Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Traveling while Jewish: Shabbat

One of the biggest challenges posed by traveling over Shabbat turned out to be finding a place to stay that has old-fashioned mechanical locks rather than electronic key-cards. In some cities with major Jewish populations, a few major hotels do offer the option of mechanical keys, but elsewhere this is simply not an option. Our solution: try bed-and-breakfasts. This might be a counter-intuitive option for the shomer shabbat traveler. After all, (1) you might have kashrut issues with eating at a B&B, and (2) you might have shabbat issues with eating at a B&B. However, they tend to be small and homey which means no elevators and no electronic keys. This makes it worth-while even if you don’t eat the food. (And often there will be fresh fruit and cereal available, so even the food may be workable).

Another issue, of course, is lights. If you’re in a hotel room, you need to have lights on in order to do anything, yet it can make it difficult to sleep at night (and you likely don’t have a second room to solve the problem). Plus if you leave lights on they are likely to be turned off the next day by the cleaning crew, leaving you in the dark in the hours prior to havdalah. The solution: bring a wall timer with you. Hotel rooms almost always have lamps plugged into the wall, so you can have a timer and avoid both sleeping in the light and reading in the dark.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Traveling While Jewish: Kashrut

These musings come out of a long cross-country road trip. While this posting is probably particularly relevant to those who do not “eat out” (i.e. don’t eat at establishments that are not kosher-certified), it may also be relevant to other kosher-keeping travelers as well.

A few pieces of advice: (1) many places have at least a limited amount of kosher food available, so you should definitely look into options ahead of time rather than assuming the worst; (2) that said, the options are often very limited, and in some places it is almost impossible to find certain items (like kosher cheese and bread).

If you need to take your food with you, travel with a cooler, take at least one knife, and try to stay in places with mini-fridges. This will greatly increase the range of foods available. In addition to eating tuna, crackers and bread, we had fresh fruit, salad, cheese, and milk (for cereal) making for much more pleasant and balanced meals.

Also, look into what might be available even if there is not a kosher grocery store. For example, although the availability of hechshered bread will still vary regionally, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both carry a number of hechshered foods, including cheeses, nation-wide, so if they are nearby you will find many more products available than you might otherwise expect in areas without large Jewish populations. That said, Trader Joes itself is not available in large swaths of the country.

Favorite home-made meal of the trip: Avocado-Tomato-and-Goat-Cheese sandwich with salad.

Favorite “restaurant” meal of the trip: Kosher taco cart in LA (Pico-Robertson area) motzei shabbat. The real deal. Tacos that happen to be kosher rather than the other way around. Yum. Of course, I’m not sure this really counts a restaurant.

Other restaurant highlights included: Indian (dairy) in Austin/Houston, Moroccan (meat) in New Orleans, Coffee and Beignets also in NOLA, delicious dairy pastas and salads in Atlanta, and BBQ in Teaneck. Of course we had some krispy kremes along the way as well.

Most unexpected meal out: in Charleston, SC there is a yoga studio that has hechshered vegan foods at lunchtime (salads and wraps and such – menu based on ingredients of the day).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Keep Austin Weird

So, as you may know, Austin, TX is proud of being weird. There are T-shirts and hats all over the place that say "Keep Austin Weird". However, I think they probably define weird differently than I do.

What I think is weird: (a) We visited the state capitol, and the tour guide was a retired New Yorker (he moved to TX because that's where his oldest kid is in college!). Seriously, we can't have an actual Texan tour guide for the Texan capitol? (b) One of things that I learned from the tour guide is that the Texas state legislature meets for one 140 day session every two years. (The governor can call special sessions in which he defines the agenda in case emergency appropriations / legislation are needed, but basically the legislature is in session 5 out of 24 months). Say what?! Texas is weird.