I recently interviewed Judie Tenenbaum, a member of Temple Emanu-El, who is an attorney, advocate, consummate baker, harpist and Renaissance woman.
I have worked with Judie on the temple’s Yom HaShoah committee for several years, and have always admired her understated strength, talent and contributions. Judie always brought cookies and other baked goods to our meetings, to the delight of everyone there.
Judie is married, and has been a happy resident of Providence for 24 years. All three of her adult children know how to bake, and now her grandchildren are learning, thanks to their mother, their grandmother (known as “Babka”), and “The British Baking Show.”
Here are excerpts from my interview with Judie:
When did you start baking and how did it become a passion?
I started baking when I was 8 years old, and have never stopped. My mother wasn’t a fan of being in the kitchen, so she was more than happy to have someone else doing the baking!
When I went to college, my mother received care packages from me. I would bake in the little dorm kitchen and would sometimes send what I had baked to my mother.
One time, my dorm friends asked me to bake cookies for them. The problem was that I didn’t have enough butter or sugar in my supplies that I kept on hand. [But] I had figured out that three pats of butter equaled one tablespoon of butter, and 8 tablespoons of butter made a 1/2 cup of butter. A similar formula worked for the sugar packets.
So, on the day that my friends asked for cookies, we all went through the cafeteria line at school and gathered enough packets of butter and sugar to make cookies!
Cookies specifically, and other baked goodies, seem to work magic. If someone is sad, overworked, needing a “you thought about me,” and cookies arrive, it seems to make a difference. Cookies, and cakes and pies and muffins, etc., are a necessity to celebrate a birthday or any other happy event.
How do you make pareve desserts without sacrificing flavor and nutrition?
To make pareve desserts, you have to carefully pick your recipes. Some recipes would be dreadful if adapted to pareve. Other recipes, work perfectly. I always look for recipes, such as an apple cake, that use oil instead of butter. Its flavor is dependent on apples, and cinnamon, and any other spices you’ve added along the way.
You are also a harpist. When did you learn this instrument and why?
I learned to play the harp when I was in middle school. It is a mystery how I came to be interested in playing the harp. Once I started, there was no stopping me.
When you see the joy in someone’s face when you have played for their wedding, or a funeral, or at their hospital bedside, or any other occasion, how can you stop playing?
Tell us about how you serve underserved children as an attorney.
I have approximately 50 children clients who are in state custody with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts because of abuse and neglect. I enjoy working with kids. I try to be a little piece of happiness in their difficult lives. You’ll never guess who is happiest to receive my cookies!
You also love color and wear such colorful clothes.
My clothes are bright and colorful! They make me happy! And what’s amazing is that they do that for others!
Do you have a special baking story/memory?
My daughter, Tova, recently had a birthday. She requested that I make our special recipe for brownies. Their nickname is “BFTPO.” It’s a family secret what those initials stand for. [the recipe is below]. My other daughter, Abi, has requested my cheesecake for her birthday.
PATRICIA RASKIN, owner of Raskin Resources Productions, is an award-winning radio producer, business owner and leader. She is on the board of directors of Temple Emanu-El, in Providence, and is a recipient of the Providence Business News 2020 Leaders and Achievers award. Her “Positive Aging with Patricia Raskin” podcast is broadcast on the Rhode Island PBS website, ripbs.org/positiveaging.