Posts tagged ‘Family’

September 25th, 2016

Temps Perdu

I have this lovely set of rose-colored glasseware that I inherited from my grandparents. Twelve glasses in each of three sizes–for water, wine, and cordials–plus a similar number of small dessert bowls. They’re likely Bohemian and could be late-19th century in origin. All I know is: they were always there.

As with many people’s inherited objects, these glasses have a totemic power for me. They remind of special family events, Seder foremost among them, when I would help my grandmother set the table. Even as a young kid, she trusted me to carefully extract each glass from the cabinet, a responsibility I cherished.

rose-colored-glassesBut these glasses also remind me of something more basic and differently nostalgic: of a lifestyle that I can remember, and one that also feels long gone.

My grandparents used these glasses on other occasions, such as dinner parties with good friends or out-of-town guests. They were one set among a range of such objects, like the hand-etched pint glasses from Abercrombie & Fitch (yes, that A&F, in its original incarnation) from which my grandfather would drink his Tuborg at lunch. Or the white, porcelain, claw-footed “chocolate cups”: delicate little items that the average person might mistake for demitasse instead.

I suppose these are “housewares,” a word that feels so average in comparison to the objects themselves. As does “china,” or “stemware”: all things one can purchase at many retailers, or add to your wedding registry, etc.

But what I miss is making the time to use these objects, rather than leaving them sitting on a shelf. I miss the sense of style my grandparents had, in which as much care was taken with the table as the food that went on it. The sense of investment in these objects, which had to be treated delicately, but also used. And the making of time, perhaps the most important thing of all: the time to cook three course meals, to sit and leisurely eat and enjoy company, and the time to clean-up, too.

My parents cling to this, and I appreciate it. I aspire to it: to finding making the time, to taking things out of cabinets and off of shelves, to setting them gently on the table, to appreciating their beauty and fragility, and to enjoying their functionality surrounded by people whose lives enrich mine, and with whom I can make new memories with objects from a time that otherwise feels lost.

October 16th, 2011

Reading IS Fundamental

Last night, I sat next to my daughter in her room, she reading a Muppet book, and me reading Ashenden. Truth be told, I wasn’t getting a lot of reading done: every other minute, she asked me to help her make sense of a new word, so we would sound it out together, and then she would move on, and I would read another sentence until her next question. But at some point in this episode, much like Trixie, I realized something.

This was an extremely unusual scene.

The reading itself is not unusual. My daughter loves books and has from an early age; she’s the kind of kid who is quite likely to grow up to be a voracious reader. She has two shelves of books in her room, and another shelf of her own in the living room, and while she’s too young to articulate it this way, I think she takes pride in the books’ presence and what they offer: the opportunity to grab one and read it, no matter how familiar, and enjoy it all the same. I love books too, both the reading of them and the collecting of them, and have for as long as I can remember. I grew up surrounded by books, inherited libraries from people, and knew they were the one thing my father would always buy upon request. Books were and are essential to me. (The shift to the ebook is vexing, and very much a separate subject. But beyond the philosophical issues they raise is a simple, practical one: it feels not quite as authentic to catalog them when their very presence is so ethereal.)

So what was unusual about this scene? I realized that while I read constantly, I couldn’t remember the last time my daughter actually saw me reading a book, an actual book–and that saddened me quite a bit.

I am fairly sure she knows that I read books; our house is filled with them, and there’s a whole shelf and stack next to my side of the bed. She’s a smart girl, and my guess is that without ever thinking about it, she assumes I read those books just as she reads hers.

Yet that assumption isn’t the same thing is the literal, in-front-of-your-eyes knowledge of seeing your parents reading. It just can’t be. In an all-digital, iEverything age, the shared experiences of families takes a different form, and this whole thing gave me one more reason to feel slightly sad about its seeming inescapability. When I was young, I saw my parents reading all the time. Sure, they did other things too, but on a summer weekend afternoon, my dad was often inseparable from a book, or from one issue out of a stack of New Yorkers or New York Review of Books that he was trying to catch up on. I understood implicitly that this was an activity central to his life. I want my daughter to be able to say the same about me. Likewise, I want her to know the shared joy that comes from reading together–reading separate things, together, in the same place, whether it’s on a beach in summer or around a fireplace in winter, or just on a random evening at home.

With all these digital devices, her experience is different–as is mine, of course. I read, often, but holding my phone or my iPad I could just as easily be playing a game; there’s no book spine to give it away. Likewise, I spend time with these devices writing (as I am now, drafting on my iPad, editing on my laptop), and while she can discover these blogs when she’s older and look back with some understanding of what I might have been doing while typing away … I could just as easily have been sending a text message or an email or something else equally fleeting.

In theory, the fix for this should be easy: read more–more books, especially–around my daughter. This will likely be just as important for my younger son, who likes books but who could probably do with more evident modeling of the Life of a Reader. Talking more about books would help, too, to make evident the connection between their physical presence and our digestion of them. I love being a writer, and that’s an identity I would be happy to have my daughter understand–but as a writer, few things are as important as good readers. And as a reader, I want her to have the best shot I can provide at staying engaged with books for the rest of her life.

August 20th, 2010

Kalter Kaffee

If a breakfast or lunch with my grandmother would slowly drag on (as was sometimes the case in her dotage and our relaxed times together), she would often say “kalter Kaffee macht schön.” A rough translation might be “Drink coffee cold and never look old,” and while I don’t think either of us thought it was true, we’d finish our coffee anyway and move on to the next thing.

Plain cold coffee does not have much appeal—cold when it was once hot—but intentionally cold coffee certainly can be delicious, and one look at the prices for an “iced” coffee from Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or other chains will tell you it’s clearly a money-maker. I prefer (when possible) to make it myself—and have spent time this summer playing with variations on the theme.

Strictly speaking, this experimentation started in 2007, when a friend sent me an article from the New York Times about cold brewing coffee. I tried that method a few times, and found it less than satisfying; it made for cold coffee, but not really very good cold coffee. I tried again in 2009, after reading Jerry Baldwin’s posts (first and second) on The Atlantic‘s food blog; Baldwin, who was involved with both Peet’s and Starbucks, certainly knows about coffee. Professional advice notwithstanding, I discovered two things: he’s right that there is a flavor difference to be had by brewing hot coffee and cooling it, yet I also found it did get bitter, sometimes unpredictably. I wanted more reliability than this.

This summer, I believe I found the answer, and it rests (not surprisingly) in blending different ideas and approaches together, without much more complexity to the process. The first change I made is to the type of coffee. For normal, hot brewed coffee, I use a dark French roast, and I wondered if this was the source of the bitter taste. In playing around with the process for cold coffee, I decided to try a lighter bean, and switched to a Mocha Java bean mix (specifically, Zabar’s Mocha Style). When brewed, it forms a lovely, cappuccino-like head on top, and has an aroma slightly reminiscent of chocolate.

Then I decided—no doubt to Baldwin’s horror—to do both hot and cold brewing. I use a press pot, with the appropriate amount of coffee for the total I expect to make, but only 25% of the total volume of water. I heat the water to near-boiling, pour it in, and let it steep for five or six minutes. Then I add the remainder of the water—yes, with the coffee still in the pot—and cover it, and put it in the refrigerator overnight. I press the pot in the morning (or whenever I’m ready to drink it). This seems to have the desired effect, perhaps by cooling down the brewing process for some semblance of the “cold brewing” desired, but with enough initial heat to open up the full flavor of the coffee.

Give it a try!  It’s certainly cheaper than the store-made version, and you have greater control over how you sweeten or lighten it.  My grandmother was never much for the American fetish for cold beverages, but I suspect she would have approved nonetheless.