Strange rites of passage and no bullshit: Welcome, 2017!

Running toward a no-bullshit 2017!

2016 is in the rear-view mirror. Last night, we attended a New Year’s Eve party at a house we’ve been lucky enough to be invited to for the past several Dec. 31sts.  The host (a guy about my age) remarked that, “We’re old enough that the people who influenced us are starting to die off.”

William Christopher as “Father Mulcahy”

The observation was his response to my sharing that William Christopher, the actor who played Father Mulcahy on the sitcom “M.A.S.H.,” had joined David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, Pfife Dawg, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell and others in wherever it is we End Up after we’re Not Here. (I am not discounting that we simply become ash or worm fodder, but given that death remains a Great Mystery, remain open to any and all possibilities.)

Which is one reason (shoutout to Eddie Izzard), I baked and brought a cake to the party.

(“Cake or Death,” the video, starring Eddie Izzard. Embedding was an issue, so here’s a link.)

The others were:

  1. At last year’s party, I didn’t have a job. This year, I do. That alone is worth cake.
  2. My first run at this particular cake – four layers with lemon curd filling, covered in seven-minute icing – was a month ago for my book group. It turned out well, but I wanted to try it again with a few tweaks. (ie: Upping the tart factor to showcase the lemon and getting the icing to not be so runny. I succeeded with the former, not so much with the latter.)
  3. There’d be a guaranteed gluten-free dessert, which could be my little secret.
I need to figure out how to make the icing less runny.

The party seemed less crowded this year. One difference was the absence of vote trollers. Last year, going into an election season, there were a lot of “bright young things” (quotes intentional) sparkling up the front room, willingly engaging with anyone they considered worthy (each other) and pretty much ignoring the rest of us. I’m not entirely sad that the only bright young things there this year were the regular wonderful ones, and not just because (huzzah!) it meant more grilled tenderloin for the rest of us.

This  is from another party featuring tenderloin. I didn’t take any pictures last night.

Tenderloin and cake aside, it’s good to assess where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what’s happening around us at various points along the way.

Which, for those of us old enough to have children in their 20s, 30s and 40s (whether or not we actually do), might be causing a few … twinges.

In keeping with the food theme, here’s some “where we’ve been,” featuring adult children and elders.

Those children are adults, with all the responsibilities and privileges that word carries. And, at the same time, as Kevin wisely observes, the generation-up people we saw as heroes and role models – and some similarly-situated age peers – are dying within the time frame of a normal life span. (Some are at the younger end of that spectrum, but still within the boundaries of “normal.”)

Getting old enough to die at the point where no one is shocked at how “too young” you were is a strange rite of passage. I don’t spend a ton of time brooding about what that means, but I would be lying if I said I never thought about it at all.

Me (right), not brooding. And probably not acting my age, either. 

As what is shaping up to be a surreal and potentially interesting interval in the life the world as we know it, or to put it more succinctly, 2017, commences, I’m trying to keep an open mind about things.

One certainty that is becoming clearer is making the best use of the time I have in front of me. Part of that involves making more words, more cake, taking the best possible care I can of the people I love and of the world in which I live.

Regarding that last, loving the world in which I live means doing my bit to create the one I want to leave for everyone else. Seeing the world as it is and not as I want it to be isn’t easy. Talking honestly about it isn’t always politic. But unless you’re willing to look at – and call by name – what’s happening in front of you, you’ll never be able to change it.

So, 2017, here’s a toast. L’Chaim and no bullshit.

Dear Non-terrorist Muslims & White Men; Dear Impending Grandson: A pair of open letters

If a man and a water buffalo can be friends, there’s hope for the rest of us.

Dear Muslims who are terrified of being collateral damage because of yesterday and white men who are terrified of being collateral damage because of all the shootings and massacres.

I do not think all of you are terrorists.



PS I still think all the legislators who are worshipping at the feet of Wayne LaPierre  are spineless, wormy cowards.


See that ukulele, Grandson? When you can sit up and hold things, I am going to start teaching you how to play. Also, this is a picture of me engaging in behavior that caused our governor to compare me to an ISIS terrorist. Just so you know. Your Bubby isn’t really fierce, but somebody thinks she is…..


Butterfly ranching, Grandson. It’s another one of the great things we’re going to do together!
And we will put together jigsaw puzzles, because it’s really fun.

Dear Impending Grandson:

While I am looking forward to meeting you, I’m wondering if you might want to reconsider your upcoming entrance to a world in which anyone seems to be able to get an assault weapon. While this is scary, what is really scary is that when a white man uses an assault weapon to mow down a bunch of people, he gets carted off to jail and is even, sometimes, treated to a hamburger while in custody.

This does not seem to be the case with black and/or brown people, who too often are shot first, and turn out to have had no weapons (or to have merely been playing with toy weapons) later. This is why, black, white or brown, you and your future cousins will never get a toy gun  – at least not from me.

As is the case with every other grandmother I have ever known, I am going to do everything possible to ensure that you are never in a position where some zealot with a gun (in uniform, in jeans, in underwear, in a wetsuit, in whatever) decides to shoot you first and ask questions later.

We have made a mess, and I am deeply sorry. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have a little girl who is going to be a couple of weeks older than you are. Her parents have pledged to throw a lot of money  at making the world a better place for her, and, I hope, for the rest of her peers.

Still, Grandson, you and I are going to do some great stuff together. Until you gain a little weight and grow a few teeth, you’ll be a captive audience. I plan to talk, read and sing to you (sometimes with and sometimes without guitar and/or ukulele accompaniment). I will play you many instruments and tell you stories. Some will be made up just for you. Some will be stories I told your mother and aunts when they were small. Some will be new.

When you are bigger, we will read together and I will teach you how to play the ukulele and the guitar and the cello and the piano. We will bake bread and make French Toast. I will help you become a monarch butterfly rancher and maybe even a beekeeper. We will go in-line skating at the Lakefront.

You will teach me things, too, because you are going to be brilliant and interesting.

Anyway, I’m sorry about the mess of a world in which you’re about to make an entrance. I’m going to do everything I can to make life easier for your mom, and for you.


Your Bubby

My day at the food show: The pie was to “Dye” for and now I’m dreaming of a US Map made of pancakes

Three hours after my friend Grace called last week with a spare ticket to a recent Wine and Dine Expo, I was walking into the Exhibit Hall at the Wisconsin Center.

Exhibit halls. They make airplane hangars look intimate. The Wine & Dine airplane hangar was a sea of tables, counters and demo stations. The tables and counters were laden with bottles, chafing dishes, disposable plates and cutlery, cocktail napkins in every color of the rainbow and all the shades in-between. And we won’t even talk about the business cards and information sheets, which, if collected and given to a family with a fireplace, would probably have been enough to heat their house for winter.

My admission ticket got me a wine glass and bag to carry my share of those cards and information sheets, and I spent $3 on a plastic tray with a cutout for the wine glass. Which turned out to be a smart move. Between the cheese-tasting station and various restaurants handing out samples of their signature dishes, it was easy to pile up more than was possible for a two-handed person to manage.

The event was aptly named – I’d estimate that “Wine” (which, for purposes of this event also included beer and hard liquor) outnumbered “Dine” by at least 2:1. I’ve always preferred to eat my calories than drink them. So the exhibitors who took “Best in Show,” a category for which I served as judge and jury, were food purveyors. “Most Original” was, well, most original.

Here are the award winners:

Picture all 50 states in pancakes, not just New York and Wisconsin.....
Picture all 50 states in pancakes, not just New York and Wisconsin…..
  1. American Skillet Co., “Most Original”
    These cast-iron pans are the ideal blend of fabulous and insane. Because they’re in the shape of states. I now have a fantasy about buying a set of 50 and throwing a brunch party in which I serve a US map made entirely of pancakes.

    Mr. Dye, with his amazing sweet potato pie.
    Mr. Dye, with his amazing sweet potato pie.
  2. Mr. Dye’s Pies, “Best in Show”
    The company’s slogan is “What are Grandma’s Gonna Do Now?” His sweet potato pie was a slice of heaven. Every tiny plastic spoonful was another chance to savor its satiny texture and the perfect blend of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and other flavors. He also had a key lime, which was equally good.

    Look at that smiling face! If you made crackers that tasted that yummy, you'd be smiling, too.
    Look at that smiling face! If you made crackers that tasted that yummy, you’d be smiling, too.
  3. Wausome Foods, “Best in Show”
    They make crackers out of cheese. Five flavors, the best of which is their Colby/Swiss. there are also Cheddar, Jalapeno Pepper Jack, Bleu. These things are crispy, tasty and crunchable. That study that claimed cheese as addictive as crack? These crackers will do nothing to dispel that. The good news is that you can get them in portion-controlled serving sizes. Also, they’re from Wausau and they’re awesome.

Meeting minutes: ‘Dead Father’s Club’ subcommittee discusses the lighter side of ‘Father’s Day Brunch’ ads

My sister and I were in our teens when we became members of a group I have come to refer to as “The Dead Father’s Club.”

It’s one that few people join voluntarily, though there are exceptions (I’m talking to you, Lizzie Borden and Brian Blackwell).

Among its current members are my children, their (step)siblings (who have joined twice – Ex married a widow) and, this year, some new members – my friend Andy and Ex’s sister, whose fathers died in the past year.

When Dad was alive, Debby and I often bought him ties for Father’s Day. Not terribly original, but we were kids. And ties (clip-on only) were one of his wardrobe staples. For years after he died, Father’s Day was pretty much a non-event.

Young father and baby
Me & Dad, before I was old enough to buy him Father’s Day ties by myself.

In the ensuing years, our Father’s Day observances have been fluid. We have both had children and, in my case, multiple fathers-in-law. I was also lucky to acquire an older cousin who became the father of my adult life sometime after we met (in 1988) and before his death in 2005.

My children’s father died in 2007 and his father – one of my two fathers-in-law – died in December (see “Death at Christmas”).

Still, even when you don’t have a father, Father’s Day is a time when you might be reminded about what you’re missing. Two days ago, I got the following e-mail from my sister. She sent it to me and my middle daughter.

“I’m just wondering if either of you would have had a strong reaction to this email? I read it and thought, “Well, I don’t have a father, so none of this really applies to me,” but it didn’t get me all up in arms, perhaps because I had other things on my mind and wasn’t feeling particularly offended. But today we received another email from the Faculty Club, which leads me to believe that some folks were REALLY offended. Anyway, read this one, and I’ll append the latest one to the bottom, for chronology’s sake. But I really want to know your opinions…”

The Potentially Offending Email:

From: (
Date: Mon, Jun 15, 2015 at 4:51 PM
Subject: The Faculty Club June 20, 2015
To: “Brother-in-law” <>

Good afternoon Prof. Brother-in-law,

Does your Father already have all of the ties that he could ever possibly need?
Is sleeping in over-rated?
Does he enjoy an exceptionally well prepared meal?

Then why not treat him to an exclusive Father’s Day Brunch or Evening Buffetat the Faculty Club at the University of (City Above the 48th Parallel)?
He will relish the wide selection of entrees masterfully prepared by our Executive Chef and deserts (sic) crafted by our Pastry Chef. Kids will love the chocolate fountain and those aged 10 and under dine free of charge.
Your table is waiting!
Make your reservation at 780-555-4231, but hurry as seating times are filling.
Have a great day!

Best regards,

“Guy *WPHAF”
The Faculty Club
University of (City Above the 48th Parallel)

*(who probably has a father)

The follow-up e-mail:

Dear valued member of the Faculty Club,

I am writing to you to apologize for the recent email sent from the club soliciting our Father’s Day celebration. Although the email was meant to be on the light side, we realized that we unintentionally offended many of you by the way it was written.

Please accept our apologies. Your continued support for the club is much appreciated.

Aaron Aaron
Faculty Club, University of City Above the 48th Parallel

My fatherless daughter wrote this: “Seems fine to me – no different than a radio advertisement.

My gut reaction was a “same here,” referring to Alex’s comment about it being no different than a radio ad and seeming fine.

But it did get me thinking about the line between advertising a service to people who might want it (in this case, the ability to tangibly acknowledge an important relationship) and possibly offending people who have no need for that service. Did it matter if people could feel left out and, consequently, offended? And if the answer was yes, might there have been a way for the Faculty Club to balance that somehow?

In my response to Debby & Alex, I took a stab at addressing those questions.

“Same here. I mean, I don’t think it would have worked if they’d put (unless he’s dead in which case we’re terribly sorry for your loss)….wait. Let’s try it!

“Good afternoon Prof. Brother-in-Law,

Does your Father already have all of the ties that he could ever possibly need? (Unless he’s dead or you are estranged, in which case we’re terribly sorry for your loss.)

Is sleeping in over-rated? (If he isn’t dead or estranged, that is – and if so, we’re terribly sorry about it.)

Does he enjoy an exceptionally well prepared meal? (If he’s alive and you’re not estranged, and if either of those is the case, we’re terribly sorry.)

Then (assuming he’s not dead and you are not estranged – and again, we are very sorry if that is so) why not treat him to an exclusive Father’s Day Brunch or Evening Buffet at the Faculty Club at the University of (City Above the 48th Parallel)?

He will (if he’s alive and you’re speaking) relish the wide selection of entrees masterfully prepared by our Executive Chef (and if he’s not alive and you’re not speaking, we are so terribly sorry for your loss) and deserts (what father, alive, dead or estranged doesn’t like “deserts,” I ask you) crafted by our Pastry Chef. Kids (assuming you have them and you are not estranged from them and they are not dead and if either of those things are true we are so sorry to have caused you additional pain) will love the chocolate fountain
and those aged 10 and under dine free of charge (see previous parenthetical statement).

Your table is waiting!

Make your reservation at 780-555-4231, but hurry as seating times are filling.

Have a great day!

No. That probably wouldn’t work.” 

In retrospect, I realize there are plenty of other scenarios in which there might be no reason for one to observe Father’s Day by taking Dad out for a shi-shi meal (you have two mothers, your father is in prison, your father is in a nursing home and/or otherwise non-functional), but I was in a hurry. So I only hit on a couple of the high notes. Feel free to weigh in with your ideas and/or opinions.

Regardless of whether today is a non-event or you have some sort of father or father figure in your life, here’s hoping you enjoy it. Later today, Sweetheart and I are going to spend some time with Sweetheart Senior, one of the more remarkable fathers roaming the planet. And as to why this is my first post in a month, it’s been eventful around here.

Feels good to be back.

Birthdays, beehive building, and food porn: Just another week in Flyover Country

Things that got away from me last week – including blog posting – got a bit recaptured over the weekend, which consisted of phone call time with all my daughters and an afternoon hanging out with Mom. It also consisted of me not being my best self when I got home from Mom’s expecting to start building beehives and Sweetheart informed me that we didn’t have any of the right nails to put the boxes together.

I will skip over the part where I expressed my feelings about this discovery.

Enter Sweetheart Senior, my father-in-law.

SS and his wife invited us all to lunch today, to celebrate a couple of birthdays – our nephew B, who turned 9, and Sweetheart’s mother, P. Senior and P haven’t been married since Sweetheart and his siblings were kids. But Christmas and birthdays are communal affairs, with all the drama one would expect at an event where lovely people congregate. Or, to put it another way, none.

Birthday cakes
My nine-year-old nephew, his sister and my mother-in-law prepare for a candle blowout.

Sweetheart called his dad last night to ask if he had the right kind of nails and whether we could build the hives at their place before or after the party. He did, so this morning, while Sweetheart gathered up hive parts, I walked over to their house with the birdbath we’d gotten for P, and a bag with pignoli, caramelized beets with chèvre and serving pieces for both of them.

Pignoli – this recipe is from an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook and only has four ingredients. They were delicious!

After the party, I figured SS would set us up and Sweetheart and I would put the box and frames together. But then, Sweetheart and Senior got into it and were having a great time. So I did a little bit, but mostly hung out and took photos.

Beehive building
Nothing says “father and son bonding” like beehive building.

And speaking of photos, this past Thursday, the Large Midwestern Technical College where I work held its annual Five Star Event. The Five Star is the biggest scholarship fundraiser for the culinary, hospitality and baking programs.

People start lining up an hour before the 5:30 start time. The $45 ($55 at the door) gets you all the amazing food you can eat – in multiple areas at multiple stations – and a chance to buy raffle tickets, bid on silent auction items and participate in a “wine pull” – I don’t remember if it was three chances for $10 or something different, but you get the idea. Once you’ve bought in, you pick a cork from a barrel of them, and if there’s a number on the bottom, you get the bottle of wine to which the number corresponds.

Silent auction
Silent auction and wine pull zone. There were some great things to bid on, but we are really trying to keep acquisitions to a minimum.
Hard at work
Students in the Asian station, working to keep the tables stocked with tasty offerings.
Chef Kyle organized and supervised the Stuzzichini station – an Italian antipasto extravaganza featuring pesto potatoes, anchovies not from a can, roasted artichokes and the sweetest caramelized onions in the history of caramelized onions.
A food station at an event
A view of the Stuzzichini station, and happy attendees, filling their plates.

Mostly, it’s a great night for people watching and a great night to watch our students and their instructors strut their culinary stuff. There was a room filled with cakes that were too pretty to eat. They were baked and decorated by baking and pastry arts students, and auctioned off. I’m going to give their pictures the last word.

ballerina cake
An en pointe cake with a tutu of pink roses….

The work that went into this cake was probably way more work than a day at the beach!
The work that went into this cake was probably way more work than a day at the beach!
wedding cake
I seriously contemplated getting married again, just so I could have a cake like this at my wedding.
skull cake
The only things that could make this cake better would be if it were chocolate and gluten-free.

Heading out of Egypt from Flyover Country: A pre-seder post

I’m a little late on this week’s blog post because I’ve been too busy doing things and not busy enough writing about them.

Tonight, 12 people are going to sit down at my dinner table and take a trip from Flyover Country to Egypt. Then we will flee from slavery there.

I’ve been listening to music all day and cooking, and it has been paradise. Cooking is one of the most relaxing things in the world, and little makes me happier than the prospect of cooking for people I like. I will only cook for you if I like you. You can pay me to write for you, but you cannot pay me to cook for you.

Some things are not for sale.

In the “things for sale” department, however, my most recent Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle story is out in the world. It’s about Amanda Miryam-Khaye Seigel, who grew up in Madison and now lives in New York. She’s this delightful singer/songwriter in her 30s, and she sings in Yiddish. She has this pure soprano voice and the expressive range of a whole theater company. So even if you don’t know a single word of Yiddish, you still have a pretty good idea about what she’s singing. Hard-core Metallica or Nas fans might want to skip it, but if you like show tunes, this will be right up your musical alley.

Anyway, back in the “things not for sale” department, here is what my Seder crew will be tucking into so far: halved and roasted Brussels sprouts with some olive oil and Brady Street Sprinkle from The Spice House, carmelized beets tossed in some espresso vinaigrette from Oro, chicken soup with matzah balls, veggie soup with matzah balls (for the vegetarians) gefilte fish, prime rib (which, when I saw how much it cost, thought, “We are eating my children’s inheritance for Seder dinner!”), eggplant parmesan (for the vegetarians), potato kugel, green beans and a salad (made by my wonderful Milwaukee Mom and cousin Carol).

Dessert is pignolis, chocolates made by the culinary arts students at Large Midwestern Technical College – those students make the best-tasting homework ever – and fresh fruit.

Passover, pignoli & plagues
Pignoli, and a couple of plagues. The plagues will be around next year. The pignoli, not so much.

I’d like to stick around and tell you about Wednesday night, when my friend Rick, Sweetheart and I went to see Judith Claire Mitchell read from her amazing new book “A Reunion of Ghosts.” She read from the book, but she also gave us a look behind the curtain at the life of Fritz Haber, who synthesized chlorine gas, and his wife Clara, the first woman to get a Ph.D. in science in Germany. Her dreams of doing cutting-edge (or any) research got washed away when she married Fritz.

Anyway, it’s time to head back into the kitchen. Those apples and nuts are not going to turn into charoset on their own.

The Great Millennial Mashup Family Seder of 2012: A story of deliverance from slavery

Friday is the first night of Passover, one of the bigger holidays on the Jewish calendar. I’ve been hosting since before Mom moved to Milwaukee, but since she’s been here there’s no way I’d ever be able to think of not hosting.

This will be the first Seder in years I haven’t had at least one of my daughters here. But that doesn’t mean I won’t have a full table. There’ll be 11 of us, including three relatives (parent types) and friends who are part of a Seder community I’ve gathered over the years. There’ll be some new faces at the table, too.

I’ve got most of the menu planned, and will spend the next several nights cooking – chicken soup, pignolis and roasting a beet (to sub in for the shank bone on the Seder plate) and a hard-boiled egg. Thursday night I’ll do a bunch of heavy-duty other prep – the charoset (I make Ashkenazic, because I like it!) and whatever else I can get done.

I’ve also gathered up the Haggadadot (the books we need to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt) and my box of plagues, which I’ve been adding to from year to year. A big box of plastic spiders I found on a post-Halloween sale rack will be making their Seder debut this year.

Passover items
A few Passover things – matzah, matzah cover, a Haggadah and, of course, my Box o’ Plagues!

There have been a lot of memorable Seders in my life, but one stands out. I call it “The Ultimate Millennial Mashup Blended Family Seder.”

My children’s dad and I split when the girls were 2, 4 and 7. Not surprisingly, his family wasn’t overly thrilled with me after that. Two years later, Ex remarried Dee, a widow with three children. She was also not thrilled with me. We all had that in common, at least. I wasn’t thrilled with me either, though for very different reasons.

That was more or less how things stayed, until Ex died in October of 2006. Along with having to deal with being widowed a second time, Dee was dealing with her father’s final illness. So I took to calling my former father-in-law Sidney every week to let him know how his grandchildren were doing, and also to check on how he was doing. That detente led to a genuine friendship, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened in late winter of 2009.

“What are you doing for Seder?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I guess I’m having one.”

“Invite me.”

I thought I’d misheard.


“Invite me.”

“Sidney, would you and Mrs. Sidney like to come to my house for Seder?” I said.

“We’d love to.”

I’d started the conversation in one universe and ended it in a parallel one, a universe in which my children’s grandfather and his wife of 30-plus years were driving 75 miles and making a hotel reservation to spend the holiday with the woman who’d divorced his son more than 20 years prior.

A few years later, the requests got even more surreal. By the time they stopped, my Seder table was 21 people strong and included my husband, my mother, my children, three of my cousins, Sidney and Mrs. Sidney, Ex’s sister and brother-in-law from Texas, my wife-in-law (if you have a better term for the woman who marries your ex-husband and makes him happier than you did, I’m all ears) and two of her three children, including one who flew in from Israel. There were also the three or four orphans my youngest brought home, along with a friend from synagogue who I was sure would never come back but has every year since.

The Passover Seder is a celebration of freedom. Once we were slaves in Egypt, and now we are free. The Mashup Seder celebrated deliverance from a different kind of slavery. At that seder, we moved from a past chained to feelings that had separated and diminished us into one where, together, we celebrated a shared present and a hopeful future.