Apr 26 2016

Passover 2016

This year was a very busy one for me Passover-wise. I organized or celebrated or participated in almost 4 Seders this past weekend. The planning process started many weeks ago for two of them. While not an actual Seder, the weekend started off on Friday evening with dinner at the home of the chair of the Progressive Judaism i Stockholm association. Together with other board members, I had a chance to sit down to a wonderful dinner and a lively conversation with Rabbi Eli Reich who would lead the PJS Seder that I would attend on Saturday evening. Later that night, at 12.30 am, I sat down with my cousins in New Jersey at their Seder via SKYPE. And finally on Sunday was my own J.A.P.S.* Seder which I have been leading since the late 1990s. 

I had the following words to say before we started this year’s Seder.

Passover seder 2016

Passover seder 2016

 

Hi everyone. I want to start off by saying that I am very glad to see all of us gathered here together again to celebrate Passover.

Two days ago, on Friday night, I was able to take part in the Seder that my cousins held in New Jersey. At midnight, my laptop sat on my kitchen counter while I prepared the matzah balls which we will all share later this evening. A similar laptop sat at the dining table in my cousin’s house in the US. Through the miracle of modern tech, I was able to say hello to my uncle & aunt and all their children and grandchildren. And they were able to see me sitting here in Stockholm as I listened to them saying the prayers and eating their matzah.  

I think our group of Jewish Americans here in Stockholm have been gathering, most of us at least, to celebrate this holiday since about 1998. Back then our children were all little kids and now as I look around, a good many of those kids are looking pretty grown up these days. When I used to make my list of who were coming to a J.A.P.S. gathering I usually grouped people by family and the emails went out to the grownups. But now our younger family members are starting to have their own position on my list. Many of you have had your own emails for quite awhile already. You, Carly coming with Peter, you have your own space on that list, as do Nadine with Mattias. As one gets to the point of volunteering your own contribution of what to bring to our holiday gatherings, you get your own place on the list. And that is as it should be.

For all the years I attended Passover Seders when I still lived in New York, I don’t think I ever brought anything more involved than a bouquet of flowers to either my mother or my aunt’s house. My Mother and my Aunt took care of all the food. My Grandmother while she was alive contributed the chopped liver.

The holiday of Passover is a time for looking backward, as we remind ourselves of the days when we were slaves in Egypt; a time for looking at the present and being grateful that we can live our lives as free human beings; and a time for looking forward when we end the service with the thought of next year in Jerusalem.

Probably the idea of looking back is why, as Passover draws closer, I often find myself thinking of past Seders which I have been part of with my family and my cousins.  Most of my family members were loud, noisy and opinionated and seriously lacking in any diplomatic skills. Traits which I have also inherited, for both good and bad. No one was able to finish a sentence before someone else butted in and every statement was met with a rebuttal. My father and my aunt, who both married into the family learned to keep pretty quiet. Each family gathering contained at least one argument about something and rarely did we get through a whole meal without someone leaving the table crying. We just accepted that as normal and saw no problem with it. I don’t know what the outsiders I occasionally brought with me must have thought of us. But regardless of all that, I still find myself remembering those Seders fondly because of the memory of family that they bring back. And that was something I missed, here in Sweden, family.

This group of people, all of you sitting here tonight are here because I gathered all of you together! I didn’t do it for any of you or to satisfy your needs. I did it totally selfishly – I did it for myself. Because I wanted a family that I could feel comfortable sharing Passover with. I had no way of knowing if the people I met almost 20 years ago would still be here with me, sitting in front of me, today. But here you are.

Starting in June I will officially be retired, a pensionär as we say here in Swedish. I have no idea how this happened. How did I get so old? I admit that it was not something I was looking forward to. But here I am. Standing on the brink of a new chapter of life.

The words at the end of the Seder about “next year in Jerusalem” are often believed by the orthodox to express the hope that in the future the Jews will return to Israel and rebuild the temple. I don’t take it so literally. I believe that it is a metaphor used to express the belief and the hope that we Jews will have a next year. And another. And another. That we will have a future.

And I for one can say, that as I enter this new chapter of my life, this uncharted future, I am so glad that I can start this journey with this family that sits before me.

So now let us start our Seder, and retell the story of our past, be grateful for our present and look forward to our future.

 

*J.A.P.S. – Jewish American Parents in Stockholm


Jul 8 2012

The fuschia coat

Hi Mom, Did you see me? I was wearing that bright fuschia jacket. You remember –  the lightweight down one which you used to wear as a winter coat. I never had a chance to ask you if I could take it back with me to Sweden. You had already left by then, but I figured that you wouldn’t mind my taking it. Its more like a jacket on me and it’s been perfect for the chilly Spring and early Summer days we’ve been having here in Stockholm. I never had a chance to say it, but thanks Mom.

I think about you a lot since those days back in December. Every time I’ve worn that jacket I’ve said a silent Hi Mom. But, mostly,  in the evenings, when dinner is done and I haven’t quite decided what to do next, I think of you. I remember how every evening, for the past 4 or 5 years, I would think “Okay, I have to call my mother now”. I admit that it wasn’t always a pleasant thought – it was more like a chore – something I felt I had to do. I always called you, because it was more difficult for you to be able to call me here in Sweden. Since you got sick and had to leave your beloved house in Homestead and moved into Monroe Village, the kind of conversations we would have weren’t really about much of anything anymore – just superficial chatter, both of us trying to be cheerful.  Before I would start up Skype I sat for a bit to try to think of cheerful things I could tell you about my life here in Stockholm.

Back when I was still young and living in New York, I called you quite frequently – just to chat or to ask you your opinion, or how to do something or just quite simply as a sounding board for some of my own thoughts. But I wasn’t able to have those kinds of discussions with you much anymore. Mainly I called just to make sure you were still answering the telephone.  I also was trying to edit what I talked to you about. I tried to only tell you good things – to cheer you up – so you wouldn’t worry about me. Successes Bevin was having in school, what I was working on at work, the funny things our cat had done and what I was making for dinner. If potatoes were involved in the dinner, I always made sure to tell you. You liked hearing about us eating potatoes. I know you tried not to ask but you always wanted to know if I would be coming to visit and when. I know it saddened you when I had to say that I wouldn’t be able to come visit until later. Sometimes I would hear the regret in your voice that you were no longer able to come to see us anymore but I would say, that’s OK we would come to visit you. Later.

If I wanted to discuss something from the past it seemed like you couldn’t remember what I was referring to or maybe it was just that you  didn’t want to remember that long ago. Your days had become a routine of indignities and infirmities and I think you were trying to protect me from hearing about them – to keep me from worrying. And you were always trying to be positive and cheerful too. You would never tell me if you had fallen or hurt yourself. I often found that out much later. I was so glad when you met Marty. The world changed then for you. You had something to look forward to each day and to brighten your life. And when it got really tough the last year, he was always there to be with you. I am so grateful for that. You weren’t so alone.

Its summer now, I’m on vacation and we are at our summer place. A few days ago I was wearing a short-sleeved, navy blue cotton cardigan over my tank top. That was also yours – found in your closet, never worn. I wear it now – its perfect for Swedish summer and I’ll wear the fuschia coat in the winter. That way a part of you is with me all year round.


Apr 25 2010

Making cheesecake

This weekend I baked a cheesecake to take to a dinner party. It wasn’t really a big deal. I’ve been baking cheesecakes for almost 40 years. I bake them because I like to eat them and I learned to eat them when I was still in college, at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. This is a pic of Junior's from the 1980s - after I had already left Brooklyn but it looks like I remember it.Downtown Brooklyn had a restaurant named Junior’s and we Pratties ate there on special occasions, usually when we had a little bit extra money. The restaurant wasn’t expensive but we were pretty poor. Junior’s cheesecake was known as the best cheesecake in New York City. One week, when I still lived in Brooklyn, I went there 3 times (I was already working by then so I had some extra money). I ate 2 slices of cheesecake there and the third time I bought a whole small cheesecake to take home to eat. Now in those days a single slice of Junior’s cheesecake was about 3 or 4 inches high and a pretty big wedge. The small cake was about 8 inches in diameter though not so high. Also, in those days, it didn’t matter how much cheesecake I ate, I never gained weight. Those days unfortunately are gone. But, after that week, I didn’t eat cheesecake for almost 2 years. I think I OD’d.

I baked my first cheesecake when I think I was still at Pratt. My friend Irene told me that they were really hard to bake and I guess I took that as a challenge. It wasn’t so hard. There have been lots of different recipes through the years. That first one had pineapple on the bottom, just above the crust. I thought I had lost that recipe long ago but a few years ago I was rummaging in some of my still unpacked boxes of books from New York and found my Joy of Cooking, from the early 70s. There in the cookbook, was an index card with my pineapple cheesecake recipe on it. I still haven’t bothered to bake it again though.

A few years ago I was looking for a Cheesecake recipe to bake for a party. I needed one that had no flour in it because my friend, Amy, was allergic to wheat flour. Most of the cheesecake recipes I had contained flour. So I googled and got a ton of recipes to choose from. But, the question was, how did you pick one that was good. Then I saw one that was named Junior’s Cheesecake and was supposed to be the original recipe from way back when. So that’s how I chose. It used cornstarch instead of flour. And it was very easy.

Now I just want to say that I’m a purist. I like my Cheesecake plain – not with all that fancy stuff on it. No strawberries, or pineapples or anything else on top. I once made a chocolate marbled cheesecake that was great though. And I won’t turn down a taste of cheesecake just because it has something on top of it. But I prefer it plain. I used to always use just a simple Graham Cracker bottom but now I live in Sweden so I can’t find Graham Crackers. I use various other types of cookies for the bottom instead. For my wheat-allergic friend’s cake I used special wheat-free cookies. Often, I use Swedish pepperkakor (gingerbread cookies) and feel that I’m combining two cultures together, the New York Jewish with the Stockholm Swedish. cheesecake

Anyway, the reason I’m even writing about cheesecake is because I wrote on my Facebook page that I was baking a Junior’s cheesecake – mainly to bring back memories to all my fellow Pratties on Facebook. But a whole bunch of people wrote to me wanting my recipe. And everyone at the dinner party wanted it too. So I decided to write about cheesecake. I started out by regoogling for the recipe. And now, I’m not sure this really was exactly the way Junior’s makes their cheesecake because I’ve found other recipes called Junior’s cheesecake that have a different bottom made from spongcake. But I’ve never made a sponge cake bottom so this is my version. The filling tastes exactly like my mouth remembers it in any case. If any of you former Pratties remember what the bottom was like, let me know. I still like mine though.

Junior’s Cheesecake
This recipe was supposedly developed by baker Eigel Peterson in 1950. And it comes from The Brooklyn Cookbook by Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy, Jr.
This cheesecake has a buttered crumb bottom that climbs up the sides a bit and nothing on the top. It is a very dense and heavy cheesecake – not the light fluffy kind. I didn’t follow the original directions exactly. I’m not good at that, really. Following directions, I mean. So this is my version.

Cheesecakes should be made in springform pans. That’s the kind that you can take the sides off of. The pan I used is 8 ½ inches or 22 cm in diameter.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. (230° C)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted – I use whatever I have, salted or unsalted, or even Bregott (a Swedish butter-canola oil combination) and I don’t really measure. It just has to be enough to blend with the crumbs.

Graham crackers all crumbled up. The crumbs don’t have to be completely uniform in size. Here in Sweden I can’t find graham crackers so I use other kinds of cookies, such as Swedish pepperkakor or even wheat-free cookies for my wheat-allergic friends. You can even use chocolate cookies and add chocolate chips to the batter if you want. But then, it’s not very plain anymore, is it.

7/8 cup Sugar (2dl) This is good if you don’t want it too sweet. A full cup is OK too.
3 tablespoons Cornstarch sifted so it’s not clumpy.
30 oz. Cream cheese (850 g), Take this out of the fridge in advance so it’s not too cold anymore. I try to only use Philadelphia brand cream cheese. And I never use the light version. Tried that once. Yech.
1 Extra-large egg They don’t have extra large here in Sweden, so large has to do.
1/2 cup Heavy Cream (a little over 1dl)
1 teaspoon vanilla I use the liquid kind but I guess the Swedish Vaniljsocker is OK too.

What to do:

Crush the crackers/cookies to very small crumbs. Mix the crumbs with the melted butter. I sprinkle on a tiny bit of cold water to make the crumbs stick together better but don’t overdo this. You don’t want gooey crumbs just crumbs that stick together.

Coat the pan bottom with the crumbs, pressing them onto the bottom and up the sides a bit. Don’t make it too thick but you shouldn’t be able to see the bottom of the pan. I don’t bother to bake it before adding the filling but I did put it in the fridge till I was ready for it but I don’t think you have to.

Mix the sugar with the cornstarch.

Put a package cream cheese in a bowl and start to mix it with a mixer.
Add some of the sugar/cornstarch mixture to the cream cheese.
Add more cream cheese. Add more sugar/starch mix.
Do this till all the cheese and sugar is being mixed together.
Blend in the egg and mix till its evenly blended but not on high speed.
Add the heavy cream, a little at a time, and mix. Add the vanilla.
Spoon batter into the crumb-filled pan.

Bake for approximately 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is a light golden brown. The cake can jiggle a little bit and still be done.

Put the cheesecake in its pan on a rack and let it cool till you can put it in the fridge.

That should do it.

Because not everyone likes plain cheesecake I usually bring with me some frozen berries, like raspberries or blackberries that can defrost during dinner and be eaten later with a slice of cheesecake. I, of course, eat it plain, with a cup of tea on the side.

Enjoy!


Dec 29 2009

Julbord (or smorgasbord to you on the other side of the duckpond)

Before the new year arrives and the Christmas holiday becomes a memory, I thought I would talk a little bit about the Swedish custom of the Julbord. To my friends here in Sweden, Ok, you dont have to read this. You already know what Im talking about. But to those of you still back in my mother country, you might find this interesting.

The Swedish word smörgåsbord is a combination of the word smörgås which means sandwich (or literally “buttered”) and bord, which means table; so a smörgåsbord is literally a sandwich table, which is a bit of an understatement since there is a lot more than sandwiches on it. The classic Swedish Julbord is a large smörgåsbord traditionally eaten with family and friends on Christmas Eve. From the beginning of December, most restaurants offer, for a fixed price, a Julbord dinner several times a day until just before Christmas. While they vary in size and price, these Julbords offer an astonishing selection of Swedish dishes. And if you go to eat Julbord with Swedish friends and family, it’s a good idea to know how to do it.
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Dec 9 2009

Chanukah in Swedish

In just a few days, Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, will start. I wrote this piece sometime in 2004 but since its that time again I thought I would put it up now. A few things have changed since I wrote it. My son is no longer in 1st grade but in his last year of school before going on to college next fall. We eventually did do a presentation of Passover when he was in 4th or 5th grade, which was a big success. The Swedish Church has now been separated from the state and is trying to figure out how to survive in this very secular country. In the spring, Bevin will have a course called “Religion”. We’ll see just how multi-cultural the class will be. Maybe Bevin will have to give a talk about his religion once again.

Moving from the United States to a land like Sweden is often fraught with surprises. Of course one expects to find differences – the language for instance, or foods like Falukorv and Tunbrödsrullar, and Lutfisk. Clothing and shoe sizes are different and so are the measuring cups. Remember the metric system that the states spent 30 years trying to introduce and failed? Well it’s here, in use every day. And don’t forget the price of gasoline – 4 dollars a gallon! And how about liqueur stores open on Saturday night so you can buy a last minute bottle of wine for the dinner party you just got invited too? Well, forget it! But overall, there are a lot of similarities too. Cars drive on the right side of the road. Traffic lights are red, yellow, and green. The Big Macs taste the same. So do the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. TV shows from the States are all in English as long as they are for people over the age of 7 or 8. You can watch British Masterpiece Theater programs (often before they arrive in the States) though they are not called Masterpiece Theater here. The clothes people wear are often produced in the Far East and lots of the toys are made in China. Barbie is easily available and so are potato chips and microwave popcorn. Its when you find differences in areas you didn’t expect that you get surprised.

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