Charity Begins At Home
My Mom claims to have not even known how to boil water when she first started cooking. Luckily, by the time of my arrival, she was practically a gourmet chef. We have a very large extended family, many members of which I barely know, if at all. One relative on my Father’s side had married three times, and had about ten children with each wife (or so I’ve heard; recently another cousin said it was about eight with each — I don’t know). I never could quite follow the descriptions of our connections, and gave up in my youth to figure out such complications. So now, they’re basically what I would call “cousins”; beyond that, I couldn’t deign to relate (or should I say, “relate”).
My Mother spent considerable time with a particular female relative, and they learned many crafting techniques together: beadwork, various artwork, and others. They discovered the places to shop to make a home, the clothing to wear to adorn themselves as beautifully as their countenances deserved, and the dishes to prepare to please their husbands and families. Both women were accomplished cooks, and my Mother’s style and recipes were greatly influenced by this particular cousin. They were equally impressive in their service work, in their positions of employment, and in their efforts to assist other humanitarian and charitable organizations and endeavors.
The husband of this cousin of mine was a “gabbai” for the Conservative temple and prepared children for b’nai mitzvah (their bar- and bat-mitzvah services). He also helped me prepare for my own bat-mitzvah. He was strongly in favor of female participation in Jewish rites, as well as in assisting people who wished to convert to Judaism.
I grew up in the same region in a time of strong, emerging equality issues, including for those of women. Conscientiousness was being raised about the way in which we treat people (or rather, about seeing with new eyes the way we HAD been treating people), and to try to change it through raising both our awareness and our standards, in the formulation of new laws and new ideas. These were rising in movements such as the Civil Rights movement, Feminism, Disability rights, and others. My mother and my cousins helped pave the way with their actions. While I may have reticence about the necessary impact this will play on our society and in our religion, I cannot escape that it has been made a part of me, even with my change to a modern, more Conservative outlook today.
One of the earlier jobs my Mother held was working for a non-profit agency. It helped advocate for people with developmental delays, as well as providing a place for such children to learn and grow. Many laws, due to the advocacy of organizations and grassroots advocacy such as these, were created and passed, and form the basis for our existing precedents in these areas.
That workplace, in addition to teaching skills to some of the program’s participants, was a large home and had the atmosphere as such. At Christmas, they set up a tree with decorations, and it lent a sentimental, nostalgic, and homey feel to the place. I sometimes played with the children upstairs, or learned to type using the fantastic, new-fangled IBM Selectric III typewriter (and occasionally typed letters there) — a fondly remembered and still-favorite (were they still to be around) choice of office equipment.
I loved all of the workers there. It was a small group of about five or six people. I remember how particularly brilliant and compassionate the program worker was. She was a Hindi woman, whose son, I believe, was affected with these issues. We lost her at a young age — she who had shown the way — she who had so much to give to the world — instead given over to cancer. Our own family was touched by these issues, as well.
One of the workers there had been my “fake” Aunt. She and my “fake” Uncle are no longer living. When my “Uncle” passed away, they named one of their fund-raising events in his honor. In order to help the programs and the functioning of the building and the assistance to people needing and creating resources for those with disabilities, funds were needed to sustain them. They often created multiple, large-scale efforts, which became almost a vanguard in fund-raising events standards and in raising the bar.
They devised major marathons and garnered the participation of local media and celebrities. They secured corporate sponsorship and partnership with the entities to make it all happen: water from bottlers; ice from the ice house; signage, security, everything. They put together golf classics and tennis tournaments. My “Aunt” developed rapport with generous people such as Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and others, who were the most gracious, kindest people you could imagine — always helping out for these events (sadly, I never met them, but their pictures with my “Aunt” and my Mother hung on our walls). Frank Sinatra has been so kind to the Jewish people, and we loved him so much. His name adorned the international student center at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was very sad that a Hamas terrorist from east Jerusalem committed a bombing in the cafeteria inside that center, killing students just making a start in their lives by trying to better themselves there. Update: I think here is the appropriate place to insert the sad news of the sudden passing recently of Frank Sinatra, Jr., son of the man honored above. The Jewish people lose, in the Sinatra family, people who have cared greatly, in compassion, not only for us, but for the world. The children give much when the family is a part of the American story in such a public way. Thank you for being with us every step of the way. You will be greatly missed.
Here is a link to a brief summary of Frank Sinatra’s work with the Simon Wiesenthal Center:
So my childhood was spent oftentimes in the kitchen, alongside my Mother, helping her with chores to prepare meals. I can’t say it ever really “took” in me, but only now, in the second half-century of my life, are the things I’ve been making something I could actually enjoy, and say, hmmmm… that was actually delicious (surprise, surprise)!
We were forever the home of large gatherings and dinner parties, and I’d be enlisted to offer hors d’oeuvres, clear and set new courses, and dry dishes as she washed, sometimes until 11:00 p.m., or later. She was such a dedicated homemaker, in addition to working full-time, with additional side jobs as well, and she kept an immaculate, impeccably decorated home. She slaved away to scrub the floors on her hands and knees and ironed our clothing after washing them at 2:00 in the morning, after an already full-day’s work.
A two-income household in those days was fairly rare; little did we realize it would become practically a necessity in today’s day and age. Women were mostly the home-makers, and for many, that was their sole job. But my Mom did it all.
She instilled in me the practical outlook of a hard-working work-ethic, and I worked at a young age for family friends or contacts secured for me, back when it was permissible to do so without screamers of child-slavery, a totally different matter, changed the country’s relationship with work, in general. Today’s “kids” sometimes don’t start their first jobs until they’re in their mid-twenties!
It’s important for young kids to spend time with their parents, in the mundane chores as well as in the special outings or events. This provides family continuity and cherished memories they will look back on and impart in special anecdotes to their own children. I recall the hours of cooking preparation spent with my Mother; I wish the osmosis would have imparted my Mothers’ special touch to me.
I had to pick up my clothes, keep my room and house neat, make my bed and sometimes that of my parents or to help with it, sometimes help fold the laundry or linens, set the table nightly and clear the dishes, and sometimes help wash or dry the dinner dishes.
One of my food chores was to grind walnuts into a can to use in various baked goodies, such as butter-horns, apple coffee-cake (some people say apfelkuchen), and other yummy things. These ground walnuts feature in many of the baked items my Mother made.
So my Mother learned her trade craft in various manners and means. Many of her recipes come from my cousin mentioned above. One of the many fund-raisers for the agency where she worked also included the compilation of a cookbook, which was sold to raise money for the agency. My Mother contributed many of her own recipes to it, as well as calling up all her friends for theirs. And if those friends had friends who were cooks of any decent stature, they, too, would contribute recipes. The director’s wife was a great cook, and contributed many of her own recipes, as well. So, there are a couple of cookbooks whose recipe authors are people I know, and may have touched my life in some way: family friends, acquaintances, and more.
They were transcribed many times over (and often taste-tested, first). After publication, they were often re-written out and dispersed to even more friends. I, myself, spent weeks and months, recently, transcribing maybe four-dozen recipes for an old school-friend who requested it. Sometimes I might err and can’t figure out whether the “t” of my Mother’s recipes means “teaspoon” or “tablespoon” (if you find out I was wrong and I haven’t found it, I hope, perhaps, you’ll let me know). Sometimes, treasured family recipes get lost. That is a huge devastation. Sometimes, someone might have it that you passed it along to. Sometimes you have to settle for a different, not-as-good version. Occasionally, they come from published sources. Due to many moves, and many copies along the way, I hope that the sources haven’t become too obscured or garbled. If I print a recipe in this manner, it is assuming safe authorship, with the hope it isn’t accredited beforehand elsewhere. If so, it is unintentional.
With so much build-up, you would think that I am going to prepare you for a complex entree worthy of the fanfare leading up to it. But, below you’ll find just a simple, easy, non-gourmet dessert that’s easy, and throw-together, and light. In a way, it is a tribute to my Mom (who’s still with us, thank G-d). Her favorite ice-cream flavor was pistachio. The pistachio nut is an ingredient mostly associated with Iran/Persia, as well — basically out there in the relative proximity to the Middle East. So, I think it will be brought out to you, here, in this measure, with that in mind.
Randy’s Recipes: Pistachios and Cool Whip (Mom’s):
1 package instant pistachio pudding
1 Large can crushed pineapple with juice
1 Large can chunked pineapple without juice
6 Tablespoons Cool Whip (or other whipped cream-like topping)
Put all together and add Cool Whip last.
8.1 Yums Up