Sunday, February 22, 2015

No-Roll Hamantaschen

Last year, I made these rainbow hamantaschen. (I wasn't in the mood to blog.)

One of the coolest parts of this recipe (besides how they look!) was the way in which the dough circles were created. It was basically a slice-and-bake cookie (with a little more work along the way).

This year, I saw this recipe, and I realized that this rolling-out-the-dough thing could be done in a different way.
How hamantaschen dough is typically rolled out
So that's exactly what I tried.
After making any one of my regular hamantaschen doughs (Aunt Dora's, cream cheese, and chocolate -- I made one of each), I put the dough into a piece of parchment, rolled into a log, wrapped it tightly into the parchment, and refrigerated.

When I was ready to make hamantaschen, I took the logs out of the fridge one at a time, and sliced them.

Let me suggest that you give the "logs" a little extra roll when you take them out to ensure a good round circle shape. Also, I wanted them a little larger, so I used my palm to press each dough piece into a slightly flatter and more circular shape.

I was so surprised at how quickly I was able to prepare lots and lots of dough circles for the kids to fill! I may never roll hamantaschen dough again!

Each year, I like to try something new. This year, I was inspired to try this Oreo-Cookie Dough. (I tried out this dough recipe and it was good, but I would probably use one of my own doughs, and add in the crushed oreos.) I did not use the suggested filling, but instead went and found an imitation oreo cookie filling (I used this one here, and froze it before using it, to make sure it wouldn't run when baking.)

The verdict? The oreo dough was delicious. The filling was also delicious. The filling went well in the chocolate dough as well.
OREO cream-filled chocolate hamantaschen....

If you're still looking for hamantaschen ideas, here are some of my previous posts on the subject:
Great-Aunt Dora's Dough Recipe (a basic, wonderful, forgiving dough recipe) 
Yeast Dough 
Chocolate Dough
 Cream Cheese Dough
 Hamantaschen Tips and Tricks
Thin-Mint-inspired Hamantaschen
And if you don't like hamantaschen, try these Palmiers for Purim.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I often find myself, lately, inspired by the words of Kay Warren.

For those of you who know me, you might find this quite surprising, since she and her husband, Rick Warren, are the founders of the Saddleback Church. Most of her words are theologically Christian in nature, and don't quite fit with all of my own ideas.

But then....those of you who know what Kay and Rick have experienced in the last year and a half will not find this entirely surprising at all. Their son, Matthew, committed suicide in 2013

Since then, Kay has been remarkably public about her grief, mostly on her Facebook page. I've been touched by many of her words, and while it's not exactly the same as our situation, her most recent post resonated with me so strongly.

She wrote:
But when Matthew died, church became a strange and unfamiliar place – not because of our congregation, but because of ME. The worship songs fell on my broken heart like sharp knives that cut me open even further – the words of healing and hope and victory contrasted with the bitter reality of Matthew’s violent death. The crowds were frightening and overwhelming – I could barely access comfort for myself, let alone come up with up one shred of energy to comfort anyone else. I felt like everyone was staring at me, watching my every move (whether they were or not), and on more than one occasion I climbed over friends and family in a frantic scramble to get outside before my sobs turned into wails.

Kay goes on to explain that eventually she figured out how to go back to regular services. She wrote about choosing not to sit in her former front row seat, but near the back. And eventually, she found her way back to the front of the church, mainly to support her husband, the preacher.

Her words resonated with me because, unlike Kay, I don't always have the luxury of sitting in the back. I've worked so hard over these last 400 days to be able to put myself in the front of a worship service, to read and lead the words that have been a part of me for as long as I can remember. I can lead a congregation through prayers of praise, words of blessing, and yes, even prayers of healing and remembrance. 

But I haven't found it easy to be a participant.

One of my teachers pointed out to me that these two sides of the prayer service require different muscles. And it's so true. My prayer-leading muscles still work. I can read the words and sing the melodies, and be a part of the community as I'm doing so. It's not an act. I can lead with intention and focus, even with joy.

Oh, but participating in my own right is a whole different story. Just as Kay explained about her worship songs, it's the same for me -- no matter what the prayer's meaning, I can find a way to lift it up in sharp, angry contrast with the Sam-shaped hole inside of me. I can sit in a prayer service, I can let the words of others wash over me. I can find the music to be lovely, heart-warming, a blessing. But the challenge....I find it so difficult to open my mouth. I find it so hard to have only the task of myself, my own prayer. The intention and focus drifts....leaving me sad, frustrated, angry, and empty.

Kay found her way back to her "regular" place in worship, returning to the front row because her husband asked her to be his supporter, his guiding light. Although she didn't frame it this way, I wonder if that is for the same reason that I am able to stand in front of the congregation and lead with intention. It's because my role in that moment of prayer isn't only about me. It's about guiding and leading and helping others to prayer, helping others to find their own way to God.

When my own children sit beside me, I can open my mouth and sing or say the words. I am their mother, but I am also their teacher. Even a sliver of the role helps me to find my own way in. 

But alone....

Perhaps I'm still really not on speaking terms with God, as I've often quipped to my friends.
I'm willing to help bring others along to have their own conversations. 
I'm willing to be present when those conversations are happening.

But as I said back in June, I'm still not particularly interested in inviting God back into my own conversation. And I'm continuously grateful for a tradition that defines us as "ones who wrestle with God," because I know that this internal struggle, this fight within me and this painful path of trying to find my place...this too is holy. 

This picture was taken when I was part of the Women of the Wall prayer service on Rosh Chodesh Tevet.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where I'm From

I am from blintzes, from Crest toothpaste and kippot tucked into a dresser drawer.

I am from no eating in the bedrooms, singing all the time, comfy couches, a grandfather clock on the wall and challah French toast.

I am from building a sukkah and hoping it doesn't rain and I am from baking hamantaschen each year from Aunt Dora's recipe. I am from oranges on the Seder plate and really big Havdalah candles. I'm from Birkat HaMazon in the back of the car on the way home from McDonald's. I'm from honey cake even though no one really likes it.

I am from wearing a hat when my mother is cold and doing mental math at the dinner table when my dad asks. I'm from turning into the skid when it's icy and pushing the seat back when I get out of the car. I'm from birthday cake at Thanksgiving and sponge cake at Passover. I'm from Bubbie's pull-apart coffee cake too.

I am from stories of the Aaron family sitting around drinking coffee and eating cake, and I'm from visiting the family neighborhood at Second Home Cemetery. I'm from aunties and mandelbrot and matzah ball soup. (And I'm from soft and hard and hard-in-the-middle.)

I'm from thick binders filled with photos, from telling stories, from sharing stories, from living stories. I'm from the generations that move through me as my father tells me how much I look like Bubbie from Appleton. I'm from my Bubbie's mun cookies and a book on the nightstand. I am from laughing.

I'm from stringing a guitar and playing piano so I can get a driver's license, and I'm from cream puffs at the State Fair each year. I'm from corn on the cob from the farm stand and taking pictures at Old World Wisconsin. I'm from Door County and Madison and Oconomowoc and Milwaukee. I'm from St. Judy's Comet. I'm from swimming in the Brown Deer Pond and lifeguarding at the high school pool.

I'm from trying to cook hot food in the refrigerator (but it never works) and putting the forks on the left and the knives on the right. I'm from Shabbat dinner on Friday night at Bubbie and Zeyde's house and frozen custard with friends after services. I'm from properly passing the bread at the table and is this trip really necessary?

I'm from summer camp.

I'm from Saturday morning cartoons and Brady Bunch reruns. I'm from library books and imaginary friends and To Cast a Giant Shadow. I'm from stories of a Land I knew was mine but didn't visit until I was practically an adult. I'm from good grades or else and call-waiting and a princess birthday cake with a real doll in it. Just once.

I'm from family above all else and I'm from phone calls every day. I'm from the most unconditional of unconditional love and I'm from finding joy and love and love and joy. I'm from each day matters and making the world a better place. 

I am from blessings.

Based on the original poem, Where I'm From by George Ella Lyons, found, with explanations, here.

Inspired by beautiful words from Galit and Nina, but also from many others (links lost over the years of meaning to write this and not quite finding the words -- it's been sitting in my "drafts" folder forever). So why did I write this today? I was inspired by the work of System Ali, a unique and remarkable rap group comprised of Jaffa-ites from Arab and Jewish backgrounds. Where are we from, they asked...and this poem came to mind. This is not what I shared with the group, but what I wrote when I came back to my room later. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books Read in 2014

For many years, I've kept track of the books I read.
The real reason that I do it is because often people say, "what should I read?" and then my mind goes blank and I can't think of a single title.
So I keep a list.

Reading is an escape for me...a chance to move into a whole new world and immerse myself there...a chance to learn something new...a chance to explore places and times in which I've never lived or even been...since I was a young child I've always had a book in my hand. Okay, now it's a Kindle...same idea.

Here's this year's list, somewhat out of order, since I started keeping the list on Goodreads but I can't figure out how to get it in order! Anyway, follow me over there for regular updates!

This year, I put stars by the ones that I would especially recommend.

  1. The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski*
  2. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
  3. Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen* (she's one of my favorites)
  4. Solving for Ex by LeighAnn Kopans*
  5. The Wanting by Michael Lavigne
  6. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
  7. Wonder by R. J. Palacio*
  8. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
  9. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
  10. One Girl's Story by John L. Smith
  11. The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell
  12. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
  13. Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
  14. Still Writing by Dani Shapiro
  15. Love, Loss and What I wore by Ilene Beckerman
  16. The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr
  17. The Path of Names by Ari Goelman
  18. The Department of Lost and Found by Allison Winn Scotch
  19. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  20. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  21. The Here and Now by Ann Brashares
  22. Reality Boy by A.S. King
  23. Fugitive Colors by Lisa Barr
  24. Still Life with Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen
  25. The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith*
  26. Goodnight June by Sarah Jio*
  27. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin*
  28. The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
  29. The One by Kiera Cass
  30. Life's That Way by Jim Beaver
  31. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart*
  32. I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes*
  33. Orphan Train by Christina Kline Baker
  34. Earth Awakens by Orson Scott Card
  35. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr*
  36. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
  37. The Given Sacrifice by S. M. Stirling
  38. Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy
  39. The Heist by Daniel Silva (my favorite author!)*
  40. The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
  41. Saving Mozart by Yerushalmy
  42. The Family by David Laskin
  43. Tease by Amanda Maciel
  44. Margot by Jillian Cantor
  45. Tribes by Seth Godin
  46. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  47. First World Problems by LeighAnn Kopans
  48. The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy
  49. Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson
  50. Popular by Maya Van Wagonen
  51. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
  52. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier (because Yael made me)
  53. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
  54. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
  55. The Paper Magician by Charlie Holmberg
  56. The Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill
  57. The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Jane Gillman
  58. Henna House by Nomi Eve*
  59. My Promised Land by Ari Shavit*
    60. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd*
    61. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel*

I've already started a list of books to read for 2015. As I said to my dad, "it's too long!" Oh well....there's always another book to read!

Previous years' lists are here.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Unetaneh Tokef

On Rosh HaShanah it is written
on Yom Kippur it is sealed:

The calendar is my enemy and my friend. These days pass swiftly. Do they even matter?
How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be
who shall live and who shall die
who shall see ripe age and who shall not

We knew so many who died, those who came before us. 
But it couldn't be us, right? It couldn't happen in our house....

who shall perish by fire and who by water
who by sword and who by beast

The fire of radiation, the days and days of baths.
The needles of spinal taps and the wee bacterial beasties....
who by hunger and who by thirst
who by earthquake and who by plague
who by strangling and who by stoning

Watching as he got thinner and thinner, 
his very bones consumed by disease.
The foundations of our universe rocked....
The ground buckled and shook and threatened to swallow us whole. 
who shall be secure and who shall be driven
who shall be tranquil and who shall be troubled

Neverending worry, waiting, watching, wondering....
when will the end come? What are we waiting for? 
Will it be painful? Will we watch him suffer?
Will it be quiet and soft, will he just quietly....go?

who shall be poor and who shall be rich

So many times we amount of money or power or influence can buy what we really want.
So many gifts eased our way. So much generous love cared for us each day.
And the end...we are all the same.
who shall be humbled and who exalted

Was I too cocky? Did I take my blessings for granted? Did I revel just a little bit too much in the absolute gorgeous fullness of my beautiful four? Did I thrill just a little bit too much to the delight of my children's limbs entangled in a tickle fight, filling my home with noise and laughter and wonder? Did I believe that we were invincible....that nothing could touch us? 

But repentance, prayer and charity temper judgment's severe decree.

Ah, yes. Can it be? Did we escape something far more horrible? 
Could there have been a different, more terrible way that things could have gone?
Or perhaps, this year, it's God's turn for a little repentance and my turn for a little judgment.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

#blogElul 29: Return

Today is the last day of Elul.
The last day of 5774.
The last day of the last year in which Sam lived.
And I can't quite get myself to the end.
Obviously, it will come. The time will tick by, the calendar will flip over, and 5775 will be here.
Will I ever be ready for another year to come in?
Will I ever feel the press of time without wishing I could stop it, and return, go back, to the days before?
Time moves forward.
The world carries on.
And we carry him in our hearts....into this new year and for always.

I feel just as fragile now as I did when we turned the calendar over to 2014.
And so I'll say the same thing:

...So we face 5775...our first Rosh HaShanah without Sam.
I am paralyzed when I think of all that he will miss. I am overwhelmed and breathless when I imagine the future and he's just not there. Yet I know that we will awaken each day, and we will move forward, even if it feels like we're slogging through a thick fog, even if it feels like we're just moving for the sake of moving, even if it feels like we're faking every moment...we will keep going.

5775, here we come. Be gentle on us, please.

Photo by Martha Abelson

Monday, September 22, 2014

#blogElul 27: Intend {Guest Post}

#BlogElul Guest Post by Rabbi Stephanie Alexander

Rabbi Jack Riemer relates the story of three demons who set out to corrupt human beings, and then come back together to compare their results. The first one describes his approach: “I tell people that there is no God. But it doesn’t work. People are too smart. They see the wonders of the world and they don’t believe me.” The second one says: “I tell people that there is a God, but that She didn’t give the Torah. But it doesn’t work. People are too smart. They look into the Torah and see how much wisdom it contains, and they don’t believe me.”

Then the third one says: “I tell people that there is a God and that She gave the Torah. But then I say to them, ‘What’s the rush? You have time to do what God wants tomorrow.’ And that almost always works.”

The best of intentions can bring out our worst.

At this time of new beginnings, perhaps we can learn from the first beginning. “Vayomer Elohim y’hi or, va-y’hi or – God said: Let there be light, and there was light.” According to the great sage, Maimonides (in his philosophical dictionary of the Torah), “Vayomer” means God “thought” or “planned.” A thought, a plan, an intention, and then – Bam! – the thing itself.

No, we can never fully imitate God … but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. This year may we work to shorten the gap between intention and implementation. And when the creative, helpful, noble deed is done, may we too have that wonderful moment of realization: “And it was good.”

Stephanie M. Alexander has the honor and privilege of being called mom, spouse and rabbi – three simple titles whose terseness belies worlds of joy, challenge and fulfillment.

Stephanie likes the idea of the beach more than the place itself, and prefers to travel by book as opposed to plane, train or automobile. She lives with her husband, son and adorable Cockapoo (who’s really a monster) in Charleston, SC – a city rich in beauty, charm … and stories. Her blog can be found at

The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... I will be blogging here, and sharing #Elulgram photos on the same themes at Follow me on twitter @imabima for all the #BlogElul posts, not only mine but others' as well! Read more about #BlogElul here.