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Rosh Hashana Flavor: Adding Sweetness to Your Soul and Food



As we enter the last month of the Jewish year, Elul, we should take the opportunity to truly reflect on ourselves, our behavior and our actions. Was I the best person I could be? Did I hurt or insult anyone? Did I fail to fulfill a promise? Have I paid off all my debts? Was I the best Jew I could be? This is a time where we seek forgiveness in areas in which we may have faltered, from both Hashem and our fellow brothers. We use the month of Elul as a final opportunity to do as many mitzvot as possible before entering the New Year, Rosh Hashanah. We ask for forgiveness from those we may have hurt, we increase our tzedakah giving, we go out of our way to help our families and friends, we spend a few extra minutes wrapping tefillin in the morning, and lighting Shabbat candles if we don’t already. We do this because we are building up to Rosh Hashanah when Hashem begins to write our decrees for the upcoming year. We pray that Hashem sees us doing good deeds and recognizes our potential, thereby inscribing us in the Book of Life, filled with “sweet” decrees.

Although Rosh Hashanah has a serious aspect to it, it is still a very joyous holiday. We declare Hashem as our King, and ourselves as His people. We enter the holiday with undoubted faith that He is our Father, and that He will take good care of us.  

We have many customs to symbolize our hopes for a sweet year ahead. The most common one is dipping the apple in the honey. Additionally, when making the Ha’Motzi blessing on Challah, many people choose to dip their challah in honey rather than in salt for the same reason.

As someone who loves to cook, I strive to incorporate themes into my meals. Rosh Hashanah is an opportune time to have a sweet, savory dish to enhance the concept of a “sweet” year ahead. This dish incorporates the apple and pomegranate, both of which we make blessings over at the beginning of the meal, with a Sephardic twist. The apple is to remind us of the sweet year we yearn for, and the pomegranate represents a year packed with mitzvot, the same way the pomegranate is tightly packed with seeds. I made this chicken two years ago on Rosh Hashanah for the very first time. Ever since, it has been my personal tradition to serve this dish every year on Rosh Hashanah. It will undoubtedly be a crowd-pleaser and will leave your guests talking about your Rosh Hashanah dinner all year long!

Apple-Pomegranate Roast Chicken:



Preheat oven to 400°:

1- 3.5 lb whole chicken

½ teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon saffron threads

 teaspoon nutmeg

 teaspoon cinnamon

 teaspoon ginger

Once you have all your dry ingredients combined, add:

1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 ½ tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice


Stir with a fork until well combined. Begin by washing your chicken thoroughly. Place in an oven-safe pan, such as a Pyrex pan or an aluminum pan. Pour sauce over chicken and rub thoroughly.

 Then, tightly cover with foil and place in your preheated oven and let cook for 35 minutes. Next, lower the temperature to 350°, remove foil covering and let cook another 20 minutes, until it becomes a beautiful golden brown. (As all ovens act differently, remove chicken from heat if skin begins to burn, and feel free to add water to the pan to prevent sauce from drying out).

Meanwhile, prepare 1 ½ cups of brown rice according to package.


Once you’ve got your rice simmering, thinly slice 2 yellow onions, dice 2 Fuji apples, and prepare the seeds of half a pomegranate. Sauté the onions and apples in 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon seasoned salt in a saucepan. Once the onions begin to caramelize, add ¼ cup brown sugar. When most of the liquid has eva


porated and the sugar has melted, quickly add your pomegranate seeds and let cook for a few more minutes. I personally like toadd a few twists of some freshly cracked black pepper as it give the onions a nice kick amidst its sweetness.

Once your chicken is ready, you can place your rice in a large dish. Center your chicken in the rice, and decorate the edge of the rice with your onion-apple-pomegranate mixture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I truly wish you and your loved ones a Gmar V’Chatimah Tovah and I hope you will all enjoy this dish. Shana Tovah!

 Want this dish at your Rosh Hashanah table, but might not have the time to make it? Contact Valerie at  for all catering inquiries, and make sure to follow her on Instagram @valskitchensecrets for more ideas.


Valerie Bouganim is a stay at home wife and mother of 2 boys. Having began her married life in Santa Barbara, where the only kosher restaurant was Coffee Bean, she learned that if she was in the mood for something she had to cook it herself. Very quickly she discovered a deep passion for cooking and experimenting with different foods and flavors. Once she moved back to LA, she began catering from the comfort of her own kitchen. She also began giving monthly Torah classes in her own home, and ever since has been invited to numerous events all over the Los Angeles area, giving Torah classes to women of all different religious backgrounds.

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How To Thrive On Yom Kippur: Three Tips For An Easier Fast



Yom Kippur, one of the most sacred Jewish Holidays of the year, is upon us. As much as we dread the idea of not eating for 25 full hours, it can be an inspiring time to engage in deep spiritual practice.  Here are ways you can prepare yourself for the 25 hour fast. These pointers will help keep your stomach from grumblin’ and your breath from stankin’.

1) Cut down on the caffeine For all you coffee/tea lovers out there, your morning cup of caffeine is a must. In fact, some of you are quick to develop headaches/migraines if you don’t have that cup. What to do:  Days preceding the fast, try to minimize your caffeine intake as much as possible. Try some herbal tisanes, perhaps. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. There is nothing better you can do for yourself than to drink. Stay away from alcohol; poppin’ bottles will only make you more prone to dehydration, causing unpleasantness during the fast.

2) Did I mention HYDRATION? The difficulty we experience during the fast is not usually linked to lack of food; rather, it is the lack of fluids. Best choices: You can never go wrong with the good ol’ H20. Experts suggest drinking EIGHT 8 oz cups of water per day. Try to reach that goal or even surpass it by drinking more the day of. Eat your way to hydration by eating  up plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are naturally full of water. Some of the most hydrating foods include: Cucumber, iceberg lettuce, celery, grapes, tomatoes, watermelon, green peppers, and spinach, to name a few. A handful of these ingredients mixed together sounds like a delicious salad, no?

3) What to eat the day of?  On the day of the fast try eating balanced meals. For the meal before the fast, eat a proper meal that includes protein, carbohydrates, and plenty of vegetables.  Eating more carbohydrates will help make you feel fuller longer (you can never go wrong with potatoes, pasta, and bread). Try to avoid salty and spicy foods as much as possible. The over-consumption of salt causes thirst because the body requires more water to absorb the extra salt. Knowing that we won’t be able to eat for 25 hours drives us to eat as much as possible before the fast begins. However, do yourself a favor and try not to eat a heavy 5 course meal fit for a Prince. The more you eat, the more water is needed from the body to digest it.

Now, you are fully equipped to a have a meaningful fast!  May we all be inSKRIBED and sealed in the Book of Life!

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High Collars, High Holidays 



Never in a million years did I think I would be fond of the ‘high collar’, also known as the ‘turtle neck.’ I still cringe everytime I hear the name. I remember my mom making me wear them when it got cold outside… But hello, we live in Los Angeles. When does it get cold?

Dressing already modestly, by covering my knees, elbows (song playing in my head), the thought of covering my full neck is like dude, can I show any skin!? It almost felt like I was covering too much, as if I couldn’t breathe! It is as if someone is choking and restricting my head!

Seeing this trend all over magazines and fashion blogs, I decided to give it another chance! Lo and behold… I fell in love. The choking high collar has NOW become my ultimate favorite thing. Just ask Judith, co-founder of our fashion line RaJu. I keep adding turtle necks to all our styles to the point where we’re almost tired of it. The high collar has a sense of class and elegance to it. It has personality, dimension and is more mysterious. Wearing this dress, with all of its details, print and ruffles, I felt like the high collar tied it all together. The high collar makes you of high end, it’s a luxury, a lifestyle. It forces you to carry yourself in a certain way by maintaining a straighter back and a better posture. Everything manifests differently because of this magical collar.

The high collars forces you to hold your head up high, like a princess. When I see someone wear it, it really adds a beautiful sense of royalty and confidence. As we come into the High Holidays (the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), a solemn time, a time for judgement and reflection, we must remember that we are all daughters and princesses of a king. Wear what you may, during these High Holidays… you know what I’ll be wearing!

Here’s some inspiration:

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Six Mindful Eating Tips for Your Body and Soul



The average person spends at least one hour a day eating. So by the age of 30, you’ve spent the equivalent of two years just putting food in your mouth. How can we make this a more pleasurable, productive and meaningful experience?

Traditional Jewish thought has much to say about what we eat, how we eat, when we eat, and even why we eat, and much of it is also recommended by modern scientists.


  1. Eat Hungry.


When was the last time you pulled over at a gas station to fill up your tank that was already full? Probably never. However, when was the last time you ate something when you weren’t hungry?  

Checking your hunger gauge before popping in that random bite will allow you to keep your weight in check as well as build your self-control.

Going to your second event of the evening, already fed, and still have an urge to pop down some more food?  Like the modern day nutritionists, King Solomon advises against the unnecessary consumption of food, saying “The righteous eat to satisfy their souls” (Proverbs 13:25).

  1.  Sit Down.

Late to work? Running after the kids? Doing errands? No problem–it’s just not the best time to be chomping down your meal.  Although it may save time, it’s a bad idea. The Talmud uses harsh terminology against those who eat while standing. The Rambam, in his magnum opus Mishneh Torah, says that one should never stand or walk while eating.

Modern day scientific research also claims that this kind of eating is fattening and unhealthy. In fact, there is even a diet based on this understanding, called ‘The Sit-Down Diet’, which suggests that we consume fewer calories when we eat sitting down versus while standing up or walking. We are also more likely to digest food better when we sit down and chew our food properly.

  1.  Acknowledge

You’re hungry and sitting down to your meal, now recognize where the food comes from. Taking three seconds to acknowledge basic details of the culinary dish placed before you can set the tone for rest of the meal. Something as simple as verbally acknowledging the work of the cook, especially if it is a parent or spouse, can have a profound effect on your mood. Paying attention to all of the individual ingredients can make the experience even more tasty.

On a deeper level, every time any food is consumed, Jewish sources tell us one should recite a blessing of recognition prior to taking the first bite. A common misconception is that the blessing or bracha that is said before eating is a form of thanksgiving. This is not accurate; while the after-blessing of Birkat Hamazon clearly mentions the act of thanksgiving, the initial blessing makes no mention of thanks. It is a statement acknowledging that God is the Creator of the food (Blessed are you Hashem … Creator of ….).

  1.  Remove Distractions

Imagine our reaction to someone in a movie theater who is on their phone half of the time.  Would we have the same reaction to the ever-so-common sight of someone munching down an entire meal while consumed with an iPhone, TV or computer screen?  One cannot fully enjoy a meal while answering emails or scrolling through their Facebook newsfeed.

Unlike many other religions whose ordinances promote abstinence from physical pleasures, Judaism incorporates the pleasure of eating in every one of its holidays. However, we rob ourselves of this enjoyment every time we mindlessly eat.

Don’t care about enjoyment? Distracted eating causes your digestion to be less effective in breaking down your food, leading to less flavor and increasing the possibility of bloating, gas and constipation. Trying to lose weight? Research shows that the more you distract yourself during a meal, the more pounds you add. Doing simple acts of mindfulness, such as paying attention to the smell, taste, appearance and texture of the food, can keep the focus on your meal.

  1.  Chew, Swallow, Wait… Repeat.

Ever mindlessly wolf down a meal in one minute? Scarfing down an entire meal can leave you feeling disheartened, but it can also leave you with unwanted extra fat on your hips.

Taking your body off of autopilot mode while feasting has great spiritual benefits as well.  In describing ways of going against animalistic eating habits, the great nineteenth-century Iraqi sage Rabbi Yosef Hayim, in his famous book, Ben Ish Hai, gives a recommendation that is sure to slow your scarf. He writes that one should not reach for the next bite until the previous bite has been completely swallowed.  

Speaking from experience, this one tip is much easier said than done. However, once mastered, this habit is sure to leaving you feeling in control and elevated, especially if you take it to the next level and put down your utensil between bites.

  1.  Appreciate.

Now that you’re satiated and your spirit is recharged, it’s time for some thanksgiving (without the turkey). Saying thanks is much harder when you have somewhere else you want to go. Maybe that’s why the only biblically ordained blessing is the Grace After Meals and not the blessing before the meal (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Being appreciative is a core Jewish value. In fact, Jews are called Yehudim from the word L’hodot, or to thank. Messages of appreciation are found in the stories of our forefathers and foremothers. Gratitude permeates the entire Jewish experience, from the first words that are uttered by our lips when we wake up in the morning, “Modeh Ani”, to the thrice-daily communal prayer service throughout the day.

Surprisingly, recently discovered side benefits of gratitude include improved health, increased self-esteem and even better sleep. Taking the extra minutes to appreciate our privileged satiated stomachs should now seem more meaningful and hopefully a little easier.

Although not practical for every meal, striving towards these goals should help us lead more meaningful, in-control and healthy lives.  For what it is worth, I will personally vouch for it!


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december, 2019

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