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All Those Cooking Shows

            I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows lately (mostly in Hebrew, as language practice) but I haven’t been doing much cooking, to Cricket’s great frustration. I am a messy cook, and as I chop, many pieces of red pepper and carrot and sometimes even chicken land on the floor right in front of her, where she is, conveniently, waiting. Instead, I am microwaving frozen meals, and all she can do is fight with her sister for the leftover sauce in the bowl (Cricket always wins).

“It’s all mine!”

            It’s not that the cooking shows aren’t inspiring. In fact, I feel like I should be making long lists of ingredients to search for, and printing out recipes for Shakshuka with eggplant and Kibbeh, or five kinds of Chummus, and instead I’m eating oatmeal for breakfast, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and anything I can warm up from the freezer for dinner (unless I’m lucky and Mom does the cooking, but she is not a messy cook, sorry Cricket).


            I should at least be ordering out from Wild Fig (a Turkish restaurant with multiple locations nearby), or buying readymade Falafel or Bourekas from the international supermarket, but I’m not doing either one, and I’m not sure why.

            My first theory for why I was struggling was that most of the recipes, like the shows, are in Hebrew and measure in grams, which makes them largely incomprehensible. So I went online to look for similar recipes in English and found a treasure trove on Jamie Gellar’s site (she’s an orthodox, kosher cook who covers a wide range of styles of cooking, including Israeli).

But now I have a pile of new recipes that I have no energy to make.

            I don’t think it’s depression that’s holding me back, if only because once I take my afternoon (or morning) nap my moods are pretty good, even if my energy level still stinks. But there’s something about knowing how little energy I’m likely to have tomorrow, or next week, that has changed my calculations for what kinds of plans to make, if any.

“Plan to take a nap.”

            I’d like to believe that I’ll be able to do some cooking over the summer, when I won’t need all of my energy for teaching, but there’s also a long list of writing projects and exercise goals and doctor visits and household tasks that I need to catch up on over the summer, and even then, we don’t have air-conditioning in the kitchen to make it bearable, just a fan that tends to read between 80 and 95 degrees all summer long.

But I keep watching these cooking shows and wishing I could just walk down the hall to the kitchen and make an Israeli salad, or bake my own pitas on the top of the stove. I need to believe that something will improve soon so that I’ll be able to use all of this inspiration to actually make plans and follow through on them, or else I’m afraid I’ll get so stuck in my reality that I’ll forget how to hope for more.

Some links:

From Jamie Geller – Machane Yehuda Recipes (in English) (10 min.)

From Piece of Hebrew (with English subtitles) A SABICH recipe (14:18)

From Anachnu Al HaMapit with chef Michael Solomonov in Philadelphia (mostly in English with Hebrew subtitles) (53:15)

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?

The New Hebrew Semester

            I’ve been in the same online Hebrew program from Tel Aviv for more than a year now, but each semester feels like a new experience, with new challenges. For the first session of this semester, back in late October, our new teacher spoke quickly and mostly in Hebrew, only clarifying a few words in English here or there, and yet, I was able to follow most of it. A year ago I would have been lost and intimidated and now I’m not. I’m still not fluent, but I’m much closer.

“Mazel Tov.”

            One of the obstacles to overcome each semester is the renewed feeling that I’m the worst student in the class and have the least interesting life and the least impressive resume. My teachers keep telling me that I’m underestimating my fluency, but I’m the one inside my head, grasping around in the dark even for the words I thought I knew well. I do fine with homework and conjugations and vocabulary, but making conversation is hard enough for me in English, with all of my social anxiety, it’s that much harder in Hebrew, with the words endlessly trying to escape from my brain. Generally it takes me a few weeks to remember that everyone in the class is a flawed human being, just like me. I wish I could have mastered this lesson by now, but I guess I should be grateful that it eventually kicks in at all.

I’m still not sure what my goal is in studying Hebrew. Is it about going to Israel for a visit? Or just wanting to learn about Israel in more depth? Is the next step in my journey secular or religious, an activity, or more studying? I just don’t know.

“Don’t go anywhere without me, Mommy.”

This semester we’ve started to read Facebook posts in Hebrew, and other instances of natural Hebrew existing in the wild, to build our reading comprehension, but it has the effect of making me feel like an alien and uncool, now in two different languages.

            One of the new things we’re doing this semester is that instead of watching one TV show from beginning to end, we’re watching single episodes of reality shows (not like “Married at First Sight,” which we watched in a previous class and that I keep trying to wash out of my brain), getting to hear different accents and different vocabularies with each show.

            The first thing we watched was an episode of a show called “Makers,” where a team of creative craftspeople made new hearing aids for a hard of hearing singer, so she wouldn’t have to deal with so much static when she put her headphones on in the studio, and then they created a smart house set up for a pair of born-deaf adult twins who needed help knowing when someone rang the doorbell or when the alarm clock went off. They put light strips in every room, even in the bathroom, and programmed the lights in different colors for each alert: like the phone, or the door, or the sirens telling them to find shelter when rockets came from Gaza. And for one of the sisters who struggled with getting up on time, they attached a light fixture to her alarm clock that gradually grew brighter the longer she ignored it, and then if she was still sleeping, a fan would go on and blow in her face to finally wake her up.


We also watched an episode of a show called “On the Napkin,” about Israeli chefs, and the episode we watched was about a Japanese cook in Israel, married to an Israeli man for forty years with three adult children, and now she’s serving homestyle Japanese dinners in their dining room/restaurant every night, sourcing tofu and mushrooms and greens from nearby farms.

But the story that really got to me was from a show called “The Recording Studio.” The episode we watched was about a twelve-year-old autistic boy who wanted to record a song for his longtime teacher’s aide. His parents came with him to the studio, but he explained everything himself, telling the host of the show that his aide was so special to him because she’d spent years teaching him how to relate to his non-autistic classmates, teaching him how to speak their language so that he could live in their world and make friends. He said that it would take a degree in psychology to learn the autistic language, so he had to be the one to learn how to understand them. During rehearsals, he not only played piano and sang, he also made sure to communicate as clearly as possible with the host and musicians about what he wanted, and confronted them when they were making assumptions about what he could and couldn’t do, or which truths he could and couldn’t handle.

When his aide finally came into the studio, he hugged her and introduced her to all of the musicians, and then he sang the song with the band, and his teacher and his parents were in tears. It was so clear that she really had set him free from a lonely place, and that she had taught him how to relate to other people and feel connected to them, while still being himself.

Sometimes, out in the real world, I feel like that autistic boy, trying to translate all of my thoughts and feelings into a language other people can understand, and wishing they could speak my language instead, whatever that is. So maybe that’s why I am so drawn to learning languages in the first place, and why I’m working so hard to learn Hebrew in classes full of other people with their own internal languages and stories to share. Hearing about the countries they live in (Israel, Holland, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Poland, America, Croatia) and the reasons why they want to learn Hebrew (planning to move to Israel, already living in Israel but wanting to speak the language, discovering a Jewish identity, trying to make peace with a Jewish childhood, wanting to talk to Israeli grandchildren, joining an Israeli dance company, or, very often, marrying an Israeli), helps me to feel hopeful that one day I will find the words to say what I mean and, in the meantime, other people will work hard to understand me, just like I work hard to understand them. And the hard work feels worth it, whether I become fluent in Hebrew or not, because the process itself is helping me create connections all over the world, and in my own brain, to help me understand myself.

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.


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.



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.


“More, Mommy.”


“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.


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!”


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