Tuesday, April 14, 2015

From my mother’s wallet

My husband and I left New York right after Pesach and Shabbat ended to go to Boston to work on clearing out my mother’s apartment.
I wanted to share the contents of my mother’s wallet. This is not the wallet she used at the end of her life. I found  the wallet in the place where my mother kept all truly important things, her underpants drawer.  The wallet  was one she had made herself while working in camp.
My mother used the wallet in college and perhaps for a little while after that.
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In case you were wondering, my mother could read, as certified by the state. My mother, was also very serious about voting. she once walked a mile in the snow to vote “none of the above”.
I found this photo cut out of a camp year book, along with the note she received with her salary at the end of the summer.  I indicated my mother with a red arrow.

camp-imma arrow
I also found some photos.
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My mother is on the far right. This is probably the best picture I have ever seen of my mother. She is leaning on her friend D’vorah. My mother and D’vorah always had LOTS of fun together. D’vorah brought out the outrageous in my mother.  I have no idea who the others in the photo are.
D’vorah made aliya with her family. Here she is with her sister Nechama in Israel. My mother had first met Nechama who was somewhat serious. But soon my mother and D’vorah had become much closer.
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Before we went to Israel in 1970, my parents had made a will. In case of their death  we were to be raised by my Aunt Sheva. During the trip to Israel we met D’vorah. We asked that D’vorah raise us instead in case of our parents demise. We knew that living with D'vorah would be a blast.
This extraordinary photo was in the wallet as well.
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This is my Aunt Sheva in Florida. Her husband Sol took the photo. There are many shocking things about the photo, the bare midriff, the shorts and most of all the giant laugh you see.

This photo of Sheva was taken in 1993 and is much closer to the aunt I knew not just because the image is more recent, but it shows the temperament I knew best.
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Below, from the same trip to Florida are my cousins, Sheva and Sol’s two older children, David the ethnomusicologist, and Bonnie the historian.
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This photo was taken the following summer.
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My cousin Judy, is on Sheva’s lap. I met my husband at her wedding.
Below is my Aunt Sheva standing next to her sister Freida. this was taken before the sisters stopped speaking to one another. Sheva’s husband Sol is the adult male in the back row. He died tragically, far too young in 1963.
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The kids are below, the historian and the ethnomusicologist are joined by their cousins and the doctor and the dentist.  Frieda is holding her youngest, David. Despite the rift in the earlier generation I have recently gotten to know my cousin Av in the dark striped shirt and his younger brother Sid in the lighter striped t-shirt.
There was a mystery wedding photo. Perhaps one of my cousins can solve the mystery for me.
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The wallet tour ends with this photo of my mother eating an apple while hanging out with her friend.
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Once I get a working camera in my hands I will take a photo of the green leather wallet tooled with my mother’s Hebrew initials.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Both of our Seders were pretty wonderful. Today though I am really tired. I am so tired that I took a nap in the middle of the day.

My camera seems to have gotten overwhelmed as well. I had to bring it into the shop to get fixed. Being without my trusty camera makes me realize how much I rely on it.

Friends invited us all to a surprise mid week dinner. It will be really nice to be fed by good friends.

Friday, April 3, 2015

חסל סדור פסח

Well,  the getting ready part of Pesach is nearly over.  My freezer and fridge are packed to the gills with the food I have been preparing.


I ground up the horseradish this morning amid much screaming in pain. Tonight’s matza balls are being loaded into the fridge by my son as I type these words.

The table cloths and doilies are all pressed. I am slightly crazed with exhaustion and will soon take a nap.

Our guests will start wandering in from various directions.

I wanted to say how before the destruction of the Temple, worship of God was done in a physical way. Yesterday’s Torah reading reminded me. You brought your cow or your sheep to the Temple, it got slaughtered hoisted up on the alter and cooked. Worship was less about words as it was about intentional hard physical  labor.


This prep time for Passover has been filled with much physical labor. I have been doing those labors in the spirit of our ancestors who di the hard work in Beit Ha Mikdash. Seeing the scrubbing and chopping and cleaning through that lens has allowed me to see the work as עבודה

not just as work but as a form of עבודת הלב.

As I have done this work over the past week I have had many thoughts of preparing for Passover with my parents.tbt 001

The traditional foods are cooked. The foods traditional to my family are cooked as well. After all, how can one celebrate the Exodus without lots of radish roses?


The dishes and the table cloth in the photo above will be on my table. The memories and the melodies that I learned at that table in Quincy will be sung by people who experienced those sedarim and those who hadn’t.

For all of us who went through the labors, the עבודה of preparing enjoy our communal and personal liberation from slavery.


A sweet, sweet Pesach to everyone.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Passover Cooking Olympics- the next round

For the improv award – chocolate spiced biscotti.


I completely faked these. I’m not even exactly sure what  I put in but I think that I started out with dried fruit ground up in the food processor, I also added shredded coconut, a bunch of cocoa and some dried chilies along with a bit of matza meal and a couple of eggs.


I formed two logs, wetting my hands to form the logs, just like my mother taught me when making mandlebroit. I baked the logs until they seemed done enough, cut them on the diagonal and re baked them.  they could have been a complete disaster but they surprised me by working. My son ate one and really liked it. So my thinking that this experiment was a success is not completely delusional.


Earlier in the week I was mostly making the foods that my father used to be in charge of making for Passover. Today, now that I am baking, memories of baking Passover cakes with my mother have been coming to the surface.


I made the cake that we always eat for dessert for the first night of Passover, a chocolate nut torte. it came out wonderfully, except that I did a really stupid thing as I took the cake out of the pan and the cake broke. I shoved al of the pieces back into a cake shaped thing.


I may make a chocolate custard to top the cake and further disguise the damage.  As the cake broke I thought of all of the many times my mother had to remake this cake because her cake broke.


The lemon almond cake is baking right now.


We need to eat actual meals around here. I turned some of the boiled chicken from the soup into chicken salad. I faked a home made mayo. That is after several attempts at making mayo over the years while carefully following a recipe…the one time I just pretended I knew what I was doing and winged the whole thing --it worked and I ended up with actual fluffy mayo.


I also made a spicy eggplant,


and some matza rolls.


I have gone through most of my Tower O Eggs so tomorrow I go back to Costco to get more.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Moving right along

Today I cooked lots of meat. How much meat you ask? Three briskets and two giant London broils. All of them got the same coffee/spice rub


All of the meat is now sliced up and in the freezer all three gallons of it.


I also made a gravy out of the pan drippings.

Now it’s time to think about dessert. My nephew is joining us for the first Seder. He is severely nut allergic. Passover desserts tend to be chock full of nuts, if they are good. If they are bad they are made with lots of matza meal.

I made some of these coconut apricot balls for my nephew.


I could only find Turkish apricots which are missing that tang that in necessary for good apricot flavor. I cheated and added a couple of shakes of citric acid. The smashed apricots and coconut is all that’s in these apricot balls, or as my kids call them, apricot turds, or doodies.SAM_4077

Despite my kids’ name for them, they are delicious.

Claudia Roden’s excellent Jewish cook book has a recipe for Sephardi fruit and nut cookies that are made out of dried fruit and nuts that have been run through a food processor and baked.


I suppose I could have actually consulted the cookbook. But instead I just added pecans to the smooshed apricots and some dates plopped them on a baking sheet and added a pecan to the center of each one and baked them.


These aren’t the most elegant looking cookies, but I have seen worse. They do taste good though.


I have a mess of baked sweet potatoes, pears and apples baking in the oven right now. I guess I could call it a baked tzimmis.   I also need to make another side dish. My daughter’s boyfriend is allergic to potatoes. Between the no nuts and the no-potatoes  it’s making some of this meal planning something of a challenge.

I think tomorrow I will start baking cakes. Tonight I have to iron a bajillion tablecloths and napkins.

Matza Brei

This variation on the usual matza fried up with scrambled eggs is one of my father’s great culinary contributions to the world. It is essentially matza suspended in custard. The elements are simple but it is deep, deep comfort food. I made this pot full this morning before I went to morning services because my son asked me so nicely.  I could pretend that it is a difficult dish to make and make my son feel obligated to me and do my bidding for the rest of the day. But in reality, this is a dish simple enough to make before your brains are fully plugged in. If you have a heavy bottomed pot like I do you can cook this in the pot on low. If you have pots like my father did, nearly thin enough to read a news paper through, make this in a double boiler. I assume that this would be even more lush made with a dollop of heavy cream, but that is something I have never experienced.

It is our usual Passover breakfast.

Put some butter in a pot.


Matza, assume 1 sheet per hungry breakfast eater.


Roughly crumble matza into the pot.

Add milk.


Add one beaten egg per sheet of matza.


Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low until custard sets.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Working my way out of Egypt

Well, since the Haggadah says that in each generation one needs to see themselves as if they themselves left slavery in Egypt. Today was a slavery day.

I took the easy way out and made the charoset in the food processor.  It’s a whole lot easier than 90 minutes of hand chopping( but less emotionally satisfying)  I was just too emotionally and physically worn out after my mother’s death to deal with the hand chopping this year.We now have a gallon of charoset in the fridge.
The charoset recipe was developed by my father. It sort of started out with a base of Ashkenazi charoset and is embellished with ideas my father got from reading Maimonides, references to fruits in the Song of Songs and stuff my father liked.

The quantities for everything is  lots.
figs ( it’s better to have a few varieties, and they are even better if they are pre-soaked in sweet wine)
prunes ( not a lot)
apricots ( California is better but Turkish are better than nothing)
dried peaches if you have them ( I didn’t this year)
fresh ginger – lots
whole orange
whole lemon
Sweet kosher wine
Chop everything up until it is a nice rough texture. Add wine , more than you would think and some honey. It’s better if it sits for a few days for the flavors to meld.

I also made a no nut charoset for my nephew.  That was the easy part of my day.

The hard part of the day was the soup. It had cooked for a day and a half. It was time to create not the usual peasant soup we eat all year but the refined clear soup my father was so proud to serve on Passover.
I first need to explain that the pot I’m using is big. My son and I reckoned that you could cook a year old child in the pot with no trouble. The pot SAM_4054  would be a bit too small for a two year old.  I’m saying this not because I plan to cook a child, but because I want you to get a sense of the volume of soup I am dealing with here.
First I had to mash all of the vegetable matter through a strainer.
All of the pureed gunk gets added back into the soup.
Then you take all of the vegetable matter that is left inside the strainer and put it in a tea towel and squeeze out every bit of liquid.  This means that every bit of vegetable goodness is inside a  flavorful clear broth.
This makes for really good soup but it is hard on the hands and shoulders.

I then pulled out all the bits of chicken flesh and put them into a bowl. On it’s own the chicken tasted like old rubber bands. I know, because as a kid I used to put all sorts of things in my mouth, including old rubber bands.
I then ground up celery and parsley with some fresh lemon juice and olive oil and made a dressing for the chicken scraps. I flavored it with lots of black pepper and paprika and that was supper 9 along with some soup and some paprika and ginger flavored matza balls.

We now have 11 quarts of soup ready for Seder.My hands look like they have been pickled. I am sore and bone tired.

I think tomorrow I will cook the meat and start thinking about side dishes.