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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Green

Birthday Shakshuka


“It’s my birthday,” I told Mom. “It is?” she asked. “Why didn’t you tell me? How old are you?” When I told her I was turning 50, she didn’t believe me.

“It’s my birthday today,” I told Mom a short while later. “It’s my birthday, too,” she said. “Hey, that’s great,” I replied. “We can celebrate together!”

“It’s not your birthday!” Daddy interjected. Mom was instantly puzzled. “It’s not?” “That’s ok,” I said. “We can still celebrate together.”

There it was again, that tension between our reality and Mom’s reality. In the week since posting my last blog about what we lose and what we gain by stepping into the mind of an Alzheimer’s patient, I learned about a website called, “In the Moment,” which suggests that using the tools associated with improvisational theatre can help us be better caregivers. See the link here:!alzheimers/cwc9.

Some of the buzz words this website touts are flexibility, spontaneity, acceptance, generosity, trust, selflessness and courage. It means that if Mom says it’s her birthday, accept her premise and go from there. I could ask how she wants to celebrate, or what kind of cake she likes, or how old she is. Each possibility sends us into a conversation that she can navigate easily without the pressure of being true to reality.

It takes courage to enter a conversation with Mom in which your entire childhood—your entire relationship—is non-existent. But boy did it make her happy to wish me happy birthday and decide to celebrate with me. We sang and chatted and bid our time until our big birthday lunch with our immediate family, including my grandmother Millie who turned 99 today.

As an aside, we know how blessed we are that my grandmother is still with us. We were four generations around the table. Millie is not too aware of what is going on around her. She can identify both her daughters, and her son-in-law but that’s it. Yet she still has definite opinions. She told us several times that the new shirt she was wearing was bothering her (though she couldn’t articulate why), and she became quite animated when it appeared that the waiter was taking away her birthday cake. “That’s mine,” she said. Good thing they were only placing the leftovers in its original box for her to take home.

The lunch was the start of a two-day vacation before school starts. We left Beer Sheva while rockets were still being fired at us from Gaza, taking advantage of a discount for southern Israeli residents in Tzfat where we stayed the night. We ate out for lunch (twice!), dinner, and breakfast, and visited the beautiful artist’s colony in the old city of Tzfat before heading to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) for a day along the shore. We came home tonight tired, happy, and relieved with a new and hopefully final cease fire in place.

It was a fun, frivolous two days, and we ate some wonderful meals. One of the options at almost all the places we stopped was shakshuka, a truly Israeli dish made with tomatoes, a few vegetables, eggs, and an unlimited variety of additions. Below is the way we make it at home.


This breakfast dish is apparently of Libyan origin and is served all day at most cafés. Try it with additions of hot sauce, tehina, spinach and feta cheese, or even gnocchi. The basic ingredients are eggs and tomatoes.

1 Tbsp olive oil

1-2 cloves crushed garlic

1 small onion chopped

½ red pepper chopped

1 cup crushed tomatoes

2 Tbsp tomato paste

2 eggs

½ tsp cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup parmesan cheese grated


In a small frying pan, sauté garlic and onion in oil until onion becomes translucent. Add pepper and spices. Stir. Add chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir and simmer for about ten minutes. Make two small indentations in the sauce and break eggs into these shallow holes, keeping the yolk whole. Sprinkle cheese in a circle around the eggs. Simmer up to five minutes until eggs cook.

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