We’re Expecting: A New Book About Bubbies

Happy post-Passover to all our family, friends and fans. We enjoyed our seders this year, although it was sort of an “off- year” for both of us. We were glad to see and feed (some) of our children. Grateful to eat matzah for the first few days – and then happy to donate the leftover matzah, farfel and matzah cake meal.

we always buy too much!

Now that Passover is over, you’d think that we would be getting back to our same-old, same-old. We are, sort of. We’re happy to report that we do have a bunch of speaking dates coming up. Check out our calendar of upcoming dates  to see if we’re coming to your neighborhood. We’d love for you to join us and hear our presentation. It will bring back lots of great memories about growing up Jewish, your favorite foods and holiday hijinks.

But on to our big news: A few weeks ago, an editor at Quirk Books sent us an email. We had met the editor a few years ago at the Philadelphia Writers Conference when we pitched her the idea of a book of dating and relationship advice from your Bubbe. She liked that idea but it wasn’t in their budget, but somehow we got stuck in her brain as two writers who know the inside scoop on being a grandmother.

When she contacted us recently, she had a proposal: Would we be interested in writing a book for them, titled Stuff Every Grandmother Should Know? It would be part of their series of gift books around the theme of “stuff you should know,” as in Stuff Every Mother Should Know. Other books in their series offer advice to college students, gardeners, brides and grooms and vegetarians. They’re handy, pocket-sized guides to life and hobbies that make fun and funny little gifts.

The editor told us we have exactly the kind of fun-yet-knowledgeable voice she was looking for. First, we were flattered. Then we moaned,” Neither of us is a grandmother – yet!” But we were intrigued, and we do love a good Bubbe story. So we said yes.

a busy Bubbe by our favorite cartoonist Terry LaBan

The “stuff books” are packed with facts, organized in bullets of information, and an easy, fun read. You can find them in the racks near the checkout counter at Barnes & Noble and in lots of other “gifty” locations. So now we’re busy organizing our thoughts on things like “out-of-town grandmothers,” “how to spoil the grandkids,” and “how to make a safe play space at your place.”  We’ve taken to stopping women on the street and asking them about their grandchildren!

It’s shaping up to be a fun project and we’ll keep you in the loop. In fact, if you’d want to share a nugget of wisdom about being a Bubbe – your favorite activities to do with grandchildren or stories about your role as a grandmother in relation to the parents of your beloved babies, you can send us an email at info@thewordmavens.com or you can write it as a comment below.

 

 

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Unpacking Passover Memories

The torch has been passed. We are the hosts of our family’s holiday celebrations and the keeper of the family heirlooms.

At Rosh Hashanah, we dip apples in honey. At Hanukkah, we fry latkes and light the menorah. But at Passover, when our family and friends gather around our seder table, we will enjoy not just a dinner together, but a meal filled with symbolic foods, ritual objects and the stories and blessings that go with them. We look forward to being able to use a whole host of family treasures that we only see once a year – on Passover. 

That’s because Passover is the only Jewish holiday that requires a ceremonial dinner – the seder. In fact, more than 70 percent of American Jews participate in a seder.

When we put the horseradish on the seder plate that was a gift from cousin Joan, we wish she could have joined us this year. When we drink our first cup of wine from Grandpop Myer’s kiddush cup, we’ll remember him calling on the grandchildren to sing the four questions. When we recite the 10 plagues, we’ll wave the green cardboard frog that Ben made in preschool 25 years ago.

Ben Eisenberg’s preschool plague frog


At Passover, Joyce brings out the gigantic aluminum soup pot that belonged to Nan, her step-grandmother. No other pot holds so much matzah ball soup; no other pot holds such dear memories. As a child, when she visited Nan, Joyce had to stand on a stool to peak into the soup pot. It was filled with clear, fragrant chicken broth – no celery or carrots in sight. Nan let the grandkids decide whether bow ties, alphabets or thin egg noodles would be added to the both. When Joyce grew up and asked for the recipe, Nan told her,  “shitteryne.” It sounded like a curse word, but it was Yiddish for “just throw it in.”

When Ellen opens the box marked “Passover,” the first thing she’ll take out is the wooden bowl that her father-in-law used to chop the apples for his traditional Ashkenazic haroset. When he died, Ellen’s mother-in-law gave the bowl to Ellen’s daughter, Jessie, because making haroset is always her favorite job. Poppy’s bowl will sit on the table, awaiting Jessie’s arrival from Boston for the holiday. In recent years, Ellen has also made Sephardic haroset with the flavors of the Mediterranean: apricots, dates, cinnamon and cardamom. Though Poppy might have called this “newfangled,” we like to imagine he would have gladly tried it.

Rabbi Sam Scolnic’s wooden bowl for chopping haroset

Each year at Passover, Joyce goes into the attic cedar closet to pull out the ivory linen tablecloth that her mother, Bernice, hand embroidered with cross-stitched blue flowers when she was a young bride.

Bernice Kirschner’s cross-stitched tablecloth

Then she puts it back. The tablecloth was meant to grace a holiday dinner table set for 12, but Bernice never used it. She died at age 34 from breast cancer. Joyce hasn’t used it either. She has so few of her mother’s possessions and can’t bear to see it stained with wine. Instead she uses a plain tablecloth.

Grandmom Pearl’s gold-rimmed Rose Dawn china, a Japanese pattern popular in the 1950s, does make it on to Joyce’s seder table, even though it will have to be hand-washed afterwards. The dishes bring to mind Passover seders at Grandmom Pearl and Grandpop Henry’s house, where Joyce remembers running around with her cousins, pretending the grape juice was really wine.

Our haggadot are a hodgepodge of the parts of the seder we like best. We started with the preschool haggadah – we love the song about frogs here and frogs there – and added readings, songs and pictures we liked. We cut out the parts we didn’t like, such as the commentary about the four sons. How dare they call one son stupid? And where are the  daughters?

In recent years, when our young adult children invited guests to the seder, they wanted a more modern, inclusive haggadah. There are more than 1,600 haggadot in print, and we could have bought a hip-hop haggadah with tunes written by a Yiddish-rapping klezmer artist or an ecological haggadah that lists air pollution among the plagues. But instead we had our children help us find passages to read about welcoming immigrants and the poem about Miriam dancing. We like our home-made haggadot, filled with familiar songs and sweet memories.

At Passover Ellen puts out all of her kiddush cups. The tiny one was a baby gift for her oldest son; yeled tov (good boy) is engraved on the front. The purple glass goblet safely made it home with her from the Venice ghetto many years ago. The silver one adorned with the big Jewish star, inherited from her grandparents, is stamped “made in Mexico.” Ellen will never know if her grandmother bought it in a synagogue gift shop or on a romantic getaway to Acapulco.

Scolnic family’s kiddush cups


But our most precious Judaica isn’t made of sterling silver or fine crystal. It is the items that our children made when they were younger. We place the afikoman in a purple felt envelope glopped with gold glitter glue. We recline on pillows that have the order of the seder drawn on them in a fourth-grader’s hand.

Michael Scolnic’s Pesach pillowcase

 

Pyramids and frogs, hand-washing and matzah are all laboriously illustrated. Some 20 years later, these childhood creations make us smile. Our adult children will deny that their handprint was ever that tiny or that their matzah cover is a “work of art,” but we know they love seeing their items on the table.

 We’ve heard about the luxurious kosher Passover getaways that offer full pesachdik meals in a beachfront location. According to the ads, we could keep Passover and relax for eight days without cleaning our kitchen and serving a holiday meal for 20.

These vacations sound tempting – for a minute – but there would be none of the fun either. No one would be able to toss the sofa cushions to hunt for the afikoman. We wouldn’t be able to ask Aunt Ruth to bring her famous Passover brownies. We wouldn’t be able to pack up containers of leftovers to send home with our guests.

We’re not going to stop hosting the seder. We’re happy to do the work because it means the family will gather, the kids will come home, and traditions will live on.

Someday we’ll pass the hosting torch to our children. Even though they’ve told us they don’t want our fine china, they’ve put dibs on the purple kiddush cup and the wooden candlesticks we bought in Haifa. We look forward to sitting around their seder table and lighting the candles with them.

Our favorite photo shopped art- Moses Receiving the Macaroons by Rembrandt

 

The Word Mavens wish our families, friends, readers and fans a happy, healthy and delicious Passover !

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Have a Question? We Know People Who Know People

Now and then we receive e-mails from people who have questions for us:

How do you fold a hamantashen into a triangle?FullSizeRender-1

What’s your favorite flavor of babka? What’s the difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel? These are questions we can answer!

Some questions require a little bit of research: Is cockamamie a real word? What’s the Yiddish curse that my Bubbe use to yell? I think it had the word “pupik” in it.

When Joyce’s mother-in-law, Mitzi, was alive, she was our go-to expert for crazy Yiddish. Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish is still our go-to book. Sometimes we ask Yiddish-speaking audience members to share their knowledge or help us out.

Most of our emails are from fellow Americans; occasionally, when we write for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the article is picked up by the Times of Israel, we hear from Israelis.

But last week we received an inquiry from a man in the United Arab Emirates. He wrote:

Good day.
I would like to offer you some pictures if you can provide me with some information.
The manuscript in the picture is dated from the Ottoman era and is written in ancient Hebrew. I am looking for someone who translates the language and extracts a certificate from it. And if possible, publish it in one of your editorial and be part of your collection.

Thank you very much, respect, appreciation and fruitful work of mankind.

Best Regards,
Saad Almuhairi


Well, Mr. Almuhairi. Thank you for your respect and admiration. And for your photos. Cool scroll. Could this be an ancient Purim megillah? If so, who’s the guy in the Turkish hat?

How on earth did you find the Word Mavens? Did you google “two Jewish ladies in Philadelphia who like cream cheese on their bagels and have an ottoman in front of their chair”?

We’ve both been to Turkey – and we can tell you about haggling for baklava and kilim bags in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, but we don’t know much about ancient Ottoman manuscripts.img-4389-1.jpg

However, we do know people who know people. If we were on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? we could easily “phone a friend.”

So we called Ellen’s husband, David, over from the sofa.

David speaks, reads and writes Hebrew. He knows how to read the Torah, and that counts as an ancient manuscript – right?

David thought that although the Turkish manuscript had Hebrew characters, there were only a few Hebrew words. He couldn’t read the content or get any meaning from it.

David sent the email on to his brother, Ben Scolnic, a congregational rabbi in Hamden, Conn., who has taught at Yale University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Rabbi Scolnic agreed that the words were not Hebrew words – even though they were written with Hebrew letters. He asked David if he knew any Turkish because he thought it might be one of the languages – like Yiddish – that combines Hebrew with the native tongue of the local inhabitants.

So we crafted our reply:

Dear Mr. Almuhairi,

 Thank you for your interesting email. We asked two friends – a rabbi and a man who speaks and reads Hebrew – and both of them came to the same conclusion. The writing is Hebrew characters but the words are not Hebrew words. There are one or two Hebrew words mixed in, but only a few. 

They think the language was written with Hebrew characters but is essentially the native language. This was common around the world. The two best known of these languages are Yiddish (a mixture of Hebrew and German) and Ladino (a mixture of Hebrew and Spanish). They think this one might be Turkish because you said Ottoman. So it is Turkish words, written in Hebrew characters – but our friends don’t speak Turkish – so it’s only a guess!

The rabbi thought it might be a story, a tale, because of the scroll and the illustration.

 Good luck! Sorry we can’t be of more help.

 Ellen and Joyce 

Since then, we discovered that there were close to 200,000 Jews living in the Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries. Almost all of them spoke Ladino, according to Rachel Bortnick, a Ladino activist and writer originally from Turkey. So the jury is still out as to whether or not there could have been another language for Turkish-speaking Jews.

So, dear readers, if you have a question, feel free to contact us. We’ll either know right away that the answer is mun or we’ll look it up in our handy dandy Dictionary of Jewish Words. We can always phone a friend.

We’d love to shmooze with you.

 

 

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Valentine’s Day the Old-Fashioned Way

On Valentine’s Day in fifth grade, we remember sitting at our desks anxiously awaiting the distribution of cards from a shoebox wrapped in red foil. We could count on getting valentines from our girlfriends. Maybe a handmade one with stickers and a doily. Maybe one with a Pixy Stix taped to the envelope. But, oh, the embarrassment if our pile of valentines looked skimpy.

We know a man who, decades later, is still grateful that his cousin Shelly was in his class, because that meant he could count on receiving at least one card.

In our teen years, we yearned to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a boyfriend, not with our classmates. Wouldn’t it be nice to exchange gifts and write romantic notes to each other?

Happily, we fished our wish. We’ve each had a partner for 30-plus years of Valentine’s Days. So over the years, we’ve been there and done that. How can we make Valentine’s Day 2018 special? Should we drag our honey to the craft beer brewery for the organic, foraged farm-to-table food pairings? Do we want to get bundled up with heavy coats, hats and gloves and go ice skating? Force him to go to the local “paint and sip” storefront so we can create a masterpiece together?

Wegmans market is really ready for the big day!

 

What we’d really like to do is snuggle up together on the sofa with Netflix and a good bottle of wine.

While we’re long past the days of exchanging valentines, we still appreciate snail-mail cards from our husbands. That’s because we’re old. We still use the U.S. Postal Service. A few weeks ago, when we went to the drugstore to buy a card, we glanced down the aisle and noticed that every single person browsing the card racks was a senior citizen. But if only old fogies send paper cards, what do the young people do on Valentine’s Day . . . besides the obvious?

They send e-cards. We’re tempted; we especially like the e-greeting with the doggie gondolier singing “That’s Amore.” But an e-card would arrive on our beloved’s computer screen alongside work emails and Groupon offers for a buy-one-get-one-free car wash.

Who wants their message of true love sandwiched between a “reminder about the meeting Thursday” and “did you finish the contract for Steven?” And to our generation, e-cards just seem too easy. Too disposable. You can’t put them in a drawer to look at later and remind yourself how much you’re loved.

If we send an e-card, it would be even harder to ignore our mothers’ voices, which we hear in our heads: “You couldn’t go to the store and buy a $3.99 card? You don’t know how to put a stamp on it and mail it?”

We could post our romantic sentiments on Facebook, but then our 284 “friends” would know that our husbands’ nicknames are Snookums and Snuggle Bunny. Our kids would cringe and unfriend us. And we’d never get rid of the targeted ads for Snuggie blankets and rabbit hutches.

A few years ago, the venerable candy maker Necco started printing two new phrases on its ubiquitous candy conversation hearts: “Tweet me” and “Text me.” But if we’ve learned anything from the world’s most infamous tweeter-in-chief, it’s that Twitter is not the ideal way to communicate. Serious feelings, important thoughts and tender emotions do not lend themselves to limited character counts and unfortunate autocorrects. “I glove you!”

After considering the alternatives, we’re sticking with the tried and true – old-fashioned paper greeting cards – even though they require a little more effort. We will stand in that aisle with the seniors, reading and rejecting cards until we find the one that says it just right. We’ve always been partial to the ones with cartoon animal couples – the bunnies eating dinner, the squirrels driving a car.

Then we’ll each whip up a heart-shaped chocolate cake and present the card to the guy we’ve been married to for decades. We’d both be happy to see him bring home flowers. And we are hoping our hubbies bring us one of those big hearts filled with chocolate. So we don’t have to buy it for ourselves. 

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Thanks For Not Sharing: The Social Media Dilemma

The 24-hour news cycle doesn’t refer just to CNN and Fox News. It means that thanks to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, we are constantly informed about the breaking news in the lives of our many online acquaintances.

Social media is how we know that a college friend’s daughter is expecting her first child. What we don’t know is what we’re supposed to do about it. We haven’t seen our college friend, now Facebook friend, in 20 years. Now that we know her good news, is “liking” her post with a heart a good enough response?

zofran-script.jpegIn the old days, we’d get such news from a phone call, a birth announcement or an invitation to the bridal shower that came in the mail. That would tell us that we were in the inner circle. And because we were raised right, we’d send a greeting card with a personal note, buy a gift or make a return phone call to offer our congratulations.

When a work friend whom we see regularly told us that her daughter had a baby, we sent the new mother a hand-knit baby sweater. We were impressed to receive an old-school paper thank you note two weeks later. The sleep-deprived young woman had taken time to handwrite a note, look up our address, buy a stamp and walk to the mailbox.

This moved her to the top of our list of people who have manners and class. We always send snail-mail thank you notes, and we taught our children to do the same. So you understand that we’re perplexed by this new world of social announcements on social media — and the pictures that go with them.

Young couples hire photographers to document every moment of their marriage proposal, and when she says yes to the ring, they post their professional pictures on Instagram.

Back in the day, we just ran to the phone to share the news with our family and waved our ring finger around. We didn’t have a camera with us, so by today’s standards we have no proof that it actually happened.

Maybe that’s why so many people now announce their child’s impending birth with a naked pregnant belly photo on Instagram. News flash: What works for Beyonce doesn’t work for most people. We remember wearing loose maternity dresses that looked like tents. If we took a picture of our huge eight-month belly, it would stay buried in a pack of photos.

When we were growing up, our families guarded their privacy. Parents kept quiet about divorces, illnesses and why Uncle Mike didn’t drive a Cadillac anymore. They told the grown-ups who needed to know; everyone else was out of the loop.

These days, so many people live their lives online, sharing every detail with anyone who is their “friend.” When we read our newsfeed, we learn that so-and-so is having a hernia operation, our next-door neighbor is looking for a good gynecologist, and Michelle is hoping to connect with a “new opportunity in nursing.”

With daily updates and apps that prompt us to share “What’s on your mind?” it’s harder to be private, even when it comes to death. Before Facebook, we wouldn’t know about an acquaintance’s mother’s death, unless we read the obituaries. Now, we’ll definitely know because we see it on Facebook.

In the old days, if you were close, the sad news warranted a phone call, even if it was in the middle of the night. It meant you were considered an important part of their lives. You would go to the funeral or, at the least, deliver food or send flowers.

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 4.40.27 PM

Want to express sympathy? Facebook offers up these pictures. Is that Bambi? If so, we know why she’s sad.

The expectations were clear. But now, when we read the news on Facebook, we’re in limbo. What, if anything, is expected of us? An appearance? A handwritten note? A donation? What would Dear Abby tell us to do?

 

And what would she say about birthdays? When we sign onto Facebook and see that 80 people wished our friend a happy birthday yesterday but we neglected to, should we post a belated wish and stand out as the clueless friend who is a day late or just let it go?

If we were good friends and paying attention, we could have sent an e-card that plays a tune with a dancing teddy bear. We could have sent chocolate-covered strawberries from an online candy store. We could have even bought a paper birthday card and mailed it.

But we didn’t do any of that. Thanks, Facebook. Now we’re just feeling guilty.

This essay originally appeared in the Chestnut Hill Local on Dec. 29, 2017.

 

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Matzah Ball Maven, M.D.

This article originally appeared in the Forward on Jan. 3, 2018.

Like matzah balls, bagels used to be plain — or sesame if you were lucky. There were no pumpkin, jalapeño or asiago-cheese bagels on which to shmear your cream cheese.

Now, it’s the matzah ball’s turn to diversify, and Dr. Susan Sandler, a creative kosher cook unnamed-1-1515008308-e1515619408136.jpgin suburban Philadelphia, is doing her part: She’s doctoring up matzah balls — and the soup they float in.

Why matzah balls? “Because they are the Jewish white bread; they taste like nothing,” said Sandler. They’re a blank canvas for her experimentation, and she’s having a lot of fun in the process.

It started when Sandler, the medical director at a retirement community, was shopping for chicken soup ingredients and came across a package of quail eggs. “They were so tiny and cute. I thought to myself: What if a matzah ball hatched a quail egg? I hard-boiled the quail eggs, peeled off the shells, and formed a matzah ball around each one. I was beside myself with how amusing this would be.”

Sandler served them and to her surprise her dinner guests didn’t notice the hidden eggs. “They cut into their matzah balls and just kept talking,” she said.

She was disappointed but undeterred. “I was hooked on the idea that you could change a familiar food and make it yummy, surprising and even a little funny.

Not long after, her matzah balls escaped the confines of chicken soup. She paired curried matzo balls with carrot ginger soup. Her smoked matzah balls kept company with a rich vegetable soup. Both recipes got good reviews.

dsc-0134-1515008758.jpgFor her son’s 29th birthday dinner, she dreamed up roasted red pepper soup with parmesan basil matzah balls swimming in it. “Max loves traditional Jewish food, but he’s a vegetarian now and no longer eats chicken soup. So I came up with this recipe, and it was a big hit.” Get the recipe here.

Her breakfast haroset matzah balls weren’t as successful. She served the warm orbs of matzah meal, milk, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon and sugar atop yogurt and sliced bananas. Her tasters were unenthusiastic about the competing warm and cool temperatures and the consistency of the dish.

“You have to be willing to make a mistake and say, “That’s not working out. Next time I do it I’m going to do it differently,” Sandler said.

Sandler isn’t the first to tinker with matzah balls. At Cheu Noodle Bar in Philadelphia, chef Ben Puchowitz has gotten attention for his brisket matzah ball ramen. Lots of recipes online suggest adding spices to liven up the classic version. But it’s hard to imagine that another home cook could be as enthusiastic and playful in her pursuit of matzah ball perfection.

“Great spices are everything,” Sandler said. Luckily, she has access to some of the best in the world. Her oldest sister lives in Israel, and each time she visits she stocks up on spices at Jerusalem’s open-air Mahane Yehuda Market or at the Hadar Mall in Talpiot.

Closer to home, she sought out La Boite, a Manhattan spice store that makes special blends for chef Michael Solomonov’s Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia. At La Boite, Sandler bought zaatar, a Middle-eastern spice blend; and mousa, a combination of onions, saffron and parsley that she uses for grilling fish and vegetables.

Sandler’s kitchen experimentation has raised a number of questions, some as weighty as a densely packed matzah ball.

In fact, that’s the first question: Floaters or sinkers? In this heated culinary controversy, Sandler chooses the sinkers — heavy and dense. “I want to cut into a matzah ball and find something inside. If it’s light, it disintegrates when you cut into it. All the pieces end up floating in your soup, and you don’t get a matzah ball, you get matzah fragments.” Plus, a dense ball is better for her concoctions.

Is it kosher to fiddle with a traditional matzah ball? “Matzah balls should never be dairy; they go in chicken soup,” said Sandler, who keeps a kosher home. The thought of a dairy matzah ball was odd to her at first. “But when I made the parmesan cheese matzah balls I was smiling because I knew they weren’t going in chicken soup. They’d be delicious in roasted red pepper soup.”

root-vegetable-soup-w-lamb-mint-matzah-balls-1515008862If dairy matzah balls made her think twice, no wonder she worried that her lamb mint matzah balls, destined for Persian sabzi soup, crossed the line. “When I started making the lamb ones, I felt guilty about it,” she mused. “Why is this not a meatball?” Get the recipe here.

Sandler’s son Sam cautioned her about her mish-mash of cuisines and the slippery slope of cultural appropriation. “He explained, for example, that while a hamantaschen filled with marmalade could be acceptable, one filled with chopped up Christmas candy canes was not,” Sandler said.

Sometimes Sandler wonders what her beloved grandmother, a good cook in her own right, would have said about her newfangled recipes. “Would she tell me that a matzah  ball isn’t supposed to have stuff in it? Would she love it or think it’s a travesty?”

But she knows that her grandmother would have loved her chicken soup. “My matzah ball spirit guide has led me to making better chicken soup,” Sandler joked.

These days, long-simmered bone broth is touted for its medicinal benefits, but Sandler isn’t surprised. She worked for years as a physician in family practice, and both she — and the grandmothers she treated — were believers in the healing properties of chicken soup.

“I’ve started to make my chicken soup in a crock pot overnight,” she said. “The broth is much more flavorful that way, but the whole house smells like chicken soup. I can’t even sleep. It’s the wrong smell for the middle of the night. I could sleep through the smell of pancakes maybe (yeast and maple syrup), but I can’t sleep through chicken soup.”

Sandler easily admits that she doesn’t make all her soups start from scratch. She’ll add spices and diced vegetables to a store-bought boxed soup to give it a homemade taste. Soup is merely the liquid bath for her matzah balls, now that they’ve gone from sidekick to superstar. To save time, she sometimes uses a low-sodium matzah ball mix as a start.

Looking ahead, she thinking about a Mexican salsa soup with spicy cornmeal matzah balls for Cinco de Mayo and a chilled strawberry soup with minty matzah balls for summer.

And then? If Sandler can potchke with matzah balls, what Jewish food is next?

“I had been thinking about kreplach,” Sandler confided. “People have been putting weird things like brisket in dumplings for a long time. But when they came up with edamame kreplach, I decided that the lowly matzah ball had more room for growth.”

Gefilte fish has crossed her mind, too. “They put fish balls in Vietnamese pho soup. How is that different from a gefilte fish ball?” she asked. “I would take some gefilte fish and mix in shredded seaweed, because fish like to be with seaweed, right? And I put them in fish chowder, miso soup or pho.”

Sandler has even considered serving a platter of matzah balls without any soup, but rejected that idea. “I asked myself, Why do I serve soup at all? It’s the same reason I serve dessert and coffee. I’m just trying to make the meal last longer so my friends and family will linger at the table and talk.”

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We Don’t Resolve, We Evolve

This essay was first published on WHYY.org on Jan. 13, 2018.

We know the new year has arrived because we can’t avoid the ads for gym memberships and Weight Watchers.

But we will not be making resolutions. This is not an article about how we’re going to use an Instapot to prepare healthy dinners and donate any clothes that don’t “spark joy.”

We don’t do New Year’s resolutions because we’ve been there – and not done that.

Our commitment to have smoothies instead of cereal for breakfast lasted just one week. We’re not donating those sparkly blouses because we might wear them again.

bigstock-New-Year-s-Resolutions-148821038-768x576We’ve realized that over the years our commitments have not been spurred by the calendar. Indeed, there is nothing compelling about January 1 to make us take on new projects – like a diet. Why would we pass on that gooey cheesecake dessert just because it’s January 4th?

Many of our commitments have come about circumstantially. By that we mean: We had kids, they had interests, and we jumped right in.

We agreed to stand on the banks of the Schuylkill from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. and put out the granola bars and Gatorade when it was our turn. We bonded with the other high school parents in the crew tent. We watched the boats row by and asked, “Is that him?”

Not only did we pledge to drive to choir practice three times a week, but we also volunteered to write the organization’s newsletter, plan the fundraiser and host visiting choir boys.

We spent hours and hours with the other parents, chatting, commiserating, and trading phone numbers to set up carpools. The shared purpose and camaraderie kept us committed and involved. We were a close-knit group – until the kids moved on to the next activity. Most of these fellow parents and circumstantial “friends” faded away.

We are grateful for the few friendships that lasted, the parents with whom we had more in common than the carpool schedule, the neighborhood playground and the high school orchestra.

When our children were growing up, we also pursued interests of our own. Wouldn’t it be fun to dance like Fred and Ginger? To take a pottery class at the local art center? To learn to play bridge?

Medal Ball June 2011 west coast swing – Version 2For five years, Joyce took ballroom dancing lessons twice a week. For a 90-second tango “showcase,” she bought a slinky, sequined red dress and a matching red tie for her husband and dance partner, Ted, but like that Instapot, they were only used once. She spent countless hours with fellow dancers and shared strong bonds, but when she went to the dance reunion last year, only four other people showed up.

We’ve relished our craft classes – photo collaging, pottery throwing, glass blowing, card making – and we have met cool, artistic, inspiring people. The box of wooden stamps and handmade pulpy paper stowed away in a desk drawer are reminders of those artistic years.

It’s easy to recognize a passing phase in a toddler’s life because kids grow and change so quickly: The phase when our preschooler thought “poop” was the funniest word. The month Ellen’s son cried at the babysitter before he learned that “mommy always comes back.” When our daughters were immersed in the drama of middle school, we remember consoling them: Those mean girls won’t be in your life forever.

But “phase” doesn’t seem like the right word for our bursts of intense interest because when we’re in the midst of them, we don’t think they will ever end. And we don’t want them to.

We prefer to think of them like the chapters of a book we love. We get engrossed and engaged and attached to the characters. We can’t wait to read more. When we come to the end, we’re a little bit sad. But we know another book will capture our attention before too long.

That’s where we are right now, waiting for what’s next. We try to stay upbeat. We know that something new will pique our interest in 2018. After all, there are still plenty of vacations to take and countries to visit. Books we haven’t read and restaurants to try. Volunteer projects that could use our help and children who still need our advice, nagging and occasional check.ph

But you can be sure that we won’t be resolving to whiten our teeth with activated charcoal toothpaste or join a pickleball league.

 

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