Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chanukah Week 2009

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We are in the homestretch now for winter vacation, one of the most wonderful perks of Saul being a college professor. Stretching ahead of us is a lovely one-month vacation and the freedom to travel anywhere, complete projects around the house, or just lay around for a while. Being who I am, I hope to do all three, but Saul is always pointing out to me that my expectations for what I hope to accomplish are totally unrealistic. That fact never seems to deter me from trying to do it all anyway.

The beginning of last week involved a lot of cookie-baking in preparation for our family cookie extravaganza which, hopefully, will take place on Thursday evening. I made my usual seven varieties, and this year I decided to try an eighth. Several months ago, Mom’s hospice volunteer, Marianne, brought me a package of walnut-shaped cookie molds that she purchased in Europe. A friend had requested that she bring some back and she kept a package for herself. She gave them to me last year after I gave her some of my cookies and told me that I would be more likely to use them than she would. I almost never watch Martha Stewart on television, but a week or so before she gave me the molds, while I was flipping channels, I had caught the tail end of Martha and Jennifer Esposito making walnut cookies. After I received the molds, I looked up the segment on Google and printed out the recipe. This past week seemed like the perfect time to try it out, and I am very pleased with the results. I can’t wait to deliver some to Marianne.

I spent several hours this past week trying to arrange vacations. My mother’s cousin, Ronnie, whom we visited in Arizona a few years ago, invited us to attend the bat mitzvah of her granddaughter in Jacksonville, Florida, in January. I tried very hard to arrange some time in Orlando so that as long as we were paying for a flight down to Florida, we could do a week of vacation as well. So far, no luck in getting any kind of cheap rate, and I don’t know whether we will go at all. We were invited to Rabbi Addison’s daughter’s wedding in Israel for New Year’s Eve. Flights to Israel are very expensive right now as well, and I would hate to spend so much and go such a long way for only a few days vacation. Her invitation arrived with a personal, thoughtful and endearing two-page letter about the influence Saul’s teaching has had on her life. I would love to be there for her wedding, but I suppose it is too late to make arrangements now.

During the week, our friend Larry found a cheap flight to Chicago—$170 round trip. We decided to join him in his visit there to his sister and her husband, our friends, for a few days this coming weekend. I dearly hope we do not encounter snow, but such are the hazards of taking advantage of good rates and winter vacations. I am also very excited that I was able to arrange a family, two-week vacation this summer at the same house in Ocean City, New Jersey, that we enjoyed so much two summers ago. When we queried the girls about which had been their favorite vacation so far, Ocean City beat out Hawaii, Disney World, St. Augustine, and Hershey. They really liked the boardwalk with its varied diversions at night and being on the beach during the day.

On Monday, I picked up a birthday cake we had ordered at Costco and delivered it to Saul at CHC for a celebration during his computer club of the first female admiral in the U.S. Navy, who was also responsible for inventing COBOL computer programming language, Grace Murray Hopper. While there, I had lunch with Saul in the cafeteria.

Wednesday evening, we met Ken and Randi at a new Afghan restaurant in Horsham that we had wanted to try and had been hearing good things about called Yalda. The ambience was very pleasant, exotic, and comfortable and the owner/chef was very eager to please us. We spent two hours dining and conversing over very delicious food which seemed like a combination of Middle Eastern and Indian dishes.

After his last class on Thursday, Saul stopped into the cafeteria at school for lunch where they had prepared a special Christmas banquet. By late Thursday afternoon, Saul’s last full week before finals, we were exhausted again and decided to drive down to Baltimore/DC on Friday, after going to bed early and sleeping late. As usual, preparing the house in case it would be shown over the weekend took an extra couple of hours. I took with me all our Chanukah paraphernalia and, traveling the long way over Rte. 1, we arrived shortly before Shabbat dinner was scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Ari had been able to leave work early and arrived just a few minutes before us. Jessica had invited friends, the Hoffmans with their two young children, who arrived right on schedule and were wonderful dinner companions. Saul and I were thrilled to be able to light the first Chanukah candle along with our Shabbat candles with all of our family gathered around, a real luxury for us as for many years, Ari lived in California.

Alex prepared a beautiful dairy Shabbat dinner. We had a creamy black bean soup; grilled, glazed salmon atop olive bread with homemade mango salsa, avocado and chipotle mayonnaise; spinach salad; grilled sea bass; mashed potatoes; and steamed Brussels sprouts. Of course, in honor of the holiday, we had a big platter of G.G. Sima’s potato latkes, which I had made previously and frozen, along with sour cream and applesauce. Naomi Hoffman has been experimenting with ice cream flavors this past year and brought a sampling of her homemade ice cream: raspberry swirl, orange/Szechuan peppercorn, pumpkin spice, and chocolate with Girl Scout thin mints. They were all absolutely delicious and the Szechuan peppercorn lent a sort of a floral note to the orange, a bit like rose petals.

During the weekend, we stopped at Ari’s office to set up two electric chanukiot in the windows there. We looked at some houses for Ari, saw one that was perfect, and were all extremely disappointed to discover that again, the house was put under contract the day we looked at it. He has decided to put his condo back on the market. We traveled to Baltimore from DC to light the second candle after Havdalah together. Alex has been learning guitar for a few years now and accompanied our candlelight prayer. The Havdalah prayer is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful traditions in Judaism. For a few moments, I was wiping happy tears from my eyes, so awesome was the moment, holding Yona, with all of us together singing the prayer and passing the besamim (spice) box. After that, we treated everyone to dinner at Sushi Ya, where Jess and Alex and the kids are so well known that the host asked me about Jess as soon as I came in with Sami, and where Izzy has a sushi roll named after her. One of the dishes we ordered, agedashi tofu, moves in a fascinating way when it is first brought to the table. We had been planning to take the girls to see The Princess and the Frog, which opened this weekend, but the hour grew too late and Alex took the girls home to put them to bed while Jess, Ari, Saul and I wandered over to the movie theater and discovered that there was nothing else playing that we wanted to see. On the way back to our parked car, we wandered into Home Goods, where Saul found exactly the type of rolling briefcase that he had been trying to find to replace the falling-apart rolling backpack that he has been taking to school for many years. There was only one and another customer was sorely disappointed that we decided to take it. Ari bought it for Saul as a Chanukah gift.

We drove to Arundel Mills on Sunday, had lunch at a Golden Corral, got badly needed haircuts for Saul and Ari, shopped a bit, and took the girls to the Egyptian movie theater to finally see The Princess and the Frog in XD (extreme digital). The movie was very cute, incorporating all of Disney’s successful shtick from other animations. I was delighted to hear the girls giggling all through the movie. We had a light dinner at Chevy’s in the mall where they provided the girls with dough stuck with crayons with which to amuse themselves before dinner arrived, and the children’s meal included small vanilla ice cream cones made from crispy tortillas. Although the weather had been dreadful for most of the weekend, the rain disappeared before our long drive home. We were grateful for the relaxing drive as well as the most pleasant and memorable weekend with our children and grandchildren.

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