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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Should We Stay or Should We Go?

This originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, December 24, 2017

In our young married days, both of us were city folks. We weren’t being trendy; we just chose affordable row homes as our first real nests. It was the early 1980s, and our Philadelphia neighborhoods — Graduate Hospital for one of us, Fairmount for the other — were up and coming.

When we lived in the city, we loved walking to work and being regulars at the corner bar and grill. We had a parking sticker, not a dedicated space, and we soon became expert at parallel parking on narrow streets and remembering where we last parked the car. Our older neighbors, who sat on their stoops for hours, would greet us and let us know that our husband just got home or had already walked the dog.

Joyce and Ted on their stoop at 2417 Meredith Street in 1984.

We both enjoyed city life enough to stay put when we had our first child, but we were less than thrilled to push a stroller through trash, broken bottles, and hypodermic needles to get to a city playground that had a baby swing. It was daunting to carry a toddler up and down the steep stairways in our trinity houses.

Michael Scolnic, age 2, on the steps of his city house 1711 Rodman Street.

When our second children were on the way — before our city neighborhoods had time to gentrify — we up and went to the suburbs. It was an easy decision, and we had a deadline looming. We bought houses close to the neighborhoods where we grew up, and we’ve been happy here for more than 25 years.

So have our kids, who range in age from 22 to 32. They all live in big cities — Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Denver — where they willingly sacrifice square footage for fun. They can walk out their front door to the newest sushi bar, coffee shop, or craft-beer brewery. And when they come home for a visit, they ask us how we can live in a place where the restaurant delivery service stops at midnight.

When we visit them, we get a glimpse of the lives we used to live — and not just because the table in their hallway and their set of dishes look awfully familiar. City life may be cramped, but it’s exciting.

Maybe it’s time to move back.

We did a little apartment-looking, but what we saw was marketed to millennials who haven’t accrued a lifetime of possessions. Apparently the younger generation is happy to live in 700 square feet if there is a terrace with fire pits on the roof. They love common areas (we called them lobbies) where you can play pool, have a coffee, or work on your laptop in the company of your neighbors. We’d rather sit on our own sofa in our pajamas, in privacy, thank you.

We might be too old for Fishtown, but we’re just the right age for the 55-plus communities to which some of our friends are moving. While we do fit the criteria, we’re not sure we would fit in with anything else. Living with our peers — no toddlers, no younger neighbors — sounds like college all over again but with a different set of drugs. In college, neither of us joined a sorority. We prided ourselves on being independent, and we still like to think we are. In fact, when we’re on a cruise and they announce the next group activity,  we sometimes feel like jumping overboard.

When it comes to vacations, we’re definitely still city folks. We’d rather explore Barcelona than lie on a beach in Barbados. We love the open-air market, not the high-end suburban mall that pops up on TripAdvisor. But do we want to live in a city full time?

Perhaps we could take a short-term rental to see if we like the building and the neighborhood. Or we could spend one weekend a month in a Philadelphia hotel to see if the thrill of the city wears off.

Should we stay or should we go? This time around, there’s no easy answer, and we’re not yet ready to take the plunge.

Word Mavens Note:  

Our editor at the Inquirer, Kevin Ferris, accepted a buy-out offer and left the paper this week. We like Kevin very much; he’s a skillful and gentle editor and was always a pleasure to work for. He told us that he was saving this essay to print in his last Sunday edition – and we feel honored. We will miss him!

And second, we got many emails this week from happy Philadelphians who made the transition from suburbs to downtown and wanted to tell us how great their apartment building is! An old friend’s mom called to tell us how they love living at the Murano with the Trader Joe’s on the first floor. A widow found love and a spacious three-bedroom at the Philadelphian. Another reader adores Washington Square. And City Councilman Allan  Domb, the big macher of Center City real estate, left us a message and his personal cell phone number offering to help us find an apartment.  Thank you all. We’re still mulling the possibilities.

 

 

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Halfway Through Hanukkah

Like most Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is the story of a bad king who tried to get rid of the Jews but failed. Who was that king again? Antiochus or Ahasuerus? When our kids were little, we knew the answer right away because we had been reading Hanukkah stories to them at bedtime for two weeks. (Spoiler alert: The bad king in the Hanukkah story was Antiochus, the king who loved all things Greek.)

Back in the day, we did our best to make Hanukkah exciting with decorations, menorah-shaped cookies, and lots of latkes. We’d light the candles every night in multiple menorot.

Now our kids are grown and don’t live at home, which means we light candles with our husbands in the kitchen. It’s way less exciting, and a little bit sad. We miss the kids.

JEWISH CALENDAR DRIFT

The Jewish calendar moves Hanukkah around, which gives us permission to do the same. When our kids were in college, we timed our celebrations for winter break. Now we celebrate when we can entice them to come home. But no matter when our party is, we always light the Hanukkah candles on the correct day. This means that some years we kindle the eight lights twice.

Joyce’s son, Ben, was visiting from Denver last week, which is why she had her family Hanukkah party this past Friday night – four nights before the official start of the holiday. The Eisenbergs and their friends improvised with the menorah lighting. There were seven guests; each lit one candle and then they lit the eighth one all together.

The menorah (or hanukkiah, the Hebrew word for a menorah with nine spots, used just for Hanukkah) and the candles that go in it – are central to all Hanukkah celebrations. So managing the candle supply is crucial. When you save your tchotchkes and menorahs from year to year, your supplies are often incomplete. “We miss a night of candlelighting some years, so we have a few extra candles, a lot of partially filled candle boxes,” explained a friend who is an empty-nester. This year she is combining the leftovers and making a candle mishmash – different brands and various colors all happily sharing spots on the menorah.

We save candles from year to year too, but that doesn’t always work out – especially when you keep your Hanukkah box in the attic all summer long. The candles tend to melt into one big lump.

That’s why we both like to buy a brand new box each year. Joyce stocked up at Bed Bath & Beyond, and it was a good thing because she was able to give a box to Ben, saving him from searching the Rocky Mountains for Judaica supplies.

Ellen ordered many boxes of Safed Candles online to support the Israeli economy. When she mailed a box of Hanukkah presents to  her daughter, Jessie, in Boston, she included a box of the candles. Jessie was happy to report that she regifted the candles to her friend Martine, who found herself candle-challenged and had to light two Yankee candles in jars on the first night. “I knew you would say that it’s a mitzvah to pass Hanukkah candles along to a friend in need,” Jessie said.

LOVE OF LATKES

Then there is the latke, the beloved potato pancake of Hanukkah. Latkes are our favorite part of the holiday. When the kids were little, we would make them from scratch at least once. But for eight nights? We would alternate with a box mix or frozen latkes from Trader Joe’s.

But now that we’re not cranking out platters of latkes every night, we want them to be awesome. That’s why Joyce decided to follow a recipe by Mimi Sheraton, the former New York Times restaurant critic. She grated the potatoes and onions by hand, beat egg whites into stiff peaks, and drained the potatoes and added the remaining thick potato starch into the mixture. The latkes were delicious – and worth the effort.

Ellen is waiting to grate and fry until Dec. 27, when her boys will be home.

Latkes from Mamaleh’s Deli, Cambridge.  They come with both applesauce and sour cream.

LET THERE BE GIFTS

When the kids were little, we usually gave them eight nights of presents. It was easy to purchase the things they wanted because they were very specific – and in line with child-size wishes: princess dolls, LEGO castles, and the latest video game. We remember giving the kids books one night, clothes another, so there weren’t quite so many toys.

Now that they’re grown, our kids like to do the choosing. They have their own tastes; they know what they like. Sometimes they ask if they can sign into our Amazon Prime account for a necessary purchase. Then we just get the confirming email that “your desk-top succulent garden is on the way.”

One of us has even resorted to sending private Facebook messages to their child’s roommate/friends asking what they could use. Is anything missing from their kitchen? Do they have a favorite coffee shop? Does he look like he could use a new sweater?  

Ellen fills the child void by being the “nice old lady next door” to two little neighbor boys. They come in her house to do art projects, have a snack outside of allowed snack hours, and play with her grown kids’ “vintage” (another word for old and dusty) toys. The little boys especially love Michael and Andy Scolnic’s 20-year-old collection of Star Wars figures, purchased in the ’80s and ’90s when the movies first came out. Ellen was thrilled to see an ad advertising a new crop of action figures because there is a new Star Wars movie (The Last Jedi) coming out this month. So she went and bought some current action figures for the little boys.

We don’t know if it’s just us, but we’ve never had the responsibility that some families have of buying gifts for the whole extended grown-up family. If we have a Hanukkah party, we trade gifts in person with our sisters, nieces and cousins. If we miss a year, we vow to get together next year. We don’t mail gifts to grown-ups. Many of our non-Jewish friends have already shopped and shipped a full load Christmas gifts around the country to their whole mishpachah. But then again, Christmas does not drift on the calendar like our holidays do.

So while there’s still four official days left of Hanukkah – and a whole winter break to enjoy latkes and play dreidel – let us wish you a happy, healthy Hanukkah 2017.

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South Philly’s Hippest Bakery Has a Yiddish Name

Opening a Jewish bakery with a Yiddish name in an Italian neighborhood sounds crazy, but it didn’t take long before Essen had a line of regular customers lining up for its fresh-baked challah on Fridays.

Tova du Plessis opened Essen, which means “to eat,” in South Philadelphia in April 2016 after stints as a pastry chef at some of this city’s top restaurants.

She set up shop on East Passyunk Avenue, a once-blue collar stretch that has undergone a food renaissance in recent years. These days, you can find Filipino, Nordic and French restaurants from top chefs alongside old-school red-sauce eateries like Marra’s, which has been in business since the 1930s. Intimate and cozy — there are just three small tables inside — Essen brings a Jewish, Eastern European accent to the avenue.

Essen means “to eat” in Yiddish. (Ellen Scolnic)

Jewish foods are having something of a renaissance across the United States, particularly in Philadelphia. Eateries from Zak the Baker in Miami to Shelsky’s of Brooklyn to Wexler’s Deli in Los Angeles are turning out fresh, modern takes on Jewish classics, with everything from pickles to gefilte fish receiving the “artisanal” treatment.

Here in the City of Brotherly Love, Michael Solomonov, the inventive chef behind Zahav, the Israeli restaurant often credited for popularizing Sephardic-style food in America, and Abe Fisher, a restaurant focusing on Ashkenazi food (among others), is something of a celebrity, having been awarded the foodie equivalent of an Oscar.

As for Essen in East Passyunk, “It was an odd location for a Jewish bakery, but I live nearby and I was excited to be a part of the neighborhood scene,” du Plessis told JTA. Many of her customers, she added, aren’t Jewish.

Among them is Cathy Frisoli, a lifelong resident of South Philly.

“I only knew about babka from ‘Seinfeld’ — the episode where he has to have a chocolate one,” she said. “So the morning of my husband’s birthday, I woke up early and went to Essen to get a babka before they sold out. I took it to our family celebration and all the aunts and uncles really loved it. For us it was a nice change from cannolis. Now I buy Essen’s babka all the time.”

Essen’s famous babka

Du Plessis, 32, grew up in a kosher home in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she enjoyed helping her mother make traditional Askenazi foods like gefilte fish, potato kugel and chicken soup every week for Shabbat. Her mother always put her in charge of dessert.

“She made it my job,” du Plessis said, noting that now, as a professional baker, “I look back and realize that she nurtured that.”

Du Plessis moved to the United States for college, earned a degree in biology from the University of Houston and was on the path to becoming a doctor. Baking was just a hobby until she spent a few days in Paris and found herself walking into every bakery she passed.

“I visited two or three bakeries every day,” she said. “I never had pastries like that in my life. I was drawn to the desserts.”

So du Plessis switched gears and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Northern California’s Napa Valley to pursue a degree in baking and pastry arts. 

“It takes a different kind of person to be on the baking and pastry side,” she said. “It’s much more exact than the culinary arts.”

It was there that du Plessis first met Solomonov.

“His food was phenomenal and I was intrigued by Zahav,” she said. “I was amazed that there was an Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia – not kosher and not marketed just to the Jewish community – that was doing so well.”

Solomonov invited du Plessis to intern at Zahav, where she worked as a line cook, and later hired her to open a kosher restaurant, Citron and Rose, in the Philadelphia suburbs (it has since closed).

“I was excited about the project,” she said. “We were reviving Old World cuisine but making it modern. Michael inspires me,” she added. “He’s embracing his heritage and not really feeling embarrassed by it. Kugel and chopped liver aren’t high end, but foods with that much memory attached to them are special – and you can put your modern stamp on it.”

Similarly, now in her own kitchen, du Plessis enjoys tinkering with recipes, especially those for bread. “You can make little tweaks in the mixing, proofing, shaping and baking and come out with a very different product,” she said. “Every culture has its bread. There’s Indian naan and Middle Eastern pita. For Jews it’s challah.”

The challah of du Plessis’ childhood, however, was big, round and filled with raisins, which she didn’t like. She remembers being annoyed at having to pick each one out, so it’s no surprise that she has updated her mother’s recipe.

“I spent a lot of time working on it to get it where I wanted,” she said. “At Essen, I actually use honey in my challah, which gives it a way better flavor.”

The challah at Essen comes in several varieties. (Ellen Scolnic)

Du Plessis also makes more savory varieties: one crusted with poppy, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and another topped with zaatar, a blend of Middle Eastern spices and salt.

Whether sweet or salty, du Plessis emphasizes that Jewish food connects Jews to their traditions. “Food has an emotional component,” she said. “It plays a huge role in keeping people engaged and involved, and helps us retain our Jewish identity.”

Seeing as she owns a heimische bakery that turns out treats like danish and rugelach, it’s probably no surprise that du Plessis’ most beloved Jewish foods are the desserts of her childhood. Her mother only baked babka for special occasions — du Plessis makes it every day in her bakery. Her chocolate halva babka has earned the highest praise; it’s a delicious example of how she has updated a classic.

Of course, with training anchored in French technique, du Plessis couldn’t have a bakery that did not sell croissants. Along with the traditional version, she makes one spiced with zaatar.

“I wanted the bakery to represent me – of course it has to have a Jewish slant – and to make products I really love,” she said. “I’m not a purist; I’m not trying to make old Jewish recipes. I see them more as inspiration, as a jumping-off point.”

 

We’re happy to share this story  we wrote about Tova du Plessis, the owner and baker at Essen  Bakery. It was published 10/27 by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the syndicate that provides copy for Jewish newspapers nationwide. So hopefully, Tova will be getting some phone orders from across the country! 


 

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Not Your Bubbe’s Honey Cake

Are you thinking about Rosh Hashanah and what to cook? We were –and we got thinking about why Jewish apple cake is so much more popular than the spicy, dry loaves of honey cake. We did some reporting and interviewed two Jewish bakers who have delicious versions of the holiday staple and we’re thrilled that our article was published today, September 14, in the Food section of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Here’s the article:

As we get ready for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which begins Wednesday evening, Sept. 20 this year, our first priority is to entice our kids to come home.
“What can we cook for you?” we ask. Brisket. Aunt Jill’s noodle kugel. Jewish apple cake. Challah (no raisins, please), they tell us. No one ever asks for honey cake.
We’re not surprised. As we walk through the supermarket filling our shopping cart for the holiday, we spy the loaves of commercially baked honey cake, hermetically sealed in plastic, stacked high on the counter. These are the dry honey cakes we grew up with; the ones our mothers bought.

Honey cake has a place of honor on the Rosh Hashanah table because honey does: It symbolizes wishes for a sweet new year. Perhaps the most beloved tradition is to dip apple slices in honey, but honey shows up in other holiday recipes – honey-baked chicken, tzimmes (a sweet root vegetable stew), and round, sweet challah, among others. 

The younger generation of Jewish bakers has memories of honey cake, too. Tova du Plessis, owner of Essen Bakery in South Philadelphia, grew up in South Africa, where she ate honey cake once a year at Rosh Hashanah. “It was sooo dry,” she recalls years later. “I’ve found that this is most people’s experience here, too.
Old-fashioned honey cake recipes were intentionally dry, du Plessis explains. “That’s because the instructions called for you to bake the cake, wrap it up, put it on the shelf and age it for seven days. This does a lot for the flavor, but it makes a really dry cake.”

Montreal-based cookbook author Marcy Goldman, author of A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking and a half-dozen other cookbooks, doesn’t get depressed when she sees the prepackaged honey cake loaves in the deli.  In fact, she’s grateful that people still look for honey cake when they celebrate the holiday.

“We can all make a better honey cake at home, but that said, if you are going to buy one, it’s nice that you can still find a honey cake. It preserves traditions. It may be dry, but it’s a good cake to dip in tea,” Goldman says.

In ancient times, sugar was a rare commodity. But honey has been around since biblical times. References to bees and honey appear on 4,000-year-old Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform tables, and archaeologists found pots of honey when excavating an Egyptian pyramid.  But honey cake wasn’t always cake. It started out as yeasted sweet bread, Goldman explains. “They would use buckwheat honey, a lot of dark spices, and a low amount of fat, and it made for a very dark, heavy, spicy loaf.”

When baking powder was first manufactured in 1843, it revolutionized baking. “Bakers around the world went from using yeast to using baking powder. That changed the texture (of baked goods) and made things easier,” Goldman explains. It turned sweet bread into honey cake.

In the ensuing 150-plus years, “tastes changed, but honey cake never did,” Goldman said. “People make the same things for centuries, especially if it’s a traditional recipe, without ever really looking at it.”

Until now. Du Plessis, a 2017 James Beard Award semi-finalist in the category of Outstanding Baker, is on a mission to update Jewish dessert favorites. At her bakery Essen, the verb for “to eat” in Yiddish, her rugelach are Israeli-style with a layer of chocolate; her babka comes in cinnamon hazelnut and a “new-fangled” but amazing flavor combination – chocolate halva.

She puts grated apples and dark beer in her honey cake for a rich flavor. She sprinkles in a little cinnamon and nutmeg, “not a whole Thanksgiving spice mix,” she says. “And of course I use lots of honey, real honey. It’s surprising how much honey you put in; it’s a runny batter. The honey caramelizes and that’s what makes the flavor of the cake.”

“People are hesitant to try the honey cake, but when they do, they come back for more,” du Plessis says. Once, when she took honey cake off her menu for a short time, her customers missed it. “One man was so upset to see it go, that I had to sell him the one I had in the freezer.” Now she sells it year-round.

Marcy Goldman’s majestic honey cake

Marcy Goldman modernized and moistened her honey cake recipe by adding extra liquids: orange juice, coffee, Coca Cola (minus the bubbles) and a shot of booze. She brags that it has turned honey haters into honey cake fans; more than 17,000 people have downloaded her recipe. She says it’s an easy cake to make and encourages even novice bakers to give it a try.

At Essen, honey cake often sits side by side on a domed cake plate with Jewish apple cake. According to du Plessis, who spent some time in Israeli, Israelis always go for the honey cake; in America people favor the apple cake. “Everyone has a favorite Jewish apple cake recipe or a memory of one they really love,” says the baker.

traditional favorites at Essen Bakery

Baker Goldman thinks that we shouldn’t have to choose. In her Apple Honey Cake recipe, she combines the two. She tops wedges of chopped apples with sugar and lemon juice and then pours a honey cake batter on top. The apple wedges get nestled in the batter, and it bakes up into one delicious cake.

It took only a few bites of Tova du Plessis’ Honey Cake and a bit of Marcy Goldman’s enthusiasm to convince us that we could be honey cake lovers, too. We’ve updated our heirloom recipe and it’s good! We plan to surprise our kids with a honey cake on Rosh Hashanah. And just in case, we will bake an apple cake, too.

Tova du Plessis’s Honey Cake

Makes enough for two loaf pans

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp Ground cinnamon
  • pinch ground clove
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 200 ml (6.7 oz) Guiness or other dark beer
  • 3 Granny smith apples, grated and drained

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two loaf pans. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Separately whisk the wet ingredients, excluding the beer. Add 3/4 wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the rest of the wet ingredients and mix again. Add beer and apples and stir to combine. Pour into loaf pans and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

 

Andy’s Scolnic’s Honey Cake

This recipe makes a lighter, golden honey-colored cake

2½ cups flour
¼ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 large eggs
1½ cups honey
1 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour (or use baking flour spray on) a Bundt or tube pan. Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine orange juice, vanilla, eggs, honey and oil. Using a mixer, slowly add the liquids to the dry ingredients. Combine thoroughly. Pour batter into pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the top is looks dry and the cake is browned around the edges. Let cool until the bottom is still warm to the touch. Turn out of the pan.

 

Marcy Goldman’s Moist and Majestic Honey Cake

Cake Batter
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup canola oil
1 cup honey
1 3/4 cups white sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup warm, strong tea*
1/2 cup Coca Cola (c), bubbles stirred out
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup brewed coffee
1/4 cup rye or whisky (substitute orange juice or coffee)

Finishing Touches
1/2 cup slivered almonds (optional)

Basting Syrup, optional
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon Boyajian Orange oil

* I recommend King Cole Tea or a similar strong, black tea.

This cake is best baked in a high, 9-inch or 10-inch angel food cake pan that does NOT have a removable bottom.

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the pan very generously with non-stick cooking spray. Line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit.

In a large bowl or a food processor mixer bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Make a well in the center and add oil, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, tea, cola, orange juice, coffee and rye or whisky.

Using a strong wire whisk or an electric mixer on slow speed, combine the ingredients well to make a thick, well-blended batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom. If you are using a food processor, whiz the ingredients for 1-2 minutes.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle top of cake evenly with almonds. Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper. Place the cake on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake until the cake springs back when you gently touch the cake center, 65-80 minutes. If the cake is rising fast and browning but doesn’t seem set, lower the oven temperature to 325 F and let it bake longer. Give it the time it needs! Let the cake stand for 20 minutes before removing it from the pan.

Heat the Basting Syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and let simmer for 8 minutes. Cool to warm. Baste or brush over the cake.

 

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Where Have All the Seasons Gone?

We had to stop at Staples the other day and we were surprised to find the aisles jammed. Excited kids were begging for 3-D dinosaur pencil tins and  the extra-large pack of Crayola crayons — “It comes with a sharpener!” — as exasperated parents consulted their crumpled school supply lists. We were there to get a Medicare card laminated.

We had forgotten all about back-to-school shopping. It was not on our radar. Our children are grown, and so are we.

But we remember back when we were kids, this was the most exciting time of the year. We’d carefully choose a backpack — is the rainbow unicorn one cool? And then a new lunchbox, too. It had to be just right, not babyish, and not be passé by January.

Back to school always meant new shoes and new shoes meant sneakers. Back in the day, our choice was what color Keds we liked best. Our kids had Spiderman and Batman sneakers and then came all those light-up sneakers. Their feet grew so fast that it was hard to keep up. And after a summer of running around barefoot, it seemed that everyone was at least a size or two bigger.

Now, we don’t buy new shoes in September. We’re grown-up ladies. We browse when Nordstrom has its annual sale, and we buy when we get the DSW coupon in the mail. Thankfully we know what shoe size to reach for. Our feet are the only body part we can count on to stay the same size — and to stay right where they always were.

When we were kids, the seasons felt distinct, and we were excited when each one rolled around. Fall meant watching football and seeing our friends again. Winter meant snow days and sledding. Spring was for baseball, bike rides, and open windows. Summer? Weekends at the beach, chasing after the ice cream truck, and being allowed to stay up late.

Now the seasons seem to run together. Maybe it’s because the weather’s so unpredictable. Spring comes too late or too early; winter seems more like fall. Or perhaps it’s because sports no longer confine themselves to their “proper” season. Winter ice hockey ended on June 11 when we were having a summer picnic. You can watch Italian football on ESPN 872 in January.

Of course adults don’t enjoy all of the perks of the seasons that kids do. Grown-ups don’t get snow days; they have to make it in to work no matter what. When it snows, we automatically think of shoveling it rather than playing in it. Our kids’ saucer sleds still hang in the garage, but we know we won’t be pulling them out to slide down the hill with our husbands. We might wrench our back. Why risk it? Last winter we dragged out and cleaned off the old sleds and offered them to the boys next door, who gave us a funny look and said, “No one uses that kind anymore.”

While we still go to the beach in the summer, you’ll more likely find us on a lounge chair than riding the waves on a boogie board. We’ll go in the ocean when it’s low tide and warm enough.

Spring doesn’t have many benchmarks for us. We’re not tilling the field to plant a crop, migrating north to build our nest, or getting on the bus loaded with baseball equipment to go to spring training in Clearwater, Fla. We appreciate nature from a distance: “Oh, look, the robins are building a nest,” and “The daffodils are blooming.”

​These days, not only do the seasons fly by, but so do the years. A friend asked when was our last trip to Italy with the kids. “Five years ago,” we said, and then realized that the “recent” trip was in 2005. We took our camera in to get the lens adjusted and were surprised when the salesman told us it wasn’t possible. “Do you know your camera is 13 years old? They don’t make those  anymore.”

The years have flown by since we took our kids back-to-school shopping, and we miss it. We want to participate in the hoopla as much as we can. We’re going to buy some nice shiny notebooks and packs of pencils for the school supply drive, and we’ll buy ourselves a new pair of sneakers and enroll in a yoga class.

We’ll even treat ourselves to a brand new calendar and hang it in kitchen. We’ll mark everyone’s birthday, weddings, and trips, and the dates when our kids are coming home.

Perhaps if we take our time and turn every page, the year won’t fly by so fast.

This article also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/24/17 

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Lessons Learned – We’re Back from Vacation

We’re both back from our summer vacations, and after years of traveling we’re still discovering what we like and what we don’t like about going on vacation. We remember the days of piling the kids in the car and singing songs (we liked) and then turning around to yell at those same kids to “Cut it out!” (we didn’t like). We keep refining our list of things we like so we can better plan for future vacations.

It wasn’t news to us that we love almost any kind of gelato from almost any gelato shop in Italy, but can you design a whole vacation around ice cream?  We’ve long known that we are not campers. We don’t even pretend to be. Joyce has “fond” memories of her last family camping trip – over 20 years ago  – when some outdoorsy friends from Lancaster suggested the two families meet for a weekend of camping at French Creek State Park. On Friday morning, when the weekend weather forecast looked bleak, Joyce called her friends and suggested spending the weekend at a nearby Holiday Inn instead. Indoor pool! Free breakfast! TV!

The friends laughed. They thought she was joking with them. Give up camping without even trying? So they stuck with the camping plan and woke up Saturday morning drenched; the water had leaked into the tent. The scrambled eggs were soggy. In the end, Joyce had fun, but not the kind of fun she ever wanted to have again.

We love a good hotel. In most of the world, a night in a hotel usually includes breakfast the next morning with local treats, such goat’s milk yogurt, fresh baked croissants, and figs from the tree in the yard etc. In some hotels, you can even sit in that yard and enjoy your breakfast al fresco.

Breakfast on the balcony in Cambodia: Dragonfruit and banana pastries. Yum. 

In a hotel, it’s nice to find hot coffee in the lobby first thing in the morning and even nicer to come back at the end of the day and find that someone has straightened the bed and left a chocolate on our pillow.

When you stay in a hotel, you get help, and we love a good front desk. We like to get a recommendation from the girl at the front desk for a great local restaurant, not the tourist trap on the waterfront with the chalkboard out front that reads, “Visitors much love you eat here.”

We like the free paper map the desk clerk gives us. She circles where we are in magic marker, where we want to go, and then points us in the right direction. “Go out the front door. Make a left and then a right.” We try not to get confused by the big blue “Mr. Bag” on the map; it’s a local leather shop that paid for an ad on the map, not our ultimate destination.

You are here.

 

We’ve learned that we’re not group-tour people. We hate being told what to do and when to do it. When the group zigs, we want to zag. If we like a place, we want to stay there – not get back on the bus by 3 pm. We don’t care if the bus is leaving. In fact in Morocco, when everyone went to take a guided walk, Joyce and Ted turned in the other direction. They have fond memories of that fun afternoon they spent on their own drinking mint tea, chatting – or trying to – with the locals, and wandering into the shops.

We are city folks. We’d rather be in Barcelona than in the Spanish countryside, in Boston rather than Cape Cod.  We like to walk around and window shop. We enjoy museums – big ones like the Vatican Museum as well as the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, one family’s private art collection housed in their palace.

We like it when there are many different activities to choose from. A jazz festival in town. A traveling craft show on the waterfront. A culinary walking tour that features local wines. We get shpilkes when we are stranded in the great outdoors with nothing more to do than look at the scenery. As Ellen and David realized after their summer excursion: “Seen one glacier, seen them all.”

A glacier . . .

. .  another glacier

There are certain places in the world that can only be reached by cruise ship – like Glacier Bay in Alaska. So when we’ve taken a cruise, we’ve made the most of it. But if there’s another way to get to a place, we prefer it.

We’d rather arrive in a little town on our own rather than with 4,000 other people all headed to the same souvenir shops to find tchotchkes. We love a good tchotchke, too, but we like to find it ourselves, like the time we wandered through Orvieto and bought Italian dish towels from a very undiscovered local linen store.

Shopping with the locals in Istanbul.

We do enjoy a good buffet, which is why a cruise is a bad idea for us. We need limits – when to eat and how much. When we were walking around the deck at 10 a.m. to see the mountains, it was disconcerting to bump into a kid with a huge ice cream cone. Should we be eating ice cream at 10 a.m.? Where’s did he get that ice cream?

Ellen and David’s recent cruise came with 15 drinks – per person! – a day. The first few days, they just had their usual glass of wine with dinner. But by the last day, Ellen felt compelled to drink her allotment – or at least try. She had a mai tai at lunch, a daiquiri at 1 p.m., a whiskey sour at 3, and wine at dinner. She was woozy when she texted her (adult) sons photos of the drinks and commented how excessive she thought her drinking was. They texted back, “Glad you’re having fun!”

So as we think about planning our next vacations, we’ll keep in mind the things we like: gelato, big cities, shopping and wine with dinner. Just not in a tent.

 

 

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