The story of the unhappy kugel

IMG_3985When Val asked me to make a kugel for this year’s communal Yom Kippur “Break the Fast” at the Aloha Jewish Chapel, I was excited to do so. I immediately thought of the recipe that I have for my mother’s kugel that she served at each of our family’s holiday meals (except Passover) and the memory fueled my excitement.

Her kugel is sweet and simple and incredibly delicious: pecans, butter, brown sugar, eggs and egg noodles. How can you go wrong? While not difficult to make, it takes a reasonable amount of time and a little bit of patience.

Years ago I looked up the meaning of kugel, confused by the different specimens I’ve tasted. I wondered how my mother’s noodle kugel could relate to the potato one served at Passover and the plethora of versions at other people’s holiday tables. Internet sources describe it as a pudding. I am inclined to suggest the word casserole—but not of the tuna variety.

I planned ahead for this one, buying the ingredients on my weekly trip to the commissary the Sunday before Yom Kippur. I set aside time to make it on Tuesday afternoon, before we went out to dinner and to services for Kol Nidre. There was no way I was going to bake a kugel on Wednesday afternoon, the same day I was fasting. Regardless of the fact that it would be inappropriate to cook on Yom Kippur, I knew that the enticing aroma of all of those delicious ingredients coming together in a spectacular kugel would be more than I could bear in my VERY hungry state before Yiskor and Ne’ilah. It would definitely slow the fast.

I timed it perfectly and it was the most beautiful kugel I had ever created. It felt so good to look at it and see visions of all the kugels that had come before at Gershun celebrations. It truly was my mother’s kugel. I finally had the right combination of ingredients, timing and patience to make this great achievement. I left it on the counter, slightly covered, to cool and would put it in the refrigerator when we returned from Tuesday evening services.

When we returned, before putting it in the ice-box, I decided to take a picture of the kugel next to the flames of the burning yahrtzeit candles lit for my mother and father. Maybe I’d post it on Facebook? Or maybe I’d just send the picture to my sisters so that they could kvell with me on this great achievement. Whatever the intent, perhaps it is my hubris that became a tragic flaw and led to the unhappy conclusion of this almost perfect story.

After I snapped a few shots of the holiday kugel (thank goodness I took a picture). I picked up the glass plate on which it rested, turned to the refrigerator, slipped a bit and dropped the whole thing on our stone tile floor. The glass plate splintered in tiny pieces. spraying across the kitchen floor and into the hallway. The kugel plunked straight down, lying in tact on the floor below my feet. It’s golden top sparkled with shards of the pyrex dish and I reluctantly imagined what lay beneath. It became unfit for any palate, let alone a holiday meal. My dreams of the perfect kugel shattered before my very eyes.

The end isn’t so sad. My husband helped me clean it up. The next day I showed Val the picture and told her the story. She shed a tear for my mother’s kugel, but understood. She suggested mac and cheese. No problem. After morning services, I easily whipped up a pan. No memories were invoked as it did not have the familiar delicious aroma to tease me. Services were nice, not too long. We wished each other G’mar chatimah tovah and broke the fast together as a community.

I’m the only one who really missed the kugel that holds so many memories of my mom and dad and the new years and ends of years that our family shared together.

L’Shanah Tovah.

 

Just my type

When my friend Paula told me that I can send a recipe in the original handwriting of my mother, or grandmother, or other beloved person to be transformed into a dish towel that is a replica of that particular recipe card or scrap of paper, I thought that sounded pretty cool.  I imagined sending my mother’s chopped liver recipe and ordering dish towels for me and my sisters for Chanukkah. My mother’s chopped liver resides in fond memory for us three Gershun girls (more than washing dishes) and I continue the tradition of  “chopping the liver” each year for our holiday celebrations. The dish towels would be a nice gift.

I went digging in my recipe drawer to look for the index card sent by my mother almost 25  years ago, when I first moved to Hawaii and wanted to make chopped liver for my local friends. I knew I would recognize her handwriting in an instant, the long slanted lines, often all capital letters, boldly stating the directions or her purpose. I remember quite distinctly the notes I would find on the kitchen counter after school: “Lorrie, I went to the store. The dishwasher is clean.” Translated: “EMPTY THE DISHWASHER.” My mother was a librarian-back in the days when they had card catalogs. Her notes and To Do lists  usually came with a title, on the back of a discarded catalog card or index card. At least she listed my chores in basic numerical order and not by Dewy decimals or the Library of Congress.

I rifled carefully through the drawer, but couldn’t find the chopped liver recipe. I came across another that she also sent many years ago. She called it, “RECIPE OF SOUP WITH WHATEVER YOU HAVE HANDY.” It is her directions for using the Manishewitz soup mixes that come in the long packets with barley and beans or peas, another delicious childhood food memory. As soon as I saw it, I was disappointed and thrilled at the same time. The recipe was typed, on an index card of course. It wouldn’t make for a very memorable dish towel, but it served as a reminder  that she used to type EVERYTHING –and brought back so many more memories, making it totally worth leaving the dishes on the rack to dry.

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Not only was she famous in our family for her chopped liver, she was also renowned for her typing prowess. My mother typed fast–over a hundred words a minute…before the electric typewriter. We had one of those  black, cast iron, heavy old things settled on an old metal typing table and the rhythm of the tap, tap, tap of her fingers on the keys and the ding of the carriage return were the late night lullabies after bedtime for much of my childhood.

Untitled-2My father earned his law degree while I was in elementary school and she typed his papers for him late into the night. When I was in the sixth grade, she went back to graduate school. Once again, she typed late into the night, her fingers dancing on the keyboard, as she pursued the master’s degree that led her to become a librarian and plague me with those notes so carefully crafted on the backs of catalog cards. She deftly used correction fluid  and those small slips of powdery white tape to correct her mistakes and carbon paper so that there were duplicates of their work.

Typing was big in our family. During the summer before ninth grade, each Gershun girl took a keyboarding class so that we could appropriately turn in typed essays and term papers during our high school careers. My parents’ Midwestern upbringings influenced their commitment to proper form in our casual Southern California surroundings. Handwriting was fitting for thank you notes and To Do lists, formal communication needed to be typed.

My mother even typed the excuse notes that I’d take to school after an absence. Don’t tell my kids this, but it made it easier for me to cut class once or twice in high school, before I got caught. I typed the note and scribbled her name in cursive and was good to go–or leave–as the case may be, until the excuse slip actually slipped out of my backpack, onto the floor of the dining room at home, and my mother found it. There was no excuse for this kind of behavior. So much for my clever plan.

A lot of kids in my high school senior class received cars or trips to Hawaii for graduation gifts. I got a typewriter–electric. It was a state of the art model that had a correcting tape cartridge that interchanged with the black ribbon cassette for speedy proofreading and editing. Just as college bound kids take laptop computers with them today, I marched off to the dorms with my typewriter in hand, ready to pound out prolific term papers and essays late into the night. It also served as a source of income as I typed others’ papers, charging a dollar a page.

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Over the years, my mother evolved with the technology. She pursued her PhD with an IBM Selectric with that ball instead of type bars, so that she could whiz about the keyboard even faster.

th-3 She kind of slowed down when the word processor was introduced and never quite got the hang of her Apple computer, cursing that *!!$% thing as it posed one challenge too many. Not to mention the #$#@$ printer.

Luckily, by then, her girls had long since graduated from college, women earning their own degrees, well adapted to whatever keyboard might come their way.  She didn’t really need to type very much at this point and had basic email skills. I can’t even imagine what she would say about text messaging.

I wish I could find the original chopped liver recipe on that index card that she sent to me. I’ve done it by heart for so long that I lost track of the directions. I made one last-ditch effort to see if it was nestled in the box that holds the hand-held meat grinder that she also sent for optimal liver chopping. The recipe wasn’t there, but I was cheerfully greeted by her hand writing on the top of the box, true to form, in all caps: “PARTS FOR MEAT GRINDER.”

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I’m sure my sisters won’t mind that I don’t have dishtowels to send them for Chanukkah, as none of us particularly enjoys doing dishes and neither did our mother. We are just not that type. It’s nice that it led me to this memory to share, a holiday greeting from our mom, both handwritten and  in typeface–proofread and edited for perfection–just for us.

 

 

I am thankful for Thanksgivukkah

My sister and brother-in-law were featured on one of Kansas City’s news shows for their family’s “Thansgivukkah” celebration. Click here to see the story.

My husband and I watched the clip together. We like what she said about the connection between the two holidays in terms of religious freedom and thankfullness. We talked about how much we agree with her–and not just because she is my sister.  I mentioned how much I appreciate that this year Chanukkah is connected with Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. The two seem to have so much more in common for us.

My husband suggested that if Chanukkah fell near Thanksgiving on a regular basis, in America, the Jewish holiday would take on traditions more associated with Thanksgiving instead of how, for many families, it has morphed into another version of a secular Christmas. Instead of Chanukkah bushes we’d have menurkeys, instead of giving presents, we’d give thanks.

As did my family last night, like most of the Jewish families we know, we’d serve latkes with our Thanksgiving feast and add jelly donuts to our dessert selection. We’d offer a cornucopia of fried foods.

Instead of every few hundred years, we’d do it every year. And we’d keep doing it for hundreds and thousands more.

It wouldn’t require a complete Thaksgivukkah, starting exactly on Thanksgiving every year. That would be way too contrived (American?). It could simply be in the same vicinity on the calendar to develop a strong relationship between the two holidays. Granted, Thanksgiving is an US holiday which would probably cause the traditions to develop only in American related culture. But I’m thinking that it’s pretty much also in America where Chanukkah has taken on such a gentile charm, including the extreme materialism so closely associated with capitalism.

If only we could rewrite history.

Meanwhile, I have to say that I am very thankful that Chanukkah and Thanksgiving very politely collided to transform into Thanksgivukkah this year. For me, it was perfect timing, gently uplifting me out of what can only be described as a holiday slump, delivering a pleasant resolution to my conflicting feelings that began with the early arrival of Rosh Hashanah in September.

Until I was preparing and actually cooking for this holiday, I was not comfortable with the early schedule our lunar calendar served up in 5774 . On September 5,  I was just putting away my white clothes after Labor Day, barely finished rejoicing in my favorite season, the summer and not even near ready to embrace my least favorite, the fall.

It was way to soon to think about new year’s resolutions and reflection and atonement. It sent me into a state of shock, perhaps inertia. Thrust upon me way before I was ready, my process was a bit delayed.

Thank goodness for the process, even if a bit slow. I wasn’t ready in September or October, but in Thanksgivukkah I found pleasure and connection, emerging renewed and refreshed. I feel very thankful for the amazing blessings we share, too many to count or list, and more than enough to rejuvenate, revitalize and stimulate my languishing spirit.

I am glad this holiday came so early. It was perfect timing. Another perk being that we are done. I find myself fortified for the onslaught to come, the commercialism that grows and threatens to overtake even the spirit of Thanksgiving if we let it. December will come to me and my family without the frantic anticipation and preparation that begins earlier and earlier each year.

I, for one, will remain placidly disengaged next month, avoiding the malls, their parking lots and surrounding traffic. My usual annoyance that retail stores have been displaying Christmas decorations since before Halloween and the blatant ignorance for the next 25 days or so and that there is more to some people’s lives than this one enormous holiday, will not emerge.

It has been replaced. Instead, I will let the wonderful grace of this special Thanksgivukkah fill me with patience and serenity. I will wish others a happy holiday, knowing that mine was supremely wonderful.

Thank goodness the holiday came early this year. For Thanksgivukkah, I am truly Thankful.

This is how we do it…

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Being Jewish in New York City

Growing up in Southern California, outside of the L.A. area, it seemed to me that New York was where the “Real” Jews lived–at least in the United States. It almost seemed like the non-Jews that I met who were from New York were kind of Jewish too. I have always been enamored of New York, travelled there as often as possible and imagined myself a “City girl” in my younger days. It is somewhat ironic that I chose to settle in Wai’anae on the leeward coast of Oahu. So not the city life and not a lot of Jews!

It turned out to be a bit fortuitous that I married a nice Jewish guy who has a slight New York accent when he makes the occasional pidgin comment and who loves living in Hawaii as much as I do. I get the best of all worlds right in my own home in Kapolei. But we like to step off the island and visit the Continent when we get the chance.

My husband grew up near the City in New York. Several of his family members still live there and we recently embraced the opportunity to visit with them and Manhattan for a few days.

We did not plan our itinerary much in advance. We set out each day with a destination in mind and discovered the area by foot and by mouth. We knew that wherever we went, whatever we did and whatever we saw would be interesting. We were in New York for goodnness’ sake.

Some people travel to the Big Apple for the culture-we went to a museum. Other people go for the theater- we went to a play. A lot of tourists want to see the historic sites–we did that too. But none of those were our main objectives as we walked the streets of Lower Manhattan, SoHo, Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side and Times Square. Our priorities-besides spending time with family-were about food.

When I mention these food prioritites we are not talking about fine dining experiences in exclusive restaraunts with celebrity chefs. Our list is derived from the memories of my husband’s youth. We lean more towards the food cart variety, diners or meals that you walk up to a counter and order and hope to find a place to sit down while you eat.

The stars in this food search production of ours were: pizza, hot dogs and a corned beef sandwich. Minor roles included a chocolate egg cream, a falafel (for me) and anything else we could manage to add in on the side.

From my perspective, we were very successful.
Our first night we had pizza in Hoboken. It was good, but my husband was looking for the pizza we had our second day in the Village.

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We ordered buffalo wings at a bar on Bleeker Street and washed them down with a few beers while we listened to Bruce Springsteen in the background.

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One of the main events was our trip to Katz’s deli on the Lower East Side. We indulged ourselves in the best corned beef sandwich I have ever had, a potato knish and my husband had the requisite Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda.

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I haven’t had good cappuccino in Hawaii so I ordered it on this trip as much as possible. One afternoon I indulged in an iced cappuccino with a scoop of ice cream at Le Petit Cafe in Greenwich Village. I wish I could go back right now for another one. And of course I ordered it when we had breakfast in Little Italy which is not as big as it used to be!

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And of course we made it to a diner, or two or three. At the Brooklyn diner in Times Square I ordered a tuna salad sandwich- not for the tuna, but because it came on grilled challah. The only time I get to eat challah in Hawaii is when we go to Erev Shabbat services at Temple. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where it was featured on a restaurant menu. Dare I say that it was heavenly. My husband had a Reuben sandwich-featuring a stack of corned beef that rivaled any of the delis I love–Katz’s or Canter’s.

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And here’s the other Reuben that we adore. We did not eat him, but I had to share his photo because he is so cute.

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Home of the free and the brave

When I was transporting my teenager to the beach on July 4 to drop her off at a party, I heard the DJ on the radio say “Independence Day” and it struck a chord. I thought about how important it is to celebrate our independence, especially for a teenager who is in the process of developing hers.

Of course her budding independence is kind of an oxymoron at this point as it is often dependent on  to my willingness to drive her to all of the places where she has arranged to experience it, thus making me somewhat of a slave to this process! Oh the irony.

I am not complaining. Mostly I am happy to facilitate and enjoy every opportunity to bond in the car that I can get–when she isn’t taking a quick nap or sending a text message to a friend that we are on our way. We definitely do good car. And I am thrilled at her independence. She wears it well and with honor.

The 4th of July turned out to be one of those days where her transportation sort of dictated our schedule. But my husband and I managed to enjoy the day anyway.

It’s hard to think of celebrating this important American holiday without being outside: at the beach, at a park or in somebody’s backyard. The 4th of July commands an outdoor celebration.

We left her at the beach with her friends and decided to go out to lunch. Our criteria were that it needed to be somewhere that had outdoor seating, a good view and did not require driving too far from our home in Kapolei.

There’s always Ko Olina–but we thought it would be pretty crowded there on a holiday. After much thought and deliberation we remembered that there are four golf courses right in the vicinity that all have club houses that serve lunch. A veritable buffet of choices. (I have to mention that since the 4th I have looked on the internet and it turns out that there are eight!)

I remembered that my friend Catherine said that she likes to go to the Barbers Point Golf Course to eat, so we decided to go there. I happen to know that Catherine has a knack for finding good food and hidden gems.

She was not wrong. We had a wonderful lunch. Located in Kalaeloa, right near the former gate of Barbers Point Naval Air Station that closed in 1999, this golf course feels like a getaway to the past. It is quaint and cozy and quiet and beautiful. We are not golfers, so I can’t tell you anything about the course. I can only tell you that it was busy, is easy to access and Nana’s Cafe serves some delicious club sandwiches and awesome beer battered onion rings.

We even ordered a few beers and sat out on the lanai to enjoy our serendipitous celebration.

And now we have a plethora of choices when we want to go out for a bite. There are seven more golf courses in the Kapolei/Ewa area to explore, leaving lots of time for driving teenagers and celebrating all of our independence together!

It’s Aloha Friday and Shabbat Shalom

When I heard about the concept of Aloha Friday soon after I moved to Hawaii over twenty years ago I said to myself, “You gotta love a place that has a special name for the end of the work week and the beginning of the weekend.”

I was even more enamored of my new home when I hear Kimo Kahoano’s song, that celebrates the idea of “No work ’til Monday.”

It wasn’t until recently that I made a connection between Aloha Friday and Shabbat. No wonder I had such an immediate affinity for the concept. It fits right in with my Jewish upbringing for Friday to be the beginning of a time for rest.

Local people in Hawaii wear Aloha attire to work on Friday. Jews dress up and often wear white to celebrate Shabbat. Hawaiian food is often on the menu for Aloha Friday. We come together for a special meal on Friday for Erev Shabbat. I have found a way to manage to do both: Hawaiian food for Shabbat dinner. Why not?

Tonight we had an Aloha Friday Shabbat meal. I bought lau lau and poke at Costco.

I made rice and we had a few other things on the side. I skipped the lomi salmon due to the ironic fact that I don’t like salmon in any shape or form-massaged, steamed, smoked or raw.

We lit the Shabbat candles, said the kiddush and a motzi and ate our dinner.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Aloha Friday—no work ’til Monday.

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