Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall Festivals

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Everywhere we go as we have been driving around a lot these last few weeks, I see posters and signs for harvest festivals in every township and hamlet. I love harvest festivals even more than the early spring Philadelphia Flower Show and used to attend every festival I could squeeze into our schedule when the kids were little. Being a cook and gardener, I enjoyed seeing what others had grown, and purchasing foodstuffs and decorations made from the harvest. This year, I only managed to plant a few heirloom tomatoes, and a border of colorful giant zinnias around my raised garden, but no matter. Many herbs in my boxes reseeded themselves, like basil, oregano, mint, chives and thyme. My bay leaf tree thrived. We nibbled on white alpine strawberries that came back and I had a profusion of colorful, long-lasting zinnias on my table all summer.

Ari joined us this year for Yom Kippur and it was lovely to have the whole family together for a change. After the kids’ years in California and Baltimore, Saul and I had been pretty lonely attending services and breaking the fast by ourselves. This year, after our own services at MBI-EE, we attended Neilah services at TBS with Ari, Jess, Alex and the girls and broke the fast together at Jess and Alex’s home. Alex’s mom was staying with them for the holy days, too. I made a coconut flan for dessert. The weather was nice and temperate this year, so the fast was relatively easy. Our services were so companionable, that the day flew by very quickly. Ari tells us that this is his favorite of all our holidays, despite the fasting, because of its pure spirituality.

Alex erected his father’s sukkah on their patio this year. On the Sunday of Erev Sukkot, Saul and I drove over to NJ and we all helped decorate it, along with the help of their gentile next door neighbors whose two little boys had a great time climbing the step ladder along with Izzy to hang the various strings of lights, fruit, veggies, and paraphernalia. Jessica creatively fabricated a chandelier this year from wire, a tube light reel, tube lights, and artificial fruits and leaves.

We had a gloriously beautiful afternoon on the first day of Sukkot so that we were able to enjoy lunch in the beautiful sukkah we had decorated. We took Sami and Izzy home with us that evening and they proceeded to make beautiful spanakopita, for the next day’s lunch, handling the delicate phyllo in cooperation and folding the triangles expertly without any assistance from me. I just sat and enjoyed watching them work together. They attended services with us on the second day of Sukkot at MBI-EE before we went on to Jess and Alex’s for lunch. They were invited up to the bimah and beautifully led a number of the prayers. They were so competent, looked so beautiful and sang so melodiously that Saul and I were kvelling! Five minutes after they returned to their seats, Sami spouted a terrible nose bleed, and we rushed off to the ladies room to staunch it. We were so grateful that it didn’t occur while she was on the bimah! The etrogim were especially large and beautiful this year and the girls expertly held the etrog and lulav in the proper positions by crossing hands as they proceeded around the synagogue during the hoshannahs. Warren promised he would save the etrogim after the holiday for me so that I could again make etrog-honey jelly. The second day, it rained, and we were forced inside. Saul’s sister and brother-in-law were able to join us, though.

Saul and I hosted our two younger granddaughters on the weekend during Hol HaMoed Sukkot as Sami kicked off a b’nai mitzvah year of a bounty of celebrations for friends and classmates. The first of the season was an extravaganza to which Jess and Alex were also invited, an exciting beginning to what promises to be a memorable year for Sami. Izzy and Yona were a joy and were the most enthusiastic helpers in the kitchen. We made a sweet potato cake with brown sugar icing for Simchat Torah lunch. We had lunch on one Sunday with Jess, Alex and the girls at The Cheesecake Factory in Cherry Hill, and once we met at Chez Elena Wu following up at Spoon Me for frozen yogurt. One Sunday, Saul and I tried out the new Elkins Park burger.Org a few days after it opened, on our way home from Cherry Hill. It is a kosher establishment that replaced the more upscale Max and David’s. The burgers were good, but the staff had not yet gotten its act together and the service was slow, confused, and apologetic. We were seated next to the former cantor and choir director of Beth Sholom in Elkins Park, and his wife. I had once designed a logo for her business. Ari had sung in his choir as a boy. We recognized a number of people whom we knew there, so it was a congenial  evening.

We spent both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah at TBS with Jess and Alex and the girls. I was very excited about the lunch I had prepared for them. For years, I had been looking for a recipe for felafel that would not dissolve into oily crumbs when it was fried. Saul and Ari had bought me the authentic gadget used to make them in Israel, and it had been sitting in a drawer for over three years. After a few hours of research on the Internet, I went back to my favorite Jewish cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Green, Jewish Holiday Cooking, and had great success with her first recipe for felafel. I doubled it and Saul helped me to turn out 92 perfect felafel patties that were scrumptious and authentic-tasting. I also made my own tahina sauce using her recipe, which was yummy as well.

Saul and I made three batches of etrog-honey jelly right after the holidays using the 18 etrogim that were accumulated by Warren at MBI-EE, Alex at TBS, and Faith at Temple Sinai. These I distributed to our friends and the clergy at the various synagogues. Faith has begun her Bible-study classes since the end of the holidays and I am attending both my regular Thursday morning class that I have been attending for over twenty years, and a new class which she has added at MBI-EE on Tuesday morning. I sent a large jar of the jelly with Faith for the Thursday class to sample with crackers. I also made a batch of chocolate almond bars to take to our friends, Ruth and Giora. Ruth had been trying to invite us and Faith over for a Sunday brunch all summer, and she and Giora finally succeeded after the holidays. The chocolate almond bars are her favorite from many years ago.

The weekend before last, Jess brought Sami to sleep over because the party for that Shabbat’s bat mitzvah was followed by an evening indoor swim party at the community center in nearby Plymouth Meeting. What a gorgeous facility with an indoor water park! We have been driving past it for years without noticing it because it is situated a little in from the corner. While here, Jess helped our friend Larry with his haftarah which he was going to read in synagogue in honor of his sixtieth birthday the following weekend. He had been having a terrible time relearning it after all these years. In addition to preparing dozens of children with all types of learning styles for their b’nai mitzvah over the years, Jessica noted the coincidence that it was also her bat mitzvah haftarah. While they worked, Sami and I made pumpkin face cookies for which I had prepared the dough and filling earlier in the week. The next morning, we picked up Faith, dropped Sami at Hebrew School in Cherry Hill, window-shopped for an hour at Cherry Hill Mall because we were early, and drove the few miles to brunch with Ruth and Giora  at their beautiful new home, spending the whole afternoon schmoozing about old times, catching up with each other’s kids’ and grandkids’ lives, and discussing our travels. Then, we drove the couple of miles over to Jess and Alex’s to find them sanding a banister outside the front door. We decided to have dinner together at the Burger.org in Cherry Hill to see how it compared. The decor was spartan compared to the old Max and David’s, and it was not nearly so clean, but the food was quite good and came out quickly. It seems I almost always have issues with the cleanliness of kosher restaurants. It really shouldn’t be that way!

Last Thursday, Larry’s sister, Susan, and brother-in-law, Ted, arrived here by car from Chicago to help him celebrate his special birthday. Saul and I went shopping on Friday morning for the makings of his special birthday dinner. Joined by Larry, Susan and Ted, and Faith, we had deviled eggs, magic rainbow braided bread, quick black bean soup, maple-glazed steelhead trout, creamy onion and garlic mashed potatoes, buttered steamed asparagus, gezer haicarrot cake and chocolate almond bars. Susan and Ted brought us a special, signed, self-published volume of an acquaintance, Dean Eastman, who bought and chronicled his restoration of a section of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Coonley House. We had a satisfying and enjoyable evening chatting together over dinner. On Saturday morning, Larry did a competent job with his chanting of the haftarah, after which the congregation delighted in a Chinese-style luncheon he sponsored that was catered by Singapore Vegetarian Restaurant. Larry’s co-president, Lori, asked if we would all like to get together with them to have dinner out on motzei Shabbat. Ted and Susan had other plans with Ted’s children and grandchildren. On a Saturday evening, we had trouble getting reservations at a reputable restaurant, at a reasonable hour, on short notice. I had so many leftovers from the previous evening that I invited Lori and her husband Saul to join Larry and us for dinner. We spent a few enjoyable hours over dinner getting to know each other better, something that would have been impossible in a crowded, noisy, restaurant on a Saturday night.

Yesterday, although it was a perfectly beautiful autumn Sunday, after all this bustling about, Saul and I just hung out around the house. We needed to catch up with much paperwork and had quite a bit of clean-up to restore the house to its pristine state. I also used the opportunity to complete the Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and finish reading Cloud Atlas, which I think is one of the most remarkable, creative, and well-written novels I have ever read. I enjoyed it immensely and can’t wait to see the movie, which is opening this coming weekend.

The fall has been absolutely spectacular this year. We have not had the early frost or snow which shortens the length of time that the leaves cling to the trees. The nippy air is just sufficient to send them ripening into a kaleidoscope of lush, vibrant color without stripping the trees too quickly. The rainy days that gladden the trees, but make us sad with the prospect of oncoming winter, have not been as numerous as the glorious days of orange and ruddy sunshine. It has been a gorgeous autumn!