No matter where you are in life, or what challenges the universe throws at you, there is always something to be grateful for. And Thanksgiving provides the perfect time to reflect on that, beginning with the food we share and yes, overeat.
I wrote the following four years ago, but never shared it. Though I originally intended to post it on Facebook, it was really just for me to sort out my feelings. I recently found it and have decided it’s still relevant, so I’m sharing it here, instead. In 2015 I lost my brother Richie. In 2016, I came close to losing my husband. In 2017, I lost both parents within months. Now it is 2019, and my husband, our dog and bird are still with me, so my gratitude is way big.
Here’s what I wrote back in 2015:
I’ve been seeing lots of posts about “30 Days of Gratitude” and I think it’s wonderful and inspiring. But it saddens me that we need a Facebook platform to find something to be grateful for every day. I understand that it’s an exercise to stop and smell the roses. But in my opinion, there’s a garden of gratitude in just being alive and free.
I don’t know who decided we needed a 30 day format to express our gratitude, but today is Thanksgiving, so I’ll express it for today, to those who care to read, and then let it be.
Every day, and particularly on this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to wake up, to open my eyes and see the light of day slowly creeping into my bedroom. To hear my little dog whining to get back up onto the bed. To turn to my husband, and, with a silly voice say, “Little girl wants to get back on the bed.” I’m grateful that she wants him–and not me–to lift her back up on to the bed, where she will then exert her authority over us, because in just six short years she’s got life all figured out. I’m also immeasurably grateful that my little parrot, Arnie, is still with me after 26 years (and counting).
I’m grateful to be able to get out of the bed and walk unescorted to the bathroom, where I am grateful to be afforded the dignity of my privacy. I’m grateful for my toothbrush and toothpaste (as is my husband when we share a morning kiss). I’m grateful for the clean water in the kettle that makes my tea, the hot shower that cleanses me, the clothes that aren’t too raggedy.
I’m grateful for a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast before I leave the house. And I’m grateful that when I arrive back home, intact, unscathed, it’s to a house that welcomes me with warmth in the frigid dead of winter and cools me in the scorching heat of summer. For that matter, I’m grateful for crisp autumn air, and the promise of spring.
More than anything, I’m grateful that sometimes in my head–and sometimes, if I’m lucky, in my dreams–I can hear my mother’s voice: a woman who now lives in an unreachable netherworld, who stares at me blankly through the eyes of Alzheimer’s, her thoughts, feelings, opinions and desires permanently extinguished. But if you can be grateful for Alzheimer’s, then I’m grateful she is unaware she outlived her son Richie. She has been spared the grief of losing a child.
Life is tough. It challenges us to find the meaning in our lives and particularly in our suffering. But every day, in spite of life’s trials and tribulations, I feel grateful for the simple things, which are abundant. I have all five of my senses, and the use of all my limbs and digits, which for starters seems like enough. I don’t need a 30 day Facebook exercise to express that, because, more than anything, I’m grateful for the freedom to be grateful, to express myself every day (or not), on any day (or not), and to live life in accordance with my own beliefs (always).
Every day, on any given day, and all year long, I am free. For me, freedom from so many difficult challenges is reason enough to be grateful, and it is the most important flower in my gratitude garden. Freedom is a precious flower because it has so many fragrances.
I am so grateful for that precious flower.
Before we were able to post this, Lisa lost her brother and Eva lost her Uncle Michael. Two weeks later, I lost my sweet baby bird, Arnie. Which just goes to show, sometimes it’s hard to be grateful. In fact, I was negligent in posting this in November 2019 because of grief. And maybe that’s when you need gratitude the most. To be grateful for those still with us; those that want to give you loving support; those that grieve along side you. Even in despair and grief, there is always a reason to be grateful. This past Thanksgiving was very hard for the Gertz Girlz. But we are all so grateful for so many blessings.
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
What grows in your Garden of Gratitude? We’d love to know. Among many things, the Gertz Girlz are certainly grateful that you read our humble blog.
We hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving. We wish you every reason to be grateful and thankful at Thanksgiving and always.
There are all kinds of situations which require comfort. Funerals, obviously. Sometimes weddings, for that matter. Divorce, moving, miscarriages, menopause, middle-age crises, loss of a job, illness, the friend fight that is irreparable. And alas, the Empty Nest.
The last two years have had me in a roller-coaster of stress. Illness? Check. Make that a chronic “invisible” and under-researched vertigo type of illness. Loss of job and income? Check. Middle-age and menopause? Check. Let’s add getting your only child through senior year. And finally, the Empty Nest.
Can I just say that I suffered from Empty Nest by Proxy? Is that a thing? It should be. I felt your pain, particularly in realizing our girl had grown up. I wasn’t prepared to let her go as that sweet little girl. Sigh…
Feeling completely out of control of my life last January, I decided to go on a Keto diet. If I couldn’t control anything else (including my inability to exercise due to chronic vertigo), I was going to control my weight through diet. I was at my heaviest since I’d been pregnant 19 years earlier. My goal was to lose enough weight to feel good by my daughter’s graduation in June. It gave me a personal goal on which to focus, aside from all the administrative work of getting my teenager enrolled in college. And as the pounds fell off, I did feel a sense of control that I had felt not in a couple of years.
We got through the gray, non-existent “Spring” of New Hampshire known as mud season, the acceptance and rejection letters from colleges, the “Senioritis” and finally deciding on a college. A visceral relief. Late May and “Senior Week” was here. Eva came down with the worst virus she has ever had. High fever, lethargy, no appetite. She missed all the fun Senior Week activities; the Convocation Ceremony, the Sunset Dinner Cruise with all her friends, Senior Breakfast, Visit Your Elementary School Teachers. All of it. Graduation was at the end of that week, on Friday evening. Eva was still weak with a fever. I thought “This can’t happen. She HAS to walk across that stage and graduate with her class!”
With great determination, and the support of my group of girlfriends whom I love with all my heart, and of course with Advil…Eva walked across the graduation stage and took her diploma to thunderous applause. My relief was enormous.
But no time to relax. It was onto the next event the following weekend – the graduation party. This happily went off without a hitch. So happily, that I decided to fall off my Keto Wagon and have a piece of the chocolate cake with raspberry filling which we had ordered from a fantastic local bakery, Triolo’s in Bedford, NH. What can I tell you? I felt immediately…comforted.
There are a few things in life that can comfort us. Food obviously. The cozy pajamas. The chick-flick movie. The favorite book. Good friends. It turns out, I was going to need the whole package.
After Eva graduated, what followed was one of the weirdest summers I’ve ever known. It was a blur of activities, such as ordering sheets and bedding in “extra long” sizes. Many visits to the Bed Bath & Beyond store for laundry and storage items. Going to Orientation for an overnight at the college. Following a new Facebook page for parents of new college students. All the while knowing that I would be saying goodbye to my only child in a few short weeks. It was surreal.
I stayed off the Keto Wagon for the duration. I was about to lose control of my life in a way I had not experienced. I was going to lose the most important role I had ever played. The Mom. I ate whatever the hell I wanted.
By the time I dropped Eva off at her college dorm (after setting her up with a weighted blanket, a month’s supply of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, and the required mini-lights for the wall above her lofted bed), I drove home the two hours in a daze. The temperature had dropped 15 degrees since we departed that morning. I was going home to our empty apartment (affectionately nicknamed “The Treehouse” due to it’s third floor position and green views) and even the damn season had changed in that time period from Summer to Fall. I had no idea what to do. It was Empty Nest on steroids.
My friends were fantastic. They checked in on a regular basis, made plans to meet me for dinner, gave me hugs and glasses of wine, texted my daughter to send her love and support. I will be forever grateful for that lovely support. But I would require more comfort.
I turned to reading a book that has been a lifelong favorite. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Eva also loved it as an adolescent and read it multiple times. I also started re-watching a favorite Netflix series that Eva and I loved – Downton Abbey. I started from Season One and began the comfort binge snuggling by myself and letting Mrs. Patmore work her magic. It definitely helped.
But I truly wasn’t feeling the comfort of Eva’s graduation cake. While I had been eating carbs at abandon for the two months leading up to the college drop-off, I hadn’t actually eaten the exact meal that would bring me COMFORT (yes in all caps). I began to give this some serious thought. I decided to stalk the aisles of my local supermarket for inspiration. It didn’t take me long to find what I needed. Surprisingly, both items I chose came in cans. Not surprisingly, both items came from my childhood.
Cream of Tomato Soup. My favorite of the Campbell’s collection, it has made me feel better at every age and every occasion and especially on cold, rainy days. I only make this condensed soup with milk.
Okay so now you are thinking “grilled cheese sandwich” (I’m a psychic). But you are wrong. While it is the perfect accompaniment to a creamy bowl of tomato soup, another canned good caught my eye before I could head to the bread and cheese section.
It was bread though. Bread in a can. I was just passing by the shelf with the B&M beans (another comfort food) when my eyes caught a glimpse of the B&M Brown Bread in a can with the same red label that I recognized from my childhood. I swiveled and stared. Perhaps that product had been stocked in the store for all 18 years I’ve been going there, but it was the first time I noticed it. Immediately, memories came flooding back of my mother serving this in the 1960’s and 70’s (probably with her homemade oven-baked beans) and my mouth began to water.
If you’ve never had this New England specialty, it is a very dense and very moist brown bread, and it has a lovely molasses flavor to it. The serving tips on the can suggest everything from spreading it with peanut butter to cream cheese. But I knew that I would eat it warm and spread it. No, SLATHER it, with good butter.
When I married Doug, I inherited a can of B&M Brown Bread. Doug tried to convince me that it was really good, but bread in a can is so foreign and revolting to me, I couldn’t face it. So the can stayed in the pantry for the first 14 years of our marriage (and possibly even longer before that), until we moved and I was relieved to toss it. The thought of opening that can reminded me of Pandora’s Box, and I didn’t want to unleash whatever hellish mess was inside. Lisa, you didn’t know how long your can was sitting on the super market shelf, but I knew approximately how long mine had been sitting around. Blech!
I ran home with my two precious cans of comfort and prepared my meal. It was exactly what I needed. The soup made me feel coddled and loved. The warm, buttered brown bread (with 29 FREAKING grams of carbs per half inch slice), made me feel relaxed and young and content. And for a few precious minutes…I didn’t mind that I was all alone in my Empty Nest.
Alas all comfortz must come to an end until they are needed again. Now it’s time to bravely face my new next chapter, and to jump back on that Keto wagon so that my daughter still recognizes me when she comes home from college.
I still recognized my mother when I came home for my first visit a month later. I appreciated home so much more than when I left. And as for my welcome home meal – my mom didn’t open a single can! She comforted me with roasted pork loin and carrots and parsnips, potato pancakes with sour cream and homemade applesauce, braised brussels sprouts, and fudge brownies still warm from the oven. There’s no place like home!
Eva, your mom is the BEST! The best cook, best mom, best friend, best heart, best soul. But she loses points on the canned bread 😉
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
Life throws us curveballs, but no matter what we do, we can’t duck them. They will hit us, and hit us hard. All we can do is seek out the comfortz that get us through: food, friends, family, hope, and love. Comfortz that are not so small after all.
In 2017, there was no celebration of Passover because we had lost both Gertz matriarch and patriarch, Fran and Jerry. In 2018, Dee held a Passover Seder to honor her father, mother and grandmother. This year, the Gertz Girlz skipped holiday traditions and went their separate ways for both Passover and Easter. Dee decided she was too tired to create another Passover Seder. It’s one of those transition years, where we just needed to chill in our respective corners.
I’ve made it no secret that Easter is one of my least favorite holidays. It’s still too chilly here in New England for the lightweight clothing the catalog companies would have us wearing. Not a fan of a week’s worth of ham leftovers. Not a fan of pastel colors. And the smell of lilies makes me nauseous. Add to that fact that Eva and I were left with no real plans for this particular holiday weekend, and I was itching to get out of New Hampshire – so Brookline, Mass here we come! Specifically, it was Coolidge Corner that we headed to, in search of a non-Easter Sunday in this Jewish-centric neighborhood of my young adulthood.
I have great memories here in this village, where I could go everywhere without ever getting in my car. Sunday mornings meant walking to Kupel’s Bakery for my iced coffee and a warm sesame seed bagel with smoked lox, capers, a slice of tomato, red onion and of course a “shmear” of cream cheese. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Then it was over to the Brookline Booksmith, arguably one of the best independent bookstores in the world, for a good browse. In the afternoon or evening I might take myself to the Coolidge Corner Theatre, an arthouse theatre that opened in 1933, where I could happily spend a couple of hours watching such subtitled and excellent films as Cinema Paradiso and Camille Claudel (available now on Netflix by the way). On a weeknight after work, I might head over to my favorite little Chinese restaurant on Beacon Street to sit at the bar with the little tv, have a glass of wine, and watch my favorite team, the Boston Bruins.
Ah yes, the Bruins. Another factor in this year’s Easter Sunday was that it was Game 6 and potentially our elimination game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the puck dropping at 3pm. So here was the plan: We would leave New Hampshire around 11am, get to Coolidge Corner by noon, find a first rate deli, gorge ourselves silly on good Jewish food, walk the neighborhood, and head home in time to watch the game on our own big tv (where I could swear at the refs all I wanted.) This executed so perfectly that it will go down as one of my favorite Easter Sundays ever.
There was little to no traffic as we glided into a parking spot less than a block from the action. My favorite deli restaurant, Ruben’s Deli was no longer, so we decided to try one that didn’t exist when I lived there in the 90’s, but which had high recommendations – Michael’s Deli on Harvard Street.
Man–when the stars align. Not only were we about to eat some of the best “deli” we could wish for, the place was covered with Bruins paraphernalia, including the owner (Steven, not Michael for some reason) who was wearing a B’s shirt. We were in heaven.
Once at the counter, a friendly guy directed me to the item I had been fantasizing about for hours…a hot pastrami on dark rye. “You want that with mustard?” he asked. “Of course!” I barked at him with a smile. He grinned and leaned towards me conspiratorially, “You know I actually get people who ask for mayo?” he said. “Oh, that will be your next customer,” I said, jerking my thumb back to indicate Eva, who I was having fun throwing under the Jewish food bus. He winked at me as she ordered her Rueben sandwich ‘with mayo please’.
While we waited for our food to come out, we studied the visually busy little restaurant. Boasting a deli case filled with everything from liverwurst to their house-made pickles, we noticed another case just for knishes. I got a kick from a sign listing the specials titled “Bruins Playoffs Krazy Knishes: the “Jake DeBrisket”, the “Zdeno Ch-ocolate”, and the “Patrice Burger-on”. I had found my tribe here.
OMG…knish envy! Is there such a thing? There is now, I guess. I can’t remember the last time I had a knish. Probably in Baltimore, most likely 1995. To me, Baltimore and knish go hand-in-hand. Along with what any self-respecting deli would call roast beef, which is basically brisket. So good.
Our sandwiches were ready fast, along with a plate of warm latkes (with sour cream and apple sauce for dipping). Oh Baby. Those sandwiches. My pastrami sandwich was perfection and I mean PERFECTION. Warm, salty and richly flavored with just the right amount of fat clinging to the edges, the meat was cut to the correct thickness and contrasted beautifully with the pungent and soft dark rye bread, and the spicy mustard.
I watched my mother’s ecstatic first bite and then tucked into my Reuben. The corned beef was a two-inch stack between the grilled rye bread, oozing with melted swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and yes, mayo (so sue me!). As I finished the sandwich I said, “There’s really no need to order a Rueben anywhere else, because I’ll never have one better than this.”
I agree and apparently so did Anthony Bourdain and the Phantom Gourmet, among others. We finished up our outstanding lunch and managed to chat with the owner Steven Peljovich, who does some really nice community service with donations to the Shawn Thornton Foundation, among others. Such a nice guy, and I tried to calm him down about the upcoming game.
As we left, I noticed a cool Jewish Food Zodiac chart on a fridge. We looked up our birth years and they were very appropriate. Mom’s was Pastrami and mine was the Black & White (Mrs. Maisel would approve!)
I’m not able to read the chart, but if there is a knish, that would be my birth year. Latkes are a close second, but I’ve never enjoyed a blintz. Not sure why since it’s basically a crepe, which I love. And if the Jewish Zodiac could guarantee my grandmother’s homemade Kosher dill pickles, which were so crunching and garlicky, that would work. Man, I miss that taste! I’ve never experienced it anywhere, at any deli or supermarket. The taste was all hers.
The rest of the day we walked around Coolidge Corner, heading towards the section known as Little Israel, people-watching and noticing that everything was in bloom – forsythia, magnolias, and multiple small front yards filled with tulips and daffodils. I wanted to explore a side street and my mother chose Beal Street so I could see the cathedral of giant sycamore trees, and the birth home of John F. Kennedy.
We ended up at J.P. Licks for some Extreme Chocolate ice cream to end our gastronomic adventure. As we left the shop, I noticed the marquee at the Coolidge Corner Theatre read, “Julianne Moore here on Thursday to accept her Coolidge Award!” From the ice cream to the theatre, this neighborhood remains “cool” in every way.
Not a big fan of Easter either, Lisa. But I was as a child. My mother’s family did it up great (as a secular holiday). Egg hunts are among my favorite memories. My cousin Michael was very competitive, and I’m not, so I enjoyed finding eggs and leaving them alone so that he could find them. I didn’t care about the eggs; my joy was watching my adored cousin’s face as he found what I left alone.
In 2017, I hosted Easter for my husband Doug’s family. It was a lot of fun, making baskets for the grandkids, and watching them open them with the excitement I remembered as a child.
And it was wonderful to see the kids enjoy what I had created. I imagine that was what it felt like for my grandparents.
This year, I found myself too tired to do Passover or Easter. I just wanted to be indulged. So my husband Doug, his mother Ellen and I went for Easter Brunch at the Westford Regency.
It was great. (And don’t tell anyone, but Ellen took her cranberry muffin home.) Plenty crowded, but so well organized you felt as if you were the only ones there. The staff was so attentive, and the food was plentiful, fresh and delicious. I piled my plate with the usual buffet offerings I go for. But I also added pot stickers, which Ellen pointed out to me. Yum!
And then there was the Easter bunny, which most of the kids seemed to love. Some kids are afraid of big, walking cartoon characters; I know I was as a child. As an adult, all I could think was how hot the actor must have been in the costume. But he (or she) carried it off with aplomb.
As always at a brunch buffet, I wished that I could make a second pass and try some of the other offerings, like ham and prime rib, but alas, I was too full. I did manage a cream puff (a usual go-to dessert) and it was heavenly. The Westford Regency does a Sunday brunch that I love. It’s not as expansive (or expensive) as this holiday brunch, but is always just as good.
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
We are happy for every happy holiday we have – even for the ones that offer us a break from the kitchen and offer up some quality time to simply enjoy a meal….with mayonnaise or not!
Dee was grateful for her hassle-free and wonderful brunch with her hubby and mother-in-law. And as for Lisa and Eva, they got home in time for the puck drop, and yes, of course the Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs to stay in the series. Because nothing could’ve gone wrong on their perfect “non-Easter” Sunday!