OyChicago blog


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12 Nissan 5773 / March 22-23, 2013

Dan Horwitz photo

In this week’s portion, Tzav, we find the specific instructions delivered to Aaron and his sons as to how to perform the ritual sacrifices. In particular, we learn about a few different types of offerings: burnt, meal, anointment, sin, guilt, and well-being. We learn that priesthood would only be passed on to Aaron’s male descendants, and we learn that we’re not permitted to eat certain animal fats (who knew the Bible was so ahead of its time as it relates to eating healthily!), and that eating blood is not permitted. And at the end of the portion, Moses anoints Aaron and his sons (and their vestments), and they begin their duties as the Israelites’ designated priests.

I can’t help but be fascinated with the concept of anointing vestments. The notion that certain clothing can be spiritually uplifted via a ritual process is quite intriguing to me, as I sit here writing this Dvar Torah while wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I try to think back to my lucky sports socks or the baseball hat I wore every day for almost 3 years, and I have a hard time remembering what it was that made those objects so special and out-of-the-ordinary. I don’t recall there being any sort of formal “you are now special because I’ve sprinkled special water on you” moments…

And yet, our tradition certainly creates space for making otherwise mundane garments holy. Think, for example, of the difference between a rectangular piece of fabric, and of the same piece of fabric now containing fringes on the four corners (making it a tallit).

Even more so, think of the garments we use to clothe our Torah scrolls, such as a belt and cover. While in and of themselves ordinary, by virtue of covering our sacred objects, these garments take on an elevated status of holiness in our minds.

Should the clothing we wear be any different?

If we each contain a Divine spark, and given our traditional belief that to save a single human being’s life is to save the world, should we treat ourselves and our adornments any differently than we would those that cover our Torah scrolls? In a world where many are unclothed, what would it be like to view ourselves as holy vessels, and to elevate what we consider routine and mundane, such as our clothing, to a higher status?

In the traditional morning blessings, we praise the Divine for clothing the naked (“malbish arumim”). But the reality is there are still many who don’t have the clothes they need, and that those of us who do often are not appreciative enough of them.

This Shabbat, take stock of your wardrobe. Examine your relationship with clothing. Donate some of your lightly used items to help clothe others. Recognize that simply by virtue of you wearing them, your garments can, if you allow them to, take on an elevated, and even holy status.


The Thrill of the Afikoman and Other Stories

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The Thrill of the Afikoman and Other Stories photo

Okay. I lied. There are no other stories. Yes, I must be the wicked child. Despite my age of 25 (going on 26!), I am still a child. Passover still tends to be one of my favorite Jewish holidays of the year. Believe me, when I’m in my local Jewel Osco, and yes I shop there because it’s JEW-el Osco, I never PASS OVER the chance to check out the kosher section. See what I did there? Seriously, do you? Because if you do can you please let me know what I did there because I have no idea what I did there.

When it comes to the Passover Seder, the search for the Afikoman is a long standing tradition that can be traced back well before I was even born. Crazy, I know. But the search for the Afikoman is one element of my life that sadly does not exist anymore. Oh, the search for the Afikoman. If there’s one thing I wish still existed in my adult life, it would be that incredibly fast metabolism I had as a child. But if it was two things, yes two things, it would be the absolute lack of responsibility. But if it was THREE things, yes three things, then it would have to be that I could still participate in the search for the Afikoman come Seder time. I miss it so much I often buy loaves of bread and purposefully put them in locations around my apartment that I’ll forget just to have that wonderful excitement at a later time when I accidentally find them.

How funny would that be if I was joking? There’s a lot of moldy bread in my apartment that I can’t find.

The thrill of the hunt for the Afikoman was like no other. This wasn’t like finding Waldo, Jimmy Hoffa or your pants. There was a prize to be had! But sometimes the parents and/or aunts and uncles were quite cruel and would be far too clever in their hiding spots. There were the acceptable places like under the couch cushion or in between the books on the book shelves. Then there was the tough places like under the table cloth or inside the closet. But then there was one place I drew the line.

The Afikoman can NOT be hidden in the box of matzo. That is cruel and unusual punishment. That’s on par with telling me I’m going to Disney World and then taking me to the doctor’s office to get a booster shot. It hurts literally, figuratively, emotionally and redundantly. The scars I have from those Seders still exist today. But that’s only because I was rough housing too much and fell on a broken Seder plate when I was 9. But let’s not go there.

I must say, the night of finding the Afikoman did sometimes lead to incredible experiences. Imagine the night I found the Afikoman AND lost a tooth. Man, I was rolling in it. It being money for those that needed clarification. I would often get my dollars exchanged for rolls of pennies so rolling it in wouldn’t be as strange. Rolling in dollar bills looks rather foolish. Actually rolling in any amount of money looks rather foolish. But rolling in hay on the other hand…..moving on.

I do, however, need someone to explain to me how the Afikoman is considered dessert. I understand it roughly translates to “that which comes after” but still, why couldn’t those amazing fruit slices or ring jells translate to that as well? Perhaps I’m mistaken, but the call of dessert does not often represent unleavened bread in my mind. Although when I see it smothered in chocolate my attention does tend to be captured. Although in all fairness, anything smothered in chocolate does tend to catch my attention. I’m looking at you Elite chocolate bar that I dip in chocolate and then pour chocolate sprinkles over.

I don’t do that. Much. 


Sean Altman is… Jewmongous!

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Sean Altman looms large in the worlds of a cappella and novelty song. First, he's very accomplished and innovative and influential, and even has awards and stuff. Also, he's very tall. Altman is one of the performers at the City Winery's Downtown Seder, March 20 at 6 p.m. (the full list is here).

Sean Altman photo 1

Your album is called Taller than Jesus. How much taller are we talking?
I've done a lot of scientific research on this topic, mostly from measuring my grandparents and their altercocker friends. These are tiny, tiny people and they we only born last century. The average guy at the time of Christ was 4'9" to 5'5". At an impressive 6'3" I'm not only way taller than Jesus but I probably would have been a side-show freak back in Nazareth, or at least a successful olive picker.

How many albums have you been on, altogether? Do you even keep track anymore?
I don't keep track except in moments of dread and insecurity when I obsessively count my albums and how many (OK, how pitifully few) women I've bedded. I've appeared on about 30 albums.

What brought you into the world of children's media?
In 1990, my vocal group Rockapella was featured in a PBS Great Performances documentary called Spike Lee & Co. — Do It A Cappella which aired internationally and got the group its first record deal (a single of "Zombie Jamboree" on Elektra). The producers of a kids' TV series in development called Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? saw our performance and thought our singing and manic antics would suit the show. We starred on that daily series for five years and all 295 episodes, and I co-wrote the infamously catchy theme song. Voila— instant kids' TV fame!

Sean Altman photo 2

How has your approach to kids' music changed, now that you are a dad?
I don't play any "kids'" music for my 4-year-old daughter, just a wholesome diet of the Beatles, Julie Andrews and my originals (she'll inherit the copyrights so she needs to know what gems she's sitting on).

Did you predict the current zombie craze with? Any moves to bring the song back now?
Zombies never go out of style for very long; their tragic story is too compelling. I grew up on the '50s novelty calypso song "Zombie Jamboree," which was made famous in the '60s by The Kingston Trio, Harry Belafonte and others. I arranged the song for my college a capella group and my arrangement is a bona fide staple of collegiate a capella (a dubious honor). During my 11 years with Rockapella we recorded my arrangement three times for three different record companies. My current group The GrooveBarbers recently recorded what I consider the definitive version, at least until I record a new treatment. I half suspect my own rotting zombie corpse will figure out a way for me to record yet another version of "Zombie Jamboree" from the grave: you know… the AMAZING posthumous rendition that's gonna finally get the Altman name up in lights, albeit L.E.D.s, as incandescent bulbs will have long been extinct.

Talk about being big in Japan… in both senses.
During Rockapella's kids TV heyday in the USA we had a parallel career as an adult act (not as naughty as it sounds) in Japan. We toured there eight times in four years and released eight albums, including two dozen of my originals. That record deal made me into a songwriter. "You mean if I write a song it'll go on an actual CD?!" (CDs were new and very fancy in the early '90s).

What is Musicians On Call?
Twice a month for the last dozen years I've performed bedside serenades for patients at local hospitals as a volunteer with a national organization called Musicians On Call. I specialize in Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly and other vintage chestnuts. It's typically the most rewarding three hours of my day.

What is it with Jews and a cappella groups? Why so many?
I hear that University of Maryland has more Jewish a capella groups than regular groups! One obvious reason for the proliferation of Jewish acapella is that instruments aren't permitted on the Sabbath so there are lucrative work opportunities for vocal groups at Orthodox weddings and bar mitzvahs (I should know, I sing in a few of these groups as a freelance ringer).

Sean Altman photo 3

Yes, you are Jewmongous, but what's harder: being Jewish or being humongous?
I absolutely love being Jewish and I'm fiercely proud of my Jewishness. That being said, I've never believed in God— not even at my bar mitzvah (sorry, Rabbi Gottlieb)— and I don't plan to start believing now. All I know how to do well is sing and write songs, so JEWMONGOUS is my way of connecting to my people. My goyishe friends don't get it: "How can you consider yourself Jewish and not believe in God?" I tell them that this is the beauty of being Jewish: it's a bloodline not a belief line! I get all the benefits of being Jewish— the brains, the jokes, the musical talent, the Nobel prizes, the food (OK, the food isn't a benefit) without having to set foot in a synagogue and pray.

What's so funny about being Jewish?
Religion is funny. OK, religion is preposterous and maddening and absurd— all of them, the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, the Buddhists, and especially the meshugge Christian Scientists— but it's a fact of life that most of the planet believes in some form of handsome, bearded, puppeteer in the sky, so I've come to accept it and to do my darnedest to wring some pleasure from the comic side of it.

OK: Rockapella vs. Straight No Chaser in a cage match. Winner?
Rockapella, which has existed without me for a quarter century, still sings and writes circles around every other group. That being said, Straight No Chaser are younger and more plentiful by a factor of two so they'd probably win in a brawl.

Will there be a follow-up to Taller than Jesus?
Yes; I have yet to release such delectable titles as "Blame The Jews," (by Pope Anstisemiticus) "Phantom Foreskin," "Hooked On Hora," "Jesus Christ's Bar Mitzvah," "The Least Jewy Jew In Jewville," and several more. Expect a new album this December in time for my annual holiday tour.


Surviving a Seizure

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Marcy Nehorai photo 4

It was an ordinary Thursday afternoon. My little, vibrant 18 month old girl was feeling a bit out of sorts. Mingling between sort-of-cranky to probably-had-a-fever though our cheap thermometer didn't seem to get a great reading, plus, how do you get kids to sit still for that long with something sticking under their arm?

I needed a nap, burning with acute frustration just below the surface that my little queasy girl needed more attention than I could give. I slogged through trying to still give some good TLC.

As I filled up her bath, she flitted around, giggling, playing hide and seek. Her body, I noticed, fluctuated between hot and cold. I hadn't been giving her enough to drink that day. I toyed with the idea of running out before her bedtime to get her some more juice.

The bath was ready. Rescuing my little one from one of her silly running around games, I plunked her in. Usually, she would play with some of the bigger toys I placed in the bathtub— the old seat she used to sit in when she was too young to stand, or the classic stackable rings. Sometimes the measuring cups would be her fascination of the day. Today, she seemed uninterested, just looking down into the water.

I sprinkled her with some water drops.

"Tanya...." I cajoled. "Want something to play with?"
She stood there, still, staring at the water wordlessly.
"Tanya..." I put some more drops on her.
Nothing. Silence. No movements. Just staring down at the water.
I stopped, worried.
"Tanya?" I breathed.
No response.
I picked her up, and stood her on the bathroom floor, covering her with a towel. "Tanya?''
She just stood there, looking down, not responding. Her eyes, her expression, everything, blank. Gone.




I rushed with her in my arms towards the bedroom, everything moving slowly, feeling like a dream.

"Elad!!" I felt I wasn't yelling loud enough. I felt I was too confused to understand how to act, react, overreact, underreact. "Elad," I yelled through the door, "Tanya's acting really weird...."

I pushed through the door and the next moment his face was in hers, scared out of his mind.
I knew that he could see her face full on better than I did, and I knew from his reaction, that it was bad, that it was really, really strange.

He was yelling, he was calling 911. "TANYA!!!" He was screaming in her face."Tanya!!!"

She wasn't responding. She just looked, blankly, ahead. The little girl who was always laughing, always giggling, always reciting her favorite word "no." on repeat...

We thought it was the end.

"C'mon Tanya," I shook her hard, "C'mon Tanya. Snap out of it, Tanya, come on."

"GOD!!!" I cried out. "God, bring this girl back to life!"

Every single thought in the world that had ever worried me humbled in comparison to this little girl. I knew that, resolutely, that I would give up everything, anything, to focus all of my energy on her, to do it all again, to make things right. Who cared about anything else?

My husband was out the door, searching for help, calling the emergency numbers. "My daughter, she's not responding. Is she breathing?" I heard him ask.

"C'mon Tanya," I jostled her up and down, chanting to the blank face and body in panic. “Come on Tanya. Come back to life. "

And then, in a momentous movement, she threw up. All over me. I took this as a type of sign, as progress.

As I stared, she started moving a little, coming back to life. She was responding again. Soon, she was back, fully. A miracle.

The storm had passed.

After the almost inconceivable happens, you understand how close life and death are, experiencing the profound reality check of what is really important and what you would give anything to go back and have again.

And then, suddenly, sometimes, if you're lucky, you're given that choice.

My life, it may never be the same, at this point so close to the terror of the moment, it's hard to know. My mind goes back to those crazy moments, in which I thought a precious life was lost. I would prefer to go back to that other moment, that moment in which I gained the most precious gift of my life back.

What I would give to keep that focus throughout my life, that awareness of life, of the gifts that rain down on me continuously. Of that which is my focus and my real concerns, not the dribble that can cloud our glasses in life's daily grind.

As it turns out, the medical reports unanimously declared, Tanya had had a febrile seizure, a seizure caused by a fever and extreme shifts in temperature. This is fairly common in young babies, and causes no damage other than scaring parents out of their wits. The docs weren't too concerned, though they didn't have to endure what I endured, they didn't feel like they had almost lost everything only to luckily gain it all back.

My, what a miracle life is. My, what a gift it is. Cherish it.

With all of your heart, and soul, and might. With all of your money, and words, and thoughts. Embrace it with every ounce of strength you have within.

What a life we are privileged to lead. At any moment....

But nevermind that. Embrace and cherish the now. And laugh with it. A big, silly, belly laugh. In gratitude that we have what we love right in front of us. Love that, now. With all of your heart, and soul, and might.

We have everything we need right in front of us. Know that right now, we are rich.

Happy Passover.

May we all feel and be fully redeemed in every dimension of our existence. 


Diaries of a Fourth Grade Teacher

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Educators: Teachers, or Babysitters?

Diaries of a Fourth Grade Teacher photo

About a year ago, one of my brother’s friends who had recently become an educator shared a rather intriguing post on a social media website comparing the average teacher’s pay to that of a babysitter. The post went viral, of course, and caused quite a disturbance among myself and my graduate school cohorts. Here we were, being trained and prepped to enter the world of education, armed with passion and cutting-edge instructional strategies to ‘wow’ our audience – the students – because they are the reason why we go into teaching.

Let’s back up for a second and read the essay as I saw it, which reportedly was written years ago at a New Hampshire newspaper:

“Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It’s time we put thing in perspective and pay them for what they do – babysit!

We can get that for minimum wage. That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That …would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to…………… 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan – that equals 6 1/2 hours).

Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day. However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.

LET’S SEE…. That’s $585 X 180 = $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries). What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute – there’s something wrong here! There sure is! The average teacher’s salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students = $9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student – a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!! Heaven forbid we take into account highly qualified teachers or NCLB…

Make a teacher smile; re-post this to show appreciation.”

This seemed a little crazy to me, but then again, so are lots of things. The truth is that we all want the best education for our children and future generations, yet we don’t have a system developed to increase the quality of that education. What’s worse, more people are graduating from college and graduate school than ever before, and the job market is not exactly lucrative either. Everyone is fighting for a job, even those of us that have jobs that want something different or better.

Now, I used to be a babysitter myself – and a darn good one, too – and back in those days, babysitting was not exactly a regular gig, but it was money in my pocket. I got to build experience in responsibility, financial management and supervision of younger individuals and learn to establish relationships with adults. I loved being able to be a kid and have tons of fun while making some (undeclared) cash on the side. Plus, I was always funny and always right. And perhaps, from time to time, we might play an educational game or review homework problems together. But, I would not have considered myself a teacher.

So I sit here scratching my head thinking, how is it possible that teachers get paid less than babysitters?

I think the lesson I learned from reading this post is that we all want the best and we are all contributors toward the future generation’s learning experience.

In any event, I think we can all agree that teachers deserve our recognition and support for spending about one third of their days with our children. Remember, they’re teaching our future sons and daughters about math, science, social studies and everything in between. So, next time you hear about a teacher’s misfortune or difficulties, just remember that we as a society have entrusted them with our future. We have given the gatekeepers all of the keys towards a brighter future, it only makes sense that we give them the credit and support they deserve and need. Plus, I think we can all think of a teacher or mentor we had in our youth that changed our lives for the better. And if we can’t, then perhaps we should make sure our children have one for their future’s sake.

Let’s hear it for our teachers!



The 10 meal project: Tales of a wannabe cook who hates cooking

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The 10 meal project photo

For my husband’s 30th birthday last month, I decided to get him 30 gifts. This is a cute idea in theory, but in practice can become rather pricey. So I decided that a large portion of his gift would be something he wants more than anything else in the world—home-cooked meals prepared by me.

Do you remember a few years back when I set out to prepare a traditional Shabbat dinner? I surprised myself by not failing miserably and created a pretty tasty meal, if I may say so myself. I still did not enjoy touching or preparing a whole, raw chicken, but with some help, I did it. I vowed then that Mike, my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and I would set aside time one Shabbat a month to prepare meals together, spending quality time and improving my seriously lacking kitchen skills.

Well, you know how it goes. Life happened. We got engaged, got sucked into wedding planning, moved, got busier at work, got a puppy, and let’s face it, got lazy. My husband, I should add, is excellent in the kitchen and enjoys preparing meat-filled, manly meals that I get to enjoy. He gets so much joy out of seeing me eat the food he makes, but deep down, I know he wishes I would return the favor once in a while.

And here’s the thing—I want to love cooking. I really do. I want to want to spend time in the kitchen, instead of putting something together as quickly as I can and using the least amount of pots and dishes possible. I even had some success making kugel for Rosh Hashanah this year (with Mike’s help) and I love spending quality time with my grandma learning to make some of her famous recipes. But I just haven’t had the drive or the confidence to get in there and do it myself.

So when I handed him 10 coupons each offering one meal prepared by me, I decided it was go time. Time to just get in there and do this—alone.

He redeemed his first coupon this Sunday night. We had eaten a lot of heavy, meaty meals over the course of the weekend (and also I’m not a huge fan of preparing meat), so I told Mike to find a recipe for a vegetable-filled pasta dish. Start off easy. He found a recipe online for Mediterranean pasta with vegetables.

It wasn’t gourmet by any means, and it took me three times as long as it should have, but nothing came out of a can and I did it—all by myself. And I had fun. I even took a little creative license with the recipe.

The 10 meal project photo 2

And what was really nice about it was that I got all the ingredients at Trader Joe’s and paired with a bottle of Two Buck Chuck, it was much more economical than ordering in Thai food or pizza, our usual Sunday night fare.

I don’t know when he’ll redeem that next coupon, but in the meantime I’m looking for side dishes to prepare when we host our families for Passover in a couple weeks. I’m thinking I’ll tackle sweet potato casserole myself.

I’m also hoping that by the end of this 10 meal project I’ve created for myself, that I’ll feel more comfortable and confident in the kitchen. And fingers crossed, maybe I’ll even graduate from a wannabe cook who hates cooking to an okay cook who thinks cooking is kind of fun—I’ll keep you posted. Until next time, this wannabe cook is signing off!


This year in San Diego

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This year in San Diego photo

Burying my niece and nephew in the sand

There’s something about celebrating Passover each year that makes me very happy. It’s definitely not because I get to eat matzo for eight days and little else. But the story of Passover, of all the Jewish holidays, really speaks to me— maybe it’s because it’s going to finally get warm again…soon.

Growing up, my parents and my aunt and uncle on my dad’s side alternated Passover hosting duties. With a large extended family, Passover was the once-a-year opportunity to be all together. My grandfather— as the head of the household— led the prayers. Our Seders were long and serious, but the food was frequent and plentiful and I was treated at a young age as an adult, instead of a kid.

Both of my grandmothers died before I was born, but on Passover I’ve always felt a special connection to them knowing we were eating their cherished recipes. (Though I never could learn to love my Grandma Clara’s egg water or my great aunt’s matzo-meal bagels).

As the youngest by many, many, many years on my dad’s side of the family, I was ALWAYS tasked with reciting the four questions— at 25 I was finally able to hand over the reins.

Today, Passover in my family looks very different. I have several young-ish nieces and nephews and they “share” reading the four questions. No longer does the Seder seem so long and serious. While I must admit I feel some nostalgia for the past and for my childhood, our family has created wonderful new traditions. We’ve “acted” out Seders using finger puppets, we’ve added a cup for Miriam and an orange to the Seder plate, and we’ve moved our celebrations to a much different venue, San Diego, where my parents and aunt and uncle spend a good portion of the winter.

This year, spring break coincides with Passover, which means most of my family can make the trek. We will ALL be under one roof, for a whole week, with only matzo to eat! Yes, sharing a bed with my 10-year-old niece (who wakes up at 6:30 every day) may not seem like much of a vacation. But nothing compares to spending quality time with my niece (and nephews) in the kitchen, passing down our family recipes to this fourth generation. And I’m not going to complain about being able to visit the beach for a post-Seder walk to burn off all the chocolate covered matzo.

Here’s to this year in San Diego. Happy Passover, everyone!


Interview with NFL Prospect Sam Schwartzstein

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The Great Rabbino’s Jewish NFL player of the year photo

Over the last few years the NFL draft has brought us some great stories— starting with Taylor Mays and Gabe Carimi. Last year, Mitchell Schwartz got all the press, while Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Alex Gottlieb drew some attention, as well. This year, we have Sam Schwartzstein out of Standford. Below is a little bit about the determined Offensive Lineman.

Can you tell people a little bit about yourself?
I'm an interior lineman prospect for the 2013 NFL draft and played at Stanford for the past five years. I'm from Texas originally where I went to school at Carroll High School in Southlake.

What was your experience at Stanford like? 
It was great, had a lot of amazing experiences of going through a rebuilding process of a team going from the bottom of the Pac10 to the top of the PAC 12.

Which Harbaugh did you root for in the Super Bowl?
I was mostly an objective observer, but parts of me wanted coach to win. He is a main reason why I chose Stanford and I thank him immensely for that.

What are your future career plans?
Hopefully, a long NFL career, but after that I want to work in a startup and create a new product or service.

Will you be attending the combine or tryouts? Are you excited for the opportunity?
I will not be attending the combine, but I will be participating in Stanford's pro-day on March 21st. I'm extremely excited for the opportunity and that's all I want, an opportunity to prove myself.

Where do you see yourself lining up in the NFL? 
At one of the three inside positions. I played center the past two years, but was a recruited guard. I have experience at all three spots.

Over the last few years Jewish NFL Offensive Linemen have been drafted high (Gabe Carimi; Mitchell Schwartz). Have you spoken to either of them about their experience? Who is guiding you on your journey? 
I haven't spoken to them, but it is awesome to see their success. I spoke to Mitchell after we played Cal two years ago and it's one of those things where it's cool to catch and meet guys from a similar heritage. The guys who have helped guide me were David DeCastro and Jonathon Martin. They are exceptional players who understand the work it takes to be a true professional.

What was your Jewish upbringing like? Do you have a favorite holiday? 
I come from a split Jewish and Christian house where we practiced both holidays. My dad was Jewish and we often would look for the Jewish athletes out there. It was a prideful thing where a lot of people wouldn't give me the respect in sports because of the last name but it was a driving force to make me work harder to prove the doubters wrong. Favorite holiday would be Passover because my dad makes the best brisket.

Good luck to Sam. We will be watching out for you.

And Let Us Say...Amen.
- Jeremy Fine


Taylor Swift versus Tina Fey and Amy Poehler

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Taylor Swift versus Tina Fey and Amy Poehler photo

As a woman of a certain age (mid-twenties), there's been an oh-so-pressing debate taking place in Hollywood recently that I just can't seem to let go of: Taylor Swift versus Tiny Fey and Amy Poehler. Not to mention the pop culture pitting of Anne Hathaway versus Jennifer Lawrence.

Sure, it's light, fluffy, US Weekly stuff. Taylor Swift, the over-coiffed 23-year old millionaire, accusing the affable Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of belonging in a special place in hell for making a lighthearted joke at her expense, in a very public Vanity Fair magazine article. Long story short, at the Golden Globes, Amy and Tina made a lighthearted joke about Swift, serial dater extraordinaire, about staying away from Michael J. Fox's young son.

Sure. Fine. If you can't take a joke Tay, you can't take a joke. But as someone who is just a touch older than Ms. Swift, I wonder, why is it that young women in Hollywood, those who work so diligently to be in the limelight, why must they fit into one mold or another? In other words, she makes millions singing about lost love and all of the studly companions she's takes on her arm, but anyone throws her some (lighthearted, funny)  shade and suddenly the accused are not helping the feminist cause. The persona she adapts in order to make her money is all well and good, but in the face of criticism, she insists she is something else.

Also take, for example, the oft-made comparison between Oscar season belles of the ball, Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway. In more succinct terms, it's the case of the cool kid versus the prissy princess. I'm going to be painfully honest for a second...I'm a bit more Anne Hathaway than Jennifer Lawrence. I'm cutesy, I'm a former theatre kid, I wouldn't classify myself as the coolest cucumber on the block (a la J-Law). But still, when I read this article about Anne Hathaway being "The Happy Girl", it gave me a great deal of pause.

"The Happy Girl"...according to the above article by Sasha Weiss featured in The New Yorker, is an idea that manifests itself a little something like this: "There's generally only a small window of time when girls have that mien of utter at-homeness in the world-it gets snuffed out in many of them by age twelve or thirteen, when their glance turns inward, scrutinizing. Anne has somehow managed to retain that bright look, and many people would like to wipe it off her face."

Interesting, huh? Also, where have all the happy girls gone? And is this an overreaching or justified defense? So many questions, so little time. Firstly, I think the comparison between Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway is unfair in suggesting that women can either be one thing or the other. In this isolated instance, either one is annoying, or one is awesome or so it seems to me, a casual observer of media articles and reports.

Yet another question I had for Weiss and others in defense of "The Happy Girl"...is anyone who doesn't fit into this mold, you know, sad? Outward attitudes like "The Happy Girl" could be potentially little more than facades. However, if it's truthfully this possession of interior well-being, an essential welling up of happiness, feeling comfortable enough to be outwardly effervescent, that's quite a virtue. I want to be a happy girl, don't you? But that's the point; it's up to you, if you are indeed a happy girl.

It's easy to say if something isn't this, it must be that. If Anne Hathaway is cloying, her competition, who possesses a different personality, demeanor and is nearly a decade younger, must be our best friend. That's all well and good (to be fair, J-Law does seem pretty darn cool), but, as a 20-something still working to figure it all out, what sort of personality type is it acceptable to be? At the core, I think that's what I find most troubling about this pop culture craziness: it's not enough to be shown images of razor thin models; that trapping of fame and fortune is often, often discussed. Now, we must contend with being either "happy" or cool, and the potential ramifications. Sure, these sassy singers and actresses live out their lives in the limelight, and who knows what really goes on behind the scenes. But in a world where every public event generates a thousand articles by a wide variety of publications with different agendas, I can't help but wonder...in this day and age, can't the dynamic, animated, talented twentyish (or thirtyish) something be as multi-faceted as she (or he...c'mon now!) wants to be? 


Freedom, matzoh brei, and that little goat too

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Freedom, matzoh brei, and that little goat too photo

Growing up, my friend and I—the youngest representatives from each of our families and tasked with singing Ma Nishtana ("The Four Questions") every Passover—would spend a good portion of the pre-Seder festivities each year practicing the song together. We loved the holiday and took our role in the seder seriously, striving to get the questions just right—and we would have just died of embarrassment if we messed up. In subsequent years, I have (eagerly) passed the torch of singing the song on to my young nephews. Then, my eldest nephew—who's "7 going on 70"—provides commentary on the questions and their answers in a style befitting Rashi or Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, a famous young scholar from the haggadah.

As a child and as an adult, my role in the Seder has evolved, but my love for Pesach remains. And I'm certainly not alone. In my informal poll of Jewish friends and family, I have discovered that most members of the tribe I know name Pesach as their all-time favorite Jewish holiday. In fact, it's the most widely celebrated holiday on the Jewish calendar. Chances are—no matter where you fall on the observance spectrum—come the evening of March 25, you'll find your way to a Seder, whether you live in Chicago, Jerusalem, or any other locale in the world. In that spirit, I give you my top 10 reasons to love the popular holiday.

1) On Pesach…we tell the story. We read the same story year after year from the Haggadah, and we learn something new every time we tell it.

2) On Pesach…we put life in perspective and appreciate all the good things we have. Just as we were once slaves, we remember that many people around the world still are not free.

3) On Pesach…we are commanded to drink four cups of wine. It wouldn't be right not to.

4) On Pesach…we stay home. Home is the focal point of the holiday. For most Jewish holidays, we observe the holiday in synagogue, but this time we recline and gather for Seder night in the comfort of Jewish homes all over the world.

5) On Pesach…we recognize that spring's on its way—maybe. In Chicago, it might feel like winter still—especially since Pesach arrives so early this year--but we know warmer temperatures, melting snow, and chirping blue jays are all just around the corner.

6) On Pesach…we rock good tunes. Who doesn't love the song about the four sons, a rousing rendition of Dayenu, or the one about that little goat?

7) On Pesach…no two Seders are exactly alike. They're kind of like snowflakes that way. In the course of my life, I've gotten to attend many different Seders, longer Seders that end in the wee hours of the night.; a Sephardic Seder where—in addition to matzoh and horseradish, we ate figs and dates; Maxwell House Seders, social justice Seders, chocolate Seders, and Seders where an orange occupies a prominent place on the Seder plate. They're all different, all special.

8) On Pesach…we let all who are hungry come and eat. This is a holiday where we open our homes to family, friends, and wandering Jews without a place to go.

9) On Pesach…matzoh brei flows like the Nile River. I love eating matzoh brei for eight days straight. And then, on the ninth day, when cornflakes and toast have returned to the menu, I've had my fill and I can't fry another morsel of brei.

10) On Pesach…we rejoice in our freedom. Once we were slaves, but now we are free…L'shanah haba'ah b'yerushalayim! (Next year in Jerusalem!)


Hopping Backward

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Blair Chavis photo

As American grocery stores and pharmacies continue to inundate consumers with pastel eggs and bunnies in anticipation of Easter, Israel has just ushered in a new bunny of its own. Playboy magazine launched its first Hebrew-language edition March 5 in Tel Aviv.

The Jerusalem Post quoted attorney Daniel Pomerantz, an Israeli immigrant from Chicago and Playboy Israel’s CEO, as saying he envisioned Playboy’s Hebrew edition launch as an opportunity to bring fun, fashion and serious debate, “all the things that Playboy stands for,” to Israel.

“Israel is taking another step into the community of regular nations with the debut of Playboy Israel, an all-Hebrew glossy monthly complete with nude photos of Israeli women, sports, style advice, political interviews and a mission to mentor Israeli masculinity,” said Jerusalem Post writer Niv Elis in the same article.

The English-language version of Playboy magazine has been available in Israel for years. Now, Israelis have an all-Hebrew version of the monthly magazine with Israeli models.

It’s worth questioning, however, why Playboy, with its ever-shrinking print readership, would target a small-scale country with a religiously influenced government. What impact is the company truly hoping to make with this small and divided population?

Playboy’s originator, Hugh Hefner, who founded the magazine in 1953, is quoted across media publications, saying he sees the Israeli launch as an affirmation of Israel’s shared values in freedom of speech, freedom of choice and freedom of the press.

“I am equally pleased that so many of the core values of the magazine are also the core values of the country and the society that has so graciously invited us to be a part of its cultural landscape,” said Hefner, according to the Post.

Some Americans credit Playboy for playing a positive role in the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, while others criticize its negative effects on gender equality.

“Marketing Playboy ‘b’aretz’ will be a tough sell. There’s a precedent of failure for imported American pornography in Israel,” according to a Jspace.com article.“Penthouse had a very unholy existence in the Holy Land, lasting only… between 1989 and 1993. And that is to say nothing of two strong contingents within Israeli society that will certainly oppose the venture on moral and ethical grounds: religious groups and progressives/feminists.”

Jezebel.com columnist Hugo Schwyzer also said Israel’s stance on nudity and modesty is complex.

“Part of that complexity is an increasingly nasty division between secular and religious society,” Schwyzer said. “The so-called ultra-Orthodox have begun enforcing Talibanesque modesty codes in some neighborhoods, even beating young women who show too much skin, while more moderate rabbis have called for a ban on female models in public advertisements.

At the same time, some secular politicians, emboldened by slight gains in the recent elections, are demanding that the government do more to protect the rights of women in public spaces,” Schwyzer added,” as well as improve the dismal percentage of women in Israel’s judiciary.”

I conferred with my Israeli friend, whom I met during my Birthright trip a few years back, and he certainly had a good laugh over Hef’s claim of common core values between Playboy and Israel. Further, he expressed doubts about Playboy’s future success in the Holy Land, citing that most Israelis consume pornography via the Internet, as Americans do. He pointed out that the Playboy Channel’s launch in Israel years back wasn’t incredibly successful.

My Israeli friend found additional—perhaps simpler—problems with Playboy Israel’s launch. He theorized that Playboy will be hard-pressed to find Israeli women who will be willing to model for the magazine, simply because Israel is a small country—and, there’s nowhere to hide once one has modeled nude.

Jezebel.com’s Schwyzer quotes Pomerantz describing the magazine as “complex” and “beautiful”--“the perfect fit for a country as complex and beautiful as Israel.”

You can dress the bunny up in high brow language and different colored bunny costumes—but what are we really talking about here? Pornography. Playboy can make grandiose claims about reinforcing democratic values of free speech through its print publication filled with fun, fashion and serious debate. But let’s be honest, publications like Playboy make progress difficult for women everywhere, and it’s not about to pay Israeli women any favors. The over-sexualization of women in America is not something to be emulated. I don’t view Israel adopting and further integrating an American model for objectifying women into their culture as a positive step forward—maybe it’s two bunny hops back.


A Plane Ride Away

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Lauren Schmidt photo

I am almost constantly guilty of calling my 10 to 20 or so closest friends my best friends. My mom used to always inquire as to how I can call my closest friends from school, camp, abroad, and life in general all my best friends. Mindy Kaling summarizes this perfectly in her sitcom, The Mindy Project, “[a] best friend isn't a person; it's a tier.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me, my personal tier extends across the country. Last weekend, I visited New York City where seven of my closest friends from school, camp, and study abroad live. Not only was it wonderful to spend time with friends from three different “worlds,” but it reminded me of what I should be ardently grateful for: the friends that you know will be in your life forever. Lucky for me, I had seven of them in the New York City area alone, five of which are from one of the most life-changing experiences of my 22 years on this earth: study abroad.

Study abroad is controversial sometimes, in the sense that people envision obnoxious upper middle class Americans raging their way through a continent without a care in the world, thinking that they are entitled to everything. In some ways, the aspects of having a good time filter into everyone’s abroad experience, but my four months in Barcelona were about much more than delicious drinks and nights that were memorable in the sense that no one could really remember them. My experience was grounded in spending four months with incredible people, experiencing different cultures, seeing truly awe-inspiring sites, trying delicious new foods (note: this was while remaining Kosher, excusing the monthly occurrences where I accidently ate swine and would proceed to panic for at least ten minutes following the incident), learning a lot about myself, and creating memories that I will always cherish.

On a whim, one of my closest friends, Rachel, who I studied abroad in Israel with in high school, and I decided we would study abroad together. After annoying her for months (possibly years) about my yearning to go to Barcelona, she caved and applied to the same program as me, where we ended up living together in homestay. Our señora was a cute, older woman from a small Pueblo in Spain named Conchita. She loved Indian music, Bollywood, shopping sprees, telling me fun facts about “Los Judios” (otherwise known as the Jewish people), and earning her livelihood as a manicurist. She also only spoke Spanish, which was a blessing in the sense that I learned to speak Spanish much better and a curse in the sense that the language barrier was often an obstacle. We once told her that we couldn’t shower yet, because we needed soup “No podemos duchar porque necesitemos la sopa.” Classic mix-up.

Within the first month or so, by some spark of fate, I had a group of friends that were normal, and although this sounds way too cheesy to be okay, I felt very blessed. Although including the boys there were 15 of us who spent a large majority of our time together, the six girls of the group became friends on a different level.

Abroad was kind of like camp in the sense that if you spend a lot of time with a small group of people living or traveling together, your shared experiences and connection as friends is catapulted into something amazing in a short amount of time. This also makes you the kind of friends where it doesn’t matter what you are doing, as long as you are just together enjoying life. From Sevilla and Valencia, to Prague, Italy, and many places in between, we explored Europe together and we were content, as we should be. There wasn’t even a trip that all six of us were on together, but somehow we stayed a cohesive group. In May 2011, we all went our separate ways, until they all moved to the New York City area.

It only took me until a few months ago to get myself in a together enough place to be able to buy a ticket to New York City. I sat at work last Friday fidgeting because I was so anxious and excited to all be together again, seeing as I hadn’t seen three of my closest friends in almost two years. Although I was ecstatic to have a weekend getaway, a small part of me wondered if everything would seem the same that it was two years ago or if the amount of time passed would be far too clear?

After nine hours of travel and many hugs, the six of us were reunited in Manhattan, the kick off to a great weekend away from reality. At one point in the night, I told my friend Gabby how excited I was to be there. Her response really said it all. “All week I was so excited for us to finally all be together and to see you and now that you’re here, this all seems natural. It’s like we never left each other.” I couldn’t have agreed more. I won’t bother you with the mundane details of my trip to New York or how I was finally converted from a hater of the Big Apple to a fan (although I still hate Times Square and no city in the United States will ever come close to being ranked above Chicago), but what I can tell you is seeing people that you know you will be friends for the rest of your life is really an incredible feeling. It is great to know that during a year of such chaos, change, and acclimation to the real world, some things don’t change. Some things remain the same and this consistency is what keeps me (kind of) sane. Carrie Bradshaw said it perfectly—“After all, things change, so do cities, people come into your life and they go. But it's comforting to know that the ones you love are always in your heart... and if you're very lucky, a plane ride away.”


The Power to Choose

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The Power to Choose photo 2

It has been two years.

Two years since I heard the words “No Evidence of Disease.”

Two years of seeing the world in hyper-color.

2 years of wiggling my toes, breathing deep, and savoring moments.

I woke up this morning uncertain of how to approach this day. With my 2 year scan scheduled in April, I was hesitant to celebrate my remission birthday without a concrete scientific endorsement.

After some thought and reflection I came to the realization that while the system that I am in has its own predetermined markers and finish lines, it is up to me to determine which dates and moments in time are significant.

The last two years have not only been about cancer but they have been about choice.

The choice to find meaning in suffering, the choice to find hope amongst trauma, and the choice to use my experience as the catalyst for living a life full of profound gratitude.

I may not have chosen the cards that I was dealt, but I had the ability to choose how to respond.

I chose to face cancer in an authentic, open and honest way – a choice that not only helped me navigate the trauma but has significantly enhanced my life in the here and now.

Perhaps there is a chance that my cancer has returned.

Perhaps there is a chance I will again be betrayed by my body.

And perhaps there is a chance I will again endure hardship and pain.

These what ifs, these unknowns, these maybe’s – are crippling.

Today I woke up wiggling my toes.

Today I had moments in hypercolor.

And today I am reminded of how great it feels to breathe deep.

I am here – I am alive – and I choose to celebrate.

Thank you for those that have been by my side – holding my hand in the darkest of hours – and to those that stood on the sidelines cheering from all corners of the globe.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I felt you then – and I feel you now.

The Power to Choose photo 1


Under my skin

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The tasty truth about animal fats

 Jewdish photo

Passover is a holiday filled with tradition. Families gather, familiar recipes are brought out from generation’s old cookbooks, and family favorites are brought alive in the kitchen. I remember learning how to make some Passover “classics” and was reading a recipe for matzoh balls and when I asked about chicken fat, I was told that no one does that anymore, “we use vegetable oil.” The problem with that is that the vegetable oil for Passover is cottonseed oil. Not only does cottonseed oil not taste delicious, but it is not good for you. Cottonseed oil may contain natural toxins and probably has unacceptably high levels of pesticide residues (cotton is not classified as a food crop, and farmers use many agrichemicals when growing it). Furthermore, cottonseed oil is too high in saturated fat and too low in monounsaturated fat.

This year for Passover, I am reclaiming an old Jewish tradition, one that is tasty, healthy and so greatly misunderstood. This year for Passover, I am going to use some delicious, savory chicken and duck fat for my dishes. Sure, I will still use my trusty extra virgin olive oils, but the holiday is all about tradition, and this is one tradition I am going to enjoy.

The 12th-century rabbi and physician Maimonides touted the benefits of chicken soup to one's health. Many other cultures also believe in the restorative properties of chicken soup and it turns out that it indeed may be good for you. Poultry fat has monounsaturated fatty acid palmitoleic acid which boosts our immune system. Chicken fat has the most of this healthful fat and what has instinctively been understood by many cultures around the world can now be backed up by science. There is something magical about the golden pools of chicken fat.

Animal fats contain fatty acids with help our bodies fight disease; help absorb vitamins and lower cholesterol. The human body can burn the short-chained fatty acids found in animal fats and will simply store the long-chained ones found in polyunsaturated fat. When I teach and lecture, I talk about how the human body can process natural fats but cannot tolerate hydrogenated and processed fats. Some states outlaw the use of trans fats and many companies have voluntarily stopped using them in production of their products.

I have often said that margarine will be the dietary ruin of the Jewish people. Once touted as a healthier fat and as a substitute for butter, margarine and other processed fats are known to be unhealthy. It is a myth that eating animal fat makes you fat.

The French Paradox

In the United States, 315 of every 100,000 middle-aged men die of heart attacks each year. In France the rate is 145 per 100,000. However, In the Gascony region, where goose and duck liver form a staple of the diet, this rate is only 80 per 100,000. This phenomenon has recently gained international attention as the French Paradox—they eat more poultry fat in Gascony than anyplace else, but they live the longest.

Using the whole bird

The average American cook purchases their poultry precut on Styrofoam boards wrapped in plastic. We are out of touch with our food. We do not know how to cut it and we pay more than twice as much as we should.

Think about it. The butcher/producer bought the whole chicken and paid for it by the pound. You purchase pieces of the bird (boneless, skinless breasts, thighs, legs or wings) but pay based on the weight of the entire bird. You might as well buy the entire bird and learn to use it from top to bottom.

As a consumer you will come out ahead when you learn to utilize the entire bird. In my home and professional kitchens, I use the pieces of chicken for meals, the carcass for stocks and the fat for EVERYTHING!

Ashkenazi Jews have a long history with schmaltz. Instead of butter and in the absence of olive oil, European Jews turned to schmaltz as their cooking fat.

In America when in 1933, Procter and Gamble published “Crisco Recipes for the Jewish Housewife,” a promotional cookbook available in English and Yiddish, animal fats lost favor as immigrants strove to assimilate.

Jewish households never looked back as medical journals wrongly accused animal fats as being unhealthy and touted hydrogenated fats such as Crisco and margarine.

Rendering duck or chicken fat

Start with a whole chicken or duck.

The challenge with kosher duck is that it is always found frozen and whole. This requires a bit of planning ahead and a fearless plan of attack. Cutting duck or chicken is not hard, but like many kitchen skills has been replaced with purchasing cut up pieces. I love cutting duck and chicken and want you to as well—so grab your sharpest knife, thaw your birds, and steel yourself. Here we go.

Place the duck or chicken breast side up on a cutting board with the legs facing you. (The breast side is plumper than the backside). Locate the breastbone that runs down the center of the bird. Cut a line as close to the breastbone as possible down the entire length of the bird. Gently scrape your knife along the body, this loosens the meat without cutting into it. Follow downward with your knife until the entire breast is cut away from the bone.
Repeat with the other breast.

To remove the legs and thigh: cut the piece of skin that attaches the leg to the bones. Bend the leg slightly to loosen it from the joint. Cut the skin on the back and remove the leg and thigh. Trim any pieces of fat and loose skin from the chicken or duck.

I individually wrap my poultry pieces and then freeze them. I save my carcasses for stock and the fat for rendering.

To render the fat

Place the fat in a saucepan. Add about ⅓ cup water for 1 pound of fat/skin. Place the pan on very low heat and let the fat melt very gently.

The water will evaporate and pieces of skin will start to turn golden brown. This process can take several hours. You can do this in a very low oven at 275 F.

When the skin turns golden brown, pour the fat and skin through a strainer. Press on the skin to get every last drop of fat.

Cool the fat before storing. And see below for Gribenes/Cracklings.


Return the skin to the pan and turn the heat to medium. Add one medium white onion that has been diced. Continue cooking, occasionally pouring off the fat and saving it, until the skin turns a deep brown and is very crispy.

Parsnip and Roasted Garlic Soup with Gribenes
Serves 6+

I have never really liked the standard potato-leek soup so popular in the late winter and early spring. The soup just doesn’t have any OOMPH!

My roasted version with the addition of parsnips, roasted garlic, and generous sprinkle of gribenes with the caramelized potatoes and leeks has punch and flavor. The soup is addicting with a decadent creamy consistency.

1 small medium white onion, diced
1 medium leek, white part only, sliced
2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
6 medium parsnips
Several tablespoons of chicken or duck fat
Several springs of thyme
1 bulb of roasted garlic, squeezed so all the flesh has been removed
10 cups of chicken stock
Suggested garnishes: chives, gribenes

Preheat oven to 350

1. Place the onion, leek, potatoes and parsnips on a parchment lined sheet pan. Toss the vegetables with the poultry fat and roast in the preheated oven until they are medium brown and caramelized (about 20-30 minutes).

2. Transfer the vegetables to a saucepan with the garlic and remaining ingredients. Simmer over low heat until the vegetables are very soft (about 20 minutes).

3. Puree with soup with an immersion blender. Adjust seasoning with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper.

4. Serve the soup garnished with fresh chives and gribenes.

Duck Confit

Duck confit is like kitchen gold. The ancient method of preserving poultry in fat is not hard, but does take a bit of time.

Confiting is the technique of poaching duck legs and thighs in their own fat. The gentle heat transfer ensures that the meat will retain moisture and flavor. Poaching poultry in water is not the same. The fat molecules are too large to penetrate which is not the case with water. The water actually dries out the meat, whereas the fat keeps the meat juicy. The meat is then stored in the fat where it attains even more flavor and can be preserved for as long as 6 months.

Once made, the confit can be served as a garnish, salad, entrée, or appetizer. I keep a couple of jars in my home refrigerator and “buckets” of confit at work.

After the work is done (most of the time spent confiting, you can be doing other things) the confit can be quickly made into delicious and flavorful dishes.

For the duck legs

6 duck legs
2 fresh bay leaves
Several springs of thyme
Several parsley stems
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons coarsely cracked black peppercorns
For the confit
3 garlic cloves
6 cups of duck fat, melted

1. Pulse the bay leaves, thyme, parsley stems, nutmeg and peppercorns in a food processor.

2. Spread the herb mix on the duck legs and refrigerate unwrapped overnight or for up to 2 days.

3. Wipe off the herbs and place the duck legs and garlic in a shallow casserole or Dutch oven.

4. Preheat oven to 200

5. Pour the fat over the duck legs.

6. Place the pan on a sheet pan and place in the oven. Cook for 3-4 hours or until the skin has begun to shrink away from the bone. The meat will look cooked through and the leg and thigh portion will be firm.

7. Cool the pan before trying to remove the duck. Gently remove the legs and place in a container for storage in the refrigerator (I use re-tasked cleaned and sterilized jars). Pour the fat through a strainer and directly into the jars to cover the legs.

8. Seal the cooled jars and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. 

*Confit jelly at the bottom of the jars—after the confit has been stored for several days, a dark jelly substance will gather at the bottom of the jars. This jelly is loaded with flavor and body and is the by-product of the confit process. Add the jelly to your soups and stews as a flavor base.

Blood Orange-Duck Confit Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Serves 4-6

For the salad

2 cups baby arugula (the peppery flavor balances the vinaigrette and duck)
Several confit duck legs, skin peeled off and saved, and meat pulled and shredded
2 medium beets, roasted
½ cup raisins
½ cup dried cranberries
Grapefruit sections, tangerine sections, blood orange sections
1 red onion, sliced thinly

1. Arrange the salad on a beautiful platter.

2. Crisp the duck skin in a medium sauté pan and chop it up. Sprinkle over the salad.

For the vinaigrette

⅓ cup blood orange juice
2 teaspoons honey
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1. Whisk the ingredients together and pour over the salad. 

Confit Garlic

I confit garlic in chicken fat all the time. It is my secret for creamy-flavorful mashed potatoes, soup bases and vinaigrettes.

2-3 bulbs garlic, separate the unpeeled cloves from the bulb
Several thyme sprigs
1 rosemary sprig
1 cup melted poultry fat

1. Put all of the ingredients in a narrow pan so that the garlic can be covered by the fat.

2. Cook over very low heat for 30 minutes or until the garlic is soft.

3. Save the fat and use it for sautéing. Store the garlic in the refrigerator and squeeze cloves from their skin before using.

Sign up for Chef Laura Frankel’s “Prepping for Passover” cooking class, set for Wednesday, March 6. Visit www.spertus.edu or call (312) 322 1773 to register.

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership is a partner in serving the community, supported by the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Laura Frankel is the executive chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering at the Spertus Institute for Jewish studies in Chicago.


''The days are long, but the years are short''

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'The days are long, but the years are short'  slide

Many wise mothers have shared this saying with me, and yesterday morning, it really rang true: "The days are long, but the years are short." It was 7:30 a.m., and Colin had already been awake for two hours. Ugh.

When he woke up from his morning nap, we went for a long-overdue visit to my former employer to say hello, catch up with former colleagues and show off what a cutie my big boy had become. These wonderful friends had watched as Colin evolved from a twinkle in my eye, to a growing baby bump to a newborn little dude. And at each office I visited, I was asked the same question:

How are you enjoying staying home with the baby?

Of course, my standard answer is that it is a joy. Colin is fabulous, adorable, always growing, changing and keeping me on my toes, but I love him dearly and wouldn't change a thing.

What I don't tell them is that there are days, oftentimes many in a row, that feel like a marathon. Fighting a screaming baby to wipe his runny nose. Dealing with an overtired baby who refuses to take a nap, but doesn't seem so happy to be awake either. Playing referee between dog and baby who are both trying to play with the same toy (usually belonging originally to the dog). There are moments where I feel like I'm up to my elbows in poop, tired of mixing, feeding and cleaning bottles round the clock, and aching all over from schlepping around twenty pounds worth of baby.

No one wants to hear that.

Most of my former colleagues have grown children and many are grandparents. They look back wistfully at their years taking care of their babies and remember the new baby smell. The naps on the couch with a baby sleeping on their chest. The first first smiles, first giggles, first steps and first words. No one thinks back endearingly remembering diaper blow-outs or the never ending pile of laundry.

Each day feels like a marathon, but the year is sprinting by. It feels like yesterday that he was on his first car ride, heading home from the hospital with his anxious parents who buckled him in and triple checked the car seat to make sure he was in there just right. But really, what happened yesterday was that my squirmy little man learned how to dive into his toy box head first, flipping himself upside-down and getting stuck like a baby beached whale.

While it can be exhausting to have someone so reliant on you for help at every turn, I know that in the not-so-distant future, I will long for his outstretched arms (or in yesterday's case, legs) asking for help. We will celebrate his first birthday in May, and instead of reaching for me to hold him, he will likely be crawling or toddling off to play with his friends or chase the dog.

I know that I'm extremely lucky to be able to be home and witness every new discovery, every milestone, every darling accomplishment. But just as someone who loves their job occasionally takes a sick day, complains about their boss or walks to Starbucks to get a break from the hustle, not every moment in stay-at-home motherhood is glorious.

However, there are moments in my day to day madness when I can pause just long enough to appreciate what I'm seeing. I watch in wonder and remind myself: the days are long but the years will be short - enjoy them.

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