My Oxymoronic Anti-Social Media Post

kids on phonesThe food’s forgotten, but the lessons from the Shabbos table are for eternity. The subject of Facebook and social media came up yesterday at lunch. An argument ensued – does activity on social media count as real socializing? It sure feels good when you get likes, comments, shares, views and it seems like personal interaction.
 
Rebbetzin Smiles said that it misses out on real connection. Why? She quoted a wise sage from the last century (the Alter from Kelm) who said, “A teacher who does not know the color of his student’s eyes is not a real teacher.” There’s nothing like face to face interaction. She said yes, the social media interactions feel good – but it’s fleeting. The live face to face connections leave real, lasting, good feelings.
 
To take the point further, some of the Emory seniors pointed out that it’s become socially acceptable to have media personas which don’t reflect the real you. It’s too easy to build your perfect self in a fake world.
 
My New Year’s Resolution? (one of several small bite sized ones) Even as I learn the ropes of FB and its extended ‘family’ of media tools, I will increase my face to face, choosing connection with the people in front of me rather than the device in front of me. So good-bye until tomorrow morning, when I check in briefly for that fleeting good feeling when I see how many people read my ramblings. I choose now to spend time with the people around me.
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Hello, again

Crazy that it’s been two years since I last posted. I’ve missed this opportunity to dance my fingers across the keyboard and talk to myself, hoping that maybe someone will want to listen, but knowing it’s fine even if they don’t. Like I said at the beginning, this blog is about me, what I like (family, food, friends, community) and it’ll probably bore you to tears.

But in case you somehow land on this page and find yourself reading, hey, worse things can happen. You may even find you relate to something I’ve said, or wonder why I’m not in the looney bin (in a cell next to yours). Either way, it’s all good. And I’m done rambling for the day.

Maybe next time there will be something remotely useful. Like a recipe. Oh wait, there are several billion of those online. Do you REALLY need another one??

Call Me Crazy, But Call me Blessed…

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I want to know how many of you out there are closet Pesach lovers. I am proud to admit I am.

There are more of us than you think, I’m just saying.

This past weekend a friend told me she’ll be going to her son’s home for Pesach, and she is going to sorely miss preparing for the holiday. Another neighbor told me that she loves unpacking her Pesach kitchen items. Turns out we both keep an eye out for unusual and cute kitchen items so that pulling them out each year is special and fun (I grew up with Jiminy Cricket and Care Bear cups that were special for Passover). Several other friends and family members have shared that even with all the work, Pesach is their favorite holiday.

I know there are people out there who are rolling their eyes, sighing, krechtzing, kvetching, whatever – but let me just say that we’re rooting for you, and we’re hoping to convert you to our way of thinking.

We’re gonna spread the cheer….

It’s like this. You’re going to spend at least 1/12th of each year (and therefore 1/12th of your life) on Pesach prep. That’s huge. Why would anyone choose a month of stress, rather than creating a time of positive memories, along with joyous, creative expression?

Now you’re for sure rolling your eyes. But to prove my money’s where my mouth is, I’ll admit that I have already spent two weeks shopping, prepping, cooking and several more weeks helping others plan their cleaning, menus and related tasks. And I’m raring to go tomorrow in my little basement kitchen, with no fresh air and a tiny amount of counter space and a hundred-year-old fridge and oven (okay, that’s their ages combined, and then some). But still – I love it, I love it, I love it.

Call me crazy, but call me blessed. I love Pesach.

I embrace every aspect of it, even when it’s exhausting and I feel like an ant trying to climb Mt. Everest. I know I will get there with the help of God.

But here’s the key to keeping me sane and happy: I NEED TO BE ORGANIZED. And I don’t mean perfectionism, rigidity and boot camp organized. I simply have enough lists that if you gave me a nickel for each one (counting revisions) it would cover the cost of Pesach. Throw in a few spreadsheets, a Google calendar, and an hour spent on the computer once or twice a week going over everything to check in and modify and update.

If this sounds like a plug for my little Pesach survival booklet, it is. If you’ve read this much of my post, you now have to go out and buy the book. A measly twenty bucks, with all proceeds going to Girls’ Jewish Education. This little booklet will not overwhelm you, won’t dare you to try new gourmet recipes that you really don’t have time to make, and won’t bore you to tears with ideology or philosophy. It will simply help you get organized, be more efficient in your holiday prep, and give you the flexibility and allowances you truly need.

I want to know if I’ve converted any of you kvetchers yet. Let me know.

 

Like a Kid in an Apple Store

I’m a parent (thank God). And one of my greatest desires in life is that when the kids are away from home they should be homesick.

Homesick means there’s something back home that’s so good, they feel absolutely sick without it. And that’s a good thing. (Don’t think too deeply about that.)

Call me crazy. But really, our job as parents is to create a home that rivals the Apple store at your nearest mall. You know it’s their favorite place, right? The Apple store is loaded with the coolest things ever, and they can try their hand at all of them. And there are chilled, friendly, knowledgeable people standing by to lend a hand when needed, answer a question, explain something, guide them to the right product for their lifestyle/budget/interest.

It’s a paradigm shift. Instead of running a house like a boot camp or a stress factory, make it a place that everyone loves to come home to.

Years ago my husband and I heard the words of a very wise man who spent half a lifetime in marketing, and then shifted gears to lecture on parenting and spreading positive values to the next generation.

Marketing Parenting Guru (Rabbi) said that as parents, we need to fill the virtual shelves of our home “store” with goods that rival what’s out on the streets. Happiness, acceptance, fun activities, warmth, joy, games, music, great food – the more homemade the better – and lots of opportunities for the kids to try new things and find their way in life with cool, laid back helpful and friendly guidance from mom and pop.

Stocking your shelves with kid-friendly goods is simple, really, and requires small shifts in everyday occurrences. It’s turning on music, smiling, laughing, offering the customer some fresh-baked goods and hot, tasty foods. It’s asking them what they’re looking for, what they’re interested in, and really listening.

Stocking your shelves with the high-demand products means putting the kids first when it counts, because it may seem like they’ll be teenagers forever, but they already have one foot out of your store and they’re checking out the competition to see if there’s something better out there. You and I know it, and deep down they do, too – there’s nothing better out there.

In our cozy little home we give the customers what they need – and what they want.

And when they’re away, they’ll wish there was a franchise they could visit to get some of those awesome goods.

When Life Gives you Snow, Make Pizza

Here in Atlanta, when there’s an inch of snow on the ground – or even a prediction of snow – everything closes. So no school today for the kiddos, offices are closed, no one is on the streets, and it’s really kind of cozy.

My response is to make pizza. It makes sense, really. What doesn’t make sense is why Publix was sold out of bananas in the pre-storm shopping madness. Are bananas survival food? I think whole wheat, homemade pizza loaded with veggies is real survival food.

Pizza Slice with Toppings

This one’s got mushrooms, fresh dill, squash, onions and yellow bell pepper. 

Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a try:

Easy Pizza Dough

*1 pkg or 1 Tbsp dry yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 cup water
2 1/2 cups flour (you can use white whole wheat)
1 1/2 Tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
liberal shakes of onion powder, garlic powder and oregano

*Just for the record, the small square packets of yeast contain about 2 1/4 tsp. I just find it easier to measure out 1 Tbsp so that’s what I do and it comes out fine.

Dissolve yeast in water with sugar. Meanwhile, mix flour, salt, seasonings and oil. Add to yeast mixture, mix well with wooden spoon and/or hands, cover with a towel and let rise 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, set oven to 400 and place pizza stone in oven (if you don’t have one, turn oven a little higher). When dough has risen, break off a piece depending on size desired – this recipe makes one large or a few personal sized pizzas.

Spread dough onto parchment paper or foil (admission – I have no idea how to throw pizza in the air), spread with marinara, sprinkle with cheese and desired toppings. If you like spicy pizza, spray lightly with Pam and season with more garlic and onion powder, cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, and oregano. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Enjoy!

Pizza and Cutter

It’s My Day, My Way

It was Friday, but the way things were going it felt a lot more like a Monday. Ran out of flour midway through preparing my challah dough so I ran out to CVS – the fastest and easiest place to pick up flour. On the way home another driver tried speeding up and passing me as the lanes were merging and when he wasn’t successful, he leaned on his horn and made a crude gesture.

At home I glanced nervously at my yeast and water mixture which puffed up as high as the edge of the bowl, quickly mixed in the last few cups of flour, added the yeast to my Bosch and turned it to low. It started going too quickly so I turned the switch to off, but instead the machine freaked out and started spewing out dough clumps, yeast droplets and flour clouds everywhere.

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Looking at the amount of yeast and dough on the floor, counter, cabinets, my clothing and suede boots I contemplated giving in and letting the machine have the last word. But that’s not my style. So although I’d been fasting and was definitely not at peak energy, I ditched the boots and other affected garments and began the sticky job of cleaning up.

An hour later the dough was rising beautifully in the bowl and my daughter came home from school. I was able to finish up some articles that were due before the weekend, while she gave six braiding a shot for the first time.

Let me tell you, that night when we said Hamotzi and tasted the (beautifully and artfully braided) challah I knew I came out on top in Bosch vs. Baker Lady. The outside was crispy, the inside soft, fluffy and perfect. It was heavenly.

Same with rude guy vs. Baker Lady. I’m not here to preach about patience or anger management. All I’ll say is there’s nothing like having it all work out in the end. That poor, angry passing guy couldn’t have been rushing home to anything as urgent as homemade challah to break the fast and welcome in Shabbos.

Maybe I should have slowed down and let him in…

Cooking Contest Question #10: Perfect Cheesecake Tops

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Q. What do you do to prevent the cheesecake top from splitting? 

A. The best way to prevent splitting is by placing your pie or springform pan in a 9×13 pan with an inch or two of water. This water bath prevents the cake from heating up too quickly and cracking.

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Creamy Espresso Cheesecake. You can see the top came out crack-free.

Some bakers say that bringing your ingredients to room temperature before mixing and baking helps, as well.

Baking Tip: You’ll want to carefully wrap your springform pan in aluminum foil to prevent water from seeping in. Use extra strength foil which is usually wider, and be sure there is no way for that water to get in to the bottom of the pan or you will have soggy cheesecake crust. A real disappointment when everything else about it is decadent and perfect. I know the feeling. Don’t ask how, I just do. 

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(Almost) Perfect Espresso Cheesecake with Mocha Cream.

Crust was just a smidge soggy at the ends, which you can see if you peer at your computer screen. For the record, I did wrap it in foil, but not well enough. Lesson learned. Cheesecake is still heavenly, so I’m good. Really good.

And because we’re having so much fun, here’s a shot of my Creamy Peanut Butter Oreo Cheesecake, made at the same time but in a pre-made crust, so no springform and no water leakage. Crust was crispy, but honestly, doesn’t compare to the homemade crust.

Peanut Butter Oreo Cheesecake Peanut Butter Oreo Cheesecake Slice

Cooking Contest Winner!

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Congratulations to Fayga G.!!

You’ve won two hours of cooking or baking from Atlanta Kosher Chef. 

c0263c79488096094032d0602b8174deBlueberry Muffins

 

 

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Thank you to everyone who submitted questions. I’ve definitely learned a thing or two, and enjoyed sharing and posting. I will continue to post questions and answers here, as well as occasional recipes, cooking tips, thoughts and some random ramblings thrown in for good measure.

Please visit http://www.AtlantaKosherChef for more information about hiring a personal chef for all your cooking and baking needs. 

Cooking Question #9: Fluffy Eggs?

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Q. Is it necessary to add water or some other liquid to eggs before making them (omelette)? If so why?

A. If you add a little water to your raw egg mixture, it will help the eggs fluff up in the pan. I’m not a scientist, but the buzz out there in the cooking cyberworld is that the water creates steam when heated up and that helps the eggs rise and become fluffier. Kind of like bread rising with the warm water added to the yeast.

Adding milk will make the eggs creamier and a little heavier, but only if you use milk with some fat content (not skim).

FYI, The master omelette maker in my family is currently sitting in his high school classroom studying American Government or something so couldn’t ask him for tips. Will certainly check to see if he’ll share any secrets and add to the post if I can. 

Cooking Question #8: Onion Substitute?

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Q. Our teenage son has developed a serious allergy to onions, onion powder, all things onion. Given that most Shabbos and holiday meals use onions to prepare main courses, soups and kugels…latkes…is there an alternative that can be substituted for flavor, texture, etc? I’m stumped!

A. Seems there are more people than we realize who can’t eat onions, and most have to steer clear of the whole allium group, including leeks, chives, scallions, shallots and garlic.

I have to admit I’d be lost without onions. It’s definitely a love-hate relationship. They make me cry one minute, and then when my house smells delicious and visitors think I cooked up a storm when all they’re smelling is a plain ole’ pan of onions I want to kiss them.

But back to the real problem – what to use as an onion substitute. Here are a few ideas based on my research…

For raw salads, try very thin slices of fennel root, celeriac (celery root) or turnip.

To fill in for your mirepoix, you can try a combination of horseradish and chopped peppers. The green ones are usually more tart and acidic, the red and orange pepper varieties are sweeter.

For texture, either thinly sliced celery, turnip or jicama may work. Jicama will become soft when cooked or fried, but it will have more of a starchy consistency. It can also be used raw in cubes, sticks or shreds to add great subtle flavor to a salad or crudite platter.

As a seasoning instead of onion powder, try ground ginger, ground mustard seed, freshly ground peppercorns.  A small amount of grated horseradish may also give you that kick that onions add to a cooked soup or casserole. If you can use a liquid, try using sweet citrus juice (orange, pineapple) combined with a vinegar to mimic the tart-sweet flavor.

I think we all know that the beauty of onions is their sort of generic, but tasty, flavor profile. Like salt, onions seem to enhance any dish whether raw or cooked. And unlike ginger, horseradish and fennel, they don’t have a really strong flavor of their own. Probably why everyone loves them. But alas, they have to go.

Lucky for you and your son, there is a world of flavors out there and you could look at this as an opportunity to try out some of the fabulous herbs on the grocery shelves, in your neighbor’s garden (tell them I sent you), or in your own spice cabinet.

(Don’t you hate it when people tell you challenges are opportunities?)