Friday, February 12, 2016


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hungarian Menu Benefits

My palate is certainly biased to the Hungarian flavors on which I was raised. I try to politely sample other fare, but have rarely found anything else that can ever possibly compete.
Kapostas testa, Via zsuzsa is in the kitchen
Behold the Magyar kitchen's greater powers: That of contriving marriages.
He returned a couple of weeks later, raising the stakes by preparing his Hungarian mother’s recipe for chicken paprikash (he brought sweet paprika with him), along with Hungarian nokedli dumplings. “Everything went well,’’ he said. “Once you start eating together and cooking together, it’s a little more intimate.” 
Spying that detail in the wedding announcements made us squeal in glee. 

At every family gathering, Ma would truly love to present something new. But she has accepted that everyone expects, nay, demands, the nokedlach. It truly unleashes the primal competitiveness in us all.
My nieces just don't get it, though. They're so cute. They say, "I'll have some later," as though there will be any some left to have.

One of these days I shall be magnanimous enough to share the recipe. One of these days.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Comfort Zone

"Get out of your comfort zone!"
My idea of an ideal night.
But why do I have to? I created my comfort zone to its exact dimensions, to my liking. I've made it a stress-free, predictable place, complete with planned menus. I am very attached to my meals.

Others may like to travel aimlessly with only a backpack to rely on. They don't care if a late night will torpedo their tomorrow. They don't seem to be particularly attached to a specific bathroom. Dinner? No worries, that will somehow work itself out. 

That's their comfort zone.

Well, here's my reply: Why don't you stay in one night? Read a book; it doesn't have to be thought provoking or deep. Maybe cook something that contains all your favorite vegetables (I would recommend beginning with caramelized onions). Have a deep conversation with a close friend or family member, with whom one can be open and opinionated, because you don't have to win their favor. Get out of your comfort zone. Go to bed early. 

No? All right, I understand, you don't want to leave your comfort zone. So I'll stay snug in mine, while you revel in yours. That seems fair.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lookin' Good for Me

"What's up with your hair?" 

I shrug. "My bangs does this thing where is goes from short to long overnight. Oh, and haven't you noticed? There's a hurricane going on out there." 

The comment about my hair doesn't make me feel self-conscious, because I executed everything else that makes me feel human. If I have a dusting of makeup on and a somewhat coordinated outfit, I'm confident, even if my hair is unspooling in puffy discordance.

Jennifer Weiner often opines about the state of expected feminine beauty, like in "The Pressure to Look Good" and "When Can Women Stop Trying to Look Perfect?"  
Think of that recent viral shot of the Macedonian protester using the reflection from a police officer’s riot shield to apply her lipstick. Yes, it was funny. Yes, she’s a badass. But she’s also a woman of her time, one who knows that being out in public means being looked at, and possibly photographed, assessed in a way that men still are not, and maybe never will be.
Weiner rails against the very cage she has trapped herself in; she complains about societal pressure while meekly succumbing.

I would say it is about balance: dolling up enough that one feels civilized and ready to face the world, as opposed to accommodating every idiot with an undisciplined mouth. I like face paint and attire, for another woman the bounce in her step comes with the help of a curling iron. For a Macedonian protester it's a red lip. 

The second article focuses more on older women, specifically the flack Carrie Fisher received as the older Princes Leia. I, personally, had thought she looked quite good on the IMAX 3D screen. I was curious what mascara she used. 
In the decades since the first film, both the actress and her character have dealt with a lot — mental illness and addiction in Ms. Fisher’s case, intergalactic warfare in Princess Leia’s. One might assume, what with the Dark Side to contend with, that the princess-turned-strategist might have found herself too busy to attend Pilates class, or to hunt down coconut flour for paleo pancakes.
But the “Force Awakens” filmmakers determined that Leia should not only be smart and powerful, but she needed to be slender, too. “They don’t want to hire all of me — only about three-quarters!” 
She ended up losing weight for the role. Still, some fans were displeased. Online discussions about Ms. Fisher’s looks raged across social media. When the actress objected, tweeting “please stop debating about whether OR not I have aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all 3 of my feelings.”
I don't think the studio would have been happy if Harrison Ford moseyed onto the set with a beer belly, but moving on. Haters gonna hate; a side product of the internet are trolls who have no lives beyond tearing down other people. A dismissive eye roll would be a more reasonable response rather than taking such comments seriously. 
But what if, instead of investing in paid diets and microdermabrasion, we donated our dollars to worthy charities and gave our time to the food pantry or elementary school? What if we thought about adding things to our lives — new foods, new skills, new classes, new walking routes — instead of taking things away?
“Lose weight and gain so much more,” invites Weight Watchers’ website. If you’re looking for a New Year’s slogan, here’s another one to try — in 2016, let’s look beyond the superficial and all resolve to make more of ourselves, not less.
True, Ms. Weiner. But sometimes ruchniyus and gashmiyus are intertwined, not separate. By practicing discipline in a physical area (watching what goes into my mouth), I am able to implement it in a more spiritual area (watching what comes out of my mouth. My lipsticked mouth).       

Monday, February 8, 2016

Monkey See We Do

I don't usually enjoy watching the whole "Circle of Life" bit on Nature and the like. While I am an animal lover, eventually the critter that I have been rooting for gets eaten or shot.

But one day while idly channel surfing, I paused and risked the heartbreak. 

Apparently, the mark of intelligence in mammals is self-awareness. The test to determine if an animal is self-aware is to provide it with a mirror; if the monkey treats his reflection as though it is another monkey, he's flunked. If the chimp begins to preen over his own image, bravo, he's self-aware, and therefore possesses intelligence. Various animals have passed: dolphins, elephants, apes.
Pondering . . . Are we, as humans, automatically self-aware? Taking it beyond the mirror. 

Self-aware = Aware of oneself, including one's traits, feelings, and behaviors ( 

I'm certainly not infallible, so I try to analyze my behavior and reactions. Why? From whither? For art? 

There was a book review in the NY Times; I couldn't locate the article, but here's what I recall: An atheist was claiming that there is no such thing as free will, because all of our actions are pre-decreed by our subconscious thoughts. 

Even atheists want to wiggle out of free will. 

It is a dim view of humanity his theory provides, as well as espousing our own limitations. "I can't help it, my subconscious went rogue!" 

But I have heard Esther Wein shiurim to the contrary, listing the various levels of our brains: reptilian/ruach (for our bodily functions), mammalian/nefesh (emotions), and human/neshama (logic). 

"Elokai neshama shenasata bi," "My God, the soul that you placed within me." It sounds like, Mrs. Wein says, that the neshama and the self are separate. The "me," she explains, is the chooser.

We are given the tools to hash out whatever is percolating within us. We can choose how to see things, rather than merely see. We can choose how to do things, rather than doing.

But first, we have to look at the mirror. Not straight on; that would be too hard. From the side, using peripheral vision, as Ma says. To be real about who we are, where we need to improve, and what to do about it.     

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Battle of the Bulge: "Oblivobesity"

A number of conveniences nowadays can have detrimental side-effects. Fast food, as we all know, may provide us with more time in the now, but the long-term payout is horrific indeed.
"Parents’ Denial Fuels Childhood Obesity Epidemic," as Jan Hoffman reports, reflects the current reliance on pre-packaged "snacks." 
“Often they don’t want to accept it because change means a lot of work for everyone, including themselves,” [dietician Mary] Savoye said. . .
Dr. David L. Katz, the director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center, has coined a word for the problem: “oblivobesity.”
Change is a lot of work. I certainly know that removing a beloved shortcut is torturous indeed. But surprisingly, the recovery time and adaption to a new way of doing things doesn't take so very long.

Denial is deliciously tempting. Believe me, I know. But I have found that by facing demons early on and tackling them into submission means less work down the road, after they have already managed to execute a fair bit of mischief. 
The other night at Bright Bodies, the New Haven program, Ms. Savoye facilitated a discussion in a weight-management group for teenagers. One girl, 15, had lost 30 pounds and had about 40 more to go.
“I wish my parents had done something about my weight earlier,” the girl said.
Where to start? Well, cutting sugar. That would mean no . . .  processed anything. The improvements happen so very quickly. Check out "How cutting sugar impacts kids' health." It's not about calories, it's about the sugar. And I'm a sugar lover!
Another good habit to cultivate: Sitting down and processing food while it is being consumed, since "Eating on the Move May Lead to Later Overindulging." 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"A Dudele"

When I first heard this (when aired on PBS), I did not realize the origins of "A Dudele." Apparently, it was composed by Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740–1809). He would sing it, it is said, before Havdolah.

Master of the Universe! !רבונו של עולם
Master of the Universe! !רבונו של עולם
Master of the Universe! !רבונו של עולם
Master of the Universe! !רבונו של עולם
Master of the universe, ,רבונו של עולם
I’ll sing a song for You. .כ׳וועל דיר א דודעלע זינגען
You, You, You, You … דו דו דו דו
Where will I find You? ?איה אמצאך 
Where will I not find You? ?ואיה לא אמצאך
Where can I find You? ?וווּ קאן איך דיר יא געפינען
Where can I not find You? ?אוּן וווּ קאן איך דיר נישט געפינען
You, You, You, You … דו דו דו דו
Wherever I go: You! !אז וווּ איך גיי – דו
And wherever I stay: You! !אוּן וווּ איך שטיי – דו
Just You, only You, ,רק דו, נאר דו 
again You, but You! !ווידער דו, אבער דו
You, You, You, You …  דו דו דו דו 
When something’s good: You! !איז עמיצן גוט – דו
When, G-d forbid, it’s bad: ay, You! !חלילה שלעכט – איי, דו
Oy, You, You, You, You, You, You, You … אוי, דו, דו, דו, דו, דו, דו, ,דו 
East — You; ,מזרח – דו
West —
You; ,מערב – דו
South —
You; ,דרום – דו
North —
You; !צפון – דו
You, You, You, Youדו, דו, דו, דו
In heaven:
You. .שמים – דו
On earth:
You. .ארץ – דו
You. .מעלה – דו
You. .מטה – דו
You, You, You, You דו, דו, דו, דו
Wherever I turn, ,וווּ איך קער מיך
Wherever I go:  וווּ איך ווענד מיך 
You, Youדו, דו 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Shoe Shopping

I'm a conflict-avoider. She isn't. 

"Sometimes you have to have conversations," she insists. "That way you can see the issue from another person's point of view, put yourself in their shoes." 

"But why do you have to have a conversation in order to do that?" I respond. "Can't you just put yourself in their shoes?"

Maile Meloy's "Whose Side Are You On" explains that he can write for children because he was a child once. Many are surprised at his vocation, since he is not a parent. But what should being a parent have to do with it?
But most of my friends who write for kids don’t have them, and neither did some of the best children’s book writers ever. Theo­dor Geisel — Dr. Seuss — didn’t even like kids. “You have ’em, I’ll amuse ’em,” he’s supposed to have said. Maurice Sendak had none. Neither did Tove Jansson, Tomie dePaola, Ezra Jack Keats or Margaret Wise Brown. The great children’s books editor Ursula Nordstrom said, “I am a former child, and I haven’t forgotten a thing.” It’s not a requirement to have children in order to write for them. You just need to have been one, and to remember what it’s like.
I was a tween when the first nephew arrived in my life. As I had entered adulthood kicking and screaming, I clung as much as I could to my fuzzy childhood memories. It granted me an edge, an understanding in some ways the adults could not relate to. How could they have completely forgotten about the monsters under the bed?

Ma allowed me to train her in the fine art of toy buying. She has gotten so good that I don't need to go with her anymore. I know which stuffed animal in my room goes with which child when they sleep over. Giraffe for A, "Bouncy Bear" for B, "Kallah Bear" for C, all of the above, and then some, for D. Appropriate blankie distribution is a whole other matter entirely.

But I am also the tough disciplinarian, because I know it is this narrow window that they must learn how to behave. Too soon, cookie, no one will find your tantrums cute. The world will not accommodate them.

Children's needs are simple. Don't make them complicated. Good food and good sleep is 80% of the work. They really don't act up all that much if they have enough rest. Like me. 

More recently, I am trying to see things also from other adults' perspectives, especially in cases when I feel slighted or belittled. It's often not personal, rather an "offsetting of pain," to quote Brené. That allows me to move on, and not wrinkle.     

Monday, February 1, 2016


Rabbi Jeremy Kagan: 

It says in Parshas Noach: 
 וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ, לִפְנֵי ה


וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְהִנֵּה נִשְׁחָתָה:  כִּי-הִשְׁחִית כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֶת-דַּרְכּוֹ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ


וְהִנְנִי מַשְׁחִיתָם, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ

"The world was destroyed before Hashem"; "Hashem saw the earth, and it was destroyed, for all flesh destroyed His ways on earth." Then Hashem says, "And behold, I shall destroy them with the earth." 

Rabbi Kagan continued, "Any good seminary girl will say,"—at which point he squeaked in a feminine falsetto—"'The world was destroyed spiritually!' But it is more than that."

The sins of that generation were theft, immoral relationships, and idol worship. What all these three sins have in common (he didn't have time to explain how idol worship works into it, but it does tie up) is "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine." Which means the world was without boundaries. 

Hashem then said, "You want to live a life without boundaries? So to the world will be without boundaries!" And water was released from its bonds, flooding the earth.

I heard a similar concept from Rabbi Daniel Glatstein. The Churban wasn't a punishment, it was a consequence (in general, there is no schar v'onesh in this world, by the way). We were goofing off on the avodah. We weren't respecting it. Hashem says, "Look, if you don't want to serve Me, don't do Me any favors! You think I need your service? Don't bother!" And so destroyed the Bais HaMikdosh.

I think we forget to what extent we shape our reality. We can create those consequences that we find so bewildering. Like I previously posted

. . . one Shabbos in shul, my brain activity went into hyperdrive. 

It is a repetitive message of Rabbi Yisroel Reisman that "Bishvi li nivra haolam": "For my sake, this world was created." Meaning, even if one has been shoved into a seemingly "unfair" position, one has to analyze her own behavior. 

For instance, it is a constant aggravation of mine that shul attendees tow along underage children who are incapable of maintaining the necessary silence to permit others meaningful prayer. Usually I would be mentally cursing out the parents as they halfheartedly shush the high-pitched squeaks and squeals of their young. 

But then, that fateful day, I recalled Rabbi Reisman's point. If I did not choose to discipline myself sufficiently to devote true kavana to my davening, why would Hashem provide me with ideal praying surroundings? I have idly daydreamed through many a shacharis; am I deserving of a shriek-free environment?

Do we self-sabotage by not giving our all in the first place?