Do Not Stay Silent, Though April Can Be Cruel

Monday Morning Musings

 “April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain. “

–T.S. Eliot. “The Waste Land”

Today is April 13. The sun is rising on what promises to be a lovely spring day in New Jersey with bright sunshine, blue skies, and temperatures rising into the 70s. Yet as T.S. Eliot noted, April can be cruel month. In the warmth and light, as the once white snow melts into the thawing soil, tender buds appear on trees, wisps of green appear in yards and woods, flowers suddenly burst through the ground almost overnight, and birds smartly chirp, “I’m back!”—as new life creeps out from the gray and decay of winter and the natural world is reborn, so are people who have huddled and hidden from the cold. April, a month of life and beauty, is also a time of protest, conflict, and death.

Last week many in the United States celebrated the unofficial ending of the US Civil War 150 years ago, as Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. The surrender did not, however, end the fighting entirely, and pockets of insurgency continued for months, followed by years of military occupation of the south and the process of Reconstruction. Five days after the surrender, on April 14, 1865, the well-known actor John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, as he and first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, watched the play, Our American Cousin. In Booth’s eyes and those of his co-conspirators, the war and the southern cause were not finished.

This week in April marks the Week of Remembrance, to remember the Holocaust.

“The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Each year state and local governments, military bases, workplaces, schools, religious organizations, and civic centers host observances and remembrance activities for their communities. These events can occur during the Week of Remembrance, which runs from the Sunday before Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) through the following Sunday.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, 1943. On that date—deliberately chosen because it was the eve of Passover that year–German forces were about to begin an operation to totally liquidate the ghetto. Earlier attempts in the previous fall and winter had been met with resistance, and although thousands of Jewish residents of the ghetto were deported and others were killed in fighting, the Nazis temporarily suspended transports. The renewal of the Nazi attempts to completely liquidate the ghetto was a signal for the Jews there to begin the uprising. Ultimately, the German forces razed the ghetto, and though they expected the fighting to continue for three days, it lasted for over a month. It was an important symbolic fight for Jews throughout occupied Europe. You can read more about it here.

Not all Jews were instantly transported to ghettos and concentration camps. Some hid, helped by others who brought them food and necessities, and who sometimes betrayed them, too. Anne Frank was one of many Jews who hid in secret place during the Holocaust. Most know about her life because of her famous diary, which was published after her death and has been read by millions throughout the world. In recent months, new information has been uncovered, including that she and her sister Margot most likely died in February, not March 1945. Information about her and her life can be found in many places, including the house itself, now a museum and educational center. Here is a link to the Anne Frank House .

Annefrank.org.uk is commemorating Anne Frank’s brief life by celebrating it with her words instead of a with a moment of silence.

“Instead of a one minute’s silence to commemorate the end of Anne Frank’s short life, we invite you to read out loud a one minute passage from Anne’s inspirational writing at any time on or after Tuesday 14th April.” You can find out more here. They ask participants to use the hashtag #notsilent.

This is one of my favorite passages:

“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Anne Frank, July 15, 1944

We will never know if Anne would still have written these words after the horrors she witnessed and experienced at Bergen-Belsen before her death there in 1945. But as the passage makes clear, she knew of the horrors; she knew that all around her people were dying, along with the world she had known. While hiding in the Secret Annex, however, she also experienced on a daily basis, the kindness, goodness, and bravery of people who risked their lives and those of their families to help Anne and hers.

Choosing not to be silent can be dangerous, but when possible, it can bring enormous good. Humans have an almost infinite capacity for evil, but I like to think we have the same capacity to be kind. When cruelty and evil can be documented and exposed in cell phone videos, Internet campaigns, and newspaper articles and editorials, it is a good thing, and it’s very different from spreading gossip about people or events. Sharing Anne Frank’s words might not do any tangible good, but hearing and reading her words may inspire others to believe in goodness, and they may demonstrate that though this intelligent, vibrant young woman was destroyed, her spirit lives on. April is also National Poetry Month, and it is a time to celebrate the wonders of human creativity and emotion. We know that even in the concentration camps, some people–against all odds, it seems to me–continued to write, to create art, sing, and play music.

April can be cruel; so can the other months of the year. I choose to see its beauty, the buds on the tree, the sweetly blooming flowers, and the poetry and music of life.

Buds appearing on our old oak tree, April 2015.

Buds appearing on our old oak tree, April 2015.

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The Play’s The Thing

Monday Morning Musings

“The play’s the thing

Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

–William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Matzah is probably the most recognized symbol of Passover. Before commercialized matzah became available, members of Jewish communities sometimes baked it themselves—under close supervision, of course.

In Colonial America, congregations often had to produce their own matzah, although not all colonies grew wheat or had adequate supplies, so the grain sometimes had to be imported. Matzah, and other Jewish/kosher food items, were also imported. It was helpful that many prominent Jewish families were merchants with contacts throughout the transatlantic mercantile community. Here is the board used for preparing matzah at the eighteenth-century Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island.

In the nineteenth-century, machines became available to make matzah. There was some controversy, however, over baking commercially baked matzah and matzah machines and whether the matzah produced by them was kosher for Passover. Something I had never before thought about–most of the hand-produced matzah was round, but the matzah produced by Manischewitz  and other mass-producers was square, and of course, each piece was the same.  In 1942, however, the company produced V-shaped matzah as part of the WWII war effort, “V for Victory.”

Aron Steits founded a matzah bakery in 1915. This matzah factory, the last major one that is still family-owned in the US, is set to close.

 “Though matzo is a simple mixture of wheat flour and water, producing it is an intricate affair. During Passover, observant Jews are forbidden to eat grain products that have been allowed to leaven, or ferment and rise, so the flour and water must be placed in an oven within 18 minutes after they are mixed. The entire process is supervised by what are known as mashgichim — Orthodox people trained in the fine points of kosher law. Streit’s employs seven of them.”

–Joseph Berger, New York Times, January 6, 2015

In some places kosher for Passover matzah is still handmade. Joan Nathan describes one such bakery in Brooklyn, where the men and women work quickly to produce the matzah within eighteen minutes. Under Jewish law, it must be mixed, rolled, pricked, and baked in that time—from when water first touches the flour–so that there is no danger it will sprout. If the work is not finished within eighteen minutes, the matzah is not considered kosher for Passover. The flour is carefully produced and ground under supervision, as well, and even the water used in the baking is examined. Nathan mentions one of the workers, Reuven Sirota, who baked matzah in secret in Uzbekistan because celebrating Passover was forbidden there. (Joan Nathan, Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook (New York: Knopf, 2004), 339.)

On Saturday night, we celebrated Passover at my house with a dinner and a modified Seder—and commercially made Streit’s matzah. There were seventeen people around our table–tables, actually—the dining room table, the kitchen table, and a card table all placed in one long line with three separate tablecloths. Our group included family and friends, and my older daughter and her wife joined us by SKYPE.

A few years ago, I created a sort of family Haggadah, cobbled together from various sources, and including family jokes, such as a line about celebrating “the spirit of roast beef.” Seder means order, and there are fourteen steps to the Seder. We never get through the whole thing. In true scholarly fashion, however, the Haggadah I put together has appendices with further reading and lists the sources and documentation I used—you know, just in case anyone has additional questions. I always think we might debate and discuss, but we never do. This year, we totally forgot to open the door for Elijah. Ooops. Once we get to the eating part, the Seder pretty much disappears. This year, my niece’s children were not even interested in hiding and finding the Affikomen, the middle piece of matzah broken and wrapped in a napkin during the Seder. There will have to be a new twist on that tradition next year.

Our Seder always includes a play. My husband and I recently saw a production of Hamlet in Philadelphia. During the play, there is a play within the play. Hamlet wants a group of traveling players to perform a show with a storyline that is similar to how he believes his uncle, now the king of Denmark, murdered his father. He thinks that when his uncle sees the play, his reaction to it will reveal his guilt. In a soliloquy in which he describes the plan, Hamlet says, “the play’s the thing.”  During our Passover Seder, the play is also “the thing.” We’re not out to catch murderers though. The play began as a fun way to tell—or reveal–the Passover story. Telling the story is one of the steps of the Seder.  Over the years, it has become THE highlight of our Seder, our family’s thing. Our daughters have written it for the past few years. They have given notice that they will write it for two more years, and then they will hand-off the play-writing torch.

Well, it will be difficult to top this year’s play. It was an interactive experience called “Whose Passover Is It Anyway?” based on Drew Carey’s comedy show. There were different scenes, in which we were assigned parts and told to improvise using props on the table or by acting out in the emotions called out by one of our daughters. In other scenes there were scripted lines, but the scenes had to be acted out in a particular way—using only three words, as an action movie, etc. I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed it, and everyone had a chance to participate.

I suppose the only thing that might have topped the play was the food—because everyone was VERY hungry by the time we were finally ready to eat.

Chicken Soup simmering on the stove.

Chicken Soup simmering on the stove.

Did I also mention that we went through many bottles of wine? We had red and white, including a tasty, Australian shiraz, and wines from Spain and the United States, too.  I know I didn’t drink the four glasses required by the Seder, but others may have. I’m not naming names. We had all the standard food—chicken soup (and vegetarian)–both with knaidlach, or matzah balls, gefilte fish, hard-boiled eggs, brisket, turkey breast, roasted sweet potatoes, and some delicious roasted carrots brought by guests. By the time we got to dessert, my sister literally groaned while tasting the flourless chocolate cake (my brilliant idea was to top it with a chocolate drizzle and sea salt)—“Oh my god! This is so good.” The cake also conveniently doubled as a birthday cake for my brother, whose birthday is today.

After dessert, our guests, bellies full, slowly crawled out the door. The cats wandered back downstairs. Time to cleanup.

The empty tables seem lonely.

The empty tables seem lonely.

Hope all of you had a pleasant weekend, whether you celebrated a holiday or not!

A Passover Legacy

Monday Morning Musings

Passover begins next weekend. I like to imagine people all over the world gathering together over tables filled with food and wine to share the story of how the ancient Jews escaped from slavery in Egypt. In the United States, “the peculiar institution” of slavery threatened our nation and nearly destroyed it during the Civil War. Its legacy still affects our laws and culture. In the twenty-first century, slavery and human trafficking still exist throughout the world. So the Passover story about escaping oppression is still relevant today.

My grandparents were immigrants to the United States. They all sought a better life here than they had in Tsarist Russia, just before WWI. I don’t know if they thought about this when they celebrated Passover. Both of my grandmothers died when I was only a toddler. I never thought to ask my grandfathers when they were alive.

I am not religious, but I love the traditions of Passover. I “keep Passover” to an extant—not eating bread or leavened products during the period and even foregoing my usual morning oatmeal—but there are “forbidden” foods in my house that my husband eats. For me, the keeping of Passover is an homage to those throughout history who have not been able to celebrate the holiday. For those who strictly observe Passover, forbidden foods must be removed from the house (or at least the kitchen) before Passover. Referred to as chametz, the forbidden items include grains and grain products made from wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt. Leavening products, such as yeast, are also prohibited. In essence, anything that might sprout is not allowed. (Matzah is generally made from wheat, but its preparation is closely supervised and must be done within 18 minutes.) Since even a trace of these grains are not supposed to touch other foods and mistakenly ingested, the kitchen, dishes, utensils, and pots and pans are supposed to be thoroughly cleaned and scoured.

Nineteenth-century cookbook author Esther Levy briefly explained the preparation for Passover in her 1871 cookbook, Jewish Cookery Book. Esther Jacobs Levy was an English woman who lived in Philadelphia at the time she published this book. It was the first Jewish cookbook published in the United States. In the introduction, she wrote:

            In preparing for the Passover, which generally commences in the middle of spring and lasts eight days, every particle of leaven must be out of the house by ten o’clock of the preceding morning. On the same day, 14th of Nisan, or on the previous eve, the house must be thoroughly cleaned from dirt, and everything must be in perfect order.

With what pleasurable emotions a Jewish woman must anticipate the time when she will see everything looking so brilliantly clean, and mostly new. Indeed, we should all be delighted, when we reflect that so much cleanliness is a preparation for becomingly celebrating our wonderful deliverance from bondage.

–Esther Levy, Jewish Cookery Book (Philadelphia: W.S. Turner, 1871): 8-9.

Levy goes on to describe the traditional Seder foods that are set before “the master of the house.” (This is the nineteenth-century, after all. Levy also assumes her readers have servants.) After Passover is over, she cautions that all crockery, utensils, and pans have to be scoured and put away to be used the next Passover.

Levy’s book does not contain too many specific Passover recipes. There is “Matzo Cleis Soup” (For Passover). The recipe describes how to make balls from matzo that is softened and mixed with fried onions, eggs, parsley, and dropped into soup. The soup is not specified. She also included a recipe for “Matzas Charlotte”, a type of matzah pudding type dish that is said to be for “supper.” It includes raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and custard made from a quart of milk and seven eggs. Sounds good to me!

Passover has been celebrated all over the world in all types of conditions: in war and peace, in cities and on farms, in prisons and in ghettoes. Recently, I came across this article on how US troops celebrating Passover during WWII. Take a look—it includes photos and menus.

I don’t remember much about Passover from my childhood. I recall some long and boring Seders with relatives droning on in Hebrew, which I could not understand, and probably most of the people there could not actually translate. There was no discussion, no jokes, and no singing. I did not understand the significance of the celebration. My mom’s chicken soup and knaidlach (matzah balls) were always spectacular. I think that’s why I never cared about the rest of the meal. I could simply eat the soup. The meal always ended with a dried fruit “compote,” bland sponge or angel food cakes, and canned macaroons. Oh yes, there was also the horrible Manischewitz wine. For the longest time, I thought all wine was like that, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone liked wine.

How things change! And not just the wine, which I’m sure will be delicious, although I don’t know yet what we will be drinking.

When I became a mom and we began to host Passover dinners, I wanted our daughters to understand what we were celebrating and why. When they were young, my daughters and their friends put on puppet shows during the Seder to explain the Passover story. As they got older, the children’s puppet shows were replaced with a Passover play with everyone sitting around the table and reading their lines. There’s a new play every year with sometimes crazy themes or settings and lots of bad puns.

My family loves our traditions–so I’ll be making brisket (now called “roast beet” from my young grandniece’s pronunciation several years ago) in the same way I’ve made it for years. I’ll cook chicken soup with knaidlach the way my mom always made them. (The secret to light, floating matzah balls is to separate the eggs and not to add fat to the mixture. I believe my mother learned this from her mother-in-law, my grandmother.) I drop the balls in boiling water and then add them to the soup–because in addition to chicken soup, I also have a pot of vegetarian broth. I’ve already made that and frozen it. My house may not be scoured and spotless, but I’m top of the food preparation.

Simmering Vegetable Broth

Simmering Vegetable Broth

What has changed over the years at our family Seders are the actual Seders, which have become more elaborate in a crazy, totally irreverent way. True believers would not approve, but we enjoy our crazy Passover play. I used to write the plays, but now our daughters write them. I have no idea what they’re planning for this year, but I do appreciate that they agreed to write it again. Shout out to you, girls! One daughter and her fiancé will be at dinner. I hope our other daughter and wife will join us for the play via SKYPE. Oh, the wonders of modern technology!

Another change over the years is our desserts. In the past I tried cakes made with matzah meal (sorry, they always taste like matzah to me) or potato starch, but now there are truly wonderful dessert recipes—cakes and cookies you would eat the rest of the year. So I’ve been testing some. You know, in the interest of our Passover guests. My husband has reluctantly agreed to taste them. “If I must,” he says, as he takes another cookie.

I could eat flourless chocolate cake anytime. OK. I have. Don’t judge me. What’s wrong with breakfast chocolate?

This is my go-to recipe. I bake it at 325 degrees.

I also tried this one. Instead of cayenne pepper, I used ginger (not that I mind cayenne pepper, but chocolate and ginger is amazing). I garnished it with a chocolate glaze made by melting dark chocolate chips and studded it with candied ginger. YUM!

I tried these cookies from Jew Wanna Eat. I added ½ a bag of mini-chocolate chips, which I highly recommend you do, as well. Chocolate and coffee. Do I have to explain?

Coffee Meringues with Chocolate Chips

Coffee Meringues with Chocolate Chips

On Saturday night, technically the second Seder, I’ll sit at my table with my family and friends. We’ll be a group of old and young, gay and straight, Jews and non-Jews. The food will be important, of course. We’ll eat matzah, the unleavened bread, symbolic of the hurried flight of the Jews from Egypt. We’ll eat the matzah balls, the recipe a legacy from my grandmother. We will be following ancient rituals of dipping greens in salt water and of saying “Dayenu” as we recall the plagues. We will drink wine–4 cups are supposed to be consumed during the Seder.  We will be connected to the ghosts of our ancestors, and I will remember those who are no longer at our Passover table. More importantly, we’ll combine old traditions with new twists and combine ancient rituals with new innovations. I hope my daughters will remember these dinners. I hope my young great niece and nephews will, too. In time, I hope they will create their own traditions. This is the true legacy of Passover–friends and family gathering to break bread (which we do quite literally at the Seder), to share stories, to remember the past, and to create new memories.

Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

–William Shakespeare, The Tempest

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

–Edgar Allan Poe, “A Dream Within a Dream”

I had a dream the other night that I was explaining the difference between a comma and a semicolon to my niece’s six-year-old son.* Unlike my niece, he got it right away. (My niece is amazing, but she is the first to joke about her sometimes grammar-challenged writing.) Unfortunately, I don’t remember my great nephew’s dream sentences now, but they were kind of deep reflections of life and death in nature. It’s funny what we remember from dreams, and what we don’t.

I often have dreams of writing. I also dream of food and recipes I want to try. While finishing my forthcoming World of the American Revolution, I dreamt of editing primary sources. I actually saw and read texts in my dreams. In a half-conscious state I’ve written brilliant prose in my head (or so it seems) that I promptly forget once I’m up and about.

I’m waiting to dream of a masterpiece, something like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.” For those unfamiliar with the poem, subtitled, “Or, a vision in a dream: A Fragment,” or with its origins, it is a well-known poem, one of the great works of Romantic poetry, a poem of beauty and imagery, and a poem of dreams. I can remember my dad reciting its opening lines. (You can read the poem here. ) Coleridge said the poem came to him while he was in the midst of an opium dream. While writing it down, he was interrupted by someone who came to his door. When Coleridge returned to his desk, he could not remember the rest of the poem.

Coleridge was an opium addict. Opium, in the form of laudanum, or a tincture of opium dissolved in a base of alcohol, was a common household medicine in the nineteenth-century in England and the United States. (The modern hypodermic needle was invented in the mid-nineteenth century, allowing morphine to be injected to relieve pain—and creating a group of Civil War veteran addicts, among others.) Laudanum did not require a prescription, and it often cost less than alcohol. Poor parents and unscrupulous nurses dosed infants with laudanum to keep them from crying from hunger or to induce sleep. Men and women took it to relieve the myriad pains of nineteenth-century life—everything from toothaches and menstrual pains to migraines, diarrhea, and severe coughing. It was a common ingredient in patent medicines. Many of the other Romantic Poets also took laudanum, although perhaps not as often or notably as Coleridge.

I would love to awaken with the memory of a brilliant book, poem, play, or other creative work that I could quickly write down before it disappeared from my memory. (I could say I dream of it, but I won’t.) Unlike Coleridge, I would have to do so without actually taking any mind-altering substance. Unless you include chocolate or caffeine, or an occasional glass of wine, as mind-altering–which I suppose they are in a kind of happy mouth-feel kind of way. Yes, I do dream of chocolate. You’re not surprised, are you?

If you have a cat or dog, you’ve probably seen them dreaming. Their bodies twitch and sometimes their legs move as if they’re running. I remember one of our dogs sometimes barked in her sleep. I always wonder if their dreams are happy and what they see. Dreaming must be necessary for them, as well as for humans.

Dreams are essential to human life–both the nighttime fantasies that take place as our brains process the events of the day, and the daydreams we all have. C’mon you do, too. Dreams can be scary. They can bring out inner demons and taunt us with visions of things that cannot be. At least not now. But the dreams of artists, scientists, explorers, and revolutionaries have led to discoveries and movements that have changed the world. Dreams are the visions of the real and the unreal that meet and mingle in our brains. Dreams twist time and space. Sometimes they even twist and shout.

Most Americans probably know of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” If you haven’t read or heard the entire speech, you can read and listen to it here. It is still soul-stirring.

Perhaps what’s odd is not that we have dreams, but that we seldom remember or act upon them.

* If anyone needs help with commas and semicolons, here’s a great post from The Oatmeal

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”

–John Lennon, “Imagine”

A Stab at Pie, or Life’s Constants

Monday Morning Musings

Saturday was Pi Day, Sunday was the Ides of March, and tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. What do these things have in common? Through food and art, my husband and I paid homage—of a sort–to all of them this weekend.

Confession: math was almost my least favorite subject in school. I can’t remember numbers, and I tend to skip over the graphs, charts, and number parts of any article I read. But I do know that Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. (Gosh, I hope that’s right.) It’s a constant—that is, it’s fixed and doesn’t change, the opposite of variable. (In case anyone is interested, my favorite episode of the TV series Lost was the episode called “The Constant,” in which we learn that Penny is Desmond’s constant throughout time—and a constant is apparently necessary when time traveling.) Pi is also an infinite number 3.1415. . . .

Here in the US, March 14 is sometimes written as 3/14 (month, day). With the year added, it becomes 3/14/15, so this year Pi Day was extra special.

Pi Day was not a thing when I was growing up. I don’t remember anyone mentioning it or celebrating it, so I decided to look into when Pi Day started.

It turns out that although pi has been know for thousands of years, Pi Day was not invented until 1988 when physicist Larry Shaw of San Francisco’s Exploratorium created it. I found several great articles about Pi Day. This one by astronomer Phil Plait for Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog is a wonderful post of Pi facts, including some myth-busting information. OK, it’s possible I skipped some of the real math in it, but it was still interesting.

Danica McKellar’s Youtube video on pi and Pi Day is also great fun.

So I was going to bake pies on Friday for Pi Eve for my husband, the high school math teacher—because math and pie. If we can have Pi Day, then why not Pi Day Eve? However, it turned out my husband had a school event that night, so I didn’t bake a pie then. We also had plans on Saturday. One of these plans was to see a performance of Macbeth at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia. (If you’re in the area, it was an exciting and well-staged production, a display of sight and sound. Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth was particularly good.) Modern western theater had its inception in the dramatic works of the ancient Greeks, who as I mentioned above, also most likely first calculated pi. And pies were eaten in the time William Shakespeare. So pi is linked to Shakespeare through pie. Or pi is linked to theater. Either way. Are you following me? Anyway, the pies of Shakespeare’s time were often meat pies. Sometimes the pie crusts, called coffins, were merely shells to hold the meat fillings.* William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, set in eleventh-century Scotland, and he also wrote the play, Julius Caesar, which includes the soothsayer’s line “Beware the ides of March.” Both plays involve tyrants, nation building, and stabbings. Lots of stabbing, lots of blood, and death. Well, they’re tragedies, after all. (See ancient Greek drama.) Pies appear in Hamlet and gruesomely in Titus Andronicus, and Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost at a banquet, which may or may not have featured pies.

On Sunday, the Ides of March, we went out again. This time, to see the movie, ’71, about an English soldier who gets left behind during a skirmish in Belfast in 1971. It was an intense movie, heart-pounding intense, but very good. As my husband and I agreed, the action took place in Belfast at a particular time and place, and that situation was unique. Nonetheless, many of the themes were universal and could apply to wartime settings during any period in history. As it is set in Northern Ireland, I told my husband it was our St. Patrick movie, albeit a grim one. There was a stabbing in the movie, too.

In ancient Greece, ancient Rome, eleventh-century Scotland, and 1970s Belfast, people celebrated and ate, as do we. It is a constant. As living beings, we must eat to live. Sometimes we eat pie. As humans we are also compelled to create works of art to express our emotions in music, dance, poetry, drama, and visual art. We also have the physical brains and the imagination to make abstract leaps, to think about math and science.

I baked my Pi Day pie (Apple-Cranberry Crumb Pie) on Sunday the 15th of March, the Ides of March. At dinner we had zucchini, which I had “spiralized”. The ancient Romans would not have zucchini or tomatoes, but they did have olive oil and garlic. (Top it with slivered Parmesan.) And zucchini is green, so there you go. Pi Day, Ides of March, and St. Patrick’s Day—connected through history, food, and art.

Spiralized Zucchini sauteed with garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes

Spiralized Zucchini sauteed with garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes

Perhaps my reasoning is circular, but it ends in pie. Sometimes we all need a bit of sweetness in our lives. That’s a constant. Enjoy!

Apple-Cranberry Crumb Pie

Apple-Cranberry Crumb Pie

Apple-Cranberry Crumb Pie

Crust:

I used Mark Bittman’s “Sweet Piecrust” (from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian). Here’s a simplified version:

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (about 5 oz.)

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

8 Tbsp. butter, cut into about 8 pieces

3 Tbsp ice water, plus more if necessary (I always need a bit more).

Combine dry ingredients in food processor, pulse once or twice to mix. Add butter and process just until the butter is mixed into the dry ingredients. It should look like cornmeal. Bittman says about 10 seconds. I usually pulse it off and on. I keep the mixture in the food processor and add the water. Process only until the mixture begins to come together. Form into a ball and wrap in plastic. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes. It can be made several days in advance or frozen.

Roll and press into pie pan. I just now noticed he says to refrigerate the piecrust for about an hour before filling. Ooops. Well, I’ve never done that, and it seems to be fine.

Filling:

Apples: I used 4 large apples and 1 smaller one, peeled and sliced thinly. My food processor blade worked well for this.

¾ cup, more less to taste, dried cranberries

¼ cup light brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. ginger

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Butter to dot top (I’m not sure if this is necessary or not. The recipe I looked at used 4 Tbsp. I used about 11/2. I think you can eliminate it, if you want to reduce the fat a bit.)

Crumb Topping:

¾ cup flour

½ cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

5 Tbsp. butter

½ cup ground nuts (I planned to use walnuts, but I already had almonds ground. Yup, that’s how I do things.)

Combine filling ingredients together in a large bowl. My apples were very bland, adjust spices and sugar to your own tastes and needs. You should have enough to mound into a pie plate.

Combine crumb topping ingredients. I used my fingers to blend the butter in. Cover top of pie with the topping.

Bake at 350° for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the top gets too brown, cover it loosely with foil. The pie should be bubbling when it’s ready.

*For a history of pie, see Janet Clarkson, Pie: A Global History(London: Reakton Books, 2009).

I also discuss pie in my History of American Cooking (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2013).

International Women’s Day–Make It Happen

“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”

— Hillary Clinton

“If you’re beautiful, you’re led to believe that you can’t also be smart. But you can be fun and fit and social and be really smart. And the smarter you are, the more capable you’ll be to handle whatever challenges come up in life.”

— Danica McKellar

Monday Morning Musings

Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day 2015. I had intended to have this post ready then, but other projects and the change to Daylight Savings Time through off my schedule. (Can I just say how much I hate time changes? Forward or back, it makes me miserable and takes me days to adjust.) It is now March 9, but I don’t think the world has changed overnight.

While driving home from visiting my mother-in-law on Saturday, my husband and I listened to a program on the Baltimore NPR station. One segment of the show featured three female surgeons at different stages of their careers. All three had contributed to an anthology, Being a Woman Surgeon. All of them discussed their lack of role models as they began their studies, and even after they became physicians.

The story made me reminisce about my own graduate school days. When I started my graduate studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, there were only one or two female history professors in the department. (A few years later, a female history professor at a large Midwestern university would tell a group of women at a dinner meeting that I attended that when her department was finally about one-third female, some of the male professors started complaining about all the women in the department.) There were no women in my department who covered my fields of study when I began grad school. After I began work on my dissertation, there was a female professor who I asked to be on my dissertation committee. She was a wonderful scholar who always attempted “to prime the pump” as we discussed my work.

It’s funny, but when I first began grad school, I didn’t really think about the lack of women professors in the department or the lack of role models. My father had received his Ph.D. in history at Temple only a few years before. The same professor chaired both of our dissertation committees. There were other women grad students who became my friends, and there was a cohort of slightly older women who had successfully defended their dissertations and had jobs in the field, although some were temporary. I had role models in the generation of female historians who had written important articles and books that influenced the course of my work. These women dared to write about women in history, recognizing the obvious fact that both men and women lived in the past, as well as the present. They also wrote on social issues such as divorce and birth control.

Looking back, I think what I lacked were female role models who were professional scholars and parents. I remember one well-know historian, a brilliant scholar and someone I admire, saying that she arranged her pregnancies so that she gave birth in the summer during break. She seemed to imply that women who didn’t do so were somehow lacking in foresight. But delivering a baby during a break between terms only covers birth and the short time after that. What happens after that?

I held a one-year position at a nearby college. My younger daughter was about seven months old then, and I was still breastfeeding her. Fortunately, she began drinking from a cup at six months, so my daycare provider could give her a bit of formula and food. I would nurse her, take the girls to the sitter, and pick them up a few hours later, the benefits of an academic schedule. The two other women in the department had children, but they were older. The one time I called out sick because one of the children was sick, I realized I should have said I was sick. Being a mother was okay, but having childcare issues was not. And breastfeeding is still an issue. Female breasts can be seen in movies, but not when feeding infants. Breastfeeding is still something that must be hidden.

One of the female surgeons in the radio interview acknowledged the same problems of childcare and breastfeeding—although her schedule was much more grueling than mine had been. She described secretly pumping breast milk in a closet, her motherhood something that could not be acknowledged.

Of course, childcare is a parental issue. Mothers and fathers should be able to have parental leave to be with their children. Obtaining quality childcare should not be such a difficult issue.

Later, after my one-year position was over, I taught some courses here and there—always late in the afternoon or at night or weekends, when my husband could take care of the girls. One time a friend arranged for me to teach a course. He didn’t tell me in advance, but simply announced it to me as a fait accompli. I told him that it was too difficult for me to find someone to watch my younger daughter or pick up the older one from school. I had tried it the previous semester, and it was awful. All of the work to prepare for a course, the half-hour drive there and back, leaving my child unhappy, and the actual cost of the care—it wasn’t worth it. I don’t think he understood at all, and he was annoyed at me for turning down the offer.

I’ve been bothered lately by people who think feminism is a bad word, or a word that has to be qualified. Feminism means women and men should have the same rights. Do you believe women have the right to be educated? To get a job? To vote? If not, you probably don’t want to read my blog.

All over the world–including the United States–there are people who think women do not deserve to be educated. There are some who believe it is fine for girls as young as nine or ten to be married. There are many who believe that any woman who dresses in a way they do not consider appropriate or modest enough, or any woman who ventures outside her home unaccompanied by a man is asking to be raped. There are horrible reports of global sex trafficking, rape, and abuse of women. Rape is used as a tactic of war, as it has been for centuries. (For a brief report see this. Also see the Women Under Siege Project.)

I’m am fortunate to have had strong women as role models—my mother, my immigrant grandmothers, and my mother-in-law, among them. I also had a piano/music teacher who was a single mother and a singular free spirit. She helped to boost my confidence during my shaky, emotional teenage years, and then became a friend. Both of my parents believed I could do anything, be anything I wanted to be.

I have not been much of a marcher or organizer. I haven’t given speeches, or rallied the troops. I did not continue with an academic career. I’ve occasionally heard that my books have inspired others, and I’ve been asked to chair conference sessions and write letters of recommendation. But my husband and I have done something right. We have two strong, wonderful, brilliant, talented daughters. They are proud feminists, as am I.

“Extremists have shown what frightens them the most: a girl with a book.”

– Malala Yousafzai

*******

I’ve never thought being a feminist means I can’t enjoy cooking. My gender has nothing to do with it. I don’t cook because I’m a woman and that’s my role. I cook because I want to cook. Here’s a recipe that I’ve written about before. I made these cookies for archivists while working on my dissertation, which became my first book, Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord in Pennsylvania, 1730-1830. The cookies are called “Mommy Cookies” at my house because they are my favorite. Enjoy!

Mandelbrot

3 ¾ cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 cup oil

2 tsp. baking powder

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla and a little bit of almond extract (maybe about ¼ tsp?)

dash or two of salt

Chocolate chips (I use a whole bag of Ghiardelli bittersweet chocolate chips.

Some people might prefer less, although I can’t imagine why)

Finely chopped nuts (I use a mixture of walnuts and almonds. Maybe about ¾ cup?)

Cinnamon and sugar mixed together to sprinkle on top

Beat eggs with whisk; then add sugar, oil, vanilla/almond. Add dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips and nuts. The dough should be able to form loaves on a cookie sheet. Add a little more flour if necessary.

Oil your hands and lightly oil 2 cookie sheets. Parchment paper lined sheets help. Shape the dough into 4 “loaves” on the cookie sheets. I make these cookies all the time and my loaves are never the same. Sprinkle the loaves with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar—thoroughly cover them and try to get the sides, as well.

Bake at 350 degrees for ½ hour. Then cut each loaf into slices. Put slices back in the oven for about 10 minutes, turn and put them back for another 10 minutes.

Purim, Savory and Sweet

The rain has finally turned to snow here in south Jersey. My husband’s school is closed, and we won’t be going anywhere, so it’s a good thing our house is stocked with Hamantaschen, the triangular cookies traditionally made for Purim. And wine! The cookies are named for Haman, the villain of the Biblical Book of Esther. I always thought it was odd that cookies were named for him. Shouldn’t cookies be named for Esther instead? Well, no one asked me. Purim is normally celebrated with the reading of the story, in which Esther saves the Jews of Persia, noisemakers are used to drown out the name of Haman, people dress in costumes, and there are celebrations with lots of food—and lots of drinking, too!

I just found this quick cheat sheet on Purim. I Google so you don’t have to! (And yes, Google is now a verb.)

When I was growing up, we didn’t celebrate Purim. My mom sometimes bought Hamantaschen. They were never that exciting to me, and as a child I was not thrilled by the traditional poppy seed filling. Now, Hamantaschen recipes are all over the Internet. (Really, just Google it. I’ll let you do it this time.) Fillings are only limited by imagination–and good taste, or what you think tastes good.

So this year I made chocolate Hamantaschen filled with chocolate chip cookie dough, and some filled with Nutella. If you have to ask why, these are not the cookies for you. I followed this recipe, using Special Dark cocoa and butter in the chocolate chip dough. (Actually, my sister found the recipe, so I could make the cookies for her.)

Chocolate Hamantaschen with Chocolate chip filling and Nutella filling

Chocolate Hamantaschen with Chocolate chip filling and Nutella filling

Then I made more traditional Hamantaschen, which I filled with a variety of flavors: some of the leftover chocolate chip dough—because you can never have too much chocolate, Nutella—because chocolate and hazelnut—and then I made a new flavor for this year. It’s what I like to think of as Sephardic meets Ashkenazi in one delightful cookie. The filling is Clementine-Almond.

Here’s what I did. I was inventing it as I went along, so no measurements. There’s a surprise, right?

Clementine-Almond Filling

Boil Clementines (I used 3) for about 1 hour, or until soft. I removed the stems. Drain, and chop the entire fruit, peels and all, in a food processor until it’s like a sauce. Return to pot, and add some sugar. I didn’t want it to be too sweet, but I also didn’t want it too bitter, so you just have to taste it. Cook until sugar is dissolved and the mixture seems thick enough to use as a filling. I then added about a teaspoon of honey, which made it perfect, and finely ground roasted almonds.

Clementine-Almond Filling

Clementine-Almond Filling

An assortment of Hamantaschen

An assortment of Hamantaschen

With some many hours wasted spent in baking (did I mention I went to the gym first where I thought about this filling the entire time?), I decided I might as well continue instead of actually doing any work. So, I thought, what about a savory Hamantaschen for dinner? I am brilliant. I adapted some recipes for mushroom turnovers and made Mushroom Hamantaschen. Dinner and dessert Hamantaschen. YES!

Jewish holidays tend to be reminders of sorrow and joy in life, the bitter and the sweet–so I think I’ve got it covered.

Mushroom Hamantaschen

Dough: Mix 8 oz. cream cheese, 1 cup butter, and 1 ½ cups of flour together. Add a pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter. Chill dough.

Filling: Finely chop 1 onion, about ¾ lb. of mushrooms (your choice). I used some baby bellas. Cook in oil for a few minutes until softened. Add salt, pepper, and ground thyme to taste. Sprinkle with a tsp or two of flour, and stir in ¼ cup of sour cream.

Roll out dough and cut into rounds. Put a spoonful of mushroom filling on each round and shape into triangles. Bake on parchment lined baking sheet at 350° for about 15 minutes.

Mushroom Hamentaschen

Mushroom Hamantaschen

So what’s today’s work-avoiding project? I think a pot of yellow split pea-pumpkin soup sounds perfect. With Hamantaschen. And wine, of course.

****Sorry about the quality of the photos–this is why I don’t actually write a food blog!

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30 Interesting Facts about Books

merrildsmith:

Some fascinating and fun book facts!

Originally posted on Interesting Literature:

30 fun facts about books, in honour of World Book Day 2015

SF writer Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) is the only author to have published a book in all ten Dewey library categories.

When asked what book he’d like to have with him on a desert island, G. K. Chesterton replied, ‘Thomas’s Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.’

Hugh Lofting, author of Dr Doolittle, thought books should have a ‘senile’ category to complement the ‘juvenile’ section.

Dickens’s house had a secret door in the form of a fake bookcase. The fake books included titles such as ‘The Life of a Cat’ in 9 volumes.

Playwright Joe Orton went to prison in 1962 for defacing library books. One of the cartoons he drew shows an elderly tattooed man in trunks.

Books BerlinThe first book bought on Amazon was called Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought.

Author…

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Disease, Mortality, and Lessons from History

Monday Morning Musings

“Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects.”

–Herodotus, The History of Herodotus

“The forms of diseases are many and the healing of them is manifold.”

— Hippocrates

I’ve been thinking about the intersection of disease and history. Stay with me here–both subjects have been much in the news. The word “history” comes from the ancient Greek word meaning inquiry or investigation. Historians investigate a variety of materials, and then we evaluate, interpret them using the available facts (which often change over time), and chronicle them. History is not a science, but science has its history.

The current outbreaks of measles here in the United States and elsewhere can be examined through a historical lens, as well as through scientific ones. For example, my own history: I had the measles, chicken pox, and many other childhood diseases because I was born before there were vaccines. According to one report, there were 102 reported cases of measles in the United States, in fourteen different states, that are linked to one outbreak in California. (See this.) As a child, I did receive the oral polio vaccine. Due to the effectiveness of that and subsequent vaccines, polio has nearly been eradicated.

As of January 2015, no new cases of polio have been seen in Nigeria or Syria, where there were cases found last year, but the disease still exists in the wild in Pakistan. This is a disease that can be eradicated. What many people do not realize is that one case of a disease such as polio can cause an epidemic. According to the World Health Organization:

“Despite the progress achieved since 1988, as long as a single child remains infected with polio virus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. The polio virus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst unimmunized populations. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200, 000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.”

World Health Organization. 2014

Polio cannot be cured, but it can be prevented through proper vaccination.

Measles can also be eradicated. Many young doctors have never seen actual cases of the disease because the vaccine is so effective. One could divide history in the United States into a before vaccination for childhood illnesses and a post vaccinations period. Look back at family histories—how many children were lost to not only diseases such as polio and measles, but also scarlet fever, whooping cough, and others? Measles can cause severe complications, and the disease can also be fatal. There is NO scientific link between measles vaccines and autism. There is no debate about the efficacy of vaccines. Some children cannot be vaccinated because they have cancer, allergies, or auto-immune problems, but parents who choose not to vaccinate healthy children put not only their children at risk of getting the disease, but also help to spread the disease to others.

Epidemics have changed the course of human life and events. Most people probably know of the plague, the “Black Death” that occurred throughout the world in waves in the mid-fourteenth century–and killed millions of people. Fleas carry the plague bacterium. Many have theorized that rats harbored the plague-ridden fleas over decades, which caused the epidemics to break out in waves of plague throughout the mid-to-later part of the fourteenth century.

Some scientists now believe that Asian gerbils brought the disease to Europe. By examining tree rings, the scientists determined that weather conditions in Europe during plague outbreaks were not particularly conducive to rats. However, whenever the weather was favorable to gerbils and fleas in central Asia, the plague bacteria appeared a few years later in European harbor towns, and then spread across Europe. Of course, anyone who has ever had to deal with fleas brought in my pets or people, knows that they easily hop to new warm bodies, so carrier fleas once introduced into new locations, could jump to mice, rats, cats, dogs, livestock, and people. Rats are not off the hook, but the black plague of the fourteenth century may not have originated with them. (See an article about the study here.)

After the fourteenth century, the plague periodically reappeared. In England, the Great Plague of 1665 is perhaps the next most famous plague period, but there were others. I came across this story about plague graffiti left in churches. The article features a bit of graffiti: the names Cateryn, Jane and Amee Maddyngley that were inscribed on the wall of a church in Cambridgeshire after the plague of 1515 broke out in London and spread to the south and east.

Although it is sad to think of the deaths and the survivor who wrote the names of these three sisters, I had immediate questions. First, an observation–how cool is it that there is church graffiti survey! Then I wondered who had left the graffiti. And why? Was it simply a memorial? Was there more? Did the survivor feel guilty? Was it a brother? Of course, the other obvious thought was that he or she (but probably more likely he) was literate, and I wondered about literacy in this 16th century English village. The article says the family was likely tenant farmers, which encompasses a great economic range. Perhaps the unknown graffiti artist attended one of the grammar schools that were established at this time. Because it’s unlikely that whoever left this graffiti left a record saying so, we will probably never know who inscribed these names, or most other church graffiti. But it is so interesting.

This is part of what makes the study of history fascinating and relevant. One can look at an event—the outbreak of plague in London in 1515–and from there follow all sorts of historical paths. It can lead to studies of epidemics, village life, family life, class, church history, agricultural history, and education, among others.

Recently in United States, some politicians have tried make the teaching of history in public schools fit their ideas of what should be taught, whether it is accurate or not. Some have attempted to rewrite or censor textbooks. Recently, Representative Daniel Fisher of Oklahoma introduced House Bill 1380 in the state to prohibit teaching the US History Advance Placement course there, unless it was changed to fit his ideas of what should be included in such a course. He and others who support him believe the AP US History course is not patriotic enough. Mr. Fisher lacks understanding of both the AP Course and US History. AP courses are designed to be similar to a first year college course. Students are expected to not merely memorize facts, but to investigate and analyze material, including a variety of primary texts. His version of required documents for US History included the Ten Commandments and the Magna Carta. The Ten Commandments should absolutely be studied—in a course on world culture or religions. The Magna Carta is important for a course in English history or government. Despite his desire to rewrite the past and influence the present, however, the United States is not and has never been a Christian nation, and “the Founding Fathers” were not all devout Christians. (See this.)

I agree that students—indeed all Americans—should be familiar with such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but how does it detract from the significance of these documents to know that many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveholders? Good and bad things have happened in the United States, and students should be aware of them. They should know that along with fighting for freedom during World War II, the United States also interred thousands of Japanese Americans. This is part of our history. Political documents, like works of art, are richer for knowing and understanding the context in which they were created. The Founding Fathers did not live in a bubble. They had wives, families, servants, and slaves. They suffered from chronic diseases and were often in pain. It is also important to know about the lives of the less famous, and to understand the context into which both famous and unknown people lived their lives.*

If we are to understand the past—or at least to make educated guesses–then we need to know about more than kings and presidents, the wealthy and educated. To understand the past, we need to examine its rats, fleas, and dirt, along with its shining surfaces, palaces, and plantations. We need to appreciate the devastation of an epidemic, as well as the glory of gaining independence. We need to look at the graffiti and scribbles, as well as the portraits and treatises.

*******

Next week, my new Monday Morning Musings history blog post will return to more familiar and delicious territory. But so I don’t leave you without mentioning food, here’s a report of an exhibit that used cake to depict disease. Look if you dare!

Also, two wonderful historical novels that focus on plague in England: Connie Willis, Doomsday Book, which also involves time travel. It’s one of my favorite books. Geraldine Brooks’s novel, Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, is based on a true story of a village in England that was struck by the plague in 1666. It is elegant and heartbreaking. I seem to remember reading it in one sitting, and crying.

*My World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO) should be out in September, at least that is what Amazon tells me!  It is full of information about things that Representative Fisher probably thinks are totally irrelevant.

Going to the Movies with the Smiths

My husband and I have a tradition for our birthdays: we go out to the movies and then to dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant. It’s an inexpensive celebration that is usually doable on a weeknight. Sometimes we have additional celebrations, such as the wine events we attended this year around the time of both of our birthdays. This year, for my husband’s birthday we saw Still Alice—because who doesn’t want to celebrate getting older by seeing a movie about a woman who discovers she has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease? “Another uplifting film,” my husband would say.

(Yes, we’re a fun couple. On Presidents’ Day we saw Leviathan, the Russian film nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards. It’s an epic tragedy about one man’s fight against the corruption of Russian bureaucracy, especially against his antagonist, the piggish, evil mayor. The film also has stunning shots of the Barents Sea coast, where it was filmed.)

So Still Alice. After it was over, my husband turned to me and said, “I think that’s the saddest movie I’ve ever seen.” That sparked a dinner conversation about sad movies we’ve seen recently. (See, aren’t we fun?) There are different types of sad movies, of course. There’s the overly sentimental maudlin sad, for example, the type of movie that doesn’t really appeal to me. Still Alice is sad, but it focuses on the woman and follows her through her life as it changes over the course of her illness, instead of becoming a sappy emotional vehicle. The movie boasts an amazing performance by Julianne Moore. I asked my husband if he was sorry he had seen the movie, and he said no, he was glad he had seen it. I don’t know if we would say we “enjoyed” the movie, but we were both glad we had seen it, and we both agreed Julianne Moore did an incredible job in portraying the articulate, fashionable, university scholar and professor who becomes the slightly unkempt, nearly wordless, vacant-faced victim of a disease that robs her of her memories. It is the journey from those two extremes that makes the movie so memorable–and that also makes it so sad.

I also dreamt about the movie last night, but I was Alice. In the dream, I told my friends, Chris, Pat, and Irene about the diagnosis. As we have shared the heartaches and the joys of our lives for many, many years, it seemed this would be one more crisis we’d all weather together somehow. That was sad, too. Then I had another dream that involved food. Life goes on.

During our dinner discussion of sad movies, I mentioned first Amour (2012), about an elderly French couple—the husband cares for his wife, a brilliant pianist, after she has a stroke. After seeing trailers for it, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see it, but my husband and I both agreed that it was a very good movie. It may tie with Still Alice as “saddest.” A couple of other movies that we discussed during dinner: The White Ribbon (2010), a German movie, that is bleak, cold, and disturbing, as well as sad. I don’t remember it as well. I do remember “bleak” though. It is all black and white and gray. The Lives of Others (2006), is a terrific movie about spies and spying and life in East Germany. It’s one I would definitely watch again.

Lest you think my husband and I are like Alvy Singer, Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall who is constantly going to see The Sorrow and the Pity, the French documentary about the Holocaust, let me assure you we are not. (I do love Annie Hall though.) The latest Hunger Games movie (Mockingjay, Part 1) was my birthday movie in December. OK. I guess that’s not really upbeat either, but honestly, we do sometimes see comedies. Recently, we’ve seen Mr. Turner, Into the Woods, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, among others, so we have seen an eclectic assortment of films. I have seen most of the movies nominated for Best Picture, all except Whiplash and American Sniper, and I will probably see both of them at some point. We’ve seen two of the four movies nominated for Best Foreign Film (Ida and Leviathan), and have seen many of the other movies nominated for various other awards this year.

Sometimes we need an escape from reality. Books and movies help provide that escape. Sometimes they also make me think and reflect about my own life.

Movies form a backdrop to favorite family memories, as well. I began to see some movies in different way because of our children. When my older daughter was about three, she wanted to see a particular scene from My Fair Lady and referred to it by the color of Eliza’s dress. (She also referred to a restaurant by the color of its door, which we had never noticed. Can you tell she’s an artist?) Our younger daughter cried and cried every time she watched The Fox and the Hound, but she still insisted on watching it. I remember my husband and I laughing and laughing at Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year.

Do you watch sad movies? Do have family memories associated with movies? Do you try to see the movies nominated for Academy Awards?