Archive for the ‘My Family’ Category

Come Up and See Me Sometime!

9 November 2009


Hello, Readers……..
This blog has actually moved (including all the posts below) to a new location. There you will find not just my work before April 2009 but also lots of new recipes and essays. I hope you’ll visit me there.
Here’s the link.
See you in the kitchen!

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

9 April 2009
A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
Food makes memory concrete in a way nothing else can—except perhaps music. When we make or taste a dish we forge a physical, sensory link to the person who inspired or gave us the recipe. We can almost reach out and touch the dead, nourished by their love.

Laura at the blog The Spiced Life understands this connection. She is hosting a blogging event in which she asks food bloggers to write about their grandmothers’ culinary accomplishments. I went to my paternal grandmother’s house every spring for Passover so I tend to think of her a lot at this time of year.  


The Logo for Laura's Blogging Event

The Logo for Laura's Blogging Event

My father’s mother wasn’t what I’d call kitchen oriented. As a young woman she lived a busy life outside the home instead of cooking. We were told she had been a spy in her youth (or at least a smuggler—the tales were all a little murky).

Sarah Hiller Weisblat came to this country from Poland in 1920 with her husband and three small children. Her brothers had already immigrated and set up a business in New York City; they gave my grandfather a job so that he could support the family.


My grandmother had many skills. She and her mother, who also immigrated (although she refused to learn English), ran their family and eventually their new neighborhood.  


My grandmother radiated competence. I recently learned from my father’s cousin Herb that she delivered him. I don’t know whether a midwife or doctor was unavailable or whether this was something my Nana did on a semi-regular basis!


She was also diplomatic (perhaps a hangover from her days as a spy). When my Jewish father fell in love with my Christian mother, neither set of parents was thrilled. It wasn’t a time when a lot of intermarriage took place. Nevertheless, my grandmother welcomed my mother to the family and defended her against any criticism. She recognized a fellow smart, able woman when she saw one.


As I noted above, my grandmother didn’t do a lot in the kitchen, at least not by the time I met her. Perhaps her mother was the family cook. My father used to recall seeing a carp swimming in the bathtub in his childhood just before it was time to make gefilte fish. In my youth the gefilte fish came out of a jar.


(Although I’m a fan of fresh foods, I think in retrospect this was probably just as well; I would have yelled bloody murder at bath time if I’d seen a fish in the porcelain before me, no matter how thoroughly the tub had been scrubbed!)


I do remember two things that my grandmother made well and on a regular basis—pot roast and matzo ball soup. The matzo ball soup was particularly visible at Passover since the most prominent food on the Passover table is matzo, unleavened bread. When the Jews were finally allowed to leave Egypt in the Exodus story, they were in such a hurry that they baked their bread without letting it rise. In commemoration of this event their descendants eat no bread except matzo during Passover, which lasts for eight days. Matzo meal (ground matzo) is a staple of Passover cooking.


For the non-cognoscenti, matzo-ball soup is a bit like chicken-noodle soup. The balls resemble dumplings in chicken broth. The best matzo ball soup—the kind everyone’s grandmother (including mine) used to make—is created with homemade chicken or turkey stock. You may use a high-quality broth from the store, however.


The trick to this soup is not to make the matzo balls too big; if you do, they swell up and overwhelm your soup! You may of course jazz up the soup by adding chopped vegetables and/or a little ginger to the matzo balls. As a sodium freak I actually like to add a drop of soy sauce to my stock. My grandmother made basic matzo ball soup, however, so basic matzo ball soup this is.


When I make or taste it I am transported back to the home at which we visited my grandparents in Long Beach, New York. This tiny house always seemed to expand to accommodate the many relatives and friends who came to visit, particularly at Passover. My grandmother’s Seder table there was a symbol of her hospitality, of her generous personality, and of the ties that brought family and friends together at holidays. It was never without matzo ball soup.


For more information about Laura’s Grandma’s Recipes event, click here. Meanwhile, here is MY grandma’s recipe.

The Weisblat Family a few months before coming from Poland to the United States. From left to right: Sarah, Selma, Benny, Baby Abe (my dad!), and William (then known as Wolf)

The Weisblat Family a few months before coming from Poland to the United States. From left to right: Sarah, Selma, Benny, Baby Abe (my father!), and William (then known as Wolf)




2 eggs

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

a small amount of finely chopped onion (optional)

2 tablespoons soda water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter

3/4 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup matzo meal

6 cups chicken stock




In a small bowl, beat the eggs.  With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, onion (if using), soda water, oil, salt, and pepper.  Then stir in the matzo meal.  Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours. 


Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.


Boil the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat.  Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.  Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and put the balls in it.  Boil, covered, for at least 15 minutes.  Serves 4 to 5.
My Grandparents Later in Life (perhaps the 1940s?)

My Grandparents Later in Life (perhaps the 1940s?)


The Orange or the Green?

13 March 2009
Katherine Scott Hallett circa 1890 (Courtesy of Bruce Hallett)

Katherine Scott Hallett circa 1890 (Courtesy of Bruce Hallett)

A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
A few days ago I decided to get ready for Saint Patrick’s Day. I foraged in the basement for my light-up shamrock (which a neighbor whom I shall not name says makes the house look like a low-rent tavern). I affixed it to a window and went into the closet to pull out green clothing. My mother looked at the green shirt, glasses, and hat I extracted and said, “Your great grandmother would have been appalled.”


Indeed, Katherine Scott Hallett was not a person known for wearing green on March 17. Born in 1860, she died long before I was born, but I have heard stories about her all my life. To say that my mother disliked her grandmother would be an understatement. Mad Katie (as we sometimes call her in the family) had no tolerance for little girls with spirit. My mother was chock full of spirit.


They couldn’t even make it through greeting each other without getting into a fight. Katie only wanted to be called “Grandmother,” deeming any less formal name beneath her dignity. She also believed that the word “hello” was sacrilegious. In her view it was just an excuse for saying “oh, hell” backwards. Of course it gave little Janice a great deal of pleasure to arrive at the red brick house in Clyde, New York, and holler, “Hello, Grandma!” at the top of her lungs. Things went downhill from there.



My Great Grandmother's House (the painting is signed "B. Christian")

My Great Grandmother's House (the painting is signed "B. Christian")


What, you may ask, does this have to do with Saint Patrick’s Day? Katie came to this country from Canada, but her family was Scots-Irish. They took part in one of the waves of Irish settlement by Protestant Scots. These settlements were encouraged, even sponsored, by the English. For centuries the rulers of England deluded themselves with the belief that if they kept bolstering the Protestant portion of the Irish population they would eventually weaken the hold of the Catholic Church and subdue the will of the Irish to rule themselves.


As a Protestant Irishwoman, Katie believed in wearing orange on Saint Patrick’s Day to celebrate the victory of Protestant William of Orange over his Catholic father-in-law, James II of England, in the battle of the Boyne in 1690. This Irish victory helped ensure that William and his wife Mary sat on the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland. It also ensured that Protestants would have the upper hand in Ireland for centuries to come, leading to violence and resentment on both ends of the Irish religious spectrum.


To Katie wearing Orange on Saint Patrick’s Day was a tactic in the ongoing battle between Catholics and Protestants. This battle remained vital to her family long after they settled on this continent.


In many ways, I have sympathy for Mad Katie. Far from most of her family after moving to the United States, she lost her husband to pernicious anemia at a relatively young age. In her middle years the rigidity of her personality morphed into dementia. She became even more alienated from those around her.


I have a feeling that at some level she had a genuine affection for my mother, who by all accounts was a pretty cute child. (Today she’s a cute old lady.) Sadly, Katie was unable to express that affection.


So—what am I going to wear for Saint Patrick’s Day? I hesitate to don either orange or green at this point for fear of reigniting the war Katie kept fighting well after it should have been over for her. I could try to emulate the Irish flag and wear a bit of both, throwing a little white in between. I’m not sure that color combination would do much for my figure, however.


At this point, I think I’ll bow out of the orange-and-green wars and wear blue. This color was originally associated with Saint Patrick; there is actually a color known as Saint Patrick’s blue. Of course, I’ll probably still have to don a shamrock or two.


Happily, I can pay tribute to both Irish Catholics and Protestants by whipping up some traditional Irish dishes in my kitchen. My great grandmother may have hated her Catholic neighbors. Nevertheless, she was as partial as the next Irish-American girl to such foods as soda bread and Irish stew.


I dedicate this year’s Saint Patrick’s Day-related posts to her memory and to the Irish heritage that many Americans share.





Irish Stout Cheese Spread


I have to admit to a secret love for processed cheese spreads. There’s something comforting and just plain yummy about them. I hate to read the labels on the commercial ones, however. So I’m making my own instead. This spread has all the creaminess of store spreads, but I know what’s in it, which is reassuring.


If you want to make this savory spread even prettier, use a yellow Irish cheddar to create a golden dip. A note to food-processor neophytes like me: if you use the food processor, don’t try to scrape the spread off the blade with a rubber spatula. We ended up with a “secret ingredient” in our first batch: red plastic!




1 head garlic

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (for roasting garlic)

salt and pepper to taste (for roasting garlic

6 ounces stout

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 8-ounce brick cream cheese at room temperature

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Creole seasoning




First, roast the garlic. You won’t actually need the entire head of garlic, but it’s silly to roast less than a head. For instructions on roasting garlic see the “Springtime Irish Stew” post below.


Allow the stout to flatten a bit (you may do this while you roast your garlic if you like).


In a food processor or electric mixer, blend the cheeses and 1 tablespoon of the stout. Add the 1 teaspoon garlic, the Worcestershire sauce, the mustard, and the Creole seasoning. When they are well blended slowly pour in the remaining stout.


Let the cheese spread mellow in the refrigerator for 2 hours or more before serving. Makes at least 1 quart of spread.





Tinky Goes Yankee

3 March 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
I don’t usually put posts on my blog that merely link to other web sites, but today I’m making an exception. The new issue of Yankee magazine is now OUT—and it features an article on me, Tinky Weisblat. I’m the star of the March/April “Best Cook in Town” feature by veteran Yankee writer Edie Clark.


Edie called last fall just before the semi-final rounds of my annual Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest. She needed to interview someone THAT WEEK and hoped it could be I, preparing an original pudding recipe. I was a little taken aback since I had to test seven other puddings for the semi-finals, but I love being famous. So of course I said yes and scrambled together a recipe for something called Cozy Apple Pudding.


We had a lovely visit despite the chaos. One of Edie’s greatest assets as a reporter is that she seems like an old friend the minute she walks in the door. She worked and chatted with my mother and me as we cooked and even sat through a rehearsal of my signature song for the Pudding Contest, “Find Me a Man I Can Cook For” by my neighbor Alice Parker. Of course, Alice joined us for pudding.


I encourage you to run right out and buy an issue of Yankee. In it you’ll find Edie’s interview with me; my apple pudding recipe (made with apples plucked from the tree in my front yard!); and the recipe for one of my favorite entries in the Pudding Contest, Greek Eggplant Pudding by Nancy Argeris.


If you must read the article right away, you may look at it online, but I think I look a little thinner in the print version so naturally I want to steer you toward it!


Besides, it’s a great magazine with terrific taste in cooks…….

Father Abraham

12 February 2009
Abraham Melvin Weisblat (circa 1990)

Abraham Melvin Weisblat (circa 1990)

A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
I’m a big fan of the 16th president of the United States. Abe Lincoln has plenty of people to sing his praises today on his 200th birthday, however, so I’m going to write instead about another Abraham born on February 12. My father, who died in 1998, would have turned 90 today.


When I was small I assumed that my father was a namesake of the more famous Abe who shared his birthday. As I grew older I learned that this was unlikely since OUR Abe was born in the spa town of Ciechocinek. His family came to the United States when he was less than two years old. According to archival information at Ellis Island, the Weisblats arrived on the Holland-America Line ship the Nieuw Amsterdam on December 20, 1920. So the first name was a coincidence—one that made it easy to remember my father’s birthday.




My father was the first member (of many) in his family to go to college. Earning a Ph.D. in agricultural economics, he had an eclectic career in the foundation world. We lived overseas a lot. When we lived in the United States I loved to visit his offices in Rockefeller Center. They seemed ideal places in which to work. He always had art on the walls. He always had pleasant people to talk to down the hall (mostly women; my father loved women). He always had a couch for visiting and napping. And he always had a spectacular view.


When people asked the teenage me what Abe Weisblat did for a living, I usually said that he talked on the telephone. That was all I ever saw him do. As I got older, I realized that his lengthy conversations on the phone constituted hard and effective work. He had a knack for getting people to listen to each other, for explaining the work and point of view of one person to another person with different training and/or nationality.


He loved his work, and that example has been a challenge for his children. My brother who likes but doesn’t really adore his career tends to be ambivalent about the whole idea of working, wondering perhaps why he doesn’t get the same kind of satisfaction my father did from his labors. I love my work but make very little money from it. I’m reluctant to find something different and more lucrative do to, however, since my father taught me that work is supposed to be fulfilling.


His marriage provided an equally difficult example to live up to. He and my mother were an ideal couple. They were smart, knowledgeable, loving, and charming in completely different ways. They always respected each others’ talents, although they didn’t always agree. My father used to say that always agreeing with someone would be boring. Their life together was never boring.


Beyond the family my father also shone. He was simply wonderful with people. He had an interest in just about everyone he met, and he loved to mentor younger professionals in the foundation world and in academia. He never felt jealous of anyone else for an instant.


One evening at Singing Brook Farm a group of us were discussing the play The Trip to Bountiful, in which an elderly woman is obsessed with returning to the childhood home in which she remembers being happy. We each took turns identifying our own Bountiful, our special place that represented home and security and happy memories. When my father’s turn came, he explained that his home wasn’t geographic. It was people. And many of them were in the room with him. What a gift!


My father seldom cooked so I don’t have a lot of recipes to share from him. His favorite meal when he was alone (which wasn’t very often) was a jar of pickled herring, a martini, and some matzo. He liked to boast that he only needed one fork for this repast since he could use the same one for the martini olive and the herring!


For company he did occasionally like to put together a salad of lettuce, oranges, and red onions. (He usually got someone else to wash the lettuce and slice the oranges and onions!) Here is my adaptation of that recipe. He usually tossed it with a classic French vinaigrette, but I like to make it with my maple balsamic salad dressing. Enjoy making and eating it—and think of a father, mother, or grandmother whose birthday is near. Let’s wish them all a happy birthday and cherish their presence or their memory.


If you enjoy this post, please consider taking out a free e-mail subscription to my blog! The form is at the top right of the main page. Meanwhile, here is the recipe………





Uncle Abe’s Orange and Onion Salad (with a little twist from Tinky)



half a head of Boston lettuce (more if the head is very small)
1 orange, peeled and sliced thinly
1/3 red onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil



Break up the lettuce with your fingers. Place it in a salad bowl with the orange and onion slices.
In a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the vinegar, syrup, garlic, mustard, water, salt, and pepper. Shake thoroughly. Add the oil, and shake again. Pour a third to half of the vinaigrette over the salad, and toss well. Add a little more if you think you need it. (Leftover vinaigrette may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month; just be sure to bring it to room temperature and shake it again before using it).
Serves 4.


I didn't actually slice everything as thinly as I should have--but I hope you get the idea!

I didn't actually slice everything as thinly as I should have--but I hope you get the idea!