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Recipe for Life, Death and Ground Fish Balls

Recipe for Life, Death and Ground Fish Balls


You should never make Gefilte Fish Balls. Why?

  1. Your kitchen will reek of fish for one week.
  2. YOU will smell like fish for one week.
  3. Your refrigerator will smell like fish for two weeks.

But – you should read this recipe.

My mom was a great cook. The problem – she never taught me how to cook.

Every year for the Jewish High Holy Day, Rosh Hashanah, she made her famous Gefilte Fish Balls.

One time I watched her prepare the gefilte fish, against her wishes. She remarked, “I don’t know how I do it. I just put it all together. I can’t give you a real recipe”.

See approximate recipe below.


Karen with her mom, Anne Cortell

We always had a large crowd for Rosh Hashanah. After I got married, I inherited the tradition and celebrated this High Holy Day – the Jewish New Year, at my home. At one time we peaked at around 45 people for this seated dinner.

Mom continued to prepare the fish. On the day of the dinner she would arrive at my door around 11am, honking her horn. I’d come outside and help bring in the 5 Pyrex dishes filled with The Balls. We would sit down, have 2 Balls with fresh Challah (bread) – a true highlight moment. I always knew the best part about this celebration was not the holiday itself, but the entire day spent with my Mom. We would set the tables, prepare other dishes, and spend time together.

I vividly recall her final Rosh Hashanah. According to her notes she brought the fish over on 9 – 8 – 1991, two days before her 72nd birthday. She honked her horn as usual. She came in saying, “Karrrren (she had a thick German accent), I’m tired. I don’t know why. I shouldn’t be, but I am.”

We had our typical fantastic day together and a lovely evening celebration. She had a fatal heart attack two months later.


I took her copious log, called the grocery store and attempted to make The Balls. At the last minute Aunt Lorraine offered to help. (Aunt Lorraine was not a ‘real’ Aunt – she was my Mom’s best friend and a second mother to me. We just called everyone ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.)

Out of deep sadness evolved a new rich tradition. From that year forward, Aunt Lorraine and I would prepare The Balls together. She had her pot – covering two burners, I had mine – covering the other two burners. She tossed in the same amount of seasoning as I.

She’d say, “Karen, I don’t get it! We’ve done the exact same thing, but your Balls always taste better”, which was an accurate assessment, in my humble opinion.

“Aunt Lorraine, I know why. My mom is watching over my pot, not yours.”

Then Aunt Lorraine was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and just ahead of Rosh Hashanah she said, “Karen, I won’t be able to prepare the gefilte fish this year.”

Her comment spoke volumes. What she was really saying was, “I can’t make the gefilte fish because I’m dying.”

Lessons learned about life, death & ground fish balls

With my mom – It wasn’t about The Balls. It was about love, tradition, celebration, Mom and daughter time and family.

With Aunt Lorraine – It wasn’t about The Balls. It was about finding ways to move from deep grief to new and special connections that help fill the void.

So – don’t make these Balls (refer back to top).

But – do make time for those you love. Create wonderful traditions in and out of the kitchen. Those memories – past, present, and future are delicious.


Order from grocery store:

  • 2 pints of finely ground onions

Tell the guy to take fish (amounts below) and filet and grind twice. Once it’s ground you should have around 6 pounds of ground fish. Make sure he saves the carcass and skin – and gives to you. Have them remove the eyes. (!)

  • 3 pounds of buffalo fish
  • 4 pounds of trout
  • 4 pounds of whitefish
  • 8 carrots
  • A head of celery – use the very tops and the bottom part (I think my mom was saving the best part for other uses)
  • 5 sticks of margarine
  • 2 large onions, sliced (that’s in addition to the pre-ordered ground onions)
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 14 ounces matzo meal
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Lawry salt
  • Garlic salt
  • Sugar
  • 2 packs of clear Knox gelatin
  • Couple of jars of red horseradish


Place rinsed skeletons, heads, tails in bottom of a huge silver deep rectangular pan that will cover two of your burners on your stove. Throw away fish skin.

Add water – totally cover – about ¾ high in the huge pan.

Add all the carrots, celery tops and bottoms, margarine, sliced up onions.


  • 7 seconds of salt – from large container using the spout
  • 7 seconds of garlic salt – with open bottle (no sifter)
  • 5 seconds of Lawry salt – with open bottle (no sifter)
  • 4 seconds of sugar out of sack
  • 3.5 seconds of pepper

Put on two burners on stove on high till it boils. Cover and turn to simmer for around 40 minutes to an hour. While this is simmering, prepare the fish.

Put all the ground fish in large bowl.


  • 2 pounds finely ground onion
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 14 ounces of matzo meal
  • 6 seconds of salt (for all seasonings use same lid as above)
  • 4.5 seconds of pepper
  • 5 seconds of Lawry salt
  • 5 seconds of garlic salt
  • 4 seconds of sugar


  • Knead together and add 4 more cups of water
  • Use an ice cream scooper – dip scooper into heated fish broth first – then scoop out 2 balls. Fill the scooper but make it flat at the top (unlike today’s huge portion of ice cream at an ice cream shop, but that’s another story).
  • Put the scoops of fish into the fish broth. Turn the broth up to boil again and wait for the balls to float, turn white, and not fall apart. These are your test balls! IF they fall apart, add more matzo meal to your ground fish concoction.
  • Take your test balls out when ready and place in freezer. Go grab some coffee and wait a bit. Take the balls out of the freezer and eat them. Should taste delicious.
  • Now get busy: Put 16 balls at a time into the fish broth. Bring to a boil. Should take about 10 min. to cook – or until they’re really floating.

All of this: 114 balls (not an approximation) *

  • Once done: take all the fish bones and other ingredients out of the fish broth. Add in the gelatin. Save the cooked carrots and dice.
  • Pour the fish broth over the fish balls in their various glass Pyrex dishes. Cover and refrigerate.


  • 2 balls/plate
  • One little slice of cooked carrot on top of each ball.
    • NOTE: Looks like The Balls are graduating from college.
  • Place some of the jelled fish broth on each plate.
  • Add a dab of horseradish to the side.

* While Mom never had a written recipe, she kept a log of each time she prepared Gefilte Fish. Her detailed notes of jelling challenges, added matzo meal, how many balls went where date back to the 1950’s. Some notes from her batch on 9-18-1990: “It made a total of 114 balls and I think it turned out very good! Indeed EXCELLENT AND IT JELLED!! Total of 81 balls for Karen, she had 11 left for her. 12 for Nina, 8 for me, 4 for Reisman, 8 for Kallenberg, 2 each for Ruth and Norma”.

Karen Cortell Reisman book on sellingKaren Cortell Reisman Speech BookAuthor: Karen Cortell Reisman is president of Speak For Yourself® and the author of 2 books on how to communicate. She lives in Dallas, Texas and has finally learned how to cook.

© 2021 Karen Cortell Reisman, All rights reserved

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How Can Leaders Communicate Better?

How Can Leaders Communicate Better?

Picture your next national sales conference – virtual or in-person. Imagine your quarterly market report to your stakeholders. Dream about opening your inbox to short, well-written emails that you need to see.

To lead well you must communicate well – in all of these scenarios … and more.

3 ½ Tips for Leaders to Communicate More Effectively

Leader Communication Strategy #1: Simplify.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. Ask yourself – what are the two to five main ideas about your topic? OR if you’re trying to persuade your board – what are the two to five main reasons for taking your action step? That’s it. Narrow your focus and think about your two to five categories/buckets/reasons to get your message across. Your buckets can be filled with all of your data – just don’t confuse your audience by having endless main topics.

Leader Communication Strategy #2: Illustrate.
Use more stories. Once you’ve got your main points/reasons (only two to five) then make your topics sticky by adding stories. If you want your sales team to make more sales then urge them to share success stories with prospects. You can work around client confidentiality. Explain how you saved other (nameless) clients money and headache. Don’t think of stories as Disney musicals. Think of stories as real-life examples, with simplified metrics, of where your company has created big wins for other clients.

Leader Communication Strategy #3: Affirm.
If you want to lead successfully you must share with your colleagues, team and clients what they are doing right. When was the last time you praised someone, or an entire department, specifically and sincerely, for a job well done? Praise costs nothing and creates motivation. In a study of why people get out of bed and go to work the answer, “Get paid” is #4 on a list of 10 reasons. The top three reasons revolve around feeling included in decision-making and being appreciated for the jobs they’re doing.

Leader Communication Strategy Bonus ½: Listen.
Think super glue. Image that you’re putting a dab of this glue (don’t really do this… we are thinking of the Gorilla Glue fiasco!) on your bottom lip and clamp down. Figuratively you cannot open your mouth. All you can do is listen. And as a leader – listening gives you data, nuance and ideas. Information talks … wisdom listens.

© 2021 Karen Cortell Reisman, All rights reserved

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Karen Cortell Reisman book on sellingKaren Cortell Reisman, M.S., author of 2 books and President of Speak For Yourself®, works with decision makers on how to speak with gravitas. It’s all in how you speak for yourself. Karen also speaks about her cousin, #AlbertEinstein, in a message about hope, resilience and brassieres.

Want a customized Speak For Yourself® virtual workshop on how to communicate formally, informally, and electronically?

Did you know we offer a free 20-minute communication consultation?

Email Karen@SpeakForYourself.com

How to Cultivate Charisma

How to Cultivate Charisma

Whether you’re inspiring your national sales team, or you’re the champion for an important nonprofit initiative or you’re trying to persuade your partner to put down the phone – you’ll get more of what you want if you have charisma.

Charisma defined: People exhibiting charisma attract, influence, and inspire others. Charisma is about skills you use that create a positive reaction for your team/audience/patients/clients/prospects.

In Bryan Clark’s recent NYT article, What Makes People Charismatic, and How You Can Be, Too, he shares these three pillars of charisma researched by Olivia Fox Cabane, author of “The Charisma Myth.”

  • Charisma Pillar #1: Presence – staying in the moment.
  • Charisma Pillar #2: Power – removing self-doubt and embracing the value you bring to others.
  • Charisma Pillar #3: Warmth – signaling kindness and acceptance even with people you’ve just met.

Those that achieve this trifecta should be applauded. It’s not easy.

But here are some do’s and don’ts on how to cultivate your charisma:

  • Don’t do all the talking!
  • Do be an active listener.
  • Don’t be a data dumper.
  • Do speak metaphorically, using anecdotes and analogies.
  • Don’t act like you’re at a funeral.
  • Do use positive facial gestures and energetic body language.
  • Don’t be monotone.
  • Do use vocal inflection.
  • Don’t tell the endless, tangent-filled, confusing story.
  • Do share a good story that’s relevant to your listener.
  • Don’t get distracted when talking to someone.
  • Do make your listeners feel like they’re the only one in the room.
  • Don’t negate others.
  • Do make others feel better about themselves.
  • Don’t talk only about yourself.
  • Do ask about the other with genuine interest.
  • Don’t avoid opportunities to speak in public.
  • Do read our blog and learn how to be a great public speaker!

Note: Thanks to my blog reader, @JDCtravels, for sending me this NYT’s article.

*Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/15/smarter-living/what-makes-people-charismatic-and-how-you-can-be-too.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

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Want to use Star Ranch for a strategic retreat? Call us!

Karen Cortell Reisman, M.S., author of 3 books and President of Speak For Yourself®, works with decision makers on how to speak to make more money. It’s all in how you speak for yourself. Karen also speaks about her cousin, Albert Einstein, in a message about hope, resilience and brassieres. 

Karen and her husband own Star Ranch – open for corporate retreats – 100 miles west of Dallas.

#PresentationSkills #BusinessCommunication #OrganizationalCommunication

Karen Cortell Reisman, MS, Executive Communication Author & Speaker


Three Presentation Rules & When to Break Them

Three Presentation Rules & When to Break Them

“To break the rules, you must first master them,” says the advertisement for an Audemars Piguet watch in the New York Times.

What works for this watch company also works for giving a presentation.

You have to master the rules of giving a great speech first. Then you can break them… sometimes.

Here is your rule book.

Rule: Have a dynamic opener for your speech.

When/how to break this rule: Your first words set the tone of your presentation. This rule is pretty concrete! BUT – here’s how to bend the rule. When you prepare to give a speech, strategize from the inside first by answering these questions. What do you want to say? What are your main points? What’s in it for the audience? Once you’ve put together your message THEN figure out how you will begin. Your first words are crucial but you don’t have to write them first when designing your message.

Rule: Use vivid stories to support your data.

When/how to break this rule: Stories do make your message stick. You will have more energy and better traction when you support your material with compelling (and well crafted) stories. BUT – you have to be aware of time and timing. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to share the story OR your story may not resonate due to current events, concerns in your organization, or issues with your C-Suite. You have to pick, choose, edit and…yes… delete stories when necessary.

Rule: Have a compelling conclusion.

When/how to break this rule: It’s been said that a great ending can save a bad speech. Maybe. As a Speak For Yourself® blog reader this won’t happen to you! You know how to give a great speech. But here is when you can break the rule of having a clincher conclusion. You can end just with your “call to action”. You have to tell us what action steps come as a result of listening to you. That is a non-breakable rule. But, due to timing or your company culture, you may not need or want to add on a compelling final quote/story/visual.

Master the rules first. Then bend or break with discretion.

© SpeakForYourself.com/blog             © 123RF Stock Photo

Karen Cortell Reisman, M.S., author of 3 books and President of Speak For Yourself®, works with decision makers on how to speak with gravitas. It’s all in how you speak for yourself. Karen also speaks about her cousin, Albert Einstein, in a message about hope, resilience and brassieres.

#PresentationSkills #BusinessCommunication #OrganizationalCommunication

Karen Cortell Reisman, MS, Executive Communication Author & Speaker

Making Yourself Memorable with Your Auto-Responder on Email

Don’t you hate “out of the office” email responses? They are always the same.


 “I will be out of the office from This Date to That Date with limited time internet access. In case of an emergency, or any urgent issues, please feel free to contact XYZ.”

How NOT unique! Try these tips to make you memorable.

1)      Humanize the normally mechanical message.

2)     Make it funny.


Try something like this!

“I am currently out of the office on vacation.

I know I’m supposed to say that I’ll have limited access to email and won’t be able to respond until I return – but that’s not true. My blackberry will be with me and I can respond if I need to.

That said, I promised my wife that I am going to try to disconnect, get away and enjoy our vacation as much as possible. I’m going to leave the decision in your hands:

  • If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I’m on vacation, please resend it to interruptyourvacation@[redacted].com and I’ll try to respond to it promptly.
  • If you think someone else at [the company] might be able to help you, feel free to email my assistant, and she’ll try to point you in the right direction.

· Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return. Warm regards,


It’s hard to get annoyed. In fact, you can’t help but respect George.


Here are a couple more great examples!

I will be on vacation from Wednesday through Wednesday (inclusive), and will not be checking my e-mail. Seriously. I don’t even have a cell phone with e-mail capabilities.

Please do not panic, stampede or otherwise become fretful. There are other [department] minions available to do your nefarious bidding; make them work while I’m out of town goofing off. If you would prefer to receive extremely belated technical assistance, I will be back next Thursday.

Please Note: Larger denomination bribes and/or larger quantities of canned goods or other non-perishable (but tasty) food items will receive priority treatment.”



“Your fearless leader is out of the office today, but has left his trusted henchmen to watch you carefully. They are instructed to respond to any questions in the usual slow, evasive and ineffectual manner. And for those who do not trust the answers, watch for them on ‘Jeopardy’ this evening.”


Obviously, different types of messages are appropriate for different work settings. Knowing your audience and your company and how these ideas will go over is an important thing to consider when mixing it up.

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