April 27, 2008

Pesach review

We had two great seders while visiting my family back east. The first seder was hosted by good friends of my sister. It was sort of "little seder in the big woods" because their home is surrounded by a green belt on three sides. 18 people, from teens to seniors, crowded around their dining room table for a lively, song-filled evening. It was very good of them to include Rik and I at the last minute, and we participated wholeheartedly. The host was Dutch from Curacao and we learned some new traditions from him, as well as enjoyed tasty charoses made from his family's recipe (with coconut!)

In between the two seders my sister and I made the chopped liver. She broiled the chicken livers, sauteed the onions in shmaltz (rendered chicken fat), and hard-boiled the eggs. We tried to put together the ancient hand grinder my parents have used for the past 50 years, finally getting the blades inserted correctly. We took turns grinding the liver and it was just like being kids again.

Dad used to tell us that it was FUN to make chopped liver and that only well-behaved girls got to turn the grinder handle. We fought over who would go first. My arm always tired out quickly because it's a right-handed machine and hence tough for a lefty to use.

For the second seder we were able to use a transport service to bring my dad in the wheelchair from the nursing home to my sister and brother-in-law's house. My sister outdid herself preparing a yummy meal. We began our seder at noon to take advantage of the time of day when my dad is at his most alert. My brother-in-law conducted us through "seder: the good parts" which included lots of singing and fun, and we had a great lunch together.

We took a family portrait together and for that reason alone, much less the chance to be together for a holiday, I am so glad Rik and I went back east to celebrate Passover with my family!

April 22, 2008

Dad's chopped liver recipe

To feed a seder of 12-18 people (and still have leftovers for lunch the next day):

2 pounds chicken livers
8 hard-boiled eggs
4 large onions, sliced
shmaltz (rendered chicken fat) or vegetable oil
grivenes (cracklings left after rendering the shmaltz) -- optional but so delicious!
salt and pepper to taste

Broil the livers until completely cooked and the centers are no longer pink. Cool.

While livers are broiling, slice and saute onions in a little shmaltz or vegetable oil until translucent and golden. Do not brown. Cool.

For best texture, grind together liver, hard-boiled eggs, onions and grivenes (if using) with a hand-grinder or the grinder attachment for your KitchenAid Mixmaster. I do not recommend using a food processor!

Mix together and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place into an oiled mold or bowl and chill until ready to serve. Turn out liver onto a platter.

My sister garnishes with sliced tomatoes but it's just as good served naked in all its glory. Delicious on matzah or TamTam crackers.

(I have successfully halved this recipe to make a smaller quantity.)

April 19, 2008

A happy Pesach to all

We are getting ready to start our Passover seder. As we link with Jews around the world, two thousand years of Jewish tradition come to mind. Together we will drink four cups of wine, ask four questions, and describe four types of people. We will recount our people's ancient exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in our own land of Israel.

In Hebrew the word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, meaning the "narrow places." May each of us find the strength to navigate our personal narrow places, to take joy where we find it, and to breathe in the sweet air of spring and renewal.

Chag Pesach sameach vekasher.

April 16, 2008


No, I wasn't sitting at the counter at Schrafft's having a milk shake, but yes, I have been discovered. Or rather, my blog has been discovered.

This morning I took a call from Sharsheret, the organization for young Jewish women with breast cancer. They want to use the Passover post I wrote last year in their annual Passover greeting card. I was of course flattered and honored.

Sharsheret (meaning "chain") links young Jewish women who have breast cancer. I've been affiliated with it for a few years and have been a telephone buddy or "link" to other young women with metastatic disease.

This is the second time this month that a random person has found my blog through a search engine that seeks out the best of the net. The other one found me on Blogged.com (find better blogs), where my blog was rated third out of 96 breast cancer blogs and 9.4/excellent out of a possible 10.

The Kanzius Machine -- a cancer cure?

Evidently while I was catching up on "Desperate Housewives" last Sunday night, CBS's "60 Minutes" was broadcasting a story on a potential cure for cancer. The subject of this story, a former businessman who got cancer and used his youthful love of building radios to try to zap tumors with radio waves, has invented a machine that appears to promise a cure for cancer without drugs, surgery or side effects.

Reading the article was like seeing the science fiction future actually come to pass. If the Kanzius Machine can really kill microscopic cancer cells (the kind that dorm metastases), then an average guy will have invented a cancer cure.

Clink on the link in the title of this post to read the full CBS story. And welcome to the future.


April 15, 2008

On my own in the Big Apple: Wednesday

For my last morning in Noo Yawk, I went out for a big breakfast, did some more window shopping, and bought a chocolate cupcake for an airplane snack. The shuttle picked me up in front of H's apartment, we drove all over the Upper West Side picking up other travelers, and I was at Newark Airport in plenty of time for my flight.

Of course, Alaska and American Airlines had announced flight cancellations that day and I had a moment of panic about whether or not I was going to get home, but in the end the plane took off early and landed early. Rik met me at the baggage claim, Pumpkin was waiting in the car, and it felt very good to be home with my family.

I was a bit jet-lagged after being back east for so long, but it only took me a few days to re-orient to Seattle time.

The best of all possible operas

I first read Voltaire's novel in high school French class. Then in 1979 I saw a production of the musical at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. It made a huge impact on me. The music was phenomenol, the lyrics catchy, and it sure brought Voltaire's 1799 novel to life! I just had to buy the album. Over the years I have also seen concert productions of Candide, as well as televised versions. I especially liked the PBS Great Performances version with Kristin Chenoweth and Patti Lupone. When I read on line that the New York City Opera was reviving it, I knew I had to change my travel plans in order to see the show live.

This production lived up to expectation and memory. It was a romp through gorgeous sets, fancy costumes, and best of all plenty of good singing, dancing and acrobatics. I found it to be very much in the spirit of the 1974 Hal Prince version I am so fond of. And the finale, when the cast singsa cappella "we'll build our house and chop our wood, and make our garden grow" brought me to tears yet again.

Here is the New York Times review of Candide.

On my own in the Big Apple: Tuesday

After sleeping for too many hours, it was clear that I had pushed myself pretty hard for the past few days. I was supposed to see a friend who also has metastatic breast cancer. She lives in New Jersey and can no longer get around easily, so I thought I'd try to get to her by bus. It turned out that by oversleeping, I'd made it almost impossible to get to her and back in time to see the opera that night, so we caught up a bit by phone instead.

Fueled up with a cup of H's delicious coffee and an H&H Bagel, I walked across Central Park and uptown to the Jewish Museum, which I had never seen. It turned out to be a good choice, just the right size to see the whole collection in a couple of hours. There was a temporary exhibit by Andy Warhol -- Warhol's Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered. Warhol's idea of who is an influential Jew was a little weird. Golda Meir and Albert Einstein sure, but the Marx Brothers?

It was sunny afternoon but my feet hurt, so I took a cab back to H's neighborhood and went shopping. I had passed a couple of boutiques selling women's hats and decided I should try some on. No luck; everything was either too large and floppy or too casual to wear to synagogue. I ended up at Loehmann's where I bought a cute green straw topper that will be perfect for summer in Seattle.

After a quick change back at Chez H, I took myself out for an early dinner before the opera. Arte Cafe offers a prix fixe dinner for $19.95. I had a green salad; the bistecchina, a "little" skirt steak served with mashed potatoes and salsa verde; and an expensive, rather bad glass of shiraz. The scoop of chocolate ice cream was not memorable and anyway I was so full from the steak!

I decided to walk the few blocks to Lincoln Center in order to digest. This was the reason I stayed on in New York City -- to see the City Opera production of Leonard Bernstein's Candide.

On my own in the Big Apple: Monday

I stayed for two nights with a friend from Camp Tel Yehudah. We'd met as counselors in 1979 and had stayed in touch over all these years. H has a terrific apartment on the Upper West Side, not far from the Hotel Excelsior. He took a break from a big project and we spent the afternoon and evening together.

We went to dinner at local bistro Cafe Mozart where I enjoyed a wonderful, Parisian-style meal of fresh bread, pate de fois gras and a big green salad. That allowed me to leave room for a sentimental dessert of fresh cannoli. In all the years H and I have known each other, he was always on the scout for the freshest cannoli. "Fresh" to H means the filling doesn't hit the shell until you place an order. Well, this cannoli was so fresh the shell crumbled into pieces when forked apart and the filling overflowed out each end. So delicious!

I stumbled onto the sofa bed and crashed until 10:30 the next morning.

Monday in NYC

G and I arrived a few minutes early for our noon reservation at Jean-Georges and decided to browse through The Shops at Columbus Circle, where we saw an exhibit of costumes from The Lion King. Rik and I had seen it in London and it was a fabulous opportunity to get close to the various costumes, headdresses, and other accoutrements that made this show so magical.

Jean-Georges is the name of one of New York City's top chefs and the name of one of his restaurants. They offer a prix fixe lunch special that cannot be beat -- 3 courses for $24.07 AND the best cup of coffee we'd had so far. G had a lovely salad to start, while I enjoyed a delicate hot and sour soup. We both had the garlic roast chicken, which was served over orrecchiete pasta ("little ears"), arugula and fresh herbs. For dessert we simply had to have one of each: a fruit concoction and the chocolate choice. You can see in the photo that our daily dose of vitamin CH (chocolate) was elegantly served and of course tasted delicious.

I think that the chef we saw walk through the restaurant several times was Jean-Georges Vongerichten himself. He wasn't wearing a toque, but his chef's whites were pristine and unstained. He might not have been cooking, but he was sure keeping an eye on things!

After this decadent meal we bundled our luggage into a taxi and dropped me off at a friend's while G went back to Seattle.

Noo Yawk

After we finished the reunion, G and I had one more night to enjoy in New York City. We went back to the hotel to change for dinner and a show. A friend had recommended the restaurant Rain (right around the corner from the hotel), so we had a delicious pan-Asian dinner of roasted duck with cabernet-hoisin sauce, served with moo shu pancakes and grilled vegetables, plus a curry eggplant and tofu dish. The restaurant was so beautifully decorated that it felt like an oasis from the crowded city streets.

After dinner we took a taxi to the theatre district to see Legally Blonde, a new musical based on the movie of the same name. Same plot too, but the musical was almost entirely sung. It wasn't really a traditional musical where the cast breaks into song every so often, but more like an opera in that so much of the dialogue was sung. We didn't leave the theatre humming one particular song, but the show was funny and clever and well-done. The canine members of the cast were particularly talented as well.

After the final bow, the cast stayed on stage and Laura Bell Bundy, who played Elle, gave a speech about how their company was participating in a fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and asked for donations to support this worthy cause. Since I spent four years working for the NW AIDS Foundation (now Lifelong AIDS Alliance) and held a box for donations on several occasions at local theatres, I was happy to make a contribution and to see that we in Seattle had indeed followed the Broadway model exactly. I complimented the cast member who took my donation on the show and her performance and told her my story. She said she'd love to play in Seattle some time and I told her I'd love to see her on a Seattle stage.

All in all, a very satisfying evening!

Surviving Noo Yawk when you have bad cancer

Let's just say that vicodin is my friend. I found I could keep going by popping half of a 5/500 vicodin tablet every 2-3 hours. It didn't make me woozy at that dose, and kept my hips and back from complaining.

Coffee helped too.... as well as taking a sleeping pill to make sure I got a full night's sleep every night.

April 12, 2008

Reunion Day Three

SUNDAY: We walk with a large group of people to Barney Greengrass. It's not really a deli, it's an appetizing store specializing in smoked fish of all kinds. I have a bialy the size of a dinner plate with smoked whitefish salad -- heavenly -- plus more truly terrible weak New York coffee.

After breakfast some people have to leave, but 20 of us walk together and reminisce more. We walk the same route through Central Park to Fifth Avenue, but this time we get to see the Greek Independence Day parade. It's very New York, with hundreds of spectators lining the sidewalks and lots of parade marchers in traditional Greek clothing.

We say tearful goodbyes to everyone and thus ends the reunion. G and I have the rest of Sunday, Sunday night and Monday to do more Noo Yawk!

Reunion Day Two

SATURDAY: We eat a big breakfast at EJ's Luncheonette (yummy eggs benedict with smoked salmon, truly terrible NYC dishwater coffee), then wait for others to decide what they're doing.

No one can make a decision, so G and I take a long walk through Central Park, head downtown on Fifth Avenue to window shop, and end up at the Museum of Modern Art. We see the entire museum in detail and I realize that I have never actually been here before.

We walk past Rockefeller Center where the ice skaters are doing their thing even though it's over 65 degrees and sunny. Stop at La Maison du Chocolat to buy truffles to eat now and a chocolate bar for Rik, then head over to Broadway for a late lunch at Brasserie Maison. Refueled with a cheese plate, crepes, salad and finally some good coffee, we now have the energy to walk uptown to the hotel on W 81st, where we crash briefly, then dress for the party. We have walked more than 60 blocks and I have a blister the size of New Jersey on my little toe.

SATURDAY NIGHT: The big reunion party takes place at a club called Havana Central at the West End. It's unbelievably loud and crowded with diners, salsa dancers, and more than fifty Year Course-niks. It's fun for a while (I am revved up by a martini) but at some point too much so I call my friend H to come rescue me. H and I have known each other since 1979. We walk to a cafe, I have some french onion soup and chamomile tea, and at 1:30 am back in the hotel. G comes in after both the party and the after-party have ended at around 3 AM.

Reunion Day One

I was in the Big Apple last week at the Young Judaea Year Course reunion and visiting a friend. Here's the recap:

FRIDAY: Take the bus from south Jersey to Manhattan. Sit in so much traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel that I risk missing the first reunion event! Finally arrive at Port Authority almost two hours late, grab a cab uptown to the Hotel Excelsior. Quick hello to my friend G (we're rooming together), shower, dress and down to the lobby to meet the Year Course-niks.

Do I recognize anyone? No! It slowly dawns on me that because I actually was on another program called Machon leMadrichei Chutz la'Aretz (Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad) and not Year Course, these people aren't really my people. I recognize some folks from camp and high school Young Judaea and have a good time at dinner. We stay up late looking at photos and scrapbooks. I poop out around midnight; G stays up later. These are definitely her people!

April 08, 2008

Back east again

I'm just back from another jaunt back east -- a family visit to see my family combined with the 30th anniversary reunion of my Young Judaea Year Course in Israel in New York City.

The latest on dad is that he continues to be in good spirits but has lost a lot of weight -- 5 or 10 pounds each week for the past month. He's almost 6 feet tall and I outweigh him at this point. This will put an extra stress on his heart. He hardly eats, although he does seem to enjoy dessert.

My mom and sister are coping as best as possible. My job is to support them in the decisions they make, help them process as needed, and check in daily for updates. It's HARD to be so far away.