My good friend Leigh Morlock is the creative director of a company I feel passionately about: Basik 855. I met Leigh four years ago soon after I moved to Cambodia. I knew immediately that she would become my best friend there. The company that she created from the ground up, Basik 855, formerly known as Push Pull Cambodia, employs Cambodians doing what they love, and what they’ve done well for generations: producing quality Ikat products.
The products they produce are really well made, cute and fashionable and also durable. Everything is made by hand and the fabric is woven and dyed according to Ikat tradition, which is the speciality in the province she’s working in (Takeo). I personally own two bags, a clutch, a scarf and a wallet. The purse and wallet I use every single day and have for over a year (and I have a scarf that I’ve worn every winter for the past three years). Nothing has broken, the colours haven’t faded.
Basik is holding a Kickstarter now, and in just a few days they’re almost 25% of the way to their $45,000 goal in order to release their fall line. It’s so exciting watching other people find out about a company I’ve been passionate about since it was merely an idea. I’d like to help spread the love of Basik 855, its incredible fashions and its commitment to fair wages in a country I consider a second home. I’ve pledged $119, and with that pledge I will be receiving three more adorable scarves and a travel clutch. I’m already the owner of a clutch, so I’d like to give this part of my pledge away to a lucky blog reader. Enter my contest below and win your own Basik 855 travel clutch!
Enter here! (note: I moderate blog comments manually so be patient if they don’t appear right away)
Bra extender: Cheap and easy solution so you don’t have to buy tons of new bras if the ones you have already fit you in the cup
I’m always looking for new ideas for lunches and dinners, it feels like sometimes we get in a rut. I know I always benefit getting ideas from other people.
Hopefully this week’s menu gives you some inspiration.
Sunday dinner: Honey, mustard and lemon juice salmon; brown rice and steamed broccoli
>> I used too much lemon here, but this was an easy and quick variation the generic lemon juice and dill recipe I usually use. I made the rice and broccoli in my rice cooker. I use it once a week and the steamer basket is a must have.
Monday lunch: Leftover salmon for Seth; quinoa with roasted beets and goat cheese for me
Monday dinner: Beef stroganoff in the crockpot and egg noodles
Tuesday lunch: Leftover beef stroganoff for Seth; the quinoa, beets and goat cheese for me again
Tuesday dinner: Dairy tacos and tortillas – I sauté MorningStar crumblers and mushrooms in one pan and black beans, corn and a tomato in another. I cut up an avocado and serve. Would also be good with rice, but we don’t need the carbs. From start to finish this is a 10-15 minute meal.
Wednesday lunch: This is where I get uninspired: Salad with cheese.
Wednesday dinner: Chicken stir fry and brown rice.
Thursday lunch: Leftover chicken stir fry.
Thursday dinner: Tofu, chickpea mushroom scramble with brown rice. This is Seth’s night and his go-to dish.
As you can see, we eat a lot of rice. Thank you Cambodia. We don’t have plans yet for Shabbos. Feel free to invite us
There’s a few products out there that I’ve recently fallen in love with. Because I’ve felt like a bit of an evangelist of late, I decided it would make for a great blog post in order to spread the gospel of good food that also happens to be Kosher. I have in no way been compensated by any of these companies for reviewing their products, the only way they’ll know I’ve done so is when they get a Google alert about it. In no particular order, here are my favourite Kosher products:
1. Daiya cheese. Pareve and vegan cheese, certified by the OU. I know what you’re thinking. Pareve cheese, been there done that, it’s disgusting. Trust me — give it another shot if you’ve never had Daiya. I bought it at Fairway on the Upper West Side last year and was too afraid to use it, and it sat in our fridge for weeks. One night, Seth was put on deck for dinner and we tried to brainstorm the easiest possible dish he could make and settled on pizza on a premade crust. When I came home, he looked at me shyly and said “I did what you told me but the cheese isn’t melting quite right. I don’t know what I did.” As it turned out, he grabbed for a package of shredded white cheese and didn’t notice that it was the Daiya. We were about to throw the pizza out, but realized that except for a noticeable total lack of melting, it looked like pizza. So we tried it. And hit the roof. It was amazing. My husband, ba’al teshuva, immediately requested meatball subs, which we had the next night with the reminder of the cheese. Now, Daiya doesn’t melt exactly like regular cheese, but hot damn, it’s close. And it tastes great. They have a few varieties and we haven’t found one yet that we don’t like.
2. Grow and Behold beef bacon. Before you get too excited, it doesn’t taste exactly like pork bacon (aka “real” bacon). I don’t remember it, but Seth does, and while he enjoys G&B, he says that it’s not quite there. However, it’s the closest we’ve ever had and is a great way to excite (and confuse) Shabbos guests when you offer them kale, beet and bacon salad (which is my favourite dish with this bacon). While it’s not exactly what you might expect from bacon if you know what the treif version tastes like, I really recommend giving G&B a try. We usually just buy sausage and bacon from them, so we pool together with other people in our community every few months to get a few packages of each delivered to someone’s home. (While I am not getting paid for any of these recommendations, nor am I getting any free samples, if you do end up using Grow and Behold, email me bethanyshondark @ gmail . com before you place an order and I’ll send you a referral so I can get a coupon for my next order. Thanks!)
3. Brent “The Cheese Guy” cheeses. I first discovered his cheeses at a wine and cheese tasting at a shul on the Upper East Side last year. I tried more of his stuff at a Kosher blogger event several months ago. I’ve tried a large variety of his cheeses, and I have to say, they all are incredibly impressive. It’s almost as if it wasn’t Kosher! (Almost all of his stuff is certified OU, don’t worry, and a lot of it is also cholov yisrael!) I’m also really impressed with the price point – I buy his products at Fairway and an 8oz tub of grated parmesan which lasts a while is only $8 and an 8oz ball of fresh mozzarella was only $5. For appetizers last week I bought a fresh baguette from the amazing bread section of Fairway, some fancy olive oil (a large bottle for only $15 which will last us months), and some of Brent’s fresh mozzarella cheese and we felt like we had taken a flight to Europe! For pasta nights we always use his Pecorino Romano freshly grated on top.
4. MorningStar. For longtime Kosher keepers and vegetarians, MorningStar is no secret, however, there are two products that stand out in our house. We use their “Crumbles” when we make dairy taco night (with Brent’s cheeses of course!) and are really impressed with how close it comes to ground beef while also saving us a lot of calories. Seth is obsessed with their buffalo wings and loves to dip them in Ranch dressing.
5. Cabot OU Cheddar Cheese. It is fabled that once a year, around Pesach, Cabot lets the OU come into their factories and a large run of Kosher cheese is made with an OU hechsher. Last year we got two cases and sold it (at cost) to neighbours, one 8oz bar at a time. While it was a hassle to do, it was a great opportunity for a lot of people in my community to get good quality cheese at a great price. Last year a case of 12 8oz bars was $33.00 and they don’t expire for over a year in your fridge, let alone freezer. Keep an eye on their website for their next OU run. A note on the hechsher situation at Cabot: The rest of the year they are certified by Tablet-K. While I’m not one to pass judgement on hechshers, I will on Tablet-K. Don’t buy it, don’t use it, don’t trust it. A lot of times in the Kosher industry the “not recommended” response from your rabbi infuriatingly comes with no explanation. Here is one story from another blogger about her experience with the certification company. Read it and come to your own conclusion and talk to your LOR if you still are in doubt.
Thanks to a Facebook subscriber, I’ve discovered that sadly, Cabot is no longer doing OU runs of their cheddar cheese. I’ve contacted them on their Facebook page, and I’ve found that companies are often responsive if they hear from enough customers about their product. Reach out to Cabot and let them know you’d like to get some of their OU cheese back on the market.
6. Starwest Botanicals. I’m about to say something tragic, but I don’t want you to feel too badly for me. I’m allergic to onions and garlic (and the entire allium family). It makes my tummy not so happy, it always has and I’m used to it. Two years ago in a Facebook group for other people with the allergy, a woman sang the praises of a magic powder that mimicks the taste of onion. It comes from India and its smell is revolting. It’s nicknamed “Devil’s Dung” for a reason, though most people just call it asafoetida powder. I spent months looking for a company that made it Kosher and twice ordered from companies that said “almost all of our spices are certified” and discovered, upon ordering, that asafoetida was one of their only spices without Kosher certification. Finally, I found Starwest and unfortunately, the only option for Kosher certified powder came in a 1lb bag. In retrospect, I could have bought the jar version and double checked that it was the same spice, just in a jar, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. I bought the bag 14 months ago and am nowhere near the end. I generally only use 1/8th of a teaspoon per recipe and my husband has called it life changing. In order to qualify for free shipping I added a lot of their other spices to my cart and I was pleased with all of them – garam masala, coriander, thyme, turmeric, just to name a few.
This last one isn’t a product, but instead a magazine. I discovered Vegetarian Times thanks to one of my favourite blogs, Kosher on a Budget. Mara posted a coupon code for that let me subscribe to VT for $5.50 a year and I thought, heck, she gave it such a glowing endorsement, why not give it a try? The next time Mara posted the coupon code, I bought another two years for myself, and a subscription for my two sister-in-laws and my mother-in-law for Hanukkah. There’s a ton of great pareve and a few dairy recipe ideas and almost all of the desserts are vegan (sometimes they use milk or butter, but almost always give suggestions to make the recipe vegan, aka, pareve). Keep an eye on Mara’s blog for the next coupon code.
What are your favourite Kosher products? What should we be trying?
I’ve been working on this post for a long time, trying to hit just the right notes to capture who my mom was. Most of you reading this probably never knew her, she died ten years ago today. The moment she died, the moment her heart stopped, I was forever changed. In some good ways, in some bad. She was my best friend and my entire world. The last ten years have been about rebuilding my life after that moment.
Most people use the following adjectives to describe me: resilient, strong, stubborn, iron-willed, opinionated, bitch. I get it all from my mother. That, and an inability to sleep with socks on (“you have to let your feet breathe!”)
My mom raised me to be a clone of herself. I’m not always sure that was a good idea, but for better or worse, I am very much my mother’s daughter. During my parent’s divorce the similarities were so striking that my father couldn’t even stand to be in the same room with me.
She was sick my entire life, diagnosed with lupus almost ten years before I was born. For as long as I can remember I knew she wouldn’t see my high school graduation. When I was ten, she was injured in a planned fall at work. She decided she wanted to go on disability to take “a break” and in the process actually injured herself so badly that she would never work again. She had gotten the idea from her best friend who did the same thing. The injury flared her lupus, and thus began her slow decline. In an ironic twist, her best friend also died several years later, her broken ankle from her planned fall, shockingly, led to her death.
Before her injury I rarely saw her, she was either working or at a local bar with friends, flirting with her rotating cast of adoring admirers. She had an incredible ability to make men, sometimes literally, bow before her. From first grade until the end of fourth, my life revolved around timers placed around the house. She would wake me up and immediately leave for work, leaving me to get myself dressed and to the bus stop. A timer set on the microwave indicated when I should start walking to the bus and other timers planned my evening when I returned home. About once every six school days I disregarded the bus alarm and opted to stay home to watch “Days of Our Lives” and “The View” instead. I missed about 60 days of school per year, which my mother inevitably only discovered on my last report card when my teachers threatened to hold me back because of my attendance. Letters sent home were disposed of, calls from my teachers and guidance counselors on our answering machine erased, and quarterly report cards forged with her signature. Before I turned in contact information in the beginning of every school year I changed her work phone number so that she was unreachable there also. I learned the art of deception from her and she could never get too angry about my using it. I think she was even a little proud. Towards the end of fourth grade, I was finally caught. Someone called the police after seeing me ride around our neighbourhood on my bicycle in the middle of the day too many times. We had a meeting with my principal the next day and during which she admonished me, “Could you have been less discrete?” To which my principal admonished her, “Her getting caught isn’t exactly the issue here.” To my mother, though, I think it was. I ended up crying during the meeting, blaming my lack of attention in school on my sadness over my horribly messed up relationship with my father. When we walked out of the principal’s office my mother said, “That was total bullshit, wasn’t it?” I smiled, and she did too. I got away with it, and that was ultimately what mattered to my mother.
After her injury, our relationship changed completely. After ten years of leaving me to my own devices, my mother decided to give parenting another go. It lasted as long as her marriage to my step-father remained on good terms, about a year, if that. Soon, my role in her life shifted from the kid that lived in her house (pre-injury), to her beloved daughter (immediately post-injury), to finally, her best friend.
Instead of rehashing her entire life story, which I will eventually do in a memoir I’ve been working on for a few years, I’d like to instead share a few stories that encapsulate who she was as a person and as a mom.
- My mother spent every single Saturday of her high school career in detention. It was the Breakfast Club every week, and she was the only permanent character. One Saturday morning a nun (she attended Catholic school) whom my mother despised asked her to fill her water pitcher. My mother brought the pitcher to the bathroom and well.. The nun later told my mother the water tasted a little funny. She was never caught.
- When my mother was 16 she stole a truck. She panicked after about 5 minutes behind the wheel, crashed it into a tree, and ran into the woods, where she hid for hours, convinced she was moments away from arrest. Again, she was never caught. That was a skill of hers.
- When I was born my mom told the nurse that if I was a boy, to put me back. She was not interested in having a son, she wanted a daughter.When I came out the nurse was so excited that she didn’t have to break the news that I was a boy that she rushed me over to my mother, and I was still covered in birth-goop. Upon seeing me she told the nurse, “That thing is fucking disgusting. That looks like a duck hanging in a Chinatown window somewhere. Ugh, get that away from me.”
- My father was a truck driver and some of my earliest vocabulary words were… colourful… because of his influence. My mother made me a deal and told me that I could only curse at Yankees games. We would go half a dozen times a year, each time sitting in the bleacher seats. People often questioned my mother about why she would bring such a young girl to such a rowdy part of the stadium. As soon as the game started, everyone around us understood why. My mother wanted me to blend in with the other loud, cursing fans, away from the innocent ears of children twice my age. She was always mortified, but never went back on her word.
- There’s a scene in A League of Their Ownwhere Tom Hanks yells, “THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL.” We had a few cardinal rules in our house. One of the most memorable was “There’s no crying in the Murphy household.” My mother explained that crying (especially in public) is the ultimate sign of weakness and a lack of self-control. Whenever I cried, she would yell at me, “There’s no crying in baseball!” Years later, when I actually saw the film, I understood the reference. At the time, I understood it meant to quit the waterworks.To this day, whenever people cry in front of me I feel completely uncomfortable. I don’t know how to handle it and have been known to back away without making eye contact, as if the person crying is a bengal tiger. The few times a year I do it myself I hide in a bathroom or closet, furious at myself until the tears subside. Despite my mother’s constant and debilitating pain (not to mention emotional turmoil), I can only think of her crying perhaps a handful of times in my life. She was a tough cookie, and I always admired her for that, and have been thankful that she raised me to be one too. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have survived. She knew that life wasn’t going to be easy for me, and she gave me the skills to deal with it.
- Growing up, the only thing I wanted was a blender. Okay, well, I wanted other things too, but the most practical thing I desired was a blender. I loved making smoothies but never could. My mother owned over a dozen blenders in my memory and had an uncanny ability to break them almost instantly. With the last one she bought we made a rule: If she wanted to blend, only Bethany could press the button. One day, about two weeks after we bought it I came home and she was sitting at the kitchen table. She looked at me and said, “I couldn’t wait!” She Murphy’s Law-ed yet another blender.
- My mom could have written her own dictionary of words and phrases that were sometimes made up out of whole cloth, sometimes close approximations of actual words and phrases. Ten years later, I’m still realizing that some things I grew up hearing were products of her imagination. I often realize a word doesn’t exist while writing for work. It’s always interesting scouring the internet, trying to find the spelling of a word that she made up, and then realizing that I’ll have to find out what the word actually is.
- Despite how many days of school I missed a year, my mother always promised me one “personal” day a year. On that day, we’d both play hooky and go do something fun. We went to the zoo, to the park, to the movies, out to eat, anything I wanted. They were the most memorable and special days of my childhood, and it’s a tradition I plan to continue with my kids one day.
- My mother went down fighting. After I made the decision to take her off of life support, after the breathing tube was removed, my mother fought to breathe for almost an hour. I cannot even begin to describe how painful that hour was. But looking back, especially after my father’s suicide, that hour is actually a really comforting memory. My mother stared at me in her last few minutes and I knew her biggest regret in that moment was leaving me. She wanted more than anything to stick around and be with me, to watch me grow up, to be my mother for a little while longer. That’s a lot more than what I can say for my father, and those last minutes with her made me respect her and her strength more than anything else possibly could have. (Confession: We cried.)
My mom was the most unique person I’ve ever met, a special, fire-ball of a human being that changed the world because she shaped me to be who I am. I count myself lucky that she was my mother, even if it was only for sixteen years. I’m a very strong believer in “everything happens for a reason” — I think I would be very different with a very different life if she were still alive. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss her, nor does it mean I don’t think about her in one way or another every single day. People who have recently lost parents often ask me when that rock in their stomach disappears. I tell them it took about three years for it to get smaller and manageable for me, but that emptiness that feels like a heavy object sitting in your gut never really goes away completely. Days like today’s anniversary make that feeling in my core feel heavier than usual, but I don’t mind. I’m glad I still miss her, that I still care.
My mom used to explain to me that before we’re born, in Heaven, we line up and G-d assigns us our parents. She’d usually explain that while complaining about the parents that were chosen for her. At 6 years-old and at 26 years-old, my instinct upon hearing the explanation has always been the same. “Boy, did I get in the right line (and too bad there weren’t separate lines for moms and dads).” The line I chose, though, was ultimately a winner and it’s because Vera Jean Murphy was my mom.
Election days are some of my favourite and most humourous memories looking back on my childhood. My mother was liberal. Really, really liberal. She brought me into the voting booth with her every year. This is how I was taught to vote:
- Look down the column for the “Right to Life” party. Immediately eliminate those candidates.
- Compare the candidates in the Green and Democratic parties. If there is a woman, vote for her. If the choice is between two men, or two women, vote for the candidate with an Irish or Jewish name (my mother was Irish, I’m Jewish).
The first election with candidates that I remember is 1996. I was 10 years old. I helped my mom pull the lever for Ralph Nader. In 2000, we had a very big fight over who would get her vote. She wanted to vote for Nader again, I demanded that we vote for Gore and Lieberman. I had Gore/Lieberman bumper stickers plastered all over my locker, my notebooks, my bedroom. I wanted a Jewish vice president. She let me have her vote, and thus, it went to Gore.
The Presidential election in 2004 was my first voting experience by myself as an adult. My mother died two years previous. I voted for Kerry/Edwards. Well, I really just voted against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. I will always regret my first time (to channel Lena Dunham).
I have never in my entire life voted for a winner. Not for the President. Not for the Senate (I wouldn’t vote for Schumer because he shared a first name with my father, I thought Hillary was a carpetbagger running for New York State Senate). I never voted for a successful House candidate.
I’m starting to think I’m jinxed. I’m seriously considering writing in Honest Toddler tomorrow. No matter who I vote for though, I’ll be continuing the tradition my mother started with me in the voting booth when I was an infant. I’d say I’m sad to be voting without my mom around this year, but knowing her and politics and me and mine, tomorrow might be the only day every four years when I’d say that I’m glad she’s not.
Today an article from TOMORROW Magazine was released regarding Orthodox conversion in the social media age. I was interviewed for it a number of months ago and was pleased with the final result. I found Megan did a great job portraying Orthodoxy and one convert’s journey (not me).
You can find the article on TOMORROW’s website here.
The subject of the piece, Chaviva Galatz, published a sort of rebuttal on her blog.