Archive | September, 2011

When I dip, you dip, we dip

28 Sep


My hubby is saying musaf, which is an additional service said on holidays, shanbat and rosh chodesh, both days of Rosh Hashanah this year. He’ll stand before the small congregation in the Chabad house (conveniently located next to a head shop) of this North Carolina mountain town we find ourselves happily in this holiday season and proclaim his love both for Hashem, the community and our people. But, before he can truly feel ready to do all that he had to dip. Now I’m not talking apples into honey though we have big plans for that over the next several days. No, I’m talking the big dip—-taking a plunge into the mikveh, literally translated as a collection of water, to cleanse and purify. The requirements of a true mikveh are pretty intense. A mikveh must consist of a natural spring or well of naturally occurring water, and thus can be supplied by rivers and lakes which have natural springs as their source. It is usually found in the form of a bathing facility in a local synagogue that remains in ritual contact with a natural source of water, yada yada, you get the picture. Needless to say, this small town doesn’t have one. But, what this small town does have plenty of are natural rivers, lakes and creeks. It’s not hard finding a natural body of water in the mountains but it is a little hard finding a secluded spot for a traditional dip (read: naked dip). After driving for a bit we settled on a gorgeous spot in a national forest (thanks government!) and well, there was some dipping. It wasn’t hard connecting to Gd in this pure place and it got me thinking just how much I haven’t been paying attention to the beauty of this season lately. As much as I work surrounded by my fellow Jewish community members and as much as “doing Jewish” is embedded in most everything I do, I feel like this Rosh Hashanah season might be passing me by before I have time to truly give thanks for the incredible gift that is my life . I mean heck, I didn’t even make one thing outta apples and post it to this here kosher food blog. Nevertheless, I have 3 days of reflection (and eating) ahead of me and with the dipping of today, the dipping of apples into honey tonight and the pride I feel for this huge honor my hubs is about to undertake, well, I think it all means I’m ready to be present this Rosh Hashanah. Shana Tovah—to a sweet new year filled to the brim of peace and goodness.<

Let’s do this…

27 Sep

So I met with my Rabbi a week ago.  It was the first time in a long while that I’ve met with him to talk about my conversion.  We set a lot of goals and even developed a timeline for my conversion.  It looks like in six months I’ll go to the Mikveh.  I’m very excited.  I know that this is the right choice for me.  I am Jewish.  Let’s make it official already, I’m tired of talking about it.  One of the things that I took away from our meeting is a list of questions that I need to be prepared to answer for my Beit Din.  I thought it might be fun to prepare my answers for those questions here before my next meeting with my Rabbi.  Please join in on the discussion.  If you have something to add or would like to answer these questions for yourself (some of them are really thought-provoking) please do!  Please share your thoughts, feelings and opinions.  I’d love it.

What has/have been major turning points for you in your journey to becoming Jewish?

One moment stands out pretty clear in my memory.  I don’t know if it was a turning point necesarily, but it was definitely a moment that changed the way I think and feel about Judaism.  That moment is my friend Dana’s wedding.  I learned a lot that night.  Dana’s wedding was my first Jewish wedding.  I didn’t know what a Ketubah was.  I had never heard of a Chuppah.  I had never seen the Horrah.  I understood what it was to be Jewish on a very basic level.  Her wedding taught me something beyond basic cultural symbols.  I might even go so far as to say that converting was, up to that point, sort of a joke to me.  I had always been told I looked Jewish, had Jewish sensibilities and a Jewish sense of humor (whatever any of that means).  I had even been told by a college acting professor that I shouldn’t move to New York City to pursue an acting career because NYC was already full of  Jews from Brooklyn, I’d just be another.  I know, gross right?  The best part is that that professor is JEWISH.  That night?  Dana’s wedding night, changed everything.  It made me look deeper.  It made me pay attention and ask questions.

The biggest lesson that I learned that night was what (for me at least) is maybe the biggest difference between being a Christian vs. being Jewish.  That lesson?  Live right now.  Here.  Today.  In this space.  The space where you are.  Celebrate with every single stinking molecule of your being.  Dance.  Yell.  Laugh.  Now, I’m not insinuating that Christians don’t get to do that.  No.  What I’m saying is Jews aren’t preparing for a mansion on cloud 9.  We aren’t preparing for a better place that’s supposed to come.  We’re living right here in this world.  We’re trying to make this world a better place.  I want my dance TODAY.  Not only do I want my dance today?  I deserve that.  I deserve joy and happiness right now.  I saw people celebrating.  I mean really celebrating.  I saw true joy in a way that I had never witnessed before.

What changed me, what that joy changed in me was all of the anxiety that I had ever felt.  I’ve had some serious issues with Anxiety.  That’s neither here nor there, but it got me thinking.  If I could work harder at living for this moment and if I could stop worrying about the things that I can’t control, then maybe I could appreciate my life more.  Maybe I could live with more gratitude and be a happier person.  Maybe I could be happy.  I’m not perfect with that.  I get anxious.  I worry.  I just try give that up and away to something greater than myself.  That night was a game changer for me, because it stirred me up and made me really research what being Jewish is.

So I ask you the same question…what has/have been major turning points for you in your journey to becoming Jewish?  Think about it…

Salsa Lessons

25 Sep

A few nights ago we decided to have a picnic in our living room.  As with most things in my life, our little living room floor adventure was clouded with the kind of comedy that most people only see in movies.  It was supposed to be a picnic outside with friends but Fall weather intervened and everyone cancelled.  I know.  You’d think that a little nice Fall weather would get people excited.  Instead we visited with the weather through windows.  We gathered humus, cheese, carrots and crackers along with my famous (ha!) black bean salsa and whatever else we could scrounge together and settled in for an evening of emptying the DVR.

I got my recipe for black bean salsa from Paula Deen’s cookbook.  No, butter is not required.  It might actually be the healthiest thing she makes.  It’s also so completely easy that I make it without thinking.  Don’t you love it when you find a recipe like that?  A recipe that is instantly memorized and requires little to no thought to prepare?  It’s awesome.

So I made my salsa in a huge bowl and we sat down and got caught up on our DVR.  Somewhere in the middle of watching the season finale of True Blood?  My husband (ever the drama queen) starts complaining of a stomach ache.  It get worse.  There are moans from his chair.  Then he’s convinced that he’s dying of a appendicitis.  The pain is so great that he takes to our bed.  I’m rolling my eyes as usual.  Then it hits me too.  The only difference is that I’m not planning my funeral.  I’m frozen on the couch with the worst gas pain ever.  EVER.  I tell him, “YOU HAVE GAS, YOU’RE NOT DYING.”  We giggle a bit and then take turns in the bathroom.  Yes, friends.  We had a great bout of wind.  Dare I say it?  We were farting up a storm.  It was hilarious and awful.

Somewhere in the middle of laughing ourselves to tears my husband comes to me with a sassy face complete with arched eyebrows.  He hands me a bottle of red wine vinegar.  The same bottle of red wine vinegar that I had used to make our black bean salsa.  “Check out the expiration date, Mr. Paula Deen.”  Um…you guys?  Apparently?  Apparently red wine vinegar expires.  Who knew.  The expiration date on the vinegar was FEBRUARY 2010.  Yeah.  Check your calendar.  It’s SEPTEMBER 2011.  I poisoned my family!!  Who even looks at expiration dates?  Not I.  As much fun laughing ourselves blind was, I’ll never not check the expiration of anything again.  I suggest you do the same.


1 can of black beans

1 can whole kernel corn

1 cup edamame

1 medium red onion diced

1 can diced tomato

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 lime (juiced)

salt and pepper to taste.


Wash and drain the cans of beans and corn.  Toss in a large bowl.  Add your edamame.  Dice your onion and throw that in the bowl.  Add the tomato, lime juice, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  You can add extra flavor by getting the canned diced tomatoes that are seasoned with garlic or whatever flavor that your grocery store has that you like.  You could also spice it up a bit by adding a can of Rotel or even a dash or two of Louisiana Hot Sauce.  I find that I like more than the one table-spoon of red wine vinegar that is called for in this recipe…and that’s what got me into trouble.

The Eternal Summer

19 Sep

Oh, hi. My name is Whitney. I live in Miami where it’s still in the mid-90s in September. SEPTEMBER. I keep reading how friends in Chicago, including my beloved co-author, are breaking out their sweaters already and here I am shvitzing all day long in my flip flops. Now I realize I will be biting my tongue come December when our friends and family are huddled around a fire and we’re still hanging in our flip flops but I have to say, I miss fall. I love fall time. I mean, you get pumpkin lattes and pumpkin ales and cider mills and fresh donuts. But not for us down in the tropics. No sir. So because we’re missing out on delicious fall beverages I’m gonna live out loud with my summer beverages. My number one favorite summer beverage (well, favorite non-alcoholic summer beverage) is the iced coffee. And, can I be frank here people, I’m not talking about coffee that’s been brewed in the pot and then refrigerated nor am I talking about instant coffee that you add water and ice to. Oh no my friends. We are talking coffee that has been cold-brewed over night for at least 8 hours and then enjoyed over a cup of ice with a drop (or several) of half & half and agave. Oh friends, it is heaven and so so easy to make. I make a pitcher a week and I honestly look forward to my cup of iced coffee every morning. I have become mildly obsessed with this iced coffee. I haven’t yet decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but regardless, yum.

Step one: Grab a bag of delicious & strong coffee (Cafe Bustelo – kosher and only $4)

Pour about a little less than half the bag into a large pitcher

Pour in enough cold water so that the grounds reach the top of the pitcher

The grounds and water mixture will look a lot like the mud pies you may have made as a wee child.

Finally, cover the pitcher real nice and tight-like and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours but you should feel free to leave it there for upwards of 12.

After the 8 hours of cold-brewing, place a cheesecloth in a mesh strainer over a second pitcher. Gently and as slowly as possible, pour the original picture of coffee into the mesh strainer fitted with the cheesecloth. The grounds will catch in the cheesecloth while the liquid soaks through into the second pitch. You may need to grab a spoon and help some of that liquid down into your second pitcher. Once you’ve finished the transferred all the clean, grind-free coffee over to the second pitcher you are ready to enjoy! Just grab a glass, fill it to the top with ice and pour in your coffee. If you’re like me and you enjoy a little half & half or milk in your iced coffee (i mean, the swirling effect of the half & half hitting the coffee alone makes the calories worth it) with a hint of sweetness, leave a little room at the top to do so. I also highly recommend grabbing some agave syrup to sweeten your coffee. You don’t get hit with chunks of sugar and instead get a nice, even sweetness.

Four Questions: Aaron Potek, Yeshiva Chovevei Torah Rabbinic student and founder of MOOSHY

7 Sep

My dear, sweet co-author, Jeremy, has been trying to get me on board with going vegan.  The fact that he dared to ask me to give up my beloved cheese and I didn’t immediately rip his face off means that I must really really like him 🙂   The fact that I’m considering it means my new job at a school has driven me to loose my mind.  The truth of the matter is that I feel like I haven’t been taking care of myself since school started and it’s not just in diet but in the whole–mind, body and soul.  Working for a school, well, it can suck the life outta ya.  Luckily for me, I really love working with youth and for however chaotic the school environment is, being able to connect with the students bring me incredible joy.  However, the chaotic school environment also connects me to massive sugar intake (thanks be to every administrator who has candy on their desk and my compulsion to eat said candy when stressed) and what I am heretofore referring to as “passion-handles” (“love” is too light of a word for what’s happening to my mid-section).  So, I made a declaration to my husband that after Labor Day I will be going wheat free and ease on the sugar.  And, like the supportive partner he is, he smiled, nodded and replied, “Whatever you say honey”.  I’ll admit it, I tend to get really pumped on an idea and then get bored with it within a week or so (what did ever happen to my knitting? The daily smoothies I was going to make in the Vitamix? Cooking classes? Guitar lessons?).   But then, in the wee hours of the morning, when I’m desperately trying to convince my brain to shut off so I can sleep, it hit me–MOOSHY.  Meat Only On Shabbat and Yontiv (holidays, for the non-Yiddish sect).  Now there’s a realistic diet I think I can get behind.  What’s better?  MOOSHY is the brain child of a dear friend, the wonderful Aaron Potek, and has it’s foundation in spirituality and connectedness, which are always a good way to maintain a new eating habit.

So who is this Aaron Potek?  A native of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, I met Potek when he was a senior at the University of Michigan and I was a Program Director for the Hillel: Center for Jewish Student Life.  Luckily for me, Potek decided to spend a year studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem during the exact year I had chosen to study there as well.  It was during our year at Pardes that Potek created MOOSHY.  Having attended public high school and the University of Michigan as an observant Jew, Potek was accustomed to making connections with Jews of all denominations as well as with non-Jews.  Despite having received his undergraduate degree in engineering, Aaron decided to become a Rabbi.  He has dedicated his life and study to making connections and Judaism accessible to all and MOOSHY is a prime example of this.

Aaron Potek: MOOSHY Founder and all around awesome person

1.   JH:  How was the idea for MOOSHY born?
AP:  The idea for MOOSHY was a fusion of different values of mine. From the Jewish calendar perspective, I felt that I wanted to do something tangibly different on holidays to add to the “specialness” of certain days during the year. From an ethical perspective, I discovered that America’s high meat consumption was significantly contributing to a variety of problems, including global warming, mistreatment of animals, and inefficient use of food. The more I thought about developing a spiritual meat-eating practice, the more I realized how rooted this idea is in Jewish sources and tradition. It’s clear to me that meat was never given to us to be eaten multiple times a day, and historically most Jews have only eaten meat on shabbat. Judaism for me is about living a life of example, and given the state of the meat industry today, I believe we have an opportunity to model a lifestyle of restraint and holiness.
2.  JH: What are the tenants of MOOSHY?
AP: The tenants of MOOSHY are simple. Reduce your meat consumption, and elevate the meat you do eat. There is a concept in Judaism called a “Seudat Mitzvah,” which is a meal on certain special occasions like shabbat or weddings that is meant to contribute to the joy of that day. By limiting our meat consumption to those meals, we can connect more to the meat and appreciate its unique status while at the same time adding to our celebration of the day.
3.   JH: How have you been able to maintain MOOSHY in your life?  
AP: I have been practicing MOOSHY for about four years, so by now it’s pretty easy. In the beginning it was hard to turn down meat when going to a friend’s house or visiting an area with kosher meat restaurants. But I really do feel myself much more excited for the days when I do eat meat, and keeping that in mind helps me push through the hard times. Still, I’m not proud to admit that I’ve turned down a fair number of steak dinners. But the struggle has been almost entirely mental. I’m not convinced our bodies need a lot of meat, and I make sure to get the protein I need from other foods. Obviously certain people need meat more regularly for health reasons, but in general I think it might even be a healthier diet to reduce meat consumption. There clearly are enough vegetarians and vegans out there to show that meat isn’t a necessity. 

Potek and I at the shuk in Jerusalem, summer 2008

4.   JH:  What’s your favorite week day MOOSHY recipe?
AP:  The unique thing about MOOSHY is that we’re vegetarians during the week and meat-eaters on shabbat. Describing that now I almost feel like some sort of weird shabbos werewolf. During the week I eat what most vegetarians eat: tofu, veggie stir fry, pasta, etc. I don’t really use recipes – not because I’m an amazing and spontaneous chef, but because the stuff I make is pretty easy. If you need the recipe for a toasted PB&J, I guess I’m willing to give it to you.

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