Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Turkey Day and a Chanukah Giveaway!

Thanksgiving prep has us beat. 

Oh Thanksgiving. I have such love-hate relationship with you. In truth, the "love" part is the Green Bean Casserole. The "hate" part is all of the other food. I'm not a big crazy indulge meal kind of person. Wait, how did I become an Orthodox Jew with that type of meal twice every week on Shabbat?!

I digress. (On that note, if you're curious why some Jews don't celebrate Thanksgiving, read my article.)

This year, oh this year my parents are coming to town, and I'm making my first solo Thanksgiving ever, without the help of a husband at home. Add to that Asher breaking out with some illness and a fever yesterday and boy oh boy it's been tough cookies around here.

Here's the menu, and before you ask, no, I'm not not making stuffing because I'm gluten free. No, I hate the stuff. It's disgusting.

Kosher Turkey a la Trader Joe's
Gluten-free Green Bean Casserole
Streuseled Sweet Potato Casserole
Deviled Eggs (mom is supposed to make these)
Pistachio Salad 
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie
Udi's Gluten-Free Dinner Rolls

Yes, you can see there is some heavy prepackaged goods going on here, but the gluten-free green bean casserole is itself quite the undertaking. I make my own mushroom soup/gravy and my own fried onions. Basically, I do everything but grow, pick, and prep the green beans. (Thank you Target and your Del Monte discount on the Cartwheel app!) These recipes will be posted up, but after Turkey Day. Sorry! At least you can plan for next year?

The Pistachio Salad is an Edwards Family standby. However, for the first time ever in my life making it, I noticed the recipe on the Jell-O Pistachio Pudding box is our family recipe and that it's actually called "Watergate Salad." Secret family recipe bubble burst! I did have to get creative, however, because Cool Whip is dairy and turkey is not! Luckily, I found a new non-dairy whipped topping product by SoDelicious called CocoWhip. Now, I wouldn't suggest plopping this on your pumpkin pie because it's potently coconut flavored, but in something like Pistachio Salad? Perfectly dreamy!

The Pumpkin Pie got help from Wholly Wholesome's gluten-free and parve pie crust. Although it didn't get very crispy and the pie filling appears to have separated from the crust, it looks like Pumpkin Pie, and that's what matters.

The big sticking point for me here is going to be the turkey. Yes, it's pre-brined thanks to the kashering process, but there's still the whole need to cook and baste and perfect the turkey. I've never cooked a turkey in my life. I've watched plenty of them being made, but I've never had to do one myself. And, thanks to my hatred of stuffing and Alton Brown's crusade against stuffing your bird, I'm anxious about a hollow turkey cooking right. When to start? When's it done? Do I season it? Do I put anything in the spacious cavity? I've become a monster on Facebook and Google owns me.

But I'm sure it's all going to turn out okay. After all, the worst that can happen is my non-Jewish, non-kosher parents will look at my gluten-free, non-dairy kosher Thanksgiving, smile and head out to McDonalds whenever it opens. I honestly don't know how non-Jews feel about parve substitutes, let alone how carb-loaders feel about gluten-free fried onions (a classic) and pie crust (so tasty when it's chock full o' gluten).

Amid the stress, the love-hate balance, and attempting to cook with a sick babe, I have to say a big thanks and hallelujah for Manischewitz. Yes, I don't imagine you suspected this post to end with a big "Whoo Manischewitz!" plug, but here we are. The truth is, I did them a huge disservice. They were kind enough to send me their naturally gluten-free Vegetable Broth, Chicken Broth, and a can of Turkey Broth, and I was going to write an elaborate post with the recipes for my Thanksgiving goodies. Unfortunately, life got the better of me and here we are, the evening before Turkey Day and I'm finally saying "these products have made my life so much easier."

The Vegetable Stock actually made its way into some quinoa for Shabbat when we partook of more Terra Chip Tilapia with Roasted Mushrooms and Popcorn Cauliflower. The rest of the stock made its way into the gravy for the Green Bean Casserole, along with some of the Chicken Broth. The rest of the Chicken Broth and the Turkey Broth are going to be the basting goodness for my hopefully successful 14.5-pound beast in the fridge.

Without these broths, I probably would have defaulted to water like usual. I just don't keep broth or stock in the house anymore! Color me convinced that Manischewitz has a good thing going with their broths. It's an easy way to pack something full of flavor, and I'm sold!

Also from Manischewitz? The Do-it-Yourself Chanukah House! Okay, I thought I was way ahead of the curve and super progressive back in 2008 when I made my first Gingershul, but the Chanukah House has really upped the ante. Yes, you could go out and (like I did back then) buy a kosher-certified Gingerbread House kit, but the colors would be a little unfestive for Chanukah.

The Manischewitz kit has festively colored frosting and sprinkles, and it comes with a magen david, too! Talk about the kit with everything you need to make a real Gingershul.

I'm schlepping mine to Israel in mid-December when Ash and I go visit Mr. T (thanks to my gracious inlays) or else I'd show you my amazing constructing skills (oh, there will be pictures, but I won't be eating any because it isn't gluten free). But wouldn't you love to make one of your own?

Well, I'm giving away a Do-it-Yourself Chanukah House kit! The best part of this giveaway is that after you win the kit and build your own, you can snap a picture and enter a contest to win up to $500 (find out more below the giveaway)!


After you've designed your own Chanukah House (or Gingershul), snap a pic and upload the photo between December 9 and 23, 2014, to Manischewitz's Facebook page. The grand prize winner will receive $2,000, second prize gets $1,500, and third gets $500!! $500, second prize nabs $200, and third prize will get $150.

(Rules: You must be 18 or older to enter. Minors can submit their entry with parental permission using a parent's or guardian's email address. Additional materials like sprinkles, frosting, cookies, or candy can be used to enhance the design.)

And the Cookbook Winner is ...

Be on the lookout for an email to receive your FREE copy of Secret Restaurant Recipes from the World's Top Kosher Restaurants by Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek.

Enjoy and make lots of good recipes in good health!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Giveaway: Secret Restaurant Recipes Cookbook

Although there aren't many kosher restaurants here in Denver, I was lucky enough to experience the amazing kosher options in the New Jersey and New York area, not to mention in Israel. Pair this with a childhood grown up with my mom whipping up some classic restaurant recipes from places like Red Lobster (those cheddar biscuits were to die for), and a cookbook with secret kosher restaurant recipes was made for me.

Yes, this is a review and giveaway post, and I shocked myself with this cookbook. After looking through the index and knowing a lot of the restaurants, I was worried I wouldn't be able to find anything with my two at-home cooking criteria:
  • gluten free
  • vegetarian
Luckily, I'm a creative cook and the recipes are easily changed for the discerning and committed cook.

As one of the things I'm missing most in the world is amazing kosher Chinese food (oh those evenings with Chopstix in Teaneck, I wish I had cherished you more), I immediately decided to make the Sesame Chicken from Kosher Chinese Express in Manalapan, New Jersey happen with tempeh in place of the chicken and tamarin in place of the soy sauce.

The result? This is seriously the most delicious thing I've made lately, and that's after absolutely falling in love with Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Buffalo Tempeh Sandwiches. I have a new love, and it's the sesame sauce in this recipe. I can't believe I never tried to make my own, because it was really easy and it's super tasty. I could put this on just about anything, and the tempeh was an excellent, meaty substitute.

Then I decided to tackle the Tilapia with Terra Chip Crunch from The Purple Pear, as Terra Chips are naturally gluten free, fish is a staple in our house, and when I lived out east I loved The Purple Pear. (Yelp has the reviews to prove it.)

I will admit that I didn't have granulated onion or garlic on hand, and I ended up subbing in some mirin for the corn syrup. I also picked up some seasonal Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Terra Chips instead of the Terra Sticks and Sun Dried Tomato Terra Chips. The result? Delicious and beautiful.

This cookbook has everything (yes, thinking SNL here): tips from the restaurant chefs and owners, advice on kitchen tools, beautiful pictures for every recipe, and more. I have to tell you that pictures are so critical in my decision on whether to purchase a cookbook. Basically, I only buy cookbooks with tons of pictures. I need perspective!

Thus, giveaway of this cookbook (a $29.99 value) just in time for Chanukah, too, so even if you're not a cook, you surely know one!

(NOTE: You must enter on the web. It will not work properly on mobile.)


Friday, November 14, 2014

Do Jews Celebrate Thanksgiving?

I threw up an article over on on the topic of Jews, Judaism, Thanksgiving, and the 2013 anomaly that was Thanksgivukkah. (Note: It really wasn't that big of an anomaly.)

Go over and check it out now!

While you're at it, be sure to check out my article on the 13 Principles of Faith and the controversy surrounding the principles for hundreds of years after Rambam compiled them (based on the Talmud).

See something missing from's Judaism section and would like to see an article on it? Have a question about Jews, Judaism, Israel, the Bible, or something else in that realm? Let me know! I love writing articles that people want to read!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

When Being a Girl Isn't Cool

I took a step back this week, paused, and decided to really focus on happiness, positive thinking, and willpower in an effort to get my happiness, health, and sanity in check. The result? I'm having a really good week. I mean, a really, really good week. I'm starting up my workout regimen, talking to HaShem before bed every night, thinking before posting negative/kvetchy posts in the social universe, managing my "feed the stress with food" habit, and I've even picked up more work. Yay!

I can do this.

While chatting with an old friend this week about getting together for coffee, I mentioned I'd rather get together on a day when Ash is in daycare because "I want to feel like an adult." You know, two adults getting coffee reminiscing about the good ole days behind the grill at McDonalds? He joked,
A phrase I strongly stand by is this: A man is a person who admits he's still a boy.
My initial reaction? "The keywords are MAN and BOY. Being a girl isn't as cool/fun as being a woman."

His response: "#MaturityisOverrated"

It got me thinking about what it means to be a woman. It seems like it's cool or funny or expected for a man to be a bit of a boy at times, whether that means playful or immature or downright juvenile about things. Men can roll around in the mud, make fart jokes, build a fort, make a mess. Be a big ole kid and it's cool.

Being a woman, however, means not being a girl.

Being a girly girl as a grown woman just doesn't fly. As a grown woman, you have to be strong, confident, driven, and able to handle anything that flies at you at any hour of the day in any form. There's no crawling back into your dollhouse or putting on a tutu and dancing around the room all day. It just doesn't fly. Be a big ole kid and it's very not cool.

It's all about the perception. What do you think? Can men be boys and women can't be girls? Is it just society?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reconstructionist Judaism and the Chosen People

I present: The Havdalah Hedgehog

While working on an article on havdalah for, I came across the detail that Reconstructionist Jews, at the urging of founder Mordechai Kaplain, omit the portion of havdalah that highlights separation. (Havdalah is the post-Shabbat ceremony that marks the separation of Shabbat from the beginning of the work week.)

Specifically, the havdalah text says:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמַּבְדִיל בֵּין קֹֽדֶשׁ לְחוֹל, בֵּין אוֹר לְחֹֽשֶׁךְ, בֵּין יִשְׂרָאֵל לָעַמִּים, בֵּין יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לְשֵֽׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמַּבְדִיל בֵּין קֹֽדֶשׁ לְחוֹל.
Blessed are You, G-d, our Lord, King of the universe, who separates between the holy and the profane; between the light and dark; between Israel and the other nations; between the seventh day and the six days of the week. Blessed are You, G-d, who separates between the holy and the profane.
The portion that is omitted by the Reconstructionist movement is "between Israel and the other nations" because Kaplan rejected the concept of chosenness and this is a central tenet of Reconstructionist Judaism.

Unfortunately, the concept of chosenness is soooooo misunderstood. It doesn't mean chosen to be better than or more loved by G-d or more awesome.

The origins of the text are Deuteronomy 14:2:
כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ; וּבְךָ בָּחַר יְהוָה, לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה, מִכֹּל הָעַמִּים, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה.
Because you are a holy people for G-d, and God has chosen you to be an am segulah from the nations on the earth. 
The beef probably comes from the concept of being an am segulah -- roughly translated as a treasured people. But what comes next is important. It doesn't say ABOVE or MORE AWESOME than other nations of the earth, but "from" the nations of the earth. 

The concept of chosenness for the Jewish people means to be different, to be a "light unto the nations." This means to live a certain type and style of life that will inspire and motivate the other nations of the world toward an ethical, positive, empowered life. There's nothing about being better than or more special than the other nations of the world, contrary to popular belief. 

So that's news to me. Did you know that Reconstructionist Judaism rejects the idea of chosenness? I'd like to hear your thoughts -- especially if you're a Reconstructionist Jew. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Lech Lecha: Chaviva and Avram

Terach left with Sarai, Avram, and Lot to go to Ca'anan, mostly because it was his dead son's inherited land. So they left but stopped along the way.

Then HaShem speaks to Avram, tells him to Lech Lecha -- go forth, to yourself. Avram leaves with Sarai and Lot and heads to Ca'anan, fulfilling the original destination goal. It's there that HaShem promises so much to Avram and his future offspring.

So essentially, the first bit of the journey was not enough and HaShem and to tell Avram to keep going. Would he have gone on his own? Would he have stayed with his father?

The truth is, I feel like this about my journey and my conversion.

I found and began my Jewish journey in the Reform movement of Judaism around 2002/2003 and after much teeth grinding and examination of myself, who I was, and where I was going, wound my way through other branches of Judaism until I landed at the doorsteps of Orthodoxy in 2008.

That first leg of the journey was like leaving my land with Terach and heading toward the land of my inheritance -- Judaism.

The second leg was HaShem telling me to go further, to go forth to who I was truly meant to be. To embrace that person I was.

I feel a bit like Avram. But only a bit.