Inspirations

Countdown to Shavuos: Floral Inspirations and Dairy Recipes

We are commanded to count 49 days or 7 weeks of sefira (counting) from Pesach until the holiday of Shavuos.  Every night after it gets dark, we make a bracha and count one more day toward Shavuos.  While Pesach commemorates our becoming a nation and our freedom after our miraculous exodus from Egypt, Shavuos commemorates our receiving of the commandments of the Torah.

There are two holiday customs that are unique to Shavuos.  We eat an assortment of dairy foods and we decorate our homes with flowers and greenery.  Both commemorate the events leading up to the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

We eat a dairy feast on Shavuos, unlike the festive meat meals that we enjoy  on all other holidays during the year.  We learn that “there is no great joy, except in meat and wine”.  On Shavuos we make an exception to that concept and eat at least one festive dairy meal.  There are a number of reasons for the custom on Shavuos to  eat dairy foods on Shavuos.  Here are a couple of those reasons:

As the Torah was received, the Jewish nation became obligated to observe the kosher laws. Since the Torah was given on Shabbos  as a day of rest, cattle could not be slaughtered and utensils could not be koshered.  For this reason, the Jewish nation ate dairy food on that day.  We have kept this custom until today.

The Torah is compared to milk, for it is nourishing and wholesome for our souls. Chalav is the Hebrew word for milk and the numerical value of the letters spelling chalav totals forty.  Moses spent forty (40) days on Mount Sinai when receiving the Torah .

We decorate our homes and synagogues in honor of Shavuos with greenery and flowers.   We commemorate the setting of the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and we mark the observance of Shavuos, known as chag ha’bikurim (festival of the harvest of first fruits). Here are some reasons that we decorate with flowers and greenery on Shavuos:

Mount Sinai was chosen to be the site for the receiving of the Torah because of its humility. Once chosen, the humble and flower-free desert mountain sprouted greenery and flowers.  This adornment of physical beauty enhanced the spiritual beauty of this monumental event.

Since Shavuos is also the festival of the harvesting of first fruits,  it is customary to adorn the home and synagogue with fruits, flowers and greens. During the time of our holy temple in Jerusalem, farmers tied a ribbon around their first fruits and brought those cherished ripe first fruits to Jerusalem in a lavish and joyous ceremony.   Floral decorations on Shavuos commemorate that first fruit ceremony.

The blossoming of our souls with Torah is compared to the the desert blooming with flowers, as it did at the time that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai.  Just as a barren mountain was adorned with flowers at that time, our ordinary lives can bloom with the light of Torah.

It is customary to decorate with  fragrant herbs, plants and flowers around our home and synagogue.  This symbolize the fragrance that Torah brings to the world.

As a countdown to Shavuos, I will be posting floral inspirations and dairy recipes over the next weeks until Shavuos.

Inspirations from the Cramim Spa in Israel

I look for inspirations for recipes, flavor combinations, designs and plating ideas everywhere I can find them.   At the end of our Pesach (Passover) holiday, I spent one day at the Cramim Spa (translation: Spa of Vineyards) in Kiryat Anavim, right outside of Jerusalem.  It is a beautiful place set into the Judean hills surrounded by grape vines and roses.  It is an oasis of beauty and relaxation in the wine country of the greater Jerusalem area.

I was amazed and inspired by the beautiful array of salads, fruits, desserts and entrees offered at the Cramim.  As I am still on my low-carb diet, I was able to taste the great majority of the buffet selections.  The items that did not satisfy my diet criteria became eye-food, a pretty good substitute for the tastings.  I carried my camera with me throughout mealtime and enjoyed taking pictures of the beautiful and delicious food choices.

Here are some of the colorful, delicious and healthy food choices at the Cramim.   They will surely inspire new simpletowow recipe and plating design blog posts in the near future.

 

I also took beautiful pictures from my early morning 3 kilometer hike through the vineyards near the Cramim and the breathtakingly beautiful grounds and spa areas of the Cramim.

 

When visiting Jerusalem, I highly recommend visiting the Cramim spa. Feel free to email me at simpletowow@gmail.com for Cramim spa visit suggestions and contact information.  It will nourish your body and soul.

 

When I look in the mirror, I must thank my mother

My mother is my role model, my mentor and my cheerleader throughout the twists and turns on my path through life.  As the first Mother’s Day of my new blog approaches, I would like to thank her.  So much of who I am is because of my mother and all that she has instilled in me.

 
My mother taught me to say “Thank you.  I appreciate it” 
Growing up, my mother expected us to be appreciative.  When someone would do something for us, my mother would stand by and  wait until we said “thank you”.  Then, she would prompt the next line by saying “I aaaa…” until we would volunteer “I appreciate it”. When Kaitlyn, my eldest daughter, was little, she once thanked someone by saying “thank you”.  The “thank you” activated the little child in me and I prompted, “I aaaa”.  To which little Kaitlyn completed the sentence..”I aaa big girl!”
 

My mother is my role model in tenacity
My mother decided to attend college when I was in fourth grade.  Attending college for a woman with four little kids was quite a feat, especially because my mother had never taken an academic program in high school.  She was missing the basics of mathematics and writing skills.  I remember tutoring my mother in algebra and helping her complete her college essays.  It took my mother 8 years to earn her Bachelors degree and another 6 years to complete law school. Her J.D. took her 14 years in total, but she never gave up. Her vibrant law practice today is a product of her hard work and tenacity.

My mother taught me about being creative
My mother worked as a teacher while attending university.  She took us to college with her in the evenings, buying my younger brother candy bars in the bookstore in exchange for a guarantee from him that he would not disturb her during class.  That bribery worked…most of the time.

My mother taught me about feeling rich, even when we had very little
My mother was always an excellent money manager.  She managed to save money (and interest in those days was 10%), even while working, raising her children, supporting my father in kollel (full-time Torah study) and attending college.  We were the best dressed kids in town, because my mother knew where to procure the best hand-me-downs. We thought that everyone ate scrambled eggs and cereal for dinner.  It saved us loads of money and we grew up just fine.

My mother taught me to stop, smell, and plant the roses
My mother’s green thumb is legendary.  Her friends would give her small cuttings of their indoor plants and she would raise those cuttings until they were six feet tall.  We always had the most lovely garden with roses, vegetables and beautiful shrubs.  My mother even inspired the local nursery to donate shrubs and trees to beautify our apartment complex. She was fascinated by the healthy effects of oxygen-Co2 exchange that plants offer and she definitely instilled in me a great love of plants and flowers.

My mother taught me to upcycle, even when it was embarrassing to reuse.
I remember my mother taking used wrapping paper and ribbon, folding them neatly and saving them for the next gift she wrapped.  My mother still takes the paper napkins, sugar and Splenda packets home from a restaurant meal.  She recycles glass pickle jars for her fruit compote.  We used newspapers as placemats at the supper table and I was horrified. Today, her reusing strategies have formed the basis for my upcycling strategies and designs.

My mother is my biggest cheer leader
In high school, I was asked to compete for my school and my county in a state-wide Ohio science competition.  I scored third.  My mother told all of our friends and relatives that I was the winner and I was mortified when gifts, cards and phone calls streamed in from so many of the people we knew. I had not even told my mother that I had placed in the competition.  You see, my mother was not stretching the truth. She really believed that I was her winner. The self-esteem that comes from a parent believing in you that way is a lifelong gift.

My mother is my toughest and gentlest critic
Not much goes by my mother.  When she has what to say, she lets me know.  Since it comes with the understanding that I am her winner, I know that I have to pay attention.

My mother taught me about creating peace, even when it hurts
My mother has worked hard to foster peace, even with people who have hurt her.  It is one the things that I most respect and appreciate in her.  She has sacrificed so much for peace and it is one of my core values because of her.

My mother taught me about connecting with our Creator, in good times and especially in challenging times
My mother is a woman of great emunah (faith).  She has taught me about the power of personal tefilla (prayer), both from the siddur (Jewish prayer book) and spontaneously from the heart.   My mother is a criminal lawyer who often compares the courtroom in this world to the heavenly court that will greet us in the next world.  She utters a spontaneous prayer before going into her court cases and davens (prays) with great kavana (concentration) for herself, her family and those who need tefillos (prayers).  I feel that her tefillos are powerful because of her intense belief and confidence that her prayers will be answered.     My mother expresses constant gratitude to G-d for all that she has and for everything that is good and beautiful in our world.

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who has been raised by my mother, but has much still to learn and emulate.

Thanks, Mom, for all that you are and all that you do. 

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”: Inspiration from my return flight from Israel

I fly long-haul flights often enough to cringe when I contemplate the discomfort, dysfunctionality and sheer exhaustion of being in the air with so many other people in such close proximity.  I shudder when I think of the passengers who are rude and inconsiderate and the all-too-often “I’m in it for myself” attitude of those flying with 200+ strange cabin-mates for all those hours.

I expected the flight back from Israel this past week to be no different.   (more…)

Divine Challah: Blessings to Nourish the Soul

Bread is considered a staple of the human diet, a true symbol of our material existence. There is something about the preparation and aroma of bread that is heavenly.  To bridge the gap between the material and spiritual worlds,  when preparing bread, we are commanded to set aside a piece for G-d.   The Torah (Numbers 15:17-21) says: “…It shall be that when you eat the bread of the land, you shall set aside a portion [of dough] for God.”

Challah is what we call the special piece of bread that we set aside when we prepare bread dough. It is the same name that we give to our  Shabbos bread.  The word challah is derived from the word chol,  meaning ordinary.  God expects us to take the most ordinary staple and use it to nourish both our body and soul.

It is precisely for that reason that we are commanded to set aside a piece of our bread dough for G-d when we prepare a minimum of five pounds of bread.

After the dough has risen and before forming it into loaves or rolls, place all the dough in front of you and say the following blessing:

 

Hebrew:
ברוך אתה י-י אלקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וציונו להפריש חלה

Transliteration:
Ba-Ruch  A-tah  A-do-noi  Elo-hai-nu  Me-lech  Ha-O-Lam  A-sher  Ke-di-sha-nu Be-mitz-vo-sav   Ve-tzi-va-nu   Le-Haf-rish   Cha-lah

Translation:
Blessed are You, our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.

 

Separate a walnut-size piece of challah.  You may now add a personal prayer in whatever language you prefer.

Keep the blessed piece of challah separate from the rest of the dough and  either wrap it in two layers and carefully discard or wrap in foil and bake separately until charred, then discard.