Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider

Archive for the ‘Personal Reflection’ Category

How to Make Charoset. (Huh?)

The major theme of Passover is the universal one of  celebrating the journey from slavery to freedom, from tyranny to independence. The foods served and displayed on the Seder plate, in the center of the table, all have symbolic meanings relating to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt: the matzah (unleavened bread) for the haste with which the Israelites fled from Egypt; the horseradish or other bitter herb for the bitterness of oppression; the shank bone for the 10th plague, when the Israelites put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts to ward off the Angel of Death, and  to represent the Paschal offering in the days of the Temple; the greens to represent the spring season; salt water, to represent the tears that were shed under the cruelty of the taskmasters; the hardboiled egg to symbolize wholeness and the cycle of the year; and the charoset, to remind us of the mortar the Israelites used to make bricks.

“Charoset?” you ask. “Never heard of it. What is it? And who wants to eat mortar?”

Glad you asked. Charoset is a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and red wine. Other families may have their favorites, made with figs, dates, and other fruits. But apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine are the ingredients I grew up with. Sometimes, I’m a traditionalist.

It’s simple to make: put all the ingredients into a food processor (so maybe I’m not that much of a traditionalist) and mush it up. Taste. Decide it’s missing something. Add more wine. Taste. Now it’s too watery. Add more nuts. Taste. Now it’s too bland. Add more cinnamon. Taste. Now it’s too sharp. Add more apples. Look for a larger bowl. Taste. Give up and decide it’s fine the way it is.

I’ve been following that recipe for years, and have yet to hear any complaints. Our guests wouldn’t dare complain. If they do, they’ll be in charge of making the charoset next year.

To my friends who celebrate Passover, have a hag sameach (happy holiday) and a zissen Pesach (a sweet Passover).




Check out my new guest blog, hosted by Lesley Diehl, “author of cozy mysteries featuring sassy, country gals who enjoy snooping,” at Lesley asked, “What’s so funny about murder?” My answer: “Humor is subjective.”


Want to know how I fit in at the Public Safety Writers Association conference(s)? Find out in their Sept. newsletter; scroll down to the article A ‘60s ACTIVIST IN PSWA’S COURT


What is more important: real success or the illusion of success? Read my thoughts about how to promote yourself so you seem like a big fish in a big pond when you’re a tiny bit of alga in a puddle.


My favorite women’s clothing store, Coldwater Creek, will be closing all of its brick-and-mortar and online sites in just over a week. I have been buying my clothes from them since they were a catalog only retailer. I estimate that at least 90% of my wardrobe is from them. If I count only those clothes I wear every day, especially before I retired, it’s probably closer to 95%.

I love their clothes. They fit well, they hold up well, they wash well, they are fashionable without being trendy or flashy. And that may be why, despite the fact that “everyone” I know of a certain age shops there, they have gone out of business.

The clothes are durable, so there’s no need to replace them every year or so when they wear out. (The exception are 100% cotton jerseys, which tend to become misshapen after several washings. Or maybe it’s the dryings. Or maybe it’s because I never bother to follow cleaning instructions.) I have one plain black “travel knit” shift that can be dressed up or down depending on what I wear over it. I’m not sure how old it is. It is so versatile that shortly after I bought it I got a second one, worried that I would somehow damage the first and not be able to replace it. The backup dress is still folded in tissue paper on a shelf in my closet.

Plus, because they’re not trendy, the clothes don’t look dated. They stay in my closet (and on my body) for years before I give them to charity, and then usually only because I’ve worn them so often I’ve gotten bored with them. I have a few things that may be 10-15 years old.

The very reasons I like Coldwater Creek – durability and timelessness – are probably why they haven’t shown a profit since 2007. I’ll have a discount coupon begging to be redeemed, will go to the store, and not find anything I want to buy because I already have the same thing at home.

And what does that have to do with writing? (Thought I’d forgotten the topic, didn’t you?) A book series has to stay fresh and innovative to remain popular. I have stopped reading some authors on my “must read” list because they are writing the same book every time, just changing the names and settings. Or there’s no character development: the main characters don’t age, the events of previous books don’t affect their behaviors or attitudes. Why spend money on a book I’ve, in essence, already read? Yes, they may be comfortable, they may still hold interest, but eventually, they become stale. And if they’re classics, I’ll just re-read them, not buy new ones by the same author. Unless it’s something fresh.


            Several years ago, when my oldest son, now 26, was a toddler, I read to him nightly. Usually, the books were my old favorites, books like Ferdinand the Bull or Doctor Doolittle or Winnie the Pooh. One day, I took out my childhood copy, unearthed from my parents’ basement when they moved from the Boston area to South Florida, of one of the Bobbsey Twin books. I adored the Bobbsey Twins as a child and read them all. Bert and Nan and Freddie and Flossie were my friends. I opened the book with great anticipation of sharing it with my son, so imagine my dismay when I couldn’t get beyond the first half page. The family’s maid was written as a stereotypical Stephen Fetchet character, complete with misspelled words to represent her mangling of the English language. It doesn’t bother me when I read the dialect in a classic like Huckleberry Finn, maybe because I don’t read it aloud, but I could not continue with the Bobbsey Twins.

            More recently, I was on a panel at a local library, and we were asked to share our favorite or most influential book. I had no problem choosing one: Eloise was the book that introduced me to the wonders of libraries. I went to the local Barnes and Noble, took the book from the shelf, got an overly-caloric drink, and sat down to read it. I fully expected to purchase the book so I could savor the antics of the high-spirited, independent, mischievous Eloise whenever I wanted. The book is still on the store’s shelf, not mine.

            I was appalled by the book. Eloise is not high-spirited, independent, or mischievous, at least not in a positive way. She is spoiled, disrespectful, disruptive, nasty, and a vandal. Her mother is almost completely absent. All we know is she travels and has credit cards. Eloise always keeps a bag packed in case her mother calls at the last minute for her to join her in an exotic locale with a warm climate, but the impression I got is that her mother has yet to do so. The father is never mentioned. The only men, besides the hotel employees, are her mother’s lawyer and a tutor, hired because no school would accept Eloise. A nanny is supposedly in charge of Eloise’s care, but does not seem to give any supervision at all. Basically, the nanny sleeps late, smokes, drinks, and watches boxing on TV.

             The main feelings I had after re-reading this book as an adult were sadness, pity, and anger at the neglect of this young, intelligent child. During the many years that had lapsed between readings, I had learned that the author, Kay Thompson, who lived at the Plaza, most likely based Eloise on her goddaughter Liza Minnelli. What a lonely child Eloise must have been.

             I am a bit worried now about revisiting some other old favorites, many of which are in public domain and free on Kindle. I’ve downloaded quite a few, and so far have not been at all disappointed by Pride and Prejudice or Sherlock Holmes or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Jane Eyre. Of course, those are not children’s books, although I read them originally a long time ago. Next up on my classics-to-be-reread is Little Women. I read it obsessively and frequently as a young teen. I really, really hope it’s as good as I remember.




Actually, the most stupid. The most daring is when Gary and I visited with Refusniks in Moscow and Leningrad during Chanukah 1980. But you can read about the most stupid – plus the answers to 11 other questions – on
Holli Castillo’s blog: