Monthly Archives: December 2012

Blog Siyyum

I taught the phrase, “I did it,” to Aliza a couple months ago to help her express her successes, and now she uses it with abandon to mean anything from, “Look what I accomplished,” to “Look what I got someone else to do for me,” to “I like this thing.”  She apparently learned these meanings from me, because it is with all of those in mind that I say, fervently and emphatically, “I did it.”

In case you need a recap, I blogged about all my Shabbat meals for a year, I got other people to blog about their Shabbat meals for the next year, and I really, really like the way it all turned out.

Here are some of the things I didn’t do to commemorate the end of the blog:
I didn’t…

  • Make one representative dish from each month of the past two years.
  • Offer to fly people in from around the world for a party.
  • Bake cut-out cookies in the shapes of 2’s, 5’s, and x’s.
  • Rewrite the Smashing Pumpkins’ “This is the Last Song,” as, “This is the Last Post,” and then make a music video of food prep.
  • Host an elaborate dinner, or lunch, or try to make the best whatever.
  • Try to recreate last year’s Blogstravaganza.
  • Decide to keep the blog going for another year.
  • Finally perfect my chana masala recipe.

But here’s what I did: I spent all day Friday in my kitchen, mostly by myself, making a humongous mess, using all of our kitchen appliances and most of our dishes, and cooking a set of foods that I was excited to eat and to share with my friends.  I made spinach pinwheels, curried pumpkin apple soup, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, cranberry-grapefruit shortbread, and vanilla cupcakes with chocolate-almond frosting.  I also put a gallon of apple cider in the slow cooker with mulling spices.  By the time Ilana and then Rebecca arrived to help, I was basically done (but very glad for the company!).

Last year was a Blogstravaganza, but this year was a Blog Siyyum. Traditionally, a siyyum is a meal that celebrates completing the study of a tractate of Talmud, and while I’m not exactly comparing the blog to all that, I wanted a way to celebrate a milestone of finality, so I feel good about appropriating the term.  Plus, I scheduled the party for the late afternoon on Shabbat followed by havdalah, the ceremony that lets you know something is really over (and the way Shabbat is separated from the rest of the week).

Friday night, Marc and I ate leftovers for dinner, and Saturday, in the excitement of party prep and having a snotty-nosed toddler, I forgot to eat lunch.  Moments before guests started to arrive, we had two gigantic messes to clean up, but then suddenly, we had a clean(ish) floor and a house full of people who cared enough about me and about this project to come out in the freezing rain for the festivities.

Lots of people brought food and drinks to share, and we enjoyed Rebecca’s amazing spinach artichoke dip, Amanda’s kale and tofu salad, Suzanne’s chocolate-y bars that made my shortbread seem like health food, Mattea’s homemade laffa, Jo’s homemade challah, Trader Joe’s cashew brittle courtesy of Ilana, and David and Joanna’s gingerbread cookies, plus Joline brought wine, as did Edward, in addition to seltzer.  If I forgot anyone’s contributions, please forgive me!

I promised less soapboxing than last year, and I think I came through on that, though I had to restate my sentiment that I am so incredibly lucky to have so many people in my life willing to put up with and go along with my schemes. I also said then to the 25 or so people in my living room and will say now to anyone reading this that I really, genuinely hope that this blog has had a positive impact on how you view Shabbat and community and ownership over your own identity and decisions, religious or otherwise.

Mostly, people sat around and talked and ate, and Aliza ran back and forth between everyone and shrieked a bit.  I led havdalah, which has never been one of my strengths, but if not now, when, right?  Towards the end of the night, Mattea made a most generous offer to create a recipe archive for the blog, something I once started and then quickly gave up on.  Stay tuned for that!


Aileen, like at least year’s blog celebration, once again received the distinction for furthest distance traveled to attend, and she and I talked about what the next chapter of the blog would look like, were I to keep going (which I’m not).  She suggested that the next thing to do would be to write about creating meaningful Shabbat experiences in a family with young children.  With that in mind, I’ll close this post, this year, and this blog with a description of what Shabbat looks like in our house these days.

At sundown, we light candles; if Marc is home, he holds Aliza, if not, I hold her (and I’ve perfected my skill of lighting a match really far away from her reach).  As soon as she sees the flame, she puts her hands over her face and says, “eyes,” and usually, before I’m done saying the blessing, she’s started asking for grape juice.  She pauses in her normal level of activity, though, to stay still while I give her a blessing and kiss her head.  She gets a taste of grape juice next, and then we wait for Marc to come home for the rest of the rituals.  A couple weeks ago, instead of greeting him with her usual, “Daddy,” when he walked in, the first thing she said was, “challah.”

Last week, while singing Shalom Aleichem, she was so desperately asking for more grape juice, that, in order to deflect her, we started maniacally dancing around the kitchen while singing.  This week, as soon as we started singing, she grabbed our hands and said, “dancing.”  It was beautiful.  We say kiddush (more grape juice), the blessing for handwashing (Aliza sticks her hands directly in the cup of water), and motzi over challah (Aliza is now in charge of the saltshaker).  For a 19-month-old, I think that’s a pretty good start.


On Saturdays, we try to stay in bed a little longer than usual, entertaining her with books and songs to delay the inevitable trek downstairs to start tearing through the house, and it usually works.  Then we have some combination of playgrounds, Tot Shabbat, lunch, visiting friends, and, when we’re lucky, naps.

Why the excruciating detail about Friday nights and not about Shabbat day, when, ostensibly, this whole blog was about how Shabbat lasts 25 hours?  Because 1) we’re still figuring out what Shabbat looks like for our family, and 2) life with a toddler is busy, exhausting, and unpredictable, and if we weren’t able to adjust accordingly, we’d go nuts.

So, after two years of excruciating detail about some aspects of Shabbat and not about others, maybe that’s the point: Do what works for you in the moment without driving yourself bonkers, whether we’re talking religion, family, community, food, whatever.  I thought I might have extensive and profound thoughts to sum up everything I’ve learned or a strong closing statement to take forward into the future.  Instead, I have this: a loving husband, an incredible toddler, a huge belly (mostly because of being pregnant, but maybe a little bit because of all the food, too), a wonderful community, and a lot of great memories, recipes, and leftover cupcakes.  I also have an advice column, which really did come directly out of this blog.

Thanks for reading.  Seriously.  This has been awesome.  I don’t expect to do it again, but I’m awfully glad it happened and that you, anonymous reader or close friend, were there for it.  Shavua tov, happy 2013, and, when it’s that time again, Shabbat shalom.


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Winter Shabbat in Winnipeg

As we near the very end of this blog, I’m so glad to have Hadass writing again, as she is one of the best reminders to me of the community that has come out of this project.  Though she’s far away from Philly in Winnipeg, it’s nice to have made a friend through sharing our Shabbat experiences.

Speaking of community and Philly and the end of the blog, if you’ll be in my hood next Shabbat and want to celebrate the end of these two years, please let me know, and I’ll send you the details on the festivities.

Up here above the 49th parallel, in the heart of the continent, extremes are the name of the game. From the temperatures (over +30C [86F] in the summer, below -40 in the winter) to the length of the day (over 16 hours at the summer solstice, to 8 hours at the winter solstice), we definitely have seasons up here.

This was the paragraph with which I started my previous blog post, back on July 22nd of this year. What a difference five months make. This week, on the winter solstice, Shabbat came in at 4:13 and went out at 5:17. This is actually not the earliest time, due to the Earth’s orbit not being entirely circular we actually had our earliest times last week (4:09 in, 5:14 out). It is, however, the shortest day – just over 8 hours of daylight here in Winnipeg. Very different from the summer, when Shabbat is the blessing that never ends. Even though Shabbat is always the same 25 hours long, it seems shorter in the winter. My kids come out of school early (the blessing of a Jewish school), we rush like crazy to get ready, the evening seems to fly by (and we usually end up in bed early, exhausted from our busy week). The next day we sleep in or go to shul, hang out, read books, play games, and then it is Havdallah before I can even think of making dinner.

With outside temperatures well below freezing day and night, there’s no problem with leaving the oven on at 200F. While the food we eat is much the same (vegetable soup, quiche, grilled cheese for the kids), the timing is very different from the summer. I now make our Friday night dinner beforehand and warm it up in the oven (soup in the crockpot as you are not allowed to warm up liquids), and Saturday night’s meal is prepared after Havdallah (although it is often leftovers). Our dessert was Toblerone, yum, rather than home-made ice cream. I do often make ice cream in the winter, but not when I have such a short lead time on Friday. Of course, if I were really organised I would have made it on Thursday.

One thing that is always the same, winter and summer, is my homemade Challah. That is the recipe I am going to share with you today. I cheat and use my bread machine to make the dough, but I always braid it by hand. I was given the recipe by a friend many years ago and modified it to our family’s taste. I don’t usually use white flour in my baking, but I tried making it once with all whole wheat. My husband very kindly said, “It’s very nice, dear, but it’s not challah.” Hence the compromise.

Arielle’s Killer Challah

3 eggs
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup water
2 tbsp honey
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
2 ½ tsp yeast

Put everything in the bread machine bucket in order, and run it on the dough setting. When it beeps, take it out and plop it out to rest for about 10 minutes or so, then cut it up for braiding.

I cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rise again for a few hours. In the winter, when the kitchen can be quite chilly, I put it in the oven with just the light on – it rises much better there than out on the counter.

When it has risen to your satisfaction, in my case usually about half an hour before Shabbat, bake it at 350F for about 15-20 minutes, depending on how dense it is. It won’t win any competitions for looks, but it tastes delicious and fresh!

In many ways, the winter Shabbat is even more restorative than the summer one, coming as it does at a busy time, kids in school and everyone working hard. It is our refuge every week, and I hope yours is, too.

pictures for hadass


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Different Families

Debbie has been my colleague (and friend!) for nearly a decade now, and it’s an honor to have her share her Shabbat experiences here. Silent supporter no longer, and just in time, with only two weeks remaining in the blog after this week!

I’ve been anonymously following this blog since its inception.  Reading it not only gives me a window into others’ Shabbat tables and recipes, but it also pushes me to reflect on my most recent Shabbat experiences, and it’s nice to have the chance to put my reflections down on paper (ok, typed into a Word doc).  Each week, I find myself in one of a variety of settings, and the two constants are my broadening concept of family, and my focus on Shabbat as an opportunity to appreciate differences.  Sometimes my Shabbat family is students at Penn, sometimes it’s a group of friends, and sometimes it’s just me and my husband at home for a quiet meal at the end of a hectic week.  Sometimes (gasp!) Shabbat even includes my actual family; with me in Philly and my immediate family in Boston, these are moments that I especially cherish.   So, blog readers, here are two accounts of recent Shabbatot with different families.

The diversity and vibrancy of my extended family at Penn Hillel on Shabbat blows me away every time.  This past Friday, as soon as I made sure we had a fire extinguisher close by to the huge table of Shabbat and Hanukkah candles (no fires!  Yay!), I was able to focus on my favorite Hillel Shabbat activity: with student leaders, greeting everyone who walks in the door and wishing them a hearty ‘Shabbat Shalom!’ or ‘Good Shabbos!’  When I am standing in the lobby, I can see students approaching Hillel from several walkways leading from different parts of campus, and I am reminded of all of the angles through which I see students approach Judaism.  This sight is always the perfect visual to succinctly explain why working at Hillel inspires me.

My other regular highlight from Shabbat at Penn Hillel is related.  From different dorms and off-campus apartments, different services and no prayer services, different academic schools, and different upbringings, students of all backgrounds gather in the dining hall each week for a community Shabbat meal.  Our menu this past week was what I can only describe as potato-tastic!  Potato kugel, potato latkes, and baked potatoes with chicken made for a monochromatic but tasty plate of food that we probably would only eat on the Shabbat during Hanukkah.  Over dinner, I had meaningful conversations about life and silly conversations about linguistics (did you know that people like me, from Massachusetts, pronounce ‘cot’ and ‘caught’ the same way?!), and overall just a wonderful Friday night enjoying students’ company and learning from them like I always do.  I also watched students come together after tragedy in CT this past Friday.  From themed readings in the Reform service I attended to a moment of silence in the dining hall, our differences that we usually celebrate were put aside for a few moments so that we could focus on uniting around the unexplainable.

Shabbat at Hillel is a macrocosm (no, I have never used that word before) for Shabbat at my parents’ house in the Boston suburbs, where people come together from different places to form a different type of supportive community.  While there is not a series of walkways from which we each approach my parents’ house, everyone around the table is literally coming from a different place to join for a family meal.  Whether it was coming home from work or coming in from Philly, we each bring our recent life experiences and love for each other to share around the table.  For me, Shabbat is always about taking a step back from our regularly scheduled programming so that we can do our best to appreciate each other.  How can we appreciate each other?  By taking the time to hear how we are doing, by asking questions, and by having the time and presence of mind to listen.  The Shabbat table is a place that always makes these charges easier for me, and Shabbat dinner at my parents’ house a couple of weeks ago was no different.

My husband and I drove up for a belated Thanksgiving visit and were greeted with a delicious Shabbat meal and wonderful company.  Dinner was a mixture of fall flavors, which I vow to hold onto well into winter!  We enjoyed carrot ginger soup, green beans, challah we picked up from Rein’s Deli during our lunch stop, and chicken.  I am sure this recipe had a name somewhere, but I’ve never known it, so today is its first day with a name.  Let’s just call it familiar and delicious, and even better over some jasmine rice to soak up the sauce!  As a bonus, it’s pretty easy and quick to make so when you’re looking to impress some guests and don’t have a ton of time, this can be your go-to recipe.

When you make this recipe, which I hope you will, don’t forget to add a hearty portion of whoever you call family and a huge dollop of appreciation and understanding for those around you.

My Mom’s Familiar, Sweet and Delicious Chicken

3 whole boneless/skinless chicken breasts, halved and pounded
1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs (panko or regular!)
2 Tbsp seasame seeds
¼ tsp garlic powder (this is a minimum!  Feel free to add more)
1 egg
6 Tbsp soy sauce
6-8 oz jar apricot jam
2 Tbsp peanut oil

Preheat oven to 425, with a 9×13 bake dish, with peanut oil in the dish, for 5 minutes.  Beat egg with 2 Tbsp soy sauce and a little water.  Mix bread crumbs, sesame seeds, garlic powder and salt.  Dredge chicken breasts in egg/soy sauce mixture, then coat with bread crumb mixture.  Place in heated baking dish and bake 20 minutes. Turn chicken and bake another 15-20 minutes, depending on thickness.  Heat apricot jam and remaining 4 Tbsp soy sauce until almost boiling.  Baste chicken after turning, and serve!

photo (13)

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Shabbat Hanukah Pastry Experience

I’m so glad Brian’s writing for the blog again, I’m even using his preferred spelling for the holiday (Hanukah) instead of my own (Chanukah).  Wars have been fought over this issue, you know!  One of these years, I’ll even get to taste these pastries I’ve heard so much about.  Chag sameach, happy holiday, however you spell it, and be sure to eat some fried food this week.

I am proud to be one of the last people posting for this illustrious blog – over the past year I have learned quite a bit about what makes food tasty. From the specific recipe to the specific company kept, every experience is uniquely wonderful.
That brings us to an experience I have been having every Hanukah since I was born. Many of you might remember growing up eating sufganiyot or latkes, a tradition connecting the miracle of the oil at the Temple in 132-5 CE to the miracle of the frying pan in 2012. Well, in my family we do something a little different: we make the South African pastry known as the koeksister. Braided and fried dough is dipped in a syrup that is essentially two parts sugar, one part water, with a dash of ginger and honey for good measure. They are some of the tastiest pastries on the planet and in the 27 years of experience I have making them, I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t recognize how sweet and awesome they are.
This year – as with the last few – my parents hosted about 60 people over the course of 6 hours. Many of my friends and some relatives come every year to help us make (and eat) the tasty pastries. As my mom is fond of saying, this falls under the food group category of “bad for you but tastes good.” Others suggest it is more in the category of “eat it and die.” In either case, we made about 375 of them yesterday (not counting some that were already eaten when I went around).
Traditions are important – they help solidify cultures and communities in a way that policies and laws do not. I am glad that I have this tradition and hope to continue it with my children in the future. If you are curious or interested in joining, here is the recipe – I highly recommend you make them and enjoy!

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Birthday Shiva, with Turmeric

Me again.

As long as no one signed up to blog this week, I figured I’d pick up the reins.  It worked out, too, because I made a new recipe, I hosted a gathering that’s worth talking about, and I have an amazing picture of Aliza to share.  Plus, as this thing nears the end (the real end this time), I’m getting a little nostalgic for the old days where this blog was all me all the time.  (Speaking of which, there’s another end-of-blog [a real end this time] coming, so stay tuned.)

The first two hours of Shabbat were not the sweetest ever.  My normally cheerful 18-month old tried out her toddler skills on a late-afternoon tantrum of epic proportions.  By the time Marc got home from an hour stuck in traffic on 76 and we got out the door again to go to dinner, I was pretty sure we were doomed.  Then, much to my surprise, immediately upon arrival at Ilana and Adam’s, Aliza gave a winning smile and proceeded to do laps around their first floor for about 20 minutes straight.

Dinner was truly delicious, and Marc and I are still talking about the soup (heavy on the turmeric) two days later, but I’ll admit I was distracted by having just barely survived the tantrum.  Nonetheless, we ate, we enjoyed, we got to catch up with friends, Aliza said, “cat” upwards of 1000 times, and we had a lovely walk home.

Saturday was a Tikvah day, and we had big plans to try out a new baby wrangling system to allow us (and others in the not-so-distant future) to be part of the community while also keeping our kids contained.  But, surprise!  The William Way Center had a giant (and beautiful) Christmas tree set up right in our path, thwarting this set of plans, but forcing us to try out new ones that actually worked out much better than I could have expected.

For the potluck lunch, I made my old standby of baked tofu in a bunch of remnants of whatever marinades were in the fridge, plus, for the first time ever (like ever in my life), I made a sweet noodle kugel.  My family only ever ate savory kugels, so there was no family recipe to rely on or childhood memory I was trying to recreate.  Instead, I looked at a bunch of recipes then made up my own.  And, most amazing of all, I actually wrote down what I did in order to recreate and/or tweak in the future.  See below.

I sent Marc home from Tikvah early and took over his clean-up duties in order for him to have a nap.  Sadly, as I rounded the corner towards home, he and Aliza were coming towards me, both bleary-eyed.  The naps for each of them were short-lived, but at that point, it was only a couple hours till our guests arrived, so we pushed through.

Here’s the thing about this week: Marc’s grandfather passed away (you may remember him from the post about his 100th birthday last year), and Marc had a birthday.  This is, on the one hand, terrible and sad timing, and on the other hand, just another reminder about how life goes on, and cycles renew, etc etc.  It didn’t feel right not to commemorate both lifecycle events with our community, so we did.  As I said in my invitation, it was going to be a strange kind of gathering that will hopefully not become anyone’s tradition, but we had a combination birthday and memorial.

Our friends came over, we ate pumpkin pie and onion dip and other snacks, and we shared the feeling that we’re really lucky to have so many wonderful people around regardless of the occasion.

A made up lokshen (noodle)  kugel recipe that proves that if it has noodles, dairy, and eggs, it’s probably going to be good

1 lb egg noodles, cooked
2/3 stick butter, melted
1/3 block cream cheese, melted
1 lb cottage cheese
1 cup sour cream
just under 1 cup of sugar
4 eggs
dash of vanilla (I gave up measuring at this point)
some raisins

I melted the butter and cream cheese together, which I don’t recommend.  Melt them separately, then mix the whole mess together.  It’s amazing how instantly it started to smell like kugel.  Put it in a greased 9×13 pan.  I baked it at 350 for a half hour covered in tinfoil and a half hour uncovered.  Not sure if that made any difference.  Play with the proportions.  Use what’s in the house.  It’ll be good.


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