Friday, March 23, 2018

Yoga, yoga, yoga! Restorative Yoga with Stefanie Haberman and a book recommendation

I did 200 hours of yoga teacher training back in 2015-2016 at Bhakti Barn and never became a yoga instructor. It wasn't a total folly, however, because I became  very attached to my  teacher training "mentor," Stefanie Haberman, and now take  gentle yoga with her every week. Stefanie is soothing, funny and beautiful. She is also very smart: She used to edit the Barnes & Noble website and always has good books to recommend. This Sunday, she is teaching a two-hour restorative yoga workshop from 1-3 p.m. at the newly opened and renovated Bhakti Barn in Millburn. Her restorative workshop is like taking a ten-day vacation, except it only takes two hours and costs $45. Stefanie uses props, oils and gentle words to help you relax and maybe even nap. For more information, check out and @stefhaberman.

Stefanie's recent book recommendation is The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, available here and here.

Tune-in To Bloom: Restorative Mini-Retreat with Stefanie & Deb 
Sunday, March 25th 1-3pm at Bhakti Barn in Millburn

Say “goodbye” to winter and greet spring, a time of rebirth and renewal, with some personal restoration and rejuvenation. As the seasons change, so do the needs of our bodies. In this 2 hour mini-retreat, Deb and I will guide you through a sequence of restorative poses designed to release tension from your body, quiet your mind, soothe your soul and to "tune-in" to the new season.
Guided meditation, breathing techniques, comforting assists and essential oils will also be used to deepen relaxation, melt away stress and prepare you to bloom. 
All levels welcome. Advanced registration recommended $45/ Day of $55

Syllabus: On Teaching and Being Taught

I have been teaching writing workshops in fiction and creative non-fiction for ten years. I was a business reporter for ten years before that and never anticipated I would become a writing instructor but after getting an MFA in fiction writing, it became obvious that teaching was a great way to fund my own writing and keep myself occupied while my children were in school. My kids are now out of the house, and I'm still teaching. Teaching has become one of the great pleasures of my life. I love my students and I love to teach. I also edit books but teaching is where the real fun is, because it involves actually seeing and talking to other writers.

One of the most pleasant parts of teaching is coming up with a syllabus. I used to comb through memoirs, novels, short story collections and books of essays, put Post-it notes on everything I wanted to teach, and then go to a local copy shop to have copies made. I read, drank coffee and an hour later, the copies were done. At the beginning of every workshop, I gave the writers big packets of reading assignments. It was all very 20th century. Then, the copy shop went out of business. I spent one ten-hour day, making copies, collating them and stapling them on my dining room table and decided that going forward, I would assign readings that were free on line.

Here is a list of what I taught this winter. The spring session starts the second week of April. I teach two-hour writing workshops on Tuesdays, from 12-2 p.m., in New Jersey, and from 9:30-11:30 a.m and 12-2 p.m. on Thursdays in New York City. The New York workshops are closed for the spring but there is still room in the Tuesday, New Jersey workshop. We run eight sessions and begin Tuesday, April 10. If you are interested in taking the workshop, please email me at and plan to send a 3-5 page writing sample. If you'd like to sign up for a workshop in NYC in the fall, please let me know .Thank you.

Writing Our Stories: Winter 2018 Syllabus

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ghosts. Adichie is the Nigerian author of the terrific novel Americanah, a fabulous writer and charismatic person. This is one of her early, autobiographical short stories.

Tessa Hadley,“Experience.” Hadley is a tarter, more sensual and slightly more shocking version of Alice Munro, who she cites as influence and inspiration. Hadley is wonderful at depicting people in crisis, and couples at the ends and beginnings of their relationships.

Tessa Hadley, Dido’s Lament. If you like the story, also check out Hadley's Q&A with Deborah Treisman about the story.

Jhumpa Lahiri, “A Temporary Matter.” One of my favorites. Sad but exquisite. This is from her collection, Interpreter of Maladies.

Yiyun Li, “The Proprietress.” If you like this short story, check out Li's new memoir, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, about her struggles with her mother, mental illness, writing, growing up in China, and her efforts to write her way out of a depression, which she does beautifully.

Cynthia Ozick, “The Bloodline of the Alkanas.” I first read Ozick's Art & Ardor in college and thought, "This is the kind of writer I want to be." Hopefully, there's still time. This short story has a secret and a  twist buried within it---always fun.

Kristen Roupenian, Cat Person. Provocative, sexually-explicit, short story about texting, bad first dates and what happens next. Roupenian received a 7-figure advance and a two-book deal after publishing this story in The New Yorker.

Curtis Sittenfeld, Gender Studies. I think Sittenfeld's short stories are better than her novels. This story is from her new collection, You Think It, I'll Say It: Stories, which comes out April 24 and is available here. Many of the stories from the collection have been published in The New Yorker and are free on line.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Fatherland.” In 2016 Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel, The Sympathizer, available here and here. He is an English professor at USC and very funny. Catch him here on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

William Trevor, “The Dressmaker’s Child”. A haunting, sad, beautifully written piece by the late, great William Trevor.

Flourless Chocolate Cake: Perfect for Passover, Birthday Celebrators and the Gluten-Free

My mother's birthday is the third week in March. By the third week in March, we think we are done with winter,  but my mother knows to expect a a snowstorm on her birthday and she usually gets one.  Our plans to celebrate her birthday are frequently postponed until Passover.  My mother, sister-in-law and I are all gluten-free and since I am the main cake maker in the family, I bring a flourless chocolate cake that can double as a birthday cake to the Seder. The recipe below is for a ridiculously easy cake that looks terrific with a birthday candle stuck in it.

I first got this recipe from my  college friend Lynne, and it was so good, I put it in my book, Sweet Survival: Tales of Cooking & Coping (available herehere and on your Kindle.) Lynne is a terrific, knowledgable cook. She is also gluten and dairy free. In many ways, she reminds me of my mother---savvy, petite women who grew up in a families of all girls and became accomplished, healthy cooks. And they were both born in March! I think we gravitate towards friends who remind us of our family members but that's a story for another time.

The beautiful thing about this flourless chocolate cake is you can make it several days ahead. And you don't have to be Jewish or gluten-free to like it. You just have to love cake. 

Great, Simple Flourless Chocolate Cake*

7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips)
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon Kahlua

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Butter and sugar 8-inch diameter spring-form pan. Wrap tinfoil around outside of pan. Melt chocolate and butter in heavy medium pan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Whisk eggs, sugar and Kahlua in large bowl, until well blended. Whisk in chocolate mixture.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Place cake in larger baking pan. Add enough hot water to larger baking pan to come halfway up side of springform pan (the one holding the cake batter). Bake until knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 1½ hours (cake will be about ½ inch high). Remove cake from water bath. Cool.

Remove foil. Cover and refrigerate over night. (Cake can be prepared one week ahead and kept in freezer.)

*Lynne’s friend Lori, who originally sent her this recipe, serves this cake with Crème Anglaise or raspberry sauce or ice cream. But this cake doesn’t need any friends. It is awesome on its own.

New Jersey Jewish Film Festival: Now through Wednesday, March 28

You know how it goes if you live in the suburbs: Sometimes there is scads to do and event after event, and sometimes you're bumbling around your house, wondering if the snowstorm is going to bring down more trees and if it's too soon to email your book group with new book ideas, even though you're not meeting for another three weeks... 

This week, there is a a lot do do, thanks to the 18th annual New Jersey Jewish Film Festival (NJJFF), at the JCC Metrowest in West Orange. I went to see a terrific film there last Tuesday night. "Keep the Change " was written and directed by Rachel Israel. It tells the story of a  group of autistic adults, and one couple in particular, who meet at the JCC Manhattan over the course of one summer. They struggle to get to know each other, they sing, they argue, they visit the Brooklyn Bridge, they take the bus, they visit each other's families, and they fall in love. The movie is both heartbreaking and extremely funny. The film's star, Brandon Polansky, was at the screening and did an extensive Q&A with the director afterwards. 

Because of the snow, film festival has been extended until Wednesday, March 28. Go!

Ticket Prices:
General Seating: $13
Student, Senior, Matinee (before 5:00pm): $11
At the door: $15
Thursday, March 22
11:30am Between Worlds

7:30pm Between Worlds*
(screened at Bow-Tie Cinema)

Double Feature 7:30pm
Across the Line
Operation Wedding

Post-screening discussion

Friday, March 23
11:30am Bombshell:
The Hedy Lamarr Story

Post-screening discussion with Fleming Meeks

Saturday, March 24
Double Feature 8:45pm
The Chop
The Cousin

Sunday, March 25
1:00pm The Body Collector

Closing Night/Double Feature 7:00pm
Mr. Bernstein
A Quiet Heart

Followed by a Dessert Reception

Wednesday, March 28
(rescheduled films)
12:30pm Humor Me

7:30pm Ben-Gurion, Epilogue

Post-screening discussion

For tickets and more information,
or call 973-530-3417

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sweeney Todd: Run extended at Barrow Street Theater through December 31

Have you seen the tale of Sweeney Todd? The revival of this production is fantastic and immersive.  The show takes place in a "pie shop" (the Barrow Street Theater) and the actors  chat you up, dance on your table, offer you a shave, and hiss at you to move if you're in the way. Great, scary, funny performances, especially by Sally Ann Triplett as Mrs. Lovett, John Rapson as Beadle Bamford, Zachary Noah Piser as Tobias, and Thom Sesma as Sweeney Todd. We ordered the meat pies and mash---the chicken pie was fine (it tasted like Campbell's chicken soup) but the potato mash was buttery and delicious. You're not going for the food, you're going for the performance. That said, it was fun to eat with the other theater-goers---and the cast sat down with us while we ate, which was a thrill.

If you get there early, stop by The Spaniard, down the street block on West 4th street, for a glass of charonnay and a side of roasted Brussels sprouts.

Thrice Roasted Chicken with Rosemary, Lemon & Pepper

This thrice-roasted chicken recipe from The New York Times is one of my favorite chicken dishes of all time. A friend mocked me for writing "Thrice roasted..." but that was the headline for the story so blame the NYT. You will need to make time to prepare this chicken---the first day is devoted to brining, the second day is for preparing an herb rub, and the third day you will actually cook the chicken,  but at the end, it only takes 40 minutes to cook and you will be doing a little victory dance once everyone settles down to eat it. I made this for Passover 2016 and am making it again for Passover 2018. The original recipe is from Justine Smillie, the chef at Upland in New York, and adapted by Julia Moskin.

As always, I recommend using good chicken. I get mine from my friend Terri, who orders it from Goffle Road Poultry Farm in New Jersey. 

Thrice-Roasted Chicken With Rosemary, Lemon and Pepper

Crowd-pleasing, but not at all boring. First you brine the chicken for juicy flesh; then air it out to get crispy skin; then rub it with an herb paste to give it flavor. This takes time — you'll need two days for the brining and drying — but the actual cooking is minimal. Don’t be alarmed by the idea of “thrice” roasting — it’s a basic restaurant technique of searing a protein on top of the stove, cooking it through in the oven, then bringing it back onto the stove for a final basting (with butter, of course). A large, heavy skillet is all you need to pull this off.


  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
  • 4 fresh thyme or small rosemary sprigs
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup black peppercorns, toasted and roughly crushed
  • 3 ½ to 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (use whole breasts or legs, or a combination)


  • ½ teaspoon toasted black peppercorns
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ tablespoons apple cider or white wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ garlic clove, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons anchovy paste
  •  Olive oil and kosher salt


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar(optional)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, more to taste (optional)
  •  Salt and ground black pepper

  1. Brine the chicken: Using your fingers, rub bay leaf and thyme sprigs until fragrant. In a large nonreactive container, combine 1 gallon cold water with the herbs, salt, sugar, lemon and peppercorns. Stir until sugar and salt dissolve. Add chicken, making sure pieces are completely submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
  2. Make the rub: Combine peppercorns, parsley and rosemary in a mortar or a small food processor. Crush together until peppercorns are finely ground. Mix in mustard, vinegar, lemon zest and juice, garlic and anchovy paste. Rub should be thick, but not stiff; loosen with a little olive oil if needed. Taste and season with salt if necessary.
  3. Remove chicken from brine and rinse under cold running water. Thoroughly pat it dry with paper towels. Once paper towels come away completely dry, smear the skin with the rub until evenly coated.
  4. Place the chicken, skin side up, on a cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, or until the rub dries and doesn’t smudge easily when prodded.
  5. Cook the chicken: Remove chicken from refrigerator 1 hour before roasting. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Slick a large, heavy pan, preferably cast iron, with a thin coating of oil and set over medium heat. When oil is shimmering-hot, lay chicken in pan, skin side down. Press down slightly on the pieces so their skin is in maximum contact with the pan. Raise heat to medium-high and sear chicken for 7 minutes, or until edges turn golden brown. You should hear a steady, loud sizzle, but no popping sounds; reduce heat if needed.
  7. Without flipping pieces, transfer pan to oven and roast for 17 minutes, or until breast juices run clear and drumsticks wiggle easily at their joints. When ready, the meat should be about 140 degrees at its thickest part.
  8. Finish the chicken: Remove pan from oven and place on stovetop over medium-low heat. Add butter, bay leaf and herb sprigs. As butter begins to foam, tip the pan slightly and baste chicken with butter for 2 to 3 minutes, or just until butter browns. 
  9. Remove chicken from pan and place pieces, skin side up, on a cooling rack set over a large rimmed baking sheet. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes so the juices settle and skin crisps. The internal temperature should be about 160 degrees. If you'd like, carve the pieces, separating the whole breast into two or four pieces, and separating the thighs from drumsticks. Place chicken on a warmed serving platter. 
  10. Make vinaigrette, if desired: Pour all the drippings back into the roasting pan. Whisk in vinegar and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasonings with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour around the chicken. (Alternatively, simply pour the drippings from the cutting board around the pieces.) Serve immediately.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Two of my students mentioned  Washington Black  by Esi Edugyan  in class. One asked the other, "Do you like it?" The other nod...