The Jew And The Carrot

Shabbat Meals: The Cake That Bested Chemo

By Tamar Fox

  • Print
  • Share Share
Tamar Fox

In February of 2008 I was living in Nashville, finishing up graduate school at Vanderbilt University. One Friday morning in February I boarded a plane bound for Chicago, heading to my parents’ house to surprise them for Shabbat. My mother had just finished chemotherapy for breast cancer, and on the phone she sounded worn out and depressed. An automatic fare alert had notified me that I could get amazingly cheap tickets to Chicago for the weekend, and on a whim I decided to go.

In the days before my trip I made up an elaborate plan. My uncle would pick my up from the airport and drive me home. I planned the menu and coordinated with a family friend who went grocery shopping for me, and left the groceries at our next door neighbor’s house for me to retrieve when I arrived.

Soon I was standing with my uncle on my parents front porch, knocking on the door and waiting nervously for my mother’s reaction. She answered the door in pajamas, looking gaunt and exhausted. She wasn’t wearing her glasses, and at first didn’t recognize me. When she realized who I was she kept saying, “Tamar? But what are you doing here?” Then she hugged hard, and said, “Oh, I was just lying here wishing you were here.”

All afternoon she kept telling me how glad she was that I had come, reaching out and holding my hand or rubbing my shoulder. She was still feeling the effects of the chemo, and she spent most of the day lying on the couch with her eyes closed, chatting with me as I cooked our Friday night dinner. It was strange to cook without her help — by that point I was already a hostess in my own right, but whenever I returned to my parents’ house, I was accustomed to cooking alongside my mother. It was the first time I could remember when she didn’t do any work for the meal.

Choosing the menu had been a challenge. Many foods had become unappealing to my mom during chemo. Eventually I settled on some family standards — gazpacho, Spanikopita, beet salad with goat cheese and spinach, and for dessert, a pareve pear and pistachio cake.

Dinner came out beautifully, and I have never been so happy to be sitting at a Friday night table with my parents. The big hit of the evening was the pear and pistachio cake. For months my mom hadn’t been interested in anything sweet, but on that night she ate two pieces, and kept everything down. A small, but meaningful triumph to a daughter who had been feeling so helpless for so long.

Just two weeks later we found out that my mom’s cancer had gotten stronger. She passed away seven months after that surprise Shabbat. Looking back, making that meal is one of the most meaningful and important memories I have from that whole painful year. I make the pear and pistachio cake regularly, and every time I make it I think of that day I surprised her, and how she said, “Oh, I was just lying here wishing you were here.”

Pear and Pistachio Cake

For Bowl A:

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon allspice or cardamom

For Bowl B:

¾ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
3 pears, cores removed, diced into half-inch pieces (don’t bother peeling the pears)
1 cup pistachios (shelled)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a Bundt pan with cooking spray.

1) Mix all the ingredients for bowl A together.

2) Mix all the ingredients for bowl B together.

3) Combine wet ingredients with dry with a spoon or fork. Keep in mind that this is a dry batter, so just make sure you get all the flour mixed with the oil. It should have a streusel texture, so clumps are okay. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to mix things.

4) Spread the batter into the greased Bundt pan.

5) Bake in 350F oven for 65-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Variation: Replace the pears with apples and the pistachios with walnuts for a delicious apple cake.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Shabbat Meals, Shabbat Dinner, Cancer, Pareve Cake, Pear Pistachio Cake, Shabbat Dessert, Cake

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.