Passover Food Challenges

With the eight days of Passover starting Monday night, I find myself feeling a bit nostalgic.  I first led a Seder, the traditional family dinner at which we recite the story of the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, at the age of six.  Neither of my parents were able to read the Hebrew and Aramaic from the Haggadah, and I had already been attending an Orthodox Jewish school for two years.  We hold two Seders, on each of the first two nights of the eight-day holiday, and I have attended at least one nearly every year of my life.

This year will be an exception.  I thought about driving four hours to visit my parents and attend a Seder at their synagogue, but that would have required me to take two to three days off work.  I could attend a communal Seder at one of the area synagogues, but even then I’d have to take at least a day off work.  The Seder can’t start until sundown, and usually lasts until well past midnight.  That makes it tough to get up for work at 4:30 in the morning.  So I will have to skip the Seder this year, although that doesn’t mean that I will “pass over Passover.”  The holiday comes with many dietary restrictions and I plan to honor as many as I am able.

As bad as I feel about not attending a Seder, the whole matzo situation makes it even worse.  Matzo is the traditional crackerlike flatbread that we eat for eight days to remind us of the unleavened bread pulled abruptly off the hot rocks of Egypt before the loaves had time to rise when the Jews were thrust out into the wilderness without a moment’s notice.  Granted, it gets old after four or five days, but I know I will miss it.  Made of only wheat and water and baked for less than seven minutes, it’s not a food for the gluten-sensitive.  Sure, I could order an expensive box of gluten-free matzo online, but it wouldn’t be made of wheat and therefore wouldn’t satisfy the ritual requirement of the mitzvah.  So what’s the point?

At the Seder, we eat many traditional foods, including a green vegetable (always celery in my family) dipped in salt water, super hot horseradish, and the delicious haroseth (apples and walnuts chopped up fine, seasoned with cinnamon and a dollop of grape wine).  We drink four cups of wine or grape juice.  And then there is the dinner, which at my parents’ house always included hard boiled eggs (dipped in the salt water left over from the celery), chicken soup with matzo ball dumplings, gefilte fish (cold fish patties with salty fish jelly), homemade borscht (beet soup, usually served cold) and then meat, potatoes, carrots and dessert.  My mom usually served homemade applesauce before we put the tea on to boil and broke out the honey cake and coconut macaroons.  It’s hard to leave a Seder without being utterly stuffed.

Of course, as a vegan, I no longer eat most of these things.  And being gluten-free clearly does not help the situation.  Traditionally, on Passover we eat no bread, corn, rice, cereal, pasta, legumes or anything that might become leavened.  This means no corn, including any prepared item containing corn syrup.  It means no beans, including soybeans, which means no tofu.  In other words, most of my vegan protein sources are off-limits for the next eight days.  Most Passover desserts contain dairy, eggs or both, so those are out for vegans.  It makes an already difficult holiday just this side of bearable.

So what do observant Jews eat during Passover?  Lots of meat and fish, lots of eggs and lots of dairy.  Good luck, vegans.  We do eat fruit and some types of vegetables.  In my case, I go through many pounds of potatoes and carrots, plus some eggplant, zucchini, spinach, broccoli and mushrooms, and lots of salad.  My favorite fake burgers, made of pea protein, are out.  So is my fake cheese and anything made with vinegar (think mustard, salad dressing, pickles, olives, hot sauce).  I flavor everything with black pepper, garlic and lemon.  I eat lots of plums, apples, bananas and citrus.

In the old days, my Passover breakfast might be cottage cheese with fruit and matzo with cream cheese or fried eggs or matzo brei (pieces of matzo dipped in egg and fried).  Now, it’s potatoes.  In the old days, my Passover lunch would typically involve tuna on buttered matzo and hard boiled eggs with maybe a slice or two of tomato.  Now, it’s potatoes.  Maybe with some carrots or plain salad with lemon.  Very boring and largely protein-free.  I try to remember to eat spinach or broccoli each day, as they each contain a small amount of protein.

My mother has always referred to Passover as “a hard holiday.”  However, the difficulties are tempered by many delicious traditional foods and lots of Passover sweets.  None of those benefits accrue to those eating a vegan, gluten-free diet.  True, you can be creative, particularly if you cook.  I don’t.  I am highly fortunate that my wife is willing to boil pounds of potatoes and roast vegetables in the oven for me.

And yet here I am, with Passover not yet begun, already looking forward to the holiday being over.  I suppose I should look at the bright side.  Perhaps I will gain an improved perspective on the hardships faced by my ancestors who, having escaped slavery due to the Lord splitting the Red Sea, wandered in the desert for forty years.

Eight days seems mighty reasonable by comparison.

 

Hamantashen? Not This Year

hamentaschen

We’re just a couple of weeks away from Passover and eight days of matzo, but I’m still thinking about Purim, now a few weeks in the rear view mirror.

 Several years ago, not long after I began writing this blog, I marveled at my amazing good fortune at having hamantashen show up in the break room at work around Purim time.  I had been craving these little jam-filled triangular cookies, probably owing more to nostalgia than to their flavor.  But there I was, working out in the desert, feeling exiled to the Diaspora as only a Jew can.

I’m fairly sure I was the only Jew in our little Colorado River town, and the last thing I expected was that anyone would have ever heard of hamantashen, much less have known where to get some.  I knew I could find something resembling the prune, apricot or cherry filled treats that I associated with the reading of the biblical Book of Esther each spring, if only I had the will to make the four-hour round trip to Palm Springs or the five-hour drive to Phoenix and back.  Granted, they wouldn’t be the same as the buttery pastries I remember from Pakula’s Bakery, now long gone mainstay of my hometown of Spring Valley, New York, but any facsimile would do in a pinch.  And I felt like pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming when a package of hamantashen showed up on the round table in our break room.  As if out of thin air, an answer to prayer, were they really there?  Yes, I answered with the first taste.  Supermarket variety, to be sure, but it felt like a care package from home, shlach manot.  They turned out to be a gift to the staff from a former manager, now retired, who knew nothing of Purim when she picked up some cookies at a supermarket over in Indio.  It felt like nothing short of a Purim miracle.

Here in Sacramento, hamantashen are available at several retail stores.  And yet the irony is that, this Purim, I tasted none.  As it turned out, there are things other than miles that would distance me from hamantashen.  The bottom line is that when you’re vegan, gluten-free and have to watch your sugar intake, special holiday foods cannot be taken for granted, even when they are readily available.

I pondered whether, with the right ingredients and a bit of ingenuity, it might be possible to create hamantashen that would satisfy my food limitations.  Vegan margarine could easily substitute for butter, and a little oil or applesauce for an egg.  There are plenty of artificial sweeteners out there.  But what of the flour?  Could hamantashen be made of rice flour, almond flour or amaranth?

Yes! Turns out that, a fee years back, April Peveteaux over at Gluten is My Bitch posted a yummy-looking recipe for gluten-free, dairy-free hamantashen.  Sub applesauce for the eggs, bring out the Sweet ‘N Low or Splenda, use sugar-free jam for the filling, and I would venture to say we’re there. I don’t bake, but I hope someone will try it out and let me know whether it’s worth the effort.

I found another such recipe courtesy of Lisa Rose at realfoodkosher.com. She suggests using a combination of rice and almond flour and substituting coconut oil for butter.

And then I found a hamantashen recipe that is not only vegan and gluten-free, but also free of refined sugar (it calls for maple syrup), as well as this one that uses agave nectar.

Anyone want to make me some hamantashen?  Must be gluten-free and vegan.  I should have asked my mother-in-law.  She made me a batch a few years ago and they were some of the best I’ve ever eaten.

Short of homemade, however, I suppose these are my favorites, if only because I don’t have to prepare them.  At about a dollar an ounce, the price seems fairly reasonable.  The only time I ever ordered hamantashen through the mail, they came mostly broken, including more crumbs than I knew what to do with.  But those were “fresh” bakery-style, not packaged, so I suppose the result was to be expected.

I guess there’s not too much that you can’t buy online these days.  Maybe next year, eh?

Images of the Past and Future

image

MADERA

I have a lot of vivid dreams. It is almost as if someone has reached deep inside my body, grabbed hold of my soul and then yanked upward violently, turning me inside out like a sweater. Thus exposed, my dreams take me to places I fear to go in the light of day.

Lately, I have dreamed several times of my father’s death. I wake grateful in the knowledge that he is very much alive, fearing the day when I shall dream of him and awake to find that he is just a memory.

My father is 82 years old and I am a grown-up who is very much aware of the circle of life. But, still.

Still.

Visiting my parents for Chanukah, I sat in their family room, reminiscing with my mother over old photographs in oversized albums that filled up her lap and spilled into mine. It seems all of us have been in a reflective mood since a childhood friend of my sister, who long ago was married to and divorced from my first cousin, was found dead in her apartment in New Jersey. No one noticed for a couple of weeks until the smell got so bad that the neighbors finally complained.

Three thousand miles away in California, we had heard not long ago that she was destitute, unemployable, abandoned by her two brothers and her two sons, and about to become homeless. No one knew what could be done for her and now no more needs to be done. I do not know how she died. Somehow, it doesn’t even seem important.

My sister in Texas calls my mother to talk about her childhood friend, now gone. My other sister broods about this while driving and plows right into the car in front of her. There is a lot of damage but no one is hurt, as the police reports say.

They’re right about the damage. I’m not so sure about the other part.

My mother serves potato latkes and she even makes one of them eggless so that her weirdo vegan son can have a taste of Chanukah. She lights the menorah and I don a kippa from a decades old bar mitzvah to recite Ha’nerot Hallalu and sing Maos Tzur, Rock of Ages.

The husband of my mom’s cousin, at the age of 84, announces that he will celebrate his “second bar mitzvah” in April. Although he is a member of three synagogues, none can book the simcha for the Shabbat corresponding to his Hebrew birthdate. And so, nearly four months out, he has begun preparing a different Torah portion than the one he chanted before family and friends 71 years ago.

My bar mitzvah photos turn up in the album that my mother and I are perusing. I look like a total dork in the bar mitzvah suit that cost a fortune and then had to be altered to fit. My father took me into Manhattan for the occasion, Barney’s at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 17th Street.

Photos of my sisters with their friends from elementary school and junior high. Mom doesn’t remember the friends’ names, but I do. The one standing outside the tent is Sharon. Yes, that was the fateful camping trip on which it rained the whole time. No, she didn’t live in our neighborhood; she lived across the street from the school and was a “walker” who didn’t have to face the ignominy of riding the bus. The one with the cat is Debbie, from when we lived in Wappingers Falls. That one is Vitor, the exchange student from Brazil. We trip merrily down Memory Lane until Mom picks up her dying cat and it pees all over her.

Pictures of Dad, decades younger, displaying his chest hair on the beach in Florida. Me as a teenager, with a goofy grin, holding a seashell in Myrtle Beach. My sisters, bundled up in matching hooded parkas, in the snow in front of our house. My very young looking mother in a bathing suit on a chaise lounge at the pool. Me and my grandfather at my college graduation, two months before he died.

Photographic evidence of a life so far in the past that it’s a stretch to believe it ever happened. These Polaroids could just as well be a figment cobbled together into one of my colorful dreams, more real than the real thing.

My parents are discovering that one of the hazards of aging is that everyone you know dies. Parents, siblings, friends. Live long enough and there’s no one left but you.

And as the names are erased from the paper, one by one, with only old snapshots in oversized albums remaining as a reminder, I wonder how I will manage when the very paper itself disappears and, as in my dreams, I am left with nothing but memories and black and white photographs dated AUG 65.

The Haircut

FRESNO

My father keeps telling me about how much he likes the work his barber does.  Now, Dad has very little hair left at this point, so it’s not as if I expected his barber to be a corn row connoisseur or a faux hawk aficionado.  But when he told me that his barber charges only four dollars (plus tip), I was sold.  I decided to put up with my sideburns for a couple of months in order to get my ears lowered both competently and cheaply when I headed south to visit my parents for Thanksgiving.

On Black Friday, my wife and I drove from my parents’ house out in the country to “the big city” of Fresno to get coiffed.  (Well, really so my wife could use her computer to get some work done, since there is no high-speed internet connection or wi-fi out on the rangeland where my parents call home).  My father warned me that his barber might have the day off, but that “one of the girls” would take me.

When we arrived at the shop, we were greeted with a CLOSED sign on the door.  My wife told me this would happen!

Fortunately, we had just passed an open barber shop a few blocks away.  Inside, three barbers were working away on customers while another family waited their turn.  I sat down patiently and waited about 20 minutes to be called.  This was definitely not a discount hair establishment like the place my father patronized.  A sign advertised that a regular haircut would set you back $12.  But I was there already and I just wanted to get this itchy stuff off my ears and face.  I was not about to drive around looking for someplace less expensive.

The last time that I had my hair cut back home, I told a young woman at a salon that I wanted a “3.”  For at least 20 years, I’ve been familiar with the numbering system that many barbers use.  Before I was married, I used to get a “one,” which is basically your Marine special.  Just a bit of fuzz on top.  My wife says that this style makes me “look like an escaped mental patient,” so I began leaving some hair on my noggin. I am now used to having the sideburns removed and keeping a reasonable amount of hair north of that.  Still, I thought the “3” was a bit too short.  Therefore, this time around I requested a “4.”  “You know what a 4 is, right?” the barber asked.  Yes, I assured him, I know what it is.  Upon which I blinded myself by removing my eyeglasses and hoped for the best.

The barber was a young guy who insisted that I used to be a tutor at his high school (I have never taught), urged me to get a lump on my head checked out (I explained how I obtained it forty years ago) and griped about how Heald College closed down when he had almost completed his associate’s degree and how Fresno City College wouldn’t transfer any of the credits.

I should have told him that he missed his calling.  He should have been a bartender.  I wished I had the nerve to tell him to shut up and pay attention to what he was doing.

At that point, the barber requested the details of my Thanksgiving.  “Whad you grub on?” he inquired.  I explained that my mother prepared the traditional turkey, cranberry sauce and potatoes, but that I very much enjoyed my eggplant and tofu, thank you.

“You a vegetarian?” he asked, incredulous.  I answered in the affirmative, in no mood to explain the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan.  Then he asked when was the last time I ate meat.  “About 25 years ago,” I responded, upon which he wanted to know what my last meat meal consisted of.  “I really don’t remember,” I admitted.  “It was a long time ago.”

“If it was my last time eating meat, I’d remember,” he remonstrated.  “I’d have a triple cheeseburger.  But I could never stop eating meat.”

About this time, the barber offered me my eyeglasses and I glanced in the mirror to check out the new me with a “4.”

Welcome to the Marines, son.

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Things I Saw in the Central Valley

MADERA

We have been spending Thanksgiving weekend with my parents at their home in California’s Central Valley.  These are a few of the things I saw:

imagePalm trees.  Residing in northern California as we do, we tend to forget that tropical foliage predominates in the more southerly parts of our fair state.  With the freezing temperatures we have experienced the last few nights, I have no idea how the palms survive.

imageDonkeys.  Not something we see in Sacramento.  Unfortunately, Eeyore’s companion was camera shy and took off as soon as I pointed a camera in his direction.

imageMy little niece.  She recently turned one year old.  I don’t see her very often and can’t believe how big she’s grown already.

A homeless man in a wheelchair begging for change in front of a McDonald’s in Fresno.  It was freezing out, so we bought him some hot food and coffee.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.

imageMy mother’s Siamese cat.  Taffy is 18 years old and spoiled rotten.  She refuses to eat cat food anymore and gets chicken, turkey and fish.  I think the poor thing has a cold, as she was coughing last night.

imageMacaroni Grill.  Pasta for dinner!  Garlic, mushrooms, who could as for more?

imageThe full moon, playing hide and seek with the clouds.

Here’s hoping all of you are enjoying the holiday weekend!

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Blackie

MADERA

Well, we made it through Thanksgiving without disaster.  My sister and her son, who were supposed to stay overnight at my parents’ house, instead visited for four hours and left.  This was probably for the best.

My sister showed up more than two hours late and then spent most of her visit griping about working irregular shifts at a hospital, being on call all the time and never getting any sleep.  As if on cue, her cell phone rang and the hospital tried to call her in.  She had to explain that this was not her on call day and, in any event, she was six hours away.

I think it was really rotten of my sister to browbeat my octogenarian parents in preparing an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner when we had planned to go out to a restaurant.  Mom was so tired from cooking.  It’s really unfair and thoughtless.

Thanksgiving is always a time for telling family stories, and my favorite story of the day was told by my mother.  She reminisced about her summer in a rented beach house at Brooklyn’s Coney Island when she was 13 years old.  A large homeless dog adopted her, much to her delight.  She named him Blackie and was disappointed when her parents would not let her keep him.  Still, the dog followed her around all summer, even stealing the ball from boys playing in the street and delivering it to my mother.

Then came the day when her mother gave her money and sent her to a local store to buy a six pack of beet for my Grandpa.  Even in the 1940s, it was illegal to sell beer to minors.

“Who are you buying it for?” asked the merchant accusatorily.  “For my father!” she protested.  The storekeeper took her money and told her to go wait outside.  Stepping outside to a patiently waiting Blackie, my mother soon saw the merchant come out and surreptitiously hand her a bag containing the contraband.

I’ve heard many wonderful family stories from my mother, but this was one of the most delightful.

Meanwhile, here in California’s Central Valley, the temperature has uncharacteristically dropped below freezing, threatening the area’s citrus crops.

I hope all of you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving.  High on my list of the many things I am thankful for are all of you, my faithful readers. A heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you.

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15 Things (Other than Shopping) to Do on Black Friday

Many of us have a holiday from work on the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday may be the biggest shopping day of the year, but what if you’ve finally digested all that food but you’d really rather not stand in endless lines just to be trampled and go into debt? The following are some ideas for alternate uses of this precious day off.

1. Start your holiday baking. What better time to whip up batches of cookies and gingerbread people to pop in the freezer all ready for Christmas giving?

2. Go fly a kite! Bet you haven’t done this since you were a kid. What better time than the holidays to be a kid again?

3. Go take a hike! Fresh air and exercise beats credit card bills any day of the week. (Or take a bike ride, climb a rock wall or start a pickup game of touch football in the yard.)

4. Work on a jigsaw puzzle and drink hot chocolate. If it’s too cold to do much outdoors, why not enjoy the great indoors?

5. Go to the movies. You might not avoid the crowds on this one, but the smell of popcorn and snuggling with your honey makes it definitely worth waiting in line for tickets.

6. Take the kids to the park, zoo or museum instead of to the mall. Make the day a learning opportunity instead of a lesson in conspicuous consumption.

7. Write Christmas cards. Get it out of the way early. Gives your family and friends plenty of time to send one back!

8. Get organized. Grab a calendar and make lists of what you need to do before Christmas and when you will do each one. A little effort now, a lot less stress in a few weeks.

9. Volunteer. Spend part of the day being of service to your local soup kitchen, animal shelter or church. Do good in your community and feel good about it.

10. Get in the holiday spirit by watching seasonal videos, from It’s a Wonderful Life to Home Alone.

11. Tell your story. Begin writing your memoir. Remember, you can start anywhere, not just at the beginning.

12. Start the holiday season by pampering yourself. Visit a local spa for a massage and facial.

13. Read a book. Remember those? When did you last sit down with a good thriller or juicy romance?

14. Set an example. Perform a random act of kindness.

15. Visit someone lonely who would enjoy a few hours of company and conversation over coffee.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Thanksgiving or Festivus?

Tofurky

Last week, I attended our Thanksgiving luncheon at work, despite my reservations about how it would go with me being a vegan.  Last year, I chose to take the coward’s way out by staying away.  This wasn’t so difficult, as I was still new, wasn’t yet in management and had duties that left me working by myself most of the time.  This year was a bit different since my role has changed so drastically.  Accordingly, I thought it advisable for me to show up.

I brought my own food, with the idea that how much of it I would use would depend on whether there was anything else available that I could eat.  Good thing I did.  I had the idea that there might be salad or plain vegetables, but the only thing for me turned out to be a dinner roll.

As I sat down at a crowded table and spooned out my broccoli onto a plate, I felt a little like I did back in junior high and high school, taking out my yarmulke to eat my lunch in the cafeteria.  It’s strange how, at my age, such things come back to me.

One of my coworkers inquired about what Thanksgiving was like for me.  “Do you have Tofurky?” she asked.

I patiently explained that, while some vegans go that route, we go out to dinner with family so that everyone can order what they want.  I thought I was telling the truth, too.

Then, on Sunday, I called my parents to check in only to discover that plans had changed.  Apparently, my sister, who drives just as far as we do to be with our parents, threw an unholy fit about how if she was coming all that way, at least she should be able to get a traditional turkey dinner at home.  Mom caved in to her demands, as she always does.  The fact that my wife and I have no interest in such a dinner was not even a factor.

In my mother’s favor, she did buy an eggplant to prepare for me.  My wife, who does not enjoy turkey, is not pleased.  My parents are “kosher at home,” meaning that we can’t even bring most of the foods that my wife enjoys.  I am wondering whether we should just stay home and eat what we want.

To make matters worse, we are scheduled to do even more driving, from my parents’ house in the Central Valley to my sister’s house in the Bay Area, to celebrate my father’s birthday.  Supposedly, this is so that my niece can join us and so that my parents can meet her boyfriend, with whom she is now living.

We have a history of really horrible Thanksgivings in my family, going back decades.  Until I was ten years old, we spent most Thanksgivings with my paternal grandparents.  For reasons too complex to get into here, my mother never got along with them.  There were a lot of horrific fights over the years, with my sisters and me usually in the middle.  We loved my grandparents, but felt guilty about doing so when my mother hated them.  (Later, I learned that much of her animosity was warranted.)  Between my parents’ screaming arguments and the ones they had with my grandparents, I was scared to death of marriage for years.  It’s something of a miracle that I ended up with a truly wonderful mother-in-law.  I feel badly that my wife got the raw end of the deal.

I related in this space last year how, the first time I brought my wife to my parents for Thanksgiving (we weren’t even married yet), my sister and my mother had it out in a screaming, cussing match worthy of a telenovela.  I was embarrassed.  She’ll never marry me now, I thought.  I am very, very lucky and blessed that my wife doesn’t give up so easily.

So what will this Thanksgiving bring?  I’m afraid to find out.  While the idea of family getting together over good food is lovely, the fact is that most of us do not live up to the Norman Rockwell ideal.  I believe it is important to recognize when a family is so deeply dysfunctional that it is really better if those involved do not gather in a single location.  This is particularly true when Thanksgiving feels more like Festivus, with its “feats of strength” and “airing of grievances.”

What I do know is that, high on the list of the many things for which I am thankful will be the fact that my wife and I am able to support ourselves and don’t have to live with family.  At least for now.

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The Joy of Receiving

For quite some time now, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has hosted a website, feedthepig.org, that is devoted to promoting savings and planning for retirement and other personal financial goals. I have a vague recollection of hearing about this site some years ago, but it again came to my attention recently due to a billboard posted in our neighborhood. The message on the sign (and I paraphrase) read “Be the rich uncle that you always wished you had.”

This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. It calls up a visceral reaction in my gut that makes me want to scream.

Allow me to start by saying that I do believe in the importance of saving a portion of one’s income “for a rainy day.” I get it that the AICPA is trying to encourage Americans to save, something that very few of us do on a regular basis. I see this as a laudable goal, but I also think they are utter fools if they believe that billboards like this one will change anyone’s habits.

Giving and saving are two things that are near and dear to our hearts. My wife and I tithe 10% of our income to worthy causes, such as our local food banks, and to family members in need, of which there are unfortunately more than a few at this time. At the holidays, we always end up giving extra, which is something we plan for during the year. And, yes, we do save our pennies. Literally. We have a canister for collection of stray pennies and a “change up” for collection of nickels, dimes and quarters. In summary, the message of the importance of savings is not lost on us. Nevertheless, I find the AICPA’s sign offensive.

I realize that we are entering that time of year known as the season of giving, but I believe that signs like the one I saw posted fail to acknowledge the important of receiving. Remember that in order to give, someone has to receive. I was reminded of this recently when we tried to give a few bucks to our niece. She is only 19 years old and having a rough time of it, what with having a 3 year old daughter and a job that recently cut her hours back to three days per week. Nevertheless, I could see that we were making her very uncomfortable by trying to press a twenty into her hand. We knew she needed it and she knew she needed it, but that doesn’t change how awful we feel when we’re reduced to a position in which we need to rely on the charity of others. We all want to be self-sufficient. Years ago, I saw a poster emblazoned with the logo “poverty sucks.” ‘Nuff said.

Squirming is a natural reaction when on the receiving end of largesse. I think this goes beyond the sadness that is bound to accompany acknowledgment that we are in need. It is indicative of the fact that Mom and Dad never taught us how to receive gracefully. Most of us were taught “to give is better than to receive.” The moral imperative of this statement aside, certainly it is preferable to be in a financial position to give rather than to be in such straits that we need to put our hands out. But it is not possible for us to give unless someone is willing to receive. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin, and I cannot put that coin into your hand unless you are willing to receive it.

I know what it is like to get laid off, to be unemployed for a year and to have to spend down savings and rely on family and Food Stamps to get by. I know what it is like to stand in line for hours to receive a U.S. Department of Agriculture food handout. I’ve been there, folks. And if this economy doesn’t improve sometime soon, I may be there again. In the meantime, however, we do what we have learned to do best: Saving and giving.

But please, please, do not tell me to be the rich uncle that I always wished I had. There is no substitute for having a generous relative and being one yourself is not the same thing at all. Remember, when you are on the receiving end of someone’s generosity, you are allowing that person to bless you. Conversely, if you are unable to accept gifts gracefully, you are preventing someone from blessing you. Think about that next time someone tries to do something nice for you and you feel weird about it.

I’m sure most of us do wish we had rich uncles to bankroll our every whim, or even to grant an occasional wish. There is nothing wrong with this. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have this opportunity. Still, it is just fine to daydream about it. There is no shame in receiving or in wishing you could receive. Giving has its own rewards, but it can never compare to being on the receiving end of your heart’s desires. Generosity is lovely, but it can never substitute for the joy of receiving exactly what you always wanted. Hence, all those prettily wrapped boxes under our Christmas trees.

Not all of us can be the rich uncle, but all of us can experience the thrill of receiving, whether from a rich uncle or just from our neighbor. And that is nothing to be ashamed of.
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Pardon Me, Turkey

turkey

The Vegan Files

You know it’s getting close to Thanksgiving when memes like this one get passed around online.  I suppose the intent is to cause the viewer to laugh at such a preposterous proposition.  You’re dead, turkey!  I want to see you plucked, stuffed, roasted and on a platter for my personal enjoyment!  That’s right, I want you dead so that I can carve you up and enjoy eating your rotting flesh.  The fact that you want to go on living, associating with others of your kind and raising future generations of birds means nothing to me.  Tofu??!! Yuck!

It would be particularly sad if I thought that we had no regard at all for our fellow creatures.  I know that this is not true because of the billions of dollars each year we spend on our pet dogs and cats.  Even when it comes to turkeys, each year the president “pardons” two of them to live out their lives well taken care of on a farm.  A couple of years ago, I read that this farm is in West Virginia and that the birds seldom survive for more than a few months past the date of their pardon.  This is because commercially raised turkeys are fed a diet designed to increase the size of the breast to grotesque proportions in order to satisfy consumer demand.  While there is such thing as free-range turkeys, for the most part, the birds are raised in tight spaces that prevent them from moving around much so that they can be fattened up that much faster.  By the time they are ready for slaughter, they are so large that they can barely move even if they wanted to.  They are so unhealthy that they are beyond benefitting from the freedom of a farm and veterinary care.

Whenever I hear that the president is getting ready to “pardon” two turkeys, I hope that perhaps he is referring to certain members of Congress.  Certainly the turkeys have done nothing wrong that would cause them to require a “pardon.”

tofu

The other theme of the meme above has to do with tofu.  How laughable that a turkey should plead for its life by asking us to eat such disgusting stuff instead!  While I know numerous people who profess to dislike tofu, the unfortunate fact is that most Americans (with the possible exception of those whose moms engaged in traditional Asian cooking) have never even tried it.

The turkey is right that tofu is “really good.”  While much has been written about the possible health dangers of eating too much soy (we won’t talk about the firm connection recently made between eating meat and colon cancer), the fact remains that it is a solid source of protein and one that requires much less of a carbon footprint to produce than, say, poultry.  Plus, tofu doesn’t have bones to deal with, doesn’t have a carcass to dispose of once picked clean, and doesn’t need to be roasted for hours (or fried in peanut oil, a cause of multiple house fires each Thanksgiving).  My own favorite thing about tofu is that it has a very mild flavor and goes with anything.  Even if baked in the oven, it doesn’t stink up the house.  I am not much of a cook, so I most often prepare tofu by simply dicing it and serving it over baked potatoes with carrots or spinach.  I also like it in soup, what I call “faux pho.”  And, yes, I have been known to eat it straight out of the package.  Sure, there are fancy faux turkey roasts, but the great thing about tofu is that you don’t have to cook it if you don’t want to.  If you like it hot, slice it and heat it in the microwave or dice it into an oil-coated pan with some mushrooms or broccoli.  Otherwise, toss it onto a salad and eat it cold.  Its diversity can’t be beat, and I like the fact that, if I haven’t prepared any lunch one day, I can throw a package of tofu into a bag with some bread and fruit and I will have a protein-packed, satisfying meal.

But back to the turkeys.  My father is quick to point out that almost all turkeys currently alive would not exist at all if they weren’t commercially raised for slaughter and thence the freezer case at your local supermarket.  This fact seems to me a lot like playing God.  We get to decide when they live and when they die.

When my little grandniece was visiting with us last week, I began singing Christmas songs with her.  “It’s not even Thanksgiving!” my wife noted.  “But I don’t know any Thanksgiving songs,” I protested.  Later, while my grandniece and her cousin were running amok in Chuck E. Cheese, I repeated the story to my sister-in-law.  She admitted to knowing only one Thanksgiving song:

Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys, fat turkeys
Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys are
We’re not made for living
We’re made for Thanksgiving
Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys are we.

(With thanks to Ghost Academy for confirming the lyrics)

Suffice it to say that I will not be singing this song with my grandniece.  “We’re not made for living?”  Seriously?  If you’re not going to treat your dog or cat like a mere thing that you can kill and dispose of at will, I question how you can countenance doing the same to a cow, pig or turkey.

To make things worse, I hear that the above ditty is sung in schools, thus indoctrinating children into feeling nothing when it comes to our fellow creatures.  Surely, there is a more compassionate Thanksgiving song about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans together giving thanks to God over maize and yams?  (Notwithstanding the fact that the ready availability of deer indicates the likelihood that venison was also on the menu.)

Too bad those landing at Plymouth Rock did not bring tofu across the ocean with them.

While it is unfortunately a myth that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird (he actually referred to the bald eagle as “a bird of bad moral character”), I love the story and wonder whether, if true, perhaps we’d eat roasted eagle with gravy and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.  That is, if we found a way to force-feed the eagle and sing that it’s not made for living, just eating.

Tomorrow:  The Joy of Receiving

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