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That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.

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on a Modern-Day Bimah
                                                                                   
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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.

     So inconsequential.

     So insignificant.

     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’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.

    Until now.

    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 dress.

    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).

    The directions 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 wart the likes of mine.

    After that 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 dabbed.

  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 professional help.

    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 say.

    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 wart.

    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. Idid not involve a dermatologist.

    Rather, 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.

    Italking 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.”

    No, many 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 still worked.

    “Holy crow! crowed a woman named Tiffany from Michigan on this website, www.apple-cider-vinegar-benefits.comFor 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!!!”

   Another ACV 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 knee.

    But I still had that wart on my knee, and also a dress that would help call attention to it.

    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)

    Band-aid

 

   “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.

   “The wart 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 gone.”

   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. So, I 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 no pain.

    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.

    The result? 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 ACV.

    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!!! 

12:57 am 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Word From the Weiss

 

    Pattie at Sur la Table French pastry class.JPGConsidering how rarely I focuon 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 commonand never the twain shall meet.

chocolate-dipped Passover macaroons.jpg

     As I mentioned last week, though, my children were nice enough to buy me 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.

macarons are nothing like macaroons.jpg

    It was so much fun that it was worth not just every penny, but every single calorie. SI 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 goSo why would he want to go out and pay someone to teach him how to make it?

Our Thai cooking class group was a couples event.JPGThai cooking class Harlan hogged the knife.JPG

      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.

Thai cooking class pad Thai we made.JPG

     That class had turned out to be mostly a couples’ event, in which we broke into teams of fourIt 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 oneSo I tried desperately to find a friend to join meespecially 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.)

     Unfortunately, the class was held during the daytime, and everyone I invited to join me already had other obligations.

Sally was too busy to come.JPG

      My friend Sally, the most obvious choice, since she’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.)

I was featured in April on Shalom Hartford.jpg

     Meanwhile, 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.

Chef Sandi at Sur la Table.JPG

   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 macaronsprofiteroles with Chantilly cream, and dense, bite-sized yellow cakes called financiers – she made sure that everyone got plenty of hands-on experience.

Sur la Table hands up.JPG

    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 airyStyrofoam-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.

Vietnamese cinnamon at Sur la Table.jpg

     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.

multicolored macarons.jpg

     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 melt-in-your-mouth brisket, I make a pretty mean pie.)

      

      Ingredients

      7 ounces confectioners’ sugar

      4 ounces almond flour

      4 large egg whites, room temperature

      1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

      3½ ounces granulated sugar

      Wilton brown gel food coloring (optional)

      Maple Buttercream (recipe to follow)

 

Almond

    First, we sifted together the dry ingredients, confectioners’ sugar and almond flour. “Actually, it’s almond meal, because theres 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 supermarketsBear 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 Sandydon’t discard them. Just pulverize them with your fingers and toss 'em in.

Sur la Table's mixer did the work for you.JPG

     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 temperatureTo enhance volumeSandi added 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar, then set one of the store’s giant hands-free mixeron 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 thegg whites were snowy white and had the consistency of shaving cream.

The meringue beaten till it held stiff peaks.JPG

    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? 

    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.

The macaron batter was done.JPG

     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 uniformly incorporated.

    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.

Batter being piped onto stenciled silpat.JPG

     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’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.

macarons on the silpat.JPG

     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.

 

     Maple Buttercream

     (Yield: about 2 cups)

     8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into ½-inch cubes

     2 cups confectioners’ sugar

     2 Tablespoons maple syrup

     1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

     ¼ 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."

    Those were the basic directions, and they sounded easy enough. As Sandy observed, this was just a typical old-fashioned American buttercream frostingthe 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.)

Macarons in oven.JPG

     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.”

She placed the wafers on a cooling rack.JPG

    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.

Pipe the filling around the edges.JPG

     “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.

Pattie piping the macarons.JPG

    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.

My French toast macarons.JPG

    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,

financierswithstrawberries.JPG

 and little round financiers studded with fresh strawberries. But I think that’s probably enough baking for you, my readers, for one week.

Profiteroles with ice cream and hot fudge.JPG

    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.

The macarons were absolutely scrumptious.JPG

   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?

1:29 pm 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Word From the Weiss

 

Pattie in Call Your Mother t shirt.jpg

   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?

Allegra in Chinese dress.JPG

       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.

     This 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.

INDECENT by Paula Vogel.jpg

    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 my alley. 

     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.

Parsons School of Design mannequins.JPG

      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 awayThrough 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 itrecord 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 reiterated brightly.

      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 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.

Russ and Daughters smoked fish.jpg

    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.

     First stop – 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.

At Russ and Daughters on Mother's Day.jpg

    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.

Susan Sarandon in Call Your Mother t-shirt.jpg

     (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 exclaimed.

     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 (althoughonce again, nothing pungent enough to offend the nostrils of our fellow theatergoers).

Harlan at the Cornerstone Cafe.JPG

     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.

The Cornerstone Cafe couple who needed help.jpg

     They, too, had purchased a Groupon, but couldn’t find the voucher on their phones. 

     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.

Cornerstone Cafe branzini entree.jpg

     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 westand we couldn’t get there from here… other than to walk briskly.

     Very 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!

Indecent on stage.jpg

     Being a nice Jewish mom, I had also managed to snag half-price seats in the sixth row on 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 workabout 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.

Paula Vogel's Indecent and its superb ensemble cast.jpg

    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 seen.

     Not to mention, as I said, one of the most Jewish.

 

Aidan posted this photo on Facebook.jpg

     The next morning it was Mother’s Day at last, and I woke up to 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 Courant... nearly 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.”

Aidan as baby with us in The Courant.jpg

    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.

Japan Day in Central Park.JPG

     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.

Japan Day performance.jpg

     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.”

Calligraphy of Nice Jewish Mother.JPG

     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!

JP and Allegra on Mother's Day.JPG

     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 ProseccoOf 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 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.

Love is the Secret Ingredient recipe box.jpgJewerly dish from recycled telephone wire.jpgThe Tropical liqueur glasses.jpg

     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 you!”

Mother's Day card from Allegra and JP.jpg

 

     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!”

Mother's Day card from Aidan and Kaitlin.jpg

  

     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.

    Theirs.

Our Mother's Day dinner in Long Island City.jpg

    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!”

I hope next year my brain is working.JPG

      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 that day.

      But most of all, I hope that, next time around, my own brain will.  

3:59 pm 

Friday, May 6, 2016

 

A Word From the Weiss

 

 

Wedding cake.jpg

     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. OKmaybe 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 life!

The S S Mother of the Groom.jpg

      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 Waikikithe 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.

wristlet for Mother of the Groom.jpg

     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!

No one even asked them about the chuppah.jpg

    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, Im 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 by association.

      Last week, for example, our entire weekend revolved around one major event: going to taste the wedding cake.

We went to taste the wedding cake.jpg

      “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.

chocolate wedding cake slice.jpg

      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?

      Chocolate!

      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.

     The design.

     A wedding cake isn’t just a cake. It’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 meare the true centerpieces of the whole event.

     But beyond 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.

I showed him modern, whimsical wedding cakes.jpg

    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.

wedding cake both round and square.jpg

     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.

Asymmetrical wedding cake.jpg

     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.

     They 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 cakeNot 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.

The Bakery.jpg

 

     Our appointment 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 up themselves.

Allegra drove them.JPG

      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.

       They had 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.

Aidan and Kaitlin at Untermyer Gardens.JPG

     Typically, 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.

The bakery was doing a brisk business.jpg

    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 cakes both round and square.jpg

    It featured round multi-tiered cakes and square multi-tiered cakes.

It even had six-sided cakes.jpg

    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.

    Soon after 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.”

My husband was eating a bagel.jpg

    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.

She brought a paper plate of small cakes.jpg

    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 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.

Harlan helped taste the cakes.jpg

     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.

Pattie breaking Passover with Allegra.jpg

    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.

cream puffs.jpg

    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.

    “Take 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.

Aidan tasting the cakes.JPG

    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.

The happy couple tasting the cake.jpg

 

The wedding cake taste test.JPG

   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.

Wedding cake topper bride and groom.jpg

     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 said 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.

wedding cake topper with cat bride and groom.jpgwedding cake topper with cat.jpg

     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.

Wedding cake topper with sax-playing groom.jpg

    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.

     Kaitlin 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 declared.

    Oh, well.

wedding cake topper with birds at last.jpg

     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.

     Just the way they are.

     Now, that's what I call heaven. I mean, that really takes the cake.

     And nothing can top that.

12:13 am 

Friday, April 29, 2016

   

A Word From the Weiss

 

Happy Passover.jpg

      Way back 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 me in.

      The playing of the first-born.

      Yet by some new Passover miracle, I lived to tell about it. So believe me, I’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.

Passover plagues cartoon by Roz Chast.jpg

       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 ball soup?

       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.”

Aidan.jpg

       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 start cooking.

      Really late. 

Kaitlin and Allegra at the bridal shower.JPG

      Many of my nice Jewish friends pride themselves on preparing the entire Passover meal weeks, if not monthsin 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!

Matzah ball soup I made.JPG

    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.

Allegra and JP at Passover.JPG

    I'd happened to read in Tablet magazine that Chicken Marbella, a popular recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbookhad 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.

Chicken Marbella from The Silver Palate Cookbook.jpg

      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.

Vegetarian brisket cooked.jpg

      

       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.

My Gefilte fish with fresh veggies.JPG

      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.

Kaitlin and Aidan on Passover.jpg

     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.

Our Passover seder 2016.jpg

       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.

Passover 2016 with our plague masks.jpg

       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 arrivehalfway through the meal.

     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.

water was dripping from the ceiling.jpg

     What the heck?

     Margaret 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.

Time to make the matzo brie.JPG

     Yikes!

      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 wineand the Passover Hagaddahs.

Aidan and Kaitlin have a compact kitchen.jpg

      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.

      

Passover tapestry by Roz Chast.jpg

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.

And a vegetarian partridge.jpgSeder plate.JPG

partridge in a pear tree.jpg

      By the time I had managed to assemble this entire arsenal, it was already after 2 p.m.

      Normally, 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.

The Chicken Marbella was still marinating.jpg

      also still hadn’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 juicescarefully 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.

Passover seder at Aidan's 2016.JPG

       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!

At Aidan's with 1- plagues masks.jpg

      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 designated emcee.

       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.

Aidan's Columbia jazz concert.JPG

      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!

      Still, I’m glad Passover is almost overI’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.  

11:44 pm 

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Pattieheadshotwithbaby1.jpg
That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
    
MeettheLevys2.jpg
LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
                                                                                           
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The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.