The Rayze And Raisel Hadassah Project

Special To The Jewish Week
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The other day, after an especially grueling week on call, I read something about a traditional healer somewhere in Africa who was chronically cranky and sick because her healing technique involved taking on so much of her patients’ ailments. I had never met that lady, but I knew just how she felt, because I too felt like I had just given birth to seven babies, undergone three C-sections and was barely recovered from a life-threatening post-partum hemorrhage. What did she do to relax and recharge, I wondered. I love my Ob-Gyn job, but getting over the post-call stress has always been the part I have the most trouble with. That’s when I happened to see the movie about that cute, fresh-faced, extremely attractive young lady who decompresses from her job helping 9/11 victims by cooking her way through the Julia Child cookbook and ruminating about the life of its author. Wait a minute, I thought. I too have a cookbook, and it doesn’t just have one author, but scores of them, each one responsible for one of its hallowed recipes. I rushed to retrieve it — that yellowed, food-stained, hand-annotated, crusty, smelly Rochester Hadassah cookbook that my mother, may she rest in peace, had passed on to me when I first moved out of the house. What a godsend. Not only have I always loved Shabbat cooking, but there’s not just one, but dozens of brilliant, unknown, inspirational Julia Childs in it just waiting to come out of the shadows of history and be discovered — they and their heart-warming, soul-comforting, deliciously old-fashioned recipes.  Lilian Marcus, Mock Chicken Fat. Bunny Skirball, Tuna Egg Toast Sandwiches. Evelyn Berlowitz, Coq au Vin. Hedy Bagatelle, Duck a la Schwartz. Millie Rosenbaum, Beer and Kraut Fudge Cake... In truth, I didn’t really have time to go and investigate Minnie or Maxine or any of their lives, so I just imagined them. And as far as doing one recipe a day like in the movie, forget it. But I did take up what I like to call my Rayze and Raisel Hadassah Project: one recipe a week, one imaginary cook at a time, and a generous helping of blogging — or blabbing — about it. Week one. “Gertrude Axelrod’s Gefilte Fish.” I was to start by grinding massive amounts of yellow pike and white fish, saving the bones and skin. That was easier said than done. First, there was the FDA warning against high mercury content in these fish.  Then, I had no fish grinder. Last, I just couldn’t bring myself to face the Citarella man with that unorthodox request. As I stood in line with my queue number in hand, beads of sweat formed on my forehead and I started thinking I would just go for my usual, the wild salmon filet. But then I thought, what about Gertrude? I could just see her, briskly marching into Max’s fish store, screaming out even before fully past the door: “Max, have you got my fish? I left the girls watching the store; you know I don’t like to do that.” “How are you, Mrs. Axelrod? I’ll have your fish in a minute. I’m just finishing grinding some fish for Mrs. Solomon.” “She’s so busy playing mah jong she doesn’t even grind her own fish?” “Mrs. Axelrod, lots of ladies are having it ground for them and even delivered.” “Well, I guess they have money to throw in the garbage. I’d rather put mine in the bank. How long is it going to be, Max? ” “It’s coming. How’s the underwear business?” “Well, there will always be people who think no one sees them, so they can be cheap quality, but I tell them — the underwear is the foundation. You want a cheap foundation, your whole house crumbles. That Bea, she should spend more money on her underwear instead of having her fish ground. Thanks, Max!” Week two. “Bea Solomon’s Glazed Chicken.” This recipe posed no great challenge. I was instructed to mix a jar of orange marmalade, an “envelope” of onion soup mix, and a bottle of French dressing, and then douse it on a chicken. Was it a letter-size or business-size envelope, I wondered? Did the brand matter? Before I could fully ponder those questions, my chicken was happily cooking and my job was done. Which led me to a bigger question: What on earth was Bea doing, having prepared her Shabbat dinner and thrown it into the oven in under one minute? Bea is playing mah jong. “I saw Gertrude today,” she exclaims.  “You know I love her like a sister, but she’s crazy. Full-time in that bra store, she still buys the whole fish for her gefilte. So she saves a few dollars. What about having a life?” Millie Gutwillig, a professor of special ed at the local college, has joined the game, filling in for Addie Weissman, who’s preparing a fund-raising bingo breakfast for “retarded” children at the Sisterhood. This is the same “Millie Gutwillig” to whom we owe the Tip Top Noodle Kugel recipe, which I am to undertake in Week Three. Busy as she is being a professional and all that, it’s a wonder she has any time left for cooking. And as if she wasn’t busy enough, she’s just agreed to be the guest speaker at Addie’s breakfast. “I can’t believe she got me to do that! I’d never do it for anyone but Addie. Addie can get anyone to do anything; she’s so nice. Speaking of Addie, did she ever give you the recipe for her amazing chocolate cake?” “Yes, but I never make it, it’s way too many steps for me,” Bea says. “Why are you asking?” “Because when I made it, it didn’t come out anything like hers.  I keep on wondering, what ingredient she left out on purpose?” Week Four. “Addie’s Famous Chocolate Cake.” It seemed to be mostly about sifting and melting. It also required buttermilk. It looked simple enough — this was one difficult chocolate cake — but well worth it. But just how famous was it, really? Addie, the perfect housewife. Her house is spotless; her five kids are doing so well. She even likes her husband, Eddie. Millie drops by her house erev Shabbat. “Oh my God, is that your famous chocolate cake I’m smelling?  How come when I make it, it never comes out right?” “I’m telling you, my older girls can bake the cake better than I can,” she tells Millie. “In fact, my kids made the entire Shabbat meal; I was busy helping Gertrude. Her store was robbed while she was out buying fish. Not much money gone, just lots of panties and bras.” When Millie leaves, Addie sits down and lets out a sigh. “What a grueling week! Breakfast for those poor kids, Gertrude getting robbed, the kids and their problems, Eddie and his troubles in the office, all the cooking and cleaning. I’m not complaining, I love being busy, and I love to help people — but sometimes it’s too much. I feel like all the world’s pain is on my shoulders. Sometimes I wonder, maybe working outside the home would have been less stressful. Maybe I should have gone for a degree. I always thought it would be nice being a doctor...” Rayze Simonson is an Ob-Gyn living in Teaneck, N.J., who loves to cook, really.

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