The Sweetness of New Beginnings

 

 

I spent part of the past weekend baking challahs for Rosh Hashanah. Here in the United States, Monday was Labor Day, and many people here consider Labor Day weekend the unofficial end of summer. We’ll be having a small family dinner on Wednesday night, and a big extended family and friends’ meal on Saturday night at our house. In addition to the traditional staples–challahs, apples, and honey–we’ll have pumpkin-yellow split soup, brisket, noodle kugel, and many more luscious dishes–including apple cake, baklava, and maybe something chocolate, too, for dessert. Because chocolate is always appropriate and sometimes necessary. We might even have a kitchen disaster for extra excitement. There will be a variety of dishes to satisfy both meat eaters (did I mention a turkey breast, too, in case someone eats meat, but not beef?) and vegetarians (who needs brisket and turkey breast when there is good bread, soup, kugel, and vegetables?), and sufficient quantity (see above) to satisfy my own fears that there might not be enough food for everyone to feel totally stuffed and ready to vomit by the end of the meal. There also has to be enough food to send everyone home with leftovers. Yup, I’m not religious, but culturally, I’m the stereotypical Jewish momma, at least when it comes to holiday meals.

 

Challahs cooling on the counter

Challahs cooling on the counter

 

We had an extra freezer in our basement that broke at the beginning of the summer. I told my husband there was no real necessity to replace it because we don’t really use it that much. Then a couple of weeks ago, I told him in a panic that I needed a freezer to store all the challahs I bake for Rosh Hashanah. True story.

 

It seemed odd at first to be baking and preparing for the holiday on a warm summer afternoon when its seems more of a cool weather fall holiday to me. You might think I could adjust the menu for warmer weather, but then you don’t know my family. We don’t just have food traditions–we worship them.

 

But as I’ve been thinking about the end of summer and the start of fall schedules, the timing of the holiday seems perfect. Here in the United States, most schools have just recently started their fall terms or will soon do so. For my family, it is a fall of new beginnings. Our older daughter started graduate school last week. Our younger daughter just started her first grownup job as a high school English teacher. Since her Dad teaches math in the same school, this job is extra special to them both. It’s a one-semester position, which means they will cherish their temporary carpool and colleague status all the more.

 

During this past weekend, my mother was in the hospital. It appears to be nothing too serious, but her hospitalization is a reminder that she is 91-years-old, and it makes me reflect at this new year on the fleetingness of life and the need to live it to the fullest.  (Add resolution to avoid clichés in future writing.) As we dip our apples in the honey this year, I will look at the faces of my family members and friends, and I will consider all the wonderful things in my life and all that makes it sweet—from family and cats to books, TV shows, movies, theatre, and reading the morning newspaper while drinking that first morning cup of coffee. To seeing a beautiful sunrise and feeling satisfied at the end of the day that I accomplished the work I set out to do. To finishing a killer workout at the gym and appreciating that I can still do it. To hearing laughter and to crying tears of joy.

 

As much as I love good food, I love sharing it with family and friends even more. I need to remember to make time for them. I will remind myself to meet my deadlines (oops!), but to remember to play and laugh, too.  I will cherish my family, friends, and my pets. I am thankful for all of you who take the time to read my blog posts. I wish all of you a sweet, healthy, and happy New Year. Don’t forget the honey.

 

Don’t Forget the Salt

“Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.”
–George Herbert, English poet (1593-1633)

I decided to make corn bread this morning. It thought it would be a nice change from my usual weekday breakfast of oatmeal or yogurt with fruit. It was okay, especially with the touch of what we call “library honey”—the locally produced honey that we buy at the West Deptford Public Library. (Books and honey in one spot. How wonderful is that?)

The past few times I’ve made cornbread, it was—I have to say this—amazing. I’ve been using the same recipe for years, so the only thing I can think that made it more wonderful, is the substitution of almond milk for regular milk. This morning, however, the cornbread was just okay. The extra “zing” was missing. That’s because I accidentally omitted the salt.

Cornbread

Cornbread

Salt has been lauded since ancient times. References are found in the Bible and in ancient manuscripts. In the past, salt was so important that it was used for money. The word “salary” is derived from the Latin word salarium, which referred to the money given to soldiers to buy salt.  Cities have been founded  and wars fought over access to salt.  According to Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, the city of Buffalo, NY, was founded on a salt lick. Buffaloes and other animals followed a trail to reach the salt lick, and humans followed the animals. Humans need some salt in their bodies, although many people consume far too much.

Salt helps to bring out flavors. I started thinking about how desirable it is to have a bit of metaphorical salt in our everyday lives. We need to add that bit of flavor enhancement—the compliment to a co-worker, the hug to a loved one, the actually voiced, “I love you,” the call just to say, “Hello.” Yes, a day can be fine without any of those things, but some praise, a sign of admiration, a kind word, a loving touch, these things blend the ingredients of everyday life and help turn an ordinary day into one that is more appetizing, or even luscious.
This is the recipe I use for cornbread. If you make it, don’t forget the salt!
Thanks for reading. Hope your day is delicious, filled with flavor, and maybe even a bit of spice!

Corn Bread (adapted from Anna Thomas, The Vegetarian Epicure, Vintage Books, 1972.
1 ¼ cups unbleached white flour
¾  corn meal
4 Tbsp. sugar
5 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1 egg
1 cup milk (or unsweetened almond milk)
2 Tbsp. melted butter
Sift together dry ingredients. Beat the egg with the milk and add it to the flour mixture along with the melted butter. Stir up everything together. Spread the batter in a greased 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes (I usually find it does not take that long, so make sure you check it before then.)  Eat it—especially still warm with good honey—and swoon.

Love is Calling

LOVE LETTER

LOVE LETTER (Photo credit: MAGIC CHARM GRAFIX)

“I have not spent a day without loving you; I have not spent a night without embracing you; I have not so much as drunk one cup of tea without cursing the pride and ambition which force me to remain apart from the moving spirit of my life. In the midst of my duties, whether I am at the head of my army or inspecting the camps, my beloved Josephine stands alone in my heart, occupies my mind, fills my thoughts. If I am moving away from you with the speed of the Rhone torrent, it is only that I may see you again more quickly. If I rise to work in the middle of the night, it is because this may hasten by a matter of days the arrival of my sweet love. …
Napoleon to Josephine

Last night I was telling one of our daughters that after her dad proposed to me I couldn’t wait to call my sister to tell her the news. To do so, I had to use the pay phone in the hallway of the college dormitory. My husband and I met when we were in ninth grade. He sat in front of me in English class. He used to borrow pencils, pens, and paper from me. I, of course, was a good student and always prepared for class. (Did you doubt this?)

The first time he called me, my sister answered the phone, yelled that the call was for me, and because she’s my sister, she announced to the household, “It’s a boy!” Before cordless phones, much less cell phones existed, we shared a family phone that had an extra long cord that was frequently knotted and tangled. It was located on a small table in an alcove between the living room and kitchen. My boyfriend, now husband, and I spent hours talking on the phone and preventing anyone else from calling—because, yes, there was no Call Waiting either.

I think about how lovers in the past often had to endure long separations without being able to communicate, and sometimes not knowing if they would ever see each other again. When John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, left for New England in 1630, his pregnant wife, Margaret did not travel with him. The couple arranged to “meet in spirit till we meet in person” on Mondays and Fridays “at five of the clock at night.” Margaret did join him in New England about a year later.

Before telephones and telegraphs, lovers could only communicate over distances by writing letters. Often they had to overcome obstacles such as the expense or scarcity of ink, quills, and paper, and the problems of getting letters over mountains, across seas, and in and out of prisons. Sometimes people had to wait months to send a letter with a traveler or a ship going to a particular destination. Moreover, many people could not read or write and had to rely on others to write or read their missives.

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I value written notes and cards, and they are wonderful to reread. Yet the ability to talk quickly despite distances is wonderful–and it makes separations much easier to bear. (I’m still waiting for a Star Trek transporter device to be invented to make travel quicker.) I love getting a text from my husband or children knowing that they arrived safely somewhere. It reassures me. When my husband is away on a trip, I expect him to call me. When our daughters have important news or want to catch-up, we enjoy talking to each other.

Today, lovers who are separated can keep in touch through texts and social media, as well as by phone. They can have real-time face chats on their phones or computers. This type of rapid communication would have amazed people in the past—but if it existed earlier many of the passionate letters we read now would not exist. (What if Napoleon just sent Josephine texts? “Hey Jo, this Russia campaign is a bitch. Love ya.”) Do we perhaps take this ease of communication for granted sometimes? I don’t know. Does the ease of communication make love less profound? Does it make it easier to dismiss or erase?

I like to think that love is love, but a relationship does take work. As Ursula K. Le Guin said, ““Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
(Notice how I worked food into this post. . .because I believe sharing good food is also essential to a lasting relationship.)

On this Valentine’s Day, call someone you love—spouse, child, parent, or friend—and tell them how much you value them. If it’s too late for Valentine’s, pick another time–perhaps Monday or Friday at five o’clock.