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Baking Bread Again

            I don’t know if the new dose of the antidepressant kicked in, or if it was just because of the cold weather, but the other day I finally felt like baking again. Mom and I looked through cookie recipes and cake recipes and then we settled on a Buttermilk Seed Bread, because it just sounded right. There’s something about the way bread dough needs to rest, and rest again, that resonates with me.

Ellie too.

            I didn’t knead the dough myself (that’s what Kitchenaid mixers and dough hooks are for, it turns out), but I helped mix in the ingredients (whole wheat flour, titular Buttermilk, cranberries, dates, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.), and helped punch down the dough after the first rise (so satisfying!), and put it into the loaf pans to rise again. I fell asleep before the bread was ready to go into the oven, but at least it was a start.

Despite the mass baking on social media (sourdough and banana bread especially) that occurred during the stay at home orders and boredom of Covid, I haven’t done much baking, or even cooking for the past two years. I made cookies once or twice, from a mix, and I chopped vegetables here and there, but mostly I reheated frozen dinners and opened cans of soup and smeared peanut butter on almost everything, while Mom did the actual cooking.

“Where’s the peanut butter?

            I used to cook every day, and bake a lot too, but I’ve been so tired, for so long, that I’ve gotten used to not wanting to do things, especially in the kitchen, where standing on the hard floor and leaning over the sink or the counter or the dishwasher leaves me feeling like I’ve been stabbed in the back with a cleaver. But for some reason, the other day, I felt like baking, so that’s what we did.

            Each day this past week we lit our Chanukah candles – either with our congregation on Zoom or just me and Mom and the dogs – and even though it often felt like a chore, like something I just had to get done, sometimes the sparks of light reached me and made a difference.

Day 4

            There’s something about the way the fire grows by one candle each night of Chanukah that makes sense to me. It fits the way I live my life, growing slowly each day, doing a little bit more and a little bit more, until seemingly out of nowhere, I’ve achieved something I didn’t know I could do. The way the Chanukah candles grow brighter each day of the holiday, instead of dimmer, makes me feel like it’s okay to pace myself, and to make the most of each day in whatever way works for me (naps, snacks, more naps, repeat), allowing me to focus on letting the fire grow instead of dim as I go forward.

Day 7

            I’m not suddenly cooking every day, but I’m noticing that I want to do more. I want to go to the Costco near us and buy…something, and I want to take a trip…somewhere. I’m not up to it yet, but for now it’s enough to know that I want to do these things; that they even sound like fun.

            After a few days of making sandwiches with the new bread (pastrami with mustard), I found a recipe for marzipan filled rugelach. I haven’t made them yet, but I bought all of the ingredients, so those Chanukah candles are adding up to something. I’m not setting the world on fire yet, but I’m wondering what else might start to sound good again, and I’m looking forward to finding out.

“We’re ready!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Cooking, Again

 

For the past couple of years, with internships and school work, most of the cooking was left to Mom, again, just like when I was little. I had taken over most of the cooking years ago, while she was working and I was huddled in my room, shaking, but switching back to having Mom do the cooking was part of our plan for how I would manage graduate school in social work. I still helped choose the recipes, and did a lot of the food shopping and cleaning, but it was a relief not to have to cook every night. I had spent so many years building up my cooking skills, with classes and recipes and hours and hours of Food Network shows, but I was ready for a break.

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And then my last internship ended, and I should have taken back the responsibility for cooking, at least somewhat, but I was still exhausted and weird and dragging my feet about it. I didn’t even want to bake, though it was summer at the time and there’s no air conditioning in the kitchen, so that was understandable.

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“Cookies?”

Gradually, much more gradually than Mom was probably hoping, I started to help make dinners again by going back to my old job as vegetable chopper. Mom did her best to tolerate my impatient knife cuts, even when she really would have preferred a smaller dice on the onions. And then I made a dinner or two on my own, because I was hungry and Mom was sleeping. And then there was all of the cookie baking around the holidays.

I’m still not reconciled to cooking every day, but we’re closer to a fifty-fifty arrangement than we were before. My favorite things to cook lately are turkey chili (do some chopping and defrosting, dump everything in the pot, set a timer and wait), turkey meatballs (defrost ground turkey, mix with egg, breadcrumbs, and spices, shape into balls, stick in oven, set timer and wait), and Rocky Mountain toast (rip a hole in a piece of bread, break an egg into the hole, cook) which I learned how to make a million years ago at sleepaway camp. I’d still rather make cookies for every meal, or just eat the raw cookie dough, and there are days when I can’t even imagine peeling a carrot because my body hurts too much, but I’m getting there. It’ll be a while before I volunteer to make Coq au Vin, or Maki rolls, or even Risotto (keep stirring, keep stirring).

Miss Cricket is back to her role as sous chef, a.k.a. waiting for red bell pepper scraps to fall on the floor, and Miss Ellie has been trying to convince me to make chicken pancakes with cheese on top, but she has been unsuccessful. The best I can do for her is open a can of tuna and pour the water into her kibble, which is good too. I feel guilty for this lapse in responsibility, but not enough to work much harder to fix it.

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“More, Mommy.”

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“I could eat, too.”

Next task up: fill out the forms to take the licensing exam for social work, which seems to involve a lot of waiting, and then more forms, and then some really stupid questions. But my real objection is that once I have my license I’ll actually have to get a job. I’d like to put that off for a while, or ten or fifteen whiles, if possible. I finished all of my coursework, but there seems to be a delay before the paperwork says I’m an official graduate, which gives me one or two whiles, at least.

If anyone wants two shelves full of really tedious, probably already out of date textbooks, you’ll have to wrestle Ellie for them. She has some art projects in mind.

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I want to thank everyone who read and reviewed and commented on and thought about Yeshiva girl and cheered me on along the way. I feel truly honored! If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl.

yeshiva girl with dogs

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

 

 

Shiny Poop

 

Recently, Mom has had a lot to deal with. Her sister hasn’t been well, and there’s been a lot of doubt and worry and conflict and hospital visits and family discussions, which means we have needed to resort to the heavy weaponry of comfort: chicken wings.

For some reason, chicken wings are my mother’s perfect comfort food. I’m not talking about fried chicken, or, God forbid, Buffalo chicken wings. These are tossed with some salt and pepper and chili powder and baked in the oven. It’s a plan ahead meal, because the wings need to be defrosted, and then baked for more than an hour, and then cooled so they won’t burn off your fingers. But it’s also a family meal, because the dogs think I’ve made it just for them.

I’ll make a salad or something to go with it, but that’s really beside the point.

As an antidepressant, nothing beats chicken wings and watching the dogs hop up and down, and salivate, and smile, and run in circles waiting for their share. While the chicken wings are cooking in the oven, the dogs gradually become twitchier and glassy eyed, until they are drawn to the stove like magnets, staring at it from the kitchen doorway. I tend to share a lot of my chicken, because I don’t like the skin, and they love it. But when the chicken is all gone, they don’t really believe it. They will dig into the corners of every room looking for left overs, and then get angry and start barking in disbelief. Butterfly, especially, looks high, and crazed, after she’s eaten her chicken. She’s jonesing for more, and out of her mind. I don’t understand why I’ve never seen a warning sticker on a package of chicken wings – “Danger, Addictive Substance, Keep away from young children and dogs!”

“I need chicken!”

“Chicken?!”

I myself do not have that reaction to chicken. In fact, lately, I’ve started to wonder if I’m allergic to the stuff. I’ve noticed feeling nauseous a few times and not being able to finish eating, both with chicken and with eggs. Chicken is supposed to be the universal meat – the one that everything else tastes like (squirrel, frog, whatever else people are trying to get you to eat), but it’s not really my thing.

The problem with baking the chicken wings is the mess they make. I go to a lot of trouble to cover the whole baking pan with aluminum foil, and cover the aluminum foil with parchment paper. The idea is to wait until the pan cools and then fold the aluminum foil up and put the whole mess into the garbage can so we only need to rinse the baking pan for its trouble. But no. Mom does not believe in this. She believes that the dogs should have the benefit of every drop of fat that drips onto the pan, and insists on putting the pan, paper and foil and all, onto the floor for their delectation.

One Friday night, I made emergency chicken wings before Friday night services and didn’t have time to organize the clean up before we left. Without my knowledge, Mom had put the pan on the floor and left it with the dogs while we were out, for two hours. By the time we got home, the kitchen was a storm of tiny bits of aluminum foil and large swathes of parchment paper, and Butterfly’s face was dark with oil. Cricket was standing far away from it all, to make it clear that this was not her fault. I should have taken a picture, but at the time I was too shocked, and too busy corralling the dogs outside, and telling Mom that she would be the one to clean it all up.

Bath time after chicken.

Bath time after chicken.

“But I wanted to smell like chicken forever, Mommy.”

I worried, for days, that there would be shiny poop, and when there wasn’t, I started to worry that Butterfly’s internal organs were filled with aluminum foil decorations. A few weeks have passed now though, and Butterfly is still running and hopping and pooping as usual, so, fingers crossed, there’s no shiny poop waiting around in there.

“I could eat some more chicken.”

Cricket, the Sous Chef

            Cricket is my sous chef. She stands in the kitchen while I’m making dinner, and tries to reach her paws up to the cutting board to steal red bell peppers. If she doesn’t feel like jumping, she scratches at Grandma’s leg to be lifted up so she can see the vegetables up close. If Grandma picks her up near a fresh cut onion, she sneezes. But once the sauté pan is on and the oil is heating the garlic and peppers and onions, Cricket twitches her nose and then licks her lips, at which point she has to be put down on the floor to avoid her jumping into the pan with all four feet.

Who me? I wasn't anywhere near those beets.

Who me? I wasn’t anywhere near those beets.

I’ve been tempted to buy Cricket a white toque to wear on her head, or a chef’s jacket with buttons, but she is not a fan of clothes.

Butterfly is more circumspect about the kitchen. She tends to stand in the doorway, or stretch out with her head on her paws, and stare. She’s afraid of all of the noise, like knives on cutting boards, sizzling pans, and whirring mixers, and she’s afraid she will get stepped on. Her spatial relations are, legitimately, not very good. Cricket is better at negotiating small spaces and human legs; she’s more bendy.

Butterfly tends to stand back and let Cricket get first crack at any dish at the end of a meal, because Cricket is a superb dish cleaner and Butterfly’s skills have not yet risen to Cricket’s level. It will come with time.

Class is in session

Class is in session

But Cricket is still the master

But Cricket is still the master

I used to bake a lot when Cricket was a puppy, and she learned to take part in the process: supervising the mixer, sniffing for cookie doneness, and, of course, cleaning up afterward. She gets angry, now, when I make something with chocolate in it, because then she can’t clean the bowl, or the beater, when we’re done. She would like for me to always make sugar cookies, or something with peanut butter.

Cricket is very busy

Cricket is very busy

Cricket is teaching Butterfly how to listen for the oven timer, a very important skill. They get up from their rest positions on the living room rug and stare at me until I get up. If Cricket thinks the food is ready early, despite the lack of a beep, she will let me know.

            In pursuit of her goal of one day becoming a chef with a kitchen of her own, Cricket prefers that we test chicken recipes. She likes when I make chicken wings, because I never eat the skin, and therefore she gets to taste test a chicken’s worth of skin. She is less interested in recipes that ask for boneless, skinless chicken breast, because she’s never offered the leftovers from those.

Pizza is also a favorite of hers, and of Butterfly’s. At this point, I have to give them the pizza crusts, even if they are the rare edible pizza crusts. I remove all tomato sauce possible, because I worry the spices will make them sick, and I divvy up the pieces into their bowls, and then they inevitably bring the crusts to the living room rug for chewing.

At Cricket’s restaurant, the pizza would probably be topped with: chicken, red bell peppers, pumpkin, Parmesan cheese, and olives. This would be the Cricket special. The Butterfly special would be covered in dry dog food and probably not go over as well.

Butterfly's favorite pizza topping: kibble

Butterfly’s favorite pizza topping: kibble

The waitresses at Cricket’s restaurant would sit at the tables with the customers and feed them by hand. One blueberry at a time.

            While Cricket pursues her cooking repertoire, and Butterfly attempts to scale the steeply competitive sous chef ladder, the girls are still grand champion eaters. Butterfly is a big fan of high fiber pasta, especially the little ears (orrichete). I choose to believe she is being health conscious, and attempting to improve her hearing as well.

Butterfly has followed Cricket’s example and learned how to stand on her back feet, leaning her front paws on Grandma’s knee during dinner. This is a very effective method of persuasion. Grandma is a pushover for puppy dog eyes and always finds something yummy to share. Cricket has been an incredible teacher, in this as in all things.

One day, Butterfly, the student will become the master

One day, Butterfly, the student will become the master