Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Kosher Kitchen, Conversion

I’ve only started trying to keep fully kosher recently. Even when the decision was made and the work was done, my rabbi broke the news that it’s not worth going the last step of actually kashering the kitchen for real. Why? Because anything that is cooked by yours truly is by definition treif. Non-Jew cooking the food unsupervised, from start to finish? Yup, trief. So doing all that work doesn’t help if the first meal would just treif up all the new kitchenware.

There are a number of reasons it’s been this long before committing to keeping kosher, but the biggest one is that I hate cooking for just myself. Growing up as part of a large extended family, the idea of a meal usually involved many pots of food, large groups of people, and lively family interaction. After leaving the ancestral stomping grounds, cooking became a dreary experience. Who is going to admire the fantastic meal with me? It’s not that I am unable to enjoy or appreciate my own food…it’s just not that enjoyable unless the meal can be shared. (Plus, the dishes. Boy do dirty dishes suck. Household cleanliness is not a strong suit.)

Thus, I tend to eat out quite a bit. Not fast food, but on the go, and with no real rhyme or reason. Quick snack foods, family restaurants, gourmet…it’s all fine. Not that there isn’t a level of self-selection there too. For a period of time, it was almost an every night occurance. An ex-girlfriend was very much an epicure. When we would decide to go out for dinner, it was always to one of the top-notch restaurants in town we hadn’t been to. Baruch Hashem my job allowed me to throw money at food like that…it makes me blush thinking about how much money went out the window that year.

When you combine a dislike of cooking for yourself, with a highly developed taste for finer foods, committing to keeping kosher is a BIG DEAL. Needless to say, while tasty, Ashkenazi staples are…well…they’re certainly not home cooking for an Italian boy. They are definitely not related in any way to what is being prepared in innovative restaurant kitchens in the United States. And kosher pizza is a substance that will go without comment. (I am trying not to offend the kind readers of this blog with real opinions on some dishes. Later, promise.)

My first order of business is to simply make enough basic meals to keep from starving. Embarking on a quest to figure out how to adapt beloved family recipes is next on the list. There is no solution to the dirty dishes problem, other than throwing them all away and buying new ones, hiring a maid, importing my mother, or getting married. None are very good options, so that problem will linger. (If you say I could clean them myself, you haven’t been paying attention!) Fortunately, the first two tasks should be relatively easy.

The bizarre side-effect of all this is that my diet has improved dramatically since starting! Many more fresh fruits, vegetables, salads, and fish are being consumed than in the past. In part this is to avoid meat/milk issues for the time being, and because they’re easy to prepare and bring to work. Dinner often shapes up in the same way. Veggie soups, pasta, more salad. I can feel myself getting healthier as time goes on. This is probably the opposite of what any FFB Ashkenazi Jew expects, but there is no burden of history here. The knowledge of how to prepare quick and healthy meals has already been learned. As I get more comfortable, I’ll start challenging myself, especially with the attempts to adapt more family recipes to being kosher. I wonder what dish would be an Italian cholent?

The big challenge at the end of the road will be Shabbat and Yom Tov. For now, I have a continual open invitation at the house of the fantastic rabbi. That means this isn’t something that needs to be tackled for awhile. I’ve helped a number of times before, but that isn’t quite the same as being in charge from beginning to end. Maybe it’s not too late to check into that maid…

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