Why I Love Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving. To me, it has never been a holiday about shopping. It’s a holiday that’s all about food. And being thankful for food. And being thankful for having family and friends—with whom you can share food. Do you sense a theme?  It’s about sitting at the table, talking and relaxing over food and wine.

I love the scents that envelop the house as the turkey roasts and the gravy simmers. These scents evoke long ago memories of past Thanksgivings, or perhaps better stated, they evoke long ago feelings from past Thanksgivings, feelings of warmth, comfort, and joy. I don’t know why, but it makes me happy.

I love my crazy, dysfunctional family. I don’t care if there is stupid, family drama. I still love them and love having them here. I will try to remain calm if tempers flare. (And if not, there’s always more wine. . .and food. . .and chocolate.)

I love our family Thanksgiving traditions—our cranberry squirrel (you can read about it here), our breaking bread to make stuffing, and our having to eat the same food every year.

I will miss not having our older daughter here, but I am happy for her that she gets to spend Thanksgiving with her new wife, and I’m grateful that her in-laws are so welcoming. I am happy that our younger daughter will be with us again this year. I am thankful that my 92-year-old mother is still able to celebrate the holiday at our Thanksgiving table.

We are expecting a winter storm today. The rain is starting to pick up now, and it’s expected to turn to snow. I am thankful that my family is not traveling today.  For those of you who are traveling today, I wish you a safe and uneventful journey.

I know that many of my friends have lost loved ones, and I know Thanksgiving is a reminder of their loss. I am sorry, and my heart aches for you. Please know that you can call me, and that I will be thinking of you.  I know I will be in that situation some day. That makes me more all the more thankful for what I have now.

I know that many believe the world is broken. I have no answers. . .

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops – at all -

–Emily Dickinson

And what is a world without hope? I am thankful for hope and grateful for all those who strive to make the world a better place.

I am thankful to have submitted my latest book manuscript and that all my test writing assignments are completed, so now I can relax and cook and enjoy my family. I’ve done much of the Thanksgiving cooking already—breads are baked and in the freezer, soon to be thawed. Applesauce and vegetarian gravy are thawing now. My younger daughter and I will be baking and cooking today and tomorrow. My house will be filled with the scents of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, onions, and turkey. I will break bread for stuffing with my daughter as we catch up on Scandal or binge watch The Gilmore Girls on Netflix. We will shoo cats away from the food, and we will not dare to set the table until the last minute. The house will not be spotless, but I won’t care. I will feel grateful for it all.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. Thank you for reading!

Thanksgiving Cranberry Squirrel

Thanksgiving Cranberry Squirrel

The Phone Rings

The phone rang. It was my niece. Let’s call her . . .oh, let’s say, Hannah. That might actually be her name.

So this is our ritual—she calls me almost daily, usually around 6 PM, with that day’s problem or question. In fact, now if a day or two goes by and she doesn’t call me, I’m worried. And if I’m not home, she worries—because where would I possibly be? I don’t have a life. She never thinks to try my cell–which is good—because—Oh-My-God—what if I didn’t call or text her back? I mean, I’d obviously have my cell with me, right? I mean if I did go out? So she’d probably call my daughters and husband, and then the police. Because that’s the way we are. We’re chronic worriers, and if there isn’t something to worry or feel anxious about, then we invent something. I rarely call her because she doesn’t ever pick up, and when she does, she automatically thinks it’s an emergency and yells, “WHAT’S WRONG?”

So maybe we’re just a teeny tiny bit neurotic. We’re still loveable. Mostly.

By the way, I’m the calm one. That means I worry quietly.

Anyway, the phone call–

“Are you eating?” “No, I’m making dinner.” “Oh, Ok. I just have to tell you this real fast.” (The phone call will last about 45 minutes.]

“OK.”

“You know—I think you should write a blog post about my phone calls.”

I laugh.

“Wouldn’t it be entertaining?” she asks.

“Well. . .I couldn’t write about everything,” I tell her. She agrees—we wouldn’t want hurt feelings, or libel suits (assuming anyone reads this).

So today’s problem involves some lengthy, crazy emails she’s received—a postscript to yesterday’s call on the same subject. She needs to vent. I groan and laugh over the ridiculous things she tells me.

Secretly—well, I guess it’s not really a secret anymore—I love these phone calls. They bring connection and usually a laugh at the end of the day. My days recently have been spent mainly in front of my computer. Hannah’s phone calls are like a break from reality—although often rooted in family foibles, if not full-out family drama. It’s kind of like I’m suddenly in the middle of a sitcom, or perhaps an episode of Parenthood, her favorite show.

She warns me not to tell her any spoilers. Usually I’m the one who’s behind. We want to live in a Parenthood family compound, the one that I guess no longer exists on that show either, because there, too, life moves on, houses get sold, couples grow apart or together, family members get sick, and children grow up.

But back to the phone call. We discuss her oldest child growing up.

She called to him the other day, “Is that you?” “No,” he replied, “It’s the foreign exchange student.” Twelve-year-olds have their own sense of humor.

We discuss how much wine might be needed for Thanksgiving. It may require a lot.

“I have a new favorite cocktail,” she tells me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem doable for Thanksgiving. But some other time. . .

Hannah’s husband calls to her, and my dinner is almost ready. “I’ve got to go. Love you,”

“Love you, too.”

I forgot to tell her about the apple cake I made today. The kind she likes. Oh well.

Until tomorrow night then. I’ll be waiting for your call.

 

5 Things I Learned While Writing World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia

I’ve been in hyper-writing mode for the past few months. My days—and nights—have been consumed with writing. I would begin writing early in the morning, take a break to go to the gym (a spin class or boot camp class—something to make my heart pound and my body drip with sweat), and then go back to my keyboard for the rest of the day. Sometimes I stopped to make dinner; sometimes I didn’t. I didn’t do much of anything else. I didn’t want to stop to make phone calls or do the grocery shopping, or pay bills (OK, no one wants to do that anyway). Books and papers piled up around me. I have felt like I couldn’t pause or relax or do anything except write. In a strange way though, it has been exhilarating and empowering. I have never written so much so quickly. I amazed myself.  My feelings may change once I’ve heard back from my editor, but in the meantime, here are some other things I learned while working on this book—my tenth!

1. I’ve admired—and envied—my daughters’ ability to write quickly and well. I’ve seen my younger daughter write brilliant school papers in an hour or two–while watching TV and answering texts. Both daughters have written school and professional papers, blog posts, plays, and of course, the annual Passover skit for our family Passover dinner. Well, the envy is gone because now I know I can do it, too.

2. I’ve learned there is actually some scientific research that supports the idea that the more you write, the better you become at writing. You can read about it here and here.

My brain has been practicing quite a bit. I’ve even been having writing/editing dreams. What’s interesting to me is that they did not seem like anxiety dreams. They were more like my subconscious giving me encouragement. I was seeing eighteenth-century texts in my head, and Dream Me was kind of saying—“Hey, look at this.” Or, “remember to look for this tomorrow.” A couple of nights ago Dream Me even saw and read from Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls. . . ” I read much more to myself in the dream, as I saw the words on a page. I definitely couldn’t quote it to you now, but somewhere in my brain, those words exist. How weird! How wonderful! (Hmmm. . .maybe I do really know Italian, I just can’t remember it when I’m awake.)

3.  Dealing with contributors. Has anyone written a book on that?  I’ve edited four encyclopedia projects now, and two collections of essays, so you would think I’d know that contributors can be horrible and wonderful, but with this project I seemed to hit extremes at both ends. World of the American Revolution a much bigger project than others I’ve worked on, a fact that my otherwise wise and creative brain (see above) failed to recognize at the outset. With this book I had more contributors simply vanish into thin air after agreeing to write (and of course, they were usually the ones who insisted they could write many, many entries). I had others who thought plagiarizing was no big deal. Uggghhhh! I had a few who simply did not know how to write an encyclopedia article. Seriously, you’re an adult, I shouldn’t have to send you multiple e-mails telling you that you’ve missed the deadline, or explaining to you that you can’t plagiarize. If you agree to write article, write them, do them correctly, and get them in on time. If something comes up, then send me an email so that I know.  Really, I’m not your mom, and I shouldn’t have to nag you. (Not that I nagged my kids. . .much).

SOOOO. . . I had to write many, many more articles than I thought I would have to write.

However, I also had wonderful contributors who took on writing additional articles. And if any of them are reading this—a thousand thanks!

4. The bright side of having to write so many more articles myself? I’ve gained all sorts of fascinating knowledge about subjects I knew nothing about before starting this book. (Yes, I am a cockeyed optimist. See, I can’t even maintain my rant!) I’ve learned from reading articles, of course, but there’s something about researching and writing about a topic that makes it stick more firmly in my head.

5.Finally, I’ve learned that despite my best intentions, I am not an organized writer. This is what my kitchen table looked like.

My assistant sits on Mt. Chaos

My assistant sits on Mt. Chaos

Anne Lamott says:

“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

My philosophy? I aim for perfection in my writing, but it takes an enormous mess to get there.

So if I announce I’m going to work on a new project, please remind me of some things. Remind me that if the next project involves contributors, I’m going to be frustrated. I’m also going to be disorganized, even though I start out with lists, perfectly organized files, and good intentions. By the time I finish, my house will be a complete mess, and most likely I will be, too, but I will also feel that I’ve accomplished something remarkable. It’s an awesome feeling.

And now, I’m going to get started on Thanksgiving cooking!

Love and Marriage, Part 4: Sisters

As some of you know, I’m in crazy writing mode. I have a deadline coming up, and my life right now is writing and more writing with breaks for the gym and food. By sunset, which comes early now, I can barely form comprehensible sentences, and it’s time for dinner, a TV show, and bed.

BUT—this past weekend, I took a break for my little sister’s wedding. Our newly married daughter and her wife flew in for the weekend, and we went to a wine festival on Saturday,

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the annual Red Bank Battlefield (Fort Mercer) reenactment Sunday morning,

Red Bank Battlefield

Red Bank Battlefield American forces firing the cannon

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The charge by the British troops!

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A casualty of war

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and then my sister’s wedding on Sunday night. On Monday, my husband and I went out to lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant with my daughter and her wife before they flew back home.

My sister was my maid of honor when my husband and I married 36 years ago. I never thought I’d be at her wedding, standing at her side to witness her say her vow of love and commitment to her long-time partner in love and life. For over twenty years, she and her now wife have been together. They’ve built a life for themselves in their beautiful house with their two cats and a dog. My dad did not get to see this day, but he would have been thrilled and excited. My ninety-two-year-old mother was there, smiling—and dancing, too. I know this was an event she never thought she’d witness.

Some people would say I’ve been to two “gay weddings” in the last two months, but to me, they were simply weddings of two couples in love. One is a young couple just beginning their lives together, and one an established couple of many years, but they, too, are now newlyweds. My sister’s wedding was a joyous affair. As they gazed into each other’s eyes, my sister and my new sister-in-law said their vows. Family and friends surrounded them in a love cocoon from which they emerged transformed, married. We cried tears of joy, and laughed and cheered as they broke the glass.

Sunday morning had dawned blustery and cold. My daughter, her wife, and I walked to the battlefield. I’m writing an encyclopedia of daily life during the American Revolution—it was a weird and wonderful seeing people dressed in the clothing of the period I’ve been writing about. We took a tour of the Whitall House. I wondered what the strong Quaker woman who had lived there over two hundred years ago would have said about two women marrying. She was a woman who spoke her mind—I’ve no doubt that she would have had an opinion. Despite being morally opposed to war, she cared for wounded soldiers in her home. Perhaps she would have disapproved of a same sex marriage (a concept that she would not even have considered), but I like to think she’d recognize the love in the hearts of those committing to a life together. My daughter and her wife glow, and everyone around them feels their love. The beating of the drums that day on the battlefield marked the rhythm of soldiers and battles. The hearts that bled out that day—and stopped–had been hearts that loved and had been loved.

Sunday evening was filled with warmth. Hearts beat excitedly with anticipation and were filled with love. I got to see my sister married, something remarkable, simple, and profound.

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We’re excited and waiting for the wedding to begin!

New Review: Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast

Forgive me for sharing another review of Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast (along with the companion volume, Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis). I value the reviews from academics so much, and I’m happy to see it has received great reviews from scholars. I hope they continue. But I’m thrilled to see this book also receive mass-market attention, as in really mass market, as in Playboy. I write academic history books and reference books; my books are typically reviewed in academic journals and more specialized sites. So I’m going to take my few moments of almost-fame and share this review with you.

“Readers of this magazine may be forgiven for thinking they know a thing or two about body parts. But with two new volumes, Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast and its companion, Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis, publisher Rowman & Littlefield shows there’s always more to discover. From the ‘divorce corset’ (an early-1800s device to lift and separate) to ‘magical penis theft’ (the superstition that a man could lose his member to witchcraft), we’re not ashamed to admit we learned quite a bit. . .”
–Cat Auer, Playboy

 
The Playboy article has a chart with some fun facts from the books, if you want to learn more. Or better yet, buy the books! (Wouldn’t they make fun coffee table books?) I just noticed Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast is available on Kindle–so you can take it everywhere.
Thanks for reading!
–Merril

Apples and Honey

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Apples and honey

on the blue kitchen counter.

Round braided challahs,

waiting to be sliced.

Soup is simmering,

and tables cleared.

Preparation done.

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Guests arrive

in a swirl of

arms, legs,

hugs, and kisses.

Mom’s walker

appears

before she does.

I pull;

my brother gently pushes–

she’s in.

One cat dashes

up the stairs,

vanishing for the evening.

The other watches us

with his huge eyes—

What does he think as the

sun-dappled day turns

to cool moonlit night?

Try this wine.

You don’t like it?

No—

it’s like bubbly, sweet air.

My daughter and I look

at each other

and open the red.

 

Snapshots of a moment;

pause to remember.

 

Family and friends

around the table;

the symbolism of

the new year explained.

Pre-teen eyes roll–

when do we eat?

Golden pumpkin soup,

salad with pomegranate seeds,

noodle kugel,

brisket and chicken, too,

because. . .well, just in case.

If my stomach is any indication,

this is going to be a very good year!

Love and laughter.

That’s what holidays mean.

 

Kids scurry away from the table.

Talk of youthful “adventures.”

Kids return—

Ooops! Change the subject!

Change—

the subject now!

 

Laughter.

Mouths covered by hands.

They both do it.

Is it genetic?

 

Latin scrapbooks

and “Footloose” dancing

across wooden floors—

the innocent joys of

being high school nerds.

Own it.

But you were always

incredibly poised,

and wise beyond your years.

 

Apple Cake, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Baklava--Early Celebration requires extra desserts to ensure sweetness for the year! ;)

Apple Cake, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Baklava–Early Celebration requires extra desserts to ensure sweetness for the year! ;)

Desserts!

Yay!

Extra sweetness

for the new year!

More wine?

Coffee?

I can’t eat another bite.

 

Guests leave.

Tables back

to their usual spots.

No Disney dancing

cups or magic cleanup.

But wouldn’t that be great?

The vanished cat

runs down the stairs,

hesitates at the kitchen,

stretching his long legs–

he sniffs,

and yawns.

Did I miss anything?

Love and laughter.

The joy of a holiday dinner.

Snapshots of life.

Pause to remember.

I got special cards! <3

I got special cards! <3

 

Because of our schedules, our family gathered for a dinner to celebrate Rosh Hashanah early this year. Wishing all of you health, happiness, and sweetness for this new year–and throughout your years!

It’s Here! A Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast

“This unusual encyclopedia focusing on the female breast is scholarly and exhaustive, yet pleasurable to read. It should find its place among one’s favorite reference books. “

–Marilyn Yalom, Stanford University; author of A History of the Breast

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Yesterday, my husband and I visited our younger daughter and her boyfriend in their new apartment. They live about an hour and half away from us in Reading, Pennsylvania. We had a lovely visit and a delicious dinner prepared by my daughter. We talked and their dog and cat entertained us, as pets do. When my husband and I got home—well past my usual bedtime—my husband discovered that my author copies of my new book, A Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, had been delivered to our house while we were away. What a perfect end to my Saturday!

I don’t care how many books you write—it’s always exciting to see and hold the new one. And if it isn’t, you probably shouldn’t be a writer.

I realize that this book is not the type of book most people will rush out to buy for their personal libraries–although I would be pleased if you do! However, if you think it is a book that might be useful for any businesses you know of, or schools, or libraries, please do recommend it. I wrote several of the entries, and I compiled and edited the entire volume, but I also had the help of scholars from all over the world, including the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, Poland, Romania, Argentina, and Nigeria. The book covers nearly everything you could want to know about breasts—breast anatomy, breast cancer, breast augmentation and reduction, breasts in art, literature, movies, and pop culture, breasts in fashion, topless protests, breasts in history, and more. Come on, you know you want to flip through it now, don’t you? Really now, don’t you?

One of my assistants

One of my assistants

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He finds the box more interesting than the books.

A Short Stop on My Writing Journey

“Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.”
–Anonymous

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.“
–Ursula K. LeGuin

 

Once minute I’m researching religion and the American Revolution on the Library of Congress Web site; the next minute my husband is telling me that none of the TV stations are coming in. We soon discover our Internet service is no longer available, our landline is out, and we can’t access the Internet from our cell phones either. Fortunately, we can still text and call from our cells. I was beginning to panic and wonder what good cell phones are in an emergency if we can’t use them. Not that this is an emergency, of course, but what if? Yes, that’s how my brain goes. And when I’m facing a book deadline, it doesn’t take much to throw me into panic mode.

It made me think about the whole process of writing and research —at least in the US in 2014. Or at least for me–perhaps I shouldn’t speak for others. I have a house full of books, journals, and material I’ve printed out. I also have papers and pens. I can use my laptop, and we have power, so there is not a problem with recharging it. Nothing is actually preventing me from writing, but I’ve become so accustomed to going online to find a citation, to fact check, and to look up material, that I’m almost paralyzed without Internet access. I am writing this now, but I’m unable to post it. Clearly, I can write, it’s focus I’m having a problem with. My soul is being tried, and I’m facing my age of no reason.

I suppose if desperate enough, I could go to Starbucks or my local library to use the Internet, but that would involve driving. And getting dressed.  You might think I’m joking. But one of the great things about being a writer who works from home is I don’t have to get dressed to work. Sometimes I don’t get dressed all day. I can work in my exercise clothes, my PJs, or some comfy sweats.

OK. Now that I’ve revealed way too much, I guess I should go back to my real writing work—at least what I can do without Internet access. My book manuscript is due all to soon. Eventually, my husband who has been on hold with Verizon for about half and hour might find out what the problem is. Until then, I guess I’ll hold off on the fact checking, and open one of these lovely books piled helter-skelter on the buffet behind me. Oh hello there, you wondrous thing! You marvelous book. I could never totally abandon you.

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I’m not joking about the book piles.

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My research assistant

But. . .oh Yay! We’re back online. I love you books, but I need to check Facebook now.

And the journey continues.

The Influence of One

“Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.”
–George Eliot

“We don’t make a photograph just with a camera, we bring to the act of photography all the books we have read, the movies we have seen, the music we have heard, the people we have loved.”

– Ansel Adams

Influence. Who influences us and who do we influence, perhaps unknowingly? A recent blog post by Laurie Buchanan on her Tuesdays with Laurie blog made me ponder these questions.

We’re all influenced by the times in which we live. Perhaps a Neolithic storyteller imagined worlds beyond ours, a place filled with fantastic creatures that swooped down from the sky. It’s possible. But it’s unlikely that he or she imagined televisions or the Internet. Perhaps though that storyteller inspired others to create new tales or paint, or think of worlds beyond. Entirely possible, and a scene I like to imagine. Still, although a rare genius such as Leonardo da Vinci can imagine or predict objects far beyond the imaginations of his or her contemporaries (see for example, his moveable cart, “the world first self-propelled vehicle” ), most of us are constrained by our times and knowledge.

As a historian, I study the past and past influences. In turn, I’m influenced by the words and actions of those who lived long ago. As a writer, I’m influenced by everything around me. But who knows for sure where that creative spark comes from? I have some way of seeing things that others perhaps do not, some odd synaptic firing that allows me to put images into words on a page. But I am still influenced by what I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, music I’ve heard, art I’ve admired. I’m influenced by the sound of the crows outside my window engaged in their “Marco Polo” calls to one other, the sunlight reflected and glimmering on the butterfly bush gently swaying in the faint summer breeze, and the cat sleeping next to me, lost in his feline dreams.

As a writer, I hope that my words influence my readers, and make them think, laugh, or cry. As a human being, a parent, wife, and friend, I also hope that I’ve influenced others, as they’ve influenced me.

Last week all of these various worlds—history, creativity, family, and influence came together in one wonderful example.

Those who read my last post, know that in my house the Mandelbrot cookies I bake are known as “Mommy Cookies,” and that I baked them for my daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Two days after the wedding, while visiting a historic site, my newly married daughter and her wife encountered a historical interpreter portraying an early twentieth-century Jewish immigrant making Mandelbrot in her New England kitchen. My daughter’s reaction was to get a bit teary-eyed (as I did when she told me the story), as she thought of how I make those cookies, our Mommy Cookies. A traditional recipe that I’ve updated became a family tradition that has influenced and affected my daughter and me. The reenactor, however, will never know how her portrayal in that historic site resonated and influenced my daughter.

And now that I’ve told you, the influence of that portrayal has expanded.

 

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5

 

 

 

 

Love and Marriage, Part 3–Food

And so it’s done. My little girl, my first born, is now a married woman. I am still teary-eyed, but happy and content to know my daughter is married to the woman she loves.

She and her lovely bride were married this past Sunday in a beautiful, tender, loving, and funny ceremony at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. The brides were beautiful—my daughter wore my wedding gown, now known as “our gown.” The weather was perfect, and the aquarium setting was striking. Shark tanks inside and the Delaware River and Philadelphia skyline outside—what could top that? Only the love in their eyes as they gazed at each other.

In the days leading up to the ceremony–which of course were filled with last minute chores to do and items to pick up, drop off, and assemble—we all tried to find ways to relax and de-stress. On Friday night, my daughters and soon-to-be daughter-in-law and I went for a long walk through our town and along the river. My husband then joined us for a family movie night as we watched “Frozen,” a movie none of us except my younger daughter had seen. The tears and laughter during the movie were a prelude for the wedding symphony to come.

Of course, over the days leading up to the wedding we ate and ate. On the Thursday before the wedding, I baked the brides-to-be a pre-wedding challah. We tore chunks of it off to eat with cheese, as we sat outside at a local winery on a beautiful summer night. Bread and wine—looking back it seems symbolic and perfect for a pre-wedding feast. Plus, I’m all for eating bread for dinner.

Challahs cooling on the counter

Challahs cooling on the counter

Food is often an important feature of holidays and special occasions. In my family, food is always a feature, a necessary and expected part of such celebrations–if not the most important part. Why should weddings be any different? I baked many batches of cookies to give to those who attended the rehearsal dinner. After all, I wouldn’t want anyone to get hungry in the middle of the night!

Because food is so important, I made it the subject of my toast at the rehearsal dinner. I hope the brides will not mind if I share an edited version of that toast:

Tonight I’d like to discuss what’s really important in marriage. That, of course, is food.

When two people marry, they bring their pasts with them—and this often includes family quirks and traditions. They attempt to meld or accommodate different ideas about proper meals—when and what to eat. Vegetarians and meat-eaters; picky eaters and adventurous eaters; those who like formal dinners and those who prefer casual dining—it can be a challenge to make these differences work.

When Doug and I first started dating—way back when—he had never experienced the joys of a full Jewish brunch—lox, cream cheese, “yum yum” fish, bagels, and everything else. Nor had he been exposed to the spicy, “exotic” foods of India, Thailand, and China. But he willingly embraced it all. (He also was not used to people blurting our wildly inappropriate things during holiday dinners—or people who cry at everything–so I will try my best not to do either, but instead stick to the subjects of food, love, and tradition.)

Many of our family traditions involve gathering around a dinner table. Food is a source of gustatory delight and memories—the strawberry shortcake dinners we ate after picking strawberries, for example– but it also a source of comfort and tradition. During holidays we eat foods that represent particular thoughts or events. We savor the round challah at Rosh Hashanah (made from my Aunt Sima’s world famous recipe) and enjoy it with honey for a sweet year; we devour way too many fried latkes and donuts at Hanukkah in remembrance of the oil in the temple; and we eat the matzoh, charoset, and other foods at our Passover meal that symbolize the ancient story of the Jews fleeing Egypt and slavery.

When Megan and Sheryl were growing up, I baked lots of cookies, including Doug’s favorites, which became known as Daddy Cookies, and my favorite, which became known as Mommy Cookies. Daddy Cookies are Welsh Cookies, a type of tea biscuit cooked on a griddle. They are popular in the Scranton, PA. area, and I got the recipe from his grandmother. Mommy Cookies are my version of Mandelbrot, which I describe as Jewish biscotti. These cookies are totally different—in shape, texture, and ingredients. Yet, they are both sweet and delicious, and Megan and Sheryl grew up eating both types. Doug and I are very different, but even though we prefer different types of cookies, we can appreciate the other’s favorite. We share many mutual beliefs, interests, activities, and love. Megan and Clare are also very different people with different backgrounds and tastes who have come together because of their love for one another and their shared interests–including food.

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Welsh Cookies, aka “Daddy Cookies”

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Mandelbrot, aka “Mommy Cookies”

Megan and Clare –it makes my heart sing to see you together. I am so glad you found each other and that you’ve chosen to share your lives together, and that we here are fortunate to be able to share in your celebration.

Doug and I are pleased that we can gather together with all of you tonight over a fine meal and share food, love, and traditions. We’ve prepared a little gift bag of symbolic goodies for each of you, which includes Mommy Cookies and Daddy cookies. There are also some sweet and salty fish-shaped treats. Fish, obviously, symbolize the aquarium site for tomorrow’s nuptials. Sweet and salty represents the happiness and tears that come in marriage.

Please raise your glass now and join me in toasting my daughter and my almost daughter-in-law. To Megan and Clare—may you enjoy many delicious meals together. May your lives be filled with sweetness–and may you cry only tears of happiness. I love you. L’Chaim!

 

 

© Merril D. Smith