Friday, July 24, 2015

All in a day’s work–Food Friday

Back in the days when I had  full time jobs I always managed to have jobs that were made of of radically different roles.  I had one job that required completely different clothing for different part of my day. There were days when I played on the floor with kids, and would get completely covered in paint and then I would have to  go change in the bathroom and get ready to attend a black tie dinner.

I had always assumed that grown up people had jobs where they could play essentially the same role all day.

Today my list of tasks included things that may never had all been done by one person in one day. 
  • I led services this morning
  • I will be leading kinot ( liturgical poems of loss and sorrow) on Sunday, Tisha B’av and needed to practice, so I was singing poetry from the time of the First Crusade
  • I made chicken ( so far this sounds like a typical Friday for lots of people)food
  • I lay bricks ( My building is redoing the front courtyard. We are now up to setting up the brickwork.The bricks put in 100 years ago are not the same size brick that is currently in use. the brick layers and I have been doing all sorts of fancy footwork with the bricks. Neighbors and the bricklayers seem to be surprised that I am willing to get on the ground in a dress to play with bricks and work on getting the layout to work.)walkway
  • I made challahfood (1)
  • I also made okraokra
  • Non dairy almond ice creamfood

I had thought I would get to some sewing but I kept getting called downstairs to consult with the brick layers.

Oddly enough there is more of a connection between the sewing and the brick laying than one might think.

Shabbat Shalom! Glad we are not eating bricks.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A New Sewing Student

I have known Y since before she was born. I met Y’s parents before they had gotten married. Last year I had made a tallit for her.

Y’s mother mentioned to me a few weeks ago that Y wanted to learn how to sew.I asked what her goals were, making clothing? making something else?


Y’s mother didn’t think that her daughter wanted to make clothing but she did want her daughter to learn how to use her new sewing machine.



They came by this afternoon with the Hello Kitty sewing machine. It’s a machine made by Janome and is better than you might think with Hello Kitty on the machine.

We took the machine out of the box. I had Y thread and re thread the machine several times until it was an easy task for her to do.


I got out a scrap of fabric and showed Y how sharp the needle was and asked her to sew a seam. I showed her how to line up the edge of the fabric with the edge of the sewing machine and how you use that alignment to sew a straight seam. Y sewed a beautiful seam.


I asked Y what she wanted to make. She suggested a skirt. We went shopping for fabric in my stash. She selected a great piece of fabric a nice heavy weight stretch with an abstract plaid.  I love the fabric. I had made myself two dresses out of it. I know that a stretch fabric is perhaps not what most teachers would start a beginning sewer on, but it is a sturdy fabric.

Y is small for her age and very thin. I know that she is often mistaken for being far younger than her actual age. I like that she chose something that was fairly sophisticated. Because Y is not yet curvy we had the luxury of making a really simple one seamed skirt.

I pulled the length of fabric around her hips and talked about having enough ease to be able to sit down in comfort. I cut the fabric to the correct width.

Y first edged stitched the raw edges so the skirt wouldn’t fray. Then she sewed the back seam.


She selected a wide elastic for the waist. I mentioned that there are dozens of ways to apply an elastic waistband but we would do one that I thought she could manage today.  She sewed the elastic into a ring . She then quarter marked the elastic with chalk. we tried to quarter-mark the skirt with chalk as well but the chalk didn’t show up well. Instead we marked the quarter marks with little nips in the fabric.


Y sewed the elastic to the outside of the skirt, matching the quarter marks. She then turned the elastic to the inside and then tacked the elastic to the inside of the skirt, also at the quarter marks.


When I teach sewing I will do some of the potentially tricky bits for my student until they are willing to try the tricky tasks themselves. Y was relatively fearless.


I then had Y topstitch the elastic. The combination of the stretch fabric and the elastic and the zig zag stich we had used ( The machine does not let you adjust stitches for width or length) was too much for the elastic and for Y’s new to sewing hands and it was stretched out of shape and did not recover with steaming.   I explained that the top stitching didn’t work because it was tricky to manage all of the layers and the different amounts of stretch in the skirt fabric and the elastic.  It was a task completely beyond beginner skills. She has good hands so I felt it was worth the gamble of having her try. The gamble didn’t work.


Unfortunately, we then had to unpick the top stitching. We both worked together on the un picking. I told Y that when she was working at home and had to unpick a mess she should feel free to curse, because that’s what I do when I am alone.Y was a good sport about it though. We chatted comfortably while we unpicked.

We talked about skirt length.Too long and she would look more religious than she is. She didn’t want to look six years old, and she does not want to look trampy.

She decided on an above the knee length.

 Y sewing

So after 90 minutes Y ended up with a wearable skirt.  There is a funky wobble at the back that Y can choose to fix if she is so inclined. I think she decided that since she didn’t have to look at it, she would ignore the wobble. There is just enough fabric left to make a top for her. Her next skirt will come out better, but this one is awfully good.


Y has learned that being small has some advantages. When Y’s mother came to pick up the two began discussing what Y would be making next.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sadness during the Three Weeks

This has been an emotionally complicated week.

Last Friday my sister sent me an email telling me that Temple Beth El in Quincy was being knocked to the ground.

When my father agreed to serve as Rabbi in Quincy the synagogue was not yet built. Those first High Holidays in 1957, services were held in the Jewish Community  Center just down the street in Merrymount.  services were held in an L-shaped room so only half of the congregation could see services being led.


Apparently a Chinese restaurant shared a wall with the back of the JCC and  the aroma of Chinese food cooking made Neila, the final service of Yom Kippur excruciating for the worshipers in the back rows.


From 1958 until the early 1960’s the sanctuary was a plain mustard colored cement block box with mustard colored drapes and linoleum floors.

This would not do for my father. My father had, during his time in Halifax worked on beautifying that synagogue and helped the congregation acquire spectacular Torah silver. ( If you are ever in Halifax for Shabbat I strongly suggest that you attend services at Shaar Shalom. It is a very special place.)


My father had seen the work of David Holleman while he was in rabbinical school.Mr. Holleman had a studio on Huron street in Cambridge. The two of them began a collaboration that lasted decades.


My father was determined to avoid hackneyed stereotypes common to most synagogue design. There not going to be a whole lot of Magen Davids. the verses chosen would be thoughtful and thought provoking.I remember models of various elements of the design showing up at our house.

There were times when my father would totally reject a proposal set forth by Mr. Holleman. I always felt terrible and hoped that Mr. Holleman’s feelings would not get hurt.


Eventually the two would settle on a design. My father would line up a donor from the congregation to foot  the bill.


Quincy never had a huge Jewish population. Generally when one thinks of Jewish community in the Boston area, one does NOT think about Quincy a great center of Jewish life. And yet, Temple Beth El in Quincy was one of the most successful examples of visually powerful and meaningful Post –war suburban synagogue design. It was a jewel box.

Walking into the sanctuary could just take your breath away. The room worked as a complete unit telling a complete story. It was also compelling as a piece of art week after week year after year. While you could take in the big story of the room fairly quickly there were always new details that revealed themselves over time.

You can see some pictures here in this essay Temple Beth El.

I knew that the land had been sold and the membership of Temple Beth El was joining forces with the synagogue in Milton, one town away. But last week the building was being knocked down.

I saw the following images on Facebook.


View from the parking lot

Another view from the parking lot

Seeing these images was deeply distressing. A friend commented to me that I need to think of the destruction of my father’s synagogue, his life’s work in the context of the Jewish calendar. We are now in the mourning period of three weeks that precede Tisha B’av, the day we mark the destruction of the Temple.

Some of the treasure from Temple Beth El are now in other homes in the Boston area.  The windows though will be part of the collection of the Skirball Museum at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.


There will be a celebration at the end of August to make this acquisition.


Today, I received this in the mail.

 Holleman 001

The official invitation to the celebration. Yes, my husband and I are going. One of my sisters will be there as well.


So now, I actually feel less distressed about the physical building now being a pile of rubble.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Getting There

I suppose if I were a smarter business woman I wouldn’t have chosen to do teeny chain stitching around each of the letters on Charlie’s atara.


But ultimately I worry more about getting the piece to look right than about dollars and cents.


I used the sewing machine to do the borders on the atara, a black diamond stitch and then the whole piece is edged with gold blanket stitching.


My design had called for sprays of wheat. I used a mix of threads, copper metallic, the black and gold metallic I had used on the letters and an ivory sewing thread to make the wheat stalks.


I had thought that each grain of wheat could be formed by a single chain stitch. The idea worked fine in my head but in real life I just couldn’t get those grains to look right. I slept on the problem and came up with a different solution.


I did not do a whole lot of hand embroidery as a kid.  My older sister was pretty serious about embroidery when she was in her teens. She spent lots of time talking through the process of creating each stitch and telling me how she achieved each one.


So I reached into the messy garbage pail that is my head and the careful explanation of how to out line a shape with straight stitches and then fill-in the shape with embroidery  just sort of unspooled from my brain like a movie.


First I drew the shapes of the grains with a pencil. Normally I wouldn’t suggest doing this, but I knew that the pencil lines would be completely covered with the hand embroidery.


Here is one grain outlined.


If I were my sister I probably would have outlined all of the grains and then would have gone back and carefully filled in each grain of wheat.


Instead I gave myself permission to embroider those wheat grains in any order that made me happy.

I have been watching garbage TV as I work.


I was trying to go for the feel of my parents old challah cover.

imma's challh cover (5)

Actually, looking at both side by side I realize that I was actually going for a looser look. Either way, here  is  my wheat after two episodes of really stupid TV.


Yes I plan to add the tassels to the wheat as well. Yes, I do plan to press the atara back into shape.


Now that I look at the photograph I see that I am nearly half way done.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Food Friday


My nephew turned 22 a few weeks ago. He often cooks for his family when he is home and for himself while he is at college.

I decided to give him 22 recipes as his gift. Every couple of days I post one or more recipes on his Facebook wall. I have been giving  recipes that I make  all the time by feel rather than by following a recipe.


My last recipe for him ( Recipe #14)was breaded fish. I mentioned in the text of the recipe that I had learned how to bread fish from my father in our yellow kitchen in Quincy.


Last night my oldest sister and I were talking bout the recipes that I have been giving my nephew. My sister had been suggesting that I look up some recipes on Epicurious. I explained that what I wanted to give were recipes that were deeply ingrained in me, not nifty new and unfamiliar things but the sorts of meals that I might make when time was at a premium.


My sister then talked about making kasha. My father made kasha often  with great care and with deep intention. He used to make it by the vat-full and then put all of it away in square plastic containers that got stacked into the freezer. Each Shabbat a plastic container or two of kasha would come out of the freezer and get heated up for the Shabbat meals.


My sister said that she never makes kasha with a recipe but does each step, cooking the noodles, sautéing the onions in chicken fat, coating the grains with egg and then finally getting all of the elements together . She said that whenever she makes kasha she feels deeply connected to my father.


I have rarely made kasha. In fact, most of the times I have made it I made it for  my mother during the big cooks I used to do for her during her time of decline. I made kasha because I knew that smelling it cooking made my mother feel loved.

When I used to go cook for my mother my sister used to suggest that I invite my mother to help me in the kitchen, just as we used to have Mama, my mother’s mother help my father as he cooked. Mama, like my mother had had a series of large and small strokes.


My father used to give me and Mama vegetable peelers and let us peel potatoes or apples. Both Mama and I were pokey workers. The to of us would stand by the sink and slowly work away with the vegetable peelers. My father in the meantime would be working away with a shower of peelings flying in every direction. Mama and I didn’t exactly help, we “helped”.


My mother had no desire to join me in the kitchen. What she wanted to do was sit on the couch reading a magazine and smell the cooking going on.  She used to comment on the olfactory progress of my labors and then ask for samples  of whatever I was making.


Some of the food I make are dishes that I ate growing up. Others have evolved over time  and take into account living where I do, and the food likes and dislikes of the people I live with.

I took this photograph this morning on my way to services. I have always been fond of the vaguely Venetian brick apartment building  with the patterned brickwork. A new glass tower has been guilt right next to the older building.


I am going to claim that like this image, my cooking is a mix of the old and the new,





So what did I make for tonight’s dinner???



with a coffee and spice rub.SAM_4664

I also made string beans.


Years ago I noticed that Macy’s cookware ads always showed raw rood in their pots and pans.



I do admit that raw is beautiful. But if you want string beans to be addictive for the eater, you need to cook them. I put olive oil, salt, pepper, lavender and cider vinegar on the beans,SAM_4666

and then put them in the oven to cook. I like roasted beans to be crispy. This was about 40 minutes in.SAM_4667

I turned the beans with a fork and let the beans continue to cook.


After a few more turnings with a pair of forks, and lots more time in the oven, the beans are no longer a beautiful bright green.


They are now army green but crispy. The flavor gets intense and earthy. Four pounds of string beans will be completely gone by the end of the meal…I think there will be six of us at the table.


While I don’t make kasha very often…I do think about my father every time I make challah. I don’t use his challah recipe, but like my father I experimented my way to something that I think is really good. Like my father, I get into the whole physical part of making challah. I love how my body feels as I knead a big batch of dough.


Unlike my father, I actually braid my challot. My father’s challot were made up of five 1/4 lb. lumps of dough lined up in a row in a bread pan.


Braiding baffled my father. Also my father liked knowing that each of his challot weighed exactly the same.

My challot are less uniform in size and shape, and even in flavor from week to week. I find variation to be a source of pleasure rather than being a source of anxiety.

So there it is… a mix of old and new of deep memory and newer ones mixed together in one meal, in one mouthful.


Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Three grouses and three dresses

Grouse #1

Today I baked The Great Wall of Pita. This meant that the oven was baking away at 425 for a big chunk of the day.


Grouse #2

Our dryer was on the fritz  for over a week and finally got fixed on Thursday. Today our washing machine stopped working mid load.

Grouse #3

My sister did the lions share ( more than a lion’s share-- a lion pride’s share) of clearing out my mother’s apartment. We were left with a large amount of art that needs to be sold. I told my sister that I would take care of it.


Sunday evening it all arrived at my house. I felt so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it that I was sort of immobilized by it yesterday and got basically nothing done all day. Today I hid some of it away , and will hide more away this evening, so at least the dining room table is clear.   (If any of you have any connections to art dealers who deal with Jewish and Israeli art, let me know)

OK. That’s enough grousing for the moment.  I do want to share three dresses that I have made over the last couple of weeks.

Dress #1

I think I had begun this dress two summers ago. I decided to make a one seamed dress out of Ikea fabric. I had gotten what had felt like hopelessly stuck over installing the giant plastic zipper in the back seam so let the dress lie fallow.


At the moment my problems with the dress had seemed insurmountable. Looking at the dress two years later I was able to address them well enough to complete the dress.


I know the dress is wrinkled. ( There is a forum out there for criticizing sewing blogs and they often gripe when people show wrinkled garments and at as if they are fine. This dress is wrinkled, I know.) The fit on this dress is a bit wonky on me. The hips are cut a bit snug on my hips.


Below is essentially my cutting diagram for the dress.

dress diagram 001

Aside from the shoulder seam, the only seam is the center back seam. I cut fish eye darts at the sides to create some waist shaping. The dress reminds me of childhood summers.

Dress #2


This dress was stupidly easy to make. This is the basic shape.

dress diagram 001

The best thing about it is the fabric.


It’s a cool cotton/nylon woven. The dress shape reminds me of something you might see in a “Simple to Sew” article from the 1970’s. It’s dreadful without the belt, so it won’t be worn without one, ever.

Dress #3


This dress is also all about the fabric.  The green lace was a super bargain purchase from Fabric Mart during one of their sales on lace.


I had made the basic dress and had dithered on the lining fabric. I was thinking that I wanted to line the dress in a dark color. I wimped out and went for the expected.

It’s lined with a white puckered knit that I fell stupidly in love with at Paron.SAM_4612


I had initially made the lining a bit too short so I added an extension today.  I know the seam is less than lovely, but I don’t think it will be visible through the heavy lace.SAM_4614

The diagram for this dress looks like this.

dress diagram 001

It’s a tank style dress with big triangular godets added to the waist for movement and shape. the lining is fitted throughout and does not have the godets. The lining is attached only at the neckline and the armholes.


When I wore this dress to synagogue a couple of weeks ago a couple of people came up to me to tell me that there was no way I could have made this dress.


Hopefully I will soon get all of the art sold.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Weighing Choices

the last time I posted about Charlie’s tallit my big decision was which fabric to use for the atara. I ended up choosing the wool broadcloth.

My next step was painting the letters onto the wool. I began with by painting the lettering with a flat tipped brush with black and then I outlined the letters with gold paint.


I was planning to embroider around the letters. I wasn’t sure if I would machine embroider or work by hand.  Each have certain advantages. Machine embroidery is faster, but fiddlier. What I end up doing is essentially using the sewing machine as a paint brush.  While it is doable with a whole verse full of lettering one needs to be in the right mood to approach the task.


I was going through a mild case of food poisoning from a restaurant meal and frankly my ability to focus was not at it’s best. I decided to hand embroider around the letters. It would take longer but worked with how my brain was working.


Before I could start though, I needed to support the fabric. If you attempt to embroider on flimsy floppy fabric you will want to tear your hair out and do lots of cursing. There are lots of ways to beef up fabric to make embroidery easier.


If I were doing this 100 years ago I might have pasted some paper to the back of the fabric I planned to embroider. The 2015 method of doing the same thing is to iron on a fusible interfacing.  Fusibles sometimes unpeel from their backing with age. This tallit will be getting lots of wear, and will be folded and unfolded daily. I decided to go with a longer lasting choice.


Instead I just basted another layer of wool behind the painted strip of wool. Basting keeps the layers of wool from shifting as I do the embroidery. This is a step that I used to regularly skip.

charlie miller (5)

Now I baste when it will make my life easier.


I had two different gold threads to choose from, and I had thought that I would outline the letters in an embroidery stitch known as--- wait for it------- outline stitch. I tested out both threads.

charlie miller (6)

I voted for the darker thread. I also realized that I didn’t love the look of the outline stitch and decided to outline all of the letters with a chain stitch.

charlie miller (8)

I have been listening to podcasts and have been working away. The food poisoning is now gone and the letters are mostly outlined.

This evening I went to a Shiva house. I was rewarded on my way home with  what has been called Manhattan hedge where the setting sun lines up with the grid of the Manhattan streets. I took these photos while standing in the middle of the street. SAM_4578SAM_4579


I was not the only person standing in the middle of the crosswalk taking photographs. SAM_4580