My 25-year-old daughter doesn’t have her driver license. If you’re from New York City and you just read that sentence, you probably aren’t too shocked. Many New Yorkers never learn to drive. There’s no need to. Subways and buses, which go to most parts of the five boroughs, run 24/7. (Or not, depending on the on-going service disruptions due subway construction. This recent article from the New York Times captures our sense of entitlement, frustration and dependence.) In fact, I had a much easier time of the teen years than did my friends in the suburbs, ex-urbs or car-dependent urban areas: I did not have to worry about my kids driving drunk. Sure I had to worry about all the other things parents of teens do — teens do stupid things and can end up in trouble, or, worse, hurt. And it wasn’t until my son was in college that he mentioned that one night their senior year of high school, his friend Ben had taken his grandparents’ car (with permission) and driven them all to Great Adventure down in Jersey. But back to my daughter. While many New York City non-driving kids do learn in college because getting off campus becomes imperative, my daughter went to school outside of Boston, and was within walking distance of the “T.” (My daughter had one friend in college at Emory who owned a car before she managed to get her license, and got in trouble at a routine traffic check because she was driving without a license. As I said, young people can have lousy judgment.) So here she is, at age 25, without a driver license and maybe about to move out of New York City. (Yes, I wrote those words, and I’m sick over it, but that’s another blog.) Her permit had actually run out. But she took care of that. And now we (and her boyfriend) have been giving her driving lessons. I must say that this time around–she actually did try half-heartedly several years ago–she is fantastic. She steers well, keeps to the speed limit, and shows great confidence and determination. She came upstate for a few days and drove the long way to the supermarket (six miles) and the very long way back. We had even thought of making a trip to the outlet mall in Lee, MA on Friday. I90 may be one of the easiest interstates around. But we woke Friday morning to snow, and that killed our outing. No more driving lessons from us for a while. No outlet bargains for us.
1/2/12 On New Year’s Eve we went to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington to hear the Berkshire Bach Ensemble perform all six of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti. The founder, harpsichordist and conductor, Kenneth Cooper, was his usual ebullient self, giving a really virtuoso performance of the solo in the 5th concerto. And Eugene Drucker is such a fine violinist. The whole troupe, though, was great — and in a festive mood, as was the audience. Although Howard at one point joked that the average age of the audience was 72, and would have been 74 were it not for the two 20-somethings sitting nearby, the spirit was wonderful. Not everyone attending was a connoisseur of baroque music, but it didn’t matter. When people applauded in the middle of a movement, or between movements, or after a particularly roaring solo, it all felt so right. And being in the Mahaiwe is such a privilege. Built in 1905, it was the home to vaudeville performers, and is one of the oldest theaters in the country. John Phillips Sousa played there once. In 1930 it became a movie theater, and that’s how I knew it when my kids were little. It was dilapidated and freezing in the winter. I saw Saving Private Ryan there, as well as Duck Tales: The Movie (which I deserved a medal for sitting through). At some point the theater suffered a terrible fire, and we figured that was that. But starting in 2005 funds were raised for an amazing and meticulous renovation. My photos do not do it justice. The Mahaiwe is the theater we all dream about: sumptuous details, boxes overhanging the stage. Now on the National Register of Historic Places and featuring incredible acoustics — well, let me say that the next time you’re in Western Massachusetts, it’s worth a visit.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street. Great Barrington. MA 01230
Box Office: 413-528-0100
Mahaiwe Box Office Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday: 12noon – 6pm
plus 3 hrs prior to all showtimes
Have you been there? Let me know. Any other historic theaters you love? Tell me about them in the comment box below. As always, I’m at on Twitter @wordwhacker.
1/2/12 So over New Year’s, it was so warm I was outside in just a sweater. This afternoon I ran in snow flurries, and the temperature tomorrow night is supposed to be 10 degrees. The climate this fall/winter has been so up and down. The late October blizzard dumped 18- inches on my deck at my house in upstate New York. (In New York City, there were a couple of inches of slush.) Then there were one or two little snowstorms, but there’s really been nothing like real winter this whole, well, winter. Long term predictions don’t put any snow in the picture. For NYC, I don’t mind. Snow is such a hassle there. It gets dirty quickly, full of dirt from the air and street and yellow and brown reminders that people who walk their dogs don’t always clean up the way they should. But for upstate, the lack of snow has taken its toll on the ski areas. When it’s cold they can at least make snow, but not when it rains. And there has been plenty of rain, so much so that the little brooks near my house have been flowing, hard and quickly and with a lot of noise. I took the photo above a few days ago when the temperature dipped below freezing for a few days: a little ice around the culvert, but otherwise rushing water. Then it got warm again–and some of my spring bulbs have pushed their shoots above the ground. Sometimes that happens in late February, but this January 2. The way plants and nature work in this zone is that they go dormant when the weather gets cold, building up their energy for the next year. A blanket of snow keeps them just warm enough. At least our bluebirds, who winter over, seem happy. They’ve been eating through a feeder full of meal worms every day. Still, even though last year in February I looked out my window at the vast expanses of white and felt quite claustrophobic, this year I miss the snow. I truly do. Would love your comments. And, I’m on Twitter @Wordwhacker.
Jewish Christmas. It’s a hashtag on Twitter. @JewishTweets and @JewishConnectiv both asked people about their movie/Chinese food plans. We, of course, had those plans, as we have for years. I can’t even remember when we first did this; certainly I didn’t get it from my parents. In the 1950s-60s Chinese food was still exotic enough that I don’t think I even had some until I was a teen. My mom did buy canned Chung King stuff, though. We also almost never went to the movies when I was little, only drive-ins in the summer.
For many years, when the kids were little, we spent every Christmas vacation in Florida visiting grandparents. There were the weeks when our days completely revolved around the pool and we had such a good time with other young parents and kids similarly visiting their families. Then there were weeks when we bundled up in our winter coats and went to Sea World. Several times the fake waterfall outside my in-laws condo development froze. Even south Florida can get cold in December. But without really knowing that we were on the cutting edge of something that would become A HASHTAG!, we would take the kids to the movies Christmas day because there was nothing else to do, and then we’d eat Chinese food for dinner because no other restaurants were open. The kids loved driving by all the houses with Christmas lights. That was one thing about south Florida: Christmas was obvious in a way it wasn’t necessarily in New York City.
These days my now-adult kids say they never felt deprived around Christmas time. They say the accepted completely that Christmas was a holiday we didn’t celebrate. The year my son was six, his friend Willy confided that he was getting suspicious about Santa Claus because Santa had used the same wrapping paper as his parents. “I think that’s proof,” I overheard my son tell his best friend.
Me, on the other hand, I had horrible Christmas envy. Growing up, the only other Jewish family besides my uncle’s (who lived next to us) in the neighborhood was the rabbi of our synagogue. The Jews in Worcester lived in and around the streets that had once been part of “The Ellis Estate.” We lived on a 1/3 acre that had been part of the “Salisbury Estate.” My parents tended to do things differently. When they finally retired, they went to Sanibel Island and then wondered where all the Jews were.
So there I was on Waconah Road, looking out on Christmas decorations on every house. Friends’ parents invited me to tree-trimming parties, which my parents let me do (though my mom would not let me go to the WASPy “Cotillion” classes when they began). I even went to midnight mass with friends. One of my nicest memories is waking up on a Christmas morning when it had snowed a foot during the night, and all the neighbors, including my father, uncle and brother, were outside to shovel the street so people could get to church. So even though I what I really wanted was a Christmas Tree and a stocking hung up on living room fireplace, what I have carried into my adult life is a good value: help your neighbors, no matter what their religion.
New Years Eve also seemed to pass me by when I was a child. One year we went to a fancy party thrown by my best friend’s parents. Kitty wore a sleeveless green velvet dress with a drop waist that her father had purchased in Paris. I wore a wool skirt. (No wonder I’m always afraid of being dressed incorrectly.) Yeah, my college, post-college New Year’s Eves were filled with drunken revels. But once I was married — the Florida thing. Professors have Christmas vacation. We’d go out to dinner, but we were certainly in bed by midnight. So in the years when friends started their New Years Eve rituals, we were in Florida. A few years back, when there was no longer any reason to hit the tropics, we found we had nothing to do.
Several times Howard and I went outside before midnight and walked to the boat pond gazebo right off Central Park West to see the New York Road Runners Club Midnight Run and fireworks. That was great fun. But then it got crowded; it became a “thing,” like the blowing up of the balloons before the Thanksgiving Parade. Last year we went into Great Barrington to hear the Berkshire Bach Ensemble play Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. This year we’re going again–with our daughter’s boyfriend’s parents. Then it will be back to their house for dinner (the concert ends about 7:30) for Veuve Clicquot. I expect we’ll be home by midnight. But we will have had a wonderful time.
People make a big deal of the holiday season. Considering how short and dark these days are, it’s a good idea. I loved how Hanukkah came so late this year. It gave the candle lighting more joy–menorahs in the window! (The last night, with all those candles going, we set off the fire alarm. Oh well.)
The holiday customs we inherit, those we make ourselves–it’s interesting, especially considering that baby boomers are the largest population cohort ever. You can leave your comments below. I’d love to know:
- What holiday traditions have you inherited and still keep up.
- What holiday traditions you have make up.
- Whether you think holiday customs are important or have anything to do with who we are.
To everyone out there: Wishing you the best holiday season. See you on the flip side.
8 baking potatoes
2 large onions
1/2 cup flour
I use one large potato for every person, and adjust the recipe accordingly. Peel and grate the potatoes. I do this in the food processor, although I know latkes taste better when grated by hand. Mix everything together in a large bowl (not metal) so that it’s one big mess. Drain off the extra liquid. There will be more and more of that as the mixture sits. Also, grated potatoes left out in the air turn kind of orange. That doesn’t matter. I use a cast iron skillet with about 4 tbls of oil for each batch. I take out enough grated potato so it’s the size of a small hamburg and press it pretty flat. Each batch has about six pancakes. The flame is medium high because they need to cook through but be really crisp. If necessary turn over more than once. Keep adding oil. Remember: Hanukkah is all about the oil. I then drain them on paper towel that’s on a baking sheet in the warmer drawer. This way everyone can eat at the same time. Serve the latkes with applesauce and/or sour cream. As I make them only once a year, the latkes are the feature of the dinner, and the sides include whitefish salad, marinated vegetables, etc. Most people use them as a side dish with some other “traditional” main dish, like roast brisket.
Always remember you can tweet me @wordwhacker
I would like to call this recipe my “no-fail pumpkin cake” recipe. However, yesterday, Thanksgiving, I had a minor disaster. At about 11 a.m. when I poured the mixture into the fancy bundt pan from Williams Sonoma, the batter didn’t look right. An hour later when I pulled it from the oven, it still looked wrong. I’ve been making this cake for over 35 years; I should know. I let it cool, turned it over, and, boy, did it look strange. So I called the taste-tester, um, Howard, and asked him to cut into it. I mean, I was desperate. This cake was going with us to our friends’ Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t want to show up with a cake with a slice cut out; but neither did I want to offer something awful. “I left out the sugar, right?” I asked. Howard said, “yeah, probably, but it tastes OK.” So I took a bite. It was kind of like biting into canned pumpkin with flour mixed in. Luckily, I had the ingredients on hand for another try–and enough time. Second go-round, I got it right. Anyway, here’s the recipe. This must be one of the easiest cakes in the world to make. You only need one bowl and a measuring cup. The fancy bundt pan makes it look prettier on the table. I got the recipe from my college and graduate-school roommate Karen Altman, who got it from her mom. I remember Karen’s recipe card said, “Mim’s Pumpkin Cake.” I have the feeling, though, that Mrs. Altman got it off a can of Comstock pumpkin.
Mix together in a bowl:
- 3 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 15 oz can of pumpkin (Comstock if you can find it; I can’t anymore)
- 1 cup oil
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 8 0z bag of chocolate chips, or more if you’d like
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts, if you’re into that, but I never add nuts
The batter will be a nice orange color. Make sure the sugar and flour are both mixed in well. Pour into a well-greased bundt pan. (I use spray stuff.) Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean, unless you stick it into the chocolate. Let it cool for a 1/2 hour or so; turn over onto a cake plate.