Archive | September 2011

Eating my way through the CSA: Roasted Tomatillos

With the fall harvest approaching, my first year in subscribing to a local CSA, or community supported agriculture farm, is coming to a close. My family signed on to share a share with another family: good friends  we have known through school, soccer games, and synagogue for over ten years. We decided to go in together in a CSA share as one brave experiment.

The very wet spring that gave way to a very dry hot summer created spotty conditions for the young farmers of the East Hill CSA. Buying into a CSA comes with its risks and rewards, as we were warned. But in the end, joining made me feel good that I am helping local, sustainable agriculture and like the farmers, I am taking a gamble on Mother Nature in hopes of bringing healthy food to my family’s table.

Highs of belonging to a  CSA included (for us at least):

  • The discovery of Kale and Kohlrabi that can be oven baked, salted and eaten like chips;
  • Fresh herbs;
  • A weekly sunflower or wildflower bouquet  in midsummer;
  • Patti pan squash;
  • Bags of mixed greens for salad that include edible flowers like nasturtium
  • Pints of home-grown grapes that really taste like grapes (my daughter proclaimed they tasted like grape candy). Delicious, if you can work your way around the seeds.

The lows

  • Discovering that the weekly box of bounty is not all that bountiful for two families;
  • Sharing one eggplant or two (very puny) sweet potatoes can be an exercise in tactical negotiations between two families (Weekly bartering included exchanges like: “You take the sweet potatoes, I insist!”; “Are you sure?”; “Yes, you take the sweet potatoes, but can I have the one cucumber”; “My kids don’t like Swiss Chard, really, you take the Swiss Chard this week …I’ll take  the tomatoes…” and so on.);
  • Beets. Though the beet offerings as of late are getting more plump, the tiny beets at the beginning of the season in my opinion were not worth the stained hands and countertops for their size;

But readers, as the headline of this blog post promised, this post is about Tomatillos. It’s also about  using the blogosphere to find recipes for my CSA goodies.

Since I’ve been blogging, I have come to appreciate search engines. I find it interesting to learn from my blog stats what search terms draw people to my blog.   For example,  hundreds of people searching for “arugula” or “arugula leaf” have found their way to my blog. So, after my friends decided to bestow  me with this week’s share of almost  two dozen  tomatillos, I returned the favor to the blogosphere by searching for Tomatillos on WordPress.

If you find that you have in your possession a lot of these late-season green, globular fruits with a papery shell, you may want to give this recipe a try for roasted tomatillo salsa that can be used for enchiladas. I found it on Angelinna’s Cottage Blog. Thank you Angelinna, whoever you are.

Will there ever be peace in the Middle East?

I thought about writing some long diatribe about how many times Israel holds out the olive branch and how the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to make peace with Israel.

Then, this fell into my newly revamped Facebook feed. Enjoy. If it wasn’t so funny, it would be sad…

Goodbye, Summer. I’ll See You in my Freezer

During the long Rochester winters, what I miss most about the summer is my garden. One fall day in early October, when my older son was very small, he accompanied me into the garden as I pulled out the last annuals and put the soil to bed.

As I yanked out the last withering tomato plant, he burst into tears and cried:

“It’s really OVER!!”

One of the favorite dishes of summer for my family that smells as good as it tastes is Pesto.

Take one leaf of basil and rub it between your fingers. The powerful scent it gives off is the stuff of summer. Then, when it is crushed into a paste and mixed with pine nuts, olive oil and cheese, it makes any boring pasta meal a celebration.

To live without basil all winter would be too cruel a reality.

Sure, you can buy yourself some hydroponically-grown basil in the middle of January. One plant, that has about 20 good leaves on it, will cost about 2.99 these days at the supermarket.


You can get out to your nearest public market, like the Rochester Public Market, one of the world’s greatest public spaces. Buy the biggest bunch of basil you can find for about $1.50. It will be waiting for you in a big bucket filled with water and if it’s fresh, will still have the roots attached, dirt and all.

Then, take this green bouquet home. It’s so pretty you may want to photograph it, like I did:

My Nikon camera has a setting for photographing food. Who knew?










It isn’t long before basil leaves wither. As harsh as it may seem, pick all those leaves off (I amassed 3 cups of basil leaves with this bunch), wash them well in a colander, and place them in a food processor.








I also put in three cloves of garlic that I roasted. Roasting the garlic cloves brings out their sweetness.

Add to this puree 1/3 cup of some very good olive oil and 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts or walnuts. You can add 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese here, but this can be added when you are ready to use your Pesto.

Then, pour the mixture into an ice-cube tray sprayed with cooking oil. (My children think this is very strange and have at times placed a pesto cube, in error, into their water. I don’t recommend this.)

Pesto cubes can be used in sauces, soups, or as Pesto in the dead of winter.

After creating your pesto cubes, you can finally accept and let go of summer with the comfort of knowing that it is waiting for you in your freezer come February.

Finally the dreams have stopped

When I woke up the morning on 9/12, like everyone else, I wished the whole thing was a dream.

Then, at night, images of the World Trade Center entered my dreams at least twice a month, for the next nine years.

It’s no wonder I dreamed about these iconic buildings, buildings I grew up with, beamed with pride at.

But the last time I saw them was looking out at them from my grandmother’s hospital window. It was July of 2001. Though they passed away years later, my grandparent’s health in earnest began to fail that summer. As I held her hand,I said to her “Hey, at least you have a great view of downtown. Look at the Towers. Look how beautiful they are.”

And they were on that day, across the East River. So crisp a view.

And just a few weeks before September 11, my dad had a heart attack. He did survive, to teach, to live, to continue biking and traveling, and enjoying his grandchildren. But I think it was the attacks of 9/11 that truly broke his heart.

So, is it any wonder my brain created for years images of the World Trade Center?

Sometimes in my dreams I would be falling, floating up, up, up, past desks and cubicles and giant, narrow office windows.

Other times, I’d be in an elevator, thinking, I shouldn’t be here, I need to get out of here.

In some dreams, I’d be outside, and there they were, the Twin Towers, just there, like they were a backdrop in a movie.

Or, they would appear as ghost buildings with police barricades around them. I’d walk past them and yell at them. Go away. You are gone. You shouldn’t be here any more.

Upon wakening, I wouldn’t always remember that I dreamed right away. Of course, it would hit me in the middle of my day. I’d be in the cereal aisle at the supermarket, and I would stop dead. Cold. Oh, God. I dreamed about them. I dreamed about the Towers again.

But now, 10 years later, the dreams have stopped. They stopped when Osama bin Laden was finally, justly, wiped from the face of the earth. They stopped when finally, Ground Zero was no longer just an empty, gaping hole but the beginnings of the newly emerging Freedom Tower. New York is rising again.

I know that putting a building back up cannot bring back the souls lost on 9/11, but it is my hope that this new, so carefully thought out complex of buildings and memorials can help ease the dreams and memories of so many of the families from tomorrow and onward. I wish them only the sweetest of dreams.

Can 9/11 ever be just another day? And what will I tell my students?

Making the past relevant: students at a Jewish summer camp learning about one sad event, the destruction of the Holy Temple, through the tragedy of 9/11

What a challenging day to make a first impression. On the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, right around the time when the towers crumbled, I will be standing before my class of newly minted seventh graders. I will have to save face and cheerfully smile at my new students and welcome them to a new year of Jewish learning.

All the while, I know at this time I would usually be crying. All the while, I know, in truth, my students would rather be sleeping in on a Sunday morning.  I’m wondering if any other Jewish educators of middle school aged children and older are feeling the way I do; about how to get through this first day.

Let’s hope I don’t lose it and get all teary-eyed in those first introductory moments about an event that happened when my new students were barely out of diapers. After all, ten years to a 13-year-old is a very long time.

I can hear the conversation in the Hebrew School carpool ride home tomorrow: “… new teacher, like, cried on the first day. Ewww.”

For better or worse, time does go on and obligations do not stop just because of a date. Over the years, the date of 9/11 shifted around the days of the week. There have been weddings and homecomings, meetings and business trips.  Sometimes, the anniversary falls in the middle of the week. Sometimes it happens on a Tuesday, the very day of the attacks.

What do I usually do between 8:45 and 9:00 a.m. on the anniversary of 9/11? I’m usually alone. Everyone else in the family has left for school and work. I feel as I should watch the real-time replay of those horrible moments, as CNN plays it every year. Sometimes, I watch it. Most years, I hide in my laundry room in the basement and have a good cry. Then I get on with my day.

What do I usually do the first day of a new school year with my new kids?  I go over expectations. Together, we make a list of class rules. I review classroom procedures and what we will be learning. Also, we have some ice breaker games to get acquainted. 

Can we ignore the events of a decade ago and go on with business as usual? Talking about something as painful as 9/11 on our very first day will be a very difficult thing to do, but just as difficult to ignore. I don’t think crying in front of them, or showing the slightest tear will be an option. Not while we are still strangers.

It’s not that difficult subjects don’t arise in Hebrew school. In fact, it’s these really sensitive topics that have motivated my past students. They really open up and we have amazing conversations. (That’s what I love about the seventh grade, they never cease to surprise you on what they can handle.)

Kids in the seventh grade are ready to not to be kids anymore. After all, it’s the year of their B’nei Mitzvah, their coming of age. They want to talk and they told me last year that sheltering them does them a disservice anyway.

 I remember last year, sitting on the floor with my seventh graders, discussing the Holocaust with them and how the lessons they learned from the Shoah still mean something to them today. But that discussion happened on one of the last days of school, not the first.

So, come Sunday, I’ll stick to my plan. Unless the plan needs to change. In the Talmud, the rabbis instruct to “go with the way a child wants to learn.”  

So, if the topic comes up, I’ll share. I’ll tell them that a decade ago, I was in the middle of filling out my own Rosh Hashanah cards, wishing friends and family a happy New Year when the planes hit.  I’ll tell them that I wrestled with the choice of sending those cards out at all, but in the end I did. Because that Rosh Hashanah, praying for the New Year seemed more important than ever before.

So if I have to scrap my whole lesson so we can gather on the floor, open up and talk about how to approach the madness and the sadness of this day, so be it.

Then, perhaps the next week, they will derive some meaning during Tefilot, or prayers.

They really will thank G-d for sustaining them and giving them the energy for waking to a new day.

They really will thank G-d for making them free and not a slave.

They really thank G-d for strenghening us with courage.

Brick by Brick

I remember as a kid going to the Statue of Liberty and learning that the base of the statue was funded by pennies collected by NYC schoolchildren. This week, I watched this four-part series of all the different people that are working together to rebuild the World Trade Center.

Rebuilding, on small and large projects, are ways for communities to come together. This september, as we remember the 9/11 attacks, and the destruction from Katrina and now Irene, let’s think of how we can help Americans rebuild from disaster.    Here are are more examples I wrote about in my weekly colum

“Come in,” I said “I’ll Give You Shelter From the Storm.”… if you clean my basement

I love having summer guests. This summer, I convinced my brother and sister-in-law  to come up for a long overdue visit the last weekend of August. Even though my husband and oldest son would be away on a father-son baseball road trip to Cooperstown and a double-header at Citifield, I welcomed their visit. Niagara Falls, a water walk in Stony Brook State Park and the Erie Canal were in my plans. Hurricane Irene, a flu-like virus, and cleaning my basement were not in my plans. But all of the above happened in one packed weekend.

I am apparently a negligent housekeeper.  It’s not that I didn’t clean before my family arrived. I scrubbed bathrooms and even dusted and vacuumed stairways and rugs. But, my undiagnosed ADD shows through in my cleaning. I miss a lot of spots. And I’d rather be gardening, reading, or writing than cleaning.

To my defense, my two children had just returned, laundry and all, from summer camp. We still had mountains of dirty socks and sleeping bags to conquer when the Cooper clan showed at my door on Thursday. And I still prepared a birthday party dinner for my nephew, planned a picnic for the next day at Stonybrook, and played tour guide again on Saturday at Niagara Falls.

Then, somewhere between the Maid of the Mist and the Journey behind the Falls on Saturday, I got sick. Once home, I surrendered myself to my bed and the mercy of the Cooper Cleaners.

Now, I know my brother and sister-in-law weren’t criticizing me at the sorry state of my basement. Glenn was truly concerned about the high humidity rate in my basement and my out-of-comission dehumidifier.  He was concerned because he noticed mold growing on some of my basement walls, and, well, my office chair, and the soggy condition of some of the contents of my downstairs pantry. And there is a cause for concern, as my youngest has asthma.

“When was the last time this thing worked?” he asked, as I lay in bed, about my basement dehumidifier.

I confessed: I cleaned it out earlier this summer. I vacuumed out the lint vent and the metal coils in back. But I hadn’t noticed if the dehumidifier was working in many months.

“How old did you say this thing was?”

“I honestly don’t know, bro.”

So, I pulled myself out of bed and off we went to the Home Depot to get me a new one. While we were there, my brother was also on the hunt for a backup sump pump. Hurricane Irene was battering the east coast. We were watching coverage of the storm’s progress all day, and he was concerned his New Jersey basement would become flooded. We got a dehumidifier, but no luck on what he needed. He checked Lowe’s too, and they were out of the sump pump as well. Apparently, people had traveled as far as Albany and Connecticut to get ones for their flooded homes.

Sunday rolled around. My family decided to wait out the storm at my place and not traverse the roads until Monday. That was fortunate for me,  because I became even more sick.

I spent the whole day in bed. When I rose, I went downstairs to find my dining room table  was filled with clean, folded laundry. I went further downstairs to my basement, to find the remains of the dirty laundry sorted in baskets. And my  basement floor had been swept clean.

AND: My brother installed my new dehumidifier and got the humidity level down to 65 percent.

I felt embarrassed and guilty that this was supposed to be my sibling’s getaway and they were instead holding down my household while worrying about theirs. I was eternally grateful.

And what was the payback? The Coopers returned to New Jersey, after being rerouted several times from the New York State Thruway and Route 17 to find they had no power.


Not because of Irene. Because a crazy old man who lived across the street, jealous that their side of the street had power and his had none, blew out a power transformer on the block with a shot-gun.

He got arrested, according to the news report. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s true.

Thanks for taking care of me, little brother and sister. A thank you gift is coming in the mail.

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