Tuesday, September 14, 2021

50 Golden Years


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Since I last wrote in June, and I spoke about “rounding the corner” on the pandemic, Florida has experienced a new surge that has again filled our local hospitals. Thinking that life would be more normal by August, we had decided to go ahead with our plans to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, and accordingly, those coming from far and wide booked their non-cancellable flights and looked forward to joining us. All totaled, we were 25 double-vaccinated souls plus the two (also double-vaxxed) wonderful guys, Josh and Tyler, from The Vegetable Butchers who catered our party and did a masterful job with both taste and presentation. Needless to say, I breathed a great sigh of relief after a week had gone by that no one in attendance had caught the virus.

Back in June, our garden was really flourishing, and for a while, at least, we were holding fast to our determination to spend an hour a day in the relative cool of the morning tending it. We were rewarded with an assortment of colorful tomatoes, including our favorite—Atomic tomatoes. Our passion flowers, which we planted for the flowers, began to give us (unexpectedly) delicious fruit as well. Our collection of orchids, which I never had any luck raising up north, reward us constantly with a showy display. 

We recently resumed our thrice-weekly walks at Disney, sticking for months to our plan to remain outdoors at all times. We returned to a Disney quite different from the one we had known and loved until the pandemic ended our spontaneous and carefree forays into fantasy land. While the crowds have diminished, all the little flourishes have disappeared. For instance, at Animal Kingdom, Da Vine is gone, as are the Caribbean Dance Party troupe, the amazing harpist that performed on the little stage next to the gift shop, and the “Rivers of Light” show. A new walkway opened, however, so we were able to get close up to the “Tree of Life” in an area we had never seen before. The whole center of Epcot is completely blocked off from view while the park undergoes a complete refurbishment. Yesterday, though, as annual passholders, we donned our masks and got to preview the new Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure ride in the beautifully expanded new section of “Paris.” It was very cute and even suitable for young children. Hollywood Studios, for all its Star Wars hype and new rides, is a shadow of its former self, lacking all the kitschy outdoor antics, with many attractions closed, and with large sections under renovation as well. The Magic Kingdom is difficult to access, so we usually don’t walk there. We prefer not to be in the enclosed space of the Monorail, and the hotels nearby now require proof of reservations at their restaurants in order to park and take the friendship boats there. Getting on the large boats from the general parking lot area requires a lengthy walk which could be problematic on a rainy day. Basically, it is our opinion that Disney lost a lot of its magic when it furloughed its long-time, uniquely talented, cast members, including its chefs. To date, many have not returned.

Before Yona’s arrival for Camp Bubbie and Saba, I finally found bed ensembles which I loved, and (with her approval) we replaced the sheets, duvets and pillowcases with new, colorful, reversible quilts and cute new accent pillows. The previous ones dated back at least 15 years to when Sami and Izzy were tots.

Our newly-born cousins in Israel continue to flourish and we have kept in touch with their parents and other Israeli cousins since our trip there in October/November of 2019. We also met up at Epcot with our local friend, Carly, whose four kids, Ella, Harrison, Henderson, and Emma, we had not seen for almost two years. During the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot, we sampled some great vegan dishes (Impossible Sausage and Kale Soup; Grilled Street Corn on the Cob with Savory Garlic Spread; Boneless Impossible Korean Short Rib with Cilantro Lime Rice, Danmuji Slaw, and Kimchee Mayo; Lavender Pot de Créme with Blueberry Cake, Pink Peppercorn and Lime Whipped Cream; Spicy Kenyan Vegan Corn and White Beans with Pigeon Peas, Quinoa & Ancient Grains Medley and Kachumbari Slaw) at Epcot and met and sampled a few with our friends from up north, Phyllis and Larry. Larry was kind enough to pick up the check when we dined outdoors together at Epcot’s Rose and Crown restaurant, which gave us front-row seats for the “Epcot Forever” fireworks display. Rose and Crown now has five delicious vegan entrees in addition to their regular menu.

We got the best possible news about what the doctors thought was an aneurism in Saul’s stomach. We had been hoping that it was a small one that would not require surgery, and learned, after a CT scan that it didn’t exist at all! It was a mistake on the first ultrasound!

One of the great pleasures of living here is to wake up to the fairly frequent, gentle puffing sound of colorful, hot air balloons flying directly overhead and run out through our bedroom sliders to the pool deck to see them floating by overhead in the beautiful, bright blue Florida sky.

My Zoom violin lessons continue with our lovely friend, Jennifer, who is a principal violinist for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. If only my talents lived up to hers as a superb teacher! I do get a certain thrill, despite my lacking talent, every time I pick up my father’s beloved violin.

On a sunset walk through Disney Springs one evening, we listened to some great street entertainers (capturing the amphibious vintage cars returning to the adjacent dock) and took an absolutely brilliant panoramic photo of the sunset along the lagoon walkway which we had made into a canvas artwork for our bedroom.

Hearing that there was a delicious-sounding, prix-fixe, three-course vegan meal at a new restaurant opening in the Caribbean Beach Resort at Disney (Sebastian’s Bistro), we went to great lengths to procure reservations. While our meal was delicious, imaginative, and quite a bargain by Disney standards, the non-vegan barbecue of our dinner partners, Larry, Susan, and Ted was just ho-hum. Susan and Ted were kind enough to pick up the check. This particular evening was our first foray since Covid 19 into an indoor restaurant, and while the ceiling was enormously high and the tables socially-distanced, we were a little appalled that our servers did not wear masks.

One of our new go-to, take-out, food purveyors is Mr. Sushi Express in Old Town, Kissimee. This nearby, honky-tonk atmosphere, amusement complex is great for a stroll. The sushi, which is incredibly reasonable, is made by machine, and fairly flies out the door as it is made. People line up out the door to make their orders and pick up. They have a very large vegan sushi selection as well as a very large and imaginative selection of regular sushi.

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, our big event this summer was our 50th Wedding Anniversary party. We also celebrated Jessica and Alex’s 25th Wedding Anniversary, Rif and Paul’s 45th Wedding Anniversary, Sami’s 21st Birthday, and Beth’s 50th Birthday. Ari, after taking a required Covid P.C.R. test, flew in several days ahead. We went with him to the airport to pick up Rif and Paul from New Jersey. Jess flew in from New Jersey the previous week and was working remotely from Elaine’s home. Alex flew down a few days before and drove back after the party with Inky (their dog), who had been residing with Elaine for most of the summer so that Jess and Alex could visit his sister, Naomi and her family in California, and take a vacation in Williamsburg during the summer. Yona traveled back with him ending this year’s restrictive (but full of delicious Yona-made baked goods) Camp Bubbie and Saba. Ari left the following week, happily on an almost empty airplane. He had to take two more P.C.R. tests, one 48 hours before boarding the airplane, and one within 24 hours of arriving in London. Thank God no one caught Covid, or the entire celebration would have turned into a very expensive nightmare. Jess stayed on for a few more days so that she and Izzy could visit a college in St. Louis that they had been considering. They didn’t like it. After the St. Louis trip, Izzy drove Jess to Tampa Airport for her return flight home, while we simultaneously returned Rif and Paul to Orlando Airport.

To get back to the party itself, suffice it to say that it went beyond our wildest imagination. We found the caterers, Josh and Tyler, The Vegetable Butchers, on-line, by doing a lot of research over several months. We had originally considered a more local caterer, Dharma Southern Kitchen, also vegan. We had sampled their wonderful food by doing take-out and eating in a nearby playground/park with picnic tables on good-weather days. But every attempt we made to contact the catering wing of the restaurant had failed, probably because everything party-related has become sketchy in Covid times. We were successful in contacting The Vegetable Butchers, who are located near Daytona Beach, about an hour and a half away. They were absolutely a joy to deal with! We were a bit nervous, though, as we had never personally tasted their food and they pooh-poohed our efforts to send them a deposit prior to the party. 

Since Saul and I were the only vegans in attendance, I asked Josh and Tyler if they would mind my making celebratory cakes for the occasion, and they had no objections whatever. I had carefully saved the ornaments from my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration, as well as their 25th, and using them to decorate the cakes I made for this celebration was particularly meaningful for me. I wanted a cake for each milestone we were celebrating in an assortment of flavors. My family pointed out, several times, that this was way too much cake for the 25 or so people who would be in attendance. My solution was to order the cutest windowed wedding cake boxes so that everyone would have as much cake as they wanted to take home. (I still have two layers of cake in the freezer, even so.) The cakes were: sour cream pound cake with buttercream icing, ultimate carrot cake with butter pecan filling and cream cheese icing, chocolate medallion cake with mocha icing, Yona Rae coconut cake with cream cheese icing, and Ghirardelli white chocolate cake with white chocolate icing.  

Since Josh and Tyler don’t do bars, I recruited our neighbor, Gary, who has a frozen margarita machine, to oversee the drinks. Saul and I made sure the bar was well stocked and ordered corn-based, compostable drinking cups in various sizes, and compostable coffee cups as well. We got a new Nespresso coffee machine that was a great price at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and a whole assortment of recyclable coffee pods to go with it, but no one drank a single cup of coffee at the party. Gary showed up for the party early, surprising us with a custom-made banner that included photos he had gleaned from our Facebook pages—our favorite wedding picture and one that was taken by Ari this past December while we were taking a walk at Summer Bay. He and Jessica found a clever way to hang it over our cake table that greeted our guests as they came in the front door. 

The food was absolutely delicious and our meat-eating neighbors could not believe the sandwiches were not meat. The guys make their own seitan from scratch! They even prepared my Red Curry Vegan Shrimp from my recipe blog that I requested (if they were able). No one could believe the shrimp weren’t “real” either. They had made a special trip into Orlando from Daytona Beach to source the vegan shrimp from Golden Sparkling supermarket where I purchase it. The food was gorgeously and thoughtfully presented in individual servings so that the spread of germs would be minimized. The guys, themselves, were as pleasant and informative to our guests as anyone could ask. Everything was extremely well-organized, kept clean throughout the length of the party, and when they left, everything was spotless. As I said at the beginning, it was beyond anything we dared to imagine.

Jessica has a really incredible talent for composing poetry that captures the essence of everyone’s quirks, foibles, life experiences, etc. This occasion was no exception. She composed a poem that had us both laughing, and crying with emotion—again, creating a memory par excellence! Saul and I are so lucky that we have such talented and caring children and grandchildren and that we have lived to see such a milestone in our life! We truly have had golden years together!

Once the long-anticipated party was over, I began work on Yona’s bat mitzvah invitation painting as I had done for her other two sisters. I think that Yona has the most unfortunate parashah in the whole Torah! Thank goodness I was able to find one upbeat line that I could make the focus of the painting, which, in translation, reads: “He shall be like a tree planted by waters…” Eventually, the painting will be professionally photographed and digitized so that the details of the invitation can be digitally added to the center. Once the idea struck, the whole thing was created, start to finish, in two days. The idea even lent itself to Yona’s love of trees, frogs, and turtles.

In the past few weeks, my brother, Ken, treated us to dinner at the Rose and Crown (where we again were treated to Epcot’s amazing fireworks display) to celebrate our actual anniversary on September 2. On September 2 itself, Susan and Ted made dinner reservations for us and treated us at the newly-reopened (and our favorite restaurant) Boma, at Jambo House in Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney. It is operating at 30 to 50 percent capacity at the moment and the tables are socially-distanced. The staff is all masked, and one must wear a mask to go up to the buffet and at all times, except when seated at the table eating. Other than the necessary inconvenience of wearing the mask, the food, ambiance, and waitstaff, were as excellent as ever, especially our waitress, Vivian, who made our “Happily Ever After” 50th anniversary day truly special.

As I write this, we are between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Our two days of Rosh Hashanah Zoom services and lunches with friends and family were a joy. We can only hope that we all will be written in the book of life for another wonderful and “beyond golden” year together!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Rounding the Corner and Re-Imagining the Future


“Rounding the corner” is how most of the news media I have been watching has characterized this phase of the Covid 19 Pandemic. About two weeks ago, Saul and I decided it was time to renew our Annual Passes to Disney World which expired last August (we had not attended since the beginning of March 2020). Our decision was based on the fact that the C.D.C. issued new guidelines, unexpectedly, saying that people who had been fully vaccinated would no longer need to wear a mask in outdoor situations, and, indeed, also no longer indoors if everyone indoors has received a full vaccination. While we don’t trust that everyone indoors has been so vaccinated (and therefore we continue to wear masks indoors), we felt relatively comfortable outdoors once Disney removed the mandate for masking outdoors and requiring everyone’s temperature to be taken as they enter the parks. We have greatly missed giving vent to our inclination to wander the parks in the evening, putting in, usually, two to three-and-a-half miles each time. Our walks around the neighborhood for the last year are just not the same. Unfortunately, the new Disney requirement that a park be reserved in advance has put quite a crimp in our impulsive, spur-of-the-moment style. In the last week or two, we have found that very little is available for reservation. We are hoping the availability improves, or that Disney will soon drop that requirement also.

As my last blog post ended, we were preparing for Passover 2021. Jessica, Izzy and Yona were flying down on an unbelievably cheap deal from Frontier Airlines. Alex could not join us physically because he would not have had enough time to quarantine on his return to the responsibility of overseeing a large, in-person, nursery school. The prep was a lot easier this year (except the cleaning and transferring part) because we could shop at the synagogue-adjacent Winn-Dixie (that carries a full line of Passover goods) in person this year. It was our first foray into an actual store since the previous March. We were gratified to find everything we needed, including a very large, fresh horseradish root. It obliged us in other ways a few days after use by sprouting a healthy contingent of green leaves. It is now ensconced in a large planter, sending up gigantic leaves, and awaiting next year’s seder. This year’s seder’s attendees, thanks to the wonders of Zoom, were: Alex, Ari, Rifka; Matt, Naomi, Talia, and Ava; Aaron, Stacey, Jacob, Lilly, and Zach; and in person: Saul, Marilyn, Jessica, Sami, Izzy, Yona, Kenny, Elaine, Larry S., Susan and Ted. Our vegetarian menu consisted of: Guacamole, Hummus, Steamed Mini Potatoes, Vegetable Sushi, Celery Sticks, Carrot Sticks, Haroset, Horseradish, Salt Water, Roasted Egg, Beet/Zroah, Deviled Eggs, Chickenless Chicken Soup, Matzoh Balls, Homemade Passover Noodles, Vegan Gefilte “Fish” with Horseradish and Beets/Hrain, Cod and Passover-Certified Surimi Lamaize, Vegan Shepherds Pie (Sherpa’s Pie) with Chestnuts and Butternut Squash, Jackfruit Chili, Wild Mushroom and Eggplant Vegan “Meatballs” with Chickpea Pasta, Marinated Salad, Israeli Salad, Gezer Hai, Passover Potato Knishes, Steamed Cauliflower, Apricot Sweet Potatoes, Brown Basmati and Black Wild Rice, Matzoh-Apple Kugel, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Assorted Sorbets (Blood Orange, Strawberry, Lemon, Mango), and Carob Mousse Crepes with Vanilla Custard Sauce. The first seder fell on a Saturday night this year, which is problematic, because technically, there is no cooking allowed on Saturday until sundown. There was also much debate this year about what to use to make a motzi the previous Friday evening. It is after the burning of hametz, so technically, no challah, but also falls within the time period when one may not eat matzoh until the first taste at the seder. Most rabbis recommended using egg matzoh, but luckily, none in our group have a problem with gluten (which was a whole other problem for some this year). Susan was very gracious in inviting us all for Friday evening Shabbat dinner, at which she prepared a gorgeous and delicious vegan buffet that conformed to our esoteric needs. Kudos to her for meeting this considerable challenge in such a gracious and delectable way! Our seder table was enhanced by beautiful flower arrangements from Ari and Elaine. Towards the end of the holiday, I made Passover Rolls, and Yona made meringue frogs with some of the leftover egg whites.

Ari’s move from his high rise flat in Canary Wharf to a four-story, two bedroom, two bath, house near Paddington went pretty much without a hitch, except for some plumbing problems, which, thank God, the owner was very diligent to fix.

At the end of Passover, I did something I have never done before. I prepared a Mimouna celebration, as is done in Sephardic communities (especially in Morocco), by making (very successfully) Mofleta, the signature dish of this celebration. The table setting and symbolism are quite beautiful and it was very gratifying and meaningful, not to mention delicious, to celebrate in this way. Another new tradition was baking a “shlissel” challah (key-shaped) on the first Shabbat following Passover.

After Passover, Saul and I ventured forth to shop at Lotte, a huge Asian warehouse-type supermarket and Golden Sparkling, another Asian supermarket, to get all the items we had been missing during the pandemic. Lotte and Golden Sparkling did not have a delivery or curbside pickup service during the pandemic.

In the period after Passover, our friends, the Enders, Murvin and Linda, made their yearly trek to Orlando. Last year was, for obvious reasons, an exception. Since we no longer had active Disney Annual Passes, we found other attractions around Orlando and St. Petersburg to enjoy with them. We visited the Morse Museum, which graciously honored our annual passes that we had purchased the previous year, a glass museum that houses one of the largest collections of Tiffany glass, including a chapel made of glass. Afterward, we had lunch at 4 Rivers Barbecue, which has delicious vegan Beyond Meat burnt ends and wonderful sides in addition to their regular barbecue. A few days later, we trekked to St. Petersburg to view the glass collection at the Imagine Museum. The displays were eye-popping and diverse, revealing the kaleidoscope that is the human imagination. We each took a picture at the end of a long tunnel of glass. We had lunch, outdoors, at a charming waterfront bistro called “Fresco’s.”

Sadly, Jessica and Yona all too soon returned to New Jersey via Tampa Airport. As the airport is only a short drive from Clearwater Beach, one of my favorite beaches in the whole world, Saul and I took the opportunity to spend a few blissful hours there after dropping them off for their flight. We hadn’t been to the beach in a few years because of the pandemic and before that, red tide. Recently, the beach had been the site of controversial crowds of spring break party goers that were celebrating en masse and mask-less that had to be dispersed by police. The day we visited, the weather was perfect, the water warm, the beaches uncrowded and sparkling. We were lucky to get the parking spot closest to Frenchie’s Rockaway Grille on the beach and, after a very short wait, had the most lovely table outdoors so we could dine with our toes in the sand.

As evidenced by the many photos of our garden, fruit trees, and orchids, which are all thriving, we can’t escape the daily evidence that, despite the pandemic, we are living in paradise. We decided to take a hand in our gardening, almost daily, for an hour a day to get more exercise and our small investment of time has rewarded us handsomely. Izzy, as well, was bitten by the gardening bug, but on a smaller scale. After discovering the half-price rack of dying plants at Lowe’s, she came home regularly with forlorn-looking plants that she nursed back to health in short order. Her bedroom now looks like the page in “Where the Wild Things Are” where it says “That very night, in Max’s room, a forest grew…” 

During May, we celebrated a number of birthdays, for which I made cakes: our friend, Susan, for whom I made a Texas Sheet Cake; our neighbor Gary, a Chocolate Medallion Cake; and our niece, Haley, who requested a Cinnabon-type cake. I made two batches of my potato-dough cinnamon buns, baked them in layer cake pans, and frosted them with cream cheese icing. As the peaches from our tree became ripe, we harvested them and I made peach jam with the not so beautiful ones. As of this writing, sadly, the last of the fresh ones have been eaten and we will have to wait for next year’s crop to enjoy them again. Izzy perched precariously on the top rung of the ladder to prevent her Saba from climbing to reach the highest ones on the tree. During May, we were able to purchase beautiful mangoes for 39¢ apiece, so while I was canning peaches, I also made mango jam with the surfeit of mangoes I had purchased. I also love the half-price rack at Lowe’s and bought a bush of my favorite flowers—gardenias. My love dates back to the time of Jessica’s birth when friends who were visiting at the time (Ed and Rose St. Onge) bought me a gardenia tree to celebrate her birth. I used to sit next to it, inhaling its fragrance while I was nursing my daughter.

Saul’s cousin, Adi, whose wedding we had attended with his sister in Israel back in October 2019, gave birth to a beautiful little boy. Sadly, Adi’s mother, Sylvia, died at the beginning of the pandemic and never got to see her beautiful little grandson.

One of the small number of benefits of the pandemic was getting to attend my regular Thursday morning Bible study classes on Zoom. Up until I moved to Florida, I had attended regularly for almost 20 years. Our final Zoom class of this school year ended about three weeks ago and we all got a screen shot of the attendees.

Since the C.D.C. lifted the mask requirements for being outdoors, we took the girls for our first dinner at a restaurant together in over a year. We got an outdoor table at “Ford’s Garage” in Margaritaville and had a lovely evening.

In the last few days, Saul and I have resumed our walks in the Disney Parks when we can get reservations. We were pleased to discover that The Grand Floridian Hotel has a newly-paved and refurbished walkway to the Magic Kingdom. We had a pleasant vegan lunch outdoors at the Gasparilla Island Grill, which is now entirely different due to the pandemic, before embarking on our newly discovered route to the Magic Kingdom. Like Disney, we are now tasked with “Re-Imagining the Future.”

Friday, March 19, 2021

A Light at the End of the Horizon

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The photo above is a screen shot from the 39th floor in Ari’s soon-to-be-vacated flat in London. He has been quarantining with this beautiful view for almost a year and a half now, with the exception of about a month spent here with us in Florida, as explained in my previous blog post. Last March, he, Jessica, and Sami, unexpectedly, had to high-tail it home from Taiwan where Sami had just begun a year abroad program a few months earlier because all travel was being curtailed due to the pandemic. The flat is “soon-to-be-vacated” because just about everything has changed in the last year since the pandemic began. This beautiful flat, with a gorgeous view of the river Thames and the city of London became claustrophobic after a few months of serious lockdown. Everyone began to long for outdoor spaces that could be accessed without taking the risk of contaminated elevators, hallways, and surfaces. Ari’s new home will be in a lovely mews house on a secluded cobblestone street with access to one of the most beautiful parks in London. Now that he has his new job that is completely remote at EPIQ, he will be in a dedicated office space at home, instead of a makeshift setup in his dining/living room area. I believe the only thing he will miss is this view.

By comparison, the pandemic has not been terribly hard on us here in Florida. We haven’t been cooped up, as many have, by bad weather, tight quarters, or small spaces. And now, contrary to the inefficiency with which Florida usually runs, (drum roll please!) the state has been the model of efficiency in rolling out the vaccine. Saul and I (as of last month!) have had both our shots of the Pfizer vaccine with practically no hassle. We went online, booked two appointments together, and were given a QR code to photograph with our phones. Pulling into the Orlando Convention Center at the appointed time (directed very efficiently by newly-erected road signage) our codes were checked as we entered and we snaked around for about 20 minutes. Entering the under-building garage, our codes were read by scanning guns, we were directed to lines depending on whether we were receiving shot 1 or 2, and a sticker was printed out and affixed to our clothing. Then we were directed to one of ten stations administering the vaccine. Our codes were again scanned, we were asked which arm we preferred to have the shot in, we got our shot, a super-hero band-aid, and even a lollipop! Then, we were directed to a parking lot outside where we were told to flash our emergency lights and lean on the horn if there was any problem that developed. After waiting the suggested 15 minutes, we left, our codes again checked by a monitor to make sure we had waited the appointed amount of time. On our second shot, handled the same way as the first, we were given a packet of surgical masks to take home. We feel incredibly lucky! In addition, Jessica and Alex (by virtue of working in schools) have now received both shots. Ari, in keeping with England’s policy has received his first, then Sami got her first, the next scheduled for April 8.

Since everyone left in January, we have been continuing with our year-long pandemic schedule with me preoccupied with my blogs (I’m very proud that I got my book, "Bubbie’s Kitchen” online and it is better than ever before), Saul and Sami with remotely teaching Religious School, and Sami taking her classes at New College remotely. Saul and I take walks around the neighborhood, during which we often see some interesting wildlife and do laps in our pool, weather permitting. I also have been continuing with my violin lessons, taught remotely by the remarkable Jennifer Christie from her quarantined quarters in London. One light at the end of the horizon is that Jennifer has been called back to socially-distanced rehearsals with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. Millions of people in the U.K. have already received their vaccinations! We are also excited because Jennifer and her boyfriend, Steve, got engaged on Valentine’s day. Soon, they may actually be able to schedule a wedding!

Last year, the day of my birthday was a normal and lovely celebration that began with our favorite breakfast buffet at Boma in Animal Kingdom Lodge, followed by an incredible dinner prepared by our friend Susan, who, with her husband, Ted, moved here at our and her brother’s urging from Chicago a few year’s ago. That was a Thursday evening. The following day, I prepared Shabbat dinner for our little havurah, which was our custom, and announced that because of concerns about gatherings due to the pandemic, I would be suspending our weekly dinners until further notice. Little did we all suspect that the next regular Friday night dinner (at which we celebrated my birthday) would be exactly one year later! It was such a joy to be able to hug and kiss one another after lighting the Shabbat candles as we all have now had our vaccinations!

We had a very scaled-back Tu B’Shevat seder back in January and baked the usual hamantaschen to put into mishloach manot packages for Purim in February. All our religious services, except one, have been on Zoom. Izzy read the Megillah back in New Jersey, and we were pleased to be able to Zoom in to their services as well as our own. We braved attending the actual, physical synagogue on a Saturday morning, after our first vaccination, to attend the adult bat mitzvah of our new friend, Jodie, whom we met on Zoom this year attending classes and services. It was our first, in person, meeting. The synagogue had opened up the entire sanctuary, and with its high ceilings, and a dozen masked socially-distanced congregants, we felt pretty secure.

Another benefit of Zooming during the pandemic has been to be able to rejoin a Bible class that I attended for 20 years, before moving to Florida, taught by my good friend, Faith. At its inception, there were some Thursday mornings when only I showed up and we had a private session. As the years went by, news traveled, and now the class has grown to some 30 or 40 members, many of whom I hadn’t seen in almost eight years. Two weeks ago, we finished studying the Five Books of Moses and have gone on to study the book of Joshua. We all celebrated together online with a treat of our choice.

If you check out the photos above, you will see that we have been greatly enjoying our Florida gardens. Our mango, citrus, avocado and peach trees are loaded with developing fruit. Susan and Ted had planted Meyer lemon trees. The fruit matured last month and we produced the most delicious Meyer lemon, Ginger and Cardamom cookies with the bounty. I also ordered new Tommy Bahama solar lights from Costco to go around our pool screens and they are even better than we imagined at night, reflecting off our pool. Haley and Eric, who couldn’t join us for my 2021 birthday dinner, invited us to the palatial home they rented a few miles away during the pandemic. Haley, who is a brilliant cook, made a remarkable birthday dinner for me that checked all the boxes for vegan and oil free and was absolutely stunning and delicious. The one note that is not bright for me is that they are moving back to Philadelphia in May. But having gotten a several months taste of Florida life, we all hope they will become “snow birds” in the future.

As I write this, we are about to begin our preparations for this year’s Passover seder. Jess and the girls are flying down in a few days and will be here for an indefinite period of time as Yona will be able to finish this school year remotely. On the horizon, right now, it looks as though schools will be able to resume in September, Disney World will begin to get back to its usual operations, hiring back its cast members that have been furloughed, it will no longer be a danger to go into restaurants and shops, Saul and I will be able to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary, Jessica and Alex’s twenty-fifth, and Sami’s 21st birthday in August, and everyone will be able to travel and enjoy each other as they have in the past. May the worst be over as of this writing so that we may enjoy the light on the horizon with a greater appreciation and more peace in the world.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Keeping Busy and Counting Our Blessings

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So we have now almost come up on a year since our lives have changed drastically. Our last hurrah of 2020 was the celebration of my 70th birthday. We went to Boma at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge for an early reservation at one of our favorite buffet breakfasts of all time. In the evening, Susan made an absolutely wonderful dinner in my honor and we schmoozed the hours away. The next day, I made us all Shabbat dinner and, at the end, announced that, for the first time in my life, I was cancelling our regular Friday night dinners because we were beginning to feel that it was no longer safe to meet and hug, kiss, or socialize in any way. That marked the beginning of our self-isolation on March 6, 2020, and since then, Saul and I have practically not left the house. Believe it or not, I consider all this a great blessing. I was lucky to be able to celebrate my milestone birthday before all the grief set in. We are self-isolating in paradise—both in terms of the weather here in Florida, and the beauty of our spacious home with private swimming pool and hot tub. In addition, we are retired, living on a teacher’s pension and Social Security, and have the luxury of not having to worry about being exposed on the job. Neither do we have to worry about losing a job.

Our children, also, have the luxury of good jobs that allow them to work remotely, permanently. Our grandchildren have been attending their classes remotely as well. We are so blessed, I hardly know how to deal with it.

As usual, there are not enough hours in the day for me. I have been anything but bored. This “so-called” down time has been an unusually productive time for me. These are the activities that take up most of my day:

I am proud to announce that I finally did finish putting my “Bubbie’s Kitchen” book up on-line and I am so pleased with the results. The wonders of blogging allowed me many liberties that were non-existent at the time I wrote the book 35 years ago. I was able to include color photos of the dishes in the book, as well as links to related photos of step-by-step processes, videos, links to outside resources, and internal links within the book so that one only need click on a recipe in the Table of Contents to be taken directly to the desired recipe. No more shuffling through pages! During the preparation, I had the opportunity to revisit and update dishes that I hadn’t prepared in many, many years; such as the Caramel Apples, Apple Honey Cake, Tzimmes, Kreplach, and Kugels. In addition, the original book was envisioned as one of six I was planning to write. To that end, I had researched and prepared quite a few chapters from the other books. My cooking classes at Temple Sinai allowed me to test a number of them with real students in real time. A lot of my time, now, is spent working to get the other five books on-line, which involves test cooking and photographing. I love it! Some of the lessons are accessible now by clicking in the right margin of the Bubbie’s Kitchen blog. I am publishing them piecemeal as I complete each one.

When Haley and Erik moved temporarily to Florida, they brought me my father’s violin, which my brother had paid to refurbish for his granddaughter, who had never used it. After a 55-year hiatus, I have begun taking Zoom violin lessons from Jennifer Christie, a friend of the family, who lives in London and plays second violin for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra there. Unfortunately, the Orchestra has not had many venues this year, despite taking many precautions to avoid Covid, and has shut down completely now that the lockdown in England has been even more strictly enforced. My heart goes out to musicians who are truly suffering from their inability to make beautiful music together. Jennifer is an absolute delight as a a teacher, and unlike my time as a child when I did everything I could to avoid practicing, I am making an effort to practice every day so as not to disappoint her or myself. The instrument is beginning to feel more comfortable as time wears on.

A large part of my day is spent putting up Daily Love Letters from WWII. As of this writing, I have posted 264 days‘ worth of letters spanning the years from 1941 to, at present, 1944. Without the time afforded to me by this pandemic, those letters would have continued to languish in their boxes as they have for 75 years. Each day, when I awaken, I am excited to see what my parents and their friends and relatives are up to. I have learned so much about them and the rest of the family that I never knew. It has been a revelation!

When the weather is nice, as it often is in Florida, we swim, garden, and go for long walks in the sunshine.

After a hiatus of eight years, we were able to resume taking weekly, Thursday morning Bible classes with Faith Rubin, in Dresher, Pennsylvania. It was a joy to reconnect with friends we hadn’t seen in many years and continue an activity that had been a part of my life for almost 20 years prior.

We also attend Zoom Saturday morning services at our synagogue here in Orlando, SOJC; attend classes and discussions with our Rabbi Orrin Krublit; and spend a few moments with fellow congregants on Saturday nights at Havdallah services. We live about 45 minutes from our shul and we can be so much more connected this way, without the grueling drive at night.

Saul and Sami are team teaching religious school classes on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The girls often keep their sanity by playing “Animal Crossing” on Sami’s “Switch.” They even visited the “island” of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris during the election campaign.

To get back to the specifics of the time that has elapsed since my last post, we all made arrangements for Jess, Yona and Ari to visit for at least a month from just before Thanksgiving to New Years. This turned out to be a complicated logistical nightmare considering the necessity to quarantine from each other because of possible exposure on the flights here. In the end, it all worked out beautifully. Saul and I are owners at a timeshare resort called Summer Bay, which is a mere two miles away. We have accumulated a zillion points because no one has or was planning any vacations in the past year, or for the foreseeable future, for that matter. We used our points to book an apartment there for the purpose of quarantining for two weeks beginning November 24. Ari was trying to arrange his flight for then, but England locked down and did not allow traveling until December 4. In the meantime, Jessica flew down then with Yona, Izzy joined them at the resort, and the three of them quarantined at the timeshare for ten days. They came here frequently, but we social-distanced on the lanai until their quarantine period was over. Then, Izzy and Yona moved back in here and Jessica moved in with her mother-in-law, Elaine, about 45 minutes away. By then, we had managed to book another two weeks at Summer Bay so that Ari could quarantine there. We picked him up at the airport in the beginning of December in two cars, gave him one to drive to Summer Bay and the rest of us returned home in the other. Ari also visited us frequently during his quarantine, but again, we socially distanced on the lanai until he was cleared also. We were able to book the apartment at Summer Bay all the way to December 31, so Ari had his own apartment, regardless of quarantine, for almost the entire length of his visit.

Our vegetarian Thanksgiving meal was a wonder! We had Chicken-less Chicken Soup with Whole Wheat Matzoh Balls, Hummus and Baba Ganoush with assorted chips, Balsamic Roasted Vegetables, Vegan Dried Fruit-Stuffed “Turkey” Breast with Wild Mushroom Gravy, Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Pomegranate Seeds, Pickles, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Pumpkin Seed-Praline Pumpkin Pie (made with the flesh from Sami’s Halloween-decorated pumpkin), Marinated Salad, and Fresh Cranberry Relish. The Four Rivers Smokehouse provided us with Vegan Beyond Burnt Ends, Fried Okra, Coleslaw, and Jalapeno Cornbread. Our lovely neighbor, Julia, across the street, contributed not one, but two Sweet Potato Pies. We had quite a feast with enough left over for a carefree Shabbat dinner the following evening. As if all this bounty wasn’t enough, Yona (who loves to bake) made cinnamon rolls over the weekend.

Jess and Izzy undertook a long journey at the beginning of December. They drove to visit Life University, which is Izzy’s first choice for college, outside of Atlanta, Georgia. The drive took about 6-1/2 hours. They spent the night in Atlanta in an unused in-law suite in the basement of their friends’ home (The Dorsches). They loaded their bedding into the washer the next morning, waved to their friends from a distance, and went on a very physically grueling, but extremely gratifying tour of the college. The college was everything they had hoped for and beyond. Unfortunately, the stress of the entire excursion took a toll on Jessica and she developed a mild case of Shingles on the way back. It took several days before we all realized that she had something beyond a rash or insect bite, and a doctor diagnosed her over Zoom. Luckily, Saul and I, after several years of trying, received our Shingles shots at the beginning of this past year, just before Covid struck, and luckily, it was a mild case for Jessica.

Jess and Alex bought Saul a Soda-Stream for Chanukah. Our hot water heater broke, but, in a stroke of unbelievable luck, Susan had a plumber on-site that morning to install a Japanese toilet (a long, complicated story) and Saul nabbed him an hour later to fix our heater. He had the parts on his truck. We dodged a big bullet. 

My cousin, Alan, posted on Facebook that his mother died peacefully during December. Aunt Ruth was my mother’s brother’s wife. She was in her mid-90s and the oldest member of our family.

Ari had very little problem flying in until he reached Miami, one of only 13 airports in the U.S.A. that accepts international flights. There, social distancing was non-existent, and he felt very unsafe.

As Chanukah approached, Jessica, who has a religious school Zoom class, had ordered supplies to be mailed to her students families so that they could do a craft project for Chanukah together online. When the supplies arrived here, the girls sat down to separate and package the kits to be mailed. The project miraculously, arrived just in time for Chanukah and was a great success. Yona and Izzy made Pumpkin-Filled Dreidel Cookies with Hebrew-letter cookie cutters Jessica ordered from Amazon Prime. Every year, it is a family tradition for the girls to make their own Chanukiah. With a quick, masked, and socially-distanced trip to Michael’s, they picked up the supplies to make what I think is the best, most imaginative, and most beautiful Chanukiah I have ever seen from clear Christmas ornaments, Femo, and paper folded into many colored lucky stars.

Ari, sun-deprived in London, spent many hours basking in the sunshine here, going for long walks around the grounds at Summer Bay, for which we joined him on a few occasions, and checking out the trails in some of our local parks. He also spent a lot of time on the lanai and in the hot tub. Our neighbor, Julia, gave us a big bag of freshly-picked pecans from her children’s trees. Ari and Izzy found it very therapeutic to spend a few hours shelling them all. I used them to make a quantity of mini-pecan pies, which I then shared with Julia and her husband, Gus. Sami’s therapy is making gorgeous and delicious pleated vegetarian dumplings and various other Asian specialties such as tteokbokki, taiyaki, sushi, summer rolls, etc. We take a lot of joy from our food! One morning, we had a family brunch, for which I prepared banana pancakes. Susan gave Saul a gigantic Chanukah nightgown as a gift. It fit perfectly! She also gave us a delicious, crunchy, whole wheat boule of bread that she bakes. At the beginning of Chanukah, Ari watched through the window of the lanai as we lit the candles. By the end of Chanukah, and Shabbat Chanukah, he was finished quarantine and we were able to embrace together as a family. It was a joy to have son, daughter, and granddaughters all here at the same time. With Ari living in London, it is a rare occurrence!

We celebrated Christmas Eve with a movie at home and a delicious vegetarian Chinese banquet, picked up from a new discovery Ari made nearby—Shanghai Chinese Food. We also discovered two Indian restaurants that had pick up, one completely vegetarian, and the other with an extensive vegetarian menu. We liked Amber, the second one, better. Christmas Day was on a Friday, this year and we took the opportunity to light up a Heston Blumenthal Christmas Pudding that Ari brought with him (along with other British delicacies) that had been soaked in Courvosier for 18 months. We added a bit of our own Courvosier and the results were spectacular and delicious.

Ari made it his mission while here to bring all our electronics up-to-date. In this, he succeeded admirably! He and Saul opened our computers and replaced components, backed up files, and modified our setups, so that now, our old computers fairly fly through their tasks!

Our New Year’s Eve was really wonderful! The weather, even at night, was warm enough to enjoy the pool and hot tub. We used a projector we have had for many years to project the movie, “Soul,” onto the wall of our lanai so that we could have, as Jessica called it: “A Dive-In Movie.” Our neighbors went all out on fireworks displays this year (legal in Florida and sold in temporary stands on every shopping center parking lot, and even in Costco), probably because there are very little other outlets for “safely” celebrating this year. Being outdoors, we had the benefit of watching very professional-looking displays for hours all around us. Ari, last year, caught the fireworks bug, and a little before midnight, he began setting off the ones he had purchased on the street in front of our house, along with Izzy, the intrepid one. He promises that, based on what he has learned each year, next year’s display will be even better. I feel blessed because, as of this writing, everyone got home safe and sound with no fingers missing and no Covid 19.

Ari had moved in with us, as his reservation at Summer Bay expired for the last few days of his vacation. Izzy had decided that she wanted to go back home to celebrate her 17th birthday with her Mom and Dad and sister. Although both Jess, Yona and Ari were supposed to go to Orlando Airport at the same time for their respective flights home on January 4, everything changed. When Jess tried to book an additional flight for Izzy, she found it more expedient to change the date to January 7 and take the same flight. On January 4, we arranged to have a picnic near the airport before dropping Ari off for his flight. Saul, Ari and I had discovered an absolutely wonderful vegan restaurant, Dharma Fine Vittles, on one of our excursions when the girls were visiting their other grandmother, Elaine. Ari, who was always looking for interesting places to walk here, discovered that there was a park and walking trail near Dharma. The first time, we packed our suitcase-like, folding picnic table in the trunk, picked up our food at the restaurant, and headed around the corner to find the park. It turned out to be a lovely, gated playground replete with picnic tables. On the trip to the airport, we convinced the girls to accompany us with the promise of good food and an outdoor picnic. It was a beautiful day and the girls wanted to linger there after the picnic and play “Set” on Izzy’s hammock which they laid on the ground. Saul, Ari and I left them, to drive about a mile away to a walking trail that surrounded a lake. As we headed back at the appointed time to pick up the girls, Ari received a notification that his flight had been delayed two hours. This meant he would miss his connecting flight from Miami to London. He thought perhaps he could reroute through a later flight from New York instead, so we dropped him at the nearby Orlando airport and told him we would wait for half an hour to hear from him in the cell-phone waiting lot. As it turned out, the airport was a zoo. An air traffic controller in Jacksonville had tested positive for Covid, and they shut down the entire control tower to disinfect. All air traffic from southern Georgia to central Florida had been grounded. People and families who were trying to get home after the holidays were stranded at the airport for at least that evening. Airlines were not obligated to find them accommodations because the grounding had not been their fault. Ari was advised, emphatically, to go home and rebook until the mess got straightened out. The blessing was that we got to spend three more days of vacation with our children! Sadly, we drove them all to the airport on January 7 for their respective return flights home.

As I said earlier, as of this writing, everyone made it home safely with no collateral damage of missed schooling or work. Jessica’s entire job takes place on-line. All the girls’ schooling takes place on-line. Ari is just wrapping up at the KPMG job he has had for 10 years at the end of January, and is about to begin a new job in the middle of February for a company called EPIQ that, by contract, will be entirely remote into the foreseeable future.

As exhibited in the photos attached, I am continuing to keep busy with my aforementioned tasks. Saul is assisting me by scanning the hundreds of pages of WWII vintage letters we are bringing to light, and we cook together and photograph the results to bring forth the materials that I need to complete my courses of instruction on Jewish cooking. We have scheduled ourselves to receive the two Covid vaccine shots on February 26 and March 22—hopefully, in time to have real, in person, Passover seders this year. We intend to continue quarantining until the bulk of the crisis has passed and we have, as a community, achieved herd immunity. Here’s hoping that life will return to some semblance of what passed for normal last year, and that we will have a better world and a more united country in the future.