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Miriam's Kitchen

A Memoir

Elizabeth Ehrlich - Author

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ISBN 9781101119167 | 384 pages | 01 Sep 1998 | Penguin | 8.26 x 5.23in | 18 - AND UP
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Like many Jewish Americans, Elizabeth Ehrlich was ambivalent about her background. She identified with Jewish cultural attitudes, but not with the institutions; she had fond memories of her Jewish grandmothers, but she found their religious practices irrelevant to her life. It wasn?t until she entered the kitchen--and world--of her mother-in-law, Miriam, a Holocaust survivor, that Ehrlich began to understand the importance of preserving the traditions of the past. As Ehrlich looks on, Miriam methodically and lovingly prepares countless kosher meals while relating the often painful stories of her life in Poland and her immigration to America. These stories trigger a kind of religious awakening in Ehrlich, who--as she moves tentatively toward reclaiming the heritage she rejected as a young woman--gains a new appreciation of life?s possibilities, choices, and limitations.
Mandelbrot

It means almond bread. It is a crisp and crumbly twice baked nut cookie. There are many versions. This is Miriam's mandelbrot.

"It's not my recipe," says Miriam. "My mother had the same recipe, almost, but I can't find it. This is Sonia's mother's recipe."

"I don't remember chocolate chips in mandelbrot," I say. Miriam's is made with chocolate chips. I remember mandelbrot from the dim recesses of the past, packed in a shoebox and carried in a grandmother's shopping bag. I am looking at Sonia's mother's recipe, copied in Miriam's ornate, vertical script on a loose-leaf page. I don't see chocolate chips in the list of ingredients, either.

"I put them in for the children!" sings Miriam. "And now I will not take them out."

"This last batch tasted of cinnamon," I remark, scanning the page again: no cinnamon.

"I tried a different recipe. I found one with cinnamon, and my mother used to put cinnamon. Did you like it?"

"Well, yes--" I say. I remember mandelbrot a bit different, not quite as sweet as Miriam's. It was marvelous. Miriam's is marvelous. Whole boxes of almond-fragrant chocolate-chip-studded crisp oval slices neatly packed disappear in a trice.

"Sonia's mother used to make kreski--crumb cake. It was out of this world. But she doesn't have the recipe. I asked her for it," says Miriam. "I was heartbroken."

I have never had crumb cake. I, too, am heartbroken.

"Nu?" says Miriam. "Take the recipe."

This is Miriam's mandelbrot.

Mandelbrot:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tbsp. baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. cloves

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1 1/4 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1tsp. almond extract

6 oz. vegetable oil

10 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350?F

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves into a mixing bowl (a shisl). Add the walnuts, almonds, and sugar. Mix. Make a well in the flour mixture. To the well, add the eggs. Capture all the egg white from the shell with your thumb. Add vanilla extract, almond extract, and oil. Mix first with a fork, then with your hands. Add chocolate chips, if desired.

Chill the dough for at least six hours, preferably overnight. Remove from the fridge and divide into four parts. On a floured board, roll each section into a snake-shaped loaf 18 inches long. place "snakes" onto pan greased with margarine. Flatten dough loaves until 1/2-inch thick. Bake at 350?F., for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Lift loaves off pans carefully (Miriam uses two spatulas.) Set on a clean surface (the rolling board is fine).

Wipe the baking pans. Remove any particles or crumbs, but don't grease again. Slice the loaves 3/4-inch thick, at an angle. Arrange slices flat on the pans. bake again at 350?F., for 15-20 minutes until light brown.

Introduction

September—Longing
September (Journal)
A Coal Stove
Egg Salad
Yom Kippur
How to Keep a Kosher Kitchen
Honey Cake

October—Diaspora
October (Journal)
Cholent
Zion
Irish Mary
Miriam's Kitchen
Yiddish

November—Native Ground
November (Journal)
Old Neighborhood
Stuffed Cabbage
Apple Cake

December—Inheritance
December (Journal)
Wedding Ring
Suitcase
Ribbon
Mandelbrot
Christmas Goose

January—Obligation
January (Journal)
Paris
Too Busy
Chocolate Cake
Charity
Baked Apples

February—Observance
February (Journal)
Chicken Soup
Revisionism
A Pebble
Cake

March—Miracles
March (Journal)
A Simcha
Kosher Style
Confinement

April—Female Religion
April (Journal)
Baby Naming
Puberty
Passover
The Soul in the Dumpling
Passover Egg Noodles
Salt-Free

May—Decisions
May (Journal)
Ironing the Kitchen
The Book of Ruth
Noodle Kugel
Grocery Shopping
Mikvah

June—The Life Force
June (Journal)
She Wanted a Girl to Have Them
Drugstore
Israel
Sex

July—Community
July (Journal)
Kosher Day to Day
Bungalow
Potato Pudding
Sitting Shiva

August—Words and Deeds
August (Journal)
Moving
Why There Is No Recipe for Aunt Dora's Honey Cake
Doubt
Bacon?
Summer Squash

September—Continuity
September (Journal)
Sabbath
Sponges

Acknowledgments
A Note on Transcription
Index


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