Author: SimpletoWow

I grew up in the Midwest (and therefore legitimately “mis”pronounce blog as “blawg”, just ask my kids). I moved to the Northeast 27 years ago. I am an engineer and have worked for years in the automation and communications fields, designing and developing software. When my older children were toddlers, I stepped aside from my career in order to raise them. I now work as the electronic billing, records and research coordinator for my husband's medical office in Northern New Jersey. I have four daughters, one son and two grandchildren, all of whom you will meet through this blog. I love to cook, design, set a beautiful table and find simple and upcycled solutions to life messes. I hate to clean, am terrible at laundry (just ask my family) and I love a challenge. In the engineering world, the impetus is to find an elegant solution, meaning a simple, yet effective solution to the issue. In this blog, I attempt to find elegant solutions for food, home and life applications. simple techniques to create inspiration, elegance and taste, mostly with what I already own. I hope that you will find inspiration here to create your own simple and wow ideas and designs. Please feel free to share them with me through the links on the side of this page or by emailing me directly at simpleandwow@gmail.com. To follow me and receive updated blog posts emailed to you regularly, please subscribe.

Sara’s Zara Shower and Edible Handbags

sara shoes and handbags

Today is a wonderful day in the Respler family.  My niece, Sara, is getting married later this afternoon to Lawrence Rosenblum.  It is a wonderful opportunity for the family to celebrate, especially because Sara is surrounded by so many female cousins.  We love to party and this celebration will be one to remember.

Over the past few years, I have been trying to accumulate less “stuff” and instead, build more memories.  So, instead of getting another gift for Sara, Leah and I decided to go all out and host a memorable shower for Sara.

There was delicious food and drink, great camaraderie and even some dancing.  The shower began with a wonderful theme.  You see, Sara is the ghostwriter of ModestZara, an account dedicated to posting tznius (modest) finds at Zara.  Sara wears Zara, breathes Zara and embodies Zara’s classic and timeless style.

Leah scoured the house to find anything that could be used for the theme.  We found mannequins of all sizes, a shoe music box, rolls of kraft paper and lots of assorted bags and boxes.  I picked up some miniature tote bags and black and kraft paper goods at the local dollar stores.

I printed some Zara-inspired signs using bar codes and a Zara-inspired font.

I thought up a clearance candy station and one of Sara’s friends organized a hot cocoa station replete with marshmallows, whipped cream and all types of cocoa and milk.  I created a menu and a to-go station near the front door.  I lined my granite countertops with kraft paper and brought up my dairy chafers.

sara candy clearancesara hot cocoa station.JPG

sara-menu-w-barcodes.jpg

sara buffet chafers

sara waters togo station

Leah kept insisting that we get dozens of Zara bags from our local Zara store so that the guests would understand the theme.  I thought that with everything we had designed, the Zara-reference was more than apparent.

But, Leah insisted.  She said that it would be great to put these bags on the buffets and the dining room table.  It would be great to put unwrapped gifts into these bags and that it was extremely important.

I did what any mother would do.  I called Zara and pleaded my case for the free bags.

I explained the Modest Zara connection.  I explained how Sara represents Zara’s classic style.  I emphasized that Sara captures a modest Zara population on social media.  I waited on hold.  I spoke to the manager.

And, I was told Zara does not give out any bags without a purchase.

So, I told Leah that I had valiantly tried to get free Zara bags, but that I had failed.

And, Leah did what any self-respecting daughter would do.   She took matters into her own hands.

I don’t exactly know how it happened.  But, later that week, Leah came home with a big smile and dozens of Zara shopping bags in all shapes and sizes.

And, I set to work cooking and assembling.  Davida made her awesome cupcakes.  She tinted the frosting a kraft-brown color and frosted those cupcakes.  She then piped a thin S onto a chocolate fudge cookie to embellish the cupcakes.

sara cupcakes

I created my shoe and pocketbook station using a shoe-themed music box and handbags fashioned from cookies, frosting, and sour sticks.  For each pocketbook, I took two half-moon Tirosh cookies and put them together using frosting.  I placed a sour stick handle between the cookies.  I embellished the fronts of these pocketbooks with assorted sprinkles and edible gems.

sara shoes and handbags

My niece, Orit, made a delicious Caesar Salad and one of Sara’s friends made an incredible Greek Salad.  I prepared orange soup.  One of Sara’s friends made Penne Vodka. I prepared lasagna and quiche. and Leah prepared cabbage salad and a fast-moving smartphone game.   My niece, Michal, and her daughters prepared warm brownies. 

We ate and we drank.  We laughed and we danced.  And, no one overlooked the Zara theme because we had plenty of Zara bags for decor.

Remembering my Mother-in-Law: Calaniot and Bees

 

 

yahrzheit-anemone-and-succulent-arrangement-2.jpg

Today is chof-alef (21) Kislev, the eleventh Yahrzheit (anniversary of passing) of my dear mother-in-law, Devorah bas Yitzchok Aaron (Devorah, the daughter of Yitzchok Aaron).  We are in Israel to commemorate the yahrzheit and it is a time of reflection upon a life well-lived.

It is winter here and we have cool, beautiful weather.  The fields, the mountains, and the flower stands all over Israel abound with calaniot (anemones)  in every color of the spectrum.   These calaniot are the national flower of Israel and they represent all that Israel is.  They add color and hope to the darkest season in the most barren places.  As the rain brings nourishment to the fields and mountains during the winter, these calaniot blossom.

Our small garden as you enter our Jerusalem apartment is also replete with greenery and its own flowers.  The variegated leaves and chrysanthemums that were planted two years ago are lush and nourished by the winter rains.  They, too, bring the promise of color and bounty in the cold winter.

jeruslaem garden winter

 

In honor of the yahrzheit, Don and his brother, Mordechai, completed a masechta (portion) in Gemara (ancient Talmud).  On the eve of the yahrzheit, we hosted a siyum (finishing party) and seuda (festive meal) for family and friends in Jerusalem.  It was a time to combine reflection, learning and good food as a way to elevate the soul of my mother-in-law.

I created a number of small floral arrangements and one larger one to decorate the tables of our siyum seuda.  The smaller floral arrangements were intended as a take-home gift for our guests.  The larger centerpiece was to remain with us to grace this week’s Shabbos table.

yahrzheit small arrangements.jpg

 

I began with a glass low vase and soaked a piece of oasis.  I then took a variety of leaves from the garden.  I started with a single succulent to create this centerpiece.  I then added the ribbon-like variegated leaves and stuck them into the oasis in two places.  Each leaf end was secured with a toothpick to ensure that the top end of the variegated leaf didn’t budge.  I randomly added fuchsia anemones, making sure that they moved in all directions of the arrangement.  Finally, I added some more leaves on short stems to fill in the arrangement and to ensure that all of the oasis foam was covered.

yahrzheit-anemone-and-succulent-arrangement-2.jpg

 

At the yahrzheit siyum, I spoke about Mom and reflected upon what made her unique.  I compared her to a Devorah (bee).  K’shma kein haysa (her name reflected upon who she was).

T’hay nishmasa tzrurah b’tzror hachaim (May her soul be bound in the bond of life).

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Tonight is the Yarzheit of  Devorah bas Yitzchok Ahron

The Yarzheit is a special time to reflect on the qualities of the neshoma (soul) that remain  in this world even after a persons petira (passing)

This year I thought we would take my mother-in-law’s name, Devorah, which means bee and we would explore some of the unique and even surprising facts about bees to garner some lessons that she taught us all:

1.  A bee is a busy and social creature.  One bee must fly on average 90,000 miles, about three times around the globe, to produce one pound of honey.    A bee colony is comprised of more than ten thousand bees and less than 80,000 bees.       

My mother-in-law was a busy woman, always thinking of others and connecting people around her Shabbos and Yom Tov table.  She was really a people person who enjoyed being in the company of others. She sought out new friends wherever she went and so many lonely people found a place in her home and in her heart.   She was truly a busy and social creature.

2. A bee honeycomb is a very efficient structure. It uses the minimum amount of beeswax in each perfect hexagon to hold the maximum amount of honey.   My mother-in-law had the unique quality of finding a small and inexpensive gift that would show her concern and caring for another person. She would keep a box of Dixie cups with knock-knock jokes for decades.  She would take them out and distribute them.   We were each mandated to read the knock-knock jokes out loud and then she would make sure no one ruined the cups by drinking from them. She would then collect them and those Dixie cups would go right back in the box and into her cabinet.

On Shabbos and Yom Tov, Mom would ask me to make platters for kiddush and then she would whisper to me “in case more people come, please cut each piece of gefilte fish into half and then into quarters so that each guest would get a piece.”   Every guest would arrive hungrily and at least go home with a quarter-piece of fish.  Her friends always left filled by her friendship and attention.

She would find safety pins and Bobby pins and dollar store gifts that would be just what we all needed    Like the beehive, Mom was efficient about using small things to their maximum benefit.

3. The venom in a bee sting has medicinal properties. Bee venom has shown promise in treating arthritis and other types of pain.

Mom was known to speak her mind, especially when she saw something with which she disagreed.  For me as a new daughter-in-law,, some of my mother-in-law’s words stung.  But, as I got to know Mom  I really began to understand and appreciate this quality.  I learned that her bee sting had medicinal properties. Her words were honest and truthful, and I personally learned a lot through her.

When I first was married, she admonished me for not calling her every Friday.  I apologized and felt stung by the criticism.  After all, in my family, we called each other whenever we felt like calling.  There was no schedule and that was just what I was used to doing.  Nonetheless, I decided to start calling my in-laws every Erev Shabbos (Friday afternoon) as that was their expectation.  As the years went by, I realized what a blessing the initial criticism had been.  Now, my children and grandchildren call me just about every Friday afternoon.  That is the medicinal quality of that sting.

4. A bee is the only insect that produces human food and the bee is the only non- kosher creature that produces a substance that we are allowed to eat. 

Like the bee, the sweet honey that my mother-in-law produced is unique and defies logic.  She had the ability to take the most mundane and insignificant gift and elevate it by making someone feel special.  She was able to take her toughness and criticism and combine it with her Simchas Ha’chaim (joie de vivre) to produce children who are known for their incredible sweetness   And, she taught us that it is possible for each one of us to be the only insect that can produce something edible and then elevate it to something pure and kosher.

May the neshoma (soul) of Devora bas Yitzchok Aaron have a tremendous Aliyah as she buzzes and soars in the Next World.  May each one of us continue to produce the honey from all that Mom has taught us.

Yisroel Simcha z’L: a Study in Opposites

We spent this past Shabbos at the beautiful home of our cousins who hosted a yahrzheit Shabbos for our dear cousin, Yisroel Simcha.   It was an uplifting Shabbos of inspiration, learning, delicious food and ambiance and beautiful Divrei Torah (words of Torah). There was an incredible siyum by family and friends who gathered to spend Shabbos together reminiscing about Yisroel Simcha.   I spoke during the Shabbos about the lessons and legacy he exemplified.

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Parshas Toldos is very much a study in opposites.

We encounter Yitzchak and Rivka who come from opposite backgrounds.

We are introduced to two male twins, Esav and Yaakov, who are opposite physically and ideologically

When thinking of something to speak about, I couldn’t think of a better topic than opposites because…

Yisroel simcha z’l was really the paradigm study in opposites:

  1. Brilliant v Simple. There was a simplicity to Yisroel Simcha’s brilliance and a brilliance to his simplicity.
  2. Serious v. Hilarious Yisroel Simcha’s humor was never silly or sarcastic.  It was him finding the absurdity in his illness and the difficult circumstances of his life.  Yisroel Simcha used humor to elevate himself and to make everyone around him feel good.
  3. Wisdom of an elderly person v. effervescence/naivete of a toddler
  4. Knew everything about the material world and yet that relationship w materialism didn’t affect his neshoma one iota
  5. Respectful v irreverent

While thinking about Yisroel Simcha’s opposite attributes, the one thing that I found no opposite for was his sense of simcha.  There were times, I cried my eyes out, worrying and thinking about all that he was going through.  I remember his Bris and his Bar Mitzvah vividly.  During the celebration of his Bar Mitzvah, I locked myself in a bathroom stall and each time I tried to emerge, I just couldn’t.

But Yisroel Simcha didn’t cry.  Esther didn’t cry, even when he came to dance with her.  And, I never, ever saw Yisroel Simcha sad.

So when I look for the opposite for the attribute of simcha, I pair it with the attribute of Yisroel.

Yisroel Simcha was Yisroel, the man who rocked the endurance game and was victorious.  Why? Precisely because he was b’simcha (in a joyous state).  It seems supernatural and yet that was instilled in his very nature and his nurture.  That was what made Yisroel Simcha unique, brilliant and funny.  And, it was all effortless.

Here we are at his Yarzheit Shabbos and we are transported back to all that we encountered when we were with Yisroel Simcha.  Why?  Because that effortless sense of being b’simcha while enduring b’emunah (with faith) is rooted right here and that will endure forever.   Those symbiotic qualities that are so rare and that so affected each one of us are in Esther and Menachem.  And, they were a part of Aunt Regina a”H,  Temma a’H and of course, this was Yisroel Simcha’s greatest legacy.

Rifka was the parent entrusted with the nevuah (prophecy) during pregnancy that made her understand Yaakov’s mission.  She was willing to sacrifice everything for Yaakov to help him reach his full potential, much like Esther who spent tens of thousands of hours bandaging and selflessly helping Yisroel Simcha to be all that he was in the face of great adversity.  Esther and Menachem do not need to speak a word and yet, we can connect to all that they represent.

For us, to recreate that, would take enormous effort.  But for the Possicks, it is in their nature and it is in their home.  And, this family had the amazing ability and zechus (merit) to allow the effervescence, the hilarity, the wisdom, the emunah, the effortlessness and the brilliance of Yisroel Simcha to shine through.

I believe that when you are evaluating any type of relationship, never, never judge the other person.  Always judge who you are in their presence.

Perhaps, that explains the most perplexing set of opposites in our parsha:

וַיֶּֽאֱהַ֥ב יִצְחָ֛ק אֶת־עֵשָׂ֖ו כִּי־צַ֣יִד בְּפִ֑יו וְרִבְקָ֖ה אֹהֶ֥בֶת אֶת־יַֽעֲקֹֽב:

Yitzchok loved Esau for the hunt was in his mouth while Rivka loves Yaakov.  There are two interesting differences in describing the love of Yitzchok toward Esav v the love Rifkah feels for Yaakov:

  1. Their love is described in different tenses: Rivka’s in the present while Yitzchak’s in the past
  2. Yitzchok’s love was based upon the taste in his mouth while Rifka’s love is not dependent on anything

Perhaps, Rifka understood that her love for Yaakov was never dependent upon what was בְּפִ֑יו,  For Rifka her love was just that ubiquitous feeling of her being her most elevated self in Yaakov’s company.

If we were to evaluate our relationship with Yisroel Simcha based upon who we were in his presence, we would probably all say the same thing:  In Yisroel Simcha’s company, we were all:  funnier, happier, smarter, more connected, more elevated and even weightless.   Why? Because Yisroel Simcha had this effortless quality about all that he was and all that he did.  He should have been the most complicated person we knew and yet, he was the least complicated.

For us, we need to work on reconnecting, through this Shabbos and through recreating that person we were in Yisroel Simcha’s company.   So, what we can do is to be in touch with that hilarious, joyous, witty, clever and elevated self in each one of us with whom Yisroel Simcha put us in touch. And, with that extra confidence in ourselves and in our tefilos (prayers), we can transform this yahrzheit Shabbos into a celebration of true simcha for this incredible family with the coming of moshiach b’mehara ub’simcha (speedily and with great joy).

 

 

Pulled Turkey Pizza

pulled turkey pizza slice with sauce

This recipe is simple to prepare and is perfect for those Thanksgiving leftovers.  It is a fleishig (meat) version of pizza and is really a cinch to make.  The first time that I prepared it, I served it for Shabbos lunch to the rave reviews of my guests.

You can easily substitute any type of pulled chicken or pulled beef.

pulled turkey pizza

INGREDIENTS

one refrigerated pizza dough

2 cups of Crockpot Pulled Turkey

water

3 roasted sweet potatoes or 1 large can yams

1/2 cup sautéed onions or french fried onions

arugula (optional)

DIRECTIONS

On a pan lined with parchment paper, roll out pizza dough to a large circle or to rectangle.

Arrange roasted sweet potatoes or canned yams on top of rolled dough.  Mash sweet potatoes or yams until the entire crust is covered, spreading mashed yams to the edge of the dough.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes until the dough is firm.

Add water to pulled turkey until turkey is very moist but not dripping with liquid.

Scatter pulled turkey over sweet potato mash.  Sprinkle with sautéed or fried onions.

Optionally, scatter wilted arugula leaves and your favorite sauce over pizza.

Enjoy!

 

Aufruf Rice Krispies Treat Cake

rice krispie cake with flowers

This past Erev Shabbos was a busy one.  My father’s chemo day has been moved to Thursday, so more of the Shabbos preparation has been piling up on Friday.  Aaron and Hindy were arriving for Shabbos.  Guests were coming for Seuda Shlishis (third meal) Shabbos afternoon.  I needed to run to Monsey for a nursing home visit.  Candle lighting was at 4:12 PM.   And, there was so much to get done.  Thankfully, we had an aufruf to look forward to attending Shabbos morning.

I woke up before 5 AM on a mission.   All the ingredients were on hand, but not much of the cooking had been started.  I had been too exhausted on Thursday to start my Shabbos cooking, but thank G-d, I had plenty of energy early Friday morning to accomplish all that I had to do.

I decided to start with the funnest part of the Shabbos preparation.  I used my large soup pot to make the Rice Krispies Treats batter for the Aufruf Cake and decorated the top with simple Marshmallow Tulips.  After turning the cake onto a doily, I placed it on one of my Upcycled Chalkboard Chargers and wrote a mazel tov wish in metallic marker right on the charger.

Now, off to the Shabbos cooking marathon:  chicken soupcholentBroccoli Kugelfarrogrilled chickenmeatballs, stuffed turkey breast, cranberry relish, Tomato Medley with Arugula Pestobaked apples and more!

 

 

Tomato Medley with Arugula Pesto

Don loves arugula.  He will eat a bag of arugula as a snack.

I love tomatoes.

In fact, my mother has told me that “tomato” was my first word.  I pronounced it as “apimanus” and would do anything for a tomato.  I still will.  I just think that the juiciness, sweetness and unique character of a tomato makes a salad complete.

And, nowadays, tomatoes are available in all shapes and colors.  There are yellow pear tomatoes and brown kumato tomatoes.  There are beefsteak and grape tomatoes, cherry and low-acid tomatoes.

And, most are available year-round in your local markets.  Best of all, tomatoes are very simple to check for kashrut (kosher status) as their structure rarely allows for insect infestation.

Recently, a group of our friends joined to prepare an exquisite and delicious Sheva Brochos (seven day wedding after-party) for our newly married children, Yitzchok Aaron and Hindy.   There was gorgeous china and stemware.  The tablecloths were elegant and beautiful.  Every delicious home-cooked dish was impeccably prepared and served.

But, for me, the stand-out memory of the evening was the tomato salad.  It was a beefsteak tomato salad served in stout chunks with the most incredible pesto drizzled on top.  It was gorgeous, fresh and simply delicious.

Last night, my aunt and uncle came to visit my parents who are living with us.  They were coming from quite a distance and were due to arrive around dinnertime.  I had been busy all day with my mother and we arrived home later than expected.  Before I left that morning, I had prepared a crockpot lentil soup and set a simple brisket  and Simple Rainbow Roasted Vegetables in my oven on time-bake.

What I had left for the end was the salad.  I knew that I had some pre-checked lettuce and other assorted vegetables in my refrigerator bin.  Thirty minutes before their arrival, I opened the bin to begin preparing the salad.  All my salad ingredients, including the checked lettuce were gone.  All that remained were tomatoes, onions and arugula.

And, oh, there were tomatoes!  I had containers of every type of tomato imaginable.  There were yellow pear tomatoes and brown kumato tomatoes.  There were grape tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, but no beefsteak tomatoes. Last week, all the local markets had interesting tomatoes at great prices, so I had stocked up.  And, my salad thieves had barely touched the tomatoes.

So, what was there to do?  My mind raced back to the Sheva Brochos tomato fantasy.  I had never received the recipe, but in my mind, I knew exactly what to do.  And, the results were even better than the original and approved by all my guests.

INGREDIENTS

Tomatoes, sliced

Arugula, washed and pat dry

1/2 onion, cut in chunks

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

 
DIRECTIONS

Wash and cut tomatoes.  If using large tomatoes, cut into thick slices.  Arrange in a bowl or on a serving platter.

heirloom tomatoes alone.jpg

In the food processor fitted with the s-blade, pulse onion chunks and well-dried arugula.  Once the onion and arugula are completely broken down, add lemon, salt and oil and process until well combined.

arugula pesto.jpg

Right before serving, pour pesto over the tomatoes.  Enjoy!

 

heirloom tomatoes w arugula pesto on plate

KOSHER NOTES

Kosher laws disallow the eating of any whole insects and therefore most greens require a process of soaking, rinsing and in some cases, pureeing.  Kashrut authorities differ somewhat on the proper checking of leafy vegetables. This blog was not designed to be your kosher authority, so please consult your local rabbinic authority regarding using greens such as arugula.

SERVING SUGGESTION

For an interesting appetizer, side dish or buffet option, decant tomatoes into a glass.  Top with arugula pesto and garnish with a small bread stick or crouton.

heirloom tomatoes w arugula pesto in glass.jpg

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Crockpot Pulled Turkey

 

pulled turkey w logo

Every day is Thanksgiving.  That is my corollary to my mother’s cardinal rule of “every day is Mother’s Day.”  Feeling gratitude is an ongoing and essential goal and should not be limited to any one day of the year.  And,  I love so many of the traditional foods associated with Thanksgiving like  turkey, pumpkin  and cranberries.  As these ingredients begin to become available at our local markets, I buy them, hoping to find new and improved ways to use them.

Giving thanks is such a pivotal tenet in Judaism.  Each Jewish holiday commemorates something that has occured for which we are to feel gratitude.  The word for thanks in Hebrew is תודה, which is rooted in acknowledment, humility and praise.  The virtue of humility is based upon showing gratitude to G-d for what we have and not ascribing all that we have to our own strength and prowess.

This particular Thanksgiving season is poignant and special for me.  My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer several months ago and my parents have moved in with our family as my father undergoes his experimental chemotherapy treatments.  As challenging as these few months have been, they have been so beautiful, as well.  Going through each season with my parents and gleaning wisdom and life lessons from my parents has been a treasure and a privilege.   It is something for which I give eternal gratitude to G-d.  I pray for strength, support and positivity to help us traverse this challenge.  Focusing on the aspects for which to show gratitude has transformed these difficult times into an opportunity for Thanksgiving.

This morning, I bought the first fresh turkey breast for the season and I intended to make it memorable.  I placed the turkey breast in a crockpot and topped it with sliced Vidalia onions and a handful of garlic cloves.  I poured barbecue sauce and water over the top and set the crockpot temperature setting to high for eight hours.

I came home to the most delicious Thanksgiving aroma.  After removing the bones, I shredded the turkey.

Voila!

PULLED TURKEY SERVING SUGGESTION.jpg

 

INGREDIENTS

Half of a turkey breast on the bone
1-2 onions, peeled and cut into rings
8-10 medium garlic cloves
1 cup water
2/3 cup barbecue sauce

DIRECTIONS

Place all ingredients in the crockpot.  Set crockpot to high and cook for 6-8 hours.  Turkey should be falling off the bones when ready.

Remove and discard bines,  Using two large forks held tines to tines, shred or pull the turkey.  Add several tablespoons of extra water and barbecue sauce, if turkey needs to be moistened

SERVING SUGGESTIONS

 

Marshmallow Tulips

marshmallow flowers in arrangement.jpg

On Shabbos Bereishis (Genesis), we were still in Israel after spending Sukkos and Simchas Torah there.  Our favorite shul (synagogue) is located in the Jerusalem Municipality complex and is attended by a mix of neighborhood residents and guests.  It is such an awesome cross-section of the various types of Jews living and visiting nearby.  It is a potpourri of Chassidim, Yeshivish families and Modern Orthodox Jews and every type of Jew philosophically in-between.  Our shul hosts people from all parts of the world, all walks of life and all ages.  Best of all, there is a warm connection between all those who pray within.  It is a tiny oasis of tefilla (prayer) and friendship in the holy city of Jerusalem.

On that particular Shabbos, there was a Bar Mitzvah being hosted in the shul.  As the Bar Mitzvah boy was called to the Torah, his nine siblings stood at attention for his aliyah (calling to the Torah).  In the woman’s balcony rising above the bimah (Torah table) were his proud mother and six identically dressed sisters, ranging in age from two to twelve years old.  The older sisters brought candies which they showered down upon their brother.  Carefully displayed in plastic bags were candy flowers that were hand-designed and distributed to the young girls in the women’s balcony section.   They were simple colorful marshmallows, each skewered with a sour belt sepal.

The flowers were colorful and gorgeous.  They piqued my interest because they were so simple and yet so beautiful.   Their beauty belies the unity of the ingredients and the simplicity of their design. And, yet, these flowers transport me instantly to that special place in Jerusalem that, for me,  represents its own blend of unity and beauty.

marshmallow flower

INGREDIENTS AND SUPPLIES

colorful marshmallows

green sour belts

short wooden skewers

 

DIRECTIONS

On each skewer, fold each end of the sour belt toward the center, securing both ends on the pointy end of the skewer. leaving close to an inch at the top for the marshmallow.

Place a marshmallow at the tip of the pointed end of the skewer, gently pushing downward until secure.

 

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Basic Rice Krispies Treats

INGREDIENTS
1 large jar of marshmallow fluff
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 box of  Rice Krispies cereal

 

DIRECTIONS

Over low heat in a large pot, melt butter or margarine.   Add marshmallow fluff and stir until completely melted.  Remove from heat.  Add Rice Krispies, 2 cups at a time.   Using a firm spatula, stir until well combined.

 

ALTERNATIVE MICROWAVE METHOD

Melt marshmallow fluff in microwave for 30 seconds.

If marshmallow fluff is melted enough to mix,  pour 1-2 cups of Rice Krispies into an extra-large bowl, add a large dollup of marshmallow fluff  and mix with a firm spatula until combined.  Return unused marshmallow fluff to microwave and melt for 20 second increments, adding a dollup at a time with more Rice Krispies until all the marshmallow fluff and Rice Krispies have been used and the mixture is evenly combined.

 

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A No-Bake Wedding Cake

 

rice_krispies_cake

Mazel tov!

On Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night), we offered a L’Chaim to the newest couple in our Respler family.  Lawrence proposed to Sara on a rooftop in Manhattan.  The family gathered in Queens as the engagement became official.  The atmosphere was electric as we awaited the arrival of this new couple at Sara’s family home in Queens just a few hours after havdola (ceremony terminating Shabbos).

As Shabbos concluded in New Jersey,  we prepared to travel to Queens.  I didn’t want to arrive at the L’Chaim empty handed.  I thought long and hard about what I could bring that was festive, whimsical, simple to prepare and could safely anchor the love birds from Yitzchok Aaron and Hindy’s Floral Arrangement.

Davida had been home for Shabbos with two of her terrific friends, Alyssa and Elana.  All three had helped all Shabbos long with our Shabbos meals’ setup and cleanup and were on board for the task of preparing this cake.  I had showed them the package of  new chosson-kallah (bride and groom) embellishments that had just returned with me from my latest trip to Jerusalem.  I loved that the chosson was wearing a glittery kippa on his head and the kallah was wearing a wedding dress with sleeves.   I joked that since there were a dozen embellishments in the package, if each one of these young women were one of the next twelve friends and family to find their bashert (chosen spouse) soon, I would save an embellishment for each of them.

The task was simpler than expected.  I repurposed a rose-shaped silicone mold.  Davida prepared a batch of Rice Krispies Treats and I packed the batter firmly into the pan.  After a short few minutes, I inverted the mold onto some wax paper.  I pressed the love birds and the Chosson-Kallah skewers into the cake and the SimpletoWow wedding cake was ready to go.

Mazel tov!

 

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A Shabbos of Grapes

This Shabbos, I spoke at the aufruf of my son, Yitzchok Aaron.  It is attached for those who have asked for it to be published.

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When contemplating a theme for this Aufruf, the choice was simple. The Gemara in Pesachim quotes    “Inveihagefen be’invei hagefen davar na’ah umiskabeil” — “The mingling of vine grapes with other vine grapes is a beautiful and acceptable thing.”  We’ve heard this quoted by so many of our friends and family with regards to the shidduch between YA and Hindy.

So, I thought we would explore together what exactly this means.

On the surface, we understand that this refers to the union of two well-matched individuals.  As I am fond of saying, “a good marriage is when two people with good qualities find each other.  A great marriage is when 1+1 is greater than 2, when these two people become a force together.”

At Yitzchok Aaron’s bris, I spoke (yes, YA, a woman spoke at your bris , even in Passaic).  I told the story of two men, two grape vines, one named Chaim Dovid Fischbein and another named YA Kramer.  I told of how Chaim Dovid, the proud yekkie,  left his wife and family in Israel after the war and tried to make a living on the shores of the US, hoping to bring them over.   I told of Chaim Dovid’s commitment to Shabbos and how it was so hard for him to hold down a job in America as a Shabbos-observant Holocaust survivor when a six-day workweek was expected.

I told of YA Kramer who was a fruits and vegetables dealer whose real career was to help people after the war.  I recounted how these two men met and how YA helped Chaim Dovid during those lonely and difficult years.  I told of how YA lived with broken-down furniture so that he could help people like Chaim Dovid who had lost their family and their lives in WW2 Europe.

I didn’t know then that YA was to be my only son, but I felt that the first boy’s name should be for Yitzchok Aaron Kramer, Don’s  Zaidy, as a token of appreciation for all that he had done for Chaim Dovid Fischbein, my Opa, financially and emotionally.

YA, that is precisely what invei hagefen means.  It is the entwining of two types of grapes that is so beautiful and acceptable to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

We are honored and humbled by the mingling of the Resplers with the Shippels because we want your vintage to be the entwining of so many of the beautiful qualities possessed by the Shippels.  Their warmth and the chinuch and goodness that they impart to their children and to the world is breathtaking.

In just about every place that I have lived, we have planted a grapevine.  So, I know a thing or two about grapes and these are some of the interesting facts:

1) The quality and makeup of the soil determines the taste and quality of the grape and its wine

2) A grapevine requires the support of an outside structure and employs tendrils to adhere the vine to its support for strength and endurance

3) The vine trellises upward but its fruit hang downward

4) Every grape consists of sucrose, tanins and acids

From these grape-related facts, I’d like to weave some simple to wow marriage lessons for you, YA, as you leave our home and embark on your life together with Hindy.

1) The quality and makeup of the soil determines taste and quality.

Make sure to look toward the roots of the Cohen/Respler and Wassner/Shippel families.  You don’t have to look too far back to find great role models.  You have an “Aba” who is the paradigm of Torah hasmada.  You have your Bubby, Zaidy and Savta who set the Chesed bar high and of course, you will find so many of these sterling qualities in the roots of the Shippel and Wassner families, too.

2) Just as the grapevine uses tendrils to attach and receive strength and support from an outside structure, make sure to find friends, role models and Rabbeim who help you grow in strength and offer support to you and Hindy as you continue to grow together.

3) The vine trellises upward but its fruit hang downward.  

As you grow upward, always remember to remain humble and consider where you came from.  Always aspire to great heights and never look down on others who are not  where you are yet.

4) And finally, every grape consists of sucrose, tanins and acids.

It is the sweet and sour that work together in the fermentation of the wine.  Hashem will give you sweet and sour times.  Make sure to use them both to ferment your own vintage.

As we send you off to marriage, please remember the humble grape that becomes elevated once it is squeezed.  While the grape has the prominence of being one of the shiva minim in its own right, it takes on a whole new kedusha profile once it is squeezed.  We know this by the change of bracha.  While a grape is a ha’etz, the grape juice and wine produced from the grape has the brocho of hagefen.  The product of the grape will beH be part of your marriage ceremony next week as we recite the hagefen and so many other beautiful brochos under the chuppah.

May your life with Hindy retain the kedusha of each of you individually and take on its own blend of kedusha as you create your own vintage that grows better and better with age.

Mazel tov!

Love Birds Floral Arrangement

love birds arrangement 3

This week is one where we have been basking in the beauty, delight and joy of a new couple in our lives.  Our son, Yitzchak Aaron, has announced his engagement to Hindy Shippel.  As we welcome Hindy into our family, we feel humbled by the enormity of the gift of this union between two families.  My parents, who are now staying with us, have been actively involved in this shidduch and my father especially has been delighting in the details of their courtship.

We were in Israel for the past two weeks and wedding-themed accessories seemed to be everywhere.  Hindy and Yitzchok Aaron’s effervescence has been infectious and my father called Israel occasionally to provide updates on them, always referring to them as the “love birds”.

So, when I found a pair of Styrofoam wedding birds in a store in Israel, I just couldn’t resist buying them.   The groom was wearing a black top hat and the bride was decked out in a tulle veil.  They were charming and delightful.  The five-shekel price was perfect and I knew that I would find the ideal opportunity to use them.

The lovebirds accompanied me home and were unpacked.  They patiently sat on my kitchen counter in their package.  Yitzchok Aaron and Hindy announced their engagement Wednesday night, just hours after we arrived in New Jersey.  The past thirty-six hours were a whirlwind.  And, I forgot about the Styrofoam love birds.

Yesterday, I picked up a 3 for $12 flower special at Shoprite along with the basic groceries to restock my refrigerator.  Still basking in the wedding spirit, I chose all white flowers.  I purchased two bunches of hydrangeas and one bunch of calla lilies.  I cut them down to size and arranged them into my hallway vase.

And, as I was bringing the vase back to the front hall, I encountered the love birds.  After positioning them atop my new arrangement, they too are basking in the excitement of this simcha.

Creamy Mushroom Tortellini Soup

This blog is about preparing simple things that create a wow.  Simplifying recipes and preparations without sacrificing taste and presentation has really become an art form for me.

One of the “aha” things that I have discovered is that simple really is better.  It really is best to prepare a few delicious signature dishes with just enough variations to keep things interesting.  And, sometimes, a memorable meal can be created from just one recipe.

It creates less mess.  It creates less stress. And, it creates less waste.

This recipe is just that.  It is simple enough.  It is delicious and hearty.  And, the wow factor is that it is an entire meal in one bowl.

Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons oil or butter
2-3 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 cartons mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup wine
4-6 cups water
1/2 cup milk or cream
4-6 ounces frozen cheese tortellini
1 tablespoon salt
dash black pepper
directions

DIRECTIONS
Over medium-high heat, heat oil in a heavy-bottom stock pot. Add onions and garlic and cook until just starting to turn golden brown. Add sliced mushrooms and cook until mushrooms have softened and are releasing some liquid, about 10-15 minutes. Add wine and water and stir until combined and soup is just beginning to boil. Reduce heat to low and add milk or cream and stir until slightly thickened, a few minutes.

Carefully add tortellini and turn heat to high. Once tortellini float to top, lower heat to medium and cook for several minutes more, until tortellini are cooked through. Shut heat and cover pot until ready to serve.

Farro: The New Farfel

My son, Aaron, loves farfel.  It is his go-to Shabbos side dish and he looks forward to it every Shabbos.  Aaron likes it not too soggy with just the right amount of fried onions.  Most Friday mornings, Aaron offers to prepare farfel for himself.  Most Fridays, I rush to make it for him because his idea of a cleaned-up kitchen and mine are very different.

A few months ago, I prepared farro with sauteed onions in the rice cooker.  After running some errands, I discovered that the farro had been nearly finished.  Both Aaron and Leah sheepishly told me that they couldn’t resist “tasting” the farro and that it tasted just like farfel.    So, farro has now become the not-so-heimishe farfel.

And, cooking it in the rice cooker has taken the time, effort and guesswork out of preparing our not-so-heimeshe farfel.

 INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 tablespoons oil
1 onion
1 cup farro
2 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
dash of black pepper

DIRECTIONS

In a saute or fry pan, saute onion in oil, until soft and just turning brown.  Using a rubber spatula, scrape onions with oil into a rice cooker, reserving a spoonful for garnish.

Add farro, water and seasonings to rice cooker. gently stir to combine.  Cook until ready. All the water should be absorbed and the farro will be soft and golden-brown when ready.  Garnish with remaining onions.

farro the new farfel.jpg

Pulled Beef Babka

pulled beef babka ready to eat.jpg

Today’s stormy and snowy weather in the Northeast was already predicted several days ago.  The first snow of the season is exciting, especially when it greets us before Thanksgiving.  Although Thursdays typically are spent in the car, I sorted out my day to start early and finish in the early afternoon, before the storm was to hit.

I arrived home just as the snow was beginning to accumulate and I headed to the kitchen.   My kitchen faces the backyard and as I cook,  I can enjoy the snowflakes and the changing landscape.   With my head full of new recipe ideas and the snowflakes arriving furiously, I began to cook in the snow.

snowy backyard.jpg

The idea of a savory pulled beef babka has been consuming me.  I had already prepared pulled beef to serve Friday night and I had been mulling over the simplest way to transform some of the pulled beef into a savory babka to serve for Shabbos lunch.  One of my favorite shortcuts is to prepare one dish and serve it in a multitude of different ways.  Pulled beef is that type of recipe.

I thought long and hard about how to prepare this simply with minimal cleanup.  And, I think I nailed it.  Because, it really was simple to prepare.  And, it was easy to clean up afterward.  Best of all, the pulled beef babka was delicious and gorgeous.

Now, let’s see what my fifteen Shabbos guests say!

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. pizza dough or challah dough
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
2 cups thinly shredded  Pulled Beef

 

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

On a large piece of parchment paper, roll the pizza dough out into the thinnest rectangle that you can.

pulled beef dough rolled out.jpg

Spread the pulled beef onto the top of the rolled-out dough, leaving up to an inch of dough all around.

pulled beef babka spread over dough.jpg

Roll the dough jelly-roll style until completely rolled up.

Cut the roll in two lengthwise down the center.

Carefully twist the two jelly roll logs together, trying to keep the twists together as much as possible.  If some of the pulled beef protrudes, don’t worry.  Those pulled beef pieces on the surface will caramelize during baking and will add extra flavor and texture.

pulled beef babka twisted and ready for loaf pan.jpg

Carefully place the parchment paper into a loaf pan, trimming the edges if necessary.  Stick some extra pulled beef and brush extra barbecue sauce on top.

Bake until golden brown, about 40-50 minutes.

pulled beef babka ready to eat

Remove from the loaf pan and slice. Serve warm.

pulled beef babka slice.jpg

TIPS

Prepare a large batch of  Pulled Beef and serve the rest over rice or farfel

Tear open a paper bag and work over the inside of the bag.  Roll everything up after this messy preparation to save cleaning up loose flour and dough bits.

 

Yerushalmi Kugel Reinvented

yerushami kugel reinvented.jpg

Kaitlyn’s husband, Aaron, joined the family six years ago.  On our first Shabbos together, I prepared Susie Fischbein’s Yerushalmi Kugel from her Kosher by Design cookbook.  Aaron, always the gentleman, complimented the kugel profusely, telling me that it reminded him of a delicious kugel he had tasted in the Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem years ago.  Trying to impress my new son-in-law, I prepared that same kugel for him each and every time he would come for Shabbos.

I served him Yerushalmi kugel every Shabbos for the first four years they were married.

Yes, four years.

To be fair,  when I joined the Respler family, my father-in-law a’h would bring a bottle of Ginger Ale to the Shabbos table every time I visited.  He knew how much I enjoyed Ginger Ale.  And, I noticed.  And, thirty years later I no longer savor Ginger Ale, though Ginger Ale still makes me think of Dad.

Over time and with a gentle comment from Kaitlyn, I came to realize that although delicious,  this kugel needed a break.

I guess times have changed.  And, just maybe, Yerushalmi Kugel is different than my favorite soda.

I stopped preparing Yerushalmi Kugel for Aaron.  And, I let it go.

That is, I let it go until the last time Kaitlyn and Aaron visited.  After all, it was nearly two years since I stopped the Yerushalmi Kugel barrage.

I reinvented the Yerushalmi Kugel recipe.  It is now simpler.  It does not use margarine.  It has less sugar.  And, it looks like a challah.

I served it once again.  Aaron just smiled.

yerushami kugel reinvented.jpg

 

INGREDIENTS

4  cups water
1/2 cup oil
2/3 cup sugar
1  tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
12 ounces fine egg noodles, uncooked
2 eggs
4 tablespoons  brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

SUPPLIES

silicone challah mold

DIRECTIONS

In a large pot, bring the water, oil, sugar, pepper and salt to a boil.  Turn off the heat and add the uncooked egg noodles. Stir. Cover the pot and let stand for at least 15 minutes.
In a separate bowl,  combine eggs, brown sugar and oil.  Add mixture to the noodle mixture and stir until well combined.

Generously grease pan or silicone challah mold with nonstick spray.  Brush generously with oil or coat with parchment paper.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 375 degrees F for 1-1/2 hours.

Remove kugel from the pan immediately when done.

Enjoy!

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Pink Baby Carriage Cookies: Simple to Wow

For Charley’s kiddush, Davida prepared these adorable carriage cookies.

They really were Simple to Wow!

baby girl carriages

INGREDIENTS

Hadar-Tirosh chocolate half-moon biscuits
Paskesz mini Oreo cookies
frosting
Pink piping or frosting

DIRECTIONS

Using a small spatula coated with frosting, adhere two half-moon cookies together at right angles to create base of carriage.  Since these cookies are double-sided,  use the vanilla side for the base of the carriage and the chocolate-side for the carriage hood.

With a dab of frosting, adhere two wheels to front of cookie carriage.  Pipe lines on hood of carriage for additional decoration.

baby girl carriages

Marshmallow Ballerinas for Kiddush

ballerina marshmallows

So many of you have remarked that they missed the blog posts over the summer.  I did too!

The summer was a hectic one and brought with it some exciting new house-mates and a brand new granddaughter.  Michelle and Scotty moved into our home in July, in preparation for the birth of their first child and their move to Atlanta.  Charlotte Jennifer בתי-ה  (Charlie) was born on August 6th and joined our family home, too, until after Yom Kippur.

charley barley

Charlie is named for Scotty’s maternal grandmother, Beverly בתי-ה (Batya) Deutsch of Los Angeles.  We have been regaled with the stories of Mrs. Deutsch’s delicious and generous cooking and her deliveries of massive amounts of sumptuous food to members of her community.  Although we never had the opportunity to meet Charlie’s namesake,  we feel like we have met Mrs. Deutsch through Scotty’s Mom,  June, as she embodies so many of her own mother’s virtues.

We hope and pray that our Charlie will fill the tall shoes of her namesake and open her own heart and home to others as her maternal great-grandmother has done.   It is a great legacy and we have great hopes and dreams for little Charlie.  After all, food is a universal symbol of love and Charlie’s life right now centers around her feeding schedule.

To welcome Charlie, we hosted a kiddush luncheon for our family and friends on the Shabbos that she was named.      It is a Jewish custom to host a Shabbos morning kiddush to honor the birth of a baby girl.  The concept of a kiddush for a baby girl is an opportunity to thank G-d for this enormous gift and for others to bless the new child that she be raised לַתּוֹרָה לָחֻפָּה וּלְמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים  (to Torah, wedding and good deeds)It is also to sanctify the importance of Jewish women and their vital role in Jewish learning and survival.

We learn throughout Tanach (Bible) and history that the Matriarchs and their female descendants graciously guided their families and ultimately, our nation through difficult family and historical challenges.   After all, Jewish identity follows matrilineal descent.   Jewish women were the ones who made seemingly small moves that changed the course of our nation’s history and who danced with Miriam at the Splitting of the Sea to celebrate the good that had been bestowed upon them.   In Jewish families, the mother is entrusted to feed and love her children physically and spiritually.  Her responsibility is to delicately instill faith in G-d and observance of mitzvos (good deeds) in her family.   We hope and pray that Charlie fulfills the potential in her name.  May she steer her own family through life’s travails and dance through  life’s simchas (joys).

To celebrate this special occasion, I created a stage of spinning ballerinas with the help of June, Scotty’s mother.  It was an adorable centerpiece that really was simple to create.

Let Charlie’s first act begin!

ballerina marshmallows

SUPPLIES

stryrofoam block
pink tablecloth
pink ribbon, matched to width of Styrofoam
gold ball toothpicks
white cupcake papers
stapler

INGREDIENTS

1 package large marshmallows
1 package mini marshmallows
pink sanding sugar
white or pink icing

DIRECTIONS

Place pink tablecloth underneath stryrofoam block and add a 6 inch perimeter all the way around Styrofoam.  Cut tablecloth to size and wrap tablecloth around Styrofoam, tucking in corners neatly as if wrapping a gift.  Staple tablecloth to bottom of Styrofoam in as many places as necessary to secure the tablecloth to the styrofoam, making sure to reinforce corners with extra staples.  Staple or glue ribbon around perimeter of the lined Styrofoam creating the ballerina stage.

For each ballerina, dab icing on the bottom of each large marshmallow.  Dip the marshmallow into the pink sanding sugar, creating the decorative collar.

Using icing as paste, glue one mini marshmallow to the top of each large marshmallow and a cupcake paper to the bottom of each large marshmallow.  Allow to dry.

Using the large end of each of the gold ball toothpicks, pierce each ballerina marshmallow carefully through the cupcake paper end.  set up each ballerina on the stage, opening up the cupcake paper tutus to move in different directions.

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, which means I earn a small commission if you click and make a purchase.

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DIY Sanding Sugar

Sanding sugar adds a wow to so many of my simplest desserts.  While some recipes call for sanding sugar in colors that are impossible to find, others call for such minute or such immense quantity that it makes no sense to purchase.   And, sanding sugar is so simple to create in exactly the hue that you need using two simple ingredients.

Wow!

 

INGREDIENTS
1 cup sugar
food coloring

Combine 1 cup of sugar with food coloring, adding drops of food coloring until the desired hue and depth of color is reached.  Either pulse in food processor, using the s-blade or combine in a ziploc bag, kneading on outside of bag until well-combined.

Sukka Clouds of Glory

IMG_4857.jpg

Sunday night is the beginning of the holiday of Sukkos,  סוכות.  We are preparing for the holiday in Jerusalem amid a flurry of shopping, building and cooking.  To commemorate Sukkos, we constructed a temporary home called a Sukka that we use during this week-long holiday.   Our Sukka is built to commemorate the protective clouds of glory provided by G-d for the Jews in their sojourn in the desert after leaving Egypt.   These clouds of glory were miraculous in that they protected the jewish nation on all sides as they traveled through the inhospitable desert for forty years.

It is customary to decorate the Sukka by hanging decorations.   Every year, I add to my Sukka decoration repertoire.   This year, I decided to decorate the Sukka with clouds of glory.   The implementation really was simple.   And, I think the symbolic significance is a wow.

IMG_4856

SUPPLIES

12″ clear balloons
white cotton balls
fish line or twine

DIRECTIONS

For each balloon, take 7-10 cotton balls and stretch them to make them look cloud-like.

Holding the balloon at the neck, stretch the balloon neck and stuff the stretched-out cotton into the base of the balloon.

Blow up the cotton-stuffed balloon to the desired size.   Tie at the neck and secure to the Sukka..

Happy Sukkos!

My Grilled Chicken Mentor

My mother is one of the most persistent and resourceful people that I know. Nowadays, when I look in the mirror, I see my mother. And, I’ve learned so much from her determination.

During my childhood, my mother went back to college and then to law school. We grew up eating cereal for dinner most nights and we were okay with that, because that was our reality. My mother had never taken algebra or writing classes before college and my father tutored her along the fourteen year path from Math 101 to LSAT’s until her graduation from Law School.

It all started years before when she appeared in court for a traffic violation. As she explained the position of her car and the related facts, the judge was visibly impressed. He asked what her line of work was. She replied, “I’m a Hebrew school teacher.” The judge then asked, “And, what does your husband do?” My mother answered, “He’s a rabbinic student.” The judge then gave her a life-altering piece of advice before waiving the ticket. He simply said, “When you are done pulling your husband through Rabbinic school, ask him to pull you through Law School. You have the underpinnings of a great lawyer.”

That judge’s understanding of law was infinitely better than his comprehension of the Torah lifestyle that my parents had chosen.    After all, Torah is a lifetime pursuit and my mother never stopped “pulling my father through Rabbinic school”.  But, my mother listened carefully to his encouraging words and put the wheels in motion.   Her own father had been studying in Law School before the Holocaust and never completed his education. His dream was that one of his children would carry on that legacy.  Until the judge’s comment, my mother had never imagined that she would be the child to fulfill her father’s dream.

Fourteen years of education pursuing that dream as a working mother of four lively children had its challenges. And, it was not the typical course for a kollel (Rabbinic student) wife, especially in those days.   There were many nights where we attended college and law school with my mother.  And, there were those snarky comments from those that just didn’t understand or agree with the dream.  But, with G-d’s help, we all persevered and celebrated when my mother passed the Ohio Bar on the first try, after those long and difficult years of study.

And, then we began worrying.  How would my mother, the perennial student, manage as a self-employed attorney?  The fourteen years began when I was in fourth grade and now I was newly married and living elsewhere.   How would my mother transition from the theoretical to the practical?  How would she find the practical expertise to help her clients?

And, the worries persisted for only a short while.  Because, my mother was vested in the transition from school to practice.  My mother was determined to become the expert in certain aspects of law and she lacked the practical know-how.  Law school had taught her so much of the theoretical, but there were gaping holes in her practical application of the law.  And, her persistence, creativity  and resourcefulness were up to this new challenge.

My mother found mentors.   And, not just any mentors.  She sought out the experts in Cleveland in the areas of law in which she needed help.

She called the top Cleveland lawyers in each area of law expertise.  She introduced herself, gave a brief description of her background and asked if they would be willing to do a good deed and mentor her.  When they asked how she had found them, she told them that they were well-known as the experts in that area of law and she would be honored to have them as her mentors.

Just about every one of these top-notch attorneys agreed to mentor my mother.  They were kind, helpful and attentive to her and she was most appreciative of their assistance.  When she felt that she knew enough to manage on her own, she sent each one of these lawyers a small gift with a handwritten thank you note in her large scrawl.

That is mentoring done right.

It had worked so well for my mother that I tried it on my best friend, Lori.  In our house, she is the grilled chicken guru.  I had a long way to go to preparing the perfect grilled chicken.  So, I called Lori before Purim  and asked if she would mentor me by helping me prepare the grilled chicken for our Purim seuda (feast) on our grill so that I could watch and learn.

I learned how to grill chicken properly.  Mostly, I learned that I would never be able to match Lori’s meticulousness.  She had a cutting board and special knife set up for slicing each piece of chicken down the middle and a stopwatch for timing everything perfectly.

There was one important take-away from our backyard mentoring session that I have been implementing.  I never leave the backyard while anything is on the grill.  Although I skip the cutting board and stopwatch, I watch the grill fastidiously, making sure to turn and remove everything in the right time.  There are occasions that will test the doneness of my grilled chicken by slicing the thickest one open to check that there is no pink in the middle.  I leave the perfection to Lori and I thank her because the mentoring paid off immeasurably.

grilled chicken.jpg

Now, for some grilling tips:

(1) Use a great marinade and marinate for at least a few hours or overnight.  The marinade will tenderize and flavor the chicken.

(2) Clean your grill and spray with cooking spray before placing the chicken on the grill.

(3) Use your hot spots on the grill for the thickest pieces of chicken and cooler spots for the smallest pieces.

(4) Stay vigilant!  Do not leave your backyard until the chicken is ready.  Turn and remove pieces as they are ready.

(5) Make the grilled chicken yours by serving with torn fresh herbs, salsa or a homemade sauce.

Happy grilling!

Tisha B’Av: The Sour and the Sweet

 

 

The Hebrew date for this Shabbos is the Ninth of Av.   Tisha B’Av throughout history has been a day of Jewish national tragedy and great hope throughout the ages. Since Shabbos is designated as a day of joy rather than mourning, this year, we commemorate Tisha B’Av on Sunday, instead.

The calamities of Tisha B’Av began on this date in 1313 BCE with the pessimistic report of the twelve spies who returned from assessing the land of Israel.  Most of the spies reported that Israel would be impossible to conquer due to the giant inhabitants.  Only Caleb and Joshua spoke of the true beauty and blessing of the land of Israel.  That night, the Jewish nation cried, heeding the unfortunate pessimism of the spies.   On that fateful night, G-d warned us that this day would be one set aside for meaningful punishment and tears throughout the ages.

And so it has been.

As a nation, we have experienced so many Jewish tragedies on this fateful day:

The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE

The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE

The city of Beitar was destroyed by the Romans in 135 CE and the Jewish population of that city was annihilated.

Turnus Rufus, a Roman warrior, plowed the city of Jerusalem in 135 CE.

On this ominous date, the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and from Spain in 1492.

Germany entered World War I in 1914

SS commander Heinrich Himmler received formal approval for The Final Solution and thus began the Holocaust.

In 1942, the Jews were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto.

We cry for the pain of the losses, the devastation and  for the light of the connection to G-d. We shed tears over what we had and what we have lost.

However, we must find hope in our sadness, sweetness in the sourness of the past tragedies.  Our tears should not be the pessimistic tears cried by our ancestors on the night the spies returned.  They should be meaningful tears based upon the optimism and connection of Joshua and Caleb.  After all, pain indicates that we are alive and feeling.  Crying for so many centuries shows that we are still connected to the Holy Temple and the presence of G-d.  The month of Av means father and we must feel the embrace of G-d, our father, through the sour past and into the sweet future.

The Jewish nation looks to our leaders who taught us to find light, meaning and hope, even at the darkest times.   After the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva was walking in Jerusalem with three other great Rabbis.   They saw a fox running among the ruins of the Holy of Holies of the Holy Temple. The Rabbis began to cry at this sight of utter devastation.  Famously, Rabbi Akiva began to laugh.  He explained “The joyous prophecy of Zechariah is contingent upon the sad prophecy of Uriah. Uriah’s prophecy was that ‘Zion shall be plowed like a field.’ Zechariah’s prophecy was that ‘The old men and women will return and sit in the streets of Jerusalem…’ I see that the prophecy of Uriah has been fulfilled, and now I know with certainty that the prophecy of Zechariah will come to fruition…”.

Tisha B’Av has been a day of darkness and devastation and yet, we hope for the light.  As Leonard Cohen famously sang, “There is a crack, a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in. ”

May the darkness of Tisha B’Av be tempered by the laughter of Rabbi Akiva’s clarity of fate and faith.   May the light enter our lives from a clear understanding of  the cracks in the darkness.  May the sweet replace the sour as we feel G-d’s embrace and we hope for the  Final Redemption and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

kotel rice krispie treats

For Shabbos, I prepared Rice Krispies Treats to represent the Kotel (Western Wall) stones.  I placed green Sour Sticks between the stones for a sweet/sour flavor and to represent the live greenery growing in the cracks of the Kotel stones.

 INGREDIENTS
1 jar of marshmallow fluff
3 tablespoons margarine
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal

1 small bag of green sour sticks

cooking spray

DIRECTIONS

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper.  Cut sour sticks into small pieces.

Over low heat, melt margarine. Add marshmallow fluff and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Add Rice Krispies, 2 cups at a time. Stir until well combined.

Using a wooden spoon or a firm silicone spatula, press Rice Krispies treats evenly onto lined baking sheet.

Cut into brick-like pieces and display on a rectangular or square platter.  Intersperse green sour sticks pieces between the Rice Krispies Treats.

Crunchy Broccoli Kugel

broccoli kugel with chips.jpg

 

By the time the three weeks rolls around, you, I no longer want to see bags of leftover Pesach (Passover) products.

Even if the bags are sealed.  And, especially if they have been flattened.

As I’m always trying to upcycle, the bag of Pesach potato sticks offered a new challenge.  I needed a way to use them in a way that would enhance my Shabbos menu.

Enter broccoli kugel.   We were hosting a mostly women’s Shabbos with two of my favorite of Leah’s friends joining us for Shabbos.  And, when that happens, we try to offer lots of vegetarian menu choices.

And, the gears started turning.  What if…I just used the potato sticks as a simple and crunchy topping to a broccoli kugel?  And this recipe was born.

My guests approved this simple, delicious and crunchy kugel for your viewing and tasting pleasure.

I’m sure you will love this recipe for its simplicity, texture and taste.

INGREDIENTS

1 bag (24 oz) chopped broccoli (see kosher notes)
1 large onion, sautéed
3 eggs
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup seltzer
1 1/3 teaspoon salt
dash of black pepper

1/2 cup crushed potato sticks or chips

DIRECTIONS

Steam broccoli in microwave until soft. Preheat oven 425 degrees F. Combine all ingredients except potato sand pour into a 9″ round pie dish. Crush potato sticks and sprinkle on top. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden brown on top.

KOSHER NOTES

Kosher laws disallow the eating of any whole insects and therefore broccoli requires a process of soaking, rinsing and in some cases, pureeing, unless purchased with a reputable kosher hashgacha (certification).  Kashrut authorities differ on the proper checking of broccoli.  This blog was not designed to be your kosher authority, so please consult your local rabbinic authority regarding using and preparing broccoli.

Simplest Friday Ciabatta Ever

ciabatta-in-a-bag

For those who have eaten at our home on Friday night, you most likely have tasted Davida’s delicious no-knead ciabatta.   Since Davida will be spending the next few weeks in Israel, I decided that it was high time to take the ciabatta preparation back and make it my own.

Making something my own usually means taking some shortcuts and simplifying the whole process.  It also means using fewer bowls and utensils because I hate the clean-up. Cleaning sticky dough off of counters, bowls, spoons and towels can really be a nightmare.  And, truth be told, I do not have Davida’s baking precision or patience, anyway.

This ciabatta is almost as good as Davida’s with a lot less fuss.  It can be made on the same day, although it requires a minimum of six hours of rising time.  It still has the trademark thick crust and dough full of air bubbles inside.

INGREDIENTS

3 cups of high-gluten or bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 3/4- cups of warm water
olive oil

a sprinkling of additional bench flour or cornmeal

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl,  toss flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.  Slowly pour in warm water, and knead with your hands or a large spoon until a soft sticky dough has formed without any spots or noticeable lumps.

Line a heavy loaf pan or narrow casserole dish with parchment paper and sprinkle a bit of bench flour or cornmeal.  Stretch dough out a few times to create air bubbles and place dough in parchment-lined loaf pan.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil on top of the dough and allow the dough to rise in a warm spot for at least six hours.

Lift dough with the parchment paper out of  the loaf pan and carefully leave on the counter or on a baking sheet.  Preheat the empty loaf pan in a 425 degree F oven for fifteen minutes.

Carefully remove preheated pan from oven (it will be very hot) and lift the waiting dough in its parchment paper back into loaf pan.   Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes or until top is a light golden brown.

Remove ciabatta from pan and allow to cool before slicing.

Enjoy!