Life flows in cycles. When we breathe, there is an out and there is an in. We go to sleep and we wake up. Our heart pumps and it rests. What about our food? We spend all day expending energy, so three times a day we need to refill. Our food can be many things to each of us. Fuel for our motion, building blocks for our body, a way to connect with the source of life, or a way to bring people together — to name just a few.
As a child, I always knew that I would be a healer. So when my life path led me toward cooking, I started to realize that the way we eat is the most direct and constant form of healing and replenishment that we can give ourselves. I never quite understood the idea that we need to be sick before thinking about making ourselves healthy. Sure, life gets busy, and we may forget to do yoga or even breathe deeply (now is a good chance to try that one), but it is only so long that we can go without remembering to eat. Maybe the key is remembering that what we eat directly relates to our health. After all, sages as distant as Rambam and Hippocrates agreed that our food is our medicine and our medicine is our food.
As Jews, we are meant to bring sparks of holiness to light the dark places in the world. We lift up our daily acts with blessings. We shower the mundane with recognition of special holiness. This month of Kislev is one of darkness, and on the darkest night of the year — the new moon at the end of Kislev — we celebrate bringing light into that place of darkness by lighting the candles of Chanukah. I sometimes think about darkness as the deep mystery that we have yet to know. So one way I like to bring new light into the darkness is by trying new foods or flavor combinations for Kislev. How about spicy and sweet? Or sour and savory? Maybe it is a new fruit or a new way of enjoying a root vegetable.
During the same time of year, the plants are storing energy in their roots, especially during the new moon. We might follow their lead and rebuild our own stores of energy this winter. One of the greatest ways to rebuild our energy stores in the dark months is with a hearty soup. Bone broth, root veggies, and mushrooms are all great additions to make a soup heartier and more replenishing of the energy stores that we are constantly expending through stress and lack of sleep.
While what we eat is vitally important to our practice of eating, how we eat is at least as important. So gather together with friends and loved ones in this special time of year. Make food a communal practice, something to be shared, savored, and relished, not just completed. How to actually get our family together at the table is another practice altogether. Something that works for me time and again? The aroma of sautéed onions and garlic cooking on the stove is hard for anyone to turn away. By sharing our food in joy, we are helping to create a culture of sharing around food. We allow food to feed our spirit and our community.
These are all pieces that I think about when catering various events. I take my list of locally seasonal foods and think about what I can creatively craft to suit the population with which I am working and the season I am working in. It is all a bit of magic making. Warm flavors like cinnamon or clove will make people feel comfortable, while flavors like lemongrass or mint are uplifting and energizing. I might use garlic if there are people not feeling in top shape, or licorice root for a warm soothing sweetness. For Shine, an upcoming winter holiday celebration in the Bay Area hosted by Wilderness Torah, I will be featuring winter squashes and root vegetables to honor the season. Latkes are fitting not only for the holiday but also for this time of year. Just as our bodies need good oils and root veggies in the winter, our tradition provides.
With just the right seasoning we can all feel good together and go home healthier at the end of the night. So take some time this winter to think about the ways in which you can bring more light and health into some part of your life and body. Take the time to recharge. Have a beautiful Kislev, and eat well.
Ginger Rosemary Warm & Gentle Tea
Treat yourself to a warming and delicious tea that will calm digestion, and keep away colds! It is best shared with a friend on a cool night.
Dice 1/2 inch of ginger into a 1 quart pot of water. Bring to a boil and lightly simmer for 15 minutes. Take off heat and add a big pinch of rosemary leaves (needles) as well as one heaping teaspoon of local raw honey and stir. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes.
Pour into your favorite cup, sit down and indulge yourself in a good book or a good conversation. Thank yourself for taking the time to care.
Baruch Schwadron is the head Chef and Herbalist of PassionFoods, crafting seasonal, organic, local kosher fare with a unique touch, as well as offering classes, private health consultation, and — starting soon — weekly soups! Contact for nourishing and healing soups, bone broth, and more!