Chautauqua: Haven for Learning and Culture

My husband and I have become evangelists—for the Chautauqua Institution, a unique and wonderful community in the westernmost county of New York, between Buffalo and Erie, Pa.

It’s a combination of college campus, music festival, writers’ workshop,  arts enclave and summer resort, with a little more than a hint of the religious movement that gave it its start 143 years ago. One person we met called it “summer camp for the adult brain.”

And it’s nestled into a picturesque small town chock full of Victorian-era houses, gardens galore and quiet streets. Walking and biking are the primary means of transport (though shuttle buses are available).

Training for Sunday School teachers

Originally called the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, the institution was created in 1874 as a two-week program for Methodist Sunday School teachers. The assembly took place following a revivalist “camp meeting” held annually on the shores of Lake Chautauqua. Founders John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller thought religion teachers needed more than revivalist spirit. They brought in speakers on a variety of academic subjects and provided music, art and physical education opportunities. It wasn’t long before the assembly totally eclipsed the revival meeting.

The Chautauqua idea caught on quickly, attracting the general public as well as religious educators. Soon there were numerous “daughter Chautauquas” and traveling Chautauquas throughout the country.

The founders’ vision still drives the institution, which now has a nine-week season every summer, from the end of June to the end of August.

Every week has a theme, and every weekday morning there is a lecture from a nationally known speaker on that theme. Every weekday afternoon there’s a lecture on a related theme in the “interfaith” lecture series. And every evening, six days of the week, there is fabulous entertainment: from the resident Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, from the music school’s orchestra, from the opera program or resident ballet company, or from top-notch visiting artists.

In between there are more lectures, book reviews, movies, discussion groups, recitals, art exhibits, nature walks and other activities – more than any one person can do.

For an additional fee there are three productions by the resident theater company and  a whole catalog of “special studies courses” on a wide variety of topics. There’s a golf course, tennis courts and indoor pool, and a lake with small beaches and boat docks. There are reasonably priced day camp programs for children from 3 to 16.

Religious life at Chautauqua

In deference to its history, Chautauqua provides many avenues for religious expression, including daily Protestant services with visiting clergy in the large amphitheater and a Sunday evening “sacred song service.”

Quite early in Chautauqua’s history, various Protestant denominations began operating guest houses so their congregants could stay at Chautauqua for a reasonable fee. Catholics and Jews weren’t particularly welcome in the early days, but now both groups have residences among the “denominational houses” on the grounds – and a Muslim house is in the discussion phase.

The newest of the denominational houses is the Everett Jewish Life Center, which opened in 2009. My husband and I started staying there for a week at a time in 2014. Last year we learned that they were looking for a new “host couple” and we jumped at the opportunity.

This year we spent 10 weeks at Chautauqua. Our duties included welcoming the guests to the Everett Center’s five guest rooms, shopping for food, preparing and cleaning up from breakfast, helping set up seats for the weekly films and speakers, and general trouble-shooting. Others handled the cleaning and maintenance and the programming.

In return, we got to enjoy almost everything Chautauqua had to offer. We heard incredible speakers, including Dahlia Lithwick, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Lewis Black, Jacques Pepin, E.J. Dionne, Bill Moyers and Stella Rimington, the former head of British intelligence and the model for Judi Dench’s “M”.

We saw fabulous entertainers, including Jay Leno, the Capitol Steps, Garrison Keillor, Sheryl Crow and the Beach Boys.

Visitors can stay at one of the 15 denominational houses with  guest rooms, the beautiful Victorian Athenaeum Hotel or at a rental house, apartment or room. There are also less expensive hotels and cabin communities a few miles away.

A word to the wise: The denominational houses get booked up fast! The Everett center has only a few openings left for 2018. The United Methodist House starts taking reservations October 1 and continues until the rooms are filled. The Catholic House has a lottery: get your application in between November 1 and November 30 and they’ll let you know soon afterwards if you’re “in.”

All of the denominational houses welcome people of all faiths, though some give preferences to church members; some allow you to become an official member of the tribe by paying a small membership fee.

Like any good evangelist, I’m willing to “testify” for Chautauqua! If you have any questions about the program or about the Everett Jewish Life Center, please contact me.

The recipe below is for one of the breakfast casseroles I served to our guests at the Everett center. I got it from It would be a great brunch or potluck dish. Be sure to plan ahead, because the recipe calls for the dish to sit overnight in the refrigerator. You can probably get by with letting it sit just a few hours, but I don’t recommend baking it right after you mix it up; the bread needs a chance to soak up the eggs and milk.


Remembering Sinai Hospital: Making muffins, back when work was fun

What makes a good work team? I’ve been thinking about that lately, because of all the jobs I’ve had, the most fun was when I worked at Sinai Hospital of Detroit in the 1980s.

It wasn’t because the work itself was particularly meaningful. It certainly wasn’t because I was earning the big bucks.

What was extraordinary about that work experience was the people I worked with. Many of us are still friends today, 27 years since our group was blown apart when a bunch of us were “laid off” after some political maneuvering at the C-suite level.

I’ve worked with many good people before and since, so I’ve been trying to put my finger on what made this team so special.

For one thing, most of us were around the same age, so we grew up with the same frame of reference about music, movies and other cultural touchstones.

We all had a good sense of humor, and we could tease each other without anyone taking offense.

There was also a Jewish ethos about our group – Sinai was a Jewish-sponsored hospital after all – even though we weren’t all Jewish.

Learning Yiddish

When our department was moved to a former apartment on campus, I brought in an old copy of The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten and put it in the bathroom. Soon the Catholic members of our group were spouting Yiddish like they’d learned it from their bubbies.

But occasionally something tripped them up.

Our media relations pro, Suzanne, was a good Catholic girl but she looked like a Yiddishe maidel, with what some would call a Jewish nose and long, curly, black hair.

One day she came into the office looking distressed and asked, “Bobbie, what’s daven mean?”

Daven  (DAH ven) means to pray. No one is sure where the word comes from; Rosten says maybe from divin, French for divine.

Suzanne had been in an elevator at the hospital when a middle-aged Orthodox Jewish man got on. He looked her up and down–probably thinking what a good match she’d make for his son—and said, “So, where do you daven?

It would be like saying to a stranger, “So, what church do you go to?”

Suzanne, not knowing what in the world he was talking about, stammered. “I don’t!” and beat a hasty retreat as soon as the elevator stopped.

We still laugh about that one.

And maybe part of the reason why that job was so much fun was that our jobs were manageable. Our team was extremely productive, but we didn’t feel we were understaffed and overworked as so many do today. We had time to goof off when we needed to; it kept the creative juices flowing.

Memorable muffins

All the above is an excuse to write about today’s recipe, which comes from the Sinai Hospital cafeteria.

Whenever they had these muffins on the menu, we’d all make a beeline for the cafeteria.

Sinai Hospital is gone now, first merged into the Detroit Medical Center and then closed. Its name is memorialized in the unmellifluous DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital and DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital. The building itself was torn down and is now the site of a high school.

But Sinai Hospital lives on in our hearts!

A few weeks ago one of my Sinai colleagues was back in town for a family visit, so I invited her and two others we worked with, and their spouses, to lunch.

I served these Glorious Morning Muffins, which they all recognized immediately. We ate, and laughed, and reminisced about the good old days.

An apple renaissance

Are we in the midst of an apple renaissance?

Every time I go to the fruit market, it seems, there are new types of apples that I hadn’t heard of just a few years ago: Pink Lady, Cripp’s Pink, Cameo, Ambrosia and more.

And then there’s the Honeycrisp, the current darling of apple lovers, usually 50 cents to $1.50 more per pound than less exalted varieties.

Honeycrisp was one of the first of a new breed of apple called “club apples” – varieties that are controlled in such a way that only a select “club” of farmers, who pay for the pleasure, can grow them.

Some new apples start by happy accident: a mutation in the orchard that is then reproduced by grafting.

Other new types come about when growers intentionally cross two or more existing varieties in order to create an apple with the best characteristics of its parent fruit.

Sons of Honeycrisp

Honeycrisp was created by cross-pollination at the University of Minnesota in 1991. It is crisp and juicy but the flavor is inconsistent and it doesn’t do well in long storage. It is also difficult to grow.

So even though customers are now snapping it up at premium prices, growers are already  hard at work looking for its successor.

One may be Cosmic Crisp, developed in 1997 at Washington State University.

So many growers were interested in it that the university held a lottery for Washington growers to see who would get the privilege.

SweeTango, also derived from Honeycrisp, was introduced in 2008; it ripens a month earlier than Honeycrisp and is said to have a zestier flavor. Two more Honeycrisp descendants, Juici and one currently named MN55 (a more appealing name is being discussed) will be available in 2017.

“Club” varieties

The “club varieties” are offered by the breeders to a limited number of growers, and the name is trademarked. No one who isn’t in the “club” is allowed to grow these apples.

The patents don’t last forever; Honeycrisp’s patent has expired.

Of course other breeders and growers can come up with something very similar – they’ll just have to give it a different name, one that may be less familiar to the buying public and may be much more difficult to market.

Tim Byrne, president of the Next Big Thing cooperative that is handling the SweeTango, says the club model has several advantages. The coop can control the quality of the fruit by managing the growing, harvesting, packaging and marketing.

They also control quantity, producing enough to satisfy customers but not so much that they drive down prices.

As various types of apples compete for shelf space, the marketing muscle of the managed brands will give them an advantage.

Another coop, the Midwest Apple Improvement Association, is selling another child of Honeycrisp, the EverCrisp. But their club is less exclusive than Next Big Thing, and anyone can join. If you want to grow Ever Crisp, you just have to join the club and pay your dues.

Here’s a nice recipe for Apple Pie Muffins that was posted by Jan Brown on the Allrecipes website.

Yemenite Jewish Kubaneh (Sabbath bread)

Gabriel Attar was born in 1951 in a dismal immigrant transit camp in Afula, Israel. His parents had been part of the soul-stirring effort of the Israel government to airlift more than 50,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel between 1948 and 1950.

Today, only a handful of Jews remain in Yemen.

Attar, a high school math teacher, spoke about his family’s history recently as part of a series of programs on Jews from Arab lands, sponsored by Congregation Keter Torah, the only Sephardic congregation in the Detroit area.

Strictly speaking the Jews of Yemen are not Sephardic but Mizrachi. Sephardic comes from the Hebrew word for Spain, and refers to the descendants of Jews who fled from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition and settled in North Africa and the Middle East.

Jews who never left the Middle East but who stayed in Yemen, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries, are called Mizrachi, from the Hebrew word for “east.”

Operation Magic Carpet

Many of the Yemenite Jews who were airlifted from their homeland in the effort that became known as Operation Magic Carpet had never even seen an airplane, let alone ridden in one.

In Israel they were placed in tent cities until permanent housing could be built for them. Attar’s parents were born in one of these camps. She was 16 when they married.

Eventually the family was resettled in the Machane Yehuda section of Jerusalem, a multi-ethnic neighborhood that houses the city’s famous produce market.

Attar has vivid memories of the wedding of his uncle and aunt.

“Preparation started with the henna-painting party for the women one week before the wedding,” he said.

“For the wedding, Yona was dressed in traditional Yemenite bride attire with lots of jewelry. Every item of jewelry symbolized something different. Every ring and every bracelet was worn in a particular order to symbolize blessings such as fertility, longevity of life and marriage, peace in the home, etc.”

A family success story

Attar’s mother could not read or write, but her five sons are all educated and successful. His four brothers live in Israel with their families.

He met his American wife, Marilyn, when he was the driver and tour guide for her family who were visiting Israel. They married in 1985.

Guests at the program enjoyed a variety of Yemenite foods, including kubaneh, a traditional bread made for the Sabbath. It’s baked for a long time at a low temperature, and can even be baked overnight to be enjoyed warm on the Sabbath when cooking is not permitted.

This recipe comes from





All about bagels

I spent my junior year of college at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. When I went through the gate to the campus, I’d pass by a wizened little man holding ring-shaped rolls on a long pole. “Beigele, beigele, beigele,” he’d shout, trying to attract buyers.

I realized that these baked goodies, which tasted rather like soft pretzels, must be the forerunners of the American bagels my family enjoyed almost every Sunday morning with cream cheese and lox (smoked salmon), and which weren’t available in Israel at the time.

In fact, it was hard to find a bagel outside of Jewish neighborhoods. When my brother went to graduate school at Vanderbilt in Nashville, he and his wife would lug back a dozen ore more bagels every time they came home to Philadelphia for a visit.

In the late 1950s, bagel baker Harry Lender and his sons figured out a way to freeze bagels, making them available in supermarkets. Even though the frozen things are just awful and barely worthy of being designated bagels, non-Jewish Americans learned what they were.

Now fresh bagels are available almost everywhere, though purists will scoff at the soft-textured variety offered by most chains (Einstein, Bruegger’s, Dunkin Donuts, Panera) as “rolls with a hole.”

Real bagels are boiled

True bagels need to be boiled in a pot of water before they’re baked, to develop the hard crust and chewy interior texture. Most modern chain-store bagels are baked in ovens with a steam injection system; the steam creates the softer texture most of us have grown used to.

Many of us old-timers, myself included, feel only certain varieties of bagels should be allowed: poppy, sesame, onion, garlic. Cinnamon-raisin is stretching it. But the types of rolls-with-a-hole calling themselves bagels today – granola, cranberry-orange, blueberry – to these I say “Feh!” And green bagels for St. Patrick’s Day are just an abomination.

Bagels have also gotten huge. When I was a kid, bagels were half the size they are now, maybe even less. In my family, each of us would normally eat two bagel-and-lox sandwiches for Sunday breakfast. My brother once ate five!

A European import

Bagels originated in Krakow, Poland. Leo Rosten, in The Joys of Yiddish, says the first mention of the word (bajgiel) is in the Krakow “Community Regulations” in 1610; they were given as a gift to women in childbirth. The round shape was considered to be lucky. The Yiddish word bagel comes from a Middle High German word, “bougel,” meaning ring or bracelet.

Polish Jewish immigrants brought the bagel to New York – and also to Montreal. Apparently there’s quite a distinction between “New York style” bagels and “Montreal style” bagels, which originated with Russian Jewish immigrants. The latter have bigger holes and are crustier and less sweet, and they’re baked in a wood-fired oven – probably more like the “beigeles” sold by the vendor at Hebrew University.

Bagels have even gone into outer space. Canadian American astronaut Gregory Chmitoff brought a batch of Montreal-style bagels with him on a 2008 Space Shuttle mission.

Try making your own

If you are among the poor souls that have no easy access to a bagel bakery, or if you’re just feeling adventurous, try making your own.

The traditional bagel contains high-gluten white flour, salt, water, yeast and a sweetener. L.V. Anderson, writing in a blog on Slate in a series called “You’re Doing It Wrong,” says the secret to good bagels is barley malt syrup, but I think that would be rather difficult to find.

I chose a recipe that seems easier, since it uses plain white sugar for sweetening. It appeared on the Allrecipes website, where it earned 4.5 out of 5 stars from hundreds of reviewers.

Purists will say you should create the bagel shape by rolling the dough into a rope about eight inches long and forming it into a ring, pinching the ends together in a rather complicated maneuver. It seems much easier to form the dough into balls and then poke a hole into each one, widening the hole to the right size (about two inches wide) before boiling.

After boiling, and before baking, would be the time to add flavorings by dipping the bagels into poppy seeds, sesame seeds, chopped onion or garlic or coarse salt.

Enjoy your bagels with cream cheese (AKA “shmear”) and lox, garnished with sliced tomatoes and onions. (Photo below by David Lebovitz via Flickr Creative Commons.)

Challah, Take Two

When I first started this column almost a year and a half ago, my first recipe was for challah, the braided egg bread used to welcome in the Jewish Sabbath.

I used the recipe my husband, Joe, uses almost every week and included a little video showing how to braid the challah. If you want to be really wowed by challah-braiding techniques, check out this video from Israel.

I don’t want to make a habit of repeating recipes – and indeed this week’s offering is a different recipe for challah – but I wanted to tell you about a something special that took place in Detroit on October 23.

A great big baking event

It was the Great Big Challah Bake, and it was the opening event of a worldwide event called the Shabbos Project.

Shabbos (SHAbiss) is the Yiddish word for Sabbath and many Jews of Eastern European descent still pronounce it that way, especially Orthodox Jews. In Hebrew it’s ShaBAHT.

The Shabbos Project was started last year by Dr. Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa, as a Jewish unity project. The idea was to have all Jews in the country, no matter what their usual level of religious practice, observe one Sabbath in October together.

The celebration included a challah bake on Thursday night, Sabbath dinners on Friday night (since Sabbath starts at sundown Friday), religious services and lunches on Saturday, and a huge outdoor concert after the Sabbath ended at nightfall.

People invited others to Sabbath meals in their homes, and several communities held large outdoor dinners that attracted hundreds. The final concert in Johannesburg attracted 50,000.

Celebrating the Sabbath together

This year Dr. Goldstein took the project global. More than 400 cities around the world set up Shabbos Project committees to try to replicate the South Africa experience October 23, 24 and 25.

I went to the Great Big Challah Bake as a reporter for the Detroit Jewish News. It was held in a large banquet hall. When I walked in I was amazed.

Oblong tables covered with blue plastic tablecloths fanned out across the hall. Each table held 14 large foil roasting pans; each pan contained everything needed to make a batch of challah: a 2-lb. sack of flour, a 16-oz. bottle of water, two eggs and small plastic containers of carefully measured-out yeast, sugar, salt, and oil.

Each pan also held rubber gloves, a mixing spoon, a large plastic mixing bowl, a recipe card and an apron emblazoned with the name of the event.

More than 300 women of all ages from across the religious spectrum – from very Orthodox to non-observant – participated in the Great Big Challah Bake. Some bake challah regularly for their families. Some had never baked bread before.

Together they mixed and shaped loaves of challah, which they took home to bake.

The event was free. Materials were provided by anonymous donors.

Mixing and kneading

We dumped our yeast and sugar into the mixing bowl and added the water. We let the mixture sit until it bubbled. Then we added the eggs, oil and salt, and finally the flour, mixing with our hands when the dough got too stiff to mix with the spoon.

I enjoyed mixing up challah dough while chatting with the half-dozen women around me and learning a little bit about the history and meaning of challah.

The term “challah” actually refers to a portion of the dough that was taken out and burned, a commandment that dates to the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, said Henna Millburn, one of the event coordinators. Today instead of burning it’s acceptable to take a small portion of the dough, wrap it twice and throw it away.

Baking challah is a “labor of love” that brings women together, said Millburn. “What binds us is not the ingredients, it is the Torah we share as Jews,” she said.

I offer this story because other religious or social groups may want to do something similar. Cooking with others can be great fun and it’s a good inter-generational activity.

You don’t have to make challah or even bread. Pick a food that has meaning for your group and a recipe that can be assembled in one place, transported somewhere else and cooked there a little later. This would certainly work for making cookie dough.

Get a group of volunteers together and set things up to make the process easy. Use disposable everything to minimize cleanup. If it’s something wet, like soup, provide a large, covered plastic container so participants can take the uncooked dish home.

If the recipe involves a waiting period – like the 30 minutes for the challah dough to rise before shaping it – plan to share some stories or use the time to hold a brief prayer service.

My challah wasn’t as beautiful as my husband’s – I never did get the hang of braiding it, and it turned out rather blob-like. But it tasted wonderful, and so I’m happy to pass on this easy recipe.

(And you don’t have to braid it. The bread would be equally delicious baked in a loaf pan, or you can make round loaves by making balls of dough – a larger ball in the center and six smaller balls around it, all touching.)

Tea time, with scones

Barb Gulley loves tea, especially English tea, the type served at ever-so-proper afternoon gatherings, poured from beautiful silver or china pots into delicate china teacups.

Her company, Barb’s Tea Shop, is not a restaurant or store but a source of education about tea. She offers seminars–complete with tea tastings–at parties, corporate events, club meetings, libraries and museum. A former college marketing and management instructor, Barb now devotes her life to tea. She’s traveled widely to sample her favorite beverage, including trips to China, Japan, Ireland and of course England. She is qualified by the Protocol School of Washington, D.C. to teach tea etiquette to diplomats and businesspeople working in other countries. Her daughter, Rachel, is her marketing and operations manager.

My synagogue’s Sisterhood brought Barb in for a recent fundraiser. Her presentation was delightful.

A long history

Tea was discovered nearly 5,000 years ago, by the Chinese emperor Shen Nong, when a leaf from a tea plant (camellia sinensis) fell into a cup of hot water he was planning to drink. The first written reference to tea is from China in 600 BCE. There are four types of tea, defined by how oxidized (or fermented) the tea leaves become after picking and before brewing. The most oxidized is black tea, followed by oolong, green and white tea. Black and oolong are the only teas strong enough to be taken with milk. How long to steep the tea in hot water (it should be almost, but not quite, boiling) is a matter of personal taste.

In general, Barb says black tea should steep for three to five minutes, oolong and green teas for two to four minutes, and white teas from two to seven minutes. Herbal teas are not, strictly speaking, teas because they aren’t made with leaves from the tea plant. If you want to be quite proper, call them tissanes.

Barb prefers loose tea to teabags, but acknowledges that it can be a nuisance to clean a pot after brewing loose tea. Most tea balls and infusers don’t give the leaves enough room to move in the pot. You can buy paper tea filters to contain the loose tea that give the leaves more room to move and expand.

Afternoon delight

Tea came to England around 1600 through the work of the East India Company. And around 1840, Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, started inviting her friends over in the late afternoon for a little pick-me-up between lunch and dinner, which was served quite late. Thus was born the afternoon tea. Most afternoon teas are served with scones, dainty sandwiches and cakes or cookies.

You can make it as fancy as you like, but don’t call it “high tea” to impress those you invite. After the English aristocracy made a habit of taking tea in the afternoon, the hoi polloi wanted in on the act too. Unfortunately, most working people didn’t get home until 5 or 6 p.m. or later. When the working stiffs had their tea in the evening, they needed some real food with it, and so they ate at the high table – the kitchen or dining room table where food was normally served – rather than at the lower tea (aka coffee) table. So “high tea” is a light evening meal, served with tea. The refreshment served to refined ladies is properly called “afternoon tea.”

Tea etiquette

If you’re invited to an afternoon tea, here are some of Barb’s tips on tea etiquette. And be aware that if you are asked to pour you should consider it a great honor!

  • Don’t put milk in the cup first. First pour the tea, then add the milk, so you can see how much it needs. (And don’t use cream!)
  • Hold the teacup by hooking your index finger through the cup handle. There’s no need to stick out your pinky. If you’re taking tea at a low tea table, hold the saucer in your other hand.
  • If you use teabags it’s a good idea to offer guests a separate saucer to put the bag on. If you don’t have a separate saucer or one of those little teapot-shaped dishes made expressly for holding used teabags, put the used bag on your saucer next to the cup. Don’t squeeze it out by wrapping the string around your spoon; the metal spoon might affect the taste.

Dean Burnett, writing on the blog of The Guardian newspaper in England, disagrees with Barb on the milk question. He says there’s scientific evidence that you should put the milk in the cup first – maybe not when using teabags, but certainly when pouring from a pot. He reports that a Dr Stapley of Loughborough University found  that adding milk after the tea is poured causes the milk to heat unevenly, which causes the proteins in it to denature, affecting the taste and possibly causing a skin to form on the surface of the tea.  Brits and Anglophile tea lovers will probably disagree on this question forever.

In England, many restaurant menus will include “cream tea.” This means that with your pot of tea you’ll get scones, clotted cream and jam. I know “clotted cream” sounds disgusting, but it’s delicious, a little like whipped cream, but thicker and richer, sort of a cross between whipped cream and whipped butter.

Barb says it’s not classy to slice a scone in half, add cream and jam, and put the halves together again to eat it like a sandwich. Tsk! Better you should break off a small piece, spread it with a little cream, add a dollop of jam, and enjoy. And if you’re invited to a “royal tea”? That includes a flute a champagne!

Want to learn more? Check out Barb’s tea blog! Meanwhile, try this recipe for scones. It’s adapted from a recipe by Alton Brown on and makes about a dozen scones.

Come back next week for some Coffee Talk, and another great recipe to go with your favorite hot beverage.