Still Soaring

Monday Morning Afternoon Musings:

 

Between the misty amethyst

and the brilliant blue—there’s a pause

in the morning’s soft pink music, a rest

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Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield, National Park, NJ, shortly after sunrise. July 2020 ©️ Merril D. Smith 2020

 

before the restart of staccato cardinal chirps,

the flute of robin trills,

and the crescendo of crow caws

 

burst through the feathered clouds,

with the bright blue of belonging—

here and now

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Delaware River, West Deptford, NJ. ©️Merril D. Smith, 2020

 

I walk

along the day’s determined path,

yet debating

 

both path and determined,

the ifs, whens, and whys

of going further, beyond

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I found an almost hidden path.

to find something else

hidden

like words within

 

waiting to be spoken.

 

“Eat chocolate,” my sisters say,

and share the thought of our mother’s laugh

echoing from the past,

 

flowing like a river through time,

all the versions of me and you,

the world

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in both the radiance of the sun

and the silvery shimmer of the moon,
pale blue and green,

 

and when I wish upon the ghost glow

of a thousand stars

I feel the dust of dreams

 

within and without,

as feathers fly from the sky

to land at my feet in trails of white light

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silent, at rest,

here, now

bits of something larger, still soaring.

A late edition of my Monday musings. I think Jane and I challenged each other to use the Love set of tiles from the Magnetic Poetry Oracle. The Oracle and I once again collaborated, with more inspiration from my morning walks.

I’ve been baking with summer fruit, but I do indeed have a chocolate stash.

 

Merril’s Movie Club: We watched Radioactive (Amazon Prime, 2020), a new movie about Marie Curie. I wanted this to be wonderful, but it wasn’t. It was OK, but she was such a brilliant woman, and this, sadly, is not a movie that shines. We also watched Straight Up(Netflix), a sort of rom com where a young man who may be gay, but isn’t sure, finds his soul mate is a woman. It was enjoyable, but not great.

So we went back to darker stuff: we started watching Bordertown, a Finnish series on Netflix. So far, it’s very good. I like “Scandi-noir,” and shows that explore family life as well as the crimes.

 

 

 

 

 

Breathe a Cloud

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“Fear makes for good servants

and bravery is fraudulent”

       –Jim Harrison from “Vows”

 

The timeless lies

of dictators grappling for power

smiling for the crowds

insisting they are making things better

demagogues feeding the fears

firing them into fury

so that they erupt

like a volcano

spewing lava into the air

to flow over

those people–

criminals

rapists

bad hombres–

them,

those people who take your jobs,

and ravish your women,

animals

not fully human.

We’ve seen this before

but that doesn’t happen here

that’s all in the past

in countries far away.

We thought we were safe,

more enlightened now

(to separate parents and children)

we’re not

paralyzed by fear and indecision

numbed by the normalization

of Twitter rants

but evil has only been buried

in a shallow grave

waiting to crawl out

like zombies

eating brains

and souls.

 

But when to fight

and when to escape in flight?

Do we leave at the first sparks

from the volcano,

or wait till it erupts?

My daughter’s friend goes out for bread

finds herself wind-whipped with ash–

falling from the sky.

Sudden changes–

like the storm clouds that break

for sunshine

and for a night

when we can sit outside with friends

to enjoy a concert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

watching children dance in the green grass

in innocence and joy

but

the storm clouds return

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and we sit inside

procrastibake

and watch TV

Mixed-berry Crumble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

we go to a wine festival

sampling wine

until the wind kicks up

and it is too cold and blustery to sit outside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

so, we come home

to sip

inside again

 

watch an old movie about war

and bravery and morality

where the coward becomes the war hero,

but when is fighting necessary

how do we stop evil

without glorifying war?

I have no answers–

but know that questioning must continue–

the press, the poets, the artists

truth and artistic vision

The Post and Guernica–

the light in the darkness,

that is bravery, too

 

and when

 

the rain falls,

hard rain

forming puddles

where little girls see rainbows

not guns

stop

look up

sigh

 

breathe a cloud

blush a breeze with joy

over our universe

and use soft rhythm

to time the thing—

eternity

it sails

a vast cool ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve linked this to Jilly’s Day  4 of  her 28 Days of Unreason using the poetry of Jim Harrison. And the Oracle added the message at the end.

Don’t forget to vote! One person and one vote can make a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

Truth in a Cookie

These cookies, your favorite,

are my favorite, too,

my daughters named them,

“Mommy Cookies,”

I baked these cookies for them

and for me

I baked them for events, for friends,

for moments of heartbreak

and moments of joy–

for memories.

I baked them for you.

 

I think of all the recipes handed down,

mother to daughter over generations,

measured by sight and feel

cooked or baked to taste,

I think of these cookies,

back in Eastern Europe–

the original version–

hard and dry,

kept in a tin,

taken out to have with tea,

but evolving over time

with new additions,

(like families)

becoming sweeter

and more nuanced,

cookies that are made

(now)

with ingredients of old world and new

bridging history in a bite,

tasting of past, present, and future–

what I see in your eyes,

the girl who was

the daughter, the mother, the grandmother,

what I see in my daughters’ eyes,

years gone, years yet to unfold,

bitter, spicy, crunchy, and sweet,

the definition of a cookie,

the measure of a life

 

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This was a poem I wrote for my mom’s 95th birthday.  I made her some of these mandelbrot cookies as a gift.

 

Time Bubbles

Monday Morning Musings:

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

–Thornton Wilder, The Woman of Andros

When I was child

My little sister and I broke bread

For stuffing

On Thanksgiving morning

As we watched the parade

On TV.

One Thanksgiving morning,

My father took us out

So my mom could cook

Without interruptions.

We were dressed as pilgrims

Or Indians perhaps,

Me with my hair in two long braids,

And the waitress fawned over us,

Or perhaps she was flirting with my dad.

I can’t be sure now.

The restaurant,

I seem to recall,

Was empty,

Which seems strange

On Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?

And perhaps the whole event

Happened in some other way,

But this is what I remember

On that Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving dinners

For me

As a child,

Meant crumbling slices of white bread

Into a large pot

While watching the televised parade.

I don’t even remember the meals.

And I certainly didn’t appreciate

All of the work

My mother did to prepare them.

Later,

When I was a bit older,

It was my mom making cranberry sauce

In the squirrel mold

That stood out.

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We never understood why

After turning the mold

Onto the platter,

She then raised them together

High in the air

And rested them on her head—

Strange,

But dramatic.

And we looked forward to it

Every year.

My daughters took over

The bread-breaking chore

When they were young.

Crumbling the bread

And

Eating pieces,

Thinking I didn’t see them.

We’d place their hand turkey placemats

On the table,

But as their hands grew larger

The placements no longer appeared.

Where are those placemats now

I wonder?

This year,

My younger daughter,

Hands woman-grown and

With a wedding ring

On one long, slender finger

Tore the bread with me,

Loaves and loaves

Crumbled

Into a large soup kettle,

As we spent the afternoon together,

The day before Thanksgiving,

Watching Netflix

And enjoying tea, cookies,

And companionship.

After she left,

I waited for my

Older daughter and her wife

To arrive.

And I sat with them while they ate

The Wawa hoagies

My husband had bought for them.

(No Wawa stores in Boston!)

And we talked

And I was so happy to have them here

And willing to sleep

On an uncomfortable bed

In my daughter’s childhood room.

I’m profoundly aware

That many throughout the world

Are suffering,

In pain,

Missing loved ones,

Perhaps without a home,

Food, or water.

And I am deeply grateful

For what I have,

Our traditions

And crazy family.

I think of our Thanksgiving dinner—

The ritual unmolding

Of the cranberry squirrel,

Now done by my sister-in-law,

With encouraging advice,

Laughter,

And glasses of wine.

The scurry to get everything to the table,

The fifteen minutes it takes to get everyone

To actually sit down.

(Why does it take so long?

Another mystery.)

What do you want to drink?

Wait, where’s the corkscrew?

Oh, I’m sitting over there.

But the food,

Of course,

Worth the days of cooking.

The Thanksgiving favorites

Prepared every year.

My daughter and I discussing how much

We love stuffing.

“It’s good we don’t have it all the time,”

She says.

“Then it wouldn’t be special,”

I say.

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The various conversations going on

Across the table,

Whispers and glances between couples,

The newlyweds smiling and hugging,

The children restless,

Holding two fingers up behind heads

Preserved forever in photographs

Of this night.

Secrets and stories.

Talk of jobs,

Family,

Gossip.

The under-the-table pokes.

Yes,

More wine–

Please!

And then dessert—

Pies and pumpkin cheesecake

And chocolate port, too.

You know,

In case the wine was not enough.

My mind hovers

Seeing each moment

Frozen,

Stilled

And replayed,

But connected to all the Thanksgivings

Of my life.

Each memory

A little bubble of time

That floats to the surface

To be tasted

And savored.

Sparkling water of the mind.

This holiday is special to me.

Not because it commemorates

A feast shared by

Pilgrim refugees

Who called themselves

Saints

And the Wampanoag

Who lived there.

(Well, those who had survived

Earlier exposure to diseases brought by

Europeans).

And they didn’t have pumpkin pie

And they probably ate venison and shellfish,

And they did not have our cranberry squirrel,

But no matter

No,

For me,

Thanksgiving is beautiful

Because it evokes my past,

The scents,

The taste,

The history,

The love,

And connects it

To the present

And the future.

Each bubble of time

Sparkling,

Glimmering,

Floating

And popping

To make way for the next.

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I am grateful, too, for all of you who read my blog and for the comments you leave. Thank you for your encouragement!

This may interest some who want to give and provide hope to others.

 

 

 

Feast of the Immigrant

Monday Morning Musings:

When I was a teen

My grandfather used to bring

Sunday brunch

To our house.

Heralded by a cloud of cigar smoke–

That I could smell

From my attic bedroom,

He entered,

Calling out greetings

In his loud voice

And making everyone scurry

To get the food on the table.

Perhaps it wasn’t technically

A feast,

But

It was a ritual

Of sorts.

A Sunday brunch

With an abundance of food.

My grandfather,

My father’s father,

Had a personality

That was far bigger

Than his short,

But corpulent

Body.

My sister and I secretly called him

Harry the Hat.

There’s a photo of him

On the Atlantic City Boardwalk

With said hat

And swaggering stance.

And now that I think of it,

He always did wear a hat,

As men used to do.

I picture it on a side table

In our living room.

I imagine his scrappiness

Came from growing up

As an immigrant.

I remember him telling me

About his voyage to America.

How his ship was stalled for some time

In Trieste,

Then part of the

Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I recently discovered,

The ship was called the S.S. Gulia.

It carried him, his mother, and a sister

Across the ocean to New York

In 1904,

His father having left Kiev earlier—

Was already in Philadelphia.

And I wonder

What this voyage must have been like

For a young child–

He was only 7

His sister 4.

And for their mother.

Traveling from Kiev,

Second class citizens

In their homeland,

To Trieste,

Escaping persecution,

And then

To the United States.

And I wished I had

Asked him more.

But it’s too late.

As a young man

He sold newspapers

At the Pennsylvania Railroad Station.

He and my grandmother eloped,

And then returning to his parents’ home,

They were given a bed

That broke

A memorable wedding night,

I imagine.

Did that immigrant boy,

That young man

Ever think

That someday

He would be sitting in a dining room

In a Philadelphia suburb

With his grandchildren?

Or that he would be bringing a feast?

Who knew from Sunday brunch then?

(As my relatives might have said.)

There would be two world wars

And countless others,

Battles and fear

And fights over immigrants

And immigration

Then

And now.

Who will be the lucky few

To be admitted?

But he was fortunate.

He lived

The American dream.

We sat amidst Old World antiques

In modern American comfort.

We were consumers,

And we consumed.

Lox,

Never nova,

Cream cheese,

Herring,

And the fish that we called “yum yum fish”

(What WAS it?)

A mystery lost to time.

Chewy bagels,

Good Jewish rye–

With seeds

Of course.

My mother sliced onions

And boiled new red potatoes.

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The plate my mom always used for Sunday brunches, although we ignored the categories.

My then boyfriend,

Now husband,

Had never had such food.

He glanced at me,

Trying to follow my lead,

But it didn’t take him long

To love these,

To him,

Exotic dishes.

My grandfather must have been in his 70s.

He seemed very old to me then,

And my mom

Was younger than I am now.

My parents were divorced,

But still my grandfather

Came

And my dad, too.

Family bonds

Perhaps strengthened from immigrant status.

My mom discovered only after she was married

That the people she sometimes visited with her father

Were the relatives of his first wife

Who died soon after they were married.

My mom thought they were cousins

Because she had so many

So she finally asked her mother

Who are these people?

And found she was not

Actually related to them at all.

But still–

Immigrant bonds

And immigrant food

More precisely,

Food eaten by immigrants here,

Now fashionable and expensive.

And nostalgic.

My sister decided her birthday

And a shopping trip for my mom

Was a good excuse to enjoy these delicacies

Once again.

A brilliant idea!

And so we did.

Discussing family news and memories

As we ate.

After brunch,

My husband and my sister’s wife

Stayed behind to watch football.

American football.

My mom, sisters, and younger daughter

Went to the mall.

We piled into a dressing room—

Our dressing room at that Macy’s—

And the saleswoman grumbled that we

Weren’t supposed to be there,

Although there was no sign,

So we stayed.

My mother dismayed by her body

That has grown and aged

And we dressing her

And all of us laughing

Laughing so hard

Because

Well, dressing someone is funny,

Isn’t it?

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Dressing Room antics

And we lovingly teased

My mom about boyfriends

And showing cleavage,

And then we went back

To my sister’s

For dessert.

Because

After all

Birthdays need cake.

And shopping

Is hungry work.

Recipes and Other Stuff:

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake:

I forgot to take a picture and quickly took one at my sister’s that is not very good, and so then I took one at home, which still is not good, but oh well, did I mention it’s Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake? That’s all you need to know, right?

Also, it’s made in a 9×13 pan (or whatever is similar in your part of the world) so it’s easily transportable–in case you’re taking it to your sister’s house for brunch.

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I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen

BUT I changed the filling

Because sorry, Deb, but really, brown sugar and nuts were calling out to me.

Here’s the filling I used—half inside, and the remainder on top.

Filling:

¾ cups firmly packed brown sugar

¾ cup chopped nuts (it might have been a bit more. I used walnuts, but it’s entirely possible there were also some pecans mixed in. The nuts at my house fraternize.)

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

1 bag bittersweet chocolate chips

The batter is thick and will fight with you as you try to spread it in the pan. But fight on, and you will be victorious!

On a related note: This past weekend, we saw the movie, Brooklyn, which is about a young Irish woman immigrant who is caught between her new life in Brooklyn and her old life in Ireland in the 1950s. My husband and I both enjoyed it very much. Also, she, the Irish immigrant, learns to eat spaghetti with her Italian-American boyfriend. So you see, there is a connection to this post!

 

 

Haunting the House of History

Monday Morning Musings:

“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.”

–Maya Angelou

He was 59 years old, 5 ft., 6 inches tall, with grey mixed hair and grey eyes. But there is probably no one left alive who remembers this great grandfather of mine, the father of my mother’s mother. My mother only remembers that he was Orthodox with a long beard and that he worked at a fish store or counter. His naturalization papers say he was a butcher in 1921. Born in Russia, he arrived in the Philadelphia on a ship from Bremen, Germany, in 1913, demonstrating that life’s journeys often take a circuitous path. His wife and children—minus the two eldest who were stuck in England—arrived in 1914. They left their homeland shortly before it was ripped apart by revolution, and much of the world was swept into a war. By the time of the 1920 census, after WWI, the household consisted of my great grandparents, their eight children, and four cousins, including the artist Abraham Hankins. They spoke Yiddish, and they owned a radio.

I’ve never understood the worship of ancestors or the feeling of superiority some people have because their ancestors “came over on the Mayflower” or because they are descended from some notable person of the past. I mean, it’s interesting and it’s cool, but it doesn’t make you a better person. After all, if you go back far enough, we all came from Lucy or someone like her. Laudable figures of the past can have descendants who do horrible things—just as horrible parents can have wonderful children. Our surroundings and our genes may affect us (“Oh, that’s where my grey eyes came from,” said my daughter), and influence us, but they do not rule us. Yet discovering information about these people who lived in the past is fascinating. I don’t know if these ancestors of mine were good people or not, but just like immigrants today, they faced difficult, even life-threatening conditions in their homelands. They bravely boarded ships—taking a leap of faith that their lives would be better in America. It was a journey of both body and mind, a voyage to a new world, leaving old ways and old ties behind. Perhaps it is enough to know this about them.

My mother’s mother was here with her family. My mother’s father left his parents and sisters behind in Russia, and he never saw them again. My mother remembers when her father received a letter telling him that his father had died. That was the only time she ever saw him cry.

My older daughter was with us for a couple of days this past week, visiting from Boston. It was windy and raining outside, the almost nor’easter, but we were snug inside the house. (OK. I’ll be honest– it was cold in the house because I didn’t turn on the heat.) Sitting across from one another at the kitchen table, armed with our computers, and fortified with apple-chocolate scones (based on these from Smitten Kitchen),

Roasted Apple and Chocolate Scone

Roasted Apple and Chocolate Scone

my Mandelbrot (aka “Mommy Cookies” discussed in other posts), coffee, and tea—because mental journeys require sustenance, too–we used the technology of the present to tackle the mysteries of the past. Wrestling with online documents, trying to read odd spelling and handwriting, and knitting together broken timelines, we created and expanded our family trees. She worked on my husband’s family, and I worked on my parent’s. We labored companionably, occasionally punctuating the silence with “listen to this” or giggling over an odd phrase. A woman who was divorced early in the twentieth century fascinates us. We’re both slightly obsessed by another of my husband’s ancestors, a 15-year-old factory girl who was murdered—shot—by a jealous suitor.

This daughter then went on to spend an evening with her sister and a dinner with my mom. It was definitely a weekend of family, present and past.

Present and past, love and family, are themes in Coming Home, the movie my husband and I saw yesterday. It opens during the Cultural Revolution in China. Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming), a former professor, has escaped from the re-education camp he’s been sent to. His wife, Feng Wanyu (Gong Li), called “Teacher Yu,” attempts to meet him at a crowded train station, but their teenage daughter, Dandan, hoping to gain a prize role in a propaganda ballet, has alerted the authorities. The scene at the train station is tense and exciting, but it only sets up the movie for what happens later. When the Cultural Revolution ends, Lu is sent home. Yu, however, does not recognize him. She was traumatized, physically and emotionally at the train station. She loves her husband, but her love of him is rooted in her image of him in the past. He, in the present, attempts to reactivate her memories, to bring the past love to the present moment. It is touching and incredibly sad. The movie also can be seen as a commentary on politics—that nations often forget the painful events of the past, even though its citizens may be traumatized. Yet, both people and nations have to find a way to accept and move on.

After the movie, my husband and I went out for Chinese food. I craved steamed dumplings and tea, both featured in the movie. This was the “fortune” in my cookie.

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I don’t believe that a piece of paper in a cookie can predict my future, but it seemed a fitting note to end a week that had been spent haunting the house of history, catching a glimmer of the ghosts of the past, and storing them for the future.

“What the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we lived. In the end, it’s the family stories that are worth the storage.”

–Ellen Goodman

Rainbow Challah for a Rainbow Wedding

Monday Morning Musings

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”

– Robert Browning

So this post does not really involve musing, unless you want to think about how wonderful bread is–both to bake and to eat.

As many of you know, my younger daughter got married recently. She had a rainbow themed wedding—planned before the Supreme Court decision–but oh so timely! What a trendsetter, she is. Naturally, I wanted to surprise her and her groom with a rainbow challah. I’m sure that’s the first thing that most people think of when they hear rainbow wedding. If you don’t know, challah is a type of rich, egg bread. At traditional Jewish weddings, which this was not, the bride and groom often cut a challah and distribute it to guests. Since they weren’t going to have a challah at their wedding, I gave it to them the day before the wedding. You know, so they wouldn’t be hungry while getting ready and faint during the ceremony. That’s a thing that could happen, right? (Jewish moms everywhere, “But what if there isn’t enough food?” There must always be plenty of food available at all times in case of emergency.)

I totally stole the idea of rainbow challah from Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat

Sorry, not sorry.

If you want a detailed recipe and braiding directions, check out her blog. She has a real food blog. The kind that has real directions and great photos. But keep on reading because I’m fun, and I will kind of sort of tell you how to make it. And provide not very good photos that I take on my iPhone camera. But—here’s the important part–

I made my Aunt Sima’s famous challah recipe. It is famous because I’ve written about it before. Also, it’s delicious.

It’s a great recipe, and if by chance you were to decide to bake two loaves (two batches) before 6 AM when you haven’t even finished your coffee because you want to make sure they get done before your daughter and her wife arrive for your other daughter’s wedding and you still have to clean the house, go to the gym, and work on your page proofs—and well, you might have—perhaps—added too much water to the recipe because it seemed then to need more flour than usual, but you’re not positive if you actually did add too much water.. . .well, IF this ever happened to you, rest assured that the bread will still come out great.

Because mine did.

AND, it looked like this.

Rainbow Challah

Rainbow Challah

Pretty impressive, right?

I used gel food dye. Important tip—wear gloves—well, unless you want your hands to be stained with a variety of colors. But if you want rainbow hands to go with a rainbow themed event? Fine. I will not stand in the way of your art. Otherwise, wear gloves.

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My husband bought me a huge box of these gloves, so now I can make 37 more rainbow challahs before I need to buy more gloves.

Instead of dividing the dough into 3 sections, as usual with this recipe, I divided it into 6.

I know you can see only 5 balls, but there were 6!

I know you can see only 5 balls, but there were 6!

Then I colored each a different color. I couldn’t figure out how to mix in the dye at first, and that took some time. I finally decided to use plastic knives to scoop out a bit of dye and added it to a ball of dough.

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I then kneaded each ball to distribute the dye. Each dough ball was well kneaded by the time I got through adding dye and kneading it. Very well kneaded. The most well kneaded dough I’ve ever made. You will need to use more dye for the darker colors. I then rolled each ball into a rope and braided the 6 ropes. It took so long to add dye and knead each ball that I didn’t really do much of a second rising after I braided the dough. Maybe 10 minutes or so.

Braided dough before baking.

Braided dough before baking.

Then I brushed the braided loaf with the egg yolk glaze and baked. Totally NOT Gluten Free! Stunning, colorful, and delicious!

My Aunt Sima’s World Famous Challah

Makes one large, scrumptious loaf

1¼ cups warm water

1 Package dry yeast

pinch of sugar

–Mix above ingredients, allow to stand and dissolve until frothy.

3 Tbsp. melted butter

3 Thsp. Sugar

1 Tbsp. salt

1 Egg

–Beat above ingredients and add to yeast mixture.

Add enough flour for a stiff dough. [Start with 2 cups and then go from there.] Knead and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled (about 1 hr. to 1 ½ hours). Knead again. Take off 1/3, if you want a “topknot.” Divide the rest of the dough into three sections, then braid the 1/3 and set on top. Or divide dough into 6 sections and braid. (For a round challah, you can braid and then connect the ends so it forms a circle.) Let rise briefly on a greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Coat with a mixture of 1 egg yolk and 1 Tbsp. milk. Sprinkle with poppy and sesame seeds. I usually use both, but didn’t do either for the rainbow version. Bake at 350° until golden brown. You can thump the bottom and it should sound hollow if it’s done.

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Mother’s Day: Celebrating as a Mother and as a Daughter

 I had eight birds hatcht in one nest,

Four cocks were there, and Hens the rest.

I nurst them up with pain and care,

No cost nor labour did I spare

Till a the last they felt their wing,

Mounted the Trees and learned to sing.

–Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672), “In Reference to Her Children, 23 June 1659,” Full text here.

 Monday Morning Musings

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, at least here in the US. The holiday began as efforts to help poor mothers, fight injustice, and oppose war. Anna Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia fought to bring sanitation facilities and clean water to people in parts of Appalachia. In 1858, she organized Mother’s Work Days. After the Civil War she gathered mothers and soldiers from both sides of the conflict in a Mother’s Friendship Day. Her daughter–also Anna–wanted to continue her mother’s fight. After Anna Jarvis, the mother, died in 1905, her daughter wanted to organize a Mother’s Day celebration to honor all mothers and the sacrifices they make for their children. She lobbied politicians and wrote letters to newspapers, and finally President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation in 1914 that established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Jarvis became outraged by the flowers, candy, and greeting card commercialism that the holiday assumed. She ultimately disowned the holiday entirely. (Historian Ruth Rosen discusses the activism and antiwar origins of the Mother’s Day here.)

I certainly understand those who decry the artificiality and commercialism of the holiday. At the same time, I like it. I recently thought about my very first mother’s day as a mother. On my way to my mother’s, my husband and I stopped at a friend’s house to show off our new daughter, who was about 3 months old. I, of course, was madly in love with my little girl, and I thought she was the most beautiful creature in existence, bald head and all. Our friend’s mother, made a big fuss, told me to sit down and waited on me. She said to me, “This is your first mother’s day, and you should feel special.” All these years later, I still remember that. And I did feel special.

Over the past few years, our mother’s day tradition has been to gather at my sister’s house. We have brunch or lunch, and then take my mom clothes shopping. Last Mother’s Day, she wanted to buy an outfit to wear for my older daughter’s wedding; this year, she wanted to buy an outfit to wear for my younger’s daughter wedding. It is a bit of an ordeal to take my mom shopping—she can’t move or see very well—but with four of us, my younger daughter, my sister-niece, and my sister—we got the job done. We had to help dress her in the dressing room, which actually led to many laughs. When I think about it, it seems only fair that we help her dress. After all, how many times did she do it for all of us? Happily, she did find an outfit to wear.

My mom and me. I'm about 3 years old.

My mom and me. I’m about 3 years old.

Before we left for the mall, my sister and sister-in-law fortified us with pasta, salad, and bread—all delicious. My sister-in-law, “the men,” and children remained behind at the house. After we returned from our long shopping expedition, we had dessert—a chocolate extravaganza. Did you doubt this? I get my love of chocolate from my mom—so I baked a flourless chocolate cake topped with chocolate glaze and sea salt and my Mandelbrot cookies, which are called “Mommy Cookies” at my house. (I have several posts dedicated to this, my favorite cookie. Just do a search.) I kind of had to bake those, didn’t I? My sister added 2 boxes of chocolate to the dessert feast, just in case we didn’t have enough. We sat outside on my sister and sister-in-law’s deck and enjoyed the warm weather and evening breeze.

During dessert we attempted to FaceTime chat with my older daughter, but it didn’t work too well. Still, I did get to talk to her a bit. My younger daughter made me a wonderful Super Momma card that made me feel special—and some baking pans. Chocolate and baking genes run through the generations in my family!

When my mom is no longer with us, Mother’s Day will certainly be different. My siblings and I will no longer have a reason to get together for it, just as we no longer get together on Father’s Day. Although we might grumble about taking my mom shopping, I will miss that tradition and the crazy dressing room antics.

Mothers and Daughters

Mothers and Daughters

Escape

 Monday Morning Musings

I’ve been immersed in my World of the American Revolution. The wonderful members of the editorial staff at ABC-CLIO have selected over one hundred images for the book. It’s been my job to go through them, and if I approve them, then to write captions for the images. This has taken longer than I expected it would because I’ve had to research most of the images selected, as well as go back to the entries to determine if the images work or not.

And then. . . well, there’s the copyedited manuscript itself, which is sitting in files on my computer desktop making me feel guilty because I need to finish going through it. Ahem. Yes, getting to it. Now. Soon.

So I apologize for not reading or responding to many other blogs for the past week or so. I’ve tried to respond to comments, but I’m behind on that, too.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the word “escape.” The word is derived from the Latin and then French meaning to literally get out of or from one’s cape or mantel. Of course, the word came to have a broader meaning, one escapes from slavery, from an unhappy home, or even from day-to-day drudgery.

On Passover, we tell the story of how the Jews escaped slavery in Egypt. Even today, people are enslaved and try to escape.

Before the abolition of slavery in the United States, which occurred only after a Civil War and then the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, enslaved men and women desperately sought their freedom. Aided by other African-Americans, both free and slave, as well as white citizens who were opposed to slavery, they struggled to find a means of escape. Slaves escaped in a variety of ways. One of the most creative methods was that used by Henry Box Brown (c.1815-1889), who escaped, you guessed it, in a box. Brown was a skilled worker who worked in a tobacco factory in Richmond, VA. He managed to save enough money to rent a house for his wife and family. Nonetheless, he and his family were still slaves, and in 1848, his wife’s master decided to sell her and their children. With no reason to remain in Richmond, Brown decided to escape with the help of a free black dentist and a white shoemaker and other abolitionists. The men sealed him in a box and shipped the box to Philadelphia, where after twenty-six hours, he arrived at the Philadelphia Antislavery Society. Although some abolitionists felt Brown should keep his story a secret, he did not. Brown lectured and reenacted his escape in a box before audiences. When the new Fugitive Slave Act made it too dangerous for him to remain in the United States, he fled to England where he performed as a “mesmerist” with his new wife Jane. He returned to the US in 1875 with Jane and their daughter Annie, with a magic shows, as well as his original box performances.

Fortunately, my loved ones and I have never had to escape the horrors of captivity in any form. My escapes have been mundane, merely brief respites from work and day-to-day life. We all want to take breaks when—and if—we can.

This past weekend, I took a brief work break, and my husband and I escaped for a few hours to a local winery. It was a glorious, spring day. The air was warm, the sun was shining, and the grass was green with that unique young green of springtime. And so we sat with the sun gently bathing us in a warm glow, and we drank wine, ate cheese, and talked. Sometimes, fortunately, escape is that simple.

“ Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Anne Lamott

Wine and sunshine!

Wine and sunshine!

Several weeks ago, as the snow fell once again, and it seemed spring would never come, I made a delicious fruit crisp with rhubarb, strawberries, and blackberries. It was my attempt to escape winter by conjuring sunshine and warmth through the ripe fruits of spring and summer. I love the tartness of the rhubarb combined with the berries. You could use any fruit though, or mix different berries. When I make it with apples, I add a little bit of cider to the apples, so that the crisp doesn’t get too dry. You can reduce the butter some, although honestly, when I’ve tried it that way, it’s simply not as good. I do like the mix of whole wheat and white flour though, which gives it a sort of nutty taste. Of course, you could add nuts, as well. The goal is to end up with a dessert that is full of sweet bubbly fruit and crunchy “crisp,” but it is not the type of baking that has to be precise. I forgot to take a photo of the crisp until after I had started eating it. (Reason #52, Why I don’t actually write a food blog.)

Pretending It’s Spring Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

Approximately 4 cups of Fruit, sliced or chopped

Sugar, to taste

I added about ½ tsp. of nutmeg, along with some orange zest and juice.

Allow the fruit to sit, sugared for about ½ hour or so until juice is released.

Crisp:

Combine 1 cup oats, ¾ cup brown sugar, ¾ cup flour (I used half whole wheat and half white), 7-8 tablespoons of butter, 1 tsp. cinnamon. Melt butter and combine it with the other ingredients until crumbly.

Sprinkle half the crumbs in a greased 8-inch pan. Pour fruit on top. Top with the rest of the crumbs. Bake for about 35 minutes at 350° until bubbly and brown, depending on the type of fruit, it may take a bit longer. Serve as is, or top with ice cream. (Butter pecan is good, just sayin’.) Bite into it and enjoy the taste of spring and summer.

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Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

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).