Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Make Ricotta Cheese!

A name like Self-Sufficiency Sundays doesn’t necessarily mean every Sunday, right? Or even most Sundays? Maybe I’ll rename it Self-Sufficiency Whenever the Hell I Feel Like It.

Okay, in all seriousness, I got waylaid for quite awhile with about ten futile attempts to make whole wheat bread. The recipe I’ve been trying over and over again – the basic whole wheat recipe from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, just doesn’t work with the flour that’s available to me. After kneading the dough for about 20 minutes, it’s supposed to become smooth and elastic; if the gluten strands remain brittle after that, the book says, you’re working with old, bad flour. Laurel must live on top of a mill or something, because I’ve tried it with three different kinds and not a single loaf has risen properly. But I’m going to try another recipe that calls for gluten flour and the creation of a sponge, so while I’m annoyed at having to buy more processed ingredients, I guess I can’t escape the food system in which I’m working.

But in the midst of my latest whole wheat loaf of disappointment, I managed to cheer myself up by making my own cheese. My husband and I went camping last weekend and left behind a half gallon of milk that I’d just bought, forgetting that we were about to leave town. The milk would have just gone bad if The Urban Homestead hadn’t had a whole section on dealing with abundance, and so I was able to give the milk a second life when we got home. (Note: the milk hadn’t yet spoiled, although it was close to it. Please don’t try this with spoiled milk.)

This recipe is incredibly simple. You’ll need:

1/2 gallon of whole, unpasteurized milk
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1/2 tsp of salt
muslin or finely woven cheesecloth

Stir the lemon juice and salt into the milk and heat it to 185 degrees, stirring all the while. You’ll start to notice curds forming pretty quickly; as soon as it reaches 185, take it off the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line a colander with the muslin or cheesecloth. Carefully ladle or pour the curds into the cloth, tie up the corners to form a bag, and let it drain for 30 minutes.

That’s it! You’re a cheesemaker!

I only just did this a couple of days ago, so I haven’t actually eaten any of my ricotta yet. Looks legit, though. If you want a savory cheese, mix in olive oil and herbs. For sweeter cheese, use honey and spices. A half gallon of milk doesn’t produce a whole lot of cheese – not enough for standards like lasagna – so I’m going to use mine to make an appetizer from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: crostini with ricotta, olive paste, and marjoram. Then I’ll sip Chianti and talk about the latest New Yorker article while I eat it! How divine!

Jewish Mother

Translation below the fold. Do read the original, though, even if you don’t know Yiddish; the translation has a completely different rhythm. This poem plays on the iminutive form of the language, in which a noun is “reduced” twice to express intimacy and love. Kats (cat), for example, becomes ketsl (kitty or kitten), then ketsele (little kitten). The repetition of the sounds echoes the blur of “love-talk” that the author remembers from throughout her childhood. You can catch a hint of admonition in the line “not like a little animal,” and one could, if one were feeling anti-Semitic or misogynist, read the poem as an example of the type of smothering, obsessive Ashkenazi mother found in works like Portnoy’s Complaint, but the only reason it could be read as playing into the stereotype is because the stereotype already exists, waiting to distort it.

Mame Loshn (Mother Tongue)
by Sarah Traister Moskovitz

Sorele, zisele, mamele, sheyninke
Tayerinke, liubenyu, malakhl kleyninke
Zisinke Kroynenyu, bubelyu, liubelyu
Hertsele, pupele, zisele, gutele

Likhtiker peneml
Libinke eygelekh
Feyinke hentelekh
Zgrabninke fiselekh

Kluginke kepele
Glantsike herelekh
Roitinke bekelekh
Tseyndelekh perelekh
Es oif di lokshelekh
Pupikl, merelekh

Kum aher ketsele
Sphil zikh sheyn feygele
Nisht vild vi a khayele
Mayn meydele, freydele

Liu liu liu oytserl
Mayn kosher kind
Eyns in der velt mayns
Shlof ruik atsind

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Afraid of Muslim Arabs? Blame the Diaspora!

A recent issue of the New York Review of Books contained an essay about the West Bank separation wall, which included this quote by an Israeli man:

It’s incredible but the country still feels provisional. Of what other state can this be said? I notice that when I am in Britain that you plan for 2038, you say there will be this railway or that airport. But no Israeli plans so far ahead without feeling a pang in his heart which asks whether we shall be here at all. We look so strong from the outside, we have such a large army, so many nuclear weapons, we’re so certain in our expansion, and yet from the inside it doesn’t feel like that. We feel our being is not guaranteed. You might say we have imported from the Diaspora the Jewish disease – a sense of rootlessness, an ability to adapt and make do, but not to settle. After sixty years, Israel is not yet a home.

Sometimes Israelis are good for a laugh.

Let’s think about this. You live in a country that has been at war for 60 years. You’ve been occupying another country for the past 40 years. You’re currently building an 8 meter high, 436 miles long wall to keep the people you’re occupying away from you, and visitors have to ask you to keep your stamp out of their passports if they want to visit one of your neighbors.

In a completely unrelated matter, you’re not sure your country will exist in 30 years. Why? Because Diaspora Jews are diseased. Yup – us poor Diaspora Jews are so pitifully damaged and rootless that even the gleaming sabras have inherited our taint.

Look, I know the speaker’s trying to be poetic and all, but he fails on a couple of counts. First off, even if it’s a metaphor, it’s still a cop-out. Notice how he manages to eloquently explore Israel’s sense of fragility and existential fears without mentioning the occupation at all? I’m sorry, but poetry that isn’t honest simply isn’t good poetry. Secondly, there’s no way a statement like that can be separated from the weak Jew/strong Jew narrative that Israelis have been pushing for decades.

What you hear going bump in the night isn’t your ancestors’ fault. It’s yours. And it’s long past time to deal with it.


I know I haven’t posted much if at all since, well, last summer, but it turns out that life has once again kicked me right in the ass, so I’ll be out for a little while. Pray for me or wish me luck, this one’s a doozy.

Erasing Jewish Women

Bea Arthur was born Bernice Frankel. I didn’t find that out until the day she died.

Kirsten Fermaglich writes, “Had Maude been labeled ‘a Jewish mother,’ her courage and fiery independence probably would have been caricatured as insignificant nagging. The decision to make Maude a WASP allowed her to be a “prototypical woman” and thus an icon of the women’s movement.” Cole at JVoices responds: “Fermaglich outlining that to be an ‘icon’ meant erasing race and ethnicity, requires that we ask the question, if the character ‘had to be a WASP,’ whose women’s movement then were they really talking about and portraying?!”

The eternal question.

Lately I’ve been researching female Ashkenazi writers. Anna Margolin, Fradel Stock, Elza Frydrych Shatzkin. Margolin died a recluse who requested that her tombstone say that she’d “wasted her life/On trash, on nothing;”* Stock was institutionalized and died in a sanatorium; Shatzkin killed herself at age 25. Meanwhile, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholem Aleichem (and then Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer…) enjoyed immense and lasting acclaim. I read Stock’s “The Shorn Head” and found it exquisitely sad – it’s about a young Jewish widow trying, unsuccessfully, to grow against rigid gender roles. The character isn’t plucky or resilient; the psychic toll of oppression is evident throughout the story. Margolin, whose work explored the silencing of women, wrote about “pressure in her throat, obstruction; imagining growths, tumors.”* I’ve felt that – tightness in my solar plexus and my chest. Actual pain in my throat. Stress and emotions are physical. The body responds to the mind responds to the body.

Anyone with an MFA knows about the attrition rate after grad school – writers who go back out into the real world and fail to get published (enough), or gradually give up on “becoming” writers, or both. They get other jobs. They stop writing. They make themselves stop caring.

Any woman with an MFA knows that those who stop writing are disproportionately female. And here I am with one unpublished novel (which I still think is good, although I’m embarrassed to admit it to those who ask), plans to change careers, and a knot under my ribs. No 500 pounds a month, no room of my own. But this isn’t about me – it’s about all of us. It scares me that if I want to be a Jewish artist, Margolin and Stock and Shatzkin are my role models.


You won’t find a Wikipedia entry for Bertha Pappenheim, German Jewish feminist and activist. A search will, however, redirect you to the entry for Anna O., Freud’s famous patient. Anna O. did stuff besides suffer from hysteria! Who knew? But the work of Jewish German feminists isn’t noteworthy – at least, not as noteworthy as their use to the work of men.


Gertrude Berg was once as well known as Eleanor Roosevelt. The show that she wrote and starred in paved the way for The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and all the sitcoms that came after. How many people today have heard of Gertrude Berg?


From Lital Levy’s “How the Camel Found Its Wings” (in The Flying Camel, a collection of essays by Mizrahi women):

When I told the professor of Hebrew literature in my department that I wanted to write my undergraduate honors thesis on the poetry of Anton Shammas and Na’im ‘Araide (two Palestinian-Israeli writers of both Hebrew and Arabic), she refused to work with me, offering flimsy excuses.

After a few weeks of trying to meet with her and getting nowhere, I asked her bluntly: “I know there’s another reason behind this. Would you tell me what the real problem is?” She paused, made a face, and then answered me in Hebrew. “I feel you’re neglecting your Hebrew because of this Arabic business. But I understand your attraction to Arabic – it seems more exotic to you.”

…Did this young, female, ostensibly progressive professor know that my father and his entire family were born in Iraq, that Arabic was their mother tongue, that Arabic was the language in which my grandmother expressed her love for me and my sister on our all-too-brief visits to Israel? She did.

Jewish women erasing other Jewish women – deliberately, forcefully, frantically.


Jewish women are stereotyped as loud and pushy. Many of us want to reclaim this; we want to celebrate our strength! But I want there to be room for quiet, sensitive Jewish women, too. I want my identity to have room for me.


If I were to go to the Western Wall to pray, I would have to do it silently. I could be arrested for singing.


And do I even need to mention the lack of women in visual representations of Jewishness? When you see typical pictures of Jews praying, which Jews are they?


I know this is all complicated. I know that Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath and countless writers I haven’t heard of met bad ends, too. I know that Jonathan Lebowitz would never enjoy the same popularity as Jon Stewart, even though he’s openly Jewish. I know about Ayelet Waldman, Adrienne Rich, Cynthia Ozick. I know the term “erasure” makes it sound like I’m putting a name change or an unkind remark on the same level as murder, colonization, genocide – but I don’t know what else to call it. I know women have been talking about erasure for a long time.

And I know there’s hope.

I’m just saying that I can’t separate my erasure as a Jew and my erasure as a woman. I’m just saying we have losses to mourn.

* From The Tribe of Dina, edited by Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz and Irene Klepfisz.

Bernie Madoff and anti-Semitism

The Boston Review issued a survey recently, and surprise, many blame the Jews for the financial crisis:

In order to assess explicit prejudice toward Jews, we directly asked respondents “How much to blame were the Jews for the financial crisis?” with responses falling under five categories: a great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, not at all. Among non-Jewish respondents, a strikingly high 24.6 percent of Americans blamed “the Jews” a moderate amount or more, and 38.4 percent attributed at least some level of blame to the group.

While the article seems to mostly discuss Bernie Madoff and his standing among non-Jews, there is something here we can’t ignore: when something goes wrong economically in a country, it’s Jews who are to blame. The media going to lengths to point out Madoff’s being one of us, with all the baggage that carries, is not actually helping us at all.

I have to confess that I was not surprised about the breakdown between Democrats and Republicans; Republicans and especially the Christian Zionists are certainly not friends of ours, and Democrats may not actually be left-wing, but it’s not surprising to me that at least those nominally left-wing surveyed tended to blame us.

Anyway, the bottom line here is this: in the United States we have enjoyed mostly benevolent interactions unprecedented in our history, but even here when things go bad it could be bad for us. It can and does happen anywhere.

What do we do? We get punished from people when we don’t engage with them and stick to ourselves, and leave ourselves vulnerable when we do and things like this happen.

While I’m going to find a cite for this later, along these lines, 2008 was an all-time high for the province of Alberta in reported anti-Semitic incidents.

The Recession and the Rabbinate

The Jerusalem Post gives us news that apparently the apparatus of North American Judaism is threatened by this recession. Or at least, the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion rabbinical schools are threatened. It actually does go farther than that, I’ve been told; the URJ is restructuring now, into new sort of units so that the needs of, say, western Canadian Reform synagogues are being addressed primarily from Los Angeles. I’m sure that LA knows intimately the sorts of issues western Alberta might deal with and be able to address them. Anyway.

I would be immensely saddened to see the original Cincinnatti campus of HUC close down, as I’m sad when we lose any piece of our history. The bottom line here, however, is that we’ve faced these kinds of problems before and come out possibly much stronger than before.

When our First Temple was destroyed by Babylon and we were exiled, we turned to the Torah. When our Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans and we were exiled again, we turned to the rabbis and the synagogues as the primary mode of worship. Some of us still pray for the return of the Temple, some of us don’t.

While I would certainly agree that this is an oversimplification, what I’m trying to say here is this: our institutions have been threatened before and survived, and they will again. And no matter what happens, we will emerge. At worst, there might be some radical restructuring required, but if American Judaism is in a state of crisis right now, wouldn’t we need it anyway?