Birthday Blues (and Greens)
I had an “aha” moment this week, an epiphany produced by the videos my brother Simon found and transfered to the computer from 1966. When I was a few months old, we traveled from England to Israel for my father’s two-year post-doctoral work. During this time, my grandparents Hilly and Millie Silverstein came to visit. The video shows them playing with me in our small Rehovot apartment, loving interactions with peek-a-boo and chase, reading books, and horse rides with my grandfather. As I watched the scenes unfold before me I realized that my grandmother, my precious Booba, was 50-years-old when those videos was taken.
That’s how old I am now. How strange to realize that while I’ve know my grandmother for all of my life, I’ve known her for only half of hers. Suddenly, 50 doesn’t seem so old. Perhaps I, too, have a long, rewarding life ahead of me.
I have always been conscious of celebrating my birthday together with Booba. Mine is August 26; hers, August 27. She would often tell me I was the greatest birthday present she ever received.
It is hard to grasp that she is turning 100 this week. What a productive life she’s led. What monumental world changes she's seen. In her heyday she was a feisty firebrand, a large-hearted busy-body with tremendous energy. Her exploits were famous, her faux pas legendary.
Booba came from a large family that fled to England from Poland in the early 1900s. They owned some sort of fabrics and button shop (of which I still have some buttons that I cannot part with). Each of her five sisters died young; of her two brothers, I only remember one, and he had an unhappy life. She alone has achieved longevity, producing two daughters, four grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
Now unfortunately, Booba lives a diminished existence. She is cared for with love and devotion, but she sleeps a lot and cannot hold coherent conversations. She doesn’t know it’s her birthday. We're going to have a cake and ice cream party at her assisted living facility. We've invited all her surviving friends and family who want to honor this milestone. Celebrating is more for us, a way to acknowledge her influence on our lives.
Meanwhile, my mom is a little overwhelmed by all the comings and goings in the house. Simon is visiting; her sister Barbara is visiting; I pop in for weekly visits. Mom is aware of her memory loss, and it frightens her. She keeps confusing us. She does not remember that Booba and I have birthdays this week. That’s ok. I’ll celebrate for all of us.
As long as it’s up to me to celebrate my birthday, I’ve decided I’m going to make one of my favorite desserts.
This recipe is adapted from my signed copy of the Kosher Southern-Style Cookbook (Pelican Publishing Co., 1993) that I received from my mother-in-law. I couldn’t find corn syrup in Israel, so I started using maple-flavored pancake syrup as a substitute. It came out so well, I continued using it, even when corn syrup showed up in my grocery store. Many years later, I met another American immigrant to Israel who knew the cooks from New Orleans.
1½ cups flour
½ cup canola oil
5 Tbsp cold water
1 tsp salt
pinch of sugar
1/3 canola oil
½ cup chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp maple-flavored pancake syrup (or corn syrup)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp water
Mix crust ingredients and pat into round pie pan. In a large bowl, mix eggs, oil, sugar and syrup. In a glass measuring cup, measure the water, vanilla and chips. Melt in microwave on high for approximately 40 seconds, more if needed. Stir until chips are melted. Mix melted chocolate into the bowl. Pour filling into the crust and bake at 350° for 30 to 40 minutes or until top is slightly brittle.