OyChicago blog

Smoked Salmon Crudo

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I don’t know many people who can’t find an appreciation for a toasted bagel mounded with cream cheese and covered in salty hand-cut lox. Throw on some crisp cucumbers, sweet onions, and a juicy tomato and you are set.

The problem is one bagel already has 500 calories and let’s face it – I would rather drink sawdust than eat fat-free cream cheese.

Another common problem I have with lox and bagels is that I always seem to crave it at the wrong moments, like Saturday night instead of Saturday at brunch time. I can’t go down to the local deli to satisfy my craving, especially if I’ve already invited friends over for a dinner party.

A quick fix is to take the same flavors passed down from bubbe and make them modern and elegant by serving them as an appetizer or starter. This smoked salmon crudo provides a reduced-calorie option as well. By whipping the crème fraiche, you are incorporating air and therefore able to eat more of it. The bagel is replaced by toasted pumpernickel crumbs, giving you flavor and crunch without loading you down with carbs and calories.

Smoked Salmon Crudo photo

Smoked Salmon Crudo
Serves 2

6 oz smoked salmon
1/8 c pumpernickel bread crumbs
6 oz creme fraiche
1 t cayenne pepper
1 small apple (peeled and diced)
1 small shallot (minced)
2 T sugar
1/2 c champaign vinegar
2 cloves
Salt to taste

Place shallot, Champaign vinegar, sugar and cloves in a pot and bring to a boil. Take of off heat and pour into a bowl over the apples. Season with a pinch of salt and cool down apples immediately. Meanwhile, whip crème fraiche with cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Continue whipping until firm peaks appear. Strain apples from pickling liquid and discard cloves.

To assemble dish roll individual slices of smoked salmon. Arrange on platter alternating dollops of crème fraiche. Finally sprinkle pickled apples and pumpernickel bread crumbs over top.

Use micro mustard greens or celery leaves as an optional garnish.


Marriage, Religion or Cancer?

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Editor's note: Jamie has been fighting breast cancer since April and has been brave enough to share her reflections with Oy! You can read her previous blog entries by clicking the posts below, or you can follow all of Jamie's posts on her personal blog, J-Strong.

Gone, Gone, Gone (8/20/2013)
J-Strong: Battling breast cancer during the craziest time of my life (7/26/2013)

Marriage, Religion or Cancer? photo

I have never been a religious person. I wouldn’t consider myself a very knowledgeable Jew. Sure I went to Hebrew School and Sunday School and had a Bat Mitzvah. But I really can’t say I absorbed much of what I learned now that I am old enough to really appreciate and understand my heritage. My family hardly ever celebrates a Jewish holiday on the actual holiday. I don’t keep Passover or fast on Yom Kippur. You get the picture.

There is one aspect of being Jewish that I have always enjoyed. I came home from college every year on the High Holidays and went to temple with my parents. There is something about the idea of a sweet new year, asking for forgiveness and starting fresh – a clean slate for the year to come. This I could relate to. Sure I didn’t really enjoy the services, but knowing that I could reflect and repent and start over each year is a nice feeling. It isn’t that different from the New Year celebrated around the world in which we make resolutions for things we want to change about ourselves. The added bonus is that we not only propose to change, but we also get to be forgiven for all of last year’s sins and mistakes.

The thing is, I wish I was “more Jewish.” I wish I remembered learning about all of the holidays. When I taught in the city at a school with zero Jews let alone white students, a first grade teacher asked if I would come in and tell the kids about Chanukah. I agreed. I then went home and Googled it. I didn’t feel confident enough in my knowledge of the story of Chanukah that I had to research it on the Internet. Their teacher could’ve done that!

Anyway, now that I am working at the JCC, I get to learn about the holidays all over again, and from the perspective of a four year old so it is in basic enough terms for me to understand. I can’t help seeing that a lot of the holidays are actually sad ones. We are celebrating overcoming horrible things. I can relate to this. I can’t wait to celebrate being cancer-free. Instead of looking back on it as a sad or negative time in our lives, we will celebrate that I kicked its butt!

Anway, I love it because I not only get to relearn what I lost over the years, but I get to have it fresh in my mind in little kid terms to pass it along to our currently frozen children. I remember a few years ago, going over to our friends’ house for dinner on Friday night. Their son was barely even three years old but he wanted to do Shabbat. He said all of the prayers (which sounded cuter in baby-like talk) and covered his eyes while doing so, sang the songs, and held the challah proudly in the air. It was the cutest thing I had ever seen and I couldn’t help laughing at this tiny Jew.

Who knows, maybe I did that when I was younger and just forgot because it was a tradition that didn’t stick. But all I know is fast forward to this kid being five and the tradition is still going strong. I hope to model that in our house, and when I do, I will now actually know what my kid is talking about because he or she won’t only have learned it at pre-school, he or she will have learned it from me.

Remember how I said my family barely “does” the holidays? We haven’t done a Seder since I was about four years old when my great grandpa was alive to lead it. The first time I went to Passover at Joe’s house, I was dreading the Seder. Especially this past year when there weren’t any kids coming so we had to do a “grown-up” version. But now I look at it in a positive light. At least our kids will have one grandfather who can and wants to lead a Seder and when, G-d forbid, he is gone one day, we can all carry it on.

The thing is, it isn’t just all of the recent Jewish holidays that have me reflecting. I’ve been doing it for a few months now. Interestingly enough, I both got married and started chemo two months ago. So what is it that has got me so reflective? Is it having cancer or is it being married?

I find myself far calmer in traffic, which says a lot for those of you who have been privy to my road rage. Maybe my patience is because I am learning to not always be in such a hurry. Or because you never know what is going on in the other driver’s life. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t turned into a saint on the road. I still do my fair share of speeding. I even have a plan if I get pulled over: whip off the wig and cry nausea. (Playing the cancer card is appropriate sometimes, right?)

As silly as this sounds, I even find that I have stopped posting complaints and negative comments on Facebook. Clearly I have discovered there are worse things in life to focus my energy on. I also find myself trying harder at work. Sure, last year I was consumed in wedding planning and then house hunting and eventually my diagnosis. All great excuses, but it still doesn’t mean you can’t give your all at work. But this year I walk in with a new energy and it is a desire to give 200 percent. Yes, the chemo has me pretty run-down, so I can’t do this every day. (Trust me, I’ve tried, but my co-teacher yells at me to stop picking up kids or to make sure I am eating and drinking.)

But on the days when I feel good, I want to do everything perfectly. I want to enjoy the kids rather than be annoyed with them. I want to show them new things rather than just letting them play dress up for two hours. I might not be in an elementary school classroom or using my reading specialist degree yet, but these preschool years are just as significant even if not for academic reasons. These kids are here with us more than they’re with their parents and they are so perceptive. I might not be teaching them how to read, but I am teaching them how to be little people in our sometimes cruel society. If they can learn to speak up for themselves rather than tattle, or to get their own cup of water rather than always having someone do things for them, then I think they will be ready for the real world. Or at least kindergarten.

I also wonder if wanting to be a better person is stemming from being a married lady. Married life doesn’t feel different for us, other than the name change and referring to each other as husband and wife. But marriage to me is the ultimate sign that I am without a doubt a full-fledged adult. Granted, having cancer was the biggest wake-up call, one that instantly made us grow up (as if the wedding and buying a house weren’t adult enough.)

But maybe the fact that I am somebody’s wife makes me want to care more and do more and grow more. It isn’t just me anymore. My actions kind of represent both of us now. Then again, maybe it is the cancer. Maybe if I am lucky enough to get to live this life, I want to live it better. I want to be better. Whether it is my new absorption in all things Jewish, my cancer wake up call, or my new husband, I am fortunate to have flipped a switch. I am ready for the New Year and hopefully next year, I won’t have as much to repent for.


An Interview with MMA Fighter Marina Shafir

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An Interview with MMA Fighter Marina Shafir photo

I’ve written plenty of stories on wrestling, usually pro wrestling. In fact, I expand to boxing from time to time with stories on various boxers like Yuri Foreman and Dmitry Salita. But meet Marina Shafir – one of the toughest women I know – well – sort of know. She is a MMA fighter looking to make an impact. Below is her story. Pay attention because she is going places.

1. Tell TGR a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Sorrocca, Moldova. I have 2 older brothers, my mom is a seamstress and my dad was a mechanic. My family moved to the United States in 1993. I'm not sure if it was the synagogue or a Jewish community, but we got help getting an apartment and my parents got an English teacher.

As a kid, I was always outdoors. My mom was guaranteed to deal with knotted hair, dirt under my fingernails, and bruises EVERYWHERE. I didn't speak a lick of English but playing was universal. I started judo at the age of six. Nothing too serious, just an activity to keep me busy (plus it was the cheapest sport my family could afford at the time). I competed until I was around 19, I just fell into depression after hurting my lower back (also the traveling and competitions were not cheap, on top of getting hurt I didn't want to put my family into anymore debt). I bartended and worked at Starbucks for a while which seemed to be the perfect combination, until I decided to start training again. Aside from the training stuff, I have an urban style, an obsession with sneakers; I love to cook; I have a weird obsession with old school Kung Fu movies and mornings are my jam!

2. What was your Jewish upbringing like?
My Jewish upbringing is a bit interesting. I wasn't brought up Orthodox, but my parents raised me to respect Orthodox Jews. I went to a Jewish school from Kindergarten through third grade. My mom didn't cook Kosher, but when the holidays came around she did. She made the best matzoh ball soup and hamentashen. We lived in the same apartment complex as our rabbi, who trained me for my bat mitzvah (even got to blow the shofar), but I never had the ceremony.

3. What got you into MMA?
I got into MMA after I started doing Jujitsu. At the Jujitsu school I trained at, there was boxing, Muay Thai, grappling and wrestling. I enjoyed doing all of those things, and then someone suggested fighting, and I thought it would be fun.

4. Are you excited about the Ultimate Fighter TV Show? Do you think it will help your career?
I'm stoked for the ultimate fighter show! It's going to blow a lot of people away when they see the talent and heart these kids had on the show. I hope it helps my career! Hopefully I don't look like a doofus while I coach!

5. What can people expect from the show?
Drama. With a capital D.

6. Who are you most excited to face in the Octagon?
Hmmm, the top five women in the 145-pound division. But every fight is exciting!

7. Have you ever considered professional wrestling like WWE? Think you could handle it?
Who knows! I definitely won’t shoot WWE down! Those shows are intense! And the fans are REAL and LOYAL. The story line is always intriguing with those shows. I know the wrestlers have to take their personas home with them, I don't know if I’ll be able to handle all that..

8. What is next for Marina?
I just want to fight. I hope that's next.

Follow Marina on Twitter and Instagram @marinashafir


5 Children’s Books to Read as a Grown-Up

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As an elementary teacher, I’m constantly reading, though my books of choice may have fewer words and considerably more pictures than yours. At school, the picture books live in the “E” section of the library – which stands for “everyone” (nope, not “easy!”) because that’s truly who they’re for.

Whether you’re eight or 28, picture books can be extremely powerful in ways you’d never expect. They often contain the best art, the most creative characters and the most valuable life lessons. The next time you’re wandering around your favorite bookstore or library, take a second and check out these titles.


1. Sammy Spider by Sylvia Rouss

Sammy Spider photo

Have you been in over your head this month, completely overwhelmed by all of the holidays? Accidentally fast on Sukkot and eat apples and honey on Yom Kippur? Don’t worry; Sammy’s got your back. The creative, colorful stories in the series teach readers the basics about the holidays while also telling engaging tales about a nice Jewish spider. You’ll never mix up your Seder with your shofar again.


2. Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watts

Scaredy Squirrel photo

If you’ve ever seen yourself reflected in a literary character, you know how awesome that is. It’s like the author sees into the depths of your soul, grabs all the deep, meaningful stuff he or she can find and spews it back out on the pages in an artful masterpiece. For me, that moving moment occurred when I met Scaredy Squirrel. Like me, Scaredy Squirrel loves schedules, safety, sleeping and spending time alone. He dislikes surprises, stressful situations and scary things, like being at the beach without sunscreen. We’re basically the same person except I’m not a squirrel. If you’re prone to worrying even a little bit, Scaredy feels your pain – and reminds you that it will all be okay in the end.


3. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum photo

Remember this one? Chrysanthemum is a perfectly joyous little mouse until she goes to school and a bunch of a-hole mice make fun of her name and stomp all over her happiness. Don’t underestimate the fact that they’re mice; they stomp like elephants. Even though we’re adults and know that it isn’t acceptable to be rude to someone based on something like their name or appearance, this book serves as a reminder. Words hurt. Actions hurt. Evil glances across the playground hurt. Don’t be an a-hole mouse.


4. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day photo

Having a bad day? Alexander’s day is worse. Well, maybe not, but it is pretty bad. I like this book because it reminds readers that everyone has bad days – even if you live in Australia. (Sorry, Australians. I know this may come as a shock, but you are not exempt.) It also reminds us that no problem is too small or silly. Yes, “other people have real problems,” I know, but if something is bugging you and bringing you down, it is a real problem. On the flip side, this book also reminds us how even the smallest and silliest acts of kindness can totally turn someone’s day around (and make them not want to move to Australia.)


5. Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus

Leo the Late Bloomer photo

Poor Leo the lion. All of his friends are reading and writing, but he can hardly hold on to a book. All his friends eat nicely and neatly, but he’s always making a mess. Leo struggles and struggles and wonders if he will ever bloom into the lion he dreams of being. (Spoiler alert: he does!)

Anyone feeling a little behind in life can relate to this book. If all your friends are working their dream jobs and planning their weddings while you're getting paid by the hour and going on your 500th JDate (this month), Leo and his supportive mom and dad want you to know that it’s okay – life isn’t a race. And look on the bright side – at least you already know how to read and write and eat. Things are looking up already!

What other children’s books do you think would be valuable to read as adults? 


Let Them Eat Pie

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Everyone in a family gets a job. I’m not talking about your occupation (though hopefully you have one of those), but everyone in a family contributes in some way. Maybe you’re the one who is really good with scheduling or making people laugh or maybe you’re a great listener. In my family, aside from being sardonic and drinking all the wine, I am known as the baker.

Family baker is not an easy job. Not because my family is hard to please, but because I am. Don’t get me wrong. Baking for my family is a real joy. I long for the noises and faces that people make when they’ve tasted a dessert they love. Please tell me that I’m not the only person with a family full of noisy and opinionated eaters. Being my family’s baker is hard because I’m always trying to outdo myself.

If the kitchen has a “Golden Rule” it is this: “Thou shalt not try out a new recipe for a big family meal.” I might want to go ahead and write that on my forehead. Why? Because that’s exactly what I do almost every time I am asked to bake for my family. Trying something new, while exciting, is super duper stressful. The pressure to please is too great – so I can’t stop myself.

I was invited to bake for our family’s Yom Kippur break-the-fast. I thought long and hard about what to make. I consulted the cooking section at Barnes & Noble and scoured the Internet. See? I take the job very seriously.

I wanted to do something dairy-centered, since that’s apparently kinder to the digestive system after fasting. What I finally decided on was chocolate cream pie. Who doesn’t love pie and/or chocolate? Not anyone I want to know. You simply must try the recipe below. I know the instructions look scary, but trust me when I say it’s worth it.

Let Them Eat Pie photo

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Cream Pie 
(Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Pies & Tarts)

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cup milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 61%)
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
Heat milk and chocolate in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until chocolate melts.

Whisk 1 cup hot milk mixture into sugar mixture until smooth. Whisk milk-sugar mixture into the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until bubbling and thick, 4 to 5 minutes total (about 2 minutes after it comes to a boil).

Whisk yolks in a medium bowl until combined. Pour in milk mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking until completely incorporated. Return mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and bubbles appear in the middle, 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Let custard cool about 10 minutes, whisking 2 or 3 times.

Pour custard into chocolate piecrust. Press plastic wrap directly on surface of custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until custard filling is chilled and firm, at least 4 hours or up to 1 day.

For the sweetened whipped cream topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

With an electric mixer on med-high, whisk cream just until soft peaks form. Add confectioner’s sugar and whisk until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream over custard.

You must be asking yourself…what about the piecrust. Girl, don’t be silly. Buy yourself an Oreo piecrust at Jewel or Target or wherever it is that you shop. You’ve got better things to do with your time.


The Unsung Orange-Vested Airport Superhero

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The Unsung Orange-Vested Airport Superhero photo

Every time I pick someone up from the airport, I get yelled at by a guy with an Orange Vest. But today, I dedicate this post to him — the unsung superhero of the airport.

I don’t have much experience with airports other than Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (which means any time I go to any other airport, it is by definition nicer, less crowded, less busy, friendlier, and has nicer plants and better acoustics), but I assume they are similar. If you are not driving a bus, taxi, or limo, you follow a sign toward Arrivals and pull in to pick up your friend. In order for the system to work, you must pre-arrange with your passenger the exact pick-up vestibule, and then she must come outside with her bags a few minutes before you swiftly pull up to the right location, load the bags, and float away. And if you stay in the right lane near the curb longer than 45 seconds, you get Orange Vested.

“I’m sorry, my friend just had to get a drink of water … you know how those long flights are … he’ll be right out!” HONK.

“No, no, I literally just got off the phone with him, he’s coming right down the escalator.” HONK HONK.

“PLEASE don’t make me drive around the airport and back on the highway and then the tollway and up through Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula!” ORANGE VESTED.

It’s frustrating — nobody likes being honked at, yelled at, beeped at, and waved away. Especially when you’ve come such a long way to do someone a favor.

But a few weeks ago, when I was picking up a friend from O’Hare, the Traffic Control Freak must have been out sick — and right then and there, at midnight on a Friday night, the airport became a disaster.

Cars found their favorite vestibule, pulled up to the right lane, and put the car in park. Heck, they even put on the parking brake. Seeing no man with an Orange Vest, they breathed out a sigh of relief. They got out of their cars and enjoyed the beautiful smell of jet fuel.

The cars behind them pulled up to the vestibules at which their passengers stood but could only manage to stay in the middle lane. The cars in the right lane couldn’t get back into moving traffic. The cars in the left lane crawled.

And there was I, stuck on the highway, barely moving. It might have been faster for my friend to roller skate home than to wait for me to get to Vestibule 3C.

All of a sudden — seemingly several hours later — cars began moving again. Drivers’ smiles returned. Friends were reunited. And then an instant later, the frowns were back. The yelling resumed. The no stopping zone was back. Life was back to normal.

But I smiled. I knew what happened. The unsung airport hero with the Orange Vest was back. The Dark Knight of O’Hare had returned to save the day. And all was right again in the world.


A Return to the Moment

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Reflecting on the High Holidays

Andy Kirschner 2

On Wednesday morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah, I found myself overwhelmed with the thought that it was the start of the Jewish New Year. Soon I would be sitting in synagogue pondering transgression, judgment and forgiveness. I felt a pit in my stomach because the notion was so final. For a moment, right there in the car, I felt like I might cry. It wasn’t a big, sobby I can’t pull myself together cry but the quiet, mournful, single tear down my check cry.

The notion that another year was about to end was looming, and I wasn’t ready for it. The year 5773 had come and gone way too fast. I wished I had more time.

Then my mind wandered to another thought that time, as we think of it and know it, might not really exist. Einstein even questioned the very idea of absolute time (a universal clock). Some science has even suggested that time is relative to gravity and other forces of the universe, and what we think of as "time" is really a matter of perception and relativity. At least this is what I gathered from reading his biography over the summer.

Though the actual existence of time is in question, what I have found to be real is the moment. We can't change the past because it has already happened. We can't impact the future directly because the future has not happened yet. The only thing we can change is the present. The very moment that is pressing up against us right now is the only one that we can influence.

This put me at peace for the rest of the day, until I found myself at services in the evening. One of the first prayers in the machzor (High Holiday prayer book) used the name Yom HaZikaron. It means the “Day of Remembrance” because we have a lot to remember on the day, looking back on the previous year. The name put me at unease all over again because I wondered if I might be forgotten. I had the horrible feeling that I might not have done anything memorable this past year, and what if God forgot me? Is that even possible?

My answer came in thinking through the word Teshuvah. It is often translated as “repentance” but it comes from the Hebrew word for “return.” I was beginning to discover that, for me, Rosh Hashanah was not about an accounting of my deeds from the previous year – the court trial metaphor that I had heard in Hebrew school years ago. It was about remembering to return to living in the moment.

You see, the Torah teaches us that God created the world in a moment. In fact, the Rabbis believed that Rosh Hashanah is the very moment God did this. Yes it took six days to complete the world, but each part was created the moment God uttered the words to make it so. Whether taken literally or as a metaphor, the lesson remains the same. As humans created in God’s image, we have the power to seize every moment and create.

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift. That is why they call it the present. May you find clarity for what you desire to create most in each moment of this coming year. L’Shana Tova!


Shabbat Yom Kippur: An Oxymoron?

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10 Tishrei 5774 / September 13-14, 2013

Dan Horwitz photo

Our tradition describes Yom Kippur as “Shabbat Shabbaton” – the “ultimate Shabbat.”

Given our usual association of Shabbat with rejoicing (whether by eating great food, relaxing with our families, being intimate in the bedroom, etc.), it seems odd that we’d compare a day like Yom Kippur, where we specifically avoid comforts, to Shabbat.

On Yom Kippur, we’re not meant to wear leather shoes or other animal products, we’re not meant to eat or drink, to have sexual relations, to bathe, or to put on deodorant, perfume or lipstick. All in all, that makes it a bit challenging to rejoice and treat Yom Kippur like it’s the ultimate Shabbat, and this year, even more so, as Yom Kippur falls on Saturday.

In Hebrew, Yom Kippur is called “Yom HaKippurim.” One of my rabbis once pointed out that the construct of the name is particularly interesting, as if read quickly, one might hear it as “Yom K’Purim” – which literally translates to “a day like Purim.” We’re meant to be joyous on the holiday of Purim. What are the implications of suggesting that Yom Kippur is meant to be joyous like Purim, despite us denying ourselves our traditional comforts?

Can we come to view Yom Kippur as a celebration of having been fortunate enough to live/survive the past year? Can we view it as a day of joy given that our tradition makes clear that the power is in our hands to apologize for our wrongdoings and to recommit ourselves to being better people? And can we see it as an opportunity for rejoicing given that our shortcomings are lifted off our shoulders and are embodied by the community?

Yom Kippur, and everything it stands for, provides myriad opportunities for us to express our joy and gratitude – just as on Shabbat, we're meant to rejoice (oneg Shabbat). While we may practice self-denial in some ways, the fact that we even have those things to deny ourselves is cause for great celebration, as it’s a reminder as to how blessed we are.

This Yom Kippur, find a way to appreciate and find joy in the holiday. Make your Yom HaKippurim just a bit more like Yom K’Purim. Have the ultimate Shabbat experience. Come be part of community. And may we all be sealed in the Book of Life.


Healthy Kid Tangent

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Ways to keep your child active and eating healthy

I remember when I was in junior high; there was one “big boned” kid. Now, experts use terms like epidemic, pre-diabetic, and obesity to describe what’s happening to kids today. A mixture of video games, social media and Flaming Hot Cheetos are making overweight the norm.

Fighting childhood obesity starts simple: feed your children healthy foods and be active with them. My sister-in-law calls healthy food “grow food” and I love that idea. The biggest thing is to get your children eating vegetables at a young age and continue that trend. Fruit should be an easy sell; it’s sweet so most children have no problem eating it. Fruit can be a dessert. There is no parenting or nutritional guide that says, “Kids need sugary snacks.”

The sky-rocketing rate of diabetes should scare you into making your kids eat healthy. You do not have to become a secret food agent and sneak kale into milkshakes but here are some easy cooking tips:

• Place veggies in any egg/omelet you make
• Keep placing veggies on their plate
• Cut up sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchini and use them in tacos
• Macaroni and cheese, a staple, is easy to add peas to
• Have them help you make an individual pizza and lay out veggies

Health Kid Tangent photo 1x

King of the zucchini!

Fruits are even easier to add to meals. We have to give my two-year-old fruit at the end of the meal and not earlier, or he will only eat the fruit. Almost every meal ends with some fruit for us..With the increasingly high price of fruit, I often buy frozen berries. When the fresh fruit I buy is close to its last leg, I blend it up and then freeze it in ice cube trays or make my own popsicles. I have given popsicles to guests, and they love them! I usually add a little Greek yogurt and water to add protein and cut down on the sweetness. Last week I took all my frozen fruit ice cubes and added a few cups of lemonade, and made an icy fruit punch. My guests drank up the punch and thought it was “fancy.” In general, kids will portion themselves and stop eating when they are full. I’ve noticed with fruit and sweets that it’s best to watch their eating size.

Another food many children skip is protein. I often hear clients tell me their kids love carbs. Since it is essential for brain development and muscle growth, keep protein on the plate. I am lucky; my toddler loves meat and even fish. With all foods, it’s about exposure. Keep cooking or ordering lean meats. The most popular meal in my house is lamb burgers and sweet potato fries (you can make them in your toaster oven by cutting up potato strips thin, place a little olive oil on top and bake for 15-20 minutes). I know people are allergic to everything from strawberries to raw carrots, and especially nuts. If your child is not allergic to nuts and tree nuts, those are great snack foods. If you have a toddler, break the nuts in half or quarter so they don’t choke.

The last area I want to touch on is what my mom called “the idiot box.” I am guilty of turning on the television and letting my son veg out while I do something. I want to shower, or make dinner and my wife is not around, I might throw on some Dora and get to work. However, we go to the park a few times a week, sometimes a few times in one day.

Health Kid Tangent photo 2

Out of gas again?! Gotta push this puppy to the station.

Getting your child active does not have to involve expensive gym classes – it starts with parents. Lead by example and your child will follow. Take your kids on walks, bike rides, and parks. My son has an obsession with birds, so he will literally run around our house or a park chasing birds (I’m hoping this is somewhat normal). Whether it’s your backyard, the neighborhood, or your house, create a space for them to move around. Let your child see that exercise is part of your life. I work out in front of Henry all the time. He usually jumps right in tries to do whatever I’m doing. I have to stop using bands and kettlebells around him for obvious reasons. Somehow bands always end up around his neck.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, how do you keep your kids healthy? Send me your favorite recipe, exercise, activity, etc. …


A September to Remember

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A September to Remember photo

Now that summer has officially ended (even if the A.C. is still pumping) we can try and move on and embrace the fall season. And I believe that for every season you need something new – a new bag, a new man or maybe just a new attitude. So, while the magazines are telling you about all those things you need to be wearing, like those ridiculous calfskin Fendi lace up boots, I'm going to tell you the five things you actually need and more importantly can probably afford.

1. A big smile
Since moving to a new city about a month ago, I decided to wipe the puss off my face and start smiling at people more. The reality is I need to make some new friends and that doesn't really happen when you look like you’re taking a mug shot. If you're really lucky and live in a city where you have all the friends you need well then stop reading now. If you're the other large majority where you find your friends dwindling after college maybe it's time to make some news ones. Start flashing your pearly whites and see who you meet.

2. Something from your Alma Mater
It's football season. Represent.

3. Something for Y-0-U 
Summer shenanigans are over and it's hard not to be a little depressed. Who doesn't love fruity umbrella drinks and sunglass tans? I know I do. I also know that if winter is anything like it was last year it is going to be very long and chilly. So this fall if your indulgence is those calfskins boots go for it. If it's an entire box of cookies and a Friends marathon, go for that too.

4. A new routine
And no I don't mean adding in a gym work out after you get home from work. But, doing the same thing every day gets beyond boring. It's too easy to settle into and on top of that routines can be fun-suckers. Try a different route home from work, or if you’re really adventurous, venture into a new neighborhood on the weekend.

5. A trip to see your friends
I know I need one. And I know that's easier said than done, but if all your friends live on the same continent it's time to plan your own welcome week-style reunion. (So maybe you forgo the calfskin boots.) It's always fun to see your friend who lives in a different city, but how many times a year do all your friends get together? Maybe zero to negative one. Even if it's just a long weekend it's time to forget about work and responsibilities for five minutes and remember the good old days when that never existed, because these are the only people that can make that happen.


History of the Best Mel Brooks Jewish Moments: Part 1

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Mel Brooks is the greatest man I’ve never met. And I’ve not met a lot of people. Almost a few dozen I think.

You see, I’ve always loved movies—and comedy. And if there’s one thing Mel Brooks does well, it’s comedy movies. Growing up, I became obsessed with Mel Brooks. To a point that maybe it wasn’t healthy. When I was younger, I once watched Spaceballs 13 times in six days. Yeah, that happened. I’m a bit ashamed, but at the same time, I’m a little proud. Oh, to be young, carefree and 24 again.

Mel Brooks truly has had more influence on me than he will ever know. But you’ll know, oh, yes you’ll know, because you’re going to keep reading because you’re probably my mom reading this. Hi Mom.

My writing is often heavily inspired by the works of famous funnymen and women, but Mel Brooks is a huge influence, more so than most. A simple, yet hilarious joke in History of the World: Part 1 had a huge impact on me in college. There is adult language so please be advised.

I love this joke. So much so that it inspired me to write what ended up being my first full-length play, a parody of Oedipus Rex, appropriately titled, Mother F*****: The Story of Oedipus. See what I did there?

I’m not usually that vulgar, as my previous posts would suggest, but it can’t be denied that Mel Brooks has had his fair share of adult-themed guffaws. But he’s also had many Jewish-themed guffaws, and that’s what I want to share with you today. These are some of my favorite Jewish moments from what I have dubbed, “The Illustrious Twelve.” That being the 12 movies Mel Brooks had a big hand in directing, writing, producing or starring in.

It’s true that not all his films have outright Jewish moments, but you can always feel the influence. And while these are not necessarily my overall favorite Mel Brooks moments, (I absolutely love every time he breaks the fourth wall. In fact, in my own writing, I like to destroy it.) these are my favorite Mel Brooks Jewish-inspired humor-filled moments … part 1.


Blazing Saddles

The Indian Chief: Mel Brooks played three roles in this movie: Gov. William J. LePetomaine (who I dressed up as for Halloween one year), a random aviator in the criminals line (blink and you’ll miss it), and the Indian Chief. The great part here, that all goyim probably had go straight over their heads, is that the foreign language they are speaking is … Yiddish. Heh heh.

Lili Von Shtupp: Oh Mel Brooks, you sly dog. Subtly putting that innuendo into the sultry character played to perfection by Madeline Kahn. If you are unaware of what the joke is here, I would highly suggest you look it up what shtupp means in Yiddish. Enjoy the song “I’m Tired” where if you listen closely, you can spot Mel Brooks in his fourth role as the voice of one of the soldiers. I sure can spot ‘em.



Princess Vespa: This isn’t so much a moment as the whole character. We have here a Princess from the planet Druidia. So what does that mean our hero’s, Lone Star and Barf are stuck with? That’s right, just what they needed: a Druish Princess. I apologize for the clip, but I could only find it in Lego form. Tee hee.

The Schwartz: Oh there is quite a lot going on here. The obvious is that instead of The Force, we get The Schwartz! The not so obvious is the joke involves the line “I see your Schwartz is as big as mine!” Oh Mel Brooks, you sly dog – again.


High Anxiety

The Disguised Jewish Couple: I won’t even get into the fact that the movie is titled High Anxiety. No, the part that stands out for me is when Mel Brooks and Madeline Kahn need to get through airport security without being recognized and disguise themselves as an old, obnoxious Jewish couple. I know it’s not precisely Jewish, but go with me here. I love how Brooks is essentially channeling the 2000-year-old man. The accent is brilliant and I love every moment of this scene. While it’s never actually stated, I’ve decided to call them Harry and Ethel, because I’m the one writing this so I can do that.


Robin Hood: Men In Tights

Rabbi Tuckman: Pretty much the most Jewish character we can get, we have here Mel Brooks playing a variation on Friar Tuck from the original story. He performs circumcisions for “Half-Off,” his payos are attached to his hat, and there’s my favorite line about Robin of Locksley and Maid Marion of Baghel and how, “You know, you two were made for each other. I mean, what a combination. Locksley and Bahgel! It can't miss!” Rabbi Tuckman is great.


History of the World: Part 1

Moses: Wonder what the other five were.

And then there was this.

Josephus avoiding death: Josephus, played by Gregory Hines, is trying not to get thrown to the lions, and to do so, he pretends he’s a Jew. The soldier then pulls his pants open and Josephus responds with, “He missed.”

The Spanish Inquisition: Felt I should throw this in here, more or less for Jackie Mason, the slot machine and the bubble that shouts “Oy!” among so much more. And the song is just oh so catchy. Let’s begin!

And finally, of course, Jews in Space:

So there you have it, my favorite Mel Brooks Jewish-inspired humor-filled moments … part 1! Just like History of the World, there’s probably not going to be a part 2. But hey, what can ya do? But now I want to hear from you! I know I didn’t touch upon every single Mel Brooks Jewish joke so I must have missed some of your own personal favorites. Let me know what I missed and even what your own overall favorite Mel Brooks moments are. I always love to hear what others think. Thanks for reading and may the Schwartz be with you.


The Infrequent Diner Program

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 The Infrequent Diner Program photo 2

I have a wallet full of “frequent diner” cards. These are the cards that get hole-punched or rubber-stamped each time I eat at a certain restaurant. After a dozen or so purchased meals, I get a meal or entree for free.

According to the restaurant, I “earned” this free meal with my loyalty. But how did I “earn” it? Did I work for it, toil for it? Or did I just have lunch a lot at the place near my office?

So here is my idea. The next time I “earn” something for nothing like this, I will give it to someone who actually has nothing.

I’d like to call this the Infrequent Diner Program. Because it’s for people who most likely do not dine in restaurants with any frequency.

When I give money to a homeless person, I give a dollar. But lunch downtown is $6 at least, even at a fast food place. This card, which cost me nothing, can get someone a full meal.

And do I need this card as incentive to go back to the restaurant? Probably not— I would go anyway to a place that is nearby, decent, and reasonable, especially if it has outdoor seating (my office has no window).

Do I even need to get a free meal in the first place? Well, I just bought 10 meals there, so probably not.

I don’t agree with people who say: “I don’t give to the homeless because they will only spend it on drugs.” But even those people cannot argue with the Infrequent Diner Program; the cards can only be redeemed at the restaurants that offered them—for food.

Joining the Infrequent Diner Program costs you nothing, and gets someone who really needs it a decent meal. The restaurant is out nothing, either, as they were planning on giving you that free meal anyway.

You can even join the Infrequent Diner Program with your co-workers or roommates. Just tack the card to the break room bulletin board. When someone goes out to lunch, they take the card along, get it punched, and put it back. Whoever gets the last punch gives the full card to a homeless person on the way back, and then tacks the new card to the board.

I can imagine a bulletin board full of cards from all sorts of restaurants you might never otherwise try. Instead of having the old “I dunno, where do you want to go?” conversation, you would go to the board, see what cards there are, and grab one from a place that looked interesting or convenient.

So that’s the Infrequent Diner Program. Please use the comments below to say that you will join, or to add other ways to expand or improve on the idea. Thanks, and bon appetit!


Bear Down or Cutler Out

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Bear Down or Cutler Out photo

For the first time in nine seasons, the Chicago Bears will enter the year without Coach Lovie Smith on the sidelines. We’ll have to learn how new coach Marc Trestman will show his emotional range during games compared to coach Smith, whose expressions varied anywhere from pursed-lips disappointment, to pursed-lips elation.

But it wasn’t only the coach that changed. The Bears only retained one offensive lineman from last year – Roberto Garza – and have added tight end Martellus Bennett to their receiving core. They are without future Hall-of-Famer Brian Urlacher in the middle of their linebacking core, and Devin Hester has returned to his most natural role – returning punts and kickoffs. And while there is probably equal cause for optimism as there is for skepticism, there are mostly four questions to be answered entering this season.

1. Will the offensive line be an improvement over last year?
One thing we know for sure – it will be different. And perhaps it is sad that the most exciting thing about the new line is that J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi are not going to be on it. But when you set the bar so low, it’s easy to see an improvement. And anything is an improvement over what we’ve been subjected to. Kyle Long and Jordan Mills have given us reason to look up, even if it’s just seeing two young promising names on the right side of the line. Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson are an upgrade on the left side – at least, in theory. But with a new offense and so many new faces on the line, will it lead to improvement – and more importantly, will we see it in Week 1? This is a much improved O-line, which was priority 1A in the offseason, and we got exactly what we asked for. And while they may take a few weeks to get into rhythm together, I do believe the upgrade will show if they can all stay healthy and keep Jay Cutler off his backside more often than he has gotten used to in recent years.

2. Will the aging defense start to decline?
My short answer is no. Not yet. I still think this unit has a year, maybe two left in it. And no matter how old they are, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers on one side of the ball together will make for one hell of a defense. To me, it’ll be the new faces. D.J Williams, despite not playing a minute of the pre-season, has been slated the starter at MLB over rookie Jon Bostic. And Williams will be on a short leash because from what I’ve seen so far, Bostic is ready to go. I think we will see a major step forward from second-year man Shea McClellin, and I think Isaiah Frey will step right in for the injured Kelvin Hayden and be an impact player. At least to start the year, I see no major weak joints in this aging Bears defense.

3. Can Matt Forte stay healthy and get into the end-zone?
A huge factor in the success or failure of the pass game will depend on Forte. If he can be a serious threat to not only open it up for a big run, but get in the end-zone, it will give the Bears a lot more flexibility in their pass game. He has to stay healthy, too. Michael Bush is a great back up, but if Forte gets hurt and Bush becomes the starter, it’ll greatly limit their game plan. Forte looked great in the pre-season game against Oakland. And he appears to be a major part of the Bears plan in the pass game as well. But it should not be overlooked given all of the attention on Cutler. Forte needs to have a big year if the Bears want to return to the playoffs. And I think he will have his best as a Bear.

4. Will this finally be the system that fits Jay Cutler?
All signs point to “yes.” Trestman comes to town with an incredible reputation for getting the best out of quarterbacks. He brings a west coast offense that has worked for Cutler before. And now Cutler will have more weapons, with a healthy Alshon Jeffrey and aforementioned off-season acquisition Martellus Bennett at tight end. Earl Bennett still appears to be a question mark in terms of staying healthy and having an impact, but Brandon Marshall will again be an exclamation point. And while most expect either fireworks or disaster from Cutler, I fall somewhere in the middle. There will be flashes of great, there will be ugly moments. He’ll make amazing plays and he’ll throw terrible interceptions. I don’t think Cutler’s numbers will be overwhelming like many are predicting, but I still think this will be his best as a Bear. It has to be. Or else the Bears are back in an all too familiar spot: searching for a quarterback.

So without a moment of football played yet – here are my predictions for the Bears this season. While the Bears appear improved on paper, there will be growing pains. And with a more difficult schedule this year and an improved NFC North, it won’t be a walk to the playoffs even with their improved roster and coaching staff. Records don’t say it all – just look at last season. Off to a 7-1 start and then missing the playoffs. I predict the Bears will finish 10-6 again this season. But they will end up with a wild card spot, with a very good shot at making a run in the playoffs. But this is football and anything can happen, so let’s bear down and enjoy the ride.


Your guide to a sweeter New Year in 5774

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new year 5774

Ready for a fresh start? We Jews are lucky to get a chance to start over every fall as the shofar sounds a wakeup call in each of our lives.

Back by popular demand—at least according to my relatives—is my second annual guide (check to see how you did in 5773) to a sweeter new year.

L’shana tovah umetuka!

1. Speaking of sweet, catch more flies with honey. The Russian Jewish proverb whispered to me by my mother throughout my life and passed down from her mother and her mother’s mother applies to everyone we encounter in life. We make a choice in the way we approach people, both the primary players in our world and the strangers we meet just making cameo appearances, like the checkout clerk at Target or the man selling StreetWise on the corner.

2. Find out where you come from. Investigate your roots. Talk to your grandparents and parents about your family history. Google your genealogy. What did your great-grandpa do for a living back in the old country? What shtetl did your ancestors live in? You don’t have to appear on Lisa Kudrow’s TV show "Who Do You Think You Are" to find out who you are. 

3. Tell the people in your life what they mean to you.Jewish author Bruce Feiler explains that it took being stricken with cancer (he is now in remission) for him to tell his loved ones how important they are to him. Why must it take a near-death experience or dramatic roadblock for us to take stock of our friends and family? Drop a note or have lunch with the people you care about and tell them what they mean to you.

4. Take FDR’s words to heart. Fear can be a good thing. Don’t let fear stop you from doing the things you want to do. They never seem as scary after you do them.

5. Be and do Jewish in whatever way speaks to you. Whether it’s davening, honoring Shabbat, traveling to Israel, reading Isaac Bashevis Singer, watching a Samberg/Sandler flick, or all of the above, find your own Jewish path.  

6. Live generously. Be generous with your time, money, forgiveness, smiles, and hugs.

7. Remember that this too shall pass. I was having a tough time recently, and then I read that the Connecticut man who lost his family in a home invasion is expecting a baby with his new wife. Even in the most extreme cases, human beings possess resilient spirits. You never know what incredible things are waiting for you just around the bend.

8. Take a hike. Or a run, or a stroll, or a bike ride, or kickboxing, or the stairs. Just move.

9. Sing more—even if you’re off key. Okay, so you’re not exactly Pavarotti, Aretha, or Rihanna. Don’t worry—Simon Cowell can’t hear you in your car or shower.

10. Get inspired. By the Torah, a TED talk, Shakespeare, volunteer work, or even a conversation with a friend.

11. Eat Nutella. It’s just that good. And, it’s kind of like going to Europe.

12. Spend time with people who get you. And less time with people who don’t. Life’s short. `Nuf said.

13. Flex the other side of your brain.If you’re an accountant or teacher by day, take up watercolor, improv comedy, or hula hooping by night. Stretch the limits of who you are and open yourself up to new experiences.

14. Reach out during the holidays and on Shabbat. Having an apples and honey tasting? Gathering people for Shabbat dinner Friday night? Or hosting a meal in your sukkah? Invite that friend of a friend you heard just lost her job or that new family with the triplet toddlers who just moved in down the block. You’ll make someone’s day and maybe make an unexpected friend too.

15. Hang out by the lake. Whether you’re swimming in it, jogging along it, or sipping an umbrella drink on a hammock near it, take in its beauty and vastness. Notice how small you are compared to it. Sort of puts life in proper perspective.

16. Be less green. And I’m not referring to the environment. Remove jealousy from your emotional suitcase. It’s unproductive and you never know what challenges someone else is going through.

17. Give yourself a break. So many people try to excel and make everyone around them happy all the time whether that means making the honor roll, saying yes to a work project you know you don’t have time for, or going out on a date that you’d rather not go out on. But you know what? Sometimes it’s okay to take a day off from perfection. I give you permission.

18. Be present. Stop texting, tweeting, looking back in hindsight, and planning for the future every once in a while—and just be.

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