Being an Jewish Orthodox woman can be a challenge in the greater world when it comes to socializing and doing business. While the rest of the world is first beginning to discover the notion of "unplugging" for a day, Jews have been doing it for over 3,0o0 years. No turning things on and off - lights, cars, blackberries, etc. Complete focus on one's spiritual self from sundown to sundown every Friday and on quite a few holidays. When you take on the Orthodox version of Judaism, your life revolves around your faith - and your values and standards shift from secular to Torah-based.
This past weekend, I got to experience a new way to enjoy a kosher gourmet meal in the finest nonkosher (a.k.a. trayf) establishment in all of Ann Arbor.
We were invited to dine to celebrate a relative's happy occasion - at Eve, a tony contemporary French restaurant in the Kerrytown section of Ann Arbor. Before I embraced the Orthodox way of living, which entails strict adherence to kosher laws, I would have happily dined on what looked like amazing seafood, chicken, and beef entrees, and internationally inspired appetizers. Now that I am strictly kosher, not only am I not going to partake of nonkosher food, but I won't even eat kosher food that is prepared in an establishment that is not kosher. I cannot drink wine that is not kosher certified. I won't even eat off dishes in a nonkosher establishment.
Which left my husband and myself in a bit of a quandary. Because we function in a greater world - a pluralistic world - even within our own families - how could we dine with our friends and family without compromising our religious standards? In the old days it would have meant airline meals and plastic utensils, as we watched our family enjoying haute cuisine.
My brilliant husband - and he IS brilliant - had a great idea. He called the restaurant and asked if we could bring our own meals. Not only our own meals, but our own wine, our own tableware, and our own china. I decided to go all out for the occasion - if everyone else at the table was going to be enjoying gourmet food, so would our little kosher party of myself, my husband and my daughter. I made a green salad with mango chunks and roasted almonds in a butternut squash dressing. I brought along some homemade date-pecan challah, double wrapped in foil so it was warm from the oven. Our entree was duck a l'orange, garnished with an orange slice, with a small scoop of red quinoa pilaf and a few roasted garlic fingerling potatoes and a sliced vegetable melange. My husband brought a bottle of Israeli Sauvignon Blanc to pair with the meal.
The restaurant owner, Eve, introduced herself to us and promised to accommodate us in any way possible. She came from an Orthodox family and was only too thrilled to make it possible for us to join our family celebration in an elegant fashion. I brought the food double wrapped in foil and watched as they placed it in their ovens. It has always been my secret dream to work in a fine restaurant, and here I found myself working alongside Eve, a former contender for Top Chef, as we each fussed lovingly over each plate that left the kitchen. Eve was kind enough to assign a waiter to assist me and she set aside a station just for me in the busy kitchen. What a thrill it was to plate each course and hand them to a group of very solicitous waiters brought them out and served them. And it was a pleasure to be able to be as much a part of the feast as those who were wining and dining on the other end of the long restaurant table. No one was feeling sorry for us as we enjoyed our duck and side dishes. And our berries drenched in almond milk/Amaretto sauce for dessert.
Only one family member had a vocal objection to our meal modifications. "Kosher - shmosher," she rolled her eyes contemptuously. "G-d won't be mad if you just give it up for just one meal."
But, see that was the beauty of it all, we didn't have to give up a thing...talk about having our cake and eating it too. Ain't life grand?