Kosher food blogger Tori Avey goes by a title that shocks some people: She's The Shiksa In the Kitchen! But she says that she wants to redeem this word, sometimes used to refer disparagingly to a gentile woman. Tori uses her blog to show through her recipes and writing how a recent convert found her spiritual path through love, community, and good, heartwarming food with history. Come take a tour of her gorgeous Los Angeles kitchen — this is where she cooks and blogs daily.
But wait, you say — what's so wrong with the word shiksa? If you're not familiar with the word, here's Tori to explain it:
The word shiksa has a primarily derogatory connotation &mdsh; meant to convey that the "shiksa" is somehow "less than" somebody born into Judaism. Rather than shy away from the word, I choose to let my background empower me. I have no shame that I was born a shiksa; I am exploring Judaism through the eyes of somebody newly reborn and thrilled to be part of the Tribe. To those who would deny my Judaism because of my genetics, I can only offer my own humble perspective — and a sweet, creamy slice of my Shiksa Noodle Kugel. If that doesn't open their hearts, I don't know what will. - from an interview with Tori in Tribe Jewish Journal
Tori converted to Judaism two years ago, and since then she has blogged to share her love of cooking and the history of the recipes connected with her adopted religion and culture. She explores the wonderful traditions of Jewish cuisine as well as the rich nuances of historical recipes.
Tori has a gorgeous kitchen, complete with a Viking range and a secretary desk for her laptop. Her sink and breakfast nook overlook the east side of the Hollywood Hills, and they lend great inspiration daily.
After I had arrived she quickly shared with me her most recent dessert, The Golden Girls Cheesecake! She had just blogged the recipe that week and expressed her love of the show which inspired it. "'The Golden Girls' has a magical quality about it that just makes you feel good. No matter how tough my week has been, or how tired or stressed or bummed I might feel, I can always count on "The Golden Girls" to lift me out of my funk," she said.
10 Questions for Tori & Her Kitchen
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
I am inspired most by the story behind the food. I love digging deep to find out where a recipe comes from. Knowing the story behind the food — the ancient history, or the family history, or even the history of one particular ingredient — can infuse a dish with meaning. Recipes take on a deeper significance, nourishing the spirit as well as the body. Instead of just another meal, it becomes a journey. It transforms the way you think about eating.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
I really treasure my collection of vintage and antique cookbooks; they provide a constant source of entertainment and inspiration. I love viewing different decades through the prism of food; what we eat is so reflective of our culture and time period in history. For example, cookbooks published during World War II often had a focus on how to best use rationed ingredients. American cookbooks from the 1960s often include processed, prepackaged ingredients and mixes that were prized for their "convenience." Victorian cookbooks describe cow's milk as the ultimate health elixir; in our generation, many nutritionists take a contrary view. It's fascinating to see the relationship develop between people and food throughout the centuries. These books really influence my cooking, giving me fresh ideas and teaching me the "old fashioned" cooking techniques (they are often more effective than the modern approach!).
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
That's a tough one! Probably it would be the first time I cooked the Passover Seder meal. We had close to 50 guests. It was scary! Such an important meal, and so many people counting on me. It ended up turning out fabulous, thank goodness. Not to "toot my own horn," but my matzo ball soup has become legendary!
4. The biggest challenge for cooking in your kitchen?
I am blessed with a beautiful kitchen with lots of space and light; it's really ideal for the kind of work I do. The only thing that could improve it, I think, would be more cabinet space... but that is a problem unique to me as a food blogger. Since starting my website, I've collected more random dishes, baking pans, and gadgets than I ever thought I would. I wish I had a whole room to store them in. My counters tend to get a little cluttered. Then again, I find the clutter to be kind of cozy. The kitchen is the center of our home, and it doesn't need to look perfect — it's "lived in."
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I would have put in wood flooring instead of tiles, because wood is so warm and inviting. It may not be the ideal kitchen floor surface, but I love the look of it.
6. What was your biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen?
Definitely my Vita-Mix blender. And I don't regret it for a second! This blender is a powerhouse, it makes the smoothest blended drinks I've ever tasted. It even makes hot soup. I love it!
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
I would love to add a glass atrium just outside my kitchen with some pretty setups for food photography — lots of plants and antique surfaces, white lights, an old bookshelf and reading nook for my vintage cookbooksy — very romantic. I dream about what it will look like. Sometimes I pin images on Pinterest that inspire me in terms of the look of it. Maybe someday!
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
I approach cooking with an open mind, heart, and spirit. My cooking is simple, natural, nourishing, flavor-centric, and inspired by culinary history.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received?
Don't stress too much about the presentation, it's the flavor that matters most. I love Julia Child's quote: "It's so beautifully arranged on the plate, you know somebody's fingers have been all over it." Fussy presentation doesn't make the food taste any better. I want my food to look appetizing, and it shouldn't be messy, but it also doesn't need to look like a work of art. I'd rather spend that extra prep time enjoying the meal with my guests.
10. What are you cooking this week?
I'm working on losing a few pounds from the holidays, so it'll be healthy food this week. Food is one of our great pleasures in life, and I hate feeling like I'm "on a diet." I try to stick to dishes that are filling and yummy, but healthy — food that doesn't make me feel like I'm missing out on anything. Those types of recipes are on the menu this week, dishes like Smoked Paprika Fish, Unstuffed Cabbage, Butter Bean Soup, Israeli Salad, and lots of Hummus with veggies for dipping.
Tori's blog reads like a personal exploration through life and culture, exploring her experiences with food... all prepared and photographed by her. I believe her incredible kitchen lends itself to help create these fun and tasty meals.
The Shiksa in the Kitchen
(Images: Bethany Nauert)