On The Morning I Couldn’t Get To The Milk



A lonely pot of coffee looking for love ❤


In the scheme of things, the fact there was no milk in the refrigerator that Friday morning was minor.

And yet, it was just after 5 a.m. I’d been up too late and had a million things to do, among them cooking for Shabbos and getting my act together to teach a few hours later. Before I could do anything, before I could even begin to contemplate safely wielding a knife to cut potatoes for the cholent – really to function as an adult at all – I needed a cup of coffee.

I filled the French press with grinds, put up the kettle, and took out the milk, only to discover there was hardly a teaspoon of it in the container. The last person to drink milk left behind just enough to be able to argue that the container was not, in fact, empty.

Yes, I know who the perpetrator was. And no, it was not his first infraction.

On any other Friday morning, I would’ve gone to retrieve one of the extra half-gallons we keep on hand in the basement refrigerator. (Teenaged boys tend to drink a lot of it and I can’t keep running to the store and wow, what a blessing to be able to buy in abundance.) Minutes later, a steaming cup of coffee with a gorgeous layer of foamy milk on top would prove my reward for not waking the offender to demand he go get it for me.

That morning was not a typical morning, however. One son had friends staying over in the basement guest area, which denied me access to the refrigerator that houses the spare milk.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just drink the coffee black at that point. It’s true I’ve enjoyed intoxicating, milkless cups in Jerusalem and the Balkans, and once, a marvelous little espresso at a gas station outside Florence. But alas, my suburban New Jersey kitchen is not a café in Sofia or Sarajevo. Here, I drink an enormous latte. I needed milk.

In the meantime, I located a nearly empty bottle of Diet Coke. (If you’re seeing a theme here, you are correct.)  It was flat as a mesa, but the caffeine would keep me going until I could pick up a cup of coffee at the nearest shop on the way to work.

When I began self-serving Dark Roast into a tall paper cup, the pump on the urn sputtered. Dark Roast was empty. I called out “Excuse me!” to the woman womanning the coffee area. She kindly offered to brew me a new pot, but it would have taken time I didn’t have.

After I poured out the dregs from my cup, I began the ritual from scratch, this time choosing House Blend. And would you believe it? It happened again. Again I called over the woman in the coffee area, who was joined by a second woman. They both offered to brew me another pot, though by then I had even less time.

I settled on something called Mild Roast, whose name alone boded poorly on a morning I needed a jolt in a cup. That the Mild Roast urn was full left me with little faith in its contents.

I thanked the women and they both apologized on behalf of the establishment. I assured them it was fine, that my day would proceed, Dark Roast or House Blend or not, that I might be a little hazy and perhaps a bit edgy, but it was all fine in the scheme of things. Not the end of the world. We laughed about the oversized importance of coffee in our lives. I bid them a good day.

As I walked towards the cashier, one of the women called out to me, “I wish all of our customers were like you.”

Now, I’m nothing special, so my mind began to imagine all the uncomfortable scenarios those women must face in their line of work to make them say something like that to me. I’d only been polite. I didn’t shout, yell, complain, or demand to speak with the manager. I made the best of a poorly caffeinated situation. And I accepted the consequences of not planning ahead. I should have remembered to bring an extra container of milk upstairs the night before, knowing the teenagers could’ve slept until noon.

The funny thing is that although that cup of coffee may not have had the strength I needed to get through the day, I was glad for it in the end and grateful for the reminders that came with it. Patience, compromise, and kindness are assets, honeyed manners that catch more bees than gruffness ever will.

Turns out Mild Roast was the best cup of the day.

Some Losses, A Few Breaks, And A Little News From My Kitchen

I tend to hold onto things. I’m sentimental to a fault, the keeper of ticket stubs, school play programs, and birthday cards. I prefer the old to the new, the bits that speak of family history, the pieces imbued with love from those who handed them down to me. I’m also a tinkerer who married a tinkerer. We like to fix things, salvage, upcycle, and stretch out the life of what we own.

Above all, I like to keep everything I hold onto in order. But the past few months have reminded me that we’re not in control of very much – not our losses or our gains. Sometimes, the best we can do is to just accept things as they are, to welcome change and embrace the new.

Let me fill you in on what’s been happening:

First, Things Began To Disappear

We were leaving a wedding when I realized that a costume brooch I inherited from my great aunt had fallen off the vintage clutch to which I pinned it more than a decade ago. Though in vain, I searched beneath the table, on the dance floor, in the bathroom. I loved the brooch mostly because of its imperfections, like the missing rhinestones that reminded me how much my great aunt adored me despite my failings.

At home a week later, I lost one of my pearl earrings, a simple pair I liked to wear every day. Not long after, I misplaced one of a second pair of pearls, the nicer set, a gift from my husband. Now I’m left with two single earrings that don’t match. Since earrings are one of my few adornments, I began wearing a faux pair I bought for $5 on a table near Penn Station back in 2004.

I turned over a glass in the cabinet, which is what my grandmother would have done. I also recited the Rabbi Meir Baal Haness blessing for lost objects and put something in the pushka. Now I’m hoping the earrings will turn up when I clean for that holiday starting with a P.

Next, Things Began To Break.

I was making coffee one morning when a mug fell out of the cabinet. It landed hard on my favorite plate, shattering it to pieces. I’d found that plate on the clearance shelf at Anthropologie and took immediately to its misshapenness, red color, and bold blue floral design. Plus, it looked like something from another era and it was the perfect size for the small servings I’m trying to eat. Alas, there was no gluing it back together.

Then my rubber rain boots cracked on the bottom and there was no fixing those. My favorite reading glasses, the tortoiseshell ones from the bookstore, broke next. Lastly, my Kitchen Aid blew out while mixing a batch of challah dough.

I Had To Buy a New Dough Mixer.

I’ve been baking challah for almost 15 years.  I came to it begrudgingly, but fell head over heels with every step of the process. I love the aroma of proofing yeast, the kneading, the braiding, and the blessing one recites on the dough. Another perk is that my family likes the taste of the end product.

While all of that is true, I would never have kept it up without my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. But a Kitchen Aid, at least the newer ones (I hear the old ones are real workhorses and that doesn’t surprise me), is not designed for the repeated beating of weekly challah baking. Mine had already spent two expensive stints in a Kitchen Aid hospital. After it broke this time, I knew I needed a sturdier machine.

When we were down to the last few challahs in the freezer, I did my research and invested in a Swedish-made Ankarsrum Attendent. It was love at first sight. This past Sunday, I baked a few inaugural batches of challah. Order has been restored to my kitchen, though I’m still hoping those earrings will turn up, wherever they went missing.

Isn’t this beautiful?


These Things Recently Happened In My Kitchen, Too.

I made a decision a few years ago not to buy any more cookbooks. Instead, I get most of my new recipes online, printing out the keepers and storing them in a three-ring binder. But I was delighted when my friend Sherri surprised me with Unforgettable, Emily Kaiser Thelin’s stunning new volume, for my birthday. Part biography, part cookbook, part love story with food, the book shines a light on the life of Paula Wolfert, the maven of Mediterranean cuisine, who is losing her memory to dementia.  There’s one recipe I have my eye on making soon, but for now, I’m just enjoying the story.

And here’s a recent essay of mine, set mostly in my kitchen Stealing Time From The Cosmos. I hope you’ll read and enjoy, even if you yourself are not an early riser.

Tell me, what are you up to lately in your own kitchen? Leave a message in the comments.



My Year In Books 2017

Another year, another book list.

The world seemed to change in 2017 and my book choices mirrored the sense I was trying to make of it all. The online news proved a time-consuming distraction, and my obsession with it accounts in great part for what is a shorter list than usual.

I read far less current literary fiction and fewer memoirs – my favorite genres – than I usually do. Instead, I took the time to revisit a few classics and to fill in some gaps in my literary c.v. They seemed to be the right things to have on my nightstand at the time. Their words and wisdom, messages and metaphors set the mood for my experience of 2017.

Last year, I adored Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow so much I read it twice. Nothing swept me away quite like the Count and his nostalgia. When I needed a break from the news this year, I read it a third time.

It wasn’t the kind of year in which I had an absolute favorite, but I’m inclined to say that was less about the books and more about me. And yet, it was a year of meaningful reading. For example, I finally read Aaron Appelfeld’s The Iron Tracks and Edward Lewis Wallant’s The Pawnbroker. Shame on me for not reading them earlier. They are raw and honest Holocaust stories that remind me why books like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas so fully miss their mark.

My pile for next year already towers high. At the moment, it’s filled with books by Jewish women writers and I cannot wait to read them all.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what you’re reading (leave a note in the comments or drop me an email through my website). I love recommendations. And if I don’t get to them next year, G-d willing, there’s the year after.

And please check out my latest essay on Hevria,  How To Build An Entire World In Negative Space.

Wishing you all health and happiness and plenty of time to curl up with a good book in 2018!


My Year in Books 2017

#1 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. Man Booker Prize-winning novella about memory and regret in all their awkwardness, but I wished I could have summoned more feeling for the characters.

#2 Awakening by Kate Chopin.  It’s awe-inspiring that Chopin published this bold novel when she did. It’s an important read, though I struggled as a mother with some of the protagonist’s choices. Chopin’s excellent short story “The Story of an Hour” is the perfect companion piece.

#3 You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein. I had no idea who Klein was before I began reading this (mostly) light, enjoyable memoir.

#4 The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough. A story for young readers about a boy who helps a Jewish girl and her family during the Holocaust.

#5 It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. This reads like a playbook on the current political situation in America. It is hard, disturbing, and prophetic.

#6 Antigone by Sophocles. Greek tragedy about a woman who is willing to die for what’s right.

#7 Antigone by Jean Anouilh. A modern interpretation of Sophocles’ tragedy, set in Nazi-occupied France.

#8 Early One Morning by Virginia Baily. The story of a woman who makes an on-the-spot decision to save a Jewish child in Nazi-occupied Rome.

#9 Animal Farm by George Orwell. Another timely classic.

#10 Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman. Wonderful story for young readers about cereal and time travel.

#11 Food Rules by Michael Pollan. Short, interesting book of guidance for the eater.

#12 The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris. I was really disappointed in this book, which paints a one-dimensional picture of West London’s religious Jewish community.

#13 Hoot by Carl Hiassen. A nice clean chapter book about taking a stand for a cause, in this case, owls.

#14 Awake in the Dark by Shira Nayman. Psychological tales of Holocaust survivors and their children that read more like essays than fiction.

#15 The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith. Fictionalized account of George Eliot’s second marriage and honeymoon. A lovely companion to any of Eliot’s novels.

#16 The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s possible I’m the only person on the planet who couldn’t get into Eat, Pray, Love, but I enjoyed this novel about a 19th-century, self-educated woman who defies social conventions to live a meaningful intellectual life.

#17 The German Girl  by Armando Lucas Correa. Novel about a family on the ill-fated St. Louis. I struggled with the language the author uses to convey different voices, which made it hard for me to get caught up in the story, and I didn’t like the ending.

#18 Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. The marvelous George Eliot’s last novel, this lengthy story is about personal moral reckoning and the individual’s search for spiritual meaning. It also offers a highly sympathetic view of the Jewish pull toward Zion.

#19 The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Novel about women who take great risks in World War II France. I enjoyed the storytelling and characters, though I found the book too sentimental for such a serious topic.

#20 Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. Three women narrate their World War Two experiences – two in Ravensbruck and one in New York.

#21 Reread A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. See last year’s list for more on that. My Year In Books 2016.

#22 The Circle by David Eggers. A dystopian novel about a young woman’s new career at the world’s largest internet company. I gave up on page 49.

#23 The Pawnbroker by Edward Lewis Wallant. A must-read about a Holocaust survivor who becomes a pawnbroker in New York. Raw and powerful and genuine.

#24 The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood.  A story of two overlapping tales of infidelity. Some lovely parts, but the ending felt contrived.

#25 Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey. I got caught up in the surreal adventure of an American translator who comes to Brazil in search of her author, who has disappeared into an almond tree. Friends who read it with me gave it mixed reviews.

#26 After Abel by Michal Lemberger. I often wonder what the women of the Torah are thinking and feeling, so I treasured this story collection that imagines what happens to a number of them between the lines.

#27 Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner. Though I’ve never read her fiction, I really enjoyed this smart, funny, relatable memoir by the novelist.

#28 Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I wanted to reread this in advance of the movie release.  I’d forgotten about Christie’s delicious characterizations and relished them all. I still haven’t seen the film.

#29 You Learn By Living by Eleanor Roosevelt. The wrong book for the wrong time, though I felt guilty I couldn’t get through it.

#30 War & Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans. A Flemish artist fights in the trenches of World War I. A heartwrenching, beautiful portrait of one’s man’s life.

#31 The Iron Tracks by Aharon Appelfeld. A masterful story about a survivor who rides the trains through Austria in search of the man who killed his parents.

#32 Irmina by Barbara Yelin. Graphic novel that asks difficult questions about complicity in Nazi Germany.

#33 If All the Seas Were Ink by Ilana Kurshan. A gorgeous literary memoir about Kurshan’s immersion in the daily study of Talmud as she recovers from her divorce and builds a new, beautiful life.

#34 The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I adored this fable about the power of stories to help us process the dark side of human nature and to shelter us from it, too.

#35 Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. A fascinating and important memoir about white working-class America.







It Was My Birthday, Even If I Didn’t Eat Cake

I’m not a fan of birthday cake, not even the icing. Buttercream or ganache – it doesn’t matter. I’d much rather have a tuna melt on whole wheat with a little coleslaw on the side, even if tuna melts are not a birthday tradition.

This rarely goes over well since everyone else seems to want to eat birthday cake. When I say there’s really no need for a trip to the bakery or to the market for Duncan Hines, they look at me askance, as if my preference were some kind of heresy. Since I don’t want the bad karma, nor do I want to deny them the opportunity, I embrace the cake ceremony nonetheless, making a wish and blowing out the candles with a smile on my face, keeping the visions of melted Pepper Jack to myself.

My lack of affection for the cake notwithstanding, I am a big fan of birthdays.  Yes, they mean I’ve aged another year. The child inside me jumps up and down anyway, relishing the good wishes and the cards and the little surprises, even the princess birthday balloon my husband places in the bathroom so I’ll see it first thing in the morning.

Oh, sure. I wouldn’t mind if new grey hairs would stop appearing on my head like dandelions on the front lawn. And yet. We humans get only two modes – stop and go. I’m grateful when the tally of my years on earth continues, thank G-d, to add up.

When one of our sons turned 12, I drove to his school to drop off a tray of cupcakes, which he requested for a class celebration. Someone in the office remarked with knitted brow that he was really too old for a birthday party, as if there were an age cut off for enjoying cupcakes, if cupcakes are your thing.

You’re only too old for a birthday celebration when your time is up, I mumbled under my breath, articulating for the first time what I’ve felt all along.

Still, her remark and her underlying judgment chafed the whole ride home. I wrote her a pleading email to say there is too much tsoris in our world. What’s wrong with the boys enjoying a few cupcakes and wishing a friend Happy Birthday? Besides, I added, how do you teach a child to appreciate the blessing of time without also encouraging him or her to celebrate its march forward? She agreed and said she’d never really looked at it that way before.

This past week, we celebrated my birthday by taking a long walk in the park and stopping for lattes on the way home. All the while, I waved to the little girl jumping up and down inside me, still glowing from the princess balloon that greeted her earlier that morning. At long last, I felt comfortable enough in my own skin to say I’d prefer we didn’t have cake.

Years have passed since that incident with my son, who still likes cupcakes, as it happens. Everything I believed that day holds true now. I feel it with an urgency, an immediacy that at first surprises, then steadies me. A birthday is an opportunity to express gratitude, and I’m thankful to be here.

Now please pass the coleslaw.

Photo credit: Robyn Lee

Please Don’t Park Here


Each time I have to park my large minivan somewhere in this great, densely populated state of ours, I become more and more convinced that my brain resembles a suburban parking lot.

First, there’s the long-term parking. I keep the happy memories at the front near the exit, where I can back them out easily. The other ones sit deeper in, towards the rear. But the valet guys sometimes play a practical joke on me and switch things around. I can’t do anything about that because they’re the ones with the keys.

There’s so much I have to keep straight that the daily parking deck is always packed all the way up to the top level. I have to squeeze in everything I need to remember and take care of, and all the topics I want to write about and the work I have to get done, and of course, the questions and existential crises about whether my life has meaning and am I a good mother. Oh, and the worrying about big ticket items that really matter and the molehills that don’t and whether I should have guests for Shabbos, and if so, how many side dishes are enough. Those things are also looking for space.

Sometimes, sewage backs up in the laundry room sink and family issues arise at the same time. At others, I feel overextended by having to manage what feels like everything, while also processing someone’s well-meaning-but-not-really remark about how tired I look. When those things pull up in search of a spot, my head isn’t sure where to park them. But these are the SUVs of brain space, bullying everything else out of the way, and their arrival sends the valets into a tizzy and they announce they’ve had enough and go on their break. While waiting for them to return to sort this all out, general functioning shuts down. It’s impossible to maneuver around all of that and still get anything else accomplished. Before long, though, we’re up and running again.

On the other hand, when good news arrives, though there isn’t enough room left to park a unicycle, there’s suddenly parking in the awkward corner between the support poles, even in the reserved spots usually taken by extremely important matters. The same is true during a true medical or other kind of emergency. It’s remarkable how even a crowded brain can make room.

No matter what’s happening, regardless of what kind of day I’m having, there’s a ruckus in there. My husband jokes that even when I’m sleeping, he can hear the noise from my responsibilities and thoughts and worries clanging against one another, jockeying for priority position in my frontal lobes.

And on Shabbos, when you’d think my brain would get some rest on what should be a low traffic day, the situation gets worse. I survey everything I’ve got parked upstairs and start examining whether I’m giving G-d enough attention and my husband enough attention and if I’m focused enough – or maybe too much – on my kids. Before I know it, my head wants Shabbos to be over so I can stop thinking too darned much and return to the business of actually getting things done. I spend the last hour of what should be peace and quiet awaiting the arrival of three stars in the sky, when I’ll  finally regain a false sense of control.

Just typing this makes my brain tired.

To every problem that wants to come my way tonight, to every issue and crisis and complication, to every new task I must remember to take care of and school form I need to fill out, I beg of you. Please do not park here tonight. The lot is full and I need a good night’s sleep.

We will reopen for business in the morning.

(Photo Credit: Mike Petrucci)

Venting In The New Year

Venting In The New Year


I’m not a fan of resolutions. I rarely bother, mostly because I don’t like to set myself up for failure. But I did have a short list of things I wanted to accomplish this past year.

Top among them was learning how to clean out the dryer vent. I don’t mean the easy, everyday removal of lint from the collector between loads. I’m talking about the opening of the relevant dryer parts, hardware and all, in order to extract every last piece of fuzz, or at least the areas the vacuum nozzle could access.

I know, I know. Not exactly a spiritual Everest, or the stuff meaningful personal growth is made of. Still, it was important to me, for reasons ranging from home safety and dryer efficiency to personal skill-building and a sense of homeowner empowerment.

Two weeks before Rosh Hashana, my husband and I set aside an hour on his day off. We try our best to have some kind of an adventure that day – to reconnect amid the chaos of our obligations by exploring a small town or park in our tiny state, or if time is really limited, just finding a new coffee shop for catching up over a latte.

Instead, we lugged the vacuum cleaner down to the laundry room and got to work. He usually tackles this chore alone, but I was insistent he teach me this time. To my surprise, it was a team-building exercise par excellence, a chance to laugh at ourselves and test our patience for one another, like when I lost the screw to reattach the vent cover and my husband only shrugged, even as he struggled to find an exact replacement so we could put the dryer back together. Still, our sole disappointment was that we couldn’t spin all that lint into gold.

The timing of the lint clearing struck me as opportune in retrospect. We’re in the season of the clean slate – of starting fresh, of committing to doing better, and of growing in meaningful ways. What, after all, are the words of atonement we will utter between now and Yom Kippur but a venting of our sins, a shedding of our misgivings and regrets? We clear them out the best we can, whatever we have the strength and time for, whatever we have the spiritual wherewithal to access. And from there we aim to start again.

I have not yet set new goals. It seems too lofty to aim for a lint-free year, to think I might keep my slate clean for that long. Something more tangible and possible will come to me in time, I assume. For now, I’m just trying to focus on the self-reflection Yom Kippur requires of me, the sukkah decorating, and the making of the many, many festive meals we’ll consume over the next few weeks.

May the days and the year ahead be filled with blessing for all of us.

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