Keeping kosher can be a massive pain. My non-Jewish friends have asked me lots of questions about it and there is a general assumption that it entails having a Rabbi bless your food, but in fact it is a huge list of what you can and can’t eat, what you can and can’t combine it with and how it must or mustn’t be prepared. There are also blessings and grace to contend with, which vary. The strict rules are hugely enhanced for me by a whole load of food allergies and intolerances due to my medical condition, thus further restricting my options. No need to worry, I don’t seem to be wasting away just yet.
My family adhere to the rules of kashrut (keeping kosher) regardless of where we are, it’s not a “What you eat in Edinburgh stays in Edinburgh” situation. It’s all well and good when you’re in Hendon, New York or Tel Aviv, but if you travel away from the big communities it can present quite the challenge. You have to plan everything in advance, and spend your whole time thinking about food. Have I brought enough with me? Did I bring the right foods? Do I take disposables or re-usables? Every Jewish mother you know, including your own, will also contact you to ask about your food arrangements.
It’s easier now than so many items have been certified, for example Hovis and Kingsmill. When we used to go on holidays in the UK we would have to bring our breadmaker with us. I would portion up all of the dry ingredients and bring them in little bags, and a block of margarine pre-chopped into appropriate sized cubes.
When I’m touring for a couple of days here and there, it’s not such a problem. Pop a few bits in a cool bag and off we go. But for trips such as the Edinburgh Fringe, I have now got my remote kosher kitchen down to a fine art. I bring my own plastic (re-usable as I want to save the planet) crockery and cutlery, a meat and dairy pot, a sharp knife for fruit and veg, a few utensils and a chopping board. Foodwise I bring the absolute essentials: cheese, mini mandelen (like croutons) and a pack of rogelach (little pastries, for emergency use). I can then buy normal bits and bobs.
For last year’s Fringe I made everyone in our flat a full Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner every Friday night using those materials. Complete with dessert! It would have made a great episode of Come Dine With Me. This year, my lovely flatmates have given me my own cupboard in the kitchen (complete with a Star of David on a yellow post it note) and shelf in the fridge. We’ve muddled along, being respectful to each other.
When I worked in a unit for excluded kids, we were given a budget for a breakfast club as so many of them came from very disadvantaged backgrounds. The budget funded a basic breakfast of cereal and toast from Monday – Thursday, and a full English on a Friday. I got really used to the smell of bacon grilling as it hovered in the corridors all day. I didn’t feel any strong desire to eat it, although I could imagine that it would be awesome with a stack of waffles and some maple syrup.
We watch loads of cooking programmes and by now I could probably fry a scallop to perfection, prepare a lobster thermidor, clean a dozen prawns – remembering to remove the poo chute of course, and dress a crab. I couldn’t touch a snail. I also feel fairly positive that even if I wasn’t kosher I would be allergic to seafood.
We have a lot of non-Jewish relatives on one side of the family, and a lovely cousin holds a Chrismukkah party every year, so that we can get together for a nice reason rather than chatting at the next funeral. She always contacts me ahead of time to give me her menu, and I provide Kosher equivalents for those who need it. Our family gets to spend some quality time and everyone is catered for without it being a big deal at all.
I guess my thought for the day is that everything is a difficult as you make it. There are always options which allow you to be who you are wherever you are.