7 Healthy Vegetarian Meals In Battambang, Cambodia That Your Body Will Love

7 Healthy Vegetarian Meals In Battambang Cambodia

Battambang (បាត់ដំបង) Cambodia has a good vibe. This city in Northwestern Cambodia feels like an easy going and creative small town. It is 2.5 hours from Siem Reap, Cambodia where the Temple of Angkor Wat is located.  

Activities travelers enjoy in Battambang (besides eating):

Enjoy a night at the circus Phare Ponleu Selpak;

Learn about Cambodian heritage and architecture on this specialized walking tour.  (You can take a tuk tuk too if walking is not your thing);

Cook and eat Cambodian delights at the city’s best cooking school;

Get some fresh air in the countryside on a local livelihood bike tour;

Visit this trendy French boutique for unique local products;

Visit this beautiful local gallery.

More and more travelers are seeking vegetarian and vegan meals for personal, moral and/or health reasons. Battambang has better and better vegetarian and vegan food available for locals and travelers alike.

Humanitarian and food photographer Regis Binard and I went on a vegetarian food tour of Battambang to photograph its best vegetarian/vegan food offerings.

7 Healthy Vegetarian Meals In Battambang Cambodia - Regis

Here are 7 vegetarian and/or vegan food delights in Battambang:

Kinyei Cafe: Vegan coffee and chocolate drinks and vegetarian muesli bowl.  You can make it vegan by omitting the yogurt.

7 Healthy Vegetarian Meals In Battambang Cambodia - Kinyei

Ambrosia Cafe: vegan or vegetarian tacos with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, green pepper and green and purple cabbage topped with perfectly spiced black beans and a homemade tomato salsa.

7 Healthy Vegetarian Meals In Battambang Cambodia - Ambrosia

Coconut LyLy Restaurant: Vegan or vegetarian khmer fried vegetable rice. You can make it with egg or omit it for a vegan meal. Either way, the fried rice has no MSG or fish sauce and is made with very little vegetable oil (so it is not greasy).

7 Healthy Vegetarian Meals In Battambang Cambodia - Coconut LyLy

La Casa: Vegan or vegetarian thin crust pizza with homemade pizza dough, tomato sauce, carrot, thinly sliced potato, olives and green peppers.

7 Healthy Vegetarian Meals In Battambang Cambodia - La Casa

Jaan Bai: Kampot black peppercorn tofu with peas, and green onion served with brown rice.

7 Healthy Vegetarian Meals In Battambang Cambodia - Jan Baii

Eden Cafe: The best french fries in Cambodia.

7 Healthy Vegetarian Meals In Battambang Cambodia - Eden Cafe

Vegan Cambodian Rice Desserts: This dessert stall next to the centrally located Psar Nat Market, Mr. Boro Om’s dessert stall offers vegetarian and vegan Cambodian desserts made from rice, condensed milk, coconut milk + cream, palm sugar and seasonal fruits.

7 Healthy Vegetarian Meals In Battambang Cambodia - Khmer Dessert

Your turn:  Do you choose to eat vegetarian/vegan food while traveling?

What’s In Your Pantry, Emily Jay Berg?

Emily Jay Berg

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 Emily Jay Berg.

Emily is the founder of Matana, a monthly subscription box from Israel.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Originally from Toronto, I moved to Israel in 2012 after meeting and falling in love with my [now] husband, Ofir, in India. We got married last summer in an olive grove outside of Tel Aviv, and we welcomed our daughter in 2017.

We currently live in a sweet little two bedroom apartment in Jaffa about a 10 minute walk to the sea. When I’m not working, I am usually meeting friends for coffee, exploring the city of Tel Aviv by foot or bike, hiking different trails around the country, or swimming in the Med.

I love the pace of life in Israel. Compared to North America, it feels a lot more relaxed and less focused on productivity. Though I’m not religious, I love Shabbat. I love the quiet and the fact that you’re not expected to be online or reachable for 25 hours.

We alternate each week between Friday night dinners at Ofir’s grandmother’s (a big, meaty, traditional Yemenite meal) and cooking with friends in the city (lighter and more colourful, seasonal meals of fish, fresh vegetables and hearty grains). We never, ever go out for dinner or order in on Friday nights – it’s all about home cooking, sitting around a table with family, friends, wine and challah.

Emily Jay Berg

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

Housing standards in Tel Aviv are quite different from North America. While my friends back in Toronto have proper kitchens (in homes that they own, no less!) with stainless steel appliances, it’s very common here for 30-somethings to have a hot plate and a toaster oven. And so, our current apartment feels very grown up: we have a nice-sized kitchen, a great oven, a gas stove-top and lots of cupboard space.

When I open my pantry, I feel very represented by what’s inside – it feels very “me.” There is a mix of Israeli-made products (olive oil, tahini, honey, Dead Sea salt, spices, silan); Canadian treats that I bring back with me after each visit (mustard, maple syrup, raspberry jam, peanut butter); and delicacies I pick-up on my travels (beet borsch mixture from Poland, sauerkraut from Berlin). There are also all of the grains in jars: brown rice, lentils, mung beans, soba noodles, oats, popcorn).

What’s your process for organizing your food pantry?

I’m not a hoarder or a collector. I hate wasting food and I typically only buy items that I actually consume. I don’t buy more until I have finished what I have. So there isn’t so much clutter in my pantry. I always put grains in glass jars, so that I know when I’m about to run out of something. I display the products with labels that I love, and I keep the staples (things I make almost every day) on the most accessible shelf.

What’s inside your pantry right now?

Full disclosure: my company, Matana, highlights Israeli artisans by shipping their products abroad in a monthly subscription box. I have at least one of everything in my pantry right now.

My five favourites are: Halva flavoured almond butter made by my good friend Tal of Rusty’s Nut Butters & Treats; organic, cold-pressed olive oil made by a family in the Galil (brand is Rish Lakish); fair trade Za’atar produced by a collective of Arab and Jewish women in the Galilee (brand is Sindyanna of Galilee); apricot jam, made at kibbutz Naot Smadar in the Arava; and hyssop-sun dried tomato spread made by Meshek Ptora.

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

Tahini!! Aka – ground sesame seeds. I always have tahini on hand. Sometimes I get the classic Israeli brands that come in a plastic jar; and other times I spring for the Ethiopian, whole grain variety. I use it in baking, raw as a dip, or turn it into a salad dressing. Ofir’s grandmother makes the best tahini I have ever tasted: it’s super creamy and garlic-y, with a lot of lemon. This weekend, someone actually served me tahini mixed with silan (date syrup), which was amazing. And I love “green tahini” which has parsley or cilantro mixed-in.

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

Almond Butter by Rusty’s Nut Butters & Treats is a semi-guilty pleasure, since it’s super healthy (even though its fattening). They make amazing flavours like cacao-coconut, sea salt and maple … I have to be careful or I will eat an entire jar with a spoon in one sitting, but I will usually spread it on toast. I think some people use it in smoothies or recipes, but it is too precious to be diluted! Guilty-guilty would be the ultimate cliche – Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream.

Emily Jay Berg

What are your go-to cookbooks?

When I cook, I use very few ingredients. If I am experimenting or making something new, I will look-up a recipe online. I do have the India Cookbook written by Pushpesh Pant, and have used it a few times. When I am at my parents’ house in Toronto, we use Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi and Jerusalem cookbooks; and Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics. My sister is a vegetarian and loves My New Roots: Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season by Sarah Britton. Once, we tricked my dad into eating her kale quinoa muffins. He loved them.

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

It’s actually pretty similar, despite the overwhelming Israeli products. My mother and I have very similar cooking styles, taste in food (and most things).

I would say that her pantry had a lot more “old stuff” – she always had baking goods on-hand, and spices that I don’t think have ever been used. She also does not use glass jars and her pantries have grains in bags or boxes that they come in.

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

My cooking style is very simple: I like to use fresh seasonal foods and let the flavours speak for themselves. I don’t use a lot of ingredients, relying on quality olive oil, salt and herbs from the garden. If I could change something, I would add more spices to get more creative with my cooking.

Your turn:  What food from Emily’s interview do you wish you could try?

Prayers for Safe Travels (+ Beautiful Printable Travel Prayer Cards)

Prayers for Safe Travels

This is how I started praying for safe travels.  

In 2005-2006, I worked in Afghanistan. To go to work everyday, I had to drive (actually I was passenger in a carpool van) on Jalalabad Road. This road is part of a highway that connects the Afghan capital of Kabul to the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. This road is considered one of the most dangerous in the world due to traffic accidents.  To keep myself from worrying about accidents and bombings, I used to try and keep busy during the car trip.

As this was 2005, before smartphones, keeping busy meant thinking, talking, reading, or sleeping. In the car, I used to say a quick personal prayer for protection (silently to myself) and then think about yoga. I was deep into learning the ashtanga yoga first series poses so I used to close my eyes and visualize these poses and their names in my mind. This private personal prayer followed by yoga visualizations was how I started “praying” while traveling.

Yes, I know that I was not saying the “Jewish Traveler’s Prayer” and maybe I was not “praying” at all according to another person standards. When I look back, I see that I was trying to settle myself and withdraw into a protective internal space. At that time in my life I was unaware that there was a Jewish traveler’s prayer.

Traveler's Prayer Cards

Click Here to Download

Fast forward to 2009. I was pregnant and in NY City. My husband and I had just finished a two year stint in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and had been attending weekly Shabbat dinners at the Chabad house in DRC. So we decided to take a tour of the Chabad Headquarters. During the tour we visited a Jewish book shop that sold business card sized laminated prayer cards. One one side it had a photo of the Rebbe and on the other it had the Jewish traveler’s prayer. I remembered my Afghanistan car prayers and bought one and kept it in my wallet for years. Sometimes I would remember to take it out and read the prayer when I was sitting in a car or on a runway before taking off on a plane. Either way, I always kept it on me and became attached to it.

I lost the traveler’s prayer card last year and I felt sad. I missed having the physical prayer card with me to help remind me.  

I made these printable traveler’s prayer cards for us in English and Hebrew.

Traveler's Prayer Cards

Click Here to Download

These Traveler’s Prayer Cards are available for immediate download and come in a high quality (300 dpi) PDF file for ease of printing. When you download the file you will receive one PDF that contains eight business card sized Traveler’s Prayer Cards that you can share with family and friends.

These Traveler’s Prayer Cards are simple to make.

You need:

  • A4 paper (I like to use a heavier cardstock paper)
  • Printer (a home printer works fine for these and going to your local print shop is also a good option)
  • You can print the English version or the Hebrew version or both when you choose “double-sided printing”.  
  • Scissors
  • Laminator (as this Traveler’s Prayer Card will likely see some wear and tear, laminating it is a good idea. You can do this at your local print shop if you do not own a laminating machine. If you do own a laminating machine, lucky you!)

Click Here to Download

Your turn: Do you say a prayer before you travel?

*Please note that this product contains the name of G-d.  If you print it out, please treat it with appropriate respect.

Shabbat Shalom: 12 January 2018

Shabbat Shalom - 12 January

Pre-Shabbat Prospects:

A comforting sweet potato coconut milk soup soup recipe that would be perfect for Friday night dinner.

Natural facemask ideas for the dry weather season.

The dream of having an email inbox as zero before entering Shabbat.

Pre-Shabbat Mental Nourishment:

Shabbat Shalom 12 January - David Swing Quote

If you are craving winter vegetables, try this beet salad.

Shabbat Shalom 12 January - Beet Salad

Wish these delicious and healthy instant noodles (perfect for comforting noodle soup or yummy noodles with peanut sauce) were kosher.

Plan ahead for an adult summer camp. (Maybe: Jewish camp for adults)

Writing is becoming a lost art, find a pen pal.

Shabbat Shalom 12 January - Typewriter

Even though this reflection and intention setting worksheet was made for Rosh Hashanah, I find myself returning to it now to center myself and set meaningful intentions for 2018.

Shabbat Shalom, here’s to your restful Shabbat!

*This “Shabbat Shalom” series is about sharing inspiring and supportive ideas with you before Shabbat. Please note that it is not a recommendation to “do” these activities during Shabbat. Rather it is in the spirit of giving you nourishing resources before Shabbat that they may intentionally bring into your life at the right moment.  

 

From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Oil Free Healthy Hummus

Hummus is a protein-rich creamy paste made with chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, a little bit of kosher tahini, and a good quality kosher salt. It can be delicious and good for us.

My chronic complaint with hummus is: it is often too heavy because it is prepared with oil and too much tahini. Heavy hummus is to the stomach as mortar is to bricks. Lighter tastes fresh and is better for our bodies. To make a lighter hummus, use a minimal amount of tahini and skip the olive oil (here’s why).

You can enjoy hummus as a dip, with bread as a sandwich, or even as a side with rice.

Here is a simple, delicious and healthy hummus recipe.

Healthy Hummus Recipe

From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Oil Free Healthy Hummus
Jewish Food Hero
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Category: sides

    Tools:
  • Blender
  • Colander
  • Citrus reamer
  • Garlic press
    Ingredients:
  • 1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans (try to buy salt-free), or 2 cups of cooked garbanzo beans
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed through the garlic press
  • 1 tsp of lemon juice (or more to taste)
  • 1-3 tsp of tahini (depending on how rich you want the tahini to taste)
  • 1-2 tbsp rice milk (this helps to make the hummus “creamy”)
  • ⅛ tsp salt (if you are using salt-free canned beans or homemade beans, you may need more salt)
  • Pepper, optional

  1. Place the beans in the colander and rinse the beans a few times.
  2. Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Serve.

; Yield: Serves 4-6

Your turn: What is your favorite brand of store bought hummus?

18 Supportive Ways Jewish Women Keep Themselves From Overeating

In November, 2017, I wrote to the Jewish Food Hero community (what I refer to as our digital sisterhood. You can join us here) and asked them to contribute ideas for a blog post about not overeating.

Part of what I wrote in the newsletter:

I am preparing my notes to write a blog post for January. After visiting the US this summer, I have been thinking about how I go through an annual shock/disbelief cycle about the food habits of different cultures. Since my return to Asia, I have been thinking about what to write about my experience that might be supportive for you.  

I realized that one of my main coping mechanisms to get through the visit in a healthy way is to simply focus on not falling into overeating. Overeating is so built into the American way of life: the portion sizes at restaurants, the snacking all day, convenience stores, those extra-large lattes! It feels hard to not fall into it even if you have the best intentions.

So I am writing a blog post about how to keep safe from overeating.

I am hoping that you will contribute ideas to this post.

In your reply, tell me:

  • What is your main tip for not overeating

I look forward to your responses. Please note that I will keep all responses confidential.

Good to know:

Overeating refers to when an individual eats more than their body needs. Overeating leads to weight gain and can lead to obesity. It feels true that when we overeat we are not actually physically hunger. We are overeating to cope with difficult emotions like stress, anger, or anxiety; placing too much food into our bodies in hopes that we will magically feel better or not feel (i.e. eating to numb ourselves) difficult emotions.  

Sadly, it’s rare that we find ourselves overeating whole/healthy foods. Added to this, overeating rarely helps us feel better emotionally. It actually usually makes us feel worse! When we overeat we are likely consuming more of the bad things for us and less of the good.

Overeating habits are amplified by the processed food industry. It is hard to even remember what a healthy portion size looks like in developed countries where food is cheap and food and drink items are supersized. Thankfully, there are some simple and gentle ways to start eating the right amount of food for your unique body.  

Here is a list of my favorite 18 responses I received via email: (I put all of these in the first person). Please note some of the strategies;

  • feel more supportive than others
  • feel like good ideas
  • are spiritual
  • are funny
  • might make you feel sad

Feel free to read the list below and try the ones that stand out to you most.

Stop Overeating Pin

18 Supportive Ways Jewish Women Keep Themselves From Overeating

  1. Listen to my body signal that I am full. When I am full, I stop eating.  
  2. Tell myself that if I like the taste, I take a “doggy bag” home.
  3. Know my trigger foods and stay away from them.
  4. Remind myself of the Torah ideals of not eating too much and not wasting food.
  5. My mantra: “Hashem entrusted me with this body. It is my job to take good care of my body”.
  6. Tell myself that if I overeat, I am letting myself down.  
  7. Remember my grandmother’s words; “It is not good for a woman to overeat. Overeating makes a woman a prisoner in her own body.”
  8. Eat three regular meals and two snacks during the day, making sure to include protein and veggies in each meal.
  9. Share: Order one portion for two people.
  10. Say blessings over food before I eat.
  11. Fill my plate with small portions. I tell myself I can always go back for more if I feel hungry.
  12. Channel Japanese women’s wisdom: stop eating when I am 80% full.
  13. Keep Kosher, it helps me impose self-control.
  14. Do as French women do! Do not eat between meals, drink water, and eat small portions.
  15. Eat a large salad or an apple before consuming my main meal.
  16. Remind myself that I do not need to eat all the food on the table.
  17. Drink a cup of nice cold lemon water before I begin eating the meal.
  18. As a grandmother now, my secret to not overeating all these years is never sitting down during meals.

Your turn:  Share you most supportive tip to not overeating!

Comforting Benefits of Meal Planning on Sundays (+ Beautiful Printable Meal Plan Template)

Benefits of Meal Planning - Header

The act of writing a weekly meal plan (by hand) is a simple habit that can serve you.

Meal planning is the simple act of writing down a list of the dishes to be served at a given meal. Many people do this for big holidays and events (like weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, or a Kiddush luncheons). I do meal planning every Sunday because it helps me and here is what I have learned.

Benefits of Meal Planning - Pin 1

Click Here to Download

7 Comforting Benefits of Meal Planning on Sundays:

  • Sit down, write by hand, and focus: I know this has nothing to do with “food” and the ritual of meal planning is a calming non-tech time as I start a new week. Sunday afternoon, I clear off the kitchen table, sit down with a cup of tea or coffee and my favorite recipe resources and create our menu for the upcoming week.
  • Shared responsibility: Although I am fine with taking the lead on food in our home, I want my husband and daughter to participate. Even if I do most of the meal plan, I always ask them to name one dish they would like to eat during the week. My daughter acts as meal plan scribe. It is emotionally better for everyone is all members of the family are involved with food.
  • Ensure variety: Seeing all the meals for the week in front of me helps me ensure that our family will be eating a good variety of plant based foods (i.e. vegetables, fruits, tubers, whole grains, and legumes) in the week ahead.
  • Waste Less Food: Food waste our homes is real and it is serious problem. Meal planning helps reduce food waste by helping us buy appropriate amounts of food (composting helps too).
  • Focus on Core Favorites: Our weekly meals mostly feature the foods we know, love and make over and over again. As a rule, I try to make one new recipe each week to keep things interesting.
  • More Calm (less stress): When I meal plan on Sunday, Monday thru Saturday, I simply follow my own schedule when it is time to make dinner. This creates more calm and less stress when my daughter gets home from school.
  • Supports My Health Goals: My friend said it best. “When I do not eat well, I get angry and then I get sad”. Quite simply, meal planning helps us stay accountable to our health goals and gives us peace of mind that we are doing our best.

Tools:
All you need to meal plan is yourself, paper, pencil or pen, and your favorite recipe resources. When I started meal planning, I used plain notebook paper and a ruler to create grid for the week. After awhile of searching to find the “perfect” meal planner on pinterest, I created my own.

Benefits of Meal Planning - Pin 2

Click Here to Download

Jewish Food Hero Weekly Meal Plan offers:

  • One weekly meal template for the person who likes lists
  • One weekly meal template for the person who is more visual
  • One shopping list template that highlights plant based food categories
  • Two versions: one starting on Monday and the other on Sunday (because it turns out that some people like to plan meals from Monday-Sunday while others prefer Sunday – Saturday.

This very simplistic template is helpful and non-intimidating plus the shopping list template helps you to focus on whole plant based ingredients for your meals. When you can look to the week ahead and see how and what you’ll be eating. It’s easier to follow your plan and honor your body with healthy eating.

Your Turn:  Please share a meal planning tip for us in the comments below.

From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Jewish Christmas Chinese Fried Rice

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Fill-in-the-blank-prompt:

Gefilte Fish is to Jewish Food as ________________ is to American Jewish food.

Gefilte Fish is to Jewish Food as Chinese Food on Christmas is to American Jewish food.

Eating Chinese food on Christmas is a beloved Jewish American Christmas ritual.

During her 2010 confirmation hearing, Justice Elena Kagan’s marshaled this private family tradition into a public Jewish American cultural custom.

Some of my favorite memories from growing up Jewish in rural Maine are eating Chinese food on Christmas and Sundays with my parents, brothers and grandparents.

To honor my memory and our tradition, here is a simple, delicious and healthy oil free vegan fried rice with tofu recipe. Enjoy it on Christmas, Sundays or any other weekday. Children love this recipe!

Jewish Christmas Chinese Fried Rice
Jewish Christmas Chinese Fried Rice
Jewish Food Hero
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    Tools:
  • Medium nonstick or ceramic coated skillet (these work best when not using oil)
  • Prep bowls
  • Rice cooker
  • Spatula, a thin flexible one works best for stir frying
    Ingredients:
  • 1 ½ cups Jasmine rice (to get 3 cups cooked)
  • 1 block of extra-firm organic tofu (14 oz, diced small) or 1 ½ cups of chickpeas
  • 1 cup of green beans, diced extra- small
  • 1 ½ cup of carrots, diced extra-small
  • 2 tsp soy sodium
  • 2 tsp sweet chili sauce (or more)
  • ½ cup vegetable broth or water
  • Cilantro
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Optional: Sriracha hot sauce

  1. Prep:
  2. Cook the rice according to the directions, making sure to rinse it before cooking
  3. Dice the vegetables to uniform extra-small size and set aside in a prep bowl. This is important for the overall appearance of the rice and keeping it from looking like “fried rice mush”
  4. Dice the tofu into uniform extra small cubes and place in a prep bowl, set aside
  5. Put the rice in prep bowl and add soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, salt and pepper and mix with hands gently, set aside
  6. Stir-Frying:
  7. Heat skillet over medium heat.
  8. Sprinkle 1-2 tsp of vegetable broth of water into the skillet/wok to make sure it is hot.
  9. Add tofu and stir regularly, allowing it to brown slightly.
  10. Remove the tofu and set aside
  11. Sprinkle 1-2 tsp of vegetable broth of water into the skillet
  12. Add the rice and vegetables and stir fry for 5 minutes
  13. Add the tofu and continue cooking for 2 minutes
  14. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with cilantro
  15. Optional: place Sriracha hot sauce and more sweet chili sauce in small bowls and place on the table

; Yield: Serves 4-6

If you like 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

Your Turn: Share your favorite Jewish Christmas Chinese food story with us in the comments!

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Chag Notebook: Alla Magas

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One of my goals with the Chag Notebook series is to tell stories from our global female Jewish community.

This year, I have a personal goal to feature Jewish women who live outside of the largest Jewish communities (i.e. United States and Israel). To help me reach this goal, I contacted the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which works to help build Jewish life and leadership all over the world.

JDC connected me with Alla Magas, the Coordinator of Active Jewish Teens (AJT), the JDC’s rapidly expanding Jewish youth movement made up of young Jews from across the former Soviet Union.  AJT connects more than 3,600 teens in 50 cities in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and more. AJT is affiliated with BBYO, the largest global Jewish pluralistic youth movement.

Let’s get to know Alla and learn from her.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Poltava, Ukraine. When I was a child, I had dreams of becoming a teacher and loved singing, dancing, and performing for my family in our home. During my childhood, I was always surrounded by my friends and we enjoyed coming up with a different ideas to fill our free time. Fast forward to today, and I still enjoy similar activities.

Currently, I am a Coordinator of Active Jewish Teens (AJT), a key teen movement that was created three and a half years ago and has quickly became one of the most popular activities for Jewish teens across the former Soviet Union. AJT was created to build the new generation of Jewish leaders in the community, assisting the younger generation in taking responsibility for the development of their community. This can only happen after defining the specific needs within their region and then coming up with ideas to solve these challenges, all while building their own Jewish identity.

I have a special formula that I use when I want to teach someone something, which is leading by example. It is important that I maintain my role and stick to the AJT mission, so that I can best guide the teens in their Jewish community building efforts.

I lead an active life, attending different kinds of events, exhibitions, theatre, concerts, and sports games. I also enjoy yoga, and love to travel and spend time with my friends. The only thing I do not really enjoy is cooking.

How do you connect to Judaism?

I was raised in the Reform Jewish community in Ukraine. Now I have my own way of practicing Judaism by keeping kosher, as well as observing Jewish traditions and holidays. As a graduate of Metsuda, JDC’s flagship yearlong leadership training program in Ukraine, I still actively participate in various volunteer and charity-focused activities that are organized by the Metzuda alumni.

How do you prepare to host people for a holiday meal or celebration?

I celebrate all of the Jewish holidays alongside my Ukrainian Jewish community. I don’t traditionally celebrate holidays at home where I would serve as the host because in the former Soviet Union, not everyone is comfortable showing off their home to guests because of needed repairs, or overcrowding due to having several generations living in tiny apartments.

I always feel more comfortable celebrating with my community in a space where everyone feels equal, like a Jewish Community Center for example. Jewish holidays here in the former Soviet Union are always prepared in advance, starting with an interesting program and a beautiful menu full of traditional dishes, and ending in a cozy atmosphere where we can just all be together. I am proud to play an important role in my community’s holiday celebrations.

A few years ago, I made the decision to have a Passover Seder at my home. I invited my friends over for the celebration and it was amazing! Everyone brought a different food to contribute towards the meal and we worked together to cook it. Can you believe that my tiny apartment held fifteen people? We sang songs, told stories, and played table games. Everything was so simple, but at the same time, the holiday was unforgettable!

How does the ideal holiday celebration look and feel to you?  

My ideal holiday celebration, or the holiday celebration of my dreams, is a festive and fully decorated apartment, complete with the proper table settings and beautiful silverware, Judaica objects, and tasty food. The most important thing for me is the atmosphere, which is created from all of the small details coming together. I have a fond memory from my childhood of a guest visiting and giving a small book to my family, which then served as a constant reminder of the time he spent with us.

Also, when I was 7-years-old, a friend of my mother presented me with big box of classic books from writers including Duma, Oskar Uald, Stendal. It was the best day of my life, and ever since then I have continued to collect books and now have a nice library in my home. Although throughout the years I have moved apartments many times and even relocated to different countries, I always bring my books with me.

Leading up to, during, and after the holidays, how do you reconnect with yourself?  

After each holiday celebration, I need to take some time out for myself. I sleep a little, think deeper into my thoughts including recollecting the holiday, and of course, relax at home.

What is one of your most memorable holiday experiences?  

My favorite holidays are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, mostly because of their deep meaning. I like the idea of beginning each New Year with a clean page, as well as analyzing my own behavior and personality to see what changes I may need to make to better myself. These are the only holidays that I celebrate in my synagogue, and they make me truly feel like I am part of the Jewish nation.

I will never forget my first Yom Kippur experience at 17-years-old. I prayed for a long time without any food or water, and had to walk almost ten miles back from the synagogue to my house. The next morning, I finished my prayers and immediately recognized all of the familiar smells of Jewish food cooking in my town. I wanted to eat everything including French fries and grilled chicken, and that day, every type of food smelled extra tasty. Although I didn’t manage to fast until the end of that day, I was proud of myself that I at least tried.

To me, Chanukah is all about the delicious smells of sufganiyot, a delicious round jelly doughnut, and other kinds of sweet foods.

Shabbat represents light to me, with the candles giving off a special type of warmth that create a peaceful environment. I love seeing the room and people illuminated by the light of the Shabbat candles.

Passover for me is all about the sounds. I love singing and in my eyes, the Pesach Seder always looks like a musical production. I also enjoy telling Passover stories through melodies, prayers, and songs.

Yom Kippur is a distinct smell.

What’s your absolute favorite holiday dish?  

I keep a kosher kitchen at home. I always have milk, and eggs in my fridge, and of course matzah on hand which I have after each Passover Seder. The most tasty and least time consuming dish I love to make is matzah brei.  

Do you have any nontraditional holiday rituals or habits?

A nontraditional holiday ritual in my home is that my guests always leave me with small presents to remind me of them, and in a positive and great mood.

What was something that your mother (or another influential figure) shared with you about the holidays that has stuck with you?

My mother taught me that having guests in your home is both special and important.  No matter what situation our family was facing at any given time, having people over to celebrate was always an uplifting time. The table should be covered with a beautiful tablecloth and display yummy treats, and guests should be left well-fed and pleased. My mother is the one who showed me the importance of giving small presents to guests, and over the years, I have kept this tradition alive. None of my guests ever leave my home without a small gift.

What’s your number one tip or trick you’ve discovered that makes the holidays smoother, more positive and meaningful for you?

Everything I do to prepare for the holidays is done with love. To me, the true meaning of each holiday inspires me to come up with new ideas on how to spend the holiday with loved ones.

Your Turn: What part of Alla’s interview do you find the most touching?

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The Dan Prendergast Kitchen Knife Giveaway

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Kitchen tools are everyday objects that can be mundane or special.

Here is a beautiful knife made my UK blacksmith and toolmaker Dan Prendergast.

Dan makes his knives entirely by himself. He forges, grinds, glazes, heat treats, sharpens each knife himself. Each knife is made entirely from high carbon steel and sustainably managed hardwoods.  

Dan’s knifes offers superior function, solid craftsmanship and a simple, rustic aesthetic. This knife can become an everyday kitchen tool that you will enjoy for years to come.

Ever since I discovered Dan’s knife in my brother-in-law’s kitchen in Burlington VT, I have wanted one for myself. The knife’s raw beauty attracted me and it cuts, slices, and chops easily. It feels like slicing through butter.

I went on the website and read about his work and felt admiration for his approach to making tools. I bought myself one for my 40th birthday. The buying experience was personal. You write to him via his contact page, he replies, there is a brief discussion about the knife size and color handle you want, he makes your knife to order, and when it is finished he ships you your custom made impeccable knife in the mail.

In the exchange, he even reminded me a few times how to care for my knife, making it very clear that he cares about the objects he sends into the world. He wants you to take good care of your knife so it lasts and stays in good condition.  

I use Dan’s knife everyday in my kitchen and it makes my cooking experience easier and more enjoyable. A good knife really does make a difference.  

Today, Dan is giving one lucky reader a knife. To enter, leave a comment below and sign up to for Jewish Food Hero email newsletter right here (if you are not already on the list). A winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday December 26th, 2017. Good luck! 

Update: A winner has been chosen and notified. Thanks for participating!

Bonus for all readers: Get free premium shipping (your purch

Thank you so much, Dan!

If you are interested in offering a giveaway of your purposeful product, service or experience on Jewish Food Hero, start a conversation with me here.

Thank you for supporting the brands that support Jewish Food Hero.

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