Putting a spin on another passing year

When my husband’s older daughter, T, moved into her own place nearby, to help her save money – and to help us get ready for a yard sale – we invited her to “go shopping” throughout the house. After exhausting the two living floors, from the kitchen I heard boxes in the basement being moved, torn open…and then a squeal. “A record player! Does it work? Ahhh! And all these albums! Albums are making a comeback! [long pause] Wow, look at all this old music!”

I had relegated the stereo system to the underworld when I got my first CD player, during my “old life” and a few years before T was born, so even after I joined the family, she never experienced life with my 33 and a 1/3s. “First, not old, but classic,” I called down the steps. “Second, you can take it all for now, but this is only a loan. I fantasize about playing those albums again, so bring everything back…sometime.”

Sometime came a few weeks ago when I came home to find six crates, a box of wires, and four pieces of equipment. She was downsizing in preparation of moving away, and while I was sad, I have to admit I giggled in delight, surveying the cache before me like a conqueror. I didn’t even bother taking off my coat before collapsing to the floor, pulling out the albums and creating piles alphabetically. How many times had I performed this same task over the almost 50 years of my listening life? I wondered. Well, with every move: dorm room, student apartment, shared city apartment with friends when I was poor, my own apartment when I could finally afford one, our first house… I chuckled at how my signature had changed over the years, having marked my albums before leaving for college, and then scribbling my name on every new purchase, many made on Sundays after having turned to the Arts and Leisure section of the Times to see what was on sale at Sam Goody or Tower Records.

And I have to say, listening to this music has taken me on, to echo the title of a Neil Young album, a journey through the past.

I’m 13 and just bought James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” with babysitting money. I’m 18 and lying on the floor of Steinbright 118 with my first roommate, singing “Landslide” along with Stevie Nicks and crying about growing older – as if! I’m 24 and playing Phil Collins’s “Against All Odds” over and over, wallowing in heartbreak that will last another day or two. I’m 29 and sitting among an explosion of LPs, choosing favorite songs for the band to play at my (first) wedding. I am laughing at memories, laughing at the melodrama of youth. Laughing at my contentedness of a life lived well and, I was soon to realize, of the life to come….

After a few glorious days of living la vida retro, I realized I hadn’t seen my collection of show tunes, so I suited up and descended into the bowels of the basement, finally extricating a wayward box of records covered in an inch of blech. And now, I am sitting on the floor, holding the just-dusted dust jacket of my favorite musical of all: “Fiddler on the Roof.” I have cherished memories of seeing the show with Zero Mostel (!) back in the ‘60s with my grandparents, after which they bought me the soundtrack. I used to listen to it again and again, pretending I was Tevye’s middle daughter, Hodel, because she sings a really beautiful song toward the end.

Anyway, I place the album on the turntable, watching the needle undulating on the slightly warped disc and singing along, but I feel absurd belting out a teenager’s part. In fact, even Golde the mother’s songs feel silly to take on because, frankly, the story is set in Tsarist Russia when mothers of teenagers were in their 30s. I realize with a start that I am the age…of Grandma Tzeitel!

I laugh. I smile. I am ready for my next “musical movement.”

However, when the arm returns after the last song, I’m queuing up Aerosmith. Rock on!





Happy Bake Cookies Day!

When Ken and I married four years ago this past October, we had a small wedding. And while we’d asked that guests “just bring yourself” – discouraging any gift-giving – my bff and her partner showed up with a ginormous, need-a-forklift package, which, when I unwrapped it the next day, began howling with laughter.

“You said that when you moved to the country, you were going to bake,” Mish said with a giggle when I called her. “So get to it.”

For the girl who hated measuring, hated wiping up flour (the fact there was so much flour to wipe up speaks to my culinary competence), and spent the majority of her life in congested North Jersey with an Italian bakery on every corner anyway, I was now the owner of a steel-gray industrial/professional standing mixer in my kitchen in Upper Bucks County, which compared to congested North Jersey is the country.

This behemoth couldn’t even fit in the pantry, and I didn’t want to disrespect Mish and Cat by relegating it to the basement, so with a one, two, three…HOIST, I shoved it into the corner of the counter. After a few days, I draped a pretty dishtowel over it. When in the world would I use this thing? I wondered. The answer came on a mid-December Saturday when my teenage stepdaughters decided today was the day to bake Holly’s Holiday Almond (but mostly Butter) Cookies.

Holly would have been my mother-in-law; she left us before I joined the family. But I knew her. Ken and I go way back, first as dating partners then friends, but spent almost a quarter of century leading separate lives; so, of course, during those intervening years, Holly had been absent as well. I know her now only through a boatload of stories and adages, and, pertinent to this particular Saturday morning, by way of a handwritten recipe – yellowed and anointed with greasy fingerprints – for her family-famous cookies, which the Odells traditionally bake together.

My standing mixer had a maiden voyage, which would turn out to be the first of many baking journeys, as I’ve taken on lots of personal cooking challenges since. But as the winter holidays approach, and in honor of Bake Cookies Day, which is…TODAY, I am honored to share Holly’s Holiday Almond Cookie recipe, and a picture from last year’s bake fest. Enjoy!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, cream unsalted sugar (you can use a mixer on low speed for this). To the bowl add:
1 tsp. salt
4 tsp. almond extract
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
Beat together and transfer all to bowl larger than beater bowl, then slowly add and hand turn:
10 cups pastry flour (8 cups if not pastry flour)
When well incorporated, roll into logs no longer than 1 foot; cover in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate for 2 hours. Cut into 5/8-inch slices. Decorate with glitter and pop ’em in.


Watch carefully. Average bake time per batch is about 8 minutes. Bottoms should be golden.