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Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie dressed for Festivus.JPG        No, I assure you, this is not a case of Festivus for the Rest of Us. It’s just that after eight straight nights of latkes, I was invited to a friend’s house for Christmas Eve dinner, and I was doing my best to get into the spirit of the holiday. And yes, wearing red and green with a gold Star of David was the best I could do to get into the spirit of the holiday.
I also am doing my level best to be prepared to move on to yet another year. But let’s face it – I’m not ready for 2014 to end any more than I’m ready for 2015 to begin. I mean, how can I be set for New Year’s Eve when I still haven't managed to finish my account of Thanksgiving?
I left off my saga about that all-American celebration on the night of Allegra’s first CD release party. She had breezed in from Hong Kong along with her witty boyfriend JP to launch her CD in NYC. But after surviving these festivities-slash-ordeal, I passed out past 2 a.m. on the eve of Thanksgiving, moments after it dawned on me that I still had to cook a turkey and all the trimmings, then help host another CD release back home.The worst travel day of the year.jpg
Everyone knows that the day before Thanksgiving is the second worst travel day of the year (surpassed only by the Sunday after Thanksgiving). A dire forecast for snow and sleet only enhanced our resolve to get an early start back to Connecticut. But after the hectic days we had just endured, that just wasn’t gonna happen.
By the time we had emptied our hotel rooms and made our exit, it was already noon. Since we had been obliged to pick up Allegra and JP almost simultaneously at two different airports, my husband and I had driven two cars into the city – a fortuitous thing, since we now needed to transport our son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin home from Harlem too, and there was no way all six of us and our luggage would fit into a single car.bellhop carrying bags.jpg
The fact was that Allegra had schlepped so many gifts and other hazzerei from Hong Kong that we could barely fit all of her luggage into my car. So after a nice bellhop named Sal had crammed in as much as he possibly could, he assured us that he'd put the rest into my husband’s car. This seemed like a foolproof plan, since my husband took over my spot in the loading area out front the second I drove off.
Well, maybe "foolproof" was a bit optimistic. Because even though we are evidently fools, we managed to flub it.
About an hour after I’d left the city, my husband wrote to say that, thanks to holiday gridlock, he had just reached Aidan’s place in Harlem, only to realize that one of his bags was missing. Upon further inspection, he realized that both of his bags and JP’s suitcase were missing too.
It turned out that when he had pulled up to the hotel right after us, Sal had mysteriously disappeared. And after glancing around the lobby, my husband had taken someone else’s bags erroneously, assuming they were ours.
It took him another hour to return to the hotel, retrieve the right bags, relinquish the wrong ones, and head for home in even heavier holiday traffic, not to mention snow and descending darkness. Boy, did I feel guilty!We had to settle for mediocre Chinese takeout.jpg
Our plan had been to take everyone out to dinner that night so that I wouldn’t have to quickly cook and clean for the crowd on top of starting to make Thanksgiving dinner. But by the time the second car at long last arrived, everyone was too beat to move.
The best I could do was to subject JP to a terrible first impression of our country and the state by sending out for horrifically mediocre, lukewarm takeout Chinese food.I baked two pumpkin pies from scratch.jpg
The next day, I must say, remains little more than a blur. I woke up having not prepared a single thing, and somehow managed to bake two pumpkin pies from scratch, then prepare copious hors d’oeuvres, a turkey, homemade stuffing, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, green beans, and gravy, and get it all on the table by 6 p.m.
Then our good friends Pat and Michael stopped in to see Allegra and meet JP. After that, everyone was in such a food stupor that I cleaned up almost single-handedly.
The next day, even more friends stopped by to see Allegra and yes, meet JP.A very Levy Thanksgiving 2014.JPG
That day was also what they call Black Friday, which I believe has something to do with doors, or busters, or getting a leg up on the next holiday. (It is not a turkey leg, I think.) Personally, I prefer to take my holidays one at a time. (Remember the travesty that was Thanksgivukkah last year? Need I say more?!?) But Allegra, excited to be back on capitalist U.S. soil, prevailed upon me to take Kaitlin and her to the mall.Alex came along for the ride.jpg
As it happened, we had another guest for the occasion. Alex, the very sweet son of my friend Lisa, my BFF since childhood, had joined us from Boston, where he is in grad school. He had a Megabus ticket home for early that evening, and I could not imagine abandoning him for the rest of the afternoon. So I invited him to come along for the ride.Dumb and Dumber -- There's a chance!.jpg
I had been shopping with these girls before, and I knew in my heart of hearts that the chances of my getting them out of the mall in time to make Alex’s bus were slim to none. But I told myself it was still within the realm of possibility, if only along the lines of that scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber, when a beautiful actress tells Jim Carrey’s character Lloyd Christmas that the chances of her dating him are one in a million, to which he responds elatedly, “So you're saying there’s a chance!”
And there might have been had it not been for the ensuing Black Friday Bonanza.There was no express line out of Express.jpg
The girls’ favorite store, Express, was extremely well stocked for the holiday sale. So they stepped into the dressing room and did not emerge until each of them had tried on all 5,000 or so garments they had brought in with them, all of which, unfortunately, fit.
        There was no express line at Express, of course, particularly on Black Friday.There was no Megabus in sight.jpg
By the time we had checked out and driven many miles at breakneck speed to the Megabus stop, there was a mega disaster -- no bus in sight. Had it never come? Had it already left? Either way, there was not another one scheduled until Sunday. I had no choice but to bring poor Alex back home. Then I took everyone out to dinner (since they’d already demolished the leftover turkey for lunch). Then I drove Alex all the way back to the real bus station in plenty of time to put him on a Greyhound.Allegra's Black-Eyed Sally's CD release poster.jpg
The next day, it was already time for Allegra to prepare for her show that night. For the New York show, we had expected dozens of people, but this one, being on a Saturday night and so close to home, would draw at least twice as many.Allegra in The Hartford Courant CAL section.jpg
At least this time she would not be obliged to perform live with musicians she had never even met. For the hometown show, she had engaged a group of players she knew well. Some she had performed with for years. One, she had known her whole life.Aidan plays the bari saxophone.JPG
When she had initially asked her brother if he would like to perform with her, Aidan, who plays the baritone sax, had staunchly declined. It wasn’t just that he was busy with both grad school and a looming deadline for the book he is writing. He said that it should be her night and hers alone.
She had continued to plead with him nonetheless. But it was not until he’d arrived home from the city with his sax case in tow that we knew he had finally succumbed.
The rest of the band arrived mid-afternoon to begin to rehearse in our living room. Seeing all those guys march in, I knew that I had better rustle up some grub. I also figured that Allegra might invite multitudes back to the house after the show. So along with all sorts of drinks, snacks and a pizza, I picked up a sheet cake at the market on which I had the bakery department write the name of her CD.
After all, it was kind of its birthday, wasn’t it?
By the time I’d gotten home, Allegra had changed into a seriously slinky red dress. It was almost showtime!Black-EyedcSally's.jpg
Black-Eyed Sally’s in Hartford, CT, tends to be a raucous scene on almost any night. But this was not almost any night. I had booked a table for 16 just to seat our own family and many of our closest friends. But stories about Allegra had run that week in all of the local papers, and her dad and I had managed to plaster posters all over town.
So there wasn’t just not a spare seat in the house. It was truly standing room only.Allegra and the band at Black-Eyed Sally's.jpg
Gazing out at the crowd after she’d sung her opening number, Allegra joked that it reminded her of her bat mitzvah. It reminded me a lot of that, too. With so many people I knew there, I felt obliged to circulate from table to table and welcome every one of them.Allegra and Aidan at Black-Eyed Sally's.jpg
This was made all the more exhausting by the fact that I mysteriously had come down with a severe case of food poisoning the night before and could barely stand up. But that didn’t stop me from making the rounds repeatedly… nor from kvelling wildly to see both of my kids perform.
It also didn’t prevent me from dragging poor JP around the room with me. Allegra may have been the star attraction, but everyone wanted to meet him too, and I began to think his initials stood for Jovial and Patient. He may not have remembered the names of all 100 or so people to whom he was introduced, but he was relentlessly charming and an awfully good sport.Allegra and JP on Thanksgiving.jpg
With luck, Allegra only invited a small crowd back home for cake afterwards. Because the next morning we had to get up, pack up, and go back to the city again.
I am not going to bore you with every detail of the rest of our excursion. Suffice it to say that JP is no longer a stranger to NYC. He has seen it all.Aubrey Allegra and JP.JPG
And seen it all in too short a time. After being away for almost five months, Allegra wanted to catch up with everyone she had ever met. And they all wanted to meet JP, who (whether he wanted to meet half of New York or not) was still being a good sport.
The only quiet and truly tranquil moment I can remember is when the two of them let us join them late one morning on a scenic stroll through Central Park.Allegra and JP in Central Park closeup.JPG
The rest was just a whirlwind of eating, sightseeing and seeing people round the clock, which reached epic proportions on their last day thanks to a grave miscalculation.Mystral.jpg
Before Allegra had arrived home, she had mentioned that her good friend Mystral wanted to go on a double date with her and JP to a Broadway show. But with the two CD release shows and Thanksgiving factored in, the only night that they were available to go was Allegra’s last night in New York.
The show they wanted to see was Cabaret, starring actress Emma Stone.Emma Stone in Cabaret.jpg
“Wouldn’t you rather see something a bit more upbeat on your last night home?” I asked. “Something without Nazis, perhaps?”
        Cabaret was the least cheery show I could think of.
        Why, even among shows about Nazis, it was the least cheery show I could think of.Cabaret marquee at Studio 54.JPG
Never mind that the tickets were also enormously expensive. They went out and bought them anyway. And since it was Allegra’s last night home, I went online and bought four more tickets on Theatermania so that Aidan, Kaitlin, and my husband and I could go along too.
It was only after this that it occurred to me that Allegra had made a major gaffe.
She had told me she and JP were flying out on Wednesday night December 3 at 12:50 a.m. But I suddenly realized that December 3 at 12:50 a.m. was Tuesday night. They weren’t leaving for Hong Kong the next day. They were leaving right after the show.
In fact, the show ended at 9:30 p.m. and they were supposed to be at JFK 20 minutes later. Never mind that we’d have to get the car and JFK is about an hour away.
But we already had eight pricey tickets, so somehow we'd have to make it work.
It didn’t help that Allegra tried to fit a lifetime of activity into that very last day.Matisse cutouts at MoMA.jpg
She and JP met a friend for breakfast. Then they met a friend for coffee. Then they met another friend for lunch. Then they went to the holiday market at Columbus Circle. Then we met up with them and went to the Apple Store to try to buy her a new phone.
Then we went to the Museum of Modern Art and saw the amazing Matisse exhibit.
        Dinner at Da Tomasso with Mystral.jpg
Then we met up with Aidan, Kaitlin, and Mystral for our very last supper out together at a lovely Italian restaurant near the theater called Da Tomasso, where we surprised Allegra and JP by singing happy birthday to them both two weeks in advance.
Then, suddenly, it was showtime all over again.
I must confess that Allegra was right – Emma Stone really shone in the part of Sally Bowles. And although her singing may not be anything to write home about, or even to write a blog about, that only enhanced her credibility in the part of a pathetic, aspiring chanteuse.Alan Cumming kills in Cabaret.jpg
Alan Cumming, meanwhile, was no less than astonishing in the Joel Grey role.
And still… it was indeed about the least cheery show ever, with or without Nazis.
        No matter. S
uddenly the lights went up, and we were among the least cheery people ever.
Racing to the car, which was parked in the garage next door, Allegra became distraught upon discovering that she had left my scarf and hat, which she had borrowed, back in the theater. She became even more frantic to realize that Aidan and Kaitlin were still inside as well and she hadn’t gotten to say goodbye.
So after we got the car, I pulled around the corner and let her jump out and bid the kids a hurried farewell. (There was no time to search for the lost items.) Then she got back into the car and really became hysterical.
Is it any wonder that I began to wail too?A heavy rain battered my windshield.jpg
        To top it all off, a
torrential rain had begun to fall. I don’t know which was harder to see through, the veil of tears on my face or the canvas of raindrops on my fogged-up windshield.
All I know is that I was behind the wheel the whole way there, navigating through heavy precipitation and fog and even heavier holiday traffic all the way to the airport.
I was terrified that they wouldn’t make their plane.
        I also was terrified that they would.Allegra and JP leaving from JFK.jpg
When we reached their terminal, I bounded out of the car to hug them both goodbye. Late as they were, it was hard to let go. To say that Allegra and I both lost it would be the understatement of the year.
Then, although we had managed to deposit them two hours in advance, we stayed parked outside until nearly midnight awaiting confirmation that they would get onto their flight.
To my great relief, as well as grief, they would. And did.
Then I crashed.
No, not the car. In spirit. After 10 days of being on the go nonstop, it was hard to get out of bed.
I was tired. So tired. Thanksgiving and two bat mitzvahs in a row will do that to you.Pattieforlorn.jpg
But mostly, I was very sad. Getting used to having my daughter back? That had been a breeze. But having her gone in a flash all over again was somehow even harder than her leaving had been the first time around. Because when she had left last June, it had been for only three months. That, at least, had been the plan.
Now there was no real plan. And nearly a month later, there still isn’t.
I don’t know when she will be back here.
        I don’t know when I might go back there.
But whenever I feel a twinge of despair, I remember that last night at JFK and the words that she whispered in my ear.The Terminator.jpgAllegra and me after Black-Eyed Sally's gig3.JPG
When Arnold Schwarzenegger said them in The Terminator series, it was a threat.
When my daughter whispered them to me, it was a promise. A promise that she is sure to keep.
“I’ll be back.”
I don’t know when. I don’t know how. But I know she will.
        And knowing that time will bring her back, I guess I'm really ready to move on.Allegra at Black-Eyed Sally's closeup.JPG

To hear Allegra sing her song "I Don't Want to Be in Love" at Black-Eyed Sally's, click on this YouTube link: http://youtu.be/J_HGtZ0SO7Q

To hear her sing her song "The Duet" there, click here: http://youtu.be/RkjQS65MJe8

1:00 am 

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Word From the Weiss
Poor Latke has never had a latke.jpg

        Happy Hanukkah from all of us at NiceJewishMom.com, including Latke, who has finally learned to chime in during the blessing over the candles each night, but remains a bit baffled to hear her name bandied about much more than usual at this time of year.
I assume you’re as busy as I am and won’t mind if I keep it short and sweet this week. For here in the land of the Levys, there’s much to do… and much to celebrate.
First of all, I must give a big shout-out and hearty congratulations to my son Aidan. We all know about the valiant Maccabees and the oil that burned for eight days and nights. But poor Aidan has been burning the candle at both ends now for eight whole months of days and nights! That’s because he got a book contract last spring, and soon after that he was accepted to grad school. Which of these golden opportunities would he choose to accept? If you knew Aidan like I know Aidan, then you’d know the answer.
Both, of course.Aidan just finished writing his book.jpg
He started his Ph. D in English at Columbia in September, but kept plugging away on the book and turned in a 450-page manuscript this past Tuesday night, just in time to make his deadline and light the Hanukkah lights. Talk about modern miracles! (Excuse me if I can’t keep my kvelling down to a dull roar. But I’m not just a nice Jewish mom – I’m a very proud one!)
Not to be outdone, his sister Allegra had yet a third release party for her new CD this past Wednesday night. But to my infinite frustration, I could only be there in spirit this time, and had to settle for ogling the few photos posted afterwards on Facebook. This one, after all, was held a bit far away – at a club called Orange Peel in Hong Kong!Allegra's Hong Kong CD release show.JPG
As if this weren’t enough cause to celebrate, Allegra turned 25 the very next day. By odd coincidence (or beshert?), that happened to be her boyfriend JP’s birthday too.
To my added frustration, the care package bearing both Chanukah and birthday gifts that I’d mailed them from the States failed to arrive on time. But having limited faith in the U.S. postal service, and even less in its Chinese cohort, I had a back-up plan.Allegra and JP at her Hong Kong CD release show.JPG
It was tough enough that I wouldn’t get to see my girl (er, young woman) on her big day this year. Never mind that we already had given her a special, high-tech birthday gift while she was home for Thanksgiving, and had even done some birthday pre-gaming by lighting a candle atop a slice of cake in advance. A birthday like this one was too much of a milestone to let pass without some kind of substantial acknowledgment.Flowers I sent to Allegra in Hong Kong.jpg
So I sprang for sending her flowers on the actual day, all the way to Hong Kong. For good measure, and added festivity, I threw in a bottle of champagne. (Well, “sparkling wine,” anyway. I did not spring for the actual Moet & Chandon.) I’d prefer that my husband not know what this splurge cost, so I’m not about to tell you either. Suffice it to say that when I realized she might not receive these items if she wasn’t home when they arrived, I began to bite not just my fingernails, but toenails as well.
Meanwhile, without the Hanukkah supplies I’d sent from home, Allegra ventured forth the day that the holiday began in search of latkes, candles, and a menorah.Ohel Leah Synagogue.jpg
She went to Ohel Leah, the synagogue that is the epicenter of Hong Kong Jewish life. When we’d gone there with her in September to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, an Israeli-sounding man out front had demanded to see our passports and interrogated us aggressively before finally believing that we were actually there for the right reasons.
Now, without we alter cockers in tow, poor Allegra was truly given the third degree. (Mysteriously, she noted, this fellow displayed no such suspicion about JP, who does not exactly look Jewish.) This time, the cross examination was so rigorous that she found herself delineating the details of her Jewish upbringing – five years attending a Solomon Schechter Day School, followed by a bat mitzvah and Confirmation class. Then she volunteered to recite any prayer that her interrogator might request in Hebrew.
At last she was allowed in, only to discover that the Judaica shop inside was closed.The mother urged her young son to
When she began to inquire about when the store might open again, a young mother retrieving her children from religious school overheard and began haranguing the little boy she had in tow. The youngster had evidently just finished fashioning a hand-made menorah in class, and the mother urged him earnestly to retrieve it from his backpack.The boy had made a menorah in class.jpg
        She wanted him to give his freshly painted creation to Allegra.
But the child, who was all of about 5, was reluctant to comply. “No!’ he retorted flatly.
“C’mon,” the mom persisted sweetly, urging him to “do a mitzvah” again and again.
As touching as the woman’s magnanimity might be, Allegra was mostly mortified.
“I would’ve been embarrassed to take a kid’s handmade work!” she later stated on Facebook. Accepting the boy’s menorah would’ve been like taking candy from a baby.
This awkward exchange gave her a sudden flash of inspiration, though. After all, if there's one thing Allegra has learned from all her years singing jazz, it is how to improvise.
With luck, she managed to find Chanukah candles at a market. She also bought some paper cups. Then she went home, covered eight of the cups with aluminum foil, poked a candle through the bottom of each, and viola! Instant homemade menorah.Menorah Allegra improvised in Hong Kong.jpg
(By the way, I never would’ve asked her to relinquish this handiwork to a stranger. Even at the not-so-tender age of 25.)
Her work was far from over, though. She still had to prepare a Hanukkah meal.
The package that was still somewhere in transit had included a box of latke mix. At home, I never use a mix, and neither does she. We always make latkes from scratch. (For the recipe posted on my website, see the navigation bar at right.)
I’d sent the mix because she had extremely limited cooking equipment in Hong Kong. At the very least, I knew she didn’t have a food processor.I used to make latkes with a metal grater.jpg
When I was young, I was the one in my family who grated the potatoes for latkes each year. I did this using an old-fashioned metal grater, and I can still feel how sore my knuckles would be by the time I was done with this medieval instrument of torture. Now that I’m grown up, I use a Cuisinart instead. That may defy tradition, but it’s fast and painless, and the results? They taste just fine.Latkes Allegra made in Hong Kong.jpg
But Allegra is not one to stand on ceremony, nor to consider celebrating Hanukkah without latkes. She bought a cheap metal grater, shredded the heck of a bag of spuds, and managed to fry up an impressive batch of potato pancakes.
Meanwhile, her nice Jewish friend Matt threw some kosher meat on the grill.Hanukkah dinner Allegra made in Hong Kong.JPG
Needless to say, no one at her holiday dinner seemed to have any complaints.
In fact, the only one involved who remained a bit disgruntled may have been me.
Along with the menorah and Hanukkah candles I’d sent, I also had enclosed some festive birthday candles and small gifts for both Allegra and JP. Even if the holiday paraphernalia didn’t arrive by Tuesday, there were eight more nights to the Festival of Lights. But there was only one actual birthday between the two of them, and I wanted them to receive something. Especially when my daughter was so far away from home.
That’s why I sent her the flowers. And the “champagne,” which was for them both.My dad gave me a Snoopy doll for my 25th.jpg
The florist also offered the option to attach a birthday balloon, but I thought the champagne was far more appropriate at her age. When I turned 25, my father took me out to dinner and gave me a wristwatch, but also a big stuffed Snoopy doll. I guess he wasn’t quite ready for me to grow up and needed to remind me that I was still his kid.
At 25, my own daughter is grown up enough to live on the other side of the globe. And wants us to know it. No balloons. And definitely no dolls. I went for the champagne.
Unfortunately, to make sure she was home to receive my delivery, I was obliged to spill the beans. Well, some of ’em, anyway. I had to admit something was on the way. But I didn’t say what.Elderflower sparkling wine.jpg
And that was probably a good thing, because when the delivery arrived, on the right day, the “champagne” turned out to be some sort of sparkling elderflower mint wine.
Allegra was thrilled – enough so to post a photo of the flowers and bottle on Facebook, along with a message thanking us both and saying how excited she was.
They did not, however, open the elderberry mint wine. She’s saving it, she said. For what, she didn’t say.Flowers and Champagne I sent to Allegra.jpg
Three days later, the box that I mailed still had yet to arrive. No matter. Thanks to the modern miracle of FaceTime, we’re managing to light the candles and sing together each night (although with the 13-hour time difference, it’s actually morning for her).
Fortunately, there are still a few more nights left to the Festival of Lights. I hope she gets to use the menorah that I sent at least once. Will there be another Hanukkah miracle? Even in Hong Kong? I may lack faith in the postal service. But I do have faith. We’ll see.

11:59 pm 

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Allegra's CD Lonely City.jpg        If you think that the holidays are a hectic time, then you don’t know the half of it.
        My half of it, that is.
When I learned that my daughter Allegra had to fly in from Hong Kong sometime last month to officially release her brand new CD – “Lonely City,” on the SteepleChase Lookout label – I urged her to come in for the week of Thanksgiving. Never once in her life had she missed out on my famous homemade pumpkin pie, and I wasn’t about to let her start now. What I failed to take into consideration was that this would involve throwing two CD release parties during that already action (and poultry) packed week, one each in New York and Connecticut, to which we would invite practically everyone we knew.Allegra in Chinese dress.JPG
OK, in all fairness to her, she was the one who’d do all the singing at these events – severely jetlagged, no less, thanks to a 13-hour time difference and a 16-hour flight. All I would need to do was clean the house, lure people to the release parties, circulate among the guests who came, and cook up a high-calorie storm.
But if you think all that is no big deal, then let me tell you what it felt like to spend weeks frantically cleaning and redecorating the house, then go to the city for three hectic days and nights, then race home and prepare the turkey, side dishes, and desserts all in one grueling day… and then turn around and grapple with another, even bigger show. It was essentially like running a marathon, sandwiched between throwing two bat mitzvahs back to back.
Not exactly the restful and relaxing family reunion that I had initially had in mind.Allegra and JP at a friend's wedding.JPG
Perhaps you wonder why in the midst of all that I had to redecorate the house. After all, neither of the release parties would be held there. The problem was that Allegra was not coming home from Hong Kong all alone. Her eminently likable and charming boyfriend JP had graciously accepted our invitation to join her. That meant that it was time to bite the bullet and trade up from the narrow twin bed and little girl bedding still inside her room.
Allegra also had mentioned in passing that JP’s own parents were avid neatniks. We, needless to say, are not. Although we had done a major purge when I threw my husband a 70th birthday bash last summer, cleaning the living room for the party had consisted mainly of moving much of the clutter upstairs. During the visit, JP would venture both upstairs and down, and we didn’t want to embarrass our daughter – or ourselves.old makeup in drawer.jpg
So I hope it won’t embarrass her too much to mention that her room, in particular, was in no shape to receive company. On the contrary, she hadn’t done much purging herself since we’d first moved in 15 years ago. Neither, in all fairness to her, had my son, but girls tend to accumulate more. Much more. I’d implored her repeatedly to throw things out, but she merely brought more home from college after every year. The result? Her desk, dresser, and drawers were liberally littered with old homework assignments, clothing, nail polish, makeup, and other decades-old detritus, much of which had preceded the Clinton Administration.Pattie building headboard 1.JPG
For her sake, and ours, I felt like the statute of limitations was up and it was time to take action at last. But she was now living in Hong Kong, so the cleanup and dirty work fell to me. With her permission to throw out anything and everything, I spent four solid days in her room, which, along with a treasure trove of trash, yielded nearly a dozen bags to donate to charity.New headboard assembled!.JPG
Then I set about procuring not just a new queen-sized mattress and box spring, but new bedding and a headboard to match. Alas, the latter arrived in a box bearing the three most dreaded words known to man or nice Jewish mom kind: "Some assembly required."
But with persistence, elbow grease, and an Allen wrench (not to mention the willingness to read instructions, the gene for which is notably lacking in Nice Jewish Dad), I eventually prevailed.Happily Ever After Snow White poster .JPG
With Allegra about to turn 25, it was also time for the Snow White poster that read “…And they lived happily ever after” to be happily relegated to the basement.Flower painting on Allegra's wall.JPG
        In its place, I put a tasteful floral watercolor that matched the still-lavender walls.
I also stashed her 700 or so stuffed animals, ranging from teeny Beanie Babies to a gi-normous teddy bear, discreetly in the closet.
Then, while I was at it, it was high time to replace all of the cutesy pink curtains, rugs, and towels in her bathroom … the ones that had been left by our home’s last owner and Allegra had never even liked. I found a vibrant, deep violet curtain in a style called Gigi at Bed, Bath & Beyond instead and picked up accessories to match.Allegra's bathroom curtain.JPG
Voilà! She and her childhood quarters had graduated from middle school at last.Allegra's new bed.JPG
Sadly, after all this effort, we would have to wait a few more days for the big reveal. Since the New York show was the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, we would spend our first three nights in the city after picking up Allegra and JP on Sunday at the airport.
Airports, actually. Due to complications, they were obliged to travel on separate airlines. JP would arrive at JFK a little past noon, and Allegra would follow shortly after, miles away in Newark. So my husband and I were obliged to make the 2½ hour trek from Connecticut in two separate cars in order to pick them up almost simultaneously.Allegra arriving from Hong Kong.jpg
It fell to me to fetch JP, so the screaming scene that ensued when I first laid eyes on my daughter again only managed to deafen anyone standing in a ten-block radius of the lobby of our hotel.
That decibel level was thankfully muted somewhat when Allegra was exuberantly reunited that evening with her brother Aidan, his girlfriend Kaitlin, and her longtime BFF Michelle at our favorite French bistro, La Lunchonette, on 18th and Tenth Avenue.Dinner at La Lunchonette with Kaitlin, Aidan and Michelle.jpg
Allegra had decisively chosen to introduce JP to her adopted hometown by taking him not to the reputed best restaurants in NYC, but the ones she knew best and loved.
But we couldn’t resist throwing in a tacky tourist attraction or two, like the Tick Tock Diner on Eighth Avenue and 34th Street, where we chowed down on trayf and eggs the next morning.Allegra and JP at the Tick Tock Diner.JPG
Then, still severely jetlagged, they hit the ground running with shopping at Macy’s, a hike along the trendy Highline, and a swift tour of the posh shops in Chelsea Market before taking the tram to Roosevelt Island to visit her NYC apartment and much-missed roommate Jamie.
By then it was already time to race down to the West Village for dinner with our friend Liz at Po, our favorite Italian ristorante, and that’s when the chaos really kicked in.
In trying to attract people to attend the release shows, I had sent out about 75 e-vites in three different forms – one for the people who might come to the New York show, one to those more likely to attend the one in Connecticut, and a third to those who might come to either one or both.
        With major stories about Allegra running in several Connecticut papers, we knew the hometown show was bound to sell out.Allegra's Connecticut CD Release poster.jpg 
Filling the NYC show was an iffier proposition, however. Or so we thought until that night. The Cornelia Street Café, the trendy venue where it would be held, happens to be right next door to Po, and on the way in we stopped by and learned that the show was not only sold out, but had been overbooked.
This, of course, was very good news, but good news with a catch. Instead of worrying that she would be unable to fill the joint, we now feared that many of her friends and ours would show up without reservations and be unable to get a seat.JP, Allegra, Kaitlin, Liz and us at Po.JPG
To exacerbate that worry, I received a call from my good friend Suzanne during dinner asking if she and her husband could attend. Rather than calling the club, I got up in the middle of the meal and ran next door to secure two more seats… only to get a text upon my return asking if she could bring her son as well. Oy!
Meanwhile, Allegra and JP raced through dinner because she had to be back at her hotel room by 7:30 to be interviewed live during an hour-long radio show.
My husband and I returned to our own room and listened to the entire broadcast in mounting exasperation. As nice as it was to get the publicity, the show host had clearly not bothered to listen to her CD beforehand and struggled to come up with questions.Allegra, JP, and friends at the hotel.JPG Allegra was also losing her voice.
Afterwards, half a dozen of her closest friends showed up to go out with her. But she was so exhausted already that I prevailed upon her to have a little party in the hotel, for which I had brought along some wine and cheese just in case. I wanted her to reserve as much energy as possible for showtime the next day.
I would like to think it was one of those rare cases of Nice Jewish Mom knows best, because as eager as she was to visit with her friends, she was ready to pass out before long. JP enjoyed breakfast at Best Bagel.jpg
The next morning started off well enough. When Allegra called early to say that she and JP were awake, famished, and bent on eating bagels – the one thing that she missed most about New York – I managed to find a place within two blocks called Best Bagel and Coffee that indeed boasted what were arguably among the New York City’s finest.
Then, however, it might be fair to say that all hell broke loose.
With the show scheduled for that evening, there was an awful lot left to be done. Allegra would be performing with five other top-notch musicians, some of whom she had never even met before. But she had been unable to find a time to rehearse with any of them other than her pianist. They would meet for the first time right before the show!
Since they would only be performing the 11 tunes on her new album, all of which she had written herself, she had to provide sheet music for all five instruments involved. She went out to make copies of the songs and buy folders in which to assemble them in order. Then we spent hours in her hotel room carefully taping the multiple sheets of each song together and arranging them in clear plastic sleeves inside.Lonely City binder.JPG
By the time we were done doing this, she was an hour late to her rehearsal with the pianist, which was an hour away by subway in Brooklyn. This meant that she would not get to take the nap that she desperately needed. It also meant that her planned two-hour rehearsal, which was already vastly insufficient, would have to be cut in half.
It also meant that she would have to go directly from the rehearsal to the family dinner we were having at the café before the show. Like many performers, Allegra can get edgy before big performances -- so much so that I’m inclined to hide under furniture, or at least give her some space. Realizing that she couldn’t possibly schlep all those folders by herself, though, along with her gown and other accoutrements, I insisted on going along for the ride.Allegra forgot her chicken soup.jpg
Minutes after we left, JP texted that she had inadvertently left behind the chicken soup she’d planned to bring along for energy. “She needs to eat!” he wrote. His initials evidently stand for “Jewish Parent”… as though one nice Jewish mom weren’t enough.
As we raced to the subway carrying a gazillion bags, I realized that I was beyond stressed out too. Would we get to Brooklyn in time for them to practice every song? Would we show up egregiously late to the dinner with my brother and sister-in-law, who were coming in from Long Island on a weeknight to see her perform? Would friends be furious at us when they arrived at the club and couldn’t get in?Pattie had an epiphany.JPG
“Epiphany” might be too highfalutin a term to describe what hit me as we waited on the platform for the IRT. But it suddenly sank in that it was one of those major life events – like holiday celebrations, graduations, bar and bat mitzvahs, and weddings – that are supposed to be the highlights of your life. But are they really?
I had been looking forward to the coming evening with bated breath for weeks. But now that it was upon us, the only thing I really looked forward to was having it be over.
Allegra tried to grab a catnap on the train while resting her head on my shoulder, but a homeless man walked through giving a loud plea for handouts and put an end to that.Carmen Staaf.jpg
We got lost in Brooklyn and wandered around for blocks before finally finding the building where she was meeting Carmen Staaf, the amazing pianist who plays on the album and who had flown in from the world-renowned Thelonious Monk Institute in LA to perform at the show.
        But somehow the moment they started to play together, everyone began to relax, including me. This wasn’t about who came to the show or whether they got seats. It was about the music, and my daughter, and how amazing she is.Allegra stepped out a star.jpg
Somehow, the girls also managed to get through all 11 tunes more or less by the time I told them it was time to get dressed or else. Allegra walked into the bathroom looking tired and a little bedraggled in jeans, and 10 minutes later, sporting rich ruby lacquered lips, a black lace gown, and rhinestone-encrusted heels, she emerged – a star.
Carmen’s talented boyfriend Julian, a nice Jewish boy and renowned pianist himself, valiantly helped us schlep everything back to Manhattan on the subway. I could hardly breathe as I counted down all 17 or so stops from Greenpoint to West 4th Street.Cornelia Street Cafe exterior.jpg
But our train pulled in and we stepped into the club for our 7 p.m. dinner on the dot of 7. Aidan, Kaitlin and my relatives were already in the restaurant upstairs, as were my husband and JP. People began lining up soon after.
I could hardly eat a bite, I was so excited.
Then we filed down to the compact, intimate jazz club in the basement. The rest of the musicians had arrived by now and managed to fit in a hasty rehearsal before the show began.Suzanne and me at the Cornelia Street Cafe.JPG
I kept bounding up out of my seat to greet the many people I knew who showed up,  including good friends from home, good friends from the city, my friend Suzanne with both her husband and son, and a lovely woman named Heike whom I’d met only once in Allegra’s elevator on Roosevelt Island and become friends with on Facebook. (She not only came, but brought five friends of her own!)Allegra at Cornelia Street closeup.JPG
I caught my breath as the lights dimmed and my daughter launched into “Anxiety,” her opening number.
Then she welcomed the crowd warmly before going into the next song, a sassy samba number called “I Don’t Want to Be in Love.”
Seeing her sing with confidence, aplomb and perfectly executed scat solos before what was indeed a completely sold-out crowd, I couldn’t help but kvell.Allegra singing with Aubrey at the Cornelia Street Cafe.JPG
After taking a short break, she sang the rest of the numbers on the disc, concluding with the title song and another that is my personal favorite, a gorgeous, haunting ballad called “The Duet” on which her dear friend Aubrey sang backup.
Then she thanked not just the band, but her parents and her brother, along with “anyone who has ever contributed to my life.” I guess that included me on two counts.
A mom so nice she thanked me twice?Allegra JP and Sean at Artichoke Pizza.jpg
After the applause died down, we lingered so long visiting with friends that the club had to politely ask us to leave. Then Allegra, JP, and her remaining entourage repaired to a nearby pizza joint, where her appetite and mine abruptly reappeared at last – big time!
By the time we'd gotten back to our hotel, it was well past 2 a.m. Now I was so elated that I could hardly sleep. Maybe those big moments are a big part of what we live for, after all… although I will take sitting around in our pajamas together almost any day.
Fortunately, the coming days would bring a bit of both. But as I closed my eyes that night at last, it hit me like a sack of potatoes – the sweet ones I’d cook the next day. I would have to get up the next morning, pack, drive home in heavy traffic, and then start preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Then two nights later we’d have to do the whole routine all over again, only with more people at a bigger club. Oy!

To hear Allegra sing "Lonely City," the title song from her album, at her show at the Cornelia Street Café, click on this link: http://youtu.be/D0YVmblpUdY

To hear her sing the closing song from her album, "The Duet," click on this link: http://youtu.be/1XigEBgWTU4?list=PLr1srRLVT86aD4Ujjj8ILp8dC9xQn-_fX

10:44 pm 

10:30 pm 

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

You Don't Have to Be Jewish... to love Kosherfest.jpg        
“You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s,” stated the classic 1961 ad campaign for the popular rye bread. Similarly, you don’t need to keep kosher to love Kosherfest. You do, however, have to be either a member of the food trade or the press to attend. So before your mouth begins watering over the ruggelach, potato latkes, frozen desserts, and other goodies that I saw or tasted there last month, bear in mind that this annual event is not open to the public.Kosherfest 2014 at the Meadowlands.JPG
Having previously attended the world’s largest kosher-certified products trade show, held in the Meadowlands Expo Center, I knew that there were two crucial things I needed to bring along with me: a hearty appetite and an empty bag in which to accommodate the dizzying variety of samples offered. For the operative word there is “free.”Rugelach from Green's Bakery.jpg
This year, however, when I returned to scope out exciting new products worthy of my attention and my highest accolade – the Nice Jewish Mom Spiel of Approval (I tried it! I liked it!) – I discovered that “free” didn’t just mean free of charge. Nor was it necessarily just free of pork, shellfish, milk mixed with meat, and other ingredients or properties prohibited by the laws of kashrut.Kosherfest 2014 at the press room.jpg
The latest offerings from the kosher food industry would leave your poor bubbe scratching her sheitel (Yiddish for wig). For unlike my dearly departed nice Jewish Grandma Sadie, who merely aimed to offer helpings big enough to keep everyone alive and well (or at least well-padded), today’s kosher cook is evidently bent on finding foods that are free of gluten, dairy, fat, cholesterol, sugar, chemical additives, and the newest food obsession on the horizon (oy, Gut in himmel!), genetically modified organisms, otherwise known as GMOs.Manischewitz CEO Mark Weinstein at Kosherfest.JPG
“We are the first kosher company to have a non-GMO verification,” declared Mark Weinstein, CEO of Manischewitz, the company that is the undisputed big kahuna of the kosher product world.
As it happens, two of his three children happen to have issues with gluten. But that's not why the company offers this as an option, along with its other varieties of matzo that cater to dietary restrictions, including organic spelt, whole wheat, unsalted, Mediterranean, yolk-free egg, and gluten-free Garlic & Rosemary matzo-style squares.Manischewitz matzo has no GMOs.JPG
There is apparently such a healthy market for such health-conscious kosher items that the brand's gluten-free matzo sold out last year. “My father-in-law likes the gluten-free matzo better,” Weinstein asserted. “It’s crisper, he says.” But if crisp is not what you crave, then Manischewitz is also introducing a new gluten-free matzo ball mix, which was named Kosherfest’s Best New Pasta, Rice, or Grain.Manischewitz Carrot Cake Macaroons.jpg
Meanwhile, its Carrot Cake Macaroons had been pronounced winner of the 2014 award for Best New Passover Product.Nice Jewish Mom Spiel of Approval to Manischewitz.jpg
Is it any wonder that I whipped out a Spiel of Approval and proudly presented it?
Not to be outdone, competitor Streit’s is also offering a gluten-free matzo ball mix and a gluten-free latke mix. “People are becoming very hyper-sensitive to healthy food,” explained Aaron Gross, a fourth-generation scion of the famed family-run enterprise.
They are still working out a formula for gluten-free matzo, which remains a challenge due to the “antiquated” process that they continue to use in their factory on the Lower East Side. After all, they opened for business in 1916 and still make matzo the old-fashioned way.Aaron Gross of Streit's.JPG
But gluten-free is “the big thing in the food world now,” he said, so that is definitely in the works. “We’re looking into different processes, like quinoa matzo,” Gross said. “We’re trying to appeal to our older core consumer, but also the younger, more health-conscious consumer.”Streit's gluten free matzo ball mix.JPG
Perhaps I fall somewhere between those two categories, for both their traditional and health-conscious products – from soup nuts to whole wheat Israeli couscous – certainly appeal to me. So I enthusiastically bestowed another Spiel of Approval. My nice Jewish mom and grandmother, who both swore by Streit’s, surely would have approved.
One thing they might not approve of, though, or even have begun to understand (let alone pronounce), was a hot new product that instantly caught my eye, Srirachanaise.Srirachanaise sushi chef.JPG 
And when I say hot, I do mean HOT. Srirachanaise, from Mikee (a company best known for its Chinese rib sauce and duck sauce), was being billed as “The Sauce with an Attitude.” Served in small, salmon-colored dollops atop sushi rolls being freshly prepared by two sushi chefs, it definitely had personality. And zing. And although, as a spicy mayonnaise made with Sriracha sauce, it did pack some fat, it is devoid of gluten, cholesterol, dairy, MSG, and other chemical additives. It is both vegan and GMO-free.Mikee Srirachanaise.jpg 
“I bet my father I would win best in show, and I did,” said company president Peter S. Kaufman proudly of his new concoction, which had garnered the 2014 Kosherfest award in the category of Best New Condiments, Sauces, Dressings and Marinades.
His next goal is to make his sauce so popular that the brand becomes synonymous with the category, the way that Kleenex has become interchangeable with the word “tissue,” he said.
        “I want customers to ask in a restaurant, not ‘Do you have any spicy mayo?’ but, ‘Do you have any Srirachanaise?’ ”
I don’t know whether this mission will ever cut the mustard (or the spicy mayo), but I’m a card-carrying sushi addict who always requests this tangy condiment on the side. So after listening to Kaufman’s spiel, I appreciatively gave him one of mine.
Then I raced off to cool my palate with a frozen yogurt bar from Klein’s. This frozen yogurt wasn’t just yogurt, though. It was frozen Greek yogurt, and it was totally fat-free.Ari Klein with Spiel.JPG
Not that you would ever know that to taste it.
“We worked on it for over a year,” said Ari Klein. “We wanted it to be fat free, with no artificial colors or flavors.”Klein's blueberry frozen Greek yogurt.JPG
        The result? Their bars, which were introduced a few weeks ago, come in three flavors that are all natural and yet unnaturally rich tasting, including blueberry (only 110 calories per bar), strawberry (120 calories), and mango (140 calories).
I was instantly so enamored of the ultra-creamy blueberry variety that he handed over a whole bar to me versus the small cut-up samples that everyone else was eating. For this I was so appreciative that, after devouring it, I forked over a Spiel of Approval.
If you prefer to stick with dairy products that are not on a stick, have I got a yogurt for you! Norman’s Dairy of Rutherford, NJ, has the distinction of being the only company yet to introduce a yogurt that is certified as cholov Yisrael (a higher standard of kosher).Ostreicher with Norman's Greek yogurt.jpg
CEO Shulim Ostreicher was there to introduce her new yogurt line for the youngin’s, called Greek Kids, which comes in four flavors – Vanilla 'n’ Chocobits, Strawberry Jubilee, Banana 'n’ Honey, and Creamy Orange Blast. These come in kid-sized portions that pack only 90 calories each. Sounded good enough to eat at any age.
Being a bit more mature myself, though, I opted instead to try a more grown-up variety, one of their new Creamy Blends in a flavor called Caramel Caffe Macchiato. Better than Starbucks, if you ask me, and better for you, too! (Greek yogurt offers twice the protein of regular yogurt, Ostreicher said.) Other tempting flavors include Summer Strawberry, Blissful Blueberry, Red Raspberry, and Vanilla Lavender.
Norman’s also has a Greek Light line sweetened with Splenda that has only 100 calories. No wonder the company won for Best New Cheese or Dairy product in 2012. So, although they didn’t nab any new awards at this year’s fest, I gave them one of mine.
Then I moved on to one of this year’s winners, in the category of Best New Mix, a novel line of gluten-free flours known as Blends by Orly.Orly Gottesman of Blends by Orly.JPG
“There are a lot of ‘We happen to be gluten-free’ products floating around,” said founder Orly Gottesman. “Our focus is on gluten-free only.”
Her gluten-free flours are not cake mixes, but rather blends of gluten-free grains that you can substitute in your favorite recipes. These come in five international varieties, including a Paris blend for cakes and cupcakes; a London blend for cookies; a Sydney blend for brownies, muffins, pies, and crumb toppings; a Tuscany blend for pizza, focaccia, and flatbreads; and a Manhattan blend for bread, brioches, donuts, danishes, and of course challah and bagels.Blends by Orly Paris Blend.jpg
Although Orly is now based in Sydney, Australia, the mixes are available in 30 U.S. stores including Zabar’s and Westside Market in NYC. You can also order online from www.blendsbyorly.com for $8.99 per bag or $39.99 for a variety pack including all five blends.
She came up with the concept in large part because her husband suffers from celiac disease and cannot eat gluten. Too often, she says, when they go to someone’s house for dinner, their hosts will have made a fancy dessert for everyone else and say to him, ‘Look, I made these brownies just for you!’ ” And as thoughtful as it might be that they went to special effort on his behalf, he really would prefer to eat the real dessert with everyone else.
“My mission is to make people who can’t eat gluten feel normal,” she proclaimed.
This seemed like such a worthy sentiment that my mission became to make her feel good, and I immediately presented her with a Nice Jewish Mom Spiel of Approval.Gratify chocolate-covered gluten-free pretzels.JPG
Also free of both gluten and GMOs are Osem’s new Gratify pretzels, which come in four flavors sure to gratify anyone’s cravings, including white chocolate peppermint, peanut butter milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and dark chocolate peppermint. Uh, yum!
An employee there said that they were a holiday item, to which I asked, “Holiday? Which holiday?”
At this, he turned bright red, explaining that he did not want to say the “C” word. But another member of the Osem team didn’t mince words or seem to mind one bit.
“This is a gluten-free product for Christmas,” Osem director of marketing Kobi Afek explained. OK, we already have established that there’s a major market for gluten-free. But wait. There are people looking for kosher products… for Christmas? Which people?
“Interfaith families, for example,” he explained.
        Oh. Right.David Bader of NoMoo Cookies.JPG
        At another booth t
here were sweets for the sweet-toothed who can tolerate gluten, but not dairy. David Bader of Bucks County, PA, was there to introduce his new line of NoMoo Cookies, which are all-natural, totally kosher, and dairy free. His Ginger Slap variety had been pronounced winner in the fest’s category of Best New Breads and Baked Goods.NoMoo Cookies.jpg
But there were plenty of other flavors, and I was personally ready to give NoMoo a Spiel of Approval just for their names alone. (They had me at Almond Oy! Not to mention Big Chipper, Open Sesame, Flyin’ Hawaiian, Oat-rageous, and Sugah Sugah.) But the taste and texture ultimately clinched it when I bit into a ultra-fudgy Choco-lift (“the cookie that eats like a brownie”).
These are available online for $19.99 a dozen at nomoocookies.com.  
What do you drink to wash down dairy-free cookies? How about dairy-free “milk?”Rude Health drinks.jpg
        KLBD Kosher
London Beth Din, the UK agency that certifies that products are kosher, was there with some new dairy- and gluten-free organic drinks from Rude Health. These come in four flavors  – coconut, almond, brown rice, and oat.
Retail Food and Drink Manager Sharon Feldman-Vazan (who, being very properly English, was anything but rude herself) said that she is now off dairy completely and even uses these refreshing and light beverages (available at Whole Foods, as well as Waitrose and Ocado in the UK) when she makes cappuccinos.
Sounded like something definitely worth trying – and when I did I found all four to be equally deelish and definitely worthy of my Spiel.
Speaking of worthy, I also felt compelled to give a big shout-out (and yes, another Spiel of Approval) to two companies that I first encountered at last year’s Kosherfest.Kosherfest 2014 Matzolah is even better.JPG
One was Matzolah, “The trail mix of the Exodus,” a granola made with Streit’s matzah that is a perfect breakfast for Passover, but good enough to eat all year round.Matzolah now in single-serve pouches.jpg
Although they had not expanded their line beyond their three classic varieties – Maple Nut, Gluten-Free Cranberry Orange, and my personal fave, Whole Wheat Maple Nut – they had refined their baking process to make the whole wheat crisper.
        They were also now offering all three kinds in convenient single-portion packs. What’s not to like about that?Keep Calm and Eat Latkes by The Kosher Cook.JPG 
The other company was The Kosher Cook, makers of a wide variety of kitchen utensils and holiday giftware, whose company motto is “Keeping Kosher has never been easier.” Among their new offerings for the coming holiday of Chanukah were platters imprinted “Keep Calm and Eat Latkes” and Star of David-shaped reusable ice cubes (available at stories including Bed Bath & Beyond or online from www.thekoshercook.com).
        To keep calm, cool and collected for Passover, t
hey also had frog-shaped reusable ice cubes, as well as “Keep Calm and Eat Matzah” platters, and aprons and oven mitts in their new “Mah Nishtana” pattern.Nina Rosenfeld with her Chocla-Taschen.jpg
As a major devotee of another Jewish holiday, Purim – due to my many years moonlighting as the writer of my temple’s Purim spiels – I also was moved to present a Spiel of Approval to a novel new confection called Chocla-Taschen, “A Sweet Twist on a Classic Treat” from a fellow nice Jewish mom from Denver named Nina Rosenfeld.
“I designed a mold shaped like a hamantaschen,” she pointed out about her all-natural creations, which come in both caramel-filled milk chocolate and dark chocolate. These are gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, and yes, also free of GMO’s. The one thing that they are definitely not free of is flavor. (I tried one. I liked it – a lot!)
To order, write her at info@chocla-taschen.com.
But the grand winner of my ultimate Spiel of Approval would have to go to a product so healthy and innovative that it managed to snag Best New Product at the fest.DeeBee's Frozen TeaPops.jpg
DeeBee’s Organic TeaPops were created by a Canadian fetal toxicologist named Dionne Laslo-Baker who is the mother of two sons, one of whom is unable to eat refined sugar. Like me, however, he particularly loved tea. According to a company rep manning their booth, the pops were invented when one day that little boy said, “Mommy, let’s make tea-cicles!”
The result was kosher desserts so healthy that they are fat-free, gluten-free, GMO-free, and vegan. Sweetened only with organic fruits, coconut flower blossom nectar, or organic honey, they are also packed with antioxidants but extremely low in calories (only 20 to 50 per pop).DeeBee's TeaPops won best of the fest.jpg
These icy delights come in five fruity flavors: Berries ‘N’ Cherries, Tropical Mango, Minty Mint, Toasted Coconut, and Southern Iced Tea. All but the last are made with non-caffeinated rooibos tea. I tried several, and while they may not have the satisfying creamy goodness of a Haagen-Dazs bar, they are extremely flavorful and refreshing.
Unfortunately, despite all the things of which they are free, price is not one of them. They’re available in Whole Foods and other stores for about $6.99 per pack of four... although Laslo-Baker says that they will soon be introducing slightly smaller bars at a significantly lower price ($3.99 to $4.99 per four-pack).Full at Kosherfest 2014.JPG
There were many other new and notable products being offered at the event, from Burning Bush hot sauce to SeeMore’s S’mores. Yet with about 1,500 different exhibitors and 6,000 attendees present, I couldn’t get to everything or, try as I might, taste it all.
But I came away with a full stomach, a full bag, and a fuller-than-ever appreciation for kosher food. Whether it be free or full of gluten, fat, dairy, sugar, or even those pesky GMO’s, it is all Jewish. And all good.
        And whether or not you approve, that’s my Spiel.

7:26 pm 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.