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Miriam's Kitchen: A Memoir Paperback – September 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Food memoirs often delve into the meaning of life. This hardly surprises--memories are as essential to daily life as the food that sustains us. Miriam's Kitchen blends recipes and food reminiscences with family narratives and observations about the author's personal evolution as a Jew. Ehrlich weaves the stories from four generations of family life, punctuated with powerful and often tragic memories. While her mother-in-law, Miriam, is teaching her to make chicken livers with noodles, Ehrlich unexpectedly learns how Miriam, her mother, and husband survived a Nazi labor camp in Poland during the Holocaust. Using vivid and bare yet discreet words, she graphically tells what they suffered and the nightmares that still haunt them.

Ehrlich's own story covers her transformation from a child whose family lit Sabbath candles but went boating on Yom Kippur, to an adult who chooses an Orthodox life marked by ambivalence about the rigors of being kosher and pride in what she is passing on to her children. Recipes for Honey Cake, Noodle Pudding, and many others are buried treasures hidden among Ehrlich's intense words. Sadly omitted is a recipe for potato kugel. Her grandmother uses this tempting pudding to good-naturedly test, taunt, and ultimately as the means for accepting her daughter Selina's non-Jewish fiancé into the family. Happily for us, 24 other tempting kosher recipes make up for this one missed dish. Miriam's Kitchen is a gripping and gratifying memoir of food, life, tragedy, and family survival. --Dana Jacobi

From Library Journal

Ehrlich, a former writer for BusinessWeek, writes with humor and passion about her journey from ambivalent Jew to a woman who observes tradition and teaches her children about their ethnic heritage. Her story begins when she meets Miriam, her future mother-in-law, a Polish Holocaust survivor who "guarded culinary specialties in her mind during years when possession and certainties were ripped from her hands." Through Miriam, Ehrlich awakens to dormant memories and traditions in her past and gradually decides that her own family life would have greater meaning if she made her kitchen kosher. The author opens a window on a culture and tradition that her readers may know nothing about, discussing religious and dietary laws and sharing over two dozen recipes for traditional foods. Orthodox readers will likely see themselves in descriptions of the humor and ambivalence involved in trying to incorporate the traditions in today's society. The writing is crisp and smooth. Recommended for public libraries.?Susan Dearstyne, Hudson Valley Community Coll., Troy, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014026759X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140267594
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Cathy G. Plotkin on December 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
I was touched by the special relationship that the author developed with her mother-in-law, Miriam. Through Miriam, we are all so fortunate to hear her life's story, and ultimately, many women's stories from the Old Country. While the author does skip around in thoughts, her essays touch on numerous New York style traditions. I enjoyed reading the index afterwards, and realizing how many different topics she had covered. My synagogue did a book review and it was very favorable. Just one warning: many of the recipes apparently are NOT coming out right! Be sure to read the hilarious disclaimer about the recipes in the front of the book. The recipe I tried (Choc. chip and pineapple cake with meringue) DID come out delicious and was very different! Also be aware that this really is not a cookbook,per se, so it should be read as a story. Some of the stories ARE holocaust-related and as such, contain sad episodes. This book mostly establishes a mother-in-law's successful attempt to bring Judaism back into the major portion of her daughter-in-law's life. Anyone who has decided to keep kosher after being married will laugh with sympathy at some early attempts to do things right!
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
If I could give this book a 10-star rating, I would. Elizabeth Ehrlich has written this memoir from her heart, and it shows. The memoir traces the deepening relationship between Ehrlich and her mother-in-law, Miriam, as well as Ehrlich's memories of her fiercely left-wing family in the inner city of Detroit. Both families celebrate their Judaism through food, drink, ritual, prayer and family ties. Ehrlich's views on Judaism shift as she travels the road to middle age, first as a young girl, then as a young adult, next as a new wife and, finally, as the mother of three young children. Along the way she explores such complexities as Miriam's memories of the Holocaust and her native Poland, the challenges of managing a kosher home, and the joys and regrets of interfaith unions.
Travel Ehrlich's road with her and you won't regret it-- her book is rich with memories and love. An added bonus: the reproduction of many of Miriam's mouthwatering recipes.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By William Sugarman on November 18, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a lot of things. It's a cookbook (although I will take a previous reviewer's warning to heart and be careful about following the recipes); it's a reminiscence of sorts (the memories of Ehrlich's mother-in-law Miriam and others about European/American/immigrant Jewish life in the era of World War II); and finally, it's a book about a certain way of Jewish living. All three of these books are wonderful.
The chapters with recipes in them put me in mind of the movie "The Big Night" (that's the one where you saw all that marvelous food being prepared in Stanley Tucci's restaurant in preparation for Louis Prima's visit). These parts of the book are the print equivalent - my mouth watered just reading about the preparation of those dishes.
The other parts of the book describe a world that's fast becoming extinct. There is a new wave of religious fervor in Judaism, but it's just not the same as the religion my grandparents observed. That was a meeting of the Old World with the New, and I don't really think that will happen again.
I do hope that Ehrlich writes a sequel (or some columns for distribution in newspapers or magazines). I'd like to know how she and her family are continuing to reconcile their version of religion with secular America. I'm sure it will become harder once Miriam and Jacob, her in-laws, pass on. They have been her teachers and guides (Miriam more so than Jacob), and I would like to know if she's truly acquired their commitment as well as their recipes.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 25, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Most people who read this book are women. I read this book because my wife was so affected by its content (she cried all the way through), that I just had to read it. I cried too! While the author catalogues her aging mother-in-laws unique recipes, she also reflects on the cycles and rhythms of life held by Jewish traditions. In effect, she is challenging all of us (not only Jews) to look at what valuables, or values, we can, and should, transmit to our children. We are also left with the deeper question of our responsibility, observant or not, to understand and pass along our family and religious traditions. In addition to your children, this book will make you want to connect with your entire family, and get in touch with the family history and traditions that make you who you really are. This book is heartily recommended. It also makes a great gift, especially for a Jewish relative or friend. And the recipes are good too!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By on November 12, 1998
Format: Paperback
Ok, so I'm like a Hawaiian/Chinese guy living in San Francisco who picks this book up and finds it to be the first in a long time that moves him to tears. Sometimes it's like visiting a parallel universe - for a goy to understand why his hand gets slapped from the butter dish at his Jewish friend's houses - and at others, it's a beautifully written account of how a working woman in the 90s (re)discovers her immigrant heritage. I think this book will touch anyone with immigrant roots; all of us can identify with the hard work, sacrifice, and the scents that emanate from our mothers' kitchens. Those scents will always signify - home, and this book captures those scents in an elegant bottle.
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