Honor the Phyllo

filo2   Phyllo, otherwise known as fillo, are delicate, gossamer-like pastry sheets that come frozen and must be handled delicately and quickly or they stick together, rip apart, or otherwise become unusable in your food creations. They have to be made supple by brushing with oil or butter, and kept moist with a damp cloth and/or plastic wrap. Sounds daunting? It can be–if you don’t honor the phyllo.

 

Backstory here. Every Yom Kippur my family breaks the fast with a meal that includes what we call “filla”, flaky triangles enfolding a spinach or cheese mixture. They are, as Cousin Joe recently called it, Sephardic soul food. Two of each filla will fill you up, and there is always a fight to take more home. My 90 year old father-in-law has made filla for years; he learned it from his mother, who was born in Turkey. Wanting to maintain the tradition, I asked him to teach me the secrets of filla-making, which he did, even providing a model for folding it once the filling is put in. This year he agreed to pass the spoon, so to speak, to me, so after a trial run several years ago, this was my official offering of filla for the family. After all, Yom Kippur fasting is easier knowing there’s filla at the end.

how-to-make-pastries-cooking-5It’s easy enough to make: basically you mix defrosted frozen spinach with eggs, various cheeses, a little salt and pepper; then you fold the phyllo sheet by thirds, place a tablespoon or two of the mixture on the sheet, fold into triangles and bake. Simple, yes? But only if the phyllo cooperates.

When I made the spinach filla I defrosted the frozen bricks of spinach on the radiator; it took about an hour. I defrosted a package of pastry sheets the same way. When the mixture was ready I unrolled the sheets, and lo and behold, they were stuck together in the middle at the fold line; despite brushing them with oil to loosen them, they refused to separate in one piece, and it was impossible to fold them properly. I became uptight with frustration–no matter what I did, covering the exposed sheets with a damp dish towel, taking sheets from the bottom–I could not get them to detach properly. I ended up taking little pieces of the doughy sheets and placing them together willy-nilly, spooning the green mixture in and folding it however I could so the filling wouldn’t be exposed, sometimes failing in the attempt. Instead of triangles I created polygons of all shapes and sizes in my efforts to use up all the mixture and pastry sheets. The table and floor were littered with small pieces of dried phyllo, and I needed a drink. I had just finished making spinach filla and needed to repeat the process to make the cheese variety. No way! Filled with dread, I threw up my hands, cleaned up the mess, and called it a night (no, I didn’t have that drink), resolving to have aimg_4045 clearer head and a calmer attitude in the morning.

The following day I put on some soothing music (as opposed to the political rhetoric on TV I was listening to the night before) and mixed the cheese filling. I pulled the remaining box of pastry sheets out of the refrigerator, leaving it on the table for an hour while I had breakfast; then I unrolled it carefully, the damp towel and sheet of plastic wrap at the ready. Carefully I  brushed the ends of the phyllo sheets at the corner of one side, slowly lifting one up–and the thin sheet arose in one beautiful 12 x 17 leaf. Then I remembered: the sheets have to be folded into thirds lengthwise and not by width; this makes a long, narrow rectangle that can be folded neatly into a triangle shape. The next sheet pulled up intact, and the next…a little brush of oil and damp towel cover kept things going until I had 26 lovely triangular pillows of pastry cheesy goodness to bake. When a piece got stuck I worked it from the other side, brushing it lightly with oil. It was easy and even fun!

Why was each experience so different?  On reflection, I knew what went wrong: I had at first approached the whole enterprise with fear and a weighty sense of obligation. I wanted to impress my father-in-law. I wanted to feel competent. I had made spinach filla before, but not the cheese; I was nervous about the outcome. I felt the weight of tradition and the fear that I’d let everyone down. But I was smug too; I thought I could get away with a quickie defrosting, instead of refrigerating it and bringing it up to room temperature.  It’s possible I encountered a bum product, but it’s also possible that it just didn’t defrost properly all the way through.There are no shortcuts with phyllo dough; it’s very unforgiving.

img_4047I know that I wasn’t mindful and patiently focused the first time; I wanted to get it done. And yet, as difficult and frustrating the first batch was, the second was all the more effortless, taking less time and mess. This time I accepted that I was doing my best, regardless of the outcome, knowing that my family would appreciate having filla even if it wasn’t perfect. This time I approached the process with love, working with the phyllo and not wrestling with it. Having no expectations, I ended up with everything I was striving for: a feeling of competence, command and enjoyment, and delicious spinach and cheese filla. And you know what? Everyone loved both varieties, and nobody minded the shapes at all.

To make Spinach Filla you need: 1/4 cup olive oil, 4 eggs, 1/2 lb. feta cheese, 4 boxes frozen spinach (thawed and drained), 1/2 lb. farmer cheese, 4 oz. pot (or cottage) cheese, 1/4 cup Romano cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Mix all ingredients. You’ll need a box of Apollo #4 phyllo sheets, defrosted and warmed to room temperature.  Take one sheet at a time, fold in thirds, add 1-2 TBSP of mixture to a side and fold at angles until you have a triangle. Brush with egg wash, place on ungreased baking pan; repeat for each sheet. Bake at 375 for 17-20 min until golden brown. Makes 28 filla.

To make Cheese Filla:  4 eggs, 1/2 lb. feta cheese, 1/2 lb farmer cheese, 8 oz. pot or cottage cheese, 1/4 cup Romano cheese, 1 small mashed potato, salt and pepper to taste. Add matzoh meal if very loose. Mix and repeat process with phyllo. Makes 28 filla.

Enjoy!!

Thoughts and Emotions

My brother-in-law passed away suddenly on March 9th, and I learned a great deal about observing my thoughts and emotions, and discerning one from the other. Often we think about our emotions rather than feel them, and confuse emotionality with rationality. At tender times like these, where the energies are so high, we need to feel our feelings, name them and let them through. When we do, they don’t fester within us, subtly directing our thoughts and actions until we are separate from ourselves. Like waves they arise, then fall and dissipate and we can watch them go. It helped me to go deeper and ask myself, ‘is this a thought or a feeling?’ If it was the latter, I could quiet my mind and let it step aside, so the feeling could come through in all its glory, in waves of tears, sadness and grief. As the emotion receded I would feel drained, yet peaceful and cleansed, ready to resume a conversation or comfort another, until the next wave came. Family members came to share their grief with ours, friends came to support us in our sadness. Even at the service we shared tears, and laughter as well. Nothing heals a hurting heart like laughter; it releases the pressure and lets love flow outwards.

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Unacknowledged emotions gather momentum until they break through the levee of suppression and overwhelm us, resulting in words and actions that can’t be undone. I recently saw an episode of Supergirl, where the heroine, exposed to unpredictable red kryptonite, behaved in an uncharacteristically egoistic manner that, with her outsized narcissism, buried anger and super powers, made her a danger to others. She attacked those she loved with venomous words; she actually enjoyed instilling terror in those she perceived as powerful. When its effects were reversed, she said that she couldn’t help herself; it was as if every negative thought she ever had came to the surface; her dark side (which of course we all have) came out with a vengeance. What also came out was that there was an element of truth in what she said, that these were her true feelings, unacknowledged and hidden until they burst out beyond control. The damage they caused was just as devastating as a tsunami. Acknowledging –and accepting–these feelings would do much to diffuse their explosive power. Those of us listening to bombastic politicians would do well to consider this.

At the same time, there has never been a more important time to consciously be aware of our thoughts and direct them with love. From an observer’s perspective we can determine if an emotion is driving our thoughts; if we are picking up others’ emotions and holding them as our own; or if the constant low-level patter of our minds is becoming too loud and draining our energies, infecting us with anxiety and fear (which creates more anger and/or despair),  as we seek to raise our energies and relieve the pressure of having them circulate wildly with no place for expression. Some people confuse excess energy as anxiety or fear, and it can manifest as palpitations when it just needs to be expressed in physical movement as dance or exercise, or even singing. All must be allowed to flow. Tuning into our thoughts gives us the ability to create space between  our thoughts and actions. We can often see the humor while we gain perspective (“Oh, there I go again, going into the default mode of blaming others when there is no blame”). Often, if we scratch a negative thought, there’s an emotion underneath, waiting to be expressed or healed.

We are all attracted to those who have positive energy; they are so open, they seem to have so much life in them; they go with the flow. They allow their energies to move through them, and try not to let thoughts and feelings get stuck. But it is a conscious process of allowing things to surface without judgment or analysis, with awareness and acknowledgement. And love. That’s when we consciously choose to give ourselves an inner hug, and love ourselves with our minds by choosing to tell ourselves positive, kind thoughts (“ I was able to exercise today, I AM strong and persevering”) even if we don’t feel it. Thoughts can bring us up or down; why not choose the former? normanvincentpeale130593

So when I think about how I miss my brother-in-law, or how I can be more responsive to my husband and his parents, and a dark mood or overwhelm descends, I let the feelings wash over me, tell myself how strong I am, and then do something I love.

 

 

The Music Stand

80201387I play guitar in a rock & roll band, the Ziggernauts.I don’t know how many 60+ women do that in general, but I’m pretty proud of it. As a novice I study women like Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams and Susan Tedeschi to see what they’re wearing, and how they carry off the art of performing. At one show I was gratified to see that Lucinda used a music stand; at the very least it served to hold her set list. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the order of the songs, and a well-organized set list can really move a show along. In my band I like to have the music stand so I can have the lyrics (and sometimes the chords) available. It really serves as a prop; many times I ignore it completely. Except for the set list. But I like to know it’s there.

The music stand has been a source of contention in bands and online conversation threads everywhere. Some think it unprofessional and unseemly, others think it’s just uncool. Still others combat the memory problem by using iPads and mini laptops (Don’t they require music stands?).  My better half would like me to use one of those, but I also have the problem of being visually challenged (how about as blind as a bat?) and that issue is not connected with being older. No, I need the notebook, and a nice, solid music stand.

peak+sms-20+music+stand_Before my most recent gig I discovered that I couldn’t find my music stand. I’m certain I brought it home from another gig, but a thorough combing through the house turned up nothing. I was faced with going onstage with no place to put my song book and a new song to play. I even highlighted some lyrics so I would remember to sing them as this was a new arrangement. How could I do the new song without the lyric sheet? Putting it on a low chair would be useless; too low and too dark to see. Getting ready to perform is stressful enough with all the thoughts that come up: will it sound good? What if I break a string (which has happened….twice)? etc. etc. Rather than go into the usual dance of panic I took a deep breath and had this thought: whatever happens is perfect. Somehow we’ll get through.

That didn’t stop me from helping things along, and finally I asked our bass player if he had a music stand….and he did! We schlepped it to the club, where we found they had one of their own (which is not always the case). Whew! Problem solved!
So what happened at the gig? The sound of my amp and vocal mike were too low, and I couldn’t hear myself sing and play until they were adjusted. The sound guy forgot to turn on the floor monitors. The new song went well. And… even with the lyrics nearby, I forgot the words to the encore, Alanis Morrisette’s Hand in My Pocket, and had to make them up. The moral of this story is that no matter what happens, like Alanis says, “everything’s gonna be quite alright.”

Some things are just out of your hands. And that has to be fine, fine fine.

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Inner vs Outer

It73ea773ec09589e0066ae269a8df4fbf‘s funny how one’s inner and outer image don’t always align. I’m sure many of my 60+ friends (in age, not quantity) agree, we are still teenagers at heart. My inner image is one of long thick hair,  hip huggers and t-shirts, my outer image is of lightening skin and age spots–but still wearing hip huggers (“low risers”) and t-shirts. Growing up, being 60 meant certain rules of behavior and dress; I had never seen a sixty-year-old in jeans (we called ’em “denims” or even the more quaint “blue jeans”).  images I did see many older women in house dresses, worn over a bra, or not. It was today’s equivalent of lounging clothes. It was NOT a nightgown, that was for sleeping. You put it on when you got home from work. Now, you can jazz it up with pearls and wear it for running errands. In fact, there are so many items you can wear for dashing about doing chores now. You can wear your exercise leggings with a nice top and fancy cardigan and go out for dinner.

 

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My inner self still likes to go to concerts, although my outer self tends towards smaller venues with comfortable seats, drinks and food, and a bathroom nearby. My inner -and outer- self likes to dance at shows. Recently I got to do that at a Stevie Wonder concert at Barclay Center in Brooklyn (where all my other requirements were met). My outer self reminds me that I will be tired and achy the next day.

It is fun to see the barriers regarding age coming down. It can cause a plethora of choices, which may or may not be overwhelming and unsettling, but it also causes us to reexamine our lives, if we dare, and decide who we want to be, or who we are becoming. Like writing this blog, for example, as a way of connecting with like-minded or curious souls. It wasn’t possible before the internet. How will this affect those who don’t know any other way? How will it affect the Millennials, who’ve always seen their moms in jeans, boots and leather jackets, who’ve always known computers? My 85 year old mother-in-law, bless her, has taken what she can of the technology surrounding her, commenting on Facebook. And she looks great in white jeans.

article-2422328-1BE05CE3000005DC-808_306x441But I don’t think I’m ready for this look yet. I do have 18 years to go, so who knows?

Good Grief

Maybe you’re wondering what ever happened to the story of the red dress? Or maybe you’re thinking, thank God I don’t have to hear about that red dress anymore. Well, the story is that it was returned, and there is no story. My daughter’s fiancé passed away 8 weeks ago, breaking her and our hearts, and ending our plans for a wedding and a future together.

Angel statue on a graveyardGrief is a funny thing. You feel numb; you feel prickly like a cactus; your emotions burst out of you from nowhere, or from a place you didn’t know was there. You cry with an ache in your heart that feels like it will burst. You cry until you are cried out and then something will trigger another round of crying. You have no energy and want to do nothing. Some days people annoy the hell out of you. Some days you feel so normal that you are certain that you are ok, and then something happens—you remember a song, you have a dream, someone else who you hardly know dies– and you are plunged into darkness once again. Since this momentous event, I have been to two funerals: one work related, and one for someone I knew and liked, the mother of old and dear friends.

To paraphrase The Godfather, I try to get out, but they pull me back in.

Grief is personal and perhaps generational. Millennials like to do things together: each blessed with good friends, my daughters were kept busy going places, meeting up, doing things together, whereas my husband and I wanted to be alone for awhile, not having the energy to interact. But then I wanted to do things like go to the movies or hear music. My kids were terrific, on the move, trying to cope by having fun and keeping busy. We all did attend large family gatherings together; Mother’s Day happened in the midst of all this, and it did help to hang out with family and friends. Except when the sole purpose of the gathering was related to the loss—then the drinking and crying hit epic proportions, taking days to recover, at least for me.

Grief is a process too. Some days the mind is muddy and the heart heavy, but more and more I can go about my days without thinking of it or feeling the emotions so acutely. It makes you think: what is important right now? Do I really want to be doing this? All of a sudden new choices present themselves; some things become crystal clear. My husband doesn’t want to talk about it, whereas I do; then the question becomes who to tell, and how much? Do I want a free pass, some sympathy for my jangled emotions, by telling people, or should I keep it to myself and not burden others? It’s interesting how much advice I get from friends about how hard it’s going to be on anniversaries, birthdays, etc. (I know!) and how everyone grieves in their own ways (I know!). What hurts is that he was so young. Best advice? Say how you feel, as in, I can’t believe it, it’s unreal. Because that’s how I feel too, and I know you understand.

My daughters are role models for caring in grief. The one who lost her mate refuses to be defined by it, and works to keep herself in balance by going to the gym and being with friends and her sister. Her sister looks after her with a diligence of a mother bear protecting her cubs, always available for comfort and a good time. They each have their up and down days too, and are beginning the slow dance of being together and pulling apart so that each can have their own space and path.

I do believe that things happen for a reason. Maybe, up in Heaven or wherever souls make their arrangements, the plan was to make this life a shorter one. This boy touched all our lives, being so kind, so diligent, so fun-loving, yet so– fast. So fragile. He made our daughter happy, which made me happy, and his love for her was obvious. There are lessons to be learned here, for all of us: about love, choices, forgiveness, self-love, strength; the Universe wouldn’t waste our time with random meaningless, unthinkable events. One day we will see the Big Picture and have a greater understanding, or perhaps not. But for now we will sally forth, slowly healing our battered hearts with love and the creation of new experiences and memories. As they say, every day is a winding road.

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A New Look

Note: As part of growing and changing, I have renamed the blog, because life doesn’t begin at 60, and neither does old age, or sage wisdom, or fixed ideas, or whatever is supposed to happen then. Like flowers we are all blooming, and we all have our cycles. Recycling is beginning again. So here goes.

It’s been awhile, a honeymoon period, if you will, during which I sat with my Mother-of-the Bride-dress decision. Like true love, you do know when it’s the one. But not right away, it seems. Self-image is an interesting thing; it embodies a longing for what you used to be, an understanding of who you are now, and a desire for what you dare to become, as well as how you want others to see you. For a long time I didn’t know the answers to these questions. Raised as a people pleaser, as so many of us are, it took awhile before I got to know what I wanted. And then find the courage to actually go there. Just as you need to bring something to a relationship, a dress is an adornment, you have to bring yourself to it, then it works for you. So I had to work that one out before really committing. Or maybe I’m just crazy. _9778644

Because the wedding of adults is not the province of the parents, I had to give up my ideas of a traditional affair. Once that was achieved, then it became a question of what looks and feels good–to me. When I couldn’t answer the question, “Why not red?” then all bets were off; as long as it was comfortable to wear and made me look good (as opposed to looking good on its own), it was a winner. And so it is.

Get ready, world. It’s gonna be fun!

Now all I need are the right accessories……..

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Suggestions accepted!

MOB Dress Part 2

Finding a dress is like finding a mate. You want to be swept off your feet. The one you’re attr_10223945acted to is not always good for you. You find someone you weren’t thinking of: sturdy, workable, out of the blue, who everyone says is perfect. They all agree, but you don’t see it. You wonder what’s wrong with you. And then you think about it. You imagine yourself with this person, you question your resistance, you open up to it, and suddenly it seems the perfect choice. At least, that’s how it went for me and a certain dress. I know I’m crazy. I wish I could see an item, fall in love with it, and it’s a perfect fit: for the event, the time, the season, the body and personality, and the bride approves. I wish I could say, the heck with everything, This is the one!  But it was not to be.

To be sure, it was fun trying on all those dresses, knowing most were going back. It allowed me to be someone else: 2290908_fpxa vamp, an empress, a nightclub singer, a grandmother. 2290909_fpxAfter all, a wedding is a magical, transforming event. You go in a bride, you come out a married woman, a partner. You go in a mother, you come out with a son-in-law and a whole other family.

But you also learn things about yourself. The dresses I selected at first were long, and I had to give up my cherished idea of wearing a gown. I learned that I am attracted to dresses that do not support my fair skin. When I got it together and let my inner Leo showgirl come out, I learned that my children, bless ‘em, see me as a hip rock mama: as the Sister of the Bride said, paraphrasing a Native American dictum, “ You are deciding between your inner old lady and your inner rock goddess. The one you feed wins.” _9778644Well, guess who’s winning? But what a fight. Am I really admitting that?  So, yes,  I am keeping the red knee length cocktail dress. RED! A lot of preconceptions got dropped with that one. Is that The One? In one picture I look so ….busty. While showing the picture to my friends I had the revelation that I may not be fully committed—yet: is it shyness, Libran indecision, or is my inner matron struggling to emerge?

So look out world: the MOB dress is gonna stand out. But I still have that 1920’s tea length number…..  _9998132