OyChicago blog

A Cake to Build Your Life On

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I love an anniversary. I am a sucker for any chance to stop and review where I am and the path that got me here. Lucky for me my first “Jewish Birthday” is this week, so I don’t have to work very hard to find an anniversary to think about. What that means is I’m spending a lot of time this week thinking about my journey to Judaism.

I was originally attracted to Judaism because a lot of my very best friends are Jewish. When I was coming out, my Jewish friends were the most supportive people in my life. They took me in and became my family. They gave me love and acceptance in a way that I had not known. Then I met and fell in love with my Jewish husband and that basically set the whole thing in stone. We were living a Jewish life, so why not make it official?

Of course it’s far more complicated than that. I could go on forever about my love of the Jewish tradition and its rituals, but who has time for that? Converting is serious business. You aren’t born with a backlog of history to guide your new identity; you have to create that link. You have to build it from the ground up.

One of the ways that I found helped me build a connection is food. Don’t laugh—think about it. Every holiday that you’ve celebrated recently has some pretty serious food rules. Matzo. Brisket. Applesauce. We are a people glued together by our dinner plates. Who doesn’t love to eat? Not anyone I want to know.

What we eat informs who we are. It connects us and gives meaning to those endless holidays. We come to expect those weird matzo concoctions. We crave our not-so-cute latkes. Those foods have power and meaning. They are what we’ll remember. They are part of what holds us together.

One of the foods that I have a special fondness for is my husband’s grandmother’s coffee cake. It’s not the superstar of the dessert table at the holidays. It’s not the most gorgeous or fancy thing you’ll find, but it’s—at least in my mind—a cornerstone of our family.

Grandma Lillian died a few years ago, but she lives on every year on the dessert table through her coffee cake. I think of Grandma Lillian a lot. I think of how she is, in some small way, responsible for my little Jewish family. I wish she were here to celebrate my Jewish Birthday this week. I guess her coffee cake will have to do.

A Cake to Build Your Life On photo



½ lb. butter
1 pt. sour cream
4 eggs
4 cups flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts
Extra cinnamon and sugar for coating middle layer and top of cake


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the softened butter and sugar with a mixer (or by hand if you’re old school), then add in the eggs one at a time along with the vanilla. In a separate bowl mix the baking powder, baking soda and flour. Once all of this is ready you’ll start to add the dry ingredients and sour cream alternating between the two until everything is mixed together. Once everything is combined, pour half of the batter into a greased 9x13 pan. Top this layer with cinnamon and sugar mixture. There’s no hard and fast rule here; you just want to basically cover this layer lightly. If cinnamon is your favorite thing go crazy…if not…a light sprinkling should do it. This is also where you’ll add half of the walnuts. Once you’ve finished this middle layer spread the remaining half of the batter over the first layer. Top with cinnamon and sugar and walnuts just like you did with the middle layer until well covered.

Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.


Simple Health Trick: Make it fun!

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Simple Health Trick: Make it fun! photo 1

The other day I was visiting some friends and per usual, their six-year-old son wanted to play floor hockey with me in their basement. I came prepared this time—I was wearing two layers, brought a stick for me (he’s a lefty) and the fun began. I was running around for about 15 minutes before game one ended. I inched him out by one point. I sat down and let his dad take over for a game. While sitting down, I realized, next time I need to wear dri-fit or some other wicking shirt because I was a sweaty mess. I took it a little easy when we played the next match because I wanted to stop sweating before dinner. As we left, my wife asked me, “Does Ryan think you are there to visit him, or his parents?”

The next day my oblique muscles (the muscles on the side of the abdominals), were sore. I’m not use to whipping a puck around. Do you think I had a workout?

My answer is yes! Getting on a bike or a treadmill are not the only ways burn calories. You know that you need to exercise, so why not go out and have some fun!

It would be great if we could all get to the gym five days a week, sugary treats tasted awful, and vegetables tasted like ice cream but it’s not reality for everyone. Instead of planning an intense fitness schedule that’s unrealistic, start off small. Figure out how you can schedule activities that are fun and get your heart rate up. Here are a few examples:

• Hip Hop/WERQ/or other dance class
• Dancing with the Stars or other DVD
• Paddle tennis is the new rage, find a convenient location 
• Boxing is a great workout and requires no equipment to shadow box
• Jump rope
• Clean your house or car
• Walk with a friend at lunch, before work, after dinner…
• Floor hockey with a friend

Simple Health Trick: Make it fun! photo 2

Those are all relatively inexpensive ways to exercise. If my suggestions do not appeal, figure out what you like doing and get moving! Send me a line and let me know how you have fun while working out. 


The Happiest Place on Earth

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The Happiest Place on Earth photo

When my mother-in-law announced that she would be whisking our four kids off to Disney for five days, leaving my husband and me alone in the house, I was ecstatic! What would we do first with our newfound freedom? The possibilities were endless! And then there were all the practical things we needed to take care of that never seemed to get done: the squeaky bathroom door, the piles of papers in the basement that needed shredding, the stubborn rust on the shower head, the various blackened parts of the house that needed new light bulbs, the dogs that had taken the word “funk” to a whole new level... In short, we had lots to do without being distracted, dragged off or whined at by any or all of our adorable offspring. No excuses.

Day one I found myself repeatedly checking the time. Was it time to pick up my daughter? Wasn’t the bus about to arrive? What was I going to make for dinner that wouldn’t bring forth wails of protest from the majority? Wait. I was kid-less. I was free! I was, well, kinda aimless. I worked out. I watched episodes of Six Feet Under in daylight. I mowed down on copious amounts of nuts, chocolate chips and dried fruit. My husband and I went out to a lovely dinner with friends and came home to an empty house. I fought the impulse to make a beeline to the checkbook to pay our sitter. It was very quiet. It was very clean. It was very, very weird.

The cleanliness on Friday was almost unbearable. This was the day the house was cleaned professionally. With not a glass nor a crumb nor a smelly sock in sight, I went with a sense of unease to the gym. I took a crack at organizing my bedroom dresser. I made uninterrupted phone calls. I answered long standing emails. I completed tasks without the pressure of needing to be anywhere or do anything for anyone but myself. Things were organized and calm and quiet. And I felt a surprising fog of loneliness begin to envelop me. I felt like how I imagine my dogs feel when we leave the house: ears perked for the sounds of someone returning home the second the door closed behind us.

Our daily phone calls with the kids were rushed because they were always in the middle of something incredibly fun and wanted to call but didn’t really want to take time to talk. “Mom! I went on the Rocket seven times! It was great! Bye!” “Dad! Can I get a pirate flintlock? It doesn’t even look like a real gun! Pleeeeese? Bye!” “Mom! Dad! Harry Potter was amazing! The castle is so cool! They had dementors! Bye!” We didn’t know what they ate, or what story they had read to them at night. We didn’t get to see our daughter’s face when she saw her first Disney character in person – Sponge Bob – and she freaked out. The kids felt very, very far away from us.

Saturday I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t going to wallow in the quiet. I was going to embrace it. (Plus there was still that “honey do” list.) With only three days left without kids, we got to work. We drove to a Cubs game in Milwaukee and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (even though the Cubs lost, well, like only the Cubs can, the familiarity was comforting.) We took a long walk and enjoyed uninterrupted conversation the entire time. We washed the dogs. We skipped the shredder and opted for a bonfire instead. We never had to redirect anyone’s proximity from the raging flames, and no one threw rocks or suggested peeing as a form of extinguishing the fire. I cherished sitting on the toilet with reckless abandon, never once fearing I’d sat on something wet and unpleasant.

I’d say at some point I achieved a level of unexpected bliss in the calm. But at the same time, it was work. I realized that even though there are days that are difficult for me with my kids, so many days without them was even worse. I realized that for me, my kids make my home. The noise, the mess, the spirit of our home, it’s defined by the life our children bring to it. When I saw them at the airport hunched over their video games with the intensity of med students in the library right before their boards, my heart fluttered. All of the sudden I was mobbed by bodies and various appendages while souvenirs were shoved in my face for a good close look-see. It was in the bombardment of all the chaos, confusion and noise that I funnily felt at my most centered and most at peace. It’s good to miss and be missed. And while my kids flew to the Happiest Place on Earth, the Happiest Place on Earth came back to me when they returned. 


What a Difference a Decade Makes

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Several months ago, after a three-and-a-half-year hiatus, I decided that I was officially returning to a career in life coaching. It helped that two individuals had already reached out to me and asked if I would coach them. I had the start of a business and the desire to pursue it. Now, I just had to put in the time into planning, networking and marketing to actually make something of my new venture, 100 Reasons to Win.

In the midst of all this planning, networking and marketing, I found myself catching up with an old friend and he mentioned an Anthony Robbins quote that made me stop and think.

"…Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in a decade."

He was sharing how impressed he was with all that I had accomplished in the last 10 years and making me blush in front of all the good folks in the coffee shop that I was working from that afternoon. Having been one of the first people to suggest that I meet with a life coach, he was intimately aware of the profound impact that working with coaches had made on my life.

Ten years ago in April 2003, I was 130 pounds heavier, desperate for love, working the wrong job and financially unstable. One year later, I had tried hard to take a few steps forward, but in actuality had taken several steps back. Now, 10 years later, I am grateful for the monumental and positive changes in all four of those areas. I weigh less today than when I graduated high school; I eat and live healthier, having completed over a dozen distance races, including a marathon; I am married and very much in love with my beautiful wife; I healed and improved relationships with many friends and family members over the years; what I accumulated in debt by 2003, I not only paid off, but have managed to save the equivalent amount for retirement. I worked with coaches to win at the game of health, relationships and career.

What a Difference a Decade Makes photo

Then and now

What do the next 10 years hold for me? A past coach, Rita Hyland, would ask me, "How good can I stand it?" Meaning, if things are this amazing now, could I stand it, if they got even better? That is an important part of life coaching, supporting individuals, so they get everything they always wanted only to challenge them to ask for even more.

In her book A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson sums it all up beautifully:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."


Top five reasons I “Oy!”

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Steven Chaitman photo

As your new managing blogger for Oy!Chicago, I thought I owed you a little bit about myself. But rather than glaze your eyes over reading my lengthy list of previous part-time jobs (mine glaze over listing them), I figured I would take a slightly more intOy!resting approach.

“Oy!” – a centuries-old Yiddish lamentation, a culturally identifiable way to voice your frustration, a staple of Jewish parody songs and probably what a sigh would literally say if it could talk as well as quickly expel air. “Oy” has become so engrained in the cultural definition of Judaism that – like bagels and nagging mothers – it has moved beyond stereotype and into the category of stereotypes deemed so universally true that they cannot be refuted.

I’ve used “oy!” plenty in my life, so in the spirit of warming up to you all, I thought I’d break the ice with a list of the five reasons the chosen utterance of the chosen people has left my lips.

1. Bodily pain

I have to admit there are days I feel like a 26-year-old in a 62-year-old’s body, though I’m sure many 62 year olds are in better shape than I am. In my 20s alone I’ve had bouts with heartburn, pulled neck muscles, sciatica (which is impossible to say aloud without sounding like a kvetching 80-year-old snowbird from Long Island) and an overuse injury with my knee the doctor couldn’t diagnose, among others. Getting up, sitting down, moving in a funny direction – it all amounts to a whole lot of “oy.”

At the same time, I recognize that we all have our physical shtick, and for all intents and purposes, I’m healthy and very fortunate to be so. “Oy” in this instance is not so much a complaint with my medical lot in life, but the audible byproduct of the old-fashioned grin and bear it, a verbal way to push forward and focus on the positive.

2. To impress my Yiddish-speaking grandparents

I’ve always been rather fascinated by Yiddish. It’s a perfect language. It pounds down the harsh sound of German into something as good for comedy as it is for insults, and every word sounds exactly like what it means. More importantly, it’s what my grandparents speak. I think most of my generation at one point or another has become fascinated by whatever foreign language our grandparents spoke. Mine speak Yiddish, but not outwardly or in situations when communication is vital, but most often in emotion-filled moments (good, bad or hilarious) when English simply won’t do.

Listening to my grandfather go on rants and sing ditties entirely in Yiddish, and watch as my grandmother understands him and immediately shakes her head at his folly, has turned Yiddish into this secret language of an exclusive club, one that I quickly recognized was seeing its membership rapidly declining. I have tried to memorize as much Yiddish as possible, and in the presence of my elders, it slips out more than usual. Around them, “oy vey” becomes “oy vey iz mir” (the Yiddish “Woe is I”). I would give more examples, but I don’t think I’d be allowed to write for Oy! ever again, and I’ve barely gotten started.

3. To sympathize with others’ misfortune

Last week when it was pouring rain, my roommate told me he sat in an hour and a half of traffic on his way back into the city from work. Pretty needless to say at this point, “oy” was my immediate reaction.

We usually use “oy” in the subjective, as it relates to how we feel when we are personally dismayed, but in this case it served as a much more sympathetic way of saying what I would have said if I’d been exposed to considerably less Yiddish: “that sucks, dude.”

4. Singing Jewish music

You know that part-time job list I mentioned earlier? Well I need to go there for a second. I am also a songleader. I was inspired at Jewish summer camp, trained at Jewish summer camp, worked at Jewish summer camp and then took my skills out into the world as a professional when my degree in journalism failed to fill up my time and my pockets.

“Oy!” has become connected to Jewish music through the tradition of Yiddish music, which played a large role in bringing music into the synagogue. It’s not in most of the music being sung at camps, but a fair share of songs have Yiddish or Hasidic origins and shouting “oy!” seems to be prevalent in a good portion of those songs. Here, its connotation is positive, a way to express excitement or drive the energy of a song. As someone who also writes music, however, I imagine it was probably just intended to fill dead space.

5. Thinking of ways to make Oy!Chicago better

I haven’t written for Oy! until now, but I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking a lot about how to make it better for all us “Jews in the Loop.” I suspect it will eventually get to the point that whenever I say “oy” due to reasons one through four, I’m bound to think of what post needs to go up at that given moment. I fear I will wire myself to associate back pain with blogging now. I can deal with that, so long as it’s not vice-versa.

In all seriousness, I do want to explore the ways to make your time reading Oy! rewarding. I want to find ways for us to talk to each other and learn from our shared experiences and celebrate what it is to emerge as a Jewish adult in today’s world. To speak bluntly, we’re Oyin’ this together. 


How You’ll Meet Their Mother

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 Gabi Bronstein photo

I recently indulged in a guilty pleasure of mine and read an article entitled “How to Date a Jewish Sorority Girl.” I’m sure many of you saw the article floating around Twitter. As a recent college graduate, East Coast native and Jewish sorority girl, I naturally could not refrain. (There are probably more appropriate ways to introduce myself, but they are probably not as fitting.) The article was frighteningly accurate giving advice along the lines of “when in doubt Camp Ramah” and “you studied abroad in Florence? I was in Rome!” It gave all the essential tools and shortcuts to the heart of every Jewish sorority girl.

But how do you date that girl once she has left the sorority, left college? In fact, now that we’re in the real world, how do you date at all?

Some of you might have met your sweetie in college and remained together despite booze and an abundance of the opposite sex, or if you’re really hardcore you’re still with your significant other from high school. God bless you. 

For everyone else, do we all fall to (dun dun dun) social media sites for help? (Not another Grouper, anything but that!) Don’t get me wrong it’s not impossible to meet people the good old-fashioned way. You might have met her at a mutual friend’s birthday party, or you could have first innocently kissed him at the opening of Barleycorn. But sites such as Grouper, Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, etc. are all just steadily becoming the norm for a generation of young people.

And then there’s the mother of them all – JDATE. If you’re really serious about meeting someone, getting married, and being an adult, JDate is your one-way ticket to the Jewish American dream. Sure, you might think “no not the J just yet; I’m too young for that, maybe next year,” but then that deadline gets pushed back because every year you re-evaluate your definition of young.

What is young really? What is too young or old to be single, dating, married, dating multiple people? If you have a typical Jewish mother like I do, then you know that too young to be married is not in their vocabulary, even if it’s in yours.

In this modern era, technology and social media have infiltrated every level of our lives, including our love lives. Embrace it or hate it, it is a fact. In 10 or 20 years from now when kids ask their parents how they met, what will the answer be?


Picking up the Pieces

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YLD Hurricane Sandy Rebuild Mission

Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. I once saw an image of Tikkun Olam that depicted the world broken into many different pieces. The image showed people putting the pieces back together as if the world was a giant puzzle. Traveling to Long Island with JUF to rebuild homes, I got the opportunity to pick up the pieces.

As Jews we are taught the importance of Tikkun Olam, and we often hear this word spoken in our synagogues and Jewish groups, but rarely do we get the opportunity to act out the physical meaning of this Jewish value. Often times when we volunteer we are helping people in a soup kitchen, a community center, or even sending money and therefore we are removed from the personal lives of the people we are helping. In this experience with Hurricane Sandy victims, we walked right into their lives, their homes and literally picked up the walls. Through this experience I felt like I was actually contributing to Tikkun Olam in a way I had never felt before.

I truly believe that as Jewish people it is our obligation to help others without questioning, race, religion, or need. So many times in Jewish history we looked for others to help us, now it is our turn to help others.

YLD Hurricane Sandy Rebuild Mission photo 2

Eight Chicago young adults took off work to travel to Long Island, New York to work with a Jewish relief organization called NECHAMA to help rebuild homes that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. We were motivated by the same thing: we were sick of feeling helpless when watching the news coverage and wanted to get our hands dirty. The whole group was so thankful for the opportunity to do something for the Sandy Victims.

The relief organization NECHAMA was started by Jewish people who wanted to help with disaster relief but found few organizations that did not require a religious proclamation in order to join their relief efforts. Today, NECHAMA will accept volunteers from any religion and help disaster victims based on greatest need – not their religious affiliation.

Our group spent two days working in the homes of Sandy victims. These families live on the water in Garden City, Long Island. Half of our group put up sheetrock, while the other half sanded, painted, and mudded. While overlooking the calm water, the homeowner spoke of living in the house for 25 years and never having hurricane damage until Hurricane Irene, only 14 months before Sandy. He spoke of how he spent $90,000 rebuilding his home after Irene, and that once Sandy hit he didn't have enough money left to repair the damages a second time.

YLD Hurricane Sandy Rebuild Mission photo 1

This is where NECHAMA came in. This sweet retired man was so thankful to have us there. He mentioned how special it was to him that so many different people had worked on his house, including many rabbis and priests. We were all struck by how positive he was. He had been living in this mess since the hurricane hit, but his life went on. He went about his normal activities and then he came home to help us paint, and he did it with a huge smile.

This experience was the literal translation of Tikkun Olam, picking up the pieces, but it was also a more abstract translation. By stepping outside my comfort zone, and seeing how humans can deal with disaster, I began to see the repairs I need to make in myself and in my world. As people and especially as Jews, we should all look inside ourselves for improvements, whether that is respecting our parents, limiting our gossip, or being better friends. If we are all whole as individuals we become better at rebuilding the world.

* This trip was coordinated by the Tikkun Olam Volunteer (TOV) Network and made possible by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Learn more about how to get involved with the Young Leadership Division (YLD). For more photos of the mission, visit the YLD Facebook page.  


I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghosts

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Acharei Mot – Kedoshim
10 Iyar 5773 / April 19-20, 2013

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghosts photo

In this week's double portion, we find the steps the High Priest took each Yom Kippur to atone for the nation, we find a slew of sexual morality laws (incest is not okay – sorry Lannisters), we get some general guidance as to how we're meant to be holy in our actions as a result of God being holy, and we learn that hanging out with ghosts is a no-no.

I'm particularly fascinated by this concern about hanging out with ghosts. The portion actually mentions the prohibition a few times, further emphasizing its import. Just how prevalent was hanging out with ghosts in those days? I'd love some more information. Were they concerned about people entering intimate relationships with ghosts? Perhaps they were more concerned about being slimed by ghosts? Or maybe they were ahead of their time and were buying into the Jewish cultural mythology around possessing spirits, or Dybbuks

The textual answer provided in the portion as to why we should not hang out with ghosts and other spirits (if you do, you'll be rewarded with the death penalty) is that other nations consort with ghosts and spirits, and we're meant to be holy (hence, unlike those other nations). Not an entirely satisfying answer. Notice that the Torah doesn't say that ghosts and spirits don't exist; rather, there seems to be a tacit acknowledgment that they do – but we're instructed not to engage with them.

Spirits and ghosts have been on my mind quite a bit this week, as I just returned from my first ever visit to Poland. While there, I had the chance to celebrate contemporary European Jewish life by running a Moishe House "How to do Shabbat" learning retreat for 30 European Jewish young adults in their 20s. I also had the chance before and after the retreat to visit some of the wartime monuments in Warsaw, as well as the Treblinka extermination campsite (which is a now a massive memorial as well), where over 800,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

Needless to say I'm still processing my experience, and in particular, the confusion and awkwardness of celebrating Jewish life in a place where the darkness of the past can still tangibly be felt. Walking around downtown Warsaw, one can still see (and feel) the lingering effects of the war. My grandmother is originally from Poland, spent time in concentration camps there, and was very much against my going to visit given the ghosts and spirits that still plague her dreams 70 years later.

From this lens, I can begin to understand why there would be a blanket prohibition in our tradition against consorting with ghosts and spirits. Allowing oneself to be taken into that world risks being entirely consumed by it, eliminating the ability to find warmth, love and joy, which I would argue are spiritual prerequisites for a number of other justice-centric instructions we receive this week, such as leaving behind the corners of our fields for the poor.

We had 30 people from seven countries singing songs of Shabbat, celebrating our shared Jewish heritage and striving to learn more about it this past weekend in Poland. What need do we have of external ghosts and spirits when our own spirits can be elevated so powerfully?


Writing Is Right: A Lefty’s Perspective

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Adam Daniel Miller photo

Roger Ebert’s passing hit me hard – harder than I would have imagined. The effect was so profound I simply expressed that now all the greatest reviews for movies have been officially written. I always respected Ebert as a writer rivaled by very few and as a voice of honesty. I didn’t always agree with him, but his reviews were always intelligent, well-spoken and often times downright hilarious. Seriously, even if you didn’t agree with his opinions of certain movies, you had to admit he wrote a hell of a review.

But for me, Ebert’s passing has a bittersweet lining. While I know that we will never get a new review from him, I know that as long as I haven’t seen every movie that he has written about, it will be as if he’s always here. That, among many other aspects, is one of the beauties of writing.

I love to write. I loved writing this sentence. It was a boring sentence but it was my sentence and I wrote it so I love it. And that one too. This could go on for a while… I’ll move on. I write in large part because it involves creating, something I can’t get enough of. If you were to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you would see I often use them as creative, albeit stupid and silly, outlets to be funny, humorous and groan-inducing. For example, I recently posted, “I've started placing Bunsen Burners and graduated cylinders on the table during a date to assure there'll be chemistry between us.”

But the creative freedom I receive from those sites has given me unprecedented happiness, and the retweets, favorites and likes I get in response are the social media equivalent of free crack, but that’s beside the point. The simple act of creating something that I intend to make people smile and/or laugh, gives me a sense of fulfillment that’s not as readily available and instantly gratifying in other places. Sounds a bit arrogant now that I wrote that, but what are you gonna do? Read on I suppose!

Creating, and more specifically, writing, has an appeal beyond compare. The way I see it, I sadly cannot create human life. I can’t have babies. Oh sure, I can contribute, but my role is minimal and for me, at best momentary. Womp, womp. Having said that, I have a creative hole in my life that needs to be filled, a hole filled with something that’ll outlast me. And with that, you have my love and passion for writing.

Writing is material and substance that I created that can and should last way beyond my existence. Look at all my previous Oy!Chicago posts and you will see a great multitude of material that personifies and exemplifies me as a person, as who I am. I take great comfort in knowing that my writing will be there, no matter where I happen to be and even far after the time I become an ex-person. The fact that Oy!Chicago has allowed me to write all my silly musings and views of the world is wonderful. Even then, there’s quite a bit of material that has never been viewed by eyes other than my own. Maybe, yes maybe, someday others will see it, but for now, it’s for these Jewish eyes only. This way, I will always have work that has yet to be read. Just like Roger Ebert, it ensures I will always be here, no matter what.

What inspires me to write is the most wonderful aspect of all. I find with unparalleled consistency, inspiration in everything and anything and yet, always the same thing. I know where my best writing comes from. I know my true inspiration and it brings out immaculate feelings and words. It’s when I write from the heart, from the truth, from love, from the need and urge to express myself while thinking about who and what I truly care for that my best material comes forward. It’s why I’m writing to you about writing. Kinda honestly love it from the heart. Not sure if you could tell.

I unequivocally find love to be quite a strong motivation to write. Whether it is about people, places, things, ideas or any other kind of noun, love makes me write because I write about what I love and I love that I write and I love that I write what I love abou…..I think you got it. Doing something I love as constantly as this makes life and every day worth it. It makes me happy, it makes me proud. It makes me into exactly who I am. I often times write humorous and silly blogs to entertain others, but this one was very much for me. I do this on occasion because I love sharing the most honest side of me. Thank you for reading. Now go do something you love. Life’s too short not to.


Lessons of flexible parenting

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Lessons of flexible parenting photo

It's raining, it's pouring, and my little guy is in the back seat snoring. We were out running errands before nap time, and of course, less than a mile away from our house, his eyes, already droopy, collapsed shut.

Parents out there know the conundrum I'm facing: waking him now will spoil his regular nap for the day, but staying in the car means...I'm stuck in the car. Oy! indeed, Chicago.

If parenthood has taught me anything, it has taught me the importance of being flexible. I am a planner by nature, and normally I feel most comfortable when I have a sense of control over the situations I face.

Before Colin was born, I already knew I had what it takes to be a good (if not cliche) Jewish mom. I was a natural worrier, and to combat this tendency, I read (and continue to read) about a zillion pregnancy and parenting resources.

Still, when he was born, the worry would crop up: is he eating enough? Is he dressed warm enough? Am I doing everything right? I wanted to make sure I was in a constant state of preparedness (is that even a word?) so I could be sure all of his needs were met.

And yet, all the education in the world, all the books and blogs cannot teach you everything, and nothing can prepare you for the havoc a baby can wreak on your life.

As Colin gets older, and I get better at dealing with the challenges that come with parenthood, I think back on the stress that came with my earliest days of parenthood. The days when, utterly sleep deprived, I would face a stumbling point and think, "how will I make it through the day?!"

Today I had a lot of things on my to-do list for my two-hour window while Colin naps (at home in his crib – clearly not happening today). I needed to start laundry and packing for our trip to visit my in-laws, to straighten up around the house, to catch up on writing several blog posts, to let the puppy out in the front yard...the list goes on and on.

Instead, I'm in the car (aka baby jail) drafting blog posts on my iPhone, catching up on email and trying to enjoy some unplanned R and R in the car. Of course, all of the aforementioned tasks will get done at some point, but for now, I'm just doing my best with what I have.

Call it what you will – being flexible, rolling with the punches, making lemonade. Sometimes life doesn't go quite as planned, and as I have learned in the past 11 months, that is okay.


Soul—and brain—food at Milt’s

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Soul—and brain—food at Milt’s photo

Here is everything you need to know about Milt's: It's a kosher barbecue joint. It's nice enough to host a swanky event. It's dedicated to community service. And it's set up for both dialogues and monologues.

Well, maybe there is still more to know. Like that Milt was the uncle of the founder, Jeff Aeder. Uncle Milt, it seems, was a raconteur and a rascal—prone to ask questions and challenge the status quo. When he grew up, Aeder went into real estate. He opened Milt's just last December, but he built it—in the spirit of his uncle-to do more than serve up meals. He wanted it to, in his words, "stir the pot."

Because Milt's also serves the community. Each month, all proceeds go to a different local charity. And Milt's also has set up the Jeffrey F. Kahan Memorial Fund, a Donor Advised Fund, at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, in memory of a man Aeder says was "well-informed and opinionated, thoughtful and passionate, a friend who enriched our world. Although he lived with Multiple Sclerosis, Jeff Kahan lived a fuller life than most. He had a strong love of Israel and sense of Jewish identity. Jeff passed away in the summer of 2012 with far too much life yet to live." The fund will support Milt's community programming.

And while the fall-off-the bone ribs and melt-in-your-mouth brisket feed your body, Milt's also feeds your brain. It's not just the brain-ticklers on the wall, like "Is there another word for 'synonym?'" that do this. It's the range of speakers and scholars Milt has coming to teach, like Dennis Ross, the Middle East expert, who stopped by in March.

Which explains the "perplexed" part of the restaurant's name. It's taken from the title of one of the masterworks of Jewish philosophy, The Guide for the Perplexed, by Maimonides (a.k.a. The Rambam). According to Aeder, "Maimonides emphasizes giving credence to all perspectives. He drew from Jewish, Islamic, and ancient Greek philosophers to explain the Torah."

Accordingly, Milt's is kosher (under cRc supervision), and the only such place in Lakeview. They have a huge smoker and grill in the kitchen, which pours forth fried okra, beef "bacon," chili, soup, chicken, ribs, salmon, burgers, and traditional BBQ sides (except for mac and cheese!). There are plentiful veggie options, and a kids' menu, too.

And while critics from The Reader to Urban Spoon have given Milt's the thumbs-up, so has the local rabbinate. "Jeff Aeder, a member of multiple synagogues including our own, has done something truly exemplary," said Rabbi Michael Siegel, spiritual leader of Anshe Emet Synagogue, a neighbor of Milt's. "He has created a restaurant to serve and build the Jewish community and surrounding institutions. It is not every restaurant about which you can say that you are doing a mitzvah by eating there. There is no doubt that Maimonides would applaud the impact that Milt's will have on strengthening our Jewish community. In all of our conversations, I have never failed to be impressed with his enthusiasm, concern, and passion for inclusivity. Milt's has created a communal table."


The 10 meal project: Tales from a Seder

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Since my last post about kicking off the 10 meal project, I’ll admit there hasn’t been much time for cooking anything too exciting. First, Passover came around and since then we’ve been so busy that Mike hasn’t had a chance to pull out another one of those coupons…yet.

Typically, Passover foods just do not inspire me to get creative in the kitchen. But I do love the holiday—I love getting together with family and I love keeping Passover even if the food doesn’t always love me back. I also love those Passover chocolate bars with the cows on them—you know what I’m talking about, right? Those are the best.

Aside from the usual challenge of living on matzo pizza and matzo brei with salami for eight days, this year we also decided to host our families on the first night for Seder.

To be fair, I should say that we didn’t make all the food ourselves—it was more like a potluck and the major dishes, like the brisket for instance, were taken care of. But we did make a number of side dishes and dessert.

The 10 meal project: Tales from a Seder photo 1

I became determined to make homemade toffee-chocolate covered matzo. I found this recipe on Martha Stewart that called for sea salt, which always sounds good to me. The only problem was that it also called for butter, which wouldn’t work with our meat meal, so I decided to substitute with margarine. The margarine made the toffee a little, well, off. But the whole thing looked pretty and both of my grandmas said they thought it was delicious, so I guess that’s a victory, right?

The 10 meal project: Tales from a Seder photo 2

My real success of the night was my vegetable quinoa dish. I had never made quinoa before, and hadn’t really tried because Mike has never really liked it. But it was easy to make, beautiful to look at and quite a tasty alternative to the usual Passover side dishes. We sautéed zucchini, peppers, carrots and onions and mixed in with the quinoa with some garlic and seasoning—easy, right? I also made quinoa again later in the week as a dairy meal, mixing in some marinara and cheese, which was also delicious and a great break from matzo. The really nice thing about quinoa is that a little goes a long way, so if you make it once it can last for a few days.

We also made some roasted asparagus with garlic and olive oil in our toaster oven and some other components of the Seder plate—Mike makes a great charoset.

For Mike, being able to host our families for holidays in our home is a dream come true. He’s an excellent host and doesn’t get stressed out and bogged down by the details like I do. If not for him, I’m not sure I would have the guts to take on something like a Seder, but looking back, it was really rewarding. All told, we make a great team when hosting and what could be a tough job is actually a pleasure for us.

Now that the holiday is over, I’m hoping to spend some more time playing in the kitchen. I’m not sure what I want to take on next, but I’m open to suggestions and recipes. And while I’m still not sure I like to cook, per se, I’m definitely getting more comfortable in the kitchen. More to come next month from this wannabe cook! 



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Cheryl Jacobs headshot

After five years at the Jewish United Fund, I’m moving on to the next professional chapter in my life. Tuesday, April 16 will be my last day as a JUF professional and your Managing Blogger. It is with a heavy heart and bittersweet emotions that I write these words.

When I started at JUF, I was a young 20-something barely out of college with some professional experience in the PR world and a desire to use my new knowledge to make a difference. In college, I never would have dreamed of working in the Jewish non-profit sector. I didn’t go to day school, I’m not particularly religious, and my long-term boyfriend isn’t even Jewish, but after a life changing trip on Birthright, the opportunity fell into my lap and the rest is as they say, history. Now on the cusp of 30, I feel like I’ve grown tenfold both professionally and personally from this experience.

Working as a Jewish communal professional— for one of the best non-profits out there, might I add— I’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand all of the amazing work this organization and the non-profit world does. No other organization day in and day out could do the work that JUF does to help people in need throughout Chicago, in Israel and around the world. I’ve written the second half of that sentence maybe a zillion times over the past few years, but every time I write it (or read it), I remember how much impact we truly make. It’s astounding.

But the work we do as part of this organization isn’t actually what motivated me to show up every morning. It was the people. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best people out there. They are more than colleagues and friends, but family. I’ve treasured my time working with them and I will miss many of them dearly. They are so smart and so dedicated to giving back and to Jewish continuity— why do you think Oy!Chicago exsists? They’ve taught me to be more than a better professional, but a better person and I’ll be forever grateful for them.

The title of this piece is a bit deceiving, while I won’t be working for Oy!Chicago and JUF any longer, you can bet I’ll still be around. My relationship with JUF will continue on the volunteer side and of course, I’ll still be writing for Oy! as a contributing blogger— they can’t get rid of me that easily.

So until my next blog post, peace out, Oy!sters!


The Beginning Continued, Part 2

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The Beginning Continued photo

Read Part 1

We landed in Addis Ababa Ethiopia around 1:30 in the morning. The airport was mostly empty save for the faces we had shared recycled air with since our transfer in Turkey. We paid our passport fee to unsmiling men and women, (who very well may have been used to the middle of the night shift but still weren’t happy about it), and gathered our 12 pieces of luggage from baggage claim. We stepped into the darkness of the middle of the nighttime sky and I had this weird feeling of being home somehow even though our home was hundreds of miles away.

Our first day started early. Our bodies and minds trying to figure out where we were, what time it was, while trying to remember not to wet our toothbrushes with the sink water. Were we hungry? Tired? Having to go to the bathroom? The interesting thing about kids is that when posed with an overwhelmed system, they just seem to simplify things. They look outside, there’s daylight, and they get up. No clock check – no count of hours slept versus hours ahead. They spy a pool and they run to play in it without the fear of looking fat in a bathing suit or proper water temperature. They don’t overthink. They just honor the moment. So that’s what we did at our first glimpse of morning time in Ethiopia. And we let that set the tone for the rest of our journey together. Let us not think so much. Let us just do and be.

There were so many notable moments in our journey back to our daughter’s birth family in Ethiopia. This would be my 3rd visit to the country, my husband’s 2nd and our biological children’s first. It would be the first time for all of us that Fray’s two families would see and embrace one another as a whole. Two years ago I had brought Fray back to Ethiopia to see her biological family, but never ever had I had the opportunity to stand looking at all of us together. There we all were – Fray’s two families on a playground, laughing at something so universally hilarious, it cut the need for two translators to explain what we were so desperately attempting to communicate though words. And there I was, lamenting on the private journeys each of our families had taken in order for this moment in time to be. This moment in time of togetherness was a miracle for all of us.

Sometimes the feeling that something has truly been a miracle slowly fades. You totally believe in fairies and unicorns and the power of wishes coming true just because you squeeze your eyes shut in just the right way with sweaty, shaking fingers tightly crossed. Time and space and the monotony of daily routine can silently and without notice erode the precious inches forward that our better selves have made. I know that. It’s happened to me before. But this moment, this miracle moment, it had too many witnesses to fade. It is in each of us – each of us having a unique view from our own set of eyes – the memories of the laughter and the sober understanding that gift of adoption is not a simple one to give.


Interview with former Michigan basketball player Ron Garber

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Interview with former Michigan Basketball player Ron Garber photo

On the day of another end to March Madness, The Great Rabbino wanted to do something special. So we caught up with former Michigan basketball player Ron Garber. Ron is a great guy and plays in my Sunday night basketball game in St. Paul. Besides throwing down two massive dunks last night, he had several blocked shots including one on my buddy Dan which was for all intents and purposes a volleyball spike. We caught up with the former Blue to hear his story and take on tonight's big finals match-up.

1) Tell The Great Rabbino a little bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in Golden Valley, MN and am a dual American/Israeli citizen. I was a late-grower and was cut from my high school basketball team (Hopkins, a powerhouse basketball school in Minnesota) as a senior, spent two years working out like mad and then accomplished my dream of walking on to the Michigan basketball team my junior and senior years.

2) What was your experience playing at Michigan like?
It was amazing and changed the trajectory of my life. More than anything else, it made me such a better basketball player. I used to play in a Minneapolis-area summer league that all of the local D-3 guys played in, and the summer before I walked on, I was one of the better bigs in the league, but fit in. I came back next summer after a year of playing against Michigan-level competition and really dominated the league. It was awesome.

It also gave me the opportunity to meet kids with totally different backgrounds than my own and kind of expand my horizons. I became really tight with the guys I played with, and those relationships continue to mean a lot to me. 

3) Who was the best player you ever played with and against? What were those experiences like?
Best player I played with - Bernard Robinson, Jr. He was tenacious, strong and a total competitor. Long arms and crazy quick feet. Zig-zag drills against him were a nightmare.

Best player I played against - Bobby Jackson. In the summers we used to play pick-up games with him, and it was usually my group of friends against his. We couldn't take them because whenever we would get to 9 or whatever, he would just turn it on and take over, and he was unstoppable. I played with and against a lot of good players between my college team and the Howard Pulley pro-am league in St. Paul, but no one could flip that switch like he could.

4) Did you continue playing ball after your Michigan days?
I played professionally in Israel for a year after graduating and then came back to the US and played - and continue to play - in leagues, pick-up ball, whatever. I play less than I used to now that I'm getting a little older and am more into biking, yoga, etc. but I still play in a bunch of pick-up games and the Minneapolis lawyers league. An old teammate at Michigan just moved to the Twin Cities so I'm sure I'll play even more now.

5) How close do you follow the college game today? Thoughts on this year's Michigan team?
I follow the NBA much more closely than I follow the college game, just because the overall talent level has really dropped off since it became the norm to leave after one year. I like watching the best players, and the best players are in the League. I still love the Tournament though.

This year's Michigan team is incredible, especially now that Mitch McGary has found his confidence and rhythm. They are so athletic and so deep, and now have that threat inside as well. I love watching Glenn Robinson play - he's so athletic and manages to affect games even though they really don't run any offense for him - and Trey Burke is obviously amazing.

6) What was your Jewish life like growing up? And today?
Because of the Israeli influence in my family, growing up, my Jewish identity was always more about Israel than about spirituality or religion. I always went to Jewish summer camp though (Teko in the Twin Cities and then OSRUI in Wisconsin) and would visit family in Israel every year or two. I was also pretty active in my synagogue youth group. The best basketball game of my career was the championship game of my 'Jew-ball league' my senior year of high school, and it's the only game in my life that I remember my stat line from. 35 (on 9-11 shooting, 15-18 from the line) points, 18 rebounds, according to my dad's box score. We had lost in the championship my junior and sophomore year and winning was a big deal to us.

Today my Judaism is still about Israel, and I am very active in organizations focused on the peace process. I've been a counselor at Seeds of Peace the past two summers and am the chair of the Minnesota chapter of J Street, two organizations that are both focused on making peace, albeit in different ways (J Street is focused on the politics, Seeds of Peace is focused on the people).

7) What’s your favorite ice cream stop in Minnesota?
My favorite ice cream stop is my kitchen! I make some mean ice cream - passionfruit-habanero, apples and honey and maple-pecan (made with maple syrup tapped from trees on the Seeds of Peace camp) are probably my signature flavors. Look for my ice cream truck/shop (gonna be called either FrozenChozen's -- my nickname at Michigan -- or Matok, which means 'sweet' in Hebrew) in the next 10-15 years!

8) What are you up to these days?
Today I'm a corporate/M&A lawyer at Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis. I also hopelessly follow the Minnesota Timberwolves (next year is our year; I said that last year too).

9) Anything else you'd like to share?
Michigan 81 - Louisville 74.

Thank you to Ron for his time. I am sure tonight will be crazy for Blue fans everywhere. And yes, Trey Burke is unreal. Wonder if he is Jewish? Doubtful.
And Let Us Say...Amen.


My road to keeping Kosher

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My road to keeping Kosher photo

My mom jokes that her temple growing up was basically a church. My dad was raised in a Kosher home (which I am sure he snuck his fair share of cheeseburgers into) and attended a Traditional synagogue. This matrimonial union led to my early Hebrew school days and Bat Mitzvah taking place at a Conservative synagogue. At this congregation, the thought that I had even tasted bacon was enough to appall at least 80 percent of my Hebrew school classroom and almost all of the administration.

At this point in my life, I really couldn’t have cared less. My go-to order at any Italian restaurant was linguini di mare: noodles with clams, mussels, calamari, and more. I was never fazed by sausage pizza and cheeseburgers and even though I never really wanted to admit to eating what was inside a steamed potsticker, I most definitely ate my fair share of pork.

Keeping Kosher was never anything that crossed my mind. That is, until I went to Israel for the first time. After spending two months studying abroad in high school on Alexander Muss High School in Israel or as I like to call it “the best decision anyone could ever make” (I know shameless plug, but really, I could write a book on why Muss is life changing), the thought of changing my diet for religious purposes crossed my mind. I remember a few people starting to keep Kosher upon our return to America, presumably to maintain their connection to Judaism and Israel. However, I still didn’t really understand why people kept Kosher and if I didn’t understand it, how was I supposed to do it? That seemed silly. The closest I got to connecting food to my religion was handing out tastes of the best Israeli pop rock chocolate at school and eating an unhealthy amount of hummus while I sobbed about missing Israel. Sounds about right. In all seriousness though, I really had to put thought into any lifestyle changes I was making and at this time, I was far from 100% committed. People say “go big or go home” and that’s kind of how I felt about any religious transformations.

After returning from Muss in April, I started college in August of the same year at George Washington University, which really was close to as Jewish as it gets with the exception of going to Brandeis or Yeshiva. Within my first month or so, I was a new member to a Jewish sorority, involved in Hillel, and enrolled in a class that ended with a free trip to Israel rather than a final. Count me in!

So in December of 2008, I was off to Israel for the second time within that year. I went on a program through Meor Israel, a Jewish learning community. For three weeks, we resided in a hotel in Jerusalem, studying at either Yeshiva or Seminary in the morning and participating in recreational activities in the afternoon, such driving jeeps(which was actually really fun) or paintballing (which is now one of the last things I’d ever volunteer to be a part of again). The trip was not only incredible because of the juxtaposition of these two worlds, but the learning opportunities were unmatchable.

It might sound nerdy, but I really do love learning. I didn’t know that much about Orthodox Judaism, even after studying in Israel for two months. I loved learning about the traditional views on essential themes such as love, marriage, self-actualization, prayer, gender roles, etc. Although I clearly didn’t agree with all of the information they shared, it was extremely intriguing to me and some of the lessons truly resonated with me. Plus, I had the chance to enjoy some of my first Shabbatons in Jerusalem and even attend a religious wedding. Moments like these truly made the trip, but there was one instance that was more life changing than I realized at the time.

I remember sitting in the back corner of a room for one particular presenter, who told a story of a religious Jew who was killed protecting Israel. Somehow, we learned that this individual’s one wish translated into asking everyone to pledge and commit to taking a step, however big or small, in their lives to further connect to their Judaism. Some ideas that I believe were communicated were lighting candles every Shabbat, saying the Shma every night, keeping kosher, etc. The speaker asked us to raise our hand if we can make this pledge and I was one of the only people to not raise my hand. If you’re reading this you might ask, “why didn’t you just say you’d do it?” and “that must have been uncomfortable.” It was highly uncomfortable, but I was flustered and didn’t feel as though I could really say that I was going to change anything about my lifestyle. At that point, I wasn’t sure I could “go big,” which changed when I got home, back to school.

One of my first nights back, I went out to dinner with a group of my sorority sisters to celebrate and kick off our second semester of college. They ordered a platter of chicken wings and I was the only one at the table who didn’t taste one. One of them asked, “Are you like Kosher now or something?” I confessed that I had been flirting with the idea, but I wasn’t really sure. I told them about the speaker and how ever since I didn’t raise my hand during the presentation, I had been thinking about what I could do, if anything, to remind myself of my Jewish heritage every day and honor this fallen solider. I told them that I was going to try to keep Kosher and if after a few weeks it was ruining my life or something, I would re-evaluate. Although that was a pretty absurdly dumb comment, it’s been about four years and three months since that conversation and I’ve been going strong.

My roommates at school during my freshman year had both begun keeping Kosher within the past few years of us moving in together, so I just started keeping it the way they did. That meant, more than just not mixing meat and milk and avoiding shellfish, pig, etc. I started only eating vegetarian out, cooking only Kosher meat, and waiting 3ish hours between meat and milk. I’ll admit that sometimes when there is fro-yo in the picture and it’s been 2 hours and 15 minutes, my willpower is not as strong as it should be, and there have been a few sporadic instances where I accidently took a tiny bite of something that wasn’t Kosher due to language barriers (No-pork and fish are not the same thing, Valencia!), but for the most part, I have kept my end of the bargain.

You might be wondering why this tangent of a story and journey is relevant, but the truth is that taking a step in your life to remind yourself of your connection to Judaism is a great idea. Keeping Kosher was a big decision, but I never regret that I made this choice. Taking any sort of step, however big or small, to remind yourself of your Jewish heritage is beneficial, in my opinion. It doesn’t matter if you finally going out and buy that mezuzah for your door (which, yes, I still need to do), decide to light candles every Friday, or even join a Jewish intramural league. Whatever your connection is, I would advise to try to strengthen it in whatever way you see fit.


Pasteur: Sexy French Vietnamese

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Pasteur photo 1

Photo credit: Pasteur 

On a busy North Broadway street in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood is the much-loved restaurant, Pasteur. The new location, now one year old, prides itself on highlighting the specialty dishes of each region of Vietnam, while infusing French cuisine into each and every bite.

With its white façade and wicker chairs on a patio-tile floor, modern Paris look, French Classical music, and white tablecloths make it seem that you aren’t dining at a Vietnamese-themed restaurant at all. The establishment has modern light fixtures, front patio with windows that open up when it’s warm, a large back patio with in-wall fireplaces and a private raised first floor room that seats 50 guests. The new place has all the trimmings to be a hot spot on Chicago’s north side.

Pasteur photo 2

Photo credit: Pasteur 

Pasteur has been around since 1985 but in 2007, a fire in its former space in Uptown left owners Kim and Dan Nguyen looking for a new beginning. They focused the current menu back to the core of Vietnamese cuisine, utilizing traditional techniques and unexpected twists. Pasteur is back and sexier than ever.

The service itself was hands down the best I’ve ever experienced. It was a slow night and I’m not sure what it’s like on weekends, but everyone that was working was our server. Not only did the bus boy take our food and drop off water, but also stopped by multiple times to see how our food was and to recommend items for dessert. Everyone that was working, especially the owner Kim, was very warm and gave us plenty of recommendations on items that were popular. A lot of places that I tend to review will come down to how good the service is. With the service at Pasteur, I am happy to say that you won’t leave disappointed; it’s worth the trip to Edgewater.

Pasteur photo 3

Photo credit: Pasteur

We started with the W.T.P. Bloody Scary Mary with house made Pho beef broth garnished with Thai basil and Chile blue cheese stuffed olives and Vietnamese beef jerky ($11) as well as the PCP: Thai chili and pineapple infused vodka, Grand Marnier, sour mix and pineapple juice with a pomegranate liqueur float ($11). The Bloody Mary wasn’t spicy but the beef broth, amazing. My wife ordered the PCP, which she loved. From experience, she is very picky about martinis and this one was “just amazing”. The Mixologist created a custom menu, which you can find at the bottom of this article.

Our appetizers were the Tofu Summer Rolls: fresh rice paper roll filled with fresh mango, avocado, cucumber and green plantain. Served with a tamarind dipping sauce ($7), Saigon Crêpes: a coconut milk and rice flour crêpe filled with chicken, shrimp and straw mushrooms. Served with lettuce for wrapping and fresh herbs ($9), and Vegetable Egg Rolls in an egg-based wrap with cellophane noodles, jicama, woodear mushrooms and taro served with sweet and sour sauce ($7). You will see a trend as dinner went on that prices were fairly inexpensive compared to what you might find at an upscale fusion restaurant downtown. The crepes, while massive and shareable were good, but they didn’t stack up to the rest of the meal.

For our main course, we ordered the Rice Noodles with Vegetables, sautéed with an assortment of vegetables ($15), Grilled Beef Short Ribs marinated bone-in charcoal grilled and served with a side of endive, mango and avocado ($18), and the signature Red Snapper: Chef Dan’s classic whole fried red snapper, center boned filleted and topped with a spicy pepper, garlic and onion sauce with the head and all ($35). Each dish was wonderful in it’s own way, but the Short Ribs were truly to-die-for and highly recommended. The Red Snapper is two full pounds so it’s worth sharing. Speaking of sharing, many of the entrées had smaller portions, which were more than enough for one person. Yes, everything comes on a big plate here.

Of course, there’s always room for dessert and Pasteur had the good stuff. We ordered the recommended dish, Banana and Raisin Bread Pudding topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzle with hot caramel sauce ($8). This dessert was exquisite, period. They have their own recipe at Pasteur where they remove some of the usual ingredients and substitute them with Coconut – you need to be here to believe how good this dish actually is.

3.5 out of 4 Stars! I highly recommend this restaurant as a neighborhood gem, great for foodies, and good for groups! Come into Pasteur for a true French-Vietnamese experience.

Reservations are recommended using OpenTable.com or by calling the restaurant directly at 773.728.4800. The restaurant does have carryout and delivery services using Grubhub.com or by calling the restaurant. You can see the menu HERE.


The packing list

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The packing list photo

I'm packing up, getting ready to move on out after more than a decade of living in the same building.

You've been there. You're standing in your home—a dot in a sea of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and duct tape—enveloped in a tornado of possessions strewn across every piece of furniture and floor space as far as the eye can see. You've got to decide what to take with you, what to give to tzedakah, and what to give to the garbage man—and you've got like a day to do it. Sound familiar? 

So I thought I'd write through the packing stress and tell you about my Jewish-inspired items I'm taking with me, items that have helped shape my Jewish home, experience, and identity for more than a decade.

The mezuzah.

When I bought my mezuzah to kasher my new apartment as a 20-something Jewish woman, I chose a feminine, funky design for the ritual object, to show visitors before they even made it through the door that they were approaching Cindy's home. I figured when I got married some day, I might have to compromise with my future husband on a more toned-down, less girly mezuzah. And since I'm now engaged and soon will be starting a home with my husband, that day is almost here. The mezuzah's coming with me, but perhaps it will adjoin a lower profile entrance way, for the sake of my husband-to-be, rather than the front door this time around.

The fiddler.  

A whimsical painting of a fiddler, perhaps the not-so-distant cousin of Tevye, adorns my wall. I remember buying the painting when visiting an art fair with my family a few summers back. The fiddler reminds me of my late Grandpa Harry, born in a shtetl near Minsk, Belarus at the turn of the 20th century. As a young man, he immigrated with his family to America, ultimately settling in Wisconsin, where he would become one of the state's first Jewish farmers.

The dress.

I bought this black sequin dress a decade ago. Ladies, you know the one I'm talking about. That dress you fell in love with at the store—and it was on sale too! I've attended so many simchas in that dress that it's practically paid for itself by now. Every time I look at it, I'm reminded of all the horas I've been lucky enough to dance in while wearing that dress. I can almost hear the klezmer now.

The kugel recipe.

My mom passed down to me my family's recipe for lokshen kugel (noodle pudding) when I first moved into my own place. I cherish the recipe in all of its sweet deliciousness. But, more than its taste, cooking kugel transports me back to the sweet nostalgia of growing up—the High Holidays, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and the weekly Shabbat dinners with my family. My mom would make the dish, my sister and I employed as pint-sized sous-chefs in her kitchen.

The earrings.

I bought these small, sparkling, colorful gems, created by famous jewelry designer Michal Negrin, as a souvenir from Israel when I traveled several years ago with more than 60 other young Jewish Chicagoans on the Young Leadership Division Summer Trip to Israel. The earrings, to me, are synonymous with our transformative journey "home."

The tray.

The ceramic tray, decorated with the Vincent Van Gogh's "Café Terrace" scene, has seen its share of Jewish holidays. Every Yom Kippur, for instance, I prevail over my hunger pains and prep the tray with brownies, toffee bars, and merengue cookies, inspired by my mom's holiday recipes, and get ready for the influx of Jewish friends that would come to my apartment annually to break the fast with me.

The pictures.

Of all my material possessions, photographs top my list of items I can't do without. After all, pictures tell our story best. Pictures of my family and friends pepper my walls with joy, light, and love. Like the picture of my grandparents, my parents, my sister, her husband, and me standing under the chuppah at my sister's wedding; or the one of my then-4-year-old nephew and me playing in the snow; or the one of my three girlfriends and me making goofy, mojito-induced faces in the photo booth at a Jewish party.

These objects aren't just material possessions to me. They're the building blocks of my Jewish life. They're with me to help me remember my Jewish narrative, a narrative that I hope resonates with many of you. I'm moving out, but I'm ready to create a new Jewish home at my next address.

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