7 Reasons for Jewish Women to be in the Picture

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Jewish Women in the Picture

I was scrolling in a private FB group for women and I read a post a woman wrote about struggling to include herself in family photos. So many women commented in agreement, empathy and support.  

In the FB thread, women gave four primary reasons for staying out of photos:

  • Never being explicitly asked to be the “subject” of the photo
  • Being the designated family photographer
  • Feeling “fat”or above her ideal weight
  • Feeling ill at ease about her appearance because she does not always have time to apply makeup, brush or blow dry her hair, or even shower sometimes.

When my daughter was around 3 years old (in 2013), I was organizing our electronic photos and realized that I was almost entirely absent from our family’s photographic memories.

I am doing better to include myself in our family photographs and I am not completely healed.

I imagine many of us have had thoughts like:

  • “I’ll wait till next time”
  • “When I lose a few more pounds I’ll enjoy seeing myself in photos more.”
  • “When I have more time to take care of myself”
  • “It is more important to capture the kids”

As a woman and mother it may be easier for us to be the woman behind the camera. Yes, it probably is true we want to capture more photographs of our children than of ourselves. It is also true that it is mistake to exclude yourself from your family photographic record.

Jewish Women in the Picture

Here are the 7 reasons to give yourself full permission to be in the picture:

  • The idea that “time flies” is a truism. It is even more true when we are raising our children. You will never get this period of your life back.  
  • Photographs allow all of us build our connection to memories and you deserve to be a part of your family’s memories.
  • I have yet to hear a child pass such harsh judgement on their mother’s appearance in a photo, have you?  
  • One day you will die and will no longer be here physically with your children. When that time comes, photographs will comfort your children. Think about how important it is for you to see photographs of your mother and grandmother.  
  • If you are not feeling good about your body weight, keeping yourself invisible is an ineffective strategy to feel better. Keeping yourself invisible actually perpetuates the suffering. Better to start eating healthy and moving your body today and allow yourself to be photographed today.
  • If you feel like you never have any time to take care of your appearance to be photo ready, chances are you feel that way about your whole life and not just photos. Again here, better to start claiming time the time you need to “put yourself together” (according to your personal standards).
  • Many years from now when your children are grown, imagine that your daughter comes to you with the same issue of making herself invisible. What will you say to support her?

One of the beautiful benefits of modern technology is the ease we have at capturing stages of our lives. Photographs can give a lasting record of our family life.

What needs to happen next for you to allow yourself to be in the picture?

Your Turn: Does this resonate with you? Please share a time you neglected to include yourself in a family photo based on how you felt about yourself or a time you overcame that feeling and chose to include yourself in the photograph.

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From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Healthy + Simple Vegan Tomato Sauce (oil-free)

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A good tomato sauce is foundation for so many wonderful dishes. I use it weekly in my lentil soup recipe as well as serving it with pasta. My daughter loves it!

This tomato sauce is fresh and light tasting as it is oil free and uses all fresh ingredients. It is so simple to make that you can enjoy it every week.  

From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Healthy + Simple Vegan Tomato Sauce (oil-free)

vegan tomato sauce

From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Healthy + Simple Vegan Tomato Sauce (oil-free)
Jewish Food Hero
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    Tools:
  • blender
  • soup pot
  • garlic press
    Ingredients:
  • 20 tomatoes (approx 3.3 lbs)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ½ onion or shallot
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • 3 anise stars
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Optional: 1 tsp tomato paste

    Instructions:
  1. Cut tomatoes and shallot in fourths
  2. Use garlic press to prepare the garlic
  3. Place all ingredients in blender and blend. If you like chunky tomato sauce, blend less. Blend more for smooth tomato sauce.
  4. Pour into soup pot and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.
  5. Add more salt and sugar to taste. This depends on the tomatoes as their taste varies.

; Yield: 4 cups

vegan tomato sauce

If you love this recipe, you’ll love The Jewish Food Hero Cookbook: 50 Simple Plant Based Recipes For Your Holiday Meals

Jewish Food Hero Cookbook // jewishfoodhero.com

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Hanukkah 2017: Blessings Bundle

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Hanukkah Blessing Bundle

Looking for modern and beautiful Hanukkah props?

This Hanukkah Blessings Bundle contains props to help you make Hanukkah beautiful and organized.

This Hanukkah Blessings Bundle is available for immediate download and comes in a high quality (300 dpi) PDF file for ease of printing. When you download the file you will receive one PDF that contains:

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Blessings

Click Here to Download

Hanukkah Blessings

These blessing cards include the Hanukkah blessings on a easy to read designed card. They beautiful and so useful. You can print them on heavy stock paper, cut them out and then use them for each night of Hanukkah. As long as you do not dip them in oil or mush a latke on top of them, they can be used next year too.

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Latke Recipe

Click Here to Download

Sweet and Savory Baked Mini Latke Recipe

These sweet and savory latkes are mini-sized and baked, making them cute and crispy.  They are oil-free so they are healthier for our bodies.  Serve with proposed applesauce for a sweet latke and/or with the sour “cream” for a savory latke.

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Dreidel

Click Here to Download

How to Play Dreidel: A Definitive Guide

Spinning the dreidel is a traditional game played during the eight days of Hanukkah. Here is a helpful printable download that includes clear (and correct) rules of the game and an easy to read dreidel illustration. You can print them out for your Hanukkah party guests.

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Meal Planning Template

Click Here to Download

Hanukkah Meal Planning Template

Taking time to thoughtfully plan meals is an supportive way to eat healthier anytime. This is even more true during the holidays. Meal planning templates will also help you feel more organized and calm before and during Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Gift Tags

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Hanukkah Gift Tags

Hanukkah presents are more special with beautiful gift tags. Here are three printable gifts tags to adorn your Hanukkah gifts.

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Snail Mail Cards

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Hanukkah Snail Mail Cards

Traditional mail is still a viable way to connect with people, especially during Hanukkah. Snail mail makes us all feel special.

Here are three modern and beautiful Hanukkah cards that you can download and print at home or at a print shop.

For best results:

  • Print on your favorite paper
  • Print the gift tags, blessing cards, dreidel visual guide and directions and snail mail cards on heavier stock paper
  • Laminate the Hanukkah blessing cards and the dreidel visual guide and directions to keep them pristine during the holiday (and so you can use them again next year)
  • Print in color or grayscale (both look beautiful so the choice is yours)
  • Make two or more batches of the latkes (they are really yummy!)

Download Your Blessings Bundle Here

Happy Hanukkah!  


Your turn:  Tell us in the comments, what Hanukkah prop are you dreaming about?

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Use your hands to Make Beautiful Hanukkah Blessing Cards At Home that Natalie Portman would love

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Hanukkah Blessings Cards

Click Here to Download

I have been wanting to make Hanukkah blessing cards at home for a few years.

The recitation of the Hanukkah blessing at our house includes the following annual awkward (and sometimes greasy) moments:

  • The late minute search for the blessing in the Siddur with oily hands;
  • Having only one lousy photocopy of the blessings;
  • Candle wax and oily hands all over all everything;
  • Wishing (silently) that you were more organized to print enough copies of the transliteration and English translation of the blessings for Jewish and non-Jewish guests

Don’t get me wrong, reading blessings from the Siddur certainly feels authentic but I have wondered for years if the Siddur and Hanukkah are the best match. There is lots of burning wax and tables of (unfortunately mostly oily) food. Might there be a better way to present the Hanukkah blessings?

I really appreciate that the Hanukkah blessings are available on-line.  And with these you can hustle and cut and paste the blessings into a new document. Sometimes you can find a plain PDF download of the blessings for printing. Both solutions feel like a letdown and definitely does not add to any “special” holiday ambiance. Might there be a more aesthetically pleasing design solution for the Hanukkah blessings?

Hanukkah Blessings Cards

Click Here to Download

Last year I again felt a pang of disappointment that I was not more organized and had not prepared individual blessing cards for everyone in our family and for our guests.  

This year, I did it. I created the modern, beautiful and useful printable Chanukah blessings that I have been wanting.

These blessing cards offer simplistic design with natural elements. You can print them on heavy stock paper or a heavier paper with a texture that enhances the design. I laminate mine. Either way, we can use these blessing cards for each night of Hanukkah and as long as you do not dip them in oil or mush a latke on top of them, they can be used next year too.

These Hanukkah cards are available for immediate download and comes in a high quality (300 dpi) PDF file for ease of printing. When you download the file you will receive one PDF that contains two Hanukkah blessings cards.

Click Here to Download

These printable Hanukkah blessing cards are simple to put together.

You need:

  • A4 white card stock (or another paper of your choice)
  • scissors
  • Black and white or color printer (a home printer works fine for these and going to your local print shop is also a good option)

You can make these alone and also enlist your children to help.

Use these blessing cards each night of Hanukkah.

Click Here to Download

 

Your turn: Please share a Hanukkah blessings mistake/mishap story with us in the comments below?

*”Please note that this product contains the name of G-d.  After you print these, please treat them with appropriate respect.” 

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What’s In Your Pantry, Yael Trusch?

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Yael Trusch

What’s in Your Pantry? is a recurring feature where I ask women to tell us more about their food and eating habits by opening up their kitchen pantries to us. This week I’m featuring Yael Trusch.

I met Yael online. I found her website and read her about page and realized we were both born in San Juan Puerto Rico in the same year. What are the chances? I wrote to her with my discovery and we have been corresponding every since.  

For those of you unfamiliar with Yael, she is the creator of the bilingual (Spanish and English) Jewish lifestyle Blog and weekly Podcast for women, Jewish Latin Princess.

Vamonos! Let’s go into Yael’s pantry!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I live in Houston, TX, the last place on Earth I thought I’d live. (But, then again, I never thought I’d live in China!) I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico but I’ve globe trotted plenty – from Boston, New York, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Miami, Jerusalem, Shanghai and now Houston. I love reading. Currently I’m reading Stars of David, because I recently interviewed the author for JLP Podcast (on her most recent book) and was curious about her previous work. I am married with four children, all of which provides great content for my blog, podcast interviews and courses I teach Jewish women. Plus, the big family makes me a much more patient and flexible person than I would otherwise be! 🙂 I’m an only child so it’s a bit of a change in lifestyle. My favorite food is dark chocolate – I eat it every day! (Why is it not in the food pyramid exactly!?) OK, wait, confession: I also love, love, love red meat as in a good steak … I probably should not say that on Jewish Food Hero! True though.

Yael Trusch
How do you typically feel, emotionally, when you open your kitchen pantry?

Happy! First of all, I keep my pantry quite organized – OK I have to re-check from time to time, but for the most part everything is in bins and has assigned sections. I know where everything is! And there’s enough room for everything. We custom made the kitchen and I made sure that my pantry had enough space and these nice pull out shelves so I can store things with ease and overall make my time in the kitchen more effective. I love good food, but I try to be as quick and efficient in the kitchen as possible, so I can move on to other things. (Read: I don’t cook for fun!) So overall, this pantry makes me quite happy.

What’s your process for organizing your food pantry?

I keep my grains in these amazing bins with labels from The Container Store, so I have a few shelves of those. Then I have a few shelves that are just kids’ snacks for their lunches. I have a few shelves for canned goods and things like that, and even within those, things are organized separately – teas are all together, the bottled things are all together, the canned things are all together.

Yael Trusch - Pantry Items
What’s inside your pantry right now?

Bob’s Red Mill Flaxseed Meal and Bob’s Red Mill Whole Flax Seeds – I always have to have because I make the most amazing Flax Seed challah.

I also have Better for Bread Flour and Whole Wheat Flour, both by Gold.

Alprose Swiss Baking Chocolate (kosher for Passover)

Schmerling’s Extra Dark chocolate bars (kosher)

Oh and  Kirkland raw almonds because I snack on them all the time – Kirkland brand from Costco.

What’s inside your healthiest item you keep in stock?

Raw almonds I guess. Also I always keep quinoa in stock- kirkland brand from Costco. And isn’t dark chocoalate healthy!? 🙂

What about your guilty pleasure that you always have on hand?

Dark chocolate from Schmerling’s. Any dark chocolate will do, as long as it’s dark bitter chocolate. My husband brought some extra dark chocolate from Israel, as a gift for me, a couple of months back that as beyond good! I also love a good red wine, but my husband is not much of a wine drinker so I just make do with what is available locally and don’t get too picky. Recently though, we tried an excellent Pinot Noir by Baron Herzog on a trip to New York which we both loved, but I haven’t found it locally. Paired with a good steak it was really divine.

Yael Trusch Pantry ItemsCompared to your mother, how is your pantry the same or different than what you grew up with?

Different in so many ways.

First of all, I didn’t grow up in a kosher home and now I have a kosher kitchen so all the products in there are certified kosher.

My mother always kept Coke and green olives in her pantry. My mother was a devoted Coke drinker. Ironically, I do not drink soda. Her preferred snack was Coke and green olives whereas my go-to snack is a piece of dark chocolate and a cup of English breakfast tea.

I also remember seeing Ortega taco shells in her pantry and I still buy those!

If you could change anything about how your pantry is now, what would it be?

Oh I love it exactly the way it is. Thank G-d! 🙂

Your turn:  What will you remember from Yael’s interview?

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Interview with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg: How Jewish Spirituality Can Support Jewish Mothers

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Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

I met Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg through her writing on modesty.  Her voice made so much common sense and I found her thoughts at once inspirational and comforting.

For those of you unfamiliar with Danya Ruttenberg, she is a Rabbi and author of Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting-a National Jewish Book Award finalist and PJ Library Parents’ Choice selection–and six other books, including Surprised By God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion. She has written for the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Time, was named as a “rabbi to watch” by Newsweek and one of the top 50 women rabbis by the Forward, and serves as Rabbi-in-Residence at Avodah. You can learn more about her work at danyaruttenberg.net, find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @TheRaDR.

It’s with great honor (and excitement!) that I share this interview with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg.

 

Tell us a bit about yourself .

I’m a rabbi and writer. I serve as Rabbi-in-Residence for Avodah, a fantastic org that trains young Jews for lifelong work in social justice. I wasn’t very Jewishly engaged growing up–we’d go to synagogue once or twice a year.  

Towards the end of college and in the years following, an interest in spirituality and philosophy landed me deep into a love affair with Judaism–I realized the ways in which the Torah could illuminate the messy gorgeousness of our lives, how serious spiritual practice could affect profound personal and social transformation, how this would could help turn us into people who were better of service to others and the world. So here I am.  

I wrote a book about the long, winding journey from atheism to the rabbinate, Surprised by God, and when I had kids, I realized that the deep wisdom of my tradition only half-prepared me for the chaos and tenderness of parenting. The great minds of the last many centuries, both in Judaism and in other spiritual traditions, developed some important tools to help us better experience awe and wonder, navigate ugly feelings and really see another person on their terms–but, mostly, Buber and Maimonides didn’t think to explicitly connect their ideas to the day-to-day work of parenting. Because it wasn’t on their radar!  

Danya Ruttenberg Interview

Someone, somewhere else, was managing tantrums and soothing a scared kid back to bed after a nightmare. As such, there’s also a lot of powerful wisdom that parents have to teach spiritual traditions about what the sacred and spirituality even is, and can be. That’s how Nurture the Wow was born–I was feeling adrift as both a mother and a rabbi, and I went looking for answers. In the end, I had to build bridges between the tradition and the lived experiences of parents in the trenches, because there really weren’t any.

What are the struggles that Jewish women experience when they become mothers?

I think the struggles that Jewish women today face are the same struggles that most mothers face. A lot of things get thrown into a blender when we have kids—our logistics, our finances, our priorities, probably our sanity a little bit. And for most of us, our identity—our very sense of selfhood—also gets taken for a spin. You know? Suddenly what you want and what you need gets put on the back burner, and who you are and have been in the world shifts dramatically.

The baby’s hunger at 2am takes priority over your exhaustion. Her 7:30pm bedtime means that you’re probably going to say no to that night out with friends (at least most of the time, given what hiring a babysitter costs these days). Your love of travel, if you have the privilege to enjoy things like that, is at odds with the fact that your vacation days now cover the times when daycare is closed. Even your most basic needs become deprioritized; after Yonatan was born, I discovered that I could go a lot longer without peeing than I ever had before. I was so busy soothing, feeding, changing and getting him to sleep that answering nature’s call was often, well, pretty far down the list. Simply put, when you become a parent, so often, it’s not all about you anymore. Or hardly at all.

It’s very disorienting, and we need both conceptual tools and a great, supportive community in order to re-ground. And even so–who we are on the other side, when things stop spinning, winds up being very different than who we were before.  

Can Jewish spirituality help them soothe these struggles?

Absolutely. That’s really the thesis of Nurture the Wow–that there are lenses that can help transform and help us make sense of how we experience the difficult and beautiful, the confusing and infuriating aspects of parenting.

Sometimes it’s about thinking about the idea of teshuvah–usually translated as “repentance,” but it’s really a way of returning to who we’re meant to be–as a way of making amends when we don’t act like the parents we hope to be.

Sometimes it’s about going deep into the idea of I-Thou, Martin Buber’s brilliant framework for encountering another person in their wholeness and fullness. Sometimes it’s about using Jewish liturgy that can radically re-frame how we think about the body, or to help us name the ways we experience power and powerlessness. I could keep going….

Interview with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

Does parenting get in the way of spirituality or does it make room for a different type of spiritual experience?

We have this narrative around “spirituality,” that it’s this thing that we experience in the quiet, or in solitude–hour-long meditations or whatever. I had that narrative, too, when I became a mom, and that’s part of what was so jarring–as though you can enjoy an unbroken hour of anything when you’ve got a baby!  

Jewish law says you’re not supposed to interrupt the central prayer of the liturgy for anything–even if a snake is crawling up your leg, you’re supposed to keep going. So it took me some time to get that there was this other, deeply profound thing happening at the same time, in my heart and in my relationship with my kid.

It took a while to make room for something more free-flowing, but no less transformative, to enter my practice–a spontaneous prayer offered up when I felt stressed and at my wits’ end or overflowing with gratitude, prayers whispered into my kids’ ears, lullaby as prayer, prayer as lullaby, meditation and connection happening with and through my children, not separate from them. A spiritual expression big enough to hold play and laughter and chaos and tears and all of it.

What are some ideas about Jewish parenting that you can share with us?

Here’s one that resonates with a lot of people: The 20th century theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes often about “radical amazement,” that sense of “wow” about the world, as the root of spirituality. It’s the kind of thing that people often experience in nature, for example, on the proverbial mountaintop. But not only that–a lot of it is about bringing that sense of awe into the little things we often take for granted, or consider part of the background of our lives. This includes not only flowers on the side of the road, the taste of ice cream in our mouths, or how groovy it is to use a straw, but also things we generally don’t even think of as pleasures, like the warm soapy water on our hands as we wash dishes.

Obviously, radical amazement isn’t only for kids (though they do it really, really well). It’s about bringing that wonder, that wow-ness, to as much of the mundane as possible–to the dishwashing, to the gorgeousness of the tomato we’re about to slice, and, of course, to the tushies and toes of the cuddly, sticky, demanding children we so love.

Ever seen a 4 year-old agog with joy seeing a bunch of ants crawling on the sidewalk? That’s radical amazement. The great thing is that our kids can be our teachers–and remind us to see those ants with the same kind of wonder and awe. Ants are pretty cool. When was the last time you stopped to really look at them?

How do you define spiritual practice?

Spiritual practice is an ongoing, repeated activity that, performed with intentionality, can transform how we understand ourselves, others, the world around us, and our place in the world. It is (if this language resonates with you) our connection to the sacred, the universe, and/or God.

There are a lot of things we talk about as spiritual practice these days—prayer, meditation, painting, writing, yoga, hiking, running, and more.  

One of the questions I tackle in Nurture the Wow is, what if engaging in the intimate care of our children was understood as a legitimate path to understanding the universe, the transcendent, and our place in it? What if parenting itself was a spiritual practice? When we care for our children, we can go so far into love that we might find infinity on the other side; we can use the boring and the hard moments to pop us open; we can find new means of experiencing our bodies; we can open the doors of perception in immersive play; and even find within the depth and intensity of these bonds something akin to the mystic. We experience transcendent love in a million decidedly, non-transcendent moments every single day.  

If we go deep enough into our parenting, it can take us everywhere.  

How have you incorporated kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) into your life?

Not really. Kabbalah is just a particular philosophical and theological outlook on Jewish practice. It was never meant to be a distinct set of practices independent of keeping Shabbat, keeping kosher, prayer, blessings, and the other things that under-gird the daily integration of Jewish spirituality into one’s life. And kabbalah isn’t the only expression of Jewish mysticism, either!  The “basic” expression of Jewish practice is sometimes described as “normal mysticism”, a way of experiencing the mundane world as suffused with holiness.  

My own way of thinking about practice is actually much more Maimonidean–we don’t engage in spiritual practice to impact God, but, rather, to transform ourselves.  That should be enough, shouldn’t it?

Your turn: What are some of your main takeaways from what Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg shared? In the comments, tell me what made an impression on you, and how you might consider integrating some of her ideas into your parenting rhythm.

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3 Important Reasons To Use Cloth Napkins This Year

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If you’re like most women, mealtime is likely less a source of renewal and more a source of stress or treated like another task on the to-do list. In fact, it might be the most utilitarian, routine things we do in our lives–we eat.

It’s rare to have a memorable eating experience without making a conscious effort to understand how you can make meals special for yourself.

One of things I’ve become more aware of, especially since becoming a mother, is how much control I actually have in setting my desired ambience for a meal.

The Montessori education, for example, offers a helpful philosophy in this area: the key is to prepare the environment for the type of feelings and behavior you want to evoke (instead of controlling people or situations).

The simplest way I’ve found to create a special atmosphere for my meals is by using cloth napkins.

Cloth napkins send a signal, both to yourself and others at the table, that eating food is to be cherished. They immediately make me feel like mealtime is time to be enjoyed.

When I use cloth napkins, I feel grounded, present, and nurtured.

Cloth napkins are:

  • Good for the environment—imagine how many paper towels or paper napkins fill our garbage cans every night
  • A way to bring another sensory element to the table—they feel good to touch during the meal
  • A signal to yourself and others that the meal is special—it’s not something to rush through or a casual coincidence you’re eating together

Growing up, my mother used cloth napkins and my grandmother used cloth napkins. I continued the tradition when I started living on my own, even in college! The majority of happy memories I have of shared meals included cloth napkins.

I’ve found that one good thing will often lead to another. Perhaps using cloth napkins will lead you to take other steps to improve your atmosphere, such as getting fresh flowers, lighting candles, or having bowls of fresh herbs nearby.

You have the capability to turn everyday into something special by setting an ambience for every meal with cloth napkins!


Your turn:  Do you use cloth napkins?

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Interview with Ashkenazi Food Expert: Jeffrey Yoskowitz

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Tell us a bit about yourself (where you grew up, what you do to rejuvenate yourself and relax, how your got into Jewish food, what is your go-to meal, what you are reading right now).

I grew up in New Jersey, in a pretty rural town that wasn’t all that far from New York City. I visited the city fairly often with my father, a Brooklyn kid, and that’s where I learned about delis, appetizing shops and even knisheries. I’ve always loved both the city and the outdoors. I currently live in Brooklyn, but I moved here from a farm in Northwest Connecticut where I learned to make pickles and jams, to grow organically and to brew biodiesel fuel from used vegetable grease. I try to get out of the city and go hiking in the Hudson Valley and the Piedmont Mountains of New Jersey. I play basketball regularly. I love to play around in the kitchen, too. When I’m in Manhattan, I tend duck into a classic Jewish deli for matzo ball soup when it’s cold out. All winter long I crave it. I’m currently reading The Revenge of Analog by David Sax.

What was your ah-ha moment about working in food, and Jewish food in particular?

Not sure I had that a-ha moment. I was working in food, importing organic products from the  Middle East, working with small olive oil producers in places like the Negev, and as I was doing that, articles appeared in most newspapers about the death of the Jewish deli and the decline of Ashkenazi cuisine. I felt like I needed to devote my time and energy to making sure the foods of my tradition didn’t die with the older generation.

Living in Brooklyn in the midst of the recession, where the artisanal food scene was growing and everyone and their mother was starting a pickle company or an artisanal mac and cheese company, I looked around and felt like I didn’t see “my food” represented. So I launched The Gefilteria with the intent to make artisanal versions of Jewish foods, and even more importantly, to do my part to bring about a renaissance in Ashkenazi cuisine.

How have trends in healthy eating affected your cooking and recipe creation?

My primary motivation at first was to create Jewish food products that matched the values of the day. I was making probiotic pickles and Ashkenazi kale salads and gefilte fish using higher quality, more sustainable fish, without gmo oils and without the usual fillers that were full of gluten. Much of that was in response to the health and environmental trends of the day.

A year or so into this venture, however, when The Gefilteria began catering meals, running pop-ups and presenting at outdoor markets, I began focusing less on responding to current health trends and more on mining Ashkenazi cuisine for its built-in nutritional wisdom, much of which, it turns out, correlates with current health studies. For instance, the sour garlic and dill pickles I’ve been making for years are lacto-fermented, meaning they’re probiotic and great for digestion and immune support. That’s also how you make a good Jewish pickle. Recently there’s been a reversal among nutritionists with respect to animal fats, and foods like schmaltz, which were once shunned, are now celebrated. Fortunately, schmaltz has always been a big part of Jewish cooking.

What feelings do you associate with Jewish food?

Since laughter and jokes so often accompany a good meal, I’d have to say mirth. And as a grandchild of holocaust survivors, I’d often hear stories of sorrow and tragedy during holiday feasts, so I’d say sadness.

What role does food have in Jewish tradition? Is this role changing in the twenty-first century?

I studied religion and history at a Jewish day school for much of my childhood, but it was only at home, with my family, that I learned the culture of our Polish-Jewish ancestors. It all started in the kitchen.

I tend to resist the “we survived, now let’s eat” view of Jewish food’s role in the tradition. I find that cooking and eating offer a rhythm for Jewish life. The big feasts with the more labor-intensive and calorie-rich foods mark the holidays, and in each separate culture, the adaptation of a local cuisine to Jewish dietary laws makes up our day-to-day foods.

I think lately there’s been this idea of “global Jewish cuisine” which merges together global dishes from around the world. I’m more interested in the regionalisms that make Jewish life so diverse and rich. I have personally been exploring Ashkenazi cuisine deeply and I’m really inspired by peers of mine who are doing the same for Italian-Jewish or North African Jewish or Iraqi-Jewish cooking, to name a few. I think the disambiguation of Jewish cooking is the future.

How do you picture the impact of Gefilteria in ten years time?

My hope is that people (Jews and non-Jews) will think of Ashkenazi culinary heritage as relevant and a full-fledged cuisine, on par with other major cuisines around the world. And I hope that a new generation will take pride in their culinary traditions, which wasn’t so much the case when I was growing up.

I also think The Gefilteria has played a major role in changing the narrative of gefilte fish as a maligned Ashkenazi dish. There’s been a bit of a gefilte fish renaissance as of late, with chefs in places like Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv and Berlin exploring the dish. We went all in on gefilte fish about 6-7 years ago and started a conversation. I hope to see that the conversation has continued.

What do you feel the most proud of about your work?

I’m most proud of all the teaching that’s increasingly become a big part of my work. I’ve been presenting to audiences around the world about Ashkenazi Jewish culture and history, in places as far away as Australia and Finland, and in parts of the US with small Jewish communities, like Charleston and Louisville. I know a lot of people are searching for meaning in their own histories and family traditions – I’m glad that I’ve been able to connect the dots for many people.  I’ve also been able to teach high schoolers and college-aged students and hopefully offer them a piece of their cultural heritage that will inspire them going forward.

What would your grandparents say about Gefilteria?

Well, my grandmother is still alive and she doesn’t quite know what to make of what I do. She thinks I’m just a caterer. But she has read The Gefilte Manifesto which credits her with so much inspiration and retells many of her stories, and I know for a fact that it really makes her proud. She’s especially excited to know that her strudel recipe is out in the world.

What is it that keeps you motivated and excited to do this work?

Jewish foods of eastern and central Europe carry with them a lot of emotion. At any given event or dinner or book talk, I hear people’s stories with these foods, whether someone grew up with a carp in their bathtub or a grandmother who made stuffed cabbage every week. Those stories are very nourishing for me, as is the feedback from many people I feed or speak to that my work is inspiring and gratifying for them.

Interview with Ashkenazi Food Expert - Books

For men and women who want more resources on Jewish food, what books would you recommend?

A book that came out recently that offers a unique historical perspective (and that’s also quite entertaining) is Rhapsody in Schmaltz by Michael Wex. David Sax’s Save the Deli is one of the books that inspired me to start The Gefilteria. Jane Ziegelman’s 97 Orchard is a real historical gem. And I’d add the recently translated from Yiddish to English cookbook, The Vilna Vegetarian, since it offers such a window into Jewish life in Vilna in the 1930s. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, to be honest. There’s a pretty significant bibliography in the back of The Gefilte Manifesto, which is to say that there are a lot of works of scholarship and on this subject that speak to me.

Your turn:  Tell us the title of your favorite Jewish food book.

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What Is Your Pantry: Sabrina Perl?

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Sabrina Perl is a weight loss coach and personal trainer who helps Israeli women who are struggling to find time to take care of themselves.  She supports women to eat healthier and move their bodies more.  

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. I currently live in Modi’in with my husband and 2 boys (ages 8 and 5).

When I want to relax I go on long walks with my ipod. My favorite music at the moment is by  Ellie Goulding, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry. But I am typically a classic rock kinda girl usually listening to the Beatles, Beach Boys,  and some Billy Joel… I admit I have eclectic taste…

I am currently re-reading The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick (I love British history).

My favorite meal is chicken marbella (recipe from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook) with simple steamed haricot vert and wild rice. It’s been my favorite meal since I was a small child and when I want some homey comfort food, that’s usually what I make.  A simple rib-steak grilled medium-rare with perfectly grilled vegetables comes in second.

How do you typically feel, emotionally, when you open your kitchen pantry?

Pretty happy! I like knowing it’s stocked with healthy foods that nourish the bodies of my loved ones.

What’s your process for organizing your food pantry?

Honestly, it’s not much of a process… It’s more like “it goes wherever it fits”…

What’s inside your pantry right now?

I have different nuts, which I always like to keep on hand, from shuk in Jerusalem. Aside from that, I keep:

GG Scandinavian Bran Crisps that I order from the USA regularly

Yogi Teas in Stress Relief Kava and Bedtime in my pantry at all time,

Wissotzky tea in lemon-nana and chamomile-nana (as you can see, I really love herbal teas).

80-100% Holy Cocoa bars

Canned tuna and sardines

Osem mini rice cakes (I think they are called פריכונים) in my pantry.

What’s inside your healthiest item you keep in stock?

I don’t really believe that one item alone can be “healthiest.” I really believe that to be the healthiest you can be, you have to have a very balanced and diverse diet. I suppose, if I have to pick one product, it would be my Bob’s Red Mill chia seeds.

What about your guilty pleasure that you always have on hand?

Chocolate. I love chocolate. My favorite is Holy Cocoa bars. Even their 100% bar doesn’t taste bitter!

Compared to your mother, how is your pantry the same or different than what you grew up with?

My pantry has a few more superfoods than my mother’s, but we both really have the same food philosophy and eat pretty Mediterranean style, with some extra chocolate on the side!

If you could change anything about how your pantry is now, what would it be?

I would love to have pretty rectangular canisters for everything, so it’s all nice and neat. I hope to do that someday in the near future, but finding the time is always the problem lol.

Your turn:  What item from Sabrina’s pantry appeals to you the most?

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How to tell your Shabbat host about your food preferences: A Fill-In-The-Blank-Template

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Shabbat meals are perfect for sharing. Many of us invite guests and have the opportunity to be guests for Shabbat meals.

Unlike our grandmothers, who sat down and ate what they were served (BTW, I have my doubts about this) most of us have specific eating habits that we are attached to: we are vegan, we are allergic to certain type of foods, we are following a specialized eating plan, etc.

All these different eating styles can make it stressful when you are a guest at a Shabbat meal!  On the one hand, you want to be a good guest and at the same time you want to be able to eat the foods that make you feel well.

If you want to be a respectful guest and be able to adhere to your eating principles, the best thing to do is to tell your host in advance about your food preferences and offer to help him/her cook.

You can send an email like the one below in advance. If they’d like, we have a phone conversation about the content after they’ve read it so they can ask questions.

This front loading of the particulars and offer to help can eliminates uncertainty and worry on their part – and allows you and your host to relax and enjoy our Shabbat meal together.

Here’s a fill-in-the-blank template for telling your hosts about your eating preferences before Shabbat:


Dear
host’s name,

Thank you for the Shabbat meal invitation.  I’m so looking forward to coming for Shabbat.

I wanted to let you know about my eating habits in advance.  I currently eat (tell your host how you eat here) and/or I am allergic to (tell your host which specific foods you are allergic to here).

What this means is that I don’t eat (indicate the foods that you cannot eat here). However, I do eat all kinds of (indicate the food groups that you do eat here).

I’m sharing this information with you so that you can ask any questions you’d like ahead of time, and so food stress does not have to take center stage during your Shabbat preparations.  

And, know that I respect your personal eating habits and don’t expect you to adhere to mine during Shabbat. .

I’d love to cook some (indicate the type of food you would like to prepare for the Shabbat meal here) dishes to bring to our meal – just say the word..  Some of the specific dishes that I could make are: (list three to five of your signature dishes here)

Let me know how I can help and make this easy for you.  

Love,

Your name

 

Your turn: Share your best tips on how to tell Shabbat hosts about your food preferences?

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