Friday, December 23, 2011

Jewish Feasts and Traditions

I have been dying to read this book for a long time. My family is very interested in Jewish holidays and celebrations, their origins, and customs. Though we are not Jewish, as people who serve Jesus, who is Jewish, we have grown to love Jewish people and sought after getting to know and understand them, their culture, and the Biblical commands regarding Judaism.

I was so excited to receive this book from a dear friend this Christmas (Hanukkah!) We are enjoying learning about Hanukkah right now, and it really is changing how we view and celebrate Christmas.

One quick interesting thing is that Jesus was most likely conceived on December 25th, of the Jewish calendar! AND, the first day of the FIRST Hanukkah according to Jewish Calendar, was also December 25th! So Who cares about those old pagan celebrations, I say we celebrate the festival/feast of Lights-- Jesus, the light of the world!

Pretty Cool In My Book!
- gina

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jewish Challah Bread Recipe

Challah is our favorite bread, and the only one we make homemade.
First, I must give a couple disclaimers. We actually acquired the recipe from our amazing friend, Rachel Jessee, so the recipe is not my original. Next elephant, no, we are not Jewish. People ask us that all the time because we love Jewish culture and are learning the feasts, etc. We have been fortunate to have some amazing Jewish friends in our lives over the years that have inspired us to dig a little deeper and learn some of the amazing culture and traditions.
Challah is a traditional Jewish bread served with the weekend Shabot, or Sabbath meal. Typically, you would serve two challahs with the Friday evening meal at sundown, which marks the beginning of twenty-four hours of rest.
We have made it a family tradition to light the two candles and serve challah at our sabbath meal, which is Saturday night these days.  More info on Shabot can be found online, or this website "Judaism 101" if you are interested.
Every city we had lived in before usually had a decent bakery or bread store so I never really had to bake it myself. Last year when we moved, I just had a heck of a time finding challah, of course its at Trader Joes, but theirs doesn't really taste traditional to us.
Since I had never made bread before, (married thirteen years, yes, and never made bread!) I was a little nervous, but the recipe was very easy to follow. You mix the ingredients, let it rise a couple hours, braid it up, and toss it in. Not as difficult as I thought. So I hope you will give it a try. This recipe is meant to be split in half and make two, for the tradition of serving two loaves.
Additional note, because I don't eat dairy or sugar, I always use canola oil for butter and Agave for the sugar, and it comes out VERY good and moist!
Enjoy! - Gina

Challah Recipe

Important Note: Amount of Times to Let Dough Rise
The dough should be left to rise twice in this particular recipe. Once, after initially preparing dough and once after dough is shaped. (raising once is fine, if is has raised 2 hrs. or more though, I’ve tried it a ton of ways!)
Tip:   If desired, dried (dehydrated then rehydrated) apples that are diced into small pieces can be added to the dough instead of the raisins, or fresh diced apples may also be used.


  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water

  • 2 packages (1/2 oz./4 1/2 tsp./14g) instant yeast or bread yeast

  • 7 to 8 cups bread flour (approximately)

  • 2 tsp. salt

  • 1/4 cup honey

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup (4 oz./8 tbsp./113g) butter or margarine, melted (or 1/2 cup vegetable oil may be used)

  • 3 whole eggs

  • 2 egg yolks (That is a total of 5 yolks & 3 whites)

  • 1 1/4 cups golden raisins, plumped *(See below on How to Plump Raisins, I do this first)

  • Egg Wash: 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten and mixed with 1 tsp. sugar and 1 tbsp. water


1. In a large mixing bowl, stir the 1 tsp. sugar into the 1 1/2 cups warm water. Sprinkle in yeast and stir well; let stand until frothy or foamy, about 10 minutes.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in 7 cups of the flour, saffron (if using) and salt. Add honey, the 1/3 cup sugar, melted butter (or vegetable oil or melted margarine, if using), whole eggs and egg yolks; stir until dough forms.
2. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding enough of the remaining 1 cup flour as necessary to prevent sticking (you may need to add more flour if your dough is still too sticky. Add in one tablspoon at a time until the dough is cohesive). Place dough in a greased glass or ceramic bowl, turning to grease dough all over. Cover bowl with greased plastic wrap or a warm damp kitchen towel; let dough rise in warm draft-free place until doubled in size and indentation remains when dough is poked with 2 fingers, about one hour or so. Punch down dough, transfer dough to work surface, let rest for 10 minutes, then knead in raisins (if using).
3. To Make Round Crown Loaf:
Roll out dough into a 30-inch (76 cm) long rope. Holding one end in place, wind remaining rope around end to form a fairly tight spiral that is slightly higher in the center of dough. Transfer dough to a greased rimmed baking sheet.
4. To Make a 4 rope Braided Loaf:
Divide dough into quarters; roll each quarter into 18-inch (45 cm) long ropes. Place side by side on a greased rimmed baking sheet; pinch ropes together at one end. Starting at pinched end, move second rope from left over rope on its right. Move far right rope over 2 ropes on left. Move far left rope over 2 ropes on right. Repeat until braid is complete; tuck ends under braid.
5. Cover crown loaf or braid loaf with plastic wrap or damp kitchen towel; let rise in warm draft-free place until doubled in size, about one hour.
6. Egg Wash:
Stir egg yolk with 1 tbsp. water; brush over loaf (s).
Bake in center of 350°F/180°C oven until deep golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool on rack for 15 minutes before slicing.
YIELD: Makes 1 GIGANTIC loaf or 2 large loaves.
How to Plump Raisins
Raisins are sometimes soaked in a liquid to plump them (make them soft and moist) before cooking and baking. This may be necessary if raisins are dry and hard. Water is generally used, but fruit juice, brandy or other liquids can be used to add flavor. To plump raisins in water for recipe use, cover them with very warm water and soak for 3 to 5 minutes. Or, place raisins in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the raisins stand for 5 minutes. Drain off the liquid and use the raisins as directed in the recipe. To plump and flavor raisins in other liquids, soak them at room temperature for several hours or overnight. Drain them before using.
(I like to add a lot of cinnamon & some agave to make it really gooey. Then I fill the center of four strips of dough, roll them back together, then braid. This is for a more “dessert” bread. If we are having company for dinner, I will make one loaf plain and then one “dessert” loaf.)
Filling the center of each of the four strips...
Closing up, pinching off...
With each tube filled, pinch together at top, and do the 4-braid weave...
Ready to go into the oven...
Cinnamon Apple Raisin Challah-- Hot out of the oven!

$11 DIY Shabby Chic Dresser

Of all my kids, my number two girl has the most clothes. I don't think its because she loves to shop or gets more clothes given to her than the other kids, I actually think its because she grows the least. Her clothes just keep accumulating and every few months we have to weed through them and re-evaluate what were keeping to pass on.
So the time came when her previous dresser finally saw its last dying breath as the clothes seeped there way out of the side of every crack breaking the cheap IKEA bottom right out of it! The old dresser wen tot the garage, and the new dresser was yet to be found, primarily because buying new furniture is not my M.O.
The girls piled in the car and we did what I call "drive-by garage sale-ing". This is where I don't really want to get out of the car, have no money, and kinda hope I don't find anything cause I really just want to be responsible by looking for something for her.
It was the first street we turned down, sitting at the end of a court, with a sign on it that said "free". I yelled "hallelujah!" and backed up the mini van!
Here is was when it arrived in my garage (minus the knobs I had already removed)
The first thing I had to decide was what color it was gonna to resemble in the end... as you can see it had been painted a few times before. My daughter wanted blue with green polkadots, so we kinda compromised... I mixed a Cobalt Blue and Bright Yellow Acrylic to get a nice Turquoise. Here's the supplies I used. (I only had to buy 3 knobs and the spray lacquer which added up to $11)
I sanded it once, then added a white base coat I had in the garage already.
Next, I sanded again to get some of those colors underneath to poke through...
Wiped down the sanding, then color stain...
Wipe off the color, and repeat several times with wet rag...
We compromised on diamonds instead of polkadots, and I mixed a nice chartreuse to match the old yellow paint that poked through...
Sanded a little more, then varnish, and add the knobs!
Finished and in the room!
Happy DIY-ing!

DIY Baby Girl Bunting

So after the idea for the bunting on the shower invite, what else but to make bunting for the shower?! There's only one place in the SF Bay I roam when I'm feeling that creative bug, yup, SCRAP! Have you ever been there? I feel warm and fuzzy there, it's my favorite, but my hubby calls it my "mother ship".
So off to SCRAP! we went-  here are the finds...
Next, I cut the various fabrics into triangles. (note: at SCRAP! you can get a paper bag of fabric remnants for $10 !) I didn't measure or anything, I just cut one and then used that one for my template.
You should I also know, I don't sew.  So, if I can do this, so can a monkey.
Next, I took this roll of cloth ribbon (also from scrap) and put 2 triangles together, and ran the brown ribbon between. I sewed a rough quick stitch across the length of the ribbon, adding a triangle every two inches or so.
After I had about 13 triangles hanging, which was almost ten feet i think, I did it again so I ended up with two long banners. Then I went back and sewed, quick and rough, the other two edges of the triangles. Finally, I trimmed the excess threads and then trimmed the fabric where is was a little too shabbily crooked :)
Next, it was ready to hang. I didn't get a good picture of it the day of the shower but snapped this one the night before when I hung it.
You may notice the tulle in the background, I got a roll of brown tulle for $2 at JoAnn's Fabrics  (speaking of which, do you have the JoAnn iphone app? They will take the coupons right off your phone, and Michael's take's JoAnn's coupons too!) and weaved it through and made a puffy gather at the end of the bunting. Everyone said it looked great!
- gina

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

(I just want to disclaim that I am not a medical professional, nor dietary specialist, the following is based on my opinion and experience.)
Did you know that at the root of every illness is inflammation? I was pretty shocked to find this out, it felt like a secret I was the last one to discover. But all over the web, there are articles that are claiming that by going after inflammation, as the root cause of sickness, you can improve your over-all health.
I have struggled with many obscure health problems since I was very young, and after having kids, it seemed even harder to stay healthy. When my now 9 yr old daughter was diagnosed with Junior Onslaught Type 1 Diabetes, it pushed us to get healthier as a family. The more and more education we got grew the sense of responsibility for our own health, as well as our five children.
Last year I was desperate. I had been getting on virus after another and seemed I hadn't had a "well" day in months. It was a total relapse because I had been doing pretty good up until September of last year. So in January of this year I went on a fast seeking the answer to what was causing my body's immune system to be so weak.
I discovered the "Anti-Inflammatory Diet". There are several online, but the one I chose to try was Dr. Weil's. Take a look at the pyramid if you are interested. I am a very visual person so I don't want to read a book- I want to print out the pyramid and follow it.First let me share my symptoms pre-diet.


  • All over body pain (diagnosed at age 22 as Fibromyalgia)
  • Body aches that felt like I had the "Flu", but all the time
  • Tension Headaches (with or without caffeine)
  • Regular Sore Throats
  • Regular Sinus Infections
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Exhaustion/Fatigue
  • Lack of over-all energy


So I went to the hospital at one point and was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism and Hormones out of balance. I got put on medication for both in November of last year. The abdominal pain went away and my energy level did increase a little bit, but not enough. The doctors said that it could take up to six weeks for my energy level to go back to normal. Well, it had been 8 weeks and I was not very much better! So thats when I took matters into my own hands.

here's what I did...

I fasted on Fruits and veges for one week, then juice for a week, then water for a week. I began adding back things into my diet according to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. I went by the Pyramid on Dr. Weil's Website very strictly for three months. During that time I was really praying about what was right for me. I felt like "wheat" was not a problem for me, as I didn't experience any changing in my body the days I tried it. I also decided meat was not for me. Even thought the diet allows organic chicken and beef, for me I didn't feel like it worked.
I want to explain, that when I started the diet, after my fast, about early February, was when my body changed. So I can not say it was not totally attributed to the fast. However, I didn't lose weight during my fast or feel better. I felt worse. My body ached, I had bad headaches, I just pressed through. The first week of being on the diet though, my pain decreased 75%. Yes, that is right, my pain went down significantly within days!
In two months, I lost (not trying) the last 15 pound of my baby weight that just would never come off. By April, I had so much energy I felt ten years younger. I have felt so good ever since. In fact, I just had a head cold last week that was my first viral sickness since April compared to two-three colds/flus per month!
My physical and emotional energy is actually higher than it has been since before I had kids. I feel like I am at the prime of my life again.

here's what i learned...

  • Corn is evil. Stay away from all corn products and bi-products. This is Corn Syrup, Corn Oil, Corn Starch, and the dreaded High Fructose Corn Syrup. This is hard for me as Sour Gummy Worms are my favorite, and every now and then, no big deal, but corn is mutated and not a real vegetable. So take that and modify it some more, you get the picture. I highly encourage you to research it. For me, Corn was the secret to my immune system kicking into gear. When the corn went out, I was able to fight sickness quicker and my energy and metabolism increased dramatically.
  • Sugar hurts. We all know sugar is bad, but when I cut it out in conjunction with corn, my body pain left. I mean left.
  • Soy, ah. I'm really going to miss you, soy. I loved soy milk and soy products like boca- burgers and such, but every time I ate them I felt so sick after wards. My tummy bloated up and I felt like I was getting the flu. Maybe I have a personal allergy to soy, but it is a "no-no" on the diet as a leading cause for inflammation.
  • Dairy slows me down. When I add dairy back into my diet, I feel like I'm dragging in the mud! Not to mention my sore throats and mucus returns with a vengeance. I am pretty convinced that dairy is the cause of my throat problems and sinus problems. I use to be an avid yogurt eater, I miss yogurt, but I like singing more than eating yogurt :) (*If you struggle with Allergies and mucus problems, may I also suggest trying ALJ - by Nature's Sunshine, talk to your local Natural Food store for recommendations - but DO NOT take if you are nursing.)
  • Meat also slows me down. You are suppose to feel energized after you eat protein, but meat never makes me feel 'good'. So I just do the wild fish on the diet and that works for me. I have also done some organic eggs here and there without any problems.
My whole family is pretty much off dairy now, and they only eat Poultry and Fish. We have removed all products from the house that contain Soy and Corn. So as a family we are trying to go after being Dairy, Corn, and Soy Free. Sugar here and there and meat some exceptions, but the main three bad guys for my immune system seem to have been targeted.

last note...

You may be wondering about the medications... well on the diet you need a lot of Omega -3, so I did add a daily Omega 3 Fish Oil tab as well as Enzymes and Pro-biotics to my regiment. In picking out my vitamins I noticed corn and whey in the vitamins!! Ahh! So I had to buy my vitamins at the Natural Food Store. I also found out my Thyroid Medication had whey in it!! So I went off of it and started a natural homeopathic for Thyroid. Contact me if you are interested in Thyroid info. But just so you know, I have been off the medication since April and I feel great! No side effects. So I was very enthusiastic to share that when you target the Inflammation it takes care of a multitude of problems!

Apricot Blackberry Oat Bars

We have this amazing Kids Cookbook from Williams Sonoma, but sometimes I have to adapt the recipes to make them a little healthier :) Here is our latest adaptation:
Just sweet enough Apricot Oat Bars
1 1/2 Cups    Whole Oats
3/4 Cup         Whole Wheat Flour (or Gluten Free, Rice Flour, etc)
1/4 Cup          Flax Meal
3/4 Cup         Raw Honey (or preferred sweetener)
3/4 Cup         Dried Apricots (chopped)
3/4 Cup         Blackberries (or another fresh or dried fruit)
1 Tsp              Vanilla
1/4 Tsp         Cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F
2. I use a stoneware 9x9 dish, if you use metal or glass you may want to grease the bottom
3. In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the blackberries (or any fresh fruit).
4. Once those ingredients are mixed thoroughly, add the fresh blackberries. (We had some freshed picked from a walk earlier!)
If the mixture seems too crumbly, add a little more agave.
5.  Press into your backing dish, careful not to smash the blackberries.
6. Pop in the oven for 25 minutes.
7. Let cool before you cut. Yield 12 bars.
- Gina

Life with a Type-1 Diabetic Child

I have never written, or really talked about my life as a Mom to a Type-1 diabetic. I thought it would be good to start a forum for discussion, maybe there are other parents out there who can relate.
My daughter, "Sissy", is nine. She was diagnosed at age 6. At first it was such a shock to us, our lives kinda shut down for a couple months while we tried to figure things out. We were very thankful to have great resources in the area we lived, but slowly, life kinda got back to normal, and we didn't focus too much on it. It is not that we are in "denial", but we really haven't allowed the disease to control us. There are things that we would love to do someday, like the Bearskin Meadow Camp, but it feels like we are still in that early part of just trying to "live".
For us, the hardest part is watching our daughter struggle with desiring food, feeling like she cant have it, feeling like she has to "sneak" and "hide". We don't want her to grow up feeling like "life revolves around food".  We are doing everything we can to cultivate the philosophy that your "Eat to Live", rather than "Live to Eat".  It is hard having to tell her to "wait", or "take your blood sugar first", or "maybe you can have that later".
If you are a parent to a Type-1 Diabetic, I would love to hear the struggles you have and maybe share your ideas and things that life morale for your family.
- gina

Easiest Bread Pudding EVER!

I grew up in an Italian family where we had four food groups... bread, pasta, grandpa's salad (the real oil and vinegar with raw blue cheese), and bread pudding. Who even needed meat? Just pass the bread! Needless to say, I developed a love for bread pudding at a young age. For years I've tried multitudes of recipes and I've come up with this as the easiest and yummiest. It seriously takes 5 minutes to whip up. Seriously. Enjoy!
2 Loaves Cinnamon Raisin bread (the best is getting day old bread from a local bakery, even our asian markets here in the Bay Area have AMAZING raisin bread)
6 Eggs
2 Cups Milk (I use Almond Milk because we don't do dairy)
1-2 Teaspoons of Cinnamon
Depending on what bread or pastries you are using, you may throw in extra stuff, like if I'm using pretty plain or bland bread I'll throw in my own raisins, dried cranberries, frozen blueberries, whatever I have around the house.

Cube the bread into squares and toss in a big bowl. In a separate bowl whip milk and eggs together, sprinkle cinnamon. Put the bread in a 9"x 13" baker pan (pyrex or baking stone) and then pour the egg/milk mixture over it. I use a large spatula to press the bread down into the milk/eggs.  You can sprinkle more cinnamon on top or call it a day.
The not so fun part is putting it in the fridge for an hour and waiting to bake it. I will usually make it in the morning and put in in the fridge, then toss it in the oven before dinner time. The more time in the fridge the better. This way the bread absorbs all the milk and when it bakes its super gooey and not dry at all. Trust me, I've done in 50 times.
Then pull it out when your ready to bake, and pop it in the oven on 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
I have yet to find an amazing vanilla sauce that matches Max's Opera House Cafe, my personal favorite sauce, but seems everyone does rum sauces now a days, which I detest, so it's been hard to find. If you have a good one, please post it for me!! Thanks!!! and Enjoy!!
- Gina

EASY Owl Shortbread Cookies

Yep, we’ve all partaken of the owl craze, myself included, although I would like to claim that I was into them before the craze started! They are all over Pinterest, and thanks to Pinterest for figuring out which Owl Cookies would be the easiest to make! Here’s the recipe:

1 c. butter
1/2 c. sugar (Or your preferred sweetener, I haven't tried these with this recipe, but you adapt with Xylitol or Glucose)
2 1/2 c. flour
(Chocolate Chips for Eyes, and Almonds for the beak)


  • After dough is completely mixed, roll out, 1/4 inch thick, and cut into circles.
  • Roll little balls for the eyes, then smash chocolate chips into them.
  • Press the Almond in halfway deep.
  • Use a fork, or other kitchen utensil to make feet impressions, and then scrape the top of head to look like fur sticking up.
Bake on 300 degrees for about 15 minutes for small, 30 minutes for large.