Tag Archives: Israel

Shakshuka: Meal of my heart.

24 Dec

shakshuka title

So last night we had a heavy metal vomit party. What’s a heavy metal vomit party, you ask? A heavy metal vomit party is a party in which people drink a lot, listen to heavy metal, maybe they punch each other just for fun, etc. It’s what I picture an Anthrax after-party would look like. Only, we didn’t have any heavy metal and there were no dudes in leather and chains punching each other just for funsies,. We did, however, have lots of vomit as the kiddo had a bout of food poisoning. Why oh why are you talking about this on a food blog, you might find yourself asking? Because I’m in a weird place that can only be described as halfway between delirium and the twilight zone. Last night, I slept from 8:30 – 9:30pm, and then again from 12:30 – 1:30am. The rest of the time was spent snuggling with the kiddo and feeding her sips of water, of which she only calls ‘agua’, thank you Miami life and our Spanish-speaking daycare providers. I finally called in the big guns, a.k.a. Dada, at about 5:15 so that I could sleep for a few hours. It was such a shame because yesterday was the first day of my winter break and we had such a wonderful day with my husband’s parents. We drove the 45 minutes to the Bubbe-capitol of the world, also known as Boca Raton, Florida. We went to a science museum, rode a beautiful carousel and had overall joy and merriment. And then, in a classic parenting moment, things switched to disaster on a dime. We were not 5 minutes in the car for our 45 minute drive home when the kiddo let us have it (“it”being everything she had eaten for the past 3 hours). And then, because I’m the world’s greatest mom, when I finally calmed her down and was putting her back into her carseat, I pinched her tiny thigh skin with the seat buckle. That only escalated the crying and general discomfort of our poor kid. This discomfort and vomit continued for roughly 6 more hours from that point. Good times.

And so, at 2:30am, when I was begging for sleep that couldn’t come because I was sharing a bed with a sweaty, uncomfortable toddler, I started thinking about the things you don’t realize you’re going to need when you agree to marry someone. Now bear with me, this has a connection. While I was snuggling with the above-mentioned sweaty toddler, my husband was in our room sleeping. We had agreed that he would sleep during the night and then he would cover me during the day so that I could sleep. When things went to hell earlier in the day, we went back and forth between cracking each other up over the ridiculousness of cleaning vomit off a carseat on the side of a highway off-ramp to biting at each other when she vomited for the 4th time in 3 hours and we had reached our new-parent point of ‘WHAT THE @#$* DO WE DO NOW!?”. But, we never once felt alone in our worried-parent ineptitude because we had each other. When my husband proposed to me in 2009 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, I immediately said ‘yes’. I had known I wanted to marry him from the moment we met. But a person has no idea what they’re going to need when they’re down in the fox-hole of food poisoning h*ll because you can’t possibly understand what that foxhole will be like. Heck, you don’t even know that foxhole exists. You just know you’re in love and you’ve really enjoyed life together so far so let’s keep this thing going. Therefore, at 2:30 in the morning, when I was feeding the little one her sips of water, I was thinking about my husband in the other room and how there would be no way in h*ll I would be able to get through any of it without him. Food poisoning comes and goes and it’s really not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. However, the way we work together in these situations is a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I’m not sure of anyone else who could have me laughing like he did at 11pm last night when we knew we had a looooooong sleepless night ahead of us. What I am sure of is that, thank Gd, the food poisoning seems to have come and gone from our home at this point while we remain, lovingly, whole (copious amounts of coffee helps too).

punk-jewhungry-blog

Watch out, she’ll get ya.

Oh, I finally had another post up on The Times of Israel. You can find it here. It’s about growing up and experiencing Christmas with my dad and his family, who just happen to not be Jewish (that should seem obvious, I hope). The following recipe, which was enjoyed yesterday before Food Poisoning 2013, is my interpretation of shakshuka, eggs poached in a delicious, spicy tomato sauce. I first had shakshuka in 2001 when I was studying abroad at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, Israel. I went over to a friend’s place for lunch and there she was, cracking eggs directly into what I thought was spaghetti sauce but what I later realized was so much more. Shakshuka can be intimidating if you’ve never had it before but truly, it does not require a lot of skill in the kitchen (this is according to me, at least). It does require patience though as the tomatoes and the peppers need time to get all sugary and flavorful as they sit on a low heat.

Not quite tall enough, but almost there.

Not quite tall enough, but almost there.

You can add anything you want to liven up your shakshuka but for me, I just can’t seem to depart from the addition of feta and cilantro. The flavors compliment each other so nicely. If you are looking for a healthy and flavorful dish for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner, this is it. Heck, some might think it’s even a nice dish for Christmas morning? Maybe?

One might say this would be a perfect Christmas morning breakfast, might one?

One might say this would be a perfect Christmas morning breakfast, might one?

A perfect pair.

A perfect pair.

It's about to get egg-y in here.

It’s about to get egg-y in here.

The following is a completely unnecessary but completely awesome action shot of the first egg being dropped into the shakshuka. Make sure you dig a little hole out for the egg to nestle into before cracking. Mad props to my hubby, who is also my hand model, for indulging me in this one.

Step 1

Step 1

Step Two

Step Two

Step Three

Step Three

Almost There

Almost There

So Close

So Close

Nailed It.

Nailed It.

Shakshuka with Feta and Cilantro

Ingredients:

5 tbsp Olive or Coconut Oil
1 Medium onion, diced
4 Cloves of garlic, diced
1 Red pepper, chopped
1 Green pepper, chopped
1 Can of whole tomatoes
1 Can of diced tomatoes
5 eggs
Kosher salt + pepper to taste
1 tsp, Cumin
Sriracha
Handful of cilantro leaves and stems, diced
Feta cheese (to your discretion)

How’s That Now?

Heat a deep, large skillet or sauté pan on medium. Slowly warm oil in the pan. Add chopped onion, sauté for a few minutes until the onion begin to become a little translucent. Add a dash of salt, pepper and cumin to the onions and stir. Finally, add the garlic and continue to sauté till mixture is fragrant. Next, add the bell peppers and continue sauteeing for another 6 – 8 minutes or until peppers are starting to brown.

Add both cans of tomatoes to pan, stir till blended. Throw in a bit more of the cumin and add some Sriracha to the pan of vegetables. Stir well, and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 6 – 8 minutes (you can break apart some of the whole tomatoes at this point too — just push down with a spoon to break them apart a bit). At this point, you can taste the mixture and spice it according to your preferences.

Before cracking each egg into the pan, make a little divot in sauce for egg to go into. Crack the eggs, one at a time, directly over the tomato mixture, making sure to space them evenly over the sauce. It’s common shakshuka practice to place 4 eggs around the outer edge and 1 in the center. The eggs will cook “over easy” style on top of the tomato sauce.

Cover your pan and allow to cook on a simmer for an addition 10 – 15 minutes. Keep an on the eggs to make sure that the yolks remain ‘over easy’ to ‘over medium’. Add the feta, if using, halfway through your last 10 – 15 minutes of cooking. Once done, garnish with cilantro. Enjoy with a big piece of crusty bread.

Pretty, pretty shakshuka

Pretty, pretty shakshuka

Finally, we can eat.

Finally, we can eat.

Mexican Quinoa Salad: A Recipe for Love from a Non-Cook

9 Sep

Hello Dear Readers,

Shanah Tovah, happy new year and happy Monday.  I hope everyone is feeling well.  Today’s guest post in the Love Series comes from a tiny bundle of energy and talent all rolled up into a Sarah Jessica Parker look-alike package known to me as my cousin, Ayelet.   I have two cousins, many distant cousins, but two first cousins—-Ayelet and her brother, Michael.  Ayelet and Michael (known to the family as Micki) grew up in Israel and emigrated to the US in 1989 to live their American dreams, which at the time, consisted of listening to Billy Joel and Vanilla Ice on rotation while wearing an obscene amount of neon.  Ayelet is one of the most passionate people I know, who about 3 years ago, left everything she knew to fulfill her dreams of becoming a certified dog trainer.  Below is the story of how she met her partner, Alex, and how, thank Gd, they finally wised up to decide to share their lives together, which works out really nicely for me because now we have another incredibly talented musician in the family.  Enjoy. Love, Whit xoxo

P.S. For a sample of Alex’s music and for purchasing information after you fall in love with his music, go here.

My husband and I met in 2006, but the stars took a few years to finally align for us.

On Our Wedding Day

On Our Wedding Day

In 2006, Alex and I were cast opposite each other in a 10-minute, 2-person play as a couple who lived together. At the time I was in a serious relationship so I just thought of him as a sweet guy from London. Once the play ended we loosely kept in touch for a few months and because he only had a Visa to stay in New York for a year he eventually moved back home.

However, while he lived in London, he was always coming back to New York for visits, and about every 6 months I would run into him on the street in random places. It was as if [insert your preferred Higher Power here] kept putting him in my path saying “What about this guy?,” “Hey, remember this guy?,” “HELLO! THIS is the guy.” But I was still in that relationship and so would say a quick hello and keep walking, never giving it a second thought. The last time we happened to run into each other was in the fall of 2009 when I was with said boyfriend and he was with his producer. After introductions the conversation went a little bit like this:

Me: What are you up to these days?

Alex: I’m recording an album and playing a lot of shows in this neighborhood. You should come some time.

Me: Sure! We’d love to!

When we parted ways I said to my boyfriend “We’re not going to see his shows. Everyone’s a musician or an actor here. Between all of the friends I go to support and my own stuff I don’t have time to start supporting someone else.” It was callous, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I said that, but there it is. We did, however, become Facebook friends.

Loving Life

Loving Life

A few months after that I broke up with the boyfriend, moved out and starting living the proper single New York City life. A few weeks into my Singledom I got a Facebook invite from Alex to a benefit concert for Haiti Relief. Since it was a fundraiser I knew I should go and support the cause, but before confirming that I would come I decided to check out his music to make sure I wasn’t committing to a night of terrible music. I found his MySpace page (remember those days?) and was blown away. I felt like such an ass for not supporting his music before. His music was brilliant. I was transfixed. A few weeks later I showed up to the show and it was sold out! I was so disappointed. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. He had also invited me to his first record release show, which was a couple of weeks later, on Valentine’s Day. I got my dear friend Hannah to go with me and that’s when everything changed.

That night, as I was listening to him sing, I was blown away. Not just by his talent (of which there is an endless supply), but by his honesty. Besides my brother and father I had never met a man who was emotionally expressive. And here was Alex, pouring his heart out in the most beautiful way. It was like finding the holy grail y’all. Hannah looked at me, watching him perform, and she said “You like him!” to which I promptly and maturely answered “Shut up, no I don’t.” But she knew better and so did I.

That's my awesome cousin, smack in the middle, leading a flash mob at my wedding.

That’s my awesome cousin, smack in the middle, leading a flash mob at my wedding.

After the show we went to his after-party and briefly caught up. He asked me if I was married yet to which I said, “no, quite the opposite. I’m single.”

“In that case,” he said “I’ll be back in New York in October. We should go on a date then.” “Sounds good” I answered, totally blown away by the lack of games; and then late into the night, as I was leaving, he kissed me.

I was almost relieved he was leaving New York the next day because I was in no place to get into a relationship so soon after a serious one ended. The problem was, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Constantly. Being with him felt like I was home. I was so thrown by this that I actually started practicing yoga to find my center. (For those of you who don’t know me, I really don’t like yoga, but I was desperate).

About a month after his departure I got a call from an international number. My family is all over the map so I thought it could be one of them. But the second I heard his voice say “hi” I knew it was him and my heart soared. He said he had been thinking about me. That was the first of many long conversations we’d have over the next year and a half.

He would come back to visit every now and then, but we both knew he didn’t have his Visa to stay, and we didn’t know when that would happen. Though we spoke a lot and we’d see each other when he was in New York, we both wanted totally different things. I was coming to the point where I was ready to date, settle down, and as I put it “find my person and make little people together.”

Alex was not there at all. On New Years Eve of 2010/2011 we had a frank conversation in which I told him it was clear we wanted different things, and that I would never ask him nor expect him to change, so we should call a spade and spade and stop pretending that this was going to be a relationship. I had joined J-Date to find the person I was going to marry and he was seeing someone casually back home because his plans were so up in the air, so why draw this out? I had no idea that being so bold, honest and willing to walk away would result in us actually becoming closer.

You know the whole “if you love someone let them go…” saying. Well I’m here to tell you it’s true. The phone calls started coming more frequently and the conversations became longer. I remained guarded and continued to date, but there was this inexplicable thing that was happening. It took a hold of me. Getting to know him was magical. He would listen and care about everything that was going on in my world. He would text me “Shabbat Shalom” on Fridays (something I discovered his mother does too, which I love so much). He loved his family and friends unabashedly. He was hilarious. He was honest.

It was a difficult balancing act: I couldn’t stop getting to know him, but I couldn’t allow myself to be drawn in if he didn’t want what I wanted. On his end, without my knowledge, he had been doing some serious soul-searching. He later told me that he wasn’t prepared to lose me and started talking to his friends in successful relationships to get advice. Then one late night he told me he loved me. I told him I loved him too.

A few months after that he came back to New York and we went on our first official date. That was October of 2011. In February of 2012 I went to London to meet his family. A few months later, in April, I went back again for another visit, during which time he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. Seven months after that we were married.

Celebrating Alex's Album Release

Celebrating Alex’s Album Release

I wake up every day thanking G-d for bringing me the most caring, loving, kind, generous, understanding, supportive man I have ever met. I have no idea what I ever did to deserve such love but I am thankful for it with every breath I take. I had no idea that love could be this good and that true partnership was a real thing.

The recipe I’m sharing with you is the first dish I ever made for Alex. In February of 2012, I turned 30.  Alex knows I like a good party and he went all out. The entire weekend was full of celebrations and surprises. I had never felt more loved. As a “thank you”, I wanted to give him something extra special. I decided the most special things are the ones that take time, effort and thought. For me, that was cooking. From the beginning of our relationship I told him I don’t cook and never will. I am terrible at cooking and I don’t enjoy it. He said that was fine because he would cook but I could see a tiny light go out in his eyes. So as a special thank you, what better way to show my appreciation than going out on a limb and cooking?!

This recipe is SUPER easy and so delicious. I hope you enjoy!

Quinoa from the "non-cook".  Looks good to me!

Quinoa from the “non-cook”. Looks good to me!

Mexican Quinoa Salad (Vegan/Parve)

What:

1 cup quinoa (I use multi color or red or a combination of whatever is around)

2 cups water

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

juice of 2 fresh limes (3 if they are small)

3/4 tsp cumin

pinch of red pepper flakes (optional – I don’t use them but it’s great for a kick)

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters

5 green onions, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 avocado, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

The 'Players'

The ‘Players’

How:

Add quinoa to a saucepan with the water, cover, bring to boil and reduce to simmer – cook until all water is absorbed. 10-15 min.

Turn off the heat and leave it alone for 10-15 minutes. Remove lid, fluff with a fork and pour into a large bowl. Add black beans,tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and avocado. Separately, whisk together extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, cumin and red pepper flakes. Add salt and pepper. Toss dressing with quinoa mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

This salad can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two because the lime juice will preseve the avocado.

Orange Peel + Poppy Seed Cookies: The Love Continues

3 Sep

I invite you to know Ali Brand Stern, today’s guest blogger for our Love Stories series, which, if you’ve been following the series, you are realizing has moved into September. Yep, forgot to account for the obligatory Rosh Hashanah posts so our Love Stories were interrupted. However, we are back and still in love.

I met Ali, whose love story is written below, and her husband at the same place I met the previous guest blogger, Stef. I met them all at the glory that is The Pardes Institute of Judaic Studies. I knew I wanted to be friends with Ali during the obligatory opening introductory ‘get to know you’ circle that opens every first year of school at Pardes. There were roughly 60 – 70 people in the room and everyone’s not-so-secretly trying to prove just how smart they are when they introduce themselves. And then it’s Ali’s turn. Ali stands up in the Beit MIdrash, introduces herself and proceeds to tell everyone she just got married and, rather than try to prove her brain power, which is pretty powerful, she continues, “So, sorry ladies and gents, but I’m taken”, and then proceeded to sit right back down as if she didn’t just tell a room full of rabbis, Torah scholars and the like that she’s off the market. Yes. Please. Ali is one of the funniest and most genuine people in the world. When I was trying to wrestle with leaving my single life behind and marrying my husband, it was Ali whose wisdom and open-mind I sought out. She is someone whom I believe truly lives her life to the fullest and I admire her so much. Ladies and gents, here’s Ali. xoxo, Whit

Ali and I representing our class at our friends' wedding.

Ali and I representing our class at our friends’ wedding.

Thirteen years. That’s how long my husband and I have been partners. When I tell people our dating history, I follow it up by saying that I met my husband, Noam, when I was a fetus. That’s not actually true, but it sometimes feels like it. I don’t know many other thirtysomethings who have been with their better half for the better half of their life.

Talking about the beginning of our “love story” is like talking about the day I realized I had a left arm. I can’t recall when, but I’m sure there was a day when I said to myself, “I have another arm? This is awesome! This will help me accomplish so many more things in my life!” That’s sort of how I feel about my husband. I can’t really remember a time when he wasn’t there.

I met Noam three weeks before my 17th birthday while we were attending a summer program at Brandeis University called Genesis, which was a glorified nerd camp for Jews. Are there summer camps for Jews that aren’t also nerd camps? No, probably not.

Noam was the first Orthodox Jew I ever really met. He was sweet (still is), short (still is) and wore an over-sized, severely faded Pearl Jam t-shirt (which I later made him burn for fashion reasons. I have nothing against Pearl or her delicious jams.) Noam sat down across from me during the first Shabbat dinner at Genesis. My actual thought when I saw him was, “That one. I want that one.” Although full disclosure, I thought the same thing when they brought out cake for dessert.

Having never attended Jew camp before, I didn’t know any of the songs that everyone else started to sing at the end of the Shabbat meal. Actually, I could barely read Hebrew. I felt like an idiot. And there is nothing more painful than being a 16-year-old girl sitting across from a super cute little yid and feeling like an idiot. But because Noam is who he is, he quickly caught on that I was just silently mouthing the world “watermelon” over and over again, trying to look like I belonged. Noam got everyone to sing the only song I knew (which could very well have been Dayenu, complete with hand gestures. I don’t remember.) Noam stuck by me the rest of the night. And that was it. That was the night I met my left arm.

Ali and Noam in Jerusalem, 2013

Ali and Noam in Jerusalem, 2013

We fell for each other quickly, in a totally PG-summer camp sort of way. During one of our many night walks through the deserted college campus, Noam asked me if I was a fruit, what kind of fruit I would be. I told him I would probably be an orange because I have a layer that you need to get past in order to really know me (Leave me alone. I just finished reading Ralph Waldo Emerson that summer and had even underlined a few passages in a vintage fountain pen, so clearly, I was really, really deep.)

A few days later, on my 17th birthday, Noam gave me a gift. It was an orange, partially peeled. He told me that he hoped he had gotten past part of my “layer”, and was looking forward to getting to know more about me.

At the end of the summer, I went back to Boulder, CO and Noam went back home to Maryland. We said our goodbyes and left our relationship as “two people who cared a lot about each other, but lived super far away.” We didn’t want to label ourselves and what we had. Dan Savage would have been proud. I never thought I would hear from Noam again. I cried a lot. Had there been Facebook when I was 17, I’d like to believe that I wouldn’t have posted thousands of very meaningful and totally poignant song lyrics from all of the Lilith Fair albums. But I would have. Because I was that awesome.

Fast forward 8 years. Fast forward through hundreds of long distance phone calls and emails. Fast forward through my parents flying Noam out to be my high school prom date. Fast forward through that time when I was a freshman in college in Seattle and Noam was studying in Israel during the height of the Second Intifada, and he called to tell me that the café across the street just blew up, and it was terrible, but he was okay and he loved me. Fast forward through me not being able to tolerate the long distance anymore and finally transferring colleges to be with Noam at Brandeis.

Fast forward 8 years to the afternoon at Walden Pond when Noam got down on one knee and took out an orange, almost entirely peeled. Fast forward to when he told me that he wanted us to spend the rest of our lives getting to know each other better.

Newly engaged; peeled orange and all.

Newly engaged; peeled orange and all.

Two weeks after our wedding, we ran away together to Israel, where I met Whitney. Our year-long-honeymoon-adventure in Jerusalem turned into five years living in Israel. Living abroad was the greatest gift to our marriage. We dodged rockets and killed cockroaches. We walked towards each other religiously and spiritually and built ourselves a happy little home somewhere in the middle. We made each other laugh, and we drove each other completely insane in ways that only your partner can. We helped each other up when we fell down. In 2011 when I lost my dad to cancer, Noam stayed at my father’s bedside reciting Psalms, serving as my father’s spiritual guardian. Noam is so much more than my left hand; he is my spare soul.

Noam and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary this July. On our wedding day, we stood in front of our family and friends and pledged to spend the rest of our lives helping each other peel back our layers. I think we’re off to a good start.

Ali's Orange Peel and Poppy Seed Cookies.

Ali’s Orange Peel and Poppy Seed Cookies.

Ali’s Orange Peel and Poppy Seed Cookies:

Ingredients

– 1 tbsp orange zest

– 1 egg (room temperature)

– 2/3 cup sugar

– 1/2 cup butter/margarine

– 1 tbsp poppy seeds

– 1 1/4 cup flour

– 1/2 tsp baking soda

Directions

Blend butter and sugar. Add egg and orange zest. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients (except seeds). Slowly add dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg/zest mixture. Add poppy seeds. Bake at 360F for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

A Spicy Tofu Eggplant Stir-Fry: A Meat-Eater Meets his Match

30 Aug

You know, I should really make a holiday to celebrate my dear friend, Jessie.  Upon reflection, I realized that without Jessie, I may not have met some really important and incredible people in my life.  One of these incredible people, besides my husband, is Stef, the guest author of this post.  Stef is one of those people who is the full package — outrageously funny, kind, smart, and beautiful.  I remember asking her years ago how she met her husband (at the time, they were just dating) and I remember loving this love story.   I’m sure you will too.  Shabbat shalom, Whit xoxox

P.S.  Follow Stef and Matt’s journey as new Israelis here.

 

 

When I asked my husband which food he thought most represented our love, he answered without hesitation: tofu.

On Our Wedding Day in Jerusalem

On Our Wedding Day in Jerusalem

Like Whitney, I met my husband, Matt, in the holy city of Jerusalem, but it took us a bit longer to realize we were meant to be. On my first day at the Pardes Institute in 2006, where I planned to study for 3 years, my closest friend turned to me and asked me who I thought was cute. I immediately picked out my future husband, despite the fact that he was wearing cut-off hospital pants, a “wife-beater” tank-top, and mismatched red and blue converse high tops. It took us a few weeks to actually have a conversation (although my husband doesn’t remember it) and a couple months until we became friends. Since he was in a relationship with someone else at the time and I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship myself, we continued to be just friends for the remainder of the year. In the first days of our friendship, Matt came over to my apartment for dinner. That year also happened to be the year I reintroduced meat into my diet after many year of vegetarianism. While I had begun eating some meat, I still preferred to (and generally still do) cook vegetarian. When Matt came over for dinner that night early on in our friendship, I told him I was making tofu. A look of uncertainty and fear washed over his face. He admitted to not having a lot of “experience” eating tofu and to not liking it so much, but agreed to try it nonetheless. I don’t think I could truthfully say that fell in love with tofu that night, but he did eat it and that’s a good first step.
At our LA Wedding Reception

At our LA Wedding Reception

Fast-forward to today: we have been married for four years and tofu is a still a staple part of our diet. How did that happen? The simple answer (to both the questions of marriage and tofu) is love.
After our year of friendship, Matt moved back to the US and I began my second year of school in Jerusalem. Now, with both of us available and thousands of miles between us, we decided it was the right time to start dating. This was confirmed the week I came back to the States for a friend’s wedding. We knew we wanted to see each other before committing to a long-distance relationship, so I planned a detour on my trip to meet him for a weekend. Unfortunately, the only time such a visit could be arranged was over the holiday of Yom Kippur, a 25-hour fast day where we are meant to focus on repentance and atonement. It would have to do. Even though we spent much of the visit davening (praying) in shul (synagogue) on separate sides of the mehitzah, it was enough for us to know that we were ready to do this. We survived the distance and the following year Matt got a job in Israel so we could spend my 3rd year of school together.
Finally in the same place, we began to share many more meals together and I began to learn about all the foods Matt did or did not like. On the list of “not-likes” was, you guessed it, tofu. To add insult to injury, he also claimed to not like spicy food, something that characterized almost everything I ate. Here’s where love comes into play. Despite his specific dislikes (those previously mentioned, among others), Matt always tried every single dish I cooked. And to both our surprise, he liked more things than he thought he did. If you ask him, Matt will still claim that anything I make with tofu would taste better with chicken, but he eats it and, dare I say, he enjoys it. At the end of my final year of school, we got married in Jerusalem (at a vegetarian restaurant) on Tu B’Av, the Jewish day of love, and the rest is history.
Falling in Love in Jerusalem

Falling in Love in Jerusalem

Over the course of our marriage, my husband has grown to like other previously disliked foods as well, including spicy food. I still prefer to cook vegetarian during the week (we save the meat for Shabbat) and this Spicy Tofu Eggplant Stir-fry is one of our go-to meals. If you don’t like spicy food, heads up, this is a real mouth burner.

Spicy Tofu Eggplant Stir-fry (adapted from a “learn to cook vegetarian” book I had in college)

What

2 Tbsp Cooking Oil (you can choose: canola, olive, coconut, etc.)
2-3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Tbsp (or more) Fresh Ginger, minced
1-2 Tbsp Chinese Chili Garlic Sauce (the hero of this dish)
1 block of Tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes, drained
1 small or 1/2 large Eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes, pre-steamed if you like softer eggplant
Any other vegetable of your choice: red pepper cut into strips, mushrooms, zucchinni, spinach, water chestnuts, etc.
2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
2 Tsp Corn Starch
1/2 cup water
2-3 Green Onions, diced

How

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok, add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add Chinese chili sauce (adjust for taste) and simmer for another minute. Add the drained tofu cubes and cook for a few minutes until the tofu absorbs the garlic mixture. Add the eggplant and stir-fry until cooked through.
Working with Tofu

Working with Tofu

Mix together soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, corn starch and water in a separate bowl. At this point add any additional vegetables and then the sauce mixture to the pan. Cook until vegetables reach desired tenderness. In the last minute, add green onion.
DSCF2872
Serve over brown rice and enjoy!
Spicy Love

Spicy Love

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

A *Giveaway* because . . . Surprise! It’s My Kid’s Hebrew Birthday!

26 Jul
My sweet girl just one HOUR old.

My sweet girl just one HOUR old.

Today is my daughter’s first Hebrew birthday. I want to write something poetic about that fact. I’d like to connect the meaning of her Hebrew birthday with the meaning of her name, Siona, which happens to be the feminine form of Sion, Hebrew for Zion, but I can’t. I can’t do that because I have never celebrated a Hebrew birthday in my life; not even a little bit. In fact, I wouldn’t have even known that today is my daughter’s Hebrew birthday if it weren’t for my very sweet and dear friend, Sharona, who told me that today is the day. I had texted her to see if she wanted to go out on a lady-date next Wednesday but she declined because that’s HER daughter’s first Hebrew birthday, “So”, she texted me, “That means that Friday is Siona’s Hebrew birthday!” (insert cricket chirps here and blank staring at text message here).

To be honest, I didn’t text her back after receiving text. In fact, I let it sit for a day or so before responding because I felt like such a farce for not even knowing my kid’s Hebrew birthday. Hell, I don’t even know my own Hebrew birthday!

Siona's Simchat Bat - her Jewish life is beginning.

Siona’s Simchat Bat – her Jewish life is beginning.

It takes a lot for me to feel self-conscious about something; I consider myself pretty confident in most of the important areas (i.e. competency as a wife, in my job, healthy sense of self) but my confidence levels in my Judaism have always yo-yoed. I mean, I’ve worked in Jewish organizations for the majority of my professional life. I’ve been to Israel more times than I can count. I sent myself to Yeshiva for a year when I was 28. I named my kid Siona, for crying out loud!  But I didn’t learn the full Birkat Hamazon until I was 29. I’m pretty sure it’s been 5771 for like, 5 years now and I often get our forefathers, Joseph and Isaac confused (thank Gd for the musical, ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat’ because seriously, that’s what I use to remember who is whom when I’m occasionally sitting with a student and walking them through Judaics homework; “Give Mrs. Fisch a moment, honey. I’m trying to recall which one had the fabulous coat.”). All those gaps in my Jewish knowledge coupled with an expectation that, as a Jewish professional who keeps Shabbat and kosher and has a daughter named Siona, sometimes accumulates to me feeling “less than”. “Less than” whom?  I’m not sure (p.s. Gang, are you picking up how many times I used ‘whom’ in this post?! I’m hoping all the English majors in my life will be proud). But when I was standing there on the other end of that text, receiving the information of the fact that my daughter’s Hebrew birthday is upon me from another mom, I felt like an idiot. And let me just state that later that night, when I told my husband that Siona’s Hebrew birthday was 2 days away he responded, “Cool”, and went about his business.  Ahhh, how much simpler life might occasionally be if I were man.

Two weeks old

What? Me worry? (2 weeks old)

Playing in the sand in Montana - 11 1/2 months old.  Where does the time go!?

Playing in the sand in Montanan- 11 1/2 months old. Where does the time go!?

I’m not sure what we’ll do to celebrate our daughter’s day, if anything. I’ve been eyes-deep in Pinterest, doing menu -planning and decoration-planning for her 1st English birthday. But I’ve come up with nothing to celebrate today or to make it something special for her or for us as a family.  But, she’ll be one so she will have the same memories of this birthday as she will have of her English birthday, which is to say she’ll have no memories. Yet, I’m huge into positive family traditions of all kinds so I’d like to do something. I’m very curious as to what you have done to celebrate your or your child’s Hebrew birthday? What are some traditions you’ve incorporated into your family to celebrate this day?  I’d really love to hear from you so if you don’t mind taking the time and jotting down a few ideas/traditions in the comments portion of this post, I’d be very grateful.

I’m not sure if our child will attend Jewish Day School but I do know that whatever we can do in the home to build positive associations/feelings/connection to our children’s Judaism will do more for them than anything else done Jewishly outside of the home. Plus, I mean, I am deeply obsessed with like birthdays so any excuse to celebrate a loved one’s birthday more than once is always a good thing in my book.

A free trip to Israel via the pages of this gorgeous book.

A free trip to Israel via the pages of this gorgeous book.

Orly'z traditional shakshuka -- my idea of Sunday morning brunch heaven.

Orly’z traditional shakshuka — my idea of Sunday morning brunch heaven.

So, because its my daughter’s surprise Hebrew birthday, I’d thought I’d give YOU, my dear readers, a chance at receiving a beautiful gift. I was blessed to have Orly Ziv’s stunning new Israeli cookbook, Cook in Israel: Home Cooking Inspiration, sent to me by the cookbook’s talented photographer, Katherine Martinelli. Orly is a talented nutritionist, cooking instructor, and culinary tour guide in Israel. Cook in Israel, her first cookbook, is filled with 100 kosher, mostly vegetarian recipes accompanied by beautiful color photographs (including many step-by-step illustrations). The cookbook shows that healthy and delicious home cooking doesn’t need to be time-consuming or complicated. Flipping through the pages of this cookbook is like being transported to Jerusalem’s famous shuk (market). I swear, all it needs is a scratch-and-sniff za’atar sticker and you are IN Israel. The book is available for $35 plus shipping OR you could simply click on the Rafflecopter link below for up to 6 ways to up your chances of winning your own copy. The giveaway will run until, Friday, August 9th, at midnight and the winner will be announced on Monday, August 12th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Go to Cook In Israel to find out more about Orly, her culinary tours, cooking classes and how to purchase this book, which you can do here. BUT, if you want to SAVE yourself $35 plus shipping, enter into the giveaway via the link above and remember, some options you can do daily so come back often.  Also, note that this giveaway is open to those living in Israel too!!!

Good luck and . . . Yom Huledet Sameach, Siona!

{Guest Post} Leaning on Others – A Post by Jackie

19 Jul

Hi Again,

Below is the second guest post for this week that I’m away on vacation and this one is from my dear friend, Jackie. Before you read a bit about her story, I wanted to share a bit about who she is to me. Jackie and I met while I was working at the University of Michigan Hillel. We met at a happy hour. We started chatting about who knows what and then she asked if I like to dance and well, the rest is a very sweet history. We spent 8 months going dancing, drinking tons of coffee, laughing until the point of tears and almost piddling our pants, supporting each other through the hell that is dating and, of course, eating. I went to live in Israel within a year of us meeting and yet, our friendship deepened even though we were several time zones away. Her ability to give advice and listen without judgement is so frikkin’ rare and I’m grateful for it. So, please do enjoy her story and recipe and note that this woman has eaten in the finest restaurants in the world so hers is a palate to trust. Shabbat shalom, Whitney

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My girl, Jackie, giving me blessings at my wedding.

Thank you to my dear friend Whitney for letting me share my story and recipe on this amazing site. It is both her tomato salad recipe and endless advice that have inspired this post.

I’m just about the last of my married friends to get pregnant. During the year I was trying to conceive I struggled with this fact, and was often filled with feelings of jealousy and anger. It seemed the whole world was fertile including all of my lovely girlfriends. It took a lot of personal work to get to a place where I could truly be happy for my friends and right around that point I finally got my double line.

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Pregnant at last after a year of heartache

Now that I am pregnant (thank you G-d!) I am thrilled to have this wealth of knowledge and support from friends. For every question, concern and query I have a variety of mom-friends to turn to. I never feel alone and am thankful for this team of women behind me. I’ve found the silver lining in being the last to be pregnant and the advice is already priceless.

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Jackie and I doing what we do best, dancing up a storm (circa 2007).

Just like in cooking, I am taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that from each of my friends. Some moms have been instrumental in building my registry. Other moms have shared with me their breast feeding stories and have helped me to be aware of future issues. Several moms have loaned me maternity clothes and my closet is full of fun outfits to wear. And every single mom friend has been willing to share her journey and hear mine. Thank you ladies for every text, gchat and phone call.

Being pregnant in the summer means trying to find light dishes that are filling and nutritious which is just what this salad is. I remember visiting my girl, Whitney, when she first moved to Miami. She told me she was hungry for a snack and I expected her to pull out a granola bar or maybe a few pretzels. Instead she diced a tomato, red onion, avocado and added feta cheese and olive oil. Delicious. To fill out this salad I add toasted Israeli couscous and some other tasty treats. It’s the perfect summer picnic salad, pregnant or not!

Jackie’s Couscous Salad inspired by Whitney’s snack salad

Ingredients
Israeli cous cous, 2 cups (for a party)
Water, 2 ¼ cups
Pad of Butter
Almond slivers, ⅓ cup
Tomatoes, diced
Seedless cucumber, diced
Avocado, diced
Yellow bell pepper, diced
Feta (pasteurized if you are pregnant)
Parsley, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Lemons
Olive Oil

How
1. Heat pan and add cous cous, shaking pan frequently until cous cous takes on a golden brown color.
2. Add water and salt and bring to a boil. Cover and turn to simmer until all liquid has absorbed. (Tip: You can also use veggie broth, or chicken broth and omit cheese to add additional flavor to your cous cous).
3. While the pearls are cooking, dice all your veggies. Add as much or as little as you want!
4. Toast almonds in a pad of butter. Enjoy the smell of melting butter.
5. When cous cous has cooled mix together with veggies, feta, toasted almonds. Now it’s time to grab a fork. Top with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, pepper and chopped parsley. Taste. Decide what you need more of (usually for me it’s lemon and salt). Adjust. Taste. Adjust. Etc.

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{Guest Post} My Jewish Journey – The Joy of Caitlin

18 Jul

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Hi Lovely Readers,

I am currently enjoying a trip of a lifetime with my family in Blue Sky, Montana so I asked two trusted foodies to fill in for me while I’m gone. The first post is from my talented sister-in-law, Caitlin, author of the parenting blog, The Joy of Caitlin. The second will be from one of my most favorite people in the world, Jackie. Jackie is THE person who introduced me to the concept of food as art, as something more than just to eat but something you can be passionate about. I am so excited to reflect on this Montana experience next week (gang, there was a food festival. It was epic). In the meantime, please enjoy the guest posts and I wish you a wonderful shabbat,

Whitney

I was on a first date with Mo, the cute guy from my public speaking class. I had been working at a natural bakery in our college town and I was telling an anecdote about a customer asking for some challah. I pronounced it the proper way, with the hard “ch” from the back of my throat, and I think that’s when he knew I was the one. The blonde, Irish, hippie girl could stick around. In a funny way I think Mo’s reaction to the correct pronunciation was the very beginning of my Jewish food journey. I realized soon that the cute guy I was interested in wasn’t just casually or culturally Jewish like my other friends, he was “Orthodox,” raised in a fully observant home, he kept Kosher, and didn’t drive on Shabbat. Mo was fully engaged in the secular world, wore regular clothes, baseball caps, and went dancing in clubs. Yet beneath that surface was a deep faith and commitment to values that I had never experienced before.

On our first road trip together, to visit my Grandpa in northern Vermont, Mo pulled over just as we left town. He had packed his siddur (prayer book) in the trunk and wanted to say the Tefilat HaDerech, “Wayfarer’s Blessing” as we embarked on our journey. I felt so special, so cozy in the thought that he had a blessing to say for this occasion. I looked through his bilingual prayer book to discover that there were blessings for literally everything. Every kind of food and drink had it’s own special words of gratitude. There were blessings for natural phenomena, for healing, I was amazed and smitten. I wanted these secret words woven in my life too. I began to learn about Judaism without discussing it with Mo, afraid he would be worried that I was just doing it because of him, unsure of what he would think.

I finally admitted to him that I was surreptitiously studying Judaism and he was both excited and wary. We went to a few Jewish Renewal services in New York together, and while I was enamored with the guitar playing and Bob Marley songs, he was a bit underwhelmed. We began to occasionally spend Shabbat together, and when Passover came I was sure that I needed to attend a seder. He still hadn’t told his family about our relationship, and to arrive in a car in the midst of the two day holiday would have been disruptive and fodder for much disapproval.

I went to a friend’s family’s seder instead, and I felt a deep sense of purpose, with an underlying sadness. I was sure that I belonged there, yet pained not to be with Mo. For some reason I decided that night to eat the chicken soup. I hadn’t had any meat in seven years, I had been raw vegan on and off for the past three. Something about the occasion, about my longing to belong, made me want to join in fully. It was the same cozy feeling I had experienced when I discovered all the blessings. That one bowl of matzoh ball soup brought me more into the world of Judaism through food, and kick started my interest in the possibility of really creating a Jewish life for myself.
A few months later Mo had decided to travel to Israel for a scholarship in a Masters program in Jerusalem. I was graduating with a degree in English literature and a major itch to get as far from New Jersey as possible. He left in July, I booked a ticket to visit him in October, and spent the summer roaming the east coast, visiting friends, preparing for my first trip overseas. When I finally boarded that plane I left my mom in the terminal with many tearful goodbyes, and set off for the unknown.

The first thing I saw in Israel were the orange trees, the first thing I felt was the heat as I walked through the bridge from the plane to the airport. I heard the guttural sounds of Hebrew and felt excited and lost. I found Mo outside of customs and we loaded my two bags with all my earthly belongings into the back of the airport shuttle. I felt nauseous on the winding ride, amazed at the sprawling rocky hills covered in gnarled olive trees and stone fences I imagined to be ancient. When the van dropped us off at Mo’s apartment I was surprised at the dirty dusty streets and the unfamiliar street signs, then felt nothing but gratitude as we descended into his tiny basement apartment where I collapsed on his futon bed and slept dreamlessly.

When I woke hours later it was the afternoon. I was hungry, thirsty, disoriented. I drank some water, threw on my sneakers and we headed out to meet Mo’s friend downtown to get something to eat. I will always remember my first meal in Israel, at a tiny cafe called Timol Shilshom (http://www.tmol-shilshom.co.il/en/home/default.aspx). We ordered bread with pesto, olives and labane, everything was fresh and bursting with flavor. Then came the shakshuka, the quintessential Israeli dish Mo and his friend decided I should try, eggs baked in a spicy tomato sauce, eaten with crusty bread. I had spent my college days eating out in Manhattan, trying all different ethnic cuisines from Thai to Ethiopian, but this was a brand new experience for me. It was homey, bright, filling, surprising, and comforting, all at once. From that moment on I was in love with Israeli food, and my Jewish food journey began in earnest.

Read more of my story soon on The Joy of Caitlin!

Mo’s Famous Real Israeli Humus

Anyone who has joined us at the Shabbat table has savored the delicious, authentic humus that Mo makes every week. He developed this recipe after extensive tasting in Israel, and testing here in the states. It is one of the few dishes when I willingly give over the kitchen, and just get to enjoy. I hope you like it too!

Ingredients:
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup Israeli tehina (can be found at Kosher stores or use regular tahini from any supermarket)
1/2 cup cold water
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tbs olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Salt to taste
Cumin if you like!

How?
Place garlic in bowl of food processor, followed by chickpeas (reserve a handful to put on top at the end) and the rest of the ingredients. Process until very smooth, adding a little more olive oil or water if needed, and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve topped with chickpeas, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of paprika. It makes a great dip for pitas or fresh veggies. B’teyavon!

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Sourdough: A Love Story.

9 Jul
Zak + Batsheva - The day they announced their engagement.

Zak + Batsheva – The day they announced their engagement.

Several years ago I worked at a Jewish summer camp. I’m gonna be real honest and let you know that this wasn’t an idyllic summer. I was back in Asheville, NC after spending a magical year in Jerusalem falling in love with my Judaism, with Isreal, with food and most importantly, my now husband. But reality was setting in and I needed some cash money in a big way so while I was still in Israel, I started applying to several Jewish camps as a program director as I had spent roughly 8 years, up to that point, in Jewish programming. It was the obvious choice. I was almost hired by a Jewish camp in the Carolina mountains but they had a real issue with my shabbat-observance (don’t even get me started). So, I took another offer.   I actually went to this camp as a teenager for one summer. I remember having an amazing time. But, as an adult, it just wasn’t my bag. When I arrived, I was instantly homesick. I missed my man, my Israel people and my environment back in Jerusalem. Several days of misery went by and then one day I decided to visit the camp’s edible garden. I don’t even really remember the first time I spoke with Zak, but we kind of clicked. I was so desperate for someone more my speed so when I met this Pharmaceutical school drop out cum hippie baker/gardener/cheese maker/wanderer, well, let’s just say he didn’t have a choice. We were gonna be friends. I was on the cusp of my own food revolution at the time (reading up on the realities of true organics, whole foods, etc.) and here was this guy LIVING a food revolution. On shabbat, I read in the garden he tended for the camp. On our nights, off he introduced me to “Freeganism”, which is basically just permanently borrowing people’s leftovers/trash. On one particular night off, we went to a Mexican restaurant and ‘Freegan-ed” the untouched margaritas left behind by some underage counselors who started running the minute they saw us coming.  He also took me dumpster diving in the name of “Freeganism” and I’m pretty sure I still have the cookbook he taught my campers how to make, which introduced them to composting (did you know that poop AND humans are compostable!?). I owe so much to Zak for that summer. I’m still not sure he realizes how much he saved me that summer.

Zak and his Israeli gang of bread makers

First they came for our carbs, and nobody said anything. Then they came for our gluten, and nobody said anything. Now they want our grains and we say, NO!

The team behind "Zak the Baker".  They do smile, a lot, I promise.

The team behind “Zak the Baker”. They do smile, a lot, I promise.

Flash forward 2 and a half years and I find out via Facebook that after much travel, Zak is back in Miami, where my husband and I are now living. He came over for a shabbat meal, we caught up and then just as quick as he entered my life for the second time, he was gone. This time, Zak decided to follow his heart to (get ready for this . . . seriously) Tuscany where he opened his own bakery. I mean, can you picture it? When I try to envision it I’m seeing sunflowers, flour clouds every where and hunky dudes with sweat dripping . . . oh, ok, sorry, I’m getting myself under control. Anyway, long story short, he had a bakery in Tuscany, met a girl, they ran away to a goat cheese farm in France, where she promptly realized that farm life is hard and high-tailed it back to the States. Zak then made his way back home to Miami, where a kind and supportive family friend let him set up his own bakery in his garage. Soon it wasn’t just a bakery Zak was housing in his incredibly supportive friend’s garage but also 5 chickens, 4 ducklings, 4 baby goats and apprentices from around the globe (mainly Israel). When it was clear that the goats were taking over, Zak found shelter with the Earth n’ Us Farm in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami (find out more about this amazing farm here) and began renting out a space for baking bread in Hialeah. He currently sells every Sunday at the Pinecrest Farmer’s Market. He also sells sandwiches and bread at the University of Miami and, most importantly to his ever-growing business, Zak the Baker bread can be enjoyed at celebrity-chef Michelle Bernstein’s namesake restaurant, Michy’s (as well as other grocers in the area, like Laurenzo’s. Check out the blog for a complete list of retailers and restaurants selling Zak’s bread).

So, grab a glass of wine and some crusty bread with some soft cheese and tuck in for a very romantic story of love, life, travel and bread.

Zak in action

Zak in action

Jewhungry: So how did your sourdough revolution begin?

Zak: For 10 years, this is the way my life looked like: I would teach at the camp for 2 months, make enough money and then go back on the road and travel for 10 months. What I would do is I would take everything I learned that year on the road and integrate it into the lesson plans for the camp. I had always done a workshop on bread at the camp. We went through the whole process and the theory of it. It wasn’t ever my dream to be a baker and open my own baker. It’s a hard life—you wake up so early, it’s a hard job.  What happened though was that I came back from traveling and asked myself, “What am I going to do with my life”? I came back to Miami and thought, well, I know how to make bread. I know how to make cheese and work a farm. Miami wasn’t my dream spot to open a bakery, but thank Gd, it turned out to be perfect.

Jewhungry: How did you meet Batsheva

Zak: I met Batsheva while I was apprenticing with a cheese maker in Israel on a farm in the North about 3 or 4 years ago. I was working with this really mythical cheese maker who had 200 goats that he would milk every night. I had taken some time off to travel with my friend, Phil, who was a musician. We went to a coffee shop in Jerusalem. Our waitress just happened to be Batsheva’s sister. We were playing music outside, drinking coffee and didn’t really communicate much with her; just said hi and that was it.  I didn’t know her at all. Then the next day we were going back up North and waiting in the bus station, hanging out, playing music and drinking coffee and there she was again, Ori, but this time she was with her sister, Batsheva. We invited them over to come and hang out with us at our table. Turns out we had forgotten to pay for our coffee the day before so being the nice boys that we are, we paid for it. And of course, as it works in Israel, one thing led to another and they invited us to their family’s house for Sukkot. They live in this very special village in the Gush. The family is beautiful and big and very warm. Phil and I at one point were sitting at this big table under the sukkah and, out comes one beautiful, ethereal sister after that other to sit with us. It was a dream! Phil and I were just sitting there taking it all it. It was a wonderful night and we got along and ate and then Phil and I made our way back up North and life moved on. Then, one day, I received a call from Batsheva’s sister, Chedva, who called me up because she and Batsheva wanted to learn how to bake bread with a dream of one day opening their own bakery in Israel.  However, no bakery in Israel would let them in as apprentices because they are women. The bakeries assumed that as women, Batsheva and Chedva wouldn’t be able to do the work. In addition, they don’t want girls working in the kitchen. So in that moment, when Chedva called, I just thought of course. Come on! And then two weeks later they had a ticket and were on their way. Eventually, I realized, “Wait, let me tell you, this is really hard work. I can’t pay you. We work insane hours. It’s a work exchange, you work and I give you room and board”. And then I told them I have a farm in Miami and you’ll live outdoors in a tent. At that point, the girls were imagining rolling hills and building a tent under a chestnut tree and living amongst the greenery. But in reality, it was my old tent in my yard in Little Haiti. Eventually, after about a week of living in the tent, I kept getting, “Zak, mazeh cold? Mazeh raining? (Zak, what is this cold? What is this rain?” So I gave up my bedroom indoors and I slept out in the tent by the goats for several weeks until a room opened up in the house. Eventually, Chedva wanted to leave but Batsheva wanted to stay and one month turned into 2 and then 3 and then 4 and then all of a sudden, Batsheva and I realize we are in love. We revealed our love for one another on a Friday and by the next day, on Shabbat, we decided that this is it and we want to get married. Now, we are partners. We are in love. We will move forward together as a unit.

Two bakers in love

Two bakers in love

Siona and I flanked by food greatness

Siona and I flanked by food greatness

Jewhungry: Is the gluten-free/grain-free trend affecting your business?

Zak: Those trends and those fashions don’t concern me at all. I’m being very nice about my feelings, please understand. I don’t want to concern myself with marketing and other things that aren’t pure. A lot of these things are being pushed or promoted by marketing/business. Ultimately, I’m not concerned with any of it. At the end of the day, we need bread. We need eggs, we need cheese, we need meat. These are the basics that we need. All these vegan/gluten-free diet phases, they pass and what is always there and what will always be there in the end are the basics. Therefore, I am not concerned with the fashions of the health or the food industry. That’s my polite answer. If you want to eat something gluten-free, go eat a tortilla or a rice crack or a bowl of rice. Trying to make bread gluten-free is like trying to make turkey meat-free. I’ll wait for it to pass and wait for folks to get interested in the next food/health craze and then I’ll be disinterested in that as well. So to sum it up in one word: Disinterested.

Jewhungry: What is your most favorite or first food memory?

Batsheva: For me, it’s my mom’s chicken soup. My mom used to make a big pot of chicken soup every shabbat. There was nothing special about it.  It was pretty plain but it had big onions and all of us used to fight over the onions. She used to make a lot of it and in fact, she had a gemach for chicken soup and so in the village, if someone wasn’t feeling well they would call up and she would bring them soup.

Zak: When we visited my grandmother in Del Ray, we used to always have an everything bagel toasted well with chopped liver, egg salad, kugel, rugelach, cookies, white fish spread, mayonnaise, a platter of smoked salmon with onions, tomatoes and capers. Of course there would be an assortment of pickles. Oy, I can taste it right now. Ashkenaz food; I’m telling you! (Please note that at this point in the interview, Batsheva is making vomit noises because the idea of the aforementioned Del Ray Bubbe/Ashkenazi spread sounds disgusting to her).

Jewhungry: So what are the plans for the bakery?

Zak: We are working on opening the bakery in Wynwood. It’s mainly going to be a wholesale production bakery but with a retail component where folks can see the whole process from start to finish and also purchase delicious food. We want to make the entire bakery kosher so we need help with that. If anybody knows how to get started, how to do it all? A rabbi who can help guide us through the process? All of our products are kosher and we don’t use meat at all. All of our sandwiches will be dairy/vegetarian. It just makes sense for where we want to go but we need help. 

20130709-113320.jpg

Zak’s got an awesome beard AND accessories so clearly, Siona’s a fan.

Jewhungry: Why do you want to go kosher?

Zak: Basically, I was trying to impress Batsheva, so I thought, “if I make the bakery kosher, she’d be really impressed with me” and it worked! Just kidding. The reason is that it feels like the right thing to do. We’re not far away from it. We don’t work on Saturday regardless. All of our ingredients are kosher. And once upon a time, I heard it was a mitzvah to make kosher bread. I want to make something that is delicious and pure and that everyone could feel comfortable eating but also just happens to be kosher. I don’t want people to eat it because it’s organic or eat it because it’s kosher. Miami has room for what we do, you know? Ultimately, it’s the right thing for Batsheva and I to do.

Cookingpalooza: Homemade Fettuccine + Pesto Cream Sauce with Floretines for Dessert

2 Jul
Pasta of Love

Pasta of Love

You ever meet someone who was a legend?  I’m not talking like David Bowie or Oprah (though it’d be cool to meet them as well) but someone who was legendary within your group of people.  My friend, Francine, is one of those people.  We both attended the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, Israel during different years.  She became very close with one of my most favorite people, Annie.  So, when we were living in Ann Arbor, around the corner from aforementioned favorite person, Annie, and decided to move to Miami to further my husband’s Marine Biology career, Annie suggested we contact Francine and her hubby, Adam, who were already living here.  I was a little nervous.  I’d heard so much good stuff about Francine (and some about Adam . . . I guess.  Haha, just kidding buddy.  There was some actual good stuff about you too. For real!) that I was a bit intimidated.  She’s smart, funny, very kind and, a great cook.  I was just dabbling in cooking.  She sounded perfect.  I had a lady-crush on her from afar and I hadn’t even met her yet!  I eventually called them but spoke with Adam instead.  So, she remained a mystery until we moved here.  Then finally, FINALLY, someone invited the other to the other’s house and we got to meet and seriously, all the stuff was true.  She actually was funny, kind, smart but still, I hadn’t eaten the food yet.  THE FOOD!  Eventually, we scored a highly coveted invite to their place for shabbat dinner and that didn’t disappoint either.  All this awesomeness took place within the first 3 months of moving to Miami and 2 and a half years later, Francine and Adam (and now Matan, their 2 year-old), remain our closest friends in town.

Camping in 2011

Camping with Adam and Francine in 2011

Our Kids in One of My Most Favorite Pictures

Our Kids in One of My Most Favorite Pictures;;’

There have been so many meals-shared since plus a few camping trips, farm-outtings, and beach-visits in between but we had NEVER cooked together. So one day, I suggested that we get together for a day of epic cooking proportions.  Why had we not thought of this sooner?  Coming up for a theme of what to cook was a little difficult but I have a “Cooking Bucket List” for the summer and on it was making my own pasta.  Francine was game, thank heavens (I’m telling ya, she’s super nice).  I consulted a beautiful Kosher Italian cookbook my husband and I received as a wedding gift and decided upon a pasta recipe.  The sauce was made up on the fly after a bit of trial and error.  Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the EXACT measurements so I’m going on memory.  It was a hectic but awesome day.  See below.  And even if you don’t end up making your own pasta, I HIGHLY recommend the sauce and the dessert, both of which are pretty versatile.  Bitayavon!

Because I am sharing this post with Francine, you can find the delicious recipe for the dessert, Florentine with Nutella and Powdered Sugar, can be found on her blog, Feta and Arepa.

Pesto in the Process

Pesto in the Process

It Ain't Easy Being Green . . But it Sure is Tasty.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green . . But it Sure is Tasty.

I Wanted to Eat this LIke a Soup. Yum!

I Wanted to Eat this LIke a Soup. Yum!

Cream Sauce Completion

Cream Sauce Completion

Homemade Fettuccine with Pesto Cream Sauce
(Pasta recipe from Edda Servi Machlin’s Classic Italian Jewish Cooking)

What?

For Pasta:
2 1/2 to 3 Cups of Unbleached Flour
4 Egg, Slightly Beaten

For Pesto:

1 1/2 Cups of Fresh Basil, Tightly Packed
3 Cloves of Garlic
1/3 Cup of Parmesan
1/2 Cups of Walnuts
1/4 Cup of Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Pepper

For Cream Sauce:

4 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
4 Tbsp Unbleached Flour
1 Cup Heavy Cream
Pepper
Salt

For Pasta with Hand Operated Machine:

Mound part of the flour on a large board or other working surface and make a well at the corner.  Pour in the eggs.  With the aid of a fork, mix the eggs and flour very gradually until a soft paste is formed.  With your fingers mix in enough additional flour to make a firm, but not too hard, dough.  Knead for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth.  Place in an unfloured dish; cover with an inverted dish and let rest in the refrigerator for about 1/2 hour.

Take one-quarter of the dough at a time and begin the thinning.  With the rollers set at the first slot (farthest apart), feed the dough between the rollers or to the machine, that means the dough is too soft and more flour must be added.  Fold and feed with the rollers set at the same slot 3 to 4 times, until the sheet comes out in one piece (but not too smooth).  Move on to the second slot and feed the sheet only once.  For fettuccine, you will stop at the next to the last slot.  Keep on moving until the desired thinness is obtained.  Repeat with the remaining pasta, using one-quarter of the original quantity each time.  Use as directed in each individual recipe. (Pasta made with only eggs and flour is very elastic and tends to shrink.  However, the second time through it keeps its shape better).

Once pasta is finished, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Add the pasta and stir.  Bring to another boil and reduce heat to medium and let cook for roughly 7 minutes.  Drain and place in a bowl.

Sauce “How To”:

Place the basil in the processor together with the garlic, nuts, parmesan and a dash of salt and pepper.  DO NOT ADD THE OLIVE OIL YET.  Process the ingredients while slowly adding in the olive oil during the pulsing process.  Taste.  Add more salt if necessary (Be careful my kosher brethren.  That kosher parmesan can be salty).  Transfer the sauce to another bowl.

Meanwhile, prepare the cream base by melting the butter on medium heat in a large saucepan.  Once melted, add the flour one tablespoon at a time, whisking in between each addition of flour so that it’s smooth.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the heavy whipping cream.  Cook over simmer for another 3 – 5 minutes, stirring frequently until the sauce thickens a bit. Turn the heat off and stir in the pesto.  Add the mixed sauce to the bowl of cooked pasta and stir to incorporate.  Top with some shredded parmesan and fresh basil.

Just One More

Just One More

Dive In

Dive In

Add a Little Shaved Parmesan on Top and You Are Set!

Add a Little Shaved Parmesan on Top and You Are Set!

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