An Update on Pulling Taffy (and a Recipe)


Hi, Friends of Taffy—I thought I’d let you know how Pulling Taffy the book is doing! I wouldn’t say that copies are flying off the shelves, but sales are definitely respectable. And they are growing.

The book includes all the blog entries from my year-long journey with you in 2011, plus a couple of journal entries I didn’t put up on the site. I have added a series of retrospective essays in response to readers’ suggestions. Some tell stories from my mother’s earlier life; one gives a few tips for caregivers. These essays appear at the end of each month’s journal entries. I loved writing them, and I hope you enjoy reading them.

After the essays I ended up adding recipes (one per month) for dishes that my mother enjoyed. I believe that food is a key to memory so remaking these with my family brought her back to us vividly. One of the recipes appears below here to give you a sneak preview.

I am getting a real kick out of my book-related events. So far I have spoken at a church, in libraries, and to women’s clubs. The format is simple: I talk a bit about Alzheimer’s disease and read a bit from the book. I then open the floor to the audience. It’s amazing how candid and moving people can be about their caregiving (and care-receiving) adventures. I have learned a lot from these events. And of course I have sold books at them!

Please continue to spread the word about Taffy and her story. Word of mouth really helps. Information about ordering the book (as well as the e- and audiobook versions) and details about upcoming events may be found at the Pulling Taffy website.

And now … the recipe for….


Taffy’s Chicken Curry

This recipe appears at the end of a chapter about one of my mother’s favorite years, her time in India between 1953 and 1954. I call the chapter “A Passage to India.” I call the recipe delicious. And it’s delightfully simple.


a little bit of olive oil or peanut oil
2 chicken breasts, cut in half
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small piece of ginger, minced
1 medium onion, minced
2 heaping teaspoons curry powder
2 heaping teaspoons cumin (use either powdered cumin or slightly crushed cumin seeds)
1 heaping teaspoon chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock
1 small tomato, cut up
1 largish carrot, cut into small coins
the juice of 1 lemon


In a medium sauté pan or Dutch oven heat the oil over medium-high heat; then quickly brown the chicken pieces. Remove them to a plate. Place the garlic, ginger, and onion pieces in the pan. Sauté them until they begin to brown nicely. Sprinkle the curry powder, cumin, chili powder, and salt and pepper over the vegetables. Toss them over medium heat for a minute or two. You don’t want them to burn, but you do want them to form a kind of roux.

Pour in a little of the chicken stock to make a paste. Cook the paste for another minute or two; then return the chicken to the pot and add the rest of the stock, along with the tomato. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pot, and simmer the curry over low heat for 20 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes throw in the carrot pieces and simmer the curry for at least 20 minutes longer, still covered. Just before serving stir in the lemon juice.

Serve over rice along with chopped peanuts, coconut, chutney, and yogurt. In our family this serves 4 people. If you have major chicken eaters either plan on serving 2 or double the recipe.

The library publicist might have gotten a LITTLE carried away advertising my talk last month!

The library publicist might have gotten a LITTLE carried away advertising my talk last month!


An Anniversary

This photo will grace the cover of my upcoming book.

This photo will grace the cover of my upcoming book.

Greetings, Readers of “Pulling Taffy”!

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death—a day of sadness but also of gratitude for her spirit and for the many gifts she gave me over the years.

The book version of Pulling Taffy should be out in the spring of 2013. I’ll update you then (and hope that at least some of you will want to buy it!). I’ve had fun adding stories from my mother’s life and reflections on taking care of her to my chronicles of our final year together.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d let you know that I do write about her from time to time in blog form. Here are a couple of recent entries you might like to read.

In September on my food blog, In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens, I shared the recipe for one of her favorite summer and fall foods, succotash made with cranberry beans.

And last week on my personal blog I wrote about one of her favorite songs—one I sang at her memorial party. It’s called “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” (Of course I HAD to sing it!)

I wish you all happy holidays and the best of new years. May your lives and your memories be as happy as mine……..



Published in: on 11 December 2012 at 2:05 pm  Comments (13)  
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A Joyful Memorial Service

A joyful Taffy with her grandson Michael at Colonia Williamsburg a couple of years ago

I have to start this post with an apology. My camera was with me throughout my mother’s memorial service and the festivities after it. Unfortunately, I got to talking with people (something I am prone to do!), and the camera stayed in my purse! I do have a few of the photos of Taffy that were displayed at the service, and I’ll use those for illustrations.

Just over two weeks ago, on January 7, we bade our formal goodbye to Taffy. “Formal” may not be the appropriate word. Although the goodbye was official, it was far from stodgy. “Joy” was the word most often used in the hymns we selected. The word suited a person who embodied it almost every day.

To keep the service reasonably short and reasonably light my brother and I decided to limit the number of speakers.

Our minister, Cara Hochhalter, said a few gentle prayers and talked about Taffy’s life in general—her education, her work as a teacher and antique dealer, her love of the theater and acting (her favorite role was Kate in The Taming of the Shrew), the confidence she took from her family background, and above all her feeling for color.

“I recall seeing pink socks, red tennis shoes,” Cara said with a smile, “and that lovely jaunty straw hat with the bright yellow sunflower.” She went on to read a poem Taffy wrote titled “India,” a piece of verse awash with the colors its writer loved.

After Cara my Uncle Bruce charmed the congregation as he has charmed people as long as I can remember. My mother wasn’t the only theatrical person in the family.

He shared a few stories about their youth and early adulthood. Two and a half years younger than my mother, Bruce was her first and most constant playmate. He recalled waiting breathlessly for Santa with his big sister. He also remembered his awe at her command of Shakespeare and his warm feelings toward both her and my father when Jan Hallett decided to marry Abe Weisblat. Most of all, he displayed his own wisdom and whimsy, characteristics he shared with his sister.

Left to right: Taffy with siblings Bruce and Lura in 2008

Finally, our neighbor Alice Parker Pyle recalled summers spent with Taffy and the entire Weisblat clan at Singing Brook Farm—summers of children’s games and cooking and stories and music and OF COURSE poetry recitation. Like Cara, she also touched briefly on the last few months of Taffy’s life. Alice was a loyal visitor at the end, one who never failed to make Taffy smile.

Taffy loved music so of course the service featured songs. The church choir sang “Brother James’ Air,” a jewel-like setting of the 23rd Psalm. We all loudly and happily raised our voices in “Joy to the World,” Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” and “This Little Light of Mine.” And I sang the verses to “In the Garden” and invited everyone to join in on the chorus.

“In the Garden” is disappearing from hymnals. It was a favorite of my grandparents, newlyweds in 1912 when it was composed by C. Austin Miles. Taffy often requested it at hymn sings; I think it reminded her of her childhood in what seemed a simpler time.

It comes across as old fashioned today, but we certainly had a blast singing it. I invite readers to join in the chorus on the video (well, really just a soundtrack with a still photo—but WHAT a still photo!) below.

Believe me, the song will sound LONG if you don’t sing along. My voice is still a little hoarse from a recent cold so I’m not at my best vocally, and I’m still working on recording technology.

Here are the lyrics:

And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
And he tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.

After the service the church’s pastoral-care committee put on a lavish spread. We sipped and munched and caught up with our guests—Uncle Bruce and three of his children, Aunt Lura and two of hers (plus two grandchildren), honorary relatives, old friends, new friends, and neighbors. A few tears were shed, but the day was also one of laughter.

Taffy with a friend, 1968

If you’d like to read about what we ate that day, visit my food blog, in which I muse about funereal comfort food.

We plan a huge memorial party in six months or so—a time of more food, more song (I am working on a list of songs Taffy loved!), and lots of memories. Not to mention a few cocktails!

On that occasion we will open the floor to anyone who wants to tell a story.

By summer people will be less sad about Taffy’s death, more inclined to laugh and sing and rejoice. Someone will surely recite the poem she started reciting at the age of five and still loved in her last months, “The Owl and the Pussycat.”

Meanwhile, my brother and I feel that we have done Taffy proud.

When someone dies the strangest part—to me, at any rate–is how “not there” he or she suddenly is. Where once there was color we are left with black and white. Where once there was a voice we are left with silence.

Memories fill in the spare lines and make the voice audible once again. And fellowship reminds us that we are never alone.

I’ll be back soon with some questions for readers about this project. For now I leave you with the poem Cara read at the service on January 7.

by Jan Weisblat

India is an artist’s palette,
Strong primary colors against a base of brown.
 Brown women in red and gold saris,
Yellow wheat fields waving in the sun,
Emerald tanks below the white-washed village huts
And the tender green of new rice.
 Yellow corn lies drying on red roofs in Kulu.
Browns mingle with gray and gold in the Rajasthani desert.
The bright orange-red of the gulmoher—the flame tree—heralds the spring in Bombay,
And the roof of the world stands white and purple in the North.
 The dhobi spreads his wash of white, yellow, blue and red
On the dull green banks of the river,
And little brown children swim naked in the green waters of a pond
With their black water buffalo.
India is grey-blue crows in the garden
Shouting a raucous keep-away to other birds,
And sassy black robins flicking red-bellied tails.
 The myna birds gather in chattering groups,
Yellow beaks, brown bodies and white tails in flight,
And a tiny green bee-eater sits on my telephone wire.
India is gold sun overhead,
Blue skies in winter,
Yellow skies, heavy with dust, in April and May,
And dark grey monsoon skies
Ready to replenish the parched earth.

Introducing Pulling Taffy

A new year is dawning, and with it a new writing project.

I’m Tinky “Dakota” Weisblat, a writer and singer from Hawley, Massachusetts. I’ll be spending winters in Alexandria, Virginia, starting this winter.

The climate in Virginia is kinder to my mother Jan, with whom I live. Jan (I often call her Taffy) is 92 and has dementia.

Alexandria is also a welcoming place for us because my brother David and his family live here.

“Pulling Taffy” will chronicle my adventures with Taffy and the rest of the family in 2011.

In some ways, I expect, my mother and I are typical of parents and children dealing with Alzheimer’s. As The Shriver Report documented this past fall, most caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients are female. So are most of those for whom they care.

Nevertheless, as anyone who has dealt with Alzheimer’s or another family-centric disease can tell you, there is no such thing as typical when it comes to these matters.

Why did I start this writing project?

I’m a writer. Writing is how I process information–and I’m pretty good at it. 

I hope that “Pulling Taffy” will help me document the progress of my mother’s disease and figure out ways in which to cope with it.

I also hope it will help me in my ongoing quest to remind myself that I have to take care of myself as well as my mother as the year goes on.

Last year, to tell you the truth, I generally let my mother’s disease overwhelm me. It progressed rapidly as the months went by, and I found myself increasingly withdrawing from the outside world in order to take care of Taffy.

This is good for neither of us. We both need the outside world. Despite her confusion about most of what goes on, Taffy adores seeing different people and visiting different places.

And I need to use my gifts—my brain, my writing, my singing—to remind both of us who we are. She doesn’t always remember, but I can.

Please join us on our journey in 2011. I promise my entries on this blog will not be uniformly serious! One of the greatest gifts of our household is that we never go through a day without laughter.

Published in: on 1 January 2011 at 4:00 am  Comments (12)  
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