Tag Archives: Chicago

5 Tips on Being a Helpful House Guest for New Parents + Curried Roasted Butternut Squash Soup w/Coconut Milk

25 Nov
I heart Chicago.

I heart Chicago.

I took a couple of days off. My best friend had a baby several weeks ago and dang it, I wanted to meet her. It’s hard taking time off. I work more than full time. I’ve got my little critter plus the 150 students I attempt to take care of at work and on top of that, Thanksgiving is around the corner and we’re hosting again this year.  I was supposed to book this trip in December but then December’s proposed trip date turned into a proposed January trip date and it was beginning to feel like I would never really get there.  And yet, something happened while sitting in yet another meeting at work and I thought to myself, “I gotta get out of here”. And so, in less dramatic fashion than I’m making it seem, I booked my ticket and arrived in Chicago this past Wednesday night (Sidebar: Dressing for a November trip that departs from Miami but arrives in Chicago is really an art form I’ve come very close to mastering).

I thought maybe I would have forgotten what is was like to travel solo; it had been so long since I’d traveled without baby and husband in tow. I spent over a decade traveling all over the world by myself but since getting married, the traveling has become a partner-based endeavor. I wondered if I’d remember what it was like to not worry about things like when I’d be able to change Siona’s diaper next or if we factored enough time into our schedule to account for the ever-so-fun security line with a toddler. Turns out, I never lost my travel legs and to be perfectly honest, it felt great to fly alone. Folks, I don’t mean to alarm you but I read an ENTIRE magazine— cover to cover! I mean I savored every second of my uninterrupted magazine-reading and even read the silly ads in the back (Yes, it was an US Weekly and no, it turns out that I do not need a tank top that reads, “Team Peeta”).  Hell, i watched a whole movie on my iPad without interruption. I was not going to let this alone time go wasted. ‘Twas glorious.

My favorite cozy corner in Annie's place.

Cozy, comfort.

Hot coffee on a cold day . . . I think I remember what that was like.

Hot coffee on a cold day . . . I think I remember what that was like.

Glazed and Infused: All the hype was pretty much worth it.

Glazed and Infused: All the hype was pretty much worth it.

Daniel and his baby Judah.

Daniel and his baby Judah.

But I digress. This is a “how to” post. But I’m not writing it because I think I know it all. Oh no my friends. I’m writing this because my dear friend, Annie, knows it all. The four days I was in Chicago were spent repaying a favor. I needed to take care of my girl (and new mom), Jackie and her baby girl, Violet, the way she took care of me when Siona was born.  I was supposed to do this last year when Annie had her baby boy, Judah, since she had spent 5 days with Siona and me in all my post-partum glory.  But sadly, I got the flu and had to cancel my trip.  So, one year later, in Annie’s honor and with her by my side, I finally landed in Chicago to take care of Jackie and Violet.

When you’re a regular guest, it’s safe to say that there’s a level of comfort you look forward to or might even expect from your host/hostess (or maybe this is just me being SUPER Southern). But when you’re the houseguest of new parents, it’s your job and, in my opinion, your obligation to not just “pitch in” but to be altogether expendable to new parents.  And no one, I mean,  no one,  has mastered this art of being the perfect new parent houseguest than my girl, Annie.   She’s helpful in ways that might border on Saint-like status. So, the following list has been compiled from watching her at work in all her glory. For if you are of an age where your friends aren’t quite having babies yet, I promise you, one day they just might and you will need to be there for them as, Gd willing, they will be there for you. Or, you might find these tips helpful if you’re possibly in a stage in life like me where roughly 65% of your Facebook feed is purely pictures of your friends’ kids (the other 35% being BuzzFeed round-ups and cat memes). Or maybe, just maybe, you just had a baby and your in-laws are coming in for a stay and you want to be all, “Hey, Mom-in-law, isn’t this post about how to be a good houseguest to new parents funny? You should read it . . . carefully.”

1.  Take Care of the Animal – Your friends, new mom and dad, are exhausted.  They are knee-deep in care-giving for their tiny new human and sometimes, their first-born, the dog/cat/hamster/fish/etc., gets overlooked.  Pets aren’t overlooked because there’s a lack of love.  Pets in the homes of brand new parents are overlooked because new parents are experiencing an exhaustion that can’t be topped. They’re barely taking care of themselves, much less their beloved pet.  So, if there’s a pet in the house, clean the cage/litter box/tank or take it for a walk.  Fluffy will be very grateful.

2.  Cook –  Make sure what you cook is healthy and will last at least a week or can be frozen. I spent all day on Thursday cooking for Jackie and her new family.  She requested homemade pasta sauce so, obviously, I complied.  I also made curried roasted butternut squash soup with coconut milk (recipe below) and mini zucchini muffins and homemade granola as Jackie expressed concern of her lack of eating in the morning (Jake and Jackie are foodies.  They went to El Buli for their honeymoon.  Cooking for them is very intimidating).

3. Don’t Leave the House Empty-Handed – Taking out the trash/recycling is obnoxious when you don’t have a new baby to take care of.  Plus, for some reason trash and recycling seems to pile up quicker when you’ve just had a baby then in your previous life.  So, after your visit of cleaning and cooking, make sure you don’t leave empty-handed and offer to take out the trash on your way out.

4. Address the Thank You Notes – My girl, Annie, actually offered to write Jackie’s Thank You notes.  I could see the temptation in Jackie’s eyes but ultimately, she wrote her own while the baby was napping.  However, the real time-suckage of Thank You notes is the addressing part.  If baby is sleeping or in someone else’s arms, ask for that address list and start writing.  You’ll rescue new mama from trying to find the time for addressing a sea of envelopes but also the inevitable guilt of being late on her notes (or that’s just us Jewish mama’s having to battle our guilt-complexes yet again).

5. Hold the Baby – Hold that baby for as long as your arms can stand it and give mama an opportunity to take a bath, take a nap or whatever else she’s been itching to get done.  Heck, even if it’s 15 minutes of Pinterest surfing, give her that opportunity.  It’s not for you to judge how she spends her time.  It’s for you to offer and allow her that sacred thing called, “free time”.

Annie, she can take care of people AND decorate.

The woman knows how to decorate.

Homemade tomato sauce on some crusty bread and some creamy cheese.

Homemade tomato sauce on some crusty bread and some creamy cheese.

The murals in Chicago

The murals in Chicago

Me and our sweet Violet.

Me and our sweet Violet.

Curried Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Milk:

Ingredients:
1 whole butternut squash – halved & peeled
Coconut oil
1 small onion – diced
2 cloves of garlic – diced
2 cups of veggie broth or water
Curry powder
Sea salt
Cayenne pepper
1 can coconut milk
1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro

Method:
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. After peeling and cutting in half length-wise, slather the inside of your squash with just enough coconut oil that is evenly covered but not “oily”. Place your halved and peeled squash oil side down on your baking sheet and roast for 40 – 45 minutes or until soft. Once it’s finished, let cool for about 10 minutes or so. Once cooled, chop your squash into small-ish pieces and set aside.

During the cooling phase, sauté your diced onion in a large stock pot using about 3 tbsp of coconut oil. Sauté for one minute and add garlic. Sauté for another 3 minutes or so or until onions are translucent. Add your seasoning – I go heavy on seasoning this so roughly 2 tbsp of curry or so. Then add a dash of the cayenne and salt. Stir all together and let sauté for another minute. Add the squash and stir. Add the stock or water and stir. Bring mixture to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Let simmer for about 10 -15 minutes, adding more stock or water along the way just so it stays since and moist but not overly “soupy”. After about 15 minute, remove from heat and, using a hand immersion blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. Add the coconut milk and stir. Season to your tastes. Top with fresh cilantro and enjoy.

Roasted Butternut Squash + Coconut Milk Soup

Roasted Butternut Squash + Coconut Milk Soup

(Black-Eyed) Peas + Love

15 Aug
Wedding  light

Wedding
light

The third in the Jewhungry August Love Stories come courtesy of one of the blog’s co-founders, Jeremy. Jeremy is an amazing storyteller and an incredibly creative soul. I wish we were next-door neighbors. We’d probably get fired from our jobs because we’d be on our porch swings sipping spiked Arnold Palmers all day. Sounds like heaven. I dare you not to fall in love with him through his word.

It was the black-eyed peas. Isn’t that where all great Southern Romances start? They should. I guess that isn’t really where it started. But that is definitely when I knew my life was about to change. Those black-eyed peas made me open up my eyes a little wider; they made me take notice. I mean come on, y’all. A man who will hand you a bowl of black-eyed peas and a slice of cornbread when the rest of the world looks at you like you’ve lost your mind? That’s a man you need to pay attention to, that is a man you should keep. If I were Scarlett O’Hara I would have required a fainting couch. Instead I grabbed my bowl of peas, took in a deep breath, gave a wry-smile and went on my lunch break.

Love is Funny

Love is Funny

Whitney's Wedding Weekend (say that 10 times fast)

Whitney’s Wedding Weekend (say that 10 times fast)

I started working in a restaurant during graduate school because that’s what graduate acting students are supposed to do. Actors work in restaurants. I guess actors are really supposed to be waiters, but I am far too clumsy to jump in the deep end like that. Honestly, I’m as likely to fall down as I am to take another breath. Volunteering to carry a tray full of drinks would be disastrous for everyone involved. I needed to work up to something like that, so I started out in the shallow end as a host.

Being a host at a busy downtown Chicago restaurant is not as glamorous as it may sound. Aside from looking up and having Maya Angelou or some hot baseball player in my face, there wasn’t a lot to brag about. Why do people act like fools when they go out to eat? Working at that welcome desk was like working in a pressure cooker. There was always a new drama, someone was always upset and everyone was hungry. It was pretty miserable.

When I look back on that time in my life it’s pretty clear to me that I had “dropped my basket.” Why did I stand at that desk night after night after night organizing a dining room for $12 an hour? Oh, right. It was so I could avoid thinking about how my life was in the toilet. I had moved to Chicago to study theatre. Exciting! I had arrived with a boyfriend and a plan. By the time I got out of school I had no boyfriend and my only plan was to not end up back in Arkansas with my parents. Everything had changed and it was not necessarily for the better. I should probably have been doing something more productive with my time than handing out menus and putting asses in chairs, but I couldn’t. I was stuck.

By the time Andy arrived I had almost given up. This was it. I would just be a host for the rest of my life. There are worse things. There are far worse jobs. I wasn’t a garbage man. Being a garbage man is worse than being a host, right?

I noticed Andy on his first day of training because I had never seen a restaurant manager smile so much. He was like a little miniature Sun. He was glowing. When you’re training to be a manager in a restaurant they make you work in all of the different departments. It’s supposed to help you become acquainted with how everything works. It’s mostly just low level torture.

His first week of training was in the kitchen. There he was behind the line in his little chef’s outfit smiling like a dang crazy person. No one has ever looked so happy standing in front of 1400 degree charcoal grills. No. One.

I was on my lunch break and was super excited because we had a new special. It was pork medallions over a bed of greens and black eyed peas. The only trouble was I didn’t want the pork. I just wanted a huge bowl of those black eyed peas and a slice of cornbread. It reminded me of home. I was willing to pay whatever I had to for those peas. I placed my order and waited.

The Chef came over to me.

You want the pork special without the meat?

Yep. I just want the black eyed peas.

Just black eyed peas? That doesn’t make any sense.

I’m from the South. That’s how we do. Is it a problem?

No.

Thank you.

I waited. My order did not come up. Finally I took matters into my own hands. I walked over to the only friendly face in the kitchen. I explained my order to Andy and explained the situation. I had paid for the peas, I just needed somebody to make them happen.

You just want a bowl of black eyed peas?

Yes, please.

Ummm. Okay.

I watched as he walked over to where the peas were kept. He took a bowl, filled it and handed it to me. I smiled and walked away.

I smiled because in that moment I knew that I had just met my husband. I know it sounds goofy, but it’s true. I knew when he handed me those black eyed peas that it was done. There were years between this moment and our first date. Years. I was not ready to be dating someone and he was in a relationship. That was…almost 10 years ago?

I am always on a quest to add meaning to what is happening in my life. How did this happen? What does that mean? I really believe that Gd is sending us messages all the time. I’m constantly trying to figure out what they are. What is He trying to tell me? I ended up working in that restaurant for a lot of reasons. I met wonderful people, I had amazing experiences. I learned so much about myself and about how the world works. That restaurant helped me to become a grown up. When I really think about that place, what I know for sure is that it brought me my husband. Yeah. Gd works in mysterious ways.

Give Peas a Chance

Give Peas a Chance

Hoppin’s John

WHAT:

1 large yellow onion chopped (whatever kind of onion you love can be used)
3 carrots chopped
3 celery sticks chopped
2 15oz cans of black eyed peas
1 15oz can of whole kernel corn
2 10oz cans of Rotel (I’m from the South, ya’ll)
10 oz frozen Lima beans thawed (you can used canned if you like)
2 cups rice (I use brown rice because Dr. Oz says so…2 bags of Uncle Ben’s 90 second rice will do the trick)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste

HOW:

Whisk olive oil and vinegar together in a small bowl and set aside.

Everything good starts with a fried onion, y’all. Fry the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil until tender. You don’t want these veggies crunch and you don’t want them mushy. It’s a delicate balance. Do what’s right for you. I don’t think this takes more than 5ish minutes.

Hot and Fresh

Hot and Fresh

I use a lot of canned veggies because I’m always in a hurry. You can use frozen veggies if that’s your thing. The measurements aren’t hard and fast rules. Don’t be scared to experiment with the amounts of stuff you’ve got. Mix your fried onion/carrot/celery goodness with the black eyed peas and other veggies. Combine everything until you’ve got a real good distribution of all of the ingredients. Toss in the oil & vinegar mixture. Stir that around until everything is coated. Add salt and black pepper to your liking. This makes a really great vegetarian dinner or side dish. Enjoy!

Coconut Milk-Soaked Southern Fried Chicken: A Kosher Love Story

2 Aug
Wedding day

Wedding day

As mentioned in my previous post, it was 2002 and I was fresh outta college and outta my first real relationship. The relationship was lovely and sweet and I’m blessed to have had it. It lasted nearly 3 years, which is like 10 years in college time. So when I awoke one morning in Washington, DC, where I was living (and finally in my own apartment. I was staying with my boyfriend when we broke up because my apartment wasn’t ready, which meant I had to live with my ex for the first 3 days of our break up. I do NOT recommend that), newly single, what I didn’t realize is that I was starting the journey of real world singlehood. Oh. Sh*t. Here’s the thing, common sense and ‘street smarts’, I had a plenty. I had buckets of it. I had traveled to Italy and lived on my own for a summer when I was 19. I had lived and worked in DC when I was 20 and I had studied abroad in Israel and traveled throughout Europe during my Junior year in college. I knew how to live in the world and not only survive, but do it pretty decently. These experiences taught me an immense amount about life. However, during about 2/3 of this time, I had a boyfriend so dating ‘common sense’, well, I didn’t even have a little sand bucket full of it.

These women are the reason I survived my 20s

These women are the reason I survived my 20s

And this woman - my Jackie - I spent a large amount of time in my 20s, on the dance floor with Jackie.  It was our cardio.

And this woman – my Jackie – I spent a large amount of time in my 20s, on the dance floor with Jackie. It was our cardio. (Montreal circa 2007)

When single and 'fabulous', always make sure you travel with a "Jessi(e)".  This is one of mine. I love her.

When single and ‘fabulous’, always make sure you travel with a “Jessi(e)”. This is one of mine. I love her (Chicago circa 2006).

Thus started roughly 6 years of dating the same dude, different name. I mean, to say I had a ‘type’ would have been too easy. I was an obvious open book. If you were tall, dark in features and in mood, worked in a nonprofit organization that didn’t afford you the time to date and freshly out of a relationship and so obviously not wanting a commitment it was almost painful? Well then, I was in love. There were, of course, special added bonus points for guys who worked in bars and guys who were Jewish but didn’t want to have anything to do with their Judaism. And tortured artist? Please, I could spot an unavailable, tortured artist from miles away and once spotted, chase the crap outta him and force him to date me. Around 2004, I had decided to only date Jewish guys after the break up of first love, who happened to not be Jewish. How not Jewish was he? He sometimes wore a t-shirt that read, “Presbyterians Do It Better”. And how could I forget that one time I was once called in to help out his sister who was doing a project on “the Jews” for a high school report. Bless her heart, the only visual she had was of a Hasidic man swinging a chicken over his head during the ritual Yom Kippur kaparah. “Just so you know”, I casually mentioned, “Not all Jews swing chickens over their heads in an effort for that chicken to pick up their cast-off sins”. Oy.

I tell you all this because when I met my husband, the only criteria he met off my checklist of dating doom was that he was tall and Jewish. But when a person spends 6 years unsuccessfully dating, there is a point where that person (read: me) has to recognize that maybe it was me. Maybe I was choosing the wrong type of guy. Could I have a future with the Jehovah’s Witness bar-back of the bar I worked night shifts at who couldn’t afford a phone? No. Was this because I was an elitist? Possibly. But it was most likely because we had nothing in common whatsoever. But then, when I was 28 and he was 22, I met my husband.

I was sick. I was so so so so so sick and dehydrated that I couldn’t cry tears because my body couldn’t produce the tears. I had landed in Israel a week before, ready for a year of living my own version of “Eat, Pray, Love”, when I contracted something that I have since diagnosed in all my medical expertise as dysentery (if this is sounding familiar, it’s because I wrote about that here). One day, my sweet friend, Jessie, had come to take me on a walk so I could buy water. On this walk, Jessie waved to a guy from across the street and called out to him, “Hey Yoni”. I thought to myself, “Girl, seriously? I can’t function. Let’s keep moving”. Except we didn’t keep moving because the next thing I knew, this Yoni character was crossing the street on the way to say “hello”. Ugh. I was in no mood to kibbitz (chitchat). I was in no mood for anything other than lying in bed, writhing around in self-pity and watching National Treasure for the 8th time (it was the only movie I had access to). But then, in an instant, Yoni was there and Jessie introduced us. Now, I know this is going to sound cheesy and dangerously close to my own Nicholas Sparks-moment, but please believe me when I tell you that in the moment we said “hello” to each other, I knew this was my man. It wasn’t the 101 fever or my extreme malnourishment or dehydration talking. It was Gd. I was meeting my besheret (soulmate) on the sidewalks of Jerusalem. Gd hand-delivered me my partner. “Pay attention”, I thought to myself, “This is your moment. This is the first time in your life when you can say in absolute certainty that Gd is talking to you. Listen up, honey”

Jessie and Yoni (a.k.a. Yonz) at his nephew's Pidyon HaBen, the week we met

Jessie and Yoni (a.k.a. Yonz) at his nephew’s Pidyon HaBen, the week we met

Because Yonz was studying in Eilat and I was in Jerusalem, we traveled back and forth every shabbat - sometimes alone but sometimes together.  Or, something together but alone. Sleepy head (Eilat - Jerusalem circa 2008)

Because Yonz was studying in Eilat and I was in Jerusalem, we traveled back and forth every shabbat – sometimes alone but sometimes together. Or, something together but alone. Sleepy head (Eilat – Jerusalem circa 2008)

He was 22. I was 28. He was from New Jersey and I from Georgia. He was raised in a Modern Orthodox family and I was the daughter of a non-Jewish dad and a Jewish mom; raised in a Reform Jewish household. He was in Israel studying to get his Master’s degree in Marine Sciences. I was contemplating becoming a Rabbi (that still cracks me up. I became a social worker instead. Close enough). Within roughly 2 weeks of that moment, we were inseparable.

These limbs are the reason our nearly 1 year old can reach the 3rd shelf of our bookshelf already.  (Jumping off the pier in Eilat circa 2008.  Don't we look like elegant reindeer?)

These limbs are the reason our nearly 1 year old can reach the 3rd shelf of our bookshelf already. (Jumping off the pier in Eilat circa 2008. Don’t we look like elegant reindeer?)

After he introduced himself, he helped us carry all our bottles of water back to my apartment, which was in the opposite direction of where he was going. The next day I casually mentioned to Jessie that if he might ask for my number, you know, it’d be cool if like maybe you wanted to, I don’t know, give it to him? The day after that, he did ask her for my number. Before he actually called though, I ran into him on my way to meet some ladies for a night out. He was eating ice cream with his dad and brother. When I stopped to say “hi”, he winked at me. I distinctly remember meeting up with my girls a few minutes later and telling them, “Ummm, that boy had the nerve to wink at me. I think I’m OK with that. Why am I OK with that?” Even they knew it was only a matter of time. Soon after that encounter he did call me and asked me if I wanted to go out for ice cream (he has since learned that this question need not be asked. The answer will always be ‘yes’), and the rest, as they say, is history.

He makes me laugh out loud ALL THE TIME.  Who wouldn't love that.

He makes me laugh out loud ALL THE TIME. Who wouldn’t love that.

There were a few, mainly on his side, who assumed that I, being the older woman, forced him into this relationship. There were definitely many who thought I pressured him to get married. But this is most certainly not the case and is, in fact, a complete misunderstanding of who we are as a couple and why I knew, after years of dating the wrong person, that this was the right person. Roughly 10 days after we met, my future husband looked at me and with all the confidence in the world, told me that he doesn’t date casually. In fact, when he dates its with an eye to the future. When he told me that, I spent about 2 minutes panicking and then got over myself. The panic was of the unknown; I was the child of divorce. I had only one long-term relationship. The only thing I knew was being alone (note: NOT lonely. Those are two very different things. I was never lonely while single and I have my wonderful female friends and family to thank for that) and here was this guy telling me he would be in it for the long haul if I was on board.

Needless to say, I was on board.

Love

Love

When I decided to keep kosher, I catalogued in my head all the meals I would miss because they couldn’t be kosher. Of the many items on that list, the top three were as follows:

1. Hot wings dipped in blue cheese dressing
2. Southern fried chicken soaked overnight in buttermilk
3. Chicken Philly cheese steaks

So, OK, the 1st and 3rd items I could get around but how in the world would I make a delicious and juicy fried chicken without the buttermilk!? If I could find the solution, I figured, it would be the perfect representation of my life in one not-so-healthy but not-so-unhealthy dish. And then it hit me. Coconut milk. If I soaked chicken overnight in coconut milk, would there be the same delicious juiciness? The answer was absolutely yes.

Coconut Milk Southern Fried Chicken

Ingredients:

2 Cans of coconut milk
2 Cut up chickens on the bone
Paprika
Garlic powder
Cumin
Black Pepper
Frank’s Red Hot sauce
A bunch of cilantro for garnish

*You will need a large brown paper bag for this recipe

For the Frying:
Vegetable, Canola or Peanut oil (pick your poison)
6 Cups of flour

How:

In a medium bowl, mix all of the dry spices (amount is to your discretion. I do not use measurements here but I would say heavier on the paprika, garlic and cumin). Add chicken and toss until well coated. Let the mixture stand at room temp (if cooking within 4 hours) or refrigerated in a large bowl for one hour. Pour enough coconut milk over the chicken to cover completely and stir in the hot sauce. Refrigerate up to 24 hours. Pour chicken into colander and allow excess coconut to drain.

After an overnight coconut milk soak

After an overnight coconut milk soak

Gold

Gold

Lay out several paper towel-lined plates to the side of your stove top. In a large brown bag, mix the flour with the same seasoning mixture used for the marinade– season well. One-by-one add the chicken pieces to the bag and shake, making sure they are thoroughly coated with flour on all sides.

The bag of goodness.  Every true Southerner shakes her chicken in the bag.

The bag of goodness. Every true Southerner shakes her chicken in the bag.

Fill a very large pot or Dutch oven 4-6 inches deep with oil (if you are blessed to have one of those thermometers, my research shows that the temp. should read 325 degrees. I went by dropping a little water droplet in the oil and seeing if it would sizzle).

Pure Gold

Pure Gold

I used a baking sheet lined with paper towels to soak up excess oil

I used a baking sheet lined with paper towels to soak up excess oil

With chopped cilantro for added flavor and flare

With chopped cilantro for added flavor and flare

Using tongs, grab each piece of chicken carefully and slip it into the oil making sure to shake off an excess flour. Make sure to keep the oil at a high temperature while cooking as adding the chicken brings down the heat level. Cook anywhere from 10 – 15 minutes for smaller pieces and 15 – 18 for larger or until golden brown and no redness at the bone, Remove to plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil. Once all chicken is done, evenly combine your marinade spices, adding a tiny bit of salt to the mixture, into a small pinch bowl. Once evenly tossed, add the spice mixture to the finished chicken and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Isn't it pretty?

Isn’t it pretty?

*I enjoy my fried chicken with extra hot sauce while eating. You might too.

I could seriously look at pictures of fried chicken all day

I could seriously look at pictures of fried chicken all day

Loosing My Hair + A Raw Banana Split Smoothie (together that’s just yum)

18 Jun

One day, in 2006, I was at my desk at work in Chicago, loving life and having fun when I got a phone call from my Dad. It’s rare that my dad calls me in the middle of the work day so I picked up to say “hi”. As soon as he said ‘hi’ back I knew something was up. He had that thing in his voice that lets me know that what he’s about to say is no joke. And, what he said was, unfortunately, no joke. He had called to tell me that his father, my Caw Caw, had died. It was sudden. He was dancing when it happened as he had gotten into ballroom dancing late in life. (He was also an avid cake-maker and took mile long walks every morning. He was amazing). Regardless, it was shocking and I wasn’t prepared. It just so happened to be the week of Thanksgiving and I had plans to drive to Louisville, KY with my cousins that week anyway, but unfortunately, the trip wouldn’t be as lighthearted as expected.

The thing is, I don’t have horrid memories of that week. In fact, I have some really lovely ones. I remember driving with my cousin, Mike, and his wonderful girlfriend (now wife), Dana and my dog, Ted, through a blizzard in order to get to Kentucky. I remember pulling into a Burger King in the midst of that snow storm to get something to eat (this is B. K. — Before Kosher). I remember asking if I could bring Ted in there so he could stay warm and I also remember feeding him chicken fries (sorry Ted) under the table. I remember joking with my step-mother about something that we thought was so funny it’s possible I may have tinkled my pants a little (I’m known to do this from time to time. I own it. What can I say? I’m a hardcore giggler). However, apparently, the stress of that week was more intense than I realized because several weeks later, while at the salon, my stylist noticed something. I had a few bald spots; spots that weren’t there 6 weeks before. This led me to make an appointment with a dermatologist, who subsequently diagnosed me with Alopecia Areata. Alopecia Areata is a common immune disorder that results in the loss of hair in various parts of the body, not just the head. However, for me, it’s the head. My mom, being the incredibly supportive mom that she is, found out everything she could about Alopecia. She also invested in all sorts of hair-growth products to help me get back on track.

Me with My Dad, Grandma Viv and Caw Caw circa 1988

Me with My Dad, Grandma Viv and Caw Caw circa 1988

The irony of an autoimmune disorder is that it gets exacerbated by stress. My dermatologist suspected that the stress of my grandfather’s death kicked my Alopecia into high gear. She told me I would need to be vigilante about my stress levels for the rest of my life while also keeping a close eye on my scalp to make sure I don’t have any bald spots. There’s really nothing I can do if there is one. It’s more like an indication to take a deep breath and slow down. Here’s the thing though, that’s like, really really really hard. I’ve been noticing a lot of hair loss lately and the even greater irony is, of course, that this stresses me out. It’s been really bad lately so I took this week off and have plans to get out of town for two days with a very dear friend. I’m so blessed with a wonderful family, fulfilling job, a creative outlet in my cooking and this blog, but it’s been hard to balance it all and I’m not sure I’ve been good at destressing lately. Part of that de-stressing also involves eating healthy and exercising. I’m also trying to be conscious of eating foods that supposedly help build healthy skin and hair. A lot of research shows that omegas and all those good fats are great for building healthy skin and hair and since it’s summer time and I’ve recently fallen back in love with my Vitamix again (shalom lover), I’m been getting those happy omegas through delicious smoothies. I’m also trying to balance sugar intake while still giving a little, ‘What’s up’ to my sweet tooth so there have been a lot of trial and errors with the sweet smoothie. Below is my ultimate, most favorite recipe so far. You don’t have to have a Vitamix to make — any blender will do. Enjoy!

Sweet Decadence

Sweet Decadence

Raw Banana Split Smoothie

Ingredients

1 Ripe Banana
1/2 Cup, Frozen Strawberries
3 Tbsp, Raw Cocoa Nibs
1/4 Cup, Raw Walnuts*
1 Cup, Almond Milk
1 Tsp, Vanilla Extract
Chia Seeds

Getting Started

Getting Started

This is Getting Good

This is Getting Good

How?

Combine all ingredients into your blender and blend away! I was a naughty girl and topped mine off with some whipped cream but come on guys, it was organic! And I topped it with chia seeds! And raw cocoa nibs! That’s super healthy, right?!

*If you are someone who does not like texture in your smoothies, feel free to omit the walnuts.

Bring It On

Bring It On

Decadent Mac

27 Dec

I’m 5.5 years older than my husband.  When we met, he was 22 and I was 28 and everyone thought we were nuts.  We met in Israel, spent an amazing year together there and then moved together to Ann Arbor so I could get my Master’s in Social Work.  We got engaged about a year and a half after we met.  A lot of people definitely thought at one point, ‘for sure this guy is being pressured to marry this woman”, but I have to say, we were both in a place where meeting a partner and getting married was at the forefront of our minds.  As a 28-year-old woman, it was more prevalent in my mind but my husband was never a guy who dated someone unless it was serious.  It was all or nothing with him.  We had our baby almost 5 months ago when I was 32 (still am. I know, I know, I don’t look a day over 25!) and he was 26 (he turns 27 tomorrow!).  My mom was 32 when she had me so it’s not so crazy that I’m already 32 and just starting to expand our family but never had I wished we were the same age until we got pregnant.

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Andy and Siona

Now please, don’t get me wrong.  I do not wish I was 27 again for anything.  I LOVED my 20s. L.O.V.E.D.  It was definitely my decade of decadence (more on that in my New Year’s guest post for Caitlin’s blog) but it sucks a little knowing that I’ll be 40 when we have toddlers.  When I take stock of my life I most certainly wouldn’t change a thing.  My journey brought me to where I am today and I can honestly say, I love my life.  Sure, I’m tired, but I love my life.  And yet, there is still about 15% of me that’s a bit bummed we’re not the same age.  If we were both 27 I definitely think we would have waited a year or two longer before expanding our family.  The 3 years we spent together without a baby were phenomenal and maybe society doesn’t want me to admit it, but I would have loved a couple more years for just us.  Even at this point, if we were the same age, I’d be 29 when we started having kids but 32!? 32 feels ancient in child-rearing years.  Who knows.  The grass is always greener, right?

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Jeremy and Siona were very impressed with each other.

I bring this all up because Jeremy and Andy came for a visit today (*squeal*). When old friends come to visit you start talking about all your friends you used to run with, how they all have babies now too.  I always give a silent giggle when I think about the fact that my old Chicago crew now has kids because those ladies were some of the funniest, craziest ladies I’ve ever met.  We had so many good times together and now the second generation is upon us.  Remember when you were 25 and you looked at your girlfriend on the dance floor, doing her best to look cool while dancing to “My Humps” while simultaneously giving a drunken wink to some Monet by the bar and you thought to yourself, “Good Gd, she’s going to be someone’s mom some day”? These are those friends.  And the best part? They’re all incredible parents.

At Mike and Dana's wedding - note Jeremy's class 'disco' face to the left of me, in the center, also giving a classic disco face.

At Mike and Dana’s wedding – note Jeremy’s class ‘disco’ face to the left of me, in the center, also giving a classic disco face.

Crazy ladies at Andy and Jeremy’s wedding.

P.S. Jeremy and I totally went to see Les Miz and it was a marathon.  I mean seriously, bring some Cliff bars, a thermos of coffee and a pillow because you are going to be in the theater for a very very VERY long time.

P.S. Again:  OF COURSE, I made the world famous Mac n’ Cheese, heretofore known as Decadent Mac.

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Delicious cheese

IMG_5413

Flour

Decadent Mac

What!?

  • 13 oz rotitini pasta or other small pasta shapes*
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk, heavy cream, or half-and-half**
  • 6 oz shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
  • 8 oz extra shredded sharp white Vermont cheddar
  • 2 tsp – 1 tbsp Dijon mustard (adjust according to your tastes)
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp hot sauce (like Frank’s or Siraccha works too)

How’s That Now!? (this recipe is easily adaptable. You can add sauteed mushrooms, fake chicken, your favorite herbs, anything!)

  1. In a large stockpot, cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain well.
  2. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a 4-quart sauce pan over medium heat.  When the butter has melted and has started to bubble, whisk in the flour; cook for 1 1/2 minutes whisking constantly.  Gradually whisk in the milk until no lumps remain.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook milk mixture, whisking frequently, until it thickens and bubbles, about 8 minutes.
  3. Remove sauce pan from the heat and by the handful, stir in the cheeses allowing all of the cheese to melt into the sauce before adding more.  Stir in the mustard, salt, and hot sauce.  Return the sauce pan to the heat and stir in the pasta.  Be sure to stir up the sauce from the bottom of the sauce pan and thoroughly coat all of the pasta with sauce.  Cook for 1-2 minutes over medium-low heat until heated through.  Serve hot in bowls with spoons.
Oh you devilish and delicious half and half!

Oh you devilish and delicious half and half!

** I did one and a half cups of milk and one cup of half and half.  I never said this was going to be heart smart.

Decadence

Decadence

*I use whole wheat pasta exclusively.  It definitely takes away from the creaminess of the pasta if you go whole wheat.  Just a heads up.

Aside

Phenomenal Woman? Phenomenal Salad.

27 Nov

Having a baby is an amazing privilege. Having a postpartum body is an amazing pain in my ass. Let’s back up. I’ve had the same body since I was 15 years old. Five feet, ten inches and 145 pounds since I was 15 frikkin’ years old. Being 15, a girl and 5’10” is difficult. Being 32, a woman and 5’10” is awesome. And I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, poor little giant skinny girl finally has some thighs, cry me a river”. And I get it. I really do. However, I’ve known my body to be the same exact shape and size for the past 17 years and now all of a sudden there’s a muffin top and hips and I have no idea what to do with myself. Yes, there’s also an amazingly sweet baby but did you not hear me when I said there’s a muffin top too because there is. If we still lived in Michigan and I could hide under bulky sweaters and that sweet, sweet Midwestern physique I would be a happier camper. But alas, we live in Miami, land of perpetual summer and Real Housewives and billboard after billboard advertising liposuction with completely unrealistic before and after pictures of “happy” clients (mostly women). I consider myself a pretty confident woman but even the most strong amongst us start to break after being exposed to the expectations of Miami living. And please, I want to get all ‘Phenomenal Woman’, Maya Angelou on myself and most days I can but the reality is that it takes work to get to know this new body of mine. I am so grateful for the life it nourished and brought forth but no one said I couldn’t be grateful for all that AND miss my favorite skinny jeans . . . right?

OK, so this brings us to the food (the food!). In celebration of Meatless Monday and in trying to keep the carb consumption to a minimum I made a kosher replica of my favorite salad from the now closed Calliope Cafe in Chicago. I stumbled upon Calliope Cafe thanks to my cousin, Mike. The place was the size of my first apartment and everything was made and prepared in house. It was the perfect Chicago ‘mom and pop’ cafe. The salad showcased all my favorite comfort food flavors—sharp cheddar, black beans, buffalo wing sauce, cilantro. It’s possible I’ve lost you by now but I promise it worked. Because this salad was B.K., Before Kosher, I now recreate it with those delicious fake Buffalo wings from MorningStar Farms and a few other complimentary ingredients. I also add one final ingredient that just takes it to a whole other level and will probably be the reason why it’ll take me a bit longer to get back into those favorite skinny jeans but it’s totally worth it. Scroll down for more.

What?

1. Mixed lettuce
2. Shredded cheddar cheese (as much as you want)
3. 1/2 cup black beans
4. 1/2 cup canned corn
5. 1 diced tomato
6. 5 – 6 Fake Buffalo wings
7. Bunch of cilatntro

How’s That Now?

Add items into bowl—-it’s a salad.

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Food Besties–Cilantro y Avocado

Epic Salad – Please excuse the poor quality of picture. The lighting is terrible in our place at night.

Once your salad is all pretty you can eat it as is or . . . . you could add french fries.

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That’s right. French Fries.

French fries. I know, it’s a little ridiculous but everything else in the salad was organic. Also, the cheese I use is GMO free and I’m pretty sure the avocados were local. Does that make it at all better? No? Well, it’s delicious. I’m telling you. Delicious. Also, just to kick the healthy up to another level, I tend to put Ranch dressing and some Frank’s Red Hot sauce on the whole thing and call it a day. I suggest you do the same. Enjoy!

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