Identity

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Some days one plan after another falls through and you feel that needling voice telling you “no one wants to hang out with you because you are annoying, you aren’t any fun, and all of the cool people are hanging out without you.”

Days like these I forget the times my friends have saved me; the times they have shown up in the middle of the night to feed me or the times they have met me with flowers and vodka.

Days like these I struggle to remember who I am. I forget that I am a passionate, creative, entertaining person who knows how to please taste buds and live in my imagination. Instead of being the person I know I am, I often make cookies from a half-priced bag of chocolate chips I picked up at Safeway and drink stale wine while watching old sitcoms.

Surely I’m not the only one who struggles with this. At least I hope I’m not. If food is one of the strongest areas for community then it is also a region where we feel great isolation. We are often perceived as a nation with crippling health problems, obesity and diabetes high among them. Many deal with continual weight fluctuations as they try the latest fad diets and become obsessed with reality TV shows promising the joy of healthiness.

I have gone through the dark days of isolation. I know how hard it is to come through and make a single good decision — “I will eat a salad before I eat all of these gooey cookies” or, “I will contact yet another friend to ask them over for dinner.”

I have gone through days when the bad decisions are the easiest decisions — “I will eat what is at hand; I won’t prepare anything that takes time, that will taste good, get me moving, or be fun to make.”

But I have also fought against the lethargy to make a good decision even though it’s hard and takes more energy than I feel. I know how rewarding it can be to sit down to something you are proud of creating; enjoying something that you know will both nourish and delight you.

It’s hard to recognize the truth when someone merely says to you, “snap out of it.” But when someone shows up at your door, knowing you’ve had a hard day and makes you soup or a sandwich, doing the right thing food-wise becomes much more appealing.

Middle of the night surprise meals

So I encourage more impromptu picnics, more surprise visits of the culinary kind, more meals shared together instead of eaten in loneliness and depression! A wise man (who’s name I cannot remember) once said, “The biggest problem with loneliness is that we all walk around believing we are the only ones who suffer from it.”

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Entertaining

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I love that having people over to my home has become easier and that I’ve mostly gotten over the initial intimidation of regularly inviting friends to my place.

Entertaining, though, seems to bring a new level of intimidation. When I say entertaining I don’t just mean people and food coming together, I mean invitations, decorations, and set tables. It’s the sort of thing I love doing and one of the things that scares me the most. It makes me curious why we put so much pressure on ourselves to do a thing that should, in fact, delight us.
Yet it is a lot of work and we do want our efforts to be appreciated, a thing that we don’t always do well.

For valentines day this year I entertained. I haven’t done it often and I’m prestigiously proud of myself when I do and it comes off well. It surprises me so much that I can accomplish it-I’m not sure why it’s such a surprise, but it does feel thrilling!

Doctor Who Tardis invitation

I made and sent out Dr Who themed invitations (most of our group are big fans and would appreciate a Tardis valentine), set a fancy table with my miss-matched, chipped china, had fresh flowers out the wazoo and made a three course meal. It was so enjoyable! And took so much work!

Fancy table setting

With a fancy dinner there seem to be so many different bits and pieces to prepare and they all take so much time. I sent out the invitations two weeks before, made the eggy cheesecakes two days before, and made the balsamic reduction sauce, candied nuts, and goat cheese mashed potatoes the day before. The day of I cooked the ham, made the ham gravy, roasted the brussel sprouts with walnuts and bacon and the balsamic reduction. I plated the salad before everyone arrived with fresh apples and a raspberry dressing, with candied nuts on top.

Delicious meal!Eggy cheesecake with whip cream

We were a party of single friends, celebrating a holiday of romantic love together. Not always ideal but better than a holiday of romantic love celebrated alone. Nothing chases away the feeling of loneliness like remembering you have friends who you love and appreciate and then enjoying a meal of incredible tastes that you are proud of creating.

Friends at dinner

Mother Teresa

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It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.
– Mother Teresa >

Body Image and Parenting

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One thing I realize when I start getting real excited about food and eating is how differently we all view eating.

I think of food and I think of great tastes, of sitting back and feeling fat after someone has done the work for you. I think of how you can know when you ate faster than you should have, of meals mixed with conversation, and new cuisines- all of these things get me real excited about food.

Often though food is thought of much differently in our society and culture. We’re taught to deprive ourselves for seasons and for different reasons. We use it as a punishment and as a reward, we know just how much we’re ‘allowed’ to consume and how much will make us feel guilty or bring on judgement.

I’ve been blessed with good genes and a fast metabolism. When friends, generally grumpy on diets, ask me why I never get fat I chalk it up to that. However, and more importantly I believe, I was also blessed with parents who set a tone of healthy eating and healthy body image.

Neither of my parents ever remarked on my weight or size. Neither of them discussed their own weight or diets with me. Instead they lived by example.  My mom walked every morning with our neighbor and my dad played basketball with coworkers. I think my mom did diet (I especially remember a time when there was a lot of cabbage soup in our house, I didn’t mind cause it tasted pretty good), but it was never really talked about. When I think back, I don’t ever remember seeing either of my parents on the scale in our bathroom. We had one (I know because I would mess around with the little arrows all the time), but it seemed like a forgotten relic more than a daily ritual.

I have friends who watched their parents fluctuate in weight and obsess over diets and portion sizes. Now their children are struggling with the same thing. Instead of seeing food as a source of nourishment and daily sustenance, they often see it more as a daily struggle and a war.

Our peers will always pressure us to see our bodies in certain ways or to judge ourselves, and there are plenty of outside influences that tell us how and when to diet and how much we should change. It seems important to note that parents have a unique advantage in being the first and most influential person in a child’s life. Think about that the next time you step on the scale and groan or the next time you swear off bread or cheese or sugar. Teach your child to be healthy  by preparing food that you know you should eat with them… and then by eating it with them.

It’s true that I don’t have children, and I want to be clear that I don’t know how to parent. I know though that I’m very thankful deprivation was never preached in our home, but moderation was.

What do your children think about when they think about food? What do you think about, as a child of your parents, when you think about food?

Passover by Ellen Fenster

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Today we will hear from Ellen Fenster, a practicing Jew and incredible chef, which comes together to make her the perfect person to explain and describe the meal surrounding the Jewish holiday-Passover. She is a big supporter of the local chefs association and encourages everyone to visit their site and consider becoming members. http://www.acfchefsarizona.org

The Jewish holiday Passover will begin at sundown Monday, April 14, and lasts for eight days. As in years past this holiday evokes memories from my childhood, of family gathered together, tradition, ritual, and meaning.

Passover is a celebration of freedom as the Jews, under the leadership of Moses, fled from slavery in ancient Egypt. To help free the Jews, G-d sent ten plagues upon the Egyptians. The final and worst plague, the “angel of death,” caused the death of every first-born child. The Jews were instructed to mark their doors with lamb’s blood so the plague would know to “pass over” and spare them — this is how the name Passover is commonly explained.

Passover begins with a ritual dinner called a Seder. In Hebrew, Seder means order. The dinner is conducted in a specific order using a special book. Family and friends take turns reading and retelling this story of freedom. There are blessings, questions, rituals, and songs to sing. I have always derived a feeling of connection from knowing that Jews around the world were all creating the same experience for their children as my parents had for me.

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The star of the meal is the Passover Seder Plate. This plate holds six foods, each with a special meaning. Not all the foods on this plate are eaten. There is the roasted lamb bone, which represents the lamb slaughtered for its blood. Many people use a beef or chicken bone for convenience. Then there is a roasted egg made by boiling until the water evaporates and the shell starts to brown. The egg represents a sacrificial offering from ancient times. (Don’t roast the egg in an oven. I learned that the hard way — what a mess we had to clean up!).

Then there is “Maror,” or bitter herb. Most people these days use horseradish. It represents the bitterness of slavery. “Charoset” is a mixture of chopped apples, nuts and wine for Ashkenazi Jews, or other dried fruits for Sephardic Jews. This mixture represents the mortar used to build the pyramids. Karpas, a green vegetable, usually parsley, represents the freshness of spring. Lastly, the plate holds salt water to represent the tears of the slaves.

Another plate contains three pieces of Matzoh or unleaven bread covered with cloth. Matzoh is the “bread of haste” since the Jews had no time to let bread rise as they fled. Another piece of matzoh, the “Afikomen” is hidden for the children to find after the meal. The adults pay a ransom to the finder and the children look forward to the hunt and their reward. A typical Seder dinner for Ashkenazi Jews will include gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzoh balls, potato kugel (pudding), and brisket. Small pillows may be placed on the table for participants to lean on, showing that we are no longer slaves and can rest at will. A cup of wine is poured left untouched for the prophet Elijah, and the front door is opened to welcome him into our homes as a blessing.

During the eight days of Passover, Jews do not eat “Chametz,” which means leaven. Leaven is any substance that causes the bread to rise, like yeast. Anything mixed with chametz — wheat, rye, barley, oats or spelt — must be cleaned from the house and thrown away or sold to a non-Jew prior to the holiday. Many also avoid rice, corn peanuts, and beans or anything fermented except for Passover wine. My mother was frugal and could not bear to throw food out so she would put all the chametz in a paper bag and hide it in the back of our linen closet to save for future use.

Many Jewish holidays are commemorated with food, but none so much as Passover — freedom from slavery, ancient traditions, family, friends, and fabulous food. Now that is something to celebrate!