Friday, February 8, 2019





                                 OUR HEARTS ARE BROKEN


For Magnolia Grill’s Karen Barker, life revolved around food. What a sweet life it was.

Magnolia Grill's Karen Barker: 'There’s no such thing as bad pie'

The Southern Foodways Alliance produced this film on Karen Barker, the James Beard Award-winning baker of Durham’s Magnolia Grill, talking about her love of pie. Barker died on Feb. 2, 2019. Watch the full film at

"Karen Barker, the James Beard Award-winning baker of Durham’s Magnolia Grill and one of the brightest stars of the culinary scene she helped establish, has died.

Her husband, Ben Barker, said she died Saturday, Feb. 2, from metastatic cancer. She was 61.
Karen Barker, known for her sublime and whimsical desserts, won the 2003 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef, a national award given each year to the country’s top baker. That she won for her work in Magnolia Grill’s Ninth Street kitchen in Durham, one of the very few chefs in a small market to ever win, expanded the scope of culinary excellence beyond just America’s largest cities and started to draw attention to the Triangle’s restaurants.
“It was a powerful win for her,” Ben Barker said Thursday in an interview with The News & Observer. “It proved you didn’t have to be from a major metropolitan area to deliver world class food.”


“Her desserts were extraordinary, complex, the flavors perfectly integrated and layered,” Ben Barker said. “She built a standard of excellence here.”
The married couple’s kitchen also launched the careers of numerous chefs and owners of some of the area’s most acclaimed restaurants, including Angus Barn executive chef Walter Royal, Scott Howell of Nana’s and pastry chef Phoebe Lawless.
After closing Magnolia Grill in 2012, the Barkers helped their son, Gabe, open Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro three years later. Karen launched the restaurant’s dessert program, highlighted by rich and seasonal gelato and renditions of Italian cakes. Gabe Barker has been a two-time James Beard finalist since then for the Rising Star Award.
Gabriel Barker, son of Ben and Karen Barker (in background), former chef-owners of Magnolia Grill, stands in the space of what will become Gabriel’s new pizzeria at 408 W. Weaver St. in Carrboro on Tuesday, June 24, 2015.
Chuck Liddy


A love of food was the centerpiece of Karen Barker’s life, never shying from the occasional slice of pie for breakfast.
Karen Barker, born in Brooklyn in 1957, grew up on the Russian-Jewish cooking of her grandmother and all the tastes of New York at the time. Her grandmother taught her how to bake and made her lunch every day.
“My grandmother used to tell me, you know, the one thing that you never skimp on in life is food,” Karen Barker said in an interview with the Southern Foodways Alliance in the mid-2000s, when Magnolia Grill was still open. “So for me it’s — it’s about my whole life — it’s my working life, it’s my social life, it’s what I do with friends, it’s what I do every day professionally. It’s what I like to read about, and certainly, it’s more than just sustenance.”
Ben and Karen Barker met on the first day of culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., 40 years ago this year, placed side by side in the classroom.
“Being in the kitchen with her grandmother, I know, is where she saw the love of food,” Ben Barker said. “The table was the centerpiece of the family for both of us. Food is where you got to share and know each other. It’s what we loved and understood.”
They quickly became a couple, and in the course of their relationship, pieced together the dream of opening their own restaurant, with Karen gravitating to the sweet side and Ben to the savory.
“She was always way more talented than I am,” Ben Barker said. “I’m kind of a good brick layer, I can stack them up pretty well. She made things that were really extraordinary.”
After graduation, the couple married and returned to Ben’s childhood home of Chapel Hill to begin their careers, hoping to work under famed chef Bill Neal at Crook’s Corner, but were turned away by the late Southern food master because of their formal training. Instead, they both worked under his proteges at La Residence and then later took over the Fearrington House kitchen from the legendary Edna Lewis.
Karen and Ben Barker pose on the day they opened the Magnolia Grill in 1986.
The Barkers opened Magnolia Grill in 1986 as a seasonally focused fine dining restaurant in Durham, during an era long before the city became the foodie darling it is today. Still, Magnolia Grill blossomed.
Karen Barker made the desserts, handled the books and arranged the flowers in the restaurant, while Ben Barker cooked the savory courses. They had an open kitchen, the labor of love in the food on display to the dining room. It’s standard these days but unheard of then.
“There were no other contemporary restaurants, really, at that time,” Ben Barker said. “It was somewhat advanced, the kitchen open to the dining room. The goal was to show there were human beings back there devoting great care and attention to your food.”
Ben Barker will admit to the slight dent of his ego in acknowledging dessert as the draw to Magnolia Grill, accounting for 65 percent of the restaurant’s sales.
Caitlin McCormick, pastry chef of the celebrated restaurant FIG in Charleston, worked at Magnolia Grill immediately after graduating from UNC, intending the job to be a brief stopover on the way to graduate school. Instead she found a deepened love of cooking and a new career.
Karen Barker’s dessert menus were longer than most restaurants, usually eight different sweet dishes, each one a knockout, McCormick said. There was always something chocolate, always some expression of seasonal fruit, always some sweet take on cheese.
“I thought she was a wizard,” McCormick said, noting she met her husband working at Magnolia Grill. “In the first month of working there, I realized this is my life and my world. I knew I never wanted to do anything else in my life.


Pie was Barker’s true love in the dessert world, Ben Barker said, predisposed with naturally cold fingers that wouldn’t melt the fat in the crust dough. Her philosophy was berries and fruits in their seasons, the likes of blueberries and peach in the warm months, sweet potato pie, perhaps, in the winter.
She was named Bon App├ętit’s Best Pastry Chef in 1999.
Karen Barker is in charge of the desserts at Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro. The current menu includes a Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta.
Juli Leonard
“She always felt sweetness was the last thing she was was absolutely looking for,” Ben Barker said. “There was a complexity, a layering of textures and flavors, ingredients integrated in a not-quite-expected way, that made her desserts a delight and surprise from start to finish.”
Ben Barker said Neal dined at Magnolia on a couple of occasions, referring to Karen as the ice cream queen.
“Pie is a delivery system for love,” Ben Barker said. “Though Karen believed there was no pie or cobbler that wasn’t better with ice cream.”
Chef Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, the reigning James Beard Outstanding Restaurant of the Year, called the Barkers his “spiritual soulmates.”
“It was always ‘Ben and Karen.’ Those words were how you addressed them,” Stitt said Thursday in a phone interview. “They were a legendary couple, you could see and feel the love they had for one another. It was inspirational.”
Son Gabe Barker grew up in Magnolia Grill, doing his homework while his mom arranged flowers on the dining room tables and his father prepped for service. Not being a fan of cakes, his birthday dessert was often enormous chocolate chip cookies decorated with icing. His parents’ extraordinary care with food has been the largest lesson, he said.
“To be able to open Mercato with a really small pastry program, to walk in the door and have all these perfect recipes, was a tremendous benefit,” Gabe Barker told The News & Observer Thursday. “She’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. But it is perfect whatever she chooses to do.”
Karen and Ben Barker’s Pizzeria Mercato will be a full-service, casual restaurant serving “pizza Americano,” a hybrid of Neopolitan and New York pizza styles.
Gene Furr Gene Furr
In spending her entire career in the Piedmont of North Carolina, the girl from Brooklyn came to know the South through her senses, absorbing tradition and place through the produce of the season and the methods of the local cooks before her. Ben Barker estimates it took his wife a year-and-a-half to understand his mother’s strong Southern accent, but that the food itself became a kind of dialect.
“She was always receptive to adventure and new things,” Ben Barker said. “There was a fine genteel demeanor, but a powerful inquisitiveness ... My grandmother was a great baker and she wanted to learn that skill set. She learned the repertoire of Southern desserts: cobblers, cakes and pies, mastering and excelling in them, but putting her own imprint on them. I don’t think she ever felt she was usurping some Southernness; she loved to make delicious food and wanted it to be excellent. She became the greatest Southern baker who wasn’t raised in the South.”
When it came time to fill out Karen Barker’s death certificate, Ben Barker wanted it to say “Greatest Pastry Chef” as occupation. He was told that it was doubtful that would be permitted.
It was accepted as fact for the official record.
A memorial service for Karen Barker will be held in the spring, Ben Barker said. Though she loved flowers, in lieu of them the family suggests donations to child hunger organization No Kid Hungry."

Sunday, October 28, 2018


No automatic alt text available.

These victims of hatred have names, they were innocent human beings. Let us give them the respect of acknowledging that that they were human beings and not a "story" that fades away until the next hate killings. 

They were all Jewish and murdered simply because they are Jews. Sadly the killing of innocent human beings, minorities, ethnic groups, those perceived as "different", and anyone who is seen by others as "unamerican" in their beliefs are now in danger of being targeted for murder by the hate mongers, bigots, and those seeking to blame others for anything that suits their own bigotry, prejudices.This is the new "normal" for our Country. Who will be next?

Eleven lives abruptly ended on Saturday when a gunman stormed the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh's historic Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
On Sunday, Karl Williams, Allegheny County's chief medical examiner, released the victims' identities in a news conference.
Among those killed were a pair of brothers and a married couple. The oldest was 97 years old, and the youngest 54.
"To the victims' families, to the victims' friends, we're here as a community of one for you," said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. "We will be here to help you through this horrific episode. We'll get through this darkest day of Pittsburgh's history by working together."
    These are the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting:
    Jerry Rabinowitz
    Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough, Pennsylvania
    Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, came from Edgewood Borough, Pennsylvania, and was a primary care physician in the area for many years, some of his patients told CNN.
    His nephew, Avishai Ostrin, shared a photo on Facebook of his uncle, who he said always wore a bowtie that "made people smile" and "made his patients more at ease."
    "You know how they say there are people who just lighten up a room? You know that cliche about people whose laugh is infectious? That was Uncle Jerry," he wrote. "It wasn't a cliche. It was just his personality."
    Ostrin said if there was a message his uncle would want everyone to take from the tragedy, "it would be a message of love, unity, and of the strength and resilience of the Jewish people."
    Susan Blackman knew Rabinowitz for at least 35 years, she told CNN. He was her family doctor and cared for her three children. She went to see Rabinowitz every quarter.
    "He was like a member of the family, and a member of the extended family," she said. "Like somebody you know that's always part of your community. ... Dr. Jerry was just somebody who, when you see him, your eyes light up."
    "I can't imagine the world without him," she said.

    Brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal

    David Rosenthal, left, and Cecil Rosenthal
    Cecil and David Rosenthal, 59 and 54, were from Squirrel Hill.
    According to their obituaries posted by the Ralph Schugar Chapel, Cecil was a devoted Tree of Life congregant. David worked for Goodwill Industries, and was a hard worker who was recognized for his commitment a number of times.
    ACHIEVA, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that provides support for people with disabilities, posted a statement about the Rosenthal brothers, calling them "two well-respected members of our community' and "extraordinary men."
    "Cecil's laugh was infectious. David was so kind and had such a gentle spirit. Together, they looked out for one another," said Chris Schopf, a vice president for residential support at ACHIEVA. "They were inseparable. Most of all, they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around."
    The brothers always sat in the back of the temple and greeted people as they came in to worship, according to Suzan Hauptman, who told CNN she grew up at Tree of Life synagogue.
    "They were like the ambassadors because they were always there," she said. "And they will always be there in our hearts."
    Laura Berman, the cantor of Temple Sinai, said Cecil was a "beautiful man" and a "sweet, gentle soul."
    "The kindest soul you would ever meet," she said. "A smiling face. He was one of those embodiments of the community. Just open, warm, smiling, wanting to help and just in his beautiful simplicity. That's who he was."

    Rose Mallinger

    Rose Mallinger, a 97-year-old from Squirrel Hill
    Rose Mallinger, a 97-year-old from Squirrel Hill, was the "sweetest, lovely lady," said Robin Friedman, who told CNN that Mallinger was a secretary in her school's office growing up.
    Mallinger regularly attended the synagogue with her daughter, Friedman said, and likely knew everyone there. She always offered a friendly greeting, a hug and a smile.
    Her daughter, Andrea Wedner, 61, was among the wounded, a family member said. She remains hospitalized.
    Despite her age, Mallinger was "spry" and "vibrant," Friedman said.
    "She had a lot of years left."
    Elisa Schwartz, a family member, remembered Mallinger -- her grandmother's cousin -- in a tribute on her Facebook page, calling the 97-year-old "one of the matriarchs of the family."
    Schwartz encouraged people to donate blood to help survivors.

    Bernice and Sylvan Simon

    Sylvan, 86, left, and Bernice Simon, 84.
    Sylvan, 86, left, and Bernice Simon, 84.

    The Simons, a married couple from Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, were "kind, generous and good-hearted individuals," according to their neighbor, Jo Stepaniak.
    She lived next to 84-year-old Bernice and 86-year-old Sylvan for nearly 40 years, she said, and they were the "sweetest people you could imagine.
    "They wanted to give back to people and be kind," Stepaniak said, adding that the Simons always tried to help out in their small neighborhood and in the Jewish community.
    "They were loving and giving and kind," she said, "gracious and dignified."
    People hold candles outside the Tree of Life Synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018.

    Daniel Stein

    Daniel Stein, 71
    "He was a great guy," Halle said. "He was a fun guy, he had a dry sense of humor and everybody loved him."
    Halle said he and his family were shocked by his uncle's sudden death at the synagogue, where Stein went every Saturday.
    The Squirrel Hill resident was retired, his nephew told CNN affiliate WPXI.
    In a post on Facebook, Stein's son wrote that Saturday was "the worst day of my life."
    "My mom, sister and I are absolutely devastated and crushed!" Joe Stein wrote on his Facebook page. "Our lives now are going to have to take a different path, one that we thought would not happen for a long time."
    Joe Stein said his father was a "simple man" who "did not require much."

    Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland neighborhood, Pittsburgh

    Joyce Fienberg
    Joyce Fienberg, 75, was a former research specialist at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, the center said on its Facebook page, calling her a "cherished friend" and "an engaging, elegant, and warm person."
    Fienberg's husband Stephen, an acclaimed statistician, passed away two years ago after battling cancer, according to Carnegie Mellon University, where he taught for 36 years.
    Jason Connor, one of Stephen's former Ph.D. students, told CNN the Fienbergs treated Stephen's students like family. Joyce Fienberg would welcome the students into their lives and would continue to send them cards long after they'd left Carnegie Mellon, Connor said.
    She was also a grandmother, and has two sons, Connor told CNN.
    "Everyone says this, but she really was an enormously caring person," Connor said. "She was a very petite woman but lit up a room with her huge personality. We weren't just welcome in the classroom, but into their home."
    Fienberg grew up at the Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, the temple said on its Facebook page. She and Stephen were married at the temple, where her confirmation class photo still hangs on the wall.

    Richard Gottfried

    Dr. Richard Gottfried, also known as Rich..
    Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township, Pennsylvania, opened a dental practice together with his wife, Peg Durachko, in 1984, according to the practice's website.
    In 1996, the couple joined the local Discovery Study Club, a local group that's part of an international organization of dentists and specialists who offer educational lectures and workshops to encourage excellence in dentistry, the site said.
    Gottfried, who was Jewish, and Durachko, who is Catholic, helped prepare other couples for marriage through the St. Athanasius church.
    Patrick Mannarino, the North Hills School District superintendent, sent out a note to the district that said Gottfried had been the district's dentist for a long time. He and his wife were "a fixture in the lives of those in our community," Mannarino said.
    "We are deeply saddened by this tragedy," he added, "and our thoughts and condolences go out to all of those affected including Dr. Durachko and her loved ones."
     Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh
    Melvin Wax was a retired accountant, father and grandfather with an easy-going nature. He was quiet but loved to tell jokes.
    One of his passions was going to synagogue for services.
    "That was his routine. That was as important to him as breakfast to most people," said Bill Cartiff, 56, of Scott, who on Sunday was gathered with Mr. Wax's family at their home in Mt. Lebanon.
    The family was told that Mr. Wax — who went by Mel — was leading shabbat services in the basement of Tree of Life Saturday morning when the shooting began.
    Irving Younger, 69,  Mount Washington, Pittsburgh
    Irving Younger could be quiet, but longtime neighbors said that once you got him talking, it didn’t take long to catch on to his two greatest passions: his faith and his family.
    “He was the most wonderful dad and grandpa,” said Tina Prizner, who lived next to Younger for the past several years along Smith Way in Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington neighborhood. “He talked about his daughter and his grandson, always, and he never had an unkind word to say about anybody.”
    Younger, 69, was a former small business owner and youth baseball coach.
    Outside of work, Younger was a devout participant in his congregation, which only recently had begun holding services at the Tree of Life.
    “He went every day. He was an usher at his synagogue, and he never missed a day,” Prizner said. “He’d come home, maybe grab a bite to eat and go back again.”
    Prizner, who is not Jewish, was supposed to serve as a lector at St. Mary’s and made it to the church Sunday morning, but found herself too overcome with grief to speak.
    She and other neighbors reflected fondly of memories conversing with Younger and seeing him take joy in simple things, like passing out Halloween candy.
    “He was so kind,” Prizner said from the entrance to her home along the sloped residential street beside Younger’s in Mt. Washington, her eyes tearing up. “He was a beautiful person, a beautiful soul.”

    To give support for the victims families, survivors, and their synagogue a fundraiser to help the congregation with the physical damages to the building, as well as the survivors and the victims’ families. Respond to this hateful act with your act of love today.

    This is a GOFUNDME Certified Charity campaign. This means that money is processed by GoFundMe's nonprofit partner PayPal Giving Fund, and funds are sent directly to the Tree of Life Congregation. As the campaign organizer, I cannot access or manage any of the donations or disbursements. GoFundMe is in contact with and supporting the synagogue throughout this process.

    Sunday, September 23, 2018



    My older son Steven Nathaniel Wolkoff would have been 41 years old today.

    What can a parent say on the birthday of their dead child?

    A living child asks for a birthday party. 

    As they become older, you, as the parent, ask them what they want for their birthday. There’s dialogue. 

    It’s tradition to remember your child's birthday, to not do so ignores that they lived.
    But what exactly is a parent supposed to do on the birthday of their child when he is gone?

    Not gone, as in out of town or at the beach, or out of the country. Gone as in, no longer alive.
    A dead child doesn’t want. 

    A dead son asks for nothing.
    What does a mom or dad and siblings do?

    Where’s the rule book for recognizing birthdays of a dead child?

    Steven was born on the first day of Fall and died on the first day of Summer. 
    There is something odd to me about the the significance of the equinox and solstice in his life and its parallel meaning to the Earth. 

    If the autumnal equinox represents balance, then the summer solstice was most certainly the day we felt our world come to a deafening halt on the longest day of the year.

    Steven lies dead in a grave because of the negligence and indifference of those who killed him, stole his life at the age of 30, and have tried to erase that he ever lived.

    I mourn what was, what could of been, and what will never be.

    You deserved so much better my son, it just wasn't meant to be. 

    Love, Dad