“Doesn’t everyone spend an evening burning books?”

A friend of mine of 25 years wrote that sentence the other day. We were close in high school but have drifted apart, and frankly we’re still in touch mostly because of Facebook.

When I read that line and saw the photos of her family contentedly sitting around a fire pit, workbooks blazing, I was devastated. I ran to my husband, and burst into tears.

He was genuinely perplexed. He thought I was taking this statement and event completely out of context and told me about how he hated workbooks when he was a kid, that they were pure torture for him. That he could see in that specific context, burning a torture device would be cathartic.

But here’s thing. My husband wasn’t raised Jewish. I was. So let me tell you about what I know. Jews are raised to value learning. Books are valuable because of the knowledge and wisdom they contain. This is inherent in every Jewish upbringing I know of. Jews have been known to run into burning buildings to rescue Torah, the most sacred book we have.

So when the Nazis burned books in the 1930s, it was a two-fold attack. On the one hand, they were glorifying rejecting knowledge and education, as all fascists do, and on the other hand, they were directly attacking Jews—a people they were trying to exterminate—with very personal digs. This was not a slap in the face. This was a punch to the gut.

In today’s political climate, with racism and antisemitism on the rise, whether you mean to or not, you are making a very clear statement when you burn books. And, like, you can recycle them. Reuse the paper to make fucking origami.  I don’t care. Even if they are workbooks you will never need again. Please don’t burn them. It means more than you think.

TLDR: No, not everyone spends an evening burning books.

Mother’s Day…It’s Complicated

My mom died when I was 28. She had issues—hell, she had a lifetime subscription, but I always knew she loved me. She wasn’t always good at showing it in a way that spoke to me, but I always knew that it was there.

When I was a teen, I became furious with her. Why hadn’t she taught me all the things that I would need to know as an adult? Why hadn’t she said the words I needed to hear? Or did the things that I needed her to do?

In my twenties, I figured out that she would never teach me these things, and I would have to muddle through. Some of the things, I seriously had to unlearn what she taught me, before I could move forward as a functioning adult in this society. Most of the things I had to teach myself how to do from scratch. Some of them I’m still not so solid on. (Housekeeping comes to mind—and to my house every month.) 

The year she died was a bad one for me. It started with me being #4 in a five-car pile-up (#5 hit and ran, and so the insurance companies were trying to blame it all on me, until the inspector came and saw the steel frame of my car literally bent in half), and ended with the double-whammy of deciding to separate from my then-husband, and two days later, my mom passing from cancer. 

Untethered, I traveled for the first half of the following year—sofa surfing some, and staying in hotels and hostels for some. It was kind of a blur, although I do remember staying with some dear friends, one of who was Very Pregnant. She went into labor, and they asked me to watch their toddler while she was giving birth at the hospital. I was so angry that this kid, crying on my shoulder because she wanted her mommy, got to have a mom (and such an awesome one, at that) while I didn’t have any.

Eventually I settled down to live with my grandpa and get myself sorted out. When my money ran out, I got a job answering phones for a service. I was in the pilot program for a potential client. We were going to take calls during their busy time, and if we did well enough, they’d hire my company on a permanent basis.

I trained for weeks, not knowing who the client was. It was top-secret, you know. And in the last week of training they announced… that we’d be taking orders for a major flower company! For their Mother’s Day rush! Everyone was so excited. And I was…not.

So I spent my work days listening to people tell me how awesome their mom is—or at least how obligated they felt to say so. I spoke with the people who bought the largest basket with all the bells and whistles, but didn’t know what their mom’s favorite flower was, and I spoke with the people who, when they heard what the delivery fees were, needed to get a smaller arrangement, but as long as there were some of this particular flower, it would still be good. Because all of them loved their moms.

It sucked, but it was a crash course in not hurting every time someone mentioned their mom.

Eventually, I left the job to take care of my grandpa full-time. He mostly just needed a physical presence, which gave me plenty of time to gaze at my navel, and it was in this period that I realized the important thing. Her whole life, my mom did the best she could. It wasn’t always what I needed. It often wasn’t what I wanted. But it was everything she had. And when she didn’t teach me something, I realized, it was because she didn’t know it. And when she didn’t say the right words or do the right things, it was because the way her world had molded her, she didn’t have the tools to support me. But she always wanted what was best for me. And she loved me. And at the end of the day, I turned out okay. Fait accompli. 

To all the moms out there, doing your best at whatever capacity you can, I see you. I admire you. And I thank you for taking on the mantle and responsibility of influencing humanity’s future. 

Adventures with Vegan Cheese, Chinese Hot Dogs, and Tuna Melt “Spring Rolls”

I’ve been gluten-free for a while, now, out of necessity. I recently realized that the reason I’m still having tummy troubles is because I also have dairy issues. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
This made me incredibly sad, because I had to give up one of my favorite foods EVER: cheese. I mean, you know, have you tasted vegan cheese? It is not cheese. It’s… not-cheese. (To be polite.)

Continue reading Adventures with Vegan Cheese, Chinese Hot Dogs, and Tuna Melt “Spring Rolls”

Gluten-Free, Egg-Free, Soy-Free “Matzo” Balls

While this recipe is every-day Kosher, it is not Kosher for Passover. It is my personal belief, however, that in cases of severe allergies, G-d will understand. Do with that what you will.

I recently chose to accept the challenge of assisting in making a meal for a Passover Seder. If you have ever been involved in hosting a Seder, you know what a massive undertaking that is. Additionally, one of our guests has a long list of allergies, including soy and…eggs. Yes, eggs, the foundation of most Passover baked goods, since yeast and chemical (baking soda/baking powder) leavenings are forbidden. ARGH!!! And, since I, myself, have a strong and unpleasant reaction to gluten, I knew that anything I made would be automatically gluten-free.

Having been to my fair share of meals where, because of my ONE food allergy, I was told, “Oh, well, you can just have a salad while the rest of us have this incredible 5 course meal,” I knew that I could not do this to our guest with all the allergies. For me Passover, is about coming together and celebrating with family. It is exactly the wrong time to be excluding anyone. As far as I was concerned, all of our guests would be eating the same exact food as everyone else at the table.

The search began by looking for gluten-free, egg-free matzo (or matzo meal). Turns out, it doesn’t exist at a mass-produced level. I have heard rumors that a company tried making gluten-free, vegan matzo one year, but it never came back the following year. I suppose the need is simply too niche. So unless you are willing and able to make your own matzo (I am not), it simply doesn’t exist. However, I am a pragmatist, so I found some gluten-free crackers that did not contain any allergens OR leavening. No yeast, no baking soda, no baking powder. It was the best I could do. This is the first reason why I state that these “matzo” balls are not Kosher for Passover, even though they were Everyday Kosher. (Regardless of ingredients missing or present, there are other factors that make food Kosher for Passover, and these crackers were not.)

Once we had confirmed that the crackers would be safe for all guests, the next step was to create “matzo” meal, which is traditionally just matzo ground down to about the texture of corn meal. (I checked. Even the matzo meal is either egg-free or gluten-free. I could not find both in one tin.) I used a food processor and ground up my substitute matzo until it was nice and crumbly. (If you grind it too much, you make “matzo” cake flour, which is too fine for our purposes here.)

I then followed the process laid out in Tablet’s Egg-Free Matzo Balls, with some minor adjustments. The biggest problem with following the recipe exactly* is that it uses actual matzo meal (egg-free, of course—I hope!). When working with gluten-free flours, the absorbency of each flour is slightly different, so using gluten-free crackers means that the meal won’t absorb liquids the same way that wheat flour matzo would. Because of this, I had to work from feel.

When I followed the directions exactly (okay, well, I doubled the recipe, but other than that, I did everything exactly) and mixed everything together, I ended up with a salty, soupy glop. (Ooooh! Those crackers were already salted and the recipe called for more salt. D’oh!) Adding a bit more “matzo” meal brought the mix together.

The next step is super important, especially for GF flours. I chilled the mixture for 15 minutes. Knowing now what I didn’t know then, I’d actually lean closer to 45 minutes to an hour.

Once it set, the mixture had a texture firm enough to scoop into balls and hold its shape, but still moist enough to be malleable. The matzo ball expert on NPR’s Good Food said when forming the balls, if you must form them into perfect orbs, to use a light touch. Too much handling will make the “matzo” balls sink when they should float. That sounded reasonable to me, so I tried not to handle the mixture too much.

Around this time, I realized that even though I had doubled the recipe, I still didn’t have enough “matzo” balls to feed seven people, so I quickly made another, regular-sized, batch. But I didn’t grind as much “matzo” meal, so the batter was a little wetter than the first batch. I let the first batch rest on the baking sheet while I mixed and chilled the second batch. I did not let the second batch rest. They all just went straight into the oven! (Bad idea. Now I know for next time.)

According to Tablet’s recipe, you want to par-bake the “matzo” balls until they are just lightly golden. For this I had to trust my baking instincts. I didn’t want to fully bake them (because they should be boiled), but if they were under-baked, they would dissolve when processed in the salt water. And again, the types of flours, their specific combination, and how they were baked could all affect the final outcome.

I found that during the baking process, the second batch of the “matzo” balls lost their shape a bit and flattened out. This could be because they a little wetter, or it could be because they didn’t rest as long, either in or out of the fridge. (I would love to hear back if anyone decides to experiment with this.)

Once the “matzo” balls were par-baked, it was time to boil them. The matzo ball expert recommended using salt water, not soup, because fat in the soup can cause the matzo balls to become dense instead of fluffy. When I simmered in salt water, of the 21 “matzo” balls I originally par-baked, only about 13 survived. I suspect the survivors were the ones that got extra rest time. The others disintegrated, and honestly, even the survivors were much smaller when I pulled them out than when they went in. I’m pretty sure mainstream ones puff up. Oh, well.

After they had simmered for the prescribed 25 minutes, I took them out of the salt water with a slotted spoon and dropped them into a baggie, which I then refrigerated over night (because I made everything early, not because they needed the rest). The next day, I got the chicken soup piping hot, dropped in the “matzo” balls and let them warm up a bit, and then served immediately.

It wasn’t exactly matzo ball soup, but it was close enough, and everyone with or without allergies thought it was quite delicious, if a little heavy on the salt. (ARGH! Those pre-salted crackers!) Not bad for an “on the fly” recipe remake.

Have you tried something similar? How did it come out?


*A note about aquafaba, less delicately known as “bean water”: many, but not all, Jews do not consider legumes of any sort to be Kosher for Passover. This is the second reason these “matzo” balls would not be acceptable at a strictly Kosher Seder. I have heard that you can also try using bananas and/or applesauce as binders instead, but I’m not sure how well they’ll hold up when they are boiled, and I haven’t tried yet. Again, for my personal use in this case, I think that Gd will understand.

MiriBear’s Breakfast Cheesy Garlic Bread of Awesomeness

There was a while where every time that I was on my own for dinner, I would gleefully run home and crank on the oven. Within 30 minutes, I’d be dining on some variation of tomato soup and a metric ton of garlic bread. Sadly, due to my body going crazy on me over the last three years, I can no longer eat any grains in the evenings or I’ll be up all night, so dinners that includes any sort of bread, glutenous, garlicy, or no, are now out.
But that doesn’t stop me from having it for breakfast! 

Continue reading MiriBear’s Breakfast Cheesy Garlic Bread of Awesomeness

My Story

I don’t have time to be doing this. I have a major deadline just around the corner, and I need to be working on that, but at the same time, I feel like I need to tell this story.
It happened many years ago. I was dating this awesome guy. In so many ways, we just clicked, you know? And the two of us went on a double-date with his brother and the brother’s girlfriend—would it be rude of me to refer to her as The Wildebeest? It would? Good. I couldn’t stand that woman. Let her be so named forever more.

Continue reading My Story

I don’t know how to flirt

You have probably noticed that my posts have become more sporadic lately.

Oh, man! I have seen those words on so many blogs, usually right before the blogger announces their newest book! 😀

No, I’m not announcing my newest book. Yet. But I’m working on it. And I’m announcing that I’m working on it. I have deadlines and everything. Oh, gods! What have I done?

What it comes down to is that I am still writing, pretty much every day. I have to finish 20K words by summer. For people who have done NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in 30 days), that might not sound like much—and for people who don’t write at all, it probably doesn’t sound like anything—but it’s a lot for me. This is my first serious attempt at something salable, and it has to be finished in a timely manner, and it has to be good readable.

My rule is to write at least two sentences each day. It usually turns into more than that, but it’s a lot easier to convince myself that I have energy for two sentences than for onethousandwordsperday ohmygaaaaah!!! And some days, all I have in me is two sentences, but that’s okay, because that’s my minimum. Anyway, it works for me and keeps me progressing.

The other day I hit a block, because I don’t know how to flirt. You see, both of my characters are expert flirts and charmers, and I am not, so I didn’t know how to write their dialog. I sat on it for a day (and put two sentences in earlier paragraphs), and then I realized I should focus on how, even though this is old hat for them, they’re both out of their element, because there’s more than just physical attraction, and neither of them knows how to deal with that. So instead of dialog, I did this:

Electric. Her fingers were as chill as the bottle, and yet when he enclosed them with his much larger hand, he felt warm tingles shoot through his entire body. The world narrowed down to this moment. He saw her eyes, felt her fingers warming under his. He was smiling. He was saying something to her, and she was smiling back, flirting back. And he had no idea what either of them was talking about, but it didn’t matter, because she was here, with him.

“Come out with me tonight. Say yes.”

With a shy half-grin she looked at him through lowered lashes. “I—”

 I’m not sure if it’s stronger— Well, it’s stronger than me trying to pretend to know how to flirt, but I can get advice on that later. I’m not sure if this approach is a stronger way to structure this part of the story, but that’s okay, because it allowed me to keep moving forward. It felt good to jump that hurdle, and then everything flowed again.

So, I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to update this blog for a while. I’ve got a few more days of two sentences to knock out. But rest assured that I’m still writing. Because that is what this blog is about for me– a place to make sure that as a writer, I keep writing.

Image found here.
Frédéric Soulacroix [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. {{PD-US-no notice}} – any work first published without copyright notice prior to 1978.

Why I don’t want to eat at your party

“Can’t you just pick out the parts you don’t want to eat?”

Considering that I can neither see, taste, nor smell the parts that make me sick, I’m gonna go with No. I’ll just eat the stuff I know is safe for me, thanks.

“Oh, well, a little bit never hurt anybody, right?”

Would you please tell that to my gut? It still hasn’t clued in on this concept. The last time I thought that, I had the most horrific bathroom problems for three solid days, I didn’t sleep right for about a week, had awful Depression that whole time–which cleared up once the gluten got out of my system–and was losing nutrition in my body for that entire time, since my GI tract was so inflamed that it couldn’t absorb anything, thereby throwing my body into starvation mode, no matter how much I did or didn’t eat. I had brain fog for a week, where I just couldn’t think, and I could barely function at my job. I had insomnia and fatigue at the same time, and during all of that, I was driving on the same roads as you. But hey, you know what? Thanks for your expert  advice, and congratulations on your new medical degree. I’m sure you’ve been studying up on this WAY more than I have since my diagnosis three years ago.

“I know you have gluten issues, so I made this thing just for you.”

You made this for me? You thought me when you didn’t have to? I’m so grateful I could burst into tears. Thank you. Thank you so much! It’s just…before I take a bite, did you check all of the other ingredients, too? Besides the most obvious ones?  Your marinade was made with soy sauce, whose second ingredient is usually wheat. And this has white vinegar in it, which could have been made with malt (barley), but we have no way of knowing–sometimes even the manufacturer doesn’t even know. And you’re right: oats are naturally gluten-free, but here in the states, oats are stored, transported, and processed in the same facilities as wheat, rye, and barley, which means by the time they hit the shelves, it is entirely possible that the oats have more gluten ON them than wheat has IN it. I know, this is weird and gluten has no business being in these things, but it is. Welcome to my world. It took me about two years to find all the hidden ways gluten was still sneaking into my diet. I don’t expect you to pick it all up in one afternoon. But what that means is that while I am SO GRATEFUL that you brought this dish with me in mind–seriously, you have no idea!–I cannot safely eat it. Unless it was prepared by someone who understands what gluten is and where it hides, I don’t want to eat it. But thank you so deeply for thinking of me.

“Well, we have a salad. You can eat that, right?”

Oh, gods. Another one? Why can’t I eat a normal meal like I used to? So sick of salad. This party is full of the most amazing foods. I mean, the smells alone are sending me into heaven, and breaking bread together is such an important part of human community building, and I so want to take part in that. I’m not on a diet. You guys are all eating these fried/breaded/baked delicacies, and I wish I could have just one more bite, one more taste of golden, greasy goodness, to share in the communal offerings… But not even one bite is worth the health risks I’m facing. I don’t want to eat myself into dying from malnutrition or even just having bones so brittle they snap under any stress. I don’t want to get osteoporosis or anemia. I’ve seen what that does to people. I don’t want to lose so many nutrients that my hair falls out or I can no longer think straight. And I really don’t want to spend the next three days in the bathroom. Besides, checking the salad dressing you’re offering, I see that it was made in a facility where the manufacturer cannot guarantee that some wheat didn’t get into the mix, meaning this stuff may be horribly contaminated for me, even though you cannot tell the difference. This means I get to eat my veggies raw. Again. But there is literally nothing else here that is safe for me, so Salad would be lovely. Thank you for thinking of me.   

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No Longer a N00b: Gluten-Free Resources

I’m realizing that I have quite a collection of resources at my fingertips for living a strictly gluten-free lifestyle. I think it’s about time that I share them with whoever else might need a little guidance– or maybe you’re more of an expert than me, but are looking to expand your knowledge base. 🙂 This list is by no means complete. It’s just my favorites. Continue reading No Longer a N00b: Gluten-Free Resources

Lies, Damned Lies, and Politics

I have been engaging in political discussions with someone who sits on the other side of the fence from me. (In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m pretty damn liberal.) She has been absolutely wonderful. She is usually clear and generally well-studied and doesn’t foam at the mouth. I love talking with her about this stuff, because I am learning from her. I am learning about the concerns and perspectives of the people on “the other side”—when they are thinking, rational people, rather than the ones that just repeat rhetoric, because that’s what someone else on “their side” said.

I’m also learning about myself. I’m learning that I do that. I’ve been doing all of it. I’ve been foaming at the mouth, and I’ve been repeating things people on “my side” said without doing any fact checking. I’ve been waiting for her to finish her argument, so that I could prove her wrong, rather than actively listening to the points she’s been trying to make. In short, I’ve been acting as horribly as the “Them” I claim are out there.

Sunshyne, thank you for your patience with me. And I’m sorry if for when I got too aggressive.

And here’s what I have learned from this incredibly humbling experience.

I have been so busy trying to be Right in the last few weeks that I haven’t been listening. I acted as if I thought her concerns weren’t valid at all, when the fact is, they are. Her concerns are every bit as valid as mine. I have absolutely no right to walk over hers—or worse yet, to walk over hers while announcing that I’m angry that people are walking over mine.

I have learned/remembered that angry people shout because they feel unheard. I do feel unheard. And I think she does too. People don’t share, and they certainly don’t concede, when they feel like they don’t have enough for their own well-being. This applies to food, this applies to money, and it certainly applies to attention.

The fact is, we live in a complicated society. There are a LOT of people here, from every walk of life, from every religion, every nationality. State and federal governments have the responsibility of protecting the rights of all of us—even the ones we don’t agree with. And that is what makes our nation great. We don’t have a theocracy. We don’t have one to rule them all. We govern ourselves. Together.

Part of this wake-up came about when she and I were discussing the Oregonian bakers who refused service to a gay couple on religious grounds. I spouted opinions. She spouted opinions. And then we both went and read the final filing from the court ruling, and really, my opinions on what the case were about were dead-wrong. Hers were off-based, too, but not nearly as much as mine. I realized I had fallen victim to “headline reading”. Scratch that. I chose to only read headlines, and since you cannot trust all of those guys who spout opposing opinions, because they’re all wrong, I only read headlines that seemed like they probably agree with me.

In an environment where you can Like, Share, Upvote, Downvote and Pin something with just one click, it’s becoming more challenging to do due diligence. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I just wanted to move on to my next headline. The problem was, the headlines were very, very misleading.

I know. Yellow journalism is not news. It never was. But that’s not what I’m actually here to say. What I want to say is I’ll be doing my best to do a little more reading and a little less shouting in the coming days. As old saw goes, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” (And, no, Mark Twain didn’t say it first. Neither did Abraham Lincoln. I know this, because I did my research.)


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