Holiday Spirit – Happy Chanukah!

Now that we’re in the midst of this year’s “holiday season,” the Chanukah lights have been sparkling at our house:

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Also, Noah gave me this great new sweatshirt as a Chanukah gift!:


Even though the winter holidays are starting, my fall hiatus from blogging left a few fall holidays unaccounted for. The definite highlight of the fall holidays for me was Sukkot. Noah and I helped to build a sukkah at a friend’s house. We and few others spent the afternoon assembling/decorating the sukkah, and then we all enjoyed a wonderful meal outside together when the holiday started. I got some great photos of the sukkah-building process progressing throughout the afternoon. It started with the frame:

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Then we put up the walls and some lights:

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And finally we added the skach (the vegetation that covers the roof of the sukkah – skach must cover the majority of the roof but leave enough space left so you can see the sunshine and stars) and decorations!:

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Great holiday fun. 🙂

The last holiday to share a photo from is Halloween….Noah came back from a work trip just in time for Halloween, so we celebrated our reunion with some pumpkin carving:

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On that note, hag orim sameach (happy Festival or Lights), and hopefully I’ll check in again soon with some posts about our impromptu 3-day trip to Montreal (we’re leaving in the morning!!!).

Celebrating Purim in Jerusalem

WOW! I had quite a weekend. 🙂

Purim is a Jewish holiday during the month of Adar that commemorates the survival of the Jewish people despite the attempts of the evil Haman (BOOOO!!!!) to destroy them. In a nutshell, the Purim story goes like this:

The king of Persia, King Ahasveros, divorces his first wife, Vashti, after she refuses to entertain him and his drunken buddies naked. To find a new wife, the kings has a beauty contest with all the eligible women in the land and a Jewish girl named Esther is chosen as his new wife (although her Jewish identity is hidden). Meanwhile, the king’s advisor, Haman, is an arrogant and power-hungry individual, who demands that everyone bow before him when he passes by. Mordecai (a Jew, and Esther’s uncle) refuses to bow given the Jewish prohibition against bowing before anyone besides God. Out of anger, Haman plots to destroy all the Jews and receives permission from the king to do so. Learning of Haman’s plan, Mordecai tells Esther that she must speak to the king, reveal her Jewish identity, and ask him to save her people. Although she is at great personal risk, Esther does this task and, ultimately, the Jewish people are allowed to defend themselves (which they do successfully) and Haman is killed.

The full story is recorded in Megillat Esther (the scroll of Esther) which is part of the Ketuvim (writings) part of the Tanakh. If you didn’t already read it this year, I suggest doing so – the story is really quite juicy!!

Anyway…Megillat Esther is quite unique for many reasons, including but not limited to:
– there is a female heroine (YAY ESTHER!!!)
– God’s name is not mentioned anywhere within the book, causing it to be used as a frequent example of the hidden presence of God
– the meaning of the holiday is often understand as being intended to unite the Jewish people (as the people needed to unite in order to support Esther and defend themselves from attack)
– the holiday is not from the Torah, so there are not laws against malacha (work) such as on Shabbat and many other Jewish holidays during the day
– in most of the world, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, but in walled cities it is the 15th of Adar (because Shushan was a walled city and the fighting lasted one day more than in the rest of Persia). Since Jerusalem is a walled city, we celebrated on the 15th (last Thursday evening-Friday at sundown).

All in all, these elements combine to make one heck of a party.

To begin…the mitzvot.

1. Mikra Megillah (reading Megillat Esther)
The reading of the megillah is typically done in a public communal setting, and Megillat Esther has its own trope (cantillation marks) different from the trope for chanting other books from Tanakh. Often times, the reading is combined with some sort of shpiel (play) reenacting the story. The mitzvah is to read and hear EVERY WORD of the chanting, so even though it’s a festive occasion, people are quiet during the reading itself to enable everyone to hear. Noah and I went to a megillah reading with Nava Tehila, and it was amazing fun:


2. Seudat Purim (festive Purim meal)

A friend from Pardes invited us over for a meal on Friday which was absolutely delicious – sadly, no photos.

3. Matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor)

The commandment here is to give money to two people (enough money for each of those people to buy enough food to equal a meal for two people. So, in total, a minimum of the monetary equivalent of 4 meals). If you are from a community where Purim auctions are a frequent occurrence and you never knew why it always happened at that time of year…this is why! To give you the chance to fulfill this Purim-specific commandment. 🙂

4. Mishloach Manot (sending gifts)

My personal favorite Purim mitzvah…mishloach manot are small gifts packages given to other Jews. This mitzvah is the one most explicitly linked with uniting b’nei yisrael. Rather than being another gift to the poor, this gift is specifically supposed to be to someone that you know (or don’t know so well) but are connected to by your Jewish ties. The mitzvah is to give a mishloach manot to a minimum of one person. The gift package must contain a minimum of 2 foods that require a different bracha (blessing). Ie, there must be at least a food item representing at least two of the following categories: fruit, vegetables, bread, non-bread grain product (cakes, cookies, etc), food that doesn’t fall into one of the aforementioned categories. Noah and I put a clementine, chocolate, nuts, and hamentashen in our mishloach manot (3 food categories of brachot!):

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If you do these four things, you’ve fulfilled your religious obligation regarding Purim. But, if you want to have a REALLY GOOD TIME, then the following things are also essential:

Bake Hamantashen!!

Hamantashen are the iconic Purim food – triangular cookies traditionally filled with jam or poppyseeds (I’m partial to chocolate though, go figure!). There are varying opinions on the cookie’s symbolism, but they are generally thought to either represent Haman’s hat or ears (take that, Haman!). Noah and I made two types of hamantashen: apricot and chocolate peanut butter:


This is the dough recipe I used, this is the apricot filling recipe, and the peanut butter/chocolate is – you guessed it! – just peanut butter and chocolate mixed together:



Get dressed up!

Part of the custom surrounding Purim is to get dressed up (yes, that means EVERYONE). This creates a very fun and socially acceptable outlet for adults to wear costumes. In Israel, during the weeks leading up to Purim, costume shops seemed to pop-up everywhere selling accessories of every kind. During Purim day itself (as well as the two or so days before) it seemed like almost everyone on the street was wearing some sort of costume. Experiencing this aspect of the holiday in Israel (ie, out in the streets as opposed to only one night inside a synagogue) was really an incredible experience:

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Noah and I got the main components of our costumes at the vintage-clothing store, Trumpeldor, in the Nachlaot neighborhood:

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We dressed up as Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum from Clue:



Perhaps one of the most famous Rabbinic passages is the Talmud is the instruction to drink on Purim ad lo yoda (until you don’t know) the difference between Mordecai and Haman. I have a whole dvar I would like to give you about how this is actually an instruction about utilizing the holiday to erase our judgements and preconceived prejudices against people, but I’ll save that for another time…

In any event, the connection between the holiday and drinking makes it one-heck-of-a street party. This is the shuk Purim night (first picture intentionally blurry for artsy effect…did it work?!):

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People are friendly and boisterous, as evidenced by these random guys who starting playing limbo with us:

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Of course, the Nachman Mashiach party van was out in force:


Enjoy the Purim culture!!!

What an incredible opportunity it is to live in Israel where walking down the street I see chalk on the sidewalk referring to an upcoming Jewish holiday:


Reads: Hag Purim Sameach (happy Purim). Presumably written by a child because the ‘mem’ is backwards.

Everyone is in costume, everyone goes out, everyone celebrates. Not only is it the ‘Jewish holiday in Israel’ effect, but this is also one of the relatively few Jewish holidays that has been fully embraced by secular Israelis and not only religious ones.

I guess it’s really not hard to see why…




Passover Essentials: Brisket and Tsimmes

In addition to foods that are an integral part of the Passover seder, there are other dishes that have no literal significance for the holiday’s celebration but are customary dishes for the occasion. This is the turkey on Thanksgiving. No, you don’t NEED it…but what would the holiday be without?!

Two examples of such gotta-have-it dishes on Passover are brisket and tsimmes. Brisket is standard fare even outside the world of Jewish holiday observance, and anyone who doesn’t love melt-in-your-mouth, moisture filled, slow cooked beef has got to be a little nutty. Or vegetarian. Tsimmes is a traditional Ashkenazi dish made with sweet potatoes, carrots, and dried fruit. There are, surprise!, several varieties.

I made my brisket this year in my trusty slow cooker and borrowed the recipe from the trusty Smitten Kitchen blog. The recipe was stellar, although if you read the full original post I will comment that many non-orthodox Jews (myself included) avoid corn syrup during the holiday. This full recipe for this is HUGE, so I made only 2 lbs of meat and reduced everything else in the recipe to about 1/3 of the original quantity.

Here’s the rundown of the brisket magic from my kitchen. 

Cook the onions with oil, garlic and spices:

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Prepare the sauce with beef broth, ketchup, chili sauce (corn syrup free!!) and brown sugar. I didn’t put very much sugar in…maybe a 1/4 cup.

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Place the brisket in a slow cooker and then cover with onions and sauce:

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Cook on low for 10 hours:


When it’s done, transfer to a pan to marinate in the fridge for one day before reheating to serve:


This brisket was great, and the sauce was the perfect balance of sweet and spicy.

And now moving on to tsimmes…

This is always a favorite dish of mine given my overwhelming adoration for both sweet potatoes and dried fruit. There are several types of tsimmes, some resembling something more like mashed sweet potatoes with mix-ins and others more like a roasted potato dish. I decided to go the roasted route this year and made something along the lines of this recipe with a few tweaks. To begin, I baked two thin-sliced sweet potatoes for 25 minutes at 450º.

While the potatoes cooked, I sauteed a 1/2 onion and two carrots:

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Once softened, I transferred the onions and carrots to a large bowl and added one chopped apple, prunes, apricots, cinnamon, ginger, and orange juice:


When the potatoes finished baking I added those to the mix and stirred it all up:


I spread the mixture on an oiled baking pan and baked for 45 minutes at 350º.


Wow! This was world class delicious and went great with the brisket.

Having these dishes fulfilled my base level of Passover craving and left me open to do some experimentation during the rest of the week. Check back soon for some less-standard Passover dishes!

Passover Essential: Charoset

As I mentioned in my earlier Passover post, there are certain rituals or customs of the holiday that become essential to the sense of true celebration. The Passover seder (festive fifteen-step meal) includes several food that are themselves part of the dinner rituals. Examples of foods that are always part of every seder: parsley, salt water, hard boiled eggs, bitter herbs (horseradish), and charoset.

Charoset is a food that is intended to symbolize the mortar that Israelite slaves used to build bricks in Egypt. The food itself, however, tastes nothing like mortar. It is a sweet fruit dish intended to be spread on matzah or (if you’re me!) eating completely plain by the spoonful. Different regions of the world have different traditional ways to make the dish. For example, Sephardic Jews typically make the dish more like a spreadable paste with a date base. Ashkenazi Jews, on the other hand, more traditionlly make a charoset with an apple base that is served chunky. There are too many wonderful and delicious kinds of charoset to try to make them all, so I settled on making a Sephardic style on this year.

I followed this charoset recipe pretty much step by step.

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After preparing the three essential food groups (nuts, dried fruit, and binder), I gradually mixed the ingredients in the food processor.

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The binder in this recipe was applesauce and orange juice, and I thought it gave the dish a great flavor! After a few minutes in the food processor, the charoset thickened into an even paste. I put the whole delicious mess into a tupperware to keep for the week and shmear on everything eat respectfully at meal times.




What to eat for breakfast on Passover

Passover is an 8-day Jewish festival in the spring that commemorates the freeing of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. I’ll venture to guess that most people know the story…Moses, 10 plagues, God splits the Red Sea. The story goes that when the Israelites fled Egypt, they had to leave so quickly that there wasn’t any time to let their bread rise. Thus, the bread baked flat on their backs as they escaped. The ‘bread of affliction,’ known today as matzah, is a flat, relatively tasteless, cracker-like form of sustenance that constitutes essentially the only bread(esque) substance that Jews can eat during Passover. Matzah itself contains a simple list of ingredients: wheat and water. Some hippie-dippie types of matzah these days include things like unleavened spelt as well. No forms of leavened wheat, oats, rye, barley, or spelt can be consumed. To increase the complication, Ashkenazi Jews (those whose ancestors are from central or eastern Europe) don’t eat corn, rice, beans, or any other sort of legume (yes, this includes peanuts!). Take a walk around your grocery store and notice all the foods that contain corn syrup, and you will quickly see why these dietary restrictions can become a bit difficult to maintain for eight days.

BUT ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, Passover is a wonderful holiday that reminds us that we should all remember the story of the Exodus as though we ourselves were freed from Egypt, providing a reminder to combat oppression and injustice within our own time. In addition to a beautiful message, the celebration of Passover includes two seders (a fifteen-step extended dinner designed for families and perfect for large groups of friends and loved ones), and seder rituals are passed down through families, creating amazing memories and strong sentimentality.

PLUS – despite the dietary restrictions, there is some awesome food! (more on that coming soon in upcoming posts)

One of the biggest things I hear people struggle with during Passover is what to eat for breakfast?! No oatmeal, no cereal, no granola, no toast, no pancakes, no waffles, no muffins. What’s a hungry girl in the morning to do?!

The day before Passover started this year, I decided to tackle the problem head on and make some matzah granola. It worked out great! The inspiration for the recipe came from this Martha Stewart recipe.

I started by crumbling three pieces of matzah in a bowl.


Next, I added a 1/2 of pecans, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons honey, and 2 tablespoons of melted coconut oil and mixed everything around.


I spread the mixture onto a baking sheet and cooked for 30 minutes at 300º. When the baking was done, I removed the baking sheet from the oven and immediately mixed in a 1/2 cup of currants:


I’ve enjoyed the matzah granola with yogurt, milk, bananas, almond butter, and just on its own as a snack!

Passover Matzah Granola
 - 3 pieces matzah
 - 1/2 cup pecans
 - 2 T brown sugar
 - 2 T honey
 - 2 T coconut oil
 - 1/2 cup currants
 - Crumble the matzah in a large bowl.
 - Add the pecans, sugar, honey, and coconut oil (melted)
 - Bake for 30 minutes at 300º
 - After removing from the oven, stir in currents and
 allow to cool