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WHY AM I SURPRISED

WHY AM I SURPRISED

For anyone who knows me, I am on a constant partnership with myself. I am like my own science experiment when it comes to indulging in sugar, bread and alcohol. My composition and personal affirmation of yesteryear has been to label myself as an addictive personality. Drinking or not drinking, eating sugar or not, eating clean or not, the question from my friends when planning a dinner party is humorously, “are you eating sugar?” I roll my eyes at the tedious and boring person I had become. Notice the word had. Besides, labeling myself as any one thing just affirms that and I don’t know about you, but why the hell would I want to affirm addictive as a trait. I prefer charitable, kind, generous as my personal affirmations.

I made a conscious decision this 2018 to stop the madness and try to live in a more grey area. This is a big change for me, but as I had several epiphanies as of late regarding the concept of DAY 1, this notion of living in between appeals to me. So as many of us plod into January with our back pocket list of resolutions, I chose not to. I decided to just be more gentle with myself and seeing what that felt like. So as I gave up the sugar and the bread and the alcohol (like the three basic food groups of women I know) like I most often do, I made the decision that I would allow the occasional without the usual label of failure (again). What a load of crap. So the first eighteen days or so, nothing really came up that would cause the detour. Then this past week was to be the last week my son was home before headed back to college and as usual I had a menu plan that would make Julia Child proud or in this case, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the authors of my favorite cookbook as of late, Jerusalem.

I perused the page after page delectable choices, food porn, mouth watering at every turn when I came across a full two page recipe. No pictures either, just words and directions of a recipe called Chocolate Krantz cakes as the first recipe in a section categorized as Yeasted Cakes. I love a good cooking challenge and yeast is one of those ingredients ‘who’ has been my personal nemesis. I use the word ‘who’ because I seriously think of yeast as my personal antagonist over the years as I have attempted numerous times and ended up with a pile of flour mixture that resembles Playdough that had been left out for a few days. Not pretty and surely not worthy of serving warm to my twenty year old son on his last week of his holiday break of his sophomore year. Yeast to this yeast virgin is a risky proposition and mastering yeast has become my New Year resolution. So I jumped into this recipe that I would say is like a combination of streudel and chocolate babka. Two pages of directions followed by two pages of photos on assembly. Intimidating to say the least. But my new cookbook paramour, Yotam, promised me the end result would satisfy. This was followed by these opening lines: Making a krantz isn’t easy or quick (see pictures on pages 283 and 286–287). You need to let the dough rise overnight and then fill and shape it which is an elaborate process…. You know when a recipe has three pages of pictures, well say no more.

Because I am on a constant quest for mother of the year status, I decided to dive in. I mean chocolate, butter, sugar and flour, what could go wrong? So I started the night before prepping, which thank you pink Kitchen Aid and dough hook, took only about twenty minutes and went to bed. Next morning at my usual 4:30 am wake up, I got up and felt the connection with the women in the old world who didn’t have the luxury of a grocery store or Seven Stars bakery to get their bread and even if they did, wouldn’t cross their thresholds as their own cooking would always be superior. I saw Yotam’s mother or grandmother in Israel waking up before sunrise, adorning her apron and having her morning meditation along with her coffee before the kids and the bustle of the day started. I was part of this tribe as I dove in full-hearted with the hopes and dreams of a successful babka.

This was my second attempt at a Yotam yeast recipe so I had some confidence going in, but surely not a cocky one. This recipe though loaded with flour of course, didn’t have as much sugar in it as one would think looking at the dripping chocolate oozing out of the six layers of gooiness. As I made my way through the rolling and the layering and rolling and twisting, I had made the decision I was definitely chowing on this. The recipe made three loaves! I made a chocolate almond, a plain chocolate and a cinnamon sugar. Yotam, my friend and pretend lover, you did not disappoint again. I wish I could describe the taste, the smell and the joy I had in my success yesterday. I shared pieces all day with my clients, my friends and my neighbors, of course my son.. and me. Super Yum. It was that good. My friend, Morgan and I promptly named the potential store in my barn the Babka Barn.

Here’s the “why am I surprised’ part of this story. Because I barely eat sugar or bread anymore, when I do, I get the blaring reminder by my body. The tell tale signs of what I did to it that I have no regrets and would do it all over again, but this is what happens to me as I know my body so well now it is like a fine tuned machine of awareness. First off wake up two or three times in the night, 2:11, 3;11, 4:15, yes. Achy all over, yes. Swollen eyes, joints, yes. Inflamed thyroid nodule in my throat area, yes. This is not bullshit. I have tested this for the past five years and I am never wrong with the link between flour, sugar and body aching and mind spinning. The scattered thoughts, the lessening of assuredness, the questioning of decisions I never questioned just a few days ago, and the weird desire to shop come into my being like an uninvited guest who shows up at your door and you know you don’t want to spend time with them, but you let them in anyway.

The thing about food as thy medicine is that when you are hyper aware of what makes you tick, when you dive in, you know this is going to be how you feel. You also know that like a bad hangover, this too shall pass and in this case, it was worth every buttery bite (or bites in my case). Food is powerful, it represents a surplus of emotion. Food can be our worst enemy and our best friend in times of sadness, grief and celebrations. Women have a much twisted relationship with food as it comes at us at every turn tempting our weak spots like a pharmaceutical commercial. Like sex, it is all around us, but we seldom have the conversations about it. In my family, food like shopping was a loaded gun. It represented lots of love but layered with shame and lack of willpower and control as the same time. I have been my own science project and have loved the experiment in self awareness. Every buttery sugary bite brings me closer to a positive connection as I move into my 53rd year, I have made peace with my body and this is worth the occasional detour for sure.


i have this wonder woman doll since my first diagnosis and my son pointed out that her face is actually mine, for real. how did this happen and who gave me this? i can’t remember! Isn’t that hilarious? And how about these cakes! #crushonyotamottolenghi
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MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH YOTAM OTTOLENGHI

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH YOTAM OTTOLENGHI

Well not really. I mean he has a family, children, I am sure a lovely wife. I am a devout monogamist. So let me clarify before the rumors start flying. My love affair is with Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, his food, his ethnicity, his restaurants in London. Like the way I feel enriched by reading Ann Patchett, I am also a hungry cookbook enthusiast. I don’t collect them, but I do have a lot of cookbooks, not as many now since I began my de-cluttering quest, but I kept all my favorites and I consider them gems among my library of great reads.

When I saw his cookbook, PLENTY, in the bookstore featuring grilled eggplant slathered with Middle Eastern yogurt and pomegranate seeds on the “You had me at hello” bookcover, I was hooked. Who was this man who would soon be my kitchen paramour and my bedtime companion?

Truth be told I love to read and as much as I enjoy a great novel, I equally enjoy reading cookbooks from cover to cover. I am the (likely hopeful to the writer) geek who reads the intros because I like to know the author’s food stories. How did they get here? What are the roots of the recipes that follow? Often it is mothers’ and grandmothers’ and great grandmothers’ influence that brought them from their childhood kitchens to their cookbooks and often restaurants as is in Yotam’s case, (I am such a fan of his I feel we can be on a first name basis at this point.) And it is just as true in my own narrative in the kitchen,

Back in the day, when the Food Network didn’t exist and Julia Child was the originator of the solo television female cook on PBS, I used to get Gourmet magazine and read Ruth Reichl’s eloquent descriptions of what would be following in that month’s features. She would often refer to some of her travels and (total cheesy pun intended) I ate it up. I traveled right along side of her as I made my way as a young wife through Gourmet’s complicated recipes. I wanted to master them as some statement that I was a successful cook in my early and amateur kitchen. Ruth in her beautiful writing also opened my eyes to the notion that I could write stories weaving my recipes and food experiences within them as she did in one of my favorite books, Not Becoming My Mother.

So as I traversed the pages of PLENTY trying these unique vegetarian recipes (I am not a vegetarian, but I love all dishes containing vegetables) I fell in love. Then to my delight he, along with Sami Tamimi, came out with a follow up cookbook, JERUSALEM. These recipes filled with the lusciously simple and highly flavored Hummus recipes that are known in Israeli restaurants and homes along with hundreds of others that float me happily back to my too few visits of one of my favorite places on earth. There is a humble quote on page 13, “We draw deep inspiration from Jerusalem and its food but are in no way trying to represent its realities.” I would say in the political landscape Jerusalem finds itself recently, this was some serious foreshadowing. In reality though, Jersualem is always in a hotbed of political debate on any given time in history.

But this writing today is non political as most of mine are so let me get back to my love affair with Yotam and his cooking. I will confess, I have lovingly digested the recipes and the photos of this cookbook, but have only tried one or two. They have been delicious and like my rule about trying on the first piece of clothing in the dressing room, if it looks great, the rest will follow, but if it is a failure then that usually is a premonition of what will follow. Cookbooks are like this for me. If I try the first few recipes and they meet or exceed my expectations, the cookbooks and their authors usually become my go to gurus. Ina Garten immediately comes to mind. I have never made an Ina Garten recipe I didn’t love. She has taught me perfect roast chicken, easy tiramisu, and countless other food combinations that find their way into my kitchen from appetizers to desserts and everything in between. I love her style, her ease and simplicity and her blatant in your face use of butter. I adore, as I am sure so many romantics like myself do, her love for her husband that I, keeping my fingers crossed, hope is as great on the inside as it appears on the outside. The opposite is true for Rachel Ray’s recipes, (my father loved your recipes, Rachel, but sorry Rachel, though I love and admire your entrepreneurial brilliance, I have never had success with your recipes. I should be weary of any cookbooks that don’t contain at least a paltry dessert section. Rachel Ray is not my style anyway. Though I respect her intent, I don’t need the amateur approach she brings to the kitchen. I am kind of past that thanks to my mother and grandmother who taught me early on that whip cream does not come in a can and neither do vegetables.

I have my grandmother’s original Betty Crocker recipe book that has every staple you could imagine, worn buttery and torn pages especially of her Christmas cookies, pies and pancakes that I still use today way more then fifty years later. I also use my great grandmother’s Libby Hillman cookbook that was passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me and still has a very pragmatic plastic clear book cover on it to protect it from all future food stains. Gotta love the Depression conservation mentality. I wish this had been instilled in me along with my love of food. Maybe my next life I will be the frugal fanny of my great grandmother’s generation.

So like this past Sunday when I was reminded of my deep admiration for Ann Patchett as I read her opinion piece in the Sunday Times, I opened the paper yesterday morning and lo and behold in the Wednesday NYT food section, there is a happy piece by my pretend kitchen partner, Yotam himself. Not only was I transported into my pantry to pull out the aforementioned cookbooks, but I was sent back in my travel reflection time machine to last January with my son and cousins in London on our last night eating at where else, OTTOLENGHI! One of our highlights of the many foodie stops on our week in glorious London. It did not disappoint. So when I spotted his sweet take on brunch and weekend morning eating in his writing this morning, Slow Down, It’s the Weekend, I gobbled it up. I identified with his comments about weekday rushing and weekend not rushing and the joy of a great breakfast. I realized I had all of the ingredients in my cabinets to try his Maple Cardamom Saffron Sticky Buns. (Totally honest though and I am sorry Yotam and all of the purists out there, I did not have the fresh vanilla bean or the cardamom pods so I made due. I hope you will forgive me. I also had no saffron threads so I used cinnamon instead, please do not think less of me). I had the time because I have been still waking up at 4am. I had the yeast too. Now yeast and I have not had very good luck. I consider myself a great baker, but yeast is its own character and as many times as I have attempted to make things with yeast, I am seldom satisfied with the bricks I end up with. So as a result, needless to say, I don’t often move in the yeast direction. But today, the first morning my son is back from college, I fantasized about the freshly baked moist buns wafting their scented aroma up to my son’s bedroom almost forcing him awake. There are the realities of motherhood and the fantasy world of motherhood surely and this sticky bun making experience could go either way. I trust Yolam as previously stated, but I am slightly intimidated by yeast and like our pets and their intuitive ability to pick up our energy, yeast too picks up this vibe and the end result is the energy you put into it.

So here I sat at 9am waiting for the dough to rise in the draft free space. My fantasy was that they would rise as Yolam said they would. The reality though is that this would be unlikely because the dough never was soft and elasticky as my cooking guide said it would. I mean relationships can’t all be perfect all the time. I refused to admit defeat though, whether they rise to the double size he promised or not, I will still bake them so at least the smell will reveal that I tried. That my intention for this first morning my son has returned expecting something home cooked from his mother, is a good one. But I still walked down to Bristol Bagels and picked up his favorite bagels and cream cheese as a back up just in case. If these did not work out, I already knew I would try again because I know Yolam will not let me down. I forged ahead and followed the recipe rolling them into the balls, continuing on though frankly still loaded with self-doubt. I refused to give in and I can’t stand throwing away food so there is the depression influence as I my mind began considering what I could turn the potential failures into so as not to throw them away. Within five minutes, though, the aroma became intoxicating and as they continued to cook, I took another look at the black and white photo of them and I realized that their bumpiness actually matched the photo! Be still my beating heart, could this turn out to be a success? As I made my way to the stovetop to make the maple cardamom buttery glaze, my son made his way downstairs and all was well in my world. I pulled the buns out and brushed the tops excited to take my first bite and to watch Michael. Success indeed. And as I watched the nine of the buttery delights dwindle to two throughout the day, I fell deeper in love with my man Yotam and I can’t wait to try the next one.





recipes

POTATO LATKES

POTATO LATKES

Dearest Michael,

My dear love. For me, one of the greatest pleasures since you came into our lives is including Judaism as part of it. We have never been religious Jews, but certainly cultural ones and of course this is where food comes into the story. The traditions of Jewish holidays were always important to me. Knowing that you have four sets of Great Great Grandparents who escaped Russian pogroms for both opportunity in America, but also religious freedom has been an important enough reason to be sure to keep the tradition of our history alive. The way this has translated besides Hebrew School, your Bar Mitzvah and your first trip to Israel has been to celebrate the holidays. I have not always been super consistent with all things Jewish for sure. But knowing that I made a mark and exposed you to the values and rituals from the time you were born has been enough for me and hopefully for you too. It has not been an easy task to keep the traditions alive raising you in a primarily Catholic community, but this is the part of Judaism that many Jews struggle with so we march forth. I hope that as you make your way through your twenties, Judaism is part of your essence and your guide. I love that I was raised Jewish and I have deep memories of this connection. Of course food has been a centerpiece that has surrounded the experience and has added to the delight.

One of the ways I have tried to keep tradition alive has been to have Holiday parties, Passover Seders, Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot and of course Hanukkah have all been part of your life and inviting friends to be a part of this has added to the fun. Your great grandmother Isabelle made some delicious food for the Jewish Holidays. I have already listed her BRISKET and ISABELLE’S CHICKEN in previous entries. Since Hanukkah is on its way, I thought it would be apropos to include her delicious Latke recipe. This is not really “her” recipe because pretty much every basic LATKE recipe is this one, but since she was the one who taught me how to make these, I give her the shoutout. This recipe is one of your favorites and since I only make them once a year, they are even more special to those tastebuds of yours.

I hope that you will try to make these sometime in your life when you have your own apartment; for now though, you can count on me at least once a year.

Love Mom

POTATO LATKES

I only make these once a year mainly because they are time consuming, but also because they really make your house smell like onions for a few days. I make a gigantic batch and freeze them. I usually quadruple this recipe.

The food processor is your friend here, I know there are purists who use a regular box grater, but I have never done that. I always use the shredding attachment to the Cuisinart.

4–6 Russet Potatoes, peeled and shredded

2 onions, shredded

1–2 eggs

Matzo meal or flour (I always use matzo meal)

Salt and pepper

Peanut oil

Grate the potatoes and onions and put in a large strainer lined with a clean dishcloth

You will need to strain as much liquid out as possible so don’t be impatient with this. Keep squeezing out the liquid, you cannot do this too much, it will be your friend when you form them.

Get a large frying pan out and put a generous amount of peanut oil and turn the stove on to the higher side of medium. The pan needs to be super hot.

Once you get most of the moisture out, place into the bowl and add the egg and generous amounts of salt and pepper, mix with your hands until well blended. The mixture should be on the moist side but not over liquidy, add the next egg if your instinct tells you to.

Begin adding matzo meal (or flour) to get everything to stick together so that you will easily be able to shape into small thin patties. You will be tempted to make the patties bigger than necessary. Go small and flatter. They will cook better and get the crispy edges that make these delicious.

Once they are formed place in the very hot pan (they should sizzle) and press flat. Be patient. Don’t play with them, just let them fry.

Flip when super brown and crispy.

Place on a long rectangle pan lined with paper towels and cook all of them layering them in the pan layered with paper towels.

If you decide to freeze, allow to cool and layer between wax paper and wrap tightly. When you take them out of the freezer, place in an oven that is about 325 and cook until crispy and heated again.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream and remember to give the dreidel a spin too!

I LOVE YOU.

recipes, side dishes

RICE PILAF

RICE PILAF

Dearest Michael,

We are just coming off our weekend away celebrating your great grandfather’s 100th birthday. You are lucky. I am lucky. We are lucky. You got to go and witness along with all of your cousins spending that precious time together we don’t often get to have. A 100TH birthday celebration though warrants the excuse and with it is comes the joys and stark realities that this time like the many visits before could be the last one. This trip is humbling more than any before because even though 100 is a significant milestone, what lies behind is much more than what lies ahead. This is just simple math. I as your mother sit with a watchful eye and you as my son get to go back to your young life with the appreciation of the time you have had in your twenty young years.

This trip even though this is on Grandpa Dave’s side of the family, brings notice of Grandma Ann. Grandma Ann, your grandmother, my estranged mother by her choice is the only person besides dad’s siblings and direct relatives who would know Grandpa Herbie longer than we do. Because she got married to Grandpa Dave at the age you are now, she is in the seat of knowing grandpa for a little more than me and he knew her longer than I knew her again because of simple math.

This trip and the reflection of a life well lived has caused a stir in me that made me write a letter to Grandma while I was sunning at the beach on my last day in Florida. Life is short. Grandma’s hard to repair disconnect of us has caused harm in the way we all go forward in our family. Not for you and me. Not for you and me and Dad. But her purposeful detachment has forever changed the dynamic of a grandson and grandmother interact. This is sad as I think about all of the life events that lie ahead that she doesn’t get to share with her own daughter with you as our centerpiece. These are projections. Though, anything is possible and I hope the one thing I teach you is to never cut someone off, that part of the family history on Grandma Ann’s side is prevalent and it is not helpful to your soul. I hope that the lesson I teach you by reaching back out helps you know that there is always time when there is time.

I don’t think she ever really thought the ramifications through when she asked that I not contact her again, but as Grandpa Herbie would say, “Be that as it may.” She is still my mother, and with that comes my need to focus on all that was good. All that is good. And a majority of this goodness that surrounds me is the food conversation. The three women in my life who had the most food and kitchen influence on me were Grandma Kitsie, Grandma Belle and Grandma Ann. And as a result you get their influence. You can add to this Grandma Sandy and Dad with a capital D and there was no chance you would not appreciate and love all things food. One of my favorite go to recipes of Grandma Ann (and actually this was Grandma Kitsie’s recipe) was RICE PILAF. Not the kind you buy in a box, but like everything these women made, from scratch.

I loved this recipe and I made it a lot in my young married days. I am pretty sure Dad loved it and I hope you will too. I know mushrooms are not one of your favorite, but they add a great flavor to this. You can chop them fine if it is a texture thing. I suppose you could leave them out too, but they do add a wonderful flavor.

I LOVE YOU.

RICE PILAF

1 stick of good butter

2 cans of BEEF CONSOMME (I think College Inn or Campbells)

1 Cup of Uncle Bens Long Grain Rice

1 medium onion chopped fine

1 package of mushrooms sliced or diced to whatever size works for you.

Preheat oven to 375.

Using a covered Corning Ware dish, pour the consomme into a measuring cup and add enough water so you end up with 2 ¼ cups. (I think 2 cans may be a little shy or a little over, I can’t remember as I write this, regardless just make sure that the amount of liquid is total 2 ¼ cups.

Place uncovered into the oven while it is preheating and leave it there while you are preparing the rice.

In a good size sauté skillet, the big cast iron is a good one, melt butter on medium heat and add the cup of rice sautéing it until it is lightly golden.

Add chopped onion and mushrooms sautéing together until fragrant, about five minutes or so.

Take the consomme out of the oven and turn the oven down to 350.

Add rice mixture to consomme and stir lightly. Place back in oven covered for about 35 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Stir before serving.

recipes

GRANDMA BELLE’S BRISKET

GRANDMA BELLE’S BRISKET

Dearest Michael,

It seems apropos on the week before Rosh Hashanah to deliver to your future kitchen Grandma Belle’s Brisket recipe. I never really felt like I made it as great as she did, but it is surely a wonderful memory response as soon as the first smell of it baking in the oven seeps out into our kitchen. I think it will be this way for you too.

Grandma, your great grandmother who you were so fortunate to know, was famous for making her food ahead of time and freezing it to save time. I guess there is some wisdom to this after having to be the head chef in your own kitchen for over seventy five years. Being married to Grandpa was different then your life experience for sure as Grandpa Herbie’s culinary skills were limited to getting his morning bowl of cereal and pouring the milk. This was never the scenario in your home when Dad and I were married. Dad was and still is a vigorous cook and often my dinners can’t compete with his robust attempts at recipes that would never cross my kitchen threshold. Bacon and hamburger macaroni and cheese for example, I can see the draw for a young hormonal teenager now on his way to full blow twenties. My coconut oil roasted salmon and lightly dressed arugula salad is no match and I am ok with this. I love that you share a cooking bond with both of us together and apart and your love of kitchen and confidence is one of our many proud outcomes of your young life.

Brisket can be finicky. I have bought the most expensive ones at high end meat counters and have been disappointed by their lack of tenderness at the end of its long journey in the oven. I have bought cheaper cuts because I didn’t have the time to drive to a Kosher meat market and pick one up before the holidays and been wildly surprised. The thing about brisket is patience. Like gardening, the less you are consumed about outcome, the better your plants will be. Basil and dahlias this year have taught me this. Stop fretting, cut happily and let the sun and the water do what they do and abundance prevails.

Life is kind of like this too. As you get ready to enter your twentieth year on this beautiful and fortunate planet, life twists and turns in ways that you may be unprepared for. The inner struggles you must have because of your own grandmother’s, my own mother, deciding her life would be better without me in it must be some type of force within you that you have to deal with just because of its existence. I am sorry for this. I can’t fix that and it seems on the surface that you let things roll off of you at a rate that is admirable. I am not sure how this works internally for you; if it does the way you seem, I am in awe of this ability of yours. It is a maturity and blessing to be free of fret. Fretting is something that Grandma Belle did more and more as she got older, but she had a matter of fact pragmatism to her life that was like yours too and I see Grandma and Grandpa’s depression era outlook on life in you.

Grandma Belle had no idea she was BRCA positive. She would have been uniquely curious about this and I wish I could have talked to her more about it if I had known. The potency of this genetic mutation in our family lineup is astounding. The farthest back I can go is to Grandma Belle’s father, Murray, your Great Great Grandfather and down the line it traveled. To you from me, from Grandpa Dave and here we are with the knowledge of not really knowing what to do with it except for the five things that the glorious Dr. Wiggins bestowed upon me when we discussed this.

1. Don’t smoke

2. Don’t drink excessively (mmmm, rugby player, sophomore in college… not sure how to translate the word excessively)

3. Keep fit and eat healthy

4. Keep calm, stress is a major trigger

5. Pay attention to your body, feel a lump, don’t ignore.

This is a great list as a start to life anyway. We are not an alarmist type of family, at least Dad and me anyway, can’t speak for Dad’s side of the family (you know what I mean). We like knowledge and information and do not wallow in the what ifs and might bes. I love that about our family. We march forth.

And in times of trauma and stress, for me anyway, I cook. I bake. As you march ahead in your life, I know that your Uncle Michael’s cancer was caused by many environmental factors you were never exposed to. Your risk of cancer at the tender young age of 23 like Uncle Michael has been taken off the table because of this. Please remember this as you make your way and do not use a positive BRCA as an affirmation for your life but rather as an opportunity to wholly live it instead.

This brisket recipe takes a long time to cook for its most tender outcome. I expect your life to be long and glorious, you are already tender and the sweetness of your essence permeates my heart every time I see your beautiful face.

I LOVE YOU.

GRANDMA BELLE’S BRISKET

The ingredients for this are not typical of my usually clean kitchen but there are some recipes you just have to make an exception for.

Beef Brisket (taken out of fridge at least ½ hour before putting in oven) (Whatever size you want, the cooked tender slices of this can be frozen so buy more than you will eat) -I have often made the trip to The Butcherie in Brookline, Mass. not because I keep kosher, but because there is nothing like a tired and true kosher brisket. Plus the wild experience of this market a few days before any major Jewish Holiday is something that should not be missed at least once in your life.

1 bottle of Chili sauce or 1 can of cranberry sauce (the cranberry sauce ingredient was given to me by David from the kosher meat market that no longer exists in Framingham, Mass. It was his mother’s go to ingredient for her brisket. They interchange well. I often went to this market instead of Brookline because I could visit Aunt Kiley and Peggy and Grandma Kitsie at the same time)

1 package of Lipton Onion Soup mix (you must be seeing a pattern by now with this ingredient)

salt, pepper, garlic powder (I never have garlic powder, so I use fresh but the purist in me must give your Grandma Belle’s recipe as is.)

½ cup of water or kosher sweet wine (I just saw a recipe for a can of beer instead and I am guessing this would be super tenderizing, I am also guessing you probably have a can of beer in your fridge so give it a try and let me know)

Preheat oven to 350

Salt and pepper and garlic both sides of the brisket and place in a pan or a ceramic dish that gives you pleasure.

Mix the chili sauce, onion soup mix and whatever liquid you decide together and pour over the brisket.

Cover tightly with foil

Place in preheated oven for thirty minutes then turn oven down to 300 and cook for another 3 hours. After three hours take foil off and cook for another forty five minutes.

Take brisket out and let cool slightly (important step, remember good tender brisket can’t be rushed)

Slice against the grain. It will be like butter, trust me.

Put back in pan in the juice and can be reheated at 275 30 minutes before serving.

Love Mom

grandma belle and grandpa herbie and you blowing out candles on a very funny homemade birthday cake. I expect you to have many more birthdays my love.
recipes

MRS. MINUTELLI’S TOMATO SAUCE

MRS. MINUTELLI’S TOMATO SAUCE

Dearest Michael,

Growing up in a small town like Bristol, RI and raising a child happily forces some friendships with unlikely people because of this connection. School, sporting events and all of the activities that happen in your young life create bonds with families that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have happened. This is the glory of old fashioned small town living, you meet friends at school and Dad and I got to meet couples because of this. We made some great friends during this time, had lots of get togethers, and hung out at every sporting event for most of your school life. During this time in your life, we also got to meet lots of grandparents along the way too and this was an added bonus especially since we didn’t have a lot of family around here. The thing about a small New England town is that lots of families are multi generational and live close together often around the corner. This is not difficult in a town that is made up of only twenty two thousand residents.

As you know I grew up in a small town too. I really consider this upbringing my childhood, but when I think about it, I had a childhood before this too and that was when we lived in Fall River, Massachusetts. People who are unfamiliar with Fall River, Mass don’t know the greatness of it “back then.” Our family was in the textile business like so many Jewish families in the fifties through the seventies back when America was actually proudly only making their own goods, but providing job opportunities for thousands of women who were the elite sewing tribe. I have such clear memories of walking into the factory to see Grandpa Herbie, your great grandfather, and Grandpa Dave, my father, your grandfather and walking between the hundreds of women sewing blazers and pants to get them ready for shipping. There were many men there too; they were often the ones on the big machines called pressers. These steamy instruments looked like two large ironing boards clapping together to press jackets and pants so they would be perfectly pressed, ready for sale. They were also usually the ones who were responsible for cutting patterns or running the outlet store, way before the notion of commercial (aka bullshit) outlet stores became of fashion. When I think of it, Fall River was a small town for us. My grandparents and my great grandparents lived around the corner, and because we lived in walking distance of our synagogue, it made it easier to share the community of Jewish connection surely much better than Jamestown did. When we moved to Jamestown, we were one of only three Jewish families on this island of three thousand year round and five thousand in the summer. Fall River was much more part of my upbringing than I have given it credit for. It was safe and community driven especially in the Highlands where we lived. In this lovey neighborhood, I had a childhood friend named Maureen and her traditional Irish family lived down the street from us. They had a built in pool and a Chevy or Ford station wagon, the kind with the paneling on the side and we got to ride in the far rear likely with the window open on the “long” outing to Ann and Hope on Route 6 in Seekonk, Mass. I think Ann and Hope used to be where BJ’S is now, but I may be wrong. Going to Ann and Hope seemed like an adventure back then and I am not sure why. Maybe because I have no memories of Grandma Ann or Grandpa Dave ever going to places like Ann and Hope. It all felt so normal to me, whatever that meant to a six or seven year old in the very early seventies. You have to remember that Grandma and Grandpa were super young parents, when I was seven, they were only twenty seven so “adventures” to Ann and Hope were highly unlikely. My parents, your grandparents were much more likely to head up to Boston and drop me off with your Great grandparents as babysitters. Yay me. I am probably the only grandchild in the family who has these young childhood memories of sharing my young life with super young grandparents. Grandparents were such an integral part of my life, they still are even though all but One has moved on. You didn’t have that connection as much as I did, but what you missed in that connection, you got to have with two stable parents who showed up and participated as whole heartedly as we were capable of.

When we moved to Jamestown, it was a completely different cultural experience for us. Surely Fall River, Mass was no cosmopolitan mecca, but the circle of people we were part of were a lot like each other. In Jamestown, this was more of a collision of cultures. We lived in a great neighborhood and really enjoyed the simple world we found ourselves in surrounded with water and beauty. The freedoms we had as children running around and having to be home by the sound of the noon and six pm fire station horn blaring made our upbringing a peaceful and joyful one. It is too bad that this where our family life as we knew it failed, but until then we really had a pleasurable upbringing. I hope this was mostly your own experience in Bristol, where you have been born and raised from Day one.

Living in this small community brought us to community type outings as well and this is where I learned how to make homemade Italian Sauce. Every year our town organizes bus trips to New York City at Christmas time. We went on this one time with a few families and Mrs. Minutelli, one of the grandparents of some dear friends went along too. These friendships though we don’t know this at the time are what I would refer to as temporary friendships. By proxy, they are fun and convenient and part of the growing up process both for you and for us as parents. Couples parties where we wanted to include our children forced a connection and friendships formed during this time. As all of you kids got older, these friendships faded simply because of the natural evolution of life changes. This is not a bad thing, just a typical ebb and flow in the world we call life. I cherish the memories of this and I have hundreds of pictures reminding us of all of these wonderful times. Mrs. Minutelli’s Italian Sauce though is one of my favorite memories. I got to sit next to her on the bus ride to or from, I can’t remember now and typical of many conversations I have with women, we started talking recipes. I was still a young mother, I think you were about eight and I loved to cook and experiment, but wasn’t nearly as casual and knowledgeable as I am now about throwing sauces together. It was here on this bus ride to New York, Mrs. M. gave me her recipe for sauce and I have never turned back. I can still hear her voice explaining the simplicity of its ingredients with the enthusiasm of a seasoned cook. She wrote it out for me later and gave it to me on an index card, but I can’t seem to locate it. I don’t really need it other than for the memory though because it is imbedded in my brain and it is one of my all time favorite go to recipes I make as soon as the New England air cools.

I hope you are never tempted by the ease of a jar, there is something about homemade sauce simmering on a stove that comforts and cares and this is the recipe thanks to Mrs. Minutelli.

I LOVE YOU.

MRS. MINUTELLI’S TOMATO SAUCE (I have made this so often, that I am sure my own take has changed her original, but she gets the credit)

5–6 cloves of garlic

2–3 carrots (this is where she told me that carrots are a much better addition than sugar typically added, I can’t even imagine adding sugar to marinara sauce as you can probably guess)

2–3 stalks of celery

1 small onion

Fresh basil

Good olive oil

Crushed red pepper flakes

Oregano, salt and pepper

1 or 2 Bay leaves

2–3 large cans of crushed tomatoes

In a food processor, chop the first five ingredients together somewhat fine.

Heat olive oil in a pan that makes you happy, (maybe by now you have the turquoise Le Creuset pan that Aunt Kiley gave to me) on medium heat.

Add garlic, carrots, celery, onion and basil mixture and sauté until fragrant and soft tender. Do not let it brown or golden. Add salt and pepper, crushed pepper and oregano. Once the mixture is soft, add the crushed tomatoes and mix well.

Add the bay leaves.

Bring to an easy and brief boil. Turn down to low and simmer for at least thirty minutes. You can cover it once you turn it off and let it sit on the stove for the day. I always let it sit for the day because I like to get this ready in the morning.

If you are going to make meatballs, then get them ready (recipe to follow at another time) and add them to this and simmer for a few hours. They will cook in the sauce and Holy Yummy. If and when you do this, you will need to make a bit more sauce, so you may need to add an additional can of crushed tomatoes. Trust your vibe. Cooking is about experimenting with not only ingredients and timing but also quantity and portions.

I hope the first time you make this, you will smile with the memories of my kitchen and the thoughts of your childhood adventures.

Love Mom

recipes

WHITE CAKE

WHITE CAKE

Dearest Michael,

Along with frozen chocolate chip cookies, your uncle Michael loved white cake with CHOCOLATE ICING. WHITE CAKE, not yellow cake, that came in a box so no recipe here because the box is pretty straight forward. The CHOCOLATE ICING, though was a family staple back when we used to make cakes as a regular occurrence. I was never much of a cake making mom. I tended to make brownies, pies and cookies more than cakes, but as I write this to you, I am reminiscing about cake. I too used to love white cake and at the last birthday celebration of Uncle Michael’s, I made him one to celebrate his final birthday, his 25th. I actually have a picture of me with a birthday hat on, and him in his hospital bed in his apartment chemo and cancer dying skinny, blowing out the candles. It is too sad to include here, but I will show it to you sometime.

The word white has been coming up a lot as of late in this wacky political climate and in writing about WHITE CAKE I wanted to share with you the odd experience I have had at my Providence location this past year. As you know my second location was opened over ten years ago on the beautiful East Side of Providence. When we first opened, the name of our business was ‘alayne white spa + body boutique.’ After a few years, the name became too cumbersome and we shortened it to ‘alayne white spa.’ As time went on, a few changes started to occur both inside and outside the walls. Inside we decided to eliminate some of our peripheral services like massage and pedicures and really focus on skin. Outside though strange events were happening that included the word “spa” and they weren’t pretty. Prostitution rings behind the word, illegal sex trafficking with minors- offering “massage” when clearly massage was a misaligned name otherwise know as child abuse.

I no longer wanted to associate my name with the word spa. So as our business model changed, I decided that the word ‘skin’ would better describe the services we were offering. My name is alayne white, we offer skin services and so I loved the idea of ‘alayne white skin.’ It looked so hip and polished on our $1500 brand new turquoise awning. This new title gave us a new outlook and we got to shake things up with a different direction. After all, why would I want to continue associating my brand with a now sordid word like spa when all of this bad illegal and abusive behavior was happening with underage girls in dark and windowless back rooms of buildings all over Rhode Island.

Within a few months of our new and beautiful awning, some local women who lived in the community walked in and used some language with my team implying that my choice of wording of ‘alayne white skin’ and the small letters I was using for my name was deliberately tongue and cheek and that it was offensive. Someone actually said that they felt like they were living back in the segregated 1950s.

Yes. Seriously.

I laughed it off. Alayne White is my name. Give me a break, I thought. My answer was to tell them to take their energy and use it in places that need that energy, like with the problems of human sex trafficking taking place in our very state on the easy and accessible 95 corridor for example. But then someone else came in. Alayne White is my name, I kept repeating to my frustrated team who had to deal with these comments. I was never there to hear the comments, I told my team to give them my number and have them call me directly. No one ever called me directly.

I donate over 10k a year to a variety of charities in both of my locations. The last intention I would ever have would be to be tongue and cheek in a way that could be misinterpreted as racist for Christ’s sake. It was seriously some of the most ridiculous commentary I had ever even considered. Talk about looking for shit to create unnecessary energy around. But then it happened again. Someone else came by, then a few students came by and took some pictures and I started considering that this could become “a thing.” I saw myself on Channel 10 being interviewed in front of the ‘illicit’ awning by Alison Bologna defending my right to use my name on my awning for my business. I saw my business as the topic of social injustice classes on local college campuses. It was starting to take up space in my brain that I wanted to allocate to other more joyful topics. I considered the possibilites if I still had my maiden name and was using this as my business name, it would be a non issue. ‘alayne horowitz skin,’ doesn’t have the same ring, does it and IT IS NOT MY NAME. Alayne White is my name. Or what if I used my mother’s maiden name, ‘alayne black skin,’ perhaps this would be more acceptable? As I write this I am thinking, is this where our world is at now? Are we looking for problems to create out of problems that don’t exist rather than problems to solve?

I don’t know, I started asking my friends and family their opinions and every single person I asked would roll their eyes in complete disbelief that this was even a topic. Then another person came in and said something else. Every single person that came in was a white person. I started to tire of having to defend my own damn name, I grew tired of my poor team having to answer for this as well. It was a quickly ripening issue I was getting sick of spending my time addressing. Michael, you know me, I am one of the biggest bleeding heart liberals you know. The thought that anyone would think that I would deliberately use my name and your name for that matter to offend anyone was appalling. I am a charitable giving business woman who has a strong reputation in our state for running a beautiful business. I like to give and as a matter of fact I give to everyone who asks. Everytime.

Today was a sad day for your mother. I made the decision to take down the awning and think about my wording so as not to offend. This was a painful decision for me and my team because we never did anything wrong or ill-intentioned and taking down the awning felt like we were admitting defeat. We weren’t. I just don’t want to make my business a political voice. I actually consciously stay out of politics in my business. Rule # 1.

My business is about peace and joy and great skin. Ask anyone who knows me and knows my heart and they will tell you this. When I put my head on my pillow every night, this is the measure of my personal truth serum. I have never questioned my integrity or my moral compass regarding this issue in particular. I want to put this topic to rest and the best way to do this is to spend the five hundred dollars it will cost to change the awning so it is more pleasing for the few people who have mistakenly found offense in something that is so non offensive. I hope the same people won’t mind me saying no when they ask for the donation they need for their local charity because the five hundred dollars I would have otherwise given is now sponsoring my less offensive awning. So now my donation to Mount Hope Farm in beautiful Bristol, RI to sponsor a goat can only afford one and not two goats. Yes for real. That sounds a little passive aggressive, doesn’t it? (Now that was deliberate.)

I am not sure what the lesson here is my son, sometimes life comes at you in ways you least expect. Me getting cancer twice and a my recent double mastectomy, you never knowing your Uncle Michael because he died so young of cancer likely because of the BRCA2 gene, you and I both waiting for the results of your own BRCA2 test. The joyful trip we are about to take to celebrate your great grandfather’s 100th birthday. There are so many bigger important life coming at us events and I guess my answer to the lesson is that sometimes the high road is the best road. Sometimes you just have to say fuck it and eat the cake with the icing and then eat some more and enjoy the little life we have as the specks on the planet we are. Sometimes if small stuff is getting to be big stuff, you just have to let E-GO and change your course.

The one thing I know for sure is that I love you and I know you know me and when I am no longer around to challenge your thinking, I hope this story is one you will look back on and smile.

Love Mom.

WHITE CAKE and CHOCOLATE ICING

Box of white cake

Follow directions.

Except for Michael’s last birthday when I made this cake round and layered, I always made this cake in a rectangular pan with the frosting on top. We would cut it in squares and usually eat it with vanilla ice cream.

CHOCOLATE ICING (AKA FROSTING)

This isn’t one of those frostings that is super creamy but more like a syrupy texture, but very easy and delicious and most importantly homemade, the only way to do frosting if you ask me.

1 square of unsweetened chocolate

1 T. butter

Melt together in a double boiler, (this is a pan within a pan of hot water, hopefully you are using the one that I had in my kitchen that I have hopefully given to you by the time you are making this) Don’t fill up the pan with too much water because it will boil over and into the chocolate mixture. You will only do this once and that will be your cooking lesson on how to not use a double boiler for the rest of time.

Once melted remove from heat and add:

1 cup of sifted confectionary sugar (don’t skip the sifting step)

and

2 T boiling water.

Beat until smooth and not stiff. (Use an electric beater for this)

Let cool slightly along with the slightly cooled cake and spread messily over the cake. Make sure it is messy because life is messy and the mess is where you find the depths, the beauty and the lessons.

I LOVE YOU.

MY STUNNING WORLD WAR 2 VETERAN GRANDFATHER, SOON TO BE 100! He taught me my moral compass.
the last day of the awning. thank you Philip Kinder for your kind words during this last few months.
recipes

ISABELLE’S CHICKEN

Dearest Michael,

You are so fortunate to have been born when your Great Grandparents were still alive. You got to meet Grandma Kitsie, (HOT FUDGE SAUCE) and GRANDMA JULIA (Dad’s Grandmother). You still get to see Grandpa Herbie who is still alive celebrating his 100th birthday this year and of course Grandma Belle, his wife of seventy one years who only recently died in the last four years. So blessed that we have photos of them with you and along with these memories, we also have their recipe boxes.

Grandma Belle was and still is an integral part of my daily life. I was as close to her as I was to Grandma Kitsie and I miss them with an almost vengeance as their legacy of life has been a major influence in mine. Their example in my life has shaped my world views, my ethics and moral compass and of course the way I cook and exist in my kitchen.

Grandma Belle started to wind down in her cooking as she got into her nineties, but I have memories of her Latkes (recipe to come in a later entry), her Brisket (also to follow) and many others. I was fortunate that I was born to young parents ensuring a long and healthy relationship with my grandparents who were only in their late forties when I came along. She would always hand write her index cards making sure her name would appear on the card like so many cooks of her generation would do.

Grandma lost her father to cancer only two years after her own diagnosis. She was only thirty seven when she found out she had breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy. Her father was only fifty nine. She already had three children at the time and it must have been difficult beyond measure. Women weren’t encouraged to talk about “it” back then and surely they weren’t writing blatantly about their personal experience like me. I am guessing her friends didn’t even know that she went through this; she barely discussed this with her own husband for that matter. Different times, but there are still remnants of this secrecy in many families including our own as people deal with cancer diagnosis in their own ways. Little did we know that the future would hold loss for us in the loss of her first born grandson, your Uncle Michael and her first born son, your Grandpa Dave also to cancer.

As you know I am an open book and talk about my own cancer experience loud and from the rooftops. Because I have learned so much about my own trajectory from cancer to BRCA I have made the conscious decision to not dwell, but to keep my head way above the sand too. Grandma Belle likely had BRCA 2, her father probably did too. I am guessing that Uncle Michael did and because the gene doesn’t skip generations, Grandpa Dave most definitely had this. What a family tree. I don’t mean to be a downer in this entry, but because I am writing about one of our old faithful recipes from Grandma Belle a day before you will find out your own fate of the family lineup in the world of genetic mutations, I wanted you to have some history.

This recipe like a family tree has lots of stories. I have made this as a staple like stuffing on a Thanksgiving table. Every Jewish holiday, this sweet chicken dish has been made. The recipe given out generously to anyone who asks. This recipe was was one of the first recipes I learned to cook back in my early kitchen days as it is easy and almost humorous in its ingredients. I have figured out ways to make it with less processed ingredients over the years and will write the version following this one, but seriously do this the old school way for your kitchen. It is fullproof and you will never be disappointed by its melt in your mouth sweet and tender joy it brings to your palette as you will get transported back to the many dinners of your young life.

Love Mom

ISABELLE’S CHICKEN

I can almost hear Grandma’s eye roll aloud as I go to write this next section in my commentary on the type of chicken to buy. She would be saying, “organic schmanic, it’s all a bunch of malarkey,” at the notion of specifying organic chicken in this recipe. I don’t care. Buy organic. The chemicals and God knows what other horrible things that are done to chicken in the factory world of chicken production can not be good for you. So please, for your mother, listen to what I say.

Chicken (about 6–12 pieces.) This dish freezes great so make some for the freezer for those nights you don’t feel like cooking. Try to put it in a glass storage container instead of a plastic one. Goodness knows what the hell is in the plastic these days too. What type of chicken is up to you, but Grandma and I always used Chicken Thighs. I like bone in and skin on, it adds a lot of flavor and as I write this, FAT IS IN. LOWFAT IS OUT. No one gets out alive so eat the damn fat and enjoy your life.

(If you use bone in, the time to cook it will take longer.)

1/2 8oz bottle of Catalina Salad Dressing (if you are using more than 8 pieces of chicken, you could probably use the whole bottle)

1/2 8oz jar of Peach jelly (same here, you may need the whole jar, the mixture should be pourable so get a feel for it)

¼ cup of water

1 package of Lipton Onion Soup Mix

4–6 small potatoes cut in half (if you feel like it, otherwise just put them in whole)

Lemon, salt, pepper and garlic powder

Put oven on 375

Squirt lemon and sprinkle salt, garlic and pepper over chicken pieces.

Lay out in a long baking dish (I have gotten into the habit of lining almost everything with parchment paper, saves on clean up time)

Add potatoes around outside of chicken.

In a separate bowl mix Catalina, Peach jelly and Lipton onion soup mix and ¼ cup of water. Pour over chicken and potatoes. The mixture should be pourable, if it is too thick add more Catalina.

Place in hot oven for twenty minutes.

Turn oven down to 300 (or even better, 275) and slowly bake for at least two hours.

Turn chicken over at some mid point and bake slowly until very brown and delicious looking.

Sometimes I have put the potatoes in later like in the second hour of cooking, but I don’t care if the potatoes are super soft, it adds to the flavor.

I LOVE YOU.

(a healthier version I suppose:

1/2 jar of local honey

1 can tomato paste mixed with chopped garlic, a few dates and a splash of cider vinegar in the food processor)

Chopped onions sauteed until golden

mix all together and pour over chicken proceed the same way)

recipes

BROCCOLI CASSEROLE

BROCCOLI CASSEROLE

Dearest Michael,

There are some recipes that I must share with you because of the experience of the recipe and not necessarily because I have the memory of you eating or loving it. Some recipes are like this. They just have a secure place on a table, constant and like clockwork that to leave them out would almost be an insult to their time spent. This is one of those recipes, but the story of this recipe is equal to the deliciousness of it and so here it is, hopeful that it continues on your own table if only for a symbolic gesture and memory of time past.

I always had the fantasy when Dad and I bought our first home that I would have a neighbor I could easily borrow sugar from. You know, the Ethel of Lucy and Ethel or the Betty of Wilma and Betty. This was in 1992 and I was 27. I was living in the fantasy world of the innocent influence the television shows of my youth had on my belief systems. Neighbors I could hang out with, have a cup of coffee with in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening. One I could borrow an egg from, or walk into the house like family. Perhaps it was the fantasy because my own teenage home life was so disrupted. I clung to the notion that family life could be a television show without realizing I was thinking that way.

When I met our neighbors, Karen and Bob, they were about five years ahead of us starting their lives out with their two children and after a few years, we started to become great friends. We camped together, we dined together and they became our alter family. When I became pregnant with you, Karen was always checking on me like the maternal soul she is. She and I would escape on Sundays to a variety of shopping adventures while Dad and Bob would glue themselves to football games we wanted no part of. We would combine families and spend New Years Eve together with you and their kids, Ally and Matt, making fondue at Karen’s and then heading back across the street to our house for hot fudge sundaes to watch the ball drop.

Our life in their home mixed with our home was rich and joyous. Karen and Bob and their entire family were the main reason for this fullness. I loved them and they loved us and after all these years, we are still super close even though even though you do, I don’t have the luxury and ease of living across the street from each other anymore. When I moved out I not only had the sadness of breaking up my own family, but really ending an era of an ideal neighborhood experience. Leaving Dad also included leaving Bob and Karen as there are so many moving parts to making really courageous and tough decisions like the one I ultimately made. It was really important to me that Dad keep the house so you would have not only the stability of your family home but also the security of Karen and Bob across the street. Knowing this made my decision easier for sure.

Like family, Karen and I love to talk food and recipes and we shared many holidays and dinners together over the twenty years I lived across the street. Both Dad and Bob also liked to cook so we always had some delicious food fest or plan going on whether it was a backyard barbeque or some fabulous mystery dinner party Karen would creatively put together. We also shared some of these dinners at Karen’s twin sister’s house or her mom, Phyillis’ house when she was still alive.

One of my favorite old fashioned dishes that Karen made for every Thanksgiving is BROCCOLI CASSEROLE. It is rich and creamy and delicious and I can never replicate it as well as Karen does, but it is one of my favorite dishes to make when I “head south” in the food department going off the wagon of my no dairy rule.

Like macaroni and cheese, it is a comfort food. BROCOLLI CASSEROLE transports me back to their table, back to my morning walk in my pjs with my cup of coffee in hand to say hello where there was always an open door and open arms waiting to welcome me and my own family like their own.

Love Mom

BROCCOLI CASSEROLE (as copied from Karen’s text message when I asked her for the recipe again because I can’t find the one she gave me over twenty years ago after the first time I had tasted this.)

TEXT FROM KAREN (my comments are in italics)

“So I don’t have recipe, I just wing it but here goes.”

1 stick salted butter

Flour enough to make a rue (recipe to follow in directions)

Milk (whole) maybe a 1 1/2 or two cups enough to have consistency of a loose gravy

1 (8oz) bar (block) of cream cheese

Garlic power not a lot just enough for background taste of garlic (fresh works too just a clove minced fine)

Black pepper same as garlic

Fresh parmesean cheese couple of tablespoons 2 to 3 (or more)

Either chopped frozen broccoli or fresh cooked and chopped- if use frozen get water out with paper towels (use strainer and press paper towels or a clean cloth on to broccoli to squeeze water out as much as possible)

Unseasoned bread crumbs (ritz cracker crumbs are even better)

Directions

Melt butter over low/medium heat make sure you don’t burn butter or milk will curdle

Add flour to make rue (probably start with 1 T this is just so you get a thickening base, you may need to add a little more, but the flour needs to be added and made smooth before you add the milk or it will get clumpy)

Add milk as much as needed to make loose gravy (stirring constantly)

Season mildly with garlic powder (or fresh) and black pepper

Add cream cheese and fresh Parmesan cheese to thicken milk gravy if gravy is to thick add a little more milk

Broccoli if fresh cook in water and chop up if frozen get all water out (as previously stated above)

Put broccoli in bottom of casserole dish

Pour cream cheese milk gravy over broccoli

Cover casserole lightly with bread crumbs

Melt little bit of butter and drizzle over crumbs (you can also melt butter and add crumbs to it then spoon over the casserole)

Cook at 350 until bubbly

I LOVE YOU (and so does Karen, this I know for sure)

karen and me after a fun day in the barn doing art among other things, Lucy and Ethel for sure.
recipes

HUMMUS

HUMMUS

Dearest Michael,

When I was only twelve, my grandparents, your great grandparents, took me on an almost one month trip to Israel and Italy. I have a clear memory of being asked if I wanted a full blown Bat Mitzvah or instead a trip to Israel with my grandparents. Typical of “clear memories” at twelve years old, I am not really sure if this went as described, however, I can’t imagine after seven years of Hebrew School and Sunday school, a Bat Mitzvah as the first grandchild of Isabelle and Herbie would have not been in the consideration pool. Frankly I am surprised I was given a voice like that, but I was considerably relieved because (if you can possibly imagine) the reason I didn’t want the Bat Mitzvah was because I didn’t want to get up in front of people and sing. I’m guessing this is funny to read because you know how much I love being in front of an audience. I love to speak publicly, so this may come as a surprise. The fact is though, this bright voice of mine as it is now was developed since that time and like most any pre teen with the notion of missing a few weeks of school, I jumped at the chance without a second thought.

What I didn’t know on my trip was that my parents were in the throws of their own despair trying to work out what would soon become the end of their marriage. I have no idea what my seven year old brother, Michael, your uncle you never physically knew, was witnessing as I was swimming in the Dead Sea and traipsing through Florence. Fast forward to your beautiful entry into our lives. I knew when you were born that my goal was to have you experience the same trip before or after the Bar Mitzvah I was surely not going to let you out of. The ironic thing was that I too was in the same despair my father was in as I contemplated the end of my own twenty year marriage. I really struggled with breaking up our family unit and I kept pushing the call to move on further out and away from any hard decision.

When an opportunity came up to be part of our friends, the Andreozzis, own family trip the November before your Bar Mitzvah, I jumped head first in. Of course I asked Dad knowing his response would be, “I am not going to Israel,” with that small town fear we so often hear when we talk about traveling there. I knew that would be his answer as I am sure you also understood and off we went for the first time not having Thanksgiving with Dad. He was so sweet about it though because he did understand how important this trip was to me and how important your Bar Mitzvah was too. As we traveled through Israel, we really had such an exciting time. I loved seeing your mind open to the world, to a different culture and language. I was so elated to see you and your friend, Chris jump into the different types of food and eagerly try Shawarma and lamb, hot peppers and the Hummus. Ahhh, the Hummus. Once one tries Israeli or any real Middle Eastern Hummus for that matter, it is virtually impossible to ever have store bought again.

I hope when you have your own kitchen, you will always make this from scratch remembering your trip to Israel as fondly. Even though the end of this trip was in many ways a deciding factor for the end of my marriage and your own family experience, as you had known it. I really hope you know that the decision was not entered lightly. Dad and I loved each other, we still do and we love you. We just were seldom a good fit as we both had such different ways we viewed life and our world. You though were the gem between us and we were always on the same page as parents. Food was one of our common denominators too and Dad’s recipes will be making a grand entrance in these writings. Dad and I still remain close as we always will when two grownups who act that way can be mature enough to take the good and leave the not so good at the door. Dad and I have done this and we hope that is your memory as you blast forward and falter backward in your own relationships.

The melding of two people for a long period of time takes lots of ingredients to work. When two people marry at 24 and 29, there is so much time ahead of them to work its way in with the inevitable changes that will occur. Your uncle Michael dying so young changed the way I viewed my world and it never went back. I think that some of this anguish made me look at life much more precariously and I lived with an attitude that had layers of young grief behind it. This, like life and time, is all because of the wisdom of retrospect; I never understood these changes as they were happening and likely Dad didn’t either. You, my love were both a distraction for us and a connector and I have not one regret of ever being married to Dad. I loved being married and I loved the wackiness of thinking that my hippie wild on the outside could live in a traditional role almost like a reparation for my own parents failure that I never really got over until I left too.

Marriage seems like a simple task when you are in love and planning a wedding at a young age. Once you get started in the early years, adjusting to the blend of two personalities, looking for a house, deciding on jobs and so on, the intricacies start to appear. Hummus is simple in its ingredients, but the blend has to be just right or else it can be bitter from the wrong olive oil, too garlicky by too much, bland by not just the right amount of spice or too sesame tasting by using too much Tahini or buying a generic one instead of an authentic. This, my love, is life; you play around with it, you season it, you leave stuff out, add too much of something else and then you end up with what you created by all of the ingredients. I can’t do life for you. Dad and I gave you the best foundation we could both together and apart and your job is to take what you need and leave the rest. I surely hope that we left you with a lot to take.

Like a good pesto, homemade Hummus (notice I capitalize it because it just deserves a capital H.) is food of the Gods. There are so many varieties, but I have perfected my own over time since our trip and this recipe I give you today is that joy. There is something magic about New York Pizza or Bagels, New Yorkers often say it’s the water. Israeli Hummus is the same. No matter how much I perfect my recipe, it never tastes like it does in Israel. Perhaps it is because once you go to Israel, it calls you back time and time again. Maybe it is the Hummus.

Love Mom

HUMMUS

Traditional Hummus calls for chickpeas. Here is my note on the chickpea decision. If you can use fresh, please do. The great thing about fresh is once you cook them, they can be individually stored in containers or Ziploc baggies in the freezer, they keep for a few months easily and this will be your go to “can” for the next few batches. If you are in a pinch or craving Hummus, but don’t have time to make some fresh chickpeas, then a can will do, but always drain and rinse well before using.

Also a note on the Cuisinart- I have a clear memory of Grandma Ann buying her first one and it was kitchen changing. I have had the same one since I was married and I hope that mine ends up in your kitchen eventually. Like a great knife, you must have a good food processor and in my opinion, the Cuisinart is the best.

2–3 cloves of garlic

Fresh Herbs, a small handful (I use cilantro and parsley generally, but basil is nice too)

Chickpeas (about 1 overflowing cup)

Lemon, 1 freshly squeezed

Tahini, 1 heaping teaspoon of good Tahini (I always buy mine at Sam’s Bakery in Fall River, Mass., the best one I have used- Keep it in the refrigerator, it keeps for quite awhile)

Hot Sauce (I use Red’s) a few dashes

Olive Oil — a good one

Fresh ground salt and pepper

Zahtar, a generous teaspoon. (I have never made my own because the Zahtar at Sam’s Bakery in Fall River, Mass is so delicious, I always have a big container of this right on my counter)

I am giving you a more precise direction here, my love, to get you started, but truth be told, I am so familiar with this mixture, I throw everything into the Cuisinart in one pile and pulse away. Do the recipe as I list for your first run, then once you get used to it, follow my lead and trust that mixing everything together in one shot will be easier and just as delicious. This is also a great base. I have changed it up over time by adding artichokes, or roasted red peppers. There are so many possibilities and because your taste buds are trained well, trust your additions and your imagination.

Put garlic in Cuisinart and mince well. Add fresh herbs and pulse in with the garlic.

Add chickpeas, tahini, hot sauce and lemon and pulse until mixed.

Add olive oil until you get to the consistency you like. Start with about ¼ cup and keep adding until just right. Like lots of life decisions, this is a personal decision, you will get a feel for this the more you make the recipe.

Add Zahtar, salt and pepper and pulse a few times.

Now taste it and decide what it needs. More lemon? probably. More salt? Maybe. More hot sauce, be careful here, hot sauce in Hummus is for the background. Just play around with it until you get to the spot where you are transported back to Tel Aviv or our first meal in the Old City of Jerusalem. You’ll know.

I LOVE YOU