Life

Tisha B’Av: The Day Our Nation Cries

This Shabbos is officially Tisha B’av (the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av). It is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, a day of Jewish national tragedy throughout the ages. It is the day that both of our Holy Temples were destroyed and a day that is filled with mourning, trepidation and many tears. Since Shabbos is a day of joy, this year, we commemorate Tisha B’Av on Yud B’Av (the tenth of Av), this Sunday.

It is the day that our nation cried and continues to cry throughout the ages.

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A Summer Version of Simply the Best Chicken Soup

Many of my friends stop making chicken soup for their Friday night Shabbos (the Jewish sabbath) meal when the weather gets too hot.  Not me.

My children would tell me that it doesn’t feel like Shabbos without the chicken soup.  So, chicken soup graces our Shabbos table, rain or shine, winter or summer.  Somehow, our Shabbos table is so much like the chicken soup itself.

summer chicken soup.jpg

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A Salad of Bounty and Inspiration

vegetables from the mccarthys

 

There are friends who transform your  life.  They may not be the friends you see regularly.  They may not be the friends that are your neighbors or even part of your community .  They are people who have entered your orbit and make you see the world differently.  They are people who live their life and transform others with the enormity of who they are.  Our friends, Dorothy, Patrick and Aimee McCarthy are precisely those type of friends.

Dorothy and Patrick are parents like no one else.  They have met life’s challenges with great courage, tenacity and good humor.  They have raised Aimee, their daughter, with the greatest spirit of empowerment and positive energy.  Although Aimee has faced so many medical hurdles, she is one of the most inspirational women we have met.  Aimee is a young woman who embodies optimism, strength and spirit and someone who leads others by example.

Dorothy and Patrick have shown us how  to show appreciation to those who have impacted their lives.  Dorothy and Patrick have gone above and beyond the call of duty to celebrate life’s joys and sadnesses with us.  At Aimee’s twenty-first birthday party, Dorothy and Patrick invited us and ordered catered glatt kosher food for us and their other kosher guests.  When my mother-in-law passed away, the McCarthys planted a gorgeous lilac tree on our property in Mom’s memory.  Over the years, these wonderful friends have made generous donations to the Yad Eliezer soup kitchen in Tzfat, Israel in memory of my in-laws.  They are so appreciative of  the small measure of friendship that we have shown them and are friends that we admire so immensely.

Yesterday, Patrick dropped off an enormous box of vegetables and herbs from their garden.  The idea of sharing the bounty of one’s hard work in planting and tending to a garden is divinely inspired.  It is reminiscent of the bekurim (first fruits) that were dedicated to G-d and given to the Cohanim (Priests) in the Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple).at Shavuos (Jewish Holiday celebrated 7 weeks after Passover) : Bekurim: First Fruits from Hollister.

This bounty speaks to the munificent spirit of  these wonderful friends and the enormity of appreciation that defines them.

With the generous selection of vegetables and herbs shared with us by the McCarthy family, I decided to make a fresh and delicious salad.  Here it is:

vegetable bounty  from the mccarthys

Ingredients

2 small heads of lettuce, torn or cut into small bits
mixed peppers, cut into thin sticks
2 zucchini, scrubbed and shredded or spiralized

new onions or scallions, thinly sliced
heirloom tomatoes, cut in half

1-2 cloves garlic, minced
parsley, soaked and rinsed (see kosher notes)

Simple, Creamy and Perfect Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette

 

Directions

Prepare all of the vegetables and the dressing.  Drizzle some balsamic vinaigrette on top. Toss right before serving.  Enjoy!

mccarthy salad.jpg

Serving Suggestion

Toss sliced tofu and zucchini with olive oil and kosher salt and roast in a 450 degree F oven for 40 minutes.  Serve on top of the salad.

mccarthy salad with roasted zucchini and tofu

Kosher Notes

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

 

Simple Tips to Enjoy Kosher Zurich in a Day

Don and I traveled to Israel recently. On the way from Newark to Tel Aviv, we worked in a 14 hour layover in Zurich, Switzerland. Over the past many years, we have toured a number of cities in Europe this way. We have found that this is an excellent way to tour a city without the expense and hassle of booking an overnight stay in a hotel.

We did some cursory research before traveling and discovered that Zurich would be a very easy city to navigate using public transportation. We checked the weather forecast in advance only to find that it would be raining the whole day, so we packed umbrellas and rain slickers.  We discovered that there are lockers in the Zurich airport and museums for luggage.  Our airline allowed us to check our bags all the way through to Israel so that we had only to deal with hand luggage on our layover.

We arrived in the early hours of the morning and easily took the train directly from/to the airport. In the span of our layover, we managed to walk Zurich’s City Center and Old Town, tour two museums, take a boat ride around Lake Zurich, enjoy a kosher meat dinner and return in plenty of time for our short flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv.

zurich-in the rain by trolley

Although Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, we found that the transportation and entertainment costs were very affordable. The Swiss locals that we encountered were friendly and helpful.  We discovered that we were able to easily communicate in  Zurich using English.

Here are some tips and highlights from our day in Zurich:

1. Buy the ZurichCARD in the airport for savings on transportation and museums
We bought the ZurichCARD in the airport. The ZurichCARD cost around $20 per person for 24 hours of unlimited transportation by train, trolley and boat in and around Zurich. We activated the card right in the airport train station and took a train straight to the City Center, a mere 10-minute ride. From there, we walked to two excellent museums and used the ZurichCARD as museum admission. Public transportation in Zurich runs like clockwork, just as one would expect in Switzerland.

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Bekurim: First Fruits from Hollister

This morning, on my return from my morning walk, my neighbor, Hollister,  surprised me with a wonderful gift.  He handed me a bag with the first heads of lettuce harvested from his vegetable garden.  I protested that he should keep this precious first harvest for himself, but he insisted that he wanted me to have them.  I couldn’t have been more thrilled with the bounty.  You see…first fruits, also called Bekurim,  are very special.

hollister lettuce up close (more…)

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.

 

Simple to Wow Amazon Deals

I am a frequent online shopper and love the selection and convenience that online shopping provides.

So many of you have asked for resources to purchase the harder-to-find supplies and equipment that I reference in this blog.  For this reason, I will begin including online resources for the supplies and equipment referenced in each blog post.

I have also created a new category on this blog for super online deals (at least 30% off) relating to supplies and equipment useful for the recipes and designs in SimpletoWow. Each deal will provide a link to the deal with information relating to the product.

By clicking on the blue link underneath each product, it will take you to my affiliate link which will help me earn a small commission fee for every item ordered through that click.  

Most of these items are on special for a limited time only  and may not be available for long.

Here are today’s deals for May 9, 2016:

 

KitchenAid KSM1APC Spiralizer Attachment with Peel, Core and Slice Features for $79.99Product Details

KitchenAid KSM1APC Spiralizer Attachment

  • Includes 2 slicing blades, 2 spiralizing blades and a peeling blade.
  • Attaches to the power hub on your stand mixer and uses the power of the motor to operate the attachment
  • Premium Metal Construction for long lasting performance and stability while in use
  • Dishwasher Safe accessories
  • Convenient storage case for attachment and accessories.
  • Fits all KitchenAid Stand Mixer models.

 

 

 

12-pk Ball Mason Jars Wide Mouth 16 oz for $8.47

 

Fiskars Traditional Bypass Pruning Shears for $10.14

Fiskars Traditional Bypass Pruning Shears for $10.14Product Details

 

  • Ideal for cutting stems and light branches
  • Fully hardened, precision-ground steel blade stays sharp, even through heavy use
  • Low-friction coating helps blade glide through wood, prevents the blades from gumming up with sap and debris and helps the blades resist rust
  • Maximum cutting capacity: 5/8 inch diamater
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Perfect for Sunny Yellow Floral Arrangements and Birds of Paradise: A Simple and Stunning Arrangement

 

Cuisinart Smart Stick Brushed Chrome 200 Watt Hand Blender for $28.90Product Details

 

 

 

 

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.