Category Archives: Family

Weekend Cooking: Goodbye to Geiger’s Bakery

Geiger's

photo courtesy of Geiger’s Bakery Facebook page

Come Monday, yet another piece of my childhood will cease to exist.

Michael Klein’s brief blog post on Philly.com tells of the imminent closing (due to retirement) of Geiger’s Bakery on Frankford Avenue in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia, where they’ve been a staple of the community for 38 years.

My grandparents lived a few blocks away from the bakery; whenever we visited (which was often) my grandfather would have already “walked up the Avenue” to get us a treat. It simply wasn’t a family dinner without a Geiger’s butter cake for dessert or a sleepover at Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s without half a dozen powdered cream doughnuts waiting for us for breakfast when we woke up in the morning.

Growing up, the Geiger family themselves lived right up the street from my family. Those were the days when you actually knew every single person in your neighborhood. One of my best friends from those days reminded me of how her family used to babysit the youngest Geiger son and how his mother would bring home an unsold butter cake from the bakery for them to enjoy.

If you didn’t grow up in Philadelphia, chances are you probably don’t know what I’m talking about with this butter cake. I was shocked when we moved out here to Pittsburgh and people had NEVER HEARD of this. Suffice it to say that butter cake is the food of the gods. I mean, if they serve food in heaven — and I would like to imagine that it’s a 24/7, all you can eat, calories and carbs be damned to hell smorgasbord — then Geiger’s has earned a place on the menu.

As decadent as their butter cake and doughnuts and pound cake was, this isn’t about the food. Because all of our memories of food are really about something else. It’s a reminder of a time and a place that’s gone and of the people who shared that time and those places with us. Read the comments on the Geiger’s Bakery Facebook page and it’s person after person remembering cakes for special occasions, probably celebrated in homes that have long been sold and with loved ones who are no longer here.

Thank you to the Geiger family for making my childhood so sweet.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

 

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currently … wrapping up christmas

Christmas Eve - presents

Christmas Eve, 2015

Currently
It’s our last night of our Christmas vacation in Philly. We’ve been here just shy of a week, enjoying a nice balance of seeing family and friends (usually over brunch or dinner) while also having some downtime (usually spent reading or writing).  It’s always impossible to fit in everyone who we’d like to see and all we’d like to do, but I think it worked out well this time.

Tomorrow’s a travel day back to the “Burgh, then I’m off on Tuesday. Whenever possible, I try to give myself a “re-entry day” on the tail end of these trips. It’s back to work on Wednesday — along with one final dentist appointment this year to use up some insurance dollars — before another few remaining vacation days segue into a long weekend.

Christmas Reading

Like FamilyRDear Mr. You

I admit, I’m scrambling to meet my goal of 52 books read in 2015.  Right now, my tally is 47 (much lower than previous years).  This may be attainable if I stick to shorter books, but I’m not sure.

Reading short books was my strategy for this trip.  So far on this vacation, I’ve read one —Like Family by Paolo Giordano. I was so excited to see this one at the library because I loved (but, sadly, didn’t review) his previous novel, The Solitude of Prime Numbers.  I really liked this new one, which I breezed through in a few hours (if that). Told in flashback and set in Italy, it’s about a couple who hire a housekeeper, Mrs. A., to help out during a difficult pregnancy and who stays on as a nanny for several years. After Mrs. A. is diagnosed with cancer, she decides to leave the household abruptly. The book, then, is about how she has changed the course of the couple’s marriage and their lives.

Right now I’m reading Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker, which is incredibly well-written and very likely to be on my favorites list. This exactly the reason why I usually don’t post my best-of lists before year’s end; this time of year often brings more opportunities than usual to read and more often than not, something I read while we finish up this trip around the sun surprises and delights me.  Dear Mr. You is going to be that book. The concept is fantastic: it’s structured as a collection of letters that Ms. Parker has written to each of the significant men in her life.

Christmas Not Reading …
For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed spending part of Christmas week with a holiday-themed story. The timing of this needs to be carefully considered and calibrated; I don’t like to start this particular book much before Christmas Eve and I like to be finished by the day after Christmas. This started in 2011 when I reviewed A Clockwork Christmas, a collection of four steampunk tales.

A Christmas Carol was my 2012 selection, followed by The Chimes last year. (I’m not sure what happened in 2013. Maybe A Christmas Carol again, I don’t know.)  I wasn’t impressed with The Chimes, and I was even less enamored with this year’s selection, The Cricket on the Hearth. Slightly less than halfway through this one, there was still no sign of Christmas in Dickens’ long-winded and discombobulated narrative.  This happened to be one of my Classics Club selections, too (although not the one for this most recent spin), so I’ll probably replace it with something.

Christmas Listening …
Between wrapping gifts and a few bouts of insomnia, I’ve been listening to more podcasts than usual. Here are some of the best:

The Writer’s Almanac: “The Meeting” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (12/25/2015)
Such a perfect poem for Christmas when you’re missing someone special.

Burnt Toast: “Someone Put a Diaper on the Turkey” (12/17/2015)
Listeners’ stories of hilarious holiday disasters involving food.

New Yorker Poetry: Ellen Bass Reads Adam Zagajewski (12/16/2015)
Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” resonated with me.

On Being: Martin Sheen: Spirituality of Imagination (12/16/2015)
Fantastic interview with actor and activist Martin Sheen about his spirituality.

“Yeah, the love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. A knowingness about our being that unites us to all of humanity, to all of the universe. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that “I’m looking for God.” But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we’re least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming. And that is the basic foundation of joy. And we become enviable joyful. And then we see it in others, and we seek to ignite that love in others. You can’t do it. You can’t force someone to realize they’re loved, but you can show them.” – Martin Sheen

The Moth Podcast: Eve Plumb and The Pittsburgh StorySLAM (12/15/2015) 
Eve Plumb (you know her as Jan Brady) is hilarious in this episode of The Moth where she shares stories about her childhood on and off the set of The Brady Bunch, and her relationship with her mother. In another story (not involving Eve Plumb or Jan Brady), a slideshow of photos intended for an audience of two winds up being shown at a family gathering.

Christmas Shopping …
The Husband, The Girl, and I all received some great books for Christmas — and The Girl and I went on a little bit of a shopping spree (thanks to her Christmas cash burning a hole in her pocket) at two local independent bookstores.  I need to wrap up this post, though, and get to bed, so I’ll plan on doing that recap separately.

Anticipating … 
I can’t believe this is the last Sunday Salon/Currently for 2015!  I really like doing these posts (even though they tend to take me forever) and in looking back over my blogging this year, oftentimes they’ve been the only posts I’ve written in a particular week.  I’m hoping to remedy that in 2016.

In addition to the book haul from this week, I have a few other fun posts planned.  Hope your holidays were good ones and that you have a great last week of 2015!

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and i do come home at christmas

“And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday–the longer, the better–from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree!

Away into the winter prospect. There are many such upon the tree! On, by low-lying, misty grounds, through fens and fogs, up long hills, winding dark as caverns between thick plantations, almost shutting out the sparkling stars; so, out on broad heights, until we stop at last ….” ~ Charles Dickens

We traveled across the state, over low-lying, misty, foggy hills. Into a brief blue of dawn and the brume of day.

There are sugar cookies waiting. Books for reading.  Dinner plans with friends who are like family. Who are our family.

It is good to be home.

 

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thanksgiving 2015: unplugged (or not) and thankfully reading

Thanksgiving 2014 - cropped

Thanksgiving, 2014

Thanksgiving 2015, and we’ve been experiencing some maddening Internet woes here on the homefront today. On, then off for a few minutes. Repeat at inconvenient intervals. Season with an impromptu shutdown of the laptop for an update.

A sign that we should be spending this holiday unplugged from our technology and more connected to the things that really matter?

Yes, perhaps.

(The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m writing this with the benefit of an Internet connection. For now.)

There will be some unplugged time today and throughout this weekend. I’m participating in the annual Thankfully Reading Weekend hosted by Jenn’s Bookshelves. I need to start Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann for a review, and I’m also still reading The Witches by Stacy Schiff. That one is taking me forever — it’s definitely a chunkster. I don’t have any goals for Thankfully Reading; it’s meant to be a low-key event, which are the best kinds of read-a-thons and challenges, in my mind.

Today I’m cooking dinner for The Husband, the kids, and my mother-in-law.  Started last night, actually, by making a few things ahead of time:  cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie. In the crockpot are sweet potatoes and carrots.  The turkey breast is already taken care of, courtesy of a gift certificate to Honeybaked Ham, and we have a Quorn turkey roll for the two of us who abstain from meat. Stuffing (two kinds — one regular, one gluten-free), mashed potatoes and biscuits still to come.

It will be an abundant, delicious meal on this, a bit of a difficult holiday.  The past five months have brought several significant challenges and stress, and as the year quickly draws to a close, there’s some real apprehension about what 2016 will bring.

I’m trying very hard to look past all that — beyond what’s been lost and what lies ahead — and trying to focus on being grateful, for now.

To stay plugged in to what truly matters.

 

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a quiet knotted faith

Pope Mass in Philly

I’ve been glued to the TV this weekend, captivated by the coverage of Pope Francis’ historic visit in my hometown of Philadelphia. My kids are perplexed at my interest (“Why are you watching this? We’re not even Catholic,” and “I’ve never seen you so religious, Mom,” have been common refrains, as if they’re expecting me to join a nunnery).

But with the exception of the Festival of Families ceremony last night, which struck me as .. well, kind of weird … I couldn’t get enough.  Like millions of others, I love this charismatic Pope and how his words and actions challenges and inspires every one of us to become better people.

The concept of faith is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few months. Raised Lutheran, I attended a Catholic college where I met and fell in love with a guy who was raised Jewish. (We were the only two non-Catholics in the Religion in America class that was the catalyst for our becoming friends.)  We were married in the Lutheran church by a pastor who embraced a new, modern approach to Christianity that emphasized a message of hope and optimism and God’s role in making us better people. So much of who I am and what I believe is because of this pastor and his sermons that are still on my bookshelves today.

At one point during our Infertility Years, my sister-in-law invited The Husband and I to attend a local Unitarian Universalist congregation … and no one was more surprised than we were when we kept coming back. That church became a rock for us in those tough years.

But over the past two years, my attendance at a UU fellowship here in Pittsburgh has been sporadic at best to non-existent. It has nothing to do with the church itself, as I really like the people, the services, and the minister. Part of it is timing: in our house, Sunday mornings and afternoons usually find the four of us relaxing in our respective ways:  with football, baseball or hockey on TV, depending on the sport of the season; with a book and some time spent on the deck communing with the birds and weather; with writing; with a hearty soup in the crockpot. It’s a simple time, a quasi-Sabbath, a reprieve during the week. Mass offered at different times is something I’ve always thought the Catholics do right; in 2012,  82% of Unitarian Universalist congregations had 249 members or less, so there’s a ways to go there. (Then again, there isn’t that whole weekly obligation thing.)

Still, ours is a family that’s unchurched and unaffiliated. The consequence of such ranges from my kids not knowing the basic principles of religion (“What does ‘bless’ mean?” my son asked this morning, as I watched on TV the Pope embracing prisoners) to my frustration on how faith communities often fail to accommodate children with disabilities — yes, even UUs — and my guilt that maybe raising our kids with a lack of religious fundamentals demonstrates how much The Husband and I have screwed up as parents.

I’m not sure what the answer is – and to be honest, because I’m not even sure the UU faith is working for me right now, I can’t prescribe it as a balm for everyone in our family. (Although there will be a monthly Wednesday evening service this fall, so that might be something.) The Unitarian Universalist religion’s heavy emphasis on social justice and seemingly relentless focus on certain societal and political issues (important as they are) often leaves me weary because there’s only so much I can do, only so much attention I can give, especially when — as has been the case recently — my own world feels out of control and chaotic.

Where the brand of Lutheranism of my youth, the Catholicism of my college years, and the Unitarian Universalist affiliations in my adulthood have been the faiths I’ve identified with the most, my faith has become akin to a smoothie. It’s somewhat of a potpourri of the past and the present these days: reading Anne LaMott; listening to UU blogs and podcasts; meditating before bedtime; performing infrequent random acts of kindness; being observant of the skies; submitting a struggle online for a stranger to add to the Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto.

I wonder if it is all good enough, and then, amazingly, as I watched Pope Francis celebrate Mass with hundreds of thousands in the streets of my beloved Philadelphia, the  Pope says yes, it is.

“Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded”, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures.

Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.

Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.

So we might ask ourselves: How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children (cf. Laudato Si’, 160)? We cannot answer these questions alone, by ourselves. It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family. Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions. The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change (cf. ibid., 13). May our children find in us models and incentives to communion! May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!”  (Text of Pope Francis’ homily, 9/27/2015, Philadelphia)

May it be so. Blessed be.

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tools

 

Poetry can be like a time machine, one where the words have the power to instantly send you traveling at lightning speed decades back in time while simultaneously illuminating your present.

Such was the case this morning with the work of local poet and English instructor Fred Shaw, whose poem “The Toolbox” appears in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  It resonated because it transported me back to the tools I grew up with: my Dad’s toolbench in a small workshop in our house, my Grandpop Middleman’s tools in their basement.

Today happens to be 25 years exactly since we lost my grandfather, I later realized. I had to look it up; out of all the many death anniversaries date-stamped in my mind, this is one that I tend to forget. (“There’s someone – a male – who has passed who was kind of quiet, who isn’t always at the top of the list of those you memorialize,” a psychic once told me. “He wants you to know he’s still with you, too.”)  His once-stenciled name has faded to a smudge. 

A few things in this life of ours need some fixing. It’s been … well … finding the right tools has been challenging.

I don’t have the instructions on how to use these tools, if indeed I ever did.

I don’t even know which tools I need.

The lesson I take from him:

find the proper tools for the job,

identify what works

from what is missing.

Your words ring so true today, Fred Shaw. I thank you.

 

 

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Project Food Budget: Week 9!

Project Food Budget 2015

Week 8 Recap
I don’t know what it was about last week, but my motivation for meal-planning just vanished. It just … well … things didn’t come together and nobody liked any of my on-the-spot ideas for dinner and by Wednesday I was all screw THIS and wound up picking up hoagies and burgers from Sheetz and I ate fries and tater tots for dinner (yep, JUST fries and tater tots, as if I’m three years old) AND I LOVED EVERY FREAKIN’ BITE OF IT.

Oh, and Friday I packed my lunch and brought it to work … and promptly forgot to put it in the office fridge. And I succumbed to a veggie wrap and a chocolate chip cookie, both of which I knew were not gluten-free. (Same with the fries and tater tots.) And I paid for it over the weekend with a nagging headache.

I still wasn’t feeling the meal-planning mojo over the weekend so I decided to take some control of the situation.

“I need a total of six ideas that everyone in this house can agree on and will eat for dinner,” I declared on Saturday morning. “And I will make those. For real.”

Blank stares and groans of Moooooooommmmm, you’re making us do maaaaatttttthhhhhhhh during summer vacation followed

“SIX dinners,” I said, tapping my pen. “One, two, three, four, five, six. This isn’t difficult, people.”

(The seventh dinner is our traditional Friday pizza night.)

It took a good twenty minutes – maybe more – until my kids were able to agree on:

  • macaroni and cheese
  • pasta with cheese sauce
  • chicken and mashed potatoes
  • boneless pork chops
  • taco night (which we already do on average of once a week)
  • vegetarian fried rice

Slight problem with #3 and #4, of course, since The Husband and I are vegetarian, but I can work with this. I’m not saying this is going to be our weekly menu (although I probably could make macaroni and cheese every single night and no one would complain) but this helps. Kinda.

This Week

Still having trouble getting myself back on track, evidenced by this being a terrible week in the food budgeting department. Not good, my PFB friends. Went way over budget because I didn’t bother to do any meal planning before hitting Trader Joe’s on Saturday, despite asking the kids for dinner ideas.  (The Girl and I saw “Paper Towns” and we decided to stop by TJs since it was right there.)

So, speaking of doing math, let’s do some:

No meal planning + Grocery Shopping = Spending Way Over the $150 Weekly Budget

Trader Joe’s = $143.12
Giant Eagle = $79.08
TOTAL: $222.20  (!!!!)

Ugh.

I guess I should be grateful that everyone ate and seemed to enjoy the two dinners I made from those groceries (mandarian orange “chicken” and rice; vegetarian hot dogs, potato salad and strawberries). That’s something.

I’m not beating myself up about it. We all have weeks like these ’cause we’re human, not superhuman, and next week is another chance to try again.

Let’s see how the other Project: Food Budget participants did:

Have you taken my blog survey yet? If not, I’d love your thoughts. https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/F8MNXF2
Thanks so much!

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