Every year, my sister and I try to make something homemade for Hanukkah for the kids. Last year, we made aprons, cookie and chocolate milk mixes. This year, we decided to treat our 5 year old cousin, who we know is going to be a fashionista one day, to an accessory. I took a crash course on beading from my mother-in-law and spent a bit of time honing my skills. And in learning how to bead a little bracelet, I learned that I enjoy this craft very much.
Some of my best childhood memories involve the New Year’s holiday. We, like absolutely everyone else in the former Soviet Union had a «ёлка» (pronounced “yolka”): a new year’s tree. Since neither Hanukkah nor Christmas were allowed to be observed, people channeled all of their celebration into the one secular holiday of the season. I grew up with big trees decorated with elaborate and amazing ornaments, candies, and presents. Every New Year’s Day, my sister and I would open presents, watch our favorite cartoons (or maybe they were MY favorite cartoons and she just went along?) and ate Russian potato salad, caviar, and herring under a fur coat. There were baked sweets, candies, and lots of family time. These are some of my favorite things today and perhaps that is where my family-oriented nature took hold.
A year ago, Evan and I resolved to give a new year’s tree a try. When we fulfilled that promise this year, there was pure joy on both Sophia’s and Evan’s faces as they decorated the tree for the first time with great abandon. In addition to teaching Sophia and Eliza that the tree is called a “yolka,” we further ensured that they are only marginally confused about their Jewish heritage by already having not one, but two preemptive Hanukkah celebrations: one with my sister and one with Evan’s family.
There will be a smaller one during the week with just the four of us. After all is said and done there will have been more latkes and sufganiyot than in previous years and this will indeed ensure our children grow up with warm memories of Hanukkah.
This right here is a departure from our usual Friday posts where I share our extraordinary moment. There have been many moments since last Friday but they can all wait to be shared later. Shortly. Another time.
Evan and I are dutiful citizens—we recycle, vote and care about the economy, geopolitical crises, etc. Like most people, we want to leave a better world for our children to live in. Perhaps, this is all backwards. Perhaps Carlos Slim had it right when he said that while it is important to give your children a better country (world) to live in, it is more important to give better children to your country. So from now on, I will ask myself what should I do to ensure that our opinionated, determined and very stubborn three year old grows up as an independent and empowered adult who cares about the world. Maybe you will ask yourself the same thing. Maybe if every parent asks themselves this very question we will indeed leave a better country to our children because we will leave better children to take care of the world.
This weekend flew by faster than a blink of an eye but no matter how short it seemed, it was filled with play and incredible, edible fun. Evan, Sophia and my nephew Alex went to the Please Touch Museum where the kids tried their hand at being explorers, bus drivers, metro riders, astronauts and musicians. Evan’s uncle is a talented pianist and this picture here gives me hope that musical aptitude is in her genes.
There were some serious naps after such fun for Sophia and also for us grown ups. When we did recover from all the play, we cooked and spent time with family. I made pasta from scratch because … because it is delicious when it is handmade and because I had the best helper.
We recently acquired this cherry red pro-sumer pasta maker and it is a joy to use. For those who are curious, the pasta maker is a Marcato Atlas Pasta Machine in red.
This right here is fettuccine dressed with a lemon-sage sauce and tossed with toasted walnuts. Beautiful to look at and so delicious. There were other culinary delights but the experience of making pasta with Sophia topped them all.
An experience is sometimes more valuable than a tangible item especially if the experience touches your soul. I wrote a few years ago about the difficulty of choosing a gift for the man who has everything. As the years pass by, I realize how important our time, time together and time with our family are and that those are the ultimate gifts. Evan’s birthday was Monday and we took the day off in pursuit for some cultural and culinary exploration to celebrate his special day.
We chose to visit The Barnes Foundation having never been before and hearing wonderful things about its new home on the Parkway. The museum is architecturally very interesting and the art collection is remarkable. Hundreds of Renoirs, Cezannes, Picassos and Modiglianis to fill your eyes and mind with … to look at and linger trying to understand the magnitude of talent a person must possess to create something so extraordinary. I was not very familiar with the work of Chaim Soutine but was very impressed with his style and the emotion he was able to evoke in his works. His use of color reminded me of Marc Chagall, another beloved artist, whose works I saw en masse in Nice in 2006 and again in 2008. I liked it so much, I saw it twice.
Having treated ourselves to such a dazzling display of movement and color, we set out for a quick yet satisfying lunch of ramen at Cheu Noodle Bar where tradition sits side by side with modernity. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it hit the spot, so to speak. Thoroughly refreshed and reinvigorated we returned home to help the girls with their lunch and see them off to naps. The day was different than it used to be before we had kids but just as satisfying. As for the art and my company, they touched my soul.
Instead of alternating which side of the family we spend our Thanksgiving with, we have begun to alternate which side of the family hosts the other. In effect, we have figured out how to see our parents, grandparents, Evan’s uncles and their families, my parents, sister and her in-laws every year. It was indeed a large gathering and included some friends, too. And this gathering was hosted by my sister who was gracious enough to open her home to 25+ people on Thanksgiving. It was a truly international holiday with Russian and French flowing freely throughout the house as people feasted. I should probably have grabbed a picture of the table but I was too busy enjoying our families and the food to do that. The table was decorated with flowers of late fall colors and they were surrounded by dishes both traditional and less so. Everyone pitched in by bringing a side dish/dessert. I did acquire a picture (courtesy of my brother-in-law) my sister’s beautiful and enormous honey cake … it was impressive.
Just how impressive? 13 inches in diameter and 7-8 layers tall. The togetherness and warmth made me realize that I had, right there and then, everything that truly matters—our family together.
Days spent at museums, at music and light shows and evenings sharing a delicious chocolate babka are how we filled our week thus far. And now to continue the tradition (previous thanks here and here), I’d like to share what I am most thankful for this year.
5. Family. Ours is warm, close, supportive and finally nearby.
4. For new family members. My sister-in-law got married this year and her new husband has received the ultimate seal of approval — Sophia’s.
3. Living in the city, at least for now, that we love so much.
2. My sister and brother-in-law who are hosting Thanksgiving and have opened their home to not just my side of the family, but also Evan’s. Thankfully, everyone is brining a dish to help make such a big gathering manageable.
1. My amazing husband who is a true partner in every sense of the word and two beautiful little girls who give me a reason to smile every single waking hour.
Quite an eventful weekend around here. In addition to some great quality time with our nephew, we treated Eliza to a glamor shoot in honor of her recently passed 5th month birthday and spent some time outdoors. We took advantage of a mild Sunday to walk to Head House Square and peruse a Farmer’s Market. Turnips, berries, apples, pears, local cheeses, breads and even mmmm… chocolates were all on display looking vibrant and keeping the usually more subdued, at least on a Sunday, square quite lively. Later that evening, we walked to Franklin Square and enjoyed a light and music show which Sophia absolutely loved. And even though we don’t celebrate Christmas, it is hard not to get into the spirit of the season when everything is lit up and looks so festive.
Eliza napped through the festivities which was just as well. We were able to focus on Sophia and enjoy her excitement.
Having been quite absent from the kitchen the last two days, I decided to warm up our kitchen and home by making the dough for a chocolate babka. The recipe isn’t particularly difficult, but it does present one challenge for me personally—having to wait overnight for the dough to rise. If you know me at all, you will know that I am not patient in general and even less so when it comes to desserts and chocolate in particular. Patience I lack but not will power and so Sophia and I collaborated on the dough and waited for it to rise overnight. We made the filling and baked them off on Monday evening. The result is … well, judge for yourself.
There are some days that you look forward to with great anticipation—the kind of days that you plan well in advance. My nephew Alex turned eleven this past October and Evan and I decided that he was old enough to be treated to an experience as his birthday gift. You see, we both believe that experiences can be the best gifts. We hadn’t had as much time to spend with Alex since we became parents and this was the perfect opportunity to remedy that and so we offered him a day with us in the city doing something fun.
As it turns out, carving out a day without our own children took a little bit of planning and in the end, my parents helped with Eliza and Sophia so we could spend time with Alex. The particulars of our day included a walk through Old City and a brief stop at Elfreth’s Alley, old-fashioned sodas at the Franklin Fountain, fried chicken and donuts at Federal Donuts followed by a thorough exploration of the Franklin Institute and their Body Worlds: Animals Inside and Out exhibit finishing with dinner in Old City.
I could regale you further with details about each of those places and while they were fun in their own right, the real delight was seeing Alex experience everything and in the conversations we had. I heard about his Science Olympiad and how his class is learning about Native Americans by experiencing various aspects of their life such as building teepees, hand dyeing clothes and making bison stew and Indian fry bread.
There is a saying “I would like to travel world with you twice. Once, to see the world. Twice, to see the world the way you see the world.” That is exactly what I wanted to do, to see and share in Alex’s experience, to be a part of his life for a day and to hear his perspectives on things and understand what matters to him. Our day together brought me pure and utter joy.