This is the time of year when Jewish people contemplate their lives. For my family, this season started early, when my beloved father in- law, Arthur Shoyer, z”l passed away in July. His death has helped me appreciate what is means to live a good life.
Every summer I teach cooking and baking at Camp Ramah New England. My husband Andy and I arrived at camp for Shabbat laden with goodies for our kids and their friends. After morning services we hosted everyone on the back porch of the guesthouse, overlooking the lake. We fed the crowd bagels, cakes, homemade challah, fresh mozzarella, arugula, avocados, berries and cherries -- food they do not get at camp. As they stuffed their faces, the kids shared stories of camp life. Andy and I were too full for lunch but Emily the counselor told all the campers that they had to make an appearance. Andy and I made cups of mint tea, sat down, gazed at the lake and had a conversation about our future.
I remember thinking to myself, “wow, this is what a good life feels like: a full belly, a full heart and a view.” I also recall thinking that for the next seven hours there was nowhere I had to be, nothing I had to do. And then the picture changed.
After we learned that Andy’s father died, I went to the dining hall and gathered up the five (out of 6 total) grandchildren, my four plus our niece. As we walked back to the guesthouse, I told them the news. They adored their Grandpop and took it very hard. Looking back, it was truly a blessing that Andy and I were there to be with them as they worked through their grief to get to a place where they could reminisce together.
We know his death was not tragic because he was almost 95, still had his wits about him and he went quickly and spared all of us difficult decisions. Nevertheless, we miss him.
Arthur Shoyer was my biggest cheerleader. He made me feel that he was happy I was around, probably because I always fed him. He also had a special relationship with my grandmother who baked him sponge cakes. He had an appetite to the end – the last time I saw him, at the Citron and Rose kosher restaurant in Philadelphia, a not-hungry Arthur tasted everything and then returned there the next week to eat more.
Arthur was modest, philanthropic, elegant and a big tease. He had a fabulous singing voice and we have a video of him singing in our house with Andy on piano accompanied by dear friend and American Idol contestant, Ilanna Starr.
Last March I was in Florida for a few baking events and met Arthur’s physical therapist. The man said he had never met anyone like Arthur Shoyer. A year after his hip surgery, Pop was still trying to walk without the walker. At 94 years old, there was no “this is the best I could do,” or “this is good enough.” His approach was that you just keep pushing yourself as far as you can go. And then you work even harder.
Pop's life is really what a good life looks like. He built a bookbinding business to support his family. He traveled the world and collected art. He had a positive attitude. He enjoyed a large community of friends. He loved his family and left a legacy of menches.
Life is measured by small pleasures: a slice of challah, a hug, teaching your daughter-in-law about cookbook bindings, celebrating three bar mitzvahs this year in spectacular fashion, turning “happy birthday to you” into a Broadway showstopper, a bite of sponge cake.
For the month of Elul before Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofar every day as a wake up call. Let Arthur Shoyer’s life well lived be the wake up call that reminds us how to be the best we can be both to ourselves and to everyone around us.
Apple Pastry Pie
Arthur loved all my desserts and liked to forget that he was a diabetic. Here is one of the many desserts I brought to camp to feed my children and their friends. Puff pastry is so easy to work with that you will forget your past frustrations assembling a lattice over a pie made with flakey pie dough.
8 apples (Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith), peeled, cored and halved and then each half sliced into quarters (8 pieces per apple)
1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ cup sugar, plus 1 teaspoon to sprinkle on top
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar
One 17.3-ounce box parve frozen puff pastry sheets (2 sheets)
1 large egg white
Preheat oven to 400°F. Remove frozen puff pastry from the freezer and thaw at room temperature for 45 minutes, or until you can roll it out without it breaking.
Meanwhile, cook the apples. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the apple wedges. Cook for five minutes, stirring often. Add the granulated sugar, cinnamon and ginger and cook for 20 minutes, or until fork tender, stirring often. Turn down the heat to low after ten minutes. If some pieces soften sooner than others, remove them to a large bowl. When cooked, place the apples into the bowl and let cool. If rushed, place the bowl of apples in the freezer for 15 minutes.
When the pastry is ready to be rolled, place a piece of parchment on the counter and sprinkle with flour. Unroll one of the pastry sheets and place on the parchment with the creases vertical. Roll with a rolling pin to smooth out the creases and to roll out the rectangle about 2 ½ inches larger on each side, trying to keep the rectangular shape. Every once in a while. Lift up the pastry and sprinkle a little flour underneath.
Take a 9 X 13-inch pan and turn onto the pastry so the pan bottom is facing up. Holding the parchment and pastry to the pan rim, turn the pan over so the pastry is now in the bottom of the pan. Press into the corners and sides and remove the parchment. Use a fork to prick some holes in the pastry and place in the freezer until ready to bake.
Sprinkle some flour on the parchment you just used and roll out the second sheet of pastry about 14 inches wide and 16 inches long. Use a knife to cut the long way into 1-inch long strips of dough. Cover a cookie sheet with more parchment and lift up the strips and place them on the covered cookie sheet, about ½ inch apart. Place into the fridge.
When the apples are cooled, add the vanilla and honey and stir. Add the flour and brown sugar and stir to distribute; the apples with be coated with a gooey glaze. Scoop into the chilled pastry-lined 9 X 13 inch pan and spread evenly.
To assemble the lattice: Place half the dough strips (about 7) diagonally across the pie, about 1/2 inch apart. Fold the first, third, fifth and seventh strips back over themselves. Place another strip vertically across the unfolded strips. Unfold the folded strips over the new strip. Now fold back the strips that were not folded before, the second, fourth and sixth strips. Add another vertical strip, about ½ inch from the other, over the unfolded strips and then unfold the folded ones. Keep alternating until you have covered the pie. Trim off the edges and press to seal the edges of the lattice strips to the rim of bottom crust.
Use a pastry brush to brush the egg white all over the top of the lattice. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon sugar all over the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until pastry is golden. Serve warm. May be made a day in advance and stored covered at room temperature and reheated.