Recipes and reflections from ‘The Lost Kitchen’

Miriam Green, left, and her mother, Naomi Cohen in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of Miriam Green.

Miriam Green never expected to be teaching her father, Jack Cohen, how to cook. But that’s where she found herself a few years ago.

A Cambridge graduate and accomplished scientist, he’d never learned even the most rudimentary kitchen skills: how to prepare pasta, for example, or cook chicken. He’d never had to; his wife and Miriam’s mother, Naomi Cohen, had
always done the cooking.

But that began to change in 2010, when Cohen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and things in the kitchen began to go awry.
“I realized cooking was still an essential element in my life. Not just with my mom and my own kids, but now with my father, trying to help him through the impossible issue of cooking healthy,” Green says.

When asked how he handles himself over the stove today, Green responds, “I don’t think he’s a fancy cook. But he’s a practical cook.”

That experience, and Cohen’s fading memory, led Green to start “The Lost Kitchen,” a blog of recipes, poetry and regular dispatches from a family affected by Alzheimer’s. In May, Green’s book of poetry and recipes will be published under the same name.

Born in England, Green spent most of her upbringing in Bethesda, where she graduated from Walter Johnson High School and her father worked at the National Institutes of Health. For a time, her mother served as executive director at Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County. Now, Green and her parents (Cohen is 79, Jack is 80) all live in Beersheba, Israel, where her mother resides in a facility for patients with Alzheimer’s.

Speaking by phone, Green says she wanted to preserve her mother’s recipes, which she found in various cookbooks filled with notes and alterations, as well as pieces of loose-leaf among her mother’s belongings. There’s the chicken soup, loaded up with dill and other herbs that she and her siblings would demand second and third servings of. Or the “failure cake,” which came from several recipe mistakes but whose “wine soaked, nutmeg taste” was a favorite for birthdays.

And then there’s a chapter on how Israel has affected her family’s cooking. Green’s been living in Israel for 28 years, where she now works for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.

“We make a lot of eggplant, shakshuka, spicy Moroccan fish,” Green says. “My kids are all sabras so they seem to really like the intense spices of Sephardi cooking.”

There are even a few recipes from Green’s grandmother, who grew up in England, moved around and finally lived in Israel until she died at the age of 101. For a time, Green says, there were five generations of her family living near each other in Israel.
“[My grandmother] would come to us for Pesach and she’d take over my kitchen and make these almond meal pancakes,” Green says.

But despite the foundation of her cookbook being her mother’s recipes, Green hasn’t told her about it. She says her mother never really accepted her diagnosis and would get insulted if Green brought it up to other people.

“Unlike some people with Alzheimer’s who are very accepting that they have this disease, she never wanted to acknowledge it,” Green says. “But I realized that I was now the one who would keep her memories.”

The book, like her blog, will also include simple tips she’s developed for helping a parent with Alzheimer’s and reflections on what it’s like. Music is something they can still bond over, she says, and sometimes all it takes is one of her favorite songs to engage.

“She has a lovely voice and she still loves to sing. And the songs she taught me when I was little I now sing with her because they’re ingrained in her memory,” Green says. “When she’s feeling life’s limitations and sitting in a chair all day, this transports her.”

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