Tag Archives: 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

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).

{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. 

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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.

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