Flowers and Portraits: Why I Post Flowers

Bouquet with mask and flowers for Purim, watercolor
I painted the bouquet of flowers (note the purple irises and the mask) that I bought from Roberts Florals in Highland Park, New Jersey on Purim. My guests enjoyed the bouquet along with the meal. I am relatively pleased with the result of the painting.

My current ultimate goal is to get better at painting portraits. I am confident in my flower painting abilities. I could improve in details, but I do not strive to be a realistic floral artist. One reason I chose to paint the bouquet is it was a good warm up to painting after Shabbat and after a week of little painting in general.

Why I failed miserably at 100 people week

Early in March there was a competition to draw or paint 100 people in a week. My start was delayed by Purim; I had lots of preparations to do for the holiday, and guests showed up to entertain us at our seudah (festive meal). Finally, I went out one day with my sketchpad and doodled quite a few people. I did not care much for the result, so it is not getting posted here. Then I ran out of time to go outside and look for people. So I went up to my attic late one night, and I took down several photos of people that I found inspirational.

How 100 people week Inspired Portraiture Adventures

boy showing a flower to a chicken, gouache painting
One of the photos that I found was one of my sons showing a dandelion to a chicken. I did one quick sketch; the proportions of the head were off. I started another. I continued painting into the night, and I am please with the result: gouache media, lots of strokes and movement. I like how the light falls on the figures and the variety of hues established.

Here is another portrait that I did, from an old black and white photo of a relative eating soup. This portrait is also done with gouache. Maybe I will do another version in the future with more attention to the background.
man in hat eating soup

More Flowers to Show

Whenever I go shopping with a certain friend, I am done long before she is. No problem! Each store seems to have a section of flowers. So I put my paid groceries in the car, and I return to draw with a Uniball pen whatever strikes me in the store. Often, the flowers stand out. Here are a few of my favorites:

buy local flowers
This one was painted after another one that had the brand name of a large chain store got rejected from an online shop that sells artists’ goods. Lesson learned: buy local flowers. Advertise local stores. No need to ruffle the feathers of any large chain stores.

flowers with palette
I often like painting a palette of colors near my watercolors. This palette compliments the flowers nicely, organic flowers shapes near geometric squares.

More on Painting Flowers

I am reading Painting Flowers in Watercolor with Charles Reid, a classic in the watercolor book world. Two ideas that I look forward to incorporating in future watercolor floral sketches or paintings:
1) Pay attention to negative shapes that the flowers make almost as much as to the flowers themselves. Do not overwork the details. Paint the background along with painting the flowers. The background should not be an after thought.
2) When painting the background, don’t do one solid expanse of one color. Do a variety of color in a mix that compliments whatever flowers one is painting.

Charles Reid uses a lot of cadmiums in his palette (Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange). I will substitute colors in my palette, probably Hansa Yellow (light, medium, or dark) and New Gamboge. One exercise is to paint daffodils. Another is techniques for white flowers. Daffodils and magnolias are in bloom now. Hopefully, I will be able to experiment with his ideas.

It is now the Jewish month of Nissan. In Nissan we celebrate freedom on Passover. We are also commanded to say blessing on a fruit tree when it shows its first blossoms. I will be looking around my neighborhood for all kinds of blossoms for blessings and for sketches.

Mushroom Paté — Passover Dip

oyster mushrooms watercolor
Watercolor of oyster mushrooms purchased from the mushroom stand at the Highland Park Farmers Market



  • 1 lb. mushrooms
    (I used a bag of oyster mushrooms from the Highland Park Farmers Market — marked as 1 lb.)
  • 1 large onion
  • Olive oil (or coconut oil)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt or to taste
  • Spices or dried herbs (I used dried thyme)

This mushroom paté (or mushroom dip or mushroom spread) can be made in a short time. Chop then sauté the onion in olive oil (add salt at the cooking point so it will absorbed well and not be so salty if added later). Add the mushrooms, chopped into pieces. Put the onions, mushrooms, and walnuts in the food processor, then add dried herbs. Turn on the food processor until the mixture is smooth or slightly chunky. Klara Levine, who gave me this recipe, suggested it should be the consistency of haroset.

I wrote a previous version of the mushroom paté recipe here. Enjoy Pesach to all those who celebrate – and to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, enjoy spring.

Mushroom Paté

Mushroom Paté with onions and walnuts
Mushroom Paté with onions and walnuts


  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms
  • 1 large onion
  • Olive oil (or coconut oil)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • Sea salt
  • Spices or dried herbs (I used dried thyme once, fresh thyme another time – time for a thyme joke?)

Suitable for Passover or any time of the year one wants a tasty, easy to make spread, this mushroom paté (or mushroom dip or mushroom spread) can be made in a short time. Chop then sauté the onion in olive oil (add salt at the cooking point so it will absorbed well and not be so salty if added later). Add the mushrooms, chopped into pieces. Put the onions and mushrooms in the food processor, then add the salt and dried herbs. Turn on the food processor until the mixture is smooth. Add the walnuts – you can chop the nuts finely or in bigger chucks, as you prefer. Klara Levine, who gave me this recipe, suggested it should be the consistency of haroset.

Update in 2015: Klara says add the salt when sautéing the onions or mushrooms – cook salt into the food, never add at the end.

This was originally published on April 4, 2010. As an experiment, I am republishing it on April 9, 2015. Enjoy the rest of Pesach to all those who celebrate – and to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, enjoy spring.

Spring Brings Striped Purple Crocus

spring striped purple crocus
Spring has finally arrived in the form of striped purple crocuses. One of the names of the upcoming holiday of Pesach (also known as Passover) is Ḥag HaAviv or Holiday of Spring. An advantage of Passover coming early this year is the by the time the magnolias and dogwoods are in bloom, our Passover cleaning/cooking will be done, and we will better be able to enjoy the spring buds. Next year there will be an extra month of Adar so Passover will be later in the spring. If we didn’t have that extra month of Adar, we might be celebrating Pesach in the winter.

In renaming this blog, I had some ideas of settling into a particular niche. I’ve read oh how a proper blog should have a niche and stick with it. Well, I fear that may not come to be, as I have all sorts of ideas for this blog, and rarely are they consistently of one sort or another. A friend today gave me a poem she had written several years ago. It is somewhat biographical, and it also alludes some of the difficulties of the Sacrifice of Isaac. So stay tuned for that one. I have in mind to write a review of Ester and Ruzya, a wonderful book. Some ideas for interviews of other bloggers have come into my head on a particular topic – we will see if I follow through with that one. And once I get back to my art group, I suspect that art exercises and sketches will again be topics for blog discussions.

What can one say about a striped purple crocus? It’s symbolism seems to be universal, as it often pushes out of the ground before other flowers do (my neighbor’s snow drops appeared a while back, however). The word crocus is Greek, and it may have its roots in the Hebrew כרכום karkōm. I am guessing that this is a Crocus vernus.

Happy Pesach to those who celebrate. Happy Easter to those who celebrate that holiday. And happy spring of crocuses, forsythia, tulips and daffodils and whatever grows in your part of the world to all.

Matza, Nuts and Chocolate

chocolate covered matza with nuts
Have any leftover matza? See any matza for sale and wonder what one might do with it? Here’s an easy dessert I made with my daughter during Passover.


  • 1 bag chocolate chips
  • 1 sheet of matza, broken into pieces
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite nuts (walnuts, almonds or pecans) broken into pieces
  • Paper plates, a large spoon and wax paper

If you want, you can soak the nuts for a few hours to make them more chewable. Melt the chocolate chips in a saucepan. Add broken matza and nuts and mix with the chocolate. Put a sheet of wax paper on a paper plate (the flat white kind that one puts in the microwave work best). Put a spoonful of the chocolate mixture unto the wax paper. Repeat until you have filled the wax paper (you can probably fit about 5 or 6 of these on a paper plate). Repeat on another paper plate (our mixture made two platefuls). Place flat in the freezer. Serve straight from the freezer.

Do you have any fun, creative matza dishes?

Burning Chametz

chametz burning in Edison New Jersey
Before Pesach we have a custom of burning chametz (bread, crackers, cereal, pasta, anything made of five grains: wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt). When I was a kid, I remember burning chametz in our backyard. Now there are laws about creating fires, so observant Jews get special permission to burn chametz. This burning took place in Edison, New Jersey.

chametz burn lulav
A tradition we have in our family (and others do as well) is to burn the lulav, the palm branch left over from Sukkot, the fall holiday in which we sit in a booth outside for a week.

smokey bread chametz and lulav
In this photo you can see both lulavim (plural of lulav) and real bread. It got quite smokey – my husband doesn’t remember it being so smokey in the past. Maybe this is because the regular Edison staff were on vacation for Good Friday and a nice person was left in charge who didn’t quite manage the smoke? I don’t know, but I left there sniffing my clothes, wondering if I smelt like someone who had walked into a smokey bar.

I had enough time to attend biur chametz (burning of the chametz) this year because I managed to get all the cooking I had planned the day before and early in the morning. One of the most popular dishes among my sister-in-law’s family that I made was mushroom paté; personally, my favorite was the marinated beets with ginger and garlic. Planning to make both of those again tomorrow.

Forsythia Spring Symbol

two forsythia blooms
Forsythia is called a harbinger of spring. I’m getting ready for Passover – one the nicknames for the holiday is Festival of Spring.

Post Pesach Pause

blooming trees in Highland Park, New Jersey
Blossoms on Trees in Highland Park, New Jersey

Those of us recovering? re-emerging? from having celebrated Pesach (no noodles, no bread, no pretzels, no oatmeal, no breakfast cereal except for ones that should be outlawed, no rice if Ashkenazi, no beans if Ashkenazi, no corn chips if Ashkenazi, no peanut butter if Ashkenazi, no popcorn if Ashkenazi and lots of cooking and food and meals) may be experiencing difficulty in reconnecting with the planet. I think a good night sleep tonight for me will help do the trick. More importantly, my kids finally return to school tomorrow, though my eldest sighs it was too short a break.

Any Pesach recuperators having a hard time looking at a potato?

Some great links:

I’m reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I finished Harriet Reisen’s Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. It left me with great admiration for Louisa May Alcott – she worked hard to support her family (never married – she supported parents and sisters), volunteered as a nurse in the Civil War, and in an era when women had few choices of livelihood, became rich and famous. She unfortunately became ill in her middle years and died at age 55 probably of complications from lupus.

Feel free to talk about whatever you like, as long as it’s not rude. (the people who comment on this blog make the world seem like remarkably polite folks – what a group of mensches, that is, good, polite folks).

Bitter to Sweet Radish Salad

radish salad
Radishes in Beet Juice with Oranges and Parsley

Avdus L’Herus (Slavery to Freedom) Salad Revisited

Passover is a challenge even for vegetable salads – sometimes one cannot get a certain condiment with a Pesach hashgacha (approval) that adds flavor, so one gets creative. Last year I blogged about the Slavery to Freedom Salad. This year I became enamored of a macrobiotic dish of pickled radishes with umeboshi paste. Since I cannot get the umeboshi paste for Passover, I came up with this combination of the two salads:


  • 3 fresh beets – boiled and beet juice preserved
  • 1 bag of red radishes, sliced
  • 1 bunch chopped mint (or substitute parsley or cilantro)
  • 3 navel oranges, cut into pieces
  • 1 half chopped red onion

Cut the radishes into circles and cook them until slightly soft in the beet juice. Mix with oranges, chopped parsley and red onion. Serve at room temperature.

•    •    •

Beet Salad

Don’t know what to do with the cooked beets? Here is what I put together:

Peel the beets after boiling. Discard skins. Chop into circular pieces (and then cut in half again, if desired). Drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Garnish with scallion and parsley. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice.

Pesach Recipes and Musings

Sponge Cake 2008, watercolor by Leora Wenger
Sponge Cake 2008, watercolor by Leora Wenger

I got two endearing comments last night on my sponge cake recipe (or Esther Robfogel’s z”l recipe) that I posted two years ago:

Esther G. Robfogel (1904-1997) was my mother. I ate her excellent sponge cakes on Pesach and throughout the year for many decades. I hope that my granddaughter, Esther F. Robfogel, will carry on the tradition.
– Nathan J. Robfogel

I’m Esther Robfogel’s daughter. Although I used to bake with my mom, baking was never my forte. As it happens, I was thinking about making mom’s cake this year. After reading your blog, I know I will. Thanks.
– Hanna

For more recipes, be sure to visit Phyllis’ aka Imabima’s latest posting of the Kosher Cooking Carnival, Rosh Chodesh Nisan edition.

Also see:

On a sad note, two men in Teaneck, New Jersey died walking home from shul at the end of Shabbat when a tree fell on them. I can’t imagine what Pesach is going to be like for those two mourning families.