In Comb Bees Is

What happens when a self-made Jewish American Princess gets bitten by the beekeeping bug?

I’ll let you know as the story develops. So far it’s led to one hive,  at least three epiphanies, two bee suits, 36 jars of honey, a hot tub full of happy young people, 5 books, and a subscription to a bee journal.

This is how it started:

“We are so sorry for your suffering, but it was not personal,” the executives from Continental Tire, GmBh, the company where he was slave labor in 1944 and 1945 told my father in law, who came to visit them in 2006 .  You were just a number to us, a replacement worker lent to us by the Nazis to make up for the factory workers they took from us for the army.”

A worker bee, in other words. My dad was a worker, too. And my aunts, and my uncles.

I’ve had bees on my mind, since it is now two years since I got my hive full of bees, and a big book called “the beekeeping bible” arrived last week. I can remember their arrival date of the bees very easily since  a stranger delivered them the day after my father in law died.  His name in Polish, TRZMIEL, means ‘bumblebee,’

I had agreed to have a beehive in January of 2012, because suburban beekeepers are keeping hives to counteract the CCD epidemic, and the sad story of the bees moved me. After a year it was time to check on the bee’s health and gather some honey. I borrowed a bee suit  from another stranger–the cause celebre of bee survival is a powerful password–and helped the woman who delivered my hive a year ago take the hive apart, pick out three of 20 or so combs  and put them in a lidded container, and put the hive back together. She complimented me on my remarkable sang-froid. But after she left, I had to deal with getting the honey out of the combs. That’s the hardest part of the process and the messiest, especially without special equipment.

A couple of hours later, I opened up the container to see quite a few bees crawling around inside, covered in honey, trapped in the product of their own labor.

The sight of those struggling bees shook me up. I felt sympathy for them. More–I felt guilty for taking their honey.

So I rescued them, providing clothespins they could use as escape routes from the honey and a container with clean water where they could clean themselves off. Then I felt better, although—having made the mental leap comparing the bees to camp workers—I was not unable to decide if I was I the Joint Distribution Committee, a liberating army, or HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society).

And, do the bees I freed from the mess of honey suffer from survivor’s guilt?

I’ve been studying bees  for the past year, and now, with my new knowledge, I just conducted another honey harvest.  I  harvested twice as much honey, and many fewer bees died. Now I’m eager to get more bees, and more honey,and do it again.

See how easy it is to go from oppressed to oppressor?


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Pesach on South Beach


I plan on losing a couple of pounds this Pesach by giving up carbs during the holiday.

Now I know it sounds impossible.   Between the matzo and the macaroons, the Jell-rings and the fruit slices and the blandishments of boxes of Barton’s candy that everyone brings, gaining weight on Passover is tradition. There is a voice in our souls saying “eat, bubbeleh.”

Good thing I belong to Etz Chayim, which is a liberal synagogue. We do what is good for us, and eating  lots of matza–a product which manages to be both crunchy and sharp enough to cut the roof of your mouth, while having a taste so subtle that it needs a 1/3 inch of butter to be palatable, is not good for you.  I don’t care that the custom of eating matza is so embedded-one could even say impacted–in the Jewish psyche that one of my Seder guests passed around a picture with a picture of a matza covered toilet and the capiton “Let my people go.”  I’m planning on composting most of the matza I bought for the Seder.

I’ve gone to the farmer’s market and loaded up on my fruits and vegetables. I have a little dried fruit, too. Plantain chips are not hametz, but they are as filling as toast. For some reason, I bought 4 boxes of matza ball mix, but no matter, I can save them for next year. This year I’m having Pesach on South Beach–low carb all the way.

I started this practice about 15 years ago, when I was working at Common Ground with a macrobiotic cook.  When we were talking about Passover, she made a very interesting remark: “So you give up yeast for a week?  How healthy!”  Then she spoke about all the things people eat when they can’t eat yeast because of something called Candida, or when they have allergies to wheat, and that got me to thinking about why I ate as much Matza on Passover as I did, and the only answer was: “because I always have.”

Well, feh on that!  Here I was in California, mistress of my own household!  I was tired of the weight gain on Passover, tired of the cycle of running to the chocolate because I felt sorry for myself eating matza,  Also tired of the natural consequence of all that matza.

So I gave up the perforated bread of affliction, and brought nuts and dried fruit and cottage cheese for lunch at the store instead of matza pizza, had scrambled eggs with veggies for breakfast instead of matza brie, and instead of serving matza kugel with our dinners of Seder leftovers, I steamed a bunch of broccoli and green beans (or carrots), instead.

And the “going” problem? It went away.



Originally posted on Onecakebaker:

MONDAY, APRIL 11, 2011

Passover on South Beach
Pesach in South Beach

When we conduct the Seder, matza is called ‘the bread of affliction.’

Because strictly observing the commandment in Deuteronomy  does not just mean eating  matza instead of bread–if you take it seriously, Passover means no products made from any dough, or anything that is cooked with water and swells. That means no pasta, no noodles, no rice, no barley, no cookies, no corn,no soybeans or soy products, nothing made with corn syrup, only specially prepared extracts because regular extracts are made with grain alchohol. Oh, yes, and the swelling in water thing means no beans, no peas, no legumes of any sort.*

Matza is dense, and dry,and leaves an unbelievable amount of crumbs around the house. It can’t be toasted, and it does not satisfy the appetite. It breaks erratically, and scratches the roof of your mouth if…

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Improved Passover Apple Cake–with doubled recipe!

 I posted this apple cake recipe YEARS ago, on Blogspot, on my blog called “Melon Memories,”  which still exists, even though it is empty because blogs are hard to kill. Last Pesach, I gave the recipe to one of my guests to make.  And they improved it!  So this new, improved, recipe, is thanks to my neighbor and good friend, Melissa Baten Caswell. My improvement this year is arithmetical–I always post the recipe as I saw it first, in a cookbook, which makes enough cake for 8 people, then say at the end “double it and bake in a 9×13 pan–I always do.” This year, I do the math and post a double recipe, for a 9″x 13″ pan. The cake has a batter that goes under and around the apples and a streusel topping that goes over the apples. It gets its lightness from beaten eggs, so don’t rush the mixing process, and use a stand mixer for best results. The original recipe is from “The Complete Passover Cookbook” by Frances R. AvRutick, Jonathan David publishers, copyright 1981. Grease and dust a 9×13 pan, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. 1. Topping: Rub the margarine, brown sugar, and matza meal together by hand. The topping should have the texture of coarse corn meal. If it is too dry add a bit of margarine. Make in a small bowl, then set aside: 1 stick margarine 1  cup matza meal 1 cup brown sugar 2. Filling: Zest and juice of two Meyer lemons-if you don’t have a Meyer lemon, skip the zest, just use the juice from one regular lemon. 10 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I use the slicing disk on a food processor), tossed with the lemon juice to keep from browning. 3. Cake: 6 eggs 1 TB kosher for Passover vanilla extract 2 tsp almond extract 1 1/2 cups brown sugar 2/3 cup oil 1 1/2 cups cake meal   Assembly: In a medium-size mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and oil until the mixture is light. Add the cake meal and mix well. I use a stand mixer. Pour half the mixture into a greased and coated with cake meal 9x 13″ inch baking pan. Distribute half of the apples over the batter. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and cover with the remaining apples.  Sprinkle topping over the apples. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 1 1/2 hours. Serves 16 to 20. The cake freezes well, and is lovely reheated and served warm.

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A sobering talk on the broken paradigm of disaster relief

Remember Hurricane Sandy?
The woman does. Monica Byrne, a restauranter who lives and works in Red Hook brooklyn,  gave this Ted talk about the disaster, and why she organized her own charity  to distribute aid directly in her neighborhood to people who needed it.
I give away a lot of money, so I found it very interesting.

Also, though I have never met Monica in person, I feel like I know her because we both are on the  Shomernet list server, organized around alumni and friends or my mother’s yourth group, and  she made a lasagna whose recipe was printed in the FOOD section of the New York times a few years ago, which I have made many times, and will perhaps make for Passover.


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Passover Cleaning, Passover Cogitation

OK, put down your cleaning rag for a second and let’s talk about Passover.

What does it mean to you? For me, it is a time of deep cleaning and introspection, which leads to gratitude. It used to mean more–I would make the whole house kosher according to Chaya Kaufman rules, which meant a separation between meat and dairy by two hours and separate dishes, pots and sponges and dish racks. I don’t do that anymore because of an incident with shellfish in Japan, but that’s another blog post.

I welcome the turning the house upside down and looking for crumbs, because I always seem to find a few, and that is enough reason to clean. I am a person who attracts dirt and clutter. I swear, I used to clean my room, sit in the middle of it, and watch stuff fall off the shelves without me moving a muscle. It takes a miracle to get me to put things in order, and Passover happens to have a few of those, and also it’s a good excuse to hire my cleaning lady for a couple of extra days, and she brings a couple of helpers, and the expense is worth it, even a a mitzvah, because I’m honoring the holiday.

And Passover is a chance for me to throw out all the impulse purchases and free samples I get during the year. Yes,I’m looking at you, Karo syrup, for the marshmallows I might make someday. And you, natural snooze water that came in a “Goodies” box service, which mailed 6 new foods a month for $10/year until the company realized that there were cheaper ways to find what products would sell. And throwing out the baking powder and baking soda is just good practice.

I may be messy by nature, but I know that I don’t have any antique food. And once a year, the house gets clean.

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The Swarm was a hot property!

I was just thinking about laying down for a Sunday afternoon nap when my doorbell rang.

I retreated to the bathroom and let my husband deal with it. As usual, it didn’t work. When I came out of the bathroom, he heard the door open and came upstairs. R, the adorable six year old son of one of our neighbors on the alley, was waiting on our walk, with his bicycle, and urgent news.

“There’s billions of bees flying around and dead bees on the driveway.”

I have a beehive, and so, even though it is only a small hive that I don’t do very much to, and I have only had it two years, and opened it once, and have to call on a more experience beekeeper to do anything with it, I am the gal to call.


“I had to hurry so fast I took my sister’s bike!” R is blond and blue eyed and adorable, and six, and with just a bit longer hair he could be Christopher Robin. He and his sister ride bikes and run and play and draw on the driveway most days.  I am more of an EEyore, but listening to them does my heart good.


So I went to the driveway, which is a private dead end alley shared between five houses, and did not see a billion bees. But there were an unusual number of dead bees on the concrete. I got a dustpan and swept them up, there were about 30.


R’s dad was sitting on a bench  they had set up under a Bradford pear tree that was at the corner of their fence next to the garage and the driveway, and we talked. He kept batting away dazed bees, and then he looked straight up, and saw that

 a branch was completely covered with bees–there was a football shaped mass of bees, called a swarm, directly above him. Swarms happen in the spring when food is plentiful, a queen bee hatches, and she does not want to have a duel to the death with the the queen that is already established. Almost all bees are female, but only one is fertile and lays eggs, and she will kill a rival–so often, the rival sends some sort of signal for her neighbors to eat as much honey as they can, then  the group picks up and flies away in search of a new home.

The bunch of bees, all huddled together to keep warm, perches on a tree or the side of a house (I had one on my house once)  until the scout bees find a good new place. A swarm is prized among beekeepers much as wild salmon and free-range poultry are prized among gourmets.  They are seen as hardier and apt to be more successful.

I could not gather in the swarm, because I have only one hive and that hive is full, in fact, was probably the source of the swarm, but 24  hours later,  the bees were carted off by a volunteer beekeeper from the Santa Clara County Beekeeper’s guild, who had climbed a ladder, sawed off the branch the swarm was on, and shook them into a portable hive IN THE POURING RAIN to take somewhere else.

So if you see a swarm, call your local beekeeping guild. They will happily take it away for you.


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Live Below the Line–why?

On Monday, I got a Tweet  and an email from Zhanna Veyts, the director of online engagement for HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. She will “live below the line,” from April 28 to May 2, that is, she will eat and drink on $1.50 a day, for 5 days, to raise awareness of extreme poverty and help raise $30,000 for HIAS. Zhanna claims she was inspired by Aisha, a Darfuri refugee just exactly her age, who is dependent on HIAS for survival and yet has big dreams for the future of her newborn son.

This is something the young people with social consciences seem to do today, deny themselves for others, thinking it will help somehow, ‘raise consciousness.’

I think it’s nuts, as irrational as mothers in the 40s, 50s, and 60s saying ‘finish your food, there are children starving in _____,” was.

Now I spend about $1.50 a day paying Weight Watchers to help me track my food so I can lose weight.  I didn’t go to the guidelines, so I don’t know if spending $1.50 a day to NOT eat is the same as spending $1.50 a day to eat, or if it entitles me to spend $3.00 a day, or what.

Me being hungry is not going to feed the refugees around the world today, just as me finishing my dinner wasn’t going to help them 50 years ago. What will help is actually making the donations to the charities that actually feed people, like the JDC and HIAS and the Red Cross and other NGOS who actually feed refugees. Starving yourself will not help anyone. But watching Hugh Jackman is fun, so I’ll include his “live below the line” video here.

The “Live Below the Line” meme was created in 2009, in Australia, by a couple of activists in a ‘share house,’ who wanted to raise awareness of extreme poverty. Hugh Jackman is Australian. Coincidence? I think not.

For a person in a civilized Western country to follow these guidelines is just a stunt, like sitting on a pole or stuffing a phone booth, or a walkathon, or readathon, or even a charity run or ride or marathon.

Can you tell I’ve been giving money away for 45 years, 52 years if you count Unicef and JNF boxes I used as a child, and I’ve gotten jaded?

I’m going to look at those guidelines now, and see if you can use stuff already in your house during the challenge.  I could probably eat a bland, starchy diet, supplemented by greens from my garden, for 5 days without spending a dime.

Perfect to clean the house before Passover.


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