SOAP MAKING 101 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My future daughter-in-law, Katie, has started a fun new hobby. Soap making. She’s always been artistic and soap making is another creative outlet for her. Soap making is creative aromatically as well as visually, so it provides multiple levels of artistry.

Katie in her kitchen getting ready to make soap

Katie makes beautiful soaps, whimsical soaps and some simple soaps that smell heavenly. She can play with design and smells to make an infinite variety of shapes, patterns and odors.

Katie is very industrious and motivated and she is trying to turn her hobby into a small business. She got herself on Etsy, the major craft site online. She has also done some craft shows and designed and printed business cards.

Her business is called The Phoenix Rising Shop because the symbolism of the phoenix rising from the ashes has tremendous meaning for her.

Another one of Katie’s charming designs

She also came up with a clever marketing idea – the soap making party. She offers to come to your house and make batches of soap in your kitchen with you and you and up to twelve friends. It becomes a social gathering with a theme.

Katie did a test party at her home and it was great! Everyone had lots of fun and learned a lot.

To make soap, there is a very specific recipe that involves the mixing of different oils together at the right temperature. Everything has to be precisely measured out, mixed through and temperature tested. A lye mixture is added to the oils.

This is a recipe where the order in which you add ingredients is as important as what you add. At one point, the mixture thickens as you mix it. Very cool to watch.

Testing the temperature with an infrared thermometer

Adding scent and color is the fun part. There are a huge variety of scents,  from watermelon, cherry, lime, vanilla, ocean breeze, and pine. You can also mix a variety of scents to create your own, such as watermelon cherry, or white tea and ginger.

The quantity of scent you put in is also important. Too much and it is cloying. Too little and you can’t smell anything.

Party guests testing scents

There’s a whole artist’s palette of colors. How you add the colors can determine the design or pattern on the soap. You can also use a knife to swirl colors together to form different designs.

We did a simple pattern layering ribbons of different colors into the soap mold. We also chose the basic rectangular mold that makes bars of soap as opposed to fancier molds in any shape you could imagine – flowers, seashells, geometric shapes, whatever.

The soap has to set 24 hours in the mold before it can be cut into bars. Then it has to cure for four weeks before it can be used. So Katie has set up shelves in the basement to hold the finished soaps and the ones waiting for their due date.

Check out The Phoenix Rising Shop on Etsy to see the wide range of soaps Katie has created. Soaps are a wonderful Xmas gift! And she ships anywhere!

Discarded and oddly shaped chunks of soaps

PATHS CROSSING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I became friends with Jane in the late 1970’s in a rather circuitous way.

I worked at a law firm and one of my jobs was to write short Trust and Estate recommendations for Merrill Lynch clients. The person I dealt with at Merrill Lynch was a woman named Jane London. That was Jane’s professional, maiden name. Jane knew me by my professional, maiden name, Ellin Kardiner. This fact becomes important later on in the story.

Me in 1980, when I was first friends with Jane

Jane and I both hated our jobs and spent a lot of time talking on the phone. We had a lot in common and developed a great rapport. We only met in person once, when both of our bosses took us all out for lunch. We hit it off fantastically.

At one point, Jane had just gotten married and was house hunting. She wanted to move to a coop on the upper east side. I had just moved to a coop on East 92nd Street, so I was giving her advice.

Jane at her wedding in 1979 when I first knew her

For some reason, which I can’t remember, our professional relationship ended and we lost touch. By then I was pregnant. I gave birth over two months early and quit my job to stay home and take care of my preemie.

I made friends with a woman in my building who was also an older (I was 30) stay at home mom with young kids. Her name was Janet. One day, Janet told me that she had met a new tenant in our building, on our elevator line, who was also a stay at home mom in our age group. Her name was Jane Berenbeim. By now I was using my married name, Ellin Kaiser, so Jane was told she was meeting someone named Ellin Kaiser. You can see where this is going.

We all arranged to meet at Janet’s apartment. I got there first and was nursing my son. Jane walked in and we looked at each other in disbelief. “Jane London!” I cried! “Ellin Kardiner!” Jane exclaimed! We didn’t realize that we were seeing an old friend again because we didn’t know each others’ married names! We also hadn’t realized that Jane had, in fact, bought an apartment in the same building I was living in, just three floors down.

Jane at my son’s Bar Mitzvah in 1993

We became close friends and our kids grew up hanging out at each others’ homes. We would run up and down the back stairs to see each other. Jane and I both had second children and we both named them Sarah. We stayed in touch for a while after I moved to Connecticut in 1991 but eventually, we lost touch.

Jane and her 2 daughters at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in 1998

We reconnected recently and are happily back in each other’s lives. We still have a lot in common and enjoy each other’s company. Our husbands get along famously as well. So this friendship is back on track and destined to last for the rest of our lives!

Jane and me today

CAPPUCCINOS COME TO TOWN – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I live in Easton, Connecticut, a small town of about 8000 people. We are proud of our rural, suburban character and our many acres of protected fields and woods. Many of us cling to our strict residential only zoning laws because we want to preserve the beauty and character of our town.

There is no main street or any street at all for that matter. But there are several working farms in town. There are also four farm stands that have expanded into larger, more diverse stores. In addition, we have an old inn that is now just a breakfast and lunch restaurant.

We have also had two general stores since the 1920’s or 1930’s. Recently, these two stores have modernized. One, The Easton Village Store, became a deli that also sells pizza and some essential grocery items.

The other just reopened after a major transformation and is now my favorite place in town. It’s called Greiser’s after the two generations of store owners. I remember Greiser Sr. from my childhood. The Post Office was part of the general store and Mr. Greiser was both postmaster and store manager.

Post Office when I was a child with Greiser Sr. behind the bars

I was thrilled as a kid that my grandfather would let me hold the mail when we went to the post office. But I was nervous that I might drop some of it into the pickle barrel that sat between me and the post office boxes.

The store when I was a child

When the son, Richard (my age) took over the store around the 1980’s, he petitioned the town to move the post office into its own room, attached to the store. After much wrangling with the zoning board, he was finally granted a zoning variance and the Post Office declared its independence!

Richard standing next to one of his ‘antiques’

Richard continued to sell a smattering of supermarket items. He also had a small deli counter and sold lots of sandwiches to workmen in the area.

But his real passion was ‘antiques’ – old stuff, the kind of items which are closer to junk than heirlooms. He collected lots of old stuff and started a side business. He had interesting things like an old gas pump, old phones and typewriters and a full-size carousel horse I adored!

A sad aside – Richard was divorced and subsequently fell in love with the Post Office manager. They married and were very happy together for many years. Then she died suddenly from a massive heart attack in the post office, right next door to her husband.

Richard has recently decided to retire and neither of his two children wanted to take over running the store. So he rented the front rooms of the store and kept the back room for his antiques.

The woman he rented to, Adriane, decided to totally reinvent the space. She turned it into a ‘gourmet’ country store and coffee shop. It also sells miscellaneous items like candles and soaps, blankets and aprons and trendy teas. It has a distinctly upscale country vibe.

The décor is warm, comfortable and rustic. There are places to sit down to enjoy your coffee, both inside and out, in an armchair or at a table. And there is still friendly conversation, with Adrianne and with other customers. The experience is still small-town intimate.

But the food is high-end city. The refrigerator section houses vitamin waters, fancy cheeses, cultured butter, frozen pasta and packed, marinated vegetables. The teas and coffees served are in the cappuccino, macchiato, espresso, matcha and chai latte vein.

The baked goods are delicious croissants – almond for sweet and bacon and egg, ham and cheese and spinach and ricotta for savory. The cakes and muffins are flavors like orange spice, morning-glory, and almond poppy-seed. The ‘sandwiches’ are paninis, like Brie and fig preserves on whole grain, locally baked bread.

The funny thing is that The Easton Village Store and Greiser’s are no more than two miles apart. But they are in and represent, two totally different demographics. They are worlds apart.

The Village Store is in the one-acre zoned part of town, which is more suburban and middle class. It’s food tastes run more toward the deli and salad counter at the local supermarket. Simple and traditional. Greiser’s is in the three-acre zoning area and is more rural and upper middle class. Food tastes here run more high-end urban. More Whole Foods than Shoprite.

Adriane behind the counter

I’m thrilled with the new Greiser’s. I love the vibe and the food. I’ll be even more excited when their chef (yes, they have a real chef) starts making cooked meals for dinner take-out.

I never thought I would be able to sit in a comfy chair and enjoy a cappuccino or latte just one mile from my home! (I tried making them at home but without a foam machine, it doesn’t really work).

Comfy chairs at the front window

So one small part of my town is slowly inching its way into a more urban, 2018 food culture. Easton now has a place to go with atmosphere, personality, and charm as well as good food and good conversation. Now I can have a touch of urbanity in my otherwise rural life.

Three Cheers!

TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO DREAM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My son recently got a very cool new ‘toy’ for his house. A “Sleep Number Bed.”

He raved about it and had us test it when we went to visit. Tom was instantly smitten. And why not?

It has two separate remote controls for each of us AND it connects to the internet via an app on our cell phones! What more could a man want from his bed? Maybe a cup of coffee delivered the moment he opens his eyes. But that technology is a few years away!

This bed is super complex. There are all sorts of pipes and God knows what else under there. There is even a light that turns on automatically when you get out of bed so you can see your way back and forth from the bathroom.

Technicians plugging in the wires under the bed

The set up was amazing to watch. Layer after layer went onto the base, including he mattress itself and the elements that fill with air to give support under the mattress.

The early stage of putting the bed together

The best part of this bed for me are the two remote controls. One is just for temperature settings but the other is a computer for bed comfort. You can raise and lower the foot of the bed and each side of the head of the bed, separately. I can be down in sleep position while Tom is way up in reading position. Instead of straining your neck on multiple pillows to watch TV or read, you just raise your head.

There’s a setting for watching TV with both the foot end and the head up that is so comfortable!! You feel cradled by your bed.

Remote on the left is for the bed and the one on the right is for the temperature control pad

You can also set the softness of the mattress and the level of ‘support’ you want. The air-filled compartments under the mattress give your back more or less support. So you have to find the best combination for you of mattress softness and air compartment support.

The remote and the phone App then chart your sleep and tell you how well you slept on those particular mattress settings. It charts periods of deep sleep, restless periods and the number of times you got up.

It also lets you know how effectively your body was supported and whether there were unwanted ‘pressure points’ on your body. The goal is to get rid of the pressure points and have your whole body maximally supported. When you first get the bed, you have to keep adjusting the mattress until you find your optimal settings for the best night’s sleep.

Another stage of bed setup

Another plus for this bed is that the mattress won’t begin to sag like our Temperpedic did. We loved our Temperpedic, but after a few years, Tom’s hips were in a ditch! With the new bed, you can control the air in the unit so you never lose your level of back support. The bed comes with a twenty-year warranty versus a five-year warranty for our last bed.

More bed setup

There’s an optional feature that you can buy that controls the temperature of your side of the mattress. You can either cool or heat your side of the bed, which is great because Tom is always hot and I’m always cold.

Tom says he had never stayed comfortable all night before he could cool his side of the bed. He used to wake up several times a night overheating. Now he only wakes up several times a night to pee – something this bed does not have a setting to control!

Heating pad and connection to control unit under the bed

At first, the dogs seemed confused when the bed started moving and making noise. They would raise their heads and look quizzical. They didn’t jump off and run away. They just realized that something weird was going on. After a few days, they got the hang of it. Now they don’t move a muscle even when their butt is raised up above their head or half of their body is up and the other half down.

So this new bed is going to be a fun toy for a while until it becomes routine and we don’t have to make adjustments every day. In the meantime, we eagerly await our morning sleep scores for the previous night so we can adjust our settings for the next night. We may never get tired of raising and lowering ourselves by remote control.

I certainly hope that we will actually sleep better. I keep forgetting that the bed is not meant to be entertainment, but a sleep enhancer. But for now, it’s a bit of both.

PORTRAIT OF A SMALL TOWN – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I live in Easton, Connecticut, a small (8000 people), rural/suburban town in Fairfield County. I came here for summers from the day I was born in 1949 to the day I moved here full-time in 1991. We used to be called a ‘bedroom community’ because our residents commuted to work in nearby cities like New York, Stamford, and New Haven.

Small waterfall in my backyard

The town is strictly residential. Zoning doesn’t allow commercial enterprises that can’t be grandfathered into a business that existed in the mid 20th century. There have been constant fights over the years to allow some commercial zoning so we could reduce our exorbitant real estate taxes. But the town purists, including me, have always prevailed. So there are at least six working farms in town, four farm stands, and only two small general stores.

The food stands sell more than just produce these days. They all sell baked goods and milk. Some sell jams, dressings and sauces, and other condiments as well as honey and other specialty items. Two sell locally cured bacon and other pork products.

One of the farms that has a large farm stand/store, is called Silverman’s Farm. It’s been around since maybe the 1930’s. The founder, Silverman, Sr., came here from Russia and I think he was the first Jew in town. My grandfather was also Jewish and from Russia and he spent summers in Easton from the time I was born, in 1949. I used to love to listen to Grandpa and Silverman, Sr. talk in Russian and Yiddish. I also loved Silverman’s five daughters who all helped in the store. I was heartbroken when one got married and moved away.

For many decades, the farm stand used to just sell produce. The property had apple and peach trees which supplied summer and fall fruit. Around the 1980’s or 90’s, old man Silverman turned the business over to his youngest son, Irv, who is my age. Irv extended the building and added a nursery, a florist (the florist is gone now), and a Christmas tree farm. (There are several others in town).

He also limited his produce items but expanded his inventory in other directions. This included delicious house-baked pies, plus jams, bottled dressings, sauces, salsa, etc., maple sugar products, apple cider, ice cream, candies and a wall of baked goods.

Part of Silverman’s store with an orchard in the background

His brownies, cider donuts, and oatmeal raisin cookies are the best I’ve ever had. And his Fruits of the Forest pie is unique. I serve it often and everyone raves about it.

Silverman’s also has a section that sells rustic, country chatchkis and plaques. And Irv created a large and very popular petting zoo across the street from the store. This attracts crowds of families on weekends and in the summer. He also used to give apple cider making demonstrations that attracted local school children as well as tourists from other towns.

The business is thriving. Silverman’s is written up as a tourist attraction in local as well as New York City papers and magazines. Lines of cars jam his road in the fall when he advertises ‘pick your own apples’ and sells pumpkins for Halloween. Plus he has a large number of year-round customers, like me.

Apples and other fall fruits on display

Irv’s kids don’t want to take over the business and Irv is past retirement age. I hope he can find a new owner who will run it as well and as lovingly as he has.

Another local farm is Sherwood Farm. In season, they grow their own vegetables and make their own honey. They sell locally made pastries and fabulous fresh baked bread. Also locally produced milk and yogurt. They sell eggs from their own chickens. They have a large greenhouse and keep goats and cows on the farm.

I go here several times a week for a good part of the year. I’m addicted to their bread and Tom loves their fresh milk and their locally made mozzarella, which he eats with the farm’s homegrown tomatoes. He’s also crazy about their creamy, flavorful ice cream, which is made at a farm in upstate New York. They have interesting flavors like Banana Chocolate Chip, Black Raspberry, and Pumpkin.

This place looks and smells the most like a real farm! In the summer it’s great to see bags of corn or beans being brought in from the fields and dumped on the counters.

You can also talk to the farmer about which crops are good this year, when flat beans will be in season and what the difference is between the different squashes.

One of the two stores in town used to be my grandmother’s butcher and general store. We called it ‘Halzak’s’ because that was the name of the two brothers who owned it and ran it for maybe 50 years, starting in the 1940’s. It used to sell a little of everything, like a true, old-world general store. And everyone stood around chatting with the brothers before, during and after their purchases. So buying meat and groceries was a social event for my grandparents.

About twenty years ago, the brothers sold the business and it was modernized into The Easton Village Store. After much wrangling with the zoning board, the new owners were allowed to expand the store into the back rooms that used to store the meat when it was still a butcher shop. But not much was done to change the interior décor or set up.

Five years ago it was sold again and totally redesigned and modernized. These owners went through another battle with the zoning board and finally obtained the right to have tables for people to sit down and eat on premises.

This was not in the original zoning permit or the past usage. So the town said that this was not a valid feature. Hence the zoning battle. Fortunately, the store finally won and now has granite counters in the back as well as a few wood tables in the front.

The grocery store items are limited and The Village Store functions primarily as a deli. It also has a pizza oven and sells some fresh baked goods that we like (mainly scones, muffins and bagels). It also sells coffee from those big metal canisters. Not very good but it was the only game in town.

The other local store in town has just undergone a major transformation. I’m so excited about it, I’m going to dedicate a separate blog to my new favorite place in town. I think I’m going to call it ‘Cappuccinos Come to Easton.’

TECHNO-ADDICT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I didn’t realize how dependent we are on technology, or more precisely, our household machines. Then our Keurig coffee maker had a glitch and wouldn’t work.

How were we going to make coffee??

!!XX??

We’ve always had a French Press and a regular drip coffee maker in the house. So I dug them out from the back of a bottom shelf in the pantry cabinet.

The only problem was, we had no real coffee to go into the real coffee makers. We only had Keurig pods. I used to always keep fresh ground coffee on hand. When we actually used it. But that hasn’t been for two years — since we got our Keurig.

We’re obviously not coffee aficionados. We buy our coffee, even our real coffee, at the supermarket. Not a gourmet store or a coffee specialty shop. We don’t know the difference (or care) between coffee from different countries, or different blends from the same country. We don’t need notes of fruits or nuts or wood or chicory in our coffee.

We know we like light roast, not medium or dark. That’s our only requirement.

I used to like flavored coffees and I tried endless different ones. I landed on a few that I liked. But after a while, I stopped liking them. Now I like plain coffee, with my own home flavoring. I add vanilla extract, cinnamon and/or nutmeg, or some combination of these flavors to my regular coffee. I like it much better than the artificial tasting flavored coffees.

Sometimes I’ll add orange extract to black coffee. Or if I want to go wild, I’ll throw in some flavored, sweet liqueur, like Kahlua,  Amaretto, or hazelnut.

I panicked when the Keurig wouldn’t make my morning cup of coffee. Tom stayed calm. He’s dealt with a lot of finicky machines in his life. He knows what to do. He had read the manual. He ran a mixture of vinegar and water through the system. He poked a toothpick into the part of the machinery that might be clogged. He puttered around while I paced and asked if it was fixed every five minutes.

Finally, it was working again!

Victory! Crisis averted!

Thank you, Tom!

Our hour without coffee-making capabilities reminded us that we are too dependent on our machines. Like when the power goes out and we lose phone and internet service.

But that’s another blog!

NON-FICTION: IT’S NOT ALWAYS A STORY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I was taught how to write at an early age. In grammar school, I was very anxious and would get paralyzed when I had to write anything. My mom sat me down and showed me how to structure any piece of writing. The classic, “Say what you’re going to say, say it and then say what you said.” In other words, introduction, development, and conclusion.

Mom started me out by helping me write outlines for my writing. Once I had the basic ideas organized, I could expand on them on my own, with less anxiety. Mom would then edit my writing with me. That’s how I learned about style and sentence structure. Writing began to come easily to me.

By the time I was fifteen, I was helping Mom edit articles and books that my father, Abram Kardiner, was writing for psychiatric and anthropological publications. My dad was never a clear and concise writer. At this point, he was in his mid-seventies and was even less focused and coherent than before.

Me at about 16

Dad tended to write in a confusing stream of consciousness. Ideas just tumbled out in random order. He often buried the lead sentences explaining his premise, deep in the fourth or fifth paragraphs. He often went off on tangents for pages and pages, losing the thread of his thesis along the way. He had brilliant and innovative ideas. But you had to hunt for them and they weren’t always presented in the best way.

Mom and I would take his material and break it down into a detailed and sequential outline for him. Dad resisted us at every turn. He somehow felt that we were trying to get him to ‘write down’ to a more mass audience when he was aiming his writing at high-level academics in his fields. We argued that all writing has to be comprehensible, regardless of the audience. He would grudgingly go along with us.

Mom and Dad during Dad’s prime writing years

We would go over the outline with him meticulously. He would take it and go off to do a rewrite. He would stick to the outline for a few paragraphs if we were lucky. But then he would end up off on another rambling polemic. We never succeeded in improving his writing and he didn’t publish much after this point.

Many years later, I had another opportunity to help someone hone their writing skills. This time with better results. My first husband, Larry, was a brilliant litigation attorney. Part of his job was producing coherent and above all else, persuasive written arguments on behalf of his clients.

Larry had the same problems organizing his thoughts as my dad had. His arguments meandered, got muddled and lost emphasis and clarity. He was all over the place. This became a serious issue at work. It took him forever to get his writing done and he was never satisfied with the end product.

Larry as a young associate at a NY law firm

One day I was home sick from my own legal job. Larry was struggling with a pro bono criminal brief and was frustrated. I told him to leave his draft with me for the day so I could work on it. This was before computers. I spent the day literally cutting and pasting his brief into a whole new document. I added a few connective sentences here and there, but all the necessary material was already there.

Larry was very impressed with the document that I came up with for him. He was surprised to see how I had created a totally different result simply by rearranging and consolidating his material. A light bulb went off in his head. Unlike my father, he ‘got it’.

Larry and me in his early years practicing law

His writing improved. He was also smart enough to study the writing of two very good legal writers in his law firm. One of them had been a speechwriter for Bobby Kennedy in the 1960’s. The two men had very different styles and Larry forged his own style by adapting what he liked from both men.

Adam Walinsky – former RFK speechwriter and partner at Larry’s law firm

Larry became an excellent writer. One of the best in his law firm. In one major brief he wrote, he started each section with a relevant quote from Shakespeare. Brilliant! The judge in the case, who was a Harvard Law School graduate, was so blown away, he wrote Larry a letter. He told Larry his brief was the best the judge had ever read!

Quite a compliment for Larry, and obliquely for me as his original writing tutor.

So I succeeded in teaching one person how to be a good writer. Or I at least set him on the path to becoming one. I was very proud of Larry and of my accomplishment. It meant a lot to me because of my struggles with my dad’s writing. I guess one out of two isn’t a bad record.