Although I was raised to celebrate Christmas, this year seemed to be my time to explore some other holiday traditions. I attended a holiday party hosted by a Jewish family who follow a kosher lifestyle. A neighbor invited me for a kosher meal on Christmas Eve. Then there was my visit to the kosher winery a few weeks ago. And I’ve been revisiting my “Sex and the City” DVDs. I just happen to be on the season where Charlotte converts to Judaism for a man. So I can’t help but think that someone is trying to tell me something.

As a dietitian, I do occasionally come across patients who practice a kosher eating style, yet I have never fully explored what it means to be kosher. Like many, I have used the word kosher, which literally means fit, proper, or worthy, in everyday speech, but many of us who use Yiddish vernacular probably don’t really understand its true meaning. So let me present my shtick on kosher eating. Please bear with me, I feel a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves.

Prior to doing any research, my understanding of kosher was no pork, no shellfish and no dairy served with any other animal protein, for example, chicken parmesan or any meat sautéed in butter, not kosher. So to learn more, I decided to visit the Santa Monica Library where I found a helpful book entitled, “How to Keep Kosher” by Lise Stern.

Keeping kosher, or Kashrut, isn’t just about do’s and don’ts, it’s about pausing and thinking about what we eat and how we eat it and according to the author, it elevates the act of eating into a spiritual as well as physical activity. So far this sounds like my kind of mindfulness practice.

I also remember learning that people who follow a kosher lifestyle sometimes have to bury their dishes. I would fail at that. I have this hand painted mug I made that I treasure as if it were made of gold. In fact, I had it filled with hot chocolate and was heading out to enjoy my cocoa while watching the sunset. I was so proud when everyone in the elevator commented on how lovely it is.

According to Stern, there are three core concepts for keeping a kosher diet. They are no pork, shellfish or birds of prey. What is a bird of prey that one would eat? All that comes to mind is a pterodactyl which went out with the Stone Age. Milk and meat cannot be eaten together and there are separate dishes, cookware, and utensils for meat and milk. So my hot chocolate mug would be safe as long as I don’t also sip chicken consommé from it.

Meat consumed must be kosher, meaning that the animal was ritually slaughtered (shechita) and cleaned according to specifications. An animal that has been “shechted’” has been killed in the quickest and most painless way possible to prevent suffering. This may also make the meat more tender than meat that is not kosher since the animal was not under the same stress as animals slaughtered in the typical fashion. Plus there is the inherent energy of an animal which was treated in a more humane manner as it also rested on the Sabbath. As for not mixing meat and milk, one Rabbi explains it this way, “in terms of life forces,” “Milk is that which nurtures and sustains life, meat represents a life that’s been taken.” Hmm, that makes sense.

Some people “keep kosher” at home but not necessarily when dining out. If they are unsure about the preparation methods used when eating away from home but want to stay as close to kosher as possible, they may choose fish or vegetarian entrées to be safe or they may choose to eat only at kosher restaurants. For some, being kosher can lead to a permanently vegetarian lifestyle out of respect for all living creatures. I like that!

Although I understand that keeping kosher is a choice based on Jewish religious practices, I feel that understanding these practices can benefit us all. One man wrote that Kashrut, “trains us to master our appetites; to accustom us to restrain our desires; and to avoid considering the pleasure of eating and drinking as the goal or man’s existence.” In a world wrought with obesity, these truly are words to live by.

Matzo ball soup is universally known as a Jewish meal that can easily be kept kosher. Your Jewish friends will swear their own Bubbeh was in the kitchen.

Elizabeth is a registered dietitian and certified holistic chef who believes we can all learn healthful and mindful eating practices from each other. To learn more, please visit her Web site: www.TheKitchenVixen.com.

Matzo ball soup

(Adapted from “How to keep kosher”)

1/4 cup canola or olive oil

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup matzo meal

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth or stock

Plus at least 64 ounces of chicken or vegetable broth and four cups of fresh chopped vegetables for the final product.

Combine the oil and eggs. In a separate bowl, combine matzo meal and salt. Stir the egg mixture into the matzo-meal mixture. Add the chicken stock. Consistency should be thick like cookie dough. Add more matzo as needed to reach desired consistency. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt. Use a teaspoon to scoop batter then roll quickly into a ball. Batter should be cold when it drops into the water. When all the batter has been formed into balls and added to the boiling water, reduce the heat and simmer for one hour. Test for doneness by removing a matzo ball and cutting in half. Should be pale yellow throughout. If the center is darker, they’re not done. Cook another 20 minutes. Remove from water and serve with chicken broth laced with fresh vegetables and herbs. Do not add cheese unless you opted for vegetable broth. You need me to tell you this after reading my article? You learned bupkis!

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