Daughter, Whole

bat-mitzvah

Several weeks ago, my triumphant, thriving, sensitive and sweet daughter Sammi read from the Torah for the first time.

In the Jewish ceremony known colloquially as a “Bat Mitzvah,” my daughter consciously took her place in her community by chanting three verses of a chapter from Leviticus. Like all children who become a Bat or Bar Mitzvah (literally, a daughter or son of the covenant), she studied for months to learn the melody and the Hebrew words she’d be chanting and all the prayers she’d need to know to share leadership of the service and analyze the chapter of Torah in English. She has a lovely, clear voice, and she spent weeks with headphones on listening to the sound of her tutor’s voice chanting her verses, and singing along. I’d heard her practicing, but nothing really prepared me for the feeling I would have on the day she became a Bat Mitzvah, as I stood next to her at the podium as she chanted in front of the congregation of our synagogue and all of the friends and family who gathered to bear witness. It was not what I expected. Continue Reading…

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Passover in the Children’s Hospital

soup-veggiesTonight is the first night of Passover, and I woke up early to chop carrots and celery and onions and garlic, the four-musketeers of my favorite parts of the traditional festive meal we’ll have tonight. As I type, I can smell the matzo-ball-soup cooking, the potatoes I added thickening the broth, the dill adding the freshness of spring. I don’t have much time to plan the seder itself, a religious service observed at my second favorite chapel in the world: my dining room table, second only to my kitchen.

I appreciate this day more now than when I was younger, possibly because I spent one terrible, heavy Passover in the hospital with my youngest daughter as she recovered from heart surgery. I think of it now, every year, as I chop and season and clean and prepare for the sometimes 28, sometimes 15 people who come to my house to share the meal with us.

That year, it was just me and Sammi: me in an armchair and her in her tipped-up hospital bed, eating matzo with jam and fat-free cheese and watching The Prince of Egypt on Netflix. It was beautiful, and it was terrible, and while I’m glad we did it, I never want to do it again. Continue Reading…

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Latkes Work for Everyone

latkes

Here’s a secret I wish more people knew: latkes are the perfect holiday food.

For those of you not in the know, latkes are the food most commonly associated in this country with the Jewish holiday of Hannukah. Also known as potato pancakes, they are similar in some ways to hash brown potato patties — but tell that to a Jewish family whose grandmother has been making them for half a century, and they will scowl at you. Where hash brown patties are contained, with neat edges and a definable shape, latkes are chaos: vaguely round, perhaps oval, with shredded potatoes crisply sticking out from every edge and caramelized bits of onion stuck to the bottom, depending on the recipe.

The basic recipe for latkes includes varying proportions of shredded potatoes, onion, egg, matzo meal or flour, and salt. The resulting batter is dropped by spoonful into piping hot oil and fried. As a symbol of the miracle of one flask of oil lasting for eight nights in an ancient Jewish temple, the latkes are meaningful. As a food, they’re utterly delicious.

For me, though, another miracle of latkes is that their basic recipe is as versatile as the rituals of the holiday season. If you have family or friends visiting who follow any number of restrictive diets, simple tweaks to the latke recipe make it the perfect food for almost any need. Continue Reading…

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How to Feed the People You Host

holiday-table

I’ve spent some holiday dinners eating dry bread and salad.

In front of me on the table were platters piled high with other food, but because of a combination of my vegetarianism and allergies, only the bread and salad were real options for me. In those moments, I harbored no ill will toward my hosts; having hosted holidays before, I knew that it took a lot of work to accommodate the preferences and allergies of a complicated group of guests. It’s not a job for an inexperienced or inexact home chef. I knew all this as I sat and ate my undressed salad, nibbling on my plain bread, and I wasn’t bitter.

Still, I’ve tried never to do that to a guest in my own home unless I had no other choice. Over the years, I’ve had guests for Jewish holiday meals who ate no carbohydrates, no grains, no gluten, no dairy, no beans, no soy, no tomatoes, no nuts, no broccoli, no cinnamon — not to mention the years when my own child was on the six-food-elimination-diet or the chylothorax diet. I’ve managed, in most cases, to offer at least two tasty options to each person — even options that others at the table would enjoy, too. It takes planning, but it’s not impossible.

Here’s how I’ve done it: Continue Reading…

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I Don’t Want to Write About Politics

politics-is-everythingI don’t want to write about politics, but every piece of my life is controlled by it.

I woke up Friday morning and realized my high-school-aged daughter had slept through her alarm. Her high school offers tremendous opportunities for academic and extra-curricular rigor, but if she wants to be a member of the honors society (a prerequisite for her preferred college admissions), she also has to do community service and show some proof of outside-of-school leadership. Thursday, she went to school all day, helped teach at her religious school, and then attended a meeting of a task force at our synagogue, returning home at 8:30pm to begin her homework. Educational policy has set this system up for kids like my daughter, a hamster wheel of achievement that burns kids out by the end of their senior year. Politics made her exhausted today.

When I came downstairs Friday morning, my younger daughter sat at the kitchen counter watching YouTube videos and eating breakfast. Though she seems healthy now, the years of worrying about her growth curve make my furtive glances at her food choices an instinct. I note the volume and count the calories in my head, inventory her planned activity for the day, and check myself; she’s fine. A part of her history stems from misdiagnosis her doctors made and for which they never apologized, a reality that I suspect comes from their fear of lawsuit. That misdiagnosis will stay on her medical chart, making her vulnerable forever to the caprices of health care legislation. My 11-year-old may be doomed to a life of wildly overpriced health insurance. Politics will someday make her — or keep her — sick. Continue Reading…

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