Friday, December 30, 2011


I think it would be safe to say that most everyone living in Boston and its close environs has taken the subway, the ”T” as it’s referred to, at least once. Boston has a great mass transit system and in my humble opinion, it's much better than the one I grew up with in New York City. (Never mind its infrastructure, but I digress.)  I don’t think many of the “uppah crust” of NYC venture down below to travel through its bowels unless they absolutely have to, but it does seem to be different here in Beantown. There is definitely a good cross section of residents hopping the trains, and they do so at all hours. I always thought that a great way to get to know the people of one’s newly adopted city was to take the subway, and here that is surely the case.
What I wouldn’t recommend however, is getting up close and personal with the subway floor after falling down the subway steps. Unfortunately, that is exactly what I (stupidly) did.  After finishing a day of very successful shopping, and carrying all my bags on one arm, I ran down the steps for what I heard to be an oncoming train. It’s all a blur to me now, but I think I remember losing my footing at about the third from last step. Holding on to my bags and nothing else, I tumbled down and over, hitting my head on the cold and grimy ground. My sunglasses went flying, as did the bags.  I remember watching “Batman” on TV--pardon me for showing my age--back in the 60s. Every time the masked hero would unleash his strength upon a bad guy, an onomatopoeic word would appear on the screen in a cartoonish bubble. If I were on the show, I imagine a nice, big “Thwack!” would have popped up just as I hit the subway floor. Yes, it was that bad.
To make a very long story short, an angel of mercy on the train saw me sitting dazed and in pain and accompanied me to the hospital which luckily was at the next stop. Hours later I left the ER with a soft cast covering my fractured wrist, and three stitches over my eye. As I waited to be treated I couldn’t help thinking that my bad luck was instigated by something higher than myself. Was I the unfortunate recipient of the dreaded “evil eye,” the “kana hora” my dear mother always felt was the cause of any misfortune she suffered?  Did someone spot and begrudge the beautiful new ring my husband had given me--I knew I shouldn’t wear it out. Was it someone who wanted to (and could not) escape from their life and envied me as I was finally becoming adjusted to and enjoying living out here? I have never been one to cave in to superstitions (like my mom...big time), and here I was doing just what I would ridicule her for doing! How could I be so shallow, so callous? Why could I not just accept the fact that I was a grade “A,” super class KLUTZ?!?
I am now one week into this one-handed life, and although my patience (like my radial bone) is wearing thin, I am learning to “deal.”  My apartment needs cleaning, my dog needs walking, and my hair needs to be flat ironed. (While the first two are being taken care of, the latter sadly, is not.) I have come to terms with my accident and the superstitions that plagued me at the onset have given way to reason and common sense. I slipped, I fell. It’s as simple as that. I will not be wearing red string bracelets around my wrist to ward off evil spirits.
The good thing about the experience--yes, we must always look for the silver lining--was that I now know there are angels in Boston who will go out of their way for strangers. (I actually met two as a man initially helped me, and then Theresa who works at the Liberty Hotel took over.) My fall has not ruined my interest in taking the T. I will continue to travel the rails through town--it’s a great way to meet my neighbors. And the fact that I know there are real angels amongst them makes me love it even more.
Happy New Year to you all, and may angels watch over you wherever your travels take you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


My dad was the strongest man in the world. At least that’s what I believed and felt for much of my childhood. I was never fearful of anything when the two of us were together, which was quite often during my younger years as my mom worked on Saturdays.  Dad--Mike to his coworkers, Michel to my mom, and Michal to his buddies, was born into a poor family in Kalisz, Poland. He was one of many children, and when his father, my grandfather, made his frequent trips to the US, Dad would become the family’s substitute father figure. Unfortunately for my dad, on the last trip my grandfather attempted--the trip where he was finally taking his family with him--an eye infection prevented my grandmother (and thus the rest of the family) from going to “America the Golden.”  And the rest, as they say, is history--a very sad history. After experiencing the horrors of over fourteen concentration camps, one of them being the most horrible, Treblinka, my dad was left alone. I would come to find out many years later, only after reading a newspaper article about him, that his brawn, knowledge of mechanics, and sheer luck enabled him to survive. 
He was a simple man, with simple needs. He had a great memory--could pick out someone in a crowd he hadn’t seen in forty years and knew exactly where and when that last time was--and although he was not one for small talk, he was a great storyteller. How he and my mom (Miss Fancy Pants), ever got together was one of life’s great mysteries to my sister and me. “The war did strange things to people,” my mom would like to remind us. “If not for the war...,” she was wont to say. They met in a displaced persons camp in post-WWII Germany.  She allegedly was a witness to a crime, and he was the chief of police. He was good-looking, strong, and employed. That was good enough for her. Theirs was a tempestuous marriage, to say the least, and how it lasted over fifty years is yet another of life’s greatest mysteries.
One of the favorite things I loved doing with my dad was visiting his cousin Molly who lived in the projects near Coney Island. Every once in a while we would go on some rides, but mostly we went too see Molly. She lived in a very tall apartment building where the halls echoed with the sound of our heels and the elevators smelled of ammonia. Molly was his “American cousin,” the daughter of his uncle. There was always a tuna sandwich on a soft, braided challah roll awaiting me on those visits, and I munched happily in the kitchen as I listened to my dad and his cousin speaking in hushed tones in the living room. Every once in a while I caught a snippet of what was said--most of it was health-related (Molly’s) or marriage-related (Dad’s).
 Some of our other outings took us to Pitkin Avenue, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Back then, Brownsville was the cultural center of Jewish life in Brooklyn, and Pitkin Avenue was it’s main commercial strip.  Much of the street was taken over by pushcarts from which vendors would sell their wares. A special treat we would bring home from those trips was marble pound cake. The paper-wrapped cake came in long loaves from which smaller slabs were cut. The yellow part of the loaf was soft and buttery, while the swirly ribbon of chocolate that ran in and out through the yellow cake was moist and fudgy. My dad was not a big sweets eater, but he did like this cake (simple, always simple), and he would wash down a slice of it with a big tankard of coffee. He never drank coffee from a normal-sized cup, always a tall glass tankard. He had a large collection of tall ceramic mugs imprinted with “World’s Best Dad” that were given to him on birthdays and Father’s Day, but invariably the glass one was the one he would choose. Last week marked the tenth anniversary of my dad’s passing, and when I think of him at this time of year, at Hanukkah, I think of my mom saying, “Michel, if you’ll grate a few potatoes, I’ll whip up a batch of latkes.” (No food processor for them back then.) He’d then pull out the four-sided box grater and together they would get to work. 
 I very much doubt the pushcarts of Pitkin Avenue are still in existence. Soon after I discovered the wonderfulness of the marble pound the Jews began to skedaddle from Brownsville to other parts of Brooklyn, such as  East Flatbush and Canarsie, and even to Long Island (better known as the hinterlands). After that, we no longer made the trek to the neighborhood. The marble pound cake did survive, however. I’m sure the one I tasted back then was oil-based, not really buttery at all. (How was I to know everything had to be parve??) This one below is buttery, and a whole heck of a lot better than the original. But memories are memories....
(adapted from a recipe by Marcy Goldman)
Vegetable oil cooking spray
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened, plus 3 tablespoons melted
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2c. buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan with vegetable oil cooking spray and line it with parchment paper. Spray the paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt. In another medium bowl, combine the melted butter with the cocoa until smooth.
In a food processor, combine the softened butter with the granulated sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and process until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and pulse just until combined. Add the buttermilk and process until smooth. Transfer 1 cup of the batter to the bowl with the cocoa and stir until smooth.
Spoon batters into the prepared pan in 2 layers, alternating spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate to simulate a checkerboard. To create marbling, run a table knife (or wooden skewer) through the batters in a swirling motion.
 Bake the pound cake for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 325° and bake for 25 minutes more. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until the cake is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Let the pound cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then unmold and let cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.
MAKE AHEAD The cake can be wrapped in foil and refrigerated for 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that suffers from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, it’s a tale of heroism (the Maccabees) and miracles (the oil lasted for eight, not one night), and it’s subtitle is “The Festival of Lights” (nice touch). But it is not one of the major Jewish holidays such as  Passover, or Rosh Hashannah, or Yom Kippur. It is a lesser holiday whose “street cred” has been amped up by Jewish parents and retailers because of its proximity to that big mamajama, Christmas. Many Jews (and retailers) wanted a compatible substitute for Christmas and poor Hanukkah was it. The, excuse my French, Christianization, of the holiday is blatant, and unfortunately the Maccabees and menorahs often become overshadowed by the fact that everyone is clamoring for eight days of gift-giving and receiving. 

When I was a child, my parents usually gave out Hanukkah “gelt” (money), and not eights nights of it. The gifts were ancillary to the dreidel playing, menorah lighting, and latke gorging--although I do remember a lovely pleated magenta skirt that came one year, and a set of children’s cookware (thank you Lola) that came another year. When I became a parent, I shamefully gave in to the Hanukkah hype and my children generally enjoyed eight nights of gifts. But there were usually one or two big gifts and the rest of the nights were themed nights, such as “sock night,” “pajama night,” and so on. Many of these gifts were things my children were going to get regardless.  I tried to be creative--one night's gifts were usually donated to a charity, and I vaguely remember a night where we dragged our kids to the Theme Restaurant at the Los Angeles Airport and eventually wound up at a nearby diner because Theme didn’t serve hamburgers--well, I tried.
If Hanukkah were celebrated in June or July, perhaps the message of the holiday would be better served. And even though it does arrive when it does, harassment still abounds. Based on the Jewish, not the Gregorian calendar, Hanukkah’s  arrival is not always close enough to Christmas for some. It falls out in the beginning of December, or heaven forbid at the end of November (as it did in 2010), the holiday is berated for being “too early!” And if it falls out after Christmas, it is “too late!” This poor holiday just can’t win.
One of the positives of Hanukkah is that it is yet another opportunity for families to get together and celebrate. Food is always a guest at those celebrations, and fried foods are king on Hanukkah (because of the oil, get it?). Since there are as many latke recipes on the Internet as there are gifts under some of the“Hannukah bushes”  out there, I won’t bore you with yet another one. Noodle kugel, or “koogel” as some West Coasters call it, is something I like to serve on Hanukkah. It is pure Jewish comfort food--a casserole that is both dense and creamy, with a vanilla custard hiding amongst the nooks and crannies of the egg noodles. The version below is one  I found in “The Gefilte Variations” by Jayne Cohen. I found the addition of pears adds a nice seasonal touch, and the gingery crumb topping lends a pleasant crunch. I sometimes omit the topping as I enjoy the burnt noodle tips that often peek out from above the custard. During other times of the year I also substitute fruits such as apples, peaches, and even dried blueberries.
(adapted from a recipe by Jayne Cohen)
12 oz. wide egg noodles
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temp.
8 oz. sour cream
1lb. cottage cheese
5 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp. unsalted butter,melted,  plus additional 4 tbsp., softened, for topping
2/3c. brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
3 large, ripe Bartlett or Bosc pears, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
About 2 cups gingersnaps, crumbled
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package. Drain.
Swirl the 4 tbsp. melted butter around the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle the butter with 1/3c. of the brown sugar and arrange the pears evenly on top.
In the container of a blender, mix the cream cheese, sour cream, and half of the cottage cheese until smooth. Pour into a large bowl, and add the remaining cottage cheese and brown sugar, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and salt. Add drained noodles. Combine everything well. Pour the contents of the bowl over the pears in the prepared pan. Combine the gingersnap crumbs and remaining 4 tbsp. butter and sprinkle over the top of the kugel.
Bake the kugel for about 1 to 1 1/4 hours. (It should be slightly firm.) Let cool until set. Cut into squares and serve warm or slightly chilled (not icy cold).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone...on velum, perhaps, using a fine Waterman pen? When was the last time you received a Thank You note written on a specially chosen card that so reflected the writer’s personality? These are rhetorical questions so I don’t expect you to answer them, but I have a feeling I know the answer. Not recently. We live in an age of expediency and convenience. We send emails, and texts, and instant messages. These missives might be personal in that they go from one person to another, but they are not the notes of eras past, signed with a flourish and scented with toilet water. Sealed with a shiny, amorphous blob of sealing wax. They come from us, but they don’t COME from us. I do have two friends who have managed to stay ahead of the crowds and send handwritten cards. Their messages are always meaningful and their words often melt my heart. But they are definitely in the minority.
 I too am guilty of sending evites and paperless thank you notes. My intent is often to be timely and ecological. It's definitely been an issue of "do as I say, not as I do" since I always insisted my boys write personal think yous to everyone and anyone whoever gave them a gift. And now that they are older and going on interviews of one sort or another, they still know a handwritten "thank you" will more than likely put you in better standing with your interviewer than an  email.

The art of the hand-written recipe card has also taken a hit through the years.  And I too am guilty of typing and storing my recipes on a computer rather than using the cards. It gets the job done, and it’s just easier. But is it more meaningful?
While visiting with family over the Thanksgiving weekend, my sister-in-law Sharon and I went through an unruly pile of papers she kept in a cabinet. She was looking for a particular recipe that she knew was there “somewhere.” In amongst lots of magazine clippings and assorted scraps of paper was what she had been looking for--her grandmother’s recipe for “Lemon Cake”--written on an old recipe card.  There was a picture of a red rose in its top corner, and though a bit yellowed, the card was still in pretty good condition. The handwriting was small and neat, and the ink was still a dark blue and unsmudged. Without even reading the recipe I knew immediately what type of woman Sharon’s grandmother was. Here was someone who obviously liked to bake and thought enough about this recipe to immortalize it by copying it down from somewhere (can’t really say whether she made it up or not). The directions are short and precise--no fancy techniques are required of the baker. There were no side notes, so I assume Grandma knew this recipe very well and just wanted to document it.
The transcription of this recipe was such a simple act, but yet in doing so, Grandma created a piece of history. Perhaps she knew that, perhaps not, but aside from Sharon and her mom Sophie, there have been two more generations of women in that family who have come along since and who have access to the recipe. Knowing she actually wrote on, touched, and used this recipe card made me want to keep it and her memory alive. And because of that, I’ve since found out a little bit more about Grandma Mary. She came to the US from Poland in 1924 on the steamer The Lusitania, and settled in Buffalo. She could read and write English (self-taught), but every week she would gather to play cards and have cake with a group of friends where only Polish was spoken. She was one of many strong, industrious women of that time period. Quite a role model.
I’ve got a bunch of recipes that I’d written on a variety of cards a long time ago. Some are just plain index cards, and some are cards that say “From the Kitchen of....” They are in a long wooden box--the kind the libraries used for their card catalogs. These recipes are separated into categories (cookies, cakes, salads, grains) by small dividers. I cannot say that I have ever made use of even one of those cards in that box, but since looking at Grandma Mary’s recipe, I am determined to try a few. Perhaps some will be good enough to blog about, but I won’t throw them away regardless. Someday a daughter-in-law might inherit them (I know that’s a very sexist remark, but honestly, my boys could not be bothered), and she might pull out a card or two and try it out with one of her children. And then perhaps someone might want to know about the recipe’s history, because after all, that’s how history is made.
Notes: This is a very traditional lemon chiffon cake. The texture is very light, as is the lemon flavor. Make sure not to overbeat the egg whites since that will result in a dense cake. While Mary recommended a Lemon Buttercream to go with this cake, I thought a buttery Lemon Glaze would be a better, lighter substitute.
2 1/4c. sifted cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 1/2c. sugar
6 eggs, separated
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2c. vegetable oil
3/4c. cold water
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
3 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Lemon Glaze:
5 tbsp. butter
2c. powdered sugar, sifted
3 tbsp. hot lemon juice
1 tbsp. grated lemon rind
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to whisk until firm stiff peaks are formed. Add a small amount of the beaten whites to the yolk mixture and mix then add the yolk mixture to the beaten whites, folding gently until just blended. 
Pour batter into an ungreased 10-cup tube pan. Bake for approximately one hour. Invert pan onto the neck of a wine bottle and allow to cool. Loosen side of cake with a knife or long metal spatula.
While the cake is cooling make the Glaze:
In 1 1/2-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat; remove from heat. Stir in powdered sugar and lemon peel until smooth. Stir in lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, until smooth and consistency of thick syrup. Spread glaze over top of cake, allowing some to drizzle down the side.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


My sister taught me how to tie a bow. It’s the bow that starts out with two loops that get twisted around each other--the one that’s easier to tie. My sister always tried to make things easier for me. She also taught me how to spell “circus.” That was a toughie in the first grade.
There is an eight-year difference between the two of us, with no one else in between, so my sister has also been somewhat of a mother figure to me as well. We grew up in a home of Holocaust survivors--not always a fun place to be--and very often we served as refuges for each other. I was a welcome diversion. I’m sure it was not pleasant for her--I was the tag-along, the baby, the charge. (Come to think of it, she might have gotten some sadistic pleasure out of threatening to suffocate me with a pillow when she babysat me.) But I can’t remember her protesting too often about dragging me to the movies or on shopping trips. I think my mother so often placed her in that maternal role because it gave her a break--she was too busy dealing with the realities of her life, and her past--but she claimed she was merely trying to make us best friends. And she succeeded. My sister was my role model. I turned to her for advice on just about everything--friends, clothing, makeup, boys. And when we grew older she was my go-to person for advice on marriage and motherhood. She’s a great mom to my nephew and niece, but we like to joke that I am her first child. I did a lot of my growing up right alongside them. And as in all mother-daughter relationships, there have been clashes. There was many a time where I wanted to be treated like a sister, an equal--not a child. Ultimately our relationship had to evolve and I had to learn how to establish my independence and claim my role of adult. It hasn’t always been easy, or successful, but we’ve managed to work things out. And sometimes, not too often, I even take the role of “big sister.” 
I think my mother knew exactly what she doing when she chose my sister as her stand-in. She was the stalwart who always did what she was told. The word "rebellion" was not part of her vocabulary. What I don’t think Mom realized was that my sister, by being my “mother,” was giving up her status as “daughter” and “child.” Her childhood was very different from mine--I actually had one.
Did I mention she is a great teacher--a FANTASTIC teacher. Parents fight for spots in her classroom. I can understand why. She is also a great cook and baker. I don’t do those things with her very often. (I probably shouldn’t say this, but she is VERY territorial in her kitchen. It’s safer if I don’t do, but just watch.) She never attends a social engagement without bringing her famous Rugelach. The recipe below is not quite hers, but it’s pretty close, and my filling is a tad different. I do think of her whenever I make them, regardless. Cream cheese dough pastries always class up the place whenever they are served. They are higher on the dessert scale than a cookie or a piece of cake. The dough is rich and not too sweet, as the sweetness comes from the filling. A slather of the jam of your choice, a smattering of chopped nuts or chocolate chips, and they are good to go. Chopped dried fruit can also be a nice addition--raisins, cranberries, apricots. They can be assembled and frozen, or baked and then frozen. 
I never sent my sister a birthday card this year. I didn’t forget--I called and emailed. My cards always get there late anyway. But I know birthdays mean a lot to her. I hope this will make up for it.


for dough:
2c. all-purpose flour
8 oz. cream cheese, cut into small pieces
8 oz. cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

for filling:
1c. chocolate cake crumbs
1c. chopped walnuts
1c. raspberry preserves
chocolate chips (opt.)
raisins (opt.)

cinnamon/sugar for sprinkling
beaten egg

Pulse the flour, salt, and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract and pulse just until mixture comes together into a mass. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly until smooth. Divide dough into 3 portions. Wrap each portion well and chill for an hour.

 Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside.

Roll one portion of chilled dough into a 9-inch circle. Using a pastry brush, spread one-third of the jam over the entire circle. Sprinkle with one-third of the chocolate cake crumbs, and top with one-third of the chopped nuts (or chocolate chips or raisins, if using).

Cut the dough (a pizza cutter works well here) into 12 wedges. Roll up each wedge, starting from the wider edge, to form small crescents. Place the rugelach on the baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Chill rugelach in the fridge for 30 minutes. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and your preferred fillings.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake chilled rugelach until lightly browned--25 to 35 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I am not a high-maintenance kind of gal (in my humble opinion--hah!), but I do love my mani/pedis. It took me a while to find a nail salon I liked after relocating to Cambridge. I had been going to Finger Nails salon in California for almost fifteen years. Through those years, my manicurists have come and gone, but Mary has been my go-to lady for the longest stretch. She is, as are all the women there, very sweet, hard-working, and Vietnamese. Part technician, part sounding board, Mary always has a smile on her face, and a giggle in her voice. Once I “pik my colah” I am ready to go. We often chat about her family, my family, and the other customers in the store. It's a nice diversion from my life outside the door. Town Nail Salon in Beacon Hill is the salon I have chosen most recently. There too, most of the manicurists are very lovely Vietnamese women, but I don’t feel quite at home as I did at Finger Nails--not yet. The one thing I do love is that they use hot stones to massage my feet when I get a pedicure, and that is definitely a deal clincher.
I usually walk across the Longfellow Bridge into Boston to get to the salon. It takes about fifteen minutes, and on a nice day, it’s a lovely walk. I carry my flip flops in a bag (can’t keep them in my glove compartment any longer as I did out West), and I wear them on the walk home so that my toes don’t get smudged. By the time I get back into Cambridge, the polish is dry and I am a changed woman. It’s funny how a simple thing like a mani/pedi can make me feel pampered and relaxed, and depending on the “colahs” I choose, chic.
Now that the weather is growing colder in Boston, I am perplexed as to how I can get pedicures without having the polish smudge. The walk across the Bridge on a cold, windy day is not pleasant, and I will have to eventually take mass transit.  I  am worried about being amongst so many people for fear that one of them might step on my toes!! And even worse, when the temperature dips below freezing (which it still has not), or heaven forbid, when there is snow or ice on the ground, how can I walk around in flip flops?? (Believe me, I do concern myself with less shallow issues, but please indulge me for now.) I imagine putting my Uggs on over perfectly polished, and seemingly dry toes, and arriving home with miserably hairy toenails  looking like those of Sasquatch! The good thing is that I only get pedicures once a month, so this earth shattering problem will only vex me every four weeks. In time, I am sure I will adjust, but right now, a dilemma is a dilemma. (And don’t expect me to give up my pedicures, I am not that low-maintenance!) If anyone out there has a solution, please let me know.
And I am sure you are wondering what type of recipe I am going to come up with right after I blog about feet and toenails...well, here it is:
In honor of all the wonderful Vietnamese women I have met in all of the nail salons I have visited, here is a nontraditional, but wonderful nonetheless recipe from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. It's like an inside out Spring Roll. Heidi serves this with a Tamarind Dipping Sauce.
(serves 8)
3/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons shoyu (or substitute black soy sauce)
4 ounces (4 cups loosely packed) fettucine-style rice noodles
2 carrots, sliced into matchsticks (1 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Roasted Shallot Peanut Sauce (recipe follows)
Tamarind Dipping sauce 
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375.
Cut the stems off the shiitakes and discard them (or save them for stock). Thinly slice the caps; you should have 5 cups. Toss the shiitakes in a bowl with the olive oil and shoyu. Then spread them out on a parchment-covered baking sheet and transfer it to the oven. Roast, stirring twice, until the mushrooms are shrunken, browned, and fairly crisp, about 40 minutes. Place the mushrooms in a small bowl and set it aside.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Remove the pot from the heat, add the noodles, and let them sit until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain, and rinse the noodles for at least 30 seconds under cold water to prevent sticking.
Toss the noodles in a bowl with the carrots and herbs. Mound a portion of noodles on each plate, and drizzle the dipping sauce and the peanut sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the mushrooms and peanuts. 
3 medium shallots, unpeeled
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon shoyu
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the shallots on a parchment-covered baking sheet and roast until they are very tender and the juices have started to ooze out, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the shallots cool slightly, and then squeeze the pulp out of the skins. Place the shallot pulp and all the remaining ingredients in a food processor or blender, and blend until smooth. The sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated for up to a week. Warm before serving. Makes 2 cups.

Monday, November 14, 2011


There was a movie out in the 60’s called “The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner,” and I have to admit that I don’t quite understand the title. While I’m not exactly a long-distance runner, I do run short distances, most often on the treadmill. When I run early in the morning in a mostly empty gym, I never feel alone. Everyone I’ve ever run with or know is inside my head and I turn to these people to accompany me on my runs. (More about those who accompany me at a later date.)
I’m sure there are people who would say there is an aspect of loneliness that a baker experiences as well. Most of us usually bake early in the morning before anyone else is up and around. The kitchen, be it in a home or in a professional setting is quiet at that time. The buzzing of a florescent light or the gentle hum of the refrigerator can be heard and nothing else. Once again though, I would have to disagree with the assertion of loneliness. When I am in the kitchen I am surrounded by anyone who has ever taught me or dined with me in the past--those whose lives are so intertwined with mine and with whom I’ve shared many memorable meals. I often think back on those meals and how the food and drink enhanced (or hampered) that experience and possibly our lives.  My mom is always watching over me as I measure, mix, and roll. She is there as I handle the soft dough--pulling and stretching--or pour out the smooth batter and scrape the bowl clean. I hear her voice in my head as well--her instructions and her encouragement in her Hungarian accented English. At times her mom is there also. (I envision it to be a lot like that scene in one of the "Star Wars" movies when all the elders of yore are standing around, looking down knowingly.) Even though we’ve never met, I feel as though I knew my grandmother, and the stories I’ve heard about her cooking skills were a big part of my growing years. Through the horrors of the Holocaust, and in the years that followed, my mom was still able to conjure up her wonderful memories of happy times in the kitchen. We were a food family, always. The recipes and stories, and the history behind them are all with me in the kitchen.
Hungarians love their desserts, and as paradoxical as it sounds, my mom was a better cook than a baker. Her homemade coffeecakes and cookies were wonderful, but she would really rather buy her sweets than make them. Seven-Layer cakes, cream-filled Napoleons, and Lemon Meringue Pie were her favorites. In a pinch, a Drake’s Fruit Pie would do the trick. They came two to a bag and she would eat one (always with a cup of coffee), fold the bag over the second one and place it on the counter for later. Her favorites were the cherry and lemon. These fillings were cloyingly sweet (sorry Drake's) and had a gelatinous texture to them. I think if Mom had tasted the Pop-Tarts from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook she would not be able to restrain herself by eating just one. The recipe for the pastry below is Joanne’s. It is a traditional pie dough using egg yolks for some added richness. I have added my own apple filling. I know it wasn’t Mom’s favorite, but the apples here in New England are so flavorful this time of year  (I used Stayman Winesap--a red, very crisp variety), that I think she would have loved it regardless.

Homemade Apple Pop-Tarts
(adapted from Joanne Chang) 
Makes about 18 ounces dough, enough for 8 pop-tarts or one 9-inch double-crust or lattice-top pie

1 3/4 cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks / 228 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cold milk
Apple Filling
3 medium apples, diced into 1/4” cubes 
2 oz. unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider, preferably local

Cinnamon Glaze
1 cup (140 grams) confectioners’ sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons water
1/4 tablespoon cinnamon

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the dough: Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top. Mix on low speed for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or just until the flour is no longer bright white and holds together when you clump it and lumps of butter the size of pecans are visible throughout.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk until blended. Add to the flour mixture all at once. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the dough just barely comes together. It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.

Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface, then gather it together into a tight mound. Using your palm and starting on one side of the mound, smear the dough bit by bit, starting at the top of the mound and then sliding your palm down the side and along the work surface until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the dough comes together. Do this once or twice on each part of the dough, moving through the mound until the whole mess has been smeared into a cohesive dough with streaks of butter.

Gather up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and press down to flatten into a disk about 1 inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Make the filling: Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Melt the butter in a skillet  with the vanilla bean and seeds. Add the apples and sugar and cook until apples soften. Add the cider and cook over medium heat until liquid thickens into a glaze. Allow filling to cool before using.
Assemble pastries: Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in half. Press each half into a rectangle. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each half into a 14-by-11-inch rectangle. Using a paring knife, lightly score 1 rectangle into eight 3 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch rectangles (about the size of an index card).

 Spoon 2 tablespoons of the Apple Filling in a mound in the center of each scored rectangle. Lay the second large dough rectangle directly on top of the first. Using fingertips, carefully press down all around each fruit mound, so the pastry sheets adhere to each other.

Using a knife, a pizza roller (easier), or a fluted roller (easier and prettier), and following the scored lines, cut the layered dough into 8 rectangles. Place the rectangles, well spaced, on a baking sheet.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the tops of the pastries are evenly golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.

Make the glaze: While the pastries are cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, and enough of the water to make a smooth, pourable glaze. You should have about 1/2 cup. (The glaze can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. If it becomes too thick or hardens, add a teaspoon of cream and stir.)

When the pastries have cooled for 30 minutes, brush the tops evenly with the glaze. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the glaze to set before serving.

The pastries can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Obsessing about the pros and cons of relocating has become an avocation for me, and anyone who has been reading my postings here knows that. One of the most wonderful items on the “Pros” list began, not as a result of my relocating, but as a precursor to it....
When my husband moved to start his new job in Boston over a year ago, our son Alex had just graduated from college. With no job offer on the table, and no money in the bank, it was understood that Alex would be moving back home until either of those things changed. The prospect of having to deal with this living arrangement scared me. I love Alex to death, but our relationship all throughout high school and some of college was pretty rocky. We butted heads more often than a cage full of rams, and there were many moments filled with tears (mostly mine), heartbreak (mine again), and challenges to my intestinal fortitude. As Alex matured, and as I learned to back off, the agita-inducing moments became less and less frequent. We now had a good relationship and I was a little concerned that being together again for such concentrated periods after being apart for so long would upset what we had built the past few years.
My younger son, Will, was home with us from college for the first few months and once he left, Alex and I began to fall into “roommate mode.” When the clothes in his room and the mess in his bathroom became too much for me to bear, we “discussed” it. And when I came home in a not-so-great mood that “spoiled the atmosphere,” we discussed it. There were many “discussions” throughout the year, but not too many of them were heated. We bobbed and weaved and played the roommate/mother-son dance, and eventually fell into a rhythm that worked for us. Moments of laughter far outweighed moments of tension.

 I am not much of a TV watcher, but Alex is, and we spent many an evening  watching what had become "our shows," “Shameless,” “Friday Night Lights” (the final episode hit us hard), and I'm embarrassed to say, "Jersey Shore." We would eat dinner (yes, I still had to cook dinner) together quite often and even caught a movie every once in a while.  We became sounding boards for each other, and more and more I realized that my son the social director, the party animal with the very LARGE personality was also a very intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful young man. What developed over the course of the twelve months was a surprising friendship and an appreciation for each other that we might never have gotten had we not had that one-on-one time together. 
Eventually Alex got a job, and an apartment of his own.  He’s where he’ s supposed to be--a single guy living the high life in Hollywood. Soon after I moved across the country and went back to where I’m supposed to be--with my true roommate for life.  If I didn’t know better, I would think that someone out there had purposely planned for Alex and I  to have that time together. Time to get reacquainted.  Now our conversations are the result of us understanding each other in a more meaningful way. We have a history--an adult history, that not many mothers and sons get the opportunity to have.  I cherish the memories of that period in our lives, and I hope Alex does as well. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I did not grow up during the Depression, REALLY, I did not! But if you were to take a peek in my freezer you would think that I did because that’s where I keep all the food I don’t like to throw away. Hold on--I know what you’re thinking and I can explain...I don’t hoard SPOILED food and the like, I just cannot throw anything away when I know that I can repurpose it into something else. And correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s many a restaurant chef out there who is doing the very same thing. 
So, if you opened the door--take heed, containers and bags tumble out at a rapid pace--very often you would find plastic wrapped slabs of red stuff (tomato paste) and yellow stuff (cookie dough), brown ice cubes (coffee), and large Zip-Locs of crumbs (cookies and cake). The day before I leave for a vacation or trip I usually go through my fridge and cabinets looking for food that I know won’t make it safely by the time I get back. Large tablespoons of tomato or olive paste get spooned onto plastic wrap. Bell peppers and onions are chopped and thrown into freezer containers. Fruit is cut up and either cooked down into purees or thrown into freezer containers as is. Cookies, cakes, and any leftovers from my company (here comes a gratuitous plug): are ground up in the food processor and put into large freezer bags. Everything is then plopped into the freezer for later use. I can then go on vacation knowing that my stash in the freezer will be waiting, and that nothing green will meet me when I return.
The idea to repurpose cookie and cake crumbs was given to me by Nancy SIlverton. She has a recipe for Crumb Biscotti in her book, “Pastries From The La Brea Bakery.” I have taken her idea and incorporated it into my standard Mandelbread recipe. I also wanted to give a shoutout to Marilyn Naron  for her recommendation of adding shortening. I find it does make the Mandelbread (she called it “Jewish Biscotti”) lighter. The result is a biscotti-type cookie with a finer, crisper crumb. The final product will always taste a little bit different, depending on the type of cookie crumbs that are mixed in. Regardless, it’s always delicious and it makes a great accompaniment to a glass of tea, a cup of coffee or a bowl of ice cream. These cookies travel well, so if you do all the prep work and make them before your trip, they’ll be a great treat to take with you on the plane.
(makes two large loaves)
3/4c. canola oil
1 Tbsp. vegetable shortening (preferably Spectrum brand)
3/4c. sugar
3 eggs
rind of one orange, finely grated
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup dry cookie crumbs
pinch salt
3c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
for sprinkling:
1/2c. cinnamon
1/2c. granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat and set aside. Using the flat paddle of an electric mixer, cream the oil and shortening together. Stop to scrape the bowl and add the vanilla extract. Continue beating mixture making sure shortening is well incorporated. Add the sugar, grated orange rind, and eggs, one at a time. On low speed, add the crumbs. Mix until incorporated.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder.
Add dry ingredients to the egg mixture, beating on low speed until dough is just combined. Add chopped chocolate and briefly mix, just long enough to evenly distribute.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Divide dough into two equal parts. Using both hands, roll each piece of dough into a log, each about as long as your cookie sheet and approximately 2″ wide.
Transfer dough logs to prepared cookie sheets and space at least 2″ apart. Using the palm of your hand, flatten the logs slightly, working down each length until done.
Mix cinnamon and sugar together in a small bowl. Sprinkle half of mixture over each rolled dough log. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until strips are golden and just firmed up. Remove from oven and cool until safe to handle.
Using a thin serrated knife, cut each strip on the diagonal to form approx. 18-20 pieces. Arrange cut pieces on the cookie sheets and sprinkle generously with the cinnamon-sugar mix. Return cookies to oven until golden brown and tops appear dry, about 10-15 minutes. Watch carefully and do not over-brown. Cool on racks.