Monday, December 17, 2012

Cinnamon-Scented Tradition

Yom sheni, 4 Tevet 5773.

I used to make birthday cake, like nearly everybody else.  The boys would eat the frosting (often before it was served to the birthday boy), and my husband would politely consume a piece or two.  What he talked about with that misty-eyed look reserved for true nostalgia and a voice filled with wonder were his grandmother's cinnamon rolls.

Those cinnamon rolls were the stuff of legend.  Not only was there no cake on the planet that could hold a candle to Grandma's cinnamon rolls, but the tales abounded of how the Dearly Beloved learned speed and competitive treachery as he attempted to get to those cinnamon rolls before his stepfather ate the hearts out of every one, leaving only the less-interesting, drier outsides for "little Jimmy."  (Cruel?  Perhaps.  But great training in the art of being at the right place at the right time.)

Like all good wives, it became important to me to get Grandma's recipe.  There were a few obstacles to overcome.  Grandma had long since gone to bake cinnamon rolls in that great Kitchen in the Sky.  The Dearly Beloved, being a kitchen-challenged male, never asked for the recipe; and it seems his sisters hadn't, either.  His dear mama was also gone...

Patient research brought to light a great aunt who was ready to swap letters, photos of little Jimmy that he had never seen, and finally -- the holy recipe.  "I not only have the recipe for you," she wrote, "but in Thelma's own hand.  I'll find it, and send it along next time."  She did, and at last I held the four-by-six handwritten secrets to my husband's nirvana in my hand.  (I wish I had it to share with you now.)  "Thelma's Recipe for Julia's Buns" was the rather quaint title.  What followed only served to deepen the mystery.  In rounded pencil were the words:


That was it.  No measurements.  No temperature or time.  No clue, to a struggling baker wannabe.

I was not giving up.  I scoured cookbooks, and tested every recipe on my husband.  I honed and refined and combined recipes, seeking that look of near-euphoria, and the pronouncement:  "These taste just like Grandma's cinnamon rolls!"
Grandma Thelma with a precious great-grandson

Finally, finally, whether due to kindness or failing memory or fact, the Dearly Beloved said, "These are the best cinnamon rolls I've ever tasted!  Even better than Grandma's."

The problem is that they are little heart attack pills, cleverly disguised as food.  So meanie that I am, I told my dear one that he could have the cinnamon rolls once a year, on his birthday, because I want to see him at many, many birthdays.

But all that clever deceit taught to him at the knees of Stepfather Bob had not gone to waste.  My dear husband convinced each of his sons, one by one, that the boy didn't really like birthday cake.  The boy liked cinnamon rolls, didn't he?

So Abba could get away with cinnamon rolls once a month -- at least for the months of January, March, September, October, November and December.  Does the wiliness stop there?  Not at all.  It has become a family requirement that one of the first questions asked a prospective spouse is: "When is your birthday?"  The boys have cleverly added a couple more months to the cinnamon roll tradition.  (Abba is working on their math skills, to try to persuade them to offer him perfectly-timed grandchildren as well.  Thankfully, they seem to be ignoring him here, and simply going about their business.)

Thankfully, my husband did not continue the cycle of theft of his youth: no soft hearts are consumed without their full outer-jackets of crispy, thin dough.

Please enjoy the traditional birthday treat of Chez Mizrachi.  Remember: not healthy.  Once a year, only.  Unless you're very, very clever.

 Julia's Thelma's Ruti's Cinnamon Buns Rolls
Combine in small bowl:
1 cup whole milk
1 large beaten egg
4 tablespoons melted butter (taken from 200 grams)
4 tablespoons water

Combine in larger bowl:
4 cups self-rising flour (measured by scooping flour gently into cup, and leveling off)
1 package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Mix well.  Knead dough until soft ball is formed, adding a tiny amount of flour, as needed.  Allow to rise until doubled in size.

Roll out into a large rectangle.  A better pastry is produced by rolling the dough out very thin.

Mix together the remaining butter of the melted 200 grams, a cup of dark brown sugar, and 3 tablespoons (or more) of ground cinnamon.  Spread it over the dough.  (Go ahead.  Get your hands into it.  Like a great peanut-butter sandwich, it's better if the filling extends right to the edges.)  Roll the dough into a log, pinching the seam to seal in the filling.  Cut into 1/2- to 1-inch slices, and place in two round pans that have been sprayed with Pam (or greased in any other conventional manner).  Cover with a kitchen towel that reminds you of your grandmother's kitchen.  Allow to rise until doubled.

Bake in preheated oven set at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 15 or 20 minutes.  You want the cinnamon rolls to be thinking about turning brown, but not quite there yet.  If you're feeling very decadent, you can spread or drizzle over the warm cinnamon rolls a frosting made of 1 teaspoon milk, 100 grams powdered sugar, 50 grams of melted butter, and a bit of vanilla extract, or etrog liqueur, if it's near Chanukah time, when etrog liqueur is traditionally ready.

Happy birthday, Best Friend!  May we share many more happy, healthy years (in spite of your consumption of Thelma's and Julia's Buns).  I have no idea what your grandmother would have thought of the final product.  But I like to think that she'd be happy I made her little Jimmy happy.

Chanukah and the Dearly Beloved's birthday go hand-in-hand.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The timeless elegance of pearls of time

Yom revi'i, 28 Kislev 5773, Chanukah.

Life is a series of moments, strung together like pearls.

Sometimes, we hardly notice them, until a great strand is piled up behind us.  At other times, we are "in the moment," aware of everything around us, and a minute has the magical feeling of lasting for many more seconds than sixty.

Today, I was shopping with someone I love, helping her to find her very first appliances for her very first home.  An excellent fellow with children in Russia and Spain but none in Israel was waiting on us (singing snatches of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" as he looked up details about stoves and refrigerators for us).

Champagne Girl and I were having so much fun shopping that we not only didn't lose track of time -- we became very aware of it.  She was chattering away with me and the salesman and with Yeshiva Bochur on her cell phone.  Suddenly we realized that, for the last time in this century, we could make note of one of those multiple number moments.

At exactly 12:12 on the 12th of December in the year 2012, cell phone cameras were recording Champagne Girl's and Rutimizrachi's Amazing Appliance Adventure.

Even Anatoly, our salesman, realized the importance of the moment, and shared it with us.  (After the photo shoot, he went around the store telling everyone about the moment they had just missed.  His enthusiasm was very sweet.  And his service was great.)  I gave him a bracha that his children in Spain and his children in Russia, and all of his grandchildren, should join him soon in our holy Homeland.

The main thing I appreciate about the silly little exercise of the 12-12-12-12-12 photo op is the importance of every. single. moment.

Living mindfully.  Making it count.

In case we get too caught up in the wrong perspective on this moment, my sister reminds us of the following on her Facebook status (which she apparently got from a site called

It is, indeed, 12.12.12 for the Gregorians, but it is also:

Julian (Old Style) 2012-11-30 (Thursday, November 30, 2012)
Islamic (Moslem) 1434-01-29 (Muharram 29, 1434)
Hebrew (Jewish) 5773-09-29 (Kislev 29, 5773)
Mayan Long Count
Mayan Haab 13-15 (15 Mac)
Mayan Tzolkin 12-9 (9 Eb)
Old Hindu Solar 5113-08-29 (Vris'chika 29, 5113)
Old Hindu Lunar 5113-08-30 (Karttika 30, 5113))
Coptic 1729-04-04 (Kiyahk 4, 1729)
Ethiopian 2005-04-04 (Takhs'as' 4, 2005)
Jalaali 1391-09-23 (Azar 23, 1391)
Japanese Traditional "Kyureki" with CE 2012-11-01 (Taian, Shimotsuki 1, 2012)

Back to reality: We are approaching the fifth night of Chanukah.  This has always been a special night for our family.  We adopted this Chassidic custom years ago of observing this night of the holiday with special significance... and it is gratifying to us that our children still see the fifth night as something special.  It is the only night of Chanukah that can never fall on a Shabbat -- and yet it has its own special holiness, a brave light in the darkness.  We Jews can take strength in that holiness.  No matter how dark it gets, our job in the world is to add to the light.
One of our special bubas lighting her first "very own" menorah
This is a time to remember, as our future mechutan wrote in a beautiful d'var Torah, that too much geshem (rain) in the form of gashmiut (materialism) can drown us.  This is a time that should remind us of the inherent superiority of ruchniut (spirituality) as a pursuit in our lives.  So, yeah -- we went fridge shopping today.  But what we actually did was to connect with each other in a loving and fun way, with attention to each other's needs; to infect another human being with the love of the moment; to begin the process of building a bayit ne'eman biYisrael (a faithful and faith-filled home in Israel)!

May all of our strung-together moments be individually cherished like prized and polished pearls.

"I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what's gonna happen or, who I'm gonna meet, where I'm gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life's a gift and I don't intend on wasting it. You don't know what hand you're gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you... to make each day count." ~ Jack Dawson, on board the "Titanic"

This post dedicated to a friend of mine, Alon Yarom ben BatSheva, who could use your prayers as he wages a mighty battle.  May he have a complete and speedy recovery, among all of the holy cholim of Am Yisrael.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lace and Pearl Paper, Mothers and Daughters

Yom shlishi, 20 Kislev 5773.

 To my dear friend, the mother of my future daughter-in-law:

For more generations than you and I know, Jewish mothers have had to imagine what it was like for far-away daughters to go through the stages of growing up, because it has been a sad part of our people's heritage for families to wander, sometimes separately.  It cannot be easy for you, even with all of the modern technology that allows us to stay in better touch than families of other times, or of other less-developed cultures.

Your email today about some of the steps you are coordinating with us from across the sea inspired me to write a little something for you and your daughter, and also for all of the mothers and daughters separated by an ocean and a dream of a better life.

I never had a daughter
So the pretty silver laughter between you over dresses is a sound that’s new to me
Your affection for pearl paper for her wedding invitations
Rings as sweetly has her joy for tulle and lace and grenadine

It must be hard to be so far away
While she is changing from your little bird into this lovely dove before our eyes
May we share for many years the love and laughter that my ears have had the privilege
Of sharing as I’m watching from the side

I hope this fragment of a love song shares just a bit of the happiness and awe I feel at being permitted to be part of the friendship you have with this lovely young woman.  I look forward to when you will be her neighbor here in Israel, and mine.

Watching this mother-and-daughter dance will be even more beautiful than hearing it.

And I would consider it an honor if I can play a part.

My mama's not around anymore.  But we were also good friends.

In honor of all the mamas and daughters everywhere, who've been separated by time or distance, let's share a joyful tear together, shall we?

May all of our simchas be shared, in person, here in our holy homeland, very soon.