Dreams

Monday Morning Musings:

“And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or, in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush suppos’d a bear.”

–William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene 1

The Past and Future Merge

She soared high

amongst the stars,

weightless,

her mind everywhere,

she heard the universe sing

felt its rhythm in her soul,

it was part of her

and she of it,

had always been,

but unaware,

then,

before,

if there was a before and a then,

now she sang with the stars

and knew, she and they were one.

For a moment, she remembered—

a body unmoving on a bed in a white room,

beeping machines now silent,

a man with grief-streamed eyes–

now she saw,

as if looking in a mirror,

hundreds of her, stretching back and forth in time

they were her, and not her

different paths and different planes

all part of the universe,

she sang the songs of the stars and floated through space, time, dreams

 

Now

we wandered through bleak city streets

more like December than March

(but without the holiday cheer),

wet sidewalks with snow piled at the curb,

tinged grey from city dirt,

 

 

we walked into the theater,

found our seats

looked down on a stage,

bare, except for players with instruments,

sitting there,

we’re transported,

through time, space, dreams,

sixteenth-century English,

but timeless ideas,

love gone wrong and right,

couples bemused and bedazzled,

parted and reunited,

magic and fairies,

Oberon and Puck smoking a hookah,

watched what they’ve set in place,

musicians played

and displayed

impressive voices and skills,

(in double roles),

we laughed in delight

puckish Puck, the comical Bottom,

and the mixed-up lovers.

We got a treat at intermission

(for being subscribers)

then hurried back to see the conclusion,

watched the moon rise and set over the stage,

the fairy spells recast,

the lovers paired and married,

and the play within the play,

we applauded and rose,

happy to have been transported for a few hours–

the magic of theater

 

 

 

We discussed the play over coffee,

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me sniffling a bit with a cold and the cold,

and both of us waiting for spring to return,

I said that in Shakespeare’s time

the play would probably be ruder,

I thought of the playwright’s wit and wisdom,

then and now the words hold true,

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

words transported through time and space,

a play about love and dreams and magic

 

 

The next morning, I slept late

(late for me that is),

still befuddled by the time change and the cold

in the night I had a dream,

a musical, like Mel Brooks mixed with a touch of David Lynch

sprinkled with bits of Carole King and Toni Morison,

literary and ludicrous,

I woke briefly,

then had another dream,

my cold had kept me from a regular Saturday class at the gym,

I dreamt the same instructor had a special Thursday class,

consisting

(so it seemed)

of alternating ab work and running,

instead of mats,

we had our winter coats spread in lines,

our spots on the gym floor,

I was there with some of my gym buddies,

die-hards

(a strange and slightly ominous word),

we ran,

panting and perspiring,

but there were others,

who stood about,

I noticed one man,

he wore a sweater vest,

After I woke, I laughed,

my subconscious mind makes bad puns.

 

and I thought about dreams and dreaming

and what a fool I might be

perhaps lacking reason,

but still able to dream,

and laugh,

thinking of mid-summer

in the winter weather,

turning shapes to fancy,

imagining creatures in the night,

giving them names

thinking of love, magical and irrational

yet somehow real,

throughout time and space

and in and out of dreams

 

I thought of how Chuck Berry died the other day,

but his music is traveling through the galaxy,

“Johnny B. Goode,”

the stars add rock and roll to their repertoire,

and the poet’s words have traveled through time,

read and performed in schools, jungles, prisons,

and perhaps in space,

today my words may travel across the globe

and be read in different spaces, various places,

my thoughts of dreams

traveling through space and time

 

The_Sounds_of_Earth_Record_Cover_-_GPN-2000-001978 (1)

By NASA/JPL (The Sounds of Earth Record Cover) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The first section of this was inspired by Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange Microfiction Challenge.    I didn’t have a chance to get the story in for the challenge. 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Sun Still Rises in The Sky

sunrise_long_branch_new_jersey

Sanford Robinson Gifford, “Sunrise, Long Branch, New Jersey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Full fathom five they father lies,

Of his bones are coral made,

Those are pearls that were his eyes,

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change,

Into something rich and strange,

Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,

Ding-dong.

Hark! Now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.”

–William Shakespeare, The Tempest

 

The sun still rises in the sky,

though winter comes and spirits darken,

there is no use in asking why,

when the ground quakes and maelstroms harken,

 

though winter comes and spirits darken,

shifts, sea change, life disarranged

when the ground quakes and maelstroms harken,

not something rich, but something strange.

 

Shifts, sea change, life disarranged,

but wait before we toll the bell

not something rich, but something strange

portends of evil, sighs the ponderous knell

 

Yet come brightness and come hope

there is no use in asking why

must gropers grope, the slippery slope

the sun still rises in the sky.

 

 

With Wrinkles and Mirth, Remember it All, Remember it Well

 Monday Morning Musings:

 H: We met at nine

M: We met at eight.

H: I was on time.

M: No, you were late.

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

We dined with friends

M: We dined alone

H: A tenor sang

M: A baritone

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

–Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “I Remember It Well, Gigi (1958)

(You can watch the clip here.)

 

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

–William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 1

 

The weekend began, a cancelled flight

a change in plans, arrival not in morning light

but dinner time instead

the arts and crafts afternoon postponed, but summer roll making takes place

dipping rice paper, filling, and rolling; no art or grace

perhaps,

IMG_4209

but we like to eat and talk and talk and eat

spicy, hot, crunchy, and sweet,

We say L’chaim, and toast with Sangria,

my girls and their spouses here together

we celebrate good news, now in summer weather

with cats under foot and spirits high

we laugh and talk, and so time flies.

 

With mirth and laughter

I remember it well.

 

The next day, for my mom, her birthday party

she’ll be 94, though not as hale, she’s still hearty

coming, too, her cousin S.

They live in the same Philadelphia building, on different floors,

they’ve both lived years, well, let’s say scores.

S. says at her age every birthday is a big one

(She’s just celebrated her 90th, but still ready for more fun.)

My husband and I drive them to my sister’s

our daughters and their spouses are in another car.

We pass a street, and S. recalls, a memory from afar

of a friend of hers that lived there once.

S. says, “They had a drugstore.”

and a husband who thought he was more.

He was not very bright, but rather full of himself,

 

With mirth and laughter

She remembers him well.

 

S.compares him to a current political candidate.

He thought he was so great,

he lost his business, a gambling debt

then became a maître d’ at a fancy restaurant

where he put on a fake British accent, no savant

that accent sometimes came, then went.

We pass an apartment house where S. once resided

my mom jumps in, with a remark, decided

a refrigerator S. mentions is like one they had in France.

 

(Now pause while I digress from rhyme

while Mom and S. discuss this time.)

 

“Where in France?” asks S.

My mom at first does not remember.

But then with triumph, announces, “Paris.”

“We were never in Paris!” says S.

“I don’t like Paris. It’s a big city like New York.”

“It was Paris,” my mother insists.

“You bought dishes,” says she.

“Oh, you’re right,” S. says. “It was Paris. I bought some dessert plates.”

“You bought a whole set of dishes,” my mom says, “You had them sent.”

“No, I bought some small plates. They tied them in a box with strings

and we carried them.”

Ah yes, they remember it well.

 

At my sister’s house, we arrive to celebrate

Generations eat, talk, laugh, debate

(Because we love to eat and talk)

We do so, then there’s cake with candles

My young great nephew expertly handles

this carrying it in with proud aplomb

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so for cakes, there’s more than one

because we need more birthday fun

My young grandnephew eats his—using both his fork and his hand

(because sometimes life is just so grand)

Then it’s time to share some cards and art

signs of affection, from the heart.

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Repeal Hyde Art Project, Megan J. Smith

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

There’s a movie of S. with a scene from one “real”

She was young, the movie quite “B”, a clip from the reel.

She tells us the story of how she was a director’s assistant

then became the line coach for actresses not gifted

with brains, as much as beauty, and lines they uttered shifted

or could not be recalled at all.

So S. was given a scene and sits at a desk, but she asked for pay first

no more work without being reimbursed.

My daughter-in-law tell of her analysis of a survey of teenage risky behavior

There are more stories that day, of middle school age problems and dramas

It’s the age, we all agree, nodding daughters and mamas,

Oh yes, we all agree, but they outgrow the drama.

 

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

We head out, S. says it was a lovely party.

(I am glad both my mom and S. are still so hearty)

Then S. says with a laugh

“It makes you want to get another year older, just so you can do it again.”

And so we set out then, set out then, driving in the rain

to take them home from this celebration

with food purchased and packaged in the trunk of the car

which I carry upstairs, thankfully not too far.

A day of stories and celebration–

We may not remember it all, but we remember it well.

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

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NaPoWriMo: Oh, Deer

“No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas in incarnadine, making the green one red.”

Macbeth, Act II, Scene 2

“Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes, / That have been so bedazzled with the sun / That everything I look on seemeth green.”

The Taming of the Shrew, IV.v.56-58

“But we are old, and on our quick’st decrees

Th’ inaudible, and noiseless foot of time

Steals, ere we can effect them.”

All’s Well That Ends Well, Act V, Scene 3

“Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.”

Romeo and Juliet

 

Bedazzled by the sunlight,

or fear,

hearing sounds inaudible to human ears,

he stood still, unmoving, rooted to the place

like the great oaks around him, and

confused by the barricade before him.

Suddenly the power, the desire,

the need–

springing from a source deep within–

he leaped,

heedful of the multitudinous possibilities before him,

recognizing that he could go anywhere,

but knowing that the world is broad and wide,

he might want to be patient

and find his mother before exploring again.

 

NaNoWriMo, Day 24  Mix “fancy” and every day words. Since yesterday, April 23rd, was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death, I’ve used some words he invented or popularized.

Yesterday morning, while getting ready to slice the Passover brisket for dinner that night, I looked out my kitchen window to see this deer in my neighbor’s yard. It reminded me of another time when I saw a baby deer and heard him bleating and looking around for his mom.

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She Speaks

 

Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge: Take a Favorite Line

“Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

 

She speaks, and

Words tumble from her mouth,

A flood, rapid and incomprehensible

A torrent of glee

A mad rap

Promote the fear

Push the lie.

And back I fly

To remember

Our daughter at three

With Molly doll held tight,

Delivering a paean, elation-created,

Extemporaneous poetry

Joyful rhymes that

Should have been recorded

Hoarded, to be heard again

And cherished eternally.

So unlike these other words

Shallow, strident

Told by an idiot,

Full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing.

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Hugs Not Hate

Still Life

Monday Morning Musings:

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

–Leonard Bernstein

(For information on this quote. Go here. )

I had meant to write a different post,

One discussing food and family

Something new,

I know,

But then there was Paris

And Beirut,

And death everywhere.

It’s all I could think about.

But life goes on.

And there was art.

A still life by my mom.

A still life by my mom.

My husband and I went to the museum

To see an exhibition on American still life,

And when I said “still life”

To myself

There was the epiphany.

(From the Greek,

Meaning reveal.)

Art does reveal,

Of course.

But it was the words–

Still AND life

That’s what hit me.

Despite the attempts

By terrorists

To massacre

Not only people,

But to destroy

Art, music, culture,

The history, beauty, and wisdom

Of the ages

They have not won.

There is

Still

Life.

Still life the art form

Displays what people value

Or want to present to the world

It can be a reflection of the ordinary

Or the sublime.

Often both.

Raphaelle Peale’s blackberries

Looked so luscious

I wanted to pluck them from the canvas.

A little girl ran to a Calder mobile,

A water lily,

In delight.

The guard and I smiled at each other.

“It is wonderful to see so many children here,”

I said.

And she agreed.

The next generation

Seeing beauty and creativity,

And all sorts of people were there.

A French-speaking family stood

Behind me.

A woman with gray hair

And a ready smile

In a wheelchair

Moved around the exhibition room

As though her chair was a chariot.

A tall man in a blue sweater stooped

To read a label

Supported by his cane.

From American still life,

Audubon’s birds

“Are they dead?”

The girl asked her mother

To Warhol’s Brillo Pads

We traveled to another gallery.

Rubens’ “Prometheus Bound,”

Bound again

And again

For bringing the fire of creativity to humankind.

He suffered perpetual torture

Until freed by Hercules.

His position mirroring

Michelangelo’s risen Christ.

Wrath of the gods

And resurrection.

The triumph of human spirit

And imagination

Rendered over and over.

Humans suffer for art

And for that creative spark.

And art suffers from human destructiveness.

We saw paintings

Retrieved by

The Monuments Men.

Paintings stolen

In another war.

Evil and good,

History and art,

Gods and men.

In another room

A Buddhist monk in saffron robe and black sandals

Admired Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,”

Another still life

By a tortured soul.

But still,

Life.

We had seen a play the day before.

Equivocation.

That was the title,

Not what we did,

At least not then,

Because after all,

Haven’t we all

Equivocated?

The play was about Shakespeare,

And history,

And truth

And lies

And theater.

In other words,

Life.

The creation of truth

Or legends.

And don’t forget the witches.

Richard III and his hump,

A creation of the playwright,

And Agincourt,

The legend immortalized,

But after all,

The St. Crispin’s Day speech

Is grand and glorious,

We happy few

Going into battle.

Still life

A tableau

A freeze frame

Of a particular moment

In time

On stage,

But in our minds, too,

As we recall

“Where were you when it happened?”

Everyone remembers.

I was in second grade when JFK

Was assassinated.

I was on my way to the gym

When the first plane struck the twin towers.

Moments observed

And never forgotten.

We went to the movies,

My husband and I,

Spotlight

The name of the movie,

A noun and a verb.

A moment revealed

And highlighted.

The power of the press

Uncovering a cover-up

Exposing what had been buried

With the help of many

In the church and government.

What is the opposite

Of wrath of the gods?

The triumph of the human spirit?

Truth

Not equivocation.

Buildings

And photos

Colored in red, blue, and white

In solidarity

Revealing

The human impulse

To do something

In the face of evil

And who says it does no good?

As we are reminded

Time and time again

One person can bring about

Change.

Gandhi said,

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

And

So

In the horror

Of Paris,

Beirut,

The abuse of children,

The censorship of ideas,

The destruction of art,

We mourn,

And

We go about life

Without equivocation

Without hesitation

Revealing truth

Life

Still

But

Not stilled.

Life

Creating

Loving

Being.

More intensely,

More beautifully,

More devotedly

Than ever

Before.

My mom with one of her still life paintings at an exhibit.

My mom with one of her still life paintings at an exhibit.

Further Information:

Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life

The Wrath of the Gods: Masterpieces by Rubens, Michelangelo, and Titian

Equivocation at the Arden Theatre. You can read more about the play here.

Spotlight the film

O Brave New World: The Phoenix and Survival

Monday Morning Musings:

“There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been the first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but . . .we know all the damn silly things we’ve done. . .someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them.

–Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

In mythology, the phoenix is a bird that is constantly reborn. It is associated with the sun—sometimes pictured with a nimbus around its head—and it is said to rise from the ashes of its predecessor. Time and again, civilizations also fall, and others rise from their ashes. Humans seem to have an infinite capacity for destruction. We also seem to have an infinite capacity for expressing our feelings, emotions, and desires through various forms of artistic expression, whether it is painting on a cave wall, secretly writing in a journal, or performing theatrical works in varied and sometimes bizarre locales. We find friendship and love in times of destruction and strife, the need to connect with others often overpowering thoughts of surviving without them.

You know those “what if” games? What books would you want if you were stuck on a deserted island? What belongings would you rush to gather in a disaster? How would you survive a zombie apocalypse? I don’t know. How can anyone know?

The book, Station Eleven, explores survival in the aftermath of a worldwide plague, and along the way it discusses theater, comic books, love, and loss. The story moves back and forth through time and the characters’ lives. One horse-drawn wagon of the Traveling Symphony caravan carries the slogan, “survival is insufficient.” The author of the novel, Emily St. John Mandel, has said she “stole it [the line] shamelessly from Star Trek: Voyager.”

The novel is about how people survive after present day civilization and conveniences no longer exist. What would we value in this brave new world? The Traveling Symphony performs Shakespeare and classical music; one of the actresses collects editions of an obscure comic book and treasures a snow globe. The book makes the argument that art and music of all types are necessary—simply surviving is not enough. Human connection—friendship, love, family bonds—all of these are necessary, too. And sometimes strangers connect us in ways we can never imagine–and perhaps will never know. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, obtaining food and shelter are crucial, but Mandel argues they are not enough. Humans want more. We want stories and art, too.

After finishing the book, I watched the Star Trek Voyager episode that inspired Mandel. (“C’mon,” I said to my husband, “don’t you want to watch Voyager again after all these years?” He did not seem overjoyed, but he watched it with me, demonstrating that indeed in marriage, too, “Survival is insufficient.”) In the episode, Seven of Nine, formerly of the Borg collective, realizes that living in freedom, even for a brief time, is more valuable that living in bondage or in a life you did not choose.

The German movie, Phoenix, explores the idea of survival in a different way. In this 2014 film by director Christian Petzold (that just opened in Philadelphia), Nelly, a concentration camp survivor (the wonderful actress Nina Hoss) returns to Berlin after undergoing reconstructive facial surgery because of injuries inflicted upon her during the war. She has endured unimaginable horrors, and now she wants to find her pianist husband, Johnny. She finds him working as a bus boy in a jazz club, the Phoenix, in the American zone. How did he survive? Did he betray her to the Nazis? How can he not know his own wife? The movie makes viewers reflect upon what we might do in order to survive, and what lies might we then tell ourselves to ease our guilt? We are shown photographs—that person is now dead; that person was a Nazi. “Who him?” asks Nelly. Secrets and lies. What is the truth? There are echoes of Hitchcock here. But in postwar Berlin, many people assumed new identities. Her friend Lene, who knows Nelly’s story, believes she and Nelly should immigrate to Palestine and build a new life. Nelly, however, wants to rebuild her old life—and herself—from the ruins that literally surround her. The song “Speak Low” by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash is repeated throughout the movie, the lyrics speaking words that the characters themselves cannot voice to one another.

“The curtain descends,

Everything ends

Too soon, too soon.”

Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, “Speak Low”

Station Eleven seems to offer more hope in its belief that love and art will triumph. It is set mainly in a post-apocalyptic world, but almost two decades removed from the plague that nearly wiped out humanity. Phoenix is set immediately after the end of WWII. Perhaps a re-born Nelly will, in time, rise in the post-war world. Perhaps she will find joy in song again. Phoenix may not be a great movie, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about it.

In Station Eleven, there is Shakespeare, comic books, art, music, and story telling. Those who remember the past, tell stories of air conditioning and the Internet to those who were born later. In Fahrenheit 451, a passage from which is quoted above, there is a future world where books and reading are banned. Rebel survivors memorize and tell stories so they will not be forgotten. In Phoenix, perhaps it is too soon. Yet Lene plays a record, saying that listening to it helped her survive the war in London. Nelly says she no longer can enjoy German songs. The survivors have survived, but at what cost? Can we be reborn in the aftermath of tragedy?

These are fictional works that share a common theme—they emphasize the importance of literature and art. Sometimes we need fiction to find the truth about our world and ourselves.

         “Some stories are true that never happened.”

-Elie Wiesel

The Play’s The Thing

Monday Morning Musings

“The play’s the thing

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

–William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicken Soup simmering on the stove.

Chicken Soup simmering on the stove.

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

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

The empty tables seem lonely.

The empty tables seem lonely.

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

A 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).

Beware the Hammantaschen?

Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.

Caesar: What man is that?

Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

–William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2

 So. . .I just realized that this year Purim falls on the Ides of March. I guess that means you should be extra wary while consuming your wine and hope you don’t choke on your Hamantaschen. And stay away from theaters. And people with knives. You know, just in case.

The Ides of March simply means the middle of the month. Other Roman months also had Ides, but Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 BCE. So that event—and then Shakespeare’s words–imparted a meaning to the date that had not existed before.

True confession: Despite a Ph.D. in history, I’ve never had a course in ancient world history. My lack of knowledge of Greek and Roman history is only matched by my even greater lack of knowledge about other ancient civilizations. I did have a book of mythology by Edith Hamilton that I used to like to read when I was a child. I think I “borrowed” it from my older sister. Yes, I was a nerdy child. What I have learned about ancient Rome I’ve gathered from my own browsing through texts, watching I, Claudius (I’m convinced that Claudius sounded exactly like Derek Jacobi and spoke with an English accent), and hearing my daughters discuss the information they acquired in their Latin classes in high school. Shout out to their wonderful Latin teacher!  Woot! I also witnessed a couple of “reenactments” of historical events in Rome and Pompeii during a trip to Italy with Latin students from my daughters’ high school. That was the same trip in which I discussed sex in ancient Rome with a grad student chaperone, and the girls’ Latin teacher and I compared the Rape of the Sabine Women with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (Clearly, I transitioned from nerdy child to nerdy adult.)

Second True Confession: I haven’t read Julius Caesar since I was in ninth grade. I do remember reading some of Calpurnia’s lines to my then boyfriend, now husband’s Caesar. And for some reason, “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look” became a favorite phrase in our little ninth grade group. I have no idea why now. I guess because we were ninth graders–and nerdy.

I do know that Romans, including Caesar, drank wine.

Caesar: Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me.

And we, like friends, will straightway go together.

Brutus: (aside) That every “like” is not the same, O Caesar,

The heart of Brutus earns to think upon.

—Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 2, Scene 2

And that they had feasts, during which they reclined. Maybe because they were drinking wine, too. That’s a joke. Perhaps.  (The men—I’m not sure about the women–participating in the feasts reclined. Their slaves did not, which is why we’re told, to recline on Passover, since we are free.) Ancient Roman food often consisted of simple fare, such as bread, salty cheese, and fruit. Porridge-like dishes were common. Banquets featured more elaborate preparations, and the households of the wealthy displayed their wealth through the use of exotic ingredients. Dishes were often boiled or fried in olive oil—and strongly flavored sauces were essential. Garum, a fermented fish sauce was very popular. They also liked sweets made with honey.

On Purim, you’re supposed to drink wine, eat sweets, and celebrate! Traditional Purim foods often focus on beans, seeds, nuts, and dairy, as Queen Esther, it is said, did not want to eat food that was not kosher.

So what to eat for an Ides of March/ Purim feast? I haven’t quite decided. I’m thinking perhaps homemade falafel, pita bread, along with some feta or goat cheese and olives. The Romans ate chickpeas, if not exactly falalfels, and goat cheese, and olives. Queen Esther may also have eaten those foods. You’re welcome to top your falafel with some garum, if you want and happen to have it handy, but I think I’ll pass. Of course, top off the feast with lots of wine and Hamantaschen!

This is also the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, when many cities in the US host special bar crawls, and revelers in green hats and clothing stumble through the streets. For some who partake, the crawl will no doubt be literal. Feel free to add green food coloring to your Hamantaschen if you feel the need to eat green food. I don’t.

Enjoy your food and drink this weekend, whatever your cultural background. You might even want to start off your gastronomic weekend with a pie for Pi Day today! But remember,  if a soothsayer tells you to avoid going somewhere tomorrow, you might want to heed his or her advice.

I wanted to try more recipes for Hammantaschen, but with looming deadlines and various projects, I didn’t get a chance this week. This is the recipe that I’ve used in the past, and which I prepared for a talk I gave this week. It uses oil instead of butter, but it has a great orange flavor. I made prune and apricot fillinggs. Just cook the fruit with some water, orange juice, lemon, and sugar until they’re soft and then mash them and chill. I also mixed some ground walnut and coconut into blueberry jam. Experiment with various jams and fruit fillings. YUM!

I used large eggs instead of extra large eggs, and it came out fine.

Hamantaschen

(This recipe was in The Philadelphia Inquirer several years ago, but I don’t know who created it.)

5 extra large eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup corn/vegetable oil

½ cup orange juice

Grated rind of 1 orange

Grated rind of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. vanilla extract

6 ½ cups flour

1 ½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

Beat eggs until thick, but not foamy. Beat in sugar. Add oil, OJ, grated orange and lemon rinds, lemon juice, and vanilla. Mix at low speed. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt; slowly stir into egg mixture to moisten. Do not overbeat. Dough will be sticky. Spread dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet; cut into quarters and chill at least 3 hrs., up to 3 days. (Dough may be frozen. To use defrost overnight in refrigerator.)

When ready to proceed, work with one-quarter of dough at a time, leaving the rest refrigerated. Lightly dust a cutting board with flour. Gently knead the dough pliable. Roll to ¼-inch thickness. Cut into circles, fill, and shape into triangles.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 -25 minutes until golden. Makes about 60 cookies.

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