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!
Hard to believe, but Dee is now another year older since we started the Gertz Girlz blog (funny how that works). For her birthday celebration, we traveled to one of her favorite past haunts. It was an uncommonly warm–and impossibly sunny–day for early March; in fact, it was a perfect day to visit Cambridge MA and be a part of the bustling life of city dwellers and college students; the frenetic bus, car, cab, and foot traffic; and the sense of belonging that occurs in one of Dee’s favorite cities.
Oh Cambridge, My Cambridge! How I’ve loved and missed you so. You were there for me at just the right time: when I was young and everything was possible, and you were right at my door (or just a few miles away). Back then, I lived in Belmont, within walking distance to the Mount Auburn Cemetery. If you’ve never been, don’t let the idea of graves keep you away. It’s an extraordinary place, filled with gorgeous landscaping, walking paths, horticulture, architecture, history; and in the spring, lush lawns abut a pond filled with gorgeous waterfowl. It’s a place that is magical and alive.
While my home was in Belmont, my life was in Cambridge. I knew every square inch of every Square (except Kendall, which in the 1980s wasn’t all that interesting; I understand it’s more interesting now). I ate hot dogs at The Tasty in Harvard Square, which is gone now, but immortalized in Good Will Hunting (as an aside, I find it irritating that the characters ate hamburgers…really?…the hot dogs were amazing!). I had so many dining experiences in so many of Cambridge’s Squares, and way too many to mention here.
But oh, the memories of Christopher’s…
I’m now living in a country town I love. It’s nice to be a country mouse when you’ve had your fill of city life. But I have found that the city mouse in me still wants to scurry in the flurry of city energy once in a while, and so, the Gertz Girlz indulged me on a birthday trip down memory lane.
Thirty years ago, when I visited frequently, Christopher’s was the place for the young, casual, and hip, and I was two of those things–guess which two (lol). Today, with Lesley College taking the place of the Porter Exchange, it’s still–and especially–a young person’s place. And it should be. Cambridge is meant for the young, if not the young at heart. And after all those years, I was THRILLED to discover they still offer Yuppie Nachos on the menu. I don’t know if ‘yuppie’ is now an un-PC term, but good for Christopher’s for keeping the name, and more importantly, keeping it on the menu! Yuppie Nachos was all I wanted, and Christopher’s didn’t disappoint.
Yuppie Nachos, like all nachos, are easy to make, but years ago they figured out a winning combo: chips, jack and cheddar cheese, and the most important ingredients: sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese. Back in ‘my day’, they didn’t offer guacamole, but they do now, thank you! DeeLish!
It was exciting to make a trip to the city (like my aunt and mother, I may be a city girl at heart). For someone who lives in the New Hampshire ‘burbs there is no end of fascinating people watching as you sit at traffic light after traffic light. And this was the perfect casual campus checkout…Lesley College you are not for me but at least I know where you are now!
Buyer’s remorse is a real drag when you’re talking about food. I now have been on the Keto diet for three months. I have perfected cooking a >bleeping< omelet to the point where someone should be hiring ME to work the brunch station. Which is why I never should have ordered it at Christopher’s. But it had salmon and cream cheese in it and that was the bait for me.
Ultimately, I ended up looking longingly at other, more interesting choices and wishing I had made them…like a big juicy bun-less burger for instance. Still, I had my appetizer splurge and those Yuppie Nachos were all that Dee had bragged about. They made me want to tie a cardigan around my neck and change my name to Muffy. Let’s just say they were in the top five nachos I have ever eaten, and that’s saying something!
If there is one thing I love more than people, it’s dogs. So when we walked into Christopher’s I was instantly giving them props on their decor. Our extremely nice waiter Dan explained that they feature local artists’ work and change it up on a regular basis. Our timing was perfect…beautiful, huge, paintings of dogs on every wall surface of the restaurant and bar! I was in heaven.
They are all for sale but I don’t think I’ll have that kind of space in my dorm room!
I love good art almost as much as Eva loves dogs. It was kind of spectacular when we entered Christopher’s to see these very large-scale close-up paintings of all different breeds of our canine friends. Please note as of this writing that the Dog Exhibit has moved on. Christopher’s retains an art consultant named Hailey Cormier with CambridgeEatsandBeats.com if you would like more info on these gorgeous works of art.
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
It’s always fun to revisit your old stompin’ groundz. We were happy to experience this with Dee, to celebrate another birthday, and to see some of her young-self past with our very own eyes. Another bonus that day at Christopher’s was the staff.
We had two “Dan’s” (waiter and beverage manager) who couldn’t have been friendlier or more informative and patient with all our incessant Gertz Girlz questionz! We highly recommend this wonderful old(?) pub to everyone who loves wonderful old(?) pubs!
There’s a melancholy beauty to the beach in winter. When the sky is gray-blue and the wind still, the atmosphere is warm and cozy, even if the temperature is frigid. This was the perfect setting for a February visit to Seaglass in Salisbury, where the large dining room boasts windows all around. There is no bad seat for enjoying the ocean view.
Which is great when you have a lot to celebrate. Like a birthday (Lisa’s) and a one year anniversary (Gertz Girlz). Not to mention the Super Bowl: on this Sunday we had these to celebrate, and more; it was also a long overdue meal for the three Girlz, who were dealing with the flu and more in January.
I will eat vicariously through my carb-loving daughter for the next few months, but there is enough feast for the eyes in Seaglass to occupy anyone. It is quite pretty with some architectural details like a large fireplace and bar, and a decidedly sleek interior design. And as an Aquarian, I have a deep appreciation for personal space. One of my pet peeves at many brunch buffets is bumping into the elbows of people on the feed line. Seaglass offers a very spacious buffet room, with stations placed strategically around the room, and this was a very relaxed and enjoyable brunch browsing experience.
The last time I dined here, a full moon and high tide created a dramatic dinner show of thunderous waves smashing rhythmically against the large picture windows which overlook the ocean. And if you come during the busy summer months, the windows to the right offer a view of the Surfside Five restaurant deck in a full-swing Sunday reggae party!
Any place by the sea is for me!! I really like Seaglass restaurant and breakfast/brunch is my favorite meal out. The buffet here was great with a good selection, but my favorite dish was the creamy Eggs Benedict served over crispy home fries, a good contrast in tastes and textures.
I love a breakfast brunch buffet, though they tend to be a bit pricey for someone who gets full quickly, so I never get my money’s worth. But this is beside the point: the fun is in the variety, walking from one station and chafing dish to the next, lifting lids to discover hidden treasures, then locking in on what that first piled plate will include.
At this point, Gertz Girlz readers know of my passion for Eggs Benedict. Unfortunately, this dish doesn’t do particularly well in a brunch buffet setting, but I still give props when it’s offered, as it was at Seaglass. I think they should consider keeping extra hollandaise on the side over a heated fondue pot, because these bennies were fairly naked. Instead of the traditional English muffin, the poached eggs rest on a hash brown patty. This made it harder for them to stay together and I found myself chasing them around the chafing dish with a spatula, sliding the egg back on top of the hash brown patty before hoping I could get the prize on my plate without an embarrassing incident (I did). But the taste pairing was right, and except for the yolks being cooked through, it was satisfying.
The bacon slices clung to each other in a jumble, but this is a good thing if you want a lot of bacon but don’t wish to look like a–AHEM–pig. The sausage was slightly sweet and yummy; I wish I had grabbed more than one. The breakfast potatoes had a bit of a spicy kick but were a little dry; I relied on my delicious and Instagram-worthy Bloody Mary to wash them down (there’s always a silver lining). I also helped myself to a healthy serving of shrimp cocktail, which was excellent.
As usual with the Gertz Girlz, you never know where the conversations will go and during our leisurely mealz, we discussed Eva’s recent genealogy results from 23andMe. It turns out she is more Irish and Ashkenazi Jewish than we anticipated…which explains her deep love for both mashed potatoes and potato pancakes!
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
Everyone will be happy to know that Lisa did allow herself a splurge on her birthday, and at the end of her protein packed brunch, basked in the deep joy of a rich chocolate mousse, served in a guilt-free shot glass with a tiny spoon. That should hold her over for a few months?!
Overall, the Gertz Girlz left Seaglass quite satisfied, and were talking about the Superbowl snackz we planned to have later that day. We take pride in celebrating our one-year anniversary of the Gertz Girlz food blog with this latest post. Here’s to another fattening year, discovering new places to nosh, recipes to try/share, and family get-togethers to savor.
To quote our champion Tom Brady, “We’re still here!”
We have always loved Eva’s birthdate, December 1. It kicks off the most magical time of the year and the world seems ready to be festive after the gray days of November. It also has made planning her birthday celebrations a breeze, as there is no end to the holiday events that can be borrowed under the guise of a birthday event. In years past we have used sleigh rides, Santa parades, the Nutcracker, and even Scrooge to celebrate Eva’s big day and she was always happy. But this year she was turning 18 and something (or someone) had changed. As we began to discuss possible options to celebrate her birthday, we could see nothing was really getting her too jazzed.
Part of my mood had to do with my boyfriend being away at college, and I think part of it was I just was ready to separate my birthday from the holiday stuff. I’ve loved all my birthdays, but this year I just wanted something unique.
I was kind of leaving it up to her at this point to decide how she wanted to celebrate. Which was a good call, because she said out of the blue one day, “Hey Mom, have you ever heard of The Melting Pot?”. My head shot up. “You mean the fondue restaurant?!” Well! Eva had found something to “light her fire”.
We made the reservation and the Gertz Girlz, plus Eva’s dad Stu Gertz were looking forward to a grown up birthday adventure!
As we drove to the restaurant, I reminded Stu that the home fondue concept was a huge trend in the early 70’s. Just about every middle-class home had a fondue pot (usually an avocado green or burnt orange color) with six forks whose handles were a variety of colors. I remember that being a big deal as a kid – choosing your fork color!
Cheese fondue has its origins in Switzerland where it was, and still may be, a popular midnight snack at parties. The ingredients don’t vary much: Swiss cheese, garlic to rub the pot with, a dry light white wine such as Neufchatel, and a fresh grating of nutmeg. Combine all over a low heat flame and the result is a delicious pot of melted cheese. This was all done at our table by the friendly waitress at The Melting Pot.
Every time I try to conjure this restaurant’s name, my mind switches it to The Magic Pan. Sure, they have the same initials, and the same ‘one syllable-two syllable-one syllable combo’ but I think it’s something else: both restaurants offer experiential dining. Or I should say one offers experiential dining; the other is defunct.
Back in the 80s, The Magic Pan was in the Burlington Mall in Burlington, MA where I grew up. It’s claim to fame: crepes. Dinner crepes like the famous Crepes Suzette, dessert crepes, and I believe, soups and salads, because man cannot live by crepes alone—they’re a bit scant. I visited on at least one occasion that I can recall, and didn’t feel particularly full at the end of the experience; just vaguely disappointed. I don’t like feeling full anyway, so it could have been the circumstances, which involved an ex-boyfriend and his mother, but I won’t go there.
Vaguely disappointed and a dubious dining companion cannot be said for The Melting Pot experience. Of course it was the very special occasion of Eva’s 18th birthday, so that alone made it a slam dunk. And I have fond memories of fondue dinners around our family table in the 1970s, when I was a teen. But as experiential dining goes, this one was pretty good, if not too easy on the wallet (thank you Stuey for generously treating us). Particularly if you order–as we did–the Four Course Experience.
The Melting Pot restaurant is pretty unique in terms of its layout. For one thing, it is enormous, with several rooms set up for perhaps larger parties and containing several tables. But the four of us were led through the back section, which can only be described as a warren of alleys containing what seemed like endless private booths, each one with its own built-in electric stovetop and fondue pot. The aesthetic is very pleasant, clean and warm. And always important to me, the noise level was comfortable, with Al Green type music playing in the background.
The fondue experience is a bit more complicated than traditional dining. To quote one of my ancient old cookbooks from the 1950’s, “It has to be the right kind of a party–the guests have to be good eggs.”
Let me add to that, they also need to not be germaphobic or famished, and they should have some dexterity with a long-pitched fork! There is patience required as everyone begins to dunk their food into the same communal pot, twirling to coat their precious cargo with cheese or chocolate. Sometimes you lose your passenger. Sometimes two of you lose a passenger and then you are in a pickle, trying to find the one that belongs to you. The waitress, thankfully, left us with a large slotted spoon which she described as a “Search and Rescue”. That comes in handy!
I adored the cheese course! Unless you loathe cheese, there’s no way you can’t fall in love with this silky, creamy, gooey concoction. If I were to visit again, I would a la carte this fondue, pair it with a salad to assuage my guilt, and leave a very happy – and way full, but I would deal with it – woman.
I ordered The Classic, a surf and turf combo. More turf than surf, it came with three shrimp and Certified Angus Beef® Sirloin, Memphis-Style Dry Rub Pork, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin and Herb-Crusted Chicken Breast. All the meats were wonderfully seasoned and tender. However, this dining experience comes with a democratic vote. One of four choices for the cheese and dessert courses, and you can choose only one of four cooking methods for the entrée course. I would’ve preferred oil, but a broth base won out. I have to admit, I didn’t love it. Meat boiled in vegetable broth? Not for me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. I did. But I went back to my teen experiences of steak tips in hot oil and so the broth came up wanting. That’s okay. I have a fondue pot, so I can always have it my way. Of course, I never use it 😉
The experience was enjoyable, but I’m a big guy who would rather tackle a filet mignon with a fork and knife than go fishing for the bites of food we had. But, Moe, Larry, the cheese…fondue! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=us7SZKdPDIM
Luckily there were lots of leftovers from the Girlz’ plates…they used to call my dad “the Seagull” in college because he would swoop in for everyone’s leftovers! My favorite part of the four-course meal was the dessert…a pot of melted milk chocolate with all kinds of fruit, pound cake, marshmallows and brownies to dunk in. Fondue is fun! I’d love to come back with a group of friends someday!
Seagull, lol…yes, he shish kabobbed my remaining meat! Anyhow can you go wrong with melted chocolate and a selection of sweet dunking treats? Please…
Food aside, I can’t believe my little Sweetie Pie, my cute baby niece, is now a beautiful young woman. Snapshots of past memories fill me with so much happiness…and a bit of melancholy. As the saying goes, it went by too fast. But she is an amazing young woman who also fills me with pride for her sweet, kind and level-headed nature. A special and talented person, this Eva Marie Gertz! When she is sprung from high school next spring, it will be something special to watch what she does next.
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
Ah yes…18 years old. Another milestone, and we will need to not be offended if Eva’s next birthday celebration is absent of older adults…it’s the nature of growing up, we suppose. After all, she will be away at college next December 1st. So perhaps it will be just Lisa and Dee at home, watching a Christmas movie and firing up our own little fondue pot. We will just have to smile, make a toast to Eva, and say “cheeze”.
Gertz Girlz Lisa and Eva have been ramping up college campus visits these days, while Lisa and Dee scratch their heads, wondering how we got to Eva’s senior year so fast. Rites of passage are part and parcel of a child’s journey into adulthood, and while for teens it’s all about tomorrow, we adults find ourselves yearning for yesterday. With little birdie Eva preparing to fly the nest and meet her future, Lisa and Dee have been reflecting on past family meals. For example, how many times have you heard someone say, I tried a recipe and it was a big hit. Those hit recipes often go on to become legendary, highly anticipated year after year, and ideally preserved in the family archives. So much of what is placed on the family table ends up more in our hearts than in our stomachs.
My mother, born Marie-Jocelyne Francoise Cardinal, is affectionately known by one and all (including her grandchildren) as Jocie. She has a 100% French-Canadian family and culinary background and is a wonderful cook. So my three siblings and I, and my father, were pretty lucky. It wasn’t till my young world opened up a bit though, and I started to venture outside my own family table, that I began to realize and appreciate her cooking skills. A mother of the 1960’s and 70’s, with a large family to feed three times a day, Jocie stuck to the basics like most women of that era. She cooked the middle-class favorites, but she cooked them really well. Her homemade (everything was homemade back then) spaghetti and meatballs were so good, I remember a neighbor boy who had eaten them once, and then tried to wrangle a dinner invitation when I told him that’s what we were having!
When I was 14, my mother went to work full time. Luckily her job was only a five minute drive away so she was able to keep close tabs on her latchkey daughter, now responsible for watching out for two younger brothers (and not very well, but that’s another story). Weekly food shopping was always on Thursdays after work, and dinner was always a Swanson aluminum tray with turkey, stuffing, wrinkly mixed vegetables, and a spongy (i.e., strange) cherry cobbler. I didn’t mind at first, but she became dependent on these meals and who can blame her? If we all loved to make a home cooked meal night after night, after eight hours of work day after day, there wouldn’t be a need for Blue Apron and the like.
Frozen dinners are not something I miss, but at some point, and perhaps to assuage her guilt, my mother began making special birthday meals and we got to choose whatever we wanted. My brother Stu always chose Veal or Chicken Parm, and both were wonderful (I have since stopped eating veal for ethical reasons). My go-to was roast beef with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, creamed corn and pita bread, sliced in halves lengthwise, and generously buttered and broiled until bubbly and slightly browned around the edges. All bow to the Carb Queen!
Even though my siblings and I are all in our 50’s now, we can all easily recall what our favorite “Jocie” dinners were when we were kids. I sent a poll via text for the purpose of this blog post, and literally got a reply within minutes from all of them. Mike was all over her American Chop Suey. For Jim, it was her Chicken Cordon Blue. But there’s always a Fussy One in every family…in this case it was my sister Lynn, who wryly informed me she was never a member of The Clean Plate Club. Apparently she only liked roast pork and only if it was well done! No wonder she was the skinny one! My dad who passed away almost twenty years ago, made no secret of the fact that he loved his wife’s New England Boiled Dinner (always served on a Sunday).
As for me, I adored my mother’s French-Canadian version of Irish Stew…ground beef, tiny diced potatoes and carrots, and peas in a fragrant beef broth. I remember spending an entire summer day playing outside, and coming in to eat dinner (which was only ever called “Supper”). The stew was already ladled into the light green, small bowls that we children ate out of…four of them lined up on the windowsill to cool, the steam visible to our hungry little eyes. And always, always, always…. there was bread and butter on the table. Because if it has gravy, you need to SOP it up!
In addition to the gravy aspect (agree with you Lisa on the sopping with bread!) I loved the roast beef meal because it reminded me of the Sunday afternoon dinners at Nanny and Pop’s house when we lived in Maryland. They were my maternal grandparents and lived in a row house in Baltimore. I loved being in that urban environment, loved the smells, loved playing with my cousins in the small back yard, adjacent to the alley where we would kick a can around. Really! It was fun! And I loved the food. Unadorned, savory, hearty. After dinner I would sneak upstairs to tap out bad poetry on Pop’s typewriter, which now sits on the filing cabinet in my office.
We would also have broiled pita as an accompaniment to beef fondue, which may have been my brother Richie’s birthday meal. It was also an occasional weekend dinner treat (this was the 70s, and fondue was all the rage). The pita was easy to replicate, but over the years I have tried to make a gravy that comes close to the savory stuff I would pour to pool into the well of my mashed potatoes. I’ve made the occasional roast, but my attempt at gravy, well, let’s just say I’m no Gravy Master. Another favorite involving gravy was her Salisbury steak. Recently, in an effort to find something else to do with hamburgers, I came across a recipe online and guess what? It was just like my mother used to make. I’ve made it twice in two weeks and will be ballooning to a new pant size soon 😉
I love to hear about my mother’s childhood memories and one of my favorites is of when my grandmother Jocie was making meatballs and she let her kids help her. My Uncle Mike was about 6 and he decided to throw a meatball into the air to catch it…apparently he never caught it because it STUCK TO THE CEILING!! I can imagine how funny that would be and my mom said it resulted in a fit of giggles!
And a permanent round grease spot on the ceiling as a souvenir of that moment! As time goes on we try to replicate some of the Hitz We Miss, and we add to them too, creating an ever-evolving list of favorite dishes, some of which get passed down to become current “Hitz.”
One of my favorites is my mother’s No Fail Chicken Casserole.
Which was one of MY mother’s recipes and it is loved by all who ate it. Credit goes to our family friend Cheryl Menino who I believe first gave it to my mom in the early 80’s. How can you go wrong with chicken, cheese, wine, and a can of good ol’ Campbells condensed Cream of Whatever soup? It’s easy and delicious and it feeds a crowd. This is one where you need to keep copies of the recipe around because you just know a friend is going to ask for it during dinner.
I just thought of two more favorites. My mother’s Chicken & Red Sauce over Couscous is amazing. I also loved my Papa’s Meatloaf…nobody could make meatloaf like Papa.
Except now we have his recipe and you will get it on a regular basis (at least until you go off to college!)
Growing up, my father (Eva’s Papa) didn’t cook, but in our teens, he developed an interest in trying his hand at the stove. The big fail of family legend was his idea to save time by mashing potatoes in the blender. The result was an inedible grayish goo and a lot of laughs and ribbing. But his Chicken Cacciatore over linguine was a huge hit. Richie would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to steal leftovers, which would inspire huge fights the next day. Dad’s other signature dish was chili con carne, but it’s the cacciatore that will live on in my memories. Jerry Gertz’s Chicken Cacciatore
There are so many dishes that I miss, but mostly I miss the days of youth and the dinners that brought us together and defined us as a family.
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
It’s another wonderful rite of passage that one of the things you look forward to when you come home during college breaks are…The Hitz You Missed! Here’s to keeping the good ones in the rotation and creating new Hitz for future generations!
There must be something in the human DNA that makes us happy at the sight of food in large quantities. Perhaps it’s some lingering genetic memory of times of famine. Whatever the cause, August is definitely the month to calm any insecurity you may have about food scarcity. Just visit a farmer’s market if you need proof of that. We have a beauty just down the street in Litchfield, New Hampshire called Wilson’s Farm Market, and this being National Farmer’s Market Week, the Gertz Girlz headed over with recipes on our minds, and plenty of shopping bags at the ready.
To prepare for our trip, I pulled “Vegetables” off the shelf–a cookbook written by James Peterson. I’m embarrassed to say that up to this point, I had not cooked a single recipe from its pristine pages. I love veggies and can only offer that I’m more carnivorous than I thought. I’m certainly CARBivorous 🙂 Bring on the potatoes and pasta, please! In fact, save time and bring gnocchi!
They say timing is everything. I’m having some regrets at the moment over my decision to try the Keto diet that you’ve all heard about to death, just as all the beautiful fresh carbs of August come available. So while I would’ve loved to have made corn chowder, served with cornbread, and a side of corn relish, that is not happening until I fit into a favorite pair of jeans. Corn is the Lucifer of veggie carbs.
Mwah ha ha!!! I dine with the devil, because my first recipe was Corn Fritters, or as I like to call it: Cornzilla! Who says vegetarian dishes must be healthy? Not me. And since I’m not on the Keto diet, I took four ears of locally grown, super sweet corn kernels and deep fried them into these lovable little devils! My mom would make these on early autumn weekends but I don’t have her recipe. This recipe comes courtesy of Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman RECIPE and I followed it to the letter, EXCEPT hers calls for 1/2 tsp of cayenne so I halved it. It’s spicy enough, but I think it would be okay with the full amount, especially if you sprinkle on powered sugar to balance it out. I also bought a new bottle of maple syrup to make it extra decadent.
Happily, I was able to find some interesting alternatives and still have fun at the farm stand. I focused on the fragrant August tomato for my first dish, Shakshuka. I had never heard of this until I started searching for Keto recipes. For this recipe I went all the way back to the 2010 food blog of the Smitten Kitchen https://smittenkitchen.com/2010/04/shakshuka/ and simply swapped out the Anaheim peppers for our good ol’ farm stand green peppers. Shakshuka is a Mediterranean dish that is basically a slow-cooked marinara sauce made in a large skillet. Once the sauce thickens, you make three or four small wells in the sauce and crack an egg into each well. You cook this until the whites of the eggs have set.
Because I have to be fancy (and also because I wanted to add more protein and fat to the dish), I added crumbled sweet Italian sausage to the sauce. It was so good I made it again a few days later. The versatility of Shukshaka is terrific…you can serve this for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and everyone will be impressed.
My mother’s telling the truth – I loved the Shukshaka. But you know what would’ve been great with it? Cornbread.
Honestly, I don’t know where she gets the snark. But onto my next dish which I liked for a lot of reasons, Cucumber Soup with Wasabi Avocado Cream. I found this recipe in my favorite kitchen bible, Ruth Reichl’s The Gourmet Cookbook. I made a small change and simply combined all ingredients instead of using the wasabi avocado cream as a garnish. I was drawn to the recipe initially because this New England summer has been an absolute scorcher, and the idea of a chilled cucumber soup was very appealing.
The cool cucumber and avocado flavors were magnificent together, and the little kick of wasabi was just enough to keep things interesting. It occurred to me that this would also be a phenomenal “palate cleanser” at a fancy dinner, served in chilled shot glasses with tiny spoons. The Keto Gods would be delighted! Cucumber Soup with Wasabi Avocado Cream
Well, the carb demon was in my kitchen yet again, because I bought sweet potatoes, and the next recipe I chose was Indian-style Sweet Potato Salad. This was a mistake with regard to leftovers; my husband Doug doesn’t care for sweet potatoes, so I ate it for a week. The good news is it was delicious and tasted even better the next day, and the day after that, and, well, after six days I threw in the towel. But I’m proud to say what I tossed fit in a small container.
I also chose this recipe because it provided an excuse to haul out my rarely used mandolin to thinly slice a red onion. Props go to my husband for handling this part. I’m going to have to use this wonderful tool more often! Even a super sharp knife would never get the onions this uniformly thin.
Here’s my big takeaway from this recipe: rubbing coarse salt into the onions makes them even sweeter and oh so tender. After the salt massage, they rest in a colander for 20 minutes, then, thoroughly rinsed and squeezed of all their moisture, they are rendered limp. It’s a spa treatment; I’d be limp, too! I plan to use this method to top a burger, fold into an omelette, or even before caramelizing. What a revelation!
I’m a firm believer in making a recipe exactly as written the first time unless something really stands out as wrong, like baloney with whipped cream (credit: The Three Stooges). So I made this verbatim with one exception: I didn’t use mint because it wasn’t available (not a big fan of the herb, I admit, so I didn’t try that hard to hunt it down). And I thought twice about using the 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper, because ouch! But I did use it and…ooo yeah! It’s intense. If I were to make it again, I’d cut back to 1/4 tsp. I’d also use a thinner yogurt. I used Fage Greek which is fantastic and thick, but too much so for a yogurt sauce. Rather than dolloping the sauce, I would prefer to drizzle. It would make a prettier presentation as well. I’d like to point out that this was my error; the recipe doesn’t specify a type of yogurt, other than plain, of course.
Would I make this again? No. Certainly not with sweet potatoes. But it specifies substituting with Yukon gold, so that might be worth a try. Indian-style Sweet Potato Salad
Back to the farm stand itself…Wilson Farm is one of our ‘happy places.’ I got my driver’s license this year and I enjoyed getting my practice hours in going to the farm in Litchfield…it’s very scenic with cornfields, blueberry patches, and historic farmhouses on either side. Once you arrive, it’s a pretty scene with flowers everywhere you turn. Inside you can find everything from whoopie pies to fresh bread baked right on the premises. One of my favorite things is the fresh whipped cream you can buy for dunking all the beautiful berries they offer. The people who work at Wilson’s are also very friendly.
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
It’s not often that a farm stand has an outstanding website so we would be remiss not to mention it. They offer about a hundred recipes which makes it easy if you need some ideas in a hurry before you visit Wilson Farm! (Locations in both Litchfield NH and Concord MA).
The Passover Seder, a ritual feast celebrating the liberation of Hebrew slaves from Egyptian bondage, includes a seder plate with symbolic elements of the bitter and the sweet, such as bitter herbs and sweet charoses. For the Gertz family, Passover 2018 was bittersweet because it marked two years since our final Passover with matriarch and patriarch Fran and Jerry.
In the spring of 2016, Fran was at the final stage of a 20 year devastating struggle with Alzheimer’s, and by the end of that summer a seizure would put her into the Salem Haven long term care facility, specifically on the third and final floor, where the next level up is heaven (she passed in January 2017). Passover was less ritual and more family get together by now, the seder having been reduced to the Four Questions and a couple of quick prayers. But the wine flowed and the food was plentiful, as was the case with every Gertz gathering.
Whereas past dinners were strictly Fran’s dominion, the meal was now prepared potluck. Jerry got non-traditional with barbecued brisket, tenderized into submission in a slow cooker; he also contributed matzoh kugel, courtesy of his sister Sonia’s recipe; Lisa added her panache to Sonia’s gefilte fish casserole; Dee made sure her matzoh balls were as light and fluffy as Fran’s. We filled in the rest with easy veggie sides and finished with chocolate macaroons and fresh fruit.
By the time Passover rolled around last year, Jerry had become rapidly weak from a cancer that had come on unexpectedly and strong. He was certainly too sick to host a seder, let alone contribute to the meal, but he had also lost interest: when the offer was made to hold the seder at Dee’s house, Jerry turned it down. So the holiday passed over the Gertz family without food or fanfare, and Jerry passed away on Memorial Day.
I’m what you might call a bad Jew. Having grown up in Baltimore with a Jewish father and shiksa mother, I tended to gravitate toward the side that offered Easter baskets and Christmas trees. My father’s mother Rachel was Orthodox, and every Friday evening the family gathered at her house for the Shabbat dinner, always kosher of course (dairy and meat were offered as either/or, and at a tender age it baffled me). After dinner I was occasionally left behind to spend the night in order to accompany her to shul the next morning. Thinking back, this may have been an intervention.
Growing up, Passover seders were also held at Rachel’s and were reverential and full-blown. My memories are an amalgam of mostly yawning tedium, but one day it was finally my turn to read the Four Questions, an honor bestowed upon the youngest member of the tribe. I remember feeling happy that I had something to do besides sit, fidget and starve, but also proud because I could show off my newly acquired reading skills. Unfortunately, that was the extent of my interest in the seder; afterward I went back to daydreaming about the Easter egg hunt with my shiksa clan while Hebrew prayers droned in the background. Bad little Jew.
When I was nine, we moved from Baltimore to Burlington, MA and, freed from my grandmother’s orthodoxy, I have, over the years, participated in our family seders with joking irreverence. This had to drive my father crazy but he never said so, which I attribute to the calming resignation that comes after a few glasses of Concord Grape Manischewitz, a super sweet wine with dubious consequences, as shown below.
Having said this, I always read the Four Questions, in Hebrew, with respect. And every Passover, just like sitting to my father’s left at the dinner table, that particular reading was understood to be mine.
So here it is 2018, I have ascended to matriarch, and the perspective, the vantage point, is suddenly loftier. All I can think, as I watch The Ten Commandments for the umpteenth time, is that I now have an important job to do. Something as sacred as a bad Jew with years of questionable religious karma can muster: I must pay homage to the past with a modicum of reverence.
Hosting this year’s seder at my home is a given, the rest is a journey of faith, less religion than rediscovery; a test to see how much Judaism actually sank in over the years. I start with my grandmother’s sabbath candelabra, willed to me many years before and relegated to a big Filene’s bag, tarnished and dusty in my father’s garage. Given that Rachel kept it proudly displayed and protected in plastic, its sad state is a testament to my transgression and the first step toward redemption: I must restore it to its rightful glory.
Next, I must locate Rachel’s Crest Wood china, handed down to my parents, then to me. At this point I have lost track of these dishes after several moves forced me to stash things hither and yon, but pray they miraculously made it to my basement after we cleaned out and moved boxes from my parent’s house for the final time last summer.
From a mountain of boxes I miraculously locate them quickly, transporting them up to the kitchen for a wash and dry. I then locate my mother’s delicate crystal stemware, to be gently removed from newsprint and oh-so-carefully cleaned. The last cleaning task is to shine up my parent’s flatware, a wedding gift from 1957.
The biggest hurdle toward redemption is the hardest: the seder itself. Jerry always took us through the Haggadah, and I’m not sure it was the same year after year (drinking was going on after all). So I decide to actually read the book, design a seder based on its relevance to us as a family and where everyone had a part to play.
Stu read the Kiddush, a prayer over the wine; Eva, our youngest member read the Four Questions; and in true Bad Jew fashion I can’t remember what the rest of us read; my design notes have since disappeared. But I will say that the past was with us that day, it was a longer seder than Jerry’s ever was (though not as long as Rachel’s), and I shed a few tears along the way. Hopefully that counts.
So the gig is up and now you know… the Gertz Girlz are part Jewish and part shiksa. I grew up in a Catholic family (half French-half Irish). And of all the holidays, Easter was my least favorite. Perhaps it was the lightweight cotton dresses and our bare legs only covered by thin lace ankle socks with Mary Janes, when the temps were still in the 40’s. Perhaps it was the long church homily and the incense that made me nauseous. It could have been that the traditional Easter dinner of ham, potatoes, etcetera, was something we ate every few weeks anyway. It wasn’t my mother’s fault that’s for sure. She went all-out playing the Easter Bunny with treat-loaded baskets, and even made her own chocolates one year. I was just “meh” about Easter.
So when Easter and Passover fell on the same Sunday this year, it was a no-brainer which one I would choose to celebrate. Some of my fondest memories of “becoming a Gertz” were the beautiful Seders that my in-laws put on. They are warm family memories, with food and ritual that was unique to Passover and therefore very special. It helped that they were delicious meals, too.
I looked forward to this Passover for many reasons. We needed to be together as a family, having lost both the matriarch and the patriarch Fran and Jerry in the last year. We needed to heal with food. And we needed to know that tradition would continue. There was only one person who could pull that off and it was Dee. And she did it with STYLE!
I got the head’s up phone call weeks before Passover. She was going to create a beautiful Passover and she gave me my assignments: The Charoset. The Gefilte Fish Casserole. The Matzoh Toffee. I was tickled Manischewitz pink.
I used Sonia’s recipe to make the Gefilte Fish Casserole. This was one of my favorite dishes of our Passover dinners, and I had begged Franny for the recipe 18 years ago. She had always served it as an appetizer, cut into small, delicate quiche-like squares. I’m always so happy cooking this dish, and I actually hope for leftovers so I can enjoy it all week long.
The matzoh toffee is something I’ve been making for the past 15 years at Hannukah, and I decided to create a real variety of toppings for this special Seder. It was fun and made a pretty snazzy presentation plate!
I was most intrigued with the making of Charoset. I couldn’t recall If we had it during past Seders…perhaps it had appeared at table in a very small plate and only as a symbolic gesture. So I decided to research and create a real side dish of Charoset. Because “Jewish food” essentially exists in almost every corner of the earth…this was where some creativity was allowed.
The Charoset’s color and texture are meant to represent mortar or mud used to make adobe bricks which the Israelites used as slaves in Egypt. Depending on what part of the world it’s being made, the fruit and nuts can obviously differ. Since we are in New England, I went with the locally sourced choice and created a dish with apples from a local farm, chopped walnuts, New Hampshire maple syrup and apple cider, and cinnamon.
I was almost speechless when we arrived for Seder. I had never dreamed we would again see a replica of what Fran and Jerry Gertz had created for their family at Passover. But Dee had commanded the helm, and boy did she bring the ship into port. It was a beautiful sight to behold – the polished silver, the crystal glasses, the heirloom dishes, the ironed cloth napkins and tablecloth, the aromas.
The brisket, the matzoh ball soup in a tureen, the kugel, the salad, the flowers. It was an incredible amount of effort and such a colossal show of love to her family, both deceased and living, that I will never forget it. We will always be grateful to this incredible Gertz Girl for what she gave us that day.
Did I mention I got kicked out of Hebrew School?!
Haha! After this last Passover Auntie Dee, I think you’re forgiven!
What I remember most about going to my Gaga and Papa’s house was that it always smelled good there. Even if nothing was cooking, it just smelled so good there. And as the only grandchild, the best part of Passover was that I was the only one who got to hunt for the Afikomen!
Papa was always busy in the kitchen with his trademark cook’s apron on. But he would always stop what he was doing and remind me to look for the treasure. After a couple of years, I realized that Papa always hid it in the same place – under the center cushion of the sofa. I caught on but still tried to pretend to look for it in different places first. This makes all of us laugh. We never did find out if he realized he did that…was it his own quirky brand of humor or just a 10 year coincidence? We will never know but it’s a fun memory. Eventually, like Aunt Dee, I also enjoyed getting to read the Four Questions as the youngest of the tribe.
Losing Papa and Gaga has taught me the importance of family and I love my Aunt Dee for bringing us all together.
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
In the end, we have to agree with Tevye ….”Traditions, Traditions. Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as, as….as a fiddler on the roof!”
The youngest Gertz Girl will graduate high school next year and has her heart set on a career in film production. So, for February break we jumped on a plane headed for the west coast. There is something very hip about California and you feel it as soon as you step out of the airport. You may arrive feeling like the Clampetts (Google it if you’re under 40), but you leave feeling cool as Compton (Google it if you’re over 40). Cue the song from 2Pac and Dr. Dre – “Let me welcome everybody to the Wild, Wild West.”
The best part of this trip was going to be the warm weather and exploring all the differences between Cali and New England. The weather decided to disappoint us with the first cold spell in decades. We got over it. We also got to laugh at people wearing ski hats and Uggs in 65 degree weather. It was a wonderful four days and the stellar food scene played a big part of that. Here are some of the highlights of our trip:
The Hudson Restaurant: Located in West Hollywood (my hipster 80-year-old mother corrected me to call it “WEHO” like the locals). This super hip, but casual restaurant caters to a young adult clientele. Everyone who works here looks shiny and stylish. We arrived early on a Saturday evening, and realized the restaurant is built around actual trees that are located throughout and go through the ceiling! After a long day of travel, I was initially annoyed at the volume of the music but that passed – because it was just the most AWESOME playlist I’ve heard in a restaurant. We were served some delicious food and it was such a fun vibe that I was soon singing along to BBBBenny and the Jets – only to be joined in unison by two guys dining a table away. Happy is The Hudson!!! Good food and service too! www.thehudsonla.com
Bristol Farms Market: There are a few of these scattered around Los Angeles but the one on the corner of Fairfax and Sunset Boulevard is like an intimate cross between Whole Foods and Trader Joes. I cannot express how much I love this store. A profusion of flowers greet you outside. Once inside, I developed a serious crush on Peet’s Coffee and a beautiful French bulldog named Rose.
This place was within walking distance from our vacation rental and thank you very much! I experienced an amazing and warm Croque Monsieur for breakfast, and also learned there is something called a Poke Bowl (pronounced Pok-Ay), a culinary idea that I really hope soon makes its way to New Hampshire. All kinds of fresh raw and cooked fish can be combined with lots of fresh veggies, nuts, and sprouts to create your own bowl of delicious nutrition. Yum!!! www.bristolfarms.com
Catch L.A.: This was our splurge night out. It’s an Oh-So-Pretty restaurant with an Oh-So-Pricey menu. Upon arrival to the large ground floor vestibule, two very good-looking gentlemen greet you. They verify your reservation, then one of them escorts you to the elevator and sends you to up to the beautiful rooftop restaurant. Selfies abound up there amidst greenery and twinkly lights. We stuck with small plates like the skewered chicken meatballs and I had the best sushi of my life, the Catch Roll (crab+salmon+misohoney), which was accompanied by another handsome young man who provided a sushi fire show with his hand torch. A shout out goes to Cory, our very personable waiter! Check out their lit website www.catchrestaurants.com
In-N-Out Burger: Goes without saying that everyone must try this ubiquitous chain. We went to the one in Westwood before we checked out the UCLA campus. I’m completely intrigued by In-N-Out restaurant and may actually dedicate a whole blog post to them. Suffice to say we left satisfied, and it was the cheapest date we had in Los Angeles. Kudos. www.in-n-out.com
Pink Taco: A friend whose husband grew up in California texted me while I was out there, “Josh says to try hole-in-the-wall Mexican.” We had to clarify if it was an actual name of a restaurant. It wasn’t. Apparently, any Mexican food in L.A. will be better than any Mexican food in New Hampshire. My beautiful niece Jill resides in Los Angeles, and suggested we meet at Pink Taco. www.pinktaco.com
It does not fit the hole-in-the-wall category but we were just fine with it. Again, there were trees in the middle of the dining room, which I find so charming. In addition, the food and atmosphere were festive but relaxed, the Happy Hour margaritas awesome, and the restaurant interior was one of the most seriously pink and funky places I’ve been to. A major bonus – my niece arrived with her charming boyfriend and her well-behaved chihuahua Ziggy, and the hostess didn’t bat an eye. He stayed at our table happily eating bits of chicken burrito (I mean Ziggy here). So basically, it felt like we were dining in Mexico with a Chihuahua. I told you, California is cool.
The Griddle: This renowned breakfast joint IS a hole-in-the-wall, with a daily line of people waiting patiently to get in. We lucked out on a Tuesday morning and were seated right away by a vivacious young waitress who thought maybe I was someone famous!? Hmm…way to score a good tip! We ordered our eggs and pancakes and noticed a tableful of LAPD officers tucking into their breakfasts with intensity. Our plates arrived and OMG these were huge portions! It was tasty too. We salute The Griddle! www.thegriddlecafe.com
Rite-Aid: Yes, you read that right. I have to include the West Hollywood Rite-Aid in this post. Let me just say this is proof that Los Angeles has it over us big time. This was a Rite-Aid on steroids, including a coffee and Cubano sandwich bar. I went in for Tylenol and left with a fresh pistachio frozen yogurt, a bottle of Grey Goose vodka and a pair of yoga pants! Enough said!!
Oh, and by the way I fell in love with L.A. and will be pursuing my career dreams there. Here’s a sample of my inspiration from this trip! Eva’s LA Video
Someday I’m gonna be a STAH on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!
You Bitchez! I’m SOOOOOO jealous I wasn’t there 😉
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
The rumor is you have conquered L.A. when you conquer their notoriously challenging freeways. I was asked how I did driving on “The 405” and “The 101”. Please give this Boston driver a big fat break. I mean we are not on bucking broncos here and you have five lanes to play with. I can handle Storrow Drive at 50mph so I’m pretty sure the California drivers were more scared of ME in my rental car. We can cue Dr. Dre again: “Let me welcome everybody to the Wild, Wild West!”