Posts Tagged ‘Abe Weisblat’

Salami and Eggs and Abe

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
My Father

My Father

Today would have been my father’s 94th birthday. Abe died in 1998, and I think of him every year on his birthday … just as my mother thought of HER father every day on his. I miss him, but I enjoy remembering his wise, funny spirit.

I have learned a few things in the past year about my father. As most of you know, my book about my mother is coming out in June (look here for a preview!). The book deals mostly with her last year, but I couldn’t write about the end of her life without meandering a bit through the rest of that life. My research and writing about her inevitably led to my father.

Here are three of the things I have learned recently about Abe Weisblat.

1. Abe actually considered becoming a farmer.

My father’s family came to this country from Poland when he was a little under two years old. At some point in college, he became interested in agricultural economics—in large part, I think, because he saw that field as a way of helping poor agrarian people in the United States and abroad move into parity with their urban, often richer, neighbors.

He was never interested in actually GROWING things—or so I thought! In one of my mother’s scrapbooks, however, I came across an article about him in the November 1943 newsletter of the Hillel Foundation of the University of Wisconsin (where my father went to graduate school). It says:

At present Abe is a graduate student in [agricultural economics]. He hopes to own a 120 acre farm and teach at the University someday. Added to all this is an interest in sports, a lust for square dancing, and a hobby of collecting first editions.

I have a feeling that the desire to farm (along with the love of square dancing) disappeared sometime within the next year as my father did a little work on a farm near the university. Here he is with his friend Ervin Long in a radish patch. My understanding is that my father managed to grow exactly one radish and never tried growing anything ever again.

ABE with Erven Long 1944 web

Abe (left) and Ervin rest after their labors.

Still, it’s fun to know that he actually considered farming.

2. Another fact I have learned is that my father wrote letters home from a trip he took in the winter of 1946-1947 to Occupied Japan. (I had known about the trip but not about the letters.) He was then working for the Department of Agriculture in Washington. He and a few other social scientists were borrowed by the Army to conduct a survey of American forces in Japan to determine what new dress uniforms the troops would like to wear.

The topic was so bizarre that many of his friends thought he was actually spying, that the uniform survey was a cover. He always maintained that the survey was genuine, however. And he was emphatically NOT the spying type.

His analysis of the plight of the residents of the cities he visited–which included Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya–is heartbreaking. He went on this mission at the coldest time of the year, and his heart went out to people trying to stay warm in a country that was still pretty much bombed out. He was highly critical of the U.S. military personnel he met, who frequently took advantage of the Japanese.

I’m hoping to write an article about these letters soon; they are insightful and touching.

My father took this photo of bomb damage in Nogoya in February 1947.

My father took this photo of bomb damage in Nagoya in February 1947.

3. My last big revelation about my father isn’t a revelation at all, but a reminder. He was deeply thoughtful and very smart. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to my mother in 1953 (they were briefly separated during a trip to Europe) after visiting the cathedral in Toledo, Spain.

The Cathedral dominates all—for there is none comparable to it in Europe. The wealth of South America and Spain is in that church. It’s hard to describe—iron grill works that have to be seen to be believed, treasures that defy description, a gold replica of the church, one of the loveliest Madonnas encrusted with jewels, the jewel of the El Greco collection. At least 24 of his greatest works—illuminated manuscripts—one magnificent altar after another. Its structure is elaborate Gothic and simply goes on and on.

But I must say that it left me with a completely different feeling from Chartres. At Chartres I felt I understood why people came to worship God. Here all I felt was the power of the Catholic church—its ability to command an edifice that combines all the wealth of many centuries. It’s proud of its church and rightly so—but to worship in it would leave me in awe and fear—it’s so grand—so bewildering—so mystical. Chartres was warm—it felt like you were where God would be kind and listen and be with you. At Toledo he would simply look down.

I love the way in which his prose moves from a description of architecture and decoration in a church to what the architecture and decoration say about hierarchy and theology.

This is the only photo I have of my father from that trip in 1953; here he is in Holland with my mother and my older brother.

This is the only photo I have of my father from that trip in 1953; here he is in Holland with my mother and my older brother.

I could go on and on, but I know I have to stick a recipe in here. So here is one of Abe’s standbys.

He was emphatically NOT a cook. As I wrote in my last post about him, when he was alone his favorite evening meal was a martini accompanied by pickled herring on matzo. He enjoyed this repast because he could get by with washing only a glass, a small plate, and a fork. And he believed that putting several olives in his martini gave the meal balance.

One of his other favorite meals was salami and eggs. This particular recipe does involve a small amount of chopping and a small amount of cooking. Nevertheless, it calls for only two ingredients. And the chopping and cooking take five minutes tops. My father could eat salami and eggs for breakfast, lunch, or supper.

Luckily, my dear friends Peter and Ken sent me a special treat for Christmas from Zabar’s. (They know that one of the things I miss most about the New York area is kosher food!) The New York Sandwich Kit included pastrami, corned beef, deli mustard, rye bread, and kosher salami—all in a cute little Zabar’s insulated tote.

My family and I polished off the other meats and the bread almost immediately, but we knew that the salami would last for a while in the refrigerator so I have only recently opened it. I’m enjoying hugely … as I am enjoying remembering my father.

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Salami and Eggs

Ingredients:

2 slices (between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick) kosher salami
2 eggs
(You may add a little pepper if you like—but you don’t really need to. And there’s enough sodium in the salami to preserve your guts for weeks so don’t worry about salt!)

Instructions:

Cut the salami slices into 5 or 6 pieces, and cut some of those pieces in half.

Pop the salami pieces into a small, nonstick frying pan over medium heat. (In the olden days my father didn’t use a nonstick pan, but believe it or not kosher salami isn’t quite as fatty is it used to be, so the nonstick pan helps.) Toss them around until they brown.

Whisk the eggs together, pour them over the salami pieces, and quickly toss and cook.

Depending on hunger and time of day (and what if anything else is being served), this serves 1 to 2. I ate most of a recipe for lunch yesterday, with a little left over for my dog.

I leave you with one more dear quotation from Abe. This was on the back of a postcard he sent to my brother and me  when we were very little, after his first visit to the Parthenon.

There is a lovely story that God’s hand touches those who have seen the Taj Mahal and Parthenon. NOW I know why—and someday he will touch both of you.

eggsweb

An Autumn Anniversary

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

grave web

My father died eleven years ago today.
 
My dog Truffle and I went around the block today to the Pudding Hollow Cemetery to lay a small pumpkin on his grave.
 
I love his epitaph (my mother’s idea): ”A Gentle Man.” Simple and apt.  
 
I also love the cemetery itself. Behind my father’s grave is a stone wall–and behind the stone wall the hills are just beginning to take on color, just as they were in October 1998.

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I don’t delude myself that my father’s spirit is actually there in the Pudding Hollow Cemetery. He would never linger long in a place so quiet. He loved conversation, activity … people.

Nevertheless, it’s a lovely spot in which to remember his humor, wisdom, and charm.
 
If you’d like to read more about my wonderful, gentle father, take a look at the post I wrote on what would have been his 90th birthday. And please take a little time today to celebrate your own parents……..
 
gravewith Truffweb

Father Abraham

Thursday, February 12th, 2009
Abraham Melvin Weisblat (circa 1990)

Abraham Melvin Weisblat (circa 1990)

I’m a big fan of the 16th president of the United States.

Abe Lincoln has plenty of people to sing his praises today on his 200th birthday, however, so I’m going to write instead about another Abraham born on February 12. My father, who died in 1998, would have turned 90 today.
 
When I was small I assumed that my father was a namesake of the more famous Abe who shared his birthday. As I grew older I learned that this was unlikely since OUR Abe was born in the spa town of Ciechocinek, Poland.
 
His family came to the United States when he was less than two years old. According to archival information at Ellis Island, the Weisblats arrived on the Holland-America Line ship the Nieuw Amsterdam on December 20, 1920. So the first name was a coincidence—one that made it easy to remember my father’s birthday.
 

nayes1

 
My father was the first member (of many) in his family to go to college. Earning a Ph.D. in agricultural economics, he had an eclectic career in the foundation world. We lived overseas a lot. When we lived in the United States, I loved to visit his offices in Rockefeller Center. They seemed ideal places in which to work. He always had art on the walls. He always had pleasant people to talk to down the hall (mostly women; my father loved women). He always had a couch for visiting and napping. And he always had a spectacular view.
 
When people asked the teenage me what Abe Weisblat did for a living, I usually said that he talked on the telephone. That was all I ever saw him do. As I got older, I realized that his lengthy conversations on the phone constituted hard and effective work. He had a knack for getting people to listen to each other, for explaining the work and point of view of one person to another person with different training and/or nationality.
 
He loved his work, and that example has been a challenge for his children. My brother who likes but doesn’t really adore his career tends to be ambivalent about the whole idea of working, wondering perhaps why he doesn’t get the same kind of satisfaction my father did from his labors. I love my work but make very little money from it. I’m reluctant to find something different and more lucrative do to, however, since my father taught me that work is supposed to be fulfilling.
 
His marriage provided an equally difficult example to live up to. He and my mother were an ideal couple. They were smart, knowledgeable, loving, and charming in completely different ways. They always respected each others’ talents, although they didn’t always agree. My father used to say that always agreeing with someone would be boring. Their life together was never boring.
 
Beyond the family my father also shone. He was simply wonderful with people. He had an interest in just about everyone he met, and he loved to mentor younger professionals in the foundation world and in academia. He never felt jealous of anyone else for an instant.
 
One evening at Singing Brook Farm a group of us were discussing the play The Trip to Bountiful, in which an elderly woman is obsessed with returning to the childhood home in which she remembers being happy. We each took turns identifying our own Bountiful, our special place that represented home and security and happy memories. When my father’s turn came, he explained that his home wasn’t geographic. It was people. And many of them were in the room with him. What a gift!
 
My father seldom cooked so I don’t have a lot of recipes to share from him. His favorite meal when he was alone (which wasn’t very often) was a jar of pickled herring, a martini, and some matzo. He liked to boast that he only needed one fork for this repast since he could use the same one for the martini olive and the herring!
 
For company he did occasionally like to put together a salad of lettuce, oranges, and red onions. (He usually got someone else to wash the lettuce and slice the oranges and onions!) Here is my adaptation of that recipe. He usually tossed it with a classic French vinaigrette, but I like to make it with my maple balsamic salad dressing. Enjoy making and eating it—and think of a father, mother, or grandmother whose birthday is near. Let’s wish them all a happy birthday and cherish their presence or their memory.
 
If you enjoy this post, please consider taking out a free e-mail subscription to my blog! The form is at the top right of the main page. Meanwhile, here is the recipe………
 
 
saladweb2
 
Uncle Abe’s Orange and Onion Salad (with a little twist from Tinky)
 
Ingredients:
 
half a head of Boston lettuce (more if the head is very small)
1 orange, peeled and sliced thinly
1/3 red onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
 
Instructions:
 
Break up the lettuce with your fingers. Place it in a salad bowl with the orange and onion slices.
 
In a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the vinegar, syrup, garlic, mustard, water, salt, and pepper. Shake thoroughly. Add the oil, and shake again. Pour a third to half of the vinaigrette over the salad, and toss well. Add a little more if you think you need it. (Leftover vinaigrette may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month; just be sure to bring it to room temperature and shake it again before using it).
 
Serves 4.
I didn't actually slice everything as thinly as I should have--but I hope you get the idea!

I didn't actually slice everything as thinly as I should have--but I hope you get the idea!