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Archive for the month “March, 2017”

Naming and Food 

My new granddaughter’s name in Hebrew is :Tova Shoshanna. The first name “ Tova” means good and the second, Shoshanna ,connotes for my daughter a happy memory of a beloved Hebrew school teacher who showered her students with delicious delicacies, thereby making after school learning sweeter.

I like the idea that Jews are, in a sense, double agents, in that they have public names, but also private secret ones in a foreign language, Hebrew, as if a secret code ring will only reveal their true identity to the persons who know the covert language.

People play fast and loose with the naming, some insisting that the letter of the English and Hebrew be the same so for example, the” J” in the English one Jordan and the Hebrew one Joseph ( actually Yosef) be related by the first letter of each. When I named my children, I wanted the meaning of the names to coalesce so that Jordan’s second name Bryan, strong, warrior, and meant the same as the name Israel,  ( written in Hebrew or Yiddish -Ysrul, for the person named) .

Yet totally unrelated, my grandfather’s name in English was Sam, no doubt , someone assigning the Jewish monikers, Sam and Sarah, to all Jews, even though my zaida had arrived from Romania early in the 20 th century, not post war. What connection had Sam to Ysrul- a name my daughterinlaw insists does not exist at all !(curious and curiouser, says Alice).

And because the vowels in Hebrew are added at the bottom of the letters in Hebrew, Ithought I would again play with the interchange between the English and Hebrew names so that I changed my grandmother’s name Molly to Amanda for my elder daughter, Ariel’s second name, (which for some reason she deplores) and which means well loved. But Sam/Ysrul’s wife was Molly, Malka, or queen in Hebrew (someone more than a hundred years ago following the first letter “M” rule) so I figured in my own strange logic that since there are no real vowels in Hebrew, I could transliterate and add the” A” to Molly’s” M “and make it Amanda. Besides queens such as Purim’s Queen Esther were extremely well loved as in Amanda.

And similarly , my husband Howard’s Hebrew name is El Channon, the El disappearing into the first consonant “H” for Howard so his mother must have figured likewise. In the end, the child winds up having two separate names, usually only being called the secret one in a Hebrew Schoolroom when he or she is called formally to the Torah.
Or to confuse even more, if the English name given is actually a Hebrew one such as  Orly or Shira , it stands in both languages.

I like the idea too that Shoshanna is associated with a delightful food experience for my daughter. When I taught English at Northern Secondary, twins Helen and Mia, who worked at Phipps bakery were given the cakes that did not sell after two days. Over German chocolate cake or peach pie, we would discuss Shakespeare or Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, lessons made more palatable by an atmosphere that included coffee and cake. The entire tone of the classes changed. Instead of bleary sleep-filled eyes and lax limbs, students perked up in their early morning class, providing powerful insights to discussions. I too looked forward to the excellent bakery’s leftover treats that could feature foamy meringue, streams of bursting blueberries, and gooey moist caramel embedded in their baked goods. I am forever a patron of the bakery restaurant pondering which to select for my family’s birthdays, such as The Celebration Cake or Dad’s Special, their offerings as delicious as they were twenty years ago.

As well, sharing a desert or a meal seems to me an important feature of bonding to Jewish families. Marc Chagall wife’s memoir,Burning Lights from her life in Vitesbek, Russia, evoked for me the holiday meal, of a clan gathering and being together so many years ago. And for secularized Jews who may go light on the services, meeting for the family meal to inaugurate the beginning of a new year( Rosh Hashanah), or commemorate a biblical tale or triumph over slavery such as Passover , is based on our coming together to eat symbolic foods.There is the lamb shrank, the bitter herbs and the all time favourite of Chorosets, which is a mixture of apples, nuts and wine to commemorate the mortar Jews were forced to make for their bricks in Egypt under Pharaoh.

My favourite story concerns one of my grandsons on Passover. Thinking it great fun to dip fingers into the wine glass when reiterating the Passover Plagues, but not comprehending the Hebrew words, he enquired what were the words we were singing out, associated with dipping his fingers. Solemnly explained, they were the plagues of grasshoppers, darkness, frogs, locusts… death of the first born, he stopped and open mouthed, eyes huge, announced , “Those are not good things.” Indeed, they are not.

But the connections with food and love do continue. And I think fondly of finding something especially delicious to greet my grandsons when I get them at school. When the elder was at daycare, he developed a passion for macaroons, then just becoming popular. The tiny pastel- coloured gems were his delight for awhile. His brother, a chocolate addict is wild for the golden coins, Lindt bunnies and an entire wide range of anything sweet and chocolate. Tonight for their pickup, I made a special trip to the Chocolate Messenger to purchase the chocolate marshmallow treats adorned with multicoloured sprinkles. Their interest in cupcakes, even from Bakes and Goods, that uses Belgian chocolate and to my mind, the best bar none in the city, wanes and waxes. The occasional bag of sun chips or cheesies may suffice although I much prefer something homemade..

This is all to say that my daughter in naming her child reached deep into her store of memories that included a beloved teacher’s name, one that was fused with food. On Friday nights, my mother prepared her fricassee, chicken soup and roasted chicken, but her fricassee was outstanding. When asked what was the special ingredient she used, her answer was always the same: love.

Leaving San Diego 

As my sojourn in San Diego is coming to an end, I am reflecting on what makes this place a home for three months. Years ago I would watch Survivor and one of the finale shows would glimpse a participant traversing the island, pausing to review or recount an event, a person , an emotion experienced in haste but reflected on in leisure, as if sampling a sweet or meaningful food that had lodged in their consciousness, but in the quiet of being mindful, the thought re- emerged for consumption.

So here too are my thoughts on my refuge from the bruising Canadian winters. Above all is the clear cerulean sky that is the backdrop to trees and walks in this city. There is almost an aural clarity to that sky, the picture perfect backdrop I associate with Giorgione paintings in Italy, the limitless of space that theNorthern Italian painters created in the looming expanse above their heads. In Joshua Tree National Park, it was the same- emitting that refreshing blueness: that if you stare too long, you will be turned to stone. I have noticed hummingbirds recklessly dart into those orange flowers with their extended necks, crows play with the currents, allowing the wind to swoop them higher to soar on inclement puffs of wind and flocks of gulls move together over the breaking waves on the beach. In the Galapagos, it is different as the colours of vegetation and wildlife contrast in their setting, dazzling red crabs and the naughty turquoise footed boobies strongly observable against the black and grey rocks, but here, it is all one, meshing and coalescing indivisible , perhaps a total mindfulness of setting.

How often Howard and I remark on our location here because we never imagined that within 10-20 minutes, all necessities of life could be gleaned: from food to book groups to exercise to windowshopping. With my sturdy feet, a bottle of water and sun visor, I set off for yoga or pilates, secure in knowing the level of instruction is confident, attentive and challenging. There is no judgment in classes, but careful teaching provides for variation in exercise, attuned to “ mature” bodies whose necks, shoulders or backs might not be as limber as in youthful arrogance and ignorance when all is accepted as functioning and moving gracefully. The Community Centre not only welcomes all, but offers a plethora of programs to educate mind, spirit and limbs. It is here too that a friendly face is always willing to acknowledge an outsider, making them feel welcome.

I engage in yoga here, twisting and grunting and extending, but never properly balancing (as in the tree, pose), fascinated by the names of poses such as happy baby who grabs the soles of the feet or, two and three, feet arranged for battle. What always comes to mind is Maxine Hong Kingston’s book Warrior Woman whose battles, I recall, had to do with her paths through and into life. I find it strange that a non competitive exercise commandeers the name of “warrior” for a stance. Before the classroom mirror, do I look fierce, ready to battle? No, for my arms and legs, each wanting to wander off and sit with the the bougevvilla or sift the sand stands at the ready.

At home my Pilates person will endeavour to realign my parts, correcting my errant head and re-aligning my hips. But for the meantime, there has been no pain, only the reawakening ache of new muscles, different from my routines at home. The reformer instructor at a private establishment is young and when I enquire that I think my zoas muscle is protesting when I go up or down a hill, she dismisses my query by responding, there are lots of muscles in that area. It is a group class that meets on Sundays and I recognize the Pilates exercises but with arms outstretched, legs rotating, head bobbing up and down, my co- ordination most times is lacking. She comes to correct and last week when I feared placing my feet on the movable bar might cause me to tumble, she gently reorganized my trembling parts into safe and correct positions. I may be the oldest of the eight people on the reformers, a few slightly younger, but mainly the women are in their 30’s and this is a level one class! I challenge myself and feel proud as my shaking legs practically knock against the walls when thankfully, the 55 minutes have been completed.

And my California friends. Yesterday I met a former Canadian for coffee. We began by attacking Trump, totally in sync. And somehow we veered into guffaws and laughter that shook us from the inside out. My other passel of amigas feels genuine- even having known them for such a short time. Yesterday one reached over to warmly touch my arm, conspiratorial in her understanding of a shared confidence. Our former condo owners are like guardian angels always checking in,, offering insight , warmth, care and camaraderie. I can pop up stairs or call for a favor. Like a steady current, they ensure my security, as friends known a lifetime. And the newest friend is a kindred spirit. She, like my Wednesday lunch companion, discusses books, family, reminisces about our prior lives and we share a deep connection. This is a kaleidoscope of varied personalities.I am mindful of the Le Petit Prince and the fox whose regular meetings bound them in spirt. But truly, what could be more delightful than expressing one’s thoughts under a brier of twisted branches beneath that fabulous sky?

As an added sprinkle to my cupcake are my cousins who live in Laguna Beach and LA, the very people who began my enchantment with this state when I was young. Meeting with them reawakens my original delight that helped ensure an awkward 15 year old could build confidence and procure enduring friendships. I return to those memories of my cousins, embracing them time and again as the backbone of my writing. The recollections and renewed conversations refresh me.

As an added perk, my writing is more often published here- first in magazines, then in journals. I will have two pieces on Celebrations and Passover in The Jewish Journal. The editor wrote in an email that my pieces always make her cry. I was touched. I feel a connection built through our exchanges, and next year hope to meet her face to face. Several years ago, I was contacted by a travel magazine to travel with “ real” writers to Nevada. I imagined this was the kickstart to a new career, but it did not happen so this little surge of articles tickles me immensely: small publications here and there occurred, but here it has been closer to a little flurry.Pleasing.

So with a heavy heart, I leave but am anxious to meet my.brand new granddaughter,Georgia Parker, and return to my wonderful Toronto friends, my cosy house and lovely children and grandchildren.

Always I am in awe that these three months are due to my mother’s careful saving who like the elves turning straw to gold, provided us with the means to extend our path into the California climes.

What’s for breakfast?

The newspaper juxtaposes a buttertart and a donut: Which do you choose? Although I am a fan of chocolate or chocolate dipped, the glazed donut gets my vote. It’s not that I reject butter tarts and I do recall a perfectly wonderful one in Halliburton, but maybe it is the tart- thing being all beige and bumpy brown that causes me to prefer the glistening glaze and the perfect circle of the former. That one is only 190 calories and the other-although it likely features gooey raisins or crunchy nuts-is almost double in calories does not stop my predilections for the later that possesses a hole in the middle.

Funny about the foods we prefer and why.

I am lately bored by my breakfasts. Mostly each morning in California, I have tasty mixed grains usually augmented with grower fresh berries and then topped with yogurt- dipped raisins along with a wallop of assorted nuts. This later combo of mixed nuts and fruits has become my 4 o’clock snack as well as I ferret out a treat that I assume will get me to dinner, assuage my hunger and provide a mid day boredom escape for something textural on my tongue and not spoil the impact of a 6 or 7 o’clock supper.At home, green tea was the ticket, but although I am not a sugar fan, here that space between lunch and dinner feels it needs a touch of sweet along with something tooth- munching.

But what to do about breakfast boredom? I have substituted granolas and sampled other healthy cereals, but even as I appreciate variety in my Pilates instruction so, too, do I long for breakfast difference. This week I decide a leftover cherry hamentashen will work and although I endured some guilt from ingesting a pastry so early in the day, it does suffice. Yet , I’m not sure why the dough needed to be so thick and well! doughy—- but the inside pocket of jammy- like contents was flavourful and possessed an interesting texture.

I’ve been doing this more lately: finding breakfast substitutes.

Several weeks ago, I chanced upon a croissant at a small French restaurant. I was delighted and decided the almond might serve as a perfect treat so I indulged and purchased two: one for morning coffee and one for my afternoon snack indiscretion. It was slightly crispy , but airily layered and flakey and buttery for midday , but suffered in the morning as the separating sections condensed in the plastic baggie I believed would maintain its freshness. Adding a scrape of butter to an indulgence all ready conceived with butter seemed an overindulgence so I simply brushed on a stain of jam. That helped to moisten the surface, but I missed the feathery lightness of the bread fresh from the oven, my finger tips barely coated with butter.
Even the unevenness of the paste of almonds,  both quartered and halved did not reignite my tastebuds a day later. Still I much preferred it to the boredom of cereal.

I have considered this problem of day old and in an attempt to be proactive, I have purchased muffins that appear moist in the baked goods section of our upscale grocery. But also mindful that a day should begin with something healthy, I ignore the tempting chocolate chip or even chocolate muffins , averting my eyes, and perusing the bran, bran- raisin, banana, banana- walnut varieties. Even cranberry- orange promises some better choice although I know there must be sugar and flour and other devilments within all. So I sigh, the voices in my head arguing the pros and cons of muffin ingredients although I know of course, they are a baked good, not a healthy breakfast choice. However, determined to avoid cereal and too lazy to grind frozen berries into a drink or even crack the shells of eggs, I select a flaxseed and berries muffin, pretending that flax will definitely augment my health and of course  th boast of “mixed berries “could mean those blueberries that boast innumerable benefits. Plus from experience, I know these muffins will maintain their moistness housed in a plastic baggie over night. 
And yes, next morning with a strong cup of coffee, most often Peets, this product will kickstart my day with a little delight for which I search: I attempt to explain this to those rampant internal voices in my head. I am very aware this path, not well traveled, to the soft and delicious cannot become a regular pattern, just an occasional morning diversion.

Fortunately for me, this morning, there is leftover challah from last night’s fricasse dipping, so I am sated by toasting it lightly, and barely slathering it in butter and strawberry preserves.
It is only breakfast that causes this angst to arise, the rest of the day’s meals a cornucopia of contrasts. But breakfast continues to challenge me. 

Palm Springs and Environs

Being in San Diego is great , but one tends to develop certain rituals in everyday life especially of living separately for three months, so when Howard returns for a visit, he shakes things up a bit and that adds to the chaos, but also the fun.

So we decided we would drive 2 hours towards Palm Springs. And because friends weigh in on what to do and see, we follow suggestions. It’s hard to imagine a much more majestic vista than Joshua Tree National Park. Immediately the formations of huge granite rock ,that look like sandstone but are 250 million years old and predate the dinosaurs , remind me of Ayers Rock in Australia. We are in Hidden Valley and Jumbo Rocks Area. Interestingly, rock climber learners are attempting to scale the fairly smooth surfaces, planting their ropes and wires into the ledges, cautiously ferreting out spots to plant their feet.

The formations are incredible, sone resembling dolphins and whales, others faces, and the most incredible piles upon piles of boulders, all sizes. Against a clear blue sky, they are awe- inspiring and one can really imagine how immense dinosaurs were in contrast to these stony mountains. Paths lead into “ these exhibits” as they are listed from the road and the Joshua trees are ubiquitous. I learn they are not cactus, but a part of the agave family, some even with tight white blooms resembling faded hydrangeas. Because their innards are fibrous, Joshua trees are hard to date although a typical lifespan would be 150 years. Mormons believed the arms of the trees resembled Joshua leading the the faithful to the promised land.

There are picnic areas in the park and in spite of this being desert, it is pretty chilly late February and we are up high. But the air quality is could easily spend a day exploring.

We drive to a viewing ledge called Keys View where the San Andreas fault, Indio Hills, Coachella Valley, Salton Sea and San Bernardino Mountains are visible amidst the point where the Mohave and Colorado deserts merge. Again, a breath- taking view with very different textured hills, scrubby green to smooth grey against a cerulean blue sky partly eclipsed by streams of fluffy clumping clouds.People perch on the overhanging cliffs and gaze.

However, one wonders why the tourist information centres are outside of the park. In deed when we stop for a coffee at the official visitor centre located at the base, the café door – where we likely would have purchased a box lunch before entering the park, is not only closed, but the people sitting on chairs outside of it are rudely informed to go somewhere else because the Café is now closed. It’s about 2 o’clock.

No one would expect , especially since there are overnight ( not to exceed 14 nights!) camping sites, that the information is OUTSIDE the park itself. In any case, we had warm clothes, beautiful sights and although I would have liked to visit the cactus garden, we will return- ether packing our own tasty sandwiches or arriving early enough to avoid the ire of the café lady.

On the next day, we walk El Paseo in Palm Desert, not to be confused with Palm Springs. As Howard wears his Blue Jay shirt proudly we are constantly stopped by other Canadians. They are here from Brampton, Winnipeg and London,Ontario. It is a gorgeous walk of high class shops beneath palm trees that stretch to the skies with many hidden passages of more fancy shops for the rich elite. It’s before noon but only the Canadian visitors are prowling the streets, enjoying the sunshine and the snow capped mountains that frame the scene .

For something completely different after walking the poor cousin strip of Palm Springs, we do a self tour of the movie star homes, of old Hollywood. Although the guy behind the counter of Ace hotel has marked the must- sees, we follow the entire map. Not surprisingly, many are behind blockades of trees: Dean Martin’s practically on the street seems pretty ordinary and Frank Sinatra’s place actually looks pretty run down; Bing Crosby’s also looks as if it needs some ( actually a lot of)  work. Howard, a Sinatra buff, wonders where is the enclave Sinatra constructed for JFK but never lived in. According to the biography, JFK’s father felt Sinatra had too many mafia connections and persuaded Jack not to accept the generosity of his host. Sinatra was more than miffed. Yet we see no evidence of another house.

Marilyn Monroe’s resembles a cottage, kinda cute with awnings and curlicues above doors in white and black and I think I may have seen scenes of this house, perhaps of her overdosing here. The only house that is not completely or partially obscured is Elvis and Priscilla’s,   an overhanging gable in orange hangs out over the lush lawn and a running fountain descends besides their love nest. It is impressive. If you peer over the tree edge, Ron and Nancy Reagan’s looks very Mexican in style and quite lovely. One can almost imagine Nancy swishing through siena tiled floors as she her high heels, likely red, clapp against the ceramic floors. Leonardo di Carprio’s is partly obscured although it is fantastically landscaped with a great carefully shaped tree mid-entrance. This was Dinah Shore’s estate previously. We smirk as there is a garage for three cars for this energy conscious star. Because there are only service vehicles and no other rubes in this secluded area today, we can gawk and peer, imagining the stars, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, slightly tipsy from alchol or drugs, their hubbub of former irreverent days in these quiet winding streets.

Having enquired of our Uber driver what he suggests we should see within our limited time, he recommends Sunnylands Center and Gardens. Nine and a half acres with paths to wander are covered with fantastic gardens. There is aloe vera, ocotillo, palo verde, Texas ebony, mesquite, milkwood, golden barrel, lady slipper plants and cacti all meticulously arranged and perfect for rambling or meditation. In a performance circle, a performer in blue becomes a living sculpture. Indoors we pause at a display of Steuben glass delicately incised with diverse designs submitted from around the world. Unfortunately we have not purchased( online) tickets for the Annenberg house although a documentary film has wowed us with the family residence that includes recognizable paintings by Gauguin, Renoir and Van Gogh. The Annenbergs, originally from Philadelphia, hosted numerous presidents and their home considered equal to Camp David. Most recently Barack Obama rambled the gardens withthe president of China, Nixon as well, a friend and guest. Both husband and wife worked as US ambassadors. I’m surprised to learn that Annenberg was the publisher of TV guide and Seventeen magazine, but interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, the documentary film shares that Annenberg’s father went to jail for tax fraud, no doubt, the seed money for the wealth and eventual philanthropy. 

A work of Modernism, the house was created in three short years, huge windows allowing for the outside to enter the premises, with indoor pools and sculptures appearing to naturally coalesce. Modernism Week has just passed in Palm Springs and I had noted there was a tour of the house during that time, so I’m a bit disappointed we’ve bypassed that opportunity. However , I’m quite sure we will return-here and to Joshua Tree National Park: these are places that call you back.

Add delicious dinners at Copleys and Spencer’s, perfect weather and you have a sense of our time in Palm Springs.

In the midst of all this, our baby granddaughter arrived in Philadelphia: Georgia on my mind, and always associated with the beauty of Palm Springs.

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