Health, Happiness, & Prosperity

Just like every other Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew; lit. “head of the year”) is fraught with extra-special everything. Actions, prayers, traditions, food, and of course, symbolism.

so much symbolism...

so much symbolism…

Except, it’s different from every other Jewish holiday. Mostly because it’s the start of another year. So – take all the excitement of the secular New Year, add a heaping pile of religion, and make sure there are 2 additional equally important and significant holidays that occur around the same time….
Et Viola – the Jewish New Year.

News feeds and inboxes are filled with updated family pictures, personal reflections and introspection on the past year, and general good will towards friends and family for the coming year. Many individuals also discuss their menus, and include pictures of said food. This was happening way before Pintrest and Instagram made it a thing. Because we are trend-setters. Or something.
Some traditional foods included in some way, shape, or form during this holiday are:

Honey: for a sweet year
Apples: because Fall and harvest (and probably a more spiritual reason which I’m blanking on)
Pomegranates: legend says that this fruit contains 613 seeds, which is equal to the number of positive and negative commandments in the Torah. I don’t think this has been proven because I don’t know anyone who has actually counted them.
Carrots: because the word for carrot in Yiddish sounds like something that sounds like money. Also in Yiddish.
Lettuce, half a raisin, celery: because Dad Jokes and Puns



This two-day holiday (which sometimes transforms into a 3-day extravaganza, but more about that headache another time) is also different because unlike other Jewish holidays, there is no story involved with the celebration. It’s just a date on the calendar.
To summarize: this is a major holiday that starts our lives anew, doesn’t revolve around a story, and contains a lot more prayer and ritual. Also, due to the proximity of Yom Kippur, there is quite a bit of early-bird-style repentance involving charity and resolutions.

Because that's the kind of people we are this week.

Because that’s the kind of people we are this week.

I kid – there is actually a lot of sincerity going around. And although that is really not a bad thing, it is quite scary when you really think about it. But I don’t want to get into that, because I have to get another batch of cookies from the oven. Also, because it will detract from the main point I’m trying to make (maybe next time I shouldn’t type in 10-minute bursts…)

It is true what has been said, that although holidays and seasons repeat themselves, we are not the same people each time; and, therefore, there are inherently different feelings surrounding each holiday. Especially for me, because so many important events in my life seem to revolve around this holiday…

12 years ago: It was the first holiday I celebrated in Israel. Like every holiday in every religion, Rosh Hashanah is family-oriented. Immediate, extended, and pseudo-families get together and eat way too much food during this two-day holiday. Being the representation of new beginnings, it was very appropriate that this was the first holiday I celebrated in my new home, with family that I had not seen in at least a decade.

8 years ago: It was the last holiday I celebrated with my family in Chicago before getting married. Which is a pretty big deal every possible way you slice it.

5 years ago: I first found out about Nooshkin. She was the size of my thumbnail. I couldn’t eat any of the symbolic food (curse you first-trimester nausea). I had never been happier.

And, this year: It is the first holiday without Nana.

Every year, a week before the holiday actually started, Nana would go to the butcher and buy fresh fish heads – haddock, carp, whatever they had – take them back to her apartment and begin a three-day exercise in love and family. Yes – she made enough fresh gefilte fish for her entire family. All [insert ever-increasing number here] of us. Every year one of us would be the designated delivery person, and our car stank of fish afterwards. That tradition was one of the best parts of the holiday.

But no – I did not make her gefilte fish this year. I probably won’t make it ever because I can’t stand fish heads. Slimy, scaly – guh. *shudder*
But – I still remember the texture and taste of them. And I probably always will.

There’s more that I wanted to write, but it’s almost time for the holiday to begin. So instead I will leave you with this:

May the memories of past years, both positive and not-so-positive, influence your choices for the coming year.
If you decide to set goals* and resolutions for yourself, may they be easily attainable.
Breathe Deep, and Seek Peace.

See you next year.

Honey Cookies

1 1/3 cups oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup honey
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour

1) Mix together oil, sugar, eggs, honey, baking soda, salt and vanilla.
2) Add the flour, and mix until it is just incorporated.
3) Shape the cookies into balls, between 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter.
–Because the dough is super sticky, I recommend keeping it cool to make forming the balls easier. You will also probably need to rinse your hands between batches.–
4) Place on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
5) Bake in oven on 375 F (180 C) for 8-12 minutes, depending on the strength of your oven. The cookies should be crackly in the center and nicely browned around the edges.

Currently Grooving On: The Fountainheads “Dip Your Apple” (because as far as parodies go, this is the best)

*I have a decent list of goals and resolutions for myself for the coming year. I will share them because I am following the advice of a good friend (which is “if you tell people about it, then you have to actually follow through”).

Be More Selfish
In the past year I quit my job, started school, and created this blog – for myself. I had not really done that before, and it felt really good. Empowering. Amazing. I want to do more of that. In line with this goal is to take better care of myself mentally and physically.

Utilize and Maximize My Networks
I decided earlier this year to be more vocal in all my networks, and I got my current job because of that. Each one can be beneficial if used properly, so let’s keep up the momentum, shall we?

Make Good Art
On the good days, and the bad days. When there is nothing to say, and (especially) when there is too much. Be creative. Get messy. Make mistakes. And in line with that…

Get Something Published
I’ve got some things in the works. Several things, actually. Okay fine – four things. There, I said it – I have four creative writing things floating around my head, with bits and pieces down on paper (or Google Docs, because technology). And I’m sure there is more where that came from, and I want to get something done.

Catching Up with Myself

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

So much has gone on since the Passover Posts that it took a while for my brain to catch up with the rest of me. Also, there was that whole job application faux pas that kind of made me want to crawl under my desk and, well, get drunk.

Yeah, like that.

Kind of like this, but way less glamorous.

But, I digress…

There was Memorial Day and Independence Day in Israel – two days that involve lots of driving and meat consumption, and spending time with friends and family. Dodax and his wife came over for brunch, and later that afternoon we traveled to see various family members for a BBQ. LAK and the fiance made an appearance too.

The hunt for a bridesmaid dress is still on. Hopefully later today it will finally come to an end and I can devote my time to other things. Like reading stacks of papers for my seminar paper that is due in approximately three weeks and one day (eek!). And coming up with topics for my two term papers for this semester, which I need to “hand” in to the respective professors by sometime this week.
Oh, and applying for more jobs – this time with an actually presentable resume.

And yet, I somehow found time to bake toxic sugar cookies for my friend S. I should explain.

Friend S is also former co-worker S, who recently gave up smoking. When she first started her endeavor she turned to Facebook (naturally) for encouragement and support. I said that if she managed an entire month, I would bake her a batch of toxic cookies.

This delighted many people, most of them also former co-workers, as I had a reputation for bringing in awesomely delicious baked goods to work. To the point where the CEO said if I didn’t last at the company at least I had a back-up plan.

*insert semi-appropriate image…of something…here*

Mostly I brought cookies, as those were the easiest to transport. But I did bring a cheesecake-brownie thing for my birthday, and I made a cheesecake for the company cheesecake-off. (It didn’t win, but it did get eaten to crumbs). (recipes will be posted, I promise!)

Well, the month had passed and the cookies needed to be baked, and there was a resounding request for toxic cookies. (These cookies aren’t really toxic; they are your traditional sugar cookies with green food coloring.)

Hence, toxic.

Hence, toxic.

Although, maybe it’s the refreshing taste of mint extract that makes them toxic? In all honesty the first time I ate these I kept taking another one because my inner child kept saying “Hey you, you just brushed your teeth – have a treat!” (My mother, the dental hygienist, must not hear of this)

I should mention that the chocolate-mint combination is very difficult to find in Israel, so there does tend to be an onslaught of requests for anything remotely resembling this combination.

Not only am I immensely proud of S., this got me out of the house and provided me with an opportunity to socialize on a weekday! And, apparently, more of those opportunities are coming….

Currently Grooving On: “Anywhere But Here”, by Sick Puppies

Minty Sugar (Toxic) Cookies

2/3 cup (150 grams) margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons milk
4 cups flour
chocolate chips – as desired
mint extract – as desired (I usually use a tablespoon)
green food coloring – as desired

1. Mix the margarine, sugar, and mint extract until incorporated – the consistency will be chunky.
2. Add the baking powder, vanilla, eggs, and salt. Mix well.
3. Slowly add the milk and flour – I add one teaspoon and cup at a time, then mix until it’s incorporated, then add another teaspoon and cup, etc – until incorporated.
NOTE: the dough will be a little dry, but that’s okay – the food coloring will help.
4. Add the chocolate chips and food coloring.

Bake at 350 degrees F/180 degrees C for 8-9 minutes.

Happy Passover! Days 1-3

Happy Spring Holidays to all! Don’t you love it when the gods’ schedules are synched? At least Greek Orthodox Easter is next Sunday.

Living in Israel when major holidays overlap is always crazy. That’s why we’re avoiding Jerusalem until the very end when everyone else has already gone and it will be somewhat calmer.

Friday was spent cooking so much food. But we had plenty of guests over for the Seder and so most of the food was eaten. But then I had to go shopping to replenish the food that was eaten, and now I can’t find the shelves in my fridge.

Most of the food was standard fare, but I made special-for-Passover brownies originally posted on Lulu and Lattes that our guests called “Sorcery” – mostly because they didn’t taste like Passover. When you have a holiday where even scrambled eggs taste different, making something that tastes like a regular food item is key.
These brownies are completely gluten-free and took about 2 minutes to put together, so I will probably add them to my regular rotation too. (recipe is below!)

Yesterday I, Hubby, Nooshkin, and Stinky Face went to the Game of Thrones Exhibit in Tel Aviv. It was pretty cool and there were many opportunities for my inner nerd to be very happy.

Stinky Face and the Restless Mama

Stinky Face and the Restless Mama

The Exhibit is here for the rest of the week, but there were a limited number of tickets available. Naturally, this didn’t stop people from trying to get in anyway – so there was a separate entrance for people who didn’t have tickets. But we were smart and ordered the tickets as soon as we found out this was happening, which was three weeks ago – go planning ahead!

Some of the costumes on display

Some of the costumes on display

Dragon Eggs!

Dragon Eggs!

There were some costumes, props, and interactive stations where you pretend to get burned by a dragon or turned into a White Walker. The lines were kind of long, so we didn’t do them.

The only line worth waiting in was for the Throne.

Future Queen of Westeros

Future Queen of Westeros

This line (surprisingly) went pretty fast, but that’s because there was an actual bouncer whose sole job was to kick people off the Throne so everyone else could have their turn.

We also walked around the Tel Aviv Port a little, but it was getting dark and cold (and we got caught in some spray) so we didn’t stay too long.

Nooshkin and I are hanging out today and we will probably wreck havoc around the neighborhood after wrecking havoc around the apartment.

Miracle Bar – courtesy of Amy Selling from Lulu and Lattes

2 cups ground almonds
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375; Grease a 9×13 pan. Mix ingredients together and spread in pan with spatula. Batter will be thick but do not add water. Just mix it well. Bake for 23 minutes. — OR — Shape into cookies and bake 12–15 minutes. Do not undercook.

Happy Purim!

So it’s been a while since my last post, but I have a good excuse!

I’ve been busy (gasp). But hey, that’s part of my blog description.

Last week was the annual Jewish holiday of Purim, which is kind of like Halloween but more religious and based on historical events.
This holiday celebrates the fact that Queen Esther (a Jewess) convinced King Xerses of Ancient Persia to pass a decree allowing all Jews in the Kingdom of Persia to defend themselves against armies of Anti-Semites, who were allowed to hunt down and kill all Jews in said Kingdom by a previous decree passed by said King.

The initial decree to kill all Jews was suggested to King Xerxes by his adviser Haman, who didn’t like Jews because we didn’t bow down to him and worship the ground he walked on (literally). Apparently that was something that was expected back in the day.

But – Haman didn’t know that Queen Esther was a Jewess because she kept it secret. This was common practice in ancient times, because general sentiment towards the Jewish people were, and continue to be, mixed.

So, Queen Esther invites Haman and King Xerxes to back-to-back private parties. I’m assuming she gets everybody loaded at the first one because nothing worth noting happens. At the second party she informs the King of the plot, and that Haman is behind it.
To nobody’s surprise, King Xerxes gets pretty mad and sentences Haman to death by hanging, his 10 sons are thrown in for good measure, and then the Jews are granted permission to defend themselves against anyone who tries to harm them.

The holiday is celebrated each year on the anniversary of the day that the Jewish people were meant to be killed. The name Purim comes from the Hebrew word “Lotteries”, as that was how the date of the massacre was chosen.

As with many historical Jewish events, the moral of this one is: They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.

Food plays a big roll in Judaism, and not just because of the Kosher thing. Many of the holidays involve a food item that is central to the holiday; for example, matzah (unleavened bread) on Passover. For the holiday of Purim, many of the events central to the story occurred at parties and/or feasts, involving copious amounts of food and drink. Additionally, before Queen Esther went to King Xerxes to plead for her peoples’ lives, she did not eat for three days, as a form of prayer to god to assist her.

Naturally, this means that we eat a ton of food on this holiday. We also give gift baskets filled with food, drink, and home-made baked goodies to friends and poor people, because the core of this holiday is to be filled with joy. Joy that we are alive, and joy that such a miracle occurred.

So, I present the most traditional of Jewish baked goods – Hamentaschen.

Hamentaschen; (Yiddish) – Haman’s pockets, Haman’s ears.
I don’t know why. Just because.

The finished product, with blueberry filling.

The finished product, with blueberry filling.

These doughy goodies are traditionally filled with jelly of any flavor, poppyseed filling, or a spread like peanut butter or date.
There are a few lists on BuzzFeed with fancy-shmancy hamentaschen too (linking isn’t working right now; sorry!)

Alas, this year I went the traditional route even though I didn’t have an excuse. The hubby kind of put his foot down, but next year I’m gonna go crazy.
As with previous years’ batches, I used strawberry, blueberry, and apricot jelly. I sprinkled a few with chocolate chips so the nooshkin would eat some, but for the most part we stuck to boring old jelly.

I made the dough the night before and put in the freezer to help the ingredients solidify. The next morning, I removed the dough and left it on the counter for a few hours to thaw while I did (fill-in-the-blank; probably eat breakfast).

After getting all my tools (rolling pin, cup, spoons, spatula, baking pans, parchment paper, flour, jelly, and chocolate chips) I was ready to go. I put on a Miyazaki movie and got to work.

Dough rolled out.

Dough rolled out.

A few notes about my hamentaschen:

I tend to end up with enough dough for two trays of each flavor, which is enough for the gift baskets and a few extras to have around the house.

Because the dough is pretty sticky, I used a lot of flour on the surfaces. All that extra flour gets into the dough, which is okay – the recipe only calls for 4 cups to compensate.

The cup is used to make perfect circles in the dough, so the larger the mouth of the cup the larger the hamentaschen will be (and the less you end up with overall).

The spoons help with getting the jelly in the center of each circle of dough. I usually put in a full teaspoon, but again – the amount of filling/jelly will depend on the size of the cup you use (I use a cup that’s 3.5 inches/8.89 centimeters in diameter).

After the jelly has been put in the center of the circle, the edges are gently folded up onto themselves to form a triangle. The tips are pinched together so no jelly escapes (but this happens anyway, especially in the first few batches while I find my groove).

The spatula gets the prepared hamentaschen onto the baking sheet without breaking them. You can use a metal or silicon one; I have used both and there was no difference.

Ready to bake!

Ready to bake!

This year, for the first time, I was actually able to use up all the dough – I usually have a tiny amount left over that I can’t do anything with, but not this time!

The second-to-last one, with strawberry filling.

The second-to-last one, with strawberry filling.

The whole process including the baking took about two hours; and then I made another half-batch because why not?
And, there is nothing more ego-boosting than tasting the raw dough after a whole year, and knowing it tastes just right.

2 sticks margarine (16 tablespoons or 200 grams)
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 tablespoons orange juice
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
salt, pinch

1. Mix together margarine, egg, sugar, vanilla, and orange juice.
2. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well, until everything is incorporated.
— If you are preparing the dough ahead of time, you can cover the mixing bowl and put it in the freezer (for overnight) or in the fridge (for a few hours). Regardless, make sure to give yourself enough time for the dough to get back to room temperature before you start preparing the hamentaschen.
3. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/4-inch (0.63 centimeters) thickness.
4. Cut into circles, using the cup.
5. Fill the circles with the jelly or filling, and pinch the dough into triangles around the filling.
6. Place on cookie sheets or jelly roll pan.
7. Bake in the oven on 375 F (190 C) for 15 to 20 minutes until the edges are lightly browned.

Recommended to eat ASAP 🙂

A very good place to start

This blog has been three years in the making.

When my now three-plus-year-old was born I transformed from a full-time paralegal to a stay-at-home-mom. It was something that I was fiercely determined to do, for myself and for my little nooshkin, for the first year of her life; the hubby was supportive from the get-go and did whatever he could to make sure that we could hang out all day.

And so, after the grandparents had left and things had settled down, I was finally at home with my brand new, fresh out of a dirty diaper, baby girl.

I had no idea what I was doing.

We had a routine, but I was always looking for something else to do. There are only so many times you can go to the same stores and not buy anything before A) the shop owners tell you not to come back, and B) you begin to get restless.
There was a lot of nothing to do. And there was no-one else to do it with.

I began blog-browsing. Favorites included How Sweet It Is, Smitten Kitchen, Eat the Damn Cake, Scary Mommy, and Surviving the World. (notice a theme here?) Bookmarks popped up by the dozen; when there were over 30 food-related ones I thought about starting a cooking blog. Except, that’s what everyone was (and still is) doing. I don’t really like doing what everyone else is doing.
The idea of a blog still interested me, and I spoke about it often with the hubby, but nothing came of it except a gradual progression of my cooking skills.

As the nooshkin grew the restlessness lessened; for her first birthday we looked for daycare options and I made an awesome cake that I had bookmarked for this purpose:

About a month after she entered daycare I was back in the workforce, this time as a customer service representative for an e-commerce company with three unique sites that sold Judaica items, customized jewelry, and engagement rings/wedding bands.

It was fun; I had great coworkers, the work was interesting enough, and the hours worked well with my other full-time job of parenting.
I was no longer restless.

And then, after two years and three months, I decided to quit. While it wasn’t an easy decision, and one that I had agonized over for a few months, it was the right one.

And here we are – four weeks later. I’m in the process of accomplishing things that I had pushed off for two years, and I find myself restless again.
Not bored, but not fully occupied. Waiting for something to happen.

But as one of my friends recently said, “nothing is going to happen unless you get out and do it yourself”

So, buoyed by recent semi-success in posting an op-ed piece on another site, and the hubby’s support, I revisited the idea of my blog.

I’m glad I waited to do this. Good things come to those who wait.