OyChicago blog

From sea to shining sea

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06/28/2013

From sea to shining sea photo

Cawker City, Kan. claims the world’s biggest ball of twine. Kenosha, Wisc. is home to an actual cheese castle. And in Leicester, Vt., you’ll spot a statue of a giant gorilla holding a Volkswagen Beetle.

Only in America.

My grandmother, who immigrated to the States from Russia as a little girl, once told me that before she came to this country, she had envisioned America as a land paved with gold. Not sure these quirky landmarks are quite what she had in mind, but I’m sure if she’d lived to see the Beetle-wielding gorilla, it would have made her smile.

So many of our grandparents sought to find a better life in the United States where they could live freely and practice Judaism without fear of persecution. And that’s just what they found.

Now, I’m no Pollyanna. I recognize that the United States has a truckload of problems, but I thank God every day that I get to call America my hometown, where I am free to live as a Jewish American.

Today, 350 years after the first Jews settled in America, we encounter Jewish language, culture, food, humor, and sensibility at every turn.

The very words that have greeted generations of immigrants, like my grandma, to the shores of this country, displayed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, were written by the Sephardic Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

It was composer Irving Berlin, a Belarussian Jewish immigrant, who wrote the iconic American song, “God Bless America.”

And the list goes on and on.

From sea to shining sea, Jews have helped shape this country of hope and promise.

Our ubiquity was front and center at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May, when Arvind Mahankali, a Queens, N.Y. Indian-American eighth grader, won the bee after spelling correctly the word “knaidel,”—the Yiddish term for matzoh ball. He may as well have spelled “apple pie” because there’s something so American about an Indian-American boy spelling a Yiddish word—and correctly! (Or at least according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the spelling is correct.)

As we celebrate our country’s birthday this month, let’s also celebrate living Jewishly in the USA. Let’s hit the road and take a tour of five American cities, some a bit off the beaten path, where you’ll encounter both tourist hot spots and lesser-known Jewish destinations.

1. Charleston, South Carolina
If you’re in the area, swing by Fort Sumter, a sea fort located in Charleston Harbor, S.C., best known as the site upon which the shots initiating the American Civil War were fired, launching the Battle of Fort Sumter in 1861.

While you’re in Charleston, visit Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, the fourth-oldest Jewish synagogue in the continental United States, founded in 1749.

2. Seattle, Washington
If you make your way to the Pacific Northwest, Pike’s Place Market in Seattle is a must-see. This farmers market, also home to the first-ever Starbucks, serves up produce, cheese, flowers and, of course, fish (famously tossed by the fishmongers) all year round.

While Pike’s Place is well known, most people don’t know that the market has a rich relationship with Seattle’s large Sephardic community, as many of the early peddlers and fishmongers transferred their skills from Greece and Turkey to the Seattle market.

Fun fact: Just outside the University of Washington, the city boasts the only kosher Einstein Bros. Bagels in the country.

3. Jackson, Mississippi
Visit African-American civil rights activist Medgar Evers’ home. Evers, who was assassinated in 1963, fought to overturn segregation at the University of Miss.

Then, drop by the Museum of Southern Jewish Experience, founded by Macy B. Hart. Growing up in Winona, Miss., Hart was a member of the only Jewish family in town. Early on Sunday mornings, his father would drive Hart and his siblings 160 miles to the nearest Hebrew School. When Hart grew up, he created his Museum located in Jackson. For more than two decades, the museum—which later expanded into the Goldring Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life—has documented and preserved the historical legacy of Southern Jews.

4. Los Angeles, California
While in La La Land, stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame to gaze at the stars—including oh so many Jewish members of the tribe in Hollywood.

Then, head for a bite at The Milky Way, the kosher dairy restaurant run by movie mogul Steven Spielberg’s mother, Leah Adler, a lovable ball of energy.

5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia’s Independence Hall is home to the Liberty Bell, one of the most iconic symbols of our American freedom. The famed bell, which would alert citizens and politicians of announcements, originally cracked when first rung after its arrival to the city.

Just across Independence Mall, visit the new National Museum of American Jewish History, which offers experiences that explore and celebrate the history of Jews in America. The museum strives to connect Jews more closely to their heritage and inspire people of all backgrounds with an appreciation of the American Jewish experience.

Visit chasingdreamsbaseball.tumblr.com to learn how to contribute memorabilia to an upcoming baseball exhibition at the museum.

Happy birthday, America!

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The Taming of the Jewfro

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06/27/2013

I was born with a full head of hair. My mop of curls grew before I learned to talk. The curls waved out during my elementary school years and then sprang back into action when I was in junior high. It should have been no surprise that my curls would return with a vengeance, as I grew up in a household of curly-haired Jews. However, I was not prepared for the curly evolution my mop took when I hit my early teens.

My older and wiser curly-haired sister showed me the fro way with hair gels, shampoos, and other curly hair miracle products. In the years that followed, I spent—and continue to spend—endless time, money and energy worrying about my Jewfro.

After laughing over a recent BuzzFeed.com roundup article about curly hair problems entitled, "31 Problems Only People With Curly Hair Will Understand," I was inspired to share my own curly hair wisdom. Summer is a particularly trying season for those sporting the Jewfro, so I thought I'd offer a completely unscientific guide on how to deal with your curly-hair woes.

Classifying the Jewfro

Chances are, dear readers, if you're a Member of the Tribe (MOT), you likely have unruly curly hair like I do. Let's all come out of the Jewish hair closet together, once and for all, and admit that we have Member of the Tribe Hair (MOTH), also known by its pejorative name, the "Jewfro."

While many associate Jewfros with males, both men and women can have variations on the Jewfro. Brad Greenberg, a writer for JewishJournal.com, quoted blogger Eugene Rubin about the various personas to which the Jewfro can be attributed

"Like snowflakes, Jewfros have endless variations," Rubin said. "[They] can be grouped roughly: 'The Traditionalist' (Gabe 'Mr. Kotter' Kaplan, James Caan, Elliott Gould), 'The Fat-n-Funny' (the newly trim Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill), 'The California Blonde' (Art Garfunkel, Victor Garber), 'The Rebel' (Howard Stern, Larry Fine), 'The Intelligentsia' (Albert Einstein and, what the heck, Albert Brooks, whose real name is Albert Einstein), 'The Goyfro' (Nick Jonas, John McEnroe), 'The Pube' (Gene Wilder), 'The Rockfro' (Bob Dylan, Adam Duritz, Marc Bolan), and, of course 'The Sistafro' (Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Rhea Pearlman)."

Many Jewish ladies with "Sistafro" hairdos try to mask or tame their MOTH identities with serums, gels, mousses, ceramic straighteners, and even chemical treatments. But, let's face it—Jews are meant to curl. It's easy to identify a female with undercover MOTH because her seemingly perfect, straight hair has some detectible flaws: Her hair is frizzing, fluffing, or puffing at the roots; her hair waves in the center of the back of her head or at the ends; the hair framing her face waves out when she shvitzes. Without fail, a good shvitz will give away your MOTH. For more Jewfro references, see this Tumblr. Jewfro page.

Battling the Jewfro

Some of my earliest childhood memories entail watching my mom painstakingly trying to tame her Jewfro. From blow dryers and large rollers, to excessive hood-wearing in all sorts of weather, my mom always had a fight with her fro. I'd watch her sitting in front of the mirror, rolling her wet hair into large, plastic rollers to straighten out her Jewfro. She'd sleep in these monstrous curlers, despite great discomfort. (It might seem illogical to straighten curly hair with curlers, but large curlers actually straighten out hair rather than curling it.)

During a brief period in the 1980s, everyone wanted curls, and my curly-haired mother and sisters enhanced their already curly heads with chemical perm treatments. I was too young at the time, and never experienced the perm firsthand.

However, once my 13-year-old curls kicked in, I discovered just how difficult it was to control them, and even more difficult to straighten them. Soon, I began experimenting with night-time rollers, hair dryers, and excessive hood wearing. Gel was my only answer, and to this day, it often still is.

Shaming the Jewfro

Mothers, grandmothers, and friends might all tell you, "your hair looks better straight," propelling you to spend hundreds on straighteners and products. Even television personalities, such as Patti Stanger of The Millionaire Matchmaker, equate straight hair with beauty. On her show, Stanger instructs potential matches for her millionaires to straighten those curls. In her book, Become Your Own Matchmaker, 8 Easy Steps for Attracting Your Perfect Mate, she echoes those sentiments.

"Men appreciate hair they can run their fingers through," Stanger said in her book. "...they don't want to get them snagged in scraggly, frizzy, pubic-looking bird's nests. The era of the perm is over, ladies.

"Wavy hair is fine, but a hair ball is definitely not a man magnet," she added. "The money you spend straightening and conditioning your hair might be the best, most profitable investment you'll ever make."

While straight hair is admittedly neater, sleeker and less wild-looking, it's worth questioning whether our mothers, grandmothers, friends (and even Patti) are measuring beauty standards against a majority non-Jewish, white population. While beauty ads sprinkle in features of women with curly hair, those women are often women of color. Perhaps, in the Jewish population's ongoing desire to assimilate, we have a fear of looking too "ethnic." Members of the Jewish community joke about their Jewfros, but they might be less comfortable with the underlying ethnic or racial associations with the hairstyle than they're willing to admit.

Taming the Jewfro

The Taming of the Jewfro photo

This is what happens to curly hair in one humid summer evening when two hours have passed.

(Disclaimer: These tips are only for the ladies. Boys, I don't know how to advise you on your manfros.)

While we can aspire to shiny, glossy, straight hair during the winter months, we still have nine, humid Chicago months with which to contend. Summer is a particularly challenging season for taming our MOTH.

Embrace your MOTH! It's natural, it's wild, it kind of looks like bedroom hair…unless it's bad bedroom hair. And that brings me to some curly hair dos and don'ts.

1. DON'T sleep on wet, product-less curly hair overnight and expect it to look normal when you wake up. If you do, and it looks as if your strands did battle while you slept…
DO dampen your hair with your hands at your sink or a spray bottle in the morning, apply some product and scrunch away to re-shape it.

2. DON'T cut your hair so short it that it looks like a bowl when it dries.
DO question your hair stylist before she begins cutting and ask her whether she's familiar with how curly hair dries. Show your stylist your hair dry before heading over to the wash attendant so she can get a sense of how your hair falls naturally. Share with your stylist how your hair reacts during various weather conditions and how much it tends to shrink up after drying. Finally, expect your hair to shrink more during hot, summer months. Thus, if you get a short cut, it will look shorter during the summer.

3. DON'T touch your hair once it has achieved an ideal shape and puffiness level. Don't let your friends or loved ones touch it either. The more you touch your curly hair, the more wild it will get. In the words of my curly-haired coworker, "Don't touch it. Just don't touch it ever."

4. DO shape and scrunch your hair after applying product to wet hair. Continue to scrunch your hair as it progresses through its long drying process if needed. If it begins to frizz, stop scrunching it. Don't over-use this tip. It's best to leave your hair alone while it dries. *See my scrunch twice/style twice tip below.

5. DON'T exit a pool or lake after a summer swim and put your curly hair up into a rubber band. It will tangle, knot and be all around disgusting.
DO treat your hair like you've just had a shower. Run a wide-tooth comb through your wet hair, and scrunch it (without product) to achieve a semblance of normal curly hair when it dries.

6. DON'T expect a top-notch straightening job if you're attempting to straighten your hair in a room or environment that makes you shvitz. Inevitably, the waves and curls won't fully go away. If they do, the shvitz will bring them back.
DO place a small towel around your neck (Rocky-style) while using a hot straightener or hair dryer. This will minimize neck shvitz caused by the hot utensils from affecting your locks. If the curls just won't straighten, throw in your towel and re-wet your hair for curly styling.
DON'T, however, try the reverse. If you started your styling mission thinking you'd wear your hair curly and applied gel, do not try straightening gel-filled hair. It will make your straightener sticky and you won't achieve a desired style.

7. DON'T get bangs if you have naturally curly hair. Just, don't.

8. DON'T expect your curly hair to maintain its volume, shape or texture throughout a given evening. It will morph hourly (or even by the minute), depending on its stage of drying from your shower, the humidity in the air, the amount of product you used, and when you had your last hair cut.

DO accept the things you cannot change and change the things you cannot accept. Carry extra product in your purse, or make hair spray your BFF.

9. DON'T, and I mean DO NOT, put a brush through those curls—ever—unless you want 1990s-esque pouf. You can use a comb while your hair is wet. After product is applied and your hair has dried, don't even think about it.
DON'T apply product to your hair, let it dry and then think you're done.
DO comb wet hair, apply product, scrunch your hair, let it dry (completely or almost completely) and scrunch the heck out of it one more time. This second major scrunch will rid your hair of a crunchy or unnatural texture. *Scrunch twice; style twice.

10. DON'T give up if your curly hair seems to have frizzed beyond repair.
DO, in a pinch, wet your hair slightly and scrunch it. If you have mousse on hand, it's a great tool for dry hair. Apply mousse generously into the palms of your hands and work it/scrunch it through your hair.

Products: Everyone curly haired person has their own regime for managing their unruly tufts. I encourage you to explore gels, creams, mousses, heat-protecting sprays and creams, hair sprays, and more. While hair stylists might encourage you to use expensive products, they're not necessarily better than shelf brands you find at your local pharmacy.

Tools: I've had many a debate with curly-haired friends about diffusers rather than regular hair dryers. I think diffusers scrunch my hair too much. Depending on the texture of your hair, diffusers might give your hair the boost it needs while it dries.

Stylists: My friend swears by the Ouidad-certified hair cut. She received a Ouidad cut, which incorporates trademarked curly hair cutting and styling techniques.

Oy! readers, I encourage you to share your curly-hair tips below! 

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I Hope You Didn’t Blink

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06/26/2013

I Hope You Didn’t Blink photo

Clark Street in Wrigleyville after the Blackhawks' Cup-clinching victory.

The Boston Bruins’ Milan Lucic had just scored at the 12:11 mark of the third period, a goal that seemed to be the backbreaker that would send us to a Game 7. I hope you didn’t blink.

With less than two minutes left, Jonathan Toews made an incredible pass to Bryan Bickell to tie the game. Suddenly hope was restored. We would make it to overtime for the fourth time this series, and the Blackhawks had already won two of the previous three overtime games. I hope you didn’t blink.

Seventeen seconds later, Dave Bolland made history in what had already been an historic season for the Blackhawks. They were less than a minute away from their second cup in four years. In 17 seconds, they went from heartbreaking loss, to Stanley Cup glory. I really hope you didn’t blink.

The Blackhawks started and finished this strike-shortened season in record-breaking fashion. They came out of the gate going 24 consecutive games without a regulation loss, and ended with the record for the shortest span between game-tying and Stanley Cup-clinching goals, as well as the latest cup-clinching goal in regulation. And to make it even sweeter, which team had previously held both of those playoff records? The Boston Bruins.

And how appropriate that the game-winning goal was made by Dave Bolland, with only his third of the playoffs. All year the Blackhawks were defined by their depth. All four lines were a threat to score. Corey Crawford answered all his critics who questioned whether or not he could be an everyday goaltender, and now he’s a Stanley Cup champion. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who both went through their share of slumps in the playoffs, came up big in the final two games. And to think, only a month ago, this was the same team that was down 3-1 to the Red Wings and on the brink of elimination. But from that point, the Blackhawks went on to win 11 of their final 14 playoff games.

It was an incredible end to an incredible season. And for all of us Chicago sports fans—really soak this one in. The Cubs and White Sox are both in the middle of miserable seasons and long-term rebuilds. The Bulls are still awaiting the return of their star, all while still figuring out how to surround him with the right guys to make them true contenders. The Bears are about to enter a new coaching regime with their fourth offensive coordinator in the Jay Cutler era and an aging defense playing for the first time in this decade without Brian Urlacher. Since the Bulls’ last title in 1998, Chicago’s major sports teams have only been world champions three times, two thanks to the Blackhawks. So let’s celebrate this one all summer long. The Stanley Cup is back in Chicago. 

 

Eric Burgher runs the Chicago sports blog Sweet Home Sports.

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Summertime and the Eating is Easy

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06/24/2013

Summertime and the Eating is Easy photo

It is high summer now and the heat is on. This delicious dish is quick, easy and needs only one pot.

My favorite artichoke dish is a perfect summer side dish or salad. The artichokes are braised in fruity olive oil, white wine and lots of lemon. I add a small spicy chili to braising liquid to add a bit of kick to the dish.

This Provencal vegetable stew is delicious hot or cold. We serve it over chicken schnitzel and allow the rich braising liquid to moisten crispy schnitzels. YUM!

Artichokes Barigoule (Artichokes stewed in olive oil and white wine)

1 lemon, zested and juiced + 4 thin slices lemon
 
4 medium artichokes
½ cup best quality extra-virgin olive oil
10 white button mushrooms

6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 medium carrots, cut into 3" pieces
½ cup dry white wine
1 small spicy chili pepper, sliced thinly (optional)
¼ cup pitted and chopped Kalamata olives
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup torn basil leaves
Good sized pinch of piment d'Espelette* or hot paprika

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Combine lemon juice and 6 cups water in a large bowl. Cut away tough outer leaves on the artichoke's base until you reach inner yellow leaves. Using a serrated knife, cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. Using a peeler or sharp knife, remove green outer layer from stem and base. Trim off bottom ½" of stem. Use a spoon to scoop out fuzzy choke from center of artichoke. Transfer to lemon water. Repeat with remaining artichokes.

2. Drain the artichokes. Heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add artichokes cut side down, with mushrooms, garlic, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown, about 8–10 minutes. Add the lemon slices and wine, Reduce wine by half, about 3-4 minutes. Add enough water to just cover vegetables; bring to a boil.

3. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until vegetables are tender, 12-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Using tongs, transfer artichokes, carrots, and mushrooms to a bowl. Increase the heat and reduce the braising liquid to ⅓ cup, about 8-10 minutes. Add back the artichokes, mushrooms, carrots, and olives; heat through. Garnish with lemon zest, parsley, basil and paprika.

Serve the barigoule hot with chicken, fish or beef, or serve cold.

*Espelette pepper is a variety of chili pepper that was originally grown in Mexico, transplanted to the Basque region of France and cultivated there. The peppers are harvested in October, dried and made into ground or pureed pepper. The peppers are not really spicy, but are fruity and very flavorful. Piment d’Espelette can be easily found online or in gourmet stores.

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Moving Back

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06/20/2013

Moving Back photo

My famous last words: “I will not move back to Highland Park.”

That’s what I told my wife when we were looking for a house. I grew up in Highland Park and though I loved elementary and middle school, high school I could’ve done without. I think that can be said for many people. Instead, I had a suburbs crush on Glenview.

When I was in college, I lifeguarded in Glenview for two summers. I loved it. The lifeguards were all from Glenview and Northbrook and they were amazing people. I also liked the short commute to the city, waterparks, and convenience of the Glen. We rented a home there for two years. I liked living there but there were two crucial things missing: community and a backyard.

We met two neighbors in two years. Our son loved running around the 20 feet of yard we had, but like dogs, boys like space to run around. Oddly, it’s usually in a circle.

We decided Glenview and Northbrook would be the two places we would look. We found nothing. The one place in Glenview we liked went under contract the day we saw it. It was time to expand our search. We still wanted to be in the northern burbs, and thought okay, Highland Park and Deerfield might work.

We have the most friends in Highland Park and my best friend just moved there, so HP was growing on me. Every time we looked at houses there, my angst turned into comfort. I know—it was shocking to me as well.

After a few failed offers, and one bad inspection, we found a great house a mile from where I grew up, close to downtown, and within walking distance of a park. The real-estate stars lined up and we agreed on a price and moved in May 31.

The old owner showed up at our closing and left us a nice note and bottle of wine in the house. She was very sweet and told us we would love the neighborhood.

We had not even moved in, yet already neighbors were stopping by! So far everyone has been super nice and in the first few weeks we’ve received bottles of wine, coffee cake, and one neighbor knew the way to my heart—fresh spices! Nothing beats fresh basil.

The house fit another criterion—a huge backyard. The backyard is perfect for running in circles, chasing birds and even staring at deer! Our first week there, a huge deer was in our backyard. I ran outside (but kept a safe distance) with my almost 2-year-old son. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped. He pointed his little finger out and said, “Cow. Hi cow. Moo.” I told him it was a big deer, and he agreed, but when it walked away he waved, “By COW!”

So to my friends and readers out there, let me know if you have any favorite spots in Highland Park. We of course love Michael’s and Frost (low calorie gelato).

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When I’m 64 years older

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06/19/2013

When I’m 64 years older photo

A few weeks ago, I got to pretend like I was 90.

Temple Jeremiah – the suburban synagogue where I serve as the Membership and Communications Director – hosted a lovely “90+ Luncheon,” a special event for our congregants age 90 and older.

More than two dozen men and women in their 90s gathered with their guests for an afternoon of quiche, fruit, cookies, and coffee. Our rabbi thanked them for their years of service and dedication to our temple, and our cantor entertained them with her top 10 songs from the 1930s and 1940s. The luncheon attendees swayed and sang along to the music, remembering the songs from their adolescence.

As the luncheon’s designated photographer, I was excited to attend this event and get serenaded by songs written more than a half century before I was born (two of which I had actually heard of!). But while I looked through my lens, photographing what would soon become a memory for all of us, I pictured myself sitting on the other side of the camera, age 90, in 64 years.

When I’m 64 years older photo 2

In the year 2076, when I enter my ninth decade, I sure hope that Cantor Amy is still around to sing songs from my glory days.

What would we sing? Here’s the event I’m picturing:

We walk through a beaded curtain and enter a room decorated with Disney movie posters. As we sit in our inflatable chairs with bean bag pillows, we nibble on Twizzlers and Fruit by the Foot. Lunch is a frozen Kid Cuisine, with Dippin’ Dots for dessert (the “ice cream of the future” had to be resurrected after being out of business for 40 years). We pull out our old iPhones (they still work if you blow on them) to look at old photos we took of ourselves with extended arms. (Not surprisingly, young people of the future have evolved to have extra-long left arms to facilitate these “selfie” photos.)

And then we lean back, a bit uncomfortably and loudly in our inflatable chairs, and listen to the show. Well, really just “watch” the show. We’ve all lost our hearing after listening to too much iPod music.

The set list:

“Wannabe” – Spice Girls
“Baby” – Justin Bieber
“Baby One More Time” – Britney Spears
TV Medley: Themes from “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Full House,” and “Sesame Street”
“Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson (we elders in the room slowly rise to our feet for this crowd-pleaser)
“We Are Young” – FUN (we chuckle at the irony)
“MMMBop” – Hanson
“I Want it That Way” – Backstreet Boys (this song has become the anthem of the older generation to complain about how we would like things to be)
“Tik Tok” – Ke$ha (it turns out that with inflation, she had to change her name to Ke$$$ha
“I Gotta Feeling” – Black Eyed Peas (64 years into the future, the “mazel tov” section of this song is still being played at bar mitzvahs)
At the end of the afternoon, we get a surprise visit from Celine Deon (amazingly still alive) with a performance of “My Heart Will Go On,” where we all get to pretend to be Rose at the end of Titanic.

It will be a wonderful afternoon.

So I hope you will all join me for this celebration, 64 years from now, that is sure to have all of our wheelchairs spinning and our canes tapping to the tunes of rock stars before they became drug addicts or politicians.

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Become A Summer Picnic Maven

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06/18/2013

Become A Summer Picnic Maven photo

Ravinia lawn

Living in Chicago can feel like a real burden at times. I find that I am always working to defend us to my friends and family from around the country. We have the Cubs (let’s not go there), hot dogs without ketchup and a pretty serious winter. I have a hard time when it comes to defending the state of baseball in this city and I try to keep my mouth shut when it comes to the ketchup on hot dogs debate. Surprisingly, winter is the only one of these situations that I am confident has a solution. There is nothing about winter in Chicago that cannot be solved by summer in Chicago.

Summer in Chicago is magic. Cabin fever gives way to summer hysteria and suddenly we’re all outside. It’s funny how quickly you forget the pain of all that snow and ice. When the gorgeous weather finally visits us, we’re all so excited that we forget everything about wet frozen feet and heavy winter coats. Those winter nightmares are further erased the moment you find yourself at an outdoor festival.

Chances are that you will find yourself watching a movie in Millennium Park or enjoying a concert at Ravinia. Both of these activities and dozens like them mean that you’ll also be piecing together a potluck with friends.

Fear not! I am here to rescue you from being forced to purchase another plastic box of potato salad from the Jewel on the corner. Not that there’s anything wrong with that potato salad, it’s perfectly delicious—I just think it might be time to step up your picnic game. Show off! Become the picnic maven you’ve always wanted to be.

I’ve got three super easy to make suggestions for your next trip to the beach, Ravinia concert or whatever picnic situation you might find yourself in this summer. You’ll look like a genius and you won’t have to break a sweat.

1. Lemon Icebox Pie
This is a really delicious summer pie that you’ll need to plan ahead for. It needs a night in the fridge.

INGREDIENTS
1 (8oz) tub of Cool Whip
1 (14oz) can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
½ cup of Lemon Juice

DIRECTIONS
Mix everything together until smooth and then pour into a store bought graham cracker pie crust. Refrigerate over-night.

2. Fruit Dip
This fruit dip is pretty spectacular. I love it with fresh strawberries, but it would taste great with an empty spoon.

INGREDIENTS
1 (8oz) package of cream cheese softened
1 (15 oz) jar marshmallow cream

DIRECTIONS
Blend cream cheese and marshmallow cream with a hand mixer until combined.

3. Poor Man’s Sangria
Everybody needs a little summer drink. You’re going to read this and make a face, but I promise you it’s yummy.

INGREDIENTS
1 bottle of wine (any variety will do)
1 (2L) bottle of Coke

DIRECTIONS
Mix these two together and enjoy. You can really play with the flavors here. You could do a white wine with an orange soda. Maybe a Cherry Coke with a Cabernet? It’s a matter of personal taste. This is a game of mix and match. Enjoy! 

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Tumbling

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06/17/2013

Tumbling photo

“She’s darker than you.” the girl said to me. She was twisting her blond hair and chewing on it while her blue eyes darted between me and my daughter. Fray was attempting cartwheels with great enthusiasm and seemed not to hear. “And what’s with her hair?” the girl blurted out loudly. “Do you wash it? Why is it so crazy?” I regarded Fray’s afro as a few other parents gave me sympathetic looks and rolled their eyes at the kid’s perceived impudence. Only hours before, the afro had been a collection of neat little braids. The current hairdo was the result of my tediously unbraiding, washing, conditioning and combing my daughter’s hair amid dramatic protests and screams of agony (despite the plug of a sizable lollipop and Doc McStuffins on TV).

Braids are unquestionably easier as a style, but they also turn on you. After about 3 weeks, your kid ends up looking like what one might imagine medusa looks like after a night of bingeing tequila. So, the time had come to undo. But I know saying a temporary goodbye to the braids is a risk – the risk of the unkempt afro. It is a well-known affliction that is commonly faced by the white mother of a brown child. If you don’t get it right, someone’s going to tell you about yourself and plus the afro involves constant maintenance. Half a second of leaning back in a chair basically dents it. And my daughter hates when I fuss over her hair. “Poofing” we call it. And “re-poofing.” And “re-poofing the re-poof.” It’s all equally unwelcomed.

So when my daughter’s afro – pulled back neatly with a neon orange headband – was called into question, I wasn’t surprised. However, I was confident that today, today it looked pretty damn good. “Her hair’s not crazy. It’s an afro.” I said. The girl regarded my daughter’s hair again, squinting critically. Then she walked up and stuffed her hands deep into the fluff of Fray’s hair. “Feels weird…”

Shocked, I looked at Fray. She seemed a little big-eyed and slightly confused by the impromptu scalp massage, but she didn’t move away or appear uncomfortable. But I felt uncomfortable. “Fray? Is that OK? Do you mind her touching your hair? If you do, you can say, ‘please don’t do that…’” The girl pulled her hands away quickly. Fray resumed cartwheeling (they were round-offs honestly) and shortly after, my boys tumbled out of their gymnastics lesson demanding snack money for the vending machines.

At dinner I shared what had happened earlier in the day. “That’s racist!” my husband declared. The boys agreed. “Racist? How is a girl touching Fray’s hair racist?” I asked. “She said Fray was darker than you!” my middle son yelled. I thought for a minute. “But she is…”

“There are just some things you don’t say.” My husband huffed.

“But why not? Are we pretending she’s not darker than us? How is it different than people pointing out how fair and blond Phoenix is in comparison to all of us? That’s a difference. Are people not allowed to say that?”

“Well, what about pointing out that someone is fat? Is that OK? It’s a fact right, but we don’t say it.”

I thought for a minute. “Are we saying being darker-skinned is akin to being fat? Is it a pejorative? A bad thing?”

Forks scraped the dinner plates. No one said anything. Finally they all admitted that no, no it wasn’t. No of course not! “Annice,” my husband began, “You were the one who brought it up to us. Why was it remarkable if on some level it didn’t upset you?” It had become clear by the end of dinner that the actions and words of this little girl had unnerved us. Touché husband, touché.

When I was in my mid-20s, I was hanging out with a group of teenagers around a BBQ. I honestly don’t remember how the conversation looped the way it did, but somehow it came out that I was Jewish. Two of the boys, who happened to be brothers, looked at me. “Jewish? You’re Jewish? Where are your horns?” I laughed while poking tentatively at meaty stuff on the grill. But when I looked up, two very inquisitive faces were awaiting my answer. “Uh… Jews don’t have horns...”

They went on to tell me that I was the first Jewish person they had ever met. They were from a small, homogenous town where everyone was just like them. Was it a dumb question? Was it anti-Semitic? At the time I didn’t think about that. I was just so surprised that I simply answered. Over the years I have come to appreciate that long-ago conversation for a variety of reasons. Had I never “revealed” myself, had the kids internalized their unchallenged thoughts and beliefs, had I reacted defensively to them by storming off telling them to, “Cook your own G-d damn burgers because I’m a vegetarian anyway!” then they would have continued to believe in Jew-horns and likely been looking for my swishing tail as I stormed off with indignant rage and offense.

Now back to my daughter and the sassy hair-grabbing girl at gymnastics. In retrospect, I think I did the best I could in the moment. I educated the kid – introduced the term “afro” into her vocabulary at least – and made sure my daughter felt empowered to tell said child to back off if she wanted her to. I also think/hope Fray felt confident about how her hair looked – how she looked – despite being under the radar of the critical eyes of others. Because the reality is, being brown-skinned is novel where we live. And when people are different, people are curious about it.

How can we address curiosity without feeling exploited on behalf of ourselves, our children and our cultures? I think it’s true that we build bridges to understanding and appreciating differences by learning from others and from sharing our perspectives. Can we do that if questions about afros and accents and horns are off limits? I don’t think so. So, to that impish little girl, I say a thank you. You got me thinking.

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Turn Your To Do List into a Must Do List and Get #$%^ Done!

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06/14/2013

Turn Your To Do List into a Must Do List and Get #$%^ Done! photo

Let’s take a moment to pay homage to the almighty To Do List. It is the quintessential organizational mechanism in the How-to-Get-#$%^-Done tool kit. I know people that live and die by the list. You know them too. They get a high from checking off the boxes; they add things to the list they just completed so they can have the thrill and satisfaction of crossing them off. These people are very organized, and God bless them because they are accomplishing a lot of important work.

Then there are the rest of us. You, me and Charlie in sales who have every good intention of getting it all done, but staring down that list brings us more hopelessness than happiness. The To Do List is overwhelming for our brain types. Where can we start? How will we ever finish? Oh wait, here’s an e-mail, I’ll just respond to that now and get to this list later. Oh no, now it’s 4:45pm and I still have a lot on my list. Better put some work into figuring out what needs to be done tomorrow—it’s a vicious cycle.

For us, the challenge of the To Do List is that we end up writing a long list of 15-20 tasks that need to get done that day. If we are lucky, we manage to at least start most of those tasks. At the end of the day, the result is that we have started (and rarely finished) 15-20 important tasks.

“Tell me about what you got done today,” our supervisor asks. “Well I started this, worked on this, and got very close to finishing this,” seems to be all we can say for ourselves. It’s an awesome way to show how we are not follow through material, a.k.a. ready for advancement.

To that end, I offer a simpler tool for the more easily distracted, slightly less organized among us. I use it myself and have recommended it to coaching clients as a way to jump start productivity. Most importantly, it ensures that on a daily basis, I get the most important things done. Here’s how it works:

Every day (either the night before or first thing in the morning) I write out my To Do List. This is my 15-20 items that I want to accomplish that day. After that, I put a star next to three and only three items. The starred items represent the three most important items to complete that day. They are not to dos, they are must dos. These three items bring the most serious consequences should they not be completed by the end of the day. If I do nothing else that day, I commit to doing those three items. Anything else on the list is considered a bonus.

That’s my productivity secret, and it works. I figure that the majority of professionals are writing a good long list of things to do for the day. Most of those individuals are putting in a good amount of effort to starting those items, but how many can really say they ever fully complete even a fraction of the list? With that in mind, I figure if I can complete three tasks each day that means I will complete 21 items by the end of the week. That’s 84 items each month. The point is, that three completed tasks a day adds up to a heck of a lot of deliverables by the end of the month.

“Tell me about what you got done today,” your supervisor asks. “Well I completed the Turner Report, managed to get those follow up e-mails out from the Fletcher meeting, and I made a point to Tweet about our new product launch next week.” Your supervisor makes a mental note that you have started to show some real progress and responds, “Keep up the good work, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you accomplish tomorrow.”

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Summer Sans Summer

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06/13/2013

Summer Sans Summer photo

Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Camp

July 1 will mark 15 years since I first began summer camp and, cheesily enough, started friendships that are 15 years old. It's one of those milestones like the anniversary of your bat mitzvah (which I obviously have no clue about), or the date that you and your boyfriend made it official (which I obviously just don't have). My immediate thought to the 15 year mark was, “I'm old enough to be friends with these people for 15 years and actually remember it?” Oy.

If you're an average Jew from the burbs like I am, chances are your parents said peace out during the summer and sent you away for two glorious months ("glorious months" applying both to the camper and the parents). Camp and summer became forever interchangeable synonyms; you can't have one without the other. Childhood summers were marked by a love of rainy day activities, string bracelets that reached to the elbows, a fierce color war, and refusing to get into the lake until at least mid-July when it had properly warmed up.

Now that we’re all grown up and the notion of a summer break or any break for that matter seems ages ago, how does summer measure up? Sure we can no longer say we kissed our summer crush behind the hockey rink, but can summer still be wet hot? Lazy Susans are replaced by summer Fridays, while getting inappropriately drunk at the local camp bar (as an of-age counselor only, of course) has turned into getting inappropriately drunk for large portions of the weekend and in some cases the week.

Maybe summer isn't the season it used to be, but now that everyone shares the same indoor, 9-5, computer screen fate, maybe it’s okay. I love camp probably more than then the average lifer, but that cheer has been chanted. It's time to move on to patio drinking and the age of the Ray-Bans and boat shoes.

Why not embrace the summer we have instead of wishing for the one we used to? Unless you're Peter Panning it, which I have seriously considered, loosen your tie, untuck your shirt, and bask in the possibilities of the second best season of the year. (Football season wins every time.)

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Motivating Myself To Motivate Myself

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06/12/2013

Adam Daniel Miller photo

It took a lot of convincing for me to write this. Of course that’s what happens when I try motivating myself to motivate myself. But in all honesty, for one reason or another, I’ve been finding myself much more motivated recently, mostly because I stopped looking for myself when I wasn’t motivated. Also, I get highly motivated to find myself when I’m around mirrors because, well, it’s way easier to find myself then, so there’s a lot going into this. Truth be told, I’ve been trying to better myself recently due in large part to a higher level of motivation. Not only a higher level of motivation, but also a stronger and longer sustained motivation than I can ever recall.

It’s actually been almost 20 minutes now. Oh, I’m not talking about the motivation thing. After that first paragraph, I took 20 minutes to get to this one. I was having trouble motivating myself to motivate myself to write an article about how good I’ve been getting with motivating myself to motivate myself. Moving on.

When I motivate myself, (you sick of that word yet?) I actually get a true sense of accomplishment. I wrote a blog previously about how I am a self-proclaimed productive procrastinator. I’m never one to waste any time when I can help it. Therefore, I’m trying to listen to more music, exercise more (see: at all), and generally increase my knowledge and experience of the world. This brings me back to my never-ending struggle with my favorite love/hate relationship.

Sleep. Sleep takes time away from me but I love taking the time to sleep. One of the toughest constant needs for motivation in my life is getting out of the bed in the morning. Not because I’m lazy, but more because I’m just so gosh darn comfy and snuggly first thing in the morning. Also, I’m lazy. But when I don’t get out of bed and more or less waste time, I often wish I hadn’t done that.

I don’t want to use the word regret because I regret every time I use the word regret, so I won’t use it here. Not being able to get out of bed is ironic for me considering, as I’ve said, I have quite the disdain for sleep, purely based on the fact that I find sleep to be a waste of time. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. The problem lies in the fact that when I’m sleepy, my motivation to do anything goes straight out the window, which is amazing because my bedroom has no windows.

It seems my motivation needs a lot of motivation to be motivated. Part of what I’ve actually done to better myself is joining a gym and getting a personal trainer. Just doing that took some motivation and it’s astounding how tough it was to motivate myself to hire someone to motivate me.

Part of my drive is my constant want to always be improving myself and make sure there’s room for me to grow—hence why my apartment has such tall ceilings. I want to always be able to motivate myself to be a better, more knowledgeable and well-rounded me. Notice I didn’t say more attractive me, as that’s impossible. I can’t be any more attractive than I already am. I mean, you’ve seen my bio pic. I look perfect. Needless to say, I take a lot of selfies. Even when I’m around people, I ask them to take selfies of me. Who better to take selfies than someone else?

But let’s end this whole shindig on a more philosophical note.

I have often heard that a great way to motivate myself is to live everyday like it’s my last. But my take on it is that I find it’s a lot more exciting to live everyday like it’s my first. That allows for new discoveries and adventures. Discoveries and adventures I can now expand upon at a later date. Treating it like it’s my last day could make me be spontaneous and care free, sure, but then I couldn’t invest myself. The idea of living everyday like it’s my first makes it so I look forward to new places and ideas that could potentially become new interests, hobbies and passions. It makes it so I become like a newborn baby and simply enjoy the wonder of the world around me. Also I put my mouth on a lot of stuff, just to see how it tastes. And besides, I really can’t live everyday like it’s my last. I’ve got a lot of things to do tomorrow. I’m booked. However, I will stand by the idea that whatever you can do today, do not put it off until tomorrow. You might not get a second chance. So when it comes down to it, I suppose the most appropriate phrase for me is this:

I live everyday like it’s Thursday…but I still put my mouth on everything.

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Mensch of Steel

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06/11/2013

Mensch of Steel photo

You might be wondering what the most Jewish movie of the summer is this year. Is it the annual Woody Allen flick (Blue Jasmine)? Is it Grown Ups 2 (thanks again, Adam Sandler…)? No, it's Man of Steel.

If you don't know what's Jewish about Superman, first, shame on you, and second, I apologize for that, I didn't mean it (mostly). Please allow me to explain.

The piece that you should already be at least vaguely aware of is that Superman was created by two nice Jewish boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, sons of Jewish immigrants who met when they were in high school in Cleveland circa 1930. It is widely asserted that their upbringing and Jewish roots had influences on their creation of the Superman character.

Like his creators, Superman is very much an immigrant (coming from another planet and all), and unlike many of the heroes that followed him in the comic world, he is one of few who makes an effort to assimilate, donning the "disguise" of Clark Kent. In a way, he's almost desperate to fit in, and that was a significant element of American Jewish life at the time.

Many have pointed out that Superman's story of immigration—which involves his parents packing him into a tiny space vessel to save him from destruction and sending him to Earth—directly reflects the story of baby Moses in the basket, who as we all know, grew to become a prophet to the Jewish people and led them to the most crucial points of their destiny.

Speaking of prophets, Superman is the last son of Krypton and a member of the House of El. "El," of course, is Hebrew for "God," and Superman's Kryptonian name is Kal-El, which when written in Hebrew resembles the words for "voice of God." Many prophet and angel names end in "El," (Gabriel, Ezekiel, Uriel, etc.) and in many ways the Superman character is a prophet or angel to the people of Earth.

As it applies to the creation of the character, all this is theory, but we do know that Siegel has openly stated that the biblical character Samson was an influence on Superman. Samson boasted incredible strength and only one physical weakness: his hair was his Kryptonite.

But regardless of how directly influential Judaism was on Superman's creation, our tradition—especially the stories—definitely laid the foundation for the world's first great comic book hero.

On the other hand, there's the somewhat troubling connection of Superman being translated to Ubermensch, the term coined by Friedrich Nietzsche and adopted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis: a perfect man who transcends society, religion and morality and is beyond moral codes. The character was obviously born at a time when there was enough awareness of the Nazi Party, so one has to consider Siegel and Shuster didn't do this coincidentally. Yet we know Superman to be a hero who holds himself to moral codes; in a sense, he chooses not to be the Ubermensch in doing so. The Yiddish word mensch, meaning someone of great character and integrity, therefore seems more fitting. The most logical explanation for this irony is that Superman actually received his name when he was depicted as a villain bent on world domination in a short story featured in a fanzine Siegel published in 1933. The character was likely meant to vilify Hitler if anything.

Of course, Man of Steel is just the latest in a long line of Superman iterations. The character has evolved well beyond the intentions of Siegel and Shuster, so whatever makes it Jewish at this point is nothing more than coincidence.

Well, kinda. It all goes back to Superman's all-important origin—baby Moses in the spaceship. This story is what informs the soul of the character, and there's no question that's where "Man of Steel" wishes to go when you consider Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy) oversaw the project and the formation of the story and brought along The Dark Knight writer David S. Goyer for the script.

This film draws out Superman's (Henry Cavill) origin substantially, showing not only scenes of Clark Kent living in Smallville, Kan., but also in Alaska, hiding from his powers. We know he will ultimately be called to the Fortress of Solitude by his birth father (Russell Crowe) and be faced with the choice to become Superman, fulfilling his destiny and serving as a lasting beacon of hope for humanity.

If that's even remotely close to the film's plot, then this "new" Superman is even more like Moses than Siegel and Shuster ever imagined him.

When Moses saw a taskmaster beating a slave, he killed the taskmaster, enraged by the injustice. Fearing for his life, he fled Egypt and lived as a shepherd in Midian for 40 years. Finally, he was called by the burning bush and heard the voice of God calling him into action and his destiny.

When Superman dons the red cape and the emblazoned "S" (which as the "Man of Steel" trailer tells us is a Kryptonian symbol for "hope"), he agrees to hold himself to a higher moral code and take on great responsibility, much as Moses chose to act as a prophet of God and assume a leadership role in leading the Israelites to their hope—the land of Israel.

So while plenty of issues of Superman comics have made it clear that the Man of Steel was a Methodist, he wasn't exactly born that way, so to speak. But even if you're of the camp that creators don't intentionally bury certain references and influences into their work, you have to marvel at the universality of the themes and ideas buried in the stories of our tradition thousands of years ago.

Man of Steel is in theaters this Friday, June 14.

(Addition sources: Aish, Wikipedia [citations verified]) 

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Why I Am a Feminist

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06/10/2013

Why I Am a Feminist photo

There are as few words as loaded as the word “feminist.” And few as misunderstood. Many people who are feminists in actuality rebuff the label due to misperceptions about this word. So I thought I’d share why I am a feminist, in hopes that others more easily and comfortably identify themselves as one.

I am a feminist because I think that my daughter is just as good as my sons, and that they all deserve to be treated equally by society and the law.

I am a feminist because I think that my mother is just as good as my father, and deserves to be paid as well if she does the same work.

I am a feminist because I think my grandmothers are just as good as my grandfathers were, but never got the chances they had.

I am a feminist because my wife is just as good as I am. In fact, she is much better than I am at a whole lot of things.

I am a feminist because my sister is a pediatrician. And a mother of five.

I am a feminist because women are smart, capable people, and it is a huge waste of human capital to not allow them to contribute fully to any and every field of human endeavor.

I am a feminist because when women become athletes, authors, or astronauts, then sports, stories, and space become better, fairer, and just plain more interesting.

I am a feminist because there is nothing in feminism that is anti-man or anti-male. True feminism also wants to liberate men from having to be the competitive, emotionless, violent G.I. Joes society seems to want us to be. Feminism wants men to feel free to cry at a funeral, dance at a wedding, seek medical attention, or smell a flower, and not worry about seeming weak.

I am a feminist because I agree that women should vote, run for office, and become congresspeople and senators and cabinet members and justices and presidents. I agree that women should be considered equally with men when applying for jobs.

I am a feminist because I agree that parenthood is important and that no one’s job should be in jeopardy because they become a parent, or want to be a good one. I agree that nursing is good for babies and that no mother should be punished for it.

I am a feminist because I disagree that childcare, eldercare, healthcare, reproductive self-determination, harassment, abuse, assault, domestic violence, rape, or any form of cancer is a “woman’s issue”— as if men have no responsibility for their cause or impact from their effect.

I am a feminist because so many people I admire— people I know and people I only know about— are women. They already are many of the positive things people say men should be: strong, brave, assertive, determined, learned, accomplished. And they are many of the things men really should also be: caring, nurturing, collaborative, insightful, warm, open.

I am a feminist because I believe women are just as good as men, and deserve to be treated that way. That’s all feminism means, all it has ever meant. And if you believe this to be true, you are a feminist, too.

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Summer Spaghetti

 Permanent link
06/07/2013

Growing up in Chicago, I have become accustomed to giving into my body’s seasonal cravings. In the winter I want “stick-to-your-ribs” food, while as soon as the weather becomes warm, all I crave is to sit outside with a bowl of fruit. Considering Chicago’s weather is not all that reliable, our bodies can be confused with what they crave.

These are not the best eating habits. After going to culinary school in the Napa Valley and working as a chef in Chicago for the past five years, I learned how to take my cravings and transform them into something both healthy and tasty. I have figured out how to keep a balanced, low-calorie, high-vitamin and mineral diet and while still enjoying a hot hardy meal in the winter and a refreshing meal in the summer.

While there is always that time to give in to your cravings, why not challenge yourself to eat healthy most of the time?

Healthy doesn’t have to mean bland. Learning alternative foods and forms of flavor besides fat and sugar will get you through the entire year, beach-body ready. My personal go-to flavor enhancers are aromatics such as garlic, herbs, and spice. Of course it is dependent on what you are making. Fresh seasonal vegetables are another easy flavor insertion.

As summer begins to settle in, we’re bound to have a random 50-degree day in the middle of an 80-degree week, but that’s probably not the best time to dive into a large serving of hearty winter foods like spaghetti and meatballs. Here is a guilt-free version featuring zucchini “noodles” so that you can suppress your craving and still hit the beach the next day. You won’t trick someone into thinking zucchini is their favorite Italian pasta, but these “noodles” are just as delicious and will get you through your pasta craving.

Summer Spaghetti photo

Zucchini “Noodles” and Bison Meatballs in Spicy Marinara 
Serves 4

Ingredients

-“Noodles”-
6 zucchini
2 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. olive oil

-Meatballs-
1lb. ground lean bison
1/8-1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. fresh oregano
1 tbsp. fresh basil
1 tbsp. dried fennel seed
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1/2 medium onion - small dice
3 large cloves garlic-minced

-Marinara Sauce-
1 (28 oz.) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 (8 oz.) can tomato paste
1 (12 oz) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium onion - small dice
1/4 cup garlic-minced
2 tbsp. fresh basil-torn
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. agave nectar
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
2 bay leaves

Preparation

-Meatballs-
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add onions and garlic. Sauté approximately 10 minutes, or until translucent. In a large mixing bowl, add in all ingredients (including onions & garlic) and mix thoroughly.
Scoop out and form into approximately golf-ball sized balls and place into hot skillet. Sear all sides of meatball until golden brown. Once browned place meatballs into simmering sauce for approximately 10 minutes to finish cooking.

-Marinara Sauce-
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add onions and garlic. Sauté approximately 8 minutes or until translucent. Transfer onions and garlic to a sauce pot and add all other ingredients. Cook over low heat for approximately 1 hour. Add in meatballs and cook over low for about 15 minutes or as needed.

-“Noodles”-
Peel zucchini and form shape by either using a spiral mandolin or a julienne peeler. Once all of the zucchini has been made into the noodle shape place in a colander over the sink and salt, to release water. Let them sit for 10 minutes. When ready to serve rinse salt off of zucchini and place into hot pan with olive oil. Sautee the zucchini for approximately 3 minutes or until tender.

Note: Bison is a great alternative to not only beef but any lean protein such as chicken or turkey. It is extremely tasty, almost identical to beef, but has fewer calories, fat and cholesterol then beef, chicken or turkey. With any ground meat it is important to make sure your butcher is not adding in extra fat. Bison, like beef, can be eaten medium rare.

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What Giving Gives

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06/07/2013

Marcy Nehorai photo 4

It was too big. I knew it the moment I saw it, as she dropped it off, bringing it through the heavy front door of my apartment building.

"I didn't realize it was partially broken," she apologized, gesturing to the slight incision in the plastic seat.

She had given me something before, something equally used, appearing as if it had been rolled around in the mud for a while and then hastily cleaned.

I waved her off and thanked her for the exchange, bringing the protruding item into my home, making it through my front door without too much banging, and setting it down on the floor as my daughter slept.

I was already smiling, imagining her face when she woke up.

When I was younger, I recall my mother mentioning about someone's generosity that he would "give the shirt off his own back". That, and the expression "throwing money out the window" always created a confusing visual image for me as I tried to understand what these expressions could possibly mean. What purpose could such actions serve? My childish mind wondered.

I understand them now, as I inevitably have been taught all lessons of my life much later on than when the misunderstandings occurred.

What it means to give to a child; what it means to save a certain amount of money, set it aside in a dresser drawer, lying there in its powerful potential form until there's enough to purchase a Fischer Price bike; red, purple, and yellow, much too big, slightly used, but perfect, and wait for your daughter to wake up, with that smile of amazement and shock making it all worth it.

The pleasure of giving the shirt off your own back. 

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Matchmaking: Doggie-style, part III

 Permanent link
06/06/2013

Matchmaking: Doggie-style, part III photo

I don’t believe much in serendipity but sometimes when situations knock you right in the face, it’s hard to deny them.

This morning on my walk into work, I received an email from my vet wishing our dog Toby a “happy birthday.” Now before you go accusing me of being a terrible pet parent and not knowing my dog’s special day, let me preface this by saying Toby is a rescue dog. We’ve always considered his “birthday” to be the day he found his forever home with us, which is not until June 26. And we are actually planning a big puppy party for him, but I digress…

I mentioned the news to my boyfriend and we agreed to make sure Toby got a yummy dinner and extra love tonight. End of story...or so I thought. Then I got to work and did what I always do every day, I signed on to my computer, checked my email and logged on to Facebook and the other social media pages I run for my job. You know the top right-hand section on Facebook designated to alerting you about friends’ birthdays? Well, there with a tiny little picture of his head was a message that today would have been my dog Trevor’s birthday (I had made him a Facebook page years ago to experiment for work). Cue the face smack. I had never made this connection!

I’ve written about Trevor (and his adventures) in the past for Oy!Chicago, and while he lived with my parents most of the time, he often spent weeks at a time living with me and my boyfriend when they were traveling.

[A Thanksgiving story, Adventures in Trevor sitting]

Trevor was truly the greatest dog. He had so much personality packed into his tiny body. He loved nothing more than to play hours of fetch. Literally, the dog never got tired. He also loved nothing more than to snuggle beside you for a good cuddle. He was smart. Really smart. And he had serious anxiety issues. Have you ever had a smart dog that also has anxiety? We’ve had two now. And they always want to know what is going on at all times and they want to be perpetually by your side. Truly man’s best friend-types.

In March of 2012, my parents took a trip and didn’t leave Trevor behind with me. On the plane ride over, Trevor’s collar got caught on his kennel bag (that was since recalled for causing similar tragedies) and he choked to death. Due to all that aforementioned anxiety, he had been sedated for the trip, so he didn’t make a sound. Fortunately, because he was asleep he also didn’t feel any pain.

It was devastating. I still try not to think about what it must have been like for my parents on the rest of that plane ride, but I can tell you that finding out the news right after they landed was one of the hardest events of my life (it still is) and I’ve experienced tragedy.

It took a lot of grieving, but what helped me most was the decision we made last June to rescue our own shelter dog. We needed to find a way to celebrate Trevor’s life by helping another dog and we ended up with our perfect puppy, Toby!

And now I know that Toby and Trevor share the same special day! And since we don’t know Toby’s true age, they potentially could have even been born on the exact same day of the exact same year! Mind blown. What a twist of fate!

Now I’m not saying that I think Toby is somehow the reincarnate of Trevor. But truly, what are the chances that these two special dogs would have been born on the same day?!

I just started reading Life of Pi, which touches on themes of spirituality, God and the natural twists of life. It suddenly seems fitting that I’m reading about a guy who finds God in the strangest of places, while stranded on a raft with a lion named Richard Parker.

Maybe I did today a little too.

And now moving forward when we celebrate Toby’s birthday, we can think about Trevor too and this wonderful connection they share that’s even greater than what we ever originally intended. 

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Forget princesses. Let’s talk about real young Jewish women

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06/05/2013

Forget princesses photo

Bravo

Okay, I’ll admit it. Much to my husband’s dismay and horror, I watch a lot of reality shows. Give me any housewife, house buyer, house seller, house decorator, matchmaker, newlywed—you name it, I’ll watch it.

I won’t try to justify this behavior, but I will say that for me, TV is an escape, a little getaway from everyday life, and I don’t really like to escape to dark and violent places all that often. So, for an hour, if I can get a glimpse into someone’s glamorous, ridiculous, diamond-studded and overly dramatic life, then why not?

When I first saw the commercial previewing the new Bravo series Princesses: Long Island, a show about Jewish 20-something girls from Long Island who live rather comfortably at home with their parents until a nice Jewish boy asks them to marry him, I was admittedly both intrigued and frightened. And while I’m not usually one to write about such things, or openly admit that I watch them, I guess this time I had something to say.

Last night, after returning from a weekend trip to New York where I actually spent one afternoon visiting with friends on Long Island, I hesitantly watched the first episode—apparently along with 1.2 million other people. I’m not going to get into the details of the show, but let’s just say that so far it doesn’t portray us Jewish 20-something women—or anyone from Long Island for that matter— in the best of lights. And having just stepped off the plane from my visit and based on the lives of my friends from Long Island, I know the stereotypes this show perpetuates are definitely not reality. I read a review in People Magazine that suggests some of the behaviors on the show are so over the top, one has to think these girls are in on it all, playing it up for the camera. I like to think this is the case—for all of our sakes.

So I'm not going to tell you about the out-of-control pool party, or the girl who asks to be carried out of the nail salon after her pedicure, or the girl who lies to her modern Orthodox friend, telling her the hot dog she's eating is kosher when it isn't, or the fact that these girls seem to be proudly portraying skewed caricatures. Instead, I’d like to focus on what I’d like to see featured on a reality TV show about young Jewish women—because in my reality, we are pretty great.

Let’s start just by looking at our female Oy! bloggers. We’ve got a magazine editor, the creator of a non-profit organization for cancer survivors, a chef, amazing mommies, non-profit professionals, authors, writers and so much more. There are female rabbis doing amazing things and making amazing strides—what about a show about that? The lives of young Jews today are so rich and diverse—let’s follow women as they navigate JDates, start a business, succeed in their careers, figure out how to fit Jewish traditions and values into their modern lives.

I guess all I’m saying is young Jewish women (hopefully including the “princesses” featured on the show) and young women in general, are doing way more interesting stuff than shopping and waiting around for a nice boy to marry us, so maybe, just maybe, we should highlight that reality. What do you say, Bravo? 

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Interview with NBA prospect Jake Cohen

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06/04/2013

Jake Cohen photo 1

A few years back I interviewed then-NCAA basketball newbie Jake Cohen. As the NCAA tournament came around and Davidson University was about to shock the world (which they unfortunately didn't), my phone blew up with friends texting about Cohen's heritage. Cohen played great for the second year in a row and gained major attention. So the obvious question is, will he go in this year's NBA draft?

Davidson coach Seth Greenberg responded to our tweet and believes Cohen could go in the second round but will definitely be invited to a camp. We decided we needed to hear from Cohen before the big day. He graciously agreed to another interview, this time about the tough tournament loss and his exciting future.

Jake Cohen photo 2

1. Two years in a row you suffered two tough NCAA tournament losses (I had Davidson winning both) is there anything you took away from those games?
I learned how fickle basketball can be. We beat Marquette for 39 minutes. They beat us for one and won the game. That's how it goes sometimes.

2. What was the highlight of your college career?
Winning back-to-back conference championships. The elation we got to experience, as a team, when the clock hit all zeroes was incredible. And we got to feel that twice.

3. Throughout the first round my phone blew up with friends asking me if you were Jewish. Do you get extra attention on the court due to your Jewish heritage?
On the court? No. Not at all. Off the court? Yes, a bit. I've gotten some pretty cool letters and fan mail from some younger Jewish kids that don't have too many role models in the basketball world. It was special to get those kinds of things. There are also a good amount of NBA executives and scouts and such that are Jewish, and they all take pride that they have a Jewish hooper at their workout.

4. We spoke to Coach Seth Greenberg who says you are a potential second round pick. How do you see your chances of getting drafted?
It's going to be an uphill challenge. There are a ton of good players out there and only 60 spots. But I'm confident that if I perform well in the upcoming NBA workouts that I have that I will give myself a good shot.

5. If you are not drafted (which we seriously hope you are) will you try to play for a NBA team this summer?
Yes. My agent and I are pretty confident that regardless of how the draft goes, a team will want me to play either in Vegas or Orlando in one of the summer leagues.

6. Are you open to playing oversees? Have you or your agent reached out to anyone in Israel?
Absolutely. I loved my experience playing in Israel a few summers ago. If the NBA doesn't work out, I would love to go back and play in Europe. I think a lot of the teams in Israel are interested in me, but they are waiting to see what happens with the NBA first.

7. What is the best part of your game and something you need to work on?
I think the best part of my game is my versatility. I can shoot the three and also post up and score inside. I also think I do a good job of making my teammates around me better with good passing and screens and the like. I think I need to work on my rebounding aggressively, not just making sure my guy doesn't get it, but attacking the ball on the glass.

8. How has the NBA pre-draft training/process been going?
It's been great. Hectic, but great. I just got back from a week in LA working out with my agent's trainers and fellow college seniors that have signed with Wasserman. The next three weeks have about six NBA workouts scheduled, so I'll really be racking up the frequent flier miles. When it gets too crazy, I try to put things in perspective and recognize how many people would want the opportunity to do what I'm doing.

9. In a dream scenario which team would you like to play for? Would linking up with Stephan Curry be a possibility?
Playing with Stephen would be fantastic. If that happened, I think the Davidson community might explode with excitement. Who knows what is going to happen, all I'm hoping for is one team to like me enough to make an investment in me. 

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Israel: Just a Skype Call Away

 Permanent link
06/03/2013

Israel: Just a Skype Call Away photo

Masada, Israel

The other day, a friend brought up something a little out of the ordinary about her brother’s Birthright trip. Just prior to her brother’s group climbing Masada, there was an opportunity for the group participants to place a Skype call with all of their parents at home, who were awaiting their virtual arrival at a predetermined meeting place.

Imagine ... waking up at 3 a.m. or so in the morning Israel time, saying hi to Mom, Dad and whoever felt like joining in, and then proceeding to climb a mountain, oh, just a few millennia old with incredible religious significance.

Let me tell you, the story made me feel as old as Masada (not quite). That being said, I’m not really here to judge; it’s just so much different than my experience a few short years ago. Two-year-olds have iPads now. It’s a funny world out there.

Way back in 2008 when I went on a Shorashim Birthright trip to Israel, I couldn’t even imagine communication like that taking place. Hopping off the plane, I was handed a standard cell phone I’d ordered in advance before leaving Chicago. Smart phone? It was more akin to a car phone (remember those?) in size and in functionality. But that didn’t matter. I saw this form of communication merely as a lifeline should I get stranded in the wilderness of Israel—getting lost is one of my specialties. Even in a big tour group, you never know what can happen. Always be prepared.

Now I admit I can be sort of a travel Luddite. In my visits to Israel, France and other countries or cities in Europe and the U.S., I’ve been the last person to take out my camera. I’m the last person to post something travel/vacation related on Facebook. Am I too busy contemplating my experience? Am I lazy? I think the answer falls somewhere squarely in between. Coming back from a myriad of trips, I’m astounded at how boring the pictures are that I actually made the effort to take: mostly of scenery and mostly out of focus. Or some weird sign that I liked, or some poster of food I thought looked strange.

But a group Skype session with everyone back home in the midst of a 10-day trip? Something about that seems after my time, a little beyond my grasp. It’s instances like this, or when I hear that kids are writing posts for their trip’s Birthright blog during the duration of the trip, that make me feel the depth of the disconnect between my mid-20s self and current college kids.

I took a few New Media classes in college, and a generation of “digital natives” was often discussed. It’s common knowledge that 20-somethings are relatively computer savvy in comparison to their parents and older generations, but this sort of revolution in which all life events are inherently social is incredibly new and very interesting. The era of constant connection, even while taking part in a very active experience thousands of miles away, speaks to me, a humble observer and someone whose job it is to blog and edit all day long.

For one thing...how incredibly savvy! I think it’s seriously smart for a non-profit to show and not tell when it comes to an unreal experience such as Taglit Birthright trips. It’s quite an accomplishment to capture the spirit of the trip while it is happening, through blog posts and other methods of social media engagement. Social media engagement … perhaps that’s too strong a term; it’s jargon, buzz-word speech. But being able to tap into that social market in an honest, authentic way is interesting to think about. Maybe it’s a little much. But it’s certainly an interesting avenue to take.

So, would I Skype with parents on an international trip while right in action (aka just before I’m about to climb a mountain at 3 in the morning)? The thought never would have crossed my mind. But as the world of social media evolves and technology keeps advancing at breakneck speed, I’m interested to see how traveling and travel writing evolves as well. Here’s to feeling old at age 26—but trying my best to keep up with the times. 

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