Beyond this Holiday

Gulls catching the cold wind currents, Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield.©️Merril D. Smith 2020

Monday Morning Musings:

On Christmas Eve, sugar-rushed
to cookie-coma amidst twinkling lights,
we settled, sofa-snug, with snoring cat,
as the wind locomotive kept rushing past
tumbling the tracks, but traveling on,
and I finally slept–

waking to coffee scent and gifts,
traces of dreams, trailing, falling,
like the rain, silver-streaking the windows,
before evaporating,

and now beyond grey curtains, the pale Christmas sun,
waits to make her entrance,

rising with hopes–
not if, but when—
we see each other again,
as the days grow longer
and the light grows and flows
through clouds to dance on branches

and brush the river with shimmering glow—
then, I hold this beauty close—the unexpected gifts–
that warm my soul within,

and I watch as a spirit flies from tree
on white heron feathers
winging toward dawn . . .

My shadow is a tree spirit. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2020

and a new day begins.

Late December Sunrise at Red Bank Battlefield

I know this is a very sad time for many people, and I know I am fortunate for what I have. Although I missed being with family and friends, I did have a good holiday. On Christmas Eve afternoon, we saw our younger daughter and her husband and puppy in the afternoon (when it started to rain, son-in-law came up with a creative idea), then we had fondue for dinner and watched Love Actually. In case anyone is wondering, you can use leftover flat champagne in fondue. I used the leftover bread to make baked French toast that we had for brunch on our post-storm Christmas Day, as we streamed a Blind Boys of Alabama Christmas special. It was very relaxed—the upside of no visitors and not having to be anywhere is that we had no schedule and didn’t have to worry about the house being clean.🤣 We Zoomed with family later in the afternoon and evening.

A Wish

Monday Morning Musings:

“None of us can change the things we’ve done. But we can all change what we do next.”

— Col. Frederick Lucius Johnson (Chad L. Coleman), The Expanse, Season 1: Critical Mass

 

A celebration not for leaders alive or dead

(and certainly not for one who hasn’t led)

a birthday lunch on Presidents’ Day

where it was light inside, though outside grey,

a changeable week of sun, rain, clouds, and snow

February going fast and slow

confusing my mind and making me too tired

to do what’s required—but in bursts, I am inspired

to work, to create, to navigate

through life—though nothing is straight

as we contemplate past, future, and our fate,

we watch sci-fi and hope there’s more

 

that people heed, not ignore, the ocean,

with its glorious waves and motion.

Here and now, the constant wars, the hate–

I wonder if it’s all too late–

 

but still, we live and love–and cook,

even as we ponder roads we took,

and where they’ve led us, where we are

still above, there, the moon, the morning star

 

So, I bake–homage to heritage, his and mine,

birthday treats–food and life intertwine

memories from childhood, I think his cookies bring,

but mine have chocolate, cinnamon, scents that sing

to me in sensory bliss of crunch, scent, taste

that also trace a path from past—and thicker waist—

but celebrations make us feel good, or so they should,

a time to laugh, love, and remember the good.

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Here’s our family in the car again

remembering journeys of long ago, the rain

tapping on windows and misting about us

as we bring up song snippets to discuss–

 

“Remember that one?” someone queries.

and we’re off discussing songs, or TV series

the things they watched when they were young,

the things they said, the words that were sung

 

by all of us in house and car

as we traveled to places both near and far

the games we played, before tablets or phone–

a different world, and a different tone.

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Over the Cool Bridge (in the rain), to grandmother’s house we go.

 

And now we gather on a February day

when we can be together, if only a short stay

to catch up with one another, share some time

over pizza and cake—this time, no wine.

 

We watch a movie about forgery

a desperate woman, unhappy, too, we see

the movie is also about creation

and discrimination

 

the AIDS crisis and writers’ lives–

as it takes money and time to visit archives—

something I’ve done first hand,

and the rush of finding something grand.

 

But it’s fine, and we’re okay,

here and now on this windy day,

as moon sets and sun rises,

I’m ready for the day’s surprises

 

wondering what fortune brings–

and hoping that without strings

good things come to us all

without deceit, without a wall

 

or barriers to conquer or climb–

a gift of peace within our time.

And so, a birthday wish for those I love,

the song of the moon, the shimmer of stars above.

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Our older daughter is visiting us, so we got together for an extended family February birthday celebration–something we haven’t done in a few years. My husband and I are caught up in the sci-fi series The Expanse. It’s on Amazon Prime now. We had seen the first two seasons before, but it’s complicated, so we’re re-watching them. It’s an excellent series. Catching up on movies–we watched Can you Ever Forgive Me? last night. Wonderful performance by Melissa McCarthy and the rest of the cast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth in a Cookie

These cookies, your favorite,

are my favorite, too,

my daughters named them,

“Mommy Cookies,”

I baked these cookies for them

and for me

I baked them for events, for friends,

for moments of heartbreak

and moments of joy–

for memories.

I baked them for you.

 

I think of all the recipes handed down,

mother to daughter over generations,

measured by sight and feel

cooked or baked to taste,

I think of these cookies,

back in Eastern Europe–

the original version–

hard and dry,

kept in a tin,

taken out to have with tea,

but evolving over time

with new additions,

(like families)

becoming sweeter

and more nuanced,

cookies that are made

(now)

with ingredients of old world and new

bridging history in a bite,

tasting of past, present, and future–

what I see in your eyes,

the girl who was

the daughter, the mother, the grandmother,

what I see in my daughters’ eyes,

years gone, years yet to unfold,

bitter, spicy, crunchy, and sweet,

the definition of a cookie,

the measure of a life

 

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This was a poem I wrote for my mom’s 95th birthday.  I made her some of these mandelbrot cookies as a gift.

 

Light in My Heart

Monday Morning Musings

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“I like on the table,

when we’re speaking,

the light of a bottle

of intelligent wine.

Drink it,

and remember in every

drop of gold,

in every topaz glass,

in every purple ladle,

that autumn labored

to fill the vessel with wine.”

Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Wine”

 

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Desmond Tutu, New York Times, March 4, 2010

 

“Like Dian’s kiss, unasked, unsought,

Love gives itself, but is not bought:

Her voice, nor sound betrays

Its deep, impassioned gaze.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Endymion”

 

My younger daughter told me it would be a birthday celebration

with her sister and her sister’s wife

(since they couldn’t be here for the one with my sisters)

a girls’ night, they’d devise

with the location to be kept unknown from me

a surprise.

 

We traveled down dark country roads,

my husband the designated driver,

I wondered where we were going,

But when we pulled into the Monroeville Winery driveway

I began to suspect this was going to be something more

than an evening with my daughters.

“Surprise!” my friends shouted,

as we walked through the door.

The tasting room was decorated for the holidays,

and for my birthday celebration, too,

the tables glowed with lights,

made by my daughter

from bottles the winery saved for her.

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I like light on the table,

the light of a bottle

(Intelligent wine?)

Hugs and kisses all around

(I felt like I walked above the ground.)

Greeting from friends–

some I hadn’t seen in quite a while—

and that made me smile,

I felt love

unasked for, unsought,

but freely given

(or so I hope).

There were delicious treats: cheeses and dips,

a huge chocolate, chocolate cake

with chocolate frosting, too,

(Have I mentioned I like chocolate?)

and wine, of course,

poured in the barrel room

where one could schmooze a bit

with the gracious vintner

about the various selections.

I was given my birthday crown,

and daughters performed a song parody–

All of the things I didn’t know they had done

when they were children

and that they were now sorry for

 

We did things we regret, like shaving the heads of our Barbies

Cause we need just one more shot at forgiveness

I know you know that we hid candy maybe once or twice

By once or twice I mean maybe until all the ants arrived

 

So now I know,

light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

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My 60th Birthday part at Monroeville Winery

 

We went to my niece’s house,

our traditional Christmas Eve brunch

my niece, a bit of a stressed-out mess

because we were meeting some of her

her father’s family for the first time

(it’s a long story)

“Classic family” and new family mingled

we ate

so much food

(of course)

and there were light sabers

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and cookies

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I baked a few cookies. This is a sample.

 

a Christmas challah

 

 

presents

 

and love

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and we lit her menorah before we left

and then she put it in her sink

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because she was afraid her house would burn down–

Crazy family,

I love them so much.

There was light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

 

We came home to light our own Hanukkah candles

and to decorate our Christmas tree

Merry, Happy Chrismukkah!

 

 

On Christmas morning,

dark, quiet, and still,

I saw the moon

radiant,

a crescent miracle of light

Jupiter and Saturn nearby,

shining brightly

and I felt hope in the darkness

and light in my heart.

 

We ate our traditional Christmas fondue

with Buffalo wings for the meat eaters.

We opened presents,

lit the Hanukkah candles,

and drank some wine,

drops of gold and sips of purple,

we told fart jokes and laughed

laughter and love

light in the darkness

and light in my heart

 

 

We will go to see my husband’s family

exchange hugs and presents,

and come home to fry latkes,

the house will smell like oil for days

lingering like memories,

but we will light the candles

and we will laugh

and there will be light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

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It Was a Fine Day for a Picnic

Monday Morning Musings

It was a fine day for a picnic—

The little bit of rain at the end doesn’t count.

An outing in the country for my mom

Who lives surrounded by the concrete

Of the city.

“I’ve never been to winery before,”

she said.

Well, she’s almost 93,

So it’s about time,

Don’t you think?

So I packed a picnic,

And since there were three of us,

I packed enough for 6,

Maybe 8,

Because what if there isn’t enough food?

A sandwich for my husband

And one for my mom,

And then–

Roasted red pepper hummus

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Cheese, Manchego and Gouda

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Because I couldn’t decide.

Cut up vegetables, olives,

And,

The wine!

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I think I chose well,

The Cabernet Franc

Was delicious.

Of course

I’m not an expert,

But nobody complained,

And the glasses got refilled–

More than once.

So I guess they liked it,

And it went well

With the food.

There was also

My Mandelbrot,

My “Mommy Cookies,”

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Because every meal needs chocolate,

Doesn’t it?

And so–

We sat and talked.

While the clouds rolled like waves

In an aerial sea,

The white breakers

Tinged with gray.

Monroeville Vineyard and Winery

Monroeville Vineyard and Winery

And the bees danced

To their secret melodies

As they dipped into

The clover at our feet.

Vultures,

First one,

Then two, three, and four

Turned in graceful circles

Above us.

No, not quite above.

There was something farther afield,

Probably much tastier.

Well, tastier to a vulture

I suppose.

But then, I’ve never asked one,

Have you?

All was peaceful,

Just us, the food, and the wine–

And the soft buzzing of bees.

Friend Kelly stopped by,

But I forgot to take her picture.

You’ll have to trust me

That she was there with us.

She texted me later,

“Your mother is awesome.

Next time I’ll have to bring my mother-in-law.

They would really get along.”

I hope there is a next time.

But if not,

We had today.

Family, friends,

Food, and

Wine.

It was a fine day for a picnic.

A few hours of relaxing

In the open air.

An outing for my mother.

And the bit of rain didn’t matter

At all.

My mom and I--wine glasses in hand!

My mom and I–wine glasses in hand!

“Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you”

–Paul Simon, Simon and Garfunkel, “Bookends”

A Passover Legacy

Monday Morning Musings

Passover begins next weekend. I like to imagine people all over the world gathering together over tables filled with food and wine to share the story of how the ancient Jews escaped from slavery in Egypt. In the United States, “the peculiar institution” of slavery threatened our nation and nearly destroyed it during the Civil War. Its legacy still affects our laws and culture. In the twenty-first century, slavery and human trafficking still exist throughout the world. So the Passover story about escaping oppression is still relevant today.

My grandparents were immigrants to the United States. They all sought a better life here than they had in Tsarist Russia, just before WWI. I don’t know if they thought about this when they celebrated Passover. Both of my grandmothers died when I was only a toddler. I never thought to ask my grandfathers when they were alive.

I am not religious, but I love the traditions of Passover. I “keep Passover” to an extant—not eating bread or leavened products during the period and even foregoing my usual morning oatmeal—but there are “forbidden” foods in my house that my husband eats. For me, the keeping of Passover is an homage to those throughout history who have not been able to celebrate the holiday. For those who strictly observe Passover, forbidden foods must be removed from the house (or at least the kitchen) before Passover. Referred to as chametz, the forbidden items include grains and grain products made from wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt. Leavening products, such as yeast, are also prohibited. In essence, anything that might sprout is not allowed. (Matzah is generally made from wheat, but its preparation is closely supervised and must be done within 18 minutes.) Since even a trace of these grains are not supposed to touch other foods and mistakenly ingested, the kitchen, dishes, utensils, and pots and pans are supposed to be thoroughly cleaned and scoured.

Nineteenth-century cookbook author Esther Levy briefly explained the preparation for Passover in her 1871 cookbook, Jewish Cookery Book. Esther Jacobs Levy was an English woman who lived in Philadelphia at the time she published this book. It was the first Jewish cookbook published in the United States. In the introduction, she wrote:

            In preparing for the Passover, which generally commences in the middle of spring and lasts eight days, every particle of leaven must be out of the house by ten o’clock of the preceding morning. On the same day, 14th of Nisan, or on the previous eve, the house must be thoroughly cleaned from dirt, and everything must be in perfect order.

With what pleasurable emotions a Jewish woman must anticipate the time when she will see everything looking so brilliantly clean, and mostly new. Indeed, we should all be delighted, when we reflect that so much cleanliness is a preparation for becomingly celebrating our wonderful deliverance from bondage.

–Esther Levy, Jewish Cookery Book (Philadelphia: W.S. Turner, 1871): 8-9.

Levy goes on to describe the traditional Seder foods that are set before “the master of the house.” (This is the nineteenth-century, after all. Levy also assumes her readers have servants.) After Passover is over, she cautions that all crockery, utensils, and pans have to be scoured and put away to be used the next Passover.

Levy’s book does not contain too many specific Passover recipes. There is “Matzo Cleis Soup” (For Passover). The recipe describes how to make balls from matzo that is softened and mixed with fried onions, eggs, parsley, and dropped into soup. The soup is not specified. She also included a recipe for “Matzas Charlotte”, a type of matzah pudding type dish that is said to be for “supper.” It includes raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and custard made from a quart of milk and seven eggs. Sounds good to me!

Passover has been celebrated all over the world in all types of conditions: in war and peace, in cities and on farms, in prisons and in ghettoes. Recently, I came across this article on how US troops celebrating Passover during WWII. Take a look—it includes photos and menus.

I don’t remember much about Passover from my childhood. I recall some long and boring Seders with relatives droning on in Hebrew, which I could not understand, and probably most of the people there could not actually translate. There was no discussion, no jokes, and no singing. I did not understand the significance of the celebration. My mom’s chicken soup and knaidlach (matzah balls) were always spectacular. I think that’s why I never cared about the rest of the meal. I could simply eat the soup. The meal always ended with a dried fruit “compote,” bland sponge or angel food cakes, and canned macaroons. Oh yes, there was also the horrible Manischewitz wine. For the longest time, I thought all wine was like that, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone liked wine.

How things change! And not just the wine, which I’m sure will be delicious, although I don’t know yet what we will be drinking.

When I became a mom and we began to host Passover dinners, I wanted our daughters to understand what we were celebrating and why. When they were young, my daughters and their friends put on puppet shows during the Seder to explain the Passover story. As they got older, the children’s puppet shows were replaced with a Passover play with everyone sitting around the table and reading their lines. There’s a new play every year with sometimes crazy themes or settings and lots of bad puns.

My family loves our traditions–so I’ll be making brisket (now called “roast beet” from my young grandniece’s pronunciation several years ago) in the same way I’ve made it for years. I’ll cook chicken soup with knaidlach the way my mom always made them. (The secret to light, floating matzah balls is to separate the eggs and not to add fat to the mixture. I believe my mother learned this from her mother-in-law, my grandmother.) I drop the balls in boiling water and then add them to the soup–because in addition to chicken soup, I also have a pot of vegetarian broth. I’ve already made that and frozen it. My house may not be scoured and spotless, but I’m top of the food preparation.

Simmering Vegetable Broth

Simmering Vegetable Broth

What has changed over the years at our family Seders are the actual Seders, which have become more elaborate in a crazy, totally irreverent way. True believers would not approve, but we enjoy our crazy Passover play. I used to write the plays, but now our daughters write them. I have no idea what they’re planning for this year, but I do appreciate that they agreed to write it again. Shout out to you, girls! One daughter and her fiancé will be at dinner. I hope our other daughter and wife will join us for the play via SKYPE. Oh, the wonders of modern technology!

Another change over the years is our desserts. In the past I tried cakes made with matzah meal (sorry, they always taste like matzah to me) or potato starch, but now there are truly wonderful dessert recipes—cakes and cookies you would eat the rest of the year. So I’ve been testing some. You know, in the interest of our Passover guests. My husband has reluctantly agreed to taste them. “If I must,” he says, as he takes another cookie.

I could eat flourless chocolate cake anytime. OK. I have. Don’t judge me. What’s wrong with breakfast chocolate?

This is my go-to recipe. I bake it at 325 degrees.

I also tried this one. Instead of cayenne pepper, I used ginger (not that I mind cayenne pepper, but chocolate and ginger is amazing). I garnished it with a chocolate glaze made by melting dark chocolate chips and studded it with candied ginger. YUM!

I tried these cookies from Jew Wanna Eat. I added ½ a bag of mini-chocolate chips, which I highly recommend you do, as well. Chocolate and coffee. Do I have to explain?

Coffee Meringues with Chocolate Chips

Coffee Meringues with Chocolate Chips

On Saturday night, technically the second Seder, I’ll sit at my table with my family and friends. We’ll be a group of old and young, gay and straight, Jews and non-Jews. The food will be important, of course. We’ll eat matzah, the unleavened bread, symbolic of the hurried flight of the Jews from Egypt. We’ll eat the matzah balls, the recipe a legacy from my grandmother. We will be following ancient rituals of dipping greens in salt water and of saying “Dayenu” as we recall the plagues. We will drink wine–4 cups are supposed to be consumed during the Seder.  We will be connected to the ghosts of our ancestors, and I will remember those who are no longer at our Passover table. More importantly, we’ll combine old traditions with new twists and combine ancient rituals with new innovations. I hope my daughters will remember these dinners. I hope my young great niece and nephews will, too. In time, I hope they will create their own traditions. This is the true legacy of Passover–friends and family gathering to break bread (which we do quite literally at the Seder), to share stories, to remember the past, and to create new memories.

International Women’s Day–Make It Happen

“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”

— Hillary Clinton

“If you’re beautiful, you’re led to believe that you can’t also be smart. But you can be fun and fit and social and be really smart. And the smarter you are, the more capable you’ll be to handle whatever challenges come up in life.”

— Danica McKellar

Monday Morning Musings

Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day 2015. I had intended to have this post ready then, but other projects and the change to Daylight Savings Time through off my schedule. (Can I just say how much I hate time changes? Forward or back, it makes me miserable and takes me days to adjust.) It is now March 9, but I don’t think the world has changed overnight.

While driving home from visiting my mother-in-law on Saturday, my husband and I listened to a program on the Baltimore NPR station. One segment of the show featured three female surgeons at different stages of their careers. All three had contributed to an anthology, Being a Woman Surgeon. All of them discussed their lack of role models as they began their studies, and even after they became physicians.

The story made me reminisce about my own graduate school days. When I started my graduate studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, there were only one or two female history professors in the department. (A few years later, a female history professor at a large Midwestern university would tell a group of women at a dinner meeting that I attended that when her department was finally about one-third female, some of the male professors started complaining about all the women in the department.) There were no women in my department who covered my fields of study when I began grad school. After I began work on my dissertation, there was a female professor who I asked to be on my dissertation committee. She was a wonderful scholar who always attempted “to prime the pump” as we discussed my work.

It’s funny, but when I first began grad school, I didn’t really think about the lack of women professors in the department or the lack of role models. My father had received his Ph.D. in history at Temple only a few years before. The same professor chaired both of our dissertation committees. There were other women grad students who became my friends, and there was a cohort of slightly older women who had successfully defended their dissertations and had jobs in the field, although some were temporary. I had role models in the generation of female historians who had written important articles and books that influenced the course of my work. These women dared to write about women in history, recognizing the obvious fact that both men and women lived in the past, as well as the present. They also wrote on social issues such as divorce and birth control.

Looking back, I think what I lacked were female role models who were professional scholars and parents. I remember one well-know historian, a brilliant scholar and someone I admire, saying that she arranged her pregnancies so that she gave birth in the summer during break. She seemed to imply that women who didn’t do so were somehow lacking in foresight. But delivering a baby during a break between terms only covers birth and the short time after that. What happens after that?

I held a one-year position at a nearby college. My younger daughter was about seven months old then, and I was still breastfeeding her. Fortunately, she began drinking from a cup at six months, so my daycare provider could give her a bit of formula and food. I would nurse her, take the girls to the sitter, and pick them up a few hours later, the benefits of an academic schedule. The two other women in the department had children, but they were older. The one time I called out sick because one of the children was sick, I realized I should have said I was sick. Being a mother was okay, but having childcare issues was not. And breastfeeding is still an issue. Female breasts can be seen in movies, but not when feeding infants. Breastfeeding is still something that must be hidden.

One of the female surgeons in the radio interview acknowledged the same problems of childcare and breastfeeding—although her schedule was much more grueling than mine had been. She described secretly pumping breast milk in a closet, her motherhood something that could not be acknowledged.

Of course, childcare is a parental issue. Mothers and fathers should be able to have parental leave to be with their children. Obtaining quality childcare should not be such a difficult issue.

Later, after my one-year position was over, I taught some courses here and there—always late in the afternoon or at night or weekends, when my husband could take care of the girls. One time a friend arranged for me to teach a course. He didn’t tell me in advance, but simply announced it to me as a fait accompli. I told him that it was too difficult for me to find someone to watch my younger daughter or pick up the older one from school. I had tried it the previous semester, and it was awful. All of the work to prepare for a course, the half-hour drive there and back, leaving my child unhappy, and the actual cost of the care—it wasn’t worth it. I don’t think he understood at all, and he was annoyed at me for turning down the offer.

I’ve been bothered lately by people who think feminism is a bad word, or a word that has to be qualified. Feminism means women and men should have the same rights. Do you believe women have the right to be educated? To get a job? To vote? If not, you probably don’t want to read my blog.

All over the world–including the United States–there are people who think women do not deserve to be educated. There are some who believe it is fine for girls as young as nine or ten to be married. There are many who believe that any woman who dresses in a way they do not consider appropriate or modest enough, or any woman who ventures outside her home unaccompanied by a man is asking to be raped. There are horrible reports of global sex trafficking, rape, and abuse of women. Rape is used as a tactic of war, as it has been for centuries. (For a brief report see this. Also see the Women Under Siege Project.)

I’m am fortunate to have had strong women as role models—my mother, my immigrant grandmothers, and my mother-in-law, among them. I also had a piano/music teacher who was a single mother and a singular free spirit. She helped to boost my confidence during my shaky, emotional teenage years, and then became a friend. Both of my parents believed I could do anything, be anything I wanted to be.

I have not been much of a marcher or organizer. I haven’t given speeches, or rallied the troops. I did not continue with an academic career. I’ve occasionally heard that my books have inspired others, and I’ve been asked to chair conference sessions and write letters of recommendation. But my husband and I have done something right. We have two strong, wonderful, brilliant, talented daughters. They are proud feminists, as am I.

“Extremists have shown what frightens them the most: a girl with a book.”

– Malala Yousafzai

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I’ve never thought being a feminist means I can’t enjoy cooking. My gender has nothing to do with it. I don’t cook because I’m a woman and that’s my role. I cook because I want to cook. Here’s a recipe that I’ve written about before. I made these cookies for archivists while working on my dissertation, which became my first book, Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord in Pennsylvania, 1730-1830. The cookies are called “Mommy Cookies” at my house because they are my favorite. Enjoy!

Mandelbrot

3 ¾ cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 cup oil

2 tsp. baking powder

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla and a little bit of almond extract (maybe about ¼ tsp?)

dash or two of salt

Chocolate chips (I use a whole bag of Ghiardelli bittersweet chocolate chips.

Some people might prefer less, although I can’t imagine why)

Finely chopped nuts (I use a mixture of walnuts and almonds. Maybe about ¾ cup?)

Cinnamon and sugar mixed together to sprinkle on top

Beat eggs with whisk; then add sugar, oil, vanilla/almond. Add dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips and nuts. The dough should be able to form loaves on a cookie sheet. Add a little more flour if necessary.

Oil your hands and lightly oil 2 cookie sheets. Parchment paper lined sheets help. Shape the dough into 4 “loaves” on the cookie sheets. I make these cookies all the time and my loaves are never the same. Sprinkle the loaves with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar—thoroughly cover them and try to get the sides, as well.

Bake at 350 degrees for ½ hour. Then cut each loaf into slices. Put slices back in the oven for about 10 minutes, turn and put them back for another 10 minutes.

Purim, Savory and Sweet

The rain has finally turned to snow here in south Jersey. My husband’s school is closed, and we won’t be going anywhere, so it’s a good thing our house is stocked with Hamantaschen, the triangular cookies traditionally made for Purim. And wine! The cookies are named for Haman, the villain of the Biblical Book of Esther. I always thought it was odd that cookies were named for him. Shouldn’t cookies be named for Esther instead? Well, no one asked me. Purim is normally celebrated with the reading of the story, in which Esther saves the Jews of Persia, noisemakers are used to drown out the name of Haman, people dress in costumes, and there are celebrations with lots of food—and lots of drinking, too!

I just found this quick cheat sheet on Purim. I Google so you don’t have to! (And yes, Google is now a verb.)

When I was growing up, we didn’t celebrate Purim. My mom sometimes bought Hamantaschen. They were never that exciting to me, and as a child I was not thrilled by the traditional poppy seed filling. Now, Hamantaschen recipes are all over the Internet. (Really, just Google it. I’ll let you do it this time.) Fillings are only limited by imagination–and good taste, or what you think tastes good.

So this year I made chocolate Hamantaschen filled with chocolate chip cookie dough, and some filled with Nutella. If you have to ask why, these are not the cookies for you. I followed this recipe, using Special Dark cocoa and butter in the chocolate chip dough. (Actually, my sister found the recipe, so I could make the cookies for her.)

Chocolate Hamantaschen with Chocolate chip filling and Nutella filling

Chocolate Hamantaschen with Chocolate chip filling and Nutella filling

Then I made more traditional Hamantaschen, which I filled with a variety of flavors: some of the leftover chocolate chip dough—because you can never have too much chocolate, Nutella—because chocolate and hazelnut—and then I made a new flavor for this year. It’s what I like to think of as Sephardic meets Ashkenazi in one delightful cookie. The filling is Clementine-Almond.

Here’s what I did. I was inventing it as I went along, so no measurements. There’s a surprise, right?

Clementine-Almond Filling

Boil Clementines (I used 3) for about 1 hour, or until soft. I removed the stems. Drain, and chop the entire fruit, peels and all, in a food processor until it’s like a sauce. Return to pot, and add some sugar. I didn’t want it to be too sweet, but I also didn’t want it too bitter, so you just have to taste it. Cook until sugar is dissolved and the mixture seems thick enough to use as a filling. I then added about a teaspoon of honey, which made it perfect, and finely ground roasted almonds.

Clementine-Almond Filling

Clementine-Almond Filling

An assortment of Hamantaschen

An assortment of Hamantaschen

With some many hours wasted spent in baking (did I mention I went to the gym first where I thought about this filling the entire time?), I decided I might as well continue instead of actually doing any work. So, I thought, what about a savory Hamantaschen for dinner? I am brilliant. I adapted some recipes for mushroom turnovers and made Mushroom Hamantaschen. Dinner and dessert Hamantaschen. YES!

Jewish holidays tend to be reminders of sorrow and joy in life, the bitter and the sweet–so I think I’ve got it covered.

Mushroom Hamantaschen

Dough: Mix 8 oz. cream cheese, 1 cup butter, and 1 ½ cups of flour together. Add a pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter. Chill dough.

Filling: Finely chop 1 onion, about ¾ lb. of mushrooms (your choice). I used some baby bellas. Cook in oil for a few minutes until softened. Add salt, pepper, and ground thyme to taste. Sprinkle with a tsp or two of flour, and stir in ¼ cup of sour cream.

Roll out dough and cut into rounds. Put a spoonful of mushroom filling on each round and shape into triangles. Bake on parchment lined baking sheet at 350° for about 15 minutes.

Mushroom Hamentaschen

Mushroom Hamantaschen

So what’s today’s work-avoiding project? I think a pot of yellow split pea-pumpkin soup sounds perfect. With Hamantaschen. And wine, of course.

****Sorry about the quality of the photos–this is why I don’t actually write a food blog!

First December Snow

[So for some reason, the WordPress gremlins ate my previous version and then it vanished. Perhaps they got hungry reading about Mandelbrat.]

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing.”
“Is it?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
-A.A. Milne

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Yesterday here in the Philadelphia area we had our first real snowfall of the season.  The weather forecast was for a bit of snow in the afternoon—I expected maybe an inch over several hours–followed by sleet and freezing rain in the evening. Instead, it began to snow in the late morning and there were several inches on the ground by early afternoon. Total in my town, 8.6 inches.

 
That is not a record snowfall, nor was it any type of epic blizzard, but it was unexpected. Snow is beautiful—if you don’t have to travel in it. The party that my husband and I had planned to attend was cancelled, and we were at home. But our younger daughter was away for the weekend and on her way back to New Jersey as the snow fell and fell. The trip that normally takes her about one and a half to two hours—in heavy traffic—took seven hours. Her first call to my husband came from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Traffic was backed-up for miles, and she had seen many accidents. She considered getting off at the next exit, but then decided to continue home. My husband and I were listening to traffic reports and looking up her route on our computers and iPhones. Although it was an awful ride for her, it was also horrible waiting and worrying about her.

 

 
I had intended to work—I have several projects with deadlines looming like. . .hmmm. . .well, like a storm. You know how you hear the weather reports for an upcoming storm? There’s the anticipation, but then suddenly it hits you, and even though you knew it was coming, you’re unprepared. Yup. That’s a deadline. They sneak up on you, and then you’re digging your way out.

The morning after

The morning after

So anyway, I had all of this work to do, but I couldn’t focus because I was so worried about my daughter. Of course, I did what you’d expect—I baked!

 
I had already made kale chips and a fabulous salad (mixed greens, dried cranberries, honey goat cheese, and almonds) to take to the party. And I baked some banana bread because we had some bananas that needed to be used. I added some homemade applesauce to the recipe. Why? Because it was there in the refrigerator.  Of course. I had already baked some Mandlebrat cookies (aka Mommy Cookies) on Friday so I could bring some to my mom.(See my musings on Mandelbrat https://merrildsmith.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/the-power-of-mandelbrot/)

 
Early in the afternoon, I decided to prepare my favorite artisan bread dough. http://www.mybakingaddiction.com/no-knead-pizza-dough-recipe/ . I thought I could either bake bread later or make pizza for dinner. As the hours passed, and our daughter was still on the road, I decided to bake the bread.  I had some red lentil soup in the freezer, so I took it out to defrost.

 

 
Our daughter finally arrived home safely at about 7 PM. She had left Reading, Pennsylvania at noon. She was tired and stressed, but she was safe—and hungry. We sat down to a feast of bread, soup, salad, and cheese. Later we opened some wine. (Red wine and a delicious chocolate truffle from the box a friend brought us. Oh yes, please!) On the plus side, my daughter now knows she can drive a long distance in the snow, and we have delicious food in the house. On the minus side, I still have those deadlines. I better get to work. Well, maybe one cookie first.

 

My post on Mandelbrat does not have a recipe. Here it is. You will notice several approximates. Just deal with it. Go with the flow. Make those cookies your own. I will think of more

clichés later.
Mandelbrat
3 ¾ cups Flour
1 cup Sugar
1 cup cooking oil
2 tsp. baking powder
3 Eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. almond extract
pinch of salt
Ground almonds and walnut—approximately ¾ cup
1 package chocolate chips—I use a full package of Ghiradelli Bittersweet
Mixture of cinnamon and sugar –approximately ¾ to 1 cup of sugar mixed with about 1-1 ½ tsp. cinnamon (to taste)
Beat eggs with whisk, add sugar, oil, vanilla and almond extract and pinch of salt. Stir in dry ingredients. Then stir  in chocolate chips and nuts.
With oily hands, make 4 “loaves.” I make two each on two cookie sheets. Sprinkle thoroughly with cinnamon and sugar.
Bake at 350 degrees for ½ hour. Remove from the oven and slice each loaf. Place slices on the sheet and brown each side in the oven—5-10 minutes for each side.

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Mixing and Stirring: Blending Food, Family, and Friend

Here in the United States, Hanukkah, which begins tonight, and Thanksgiving, which is tomorrow, overlap. Even though I will be cooking two big dinners back-to-back, I am so excited! I love to get together with family and friends—and I love to eat. I am looking forward to the mixing and blending of foods, traditions, and people over the next few days.

My family has strong holiday food traditions—there are particular foods we MUST have at each holiday. Some of these developed or evolved in my childhood, or even before—others I have established with my husband and children. The cranberry squirrel is absolutely essential on Thanksgiving. I told my mother yesterday—and I was only half-joking—that to not have it on Thanksgiving would be a tragedy of epic proportions. She and my niece will be making it today.

I discussed the cranberry squirrel in previous post.

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Because our family cooks mainly by the shit arein method (Yiddish for throwing in a bit of this and that), we don’t have real recipes for most of the dishes we prepare, but somehow everything is always delicious. Just as a little of this and a little of that goes into a mixing bowl to produce something scrumptious–something different and better than its individual ingredients–so, too, does our family evolve from individuals who become a part of it. Each person that joins our group brings something to the table that builds upon our traditions, or they help to create new ones.

One of our Thanksgiving side dishes is creamed onions, a dish that I recently learned was something my father’s mother made. When my parents married, my mom learned to make them because my father expected to have them on the table. As one of my daughters and I do not eat meat, our meal now always includes vegetarian gravy, along with turkey gravy. Because another daughter does not like cranberry sauce, I always make applesauce, too. At the same time, there will also be plenty of turkey for those who mostly do eat meat.

We will use china that belonged to my mother, and dishes purchased more recently. My daughters and their partners will be here, along with my sisters, brother, my mother, my husband’s mother, and my niece, her husband, and their children. On Friday night, we’ll have a Hanukkah dinner that will include some family members and some friends. Most of them do not celebrate Hanukkah, but they enjoy taking part in our celebration—and eating latkes, of course.

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This will be my mother-in-law’s first Hanukkah celebration with us. When I was thinking about Hanukkah and the tradition of eating fried food during it, I decided to make Welsh Cookies—because along with the pies and other Thanksgiving goodies, and the donuts that we’ll have for Hanukkah, we should have cookies in the house, right? These cookies are popular in the Scranton, Pennsylvania area, where my in-laws were born. The cookies are similar to tea cakes, but they are cooked on a griddle, like a pancake. I had never heard of these cookies until I met my future husband when we were in 9th grade (I’ll pause while you say, “awwww”). This recipe is an adaptation of the recipe I got years ago from my husband’s grandmother.

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Enjoy these with a cup of coffee or tea. To all who celebrate Thanksgiving and/or Hanukkah, I wish you happy holidays. I hope you have traditions you cherish.

Thanks for reading!

Welsh Cookies

5 Cups Flour

1 Cup Sugar

3 tsp. Baking Powder

1 ¼ tsp. Nutmeg

1 tsp. Salt

Cut into the above—by hand or by using a food processor

¾ lb. Butter

Add:

1 Cup Currants

3 Eggs beaten with a fork, plus enough milk to make 1 cup liquid.

Mix well, and roll out—not too thin. Cut into rounds and cook on an ungreased griddle. They cook quickly!