When simply following a recipe isn’t enough: The secrets of `repulgo’

December 3, 2014

Boreka photoWhen most people think of “Jewish food” they likely think of bagels, blintzes – or perhaps matzo ball soup. For a funny take on it, check out this Buzzfeed video. What most people don’t know is that those types of Jewish foods actually are traditional only for Ashkenazi Jews – those from Northern Europe whose native tongue is Yiddish.  Luckily for me, my mother’s family is from Southern Europe, which means they are Sephardic Jews, originally from Spain, who speak Ladino. The good news is that the food is WAY better!

Sephardic Jews eat a Mediterranean diet – rich with fresh vegetables, flavorful herbs, fish, olive oil and bold flavors. Sephardic Jews also make delicious and memorable savory pastries, ones that are so good they’re not easily forgotten and are often craved and practically inhaled by our children any time they are lucky enough to get them. In this part of the country, you can’t buy these pastries in the store. Each is handmade using recipes passed down from one generation to the next.

I recall my grandmother and great aunt making these pastries. They fed them to us any time we visited and ALWAYS sent home a care package “for the ride.” Over the past year or so I have worked hard to perfect one of these pastries – borekas (pronounced Bor-EK-ahs). These are potato and cheese-filled turnovers. Anyone familiar with a Spanish empanada will see the resemblance. My youngest son loves them and will eat a dozen at a time. When his friends come over they’re gone within minutes.

Why am I writing about borekas? I’m writing about them because I recently helped make 1,100 of them for the 100th anniversary of the Kline Galland nursing home in Seattle. My aunt told me a group of women were making them and I volunteered to step in, figuring they could use all the help they could get. She reluctantly agreed to let me help, after warning me that mine probably wouldn’t be good enough. I have since learned that making borekas is more than simply following a recipe. To the elderly Sephardic women around here, it is an art form. And if you can’t do it right, you may as well not do it at all.

What could be so difficult about making a potato and cheese turnover? One word: “repulgo.” Repulgo is the Spanish and Ladino word for “hem,” or “fancy edge.” If it’s not done correctly then the borekas, it seems, should be trashed. I learned this the hard way during my volunteer cooking session.

I sat down with about a half dozen other women with a pile of dough and a bowl of mashed potatoes in front of me. I can crank out about 60 borekas an hour at home. I’m fast. And based on the way the borekas are inhaled, I figure they’re pretty good. So, I started rolling out little circles of dough, filling them with balls of potato, and creating my “repulgo” edge.

Whoa!  Just as my aunt had predicted, I was quickly told mine weren’t good enough. My repulgo was too thick. It wasn’t pretty enough. Tsk, tsk, tsk. I was told that my borekas probably weren’t good enough to be served. I received a lesson in how to make thinner, prettier repulgo. I was left to struggle on my own and it was suggested that perhaps I focus on rolling and filling instead of actually finishing the borekas with the fancy edge. One of the other women – with more experience and more wrinkles – could do that part for me!

If you don’t believe me, watch this video on making borekas by local Kosher cook Leah Lucrisia. At minute 7:05, where she says, “this is the tricky part,” she talks about the boreka ladies of Seward Park. “You see how delicate that is? That’s what you want. Otherwise when you bring them to Seward Park they’re all going to say you don’t know how to make a boreka,” the wise Leah warns. “This is really the hallmark of a beautiful boreka.”

I came home pretty dejected. All I wanted to do was to volunteer and to learn. I mentioned this to several Sephardic friends of my generation and they confirmed similar stories. We would need much, much more practice before our borekas were good enough. These friends also had been chastised by their senior relatives as they worked to perfect their own repulgo.

Who knew? I thought I was just making pastries. Upon reflection, I’ve come to realize it’s more than that. It’s about tradition. There is a lot of cultural history behind these seemingly simple borekas. My mother and grandmother’s generation spent their days in “the old country” raising their children and keeping house. They took pride in their handiwork – whether it was the food they cooked or the needlework they created. When they were forced to leave during WWII  they could bring very few possessions with them. But they had their traditions. And as traditions, it’s important to preserve them as they were. Slow, deliberate, painstakingly perfect little pastries as a reminder of home.

 

From mom to bag lady – One suburban mother’s entrepreneurial journey

November 28, 2014

Jayna Umeda photoWhen I first met Jayna Umeda she was doing the mommy thing – taking her two kids to school, watching them play sports, and helping them figure out what they needed to do to go to college.

But now that her kids are nearly launched (her son is in college; her daughter is a senior in high school), Jayna is in full fledged entrepreneur mode. Using her design talents, her interior design degree and many years of design experience, she has created “Jayna Bags,” a middle market bag with clean lines and an Asian aesthetic aimed at busy moms, professionals, mom athletes and crafters.

This is a story about how a suburban mom has used her creativity to develop an income stream by making something that never before existed. Clearly Jayna isn’t the only person to ever do this. But she’s a good example of how women can take time off to raise their kids, then use their professional background to create a job for themselves and re-enter the workforce. [For those wondering, Jayna is not a client I’m promoting through this blog; she’s a friend and neighbor.]

After graduating from the University of Washington with a fine arts degree in interior design in 1981, Jayna (maiden name Matsudaira), worked as an interior designer for 19 years, space planning corporate offices, lobbies and interiors.

When her son was born in 1994 she chose to stay home with him. Although she took on a few freelance projects, she never went back to work fulltime. She also realized she didn’t want to keep working as an interior designer.

Then she noticed a friend’s cute diaper bag. “She told me what the website was and I thought, `I’m not going to pay that much for a bag!'” Jayna recalls. “I went to the fabric store and got material to make my own. I still have it.”

She tried to make another one. Jayna is particularly good at color and materials. She kept buying fabric and making different bags. “One led to another to another. Pretty soon I had all these bags.”

She sold some at a neighborhood bazaar. Friends and neighbors suggested she make and sell more. Around the same time she started playing tennis and determined that selling bags could fund her tennis habit. She brought bags to book group, did a trunk show, held open houses, and applied for her business license. She also started selling bags on Etsy. Word spread. People called. “One person said she was looking for a tennis bag online, but hadn’t found anything she liked. Could I make something? I said I think so.”

This was the beginning of the current version of the Jayna Bag – a large tote with pockets for tennis racquets, balls and a water bottle. It could sit up. Jayna quickly learned that it wasn’t only attractive to tennis players. Others bought it for knitting, yoga and travel. The more she sold, the more input she got for improvements in design and material. Jayna bag 1

Jayna has made more than 1,400 bags! But like most business stories, Jayna’s hasn’t followed a straight, positive trajectory. “I had so many events last fall, I had no inventory. I was making bags until midnight, and took on a job for the holidays working 20-30 hours a week. I was worn out,” she says.

Then her father got sick and fell. He died in February. “After my dad passed away I said I think I’m done,” Jayna says.

But she couldn’t quit. A friend who had been encouraging her through the process suggested this spring that she start outsourcing production of the bags. She started calling sewing contractors and after many misses she landed with a local one she’s now using.

“They do products and they do good work,” says Jayna, who picked up the first 50 outsourced bags at the end of September. They’re selling quickly through direct sales and Jayna’s new website. She ordered another 175 and is signed up to sell through Amazon (a steep learning curve she’s still working to scale). Because she’s now outsourcing the sewing work instead of making the bags herself, she’s had to start over with her promotions and websites.

Now she’s focusing on marketing, settling on which channels to sell through, and promoting her bags through social media. And like many people who go into business because they’re good at something, Jayna is realizing that that alone is not enough. She has to become a good businesswoman. It’s a lesson I learned with my business as well – and one that I pass on to others who are excited to strike out on their own.

But Jayna is happy with this new direction. “It’s like what I did as an interior designer, the project management, the design. I feel like more of a designer v. a sewing contractor. It’s more fulfilling and it’s less work because I’m using my mind and creativity versus my labor.”

She’s meeting with as many people as she can to learn about promotions. She encouraging people to write reviews and she’s trying to spread her brand. In the future she plans to make a travel bag, letting a flight attendant friend try a prototype on the road.

And now that she’s committed, Jayna knows one thing. She’s no longer satisfied selling the bags to earn “fun money.” She’s ready to earn real money – enough to pay the mortgage!Jayna bag 2

 

 

 

[Do you have an entrepreneurial journey story to tell? If so, please tell your story in the comments section of this post.]

Funeral for a friend

November 17, 2014

This is a blog post I wish I didn’t have to write. But since writing is therapy, I have to do it.

A friend who I have known since high school died last Monday. We weren’t really close as teens but we went to the same synagogue and spent time together at youth group and summer camp. We got to know each other a bit better in college with LOTS of mutual friends. Then we didn’t connect again until we served on a non-profit board together about 20 years ago. He was a CPA and served as treasurer for many years. I needed an accountant after starting my business in 2000 and my husband and I chose him. It turned into an excellent professional relationship peppered with many mutual friends and interests from our past.

Actually it was the perfect professional relationship. We didn’t socialize together. But, like the middle of a Venn diagram, we had many friends and interests in common.

Jeff Berkman bike photoMy friend, who was a month older than me but a year ahead in school because of how the schools determined when one would start public school, was diagnosed with leukemia five years ago. It hit close to home because it was within weeks of when my niece was diagnosed with lymphoma. He went through chemo and ultimately got a bone marrow transplant donated from his brother and administered by The Hutch.  Like my niece, he had a great outcome! He went into remission and celebrated his new life for nearly the next five years by spending lots of time with his wife and three kids, traveling regularly with his family and parents and brother to Lake Chelan and Hawaii, and cutting back his work hours. He raised bees and chickens, rowed and biked. From what I could see, he chose to live life to its absolute fullest.

Then last month we heard that his leukemia had returned – nearly five years after his first diagnosis. Dang it all! He went through major chemo. The chemo zapped the leukemia. But it also zapped him. He died of complications from chemo and a hellacious couple of weeks.

We went to the funeral on Friday. The synagogue where he had attended religious school, where he was married, where his brother and parents were married as well, served as the venue for the service. A crowd of at least 400 showed up. His friends. His parents’ friends. His kids’ friends. Clients. Neighbors. Many others who he had touched over the years.Jeff Berkman photo

As I listened to the rabbi’s eulogy, I had to wonder – as everyone else in the room was wondering – why? We always wonder that when someone dies “before his or her time.” There is no right answer. We all have to try to figure it out on our own.

I have to believe that there is a why. That’s how I look at things. So, here’s my simple, by-no-means original take-away. The ONLY lesson I can take from this is that we need to celebrate, celebrate, celebrate all the good  times and not sweat the small stuff – none of it! That’s hard to do as we’re stuck in traffic, worried about our kids, frustrated by so-called “first world problems.” This isn’t a major revelation or anything like that, just a bit of something that perhaps will help us learn from this. Hug your kids. Kiss your spouse or significant other. Tell your parents you love them. Every time the sun comes out, take a few minutes away from the screen to go out and enjoy it. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Enjoy today. Every day.

Mother Nature decorates CenturyLink Field

November 10, 2014

IMG_0653I took this photo at a Seattle Sounders game this summer. iPhone 5. No filters. Enjoy.

My `Google problem’ and how I got my name back

November 5, 2014

Google photoAfter meeting with a large public relations firm for a project two years ago, one of the principals – a former Associated Press reporter – politely pulled me aside to ask me about my “Google problem.”

“Huh?” I thought as I pretended to know what he was talking about. It quickly became evident that he had Googled me before the meeting and instead of focusing on my  Flash Media Services business website that highlighted my business capabilities, he was drawn to the other website that boldly carried my name, cynthiaflash.com.

My name has served me well as a professional journalist and publicist. It even set off bells around the world when I started working for United Press International.

But a few years ago, I discovered that a female escort in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had grabbed it for her business. Yikes! She was beautiful and buxomy and nearly naked. Not bad to look at – if you are a guy! But this was not the image I hoped to portray for my very above-board public relations company.

When I found that someone was using my name to sell sex I immediately called my high school friend, who is a local police chief. She suggested I call the Fort Lauderdale police to see if there was anything they could do. I called. They couldn’t help.

So the nefarious cynthiaflash.com continued to prominently populate the Internet. It usually popped up as no. 1 through 3 when I searched my name. My business website, http://www.flashmediaservices.com, was there as well. But for some reason I feared it wasn’t getting as much attention.

Occasionally I would share this little tidbit about my name with friends. The women groaned in sympathy. The men – including my husband – snickered. They offered no attempt to conceal their interest. I’m sure many of them went straight to the site after meeting me.

And some, including the former AP guy, probably were a bit disappointed when they met me in person after stumbling across this other website.

Over the years several writer friends suggested that I write about it. But I couldn’t. While some believe “any publicity is good publicity,” I couldn’t go there in this case. I just couldn’t see how a Fort Lauderdale escort would help my PR business.

I even convinced my brother, who shares the same last name, to buy domain names with his name and his children’s names so this couldn’t happen to them.

But I wished there was something I could do about it. I stepped it up a notch after the conversation with the former AP guy. He offered his company’s services to try to bury the site to the second page of a Google search. I asked my own web designer if there was anything he could do. While he doubted he could bury it, he checked to see when the domain name registration on the site would expire. It was expiring shortly, it turned out. So he tried to buy it. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. The current owner paid up.

That was two years ago. I continued to try to ignore it.

Then, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from my web guy back in June. “Good news!” he said. He had placed a backorder on the domain and when it expired and was not renewed, it went up for auction. The service we paid to keep an eye on it automatically bid for it and I won my name back for $50! What a deal. And it all took place automatically.

Thank you, Reiner Perry and Web Studio Seattle for getting my name back for me. And to all of you who searched www.cynthiaflash.com while reading this, you’ll know by now that it has been redirected to my Flash Media Services website.

As for the Fort Lauderdale escort? I have no idea where she is. I wish her the best of luck in her business dealings. Just don’t use my name!

Saying goodbye to a home full of memories

October 28, 2014

He sat on his walker in the dining room where he and his wife entertained many guests in the 1960s and ’70s – when the beautiful Ralph Anderson house was new. He surveyed the sunken living room below and the view of Lake Washington and the Mercer Island floating bridge.

101_1058Strewn around him were the remnants of what had once decorated (filled to the brim, actually), this masterpiece he helped envision and build in the prime of his life, this personal museum and ode to the artwork and collections he pieced together with years of shopping and incredible love.

Downstairs, relatives searched through his stuff. So much stuff. Hundreds of paintings he created over his lifetime. Books that had sat on shelves, most unread. Tools. Art supplies. Clothes. Masks. China. Souvenirs from world travels. Hats. Fishing poles and reels. Old long wooden skis. Treasures.

The summary of his 93 years. Up for grabs. The relatives were respectful, asking if they could have this. Did he mind if they took this? “Is this one of your paintings? Would you mind signing it?” one asked, glad to have found it. “Is this Sun Valley? We used to live there. It’s meaningful to us,” another said upon finding three sketches of the Idaho ski town where he went with friends in the 1950s. “Yes, let me tell you about that trip,” he said.

This scene played out recently at my father’s Mercer Island home, which he had built with my mother in 1964; where he lived for 47 years until it became too much for him to care for with its many rooms and stairs and things. So many things. Although he had hoped to die there, he realized as his age started getting the best of him, that he needed additional help. He moved to a retirement community about a year ago, at age 92. By then mom had been gone 20 years.

But what about the stuff? Thousands of pieces of artwork and doodads collected over the years. African art. Mexican masks. Native American masks and artifacts. Hundred-year-old Native baskets. China and silver from his mother’s house. Dozens of wooden carvings. A room full of Middle Eastern crafts, tapestries, puppets and household items – in a red color scheme designed around a bright Oriental rug. Clothes (many that had never been worn). Magazines, saved from day one. Newspapers heralding important events. Paintings from Northwest artists. And papers. So many papers. Bank statements, check stubs, bills, Christmas cards, love letters, correspondence with far away relatives and friends, travel brochures, maps, art show announcements. Nothing was ever thrown away. Nothing. He prided himself on doing without garbage service. Mercer Island, after all, had a recycling center. But really – was anything ever taken there?101_1044

A historian late in life, he was the keeper of the family history. He was born in Victoria, B.C. His father immigrated from Alsace-Lorraine (between Germany and France). His mother grew up in San Francisco, but the family roots are in England. Mom fled the Island of Rhodes (then Italian; now Greek) during WWII. Nazis came five years later and shipped the remaining Jews to Auschwitz. All but 152 perished. He loved and respected this family history  – his and his wife’s – and kept all the records – photos, letters, documents.

He organized most into boxes and notebooks. But a few escaped his memory – or just got lost in the piles of other things. Amid the check stubs, old clothes and insignificant travel memorabilia – treasures waiting to be uncovered under four decades of dust.

By the time we invited the relatives to have at it my brother and I had already spent countless hours and weekend mornings going through every scrap in the year since he moved out. One day we were unpacking a coffin-sized art deco style cedar chest at the bottom of one downstairs closet. It contained mainly my mother’s clothes from the ’50s and ’60s – a cashmere sweater, some wool skirts, a couple of dresses (all well preserved because the moths had been successfully repelled). A tailed topcoat that likely belonged to a great-grandfather. And then, at the bottom – two documents, laid flat between tissue papers: Italian diplomas marking my mother’s graduation from elementary school and middle school in Rhodes – 1932 and 1935. Extremely rare. Who had time to take these things with them across the world when being exiled from the homeland? Upstairs in the linen closet – a thick bed cover, embroidered throws and two boxes of needlework – also from Rhodes. Big find no. 1.

Big find no. 2? Two weeks later, amid the Boeing memorabilia, drawings of the Ms. Thirftway hydroplane (a university class project my father did in 1955. They’ve since been donated to the hydroplane museum) and a box marked “hair and teeth” was a non-descript roll of paper with penciled handwriting on the outside tissue paper. A note from my father’s mother to her two children: “Silk portraits of your great-grandfather Lewis Lewis painted in 1889 in China.” My brother and I carefully unrolled them. They were in pristine condition – Lewis Lewis, his wife Rachel. Lewis Lewis wasn’t just some guy. He’s famous in Victoria, B.C. as a successful businessman who paid for the Jewish cemetery, served as president of his synagogue for eight years and founded the Victoria Masonic Lodge. My father had never seen the portraits. He said his mother would be happy that they’d been preserved. The Victoria synagogue is anticipating their arrival in time for the 150th anniversary celebration next year.

101_1030Then there were the other little surprises: One porn magazine and $230 in uncashed traveler’s checks.

Many treasures found amid some resentment. Who keeps all this stuff? Who has the time to shop for it all? If the money was instead put into the stock market would everyone be better off? Was there ever any consideration about what would happen to it all – and who would go through it? It wasn’t pure junk (though some of it was). Much of it was actually quite valuable – either monetarily or historically.

As my father sat there surveying his home for what likely will be one of the last times he goes there (it will go on the market soon after the estate sale) my aunt asked him how he felt. He’d spent decades amassing his collections, putting together his displays. How did he feel about it literally walking out the door?

“I’ve had my enjoyment out of it,” he said. “Now my family can enjoy it too.”

 

 

Once a writer always a writer

October 21, 2014

By Cynthia Flash

Have you ever talked to an artist or an engineer? They really can’t talk without holding a pen in their hand and drawing something to illustrate the point they’re trying to make. They need to use a visual to explain themselves. It’s part of their makeup, their very being.

I’m a bit like that. But I don’t use the pen to draw pictures. I use it to write. I’ve been a writer since I was a young girl. I would write stories for fun in my spare time. I used to write long letters home from camp. I used to hide out in my closet – my own little fort – and fill notebooks with doodles and thoughts.

When I had to choose a career to explore while in 8th grade I remember talking to my father about it. I told him I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t think it was practical to be a novelist because the chances for success were pretty slim. He encouraged me to consider journalism. I didn’t even know what a journalist was; I’d never thought about who wrote newspapers or magazines.

I took his advice and spent the day with a reporter for the Seattle P-I and became hooked. I joined the junior high newspaper, wrote for the high school newspaper, applied to J School and became a journalist. Easy as that! Well, not really. It was tough, but I stuck it out.

Now that my career has shifted away from journalism to media relations I still write a lot. I write and edit blogs for clients, create news releases and newsletters, ghost write columns for busy executives, and still write under my own byline every once in a while.

But I miss writing for myself. So, this blog will be an outlet for my own writing – and a few other things. I may offer commentary on my life, on life in general, or on the news. It won’t follow a particular format or schedule. It’s just a way for me to keep writing, to showcase my work, and for friends, clients and potential clients to peek into my head.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

 


Bendichas Manos

a blog about living, cooking and caring in the Ladino tradition

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