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.
Once I named them I knew I was screwed. They were two slimy slate-colored lizards that seemed to have found Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leftover steroid powder and noshed on it until they had grown the size of tiny dinosaurs.
Iggy and Pop had claimed my garage as their home, and, mind you, for two prehistoric lizards the size of small rats, my garage, with its mountains of neglected clutter (mostly a gravesite for my husband’s unresolved pack rat issues) was the perfect spot.In there they left puddles of urine the size of Lake Eerie and plenty of the other stuff and generally made a heck of a lot of noise with the sole objective of announcing that this house was indeed theirs.It was as if I was unwillingly cast in a Steven Speilberg film.I was most definitely irked, but took the erroneous route of a lenient parent and allowed the ruckus to continue.And of course, like I mentioned, I had named them.
Then Iggy started getting sassy.He chose his favorite spot to be the corner of my garage fridge, a lifeline to me considering I’ve yet to purchase my dream fridge the size of a school bus.Consequently, I visit my garage fridge (Lucinda, for those who are wondering) quite frequently and now, each time I entered the garage, Lucinda had an unsolicited courter by her side.
It’s not like Iggy would scamper off in a lizard-appropriate panic each time I entered.(As a South Floridian, one grudgingly becomes an expert on proper lizard behavior.)No, Iggy would look up, roll his eyes (yes, roll his eyes, I now know lizards are capable of doing this) and look irked, bored, and interrupted at the same time.I knew right then and there that Iggy had to be a teenager.
You’d be correct to guess Iggy wouldn’t move.Not even flinch.In fact, quite the opposite, the one speeding along as to not impose was me.
Quick!I’d open Lucinda and grab the bar of butter for my Pineapple Upside cake.
Quick! I’d grab the buttermilk for my husband’s favorite Blueberry Flapjacks.
Quick!I’d grab the large tub of sour cream for the festively rich Ginger Kugel.
On and on it went with Iggy witnessing my hurried visits for culinary completion and not giving a crap.Or rather, leaving quite a lot of them on my floor.
Friends and family were subjected to my latest garage obsession.Some were compassionate (“ahhh, how cute… I love lizards!”) Obviously these were not South Floridians.Some were practical (“get a cat”), some were even more practical (“start out by cleaning that disgusting garage”) and then there was my husband Yeshua, who just matter-of-factly and with a terrible Italian accent asked “Ya wan me to get rid of dem? Ai take care of it for ya.”My husband’s “to-do” list is quite long and neglected but something about that cheesy accent coupled with the disconcerting Jack Nicholson The Shinning sparkle in his eye told me he would get serious pleasure out of this.I didn’t want our relationship to go down those murky moral waters.
Like I said, I had named them, and anything I name that is still alive is hard for me to destroy, even a set of adolescent and infuriating lizards.No, I had to do something else.There had to be some other way.I sought the help of the higher God, Google, (or as my son always says, “let’s see what The Google says”) and typed in the search box:“how to get rid of lizards in your garage.”It couldn’t hurt to ask the world.
The world produced many cat advocates and a lot of creepy talk about some white poison purchasable only in India, but there were also strange mumblings about eggshells as a deterrent and instantly I was intrigued.Eggshells, it appears, would send my teenagers elsewhere.Someone said it was one of the components of the shell that had a smell they didn’t like. Others offered the explanation of the shell appearing to be a bird’s egg, something they apparently don’t like (?)Experts abounded.One reader wrote: ‘Make a project out of it.Rinse your eggshells after using, allow to dry, and crack into many pieces.Then glue these on a piece of cardboard paper and color an image around the broken shells.Leave it in the garage and the lizards will disappear.’ This sounded way too stupid to be true, like the kind of email that promises you’ll win a free laptop if you kindly forward yours and a billion of your friends’ email addresses to them.Also, it was way too crafty for me (color a design…really?Who gives a shit?)But as the expression goes, desperate times call for [morally correct] desperate measures and I fit the bill.
Eggshells, and hence, eggs, were now on my mind.Constantly.Grand-slam style breakfasts began appearing on my family’s morning plates in determined efforts to build up my eggshell stock.I promoted the item shamelessly:fried, scrambled, poached, sandwiched, any which way, I was a ruthless egg slut and the shells started building up.Still, I needed something sweet to add to my eggshell conspiracy, something that would require lots and lots of eggs in one go.My cholesterol-laden heart skipped a beat in excitement as I thought of pound cake:the perfect egg whore cake!Lulu and I quickly went to work and were thrilled to add five more eggs to the tally.I was in heaven, my family was suspiciously happy and Iggy and Pop had no idea what would soon hit them.My friends just called me nuts.
In the end I had an entire cemetery of shells.I think I’ve mentioned earlier that I am no Martha Stewart so I did the next best thing and placed the shells, cardboard and glue in front of my 10 and 7-year old kids.I explained their new ‘fun’ activity and, even though they looked at me as if I was from Mars, you can’t put a bunch of eggshells and glue in front of a 10 and 7-year old, spin it with the old “go to town” phrase and not have them go wild, regardless of how wacky the whole thing sounds.
We ended up with eight eggshell collages.And even though my floor was strewn with globs of glue and many a stray shell, I was happy.Off I went to the garage with my hopes high, my conscience clean and my plan of attack.I placed all the cardboard pieces in strategic spots in the garage, leaving the largest collage snug against Lucinda.‘Take that Iggy’, I laughed to myself.
This is when the Internet miracle happened.My adolescent lizards disappeared.Instantly.Just like that.No temper tantrum, no fight, no missing car keys; just no lizards.I wanted to celebrate.I wanted to believe, but I couldn’t just yet.It was too odd to be true.Repressed OCD tendencies burst to my surface as I’d run into the garage sporadically and relentlessly.Once.No lizards.Twice.No lizards.Three times.Nope.My husband’s face turned warm and fuzzy when he saw me jump into the garage for the 107th time.
“You’re going to miss them,” he teased.
“No I’m not,” I barked back defensively.(But I had named them, dammit, I had named them.)
It seems once you let your guard down you realize the Internet is full of crap.Because after three days of no Iggy and Pop, just as I felt the guilt I carried over Lucinda’s loneliness grow heavier (how loudly she now hummed in search of her friend), I walked in to the garage for some milk and found Iggy hanging out with her, sitting right on top of the eggshell collage.Maybe I’ve watched too many Geico commercials but I could have sworn the damn thing winked at me.I laughed, let out a strangely relieved sigh, got my milk and hurried off to leave the two alone.
Una vez que los nombré sabía que estaba jodida. Eran dos lagartos que parecieron haber encontrado el polvo de esteroide sobrante de Arnold Schwarzenegger e ingerirlo hasta que cultivaran el tamaño de dinosaurios diminutos.
Iggy y la Pop habían reclamado mi garaje como su casa, y, para dos lagartos prehistóricos el tamaño de pequeñas ratas, mi garaje, con sus montañas del desorden descuidado (un cementerio de los cosas olvidadas de mi marido) era el sitio perfecto. Allí dejaban charcos de orina el tamaño del Lago Maracaibo y dejaban mucho de otra cosa mas y generalmente hacían un montón de ruido con el único objetivo anunciar que esta casa era en efecto la suya. Era como si vivía dentro de una película de Steven Speilberg sin ser invitada. Estaba definitivamente enojada, pero tomé la ruta errónea de un padre clemente y permití que el jaleo siguiera. Y por supuesto, como mencioné, ya los había llamado (Iggy y Pop).
Entonces Iggy comenzó a hacerse el descarado. Eligió su punto favorito la esquina de mi nevera del garaje donde guardon muchos productos necesarios. Visito mi nevera de garaje (quien se llama Lucinda, para aquellos que esten preguntando) con frecuencia y ahora, cada vez que entré en el garaje, Lucinda tenía un enamorado a su lado.
No es como Iggy corretearía lejos en un pánico apropiado de lagarto cada vez que entré. (Como residente de Florida, uno de sin querer queriendo se convierte en experto sobre el comportamiento del lagarto.) No, Iggy me lanzaba una mirada molestada, aburrida, e interrumpida a la misma vez. Desde ese momento supe Iggy tuvo que ser un adolescente.
Claro que Iggy no se movería. De hecho, todo lo contrario, la que salía corriendo para no moelestar era yo!
¡Rápido! Abriría a Lucinda y agarraría la barra de mantequilla para mi torta de piña patas pa’rriba.
¡Rápido! Agarraría el suero para los Panqueques de Blueberry favoritos de mi marido.
¡Rápido! Agarraría la tina grande de la crema agria para hacer el delicioso Ginger Kugel.
Mis amigos y familia fueron sujetados a mi última obsesión del garaje. Unos eran compasivos (“ahhh, que lindo… amo lagartos!”) Obviamente éstos no eran de la Florida. Unos eran prácticos (“consiguete un gato”), unos eran hasta más prácticos (“comienza por limpiar ese garaje asqueroso”) y claro, mi marido Yeshua, quién con un acento italiano terrible me prometio que se encargaría de Iggy y Pop, ofreciendo a la vez la misma sonrisa famosa de Jack Nicholson en la película The Shinning. No quise que nuestra relación bajara aquellas aguas morales oscuras.
Decidí chequear Google a ver lo que pensaba el mundo sobre el tema.
El mundo produjo muchos a favor del gato y mucha conversación escalofriante sobre un veneno blanco que se consígue sólo en la India, pero había también los musitamientos extraños sobre cáscaras de huevo y al instante estuve intrigada.
Aparentemente, las cáscaras de huevo enviarían a mis adolescentes a otra parte. Alguien explicó que era uno de los componentes de la cáscara que tenía un olor que no les gustaba. Otros ofrecieron la explicación de que la cáscara parece ser el huevo de una ave, algo que por lo visto no les gusta (?) Los expertos abundaron. Un lector escribió: ‘haga un proyecto de ello. Lave y seque sus cáscaras de huevo después de usar, y rajarse en muchos pedazos. Entonces pegue éstos en un pedazo de papel de cartón y pinte un imagen alrededor de las cáscaras rotas. Déjelo en el garaje y los lagartos desaparecerán.’
Este camino parecia demasiado estúpido para ser verdadero, como la clase de correo electrónico que promete que ganarás una computadora simplemente si por darles tu email y los de todos tus amigos! Claro, yo estaba bien desesperada.
Las cáscaras de huevo, y de ahí, los huevos, estaban ahora en mi mente. Constantemente. Los desayunos completos comenzaron a aparecer en los platos de mi familia en esfuerzos decididos aumentar mi reserva de cáscara de huevo. Promoví el artículo desvergonzadamente: fríto, revuelto, hervido, sanwich, lo que sea. De todos modos, necesitaba algo dulce para añadir a mi conspiración de cáscara de huevo, algo que requeriría muchos huevos en uno golpe. Mi corazón cargado por colesterol saltó un latido con entusiasmo cuando pensé en mi ponce que lleva cinco hueves completicos! Lulu y yo rápidamente fuimos a trabajar. Yo estaba contentísima, mi familia comía felizmente e Iggy y la Pop no sabían que los golpearía pronto. Mis amigos se preocuparon por mí.
Al final tenía mi cementerio de cáscaras. Coloqué las cáscaras, el cartón y el pegamento delante de mis hijos de diez y siete años. Expliqué su nueva actividad ‘de diversión’ y, aunque ellos me miraban como si fuera una loca, no puedes poner un manojo de cáscaras de huevo y pegamento delante de unos chicos de 10 y 7 años sin que hagan desastre.
Terminamos con ocho collages de cáscara de huevo. Y aunque la mitad de las cascaras terminaran en el suelo, yo era felíz. Fuí al garaje con mis esperanzas altas, mi conciencia limpia y mi plan del ataque. Coloqué todos los pedazos de cartón en puntos estratégicos en el garaje, dejando el collage más grande cómodamente contra Lucinda. ‘Toma esto Iggy’, pensé con aire de triumfo.
Esto es cuando el milagro del Internet pasó. Mis lagartos adolescentes desaparecieron. Al instante. Así no mas. . Quise creer, pero no podía aún. Era demasiado raro ser verdadero. Entraba corriendo en el garaje esporádicamente y despiadadamente buscandolos. Una vez. Ningunos lagartos. Dos veces. Ningunos lagartos. Tres veces. ¡No!. Mi marido me dijo con ternura al ver me entrar en el garaje para la 107 vez:
“Te van hacer falta.” .
“No, claro que no,” grité defensivamente. (Pero yo los había nombrado, coño, ya los había nombrado.)
Cuando dejé bajar mi guardia fue cuando realizé que el Internet esta lleno de mierda. Como después de tres días de ningún Iggy y Pop, cuando ya andaba con una culpa por imponerle la tremenda soledad a Lucinda (como buscaba su amigo) entre al garaje para un poco de leche y encontré Iggy con ella, sentando directamente encima del collage de cáscara de huevo. Unidos de nueve. Me reí, solté un suspiro extrañamente aliviado, conseguí mi leche y me alejé rápidamente para dejar los dos en paz.
El Ponque del Obispo
(adaptado del Libro de cocina de Silver Palate, por Julee Rosso y Sheila Lukins)
½ libra (dos barras) de mantequilla, ablandada
2 tazas de azúcar
2 tazas de harina
¼ cucharilla de sal
2 cucharones jugo de limón
1 cucharilla de extracto de vainilla
½ cucharilla de cascara de limon rayado (opcional)
nevazúcar para decorar
Precaliente el horno a 350 grados. Grasa y harina una cazuela de tubo de 10 pulgadas.
Bate la mantequilla y azúcar en alta velocidad durante cinco minutos.
En un tazón separado, mezcla la harina y la sal.
En la velocidad baja, añada la mezcla de harina a la mantequilla y azúcar y mezcla hasta sólo combinarlo.
Añada el jugo de limon, la vainilla y la cascara de limon rayado y mezcla bien.
This is one of those things I can definitely blame my mother on.Why I never reached her long-limbed stature, had that glamorously sensual neck or movie star beauty are harder sells in the ‘it’s-all-your-fault’ department, but this, this is so very different.
It all started with my mom actually.Come breakfast time, she’d sit amongst the tropical fireworks of bougainvillea that sprawled lazily in our back garden porch in Venezuela and eat imported toasted English muffins with imported cream cheese and imported jam.She could have started her day with so many different delightful things bountiful in this South American culinary haven:arepa con queso guayanes (grilled or deep fried cornmeal cakes hugging a buttery fresh white cheese that makes mozzarella di buffalo seem tough and chewy) or perico (no, not parrot as the name implies, but rather a kaleidoscope breakfast dish of creamy eggs, diced onions, tomatoes and green peppers slowly simmered together to make merit to its name). Those in a rush would simply grab a cachito de jamon– a freshly baked sweet bread stuffed with generous amounts ham glazed with pineapple and cloves or a bowl of tropical and sinfully sweet fruit that is as abundant there as the hookers on Avenida Libertador after ten p.m.
So you see, there is plenty to eat for breakfast in Venezuela.
But mom almost always chose her jam and that caught my eye.She was a one-flavor gal: when she found something she liked, she tended to stick to it. And so she seemed plenty content with her quiet jar of Trappist Raspberry Jam with its tiny image of a monk on the label elevating the whole thing to a very pious level.
I scoffed at this choice for most of my childhood, readily gobbling away all the Venezuelan tasty choices offered to me by our Colombian cook. But still, when I moved away from home and came to the States I’d be hit with the regular pangs of homesickness and find myself reaching for the same Trappist jam I’d keep in my refrigerator as a safety net.
And then it all started: this obsessive, compulsive purchasing of jams.Once I began, I couldn’t make myself finish.What commenced as a one-jam-relationship (‘oh let me buy that Trappist stuff to remind me of mom’) turned into a wild and endless series of one-night stands with jams around the world:licking off crystallized pieces of Chinese ginger from my British-bought jam is ethereal, slapping some Seville Sour Orange marmalade from Spain on thin slices of hearty pumpernickel renders delight. Flirting with hot Pepper Jelly from my backyard of Miami feels dangerous, and the Belgium Organic Apricot is in hot competition with my French Confiture de Abricots (forever enchanting me with its secretly housed whole crunchy almonds).
It’s a lover’s quarrel with my palate and my fridge, and what began as one tiny shelf of sweetness has turned into an invasion of the northwestern territory of my refrigerator.New conquests occur every day and I simply can’t help myself: wild Blueberry Peach Preserve from Stonewall Kitchen in Maine batted their tiny blues at me and stayed, traditional Persian-style preserves of Sour Cherry a left me puckering for more, and Brazilian Passion Fruit Jam afflicted me with a zing I can’t forget.
I am shamelessly unfaithful to my jams, yet love each and every one of them the same and am constantly looking for any opportunity to pull them out of their respective fridge spot and parade them in my meals.A breakfast of crêpes is the perfect venue for such celebrated infidelity.
Crêpes de Confiture: Infidelidad Desvergonzada
Esto es una de aquellas cosas de las que definitivamente puedo hecharle la culpa a mi madre. Por qué nunca alcancé su estatura larguirucha o tenía aquel cuello encantadoramente sensual o aquella belleza de estrella de cine son más difíciles de justificar como culpa de ella, pero esto, esto era definitivamente muy diferente.
Todo comenzó con mi mamá realmente. Ella se sentaría entre los fuegos artificiales tropicales de la buganvilla que se tumbaba perezosamente en nuestro jardín en Venezuela y alli comía los ‘English Muffins’ importados con queso crema importado e mermelada importada. Ella podría haber comido tantas cosas encantadoras que ofrece este asilo culinario sudamericano: arepas con queso guayanes (torticas de harina de maíz fritas o asadas a la plancha con un trozo generoso de queso blanco fresco que hace la mozzarella di búfalo parecer resistente y correoso) o perico (no un loro como el nombre implica, pero mejor dicho un desayuno de huevos, cebolla, tomate y pimentones verdes preparado a fuego lento para hacer el mérito a su nombre). Aquellos con prisa agarrarían simplemente un cachito de jamon-un pan dulce relleno con cantidades generosas del jamón cocido al horno, o simplemente una ensalada de frutas tropicales que son tan abundantes como las putas en la Avenida Libertador despues de las diez de la noche.
Entonces usted ve, hay qué comer para el desayuno en Venezuela.
Pero mamá siempre elegía su mermelada. Le gustaba su rutina y cuando encontraba algo que le gustaba, tendió a atenerse a ello. Y en este caso, lo que le gustaba erael frazco de mermelada “Trappist” sabor a frambuesa con su imagen diminuta de un monje en la etiqueta que eleva todo el asunto a un nivel muy piadoso.
Yo me burlaba de su opción para la mayor parte de mi infancia, preferiendo ingerir todas las opciones sabrosas venezolanas ofrecidas a mí por nuestra cocinera colombiana. Aun asi, cuando me fuí de casa y vine a los Estados Unidos y me atacaba momentos de nostalgia yo me encontraría alcanzando para la misma mermelada que guardaría en mi refrigerador como una red de protección.
Y asi es como comenzó esta compra obsesiva de mermeladas. Una vez que comencé, yo no podía terminar. Lo que empezó como una relación solitaria de mermelada (‘ah dejame comprar aquella mermelada para recordarme a mamá’) se convertió en una serie salvaje e interminable de estancias de una sola noche con mermeladas internacionales: lamiaba pedazos cristalizados de jengíbre chino de mi mermelada británica, me sumergía en el sabor de la mermelada de Naranja Agria Española sobre rebanadas delgadas de pan negro. La Jalea de Pimienta Caliente de Miami se sientía peligrosa al tocar mis labiosy rogaba que regrasara para más, y la mermalada orgánica Bélgica de Albaricoque competía con mi Confiture de Abricots Francesa que guardaba su afrodiásico de almendras crujientes.
Soy desvergonzadamente infiél a mis mermeladas, y aún así, las amo todas y siempre busco la oportunidad de sacarlas al público para disfrutarlas. Un desayuno de crêpes es la comida perfecta para tal infidelidad famosa.
I could say if I just look at the slope of her nose (ever so slight with a generous finish) I’d recognize that it is exactly like mine and unmistakably connect us but I know what you are thinking: there is so much more to a face, so many more crevices and cracks to throw you off course. You’d say the eyes, the chin, even the hair. And I’d agree, one cannot gage another by merely the slope of the nose but in this case it really is all it took.Because when she turned and I saw her profile, I saw myself in her; ten, maybe fifteen years earlier I was there, only with different colored hair and different colored eyes but still me and I knew right then and there, that even though we never crossed paths before, we were indeed sisters.
Of course, the story doesn’t start or end there.There are many hurdles and heartbreak and mending when one learns one’s father has led a double life and has a whole separate family as a result. It took years to get here and years I was grateful my mother was not alive to live this.But the slope of the nose is where we met and it was followed by the big-hearted smile and the prominent chin:all trademarks of my father’s Abbady genes I had thought for the most part of my life I carried alone only to quickly learn those traits where clearly molded on one of my half-sister’s face as well.
We met on a chilly foggy night in the Andean city of Quito, the remote spot my father had picked to form another life that on this memorable night merged with mine.There was too much past to clutter a future with these two young women, my two half-sisters I never knew about, and so it was time to move forward together.
And with the reliable mediator of food, we did.To begin with, there was the fact that I had landed on the equator, which opened up the door to plenty of exotic and delightful Amazonian fruit with equally strange names such as parcha, tomate de arbol, and naranjillo.There were many I had already encountered growing up in Venezuela such as maracuya (passion fruit) and mora (blackberry), all of which begged to be gobbled up with nothing but impulsiveness and greed.All my mother’s proper Philadelphia stock was put to shame as I dropped any social etiquette and lost myself in a world of sweetness and flowers and juice which I couldn’t fully experience without fingers, extra drool and a very drippy chin.To think Eden lost it all for a measly apple?Oh the damage that could have happened here!
We had the fortune of our visit coinciding with Semana Santa (Holy Week), which, in a country where Roman Catholicism reigns, is taken very seriously, right down to the food.Large makeshift shacks abound housing sweaty women stirring big pots of fanesca, a traditional hearty soup served during this meat-prohibited time consisting of beans and dried cod and garnished with eggs, fried plantains, heart of palm, and (if you’re fortunate) fried cheese empanadas.You can pick any crowded intersection in Quito, drag a dirty plastic chair up to the communal table and dig in alongside businessmen in grey Armani suits, families overflowing with children, or curious tourists like me.
There were other succulent flavors with the indelible stamp of Ecuador: Ceviche de Camaron, plump, marinated shrimp swimming in a bath of citrus, cilantro and red peppers or Encocado, which translates to “in coconut” and is the country’s trademark fish dish of sea bass bathed in fresh coconut sauce served alongside fried green plantains and a big mound of white rice. Salchipapas, the popular street food consisting of thick slices of fried hotdogs served on a bed of French fries and coated with your choice of pink, yellow or spicy aji sauce easily elevated frankfurters to a whole other level.
Of course, we ate our way through any awkwardness, quietly comparing notes of our parallel lives guided by the same patriarch and by the end of each meal we were fuller and better for it, one step closer to closing the enormous gap of secrecy and time that lay before us.And then we had our Passover dinner, the ultimate family meal for a group learning to be a family.There was laughter and prayers and countless glasses of sickly sweet wine, and then, alas, there was food, lots and lots of food.My sister and half-sisters where all there, the children ran around freely and my father, with his partner Lucia by his side, had a twinkle in his eye I hadn’t seen in years.And just as this strange trip began to settle into a faint sense of normalcy, something happened that seemed to seal the deal:
Dessert was served.
And not just any dessert.A delicious dessert. A wonderous dessert.A very Abbady dessert.Something I could see my aunt Miriam present in her cramped Jerusalem apartment along with a pot of Café Turki.After all, this was Crème Bavaria, an Israeli favorite.
The ethereal square of white gently drizzled with rich chocolate and dusted with a bit of chopped walnuts was placed before me.Lucia sat humbly next to my father, weathering the silence of a group of already tough critics.Her eyes jumped nervously between my sister and I and our families as she contended with the room’s silence.But the silence was soon broken by harmonious oohs and ahhs as, one by one, we all fell prey to the smooth and light creaminess of her Crème Bavaria, quickly and gently forgiving the misstep of using leavening during Passover as we bit into the rum-infused sponge cake resting on the bottom.
It was an instant of wonder and hope where I realized that as painful and real as many of the circumstances that created this group where, there was a chance that through such delicious moments, things could and should get better.My half-sister and I were sitting across each other.Half way through our dessert, among the buzz of contentment, our eyes met and we grinned the same grin.We were both blissfully stuffing ourselves with Crème Bavaria, making a start in the right direction guided by a happy, full stomach.
Twelve-year old girls usually come in twos and I was no exception. Attached to my prepubescent hip was my all-time buddy and life long pal, Kim. Together we witnessed the first coveted signs of growing up: The Beloved Pimple (she got hers first), The First Dark Hair ANYWHERE (she got hers first) and of course, The Fateful Symbol of Utter Womanhood: any sign of a Boob (she got hers first (okay, so I was a rather late bloomer)). Even the illusion of the first signs of affection from a crooned-over unattainable boy like super cute Mark Decasola (to whom I readily handed over my much-coveted Venezuelan candy bar at lunch just for a flash of those amazing pearly whites) was done hand in hand. She always told me I was too good for him.Even though Kim moved away at the start of high school and we lost touch soon thereafter, too many secrets and pacts where exchanged for me to ever forget her. But aside from mixing blood (Best Friends Forever Pact) and mixing each other’s hairs (Best Friends Forever Backup Pact), we also mixed taste buds in the kitchen as we were both adamant and fervent lovers of cooking.Mornings in Kim’s house began early when we’d wake up to the sound of her large labrador barking, brush off her annoying little brother, and head downstairs to the gleaming and abandoned kitchen, where we had free range to explore and invent as our taste buds and imaginations desired. Many combinations deserve to die within the secrecy of our friendship, but one dish that was born amongst our frenzy for culinary perfection was so good, so perfect, so us, that it remains one of my favorites today. The Crazy Plopper, as it was named that fateful day in 1984 was a marriage of mess and deliciousness. Nestled amongst a crusty baguette, Kim and I created the ultimate egg sandwich that serves as the perfect crossover from breakfast to lunch to dinner. Whichever hour of the day we chose to devour this delight, we’d always wash it down with a cold Coke and a climb up to our secret hideout, the roof of the storage room, where we’d sit and listen to the wild parrots squawk and drool over our pact of delicious food.