To Remember and Decide

Thanksgiving is upon us.  Last year I couldn’t think of Thanksgiving because my Mother just passed away.  A year later the holiday brings so many memories of her, particularly the Thanksgiving Dinner that she loved to prepare.  Like a few times in the past, this year I will make another Thanksgiving Dinner and as usual when I make a Thanksgiving dinner it will be far less irresistible than Momma’s ever were.  I am a trained Chef and a darned good cook, but to make a turkey and all the trimmings is something Momma was stellar at and I barely competent to compare.

As a small child on the farm I always enjoyed watching Momma stuff the turkey, but more importantly I knew her dressing mixture was going to be heavenly just as soon as that turkey was done.  Momma’s turkey, as well as the dressing brought incredible wafts of butter, sage and browning turkey as the hours passed waiting for it to be done.  Momma never rushed her turkeys.  In fact she got up early just to get it in and be able to watch over it and patiently baste it when necessary, making it moist and tender.  Oh as I write I can smell and I remember the taste.  I remember the leftovers and the unparalleled turkey sandwiches I could concoct from the slices of light and dark meat.

Momma was at her best on the holidays.  She loved cooking but more importantly she enjoyed making dinner for her family.  As in all families we had our traditional trimmings, each of course better than the next, each a little more fattening than the last, but it was worth every calorie.  As I grew up I learned to space myself just a little so that I didn’t get that full achy, sleepy feeling from the triptafan.   Yet, regardless of trying, the time arrived that made me realize that  if I didn’t stop eating I would surely bust.  Unfortunately, when I woke during the night I always sneaked out to the kitchen for another bite of that heavenly turkey.

The last Thanksgiving my Mother orchestrated was just two years before she died.  Momma had an idea and asked if I minded that she planned the table and the menu.  The next days following her request were days filled with surprises, shopping, memories and work for her.  At the time she was still able to go shopping, although bound to her wheel chair.  She had her list ready for shopping.  First to Joann’s Crafts and Hobby Lobby to see what was new in fabrics and decor.  Momma made her selection for the tablecloth and skirt, then on to deciding just which faceplate would make the table look the way she wanted.  While at the two shops she also chose leaves, a wonderful metal turkey and other items for the centerpiece.  During that little escapade Momma asked how she could make a big cookie for everyone, something once again that was goood, but also pretty.  At first I was a little confused and asked if she wanted this for the dessert.  No, that wasn’t the idea she had.  Rather than just give them a cookie Momma wanted it to be wrapped and placed at the table space in a clear bag.

After more shopping for food Momma arrived home ready to work.  That was Momma, but I cautioned her that we had plenty of time and tomorrow, after she rested we could begin.  The next day after, barely past the time I got Momma up and in her wheelchair, I was reminded she needed to start working on her special cookies.  Momma, with her right side paralyzed, in her wheelchair was determined to make the cookie dough.  I placed the mixer on a low stand by her, brought all the ingredients and in a fair amount of time she was ready for me to roll and cut the dough for her.

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Nearly a year ago I began this post.  As I reached the end of the paragraph above the line I stopped.  I couldn’t continue writing.  The memories became to intense remember that wonderful day.  I have kept the tablecloth and all the decorations, yet to this day I am unable to look at them with out missing her.

Last years Thanksgiving was fine.  I made a turkey and all the trimmings and as I sat at the head of the table I asked myself why did I do all of this because my guests could never know or understand the Thanksgivings from my past.  They were special to me and I knew that I did not like the idea of forging a new Thanksgiving of my own, particularly when most of the people I could have for guests only see it as another year.

I vowed that night that I would never try a Thanksgiving Dinner again.  This year I will be at my sister’s in Illinois.  If anyone can come close to the family dinner I enjoy so much is my sister.  I know that Thanksgiving Day will be and taste like it always did.

And then I shall return from Florida and prepare a Christmas/Hannukah Dinner, especially for my dear sister-in-law, who has become a new person  in my life who believes in me as much as my Mother.  Shirley, even though Jewish, understands that for me Christmas is a gay wonderful time.  It was significant in my family, yet held a different position of importance.  Thanksgiving Momma always prepared and planned.  Christmas was a time when we all brought a bit of us to the day and dinner to show our love for each other.  So, when Shirley once said to me I would love, just once to see a big white Christmas tree with sparkling packages under it and a house all decorated for Christmas, there wasn’t much hesitation to say to her, “This year Shirley will be your own White Christmas.”

 

 

 

Remembering You on your Birthday

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It is Momma’s birthday, April 22 and even though she may not be physically here, Momma is with me today to celebrate her life and remember how much she enjoyed the many parties I gave her on her birthday. Even when I was young, Momma loved her day, especially if my sister and I planned something. As a very young boy I used to think for weeks to determine what my Sister and I could do to make the day special for her and then we spent an equal time trying to decide what was a perfect gift, a gift just for our Momma.

There was more than one time our funds were not as abundant as I thought they should be. Momma was always willing to give me a little money. I used to think I was pulling a fast one on her, but as I grew up I realized Momma always knew what I was after.

After Momma and I moved to Arizona, following my father’s death, the real parties began for her. The first big splash was for her seventy-fifth birthday, a day Momma was very nervous about having it arrive. It was the only time Momma didn’t yearn for tomorrow. Earlier in the year all three of her sisters felt she would never make to seventy-five. There Mother died when she was seventy-four and for some ridiculous reason they felt Momma would leave first and follow in her Mother’s footsteps. Sadly, Momma did leave before they did, but they had to wait an additional dozen years for it to happen. I often wondered if they knew how mean they were when they suggested that to her.

In the years following Momma had many wonderful parties and she never was hesitant to have another birthday. Her birthdays were like her tomorrows. They were something that she needed to keep looking forward to rather than dwelling on the past. Even last year, her last birthday with me, was joyfully embraced by her. Momma always adapted and that day her strength was paramount. She had just been in the hospital, very frail and barely could speak loudly, yet she was ready to get dressed, sit on the sofa, rather than stay in bed. It was Momma’s day and the hair, makeup and dress had to be perfect for her. When we sang Happy Birthday I lit candles on a plate of pastel White Chocolate Nips as Momma’s cake. Her swallowing had become very weak and she was not able to eat, yet even those little nips with candles were very special to her.

Momma was and is a very special person. I shall never be able to equal her in humor, wisdom or compassion. She has always been my guiding light and continues to be. Many days I know my Mother’s hand help direct me through what I am doing. I know Momma is here with me now as I write and as I prepared the movie that will help share our special feelings during her memorable birthdays over the last decade.

Please join me in sharing my memories–

Baruch Habah

Please click the arrow to play Dayenu, a Jewish Holiday song.

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To Diana, The family’s baleboosteh and Mother, as well as, the one who taught me a tepl is a pot, who smiled when I told her a blintz is a crepe and patiently taught me how to make her special food without a recipe!!

May you always be remembered!

PASSOVER

Passover (Pesach). The major Jewish spring holiday (with agricultural aspects) also known as hag hamatzot (festival of unleavened bread) commemorating the Exodus or deliverance of the Hebrew people from Egypt (see Exodus 12-13). The festival lasts eight days, during which Jews refrain from eating all leavened foods and products. A special ritual meal called the Seder is prepared, and a traditional narrative called the Haggadah, supplemented by hymns and songs, marks the event.

The name “Passover” refers to the fact that G-d “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt.

Link for Additional Information on Passover

THE HAGGADAH

The Text of the Passover Seder

The text of the Pesach seder is written in a book called the haggadah. The haggadah tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt and explains some of the practices and symbols of the holiday. The content of the seder can be summed up by the following Hebrew rhyme:

Kaddesh, Urechatz
Karpas, Yachatz
Maggid, Rachtzah
Maror, Korekh
Shulchan Orekh
Tzafun, Barekh
Hallel, Nirtzah

Kaddesh: the prayer of Sanctification

Urechatz: Washing the Hands

Karpas: Vegetable (parsley) symbolizes the lowly origins of the Jewish people; the salt water symbolizes the tears shed as a result of our slavery. Parsley is a good vegetable to use for this purpose, because when you shake off the salt water, it looks like tears.

Yachatz: Breaking of the Matza

Maggid: The Story of the Exodus from Egypt and the first Passover.

Rachtzah: Washing of the Hands

Motzi:
Blessing over Grain Products at the table.

Matzah: Blessing over Matza
A blessing specific to matzah is recited, and a bit of matzah is eaten.

Maror: the blessing recited over Bitter Herbs symbolizing the bitterness of slavery.

Korech: The Sandwich of maror and matzah and a little Charoses.

Shulchan Orech: Dinner

Tzafun: The Afikomen a small piece of matzo set aside for desert for children to finnd.

Barech: Grace after Meals

Hallel: Praises by reciting psalms.

Nirtzah: Closing of Seder to wish that Next Year Passover is in Jerusalem

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During my early years, up until I was seventeen, I lived on a small farming community in Iowa. My worldview did not extend much beyond the barnyard! Our education in school was fine, as far as, read’n, writ’n and rithmetic–but it lacked greatly as a guide in introducing its students into the ‘varied ways of the world”. My parents, on the other hand always wanted us to be curious about people and gave us freedom to express ourselves. We had the opportunity to find out what was unknown, yet as isolated as we were in the 50’s and 60’s, it was difficult for them to immerse us in a broad spectrum of cultures. What was available, in our little community, was an abundance of Germans, who were strongly immersed in their heritage, but closed to any other. Fortunately, we were lucky to be the only family which did not uphold these beliefs and particularly different because our Mother was Italian. It took Momma years to become a part of the community because of her heritage and because she was Catholic. Early on my sister and I learned what bias and ethnocentrism is because of the towns reaction to my mother and any one else who was not born into the community.

At eighteen, I moved to the east coast to further my education. At this point, I knew of only one black person, a small girl who attended our school for two days before her family left upon the request of the town fathers. I remember telling my Mother that when I was talking to her, the school bullies tried to tell me not to talk to her. My mother explained to me what was going on and told me I was correct to speak to her, but others felt unfairly different. The next day I chatted with her again and this time, the bullies were not as kind to the little girl. Their treatment was a warning to me, but I knew in my heart they were wrong.

My new school and its location in New Haven, Connecticut provided me with a plethora of ways to expand my worldview. Soon after arriving, I became employed by a Kosher Caterer. Working in many different synagogues, mostly Conservative, contributed to a journey in understanding Judaism that would last a lifetime and provide me with an endless array of wonderful memories.

Until October of 1973, my journey remained at a tourist level! I was aware of many holidays and understood the dietary restrictions of Conservative Jews, although my perception of what it is to be Jewish as compared to what the canons of religious belief was negligible. Then on that October night, I met M and all of that would change.

Day by day, as they accumulated into the past, I realized I was beginning to understand more and more than I ever thought I would. New doors opened and I became curious about every aspect of Judaism I was shown. Trips to the library and book stores allowed me to get books on the Holocaust, as well as becoming fascinated by the Kabballah, a body of mystical teachings of rabbinical origin, or seeking to understand the difference between a bible and the Torah, a scroll of parchment containing the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, used in a synagogue during services. I soon understood what a yarmulke was (a skullcap worn, esp. during prayer and religious study, by Jewish males, esp. those adhering to Orthodox or Conservative tradition) and that treyf meant that a particular food is unfit for Jews to eat or use, according to religious laws.

At first it was M. that explained everything to me and then Diana, his mother, who enlightened me to the Yiddish language and told me the tales of her coming to Canada from Poland, where she had been born, and how she used her brother’s passport. She wove realistic pictures of life in a shetl and introduced me to the grand repertoire of her cooking.

At times she taught me a single word in Yiddish, like tepl for a pot or surprise me when she made an incredible, yet simple cheesecake, unlike any that I had known. It had a light, airy, cake layer on the top, one running through the middle and one at the bottom of the cake. The cheese filling was far superior to any I had made because the Canadian cheese was unpastuerized making it much more flavorful.

I asked Diana to show me how to make the cake. As she began the cake I realized she was not not measuring the ingredients. Quickly I told her this would never do if she really wanted me to learn how to make the cake. Quickly she grabbed the measuring cups and spoons and began measuring her amounts by placing them in a measuring cup for me to record. Next, Diana showed me how to make her Sponge Cake. I had never wanted to make one, but she said I could make one as good as hers. When she was done with the lesson (incuding recorded amounts for the ingredients) she took the cake from the oven. It was tall, golden brown, light as a feather and oh, it melted in our mouth when we ate it. Afterward, I was successful in making a second sponge cake. She was right, although I felt she had performed a miracle on me!!. I was ready to measure the ingredients for another cake and felt she could teach me many things in the kitchen. We were on our way–

Or, so I thought, but then on a visit to Canada I was to prepare a twenty -fifth anniversary party for M’s sister and husband. Diana and I agreed to make the food at her apartment and that she would share in the items to make, but wanted me to write the menu. I was intrigued with Montreal, particularly, the markets with fresh cheeses, fruits and vegetables. I decided we should have an assortment of crepes, some savory and some sweet at the party. I knew from the past Diana made very thin blintz. When I told her what to do I said I wanted her to make the crepes, rather than calling them Blintz. Suddenly Diana became excited and worried because she said she had never made a crepe. I laughed and then realized why she was worried and explained to her that a crepe was a blintz. She responded with a big smile as she said, “Whaaaaa—-t-t-t-t!—–no kidding!!”

Next another obstacle formed when I asked Diana if she had any measuring cups and spoons. I had forgotten mine in the states and I needed them to measure the ingredients for the tiered cake. She smiled and said she would be back…………the minutes passed became an one hour, then two and we began to worry. Just then, Diana opened the door swinging a 1/3 of a cup measure and a tablespoon measure. She had gone through the entire building of residents to see if she could borrow a measuring cup and spoon set! Regardless, we made the cake with the 1/3-cup measure and the measuring spoon!!

As the years passed, Diana developed Alzheimer’s and came to live with us. Family visits, including those for Passover, made the next three years happy for Diana. As the first Seder approached, I wanted to make Gefilte Fish just like Diana’s. Hers, unlike so many other recipes, were extremely light, slightly sweet and were made from a blend of pike, carp and whitefish. Diana offered to show me how to make it and once again, we had our lesson. Diana took a pinch and I put the spoon under her hand to measure it until all the ingredients were ready for mixing in the bowl. Before we had measured, we ground and chopped the fish. I was amazed that she was able to remember how to make them. Later that day, Diana, M. and I enjoyed the first of the warm, Gefilte Fish that would be part of our Seder. They melted in our mouths!

I tried many new recipes for Seder that year and Diana was able to remember more of her dishes. In the end, the Seder was spectacular and I know she enjoyed having all of her family there. The next two years I prepared the Seders myself. I am a very good cook, but without Diana’s tutelage, the Seders that I prepare could not be as good as they are if she had not shown me how to do so much.

In the years following Diana’s death there hasn’t been very many family dinners. Occasionally I will make her wonderful cheesecake, or prepare another of her dishes for M. I do this to please M and to continue to make her recipes so that Diana remains well and happy within our kitchen and in our hearts.

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Our First Seder Dinner

Eggs in Salt Water

Gefilte Fish with Beet and Plain Horseradish

Matzo Ball Chicken Soup garnished with allumettes of Red Pepper and Scallion

Roast Brisket of Beef with Onions and Red Wine

Reduced Aus JusSauce

Savory Scallion tied, Bundles of Haricot Verte with Lemon Sauce

Matzo Farfel Tsimmes

Matzos

Carrot Sponge Cake–Pineapple Orange Frosting

Gan Eden Torte glazed with Dark Chocolate

Passover Brownies

Imberlach

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(If you should like a copy of a recipe please leave your name and email address in a comment to me and I will forward a copy to you.)