Friday, November 26, 2004

Pie from the Sky, Part One

All this blogging about Thanksgiving pies reminds me:

It was January 19, 1991, exactly 10 days after I had returned from Prowesslessnesslessness's college graduation in the USA. The graduation was a nicely human-scale event, because only a small number of people graduated in the middle of the school year, and it was great to see both kids.

January 15 was George Bush Sr.'s ultimatum deadline to Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait, and I was eager to be home in Tel Aviv in time for Saddam not to do it. Some Americans were mystified that I was returning to Israel when war was imminent. (They were probably thinking I was still American, just visiting Israel for a long period, not really emigrating.) Having lived through the exodus of draft-avoiding Americans to Canada during the Vietnam era, I had always been fascinated by the alacrity with which Israelis, not only able-bodied young men, returned home for wars. Even though I wasn't a member of the Israel Defense Forces, I felt I had to go home, because:
1. Why had I moved to Israel if I was going to desert her during bad times?
2. How could I look my Israeli friends and neighbors in the eye if I stayed away while they suffered, and then came back afterwards?
Returning was a foregone conclusion.

Buy January 15 I had my gas mask and instruction booklet. I had sealed up my bedroom with plastic sheeting and duct tape by the time the first sirens went off four nights later. I put the radio on and hunted for commentary in English, but decided to muddle through with the Hebrew broadcasts…all I could find. What a way to learn vocabulary! Verify in the dictionary that "masicha" = mask. The first verb must mean "put on," and later, after the "all clear" siren, the verb around "masicha" must mean "take off." After five months of Ulpan, at least I could tell where the verbs were!

The "booms" in Ramat Gan shake the glass in my bedroom window. I decide to lie under my bed to avoid being cut by shattering glass. When I'm not busy being scared, I discover that I'm really angry at Saddam because I didn't do anything to him, and here he is, trying to kill me. What nerve!

Thinking, "Well, he might succeed," I begin to review my life: what regrets did I have? Not too many, it turned out. I had traveled a great deal, met lots of interesting people, made some really good friends, both long-time and new, enjoyed some of the world's best food and wine (in France), finest music, greatest art, drama, opera, orchestras, dance, books, loved and was loved by my children. I was proud of having given my mother a Good Death (in my home, with the help of a home hospice program…in 1980). A failed marriage, a less-than-spectacular career, but not a failed life. So what had I not done that I still wanted to do?

It turned out that I had never baked a pie. And the reason I had never done it was because my mother was a superb pie-baker, but she never taught me. Her pies were one of her many claims to family fame. Maybe I never asked her to, or maybe she didn't want to share the glory. Here it was, 10 ½ years after her death, and it was too late to ask her now. Lying there, under my bed, I decided that if I survived the weekend scud attacks (there were two more), I would bake an apple pie on my own.

Sunday morning (Sunday is Israel's answer to Monday), I got out my "Joy of Cooking," (it was actually elswhere's "Joy of Cooking;" we had traded my hard-cover edition for her paperback edition before I moved) and studied the pie crust instructions. I decided to try it with the most easily-available ingredients. That meant substituting Israeli margarine for Spry or Crisco, but everything else was the same ("everything" being flour, salt, and water). Granny Smith apples are excellent here, and available year-round. I had a rolling-pin, a pie-dish, and an oven. I was "between jobs" and had no office to go to. So I baked an apple pie, let it cool a bit, and ate a piece. Yum! Did I felt triumphant! This war might kill me, but at least I now knew that I could bake a good apple pie.

To be continued…


Anonymous said...

God, you know how I love your pies. And now I know (half) the story behind the lovely crust. Got a sore mouth after having a tooth extrated yesterday, so I'm on a liquid diet at the moment, and would give a lot for a nice slice of your pecan pie. Yum.
My Saddam stories will have to wait a few years before I'm able to tell them. Keywords will include a really dark office and a mad hysterical boss knocking down wooden walls with a huge hammer.

The Lioness said...

Somehow, this is such an Israeli post! reminds me of my friends on the kibbutz who used to gather on the roof to watch Scuds fly by.