Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Weekend in Baltimore/DC

We had a wonderful time and were fortunate in many ways these past four days. Agnes arrived at the train station right on time to stay with Mom. As we were preparing to leave, right on schedule, Mom’s social worker, Marian, arrived and we began to discuss what would happen when Mom was released from hospice on December 1. Naively, I had assumed that should I have a medical emergency, I would be able to call upon hospice and have Mom reinstated retroactively. Luckily, in previous conversations with my brother, Ken, who had spoken with a lawyer, I realized that even under these present dire circumstances, I might be held negligent should my mother die at home if I had not called an ambulance. Marian made me aware that were hospice to drop Mom, I would have to call her doctor in an emergency who would then have to notify the hospice service to reinstate her if we did not want an ambulance to take her to the emergency room. That would leave us without any quick medical lifeline. We left the house late with a heavy heart knowing that it was possible that we could find ourselves in this situation in the future. About an hour into our journey, Kathy, Mom’s hospice nurse, called on my cell phone to let me know that hospice would be keeping Mom on for at least another 90-day evaluation period. She had spoken with the social worker and knew that I was traveling and made the call immediately so that my mind would be more at ease this weekend. It was.

Ari was able to leave work early on Wednesday and was pleasantly surprised, as we were, when we arrived at his home in record time. Most of the really heavy traffic had been heading north. After unloading our bags, we headed off to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Wheaton, MD, Hollywood East CafĂ© where we had two delicious vegetarian dishes, crispy sesame eggplant, and snow pea shoots with roasted fresh garlic. The crispy sesame eggplant is sweet, salty and savory all at the same time and the texture is crispy and gooey on the outside and creamy and soft on the inside—perfection! I would love to be able to make this at home. Thursday morning, we went back for dim sum.

Alex, who loves to cook as much as I do, had outdone himself in producing a plethora of beautiful and delicious dishes, many with an Indian theme, for our Thanksgiving dinner. He made three different chutneys that accompanied my own cranberry apple chutney—coconut, cilantro, and tomato. A heart-warming and satisfying roasted corn soup seasoned with masala and garnished with a freshly-made papadum was our starter. This was followed by homemade samosas resplendent with a purple yam and edamame filling, and steamed artichokes. In addition to my chestnut bread stuffing, butternut apple crisp, and sweet potatoes with apricots and pecans; his side dishes to accompany the sliced turkey included a spicy vegetable medley, chick peas and potatoes (channa aloo), red lentil stew (dal), sweet potato stew, and steamed rice. Even the oblong flat breads were Indian-style, some plain and some seasoned with masala. For dessert, we had baked apples stuffed with persimmon slices, praline-topped pumpkin pie, and pareve chocolate mousse crepes. On the journey to Baltimore, Ari and I picked up an assortment of beers to accompany our dinner, including Guinness, Stella Artois, and Flying Dog. Alex produced a bottle of truly exceptional kosher wine—Tabor Mes’ha. Clearly, the bounty of our dinner was among the many things for which we each expressed being thankful. We tried our best when we sat down to dinner to forget the awful contrast of our lives at this particular moment with those poor unfortunate souls in Mumbai.

True to our plans, Alex’s parents, Maury and Elaine, joined us early Friday morning in DC with our granddaughters to visit the newly-reopened American History Museum at the Smithsonian. Elaine, Ari and I decided to take the girls there on the Metro, a great adventure for them, while Saul and Maury drove there and were lucky enough to find a handicapped parking spot directly in front of the Natural History Museum next door. We all arrived at exactly the same time proving Ari’s theory that taking the Metro is just as quick as driving in DC. The museum was crowded, as we expected, and after descending a beautiful, but impractical and treacherous see-through staircase and depositing our coats and bags in a locker, we were unprepared for just how crowded the place would become by 12.30 p.m. We should have gone directly to see the “Star-Spangled Banner” exhibit, which was already becoming crowded by 10:30, but instead we were distracted by the beautifully-restored old train cars in the transportation exhibit and wandered around there for an hour. I took Izzy to a well-thought-out and imaginative play area for a little while, but it was quickly becoming overtaxed by the enormous crowds. Izzy, who turns into a small bear when she is hungry, needed something to eat, so we popped over to the cafeteria for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some milk. Some of the cafeterias at the Smithsonian are wonderful, notably the American Indian Museum and the Natural Sciences Museum. This was not one of those. We began to be alarmed by the crowds and decided to see the “ruby slippers” from the Wizard of Oz and the flag and leave. When we arrived on the third floor to see the slippers, the line was about a block long and we left. On the second floor, the line for the Star-Spangled Banner was completely filling the entire huge waiting area, so we left. We grabbed our coats and headed next door hoping the Natural Sciences Museum with its new Oceans exhibit would not be as crowded. On the way out, we were overwhelmed by the number of people waiting in line to get into the History museum. The line snaked for three blocks around the museum. The Natural Sciences Museum was the most crowded I have ever experienced. Ari, Saul and I took Izzy to ride the outdoor carousel, while Maury and Elaine took Sami around the exhibit and then joined us. Sami said the exhibit was boring and was sorry that because of it she only had one ride on the carousel instead of two like Izzy. Ari and I took the girls back on the Metro while Elaine joined Saul and Maury in the car. They beat us back by about 15 minutes.

After resting for a while at Ari’s, Elaine and Maury headed back to Baltimore for Shabbat dinner. We had planned to follow right behind so that I could finish filling and frosting the carrot cake and sweet potato cake I had made. There were so many leftovers from Thanksgiving, though, that Alex decided to serve the turkey and other dishes again. We no longer could use dairy desserts, so we just hung around Ari’s condo and dozed for a while before leaving for Baltimore ourselves. Some of the dishes, notably the soup, were even better the second day. Our Shabbat evening was warm, relaxed and incredibly delicious. The one dish that Alex added was a brunoised pastrami-spiced rare seared tuna appetizer topped with avocado that was delectable.

Ari, Saul and I spent the weekend in DC. Ari bought a 47-inch flat-screen LCD t.v. by Vizio at Costco and a high-definition TiVo at Best Buy. After an enjoyable dinner on Saturday night at a new British pub restaurant in Columbia Heights called CommonWealth, we began the process of installing a wall mount for the bedroom and rewiring and setting up the new connections for the t.v.s. As an appetizer at CommonWealth, we shared a cheese board accompanied by grainy mustard and a date spread. The cheese selection included: semi-hard: Bellavitano (CA); stinky: Grayson (MD); creamy: Blythedale Camembert (VT); blue: Stilton (UK); goat: Dersonval; cheddar: Cotswold (UK). Among the condiments on the table were malt vinegar and a jar of piccalilli. I thought it was quite a coincidence that I hadn’t thought about piccalilli for many years, had just mentioned it in my last recipe blog and had to look up the spelling in order to link it properly. It reminded me of my experience with orgeat syrup. Several years ago, I was reading an all-time favorite book of mine called Leo Africanus while I was accompanying Saul at a convention he was attending in Boston. In the book, the main character mentions being served orgeat drinks almost everywhere he goes. I had never heard of the stuff and there is not much in the way of food and drink of which I have never heard. One of those evenings, Saul and I were passing time in a coffee shop in Copley Place while waiting for our dinner reservation elsewhere and I asked him if, being from the Middle East, he knew anything about an orgeat drink. As he shook his head, I realized that right in my line of vision over his shoulder, was a bottle of orgeat syrup sitting on a shelf behind the coffee bar with other coffee flavorings from Torani. The person behind the bar thought I was a lunatic I was so excited at the coincidence and he took the bottle down for me so that we could peruse the ingredients. We discovered that orgeat syrup is almond flavored. I guess that piccalilli was just destined to enter my life again, although at the CommonWealth, the condiment did not look or smell good enough to want to sample.

Another task we accomplished this weekend was to install a sliding pants rack in Ari’s closet. He had coveted one at IKEA for a long time, but didn’t have room for the whole unit that ordinarily houses it. Luckily, IKEA sells all its parts separately, so Saul was able to jury-rig the hardware into Ari’s closet. On Sunday afternoon, we drove separately to Baltimore so that we could all make a short video to email to Amichai, the son of Saul’s first cousin Eliezar who will be celebrating his 60th birthday this month at a special occasion arranged by the family in Israel. I also used our time in Baltimore to shop at Seven Mile Market, a glatt kosher supermarket in Pikesville, for supplies for the new members’ dinner we are preparing on December 19, at our synagogue, Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El. While there, I picked up an assortment of crackers, Nish Nosh by Beigel Beigel, requested by Anna Marie, the secretary there, that she has craved ever since our Israel Independence Day bash.

Saul and I finally headed for home on Sunday evening about 4:30 p.m. We encountered no traffic jams on our route over U.S. 1 all the way home. While traveling, we were listening on our XM satellite radio to reports that I-95 was backed up for 27 miles from the Maryland border to the Christiana exit in Delaware, with two-hour backups at the Delaware Toll Plaza. Mom and Agnes had a very good weekend together, although Adele was suffering with a bad cold all through her birthday this weekend.

This morning, after preparing breakfast and a box lunch for Saul at 6:00 a.m., and getting Mom’s breakfast ready at 7:00 a.m., I fell back into a deep sleep and did not waken again until the phone rang at 10:15 a.m. We had a great time, but I guess I am really exhausted from it all today.

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