Sharing Food and Memories with Friends and Family


November 21, 2017
Irene Saiger


Shira’s Cornbread

cornAs a child what I remember wanting  most was to be as American as Apple Pie.  I wanted my parents to speak English without an accent, I wanted to have an American style turkey (no idea what that meant) for Thanksgiving dinner, and not one prepared in the same way my Mom made roast chicken on Shabbat, and I definitely wanted to have Barbie dolls like the other girls I knew.  None of those wishes came true.  My parents never lost their accents, my mother only made turkey one way, with garlic, salt and pepper, and she never bought me a Barbie doll.  She wasn’t a great believer in toys in general but I think that if she had agreed to buy me a doll, it would not have looked like  Barbie and it would not have had a boyfriend that was blonde and named Ken.  It was too much to ask. 

At some point, there was some kind of awakening and I realized how lucky I was to be living in the ethnically diverse community that existed in the Bronx in the 50s and 60s.  Now those cultural influences, that I wanted so much to shed, is what I love most about my childhood, and I cherish that my Thanksgiving dinner reflects a cross-section of the people who I have come across in my life.  I now happily pair garlic turkey with the candied sweet potatoes that my mother learned to make from Edie, my cousin’s  African American housekeeper.  I love that my daughter still makes “corn pone” from an Amish cookbook we bought her when she was just a little girl and we were visiting Amish country in Pennsylvania.  ( I did publish this recipe in 2011 but she has changed it and now I call it cornbread) This year my dinner will include a sweet potato pie that I was given by a colleague who is a descendent of slaves and Native Americans. 

My children, all born and raised in Los Angeles have grown up with other culinary influences. Persian, Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes have crept into our kitchens, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one day those influences make an appearance at our Thanksgiving table.  

As I begin my Thanksgiving preparations, I am grateful that my children, daughters-in-law, and now my granddaughter, have helped me, or made on their own, some of the recipes that they have eaten at my table. Mock chopped liver and pumpkin chocolate chip bread are two of the popular ones, and of course cholent as well.  If there was one tradition in my family that I want to pass on, it’s that cooking is an act of love and of Thanksgiving.

Shira’s Cornbread

1 c. sugar

1/2 cup non-dairy margarine or butter

2 eggs

1  1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal

1  1/2 cups flour

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups non-dairy creamer or milk

1 – 14 oz. can creamed corn

Cream together margarine and sugar, add slightly beaten eggs and mix together well.  In another bowl sift cornmeal with flour, baking powder, and salt. Alternate adding dry ingredients and milk to batter.  Add creamed corn, mix gently and pour into greased and floured 9 x 13 baking dish.  Bake at 450″ for 30-35 minutes.  I  think the texture is better if made the day before.  Serves 8-10

Notes: I prefer a glass Pyrex to a metal baking pan because I think it results in a moister texture.  Don’t over bake or it will be dry.  Try adding something new, like sliced green onions, or jalapeno.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving,



September 10, 2017
Irene Saiger


Fig and Date Syrup Challah

IMG_2440The past few days have been filled with worry, not always at the forefront of my mind, but ready to surface at any given moment.  As Hurricane Irma began to pound Florida, those of us who are far away feel powerless, and all we can do is stay-tuned and pray for the best. My sister and brother-in-law made their way inland to Coral Gables from their home in Boca Raton and are currently holed up in a hotel.  I had begged, pleaded, yelled and enlisted the help of others to try to convince them to evacuate, but to no avail.  And so rather than resort to one of my “go to” responses to stress, ice cream and potato chips, I chose to be productive and cook.  On Friday I made chicken soup, zucchini and mushrooms stewed in tomato sauce, schnitzel, and garlic chicken.  At 4:00 a.m. this morning I woke up to get an update from the news, fell back asleep for a short while, and not wanting to be far from the phone or T.V. decided to stay home and spend more time in the kitchen. Norm hung around too, and so between the two of us, we managed to make 70 kreplach, cooked up a restaurant size pot of chicken soup, and baked four challahs.   

The reality is that  Rosh Hashana is also looming and no matter what happens in the next few days, we know that we will be going to Shul and having festive meals.  We pray that everyone will be safe, and that this is a case of the storm before the calm.  Wishing everyone a peaceful, happy, healthy , sweet, and uneventful Yontif.  Shanah Tovah!

I decided to try something different after being inspired by a conversation we were having yesterday about date syrup.  A young woman visiting from Israel said her family uses it with chicken and so I decided to try it on challah.  Using my basic challah recipe, I made a thick spread made with the syrup, dried Greek figs, and some fresh orange zest.

Basic Challah Recipe

I cup dried Greek figs diced into small pieces

1/4 cup date syrup

1/2 cup water

1 tsp freshly grated orange zest

Place diced figs in small pot with syrup and water and cook till tender, about 10 minutes. Place in Cusineart and blend till for a minute or so till you have a paste. Add orange zest and remove to bowl.   Roll out challah dough to rectangle shape and spread mixture across. Roll up and create round challah.











Double Chocolate Biscotti

July 14, 2017

Today I unexpectedly found a chocolate biscotti.  The cookie had somehow fallen into a bowl perched on the edge of my kitchen counter where I discovered it poking out from the jars of vitamins. I had baked several batches of cookies on a Sunday just a few weeks ago in preparation for the out-of-town guests coming in for my youngest son’s wedding. Now two weeks later this single biscotti and a few cases of leftover wine in the living room are the only traces left of more than a year of planning .  

The wedding reflected the taste and personalities of the bride and groom. Not only was it fun but it was unique as well. The venue, Big Daddy’s Antiques, is a warehouse filled with, of course, antiques.  I loved being surrounded by things that had history and found it comforting and familiar. It wasn’t bright and shiny, but worn and warm like our family chuppah that’s been in use for several generations.   

It was the “wedding weekend ” they had hoped for.  Aufruf,  Shabbat dinner, pre-wedding drinks at a brewery, the main event, brunch for out-of-town guests, and two evenings of Sheva Brachot.  For six days many of us moved in unison, from Beverlywood to the Arts District to Culver City, Ladera Heights, and Westwood. We had food from Ta-eem Grill, Joan’s On Third, Tarte Catering and Got Kosher, as well as various dishes and home-baked goods that were prepared by friends and family.  It was a weekend of feasting and celebration, sharing the joy we all felt for Anna and Micah.  We laughed and cried, but now it’s time to settle back into our routines.  Then again, maybe I can linger with the memories for a few more minutes over that last biscotti. 

Double Chocolate Biscotti  Adapted from David Lebovitz 

2 cups flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Paste

1 cup pareve chocolate chips

For Top

1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together dry ingredients. In a large bowl beat eggs with sugar and vanilla paste. Stir in the dry ingredients, add the chocolate chips, and blend.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Divide the dough in half and roll into two logs. Transfer the logs onto a baking sheet, and gently flatten the top.   Brush beaten egg wash over logs and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes or till almost firm.  Let cool for about 15 minutes, slice with serrated knife and place cut side down on cookie sheet.   Bake another 10-15 minutes.  Should feel dry and firm. 

April 3, 2017
Irene Saiger


Chana Chat (South Asian Garbanzo bean salad)

IMG_9366Yesterday, just about a week before Pesach (Passover), my kitchen and dining room table were covered in flour.  Mounds of dough were portioned out around the edge of the table, potatoes were boiling in the kitchen, and salad ingredients were being chopped on every available surface.

My daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, is involved in an organization called New Ground, whose mission is to encourage dialogue between Jews and Muslims. Months ago I had suggested that she organize something around food, and so here we were, sixteen people crowded around the table, eight Jews and eight Muslims, representing two generations.  I demonstrated how to make my Challah and Mahmooda taught us how to make Chana Chat, a salad that is commonly served in both Pakistan and India.  (which if you eat kitniyot during Pesach is a light and delicious salad!!)

What did we have in common? Plenty!  One woman shared how she cared for her aging in-laws because that’s the family’s responsibility, and expressed hope that her own children and grandchildren will do the same for her and her husband one day.  A young woman named Farzana told me how her family gets together every Friday night after prayers for a late dinner.  She said that everyone knows it’s family night and instead of seeing friends, they spend time together as a family, sitting and eating, talking, and as she put it, marinating.  Mahrukh, a woman from Bombay explained that she was contentedly living in Italy when she and her family decided to move to Los Angeles. Her boys only spoke Italian, very little Urdu, and no English and she worried how they would adjust to life in America. All of these stories could have been stories from my own family.  Of the sixteen participants at least 14 were immigrants, children of immigrants, or grandchildren of immigrants.  Sound familiar?

Yes it was a little crazy to do this a week before Passover but it filled me with so much hope for the future, more than I’ve had in months.  And what better way to start the Chag but to be reminded how much we gain from opening our hearts, our doors, and our kitchens to others.  Let’s tear down those walls, one dish at a time.

Chana Chat

1 cup garbanzo beans.  Prepared from dry beans is best but you may substitute canned beans.

1 tbsp sweet tamarind sauce or pomegranate molasses, thinned out slightly with some water  ( we found tamarind sauce in Persian market and it was kosher for Passover!)

1 potato, peeled, diced into 1/2 ” pieces, boiled until soft, and drained

1 small red onion, diced

1 tomato, small to medium size, diced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp red chili powder

1 tsp freshly ground cumin powder

1 tsp red chili flakes (if you want extra heat)

2-3 green chilies, chopped

1⁄4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1 lemon cut in quarters

Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust flavors according to your preference. You can serve this warm or at room temperature.

Note:  One woman said she sautes her onions and tomatoes for a few minutes, she just prefers it that way.  Seasoning seemed to depend on how much heat you like.  There was lots of tasting and shaking, adding as they went.  One woman said you can add mint if you like.

Enjoy and Chag Sameach,


January 27, 2017
Irene Saiger


Potato Taquitos

img_0744My parents arrived in the United States in 1952 after having spent five years living in Paris, France.  Even at a very young age, I remember my mother’s reaction to being called “greener,” refugee, Survivor, Eastern European.  Somehow I knew that every label was painful, stripping her of her dignity.  I am sure she just wanted to be known as Manya, a woman who had parents, siblings, a husband, children, a history, stories to tell, recipes to share.

I remember her telling me that soon after she first arrived in France, when bread lines at the bakery were still common, she and a cousin by marriage, Helen Gerson, stood on line waiting their turn together.  Someone in line made an anti-semitic comment to my mother, and this cousin  (who herself was not Jewish) turned around and smacked the woman.  Years later when I met Helen I of course loved her right away, knowing that she had bravely stood up for my mother, an immigrant.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day and how sad it is that we are once again using labels to define people.  I am preparing Shabbat Dinner and thinking about how immigrants are being talked about by our new administration. So in honor of my mother, and Helen Gerson, and every immigrant who made our country great, we are having Potato Taquitos, an appropriate choice because today I stand with Mexico.

Potato Taquitos

1 large Idaho potato

1 Poblano pepper

1 tbsp margarine (pareve)

salt and pepper

10 corn tortillas

Canola Oil


Cut potato in half lengthwise and boil in enough water to cover, till very tender. Drain and remove peel. Place potato in medium-sized bowl.  Take Poblano pepper and char on top of stove, turning till black on all sides. Place in paper bag, close and let sit for a few minutes. Remove and rub off charred skin , then slice open and remove seeds and dice pepper into small pieces. Add to potato along with margarine ,salt and pepper and using a fork mix well.

Wrap tortillas in either a slightly damp paper towel or place in a tortilla warmer and microwave for 35-40 seconds. Place about 2 tbsp filling across bottom edge of the warm tortilla and tightly fold up like a cigar.  Pierce each end with a toothpick to hold together.   Heat enough oil in large frying pan to cover the bottom  of the pan well and when oil is hot, fry the Taquitos, about three minutes per side. Using a tong makes it easier to work with.  Serves 2








November 14, 2016
Irene Saiger


American Apple Pie

img_0304-2Just a few weeks ago it was Sukkot, a festival in which we are told to rejoice, and at the time I was filled with hope and optimism, looking forward to the end of the contentious upcoming presidential elections .

Now, with Thanksgiving rapidly approaching , the joy of this great American holiday feels somewhat diminished. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I still have plenty to be thankful for.  But right now, Thanksgiving feels a little less celebratory, and I feel robbed of the excitement and anticipation that I typically feel.  I love everything about this holiday, including all that I associate with it, like two of the Rockwell paintings, Golden Rule and Freedom from Want,  of course The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, and the children’s book by Barbara Cohen, Molly’s Pilgrim, the story of a young Jewish immigrant named Molly who learns that her family’s traditions are just as much a part of the American fabric as that of the Pilgrims.

This Thanksgiving we are having a smaller group, and as always we will go around our table and ask every\one what they are thankful for.  It may be harder to formulate than in previous years, but hopefully we can find the words. 

Right now in spite of the fact that we are all troubled and worried and stressed, I am offering you  a recipe for apple pie. I made this  a few weeks ago after taking a trip to Oak Glen and picking some Winesap apples.  It is an easy, simple recipe, and of course not many things can offer such immediate comfort as can be found in a bite of warm, freshly baked pie.  A recipe that is an American tradition and that is one thing I am very thankful for. 



2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter sliced in 1″ pieces

1/2 cup ice water

7 large Winesap apples peeled, cored and cut into 1″ chunks

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor, pulse 2 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt. Add 2 sticks of the sliced butter and pulse till mixture resembles peas. Slowly add ice water through feeding tube, and pulse till combined but do not over mix!!   Move dough onto wax paper and form into a ball, then divide in half, flatten into two round discs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 15 minutes, or longer. 

In a bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, sugar and the remaining 1/4 cup of flour. On a floured surface, roll each disc of dough into a round big enough to fit into a pie plate with enough of an overhang to fold up and over the top crust.  Grease a 10-inch glass pie plate, add bottom crust, and brush the overhang with water. Spoon in the apples and break up the remaining tablespoon of  butter into bits and place on top of apples. Place second crust over the filling and fold overhang up over crust.  Crimp or press together with tines of a fork. Cut a few slits in the top crust for steam to escape or add a pie bird! 

Bake the pie in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cover the edge of the pie if it begins to darken.

Enjoy and Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


P.S. This recipe is dairy but what a great dish to make for breakfast the morning after Thanksgiving.

July 22, 2016
Irene Saiger


Stewed Okra (Bamia)


It has been a long time, too long, but summer feels most like summer if you can let things go.  I have not been blogging or cooking very much, but I have been sitting in my yard, harvesting tomatoes, kale, and zucchini from the garden, plus enjoying the very first blackberries that our newly planted bushes have produced.

Early this morning I found out, via Whats App, that we have a new great-niece, born in Jerusalem.  Of course I was elated to hear the good news but sad that we aren’t there to celebrate her birth.  That was the beginning of the thread that started weaving through my head. Babies, Israel, missing everyone there, and then the food, always the food.

One of the things that I love most about Israel is that in a relatively small country, you can meet Jews from everywhere, and eat food that is equally diverse.  Ethnic dishes rub up against each other, and like the Olim themselves, the dishes are influenced by what’s local, both ingredients and people.  One of my favorite vegetables is Bamia, or okra, a dish I was first introduced to by a Libyan Jew but taught how to cook by an Egyptian Jew.  It is a dish that people really like or really dislike, mainly because of the gelatinous texture if cooked incorrectly.  Stewed slowly in a simple tomato sauce,  over a low flame and rarely stirred, the pods stay intact, avoiding that slimy texture associated with okra.

Today, I wished my sister-in-law Mazel Tov on her newest granddaughter, and received the first photo of baby girl Azran.  I made okra and schwarma for dinner, and I blogged.  Not bad for a lazy summer day. I may not be in Israel but Israel is here with me on this Shabbat.


Stewed Okra

1 pound okra

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 cup water

2-3 Tb tomato paste

Salt and cracked pepper to taste

1 tsp chicken bouillon (pareve)

In a medium-sized pot, sauté diced onion in olive oil over low flame till onion is soft. Add garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add okra. Mix remaining ingredients in a cup, add to pot, and taste to adjust seasoning. I like it hot so add chili flakes if you want.  Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes or till pods are very tender, stirring as little as possible.  Serves 4


Enjoy and Shabbat Shalom,