Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Radish Roses and the Meaning of Life

My mother learned how to cook  from the women in the Jewish community in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

While there were many excellent cooks in that generation of  immigrant and first generation women, not just in Halifax  but throughout North America, those Haligonian women elevated plattering and plating food to a high art form. The combination of great Lithuanian Jewish cookery and English influenced  (fine china, silver and napery) serving modes made for delicious and elegant meals.
My mother learned that every meat dish needed to be garnished by pillows of parsley sprigs and then punctuated by a bouquet of radish roses.
My dear friend, S, born and raised in Halifax has invited us for Thanksgiving.

She has entrusted me with the task of radish roses.
It’s a bit of a joke between us. We both get how entirely silly this nearly lost skill is. And yet we  both love this wink to the lost world of elegant entertaining.
By tomorrow, my radishes will be nicely bloomed and ready to garnish the turkey.
I was also asked to make some small desserts.
Whities, as they are known in my house. Made large as per my hostess's request. (My mother likes them made small.)

And Chocolate Biscotti.
I mostly followed this recipe. I added an array of spices, because chocolate always tastes better with some cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and allspice. I substituted almonds for the hazelnuts and switched out almond extract for hazelnut extract because that’s what I had.
The one think I kept thinking as I formed the biscotti logs is that it is a good thing that I spent so much of my childhood making mud pies.  The dough feels exactly like dirt, and uses many of the same  skills I developed as a pre-schooler in my many hours digging in my back yard and the other back yards on my street.

My mother used to remind me that in forming the logs it helps to dampen your hands to help with the shaping. That is good advice. Mario Batali suggests slicing the biscotti on the diagonal. This too is good advice.
One of the things that I like about this biscotti recipe is how well it pairs with whitie making. The biscotti call for 3 whole eggs and three additional egg yolks. The additional yolks provide the fat for the biscotti ( Hurray it’s parev!)
The 3 extra egg whites go into  the whities.  The biscotti are toasted at 300 degrees after their initial baking.  I started beating up the egg-whites for the whities as the biscotti were cooling.  The whities went into the oven with the toasting biscotti slices. If you need to make two desserts for a meal , these biscotti and the whities are a perfect pairing.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thinking things through

Yesterday I spent most of the day in Princeton. I’m being considered for a parochet/ark curtain commission. My buddy eve was kind enough to let me stay at her beautiful home and chauffeur me around town so I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn.


After meeting with the parochet committee members I had lots to think about on the train ride home.


I may be using materials that I don’t normally use to make the piece truly durable and work for the space.

After I got home I had an initial meeting with Kyra to design her tallit for her bat-mitzvah. I always  love a kid with a definite opinion. Kyra knows what she wants.  She wants her tallit dead simple  out of heavy white silk charmeuse but with pink corners. No! She does not want an atara.


If she were any less clear about what she wanted I would encourage her to have a bit more going on on her tallit.


Today I began painting the silk for the pinot. this was thee first pass.


It was just too low contrast. Kyra was willing to have pink and silver,  so this is the second pass of color.



I’m still problem solving in my head about the Princeton parochet, I have been researching materials and pricing on the internet. I have been playing with sketches.


My mother used to say that she did her best problem solving while vacuuming. ( Our house was always VERY clean.) I tend to do good problem solving while making dresses.

I made two today.


This is one of them.



This blue on replaces another favorite dress that has just worn out.

I may post the other dress, a black and white sweater knit t-shirt dress tomorrow.

This dress making actually has helped me unlock some of the issues I’m working out with that parochet.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Food Friday–after a hard week

The news from Israel was especially distressing this week. I knew one of the men who was murdered. He went to the same Jewish day school that I attended. His younger brother was in my class. The images of the bloodied tallitot and t’fillin were interspersed in my head with images of him playing basketball with his classmates.

Shabbat comes very week. The regularity of those rituals is often healing.  My synagogue has a monthly Friday where they match guests to hosts.  Tonight we are hosting a dear friend who we have known for ages. We are also hosting a family we have never met before. They have two teenaged boys which I assume means two giant appetites.


I decided to make curried chicken. I pretended that I was an Indian grandma and mixed up my own curry powder.  I decided that my curry powder would consist of lots of turmeric plus flavors that I love. So this curry includes, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom,coriander, cumin, black pepper , cayenne and smoked paprika.


I massaged the curry into the chicken and added some cut up dates to the pans.



The chickens were big healthy chickens so I needed two pans.SAM_3423

After the chicken cooled I cut it up and then added more cut up dates to the pan.  The chicken is going to hang out for a long time in the oven  between candle lighting, when Shabbat starts  and dinner. I am expecting the dates to melt into the chicken.

I started the soup last night. it’s a bone soup with beef and chicken bones and a whole lot of vegetables.


I will add some multi-culti –sort –of- matza- balls made out of arepa flour to the soup. ( Make matza balls but substitute arepa flour for the matza meal. The corn flour is a nice change from the usual and has a good texture, unlike my past bad experiment substituting white flour for the matza meal)

One of my mother’s baking standards was mandlebroit, which is the Eastern European equivalent of biscotti. I have never made mandlebroit before, but I used to watch  my mother bake it –often. I guess that is the baking equivalent of  “ I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV.”


I did something one ought not to do,  and I combined two recipes, one for chocolate biscotti from my box of cocoa and one for mandlebroit from the Sydney, Nova Scotia cookbook and made chocolate mandlebroit.  Considering that I hadn’t made either recipe before it was a possibly really stupid thing to do.

Either I’m lucky or I have enough baking experience under my belt or mandlebroit are forgiving.


But they came out fine, actually better than fine. They are crunchy and not too sweet. a nice thing for grown up tastes.


The main dessert will be brought by our dear friend. My mother never served one cake for dessert. A cake had to be served with a plate of cookies to keep it company.  You can tell that I am not really an elegant hostess because there is only one variety of cookie.

My guests are welcome to file their complaints.


Shabbat Shalom! With hopes and wishes for

שלום ושלוה

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mourning and the power of healing

These photos were taken during my youngest son’s week day bar mitzvah.


jed's bar mitzvah 4

My father had died just six month before. I was going to morning minyan every day to say kaddish.  For my first moth of saying kaddish I overlapped with my husband who was saying kaddish for his mother.

A few weeks after my father died a middle aged couple came to shul with their adult, pregnant daughter. The couple’s son had been killed in Iraq. just a few months before. When the couple came to visit their daughter all three came to shul together to say kaddish. As the months and weeks went on, each time the trio came to shul, the daughter was more and more pregnant.

Most of us at Morning minyan is mourning a loss. Some of those losses are for elderly parents, and while sad are understandable. Some of those who came every morning were grieving truly tragic losses. My father died sooner than he ought to but he had lived a fairly long life.


The day of my son’s bar mitzvah. I was sad that my father wasn’t there to see his youngest grandchild reach that milestone.

My son was called for the first aliya. jed's bar mitzvah 3

My husband and I got called for the second aliya and I got weepy, missing my father.Jed's bar mitzvah

The third aliya was the family of the soldier killed in Iraq. The baby had been born the week before. The brit milah was the previous day. The day of my son’s bar mitzvah was the soldier’s first Yarhzeit. The baby had been named for his uncle killed in combat.

Most of us in the room wept during that family’s aliya, hearing the Misheberach made for the health of the mother and the health of the new baby  and the El Maleh Rachamim recited in memory of the dead soldier.


This past Shabbat the sister of that dead soldier was at services attending the bat mitzvah of a child of friends. I introduced myself. Her beautiful little boy is five years old, and delicious the way a five year old  can be.  We shared our memories of that day  that was so bittersweet for both of us.

jed's bar mitzvah2

She said that her grief  over the death of her brother felt like shards of glass in her heart. She said that while those shards of pain are still there, some of the edges have worn smooth.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Food Friday- fall edition

My parents used to create Shabbat dinner in bulk food units.One week they would make a vat of barley with mushrooms. Another week they would make a brace of chickens. Yet another week would be challah week and they would make a dozen or so challot. One of those food units was our favorite, kasha. Each Friday they would pull out that week’s meal from the freezer.

I associate kasha so completely with my father that I rarely make it.


For a while my father alternated making kasha with varnishkes, or bowtie noodles and noodle free. He noticed that the kasha made with varnishkes always got finished. After that, out kasha always came with bow ties.


Kasha making is not difficult. you can make it like my father used to and just follow the recipe on the Wolff’s kasha box.


Like all peasanty recipes it is flexible. This time I forgot to add sautéed onions and mushrooms. We will live without them. Before I serve the kasha I will pour out some of the chicken juices from the warming pan into the kasha. It will make it extra yummy.


We are also eating chicken with sumac and I believe a kale salad. We have some spiced  cocoa meringues that I had made for my sister last Friday that will serve as dessert.


There is still a bit of autumn color here on the Upper West Side.



This little maple tree is in my building’s courtyard. it replaces a tree that was blown over during Hurricane Sandy. Our building bought a teeny sapling to replaced the felled tree. It’s pretty astonishing how quickly a maple can grow.SAM_3398


And back to the 1920’s dress ( I changed the topic in case you didn’t notice.) I removed the gathers and re-sewed the dress without them.


Those side extensions, with the help of our friend gravity settle into graceful drapes.



Those drapes work better fro my shape than the gathers.SAM_3401

I still feel a little like June Cleaver in this dress. I have to remind myself that I’m being ironic, but given that it was a challah baking day and I have spent lots of time wearing an apron…it’s hard not to feel like  I really am a post WWII housewife.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The first cut

Most tallitot begin with taking the first cut into  a piece of silk. This one is no exception. I had to do the usual cut and pull a thread to help me cut a straight line along 72 inches of slippery silk.


Either I have gotten better at this, or this heavy weight silk just makes the job easier but after 72 inches I wasn’t a bit cranky. My eyes didn’t even ache.


Today I began the first layer of dyeing.



The color will be far less spectacular once the silk dries.SAM_3384

The speckles are caused by large grains of salt. You can buy a teeny jar from the silk dye company marked “silk salt” but any large grained salt will do just fine. The larger the grain the more pronounced the design.SAM_3385


I have used everything from regular table salt to large sugar crystals or even uncooked rice. They all work.SAM_3386


I find that layers of thin dyes built up create a visually exciting surface with real depth of color. I hate colors right out of the jar. I hate looking at  work at a craft show and knowing exactly which  jar of color was used to dye a piece. I like a little bit of mystery when it comes to color.

This client comes by tonight. We are designing her invitation. 

I also did a quick version of one of the 1920’s dresses from  the ad I found in the sewing book.

vintage patterns 001

Here is my dress cut out.


If you unfold the dress at the shoulder line it will be the same shape as the dresses in the diagrams.

I added the wide sides at the waist rather than at the hips. I probably added the width to high for my body.

I have made similar dresses and did not gather the wide sides.


I may undo the gathers. This dress reminds me of something my mother wore when I was a kid, and not in a good way.


The marbles print makes it hard to see the gathers but they do add too much extra to my hips.


I am wearing the belt because I REALLY hated the dress without it.


So my verdict on the 1920’s  dress diagrams is  that it’s certainly quick. The gathers are a no for my body. I will get rid of the gathers and see if I like the dress better with a draped side .

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Bonus

A few years ago I bought several volumes of this excellent twelve volume sewing course be Isabel De Nyse Conover. I have been on the lookout for the missing volumes  since I made my purchase.

vintage patterns 001

I had found individual volumes priced at what I had paid for the 8 volumes that I owned.  I really wanted the other volumes. Luckily the entire set ( missing the first 5o pages of the first volume) appeared on eBay. I was a successful bidder.

I am delighted to own the missing volumes.


While I was reading Lesson 5 a piece of paper fluttered out from between the pages.

It was a 1920’s advertisement for patterns.

vintage patterns 001

vintage patterns 002

I am delighted that the ad includes the cutting diagrams for the patterns.

vintage patterns 001

One feature of flapper dresses was pleats or gathers over the hips.The skirt was cut wide over the hips, a slit  was cut and the additional width was gathered or pleated into the body of the dress.

This book is based on the incredibly simple concept.


I am thinking that it might be a good thing to attempt to make such a dress but with the pleats beginning at the waist instead of at the hips.

vintage patterns 002

I love the design of this incredibly simple apron.

The paper is in beautiful shape.  At first I had thought that it was new, from a recent reader. Instead I found something that probably belonged to the original owner of the sewing course.