Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Five Minute Megillah

Chapter 1:Once there was a king named Achashverosh, who lived in Shushan, the capital of Persia.
He wasn’t wise.
He wasn’t clever.
He wasn’t handsome.
But he was rich.
And he had a beautiful wife, named Vashti.
One day, he threw a party for a whole week.
And he invited his wife, Vashti, to dance before him.
Naked.
Guess what? She said no.
The king was not pleased.
He threw her out, and went looking for a new queen.

Chapter 2:The king decided to throw a Miss Shushan pageant, so he could see all the girls in town.
It was a little more than a swimsuit competition, let’s just say.
One particular Jewish girl, named Esther, niece of great guy Mordechai, got into the final round.
And whaddaya know? She won the day.
Queen Esther. Who knew a nice Jewish girl from Shushan could get to be queen!?
Oops, but that was the secret.

She couldn’t tell the king that she was (whisper) Jewish.
Oh, and by the way, these two guys tried to kill the king.

Uncle Mordechai overheard and told Esther, who told the King.
He wasn’t wise or clever, but he was lucky.

Chapter 3:Then one day the King appointed a guy named Haman to be his chief advisor.
Remember, we said this king wasn’t so clever.
Haman was a little full of his own power, and required people to bow to him.
Mordechai thought this was ridiculous, not to mention against his religious beliefs.
When Haman heard that Mordy wasn’t bowing, he vowed revenge.
Cuz he was that kind of guy.
Haman told the king that there were all these folks who wouldn’t follow the rules.
The king gave him permission to destroy them.
Remember, we said he wasn’t too clever.
So Haman set a date for the execution of all the Jews of the land.
This is where it gets a little hairy.

Chapter 4:Mordechai told Esther that she had to do something.
Um, didn’t you tell me not to tell anyone that I’m (whisper) Jewish?
Change of plans. Time for the big reveal.
Just FYI, it’s not a good idea to go to the King without a Friendship Request.
Your account gets deactivated, if you know what I mean.

Chapter 5:Esther gave it a go – she went before the King.
She dressed up too!
She invited the King and his henchman Haman to a feast.
Seemed innocuous enough.

Chapter 6:The stuff in Chapter 6 is not totally relevant to the story.
So we’ll skip it.
Remember, we said 5 minutes.

Chapter 7:Esther invited the King and his evil compadre for another feast.
Things were going well.
The king was happy.
And remember, he’s very rich.
So he offered Esther a present. Anything.
“My life!” she cried, ever the melodramatic sort.
She told the king that Haman was trying to kill her.
The king didn’t seem to care that she was (whisper) Jewish.
He was more perturbed that this dude wanted to off his wife.
“Off with his head!”
Haman’s end.

Chapters 8, 9, and 10:The king made it up to the Jews.
He wasn’t so clever, but he knew where his bread was buttered.
Haman and his sons were toast.
Mordechai and Esther were heroes.
And they all lived happily ever after!



Feel free to use at your Purim! Composed by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer (that's me)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Hamantaschen Test Kitchen #6: Yeast Dough Hamantaschen

I'll admit, I had never even heard of Yeast Dough Hamantaschen until a congregant of mine mentioned them to me. Somehow, the idea of yeast dough for hamantaschen piqued my curiosity (and, um, my tastebuds!). Marcy Goldman, in her cookbook Jewish Holiday Baking, has a recipe, but it calls for scalded milk. Too complicated! Hey Marcy, why do you have to scald the milk? What's the benefit?

So instead, I turned to the trusty Internet and found this recipe from the wise Gil Marks.
No scalded milk required.

It worked great. I did the overnight rise, and then baked them in the morning. I'm a little bit hooked on the slightly sour yeasty flavor of the dough coupled with the sweetness of the date filling that I used.

Don't they look yummy? I ate mine fresh out of the oven, it was
soft and fabulous.
Some things that I found perplexing about working with this recipe, though:
1. These definitely opened up way in the oven way more than any other hamantaschen I've made. Even with an egg wash to bind them. I wonder how to keep them together more. I also used egg wash on top before baking.

2. When rolling out, I couldn't get the scraps to "re-roll." Thus, I ended up with a lot of waste. I couldn't figure out what to do with the scraps, I'm sure I could have made little rolls or something, but I couldn't get the dough to reconnect with itself. Any bread makers out there have advice for me in this department?

3. The extra rising made the whole thing take a lot longer. Not only the dough (I'm used to the chilling thing) but also the second rise. I wonder if that had something to do with the opening up in the oven thing also.

And thus ends the Great Hamantaschen Test Kitchen of 5770.
Whew. I think that a whole year until I see another hamantaschen will be just about right.

I think that next year I'll just make chocolate and cream cheese. Those were my two favorites. Hmm. Maybe a batch of the yeast dough ones again to see if I can get them right? And the gingerbread ones were pretty yummy....ack!

Previous Hamantaschen Test Kitchen posts here:
Cream Cheese Dough
Gingerbread?
Gluten Free Hamantaschen
Chocolate!
Aunt Dora's Recipe

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hamantaschen Test Kitchen #5: Aunt Dora's Recipe

This is my history.

I used to make these hamantaschen with my mom. Every year.

We used this recipe, from my great-aunt Dora. My mom followed her around (when she was pregnant with me) and wrote down exactly what she did.

Aunt Dora's Hamantaschen Dough
2 sticks margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
6 eggs
5-6 cups flour
4 rounded teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Pre-sift together flour and baking powder. Start with 5 cups. If necessary, use the 6th cup in preparation of the dough. Beat margarine and sugar til creamy. Add eggs one at a time. Add the flour/baking powder mixture. Add the 6th if necessary. Add vanilla. Mix well.

Roll out very thin (the original recipe said "on wooden board with rolling pin" - do you think there was magic in that wooden board? Must have been. I use Roul-Pat.), cut circles with rim of glass, put in filling. Make the hamantaschen. Bake at 350 until real light brown. Watch your oven, do not over-bake.
(Yep, there wasn't a time listed. I think about 15 minutes.)

My mom even made Aunt Dora's fillings. All are delicious. Worth the work, I tell you.

PoppySeed Filling
1 can Solo poppy seed filling
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon margarine
1/2 cup chopped nuts
lemon juice

Mix all ingredients together, place in pot on the stove. Stir constantly and bring to a boil. Continue to stir and turn down heat to simmer. Add lemon juice (if ncessary to unsweeten) to taste. Simmer for a few minutes. DO NOT LET THE MIXTURE BURN. Remove from heat. Allow to cool, use for filling.

Prune Filling
1 lb pitted prunes
1/2 lb raisins
1 small jar cherry preserves
1 cup chopped nuts

Grind prunes and raisins in food grinder (or electric mixer or blender). In bowl add mixture and cherry preserves and chopped nuts. Mix together, ready for filling.

Apricot Filling
1 can Solo apricot filling
1 package dried apricots (around 6 oz)
1/2 cup water
lemon juice and sugar

Steam the dried apricots in covered pot of water to soften. Remove from water, chop. In bowl mix apricots and filling. Add, if necessary, sugar (to sweeten) or lemon juice (to unsweeten) to taste. Ready for filling.

Wasn't I a cutie-pie?
Yes, this is me and not my daughter. 
Previous Hamantaschen Test Kitchen posts here:
Cream Cheese Dough
Gingerbread?
Gluten Free Hamantaschen
Chocolate!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hamantaschen Test Kitchen #4: Chocolate!

This could also be subtitled "The I'm a Bad Ima Cuz I Didn't Want My Kids to Help With These Post" - but maybe that's another day.

Welcome back to the Ima on and off the Bima Hamantaschen Test Kitchen! Today I made two recipes from Marcy Goldman, author of A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking.

The first was her "Basic Hamantaschen Dough," available here.
Then I made a batch of her Chocolate Hamantaschen, which is similar. This version of the recipe was printed in the Washington Post, it's not exactly the same as the one that I made from the cookbook. (There is an online recipe here that also sounds good.)

Both were absolutely fabulous. I'm a new fan of this great cookbook.

The basic dough made a really nice cookie-like hamantaschen. A little sweet, very tasty. The chocolate dough was much softer, but tasted incredible. I would even consider making roll-out cookies with this recipe at other times of the year. Of course, I filled them with chocolate spread, but I also used some nice strawberry jam that I had in the house. Mmmm....

Don't overfill your hamantashen...and I recommend the egg wash, it really helps keep them together.
A finished chocolate hamantashen:
A finished "regular" with strawberry
Then I had the um...inspiration...to make a marble dough. I had scraps of both blonde and chocolate. What do you think? I don't think they're so pretty. Tasty, of course. I have to figure out how to get mine to look like this.
I think that when this is over, I might not want to look at any hamantaschen for a whole year. I'm just sayin'.

Previous Hamantaschen Test Kitchen posts here:
Cream Cheese Dough
Gingerbread?
Gluten Free Hamantaschen

Stick around, I think I might have one more in me. I've got a real desire to try out Yeast Dough Hamantaschen. But I also have to put together some Mishloach Manot...so we'll see!
Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hamantaschen Test Kitchen #3: Gluten-Free

My family is not gluten-free. But we have several close friends who are. So when I posted earlier this month that I'd be starting my hamantaschen baking, one of those friends asked if I'd be making any gluten-free delicacies.
Um, no. (Who does she think I am?)

But I offered to come over to her house and try to make them with her (because I thought it would make a good blog post, I'll admit it)...and so we did.

We used this recipe, which I thought seemed to be the most resembling regular hamantaschen.

I've never baked gluten-free, but I have tasted many of my friend's results. I know how much work goes into getting these baked goods to come out right, and how generally important the directions are. So when it says to "coat" the dough in (GF) flour, it really means it.

I'm just sayin'....

So, here's what they looked like before baking...
And after....
And my little gluten-eaters didn't even know the difference.

See more Hamantaschen Test Kitchen Posts:
Cream Cheese Dough
Gingerbread?

More coming - I have two other recipes that I'd like to get made before this weekend!

And, in case you're interested, I think that last one is my Best Shot Monday!

Friday, February 19, 2010

What Makes a Book Jewish?

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, is a wonderful book. Written for young adults, entirely in poetry, it captivated me and drew me into the story of a 13-year-old German-Jewish boy who is sent to America by his family right after Kristallnacht. Instead, his boat is turned away from the US and ends up in Havana, Cuba. While I'm somewhat familiar with the Jewish community of Cuba, I wasn't quite as aware of the drama that unfolded as the refugee ships came to that small island nation. And I wasn't aware that Cuba absorbed quite as many Jewish refugees as they did. (And isn't the cover art gorgeous?)

The poetry is simple and spare, and the story is told through four different voices.
My favorite passage (there were many, actually, the turns of phrase are wonderful):

I will never understand
the whole world

or even
one coutnry.


All I can do
is try to understand
the truths and lies
in the simple choices
I face
every day.

This book won the gold medal for Teen Readers in this year's Sydney Taylor Book Awards, which recognize books with "Jewish content." It is well-deserving of an award, it's a really excellent book.

But I note that the awards are for books with "Jewish content," because I was a little startled by the author's biography at the end of the book. Margarita Engle explains: "My father was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. After World War II, he traveled to Cuba, where he met my Cuban-Catholic mother....I was raised agnostic, but I chose to become a non-denominational Protestant."

I am not beginning an argument about patrlineal or matrilineal descent. Ms. Engle clearly defines herself as a non-Jew. I'm not opposed to her writing about this story, in fact, I think she did a wonderful job of telling it.

But it made me wonder:
What defines a "Jewish book"? Is it the subject matter? The author? The language? All of the above? What about a book with "Jewish content," like this one, with a non-Jewish author? And vice-versa, of course, what about a book of completely non-Jewish content written by a Jewish author? Are books by Jews automatically considered "Jewish books"? Does readership play any part? If Jews read a book, and feel connected in some way because of their Judaism, does that define a book as "Jewish"? If it's found in a synagogue or day school library, for example, does that make it Jewish? If it's a biography of a Jewish person, written by a non-Jew, does that make it Jewish? If there's an "oy vey" thrown in there....(I once read a Star Trek book where a group of Klingons were named things like Maror, Chazeret, Karpas, and Zeroa...does that count?)

(One funny tweeter responded that a Jewish book: "it gets cut after the 8th chapter" - which I found laugh-out-loud funny.)

And...what is the responsibility of an entity like the Sydney Taylor Awards in helping to define a Jewish book? Is it, as they say in their information, "a book with Jewish content" - or is there something else, something different, something more?

So what do you think, dear readers? How do you define a "Jewish book"?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You Capture: Smooch

A new photo meme (for me) but celebrating its one-year anniversary. The theme: KISSES.
Oh, and do you like my new (used) camera? Isn't it cute? Almost as cute as the guy I'm kissing....such a good sport, isn't he? I made him get up from the couch while watching American Idol to come and be kissed in front of the bathroom mirror. He's a keeper.

Go see other kissing folks at I Should Be Folding Laundry.

Photobucket

Dora Cupcakes...

I have made some seriously cute cakes. So when Yael announced that she wanted Dora the Explorer cupcakes, how could I refuse her?

You'd be amazed at what kinds of things you can find out there online...like instructions for these cupcakes!
First, the hair:
(that is dark chocolate candy melt, by the way)
And placed onto frosted cupcakes (hard to get the skin tone right)
Eyes...(white frosting and chocolate chips, with the talented help of Ellie!)
A few pink ones for the extras...

And one happy little birthday girl!

And tasty too!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dora The Explorer Birthday Party

(Hoping the photos show up. Anyone else having trouble posting through Picasa? Let me know if they don't so I can try again...)
Certain interests of children lend themselves well to birthday parties. Especially the kind of parties that we tend to throw - small, homemade, structured. (And then not structured at all - as in, after the games and cake, we let the kids play together!)

For Yael's birthday, she wanted a Dora the Explorer party. As if I had any doubt. It's definitely her favorite thing. She loves to read her Dora books and watch Dora on TV. I must admit, Dora has grown on me. So...here's what we did. The three small people who were invited (actually, one couldn't make it but there were plenty of older and younger siblings who helped out and made Yael very happy) were told that Swiper the Fox had stolen Yael's birthday cupcakes and we had to find them. Each kid got a "Map":

Which took us first to "Puzzle Alley" where they had to put together a cut-up picture of Dora and then find stars that we had hidden around the room. (Sam got very into his sister's party.)
Then we walked the Stone Path (thank you, Hullabaloo pieces) with a lot of help. They couldn't quite grasp the idea of walking around in order. Each kid got a sticker here too.
Then, they got to Swiper's House, where there was a story to be read. We always read a story at our parties, always related to the "theme." (Side note: My husband read this book to the kids. I've never read it before the way it was written - it's a book teaching how to say good night to different animals, and it says "buenas noches, aves (birds)" or whatever. But when I read it, I always translate the Spanish words into Hebrew! So I say "lilah tov, tzipporim" or whatever. I wonder what Yael thinks of the way we read this book to her!?)
Then we "pinned the tail on Swiper." (David pointed out later that each of our birthday parties also has a "pin the tail on something" element.)

And that's how we got the cupcakes back! Here's Yael eating one...actually, in tomorrow's post you'll see the really cool Dora cupcakes that I made. But she started with a pink one.
And of course, opened presents. Big brothers HAD to supervise. Everyone loves presents!
I think the best thing about this party was that all the grownups had fun too. We drank coffee and ate bagels and generally let the kids play however they wanted except for this brief 20 minutes or so of structured party time. It was perfect. 

What do you do for your kids' birthdays?

Monday, February 15, 2010

How did we get to 3?

Honestly, how did we go from this...

to this...

to this...

to this...

Where did this big grown-up girl come from?
I can't believe she's three. My baby.

Where did the time go?

Happy birthday, sweet girl. May you continue to sparkle and shine brightly!
*Updated, where on earth did the pictures go after I uploaded them and clicked "publish"?! Sorry...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Be Happy, It's Adar!

The world is frozen
not growing
or 
so it seems.


But beneath the winter ground
energy
vitality
life
await.


Adar brings joy
and reminds us
of that which is
hidden

from others
from ourselves
from view
from history
from knowing


Esther wore a 
mask
hiding her 
true self.


In Adar we
put on masks
in order
to better
find
ourselves.

Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar, the new moon of the Hebrew month of Adar. It's the most joyous month in the Jewish calendar because it contains the holiday of Purim, a holiday of great happiness. In fact, Adar has the motto "mi-she-nichnas Adar marbim b'simcha" - which means, "When Adar comes, joy increases."


May this month bring joy and happiness, as we put on our masks to celebrate Esther's bravery in saving her people. May we find meaning and power in the remembrance of the story of Purim, and may the month bring health and hope.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day Project: Winter Sun-Catcher

We had one of the biggest February snow storms in Chicago history this week. Not as bad as the east coast, but I was quite content with our blanket of snow.

A perfect time to try this project from Family Fun magazine, which I cut out for just such an occasion!

It's a Winter Sun Catcher.
Very easy to do, first you make colored ice cubes. We didn't have ice cube trays, so I got some in the Dollar Spot at Target, and yes, they were heart-shaped.

My kids wanted to watch them freeze. Keeping the freezer door open is not the optimal way to get that done. So we went sledding while we waited.
Then you put the frozen cubes into a round cake pan, with a plastic cup filled with water also set in the pan. Our ice cubes ran a bit, but the almost-finished products looked like this:

Then we popped them out and hung them in front of our house:
I wonder what they'll look like when it starts to thaw...good thing that's not predicted any time soon!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hamantaschen Test Kitchen #2: Gingerbread

As I said earlier, I'm on a quest this year to try out many different types of hamantaschen recipes.

A few days ago, I began a conversation on Twitter, musing about favorite types of hamantaschen. Some people are very opinionated about it!

Then @PamReiss wrote: @imabima gingerbread hamantashen with apricot filling rock

And my whole world exploded.


Gingerbread Hamantaschen!? 
I love gingerbread. Love it. Just the word makes me happy. 


The kind and wonderful @PamReiss then gave me....her recipe


It's very similar to other gingerbread recipes I've made before. I do like gingerbread. Have I mentioned that before? And hamantaschen. So to put the two together...


{{{Sigh}}}


Delicious.

Some general comments about the recipe and the finished product: Pam suggested that the recipe might need more flour. I didn't think so, and it all worked out fine, until the very end, when I tried to remove some of them from the parchment paper after they were cooked. And the middles fell out. Yep, that's right. I was so shocked that the photo was out of focus. They still tasted yummy (who would let that go to waste!?) but didn't quite work. But that was only a few of them. The rest turned out fine. Maybe it was the flour, maybe those were rolled too thinly. I'm not sure. (oh, and I was out of cloves except the ones that live in the Havdalah set and I thought that they might be slightly dusty? so I left them out and didn't notice a loss.)

I used Marcy Goldman's technique of brushing the whole inside of the dough circles with egg wash before putting in the filling. I think it really helped to keep them tightly closed. I used peach and apricot preserves, high quality and yummy stuff. The taste combination was fabulous.

It's not a traditional hamantaschen, for sure. But it's delicious and intriguing and unique and wonderful!

The only other thing...I should have pulled out my KitchenAid mixer instead of doing it by hand.
It was bad for my favorite spatula:
A casualty in the quest for perfect hamantaschen. Totally worth it.

The first Hamantaschen Test Kitchen post is here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hamantaschen Test Kitchen #1: Cream Cheese Dough

I love to make hamantaschen. Those are the three-cornered filled pastries that we eat for the holiday of Purim.

Purim is only about 20 days away. And this year, I've decided to take my baking very seriously.

If there's anything in life that should be taken seriously, it's baking .

I have a family recipe. We've been making it for years. I promise to share it in later posts. It's good, it's what I grew up eating. I thought it was the only way to make hamantaschen! But I've learned that there are many recipes. So this year, I've decided to test some of them out to see if I can find "the best" one out there.

So, welcome to my Hamantaschen Test Kitchen!

Today's recipe is adapted from a couple of different ones, in a category known as "cheese hamantaschen."

2 cups flour
2-4 tablespoons sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened (where the cheese name comes from, obviously)
pinch of salt

Cream together the cheese and the butter. Add in sugar and beat until creamy. Mix in flour and salt. Chill 4 hours or overnight. Roll out, fill (I used Israeli chocolate spread - LOVE it) and bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Verdict: These were really yummy. The original recipe didn't have any salt and only 2 tablespoons of sugar. It's good, but a little bland. My additions perk it up a bit. I'm sure some orange zest would be nice in there too. It's a very pastry-like dough. They formed well and baked up nicely. Most of them didn't open up in the oven (which makes them not filled but more like cookies with a frosting baked on!) but the dough was tricky to work with. These would NOT work well for a group of kids. It's also a pretty small batch, but that's obviously fixable by doubling or tripling the recipe. That's a lot of cream cheese, though!

(Oh, and obviously, if you don't want dairy hamantaschen, skip this recipe!)


Don't they look yummy???

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ten Years...

Hard to believe that 10 years ago today...

...and now, 2 rabbinic degrees, 3 kids, 3 houses (and the moves that went with them), a bunch of cars, a few cats, 5 bathroom renovations (I know!), and a whole lot of other stuff both good and bad....
I wouldn't change a thing.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Interview with Deborah Bodin Cohen {AND giveaway}

Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover StoryI am so excited to bring you this interview with Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story, silver meal winner in the Sydney Taylor Book Awards* younger readers category. This book tour is brought to you by the Association of Jewish Libraries (blog at www.jewishlibraries.org/blog), and the official Sydney Taylor Book Awards. The full blog tour schedule will be posted at www.jewishlibraries.org/blog - go see which of my friends are participating and meet some new folks!

 
Will you share a little bit about yourself and your journey towards becoming a writer?
I am a Reform rabbi and Jewish educator in Cherry Hill, NJ. My husband, David, is a journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer. We have two great kids – Arianna, an inquisitive 2nd grader, and Jesse, our bright-eyed 2-year old. I grew up in Maryland, where my parents and sister still live. I have lived in lots of places – Ann Arbor, MI, Monterey, CA, New York City, Jerusalem, Washington, DC, the Research Triangle of North Carolina . . .
I have always loved writing. From an early age, I can remember writing and illustrating stories. I have also been an avid reader since childhood. As an adult, though, I was inspired by Midrash, the classic Rabbinic technique of finding new stories through hints in the Biblical texts.   


What inspired you to write Nachshon's story? 
The Midrash of Nachshon – the first Israelite to have faith to walk into the Red Sea – has always spoken to me. Because of the Nachshon’s courage, God splits the Red Sea and the Israelites walk to freedom. The Torah mentions Nachshon ben Aminadav only a couple of times. Rabbinic creativity filled in the gaps in the Biblical text and the wonderful, classic Midrash of Nachshon was born. I love the lessons of Nachshon’s story: the power of one person to make a difference, having faith in face of adversity and taking risks for the benefit of the community.   
I thought that the Midrash of Nachshon would make a great picture book. For quite a while, though, I could not find just the right angle to translate it for children. Then I spent a summer watching my daughter Arianna, who was 4 years old at time, struggle to learn to swim. Arianna, typically brave in most situations, was anxious and fearful in the water.  
All children, really all people, are fearful of something. I began to envision Nachshon as a young boy, brave about most things but fearful of the water. I thought that Nachshon’s fear of water made the classic Midrash even more poignant and meaningful.
 
What kind of input do you have into the illustrations that are chosen for your books?
Before I started writing children’s books, I envisioned the author and illustrator working side by side. In my experience, nothing could be further from the case. I have had five illustrators work on my books and I have not met or even spoken with any of them. At most, we have exchanged a few emails. 
In my experience, once a manuscript is complete, the publisher finds an illustrator. The illustrator may or may not have questions for me. Often, I do not see the illustrations until the project is complete.   
At first, this process felt backward to me. It takes confidence to turn over a manuscript and let somebody else finish the project. After having several books go to print, I have grown to see the wisdom in this process. I have liked the pictures in all of my books. Without my interference, the illustrator can fully develop his or her own approach to the story. The project becomes a true collaboration between illustrator, editor and author.   
Jago, the illustrator for Nachshon, lives in England. We have become Facebook friends.(Jago is being interviewed today over at Jewish Books for Children)


What is your own favorite children's book or books? Do you read and find inspiration in other authors' work? 
I probably have too many to list. My favorite Jewish children’s book is Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel. It is fun, well written and has a good message. I read it every year to the whole religious school at my congregation and, at home, to my own children many times during the holiday.
Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride (High Holidays)I read all the time and, over the years, have accumulated a rather large library of children’s books for my children. I am sure that other books have influenced my own. For example, I wrote Engineer Ari and the Rosh HaShanah Ride when my daughter was going through a Thomas the Tank Engine stage. But, I think that other influences – the Biblical text, historical events – have been more significant.


Lilith's Ark: Teenage Tales of Biblical WomenThere's a great deal of variety in the subjects of your books - Engineer Ari is very different from Lilith's Ark. How do you come up with new and different ideas for your work?
 
I usually have a few different ideas floating around in my mind. I live with an idea for months, or even years, before I actually begin writing. I will take notes, do research, write an outline or rough draft and, then, may leave it for months. This way, I ensure that I really like the storyline and have developed it fully. There are several story ideas that I have researched, begun writing and, then, left without finishing. I am not sure whether I will get back to them or not.
How do you find that you best create a balance for yourself in your family life, the rabbinate, and writing?
 
All three aspects of my life really support and enrich each other. My children are certainly my greatest inspiration in writing, with my rabbinate being second. I write when I can find the time. I know that I will not get any writing done at certain times of the year, like near the High Holidays. I do not pressure myself to be prolific as an author; if I complete one good manuscript each year, I am content. 

Debbie, thanks so much for participating in the book tour!
Mazel tov on your award! May you continue to inspire us with your writing and your stories.

In honor of the Sydney Taylor Awards book tour...
One lucky reader will win a copy of Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim (in time for Pesach)! 


Here's how you can win:


Leave a comment here with your favorite children's book. 
Make sure I have a way to contact you if you win.


For an extra entry: Post on Facebook or Twitter (or both) and come back here to leave me a separate comment telling me you did this. (Thanks, by the way.)


Comments will close on Sunday, February 7th at 9pm-ish

*The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) since 1968, the Award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers. Honor Books are awarded silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category. Thirty-three outstanding books were selected from among the over one hundred and twenty titles evaluated by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee during 2009. The Committee recommends them for library, classroom, and home use. List of all 2010 Award, Honor, and Notable Books.