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.