Tortillas and Tomatillo Sauce

By: Stephen & Adam Podowitz-Thomas

Stephen and I fell in love over freshly-made tortillas and tomatillo sauce.  Our first official date was at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in downtown Palo Alto, CA, nearby where we were both in graduate school.  I had spent some time building a schoolhouse near Merida, Mexico when I was eighteen, and loved the food and culture I experienced while there.  Ever since, I have kept an eye out for authentic Mexican places, but had never heard of this tiny place that Stephen raved about.  Nervously venturing into the restaurant, I was excited by the aromas I smelled and the sight of Stephen standing up to greet me.  Needless to say, the food was stellar, but even more so the company.

We made many more visits to La Morenita, often sitting at the same table as that first date.  I was excited one visit to spot chilaquiles on the menu (a breakfast favorite from my time in Mexico), and Stephen was always happy to get another order of their chicken sopes (a dish hard to find in Manhattan, his collegiate stomping grounds).  It was also at the restaurant that we realized that we both wanted kids, after laughing at a child delightfully chowing down on his first tortilla chip.

TNF Tortillas Adoption Stephen Adam Iberico Crop

Stephen mulling over our options at a traditional tapas restaurant

Over the years, eating out and trying new foods have become a big part of our lives.  We look for restaurants serving cuisines we haven’t seen before and get to know the places we live and visit through the foods they share with us.  Developing memories of Hawaii while eating the best saimin (a noodle dish) on Kauai during our honeymoon and hiking a tall hill in San Francisco for Nepalese food has kept our relationship interesting and fun.  Further, this sense of exploration, instilling a deep sense of wonder and discovery in both of us, is something we hope to impart to our kids in the future, because it was such a key lesson of our own childhoods.

Sharing food and the love that it entails has fed into other aspects of our lives, from our own exploits in the kitchen that we discussed in our last post to planning our recent wedding.  One of the very first decisions we made in the planning process was that we wanted a family-style wedding dinner with our closest friends and family gathered around a communal table.  We purposely kept our guest list small and on a beautiful August day in California, were able to enjoy a meal where passing dishes was expected, while laughter and conversation filled the air.  The night reminded us of the many family dinners we had when we were kids, surrounded by our loved ones, and enjoying food prepared by our parents.  And we hope that it was simply the first of many dinner parties for us, parties that we hope to eventually share with kids of our own.


Our family and friends sharing food and conversation at our wedding

Read more about Stephen & Adam and their adoption process on Facebook.


Rediscovering the Foods of Our Family

By: Stephen & Adam Podowitz-Thomas


The fish swam lazy laps around the tub, ignoring the ring of grime, and wondering what it had done to deserve this temporary imprisonment in porcelain.  My grandmother had arrived with the carp from her parents’ fish shop on the lower east side, intent on turning it into gefilte fish for that night’s dinner.

“Hold on a second,” my husband, Adam, said,  “she put a live, whole fish in the bathtub?”

While it was certainly one of the stranger things my family used to do, the story exemplifies the impression food from my childhood has left on me.  I was telling him the story because we were working on a recipe for a Passover dish, something that came from my past, and something we hoped to share with a child of our own in the near future.

My husband and I had been talking about growing our family through adoption for sometime before we decided the moment was right to start the process. We carefully researched our options and settled on domestic open adoption because we wanted our future child to know their birthparents.  We hope to have an open relationship with our child’s birthparents, as well. We wanted our child to have very positive associations with being adopted and know that everyone in their extended family (particularly, us and the birthparents) loves them.

Once we found the right open adoption agency, we were off and running. From our first information session to “going live” (in adoption lingo, that’s screened, approved and available to match with birthparents), we took about 1 1/2 months. That’s pretty fast for our agency, considering we had background checks, health screens, home visits, and many rounds of edits to our “dear birthmother” letter, but we were motivated to get it started.

And then began the waiting part of the process. Given how fast we got the paperwork portion done, you can probably tell that Adam and I like to keep things moving.  Rather than just wait, we decided to use the time to think about the things that really mattered to us growing up.


Baking Cookies at Grandma Thomas’ House


One of the things that makes us both think of family is food.  Adam grew up in Georgia and North Carolina and has fond memories of helping prepare his mother’s mac ‘n’ cheese and his Aunt Deanie’s dill bread.  I grew up in New Jersey in a family with Eastern European roots, and I loved visiting my grandparents in New York, where they would cook stuffed cabbage, borscht, and sweet noodle kugel.  Adam and I have decided that there won’t be any fish swimming in our bathtub, but thinking about our family traditions made us realize how much food has been a part of them for both of our families. We decided our love of cooking and the foods we remember fondly growing up were things we wanted to pass on to our child.

We set out to find those recipes and create our own versions of family classics, but between spending many years in school and moving to the other side of the country, we had forgotten many of the basics.

My first stop was my mother.  I wanted my bubbie’s borscht recipe for us to try out that weekend.  “She never wrote it down,” my mother responded.  The same held true for most of my grandparents’ recipes.

Adam didn’t have much more luck. His family was a bit better about putting things down in writing, but when it came to Aunt Deanie’s dill bread, we hit a dead end. He knew which cookbooks some of the standards–brownies, biscuits, and beans–came out of, but there was no way to completely recreate the more special, and therefore more important, recipes.

While we didn’t have much luck sleuthing out written recipes, we still had our taste memories and the little bit of information our parents could provide.  Armed with this base minimum, we have started experimenting.  We’ve been taking advantage of online resources and cookbooks with ingredients and techniques that sound like they will reproduce the food we remember.  Sometimes things don’t come out quite the same, but in most cases our intuitions have served us well.  We’ve been incredibly stubborn, recreating recipes over and over again, changing small ingredients and tiny processes until it tastes the way it did when we were five.

One of our early successes was with kreplach soup.  I remember going to a diner in New York near my grandmother’s house that had the most amazing kreplach, small “Jewish dumplings” often filled with coarse ground beef.  It took grinding meat dozens of different ways (some were too fine, some had too much gristle, others had the wrong flavor), not to mention playing with the dough (figuratively and literally–our cat decided pieces of dough looked like balls she should steal off the counter and hide under the couch), until we got it right. But wow, when we hit, we hit it spot on.


Our first attempt at making Kreplach


We have also found ways to blend our food traditions, including stunning versions of sweet potato bourbon kugel, pecan pie rugelach, and dill challah.  Believe it or not, Jewish and Southern food pair unbelievably well, at least if you’re willing to leave out the ham hock in the green beans (which Adam still swears is a sacrilege).  By sharing the flavors from our childhoods, we’ve learned more about one another and begun developing our own traditions that we’ll be able to share with our future children.  We may not be a traditional “blended” family, but we’re certainly discovering new ways of combining our pasts and developing an image of our future.

With all of the work we’ve been putting in to these recipes, we decided it might be worthwhile to record them, both so we can recreate them in the future, and to hopefully make it easier to pass them on to our future kids.  Our blog, Biscuits & Brisket, was born from this effort.  As is so frequently the case, writing the stories that we associate with these foods has brought back other memories and more recipes to try.  It has also created more traditions for us.

While we’re still waiting to match with a birth mom, we’re feeling increasingly confident that when we do, we’ll have the ability to share our love, both for each other and with our child, through our food.  We’ll teach them about the traditions that we hold dear, and create more of our own. And we won’t have any fish swimming in our bathtub.

Read more about Stephen & Adam’s journey to adoption on our profile page.


Play It Again Sam

November 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families, Family, Single Parents, Wendy Rhein

By: Wendy Rhein

Sam's Dance Party

At 20 months Sam is very clear about his needs: his special music must start when he wakes and go on again when he goes to sleep. Throughout the day it is music that soothes him and engages him when all else fails. Overwhelmed? Music. Overtired? Music. Shortout the general pissiness of an almost two-year-old? Music.

This summer I took the boys to a bluegrass concert. I was poised for it to be a bust because it was late in the evening after a day of playing in the sun. Nate curled up next to me, feet tucked under him, leaning in with his eyes closed. Sam sat on my lap, back rod straight, entranced by the banjos and fiddles, opening and closing his hands, finger tips to finger tips, the picture of joy and amazement.

He learned to snap before he could walk. When he was twelve months old his pediatrician was shocked to see him snapping with both hands while rocking out to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” in his waiting room. He brought out two other doctors to see little Sam snap. Sam just bopped his head and drooled.

I love this about him. Music has been a constant source of comfort in my life as well and like for many of us I know that music is intertwined with memories in such a way that an old song immediately calls up visceral memories of a first sweet kiss or a college road trip with girlfriends. When I was pregnant with Nate I played him music all the time (and was so thankful that I had an office and not a cubicle so I could inch up the volume when I felt the need or felt the extra kicks). His favorites during the end of my pregnancy included Queen, Martina McBride, and John Denver. I developed a birthing playlist and Nate was born to the sounds of the Village People’s YMCA and John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads. I know, I know. I was nine months pregnant, irrationally nostalgic, and huge. Cut me some slack. They seemed like good choices at the time. To this day, Nate loves music with a beat you can dance to, a ditty that Dick Clark would give a 10.

With Sam, like so many things, I wonder where this love comes from. Were his birth parents musical? Did his birth mother play music for him while she was pregnant? Was there music in their home? What did he hear? He loves Bob Marley – did she play him reggae? And what about his penchant for standing up and bouncing to A Capella choirs like the Straight No Chaser my sister has given him? Where did that response come from?

I will never know the answers to my questions about his history and his cell memory. As an adoptive parent, I can’t say he has his mother’s eyes or Uncle Joe’s laugh and that’s ok. In fact it can be a good thing. This is just part of the gift of Sam that I get to unwrap and cherish every day – the unknown looks and half smiles, the blossoming personality that is at times impish and at times ages old. And his deep love for music.

My recipe this week has nothing to do with music but is just plain tasty. I am sure there is a song somewhere that would work – something by Jimmy Buffet. These margarita cookies are savory and sweet, crisp and soft. I wonder if there is a pina colada version of this cookie out there … may need to work on that.

Margarita Cookies
(makes 48)

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp.
2/3c powdered/confectioner’s sugar
2 egg yolks, room temp. Separated
Pinch of salt
2 limes, zested and juiced
1 medium orange, zested
2c flour
1/2c coarse sugar (I use organic sugar with a coarser grain and deeper color, sanding sugar would work too)
2t flaky sea salt

Put the softened butter in a mixer bowl and beat until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and beat until silky. Beat in one egg yolk, salt, zests and lime juice. Switch to low on the mixer and add the flour, beating just until incorporated. You want to be careful to not overbeat and can mix any wayward flour in by hand if needed.

Turn the dough out onto a counter, make a big ball, and divide it in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and chill for about 30 minutes in the fridge.

After it has chilled and is easier to work with, take one package of dough and form it into a log (working on a clean surface) so that the end result is a log of dough that is about 1 inch in diameter. The length is irrelevant if you get the thickness right. Do this with each package. Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for two hours. You can also freeze them at this point for about a month for ready-made cookies.

Preheat your oven to 350 and line 2 sheets with parchment paper. While the dough is chilling you can put together the coating. Whisk the second egg yolk in a small bowl to use as a glaze.

In another bowl mix the sugar and salt together. Spread the mixture on some wax paper.

Take one log out and unwrap it. Brush it lightly with the egg yolk, using a pastry brush. Roll the log in the sugar/salt mix, pressing the mix in gently so it sticks if needed. Think of it like rolling sushi – use the plastic wrap to help it along, rolled tight. Using a sharp knife or dental floss, slice each log into cookie circles about ¼ inch thick. Place the cookies on the sheets and be sure to leave about ½ inch between them because they will spread a little while baking. When you’re ready to roll the second log, take it out of the fridge. You want to be sure the dough is chilled when you are working with it.

Bake for 12 minutes or until they are set but not browned. The yolk glaze on the outside may brown a bit and that’s fine.


The Step Dad: Scene 1

November 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Interracial Families, Wendy Rhein

By: Wendy Rhein

Scene: 40-ish mother and 6-year-old son, lugging trash out of a nondescript apartment building’s back door. Son with Transformers backpack slung over one shoulder, looking up at the sky instead of at the potential but as of yet unrealized oncoming cars that his mother is always yelling about as he walks into the parking lot. Mother, hurried and listing to one side, struggles to balance a large plastic bag of trash, her laptop bag, purse, and lunch box of the boy’s. This is a real story with real people, not a dramatization.

Aannnndddd, ACTION!

“Mom, when are you getting married?”

“Who? What? I don’t know Nate. Why?”

“I need a step dad. And I can’t get a step dad until you get married.”

“Yes, that’s how that works. Why do you need a step dad? Is this something we can work on together like soccer or cub scouts? Because we’ve got that handled in our mom and sons family, right? Right? Or should we call Uncle Bob? Or Grandpa Bob?” (Lots of Bobs in our family.)

(Mom takes a deep breath.)

“No, I just need one. So when are you going to get married?”

“Well, honey, I don’t know. I would love to get you a step dad but we can’t just buy one at Target. There’s a process involved.”

“Mom, I know about dating. You have to date to get married. It’s a rule.” (Note the exasperated condescension of the world-weary 6-year-old.)

“Good, just so we’re clear on not getting an off-the-shelf step dad. I would rather have a custom built one…But you still didn’t tell me why you need a step dad right now. What is it that you want to do that you need a dad to do with you?” (Determined to attach the issue to a time-limited, time-sensitive thing that his mother can solve within her gender-bound limitations of not being a dad. Or a step dad.)

“Nothing now, Mom. But I need one and you need to date to get me one.”

“If I date that means time away from you, my love, and it would be time like dinner times and on the weekends. That’s why I haven’t done any dating since we moved.” (Sure, blame the lack of dating on the move. And play to the known weakness of your son wanting more, not less, time together. Mean. Manipulative. Clever.)

Silent consideration…

“That’s ok. You can be out if you’re on a date. But not if you’re just hanging out with your friends.”

“Huh. Have we met? When did you become a too smart for your own good 18-year-old? I could have sworn I was the grown up around here.”


“Come on Mom! This is what I want, OK? OK, I want my step dad to be able to make stuff out of metal and wood. He can design it and make it, cool stuff like machines and artificial legs. And I want him to know jujitsu, karate, and kung fu, so he can teach them to me. And he should be tall but not so tall it hurts my neck to see him. And he should drive a van.”

“A van? Like a minivan?” (Mother says with horror, while hurling a bag of trash into a little green house non-too-effectively disguising a dumpster.)

“How about a motorcycle?”

“We can’t put a car seat on a motorcycle; where would Sam go?”

“Ok, so a van for his job and he has a regular car too.”

“Deal. What else does your step dad need to be?”

“He should own a hardware store so he has access to tools and metal. And like to do stuff like camping, and hanging out. And legos. He should play some sports too.”

“What about being smart and funny and kind? And loving you, me, and Sam to the moon and back?”

“That’s your list, Mom, not mine.”


to be continued…..


Doing My Part To Keep Austin Weird

June 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families, Family

By: Jillian Lauren

It’s nearly midnight and there’s a full yellow moon and loud music in the courtyard outside my door. It’s comforting tonight rather than annoying. The music in Austin doesn’t acknowledge doorways. I’m staying at a soulful little hotel with poems pinned to the walls. The poem next to the mirror in my bathroom is called “Knots” and it’s about the dual nature, oppressive and redemptive, of one’s family, of one’s past. A timely sentiment for me.

The reading at Book People went well. Another fabulous bookstore in another great town. I can usually count on one pervert (with lots of questions about lesbian harem action) and one elderly lady showing up at every reading. This reading had two perverts and a whole gang of elderly ladies. Does that mean I’m getting more successful?

Jillian Lauren- author of Some Girls: My Life In A Harem


Goodbye. Hello.

October 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families

By: Jillian Laurengoodbye-ceremony

Our adoption was finalized in Ethiopia. We all attended a goodbye ceremony at the care center, where the nannies and the children were dressed in traditional costumes and the staff said a few words about each child before praying together. The rest of the children sang to those who were leaving and Tariku left his little handprint in a book. It was sad and it was great and the whole time part of me was wishing we were just on the plane home already. I felt that way the entire week. But, in retrospect, I appreciate the importance of the rituals involved and the respectful and slow way that the children were transitioned.
In the afternoon we went to the embassy. The TV in the corner of the room was playing the BBC News. We watched as hundreds of thousands gathered on the National Mall in the dark, waiting for the day to begin. Scott and I were told there was some problem with our paperwork. For a long moment, we really thought we were going to be staying in Addis for an unspecified amount of time until they worked it out. In the end, we made it through.
Tariku conked out around 7:30 that night. I really had no idea if it was going to wake him up, but I had to try. I picked him up and carried him downstairs to the den where everyone was watching TV. Scott and I watched Obama with our son sleeping on my chest.


I Need Africa

August 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families

By: Jillian Lauren

This video is going around on the Ethiopian adoption forum that I frequent. The organization that made it is a little bit too religious for me, but I like the video. I like the idea of rethinking our perceptions and our conversations. I’ve been spending a good portion of my days obsessing over new table linens (this is how I work out anxiety) and throwing my credit card around at Sur La Table like I am Martha Stewart herself. I’m making myself sick but I can’t seem to stop. I wake up every morning convinced that a set of rooster-shaped napkin rings are going to make the world right.

I’ve also been fielding a series of uncomfortable questions from well-meaning retail clerks who can’t understand why I would be having a baby shower if I don’t have a big belly. When I explain that I’m adopting, they invariably express their support for this great act of charity on my part. Then they ask what happened to Tariku’s “real” parents. I explain ten times a day that, in fact, Scott and I are Tariku’s real parents. And that we are building a family, not acting out of charity. The charity goes the other way. I need Africa more than Africa needs me.