We’re about a week away from the Jewish holiday of Shavuous, the commemoration of the Jews receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. It’s a two day holiday, with blessings made over wine and bread at dinner and lunch both days. It’s traditionally celebrated with dairy foods, in contrast to the meat meals usually served at other holidays and Shabbos. Fish and eggs can be served with dairy meals, but not red meat or poultry.
With 3 O’s in the family, dairy meals are a challenge, and are less likely to feel satisfying than meat meals. Sure, we could defy tradition and make some meat meals for the holiday, but the kids would be disappointed. What’s Shavuous without cheesecake for dessert after every single meal? Plus, being a holiday, we want more than tuna and egg salad at every meal- it’s a time to rejoice with special holiday foods that are tasty and fun and don’t make us feel deprived.
It’s a precarious balance between health, enjoyable meals, and the tight food budget. My 17 year old daughter and I have no common cheeses. I’m not supposed to have mozzarella cheese, and she’s not supposed to have ricotta cheese. But last year we made this delicious vegetable lasagna that used both cheeses. It was delicious and satisfying and everybody enjoyed it. We both felt that the semi-compliance was worth it for a once-a-year holiday treat.
Last year, I made this delicious cheesecake with goat cheese and agave. It’s compliant for everybody in the household. We ended up making 4 or 5 recipes’ worth of cheesecake over the course of the holiday, as everybody enjoyed it, even guests who were not following BTD. However, goat cheese and agave are significantly more expensive than cream cheese and white sugar.
This year money is extra-tight, with my ex-husband still out of work and unable to pay child support. I’m going to have to cut some corners with the holiday cooking this year. I need to be extra-careful with my own diet since I’m very sensitive to “avoids” in my diet and I have not been well lately. But my children have been eating a lot of “cheat” foods at social gatherings, and I’m not convinced that one more weekend of sugar and non-compliant dairy will have a significant impact on them.
This year, we’ll be making one small “healthy” cheesecake that I can eat, and a much larger “unhealthy” cheesecake using more traditional, cheaper ingredients. That lasagna recipe may be used as a risotto instead, since rice is a lot cheaper than rice lasagna. I may skip the mozzarella cheese on top for my own sake, or make it in two batches so I can have the mozzarella-free version.
In an ideal world, Shavuous would be a time for cooking with fresh fish and goat dairy, and I would never cook with white sugar. But we don’t live in an ideal world and I need to make the most of what I have.
Yesterday, I decided to make a variety of different dishes for dinner and use up some leftovers in the fridge. My son would have enough to eat with the leftover baked white potato, leftover white rice, beef, and either some raw baby carrots or a can of green beans. There was enough brown rice to reheat for myself, and neither of my daughters are likely to eat much rice anyway. Roasted sweet potatoes take over an hour to cook, but the rest of the food cooks up more quickly and needed to go into the oven later. Burgers take half an hour to bake, or I could cook the ground meat on the stovetop in about 10 minutes. Frozen broccoli only needs about 20 minutes, which is also about how long the rices and potato need for reheating. My plan was to have a whole bunch of different pans in the oven, which would then be carried a whopping 3 feet from oven to table when it was time to eat.
So, I got started cooking around 4:30, so dinner would be ready at 6:00 when Leah comes home from school. I peeled and cubed sweet potatoes and put them into a pan. Then I added olive oil, onion powder, garlic powder, sea salt, and paprika. I stirred it all together and put that in the oven. Then, at 5:20, the power suddenly went out! I knew the oven would stay hot for another 10-15 minutes or so, but also that the food wouldn’t finish cooking unless the power came back on quickly. So the sweet potatoes continued to roast while I spent 20 minutes on the phone with the power company to report the outage.
When I was done with the phone, it was 5:40 PM and the oven was “warm but not hot anymore.” I’d learned that the power wasn’t due back on until 8:00 PM, and that my dinner plans were shot. My electric oven was NOT going to be able to cook a variety of dishes! Nor could I cook anything on my electric stovetop. My Mom has a gas-powered stove in her kitchen downstairs, but she doesn’t keep kosher. Cooking my family’s meal downstairs means carrying down all my own dishes, ingredients, and cooking utensils.
I took my big frying pan and dumped in the half-roasted sweet potatoes. Then I added the ground beef to the same pan and put the lid on to make it easier to carry. In a separate pan, I put white rice, olive oil, salt, and water. I would have preferred to make a whole grain, but at this point there wasn’t enough time for brown rice to cook and my son won’t eat quinoa. Hannah helped me carry down the two pots, which I cooked on my Mom’s gas stove. I’d brought down one metal spoon to stir the contents of the frying pan. I added a little water when it was near the end of cooking. I think broth would have been even tastier, but the kosher turkey broth was a flight of stairs away.
When the food was mostly cooked, I realized I’d forgotten to prepare a green veggie for the meal! Had I been in my own kitchen, I would have added some frozen spinach or broccoli to the pan with the sweet potatoes and meat. But it was too much trouble to go upstairs with food on the stove that needed constant stirring. Nor did I want to scrounge around my Mom’s freezer, knowing she had ice cream that could melt if the freezer door was opened. Instead, I prepared a salad after the other foods were ready. We ate at my Mom’s kitchen table on paper plates with plastic forks, and used plastic spoons to serve the rice and the salad.
Leah, Hannah, and I really enjoyed this new way of preparing sweet potatoes and meat. The sweet potatoes turned into a sauce for the meat, rather than being a separate dish. Unfortunately, Jack had one taste and hated it. He’s the reason I normally make so many little dishes. Thanks to the power failure, he only had rice for dinner.
Power came back on at 7:03 PM.
The days before Passover are probably the busiest time of the year for Orthodox Jewish families. We need to clean our homes, cars, backpacks, etc. of any traces of chametz (leavened flour products.) The kitchen is the biggest part of the job. Everything is scoured, opened packages of foods are finished up or packed away, counters are covered, dishes are packed away, and special Passover utensils are unpacked. Some items can be kashered (made kosher for Passover) through the use of heat. Many families use a lot of disposables for the week. Then there’s another busy time when the holiday ends, and we need to put the kitchen back to normal.
Kashrut is even stricter this week than it is the rest of the year. Most products need special “Kosher for Passover” certification; even items that don’t require special certification during the year. Matzah is permitted, but anything else made from wheat, oats, rye, spelt, or barley is “chametz” and cannot be consumed. Ashkenazi Jews, those typically of Eastern European descent, also don’t eat legumes or rice for the week. Sephardic Jews, those of Southern European descent, don’t have that restriction, but they do have special rules about how those foods are prepared for the holiday.
A great many products are theoretically permitted for Passover use, but are not currently available with certification. This list includes ALL the sweeteners that are permitted to me. Honey and sugar are readily available for Passover, but those are both “avoids” on my food list. Agave and molasses should be acceptable for Passover, since molasses is made from sugar cane and agave is made from a desert plant. But I could find neither with Passover certification. That left me with two choices: don’t eat sweets for the holiday or compromise on compliance.
There were a few other special holiday foods that weren’t compliant. I used spelt matzah since rye matzah isn’t currently available. Charoset is a traditional food for the Passover Seder, representing the mortar the ancient Hebrews used during slavery in Egypt. Our family recipe is a mixture of apples, cinnamon, red wine, walnuts, and honey. I’m not supposed to have apples or honey. I could have substituted pears for the apples, but since I couldn’t find an alternative for the honey anyway, I went ahead with my traditional recipe and limited my own portions.
Other non-compliant goodies included marshmallows and coconut macaroons, and my 17 year old made chocolate/caramel covered matzah, chocolate muffins, and almond macaroons. The homemade treats were compliant except for the sugar, and fully compliant for the kids. I had a small taste of each treat but mostly eliminated all added sugars from my diet for the week. I also made almond milk for the week and had it in my daily yerba mate/cocoa beverage. My family doesn’t use rice on Passover, since we’re Ashkenazi. Without being able to use rice milk or molasses in my tea, I felt the need to add something to make my tea tastier. Since almonds are neutral for me, I figured that the damage from almond milk must be subtle, and felt it was a reasonable compromise for one week out of the year.
I ate far too much sugar the last few days of the holiday. That resulted, as usual, in eating too much food overall and never really feeling satisfied. But I did eat plenty of vegetables and meats, and managed to take a walk almost every day of the holiday. I’ve been eating clean since right after lunch the last day of the holiday, so nearly 2 full days now. Between the “less than perfect” diet and the late hours we were keeping, I got quite irritable and sore. I wasn’t in a full fibro-flare, but I didn’t feel particularly well either. I’m getting myself back on track now, and I hope to do better next Passover.
I’ve been feeling rather worn out for the past few weeks. I felt like I was buried in responsibilities. Some days I tried to take a break to care for my body, but my work piled up and I’d feel guilty about that. I’d create extra stress by not having a clear space to cook dinner because I’d never cleaned up from breakfast! Or Hannah couldn’t find clean gym clothes because I hadn’t washed them yet. Other days I would trudge through the housework and get it done, but I felt burdened and resentful as I went about my day. Any little unexpected thing would put me over the edge, and I was snapping at my kids A LOT!
I didn’t know why I was feeling this way. I thought I was being careful with my diet and supplements. I know exercise is a big factor, especially for O’s, but I find it hard to exercise when I’m tired, dizzy, and in pain. Overall, I was feeling hopeless and depressed, because I didn’t know what caused my fatigue, so I didn’t know how to fix things.
This past Saturday was the Bar Mitzvah of a close friend’s son. There was no way I could miss it, even though I really wanted space alone and was dreading the large crowd. It wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated; it was kind of like I was exercising emotional muscles. It was hard, but it felt good. I also made some “less than perfect” food choices at the party. I stayed away from wheat, potatoes, and obvious corn, but I didn’t worry about additives in the fish or deli meat, or what might have been in the salad dressing, and I ate the tomatoes and cucumbers. Overall I ate lots of veggies and protein, but I also know I ate chemical food additives, "avoid" oils, vinegar, possible potato starch, and either sugar or corn syrup.
By Monday, I was even more of a mess than usual for me. Once I recognized that I was reacting to what I ate on Saturday, it helped me put things into perspective. I know that food reactions are temporary, as long as I proceed to eat right so my body can clear out the toxins. The physical symptoms were still present, but I had hope again. I also analyzed how I’ve been eating the last few weeks, and realized that a few “avoids” have managed to slip in. I ate some sweet potato chips made with “avoid” oils, along with a lot of mozzarella cheese and a little bit of tomato sauce. That can probably account for a lot of how I’ve been feeling.
I’ve been eating clean again since Sunday, so some of these toxins are getting cleared out. Yesterday I made “self nurturing” my primary focus. I went clothes shopping for myself, and I took a hot bath in the middle of the afternoon. But more than the specific things I did, I gave myself permission to be a little self-indulgent, and not spend every waking moment worried about the house or the kids. That attitude shift has made a world of difference.
I’m feeling a whole lot calmer now, and ready to tackle my work.
I was planning to write a blog about the Jewish holiday of Purim; one of the happiest times in the Jewish calendar. But I just can’t get myself into that spirit right now. All I can really think about is that my father passed away two days after Purim last year.
The Jewish laws regarding mourning for a parent last for a full calendar year. I really haven’t been myself this whole time. I wonder if I’ll feel more whole once the year of mourning is complete, or if his yartzeit (anniversary of his death on the Jewish calendar) will just dredge up even more pain. I suppose the point is to have the mourning process go through the whole cycle of seasons, and all the holidays, and this is the last holiday in that cycle.
It’s not like my father and I were even close. He worked 70+ hours a week when I was growing up. Most of my telephone conversations with him consisted of “Hi Dad, it’s Ruth. Is Mom there?” Even the last few years, when I lived in an apartment in my parents’ home, I still didn’t see much of him, or talk to him much. We just never had much to say.
Thinking of him is more about regret. What could have been. Opportunities I didn’t take to get to know him. Jealousy that my son had a better relationship with him than I or my brother ever had. This isn’t about thinking of a great man I knew and loved and miss, and I feel kind of guilty about that. This is all about what could have and maybe should have been.
Could he have been saved if he’d eaten right for his type? We only found out his blood type a month or so before he died. I did notice that he seemed more peaceful and easier to connect to when he wasn’t eating chicken, which is an avoid for B’s. Could we have at least gotten more out of the time he had with us if he’d eaten better, even if we couldn’t get any more time with him?
But then I have to remember that not everything is about blood type or diet. Knowing his blood type 15 years earlier might have changed nothing. I can’t fix the world; I can’t make anybody else take care of themselves, and I certainly don’t have the energy to take care of everybody. Some days I barely have the mental energy to take care of myself. Today is one of those days.