Archive for April, 2010

Lag B’Omer, which begins tomorrow night, is a huge event in Israel.  While the air is filled with barbecue smoke during the day on Yom HaAtzma’ut, the smoke that lingers in the air from bonfires the night of Lag B’Omer lasts a few days.  (Be sure to bring in your laundry if it’s hanging outside.)

Americans like to roast weenies around a fire; Israelis roast potatoes wrapped in foil.  But EVERYONE loves marshmallows.  Kosher marshmallows in America aren’t easy to come by.  They’re ubiquitous in Israel, but taste disgusting.  It’s almost impossible to find plain, white, vanilla-flavored marshmallows here.  For some reason, whoever makes them thinks that sicky pink wannabe-strawberry-flavored ones are better.  For those who think marshmallows taste awful to begin with, this is no great loss.  But for those of us who like to spear a fluffy, white sugar-gelatin-corn syrupy puff on the end of a stick and toast it, pull off the outer skin, eat it, and repeat, it is a crime.

Last winter, my friend Ilana Epstein decided to make her own marshmallows (to accompany her rockin’ spiced hot chocolate).  She assured me it was easy, so I gave it a whirl myself.  Besides the ingredients and a pot, the only fancy things one needs are a stand mixer and a candy thermometer.  (I did it the first time without the candy thermometer, testing often to see at what stage the sugar syrup was, but don’t recommend it.)  The following is Fine Cooking‘s recipe for marshmallows (with glosses by Ilana and me).  Prep time takes about half an hour, the marshmallows stand for 2 hours, then turning out and cutting takes about 10 minutes.  Pretty easy, and the results are so good, you may never go back to store-bought again.

3 (¼ oz) envelopes granulated, unflavored gelatin (1.5 packages of the bovine gelatin we get in Israel; I used 2 packages of fish gelatin yesterday with success)

2 cups sugar

1 cup corn syrup

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (plus lots more for coating and cutting)

Pour ¾ cup cold water in the mixer bowl with the gelatin and fit with the whisk attachment.

Clip a candy thermometer in a saucepan.  Boil the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and ¾ cup water until it reaches the firm ball stage, about 15 minutes.  (On a candy thermometer, this is 250 degrees Fahrenheit or 120 degrees Celsius.  If you don’t have a candy thermometer, test by dipping a finger or spoon handle in ice water, then syrup, then ice water again; it should form a ball of chewy syrup.)

On low speed, pour the syrup into the gelatin in a slow, thin stream.  Add the vanilla, then increase speed to high and beat 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick and the bottom of the bowl is just warm to the touch.

Lay a heavy coat of icing sugar on the bottom of a glass 9 x 13” pan.  Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan, then sift more sugar on top.  Let sit until firm, about 2 hours.

Loosen edges with a knife dipped in icing sugar, then turn out onto a cutting board.  Cut with a knife or a roller pizza cutter dipped in icing sugar, then roll each individual marshmallow in icing sugar.  Keeps a month in a ziplock bag.


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Years ago, a high school classmate of mine forwarded me an email from a friend of hers listing some principles of women’s self defense.  I had learned and taught in the self-defense world for several years at the time, and summoned some wisdom from my experience to write her a response.  In the interest of disseminating more accurate information about assaults against women, and what women can do in response, I am posting my letter to my classmate below.  On the one hand, I hope it is helpful to women (and men).  On the other hand, I hope you find no use for it at all.

I was interested to receive your email about self defense strategies for women. I took a self defense class in 1993 in Boston at Impact/Model Mugging, which has chapters throughout the U.S. and in several other countries besides (Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and Israel).  After 25 hours of learning verbal and physical techniques, and using them with full-impact on a padded male “assailant” (instructor), I decided to become an instructor myself.  I trained for a year and a half, and taught women to fight to a knock-out against unarmed assailants, multiple assailants, and assailants with edged weapons and guns.

I agree with some of the information in your email, particularly that most attackers do not use weapons, look for someone who won’t fight back, and are deterred by a woman who puts up her hands and uses her voice to set limits (doesn’t scream; YELLS, like at a dog tearing up her flowerbeds).  Some of the other stuff I found problematic.  Most women do (and should) choose a hairstyle based on comfort and what suits them and their appearance, not whether they present a likely target or not.  Same thing with clothing.  And who can avoid going through her purse, using public restrooms, or being out in the early morning?  The basic point that comes through, though—that women should be as alert and attentive as possible while out in public—is most crucial; these other details should be less important to women.

A year or so ago, a friend of mine asked me for ten key points of women’s self defense.  The following is what I wrote:

The Ten Commandments of Women’s Self Defense

(in chronological order)

1.  Believe that you are worth fighting for. Some women will fight for others: their spouse or their children.  What happens when we’re alone?  We are all worth fighting for—even when we are sick, tired, or feel bad about ourselves.

2.  Decide in advance whom you’re going to fight. Sometimes situations come up which you might not expect: having to fight someone you trust, someone who is supposed to take care of you, someone you love. Decide in advance whether there are situations in which you would choose NOT to fight.  An urgent situation is not the time to stand and think.  Try to envision as many scenarios as you can, such as fighting against your boss, your clergyman, your male relatives, other women, or even children.

3.  Have a plan. Leave yourself room for escape from every situation possible.  Where are the exits?  Whom can you call in an emergency?  Where can you find safety?

4.  You are responsible for your own feelings, not anyone else’s. Women often believe (or are told) that if they fight, they will only make the attacker mad.  Think about this: What kind of person goes around attacking people?  The attacker is already angry!  You are not responsible for the attacker’s feelings—just your own.

5.  Breathe. For women, this is often the first thing to go in an assault.  The way to prevent it is to start yelling.  One need not scream like in the movies; yelling works better.  Yell at the attacker to stop.  Yell at him to go away.  Yell out a description of him if he is harassing you in a public area.  If he’s a stranger, yell out that you don’t know him (especially if he is trying to make it look like a domestic dispute).  Or simply yell NO!  And don’t stop yelling until the fight is over.

6.  Set clear boundaries. Some people do not realize when their behavior poses a threat.  Others are deliberately testing us to see how far we will let them go.  Even with those we love, whom we allow to get close to us, we have the right (indeed, the obligation) to set boundaries that are comfortable for us.  Tell the person to stop.  Tell him to go away.  If he is too close, tell him to take a step back. Tell him you are uncomfortable with what he is doing.  Start in your normal speaking voice.  If he raises the intensity or volume of his voice in response, respond to him, matching the intensity of his voice.  This is not a shouting match; you are simply standing by your boundaries.  If he does not respect your request, repeat one or two phrases (e.g. “Back off!”  “Go away!”) until you sound like a broken record.  Eighty percent of potential assaults end with the women setting a clear verbal boundary.

7.  Sound authoritative, rather than questioning. Many women talk in such a way that the pitch of their voice goes up at the end of a sentence.  In a verbal confrontation, this makes you sound uncertain of what you are saying.  Practice speaking in a voice that goes down at the end of the sentence.  (Pretend you’re giving commands to a dog; this helps.)  Then practice doing it as your voice gets louder.  Your voice should communicate unflinching firmness.

8.  Fight through the fear. Sometimes setting boundaries does not have the desired effect; sometimes a confrontation leads to a fight.  Women who successfully win fights against assailants are not superheroes.  They are ordinary women who feel just as afraid during the attack as we would.  The key to coping with fear that can sometimes paralyze us is to use it in the fight.  Turning that powerful emotion into fighting fuel rather than letting it shut us down can empower our fights. Use this in tandem with breathing (#5).

9.  Target sensitive areas. Beating your fists on his chest like they did in the movies is a waste of time.  Pinch together all five fingertips of one hand and go straight for the eyes. If he’s behind you, jab your elbow in his face or solar plexus.  Ram your knee up between his legs, as if to lift him by the testicles.  If he is on his knees, plant your knee in his head.  If you are both on the ground, get on your side as if you are doing leg-lifts, stabilize yourself with your arms, and use your top leg to kick target areas (head and groin).  In the fight, do not look at his eyes or pay any attention to what he says; just look for whatever target is easiest to hit.

10.  Don’t stop fighting until the end. When is a fight over?  When he flees or when he’s unconscious.  (This is why the head target is so important).  If he begs for mercy, yell at him to leave. After all, you were the one attacked.  If he does not leave, keep fighting.

One last thing to remember is that 80% of attacks are by lone, unarmed assailants.  These statistics fly in the face of many of the media’s representations of attacks.  Even an assailant who uses a weapon is usually just trying to make the assault go more smoothly; he does not always plan to use it.

If I were to add an 11th point to this list, it would be the following: don’t let yourself get tied up, and don’t let yourself be transported.  This is in response to the fact that some men do, indeed, try to transport a woman to a location that is safer or more convenient for the man, and invariably more dangerous for the woman.  Start fighting BEFORE he gets either of these advantages.

Of course I support the idea of women taking defense courses, and the more hands-on, the better.  But even from the course I taught, I know that a woman who just came to a graduation/demonstration was able to walk away with enough knowledge and determination to knock out a man who attacked her in a public park weeks later.

I could go on ad nauseum about this because it’s one of my favorite things. I just wanted to acknowledge your service to friends in forwarding your friend’s email, and add my two cents to it.  It’s important, and not enough can be done to protect oneself and other women.

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I read with interest Viva Hammer’s article in the April 16 Jerusalem Post entitled “Every hour a kiss” in which she addresses issues of physical touch according to Jewish law.

In the course of the article, she describes an incident in which a manager at work, to illustrate a point, rubbed her shoulder, put an arm around her, and squeezed her hand.  She found herself at a loss for what to do.  “If I make a fuss, I risk my job.  If I do nothing, I am being violated and demeaned.”  She chose the latter.

I occasionally found myself in a similar situation when teaching in a Catholic high school.  I have attended many church services, both Catholic and Protestant, and have always been irritated by an inexplicable part of the service where, like Jesus’s disciples, the congregation is enjoined to exchange the “sign of peace.”  This usually results in bedlam as the congregation breaks frame in the service and turns to one another, hugging, shaking hands, chattering, and—gulp!—kissing.  (Hey, wait!  Wasn’t it a kiss that Judas supposedly gave Jesus as part of the Romans’ sting operation?  How can that be the sign of “peace”?  Oh, never mind.)  On one particularly memorable occasion, the vice principal, a middle-aged man who visibly enjoyed working in a nearly all-female environment (what old-fashioned types might call a “hen-house”), turned from his seat in the pew in front of me to give me the “sign of peace.”  I drew back immediately, shooting him a look that clearly warned him off trying to hug or kiss me.  Clueless about what an Orthodox Jewish woman permits and is permitted for physical touch, and undaunted by my long sleeves, skirt, and snood (THOSE were the days!), he asked, “May I?” and without waiting for a response, reached forward, grabbed my shoulders, and planted a wet smacker firmly on my cheek.

I burned with rage, and felt utterly disgusted.  Had I not made it clear that I didn’t want to be touched?  Shouldn’t a respectful co-worker honor my refusal to be kissed?  But this man was either so randy, or so stupid, he just didn’t get it.  (Or didn’t WANT to get it.)  The part that stung the most was that I’m a self-defense instructor; if I’d wanted to, I could have hopped over the pew and, with an elbow to the face, a knee to the groin, and a knee to the head, knocked him out cold in about 3 seconds.  But that would have been an even greater disruption to the already chaotic service than the love fest sign of peace already was.

Viva Hammer outlines the strict interpretation of shmirat negiah, with which she is most comfortable.  I am not always so consistent.  There are men for whom I make exceptions to the rules.  I kiss my uncle and close friends in my parents’ generation on the cheek.  I hug my best friend’s husband, who is also a dear friend.  I do not as a rule touch unmarried men or teenage boys.  The one guiding principle for all of these situations is a sense of comfort and clear permission on both sides.

I once read a wonderful article on touch by Yael Resnick, creator of Natural Jewish Parenting (once a print magazine, now available online).  In sum, her rules for touch among children are the following: Is the touch 1) modest? 2) gentle? and 3) wanted?  If all three conditions are met, then the touch is permissible.  If the answer to any of those questions is “no” then the touch should be forbidden. For those of us a little less strict about negiah, I think these rules apply very nicely.

Living in Israel where most people I know are familiar with the rules of touch makes it much easier to avoid unwanted contact.  (It also doesn’t hurt that I’m a middle-aged married woman surrounded by shrieking children.  There are more appealing objects to touch, to be sure.)  No more church services, no more kissy-poo “signs of peace”, and no more overbearing administrators.  And in my ornery old age, I think I have fewer inhibitions about doling out the old one-two to someone who doesn’t understand that killer looks mean business.

Not modest?  Not gentle?  Not wanted?  POW!  POW!  POW!

Ahhh.  Much better.

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Settlements 101

I recently renewed contact with a secular friend from Tel Aviv on Facebook.  He asked if we’re ever in Tel Aviv so our families can meet each other.  I said we’re not there often, and at the moment don’t all fit into our 5-seater sedan to drive there (despite Banana’s helpful suggestion that we strap Bill’s carseat to the roof of the car).  I asked him, in turn, whether he and his family would come to see us in Efrat, and he responded that they couldn’t, that it’s Palestine, and that he would have to bring a passport.  He followed it up with a little lopsided smiley-face (colon-close parenthesis).

But still.

I know the settlements are a popular whipping-boy these days.  There are those who like to say that they are the chief object that stands between humanity and Middle East peace.  They like to say that settlements are a shameless land grab on the part of the Israelis in an effort to deny the Palestinians their rightful land for their rightful (and as yet imaginary) state.  There is even a European who works with the Arabs in “Palestine” who encourages Israel to continue building the settlements so they’ll have something substantial to give up on the day when the Arabs finally pull their finger out and decide to concede Israel’s right to exist.

But I’d like to point out a few things about settlements for those who may not have thought the issue through very carefully.

First of all, settlements didn’t exist in British Mandatory Palestine.  There were Jews and Arabs dotted all over the landscape.  There were times and places where they got along and even went into business together, and there were times when they did not, when the Arabs became violent and slaughtered Jews under the unconcerned nose of the British.

Settlements were also a non-issue in 1948 and 1967 when surrounding Arab nations decided to gang up on Israel in the hope of taking the rest of the land, something they (except for Egypt and Jordan, in popularly unsupported peace treaties with Israel) never gave up on to this day.

Settlements only became an issue when the Jews had control of land lost by Arabs in their desperate bid to destroy the Jewish State.  This was a “humiliation” for the Arabs, a major loss of face, and their further attempts to topple Israel from the outside (the Yom Kippur War) and the inside (two terror wars, popularly known as “intifadas”) show their insistence on getting what they imagine is theirs back.

But it’s not theirs.  Not anymore.  The Bible says it’s ours.  The archeological evidence of Jewish life everywhere say it’s ours.  The British Mandate said it’s ours.  Our presence here for thousands of years says it’s ours.  And our win—and their loss—say it’s ours.

This is not to say that there aren’t some Israelis interested in a two-state solution.  But this does not involve restoring a sovereign nation to its land; it’s giving a gift of land to a people to whom it doesn’t currently belong.  It’s not the right of aggressors who lose to have land held for them in escrow indefinitely.  If anything, the settlements should be seen as an incentive for the Arabs to come to the peace table.  The longer they wait, the more we’ll build in the settlements.  They are not a bargaining chip; they are a ticking clock.  And if the Arabs choose to dally instead of make peace with us, eventually there should be no land left for them, and they should consider going elsewhere to establish their national home.

Contrary to the way the West chooses to view Arabs, they are grown-ups, they are smart, and they are capable of seeing that their choices come with consequences.  To behave toward them as though they are tantrumming toddlers, possessed of limited faculties, is patronizing.  They are like anyone else; they respond to incentives.  If you make clear to them that they stand to gain if they act in their own interests now, you may be more successful than if you coddle and do their bargaining for them, scold and humiliate the Israelis, and do everything else possible to maintain political and diplomatic instability in the region.

Settlements are not the issue, and never have been.  As  Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon said in a recent interview, “In Judea and Samaria, if you are talking about peace, there is enough place for Jews and Arabs. If you are talking about war, it is more complicated. How much open space do you have in Judea and Samaria? Quite a bit. What percentage of the territory do the Jews control? Five percent. That is what everything hinges on?”  In Ya’alon’s view, even in the eventuality of a land gift to the Arabs, not one settlement should be uprooted: “I don’t even want to talk about territorial withdrawals in an age in which the withdrawal from Lebanon strengthened Hizbullah, and the withdrawal from Gaza strengthened Hamas to the point where we have the second Islamic republic in the Middle East – the first in Iran, and the second in Gaza: Hamastan. That is opposed to our strategic interest, and to the strategic interests of the west.”

It’s time to stop perseverating on settlements and start perseverating on what is REALLY the issue: peace.

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After a 19-hour taxi ride, a 6 hour wait in the Madrid airport, and a flight home on El Al, the Cap’n came home Monday night.  He took the kids to the local Yom HaAtzma’ut ceremony (and saw Beans dance), gave me a cool t-shirt from the official Beatles store on Baker Street, and we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last night by going to see “Kick Ass.”  He’s home this Shabbat for the first time in 2 weeks.  To celebrate, I’m making challah and curried chicken and vegetables for tonight, and cod a la spetse, pasta with pesto, and homemade ice cream for lunch tomorrow.  It’s good to have him home.

I’ve been thinking about what this volcano (and, potentially, two volcanoes) will do to travel in the near future.  I read about the Estonian president’s state visit to Turkey this week by bus, and getting coffee and sandwiches at convenience stores along the way.  Here’s the link to that story.  I know for the people stranded this volcano and the fallout from it are terribly frustrating, but once people get home there’s a sort of romance to the thought of people rediscovering travel by land and sea.  Perhaps it will help people slow down a bit, see the countryside instead of flying over it, and feel more connected to how people traveled in a bygone age.  I’m sure to people used nowadays to high-speed travel on airplanes, the crimp in their style is too much to take.  But I’m reminded of a passage Peach and I just read in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter (which is all about making do with almost nothing while the elements rage) where Ma and Pa discuss their meager resources and dependence on the mod cons (such as they were in the 1880s):

“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,” Ma considered.  “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl, before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.”

“That’s so,” said Pa.  “These times are too progressive.  Everything has changed too fast.  Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves—they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.”

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I’ve long been a card-carrying religious Zionist—one of the few labels I’ll allow myself.  As such, my tent is firmly pitched in the camp of those who believe that the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 was not just a happy event, but the work of Hashem and—dare one hope—the beginning of the geula, our redemption.

In today’s Jerusalem Post, I read a letter to the “In Jerusalem” section addressing the issues haredim have with Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day), including the fact that religious Zionists refrain from saying Tahanun on that day.  According to the letter’s author, Shira Twersky-Cassel,

In Midrash Shlomo, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Rivlin, part of a large contingent of Vilna Gaon students that settled in Jerusalem in 1812, wrote that during the Omer they did not say the Tahanun on two special days.  ‘These are ruled by compassion…and therefore untouched by the klipa [the unclean spirits that damage the soul].’  These two days were the 20th of the Omer 5 Iyar and the 42nd day of the Omer 27 Iyar.  A century later, on 5 Iyar 1948, the State of Israel was declared.  On 27 Iyar 1967, Israeli paratroopers broke into the Old City of Jerusalem, freeing the city from the 19-year Jordanian occupation.

There are times when Judaism, Jewish history and practice take my breath away.  This is one of those times.

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Why Israel should exist

I often read articles, email forwards, and blog posts which seek to defend Israel’s right to exist by evoking the history of the Jewish people, its high moral and ethical standards, its choice to fight only in self defense, or its many remarkable contributions to the betterment of the world.  While I agree that Israel has accomplished great things in its 62 years of existence, and still can accomplish many more (MANY more), I think these attempts to justify Israel’s existence by extolling its virtues miss the mark.

Here are some reasons often given for why people should love Israel, be proud of Israel, leave Israel alone, or otherwise come to grips with the fact that Israel exists (in no particular order):

1. The Jews are a small minority in the world and yet furthered the progress of civilization by introducing monotheism, the Marx Brothers, and the Pentium to the world.

2. Jews have suffered discrimination, ghettoization, imprisonment, and murder at the hands of non-Jews for thousands of years.

3. Israelis have invented lots of cool, fun, life-saving stuff that the world enjoys.

4. Jews in general and Israelis in particular have garnered more Nobels (given their tiny representation in the world’s population) than the goyim.

5. Israelis help other countries after natural disasters, sending planes with tent hospitals, specialists, equipment, machines, and medical supplies, regardless of how the affected country treats us at the UN.

6. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

7. Jews returned to the land of their forefathers, purchased land legally, were discriminated against by the British colonial government here which gave the Arabs a free hand to murder Jews whenever they felt like it, and in the end had to fight not only to make good the promises the British had made them and broken, but for their very lives.

8. Jews were killed by the millions in the Shoah while the world watched and (for the most part) did bupkes to stop the killing.

9. Israel has many shared political, cultural, and economic interests with the US and the West.

10. Israel has the most moral army in the world, a free press, and an activist liberal court system which collectively are completely unabashed about investigating and trying real war criminals.

These are NOT reasons why Israel should be loved or respected in the world, or why the world should recognize Israel’s existence.  These are reasons Israelis and Diaspora Jews have to be proud of Israel, but they are not necessarily shared by anyone outside that small population group.  Nor should they be.

So why should other countries stop spending all their condemnation sessions at the UN beating up on Israel?  Why are the standards by which Israel is judged by the rest of the world completely whacked?  And why does Israel deserve to exist at all?

Because Israel IS.  That’s it.  Nations are not made by consensus, and if a nation does things that other nations don’t like, there is no discussion of abolishing the offending nation.  There is criticism, there is disapproval, there is sometimes even war (when there is no other option).  But a nation is not made by LL Bean, and cannot be returned via parcel post for any reason, or no reason at all.  South Africa with its apartheid policies was criticized, boycotted, and divested from, but in the end it solved its own problems without outside intervention, without being wiped off the map.  Pakistan, with its surreptitious nuclear tests, saber-rattling against India, and now concerns of involvement with worldwide Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, has not received any threats to its existence.  And China, with an appalling human rights record on multiple levels (Tiananmen Square massacre, trafficking in organs harvested from prisoners, annexation of Tibet) has not only not been liquidated; the nations of the world are either tiptoeing around it politically, or falling all over themselves to trade with it.

The mayor of Efrat, Oded Ravivi (one of the few politicians for whom my vote has not been the Kiss of Death), made a short speech at a demonstration in Gush Etzion a few weeks ago against Obama’s harsh treatment of Israel, and the resulting encouragement it has given local Arabs to begin stoning Jews again.  Oded spoke briefly and to the point.  He said that all nations act in their interests.  Obama believes his policies, so counterproductive for peace and dangerous for Israelis, are in America’s interests.  Israel, too, is a nation with its own interests.  And like all nations, it is Israel’s obligation to act in its own interests, whatever they may be.

But America and Israel are such great friends, many would argue.  There’s”no light between” as some have said.  But perhaps Charles DeGaulle had it right when he said, “No nation has friends; only interests.”

And no nation should be threatened with extinction for acting like a nation.

(Happy 62nd Birthday, Medinat Yisrael!)

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The Cap’n traveled to the UK on business last week, and as anyone who has taken a gander at the news for the past several days can surmise, he’s stuck there now.

He missed Shabbat with us, having to make do with the hospitality of strangers in Golders Green.  And he’s due to miss Yom HaAtzma’ut this week (including the spectacle of Beans dancing in the town’s official ceremony) if he doesn’t find a way other than flying to get home.

Stories abound of people rediscovering ground transport.  Ferries are clogged, and John Cleese—undaunted by either the volcano or cash flow—reportedly paid £3000 to return by taxi to Blighty from Norway.

When I spoke to the Cap’n on the phone this morning, he said the company has given its 7 or 8 employees stranded in London the green light to get home by any means within their grasp.  As it stands now, the Cap’n has contacted some of the others and booked a taxi to Madrid (an 18 hour ride), one of the only remaining airports in Europe to which El Al is flying right now, and from which he hopes to be on a plane for home tomorrow morning.  (British Airways, which he flew from Israel to Heathrow, is grounded until further notice.)  His boss suggested they buy enough kosher food in London to last three days in case they have to wait for a flight.  I told him that’s right and noble, but if he runs out of food en route to Israel, just avoid eating anything labeled puerco or jamón.  The rest, I guess, he can be forgiven.

The girls have been on a mope since it became clear their Abba wouldn’t be home for Shabbat.  I’ve tried to be more circumspect.  We know dozens of people in Israel who have family members who travel extensively for work, and in the course of all this travel must meet with delays, cancellations, and other upsets and chaos.  We’re spoiled, having had the Cap’n not only not traveling (well, hardly ever), but not even leaving the house for work for 3½ years.  If looked at through the lens of karma, it’s our turn.  And let’s face it; I’d far rather have the Cap’n delayed for a spectacular naturally-occurring geological event like this than what snarled airline traffic back around September 11, 2001.  Give me a volcano in Iceland any day.

May the remainder of the Cap’n’s journey home be speedy and uneventful.  Amen v’amen.

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Triumph of hope

Yom HaShoah is over, but part of being a Jew is feeling that the Shoah is never over.  It dogs our steps, reminds us constantly of the depths to which humans can sink in their treatment of other humans, and nowadays is alternately denied and celebrated by the Arabs, Iran, and educated Westerners whose heads are—well, never mind.  While it’s easy to get mired down in the horror of the event, at times it can teach us valuable lessons about the human spirit, and about how we should seek to live our lives.

On Monday night, at the end of Yom HaShoah, I got a sitter for the kids and went out to hear testimony from a 90-year-old survivor of the Shoah.  Mendel Flaster was 19 when the war broke out in 1939, and his story of surviving 14 concentration camps was riveting.  Although he has given the Spielberg Foundation 12 hours worth of his story (available through Yad VaShem) and we only got about 50 minutes, some very clear themes came out of what he chose for his brief capsule that evening.

One theme was that of self-care.  I heard a survivor say once that everything in the camps was engineered for death.  There was little or nothing there to keep people alive—no heat, no soap, insufficient food, inadequate clothing.  Mendel fought against these by doing everything he could to care for himself, physically and spiritually.  He kept himself as clean as possible, washing himself daily if there was water to be found.  One winter, he was in a camp located right next to a lake, so he went to the ice-covered lake every day and punched two holes in the ice—one to dive in, and one to climb out.  When on a work detail with inadequate shoes, he decided to brave the snow barefoot, working as hard as he could to keep up his circulation.  The SS had built a fire for the workers to warm themselves periodically, but Mendel avoided that and advised others to do the same to keep from getting sick.  Those who listened to him stayed healthy (as long as they rubbed their freezing toes with snow to keep up their circulation); those who ignored him all too often contracted pneumonia, and 99% of the time did not come out of the infirmary alive.  But even more important than the physical self-care was the spiritual.  He described two jobs he had that were simply impossible for him to perform: one was measuring the Gestapo for uniforms in a tailor shop, and the other was collecting and sorting the clothing of Jews after they went to the gas chambers.  With his tailoring job, he was afraid of what he might be tempted to do if left alone in a room with a Gestapo officer and a sharp pair of scissors, implementation of which would not only cost him his own life, but those of 10 other Jews.  And after seeing a mother holding her frightened child, assuring the child that they were going to take a shower, he could no longer sort clothing either.  Both times, he was able to transfer to a more savory, less soul-destroying job.  (I would add here that I have read of Jews who survived by walking away from details, or by overcoming their SS officers, both of which may have cost other Jews their lives.  I cannot fault them for what they did; and while other Jews no doubt replaced Mendel at these horrifying jobs, I can say from having heard his account that he would never have agreed to do anything that he knew would have cost another Jew his or her life.)

Another theme of Mendel’s talk was that of luck.  He was often in the right place at the right time to keep himself alive.  It was during the winter when he was working a machine cutting iron bars and accidentally sliced off two fingers.  He had to continue to work from 2 PM to 9 PM with his fingers bleeding before he could get a doctor to stitch them closed.  He says that the cold was his friend after this accident, since his hands were nearly frozen and his circulation much slower than it would have been in summer when he might have bled to death.  Near the end of the war, he was given a choice to stay with a small group of men to dismantle their camp, or be transferred with the other 5000 prisoners—including women and children—to Auschwitz, most likely to be murdered.  For him there was no choice; he chose to go with the people he believed needed him more.  In the end, he was selected to continue working, escaping the gas, but found out later that the men who had stayed behind at the camp had all been murdered.

A third theme was that of helping others.  He had contacts with the underground and found out the date that his family’s village was due to be liquidated.  There were a few dozen boys from his village whose families were all scheduled to be rounded up.  At the time, Mendel was in a private labor camp owned and operated by German war profiteers rather than under the direction of the SS.  Mendel went to the camp commander and begged him to allow the boys to visit their families one last time.  In the end, the commander agreed to allow groups of 5 boys to hitch a ride with a truck that would make rounds for supplies.  The boys would be dropped off at their village, then picked up an hour later and returned to the camp.  Mendel scheduled himself last, but after only a few trips out, the truck had no further errands, and Mendel and about a dozen other boys were left without having visited their families.  (In the end, he sneaked out of the camp by night, had a cup of coffee with his extended family for an hour, then returned before sunrise.)  When he found himself in a camp (and this happened several times) where there was inadequate food, he would take it upon himself to find work or trade with Poles to bring back enough to feed the other prisoners, especially the children and the sick.  In one camp, he got a job in a restaurant in the nearby village where he could take the leftovers back to the camp at the end of his shift.  His selflessness and resourcefulness earned him the love and devotion of his fellow prisoners who in turn saved his life when he was caught by an SS officer smuggling socks out of the camp to trade to Poles for food.  He was sentenced to be tortured to death, but a delegation of the other prisoners went to the camp commander.  The commander asked why suddenly these Jews cared about THIS prisoner?  They told him Mendel was the best worker in the camp, and pleaded for his life.  He was let off with 25 lashes instead.

A fourth theme to emerge from his talk was that of hope and faith.  I once read a book by a survivor who managed to make it through the war with her sister, who claimed that being with family—or knowing that they had family alive somewhere—was a great help in surviving since it gave someone something to live for.  But Mendel had already told us that he had absolutely no surviving family at all.  When I asked him what he was living for, and why he didn’t give up, Mendel said he was a young man, he had hope, he believed in God, and he had a strong will to live.  He had hope, but what he would be the first to admit was only a fool’s hope; he said that if someone had told him while he was in the camps that he would live to be 90 years old, he’d have said they were crazy.  And yet the subtext of everything he said was that he believed this could not be the end for him—there had to be more life to come.  And if not that, that he had to continue to live AS IF there was more life to come.

At the end of Mendel’s talk, I was struck not only by how stubborn had been his will to live, but how stubborn he had been about helping others to live too.  In those conditions, I imagine some would struggle to save themselves in the knowledge that others may pay the price for their life; others will struggle to save themselves and as many others as they can take with them.

I was told long ago that if there is something we want badly (a child, for example) the best thing we can do is to pray for someone else who wants the same thing.  I prayed for all of my children, but for Bill I prayed for a friend who also wanted a baby.  Now I have Bill, and she has twins.  I don’t know how much Mendel prayed during the war, but hearing his story, I concluded that his actions were louder than any prayers, and perhaps his actions to save others were what enabled him to save himself.  I know this didn’t happen to everyone who fought for others—we have plenty of dead heroes to sing about—but for whatever reason, Hashem saved Mendel.

At the end of the talk, someone asked Mendel what he thought of Jews who went back to Germany to live after the war.  Mendel said that many went back and made a fortune on the black market.  He himself went back to Germany when he was liberated, but for a different reason: to help round up criminals for the war crimes tribunals.  There have been celebrated hunts for some of the big operators of the Final Solution, but Mendel, in his own quiet, determined way, helped bring 60 Nazi war criminals to justice.

I have no idea what I would have done had I been in Mendel’s shoes.  I can only hope that I would have shown the savvy, the moxie, and the will to live that he did.  I’m lucky that I didn’t have to live through what he did; but I can say that hearing his story has helped me recalibrate my moral and spiritual compass.

For more about Mendel’s talk and other Yom HaShoah commemorations in Efrat, see the Voices Magazine blog.

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Welcome to the 53rd Kosher Cooking Carnival!  The brainchild of Batya from Shiloh, it is a monthly compendium of blog posts on kashrut in Jewish law, reviews of kosher restaurants and cookbooks, Shabbat and holiday menus, and kosher recipes.  (To submit a post for the next blog carnival, click on the Blog Carnival link here.)

To view previous editions, click on any of the following links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, KCC Meta Carnival, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, and 52.

The next edition will be on Rosh Chodesh Sivan (May 13), hosted by Leora.

And off we go!

Recipes and menu suggestions

Pesach may be over but for those with leftover matzah, Blog d’Elisson offers a new twist on matzo brei, bourmalikas, which he says can be eaten either sweet or savory, and which he says he would welcome any time of year.  (I definitely like the look of the grape tomato-mozarella ball-basil salad he eats with his!)

Esser Agaroth shares two refreshing, Latin-flavored spring salads: salsa and guacamole.

Ilana-Davita has a flavorful version of shakshuka, with a link to an eggless version too.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner‘s Individual Chocolate Fondue looks like a double-dipping delight for Shabbat dinner.

Batya at Me-Ander suggests a Simple Sliced Fruit Plate for dessert: easy, nutritious, and suitable for diabetics (and, I would add, the gluten-averse and vegans).  She also points out that consuming enough fruit can satisfy her cravings for sweets—a good health tip.

She also has a recipe for Easy and Tasty Tofu and Vegetables which looks healthful and delicious, and insists that even festive Shabbat meals should be easy to prepare, providing photos but refusing to list ingredients.  YOU decide what goes into these scrumptious-looking meals.

Mottel at Letters of Thought has a recipe for Sweet Mustard Chicken and Quinoa.  Not only does the dish have serious appeal, but Mottel includes an interesting discussion of the ingredients that go into it.

Mrs. S. of Our Shiputzim is a self-proclaimed charoset snob, and while Pesach 5770 is over, I’m taking note of her recipe for charoset (which she dubs “The Chumus of Pesach“) for next year.

For those still struggling to make gefilte fish, Batya trouble-shoots crumbly gefilte fish in Cooking Questions, Just Ask and offers her own recipe suggestions for this most Jewish of dishes.

Leora at Here in HP offers a recipe for mushroom paté, suitable for Pesach and all year.

For anyone who is fed up with the price of bagels at the bakery or supermarket and wants to try making them at home, Ilana Epstein at Kosher shows you how in Bagel Revolution.

Mother In Israel’s Cooking Manager blog provides a recipe for pot roast, a great way to dress up an inexpensive cut of beef to make a delicious festive meal.

Ilana-Davita‘s salmon and fennel looks light, nutritious, and absolutely delicious.

Mimi of Israeli Kitchen has a recipe for stewed chicken and gravy with a decidedly Middle Eastern flair, good for colds (a solid alternative to chicken soup), Shabbat dinner, and anytime one needs to raise one’s spirits.

And in honor of Yom HaAtzma’ut next week, Ilana Epstein offers us the Mish-kebab, a dainty sampler of grilled meats for the holiday.

Restaurant and cookbook reviews

Batya rates Jerusalem’s Best Bar and Grill, The Lion’s Den.

While I love browsing cookbooks, the best cookbook I own is the one I compiled myself.

Essays and photo-essays

Batya dreads cleaning in general, and Pesach cleaning particularly, and shares her memories of why in Traffic Will Only Get Worse Until… and Unpleasant Memories.

I, on the other hand, find cleaning a satisfying, rewarding experience, especially when I think about what happens in the kitchens of people who DON’T clean every year, and the food relics that turn up in their pantries, refrigerators, and freezers.

Yoav B at Israeli Soldier muses about the meaning of Pesach—freedom—and writes about paying the price for others’ freedom.

The Real Jerusalem Streets provides a wonderful photo essay on the bustling holiday week in Jerusalem.

And on to post-Pesach thoughts, Devo K. at  In the Middle, On the Right shares some wisdom about the segulah of baking shlissel (key) challah.

Soccer Dad photographed the fruits of his post-Pesach baking binge.  (Is that Silpat underneath those cookies?  This is a SERIOUS baker.)

Jamie at Kosher.Com writes about honoring her culinary grandparents who were also Shoah survivors.

Esser Agaroth discusses the old-new Middle Eastern delicacy, locusts.  (Which a chef who prepared them recently claims taste like Bissli.  Uh huh.)

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As I mentioned the other day, Iyar has arrived, bringing with it all the Israeli national holidays.  When my friend Ilana Epstein thinks of holidays, she thinks of the special foods that accompany them.  And if there isn’t a standard fare for a given holiday—think matzo ball soup, hamantashen, honey cake—she makes one up herself.  The following is a guest post by her accompanied by her own special version of Yom HaAtzma’ut barbecue fare.

Recently we went to the Music Box Museum in Ein Hod just outside Zichron Yaakov.  Nissan Cohen, a New Yorker who moved to Israel twenty years ago, had a museum dedicated to his favorite hobby: collecting music boxes.   It was fascinating, truly, and not just the boxes themselves.   What fascinated me most was the image I conjured in my head of Nisco (his preferred name), sitting in his living room with his newest acquisition, turning it one way and then the other, looking at it from every side, finding something new with each viewing, hearing something different each time.   I’m like that with cookbooks and my Dad is like that with theories.

My dad collects theories—about thoughts, places, people.   He mulls them over, asks others for feedback on his thoughts, expands on them until he is satisfied that they are complete.   And his latest theory is that culture in Israeli society is not relegated to the secular alone.   That theory states as follows: in Israel, even before the state became an entity, there had always been a struggle between religious Judaism and cultural Judaism.   What was more important for the survival of a Jewish people in a Jewish homeland?   What would keep this country on track?   What was it that we would need to survive our chosen location and our fight?

You had every intellectual, every poet and every writer fighting it out.  And I think as Israel celebrates its 62nd year, the truth is that we need both culture and religion.   They go hand in hand, and while segments of the population may lean more heavily on one or the other, there are those of us in the middle who get to enjoy both.   It is not lost on me what a unique position I am in.   While popular sentiment would have you choose one or the other, I think those of us in the Modern Orthodox camp are able to enjoy the best of both worlds in Israel.   After keeping a strictly traditional Pesach, we get to enjoy the cultural holidays that pop up every week in Iyar, from Holocaust Memorial Day, Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers, Jerusalem Liberation Day, and my favorite day, Independence Day.

I’m glad that cultural Judaism—read Zionism—at this point (like my father’s theory) is not relegated just to the secular.   Because in a country where the fight is never finished, it is important to celebrate our victories.

Yom HaAtzma’ut is all about the barbecue.   (For those of you who still remember your SAT analogies, barbecue is to Yom HaAtzma’ut what Christmas trees are to Christmas.)   In that vein, a few years ago I created my own specialty for the holiday: the mish-kebab.  This is not so much a recipe as a ‘good thing’ – though I think Martha Stewart would be appalled.   (All the better.)


1 package big American hot dogs

1 package pre-made kebabs (I like the Tirat Tzvi ones)

2 boneless chicken breasts





Garlic powder

Olive oil

Bamboo skewers

Soak the skewers in cold water for at least half an hour before putting meat on them, as this will prevent them burning.  Cut the chicken breast into two-inch squares and marinate with the olive oil and spices for half an hour.  Now cut up the hot dogs into three pieces each, so you have three stubby, thick pieces.  Cut the kebabs in half.  On each skewer thread one piece of chicken, one piece of kebab, and one piece of hot dog.  Grill until cooked.

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I once knew a girl in school named Susan Smith.  While I didn’t envy her the ordinariness of her name, I did envy the fact that anyone could pronounce it.

Not mine.  While I think Schnitzengruben is pronounced exactly like it’s spelled, not everyone can manage it.

And since I got married, I have tripled the confusion the public encounters with my name.  People still struggle a bit with Schnitzengruben but living in Israel, I’ve found that Jews do better with Germanic last names than most white-bread Americans.

I have also kept my maiden name (though clearly Crunch is easier to pronounce) which confuses traditional people who believe every married woman carries her husband’s name, and stymies computer systems like that of the Benjamin Library in Beit Shemesh, where I used to live.  Here was the conversation between me and the librarian who was registering my family’s membership in the computer’s system:


“Shimshonit Schnitzengruben.”

“Husband’s name?”

“The Cap’n.  His last name’s Crunch.”


“My last name is Schnitzengruben.  My husband’s is Crunch.”

“But you can’t do that.”

“I already did.”

“No, I mean that doesn’t work in our system.  You have to have one last name per family.”

“Are you telling me I have to change my name legally in order to have a membership at the Benjamin Library?”


“I’ll tell you what.  Put us all down as Schnitzengruben.”

The librarian’s eyes bugged out at this point.

“You heard me.  Put my husband down as Cap’n Schnitzengruben.  Your computer can handle THAT, can’t it?”

The librarian sucked her breath in through her teeth but did as she was told.  (GOOD girl.)

So not only are people confused by my gorgeously mellifluous last name, they cock up the honorific too.  While any woman chutzpahdik enough to keep her own last name after marriage should automatically be called “Ms.,” I understand that people meeting me for the first time don’t necessarily know that I’m going by my maiden name.  So when they call me “Mrs. Schnitzengruben,” I sometimes smile sweetly and say, “That’s my mother.  Call me Ms. Schnitzengruben.”  Or when they REALLY don’t know me and call me “Mrs. Crunch,” I have to go back a generation and tell people that’s my husband’s grandmother.  (His mother is a physician and didn’t go to medical school for four years to be called MRS. Crunch, thank you very much.)

But all this salad of names and honorifics quite frankly tires me out.  Feminism made some inroads here and there, but where names are concerned, I think it has only served to confuse people.  I know people are doing their best, and once they get to know me they USUALLY get it right.  Because once they get to know me, they are allowed to call me Shimshonit, which simplifies things immeasurably.

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The Shoah in film

With Pesach over, a month of national holidays is upon us in Israel.  Tonight begins the Memorial Day for the Shoah (Holocaust) and Heroism.

I have had a number of difficulties with this holiday over the years.  The addition of “heroism” to the observance in Israel seems to me emblematic of Israeli Jews’ troubled relationship with the Shoah and its survivors, whom they have traditionally neglected and derided, rather than treating as the traumatized, precious remnants of a genocide.  Despite the bite that the Germans and their helpers took out of world Jewry (one-third), I have sometimes thought that it should be observed on Tisha B’Av along with the other holidays, since other than the scale and industrialized quality it took on, the Shoah didn’t actually distinguish itself in barbarity from other pogroms in the past.  (I think that as long as there are survivors in the world, however, the day should stay as it is, a separate commemoration.)  There are so many days and periods of mourning in the Jewish calendar, including the Omer, the Three Weeks, and several of the fast days, that while the Shoah is much more recent and immediate—especially with some survivors still living to tell their stories—in other ways it feels like just another day of mourning.

Another problem I’ve had with the Shoah has been the movies made about it.  The mini-series “Holocaust” and the Academy award-winning “Schindler’s List” both represent the sweeping epic-style Shoah films that seek to educate the masses about the barbarity and destruction that took place.  In talking to friends about those films, one friend pointed out that most European Jews’ experience of the Shoah was about six months in duration, from invasion to extermination.  I agree with this point, and also with the fact that it can be very difficult to sit through yet another exposition of German-sponsored barbarity with each new film that comes out.  “Victory” and “Sobibor” showed camp revolts, but these were similarly grueling to watch and predictably feel-good at the end.  “Life Is Beautiful” and “The Pianist” were interesting to see, but “The Pianist” was horrific enough that I would not want to see it again, and “Life Is Beautiful”—Roberto Benigni’s attempt to laugh at the unlaughable—had a laudable goal, but not one I took terribly seriously.

That’s why I was interested this year to see some movies that depart from the past formulas.  “Defiance” is the story of the Bielski brothers who hid themselves and dozens of other Jews in the forest, while “Die Fälscher” (“The Counterfeiters”) is about Jews who worked in a secret counterfeiting operation inside Sachsenhausen.  Both of these movies are snapshots of small operations, focused on a couple of characters with complicated relationships and difficult choices.  The Bielski brothers contend with dissension in their ranks and rivalry with the partisans, but the film also shows them being helped by Gentiles, something I’ve rarely seen in a Shoah movie (other than “Schindler’s List” obviously).  “Die Fälscher” was particularly interesting to me because the main character was a counterfeiter (read: criminal) to begin with, and by continuing his work reproducing first the British pound, then the American dollar, he is merely pursuing an uninterrupted career in crime while saving his own skin.  At the same time, he finds himself helping an enemy that is exterminating his own people, and clashing with a colleague who is deeply troubled by their assignment and threatens the entire enterprise with his misgivings.  I would see either of these movies again without hesitation.

The last movie I saw recently that caught my attention was “Inglourious Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino’s Shoah revenge fantasy.  Less gory than “Pulp Fiction,” it was—at least for this Jew—entertaining, at times hilariously funny, and unusually therapeutic.  Rather than being one of the harrowing displays of the “Schindler’s List” variety, it is a brief glimpse of what might have been, had the right people (on both sides of the conflict) been in the right place at the right time.  It’s not educational, it’s not realistic, but when it comes to the Shoah, there is no way to portray accurately or comprehensively the enormity of the event.  And after all the movies that have been made about it (some with greater success than others), we might as well imagine the perpetrators getting their just deserts for a change.

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The personal cookbook

When I was slogging through my first year of parenting and was bombarded by unsolicited advice from every quarter, I found myself unloading my frustrations on my OB/GYN at one of my appointments.  He said something to me that I’ve never forgotten: “The best parenting book you could ever read is the one you write yourself.”

That advice has stood me in good stead over the years.  But oddly enough, I think it goes for cooking too.  Ever since I learned to cook, people have given me cookbooks as gifts, or passed their own unused cookbooks on to me.  One of the most amazing bookstores I used to enjoy going into was the Brookline Booksmith’s cookbook store, filled from top to bottom with nothing but cookbooks.  I could sit and browse through them all day and never get bored.

But when it comes down to it, I enjoy reading cookbooks (and my friend Ilana’s stacks of cooking magazines), but rarely use them for more than inspiration.  Like most home cooks, I have a fixed repertoire that is rarely disturbed by novelty.  Over the years, that repertoire has expanded to a nice breadth of weekday, Shabbat, and holiday meals, but nonetheless, while I love seeing what professional foodies do to make food new and exciting, I rarely feel the impulse to imitate them.

My doctor’s advice takes shape in my cooking life with a copy of a cookbook my mother gave me years ago, full of recipes from family and friends stretching back a couple of generations.  She began it when she first learned to use a wordprocessor, and has added to it over the years.  My first copy, B.C. (Before Conversion), contained all the chapters including Pork and Shellfish.  When I phased those out of my life, I created my own kosher edition, dividing the recipes within each category by meat, dairy, and parve.  In addition to all the standards like Eggs & Breakfast, Soups & Stews, Salads, Vegetarian & Side Dishes, Poultry, Beef, and Fish, I have created new chapters like Pasta & Sauces (which includes my extremely yummy, don’t-ask-how-fattening Tricolor Lasagna) and Shabbos un Yuntif with all my holiday recipes gleaned from friends.  Among my desserts section are Cakes (including my New Ruins Cake), Tarts & Cobblers (here’s where to find my What a Tart! tart), Muffins & Sweet Breads (with my banana chocolate chip muffins), Candy (including Ilana Epstein’s homemade chocolate peanut butter cups), etc.  I have a section called Fruity Delights with fruit relishes, molds, and other side dishes.  I have a category for Drinks, Punches & Spirits which includes my recipe for etrog liqueur, Treppenwitz‘s ersatz Kahlua, and haymaker iced tea (hands-down THE most refreshing drink on a hot day ever).

And like my life, the cookbook is a constant work in progress.  Just as I continue to add to it recipes from friends and cooking magazines, over time I have trained a critical eye on the recipes contained in the book and thought, “That’s too fatty–I’d never eat that” or “‘Refrigerator Clean-Out’?  I don’t think so.”  Those recipes either get the boot or end up in the recipe Limbo I call “Addendum.”  That’s got the recipes I don’t make anymore but am reluctant to delete, either because I might go back and find them appetizing one day, or because they’ve been in the family for generations and don’t take up too much room in a computer file, or because someday the kids might want to know how to make Cousin Janice’s Claremont Diner Salad (thought I seriously doubt it).  Recipes that don’t turn out the first time may get tinkered with a few times, like my grandmother’s chocolate applesauce cake, but if they burn or fail no matter what I do, they’re deleted or exiled.

My next phase is to get the Cap’n to make them accessible to the laptop so I can access everything from the kitchen.  I no longer have the time or patience to print out an updated edition every year, and it would be nice not to have to copy the recipe by hand at the desktop computer in the basement and take it upstairs to the kitchen every time I make a newer recipe that’s not in the latest print edition.

I still have a few cookbooks I love to look at, especially Linda McCartney’s Linda’s Kitchen and Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking.  But when I am seriously planning a menu, it’s my battered three-ring notebook (that my mother thoughtfully covered in William Morris wrapping paper) that I take down for true inspiration.  That’s the low-risk, tried-and-true compendium of culinary knowledge that also somehow reads like my life.

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Seeking KCC submissions

I am the lucky hostess of Iyar’s Kosher Cooking Carnival, a compendium of blog posts and articles including recipes, halacha, Shabbat and holiday food and practice,  restaurant review, and kosher news.

Please send submissions to this link (click on the orange box opposite the banner) and share your kosher recipes, wisdom, and stories!

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Nowhere girl

After years of flat refusal, I could refuse no more.  The girl I sat next to in senior English class asked me to join Facebook so I could see the photos from my high school class’s recent 25th reunion.  It was nice to see familiar faces, and how many haven’t changed much in the intervening years.

But joining Facebook also has its downside.  I also see my friends from high school who have, you know, real jobs and careers.  They only had one or two (or no) kids, and got their lives on track in good order.  Mine has been off the rails for most of my existence.  First I wanted to travel instead of going to graduate or professional school.  Then I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I did a few meaningless secretarial jobs to pay the rent.  Then I worked with emotionally disturbed kids for a year and went to grad school for a year in psych after that.  Then I didn’t know what to do again, so I worked with learning disabled kids for three years.  Then I decided I wanted to be a Jew so I went to Israel.  Then I met my future husband.  Then I had to convert, and decided to go to grad school so I could be an underpaid schoolteacher.  Then I got married, taught for a year, and had a baby.  Then I decided that I wanted to be with my own kid more than I wanted to be with other people’s kids, so I decided to stay home.  (The high cost of day care in the US also contributed to this.)  And the rest is history.  Still $38,000 in the hole, no career to speak of, living from holiday to holiday, from Shabbat to Shabbat, and laundry load to laundry load.

This life does have its consolations, however.  My existence is a daily irritant to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Mahmoud Abbass, and most other people named Mahmoud.   My existence is a daily blessing to my family, especially my four children.  My existence here is the fulfillment of a mitzvah to settle the land, and the fulfillment of the promise Hashem made to Abraham.

Perhaps our lives have some significance above and beyond that of our daily contacts with family and friends.  Mine seems only to be that of a statistic, part of an organic obstacle to peace.  At least that’s what the media or the American president will say.  But I know that my absence will not bring peace to anyone–at least not according to the peace plans formulated at this point in history.  And my presence here is a guarantor of continued Jewish presence in the world and in our homeland.  That’s all the meaning I need to be satisfied.

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Homebody Pesach

Pesach 5770 is coming to a close soon.  It’s been mellow and lovely.

In the past, I’ve envied friends who would go away to a hotel or resort for Pesach and not have to clean quite as vigorously or to do all their own cooking.  But when it comes down to it, I’m happier doing the cleaning and kashering so I can be home, sleeping in my own bed, and sitting around the table with my kids just eating matzo with jam and honey.  And after having huge amounts of leftovers after the seder, I’m going to scale my seder menu way back (e.g. hearty chicken soup with meat/vegetables/matzo balls, salad, rice or quinoa pilaf, and dessert of course).  Renting a car (so we don’t have to strap Bill to the roof, as Banana so helpfully suggested once) and taking day trips to the zoo and the beach was all the excitement we needed, and dear friends visiting today and wolfing matzo pizza with us was great fun.

לשנה הבאה שוב בבית שלנו

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