Friday, May 22, 2009

Moscow Trip 2009

So I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Moscow, April 28-May 3. I was conducting a training at one of my company's service centers and believe you me, I was quite apprehensive about travelling to Russia. My last memories of the country dated back to 1992, which basically meant that I remembered nothing. For whatever reason, Moscow was never at the top of my list of places to visit, mainly due to my constant paranoia of not having anything to eat. However, I was pleasantly surprised by not only the kosher resources available in Moscow, but also stunned by the overall splendor of this ancient and magnificent city.
For those of you who are anticipating a trip to Russia, American Airlines offers non-stop flights from O'Hare to Domodedovo airport, which is about one hour outside of Moscow. However, American does not have the non-stop flights on Mondays and as I was flying on Monday, I did have a layover in London. That worked out to my advantage as it was a good opportunity to stretch my legs and make the commute less monotonous. Upon my arrival to Domodedovo, I was immediately met by a taxi drive from Taxi-Ritm, a great company whom I had used throughout my stay ( The vehicles are privately owned so don't look for a yellow car, and the drivers just rent the radio from the company. The driver assisted me with all my luggage and also served as an excellent tour guide during the drive.  He gave me some useful pointers before dropping me off, including where to rent a sell phone, which in Moscow is a must.
I checked into the Crowne Plaza hotel on Krasnopresnenskaya, which is about 3 miles from the Red Square, i.e. pretty much in the center of town. I was honestly shocked at the level of customer service from everyone, starting with the reception area and ending with housekeeping. All of the staff were beyond helpful and courteous. I am not sure if this applies to all Moscow hotels, but I was very happy with my accomodations
A wonderful resource I found for learning about kosher food in Russia was The website has a full list of kosher products in Russia as well as a listing of kosher stores and restaurants. As far as I know, there are 3 kosher restaurants in Moscow, 2 of which are located inside the Moscow JCC. I had only eaten at Cafe Yael, a dairy restaurant, which was inexpensive and quite good. The menu featured a mix of popular Russian/French/Georgian dishes such as Varenniki, Julienne and Hachapuri. I also enjoyed fresh spring salads with sour cream. It's not like I can't make one at home, but it just tasted better:) The only thing that was disappointing was the milkshakes. I remembered the milkshakes of my childhood, a thin mass with a hint of honey that was a huge treat every time my mom took me grocery shopping. The NEW milkshakes where they no longer steal the sugar or the ice cream or the fruit additives tastes nothing like the one from my childhood and although it doesn't lack any ingredients, I almost wish it did.
The kosher grocery stores around the community have a pretty large selection of kosher foods and their newest addition is the sheets of pastry dough, which is apparently a huge deal (it's the little things that make you happy:)).
I have to say though that the highlight of my trip was Shabbos. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to establish some contacts and make Shabbos arrangements in Moscow, I stumbled upon, a website maintained by Yakov and Rivky Klein, who turned out to be a G-dsend. Both Kleins were extremely responsive and willing to accommodate me in any way possible, so I ended up staying at their house for Shabbos and eating there on Friday night. I can honestly say that being at the Kleins' was the next best thing to being at home. They made me feel incredibly comfortable and welcome. A few things to know about Shabbos in Moscow: 1. There is no eruv, so don't expect to leave the house carrying anything or pushing anyone in a stroller/wheelchair, etc. and 2. Shabbos starts very late and ends very late in the summer. During my trip Shabbos ended at something like 11pm and could end as late as midnight in about a month. For Shabbos lunch I was fortunate enough to visit David and Jenny and I forgot their last name, which really stinks, but they were AWESOME! Once again I felt very welcome, which was great because I am not the best at meeting new people outside of my own house.  Anyway, if anyone is staying in Moscow over Shabbos, I strongly recommend getting in touch with the Kleins to make Shabbos arrangements. For those of you who still remember Soviet housing, seeing these people's homes would be a pleasant surprise, it was for me:)
Of course I could not go home without doing some site seeing. I had an opportunity to visit the Kremlin, the Red Square as well as do some walking around the center of the city on May 1, which as many of you may know is a national holiday in Russia. By the way, I forgot all about the beautiful Russian custom of barely working for 3 days before the holiday, not working at all during the holiday and taking a week to get back into the swing of things after the holiday:) Great Custom, we should adopt it here and then we will all be less stressed. 
I can honestly say that Moscow is just beautiful, truly beautiful with a personality of its own. It's full of life and attitude, but I guess that's what makes it unique. I was also surprised to see so many good looking and well-dressed people in the streets. Obesity is definitely not an issue in Moscow, at least not in the center. People are well-dressed, well-groomed, and for the most part well-behaved.
The only truly negative encounter I had during the entire trip was on my very last day at Domodedovo airport while trying to find the American Airlines counter. I approached an airport employee for directions, and in true Soviet fashion she stated: "Are you blind? Keep walking, that's where the terminals are!" It sounded a lot more threatening in person and I actually found it quite comical to cap off my trip with a brief immersion into the "ways of the old world". 
I would absolutely LOVE to come back to Moscow with my family as it could be a truly wonderful vacation!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Miami Restaurant Reviews, May 2009

All right, so we have just accomplished the monumental task of eating at as many Miami restaurants as possible, so that I could bring back the most updated information for those of you who are planning a trip to the Sunshine State in the near future. A big thank you goes out to Debbie Zemlinsky and Blima & Jason Cohen for being great company!!
The restaurants are listed in no particular order based on the days we visited them. Please note that all restaurants are Kosher, however, if you wish to be certain, you may want to contact each establishment directly to verify which particular hechsher they hold. NOTE: Many of the restaurants automatically add on gratuity regardless of how many people are in your party. Unless you want to give a 36% or more tip (which you may if the service was unbelievably amazing), make sure that you check you bill.
Cafe Vert - 9490 Harding Ave, Surfside (dairy)
As we were staying in Bal Harbour, our No. 1 choice for breakfast was Cafe Vert. I have written about them in a previous post and am still very much in love with their crepes and omelets. Although there are several other places that offer breakfast fare in Miami, Cafe Vert offers that European vacation feel, which we love. We enjoyed to meals there over the duration of our stay and I have nothing but rave reviews for their cheese, mushroom and onion crepes, their feta and spinach omelets, Greek salad, soups and chocolate crepes. There is a large selection of other items, including fresh quiches and croissants. Currently Cafe Vert is under OK supervision so if you try to find them on, they will not be there. 
Harbour Grill - 9415 Harding Ave, Surfside (meat/sushi)
We did not dine inside the restaurants, but got 2 sushi rolls and Edamame for carry out. The restaurants is a mix of Israeli and American cuisine and has a sushi bar. The sushi was quite good although not on the cheap side. They also do Shabbos catering, however, you would need to provide at least a 24 hour notice and have a minimum of 4 people.
Weber Cafe - 3565 NE 207th St # A11, Miami (dairy)
Located at the Waterways in Aventura (at the same plaza as China Bistro), Weber Cafe is a cute place for a lunch. We set outside and ordered a paper thin pizza, which was great - very similar to The Flat offered at Malibu in Chicago. We also got smoked salmon paninis and an avocado salad all of which were quite good but not out of this world. The waitress was very attentive, which was nice because during my December trip I noticed the level of customer service dropping, hence no visit to China Bistro this time. Weber is also great to visit with kids because it's located right across from an ice cream shop, which has kiddie rides right outside of it, adding to the experience.
Prime Sushi - 726 W 41st St, Miami Beach (dairy / sushi)
Oh my, oh my. What can I say about Prime Sushi? This was my second visit, and I love it more and more. First of all, it's about the only place to get a creme brulee, which is actually awesome! But in addition to that their sushi rolls, appetizers and pizza are UNREAL (ok fine, maybe they are real, but they are really very good). We tried the fake scallops, edamame, and another appetizer, which I cannot recall now, which were all great. After that we got a pasta with Alfredo sauce, sweet potatoes and some secret ingredients and it was delicious:) I don't know if I would get it for one person, but it was definitely something that's great to share. All of the above was followed by a selection of sushi rolls, and I tell you, you cannot go wrong with any of the sushi rolls because they are all really really good! All of the sushi was capped off by the yummy creme brulee, and I can guarantee a repeat visit!!
Van Dyke Cafe - 846 Lincoln Rd, Miami (drinks only)
For those of you looking for an extra activity on an evening without kids, I strongly recommend the Van Dyke Cafe. Located in the middle of Lincoln Road in South Beach, this restaurant/cafe boasts indoor and outdoor seating and hosts a variety of live musicians on a regular basis. We visited it on a Saturday night and were fortunate enough to hear Palo! who played a mix of Afro-Cuban, Funk and Jazz music - SO FUN! They have a large outdoor seating area right on Lincoln Road, where you can have a drink and people-watch. The art work inside the restaurants is also note-worthy - great murals depicting famous paintings decorate the walls and the interior is quite romantic. A great place to visit on your own or with a larger group.
Lofty Latte - 534 W 41st St, Miami Beach (dairy)
On the way to Lincoln Road on Sunday morning, we made a stop at Lofty Latte for a quick breakfast. The place is cute, great soft-serve ice cream!! I tried a Bissaleh, which was a flaky pretzel shaped dough filled with cheese and spinach (you can get other fillings as well). It was pretty darn good! We also tried their mini pancakes, which proved to be an ideal kid meal, an omelet and a Caesar salad. The only thing I was truly unhappy about was my iced coffee, but who complains about iced coffee - it's pretty difficult to dissolve sugar in ice cold coffee I suppose:) The cafe is definitely child friendly as are most of the kosher restaurants in Miami and they do have free WI-FI. This was one of the places where we were surprised by automatic gratuity, it was kind of odd for a breakfast joint, but I guess it's the breakfast joints that barely get any tips.  Overall, it was a pleasant experience, but as I mentioned earlier, I will always have a soft spot for Cafe Vert:)
Thai Treat - 2176 NE 123rd St., North Miami (Meat/Thai/Indian/Sushi)
Now we get to the good part! My dream has finally come true and for the first time in years I had some Indian food! Indian food! I Love Indian Food! This trip was the first time we visited Thai Treat because we had previously heard that it wasn't super great, but this time, when I heard that they started serving Indian food, I decided that no matter what, I have to make it there. Let me tell you, it was so so worth it. Although not very cheap, the food was amazing! We made a mistake though by order miso soup off the Thai menu because I had a craving for it, but the soup really wasn't very good. I am totally sticking to Indian next time. We ordered a vegetable samosa appetizer, followed by Tandoori chicken and AbouGhobi, which is a vegetarian dish of potatoes and cauliflower. All the items were definitely above my expectations, the foods were served in authentic Indian dishes and if not for the Thai decor, which has not been updated since the restaurant made the Indian addition, I would have honestly thought that we are somewhere on Devon Avenue in the middle of the Indian community. After the meal we resolved to come back again before we go home, and come back we did! Once again we had the Samosa appetizer followed by Beef Madras with Basmati Rice. Mike decided to be adventurous and create a new experience for the sense so he also ordered some Thai Spring Rolls and a Pad See Ew with beef. My sister decided to add a sushi roll to the mixture so we walked out of Thai Treat pretty confused but happy! NOTE: Depending on where you are coming from, you may need to pay a toll to get to this restarant. Make sure you have cash on hand.
Yotvata - 18450 W Dixie Hwy, Miami (dairy)
This place reminded me of DaNali's in Chicago, nothing spectacular inside, nothing special to eat. We had a Caesar Salad and a Grilled Salmon Wrap. I think Blima tried a Sweet Potato soup that was pretty good and we also ordered the Stuffed Mushrooms. I will say that the Stuffed Mushrooms at DaNali's are in fact better, which is pretty sad considering that's about the only thing there that's decent. If you happen to be in the area of Aventura mall, then I suppose it makes sense to try this place, but then again, you can always go to the Waterways and have a better scenery.
Rare - 468 W 41st St, Miami Beach (meat)
A perfect place for a date or a group, Rare boasts a modern and tasteful decor, excellent service and a great piece of steak! All I have to say is that the people from Shallot's need to go and take some lessons on how to make a restaurant look attractive. Everything there, from the chandeliers to the house music is well thought out with the patron in mind. Our waitress was extremely attentive and ready to give suggestions, which was very helpful. Mike got an aged Rib Eye, which was excellent and I went with a Chicken Marsala (yes, I know, it was kind of dumb, but I was still kind of stuffed from lunch trying to do a community service here and eat at as many places as I can so that I could tell everyone about it later). We started out the meal with Mushroom Soup and Panzanella with heirloom tomatoes, homemade croutons and fresh basil, which was out of this world. The chicken was quite excellent too even though I am not a huge fan of white meat, I have to say that it was well prepared and juicy. The only thing that was not great was a side order of cream spinach that just tasted too Parve:) The steak was definitely worth the trip! They also have a large wine selection, which adds to the experience. We did not get dessert as we were pretty filled from the meal and were running late to the movie theater for "Angels and Demons". FYI, the Lincoln Road movie theater is not even ten minutes away.
La Parisienne - 1166 96th St, Bay Harbor Isles (dairy)
We made a quick stop at this bakery as it was right next door to the Pediatrician's office whom we had to visit when Eitan developed an unexplained 24 hour fever. By the way, Dr. Steven Segal is AMAZING, I highly recommend him if you have a need for a pediatrician. You can usually get in either the same day or the next day, the staff is extremely attentive and go above and beyond their call of duty. The doctor takes the time to explain everything to you, which I found very comforting. And no, we didn't get the swine flu, which he said is pretty unlikely and is totally overblown by the media. Anyway, we stopped at La Parisienne and had some coffee, fruit and croissants. I have seen some negative reviews online about this place, but honestly, I don't have anything bad to say about it. I love the fact that they had mini croissants, which were perfect for Eitan's small hands and that he really enjoyed. The fruit was very fresh as was the coffee. The place has a charming decor and we had no problems with service. I don't know that I would necessarily make a special trip to this place, but if you happen to be in the Bal Harbour/Surfside area, it's an option.
Cafe Emunah - 3558 N Ocean Blvd, Fort Lauderdale (dairy/fish/sushi)
If you are looking for a unique dining experience and happen to be in the Fort Lauderdale area, check out Cafe Emunah. Located about 15 minutes away from Fort Lauderdale airport, this venue proved to be the perfect ending to a great vacation. Founded by a Lubavitch Rabbi and giving off a Kabbalistic/Holistic vibe, this place is both a restaurant and tearoom. The interior is very zen, with white walls, minimalistic furniture and natural light. The menu boasts a wide selection of regular and seasonal items bearing creative names, such as Inspired Miso Soup or Peaceful Earth Burger, Cafe Emunah has achieved what so many kosher restaurants cannot - an attractive dining venue for EVERYONE. The Miso Soup was actually unbelievable as was the Chilean Sea Bass. Mike tried the Pasta, which was delicious. We also tried the spring rolls and the artichoke appetizer all of which were delightful. All of the menu items are organic and healthy. If you are not very hungry or have to wait for a table, Cafe Emunah has a lounge where you can relax and read - yes, they actually have books there. Honestly, this place was a truly unique experience and I would love a second serving:)
I hope that this was helpful to those of you planning a trip to Miami in the near future. If you are looking for kosher culinary innovation in conjunction with a good beach, Miami is definitely the place to be. Perhaps one of these days we will make it out to New York or Los Angeles - will keep you posted:)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chicago Kosher Restaurants

Due to numerous compliments and popular demand of my "Kosher Restaurants in Miami" article, I have decided to create this posting for all the travelers to the Windy City and the surrounding areas in the event that you are looking for a kosher place to eat. Although Chicago has a decent number of both dairy and meat restaurants, the dining scene leaves much to be desired. Below, I have broken up the restaurants by neighborhood and posted commentaries as applicable to each particular venue.

Downtown/Loop Area:

MetroKlub (meat) - 733 W Madison Street, Chicago

the restaurant is located on the first floor of the Crown Plaza hotel and is accessible both from the hotel lobby and from the street. The location is definitely great for all of the people working downtown who once in awhile need to take colleagues out to lunch. The one thing to be aware of when you come in is that the restaurant is divided into two separate sections - one kosher and one not. I was not aware of this information upon my visit to Metroklub and assuming that the entire facility was kosher, I had just sat down wherever the hostess had placed me. My first clue about the different sections came when I read the words like "Pork Chops" and "Shrimp Alfredo" on the menu. At first I thought that these might be imitation dishes, which are similar to the imitation "crab" we buy at our local supermarkets. However, the descriptions of the menu items led be to believe that something was off. Following my instincts, I asked the hostess whether the restaurant was in fact kosher. Her response was: "Oh, you need the kosher section? It's right through here". In short, when you visit, make sure to ask for the kosher section. The service at the restaurant was surprisingly good, which for reasons unknown to me is a rarity in the kosher restaurant community. I wish I could say the same about the food. My meal wasn't bad, but for the amount of money I was charged, I definitely expected something better. Upon my server's recommendation, I ordered tomato soup and a grilled chicken sandwich. The soup was watery and over salted, and the chicken in my sandwich was kind of dry. A friend who accompanied me to lunch and who does not keep kosher, was not impressed her pasta and salad, although having tasted my selections, she mentioned that her meal was better. If I had to compare the I would like to attribute these imperfections to the Metroklub being relatively new and I sincerely hope that the next time I venture into the downtown area, the food quality will have improved.

Spertus Cafe by Wolfgang Puck (meat) - 610 S Michigan Avenue, Chicago

This is another relatively new establishment, which was created by Laura Frenkel, the former owner and chef of the popular Shallot's restaurant. The Spertus Cafe is more casual and informal then the Metroklub and is a good place to grab a salad, soup or sandwich if you are downtown in the area of the Magnificent Mile. It is located on the second floor of the Spertus Institute and has a modern cafeteria feel with minimalistic decor, large windows and high ceilings. Spertus Institute, which houses Spertus Cafe is also available for private functions, and although the prices are definitely on the expensive side, the quality of the food, and the beautiful views of downtown are worth it.

West Rogers Park/Devon Avenue Area:

Taboun Grill (meat) - 6339 N California Avenue

Call me biased, but I am yet to find another kosher restaurant in Chicago that has better food then Taboun. When it first opened five years ago, Taboun was surrounded by fierce competition from two other brand new restaurants - Ronnie's and Marrakesh. Today, out of the three, Taboun is the only one that is still in business and boasts a loyal following of locals and tourists alike. The restaurant has even been featured on "Check Please", a television show where local restaurants are reviewed by different visitors. Although I would not come to Taboun for a special occasion, it is a great place to come with your family or friends. The restaurant is child-friendly as is the menu. I can never say now to their Yemenite soup, chicken thigh or beef kebab, or the Moroccan fish. Really, everything I have tried there was good and with exception of an occasional rude bus boy, I really have no complaints. I am also thrilled to announce that Taboun is opening a new location at the intersection of Dempster Street and Gross Point Road in Skokie. I truly hope that the decor of the new venue will be better suited for celebrating special occasions, such as anniversaries, birthdays, etc. I also am a big fan of Taboun catering and have utilized their catering service for numerous events.

Tel Aviv Pizza (dairy) - 6349 N California Avenue, Chicago

What can I say about Tel Aviv? I prefer not to eat inside, but I will admit that their thin crust pizza is my favorite. I wish that the interior and the service were even remotely close to the deliciousness of the pizza. It has been my dream for the past sixteen years when I first learned about Tel Aviv's existence that they do something to make the restaurants a bit more appealing to the general public. However, either due to lack of interest or lack of understanding of what a restaurant should look like, the owners of this establishment have yet to make my dream become reality. I am also pretty sure that a sitcom based on customer service at Tel Aviv would become a huge hit. Here is how a typical conversation goes if you try to place an order at Tel Aviv:
(phone rings)
Tel Aviv: "Tel Aviv!!!!"
Caller: "Hi, I would like to place an order for pick up please"
Tel Aviv: "What do you want????"
Caller: "A medium cheese pizza"
Tel Aviv: "We don't do medium - small or large?"
Caller: " Large please"
Tel Aviv: "OK bye"
All of the above is accompanied by a very impatient tone of voice.
If you want to order additional items you may have to call back three or four times and repeat the whole conversation over again. But as I have mentioned before, I am willing to put up with the rudeness of the employees for the delicious greasiness of the pizza. Those who have insider information know that one can also order typical Israeli items such as a special Shakshuka, which are not on the regular restaurant menu. Overall, I love using Tel Aviv for things such as kid birthday parties or family pizza nights. Don't count on their delivery service though. Expect the delivery time to be approximately sixty minutes after what you were promised by the order-taker. If you are on a strict time schedule, you are definitely better off picking up your food.

Great Chicago Food and Beverage Company (meat) - 3149 W Devon Avenue, Chicago

What can I say about Great Chicago... I have to admit that although I prefer not to eat inside the restaurant, I am absolutely addicted to their hot dogs, popcorn chicken and shwarma. Oh, and the third-pounders. However, I am still cherishing the hope that one day the owners of this local grease spoon will one day get a face lift - Extreme Makeover "Restaurant Edition" anyone? Kids of all ages are very much welcome at Great Chicago and I have not once heard anyone complain about the noise levels, which works well for those of you who have young children. I also wish that they would switch their fountain soft drink vendors to Pepsi or Coke. Right now RC is all that you can get. One great thing about the place is that every year they put up a Sukkah during the Harvest Holidays so that people can eat on premises. They also open right after Pesach and remain open until late so that those who have been deprived of bread for a week can get their carb fix. Overall, if you want a meat meal in a pinch, it's a good place to stop by and pick something up.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In Memory of Sherry Dimarsky z''l

As I write this post, I can't believe that it has been one year since the passing of someone very dear to so many of us. She was our friend, our teacher, our advocate, she was also simply our Sherry. For everyone who had been fortunate enough to know this amazing individual, whether personally, or through various types of on-line support groups, she was always a source of wisdom and strength. Many words have been said by many well-known people about Sherry, but I thought that you would like to get a glimpse of her through my eyes as well. Perhaps this article will bring a smile to your face as you picture some of the events described below.
I first met Sherry Dimarsky during one of the nights of Chanukah in 1992. I was a student in a self-contained Russian program at Hanna Sacks Bais Yakov in Chicago and Rabbi Dimarsky was one of our Limudei Kodesh (Holy Subjects) teachers. I was what they called "fresh off the boat" - no English, no sense of style (not that it has improved greatly:), and no friends. Rabbi Dimarsky posted an announcement that the whole class was invited to his home for a Chanukah party. I really didn't want to go for a variety of reasons, one of them being that in Russia nobody really went to their teachers' houses - that was just weird. My mother insisted that I go and make friends. Once I got to the Dimarskys home, the first person to greet me was Sherry. With a baby in her arms and a big smile on her face, she ushered me into the apartment and right away behaved as though we have known each other a lifetime. I don't remember much about the actual evening aside from two things: the Dimarskys' wedding album and Sherry's grand announcement as she was about to start baking latkes: "If you are a hard-working person, you would grate these potatoes by hand, but if you are lazy like me, you will use a food-processor". I remember thinking to myself: "Boy, this lady is really straight forward". Little did I know that snowy December evening, that this would by far not be the last time I visited the Dimarsky home or that I would be fortunate enough to find a great friend.
Over the course of high school I often saw Sherry along with the rest of the Dimarsky gang at various social functions and always marveled at her ability to look composed while juggling three small children, a job and a home.
Fast forward a few years... I graduated from high school and spent a year in Israel where for one reason or another, I made the decision to stop being religious. However, upon my return to the states, I had become a regular guest at the Dimarsky home for Shabbos and holidays and although I was not what you would call an observant Jew, that part of my life didn't matter to Sherry and if it did, she never showed it. Her conversations with me were never condescending or self-righteous, she was always so down to earth and open-hearted - it was as though she always knew exactly how much space and time I needed to make my own decisions and come to my own realizations. I had always valued her treatment tremendously because even my own father had grown impatient with my rebelliousness and I was glad to have someone in my life who could provide a link to Yiddishkeit, which I had craved no matter what, all the while not judging me for a moment.
When I got engaged in 2002, the first Mazel Tov I received was from Sherry. She was thrilled to be able to spread the good news and I received many a phone call from friends and acquaintances saying that they heard about the engagement through the Dimarskys. It was never a question that I would have an orthodox chuppah, kosher food, and separate dancing at my wedding mainly out of respect for my parents, however, I knew at the time, that my husband and I weren't really planning to take on too many mitzvot once we got married. Sherry knew that, but she still insisted that I take kallah classes before getting married. I was fortunate enough to learn with Mrs. Miriam Jaffe whom Sherry held in very high regard, and it was this experience that influenced me to embark on observing some of the basic and most important commandments such as family purity.
Sherry was there for me every step of the way with wedding planning, she even took us to meet the caterer whom she thought would do the best job considering our very Russian background. She had always prided herself in knowing Russians very well - what food we like, what things we think are funny. She always made it a point to pronounce all the strange Russian names correctly, which I had always appreciated. At the wedding, with the portable oxygen tank on her shoulder, she was the one who stayed by me the whole time, making sure I knew when to greet guests, when to daven and when to have a quiet moment to myself. She was already very sick, but people often forgot it because of her constant will to do everything herself and never show a sign of weakness. I remember though, that during dancing, I glanced over and saw her standing on the edge of the dance floor, smiling and clapping, but there was tremendous sadness in her eyes - she wanted so badly to be able to share this Simcha by joining in with everyone else but already couldn't.
In the following years, she had welcomed my husband and I in her home numerous times and I remember feeling tremendous longing in wanting to be part of the community that she was in, wanting to be closer to her. Even when she was too sick and lay in a hospital bed, she always had kind words for visitors if they needed some. She was also extremely passionate and strong-worded when she felt things were wrong. She would often get into heated arguments with people and tell them exactly what she thought of them or the situation, which is another trait that I have greatly admired. In 2004, when she finally received a new lung after years of waiting, we were all thrilled and excited, it was as if she had gotten a second chance at life and I felt confident that I would be able to share many more years of friendship with her. I remember her hosting a special breakfast in honor of her successful transplant, which was attended by many people who were all grateful for the chance she had been given because she had meant so much to so many.
I was always astounded at the amount of energy she possessed. She was Rabbi Dimarsky's right hand at running Heritage, a synagogue for young Russian students and professionals, where Sherry planned all of the holiday parties, assisted couples getting married, hosted Shabbos meals and served as the creative director of the congregation. She was the one that people called for advice, or when they just needed a shoulder to cry on...
When several years after my wedding had passed and I still didn't have a child, she was the only person I confided in, and it was her who encouraged me to seek treatment by whatever means necessary, both medically and spiritually. She would call me up and tell me which perakim of Tehillim I should recite, she organized numerous prayer groups on our behalf, she even convinced one of the biggest Heritage contributors to give us the gift of Kol HaNeorim on Simchat Torah (for those of you who don't know what that is, it is an Aaliyah which is given to someone as a merit to have children). When our friends, Irina and Vlad Tokarskiy had their son Natan, and gave us the honor of being the Kvaterim at his bris, which is another thing done in the merit of having children, it was Sherry who said to me: "You hold that baby and you look at his face, and you give him brachos as big as the world, that he should be a light unto his parents and that nothing but goodness should emanate from him". I remember looking at baby Natan, and repeating her words in my head over and over again, tears streaming down my face. She was always a source of inspiration and encouragement and I had always drawn tremendous strength from her.
When we finally had our first son, Eitan, Sherry was once again by my side, telling me what I need to do once I got home, how to organize the bris, the pidyon haben, how to nurse, how to change, etc. She was the one who told me that it was OK not to worry about anyone else but my baby and myself, that it was OK to take the baby out of the house and not to bundle him up in fifty blankets on top of fifty sweaters as Russians may typically do.
As much as I was grateful to have Sherry in my life, I always had a nagging feeling that we had a bit of a one-sided relationship - she was always the giver and I was always on the receiving end. When in March of 2007 Sherry called me and said that she and Rabbi Dimarsky wanted to come over to my house and talk, I knew right away that something was wrong. Once I saw her, I instantly knew what she was going to say - she was sick again. The lung, which had served her for the past three years was no longer working properly and she was looking for someone to assist her and Rabbi Dimarsky with some of the Heritage social events. After witnessing the amazing Bar Mitzvahs, which Sherry had planned for her three older sons, I was a bit intimidated but also very honored that she would entrust me with such a task. Over the course of the next several months I was privileged, with her support, to coordinate a number of events at Heritage, which I hope people have enjoyed.
And then she disappeared. At first it was the phone, which she couldn't answer any more, and then it was the emails. Then, at a Heritage bowling event in late November of 2007, Rabbi Dimarsky told me that Sherry was very ill. I refused to believe it and for weeks walked around in complete denial, thinking that she will get better again just like she did last time. Even when emails began arriving about Sherry's critical condition and conference calls were held with Tehillim recitations, I found it all very surreal, as if it wasn't really happening with her.
And then, last January, the long-dreaded email announcing her passing came. Reading it, I said to myself: "she was sick for so long, she is at peace now, she is in a better place". However, when I came to her funeral and saw the hundreds and hundreds of people who had come to pay their last respects, people whose lives she had touched in one way or another, I realized - she is truly gone and she will not be there to answer my questions, or to give me words of encouragement. She will not be there to see her boys graduate from high school and get married. I began to cry, selfishly thinking of how much I will miss her and I remember thinking that I almost wish I didn't know her, just so that I wouldn't feel the loss to such an extent. But then I realized that I have been so fortunate in knowing her, in sharing my life with her, in learning from her, that I would never trade these experiences for anything in the world. Although there are many people who were much closer to Sherry then I was, my friendship with her was very special and I will treasure it for the rest of my life.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Upsherin AKA the BIG 3!

This blogging thing is great!!
Ok, so if you have a little boy who is about to turn 3 and you still haven't cut off his gorgeous locks, this posting may be helpful to you. Since I like doing things nice and early, I have already begun thinking about what I would like to do for Eitan's upsherin.
So the dilemma is this, do we make it a big big party with lots of entertainment, or do we just do a small thing where Misha will take him to Cheder and the family will perform the ceremonial cutting. By the way, Ruslana, I promise, you can still give him his first official haircut:) Talk about free advertising. If anyone out there is getting married and needs a nice up-do (or down-do), I love going to Lana Abelev at the salon in Carson Pirie Scott in Wilmette:)
Anyway, back to upsherins. Since we have still not decided what route to take regarding the upcoming celebration, I have decided to collect as many ideas as possible from various sources and post them here for your enjoyment. Feel free to use any and all information as well as add your own pointers.
For those of you reading this blog and wondering, what the heck is an upsherin, let me clue you in. I am sure many of you have noticed little Jewish boys who look more like hippies or girlie girls with their light or dark locks all over the place. Sometimes the locks will be in a ponytail making the child look as girlie as ever. Why do this to your child you ask? Well, according to old Jewish customs, a man is compared to a tree. Just as a tree is not supposed to be harvested during the first three years of its existence, a boy's hair should not be cut during the first three years of his life. Turning three years old symbolizes the boy's entry into the adult society, it is a time when he begins observing the Mitzvot and learning Torah. He is now a toddler instead of a baby he has been up until this point.
-hold the upsherin at a holy place, such as a synagogue, however, people can also host the event at a home or other venue of their choice in order to accommodate their individual traditions and number of attendees.
-light refreshments and hors d'oeuvres are standard fare.
-the parents of the child should bring a Tzedakkah box to the Upsherin for their son to hold so that the guests can give him money to put in the box as they cut his hair. The money can then be donated to any organization or individual (preferably Jewish).
-the first person to cut the hair of the child should be an important spiritual leader for the parents, i.e. a Rabbi they greatly respect.
-the first cut is generally performed in the spot where the child will one day place his Tefillin.
-the peyot or side-locks mandated by Torah law are left in tact as the first mitzvah of observance.
-Divrei Torah are always a welcome occurrence at an upsherin.
-prior to cutting the hair, it is customary for the child, together with a Rav, to go through the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and touch each letter with fingers covered in honey to symbolize the sweetness of learning Torah. Some people prefer making cupcakes or lolipops with the Hebrew letters on them and baking a Torah shaped cake.
-Jewish music and dancing around the child make the festivities that much more special.
-although many parents save their child's hair for posterity, some choose to donate it to organizations such as Locks of Love, where the hair can be used to make wigs for children with cancer. Others weigh the hair and give the equivalent of its weight to charity.
-if the child is outgoing, he is encouraged to recite the letters of the alphabet as well as sing a Hebrew song and recite blessings out loud.
-some of the key items a child receives at his upsherin are his first pair of tzitzit and his first kippah.
-there are many days in the Hebrew calendar when cutting of the hair is prohibited. If the 3rd birthday falls on one of these days, one should contact their local Rabbi for information on the next available date.
-gifts with Jewish connotations, i.e. books, stuffed Sifrei Torah, Jewish puzzles and games are all appropriate presents.
-it is nice to have an activity for children to work on during the party, which they can also take home as a party favor. For example, they can color and decorate a pushka and take it home with them to use as a Tzedakkah box. For more ideas, you can visit
-if you do choose to have an activity, it is a good idea to have one or two teenage girls supervising the kids.
-cakes can be a big deal at an upsherin. Some ideas for cakes are a Torah shaped cake, or cakes that look like a kippah or tzitzit. You can also make a cake that looks like a train using loaf pans and adding Aleph Beit to them. Other ideas are having small cupcakes and giving your guests a chance to do their own decorating with sprinkles, candies, etc. Or you can bake cookies with your child's Hebrew initials.
-here is a link to a booklet, which was created for a little boy's upsherin, which you can adapt to your own liking and hand out to your guests or mail it with the invitation so that they can familiarize themselves with the customs and traditions of an upsherin:
-families may choose to have additional entertainment for the kids at the upsherin, such as balloon artists, face-painters, caricaturists, etc. Some feel that activities such as this can take away from the spiritual significance of the event, i.e. people forget what they came for. I am not an expert on deciding what is better - having wild kids running around with nothing to do, or spending loads of money to make sure they are occupied, so I think it is up to each individual family to decide what works for them. After all, nobody knows your guests better then you, and if you don't know your guests, then you should probably not be inviting them:)
Good luck to all of you and may your son's upsherin be one of the many exciting milestones in his and your life! And remember, you always get an A+ for effort:)
Hope this helps and Good Luck!


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Miami Kosher Restaurant Reviews

Hi everyone,
with everything going on in Israel, I have decided to cheer myself up with some reminiscing over a recent trip that I took to Miami. I was lucky enough to spend a week with one of my best friends Debbie and my two boys - unfortunately mu super-husband had used up all of his time off for the Jewish Holidays and wasn't able to join us. I don't think he was too disappointed though - after all he got a week of peace and quiet (and a blizzard too:).
Anyway, aside from the fact that Debbie lives in beautiful Bal Harbour, in a building full of incredible amenities and right on the beach, I was also fortunate enough to visit many of the kosher restaurants in the area. For those of you who are planning a visit to sunny Florida - I hope you find this information helpful as well as other pointers I will add regarding travelling with children.
Upon the recommendation of my very wise friends Shlomo and Nelly, I contacted a baby gear rental company prior to making the trip. I contacted the Baby Travel Company (, who were extremely helpful and professional as well as prompt in responding to my email inquiries. They contacted my host and made all arrangements with her to set up a crib that I had rented, which was assembled and ready to go by the time we got home from the airport. They even left a really cute beach ball for the kids with the company logo on it - a little thing, but in my opinion incredibly thoughtful.
When flying with kids, I strongly recommend occupying them with whatever works. For us it is a portable DVD player for our 2 year old Eitan and a stack of Baby Einstein and Handy Manny DVDs as well as a Magna Doodle Pad and his favorite Miss Spider book. Baby Oren seemed perfectly well entertained by what was going on around him and I didn't really have to worry about him. The airport personnel seems to have a lot of mercy on people travelling with young kids, at least that's how I felt. Everyone smiled even when the kids were restless, which gave me a little bit more self-confidence and put my mind at ease. They allowed me to take the strollers all the way to the door of the aircraft, but I think it would have been easier to have the baby in a baby carrier and push just one single stroller. Since I don't own a baby carrier, I as stuck with a stroller and a cart seat on top of a snap-n-go.
For those of you who think that I am completely out of my mind travelling alone, let me put you at east and say that my parents were also on the same flight to Florida, so they helped me out in the airport, which was of course a huge favor!!
Once in Miami, I was more then thrilled to see Debbie and get to the apartment. Once we settled in and the kids were put to bed, I had the time to step out onto the balcony and take in the amazing view of the ocean and the incredibly clear sky above me where the stars were so bright, I felt like I could almost reach up and touch them.
Now, for the most important part - the food. Coming from Chicago, where the kosher restaurant scene is should we say pitiful, I was really looking forward to tasting many things, which I can only vaguely recall now from my non-kosher days:)
Our first stop was Cafe Vert, located at 9490 Harding Avenue in Surfside. We visited Cafe Vert on our last visit to Miami in March and I really wanted to go back and have some of their delicious crepes and omelets. The most recent owner of the establishment, immigrated to Miami from Marseilles, France and his family has joined him there in recent months. Needless to say, I was not disappointed with my crepes and my feta and spinach omelet. I love the atmosphere at Cafe Vert, the lime green walls, the retro french posters and the chalkboard menu on the wall. You can also eat outside if you are lucky enough to get the only table on the sidewalk, but in nice weather it's great! I strongly recommend Cafe Vert for breakfast or brunch. Eitan really loved their croissants and chocolate crepes with fresh strawberries!!
Later that day we visited "thirty six" located at the Waterways in Aventura. "Thirty six" is a dairy restaurant, which serves a nice mix of cheesy favorites as well as sushi. I loved the fact that the second we came in, the owner rushed over to us and asked if I would like a plate of french fries for Eitan, who obviously would have no patience to wait for his meal. I also absolutely loved the live music at the restaurant, but unfortunately, forgot to ask for the name of the musician.
Our server was a little slow, but I didn't mind too much because the entertainment was great. I rather enjoyed my panini sandwich with smoked salmon and Eitan liked their cheese pizza. I do have to say though, for a dairy restaurant, their dessert was extremely disappointing. I ordered a fresh strawberry tart, which looked great, but other then the strawberries, the tart was inedible. I felt like I was chewing on cart board.
For Shabbos Debbie decided to indulge me and picked up a chocolate mousse cake from Extravaganza Bakery, located at 12117 Biscayne Blvd., Miami ( I tell you, that place is magic. The customer service is pretty great too. They even attach a plastic cake server to the top of the cake box so you have something to slice and serve your cake with. I thought it was a pretty big deal and for those of you who have been to my house, you know that although I own plenty of cool gadgets like a super duper pineapple slicer from Williams-Sonoma or the Magic Bullet Food Processor, I still don't own a cake server (can you say LOSER:)). Anyway, the cake was fabulous and I heard that you can even go straight to the bakery and have dessert there if you would like to please your sweet tooth.
On Sunday, after yet another great breakfast at Cafe Vert we decided to make a trip to the all-famous Lincoln Road. Although there are no kosher restaurants right on Lincoln Road, there are two kosher ice cream shops as well as a few "pubs" where one can sit down, have a beer and people-watch. When we were there, the Chabad had erected a huge Menorah and Dreidel made out of sea shells. The two structures were standing right in the middle of Lincoln Road surrounded by Chabad representatives who offered Jewish passers-by to put on Tefillin and were inviting everyone to the Chabad Chanukah celebration. Once we got hungry, we headed to "Tea for Two", which was the closest kosher restaurant to the area. Located at 1205 17th street in Miami Beach, one would think that the owners of this establishment would be going out of their way to ensure superb customer service and quality of the food. However, to my great dismay, neither the food, nor the customer service were anywhere near acceptable. When we first walked into the restaurant, the waiter greeted us with a grim face and said that us coming in with two strollers and two small children was a real problem because the restaurant is too narrow to accommodate us. Considering that there was only one other patron seated, I don't think they should have been so picky as to discriminate against people with young children.
I ordered miso soup and avocado salad from a waiter with a major attitude. While we were waiting for the food to arrive, the waiter along with his co-worker were sitting in a corner giving us dirty looks as if trying to decide whether we were worthy to be in their presence. Once the food finally arrived, I discovered that the miso paste in my miso soup wasn't completely diluted and there wasn't enough dressing for even a fraction of my salad. To top off the already horrible experience, when we asked for the check, the waiter informed us that he will not allow us to pay with a credit card because his "manager told him not to accept it". This came just minutes after the only other patron of the establishment paid with her VISA card. Thankfully I had some cash on hand and we paid and got out of there as quickly as we could. I would have to say that hands down "Tea for Two" was the most horrendous dining experience of the entire trip.
In the evening, my parents who were also vacationing in Miami invited us to join them for dinner. We headed to "China Bistro" located at the Waterways in Aventura. I am generally very fond of the Waterways because there are several kosher restaurants in the same plaza, you can sit inside or outside and not have to smell car emissions, there is music entertainment on Saturday nights and there are fun little rides for kids right next to the ice cream shop. I feel in love with the Waterways on our last visit to Miami, and at that time we visited "China Bistro" twice because we loved everything about it - the interior, the food and the service. I was excited to go there with my parents because they don't go out to eat very often, so when they do, they like to visit places that are worth making a trip for. We opted for outdoor seating because of the kids and the hostess was very accommodating. She even gave Eitan a blue Mardi Gras necklace to play with. We ordered two appetizers: the spring rolls and chicken lettuce wraps, which were both pretty good. For our main course, we ordered several sushi rolls and one salmon entree as well as a hot dog and fries for Eitan. Although the salmon and hot dog came out relatively quickly, it seemed that the sushi chef forgot about our rolls. By the time we finally got the rolls, without any kind of apology from the server, we were done with the fish and weren't even so hungry any more. I do have to admit though that the rolls were pretty decent and I did enjoy them. Even my father, who usually likes to stick to very traditional foods said that he wouldn't mind having this kind of sushi more often:)
For dessert, I really ordered a pecan tart and my parents ordered a chocolate dessert similar to the one offered in Chicago by Shallot's restaurant. After some time the server returned and informed me that they were out of the pecan tart and that I can have the chocolate dessert on the house. Overall, I felt the service at China Bistro had definitely slipped since our March visit and although the food and ambiance were still there, the service really diminished the experience. On top of that, when we got the bill, it seemed unreal to pay $200 for three adults and one toddler considering that we didn't get any alcohol and only one of us got an actual entree. However, compared to the awful experience at Tea for Two earlier that day, I was OK with anything.
On Monday, we visited the "Jungle Island" located right in Miami. The best part about the field trip was the lack of visitors and the close-up access we had to all the exhibits. In addition to its famous parrots, the park boasts a nice selection of other jungle animals, such as monkeys, tigers, lions, etc. It also has a small "farm area' where children can see sheep, turkeys and pigs. There is a nice size playground and picnic area as well. Eitan was kind of scared of the birds (he must take after me) because they weren't caged and were screaming loudly and flapping their wings, but we were both fascinated by how beautiful they were. The weather was also amazing, which made the outing that much more special. After seeing all the birds we headed to "Gourmet Carrot" located at 959 West Avenue, in Miami Beach. Since the weather was gorgeous and we had heard that there was a huge blizzard back home in Chicago, we decided to enjoy the beautiful outdoors and set outside. The restaurant special in healthy meat and parve dishes and has a nice selection of fresh juices. I ordered buffalo wings and a stir fry pasta, which was great and Eitan loved their chickpea soup and home made apple juice. I would definitely love to visit "Gourmet Carrot" again and try some of their specialties.
In the evening we were able to get a baby-sitter (thanks Mark:) and headed to Prime Sushi located on 41st Street. The interior of the restaurant is quite pleasant and although it is called Prime Sushi, the menu features both Japanese and Italian items.
I ordered tuna sashimi over a bowl of rice and a side of edamame. My friends ordered a few sushi rolls all of which looked creative and delicious. Overall the food was quite good. For dessert I selected a creme brulee and since I haven't had a creme brulee in about a year, I was very excited and not disappointed - it was delicious.
On Tuesday, we headed to Cine Citta, located at 9544 Harding Avenue in Surfside. Everything we ate at the dairy restaurant was unbelievable. The fish soup, the mushroom ravioli and the creme brulee were out of this world! The service was impeccable and they were very tolerant of the kids being their lovely loud self.
On our last day in Miami, my parents took us to Grill Time, located at 16145 Biscayne Blvd in Miami. The Chilean Sea Bass we had was absolutely delicious and the quantity of food provided was just unbelievable. The service was great too!!
Needless to say, we were quite sad to leave the warm beaches of Miami and to come back to freezing Chicago along with its unfortunate kosher dining scene. But home is home and we'll just have to wait until we can once again bask in the warm sunshine and enjoy the delicious food offered by the many kosher venues of Miami:)
For all of you going, have an awesome time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Yei, I am officially in the world of blogging now! That's super-exciting!!
I was kind of hoping that my blog will be about all kinds of cute things - fashion, travel, restaurants and stories about raising my two boys, however, my very first blog entry is about something that is so heart-breaking and so appalling, that I can't help but talk about it here.
Today, the Israeli Defense Forces began a ground operation in Gaza after a week of air attacks aimed at Hamas militants who two weeks ago tore up the cease-fire treaty between Hamas and Israel and demonstratively, on international television, tossed the treaty away.
I am shocked and ashamed of the American "objective" leftist media, who have reported nothing but negativity about Israel in yet another pro-Palestinian propaganda stint. I have been listening to CNN and FOX news for the past 4 hours and I am yet to hear anyone speaking out against Hamas or acknowledging that this terrorist organization uses innocent civilians as human shields in order to carry out their operations. What I do see are hoards of people all over the world protesting against Israel with slogans such as "Latinos for Palestine" and "South Africa will not be free until Palestinians are free". So I wonder - are people blind? Or do they just hate Jews so much that they are looking for any way possible to yet again do something against Israel and the Jewish people.
Although as a mother I feel terrible seeing the images of young children killed and wounded, I then remember other images, the ones of little Shalhevet Pass who was murdered in a park by Arab terrorists, the ones of Orli Ofir, a twelve year old girl having dinner with her family at a Haifa restaurant that was blown up by a suicide bomber and the massacre at Dolphin Disco night club where dozens of teenagers were blown up by yet another suicide bomber. And what about Sbarro's on Yaffo Street, which was one of my favorite hang-outs as a student in Israel? What about countless other places and countless other people that have been destroyed by terrorists? How can I have pity for a nation that encourages its sons and daughters to give their young lives by murdering innocent people? How can I have compassion for leaders who promise martyrdom and give money to anyone willing to murder civilians in the most grotesque ways possible?
But the media never remembers attacks against Israel, they don't even remember the very recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which were specifically aimed at Jews and Americans. What they do remember is that Israel is the "aggressor". An "aggressor" who should stand by and silently watch while Hamas, Hezbollah and others shower this tiny piece of land with rockets and missiles. A Palestinian activist protesting on the streets of Manhattan stated: "The aim of Arab civil rights organizations is never to hurt the United States or other countries, it is only to defend the Palestinian people". Are you kidding? What about 9/11? Did we already forget about that? What about the Madrid attacks and the Mumbai attacks? How is all that so quickly forgotten? A member of the Palestinian Legislative Council was just interviewed by FOX News and she stated that Hamas is not doing anything wrong because they were elected to power in Gaza in a democratic manner and now, Israel is prohibiting them from "democratically exercising their power".
As all of these thoughts are racing through my head, I remind myself that although all these awful things are taking place, the outcome is simply not up to us. The Almighty has already decreed what the end of this ordeal will entail. At this time the only thing that we as observers can do is to raise our eyes to the heavens and to plead with Hashem to protect our brothers, fathers, cousins, sons and daughters, friends and family who are fighting this never-ending war on terrorism and all of the innocent civilians who have to live their lives in fear daily.
It is said that King David's Psalm 20 is an appropriate thing to recite on an occasion such as this. I ask that everyone who reads this take a moment and say these all-powerful words in hopes that this conflict comes to a favorable end.
Until next time, and with prayers for a peaceful tomorrow, when I can write about something more positive, I leave you with the text to Psalm 20.
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.

3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.

4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.

5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the LORD grant all your requests.

6 Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he answers him from his holy heaven
with the saving power of his right hand.

7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

9 O LORD, save the king!
Answer [a] us when we call!