Category Archives: review

New Discovery: The Milken Archive

So, if you check out my Facebook feed you’ll know that I have a very eclectic taste in music. I do love mostly 80s songs, but will listen to just about anything at least once, and have a healthy respect for the Blues that the KoD listens to. I abhor the rap “music” that teens seems to listen to these days, but I am sure when I was growing up my mother hated the music we all listened to.

I also love chazzanut – the cantorial songs of the religious liturgy. Around Yom Kippur time I youtubed so many different Yom Kippur themed clips – Barbra Streisand singing Avinu Malkeinu, Al Jolson singing Kol Nidrei.

I recently came across the Milken Archive. I had not known that there was an organization out there that was committed to saving and archiving American Jewish recordings that within generations would possibly be lost. I personally love listening to recordings of the Cantors from way back when – their voices were something special to behold – David RoitmanDavid Kusevitsky to name a couple, but the Archives also have recordings of singers, composers and groups too.

The Milken Archive (More about the founder here) also has tremendous collections from Yiddish Theatre (One of my favourite Yiddish plays is Mirele Efros, closely followed by an awesome adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof that I saw in Montreal at the Dora Wasserman Theatre eons ago), Klezmer, Children’s Songs, the list goes on. I have been loving listening to the clips that they have online – what they call a “virtual museum”.

From the website:

Though the Archive’s musical collection is voluminous, of equal importance are its collections of oral histories, interviews, photographs, and historical memorabilia, all of which lend historical depth and cultural context. Oral histories and interviews have been completed with senior cantors, veterans of the Yiddish theater, composers, conductors and others, thus preserving the knowledge, performance traditions, and stories of the individuals who brought, and continue to bring, this music to life. This unprecedented wealth of memories and first-person accounts will be a unique resource for students, scholars, documentary filmmakers, cultural historians, and anyone interested in American Jewish history.

Since I came to the US two years ago I have been reading up and learning my American history and my American Jewish history. Discovering this archive has added a new dimension to this study. I am thirsty for more.

If American Jewish history is your thing, check out the Archive. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to keep track of the latest happenings.

Verizon Came Through!

A week ago I was practically shaking in frustration with my phone issues. Two dead phones in two days. A crappy customer service experience at the Verizon Store. I tweeted Verizon – every single twitter handle that they had. To their credit they did respond on Twitter, however the person who handles their social media did not actually take the time to read the tweets, or the blogpost they linked to, so therefore did not understand the gravity of the situation.

I looked online for Verizon Customer Service emails. I sent similar emails to Motorola. I even tweeted Motorola (who manufacture the phone) and a week later there has still been no response.

A friend provided me with the email address of someone in Executive Relations at Verizon. I figured, what could it hurt to email them too?! So many people online told me not to bother with trying to find a solution to my phone issue, to just suck it up, because they said that Verizon doesn’t care.

WRONG.

On Thursday I received an email from executive relations. With a person’s name and phone number, asking a time that we could schedule the call. She called Monday morning. We spoke briefly and she told me that at no charge to me she was upgrading me to the Droid 4 and would be sending me a new Droid 4 free of charge. She apologized for all the aggravation more than once. She told me I can use her direct line anytime for any issues I may have with the new phone or with service and that she will do her absolute best to help me. Seriously, I was blown away. I did not expect a new phone, let alone an upgrade to the 4.

This is customer service at its best. I just wish that the people at the Verizon store could get a lesson in customer relations because they sorely need it.

My phone arrived Tuesday afternoon. I inserted the SD card and the SIM card , and booted it up. And it didn’t work. I started to have palpitations. KoD calmly suggested (how does he always stay so calm all the time?) to call Customer Support for help. They were wonderful, and had me activate the SIM card through their phone system and I was good to go.

So far I love the keyboard – much more space between the keys, and no need for num lock to do the numbers. It even has a Caps Lock too. The screen is clearer and bigger, and the camera can be forward facing and backward facing too.

Sometimes reaching out because of a bad experience doesn’t get you anywhere, and sometimes it can get you the result you want. Never give up – the customer should always be right.

Well done, Verizon. You made this bad situation better.

Scentsy – a Product Review

Recently I was contacted by an online friend and long time blog reader Mallory, who wanted to let me know about her new business selling Scentsy products. She wanted to know if I wanted to review some nice smelling stuff. Having 4 boys in the house and a smelly dog (well, he isn’t always smelly) I was glad to jump at the opportunity.

The first product we tried was the room spray “Jumping Jelly Beans”. We sprayed it into the air and immediately smelled candy. The younger boys liberated it from my possession and ran downstairs to spray it on their older brother’s pillow for when he got home. I *think* they thought it would be a nice thing to do. He walked into his room later that day and asked if anyone had been eating candy in his room. Yes, there was much snickering! One of the kids sprays it in the air and then walks through it – he says smelling like candy is awesome.

We also received three car air fresheners – the type you hang from the rear-view mirror. The first one I opened “Route 66” was just….. too MALE….. so I hung it in one of the teens’ room to counteract teenage yuk. He wondered why he didn’t get one that smelled of candy but he didn’t rip it down or throw it away.

I put the second one – “Coconut Lemongrass” –  in the KoD’s car. It’s fresh but not overpowering, and when the car is parked in the garage, the garage actually smells good.

The third – Camu Camu- is in my car and I love how it smells. It’s kind of flirty and sweet and feminine.

The best part of all of these car fresheners – not a hint of pine in sight er… smell!

Mallory also sent me a ceramic warmer with a package of Blueberry Cheescake scented wax to melt in it. The warmer uses a lightbulb to gently melt the wax. When I leave it on in the living room of my house, the aroma wafts through the house. It isn’t strong or harsh or in-your-face – gentle and soothing.

I am a long time user of other name brand scented stuff- the plug ins and air fresheners, and I was a little skeptical that these products would be any better. They are. The scents smell like they are supposed to, and don’t leave you looking for the open bottle of pine sol. TODAY they also debuted a fondue warmer – totally on my wish list!

If you want to browse the website – Click Here. To contact Mallory directly email her at sosiscents@gmail.com. You won’t be sorry – the prices of these products are very reasonable and you do get major bang for your buck. There are many other products that were not featured in this review. You can also volunteer to host a Scentsy party and get cool discounts. I plan on hosting a party soon. (If you want an invite let me know!)

I was not paid for this review, however I did receive the products for free.

Macabee is so Cheesy!!

I have three huge culinary loves. Coffee, Steak and Cheeeeeese!! (not all at the same time). We love cheese in this house. All of us. Even Max the Doggle. He will do tricks for cheese, true story! My friends over at Macabee sent us over a massive amount of cheesey goodness to eat and try out. (And some tee shirts that the boys all wanted but I kept them for myself. Ha!) Truth is though, because we are such cheese fanatics, they are all products that we have had before.

First up was the Macabee Pizza Bagels with Mozzarella Cheese – we usually buy them at Costco. 18 in a box. With four very hungry boys this box doesn’t last long. Previously we have also bought a different brand of pizza bagels, in bulk. I asked the boys to compare the two. Macabee won hands down, 4 on 4, no questions asked. The other ones had been bigger, so I was sure they would pick those. I was assured that these were cheesier and better, and if they have to eat three Macabee pizza bagels instead of two other ones, well then, it’s worth the sacrifice. OK THEN. There was also the box of 6 Cheese Pizza Bagels which were enjoyed – but the boys preferred the ones in the newer packaging. Not sure if they are the same thing just packaged differently, but there it is.

We also were sent two boxes of the Mini Bagel Pizzas, one was whole wheat but we didn’t tell the kids that. Bite sized, perfect, cheesy and just mini versions of their parent Pizza Bagels. Told the kids afterwards which of them had whole wheat and they were surprised. (Did I convert them to whole wheat all the way? Not so much). Perfect snack for after school while they are waiting for a three course meal for supper. (Yeah. I can pretend, right?)

I did not share the Mozzarella Sticks. Certain foods are for Ima only. I cooked up the whole box. I think it was something like 2 sticks per serving, and 6 servings in a box? Yeah, I ate them all in one sitting. With Chili Ketchup. And licked my fingers wanting more. I wish they were bigger – but ooey gooey goodness in every bite.

The eggplant cutlets were the only pareve dish in this cornucopia of deliciousness. The KoD requested that I serve them up for Friday night. I had wanted to make an eggplant parmesan type sandwich with them instead, but I love my husband and did as I was bid. We served them with the first course, with a dollop of tehina on the side. Yummalicious. The size was disappointing though – we wanted bigger pieces! The kids wouldn’t touch it, because it is eggplant and that’s not something that my boys have introduced to their palates yet.

In the interest of full disclosure I did not eat the pizzas that came 3 in a pack. A certain child of mine who shall remain nameless (I’ll give you a clue, he’s male) took them to school for lunch. I had allowed him to take one. The next day he spirited the rest away in his knapsack. How were they, hun? “Um, Ima, I think they were good, but can you get more so I can be sure?” – yeah. Good. Why are teenage boys the masters of understatements?

Overall assessment? We love Macabee. We love pizza bagels. We love cheesey food. Best product in this plethora of cheesiness? According to the boys the Pizza Bagels with Mozzarella Cheese. According to the Mama? The Mozzarella Sticks.

Find Macabee on Facebook, Twitter and at macabeefoods.com. Macabee products are available at your local kosher grocery store and at select Costco stores.

I was not paid for this review, but did receive the products reviewed free of charge. 

The Black Swan

I don’t watch movies a lot – who has the time? But sometimes we will watch something together at home. Movie theaters are expensive and uncomfortable.

So last night we watched the Black Swan. It had awesome reviews, and I love Natalie Portman.

It was dark and twisted, and just left me scratching my head at the end of it – I did not enjoy it, I thought she looked way too skinny, I just didn’t get why there has been so much fuss over it? Oscar worthy? I don’t think so.

Did I love the dancing? Yes. My favorite part was when she was dancing the Black Swan and the feathers appeared to sprout all over her – that was really tremendous.

The mother – ugh!! So controlling – but was she? Or was that just the way Natalie’s character saw her? Or was she just as insane as her daughter?

Did any of you see it? Care to share your thoughts?

Chicken – it’s what’s for dinner!

Last night’s chicken dinner was awesome. In fact, my 15 year old son said to me, “no offense Ima, but this tastes better than anything you ever made”. Ouch. But that was after he said “Mmmm, this chicken tastes………DEAD” so you can’t necessarily trust his opinion.

I did technically cook the chicken – but it came from Empire Kosher. And I cooked it in the microwave. It’s great – it’s a whole 3 lb chicken, pre-seasoned (garlic and hhhhherb*), you take it out of the packaging, pierce two small holes in the special microwave wrap that’s around the chicken, put it on a plate, in the microwave, press 20 minutes and DONE. No muss, no fuss. Easy Shmeasy. The way I like it! For busy parents, this is an easy dinner on a school night – just throw together some sides, and you have a great nutritious meal in TWENTY MINUTES.

Very soon after I put the chicken in the microwave, the delicious aroma of the cooking chicken wafted through the house, bringing boys running from all quarters. By the time that chicken came out of the oven the boys were salivating.

It really does look like that. Except no grapes and greenery!

I carved up the chicken – juices were leaking everywhere, which is a good thing! I served dinner – the chicken along with starch and a veggie, and we dug in.

The chicken was moist (“Wet” as one as the kids said…oy) and tender, flavorful and just plain perfect. Seriously. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough of it. It’s a 3 lb chicken. I have a husband, THREE teenage boys with hollow legs, and a nine year old. Plus myself – and we all know I love to eat. Luckily the oldest teen wasn’t here, or there would not have been enough.

The verdict was unanimous. Delicious and please can we have it again tomorrow.

So here’s what I have to say to the folks at EMPIRE. Awesome product – thanks for sending it to me. My kids had a blast telling their friends that we received a chicken in the mail. I am so thrilled to hear you have a BBQ version coming out soon – we plan to try that one as well. I hate carving chickens and turkeys and ducks – could you perhaps use the same awesome microwave technology and sell these fine fowl in pieces? Also – for those bigger families – can you sell bigger chickens – like 5 lb-ers – so that there is enough to go around?

Folks – this “microwaveable” chicken retails at around $10.99 in my area – which is good value seeing as it is pre-cleaned, pre-seasoned, pre-prepared and all you have to do is press a button or two on the microwave.

So from us here at the Hearts / Diamonds Palace – five thumbs up! (or should that be ten?)

*there is an H at the start of HERB – it needs to be pronounced.

Note: I was given this product free of charge. My review expresses my honest opinion and I was not paid in anyway for it.

AWESOMENESS – was just informed that this fall / winter season there will be microwaveable cutlets available – cook for 2 minutes 15 seconds each.  Those will be perfect for my son that eats lunch and supper in school!!

Lone Tree Beer – L’chaim!

David, Me and Lone Tree Beer

As you all know, I had the merit to be in Israel in July of this year, and after discussions with David Shire, part owner of the Lone Tree Brewery we arranged for me to make the trek out to his brewery, located in the heart of Gush Etzion.

It’s a small operation – a microbrewery – but it’s a brewery with gumption. Its logo is bright and vivid and promises a kaleidoscope of taste. The hand-crafted beer delivers on this promise, and how!

David sat me down and proceeded to roll out three beers for me to taste. It’s a hard job but someone has to do it. Out of the eight beers that they produce, I tasted the Extra Oatmeal Stout, the English Northern Ale and the Pale Ale. The sacrifices I have to make for my craft!

Hadassah drinks her first Lone Tree Beer

Each have distinctive flavours that rival any of the mainstream beers that I drink over here in the USA. The Extra Oatmeal Stout is comparable to Guinness – personally, too heavy for me to drink regularly, but I would totally marinate my brisket in it, or use it to beer-roast a chicken. The other two beers that I tried would definitely be a constant presence in my fridge – they are so good that I would even replace my regular American beer with them.

David (originally from Scotland and surprisingly, my cousin! (read the story here)), and his business partner Susan Levin (originally from Maryland*), gave me a tour of their operation. These are people who, before they opened the brewery, perfected the art of the home brew. Home brewing of beer is not for the faint of heart – and David and Susan obviously know their craft. Now they have a proper operation, they have kosher certification (Rabbanut of Gush Etzion), and are gaining a reputation for great beer. Extra Bonus – they only use natural ingredients.

Before The Lone Tree Brewery came along the beer in Israel was nothing to write home about. Not anymore. Lone Tree Brewery can hold its head up high and know that it is brewing a superior product. As of right now their beer is only available in Israel (Machane Yehuda, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in & Gush Etzion. Home deliveries throughout Jerusalem) – but my hope is that more stores will stock their product, and eventually, that we will be able to import it into the US.

You can find Lone Tree Beer online and on Facebook and Twitter.

Susan Levin - cobrewer at Lone Tree Beer

*Funny story. KoD’s brother and sister-in-law live in MD. I sent them the link to my Israel pictures as I did to most of the family. I instantly get an email from her – “how do you know William Daroff (from my tweet up pix)? and is that Susan Levin in your beer pictures?” I called her up and we marvelled at how small the world is, that two people that they know from their corner of the world and had no clue that I knew show up in my pictures from Israel. Small, small world.

Quick and Kosher: Meals in Minutes – a Review

This is the second recipe book in Jamie Geller’s portfolio. I will apologize in advance for any gushing I do – her writing style, her honesty, her humour, her family stories, the hint of cooking aromas wafting around – they just totally pull me in. I can hear her voice in my head as I read her introductions and comments. When I first cracked open the book to read I was not in the best of moods, but by the time I had finished reading the introduction there was a huge grin on my face. Jamie’s easy writing style just resonates with the reader.

We were so excited when her book – yes I got a free copy – arrived at the house. My boys think I am now this huge cookbook expert. Nah, just an Ima who loves to cook and feed her family and is always looking for new recipes. When I told them that I had actually met Jamie, they were in awe. (Jamie – you have a few fans over here!)

What struck me as I initially paged through the book was that there were a lot of recipes that I knew the kids would enjoy as much as us adults. There are many books out there that you just know the kids are not going to even try most of the dishes because they look different, are unpronounceable, or, horror of horrors, don’t contain meat or potatoes!!

What I love about this book is that it was written with the busy mom in mind. We don’t all have six hours to prepare a gourmet supper, but we want to feed our families well, and healthfully. There is a 20 minute section, a 40 minute section, and a 60 minute section and none of the recipes are complicated. Jamie is a very busy mom herself – she knows firsthand that we moms don’t have time for complicated. (Truth be told, her kids are little – how she even has time to cook AND write a book I don’t know!! I take my (chef’s) hat off to her).

In this book, with most of the main dishes, she has added the recipe for a complementary side dish on the same page. This makes life so much simpler – instead of scratching your head about what to serve the answer is there right in front of you. Of course, as in her previous book, there is a wine recommendation for every main dish.

Something that we will be trying soon is the Beef and Green Bean Stir Fry – my Squiggy has started creating in the kitchen and loves Chinese food. This recipe is easy enough for a teen to follow, but sophisticated enough for adult taste. Also on the list for next week is Beef Sausage and Pepper Rolls – anything with sausage in it will go down well. I just recently introduced my boys to red beans and rice. We cook it up and add shredded cheese, some veggie sausage – delish. Jamie has a recipe in this new book entitled “Skillet Red Beans and Rice with Ground Beef” – it’s almost as if she heard one of my boys when he complained that we always had beans and rice as a dairy meal, can’t I make it a meat meal one time?! Thanks Jamie!

As many of you know, if you follow me on facebook and twitter, I cook up a storm every Friday, for Shabbat. I also do this for the holidays too. I generally cook a 3 or 4 course meal plus I bake challahs. I try to make something different every week for Shabbat and for the various holidays, but there are a few dishes that are staples. In Meals in Minutes Jamie has put in a section called Holiday Meals where she provides you with recipes for the entire menu – fish through to dessert, no wondering what to make, all you have to do is cook it. There are recipes for Shabbat, Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot etc. All mouthwatering, and all guaranteed to wow your family and guests!

Jamie brings her own unique voice to cooking – you feel her with you as you cook, or as I like to say “create”, in the kitchen. She understands your culinary needs. This book Quick and Kosher: Meals in Minutes will be a great addition to your kitchen. Every recipe I have ever made from her books has always succeeded. Her recipes are fool-proof. In fact, I have a buddy who is a single guy, and he swears by Jamie’s first book – he says that if he can cook successfully from her recipes, then anyone can!!

This would make a great Chanukah gift for the cook in your life, or even for yourself. Go on, treat yourself. There are 134 mouthwatering photos in this book and 215 recipes. This is not just a functional cookbook – it is gorgeous too!! This book is available online at Feldheim.com, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, Kosher.com and your local Jewish bookstores.

Visit Jamie’s kitchen on kosher.com.

Happy Cooking!!

Kosher by Design – Teens and 20- Somethings.

A Review

The above titled book is the newest in the Kosher By Design series by Susie Fishbein. This book is aimed at the younger crowd, giving them the knowledge of how to make some of their favourite take-out treats at home in their own kitchen as well as teaching them how to make some more sophisticated dishes.

Within 10 minutes of me opening the box containing the book, my oldest son begged me to pass him on the book when I was finished with it. He is 15 and this book is right up his alley. I saw him poring over the recipes, salivating with delight. At one point he even said “this cooking business doesn’t even seem so complicated”. I had hoped that before this review went up I would have a chance to cook with him, but school gets in the way.

As usual, the food photography in this book is out of this world. The pictures can almost get you to smell the delectable treats portrayed on the page. The pages are brightly designed and give the book a fun feel. However, none of us in this house like the cover. I understand the vibe that they were looking for, but we think it missed its mark. What is that? A lemon? A melon? A squash?

I like the fact that the recipes are (as usual) easy to follow, but not dumbed down at all. Susie knows that her readers need certain things explained as they are the less experienced-in-the-kitchen crowd, but she does it without any condescension.

Chocolate Tart in Pretzel Crust

As readers of this blog know, I am all about feeding my family and love to cook up a storm, and I am always looking for new recipes. Out of all the recipes that I saw the one that I absolutely have to try is the Parmesan Quinoa – I have been looking for a way to cook Quinoa that we all will like and this looks easy and oh so yummy!! I am thinking I can add in some red or pink beans to add some protein to it, and it’s a great lunch!

There are recipes for fun stuff like Pizza Soup, Peanut Butter and Banana French Toast (nom nom nom), Frozen Banana Pops, Cappuccino Mousse, and recipes for salads, meat and chicken, fish too. Your budding chef will have a lot of fun choosing recipes to make to impress their friends.

Peanut Butter and Banana French Toast

I hover over my boys in the kitchen. I do. I need to trust them more, but most recipes are written for the experienced cook and the teen people can get confused. When they will use this KBD book to cook from, I can take more of a back seat. There will be less confusion and a lot more fun. Of course, I will want in on the fun….Aren’t I still a teen at heart?

At the end of the book she has written a section on parties – different ideas, what to serve, what to do – it’s the all inclusive how to throw an awesome party and serve yummy eats and be the most popular teen on the block!!

Chanukah is coming – this book will make an awesome gift for your kids, nieces and nephews. I give it two thumbs up.

(Can I make a confession? When looking through cookbooks sometimes I imagine cooking with the author. I have dreams of having a marathon cooking session with 4 phenomenal chefs/authors. Susie Fishbein, Norene Gilletz, Pam Reiss and Jamie Geller. Oh the skills we could learn from these fabulous chefs!! I also dream of having my own cooking show…..But I digress.)

Please enter my giveaway in order to be eligible to win a copy of this fabulous book. You can also download the recipe index here for free.

Preorder your copy today at ArtScroll.com – enter the coupon code KBDBLOG at checkout to save 10% and receive free shipping in the continental U.S. Join us online to find more reviews and giveaway contests! Kosher by Design Teens & 20-Somethings: cooking for the next generation is aimed at the young and digital-savvy fast-food generation and those who cook for them. Susie Fishbein is an everyday cook who loves to share her passion for cooking and entertaining with friends and family. Her enthusiasm for food and entertaining led to the creation of her best-selling cookbook, Kosher by Design, published in 2003 by ArtScroll Shaar Press. For more recipes and updates, visit our blog or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Do you like to sing?

Do you like to sing at your Shabbat table? My boys have recently got more into it, and if you pass by our house on a Shabbat evening or lunchtime you can hear them singing with such joy and such energy.

There is an awesome new CD out that can help you experience the joy of twelve different niggunim (tunes) and raise money for Leket Israel (The Israel National Food Bank) at the same time. The CD is called “songs at a table” and since I received it on Sunday evening it has been on continuous play on my iPod. Just listening to this group of guys sing with such deep joy and simcha is truly inspirational. I would so love to have this kind of singing at my table. In time, I will, I am sure.

From the CD jacket:

Our group of experienced singers of niggunim gathered together around a table with a pot of cholent (a Sabbath stew) and sang, much like what happens on the Jewish Sabbath in homes throughout the world. We sought to capture the energy, spontaneity and informality with which they are commonly sung, and to create an authentic and inspiring experience for the listener. From a moving wedding niggun to a rousing Moditzer Chassidic march, these niggunim evoke the emotions and senses of the settings in which they are most often used.

If you click here you can order your own copy and donate to Leket Israel at the same time. Your donation is tax deductible. This will also make a great Chanukah gift – it isn’t that far away…

 

[Editor’s note: in the interests of full disclosure I should let you know that this CD was arranged by my nephew Josh Milner. Honestly, though, even if he wasn’t family I would still recommend it because it makes my soul happy.]