You might know Micah Siva from the vibrant plant-focused dishes dressing her Instagram page and your feed, but this month Siva is offering us something a little different. On September 5, the Alberta-born and San Francisco-based dietitian, chef, and food photographer, debuted her first children’s book. Penned with her husband, Josh, 1, 2, 3, Nosh with Me is a counting book that uses Jewish foods as the vehicle for storytelling and learning. However, don’t expect to nosh with Micah but her adorable and hungry canine, Buckwheat.
With the launch of her children’s book and a cookbook out March 2024, with a foreword by Adeena Sussman, I spoke with Siva over the phone about how her food journey started, what propels her to keep creating, and why 1, 2, 3, Nosh with Me delivers a fresh take on a counting book for all.
Josh, Buckwheat, and Micah Siva, Photograph courtesy of Micah Siva.
What influenced you to go into the food industry and start your food journey?
I’ve been influenced and inspired by my grandmother who was an avid home cook. When I was young, she really took the time to teach me about how to cook Jewish food and the importance and significance of it.
I went to culinary school in New York and then I went to Nova Scotia for university because I also have a passion for nutrition and wellness. I became a dietitian, moved to Toronto, and was working as a dietitian for some time when I wanted to reconnect with the part of my training and background that I loved. I went into the food world more formally outside of dietetics around 2018. I started to do recipe writing and food photography full time, I then asked myself, “What am I passionate about?” I really love Jewish food and I want to introduce it to people who haven’t grown up with it. I want people like myself, who grew up in a secular community, to fall in love again with Jewish food and find ways to incorporate it into their everyday.
You’ve formed a lovely online community. You create interesting spins on Jewish dishes by making them more plant focused. Whenever I go to your page, it seems like everyone is so excited by what you’re sharing.
I only do plant-forward. There’s a few recipes that use salmon on my site but 99 per cent of it is vegetarian or vegan. There’s a lot of people, especially in the younger community, switching to plant-forward eating, or wanting to eat less meat, or looking to bring a parve dish to their family’s potluck or dinner. Jewish cuisine was the original dairy free alternative space because we needed to find something that was parve. But my focus is getting people to think outside of the box when it comes to Jewish food.
And now onto what we’re here for: your new children’s book, 1, 2, 3, Nosh with Me. What led you to write this book?
A couple of years ago, my sister phoned to tell us she was pregnant. This was my first niece or nephew and we were so excited and started to think of how we could give her something Jewish. My sister’s in an interfaith marriage with an amazing guy and we’re the only Jewish aunt and uncle that she has so we wanted to get her something Jewish related. I was looking at the kids books in the Jewish space and a lot of them were holiday focused and I couldn’t find one that was a counting book. So my husband and I said we could make and self publish one and it would just be for our niece. The book was sent to a publisher and she wanted to publish it. We got all the illustrations redone and added the challah recipe that’s illustrated in the back. We wanted there to be a book that was approachable for people, whether you’re Jewish or not, to read throughout the year that wasn’t hyper focused on the religious aspects but on the cultural aspects.
It’s similar to your approach to food as well. You think of new ways of introducing Jewish culture and community through avenues that feel appropriate and exciting to someone’s lifestyle.
These days, my goal is to highlight the things about Judaism that I love and make sure Jewish joy is at the front and centre of everything I do. It’s not always the easiest choice to embrace your Judaism and I wanted to show the beauty and joy in the cultural aspects of food.
I feel your joy by following your work. Going back to the book, what was your process in picking the foods featured in relation to their number. Were there foods you had to leave behind that didn’t make it in?
It was definitely a challenge. We chose to go the more Ashkenazi route because the population in North America is largely Ashkenazi. We also had to make sure that the foods were recognizable to people who grew up Jewish and to people who didn’t. Something that you might find in a deli was probably going to be our best bet. We had a long list of Jewish foods that we would have loved to include, but you can’t, that’s too high a number for children to count to at that age. We narrowed it down to 10 foods. And then we started to write words that would describe them like cheesy kugle or crispy latkes.
We also started to think about what would make sense. It doesn’t make sense to have 10 challahs because you only have one at Shabbat and it doesn’t make sense to have five matzo balls in one bowl of soup. So there’s two matzo balls or 10 latkes to fill a platter. We’re trying to be somewhat logical, but within the kids book realm you can have a maximum of about 300 words, so you have to be really specific and intentional with the ones that you do choose. And you want it to be somewhat educational. As a dietitian, I notice that if kids can describe and talk about food and get excited about it then that’s a good first step to reducing the chances of picky eating.
Was Buckwheat always in the story?
At first, no. We didn’t even give him [the illustrator] direction on the character and he drew a little boy with a bowl cut and overalls, he was adorable. He drew him originally with light skin and my husband and I had a conversation about how we don’t want someone to look at this character and not see themselves in it. We don’t want it to be any gender. We don’t want it to be any skin colour. We don’t want it to have curly hair, blonde hair, black hair. We don’t want someone, especially a child, to see this and say, “But I don’t look like that, can I like this too?” After that conversation, we said why don’t we just have non-human characters. So we chose our dog named Buckwheat because he’s A) adorable and B) kids can relate to him more than they would a human character that isn’t their same gender, skin colour, or hair type. We really wanted to be conscientious of that. I think he’s had at least eight of those foods, whether on purpose or not. He loves challah but latkes are his favourite. I have a cookbook coming out in March and one day I was shooting my Hanukkah spread and I had probably made 50 latkes to use in the photo. While I was taking another photo, Buckwheat leapt up and ate all of my latkes except for maybe three, so I had to make do with three latkes for an entire Hanukkah spread. He’s obsessed with them.
And your favourite Jewish dish?
I’m a matzo ball soup girl all year round.
True love. Photograph courtesy of Micah Siva.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Header image design by Orly Zebak. Cover of 1, 2, 3 Nosh with Me courtesy of Micah Siva.
Orly Zebak writes, designs sets and costumes, and makes art in various mediums. Her work seeks to challenge conceptions of female performativity in relation to womanhood, girlhood, and coming of age stories. In her spare time, you can catch Orly gardening—usually in her very comfortable off-brand crocs.
Orly earned her M.A. at the University of Toronto in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies.