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Archive for June, 2009

The End of Days

 

i went to college w/the director

i went to college w/the director

Overheard:

 

Zoe, my 4 year old: “What’s the last day?”

Ella, almost 6: “Do you meant the last day of school?”

Zoe: “No, the last day.”

Ella: “Do you mean the last day of the week?”

Zoe: “No, the last day.”

Ella: “The last day of the month?”

Zoe: “I MEAN, the last day of all the days!”

Ella: “I don’t know. Let’s ask Mama.”

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shabbatflyerNo, this is not a recipe post. This is about one of my favorite ways to spend Friday night – at a potluck.

I’ve organized a few family potlucks for my shul, and every time I do, I wish we had them more often. Here are my top 10 5 reasons why, in no particular order.

1. I love only having to prepare one dish. (I almost always bring this noodle kugel.)

2. I love trying other people’s signature potluck dishes. Last time someone brought an amazing spelt salad, and this time, well…..we had three different kinds of pizza.

3. I love having a chance to shmooze with a tableful of grownups. The conversation is exponentially more interesting than with just two couples, the maximum we can fit at our table.

4. Everyone (or almost everyone) pitches in to clean up.

5. FREE BABYSITTERS! (I insist on the shul hiring babysitters to play with the kids after dinner if I’m going to volunteer to lead the rest of the program.) This allows #3 to actually take place.

A few tips for a successful shabbat potluck:

1. Don’t count on someone to bring the grape juice and challah. The organizer should take care of the ritual needs, so you don’t worry someone not showing up.

2. If your synagogue doesn’t allow potlucks in the actual kitchen for kashrut reasons, buy a few inexpensive serving pieces to have on hand for the people who forget.

3. The only real downside to a potluck is the risk that there won’t be enough food, or too much of one thing (dessert, for example), and not enough of another. There are a few ways to help prevent this – either assign parts of the meal according to least name (A-F bring drinks, G-N bring entrees, etc.) There’s also a nifty online potluck organizer that works really well if you can rely on people to sign up ahead of time.

4. Wine makes shabbat even better (in my personal opinion.) If you can’t write BYOB on the flyer, at least drop a few hints.

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I recently joined the education committee at my synagogue. The board and the professional staff have all voiced a commitment to, and a glaringly obvious need for, some major revitalization of the way we “do” education. However, I’m not sure that any of us have any idea how to make it happen, nor do we have the funds to bring in any experts to help us.

I’ve been poring over the recent Avi Chai report “Supplementary Schools that Work” and skimming the web for other examples of great schools, great shuls, and great programs, since the school is only piece of what the shul should be offering us. In my opinion, there’s almost nothing at our shul that doesn’t need to be revamped, even if it takes a lot of work and a very long time.

Although I’m a committed homeshuler, I’d love to be tempted to spent more time in shul with my family – so I’m turning to you, my beloved and inspiring readers. What’s great about your shul (or someone else’s shul?) What programs really succeed, especially for kids and families? What’s made you and/or your family excited to go to shul, or inspired you to return?

I’m all ears (or should I say, all eyes.)

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Hip Kosher

hipI’m not at all hip. But we do keep kosher. And my mom bought me a great little cookbook called Hip Kosher, which took me a little while to warm up to. But now, I’m sold. Lots of easy recipes that give the illusion of being fussy. Here’s what we had for dinner last week. On a weeknight.

Stir-Fried Couscous with Chicken, Dried Apricots and Pistachios

1 3/4 c Israeli couscous/ 4 T olive oil/ 20 oz boneless chicken breasts cut into bite-size chunks/ 4 thick scallions, chopped/ 1 c chopped dried apricots/ 1 tsp cumin/ 1 tsp cinnamon/ 1 c shelled pistachios/salt and pepper to taste

Make the couscous according to the package directions. Set aside. Heat 2 T olive oil over medium heat. Add the chicken and stir-fry for about 4 minutes, or until the meat is white and cooked thought. Dish out and set aside. Place the remaining 2 T of olive oil in the pan. Add the scallions and cooke for 1-2 minutes or until softened. Add the apricots, cumin and cinnamon and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute. Add the couscous and chicken and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes to distribute the ingredients well. Stir in the pistachio nuts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Eat hot or let cool to lukewarm. Makes 4 servings.

From the book Hip Kosher by Ronnie Fein.  Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong (www.dacapopress.com), a member of the Perseus Books Group.  Copyright © 2008.

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“Oh, a bear”

black bearYesterday we went for a walk on the bike path across the street from our house.

“Oh, a bear,” Zoe remarked casually, pointing to the neighbor’s backyard.

Indeed.

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The Kindergarten shabbat box was delivered to our door after school today. (Ella was home for a “personal day” because we have family visiting from out of town.) She and Zoe were so excited that they arranged a special shabbat table for their dolls, crammed into the corner of our small kitchen. So what if we can no longer open the pantry?

box1

box 2

Shabbat Shalom, Jenny and Sofie and baby Sofie, our knock-off American Girl dolls from Target. Proof that you don’t need to spend $95 to have a Jewish doll, just children with Jewish neshamas.

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Queen Kosher

kosherToday I spent the morning packing bags of food for area children at the local food pantry. One of the items I was supposed to include in each package was a jar of grape jelly. When I was receiving my orientation, the director pointed to a small cache of strawberry jellies next to the crates of grape jelly. “These are for one of our clients who keeps kosher. I don’t know why he can’t have grape jelly, but we put aside the strawberry for him.”

I explained to her that I also keep kosher, and gave her a short explanation of why products made from grapes have more stringent kashrut requirements. Immediately, I was appointed Queen Kosher at the food pantry, and asked to assemble a box of products that would be suitable for this family. I ascertained from the notes left by the father that this family was not only strictly kosher, but also observed a further stringency of cholov yisroel. Mysteriously, they also would not accept any tuna, even with an OU. (Can anyone explain that?)

I think it’s wonderful that our food pantry is willing to accommodate this family’s request for kosher food. But while I’m ashamed to admit it, I felt a little embarrassed explaining to non-Jews why this large family will not accept certain fairly mainstream foods for their children, whom they cannot afford to feed. (You see, non-Jews used to use wine made from grapes for idol worship, so no grape jelly, get it? And, um, even though the government says this is cow milk, it might be pig milk….)

Fortunately, unlike me, the workers at the pantry seemed to pass no judgement whatsoever on the family’s religious needs. We’ve set aside a box of hechshered foods, and I will return in a week or so to sift through new donations. In the meantime, I hope I can come to terms with my own apparent ambivalence about the dietary laws. We do keep a kosher home (although not to Orthodox standards) but I’ve never really tried to explain to why. And I’ve never stopped to think about what conditions might, or might not, lead me to compromise.

It’s food for thought…..but is it kosher?

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