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Growing up, my mother used to tell us about The Three Questions, a series of queries that would reveal great wisdom about a potential suitor, to be posed to a young woman by her parents.  They are:

1. What church does he go to?
2. What does his daddy do?
3. Who are his mother’s people?

Understand that my mother was speaking with her tongue firmly in cheek when she brought these up, and my sister and I often laughed at them as we grew older.  Still, it became an easy template for the conversations which began with, “So I met this guy…” and always involved butterflies in my stomach (and, in retrospect, probably my mother’s as well).  It’s more specific than a general, so tell me about this boy, and enough of a family legend not to feel like the third degree.  I admit to using them on my sister, as a matter of fact, for exactly that reason.

Knowing that, though, one might be able to see why I waited a little longer than usual to tell my parents about BWB.  Aside from the fact that there was something different, deep, and a little intimidating about our relationship right from the start, something I wasn’t ready to explain and didn’t want to jinx, there was the fact that I knew with one hundred percent certainty that the first question out of my mother’s mouth was going to be, “What church does he go to?” and then it would be out there on the table where we’d have to discuss it.

BWB and I had been discussing it already, of course.  We laughed about it a little, in that nervous way one laughs when it’s not really funny but the options aren’t all that great, but within the first three weeks of dating, we had established that neither of us intended to convert, baptism of my children was non-negotiable for me, and that we both could at least potentially see a future in which we managed an interfaith life together.  BWB acknowledged the necessity of these conversations, as he said he’d had friends who dated Christians for years in serious relationships, only to come to stunning revelations like, “what do you mean you aren’t planning to convert” when marriage entered the picture — needless to say, those were not stories that ended well.  Two and some change years later, I think it’s hysterical that we thought we had it figured out at that point, but I have to admit that the foundations of what we have now were established in those first few tentative conversations.

Still, despite those good intentions, I was still figuring out how I felt, what I felt, and what I intended to do about it, and so I waited to tell anyone, especially my parents.  Especially my mother, who was going to ask The Three Questions.

And she did.  It went something like this:

Me:  So there’s this boy…
Mama: I thought there might be. (I am guessing this was based on my sudden radio silence.) So tell me, (I could hear the smile in her voice as she entered into our familial litany) what church does he go to, what does his daddy do, and who are his mother’s people?
Me:  Well, his daddy is a cop, his mother’s people are from Chicago, and he goes to synagogue because he is Jewish.
Mama: Oh Jesus.
Me: …well no, actually, that’s kindof the point.

I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation. I am fairly certain it was awkward for both of us, as she worked on recalibrating for the new information and I tried not to sound defensive or let on to my own uncertainties.  In the weeks that followed, she asked a lot of questions which weren’t part of the big three, and weren’t ones either of us ever expected to have to be asking.  Are you sure this is something you want to do?  Have you talked to him about all this?  You know your children won’t be Jewish unless you convert — he doesn’t expect you to convert, does he?  Does he know you go to church, really go to church? I was hurt, not because she asked the questions, but because they were all questions I was already asking but hadn’t completely settled on answers for.  Time, I needed time.  We needed time.  Of course, that last question of whether he knew I went to church ended up being a little more prescient than I’d like to admit, but that’s another story for another post.

I know why my mother reacted the way she did, and it doesn’t have anything to do with BWB being Jewish, per se.  It has everything to do with a phenomenon she noted in a conversation with me many years ago when one of my dear childhood friends came out as a lesbian.  I was, at the time, startled by her mother’s cool reception to this information, since this woman was a vocal supporter of the gay and lesbian members of our church community.  When my mother explained her feelings on the matter, I understood a little better:

As a mother, you want your child’s life to be easy.  You don’t want them to have to struggle for anything.  You don’t want them to have to fight for what comes easily for other people.  You want to keep the sharp edges away from them, protect them, keep them safe.  When something happens that keeps them from having that smooth road in life, your heart just aches and you want to grab them back and keep them from the pain.  It is hard to accept that you can’t make it easy for them anymore.

I suspect this was at play in those conversations two years ago.  Many people do not approve of what we are doing, do not think this is an acceptable option, consider neither of us to be true to our religions.  One need look no further than the Amazon reviews of interfaith marriage books to find vitriolic attacks on interfaith couples as being disgusting and cowardly.  This life is not easy, and we don’t even have children yet.  I expect we have a bumpy road ahead of us, and I know that if my mother had the ability to do so, she would run out in front of us and kick all the rocks out of the way, hammer the lumps out of the cement, and personally berate any naysayers into a whimpering pile of jelly.  I love her for that.

By Christmas 2007, I knew I was in love with BWB (although I was waiting — agonizingly, painfully waiting — for him to say it first) and brought him home to meet my parents.  My mother gave me A Very Short Introduction to Judaism and my family fretted over whether we could have bacon with our eggs in the morning, or if it would upset my boyfriend.  Everything was fine, and BWB said later that he didn’t know why I was so worried because my mother was really a kind, lovely woman and a gracious hostess.  (He was right, of course.)

Sometimes when I tell people about The Three Questions, they get this horrified look on their face, as if I have just spewed some kind of antiquated, anti-feminist claptrap designed to preserve the sanctity of the class system and the fashionability of the corset.  I suppose in some sense, they could be viewed as such, but I don’t see them that way at all.  To me, the questions are a door being opened for dialogue; although I dreaded that initial conversation with my mother, it helped enormously to be able to prep a little, knowing what she was going to ask and that I wouldn’t have to bring up religion spontaneously.  It may sound peculiar, but I look forward to telling my children about the three questions as they grow up, and some day many (emphasis on MANY) years hence when they have to start a conversation with, “So I met this person…”, I will smile and reply with the questions they expect.

The answers, of course, may surprise me.

I love food blogs.  I love the recipes, I love the stories, I love the photos — I just love food blogs.  One might even say I am a bona fide Smitten Kitchen fangirl.  Fangirl on the scale of too awed to follow her on Twitter, fangirl of a level that makes me hesitant to have even linked to the blog in this post for fear that through the magic of the interwebs, she might find this blog and (heaven forbid) read it.  Oh, the mortification.  Thankfully, I came to my senses and realized the chances of that are quite wee, and instead I will gleefully redirect anyone who thinks that this post right here might resemble food blogging in a more appropriately foodie-worthy direction.  Go now.  I’ll wait.

Where was I?  Oh yes, I love food blogs.  As previously stated, this is not a food blog, but between my love of cooking and admiration of the food bloggers, I thought perhaps I’d take an intermittent stab at some recipes here.  But what, really, do I have to add to this conversation? I am not exactly an authority on much of anything food-related!  After consulting with my mother and sister, though, I have decided to use our family recipes as the basis for these excursions into food bloggery.  It could get interesting, given that I have serious doubts that anyone can actually make my father’s cole slaw other than my father, and I suspect you may be subject to a series of posts entitled “In Which I Attempt Mama’s Fried Chicken AGAIN”, beginning with part I and ending with part XVI, to be subtitled “I give up, I give up, someone find the fountain of youth for my mother so this chicken never returns to Heaven aka whence it came”.  That said, if you’re up for the trip, there are some tasty recipes in here — at least, my family thinks so.  If nothing else, this should cut down on the number of last-minute phone calls my mother has to field on Thanksgiving, and that alone should make it worthwhile.

Yes, that is my original writing notebook from 5th grade.

Saturday I made gingerbread apple upside-down cake and found myself with leftover buttermilk.  It seemed only fitting that the first recipe I attempted, then, would be buttermilk biscuits.  In retrospect, this might not have been the best recipe to start out on, as I remembered towards the end of making it that it has a few foibles.

This isn’t terribly surprising when one considers that I adapted this recipe when I was in the fifth grade.  We were doing a project on the Civil War, and my presentation was on the food of the era.  I decided I would make some reproductions of the food, and in order to do that I found modern recipes and altered them based on what I thought they might have had on hand at the time.  So for example, while this recipe originally called for butter, I switched it out for shortening because according to my sources (goodness only knows what those might have been), there was no butter available during the war.  I’m not entirely sure what else I changed, but I think it had to do with the proportions of the soda and baking powder.  I’m not sure.  In any case, under the circumstances I imagine a few foibles are understandable.

I am pretty sure that biscuit cutter also is from at least 5th grade. Possibly the Civil War.

Most of the recipe is fine, with a few significant details.  Alright, mostly one significant detail.  The part where it says “roll out to 1/2 inch”, in fact, is the most foible-y of the foibles. These biscuits are lovely, and come out tender and flaky in the middle with a nice crust on the bottom and top.  The problem comes in that they do not really rise all that much (likely due to something I did with the soda and baking powder amounts in all my fifth grade wisdom), so when you roll it out to 1/2 inch (or, as I did, slightly less in spots), you will end up with a 1/2 inch high biscuit.  Since the top and bottom are both crusty, and the top and bottom are only about a 1/2 inch apart, you get more of a crusty, buttermilky not-quite-a-cracker than a biscuit.  Maybe more of a British biscuit, except not as much like a cookie, and saltier.  They still taste good, mind you!  It’s just not exactly what one might hope for when one set out to make buttermilk biscuits.  Oops.  The remedy for that, I think, will be that rather than rolling out to 1/2 inch, one should roll out to as thick as you feel like having biscuits, and go from there.  However, I can’t say that I have actually attempted this particular fix, so I don’t know if it will work quite as I hope it would.

After that ringing endorsement (cough), here is the recipe, as written in my fifth grade writing notebook, sloppy handwriting and all.  (Italics are my current notes.)

1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 tsp. salt
scant 1/4 soda — I assume I meant 1/4 tsp here.
1/2 cup buttermilk & a little bit  — I don’t know how much a little bit is.  It’s just… a little bit.  you know?

Sift Sifters were deemed a luxury and not used in the Civil War, according to my sources.  Ahem. flour, salt, baking powder and soda together.  Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add buttermilk, stir until dough follows fork around bowl. This is where the “& a little bit” comes in — it takes more than 1/2 cup, but not that much.  Just add a little bit at a time until you get it all to stick together.

Roll out 1/2″ thick yeah, we already covered this one on lightly floured board and cut with biscuit cutter, place on greased baking sheet or on a silpat, which I didn’t have in 5th grade and they totally missed out on in 1863, brush lightly with butter or today I used bacon drippings, bake in pre-heated oven at 475 for 10 to 15 minutes.

Tried to rotate this image and failed. It still looks okay though, right?

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