Words Escape Me

Holiday season is upon us. Ah yes, the family get togethers, the office parties, the presents. Lots of merriment, twinkling lights and auld lang syne. And of course, the festive meals.

Thanksgiving, holiday, turkey, sweet potatoes, jello, stuffing, plate, dinner

our Thanksgiving dinner

Lest it go unnoticed in the hubbub, however, may I point out that the 2012 “Word of the Year” has been announced?

The Oxford English Dictionary has named omnishambles, meaning a “situation which is shambolic from every possible angle,” the winner this year.

According to BBC News, the shortlist also included Eurogeddon, “the threatened financial collapse in the eurozone,” and mummy porn, a “genre inspired by the 50 Shades books.

I eat this stuff up like handfuls of popcorn at the movies.

And so, as is tradition in this blog (well, OK, this is the second year) I offer you the official holiday edition of:

Books is Wonderful 2012 Words of the Year

BindersFullofWomen’sRecipes: a collection of yellowed scraps of paper including Aunt Rose’s foolproof mashed potatoes

CrispChristie: the New Jersey governor tartly deflecting a Twinkie defense

Fatulence: embarrassing stomach sounds as one’s pants get tighter

HomecookedLand: Carrie takes a day off to uncover the secrets of her kitchen

MiddleYeastConflict: a tense situation sparked by differing opinions on how to bake bread

NobelPeacePie: making the same dessert year after year to avoid arguments

SevenNaturalWonderBread: a miracle that this miasma of chemicals was considered food

Stuffington Post: endless topics of conversation due to the inability to leave the table

The Food Hangover: Misadventures of three zany guys who OD’ed on the desserts

WarrenBuffet: a wealth of culinary riches on the holiday table

related: SageLeavesofOmaha

Wolf Blintz-er: CNN reporting live from the delicatessen

WontonAbbey: Lady Mary ordering takeout on Cook’s night off

… and when planning your holiday parties, don’t forget to invite these celebrities: Paris Stilton, Susan SaranWrap, Beans Affleck, Robert Poulet, CranJerry Seinfeld, Salad Field, Potatum O’Neal, Cake Gyllenhaal, BrusselSproutCrowe, and Carrots Fisher!

You can read Books is Wonderful’s 2011 Words here.


Do you have a Thanksgiving recipe that is sacrosanct, one that your family will not let you waver from, or — perish the thought — omit from the menu? In my family it’s a festive jello mold that is the heralded star of the show.

Jello mold? you ask with a raised eyebrow. That ghastly relic of which surely no one on the Food Network would dare speak? A hideous affront to gourmands of all persuasions? The slut of 50s cuisine, if you will — indiscriminate, always available, and dolled up with mini marshmallows, canned peaches or Maraschino cherries, whispering, ‘take me, I’m easy’.

But wait. Our Thanksgiving favorite deserves some respect. Made with cherry jello and studded with fresh cranberries, chopped walnuts and celery, it can be made wayyyy in advance and forgotten about until the turkey is being carved. With just the right balance of sweet, tart, and crunchy, it is a perfect accompaniment to the meal. I usually double the recipe to serve 12-14.

Jell-o, Thanksgiving, side dish, turkey, festive, dinner, crunchy, jello mold

I don’t know what age I was when my mother first made this dish. But I can totally imagine my gastronomical rapture upon tasting the first forkful. Henceforth known as Leenzil’s Thanksgiving Salad, it has been on my family’s table ever since.

Thanksgiving, menu, holiday, jello, eating, gastronomy

My mother submitted Leenzil’s Thanksgiving Salad to our synagogue’s cookbook under my name years ago. This is a photo of that page.

Oh, and the Leenzil part? That was my dad’s nickname for me.

Happy Thanksgiving, and bon appetit!

As an adolescent I was grateful for my mother’s critical eye in the dressing room. Mom never pulled any punches. Contrary to the obsequious store attendants who burbled that everything, even the dress with the awful horizontal stripes, looked fabulous on me, my mother would shut that down before you could say Villager and Ladybug. Her discerning eye picked up the slightest issue, the most microscopic of bulges, and with a simple “Do you see how that’s gathering?” I knew that garment was toast. mod clothes, 1960s, fashion, women's clothes, mini skirts

As I tried on item after item our eyes would meet in the three-way mirror. No words were necessary. A cheerful smile indicated that something fit nicely and won her seal of approval. A sorrowful shake of the head translated into “It just doesn’t flatter you.”

She was unerringly right, my mom. I went through an awkward stage for, oh, ten years? I wasn’t built like most of the other girls. I matured early and was bigger and taller, with curves. Fitting those curves into fashionable clothes was no easy task.

I seldom challenged her opinions, trusting her fashion instincts way more than mine. And even though our system generally yielded around a 25% purchase rate, I felt confident that the items tucked in our shopping bag were meant to be mine.

I am reminded of this experience more often that not these days as I venture into a dressing room. My ever-evolving boomer body presents a whole new set of challenges. I stare at myself in the mirror, suck in my gut and turn this way and that, looking for the imperfection that will scream “WRONG FOR YOU!” Is it too “form fitting” (Mom’s words for tight), too revealing, too young, too old, too bright? Not black?

I should know by this point, right? But too often I get home, try on the new purchase, and scold myself. “What were you thinking?”

How about you? Do you need a buddy in the dressing room?

I am very lucky to be part of a fantastic group of bloggers known as Generation Fabulous, or Gen Fab (Gen Flab if we’re having a fat day). We “women of a certain age” are holding a Blog Hop this week. I guess you could call it a virtual kaffee klatsch. We are blogging about what we would say to our 20 year-old selves. GenFab women are funny, honest and way talented in the writing department. I can’t wait to read everyone’s posts which you can find at the bottom of the page here. And this is mine.

MidAge Helene: Hey there young one! Great to see you.

Young Helene: Ohhhh. Hey. Um, really? That’s what I’m going to look like in my 50s? (frowns)

MAH: Don’t do that. You’ll get wrinkles.

YH: Wrinkles, and what else? Cellulite? I’m so fat already. My thighs are flabby. I hate my nose. I am ugly.

MAH: (sighs audibly) You look beautiful to me.

YH: You’re just saying that because … because … (shrugs)

MAH: Because I look at you and see a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, riddled with self-doubt but full of promise, overly critical of herself with low self-esteem, but with a big heart. You don’t know yet that true beauty isn’t that celebrity you idolize …

YH: Like Cheryl Tiegs. Or Christie Brinkley.  If only I were super thin and had lustrous thick straight hair and perfect skin.

MAH: In a few years you’ll learn the term “air-brushed” and start to realize that appearances can be deceiving.

YH: I wish, I wish, I wish …

MAH: Be happy with what you have. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. Be proud of your strengths and don’t dwell on the imperfections. You’re a little confused, but everything’s going to be OK.

YH: And what about love, and marriage, and kids … will I ever find Mr. Right?

MAH: The guy you’re with right now is a schmuck. We both know that, don’t we? But this too shall pass. You will have your happily ever after, I promise, and share it all over Facebook.

YH: Face what?

MAH: Never mind. Listen to me. In about a year a singer named Eric Anderson will come out with a song, Be True to You. You will play that song ad infinitum on your record player, along with every melancholy tune ever sung by Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian and Laura Nyro. Here are a few lines:

All I ask is be yourself, free yourself
Love yourself when no one else will do.
You be true to you.

YH: And that means what, exactly?

MAH: Be the best “you” you can be. Don’t worry about measuring up to anyone else. Believe in yourself. Because I really, really do believe in you.

Sandy. What comes to mind? That mellow summer song by the Jersey boy himself, Bruce Springsteen?

Not now.

We got walloped by Hurricane Sandy, or Frankenstorm, as she will always be known.

Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve got downed trees and power lines everywhere, and my home has been without power for over 36 hours. We’re looking at a possible week to get it back. It’s not fun living in a cold, dark house with no food, but we’re among the lucky ones whose homes are intact.

I’ve written often about the Jersey shore community that has been our home away from home for many years and is so dear to me and my family. Here in the Philly area, you go “down the shore” in the summer, and that’s just what you do, whether it’s for a day or a week or the whole summer. The Jersey shore is our mecca. Our heart.

It gives me chills to think about the last weekend we were there. It was so hard to say the final goodbye; I wrote about it here. Did I have some kind of weird premonition that this would be the last time?

Although we won’t be able to see the damage first-hand for about a week, the photos of Long Beach Island on the news pretty much tell the story.

Please keep my island and the people who live there in your thoughts and prayers. I took these photos last summer of my beautiful Long Beach Island.

Excuse me, but have we met?

We have? You’re … who? Oh, right, of course!

WHAT I SAY: How’ve ya been?

WHAT I MEAN: I have no idea who the hell you are.

Unbeknownst to me for most of my life, there is a name for a disorder I have. Full disclosure: I am self-diagnosing, but I’m certain I’m right.

Have you ever heard of Prosopagnosia, or face blindness? People with true face blindness can’t distinguish one face from another. They often don’t recognize family members. Believe it or not, they don’t even recognize their own face in the mirror. I first saw this story on 60 Minutes and it sure struck a chord.

My case is not as severe. I know my family and friends. I’m also pretty good at recognizing famous people.

It’s the rest of the world I have trouble with.

I can trace the first incidence of my face blindness to when I was about eight years old. We had a big snowfall over the weekend and my brother and I had a grand old time making snowmen and building tunnels. And helping our dad shovel.

My dad finished shoveling and went inside. My brother, teeth chattering from the falling temps, followed him. But I wasn’t quite ready to stop playing.

The sun was casting pale shadows on the snow that Sunday afternoon. It was almost dusk, with the hush of new fallen snow and the muted sounds of neighborhood kids sledding nearby.  So I didn’t notice a car slowly making its way down the street toward our house, snow chains clanking softly. When the driver rolled down the window and called to me, I was startled.

“Is your mother home?” he asked. “I wanted to stop in and say hello.”

My heart beat fast. I squinted at the driver, at the car. No clue who it was.

“Don’t you remember me?” he said.

Should I run? I didn’t want to look scared, so I oh so nonchalantly turned away and slunk in the back door.

The story isn’t as nefarious as it may appear. You see, the driver was a friend of my parents. Someone I’d met before. A person that should have looked familiar. But didn’t.

Several days later, I heard my mother talking on the phone and had an inkling the conversation was about me. “Why didn’t you tell me Mr. So-and-So stopped by,” she asked after hanging up. I was terribly embarrassed but had no answer.

I have experienced countless similar episodes all my life.

Recently, I was attending a conference out of town and checked into the hotel. I got into the elevator with one other person, and as the door closed she said, “Hi Helene!”

Gulp. I looked at her and obviously my flicker of nonrecognition was unmistakable. I hesitated. She raised her eyebrows and I felt a trickle of sweat inch down my neck.

“I’m Cathy,” she told me.

Well of course the name was familiar and I recalled meeting her several months before. But I had no memory of her face. Nor could I describe her to you now.

I’m not sure how many engagements it takes for me to finally learn a face. Even with some of my co-workers, if I saw them out of context, or not wearing glasses as they normally do, I sometimes falter.

So now you know. If I don’t recognize you, it’s not because I am inherently cold or snobby or uncaring. I just need a gentle reminder. Or several.



Oh Barbra. Barbra Joan Streisand. How many years have I admired and adored you? Last night my dreams came true when I was among the 12,000 worshipful fans to see you perform in your Back to Brooklyn concert tour that opened in Philadelphia. That was me in Section 212, Row 11, the one with clasped hands and glistening eyes mouthing the lyrics. You didn’t notice? Maybe because we all looked that way?

Not that we were all the same. There were gray heads and color-treated heads, 20-somethings in stiletto boots and couples arm-in-arm. You had us wrapped around your famously long-fingernailed finger.

Starting with the photo montage that opened the show: photos of you as a little girl in Brooklyn, a teenager at Erasmus High, a young singer on the Ed Sullivan Show and then a Broadway star. You charmed us with your stories about Brooklyn, and noted similarities to South Philly (“You have cheese steaks; we have cheese blintzes”). I can assure you that Brooklyn was never applauded so loudly ever before in Philadelphia.

Barbra, I must confess, I was a little worried about you. Your performance anxiety has been well documented. But last night you sat down and chatted with us like we were having a cup of coffee in your kitchen. You kibbitzed with the reporter in the front row. “You’re writing? You’re reviewing me? Oy.” Someone asked, “What do you think of Mitt Romney wanting to fire Big Bird?” “I wasn’t going to get political,” you sighed. “But I hope he doesn’t find his way to Sesame Street. Or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” The audience roared.

You were funny, relaxed, warm and genuine. And sentimental. “I may have left Brooklyn, but Brooklyn has really never left me,” you said.

And that precious finely tuned musical instrument, that voice of yours, still electrifies and brings chills.

For three hours you mesmerized us with some of your classics, “Don’t Rain on my Parade,” “Evergreen,” “The Way we Were,” “People,” “What Will I Do?” and more. We met your son, Jason, who came out on stage and very creditably performed “How Deep is the Ocean” with you. His first time performing, you told us, beaming.

You sang from “Gypsy” and “Sunset Boulevard” and performed an homage to Marvin Hamlisch and Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Trumpeter Chris Botti and Italian group Il Volo added extra umph to the dazzling music performed by your 60-piece orchestra.

We could have stayed all night, Barbra. But I know last night will stay with me, always.


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