Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thoughts for the Day: ahavas chinam

Today, the ninth of Av is a day for reflection and self improvement as well as mourning. Our temple was destroyed because sinas chinam, hating ones fellow Jew for no apparent reason, was rampant. It is said that each generation in which the temple is not rebuilt is at least equally responsible and guilty of this sin. 

Here on the upper east side we have many different types of Jews, some more religous some less, some more traditionally clothed some less, some closer to judaism than others. While we are not as bad as many completely ultra orthodox communities in terms of welcoming those who do not look exactly like we do, we still have our prejudices. Who eyed the lady not wearing a hat or sleeves to shul? Who has judged the man who pronounces the bracha at his aliyah to the torah with a strange accent? These are our brothers and we must love and accept them no matter where they are from or what they choose to observe. In fact acceptance is actually the best way to affect a person and encourage them to become more religious. Furthermore, religion cannot be judged by the material of ones kippah or the country of ones ancestors. Somebody's different minhagim (especially in terms of livush) do not make them less religious than you. If your ancestors are from Spain there's no reason for them to parade around in a furry streimel and thick bekeshe. I'm pretty sure avrham aveinu did not wear a white shirt, black pants and black hat. In fact, if he were to walk into your shul today you'd probably screaming and tell him to go fine a mosque. 

Instead of judging people by what their outer appearances tell us, we should communicate with them directly. Speak to the person. Ask them how they are doing. Be a friendly, sociable person. Find out why they have wandered into your shul. Up here, people often are visiting sick relatives in the hospital. They neglected to pack their fancy shabbat suit. Does that mean they deserve a death glare? to be left with twenty feet of space around them at all times? Everyone (Jew or non Jew) deserves to be treated with respect.

One of the most important things to do to tackle this problem is to properly educate our children. CHildren have a natural acceptance. A child of two does not blink twice at someone who looks different than people they are used to seeing. Yet by hte age of five or six children begin to shy away from people who look different. Unfortunately in many very religious neighborhoods children have been bred to take this to the extreme. They are so scornful of anyone that looks different. They label any stranger a "goy" (which to them is akin to a swear word) give the slightly different looking person a death glare when they walk into their neighborhoods and giggle behind strangers backs. Some even throw stones. Is this appropriate behaviour? Is this what will bring our temple back?

And where did these children learn all this? Well, perhaps from their parents who will refuse to talk to a lost woman who needs directions because she is not wearing a sheitel. Or the storekeeper who sends the guy wearing to the head of the line so that he will get out quickly and stop tainting the place with his presence. You do not protect your children by teaching them this hate you deprive them of their temple. You also make their world seem strict and binding and some long to get out. Others are so afraid of being branded as "other" that they will take al sorts of abuse and remain quiet.

 A Jew who is friendly to another Jew creates a positive impression, altering some of that other Jews negative stereotypes bout religious people. You bring people closer together instead of tearing us apart.

May we all look a little less critically at our neighbors and a little more critically at ourselves.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


It seems that shidduchim is one topic that everybody has an opinion about. Even my non Jewish co-workers are into the shidduch scene. Yet matchmaking is not so simple as, "hey there's an orthodox Jew on the fifth floor and another one on 21, maybe they should date". Setting two people up, when done properly, takes a lot of thought, consideration and work. For the most part your perfect matches won't work out. In fact they will usually not even go on a second or third date. Yet it's still important to try.  Now that I am the one doing the setting up rather than the dating I thought I should reflect upon things I learned during dating before I become an old married lady and forget them. Hopefully it will make me, and my readers, more considerable shadchanim.

Things I remember from dating:
1) If someone is not ready to date or resistant to dating via shidduchim do not push them. There is nothing more frustrating to that person or to the poor individual they end up on a date with.

2)What someone's parents want may not be what the single wants. Make sure to get the singles perspective as well.

3)Ask about how outside the box the person is willing to go in terms of age, background etc. Sometimes the answer will surprise you. 

4)Follow up! No one wants to have to call you about the shidduch you mentioned but never pursued. It makes them feel desperate, no matter how nice and scatter brained you are. Even if it is a no, let the other party know so they are not wondering.

5)Make sure there is communication after the first and second date. If the couple has taken things into their own hands, fine. But if no one has addressed the issue of a second date then you should. Even if it is just to clarify that there will not be one. Try to stay involved until at least the third date. Everyone will have more peace of mind.

6)Sometimes the best thing a shadchan can do is help sheperd the parents through the process. The couple may know it's a yes but the parents start freaking out the minute they meet the in-laws, plan the vort, realize they are loosing their baby etc. 

7)It is best when you have had some sort of contact with the people you are setting up. Otherwise how can you really know them and their compatibility? Yet be mindful of the singles time. Getting dressed up for a five minute chat with some shadchan was every girls worst nightmare. (And I have never heard of a shadchan making a boy do this). Do not make them schlep in every two weeks to update you on their life.

8)If you are a professional shadchan working with someone and you have not had any prospects for them in a while, call them. Let them know you have not forgotten them.

9)Be discreet. Do not go blabbing about the couple you set up to everyone and their cousin, on the subway at the top of your lungs. These are peoples lives you are dealing with here.

10)Ask why a couple broke it off. Even if it is after one date. This helps you find someone more appropriate for them the next time. If they have no answer you may need to push a little. This is important as sometimes people feel it is lashon hora to tell the shadchan about a dates bad behaviour. But if someone is acting inapropriately you need to know! You don't want to be setting up numerous singles with the inappropriate person. Also, one person's inappropriate is another person's normal. So try and get some sort of idea what the problem is. If "inapropriate" was taking you to a bar on the first date there are many daters that are fine with that and you can adjust set-ups accordingly. If "inapropriate" was groping the other person you want to cease setting that person up. Assure the single that whatever is said remains between you two and keep that promise.

Some words for the daters:
1)I know that when your friends get engaged you hope they will set you up with some of their husbands friends. However, do not pester them during their engagement period. This is a very stressful time and it is not fair to ask them to jeopardize their relationship to try and get you a date. Many boys are not willing to set up their friends right away. Give it some time and wait until after the wedding.

2)Although good shadchanim try very hard to always follow up we sometimes forget I apologize for it but please call us. I know this makes you feel desperate and horrible but we really did just forget and are glad of a reminder.

3)Get out there and meet us! We can't set you up if we never met you. Tactfully let people know you are open to being set up. I myself never try and set people up unless they are open to it. Often, we will ask you when we meet you. However, if you know someone is a matchmaker there is nothing wrong with slipping into the conversation that you are available and that you appreciate any suggestions they may have for you. Just do it tactfully, not in the middle of a room full of people who are listening to you.

4)Be honest with us about what you want. Otherwise we are not going to get anywhere.

Good Luck to all the daters! May you all find your match soon.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What's for Lunch? Spaghetti with Swiss Chard and garlic chips

The recipe below was found in my CSA newsletter. It's a nice change from tomato based sauces, and I love the garlic chips, but I can't help missing my mozarella cheese!

1/3 cup Extra virgin olive oil
1 head of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 pounds swiss chard (separate the stems from the leaves and then chop both)
1/2 cup water
1 lb spaghetti
1/2 cup kalmata olives cut into slivers
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Heat oil in a skillet over medium flame. Add garlic and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain and set aside.

Cook onion in remaining oil until soft and clear about 5 minutes. Stir in chard stems with water and 3/4 tsp salt and pepper. Cover and cook until almost tender, 3-5 minutes. Stir in leaves, cover and cook an additional five minutes.

Meanwhile cook spaghetti in a pot of boiling, salted water. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta.

Toss spaghetti with chard mixture, olives and the cooking water. Serve sprinkled with the garlic chips and feta.

Herb Garden: Survival of the fittest

This week has shown some significant changes in my herb garden. All the plants are seriously heliotropic, bending and growing towards the sun. The basil and parsley are shooting up and putting out leaves that actual resemble a mini version of the full blown plant. However the parsley and dill pots seem to have erupted in chaos. Some plants are climbing atop others. The climbers are thriving but the others seem to be dying off. I am hoping this is a small version of natural selection and the best plant will survive.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Great Salad Article

The dining section of the NY Times featured a great article this week call 101 simple salads. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Whats For Lunch: Quick and Tasty Ideas

What do you do when you have no time to pack lunches in the morning? I suppose in some areas you can go and purchase something nice, but in this neighborhood purchasing options are both limited and expensive. Plus you can't always count on being to use the microwave where you work. I've got a stock of go-to lunches for those busy mornings.

1) Quesidillas: They look impressive but their, really quick. Just grab a trotilla (I use the Mission brand) and throw some grated cheese on it. Then slap another tortilla on top and shove it in the oven at 400 for about ten minutes. The longer the oven time the crispier/crublier it gets. Slice with a pizza cutter and pack it up with a little tupperware of marinara sauce or sour cream for dipping.

2) Heart of Palm Salad: Toss some lettuce with whatever veggies you have around and then to make it special throw in some hearts of palm. Note: I find the jarred hearts of palm are much softer and tastier than the canned ones. For some reason the cans just do not incude enough juices for marinating. I like a french or thousand island dressin but anything can work.

3) Grilled cheese sandwiches: My sister gave me a sandwich maker. Best gift ever. Just put the bread, the chesse and whatever else you want it the machine and pull it our before you go. Great and low maintenance.

4) Leftovers from hte night before: Self explanatory and it helps you get rid of those pesky leftovers from the night before.

5) Corn on the cob: Rub a little butter over the husked corn. Put the corn in a ziplock with a tablespoon or two of water. Clse the ziplock. Microwave on high for two minutes per corn. Tastes better than boiling by hte way. This is how I prefer corn tat hasn't been grilled.

I am als a big fan of making giant batches of things and freezing them for quick lunch defrosting. I'll post those freezer friendly recipes another time.

Share your quick lunch tips!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cookbooks as gifts: nice gesture or insult?

It's no secret that I love cookbooks, but I am hesitant to give them to people as gifts. Will they think I hate their cooking? Will the gift be perceived as a hint that they need some help in the kitchen? In the end this a very situation dependent question. I have given two cookbooks as gifts in my life. One was for my sister-in-law who had been ogling my Kosher By Design. So I surprised her with one of their own. The other was a kosher cookbook for a friend who was just starting to keep kosher and was a little confused about what she could and could not cook.

Men, this is an even tougher situation for you. Can you give your wife a cookbook? The short answer is yes and no. If she's been eyeing a book, dropping hints about it etc. then sure go for it. My husband got me a great set of books about cake decorating for my brithday. However a cookbook out of the blue, especially beginner type cookbooks make many women feel a little insulted. I'll never forget the lady who came to shul and complained that her son had given her a cookbook. I thought "wow, what a nice kid. Randomly bringing mom gifts". She interpreted this as his complaint that she needs more variety with her kitchen and moaned "I'm 62. I can't keep up with these lakewood wives".

An alternative is to get a nice kitchen gadget that will cut down on time in the ktchen or has a cute function. You please the cook/baker and are actually saying you want them to cook more.

On the other hand, if the cooking really is sub-par then maybe this is the gentlest way to suggest some improvement is needed.

Al gift giving is really about knowing the recipient. If you don't, then you're going to fail at whatever gift you select.

Brides: Changing Your Name

Everyone always wants to know whether or not a new bride is planning on changing her name. In some circles it assumed that she will and if she does not she is some sort of crazy feminist. In other circles it is viewed as the brides choice. I chose to change mine for the practical purpose that my husband's last name was more pronounceable than mine. This may not matter to you if you do not interact with a large number of non-Jewish people in your profession, however in medical school it is always easier when your patients feel like they know what to call you.

One argument against changing your name is that if you have published articles or built a reputation in a certain field under your maiden name it may not be worth starting over with the new name. I know some people who use the married name in real life and the maiden name for work. Is this legal? Well actually, yes. While you should always check things over your lawyer and accountant there is an old legal tradition that whatever you are called is in fact your name.

For those interested in having documentary proof of their name change here are some of the steps you need to take:

By far the easiest route to change your name is by doing so on your marriage certificate. (Men you can also change your name on your marriage certificate if you are so inclined). You will get the certificate back in a month or so at which point you should make many copies. You then use the copy as proof of your name change. It is that easy. You are going to get the license anyway. Might as well kill two birds with one stone. If you have neglected to take care of this on the marraige certificate then things get dicey. You need to fill out a form and appear before a judge to explain the name change. Note that you can do this for any name change. If you want to be called 'little bird' you can appear before a judge, forms in hand of course, married or not and have your name changed. Of course the judge can always turn you down, so don't go trying to become "Osamma Rules" or something like that. That could appear suspicious. This may differ from state to state but the basic idea is the same almost anywhere.

Once you've got the marriage license head down to the DMV and change your license. While you will have to wait on a long line there is good news: you get to take a new photo! Also, print and fill out the apropriate form from the DMV website in advance to save time.

To change your passport you must do so by mail. (Unless you do not all ready have a passport or your passport is all ready expired. Then you must go in person to a post office). Print the appropriate forms from the passport office and mail in your old passport, the forms, a copy of the marraige license and new passport photos. The new passport will arrive in the mail in about one to two months. If you are planning on taking a honey moon soon after the wedding you may want to book flights with your old name and delay sending away for a new passport until you get back. This way you will not have to worry about the passports arival.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Driving in the City

Believe it or not I still do not have my drivers license. However, I am determined not to turn 25 without it. This gives me roughly a half a year give or take a few months to pass a road test. All my 17 year old cousins are giving me their tips.

Tip 1: Take the road test in staten island.
Tip2: Do not take the road test at Sheaps Head Bay. Apparently there is a woman named "the terminator" there who fails you the minute she gets in the car. Some people have not even managed to pull away from the curb before she declares the test over.
Tip 3: Don't forget to put on your seat belt (apparently a large cause of road test failure in the 17 year old crowd).
Tip 4: Don't drive as fast as you want to. (I don't think there's much of a problem with this. If anything I will likely get points deducted for driving two slowly and impeding traffic. I can barely bring myself to get the car up to 20 mph when I have a large open road in front of me. This could be an issue as apparently they do give 'speeding' tickets to people who drive too slowly. Just ask my father-in-law.)

The first step to obtaining a license is obtaining a learners permit. I accomplished this when I was in high school. I needed it as ID to take the SAT. But I was perhaps the worlds first teenager who did not want to drive. I am actually on my THIRD learners permit at this point. My first one expired on me when I turned 18. I had to take the written and vision tests again. If you think you've seen it all, just wait until you visit a DMV. There was a woman cheating on the vision test! Not only that but she did so by blatantly reading off her palm. The best part of the story is that the DMV employee did not look up from her computer screen the entire time and thus did not notice the cheating woman. She's probably on the road by now.

My third learners permit came when I got married and changed my name. This was a relief since they let you take a new picture when you chage your name. My old drug addict poto was replaced by something that actually looks a little like me. Maybe that is because I took this photo at a manhattan DMV while the previous one was in Brooklyn. I have heard that at some DMV's upstate they are even nice enough to take three shots, show them to you and then let you pick your favorite. Whatever they put in the water coller up there, I think we need to get some of it.

Then comes the ever popular 5 hour class. This mandatory class usually last about two and a half hours and the curriculum is entirely up to the instructor. Most involved a video. Mine was taught by some Russian mafia man who showed a video on how 'the 90's woman' is not afraid to change her own oil an tires. I was also the only white person in the room. Apparently all the white teenagers take drivers ed in school. Everyone else (and me) go to the russian mafia. After the video we were treated to a tale about how our instructor owns two guns and almost shot two diners in the restaurant he used to own because he was sure they would try to hold him up. The moral of the story was supposed to be how you never know what crazy people are out there wanting to shoot you and so you must share the road. Don't lose your certificate of completion for this class. You cannot take a road test without one. After all, you learn so many valuable things at this class.

I am now on the lessons stage. Let me tell you, if you thought it was hard driving in NYC imagine what it would be like to learn how to drive in NYC. My instructor is actually pretty good and she takes me driving all over the place. Before I even know what is happening I changing lanes and honking pedestriands in Harlem. If you need an instructor I'd be happy to give her your number.

The road test is August 14th. Wish me luck.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Black Currant Tea

Many people have seen red or white currants before. They have a nice sweet taste and go well in fruit salads or just eaten by themselves. The black currant on the other hand is too sour to be eaten on its own. It must be boiled with sugar or honey to cut balance it's tart nature. Why bother with all the fuss? Well, the black currant is sometimes called a "super food" because it contains a ridiculously high amount of vitamin C as well as good levels of potassium, phosphorous, iron and B5. It also has many anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. My favorite way to get my dose of black currant is black currant tea. Boil the currants as described in the recipe below and add the resulting syrup to green tea as a sweetener instead of sugar or honey.

Black Currant Tea:
Place currants in a heavy sauce pan over medium heat. FOr 1/2 lb of currants add 1 Tbs. sugar and 1Tbs. honey. Heat, stirring occasionally to mash the berries. When the berries have thickened to become a sauce remove from heat and cool. If you like sweeter sauce just add more sugar or honey. I like to keep the berry parts in there but you can also strain.

A Typical Day in the Life of the Kosher Bride

8:00 am wake up, get dressed, have breakfast
8:30 am pack lunches for work, check e-mails, pack bag for work
9:20 am leave for work
9:30 am Arrive at work (It's expensive to live up here but you can't beat the commute.)
9:35 am - 1:30 pm Various work activities interspersed with web surfing, plus maybe a blog post.
1:30-2:00 pm lunch, start planning dinner
2:00-5:00 pm More work activities and web surfing
5:00-6:00 pm Get antsy and start trying to rush things to get out of work
6:02-6:10 pm Walk home
6:10-6:30 pm relax with husband
6:30-7:30 pm dinner planning and cooking
7:30-8:00 pm dinner with husband
8:00-10 pm relaxing with husband, talking, planning next day, calling parents, planning weekend, make lunches for next day if necessary
10 - 11 pm reading
sometime between 11 and 12:30 pm go to bed

Too much of this is work, but I'm still learning a lot in the lab and am not as time efficient as I should be.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Weirdest Names I've Ever Heard

If you live in the suburbs you've come across your usual names: Chani, Moshe, Jim, Bob, Frank etc. You may have even come across some Shprintze, Penelope, Oswald type names. But nothing compares to the names you come across in the city. Some of them make you wonder why there aren't child cruelty rules preventing this from happening. Here are my favorites.

Twins named King and Queen, I am actually willing to forgive this one. It's a terrible thing to do to kids but sometimes it's hard to resist the urge to be cute when naming kids.

Twins named Lemonjello and Orangejello on the other hand makes it pretty tough not to laugh. You can tell what mom was craving when she was carrying these two. Official pronunciation is luh-man-juhlo and Oran-juhlo.

Female pronounced fuh-may-luh. Did the parents forget to fill this line in on the birth certificate? Did they think the baby ID bracelet saying "female Smith" was the hospitals way of suggesting a name?

ABCDE: pronounced Absida but to me seems more like the first five letters of the alphabet. I suppose they couldn't come up with anything more original.

Chlamydia, pronounced Klem-eh-die-uh. Perhaps they wanted to ensure their little girl never gets a boyfriend. ever.

And my personal favorite:
La-a Don't call her laah or leah. You'll get a sharp reproof: "It's pronounced luh - dash -uh. You pronounce the dash you idiot.". I'm wondering if maybe she had her named changed to this herself just so she could call people idiots and ensure that no one ever pronounces her name correctly.

Have you encountered any great names?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thing I'm Grateful For

On the weekends, I get to be a housewife. I can cook dinner, do laundry, make the beds and just get my house in order. Strangely, this gives me great pleasure. I am grateful for this time to play mother hen. Sometimes, I wish I stayed at home full time. Then I realize, the reason this time is so precious to me is because it comes so rarely. On the weekdays cooking dinner and doing the dishes is about all I have time for. Fancy dinner, baking, housework etc. are luxuries for me. And so I am grateful that I am in graduate school, that I go out to work/school every day and that this makes my home life seem so special to me.

For all you stay at home wives and mothers out there, I don't know how you do it. May your homes give you as much joy as mine gives me! Shavua tov.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kosher Grocery Shopping: how to save

People who don't keep kosher cannot believe how much I spend on groceries or the lengths I am willing to go to find things I can cook with. For those of you living on the upper east side (or NY in general) here are some of my favorite places to shop while not spending a fortune.

Brooklyn: There's nothing like going to Brooklyn and bringing back a freezer full of meat and cheese. I actually have a mini freezer for this purpose. Meats are found at great price's at Moishe's and Pic'N Pay. Heck even buying them at Glatt Mart or Pomegranate is cheaper than buying them in the city. Pic 'N Pay is the ultimate cheese store in terms of both selection and price. OF course this requires going to brooklyn and having a means of transporting your goods home.

Pathmark: Get off th 6 train at the 125th street stop and Pathmark is right there. Despite the fact that the store is a very non Jewish neighborhood they have many kosher product becuase they are a national chain. Many of the breads and bakery items that are pre-packaged are kosher. You will also get a much better price on every day staples like flour, rice, bread, pasta etc. Extra savings can be had by singing up for a pathmark card and looking at the circular. I have found the fruit section lacking in quality.

Walgreens: Yeah, I know what you're thinking. It's a drug store. But if you look at the weekly circular you will find great prices on cereal, ice cream aluminum foil and the like. Other drugstores also have sales but they typically have slimmer circulars. This is a five towns based company that ships you almost all kosher products. You have to buy things on sale otherwise they are super expensive. The sale price is only slightly higher than brooklyn prices. This is a good option for those who do not have time to shop themselves. Often there are discount codes for 20% or codes to give 20% of your order to charity. You also get a reward for referring friends (If anyone would like me to refer them just let me know).

Costco: This requires a car. It also requires a Costco card. If someone in your family has both card and car convince to take you shopping once every two months or so. You must careful: sometimes buying in bulk is not cheaper than buying on sale at a store like pathmark. Make sure to look at the price per item. Sometimes it is great sometimes it is not. They also have great individually packaged salmons from Kirkman that are certified kosher. Some Costco's, like the one in the five towns, have excellent bakery products that are kosher. The produce is as fresh as it comes and lsts a long time.

The Fruit Cart: These fruit guys are cheaper than thte regular grocery stores and often their stuff is quite fresh. Get to know the vendors in your area to see which has better produce. Try to buy things as close to the day of use as possible.

Always, always look at the circulars for the stores in your neighborhood and sign up for their discount club or card. It doesn't cost anything and often you save.

Happy Shopping!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Brides: Thoughts on Covering your Hair

Disclaimer: Whether or not to cover your hair is a very personal religious decision. Discussing that decision is not the purpose of this post, although it may be the subject of a future post. Instead, for the ladies that have decided to cover their hair this is a post about ways to find head coverings that work for you.

There are many ways to cover your hair, some more expensive than other, some covering more than others, some more practical than others. Here's a guide to the head coverings that I have experience with and some personal asides about what I think about them. Hopefully this will help you decide what to invest in.

Full Sheitels/Wigs: These are cumbersome and expensive and require a good styler to look natural. However once you get a good style they look pretty natural. They even come in straight, wavy and curly. This is the head covering of choice for most Brooklyn women. There are some people out there who feel they are too much liken natural hair and should not be considered hair covering. I for one can always tell when a women is wearing a sheitel. There's just this 'look'. The biggest downside is that they re expensive, especially if you want custom human hair. You can save by going with out of the box synthetics but they just won't look as good. Plus there's maintenance - you have to give these bad boys in o be washed and set every now and again just as you would real hair. They are great for weddings and fancy occasions but not so great for day to day activities if you have a messy job. You want to try one on before investing. Ome people find the weight on their head or the itch bothers them. Others love the way they look and feel great in them.

Falls: A more casual, natural looking sheitel that covers most of your head but not all. The front end is not finished in a way that you can wear it plain. Instead you must wear a headband or if you are comfortable with it, take of piece of your own hair out in front to cover the wig line. These look very natural but the price tag is still steep. These are my head covering of choice for fancy occasions and weddings. I made some of the rhinestone and feather headbands to dress up the look. However once again, there is maintenance and you do not want to wear these to messy work situations. Alwys tr on before you purchase.

Hat Falls: To me these are a large waste of money. They are meant to be worn under hats and so the top is just a net and towards you have hair that will stick out under your hat. You can get the same effect by putting a hat over your regular fall. It will be a snugger fit, but how often are you in a "I need to wear a hat over this fall and it doesn't fit" situation? And these are not very versatile. You must wear a hat. You cannot take the hat off.

Kippah Falls/wiglets: This is for people who are OK with showing a lot their own hair. the wiglet sits on the crown off your head and you take pieces of hair out from all around the sides of your head to blend it in. This is what those little girls in beauty pageants wear to add volume. Again there is maintenance and cost to consider. You can usually get 2 wiglets made out of the hair from one sheitel/fall. The look is super natural, sometimes you cannot even tell someone is wearing one.

Ponytail wigs: Exactly what they sound like. You have hair but it's off our face in a ponytail. People in health care fields swear by these as they look good but do not get in the way of work. Maintenance and cost are still an issue.

Hats/baseball caps: These are great no fuss head coverings. You buy them once and upkeep is minimal. However many people feel awkward not having any hair show at all, so you should look at yourself in the mirror and decide if this is the look for you. One thing that bothered me about the baseball/newsboy hats was that they were interfering with my peripheral vision. However, if you have been accustomed to wearing these before then they are a great way to transition. Just tuck up your pony instead of leaving it sticking out. They are great for messy work conditions but not great for professional working conditions and for people in certain service industries.

Mitpachot: Those lovely Israeli do-rags. You buy them once and upkeep is minimal. It also solves the peripheral vision issue. However there aren't that many places around here to buy them. And the places that do exist are often super expensive. Most people I know got them in Israel. I have started turning old silk scarves into mitpachot. It looks pretty cute. Again, ideal for some work situations but not for others.

Bandannas: Great for people with messy jobs. However, in some situations you run the risk of people assuming you have cancer unless there is some hair sticking out. You buy them once and then maintenance is low. Be careful when washing though: make sure their color will not run onto your other clothes.

I personally, prefer a combination of bandannas for work and falls for nicer events. It's all about finding what makes you comfortable and happy and is in your budget. Good Luck!

Shabbat Menu Planning

I love lists. They make me feel organized and there's nothing like checking off an item from your to-do list. Every thursday I make my cooking for shabbat list to plan my thursday/friday cooking. I have found that I get the best, least hectic results when I leave work on thursday with list in hand and hit the ground running. I also try to be a little ambitious on thursday because I know I can always pick up the slack on Friday. (I may have cheated and made stuffed cabbage last night. I had a head of cabbage, a box of currants and a pound of ground meat. Really, the decision was practically made for me).

You may be wondering why my husband isn't cooking. The truth is he's a great cook and on short fridays, or busy weekends I often draft him into helping. But otherwise I am pretty territorial. He knows I like my kitchen to myself. Plus it's a tiny kitchen and he's tall. There isn't enough room in there for the two of us!

Here's what this week is looking like right now: Feel free to request recipes.

Friday Night:
Kibbe Hamdah (Syrian minty stew with meatballs)- Thursday night
Rice for kibbeh hamdah - Friday afternoon
Stuffed cabbage - all ready done
Apple muffins - Friday afternoon
Angel Hair Pasta salad - Thursday night
Sweet potato - Friday afternoon
Cherry pie - Thursday night (hopefully)

Shabbat Lunch: (Special challenge since there will be a vegetarian at the table)
Mushroom Puffs - Thursday night
Sushi - prepare rice on thursday night, roll on friday.
Apple muffins - Friday afternoon
Lahmagine - all ready made just need defrosting
Ceasar salad - croutons all ready made, rest made on saturday morning
angel hair pasta salad - Thursday Night
Fruit - being brought by guests

But first the most essential step: Creating the grocery list!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cookbooks on my Shelf

There is nothing I love more than a good cookbook. I've been known to sit down and read one like you would a novel. Does it matter if I don't actually make anything that's in it for months? Nope. The pictures and the recipes sooth me into a pleasant state of mind. I take my little post it flags and slap them down on recipes I like. On days when I want to perk up my menus I venture over to those flags and select one. I can't really think there are any bad cookbooks, but some are definitely better than others. Here are the cookbooks on my shelf and what I think about them.

Kosher by Design by Susie Fishebein: The original cookbook that set off the Kosher by Design Craze. I have enjoyed many of the recipes in this book, but here have been some that are just terrible. She will occasionally ask for a rare ingredient tht ccan be difficult to locate but I have that substituions are generally well tolerated. I amhighly disappointed that there is not a photograph of every recipe as I like to see what the prototype is (even if my version looks different). It helps you know what you are aiming for and gives you a good visual when you decide what to make. I'd give this 4 out of 5 stars.

Kosher by Design Short on Time by Susie Fishbein: What clock this lady is using I am unsure. Each of the reciipes comes with a "prep time" and "cook time" but these are highly inaccurate. Plus if the prep time is calculated using time saving gadgets then there should be a cleanup time as well. Tat food processor is not going to wash itsself. That said, some of the recipes are time saving and the ones that aren't still usually taste pretty good. Some of my favorite recipes originated in this book. Again, you will have to make substitutions for some of the more bizarre items. Especially some the time saving premade stuff that you cannot find in every grocery store. An improvement over the original in the picture department. Every recipe has an accompanying photograph. She also has a nice section on building block recipes and good ingredients to keep on hand in your home at all times. I give it 4 out 5 stars.

Quick & Kosher by Jamie Geller: She promises to keep you out of the kitchen and she means it. If you follow the recipes as directed they are pretty quick. However I find suggestions like using fingerling potatoes which are about 3 dollars more expensive per pound in order to save time on cutting regular potatoes absolutely ridiculous. And she too neglects cleanup time. Her writing style also irks me. It comes off as condescending plus she's trying too hard. It may work well with someone who has never been in the kitchen before but it bothered me. This is another book without a photo for every recipe. She gives a handy set of premade menus for each holiday as a suggestion. The recipes that I have tried have been very hit or miss. Some were terrible and a waste of good ingredients while others were all right. Nothing yet has blown me away. 2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck: This book is a visual masterpiece. Every photo is gorgeous although shockingly not every recipe has a photo. Syrian cuisine is a great addition to anyones cooking repetoire and the book also comes with an explanation on Jewish Syrian culture. This is a large book, but that's the way I like 'em/ Alas, the syrian half of my family has informed me that some of the recipes are a little of and you should ask friends in the know for corrections or get "Deal Delights" to supplement. Most of the recipes I tried have been good but a few did in fact need correcting. 4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

For the Love of Cooing by Rae Dayan: Another book featuring Syrian cuisine but this one is rumored to be much more acurate. It is extremely skimpy on the photos. I have used to 'corrct' my Aromas of Aleppo recipes to great results. The pictures from one and the recipes from the other make a great combination. Unfortunately there are less recipes in this thin book. It aslo hard to find a place that sells this book right now. 4 out of 5 stars.

Spice and Spirit by Esther Blau, Tzirell Deitsch and Cherna Light: The original kosher cookbook. The lubavich cookbook is a great starter book for any Jewish home. Not only does it have recipes it has sections on candle lighting, kashrut, and other jewish laws. I remember pulling it off the shelf as a little girl when we needed to check if we made a shehecheyanu at candle lighting or not. The recipes are fair quality and cover almost everything you could ever need. There are no photographs. 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine by the French Culinary Institute: A great read tolearn about culinary technique, especially french tecnique. The book is down to earth and very informative. HOwever a lot of it is geared towards profesional kitchens. This not a kosher book so many of the recipes cannot be used as is. A very heavy tome. 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Martha Stewart's Cooking School by Martha Stewart: Another great book for kitchen how-to's and theory. This book has great step by step photos inllustrating specific techniques and recipes which makes things lot easier. Again, not a kosher book so you have to adapt things. Martha is also not known for being practical or time saving. Who has a home kitchen blowtorch for making creme brulee? I'd probably get kicked out of my apartment building. But sometimes that's part of Martha's charm. I like watching even if I can't do it myself. 3 and 1/2 out of four stars.

Sushi Made Easy by Kumfoo Wong: A thin, specialized book. Not for those who have no time. However it is a very fun project for a rainy day. I mad some of the veggie sushi's and they were great. I had to go to brooklyn for the ngredients but that was ok. I also am not going to make anything with raw fish, as I don't trust my home kitchen and fish provider to be up to the standards required to do this safely. Some of the illustrations are hand drawings instead of photographs which makes them open for interpretation but you can usually figure it out. 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

The Essential Baker: A great baking book. It has explanations on baking theory and hw to pick ingredients as well as recipes for alost kind of baked good. Everything I have made from this book has turned out great. Sometimes the ingredients are pricey and the recipes time consuming but the results are always worth it. You must adapt things if you want pareve recipes. There are few photos, which in my mind is the one great lack of this book. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recipes from America's Small Farms by Joanne Hayes, Lori Stein and Maura Webber. This book was given to me by my CSA and it has helped me use my weekly produce. There also sections on cooking with meat, poultry and fish although these are smaller. The helpful sections on produce storage and selection can be used in every household. Absolutely no pictures and they do try and seel you on CSA (which I love) and organic (I am not willing to pay extra money for it). The recipes I have tried worked out pretty well and since most recipes have vegetarian options there is less adapting neded than in your typical non-kosher cookbook. 3 out of 5 stars.

I've got a few more but this was a long post to type (especially since I am at work now). If you have a favortie cookbook let us know!

What's for Lunch? Portabello Mushroom salad

This is one of the first foods I made for my husband while we were dating. He loved it so much I think it convinced him to marry me. He still gets excited every time I make it.

Portabello Mushroom Salad:

4 large portabello mushrooms sliced into chunks
1/8 cup teriyaki sauce
1 bag of spinach leaves (Or use fresh)
1/2 box grape tomatoes

1/2 c oil
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c white vinegar
1/4 g ketchup
1 Tbs. garlic salt or powder
dash sea salt

Sautee mushrooms in teriyaki over medium heat until they are tender, about 7 minutes. Mix spincah and tomatoes into a bowl. Whisk together oil, sugar, vinegar, ketchup, garlic and salt. Pour into spinach mix and mix to coat the leaves. Pour warm mushrrom and excess teriyaki over the top. Toss a few times and serve.

Note: I like spinach because I find it is very healthy. You can use romaine or iceberg lettuce or any lettuce mix you prefer.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Age Old Question: What to Bring to Dinner?

Another weekend has passed and while the upper east side is not exactly a moshpit social scene like the upper west side, we do have our Shabbat meals and get togethers. One of the toughest decisions to make is what to bring to someone's house when you are invited over to dinner. First, you ask them. But this isn't Washington Heights, huge potluck meals are not the norm. More often than not the reply will be "nothing, absolutely nothing, just bring yourself." Having grown up with the understanding that you must bring something whenever you go somewhere I find this hard to swallow. Besides what if the other guests decide to bring something and I am the only one who ? How is that going to look? Plus when you are fortunate enough to get a firm answer on what to bring over (you are likely visiting students) you may still run into some difficulty locating the item. 

As a guilty party who often tells her guests not to bring anything (and yes, I really do not mind if they don't. Almost everybody does not). Here are some suggestions for when you just can't bring yourself to show up empty handed.

Wine - Always welcome, always useful. Most wine stores in the neighborhood have a small kosher section. The one near the Hunter College Subway Stop usually also has decent prices. You do however run the risk that several other guests will also show up with wine. Do not be insulted if your particular bottle is not opened. There's only so much people can drink. If your hosts are not big wine drinkers I recommend Moscato - fondly called the blue bottle. ALmost everyone like it and if they don't, they can tolerate it.

Flowers - everyone likes getting flowers and they perk up the table. Just make sure to bring them over before shabbat. This is not a great idea if your host has strong allergies. This is also pricey and may seem extravagant as most flower shops around here are not cheap. 

Challah - If you are actually told to bring something, this is often the requested item. In days of yore you could go to Gristede's and get a nice Zommicks, but alas they have switched brands. Don't even think about food emporium. They have Challah but it isn't kosher. You could buy one of the enormous ones from bagels and co. but not everybody loves the way they taste and they really are massive. Park east will also have challah. If neither of these two does it for you you may have to head cross or downtown to find a better option.

Dessert - Another common request. I hope you have an oven because there is not much leeway around here when it comes to purchasing pareve pastry. bagels and co has a small cookie selection which is not great for this purpose and will cost you an arm and a leg. Supply at Park East varies from week. Your best bet is to make something. Plus it makes you look good. The ultimate fast dessert? Apple crumble. The slowest step is peeling the apples and everyone seems to like it. You can throw in cranberries too if you're feeling fancy. fresh fruit is also really nice if you have the time to cut and arrange it. Skip the chain store and buy from the cart guys. All carts are not created equal so you need to get familiar with the vendors in your area. My preferred vendor is on 70th and york. If you know of when with good products, let us know!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Brides: Thank you notes

I know that all a new bride can think of is the upcoming wedding and everything beyond seems like one happy blur, but a little planning now can save you a lot of time later. Right now you may be receiving gifts from that registry you made. That's great! But each of those gifts comes with the responsibility to fill out a thank you card, and you don't want to forget anyone. Here's some quick simple tips to getting those cards out on time and in order. 

1) Order/purchase the cards you will use now. This way you don't have to scrounge after the wedding and you can fill them out at your leisure.
2)Order extra cards, especially if you are using a monogram or personalized name card. These will cover you for all the "Dear Uncle Sarah" slips of the pen. These cards are great to have around anyway for when you give people gifts.
3) Keep a list of every gift you received. Start it now. This instant. The minute you get a gift start the list and keep it somewhere you will not loose it. I suggest using google docs or the thank you manager that comes with your registry so you and your fiancee can both update it. Plus unless the internet is destroyed you will not loose it. And let's face it, if the entire internet is destroyed no one is going to remember about your thank you notes. Write the persons name, the gift they gave you, and if you have it, their address. This will help you personalize the note you write. Look at the card for the correct spelling.
4) Remember that massive list of addresses that you compiled to put on your invitations? Use it. Print all the addresses on clear labels and store in a safe place. When it's card time you can just slap them on. 
5) If you can't manage items 3 & 4 at least keep a shopping bag where you throw in all the cards from the gifts you receive. If you loose those them, you are toast. (Unless you have an amazon registry. They have a thank you manager that updates automatically).
6) Fill some out now, in your spare time. You can mail them after the wedding.
7) Buy stamps. Many, many stamps.
8) The early bird catches the worm. I cannot tell you how many people commented on how quickly they got my cards. They still remembered it six months later. If you are not going away then start writing. Carry the cards around to school, to work, and fill them out in your spare time. If you are going away fill out as many as possible before and finish the rest immediately upon returning. I found that it took me forever to fill out the few cards that I did not get out early. Procrastination is a tough habit to break.
9) Recruit your husband if you think his handwriting is passable.
10) This is not really a tip on being efficient. It's a tip on not being tacky. For the people who gave you cash and/or checks  do not under any circumstances write "thanks for the money" or something of that version. "Thank you for your generous gift" is much easier on the ears. For others you can mention the gift by name "Thank you for the lovely Challah knife. We think of you every week when we use it on Shabbat" is sweet and personal.

Remember these thank you notes actually mean something to people. Some people use it to make sure you got the gift (Especially people who give you an envelope of cash during the dancing). Others just take it as a sign that young people are not forgetting the niceties of society. Are they frustrating? yes. But if you follow these tips and fill them out as they come in they will be much more enjoyable.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What's for Dinner? Spinach Lasagna

12 lasagna noodles
14 ozs. marinara sauce
6 ounces ricotta cheese
4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1 10 oz. package of frozen spinach (or fresh spinach)
1 Tbs. oil
half a white onion, diced

1)Cook noodles until al dente as directed on package. 
2)Meanwhile, place oil in a pan and heat on low. Add diced onion and saute until onion is tender and clear. Add thawed spinach and saute 4-5 minutes.
3)Cover the bottom of a 2 quart rectangular baking dish (I like pyrex) with some of the marinara sauce. Layer 3 noodles on top of it. 
4)Spread half the ricotta cheese over the noodles. Layer the spinach on top of the ricotta and cover with three noodles.
5)Pour more of the marinara over the noodles. Sprinkle half the mozzarella on top of the sauce. Cover with three noodles
6)Spread remainder of ricotta over noodles. Sprinkle remainder of mozzarella on top of ricotta. Top with three remaining noodles. Pour sauce over the noodles.
7) Bake at 350 for twenty minutes. (If you prefer super crispy noodles you can bake for longer).

Herb Garden: Return of the Parsley

My herb garden is in full swing and the biggest shock so far has been the parsley. One week after planting all the other plants were sprouting but the parsley was dormant and had a layer of white fuzzy mold. Not one to give up, I continued to water it and placed it in the sun. Today I am proud to say the parsley has shot up and overtaken some of the other plants. Meanwhile the basil, an early grower, has slowed down and seems to be putting more energy into thickening it's stems rather than growing taller.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Brides: Where to Register?

One of my best friends is getting engaged soon. In honor of the occasion I thought I'd kick off some posts sharing tips I learned when I was engaged. Registering for gifts is one of the most fun activities of the newly engaged process, and you might be tempted to just jump right in and register everywhere. But beware new kallah, there are some serious registry pitfalls to avoid and some ways to get the most out of your registry.

Why register in the first place? It's a service to yourself and your guests. While many of your guests might be the type to give you checks or cash, others may prefer to give you non-monetary gifts. Having a registry makes shopping much easier for them. Some wedding guests enjoy picking out a gift on their own but like to look at your registry for a sense of your taste and the items you need. Having a registry also lets people know what you've all ready received. Avoid receiving twelve silver serving platters, some of which you have no idea where to return or exchange, and register. Registries also come in handy if you are having a bridal shower. Besides, it's fun!

How many retailers should you register with? That depends on how much traffic you expect your registry to receive. If you expect few people to use it, registering at only one store may be appropriate for you. If this is the case try to pick a place that is convenient for most of your guests. If you are expecting more people to use your registry you may want to register at several locations. Each place has it's benefits and drawbacks (see below) and different guests like to shop at different places. Just remember if you are cross listing items, make sure you can return them in case you get multiples.

How do you get your future husband to come with you? Well, some people may prefer to leave him at home. But if you are the type that would like his input (I was!) and he is reluctant to come, you have a few options. First let him know that many stores give you a scan gun that you walk around the store with. You scan items you like and they magically appear on your list. Promise him that he can wield the scanner. You'd be surprised how well this works. The siren call of a cool gadget has wooed many men into accompanying their brides to the department store. If this does not work you may consider letting him update your registry from the comfort of his own home. Most stores allow you to update your registry via the web. This is also a great option for brides who do not have the time to spend visiting house-ware departments. Online registration can take place 24 hours a day at your convenience.

How will people know about your registry? They will ask you or a close friend or they will search fro you at sites such as wedding You should never give this information unsolicited or print it on your shower invitations. This makes you look like a gift-grubber and is extremely tacky. Your friends will help spread the word and people who are interested are not shy about asking.

Perks: Stores that participate in bridal rewards programs show you how to get free gifts from companies when you register for their items. Most retailers also give you 10% of items on your registry that were not purchased for you. This includes furniture!

Where to Register? There are lots of places each with it's own perks. Here's a listing of the most popular places. I prefer retailers that allow guests to view your registry online as this makes their life easier and they can ship things directly to you.

1) Bed Bath and Beyond: This is one of the most popular places to register. They have a relatively large selection. Registration is in store and online. Most of your guests will have heard of it. Best Features: You can return things for cash so long as they were purchased from your registry. Your friends can use those 20% off coupons. They will ship to your home. Participates in bridal rewards programs. Drawbacks: The prices are not great, they do not carry every brand.

2)Macys: One of the largest wedding retailers there is. Allows you to register online and in store. Most guests will have heard of it. Best Features: Ease of registering, participates in bridal rewards program plus has its own rewards program. They will ship to your home. Drawbacks: Price is not great, returns are with packing slip and only for store credit or exchange.

3)Williams-Sonoma: This is solely for kitchen type items. A fnacy schmancy gourmets store with all sorts of gadgets and gizmos. Registry updates online or in store. Best Features: Some very sophisticated products that cannot be found elsewhere. They will ship to your home. Drawbacks: This is an extremely pricey store. Returns are only for store credit. You cannot register for cleaning/bathroom/bedroom items.

4)Crate and Barrel: This store has your run of the mill items as well as furniture. Registry is online and in store. Best Features: Variety of cool lamps and the like. Will ship to your home. Drawbacks: Price is high. Selection of kitchen items is not great.

5) Amazon: The huge onlne retailer is now handling registries. Everyone knows the website. Online registration only. Best Features: GIANT selection of every posible item. Will ship to your home. Fantastic thank-you note manager feature. Great prices. Drawbacks: Returns are confusing so you must make sure you want to keep everything you get. You cannot see the items in real life, unless you find them at some other retailer. Sometimes the giant selection can be overwhleming. Your guests must have internet capabilities.

6) Bloomingdales: Large department store. Has some higher end vases and decorative items. Registration is online and in store. Best Features: Will ship to your home. Participates in bridal rewards programs. Good selection of high end items. Drawbacks: High prices. Return for store credit only.

7) Charity: For those who prefer their gifts go to charity there are services out there that will handle this for you. Online only. Best Feature: If this is what you want they make it easy for you to do. Drawbacks: Not all of your guests want to go this route. They may want to give you a gift whether you want it or not. Your guests need internet capabilities.

8)PotteryBarn: Furniture and housewares. Registration online and in store. Best Features: Furniture. Will ship to your home. Participates in registry rewards. Drawbacks: Price is not great. Returns are for credit or exchange only.

9)Travelers Joy: You allow people to make donations towards different travel items you are planning: your honeymoon airfare, hotel stay etc. Registration online only. Best Features: You put gifts towards a nice experience together. Drawback: Your guests may prefer to just give you cash and let you deal with it yourselves. Guests need internet access.

10)Tiffany's: The store with the little blue boxes also has fine china and some housweares. Registration online and in store. Best Features: Many high end items. Drawbacks: Outrageous prices.

11) Adelaide's Alley: 517 kingshighway and east 3rd street in brooklyn. Cute assortment of housewares in brooklyn. Best Features: Extremely nice staff that is flexible on returns and guides you through registration. Carries great items. Drawbacks: You and your guests must be Brooklynites. Return for exchange or credit only. The items are great but selection is limited. They only deliver in Brooklyn.

12) The Yellow Door: A clasic brooklyn store with some online capabilities. You can start your registry online but it's a long process. Best Features: Handpicked items Drawbacks: You and your guests should be familiar with the Brooklyn store. Prices are not great.

13)East Side China: The famed Brooklyn China store now has a website but you need to go in to register. Best Features: AMAZING prices. Will return for cash. Drawbacks: You and your guests need to be familiar with brooklyn or boro park. They ship in the tri-state area only.

What should you register for? This is a post in itself and I will get working on it shortly!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Date Night at Clearview

When you are and your spouse both have jobs it's hard to find time to spend together. A weekly date night is a common solution, but it's tough to find the discipline to keep that time reserved and some weeks we just plain forget about it. That is, until we instituted Tuesday movie night at Clearview. Why Clearview? Because its free. That's right, you heard correctly - free.

Here's the deal, Optimum has a deal where users get a card that enables them to get two free tickets to any movie at a Clearview theater. After the first two tickets the rest are heavily discounted. Now, we don't have Optimum service... but my sister does, and she lives in Brooklyn. There isn't a Clearview in sight in brooklyn. Her card was just festering away in a drawer until I saw it and she agreed to swap it for a coupon to old navy. Ask your family and friends. You may just find an unused optimum card amongst them.

The upper east side is also a great place to use your free movie. Why? Jersey clearviews: packed on tuesday nights with optimum users. Chelsea clearview: packed on tuesday nights with optimum  users. 62nd street clearview: spacious and roomy with few optimum users. This is Time Warner Cable territory. The only people here are the ones who are coming in from elsewhere. We stroll in five minutes before our movie, get tickets and find prime seats still available.

Date night is now an established routine. It's known that it will be tuesday. We hate to miss it because it's free and you can throw in something fun like ice cream or dinner because the movie isn't costing you anything. Long live clearview.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mildew Prevention

I hate mildew with a passion. If I had it my way, I would have glass shower doors that sparkled. But for now, me and my shower curtain are battling mildew. Until a few months ago it was a pretty downhill battle. A month or so after placing a new curtain I'd see the telltale signs of mildew starting to form. No matter how hard I scrubbed, two months later I'd find myself in the bath section of Bed Bath and Beyond picking out a new curtain. But now, I have a system. It's been a over two months and my curtain is still looking brand spanking new. Here's some tips to help you with your mildew battles.

1) Buy a curtain that is thick and says mildew resistant. Believe me, it's worth the extra 1.54
2)Do not leave the curtain bunched up after you get out of the shower. This is hard to remember but it makes a big difference. Mildew needs a moist environment to grow. Keeping your curtain bunched means the water in the folds will not dry and mildew has a great breeding ground.
3) Keep a spray bottle with a 50/50 mix of water and ammonia next to your shower. Mist the shower every so often after you leave. This stops mold spores in their tracks. Cheap and very effective.
4)Wipe down your curtain every two weeks. A little dilute bleach doesn't hurt either.

Here's to a mold free shower!

What's for dinner? Garlic Scape Pesto

Ever try planting a garlic bulb and see a little green shoot sticking up from the earth? Or (far more common) have you ever left  garlic unused for a little too long and find a green seedling inside when you split it open? That my friends is the garlic scape. Farmers cut it so that the plant devotes all of it's energy towards producing a nice hefty bulb. If left uncut, the scape would turn white and the bulb would be rather small. This is especially fortunate for us since the young green scape is a delightfully potent addition to any kitchen. You can use scapes in almost all recipes that call for garlic. However, don't be fooled by it's scallion-esque appearance. This little guy packs a big punch in every bite.
Garlic Scape Pesto:
5 garlic scapes
1 bunch basil
1 Tbs. pine nuts
1 Tbs. parmesan cheese
1/3 cup extra  virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Chop scapes, basil and pine nuts in a food processor. Add cheese, salt and pepper. While the processor is running add in the oil. 

This pesto is great poured over pasta or spread on a panini or wrap.

Can't find scapes in your grocery store? Try your local farmers market instead.

Herb Garden

My kitchen is about the size of a typical closet in most suburban homes, so my dream of a lovely kitchen window-sill garden where I can snip herbs straight from the source has been put on the back-burner. For one thing, I don't have a kitchen window. What I do have is a big window in my living/dining/guest room (Apartment living means things become 'multi-purpose'). Never one to settle, I set up my mini herb garden in there. I bought myself some pots, soil and ordered the Chia Herb Garden Seeds. It's been a week and here are the results:

As you can see, I've got some pretty good sprouts on the basil, chives, marjoram, and dill. The parsley is lagging a bit behind but I'm not giving up hope yet. Cooking with fresh herbs is a great way to give food a clean flavor that pops in your mouth. It's also a nice way to bring some green into your apartment. This week I am adding a mint and lavender plant for the wonderful aromas. If your apartment is even tinier than mine and you don't have a windowsill available you have my condolences and my suggestion for the AeroGarden which comes with it's own light system. It's pricey, but it'll fit almost anywhere. If you've got a cheaper option feel free to let our readers know! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What's for Lunch? Summer Squash Soup

A rare occurrence happened this afternoon. My husband and I had time for lunch together AND I had time to make it. I turned to the ingredients on hand in the refrigerator and found my inspiration: summer squash. If you have never heard of summer squash, it is a close relative to other squashes you may have heard of. Do not fear the name: it is available all year round in most places. Summer squash is harvested when not ripe and thus it is generally softer and requires less cooking than a winter squash variety. To choose a good squash look for thin one. Heavier/bigger is not better when it comes to squash. Bulbous squashes are holding a lot of water weight and were allowed to grow too long before being harvested. While squash is great in many dishes, I decided on a soup served alongside a simple tuna-lettuce-tomato-wrap. Here's the recipe, you can double it to feed more people:

Summer Squash Soup: (adapted from a recipe in a 2004 Martha Stewart Living Magazine)
1 1/2 Tbs. butter, softened
1 medium white onion diced
1/2 tsp. tumeric
pinch of cayenne pepper
3-4 medium summer squash, cut into thin rounds (no peeling necessary)
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1 Tbs. fresh lemon OR lime juice
cayenne pepper and pine nuts for garnish

1)Melt butter in a medium saucepan and add onion over medium heat. Cook onion until soft, stirring occasionally, about five minutes.
2) Stir in tumeric and cayenne. 
3) Add squash and stock, bring to a boil. 
4) Lower flame and simmer uncovered for abo
ut 20 minutes, until squash is tender.
5) Let cool slightly and blend with an immersio
n blender. I like soup chunky so I left pieces of hold squash. You can take this all the way to a puree or skip this step altogether depending on your preference.
6) Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in lemon or lime juice.
7) Optional step: Chill the soup. I personally, like soup hot however many people find this soup refreshing when cold. 
8) Ladle into bowls and sprinkle cayenne (or paprika) and pine nuts.

Synagogues of the upper east side

They very first thing people ask when they hear you live on the Upper East Side is "where to you daven (pray)?". Take care with your answer. You will be judged by it. For better or for worse, no matter where you live, this one question is the easiest way for people size you up, see if your "their type of people" and also a good segue into a round of Jewish geography. For those new to the neighborhood here's a list of shuls that I've visited and what your attendance there says about you. This list is by no means complete. Feel free to comment with your own additions to the list.

1)Chabad of the upper east side 1264 East 77th street (between first and york) - A pretty building with a very consistent minyan. This is also the location of the women's mikvah, and a dishes mikvah, so it's likely you know the spot if your married and living here. What it says about you: you're a chabadnik, related to a chadbadnik, a ba'al teshuvah, new to the area or shy and don't know anyone around here.

2)Congregation Bnai Israel aka Ralbag, 335 East 77th (between first and second) - It's the lower level of the building, the rabbi lives upstairs. This shul usually has an early megillah reading etc. for working people. Almost always a kiddush every shabbos. The ladies section is a little small but adequate for the amount of attendees. What it says about you: You're young, or wish you were, and you are a little yeshivish. You are a kiddush club, mainstream, chevra type of family. You look to your shul for socializing and setting up play dates for your kids.

3)Edmond Safra Synagogue, 11 east 63rd street (between fifth and madison)- The prayers here are in the Sephardic style. The building is beautiful but the architecture sacrificed looks for design. This is not a large problem on your average shabbos but on holidays/megillah readings you should come early for a seat. Ladies section is above the mens section. Massive and upscale kiddush every shabbos. What it says about you: You're Syrian, Mexican, or some other variety of the sephardic persuasion. You may be on some sort of rotation between this shul and our parents shul in brooklyn. There is also usually a large amount of travelers. Or you could just be in it for the food, which is really good.

4)Park East Synagogue, 163 East 67th street (between third and lexington)- A mainstay of the community for years. Famous for its chazzan and visits from the pope. Usually does not have problems with funding or a minyan. Very popular for maariv. What it says about you: You are a traditional type of person. You send your kids to ramaz and possibly consider yourself "modern orthodox" or "traditional". Or you may also donate, contribute to the shul but only really attend for holidays.

5)Yorkville Synagogue, 325 East 78th street (between first and second). - the crowd is a little older, but they are starting to attract a small core of younger folks. The rabbi gives a great speech every other week at the kiddush, cholent and learning program. Ladies section is upstairs and very large and spacious. What it says about you: You are orthodox and may even label yourself as "frum". You may be a retired Dr. who read the rabbi's medical ethics books. You may also be young and like a good speech. 

Community Shared Agriculture - Keeping me out of the Food Emporium

I have a love hate relationship with Food Emporium. If you're an upper east sider you probably understand. One the one hand, it's right down the block, open at all hours and so convenient. On the other hand, everything costs a fortune and the produce starts going bad the minute they put it in your bag. The guilt is unimaginable. You go in to buy an avocado and stand there in a trance with your hand reaching, but unwilling to commit, to the act of grabbing the ripply brown fruit. The sign reads "2 for 4$" and you can't help but think that you could buy an avocado for fifty cents in brooklyn.  You either fight desire and leave feeling hungry but vindicated or stash the fruit in your bag, use it surreptitiously and feel regret the minute you swipe your card. It's become a filthy habit of mine. Sneaking into the food emporium and hoping no one notices the outrageous price I am paying.

People go to extreme lengths to avoid food emporium, gristedes, or whatever their neighborhood grocery store is. I know one girl who bikes to Wholefoods and carries her groceries home on her back every week. Some apartments get together to share a cab to Trader Joes. I have several of my own methods but the one I'd like to talk about today is my local CSA.

CSA, otherwise known as Community Shared Agriculture, has gained strength recently as an emerging national trend. This is mostly because people have an increasing interest in organic, naturally grown foods as well as a desire to gain a connection to their food, the farmers and the land that produces it. Now that's all very nice, but it's not enough to break the stronghold grocery chains seem to have over me. What does it for me is that my CSA provides fresh produce at prices significantly cheaper than the  prices you'll find at any grocery store.

How does it work? Most CSA's are run very similarly. You pay up front in the beginning of the year for a share of the farms produce. Then during harvest time (June through November for NYers) a shipment of produce is sent weekly to a pickup site where you go and get your share. This means you are eating whatever grows on the farm at the time. Some CSA's also require some volunteer time from members, others do not. My particular CSA is the Yorkville CSA supplied by stoneledge farm. And ever since delivery season started I have reduced my food emporium trips to one in every couple of weeks. Plus my cooking as gotten a lot healthier. In this weeks share I got summer squash, green leaf lettuce, oregano, sugar snap peas, garlic scapes and swiss chard. Most CSA's also have optional buy-ins for fruit, flowers, honey, maple syrup and other products.

The downside: 1)You need to use this stuff quickly as you get a new shipment every week. You are also "eating with the seasons" if you will. This means you have to be a bit creative. In some cases you receive a vegetable you never even heard of before. It's actually not such a downside as it introduces variety into your menus. My CSA even gave me a free cookbook Recipes from America's Small Farms. 2)You cannot request specific items on specific weeks. You get what is produced. So if you are craving avocado and you don't get one in this weeks share, you may have to resort to food emporium. 3)CSA's tend to be run by sustainable, organic agriculture methods. This means you MUST CHECK FOR BUGS. Wash you produce thoroughly just before use (this extends it's life as washing in advance promotes rotting). You may want to consider a salad spinner for quick drying of lettuce.

All in all, you save money, eat healthier and feel pretty good about yourself. Plus your supporting local farmers and the environment. It's a pretty win-win situation. To find a CSA near you try this website.