The big 8-0: the Right Way

Me and Gramps*

Me and Gramps*

It’s official.

Gramps turned 80.

It’s been a long awaited affair that started with frantic calls from my brother a little pre-planning, had some tears thrown in (I love family planning) and included a grand finale (we come through in the end!).

We went all out for him.

The original idea was to take him fishing – his favorite activity. As a kid, my family would go up north for a little cabin-living during the summers and gramps would catch the fish that would feed us for weeks.  Days were spent watching Bewitched Re-runs swimming and trying to grab the fishing rod being grandpa’s little helpers.

At the last minute though, the wish to make this big milestone unforgettable took us away from the lake and had us putting on black-tie appropriate attire.

5 days before the big day, my grandma and I engineered a plan that involved live music, pretty dresses, dancing, toasts and mountains of our favorite Ukrainian food.

80, after all, deserves more than a trip to the lake.

Once the night of the big event came, it was time to begin our favorite tradition: toasting the person of honor.

I didn’t know what to expect.  All I knew was that little bro and I were prepared to bestow love on Gramps.

As I’ve mentioned before, my family has been through a good bit.  There have been divorces, re-marriages, riffs, deaths and re-organizations of sorts.  It’s been a long road.  When I’m not busy filming them for my made-for-TV-movie (MTV are you reading this?), I’m sitting around like a cocker spaniel with my head cocked to one side in disbelief.

My life is kind of like Modern Family.  The traditional family unit we are not.  But serious undeniable love there is.

Good thing this band of misfits is really good at pouring it straight from the heart.

My dad was up first (always) and delivered a speech about the make-up of the family unit and that regardless of life’s changes, my grandpa and he will always be family.

Little bro gave a speech inspired by Will Ferrell in Old School during which he yelled “you are a legend” multiple times and pointed at Gramps.  I have no comment.

Uncle began his toast by giving a summary of every major event that occurred around the world in the year 1933.  He ended the toast by likening Gramps to Christopher Columbus and reminding everyone that without Grandpa’s pioneering efforts, we would have never immigrated to America.  According to the story, after Grandpa’s first trip to the U.S., he came back and announced “one can live there,” after which, my immediate family, aunt, uncle, grandparents, great grandparents and cousin colonized the USA in mid-1991 (and subsequently learned to live off the new land by shopping at Kmart, Farmer Jack (R.I.P.) and CVS Pharmacy).

I spoke last.  I reminisced about the forts Gramps and I used to build out of pillows in Kiev, the 8 AM Saturday morning wake-ups during my competitive figure skating years and the adamant stance he takes on loving grandma and making them one unit.  Grandpa was always my hero as a little girl.  I thought he could move mountains.

There were tears.  There was laughter.  There was caviar.  There was love.

Gramps was beaming all night and even stayed up partying past midnight.

Not bad family.

Awesome.

*Note: Clearly I had a momentary awkward stage as a baby before I became this 4-year old beauty.  OK I don’t want to hear anything more about it.

photo (70)

Holidays: A “Family” Affair

rosh hashanah shana tovah new year jewish

On day 39, lil bro and I found ourselves in Brooklyn for rounds of toasts with our New York family in honor of Rosh Hashanah.

Today my brother and I toasted to the New Year with our family friends from back home (Michigan) who now also live in the boroughs of NYC.

Our history stems back to our pre-teen days.

Our moms introduced us when we were about 7 and 12.  They would have girl time while my brother and I were “baby-sat.”

These stories are legendary (including one hairbrush incident that involved the loss of some of my hair…).

Fast forward 20 years.  Marriage and kids for her and running wild in NYC for us and you have yourself the second generation of our family unit.  We celebrate birthdays, important anniversaries, milestones and promotions.  Our version might be different than the original but we still get together in much the same way our parents did 20 years ago.

Tonight was no different.

We told inappropriate stories.  Discussed bedroom incidents.  Teased each other mercilessly.  Attempted to remember the endings to old Russian children’s stories (wine was involved).  Feasted for 8.

Add a plethora of apples with honey for a sweet New Year (to increase our odds) and you have one great night.

Mom would have been proud.

Awesome.

The Art of the Russian Feast

Filled with inspiration and energy from spending two weeks at home, I decided I would love to prepare a feast of my favorite Russian home-cooking for some close friends.

A small dinner party was organized and I set out preparing the menu.

3 days of slave labor (and phone calls at midnight to my family asking for help) later, I had enough food to feed a small army (just like home!) and wasn’t hungry at all (really takes it out of you).

The fact that this kind of table is set for my siblings and me every time we are home and in multiple locations is mind-boggling.

I GREATLY appreciate my mother, father, grandmothers, grandfather, aunt, parents’ best friends, neighbors who are culturally close to Eastern Europe and just random people who spend/have spent time preparing food for my arrival… (and don’t just outright tell me off on the phone when I demand certain foods are made)

Without further delay, I present the menu served:

  • Red caviar on traditional black bread
  • Russian Havarti and “Doctorskaya Kalbasa” plate (type of sausage)
  • Pelmeni with sour cream (hand rolled dough filled with different types of meats)
  • Olivier Salad (type of Russian potato salad that includes egg, potato and bologna among other ingredients and too much mayo.  This is my favorite food by far)
  • Vinegret Salad (Potato, beets, carrot… http://www.ruscuisine.com/recipes/salads-and-dressings/n–603/)
  • Chicken Cutlets (admittedly these were a bit overcooked)
  • Chicken Liver Pate
  • Herring
  • Russian Waffle Cake
  • Russian Chocolate Candy (The favorite candy of my childhood: “mishka and “belachka”)
  • Vodka (“Russian Standard”)
  • Wine (every kind)

We laughed at the sheer amount of food (“what were you thinking about quantity here?!?!”).  We ate until we couldn’t move.  We told stories (Customary).  We planned future get-togethers and laughed until we cried.

Verdict?

Success.

Awesome.