Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Food

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. Since lots of chick lit novels focus on food and cooking, we decided to share our own thoughts on this topic. 

We're always open to topic suggestions, so please don't hesitate to share those in the comments. We'd also love to know if you can relate to anything we've said or hear your own thoughts on the topic. So don't be shy. :) We look forward to getting to know you as much as we're letting you get to know us. You can find our previous columns here, in case you missed them.

Sara Steven:                                                                                                                                         
I’m in my final year at Arizona State University, and I find myself with nothing but electives to get me through the next two semesters. One of the classes I’m enrolled in for this semester is a food and human health course, because I love food. And I love health.                                                                                                                                      But now I’m sort of regretting it.
It’s not the class. The instructor is great, and I feel like I’ve learned so much so far. But that’s the problem. Last week we learned about the changes that have occurred in our food sources--the amount of nutrients derived from food, the soil our fruits and vegetables come from. The thing is, it’s not nearly as good as it once was, before industrialization took over. Before pesticides, before the dreaded GMOs. It’s all about supply and demand, which means producing produce and food that lasts longer and is convenient and available, but this means producing food that isn’t as high in quality.

In the back of my mind, I know this. In fact, when we moved to Arizona six years ago, I discovered that our next door neighbor was in charge of a food co-op and we were lucky enough to receive fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally by surrounding farms, all for a very affordable price. Twenty-five dollars a week. But then the co-op shut down. And the new grocery store just two miles down the road called out to me, and while it’s easy to buy the organic produce in the store, it’s just as easy not to. 

We have farmer’s markets out here. In over one hundred degree temperatures. I know. It sounds like I’m making excuses, doesn’t it? And I am. Because the convenience factor is so nice to have, but the more weeks that go by, I can’t ignore all of the factual information I’m learning in this food class. 

Courtesy of The Sugar Free Diva

I’ve always said that I’m a fairly healthy person, but I notice that as I age, some of the comfort foods I’ve always enjoyed are the same ones that cause a lot of chaos now. I can’t out-eat anyone at a buffet anymore--trust me, that was a sight to behold. I can’t outrun the calorie-laden meals, most likely due to my metabolism or my age or the fact that I’m not as strict about exercise like I once was. Certain foods cause me misery, and the ones full of sodium make me feel like I’ve taken up salt licking as a hobby. I figure I can try to make some small changes right now, like eating more produce, produce that comes from local farms. I put in a little research and found that there’s a market that’s close by, open seven days a week, and why not check it out, just to see what’s out there. It’s a small step, but it could be a huge step into living a healthier lifestyle, while helping out the local farms and businesses nearby. It can’t hurt. 

First step: eating healthier produce. Second step: curtail the daily sweets rations. Huh. Well, maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty with that...

Melissa Amster:                                                                                                   
I realize that I am sharing this post right before a fasting holiday is about to start. However, it's fitting for this topic as I wanted to talk about something significant that has to do with what I eat. If you didn't know this already, I keep Kosher. Simply put, I follow some rules about eating based on commandments given in the Torah, such as not mixing meat and dairy and not eating shellfish or pork. There's more to it than that, such as dipping new utensils, glassware, and metal ware (such as pots and pans) into a mikvah before being able to use those items. I also keep separate sets of dishware, pots and pans, utensils, cups, etc. My house has two ovens and two sinks, as well. 

The food items that I purchase need to have a symbol, known as a hecksher, in order to be allowed in my house. Usually this is a circle around a U, known as OU, or a star with a K inside, amongst a few other certifiable symbols. Thankfully, a lot of name brand foods I like (and the store versions) are usually Kosher, such as Oreos (and most Nabisco products), Kellogg's cereals, most ice cream brands, you know...the important stuff. ;) Unfortunately, Kraft macaroni and cheese is not certified, but I've found some decent Kosher substitutes. Also, I need to buy specially certified meat and cheese products. 

One of my favorite lines from The Office

I didn't always keep Kosher and only started about eighteen years ago, after my husband and I got engaged. We eased our way into it with baby steps instead of just going cold turkey on giving up items we were used to. I had stopped eating at McDonald's a little while before we started on our Kosher journey. I don't even miss it now. There are some things we both miss, but my husband is an amazing chef and has been able to recreate a lot of the things we used to enjoy prior to keeping Kosher. 

A few years ago, we started purchasing Gardein vegan products. (Thankfully, those are sold at our local Kosher supermarket!) That has made a huge difference for us, as it has opened up a lot of cooking options. When we want to have tacos or put meat into lasagna, we get the Gardein soy crumbles and my husband flavors them according to what we're eating them with. They're really good! When we want chicken parmigiana or chicken Fettucine Alfredo, we use the crispy chick'n patties. They are perfect for either meal. We've also enjoyed their meatless meatballs ("it tastes the same...if you close your eyes"--Rent) with spaghetti and parmesan cheese, or their chick'n strips in fajitas. We also enjoy their Mandarin crispy chick'n. (And then we can have ice cream afterward.) 

When Passover comes around, there's a new set of Kosher rules that we have to follow, which means no bread, pasta, green beans, corn, rice, and some other products, as well. We also have different sets of pots, pans, plates, utensils, etc (also for both meat and dairy). However, my husband has been able to make some delicious dishes where you can't even tell they're for Passover. He adapts a lot of his regular recipes for the holiday. I make matzah lasagna and matzah mac n' cheese, as well. Both are favorites in our house. And then there's matzah pizza, which tastes best on shmurah matzah, as it is thinner and crispier. 

I hope this gives you some insight into what it's like keeping Kosher. I'm always glad to answer any questions you may have. Sara has heard me talk about all the rules and products so often that she could easily keep Kosher if she ever wanted to. :)

Talk about food with us! Just share your thoughts on the topic in the comments.

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