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Friday, April 05, 2013

It's Time for Shlissel Challah!

Last year's Shlissel Challah expedition!

There is a special segulah (auspicious action) among many Ashkenazi families before the first Shabbos after Pesach each year to bake fresh challah. The custom among some is to bake challah in the shape of a key or with a key inside of it for parnasah (livelihood/good fortune) in the year ahead. This custom represents the idea of the Jewish people asking G-d for manna during their trek through the desert and the miraculous fact that G-d provided and continues to do so generation after generation
later. I wrote more about shlissel challah last year in this post, and this year, I am finally sharing my no-longer-top-secret recipe for gluten-free oat challah. For those who are intolerant or sensitive to gluten and/or wheat, this recipe is a tasty, tried and true alternative to be able to partake of the mitzvah of washing the hands and bentsching over challah on Shabbos and yom tov. Although in the photo above I used mini-loaf pans, I often bake rolls in a muffin tin. The recipe freezes quite nicely. It does not require time to rise and is more of a quick-bread in nature. It is not so easy to handle (the dough is quite sticky) so I do not recommend attempting to shape and braid it by hand. There are, however, a variety of challah shaped baking pans available for those who wish venture that way. And, without further ado, here is the coveted recipe (per a dear friend of mine in Spokane, WA who was brave enough to work all of the kinks and mishaps out of it long before I ever was brave enough to try baking it myself!):

Gluten-free Oat Challah


  • 1 2/3 cups warm water
  • 1 TBSP active dry yeast
  • 10 "squirts" agave syrup or honey
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 eggs (you can divide the last one and leave the egg-white to use as a glaze if you wish, but I am not so fancy about things--I plunk them all on in there)
  • 3/4 cup rice flour (white or brown work fine)
  • 3 cups gluten-free oat flour*
  • 3 tsp xanthan gum
*I use Bob's Red Mill brand flours as they are kosher and certified gluten free. Not all oat flour is gluten free and for those who are extremely sensitive, it is imperative to make sure you are using gluten free oats.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare your baking pans of choice. I usually use muffin tins and paper liners for challah rolls but you can use a loaf pan or challah shaped pan and plan to adjust baking time accordingly. I do recommend with metal or glass bakeware that you spray non-stick oil on ahead of time just in case.

2. Add yeast to warm water as well as sugar and honey/agave. Allow mixture to stand and activate (about 10 minutes) until bubbly.

3. Meanwhile, mix your dry ingredients (flours and xanthan gum) in a large mixing bowl. Add the water, sugars and yeast mixture, the oil and salt and check and add the 5 eggs to bowl. Mix very well. I use an electric hand mixer but you can mix by hand as well if you wish keeping in mind that the act of mixing replaces kneading and will allow for a better texture when the proper amount of time and strength is devoted to it.

4. Spoon dough into prepared pan(s) and for muffin-tin rolls, bake for about 20 minutes--or until the tops are lightly golden-brown. Allow to cool completely before freezing any. They defrost quite well in the refrigerator overnight as well. 

Wishing all a good Shabbos and that we should all be blessed in the following year with parnasah and hatzlacha in all we do. I'm off to go locate a key I can part with for the next day or two and to procure the numbers of some local dentists in case I forget which roll I bake it into...

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

I Was a Miner For a Heart of Gold

This past summer I was listening to a lecture on the topic of finding a shidduch (a match/spouse) by the talented and vibrant Dr. Lisa Aiken. She tells of the following scenario (and I loosely paraphrase):

There are so many singles in this day and age. On a popular beach frequented by many single regulars, a woman notices a man she's not seen there before. Boldly, she walks up and introduces herself.

"I've not seen you here before, are you new to the area?"

"Well, yes," he explains, "I am, actually."

"Wonderful! Welcome! What, if you don't mind my asking, brought you here?"

"Oh, I have tuberculosis and I figured the fresh ocean air would do me some good."

"Oy vey, I'm sorry to hear that. What do you do for a living?"

"I'm between jobs right now, so to speak..."

"Oh wow, I hope the right thing comes along soon!"

"Yeah, me, too! It's pretty hard to find work especially since I just got out of prison."

"Prison?! Oh my goodness! What were you in for?"

"Well, I killed my wife..."

"Ah! So you're single!!! Hi, I'm Sue, it's so nice to meet you! Hey, would you like to go out sometime?"

     When you reach a certain stage of your mid-twenties (yes, I'm still in my mid-twenties), the categorization of your marital status as single starts to elicit looks of sympathy and even empathetic wishes and blessings that you should, G-d willing, find the right person at the right time. Some folks are even so bold as to encourage you to get off your tuchus and get on finding your basherte (soulmate)--after all, you're not getting any younger and you do want to have children, right? My friends' son (now 4) was just learning to walk when he toddled over to me with a copy of some glossy hard-covered volume "How to Find Your Shidduch in 30 Days" or something like that. And I was only in my early mid-twenties then!! 

    There came a point at the right time and after the right amount of personal, spiritual, and practical preparation, that I also felt it was time to get off my tuchus and get on the task of dating. Yes, I said task. Date is a four letter word. It is a delicious fruit, I enjoy it with a smattering of peanut butter or sometimes pureed with chocolate and cashews and rolled into delectable little dessert balls. But the act of looking for, talking to, meeting for the first time and going out on dates--that was terrifying! I decided one year ago on the first night of Pesach to enlist some major help. I asked G-d. I took on saying a special tefilla (prayer) every day that at the right time I should meet the right person. That he should be a kind person and a holy person with a great love of Torah and Yiddishkeit. That no one else's ill intentions--not even my own--should get in the way of this. And then I got chutzpadik. As I lit the yom tov candles one year ago on the first night of Pesach, I davened that I should meet my basherte within the year to follow.

    And I made some other preparations. I moved across the country; you change your location, you change your mazel (luck). I asked friends and mentors to keep me in mind. And then I went back to sitting on my tush and waiting. Everyone had this burning question for me: what are you looking for in a shidduch? I could stumble around the answer, but more often than not, it included what I wasn't looking for or what type of person I thought might be interested in me. I really felt in a sense unclear about how to answer the question. 

On one hand, the answer seemed very simple: I'm looking for my basherte! It's not rocket science, you know! Chassidus teaches that before we are even born, we are already connected to our basherte on High. We are as one soul. It is only through the process of descending into this physical earth that we are separated and made to spend our days looking tirelessly to reunite with that other half. This is the essence of that longing to fill an impalpable void. This is the yearning behind our loneliness and the hope that sustains us despite a feeling of being somehow incomplete. 

On the other hand, the answer was complicated: how could I define and describe my soulmate when I could not even accurately define or describe myself? For some reason, it doesn't apparently work well to say, "I'm looking for someone that resembles the other half of me. Does that sound familiar? Have you seen him anywhere?" A few friends mentioned some potential shidduchim and I even went so far as to meet one a few times. More and more, I felt the waters muddy. Rather than realizing immediately that my level of doubt was indicative of the match just not being right, I often tried to alter my perception and see it differently. Maybe I could somehow make it work--after all, nobody knows right away when they meet the person they're going to marry, do they? And then in a night of utter exhaustion, fear, and desperation, I wrote a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. 

I'd done this only one other time when my health was suffering a few years ago, and with G-d's help and the Rebbe's blessing, I was finally diagnosed and treated for my sleep disorder. It was time at the very least to express my gratitude. After all, having one's physical, emotional and spiritual health is no small thing to be grateful for! I also wanted another blessing. I wanted help to find my basherte. The plan was to visit the Rebbe's Ohel  (grave-site) for the very first time and hand deliver it. As the days passed before the trip, I still hadn't sat down to write it. I had no idea what to say I was looking for. Finally in the wee hours before I'd leave, I just wrote what I could. Please, I asked, help me find the right man at the right time. This seemed, yet again, a bit vague. So at the very end I added, "and please, let me know without a doubt, with complete faith and certainty that he is the one, that he is my basherte." 

Life is funny. Stuff happens, plans change, hurricanes come, and for a multitude of reasons that could only be Divine, I never made it to the Ohel to deliver my letter. Time passed and again I got a nudge from a friend. You should join one of those websites, he suggested. Of course Hashem provides the right person at the right time, but be willing to help that miracle happen. I got sick of hearing it. I didn't want to do it, but again, I got chutzpadik and I said "Fine. I don't think it will work, but I'll sign up for one website for one month. And if it doesn't work, that's it. I'm going back to 'my way!'" (whatever that was!) I joined one of these sites on the first of January. I haphazardly threw together my profile, cringing at all the categories I had to somehow fit inside or outside of. I sat back, I kept praying and I resigned to letting a shadchan (matchmaker) I'd never even meet let alone talk to do the work of finding my basherte. On January 16th, I got a message. And, with G-d's grace and answer to a year of heartfelt tefillos as well as the Rebbe's blessing, one day before the first night of Pesach, my basherte and I got engaged. We will, G-d willing, be married in 4 months.

My chosson (groom) is an amazing man. He is a person of great kindness, great integrity, intense faith and determination. He is at once incredibly strong and incredibly gentle. His wisdom inspires me and his desire to always learn and grow humbles me. He says he knew from the first time he heard my voice on the phone that I was the one. I felt immediately drawn to him as well, though my initial doubt tempered my joy with caution. However on the morning before we were to meet face to face for the first time, I woke up with an seemingly dream-induced notion: I was going to meet my husband that day. When I saw him walking toward me as we met that afternoon in Brooklyn, all I could think was "Well, there you are you! I was looking everywhere for you!" By the end of our second date, I knew this was the man I would marry. 

I've asked many friends in different stages of life and marriage how and when they knew when they found the one. The responses are as varied and colorful as the individuals and couples themselves. One said he knew right away, he just had to wait for his wife to agree. One said he knew because everything he had to go through to get to that point felt like nothing at all. Many said they felt sure when they could not fathom life without the other one alongside them. For me, the aspects of familiarity when I first laid eyes on my chosson were at once startling and deeply comforting. I didn't have to define or categorize anything--we are two halves of the very same wonderfully complete whole. And the essence of this realization radiates the most beautiful light that shines upon and around us. In one split second, at the very right time and for exactly the right reasons, all of the decades, the years, the months and weeks, the hours and the minutes and every moment that we spent in search of each other--whether actively or passively--all of that might as well have been an instant. It wasn't too long and it wasn't too hard. Every and any pain endured to reach the height of worthiness and preparedness for marriage was all healed. All of those tears are washed away. 

And of course there are still pains we'll endure and tears we will shed. Just as there are joys we will share and jokes we will laugh at. I think back to an old Neil Young song I used to listen to again and again and how intrigued I was in one of our early conversations when my chosson asked me if I'd ever heard of the very same song...

It is with great gratitude and humility to G-d that I merit to write this today. I would not be embarking on this next part of my path without the blessings and wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. To my life's lessons and many of my mentors, I am eternally thankful. And to my beloved chosson, I cannot wait, with G-d's help, to reach the chuppah with you. May our life and home be filled with all of the joy, wisdom, patience and kindness it took to reach this very moment. You are my heart of gold!