Making Maqlubah

When we visited our son last week in Israel, we ate outdoors at The Eucalyptus / in Jerusalem. We sat on a stone terrace surrounded by small art galleries, all, the rose-colored stone prevalent in the city.

My son ordered the maqlubah, an Arabic one-pot concoction where the meat and vegetables are layered, then rice is added with seasoned stock, that simmers stovetop until the rice is cooked through. Before the pot is then flipped onto a platter, forming a round cake, people are requested, according to traditon, to place their hands over the pot and make a wish.

Determined to try this at home, I looked a my Middle Eastern cookbooks, Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, and Tamini’s Falastin, as well as other recipes on line. There are as many spelling of maqlubah as ways to cook it. I originally intended to use lamb as the meat, but when I unrolled the beautiful piece of boneless lamb leg, I decided I didn’t want to risk drying it out in the stew. I instead prepared the meat for the BBQ and proceeded to make the maqlubah vegetarian.

Our friend David joined us, always up for an experiment, and helped me flip the pot, no easy task with a heavy, hot, 7 quart Dutch oven. He wanted the recipe– and I admitted I sort of winged it based on my reading and tastes. Here’s what I did but I suggest searching for your own combinations. I used one medium-sized eggplant, a pack of diced butternut squash, one cup of rice. It made a huge amount.

First soak rice in cold water and a tsp of salt for a few hours.

Then I lightly roasted sliced eggplant and diced butternut squash. Let cool.

Next I sauteed one large sliced onion and about 4-5 minced garlic cloves in a little oil in the large dutch oven. I added a drained can of chickpeas.

I added a bunch of spices– turmeric, coriander, cumin, a bit of cinnamon, s &p, hot pepper flakes.

Then I layered the eggplant on top of the onions and chickpeas, then the squash on top of the eggplant, then the rice- drained from its soaking water- and added 1 cup of homemade chicken stock with about 2 cups of water. You want the liquid to slightly cover the rice.

Simmer to boil uncovered, then cover, lower heat and wait about 30 minutes.

Using pot holders, invert quickly over a plate and slowly lift off the pot. I garnished ours with an almond- parsley mixture we had bought in the shuk, a shopping experience that tantalizes the senses.

Directions in the recipes are much more complicated. Lots of steps, frying the veggies, sauteing the meat, taking things in and out of the pot, using lots of oil. I did it my way and it was fragrant and fabulous. I am tempted to try other veg combinations.

My mom would have the loved maqlubah. A world traveler, she gathered recipes and cooking tips from place to place. Her recipes for Tunisian couscous and Jordanian chicken are included in her cookbook, A Glub Glub & A Shake Shake.

Happy Cooking!

Covid Diary: Seeing the Grands In Israel; Lessons from Mom: Grandparenting

We finally flew to Israel last week to see our son, his wife, and snuggle the 7 grandkids, ages, 1 1/2- 10.

t was no easy feat leaving the US- we had about 25 pages of documents to procure, several Covid tests leaving, entering Israel, and returning. I don’t think we’ll go again until Covid regulations ease more.

But it was glorious seeing the kids. We bought the eldest a skateboard for his birthday, helped decorate for a family birthday party, and watched him grow more confident as he used the board each day.

I played card games with the middle young ones– three girls, 6,5,4; my husband played chess with the 7 year old boy. The younger ones– a boy 3 and girl, 1 ½, kept us busy – watching them from falling and getting into toys the older ones cherish. They have become natives- first language is Hebrew, so their English, that they hear at home, isn’t always understandable. The elder boys speak English well.

I remembered the many visits my parents made across the Atlantic when we lived in London, England, years ago. My two sons were born there– and my parents came after each birth to help out. They came quite often, usually adding a trip in the middle and spending a few days with us on either side. They did their best at long-distance grand-parenting. My mother wrote frequent letters and sent presents. We lived abroad 4 ½ years; my son immigrated for life.

I work hard at keeping the relationship strong. We zoom, and I try to read aloud to them, as well as reading a book with the 10 year old to help his English skills. I sent many gifts during the long Covid desert when I couldn’t visit– Amazon knows me well and flashes the “ships to Israel” reminder when I log on. I remember all their birthdays and send funny cards.

Speaking of birthdays, I turn 65 on May 5th. This is my first birthday without my mother. She would call to wish me a happy birthday early in the morning and I always said, “Thank you for having me.”

She was a grandmother of 9, great-grandmother of 10, and a wonderful example to me about what it means to be a grandparent.

Grandma Diary: Midsummer & the Grands

We donned our masks and were escorted to our “pod”– a circle painted on the ground where we could spread out our blanket and set up the low beach chairs to settle in for a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, produced by the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ.

I was able to convince two of the grands to join me– they had attended a theater camp two years ago- and were happy to have a sleepover, a blueberry pancake breakfast, and an outing.

We read a picture book of the story the night before so they were familiar with the plot and characters. I told them to listen for Puck’s famous line, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”

Midsummer has always been a favorite of mine- having performed as the Wall in the Pyramus & Thisbe scene in day camp decades ago, then having taught it to middle school students. It’s the perfect play to introduce young people to the Bard. They giggled at the antics and the lines, and admired the costumes, particularly the jumping stilts used by Oberon and Titania. The quick change of costumes, enabling actors to play several parts intrigued them.

A brief talk back followed the 75- minute child-friendly performance, and my grand-daughter asked about the mechanics involved with Bottom’s donkey head, that seemed to clip on like a bike helmet. She wore a much simpler rendition of the costume I’d made years ago for my students.

My mother introduced us to Shakespeare; we attended many performances at the Stratford, CT, Shakespeare Theater.

My husband and I took advantage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre when we lived in London, and continued to seek performances when we moved to New Jersey.

We were delighted to discover STNJ nearby. The theater— like all in the arts– has struggled to keep the lights on this past year. They’ve offered on-line performances to stream and built the outdoor stage behind its administrative and production facility. The actors have lived as a family for over a year, so were able to perform without masks. The stage is set 25 feet from the audience and the pod circles are six feet apart.

After the talkback, we returned to the car, continuing to discuss the play. The actors needed to rest before their performance of Julius Caesar that afternoon.

The shows are on next weekend as well and available to stream. If you’re local, try to go. Kids attend for free.

Missing Mom: Spring

I took my father out for lunch and then to a dentist appointment. The sun shone bright, the sky clear blue, trees and flowers in bloom and lawns green. Spring.

We both remarked how mom would have loved the beautiful day and how she often commented about the weather, finding joy in all seasons and appreciating the cycles through the year from winter to spring, summer to fall.

The owners of the apartment complex put bird feeders outside the ground floor windows, allowing residents to admire the birds from the inside. My mother, intrigued by the different birds, asked my brother to get her a bird identification book.

I’m reminded of her now as I pack away my woolen sweaters, carefully tucking cedar blocks between then to avoid moths. She would use this spring ritual to examine each article, sort what needed cleaning or mending, and then store clothes in mothballs, leaving a distinct odor that we didn’t hesitate to criticize. But the mothballs worked.

Sunday, April 18th marked four months since her passing. In some ways it feels so long ago, and in others still so fresh.

Post Pandemic Outing: New York City!

We booked tickets at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the “Alice Neel: People Come First” exhibit.

We drove into the city, though both of us are fully vaccinated, I didn’t feel ready for the train and subway. Walking into this grand dame of art museums, I was somewhat overwhelmed about how wonderful it was to be back at an institution devoted to world culture. It felt like I was seeing a friend I had missed.

Everyone was masked. Temperatures were taken and tickets checked at the door for timed entry. Still, there was a long line for this exhibit, but the 20 minutes moved quickly and gave us a chance to explore the art we walked by. We strolled through some ruins from Cyprus, admired a few Rodin sculptures, and stepped into few of the side rooms, visiting some of our favorite Impressionist painters.

Alice Neel, painted people – she didn’t like calling them portraits. She believed painting people reflects the history and culture of a time period. She used her art to portray both victims of oppression and the heroes that fought to end it. She was one of the first women artists to paint female nudes, and as a working mother, held great empathy for other women doing the same. Neel painted famous people she met: artists, activists, writers and so on, but also found inspiration in people she met by chance in her neighborhood.

We had read about one of the paintings: “The Black Boys.”

Neel met the brothers through a friend, and they posed for the painting several times. They never saw the completed work. Toby Neal died in 2011 but Jeff Neal saw the painting at the Met show.

The Alice Neel at the Met runs until Aug. 1. I highly recommend it.

Later, we joined friends at a restaurant in Greenwich Village to eat outside. The streets and sidewalks were lively; people are ready to be together again.

I thought of a cold winter day in 2017 when I took my mother to the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, CT. We enjoyed the seeing and discussing the art. The Gallery is closed still due to Covid; I hope it opens again soon.

Post-Covid: Changing Habits: Newspapers

My husband asked if he should resume our daily newspaper delivery. We had suspended our consumption of subscriptions with the onset of Covid; we were mostly in PA at our lake house where there isn’t delivery service and didn’t want to impose on our neighbor who already takes in our packages. We had our mail stopped also and picked it up weekly at the post office.

We are a news family: we subscribed to three daily papers. My husband has spent more than 50 years as a journalist- he started as a paper boy, tossing papers from his bicycle and never left the profession. He always prided himself saying, “Don’t pick a fight with someone who buys their ink by the barrel.” That ink has been long replaced by online text. We met 40 years ago in a paperless newsroom that pre-dated the Internet.

At first, I was reluctant and hesitant. I loved reading the papers, spreading them out on the dining room table, sipping coffee, and then tackling the crossword puzzles. Years ago, probably before children and dogs, we would spend hours Sunday morning reading newspapers.

But I soon adjusted to reading the New York Times online; and completing the crossword puzzle there too. When we would pick up a copy of a paper while shopping, I found I had read much of the stories in print. My reading capacity hadn’t diminished, in fact, it probably increased.

And there was no cumbersome paper to spread out. No arguing who gets which section first. No ink stained fingers. Nothing to recycle. No complaints about poor delivery service, missed papers or weather delays; and nothing to worry about when we weren’t home. No need to schedule vacation stops and restarts.

Resume? I told him no. He’s back in the office now nearly full-time and can get the print paper there if he wants. I cited all the above reasons for not resuming home delivery and he acquiesced.

I have yet to embrace reading books on line full time; I patronize my library and purchase books, still preferring to hold the book in my hands, finding it easier to return to passages I want to re-read. I still read magazines the old-fashioned way. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of closing the cover of a New Yorker, knowing I completed that week’s issue. Granted, I am usually several weeks behind.

We often pick up the local newspapers in our community and enjoy reading them– long live local journalism.

My father reads the newspaper on line. When my mother was alive, she enjoyed the paper version; a former New Yorker, she had mastered the art of folding the paper so she could read on the subway. When she died, we cancelled the paper subscription.

So old habits may die hard, but they’re not impossible to break.

What habits have did you acquire during Covid that will remain now that we’re returning to a new normal?

Covid Diary: Post- Pandemic Dates

I doubled my masks, packed wipes and hand sanitizer, and arrived at the airport for my first flight in over a year. I joined the queue to board the plane, heading to New Orleans to see my daughter for a short visit. I hadn’t seen her since August.

At the airport, everyone was masked. Six-foot separation was maintained in the line for the TSA check, and somewhat through security when I loaded by bags on the belt. Waiting at the gate was no issue. Boarding occurs back to front. All seemed quite civilized. The problem is with storing overhead baggage– they fill up fast, and it seems it’s always a challenge to find space. The flight proceeded fine.

De-planing however, people were closer together than we should be.

Walking into the sun, warm outdoors, seeing my daughter and her adorable dog, eating socially distant in restaurants, felt so normal after such a long time.

This week we met friends for a first post-pandemic date at the New York Botanical Gardens

for the annual orchid show and then favorite Bronx Italian eatery. A staff member inside the conservatory reminded us to keep our masks on– though it was hard to resist the temptation to remove then to take photos.

My brother recommended I read an article in the 3/29/21 New Yorker about knitting and politics.

I read it on the airplane and wished I could talk about it with my mother. She would have enjoyed discussing it. Likewise, she loved orchids, and I would have called her this morning to share what we saw and what we ordered for dinner. This Sunday, 4/4 would have been my parents’ 68th anniversary. They used to regale us with stories about their first date– a blind date set up by a colleague of my mother’s and a Boy Scout friend of my father’s. My father drove into New York City from Guilford, CT, and they listened to jazz until late. I miss not being able to call and wish them many more.

Looking forward to more first dates as more of us become vaccinated.

Mom’s Matzo Ball Soup

Passover begins Saturday night. I met a friend to walk our dogs and we chatted about how we miss calling our mothers to tell them: “I’m making your recipe for..”

For me it’s my mother’s matzo ball soup,  featured in her cookbook,  A Glub Glub & a Shake Shake.

Mom’s Matzo Balls

2 cups matzo meal
8 eggs, separated
4 tbl. shortening (oil, melted margarine, or fat from the top of the soup)
8 tbl. water,selzer, or soup
½ tbl. salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
Chopped parsley and one medium chopped onion

Beat the egg whites until they stand at a peak. Put aside. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Fold in beaten egg whites. Chill overnight or for a few hours for a firm mixture that’s easier to handle. Bring a half of a large pot of water to a boil. Keep a bowl of cold water near to keep mixture from sticking to your hands. Roll matzo mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Drop in boiling water. Lower heat . Cook for ½ an hour. Makes about 40 matzo balls.

Mom’s Chicken Soup

1 large chicken
Onion, carrots, parsnip, tomato, celery, (dill and parsley), chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut a large chicken in half. I like a roasting chicken. They’re tender and less fatty, have marvelous flavor and are easy to handle. Clean inside of chicken. Place in pot. Cover chicken with water. Bring water to a boil. Skim off film that collects. Lower heat, cook for two hours or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken. Add vegetables, salt, and pepper. Cook for another hour. Add chopped parsley and dill before serving.

I  make enough to fill several quart containers to give to friends, a few who are having zoom seders with family far-flung or not yet vaccinated.

May all your matzo balls be light!

Chag Sameach!

The Covid Year: Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

It’s a year.

There are reminisces: the last trip, the last meal out, the last live theater performance, the last dinner party, the last family celebration, whether welcoming or burying a loved one.

I think we should change the date of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to mid-March. This seems how we mark time now: before lockdown and after. As a teacher, I always felt the New Year coincided better with a September to September schedule; January 1st never felt quite new.

Early into the lockdown, I attended my first zoom shiva– the period of structured mourning in Judaism. Traditionally the immediate family of a deceased “sits shiva.” Mourners visit the family  to offer condolences. Depending on the level of Jewish observation, a shiva can be a couple evenings to a full week.

My mother’s friend Janie Carno   died from Covid-19. Only one of her four children was able to attend a graveside service– masked and socially distant. Later we joined the family over zoom, not realizing then how much this type of interaction would consume our lives for an entire year and more.

When my mother died in December, we held a zoom shiva remembrance. It’s efficient: people from far away can attend, without worrying about traffic or weather. And as a friend noted, there’s no cleaning up from the influx of guests.

And that’s what’s missed. The lox and bagel schmooze with relatives and friends that yes, no matter how meaning, you tend to see only at weddings and funerals. While zoom attendees share memories about the deceased, there’s no chance to kibbitzing– making jokes, teasing cousins, gossiping.

Lucky me, I didn’t have any more funerals all year until last week. First my friend’s brother died, only 71, after fighting MDS, including receiving a stem cell transplant, for over a year. The next day, my mentor, Dr. M. Jerry Weiss    died. Nearly 95, he had gone for a walk, had lunch, and came home and died.

I attended two zoom shivas in a row.

I’m reminded what my late Aunt Anne advised:  “Never miss a simcha- everyone always shows up to a funeral.  

Here’s hoping we can return to celebrating with our families and friends like we did over a year ago.


Mom: Science, Democrats & Owls

Mom loved Joe Biden. She always supported him through the years, in his previous attempts to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

She would have loved his address last night. Straight-forward, honest. No airs, no ego. Direct and clear; and at the backbone: Science.

Mom was a scientist. After graduating from Hunter College with a degree in zoology, she worked at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the laboratory, conducting experiments on the effects of nicotine.

She believed in science. Working on the farm, she assisted in the annual vaccination of the chickens.

She obtained a Masters Degree in Public Health and volunteered with local commissions that focused on public health concerns, like drinking water, and access to services.

When she was in the hospital, shortly after the election, we told her that Biden had won in one of our zoom calls with her. She smiled; she and my father had voted by mail early. I’m glad the last president she voted for was Joe Biden.

Mom loved owls. They had a large wooden sculptor on their fireplace wall.  

When we sorted out her clothes, we found an owl pin that I think I may have bought her. I took it home and polished it; I’ll wear it and think about my mother and her wisdom, her love science and belief in sane, caring politicians among them. Continue reading “Mom: Science, Democrats & Owls”