Stefanella's Drive Thru

Israel, U.S., conflict, war, peace, humor, travel, romance, fashion, fun

Cake Catastrophes November 17, 2009

My soon-to-be 8-year-old put in a special request last week for his impending birthday party:

Please Mom.  Can someone else make the cake?  Or can we buy it?  Please?  You’re..uh…it’s just…You’re not good at cakes.”

He was being incredibly diplomatic and I had to laugh at the request.  And then I reflected.  

I’ve become a Cake Wrecks.com Candidate.  Lord have mercy.

I used to bake killer apple cinnamon crumbleHeavenly bittersweet chocolate, brownie and mint liqueur squares. To-die-for créme brûlée .

But everything seemed to slide southward when I started baking party cakes circa my son’s arrival into the world.

The first failing was for fête #1.   To the naive, the chocolate-iced buttermilk cake appeared okay.  But glancing around the living room of my San Francisco apartment, I noticed the guests toying with it.  Sliding it around on their plates but not really putting it in their mouths.   I sampled it myself and my cheeks went flaming red.

4th birthday lollipop cake

 

Quickly dashing down the hallway and into the kitchen where my dear friend Jo, rest her soul, was pouring herself a glass of wine, I moaned:  The cake’s terrible! Nobody’s eating it. It’s awful!”

Jo burst into boisterous laughter and advised: Go back in there and let everybody off the hook!  Tell them they don’t have to eat it!”

Which I did, much to the relief of the dozen or so invitees who let out a collective sigh and promptly set down their plates of untouched, inedible brick.

I had added too much of je ne sais quois and the cake was wrong.  Simply wrong.

The next cake wreck was in honor of my son’s 5th birthday, served to his kindergarten class.

At the time, he was way into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  And because the Turtles eat pizza to rev them up, I figured it would be brilliant to make “pizza cakes” for the class.

Starting out by baking two thin, round white cake “pizzas”, I topped them with red tinted icing a la “tomato sauce” and grated white chocolate i.e. “mozzarella cheese”.  Next, scattered Cherry Twizzler bites served as “sausage” and bananas were …uh…bananas.

pizzacake

To complete the concept, I picked up Dominos pizza boxes to serve them in.

On the day of the party, I presented the “pizzas” to the teachers who delighted over the concept.  The kids, however, were dull and disappointed.

Nobody ate it.  It was plechs,” my son later reported.  “I threw up when I tried it.

YOU DID NOT! I protested.

But he swore he had been sick and assured me several of his comrades had been ill too.   To this day he stands by the story.

So no, I won’t bake any cakes this year.

But I want to know:  What happened?  How on earth does a person go from créme brûlée to plechs?

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Going to Bed Hungry September 1, 2009

This afternoon while my son & I were riding our bikes home from a celebratory ice cream shop outing to mark his 1st day of second grade, we came across a prodigious public statement/art installation in Central Tel Aviv that begged contemplation.

The entirety of Rabin Square, Tel Aviv’s largest inner city public space, had been set up with long banquet tables covered with simple white table cloths and set with glass white plates and silver cutlery.  White plastic chairs were placed at each setting.

There were, literally, thousands of place settings.

Ooh…Mass banquet! I thought but somehow knew that was wrong.

It took a minute of reckoning, eyeballing the overhead signage displayed behind the tables and ultimately chatting with the young people guarding the “installation” to understand what it was all about.

Israel is headed into The Jewish New Year holiday season in a few weeks which means family gatherings, dinners, office toasts, gift giving and general cheer.

Right around this time each holiday season LaTet (“Give) Humanitarian Organization goes into full swing food drive mode taking up food and monetary collections for those in Israel who won’t be feeling the cheer, at least not monetarily, at holiday time.

I’m accustomed to seeing the Latet people at the entrance to my supermarket handing out flyers asking for donations of baby formula, canned goods, rice and other food essentials.

Image000

But the display on the square was a phenomenal means of sending a message.  The banner beyond the tables read:  “There are 200,000 people in Israel who won’t get enough to eat this holiday season. . .”  And the empty tables, the people manning the display disclosed, represent a mere 10th of what that number might look like were everyone to sit down together for a meal.

If you want to give, you can go by the display and make a donation, pick up an extra item or two at the supermarket and drop them into the receptacles on the way out or navigate to the Latet website for instructions on donating via SMS or pay per click.

And if you’re able to make it to the square, definitely go by and check it out.  It’s astonishing.

 

Going Global August 16, 2009

A few years ago when I was living in San Francisco, I shared an ongoing dilemma with an Israeli friend:

I feel torn between being here and living in Israel,” I told her.  “I don’t know where I should be.”

“Why do you have to decide?” she posed.  “Of course you choose a main locale for residence but as far as I’m concerned, the more comfortable you become inside your own skin the more comfortable you become wherever you are once you’ve lived in different places.  And that’s a great place to be.  You become a citizen of the world and you can find happiness wherever you go.

At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around that concept.  I felt I should make a decision and declare my loyalty on some level to one place or the other.  No in-between nonsense would do. And the concept of “global citizen” or feeling a sort of neutral happiness wherever I might be was way beyond my comprehension.

But, by jobe, I believe I finally got it.

For numerous reasons I won’t go into here & now, I returned to Israel four years ago after a decade hiatus in San Fran.  Since returning, however, each summer I travel with my son to Cincinnati so he (and I) can maintain ties with my family & he can retain his command of the English language and gain exposure to American culture.

My parents and two of my sibs live in “Nati” &  it’s where I grew up.  But when I left there after college – which included a 2-year overseas stint at Tel Aviv University –  I vowed never to return.  Bloody god forsaken conservative place that indicted its own Contemporary Arts Center for running the Mappelthorpe Exhibit (!) was how I viewed matters.  Not for me. Gateway to the North, indeed.  There would be no containing me THERE, thanks.  I longed for the enchanted promise of Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go.

But here I am, years later, turned completely around & feeling the warm glow of “global.”

This summer my son and I spent time in Cincinnati, took a side trip out to San Francisco and now we’re back in Tel Aviv.  And I can honestly say that in each place I found home.  Home in cultural events that included Opera and a World Piano Competition in Cincinnati, the MOMA in San Fran and upon returning to Tel Aviv, a visit to my local gallery to check out the latest exhibit.

I found home in culinary delights in Cincinnati’s trend spots: Bootsy’s for tapas,  Teller’s for rasberry vinaigrette over greens and goat cheese, my mom’s for home-cooked Indonesian chicken and a dear friend’s for backyard grilled Talapia wrapped in lettuce leaves.

I relaxed back into San Francisco food comfort with frighteningly potent margaritas served up at Puerto Alegre & generous, steaming bowls of traditional Vietnamese Pho.  And upon returning to Holy Land Central (aka Israel) I hit the supermarket on a Friday at 2 p.m. – total cold-water immersion into THIS local food culture.

Home, everywhere, is about the people.  I spent neery an idle moment in Cincy thanks to FB and reconnecting with old friends and loved ones who indulged me with tennis,  poolside lounging, movie outings, dinners, drinks and loads of engaging conversation.   Being back “Home” was an absolute treat and there are, by gosh and golly, wide swaths of WILD in Cincy.

In San Fran, I reconnected with my other sib and visited with friends and local merchants I hadn’t seen in years.  Particularly pleasant was sharing a vacation apartment in the city with friends who had flown in from Australia, Manhattan, Berlin and Serbia to be together. My son benefitted from reconnecting with children from his infant and toddler days.

Back in Tel Aviv less than a week, we’ve received separate invites to go snorkeling, camping, to overnight in the country and spend a weekend at a “mango tree resort”.  I am absolutely blessed.  No doubt about it.

I ran into that old Israeli friend last year.  She’s back in Tel Aviv and super busy with two young children and studies.  But she still has that positive outlook and cheerful disposition.  And she still maintains her status as a global citizen.

I believe I’ve joined her ranks.  Fine by me because feeling at home wherever I might be is a wonderful place to be.  But it’s also painful.  Leaving loved ones and engaging aspects of each culture behind isn’t easy.  But I’ll take it.  Because “living globally” far outweighs the absurd compulsion of having to declare loyalty or choose.

 

Deal Making April 14, 2009

Characters:   7-year-old boy & 7-year-old boy’s Mother

Setting:  Dinner table in a Tel Aviv apartment.   7-year-old has finished eating.  His mother has not

7-year-old:  I’m finished.  Can I go play on the computer now?

Mother: Nope.  Sit with me until I’m finished.  It won’t take long.

7-year-old: (ponders for a moment) How about we make a deal?

Mother: Uhum.  What kind of deal?

7-year-old: If you let me go play on the computer now, I promise that when you’re old and in a wheelchair I’ll push you wherever you need to go and I’ll buy you things so you won’t have to spend your money.  Okay?

 

Bless America or Here & There July 6, 2008

Now that I’ve been living in Holy Land Central (HLC or “Israel”) for a few years, the differences between my former U.S. life versus the adopted Middle East Alternate Plan are becoming more acutely pronounced each time I travel to my parents’ for vacation.

One of the most obvious differences lies in the concept of customer service.

The U.S. model seems to be moving away from “the customer is always right” and thank goodness for that, after all, because it’s a lie. But even in Lebanon, Ohio versus Tel Aviv, Israel, behind-the-counter types are more compliant when compared with their Middle Eastern counterparts.

On July 4th, North America’s Independence Day, I headed to the local outdoor pool to swim laps. It was a chilly gray, drizzly day – 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 Celsius).

When I entered the half-Olympic sized pool area that on sunny days hosts dozens of exuberant kids diving from the boards, scaling the climbing wall and swooshing down the slide, I was the lone patron.

The place was deserted save 3 front desk attendants and 8 on-duty lifeguards – three of them sitting aloft in rain diverting, umbrella-protected chairs dutifully eyeballing. . . an empty pool. Two other lifeguards stood poolside with life-saving rescue tubes strapped across their torsos also staring at. . . water with nothing in it.

Coming from where I come from, i.e. HLC with its lacking sentry-like sense of obligation, I was a bit taken aback. WTF? Where is the common sense in this? I internally dialogued, dutifully pulling my 750 meters through the nippy water.

Once finished, I threw a towel over my shoulders, slipped into my clogs and headed for the parking lot. I was still solo at the club.

“I’m really sorry for not having the concession open while you were here,” a congenial fellow carrying a tray of plastic-sealed hamburger buns remarked in passing as I headed to my car.

Um, it’s okay. Really. I replied, too stunned to come up with anything more intelligent. It seems kind of unnecessary.

Well thanks for understanding anyway,” he countered.

I chuckled as I got behind the driver’s wheel and switched on the heat. Had this been where I LIVE in Tel Aviv . . Well heck, it could’ve been a jam-packed-maximum-capacity day at the club with a line stretching to Oman and the concessions guy on a half-hour coffee break but there’d have been neither regret nor apology.

And the lifeguards standing guard over an empty pool? Well that WAS a trifle excessive by any standard.

On a different note for my Israel-dwelling friends: Go see Wall-E when it opens there on the 10th. Yeah I know it looks like a kid flick but it’s multi-level with a somewhat formidable message.

My wee self-schvitz: Years ago I had the good fortune of interviewing John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton for a Reuters story I was working on; in continued deference to their brilliance as a creative team, I’m semi-plugging Wall-E as the latest notch in the duo’s collectively expanding belt of film gems.