♦ Debriefing

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Dear Shaina,

I know it sounded like I got you all wrong, but really, I didn’t. I am proud of your creative resourcefulness, in all matters. I am in awe of your comfort with your being by yourself, your ability to structure your time and accomplish what you set out to do without any prodding from anyone other than yourself…and then turn around and organize a social outing with a few close friends or 80 friends of friends because you’re ready for some fun. You seem to be able to manage what most of us still find very challenging…meeting our alone needs and our social needs without expecting someone else to do it for us. I am proud of you…and of me and Dad for providing the nurturance and opportunities that gave you the space to take your life wherever you chose. And you have chosen well. We are proud!

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My getting it wrong didn’t really have anything to do with you. Every mother has their own vision of the ideal mother they want to be and believe they can be. It doesn’t necessarily comply with the actuality of their mothering or the vision their children have of them. In truth, I never imagined myself as a working mother. My fantasy was that I would be the PTA organizing, cookie baking, field trip driving mom who was always there and never missed a mom-beat. Instead, I was an overbearing, impatient, overprotective worried mother who was pretty bored with the do-the-laundry-while-the-baby-is-taking-a-nap routine. I realized pretty early on that I needed to go to work for your sake and mine. I don’t regret my decision. It proved to help both of us grow into independent, productive and fun-loving women.10257145_10201836219616231_363673777101131976_n

That doesn’t mean that I am immune to the pangs of guilt that all working mothers have, especially when their children are home alone sick. The sticky remnants of our idealized mother-image gnaws at our hearts. If only I had been there…how much I missed not being there…how much I missed even when I was there… It’s never perfect and we keep wishing it were.

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Shaina, each time you come home from whatever far-away adventure you are currently on, I have the sense of meeting someone deeply familiar, yet subtly altered. You seem more settled and happy. The kind of happy that eases a mother’s mind. This Passover was one of our best ever…and not just because all the food was the best ever (even the gefilte fish). Your consistently gentle essence breezed in and drew us into late night talks, kitchen marathons and momentary peeks into the ever evolving world of Shaina. Being with you, shopping with you, debriefing our days (a new habit you picked up from a housemate…thank you thank you!), even cooking with you, was perfect!

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So Shaina, memory is selective and the timing of memories is especially altered. I remember the blue jello dreidles and the green poop and the witches games and the mud pies and all the mac n cheese you ate as a little girl. I remember. I was there. I remember the kitchen experiments when you got older, although more vaguely, because I wasn’t always there. The trashed kitchen memories were vivid as they awaited me when I did get there.

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Today, mother and daughter, we are here together creating new memories….memories that may supersede other memories in their poignancy, their pleasure and in their immediacy…or not. It’s been an incredible holiday and I can’t wait to do it again!

Love,
Mom
xoxooxoxxoxoxoxo

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Passover Sponge Cake

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Shaina, who knew that this was your all time favorite cake, Passover or not?! I have spent the last three years trying to perfect it. Not the recipe. That’s standard…the same cake Bubbe made every Passover since I have been conscious…the recipe on the back of the Manischewitz Potato Starch can. Every year Bubbe would exclaim at the height of her cakes…the higher the better…it has to do with the egg whites. I started making them the last couple years of her life as she sat in my kitchen directing my efforts. They didn’t come out as high as hers and invariably one would fall apart when I took it out of the pan and I would have to make another one, using the crumbled one for strawberry trifle (your Dad’s favorite). One year, I remember making three cakes before I finally got one to hold together…not that anyone was complaining.

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This year, another miracle of Passover occurred. I produced two fully intact, respectably high (although in my memory, Bubbe’s were higher) Passover sponge cakes. And you revealed that this was your favorite all time cake. Will wonders never cease?!

It turns out that this cake is also gluten-free and makes a perfect cake all year round for those gluten free people in your life. It makes delicious strawberry shortcake and goes well with homemade lemon curd (a recipe from a friend).

I guess I’ll be making a third sponge cake again this year for your birthday, Shaina…the day after Passover ends.

Manischewitz Passover Sponge Cake
(from the back of the Manischewitz Potato Starch Can)

  • 7 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup Manischewitz potato starch, sifted
  • dash of salt

Separate 6 of the eggs. Beat the six egg yolks and one whole egg until light and frothy. The key here is to use a regular stand mixer (not a hand-held) and really beat those eggs until they actual change color and become lighter.

Gradually add the sifted sugar and beat thoroughly. Continue beating while adding the lemon juice and zest ( I usually add a little more zest and juice than the recipe calls for up to two teaspoons of zest and two tablespoons of juice). Beat thoroughly together.

Gradually add the sifted potato starch, stirring constantly to ensure thorough blending.

Beat egg whites with salt until stiff but not dry. Fold gently but thoroughly into egg yolk mixture. The key here is to make sure there is not even a drop of egg yolk in the egg whites and that you use a separate clean bowl and beaters. I use a hand held for the white and always keep them far away from the yolk mixture when preparing this cake.

Place in and ungreased tube pan (I like the tube pans that have the detachable bottom). Bake in a 350° oven about 55 minutes or until cake springs back when touched gently with fingers. I bake this cake for 56 -58 minutes. The top should be brown but not burned and a little crusty.

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Invert pan and cool thoroughly before removing cake from pan.  Once you invert the pan (I use wine bottles), do not even attempt to remove the cake until it is absolutely stone cold. Use a sharp knife to go around the edges of the pan and the tube in the center of the pan.

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If the cake does happen to fall apart, it will still be delicious and no one will notice when you serve it layered in a trifle bowl with strawberries or lemon curd or both.

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Passover Potato Knishes

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Bubbe used to make special Passover Potato knishes that looked like round balls of potato with a glossy outside but no dough. They tasted a little liker the insides of her regulars potato knishes. I never bothered to get the recipe because there were always so many other things to make on Passover. This year I wanted to make a gluten free Passover appetizer and decided I would try to replicate at least the concept of a Passover Potato Knish. The don’t look or feel like my Mom’s but they were such a huge hit, I think Bubbe would be proud!

  • 2 pounds sweet yellow onions
  • oil for sautéing onions
  • 5 pounds red potatoes
  • Lots of salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 4 eggs*
  • oil for brushing tops

*Egg whites can be substituted for whole eggs. Use 2 egg whites for every egg called for. I usually do half and half.

 

Chop onions and sauté in olive or Canola oil until very browned and reduced. This step can be done ahead of time. When I have a big cooking event coming up, I will chop up a whole bag of onions and sauté them and put them in the fridge. As I am cooking over the next few days I have a ready supply of sautéed onions for any recipe that calls for them.
Boil whole potatoes in salted water until done.
Rinse in cold water and peel off skins while potatoes are still hot, but you are able to handle them. I usually skin them while rinsing them under the cold water.
Mash the potatoes, adding in 1/4 cup canola oil, sautéed onions to taste (the more the bettering our household) and plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Lightly beat eggs and add to potato mixture, blending thoroughly.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Wet hands with water and spoon potato mixture into hands to form a golf-ball sized potato mound. Place potato balls onto baking sheet. brush tops of balls very lightly with a little oil.
If serving at a later time, bake at 375° for about 15- 20 minutes until firm and lightly browned. Let cool completely and remove with a spatula. Store in a sealed container separating the layers with waxed or parchment paper. they can be frozen. To reheat, return to baking sheets covered with parchment paper and reheat in a 375° oven until browned and crisp around the edges, about 15 minutes.
If serving immediately, bake in 375° oven for 25 minutes or until browned and slightly crisp.

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