Friday, May 27, 2016
I am almost ashamed to even mention the subject I’m about to discuss – not because it is about sex (on the contrary, it is about as unsexy as
you can possibly get), but rather because, relative to all of the real, crucial, and often cataclysmic issues going on in the world today from A (Afghanistan and "affluenza") to Z (the Zika virus), this problem truly doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this world.
It doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in part because
it is so small (much smaller than a hill of beans) and also because it is so trivial.
Except, of course, to me.
I mean, I really am embarrassed
to even allude to it, and in the
event that you are eating while you read this,
I should probably have the decency not to mention it at all.
But here goes, anyway.
This is surely the grossest thing I have mentioned throughout the five-plus years I’ve
been writing this blog. The gross thing
I’m talking about is a growth on my knee. A small growth on my knee (although not all that small as growths on knees go). I’m using the word “growth” because
this growth is so gross. Also, I’m not entirely sure what to call it.
OK, I know what most people probably
would call it.
And in the absence of any better
word to which I might resort, I’m going to call it a wart.
I first had this wart over 40 years ago, back when I was 17.
That was also the last time that I had it because my mother promptly took me to a doctor and had the wart removed.
I don’t remember how that doctor removed it, because, as I said, it was over 40 years ago. All I know is that it went away, never to return.
Actually, to be honest, I can’t tell you precisely when it reared its ugly head again (although, truth be told, the only body part a wart can be said to have is a head, and an ugly one at that). All I can tell you is when it was that I took notice of it
and began to worry about it again.
It happened soon after
my son became engaged to be married, early last summer.
More specifically, it happened soon after I bought a dress
to wear to my son's wedding, which will take place early this summer.
The problem was that this dress was a short dress. I don’t mean short as in a mini-dress.
I am, after all, the mother of the groom. Not to mention that I am decidedly not 17 anymore.
The dress that I bought to wear to my son's wedding was knee-length. Make that almost knee-length.
It comes down to right around the middle of my knee. That is to say, just above the wart.
I didn’t want to wear anything
too flashy to my son’s wedding. Not that anyone cares all that much what I wear. After all, I’m only the mother of the groom. And I'm not 17 anymore.
I just wanted to wear something that I felt comfortable in, fashionable in, and maybe even attractive in.
At first, when I put this dress on, I felt all of those things.
Then I looked at my knee. And I began to imagine that when people saw me in this dress, they would look at it too.
Not my knee. No one cares about my knee. I was afraid that they
would look at the wart.
So I began thinking that I should go to a doctor and have the wart removed
all over again.
The only thing that stopped me from doing this was that I have terrible
health insurance. Going to a doctor to have
this small, albeit unsightly knob removed would have cost me a pretty penny. It might have been cheaper, I figured, to go buy a different
But the truth is that, the wart notwithstanding, this dress did make me feel comfortable, reasonably fashionable, and even
almost attractive. It did all the things
that a nice mother-of-the-groom dress should do. Everything but hide the wart.
So instead, a couple of months ago, I tried removing the wart myself.
No, I am not a doctor. I just play one on the Internet. So I looked for a remedy online.
Then I ordered a product from CVS that promised to freeze the wart off my knee.
This product, called Advanced Freeze Wart Remover Kit, came in
a cardboard box including a small spray
can, a plastic nozzle, and two packets of
cotton swabs that looked an awful lot like Q-tips with giant heads (that is, heads about as big as my wart).
were simple. I had to insert one of the swabs into a hole in the plastic nozzle,
then press down on the top for three seconds, letting some of the liquid inside the
can saturate the tip of the swab. Then I was
to wait 15 seconds before applying the saturated tip continuously to the offending
growth – the wart – for up to 40 seconds. This would supposedly freeze the wart.
According to the box, it was likely
that only one such treatment would be necessary.
Whoever wrote that had clearly
never seen a wart the likes of mine.
first treatment, not a whole lot happened. So the next day I tried again.
Maybe nothing happened because I was so
afraid that the freezing solution would sting that I didn’t actually apply the swab continuously for 40 seconds. I merely
When this bore no results after three or four treatments, I reread the directions. They said in no uncertain
terms that I had been doing it all wrong. “Do
not dab,” they said.
So I tried it all over again, but the right way. For 40 continuous seconds. No dabbing.
I tried it once. I tried it twice. I tried it again and again. No dabbing. But still no dice.
By this point, I had gone through almost all of the swabs inside the wart freezing kit.
Anyone with a shred of sense or dignity would have given up at that point.
But I wasn’t close to being ready to give
up. After all, I was soon to be a mother-of-the-groom. A mother-of-the-groom with
a pretty mother-of-the-groom dress.
And a pretty sizable wart.
So I wasn’t ready to give
up my hopes that this wart could be frozen off before the wedding. I simply realized it was time to bite the bullet and seek
Fortunately, I was due for
my annual physical exam early last month. With luck, I would confess my plight to
my doctor during the examination, and she would take pity on me and freeze it off then and there and not charge me for a separate visit.
When I got to the appointment, I mentioned this to the nurse
who weighed me in. That is, I mentioned the growth on my knee. The wart. I did not mention my secret plan.
When it came time
for the doctor to examine me, she brought along a young resident who was shadowing her that day. An attractive young male resident, I must
This made me rethink my plan.
But by now I was very
soon to be a mother-of-the-groom. A mother-of-the-groom with a pretty mother-of-the-groom dress. And a still-pretty-sizable
So just before the doctor left the exam room, trying not to look at the attractive young male resident
– which was very hard to do – I took a big gulp, big enough
to swallow my pride, and told the doctor about my wart.
The doctor looked at me. I think the resident also looked at me, although I still wasn’t
looking at him. Then they both looked at my knee, and then they looked at each other.
Then the doctor opened a cabinet
and removed something that looked
almost identical to the device I had bought online from CVS. She saturated a cotton swab
and held it against the wart on my knee while
counting just under her breath to 40 seconds.
She held it there continuously. She did not
dab at all.
Then she said that if the wart didn’t fall off soon, she would have to send me to a dermatologist.
That sounded like it might really cost some money.
Well, to make a long story a little shorter, this professional attention had no discernible
effect on my wart, either. And now the wedding was only a
few weeks away.
There was no time to buy a new dress. There was barely time to go
to a dermatologist.
Instead, I went online.
I Googled “How
to remove wart on knee.” And that is when I found it.
The solution, I mean.
It didn’t involve freezing. It didn’t involve
dabbing. It did not involve a dermatologist.
the solution was a homespun remedy using a common household product.
A household product abbreviated by many of the people who wrote in about it as ACV.
I am not talking about something esoteric
or scientific, like DNA.
Nor am I referring to something found in the garage or the tool shed, like WD-40.
I’m talking about something you will find in almost everyone’s pantry.
Apple cider vinegar.
According to the countless people who’d posted on the website I found, there was no need to invest in a fancy ACV (apple cider vinegar).
You didn’t need a pricy one. Or an organic one. Nor an unfiltered, organic, kosher
one like Dr. Bragg’s, touted to contain a cloudy substance that Dr. Bragg refers to as “the mother.”
people who posted specifically stated that they had
not shelled out for the ACV with “the mother.” They had simply bought an
ordinary bottle at Walmart for
a buck. And this wart remedy had
“Holy crow!” crowed a woman named Tiffany from Michigan on this website, www.apple-cider-vinegar-benefits.com. For years, she’d tried fruitlessly to remove a nasty
wart from the heel of one of her feet. “I tried
EVERYTHING," she wrote. "This actually works!”
She’d used innumerable home remedies and over-the-counter
cures, as well as sought professional help. “I’ve been to a dermatologist and had them use ‘beetle juice,’” she said, “and it did nothing but make it bigger.” Only ACV had ultimately done the trick. “I am SO excited it is finally gone,” she concluded. “Hooray!!!! Buh-bye warts!!!”
user from Oakland, California named Michael reported similar success. “I had a wart for over
30 years on a certain part & now it is gone,” he exclaimed. “All gone, thanks to apple cider vinegar.”
No, he did not specify what
this “certain part” was, but there were many other people who wrote referring to genital warts, and yet another who had one “in the pelvic region.”
I began to see that my problem really didn’t amount to a hill of beans. I only had a wart on my
But I still had that wart on my knee, and also a dress that would help call attention
This was my only hope, I thought, as I breathlessly skimmed the directions.
Procedure for the Removal of Warts Using Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar
Cotton ball (end
of Q-tip will do)
“Each night before going to bed, soak a cotton ball in apple
cider vinegar, apply it to the wart and then hold it in place with a band-aid. Leave it on all night, or if you like, 24 hours
a day, but change the soaked cotton and band-aid each evening for a week.
will swell and may throb as it reacts with the vinegar and then start to turn black within the first two
days, and after a week or two will be completely
This account concluded with a cautionary
note: “It is important to continue the treatment for a few days to a week after the wart has fallen off to help ensure it does not come back.”
Along with these instructions, I also found a short video
on YouTube posted by a mother whose young daughter had been inflicted with warts
on her knee. This woman advised adding one extra layer to the remedy. She suggested placing a strip of duct tape over the band-aid, presumably to hold it in place.
In fact, I'd read elsewhere
on various web sites that duct tape alone would do it.
figured, why not choose the best of both worlds?
I also decided to spring for the best ACV I could find. So I bought Dr. Bragg’s. Yes, the kosher, organic one. The one with “the mother.”
My friend Sally drinks a couple of slugs of this acidic stuff daily and she swears by it.
Besides, as a nice Jewish mom, I figured anything with “the mother” was clearly meant for me.
I soaked a small bit of a cotton ball in this stuff, placed it over the wart, and covered
it with a band-aid. Then I covered it all with two sizable strips of silver duct tape.
I did this late one night two weeks ago, then put on my PJs and went to bed.
The next morning, I changed the cotton, the band-aid, and the duct tape. I did it again that night as well, mostly because I wanted to see what was happening under there.
By the end of day No. 2, the wart, as predicted, began turning black.
Several of the hundreds of people
who had posted their own wart stories
on that website had referred to pain and stinging. But at first there was
Then, by day No. 3 or 4, there was.
The pain soon became
so intense that it woke me up at night. Some people had advised ceasing treatment for a day or two if this happened. I decided that was necessary.
Still, I was not about to give up.
After I resumed, the wart not only
remained black and painful, but also grew puffy. I feared it was actually getting bigger
instead of smaller.
But one morning, after a long shower, most of it suddenly peeled right off.
Soon a dark scab formed. Then much of that fell off too. When I applied
more ACV, the area around the wart turned red
and really began to sting.
And so, although the directions had recommended continuing treatment even after the wart
was gone, I decided to stop and let the irritated area dry out and heal.
After only two weeks, the wart is virtually gone. All that remains is a small scab. If anyone bothers to notice, they might
just think I had skinned my knee (although who, honestly, is even remotely interested in my wart, or my knee?).
We are going to my husband’s 50th college reunion at Princeton this weekend. It’s going to be hot. I’m going to wear
shorts. So no band-aid. No duct tape. And no
With or without “the mother.”
Still, I’m feeling fairly optimistic that by the wedding, my mother of a wart will be gone.
I will feel comfortable in my dress, reasonably fashionable, and maybe even attractive. But most of all, I'll be excited that after over 40 years,
the growth on my knee is gone again.
So I’m going to be one very happy mother-of-the-groom in my mother of-the- groom dress when Aidan and his fiancée Kaitlin agree to accept each other for life, warts and all. Not that either of them has any warts. I’m sure. But you know, just
in case… I know the answer now.
And thanks to ACV, Dr.
Bragg, and, yes, “the mother,” I am all ready to celebrate.
Hooray!!!! Hello, summer. Buh-bye, wart!!!
Saturday, May 21, 2016
A Word From the Weiss
Considering how rarely I focus on food, you would think that if I were going to devote an entire week to baking, it would involve, say, macaroons (the Passover treats), rather than macarons (the classy French confections that
are almost too pretty to eat). This, after all, is essentially a Jewish blog, and other than sounding
alike and being both round and sweet, these items have nothing in common, and never the twain shall meet.
As I mentioned last week, though, my children were nice enough to buy me a cooking class for Mother’s Day, among many other things. That class was held this past Wednesday at a local
branch of Sur la Table, the popular kitchen-wares emporium, where I was miraculously transformed into a French macaron maven, and/or a nice Jewish prophet of profiteroles.
It was so much
fun that it was worth not just every penny, but every single calorie. So I am passing on my new culinary knowledge, and new source of calories, to you.
The kids probably got the
idea for this gift when they heard about the Tasty Thai cooking class my husband and I attended at Sur la Table last month.
I’d been dying to learn the secrets of Thai
cooking ever since Nice Jewish Dad and I went to Bangkok last year. My husband,
I must admit, did not sound all that eager about the cooking class at first. He doesn’t cook much at home, and is perfectly happy to pick up Pad Thai to go. So why would he want to go out and pay someone
to teach him how to make it?
He warmed up to the idea quickly, however, when I mentioned that we could
bring our own wine and consume as much of it there as we wished. And soon after we arrived,
egged on by those libations, he began demanding more than his share of turns slicing, dicing, and wielding the wok as we helped create not
just delicious Pad Thai from scratch, but also steamed dumplings, spicy green papaya salad, and lemongrass-scented Tom Ka soup.
That class had turned out to be mostly a couples’ event, in which we broke into teams of four. It was fun having someone to share the experience with (even if he did hog the knife at times), and I was a bit hesitant to be paired up with a total stranger for the
French pastry one. So I tried desperately to find a friend to join me, especially when I learned that the session had been reduced to half-price from its original cost of $69. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, I phoned the store and got my kids a refund.)
the class was held during the daytime, and everyone I invited to join me already had other obligations.
My friend Sally, the most obvious choice, since she’s an avid cook and French tutor by trade, was scheduled to give a tour at a local art museum.
My friend Lois, alas, also an expert cook and baker, also had to work that day.
And my friend Pat, who recently interviewed me for her local TV show Shalom Hartford,
was busy taping another episode for the
series. (If you would like to see my segment of
it, which aired in April, it will soon be available online.)
Meanwhile, I kept checking Sur la Table’s website,
worried that the class would fill up before I could find someone to join me. So imagine my surprise when I arrived solo on Wednesday to find that
there was no teamwork required and that, counting me, there were only four participants.
That didn’t include the instructor, Sandi, who was not remotely French, but clearly knew her way around a kitchen. She’d been working
at the store for the past nine years.
As she guided us
through the three recipes we would prepare – French toast-flavored macarons, profiteroles
with Chantilly cream, and dense, bite-sized yellow cakes called financiers – she made sure that everyone got plenty of hands-on experience.
Then there were the experiences that you might classify as hands-up.
She also spiced up her
instructions with added advice, tips, and inside information.
For example, as she whipped up the egg whites into a frothy meringue that would become the wafer parts of our tasty macarons, she explained that these airy, Styrofoam-like discs tend to be almost tasteless. The rich, exotic flavors
for which macarons are
known – from cappuccino and caramel fleur de sel to kiwi and
green tea – are derived entirely from their creamy fillings, often enhanced
by a tiny hidden dollop of jam.
The French toast flavor, in our case, would come mostly from Vietnamese cinnamon and maple syrup.
The wafers would merely suggest the taste with their toffee-colored
hue, achieved by adding a soupçon of brown Wilton food coloring gel. (She didn’t say “soupçon,” however. She probably
said "smidgen." Or maybe "dash." As I said, not French!)
Having long relished these trendy little treats, which are
sold all over NYC, in fancy bakeries, and even in shopping malls these days for $3
apiece or more, I had occasionally dared to indulge myself by buying one or even two,
but never imagined I could bake one myself. They seemed so ethereally delicate, so refined, so complicated… so French.
I thought I could just as soon make a macaron as I could build an airplane. Or fly.
But I am here
to tell you that it is well within the realm of possibility. Why, it’s almost as easy as pie. (And I must confess that, along with making light-as-air homemade matzo balls and a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, I make a pretty
7 ounces confectioners’ sugar
4 ounces almond flour
4 large egg whites, room
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
3½ ounces granulated
Wilton brown gel food coloring (optional)
Maple Buttercream (recipe to follow)
First, we sifted together the dry ingredients, confectioners’ sugar and almond flour. “Actually, it’s almond meal, because
there’s no such thing as almond ‘flour,’” Sandi said. (I asked
if that meant that macarons were gluten-free. Indeed, Sandi replied, but she advised double-checking just in
case. Some bakeries might include wheat flour as well.)
The almond flour, or meal, from companies like King Arthur Flour or Bob’s Red Mill, was something
you can find now not just in health food stores, but most supermarkets. Bear in mind, though, that this is a product that can go rancid
in a matter of months, so it’s best kept
in a plastic bag in the fridge. It’s also on the pricey side, as flour goes, so waste not, want not. If there were any tiny bits
of almond left at the bottom of the sifter, said Sandy, don’t discard them. Just pulverize them with your fingers and toss 'em in.
After all four participants had taken turns with the sifter, it was time to whip the egg whites, which had been allowed to sit till they reached room temperature. To enhance volume, Sandi added 1/8 teaspoon
of cream of tartar, then set one of the
store’s giant hands-free mixers on medium until the pale, viscous liquid inside grew pale and foamy. Then she gradually
added the granulated sugar and cranked the mixer up to high until the egg whites were snowy white and had the consistency of shaving cream.
She removed the giant globe-shaped beater and held it upside down to show that the stiff white peaks held their shape, like a pointy shampoo-coated
cowlick on someone’s head. But what impressed me most was the size of that industrial-size, self-propelling mixer. She turned it on and it did all the work for you. Hmmm. Where might I get one of those big babies?
I thought she (or, rather, it) had beaten the heck out of those whites enough by now. But no. Sandi said they had to go through four distinct phases – first soft and shiny, then “marshmallow-y,” then kind of stiff, and finally so stiff that the mounds began to collect in a little snow-white ball around the beaters.
Indeed, it appeared our whites
were having a ball. Rather, making one. “That’s how you know it’s almost done,” Sandi said.
Now it was time to add the food coloring with a teeny spoon,
just a bit at a time. (Added tip No. 5: It will
bake up to be a shade or two lighter than it looks when raw. So don't hold back too much.)
Then we students took turns folding the
dry ingredients in, one-third at a time. “Folding
is not stirring," said Sandi, "and it isn’t whipping either." Rather, it was a circular motion that entailed moving the spatula gently around the perimeter of
the bowl, then through the middle, continuing until the almond meal was all
But even then, it wasn’t
quite there yet. She instructed us to continue folding until a spoonful of batter lifted on a spatula would create ribbons when it dripped into the bowl. “Now
it’s like lava,” she noted as she took command of the folding operation herself. “As I pick
up a big glop of it – there’s a fancy cooking
term for you, ‘glop of it’ – it’s going to drop into the bowl and hold its shape for about three seconds.”
The aim was to continue folding until the batter formed what looked like ribbons of taffy. This
also caused it to lose some volume. “We’re purposefully deflating it,” Sandi explained.
Finally, it was time to pour
it into a disposable plastic piping bag. Sandi
recommended using an 18-inch one, which left plenty of room to grab hold
of the twisted end and manipulate it with
ease. She held up an empty bag, tip down, and folded
it over about halfway, forming a translucent plastic cuff around her hand.
Another tip: Before adding
the batter, cut a tiny hole at the tip of the piping
bag to allow air to escape, so that the batter can be pushed all the way to the end.
Now it was our turn to practice
piping out symmetrical little circles. Macarons are so perfectly round that I’d always assumed they were made in molds. Apparently not.
They were simply piped from the bag onto a cookie sheet. Well, not directly onto a cookie sheet. Each sheet had been covered with a “silpat,” a plastic sheet upon which 20 perfect black circles were stenciled at
regular intervals. Sur la Table sold these special silpats for $26.95. But if you weren’t quite ready to make
that hefty an investment in macaron-baking, there was a much cheaper alternative. Sandi gave us each a few sheets
of plain paper similarly printed with circles to take home. All we’d need to do was place one of
these under some parchment paper on a baking sheet. If we wanted to make macarons that were bigger, or
smaller, we could simply stencil our own templates onto some paper at home.
It looked challenging to pipe the batter perfectly inside the
center of the little circles, but this turned out to be a snap. The trick was to hold the piping bag so that it was almost touching the silpat, then squeeze
gently until the batter just reached the inner edge of the circle. For as it settled, it would fan out just a bit more.
Sandi also demonstrated how to finish each off with a sharp flick of the wrist so there was only a tiny “tail” of batter on top of each. This would smooth out as it settled.
Yet once all of our circles
had been completely filled, the pans were still not quite oven ready. This, apparently, was the most
important macaron-making tip of all. The batter needed to settle on the baking sheets at room
temperature for another 30 minutes, or even longer,
until a firm skin had formed on the top of each. (To check if they are ready, lightly touch the side of one, and if your finger doesn’t make a dent, they’re
ready to bake.)
“I wouldn’t let them sit for two hours,” Sandi said. “But you
can pipe them and then go walk the dog.”
While the cookie sheets sat, Sandi showed us how to make the creamy filling, which
would not only help glue our sandwiches together, but also provide all the flavor.
(Yield: about 2
8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature,
cut into ½-inch cubes
2 cups confectioners’
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
"In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the softened butter until light and fluffy.
Sift the confectioners’ sugar to remove any lumps, then add to the butter and mix until well combined. Add maple syrup,
vanilla, cinnamon and salt and whip until smooth and creamy."
the basic directions, and they sounded easy enough. As Sandy observed, this was just a typical old-fashioned American buttercream frosting, the kind you might use to ice a cake.
But once again, she had a few added tips to share.
You could, for example, just use
vanilla extract if that’s all you had on hand. But vanilla bean paste, with tiny flecks of vanilla, added an intense layer of flavor, she said. (Sur la Table, big
surprise, sold that too.)
As for the cinnamon, Vietnamese
was also the best, if you had it. (Ditto.)
Of course, these were just two of the many flavor possibilities. The options were endless. “We’ve put in pumpkin pie flavor,” Sandi said. “We’ve also used a bit of rosewater -- a very tiny bit of rosewater. If you put
in too much, it tastes like soap.”
The wafers needed only
14 to 16 minutes in the oven at 300 degrees, with the baking sheets rotated halfway through. How do you tell if they’re ready? “Test them gently with your fingers,”
Sandi said. “If their little hats wiggle a bit, they’re not done.”
At last, the hats on ours weren’t wiggling at all. Sandi popped each perfect disc off and transferred them to a cooling rack. Then it was time at last to put these babies together.
She piled some buttercream filling into two piping bags, snipped off the end of each to create a half-inch opening, then demonstrated the proper assembly technique.
“I like to pipe around the outside,” she said. “Then, when I put the lid on,
I don’t squish it down.” (Yet another technical term -- squish.) She merely pressed the two sides gently together.
Voila! Perfect macarons.
We were each given eight discs with which to practice. And I would say that my practice quickly made perfect. I couldn’t believe how easy this was.
But mostly, I couldn’t
believe how delicious they were as I let one melt in my mouth.
Although I hadn’t
managed to find a friend to join me, a nice fellow participant named Amy offered to snap a photo of me showing just how scrumptious
I thought they were.
As I said, we made two
other kinds of popular French pastries during the class – profiteroles (mini puff pastries) into which we piped fresh whipped cream,
and little round financiers studded with fresh strawberries. But I think that’s probably enough baking for you, my readers, for one week.
It was not enough for me, however. When I got home, I filled
some of the profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and served them to my husband with homemade hot fudge. He seemed to enjoy them as much as the wine
at the Thai cooking class. Maybe even more.
Plus, I have already purchased a
bag of almond flour – excuse me, almond meal – and plan to
try making the macarons again on my own at home.
I’ve been thinking
that I might try to make cappuccino ones instead. Or maybe I’ll just stick to the original recipe for starters, but
rename them Challah French Toast macarons instead.
Would that be Jewish enough for you?
Sunday, May 15, 2016
A Word From the Weiss
Who works on Mother’s Day? There ought to be a law against
it. Not only for mothers, but people with mothers. Nice, Jewish, and otherwise. Then again, if no one were working,
who would be available to serve everyone else – nice, Jewish, and otherwise –
when they went out for brunch on Mother’s Day?
Unfortunately, this year my daughter was working on Mother’s
Day, so we couldn’t go out for brunch.
We had to wait until she got off and then go out for dinner instead.
Good thing that some people, both mothers and others, were still working then.
Last year, Allegra was still living in Hong Kong on Mother’s
Day, so my husband and I went out for our customary brunch with only our son Aidan and his now-fiancée Kaitlin.
year, Allegra was finally back in the States, but, as I said, still unavailable.
To make up for having to work all day Saturday and Sunday, she suggested that we join her for a Broadway show on Friday night. She didn’t have to ask twice. We saw Bright Star, a rousing blue grass musical with book
and music by Steve Martin and lyrics by Edie Brickell.
It was incredible, if you ask me – engrossing and extremely moving. I laughed. I cried. I even enjoyed the bluegrass.
But that put us in NYC for the rest of the weekend with nothing much to do… until Allegra was free to join us for Mother’s Day dinner, that is.
When we woke up in our hotel
on Saturday morning, I surfed a few theater sites to which I subscribe and decided to buy tickets for Indecent, a new play by Paula Vogel. The play was still in previews,
so there were no reviews, and the synopsis sounded a little dry. But Vogel had won a Pulitzer in 1998 for her incredible play How I Learned to Drive, which I'd loved, and her new one sounded very Jewish, so I knew it would be up
The play didn’t
start until 8 p.m., though. What would we do until then?
My husband proposed that we go to the Whitney Museum. But then he noticed in The New
York Times that there was a special weeklong symposium in the city about design which began that day. We could go to the Whitney
anytime. This was special. So we decided
to do that instead.
That day’s design events were mostly located in and around the South Street Seaport. By the time we’d dressed, eaten breakfast, worked out, and dressed yet again, it was already early afternoon. We took the
subway all the way down to the seaport and finally found the address where many
of the festivities were located. The door, however, was locked.
A little disappointed, I suggested that we try one
of the other events, an exhibit by students at Parsons School of Design. We walked to that address several blocks away. Through the large picture windows, I could
see an empty gallery strewn with boxes and a few mannequins clothed in novel outfits. Clearly there would be a fashion exhibit there soon. But not quite yet.
The Times may be “the paper of record,” but in this case its record was wrong. According to the design event’s website, it didn't actually start till Monday. Now what would we do?
“Let’s go to the Whitney,” my husband
The Whitney? Now? It was already late afternoon. We were all the way downtown, near the tip of Manhattan,
as far east as you can get. The Whitney was on the West side, several miles
away. As they say, you couldn’t get there from here. Not on public transportation, anyway.
Had I been thinking clearly, I would have realized that life is short and it was time to jump
into a cab or Uber and salvage what was left
of the day. But I wasn’t. I also didn’t have the energy anymore to go to a museum. Yet it was still far too early to go eat dinner.
Speaking of dinner, I’d
noticed a Groupon deal for a restaurant on the Lower East Side that Allegra had once highly recommended to us. The truth was that the Lower East Side was also a bit of a schlep. But we were all the way east and the restaurant was pretty
far east too. So I bought the Groupon online and we hopped a bus uptown.
By then it was still a bit too early for dinner, so we decided to kill some time poking around the shops on the Lower East Side.
– Russ & Daughters.
For years I had heard about this iconic food emporium, the place for smoked fish and other Jewish delicacies. Opened by a Polish immigrant named Joel Russ in 1914, it had later moved to its current location at 179 East Houston Street and acquired
its current name after Russ, who had
no sons, made his only three offspring – Hattie, Anne, and Ida – partners in the enterprise in 1933.
Every time I’d been anywhere near the place before, it had been late and the store had been closed. Now I actually got to go
inside. Things were really looking up.
Since we were going directly
to the play, we hesitated to invest in any smoked fish; fellow theatergoers might not exactly appreciate the scent of lox wafting
in the aisles. But we had fun ogling the inventory and bought some rugelach and chocolate-dipped macaroons.
No one would mind smelling those.
As we were leaving, my husband quickly snapped my photo because I happened to be wearing a t-shirt with an interesting subliminal message. Well, maybe not quite so subliminal.
“CALL YOUR MOTHER,” it read.
(If you must know, I purchased this shirt online after seeing actress Susan Sarandon wear
one on Kathie Lee and Hoda's segment of the Today show. It costs $25 from Omaze.com, and
sales benefited Hope North, a nonprofit group that helps the young victims of Uganda’s civil war, including orphans and child
soldiers. But I think those shirts sold out quickly and are not available anymore.)
As we walked through the
streets, this garment began to attract some attention.
“Call your ‘muth-uh!’” cried a woman with a thick-as-challah Lawn-G’Island accent, pointing directly
at my chest.
“Hey, nice shirt!” another passerby
Further down East Houston
Street, we popped into Union Market, another
food emporium, where we couldn’t resist buying olives and some nice French cheese (although, once again, nothing pungent
enough to offend the nostrils of our fellow theatergoers).
Finally, it was late enough to go to dinner. The place Allegra had recommended, the Cornerstone Restaurant & Café on Avenue B, proved to be as good as promised, and the Groupon deal – $35 for two entrees, two glasses of wine, and two desserts – made it even better.
Halfway through the meal, an older couple was
seated next to us and began bickering about something with growing agitation. Although the waiter approached them repeatedly, they declined
to order and continued to squabble and email someone repeatedly. Finally, just after we’d paid our (astonishingly
reasonable) bill, I caught drift of the issue.
They, too, had purchased a Groupon, but couldn’t find the voucher on
Being a nice Jewish mom, I couldn’t just sit by and let them suffer. “Would you like some help?” I asked. Never mind
that my husband had already exited the restaurant and was standing out in the street. I spent the next 10 minutes or so struggling
to get into the Groupon account of the husband, a nice Jewish fellow named George, and eventually was obliged to resort to resetting his password for him.
That let me finally find their voucher, for which they swore they would
be eternally grateful. I also recommended the branzini entree, a whole fish with sautéed kale and lemon.
They appreciated that too.
Unfortunately, we were now late for the theater, which
was 1.3 miles away. And as with the Whitney earlier, we were way east and it was way west, and we couldn’t get there from here… other than to walk briskly.
I hope that George and
the Mrs. enjoyed their branzini more than we enjoyed our very brisk walk. But I’m happy to report that several more people admired my shirt with
its subliminal message along the way. And we managed to arrive at the theater just in the nick of time!
Being a nice Jewish mom, I had also managed to snag half-price seats in the sixth row on a website called Today Tix.
No matter. This play would’ve been worth seeing at any price.
Indecent illuminates the somewhat dark history of a play about religious hypocrisy called God of Vengeance, written in 1907 by a young Jewish playwright named Sholem Asch.
This controversial work, about a
Jewish brothel keeper whose chaste young daughter falls into a forbidden love with one of his prostitutes, was widely performed in its original Yiddish throughout the world. Then it was translated
into English for its move to Broadway in 1923… and all hell broke loose.
And if that synopsis doesn’t grab you, then let me just say that Ms. Vogel’s new masterpiece – which incorporates many popular Yiddish songs and is performed by a superb ensemble cast of actors and musicians – brilliantly brings history to life, letting it dance off the page and onto the stage. It is also one of the most ingeniously crafted and extraordinary productions I’ve ever
Not to mention, as I said, one of the most Jewish.
The next morning it was Mother’s Day at last, and I woke up to a big surprise.
My son had posted a rather public greeting to me on Facebook. The most surprising part was that it included a photo from a story I had once written
about giving birth to him.
A story published in the Sunday magazine of The Hartford
30 years ago.
Although the photo
itself, which he had evidently found online, was pixilated almost beyond recognition, the caption beneath it was entirely legible. “The author and her husband, Harlan Levy, show off
their 6-pound, 10-ounce bundle, Aidan. He has his mother’s red hair, and his name means ‘little fiery one.’
He was born Aug. 27, at 7:18 p.m., and was 20 inches long.”
My first reaction, I must admit, was one of extreme delight mixed with mild horror. I could still remember
how I looked in that photo, and how I felt while it was being taken. In a word, exhausted.
So here’s the comment I posted beneath his entry: “Thanks. But OMG! I am proud to be your mother, but not proud of that
photo, taken 4 or 5 days after I gave birth. Good thing it’s so grainy!”
Only later would I come to my senses and realize what I should have said instead: “Thanks! And OMG! I am proud
to be your mother and I love you, and I can’t believe you were willing to spend all the time it must have required to
find that old photo online!”
Given my extreme insensitivity, I’m surprised that Aidan and his beautiful fiancée Kaitlin still agreed to meet us that afternoon at Japan Day
in Central Park.
I had read about this special annual event on Facebook, which may be an even more reliable source than The New York Times, because when we arrived at around 2 p.m. it was actually there… along with about a billion people, both Japanese and otherwise.
While we were waiting for the kids to arrive, we watched several live performances, including
an odd musical extravaganza about (as far as I could tell) a Japanese princess who longs to be an American hip-hop star… but fears that she is too short.
We also visited a booth at which Japanese women would inscribe our names or the phrase of our choice in calligraphy. Needless to say, I requested “Nice Jewish Mom.”
The event was so popular that by the time the kids had arrived, all of the Japanese food samples, which had been provided free of charge, were long
gone. No matter. After a pleasant stroll
around the park, it was already time to head back for dinner.
Yes, poor Allegra was finally getting off from work at last!
We met up at a charming Italian restaurant near where she lives called Manducatis Rustica. They gave all of the women present
a complimentary glass of Prosecco. Of course, we also ordered a nice bottle of red wine so we could all raise a
hearty toast together.
Between courses, which were both numerous and sumptuous, the kids bestowed me with far too many gifts. These including a novel colorful jewelry dish made out of recycled telephone wire; some lively tropical-designed notebooks, liqueur glasses, and refrigerator
magnets; and a recipe card box imprinted “Love is the secret ingredient”…
not to mention a gift certificate for a French pastry-baking class at Sur la Table.
Best of all, as usual, were the cards, which deeply touched my heart with their many sincere sentiments. I hope it’s not betraying too many confidences if I share just a few excerpts.
Allegra’s card, which wished a happy Mother’s Day “to the woman who does it all (and
more),” observed, “There were too many cards that expressed gratitude, your fashionista-ness, and your supermom-ness, but this was the
one. You do it ALL, and we wouldn’t know what to do without
Aidan, who will be married in a
few weeks, expressed gratitude as well. “You’ve taught me so much over the
past 30 years – how to cook, do my own laundry, dress myself – and possibly how to clean… I can’t
wait to start this next chapter. Who knows what it will bring?”
Having heard a few too many horror stories about daughters-in-law, I was especially thrilled to hear these words from Kaitlin, who will
soon be mine. “…You are so wonderful & I’m so lucky to have such an amazing future mother-in-law!”
And last but certainly not least were these endearing words from Allegra’s
boyfriend JP: “I thank you for being such a wonderful mother, and bringing up such an amazing daughter. (Aidan’s
pretty good too…) Thank you & keep up the good work!" I'll try.
I don't repeat all these sentiments here to make you feel bad if you didn't happen to get a card or call from your
own offspring this year. I also don't purport to be a perfect mother, if there were such a thing. But I will say they all
made me very, very happy, and very proud to be a mom.
And not just any mom.
After we returned home from the city late that night, I posted
the above photo of our dinner on Facebook. Aiming to
inject a little levity into the occasion,
I wrote the following: “There are those who consider Mother’s Day a
trumped-up holiday… and those who disagree on the grounds that they constitutionally object to the word ‘trump.’
All I know is I had a very happy one with the whole fam in NYC!”
Although more than 30 friends would proceed to “like” my remark, I later realized that this
might not have been the ideal time for humor, feeble or otherwise. So I added what I probably should have said in the first place. “Oh, wait. One more thing I know – I love my kids!”
Who knows? Mother’s Day may be a trumped-up holiday, or just a Hallmark
holiday, but mine was fabulous, and I already look forward to next year, with one caveat. Or two.
Mother’s Day may be a time for people to think about their mothers. But it is also a time for mothers to think. Next year, I hope that my daughter won’t be working
But most of all, I hope that, next time around, my own brain will.
Friday, May 6, 2016
A Word From the Weiss
I hope that you haven’t
grown bored out of your sculls already hearing
about the impending wedding that has virtually taken over my life. OK, maybe you have. I mean, of course you have! But what else can I possibly
write about? After all, as I said – and I was hardly exaggerating when I said it – it has virtually taken over my
If you have never been in the same boat that I am in now – the S. S.
Mother of the Groom, that is –
then you may have no idea what I’m talking about. And even if you have boarded that particular boat (or perhaps
taken an entire cruise on it to Waikiki, the Bahamas, or some other popular destination wedding locale), you may still have no clue what I mean. Several friends who shall remain nameless -- all mothers of boys who grew up to become grooms, suffice it to say – have complained to me in recent years that they were
essentially treated like ordinary guests at their own son’s weddings.
They may have gotten to wear a corsage, or not even quite a corsage – a wristlet! But no one asked them for any advice about the chuppah, DJ, or the hors
d’oeuvres. They received save the date cards and invites in the mail
along with everyone else. And when it came to making the party arrangements, they got to do absolutely nothing!
Well, in my case, because
my family is making the wedding, I’m getting
to do plenty. But I would much rather do plenty any day than do absolutely
nothing! So believe me, when I say that the wedding has virtually taken over my life, I’m not kvetching. I may be busy, even overwhelmed at times, but I’m integrally involved. So I am absolutely thrilled!
Unfortunately, there is another person who seems to be a little
less thrilled about this. He cannot quite figure out why I am so involved in this delicate
and costly operation.
He also cannot figure out why this delicate operation is so damn costly. But mostly, he can’t figure out why he has gotten roped into being similarly involved
Last week, for example, our entire weekend revolved around
one major event: going to taste the wedding cake.
“Why are we driving two hours in each direction just to taste a cake?” he asked. “Can’t
the kids taste the cake themselves? Do they need help putting the forks into their
mouths?" Come to think of it, why did anyone need to go taste the wedding cake? "Can’t
they just buy a cake?” he asked.
Just buy a cake? A wedding cake?
Was he out of his mind?
“We’re talking about the wedding cake!” I barked
back. “Our son’s wedding cake! You think they should just buy a cake? Any old cake? You know absolutely nothing!”
Maybe that sounds harsh.
But as I often say, the expression is “nice Jewish mom.” No
one ever talks about a nice Jewish wife.
It wasn’t just a matter of choosing what kind of cake. The bride loves chocolate. The groom
loves chocolate. The flavor of the cake would clearly
be – guess what?
With a possible layer of yellow cake or two for those who say "toMAHto" instead of "to-MAY-to."
But it wasn’t
just a matter of what flavor of
cake. There were other issues. Major issues. Frosting. Filling. And beyond the issues of frosting and filling was the real issue.
cake isn’t just a cake. It’s a creation
– in many cases, a true work of art.
No, not just
a work of art. It’s pretty much the focal centerpiece
of the entire event.
OK, so the bride (and also groom, at least in this case, if you ask me) are the true centerpieces of the whole event.
that, there is nothing – nothing – that takes the cake like, well, the cake.
OK, of course the happy couple was perfectly capable of tasting a cake. But if they were willing to let us come taste it too, then face it. We were gonna go taste that cake.
No matter how many hours we would need to drive back and forth to do it.
Also, no matter that I was keeping Passover – which meant I was not supposed
to eat any chametz (leavened products) – and Passover wouldn’t be
over till sundown. I would make an exception in this
case and break my bread fast a few hours early.
After all, in my opinion, if heaven actually exists, then it’s a place in which people get to sit around all day (or maybe
even drive around all day) tasting wedding cake.
So, to illustrate the magnitude of the issue and
demonstrate the infinite possibilities of cake design, I began to show my husband photos of wedding cakes on Pinterest.
I showed him traditional cakes and also far more whimsical modern cakes.
I showed him round multi-tiered cakes and square multi-tiered cakes.
I even showed
him wedding cakes that were both round and square, and asymmetrical multi-tiered wedding cakes that had no definable shape at all.
The only things these cakes had
in common were that they were chocolate on the inside and often some shade
of purple on the outside because our wedding
color is purple.
But I soon grew to regret that I had shown him any wedding cakes at all. Because after studying
them with some small amount of interest, he began to voice his opinions.
“I like this one,” he said, eyeing a traditional purple cake. “But I don’t like that one.”
And I suddenly realized that I wasn’t
really interested in his opinion or input at all.
Because the bride and groom
weren’t really interested in our opinions or input at all.
were just willing to let us taste the cake because we were paying for the cake.
And that was the biggest problem. The wedding package that we had chosen at
the venue included a wedding cake, but it was probably a fairly modestly designed cake. Not a modern, whimsically designed cake. If we wanted something modern, or whimsical, or otherwise fabulous, then we would
probably have to pay something extra.
I wanted something fabulous. But I knew my husband would not want to pay anything extra.
So I began to wonder if it had been a big mistake to invite him to go taste the cake. But after finally convincing
him to go taste the cake, I now couldn’t convince him not to.
at the bakery was at 2 p.m. last Saturday. (I hope
my readers who strictly observe the Sabbath
are not offended, but we routinely drive on Saturdays). Given that the bakery was nearly 2 hours away, I proposed that we leave before noon, in case of traffic. But we didn’t
leave until after noon. And we encountered lots of traffic.
So it was an enormous relief to pull up to the Fleetwood
Bakery in Mount Vernon, NY, at 2:15 and see the bride
and groom, Kaitlin and Aidan, just pulling
Actually, they were not all by themselves. They had invited
our daughter Allegra to join them, as well as her roommate, Jamie, who will serve as the wedding photographer.
invited them to come along because my daughter keeps a car in NYC and was
willing to drive them to the bakery in Westchester. And as long as they were going to be near the wedding venue in Westchester, Jamie wanted to take sample wedding photos.
Typically, a wedding cake tasting at
a bakery is intended just for a party of two -- the bride and groom. In our case,
there were two plus two plus two. We were literally a party. Of six.
The six of us crowded into the entrance of this typical suburban
bakery, which was doing a brisk business selling cakes, pastries, and other baked goods on a sunny afternoon. And we proceeded
to pretty much block traffic both coming and going for the next hour while we tasted the cake.
Well, we didn’t actually spend an entire hour tasting
cake. We spent most of that time just standing around. Rather, the four relatively extraneous parties to
this cake tasting just stood around while the bride and groom sat at a small table in the middle of this rather crowded bakery leafing through their book of wedding cake designs.
This book featured traditional wedding cakes and also far more whimsical modern cakes.
It featured round multi-tiered cakes and square multi-tiered cakes.
It even contained a six-sided cake, and multi-tiered cakes
that were both round and square.
To my surprise, relief, and delight, most of
these cakes looked reasonably fabulous.
So no doubt they all cost something extra.
we arrived, a young woman who worked at the bakery came out to confer with us.
The bride and groom showed her a few photos in the book that had caught their
eyes and proceeded to voice their own opinions. “I like this one… I
don’t like that one.”
Fortunately, my husband had grown bored after about 10 minutes
of our standing around and had gone to a shop across the street to buy himself a bagel. When
the young woman came out, his mouth was still full of bagel. So he voiced no opinions at all.
I ate no bagel. I was still keeping Passover. But I also kept my opinions to myself. And
soon enough, without our input, the happy couple had settled upon a design.
I’m afraid I cannot tell you much about the design that they finally
settled upon. After all, other than the bride and groom, that cake is the focal centerpiece
of the whole event. Like the bridal gown, it needs to remain secret until the big day, so it can be a surprise.
Suffice it to say that it is multi-tiered
and either round or square, will contain mostly chocolate but also a layer or two of yellow cake, and it features a pretty shade of purple.
Once they'd chosen the all-important design, it was time to actually taste some cake at last.
For this purpose, the young woman emerged from the back carrying a white paper plate bearing
half a dozen petit-four-sized portions of cake and
two plastic spoons.
One of the pieces of
cake was chocolate. Another was red velvet. The rest were yellow. All, as I said, were small. Very small. This, after all, was meant to be a
tasting for two.
Even so, my husband
grabbed an extra spoon and began to help dig in. I was glad the happy couple didn’t seem to mind. I was happy to just taste a bit of ricotta-based cannoli filling. I love cannolis. The bride does not. So no one minded that I dipped in.
I also dared to partake of a dab of something thick and fudgy, an option for filling, we were told.
But it would be fair to say
that I drove four hours round-trip and didn’t eat a crumb. No matter. I knew this event wasn’t meant for a cast of thousands. Or even a party of six.
Still, I did get
to break Passover after all, because after Allegra admired the bakery’s scrumptious-looking
cream puffs, the owner insisted on giving one to us each for free. This made me completely reconsider my personal view of heaven.
I now think it’s a place where people sit around all day breaking Passover by eating cream puffs.
And the truth is, what had appealed to me about going to
the cake tasting was never about actually
tasting the cake. It was just getting to be there. You know. Be involved.
my picture!” Aidan suddenly called to me as he popped a forkful in his mouth. Usually, what he says whenever I reach for a camera is “Please don’t take my picture!” In his entire life, this was the first time he had
ever volunteered to be captured doing anything.
So I could
not have been a happier nice Jewish mom to oblige. My husband was so stunned
that he put down his plastic spoon and began snapping the happy couple too.
If there is a heaven somewhere, maybe it’s where you get to take pictures of your son and his beautiful
bride-to-be tasting wedding cake, and nobody rolls their eyes even once or tells you to cut it out.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived. What would the extra charge be?
How much? Nada. No extra charge! Whatever we had chosen was within the regular budget. The owner even insisted
on sending us home with some free rugelach for the road.
This led me to wonder if the design
we had settled upon was quite special enough. But
Kaitlin assured me it would be even more special when they added a cake topper.
You know, one of those corny plastic statuettes people put on top of wedding cakes -- those tacky things that tend to feature animals, wedding bells, or mini bride and groom figurines.
she wanted one with birds.
So after we got home from the cake tasting, eager to continue being involved,
over the next few days I proceeded to post pictures of assorted cake toppers on Pinterest.
I posted traditional wedding cake toppers and more whimsical modern cake toppers.
I posted bird cake toppers,
but also cake toppers of bride-and-groom cats, as well as brides and grooms with cats, because our bride and groom happen to have two cats.
I even posted a cake topper featuring a groom holding a saxophone,
since that’s what Aidan plays. OK, the bald old coot with the sax didn’t look anything like Aidan, but this particular
topper could be completely customized to resemble our bride and groom.
I kept posting cake toppers, in the interests of being involved,
until Allegra told me to stop. “Uh, Mom? You’re
going a little crazy with the cake toppers,” she texted.
didn’t seem to mind, though. She just said she
still wanted one with birds.
But finally one day she showed Aidan some of the cake toppers I was posting. And he ventured a rather
decisive opinion about the cake and all of those cake toppers.
“No cake topper,” he
No prob. I had
fun going to the cake tasting and fun looking for cake toppers online, too.
Besides, I think it’s nice that he’s perfectly happy to take both the bride and the
cake without any additions, alterations, added frills, or embellishments.
the way they are.
Now, that's what I call
heaven. I mean, that really takes the cake.
And nothing can top that.
Friday, April 29, 2016
A Word From the Weiss
when, when Israel was in Egypt land, the thing that finally did old Pharaoh in was the
slaying of the first-born. Last week,
I was beset by my own personal set of plagues. No locusts, frogs, or blood, thank the Lord, but an actual, honest-to-G-d, full-fledged flood… plus the thing that nearly did
The playing of the first-born.
some new Passover miracle, I lived to tell about
it. So believe me, I’m not kvetching.
With no fixed date on the Western calendar, Passover, like most Jewish holidays, is what you might call a moveable feast. The seder meal, however, with its countless incomparably
messy courses, is not. Not easy to move, I mean. So when I agreed to hold the second seder in my son’s apartment
– which would require schlepping all of the food and various accoutrements to NYC from Connecticut – I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Then again, as a nice Jewish mom, I’m ready to move mountains to help my kids. So what’s a little brisket and matzo
As I explained
last week, my son had suddenly discovered that, to his distress,
his college jazz band had chosen to hold
its annual spring concert last Saturday night.
“Who schedules a concert on Passover?” Aidan asked. “It’s not like anyone would ever consider holding one on, say, December 25th, or the
first day of Ramadan.”
Good point (the point being that who but the Jews give a
damn about the Jews and their rather unpredictable calender?). Knowing that my son’s presence at the event was
indispensable, though, I proposed the best solution
I could devise. We would hold our extended family seder at our home on Friday
night, then pack everything up, drive to New York, and hold our second seder early enough for the whole family to go to Aidan’s show.
That, at least, seemed like a reasonable plan at the time. I soon realized that it would require the entire universe’s collective arsenal
of Tupperware, as well as organizational
skills sufficient to wage a third world war and/or establish peace in the Middle East.
It didn’t help that I had to travel to and from NYC twice in the few days preceding the holiday –
first to hold a bridal shower for Aidan’s fiancée, Kaitlin, then to attend my daughter Allegra’s own jazz show at the Cornelia Street Café. So I got a late
Many of my nice Jewish friends pride themselves on preparing the entire Passover meal weeks, if not months, in advance, carefully freezing everything from the coconut macaroons to the matzo balls. Not me. I not only
insist on making almost every facet of
the meal from scratch, but also on cooking it as close as possible to when it will actually be eaten.
I mean no insult to my friends and other nice Jewish moms. Maybe some items, like brisket, keep perfectly well and even benefit from being aged a bit. I just don't want to get with that particular program. No
freezer burn for me, thanks!
So I started simmering my chicken
soup last Wednesday night, then got up early on Thursday, and again on Friday, and kept going nonstop without so much as an occasional break
to go to the bathroom, check my email, or post photos
of my progress on Facebook.
And every time I finished cooking something, I would then
have to divide it into two separate containers – one to serve on the first night, and one to schlep to NYC for the second.
It didn’t help that after undercooking the brisket last year, I accidentally roasted the heck out of it this
year, so that when I went to slice it, it was so fork-tender
that it practically melted beneath the knife.
Fearing that it also had managed
to shrink to half its original heffer-sized heft, I decided to make a second entrée for the second night.
I'd happened to read in Tablet magazine that Chicken Marbella, a popular recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook, had quickly evolved back in
1981 from an instant staple of New York dinner parties to the preferred main course
at many a Jewish family’s seder.
Somehow, in all of those decades, I had never once
made this iconic dish myself. But I wanted to do something a little beyond my usual run-of-the-mill
roast chicken. So I dispatched my daughter Allegra and her boyfriend JP to go buy all
of the necessary ingredients, including a cut-up
kosher pullet, pitted prunes, capers, green olives, white wine, brown sugar, fresh bay leaves, and plenty of dried oregano.
Not until they returned from the store late Friday afternoon did I actually study the recipe and learn that the chicken needed
to marinate in the other ingredients overnight. So I would indeed be serving it freshly
prepared at our second seder. I wouldn’t be able
to put it in the oven until we reached Aidan’s apartment in NYC.
Instead, I busied myself warming up what was left of the brisket,
heating up the chicken soup, and making the carrot tsimmes, roast potatoes, quinoa with artichoke hearts, and fresh matzo balls. Meanwhile, Allegra grated the apples and nuts for the charoseth.
Then I set about arranging the gefilte fish on individual
plates, as I always do, atop a colorful array of vegetable matter – including Boston lettuce, radicchio, julienned carrots,
and grape tomatoes – so that it won’t look like what it is, a slab of cold gray ground-up fish.
Of course, even
if it looks much more appetizing that way -- especially
after you garnish it with the requisite dollop
of beet-red horseradish – there are those in the family who still won’t eat it, including my niece (who has always shunned it on
the grounds that it is still kind of gross) and Aidan’s
fiancée, Kaitlin, who has an even better excuse.
She’s a vegetarian.
For them, I assembled a small green salad with avocado instead.
Not just a salad
for Kaitlin, though.
I want my future daughter-in-law to feel
completely included in all of the festivities. So I also made an alternate version of every part of the meal that would otherwise have been off limits to her. That
included a mushroom-based vegetarian chopped liver to be served alongside the traditional chopped chicken liver, homemade vegetable broth for the matzo balls, and a vegetarian
version of my brisket, made with a soy-based "tenderloin tips" meat substitute.
So along with putting aside a batch of each dish that would be served the second night,
I also had to pack up an added batch of the vegetarian version of that dish.
Given all that, it’s a miracle on par with the parting of the Red Sea that I managed to finish cooking and serve the meal during the current presidential administration.
But somehow we eventually found ourselves sitting around
the table, reciting the Four Questions (which are really four answers), recounting the parable of the four sons, and putting on silly masks depicting everything from boils and locusts to blood, wild beasts, and the slaying of the first-born
when it was time for the 10 plagues.
At least everyone else found themselves sitting around the table. As usual, I had to virtually inhale each part of the meal so I could leap up and start plating the next.
Finally, everyone helped themselves buffet-style when the main course was served.
But as I said, there are
a lot of courses to the seder meal. A lot of very messy courses.
Messy to serve. And to clean up. So I had enlisted the services of
my cleaning ladies (yes, I have two), who arrived halfway through the
After the chocolate-covered
macaroons and flourless Passover cake had been served, my brother happened to go
downstairs to our finished basement, where our guest room is, and soon began yelling with unmistakable urgency for me to come at once.
I raced down the stairs to discover that
there was water dripping rapidly from the ceiling onto the basement carpet. A series of rivulets, like dark, bulging, spidery veins -- or maybe a band of Jews wandering through the
desert -- traced their way down a corner wall.
What the heck?
and Kasha, our cleaning ladies, had chosen to wash every single dish, pot, pan, platter, and wine glass by hand, rather
than loading them into the dishwasher. This meant that the faucet had been running
steadily for the better part of an hour. And clearly there was a leak in it somewhere because the flood in the basement was coming from
the sink directly above it.
We phoned an emergency
plumber, but he wanted $250 just to visit. He also said that he couldnt arrive until
at least 10:30 p.m. and would probably have to open the wall.
By now, everyone was in a Manischewitz stupor. We were almost ready to go to bed. This was no time
to have anyone begin opening walls.
I figured if we stopped
using the sink, eventually the water would stop gushing. So I sopped up the flood as well as I could with towels. We were going away for the rest of the weekend, anyway. I’d
call a plumber on Monday.
It felt like I’d barely just closed my eyes when my alarm went
off the next morning. Everyone would soon be up for breakfast. Why was this morning different
from all other mornings? Because we couldn't serve bagels; no chametz on Passover. Time to make the matzo brei!
Our plan had been to leave for NYC no later than 1 p.m. But
I soon realized that I wouldn't just have to pack up all the food for the second night, along with the seder plate, assorted bottles of wine, and the Passover Hagaddahs.
Aidan and Kaitlin, being graduate students, live in
a relatively small studio apartment with a typical compact
New York City kitchen. So along with bringing all of the food, I would also need to transport
something in which to cook and/or serve each
and every item. Plus an assortment of paper plates because they don’t have a dishwasher.
So into a series of coolers and insulated bags went the chopped liver and vegetarian chopped liver, the matzo ball
soup and vegetarian matzo ball soup, the brisket and vegetarian brisket, the gefilte fish and salad fixings, the carrot tsimmes, roast potatoes, quinoa with artichoke hearts, and steamed
asparagus, and all the fixings from the seder plate,
including fresh parsley, a hard-boiled egg, the charoseth, a shank bone, the maror (bitter herb), and a partridge in a pear tree.
And yes, a vegetarian partridge too.
By the time I had managed to assemble this entire arsenal,
it was already after 2 p.m.
the drive to Manhattan takes about 2½ hours, but this being a major Jewish holiday, there
was another plague – a fairly substantial Jew
jam on the Hutchinson River Parkway.
The problem was that we had invited two extra guests for the second seder –
Kaitlin’s Uncle Joey, and JP’s brother Michael, who happened
to be visiting from Australia. Both were expected at 5 p.m. but we would barely have arrived
by then, let alone managed to set the table
and warm up all of the food.
I also still hadn’t cooked the Chicken Marbella. All the way
to the city, Aidan kept asking how the heck I was ever going to serve it, since it was still
raw and marinating in its juices, carefully packed on ice.
And each time I would point out that
the seder meal has many courses. Many,
many messy courses. It would take well over an hour to get through the various prayers, followed by the gefilte fish and the matzo ball soup. By that time, I was confident the chicken would be fully cooked.
And if not, there was still plenty of fork-tender, albeit somewhat shredded brisket.
We pulled up
to Aidan’s building at 4:45 and swiftly
carried everything upstairs on a luggage cart, which was so bogged down with bags, boxes, pots, and pans (as well as the partridge and the pear tree) that it looked like we were all moving in for a month.
While the girls set the table, I unpacked everything
hurriedly, then popped the chicken into the oven, along with all the other
items that needed to be heated. Then once again I arranged the fancy fixings on the gefilte fish plates.
And miracle of miracles, shortly after our guests had
arrived, dinner No. 2 was served!
Once again, we recited the Four Questions (which are really four answers), recounted the parable of the four sons, and donned those silly masks when it was time for the 10 plagues. (Yes, I had managed to cart those along too, from the blood and boils to the hail, fire, and slaying of the partridge
in the pear tree.)
And by the time we had gotten through the prayers, gefilte
fish, and matzo ball soup, the Chicken Marbella was fully cooked, as promised. Although truth be told, there was still enough brisket to feed a small country, even if it now looked more like brisket sloppy joe's, minus the rolls (no chametz on Passover!).
Then we managed to polish off the chocolate-covered macaroons and Passover cake just in time to make it to Aidan’s
concert by 8 p.m.
Seated there in
the dark, I could see at last why they genuinely
did need him there. There were only six in the whole group; he performed many wonderful solos on his bari sax; and
as the only graduate student among a quintet of undergrads, he was the one who introduced all the numbers and served as their
I was thrilled to be there and proud to be his mom.
Afterwards, we went back to the apartment to clean the mess up. Even with paper plates, it took
a couple of hours to wash all of those pots, platters, and Tupperware. Then we loaded everything but the leftovers back into the car once more.
Nearly a week later, I’m still so tired
that I could swear I’ve been wandering
in the desert for 40 years. But as I said, I survived.
By the way, a plumber did come on Monday morning. He unscrewed the nozzle of the faucet, extracted the teeny-weeny particle of debris that had made water spurt out the back, then told me to have a nice day. No $250 charge, at least. In fact, apparently no charge at
all. Talk about modern miracles!
I’m glad Passover is almost over. I’ve had more than my share of tsuris for one year, and more than my fill of matzo. Next year, I hope we can just stay home. I really enjoy the playing of the first-born. I really do. But preferably not on Passover.