Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Tale of Three Runways

We left New York yesterday for Cincinnati. Airports tend to look remarkably interchangeable. But the view from the airplane before we took off was pretty spectacular.

Our flight stopped in Washington DC, and again we were rewarded with a great view.

I was struck this morning by the visual similarities between the landscape I saw outside the plane window and the beautiful windows in the chapel at Adath Israel. What a nice morning minyan with incredibly welcoming people, and breakfast too.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Shofar Blowing and Food Friday

It’s Elul, the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah. Elul is traditionally a time of introspection. For me it is especially so.

 

My father died on the fourth of Elul. The year after my father died my rabbi asked me to be one of the shofar blowers for Rosh HaShanah. My father was our shul’s shofar blower.  My father was a barrel chested man and would blow the shofar with great gusto and power. His face would turn entirely red as he blew the blasts. I was always worried for my father as he blew shofar, would the sound be a good one? would he keel over from the effort?

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I was very touched when my rabbi asked me to blow shofar.  I had never done it it public before but I figured that with practice I could produce a good sound.

So starting that year after my father died I used to call my mother  and have her listen to my practice. Especially as she grew less verbal, it was a way to connect to her in a deep way. Often when I picked up the phone after I had finished blowing shofar I would hear that my mother had been crying. She would always thank me for including her in my practice.

There is a custom to blow shofar at the end of shaharit/morning services during the month of Elul. I have been one of the people asked to blow shofar this month.  It has been such a powerful way to connect to my father and to my memories of him during the month of his death.

Today as I was putting dessert together, I could not help but remember my mother. One of her standard summer desserts was a simple cake made out of two layers of batter that sandwich a layer of fruit.

 

My mother used to bake hers in a square pan. My mother always carefully followed recipes, although she might play with a flavorings a bit ( a full teaspoon of cinnamon rather than a 1/2 teaspoon or she might add some shakes of orange peel that hadn’t been called for in the recipe)  I thought about my mother as I completely faked one of those old fashioned cakes that are close relatives of puddings.  I whipped up four eggs, added a cup of sugar and mixed with a mixer until the mixture was thick. I added ( slowly) a cup of flour, a bit of salt, a tea spoon of baking powder some olive oil and vanilla. it looked right.

 

 

I had previously pitted what was left from a big bag of cherries and  cut up four peaches and covered the fruit with some sugar. I put half the batter in the bottom of the pan, added in all of the fruit and then topped with what was left of the batter. I remembered that my mother used to sprinkle the tops of such cakes with sugar and cinnamon so I did the same.SAM_4885

I have a nice old fashioned dessert to serve tonight. it’s the sort of thing my mother would have made, but baked in the way that my my father would have. All in al a fitting tribute.

What else are we serving tonight?

Rice baked with the couscous spices our friend sent us from Paris.

 

I also made idiot chicken, that is chicken with Herbes Provencal and the juice from a bunch of tired looking lemons and limes.

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I roasted the kale for a giant salad which has yet to be made.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Yahrzeit

Today is my father’s seventh Yahrzeit.

When I was little I used to pore through the photo albums that then lived in the basement. Perhaps because we didn’t talk to most of our relatives, I used to study the photos in the albums as if they were my families Rosetta stone.

 

Here is my father with his twin sister Irene. I’m guessing they were not yet two when this photo was taken.tbt 001

Here they are about a year or so later. While my father and his twin looked nothing alike as children, I their old age they looked remarkably alike.  Irene is still alive.

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My father grew up in Miami and came to New York to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary.

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My father used to say that when he got to JTS he felt for the first time that he was among people who were like him. Is that not a great tie?

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My father’ first pulpit was in Halifax, NS.  I believe this photo was taken during my parents’ first visit there. I think it’s a law that all visitors to Halifax must be brought to Peggy’s Cove.

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Here are the officers of the synagogue with my father.

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My father loved being a rabbi. He took  both the study of Jewish texts and the doing of Jewish ritual seriously. Unfortunately, I think that he felt that most people saw the things my father was so passionate about very much the way the people who are NOT my father seem to in this photograph.

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I have no idea who the bride, the groom or the man at the microphone are. My father is clearly leading birkat hamazon. I am guessing that no one is singing along with my father.

This photographs all existed in the world of my father’s mythic past deep in the mists of history.

 

Next week  we go to Cincinnati because my father’s life’s work, will now be entering  the collection of the Skirball Museum at Hebrew Union College.

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My father is no longer alive, the synagogue is no longer there, and yet, those incredible windows now have a new home. Each day as I go to morning minyan I hear my fathers bellowing voice  in my head davening with gusto.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Food Friday and a thought about Robert Moses

This is probably going to be the last Shabbat our family will be all together for a while. Our youngest will probably be going back to college during the week. Our daughter and her boyfriend are joining us tonight for Shabbat.

 

I started  tonight’s cooking with my new favorite summer food, pickled vegetables. For tonight it is a mix of carrots, cabbage, turnip and cauliflower. The final result is halfway between the bowl of pickled vegetables you get at an old fashioned Jewish deli and one of the salatim you get at an Israeli schwarma restaurant. One of the things I love about pickling vegetables is how vegetables that are kind of terrible, like turnips, or not that interesting like cabbage or cauliflower become completely transformed by hanging out all day in a mix of vinegar, sugar salt and spices. It’s the vegetable version of an extreme makeover of the homely into the fabulous. 

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This was a challah baking week. My foodie friend’s Czernowitz challah was incredibly good. It tasted like an excellent challah from somewhere deep in my past. I wish I could identify exactly where I had had this excellent challah before...eventually it will come to me.

I also made one package of ribs.

I realized that this meal was more or less Mediterranean. The meatballs are spiced with African spices. Here they are cold. They will look far more delicious warmed up.

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I made a spicy stewed eggplant with tahini. My youngest  is allergic to sesame. The chances of his eating this eggplant is zero either with or without the tahini, so I felt safe adding it to the eggplant.

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For dessert I thought I would make a straightforward apricot sorbet. Like much of what I do, the straight forward took something of a left turn in the making and by the end I had something that tasted of the shouk. The sorbet is spiced with ginger, cardamom, rosewater and vanilla.

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My boys both worked at the same day camp this summer. Today was the last day. Often in the evening they would discuss challenging situations they had had with their kids: how to get shy kids to become part of a group, how they settled disputes between kids, how they helped kids with learning issues navigate their day. Again and again I was struck by their wisdom. I was gratified to see how they managed to learn the best of what I tried to teach them as their mother, rather than learning from my grumpy worst.

 

I assume that tonight will be a dinner filled with lots of laughter, because that’s what usually happens when we all sit down together for a meal.

And now for a new topic.

Robert Moses is famous for destroying neighborhoods in the Bronx by running the Major Deegan Expressway through the middle of thriving neighborhoods. He is known for building the bridges on the roads to Jones beach too low to allow busses  ( and poor people) to get to the beach. We all know that he did lots of really awful things.

 

One fact that is less known is that when he built public housing in New York City he allotted three times the federal allotment to each housing unit. In fact New York City public housing from the Robert Moses years is built much better than most public housing in the United States.

The other legacy of the Robert Moses years is that aside from the parks, like Central Park and Riverside Park, some of the best stands of trees in Manhattan are  in the housing projects.

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When my youngest was in elementary school we walked some of his friends who lived in the projects a few blocks north of us home.  My son was impressed by the beauty of the setting. He commented about how beautiful it was.SAM_4829My son mused that he wished that he lived in such a pretty place.

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My son wasn’t wrong. The projects are lovely in the summer but are particularly beautiful in the spring and in the fall.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Blog Salad

Today’s post is a jumble of thoughts, a blog salad if you will.

 

Yesterday was the Yahrzeit of my mother’s friend Rachelle. I think they met in college. My mother kept  very few of her pre-marriage friends. Rachelle was one of them.

Rachelle’s daughter Miriam was in my class in school. She was unfailingly nice to me in a place where kindness was a rare experience for me. I went to several of Miriam’s birthday parties. At one of those parties, Rachelle served not the regular frosting topped birthday cake but a Dobos  Torte.  I have eaten Dobos Torte exactly once, at Miriam's birthday party in 1969, and I still remember that hard caramel topped  many layered cake. The cake was a wonder to look at it it’s thin layers of cake and frosting. It was a sophisticated thing to serve to elementary school kids. I remember that Rachelle warned us that it was rich and we shouldn’t eat too much of it. I ate two slices.

 

In 1978, Rachelle published this cookbook.

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The cookbook was one of the treasures I inherited from my mother. Here is the recipe for the Dobos Torte.

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For the past few weeks I have been very aware of both the pull of the past as well as the pressures of getting work done.

Sunday, I got an email  from the son of my third grade teacher. He had found this post that I had written about his mother soon after she had died. I was touched that he had contacted me and once again my head was filled with the past.

My friend Howard had asked me to make him a tallit. It too is filled with memories of the past.

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The brown fabric comes from Howard’s father’s bathrobe. Howard just celebrated his 88th birthday.

 

I also finally completed a t’fillin bag that I had started several years ago but never got around to finishing.

 

It’s made out of hand painted Ultra suede. The text on this side of the bag comes from the intentional prayer one recites before putting on the t’fillin.

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The text on the other side is the text you say as you fix the head portion of the t’fillin to your head.

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I lined the bag with a heavy upholstery fabric.

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My husband wanted to be sure that a large set of t’fillin could actually fit inside the bag. So I tested the bag using my son’s t’fillin.

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My friend Reva called me soon after my mother died and reminded me in her kind, kind way  that recovering from the death of a parent takes time. That sometimes grief expresses itself in a kind of sluggishness, a slowness that makes getting things done difficult.

I have thought often about Reva’s wise words as I wade my way through this year.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Food Friday–cooking for a foodie edition

I have some friends who never ever cook and are easily impressed no matter what I make. ( My mother in law was one of those people, but she was also suffering from dementia so I tended to discount her enthusiasm and assume that it was just a nice side effect of the dementia). Tonight’s guests though are serious foodies.

Alan has been making a study of yeasted vs. sour dough challah. He is making tonight’s challah.

 

I began my Shabbat dinner adventure last night with a rectangular plum pie. I cut up an insane number of plums and covered them with brown sugar to let them weep a bit.

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I also made a nut crust.

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Here it is ready to be baked blind for a bit before I filled it. Don’t ask me exactly what I put into the crust. I can’t exactly remember, and I might not even remember if you interrogated me with bright lights shining in my face.

While the crust was baking, I added some flour to the weeping plums and also a whole lot of chopped ginger and some brown sugar.SAM_4783

I was thinking about how French tarts have a custard like layer just above the crust so I made one with egg, water and honey and chopped tangerine peel.

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By this time the crust was baked enough to support the filling.

Here it is complete.

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I have to put some thought into how to serve this, but dinner is a few hours away.

Today, I made jerk chicken.

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The first time I tasted ( and made) jerk chicken was right after a trip to Jamaica. We bought a jar of the spice mix and made it after we got home. I carefully followed the directions on the jar and coated the chicken with the spice mix a couple of days before cooking. It was amazing. It was so spicy it made us feel high. Even the marrow of the chicken bones were spicy.  My husband and I loved it. Our kids were little though. They were too little to appreciate the fiery flavor and it put them off of spicy food for years.Now though they love spicy food.

I also made pickled vegetables.

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That’s vinegar, brown sugar,salt,  black pepper, juniper berries, whole allspice and one hot pepper in the pot. You cook it until the sugar and the salt melt. basically you cook until the vegetables are all cut up.SAM_4793SAM_4794

Combine everything and stir when you remember to.SAM_4796

I also made crispy kale with tomatoes. My neighbor handed me the bag of teeny tomatoes as I was leaving for morning services.

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The house smells great. I hope my foodie friends are happy with the meal.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Some details from the neighborhood

Someone recently asked me what it’s like to see with an artist’s eye. I replied that I didn’t know how to see any other way.

I have taken to taking my camera with me and taking pictures of the things that catch my eye as I go around the neighborhood.

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I live in a visually rich place.

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I had once spent the summer in the Texas Hill Country. It was so bare there you looked at the spaces between things to make sense of your environment.

 

Here you see pattern on top of pattern. Shapes on top of shapes.

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There is always something to catch my eye.SAM_4763

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One’s eyes are always full here. There is so much to take in.

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