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.