Category Archives: family

NYC

Laguardia.

Snow.  Pizza.  Murray Hill Diner.  NYU.  Broadway.  John’s Pizzeria. 5th Avenue.  School Products. Deedee!  Korean barbecue.  Doughnuts.  Habu Textiles. 6th Avenue.  Soho.  Nolita.  Lower East Side.  Chinatown.  Live frogs in a bucket.  Balaboosta.  Subway.  GAP.  American Idiot.  Stage door.  More pizza.  Sarge’s Deli.  Blintzes and lox and pastrami.  New York Public Library.  Rockefeller Center.  Central Park.  New shoes.  Chocolate of many lands.

O’Hare.

Shrimp and Egg

One more food post for Swedish Christmas Eve.  It’s a very ritualized meal in our family.  We don’t do the traditional ham.  Instead, we eat a smogasbord, one dish at a time in a specific order.  We begin with cold herring and small boiled potatoes, and then move to the gravad lax and then the shrimp and egg.  The last fish dish is Jannson’s frestelse — a shoestring scalloped potato dish with Swedish anchovies, which are sweet, juicy, and spicy, not so salty.  Then we eat small meatballs with no sauce but a bit of broth and ham and cheese and hardbread.  And we sing and drink snapps, and finish with rice pudding and Christmas cookies.  It is a simplified version of the one we used to do, because we have a lot of people in our house who just don’t like herring all that much.  So no more sillsalad and matjes herring.  And no more braised mushrooms and kidneys (thank goodness) or eel and scrambled egg, which was my Czech Jewish grandfather’s favourite.  I haven’t told anyone, but I think I might make fagelbo this year.  If I do, photo and recipe next December, because it is very pretty.

This is one of the easiest dishes we make and it is easily multiplied for a bigger crowd, or shrunk just for one or two.  You will need:

  • 4 hardboiled eggs, peeled halved lengthwise
  • 1 1/2 c cooked peeled baby shrimp, the kind you get frozen in a big bag
  • 1 boston lettuce

Line a plate with lettuce leaves.  Spread the hardboiled eggs on it in one layer.  Layer the thawed shrimp evenly over the eggs.  Then top with the following dressing, made of  all these ingredients, mixed together:

  • 1/4 c whipped cream
  • 1/4 c good mayonnaise.  I was not much of a “brand” person until I bought some Whole Foods mayonnaise. *Shudders at the memory*  I suggest Hellman’s.  You can also replace some of the cream and mayonnaise with good yoghurt.
  • 1 tbs. chopped dill.  If you don’t like dill, this whole Swedish Christmas Eve thing may not be for you.  Just saying.
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • dash white pepper

Here’s what it looks like before you add the dressing.  You can see the dressing to one side, and also some cheese on a wooden board.  God Jul!

Happy Sankta Lucia

It used to be the shortest day of the year, before they changed the calendar. This year, at least in Chicago, it is just the coldest. So stay warm. And if you haven’t done so already, go make bullar and let the scent of cinnamon and cardamom fill your kitchen. While they’re baking, you can read Making Light, where there is an interesting post up about the traditions and songs associated with Sankta Lucia. I have never been able to find the version of the song we sing. My family sings one verse; my cousins sing quite a different verse, and neither has ever turned up in the magical world of google.

Could we be the last remnants of some impossibly old and forgotten folk tradition…?

Viktor Frankl

Anyone who spends time on Facebook knows all about those tests: “What European country are you?” “What decade are you,” “Which deceased female poet are you?” etc. Most of them are pretty unenlightening, not to say badly spelled (though I did admire the wisdom that correctly identified me as “Garden Party Barbie”) but today’s test, “Which psychotherapist are you?” reminded me of a name I hadn’t thought of in years. Evidently, I am Viktor Frankl, and I am a logotherapist.

Logotherapy, the therapeutic method developed by Frankl, teaches that human beings are primarily motivated by, not power or pleasure, but the desire to find meaning in their lives, and that we achieve peace when we find this meaning. We find meaning by doing a deed (work?), experiencing a value (truth, beauty, love; of nature, art, or a person), or, when all that is positive fails, through suffering.

If you have read my “About me” page, you will recognize that these are the views I share. Anyone who writes history is searching for meaning and is actively constructing it out of the chaos of data left by passing humans. Writing stories is a construction of meaning within the fiction/not fiction of the beginning, middle, and end of a tale. I don’t know if I believe that it is our primary impulse, but I believe it should be, that it is the only way to deal with the turmoil caused by all our other primary impulses.

I read Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning in high school, I believe in religion class at he Convent of the Sacred Heart. I was interested in anything to do with the Holocaust at the time, and I remember appreciating it, though not drawing any especially lasting lessons from it. At the time I did not know that my grandfather’s sister died at Theriesienstadt, where Frankl spent so much time or that, like him, my great-grandparents and my grandfather’s sister were transported to Auchwitz, though with worse fate. What I wonder now is how much Frankl’s book might have stuck inside me without me knowing it all these years. It seems that reading an account of the Holocaust is a rite of passage for high schoolers these days (rightly so). I also believe we are made up of all the books we have read, as well as the experiences we have had and the people we know. I wonder if I would have been different if we had read Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel or Anne Frank instead of Viktor Frankl at the Sacred Heart all those years ago?

Toronto

Porter, Streetcar, Bathurst and College, Crown and Tiger, Cloak and Dagger, Iranian Kebabs, up at dawn, Future Bakery, Liber testamentorum ecclesie ovetensis, Flip Toss and Thai, Burry and David, Cora’s, Harbord Bakery poppy seed danish, the Kitchener Picks, Indian food, the Roxton not the Rushton (or is it the other way around?), Ezra’s Pound and Alison, Polish sausage on the street (a big mistake), lots of Rachel, Monkey’s Paw, Ossington between Dundas and Queen, RCMP paper napkins (wish I had bought them now), Foxley (arctic char ceviche and lamb duck prosciutto dumplings), Clinton’s, cider all over my sweater the floor and everything, Stanley Cup, Carin and her Mum, Bar Mercurio Espresso, carrot cake, Kensington Market, Lettuce Knit, Romni Wool, hempathy, Subway, Streetcar, Porter.

Home.

Gumper

My grandfather died twenty-four years ago yesterday.  I sent this to some members of my family this morning, in response to a note my uncle wrote with some memories of his own of his last moments, but I decided I would post it here too.

I remember visiting Gumper and Granny in Florida a month before he died.

I remember him using my visit to go to an all-you-can eat buffet, which Granny deplored as much as she hated the early bird special.  I ate my first (and last) oyster there.

I remember working on my term paper on the stories of Franz Kafka while I was in Florida.  I remember reading “The Judgement” for the first time earlier in the semester and physically shaking at the end, so much I felt it described the relationship of Dad with his father.  I was never able to get the exact feeling back on subsequent rereadings.

I remember making Gumper potato pancakes out of a box because he asked me to.  Shortly after his death, I learned how to make proper latkes from scratch and I never make them but I think of making the ones for Gumper, and wishing I had known then how to make proper ones (but some people, esp. from Poland and maybe northern Bohemia like those pureed kind more than the grated kind, so maybe he would have still preferred the boxed ones).

I remember him talking to me about how bored he was.  When he died, I felt he had been ready because of that conversation.

I remember asking Dad if he wanted me to leave school and come stay with him when Mum and Deed were in the Caribbean.  He told me there was no point; he was at work all day.

I remember Gumper’s funeral, the Czech anthem, Dad asking us to wave and shout goodbye to Gumper as we walked home.  I remember Dad telling us that he had learned something, that there was some secret, but he wasn’t going to tell us yet.  Of course, we never learned what it was.  I remember raspberry squares.  I remember dying easter eggs with Alison and Emily.

Alison’s new book

Spotted today in Publisher’s Marketplace:

Alison Pick’s THURSDAY’S CHILD, a story about love, hope and betrayal within an affluent Jewish family in Prague during the lead-up to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, to Lynn Henry of House of Anansi, in a pre-empt, by Anne McDermid Associates.

That’s my cousin! Check out her website in my links. I’ve read this novel and it is wonderful. There are many novels about the war and the Holocaust, but this one is very different, about a place and a moment that is seldom described. To me, she gets the feel of Czechoslovakia as it fell to Hitler absolutely perfectly and the story is gripping and beautifully written. Her publisher is going to be very happy they picked up this book.

Maybe I’ll do a blog interview of Alison when her book is released. Hmm. *plots*

Sephardic Jews leave Genetic Legacy in Spain

A recent article describes genetic studies of Spanish men that show a high percentage of them bear traces of Sephardic Jewish and North African ancestry:

Sephardic Jews leave genetic legacy in Spain

From the 15th century on, Spain’s Jews were mostly expelled or forced to convert, but today some 20 percent of Spanish men tested have Sephardic Jewish ancestry, and 11 percent can be traced to North Africa, a study has found.

“These values are surprisingly high,” the researchers wrote in their report, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

They checked the Y chromosome, a stretch of DNA carried only by men and passed down with little change from father to son. Mutations in this gene can be used to trace ancestry, and some have been clearly linked to Sephardic Jewish and northern African populations.

“The genetic composition of the current population is the legacy of our diverse cultural and religious past,” one of the report’s authors, Francesc Calafell, from the evolutionary biology faculty at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, said on Friday.

I thought it was fascinating, and useful data for medieval historians who are trying to weigh the evidence of numbers of Jews who were converted to Christianity and remained in Spain, and those who left. The high numbers of those with Jewish ancestry are especially significant given the usually low estimates of the population of Jews in medieval Spain. Another report suggested that the number of those with Jewish descent were relatively fewer in Catalunya, indicating perhaps the “success” of the pogroms against them in the fourteenth century.

I am of Sephardic descent through my great grandmother. Her last name was Bondy which means “Bon dia” in Catalan (“Good day” or “Yom tov” in Hebrew). My understanding is that all the Bondys in Bohemia were descended from one Sephardic Jew who moved to Prague in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. By chance, I am going to be spending a month at the university where they did this study in January — maybe I’ll have a chance to talk to the researchers!