Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday Cooking

Cooking heaps of delicious food has gotta be one of my favorite things about having my children come home. I love to cook for them. These days, Ron and I are on such a careful and restricted diet that we eat most contentedly at home. I have figured out how to adapt many recipes. I have now perfected the gluten-free pie crust so that we had an apple pie that Sudi declared one of the best I have ever made (with no wheat in the crust). Whoa. I think I have arrived. I also managed to figure out how to make the Whiskey Cake without flour and it was a hit at Thanksgiving in Oakland. Christmas Eve was enchiladas and guacamole. Christmas Day was Ron’s fried chicken, biscuits, latkes (with apple sauce and sour cream), green beans, and leftover mac ‘n cheese. Tonight? Lasagna Casserole (gluten-free). We are still working our way through the gluten-free chocolate cake and apple pie. I’m going to make a pumpkin pie this evening. Getting hungry yet? Visit my recipe blog (Amy’s Recipe Project). I started the recipe blog one year ago on January 1. I’m still working it. One day I’ll turn the recipes into an e-book. In the meantime, check out some of the treats I’ve already posted. This week I put up my mom’s Tutti Frutti Pie, at Dad’s request. It’s not gluten-free, but not everyone is avoiding gluten. And if you can’t eat gluten, there are plenty of other goodies on the blog for you. Search “Bernice’s Whiskey Cake” – I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jewish Christmas Eve

It has recently come to my attention that many Jews, particularly of the New York City variety, have a tradition of eating out Chinese food and then going to a movie on Christmas Eve. Crazy. Where I grew up, in Upstate New York, there was no such thing as Jewish Christmas Eve. My family did nothing on Christmas Eve, unless it was one of the nights of Hannukah, and then we lit the menorah. The first Christmas that Ron and I lived together, he went out and bought a little Christmas Tree for $5 on sale on Christmas Eve. Then we called his mom and opened our presents together while on the phone with her. We had no ornaments for the tree. Before we had children, Ron started a tradition of making me cheese blintzes every year for Christmas Dinner. What else do you make for a Jewish wife on Christmas?

Once we had children, Christmas became more magical every year while they were growing up until we had many traditions: choosing and cutting a tree on our property at the Ranch, decorating the tree with all the ornaments the children made over the years (or that were gifted to us—a Jewish wife does not bring Christmas tree ornaments to a marriage), baking holiday cookies, leaving milk and cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve (and lettuce for the reindeer), going to the Christmas sing-along at Hopland School, gleeful secrets, hiding gifts, watching It’s a Wonderful Life, Ron making fried chicken and biscuits for Christmas Dinner, Sudi getting up at 4AM to see what he got (I always had to leave one gift out for him to open and play with until the rest of us woke up), eggnog, the living room floor completely covered with wrapping paper (Golda and Ella, the cats, playing in the paper), friends coming to visit and sharing Christmas Dinner with us, watching movies, playing board games, setting up the train set and adding all the new pieces that were in the stockings, eating too many Reese’s peanut butter cups, listening for hours and hours to Ron’s huge collection of Christmas music, and on and on. We have been so blessed. With our children in college, we have scaled back on gifts in recent years. Our children now say that all they really want for Christmas is Dad’s chicken and biscuits. As a Jew, looking back on 30 years of Christmases with a Christian partner, I am grateful that Christmas entered my life. I wouldn’t trade our Christmas Eve for Chinese takeout and a movie. Embracing Ron’s cherished holiday has enriched my life. Christmas is so much bigger than its Christian roots. It’s the celebration of gratitude, sharing, caring, and love. It can be embraced and appreciated by anyone, no matter what their religious or spiritual beliefs. So yes, come all ye faithful, joyful, and triumphant. Come ye to the celebration of the best that we can be for each other, the celebration of the intrinsic value of every human spirit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kitchen Table Politics

In this huge runaway world, it is rare that one small person feels like she can make a difference. This past week I sat at my kitchen table, surrounded by friends, and we did just that. Dec. 10 was Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights Day. I have been an AI Freedom Writer for over 30 years. One of my favorite AI stories, which occurs rarely yet consistently every once in a long while, is that story of an abused and tortured prisoner of conscience, locked away in a dark place filled with despair, who is miraculously released and subsequently relates that one year at Christmas a guard opened the cell door and dumped bags and bags and bags and bags of cards on the floor of the cell. The cards read “Do not lose hope, you are not forgotten.” And they came from all over the world. From the kitchen tables of people like me.

It has been a year and a half now since my friend Liz started our “Code Pink Book Group,” made up of a handful of women like myself who have written, marched, been arrested, spoken out, and in some small way tried to protest injustice and violence. At first we read books by and about people in countries the U.S. was bombing the shit out of. But then we wandered off into other territory, reading both fiction and nonfiction (mostly nonfiction) about all sorts of politically charged issues. We meet once a month, have a potluck dinner, some of us now bring our spouses, and we have a lively discussion about the state of the world as well as whatever book we have read together. It took me a long time to find the right book group for me. But this one is it. And this past week I printed out the letters for the AI Write-a-Thon and my book group signed and addressed 65 letters at my kitchen table. From our hands to the desks of powerful officials. From our hands a tiny drop in the ocean, to be met by other drips and drops, to grow into a wave, that will perhaps save the life of a good man or woman on the other side of the world.

This is how lives are saved and how the world is changed. At the kitchen table.

A big shout out to the Nobel Committee for awarding this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo (imprisoned outspoken literary critic). Last year I shook my head in bafflement when they gave the award to Obama, a sitting U.S. president who was waging a war against the Afghani people. What has he done to promote peace? I wondered if the Nobel Committee was on crack or something. They have restored my faith in their judgment and the real purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize. Shame on China for squandering its best and brightest. (Go to the Amnesty International website to sign a petition for Xiaobo's release.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010


I meant to post about Tolstoy a couple of weeks ago and the time got away from me. November 20th was the 100th anniversary of the death of Leo Tolstoy. I may well be the only person I know who has read War and Peace three times. There is nothing that compares to climbing into an epic Russian novel. It’s sort of an out-of-body experience. And Tolstoy was the master. If you saw the recent film The Last Station then you know some of the drama that surrounded Tolstoy’s death. His wife was very nearly prevented from being with him on his deathbed because of his overzealous, overprotective followers. No one wrote on a more vast canvas than Tolstoy. He tried to make sense of the larger truths and yet he was able to describe the small moment immaculately.

It was Tolstoy who originated the concept of satyagraha, or truth-force, as Ghandi would later call it. We owe the evolution of nonviolent protest and peaceful conflict resolution to Tolstoy, who ignited the spark fanned to flame by Ghandi and Dr. King.

Tolstoy taught us to embrace simplicity and to fall in love over and over again with the exquisitely beautiful everyday occurrence. He insisted that we not overlook or take for granted a delicious bowl of soup or a breathtaking spray of lilies. He wrote: “The aim of the artist is not to solve a problem irrefutably, but to make people love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.” No shortcuts. No excuses. Be present. Savor it. Suffer it. Put yourself in up to your neck and experience the miracle. Bravo, Tolstoy.