Archive for October, 2009

All I want for Hanukkah is…

Jewish mothers, step right up and be heard if you, like me, suffer from Christmas envy. Come on, you’ve seen the ads on TV at that time of the year. Women in pink robes unwrapping gifts by the fireside, a steaming mug of cocoa nearby. There’s usually a diamond pendant or maybe a really nice cashmere sweater. The music alone on these commercials is enough to make you sob with envy.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for these women, being honored by their families, and celebrating their holiday. Good for them!

It’s just…Hanukkah in my family has always been about the kids. Eight nights times three kids…I don’t need to do the math. I’m pretty sure it’s engraved on my brain. Even if we do simple gifts for seven of those nights, I’ve always wanted to mark each night with something special. For them.

Now, let me just add that I have sons. For those of you with daughters out there, it may be a different story. But for me, there hasn’t really been a Hanukkah where I have sat with a mug of cocoa. It’s more likely that I’ll be standing in with a spatula. Yelling. As in, “How many latkes can one person eat, Harry?”

I have never unwrapped a cashmere sweater under a tree or even nearby my Ficus plant.

Since my boys are now 19, 17, and 13, and since we live in an eco-friendly household where a daily attempt is made to keep trash to a minimum, we don’t really wrap presents anyway.

And over the years, my husband has given me many wonderful presents (thanks, dear!).

So if I don’t want a nice big box covered in wrapping paper, what do I want?

As I am pondering this question, my youngest son Mike comes crashing into the room, home from school. He’s so excited about something I can barely understand what he’s saying. He jumps up and down. Finally he calms down enough so that I can make out what he’s saying.

He got a part in the play.

And I got the answer to my question.

I guess (sigh) that’s what all mothers–Jewish and Christian and Muslim–want. A look of joy on her child’s face.

Hope today brings you and your family some joy,


Mike, our budding actor, in Anything Goes


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Jogging In The Rain

It was one of those days where you’d be better off staying inside and having a nice hot cup of tea. It rained. It stopped. It rained some more. The wind blew hard. Instead of viewing the weather from the couch like most reasonable people, I decided to go jogging around the track with my friend Christine. image004 Christine was stressed. For 16 years Christine had been married to Cam, her Jewish husband. And, for the first time in all those years, her mother-in-law had agreed to come to her house to celebrate a Jewish holiday.

Granted, it was Hanukkah . I didn’t mention to Christine that Hanukkah (חנוכה‬‎) had started as a very minor holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt of the Second Century BCE. To remember the fact that oil that should have only lasted one day stretched for eight days, we light the candles on the menorah each night.

I agreed that it was nice of her mother-in-law to relent and give up hosting one of the Jewish holidays. The only problem? Christine (she herself admitted) couldn’t cook to save her life.

“So,” I huffed. “What do you plan to serve?”

Wrong question. Christine sprinted on ahead on sheer adrenaline alone. I caught up with her eventually and repeated my question.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t have a clue. I’ve looked through books and the only thing I see is latkes . I can’t just serve potato pancakes.”

She looked at me hopefully. “Can I?”

A gust of wind blew my wet hair right into my face. It gave me a minute to come up with a tactful answer. “Well, usually you would serve latkes and then maybe a few other things. Maybe some applesauce and some sour cream.”

“Oh, right, she usually does have that stuff. Okay, what else?”

I suggested that she might want to include a roasted chicken, maybe some brisket, some vegetables. And then there were the desserts.

“I’m scared of the desserts,” Christine said. We stopped running. Christine was gasping for breath, either from running or from contemplating Jewish desserts.

I told her there was nothing to be afraid of. There was rugelach, there were blue-and-white cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels, blue-and-white Jordan almonds, there was chocolate babka and there was dark chocolate.

Best of all, there was me , her friend, who just happened to own Challah Connection. I had her covered.

“There’s just one problem,” Christine said. “Do you have any spray that makes it smell like I baked it?”

Hmmm…that’s one for R & D.

Best wishes for good weather and good friends,



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Necessity is the Mother of Invention…and Our New Get Well Basket

As a Mom to 3 sons, I’ve done my share of taking care of sick kids. From a little case of the sniffles to a full-blown case of chicken pox, my kids have brought out the Florence Nightingale in me. When the sick kid makes an appearance, I’m ready to dispense medication, put a cold washcloth on a feverish brow, and make sure he drinks plenty of fluids.

Call me confident. Call me cocky. I thought I had a handle on taking care of sick kids. M.D.? Who needs one when you have a mother’s instinct? When you can drop everything, take off from work, do what it takes to nurse your child back to health.

But what happens when your baby goes to college? What happens when you’re 1,000 miles away instead of in the other room? I have to admit, I didn’t see this one coming. Last week my oldest son Sam called me from school. “Mom,” he croaked. “I don’t feel good. I think I have the flu.”

“Have you been to the Health Center?” I asked him, trying very hard to keep the panic from my voice. Meanwhile, my husband shot me a look. What was going on?

“No, should I do that?” My son. He had gone off to college knowing how to balance a checkbook, do laundry, write a term paper, speak passable Spanish, and solve a calculus problem. But he didn’t know enough to take himself to the health center when he was sick.

“Yes, take some ibuprofen and then go to the Health Center.”

“I B what?”

“Take some Tylenol.”

“I don’t have any.”

“Okay, just go to the health center and tell them your symptoms. They’ll give you what you need.”
Two anxious hours later—after I told my husband what was going on and after he persuaded me NOT to hop in the car and drive 8 hours to our son’s campus—Sam called back and told us what was going on.

Correction. He called, dropped the phone and ran to the toilet. We could just make out the sounds of him throwing up in the background. He came back to the phone, where I was quietly hyperventilating. “Okay, I feel better. The Health Center nurse told me to go back to my dorm and “self-isolate” and drink lots of fluids and rest. She said not to leave the dorm till I was fever free for 24 hours.”

Sam promised to call when he woke up and let us know how he was doing. After I hung up, I ran out and put together a care package.

I’m happy to report that 3 days later, Sam’s feeling MUCH better, and so am I. It was really hard to be so far away when he was sick, but I was glad to be able to talk to him on the phone and coach him through the flu. He loved the care package and said it really helped. The Teddy bear now rests on his bed, a reminder that Mom (and Dad) are always there for him, even if we are a few thousand miles away.

Strangely enough, a customer called just yesterday. Her daughter in college also came down with the flu. Did I have a gift basket especially for someone sick?

As a matter of fact…yes!

May you and yours be healthy and happy,


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Our Fabulous Challah Connection “Kids”

Each day I look forward to the close of the school day. That’s when “the kids,” our after-school workers, come through our doors, enthusiastic and ready for work.

These high school students are a sheer joy to work with. Although they spend the day in a very competitive environment, they come through our doors eager to help. They answer the phones, assist customers in their gift-giving decisions and –most important– they pack orders and prepare all of our daily shipments for our 6 p.m. pick up by UPS and FedEx.

These are fabulous, hard-working kids who are a joy to have around. It’s refreshing to me that these kids — many of whom are not Jewish — have such tremendous passion for learning about the Jewish holidays and traditions, as well the workings of a small business. They are our future entrepreneurs! We teach them how to work hard, be part of a team and have fun.

During holiday time, when we are truly bursting at the seams with orders that need to be packed and shipped, teamwork is truly defined. On these days, we have close to 20 people working together, like a well-oiled machine. There are no bad attitudes and no job that is beneath anyone. Whether it’s taking out the garbage or cutting 100 sheets of cello wrap, whoever has two free hands takes on the task at hand. I am proud of what these kids are learning here at “Challah Central,” (my own kids, included).

From left to right, Bailey, Sara, Sherry, Jane, Kate

From left to right, Bailey, Sara, Sherry, Jane, Kate

When Bailey, who is a 17-year-old high school senior, began working here about a year ago, she knew very little about the Jewish holidays. But with her thirst for knowledge and interest in helping customers she quickly rose to the challenge and has emerged as one of our best Challah Connection “kids.” She is now applying to colleges and I was so pleased to be asked to write her a recommendation (glowing, of course).

“It’s important to learn new and different things, and I’ve learned so much in the last year,” Bailey tells me. “I’ve learned about the traditions of the Jewish holidays and the restrictions on what people can and cannot eat during specific holidays. I really enjoyed learning about Purim … it reminds me of Mardi Gras! Plus, the customers are so nice. I enjoy meeting new people and I like that I can help them when they call.”

She’s also has learned to appreciate the kosher foods that we carry. “The food is delicious. My whole family really likes the food that I bring home from work,” she said.

Avery, came to us familiar with Jewish customers and with Challah Connection. His older sister, Samantha, was one of our first after-schoolers (Sam graduated from high school in ’08 and now attends Cornell University). “I’ve learned a few things since I started working here, but I’ve also been able to share my knowledge with the people I work with,” he tells me.

“I work with very nice people here, which makes the job a lot of fun,” he adds. “Plus, I have come to have way more respect for people who run small businesses, now that I see the day-to-day operation. And, the food that we put in the kosher gift baskets is great. The apple cake is definitely a winner.”

Give us a call and say “Hi” to these fabulous kids. They’ll be thrilled to speak with you!

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Chrismukkah is Coming, Too!

We are in full “Hanukkah Mode” here at Challah Central, but don’t forget about Chrismukkah–it’s coming too! “What is Chrismukkah,” you might ask?

Last year, Sherry, our Director of Customer Service, was in search of a suitable gift for her brother (Jewish) and his wife (non-Jewish). Sherry wanted to give a gift that honored the two holidays that they observe, Hanukkah and Christmas. Our brainstorming lead to research which then lead to the recognition that Sherry’s quandary, sometimes called the “December Dilemma,” is extremely common! There are many of you who are celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas and in doing so, have taken traditions from both. This is what we call “Chrismukkah.”

Our research led us to the book, Chrismukkah, by Ron Gompertz. The book takes a light-hearted look at the celebration of what we all have in common, not what makes us different. While Chrismukkah is not a holiday with a date on the calendar, Ron claims that it is a state of mind for the season. It is a multi-cultural, mish-mash of the cherished holiday rituals we grew up with. Chrismukkah is a way intermarried families of Christians and Jews can share the holidays. It’s customizable to suit the individual celebrants and their extended families.

In time for the holidays, we have developed a few Chrismukkah gifts, including Chrismukkah Traditions in a Box and Oy to the World—A Klezmer Christmas. We are feverishly developing more gifts, as we speak.

Speaking of the Chrismukkah book, this week I will fill you in on my conversation with the author. Stay tuned.

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Ask Jane: Sitting Shiva

Q. Dear Jane: The mother of a very dear Jewish friend has passed away. What is the best way that I can offer comfort to my friend during this time? Is there a specific way I should honor the memory of her mother? I am not Jewish and am not familiar with the traditions.

A. Visiting your friend and bringing food is an ideal way to pay your condolences and show her your support. When a Jewish family experiences the loss of a loved one, the tradition is for the family to sit Shiva [pronounced SHI-vah. ]

Sitting Shiva is the tradition of mourning in the Jewish religion. During the shiva period, typically a 7-day period (the Hebrew word shiva means 7) friends, family and neighbors pay a home visit (“shiva call”) to the mourners. The company of others during Shiva plays a key role in helping the bereaved in this time of mourning.

Jewish custom discourages sending flowers when people are sitting Shiva. However, food is almost always welcome. Some people make donations to a favorite charity in the name of the deceased. For those who are unable to make a personal visit, sending a kosher gift basket such as a Shiva Gift Basket or Jewish Sympathy Basket, with a thoughtful card is an appropriate and thoughtful gesture. Kosher baskets are recommended so that no one is excluded from sharing in the basket contents.

Your gift should have a gift card signed by you (many people often forget to sign their gifts cards). And when you are thinking of what to write, a simple message is best. Consider a message such as “With our heartfelt sympathy,” or “We are so sorry for your loss. May (insert name of deceased)’s memory be a blessing to all who knew him/her.” Another popular option is the more traditional message: “May G-D Comfort You Among All The Mourners Of Zion And Jerusalem.” Click for more help with writing gift cards.

If there is a chance to be helpful, make an offer, or just complete the task, when appropriate. Run errands, pick-up at the airport, host someone coming in from out of town, cook or clean-up, or take care of children. Whatever can be done to remove daily chores from those sitting Shiva becomes an immense help.

If you have a question for Jane about Jewish Traditions, holiday menus, Jewish recipes, gift giving or more, please fill in the comment box below and we will answer it in an upcoming post of Ask Jane.

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Start Your Day With Cake Wrecks

My typical post-rising morning routine is boil water for my steel cut oats (yes, every single day), turn on my computer to check email, pour a cup of coffee and sit down with the New York Times (paper version, thank you). Wednesday is my favorite NYTimes day because it includes the Dining In section and since I am a foodie, this is exciting reading for me.

Today there was an article about a blog called Cake Wrecks; When Professional Cakes Go Horribly, Hysterically Wrong. The blog features pictures of cakes that have gone awry–like this one. Read it carefully–see the problem? Oy Vey.

Here’s another, which has a missing word problem.

Who would think a cottage industry would be born based on cakes gone awry. This was an amusing way to start my day!

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Going Gluten-Free and Kosher Too!

The spirit of the Jewish holidays is in full swing at Challah Connection. We welcomed Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and embraced the more solemn occasion of Yom Kippur. Not far behind was the applause for the fall harvest during Succos and the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah. We now look forward to finishing the year with more festivities, starting with Thanksgiving and concluding with Hanukkah.

As we prepare our holiday meals, we are focusing on healthy eating. In our own families, we have become very aware of Celiac disease (CD), also referred to as gluten-sensitive enteropathy (GSE), which is intolerance to gluten. According to, it is considered to be the most under-diagnosed common disease today, potentially affecting 1 in every 133 people in the United States.

Healthy eating, however, does not mean compromising good taste. Sherry Jonas, Challah Connection Director of Customer Service, made our noodle kugel recipe for Rosh Hashana, but substituted egg noodles with gluten-free brown rice penne for her mother, who has Celiac disease. The response from her family was overwhelmingly positive. Her mother enjoyed it as did her two daughters, ages 7 and 10. She brought some leftovers to work and I concur, it was delicious! Gluten-free kugel is now a part of her family’s holiday tradition and she will make this again and again.

We plan to add more gluten-free products to our current offerings of nuts, cookies and an apple pie snack bar. Our Divine Kosher Cookbook includes over 450 recipes including 70 gluten-free and 300 lactose-free (pareve). Do you have any gluten-free recipe suggestions? Please leave them in the comments section.

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Our Apple Cake Featured in New York Times

Apple Cake Featured in New York Times

A couple of weeks before Rosh Hashana, we got a call from Florence Fabricant of the New York Times. She was interested in our apple cake for her column in the Dining In section of the Times. She asked if we could please send her one. “Of course, how many would you like?” was my response. Freshly baked and wrapped, the cake was whisked off by Fedex to arrive at her home the next morning. Needless to say, we were thrilled when she called a few days later to inform us that the cake would indeed be featured in the paper on September 15. It was a very exciting–and busy–time, indeed. After hundreds of  apple cakes baked, wrapped and shipped, we were finally able to relax and enjoy the holiday! Thanks to all who read the article and purchased the cake.

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