Cuban Coffee

Early morning in Havana

Nothing about Cuba is as expected. As the Cubans say in describing their own country, “it’s complicated.” Even a cup of breakfast coffee can be complicated. Having grown up in Mexico, I had high hopes for the much-hyped Cuban coffee on my trip to the forbidden land of Fidel, Raul, and 1955 Cadillacs. But unlike my experiences with the Castro regime and classic cars, coffee was a big disappointment.

I had my first cup of Mexican coffee when I was about six. We had moved out of Mexico City into the countryside, due to a complicated financial situation best summarized as non-native poverty. We moved to a small house in a small town where the neighbors stole our electricity by tapping into our wire, assuming correctly that we could barely afford it slightly better than they could.

Once a week, the milkman would come by, leading his dun-colored burro through the streets, clanging on the two metal canisters that hung on either side of the beast with a stick. The milk was unquestionably fresh, unquestionably unpasteurized, and a halo of flies followed man and milk-burro as they kicked up dust on their way down our street. My mother would buy two liters’ worth. She then conducted her own Pasteur-lab on the milk, boiling for seven minutes over the stove, to kill whatever resided in the diary depths.

If you’ve never smelled boiling milk, you have no idea what the third circle of hell must smell like. And the taste is like old chewing gum that spent the night in a sneaker. While we were safe from whatever one got from unpasteurized milk, I developed a fierce and reflexive hatred of milk in any form.

In order to disguise the aroma while safeguarding her family, my mother would put her coffee on at the same time, in an olla next to the milk pot. Into the equally impure water went coffee grounds, a cinnamon stick, a big sugar lump and a clove if she had one. That too boiled for seven minutes, the number chosen by my mother for talismanic reasons, and filled the air with alluring spice.

Both drinks were ready at the same time. A cup of hot milk was mandatory, as my mother believed that it was essential for us to ensure proper growth. My sister and brother could be bribed with one or two tablespoons of coffee in their milk, and my mother would put a couple of tablespoons of the top-milk in her coffee, a treat of cream once a week. And I hid the kitchen cupboard and cried.

At last my mother yielded. While predicting accurately that I would never grow as tall as my siblings, she filled a cup half-way with aromatic coffee, and topped it with the disgusting, but now beautifully brown, spicy, and sweet milk.

 

The sun came up into the already heat-blanched Havana sky, and a rooster crowed in the scratching-yard behind us. On the table in the shade of the veranda were platters of sliced guava and pineapple, beakers of papaya juice, and a pitcher of coffee. The sweet, frizz-haired girl with green eyes and broken teeth filled my cup halfway with the coffee. She offered a pitcher of steaming-hot milk and the room wavered, taking me back nearly sixty years. I waved away the milk, closed my eyes, and brought the cup of black coffee to my lips. I inhaled, but there was no cinnamon aroma, only a fierce coffee bouquet. No matter. I sipped, ready to complete the journey back in time.

Bitter. Powerful. Unbalanced. Un-nuanced. I put down my cup and I looked around the room, at the smiling girl with the pitcher, at the colorful, decaying houses, and heard the music coming from the shining cars as old as I am, trundling down the street outside the wrought-iron gate. It wasn’t as I expected. It wouldn’t take me back to my childhood in Mexico. I was anchored firmly in Cuba. I motioned at the girl, a little milk, please. It wasn’t what I expected, but like the rest of Cuba, it’s complicated.

Café de olla

Take a lump of piloncillo, and if you don’t have piloncillo, use brown sugar, and put it in a pot. Hit a stick of cinnamon with a little hammer, not to splinter it but just enough to bring out the oils. Add one clove, optional. Put in two tablespoons of coarse-ground coffee for every cup of water into the pot with the piloncillo, the cinnamon and maybe the clove. Add the right amount of water for your coffee, maybe a quart, and bring to a boil. Turn it down to a very gentle simmer, and simmer seven minutes, or another magical number. Turn off the burner and let the coffee sit a couple of minutes to allow the grounds to settle. Ladle into small earthenware cups, or regular cups, and use it to socialize, to disguise the smell and taste of unpleasantness, or to soothe a skittish and sensitive child.

If you go to Cuba, drink rum instead.

(and for a lovely moment in Havana at dawn, click on the blue words up top, where it says Early morning in Havana.)

One-fruit compote, or the last Christmas Eve standing

I came from a family where the less said about religion the better. My Polish Jewish mother had suffered unspeakable cruelties at the hands of the Nazis, and survived by hiding in plain sight while masquerading as a Catholic. My American Jewish father had seen the horrors of war as a soldier in World War 2. Neither put much stock in overt magical thinking, and we grew up with hidden, confused and conflicting practices. One of the most fun among them was Polish Christmas Eve.

My mother had become enamored of the delicious banquet that Polish Christmas Eve entailed: twelve luscious courses of food, laced copiously with butter, and culminating with a twelve-fruit compote. Such luxury could only be had without a war on, and memories of starvation fueled her longing to recreate that special meal. When I was about 11 or 12, we first sat down to this sumptuous feast.

Borcht (or barszcz in Polish) with uszki, or little ears, dumplings stuffed with chopped onion and dried mushrooms sauteed in butter; herring in cream; dried peas baked with sauerkraut; carp swimming in wine and butter; cookies; and a twelve-fruit compote, the ultimate luxury in a freezing northern climate, dried fruits and fresh simmered in wine and sugar. Coffee or tea counted when needed to make up the courses. We all ate everything, whether we liked it or not, then.

My sister and I grew up and had households and children of our own. Times changed, husbands had opinions, and yet we hewed as best we could to traditions. My children despised the soup. I can’t even look at peas and sauerkraut, never mind herring. Away from my own family, we joined with another family, also partially Jewish, who added kugel to the mix. My sister added Easter Deviled Eggs so her kids would eat something. Here in California, carp became grilled salmon. My daughter doesn’t eat fish. My husband dislikes kugel. A green salad would add some balance. And what are these Easter Eggs doing at Christmas? Still the only item universally liked, they stuck with both my sister and me.

I’m now a grandmother, and it’s grandson’s first Christmas Eve. My son-in-law, bless his heart, will eat everything. And so I put my mind to the compote. My daughter had received a gift of Harry & David pears, and they were going soft fast. I had a giant pomegranate. I decided on poached pears in white wine, with pomegranate seeds for color. A two-fruit compote.

I sliced the pears, boiled the white wine with sugar until it was lightly syrupy, added vanilla, and poached the pears. I poured them into the decorative compote dish, garnished with mint sprigs, and grabbed the big, beautiful pomegranate and my knife. I plunged it in, and the pomegranate split open to reveal a completely rotten fruit.

This Christmas Eve menu will be: barszcz z uszkami, Easter Deviled Eggs, kugel, grilled salmon, a nice green salad, and one-fruit compote. Ah, Tradition! Merry Christmas!

Yes, please speak!

I’m still reeling from shock regarding #charlottesville, as so many of us are. But it sure didn’t take long for the “circular firing squad” to load up and start firing at ourselves. Twenty hours, maybe?

So this blog post may be a little bit unpopular, but I don’t mind. Please, please, speak up.

The thing that’s driving me craziest is the rapid disintegration into Who has more right to comment. I’ve read, among other comments, imprecations against white people, Jews, women, really anyone but the poster, from commenting, lamenting, grieving or shouting against the domestic terrorism that is White Supremacy/Nazism. Why? Why shouldn’t someone speak out against them?

The answer seems to be that if you’re white, or you’re straight, or you’re male, or… you have no “standing.” But if you don’t speak out, you’re “complicit.” And if you’re a white straight male, forget it. So, let me say right here, Please! Speak OUT!

I have all the bona-fides for this one. I’m Jewish. If you read my blog, you know that my family suffered beyond measure in World War 2. The slaughter, torture and scarring suffered on my mother’s side was unspeakable. That my father served in the US Army. That my uncle was severely wounded. The Nazis did this. So I get to speak.

But the young woman murdered by the Nazi protester this week didn’t hesitate. She didn’t say, “Oh, not my place to protest.” And she was white. The soldiers fighting Nazism in WW2 were of every type, color, creed, and yes, even sexuality. And the roaring counter-protest that has erupted across the country is multifaceted and diverse.

And yes, some opinions will be ill-formed, ill-informed, ill-stated. But that’s true across the board.

Because let me let you in on a little non-secret. White Supremacy doesn’t mean all white people are considered superior. There are more asterisks on that than stars in the sky. Basically, it means that “If you agree with me, and look like me, you’re okay, and everyone else deserves to die.”

We understood that in World War 2. We got it, that Nazis killed and tortured not just Jews, thought we were their favorites, yes, but gays, Gypsies, Slavs, –they didn’t have a lot of blacks to practice on, so our homegrown brand has that one– and anyone who disagreed with them. So, if you are in this last category, I don’t care what boxes you check, speak out! Speak up! And I thank you for it. We really are in this together.

Fewer Hassles? Don’t make me laugh.

This summer I’m traveling by air on five separate trips. One for family needs, two for business, and two for pleasure. So I figured it’s about time I enrolled in TSA’s “Pre-check” program.

TSA Hassle Free

Wait-times have been making the news this weekend, with ridiculous waits for security that exceed an hour. Some went for two hours in line, and many missed flights. Why? Well, because funding for agents was decreased by Congress, in its infinite desire to “cut government waste”! So while 7000 spots go unfilled, the number of passengers has increased with the improved economy. Simple arithmetic. Even a third-grader can figure this out.

When asked for an explanation, TSA stated that they thought that more people would sign up for Pre-check, and so they would need fewer agents. Really? Read on.

I’d been lucky enough to get pre-check status a few random times and always appreciated the speed-through, although at the JetBlue Terminal 5 in JFK in New York they awkwardly made the lucky traveler cut in line in front of people loading their shoes and plastic baggies with toiletries onto the conveyor belts, instead of having a separate screening. Of course JFK is notorious–I watched an officious TSA agent demand that a 5-year-old answer the questions of where he was going, angrily shushing his mother when she tried to answer for him– so we can’t judge everything by JFK’s Terminal 5.

But with all this travel looming, including two trips involving Terminal 5, I decided that the time had come. I diligently filled out the form on line, and being felony-conviction-free was able to agree to anything and everything. Then came scheduling the appointment.

Joy! There is a center 2 miles from where I live. I clicked. No appointments came up. Was I doing something wrong? No, here was an appointment, for 6 weeks from now! I clicked. Nope. No appointments. But they took walk-ins! Hooray!

The next morning I was there at ten fifteen in the morning, shortly after they opened. Our “center” is located in an HR Block office. There were thirty-two people waiting. I hoped that they were there to get their taxes done late. No such luck.

A half an hour after I had arrived and signed in, a man came to the front. “Who are these people?” He read off four or five first names, including mine. I raised my hand. “Why did you sign in on the appointments page? You don’t have appointments.”

“I wrote a W, where it says, ‘Appointment A or Walk-in W?'” I said.

“Well this isn’t the way we do things here. I’m taking this now and putting up a No More Walk-Ins sign,” he said, taking the sign in sheet. “And all you folks with appointments, come up and put your names on this new sheet.”

“My appointment was for a half an hour ago,” one woman said, as four people got up.

“We’re running behind. An appointment takes ten minutes. But the system shut down, so we’re about forty minutes behind. And as for you walk-ins,” he added with something like glee, “you’re not going to get seen today. Or maybe, if you’re still here at seven tonight, maybe we’ll see you then. But we close at seven.”

I was the last on the walk-in list, and it was eleven in the morning. “Are you the only one working here?” I asked.

“I work for HR Block. That’s who pays me, if that’s what you want to know. I just help out here.” I blinked at him, and he got the message. “There’s an agent they flew in from Tennessee who’s doing the interviews. But she’s the only one, and like I said, we aren’t going to get to many of you.”

“I couldn’t get an appointment,” a woman said.

“Someone beat you to  the last one, then,” he chortled. “Keep trying. They only set them out forty-five days. So keep at it. Or here, call this number.” He handed her a square of paper. Ten people got up to take the little squares.

“The number doesn’t work,” the woman said after immediately trying it. “It says all circuits are busy.”

“That’s because everyone wants an appointment,” he answered. We put the little squares back.

“Should I come back later?” another walk-in asked. She looked to be about seventy five. In fact, except for four people, all the other people waiting were definitely senior citizens.

“If you leave and we call your name you’re out of luck. You miss your turn.”

She sighed and sat back down. I sat for a while. The woman next to me, the one with the appointment, asked if I was going to stay. “I want to see one person called in, then I’m going.”

Five minutes later two women emerged from the back. The newly interviewed Pre-check candidate mopped her brow, smiled and left shaking her head. She’d been back there for forty minutes, waiting for the system to come back up.

And the other, a tall blonde woman, picked up the appointment list. She shook her head, and in a soft Tennessee accent said, “I’m sorry. We just won’t get to the walk-ins today.” She repeated everything the HR Block employee had told us, and again shaking her head, called the woman seated next to me.

“Good luck,” she whispered to me.

“You too,” I answered as I packed up. When I got back to my computer I tried again. An appointment for 44 days from today! I clicked. Nope. I tried again. An appointment for 45 days from today, at 6:10 pm. I clicked quicker this time.

Success! The glorious moment when the system accepted my request had arrived. Two of my trips will have already taken place, and the third will be a week away…and they say it takes at least two weeks after the appointment to get the clearance.

Meanwhile, the lines grow longer, and the system, such as it is, moves slower and slower. Hassle-free? Don’t make me laugh.

No chocolates or roses. Equal living-wage pay, please.

No roses, chocolates or congratulations, please!  Do you know these women? Guess why not!

Who was Anita Whitney?

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Leader and early founder of the American Communist Party, she was an ardent suffragist and working women’s rights advocate who went to jail for her beliefs.

Who was Valeska Bary?

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Working within the government, she advocated zealously for the minimum wage for women with the Department of Social Welfare in California, and went on to an appointment to the Federal War Labor Policies Board in 1918.

Women’s Day was designed to commemorate the women who led the Labor Movement in 1900-1920 and it began as a socialist “holiday”. No roses, chocolates or congratulations please. Just an equal right to work, to fair and living-wage pay, to benefits and to success on our own merits, thank you. ‪#‎WomensHistoryMonth‬ ‪#‎InternationalWomensDay‬

the harlots pen

Read more in The Harlot’s Pen, the story of women in the labor movement in 1920, as told by a woman journalist, through the eyes of a prostitute. And no chocolates, thanks.

Spotlight: 7 easy places your readers can discover you

I interviewed my book club last night. All are women 50 years old or more, and very much part of my reader demographic. They all read at least a book a week. They rarely if ever read romance or science fiction, and read memoirs sparingly. They like literary fiction, biographies, historical fiction and classics.

As a writer, I want to reach them. So do so many of my writer-friends. What to do? So I asked!

I asked, “How do you find books to read?”

Their answers, in order of frequency, were a little bit of a surprise.
1. Recommendations from friends.
2. Visits to indie bookstores, where the covers are turned to face the room.
3. Staff picks at indie bookstores.
4. Amazon “people who bought this book also bought…”
5. NPR book reviews.
6. New York Times book reviews.
7. Oprah and New Yorker.

Hmmm… I was noticing a trend. Are we the only ones still haunting the bookstores? No, it turns out that indie bookstores have grown in the last year. And they influence our generation of reader. This could pose a problem, though, for indie-published authors with no reach into bookstores. But indie bookstores are far more open to hand-selling, or visits from a local author. Hope kindled!

Indie-published writers aren’t likely to get on NPR, NYT, or Oprah, but we can get on our local radio stations, get featured in our home-town papers, and give talks at our community libraries. It’s a matter of scale.

I asked, “Do you ever buy a book because you heard about it on Facebook or other social media?” The answers were again interesting, in part because I asked this as an open question.

1. No, but if I like an author will follow him/her on Facebook.
2. No, but if I see the cover on Pinterest I might look the book up. (That’s a “yes” to me, but I was interviewing, not arguing.)
3. No, but if I like a book I will read the other books, and tell my friends, sometimes on Facebook and maybe post the cover on Pinterest. (another covert yes.)

So, if you belong to a few groups on Facebook, and you’re talking about books, your Facebook friends are listening!

I asked what social media they were on. Again, the answers reflected my demographic. Studies show that women over 50 are all over Facebook! Our results:
1. Facebook. All but 1 member use Facebook, and most visited it at least once daily. Sure, we all started out using it to stalk our kids, but now that they’re grown, we use it for fun, family and entertainment.
2. Pinterest. Half of us enjoy Pinterest, mostly for fun.

I was the only one on Twitter, a couple of us were on Instagram but limited only to closest friends and family. 
So, that’s my book club for you. Maybe interesting… and maybe not.

Readers vary by genre, age, gender, location, and taste. Again, my book club readers may be different from yours. I’m sure there’s a scientist can say this better, but I want to point out that this is a small sampling, and the questions I asked were open ended, so maybe they use Goodreads and no one thought to mention it, maybe because we’re older we’re more likely to rely on brick-and-mortar indie bookstores, maybe the fact that there are no big bookstores in our community right now skews things…

So perhaps you can poll your own book clubs and see where they find their books and share this info here as a comment!

A new view of old news: Anti-Muslim Fervor is Anti-Semitic

The Facebook-Twittersphere is awash in worry over the current, very ugly anti-Muslim rhetoric. Trump’s comments are only the tip of this nasty iceberg. What’s left unsaid is how the ground for this wave of bigotry was fertilized by the last two years’ worth of anti-Semitism throughout the civilized world. Notwithstanding the other contributors to this fervor in the United States, with our historical undercurrents of racism and the out-dated and destructive gun laws, without this acceptance of violence against Jews and hate-speech against Judaism, we couldn’t be where we are today.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but when respected universities ban Israeli scholars and scientists from their conventions because a vocal group of students objects to actions by that country’s ruling party and its military, this feeds a belief that religion equates with politics. It allows for a refusal to look at an individual’s contribution to the greater good simply because of his religion. To be consistent, these angry groups would have to ban American scientists because of the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan or the bombing or killing of innocent children by American or UN forces, boycott Nigerian intellectuals based on the unrestrained actions of Boko Haram, or Egyptian poets because of rape and killings in the post-Arab Spring. But they don’t.

Very few people object to the demonization of Jews. Entire countries and governments assert that all Jews should be wiped from the face of the earth and we hear only the loneliest voices of protest. Terrorist acts against Jews throughout the world are reported with a yawn, as these have been going on for centuries. But it is this very acceptance that makes “Christian” white people, Americans and Europeans, comfortable with their own hatred of Muslims. It is that same uncritical thinking, that association of a religion with disgusting, evil thugs, that allows Donald Trump to announce his bigotry to the American public and generate only liberal outrage.

In literature, we have an avalanche of stories of the hatred of “others.” The Duel for Consuelo describes in chilling detail the Inquisition’s search-and-exterminate of Jews, and they didn’t exactly love Muslims either. Holocaust stories line the bookshelves, and, if we prefer non-fiction, a glance at the news will suffice.

And yet, despite our knowledge, we have become accustomed to anti-Jewish rhetoric, and barely blink at another synagogue bombing or an attack on a school bus of Jewish children. We nod sagely and discuss the intellectual honesty of banning scientists, poets, intellectuals and scholars because of their nationality, as long as it’s a nationality it’s back in vogue to hate. Otherwise thoughtful and self-proclaimed anti-racists are happy to vilify Jews. Can it be surprising that, seeing the acceptance of religious hatred in America and Europe, anti-Muslim forces are comfortable proclaiming their views?

The argument can be taken further: If we accept anti-Semitism, we empower the likes of terrorist groups, Al Qaida or ISIL, or the next acronym, to attack anything even remotely Jewish. There are whispers that the owners of the concert venue in Paris are part-Jewish, the band playing that night was Jewish, the San Bernardino killers spoke of killing Jews, and of course the cartoonists in Charlie were Jewish. By accepting anti-Semitism, yawning at attacks on Jews, we are complicit in the terrorists’ choices of targets. And when their hideous acts are perpetrated, we cannot react in shock to the anti-Muslim response. After all, we created the climate for just that.

Dropping the F-bomb in a poem

I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of poetry lately. I had the incredible honor of hearing our new US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera a couple of weeks ago, and I was stunned by his graceful yet commanding language. I got to thinking about the use of “Fuck” in poetry…something he did not do (at least in the selections he read to us, nor do I see it in the poems of the two books I bought.)

The f-bomb, as it’s affectionately known, has had its day in the sun as an explosive, shocking, meaningful word. Before the mid-sixties, it was unthinkable to use it in even semi-polite company. The Beat poets didn’t throw it around, it was the province of soldiers, sailors, and crass men. The sixties brought the anti-war revolution, the Fish performance at Woodstock (“Give me an F…!”) and the word made into the teenage currency. Far-fucking-out, you’re fucking kidding me, and Up against the wall, mother-fucker came next. (We had to add “mother” to retrieve its shock value.) Now, even nice women use it (I have no more fucks to give…)

We have new shockers now. White people politely say “N-word” to describe a racist appellation that in the sixties would just have been crass and rude, while Black people have reclaimed its power. “C-word” keeps its power in the US, though people in Britain males call each other cunts quite merrily, and here many women are trying to reclaim the word as well. And young people, who use “fuck” even at the dinner table, say “be-atch” for “bitch,” a word we used with impunity and still do.

I don’t play golf, though I know many people who do. This is not a total non-sequitur…The use of the f-bomb in golf is a lot like the use in poetry. It all goes to the ages and stages of man…and I use that word advisedly.

In golf, if a young man throws his club after a bad shot, it is an unacceptable display of temper, to be chastised and outgrown. If a man in his thirties or forties throws his club, it elicits, “Dude, you should get some counseling for that anger.” And if a man does it in his sixties, “Relax! You’re going to give yourself a coronary!”

So it goes in poetry. A young man throws an f-bomb or several in his poetry and we say he’s passionate. “Harness that anger and you might be a great poet one day.” At 40, we tell him, “There are millions of words in the English language. Can I get you a thesaurus?” But at 60, let me tell you, it’s just a shorter way of saying, “Get off my lawn!”

Showing our face to the world

One of the oddest things about being a writer today is the need to post, blog, publicize and talk, not about our books, but about ourselves. Gone are the days when the books spoke for themselves, and writers could, well, write. Now we talk about our personal lives, our hopes and fears, and share intimacies, all in the name of building a community.

It’s true, there are lots and lots of books out there, and it’s almost impossible, without a big, moneyed machine behind you, to be heard above the noise. How on earth will I get you to read my book? How will I get you to read this blog post, and then, maybe, look at the book?

The truth is that I don’t know. But I am part of the new world order, so I too have learned to share. In fact, there’s a beautiful post about growing up in Mexico today in Arleen William’s Finding Home series. Please read it, and love it and share it! There’s also and interview with me at Indie Book Promo, where I disclose the secrets to writing…among other things.

Do come and share my writing life with me. It’s all part of living today, so join me on line, and let’s live together. Claudia

Coming out Jewish on Passover

And the best matzo brei recipe ever…

In 1967 I came out Jewish with matzo brei. I was twelve when I first tasted the delicacy. Why so late, you may well ask. There’s a reason.

I grew up in Mexico City, and although I always knew at some level that we were Jewish, we just didn’t talk about it. In fact, we never mentioned religion at all. We could talk about sex, politics were on the table every night, books, music, all were fair game, but we danced around the “religion” topic at home and outside. I attended Catholic church with my friends and was never the least bit uncomfortable doing so. I crossed myself, learned all the prayers, and happily went along for the ride. I never thought I was really Catholic. I was just, well, there. Children are pretty flexible that way.

When I was eleven we moved back to the United States permanently. That was 49 years ago, and World War II wasn’t the distant memory that it is now. The soldiers returning from battle and the survivors of the horrors of Nazi cruelties didn’t know the term PTSD, or that it could last for more than twenty years. The reverberations of my father’s wartime service in the US Army and my mother’s trauma as a Holocaust survivor, one of the few in her large extended family to live through it, suddenly became important. I was also a little older, and realized that the reasons we didn’t talk about “it” were pretty darned serious. The duality stopped being quite so easy.

The area we moved to was predominantly Catholic, and I continued to play along. Some of my classmates were Jewish and were teased, not kindly, for it. As a new kid, awkward, semi-foreign and younger than my class, I wasn’t about to join that club.

And so it was the first Spring that we were in the States, when I was 12, that I tried actual matzo for the first time. Perhaps I had eaten it before but I simply didn’t remember. If so, I had to have been very young, and a dry cracker doesn’t exactly stay with you in memory. My father said, “Don’t take this outside. Eat it here.” The scars were still fresh.

But one rainy morning he made breakfast for us, which in itself was a little unusual. In those days my father worked 14 hour days and never touched a pot or pan, but here was something he was going to do.

He took matzos and broke them into a bowl. He ran the hot water from the tap over them and left them to soak while he beat eggs in another bowl with a splash of water from the matzo bowl and a shake of salt. Once he decided the matzos were soft enough he poured off the water and squeezed them out, and added them to the egg mixture. He mushed them around until all the egg was absorbed. Then he melted butter in a pan and poured the egg-matzo mixture into the hot butter. He let it sit a bit, then broke it up with a spatula and turned it a few times until it was no longer “eggy.”

“Get plates.” We got out plates, and then a miracle happened: he took out the sugar bowl and a spoon and began to sprinkle our portions with prohibited amounts of sugar. What joy to three kids being brought up to eat “healthily” well before the health-food crazes!

To this day, that’s how I make matzo brei, though I don’t pour sugar on, I just sprinkle it. It’s the bread of freedom, maybe still a bit under cover, but freedom to be Jewish. With sugar.