Tag Archives: Judaism

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

August Storytellers: 8 Love Stories, 8 Recipes, 1 Month.

1 Aug
Image

A ‘leaf’ designed by my sister, Heather, for my chuppah.

Around about two weeks ago, my sister-in-law, Caitlin, wrote a guest post for Jewhungry.  The post told the story of her journey to Judaism through food.  It also told the story of how she and her husband, my husband’s brother, met and fell in love (they are too dang cute, by the by).  It received a wonderful response; partly due to her ability to tell a great story but also because people loved the love story. I realized, also, that I had been posting a lot about love.  I posted Zak the Baker’s love story here.  And then there was the guest post from my bestie, Jackie, who wrote about her love and appreciation of her friends here.  There was a trend happening on Jewhungry and that trend was love.

The world needs a hug y’all.  The world needs a nice long, hard cry and then a big giant bear hug.  In the past several months there have been deadly forest fires, train crashes, plane crashes, celebrity drug overdoses and a whole host of really sad and heartbreaking events that are draining to the soul.  It’s too much.  Sometimes it’s just too damn much.  Ok, so maybe I need a nice long, hard cry and a big, giant bear hug.  Regardless, that post and the response got me thinking about how much people love a good love story.  I mean, think about it.  Nicholas Sparks is not the modern-day Hemingway, but he’s incredibly successful because the man knows how to tell a love story.  After every heartbreak in my teens and 20s, I would be devestated for a bit but then I would pick myself up and believe once again in love.  But I’m not just talking about romantic love.  It’s my love of adventure, travel and learning that pushed me to leave everything I knew and move to Israel for the year to study.   It’s my love of food that pushes me to continue experimenting in the kitchen and writing this blog even though I have an incredibly draining full time day job and my family to take care.  But love and passion are incredibly powerful emotions and they can push us to do amazing things (see examples above) but, also, admittedly, not-so-amazing things (oh my sweet, sweet 20s).

You try NOT thinking about love with this kind of scenery all around.

You try NOT thinking about love with this kind of scenery all around.

Just your average walk -- don't mind the baby on your back.

Just your average walk — don’t mind the baby on your back.

It also just so happened to be that love was weighing heavily on my mind at that time Caitlin’s post was published.  When that particular post was out, I was in Big Sky, Montana with my husband and our baby and I have to tell you, even with all the chaos of the world around us, waking up every morning to the stillness of the mountains and sipping coffee while watching the sunrise, I mean, how could one NOT think about love?  The warm fuzzies were alive and kicking in Montana.   Plus, this vacation was kind of an anniversary gift to ourselves and a birthday gift to our baby, who will be turning 1 in August, just 8 days before our 3rd wedding anniversary.

The picture my husband drew of us from about 2 years ago.  He draws like a 7 year old and yet, he's getting his PhD from University of Miami.  Go figure.

The picture my husband drew of us from about 2 years ago. He draws like a 7 year old and yet, he’s getting his PhD from University of Miami. Go figure.

He took me snorkeling when we were first falling in love.  (Gulf of Eilat in the Red Sea)

He took me snorkeling when we were first falling in love (Gulf of Eilat in the Red Sea circa 2008)

And, 5 years after that snorkeling picture we are married, we have our little girl and we are surrounded by wildflowers.  Not bad.

And, 5 years after that snorkeling picture we are married, we have our little girl and we are surrounded by wildflowers. Not bad.

So you see, love was just all around me and I wanted to do something with it.  The idea was thus:  Contact some amazing story tellers and ask them if they wouldn’t mind sharing their greatest love story.  Oh, and don’t forget to include a recipe that reminds you of your love story.  All these posts will be posted through the month of August, since that’s my month o’ love and well, it’s my blog, dang it!  Your incredible storytellers are as follows:

1.  Jeremy Owens:  Co-founder of Jewhungry, contributor for Oy! Chicago and creator/director/storyteller for You’re Being Ridiculous.

2.  Misty Dawn Lacefield:  Sister-in-law extraordinnaire.  I could listen to the story of how she and my brother fell in love over and over and over again.  Ahhh, young Southern, hippie love.

3.  Katie Bishop:  Creator/blogger at iamthemilk.com.  Katia is funny, honest, frikkin’ talented and she actually said ‘yes’ when I asked her if she wouldn’t mind contributing to this little blog.  I’m still in a state of shock and awe.  Lucky us y’all, for serious.

4. Ali Brand Stern:  Ali is funny. Ali is incredibly funny.  Ali might be one of funniest people I know.

5.  Ayelet Blumberg:  My sweet cousin.  Never have I ever met someone who went after a dream like Ayelet did and accepted nothing less than exactly what she wanted.

6.  Laurel Snyder:  Published poet and celebrated children’s author.  Homegirl knows her way around words.

7.  Stef Jadd:  My first impression of Stef, when I met her and had a real conversation with her, was, “this lady has passion for everything she does”.  Stef and her husband recently made aliyah and write about their aliyah experience here.

To get things started, I wanted to start off with my own story, of which I will post in full tomorrow. But, in the meantime, let me set the scene for you so you have an idea of what you’re about to get into.

This story starts in 2002.  It starts with an extremely tall and extremely naive girl, fresh out of college and fresh out of her first relationship, which happened to be with her first love.  As mentioned above, its 2002, which means that Sex and the City was taking over our culture and convinced us all (read: tall naive girls in their early 20s fresh from college and relationships) that it’s totally realistic to go out several times a week and ‘date’ lots of guy without any emotional/financial consequences).  So, we have ‘Cosmos’, we have girls nights and we have an unrealistic understanding of what dating is like in the real world.  Trust, things get good.  They get awkward, funny and good.

Until tomorrow . . .

Wait! I wanted to tell you that tomorrow’s recipe is coconut milk-soaked fried chicken with ‘Israeli’ seasonings.

(and from the photo archives . . . )

Someone tell that big mouth girl down below that she better buckle up because the real world ain't nothing like college (The College of Wooster, circa 2002).

Someone tell that big mouth girl down below that she better buckle up because the real world ain’t nothing like college (The College of Wooster, circa 2002).

I spent the majority of my 20s have intense crushes on completely unavailable dudes -- like this one, Season 2 Top Chef winner, Ilan Hall.  (yes, that really is him and he cooked my bestie, Jackie, and I wild mushroom risotto. Heaven).

I spent the majority of my 20s have intense crushes on completely unavailable dudes — like this one, Season 2 Top Chef winner, Ilan Hall. (yes, that really is him and he cooked my bestie, Jackie, and I wild mushroom risotto. Heaven).

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} My Jewish Journey – The Joy of Caitlin

18 Jul

20130718-214641.jpg

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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Monday Round-up: Cookies and Question

11 Feb

This month’s Kosher Connection challenge asked us to make ‘something that you’d put in a mishloach manot bag.  I mean, what popped in my head was cookie . . . .cookie, cookie COOKIE! Now look, e’rybody has a hamentaschen recipe so I wasn’t going to attempt to reinvent the wheel plus, this past week was super stressful and there are no signs of stopping.  After parent/teacher conferences, a larger amount than usual of 6th grade girls coming to my office to sob like a babies talk things out, and a few heart-breaking conversations with parents dealing with divorce, I wasn’t really in a creative frame of mind.  I coudn’t tap into that part of me that gets jazzed for some cooking/baking and it was getting frustrating but more on that later.

Siona will eventually get Uncle Dave's nose

Siona will eventually get Uncle Dave’s nose

The biggest thing on my mind over this shabbat was connection.  As you know if you’ve read this blog before, I’m a school counselor for a Jewish day school.  I love my job and I take it seriously.  The biggest part of my job that I wish I had more time to cultivate is my work with connecting girls with Judaism.  I’m getting really frustrated (oy, apparently I need a vacay.  I’m getting frustrated a lot this week) with the lack of opportunities for connection for our girls.  If I hear one more girls program on tzniut I might scream.  It’s nice that there are programs for Jewish girls to connect via challah-baking and mikveh-visiting but this can’t be the only way we offer our girls connection, right? But what is that within the Orthodox community? What does that connection and the subsequent programming look like? I feel very strongly that the message we’re sending our girls is that their place within our community lies solely in home-making and child-rearing and sometimes educating but even that education is within a box.  We don’t invest the time and energy in educating our girls about how to daven and why we daven like we do with our boys. I want to inspire girls to love their culture, community, and religion but I’m not sure how to do that.  When I think back about what inspired me so much of it was self-directed but of course, came from the home.  My mom was very involved within our Reform synagogue and I was involved with our area youth group but what brought me to being more observant and more appreciative and knowledgeable about Judaism as an adult was education, inspiring female educators and a partner who loves his religion. So what does that inspiration look like for middle and high school girls?  What inspires/d you? I’m truly looking for help and guidance and would love your opinion.

I had to bake with Siona attached to me, which meant that sneaky little foot kept getting into the pictures.

I had to bake with Siona attached to me, which meant that sneaky little foot kept getting into the pictures.

Anyway, ok, so back to cookies. COOKIES!  We had a dear friend of my husband come and visit this weekend.  He lives in LA and is doing the struggling actor thing.  I’m convinced that he will be famous one day but in the meantime he’s doing whatever he can to make a paycheck.  One thing he’s doing to make ends meet is a ‘before and after’ muscle-building program complete with protein shake powder that smells like hot chocolate powder.  The bag of it sat on our counter all weekend, which meant all weekend I was craving anything with cocoa powder thus, the double chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.  So when someone asked me to make something I’d want in my mishloach manot bag that answer will always be cookies . . . cookies and cash but you know, I can’t really ‘make’ cash.

Cocoa and flour in harmoney

Cocoa and flour in harmony

How!?

  1. 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
  2. 3/4 c granulated sugar
  3. 1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
  4. 1 large egg
  5. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  6. 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  7. 1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  8. 1/2 tsp baking soda
  9. 1/4 tsp salt
  10. 2 c old-fashioned oats
  11. 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

How’s That Now!?

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients ( flour, cocoa powder, soda and salt ). Set aside.
  2. Place butter and both sugars in a large mixing bowl of a stand mixer or hand-mixer and cream until light and fluffy.
  3. Add egg and vanilla and mix just until combined.
  4. With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line your cookies sheet with parchment paper. Scoop out the dough into a tablespoon size balls and place on prepared sheet, leaving at least 2 inches of space between cookie balls. They will spread!
  6. Bake 9 to 11 minutes. Cool on a sheet for 3 minutes, then transfer onto a cooling rack.
A li'l something special for your mishloach manot this year

A li’l something special for your mishloach manot this year

 

 

 

 

 

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