Sweet Eats: Digging In at Hebrew Home
Columnist Ralph Gardner Jr. joins the Hebrew Home at Riverdale residents for their annual ‘Waffle Day’
By Ralph Gardner Jr in the Wall Street Journal
Were it not for waffles it might have been another few decades before I found my way to the Hebrew Home, a senior residence in Riverdale.
I’ve been wanting waffles for a while.
So why don’t you just order them at a restaurant or make them yourself, one might ask?
When I go out for breakfast it’s usually bacon and eggs. I don’t have confidence in the average diner to produce a quality waffle. And when I make them at home the “Everyday Waffles” recipe I use from the 1976 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook produces enough batter for six.
Waffles are more a family special occasion event.
So when I heard that the Hebrew Home was holding its annual “Waffle Day” last Thursday for its 870 residents, I thought I might join in.
They make waffles once a year—with topping such as bananas, strawberries, peaches, fresh whipped cream and chocolate sauce—not just because waffles taste great, but also because residents who don’t typically want to eat will eat waffles. Also, the Hebrew Home claims the great smell and taste of waffles has the power to evoke memories among people who may be losing theirs.
I don’t know how much actual science is behind these claims. And for the moment my memory remains intact. However, I am confident that were it to go, waffles would bring it back.
Before I had my waffles, however, Daniel Reingold, the president and CEO of RiverSpring Health, which runs the Hebrew Home, gave me a tour of the facility. There was a scenic terrace overlooking the Hudson River, a restaurant where one could invite guests, and an impressive art collection, including a 1630s portrait from the studio of Anthony Van Dyck.
For the amusement of the residents and their visitors, there were even dioramas depicting old New York, an elaborate train set in the process of being installed, and a Yankees nook that included original stadium seats, a replica of Derek Jeter’s locker, and a letter from Joe DiMaggio.
It all looked great. But I was concerned the staff would have stopped serving waffles by the time we found our way to the dining room.
Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about. Lunch was still in full swing. And the residents were chowing down with that peculiar intensity I’ve noticed among long-lived members of my own family. When your senses start to fail you, nothing brings them rushing back like tasty food.
So how was everyone enjoying their waffles?
“It’s so long since I had a waffle, but it’s good,” said Joseph Strear, 81 years old.
But they weren’t serving butter. I prefer my waffles awash in butter and real maple syrup. Mr. Strear disagreed. “It’s better without butter,” he claimed. “I don’t take butter as a rule. Even with toast.”
It wasn’t worth getting into an argument. But on my way to the Bronx I debated myself about why I preferred waffles to pancakes. It has to do with waffles’ genius architecture, its gridlike butter-and-syrup-trapping design. Or jam or honey, if you prefer.
Also, nothing complements waffles like a side of bacon. But that wasn’t going to happen. The Hebrew Home is kosher.
“The carrot juice is delicious,” Mr. Strear added. “Very tasty.”
So it was.
Gladys Neustadter, 103, told me she didn’t have many encounters with waffles growing up, one of eight children in Rochester, N.Y. “These happen to be very delicious,” she said. “Like if you went to Grossinger’s, every day they served you waffles.”
Which no doubt helps explain the resort’s decadeslong success.
Carlos Luna, the Hebrew Home’s director of hotel services, offered me waffles with all the trimmings. I requested them straight up—just maple syrup and whipped cream.
Did I mention I throw a full stick of butter into my batter? These were good, but the shortening wasn’t butter. Then again, if one of the goals of a long-term care facility is to encourage health and longevity, I suppose they wouldn’t.
Mr. Luna said that of all the special meals they tested on residents, waffles were the most successful. “Because they’re sweet,” he explained. “They’ll eat anything sweet.”
I considered his observation spiritually profound. If heaven exists it no doubt comes with candy stores.
I also met the Bachners, Selma, 81, and Arthur, 90, a couple married 66 years. They were dining alone in the corner.
Mrs. Bachner recalled that she and her husband went out for breakfast when he wanted waffles. But Mr. Bachner, who used to be in refrigeration and air-conditioning, described his favorite breakfast as “eggs benedict and a rib eye steak.”
I wasn’t sure I’d heard right. But he explained he developed his hearty breakfast appetite while fighting in the Pacific during World War II. A robust breakfast was served before soldiers were loaded onto personnel carriers to go into battle.
“So you were well fed if you were killed,” Mr. Bachner explained with a twinkle in his eye.
Facing death might be the only case where I’d pick steak and eggs over waffles.