I hate party favor bags. Call me a big old stinky-butt (I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before my own daughters do) but I don’t understand why parents insist on sending home a bag of crap every time my daughter attends a birthday party. The goodies (a misnomer if I ever heard one) typically consist of some combination of junk-food and just plain junk. Usually from China. So far, we haven’t held any birthday parties (see? I really am a big old stinky-butt) but when we do, I promise I will not send my guests off with a bag of chazarai.
Which leads me to Purim, the ultimate chazarai giveaway. I suppose one could make an argument that mishloach manot, the gifts of food we deliver to friends and family on Purim, are even more insidious than goodie-bags. By sending your kids to a birthday party, you’ve signed on to a tacit age-old agreement to take home some crap. But mishloach manot deliveries catch you totally unawares. They arrive at your doorstep like an abandoned baby. (Or, more accurately, like abandoned octuplets if you have a lot of Jewish friends.) While the mitzvah is to deliver a 2 different kinds of foods, some Jews have a tendency to go a little over the top, if you can believe that. 

See what I mean?

What is the appropriate bracha for a clown?

Over the next few days, I’ll be blogging about our attempts to make green, simple, and if we’re successful, truly appreciated mishloach manot. In the meantime, I’d like your ideas. Can one create mishloach manot (or your goodie-bags, for that matter) that instill the value that less-is-more? If so, how? And what favorite treats are you including this year?

“Who made you so cute?” I asked my 3 year old.
“God,” she answered.
I’m glad she doesn’t know what a rhetorical question is.


See the milk situated treacherously close to our fleishig soup? We like to live on the edge around here.

See the milk situated treacherously close to our fleishig soup? We like to live on the edge around here.

A friend and colleague was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She’s about a week out of surgery and starting chemo soon. It’s almost impossible to know how to reach out to her – what can I say that would be even remotely comforting?
The only thing I really know to do is to take her food. It’s what Jews do. I’ll never forget how wonderful it was to have dinners from both dear friends and near strangers arrive at our doorstep for weeks after each of my c-sections. Almost every meal came from a member of our shul. (One strong argument for joining a synagogue even if we’re not going to attend.) I promised myself that I would pay that mitzvah forward, and this week I actually have two opportunities to prepare meals for congregants in need of care. Not only do I feel as if I’m doing something useful, but coming with a bag of food gives us something to talk about other than illness – recipes!
I brought my colleague a pot of chicken soup. It’s the first poultry dish I learned to cook when I abandoned vegetarianism during my second pregnancy. It’s hardly a recipe at all – but trust me, you will love it. Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl.
One onion/2 carrots/2 stalks of celery/one 3-4 lb chicken (we use Empire)/one cup uncooked brown rice or barley/parsley
Cut up all the vegetables and throw them in a pot with the rice/barley and a whole chicken (really!) Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Simmer until the chicken is cooked. Put the chicken in a colander. After the chicken cools down, remove the skin and throw it out. Then shred the chicken and toss it back in the pot with some parsley. Skim fat and reheat.
The trick is not to overcook the chicken. I use a meat thermometer and pull out the chicken as soon as it hits 165. And the brown rice isn’t just because I want to impress you with our healthy eating habits – the texture is really integral to the recipe. Sometimes I add some veggie bouillon cubes along with the salt and pepper if it needs a little oomph.
This soup is amazing. I just wish it could cure cancer.

Admittedly, the title of my blog is a wee bit misleading. We are, in fact, members of a shul. (Actually, we are members of two shuls, if you count my honorary membership at the synagogue where I teach.) And we do attend every now and then. But I’ve discovered over time that shul doesn’t really work for my family for a number of reasons.
For one, my husband is not Jewish. He’s not anything else, either, but he’s certainly not of the tribe. Since he doesn’t read Hebrew, didn’t grow up with the melodies, and isn’t particularly interested in the Bible, there isn’t much going on within the four walls of the synagogue that can’t be found elsewhere, usually without having to put on a tie.
Second of all, my daughters are three and five. Too old to while away the hours breastfeeding, but too young to spend the morning trying to break into the vending machines the way I did when I was a kid. (Plus, our shul doesn’t have a vending machine. Do any shuls have candy machines these days?) We show up for tot-shabbat now and again, but it’s only once a month, and it’s a starting to get a little too, um, tot-y for us.
Mostly, though, almost everything I love about being Jewish happens at home. There’s the food, of course, and the making of the food. And the talking about the food. (Remember the Jackie Mason bit – “At lunch, Jews talk about dinner; after dinner they talk about where to get coffee, and after that, where to get cake….?” That’s totally how I grew up.) There’s lifting up our daughters so they can reach the shabbat candlesticks that belonged to my mother’s grandmother. Or watching my daughters play Pharoah and the Jews with their Polly Pockets after reading PJ Library books about Passover. Lying side by side in our sleeping bags, staring at the stars, while trying to fall asleep in the sukkah (and never quite making in through the night.) And all the other things I hope to describe in my new blog.
One of these days we may find a shul that gives us all that. But for now, we’re home-shuling.