It turns out it doesn’t matter if your college-bound kids moves away to a school the distance it would take to toast a pop tart or to a university half way around the world- the growing pains of leaving home remain the same.
My daughter, who will be an assuring 45 minutes away and already “left” for summer term, is back after a brief one-week break and preparing now to head back for the fall.
The days are quite consistent: an odd mix of excitement and nerves, anxiety and empowerment, denial and overthinking about what the whole thing entails. And that’s from the two of us.
She may wake up wanting mommy to fix her a full-blown sunshine breakfast, the kind I used to make when she was seven. I’d quickly fry up an egg and slice pieces of buttered toast into rectangles that I’d then place around it, creating my overeasy masterpiece. If I were truly crafty, I would have, should have, cut out the whites, leaving the yolk as the sun’s core, then floated the whites above as drifting clouds. But my daughter was always so thrilled with my lazy version that I never bothered to upgrade.
Other times I am the one hurridly trying to shove last minute parental lessons down her throat, as if I were Tevye bidding my daughter farewell, never to meet again. “Make sure to make eye contact and say thank you whenever someone holds the door. Don’t forget a firm handshake. Always handwrite a thank you note, I don’t care if everyone else just texts.”
We fight. Constantly. In the parking lot of the supermarket. Rushing to Target for last minute lotions. Or sitting across from each other at the dinner table.
Then clumsily, we find our way back to an apology, always with a hug, a joke, a laugh, a peek at our iPhones to see what the latest craziness has appeared on Twitter. And life goes on.
I had lunch with a friend, who is in the midst of driving her son to college far away, who reminded me with a tinge of fear and an ocean of sadness in her eyes that things will never be the same. We sat and picked on our salads at a café trying to grasp the idea of empty nesting, that not understood identity that hovered very close by, just days away.
“I still have the boy,” I joked to lighten the mood, referring to my teenage son still at home. But we both knew that would not be for much longer. That just as we’d blinked and gone from overwhelmed first-time mothers we now sat, a little worse for wear, staring at our Nicoise, wondering where the hell the time went.
We assured ourselves everything would be okay. One way or another. Because it will. Because it must. Because, as we’ve told each other and our children, we have done our best, perhaps not a perfect job, but what is life without a little imperfection, a little stumbling, a heated argument followed by a heartfelt apology, and of course, a deliciously simple, comforting breakfast. Just remember to always hand write a thank you letter, never send a text.
My mother’s terrycloth robe appears in my thoughts every morning. If my eyes were to see such a thing today, draped on a dummy, let’s say, I’d believe it to be horrendous: a putrid mocha-colored sea of fuzziness, with a plain beige belt strap and a black trim. I can’t think of any skin tone that would benefit from it, and most certainly not my mother’s with her pale skin and salt and pepper hair. So not her color.
This was a sophisticated and fine lady we’re talking about. Marilyn Dorothy Graham Flynn was grand. A graduate from Vassar, she was super smart and had the quality of a Hollywood star with sparkly eyes, a killer smile and the most graceful poise around. Black and white pictures of my father and her dating emanate her strength and beauty next to a puddle of mush and awe (dad).
And this force that was my mother went on to tackle life with zest and courage: moving to the exotic country of Venezuela at a time when no one did such things with an even more exotic man (Jewish and Israeli!) who ripped her from her family’s suburban Anglo-saxon identity landing her in a tropical chaos of bananas and car fumes. But mom embraced it all, every second of it, raising three girls in a rambunctious house she pretty much ran on her own while said husband traveled and traveled and traveled.
And then she began to cook.
A woman mocked for not knowing how to scramble eggs became the queen of cuisine: tackling thick and musty volumes of French Culinary Arts and Mediterranean cooking and melding those with the wonderful pockets of her own imagination making for unforgettable meals. I was blessed with an array of delicious soufflés, roasts, cakes, and her signature dessert of Ile Flotante, requested at every birthday dinner. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model and mentor.
Except for her breakfasts. In that terry cloth robe. You could put her in the jungle, you could have her beat egg whites with the ease of a signature French chef, but some things were not to be messed with when it came to her routine: breakfast was one of them. For all the glamour, grace, beauty and adventure with which she tackled life, this woman ate the most boring thing each and every single morning: toast with cream cheese and raspberry jam.
“Mom, seriously? Again!” I’d say, half in shock half disgusted, as my thoughts raced through the plethora of available, tasty breakfast offerings.
She’d look at me and smile, taking another messy bite out of her toast slipping with the sweet ooze created by the warm marriage of white and red goop.
“Don’t you want an arepa con queso guayanes?” I tempted, thrusting the warm Venezuelan corncake nestling fresh white cheese. I was answered with another bite of bread and a savage dip of the knife into the jam.
I always found it unappetizing to reach for that jam, say for a quick P&J sandwich, and find the insides of the jar tainted with white strips of cream cheese. There was only one culprit and I’d instantly go and complain:
“Ewwww, mom, disguuuusting. Seriously, use two knives.”
She was patient and kind and always quiet, throwing me a small smile I thought I understood but really had no clue what it meant.
I read: “So sorry. Won’t happen again, even though you know it will, time and time again”
She meant: “One day you will remember this. One day you will find yourself in your own comfortable robe, at your own table, eating your own toast and jam and cream cheese, and you will remember this.”
That day has come. I am in Mexico. I can have the most elaborate breakfasts of eggs and tortillas and sauces and beans, and yet, I find myself longing for, craving for, my mother’s breakfast. Each morning I find myself turned into her: toast, raspberry jam, and a small but important adjustment: crema de Oaxaca, Oaxacan cream.
This stuff is for the Gods …and my waistline. I buy it off the local cheese truck every Saturday morning. The cheese guy pulls out a hugs plastic bag, snips a hole in the corner, grabs a Dixie cup, and pours it in. He then puts a piece of plastic wrap over top and, if you are lucky, throws a rubber band over it to seal the deal. It’s as simple as that. No FDA, no pasteurization, no questions asked.
The flavor that explodes in one’s mouth is indescribable. Everything you know your arteries shouldn’t have and more. And gosh darn it the thing goes amazing with raspberry jam and black bread! Mom was right on target with her combo and all I can think of is how much I’d love to share this with her right now. We’d send that Phili cream cheese out the door and create a new annoying goop combo with the crema Oaxaca. I long to have mom’s palate dance with mine. Instead, I leave long white marks of Oaxacan cream in my jam. It’s my tribute to her. It’s my celebration. It’s my acknowledgement: mother knows best, especially with goopy messes and terrycloth robes.
If you are like me you try to do things right. Have the best intentions, and all that jazz. Of course, there’s always a bit of the struggle. Especially when you are a bread lover/aficionado/obsessive-compulsive eater and you are a Jew during Passover.
This presents a challenge.
A tough challenge.
I overcompensate my anxiety over not being able to eat bread during Passover by hyperpurchasing. Hyperpurchasing means, instead of five boxes of matzo (the unleavened cracker one should replace bread for during the week of Passover) I buy twelve. Because I figure, if my counter (already cluttered with Lulu (my fabulous, hot red mixer) toaster oven, Magic Bullet, and blender (still waiting on the Vitamix gift, folks!) is crammed with an excessive amount of matzo boxes, then this will, in turn, convince me to make the bread-to-matzo leap for the seven allotted days successfully.
Now don’t get me wrong- I’m as excited about matzo as the next Jew. And in some circles, believe me, it’s reason to party. In this household, matzo and butter tango lavishly and decadently at least three times a day. Worries about hypertension vanish as exuberant amounts of salt get thrown into the mix. It is crunchy, creamy heaven, with lots of crumbs and no dog to lap up the mess.
Then there’s the charoset: that delicious mix of matzo, dates, prunes, apples and lots of wine made during the Seder to symbolize the mortar the Jews used when they were slaves in Egypt. That stuff is killer – especially if you are lucky enough to have my husband prepare his mother’s secret recipe. Slap some of that magic on a piece of matzo and taste buds go willy-nilly.
And of course, who can deny any child the delight of matzo pizza, which is as easy as pizza sauce (bottled, or in our case, homemade), cheese and a toaster oven? Is this not the quintessential American Jew snack come Passover week?
I still get restless. Antsy. Anxious. Perhaps it’s my Sephardic roots possibly placing me in Spain five hundred years ago. Have you had the bread there? Once in your DNA, well, no amount of pizza sauce will get it out.
So I continue toying with my twelve boxes. I make Matzo Brei, another favorite American Jewish delight: eggs, matzo pieces, cinnamon all mixed up and fried together then drizzled with maple syrup- it’s like a deconstructed version of French toast: I even get a bit fancy and add a splash of Port wine (or some leftover sweet red Manischewitz wine) or some orange zest to freshen it up.
But after three days of no bread I get cranky. Really cranky. I’m not nice when I’m cranky. I try and put it in perspective. . . I have it good- no need to worry about Pharaoh granting me freedom, changing his mind after agreeing to give it to me, or having to escape and take off in the middle of the hot desert only to be confronted by a huge Red Sea that I’d have no idea how to cross (don’t worry, for those of you not up on the story, Moses parts it and all the Jews get safely across.) These guys had it tough! Surely to commemorate my ancestors I could deal with a bread-free week?
So I keep getting creative with my matzo in hopes of compensation. My daughter suggests elevating the pizza snack into a formal breakfast and I eagerly acquiesce to this idea, scrambling some eggs and gently placing them on top before popping the whole thing in the oven. It’s a simple treat – buttery eggs meld nicely with the oozing cheese and the crispy matzo. The pizza sauce holds it all together, giving it all a Mexican breakfast burrito feel, but with a twist. We both gobble up two slabs of Breakfast Passover Pizza and I am feeling happy and full. My daughter looks over at our counter and eases away any bread anxiety that may still be gnawing at me.
“Thank goodness you got so much matzo, mom! I want this every day for breakfast!”
I woke up to discover my daughter had grown breasts. And not tiny little mosquito bites that mother’s proudly point out or gingerly giggle at with the ease of time on your side. Breasts. Full-fledge-get-me-a-real-bra-this-Target-crap-ain’t-cutting-it breasts. It was a tragic moment for me. A sense of loss overwhelmed my caffeine-deprived body as my eleven-year old pounced on my husband and I to wake us from our Saturday morning slumber. “Wake up! Wake up!” she shouted. Her giggle was still the same. The twinkle in those gorgeous eyes. The only addition was the extra perky body part I refused to acknowledge.
‘It’s the end!’ I screamed to the world from under my covers. ‘The end!’
“No mom, we have one more day of summer,” my daughter corrected, oblivious to my symbolic moment of doom. My husband peeked under and gave me a sympathetic grin.
One more day of summer. One more day of careless play, of hanging in pajama’s, of endless movie watching and lots of late nights. Before I know it this big puppy dog that is my daughter will be suiting up in her new uniform and boarding a bus for a forty-five minute ride to her new Middle School. It seems so diminutive writing it now. Older, more seasoned parents are chuckling at this very moment remembering the little puddle jump from elementary to middle school. No doubt they’ve been bruised plenty since: the new boyfriend, the bad friend, the dreaded driver’s license, the missed curfew, the wrong choice…the wrong choice again. Such bigger fish to fry await me, I realize, and yet I can’t even fathom my daughter handling multiple classrooms or remembering her locker combination, although I know she can. I know she will. I know she is ready. I know I’m not.
“Stay little!” I beg her and her younger brother, now a confident third-grader.
“No, keep growing,” I hear their father contradict.
I am instantly irritated by the ease in which he offers this thought. I don’t know how I made it from my daughter’s baby stage to her now bubbling preteen self. I fear it has been much more difficult for me than for her. And, even though I am excited for her new adventures and her inevitable growth, she’s got breasts and I can’t stop myself from feeling slightly horrified that this actually happens.
“Mom!” she shouts as she continues bouncing and banging her bony knee against my hip. She is almost as long as I am and, although she is thin as a rail; she is getting heavy for such endeavors. “I’m hungry, mom! Please get up! Please!”
I froze under the covers thinking what teenage meal she would now deem ‘cool’ and request for breakfast. Cereal? Bran muffins? Salad? What do they eat, I wondered, slightly horrified, remembering at the same time her announcement last night that No Lunch Box Shall Be Packed (it’s the land of brown paper bag now that we are in Middle School). I shuddered wondering how I’d make this leap, or at least, the culinary leap that stood before me. And then there was silence followed by that sweet high-pitched voice (some would call it a whine, but at this particular moment in time it felt sweet) and in that shrill voice her father and I try so hard to encourage not to happen (yes it was sweet, yes so sweet, why, music to my ears), I heard her ask me in a tone that had her big knee not been precariously lodged in my rib would have fooled me into thinking she was five, she asked:
“Will you make me sunshine breakfast with the toast strips around the yolk like you used to when I was little?”
And instantly the memories came flooding back: pushing her on the swing, running after her with spoonfuls of baby food because the child wouldn’t eat (yes, there was a time we worried that the child wouldn’t eat), holding her hand, tying the shoes, and all those strips of toast for sunshine breakfast gingerly placed on the plastic Barney plate she loved so much.
A smile spread on my panicked face and suddenly my worries were slightly eased. Maybe I can handle the breasts after all. Just keep sunshine breakfast coming.
When you are given something called “Friendship Bread,” be wary.It’s not like I was given the actual finished product, I got the dough and a dizzying list of daily instructions with the promise of the finished product.That is when I got extra suspicious. I was told that “Friendship Bread” was an old Amish tradition (this is done as a selling point, I assume) but figured, anything with such a blatantly obvious adjective has got to be bad, right?I mean, for years I walked right by the closest neighborhood sushi (and never went in) because, and only because, it was called Amazing Sushi and everyone knows that anything called Amazing (fill-in-the-blank) has got to be major crap.(I later learned, in a desperately hungry moment of weakness that it is the best sushi in town.)Then there was the traumatizing experience years back visiting an old high school friend who was staying at a hotel in Miami Beach.I had planned a day filled with profound conversation and lounging around a sophisticated pool, and knowing he was staying in the prestigious neighborhood of Bal Harbor, I was equally excited for some pampering.But when I arrived at his hotel, a rinky dink “Quality Inn”, nestled as an afterthought amongst the glorious Fountain Bleu and other equally stunning condominiums, I knew the conversation would be good but the pampering non-existent. (We ended up sneaking into the Fountain Bleu’s pool.)
So here I was given a Ziploc bag with the contents of some sort of fermentation (ahhh, I mean, starter) called Friendship Bread.And believe me, had it not been given to me by my best friend, that friendship would have ended in the trash.There it sat on my counter, testing the plastic it was encased in, simmering and bubbling in its own quiet decomposition that, alongside the list of ingredients and degrees of massaging my photocopied instructions detailed, would promise after ten days to deliver an unforgettable bread, lest I screw the time schedule up.
I’m no good at time schedules so Friendship Bread immediately became a source of stress.I’m also not too neat, so, amongst the clutter of potholders, prescription medicines, and a crazy array of coupons never-to-be-used cut out by my ten-year old daughter (she has a coupon-cutting addiction; we’re working on it) sat the gurgling Ziploc.
And like a crazed woman wondering after she left the house if she turned off the oven or not, I questioned, “Is it day six or day eight?Do I massage (or as the instructions readily put it, “mush”) , let out air, or add a cup of sugar?”These thoughts seemed to consume me throughout my day (I know, my day needs to get more exciting, apparently) and each time I’d rush back home and look at that damn Ziploc bag, it would look pretty much the same.
In all honesty, I lost track of the days with the Friendship Bread, even with the starting date being written in big bold letters on the bag.I just was never good at math or logic or following instructions, and being barricaded into a time scheme with all of the above seemed to short-circuit my culinary instinct.So, I started going with my gut and guessing it was time for a quick rub of the bag, a shake upside down, some milk and sugar, all the while praying that Ziploc would live up to its good ‘ole American reputation and not disintegrate on me, sending the Friendship goop, which had now morphed into a repressed Enemy Bread, all over my cluttered countertop.
Ziploc didn’t disappoint and I am happy to announce neither did the Friendship Bread. After ten (or twelve?) days of huffing and puffing and worrying about nurturing this dough properly, I felt relief when the day came that I’d be able to rid myself of the responsibility by baking it.I swore out loud as my husband is my witness that I would never, ever go through this stress again.And then I baked it.And I tasted it. And I was changed. It was tender and moist, with a slight cinnamon sugar crunch from the coating outside, and it quickly became my best friend, washing all the worrying away and opening the door for a perfect companion to coffee.In the end, the best friendships are worth a little trouble.
Pan Amish: Una Amistad Que Vale El Fastidio
Cuando te den algo llamado “Pan de Amistad,” ten cuidado. No es como me dieron el producto acabado, sí no, me entregaron la masa y una lista interminable de instrucciones diarias con la promesa del producto acabado. Eso me puso bien sospechosa. Me aseguraron que el “Pan de Amistad” era una vieja tradición Amish (este es hecho como un punto de venta, asumo) pero juraba que algo con un adjetivo tan descaradamente obvio tiene que ser malo, correcto? Quiero decir, durante años pasaba y no entraba por el sushi del barrio porque, y sólo porque, se llamaba “Sushi Asombroso” y todos saben que algo que se llame Asombroso tiene que ser una cagada. (Más tarde aprendí, en un momento desesperadamente hambriento donde entré y almorzé en Sushi Asombroso que este es el mejor sushi en la ciudad.) Tambien había la vez, hace años atrás que fui a visitar un viejo amigo que se quedaba en un hotel en Miami Beach. Yo había planeado un día lleno de conversación profunda y tomando sol en una piscina de cinco estrellas, especialmente conociéndo se quedaba en la vecindad prestigiosa Bal Harbor. Pero cuando llegué a su hotel, un edificio sucio y olvidado con el nombre de “Hotel de Calidad” sabía que lo unico bueno sería la conversación.
Así aquí me dieron un bolso de Ziploc con los contenido de alguna clase de fermentación llamado el Pan de Amistad. Y créame, si no me lo había dado mí mejor amiga, aquella amistad habría terminado en la basura. Puse la bolsa en la cocina donde burbujeaba en su propia descomposición, junto con las instrucciones muy detalladas con la lista de ingredientes y grados de masajear la masa durante diez dias, prometíendo resultar en algo inolvidable.
No soy nada bueno con listas ni organización así que el Pan de Amistad inmediatamente se convirtio en una fuente de stress. Como una mujer enloquecida que se pregunta después de que ella dejó la casa si apago el horno o no, pregunté, “Es el día seis o día ocho? ¿Masajeo o añado una taza de azúcar?” Estos pensamientos parecieron consumirme a lo largo de mi día y cada vez que llegaba a casa y miraba la condenada bolsa de Ziploc, parecía mas un ejercicio para enemigos que amigos.
Me da mucha felicidad en anunciar que el Pan de Amistad fue un gran exito. ¿Después de diez días de preocupar sobre nutrir esta masa correctamente, sentí el alivio cuando el día vino que sería capaz de liberarme de la responsabilidad horneándolo. Juré en voz alta que nunca pasaría por esta tensión otra vez. Y luego lo horneé. Y lo probé. Y ese pan me cambio. Era suave y humedo adentro, con un crujido de azúcar y canela leve de la capa fuera, y rápidamente se hizo mi mejor amigo, quitando toda mi preocupación y en vez invitandose como mi compañero perfecto para el café. Al final, las mejores amistades merecen dar un poco de problema.
Pan de Amistad de Amish
No use ninguna clase de tazón metálico o cuchara. No refrigerar. Es normal para que la masa haga burbujas, se eleve, y tenga olor desagradable. Cuando el aire entra en la bolsa Ziploc, sólo suéltelo.
Día 1: No haga nada. Este es el día usted recibe la masa. Vaya por la fecha en la bolsa.
Día 2: Masajear bolsa, soltar aire y resellar.
Día 3: Masajear bolsa, soltar aire y resellar.
Día 4: Masajear bolsa, soltar aire y resellar.
Día 5: Masajear bolsa, soltar aire y resellar.
Día 6: Añada 1 taza cada una de harina, azúcar, y leche. Masajear bolsa BIEN y resellar.
Día 7: Masajear bolsa, soltar aire y resellar. .
Día 8: Masajear bolsa, soltar aire y resellar.
Día 9: Masajear bolsa, soltar aire y resellar.
Día 10: Siga las instrucciones abajo.
Vierta contenido de la bolsa en un tazón que no sea de metal. Añada 1 ½ taza de harina, 1 ½ taza de azúcar, y 1 ½ taza de leche. Mezcla a fondo con una cuchara de de madera o espátula. Pon la fecha en 4 bolsas de Ziploc. Mida 1 taza de la mezcla en cada uno de las bolsas y sella bien. Consérvese un para usted para poder hacer mas. Reparte los otros tres a amigos junto con instrucciones.
Precalienta el horno a 325 grados. Al restante eche el tazón abajo, añade:
3 huevos ½ cucharilla de bicarbonato de soda
1 taza de aceite1 ½ levadura en polvo de cucharilla
1 taza chupa ½ cucharilla de sal
1 taza de azúcar2 tazas de harina
2 cucharillas de canela1 paquete grande de budín de instante de vainilla
½ cucharilla de vainilla 2 tazas nueces picados (opcional)
Engrase 2 cazuelas de pan grandes. En otro tazón, mezcle ½ taza de azúcar y 1 ½ cucharilla de canela. Espolvoree con las cazuelas de pan con esta mezcla, reservando el suplementario para rociar encima.
Hornee durante 1 hora. Deje que los panes enfrien dentro de las cazuelas por 10 minutos hasta que el pan suelte regularmente de cazuelas. Resulte en el estante de alambre. Hecha el restante de azucar y canela y coma caliente.