Apple cake for Mabon (Pagan equinox festival)

apples in basketWe may not be ready to say goodbye to summer, but Wednesday, Sept. 23,  marks the autumn equinox, one of two days a year when the hours of daylight equal the hours of darkness. After that, it’s downhill all the way, at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, until the equinox next spring.

In Pagan tradition, the autumn equinox is known as Mabon, and it’s a celebration of the fall harvest. As we rejoice in the bounty of the fields, orchards and gardens, it’s a good time to invite friends to gather and share.

Mabon is part of the Wheel of the Year, an annual cycle of seasonal festivals that include the solstices (the longest and shortest days) and equinoxes and the midpoints between them.

Mabon celebration at Stonehenge

Mabon celebration at Stonehenge

One of the sabbats

Wiccans refer to the festivals as sabbats – sources of the expression “witches’ Sabbath.”

Mabon is a time of rest after the labor of the fall harvest, a time to complete projects, let go of that which is no longer needed or wanted, and prepare to use the winter as a time for reflection and peace. Followers plant the seeds of new ideas and hopes, which will be nourished spiritually over the next months until the return of spring.

Many Pagans create a Mabon food altar with foods from the harvest. These may include fruits, nuts, grains (or fresh bread made from grain), vegetables, and squashes, especially pumpkins.

A cornucopia displays the fall harvest (photo by Carmen via Flickr Creative Commons).

A cornucopia displays the fall harvest (photo by Carmen via Flickr Creative Commons).

The wealth of the harvest

The cornucopia, or horn of plenty, is another symbol for Mabon, representing the wealth of the harvest; it is a balanced figure, including both male (phallic) and female (hollow and receptive) images.

Many Pagan groups use Mabon as a time for food drives, followed by a ritual for the blessing of donations.

Some Pagans have an apple harvest rite at Mabon. I find this interesting because we Jews just finished celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, which includes eating apples with honey to signify wishes for a sweet year to come.

Here is a recipe for one of my favorite apple cakes. It’s very moist and full of nuts. I very rarely add the frosting, because it’s plenty sweet without it.


Modak for Ganesha Chaturdhi

An image of the Hindu diety Ganesha; photo via Wikimedia Commons

An image of the Hindu diety Ganesha; photo via Wikimedia Commons

Padma Kuppa

Padma Kuppa

I feel privileged to serve on the board of WISDOM, Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit. My favorite thing about WISDOM is getting to know women from all kinds of faith backgrounds whom I would not otherwise meet, especially now that I’m retired and no longer meet diverse people through work. Today’s guest blogger is Padma Kuppa, an IT consultant in the Detroit metro area. who lives in suburban Detroit.

A stone statue of Ganesha from the Victoria and Albert Museum, photo via Wikimedia Commons.

A stone statue of Ganesha from the Victoria and Albert Museum, photo via Wikimedia Commons.

On the Hindu holiday of Ganesha Chaturdhi this year, I will be with my friend and executive eirector of the Hindu American Foundation, Suhag Shukla, doing something related to advocacy and interfaith.

It is the second time in five years that we will be together. In 2012 we were in Washington D.C., advocating against hate crimes and for human rights in the wake of the Wisconsin gurudwara massacre. It’s no surprise that I sometimes choose to promote interfaith understanding and social justice, and not to do the elaborate prayer rituals typical of such Hindu holy days. I tend to prefer the path of karma yoga, and being faithful through my actions and my activism; bhakti yoga and the devotion and ritual that it encompasses, have long been my mom’s realm.

Ganesha Chaturdhi, or Vinayaka Chaviti, the name variant that I am more familiar with because my mother tongue is Telugu, falls on September 17 this year. The holiday is typically honored with an elaborate prayer ritual at home and/or the temple. The holiday is marked in many different ways, across the many different linguistic and cultural groups that practice Hinduism. My mom always made a special food known as undrallu as part of the offering during worship; these various Indian-style dumplings known as modak are said to be Ganesha’s favorite.

God of Success

Ganesha (also spelled Ganesa and known as Ganapati, Vinayaka and Pillaiyar) is one Hindu way of viewing the Divine. He is known as the God of Success, Lord of Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles. Because Hinduism teaches that all of nature is Divine, Hindus believe that God manifests in the various forms that are found in nature, including animals, rivers, mountains and earth.  So Ganesha is depicted with an elephant head, symbolizing wisdom, as elephants are recognized to be among the wisest of animals.

Stories are told generation to generation, not simply of how a young boy with a rotund belly acquired the elephant head, but as allegories; the meaning of the stories deepens as the devotee matures. Destruction of vanity, success in the face of adversity, filial duty, how the Divine is formless yet can have a form: all these themes are found in stories of Ganesha. The symbolism of what people simply see as “the elephant headed god” seems limitless, while the rich, underlying philosophy is approachable.

Modak may be steamed or, as shown here, fried. Photo by Swasthi.

Modak may be steamed or, as shown here, fried. Photo by Swasthi.

And because of all this, Ganesha is widely revered all over the cradle of Hinduism – India – and the among the Indian Hindu diaspora. Murtis (an image of the Divine which itself becomes divine) and images of Ganesha are found everywhere, in many different forms, and he is invoked before the undertaking of any task.

No place is Ganesha more widely celebrated than in the Indian city of Mumbai, where my WISDOM sister Anjali Vale hails from. The favorite dish of Ganesha takes on a different form in the Indian state of Maharashtra where she grew up. In fact, it  takes on different names across the Indian landscape: in Tamil Nadu, it’s kozhakkattai, in Karnataka, it’s modhaka, and in Andhra, it’s also called kudumu.

Sweet or savory, steamed or fried

Modak can be sweet or savoury, they can be steamed or fried, and the fillings can be traditional (like shredded coconut and jaggery) or innovative (like paneer, coriander and tomatoes). I had many opportunities to see the elaborate mandap – the altar setup and decorated for worship – at Anjali’s home during the 10 days each year when her family celebrated the holiday. But the best part was eating many of the wonderful modaka – filling my tummy to have a belly like Ganesha’s!

The recipe that follows is from a blog on healthy Indian recipes by Swasthi,a mother and homemaker who lives in Singapore. She says you can use store-bought rice flour, but it’s not nearly as good as rice flour you make yourself! Click here to see how to make your own.

Here are some links to for more information about Ganesha Chaturdhi and some recipes for the holiday:

16 recipes for Vinayaka Chaviti from Swasthi, including one for undrallu, the Andhra style steamed modak

NDTV’s Food site with 7 modak recipes

ssure cooker steam for 10 minutes; a small pressure pan will need only 6 minutes.

The Brisket Quagmire

Brisket photo by Sabrina S via Flickr Creative Commons

Brisket photo by Sabrina S via Flickr Creative Commons

My friends and I are busy planning menus for the Jewish fall holidays, which start with Rosh Hashanah on the evening of September 13 and continue on and off  till sundown October 6. Brisket is an all-time holiday favorite.

Debbi Eber headshotToday’s blog is by Debbi Eber, who is retired after 31 years as a teacher. A graduate of Florida State, Queens College and New York’s High School of Music and Art, she lives in suburban Detroit with her husband, Jon.

For another take on brisket, see this Feed the Spirit piece from the past.

I never used to be able to make a good brisket.

It got so bad that my husband asked me to cease my attempts at this traditional beef dish. Each time I tried I carefully selected the meat at the market. I prepared it to my mother’s specifications. I roasted it in the oven. Sometimes I used onion soup mix and or kosher wine to flavor it. Each time it came out it was like chewing rubber bands.

What had I possibly done to destroy these cuts of meat? It was not a cheap experiment, so eventually, I just stopped.

My mom would fly up from Florida periodically, and we would shop for brisket. I watched her carefully select the meat and prepare it. Her results were tender, flavorful, heavenly slices of browned savory meat. My family devoured it. After each visit I gained new confidence and would try the recipe again. Sinewy and tough, a complete jaw workout were the results.

Sinking into the quagmire

Photo by Pearls-of-Jannah via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Pearls-of-Jannah via Flickr Creative Commons

I was sinking deeper into the brisket quagmire. Friends and family would offer their recipes. These were often laced with the gamut of ingredients; chili sauce, canned cherries, mushrooms, ketchup and other enhancements. None of these seemed like quintessential brisket recipes. I considered them but never took the bait to actually prepare these versions. At this point I had true fear of brisket!

One Friday evening we were celebrating the Sabbath at the home of our friends Wendy and Lloyd. Brisket was the main course, and not just any brisket – it was Lloyd’s family recipe brisket.

Everyone was swooning at the meat’s flavors, and the buttery texture. The onions that accompanied it were succulent and had that beefy deliciousness. The gravy was perfect; neither too thin or thick, but contained all the juices and just the perfect amount of sodium.

We all commented about the beef. One friend responded this recipe was so excellent because of the secret ingredient: the love. That remains to this day the standard response to what’s in a dish. It’s the love that makes it so special.

However, I needed more detailed information than that. I asked Lloyd for the recipe. I needed the precise ingredients and method. And then I went even further. I asked him what kind of pot he used to cook it in? For surely a brisket of this delicacy and grandeur must have an equally grand vessel to contain it!

Lloyd’s not-s0-secret recipe

A Magnalite roaster

A Magnalite roaster

Lloyd relayed the simplest of recipes and assured me that I could make this brisket. My husband told him, “ Are you crazy, have you ever tasted her brisket? There is no hope.”

I think Lloyd saw the predicament I was in and took up the challenge. He loaned me his pot. I began calling it the magic brisket pot. I made his very basic recipe (below).

I used Lloyd’s recipe and pot, and the results were my validation as a Jewish wife and mother. If I were still a Girl Scout, I would have completed my brisket badge. I could have sewn a tiny circle of cloth with an embroidered hunk of meat on it to my sash. I was proud of my edible masterpiece.

I extended my gratitude to Lloyd many times. I swore it was his magic pot. I went on an extensive Internet search to find the exact brand and size of cookware he had. It was a large Wagner Magnalite covered roaster. When I saw the price, I nearly flipped: it was close to $200.

At the time, that was too costly for me. I dearly wanted it but couldn’t finance that extravagance. I returned Lloyd’s roasting pot reluctantly. I decided to be experimental and use Lloyd’s brisket method in my Revereware Dutch oven.

The suspense while the meat cooked was nerve-wracking. I hovered over the contents like some strange chemical reaction might take place and rob me of my delicacy. After the required two hours of stovetop cooking and two hours of oven roasting, the meat emerged in perfect condition; tender, moist, flavorful, savory. I had won! The recipe triumphed over the roaster.

It was the beginning of many beautiful holiday meals. Finally, I was lifted out of the brisket embarrassment. My husband rejoiced; he now had a wife with elevated status, one who could cook a magnificent brisket.

I danced around the kitchen with my new confidence in my meat preparation skills! I even shared the recipe with my mother, who was doubtful at first. She tasted the results and proclaimed me a bona fide brisket maven. Now she could brag to her friends at their poolside gossip-fests, that she too had a daughter who could cook.

The price of beef brisket has soared of late. The last time I purchased a piece of this cut of meat it cost $48. I am so pleased now that I can guarantee the success of the meal with Lloyd’s recipe. It would be wasteful to mutilate such expensive beef.

Years have gone by and I still covet that Magnalite roaster. I am in love with its smooth sloping Art Deco form, resembling an AirStream trailer. These are still being made although I am not sure the quality is the same as the older models. I saw some really shiny older ones on Ebay, and some new ones online as well. The price has dropped to $100 or less.

Do I really require it though? Probably not. It would be an art piece now, a sentimental historical addition, one that would complete the story of the brisket quagmire.

(Editor’s note: Here’s another article, from Tablet magazine, about a cook who finally learned the secret of a good brisket — with a link in the story to his recipe. Personally I think the key to a tender and juicy brisket, no matter what other ingredients you include, is to cook the meat till it’s done, then cool it, slice it, and reheat it in the pan juices or gravy before serving.

Add spice to your life

Chili peppers add heat to food in many cultures.

Chili peppers add heat to food in many cultures.

Can you add years to your life by adding spice to your food?

I hate drawing conclusions from inconclusive research, but this was irresistible. The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) in August published results of an observational study that examined the diets of almost a half-million people in China over seven years.

The study observed that the risk of death for those who ate spicy foods one or two days a week was 10 percent lower compared to those who ate spicy meals less than once a week. Those who ate spicy foods three to seven times a week had a 14 percent lower risk of death.

It’s a correlational, not a causational, relationship.

chili pepper 2 wikimediaChili peppers have health benefits

While the journal warned that the study shouldn’t prompt anyone to change their diet, Nita Fourouhi from Cambridge University, in an editorial accompanying the article said there have been other indications the chili pepper and its bioactive compound, capsaicin, have health benefits that include anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

“Future research is needed to establish whether spicy food consumption has the potential to improve health and reduce mortality directly, or if it is merely a marker of other dietary and lifestyle factors,” she wrote.

Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton, a visiting fellow at the University of New South Wales, said spicy foods are known to be more satisfying. People who eat bland food are more likely to overeat.

Another British professor, Kevin McConway from the Open University, warned against using the study to justify the great English pastime of going out for a few pints and a hot curry. The relationship between eating spicy food and a lower death rate was apparent only in people who didn’t drink alcohol at all, he said.

As for me, this just makes me happy about my love of spicy foods of all kinds: Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Italian.

Indian curries have come to epitomize spicy food.

Indian curries have come to epitomize spicy food.

Don’t be a wimp!

When I go out for Thai food with a group of friends and they all order it “mild” or even (gasp!) “no spice,” I think to myself, “What a bunch of wimps!”

Though I must say it’s an acquired taste. I remember my first curry, when I was a freshman in college. A friend invited me to dinner at the home of some people who had spent some time in India, so their dish was pretty authentic. I thought I was an adventurous eater and I was very much looking forward to the meal, but to my untrained palate, it was ghastly — though I don’t think it was the heat so much as the flavor.

I really came to like curry when I lived in England for two years during and after college, and Indian/Pakistani food was about the cheapest meal you could get aside from fish and chips.

We started out with mild dishes, then graduated to more spice. How proud I was of my husband (then fiancé) when he ordered a “vindaloo,” which can be roughly translated as “set you on fire.”

Here’s a recipe for a Malaysian dish called mee goring that comes from the cookbook Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. The spice in it comes from sambal oelek, a chili paste easily found in Asian groceries. If you can’t find it, use another garlic chili paste or Sriracha, which is becoming very easy to find these days. You might need a little more Sriracha to get the same heat as you would from sambal oelek or garlic chile paste.


Peanut Butter Bars from the Great Midwest

kitchens book

J. Ryan Stradal

J. Ryan Stradal

I was reading something somewhere, in print or online, that mentioned a new book, Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal.

I did a very poor job skimming the article, because I assumed the book was a food memoir or travelogue, like Stir, which I wrote about two weeks ago, so I quickly requested a review copy so I could write about it for Feed the Spirit.

I had no clue until the book arrived that it is actually a novel. But I’m still writing about it because it is so good and so much fun.

A satirical look at foodie culture

BookForum  called it “the first novel about the emergence and current state of foodie culture,” and that part of it is very funny in a way somewhat reminiscent of Thomas Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities.

But there’s more to the book than a send-up of 21st century eating habits.

Stradal’s debut novel chronicles the education and career of Eva Thorvald, a young woman blessed with a “once-in-a-generation palate” who becomes one of the most sought-after chefs in the country.

The book’s format is unusual (I almost said “unique” but I don’t know for a fact that another writer hasn’t done the same thing).

Eva’s story is told almost entirely through stories about others in chapters where she’s only a minor character. Each chapter is named for a food and tells how that food, and the person associated with it, came into and influenced her life. All the strands some  together at the end.

Stradal's book celebrates good Midwestern food, the type often found at church suppers.

Stradal’s book celebrates good Midwestern food, the type often found at church suppers.

Pat’s winning recipe

There are a few recipes in the book, including the one below for Pat Prager’s award-winning peanut-butter bars. Middle-aged, small-town, church-lady Pat, after winning the blue ribbon at her Minnesota county fair, takes her recipe to the “Petite Noisette Best of Bake,” in Minnesapolis, a chi-chi competition run by a foodie blog where everything is  organic, locally sourced and GMO-free.

Other contestants have listed the ingredients for their recipes in excruciating detail, like “2 cups gluten-free oats sourced from the organic, pesticide- and GMO-free farm of Seymour and Peonie Schmidt, Faribault, MN, home-processed into oat flour.”

When Pat, who didn’t realize she should have done this, is asked by two young attendees at the bake-off, Dylan and Oona, what is in her bars, she lists the ingredients: graham crackers, butter, peanut butter, powdered sugar, chocolate chips.

“Butter?” Oona said. “What kind? Almond butter?”

“No, regular milk butrter. Like from cows.”

“Hormone-free cows?”

“I don’t know. It’s just Land O’Lakes butter. It was what was on sale.”

“Does their milk have bovine growth hormone?” Oona asked Dylan.

“I don’t know, but I think they’re on the list,” Dylan said.

(Oona, who is pregnant, then wonders if she should vomit up the bars to protect her baby from the bovine growth hormone in Pat’s peanut butter bars.)

“Cow’s milk is really bad, especially for children,” Dylan said.

“It’s full of a bunch of hormones and toxins,” Oona said.

Pat looked at Sam. “Well, I ate these same bars almost every month when I was pregnant with him, and he turned out OK.”

“But that was your choice,” Oona said. “It’s not mine. You have to care about what other people put in their bodies….You can’t just blindly feed these to pregnant people.”

If you don’t share Oona’s concerns, here’s a recipe for Pat’s famous no-bake peanut butter bars.

I suggest you use really good chocolate chips for the topping. If you use cheap, junky chocolate chips, you may need to add some additional butter or a few teaspoons of boiling water as you’re melting them to get them to melt smoothly.

Watch out, this dish is very rich! You’ll probably want to cut it into small bars.

(The photo with the recipe is by Maegan Tintari, via Flickr Creative Commons.)


Look to the Black-and-White Cookie

black-and-white cookies 1I’m half New Yorker (well, Brooklynite) by heritage, and I always enjoyed New York foods (think bagels, hot pastrami, halvah, knishes), but the appeal of the black-and-white cookie has eluded me.

Technically ,says William Grimes writing in the New York Times in 1998, it’s not a cookie at all but a drop cake, made from a slightly-stiffer-than-cupcake batter that’s dropped by the heaping tablespoon onto baking sheets.

Maybe that’s why I never liked them. They had no cookie crunch, and tasted like stale yellow cake.

Dutch settlers probably brought the cookie to the New World – the word comes from Dutch koekje, which is pronounced the same way. Initially cookies may have been miniature cakes, which is the meaning of the word (“little cake”).

Similar to half-moons

Photo by Artizone via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Artizone via Flickr Creative Commons

Some believe the black-and-white descended from the “half moon,” a cookie popular in upstate New York and New England. Wikipedia dates them to the half moons made by Hemstrought’s bakery in Utica, NY in the early 20th century.

Others trace the black-and-white to the now-closed Glaser’s Bake Shop on New York’s east side, where it was one of the original recipes of the founders, Bavarian immigrants.

What sets the black-and-white apart from other cookies is the use of hard fondant, rather than frosting, to create the half-moons of black and white on top of the cake-like base.

Writing in the blog Serious Eats in 2013, Max Falkowicz says the black-and-white cookie is usually bland and tough, and the fondant top is usually sweet and waxy, little more than “a sugary lid.” He says it’s a creative challenge to do them well.

Falkowicz likes the black-and-whites made by Nussbaum & Wu in the Morningside Heights section of the city, with this caveat: “Be sure to eat it quick: by the next day it dries out into a tough mass, a Cinderella cookie after the stroke of midnight.”

Look to the cookie!

The New York Times’ Grimes says much of the appeal of the black-and-white cookie is like that of the Oreo: one could fiddle with it:

Jerry Seinfeld explains the significance of the black-and-white cookie to Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

Jerry Seinfeld explains the significance of the black-and-white cookie to Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

If the cookie was topped with a soft frosting, you could lick it off. A brittler frosting could be lifted from the soft cookie base in small chunks, held in the mouth and savored. You could also separate the cookie into two halves, one black and one white, creating two cookies, or leave the cookie whole and take alternating bites from each side until the whole thing disappeared.

Many Americans first learned of the black-and-white cookie  in 1994, when, in Episode 74 of the classic sitcom Seinfeld, Jerry makes the cookie into an anti-racist icon (sorry you have to watch a short ad first with this link).

Standing in a bakery with Elaine, Jerry nibbles on a black-and-white and muses that its design makes a statement for racial harmony. “Look to the cookie,” he says. Unfortunately it doesn’t end so well for him!

If you live nowhere near New York and would like to try making black-and-whites on your own, here’s a recipe from the New York Times.

Cooking her way back to health

Photo by Allan Ajifo via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Allan Ajifo via Flickr Creative Commons

Jessica Fechtor

Jessica Fechtor

Jessica Fechtor was 28 and leading a wonderful life, married to a smart and charming man she met in college, living in Cambrige, Mass., on her way to earning a Ph.D. at Harvard.

Then, with no warning, an aneurysm burst in her brain as she worked out on a treadmill while she was at a conference in Vermont.

Fechtor has just published a wonderful book, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me HomeDescribed as a memoir with recipes. it details her remarkable journey back to health, through the initial neurosurgery to repair the aneurysm, another surgery to battle a raging infection, a horrible reaction to medication and a long rehabilitation.

For 10 months, she lived without a piece of her skull, which had to be removed because of infection. The hockey helmet she wore for protection only partly hid the deformity. She lost the sight in one eye and her sense of smell (which happily she regained). Then she underwent a final surgery to repair a golf-ball-sized dent in her temple.

Learning to be a good guest

Jessica always loved to cook, but when she came home from the worst of her hospitalizations, she had to relinquish that pleasure to her friends and learn how to be a good guest in her own home.

Photo by Kurtiss Garbutt via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Kurtiss Garbutt via Flickr Creative Commons

“A good guest, we think, is an easy guest. A considerate one. She arrives on time with a bottle of wine or maybe a gift, some chocolate or homemade jam. She asks what she can do. She wants to help. She insists.

“What these best of intentions miss is the most basic thing of all: that a good guest allows herself to be hosted. That means saying, ‘yes, please,’ when your’re offered a cup of tea, instead of rushing to get it yourself. It means staying in your chair, enjoying good company and your first glass of wine while your host ladles soup into bowls. If your host wants to dress the salad herself and toss it the way she knows how, let her, because a host is delighted to serve. To allow her to take care of you is to allow your host her generosity. I’d always been too distracted by my own desire to be useful to understand this. I got it now.”

The early part of Jessica’s book alternates between chapters about her health crisis and recovery and chapters about how she met and married her husband, Eli. Later chapters describe her long rehabilitation. Each chapter concludes with a description of dish that is meaningful to her, along with a nice recipe. There’s baked ziti, kale and pomegranate salad, almond macaroons, apple pie, buttermilk biscuits, cherry clafoutis and more.

A food blog as therapy

Jessica's blog,

Jessica’s blog,

As Jessica grew stronger after her first surgeries, she became restless. Not quite ready to return to her graduate studies in Jewish literature, she took the advice of a friend and started a food blog. She called it Sweet Amandine after her favorite almond cake. But in order to write about cooking, she had to cook.

“The kitchen became my arena for testing myself physically. I’d page through my cookbooks and stack of rumpled recipes in search of ones that felt safe….When the making and the eating were done, I’d sit down and write. Often, after a few minutes of staring at the screen, my eyes would begin to ache and my neck would tighten with nausea. I’d wish I could unscrew my head, so heavy and big, and just lay it down beside me for a while. Every few sentences of so, I would take a break. Sometimes, I would move to the sofa and close my eyes, string together the words for the next line in my mind, then make my way back to my desk and write some more. It might sound painfully slow, this limping, bit-by-bit way of writing, but as phrases became sentences became paragraphs, I felt like I was flying.”

Her anecdotes and reflections about food were ones she’d been sharing with friends and family for years, in letters or over the dinner table. Cooking, and writing about cooking, helped her begin to feel normal again.

“That cooking shifted my attention away from myself was a tremendous relief. In the kitchen, I got to care again about the small stuff that’s not supposed to get to you, but does when you’re normal and well. Now, when the biscuits burned, it was my privilege to care. The twinge of annoyance as I whisked them from the oven was proof I was getting better.”

Jessica and Eli now have two young daughters and live in San Francisco.

I found her story quite moving and look forward to trying some of her recipes, like this one for cream of asparagus soup. Jessica says the flavor improves after a night in the fridge, so make the soup in advance, and reheat it before adding the lemon juice.