Just Do It… Yourself Basket

balsmmendocinosmyidmugsmHave you ever had that dream?  You know, the one where you’re a kid in a candy store and you’re  filling up a huge bag full of your favorite candies?  Hmm, maybe it was just my post-Willy Wonka dream.  I think it was the inspiration behind  Challah Connection’s  Do it Yourself Basket .  With this basket, you get to choose what you want to put in it.  It’s all the same kosher yumminess you’ve come to know from our gift baskets, but you’re the design team.  You know Aunt Rachel dies for blue and white cookies but rugelach…not so much?  Pile on the blue and white!  Or that Mom is a chocoholic but could take or leave raisins? Chocolate, we’ve got.  Lots and lots of chocolate.

Not to pat myself on the back, but it’s really a brilliant idea.  It’s not as crass as sending cash and a lot more tangible than a gift card.   Recently I saw the Do it Yourself Basket really go to work for an interfaith couple friend.  George recently called me, in a bit of a dither.  George is not Jewish but his wife Leah is, and this year, after 17 years of marriage, George wanted to surprise her with a plethora of Jewish treats.  Sad to say (correction: George was sad to say), he didn’t really know which ones were her favorites, and he wanted it to be exactly perfect.

“George,” I said. “My advice is to give the woman what everyone woman wants.”

“Jane,” he said. “I think you should just forget about Johnny Depp and stick to kosher gift baskets.”

“No, no,” I corrected him. “I mean, give Leah something to drool over…that fits in a basket.”

“That’s why I called,” he whined. “She loves it all.  Chocolate babkas, cinnamon raisin rugelach, blue and white cookies.  Also, last year I broke her great-aunt’s menorah.  I don’t think you make a basket that big.”

“First of all, we can do whatever you want, but why not let Leah make her own basket?

“She could do that?”

“Yes, George! Just tell her to follow our “6 Easy Steps to Create the Perfect DIY Basket.

George realized he was onto something.  While on the phone, he instructed me to put together a gift basket for his six-year-old nephew, his mother-in-law, and his boss.  All customized, all do it yourself.  George was very pleased with himself.

Now, if only there was a Do It Yourself Basket at Neiman Marcus…

Happy Shopping,

Jane

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Spinning The Dreidel

The four sides of the dreidel, from right: nun, gimmel, hey, and shin. Click for playing instructions and the meaning of these letters.

Around my house, we take dreidel spinning seriously. My sons, my husband and I crowd around the table with a notepad and pencil, spinning the dreidel and making a note of the score on a yellow legal pad. It’s known as The Dreidel Book and it resembles an ancient text…sort of. On some of the patches, you’ll see a spatter of grease, on others a smear of chocolate.

Here are some fun facts about the humble dreidel:

1. There have been college mathematics seminars on the probability of winning a game of dreidel, the expected number of spins in a game of dreidel and whether the first player has a statistical advantage over the other players.

2. U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman brought a menorah and a dreidel on his Space Shuttle mission in 1993.

3. The Yiddish version of “The Dreidel Song” is  Ikh Bin A Kleyner Dreydl, Yiddish:  איך בין אַ קלײנער דרײדל Ich Bin Ein Kleine Dreidel (I am a little dreidel).  In the Yiddish version, the dreidel is made out of “blay,” Yiddish for lead.

4. The game of dreidel is based on a European gambling game that used a spinning top.  The Yiddish word “dreidel” come from the German word “drehen” which means “to spin.”

5. Dreidels are also known in Yiddish as:  fargls, a “varfl” [= something thrown], “shtel ein” [= put in], and “gor, gorin” [= all].

6.”Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel was sung by Kyle in the first South Park Christmas special.

At Challah Connection, you can find not only our award winning kosher baked goods but also exquisite and unusual Judaica, including a beautiful selection of dreidels including the very popular No-Limit Texas Dreidel Game.  An elderly relative collects dreidels and I look forward to her joyful phone call after she has opened her

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Chanukah gift.  She knows, and I know, that it will be a dreidel, but she claims that each new dreidel is more beautiful than the next.  Wouldn’t she be surprised to see my family dreidel?  After countless spins, the paint has worn off here and there, and Sophie (our dog) got a hold of it once, leaving her mark until I pried it from her mouth.

Still, when I unearth it every year, it reminds me of how much fun my family and I have sharing a simple game.

GRarrowD25lgHappy spinning,

Jane

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Jewish Dogs

Sophie, knowing she looks gorgeous in her Chanukah collar

Sophie, knowing she looks gorgeous in her Chanukah collar

No family is complete without a dog.   A dogless family lacks a heart.  That family can never truly be a family without a dog.

These were the arguments presented to Josh and me  by our suddenly articulate 3 sons over dinner one evening 4 years ago.  It was, I recall, one of those warm summer evenings where everything–anything–seems possible.  I’d had a glass of wine, a warm breeze floated through the open sliding glass door, and the 3 boys stared eagerly into my face.  Maybe a dog would be a nice addition to the family.  I leaned back in my chair, picturing the boys outside throwing a frisbee to our dog and having the dog jump happily into the air and grab it.

“What do you think, Josh?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Alot of work.  The boys would have to commit to walking the dog, feeding the dog, picking up the dog doo.”

“I’ll walk it!” Sam said quickly.

“I’ll feed it!” Harry chimed in.

“I’ll…hey! No fair,” Mike, the youngest, said.

“All right, all right,” I said.  ”I can see that you’re all eager to help out with this hypothetical dog.”

We agreed to be open to the possibility of getting a dog.  In other words…yes!

By a stroke of serendipity, I heard from a friend that a litter of puppies had been dropped off at the Humane Society.  Mike was available so we zipped on down there.  When we got there, we learned that all the puppies, save one, had been adopted.  We saw the little bundle of white fluff, her eyes a beautiful deep brown, in the arms of a Humane Society employee who didn’t seem to want to give her up.  Fortunately, Mike–a budding thespian–said in his best wheedle, “Can I hold her for a minute?”  The employee reluctantly handed Mike the bundle of fluff, and it was instant love.  After filling out the necessary paperwork, we were allowed to bring Sophie home.

Sophie became the spoiled youngest child–the only daughter–of the family.  We slipped her chicken and enough bones to build a model of T-Rex,  and the boys competed for her attention.  Sure enough, they played with her in the backyard and even took her for walks.  Being the darling of the family, it was only natural that we would want Sophie to celebrate the holidays with us.  But on Sophie’s first Chanukah, we were in for a disappointment.  None of the chain pet stores seemed to have any Chanukah finery for the Jewish dog.

Well, that wouldn’t do.  I couldn’t have Sophie trot through the holidays unadorned while her Christmas-celebrating counterparts got to jingle their way through the dog park in festive tartan and reindeer ears.

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I searched high and low for festive Jewish items, until finally I found a Jewish dog collar, a lovely “Kosher bone” and a Jewish dog dish, which I’m happy to say we now offer you at Challah Connection.

Now Sophie and all her Jewish friends (Maisy and Sugar, two Jewish Golden Retrievers) are decked out in the finest holiday wear.  If one of your family members is a Jewish dog, check out our selection of great gifts for the holidays!

Best,

Jane

p.s. Arf from Sophie

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Surviving Chanukah

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Raising three sons is not unlike living on the Galapagos Islands–you know–where Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest is demonstrated best? Those finches with the really sharp beaks are a whole lot better at cracking open nuts than their round-beaked cousins.

Sometimes the competition to survive in our household was akin to that. Instead of beaks, picture head locks and other wrestling games that required the weakest to scream “uncle” repeatedly.

So I wasn’t all that surprised–even on the day after Thanksgiving –that the usual competitive urges were being demonstrated for my benefit. Now, instead of head locks, there was a bit of verbal jousting going on as we sat around the table eating delicious leftovers. My youngest son Mike rubbed it in to my oldest son Sam that he, Sam wouldn’t be home for the first night of Hanukkah. Sam, Mike explained, would miss out on the following:

1. Mom’s challah stuffing
2. Harry’s crispy Golden Latkes complete with home-made apple sauce and cold, delicious sour cream.
3. Roasted Chicken
4.blue and white cookies.
5. Gelt
6. The first night gift.

“Too bad for you,” Mike said through a mouthful of leftover Thanksgiving turkey. “Aren’t you going to be taking finals that week?”

Sam nodded glumly.

“All the more for me,” Harry chimed in. “Mmmm, I can’t wait to hog down some latkes. Last year I think I set a record.”

My husband Josh said, “I think you made it to 12. It was kind of horrifying to watch.”

“I can’t help it if I appreciate my own cooking,” Harry protested, helping himself to more cranberry sauce.  It was true; Harry had become an expert latke maker, cooking golden brown latkes to perfection in an enormous frying pan given to our family by none other than my mom, Becky Mark.

Sam, 19 years old and usually high up there on the whole Survival of The Fittest thing, was looking pretty upset.

It was time for an intervention.

“Actually, Mike, Harry…I happen to have a lot of great Hanukkah presents for college students. And I’m pretty sure Sam will be getting something in the mail. Cookies to keep his energy up while he studies, plus lots of other goodies to help him celebrate.”

Sam instantly brightened.

“Thanks, Mom.”

I still hadn’t delivered my coup de grace. “And Sam, remember you mentioned your hillel was having a Chanukah party? We’re actually sending blue and white cookies for it. And challah.”

“Cool!”

Mike looked up from his plate. “Mom! There’s not going to be enough left for us.”

I smiled sweetly at him, my round-beaked finch. “Well, Sam is out there on his own. We have to make sure he’s taken care of.”

It was Mike’s turn to look sad.

I relented. “But there are plenty of Chanukah goodies for everyone.”  han56mirlg

It was Westport, after all, not The Galapagos Islands. We could do more than survive Chanukah. We could share the celebration, even hundreds of miles apart.

Happy Chanukah!

Jane

p.s. And sure enough, Sam headed back to college with a carload of challah and blue and white cookies!

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Eight Stress Free Nights of Hanukkah

My friend Erica was babbling into the phone.  Something about evil and December and a plot to drive people crazy.

“Erica,” I said. “How many cups of coffee have you had today?”

“Four, but that’s not the point.”

“Okay…well, why did you just say that you loathe the month of December?”

“Because…between my family, and my in-laws, and my office, and my husband’s office, and my kids’ and their friends, and my friends…I just got out a calculator and realized that I have to purchase 64 gifts for Hanukkah this year.”

“Wow.  Well, you don’t have to get really expensive stuff.”

“That’s only one issue.  It’s the combing of websites, it’s the clicking through order forms.  And then I finally order it, and the company wraps it in Christmas paper.  That’s why I’m calling you.  I thought, well, maybe I’ll just ask Challah Connection to send out 64 chocolate babkas.  Or 64 blue and white cookies.”

“Erica, we could do 64 babkas, 64 Hanukkah Candy Platters, whatever you want,” I said. “But don’t you want your gifts to be…you know…unique as the people you’re giving them to?”

“That’s too much to hope for.  Isn’t it?”

“What if I told you that I could send 8 nights of wrapped Chanukah gifts to one address for you and you’d only pay one shipping charge?”
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“You have such a service?”

“Yes!”

“It’s a Chanukah miracle.”

“It’s just something Sherry and I thought of to help busy people–like us.”

“But I really only need to do 3 nights for my sister’s kids.”

“No problem.”


“You mean, I don’t have to run out and buy tape and wrapping paper and Hanukkah gelt and a menorah and something nice for my Aunt Betsy like maybe…oh, God, what can I get Aunt Betsy?”

“How about “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking” wrapped and shipped for the first night?”Jewish Holiday Baking

“She’ll love that.”

It was music to my ears.

Here’s to a stress-free Hanukkah!

Best,

Jane

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The Year of the Pickle

It’s a famous Jewish tradition: Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. Who knows how it all got started? Years ago, some enterprising Jewish family must have ventured out into the empty streets–with all the stores shuttered- on Christmas Day and discovered a light glowing in the distance. Hurrying closer, that Jewish family stood under the light and saw that it said “Sakura.” After stuffing their faces, the family headed out into the empty street and saw another light. “Cineplex” it said.

Thus a tradition was born (reversing the order is optional) and my family has certainly partaken of that tradition. But my love of Chinese food isn’t limited to Christmas alone. During any season, but especially during cooler weather, my family has been known to happily decamp to our favorite Chinese restaurants in Connecticut and New York and enjoy all of the savory delights. While shoveling in all this delicious food, I’ve noticed and been fascinated by the Chinese Zodiac imprinted on the placemat. You know–Year of the Dragon, Year of The Rat, etc. I’ve thought: Why not a Jewish tradition like it?

Imagine, then, my excitement, when I came across some wonderful new products that playfully combine Jewish food and Chinese culture–Seth Front’s The Jewish Zodiac.

Of course it’s not “The Year of the Ox” but “The Year of The Lox” I’m talking about! I love anyone who can make me laugh–and Seth’s products are just hilarious.

Here at Challah Connection, we’re proud to offer these fun, new products like The Year of the Pickle t-shirts and Year of The Black & White t-shirt. (My husband is sporting one now, but has yet to fess up to whether he is on the black side of the cookie or the white). I chatted with Seth at the recent Kosherfest where I asked him which of the amazingly creative shirts is the most popular. It’s the Year of the Pickle–that must be a new way to refer to our current economic problem. (Maybe I’ll send a shirt to President Obama and his speechwriters.)

While I love the shirts, since I am really kitchen person, I also love the Jewish Zodiac Placemats. Jewish Zodiac Placements

Last night, we set the table with these fun placemats and I could have sworn that my salad pizza had a distinct taste of broccolli with garlic sauce.

Instead of being born in the Year of the Rat or Year of the Sheep, find your Jewish zodiac sign. Were you born under the Year of the Egg Cream, Year of Pastrami, or Year of the Schmear?

Happy Shopping!

Best,

Jane

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Saying Yes

I had spent the day weighing the merits of this kosher blue and white cookie over that, this Hanukkah gelt over that, this quality wooden dreidel over that fun plastic pink one. Hanukkah Blue & White Cookies

I had come up with a really great Hanukkah basket , one that my mother would be proud of. It was eleven p.m., a time for the quiet contemplation of “CSI.” My husband Josh had just plunked down next to me with a bowl of popcorn. Ready, set…relax.
The phone rang. It was my friend Mark, frantic.
“Listen,” he said. “I’m in a bind. I’m in charge of a fundraising event.”
“That’s great.”
“Can you prepare 12 kosher gift baskets by seven a.m. tomorrow?”
“Twelve?”
“Well, some people at a synagogue need to be thanked for great work. By tomorrow.”
“Seven a.m.?” I said. “You meant p.m., right?”
“Well, no. Seven a.m. You see…”
I cleared my throat. “Never mind.”
Mark is a party planner and a dear friend, but I had been drawn into his mishegas before. For those of you who don’t speak Yiddish, mishegas is a very handy word. It means ‘craziness’ or ‘crazy behavior.’

Time and time again, Mark had “situations.” He needed 500 rugelach bags for a bris by…tomorrow. He needed twelve fragrant loaves of home-baked babka for a bridal shower by…today.

“They specifically asked for Challah Connection kosher gift baskets,” he wheedled. And possibly lied. TBHAN-Large

“Can you pick them up?” I asked him grumpily.

“I’ll see you at seven.”

Don’t get me wrong. Mark is very good at what he does. But when he doesn’t know how to say “no.” He wants to give his customers everything they ask for, and then some. It doesn’t matter to him if they just remembered that Aunt Florence adores a good chocolate babka.

I hung up the phone with Mark and looked longingly at the TV screen for a moment. There was somebody chasing somebody else across the screen, guns drawn.

Then it hit me. It wasn’t that Mark didn’t know how to say “no.” It wasn’t that 25 gift baskets would make or break Mark’s career.

It was that saying “yes” to the 12 people who needed to be thanked at the synagogue felt good to Mark. It felt good to be a yes-sayer, to give an affirmative answer to someone who is expecting a “no.” Maybe “yes” was like a chain. Mark said yes to the synagogue, and I said yes to Mark. Who knows? Maybe a “yes” was heading towards me.

May today contain a yes,

Jane

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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,

mike2

Mike, our budding actor, in Anything Goes

Jane

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