Dear Shaina,

We returned from a luxurious month-long trek out west to an empty (and remarkably clean) home. You were away with a friend. I immersed myself in laundry, bills and the production of gallons of chicken soup. You came home, and holiday prep began in earnest. Soon you will be leaving again, this time for Israel for a year.

My head is spinning! The best part of having the holidays come so early is that you will be home for all of them, including Sukkot. Yes, I got my wish to have you home for the holidays…but time is still passing too quickly.

Time is swallowed up and gulped down as we endlessly cook for the holiday celebrations, plan plane schedules and visa arrangements and discuss packing strategies and health care. Hovering in the background is Syria and gas masks and border issues.

I pray, in my own way, for peace, for safety, for health and happiness and, above all, for mazel (luck). A little mazel is the spice that emboldens all the other prayers. I want it all, for you and for us. Yet I know it is beyond my control.

So I cook…and try to feed you before you leave.

I cook to share moments with you in the kitchen. I cook because it keeps my hands and my thoughts and my attention occupied. I cook because it is a transparent process that produces concrete and mostly predictable results. I cook to bring to my table the tastes of my memories and the people I love and care about. It is one activity that is within my control…sort of.

The last of the summer garden is coming in. Dad brought home a huge paper sack of fresh okra and some beautiful large red peppers, a fine harvest for our Sukkot menu. Of course, I will roast the okra whole with a little olive oil and salt and pepper, and we’ll be snacking on it like popcorn until we’re sick. Whoever thought okra could be such a treat!

I think I’ll stuff the peppers and maybe a few other fall veggies. Bubbe used to stuff peppers with ground meat mixed with rice and covered with tomato sauce. It never occurred to me that I could stuff other vegetables until a friend of mine in graduate school made stuffed everything—zucchini, squash, even onions.

I have long since given up the ground beef. There are so many more interesting grains and vegetables to use for fillings. I may even try adding some of your exotic spices to give this old dish a new twist.

It’s back to the kitchen for more chopping and dicing and sautéing. It’s the only way I can keep my mind from thinking about how quickly this month is flying by.

Love, Mom