Remembering Jewish Tunisia with a sandwich

The ingredients for a Tunisian sandwich

The ingredients for a Tunisian sandwich

Detroit’s only Sephardic synagogue, for Jews whose families came from North Africa and the Middle East, recently held another in a series of lectures and cooking demonstrations. This one was about the Jews of Tunisia.

Sylvie Jami Salei speaks about the Jews of Tunisia.

Sylvie Jami Salei speaks about the Jews of Tunisia.

Speaker Sylvie Jami Salei’s ancestors had lived in Tunis since 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain and many settled in North Africa. But the Jewish community in Tunisia is much older. Remains have been found of a synagogue built in the 3rd century CE.

An ancient community

Under the rule of the Romans and the Vandals, the Jews of Tunis increased and prospered to such a degree that church councils enacted restrictive laws against them.

When Muslims ruled Tunisia, the Jewish community enjoyed years of good treatment interspersed with periods of anti-Semitism and discrimination. The community prospered during the country’s years as a French protectorate. Many Tunisian Jews became French citizens and identified strongly with French culture.

A Tunisian Jewish couple in 1900; photo from Wikipedia.

A Tunisian Jewish couple in 1900; photo from Wikipedia.

The community was at risk during World War II. France’s Vichy government collaborated with the Nazis and drew up plans to create North African concentration camps. Although about 160 Tunisian Jews were deported to European concentration camps, and others were forced to do slave labor, the Nazi sympathizers ran out of time and the community was saved.

Rising anti-Semitism

As soon as Tunisia gained independence in 1956, the government implemented anti-Jewish measures. Anti-Semitism, both official and casual, increased when the French left for good in 1963.

Salei’s family left for Paris in 1965. She remembers that they had to buy round-trip tickets. They were not permitted to take any funds – her father’s pension was frozen –  and they were body-searched as they left to make sure they weren’t hiding any jewels or other valuables. The belongings they arranged to ship never arrived in France.

By the late 1960s, the Tunisian Jewish community had been decimated. Once as large as 100,000, the community now numbers around 1,000. Most live on the small island of Djerba; Tunis, which once had tens of thousands of Jews, now has 500, most of them elderly and frail. Lucette Lagnado recently wrote a long article about The Last of the Arab Jews in the Wall Street Journal. She points out that in the Arab world in the first half of the 20th century there were more than 850,000 Jews. Today, there are fewer than 4,500. (Visit this website for more information about Jewish refugees from Arab  lands.)

Sylvie Jami Salei's Tunisian passport

Sylvie Jami Salei’s Tunisian passport

Refuge in Paris, Israel and the US

In Paris, Salei’s family of five lived in a one-bedroom apartment. They received no help from the French government.

Salei’s childhood memories are mostly happy ones, of attending concerts and movies in Arabic, English and French, all of which she learned at school.

But later she realized that she wasn’t privy to the worries her parents faced, and that life was not so idyllic for the family. She and her siblings were all born at home because her mother was afraid to go to the Muslim-run hospital. Her youngest sibling, a girl, died soon after birth because she couldn’t get the care she needed. A cousin was kidnapped and killed by Arabs.

Salei’s family left Paris for Israel and emigrated to the United States in 1973.

In 2014, Tunisia implemented a new secular constitution – the first of its kind in the Arab world – that specifically protects minorities. In January 2014, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa nominated a Jew, Rene Trabelsi, as minister of tourism. Djerba is a popular destination for Jewish tourists.

Today’s recipe, provided by Salei, is for a sandwich that is popular in France as well as Tunisia. When these were served at the Keter Torah event, I recalled seeing similar sandwiches at a French bakery in Jerusalem, kind of the  Middle Eastern Jewish version of a hoagie, hero or sub. The ingredients sound a little weird, but the combination makes a very tasty sandwich.

Skorpor (Swedish biscotti) for Christmas

skorperToday’s blog is by Mary Hooper Nelson, a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter, who lives with her husband, Bryce Nelson, in Kinsley, Kansas, not far from the old Nelson family stamping grounds.

Swedes, and Swedish-Americans, are great coffee drinkers.

They love to sit around the kitchen table quaffing cups of java “strong enough to jump out of the cup,” talking, gossiping, maybe telling a “Swede” joke or two.

My husband, Bryce Nelson, his brother, Gary, grew up in Pawnee County, Kansas, which was settled by Swedish immigrants in the late 19th century. The newcomers farmed, had large families and were staunch Lutherans.

Christmastime lasted for weeks

Christmas, of course, was the most festive religious and social holiday on the calendar, but Christmastime was more than December 25. Christmastime began in mid-December and wound up around New Year’s Day or the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6, providing ample opportunity for folks to visit and sit around the table in the kitchen with its steamed-up windows – because it was warm inside, especially if mom, grandma and the aunts were cooking, and cold outside.

And ample opportunity to drink coffee.

Of course, you’d want something to dunk in your coffee. A favorite dunker was skorpor, Swedish for toast. They’re also called rusks.

My sister-in-law, Lou Nelson, says scorpor is kind of like a Swedish biscotti. Below is her recipe.

In place of grape nuts, you could substitute a teaspoon of grated orange rind, which is called for in recipes for korppu, the Finnish equivalent of skorpor.

Skorpor beats herring and lutefisk

Lutefisk by M T Carlson

Lutefisk, photo by M.T. Carlson via Flickr Creative Commons

In days gone by, when Swedish-Americans had closer emotional ties to the old country, they liked to have pickled herring and lutefisk at Christmas. (Editor’s note: lutefisk is a Scandinavian dish prepared by soaking dried cod in lye to tenderize it, then skinning, boning, and boiling the fish to a gelatinous consistency.) Lutefisk is more commonly a Norwegian dish (and butt of many jokes), but the Swedes seem to like it too.

At least the elder generation did.

Gary and Bryce made themselves scarce when their elders started dishing out the lutefisk and pickled herring.

Some member of the family always went to Lindsborg, a Swedish settlement in central Kansas, and brought back pickled herring, recalls Gary.

“I remember how awful it smelled. I wouldn’t try it but the aunts and uncles and Grandma Nelson loved it.”

Christmas pudding, photo by Amy's Antics  via Flickr Creative Commons

Christmas pudding, photo by Amy’s Antics via Flickr Creative Commons

In Lou’s family, her English great-grandmother made a dessert called Christmas pudding.

“It had golden and regular raisins, candied fruit, and nuts and was made with beef suet, flour, sugar and lots of spices,” she said. “I remember Granny putting it in the old-fashioned metal coffee cans and tying the lids on with string, and then they were cooked in a boiling water bath. She made a sauce with butter, sugar and spices to go on it.

“It was one of those things, kinda like fruitcake, you either liked or didn’t. As we grew up and got married, we secretly hoped the new family members wouldn’t like it so there’d be more for us.

“After Granny was gone, my grandmother made it, then my mother until they could no longer get the suet. Gary and I loved it.”

Enjoy the skorpor, and Merry Christmas.

Eat like a caveman? No thanks!

Photo by Bogdan Klimowicz via Flckr Creative Commons

Photo by Bogdan Klimowicz via Flckr Creative Commons

“Paleo” diets are all the rage. The premise is that humans evolved in the Paleolithic age, between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. Agriculture and animal husbandry were unknown.

By eating only foods available to hunter-gatherers of that era, the theory goes, we’ll be feeding our bodies the way they evolved to be fed.

To which I say “rubbish.” I think the actual caveman diet was much more along the lines of the one advocated by my friend Marshall, who liked to say he’d eat anything that wouldn’t eat him first.

“Cave Women Don’t Get Fat”

paleo diet book One of the latest paleo pushers is Esther Blum, a self-described holistic nutritionist, who wrote a book called Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat: The Paleo Chic Diet for Rapid Results.

It may be the first gal-centered paleo diet book, because, as Blum points out, most of the others are very male dominated. Kudos to her for that.

The paleo diet is similar to the Adkins and South Beach diets–no grains, but lots of protein, fruits and vegetables.

The disdain for grain is what grinds me the most. Anyone who has read the Clan of the Cave Bear books knows that among the things the hunter-gatherers gathered were wild grains, though they were undoubtedly a much smaller part of their diet than of ours.

Which is not to say these paleo diets have no merit. Eschewing sugar, additives and highly processed foods can only be a good thing.

Blum, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutrition, developed her approach in the early 1990s, after hearing Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet. She decided to give up grain herself. While she follows the paleo diet, her husband does not.

Respect what your body wants

Probably the most sensible thing Blum says on the subject is this: “Understanding what works for you is very important. You have to respect what your body wants.”

I can’t disagree, but that advice works both ways. The latest diet trends may not be what your body wants and needs.

A few years ago, my daughter was convinced that the aches and pains in my aging body resulted from the aspartame in the diet sodas I drank and the low-cal yogurt I ate. Partly to humor her and partly because it was worth a try, I gave up all artificial sweeteners for several weeks. My aching joints didn’t notice at all.

Chart by Jen Christiansen, Scientific American

Chart by Jen Christiansen, Scientific American

Several years ago my husband and I followed the South Beach Diet for a few weeks. We scrupulously avoided all carbs: no sugar, no bread, not even any fruit or starchy veggies at the beginning. We lost a little weight but it didn’t seem worth the effort of obsessing about every morsel we ingested–not to mention the time we had to spend making carb-free everything.

One advantage of weaning yourself away from sugars and starches is that you’ll crave them less.

Can anything be “too sweet”?

As a child, I could never understand adults who said, “That’s too sweet for me.” How could anything possibly be too sweet?

Well, once you cut out sweeteners for a few weeks and then start eating them again, you’ll find you need much less to be satisfied–and that indeed, some foods can be too sweet!

As for eating like a caveman, check out this excellent article from Scientific American that does a good job of analyzing paleo diets.

For one thing, says author Ferris Jabr, no one knows exactly what cavemen ate, and the foods they hunted and gathered would have varied significantly according to where they lived. Moreover, nearly everything we eat today, from meat to vegetables, is very different from what would have been available in the Paleolithic era.

The idea that humans have not evolved since caveman days is nonsense too, he says. One notable change is the relatively recent mutation of a gene that gives most humans the ability to digest the lactose in dairy products.

Some of the recipes in The Paleo Chic Diet sound worth trying, like this one for blueberry pancakes. Just don’t try to tell me the cavemen had almond flour!

Know When to Hold and When to Fold (and a recipe for green beans)

Photo by Ryan Tomlinson via Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by Ryan Tomlinson via Flickr Creative Commons.

My daughter, home from college and eager to help prepare something for an upcoming holiday feast, called me at work in a panic. “The matzoh balls are falling apart!” she said.

Matzoh balls in chicken soup, photo by sfPhotocraft via Flickr Creative Commons

Matzoh balls in chicken soup, photo by sfPhotocraft via Flickr Creative Commons

I should have never left her alone with such a recipe at such a tender age. Matzoh balls are one of those recipes you should learn at your mother’s knee, and she had never watched me make them. I should have been there to help her get the feel for the proper texture, to know when to add more matzoh meal or more water to get just the right consistency for light, fluffy dumplings.

Though I confess that’s not how I did it. My mother wasn’t much of a cook. She never made matzoh balls, ever. My grandmothers did, though. When I decided I wanted to be a good cook, I got out a recipe book and started practicing. I don’t think I produced any matzoh balls that fell apart, but I produced several batches that could have been bounced off the floor, until I got a feel for it. I think developing a feel for the food and for the recipe is the essence of being a good cook.

Reading between the lines

Anyone can follow a recipe, with some basic instruction to understand the terms (like the difference between “beat in” and “fold in”). It’s knowing what’s behind the words that does the trick. You can call it talent, but I think it’s more a matter of experience or common sense.

Sometimes it’s not that easy to distinguish between a recipe that just won’t work and one that can be tweaked. In poker terms, you have to know when to hold and when to fold.

I recently clipped a recipe for “Honey Mustard Green Beans” – I can’t remember from where. It said to mix up the ingredients, put the beans in a baking dish, cover the baking the dish with foil and cook the beans for an hour at 250 degrees or 30 minutes at 350. The green beans were supposed to be “tender-crisp.”

Dish too sweet? Next time use less sugar. (Photo by Barb via Flickr Creative Commons.)

Dish too sweet? Next time use less sugar. (Photo by Barb via Flickr Creative Commons.)

I should have known that something baked that long would not come out “tender crisp,”  but for whatever reason I followed the recipe. The dish was a mushy mess. There was way too much liquid. The beans were soggy. I was relieved this was not a company meal.

Give it another chance

I was about to toss the recipe but then I thought I’d give it another chance. Too  much liquid? I reduced all the ingredients except the beans by half (in fact, I increased the amount of beans from 1¼ pounds to 1½), and baked them in an uncovered pan. Beans too soggy? That’s what long, slow roasting will do. For “tender-crisp,” you need high heat for a short time.

So I cooked them at 425 degrees for 10 minutes or so, uncovered to help the moisture evaporate and prevent the beans from steaming. The result was a delicious side dish, with the beans tender-crisp as they should be and coated with a sweet-and-spicy glaze. So here’s my advice: if you make a dish and like it in general but wish it were just a little more…something, try some of these quick fixes:

  • If it’s too sweet, try again using half to three-quarters as much sugar.
  • If it’s too greasy, cut down on the oil, butter or margarine. (More than 30 years ago a friend served us a wonderful carrot cake, and gave me the recipe. But when I made it, I thought it was too oily. So i reduced the oil from 1½ cups to 1 cup and make it that way to this day.)
  • If it’s too dry, add more liquid, or cook for a shorter period of time.
  • If it’s too mushy, use less liquid or cook uncovered instead of covered.

Good cooks also know what you can substitute for something in a recipe you don’t like or don’t have. You can usually substitute milk for cream; it won’t taste as rich, but it will usually work. You can usually substitute margarine for butter, though again you’ll lose a bit in taste. But be careful if you use oil instead of solid fat; the consistency of the dish may be affected. No shallots or leeks? Use a little onion, just be aware that the taste of onion is much stronger. Don’t like cilantro? Eliminate it but use parsley to keep the color.

That kitchen bible, The Joy of Cooking, has an excellent section on substitutions. You can also find information on substitutions by doing a Web search. My daughter has now made matzoh balls often enough to know what the mixture should “feel” like. And I’m proud to say that she, her brother and her sister are all good cooks.

From scratch: Try a Thermos lunch

german chocolate cupcake

Lynne Meredith Golodner

Lynne Meredith Golodner

Editor’s note: Today’s blog is by Lynne Meredith Golodner. A journalist and author of eight books, including The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, published by Read the Spirit Media. Lynne owns a PR company, Your People LLC (www.yourppl.com) in Southfield, Michigan. She blogs daily at www.lynnegolodner.com and lives in Huntington Woods, Michigan with her husband and four children. Lynne speaks around the globe on spiritual entrepreneurship and storytelling for business. The recipe is “ayurvedic,” meaning it can be part of the traditional Hindu system of health and healing.

“This is made from scratch in a home kitchen with the best ingredients,” the woman told us. She was pointing to artful cupcakes in plastic containers with homemade labels stuck to the top. “I once looked at the ingredients of the same cupcake I bought in the store, and there were like 20 more ingredients than I need!”

On the way Up North in Michigan to our Writing + Yoga Retreat in July, my friend Katherine Austin and I pulled into a farmers market in Grayling. We bought the last strawberries of the season, two cartons of just-picked local blueberries, zucchini bread and strawberry-rhubarb bread for our post-sadhana breakfasts, and two German chocolate cupcakes.

From scratch. A funny phrase. Meaning by the work of my hands, in my own kitchen, with unadulterated ingredients I trust and know. From scratch.

The woman was right. When you make things yourself, you do it simply, with exactly what you need, no more, no less. You get it done. And it tastes good.

Ingredients for a thermos lunch

Ingredients for a thermos lunch

When we buy things all perfectly packaged and on a shelf in many stores across the nation, there is a uniformity that requires preservation, a long list of ingredients, many of which are so chemical in nature I have no idea what I’m eating.

Lunch in a Thermos

For the past few months, I’ve been making this simple Thermos lunch for the days when I don’t have a lunch meeting. It consists of a quarter cup of rice cooked just a short time with diced carrot, cut snap peas, spices exactly for my constitution, ghee, flax oil, salt and sometimes other veggies too–kale, red pepper, zucchini.

Simple, right? It is the absolute best lunch.

When I open the Thermos in the office, the rice has plumped and all the liquid has been absorbed. It’s fluffy and warming and tasty. Filling. Everyone in the office says something, too. “Something smells good…”

The simplest things are often the best. Over the weekend, as I taught writing in the context of Finding Your Voice, I repeated the refrain that less is more.

In writing, that’s certainly true. If you can write a compelling, tight paragraph, you’re better off than long-winded page upon page. Say what you need to say, say it well, say it quick.

And let it sink in.

The German chocolate cupcake was delicious. It wasn’t huge like in my grocery store and it wasn’t sky-high with whipped frosting. It was simple. The caramel-coconut mixture on top that is signature to German chocolate was just enough – not skimpy, not overbearing.

And the chocolate cupcake was moist and light and tasty but not too strong in sugar or in chocolate or in anything.

Made from home. From scratch. What it means and what it is supposed to mean are two very different things.

Summer camp: hymns and macaroni and cheese

Kids have fun at the College Settlement camp near Philadelphia.

Kids have fun at the College Settlement camp near Philadelphia.

When the days grow long and hot and the fireflies flit about at night, my thoughts return to summer camp. I went to camp from the age of 7 to 13, and it was always the highlight of my year. Camp was more than a vacation, it was an opportunity stretch my wings, to try new things and make friends with people whom I wouldn’t get to know in my daily life.

For three years, from the ages of 7 to 9, I went to Farm Camp, operated by the College Settlement in Philadelphia. It was located on a former farm in Horsham, Pa., once a rural area and now a suburb of the big city. (It’s no longer called Farm Camp, but it’s still going strong and operated by the College Settlement.)

The younger children slept and had most of their activities in and around the “Mansion House,” a large former home across the street from Main Camp, where we would go to eat, swim and boat. The girls slept in the Mansion House; the boys slept next door in a barracks-like “Bunk House.”

College Settlement camp is a melting pot of children from varied backgrounds.

College Settlement camp is a melting pot of children from varied backgrounds.

My first religious services

Camp was also where I had my first experience with religious services. My family was completely non-observant. My parents didn’t go to synagogue even on the High Holidays. And I was too young to go to church with my friends, which I did occasionally when I got older.

On Sunday mornings at camp, the Jews, Protestants and “nones” from Mansion House (I don’t think there were any Muslims among us, though one year there was a Hindu counselor from India) would troop over to Main Camp for a non-denominational service. The Catholic kids weren’t with us; they were bused into town so they could attend Mass.

We would sit on logs positioned in a large circle. I don’t remember much about the service other than the songs, which have stuck with me all these years.

We sang some standard Protestant hymns, like “Abide With Me” and “Faith of Our Fathers,” and gospel tunes like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,”  and folky tunes like the one about Johnny Appleseed:

Oh the Lord is good to me
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need,
The sun and the rain and the apple tree.
The Lord is good to me.

There were also some Southern Baptist-style hymns with messages I found intriguing, because they were so far from anything I had heard elsewhere: “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through, my treasure is laid up somewhere beyond the blue…”

One song had a tune that evoked a strange yearning in my 7-year-old psyche as the words conjured up images of angels:

White wings, that never grow weary,
They carry me cheerily over the sea.
Soon now, my heart will grow weary,
I’ll put on my white wings and fly home to you.

After all these years one can never be sure one is remembering the words correctly, so I did a little Web search and learned that this was originally a sailing song! The last two lines are usually “Night falls, I long for my dearie, I spread out my white wings, and sail home to thee.” Who knew?

Interfaith sensitivity

The late Leonard Ferguson, longtime director of the College Settlement camp, with campers .

The late Leonard Ferguson, longtime director of the College Settlement camp, with campers.

The thing that impressed me most about the Farm Camp services was how interfaith they were. While they were obviously based on Protestant services, the organizers went to some length to ensure that non-Christians were comfortable. Bible readings were always from the Hebrew scriptures. When we sang “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” the end of each verse was “children of the Lord.” It wasn’t until I started going to school assemblies in fourth grade, where we always opened with a hymn, that I learned the real words are “soldiers of the Cross.”

When I was 10 I moved to another camp that specialized in art and music. My younger sister, Sue, attended Farm Camp for many more years and shares my fond memories.

“I so enjoyed the Sunday service at camp that I felt sorry for the Catholics who had to miss it. I didn’t understand for many years after why Catholics, and not the Protestants, had to go to church,” she told me.

When Sue was about 10, she wrote an essay about why camp was so important to her.

“I don’t recall why I wrote it, but I’d showed it to my counselor, who must have shared it with other counselors. I was asked to read it aloud at one Sunday service,” she said. The essay was also printed on the front page of the camp newsletter, which was a mimeographed job on colored paper produced near the close of every two-week session.

“I was so pleased and proud of myself. I saved it for many years. It’s likely still moldering in our attic in a box.”

“We do indeed still do Sunday service, a chance to be reflective with campers at the campfire site and a chance to share stories,” camp director Karyn McGee told me.

“We pick a theme, and often use great books that we read aloud (and sometimes have staff act out) to generate deeper thought. Mostly we read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Sneeches by Dr. Seuss, and other non-denominational fun yet deep stories.

“Sometimes we plant a tree afterwards, and sometimes we burn a twig each. Twigs gathered from many trees, many sources but combined together in our campfire become the foundation for next session, year, decade’s group who will also sit under these beech and oak trees and share their stories.”

The College Settlement of Philadelphia is still influenced by Quaker values, said Jan Finnegan, the agency’s director of development. “The Sunday service does not have a clergy person or particular format but reflects an understanding of living in harmony with one another and the natural world, being reflective and creating a community of acceptance and equality.

Grace before meals

The dining hall at the College Settlement camp.

The dining hall at the College Settlement camp.

Camp was also where I first encountered grace before meals. Three times a day the entire camp would stand at the tables and sing, to the Westminster chimes tune, “Morning (or afternoon or evening) is here, the board is spread, thanks be to God, who gives us bread. Amen.”

I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who wondered what a “board” had to do with the meal we were about to eat.

By the time my sister Sue was a teen at Farm Camp and it was her bunk’s turn to lead grace, they were able to get away with, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub, yaaaaaay God!”

I encountered numerous new foods at camp, including tapioca pudding and macaroni and cheese. You no doubt did a double-take at that. How could anyone grow up in America without eating macaroni and cheese?

Well, my mother didn’t like it and so she didn’t make it, and it was completely off the radar for my Europe-born grandmothers. We walked home for lunch from school, so I didn’t get it in the school cafeteria.

I still love mac and cheese, and it was another reason I looked forward to camp every summer!

Here’s a good recipe for this all-American staple that’s easy to make because you don’t have to boil the pasta first or make a separate cheese sauce. You do need a blender (regular or immersion). It uses a great deal of cheese, but if you’re worried about fat, you can cut the amount back some with no loss in yumminess.

A true soap opera, with a recipe for laundry soap

Linda Maday in 2011 with jugs of homemade laundry detergent.  Photo courtesy of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan.

Linda Maday in 2011 with jugs of homemade laundry detergent. Photo courtesy of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan.

 

Prologue:

The ingredients you'll need to make laundry detergent at home. Photo by Shutterfool, via Flickr  Creative Commons.

The ingredients you’ll need to make laundry detergent at home. Photo by Shutterfool, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Today’s recipe isn’t edible, but this piece does offer food for thought. In 2011, when I was as director of communications for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, I learned that many of the people with special needs our organization was helping were in serious financial straits. They received a monthly stipend from the state that enabled them to live independently, but after paying for rent, utilities and food, many lacked the funds to buy basic household cleaning supplies. Enter Linda Maday and Tammy Hynes.

Act I:

A few years ago, Linda Maday saw a recipe in the Bay City (Michigan) Times for homemade laundry detergent. She tried it. She and her family liked it. The detergent was easy enough to make. It was organic, additive-free, low-sudsing and good for sensitive skin. It cost only about $1.20 to make two gallons of detergent, a fraction of the cost of store-bought detergent, even at Costco. Maday, a retired social worker for the state Department of Human Services, has been using the recipe ever since.

Act II:

Tammy Hynes is Lutheran Social Services’ director of In-Home Services programs in mid-Michigan. She works with seniors and people with disabilities on fixed incomes. By providing various services, her staff helps these clients stay in their own homes rather than moving into an adult foster care home or nursing home. Some clients have very limited funds and are unable to buy basic cleaning supplies. So Hynes set up a Cleaning Closet in her office. The closet is filled with donated paper towels, laundry soap, bathroom cleaner, glass cleaner, sponges, mops, brooms—even vacuum cleaners.

Act III:

Maday lives in Essexville, Mich., with her husband, Gary, and toy poodle, Cubby. Her two sons are grown and gone. She read about the Cleaning Closet in her church bulletin and decided making detergent was something she could easily do to help people who are less fortunate. She made a double batch of laundry detergent, poured it into clean half-gallon milk jugs, and labeled each bottle with a sticker explaining how to use it. A few days later, she met Hynes in the parking lot of a Meijer super-store between her home and the Lutheran Social Services office in Midland and delivered 16 bottles of detergent for Hynes’s clients. Then she started collecting plastic bottles to make another batch.

Epilogue:

My husband and I have been making this recipe ourselves for several years. You need a bucket large enough to hold two gallons, a large wooden spoon, a food grater and a funnel to pour the detergent into bottles. You may not be able to find all the ingredients in your local supermarket, but you can probably find them in a hardware store. Don’t be afraid to grate the soap on your regular kitchen food grater or to cook the detergent in a regular saucepan; it’s just soap, and it will wash right off. Use it for your own laundry, and if you have time, make extra to donate to a program like Lutheran Social Services or to a homeless shelter or subsidized housing center. Congregations and social groups might want to take this on as a fairly easy service project.