Cinnamon Star Bread: A showstopper for your holiday table (or any time)

Cinnamon Star Bread, laced with cinnamon and sugar, is just beginning its third and last rise. Pretty and not overly sweet, it’s time consuming to prepare, but the finished product makes the effort well worth it. 

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

If you’ve seen “The Great British Baking Show,” airing on PBS in the United States, then you know the third challenge culminates when the bakers present their showstoppers — elaborate, labor-intensive creations that take hours to make.

Even edited for television, you can see the effort that goes into the final product, often festooned with icing and intricate decorations, and a whole lot of patience and skill. 

Wouldn’t you like to have a showstopper on your holiday table? One that draws oohs and aahs and makes you look like you are an expert with dough?

Cinnamon Star Bread fits the bill: Four thin golden layers filled with cinnamon and sugar. Think cinnamon buns but in a different finger-licking form.

And the real beauty is that it’s far easier to make than you’d imagine. (Your guests don’t have to know!)  

I’d seen something like this attractive bread on a Martha Stewart baking show. Her version built on an extremely rich laminated dough — laden with a pound of butter — and was called Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Danish.

I’m sure it’s marvelous, but I wanted something that didn’t contain a pound of butter.

So I turned to one of my favorite baking sources, the King Arthur Flour website. Cinnamon Star Bread calls for just four tablespoons of butter, so a much healthier recipe.

It also contains instant mashed potato flakes, which helps give the bread its tender crumb, without adding fat and a huge amount of calories. 

The recipe will take at least three hours, two of which are waiting for the dough to go through three rises, so you can get other things done in between steps (I was making Green Curry Chicken with Eggplant at the same time). 

Drizzle icing over the top for an even sweeter finish. Or sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Don’t be put off by the length of the directions. Do read all the way through more than once, so you have a mental picture of how the assembled dough is supposed to look. 

The individual steps are simple. The only tricky thing was that the dough was far wetter (and stickier) than I expected, and I had to use a liberal amount of flour when rolling out the layers. 

An added bonus is that King Arthur Flour has a step-by-step tutorial with photos — even more detailed than my pictures and what I’ve written — which should give you confidence to attempt this lovely bread. (

I’ve also included directions for making the dough with a bread machine. 

After the third rise, lightly coat with egg wash. You can see how the dough has closed the gaps between the twists. Directions on the King Arthur Flour website said to pinch the edges more like points. I decided I wanted a flatter look for my Cinnamon Star Bread. 

If you’re going to serve this for breakfast, you might want to make it the previous night to avoid getting up super early. In that case, to reheat, put it on a baking sheet, and loosely place aluminum foil over it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and warm bread for about 10-15 minutes. 

You could make this a savory bread — maybe a ricotta and spinach filling — but be careful not to overstuff the layers. The filling may leak out during baking.

Or in the sweet version, add a thin layer of your favorite jam, raisins and nuts. The possibilities are many.

Most important of all: Don’t get frustrated with the dough. Step back, take a deep breath and proceed.

You can do it! 


Baking time is only 12-15 minutes for Cinnamon Star Bread.

Cinnamon Star Bread

Hands on: 45 minutes Total time: About 3 hours Serves: 8 to 12

For the dough:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup potato flour or 1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes

1/4 cup nonfat dry milk

3/4 cup plus 2 to 4 tablespoons lukewarm water, enough to make a soft, smooth dough

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter or margarine, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon or 2 teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon 

To make the dough with a bread machine: Add the ingredients according to manufacturer’s directions. My machine calls for the liquids first, so I put in water, then flour, mashed potato flakes, nonfat dry milk, margarine, vanilla extract, sugar, salt and yeast. 

After the 30-minute cycle, you can leave the dough in the machine to rise for 1 hour, or remove to a large greased bowl and let it rise for 1 hour there. Proceed with the directions as below.

To make the dough by hand: Sift flour, potato flour and dry milk into a large bowl to prevent lumps. (If using potato flakes, there’s no need to sift. Also, make sure the potato flakes are unflavored, and that the dry milk is a milky white. If it has a yellow tinge, it’s probably been sitting too long in your pantry to use.)

To the mixing bowl, add water, butter or margarine, vanilla extract, yeast, sugar and salt. (Start with the minimum of water.) 

Gently combine, adding 1 tablespoon of water, as needed. Place on a lightly floured surface and knead into a smooth, silky dough. 

Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl. Cover, let rise for 1 hour or until double in size.

Turn out dough onto a floured work surface or parchment paper. Cut dough into four equal portions and roll into balls. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.  

To make the filling: In a small bowl, beat the egg. Set aside. In another small bowl, measure sugar and cinnamon and combine. Set aside. 

To assemble the bread star: On a floured work surface, or on a piece of waxed paper, roll out the first ball of dough (also flour your rolling pin) into a 10-inch circle. Don’t obsess over making it perfectly round.

Transfer the circle to a piece of parchment paper. (I placed the parchment paper on top of a cutting board for easier transfer later to the baking sheet.) Brush on a thin coat of the beaten egg to the edge. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the cinnamon-sugar, but leave about 1/4-inch bare around the edge. 

Roll out the second piece of dough into a 10-inch circle; try to make it close in size to the first circle. Place it on top of the first circle. Brush with beaten egg, and sprinkle on another 1/3 of the cinnamon-sugar. 

Repeat steps with third ball of dough, egg and use the rest of the cinnamon-sugar. You will have enough egg left for brushing over the top of the entire star in a later step.

Roll out fourth ball of dough into a 10-inch circle. Transfer atop the stack of three. Leave it bare — no egg wash or cinnamon-sugar.

I lightly pressed the rim of a glass in the center of the bread to act as my guide for cutting the 16 strips. Make the 16 pieces as identical as you can, but having them a bit uneven won’t hurt the finished bread.

Place a 2 1/2- or 3-inch cookie cutter gently in the center of the dough circle. If you don’t have a cutter, use the rim of a glass in one of those sizes and turn it upside down.

With a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut four equal quadrants. In each quadrant, make three more equally spaced cuts so each quadrant has four pieces of dough.  

Make sure to cut from your center cookie cutter all the way to the edge of the circle and all the way through the four layers. 

Using both hands, pick up the ends of two adjoining pieces and twist twice away from each other. (Top should be facing up again after twists.) Repeat with other seven pairs for a total of eight pairs of strips. 

Pinch the partner ends of each of the pairs of strips together to form the eight-point star shape. Remove center cutter.

This doesn’t have to be perfect either, because the third rise will expand the star’s dough and the spaces will be closed.

Because you might have cut through the parchment paper you’re working on, place a second piece of parchment on a baking sheet. This will keep the melting cinnamon-sugar from sticking and make cleanup easier. 

Transfer the cinnamon star on top of the second piece of parchment on the baking sheet. Cover and let the star rise for 45 minutes. It will look puffy.

Preheat over to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Brush the beaten egg in a thin coat all over the entire star. 

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden with dark brown cinnamon streaks. Rotate baking sheet about halfway through. (Ovens vary, you may need to bake longer.)

The center should register 200 degrees Fahrenheit on a thermometer. You can also thump the top as you would a loaf of bread to check for doneness; it should sound hollow. 

Allow to cool about 10 minutes before serving.

Dust with confectioners’ sugar, or make icing with confectioners’ sugar and drizzle over the top.

Wrap leftovers tightly in plastic. They’ll keep for several days. For longer storage, wrap in plastic, cover in foil and freeze. (King Arthur Flour’s site has additional directions for freezing.)

Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe

Nutrition information (based on 8 servings): 250 calories (calories from fat, 60); total fat: 7 grams; saturated fat: 4 grams; no trans fat; cholesterol from butter: 40 milligrams; sodium: 330 milligrams; carbohydrates: 42 grams; dietary fiber, 2 grams; sugars, 14 grams; protein, 7 grams.  


At the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, N.Y.: Apollo 18 lunar module is among collection’s highlights

The lunar module that was intended for the Apollo 18 mission is on display in a darkened room at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, New York. Budget cuts forced the cancellation of the program after the Apollo 17 mission, during which Eugene Cernan (1934-2017) was the last man to leave his footprints on the moon in December 1972.

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

For other posts from New York City, see November 25, 2018, a behind-the-scenes look at the taping of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”; September 11, 2018 about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum; and February 25, 2018 about the Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan. 

When Apollo 11’s Eagle, the lunar module containing Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, was hovering over the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969 — and a worldwide television audience was holding its collective breath as the craft neared touchdown at the Sea of Tranquillity — a large group on Long Island was perhaps just a bit more anxious than everyone else.

That would be the thousands of employees at Grumman Aeronautical Engineering Company (now Northrup Grumman), who, no matter the size or importance of their role, took enormous pride in the fact that they were an integral part of the monumental achievement of landing the first men on the moon. 

Likewise, interest was high among employees of other companies scattered around Long Island, such as Norden and Sperry, who also built components for the space program.

A total of 14 Lunar Excursion Modules (later shortened to LM) were built, hand-crafted over a 10-year period by a range of technicians and specialists at Grumman, with all the elements coming together in final assembly at its Bethpage facility.

(Some sources cite more or fewer LMs. My data is based on information at the museum and from the National Air and Space Museum website. A full-size LM is in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.; and another is at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.)

LM-5 was the craft that went on the Apollo 11 mission. Less-refined versions were used in test flights and astronaut training at Grumman and elsewhere. Later modules were modified to accommodate lunar rovers for the missions of Apollo 15, 16 and 17.

Six times a lunar module set down on the moon, destined to leave behind the descent stage, after ferrying two American astronauts back to the command module via the LM’s ascent stage.

Apollo 13 astronauts James Lovell (left), Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, who very nearly were lost in space, are surrounded by Grumman employees in 1970. The company’s expertise and ingenuity were instrumental in helping to devise workarounds for the damaged command module while the crew used the lunar module as a lifeboat. 

Nearly as important as the crafts that actually landed was LM-7, the Aquarius, which served as a lifeboat for Apollo 13 crew James Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert after a service module oxygen tank exploded on the third day of the mission when their spaceship was 200,000 miles from Earth.

The creative minds at Grumman and NASA battled the clock to come up with solutions to get the endangered command module Odyssey home in June 1970.

The Cradle of Aviation is built on land that was once part of Mitchel Field, established early in the 20th century, and was among the largest training fields in the United States.

Today, LM-13, originally scheduled to be aboard Apollo 18 en route to Copernicus crater in 1973, is at home at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, New York. It never flew because budget cuts caused the cancelation of the Apollo program.

Unfurled as if it had just landed, the 8,600-pound LM-13 occupies an entire darkened room simulating the look of lunar conditions, its shiny, gold-coated mylar foil, aluminum and titanium never to be exposed to the vacuum of space. A space-suited astronaut stands next to the LM assembly, measuring 22 feet, 9 inches high, with a width of 31 feet.

LM-13 is just one of the museum’s treasures, which include restored World War II aircraft, a full-size replica of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and a Grumman F1-1A Tiger, formerly flown by the Navy’s elite Blue Angels. 

This is what part of a “clean” room at Grumman would have looked like during the 10 years the company built the lunar modules. Technicians wore protective clothing and gloves to keep the components as pristine as possible.

Other large displays include a full-size mockup of a “clean” room, where the LMs were built, each taking up to 2.5 years to complete; the last Republic P-47N Thunderbolt to come off the production line during World War II; a glider for troop transport, also in WWII; and a $60,000 Grumman G-21 Goose, a commuter seaplane used by wealthy Long Islanders to fly from their mansions to a dock near the entrance to Wall Street. (Think very early business jet.)

Grumman’s lunar module design (top shelf, left) won the NASA contract in 1962. The version on the second shelf, center, is pretty close to the craft that went to the moon six times.

On a smaller scale, informational displays, memorabilia (including spacesuits, toys, games and pennants) and models not only trace the history of aviation in America through to the International Space Station era, but demonstrate Long Island’s special place in the fledgling industry’s development.

There is a lot to see at the museum, so plan for two to three hours minimum. And that’s without viewing any of the films or features in the planetarium.

The museum opened in 1980 on the site of what had been Mitchel Field (closed in 1961), utilizing some of its hangars. A major renovation and expansion took place in the late 1990s and the building visitors see today reopened in 2002.

The museum is also quite near what is now known as Roosevelt Field, from where Lindbergh departed at 7:52 on the rainy morning of May 20, 1927 to begin his trailblazing solo transatlantic flight, that ended 33 hours and 30 minutes later outside Paris, France. 

A scale model of Oscar Freymann’s “ornithopter” illustrates one inventor’s idea of a vehicle that might fly. The Russian emigre claimed he attained an altitude of 14 feet while pedaling the ornithopter in 1896, but no evidence exists that the flight took place. The ornithopter had four flapping wings meant to mimic a bird’s flight.

In the early years of the 20th century, experimental flying machines and their pilots were drawn to Long Island’s flat, open terrain. As engineering and aircraft improved, another aspect important to aviation advancement emerged: Wealthy enthusiasts who wanted to fly themselves and/or support those willing to take the risks this endeavor required.

Among those who recognized aviation’s potential was Leroy Grumman, a Cornell University-trained engineer and naval aviator in World War I. With two other engineers, William Schwendler and Jake Swirbul, and combined capital of $32,000, they founded Grumman Aircraft Company in 1929. The next year, Grumman secured its first Navy contract, paving the way for increased production and eventual factory expansion.

During World War II, two of the most reliable and effective aircraft flown by the Army Air Forces were built by workers on Long Island: Grumman’s maneuverable F6F Hellcat and Republic’s bulky P-47 Thunderbolt. In fact, Long Island companies built nearly half of the aircraft — 46 percent — that flew in WWII.

When President John F. Kennedy issued the challenge in a speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, to fly men to the moon and return them safely to earth “before this decade is out,” the structure and capabilities of a lunar lander were just beginning to take shape.

Grumman beat out 11 competitors in late 1962 to win the contract to build the lunar modules. One museum display case has a selection of models which illustrate how the LM design changed from conception to reality.

Thomas Kelly was Grumman’s engineering director during the height of the design and implementation of lunar module construction. 

“When I was chosen to lead the engineering team to create the LM, nobody knew what a manned lunar landing spacecraft should look like. So we just let function determine form, and ended up with the spindly insect-like creation that was aptly named Spider by the first crew that flew it in space,” said Thomas J. Kelly, retired president of the Grumman Space Station Integration Division, on the Cradle of Aviation website. Kelly was also the LM engineering director.

“It had to be very light, because every pound that was taken to the surface and returned to lunar orbit required three pounds of rocket propellant. But because the LM only operated in space, and didn’t have to withstand the high gravity loads and intense heating of re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere, it could be designed primarily for the light loads encountered in free space and during lunar landing and liftoff.”

A prototype spacesuit for lunar exploration looked more like a modified tin can in this early iteration. The LM model at bottom left was designed by Republic Aviation, one of the 12 companies vying for the construction contract.

Surely one of the oddest artifacts is a bulky, metal contraption that looks like a standing tin can and bears a passing resemblance to a primitive robot. This was a prototype of a spacesuit to be worn by astronauts during lunar exploration. Confined in this, human mobility would have been difficult even in the moon’s lighter atmosphere.

Other milestones in flight also are noted, such as the speed records set by Elinor Smith (1911-2010), one of the first female pilots, who tested crafts for use in World War I; Earle Lewis Ovington (1879-1936), who flew the first official air mail route from Garden City Aerodrome to Mineola — a distance of three miles — in a 50 horsepower Bleriot Dragonfly; and the aviation school on Long Island, where  in 1911, for $750 over a five-week period, eager students could learn to fly a Bleriot monoplane.

As the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing approaches, the Cradle of Aviation Museum is staging related events, including appearances by astronauts (active and retired), scientists and aerospace professionals. Keep an eye on the website for updates.

Quick reference: Cradle of Aviation Museum, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Open Mondays that fall on holidays or school breaks. $15 adults; $13 age 62 and over, ages 2-12, military personnel, voluntary firefighters and nonambulatory visitors. Planetarium and dome theater shows are extra but combo tickets are available. Charles Lindbergh Boulevard, next to Nassau Community College, Garden City, Long Island, New York. From Penn Station in Manhattan, take the Long Island Railroad’s Port Jefferson Branch line to the Westbury stop (under an hour) and get a taxi from there to the museum.

Behind the scenes at a double taping of ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ in New York City

The familiar marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway in Manhattan, home of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” At about 2:30 in the afternoon on November 15, prospective audience members were already lined up, huddling under the overhang, trying to get out of the pelting rain and snow.

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

For other posts from New York City, see September 11, 2018 about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum; and February 25, 2018 about the National Museum of the American Indian.

Five times a week, Stephen Colbert bursts out from the theater wings, sprints downstage past the people standing in the first row — slapping their outstretched hands as he goes —  and welcomes his studio audience and television viewers to his eponymous “Late Show.” 

It’s his regular shtick, performed effortlessly and with verve, but it’s only a tiny part of what goes into producing the popular, live-on-tape variety/talk show, which airs at 11:35 p.m. on CBS.

I was in the studio audience of about 400 people on November 15, a Thursday, at the storied Ed Sullivan Theater, for a double taping, which means that I saw parts of that night’s show and the Friday one being recorded. Colbert tapes only Mondays to Thursdays.

(The theater is named after the former host of a long-running variety show that aired Sunday nights on CBS. Ed Sullivan was also a newspaper columnist, and will always be remembered for introducing the Beatles to an American TV audience on February 9, 1964. An astounding 73 million viewers witnessed the beginning of what became known as the British invasion.)

To the home audience, watching from the comfort of the couch or snuggly in bed, “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” looks seamless. If you’re seeing it in person, it’s a little like that old adage about sausage-making: Parts of the process may not be the most appetizing, but all the elements somewhat miraculously come together in the end for a pleasing result.

Seated in the fifth row of the center section, my sight line was almost directly even with where the words “Late Show” are on the front of Colbert’s desk. I had an excellent view of the host and his guests, and the only parts that I watched on the overhead monitors were the pre-taped segments.

With its banks of overhead lights, the set is massively bright, giving the blue accents an almost neon glow. Because of the heat the lights generate, the studio is intentionally chilly, so much so that I kept my gloves on and my fleece’s hood up for much of the taping.

(Audience members are not allowed to take any photos, video or audio while inside the studio.)

Lest you think two complete shows were taped in the order you see them at home — monologue, comic bit/sketch, guest, guest — they weren’t. 

And the lead celebrities that were promoted on TV earlier in the day (and week) — actor-comedian Ben Stiller for Thursday, actor Timothée Chalamet for Friday — weren’t the people I saw either. 

Upon exiting the studio, audience members could pose with cutouts of Colbert in various poses, and buy souvenirs such as mugs and T-shirts.

Colbert performed the two monologues back to back, repeating the top of the show (out from the wings, sprint, hand-slaps, etc.). He knows many of his viewers understand the schedule, and usually includes a “wink-wink” reference to how great the “Friday” night audience is, when, in fact, it is the same as the Thursday one.

The big-name guest at this taping was Oscar-winning actor-producer Michael Douglas, who was publicizing his new Netflix series, “The Kominsky Method.” Colbert seemed genuinely excited at Douglas’s presence, and the actor told a humorous story about one of his earliest parts, in 1969’s “Hail, Hero!”

A brief color clip from the old film was shown, and Douglas acknowledged how clueless he was as an actor in those days, long before landing his breakthrough role on the TV series “The Streets of San Francisco,” and eventually branching out into a lucrative movie career.

That segment appeared on the November 20 “Late Show.”

For the November 15 taping, the second live guest was Jemele Hill, former ESPN personality now with The Atlantic magazine; followed by English singer-songwriter Jorja Smith in a tight black dress, performing “Don’t Watch Me Cry” on a back-lit darkened stage with her accompanist seated at a grand piano behind her. One song, one take, finished.

For Friday night’s show, we saw a humorous interview with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, pre-taped in Washington, D.C., but not the stand-up comedian Graham Kay, who was recorded with a different audience at an earlier date.

Between set-ups (i.e. commercial breaks), Jon Batiste and his band, Stay Human, entertained, sometimes coming up the aisles into the audience. Batiste plays with such infectious joy that people were on their feet bobbing to the beat.

Though each segment clipped along professionally, all were not flawless. Several times taping was stopped because Colbert was laughing out of turn or tongue-tied, as when he was talking about Millennial Monopoly for the Friday show. Go ahead, you try saying that fast five times.

He read mainly off the teleprompter, but his safety net is the stack of blue papers on his desk containing that night’s script. If he stumbles and stops the taping, he finds his place in the script and takes it from there. 

One way to tell if segments have been edited from different day’s tapings is to keep an eye on Colbert’s tie. Most nights he wears a solid color, or sometimes a muted pattern or stripes, but if the tie he’s wearing during the monologue is different from the one around his neck while he’s seated behind his desk, then the latter portion was probably taped in advance to accommodate a celebrity’s schedule.

Taping began a bit after 6 p.m. and ran until about 8 o’clock. Like the two monologues, Colbert taped two exits, running up the aisle to the lobby.

Before taping began, warm-up house comedian Paul Mecurio spent about 30 minutes joking and explaining what was to come, encouraging us to be an enthusiastic audience, and saying that Colbert and his guests would get a buzz off our energy level. 

Mecurio called on several audience members to come onstage, and then riffed off them. He had a particularly good time with two women from Australia, now living in New York, mock-yelling at them that an actor-dancer from Oz named Paul Mercurio (note the first “r”) was the reason the comedian had to change the spelling of his name when he joined the union because Mercurio was already taken.

We were also taped practicing applauding on cue, “woo-wooing” and shouting, and providing laughter as prompted.

When Mecurio was finished, stage manager Mark McKenna reiterated how important our energy level was, and that we should respond noisily when he waved his “festive paper roll” as Colbert appeared onstage. 

About 10 minutes before taping began, Colbert, wearing a blue suit, came out to meet the audience. No diva behavior here, as he sat on the front of his desk and took questions.

The first person called upon was a woman, who stood up and said simply: “Stephen 2020.” 

The bespectacled Colbert paused ever so briefly, and started to make a joke about his poor eyesight before changing gear when he realized that she was encouraging him to make a presidential run. 

In numerous opening monologues and biting comedic bits at his desk, Colbert has been quite vocal in his criticism of the current occupant of the White House, so it came as no surprise that his answer took a shot at the president.

“Will the craziness end?” Colbert said, and added “the fabric of reality has stretched out … like a toddler’s sweater” resulting in a fraught political climate. But as for being a candidate himself? Not likely.

The next person asked Colbert who he would most like to interview, “dead or alive.” 

“Jesus Christ, which covers both dead and alive,” he quipped. Colbert, a practicing Catholic,  also mentioned the late author J.D. Salinger  (“The Catcher in the Rye”) and groundbreaking comedian George Carlin, who died in 2008.

As for which guests intimidate him, he cited musicians because “what they do is so cool to me. I’m in awe of musicians.”

And as a quick afterthought: “And [British actress] Rachel Weisz, because she’s so damn pretty.”

All the preliminaries complete, it was showtime. Cue Colbert in the wings.

Now for the downside of the experience …

The lengthy wait to get into the theater was a lot less fun, and to some extent downright baffling. 

A third-party booker handles ticket requests online. Prospective audience members can sign up about five weeks in advance for two free tickets for their date of choice, and join a “wait list.” Be advised that you may not know until a day or two before your selected date if tickets are available.

In my case, on November 13, I went from being informed via email that no tickets were available for November 15, to receiving another email about four hours later that said that not only could I get tickets, but that I had “priority” status. 

“Priority” is better than “general,” because it assures admission but not an assigned seat. If you’re in the “general” line, seats are on a first-come, first-served basis, you have to wait outside a lot longer and you may not get in at all. 

Here’s my e-ticket, which granted me a place in the “priority” line, and the wrist band that an “audience coordinator” put on me after I checked in on the sidewalk in front of the Ed Sullivan Theater.

For priority holders, the earlier you get in line on the day of taping, the better your seats are likely to be. I was in line before 2:30 p.m., even though the instructions on my printed-out e-ticket said I didn’t have to show up until 3:30. If priority holders haven’t checked in by the stated time, they’re automatically bumped to the general line.

After presenting my printed-out e-ticket and a photo ID, both of which were scanned, an “audience coordinator” loosely fastened a red-and-white paper “Late Show” band around my left wrist. Post-check-in, we were told not to leave the line. 

November 15 was an unpleasant weather day in New York, bitingly cold with blowing, wet snow and rain. The thought of asking someone to hold my place in line while I ran across the street to get coffee from Starbucks was mighty tempting. The accumulating slush on the streets and sidewalks and the general conditions quashed the idea.

After waiting an hour huddled outside, we passed through a metal detector and queued in the lobby, where we stood for another 90 minutes. (Ticket-holders are forbidden to bring in any food or drinks, not even water.)

At least we were out of the elements — the “general” group was still outside — but were treated like kindergarteners, allowed to go to the restroom just once, and only in small groups.

We were told we could not leave the taping to use the restroom and that the facilities would be closed after the show. 

(As the hours of taping ticked by later, it was just as well I hadn’t downed a warming cup of coffee.)

Meanwhile, as we waited to be seated, we chatted among ourselves, wondering why we were still standing in the lobby. No one was rehearsing inside the studio — we’d have heard the monologue or the band warming up.

These procedures were likely their routine security, but they made no sense, especially since we’d all shown ID, our e-tickets and been through a metal detector hours earlier.

Shortly after 5 p.m., at last settled into our seats, it was finally time to be privy to the magic of television.

Quick reference: “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” is taped Mondays to Thursdays at the Ed Sullivan Theater, 1697 Broadway, New York, New York. Full shows, clips and other information is online at To request free tickets (two is the maximum), go to 1iota also books for “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and many other shows.

In Hania, Crete: The death and life of a Jewish community, and the rebirth of historic synagogue Etz Hayyim

The entrance to the north courtyard of Etz Hayyim synagogue is through the Rothschild Gate. British financier Lord Jacob Rothschild was one of the early funders of the restoration of the synagogue. At left is an olive tree, a symbol of peace — and an abundant crop on Crete.

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

In October 2018, I visited Athens and Crete for two weeks. This is the second in a series about my experiences. See my post of October 21, 2018 about a fast-paced Greek cooking class.

Mikhail Dientes was a peddler of pistachios. In 1941, he relied on selling the bite-size, pale green nuts to support his wife and four children in Hania, the city of his birth, on the Greek island of Crete.

David Natzon, likewise Hania-born, also sold pistachios, as did several other men in the small Jewish community, numbering barely over 300, on Crete’s northwest coast. 

Living in a neighborhood mostly confined to a few streets in the Jewish Quarter and being in the same business, it’s likely the men knew each other. They may have been friends, perhaps rivals, or friendly rivals.

Little is known about Dientes or Natzon other than then they died together on the German-flagged merchant steamship Tanais in June 1944 when it was torpedoed by a British submarine near the island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea, far from its destination, the port of Piraeus on the Greek mainland near Athens.

And it’s unlikely their stories will ever be known in depth and detail, because when the Tanais sank, it wiped out what was left of the Jewish population of Hania (also spelled Chania), and possibly 15 other Jews from Crete. 

Also aboard were at least 30 German soldiers guarding Italian 112 prisoners of war, 48 Greek Christians who fought against the Nazis occupying Crete and the ship’s crew of eight.

(Some of this information comes from an article written by Dimitris A. Mavrideros, in the booklet “The Jews of Crete: Selected Articles and Essays; The Jews of Hania 1940-1944” printed in 2002, which I picked up when I visited Eta Hayyim, the lone synagogue on Crete. Mavrideros writes that the survivors were likely on deck when the torpedoes hit and thus ended up in the water, while all the Jews locked below deck in the holds were doomed.)

The 244-foot (74.5 meters) Tanais, built in England in 1907 and for many years sailed under the British flag, was not marked in any way to indicate it was carrying civilians and was not a troop transport on this run. 

So it’s also unlikely the crew of the HMS Vivid, a 206-foot V-class submarine recently built in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, by the company Vickers Armstrong, had any idea the four torpedoes fired — two of which connected — June 9, 1944 were heading toward a ship that posed no threat.

This loss of civilian life in World War II echoes the torpedoing of the Tsushima Maru by the U.S. submarine Bowfin that I wrote about from my trip to Okinawa, Japan (see post of April 15, 2018).

Some 20 Greeks and 30 German soldiers and crew survived, picked up by the three ships accompanying the Tanais. The diesel-powered Vivid, under the command of Lieutenant John Cromwell Varley, was submerged, and took no return fire.

Had the Jewish passengers on the Tanais reached Athens, their eventual fate may have been equally ominous: They were scheduled to be transported to concentration camps, possibly Auschwitz or Treblinka (sources vary on this), where death shortly after arrival was almost guaranteed in mid-1944.

Jews have lived on Crete since Hellenistic times, though never in large numbers. Isolated as an island but nevertheless a commercial crossroad, communities survived successive rule by the Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottoman Turks over 2,300 years.

Even on the mainland, a Jewish presence in the 20th century was relatively small, numbering less than 100,000 in 28 cities, with the largest concentration clustered around the capital, Athens, in the south and Thessaloniki in the north. (In contrast, Poland’s pre-WWII Jewish population was about 3 million.)

Before the war, Hania’s Jewish population was still below 400, with some families fleeing before the Nazi occupation.

Against the west wall in the sanctuary is the bimah, the raised platform where the Torah is read.

Religious life was centered around Etz Hayyim (“Tree of Life”), a congregation that traced its roots to at least the 17th century (the Venetian period, 1204-1669), located in a maze of streets very close to the harbor, and a second synagogue, Beth Shalom, that did not survive the Nazi invasion that began in late May 1941.

Hania was badly damaged, but the immediate deportation of the Jews was not a priority. Religious rituals, such as how animals were slaughtered, were banned, and thousands of German soldiers were forbidden to patronize Jewish business, as had been the policy throughout Europe in countries under occupation. 

In addition to the pistachio sellers, other employment included tailor (or seamstress), wine merchant and laborer. Many were students or housewives. These details are known because the Nazis insisted in August 1941 that a list of every Jewish resident be compiled. Most were Greek natives, though some were immigrants from Bulgaria, Italy and Turkey. The total Jewish population: 314.

A second census was demanded in February 1943, at which time the number had fallen to 279, through deaths and possibly some hearty souls fleeing to the mountains to take their chances living among resistance fighters. The oldest person was Alegra Frangou, 93, whose name was spelled Allegra Frango on the 1941 list.

Members of the Jewish community of Hania, Crete, who died in June 1944 are memorialized on these brass plaques at Etz Hayyim.

It wasn’t until May 21, 1944 that 263 Jews were suddenly rounded up at 5 in the morning, allowed to bring only one small suitcase. The Nazis encouraged the looting of Jewish homes, and they themselves stole furniture, clothing and any items of value. 

The deportees were transported to the Agyias (also spelled Aghia and Ayas) prison outside of town, where the shocking turn of events were compounded by inhumane conditions. 

On June 3 or 4, the Jews were trucked east to Heraklion (also spelled Iraklion), Crete’s largest city, where they were held for four days before boarding the ill-fated Tanais.

Without the care of its congregation, Etz Hayyim quickly fell into disrepair, suffering the ignominy of being taken over by squatters, who dug under the sanctuary’s marble paving stones misguidedly hunting for gold, and defiled the surrounding structure and several sacred tombs.

In the ensuing decades, the property suffered further indignities, even as Hania’s waterfront and Old Quarter were redeveloping as tourist destinations filled with cafes, shops and small hotels. An earthquake in 1995 delivered another crippling blow, hastening the collapse of a section of the roof.

Fortunately, several elements converged to save the synagogue: A tireless champion emerged, and the building gained classification from the World Monument Fund as an endangered site worthy of conservation. 

Curator and artist Nikos Stavroulakis designed the nameplate highlighting the synagogue’s name in Hebrew (bottom) and an outline of the building. Shalom (top) is the Hebrew word for peace.

The multitalented Renaissance man who spearheaded the effort to bring Etz Hayyim back from the brink was Nikos Stavroulakis, a co-founder of the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens, and who served as its director from 1977 until 1993. 

He was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1932 of immigrant parents: a Jewish mother of Turkish descent and a Greek Orthodox father (born Muslim) who was from Hania. 

Educated in the United States, Britain and Israel, Stavroulakis was a historian, author, curator, teacher, lecturer and artist — his works appear in major museums worldwide. He also designed a symbolic nameplate for the reborn Etz Hayyim, which incorporates Hebrew lettering and an outline of the building. 

With financial backing from Lord Jacob Rothschild in England and American Ronald S. Lauder (his mother was Estée Lauder, of cosmetics fame), among others, reconstruction began in 1996.

Centering the east wall is the Holy Ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept behind an embroidered curtain. Services, cultural events and holiday festivals are open to all interested people, regardless of religion.

The layout and furnishings are decorative yet serviceable. The main sanctuary, flanked on both sides by small courtyards, is lined north and south with rows of simple teak benches, spaced atop which are a collection of 95 colorful pillows, where it is not uncommon to find some of the synagogue’s resident cats snoozing contentedly. 

Unadorned Gothic arches allow light to flood the center aisle, once again covered in black-and-white marble.

Against the west wall stands the bimah, a raised platform, where the Torah is read. Opposite on the east wall is the Holy Ark, where three scrolls are kept behind an embroidered curtain.

The synagogue was rededicated in October 1999, with a former prime minister of Greece present, along with representatives from a local Catholic church, the Sisters of Charity, other dignitaries and about 350 attending in total. 

Etz Hayyim has another link to the Holocaust, in that one of its Torah scrolls was among those rescued from what the Nazis called Bohemia and Moravia, but the rest of the world referred to as Czechoslovakia.

During WWII, the Jews of Prague managed to save about 1,800 Torahs, many from small communities in the countryside. After the war, 1,546 of them were brought to London, where they were restored and repaired by the Memorial Scrolls Trust. Today, 327 of these scrolls, some of them dating back centuries, are on long-term loan to congregations around the world.

In 2000, then the lone Jew in Hania, Stavroulakis personally brought the Holocaust Torah into Etz Hayyim, installing it in the Holy Ark and placing branches from a olive tree in a vase in front of the ark, giving added poignance, no matter how small, to this renewal of an ancient sacred space. 

An exterior of the synagogue shares space with tables and chairs from a neighboring restaurant. At left you can see where some of the original stonework was incorporated into the renovation.

In Hania today, Etz Hayyim holds religious services, celebrates Jewish holidays and festivals and stages cultural events; all are open to any interested party regardless of religion. 

The number of resident Jews is still too small to support the salary of a rabbi, so when a bar or bat mitzvah or other religious observance requires a clergyman, a rabbi travels from Athens. 

Stavroulakis died in May 2017, but he is still very much a “presence” at Etz Hayyim. The staff talk about him to visitors, who number about 30,000 a year, and he appears on information boards in the tiny museum upstairs and on the website.

He and many other dedicated people have made it possible for Etz Hayyim to live as a place of “prayer, recollection and reconciliation.” One of the ways it does so is to hold a memorial service every year in June to read out the names of all the Jews of Crete who perished on the Tanais. 

Below a niche, rectangular bronze plaques listing the names of the deceased also pay tribute to their memory.

The Hania Community Research Project is an ongoing effort to recover information about the community that perished in 1944. Perhaps one day, more will be known about the pistachio sellers and all the other lives lost. 

Quick reference: Etz Hayyim synagogue: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Fridays, May through October. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays, July to September. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, November through April. Closed Greek public holidays. Respectful attire is required. Donation of 2 euros is suggested. Parados Kondylaki, Hania, Crete.

In Athens, Greece: A fast-paced cooking school session, and a recipe for Portokalopita (Orange Phyllo Cake)

Four of the five dishes we made from scratch in under four hours at The Greek Kitchen cooking class in Athens, Greece. From top: Karotosalata (salad), Fava Puree with red onion and green onion garnish, Pitakia (cheese- and spinach-filled pies) and Moussaka (baked in a beefsteak tomato).

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

In October 2018, I visited Athens and Crete for two weeks. This is the first in a series about my experiences.

“You will find the entrance to number 36 in between a hat shop and a hardware store.”

The above directions are the kind of precise details that I consider useful when I’m exploring an unfamiliar city and have an appointment for a specific activity.

In this case, it was a Greek cooking class that I had signed up for online before I left home.

As an added precaution, my friend Sylvia — who joined me on the Athens leg of my trip — and I scoped out the location a few days in advance so we wouldn’t be late for our 9:30 a.m. class.

The Greek Kitchen is on the second floor of a nondescript building on busy Athinas Street, in the heart of the Monastiraki section of Athens. 

It has a small blue-and-white logo on the overhead door frame that would have been very easy to miss without being aware of the neighboring businesses. The other landmark that I’d been advised of was a Cosmote phone store across the street.

Like the other cooking classes I have written about on my blog (see May 21, 2018 for a post about Naha, Okinawa; May 1, 2017 about Chiang Mai, Thailand; and December 23, 2016 for Hanoi, Vietnam), this one started with a trip to the nearby market, Varvakios. Athens’ Central Market has been in business since 1878.

Sylvia and I had also scoped this out a few days earlier, but since our instructor, Vasia, is friendly with so many people around the shops and stalls, it was fun to see her interact with the vendors.

We used super fresh plain Greek yogurt (metal bowl) in several of our recipes.

We picked up fresh ingredients for the dishes we would be making, including split fava beans; creamy plain Greek yogurt; feta; and kefalotyri, a hard, somewhat salty cheese similar to Parmesan, at a cheese shop. At the bustling covered market, we secured ground beef, olives, handmade sheets of phyllo dough (sometimes spelled filo) and romaine lettuce.

For tourists, some vendors will vacuum-pack fresh olives in a plastic bag.

Where a variety of olives were for sale in bins, Sylvia bought about a half kilo of black ones to take home. Once measured, the vendor took the olives to the back of his space and vacuum-packaged them in plastic for easy transport. Olives packed this way are not only a popular and affordable souvenir but also widely available.

Vasia, whose big personality carries over into her love of Greek food, put together an autumn menu, basing the dishes we would be making on seasonal ingredients. 

Two others were in our class, both young Australians: Ashley from Canberra and Rosalie from Brisbane. (I’m using generic spellings because I didn’t have a chance to ask.)

Our prep space consisted of a long table covered with a red-and-white checked cloth and a cutting board at our individual stations. We each had a small box grater, two small knives (very odd to cut with when we were all used to large chefs knives at home), two spoons, a vegetable peeler and a metal bucket for food waste.

Also on the table was a white bowl of greens and one of mixed vegetables.

Parallel to our table was Vasia’s equipment cart, stacked with dry ingredients and seasonings and an induction hot plate.

This is a list of the dishes we made from scratch, in the order we prepared them: 

● Fava Puree: Fava beans with olive oil, a traditional dish from the island of Santorini, that can be a dip or a first-course thick soup;

● Moussaka: The well-known Greek layered meat dish, topped with béchamel sauce, here baked inside tomatoes;

● Pitakia: Small cheese- and spinach-filled pies, with dough made from scratch;

● Portokalopita: An orange cake using shredded phyllo pastry, often served in the spring; 

● Karotosalata: A salad of lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, raisins and almonds served with tahini yogurt dressing

Handmade phyllo dough was not only just-made but much less expensive (1.50 euros is about $1.73) than in American supermarkets. A pound of frozen dough cost $4.49 at my chain grocery.


To get all this accomplished in under four hours, we worked nearly nonstop in teams. So, for instance, on the fava puree, Sylvia and I peeled garlic while Ashley and Rosalie chopped the red onions. On the orange cake, Sylvia and I made the batter while Ashley and Rosalie shredded the phyllo dough by hand.

With much humor and running commentary, Vasia directed what we did and when, but aside from helping with some vigorous stirring of the béchamel, we provided almost all the hands-on labor. (While the fava puree was cooking on the kitchen stove, Vasia’s assistant kept an eye on it and skimmed off the foam as needed.)

Because Rosalie is a vegetarian, she made a separate sauce for the moussaka, while we made one with ground beef. (The Greek Kitchen will likewise tailor dishes for specific dietary requirements.)

When we got to the béchamel sauce, Vasia was at her most animated. “Constant stirring” was her mantra as she exhorted our efforts. Rosalie led off the rotation, melting the butter and stirring in the flour in the metal bowl atop the induction hot plate. 

Ashley and then Sylvia took over spoon duty when the milk was added, while I was busy grating the kefalotyri. The cheese went in when it was my turn to stir, before Vasia jumped in to make sure the sauce was thickening properly and had the correct smooth consistency.

Our instructor Vasia chatted with us as we ate the meal we prepared together.

Amid all this “constant stirring,” Vasia’s patter detoured into the wonders of Greek olive oil, surely the best on the planet, in her opinion. I didn’t hear all of this, but I think she said something about her family growing olives on Crete, and bottling their own brand of olive oil.

Once the béchamel sauce was done, we sampled it to check the seasoning. Then we each took our large beefsteak tomatoes, which we had hollowed out earlier, and packed in a hefty portion of the meat sauce and lastly the béchamel, brimming over the top. Next stop: The oven.

Only four ingredients were needed for pitakia dough: Greek yogurt, flour, baking powder and olive oil. Without yeast, the dough needed only 20 minutes to rest, during which time we made the filling of feta, spinach, mint, dill, salt and pepper.

The appetizer-size little pies reminded me of making samosas or Chinese potstickers.

We each had enough dough to fashion three small pies. We flattened each ball of dough using our palms, then cupped the disk in one hand to add the filling.

We carefully brought together the edges to enclose the filling and form a half-moon, pinched all the way around to seal and used the tines of a fork to press and decorate the edges. After egg-washing the top, the pies were ready to  bake.

Portokalopita (Orange Phyllo Cake) is a dense slice of sweetness. This is the cake I made at home, garnished with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and an orange section.

Below, I’ve included the recipe for the orange cake, which went together very quickly in class. Making it at home was more time consuming and I’ve adapted it a bit also.

By the time we’d made the salad, our other dishes were ready to eat, so we sat at another table, with a blue-and-white checkered tablecloth, and enjoyed a surprisingly filling meal. Vasia joined us, and we peppered her with questions as we ate. 

Researching cooking schools, I found the options ranged from lessons taught in people’s homes to the course I selected. Prices varied widely also. 

What I liked about The Greek Kitchen was the menu, the price, the fact that the class would not be canceled if only one student was signed up and that a single supplement was not charged.

It turned out to be a marvelously good time, and I would heartily recommend Vasia as an ambassador for Greek cooking.  

Quick reference: The Greek Kitchen, 36 Athinas Street, Athens, Greece. The cost is 45 euros (about $52). A 10 euro, nonrefundable deposit is required in advance. The remaining 35 euros, in cash, can be paid on the day of class. Classes begin at 9:30 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays-Saturdays and 3 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. A Greek breakfast baking class is available at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Sundays. 45 euros. Website:


After the Orange Phyllo Cake cooled and I added the syrup, I wondered if I would be able to get it out of the pan in one piece. As you can see, I was successful!

Portokalopita from the Peloponnese (Orange Phyllo Cake)

The pleasing scent of orange will be wafting through the kitchen while you prepare and bake this easy recipe. 

For a crowd, make the whole cake. But if you are just baking for a few people, the recipe easily halves.

Sylvia and I happened to make half recipes on the same day. She baked hers in a square pan, I used a round one.

Sylvia found that the amount of syrup (even halved) as written below drowned the cake. I boiled the syrup, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes in an attempt to reduce the volume. That seemed to work. 

I also left it for more than two hours to absorb the syrup and didn’t cut a slice until the next day. It is very dense, not at all like a springy sponge cake.

Hands on: 20 minutes for batter, 15 minutes for syrup   

Total time: 2 hours, 35 minutes    

Serves: 6-8 half recipe, 12-14 full recipe (depending on size of pieces)

For the cake:

4 large eggs

1 cup (200 grams) sugar

Zest of 2 oranges (For a half recipe, I used 1 large navel orange.)

10 1/2 ounces (300 grams) plain Greek yogurt (2% or higher fat content of Fage brand is recommended if you can’t get fresh)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

1 teaspoon baking powder

Scant 1 cup (200 milliliters) sunflower oil (or other neutral oil such as canola), additional for greasing pan

1 pound (500 grams) phyllo sheets (if using frozen, thaw in packaging at room temperature for 2 hours)

For the syrup:

1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups water at room temperature 

Juice of 2 oranges

1 cinnamon stick

To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

Grease a 9-by-13 baking dish or aluminum pan with sunflower oil. Use an 8 1/2-inch round pan for half recipe.

In a large mixing bowl, use a whisk to combine eggs and sugar (it’s OK to use an electric mixer but there’s really no need). Beat until the mixture is pale and frothy.

Add orange zest, Greek yogurt, vanilla extract and baking powder and continue to beat (with a mixer, use medium speed) until well-combined. While beating, slowly add sunflower oil.

Remove phyllo sheets from packaging and shred into 1 1/2-inch (3 centimeter) pieces using a knife or your hands. The size does not have to be uniform or exact.

Gradually sprinkle the shredded phyllo into the bowl; you don’t want it to clump. Combine with a spatula until the ingredients are fully incorporated.

Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish. (I placed it on a parchment-paper lined baking tray just in case it bubbled over the sides.)

Bake for 1 hour, or until the cake has risen and is golden brown on top. For half recipe, bake about 40-45 minutes.

Remove cake from oven and let cool completely in the pan (1 hour or more) before adding the syrup.

To make the syrup: In a medium saucepan, bring the water, sugar, orange juice and cinnamon stick to a boil over medium heat for 2 minutes. (I stirred for 10 minutes to thicken the syrup.)

Pour the hot syrup over the cold portokalopita and set aside for at least 1 hour until the syrup has been completely absorbed by the cake. I found that the longer I left the cake, the more the syrup was absorbed.

If baked in a round pan: Run an offset spatula around the edge to loosen the cake. Gently lift out cake and transfer to a serving plate. If baked in a 9-by-13-inch pan, it’s probably easier to slice from there and serve on individual plates.

Adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, is, well, icing on the cake. A dollop of plain Greek yogurt works nicely also.

Adapted from a recipe provided by The Greek Kitchen, Athens, Greece


At Ground Zero in New York City: Memorial and museum bear witness to attacks of September 11, 2001

In Foundation Hall, the “Last Column,” showing unit numbers of first responders, messages, pictures of the missing and other ephemera, was the final piece of wreckage cleared from the World Trade Center site in late May 2002. The column was one of 47 from the inner core of the South Tower that supported the structure. The hall covers 15,000 square feet of space.

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

On the crisp winter morning of February 17, 2018, a precisely cut 2-inch stem of a white rose extended from the letter “M” of Simon Marash Dedvukaj’s middle name on the stencil-cut parapet of panel N-64 of the North Memorial Pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.  

Dedvukaj, a native of the Bronx, New York, and of Albanian heritage, would have turned 43 years old on this sunny day when I was visiting New York, had he survived the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan 17 years earlier. (I did not know or have any connection to Mr. Dedvukaj or his family.)

A white rose, indicating the anniversary of the birth of Simon Marash Dedvukaj on February 17, 1975, peeks out from his name on panel N-64 of the North Memorial Pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The wavy building in the background where all the people are queuing is the museum.

But at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, Dedvukaj, a janitorial foreman for ABM Industries, was at work between the 93rd and 95th floors when hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, which had taken off from Boston en route to Los Angeles, crashed into the 110-story North Tower between floors 93 and 99. 

Seventeen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175, also en route from Boston to L.A., flew into the South Tower between floors 77 and 85.

At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77, which had departed from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, also scheduled to land in L.A., hurled into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, United Flight 93, heading from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, California, was also under the control of terrorists. As many as 37 calls were made from the Boeing 757,  and these frightened travelers were aware that something had happened in New York. After some heroic passengers and crew stormed the cockpit, the plane rammed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

Dedvukaj was 26 years old. He was looking forward to celebrating his first wedding anniversary with his wife, Elizabeta, in October. 

Instead, he was one of 2,753 who died at the World Trade Center. At the Pentagon, 184 died, as did the 40 people in Pennsylvania.

All of their names, representing 93 countries, and those of the six who died in the February 26, 1993 terrorist-linked van explosion in the underground parking garage at the WTC, are similarly honored with a rose on the anniversary of the day of their birth, placed by their name by volunteers at the memorial site, a custom that began in 2013.

The outdoor memorial, which opened on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, occupies eight acres of the original 16-acre site. Situated among a grove of 400 swamp white oak trees are two almost-acre-square reflecting pools, occupying terrain within the original footprints of the North and South towers.

The people who died on Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon are inscribed on the bronze parapets of the South Memorial Pool, next to the names of victims on the ground at the Pentagon.

The pools feature 30-foot waterfalls on each side, and are flanked by bronze panels bearing the 2,983 names that will be read aloud Tuesday morning as part of the annual memorial service.

Plaza Architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker and Partners envisioned these eco-friendly features as symbols of hope and renewal.

ABM Industries, with 800 janitorial, engineering and lighting employees performing maintenance on the WTC, lost 17 employees on 9/11. Dedvukaj’s name on the North memorial pool is surrounded by 12 co-workers. The other four names are on the South Tower memorial pool.

The majority of the 110,000-square-foot museum, which opened on May 21, 2014, is seven stories below the memorial, built into the bedrock foundation of the WTC. 

Near the museum entrance are two steel tridents salvaged from the east facade of the North Tower. The bottom sections were welded to columns in the bedrock 70 feet below street level. The tridents, manufactured at Lukens Steel Company in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, branched out at the fifth story.

Standing in the atrium at the street-level entrance are two 70-foot-tall steel tridents from the east facade of the North Tower. 

The Survivor Stairs, from the northern side of the WTC’s Austin J. Tobin Plaza, were a way out to the Vesey Street sidewalk. The staircase was relatively intact after the terrorist attacks, and much of the damage was inflicted in the cleanup at the site. 

Visitors follow a descending, 70-foot-long ramp, past the Survivor Stairs — a damaged concrete-and-granite flight that led to life for many fleeing the disaster —  to Foundation Hall, in the center of which is what has become known as the “Last Column,” the final support structure removed from Ground Zero at the end of May 2002, when 1.8 tons of debris had been cleared from the site.

This is a portion of the slurry wall, also in Foundation Hall seven stories below ground, near the Last Column. A retaining wall, it’s original purpose was to hold back the Hudson River when the WTC was first excavated.

The 36-foot-tall column is covered with police and fire department unit numbers and missing persons posters, including snapshots of first responders lost in the chaos.

Be prepared for an emotional wallop while touring the September 11, 2001 historical exhibition mounted in what was the North Tower. A thorough examination of the artifacts and information is likely to take up to three hours or more. (If the experience becomes overwhelming, museum-goers can exit as needed, but once out of the building, re-entry isn’t permitted on the same ticket.)

This installation in Memorial Hall is called “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning” by artist Spencer Finch. No two of the 2,983 watercolor squares are the same shade of blue. The quote from the Roman poet Virgil comes from Book IX of “The Aeneid.” Each of the letters in the quote is comprised of recovered steel from the WTC and was forged by blacksmith Tom Joyce of New Mexico.

A comprehensive retelling of that sky-blue, perfect late-summer morning unfolds, explained through photographs, video and audio clips, interactive kiosks and eyewitness accounts, putting into context the before, during, and after of the events. 

A 19.8-foot segment of twisted steel was part of the 360-foot-tall radio and television antenna that stood atop the North Tower sending signals since 1980. Its transmissions were interrupted when Flight 11 hit the North Tower.

Thousands of objects, large and small, burn new images into the memory of every soul who already has a vivid picture of where he or she was when the twin towers were struck, became roaring jet fuel-fed infernos and finally collapsed into ash heaps of smoking, lung-damaging wreckage. 

Myriad personal effects evoke the further heartbreak of everyday lives lost, illustrated through ordinary items such as dust-covered shoes and clothing, shattered eyeglasses, ragged identification cards and scratched jewelry. 

On the industrial end, the scorched FDNY Engine 21 is dreadful evidence of the raging fires, while the 19.8-foot twisted steel fragment of a once 360-foot-tall antenna that had stood atop the North Tower broadcasting TV signals since 1980 attests to the site’s utter destruction.

The New York City skyline today, with 1 World Trade Center’s tower being the dominant building. This was taken from across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey. 1 WTC is 1,776 feet tall, and has 104 floors. Its groundbreaking ceremony was in April 2006, and opened for business in November 2014.

Other exhibits include “Rebirth at Ground Zero,” an 11-minute film featuring interviews and time-lapse photography about the revival of the site; and “In Memoriam,” showcasing photographs of everyone who died and an opportunity to learn more about each individual.

Aside from the continuous audio clips, the expansive space was respectfully quiet, as if visitors were unconsciously unified in understanding the level of solemnity required.

At 8:40 a.m. Tuesday, the live broadcast of the ceremony from Ground Zero will be streaming on the memorial and museum website. 

From 3 p.m. to midnight, the blue Tribute in Light, an art installation beaming four miles skyward and mimicking the shape of the twin towers, will be illuminated as it has been in past years.

The Pentagon and Pennsylvania sites will also mark today’s anniversary.

Simon Marash Dedvukaj’s family set up a foundation in his name, dedicated to helping and empowering children through scholarships, recreational sports and religious activities. See

Quick reference: National September 11 Memorial & Museum: memorial, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; museum, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. To mark the 17th anniversary, the memorial and museum will be closed Tuesday. Only the memorial will reopen at 3 p.m. Free to visit the outdoor memorial. See the website for museum ticket purchase information; some options include separate guided tours of the memorial and museum. Tickets can be purchased online up to six months in advance, and are time- and date-specific. Adult admission for museum only, $24. Tip: Several ticket kiosks are around the left side of the building as you face it, if you haven’t purchased online. Photography is not allowed in some exhibits. 180 Greenwich Street, New York, New York. The website is excellent, for pre- and post-trip information:

A braided loaf of bread says a special ‘welcome’ to your table

One recipe for egg bread can produce braided loaves of varying sizes. Port wine sea salt is the topping on three of the loaves.  The colorful ceramic bowl the loaves are resting in I bought in Selçuk, Turkey. 

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

Of all the elements that go into a meal, nothing says simple elegance like a braided loaf of bread.

Without too much effort, interlacing strands of dough into a pattern elevates the ordinary into the memorable.

Loaves can be large or small, a foot or more in length, coiled into a rising tower or  plaited like a wreath.

They can be plain, or have a savory or sweet filling. 

And they are a treasured part of many holiday observances the world over.

Braided bread can also contain something symbolic, such as a hard-cooked whole egg, dyed bright red, used in the Greek Orthodox tradition at Easter time. The egg represents the blood and resurrection of Christ.

I usually make two loaves of challah in equal size, like the center loaf, from this recipe, but wanted to show its versatility.  This is just after braiding. I put three loaves on a second baking sheet to accommodate the second rise (see photo below).

On Jewish Sabbath tables, and at most religious observances, the braided loaf known as challah is present.

In Hungarian cuisine, the bread is called kalács, and like challah, can feature a braid made from three, four or six strands. It all depends on the whim of the baker — and his/her dexterity and experience.

There are many versions of egg bread recipes, though they generally have in common butter, eggs, milk and sugar for richness, in addition to yeast, flour and salt. This yields a pliable, silky dough that’s easy to work with.

Eastern European bakers add vanilla and raisins to the basic ingredients in their loaves, known as paska.

In Italian Easter bread, orange and anise can often be found. 

Small slices make perfect snacks, spread with fruit-fill jam or your topping of choice.  

The crumb is denser than other breads. A small slice is sturdy enough to serve as a base for your favorite spread, be it a fruit-filled jam, pâté or even caviar. 

The bread is also wonderful to use in making french toast. It serves as the base for the Artichoke and Mushroom Bread Pudding that I wrote about in my November 23, 2016 post.

Do not be intimidated by the braiding. If you are new to the technique, I would suggest practicing with some string or yarn first, until you are confident enough to move on to dough. 

But even then, don’t be alarmed. If you mess up, just reverse the process and start over. The dough is forgiving enough that you can even revert to the balled stage and begin again. 

Below is a dairy-less recipe that I’ve made many times in my bread machine. But you can certainly substitute milk for the water and butter for margarine. The more eggs and butter used, the richer the bread will be (and the calorie and fat content, too). Or use your favorite recipe, of course.

I’ve also included how to make the dough if you don’t have a bread machine and prefer to do it by hand anyway.

The loaves freeze well. Just make sure they are completely cool before double- wrapping in aluminum foil and sealing them in a plastic bag.


After the second rise, an egg wash is applied all over the loaves, except for the bottom. This is also the time to sprinkle on sesame seeds, poppy seeds or sea salt flakes, if using. Then pop the baking sheets into the oven.

Bread Machine Challah

Hands on: 30 minutes

Total time: About 2.5 to 3 hours, including rising (longer if you execute the recipe manually)

Makes: Two 3/4-pound loaves 

Put the ingredients in your bread machine according to the manufacturer’s directions. Mine specifies all the wet ingredients first, so that’s the way I’ve listed them here. 

You can also divide the dough into smaller amounts and make smaller loaves or dinner rolls. In that case, reduce the baking time to about 15 to 20 minutes. 

For the dough: 

3/4 cup water (or milk)

1 large egg

3 cups bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons margarine (or butter), cut in small cubes

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

For the egg wash:

1 large egg

1 tablespoon water

Poppy seeds, sesame seeds or salt flakes for topping, optional

To make the dough: Place water, egg, bread flour, salt, sugar, margarine and yeast in the pan of the bread machine. Place pan in the machine and select the dough cycle. I use the “quick dough” cycle, which runs about 40 minutes and includes the first rise. Your machine may vary.

When the cycle is finished, remove dough from machine to a lightly floured surface. The dough should not be too sticky, but if it is, knead in a little flour until it is easier to work with. Cut dough into 2 balls of equal size. Cover one and set it aside while you work with the first.

To make a braid: Gently flatten the dough into a small rectangle. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, about 12 inches in length. Try to make them as even as possible. To make an easier transfer to the baking sheet, I do this step on parchment paper.

The pieces may retract, which is the gluten saying it needs a little rest. So you may have to reroll each length as the gluten relaxes.

Place the 3 ropes side-by-side-by-side. Pinch the tops of the pieces together, and flare them a bit into a three-legged upside-down “V” shape. 

Starting with the left leg, bring it over the center leg and rest it next to the right leg. Take the right leg over the new center leg and rest it next to the left leg. Take the left leg over the new center, then the right leg over the center. Repeat until the end. Pinch the ends together and tuck under loaf.

Repeat with second ball of dough. Place braided loaves on parchment-lined baking sheets.

Cover loaves with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour, or until double in size. Tip: I turn on my gas oven on “warm” for about 2 minutes, and turn it off. Then I put my loaves in the oven to proof.

To bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, whisk together egg with 1 tablespoon of water. With a pastry brush, gently cover the loaves with the mixture. You do not want to deflate them by pressing too hard. I find that brushing up from the bottom toward the center works best. Make sure you cover the creases where the braid meets. 

Port wine sea salt enhances the flavor for these smaller loaves, which only bake for about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle on sesame seeds, poppy seeds or sea salt flakes, if using.

For full-size loaves, bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bread is a deep golden brown. (Bake smaller loaves about 15 minutes.) If the loaves are browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil after the first 15 minutes. Also rotate baking sheets from top to bottom oven racks and from front to back for even browning.

When baked, the loaves should have a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. 

Place in a plastic bag if not serving immediately. 

To make the bread without a machine:

In a small bowl, dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar and yeast in 3/4 cup water that’s 105 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (anything warmer will kill the yeast). Let rest about 5 minutes, in which time it should become frothy. If it doesn’t foam, then the yeast is dead. Start over.

Meanwhile, melt the margarine (I do this in the microwave) and set aside to cool. In another small bowl, gently whisk the egg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, place flour, salt and remaining 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Mix together to incorporate, then make a well in the center. 

Pour yeast-water mixture, cooled margarine and egg into the well. Combine flour into the liquids until the ingredients form a ball.  

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead by hand, adding a little flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic. This should take about 12 minutes.

Oil or grease a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, and turn it all around to coat. Cover bowl with damp towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. If you poke the dough and a mark remains, the dough is ready.

Punch down and remove to lightly floured surface. Knead briefly until dough is shiny, about 2 minutes.

Divide the dough and proceed with directions to braid. Allow 1 hour for the second rise and bake as above. 

Adapted from “Fast and Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays: Complete Menus, Rituals, and Party-Planning Ideas for Every Holiday of the Year” by Marlene Sorosky in collaboration with Joanne Neuman and Debbie Shahvar (William Morrow and Co., 1997, $27)

At the Guam Museum: Finally, a building that spotlights the Pacific island, and indigenous Chamorro art, history and culture

The Guam Museum opened in November 2016. A long-held goal of a permanent facility for education about indigenous Chamorro culture was more than 90 years in the making. The canopy in the center resembles the top half of a “sling stone,” an oval rock made from coral or basalt that could be used for hunting or as a weapon.

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the 11th in a series about my March 2018 trip to Guam, and Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan. See my April 1 discussion of Navy man George Tweed’s ability to elude capture by Japanese soldiers for more than two years on Guam in World War II; April 8 about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery; April 15 about the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Maru and the deaths of hundreds of schoolchildren during WWII; April 29 about photographing newlyweds after their Shinto ceremony; May 14 about the WWII destruction of Shurijo Castle; May 21 about making soba noodles from scratch at a cooking class in Naha; June 16 about Peace Memorial Park, a former WWII battlefield and now a sprawling complex that commemorates the Battle of Okinawa; June 27 about the sister cities of Naha, Okinawa and Fuzhou, China and their shared bond celebrated at Fukushuen Garden;  July 22 about the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters in Okinawa; and August 15 about WWII-related sites on Guam.

Long before there was a light-filled, purpose-built museum, the dream of a permanent place to honor and explore the history, art and culture of the Chamorro people of Guam had taken hold. 

As early as 1926, local physician and teacher Ramon Sablan was encouraging friends and residents to start putting aside the artifacts they found around the Pacific island related to the indigenous Chamorros, and suggesting that a museum would one day house items such as fishhooks, pottery, latte stones (pillars), tools and much more.

The number of artifacts grew through the decades — some were stored for a time at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii — and were displayed at a wide variety of locations, weathering disasters man-made (World War II) and natural (typhoons).

Finally, in 2005, a task force moved ahead to plan the construction of a facility for a collection that now numbered about 250,000 artifacts, photographs and documents. A foundation also helped propel the building closer to reality, but it still took until 2014 for construction to begin in Hagåtña, Guam’s capital, with funding from a $27 million bond issue.

Island-born architects Andrew T. Laguaña and Enrico Cristobal were chosen in 2006 to proceed with their design. Laguaña, with degrees from Iowa State University and the University of California at Berkeley, is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects — the first Chamorro to gain this distinction. Cristobal is also a member of AIA. (The former partners have separate firms now.)

The rear view from the second-floor atrium looks out over wood carvings of a reclining figure (front) and a turtle on a log (center), and a replica of a topknotted moai from Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui). The exterior plaza in the distance has plenty space for public gatherings

The museum, which opened in November 2016 at Skinner Plaza, is across from the Plaza de España, site of the brief (and only) battle between the badly outnumbered Chamorro Insular Force Guard against the Japanese invasion of December 10, 1941, during World War II (see my previous post). 

It’s also kitty-corner from the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica, the first Catholic church on Guam, dating to the late 1660s. The current building was erected 1955-59, replacing the church that was destroyed by shelling in WWII.

The facade of the Guam Museum features two upright facing pages of an open book — signifying that this is a place of learning and education — joined by a central 65-foot cutout canopy that shades the upper level atrium. 

This concrete arch is based on a Chamorro “sling stone,” an oval rock of basalt or coral, used in hunting or warfare. (The outline of the Great Seal of Guam also mimics the shape of a sling stone. The seal features a palm tree anchored on a sandy beach, a speedy proa on the ocean and a land mass in the background.)

Depending on the time of day, square- or diamond-shaped shadows are cast onto the floor, as if light were shining through a jungle tree canopy, a tribute to the island’s untamed natural environment. The openness also signals the hospitality of the Chamorro people. 

A closer look at one of the figures dressed as a Chamorro would have been in earlier times.

The words displayed on the right facade page (as you face the building) were uttered by the great chief Hurao, a Chamorro who rallied thousands of his people in the 1670s against Spanish missionaries. 

Hurao was captured and released, but at a meeting to discuss peace in May 1672, the chief was killed, shot in the back by a Spanish soldier.

First in the Chamorro language, then below in English, the words read: “Satisfied with what our islands furnish us, we desire nothing else. We are stronger than we think! We must regain our former freedom.”

Jesuit Diego Luis de San Vitores (1627-1672) was the first missionary to arrive in 1668, and he died four years later, according to Spanish accounts, after baptizing the sick daughter of chief Matå‘pang against his wishes. Outraged, Matå’pang drafted a warrior to kill San Vitores.

A clash of cultures, competing religious influences and encroaching colonial subjugation begat the drawn-out, intermittent Spanish-Chamorro War.

The fighting continued into the 1680s, with the Chamorros eventually vanquished and the Spanish in control until their defeat in the Spanish-American War in 1898, when Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines were ceded to the United States.

Two similar statues stand in front of the museum, each dressed in a loincloth and his hair pulled into a topknot, a style known far and wide in the Pacific islands, all the way to Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui) off the coast of Chile.

I sent an email to the museum, asking if these were specific historical figures, but did not receive an answer. I’ll update this post if I hear back later. 

Delegations attending Festpac 2016, the Festival of Pacific Arts, contributed panels to this quilt. Guam’s entry is on the second row, third from right, a replica of the great seal of the U.S. territory.

When I visited, a temporary exhibit (since closed) called “Treasures of Festpac,” the Festival of Pacific Arts, was mounted. Held every four years, the gathering showcases traditional, literary, visual and performing arts of Pacific islanders, with workshops and seminars discussing such topics as indigenous language and genealogy.

A carved wooden paddle from Easter Island, with a Cult of the Birdman figure and a fish on the blade, sits next to a scale replica (right) of a men’s longhouse from Palau. See my September 10, 2017 post to learn more about the birdman petroglyphs on Easter Island.

For the 14-day May-June 2016 celebration in Guam, the theme was “What we own, what we have, what we share — United Voices of the Pacific.” More than 3,000 delegates representing 24 nations and territories, from American Samoa to Wallis and Futuna (an overseas territory of France, west of Samoa), took part.

(The first festival was held in 1972 in Suva, Fiji. The next one is scheduled for June 11-27, 2020, in Hawaii. “Take hold of the steering paddle” is the theme.)

The exhibit was marvelously colorful and diverse, spanning such creative arts as: a carved wooden paddle with eyes and petroglyph replicas, from Rapa Nui; clay-figure columns sprouting human heads and faces, from New Zealand; wall-size, vegetable-dyed woven bark cloth, from Fiji; large, laced-together bamboo pan pipes, from the Solomon Islands; and lots of photographs of traditionally dressed dance troupes and other artisans at work during the festival.

In the front case, the latte-stone replicas made from wood were part of the “unity project” for the festival. The one on the left is from Tokelau, a group of atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, and a territory of New Zealand. The one on the right is from Norfolk Island, situated between Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand, and a territory of Australia.

A carved “unity project” paid tribute to the host island, in the form of individually decorated lattes, an architectural element some believe is unique to the Mariana Islands. Chamorros used these capstoned pillars (not unlike the shape of mushrooms but with much thicker “stems”) sometimes as tall as seven feet and positioned in parallel rows, to form building supports, upon which a steep, thatch-roofed living space was lashed. 

The latte icon is widely seem around Guam, and nowadays signifies strength and a connection to Chamorro history. 

This seemed to be the only exhibit to explore when I was there. According to the website, “I Hinanao-Ta Nu Manaotao Tåno’-I CHamoru Siha: The Journey of the CHamoru People,” a permanent exhibit, opened in May. (CHamoru is the indigenous spelling, yes with a capital H.)

I watched a YouTube short, in which a camera tours what looks to be a very interesting and informative exhibit, a long time in the making.  

(Gentle aside: Nothing about the contents of the exhibit is on the website. I’m hoping that in the near future, viewers will be able to see some of the artifacts and learn about the history.) 

The museum has a 156-seat theater and the capacity to screen films for public gatherings in the rear expansive outdoor space, also suitable for concerts. Its museum shop stocks books, island-crafted goods (i.e. jewelry, carvings and cards) and the usual T-shirts and tote bags. A very small cafe also highlights locally made products.

The official name is the Senator Antonio M. Palomo Guam Museum and Chamorro Educational Facility, though I doubt many call it that on a regular basis. Senator Palomo, a politician, historian, journalist and author, was also a former administrator (1995-2007) of the Guam Museum before it occupied its striking new home.

Quick reference: Senator Antonio M. Palomo Guam Museum and Chamorro Educational Facility: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, closed Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Closes 3 p.m. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Free to enter, but $20 suggested donation, adults, for the main exhibition. Guam residents with ID: $15 adults, $10 seniors over 55, $2 students 5 to 17, free under 4. 193 Chalan Santo Papa Juan Pablo Dos, Hagåtña, Guam.

On Guam, in the Mariana Islands: A look at World War II history and ‘where America’s day begins’

At the Asan Bay Overlook, a Memorial Wall contains the names of U.S. servicemen who gave their lives to liberate Guam in 1944, and the names of Guamanians who fought and died during the Japanese occupation in World War II. U.S. National Park Service photo

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos, except where noted. All rights reserved.

This is the 10th in a series about my March 2018 trip to Guam and Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan. See my April 1 discussion of Navy man George Tweed’s ability to elude capture by Japanese soldiers for more than two years on Guam in World War II; April 8 about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery; April 15 about the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Maru and the deaths of hundreds of schoolchildren during WWII; April 29 about photographing newlyweds after their Shinto ceremony; May 14 about the WWII destruction of Shurijo Castle; May 21 about making soba noodles from scratch at a cooking class in Naha; June 16 about Peace Memorial Park, a former WWII battlefield and now a sprawling complex that commemorates the Battle of Okinawa; June 27 about the sister cities of Naha, Okinawa and Fuzhou, China and their shared bond celebrated at Fukushuen Garden; and July 22 about the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters in Okinawa.

One of the most far-flung outposts of America is nearly 8,000 miles as the crow flies from the East Coast of the United States. It takes almost 24 hours of flight and connection time to get there from the mainland — and that’s without any weather, equipment or miscellaneous delays.

The island of Guam, among the most remote places on Earth, is “where America’s day begins,” 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time sunrise in New York.

Since 1898, when Guam was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American War (of “remember the Maine” fame), along with Puerto Rico and the Philippines, the island has been of strategic importance to the U.S.

Never more so than during World War II, when Guam, the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands in the North Pacific, served as a launching point for American B-29 bombing runs over Japan in late 1944 and into 1945. 

Japanese artist Kohei Ezaki depicts “The Capture of Guam” on December 10, 1941. This painting is at the War in the Pacific National Historical Park visitor center.

But that was only after Guam endured nearly 31 months of Japanese occupation, which extracted a heavy toll on the indigenous Chamorros, before Americans retook the island in August 1944.

More recently, Guam was in the news as a target for Kim Jong-un, who threatened last year to launch ballistic missiles at the island amid rising tensions with the U.S. over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Today, this tropical island, 36 miles long and about 6.5 miles wide with 80 miles (125.5 kilometers) of coastline, is home to about 167,000 people. Chamorros and Filipinos make up the two largest ethnic groups. 

Its beautiful beaches, dramatic coastline, abundant water sports, recreational possibilities and plentiful sunshine entice tourists, especially those from Asian countries for whom the destination is only about a three- to four-hour flight.

Of the 1.54 million who visited last year, 684,443 came from South Korea, followed closely by 620,547 from Japan, and in a distant third place, the U.S. with 77,058, according to the Guam Visitors Bureau website. This total figure was an all-time high.

I went to Guam to visit family serving in the Navy, but also with the intent of learning more about the island’s experience during WWII, and seeing a bit of the rugged landscape up close.

The Imperial Japanese Navy Ko-Hyoteki (Target A) Hei Gata (Type C) midget submarine is believed to be the only one of its kind still in existence. It was captured in 1944. It sits outside the T. Stell Newman Visitor Center, part of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam.

The War in the Pacific National Historical Park visitor center gives an excellent overview of the Pacific campaign, and the Japanese invasion and occupation of Guam, through videos, information panels, photographs and maps.

Within hours of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Guam and Wake islands and the Philippines. 

On December 10, a Japanese naval party of about 400 and an Imperial Army unit invaded Guam at more than five locations. They were met with little resistance because there were only 805 residents who were active military or had any defensive training: 153 Marines, 271 U.S. Navy personnel, 134 civilian construction workers and 247 members of the Chamorro Insular Force Guard.  

The Chamorros of the Insular Guard were not only badly outnumbered, they had very little equipment: three machine guns and Springfield bolt-action rifles for the 30-minute fight against the Japanese in the tree-lined Plaza de España. The white memorial (center) commemorates their efforts. Today the plaza is the site of the inauguration of the governor of Guam, and other civic and social activities. The figure in the median in front of the memorial is a likeness of Pope John Paul II, who visited Guam for 18 hours in February 1981.

The Insular Guard tried unsuccessfully to hold off the Japanese in the capital of Agaña (now spelled Hagåtña) at the Plaza de España. All that remained was for U.S. Navy Captain George McMillin, who served as the island’s governor, to surrender.  

Most of the American military and civilian personnel, and American and Spanish clergy were relocated to Japan as POWs in January 1942.

The Imperial Army imposed harsh conditions on the locals as they had in other conquered countries across Asia. They renamed the island Omiya Jima (Great Shrine Island), demanded the Chamorros learn to speak Japanese, changed the local currency to yen and forced the observance of Japanese customs such as bowing.

The Japanese were particularly brutal to Chamorros accused of hiding family members or Americans, a few of whom had escaped to the interior after the invasion (see April 1, 2018 post about Navy man George Tweed). They were tortured, and in some cases executed, or died from their injuries.

Chamorros and Koreans performed forced labor — sometimes at bayonet point — on farms, airfields and in dense jungle, where fortifications were dug into caves as defensive positions, as was the case on other islands such as Okinawa.

As the Allies’ Pacific Island campaign intensified, momentum swung away from the Japanese, now with only 18,500 defenders on Guam.

In early July 1944, without explanation, up to 15,000 Chamorros of all ages were force-marched to seven concentration camp sites in central and southern areas. They had little in the way of provisions or shelter, and these conditions surely accelerated their overall death toll.

However, this move took the islanders out of harm’s way before the two-week, pre-assault bombardment by the U.S. Navy commenced. 

U.S. troops made their way inland at Agat on the southwest coast as the battle to retake Guam intensified. U.S. National Park Service photo

On July 21, 1944, U.S. troops numbering about 55,000 landed on west-coast beaches at Agat (in the south) and Asan (farther north). Over the next 20 days of fighting, troop movement generally progressed north and east. 

On August 10, Guam was secured. American forces sustained about 7,000 casualties (about 1,800 dead, not counting 800 Guamanians). Japanese deaths numbered about 17,500, with about 1,000 taken prisoner.

Over the next six months, a rapid buildup of men (up to 150,000 sailors) and materiel changed Guam into a military powerhouse, with the resources to propel what appeared to be a rapidly approaching invasion of the Japanese home islands.

War in the Pacific National Historical Park 

Panels on the Liberators’ Monument at the Asan Beach Unit pay tribute to the Chamorro Insular Guard and U.S. forces, including the 3rd Marine Division, 1st Provisional Marine Brigade and the 305th Regimental Combat Team of the 77th Army Division who fought to retake Guam in July-August 1944. That’s the Guam territorial flag flying to the right of the Stars and Stripes.

I visited three of the park’s seven units, under U.S. National Park Service administration. At the Asan Beach Unit, where the 3rd Marine Division landed and the Navy bombarded from offshore, Liberators’ Monument commemorates U.S. military and Guam Combat Patrolmen who helped retake the island. The memorial’s installation in 1994 coincided with the 50th anniversary of the battle at Asan Point. 

This is a particular scenic area, with a trail leading to secluded Japanese fortifications. It adjoins the Asan Inland Unit, with dense jungle growth, from where hidden Japanese troops tried to repel the Marines. (I did not hike this trail or venture into this jungle.)

A bit east of the intersection of Marine Corps Drive and Highway 6 lies the Piti Guns Unit, near a nondescript church off a residential road. 

One of the three Japanese coastal defense guns at the Piti Guns Unit of the national park. They were not operational during WWII.

A quarter-mile trail winds through a dense mahogany forest — mahogany and teak were introduced on Guam in 1928 to replace native hardwoods — to reveal three Japanese coastal defense guns. This site, which in 1944 was on steep terrain among rice paddies, was selected for its ocean view. 

The Japanese 140mm-equivalent guns, with a range of about 10 miles, were intended to fire at ships and landing craft. Weighing thousands of pounds, the weapons were lugged to Piti by overworked Chamorros. 

But in a life-saving twist, none of the guns was ever fully operational and fired not one salvo during the war.

South Pacific Memorial Park

Japanese citizens paid for the construction of the 50-foot-high praying hands, the Queen of Peace Chapel and the surrounding park to honor their war dead. In the basement of the tower is an ossuary. The park was completed in May 1970.

As I mentioned, thousands of Japanese soldiers died in 1944. Their sacrifice is commemorated at the South Pacific Memorial Park, in the north-central part of the island near the village of Yigo, in a quiet setting meant to promote peace and reconciliation. 

Opened in May 1970, it is privately owned by the South Pacific Memorial Association, comprised mainly of Japanese citizens, who paid construction costs and for the site’s upkeep. No impediments block the way for visitors on foot from the small parking area.

Its centerpiece is a 50-foot-tall, white memorial that resembles two modernistic upswept palms pressed together in prayer. Several commemorative stones are nearby, but much of the explanation is in Japanese, as is the brochure I picked up in the Queen of Peace Chapel.

Mataguac Hill, rising 120 feet in the background, shadows four concrete-reinforced caves — one with a spring — and thick vegetation, where Japanese troops mounted a futile counterattack against U.S. Naval bombardment and a tank-supported assault by a battalion from the 77th Infantry Division. 

With defeat looming, it was here that Lieutenant Hideyoshi Obata, commander of the Imperial Army’s 31st Division, committed suicide at sunrise on August 11, 1944. 

Before his death, he sent a transmission to the Emperor and headquarters in Japan which read: “I shall be the bulwark of the Pacific Ocean.”

America’s military presence today

Two American military bases occupy nearly 30 percent of the island: Andersen Air Force Base in the north, and Naval Base Guam on the southwest coast in Apra Harbor. Together they form Joint Region Marianas, with about 7,000 military personnel and nearly that number of family members in residence. 

The military is second only to tourism as a source of revenue for the local economy.

A Navy helicopter squadron flies from Andersen, which also hosts a rotation of B-52 bombers over from the mainland. The base has two 2-mile long runways, along with fuel storage (the largest in the Air Force) and munitions storage, making it a key “forward-base logistics supply center.”

The air base dates to late 1944, largely constructed after U.S. forces retook the island. It was the takeoff point for conventional bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities late in WWII.  

The naval base was established in 1898. Today, four nuclear-powered fast attack submarines call Guam home, as do two submarine tenders.

During the Vietnam War, B-52s flew to Southeast Asian targets from June 1965 until the end of the war. Guam was also a stopover for military personnel heading to South Vietnam. More than 109,000 refugees were also evacuated through Guam after the war ended.

To visit the naval base, you must have an authorized sponsor and pass a background check. Bring identification such as a passport, and follow instructions at the Visitor Control Center. No photography is allowed. For the air force base, groups are welcome. See the website to obtain a pre-visit form.

Quick reference: War in the Pacific National Historical Park, T. Stell Newman Visitor Center, open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, closed Thanksgiving, December 25 and January 1. Free. The center has a bookshop (and a free scenic tote bag if you buy something) but no restaurant or cafe. Marine Corps Drive (just outside Naval Base Guam), Hagåtña, Guam.

South Pacific Memorial Park, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Free. 678 Milalek Drive. (in Japanese).

Naval Base Guam:

Andersen Air Force Base:

A sweet recipe and a savory one to help make some of that summer squash magically disappear

Rich, moist and not overly sweet, zucchini bread is satisfying any time of day. In the batter, you’ll easily be able to see the zucchini slivers, but the vegetable is less noticeable after the loaf is baked.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

Do you dread that mid-August knock at the front door, where you discover your smiling neighbor standing on your landing … and his/her basket brimming over with summer squash?

You return the smile, chat briefly, politely accept the vegetables, and conjure up the most sincere “thank you” that you can manage.

Or did you get a little carried away at your local grocery or farmers’ market, seduced by the season-low prices on the sunshine-yellow crookneck squash and the greener-than-grass zucchini?

Now what’s to be done with the overflow from your neighbor’s garden or your unbridled shopping? (Truth be told, summer squash is available nearly year-round, but this is prime season for reaping the surplus from home gardens.)

Even with their high water content, crookneck squash and zucchini (or courgette, for our international readers) will keep five to seven days in the refrigerator before becoming mushy and unusable.

The crookneck squash, if its graduated neck has an exaggerated curve leading to its bulbous body, reminds me of a wingless swan or duck. Can’t you picture the light-green stem end as a beak? Or a group of small squash huddled together as a flock?

A quick side dish of crookneck squash, kidney beans and other vegetables is loaded with nutrition.

You can thinly slice or dice the veggies and toss them raw into a fresh salad. Or pop them into the microwave or steamer for a quick side dish that can be dressed up in myriad ways. All methods preserve the nutritional benefits from these veggies rich in vitamins A and C and niacin.

But, with just a bit more time and effort, you can make many much more memorable recipes and get to work on reducing the amount of summer squash that’s taken over your kitchen.

This recipe for zucchini bread is among my all-time favorites. I’ve made it many times over the years and have never been disappointed. Its moist, ultra-dense crumb will have you licking your fingers and eyeing a second piece.

Its dominant spices — cloves and cinnamon — always make me think of fall, and drier, crisper days ahead. 

As the loaf bakes, the batter darkens considerably from a light tan flecked with grated zucchini to a deep hickory, which nearly obscures the veggie slivers. 

And though it’s recommended that you don’t eat batter when it contains raw eggs, you’ll be tempted to try at least a little taste.  

This is not a sandwich bread. But it is versatile enough to be eaten at any time of the day: At breakfast with tea or coffee, as a lunch top-off, a late-day snack (ditto the tea) or dessert. (Did I hear someone say topped with ice cream?)  

The crookneck squash side dish prep is faster than making the zucchini bread. To stretch it as a main course, serve it over pasta or rice.

And when next your neighbor comes knocking, he/she will probably be trying to foist an overload of tomatoes on you. Fortunately, they pair well with summer squash too.


If freezing the zucchini bread, wrap first in plastic and then in aluminum foil.

Zucchini Bread

Hands on: 30 minutes

Total time: About 1 hour, 45 minutes

Makes: 1 loaf and 6 large muffins

Butter or margarine for greasing the loaf pan

3 eggs

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil (use a neutral oil like canola)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups grated unpeeled raw zucchini (about 1 large or 2 medium)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup shelled pecans, chopped (or walnuts) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8 1/4-by-4 1/4-inch pan and line six muffin cups with paper liners. (Use a 9-inch-by-5-inch pan if you aren’t making the muffins.)

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla until light and thick. Fold grated zucchini into oil mixture.

In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cloves. Stir into zucchini mixture until just blended. (Do these steps by hand; a stand mixer or hand mixer is not necessary.)

Fold in the pecans until just combined.

Pour batter into loaf pan and muffin cup liners until all are about three-quarters full. (You may want to place the loaf pan on a rimmed baking sheet in case the batter bubbles over as it bakes.)

Bake on the oven’s middle rack. The muffins will be ready in 25-30 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. The loaf should bake for 1 hour, 10 minutes to 1 hour, 15 minutes. Again, a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

Cool slightly. Run a blunt knife around the inner edge of the loaf pan, and flip it out; be careful, the loaf will be hot! 

Let loaf cool completely on a rack, right-side up. Likewise, remove the muffins from the tin and let cool.

The flavors in the zucchini bread deepen when left to meld overnight. But if you can’t wait, the loaf is delicious as is. 

The loaf will store wonderfully in the freezer for up to two months. When completely cool, wrap tightly in plastic. Then enclose the loaf in aluminum foil. 

Adapted from “The Silver Palate Cookbook” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins with Michael McLaughlin (Workman Publishing, 1982)


As an entree, serve the squash and vegetable combination over pasta or rice.

Squash and Red Kidney Beans

Hands on: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4 as a side dish

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup onion, diced (I prefer mild Vidalia sweet onions)

1 cup red bell pepper, diced (or use yellow, orange or green)

2 cups yellow squash, sliced 1/4-inch thin, then quartered

1 (15-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, washed and drained

1 (10-ounce) can Rotel original diced tomatoes and green chilies (or use mild or hot, depending on your palate)

1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional, or more to taste)

3 tablespoons fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried (optional)

3/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add onion and bell pepper and sauté until they soften, about 3-5 minutes. 

Add squash and beans and cook about 5 minutes, until squash softens. Stir in Rotel tomatoes and cook 1 minute. Mix in dried red pepper flakes, if using. Stir in basil, if using, and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, as needed. 

Adapted from a recipe in Cooking Light magazine, June 2018