When Life Gives You O.J. – Erica Perl

Erica Perl is an award-winning children’s book author. She grew up in Burlington, Vermont and is now based in Washington, DC. She writes picture books, novels for older readers, novels for teens. Read on to learn about her latest book, When Life Give You O.J. and for a special treat – Erica shares a favorite recipe!

Tell me about When Life Gives You O.J. What was the inspiration for the story?

When Life Gives You O.J. is the story of ten-year-old Zelly Fried has recently moved to Vermont from Brooklyn and longs for a dog. Her eccentric grandfather, Ace, proposes that she use an old orange juice jug as a “practice dog” and challenges Zelly to walk, feed, and clean up after it to prove to her parents that she is responsible enough for the real thing. Zelly’s desire for a dog collides head-on with her desire not to stick out, and she can’t help wondering if Ace’s plan is so-crazy-it-just-might-work or – as Ace would put it – completely meshugge. Ace uses Yiddish words frequently and the book includes a Yiddish glossary written in Zelly’s voice.

Erica Perl

Is there a Jewish perspective in the book?

There is definitely a Jewish perspective in the book. The narrative in many ways reflects my own experiences growing up Jewish in Vermont, the child of New York Jews who suddenly found themselves in a distinct minority in the Green Mountain state (when we joined a temple, it met in a Methodist church where they had installed a curtain to cover the gigantic cross during our services). It was important to me that the book reflected my adolescent angst that the very things that were touchstones of my cultural identity (for example, my frizzy dark hair, some of the foods my family enjoyed – including tongue sandwiches – and, of course, my New-York-Jewish grandparents) set me apart from my peers. The serious aspects of the book notwithstanding, I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is also a lot of distinctly Jewish humor in it!

What is the best part about being a children’s writer?

The best part about being a children’s writer, hands down, is sharing my books with kids. I have a life-long obsession with children’s books and I always dreamed of being an author.

When Life Give You OJ book cover

Did you have pets as a child? Now?

Unsurprisingly, I lobbied for a dog for about five years. While I did not resort to dragging an orange juice container around, I did finally succeed by asking for a dog as my bat mitzvah gift. Now my family is “between dogs”, as our beloved dog Lucy passed away at the age of 19 this summer. Our guinea pig is doing her best to fill the void in the meantime.

What is your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Purim. I love dressing up in costumes and I love participating in the noisy, silly and festive annual schpiel at our temple (Temple Micah in Washington, DC). As a kid, I loved how our cantor held up red and green ping pong paddles (marked “stop” and “go”) to try to rein in our efforts to drown out the dreaded name. I also have the best recipe for hamantaschen in the world and it contains – would you believe it? – orange juice. Here it is:

Erica’s (and Zelly’s) Famous Hamantashen
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons packed finely grated fresh orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2/3 cup jam (I usually use apricot and raspberry all-fruit preserves)

1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat shortening, sugar, and egg at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add zest and juice and beat until incorporated. Add flour mixture, stirring, until a smooth dough is formed. Gather dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

2. When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 375° F.

3. Halve dough. On a lightly floured surface roll out half of dough (keeping other half wrapped and chilled) 1/4 inch thick. With a 3-inch cutter (or drinking glass) cut out as many rounds as possible. Transfer rounds with a metal spatula to a large baking sheet, arranging about 1/2 inch apart. Reroll scraps and cut out more rounds. Put 1 teaspoon filling in center of each round and fold up edges to form triangular cookies resembling a tricornered hat, pinching corners together and leaving filling exposed. (Pinch dough tightly enough so seams are no longer visible and sides are taut enough to prevent cookies from leaking filling as they bake.)

4. Bake hamantaschen in middle of the oven 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool hamantaschen on baking sheet 5 minutes and transfer to racks to cool completely. Make more hamantaschen with remaining dough and filling in same manner. Hamantaschen keep in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.

Thanks, Erica – I can’t wait to try out your recipe!

Erica is part of the Jewish Book Council’s NETWORK program, so please get in touch with them if you want to book Erica to come to your JCC. She is also available to visit with schools and book groups worldwide by skype for free (schedule permitting!)

For more about Erica, including some fun videos and downloadable items, visit her web site at:

Tagged , ,