Best-Friend bonding

It’s the same routine every year: To plan the obligatory Valentine’s Day date, you and your significant other run through a list of restaurants you haven’t tried and movies you haven’t seen. This year, why not shake things up? Share the occasion with someone who also loves you unconditionally and always knows how to show you a good time — your best friend. Here are some ideas for places to go and things to do with your bestie.

Vineyard Tour and Wine Tasting at Rosenthal: The Malibu Estate

If you were already considering curling up with a bottle of wine on a lonely February weekend, do it in style — with your soul sister! You and your friend can take in the beautiful views of 32 acres of luscious vines running along the Malibu hills, all while enjoying a delicious Cabernet. Reserve your spot for a tour and wine tasting by calling ahead.

26023 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA.
(310) 456-1392

Picnic and Hike in Cheeseboro Canyon

Grab a couple of kosher take-out meals from the Falafel Grill in Agoura Hills, then drive straight up Kanan Road for about three miles to Cheeseboro Canyon, where you two can set up your own Mediterranean picnic surrounded by the park’s natural beauty: rolling hills, oak trees, streams and diverse wildlife. And if you’re not feeling too stuffed, strap on a backpack and enjoy one of the canyon’s hiking trails.

Cheeseboro Road & Palo Comado Canyon Road
Agoura Hills, CA
(818) 597-9192

Chillin’ at The Spot

(18 and over)

With seating inside or outside, yummy Mediterranean food, coffee, tea and a variety of hookah flavors, The Spot hits the spot when you’re in the mood for a low-key eveningwith your guy friends. There’s no sitting charge, and you can stay as long as you like, enjoying the lively atmosphere and sweet scents of apple and raspberry tobacco.

17200 Ventura Blvd.
Encino, CA
(818) 783-2233

Lessons at Simi Valley Krav Maga Training Center

If you’re trying to burn off all of those candy hearts — or possibly just feeling a little extra aggression toward “Singles-Awareness Day” — try a free trial lesson in the exciting Israeli martial art. Friends who sweat together, stay together.

1407 E. Los Angeles Ave., Suite. J
Simi Valley, CA
(805) 306-0500

Massages at Happy Feet

A Zen Chinese foot-massage salon is the perfect place for friends who want to relax together. Dimmed lights and the sound of a running water fountain create a super-relaxing environment, and don’t let the name fool you: For a reasonable price, Happy Feet masseuses give a lot more than just a foot rub. The 50-minute massages include 30 minutes of reflexology and 20 minutes of neck, back and head massage.

17629 Ventura Blvd.
Encino, CA
(818) 981-6288

Jewelry Making at the Bead Lounge

Stylish jewelry plus arts and crafts plus a good friend equals a fabulous girls’ date. This jewelry boutique, with two locations in the Valley, is an inviting place to spend an afternoon catching up with your pal while designing your own jewelry using semiprecious stones, glass beads and charms. The cozy environment and friendly staff — always on hand to give design tips — make it easy to forget the time and the grown-up world outside!

2900 Townsgate Road
Westlake Village, CA
(805) 497-8800.

4873 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Woodland Hills, CA
(818) 704-5656

Art Gallery at the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara/Bronfman Family Jewish Community Center

Syrupy romantic comedies will always be waiting for you at the video store, but this Valentine’s Day, you might enjoy soaking up a bit of culture by viewing the work of childrens’ book illustrator Tibor Gergely and his artist wife, Anna Lesznai. Let the universal beauty of art inspire you and your BFF.

524 Chapala
Santa Barbara, CA
(805) 957-1115

Volunteering at SOVA: Community Food and Resource Program

Rather than just exchanging heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, you and your friends might spread a little love to people in need. To help at SOVA, you can get together with your friends and organize your own food drive by packing up those extra cans of food crowding your pantry. Your generosity helps alleviate hunger in the community — quite a loving gift to give.

Valley Pantry
16439 Vanowen St.
Van Nuys, CA (818) 988-7682

‘The Joy (and the Oy) of Cooking’ with kids

It’s all about the food processor.

As long as it involves a whirring blade or a spinning disc that will pulverize anything that has the misfortune to meet it, my 11-year-old son is there.

Yair recently graduated my Cuisinart tutorial, replete with graphic descriptions of what might happen if he managed to override the safety mechanisms meant to keep finger from meeting metal, and he now makes a tangy cucumber and dill salad and a nutty pesto with his weapon of choice.

While Yair, 8-year-old Ezra and 5-year-old Neima usually jump at the chance to help in the kitchen, just peeling carrots or washing parsley can get boring. They want real jobs, and especially during the cooking-intensive weeks of the High Holy Days, giving them more challenging tasks is a good way to hold their interest in all things culinary.

I have been tempted, at times, just to let them get bored and write off cooking, because in all honesty, allowing little chefs into my realm can be a little less than fun. If I have to get 12 dishes cooked in two hours, I don’t have a lot of patience for their messy mixing and inexact measuring, or all the questions about which drawer the fleishig (meat) measuring spoons are in.

So why am I crazy enough to let them handle boxes of powdered sugar and vats of flour?

Because when we cook together, I know that we’re building memories, that getting them comfortable in a kitchen will only be good for them as adults, and that allowing them to do grown-up things builds confidence and pride. They learn some math, and they follow directions, and they take in family and Jewish traditions. Mostly, it’s just fun and messy, and at the end they get to lick the spoons.

And, even though all those things I just listed above so people will think I am really a good mom are true, this story is also about me: While I may spend more time than I’d like to admit at the edge — or just over the edge — of my patience while we cook, when we all sit down to eat Ezra’s popcorn cauliflower or Yair’s confetti cake, I will have forgotten the turmeric that I’m still scrubbing off the wall and will simply enjoy the purer idea of having engaged with my kids in such a primal and organic activity.

Apparently the kids forgive my snapping and yelling through a good portion of our bonding experience, because they always are up for more.

And there are perks: I have found that as my kids have gotten older, their help is the real kind of help, not the keep-them-busy kind of help.

When they were toddlers, I would plop them right up on the counter and they would help me count out the cups of flour, and together we would dump the ingredients into the bowl and then they would help stir. Soon, when they graduated to the stepstool, they could measure out the soy sauce or olive oil themselves. They helped sprinkle the paprika and cumin on the chicken and splashed balsamic vinegar into the marinades.

Now, I can give Yair a recipe, and, with some hovering help from me, he pulls out the ingredients, reads the directions, (grudgingly) gives jobs to Ezra and Neima and produces dishes like chocolate cake and lemon snowball cookies (seriously yum), with only a few burnt fingers or minor cuts. He even cleans up at the end.

Ezra is my salad guy — he washes and tears the greens, and for him giving the lettuce a ride in the salad spinner is an extra boon. He slices up the tomatoes, cukes and peppers with a reasonably sharp knife — dull knives can be more dangerous since they can slip if he puts too much pressure on them.

He and his sister husk corn on the cob and pick oregano and rosemary from our herb garden (I’m showing off again). He can level off a measuring spoon of garlic powder and trim green beans, and if I give him a sink full of pots and pans, the dishes — as well as the counter, the floor and Ezra’s shirt — all get squeaky clean. And if in the middle he is suddenly too tired to finish, that’s tough: In my kitchen, if you start a job, you complete it.

Neima cuts the bananas, strawberries and apples (I preslice them, she cubes them) for fruit salad whenever we have our daddy-is-away-on-business breakfast-for-dinner extravaganza. She is adept with a can opener, but after the recent fingernail incident decided never to peel potatoes again. She washes all sorts of herbs and vegetables, pulls cilantro and basil leaves from the stem, and she can clean out the inside of a pepper better than I can. Bonus: Peppers are now one of approximately three vegetables she’ll eat.

When there are lemons or limes to be squeezed, the kids work out the order of who goes when (or they fight about it until I threaten to throw them out) and then take all their aggression out on the citrus fruit, using a manual juicer. They can all crack eggs with grace, and they know how to check for blood spots that would render the egg unkosher.

One of our favorite things to cook is challah. We throw the ingredients into a bread machine, then a couple hours later take out the dough and braid it. I used to give them each little lumps of dough to make their own personal loaves, because while they washed their hands at the start, after 20 minutes of kneading, the dough turned into a grayish glob of grossness that I wouldn’t eat or feed to anyone else. Soon I gave them larger lumps of dough, and they became expert braiders, making the main challah (after one major meltdown, I learned to explain that the large loaves were for everyone to share, not just for the maker to eat alone).

Now, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, they’re working on mastering the twist-and-twirl technique to create the traditional round Challahs. Between now and Shemini Atzeret, we’ll have to make about 20 loaves, so they’ll get lots of practice. And as long as I can be the super-mom I’ve portrayed myself as in this article, it should be a lot of fun for the whole family.

Citizen Canine

Stephanie Poretz brings Sasha, her 13-year-old cockerspaniel, to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center twice a week. Mark Ferber comes in withhis beagle Miss Daisy. Beverly Byer brings down Brailley, her black lab who wasrejected from guide dog school because of her bad hips.

Since 1995, Jewish professionals have participated theirpets in POOCH, an acronym for Pets Offering Ongoing Care and Healing. TheCedars-Sinai program allows affectionate dogs to spend time cheering up sickand terminally ill patients.

“It’s very healing having a dog give you unconditionallove,” said Barbara Cowen, who coordinates POOCH with Sandra Colson and Terri Lukomski.”When the dog comes into the room, there’s a lot of physical and emotionalbenefits. It’s really healing for everybody involved, including the staff.”

Originally launched in Cedars-Sinai’s AIDS unit, POOCH nowfans out its four-legged friends to the cardiology and pediatric wards and the Thalians Mental Health Center. The dogs undergo an extensive screening process, and specialcare goes into making sure that the canines do not harbor germs.

“Dogs are bathed 24 hours before they come,” Cowen said,”and they have stool sample checks twice a year.”

For two years, Meagan Panzer has brought down Cosmo, her7-year-old Bijon.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful program,” Panzer said. “Youbecome an instant friend of whomever it is you’re introduced to. You’re nottalking about the illness, you’re bonding with them over dogs.”

She recalls one time when “a woman saw me in the hallway andbegged me to see her father in the Intensive Care Unit. He had had a terriblenight. They couldn’t calm him down. The minute he saw Cosmo, you saw his wholebody relax. He fell asleep with my dog [sleeping] in his arms. The familycouldn’t have thanked me more.”

Cosmo loves his tikkun olam work. But even for the dogs, theexperience can be emotionally draining.

“He’s actually exhausted afterward,” Panzer said. “Cosmocomes home and takes a really long nap.”

To learn more about POOCH, contact Barbara Cowen at (310)423-2749.