Archive | October, 2011

two for one

30 Oct

I owe this blog a recipe AND a conversion question.  Today?  I’m giving you both.  How does that sound?  Try to contain yourself.  We’re running out of really juicy questions, so I’m going to have to go with a pretty easy one.

If you were filling out a form today, which asked you to fill in your religion, what would you write in?

Seriously?  This is a conversion question?  I mean I guess I get having to pause for a second?  Listen, I’ve been saying I was Jewish since before I really even knew what that meant.  My Facebook profile, for instance, has said that I’m Jewish pretty much since my profile went up.  It’s kinda a non-issue.  The thing I’ve been wondering lately is the exact opposite.  When do other people start seeing me as Jewish?  Maybe that’s a weird question. I feel like I’m becoming more and more sensitive about my Jewish identity.  I’m not worried if I’m Jewish enough, I’m more concerned that people think converting is somehow fake or inauthentic.  I’m not going to temple just because I’m converting, I’m not celebrating Jewish holidays to put on a big Jewish show.  I just wonder lately if the folks around me understand that.  I’m definitely going to temple more often now, than I was before the conversion process began.  I don’t know.  I’m not going to come to some sort of solution in this blog post.  I guess it’s an ongoing process for everyone in my life, not just me.  It’s a growth process?  I guess this is where I get to practice patience.

Can we talk about food now?  I finished reading Eating Animals this weekend.  In the last week?  I haven’t really been eating animals, y’all.  The book really changed me.  Maybe the word change is going to get me into trouble.  The book really forced me to think a little more about my food choices.  I’m not saying that I’ll never eat meat again.  Meat is delicious.  I’m just not going to eat it every time I sit down for a meal.  I had a turkey burger last night. I hadn’t eaten meat in about a week.  I wasn’t even really trying to do avoid meat.  In fact, I didn’t even realize that I hadn’t eaten meat all week until Friday night when we sat down for a little pre-Shabbat dinner.

How on Earth could I possibly not realize that I hadn’t been eating meat?  Well, I was inspired by my friend Julie to make a pot of vegetarian chilli.  When I say a pot of chilli, what I really mean to say is a GIANT pot of vegetarian chilli.  We’ve been eating it all week.  The recipe that I found is crazy simple.  Like it takes only about an hour to cook, which is sorta out of character for making chilli.  Once we were at the end of the chilli I realized that I hadn’t really missed meat.  How could I with stories of factory farming running through my head.

I don’t know what your connection to meat is or how you feel about giving it up.  I’m not judging you and I’m certainly not here to try to convert you to vegetarianism.  But…what about a vegetarian challenge.  Could you do it?  Could you even make it a week?  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Eating Kosher style really asks me to think about the food that I’m eating.  It forces me to be cognizant.  So, I ask you.  Are you aware?  After my turkey burger last night?  I think I’ve decided that I don’t really miss meat.  It has only been a week and who knows what I’ll want to eat for lunch tomorrow, but for now?  I think I’m not that interested.

Want to have a vegetarian moment?  Here’s a quick and easy vegetarian chilli for you.  The best part about this chilli is that it’s sorta fall themed.


1 large butternut squash
1 (12 oz.) bag frozen onions and peppers
2 (15 oz.) cans stewed tomatoes, Mexican style
1 can black beans, drained
1 can red beans, drained
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons chili powder
½ teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil


In large soup pot sauté chopped onions in olive oil until tender.  Stir in chili powder and cumin. Chop your butternut squash into half-inch or inch size pieces.  Add butternut squash and vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes or until squash is tender but not mushy.  Add tomatoes and drained beans and simmer and simmer for 5 minutes.

It’s seriously amazing.  I think the best part might be that it’s so fast.  I let my chilli simmer for about 20 minutes, because my husband wasn’t home yet…




Oh, Lord.

19 Oct

What is the hardest thing that you are giving up from your prior religion?

Oy va voy.  Here we go.  Wow.  How do you write an introduction to that question?  This one is particularly sensitive.  It’s almost too sensitive to answer.  I mean, I guess.  I’m over thinking I have to cry the blues when talking about religion or switching religions.  I’ve got to tell you I don’t feel any great loss.  I don’t associate finding a path to Gd, or choosing one religion over another with loss.  I believe that there are many paths to Gd.  If Jesus is your way, good for you.  If you’re into Buddha, awesome.  I’ve never thought that there is one way to get there.  I’m choosing to go down a Jewish path.  Mazel Tov to me.  Mazel Tov to you if you’re doing it a different way.  The goal is to be cognisant.  The goal is to be mindful and not blindly follow a choice that you were spoon fed at 3.

Though, I think I’m supposed to answer this with something big like Jesus or Christmas.  I’ve got no beef with Jesus.  He was a good man.  He’s a great example.  I just don’t think of him as divine.  AND…so what.  You might have noticed that a lot of folks don’t.  Then there’s Christmas.  Well, Christmas?  To me?  That’s a time of year that celebrates family.  Being Jewish doesn’t mean that I don’t get to celebrate my love for my family at any point in the year.  If my mom wants me home for Christmas, you can bet your ass I’m going.

I’d rather celebrate the things that I’m gaining.  How about how I get to argue about the meaning of the Bible?  How about how now I’m part of the conversation?  How about how I have to take time out each year and review who I am and how I’m relating to people in my world?  I could go on and on.  I’m going to choose to celebrate the things that I’m gaining, rather that what I may or may not have lost.  So, take that.

Eating Animals

18 Oct

My favorite thing about eating Kosher is that it keeps me conscious of the food choices that I’m making.  Not just will I have chicken tonight.  There are bigger decisions.  I was surprised to learn that eating Kosher style goes well beyond avoiding mixing meat and dairy.  Will I eat processed meats, for instance.  Where did these eggs come from?  Can I make salad dressing that involves ingredients that I can pronounce?  There are a lot of questions, which of course can make eating very Jewish.  Now that I’m paying more attention to the things that I’m eating, I find that I’m also searching for ways to make me more food conscious.  Naturally this lead to me reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

I know what you’re thinking.  What a terrifying thing to read.  How could I possibly do this to myself?  How could I back myself into a meatless corner.  I was warned not to read it.  Everyone I talked to about the book told me how it made them the great vegetarian that they are today.

I’m sorry to report that the book isn’t having quite the same effect on me.  Though, I should also admit to you that I’m only about half way through.  I started reading Eating Animals last week mostly because my Rabbi suggested it to me.  I also thought that it would force me to become a vegetarian, which I was maybe a little excited about.

Confession:  I want to be a vegetarian.  I’ve always wanted to be a vegetarian.  I’ve also always wanted to be a tap dancer.  I’m not very good at either.  I never got those tap lessons and I can’t stop my obsession with chicken.  There.  My secret is out.

I’m a terrible person.  I’m a miserable excuse for a Liberal Democrat.  I can’t even give up meat.  Somewhere there’s an alarm going off.  At any moment they’re going to come and take away my subscription to The New Yorker, force me to wear slightly less chunky glasses and rip up all of my cardigan sweaters.  But it’s true.  I’m just not very good with that kind of limitation.  No more chicken?  Ummmm…no.

What I’m trying to tell you is that if you’ve been thinking about reading this book (ahem…Whitney?) then you should read it.  There are some pretty terrible images in the book, I think we all know that factory farming is a really disgusting thing.  I don’t, however, think that it’ll force you to run screaming from the meat section of your local grocer.  Will I start buying Kosher meat?  Probably.  Will I think twice before actually eating meat?  Absolutely, but I won’t give it up forever.  I’m just not that strong.

Here’s a little vegan recipe for you.  If you’re feeling a little sassy about your devotion to meat?  Brown 1 or 2 lbs of turkey (or ground beef if you’re really feeling defiant) and add it to the recipe…


1 large Onion

1 bag of Spinach

1 can Rotel

2 cans White Beans

2 bags of Uncle Ben’s 90 Second rice…or you can be fancy and make your own…but you’ll spend 45 minutes on that and who has that kind of time?


Chop up that onion and fry it in a couple of table spoons of olive oil.  Everything delicious starts this way.  When you’ve browned the onion, toss in your cans of beans and Rotel.  You’ll have a pretty good soupy thing going on at this point.  Bring it to a boil.  Turn the heat down and add your spinach.  Stir in the spinach, you want it to wilt into the mix.  Prepare your rice.  When the rice is ready?  You’re ready to eat!  Toss some rice in a bowl and add your bean mixture.  Stir and enjoy.

Our House

12 Oct

If someone were to walk into your home, how would they know it is a Jewish Home?

This question is pretty hilarious.  Well, it’s pretty hilarious if you’ve been to my house.  My house is pretty Jewish.  I suppose we intended it to be.  It’s not like we sat down before we moved in and had an outline and a map and marked off the things that we should do to in order to have a Jewish home.  It just sorta happened.  There’s a couple of menorahs.  We’ve got candlesticks.  Our Ketubah is in the first thing you see when you come in the front door.  We have a Mezuzah.  There are a lot of wedding photos.  Then there’s the onslaught of Jewish themed books.  They’re everywhere.  So…I guess our house is pretty Jewish.

I hadn’t really even thought about it that much until a couple of months ago.  I had some friends over for a get together.  A small group of us were gathered around my dining room table reminiscing.  A friend’s husband came back from the bathroom and said, “Does a Rabbi live here?  There are Jewish books even in the bathroom.  This might be the most Jewish place I’ve ever been.”

It’s not the most Jewish place, but it definitely is Jewish.  It’s funny what other people see when they look at your house, that you don’t.  There are a lot of things that you might notice if you came over.  It’s also a pretty gay place with an enormous TV.  Sure, I know that we have Jewy things, but I wouldn’t call my home the most Jewish place that anyone has ever been.  What does your house say about you?

Matbucha madness

12 Oct

Red peppers post roast

Several weeks ago, this Ashkenazi Jewess found herself at the shabbat dinner table of some hardcore Sephardic folk.  And seriously, I’m not talking about your garden variety Sephardic couple who can identify that slippery slope between too many hamsas on a wall and just enough while also putting paprika and hot chili peppers on everything.  I mean REAL Israeli Sephardic folk.  On top of the Sephardic-ness glory of the couple themselves, the hostess’ mother AND brother are chefs at a local kosher grocer so needless to say, I was packing Tums and my appetite when we arrived that night.  See, the benefit of being a Southern Jew is that I don’t have a fear of the spice (oh, I should clarify.  The Tums were for my hubby who is so deeply Ashkenazi I truly think male babies of his family are born craving bourbon and herring and end up settling for breast milk).  This was truly one of the yummiest meals I’d been too in a while–one of those meals where, if you close your eyes and open your nose and taste buds, you swear you’re back in Israel eating at the shuk. So, this of course made me run home to see if I could replicate any of the yummiest of the night.  I’m not about to jump into Sephardic cooking thinking I know what I’m doing.  I’m aware that there is a learning curve so it might behoove me to take it slow.  I decided to try making matbucha.  Matbucha (pronounced maht-boo-kah) is a cold tomato salad/relish dish served as an appetizer along side hummus, tahini, grape leaves, etc.  The great thing about matbucha is that it’s one of those dishes that takes hours but the majority of the time is taken up by just letting it do it’s thing on the stove.   And for all my fellow Eastern European Jews out there, feel free to serve your matbucha next to the smoked white fish at your next kiddish lunch.  I’m telling you, you’re Uncle Sol is gonna LOVE it!

Stewing and stewing


  • 2 lbstomatoes
  • 1 lb red bell pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, quartered
  • 3 dried chilies (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoonshot paprika
  • 1/3 cupolive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 lemon


Preheat oven to 350°F and put a big pot of water on to boil.  Place bell peppers on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven at  until the skins have browned.  Submerge tomatoes in boiling hot water for 10 minutes or until the skin falls off.  Cut tomatoes in half and squeeze out the juice and seeds.  Cut tomatoes in chunks and put in medium-sized pot on stove (don’t turn stove on yet). When red peppers are done,  peel the skin from the bell peppers and remove the seeds and stem.  Cut bell peppers in chunks.  Add all ingredients to pot filled with tomatoes and pour oil over top.  Bring contents to a boil, then turn down to a medium heat.  Cook covered for 2 hours.  Remove cover and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Stir occasionally to prevent burning.   When liquid is done, before refrigerating, stir juice of 1/2 a lemon into the finished matbucha. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Say my name…say my name

10 Oct

I hope you enjoy me working through my Beit Din questions, because guess what?  I’ve got a few more to deal with.  My next conversion meeting is next Tuesday so get your Jewish Learning life vests on, we’ve got some swimming to do.  Today’s question isn’t so bad, at least not when it’s compared to the last question I gave you.

If you could pick a Hebrew name today, what would it be and why?

I should confess that the moment that I decided to convert I began searching for a name for myself.  I’ve gone back and forth several times on a few different names.  It’s hard giving a name to anything, especially yourself.  A couple of weeks ago, though, I landed on what I’m pretty sure will be my Hebrew name.  I’m almost scared to tell anyone what it is for fear that I’ll change it with my next breath.

I love my given name.  My name is Jeremy Ashley.  My mother named me after her favorite character in Gone With the Wind.  While I enjoy that I’m named after a handsome character in one of my favorite books, I’m not super excited to be named after a wimp.  AND?  When you’re in first grade and you’re discovering the world and how things work?  When you share with your first grade class that you’re middle name is Ashley?  And you’re male?  AND you live in The South?  AND the person (read GIRL) seated next to you is named ASHLEY?  Things get complicated.

See how early we learn the power and magic of a name?  I learned early (First Grade!) that my name wasn’t right.  Ashley isn’t a boy’s name.  I was given a girl’s name.  How could my mother have gotten it all wrong?  How could this have happened?  Learning to love my name is maybe the great metaphor of my life.  I learned to love my girly middle name and myself, but I will never forget the power of giving or carrying a name.

The Hebrew name that I’ve chosen is Noah Lior.

Why Noah?  First off?  It’s one of my favorite names.  Period.  Since I’m not planning on having children?  I figured…I could give the name to myself.  Maybe I’ll live to regret this?  Maybe not.  I guess we’ll have to wait and see.  I also love the story of Noah and the flood.  He built a giant boat because Gd told him to and filled it with animals.  That’s crazy!  The story is also a crazy display of faith.  Gd said build a boat, y’all, so pass me some nails.  I love that.  The story also brought us the rainbow.  I think it’s beautiful that Gd sends the rainbow as a sign that everything is going to be alright.  Every time I see a rainbow I think of Noah’s story and how Gd is still saying “it’s gonna be alright, y’all.”

The more I think about the story of Noah, the more I feel that in some way it is my own story.  Noah built a giant boat and traveled from one world to the next.  He didn’t understand why.  He just did it.  He was compelled to do what he was told.  I feel that imagery in my own life.  I’m building a boat.  I’m getting in it and in a few months when I get out of the Mikvah?  I’ll be in a new land.

Why Lior?  There are a few reasons.  I want to honor my biological mother in some way through my name.  I can’t name myself Laura, so I picked a name that starts with L to honor her memory.  When I found the name Lior, it actually reminded me of the name Laura because the feminine form of Lior is Liora.  Very similar.  The name Lior means I have light, which is a pretty great image, especially when you combine the idea of Noah landing in a new world.  So there you have it.  We’ll see if I change it before I formally take it on.

The Days of Ow!

5 Oct

Whew.  If you’re like me?  The Days of Awe have been more like The Days of OWW!  I’ve been running around going to services, working, baking, traveling.  It has been a lot.  I’m tired, y’all!  I should probably be in bed. If only.  If I’m going to answer all of the questions for my Beit Din before my next meeting with my Rabbi?  I’ve got to get to work!  So, I figured I’d throw one out there for us to think about.  So it’s conversion question day!  Maybe one day I’ll ever get to cook for myself again and hand out a recipe or two?  Maybe.

How do you imagine G-d?

I know, right?  Can you believe I have to sit in front of people and answer this question?  That’s a lot to take in.  G-d.  At first this question really scared me and I thought I should save it for the end.  Then I decided that it was best to get it over with.  So, here goes.  I used to imagine G-d as the old man on a cloud behind the pearly gates.  You know that old imagery.  I’m sure at some point or other we’ve all had that picture in our mind. He’s up there making decisions and answering prayers.  Maybe that’s because that’s what we’re taught as children?  At least that’s what I was taught.  Though I always saw everything through grand fairytale, storybook glasses when I was a kid, so this Disney version makes sense.

I don’t think of G-d as a person so much any more.  I think of G-d as a force.  Maybe that sounds goofy.  It’s hard for me to quantify G-d.  I don’t know what G-d looks like and I’m having a far harder time trying to describe anything having to do with him/her.  The more I think about G-d the less I know what to say.  I try not to think of G-d and what form he might take.  I try to just think of him/her as the thing that is in control.  What I do know is that G-d exists.  I know because of how incredibly lucky (blessed) I am.  I think that’s it for me.  I see G-d in the blessings.  I see him in the lessons (even the junk I don’t like).

Oprah has a really nice way of talking about G-d.  She says that he starts by throwing pebbles at you.  Those are the moments in your life where you see little coincidences.  The times when you have a certain feeling or intuition about something.  When you don’t pay attention G-d starts throwing small rocks to get our attention.  If you still aren’t getting the message?  The rocks (messages) get bigger until  he eventually drops a boulder on your head.  No, I don’t think G-d is throwing rocks at me, but I do think that I’m getting guidance every day and sometimes it comes in whispers and sometimes I get a message as big as a mountain.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe G-d to me, how I see him, is as a guiding force or light in my life.  The way things come together or don’t and the lesson in that.

What about you?  How do you see G-d?  Do you?


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