Cooking&Restaurants01 Sep 2007 12:00 pm

Congratulations to Benjamin Krombach for winning the scavenger hunt contest (Jewish Life, June 2007). Benjamin’s prize is a $100 gift certificate to the outstanding Tierra Sur restaurant in sunny Oxnard, California. Housed in the Herzog Winery complex, Tierra Sur is perhaps the finest kosher restaurant on the West Coast. Chef Todd Aarons has expanded his menu to make tasty use of the outdoor wood-burning grill, and there is a “wine tasters lunch” option on the menu if you would like to try some suggested wine and food pairings. Despite being an hour away from LA, Tierra Sur was crowded with folks from our neck of the woods on a recent Sunday lunch excursion. See their website for a schedule of music and entertainment programs at the restaurant throughout the year.

Tierra Sur is a great place to stop and eat on the way back into town from a road trip to the north and an amazing example of how vast our kosher restaurant choices have become around here. It may be hard to imagine, but there are actually still Jewish communities in America with no kosher restaurants. It’s true. Then there are the cities with a kosher pizza place and of course the kosher Chinese restaurant, but nothing else! Children growing up in Los Angeles must think it is standard to have a plethora of dining options. You don’t want pizza tonight? How about Yemenite food? How about cheese fondue? How about sushi? How about steak?

Perhaps this is why people often ask me, when I tell them we’re taking a vacation in the middle of nowhere: But What Do You Eat?

It is entirely possible that some people may be disinclined to visit places in America where there are no kosher restaurants because the prospect of dealing with food and no fully equipped kitchen sounds like too much of a balagan to be a vacation.

If you are staying somewhere for more than a day or two, eating only cold food can get tiresome. So what do you do if you are staying somewhere in the country or by the ocean in Maine or on a lake in California and you need to have more than the kosher family version of the MRE (meals ready to eat)—namely, peanut butter and jelly? You need a burner and you need a pot or two. Whether it’s a burner on your relative’s kitchen stove or a camping burner you bring for just such occasions, it really opens the door for food options if you can heat things up. And you need a refrigerator. (Consult your rabbi about making use of a microwave—which can certainly come in handy.)

Folks with experience preparing their own food on vacation will tell you about a particular cooking item they like to use. One friend said she brings an electric fry pan to cook fish. Another said she takes a barbecue and a cooler of meat and they’re set for meals. My favorite cooking accessory is a crock-pot, especially for Shabbos away from home.

With regard to food, you really need to work out your menu in advance; the farther you are from a kosher market, the more menu planning you need to do. Otherwise, you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time driving around and grocery shopping, and that’s no fun on a vacation. So get a big cooler if you’ll need to schlep the meat a long way, and stock up on beef for cholent, cut up chicken, shnitzel, ground beef, hotdogs, kishka, and gefilte fish. Start with meat for however many Shabboses you need to cover, then plan for a couple fleishig meals a week. Make sure you have the means to cook whatever you are buying. That is to say, don’t buy a whole chicken to roast if you don’t have access to a kosher oven. If you are going to be cooking in a non-kosher oven, make sure to have enough aluminum tins and aluminum foil to double wrap your food. Cut up chicken is easy because you can just pour sauce on it, wrap it up, and cook it.

You can cook everything on a burner if you have to. In fact, I just heard a report that someone made Shabbos for a family of seven with one pot while on a camping trip in Alaska. You heard me. One pot. Chicken, yes. Potatoes, yes. Veggies, yes. Challah? If you don’t bring challah with you, then you can usually find kosher pita or matzah at any major grocery store. And don’t forget the grape juice.

With only a pot and a frying pan you can make just about anything. And even in the middle of nowhere, you can still put together spaghetti and sauce (use the small cans of Hunt’s tomato sauce), vegetable omelet, bagels and cream cheese, rice with stir-fried vegetables. Think outside the tuna can.

You may not have a sister who lives on a farm and has a bounty of fresh peas, kohlrabi, cucumbers, summer squash, green beans, and corn for you (like I do, B”H), but if your vacation is somewhere in the country, there are probably farm stands around where you can find beautiful fruits and vegetables to enjoy.

Whether it’s Chol Hamoed Sukkos or winter break, or next summer, please consider a few pots, a cooler full of meat, maybe a little burner and a good time somewhere out there. May it be a year of blessings, simchas, and appreciation for Hashem’s Creations.

Cooking&Restaurants&Uncategorized01 Feb 2006 12:00 pm

Some time in the midst of Pesach cleaning, when you’re crawling around the perimeter of the living room with a vacuum cleaner, the idea of going to a Pesach resort starts to sound like it’s worth the money. The rest of the year, the prospect of paying at least a year’s school tuition to stay at a hotel for ten days sounds ridiculous. Or does it?

Maybe you’ve been thinking about checking out the coast of Maine, or getting in some golf during Chol Hamoed in Florida. Besides the many Pesach resorts in the United States and Israel, there are hotels, which are kosher for Pesach in France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Clearly, taking a vacation in a place somewhere in the world that you’d like to see plays a role in choosing a Pesach resort. Having read the descriptions of several programs around the country and the world, the emphasis on the Torah aspect of these holiday getaways varies greatly.

Is Pesach at a resort about Pesach or about the resort? Anyone who attends a Pesach resort with proper kosher supervision is interested in observing the commandment to eat no chometz, which in itself is a unifying element for guests from various backgrounds. Beyond that, some resorts appear to offer little in the way of spiritual development and Torah learning.

One factor that some people who have attended Pesach resorts have mentioned is the challenge of conducting a warm family seder in a huge hotel dining room. While guests often have a choice of being at a table with a rabbi who will lead the seders or being at a table with their family and perhaps other families to lead their own seders, the noise level may make it difficult. Also, other guests at the table may want to move things along quickly and get to the meal as soon as possible, rushing those who like to take their time and ask lots of questions. There is the option of having private and semi private dining rooms, but that can be a major added expense, depending upon the program. One comment I heard from a few different people about the resorts they had attended was: “once you get past the seders, it’s great.” That seems a shame, when the seder is a central mitzvah of Pesach. On the other hand, one of those same people said that with maid service and all the food taken care of, “you can come to the table and sit like a mensch with your whole family.”

The trend at Pesach resort programs is toward a variety of meal options to meet the needs of all the guests. A regular guest at the “VIP Passover” program at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix says that not only is there a choice of a dairy or fresh fish entrée for lunch, but guests can select vegetables they would like to have prepared on the “Mongolian grill.” For dinner there is a choice of fleishig or parve, with meals that meet the expectations of guests at this luxury hotel.

Jeanne Litvin, who, along with Mel Teitlebaum, coordinates the “Passover Resorts” programs, says that their Passover programs offer a blend of gourmet and traditional food as well as a host of healthy foods at all meals. There is always “kid friendly” food available as well as options for people with dietary restrictions. A guest of the Passover Resorts program at the Coronado Island Marriott in San Diego says she enjoys the creative food choices and the opportunity to take a stroll along the boardwalk with her family after a meal.

Not having to cook, especially during Chol Hamoed, means that guests have plenty of time to spend doing activities, going to shiurim, and seeing the sights. Typically, resorts have “camps” or kids’ groups every day with programs at the resort as well as field trips just for the kids. Mothers I have spoken to say their children really enjoy the opportunity to meet other kids and do fun activities together. But some families attend Pesach resorts specifically to spend time together with family, whether it is the immediate family, or relatives from around the country. For families who are coming from different parts of the world, going to a resort means everyone can stay in the same place and eat together for the whole chag.

What activities are offered really depends upon the particular program, as well as the location. The emphasis at some resorts is on the golfing, spa treatments, snorkeling, and entertainment aspects of the Pesach experience. Even those programs may have some dynamic and well-known rabbis on the schedule of shiurim. It would certainly be advisable to investigate what shiurim, if any, are offered. A few resort guests have said they found themselves attending a lot more shiurim than they would have had they stayed home for Pesach.

At the Gateways Passover Program at the Westin Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, the focus for both children and adults is on spiritual enrichment. Director of Operations, Rabbi Avrumy Jordan says, “Over 120 classes are given over Pesach and people come to Gateways because they get their soul nourished as well as their body.”

Again, the question remains: is the Pesach resort about Pesach or about the resort? Rabbi Yitzchok Summers of Anshe Emes suggests that parents ask themselves, “Is this Pesach going to be an effective vehicle in my job as the primary educator of my kids?”

Ultimately, it is important to find out exactly what a particular Pesach resort program involves, what hashgacha it has, and then to discuss it with one’s rabbi. Remember that children who grow up attending resorts for Pesach may not learn through experience how to clean for Pesach, let alone how to cook traditional family recipes past down from generation to generation. There are definite pluses and minuses.

The basic cost for one adult for the full Pesach program with Gateways is $2200. The basic cost for Passover Resorts’ programs range from $2299 at the Palm Springs location to $3500 in Lake Las Vegas. It may cost about the same to fly to Israel and attend a program there for Pesach, so that is something to consider as well.

Thank you to Rabbi Avrumy Jordan (tel: 800-722-3191, and Jeanne Litvin (tel: 1-800-PASSOVER, for answering my questions about their respective programs. Thanks also to Rabbi Yitzchok Summers of Anshe Emes Synagogue (tel: 310-275-5640, for comments, as well as a story about Mrs. Summers’ Pesach bagels.