Monday, October 11, 2010

The End of the Holidays and The Beginning of 5771

As we had planned, we spent Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah in Baltimore/DC with Ari and Jessica. Heavy rains in the area with thunderstorms caused unbelievable flooding such as DC had not known in many years. I wandered around the synagogue following my beautiful toddler, Yona, who loves to play with water fountains and is familiar with every nook and cranny in the gigantic building. On Simchat Torah, Alex had unraveled a Torah on long tables all the way across a large reception hall, laying paper markers on pertinent sections so that many of the children, working in teams for the contest, could have clues to answer questions about it with stickers on a three-page questionnaire—a sort of Torah scavenger hunt. We had lunch at the synagogue. Ari joined us at Jess and Alex’s for Shabbat dinner, wonderful as usual with Alex’s fantastic soups, chicken, and imaginative salads with ingredients from the Pearlstone CSA. During our weekend in DC, we spent an evening with Ralph, a fellow professor at Chestnut Hill College, and his wife, Ann Marie, meeting them at sunset on the Eastern Shore to dine by the waterside at Harris’s again. Saul and Ari picked up a few more shirts and sweaters at the Queenstown Outlet Mall. Saul, Ari and I also spent a few hours weeding a huge amount of crabgrass out of his new garden and replacing a few of his plants that had expired in the unusually hot month of September with new ones. We added a few new perennials on the theory that the more plants, the less weeds. After just a couple of hours, his front garden looked spectacular! I think that he is actually beginning to enjoy gardening a bit, taking pride in the fact that it is his garden, and enjoying the compliments of his neighbors. All too soon, it was time to head home again to begin our first full week of the school year.

Monday afternoon, my friend Laura, whom I hadn’t seen for several months, met me at the Metropolitan Diner for lunch and we caught up as much as we could with each others’ lives. During the week, I noticed, among my email, a cupcake contest for Scharffen-Berger chocolate. They provide a list of “adventure” ingredients from which to choose along with their chocolate. I began to think about it. The next day, there was a notification in my email of an event taking place, connected with that contest, that evening in two locations around the country. One of them was in a vegan bakery in Columbia Heights, Sticky Fingers, just a few blocks from Ari’s house. I took this as a sign and incentive and spent an afternoon inventing a delicious new filled cupcake using a few of the adventure ingredients. I was very happy with the results.

On Wednesday evening, along with Beth, we went to meet Ken and Randi at Luigi’s in Warrington for a late dinner to belatedly celebrate Beth’s August birthday. My dinner was an absolutely picture-perfect sashimi-quality tuna steak, perfectly seared rare, with grill marks so geometric and perfect that Saul joked that they must have been applied with Magic Marker and a ruler. It was glazed with a cumin-scented balsamic reduction. This was accompanied by perfectly-cooked homemade pappardelle in garlic and oil, perfectly dressed. Yum! None of us had room for dessert. Perfectly guilt-free, too!

Thursday morning was this year’s launch of Faith’s weekly study group which, over the last 20 years, has moved from a Bible-study group to a discussion of Jewish history, particularly the Talmudic period. I stopped on the way home at Trader Joe’s to pick up cans of organic pumpkin so that Laura and I could bake pumpkin-face cookies together on Friday morning as we had discussed previously. Saul was able to finish up at school and join me for lunch at a reasonable hour. I had been craving a visit to our nearby Indian buffet, Sultan, but although the food was delicious and satisfying, we both suffered afterward for having overindulged, especially in their rich and ample desserts, such as gulab jamun, currant-studded rice pudding, barfi, sweet carrots, fried honeyed pastries, etc. etc. When we returned home, we took down the Sukkah. Thursday evening, I made four batches of cookie dough and six batches of pumpkin butter filling for them.

Friday morning, while Saul caught up with endless amounts of paperwork from this semester as department chairman, and worked on our very overdue income taxes, Laura and I had a blast turning out about seven dozen gorgeous cookies. She called this morning to say that they had come in very handy this weekend as her youngest daughter had just become engaged, and on the spur-of-the-moment, she had entertained the whole family with a dinner to celebrate. Saul and I ducked out after she left to take care of her dog on Friday to deliver a few cookies to our friend Dori, who manages Lee’s Hoagies in Montgomeryville, (a long-standing tradition that began many years ago) and share a sandwich before heading home to prepare Shabbat dinner. We stopped at Assi Market and Redner’s to pick up some produce and Glad silicon trays to pack away my cookies in the freezer. Most of the dinner came from the freezer this week, including smoked turkey split pea soup and stuffed cabbage. I did make fresh challah, kasha and bow ties, and iceberg lettuce wedges with Russian dressing. Faith, who came with Larry, brought her pareve blond brownies and chocolate and marshmallow-topped brownies from her freezer supply for dessert. Saul cut up the pineapple from our Sukkah fruit basket. It was a wonderful and relaxing evening, and not too much work.

Saturday morning, we attended services at MBI-EE, where two of our congregants were honored for their many hours of volunteer work, one for the Yiddish club, and the other for organizing and teaching the children’s services. After a celebratory luncheon there, we headed for Lion’s Gate to visit Saul’s mom, who had been moved into a more supervisory wing by Saul’s sister as her condition has been deteriorating. We were pleased to find her in good spirits, although it is obvious that her mind is mostly gone. The facilities were clean, neat, and attractive, and her semi-private room is divided by a wall of closets and drawers into two distinct spaces to provide a more private feeling. She knew that we were friends and was happy to have the attention from us. When we arrived, she was at a table with a therapist and a group of others doing a hand-eye coordination task of putting small objects into a cup. She had a small, soft blanket over her shoulders and spent most of the time that we were there conversing with her folding and unfolding it, smoothing it out, and telling us that she was planning to buy it. She asked us about her father. When I asked what she remembered about her father, she only said that she remembered that he was a “good man.” She did not remember anyone we asked about, including her husband, sister, children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. Physically, she looked okay, and her ankles were not swollen as they had been. I asked about the food and she said it was very good and she was very happy with it. In her pocket, along with some packets of crackers that she was hoarding, was a printed list with ounce-by-ounce quantities of everything she had eaten for lunch. It was a better lunch than we had eaten earlier. We spoke with the rabbi at Lion’s Gate, whom she sees regularly, as we ran into each other in the hallway, and privately, he lamented the dramatic loss of her ability to express herself and to read the Hebrew text as she had when she first came. But, he also spoke about the joyfulness with which she approaches the service and rituals, and about the blessing that she is in no pain and seems very happy with her situation.

Saul and I napped briefly after completing the hour-long drive home. Then, Faith came over and we went to the new Whole Foods in Plymouth Meeting Mall for a snack before seeing the movie, Eat Pray Love at the AMC theater there. The prepared food selection at Whole Foods was mind-boggling and we just walked around in that wing of the store gaping at the exquisite displays for about half and hour before choosing our late dinners. In addition to the usual prepared food case, there was a fresh pasta bar where you could choose from about a dozen fresh pastas and then choose from a half-dozen sauces to accompany them. There was a pizza bar, a salad bar, a bakery, a gelateria, cheese cases, olive bars, a meat station, and, I am sure, many other selections about which I have forgotten because it was all so overwhelming. Housed within the store, as sort of a store-within-a-store, is a really cool-looking wine and beer-tasting bar. The attractive wooden tables and chairs and pub-like atmosphere would provide a great place to lounge with those who are into wine before a movie or shopping trip and it appears to be largely undiscovered on a Saturday night. Upstairs, there is a large, tree-lined roof-deck for hanging out in nice weather. The movie, starring Julia Roberts, had a mere taste of the richness of the book, but we all enjoyed it for its escapism potential and spectacular and quirky scenery.

On Sunday, Saul needed to complete and deliver the income taxes to our accountant, so just Faith and I met and went to see The Social Network at the restored Ambler Theater after a brief walk up and down Butler Pike to window shop the cute little stores. A bride and groom were being professionally photographed in the lobby when we entered. We both enjoyed the movie which was, thankfully, much more about friendship and betrayal than software. Saul and I had dinner at home on Sunday night to clean up leftovers from Friday. For better or worse, home is still the best restaurant in town.

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