I’ll Make Borscht Today: A Quadrille

I’ll make borscht today,

let it simmer in the pot

comforting and hot,

red like blood,

or flowers that might bloom

if ever spring returns,

ice now covers branches, leaves, and souls

twisted with cold,

memories of warmth faded

till ladled in a bowl

 

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This is a quadrille for dVerse. The prompt word was spring.

We got some snow yesterday, but then we got rain and sleet. Everything is coated in ice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Between Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“A Light exists in spring

Not present on the year

At any other period

When March is scarcely here.”

—Emily Dickinson, “A Light exists in spring,”Full Text Here

 

In the between-time, dinosaurs dreamt,

their breathe swirled in the misty air

floating to mingle with ours

their feathers bright

with gaping jaws and thunder cries

amidst the fern-like leaves,

always summer

 

we dreamt their dreams

and they dreamt ours

warm blood flowing through our veins

(uniting heart and mind)

we sat on their backs as they flew

large wings outspread

feeling their power and grace

and they listened to our stories

of love

of kings and queens

raptors enraptured,

always summer in our dreams

 

But now

in this between-time of winter-spring

the flowers bloomed, they danced and sang

(we heard their songs)

then felt their pain

(tears fell from the sky)

as winter touched them with cold fingers

covering them in an icy blanket

yet the days grow lighter

brighter

and yet still whiter

 

 

In this between-time world,

this in-between season,

forces of good and evil fight

but most of us, dinosaurs and humans,

remain in-between,

compliant, complacent,

lost in dreams,

thinking of summer

 

This weekend, we ate Hamantaschen

(a lot of Hamantaschen),

 

we drank wine,

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I read about Queen Esther,

who may or may not have existed,

(an in-between world)

she married King Ahasuerus

who ordered his first wife, Queen Vashti,

to stand naked before his male guests at a banquet,

displaying what he owned

(what he could touch with his small hands)

she refused,

and he banished her–

magnanimously did not executed her–

but made a new law—

men would have complete authority over their wives.

Esther, plucked from his harem,

became his new wife,

a new trophy.

This king ruled a vast empire,

but he was petty,

thin skinned

(orange tinted)

easily influenced,

as for Esther,

fourteen years old

did she have a choice?

She was Jewish,

a secret descendent of exiles,

in palace full of secrets and intrigue,

she and her uncle Mordecai foiled a plan to kill the king,

winning his trust,

but the eunuchs involved were killed,

collateral damage,

And Esther skillfully manipulated the king,

outwitted his prime minister Haman

(the evil man behind the throne

disseminator of alternative facts)

and prevented the mass slaughter of the Jews

(though they still had to fight)

She is honored now,

Haman is reviled,

but still I wonder,

she remained with the king,

bore him a son,

a woman caught between men,

and I wonder about her

what did she give up

what did she give in to

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Credit Line: Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, “Esther before Ahasuerus, (1738-1740)
Purchased with funds contributed by the Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in honor of their 100th anniversary, 1982

 

I wonder about being complicit,

collaborating with the enemy,

we watched a TV show about Earth after aliens have taken over

letting humans do the work of enforcing their decrees

those who work for the aliens get good homes and other perks

resisters are sent to work camps or to “the factory,”

from which they never return,

a spin on WWII and Nazi-occupied countries,

or any country under a dictator,

complicity

collaboration

(What would you do to save your family?)

though the air feels warm

sometimes, it’s always winter

 

But I know spring is coming

sense it from the light,

different from other times of the year,

brighter, losing the gloom of winter,

a signal,

a beacon of hope

I drink more wine,

eat some sweets,

ignore false honeyed words

take a break

deep breaths

relax

because

we value love

and art

and beauty

and joy

we tell stories

of dinosaurs and ghosts

of ancient worlds

and kings and queens

and believe in people

we hope, but resist

and do not become complacent

even as the days grow longer

and we are lulled by spring’s sweet siren song

and dream our dreams,

ours and the dinosaurs,

in the in-between time

 

My conceit about dreams mingling with that of dinosaurs was inspired by Kerfe and Jane’s discussion on this post. 

The recipe for Shakshuka Hamantaschen can be found here on What Jew Wanna Eat.  I used part whole wheat flour for the pita. The recipe for the Cannoli Hamantaschen can be found here.

We’re expecting a big snowstorm tomorrow. Sigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between Here and Always

Monday Morning Musings:

The Oracle gave me this poem over the weekend.

 

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Between here and always

is light–

vivid soul-blossoms living wild,

secret garden from dark night,

world was and is

 

In February, this month of birthdays,

time moves backward and forward,

fluid

here and always

what was, what is, and what will be

 

even the weather seems confused,

time and season changing from day to day

light and dark

warm and cold

flowers bloom,

secret gardens amidst leaves

covered as snow falls

 

here

always

 

We celebrate my husband’s birthday with Pakistani food,

the owner remembers him and my son-in-law

they picked up food there on the day my daughter and son-in-law

moved into their house,

yes, they looked tired that day, the man says,

(he is pleased we’ve returned)

the food is delicious,

we eat flaky samosas with yogurt sauce and green chili sauce

then our various entries—slow cooked beef, lamb, chicken,

and vegetarian dishes of eggplant and moong dal with palek,

the chef comes out to meet us,

we tell them we’ll come back

here

 

We have wine and cheesecake afterward at my daughter’s house,

 

 

the house crackles and creaks a bit as the heat of the gas fire warms the room,

ghost sounds,

my daughter-in-law mentions a John McCain poster figure

her father used to hide it around their house to startle people,

I recall the mannequin my sister and a roommate had in their apartment

they used to dress her for different events,

one daughter says she saw a woman on the T carrying the arm of a mannequin–

silence,

there must be a story,

then, other daughter asks, “are you sure it was a mannequin’s arm?”

 

here and always,

food, love, and stories.

 

Later, I pull out tablecloths

they’ve been buried at the bottom of a cedar chest

almost two decades now,

once a special part of our daughters’ birthday parties

years of drawings and comments,

words written by children

now grown

scribbled messages,

ghosts of the past,

each daughter takes a tablecloth

Happy Birthday, I say.

They are always in my heart.

 

 

I make a photo/memory album for my mother-in-law

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I have an assistant.

 

born in 1937,

the middle of the Great Depression,

1937,

Amelia Earhart disappeared, Japan invaded China, the Nanking massacre took place, the Hindenburg exploded,  the Golden Gate Bridge opened,

Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered, and Of Mice and Men was published–

my husband says, yes but the most important thing is that my mother was born

and of course, to her, to him, and to me, it is

without that,

he would not be here

and our children would not be

perhaps there is another timeline,

perhaps there is another always,

ghosts that flicker

just out of sight

another story

but not here

 

We celebrate her 80th birthday

at our house

 

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a friend of hers stops by,

an eightieth birthday party surprise

(“I won’t stay long,” the friend says,

“I’ve just had a heart attack,”

a story I could not make up)

daughters and I have made enough food

to feed twice as many people,

 

 

enough for more surprise people,

or any strangers who might wander in,

we eat and talk

and memories flow–

what was, what is–

my mother-in-law’s wish–

to see my nephew, her grandson, grow up

What will he be?

(What will be?)

At some point, we will look back

at this moment

in snapshots

time frozen

what is now will be then

this warm sunny day,

filled with light,

here and always

our souls blossom

with love

here

always

 

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Banana Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 

If you are in the Sicklerville, NJ area, I highly recommend Mera Khana restaurant. It’s a small, unassuming restaurant in a strip mall–but such delicious food and wonderful people.

 

February Hearts and Lions

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“And February was so long that it lasted into March

And found us walking a path alone together,

You stopped and pointed and you said, ‘That’s a crocus,’

And I said, “What’s a crocus?” and you said, “It’s a flower,”

I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”

You said, “I still love you.”

–Dar Williams, “February”

 

“This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments?”

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

 

February grayness brightens with a flower

teasing us before the snow.

The snow moon haunts and taunts

the wind blows,

wild wolves howling in the night,

winter darkness,

and yet dawn comes,

and so will spring.

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First Crocus, National Park, NJ

 

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Watching the February snow. National Park, NJ

 

My daughters and I,

in separate locations,

celebrate our snow day

(though the inch or two in New Jersey

does not compare to Boston’s blizzard)

we share our thoughts,

in text messages

(technology that did not exist when I young)

throughout the day,

as if we were wondering in and out of rooms—

separated by space,

but instantly connected in time,

what we are cooking and baking–

meatballs, lentil soup, artisan bread, sweet potato nachos–

deciding banana bread with added chocolate chips

makes it both bread and cake,

suitable for breakfast or dessert,

one daughter says she just watched, Finding Dory,

and cried,

but then we cry over everything,

TV shows, books, commercials,

other daughter says, “I cried when I burnt toast the other day,

but the point is that you should watch the movie.”

My husband chimes in with a message that he is saving this conversation,

“It is SO my family.”

 

A few days later my husband and I see the movie, Lion,

and my tears flow,

I think it is good I’m not watching it with my daughters,

all three of us sobbing in the theater,

though I notice my husband discreetly wiping his eyes.

I think again about technology,

the nineteenth-century invention, the train,

that separates the five-year-old boy from his family,

that little boy with the heart and spirit of a lion,

a twentieth-century plane separates them ever father

across bodies of water to Tasmania

how a twenty-first-century invention, Google Earth,

brings them back together

It turns out that we see the movie in February,

and it was in February that Saroo Briefley reunited with his family.

 

On a February night I gave birth to one daughter,

and on a February night three years later, I gave birth to her sister,

and so, we celebrate birthdays

with wine and chocolate

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around the holiday of love

hearts and love

chocolate and wine

 

I think of the brilliant February moon,

its light shining through the kitchen window

making me stop and stare,

and gaze at the sky–

technology leads us out to the stars,

to our moon’s craters

and to Saturn’s rings,

Valentine’s love from Cassini

 

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“Splendid Saturn,”NASA Image, PIA06594/ NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

 

I wake during the night to hear

February’s winds,

wild horse gods,

stallions that gallop in

and seed the ground,

for spring

will come again–

until then, there is chocolate, wine,

and memories.

 

A number of New  Jersey wineries have special wine and chocolate events close the weekend before Valentine’s Day. This year we went to one at Heritage Winery in Mullica Hill, NJ.

Trailer for Lion.

A Final Bloom Before the Cold

Monday Morning Musings:

“It was a happy thought to bring 
To the dark season’s frost and rime 
This painted memory of spring, 
This dream of summertime. “

–John Greenleaf Whittier, “Flowers in Winter”

 

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A surprising last bloom of the geranium in November.

 

A final bloom,

flowers that were vibrant red

fragrant in the summer heat,

now scentless,

a different hue against autumn’s rusts and gold,

in the cold,

a final bloom,

tired, but heroic,

a reminder,

a last hurrah,

as the nights grow longer

and we must grow stronger,

winter is coming.

 

The skies darken and the winds howl,

we huddle under blankets,

fill the house with the scents of cinnamon, apples, pumpkin,

and freshly baked bread,

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Apples cooking for Thanksgiving applesauce

 

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Artisan-style bread to eat with our soup

 

I think of tea and oranges that come all the way from China,

we eat, sustaining ourselves with hearty soup, a hunk of cheese,

a glass of wine and Netflix,

we smile and dance with the opening credits,

wondering where life is headed,

winter is coming.

 

We go to see Loving

a quiet, unassuming film

about the landmark decision,

Loving v. Virginia,

we watch and listen

two ordinary people,

black and white,

they want to marry, not fight,

but their marriage a crime under Virginia law.

I want to scream at the hypocrisy

the result of the slavocracy

of the state of Virginia, how

centuries of miscegenation,

and the degradation

the rape of black women,

and the suffering of families,

and the telling of lies.

But the heart is not silenced

And love still sings.

I cry at the end,

happy with the result that justice brings,

that our system worked then,

(and I think, too, more money to the ACLU.)

 

We discuss the movie over vegetable pakoras,

vegetable soup, naan

yellow dal tarka

and other delights,

a buffet,

and we eat too much,

but they’re all so delicious,

these Indian dishes,

warm and comforting on this cold day

when we sense that winter is coming.

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Autumn leaves against the wind-swept clouds

 

Winter is coming

will we see another bloom?

The bloodred blossoms of civil rights

fading, turning to dust

causes forgotten, results of long fights,

gone with civility,

(utter imbecility)

social contracts, death of the Great Experiment,

But still we know,

that love is love,

and we must shout what’s in our hearts,

Ask not what you can do for your country

Ask not for whom the bell tolls

It tolls for you and me,

good or evil

we are stronger together,

winter is coming.

 

We laugh and talk

Denial?

Well, life must go on

even when the bloom is gone

even in winter.

From within the darkness

we light the candles

to illuminate the room

to cast the shadows to the corners,

amidst the cold,

amidst the gloom,

we seek warmth

and offer shelter

when the winter comes.

 

We prepare for the long winter,

not to be seduced by the stark beauty of the snow

but noticing the cracks in the ice.

The last bloom, as autumn turns to winter,

and we remember spring

a distant, buried memory,

we remember and hope

for new blooms

after the winter comes—

and goes

and spring returns.

 

We saw the movie, Loving.

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Time for blankets–it’s going to be a long winter.

Following and Leading with Family and Fish

Monday Morning Musings:

“Where you lead, I will follow

Anywhere that you tell me to

If you need, you need me to be with you

I will follow where you lead.”

–Carole King, “Where You Lead “(Gilmore Girls Theme Song)

 

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

–The final message of dolphins to humans, as they leave Earth before it’s destroyed. Also, the title of the fourth book of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.

 

“I sustain myself with the love of family.”

–Maya Angelou (Tweet, on 23 May 2013)

 

After a long, long week,

a very long week

when we are in shock over the leader

many of our fellow citizens want to follow,

my younger daughter suggests we watch The Gilmore Girls*

while we eat Chinese food and chocolate,

so we sit, comfy in PJs and sweatshirts

while my husband goes for the Chinese food

(General Tso’s chicken for him,

the mock version for us)–

followed by chocolate.

Of course.

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No one can eat like the Gilmore Girls,

but we try to get in the spirit,

choosing an episode from Season Two,

we hear this:

Paris: “That’s crazy. People would rather vote for a moronic twink who they liked over someone who could actually do the job?”

“We can’t get away from it,” sighs my daughter.

“Oy with the poodles already,” I reply.

 

The next day we go to my sister’s house.

meant to be a combination birthday-victory celebration

with a fish tray and bagels.

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It is instead, a much needed gathering of family,

the love of family to sustain us.

 

Son-in-law has never eaten lox–or any of the fish on the platter,

he is forced to try them all.

(“It’s my heritage,” his wife says, though she is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish.)

He thinks the whitefish is too oily,

the lox too salty,

but the kippered salmon is tolerable—with lots of onion.

Daughter says, “He would have gotten along well with Grandpop.”

We remember my dad’s love of onions–

onion sandwiches

onion and sardine sandwiches

onion and sardine sandwiches on onion rolls

( with extra onions).

Did I mention he liked onions?

My father liked food,

and gatherings,

and gathering over food.

We sustain ourselves with family and family memories.

 

My mother wants coffee,

demands coffee

I want it now she says

with my meal.

She would fit right in with the Gilmore Girls.

 

You don’t argue with a 94-year old woman who wants coffee.

My sister gets her some coffee.

Remembering how we are sustained by family, love, and annoyance.

 

We discuss the current political situation,

daughter worried about how her students will react.

(She has not seen them since the election.)

I say I think she is a good leader,

and hope they will follow her lead.

Her husband, a veteran, deployed three times,

and not happy with the elected leader,

talks to my sister about getting involved in politics.

Sustained, and upheld by family.

 

My mom says she’s lived through many scary times.

I say I remember being terrified during the Cold War–

duck and cover drills and the Cuban Missile Crisis–

“But there were more sane people in control then,” my niece says.

Sigh.

Oy with the poodles already.

Sustained by love of family.

 

My sister and niece say, if we’re going to discuss this

we need to drink–and chocolate.

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drink, drink, drink

 

In truth, we really do not drink,

and then my niece accidentally knocks coffee onto my mom’s lap.

We’re clumsy, but lovable.

And sustained by the love of family.

 

Time for dessert!

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The cake is placed strategically in front of my daughter, so she can pick at it,

and “clean up” the icing.

(Love of family and food sustains us.)

 

My niece, who lives in a divided household

(in a red part of the state)

says she has needed this gathering,

though we’re not celebrating the election,

we are celebrating family.

We’re sustained by family—

and food.

 

We move to other subjects—

Thanksgiving (and food).

I have safely delivered the squirrel mold

(encased in bubble wrap)

to my niece,

the Thanksgiving cranberry sauce tradition

can continue.

We talk of social media

and kids,

and gender identity

and sex education,

a teenage boy taking lotion,

“I don’t understand—why does he want lotion?”

asks my mom.

(She’s so innocent.)

We hear cheers from the next room,

my sister-in-law and husband are watching football.

It is time to go.

We leave, sustained by family,

full from all the food we’ve eaten,

carrying packages of fish and bagels,

bits of love,

like life, delicious and a bit smelly,

So long, and thanks for all the fish,

and all the memories, too.

And though wishing my other daughter was also with us,

I am sustained by love of family,

as we head off into the darkness

where a super moon is rising.

We need light in the darkness

and love always.

 

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*Gilmore Girls was a TV series about single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory. The series opened as Rory was in high school and ended when she graduated from Yale. In between, mother and daughter had many adventures, drank millions of cups of coffee, and eat enormous amounts of take-out food in the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. A four-episode follow-up will be on Netflix in about two weeks.

Voices and Memories

Monday Morning Musings

 

“I’ve never had a way with women, but the hills of Iowa make me wish that I could”

Dar Williams, “Iowa”

“We are not lost in the mortal city.”

–Dar Williams, “Mortal City”

“We both know what memories can bring

They bring diamonds and rust.”

–Joan Baez, “Diamonds and Rust”

“This shirt is just an old faded piece of cotton

Shining like the memories

Inside those silver buttons.”

–Mary Chapin Carpenter, “This Shirt”

 

I don’t go to concerts very often,

but this weekend, there were two.

strong women, with beautiful voices

their voices shined and stirred memories,

diamonds and rust.

 

My daughter and I went to see Dar Williams,

her husband drove us through the puddled night,

the city lights glowed through the mist,

reflected on the streets of the mortal city,

but we were not lost.

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And we ordered food and wine

sharing platters and talking

of friends, family

(her sister would have loved to have been with us)

of TV shows, of her house-to-be

a special momma-daughter night

 

 

I remember when I first heard Dar Williams,

I was driving home from teaching a night class,

listening to Philadelphia station, WXPN,

hearing “When I Was a Boy,”

and I thought,

Who is this woman?

I have to find this album

And I did

sharing with daughters

(young voices of strong girls)

who sang along, even not quite understanding the words

until they grew older,

And now here we are, one of them with me at a concert

in this mortal city

It is a wonderful concert

And she is generous to others

Sharing the time with local author, Liz Moore

Who reads from her latest novel, The Unseen World

And joins Dar on the chorus of “Iowa”

And for several hours we

forget about the candidate who never had a way with women

(Voices of women will be heard.)

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In between concerts

my husband and I get a visit from our daughters’ friend,

our older daughter’s friend since kindergarten,

younger daughter was the little sister she never had.

I watched them all grow up together.

(Diamond memories, comfortable like an old shirt)

 

She had messaged me,

she was coming home and had been dreaming of my cookies,

the cookies we call “Mommy Cookies” in my house,

she wondered if there might be some this weekend,

And I said I could make it happen.

How could I not?

So she stopped by and picked up the cookies,

enough for her boyfriend to try one.

She says she likes where they live,

a people’s republic in Maryland

the town will take in refugees

(voice of the people).

She’s a strong woman,

like my daughters

all working to make this world a better place.

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So then that night

(Sunday, if you’re keeping track)

my husband and I drive back into the mortal city

we see the rainbow flags and signs

of the Outfest celebration in the Gayborhood

(Voices of love, is love, is love, is love is love is love

is love is love)

And though the rain has finally stopped

it is cool and windy,

We eat at a bar–

my husband laughs when I say,

“It is a good night to eat in a dark bar.”

He picks a beer to drink

I order wine

We both have the Belgian frites

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And we sit and talk before walking to the Academy of Music

(I’ve never sung in such a beautiful hall before,” Mary Chapin Carpenter says.)

and it is beautiful

and she sings,

and her voice is beautiful and strong.

(I remember, diamond memories, of my daughters

singing along to “Passionate Kisses”)

She reveals a bit of hero worship for both Lucinda Williams

and Joan Baez

who then comes out on the stage,

elegant and strong at 75,

with that voice

that distinctive soprano vibrato

(Who doesn’t worship her?)

She begins with a folk song

“Pretty Peggy-O,”

alone on the stage

the way she probably sang at the start of her career,

and she sings her way through the years

(memories of diamonds and rust)

and she sings alone

and she sing with others

all strong, beautiful voices,

and despite claiming she is tired and her feet hurt,

she sings several encore songs

including “Imagine”

because we need this song,

and “The Boxer,”

another song of another mortal city

still timely,

as we hear what we want to hear

and disregard the rest.

She ends with “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

wanting it to carry us all home,

she sings with a laugh and says “Good night.”

 

In the car

(traveling home from the mortal city)

I read the texts from my daughter

(a strong woman with the voice of an angel)

She has filled me in on the debate.

I turn on NPR,

I hear a strong woman

and I hear the other voice

that I hope will fade like rust

leaving only a slight orange stain

We know what memories can bring,

diamonds and rust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Beauty to Happen

Monday Morning Musings:

 

Warren:

For beautiful to happen, the beautiful has got to be seen

Deb:

Okay. I like that shade of red right there

The spot where the apple is peeling

It’s deep as an ocean but lighter than air

Warren:

It’s simple, familiar, and full of feeling

Deb:

The color of Saturdays here at the Met

Warren:

The color of shouting from rooftops

Deb:

You bet!

Warren:

The color of feeling that life is okay

Deb:

The color of an ordinary day

Adam Gwon, “Beautiful” from the musical Ordinary Days

 

“What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Little Giddings”

 

We planned for seventeen

but expected sixteen

I bake challahs,

a freezer full,

enough to give some away.

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I buy brisket,

take the plastic-wrapped tray from the butcher’s hands,

I look at the package–

no, she has never seen my family eat brisket,

I pick up another package.

 

I cook,

we clean,

I buy myself flowers to decorate the table–

we never have flowers inside

because of the cats,

just this once I think.

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A series of texts and calls

and there are now fourteen coming to dinner

then thirteen

then eleven.

Final answer.

As guests start to arrive

(The soup is bubbling on the stove.)

one cat is vomiting.

I’m worried he’s eaten flowers that are toxic,

I confer with daughter on the phone.

It doesn’t look like any of the flowers were nibbled.

I decide he’s probably okay.

(I hope he’s okay.)

 

The sun did not come out,

but there is a beauty to the fall breeze,

an ordinary day, beautiful.

The birds and squirrels chatter to one another,

“Fall is coming.”

 

In this year of bullets and bombs,

of hate-filled speech and lurid lies,

I welcome thoughts of a sweet new year,

old traditions that bring comfort,

even without belief

I don’t need god to believe

in man and woman,

and love.

 

We pour the wine,

my niece makes a toast

she reminds us of the importance of family

of love

of gathering together

of being there when others are in need.

 

We dip our apples in honey,

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We’re eating challah and drinking wine

talking with loved ones

and loving the talk.

(We love to talk.)

 

Dinner is full of symbols for the new year–

cycles, sweetness, prosperity–

in the round shape of the challah

full circles of life,

the ordinary made beautiful on reflection,

the golden pumpkin-yellow split pea soup

the burst of red pomegranate in the salad

the apples

tart and sweet—like life.

img_4444

 

My mom starts to mention traveling to Boston

I catch my niece’s eye–

pour more wine—

oh, family!

 

We talk about TV shows,

we talk about school,

there’s a discussion on teachers and parenting,

middle school kids,

Axe body spray and middle school boys

“It smells like BO,” says my niece

“I’d rather smell a room full of Axe than the smell of boys after gym class,”

says my daughter, who teaches 8th grade.

“I keep air freshener to spray in the room at the end of the day.”

(Perhaps sometimes the ordinary does not smell beautiful. But those kids–bursting with life!)

 

We’ve eaten our fill–

plenty of food–

because what if there isn’t enough!

Food for meat eaters and vegetarians

Brisket

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Turkey

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Noodle Kugel

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and enough for all to take some home

 

And then dessert. We want a very sweet year.

Apple Cake

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Baklava

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And brownies with sea salt, too.

(because chocolate)

 

We missed those who could not join us.

I send the flowers home with my mom.

The beginning and end come full circle.

We clean the house.

My cat is fine.

See the beauty.

It is all around,

in the red of an apple

in the golden flow of honey,

in the eye of your child

in the touch of love,

and in the purr of a cat, too.

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L’Shana Tova

A sweet year!

L’Chaim

To life!

Peace to all

Shalom

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Memories of a General

 

Monday Morning Musings:

“First we eat, then we do everything else.”

—M.F.K. Fisher

During Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearing in 2010

Senator Lindsey Graham asked her where she had been on Christmas,

She replied, “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”*

My niece commenting on getting together with my mom:

“Why does it always have to involve a meal?”

Me: “Because that’s what we do.”

 

I’ve traveled far and wide

with a legendary general,

well, not with him exactly,

but with his namesake,

cubed chicken, crispy-fried,

a sauce of soy, vinegar, and peppers,

slightly sweet and slightly spicy,

The thought, the scent,

a Proustian moment,

sending me back in time.

 

When I was a child

we ate chow mein and lo mein,

Column A and Column B,

“Chinese vegetables,” bamboo shoots and Bok choy,

things we never ate in other dishes,

with a cornstarch thickened sauce.

There was wonton soup and egg rolls

(I still love that hot mustard.)

Lots of food in bowls, on plates.

Now I know “Chinese food” is really Chinese-American food,

And in China, there are many different types of cuisine,

But I didn’t know that when I was young,

nor that fortune cookies were actually Japanese.

 

Chinese food,

created with determination by immigrants,

cultures merging, evolving,

food a gateway,

throughout time.

But tastes change–

for all sorts of reasons,

exposure, access, pop culture

the history of people

the history of food

indelibly tied.

So it goes

and so it happened,

In 1971,

the American Ping-Pong team went to China

And “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” took off

Embargoes on goods and information were removed

President Nixon visited China the following year,

I was in high school then,

discovered with others, the new trends,

Sichuan and Hunan and dumplings and more

dinners at the China Ping Pong Restaurant

where my mom’s cousin knew the owners,

we ate sizzling whole bass cooked in black bean sauce,

and of course, General Tso’s chicken–

Ping Pong diplomacy was delicious.

 

Now, General Tso’s is ubiquitous,

and found in every American Chinese restaurant

But then,

then, it was a novelty.

 

The General makes me think of my father

at his favorite Chinese restaurant

where he was a frequent customer,

such a good customer

that his dish became General Lee’s chicken,

named for him, of course,

extra spicy and with more chicken than broccoli.

My father treated us and our friends to dinners,

many dishes placed on the Lazy Susan

and twirled around for us to try.

Have some more.

Have you tried this?

Could we have some more rice?

No photos, except in my mind,

of these many dinners with my father.

 

Like the Christmas Carol ghost,

the General takes me to another time,

the time a friend of mine came to my house

to watch a video with me,

(no DVDs or Netflix streaming then)

“Girls’ Night,”

she left her children at home

and mine were in bed.

I’ll get Chinese food, I said,

General Tso’s for her to try,

never thinking to warn her.

Hot peppers?

They’re nothing to my family,

But suddenly she was coughing,

and her mouth was burning.

Eat some rice, I said.

And she was fine, really

But you know, I don’t see her anymore.

I wonder.

 

The General still visits us,

and came to call recently.

I had worked hard on a project all day,

And my husband offered to pick up some food,

a local place,

not too far away,

but with a standard menu,

standard for the restaurants in this area,

Well, of course,

he got General Tso’s chicken

(the combination platter)

and I got Mock General Tso’s

(we won’t go off on that tangent)

It was good, not great,

But oh the memories!

 

Jews and Chinese food,

the stuff of jokes, a cliché,

Seinfeld and the Gilmore Girls

(Remember Kirk playing Tevye?)

Or perhaps it’s something else,

I don’t know,

immigrant cultures,

sharing meals, with many courses

sitting together, laughing, eating.

 

And so, the general,

if not comrade in arms,

is a traveling companion of sorts,

taking me to places in my past.

And though he’s been replaced,

no longer my culinary favorite,

he will always have a place in my heart and mind.

 

 

 

Robin of Witless Dating After Fifty started me on this musing. You can thank or blame her.  But do check out her lovely blog.

Note: Today is Labor Day in the U.S. If you want to read about it, here’s my post from last year.

*See a clip in this Atlantic article 

For more information:

Jennifer 8. Lee’s book, Fortune Cookie Chronicles, covers both the origins of fortune cookies and the search for General Tso

There is also a movie The Search for General Tso.

And this  New Yorker article.