Bloomie eventually reckoned with the fact that Chelm’s Pond and Paradise were the same place, although she never figured out why. Nonetheless, and perhaps all the more, she worked hard in the diner and, as she grew older, her aspirations to become the manager and proprietor grew stronger. She felt the diner should have a clever and catchy name, like those of the more conventional eating establishments she had been impressed by in her visits to the neighboring villages. Names like the White Birch Café in Tupper Lake, or Marty’s Chili Nights, the Mexican restaurant in Indian Lake, or Custard’s Last Stand, the ice cream shop in Long Lake. And too, she wanted a name that was unmistakably and uniquely characteristic of Chelm’s Pond. Read the rest of this entry »
This post was submitted by Sandor Schuman.
How Naugahyde Helped Kitchen Chairs Stay in a Jewish Family for Generations ‘Iron’ Covering Survived Moves From Coast to Coast and Back
One of my mother’s favorite Yiddish proverbs was, “You can’t sit on two horses with one behind.” A fine observation, but growing up in Brooklyn, sitting on even one was unlikely. My own steed was the lid of a sewing machine, a rounded wooden case shaped like a covered bridge with curved corners. Heigh-ho, Singer.
As for places to sit, I mostly perched on the kitchen chairs in our two-family home on 58th Street. The landlords, my grandparents, lived upstairs and never raised the rent. The deal was that my mother would be nearby and available as her parents grew older.
There were four sturdy chairs in our kitchen, and four slightly different ones in my grandparents’ kitchen. On one of those chairs, my grandmother bent over that Singer, narrowing the legs of my dungarees and sewing aprons to be presented to my teachers as Christmas gifts, or practicing her signature on torn-off scraps of paper grocery bags. (She could neither read nor write.)
This was the ’50s. Families making the upwardly mobile leap from Brooklyn to Long Island were furnishing the kitchens in their split-levels with Formica and chrome, shiny mid-century splendor.
We stayed put and stuck with wood. “You couldn’t buy chairs like that today,” adults in my family said, at exactly the time when other people were throwing chairs like that away.
I was in elementary school when my mother brought up the notion of refurbishing the kitchen furniture. The response was certainly cool. My grandfather said that whatever was to be replaced was “good enough,” his typical rejoinder to any such proposal.
But my mother, the executive in charge of 58th Street home improvements, had clout. It had been she, after all, who had ordered the wallpapering of the kitchen ceiling, an endeavor deemed even more successful because the paperhanger had prophesied it wouldn’t last through the night. “Next morning, it was still there,” she liked to remind us.
After a few month’s discussion, my mother was taken seriously. The framework of the furniture was OK, but the wood was dark brown, mottled and rough. The seats, dark red plastic, were stretched and puckered in the middle, frayed at the corners, and dotted with cigarette holes left by a house full of smokers.
The search for someone to do the work began. The most desirable choice for an upholsterer and furniture restorer would be someone who was a cousin or brother-in-law of one of my grandparents’ synagogue pals. Such a person would be ashamed to do a bad job.
Family members, friends and even acquaintances would spread the word if the work turned out to be shoddy. A chair man — unaware, no doubt, that this job could make or destroy his reputation — was hired.
And then the most serious business of all: the materials. Various coverings were compared and contrasted. Warnings based on cautionary tales of my grandparents’ friends’ upholstery tragedies were recounted (“In summer, it stuck to her legs like glue”); utopian goals were offered (“It shouldn’t show the dirt”); and worst-case scenarios were summarized (“They threw their money out the window”).
And finally, it was decided: We were going with Naugahyde. My mother brought home armloads of sample books, crammed with patches in many colors and textures. But looks were secondary. The main qualification was that it should “wear like iron,” the highest compliment anyone in our clan could bestow, applicable to cars, shoes, kitchen appliances, wedding dresses, friendships, anything.
The restorer picked up the kitchen chairs and took them away. Impatiently, we sat around the kitchen on folding chairs brought up from the basement as substitutes.
When the chairs came back, the wood was amber-colored and glossy, the seats and backs covered in shiny forest green, stippled with wormy black lines. The seat surface looked something like avocado skin, something no one pointed out at the time because not one of us had ever eaten or even seen an avocado.
What we did eat was matzo, latkes, tuna fish, pot roast and Campbell’s tomato soup, meal after meal, year after year confirming the wisdom of the upholstery choice.
“They look like new,” it was said of the chairs.
My sister and I grew up and moved to California, leaving our parents and grandparents on 58th Street. Then my grandmother lost her memory, and shortly after that, her mind. Maggie, the aide who took care of her, sat in one of those chairs, too, having her dinner alone in the kitchen next to a forest of potted plants raised by the silent invalid who by this time never left her bedroom.
After both grandparents died, my parents sold their own kitchen chairs and moved to California with my grandparents’ chairs, because my mother thought their legs more graceful.
My father died a year after the move, but my mother lived another 32 years. She sat in one of the chairs every morning to read the newspaper, and every night to watch “The PBS NewsHour.” Her grandchildren, our sons, dribbled food on the chairs; my sister’s dogs licked them clean.
She was 93 when she suffered the stroke that left her unable to speak. She seemed happiest sitting in one of those chairs, relishing the familiarity of a shared lunch around a set table, a tangible reminder of her life in the kitchen. For a while, friends bearing bouquets and pound cakes came to sit, too. When she became both frail and volatile, they found it too depressing, and then they hardly came at all.
After my mother died, my sister took the chairs. But then my sister became ill, and late last winter, just as the first of the daffodils she had been sure she’d planted too early were pushing up, she died. Of everyone at 58th Street in the Naugahyde Era, I was the only one remaining.
My sister wanted my sons, her nephews, to have her things. So when they were in San Francisco for her memorial service, they chose what would go to Iowa, where our older son lives with his wife, and what would go to Brooklyn, where — much to the surprise of my husband and me, who spent our childhoods dreaming of escape from the borough — our younger son and his wife live.
The chairs are now about a mile from the house on 58th Street.
Just after movers picked them up, an upholsterer who had been recovering an office chair for my sister when she died, told me she’d told him that after the job was completed, she would ask him to “to recover some kitchen chairs, too.”
Among all the things that didn’t get said in time, didn’t get done in time, I don’t regret that the chairs never got recovered. Such a frivolous move, even after 60 years, would have been a rebuke to the decision-makers, who are all gone and replaced by memories of the things they said, the meals they shared.
Besides, Naugahyde wears like iron.
Leah Garchik grew up in Brooklyn and is a daily columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. She relishes occasional trips home.
Published with permission of the author. Origincally published in the Jewish Daily Forward. Read more: http://forward.com/articles/185482/how-naugahyde-helped-kitchen-chairs-stay-in-a-jewi/?p=all#ixzz2mWqWvFqv
This post was submitted by LeahGarchik.
I did not realize what a big deal having Thanksgiving on the first day of Chanukah was going to be. Before I even heard the word “Thanksgivukkah,” I was thinking of ways to culinarily combine the two holidays. Little did I know there would be full websites, parties and t-shirts dedicated to this historical event! The most involved and inclusive dish I came up with includes combining foods from each holiday on a stick. In the ultimate homage to the holiday that is Thanksgivukkah, I give you: The Thanksgivukkabob! Read the rest of this entry »
This post was submitted by OOGIAH.
My great-grandmother, Mable, was the first in many fields. She graduated college, valedictorian, in 1900, Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Biology.
Somewhere along the way, great-grandma Mabel decided that drinking alcohol was a sin against God and man. She became a leading prohibitionist, and played a role in the criminalization of alcohol by the passing of the 18th amendment, which banned the sale and transportation of alcohol.
Mabel was very polite, proper and proud in the traditional Victorian manner. She was a woman of her time period and lived in accordance with strict Victorian traditions. She would often remark that “politeness is to do and say the kindest things in the kindest way.”
A prolific writer and poet. Her essay “The Gods Give Us Everything Through Toil” is my personal favorite and is found below. Read the rest of this entry »
This post was submitted by JRRothstein.
Originally published in Esquire, August, 1985.
“Better you should call your Aunt Sara,” said my mother, phoning long-distance from Florida, and would I please hurry with the questions, even with Sprint it’s no bargain.
“What are you trying to tell me?” I asked. “I’m not sure I want to hear this.”
“I’m telling you I got the blintz recipe from books way back, one of those Jewish cookbooks, Mrs. Somebody’s cookbook, the woman on television and movies.”
“You’re talking about Molly Goldberg. You’re telling me your famous blintz recipe came from CBS?”
“Not totally. I got a lot of fine points from your Aunt Sara, too.”
“I thought the recipe was handed down, generation to generation. You learn from your mother and I learn from my mother and so on.”
My mother paused.
“Your grandmother, you know, was not such a great cook.”
I called my Aunt Sara in California. I’m sure that if a blintz recipe had been part of the family, the relatives wouldn’t have scattered like this.
Sara refused to take credit.
“Your mother was really the blintz expert,” she said. “When we traded recipes, she had the one for the blintz and I had the one for the chopped liver.”
“I don’t care about chopped liver,” I said, my face as red as borscht. “Just tell me this: Did you or did you not give my mother her recipe for blintzes.”
“Not me,” she said. “I’m too lazy and blintzes are a pain in the neck. Your mother was always the best.”
I got my mother back on the phone. I was blunt.
“If you want me to visit over the holidays, you give me your blintz recipe right now.” Read the rest of this entry »
This post was submitted by AlanRichman.
Note: Originally published in Stirring with Knives.
It was 1984 , I’d just turned 5. I was a West German girl living in Cologne. The most important things in my life were Carebears, my eraser collection, my turtles Trollie and Mollie and Haribo cola bottles –in that order. Read the rest of this entry »
This post was submitted by Caroline Hobkinson.
My Dad, Irving Naxon, invented the crock pot, the then-called Naxon Beanery. He retired in 1971 and sold his business to Rival Manufacturing. They streamlined the design, renamed it the crock pot, and the rest is American culinary history. But what was his inspiration for its creation in the first place, you might ask? Read the rest of this entry »
This post was submitted by Lenore Naxon.
I knew my mother was not coming back the day my aunt unpacked the Pesach brisket from her suitcase. Eight months after Mom died, I could sometimes still fool myself into imagining my mother was on some sort of extended vacation. I blocked out the days and nights at her hospital bed, as my agitated mother struggled for words to describe what she needed.
“I want to sit up…. And see the seagulls….”
I finally figured out that she wanted a deck chair.
By that time the breast cancer had metastasized to her brain, the doctors said. There was nothing they could do.
Mom was only conscious in hospice for a day or two before she closed her eyes and waited for her body to die. She was seemingly comfortable, at least. My three aunts and my own sister and I sat vigil beside her, passing strange hours punctuated by tearful cell phone calls and generous servings of donated hospice cakes. My grandmother, 92 and unable to travel across the country to be by her daughter’s side, received updates from her daughters. Curiously, my father visited less than one would have expected after 49 years of marriage. After mom’s abrupt hospitalization and decline, he seemed to operate in a state of shock.
But the frozen mass of meat that emerged from my aunt’s suitcase was unmistakable proof. My mother was not preparing Passover dinner. She would never prepare it again.
And,yes, my Aunt is insane. Who brings blocks of frozen meat in their carryon bag?
“What did the TSA think?” I wondered aloud.
The brisket itself didn’t mean much to me. As a fish-eating vegetarian, I found the other Passover dishes much more appetizing.
But I understood. This would be the first big family holiday without my mother and my grandmother. Six months after her eldest daughter died, my grandmother died as well. The emptiness had to be filled somehow.
So there we were, the survivors, probably still in grief and shock, going through the motions of a proper holiday, as much for my father and my children as anything else. The brisket was defrosted, reheated and served. I prepared my mother’s famous chopped and fried, “English-style” gefilte fish that she recalled her own grandmother making for the holiday. I even willed myself to follow my mother’s rituals for preparing the fish, careful to choose a non-windy morning on which to fry outside so that my kitchen wouldn’t smell of grease for days. Matzo balls were shaped and boiled, two types of charoset were prepared. My sister, father and I had the annual argument about how to place the extra table in the entry way.
Guests sat down for the seder, to eat and drink sweet wine and sing Chad Gadya. The children fought about who really found the Afikomen and who cheated.
Amazingly, life went on, even without my mother and grandmother. My aunt and sister and I went through the motions of preparing the seder despite of—or perhaps because of—the emptiness. And while the motions and the rituals couldn’t bring our beloved ones back, like Passover itself, they reminded us that we were beginning our own journey into the unknown.
This post was submitted by nsandweiss.
My Nanny made the best mushroom barley soup. Her recipe was her mother’s, my Grandma Anna’s, who was known to be a great cook, and while I knew my Grandma Anna for many years, she was well beyond her cooking phase by the time I was born, so I grew up with fantasies of my great-grandmother’s soup and the pleasure of my grandmother’s soup.
This soup was at every family event. Jewish holidays, American holidays, birthdays, weekend visits, winter vacations. I knew that whenever I showed up, there would be fresh, hearty, delicious soup waiting just for me. So, one college vacation, when both I would be at home and my Nanny would be visiting, I organized a lock-down. We were going to write down this recipe, once and for all, a recipe replete with handfuls of salt, water up the big chip in the enamel pot, meat products that you had to special order from the butcher, herbs tied with white string that only got added at the end of cooking. I had images that as my Nanny prepared the soup, I would have her pause so I could measure and quantify and record. And then we were side by side in the kitchen. She pulled out her cooking utensils, her fresh herbs and vegetables. However, she couldn’t quite remember whether it was a turnip or a parsnip that got added. I am grateful for this mystery, though, because the last item she pulled out was a package of Maneschewitz Mushroom Barley soup mix! Seems this soup, a core of my family’s meals, a soup that wafted immigrant and tradition and connection and cooking-all-day-on-the-back-of-the-stove richness, didn’t have as much mystery to it as I had endowed it all these years. And yet, it is still “The Soup”. Mention it to my brother or my cousins, and they will wistfully think back to eating that soup. I have yet to share the recipe, which I did write down, with my cousin. I can’t even eat the soup anymore because of allergies. And yet, it will live on. My children know that I grew up on this soup, and for them, it is part of our family history. When they move into their own homes, this recipe will be gifted to them. Because even if you start with a package of soup, needing to talk to the butcher to get ingredients, wrapping white string around herbs that only get added at the end of cooking, and asking everyone you know what the difference is between a turnip and a parsnip makes a soup that is anything but common.
This post was submitted by dherman.
Sarah, the woman featured in this 11-minute Youtube video on how to make the best gefilte fish, was (or perhaps still is) employed by a Jewish household in Cape Town, South Africa.
Sarah is a “Colored” woman, which in S. African English means she is of mixed races, possibly including whites, blacks, Malaysians and / or Indian ancestors. She is definitely not Jewish.
The video of her giving us a demonstration is in English, although she sometimes breaks into Afrikaans (her mother tongue) and Yiddish – learned from her employers. She speaks in the strong South African accent of the Cape Malays. Her charming laid back attitude is as delicious as her fish.
The lesson I learned (aside from how to make the fish) is that we are all equal and deserving of respect.
This post was submitted by Jonathan.