Thursday, January 27, 2005

Kitchen Sink or Swim

When Jody’s 91-year old grandma died suddenly last week, there was no question that Jody would fly to San Diego to be with the family for the week. What was less clear was how I would fare holding down the household by myself.

While I can’t give a first-hand report on what happened in California during Jody’s week abroad (I wasn’t there), I can tell you how we fared back in Jerusalem on our own without Jody...for the first time in more than eight years.

It started as Jody hastened to pack for her last-minute flight at midnight. A teary Merav confided in her.

“What the matter, boo?” Jody asked. “Are you feeling sad that Grandma died?”

Eleven-year-old Merav nodded, then added: “I’m afraid,”

“Oh sweetie, nothing’s going to happen to me,” Jody replied, reading between the lines.

“No,” she clarified. “I’m afraid that Abba won’t know how to take care of us!

Ouch. That’s got to hurt. But it wasn’t fair. Not entirely, at least. I know how to take care of lots of things around the house. I already put the kids to bed many nights and my tuck-ins are renowned all over the Internet.

I can wash the dishes, do the laundry and carpool as good as the best of them. Darn the clichés if I’m not a regular Mr. Mom.

But there’s one area where I fully admit my proficiency is lacking:

Food preparation.

Oh, I have a few dishes I make when asked. Who could forget my famous matzomelettes at Pesach time? And remember my unique black bug cholent?

But a whole week of responsibility for menus was more than a little intimidating. Perhaps fearing a diet consisting of nothing but Bissli and Krembo (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Merav - always eager to be of assistance - picked up the gauntlet.

“It’s OK, Abba. I’ll help you.”

And help she did...along with the rest of the kids. As we took charge of of the kitchen, we knew that keeping things simple but healthy would determine whether we'd sink or swim.

For the first night’s dinner, we followed Jody’s recipe for lentils and rice. I tossed a big green salad, thirteen-year-old Amir made the salad dressing while Merav baked up some chocolate chip cookies.

Sure, the lentils were a bit crunchy and we ran out of tomatoes for the salad, but still, we were off to a good start.

Second night: it was Brian’s Everything-Leftover-from-Shabbat-in-a-Pita extravaganza. I scrambled up some eggs, mixed in what was left of Friday night’s chicken, potatoes, added some mushrooms, onions and maybe one too many heads of garlic for good luck.

The kids, remarkably, loved it!

Feeling momentarily plucky, I took the plunge.

“I’m going to make Friday night dinner,” I announced. “The whole thing, chicken, potatoes, chicken soup.”

“With matza balls?” six-year-old Aviv asked.

“Don’t push your luck, kid,” I smirked back.

“Do you even know how to make chicken?” Amir asked.

“No. But how hard could it be?”

In order to cook a chicken, first you have to buy a chicken. It was time for a trip to the supermarket anyway. I pulled out one of the computer-generated shopping lists that Jody uses and started to check off items we needed.

Cucumbers, check. Milk, check. Oreos, check.

“Imma doesn’t usually buy us Oreos,” Merav said, looking over my shoulder.

“You got a problem with that?”

She quickly retreated.

I finished the list and, before we set off, made a phone call to arrange the next day’s carpool with Reba and Dan, parents of one of Merav’s friends.

“Wow, I’m impressed,” Reba said. “I think if I ever left Dan alone with the kids, he’d just order pizza every day.”

“Seriously, what’s the point of living in Jerusalem if you can’t order kosher take out?” Dan shot back.

For me, though, it had become very important project a sense of normalcy while Jody was gone. I had something to prove by not ordering from Burger Ranch. If not to Jody and the kids, then to myself.

At the supermarket, Merav and Aviv were remarkable. Aviv pushed the basket and Merav played tour guide, translating at the cheese counter and picking out exactly the type of juices we usually buy.

Our only real fashla was that, while I had dutifully checked off everything we needed on the list, I hadn’t noted the quantity.

“How many apples do you think we need for the week?” I asked Merav.

She did a quick mental calculation – three kids times six days minus two days for oranges, plus a fruit salad one night: “Ten, I think,” Merav replied.

“Right, I’ll get 12 just to be sure.”

When we got to the check out counter, we carefully unloaded the definitely-more-than-seven-items we’d purchased (no express line for the Blum family) as we watched the register display start to climb with every item the cashier swiped. 400, 450, 550 shekels…

“Imma never goes over 750 shekels,” Merav reminded me.

“It’s OK. we’re getting near the end…I think.”

600, 685, 720...

I was starting to sweat.

“We can blame it on all the dried fruits and nuts we had to get,” I said, referring to the goodies we had bought for the Tu B’Shvat holiday.

“That and the chocolate brownie bars,” Merav winked.

“Hey, that was a necessity. I’m under a lot of stress here.”

The cashier rung up the last item. The total: a high but still respectable 811 shekels (just under $200).

We bagged our own groceries, transferred them into the trunk of the car, unloaded them again in our garage, carried them up the stairs to our third floor apartment, and packed them into the fridge.

“Man, how does Imma do this every week?” I asked to no one in particular. “Just going shopping is like a full time job.”

Merav shot me a withering look.

Friday night’s dinner, I am happy to report, was just like Imma’s. OK, so I bought twice as much chicken as we needed and used up three times as much sauce. And Jody never told me that I was supposed to add water to the soup during while it simmered during the day.

The next two days passed uneventfully in the kitchen. Amir and I made tuna melts one night, pasta another. And then Jody was back.

We all went out to the airport to meet her. After filling us in everything that had happened in California in the car on the ride home, Jody asked “ did it go here?”

“Great!” came the group response.

“Did you miss me?”

“A little,” Merav said.

But the truth was, we had met what seemed a week earlier to be an insurmountable challenge...and lived to tell the tale.

“Of course we missed you,” I said to Jody, “but you know what, we learned something really important. That we could actually function on our own without being totally dependent on you. That we can work together and take care of each other.

“Not that we don’t like you taking care of us,” Merav added.

“Right,” I said. “But it was a nice thing to know.”

“Abba did good,” Merav said. “I’m so proud of him.”

“And I’m so proud of you all,” Jody said, touching my hand on the steering wheel.

“Me too,” I said. “Me too.”

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