Sunday, May 31, 2020

Mixing It Up

My girlfriend told me about a delicious cauliflower leek soup she had just made, so I asked for the recipe, as I am always eager to try something new. 

She mentioned that the recipe required the use of an immersion blender, which she loves because it allows her to keep the soup in the pot to puree instead of transferring it to a blender.

I didn’t have an immersion blender but was already hooked on the idea of this soup, so I decided to proceed with – don’t judge me – a hand mixer, which I could also utilize in the soup pot. I was certain that I could make it work, one way or another. 

While the soup was very tasty, the consistency was way off with the hand mixer, like 1,000 tiny pieces of cauliflower floating in liquid. Not exactly how I envisioned my soup. 

The next day, I poured my mixture into the blender and created a truly delicious soup but frankly, by that time, I was sick of the cauliflower.

David had seen me fussing with the soup over a 2-day period, and I’m sure he wondered what I was doing. He would have enjoyed using this scenario as yet another opportunity to explain that having the appropriate tool to do the job – whatever it is – should always be at the starting point of any project. 

Since he has retired, he is constantly working around the house and seems to feel the need to buy a new gadget for every task he takes on.        

“Can’t you just use what you have?” I ask him, time and time again.    

Meantime, he consistently echoes a different frustration to me.     

“You always use the wrong tools,” he says, which is annoying to hear because I view so much of his purchases as overkill; yet, there’s no doubt that his precision consistently leads to a good outcome.

Every now and then, he manages to convert me to his way of thinking.  

Take knives, for example. He made a big stink one day that we need a knife specifically designed to slice bagels. I thought he was ridiculous and indulgent…What’s wrong with the knives we have?  I asked.

He insisted that I try the knife when he got it, and I have to admit that I became an instant believer. Its serrated edges are perfect for a clean and safe cut, which I especially appreciate given that I almost sliced my finger off some 20 years ago when I used a utility knife to slice a bagel.    

I started to daydream out loud about how good the cauliflower leek soup would have been had I used an immersion blender.

David was so excited that I was actually open to getting one that he immediately went online and started researching them. 

Guess what was in yesterday’s mail?

Sunday, May 24, 2020


My daughter Allison is having a baby in a couple of weeks, and she’s trying to take care of the last-minute details before the little one enters the world.

One of the items on her to-do list included a text message to all the parents announcing the grandparent names we have chosen for ourselves.

I looked at the list and was floored that this baby is going to have 7 grandparents!

What a lucky kid! That’s a whole lot of love for this baby of theirs, not to mention for all 7 of us chomping at the bit to experience the joy that she will bring. It’s amazing that one little baby can make so many people so happy, just by being born.

This bounty of grandparents is the direct result of the unfortunate divorces in each of the new parents’ families. Talk about something so sad giving way to such delight.  
My own kids hit the jackpot with their 4 doting grandparents, each bond unique and creating cherished memories. Now sadly they have just 1 grandparent, PopPop. The humor and affection he so freely gives has been extended to the next generation, as he’s recently been promoted to Great Granddad, a badge he wears with pride. 

In stark contrast was my upbringing, void of the presence of all 4 grandparents. Two of mine were already gone when I was born, I never met my dad’s father, and I can’t picture my mom’s father’s face or voice; he passed when I was 5. I can vaguely recall his wife’s white-silver curly hair and coral-colored lipstick, and I can visualize my siblings and me sitting on hard plastic furniture covers in their living room while wishing I could have an ice cream cone instead of the hard candies in the glass bowl that were offered to us.  

In my 20s, however, I did enjoy the amazing warmth and tenderness of my then-husband’s grandmother MomMom, who scooped me up and made me one of her own. Because I wanted to learn and she reveled in teaching me, she spent eons of time sharing her skills and knowledge so that I could become a “balabusta” – the Yiddish expression for being a good homemaker – and patiently sat with me so I could practice crocheting a granny square afghan, baking kamish bread and preparing matzoh ball chicken soup for the Jewish holidays.

There was something so gratifying about being a novice under her watchful eye and loving heart; these days, I could easily find information on YouTube, given that everything is just a click away.  But I'd miss so much, in comparison.         

As you can see, I relish the precious connection between grandparent and grandchild.

By the way, the name I chose for myself is MomMom.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Now Is The Time

A few people I know, I’m so sad to say, lost their parents during the pandemic.

Due to tight restrictions in nursing homes, these family members hadn’t been allowed to visit and there had been little to no face-to-face communication for several weeks or months, or longer.

I can’t even imagine how painful this separation was for all the parties involved, especially when it became clear that the final days were imminent. 

It’s been 15 years since my dad’s passing, and I still think about what transpired the day before he passed.

I happened to be alone with him in the hospital for a brief period of time. My mom announced that she was going to step outside to get some fresh air (and maybe a cigarette!) and none of my siblings were in his room, so he and I were on our own.

Nervous that he might venture off to that unknown place in her absence, I anxiously told her to hurry up.  

Once she left, I stood by the door, ready to run out just in case things started to get weird, but he said my name and motioned to me to come closer. I remember thinking how surreal it was, knowing he’s dying and that he wants to communicate something on his death bed. Very cliché. 

I assumed he’d say something like, “Take care of Mom,” so I decided to help him out since he didn’t seem to have much energy left. I leaned in real close and just as I was getting ready to tell him “Don’t worry, Dad, we will always look after Mom,” he started to talk in a loud kind of whisper.

He went in an altogether different direction from what I expected and began to reflect on our relationship, bringing tears to my eyes. What’s remarkable is that as significant an exchange as it was, it almost didn’t take place.

Whether he planned in advance to say these things or it was a momentary impulse he went with, it was only possible because: 1 - I came to visit at that time of day, 2 - My mom stepped out, 3 - The siblings hadn’t come yet or had left, and 4 - he was still alive. 

I am so appreciative that not only did he speak his mind, but I had the opportunity to respond as well.   
This memory serves as an important reminder to tell loved ones and other special people how we feel NOW, while we have the chance.

Otherwise, it may never happen.    

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Thinking About My Mom

One afternoon about 25 years ago, I went back to my parents’ house to surprise my mom. She wasn’t in her usual spot – the kitchen, so I went to her second most frequented place – the basement. This is where I often found her doing the laundry, or every now and then taking a Rolling Rock beer from her stash in the refrigerator.

My mom was very predictable when I came to visit. She always smiled when she saw me and leaned in for our kiss. Without fail, she’d ask me if I wanted something to eat or drink. Then we’d sit at the kitchen table and she’d rattle off a gamut of questions, depending on where I was in my life:  How are you? How’re the kids?  How’s your job?  How’re your friends? and so on. She usually did all the asking, and I did all the telling.

On this particular day when I located her in the basement, she didn’t see me come downstairs, as she was busy transferring the clothing from the washer to the dryer.

My presence startled her. I can still picture her face. She had a strange, unfamiliar and rather disturbing expression. She uttered “Judy!” in a very abrupt, accusatory manner. I was confused, but I soon saw what was happening, as she quickly moved her one arm to her back. 

In her hand was a lit cigarette.

My mom had been a smoker for most of her life. It stands to reason that she got sick with COPD – a respiratory condition – as she aged. There’s even a picture I have of her breastfeeding me with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. 

She had quit several years before this incident, and weaning herself had been a very difficult task. She also experienced mounting frustration relating to the weight gain that noshing caused. These factors added to my confusion.   
“Mom!  Why did you start again?” I asked, after I caught her in the act. Unlike in prior visits, this time around it was me asking her to respond…except that she didn’t, in words.  

Her face, however, spoke to me. She looked so upset that she might cry, which kind of freaked me out, because this wasn’t a reaction that I was familiar with, at all. She had always been very steady…unshaken…unless she was voicing an opinion about something that she felt passionate about.  
As I looked at my mom in this unusual state, I began to think of her very differently, almost like I was seeing her for the very first time. I realized that she was her own person; she wasn’t just my mom. Her very first layer was Florence – the individual – before the roles of wife and mother of 4 were piled on.    

The last thing I ever wanted her to feel was judged or shamed or embarrassed. Yet, I put her on the spot. She didn’t deserve to be questioned. She was 80 years old. She spent her whole life serving others, with enormous compassion, commitment and energy. She certainly didn’t owe me an explanation. I’d assume she was at peace with her decision to start again, for whatever the reason.

I just wish I could have a do-over.  

Sunday, May 3, 2020


Should I go on Facebook now?

Do I really need to start stalking at 7 a.m?  Every morning I ask myself this.  It’s rather early to become so fixated on the goings-on of everyone and everything around me, when there are still 15 hours or more before bedtime that I could be doing this.  

But, I wouldn’t want to miss anything, that’s for sure.

One day last week, I succumbed to my weakness maybe even earlier than 7, and the very first post caught my eye.  It was from one of my favorite Philly groups: “We grew up in West or East Oak Lane in the 40s, 50s and 60s.”

Usually the pictures I relate to are of the “C” or “Y” buses that I took to get to school as well as old advertisements for family-favorite restaurants like the Open Hearth, or for row or twin homes that sold way back when for under $12,000.   

But this picture was of a store name that stood tall among the others on Ogontz Avenue, called Cakemasters. 

And just like that, I felt like the little girl who, some 50 years before, would delight with anticipation at just seeing the big white box, tied securely with cord, as it made its way onto our kitchen table. 
My mom would wrestle with the cord for a few seconds…excitement mounting…until the box opened and then there it was, in all its glory…the Cakemasters Button Cake.   

Whether that’s the official name or the Cohen term of endearment for it, there was nothing better than this dessert.  It was a round cake with pinkish icing on the top and middle, coated with chocolate jimmies along the side, and the very best part – the top - consisted of 10-12 edible chocolate fudge “buttons,” spaced like a clock.

I acted on my urge to google Cakemasters just in case I could relive this childhood experience from a local bakery.  I have no shame; I’d have gone that day to get one.    

The only location I could find was called Cakemasters Bakery II, and it was in Florida.  From the description I read on their Facebook page, the owners were third and fourth generation bakers starting from the great grandfather who opened a bakery in Philadelphia.  I decided this must be the man who created the button cake, so I sent a note to ask if the Florida bakers are from Philly and whether they have button cakes.  I described the cake, just in case they weren’t familiar with the name, and told them how much I enjoyed it growing up.   

The owner wrote back to say her grandfather owned a bakery in Philly, but she wasn’t sure of the name or where exactly it was.  Even though I didn’t get concrete info about the original Cakemasters and she didn’t comment on the button cake, I felt like we could’ve been long lost relatives, trying to piece together a past with a timeline but without the people around to confirm it.  I also felt sad that she didn’t seem to know much about her grandfather and his creations, given that he started the family legacy.        

I then decided it might be fun to text my siblings to ask if they remembered the button cakes from Cakemasters.  I thought I could have to wait hours or a day to hear back but, 5 minutes later, they had all checked in.

They responded with “loved them!” which made me very happy that we finally all shared a memory in almost exactly the same way, which is rare.

My elephant memory brother recalled that my sister loved the buttons and that once or twice we had asked the bakery to add extra buttons for her.

I didn’t remember wanting extra buttons, just my fair share; my memory centers around my 4th kid complex, once again…and declaring, when it was my turn to get a slice of the cake, “I want a whole button.”

There was only one worthy last bite:  the button, surrounded by an inch of icing on either side.  I knew if I didn’t speak up, I may not have gotten it.

The elephant brother also remembers discussion on the slicing of the cake and the adjustment our mom made so that no one’s portion – he didn’t name me – contained a partial button or was void of a button. 

That’s probably because I made a stink about it.

Unlike with the tea bag.