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Archive for November, 2010

A bit of gallows humor

The following is from an email that has made the rounds on the Internet.  I don’t necessarily agree with its socially conservative message (or its fast-and-loose play with the Biblical time line), but I love the gallows humor, especially in the punchline.

Why I’m so depressed

Over five thousand years ago, Moses said to the Children of Israel, “Pick up your shovels, mount your asses and camels, and I will lead you to the Promised Land.”

Nearly 75 years ago (when welfare was introduced) Roosevelt said, “Lay down your shovels, sit on your asses, and light up a Camel.  This is the Promised Land.”

Now Obama has stolen your shovel, taxed your asses, raised the price of Camels and mortgaged the Promised Land!

I was so depressed last night thinking about health care plans, the economy, the wars, lost jobs, savings, social security, retirement funds, etc….  I called Lifeline and got a call center in Pakistan.  When I told them I was suicidal, they got all excited and asked if I could drive a truck.


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A recipe to die for

Following my post the other day about a cool blog I discovered that explores the art, history, and social commentary of New England gravestones, my friend Mandy sent me the following photograph of an Israeli gravestone.

Where Western burial practice involves burying and setting a flat stone either upright or flat over the head of the grave, Israeli stones cover the entire grave in stone, perhaps to keep scavenging animals from… well, never mind.  This affords the opportunity either for brevity (Theodor Herzl’s grave says simply, “Herzl”) or more fluency of expression.

Most stones I’ve seen give the deceased’s name, birth and death dates, and parents’ (or father’s) names.  In Poland, I saw Jewish gravestones with engraved icons of broken candlesticks (denoting a woman whose death was untimely), a hand inserting a coin into a tzedaka box (indicating that the person was renowned for giving charity), or a hand pouring water from a ewer over another pair of hands (showing that the deceased was a Levi).  The stone in this photograph has none of that information.  Instead, it has the recipe for “Grandma Ida’s Nut Cookies.”  I kid you not.  (At first I thought it was a Photoshop job, but since I can’t prove it, I’m willing to believe it’s genuine.)  Here’s the recipe:

Dough

200 grams butter     1 egg yolk     1 [container?] sour cream

Add 350 grams self-rising flour gradually

Place dough in refrigerator for an hour

Filling

300 grams strawberry preserves

150 grams ground pecans  +  vanilla sugar  +  tablespoon cinnamon

Turkish delight cut into thin rectangles

Preparation

Divide into four [parts] and flatten into rectangles

Spread a thin layer of jam

Sprinkle the nut mixture in a thin layer

Arrange on the edge of the rectangle a border of Turkish delight and roll

Put into an oven heated to 180 degrees for half an hour

Slice diagonally while cookies are still warm

After cooling sprinkle [with] powdered sugar

Some people are stingy with their recipes.  When I once asked a friend how she made her lasagna, she answered, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”  My mom had to figure out for herself how Lois Callahan made her scrumptious bean dip.  And in the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” Gareth’s recipe for duck a la banana dies with him.

I think it’s immoral to withhold good recipes, and I like this family’s style.  Rather than letting Savta Ida take her beloved nut cookie recipe with her to The Beyond, the family had it chiseled in stone for posterity.  Now that’s a legacy.

As for the recipe itself, I’ve never baked with Turkish delight and don’t plan to start now.  But I might get curious enough to make these cookies without it.

The best part, though, will be telling raving fans where I got the recipe.

[Thanks again, Mandy!]

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This is the seventh (and last) in a series on my favorite home cooks.  (Read previous posts about Mimi, Leora, Batya, Ilana-Davita, Sigal, and my mother here.)  I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, but one of the first things the Cap’n and I nixed when we went on an austerity plan (i.e. when we had children and I opted to stay home) was eating out.  The pickin’s were slim in Boston for kosher food anyway, and my tastes ran to slightly more exotic cuisine than deli, pizza, and Chinese.  Since I’ve learned to cook the stuff I like, I can’t help but be one of my favorite cooks.

Please introduce yourself in a few sentences.

I’m Shimshonit, the authoress of this blog.  I was born in Seattle, but lived in 13 houses in six states (in New England, the Deep South, and the West Coast) by the time I was 18 years old.  I have a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, and underwent Orthodox conversion in 1998.  I’m 42, married with four young children, and live in Efrat (Israel).  I love to read recipes, cook, and of course, eat.

From whom did you learn to cook?  (If not from a person, how?)

The first time I entered the kitchen to do anything other than get a snack or wash dishes after a meal was when my mother had just learned from a friend how to make chicken marsala and decided that my brother and I should learn to make it too.  (I was 20 years old.)  I left home armed with a few simple recipes, but no real idea of cooking technique.  I am largely self-taught, with some help from cookbooks, friends, and—joy of the modern home cook—the Internet.

In what style do you cook predominantly (e.g. Mediterranean, Jewish, Asian)?

When I was young, my family ate out once a week.  In the early days, it was pizza, burgers, and eventually, Chinese.  As we got older and our tastes broadened, it would sometimes take us hours to decide where to eat out.  Mexican? Thai? Japanese? Greek? Moroccan? Italian? Lebanese? Kashmiri?  Once I began to keep kosher, I realized that if I liked ethnic food, I’d have to learn to make it myself.

My day-to-day cooking is vegetarian, centered around lentils, beans, rice, a little pasta, and vegetables, with some grated cheese or plain yogurt on the side.  My style is largely Tex-Mex and Mediterranean, and I go through a lot of onions, garlic, and crushed tomatoes.  For Shabbat meals, I often make chicken and several vegetable dishes.  One of my favorite cooking inspirations was when we lived in Newton (Mass.) and subscribed to an organic farm; whatever vegetables arrived in a large crate on delivery day was what was for dinner.

What dietary guidelines do you observe (kashrut, vegetarian, vegan, Paleolithic diet)?

We keep kosher, and eat very little meat.

What are your favorite foods?  What food aversions do you have?

Mushrooms and green peppers are not to be found in the Crunch household.  Favorite foods include chicken soup with matzo balls, split pea soup, vegetarian chili, salads of all kinds, bittersweet chocolate, and sourdough bread (which I still haven’t got the hang of baking yet).

What is your relationship to your kitchen, to food, to cooking?

My kitchen is small but lovely, with blond maple cabinetry, dark green granite work surfaces, and two enormous sinks.  My oven is small but ample for most of my needs.  However, about one-third of my cooking and baking vessels (including all of my cake decorating supplies) live in the basement in cupboards because my kitchen cannot store them all.

One of the things I realize from the fast days in the Jewish calendar is how much time I spend thinking about food, planning meals, shopping and cooking.  One of my primary roles in the Crunch family is to see that the children take wholesome food to school and eat well at home.  I enjoy having guests on Shabbat, and am willing to undertake any challenge to meet our friends’ dietary needs when coming up with a menu.  (We have friends who are vegans, have Crohn’s Disease, lactose intolerance, food allergies, avoid beans or margarine, and break out in hives if they ingest MSG.)

I waver between feeling like an artist and a slave in my kitchen.  I love to create, and prefer home cooking to eating out.  I like making the food to my (and my family’s) taste, and knowing exactly what goes into it.  On the other hand, my kids can be picky eaters, and I often have to refrain from making things I like because I’ll just have to make something else to suit my kids’ more pedestrian tastes.

What do you think cooking and food say about identity?

I made up this question, but I don’t really have an answer to it.  (I was more interested to see if other people did.)  I do know that any time people are asked to name something that identifies them as being part of an ethnic group, it’s usually something to do with food.  As to the relationship between personality and food, I know some people who only eat 30 things, yet are very open-minded and accepting.  And I know others with very cosmopolitan tastes who are not so open-minded.

I have traveled widely and enjoyed the cuisine of almost every place I’ve visited.  Now that I keep kosher, I am making an unambiguous statement that I am Jewish by only eating food in that category.  But in my heart I am still a world traveler and enjoy a variety of styles of cooking, modifying recipes to fit my dietary limitations.

Please share one of your favorite recipes, either from a blog post or from your own repertoire.

One of the features on the “Bend It Like Beckham” DVD has Gurinder Chadha, the director, cooking aloo gobi (curried potato and cauliflower) under the critical eyes of her mother and her auntie.  The feature was very amusing to watch, and aloo gobi quickly became a favorite with the curry-loving adults in my extended family.  A humorous note: The recipe calls for the whole tomatoes to be grated with a vegetable grater.  In the feature, Chadha says she adds the tomatoes whole and breaks them up with a spoon while they’re cooking to avoid a mess.  Her mother and her auntie shake their heads and say, “Doesn’t matter!” and insist that they must be grated.  Do what you have time and patience to do for this step.

Indian food can be a potchkee, but once you start cooking, it goes quickly.  Eliminate stress by making sure you have everything chopped and measured before you begin cooking.  (I love making aloo gobi because I get to use all those lovely glass nesting bowls I got for a wedding gift.)

ALOO GOBI

Allow extra time for it all to cook, as it takes longer than the directions say.  And remember: “Anyone can make aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?”

½ cup vegetable oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

Large bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), separated into stalks and leaves, coarsely chopped

3 or so small green chilies, minced

1 large cauliflower, cut into small florets

3 large potatoes, well scrubbed, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 can whole peeled tomatoes, grated with a vegetable grater

Fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about a 2” or 3” piece)

Fresh garlic, minced (about 4-5 large cloves)

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons garam masala

Heat oil in a large frypan.  Add onion and cumin seeds.  Stir together and cook until onions become “creamy golden” (her mother’s words) and translucent.  Add coriander stalks, turmeric, and salt and mix.  Stir in chilies and tomatoes.  Add ginger and garlic; mix.  Add potatoes and cauliflower and a few teaspoons of water.  Stir vegetables to coat with curry sauce.  Cover and simmer 20 minutes or so.  (Stir periodically and check for doneness.  When I make it, it actually takes the vegetables closer to 40-50 minutes to cook.)

Add garam masala; stir.  Sprinkle coriander leaves over.  Turn off heat, cover, and leave as long as possible before serving.  Delicious as leftovers or gently rewarmed for Shabbat lunch.  Chadha says she loves it the next day between two slices of white bread.

Mrs. Bhamra says you'd better finish all your curry or you won't get your kulfi.

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Gosford Park

The Cap’n and I recently revisited one of our favorite movies, “Gosford Park” (2001).  Written by Julian Fellowes, it is the only Robert Altman-directed film I like.  True to Altman form, it’s packed with stars (Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi, Kristin Scott Thomas, Clive Owen, Stephen Fry, Sophie Thompson, Tom Hollander, Emily Watson, Jeremy Northam, Eileen Atkins, and I could go on), and has nearly a dozen plot lines working simultaneously.  Unlike most Altman films, though, the separate plot lines are tightly interwoven rather than frayed and dangling, and its exploration of the lives of the characters is layered not only by personality and the relationships between characters, but also by the upstairs-downstairs dichotomy that exists in this story of a shooting party that takes place at Sir William McCordle’s country home (the title of the film).  When Sir William is murdered twice, hardly anyone cares for the deceased man and the list of suspects—i.e. those who have a clear motive—is long.  But is the list complete?

I won’t give it away in case any of you wish to see it.  I highly recommend it for a glimpse into the world of masters and servants that is less idyllic than that of the BBC series “Upstairs Downstairs” and more nuanced in the connections between masters and servants than that of the 1993 Merchant-Ivory film, “The Remains of the Day.”   Exhaustively researched, I enjoyed seeing the special features about the ex-servants who acted as consultants on the film nearly as much as the film itself.  I also recommend using subtitles to catch every word, since many comments are made sotto voce and some words and expressions are hard to catch.

Fellowes’s writing captures the cynicism, the bitterness, and the snobbishness of his characters beautifully.  Among my favorite speeches is Elsie’s (the head housemaid) who, after spending several minutes gossiping with one of the visiting ladies’ maids, says “Oh, just listen to me.  Why do we spend our lives living through them?  I mean look at poor old Lewis.  If her own mother had a heart attack, she’d think it was less important than one of Lady Sylvia’s farts.”  The toffee-nosed (but penniless) Lady Trentham’s cattiness comes through in her observations about another guest who appears in the same dress on the third evening of the party: “Mabel is so clever to travel light.  Why should one wear a different frock every evening?  We’re not in a fashion parade. …Difficult color, green.  Very tricky.”  And the housekeeper Mrs. Wilson’s speech sums up my job as a mother: “What gift do you think a good servant has that separates him from the others?  It’s the gift of anticipation.  And I’m a good servant.  I’m better than good—I’m the best.  I’m the perfect servant.  I know when they’ll be hungry and the food is ready.  I know when they’ll be tired, and the bed is turned down.  I know it before they know it themselves.”

 

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Grave matters

While trying unsuccessfully to research where in Boston I saw a plaque with a quotation by William Bradford (the Common?  The Public Garden?) I came across a fascinating blog.

I have always enjoyed strolling through cemeteries, reading the stones, marveling at some of the names (especially in New England), and paying tribute to Those Who Have Gone Before.  I’ve visited the Old Granary Cemetery in Boston; the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna (Beethoven’s final resting place); Pere Lachaise in Paris (a veritable Who’s Who That’s Dead, including Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Isadora Duncan, Seurat, Richard Wright, and Chopin sans heart, which is buried in Warsaw); the Safed cemetery where Channah and her sons, as well as Rav Yitzhak Luria, are buried; the Mount Zion cemetery (to pay tribute to Oskar Schindler); the Warsaw cemetery which, on our Tragical History Tour, was actually one of the more uplifting places to visit, since unlike the camps, Jews there died of natural causes; and dozens of others.  This interest of mine freaks the Cap’n out; he thinks it’s eerie.

But it’s not just about dead people.  (I don’t see any when I visit a cemetery.)  It’s about history, art, naming trends, and people’s lives.  So for anyone interested in a fascinating tour New England art and social history, I highly recommend the blog Vast Public Indifference.  Caitlin GD Hopkins uses humor, wit, photography, and considerable writing skill to explore topics such as “Hot Baby Names for 1710,” “101 Ways To Say ‘Died,'” and “Scalia On Grave Markers.”  She gives recommendations for reading, and I also enjoyed reading her recommendation for a book about King Charles II and Restoration history.  (It seems she and I have many interests in common.)

Most of my readers probably won’t find this of great interest, but I know one of you will.  Enjoy, Mom!

(Click on this link to read her post about this stone marking the grave of a mother and her two daughters.)

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My father recently forwarded an email of quotations purportedly by Thomas Jefferson, warning of the threats to democracy by banks and financial institutions, big government, taxation, and an unarmed citizenry.

It is clear from this email that some Americans are fed up with what they view as out-of-control government spending, Wall Street shenanigans followed by  federal bailouts, and high taxes.  To express this disgruntlement, someone has compiled a group of quotations (some provably Jeffersonian, others not) to show that one of America’s sages, and perhaps its greatest champion of liberty, foresaw the current economic crisis over 200 years ago.

Thomas Jefferson had plenty of pithy things to say, and at one point in my life (before I read very much American history) I really admired him.  But as I began to read American history in earnest, I discovered that the more I read about him, the less I liked him.  He wrote a magnificent Declaration of Independence, purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon for a smoke and a pancake, and had the vision to sponsor the Lewis and Clark expedition (which, if nothing else, led the Americans to Oregon).  But he reveled in the indiscriminate bloodiness of the French revolution; he vociferously opposed the creation of a national bank to help pay the debts incurred in the course of the American revolution (preferring, perhaps, to let the states duke out who should pay what and start the new nation on an acrimonious foot); and he hired yellow journalist James Callender on the sly to smear President John Adams in the press, helping to bring down the presidency of one of the most honest, sensible, rational men of that time.  As a politician, he was less than admirable.  As a man, he was frivolous and irresponsible, spending his considerable fortune on expensive book and wine collections, remodeling Monticello constantly, and racking up enormous debts (that would go unpaid until his death) while preaching economy to anyone who would listen.  Some also find it disturbing that he fathered several children by his slave, Sally Hemings.  (Assuming it was consensual, I am less disturbed by that than by the fact that he promised his dying wife never to remarry, and then kept his promise.  What a fool.)

The following are the “quotations” by Jefferson in the email I received, followed by my comments:

“When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.”
This has been correctly attributed to Jefferson, and perhaps there’s something to it.  Jefferson was enamored of the rural farming economy of his native South, and had little love for the growing cities in the North.  Whether it is true that the South enjoyed more honesty in politics and governing than the North, I can’t say.  These days, the least corrupt countries are those with the most women participating in them.  Like Iceland.  Or Finland.  The more women (and, by extension, fewer men) serve in politics, the less corrupt the country is likely to be.  (Read Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic—and my review of it—for more commentary on this subject.)  Israel is woefully dominated by men in government, and the PA has no women at all that I know of.  It’s about more than rural versus urban life.

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
As it happens, this quotation has not been proven to be from Jefferson (according to this website, which draws from the 1900 Jeffersonian Cyclopedia.)  And if it were?  Fine words from a wealthy slave owner.

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes.  A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”
Poor Jefferson couldn’t hold on to a dollar bill to save his life, and died with staggering outstanding debts.  Jefferson’s opposition to the creation of a national bank (invented by Alexander Hamilton, an illegitimate child from the West Indies with no fortune, no pedigree, and no slaves) in order to pay the country’s debts after the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War gives the lie to this observation of Jefferson’s.

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
This is a common sentiment among Americans nowadays.  But it should be noted that until the Civil War, there was no income tax in America.  On the other hand, slave holders claimed that their “darkies” wouldn’t be able to take care of themselves without their white masters to “protect” them.  Nonsense.  It was their slaves who did the labor that filled their coffers, nursed them when they were ill, cooked their meals, cleaned their homes, and ironed their shirts.  I know he wasn’t talking about slaves here, but if you substitute slaveholders for “government” and slaves for “Americans,” it reads very differently.  And lest anyone accuse me of applying modern ethics and sensibilities to pillory the ancients, it should be noted that Civil War historian Shelby Foote (a Southerner) has observed that the single greatest mistake made by the Founding Fathers was to create the United States and its Constitution with slavery intact.  It was ALWAYS a source of tension and discomfort.  The North had outlawed slavery in its states, while the South awarded part-human status to its slaves by insisting that it be awarded additional seats in Congress in the Three-Fifths Compromise.  Things only got worse as the country expanded westward and talked of admitting new states to the Union.  Slavery, while accepted by some individuals in some parts of the country, was not universally accepted in America.

“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”
This quotation has not been proven to be by Jefferson, though I’m sure many would like it to be.  I believe there are plenty of examples of very bad big government.  But where there is less government, there is also a greater reliance on one’s own fortunes (which can sometimes be poor through no one’s fault) and charity (which is not always a compelling motivator to help one’s fellow man).  Socialized governmental systems are not all bad (see the Netherlands, Finland, etc.) and minimal government should not by definition be much better.

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”
This is one of the rare statements I agree with.  Yitzhak Imes, one of the four Jewish settlers gunned down on the road here in Judea in August by an Arab, was once a licensed gun owner.  But after being arrested for praying on the Temple Mount (everyone but Jews is allowed to pray there), his license was revoked as a result of his acquiring a “criminal” record.  Had he had his gun in the car and been able to shoot back, it is possible that he and/or the other passengers in the car that day (including his wife who was pregnant with their seventh child, a special education kindergarten teacher here in Efrat, and a young newlywed) might have been able to defend themselves before being shot at point-blank range, and lived.

“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”
This quotation has not been proven to be from Jefferson.  Nevertheless, in extreme circumstances it may be true, and a few more arms for the Jews in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s would not have been amiss (or the Jews in Mandatory Palestine, for that matter).  In America, I think the right to vote and a government with America’s checks and balances system is a greater safeguard against all but the most extreme forms of governmental tyranny.  (Wish Israel had checks and balances; they’re almost absent here and we feel it keenly.)

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
I’m happy to see that since the Civil War, this has not been borne out in the US.  Thank God.

“To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
This is misquoted, the correct quotation being the following: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical” (my italics).  One is voluntary, the other obligatory.  The net effect is the same.  As for the message, I would argue that slaves didn’t pay taxes, but their labor more than subsidized the planters’ way of life and gave the Southern states extra representation in Congress through the Three-Fifths Compromise.  Are we supposed to believe that practice was not “sinful and tyrannical”?  The safeguards against this are the vote and the Bill of Rights which allow people to challenge their government through words and lawful actions.  It works surprisingly well in the long term, though there is plenty of short term frustration.  And ironically, it is the American conservatives who have dug the huge hole of debt the Americans find themselves in these days, those who would agree with most of what Jefferson (sometimes) says here.

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.  If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
This quotation is false according to Snopes.  Nonetheless, anyone can see why it is so popular now.  Before I knew it was false, I could imagine why Jefferson might have said it—he had a personal loathing of financiers since he was perpetually indebted to them, and Virginia didn’t want to pay its share of the national debt after the war.  In the end, the nation’s capital ended up in a malaria-infested swamp between Virginia and Maryland as a sop to Jefferson and the other Virginians in the government in order to found a national bank (in New York, under New Yorker Hamilton’s direction) to begin the country’s history with a precedent of fiscal responsibility.  Had Jefferson actually said this, his words would have been prophetic: After his death, Jefferson’s children were homeless on the continent their father had helped to conquer.

The Snopes discussion makes some important points about circulating emails like this one:

One of the “Rules of Misquotation” outlined by Ralph Keyes in his 1992 book on that subject is that axiom that “Famous dead people make excellent commentators on current events.”  Given the fear and uncertainty engendered by the current economic situation, and the disgruntlement expressed by many Americans at the thought of providing taxpayer-funded government bailouts to financial institutions and other large corporate entities (such as the auto industry), it was only a matter of time until someone trotted out a quotation (apocryphal or otherwise) from a respected, long-dead figure demonstrating that this whole economic mess was both predictable and inevitable.  And one could hardly find a more hallowed figure in U.S. history than Thomas Jefferson to deliver this message, warning us from across the centuries that predatory banks and corporations would eventually impoverish us all.

I’m sure I am considered a heretic for my feelings about Jefferson.  But if the people who admire him most nowadays are the kind of people who disregard history and fabricate (or believe) quotations like these to salve their own wounds, poor Jefferson’s legacy can suffer no greater harm from my dislike of him.

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This is the sixth in a series of interviews with my favorite home cooks.  (Read my interviews with Mimi, Leora, Batya, Ilana-Davita, and Sigal here.)

My mother may not have been a fancy cook, but she was my favorite cook for years.  I loved how she put tuna and mixed vegetables into my macaroni and cheese.  I loved her version of scalloped potatoes (which she describes below), with ground beef, potatoes, and tomato soup, layered like a non-pasta lasagna.  To this day, no one makes mashed potatoes like she does.  And when she used to fire up the grill to make a gorgeous marinated flank steak, look out.

She developed an interest in cooking when I was a young adult.  Although she didn’t have much to teach me about gourmet cooking, we have enjoyed learning more about preparing balanced, nutritious meals together, and are forever sharing recipes and looking through each other’s cookbooks.  Her inspiration for fine cooking, her Italian-American friend Elena, has also been my inspiration.  I’m working now on developing a kosher cioppino recipe (tomato-based fish stew) which I’ll share when I have it down.

And now, without further ado, my mother.

I am Shimshonit’s mother and have a great interest in cooking. However, that interest was not always there, and was in fact a long time coming. I have great admiration for young women who are confident and capable in the kitchen early in their lives as that was not my experience and later I felt it had been a significant loss. Now, though, I feel I have almost made up for it and then some.

I grew up in northern Vermont where food was pretty much just meat and potatoes (and vegetables, of course). My mother was a good cook and seasoned things well, but she wasn’t inventive and we never veered away from the traditional fare for that region. When I was maybe ten or twelve years old my cousin, who was a home economics teacher, gave the family a recipe for homemade pizza and when my mother served it for our dinner one night she was actually thrilled and very excited, couldn’t stop talking about it—the first time I had ever seen her do that with any meal she had served. The pizza was her one main adventure, though she used to make some sort of tamale pie which my brother loved and I hated.

My mother did nearly all the cooking in our house. When I was quite young I put together, with her instructions called from the laundry room where she was ironing, tuna noodle casserole. I didn’t enjoy doing it and only repeated that one dish when she asked me to for her own convenience, but at least I did like eating it. My sister (three years older) did only a little bit more in the kitchen than I did.  When she, our brother, and I did dishes together (no dishwasher), it was made a bit more interesting than cooking by our singing rounds which was rather fun.

When I married, I made the few things I had grown up eating and liking, including a dish we called scalloped potatoes, but which in our version had hamburger, onion, and tomato soup with the sliced potatoes instead of a cream sauce. Our menus were boring (my dear children never complained and even their father only once in a great while mumbled something about our having a change) but I just didn’t have much interest in cooking. We managed to survive but it’s a wonder.

And then we moved to California. That was 1981, and in 1982, I went to work in my husband’s business office. A young woman worked in the pathologists’ office next door and we used to gab.  When we found we lived near each other we became very friendly, often walking together at the middle school track in the neighborhood when we got out of work in the afternoons. Our topic of conversation most often was about food, menus, and recipes, a subject I was surprised to find actually becoming much more interesting to me. Elena was fifteen years my junior but she was Italian and a marvelous cook.  One of the first things she taught me was that I did not have a stocked refrigerator unless I had a bag of fresh parsley in there. I henceforth had a bag of fresh parsley always available, and began trying some of Elena’s recipes. She had many, and suddenly I discovered that cooking was fun! Not only that, but my family appreciated my efforts! I had a new attitude toward cooking and found it most enjoyable and challenging.

When we moved to Oregon in 1988, I got a computer. It took a while for me to get the hang of it but once I found how to get into the Web and look up recipes, I was off and running. I don’t think I ever had as much fun as the enjoyment of tracking down what looked like a good recipe and making it successfully. I began keeping them in my “computer cookbook,” which also became a place to enter and store all those recipes from the cards in my recipe box I’d collected through the years from friends and family.  Most of them I’d never used, and typing them into the computer allowed me to read and evaluate them for taste and popularity.  Our family has always enjoyed ethnic food, all kinds, and it was an easy step to begin looking up recipes for some of those dishes as well.

When Shim showed signs of also being interested in cooking, it was fun to share ideas and now she has far surpassed me in exploring new sources for foods and dishes. I think, like me (and  perhaps even more so), she has found cooking to be most gratifying and creative. It gives me great pleasure to feed people food I have given a great deal of thought to and carefully prepared.  If anyone had told me when I was young that I would be such a happy camper in the kitchen I would not have believed them.

The recipe I would like to share is for “15-Minute Chicken.”

4 chicken breasts halves, cut into finger-sized pieces

¼ C. flour

¼ C. olive oil

Salt & pepper, to taste

1 T. rosemary (fresh is best but dried is fine)

3 T. fresh lemon juice, sherry, or any wine (I use a mixture of white wine and lemon juice)

1 T. finely chopped parsley

Roll chicken in flour and cook over high heat in oil for 3-5 minutes, until no longer pink. Stir in salt, pepper, and rosemary. Add liquid to deglaze pan, simmering the chicken slowly for just a few minutes. Sprinkle parsley over the top.

Note:  I found a recipe similar to this recently only it called for slicing a few potatoes, cooking them in the microwave, then stirring the slices in with the chicken to brown.

Another note:  Sometimes I like an excuse to use capers in a recipe, and this is one where they are a lovely addition. I omit the rosemary.

Thank you, mother dear.

A very Vermonty-looking room (not my mother's house)

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