Saturday, December 18, 2010

Have I looked in my father's eyes

My father, Carl Barker
Deep, dark brown
More almond-shaped than any almond
Short lashes loosely-covered with saggy skin

Reading, always
Anything and everything
Day into night, sometimes into day again

Stories of rugged cowboys with guns and sweaty horses,
County, back-woods postal addresses
Political commentaries, Sunday color comics

Birmingham News
Sports section first, forever and amen

Disease-invaded like an army
He fought them all with force
Passed away one night while praying that he'd continue to live

We learned what was possible
Through salty, hot tears
And smiled with happiness at the irony of his gift

Corneas, still healthy, searching for more
Traveled to someone unknown
So that they could see, they could read

Perhaps I, while on a journey to Montgomery or Mobile
Looked in my father's eyes
Though they were no longer almond-shaped and brown

They would have been reading
Anything, everything
Sports section first, forever and amen

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Daring Cooks December 2010 Challenge: Poach to Perfection!

Lately, I have been blogging about joining The Daring Kitchen, an-online community of cooks and bakers who are challenged each month to cook or bake something new and different. Everyone uses the same recipe and then posts their results, with narrative and photographs, on their blog.

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose an Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

I chose the Eggs Benedict recipe.

Surprisingly, poaching an egg was not very difficult technique-wise. It really is all about the timing and there are a few tricks that can help.

• Make sure to use the freshest eggs possible. Farm-fresh eggs will make for the best poached eggs.
• Adding a bit of vinegar to the water will help stabilize the eggs and cook the whites faster, and keeping your water just below boiling point (about 190F) will help keep the fragile eggs from rupturing. Also make sure to salt the poaching water well.
• The other main key to success is to crack your egg into a small bowl first, taking care not to break the yolk. Then it becomes easy to gently slide the entire egg into the water for the poaching process.
• A poached egg is done when the whites are fully cooked and the yolk has just started to solidify but is still runny when you cut it open – usually three minutes. It’s ok to go a little longer though depending on your desired firmness. 
• You can poach eggs ahead of time (about a day). Just immerse them in ice water after poaching, and then keep them in a bowl of water in the fridge. When you are ready to use them, place them in hot (not boiling) water until they are warmed through.

Here's what you'll need for Eggs Benedict:
4 eggs (size is your choice)
2 English muffins
4 slices of Canadian bacon (or plain bacon if you prefer)
Splash of vinegar (for poaching)

The hollandaise sauce requires:
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, and cut in small piecs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

1. Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a simmer.
2. Cut the chilled butter into small pieces and set aside.
3. Whisk egg yolks and 1 teaspoon water in a mixing bowl large enough to sit on the saucepan without touching the water (or in top portion of a double boiler). Whisk for 1–2 minutes, until egg yolks lighten. Add the sugar and whisk 30 seconds more.
4. Place bowl on saucepan over simmering water and whisk steadily 3–5 minutes (it only took about 3 for me) until the yolks thicken to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Remove from heat (but let the water continue to simmer) and whisk in the butter, 1 piece at a time. Move the bowl to the pan again as needed to melt the butter, making sure to whisk constantly.
6. Once all the butter is incorporated, remove from heat and whisk in the salt, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper (if using).
7. Keep the hollandaise warm while you poach your eggs. Use a thermos, carafe, or bowl that you’ve preheated with warm water.
8. If the water simmering in your pan has gotten too low, add enough so that you have 2–3 inches of water and bring back to a simmer.
9. Add salt and a splash of vinegar (any kind will do).
10. Crack eggs directly into the very gently simmering water (or crack first into a bowl and gently drop into the water), making sure they’re separated. Cook for 3 minutes for a viscous but still runny yolk.
11. While waiting for the eggs, quickly fry the Canadian bacon and toast the English muffin.
12. Top each half of English muffin with a piece of bacon. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, draining well, and place on top of the bacon. Top with hollandaise and garnish, and enjoy!
Preparation time:
Eggs Benedict: 20 minutes

Equipment required:
Generally for poaching eggs you need:
• Large shallow pan
• Small bowl (for cracking eggs into)
• Large slotted spoon for lifting out poached eggs
• Timer

For Eggs Benedict:
• Double boiler (for the hollandaise)
• Alternatively a saucepan and heat proof mixing bowl that is large enough to sit on top
• Toaster or oven for toasting English muffins
• Frying pan for cooking bacon
• Thermos, carafe, or bowl (in which to keep the hollandaise warm)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Homemade almond butter

In my slow, but steady, journey to a more natural diet, I began making almond butter a few months ago.

I was often reading of the benefits of this wonderful alternative to peanut butter. The Doctors, Jillian Michaels, and Denise Austin said I should switch from peanut butter to almond butter so I jumped in the car and headed to the grocery store. When I saw the price, I immediately had a heart attack and fell to the floor faster than Alan can fall asleep in the recliner. When the paramedics came, they recommended that I learn to make my own almond butter. After all, what good are the health benefits if I have a coronary every time I purchase a jar? Made perfect sense to me.

Before I share my recipe, here's what I have learned about almond butter:

It is a food paste made from almonds (duh). Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, which are considered to be a healthier form of fat than saturated fat. Like other nut butters, almond butter retains the nutritional value of the almonds it comes from. It is rich in protein, calcium, iron, essential fatty acids, Vitamin E, magnesium, and it is a great source of fiber. Unfortunately, it is also higher in calories than many other nut butters, but to me, the heart-health benefits outweigh the extra calories.

The uses for almond butter are as varied as they are for peanut butter. It can be used like a spread, mixed into sauces and dressings, eaten plain, or used in desserts. The flavor is actually quite similar to peanut butter, with a faint hint of almonds.

There are a number of different styles of almond butter, starting with toasted or raw. Toasted almond butter has a richer flavor, but some people prefer the milder taste of raw almond butter. The smoothest and creamiest is made from almonds that have been blanched to remove their skins, and then finely ground. More chunky versions include almond skin, and are not ground as finely.

My version is made with toasted almonds, including the skin. I have made both toasted and raw, and personally prefer toasted.

You'll need a heavy-duty food processor (not the small, mini version) plus these ingredients:

2 cups toasted almonds (I toast in the toaster oven on 350 degrees for six minutes)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2 tablespoons olive oil (or to taste)
2 tablespoons brown sugar (or to taste)

Add the toasted almonds to the food processor and process until the nuts are finely chopped and begin to turn creamy (1-2 minutes). Add the salt, olive oil, and brown sugar and process until the following consistency:

That's it! Seriously!

Store the almond butter in your pantry or refrigerator. Just remember, there are no preservatives, so choose your storage method with that in mind. I have successfully pantry-stored almond butter for over a week with no problem.

I love almond butter on vanilla wafers! What's not to love?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Out of the dark

In my continued series, Darkness into Life: Alabama's Holocaust Survivors Through Photography and Art, meet Riva Hirch and read her compelling story:

When little girls are ten years old, they should be playing with dolls or hosting tea parties.

When Riva Hirsch was ten years old, she was hidden by nuns in a bunker near a convent in Ukraine. Fearful of frequent visits by the SS soldiers, the nuns were only able to visit the bunker every two or three days to leave food and water.
Out of the Dark by Becky Seitel
“When the door was cracked, it was my lifeline. The door separated me from the outside world. Inside that bunker, my life was lonely and frightening,” she recalls.

So fearful were the nuns of being discovered, they often simply cracked the door and hurriedly threw in the food.

“I was living among rats. If I was fast enough to get to the food before the rats ran away with it, I ate. If I was too slow, I was forced to exist on lice. They were all over me. At times, I could hardly open my eyes or my mouth. Swallowing lice helped keep me alive. They were my breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Riva existed in this dark isolation for two years.

“I don’t know how time passed. Day was night and night was day. I felt more dead than alive. But even though I didn’t have even the simple basics of life like other little girls, I was safe.”

“In 1945, the door of the bunker opened wide. It had not been open more than a crack for two years.

“The nuns wrapped my frost-bitten feet in cloth and draped a blanket over my shoulders. I was suffering from malaria and typhus. My vision was impaired and my teeth had fallen out.

“A voice spoke in a language I didn’t understand. I later learned the Russian Army had liberated me.

“A hand pushed me forward. I moved toward the light, and with small footsteps, left the bunker in Tulchin, Ukraine.

“I was 12 years old.”

Like many children of the Holocaust, Riva was robbed of her childhood more than six decades ago by Adolph Hitler.

Today, she spends time working with the Elks Lodge of Mountain Brook to help promote the education and social development of Alabama’s youth.

Riva is well-known throughout the state for her dedication to raising money for the Elks Youth Camp. Located on Lake Martin in Tallassee, Alabama, the Elks Youth Camp offers activities and programs for young people between ages eight and thirteen. The youngsters receive an opportunity to experience different surroundings while learning valuable lessons about life. The programs are designed to help build character while showing how important it is to work with others.
Building Better Kids by Becky Seitel
In 2006, Riva single-handedly sold more Cadillac raffle tickets than any other Alabama member. This was just one of the reasons she was named Alabama Elk of the Year, becoming the first woman to receive that honor in the history of the Mountain Brook Lodge.

“Since we came to America in 1962, people have been wonderful to my husband and me,” Riva says. “Being a part of the Elks Association gives me an opportunity to give something back to this country by giving our youth such a great opportunity to build character… and have fun!”

Riva's husband, Aisic, is also a Holocaust survivor.

When she talks about the terror she experienced in Ukraine, he understands more than anyone. That’s because he experienced circumstances very similar to Riva’s, almost 1,000 miles away in Poland.

Riva and Aisic Hirsch married in Haifa in 1950, five years after they were liberated by Russian troops.

“We both went to Palestine after the war, and it was there that I met my beshert, a Yiddish word that means perfect match, soul mate, destiny,” Riva explains.
Beshert by Becky Seitel
“I was a police officer and often ate at a local café. Riva was a waitress there, just 16, and the most beautiful girl I had ever seen,” says Aisic.

Through the years, they’ve shared much more than the painful story of their past. They’ve shared many happy family times, always observing and celebrating their Jewish faith and heritage, a faith and heritage that made them a target of murder by the Nazis and then brought them together in Palestine.
Friday Night by Becky Seitel

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Daring Bakers' Challenge: Crostata

Last week, I blogged about joining The Daring Kitchen, an-online community of cooks and bakers who are challenged each month to cook or bake something new and different. Everyone uses the same recipe and then posts their results, with narrative and photographs, on their blog.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.
The mandatory challenge was to make pasta frolla using one of the two recipes provided and use it as the base layer for a crostata. The crostata could be made with fruit preserves or pastry cream or any other filling of my choice. The pasta frolla could be made with or without a food processor. I chose to go it sans food processor simply for the experience.

Equipment required:
  • bowls, as needed
  • fork
  • knife
  • bench (or pastry) scraper
  • rolling pin
  • pastry brush
  • 9 or 9.5-inch fluted round tart pan with removable bottom, about 1 inch high. I didn't have a tart pan, but had been wanting one. I was able to pick one up for a mere $5.00 so I was pretty happy.
9.5-inch fluted round tart pan with removable bottom

    • (Note: If you don't have a tart pan with a removable bottom, you can make crostata using a 9-inch cake pan or even a 9-inch pie plate.
    • a food process is useful, but not required
    I chose Version 1 of the pasta frolla.

    • 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar or a scant 3/4 cup of powdered sugar
    • 1 and 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    • a pinch of salt
    • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    • grated zest of half a lemon
    • 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl

    pasta frolla ingredients
    1. Whisk together sugar, flours, and salt in a bowl.
    2. Rub or cut the butter into the sugar and flour mixture until it has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.
    3. Make a well in the center of the flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten egg and vanilla extract into it.
    4. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into mixture and then use your fingertips.
    5. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
    6. Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.
    dough well

    dough disk
    Assembling the crostata
    1. Heat the oven to 375º F.
    2. Take the pasta frolla out of the fridge, unwrap it and cut away ¼ of the dough. Reserve this dough to make the lattice top of the crostata. Refrigerate this dough while you work on the tart base.
    3. To help roll the crostata dough, keep the dough on top of the plastic wrap in which it was wrapped. This can help rolling the dough and can also help when transferring the dough to your pan. You can also use parchment paper for this; however you can also roll the dough directly on a work surface if you prefer.
    4. Lightly dust the top of the dough and your work surface (if you’re rolling directly on a work surface) with flour. Keep flour handy to dust the dough as you go along.
    5. If the dough is very firm, start by pressing the dough with the rolling pin from the middle to each end, moving the rolling pin by a pin's width each time; turn the dough 180 degrees and repeat; when it softens, start rolling.
    6. Roll the dough into a circle about 1/8th inch thick.
    7. If you used the plastic wrap or parchment paper as rolling surface, flip dough over the pan, centering it, and delicately press it all around so the corners are well covered. Peel away the plastic wrap.
    8. Trim the excess dough hanging over the edges of the pan. Press the remaining dough around the border into the sides of the pan making sure the border is an even thickness all the way around.
    9. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork in several places.
    10. Take out of the fridge the reserved pasta frolla you had cut away earlier. Roll it with your pin and cut into strips or use cookie cutters to make small shapes (this is not traditional, but it looks cute); or roll with your hands into ropes.
    11. Spread the jam or fruit preserves evenly over the bottom of the crostata.
    12. Use the prepared strips or rolls of dough to make a lattice over the surface, or decorate with the cut shapes.
    13. Brush the border and strips of dough with the reserved beaten eggs. You can add a drop or two of water to the beaten eggs if you don’t have enough liquid.
    14. Put the tart in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
    15. After 25 minutes, check the tart and continue baking until the tart is of a nice golden hue. (Note: Every oven is different. In my oven it took 34 minutes to bake the tart until golden.)
    16. When done, remove the tart from the oven and let cool. If you have used a tart pan with a removable bottom, then release the tart base from the fluted tart ring. Make sure the tart is completely cool before slicing and serving.
    my crostata
    The fresh-out-of-the-oven-crostata didn't last long. I shared with my niece and my husband, both who loved it, and my neighbor who said, "I am so glad I made the acquaintance of a crostata tonight!"

    I will definitely make this again, but will opt for the food processor version of the pasta frolla.

    I look forward to the next Daring Bakers' Challenge.

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    My Thanksgiving List

    Yes, I know I'm a smidgen late, but this week went by in a chaotic whirlwind of house cleaning, planning, cooking, Christmas shopping, and an-over-the-river-and-through-the-woods drive to visit Kittie and family.

    Of course, it can almost go without saying that I'm thankful for my family, friends, neighbors, soldiers who keep us free, and Alabama football. These are the sources of my daily happiness. Without them....well, I don't even want to think about that.

    But let's admit, there are many things we don't always remember to be thankful for. And, yes, I know I ended a sentence with a preposition. (Remember that outstanding line from Designing Women when the snobby socialite told Julia, "Don't you know you don't end a sentence with a preposition?" Julia's retort was beyond perfect and not really printable here.

    So here (in no particular order) is my top five list of not so common things for which I am immensely thankful:

    1. I don't have to shave my legs as often as I used to. When I was younger, leg shaving was a daily ritual. Then the need decreased to every other day. Now, the mid-50s have given me a three-day respite from the blade whose life has been extended, thereby saving me a little money. Thankful, thankful, thankful.

    2. Snooze alarm. I never, never, ever jump out of bed to greet the day on the first unwanted jolt from the alarm clock. The snooze alarm feature not only allows me to wake up slowly, but it let's me kinda thumb my nose at the clock and say, "Hey, you! I'll get up when I'm good and ready. You can't make me do it! Give me seven more minutes." That feels so good.

    3. Under eye concealer. Because I unequivocally trust Ellen Degeneres, I use Covergirl & Olay Simply Ageless #215. Without that tiny round container of flesh-colored magic, I would never be able to leave the house. Seriously. Ladies, have you ever thought you had leftover, smudged mascara on your under-eye area? So you grab a tissue, a little lotion or eye makeup remover, and clean the tender area only to find the tissue is clean and the smudge didn't go away? I have...several times. That's when I knew I had to depend on under eye concealer. Thankful? Yes. Everyday.

    4. Hormone replacement therapy. Not having to shave my legs as often is no where near balanced by menopause. Those years (oh yes, years) have been the most miserable of my life. Hot flashes are from Satan. Or Eve. I'm certain it dates back to that foolish day with the apple and the snake. It is impossible to cool off from a hot flash. I have chugged ice water, stood in the open freezer door, turned the air conditioner to 50 degrees, and slept with the windows open in the winter. Nothing helped until my doctor prescribed  "the patch." Life became somewhat normal again. Of course, any chance of becoming a pole dancer immediately vanished, even thought the patch was clear and small. Still the audience conversation would go something like, "What's that on her tummy?" Someone would answer, "What? I don't see anything?" Another, "Yeah, right there. That little clear thing." But pole dancing was never a life mission for me, so I'm good with the patch.

    5. Control top pantyhose. I haven't worn hose in maybe three years. I personally have a love / hate relationship with them. When I was experiencing #4 above, I decided pantyhose were also from Satan. Instead of bra burnings, we should have burned hose. That said, they are a true friend when those slacks are just a tad snug or you have a few little ripples of cellulite showing through that new slinky, black dress. I'm happy they're there when I need them and tucked away in the back of a drawer when I don't.

    That's my list. Now, what are some of your less typical objects of thanks? I really need to know that I'm not the only quirky one out there.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Onesie Gift Idea

    It's that time of year and, unlike some people, you hate to go to the mall.

    What to do?

    On-line shop, of course.

    If you have a tiny loved one, or will soon, I have a beautiful selection of hand-decorated onesies!

    Take a look:

    Satin hearts on white, 3 - 6 months, $10.00 plus shipping
    Future Diva on pink, 6 - 9  months, $12.00 plus shipping

    My Mommy Loves Me on white, 6 - 9 months, $10.00 plus shipping

    Owl on brown stripes, 6 - 9 months, $12.00 plus shipping

    Lollipop on purple stripes, 12 months, $12.00 plus shipping
    These adorable onesies are 100% organic cotton and are machine washable.

    To order, please send an email to

    Happy holidays!

    Also a great baby shower gift!

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Quick and easy gift idea

    If you're looking for an idea for hand-made Christmas gifts, here is one of my favorite quick, easy, and unique presents! Plus it's tons of fun to make with kids of all ages and is sure to elicit a smile for years to come.

    Photograph with added flowers and ribbon.
    I actually saw this idea in a photography magazine years and years ago and stored it in my feeble brain until Kynze asked me to help her make a Mother's Day gift for her Mom. So one sunny Saturday, she donned a dress, strapped on her angel wings, and outside we went.

    Of course, she wanted to play more than pose!

    Boogie Angel!
    As you can see, the angel forgot her petticoat!
    Begin by staging the pose with one hand held out in a fist. Make certain the hand is low enough so that the flowers do not cover the face in the finished photograph.

    Fist too high.
    Better placement of fist.
    After the photograph is printed, place a small slit or hole at the top and bottom of the fist. Insert the flower stem into the top of the fist, through the back of the photo, and then out the bottom of the fist. Add ribbon. You can also wrap the flower stems, if desired.

    Remove the glass from the picture frame and insert the photograph.


    Smile and give yourself a pat on the back! You're about to be loved even more by the recipient of this wonderful keepsake!

    Note: this idea is also neat with two or more children. Either stack their fists or place hand around hand. 

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    My first Daring Cooks' Challenge: spinach soufflé

    A few months ago, a friend of Alan's suggested I join The Daring Kitchen, an-online community of cooks and bakers who are challenged each month to cook or bake something new and different. Everyone uses the same recipe and then posts their results, with narrative and photographs, on their blog. Sounded like fun to me, so here I am...posting the results of my first challenge: a spinach soufflé.

    Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks' Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay's recipe found at the BBD Good Food website. 

    Of the three recipes, I chose the watercress / spinach soufflé, a little afraid to invest in the ingredients for the crab and artichoke soufflé or the chocolate soufflé.

    A great thing about the challenge is that you're not required to buy new dishes, pans, etc. An alternative is always given. In this case, I could use any 2-quart baking dish that had tall, relatively straight sides. But I thought this would be a great time to purchase a soufflé dish since one was not in my limited kitchen arsenal. 

    First stop was Wal-mart where a round soufflé dish costs around $22. No way! But, ah, an oval soufflé dish goes for $9. Go figure. So I purchased the oval dish, feeling proud that I had beaten the system. Imagine my disappointment when I began to re-read the recipe and discovered that the 2 1/2 quart oval dish was too large. Back to Wal-mart, return the oval soufflé dish, go to Target, prices and options the same, on to Tuesday Morning, T J Maxx, and a few other stores. No luck.

    The idea of emailing my neighbors came next. Most replies were simply "No," except for my exceptionally comical neighbor who responded, "Do I look like the kind of girl who would own a soufflé dish"? I'm still chuckling about that.

    Alan suggested going to Old Time Pottery, which I thought was a wasted trip, but you'll never guess what I found there: a round 2-quart soufflé dish for $2. Yes $2. So I bought two! Don't tell me you wouldn't have. You know you would. 

    My set-aside day for the challenge arrived and I have to admit I was nervous. I read and re-read the recipe upteen times and learned, among other things, that soufflé is French for puff up or blow up. I learned about making the roux, adding ingredients and whisking egg yolks over simmering water, preparing them, but not cooking them, for the cooked mixture. I was also told that perhaps the most difficult aspect of the challenge would be to photograph the finished soufflé since what goes up must come down. I was warned to work quickly.

    The instructions also suggested that I prepare all ingredients prior to starting the cooking process. 

    Here's how my work area looked:

    2 tablespoons butter, plus additional for the soufflé dish
    3 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
    1 cup milk
    1/2 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated, plus additional for the soufflé dish
    1 cup finely chopped de-stemmed watercress (can substitute spinach) - this measure is the leaves after they’ve been washed, de-stemmed, and chopped
    4 large eggs, separated
    1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard
    1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (a dash {~ 1/2 teaspoon} of lemon juice can be substituted)
    Salt and pepper to taste


    Butter the soufflé dish thoroughly, then grate a small amount of cheese in each dish and tap so that the sides are evenly coated with the cheese. Place the dish in the refrigerator until needed. This helps the soufflé climb.

    Preheat oven to 350º F.

    Wash and chop the watercress / spinach.

    Finely grate the parmesan cheese.

    In a medium-size saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.

    Stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook 1 minute, then add the milk, a little at a time, and stir until just thickened, about 1 minute. Add the cheese and stir until it’s just melted. Remove from heat then add the watercress / spinach and salt and pepper.

    In a larger pan, bring water to a gentle simmer. (I used a double-boiler with a small amount of water in the bottom pot. I did not allow the water to touch the upper pot.) Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl set just over this water until pale and slightly foamy – about six minutes. Do not allow the eggs to cook.

    Mix the egg yolks into the watercress sauce.

    Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until they form stiff peaks yet are still glossy.

    Fold the egg whites into the sauce in three additions so that it’s evenly mixed, but too much volume isn't lost.

    Remove the soufflé dish from the refrigerator and spoon the mix into it. Use a spatula to even the top and wipe off any spills.

    Bake 40 minutes, then serve immediately.

    At the end of 40 minutes, I was literally giddy with excitement. The soufflé had risen and looked and smelled divine.

    I shared some of the just-out-of-the-oven dish with a friend who commented that it was not only delicious but beautiful. That night, Alan said that every bite was fabulous and he was already looking forward to leftovers the following night.

    I will definitely make soufflés in the future, a lot less nervous and a lot more daring!

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    How I became involved in an Alabama holocaust survivors' exhibit

    In my recent post, "You didn't know Jack," I noted I would share how I became involved in "Darkness into Life: Alabama's Holocaust Survivors Through Photography and Art."

    In early 2005, my husband, Alan, and I were looking for a community project that would share our common interests. Alan is Jewish, I am Christian, and before we were married, we committed to being supportive of each other’s religion. But since we don’t worship together, we felt a desire to do something as a couple that would allow us to share a mutually-rewarding experience outside traditional spiritual settings.

    I had recently re-discovered photography, so right away we had our method, but we talked for months about the message. We discussed current issues: breast cancer, AIDS, homelessness, and organ donation since Alan’s son had recently undergone a successful liver transplant.

    But when we attended a local Holocaust Memorial Service and heard the first-hand accounts of the Holocaust, our message became clear. I had never met a Holocaust survivor, and had certainly never heard a first-hand account of that horrible time in history. I realized our grandchildren would be unlikely to hear these personal stories since many survivors are now in their 80’s and 90’s. As we walked to the car in stunned silence, I looked at Alan and said, “I think we found our project.”

    Additional weeks of discussion followed. Alan felt that we had to do something different from other Holocaust exhibits. We talked about the photographs we would shoot, how many (perhaps ten), and where we would exhibit, but we knew there was something missing in our plan.

    During this time, we attended an art exhibit by Mitzi J. Levin, and discovered the missing piece. We invited Mitzi to join us and paint the memories of the survivors: their childhood, imprisonment or hiding, and liberation. My photographs would capture them in the present and the result would be the stories of the lives of Birmingham’s Holocaust survivors – how they prevented Hitler from winning by living happy, successful lives, how they traveled from "Darkness into Life."

    Our initial exhibit at Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center on April 1, 2007, drew 1,700 people on opening day. Staff members from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute visited the exhibit and invited us to show at the Institute. They also asked us to expand the exhibit to include all of Alabama.

    Birmingham's Holocaust Survivors: (l-r) Ruth Siegler, Max Steinmetz,
    Ilse Nathan, Jack Bass (deceased), Henry Aizenman (deceased), Aisic Hirsch,
    Martin Aaron, Riva Hirsch, and Max Steinmetz
    The idea of ten photographs grew into a 78-piece exhibit that has been donated to the Birmingham Holocaust Education Committee to help teach junior and senior high school students about the Holocaust, genocide, and bigotry. And most importantly, to join together and say “Never Again!"

    Survivor Martin Aaron (back, middle) and Mortimer Jordan high school students
    I am proud to be part of this project and to have been entrusted with the inspiring stories of 20 people who became my friends and mentors. I am so thankful for knowing them and deeply miss the three survivors who are no longer with us.

    "Darkness into Life" currently travels to high schools, colleges, and community centers in Alabama and is booked almost two years in advance. For more information, contact Barbara Solomon.

    Over the next few months, I'll continue to share Alabama's holocaust survivors stories of survival and determination.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Lighter sweet country cornbread

    This isn't your mother's cornbread. And it isn't my mother's cornbread. But it is, by far, the best cornbread I have ever had.

    This recipe is from The Dash Diet for Hypertension by Thomas Moore, M.D.  Dash is an acronym for dietary approaches to stop hypertension and is an eating plan my doctor recommended to help manage my on-going battle with high blood pressure. (Thank you, Daddy, for the gift of hypertension.)

    Here's what you'll need to make this delicious Southern comfort food:

    1 cup skim milk
    2 tablespoons margarine, melted
    2 egg whites
    1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup granulated sugar (I use Splenda)
    1 tablespoon low-sodium baking powder

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease the bottom and sides of an iron skillet, muffin tins, or an 8 x 8-inch pan with cooking spray.

    In a large stainless steel mixing bowl, beat the milk, margarine, and egg whites together. Add the cornmeal, flour, sugar, and baking powder all at once and stir just until moistened. The batter will be lumpy.

    Pour the batter into the skillet, tins, or pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.


    12 servings - 144 calories, 2 fat grams, 45 mg. sodium per serving

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    You didn't know Jack

    I loved Jack Bass. He's gone now. But I still love him.

    I didn't want to. Love him, that is. But I fell, just like anyone who met him, heard him speak, and became captivated by his intelligence, wit, and charm.

    I didn't want to love him because of his advanced age and poor health. I knew he was somewhat living on borrowed time and I never was very good with that whole better to have loved and lost thing. He had a severe heart condition that had almost claimed him some years back. I knew it would come knocking for him again soon.

    Love him? No way. He was often rude and frequently crude. He could tell an off-color joke almost better than Robin Williams and Lewis Black. But I could never help laughing. He was always on, always happy. If you spent 15 minutes with Jack, you’d be entertained by Truman Capote, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan. “I inherited my sense of humor from my grandfather," he told me. "Of course, it disappeared when I was at Auschwitz. I became numb there….no anger, no pain, no feeling at all. It was difficult to focus on anything. I was just trying to live another hour.”
    Jack as Truman Capote
    But most of all, I didn't want to love him and have his pain become my pain. Knowing that someone I loved had suffered the atrocities of the Holocaust kept me awake at night. It still does.

    Jack Bass was born Jurgen Jakob Bassfreund in 1923 in Berncastle, Germany, ten years before the monster Adolph Hitler came to power. He was eight years old when he began to suffer name-calling by his classmates and was required by his teacher to recite a demeaning passage from the poem The Tree Which Wanted to Change Its Leaves by Friedrich Ruchert. Each time the poem was read, Jack was called forward to tell the story of a bearded Jew who stole the golden leaves from a beautiful tree in the forest. He never forgot the feelings that came with those recitations. When I first met him, he could still recite that poem from memory, his German accent heavy, his ocean-blue eyes watery and morose.

    Following his father’s death in 1932, Jack, his sister, and his mother moved to Trier, then Cologne, and finally to Berlin, each time moving to a larger city in an effort to remain anonymous. Jack’s mother remarried and recognizing the bleak future, his step-father left for the U.S. in 1938 to arrange the family’s emigration. During Kristallnacht in Berlin, Jack was almost killed in the glass-covered streets. His step-father did not return to Germany.

    In mid-1942, Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda, promised to make Berlin “Judenrein” (free of Jews) by Hitler’s birthday. Jack and his mother were arrested that year and separated during deportation. He was sent by railroad cattle car to Auschwitz; she was sent to her death.

    Because he was young and strong, Jack was selected for slave labor in five different camps: Auschwitz III (Buna or Monowitz), Auschwitz I, Dachau, Gross-Rosen, and Mühldorf. Each move was hastened by the approaching Russian forces. Jack worked building factories and sorting human hair to be used in the manufacture of mattresses.

    Jack's stories were so difficult to hear, especially this story I put together five years ago about 'running to the fence.'

      “Stop! High Voltage!” 
      Unfortunately, this warning was not enough to prevent prisoners from committing suicide on the electric fence surrounding the concentration camp. Jack Bass recalled that the thought of suicide was entertained by almost everyone, if only for a brief time. It was born from the helplessness of the harsh environment, the hunger, the disease, the fear of the unknown. 
      “Many people ended it all because the suffering was too great,” he said. “They chose what we called ‘running to the fence.’ They would fling themselves on the fence and die immediately as the electricity ran through their bodies. They would hang there until the current was turned off the next day. In yet one more act of cruelty by the Nazis, their bodies would remain on the ground for days. 
      “After a while, I became numb to that painful sight of death, at least during the day. But during my nightly walk to the outhouse, I had to turn away. The nights were always cold and foggy. The gloom that settled over me was intensified by a lifeless form stuck to the electric fence.”
    "Haunting Memories"
    One thing that helped Jack survive the camps was his love of music and the songs he silently hummed to himself everyday. I called him 'The Music Maven.' If you visited him at home, you would think you'd just entered a music library. Classical music was always playing softly in the background; ivory busts of Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, and Paderevski sat quietly on the bookcase; and almost 1,000 pieces of music filled every nook and cranny.

    The Germans also recognized the power of music. At each of the extermination camps, the Nazis created orchestras of prisoner-musicians. Auschwitz, for example, had six orchestras, one of which contained more than 100 musicians. “The musician’s job was to motivate fellow prisoners by playing as they marched to and from work each day,” Jack told me. “I remember hearing The Merry Widow as I marched to my job of building an airport.” Sadly, many musicians were also forced to play and watch helplessly as their friends and families were led to the gas chambers. It’s no surprise that the suicide rate among musicians was higher than that of most other camp workers.

    Jack was near death on May 8, 1945, when the American GI’s took over the Mühldorf camp in Germany and sent him to a makeshift hospital in Ampfing, Germany.

    “I waited to be taken to the large Red Cross van, but noticed through the window that the van was too full to carry all of us, and I watched it pull away," he shared with me. "After all I had been through, I was left behind. Thankfully, the van returned for me the next day and took me from that horrible place to my freedom. I was twenty-two years old and weighed only sixty pounds."

    Always the comedian, Jack even managed to turn that horrid description of himself into humor. Years later, one of his favorite quips was directed to doubters of the Holocaust: “If the Holocaust didn’t happen, I went through one hell of a weight loss program for nothing."

    Probably by now, you're wondering, "After all that happened, how did Jack manage to be so happy, telling jokes and impersonations at every opportunity?" I wondered that, too, so one day I posed that question to him.

    "If I wasn't happy," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "Hitler would have won. And I'm not going to let that happen.

    Jack died this year. I visited him in the hospital intensive care unit, a room so full of machines and tubes, I almost had to play hopscotch to get to his bedside. When I gently touched 706332 tattooed on arm, he opened his eyes, and with his face and hands barely moving, he began to impersonate Truman Capote. He was making me laugh even as he was dying.

    I loved Jack Bass. He's gone now. But I still love him.

    (I met Jack through my involvement in "Darkness into Life: Alabama's Holocaust Survivors through Photography and Art." I'll share the history of the exhibit with you next week.)

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Honey mustard vinaigrette

    I ran across the most amazing honey mustard vinaigrette recipe last Friday. I'd been looking for a honey mustard salad dressing recipe for a few weeks, and this one far exceeded anything I'd hoped to make. Not only is it delicious with a savory fragrance, it is unbelievably quick and easy to make.

    Here's what you'll need:

    1/2 cup olive oil
    1/4 cup white wine vinegar
    1 clove of garlic (pressed)
    1 tablespoon dijon mustard
    2 tablespoons honey
    salt and pepper to taste

    I mixed all ingredients in my gently-used-recently-purchased-at-a-bargain KitchenAid mixer because I love it dearly and look for any excuse to use it. I have even discovered I can generate enough air with the wisk attachment to dry my hair!

    Or you can simply mix all ingredients together and shake well.

    Add more honey for a sweeter vinaigrette or more mustard for a tangier vinaigrette.

    Saturday night, we enjoyed our new find on a tossed salad with tomato, cheese, cucumber, zuchinni, and toasted almonds. Sunday night, we equally loved it with spinach, grapes, feta, and pecans.

    Almost forgot! Just kidding about the hair drying comment!


    Friday, October 29, 2010

    Funny tings my childwen said when they was yittle

    The late Art Linkletter made us laugh and lifted our spirits with his long-running television show, "Kids say the darndest things." But there's nothing quite like the "darndest things" our own children say. Since my two daughters were little tykes, I've always meant to stop and journal about how they've made me laugh and lifted my spirits. Today, I'm finally going to do just that. Here are my top five favorites:

    One afternoon, when I picked up four-year-old Jaime from day care, she burst into the car with the unabashed enthusiasm that only little children possess. "Mommy, Mommy, David KISSED me!" she squealed. A boy kissed her? I wasn't even remotely prepared for this. Didn't I have at least 10, no make that 20, more years until I had to feel this? "Gee, Honey, where did David kiss you?" I asked, dreading the answer, praying that it would be cheek instead of lips. Pointing to the playground, she said, "Over by the slide!" Laughing out loud, I foolishly realized that I didn't have anything to worry about....for a while, at least.

    Jaime - kindergarten graduation
    As a new kindergartner, Jennifer was going on her first play date without me. As I brushed her hair, I reminded her about good table manners, no running in the house, and all the other things Moms worry their children will do, or not do, when away from home. Of course, she was rolling her eyes, muttering, "I know, I know." "Okay, what do you say when you leave to come home?" I said as a way to remind her to say 'Thank you for having me.' I received one of those looks I still get today as she incredulously said, "Bye!"

    Jennifer at five
    As any parent knows, storms are frightening to children, especially toddlers. But nighttime storms? They're the absolute worst. A storm at bedtime meant I would have to lay down with Jaime until she lost at fighting sleep. Unfortunately for me, this usually meant I fell asleep, too; my day ending at 7:30 p.m. I'd promised myself that I would never tell her fibs about storms and that I would try to explain to her the importance of rain, and what caused the loud booms of thunder and the brilliant flashes of lighting. But one night, I had something that had to be completed, and just couldn't fall asleep early. So, guess what? Yep, I told a little fib. Actually, I told a big lie. "Honey, that thunder is just God moving around his furniture," I explained with a serious face. I can still remember how she sat trembling on the sofa, little feet so far from the floor, sucking those two callused fingers. Just then, an incredibly loud crash of thunder rattled the windows. Looking at me with new comprehension of the storm, she said, "Oh, Mommy, there went the dining room table!"

    Three-year-old Jaime
    Jennifer was six and just learning to read when the new Minor High School was near completion. We rode by one day and she asked why there weren't any students or cars there. "It's not finished yet, Baby." "But it is, too, Mommy. Look! The sign out front says 'Dunn.'" (Dunn Construction was the builder.)

    Three-year-old Jennifer
    But here's my favorite and it needs no introduction nor explanation: three-year-old Jennifer, with a puzzled look on her face, walked into the kitchen one day and asked, "Mommy, why do Daddies have tails in the front?" If you're interested in my answer, drop me an email.

      Wednesday, October 27, 2010

      Two ingredient pumpkin muffins

      You heard me correctly. Or would that be read me correctly? Either way.....

      Two ingredient pumpkin muffins. Two, as in deux, dos, due, 二, twee, ni, dva, tsvey.

      This is, without a doubt, the most simple recipe ever. It always turns out perfectly. Even if you can't boil water, it is impossible for these muffins to be a failure. Well, not impossible. If they're left in the oven a really, really long time, they will burn. But you get the picture.

      Speaking of picture, here are those two ingredients.

      Only two ingredients are used in delicious pumpkin muffins.
      In a large mixing bowl, combine the two ingredients. The batter will be thick and lumpy and have that wonderful, soothing smell of Fall. Plop into muffin tins or a loaf pan sprayed with non-stick spray. I bake them in muffin tins, bag individually, and store in the freezer for a quick out-the-door breakfast or yummy afternoon snack.

      Of course, you could stop at two ingredients because they are, after all, two ingredient muffins. But you don't have to stop there. Add chopped apple, an overripe banana, raisins, or nuts. Or better yet, add them all! 

      Don't try to make them pretty!
      Bake according to the instructions for the cake mix or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffin or loaf is clean. If you add the extra ingredients, cooking time will increase, usually by 5 - 10 minutes.

      Butter and honey, anyone?
      Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes, if possible! Serve with butter and honey.

      Hey, I saw that! Didn't your mother tell you not to lick your fingers?