Recipes for Summer Celebration

Beach Reflections

While I was growing up, I don’t remember my dad cooking out or grilling food. It wasn’t as popular when I was growing up as it is today. One reason may have been that the average husband usually didn’t cook anything. It is also true at least according to my mother that my father burnt everything he tried to cook. Having grown up in post World War I Germany when food was scarce and precious, she was rather fierce about not wasting food.

While I appreciate others’ barbecues, I am not one to cook out. My parents didn’t go camping, and I was never part of any organization that did so I didn’t grow up with it. When I had one, I used to make hamburgers on the outdoor grill but then I read that charred meat wasn’t all that healthy, so I bought an indoor grill and have been perfectly satisfied to use it.

The 4th of July and other summer celebrations are traditionally organized around salads, grilled meats or fish and fruit, baked, or frozen desserts. Central to many of these feasts are potato salad and coleslaw. While it is easy to purchase these from the deli counter, it is also quite simple to make them. I enjoy preparing my own food, and it is my pleasure to create meals for friends. Also I confess to being fond of my own cooking. Over time, I have perfected certain useful recipes.

One of these is an easy to make dressing that is a wonderful substitute for mayonnaise. Not only tasty, it is also, for those of us who are watching them, lower in calories. The recipe, adapted from my 1945 Fanny Farmer Cookbook’ Boiled Dressing, is simple. I call it Instead of Mayonnaise. Mix these dry ingredients: 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 Tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Combine and beat together these liquid ingredients: 1 egg, 2 Tablespoons (good) olive oil, 3/4 cup dairy or non dairy milk, 2 Tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice.

Combine everything in a small pot and stir together, then whisk until well blended without lumps. Cook and stir over medium heat until it thickens nicely. This should take about 5 to 8 minutes at most. Cool before using. If stored for any length of time it may separate. Simply stir well and it will be fine. It is excellent with coleslaw. My recipe to serve 4 to 6 is 6 cups shredded cabbage, 1 1/2 cups shredded carrot, 1/4 minced or shredded medium onion, and if you want a colorful salad, add 1 or two cups shredded red cabbage.

Mix all together well, add salt, pepper, and either stop there or add any of these: 2 Tablespoons poppy seeds, 1/2 to 1 cup white or dark raisins, 1/2 cup dried or fresh or canned pineapple, 2 Tablespoons caraway seeds, 1 Tablespoon or more fresh dill 1 Tablespoon ground garlic. Mix with sufficient dressing and serve. I usually add 2 Tablespoons honey mustard dressing and 1 Tablespoon horseradish sauce. This dressing also works well for potato salad, in which case combine with chopped cooked potato, freshly chopped celery and onion, and chopped parsley. Potato salad is also tasty combined warm with olive oil and vinegar and your choice of the above. Serve warm or cold. Bon Appetite!

Tasha Halpert

 

 

Spring Has Truly Sprung

Spring blossoms, white          When I was a child in grade school, each year our music teacher organized May Day celebrations. Every class participated, and a May Queen was selected from among the girls in the ninth, the topmost grade. The younger children had their own maypole. I found it hopelessly confusing. You had to go over one and under the next as you wound your ribbon around the pole, weaving it into the others until there was only a little left. After rehearsals, much to my relief I wasn’t chosen to do it.

There were dances and songs–I still have a printed paper program from then in a scrapbook made for me by a devoted relative. The songs were of British origin and invoked the days of “lasses and lads” who met and parted though the specifics were a mystery to my young mind. No one talked of the fertility symbols or the meaning behind the rituals centered around the day we were celebrating.

The first of May is the midpoint between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Nature is pushing forward. The increase of the light from now forward reflects the brightness of the days that begin their most obvious decline around the first of August. In the northern hemisphere there are many celebrations associated with this date. They reach far back in the history of humanity, symbolizing our connection with the earth and its fertility.

Most recent is of course the “May Day” workers’ celebrations of the former Soviet Union. My mother and I were in Moscow on that date twenty six years ago. I remember the colorful flags hanging everywhere, and the crowds of people in Red Square. However, from far back in human history, May Day has been one of the great spring celebrations of Europe and the British Isles. It is associated with fertility for both crops and farm animals, promoted through ancient rituals, many of which involved fire.

In these modern times we believe more in fertilizer than in fertility rituals. Few people these days will dance around a maypole–an obvious phallic symbol, or go off into the woods with a partner to insure that the fertility of land and pasture will continue. There is no need. Supermarkets are stocked all year round with almost every seasonal vegetable and fruit–no need to wait until June for strawberries or fall for apples. Those who have never experienced this timing cannot miss it, but in some ways I do.

Yesterday Stephen and I drove along a wooded country road in the sunshine. The light illuminated the unfolding blossoms of the trees clustered around it. The cloudless blue sky above and the sunlight filtering through the branches above us lifted our hearts and filled us with joy. Summer with its own delights is in the wings; spring is on the stage revealing its special beauty now. It seems important to take time to notice this delicate time of unfolding.

An Easter Basket of Memories

Rabbit in Cabbage 2On Easter my family usually went to dinner with Great Aunt Alice. Until my sister was born when I was 8, I was always the only child present. Aunt Alice had several toys she would bring out to amuse me. One was a little truck loaded with colorful blocks. They had letters, numbers and pictures on them. Even now I can see that red and yellow toy with a string to pull it by. The bed of the truck was loaded with the blocks, and I was always careful to put them back when it was time to go upstairs to dinner.

The other toy was a very special, ancient rabbit that lived inside a head of cloth lettuce. When it was wound–only adults were allowed to do that, and the golden knob on the side was pulled out, the rabbit head would emerge, extend itself and turn. Its ears would rise into the air. Then it would chew on the small piece of cloth lettuce in its mouth. When it finished, it would retract into the cloth lettuce with a little snap as the ears went back against its head.

I thought of that rabbit when I was contemplating what I would write for this column. I wish I had it now. I remember my children being shown it when they were little. Though I don’t know if they remember it the way I do. I loved patting it. It was covered in soft, white actual fur. It did not play music or do anything more than just that. I believe it had been in the family at least since my Great Aunt was a child. when I was contemplating my column and it leapt vividly into my mind as though I had seen it yesterday.

Once we arrived and took off our coats, the adults stood around and drank cocktails, while I had ginger ale. Aunt Alice, who favored simple appetizers, always served a plate of peanut butter on crackers and there were also nuts in a bowl. Too young to read, I sat on the big rug and played with the blocks. Dinner was served upstairs in a large dining room. The oval mahogany table gleamed with silver and cut glass. The platters and bowls of food were brought in by women in black uniforms with white aprons. There was usually soup, then a roast and vegetables, and finally, dessert, followed by fingerbowls to dip fingers into and cloth napkins to dry them with. My treat would be the chocolates for after dinner, something we never had at home. My mother did not think it was healthy to eat candy and never bought it.

Time is a strange accordion. It can compress decades into years, and years into moments. I can see so clearly the large thick rug I sat on to play with the alphabet blocks and watch again the white bunny with the pink glass eyes rising up out of the faded green cloth leaves. It looks so real as it turns its head, the ears rise into the air and it chews on its bit of green cloth. I can feel again the soft fur as I pat the head and the ears, stiff with wire beneath the fur. What was only yesterday has added itself to now creating an Easter basket of memories for me to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Christmas Merry

By Tasha Halpert

Twinkles 3 (best)When I was growing up no one around me thought much about Christmas until after Thanksgiving, and even then mid December was when we would begin shopping. Once I knew the reality of Santa, I was eager to participate. I was taken to the Five and Dime in Beverly. There I would purchase stocking presents for my parents with my saved up allowance. My gifts were always practical: Pond’s Cold Cream for my mother, pencils for my dad. I usually made their presents for under the tree–Santa only brought the stocking gifts.

We didn’t put up the Christmas tree until the day of Christmas Eve. It stayed up until January 6. Elaborate house decorations were not part of our tradition, however we had lovely ornaments saved from year to year along with the real metallic tinsel that made the branches bow nicely. I do not remember much stress associated with the holiday, We had a few friends over on Christmas eve with simple snacks and went to a relative’s for Christmas dinner.

How nice it would be if today’s Holidays were as simple and lacking in stress as they used to be. I’ve had some thoughts on how to help that happen. For instance, it’s hard when the holidays bring back thoughts of those who are no longer with me. I remind myself to be grateful for the time we had together. Then I tell myself, be thankful for those who are with me still.

Music lifts my spirits. Playing Christmas carols, not to mention the lovely classical music written for this time, brings me back to myself and helps me remember what the holidays are really about. I especially like to play Christmas music while wrapping presents or preparing food. I prepare food ahead during the holidays, and I often combine kitchen tasks. Since I’m already in the kitchen, I chop vegetables for soup while I bake Christmas cookies.

Family traditions can be onerous. It is best not to “should” on yourself during the holidays. Instead, make new traditions of your own, more appropriate to your current life and lifestyle. One of mine is to bake cookies for those who have been helpful to me during the past year: My garage mechanic, the kind folk at the library, the postman, my hair stylist.

Here is one of my easy cookie recipes you might enjoy making and sharing. Jiffy Jam Delights: Bake at 375 for 10 minutes on a well greased cookie sheet. Makes 30 to 36 delicious cookies in a half hour from start to finish. Ingredients: 1/2 cup Butter, (no substitutes please),1/3 cup Sugar, 1 Egg, 1 Tsp. Vanilla, 1/4 tsp Salt, 1 2/3 cups all purpose Flour, 2/3 cup Jam (raspberry preferred by us. Method: Beat butter, sugar well. Add egg, vanilla salt. Blend in flour. Drop from a teaspoon onto greased sheets. Make a dent in the tops of the cookies and fill with a half teaspoon or so of jam. Bake only until firm and dry to the touch. Cool before eating. Jam is very hot.

 

Peace At Christmas, by Tasha Halpert

Johnnys tree2Even as a small child I was aware of the chaos of war. During the second World War my mother’s parents were still in Germany. My mother had not heard from them for almost ten years. Finally when the American forces broke through, her parents were able to communicate. I watched her wrap packages with food, clothing, and other necessities. Although there was still chaos and difficulty in Germany, at least my mother’s heart was at peace.

My cousin who lived in Cuba in the forties endured strife growing up. She wrote me of how shots might ring out and everyone took cover. I grew up without any direct experience of this kind, and I was fortunate. Now it seems that no one in the USA is safe from warlike behavior. What can we do to combat the fear that has begun to pervade our once peaceful atmosphere? I believe that on one hand we can raise up our courage and refuse to be intimidated, and on the other that we can work for peace within our own lives, most especially now.

The words “Peace on Earth” resonate throughout our Christmas carols and scriptural messages, and even our Christmas cards. Yet to think about peace amidst the hectic shopping, baking, wrapping, mailing hustle bustle of the holidays seems difficult. However I can promote peace in small ways.

I can invite a friend to Christmas dinner, bake cookies for the kind man who takes care of my car, listen sympathetically to someone who needs an ear. I can hold the door for someone or the elevator, volunteer to be of help where help is needed. Equally important, I can nurture peace in myself through meditation, eat well for a peaceful stomach, and of course, get enough sleep.

Taking time for myself is vital to my sense of peace. Remembering to breathe deeply, especially during a nature walk helps me feel peaceful. So does hugging a tree. When I am on my feet a lot I take fifteen minutes to lie on my bed with my legs straight up against the wall. This feels wonderful and it pacifies my body. When I feel more peaceful within myself, I influence the atmosphere around me to harmonize with my peacefulness.

I can talk all I want about the need for peace and the lack of it in the world, and that will change nothing. Alternatively I can set about making peace myself, promoting peace in my own way. I can be of service in the cause of peace. While I cannot influence nations or even large groups of people, I can be of help in small ways and thus help make peace.

There is a story about monkeys on an island learning to wash their food. When enough monkeys did that, those on neighboring islands began doing the same. There was no communication between them yet they were influenced. When we are peaceful within ourselves we help others to become more peaceful. When I work for peace in my own life, I am also working to bring peace in the world around me, and perhaps, who knows it may even spread out from there.

Celebrating Birthdays by Tasha Halpert

Celebrating Birthdays

When I was little I looked forward to my birthday. Rarely there was a party with friends, more often it was celebrated quietly within the family. This was probably just as well. I clearly remember the embarrassment I suffered at my twelfth birthday party. There were two small nude statues displayed on our living room bookcase. They were by my mother who was an artist and sculptor. These created a small sensation among my invited classmates who pointed and giggled, looking at me strangely. To me they were simply statues.

My dear parents were more sophisticated than my friends’ parents. My mother played in a civic symphony; my father was in a local theater group. They didn’t talk about sports, discuss politics, or participate in the kinds of activities my classmates’ parents did. My days were spent either by myself or with adults. I welcomed the idea of growing up. Every birthday was a step in that direction.

My husband Stephen celebrates his birthday the day before the 4th of July, and we celebrate our anniversary the day afterward. This makes for a grand celebration for us, taking place over all three days. We will have enjoyed doing this now for thirty five years of marriage. Born so close to the birthday of the USA, and being an independent person himself, Stephen feels connected to the celebration of independence that it signifies.

For myself I enjoy celebrations of all kinds. Birthdays are a wonderful opportunity for this. Over the years making up for all the parties I never had, we have enjoyed commemorating both his and my birthdays with friends. I also enjoy sending cards and even making telephone calls to sing happy birthday to special people on their day. The internet provides wonderful animated cards that cost little or nothing. Sadly some people either can’t or do not wish to open them. It always makes me happy when they do.

The birthday of our country is an important one to celebrate. Despite our faults we have been generous and supportive to many. While our growing pains have sometimes been severe, we have in the long run achieved much as we have grown. By European standards we are a very young country. There are churches all over Europe that are over a thousand years old. Nothing in this country even comes close to that. Being a young country, like any other gawky adolescent we could perhaps be excused for some of our clumsiest actions.

Whether one is a person or a country, it is impossible to grow without making mistakes. The important things is to learn from one’s mistakes, and also to be forgiving of whatever stumbles have been made in the process. The acknowledgement of oneself as a person who lives and thrives makes a statement concerning oneself. To have a birthday is to have survived another year of ups and downs, of trials and triumphs, and of defeats and victories. This alone is a cause for celebration.

Sydney's Party Blowing out the candles

The Gift and the Wrapping

by Tasha HalpertKathy's Christmas tree

Being somewhat uncoordinated when it come to things like wrapping packages, I have always struggled with trying to make my presents look reasonably attractive. Some people are really creative with how they wrap their presents. I envy them. I wish I had that kind of creativity. My mind tends to run along more utilitarian tracks and I don’t always think to add the trimmings.

I have a friend who does lovely wrapping. She told me about the finishing touches she had put on the colorful hand made gifts she had crocheted. She went on to tell me that someone said to her that the decorative packaging she had purchased to do this was extravagant, asking why she had spent so much money on something that would soon be discarded.

I understood completely why she had wanted to do this. Her gift was special and she wanted it to look that way. Her expenditure made perfect sense to me. While I tend to be less decorative in my thinking I can admire someone who knows how to do up a package and make it look special. My artistic friend has very clever fingers and knows exactly how to fix up a package to make it look extra special. I wish I had her skills.

The care with which a gift is presented says something important about the giver as well as the gift. Stephen and I accumulate presents for family and friends all during the year; my wrapping though not fancy is part of the caring. I used to have a dreadful time wrapping presents until a friend who had done professional wrapping for a department store showed me some useful tricks. Now I can make my packages look much more attractive.

There was a time when wrapping paper for Christmas gifts was not as inexpensive or as available as it is now. When I was a child we used to save all our Christmas gift paper from year to year and reuse it as often as we could. The use of scotch tape was discouraged and gift paper was sturdier as well. I remember one special piece of wrapping paper that appeared every year on a different present. It had an elaborate design and was very lovely as well as quite durable. In her elder years as the Christmas presents were opened my late mother would spend her time folding the wrapping papers. I expect this brought back vanished memories of when we were all young.

At this season of giving many feel compelled to spend money they don’t have to buy gifts for others who probably don’t need them. The simple gift of a hug and a plate of home made cookies or a hand made card might do just as well. Even young children need to learn to be content with less rather than yearn for more. Whatever I give at Christmas is primarily a token of my affection, and it need not be expensive or fancy. I will, however, wrap it with care and love because these are the real gift I am giving.