling out of the “kosher zone”?
First of all, it is important to understand the laws of keeping kosher. Some families have been keeping kosher for decades; others have been keeping kosher for a week. Personally, I started keeping kosher in September 2001. Before then, I ate everything and everywhere my heart desired. It was my journey of Jewish re-discovery that I was introduced to the kosher cuisine that would change my eating habits from that day forward. Like many Jewish American families, I associated kosher food with Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Passover. It was at those times of the year that the kitchen in my house was taken over by brands like Manischewits and Streits. My mom would “put up” the most amazing chicken soup with the fluffiest matzo balls I’ve ever eaten. The oven would overflow with the smells of brisket, kishke, and tzimmus. My family and I would make our annual journey to the kosher bakeries in Skokie and stock up on honey cake and boubka. I loved these times of the year. Even though I wasn’t raised in a kosher home nor one that kept Shabbos, it was the effort of my family to share these holidays in full force that made me the Jewish mom that I am now.
Even though things are different today and I now keep kosher religiously and observe Shabbos every week, my extended family does not. It doesn’t make me love them any less; in fact I love them even more. I just have to prepare my own food plan for my husband and children in advance. This is nothing new for people that have certain food allergies, suffer from lactose intolerance, diabetes, and vegetarians. Just because I don’t eat your food doesn’t mean I don’t love you!
While the laws of keeping kosher may seem limiting to most people, it made perfect sense to me. It is not as hard or isolating as people think, and it’s even good for you. I have attached some links that I find helpful in my attempt to explain my food requirements to people that feel that I have gone off the “creep end”. I am still the same me, I just eat differently and here are some reasons why:
I stumbled upon JewFAQBlog a weblog commenting on news and events. As rabbi/humorist Jack Moline noted, “Everyone who keeps kosher will tell you that his version is the only correct version. Everyone else is either a fanatic or a heretic.” (Growing Up Jewish, 1987).
The Tifereth Sisterhood proudly presents: An inspiring evening featuring singer/songwriter, Miriam Sandler, as she launches her new CD, “The Solution”. Miriam is long standing member of the Passaic community and has dazzled countless Jewish women of all ages with her contemporary “kosher” entertainment. Miriam’s personal expression through her original music was inspired by a relentless search for Truth, and a life-changing decision to pursue a life of values, holiness, and spirituality. Join us as Miriam tells her unforgettable story of sharing the stage with the music industries top megastars and why she gave it all up. Guest appearance by Soprano, Elana Tal In addition to featuring Miriam’s original music, there will also be a beautiful boutique, delicious dairy hor d’oeuvres and a Chinese auction. Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., concert begins promptly at 8:30 p.m. at the Tifereth Israel, 180 Passaic Avenue. Tickets $12 for students and $18 for women.
My Connection To Miriam
Have you ever been so affected by somebody that you just had to let that person know! That happened to me a little more than 8 years ago when a couple of my very close friends introduced me to a Baale Teshuva, Miriam Mendelkorn, now Miriam Sandler. I was on my own journey of transformation, and a vision like Miriam and her beautiful vocals were just what I needed to see. Not just because she was beautiful (she toured with Gloria Estefan for 10 years, you know what I mean) but she spoke so beautifully about why she let go of the lifestyle as a traveling performer and embraced the serenity of Shabbos.
I was never a professional singer and dancer, but like Miriam, I’ve always been Jewish. There is a time in life when we question our purpose and ponder our future. For Miriam, a week full of crowded theatres and roaring fans had only taken her soul so far. She studied the beauty and signifigance of a Jewish lifestyle and decided to channel her talents in that direction.
As a female singer with a beautiful voice, she had made the committment to sing only for women. I know what you’re thinking, and until I learned the reasoning behind this committment, I was thinking that as well. How crazy, how limiting, she sabatoged her career, etc. The truth is, she gained so much more. Why did she make this committment?
In her journey, as with many other Baale Teshuvat, there are so many beautiful customs, rituals, laws, and prayers that are introduced to our existing lifestyles(Tzniut, Shome Negiah, Kol Isha, Kashrut, etc.). Not everybody agrees with all of these, some not at all. However, for many, it is just what was needed to make present in our own lives. As a Jew, we have automatically built in our souls the potential to live our lives giving it our all. For me, it completed my thoughts, made sense of my concerns, and gave me a higher authority to turn to during unfortunate circumstances (illness, fear, loss). I personally had the opportunity to study some of the sources behind the rituals and customs. I said, “sign me up for the program” and I was hooked (a one month program became six months). I understand that this is not for everyone, and that’s okay. If I was friends with you before I became an Observant Jew, I am still friends with you now. An Observant Jewish lifestyle and the very strong foundation it provides is what I needed to live the best life I possibly could.
My entire family thought I had lost my mind, especially when I wouldn’t eat out at our favorite Italian Bistro. One of the laws I had embraced early on in my journey was Kashrut . It just made sense to me, and I actually felt the changes both physically and mentally. The truth is, I had found the roadmap to living my potential and I was staying on course.
Okay, so why can’t women sing in front of men. The following source behind Kol Isha, a womens voice, may not be for you, and that is okay. While I was searching for a source that would make most sense about this issue, I came across the below source. It made perfect sense to me, to singer/songwriter Mriam Sandler, as well as many other Converts around the world.
Shemuel said: the voice of a woman is ervah (sexually exciting), as the verse says: (Song 2:14) for your voice is sweet and your appearance attractive. (Talmud Berakhot 24a)
Okay, are you still with me? Why does this sit okay with me? Isn’t the luring tranquility of the female voice why both men and women listen to their ipods or blare their speakers at home? The truth is that I wouldn’t ever thought about this until I was taught about it a few years ago. The reasoning behind Kol Isha is both exclusive and offensive to many women. For me, I felt even more grattitude towards a woman blessed with a beautiful voice. Just imagine what her husband must have thought the first time he heard her voice? I’ve heard from some women who had shared their beautiful vocals their husbands for the first time. They were in tears. It was so beautiful to them, and it had meant so much that it was only for their listening pleasure. I found a quote online that described this revelation quite well. In his post, Kol Isha Today, Rabbi Harvey Belovski, Rabbi of the Golders Green Synagogue in London, wrote:
Well, I did it. I started a show on blogtalkradio and I completed my second show this morning. Yes, I was nervous, but not about what to say. I was nervous about retrieving callers from the que. After a few big fail whales, I was able to hear my guest, Allison Josephs, a.k.a., Jew In The City. A big shout out to Allison for calling and sharing with me what she’s been up to these days. Yes, she’s been on TV and on the Radio. She will be posting an upcoming segment that includes her very close friend and Torah study partner, Mayim Bialik, or you might have known her back in the late 80′s as Blossom. I must admit, I never saw Blossom until a link to the show was sent my way via YouTube . However, I did see her in Beaches and fell in love with her voice and personality. Now she is all grown up with children of her own and showing up in news stories quite frequently these days. Not just because of her recent appaerances on Bones or TLC’s What Not To Wear, or that she has a PhD. By the way, the TLC crew would probably put me in fashion rehab if theycaught me out on the street-my favorite jean skirt from thrift-and I’m keeping it. Not only has Mayim’s dress code been adjusted to her more Jewish obersvant lifestyle-modest dress-she has become more observant in her kitchen and keeps kosher with vegan options at home. Way to go, Mayim!
I have always had an interest in Jewish celebrities, because long before they were celebrities, they were Jewish kids like you and I once were. Did Adam Lambert celebrate Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Passover? Did David Schwimmer sing the four questions at the Passover meal? Did Jami Gertz Light the Chanukah Menorah? Have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah? Maybe the reverse happened, i.e., they grew up Jewish but only later in life decided to observe holidays, Kashrut, Shabbos, and/or Tahara Mishpacha (laws of family purity). Are any Challiwood Jews keeping kosher?
In a recent post on Jewcy.com, Matthue Roth shared his recent interview with Jewish actor, Mayim Bialyik, (Blossom) and she shared with him her connection to her Jewish roots. And, yes. She takes a dunk in the mikveh once a month (Tahara Mishpacha). As a Baale Teshuva, I am facinated on the subject of why Jewish actors are digging up their Jewish roots and re-planting them very near and dear to their own lives.
Read more about Mayim Bialik and her Jewish re-discovery here. You can also find an entertaining article on how Mayim met up with one of her Blossom fans to study Torah and become friends at JewInTheCity.
Now that the Passover dishes, knives, pots, haggadahs, cookbooks, sippy cups and baby bottles have been packed up and securely sealed until next year (unless we all end up in Jerusalem) I finally have some time to reflect.
First of all, I’d like to give a much needed honorable menschen to my DH; he really helped me out this year. Not only does he work his tushie off to support his 3 girls and 1 boy, he comes home after that and cooks up a storm. And he’s got some incredible recipes up those sleeves, let me tell you. Secondly, to my friends and my daughter’s friends. We all took turns hosting the playgroup; all homes were kept somewhat cleaner using this plan.
The first night we organized a Communal Passover Seder for singles and families at our shul. The Rabbi and his family led the Passover Seder while 51 adults participated. The food was delicious and plentiful (thank you Supersol) and the waiters kept our plates full. The second night (yes, we actually have two nights of all of this eating and drinking) we hosted 5 adults and 4 kids. The kids participated and read from their individual Haggadahs they made in school. That was the most memorable, and worth every penny of their tuition.
This year, the second day of Passover ended as Shabbat began (in other words, we had to have all our meals prepared for Shabbos in advance). I was without my twitter, blogs, and facebook for almost 5 days, wow. After sundown on Shabbos, the in-between days, or Chol-HaMoed started. Chol-HaMoed actually translates to”weekdays of the festival”. A lot of families travel to amusement parks during this time, so from Sunday to Tuesday, people were on the move. We drove to our friends in Highland Park, New Jersey, Tuesday afternoon. They were brave enough to host our family of 5, along with their family of 5. That is an entire separate blog post. So, we ate our last Matzos and potato starch cakes (I think I gained at least 10 lbs. this Passover) and were on our way back home.
Before you could say Challah, our kitchen was transformed from the chometz free zone to the chometz zone. A favorite custom of mine (since I got married and learned about it) is “Schlissel Challah”. In other words, take a key and bake it into a challah, which is a Segulah (sign, symbol, or treasure that can lead to something which is desired). On Torah.org. I found this user friendly statement most appropriate for explanatory purposes:
Isn’t that a nice connection to the key in the challah? I thought so. I hope that this key will open the once known routine of napping and sleeping (my kids are so off their schedules). I’m also off my schedule, as I have not posted, tweeted, or facebooked in a very long time.
As we all have a renewed appreciation for baking with flour, I checked out an ad looking at me from Cafemom (social networking site for moms) and clicked on the link to Betty Crocker. Besides the Make A Wish contest currently in process, there is a Betty Crocker Kitchen Blog on their site as well. When I saw the word “Kosher” and “Guest Blogger” linked together, I immediately wanted to learn more about Jill Colella Bloomfield . You will love what she has to suggest for picky eaters.
I spent Shabbos relaxing and enjoying The Jewish Press when I cam across an article , ”Loud, Obnoxious And Shallow: Hollywood’s Portrayal of Jewish Women”, by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, and I couldn’t agree with him more. This past January, Susie Essman promoted her role in “Loving Leah” the mother of a Torah observant woman that marries her non Torah observant brother-in-law on “The View”. She insulted the dress of chassidic women on national television. She plays a Jewish wife and mother on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, now we know what she really thinks. If you’re not familiar with her character, she is the shallow, status conscious Jewish wife to Larry David’s agent and best friend. This is just one of the many negative stereotypes Jewish women have portrayed on large screens frequently around the world. I must admit, before I was a BT (Baal teshuva), I also thought that Jewish women (excluding those in my family) were like Susie Essman’s character on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. That changed when I participated in a Shabbat meal in Tsfat, Israel (part of Livnot U’lehibanot). I met the kindest, put-together, non-judgemental, Jewish mother, and wife I’ve ever met. I was so inspired by her demeanor that I was like, “I’ll have what she’s having”. This is the kind of Jewish experience my Neshama (soul) craved. And her husband, a real mensch, full of respect for his wife. It was love at first site, I wanted that relationship and respect in my marriage.
It is exactly that experience that made me so thankful to be a Jewish woman, and potentially a wife and mother. Baruch Hashem, I went back to Israel and studied full-time at She’arim, Har Nof, Jerusalem, and the rest is history. I am now, Baruch Hashem, a wife, mother, and Torah Observant Jew. My home is always open to people who need a meal, both Torah Observant and Non-Torah Observant men and women. I want them to experience what I had at that Shabbos meal in Tsfat ten years earlier.
I hope this article will reach the unreachable and open their eyes to the Jewish mothers and wives that speak without shouting, do without expecting, and give without taking. Jewish women have a lot to be proud of (Esther, Sarah, Rachel, Rivkah, etc.) It’s right here in our DNA, after all, the Jewish people “are a light unto the nations”.
As we embark upon Passover, the most celebrated Jewish holiday, Jewish families should remove the (Chametz) dough from their homes and consume only unleavened dough (Matzah) for eight days. Yes, it is flat, but the spiritual benefits are bountiful. How can this be possible? In a post from chabad.org, the signifigance of eating Matzah on Passover is because, “The characteristic of leavened dough (Chametz) is that it rises and swells, symbolizing pride and boastfulness. A Matzah, on the other hand, is thin and flat, suggesting meekness and humility. Passover teaches us that Chametz – arrogance – is the very antithesis of the ideal of Torah”.
As we bite into our Hillel sandwiches and devour the Afikomen this Passover, let’s remember where we came from and how we were brought out of our enslavement. Let’s free ourselves from Jewish stereotypes in the media, and the world will see our true essence.