When the dream abruptly ended, as dreams do, I had already planned the entire menu.
Our four bubbies were coming for dinner. Since all of them had long since moved on to olam ha ba, this was to be a special meal, a truly amazing, untrue, and unbelievable event! My own two grandmothers were going to break bread with my husband’s. What a feast it would be.
And we would have much to talk about. Certainly they would have wanted to hear about their grandchildren and great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. We could boast to an audience who would really qvell! And they did!
Then they would want to know about life in America in the year 2022. After all these ladies had all escaped Poland to come to the Goldena Medina, long before the Shoah. They were proud of their decisions even though they would all remember how difficult it had been to actually leave so many loved ones behind.
We related that America has been a troubled place in recent years. We told them about a despot named Donald Trump and we shared his criminal past and present. We had just learned that he was, yet again, planning to run for president. Not many Jews will support him but they wanted to understand how any could. They were sympathetic, as only those who have lived in fear can be.
Once the group had assembled for the meal, all of the table-talk was in Yiddish. I could understand most of it (after all, it was my dream). And the planning and cooking were also entirely mine.
All four of them gazed at the kitchen, inquiring about the many unknowns like the microwave, the air fryer, the food processor, the dishwasher and any number of other totally modern inventions. They had never before known aluminum foil, plastic wrap or zip-lock bags. Electric toaster ovens, were simply miraculous. And the freezer. Ah, the freezer! Part of that new fangled refrigerator. Where was the huge chunk of ice anyway? The oven that cleaned itself. The electric hot tray, so useful for Shabbat. And the instant hot water. Wow! They especially loved the garbage disposer, speedily evicting all of the peels from the sink. I heard repeated questions, framed thusly: Vas is dus? The sous vide was a real conversation starter. They refused to believe that I could put a tough piece of meat into a pot of water and cook it low and slow for many hours and deliver a tender rare piece of beef. I still can’t believe it myself!
I knew I had to impress a fabled group of remarkably accomplished cooks. Each of our parents had often commented on the brilliant cooking skills of their own mothers. No one came from a home where the mama couldn’t cook. Not a one! I had to make this special meal perfect. I tried. Believe me I tried. It’s fair to say that I mostly failed! Had my dream turned into a nightmare after all? Maybe.
I took out the good dishes. Every Jewish home has multiple sets of dishes, and flatware, and all the accouterments.
We started with that most popular Jewish food, loved by almost all members of the tribe, sushi. Perched on the middle of the table were beautifully plattered chunks of salmon and avocado, surrounded by rice and seaweed, and rolled into an enticing circle that was sliced and served with a nice kosher teriyaki sauce, not made from chicken bones like the tref sauce. We had all the garnishes plus the chopsticks. The wasabi was in an artistically contrived flower shape, looking tempting and tasting sharp. The ginger accompaniment was tangy and delicious. This first course was entirely pareve and so appetizing to my husband and me, but I didn’t have to bother. We two, their grandchildren, already in our 80’s, were the only diners.
Those bubbies were just not into it. The Big Bubbie exclaimed she could never eat raw fish. Never! She herself, all five feet of her, had been a proficient gefilte fish maker. Every Pesach she cooked endless Seder meals which always started with gefilte fish, which always started with pike swimming around, very much alive, in her bathtub. So she had no aversion to raw fish, just to its consumption. She was entirely capable of slaughtering the creatures splashing around in the tub and then chopping them up, like a character in a horror movie! But she wouldn’t eat them raw. Sushi was not to be her friend!
Clearing away the uneaten sushi. I was ready to serve the next course, chicken soup. I put the container of crispy croutons on the table and they wondered what they were, without getting too excited. They knew mandlen very well but this new iteration stumped them. Never mind. They did taste good.
They asked how I prepared the soup. I showed them a package of frozen chicken thighs, stored in the freezer. Oy, Tevya, it is a new world! That’s chicken? Where are the feathers? Where is the alarming hanging head? Where are the feet? So good in soup! And where is the body, encasing the giblets, which are nowhere to be found? A chicken without the pupik? Are you kidding? And where are the eggs, those golden globes of utter deliciousness, the eggs that were always worthy of a good fight to decide which lucky family member would get to savor one? And why is the chicken so frozen? That just cannot be chicken! The bubbies clucked for a while about the chicken, while agreeing to taste the soup.
I must admit that, in my opinion, chicken soup is not as good as it used to be. The chickens of today may have lost their feathers and head and giblets, and feet, but they’ve also lost their taste. I throw lots of stuff into the water, all sorts of vegetables, including a sweet potato which my mother always recommended, lots of chicken, an assortment of salt, pepper and other spices and flavoring agents. Finally, after a few hours I taste it. I am always disappointed. After all that parsing and peeling and poaching and patchkaing, it tastes like warm water. OK. Hot water.
My mother’s soup always tasted of chicken. It was luxurious and rich and coated with just the right amount of fat globules. It was inviting and very very delicious. And the bubbies, of course, were all famed for their own simply outstanding chicken broth.
Here, bubbies, is mine, a bowl of hot water with some chunky carrots. Sprinkle in your croutons and wonder why the soup tastes so tasteless The bubbies are unimpressed with my soup. It has everything they remember putting into their own more succulent soup, except the missing ingredient, chickeny taste
I proceed to the next course. This is a delicious roast, made in the sous vide machine, tender, rare, and cooked to perfection. At last I have shown them my mettle. They love the tasty beef. They simply can’t get enough of it. I rejoice.
The salad is a nice side but they are not sure what to make of the mixed vegetables that I zap in the microwave. Ready so soon? Really cooked?
For a starch I go all out with a crispy well done potato kugel which is something they recognize immediately. It looks and tastes just like their own. This is home finally. No need to tell them that I’ve avoided shedding any blood while preparing the kugel. No grater came near me. The trusted food processor does an impressive job. I even leave the potato peels on. Of course I’ve made a nice bread to consume with the meal, in my well used bread machine. I show them how it kneads the bread dough and this really floors them. Could it be used for challah they inquire. Of course. It kneads whatever you need I explain!
The meal ends before dessert, as I wake up at dawn and am instantly transported to 2022. The real balabustas are gone, again. Hopefully they’ll soon return.
And hopefully the political chat will turn out to be nothing more than a nightmare which will disappear when I am awake!