I’d like to reinvent my newsletter and blog for 2022 as one less about me– since I’m in a “many saucepans on the stovetop” kind of place, and I post enough of that on my Instagram account. See: Winterwriter77 if you’re into knowing the career of a new writer.
And her dog.
And her garlic and spinach.
And her oracle cards.
And her lipsticks.
And her book cover.
I’d like this space to be more about what’s going on in the Arts that I experience—food, paints, antiques, music, shops, towns. I know so many dynamic people in my life, so I’d like to take you where the stories are—in the pursuits and practices of people and places. Ones who speak different languages, one whose voices might not be heard loud enough, ones thriving in communities still being explored with big eyes on skeptical neighbors.
Often, authors interview other authors. It makes sense, right? Staying within the community and profession, digging for gold in villages where we already know the spot in which it’s buried. But I’ve never liked to stay in the lines/parameters of anything, so I’m choosing to interview people outside of my profession.
Don’t get me wrong. I adore writers, readers, editors. They tend to be most supportive and nurturing, and very willing to listen and encourage. It’s that I also like the stuff happening in the world that writers write about. It still does relate to my profession, really, because I am interviewing the people who live and breathe the story. The people who writers write about. Hold on. Let me catch my breath….Okay.
I’m kicking off 2022 with a Syrian-born business owner named Benita Kasbo. She owns Kasbo’s Market. (Stay tuned for my next letter/blog when I feature a sit-down with Phyllis Mitchell, a NJ-born mystic and medium who also wrote a book about her fascinating life.)
Benita was born in Aleppo, Syria, but came to the U.S. (New Jersey) with her family at the age of two. She always tells me how she learned English from watching shows like Wonder Woman, and quite honestly, there is no more fitting show, once you get to know her. You know how with some people and friends you think, “hmm, they need a little fire lit under their butt” to get going? Well, Benita made her own fire, keeps it stoked, and that enormous forest of flames just doesn’t burn out. Ever.
She makes cheese called jibneh out of a commercial kitchen in North Jersey and sells it retail at Maplewood Wheelhouse, Ideal Cheese Shop in NYC, and West Side Market. This is the zero free time she has, but somehow adds the hours to her week. Wonder Woman.
Back to the cheese—she learned the recipe and technique from watching her mom make it as a child, so yes, it is indeed, a secret family recipe. I am allowed to tell you that it’s made with a most delectable ingredient called mahleb—the seed of a cherrystone. It creates a nutty blend of deliciousness, paired with the salt from cow’s milk/curd, and it is MAGNIFICENT. Especially with sweeter foods like pears, cucumbers, and melon. Oh my god, I need some now. I have to drive over an hour to procure a bag, but I do it whenever my schedule allows it.
Sometimes too, she will post about the other dishes she makes at home for her family and then it turns up on my table days later too, because Benita has a gift for food that inspires others. She makes a traditional middle eastern dish called Mujadara using lentils and onions, and holy smokes. So good. Everyone needs a friend like this to remind you that food is life, and you should cook with a passion and penchant for pure ingredients.
Kasbo’s Market is growing and will eventually sell spices like dried mint and sumac. In addition to her very special cheese, Benita’s mission as a small business owner in NJ is to educate and celebrate with the public—middle eastern cuisine and culture has potential for so many teaching moments. And lord knows, because I’ve eaten it, her jibneh is full of reasons to celebrate. Now. I. Want. Cheese.
(It looks like cubes of snow, like you’d want to build the most delicious igloo from them, then eat your way out, a slice at a time—it slices like mozzarella but tastes only like itself).
You can find Kasbo’s Market jibneh featured on The Cheese Show on YouTube where they taste, discuss, and sing about its splendor. Give Kasbo’s Market a follow on Instagram! You will not regret it, but you’ll also crave so much CHEESE.
Preorders are so very important for new authors!
I’m a new board member for Exit 82 Theatre, and am very excited for the 2022 season of shows, Pride Day Events, and new literary adventures.
Thank you. Stay safe.