Thursday, November 13, 2014

There's a girl messing with my little boy's head.

Yom shishi, 21 Cheshvan 5775.

 And she's not quite a week old.

I had this philosopher, this Student of Truth. He's been growing as a new husband, admirably sharing his space and life with a wonderful young woman who is a perfect lifetime match for him. (May we be blessed to know them both and their children, in happiness and health, for long, happy years. And may everyone looking for his or her match find a life partner who is this "just right.")

So back to the little girl.

Suddenly my philosopher is acting very strangely. He tapped on a window yesterday to remind a young mother that she shouldn't be holding her daughter in the front seat without a car seat. In the past, he would have thought it was her business, not his. (To her credit, the young woman moved with her baby to the back seat. I guess she was planning to nurse, as she still didn't use the car seat. But at least she listened to this wise old daddy and moved to a safer place in the car.) I've informed him that -- according to Benji Lovitt -- getting in the middle of another Jew's life makes him automatically 37% more Israeli.

My big, strong son now holds up little candy-striped dresses and says -- with not a drop of sarcasm -- "Awwwww! How cute!" This mode of speech was never in his lexicon... but he's never been a daddy before.

Watching my sons turning into men, as husbands and fathers, has been (so far!) the sweetest part of a very sweet life.  My Mama, a"h -- who had a very not-sweet life -- would see this as a tikkun, a repair, for all the tough stuff she went through. I like to think of her smiling down from Shemayim (side by side with my dear mother-in-law, whom I was not zocha to meet), getting so much pleasure from watching these men with their lovely wives and children.

They are changing, these boys-becoming-men. They understand their parents more, day by day. They think about the cost of food and toilet paper. (Okay, fellow parents. Let's rise above the natural inclination to smirk ever so delicately at this point.) They are becoming very, very helpful when they drop by the parents' house...

In all fairness, I have to admit that their mother has gotten a little odd, too. I'm the lizard-chasing, fence-jumping, puddle-splashing, tree-climbing kind of mom. I'm learning "Girl 101" as if it were a foreign language. Wrapping presents (with tissue paper) matters. Shabbat dresses with Shabbat coats for babies matters. I find myself actually noticing "Hello Kitty" napkins and candy holders when I'm doing my shopping.

There's a lot of change going on in this family. We're growing up, the Dearly Beloved and I. Our kids have done a really good job of raising us -- and now they are passing the baton to the next generation.

May we share all the blessings that come with family.

If you have your own, enjoy the show. If you don't, follow the wisdom of one of my dearest friends, who has made herself as much an aunt to these boys (and a great-aunt to their children!) as possible. She tells me that she gets tons of Yiddishe nachas from them... and I remind her that she earned it.

Welcome to the world, Raquel Nitzan!

Today is the 4th yahrzeit of my friend and fellow blogger RivkA bat Yishaya HaLevi Matitya. May it be that her dear neshama is smiling at every new positive expression of life in the world, and that any good I do today will add to her account in Shemayim.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Forelle mit Baby-Knoblauch

Yom revi'i, 19 Cheshvan 5775.

Simple isn't always best. But most of the time, it is.

You can't make fish with the head still on attractive to everyone. (Sorry, Dearly Beloved.) But a little plating technique might work for those who have never seen a trout they didn't find beautiful. I left the little fellow nestled in his baking paper wrapper, surrounded lovingly by cherry tomatoes and fennel slices. See those cute little roundish things under the layer of bones? Those are baby garlic, which Marc Gottlieb of Culinart Kosher fame taught me to extract from the fresh garlic stalks most people toss out after they chop off the mature garlic head. Such a waste! There is a lot of flavor in those little garlics!

The recipe is nearly unnecessary -- but here it is.

Get your trout from the freezer section at Super Torjman (because it helps out my makolet, and the work of cleaning the trout is already done for you by very competent people).

1 whole trout
5-8 garlic babies
raw sea salt to taste

Wrap fish loosely in parchment paper after tucking into cavity garlic, and sprinkling surface with sea salt. Bake at 250 degrees Centigrade for 10-15 minutes (until it smells delicious, and is no longer translucent). Dress it up however makes you happy. Serve with a crisp glass of Emerald Riesling -- of course! -- and a nice green salad, or fennel slices and ripe red tomatoes.

Guten Appetit!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Elaine and the Soda Fountain

Yom rishon, 9 Cheshvan 5775.

I've been thinking a lot lately about Elaine Porter. My first boss, at the soda fountain in the back of Ephrata Drug. I was 15, so was working "illegally." You were supposed to be 16. She was a big, robust bottle-redhead, must have been in her fifties. Her hands were gnarled from arthritis. My mama said she ate a mayonnaise jar of pain medication -- just plain aspirin -- every week. (I think Mama may have been exaggerating; but she got the point across.) Elaine had the greatest attitude and throw-back-your-head laugh, and could handle any customer. Her famous line: "Ah, ha! Sani-Flush! If that don't work, use a brush!" She would toss that out whenever something worked that had been jammed, or when she had an inspiration, or when one of our regulars made a ridiculous remark designed to embarrass a 15-year-old girl. ("Hey, honey. Please give me a cherry on top. You know you can't recycle those things, right?" Unbridled laughter. How to begin the process of jading a teenager: be the fifth guy to make that crack this month.)

Elaine invented the Olive Nut and Cheese sandwich. If I remember correctly, this overly-rich but addictive concoction consisted of shredded cheddar cheese mixed with minced black olives and... hmmmm... chopped walnuts, maybe? And mayonnaise, of course, to hold it all together. I'll have to make a batch, to see if the taste buds will remember the flavor.

She was a good boss. I always felt that she trusted me and thought well of me, in spite of or because of my youth.

I think Elaine has been coming to mind lately due of her independent attitude and seemingly inexhaustible supply of good cheer, no matter how much her hands hurt her. (And what did I as a self-absorbed teenager know of her other aches and pains and worries?) As my hands remind me of old injuries, now that I'm in my fifties, her courage strengthens my resolve to avoid making a big deal about the increasing discomforts of age. I read that she had been working at another food counter in an Ephrata bakery at least as early as 1962. Somehow, it was comforting to me to think of Elaine as "always there," like a favorite character in a comic strip. I hope she had a good life, and that her aches and pains never became greater than she could bear with her customary good cheer.

It was something to think she may have still been alive in 2012... and perhaps still today!

I decided to try to call her -- and was blessed with success! She is "94-and-a-half years old," and still vital. "I still drive, and raise as much trouble as I can." She worked at the counter for 25 years, but had to give it up when her husband became ill with cancer. He passed away in 1980. She never remarried, because "he was my life partner.

"I live in the same house in Ephrata, where I garden every day. I can't get around without a walker, because my back finally gave out on me."

She still goes to the senior center, and enjoys when they sing the old songs together. One daughter lives near her in Ephrata, and the other in Maui. She has two grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren, most of whom regularly travel through her house. "It's Grand Central Station around here, and I love it!"

We had a pleasant conversation about family and what the young ones have accomplished. She said our conversation was interesting and "neat."

"Elaine, if you had a message for people, what would it be?"

"Just have fun. Look at the good side of things."

That is perhaps what I remember most about her. She saw the best in people, and in situations. It was a great life lesson, and I thanked her for it. She was very pleased. (I think she was a bit blown away when I told her I had converted to Judaism and moved to Israel... but what would one expect? And though she didn't remember me -- that didn't surprise me -- she did seem to enjoy that yet another person on whose life she'd had a good impact had decided to call and tell her so.) "You made my day!"

You made mine, too, Elaine. And you reminded me, as you have reminded me for more than 40 years, of the impact a human being can have on another. You're still one of my most important role models. May I have the same positive impact on others that you had on me. I look forward to checking in on you for long years, in good health.

Yup. It still tastes the same, even with Israeli green olives. (I can't bring myself to use the dyed American black olives any more.) I'm sure it's not particularly good for me. But macaroni and cheese is comfort food for some. Elaine's sandwich filling tastes like high school memories.

Elaine Porter's Olive, Nut and Cheese Sandwich, Israeli-Style

1/2 cup yellow sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup pitted olives, minced
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped finely
1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Mix together. Spread on whole wheat bread and serve with a bit of salad, just to convince yourself that you're eating something healthy. Smile a lot. And look at the good side of things.