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!

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