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Jan 30 2013

Uncle Gets a Name

By at 9:39 am

“Nope.”

“Cheerios?”

“Nope.”

“Toast?”

“Mope.”

“Banana?”

“Nana!”

Banana it is! Previously, I wrote about babysitting my niece, Lila, at six months, and at 15 months. Now 20 months old, babysitting has become a far less frightening proposition– Lila has become an actual person, with opinions, and, even better, the beginnings of an ability to express them. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 25 2012

Repairing the World, Starting With Your Snack Bags

By at 1:44 pm

So my daughter is in school now, which is a topic unto itself that I promise to address another day, and every day she needs to bring lunch.

Lunch!

I grew up in the day of brown bag lunches. You’d sit in the cafeteria and everyone had a brown paper bag, with plastic bags inside that were filled with their assorted foods, from sandwiches to Doritos and Oreos.

Except for me. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 24 2011

Packing Lunch: In Search of Authentic Culinary Heritage

By at 12:49 pm

Palak paneer/Shutterstock

Yesterday we asked about packing lunch for your kids. Here’s one mother’s struggle.

An Indian family I know gives there 11-month-old baby Indian food—lentils, palak paneer—every day for lunch. It’s what we had every day for lunch, they say, and it’s chock full of antioxidants and other healthy things for the baby.

Now, I’m a Jew of Eastern European descent, and I love that culinary heritage. When Shabbat rolls around I’m a sucker for a baked chicken and a succulent kugel. I’ll knock an old man to the ground to snag the last piece of pickled herring at kiddush. As a kid I savored a nice bowl of borscht at the dinner table from time to time. But when it comes to passing on my foodways to my children, I wonder if I’m falling short.

Our Shabbats are steeped in tradition, but our weekdays are a mishmash of Italian-Indian-Mexican-Asian-middle American whoosy-whatsy. From PB&J sandwiches to stir fry to pizza to taco night, we’re a virtual Ellis Island of culinary traditions. Everywhere they’ve lived, Jews have taken on the food stylings of the people around them—in America’s vast melting pot/salad bowl, this translates into massive food schizophrenia.

What if I wanted to offer the little ones some authentic Eastern European cuisine in their daily lunches? What would this look like? Obviously not even the old world Eastern European Jews had rich foods every day—these were Sabbath luxuries! So…Sunday potatoes, Monday potatoes, Tuesday potatoes? Or would I rather my 5-year-old become known as the stinky herring kid?

Black bread and vodka?

This is where I honestly hit a wall. I sometimes think that the answer is to leave my Polish/Russian roots behind…to dig deeper into my husband’s Hungarian and Romanian heritage, Sephardic traditions or modern Israeli cuisine. After all, those are all authentically part of the Jewish tradition.

But not my Jewish tradition.

In the end, I find some solace in the humble bagel. Authentically Eastern European, it’s our contribution to the melting pot, and occasionally takes the place of actual Jewish religious experience. (A good shmear can be transcendent.) Our children eat bagels before they even have teeth.

But beyond the bagel, what Eastern Europe Jewish foods deserve a daily appearance in my children’s lunchboxes? Are there any? Or should I just get back to work kosher-izing the latest ethnic fad cuisine? Perhaps that will be my true culinary legacy. Palak paneer, anyone?

Aug 23 2011

Back To School–Lunch

By at 11:11 am

My almost 2-year-old daughter starts “school” next week. Until now, she’s had a combination of babysitters and nannies and parents to care for her. But next week she’ll venture off with a dozen kids to play, sing, learn, nap, and eat.

So far, all she knows about school is that she’ll bring her new monkey backpack, which she plans to fill with “toys, water, snacks, and Aba.” I haven’t had the heart yet to break it to her that Aba probably can’t fit into the monkey backpack.

Of course I’m worried about how she’ll acclimate to the new environment, what it will be like when there are two teachers taking care of a dozen kids as opposed to one person showering her with all the attention she needs, and then some.

And then there’s issue of lunch.

I will now have to pack it for her every morning and for some reason I’m focusing my stress on this. What should she bring? Will it be peanut butter and jelly every day? Can any of you out there help out with some ideas of good, healthy meals?

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