Shavuot is a holiday often easily overlooked- many of us may not even realize that it has already passed! Shavuot commonly falls after the Hebrew School year has ended, and many of us associate it only with Confirmation ceremonies. In the most basic sense, Shavuot is the holiday that commemorates God giving the Torah to the Israelites. However, Shavuot is also ripe (pun intended) with significance for today on many other levels.
After the Land of Israel was conquered and divided, the nations of Israel established an agricultural society. In order to show gratitude to God, they were commanded to bring the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple as a sacrifice on Shavuot. Each family brought a basket of the seven species described in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. In fact, one of the many names for Shavuot is hag ha bikkurim, The Festival of the First Fruits.
As the weather gets warmer and camp gets closer, farmers markets will likely start to pop up in your community. Depending on where in the country you live, the first fruits of your local harvest will be different. However, as a general rule, asparagus, strawberries, lettuces and peas are commonly among the first things to pop out of the soil in most of the Northeast. Consider using the concept of the first fruits of the festival of Shavuot as an inspiration for your own first fruits celebration. Make a trip to the farmers market with your kids before camp and plan a menu based on the first fruits you find in the market. Speak with one another about the benefits of local produce (hint: it’s fresher, more nutritious and better for the environment) and talk about how we can connect to our local agriculture just as the Israelites did thousands of years ago.
Here’s one recipe to get you started, but don’t feel limited- let the market speak to you and enjoy the kitchen creations that result!
Whole Wheat Linguini with Mint Pesto and 3 types of peas
1 lb whole wheat linguini
1 cup snow peas
1 cup sugar snap peas
½ cup frozen peas
¾ cup packed fresh mint leaves
¾ cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
2 ½ tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup roasted unsalted pistachios
¼ cup shredded Parmesan
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- Fill a large pot ¾ of the way with heavily salted water and bring to a boil. Cook linguini according to package directions
- While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, take the ends off the sugar snap peas and snow peas and cut them in half
- Chop the mint, basil, and garlic in food processor until finely chopped
- Add the pistachios and pulse until they are well chopped, but not powdery
- Slowly stream in the olive oil
- Set aside in a small bowl and mix in the Parmesan by hand
- 2 minutes before the pasta is done add the snow peas, sugar snap peas, and frozen peas
- Drain the pasta, reserving 3 tablespoons of the cooking water
- Combine the herb mixture with the cooked pasta and peas and reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately
One of the most life-changing lessons a child can learn at camp is how to overcome fears. Whether your camper is afraid of the lake, is worried about making friends, or can’t stand the thought of being near bugs, a nonthreatening camp environment allows kids to independently push the boundaries of their comfort levels in order to have new and exciting experiences. As a parent, you may revel in your child’s growth over the summer, yet you may simultaneously wonder why he refuses to partake in any new experiences at home for the other 10 months of the year. This is sometimes most true at the dinner table. For example, perhaps last summer your 5th grader came home loving salad with carrots, but now you can’t seem to get her to even taste cooked carrots. The reason for this may be relatively simple – over the summer your camper is in a foreign environment, is highly impressionable and is eager to please both counselors and bunkmates. At home, your child may be more focused on being adversarial and may not be as willing to explore areas outside of his/her comfort zone.
While you can’t replicate the adventuresome camp atmosphere at home, there are definitely things that you can do to get your camper to try new and interesting foods that will support her health. Check out some of the following tips and try the AMAZING roasted vegetable recipe below (it will turn any veggie-hater into a veggie LOVER). By the time your child is packing his bags for camp, he may have even overcome his fear of broccoli!
1. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and TRY again
A child could hate something today but LOVE it a year from today. This is because children’s taste buds are constantly developing and changing, so keep trying! Also, keep in mind that there could be a lot of reasons that your child may not like the new food she just tried. Maybe she’s not in the mood for it, maybe she doesn’t like the way it was cooked, maybe the sauce is too spicy, or maybe she would like brown basmati rice but doesn’t like brown jasmine rice.
2. Don’t battle over food
The more you fight with your kids about food, the more they will fight back. Try not to battle with them about eating just two more string beans or another bite of chicken. If you’re more laid back, you will create an environment in which your children can explore on their own terms.
3. Don’t hide vegetables
If all you’re doing is hiding some spinach in a brownie, you’re not teaching your children to love vegetables for what they are; rather, you’re teaching them that vegetables are disgusting and need to be hidden!
4. Lead by example
If you don’t try new foods and new ways of cooking old foods, your children will never try new things either. You may surprise yourself by what you like!
5. Highlight the food you are trying to get your kids to like
If you want your child to start liking spinach, don’t just steam some frozen spinach. Buy fresh spinach from the farmer’s market and sauté it with olive oil and garlic and top it with a bit of your child’s favorite cheese.
For amazing roasted vegetables:
Toss any combination of cut up broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, string beans, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, or beets with a small amount of olive oil, coarse salt and black pepper. Place on a large metal cookie sheet (not glass or foil!) and roast in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until veggies are browned, caramelized and delicious!
Rachel Saks has an M.S. in Education and is a Registered Dietitian. She developed and ran Healthy Living, a Camp Ramah program that combines nutrition education, mindful eating, cooking instruction and physical activity. Rachel is also the co-author of “Jewish American Food Culture.”
Even though the Purim costumes have barely been packed away and there are still one or two lonely poppy seed hamentaschen sitting on your counter, it’s time to think about Passover. Will you be having guests for seder or going to celebrate with friends and family? Who will be invited? What kind of haroset will you make this year? What kind of medication will you stock in the medicine cabinet for the inevitable mid-week tummy troubles? All of these are important questions to answer, but it’s also important to stop for a moment to think about another, slightly bigger question: How will you engage your children in preparations for the holiday this year in a way that will bring your whole family a deeper, more spiritual understanding of Passover?
Sure, you can ask your children to help clean the house of chametz, but doing so won’t give them a context for understanding the holiday, primarily because it involves simply doing something rather than immersion in an experience. Jewish camps excel at experiential learning by creating a context for activities rather than going through the actions by rote. Camps deeply engage campers with Judaism at a young age, leading them to develop a desire for connectivity to the Jewish community and to the formation of a strong Jewish identity.
One of the greatest and most exciting ways for kids to experience Judaism and Passover is in the kitchen. With their hands in kugel and their minds on the laws of kashrut for Passover, kids have the opportunity to learn through doing on this holiday. Teach them about what it means to be kosher-for-Passover and engage them in helping to prepare your kitchen for the holiday. Work with your children to find interesting recipes and to plan, shop, and cook with them. Notice the pride they exhibit when mastering a task in the kitchen (just like the pride they had last summer when they perfected their 3-point shot or got up on water skis!) and revel in the fact that they are experiencing and understanding Passover on a whole new level.
Here are some tips to involve your children in the kitchen on Passover and the rest of the year, as well as a fun recipe to try together. Planning, shopping and cooking can teach you and your family how to effectively connect to each other, to Judaism and to God on a deeper and more meaningful level. Here’s how:
1. Plan it up!
Cooking with kids works better if they are involved in the planning and if they are given a specific job to do under light supervision.
2. Chop it up
Kids 3 years old and up can cut, as long as you give them a safe knife. Give them a plastic disposable knife, plastic knives from a kids set, or a butter or dinner knife with a dulled edge. Give them things that are easy to cut, like herbs, peeled fruit, zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers.
3. Mix it up!
Kids love stirring and mixing things, but that doesn’t have to be limited to baking! Have them help toss a salad, mix sauce into quinoa, or even mix spices together for an herb rub.
4. Mess it up!
Cooking with kids will be messy, but that’s okay! Food will be spilled and clothes like likely get stained- so gets some aprons and let the fun begin!
5. Chat it up!
Try to use your time in the kitchen together to talk about food traditions, the spirituality of food, where food comes from, good nutrition and more. The opportunity for these precious family moments should not be missed!
Kosher for Passover Zucchini Potato Kugel Muffins
5 medium baking potatoes
2 small zucchini
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 large yellow onion
5 cloves garlic
1 large spring fresh rosemary
4 whole eggs
4 egg whites
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup matzah cake meal
3 tablespoons potato starch
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Using the shredding blade of a food processor, shred the potatoes (with the skin), zucchini, carrots, onions and rosemary leaves.
- Place all of the vegetables in a large bowl and squeeze out the excess liquid (don’t worry about getting all of it out- there will always be more!)
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and then stir in the remaining ingredients.
- Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and mix well.
- Spray muffin tins with cooking spray and heap the vegetables into the tins. Pat down firmly.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until the kugel seems to be firm and set and the top is browned and crispy.
- Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving, or allow to cool and refrigerate up to 5 days (or freeze up to 3 months!)
Have a happy, delicious and meaningful Passover!
Rachel Saks has an M.S. in Education and is a Registered Dietitian. She has taught cooking classes, developed and ran Healthy Living, a Camp Ramah program that combines nutrition education, mindful eating, cooking instruction and physical activity. Rachel is also the co-author of “Jewish American Food Culture.”
Many campers have been counting down the days to the first day of camp in 2013 since the last day of camp in 2012. By this point in the winter, you as parents have done countless trips to and from camp-friends’ homes, asked your child to end yet another endless phone call with a bunk-mate, or heard the story of the hilarious counselor/silly evening activity/whipped cream fight/amazingly meaningful connection with that “special someone” four times too many.
One of the most powerful things about Jewish overnight camp is the relationships your children form with their peers and counselors. They form these relationships not just because they spend so much time together, but because their Jewish heritage binds them. The concept of Achdut is the idea that all Jews are naturally unified by a powerful historical bond and a unique relationship with God. Perhaps Achdut is the reason why your camper forms connections easily, but without it on a daily basis, they may experience some serious camp-sickness. Your camper misses camp, but what is there to do about the mid-winter “I miss everything about camp” blues?
Enter camp food. I’m not talking about bug juice, rubbery grilled cheese and candy bars hidden in duffle bags. Those “delicacies” aren’t the solution to any problem. I’m talking about the food of campfire legends – ooey gooey s’mores, rocky mountain toast, weenies on a stick, and banana boats – and the convivial feelings of unity, camaraderie and closeness that the crackling flames, off-key singing and crisp summer evening air seem to eternally evoke. This is where Achdut is at its strongest. If your campers are missing their camp friends and missing the intense connections they formed at camp, why not bring all of that home?
A feast of (healthier versions of) campfire foods is the perfect excuse for you to foster some of those warm feelings of togetherness in your home with your kids, while at the same time hopefully curing them of some of their nagging camp-sickness.
Here’s what to do: Print out a list of campfire sing-a-longs and find a few scary stories. Clear the furniture out of your living room, cover the floor with blankets and pillows and tell your kids to change into their pajamas early. If you have a fireplace, light it up (or just put on a video of a fireplace for the effect). Now, head to the kitchen to cook up a few of the insanely delicious takes on campfire classics found below. Your kids will go to bed happy, full of healthy food and warm from the memory that you will have just created with them. You will feel a sense of Achdut, and who knows, tomorrow you may hear them telling their closest camp friend about their awesome campfire night they just had with their family.
Rocky Mountain Toast (or Egg in the Island or whatever other silly name your camp uses)
12 ounces baby spinach
4 slices whole wheat bread
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 large organic eggs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1. Place spinach in a steamer basket over simmering water and steam 3-5 minutes, or until fully wilted. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, cut 1-inch holes out of the center of each slice of bread, using a small glass or a knife.
3. Heat butter in a large pan over medium heat.
4. Once the butter is bubbling, place the bread in the pan. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until the bread is toasted.
5. Flip the bread and turn the heat to high. Crack I egg into each hole, then top with shredded cheese and spinach.
6. Cook the eggs and bread another 2-3 minutes, or until the yolk is heated through, but not set.
(Vegetarian) Franks and Beans
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
12 ounces vegetarian sausages or hotdogs, preferably under 300 mg Sodium per serving
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 15-ounce cans low-sodium navy beans
1 15-ounce can low-sodium crushed tomatoes
½ cup water
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Dice the onion and mince the garlic.
2. Slice the hotdogs into 1-inch slices.
3. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the hotdogs and garlic and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, drain and rinse the beans.
6. Add the beans to the pan, along with the remaining ingredients.
7. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
8. Cover and cook until the liquid has reduced by half, about 15 minutes.
4 medium ripe (but not overripe) bananas
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons dried cherries
2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Leaving the peels on the bananas, cut a vertical slit down one side of each banana, leaving about ½ inch on either end.
3. Scoop out the top layer of the banana (about ¼ of the whole fruit).
4. Mix the remaining ingredients together and divide evenly between the bananas, stuffing the filling into the peel.
5. Wrap each banana in 2 layers of aluminum foil and place them on a baking sheet.
6. Bake 10 minutes, unwrap and enjoy!
Oeey Gooey S’mores
1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 egg whites, divided
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons raw sugar
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
4. Add butter and work into flour with your fingertips until the butter is fully incorporated and the mixture looks like sand.
5. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 egg white, the brown sugar, honey and vanilla.
6. Add the egg white mixture to the flour mixture and stir until a dough forms (it will be VERY sticky!)
7. Place half the dough on a well-floured surface and roll out into a 10-inch square. Cut into 12 rectangles and transfer to one of the baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.
8. Repeat step 7 with the other half of dough.
9. Brush the rectangles with the remaining egg white and sprinkle the raw sugar evenly on top.
10. Bake until dark brown, 12-14 minutes.
11. Let cool completely on the pan.
12. While the graham crackers are cool, toast the marshmallows on skewers over the stove just until they are browned, but not too melted.
13. Take 6 graham crackers and divide the chocolate chips evenly between them.
14. Top each graham cracker with 2 marshmallows and cover with another graham cracker.
16. Wrap in foil and bake 5 minutes, until ooey and goey!