On Margarine, Macrobiotics and More: Interview with Leora

Today’s interview is with reader Leora from Here in Highland Park. Leora designed the new banner for Cooking Manager. If you are reading via email or RSS you may not have seen it yet.
Leora in the Galilee in Israel

  1. Name, location, family.
    Leora Wenger, Highland Park, NJ, family=1 husband, 2 boys, 1 girl, 1 father two blocks away.
  2. What do you remember about family meals when you were growing up?
    One of my favorite dishes my mother made was rice, chicken, vegetables and tomatoes in a large dutch oven (thick-walled cooking pot – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_oven).  She also made delicious broiled chicken.  When she served a dairy, weekday meal, she would usually serve my father and herself fish and noodles to us.  She enjoyed making soups, and each was different – don’t ask how to repeat each soup.  She didn’t enjoy baking, so we didn’t have home-baked goods often.  My paternal grandmother baked; I have fond memories of her cinnamon sugar cookies made with cookie cutters.  My father sometimes made scrambled eggs with onions and peppers on Sunday morning.
  3. How is your cooking style different from your mother’s?
    My mother cooked white rice; I cook almost exclusively whole grain brown rice.  Much of my cooking style is in reaction to her illness; she died of colon cancer. I learned how to make macrobiotic dishes when she became ill, but she was not interested in learning or eating macrobiotic food.  This past year I met Klara Levine (through your other blog), and with her guidance I started making some macrobiotic dishes regularly (pickled radishes and fresh tekka, for example – links on my blog if you want). But no one in my family is really interested in eating that way, though it has influenced my choices in how to prepare food and what to cook.On a separate note, I bake more than mother ever did.  I learned early in my marriage that my husband loves baked goods; my boys seemed to have picked up his love of pastries as well.  So I have gotten good at challah, cakes and pies.  When my boys help in the kitchen, it is usually by baking a dessert.
  4. Is there any food or foods you don’t ever bring into the house?
    I stay away from margarine.  While my mother used margarine a lot due to a false belief held by many in the twentieth century that it was healthy, I avoid it like the plague.  My father used to bring photocopies of a study at Harvard Medical School to restaurants to show them how bad margarine is.  When he saw that most people weren’t interested, he stopped doing that.  But it was a way for him to deal with my mother’s illness and death.
  5. How old were you when you started cooking? How did you learn?
    My mother taught us both (my brother and me) basic cooking skills along the way (how to fry an egg, how to make spaghetti).
    Around the time she went back to work (part-time when I was 10, full-time when I was about 14), if I wanted a scrumptious dinner, she would show me the page in the cookbook and ask me to do it myself.  Thus I learned how to make lasagna and chocolate mousse, my two favorite dishes as a child (not counting macaroni and cheese, my absolute childhood favorite).  I remember having a full day playdate with a friend where we cooked lasagna and chocolate mousse.
  6. Do you entertain? On Hanukah I made latkes *and* sufganiyot (filled doughnuts) fresh for two families besides our own.  My children must have helped somewhat – oh, yes, they made sugar cookies, if you call that helping.  I spent most of the time of that dinner party in the kitchen, but those sufganiyot were so good.  We had none left at the end.  On Purim my middle son wanted eggrolls, so the two of us made an assembly line where he filled the wrappers with the filler and I did the frying.  I would never have done that by myself.
  7. What is your biggest cooking challenge? Finding foods thaLeora daughter winet my children all like that are healthy.  One child likes one dish, and the other turns up his nose.  They inherited my pickiness.
  8. What posts on CM have you enjoyed?
    Interview with Ilana-Davita
    Guide to Buying Gluten-Free Products on Passover. Great idea, linking Passover products and celiac disease.  I have a friend who suffers a similar ailment, and she wishes it were Passover all year, because the foods excluded on Passover are mainly the ones she can’t eat (grains).
    How to Make Sourdough Starter. Even though I gave up because my kitchen started to smell and my eldest son greatly preferred my fluffy breads with commercial yeast.
    Suggestions: Interview other cooking blog managers
    Perhaps a contest?  But you would have to give us a lot of time.[CM: Like a cooking contest? An efficiency contest? Intriguing idea.]
  9. What would you like to change about your cooking style in the next year?
    Learn more macrobiotic and other healthy recipes.  I started to learn macrobiotic pickling last year (it only requires salt and a vegetable, but it takes a month and special equipment), but I never took out the time to do it.  Maybe this coming year.  In general, I read nutrition books, and some have recipes.  I also would like to cook more Sephardi dishes.
  10. Can you recommend any cookbooks?
    Any book by Mollie Katzen, especially the Moosewood Cookbook
    Adventures in Jewish Cooking by Jeff Nathan (he’s a great teacher)
    Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas
    A Fistful of Lentils by Jennifer Abadi
  11. Websites:
    Israeli Kitchen by Mimi
    Get Healthy with Carol
    Page of macrobiotic recipes by Meg Wolff

Thanks so much, Leora, for sharing your memories of your dear mother and your ups and downs in the kitchen. I’ll publish the recipe she sent on another day.


  1. I see you got in the photo of my daughter doing wine tasting! Makes me laugh all over again.

    Thanks for interviewing me, Hannah.

  2. Great post Leora. Colon cancer also has a strong genetic side. Has anyone talked to you about that.
    What is macrobiotic?

  3. Ariela, colon cancer is not as strong genetically as people think. A friend’s father is a top researcher at Tufts; even for those with the gene for colon cancer, if a person eats a better diet, one’s survival rate is much, much better. Their family does have the gene for colon cancer. When colon cancer appears when one is about forty, then it is usually the gene. When it appears later, as it did for my mother (she was in her sixties when diagnosed), diet places a much stronger role.

    To learn more about macrobiotics, Google it. For many, it has been the difference between life and death. In general, doctors do not study nutrition, so they are often poor sources for improving one’s diet.

    • What does the researcher at Tufts think about macrobiotics? Is there scientific basis for avoiding eggplants and tomatoes?

  4. Great interview betweent two great blog friends…

  5. Jew Wishes says

    What a poignant and wonderful interview. Thank you for posting this.

  6. I’ve never asked the Tufts person about eggplants and tomatoes, but people with arthritis would do well to learn about nightshades and find out whether it effects their health. For some arthritics, avoiding nightshades can make a big difference.

  7. Thank you Leora for the two links to my blog and your kind words.
    Thank you Hannah for this wonderful series of interviews.
    I have very little time for blog reading this week as we have visitors from Sweden but I am glad I read this post.


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