Friday, July 31, 2015

Food Friday and odds and ends

This was not such a heavy cooking week. The challah was baked last week and a guest is bringing the vegetable matter.

I decided to make the meatballs extra fancy by making them with caramelized onions.


Who would have thought that something so simple could have such a hauntingly complex flavor. Like lots of the foods that I make, the secret ingredient is time.

Here are the meatballs in their completed state.


I will probably make some sort of a sauce to put over the meatballs when they heat up in the oven. It will probably be some sort of a sweet, savory vinegary smoky variety, that is some form of home made barbeque sauce.


I also made potatoes with lemon and baby spinach.


I am pretending that this is a Greek recipe. For all I know it might be, but I made it based on what was in the fridge.

I am currently cooking up the mix for what will be tonight’s ice cream, apples, ginger and mixed berries sweetened with maple.


As I have mentioned previously, my grief for my mother is expressing itself in indirect ways.  Yesterday I felt an intense need to make myself the sort of dress my mother might have worn in the heat of the summer.


A cotton lawn shift in a scroll print. The good noticers among you will notice that I didn’t properly center the print. This is exactly the sort of dress my mother wore in the summers from the mid 1960’s  until a couple of summers before she died.


The early versions were sleeveless or were shirt sleeved dresses with tissues hidden away in the cuffs. I don’t think that this style of dress is even particularly flattering on me, but it feels nice to wear a dress like one my mother might have worn.

I am also including a Friday bonus of a really nice shot of a fire escape seen on my way home from Morning Minyan. I like that sharp morning light casting crisp shadows.SAM_4734

Shabbat Shalom!!!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Teaching manhood

Today was a special morning at Morning Minyan. It was Evan’s weekday bar-mitzvah. Evan is having a big bar- mitzvah this Shabbat, but today Evan put on t’fillin for the first time and had his first aliya.

I know Evan from the time he was about four. He’s one of those kids with a sparkle in their eyes who is always on the prowl for a small adventure in the midst of the mundane. He has always been a particular favorite of mine.


This morning Evan and his parents sat in the row in front of me. As Michah, Evan’s father helped Evan put on his t’fillin for the first time,I was struck by the power of that moment.


Fathers hold their son’s heads to help them put the head part of the t’fillin on. Then they take their son’s arm in theirs as they wrap their boy’s arm in the leather straps. The new t’fillin are stiff and inflexible. The bar-mitzvah boy usually has a skinny arm, and like Evan, the first time or two the t’fillin just fall down. The father has to take his son’s arm in his hands and rewrap the t’fillin.


The straps on Michah’s t’fillin have softened with use. His adult sized arms fill the straps.

Eventually Evan has figured out how to get the t’fillin onto his arm.



There somehow seems to be no more fitting way to mark a child emerging into adulthood.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A new for me method

Although my head has been filled with thoughts of bricks  during the past couple of weeks I have also been working on Charlie’s tallit.


I had cut squares of white wool to the proper size. I knew that the letters needed to closely circle the eyelet  for the tzitzit. Charlie had mentioned that he wanted the lettering close in to the eyelet. I marked the spot for each eyelet by dipping  the back of a pen into a stamp pad and then painting the letters around that marked dot.


I did the diamond stitching around each of the pinot and then sewed each corner piece to the tallit using  gold metallic thread.

charlie miller (5)

Normally I make the hole for the eyelet by cutting into the hole with an X-acto knife.  I chose not to this time because the lettering was so close to the hole that there was no margin for error. X-acto knives have been known to slip.



I remembered that one traditional way to make the hole in an eyelet is to use an awl or a stiletto to punch the hole and then embroider around that hole.


I used a variation on that method.First I poked a hole with the tip of my scissors.

charlie miller (6)

Then I enlarged the hole with a knitting needle.

charlie miller (7)

I then satin stitched around the hole . Pulling the thread tightly enlarges the hole.charlie miller (1)

charlie miller (4)

charlie miller (2)

Now all I have to do is sew the atara onto the tallit.

And this is the result of the brick problem solving.


The curve meets the right angles in an elegant way. Now that it is done the solution seems obvious but it took several of us lots of thinking to figure this solution out. You will be able to see this on my building’s front courtyard for the next century.

Friday, July 24, 2015

All in a day’s work–Food Friday

Back in the days when I had  full time jobs I always managed to have jobs that were made of of radically different roles.  I had one job that required completely different clothing for different part of my day. There were days when I played on the floor with kids, and would get completely covered in paint and then I would have to  go change in the bathroom and get ready to attend a black tie dinner.

I had always assumed that grown up people had jobs where they could play essentially the same role all day.

Today my list of tasks included things that may never had all been done by one person in one day. 
  • I led services this morning
  • I will be leading kinot ( liturgical poems of loss and sorrow) on Sunday, Tisha B’av and needed to practice, so I was singing poetry from the time of the First Crusade
  • I made chicken ( so far this sounds like a typical Friday for lots of people)food
  • I lay bricks ( My building is redoing the front courtyard. We are now up to setting up the brickwork.The bricks put in 100 years ago are not the same size brick that is currently in use. the brick layers and I have been doing all sorts of fancy footwork with the bricks. Neighbors and the bricklayers seem to be surprised that I am willing to get on the ground in a dress to play with bricks and work on getting the layout to work.)walkway
  • I made challahfood (1)
  • I also made okraokra
  • Non dairy almond ice creamfood

I had thought I would get to some sewing but I kept getting called downstairs to consult with the brick layers.

Oddly enough there is more of a connection between the sewing and the brick laying than one might think.

Shabbat Shalom! Glad we are not eating bricks.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A New Sewing Student

I have known Y since before she was born. I met Y’s parents before they had gotten married. Last year I had made a tallit for her.

Y’s mother mentioned to me a few weeks ago that Y wanted to learn how to sew.I asked what her goals were, making clothing? making something else?


Y’s mother didn’t think that her daughter wanted to make clothing but she did want her daughter to learn how to use her new sewing machine.



They came by this afternoon with the Hello Kitty sewing machine. It’s a machine made by Janome and is better than you might think with Hello Kitty on the machine.

We took the machine out of the box. I had Y thread and re thread the machine several times until it was an easy task for her to do.


I got out a scrap of fabric and showed Y how sharp the needle was and asked her to sew a seam. I showed her how to line up the edge of the fabric with the edge of the sewing machine and how you use that alignment to sew a straight seam. Y sewed a beautiful seam.


I asked Y what she wanted to make. She suggested a skirt. We went shopping for fabric in my stash. She selected a great piece of fabric a nice heavy weight stretch with an abstract plaid.  I love the fabric. I had made myself two dresses out of it. I know that a stretch fabric is perhaps not what most teachers would start a beginning sewer on, but it is a sturdy fabric.

Y is small for her age and very thin. I know that she is often mistaken for being far younger than her actual age. I like that she chose something that was fairly sophisticated. Because Y is not yet curvy we had the luxury of making a really simple one seamed skirt.

I pulled the length of fabric around her hips and talked about having enough ease to be able to sit down in comfort. I cut the fabric to the correct width.

Y first edged stitched the raw edges so the skirt wouldn’t fray. Then she sewed the back seam.


She selected a wide elastic for the waist. I mentioned that there are dozens of ways to apply an elastic waistband but we would do one that I thought she could manage today.  She sewed the elastic into a ring . She then quarter marked the elastic with chalk. we tried to quarter-mark the skirt with chalk as well but the chalk didn’t show up well. Instead we marked the quarter marks with little nips in the fabric.


Y sewed the elastic to the outside of the skirt, matching the quarter marks. She then turned the elastic to the inside and then tacked the elastic to the inside of the skirt, also at the quarter marks.


When I teach sewing I will do some of the potentially tricky bits for my student until they are willing to try the tricky tasks themselves. Y was relatively fearless.


I then had Y topstitch the elastic. The combination of the stretch fabric and the elastic and the zig zag stich we had used ( The machine does not let you adjust stitches for width or length) was too much for the elastic and for Y’s new to sewing hands and it was stretched out of shape and did not recover with steaming.   I explained that the top stitching didn’t work because it was tricky to manage all of the layers and the different amounts of stretch in the skirt fabric and the elastic.  It was a task completely beyond beginner skills. She has good hands so I felt it was worth the gamble of having her try. The gamble didn’t work.


Unfortunately, we then had to unpick the top stitching. We both worked together on the un picking. I told Y that when she was working at home and had to unpick a mess she should feel free to curse, because that’s what I do when I am alone.Y was a good sport about it though. We chatted comfortably while we unpicked.

We talked about skirt length.Too long and she would look more religious than she is. She didn’t want to look six years old, and she does not want to look trampy.

She decided on an above the knee length.

 Y sewing

So after 90 minutes Y ended up with a wearable skirt.  There is a funky wobble at the back that Y can choose to fix if she is so inclined. I think she decided that since she didn’t have to look at it, she would ignore the wobble. There is just enough fabric left to make a top for her. Her next skirt will come out better, but this one is awfully good.


Y has learned that being small has some advantages. When Y’s mother came to pick up the two began discussing what Y would be making next.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sadness during the Three Weeks

This has been an emotionally complicated week.

Last Friday my sister sent me an email telling me that Temple Beth El in Quincy was being knocked to the ground.

When my father agreed to serve as Rabbi in Quincy the synagogue was not yet built. Those first High Holidays in 1957, services were held in the Jewish Community  Center just down the street in Merrymount.  services were held in an L-shaped room so only half of the congregation could see services being led.


Apparently a Chinese restaurant shared a wall with the back of the JCC and  the aroma of Chinese food cooking made Neila, the final service of Yom Kippur excruciating for the worshipers in the back rows.


From 1958 until the early 1960’s the sanctuary was a plain mustard colored cement block box with mustard colored drapes and linoleum floors.

This would not do for my father. My father had, during his time in Halifax worked on beautifying that synagogue and helped the congregation acquire spectacular Torah silver. ( If you are ever in Halifax for Shabbat I strongly suggest that you attend services at Shaar Shalom. It is a very special place.)


My father had seen the work of David Holleman while he was in rabbinical school.Mr. Holleman had a studio on Huron street in Cambridge. The two of them began a collaboration that lasted decades.


My father was determined to avoid hackneyed stereotypes common to most synagogue design. There not going to be a whole lot of Magen Davids. the verses chosen would be thoughtful and thought provoking.I remember models of various elements of the design showing up at our house.

There were times when my father would totally reject a proposal set forth by Mr. Holleman. I always felt terrible and hoped that Mr. Holleman’s feelings would not get hurt.


Eventually the two would settle on a design. My father would line up a donor from the congregation to foot  the bill.


Quincy never had a huge Jewish population. Generally when one thinks of Jewish community in the Boston area, one does NOT think about Quincy a great center of Jewish life. And yet, Temple Beth El in Quincy was one of the most successful examples of visually powerful and meaningful Post –war suburban synagogue design. It was a jewel box.

Walking into the sanctuary could just take your breath away. The room worked as a complete unit telling a complete story. It was also compelling as a piece of art week after week year after year. While you could take in the big story of the room fairly quickly there were always new details that revealed themselves over time.

You can see some pictures here in this essay Temple Beth El.

I knew that the land had been sold and the membership of Temple Beth El was joining forces with the synagogue in Milton, one town away. But last week the building was being knocked down.

I saw the following images on Facebook.


View from the parking lot

Another view from the parking lot

Seeing these images was deeply distressing. A friend commented to me that I need to think of the destruction of my father’s synagogue, his life’s work in the context of the Jewish calendar. We are now in the mourning period of three weeks that precede Tisha B’av, the day we mark the destruction of the Temple.

Some of the treasure from Temple Beth El are now in other homes in the Boston area.  The windows though will be part of the collection of the Skirball Museum at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.


There will be a celebration at the end of August to make this acquisition.


Today, I received this in the mail.

 Holleman 001

The official invitation to the celebration. Yes, my husband and I are going. One of my sisters will be there as well.


So now, I actually feel less distressed about the physical building now being a pile of rubble.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Getting There

I suppose if I were a smarter business woman I wouldn’t have chosen to do teeny chain stitching around each of the letters on Charlie’s atara.


But ultimately I worry more about getting the piece to look right than about dollars and cents.


I used the sewing machine to do the borders on the atara, a black diamond stitch and then the whole piece is edged with gold blanket stitching.


My design had called for sprays of wheat. I used a mix of threads, copper metallic, the black and gold metallic I had used on the letters and an ivory sewing thread to make the wheat stalks.


I had thought that each grain of wheat could be formed by a single chain stitch. The idea worked fine in my head but in real life I just couldn’t get those grains to look right. I slept on the problem and came up with a different solution.


I did not do a whole lot of hand embroidery as a kid.  My older sister was pretty serious about embroidery when she was in her teens. She spent lots of time talking through the process of creating each stitch and telling me how she achieved each one.


So I reached into the messy garbage pail that is my head and the careful explanation of how to out line a shape with straight stitches and then fill-in the shape with embroidery  just sort of unspooled from my brain like a movie.


First I drew the shapes of the grains with a pencil. Normally I wouldn’t suggest doing this, but I knew that the pencil lines would be completely covered with the hand embroidery.


Here is one grain outlined.


If I were my sister I probably would have outlined all of the grains and then would have gone back and carefully filled in each grain of wheat.


Instead I gave myself permission to embroider those wheat grains in any order that made me happy.

I have been watching garbage TV as I work.


I was trying to go for the feel of my parents old challah cover.

imma's challh cover (5)

Actually, looking at both side by side I realize that I was actually going for a looser look. Either way, here  is  my wheat after two episodes of really stupid TV.


Yes I plan to add the tassels to the wheat as well. Yes, I do plan to press the atara back into shape.


Now that I look at the photograph I see that I am nearly half way done.