Monday, December 5, 2016

A small outing

Both my husband and I thought we would work yesterday, but when my husband suggested that we play hooky from our responsibilities and go on a small outing. We decided to go to the New York Historical Society.

First we waited for the bus which gave us the time to pay attention to the familiar landscape. I have been fond of this 1920's Tudor revival brick apartment house since I moved to the neighborhood. I am a sucker for fancy brickwork.

My husband pointed out a detail of the building that neither of us had noticed before.
That great scalloped terracotta tile at the roof line is just amazing. The bus took a while to arrive so we had a long time to admire that tile.

I had lots of time to admire trees in Central Park.

On the way to the exhibit we had planned to see we were gobsmacked by an exhibit of Larry Silver Photographs. You can see a few of the images if you click on the link. The images capture the ordinary in New York City life in the late 1940's and 50's with great love. Every image is jammed with fabulous details in the background, stores that no longer exist, old logos for items we use every day.  I also loved the quality of the images themselves. The blacks and grays were just so velvety, so beautiful.

The images in the Larry Silver exhibit were so fresh  and so delightful that I didn't quite have the heart to see the exhibit were were actually at the museum to see. The First Jewish Americans. My husband goes through museum exhibits as curators expect visitors to, going through the exhibit in the order set out by the curator, reading every wall card.

Yesterday, the photographs had so filled my head that at first looking at oil paintings from the 18th century felt unbearable.
I flitted from vitrine to vitrine.
 Until eventually I took in the whole exhibit.
This ketubah is old, but not amazing. For me, there is something comforting about that.
Love the silver tzedaka box the Hebrew says " Charity will save from death".

This is the interior of the synagogue in Charleston that burned down in the 1830's. We attended a fabulous Friday night service in the "new" building built soon after the fire.
It was a small but satisfying afternoon of playing hooky from our responsibilities.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Food Friday - cooking while cranky edition

Our washing machine has developed a drip. The repairman was scheduled to come today--any time from noon until 5. It's Friday, of course I have nothing else to do!...I agreed to the timing. 

Yesterday I got a call from the repairman saying he planned to show up at 1:00. I can do that but I had plans to meet a friend for lunch, Shabbat dinner needed to get cooked . My son is usually a good sport about working around my schedule but he had a commitment. 

My friend was willing to have lunch at home with me but aside from the food I was cooking for Shabbat, the larders were pretty bare. I got up early, got the chicken going, Cleared out all the stuff around the washing machine and got a workout in. I showered and got a load of laundry in the washing machine before the repairman came. 

I then got a call from the repairman. He was coming an hour early. Great! but there was a load of wash going in the machine he was supposed to fix. I had adjusted my schedule to fit the 1:00 pm timing but could move things around to fit the earlier arrival time.

I decided to get dessert into the oven.

I got another call from the repairman. He was downstairs. Great! but he was downstairs from my husband's office in Chelsea. The repairman does not repair on the Upper West Side, that is someone else's job. My repair has to be rescheduled.  I moved all of the brooms and mops back to their hiding places around the washing machine.

The biscotti are on their first baking. My friend arrives.  We hang out and eat, not quite lunch, home baked pumpernickel bread, cheese and drink hard cider and biscotti ends.

My washing machine still drips on the floor. I saw my friend. We ate and hung out and most of dinner is cooked.
We are eating chicken with Zaatar.
Mario Batali's chocolate biscotti is the basis for my biscotti.  I had about 6 egg yolks left over from last week's meringues.  I added either 1 or two  whole eggs.
These are the dry ingredients. I think that chocolate is always vastly improved with spices so I added, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, black pepper and cayenne pepper.
You combine the wet and the dry ingredients. There are some batters that are beautiful. Mixing them is a pleasure. The biscotti dough is frankly kind of gross.  I always forget just how gross it is. But I made sure to add lots of cut up chocolate
and almonds


Every time I bake biscotti I am grateful from my years making mud pies in the back yard or up the block with my friends in their back yard.You mush the sandy mix together with your hands and force it to become a few lumpy snakes.


My friend and I ate our bread and cheese and drank our hard cider while I fretted that perhaps I had gone  too far off the book with the biscotti ( the dough was so dry I added some orange juice, was it to much? had I wrecked it?) and perhaps I had a disaster baking in the oven.

I sliced up the ugly lumpy loaves of chocolate and re-baked the slices, and amazingly

the biscotti were fine, actually, better than fine. 

I might be able to get a couple of minutes of sewing in before Shabbat.

And for your viewing pleasure the stress dress I made the other day when my sewing was going badly. Made out of  two black and white scuba knits.

Shabbat Shalom!!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Getting it all done

I guess if I wanted to create an umbrella topic for this blog post it would be about the process of working.
When i last showed you the Torah mantle, it looked like this.
Clearly, a something in progress. This is the stage when I know exactly where I am going and feel pretty good about myself. I understand that if my client were to see this photo she might have some doubts about how the project was going. I get that it does at this point look like something of a mess.

But letter by letter, I stitch down the bits that make up the appliques letters. i then carefully cut away all of the extra fabric with my trusty cuticle scissors.

Some of the fabrics are easier to cut than others.  This orange hand stitched  Indian cotton is a dream to trim. The needle-pointed kippah is something of a bear to trim.  The needle-point is dense and has been stitched to a black backing. It's a whole lot of careful snipping with a tool that does not especially want to carefully snip around curved lettering.

The hardest fabric of all is the multicolored fabric. It started life as Indian pill box kippot that is constructed out of bits and bobs of textile effluvia, cotton lace, bunches of couched threads, hand embroidery and shisha mirrors. I have to denude these pieces of the mirrors before I begin stitching. If I don't remove the mirrors I risk either breaking a sewing machine needle or blindness from the flying pieces of broken glass. The Indian pill-box hats are a whole range of thickness all within an inch or so. Sewing machines don't take kindly to sewing on such fabric. No, I have not cursed yet, not even in my head.

The cuticle scissors are also hard on my hands. After too much time trimming with the cuticle scissors I get giant blisters on my fingers. So I try to vary the tasks to keep my sanity, my vision and my hands all intact.

Once I am done with this step them i thread all of the losse threads and pull them all to the back of the piece.
Eventually, the Torah mantle looks less like a kindergarten art project gone wrong,

and closer to what I had envisioned before I began sewing.

Staying focused on a project filled with  so many small and pesky tasks can be difficult. Earlier today I made myself a fast dress to re-spark my energy.

I re- arranged my Thanksgiving floral arrangement.
I threw away all of the dead and dying flowers. I suppose that my bag of earth from the Holy land should remind the flowers that they ought to stay perky for a little while longer.


I also began work on an atara for a new tallit commission.




Eventually, everything gets done.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Getting down to the wire

My cooking partner and I set our alarms for 7:00am and started out cooking adventure.

The result is this bit of turkey porn
 that I am posting for my meat eating friends married to vegetarians, you know who you are. Happy Thanksgiving to you.


The briskit is cooling and waiting to be sliced.  The mashed spiced sweet potatoes and the Brussel sprouts are in the  oven's second round of cooking , now nearly done.

I sent out my son to buy the can of ready made jellied cranberry sauce, and made the real stuff in the nuker. After this photo was taken this went into the nuker covered and cooked for 8 minutes.
My mother was a big believer in a nice seasonal centerpiece.

I went out this morning and bought the flowers and played, a bit of self indulgence  on this busy day.


I am looking forward to sharing this meal with our guests.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Getting ready for Thanksgiving

One thing I learned from my parents was not to leave all of the holiday cooking to the last moment.

Yesterday I made of one my favorite Thanskgiving side dishes, cranberry relish. I loved the jarred kind made by Ocean Spray when I was a little kid. With a food processor it's a complete no brainer.

This is such a no brainer of a recipe that I will give it to you nearly all in pictures.

You can vary the amounts based on your personal preferences. You can also fancy this up by adding a handful of walnuts or pecans or some spices. I went completely basic here and on the not so sweet side. usually I love the dark flavor of brown sugar, but not here. Cranberry relish does better with the clean flavor of white sugar.
A day in the fridge always vastly improves the result.


I am hosting Thanksgiving this year, I am also feeding a crowd on Friday night. In order to make my life easier I made a giant rectangular pumpkin pie. I am enough of my mother's daughter to know that serving guests a half eaten pie is just not OK.


I winged the crust which is vaguely cookie-like made with flour, coconut oil, oat meal, brown sugar, two eggs, a pinch of salt, baking powder cinnamon, ginger allspice and nutmeg and pecans.

I pressed the dough into my big rectangular pan and baked it while I mixed up the pumpkin filling.

Since this is being made for a meat meal, there is no dairy in this pie.  In the past I have used  soy or almond milk to make the custard. This year I used a tablespoon of coconut oil and a couple of table spoons of flour and a bit of water  to bind the custard along with the eggs. I used one of those giant Costco cans of pumpkin puree, added lots of spices, (cinnamon, allspice ginger and nutmeg). I added brown sugar, the dark taste is perfect in this pie.

If I were my sister, or my friend S, I would have made a careful  geometric arrangement of the pecans. My guests will have to be satisfied with strewn pecans.

I baked until the surface of the pie was leathery, even in the center of the pan.

So this year, pie are rectangular.


My youngest came home from college last night.

I thought it would be nice to welcome him home with home made green pasta ravioli.
About half way through the process of rolling out the dough and cutting out the rounds 


 for the ravioli and filling them
I decided that perhaps I was a little bit nuts.

They were delicious. My son felt truly welcomed home, but it was a bit nuts on my part.

Tomorrow my cooking partner and I tackle the rest of the meal.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A great loss

I have been happily married since 1986 but there are a few men in the world that I admire so much that I think of them as being my boyfriends. I haven't met any of these gentlemen but in my mind, they are my boyfriends.


Two of  my boyfriends are writers, David Owen and James Fallows. Anything they write, even an essay on the telephone book is worth putting everything else down and sitting down and consuming that bit of writing immediately.

My other boyfriend, Rabbi Ben Zion Shenker died yesterday at the age of 92.


 I grew up on recordings of Ben Zion Shenker like this one
You can hear it here.

When I began making Jewish ritual objects in fabric   I found that designing and sewing while listening to Ben Zion Shenker sing helped me think more deeply about the texts I was using in my work.

This recording would often be playing when deadlines neared and I had to stay focused.  I would often find myself singing along at full voice with Rabbi Shenker. His voice invited you to join him to sing the text with full voice and with full kavanah.

Every year before the High Holidays I listen and sing along to this 1963 recording of him leading Selichot services .

Most Cantors of fame sing very much like opera singers in a giant voice that shakes the rafters. The point of that sort of singing is to show off the star cantor rather than to pull in the listeners to sing with a full heart and throat.

Rabbi Shenker could probably sing the roof off a synagogue if he chose to. Instead he holds his voice back leaving room for the listeners to join in. It reminds me of the Kabbalistic teaching about how the Infinite God who fills the universe pulled himself back, made himself a bit smaller to allow the world to be created. Ben Zion Shenker restrains his voice and pulls us all in to sing to experience the music not just as listeners but to be truly part of the musical experience.

I listened to excerpts of this wonderful interview between Hankus Netsky and Rabbi Shenker yesterday.  Netsky mentioned to Rabbi Shenker that while the melodies he was singing were old European ones, the quality of his singing voice was American. Ben Zion Shenker agreed. he spoke about how what he wanted to capture was how the great cantors sang synagogue with great bombast they sang Yiddish folk songs with a sweeter more relaxed voice. He used that  sweeter folk music voice  in all of his work.

One of the reasons that Ben Zion Shenker's voice resonates so deeply for me is that it  replicates the moments of communal singing that are part of religious Jewish life.  I listen to the recordings and am transported to singing Z'mirot with my family Friday night or during the waning light of Shabbat with friends.

I am listening to Ben Zion Shenker as I type this.  He preserved the music  of Chassidim long dead. He also throughout his life continued to create new music that shapes our experience of Jewish prayer.
You can read this interview for a more conventional obituary and listen to more recordings.
יהי זכרו ברוך

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Blog to Read

I am an avid collector and reader of vintage sewing books.  One of the reasons for my minor obsession  is that some of these older sewing books also contain the great secrets of garment drafting without a pattern.

The other day I found  this blog, The Midvale Cottage post which focuses on vintage clothing.  I was delighted to find a large collection of posts focusing on the work of Ruth Wyeth Spears.

It's easy enough to find copies of her 1943 book on Ebay and on Amazon.


I was not aware of her brilliant work from the 1920's.

Ruth Wyeth Spears breaks down what looks at first glance to be a complicated dress into dead simple steps. With a little thought you can use these methods in a dress that works for today's silhouettes.

I just love this dress.

Ruth Wyeth Spears seems to have been brilliant at breaking down visual problems to their simplest components. She had a Home Dec column that appeared in newspapers in the 1930's and 1940's. You can see one example here. If you search Google news for Ruth Wyeth Spears many similar articles from news papers around the country will show up.

I now have a new hero in my constellation of sewing stars from the past. Ruth Wyeth spears, now joins Mary Brooks Picken, Frances Blondin and Ann Sayre Wiseman in my catalog of sewing heroes.