Never Make Cutting Remarks About a Present

Never Make Cutting Remarks About a Present

At ten paces I can tell that a package is from my mom. There are tell-tale signs – it’s sealed with address labels and there are hearts doodled on the front and back – but the give-away is its shape. My mom’s packages are lumpy. Inside is a jumble of newspaper – stories of cute animals, recipes, and laugh-out-loud comics – an important document or two, and a surprise. The surprise might be chocolate, a keychain, or a post card sent to my parents from a vacationing relative. Whatever it is, it’s unexpected and delightful.

A month ago the surprise, between recipes for ice cream sandwiches and a gift of serving forks and spoons, was a cutting board. I might have groaned when I saw it. A white cutting board, its edges curved to prevent spillage and a rubbed-grip handle was not something on my shopping list. There were already five cutting boards in the apartment and I couldn’t figure out what I was going to do with a sixth. So, I put it back in the box, and resolved to deal with it another day. Meanwhile I called and thanked my parents for sending the present.

Two weeks later my mom, having raved about the same cutting board – she’d bought one for each of us – asked how I liked it.

“It’s nice,” I said easily. Worried there might be questions, I amended my statement “…I haven’t really used it yet.” I sensed a pause on the other end of the line, and rushed on; “It’s just that there’s not a lot of room in the apartment.”

“But you have enough room for a food processor?” mom queried, referencing the much heralded birthday present. My cover had failed, but I tried to maintain it.

“Well, the cutting boards are Ellen’s and I need to talk her…sigh…it’s a complicated situation,” I finished up.

My mom moved the conversation onward.

The next day I pulled out the new cutting board, determined not to disappoint my mom in her gift-giving goals. While Ellen was occupied with an important phone call, I mimed replacing the old cutting board with the new one. She looked baffled, but was unable to break away from her conversation. I repeated the gestures again until she nodded, the only way to get rid of me. Satisfied, I dumped the old cutting board, piled the new on top of the other four, and walked away in peace.

Later that day, I made soup. I chopped the onion, and no pieces fell off the board. The slopped sides kept everything together – without interfering with my slicing and dicing. Impressive.

As the oil heated in the pan, I minced some garlic. Then, in one smooth movement, I lifted the cutting board and slid all of it into the awaiting pan.  No maneuvering, no falling chunks, no awkwardly angled knife trying to scrap those last stubborn bits into the pan. It was seamless – exactly as it ought to be.  

As soon as the dishes were washed and dried, I called and thanked my mom. I should have remembered – surprises are the best part of a package.

This is the soup the cutting board made possible:

Tangy Split Pea Soup based on a true recipe

dollop of oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

7 c vegetable stock/water

2 c split pea (mix of green and yellow, and/or red lentils)

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp mustard seed

1/2 brick of frozen spinach

salt, as desired

2 tbsp lemon juice

Sautee onion and garlic until nearly translucent, add cumin and mustard seed, cook until fully translucent. Add stock/water, split peas/lentils, and spinach. Cook 1 – 3 hours, or more if desired. Add lemon juice before serving.

The Season of Soup and Scarves

The Season of Soup and Scarves

“I didn’t used to like winter,” said Susanna, indignantly, as though the season was a personal affront. Then she returned calmly to her soup.

“What happened?” I prompted.

“I discovered soup and scarves,” was her nonchalant reply.


I’ve always liked winter, perhaps because my life has always come with an abundance of soup and scarves. The soup I can’t explain. In the middle of summer, I’ve walked into the kitchen, already oppressively hot, to discover a parent boiling soup stock and chopping farm-fresh summer veggies. The windows are open, the fans are blowing, and the soup simmers away. You know that the summer weather is really taking a toll when my mom buys her soup from the store rather than turn on the stove top. Yet our soup tradition continues unabated as the  heat rises and humidity grows thick enough to cut.

By the time autumn comes around again, we’re so happy that the outdoors no longer feel like a blast furnace that we celebrate with soup.

The scarves I can explain. Everyone in my family has learned how to crochet, or knit. As every beginner book will tell you, the best item to make is a scarf. “Your friends and family will love it! You’ll have the perfect gift for the holiday season! Everyone will be amazed by your prowess!” the books lie over and over again. By the time I put my needles to yarn, there was already an overflowing beach bag of scarves which proved the books wrong. Everyone in my family preferred their store-bought scarves to the wealth of homemade ones. Those loving presents, contrary to the beginner book promises, laid undisturbed until someone’s real scarf when missing. Then the bag was pawed through, and the now scarf-less person resigned themselves to one of those long-ago gifts, all the while wishing that those trusty knitting needles had never been picked up.

As another winter descends upon us, I’ll start in on the soup and leave scarves to the rest of the family.

Based on a true recipe

Sweet Potato & Bean Soup

1½ cups dried beans, rinsed or 1 -2 cans, rinsed The recipe called for black beans. I had pinto beans in the house, so that’s what I used

1 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced

2 sweet potatoes, diced
1 parsnip, diced
4 cups soup stock or water You really should have soup stock on hand. Always.
3/4 tsp ground coriander Feel free to replace with any other spice if you don’t have coriander in the house. I used allspice because nutmeg seemed like the other likely replacement, and we have a bad history. Ask Special Correspondent Ellen if you don’t believe me. Though I now realize that I misread coriander as cardamon. Eh, just double up the cumin and call it a day.

1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp pepper
salt, as desired
2 tbsp lemon or lime juice

I realized after the first tasting that the soup was too hearty for me so I added:

2 heads broccoli or 1 lb green beans

2 to 4 cups water

1 cup salsa

Boil the beans for as long as it takes to cook them in a large pot of water. Refill pot with water occasionally, as the beans soak it up. Or you can check the internet before hand to see the actual proportions and time needed.

Sautee onions, garlic. Add stock/water and root vegetables. Cook till soft. If you’re like me, pour everything into the food processor and puree until smooth. If you’re living in the dark ages, boil potatoes and parsnip separately, drain. Pull out your wisk and mash until smooth; then add stock/water to sauteed onions and garlic and lump in the potato/parsnip mix.

Add spices, vegetables, water, and salsa as desired.

Scarf not included.

Royal Breakfast Foods

Royal Breakfast Foods

When there was a Royal Wedding, I made blueberry scones.

When there was Royal Morning Sickness, I made orange cranberry bread.

There seems to be something about royalty that brings out the breakfast in me.


Orange Cranberry Bread

2 c flour

3/4 c sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 c orange juice

2 tbsp oil

1 egg

1 1/2 c fresh cranberries

optional: 1 tbsp orange zest


Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Stir in orange juice, oil, orange peel and egg; mix until well blended.  Stir in cranberries.  Bake at 350 for 55 mins, if your oven is working properly. If your oven is off-kilter, adjust appropriately.


At this rate, perhaps the birth of a Royal Baby will bring out the Perfect Pancake Recipe I’ve got stashed away.

Processing Joy

Processing Joy

What could prompt the question: “Are you the happiest girl in all the land,” from Special Correspondent Ellen?

The sight of my new food processor, gleaming, on the countertop.

A few months ago, my food processor died. It was an ugly death, and not one I wish to discuss. The first days after its untimely demise was when I discovered how much I relied upon it. I needed it for so many things: parve pudding, soup, chummus – just everything.

I tried to console myself, and move on. I kept reminding myself that one soup can replace another – that I didn’t truly need a food processor. In those first days I began to accept my life stripped of the comforts of a food processor. Then shabbos came, and it hit me like a load of bricks: there could be no potato kugel. No potato kugel. No potato kugel. No potato kugel. I was inconsolable.

Inconsolable, and potato kugel-less, I remained until my birthday intervened. On that occasion my parents, tipped off to the depth of my loss from my incessant refrain of sorrow, replaced my lost food processor. They did more than replace it – they gave me a shiny, new, and space-saving 10 cup food processor. More than the gift of this Cadillac of food processors, they gave me back potato kugel. In their honor, I share our family potato kugel which began life with a friend who hates potato kugel. Bad start to a great kugel.

Potato Kugel

5 potatoes, peeled and diced

1 onion, diced

2 eggs The original recipe calls for 4 eggs. However, my friends wrote it for me about a sleepless night. She might have also written tomatoes instead of potatoes.

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

optional: 2 cloves garlic, minced

enough oil to cover the bottom of an 8×8 pan.

Process potatoes and onion. Mix in eggs, salt, and pepper. Spread just enough oil onto the bottom of the pan, pour in potato mixture. Bake at 400 for 90 minutes, or less as desired.