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Miriam's Kitchen: A Memoir
     

Miriam's Kitchen: A Memoir

4.9 7
by Elizabeth Ehrlich
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Newsweek
In this wonderful book, Ehrlich describes a growing commitment, not just to a set of laws but to the women who came before her.
Victoria Glendinning
. . .[T]he rewards of thrilling friendships of this kind are not only one way. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
An appealing, sensitive account of an assimilated Jewish woman's efforts to embrace the religious traditions of her ancestors. Former BusinessWeek reporter Ehrlich recounts a childhood where Judaism was merely kosher-style. Like so many other immigrants and children of immigrants, Ehrlich's left-wing parents shunned many of their religion's constraints. While pork didn't make it to their kitchen, shrimp did. And eating corned beef on 'Jewish' rye became their most Jewish experience, 'the taste without the blessing.' After Ehrlich married, she hungered for something more, finding that cultural nourishment from her mother-in-law, Miriam, who as a teenager had been sent to a Nazi work camp, but survived the horror with her spiritual pantry intact. From this living link to her grandmothers and their traditions, the author was able to learn the recipes to more than a culinary Judaism. The dietary laws led to Sabbath observance, which enriched her family with 24 hours of 'contemplation, rest, and praise as a gift . . . that punctuates the temporal world." Ehrlich's journey is not without occasional lapses and misgivings. She worries about the parochialism of her children's Jewish day school and prefers to tell professional contacts that she's a vegetarian, so that her dietary restrictions don't 'drive in a wedge.' Nor is she completely comfortable with the Orthodox exclusion of women from the traditional prayer quorum, or minyan. 'I hope that a minyan will gather when I die,' she writes, 'and that it will have women in it.' While Ehrlich is not all that sure whether prayer matters or God plays a personal role in our lives, she is certain that the religious traditions she has adoptedhave made her life far more meaningful. Replete with family narratives and over two dozen recipes, Miriam's Kitchen is much more than one woman's journey to spiritual fulfillment. It is a savory stew made from the social and cultural ingredients of American-Jewish life.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101119167
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/01/1998
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
1,189,418
File size:
461 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

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.

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Ehrlich lives in Westchester County, New York

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Miriam's Kitchen: A Memoir 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
StacieRosePittard More than 1 year ago
Wonderful story. As a woman who devotes herself to running her home, this book was such an inspiration to me. Miriam is easily on the list of people who I admire.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
A great book. I can totally identify with the author, being a relunctant Jew myself. However, as I get older, as I begin to have an interfaith marriage, I realize the importance of my heritage and keeping memories, traditions, and culture alive. Amazing stories and so many of them ring true to my own life experiences. I am loving this book so much and will be sad when it ends.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book makes us think about who we are, where we came from and what we will leave behind. It just made me realize once again how much there is to learn from the generation that is almost gone. I would like to thank the author for the truely wonderful time I had reading her book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If I was a writer, this is the book I would have written! It really spoke to me. The question of should I keep Kosher or not, relatives memories of the past, great recipes...who could ask for more?