Monday, November 12, 2018

Jacques' Poached Salmon

Ma was the master of pan-cooked salmon. I have observed her making it for a number of years. I wrote down her recipe too. 

But I can't do it. 

"I overcooked it again," I wailed to my sister. "I can't do it!" 

"I can't do it either," she commiserated. 

Fish is a delicate creature. One second, it is raw; blink, it is overcooked. I was desperate for a method to consistently grasp that small window of soft, almost creamy succulence.

After overcooking the salmon Ma's way three times, I gave up. Recalling the delights of poached salmon, I researched like mad. All roads lead to Jacques Pépin, of course.

Most poached salmon recipes call for twenty minutes of cooking. I learned from Jacques that salmon slices only need—get this—FOUR to FIVE. Then, by keeping the lid closed, the residual heat steams out any lingering rawness. 

The results? Soft, almost creamy succulence, every time

I use this method whenever I poach fish, even classic white fish (but that's another post).

The irony is that I discovered this recipe during my engagement, when Han was coming for a Shabbos. But it turns out he's not a fish fan, excepting these (whereas Ta considers canned fish "cat food"). 
Poached Salmon à la Jacques

Salmon in 6 oz. (or so) slices
1 onion, sliced into thick discs
1 carrot, chopped in half and lengthwise
1 stalk celery
1 sprig of fresh thyme or a few sprinkles dried
2 bay leaves 
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice 
1/2 cup white wine
1 to 2 cups water 
salt and generous amount of black pepper (1/2 teaspoon, says Jacques) 

1. Combine all the above ingredients, except for salmon, in a pot. Bring to boil. Simmer for 20 minutes or so.

2. Ensuring the flame is on a low simmer, place the salmon on top of vegetables (the onion in thick discs is helpful for this). Close pot and set a timer for FOUR (4) to FIVE (5) minutes, depending on the quantity and size of the fish. DO NOT LIFT LID. 

3. When timer rings, turn off flame. DO NOT LIFT LID. Set a timer for TEN (10) minutes. 

4. When timer rings, LIFT LID. 

5. When cool enough to handle (or even before, if one has seared out sensation from their hands), transfer to a container and strain in the broth. Cover and chill. 

C'est magnifique.  

Friday, November 9, 2018

DIY Wart Begone

I had an innocuous little wart on one finger. Not particularly noticeable, but I wanted it gone. 

The last time I treated warts I was a kid. I had one on the back of my hand, and classmates were shrieking "What is THAT?" in exaggerated horror. Ta bought me a treatment kit and it vanished rather quickly. 

This time around, I remembered that I had heard once that wart treatment is salicylic acid. The main ingredient in aspirin is salicylic acid.
I double-checked with the internet and confirmed I wasn't (completely) crazy. Before bed, I dissolved an aspirin tablet in a dab of aloe, applied it to the wart, and covered with a band-aid. 

In a couple of weeks—vanished. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

From Bad4's Shidduch Lit

I never properly read The Outside World by Tova Mirvis. I managed a few rushed pages here and there years ago when I came across it one Shabbos in my brother's house, enough to get the gist but not a proper read. 

So I decided to take it out. While she does presumably depict the frum world, I found her take a little . . . confusing. 

Our (presumed) protagonist, Tzippy, is 22 and dating. She is suffocating under the pressure, and while she emits sweetness when she is outdoors, her mother Shayna is ducking from her indoor fury. 

What I found contradictory was that Tzippy wants to get married, but then after what seems to be a promising date decides she wants to go to Israel (she didn't go to seminary, and wants to experience it three years late). 

There's no conversation about self-improvement or even God, really, in the book. A "good Bais Yaakov girl" would occupy her time, presumably, with shiurim, but there is no conversation about um, kibbud eim? 

Like, none.  

What is also disturbing is how most of the characters—of various levels of observance—have fantasies of fleeing. Running, flying, freeing themselves of the bonds of frumkeit. There are very few examples of fulfilled Jews, more those who focus on the restrictions, as opposed to the positives. 

There is repeated imagery of little girls fantasizing about weddings. It just makes our community seem so . . . small and generic. (I personally didn't fantasize about my wedding as a kid. I was pining for a horse.) 

I agree with the premise that a 22-year-old girl should not be panicking about marriage. But let's not throw away the baby with the bathwater. 

Mirvis, in recent years, has officially left the fold (she even wrote a memoir about it). The Outside World does not reflect much spiritual satisfaction that can be found in a religius lifestyle, and I'm assuming that is a reflection of her personal perspective, to which she is, I suppose, entitled. Yet it would be nice if there was a book available in public libraries that found our lifestyle actually pleasant.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Too Above, Too Beyond

I've become rather attached to a Jewish cooking group on social media. They've been very helpful, really. While the majority of posted recipes do not pass my self-defined "healthy" criteria, they've provided plenty of inspiration and options. 

As the "fun" parshios have swung back, the feed is cluttered now with women posting their "parsha desserts." Cakes covered in blue fondant and animal crackers. Rainbow blondies. Star cookies. Some breathtakingly elaborate.,c_limit/mare_cranberry_and_raspberry_star_cookies_h.jpg
Group members tend to post what they made, which can give others much-needed ideas when they're tired of making the same chicken for supper three nights in a row. But there was some backlash to all the parsha postings, to the point that the administrator gave everyone a scolding. If you don't want to make it, then don't make it!, she said. That doesn't mean you have to be snarky and disapproving!  

Am I the sort of gal who'll spend my Friday carefully crafting a "mabul cake"? (I still don't know what that is). No. Not me. 

I do think it's an excellent idea to get children excited about the parsha. However. However: 

I'm pretty stressed on Fridays. I pride myself in not overdoing things, but after hitting the stories at 7:30, cleaning chicken, and praying I don't burn the broccoli again, I can get pretty busy. I'm also unwilling to do certain things, like stay up past my bedtime, to make a special something for Shabbos that, chances are, will not get the reception I was expecting for so much effort. 

Cooking for Shabbos can be overwhelming. When one is overwhelmed, one can get . . . testy. Maybe a little yell-y. So if any wife, mother, or daughter lost it because of the complicated desserts that are being made in the name of Torah, IT WASN'T WORTH IT. Because no matter how "ooh, aah" that confection is, people would rather not get their heads taken off.
So if all of those mothers made multi-colored challahs with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts, kol ha'kavod! You are amazing. But if one cross word was uttered, one irritated look flashed, because they took on more than they should have—

It missed the point. Buy the cookies instead.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Good Person

I noticed what a difference religion makes in the grieving process. Now I see what a different religion makes in . . . everything. 

I discovered this when reading, of all things, an in-depth article about the show The Good Place. I don't even watch the show (yet), but I adore Kristen Bell and Ted Danson so I have plans to.
The show's creator, Michael Schur, fell headfirst into philosophy while creating and maintaining this series. Schur seems to be obsessed with niceness and ethics (he has a "no jerks" policy for anyone working for him). 
The idea that excited Schur, for his next sitcom, was both simple and infinitely complex: what it means to be a good person. It was an idea he had been obsessed with in different forms for many years — and that had crystallized for him back in 2005, when Jennifer Philbin, who is now his wife, got into a very minor traffic accident with a man driving a Saab. No one was hurt, and no visible damage was done, and yet the incident would become, Schur later wrote, “one of the most interesting and complicated events of my adult life.” When the Saab driver filed what Schur thought was an unnecessary insurance claim and demanded $836 for bumper damage, Schur countered with a grandly high-minded alternative. If the man would drop his claim, Schur said, he would donate the $836 to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Schur’s plan went viral, and friends and supporters jumped in to pledge more than $30,000 — an incredible philanthropic victory — and yet Schur began to feel a growing sense of unease. He suspected that his mission was not, perhaps, entirely righteous. There was an element of grandstanding to the gesture, of moral one-upmanship, and Schur spoke about it with his family and colleagues and even professors of ethics. He became fascinated by the ways people can rack up ethical credits and debits all at the same time. This, eventually, would become the subject of his show.
It made me realize that Judaism would have a relatively simple answer to this question. Yes, perhaps there would be "grandstanding" and "moral one-upmanship," but it doesn't matter what one's motivation is, as long as charity is going to the right people.  

A character says, "What makes us good is our bonds to other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity.” Sounds right. 
In a low moment, I mentioned to Hieronymi (the show's "consulting philosopher") that American culture seems to have abandoned ethics. She disagreed strongly. “It’s amazing to me how moralized and moralistic we seem to be,” she said, “especially right now. It’s just a cultural blamefest.” All the arguments that rage every day across social media and cable news — racism, reverse racism, statutes of limitations, reparations — are fundamentally about ethics. Even the top-down distractions meant to derail these conversations are conducted under the guise of earnest concern for right and wrong.
When people complain "how bad things are nowadays," they don't seem to realize that the world used to operate without any morals whatsoever. Lower classes were exploited and treated like chattel. Life was cheap. Existence was about getting ahead, at the expense of everyone and everything. 

Religion used to be the only source of ethics, and even then the supposedly devoted failed miserably. But contemporary agnostics, atheists, and those who follow organized faith all want to be good people. 
Schur told me he wants to stress, in his show, the hard work of morality. So much of our ethical life is about thankless grinding drudgery, daily feats of internal strength, a constant invisible resistance.
“It feels, all the time in life, like a bad decision is right in front of you,” Schur said. “No matter who you are, there’s the opportunity to make bad decisions and hurt people. And it takes work just to keep not making those bad decisions. It takes a lot of concentrated effort to do the right thing all the time. Hopefully, you get so used to it, and it becomes such a part of who you are, that it doesn’t take work — you’re on autopilot making good decisions. But not always, and for a lot of people, not ever. You don’t have to look very hard to see a group of people in this country who have given in and are just making the worst decisions you can make. . .”
That's the perk of religion. We are raised, from childhood, that certain behaviors are unacceptable, and it is second nature for many of us. Sure, each of us does struggle with certain not-nice drives, but we know that is what our purpose here is. 
In the face of so much badness, Schur said, it is always tempting to give up. But the heroic thing is simply to try.
“You have to work at it, every day,” he said. “It’s so hard. The temptation will always be there to go: ‘Oh, no one’s watching. No one’s looking. I’ll just do this.’ Whatever ‘this’ is. If you throw a coffee cup at a garbage can and you miss, you could just walk away. The amount of bad you put into the universe is very minimal. But someone else is gonna have to come along and pick that thing up, and it sucks. It’s not that person’s problem, it’s your problem. And it’s a very slippery slope. . . " 
We believe that we are watched, all the time. I heard a speaker once ask: "If you were alone in a room with a sandwich on Yom Kippur, would you eat it?" The audience was horrified. "But if you were alone in a room with a pile of money, would you take any?" The audience was now thoughtful. But we still do believe that we are never "alone in a room." We will always be accountable. 
“And now the next thing is like, whatever — you cheat on your taxes. And you get away with it, because government bureaucracy is bad at picking up on tiny errors people make. And you’re like: All right, nobody got hurt. Because you’re not thinking about the school 82 miles away that couldn’t afford new textbooks because they didn’t get enough tax revenue and had to lower the school budget. All you’re thinking about is, I saved $400 by cheating on my taxes, that’s pretty cool. The window just keeps shifting, and eventually you become the kind of person who is making the bad, selfish, wrong decision by default instead of the good one. And then 15 years have gone by.”
We also believe that every person can achieve salvation, even in the blink of an eye. 
". . . Do you give up or do you try? And they decide to try. And that is what the whole season is like. We’ll keep trying as long as we can. We’ll keep trying. No one is perfect. No one will ever win the race to be the best person. It’s impossible. But, especially since starting this show, I just think everyone should try harder. Including me."

Monday, October 29, 2018

Love and Fear

I was reading Safy-Hallan Farah's tale of driving when this line made me laugh: 

"Like many immigrant daughters, I fear my mom more than I fear God, death or the police . . ."

I was born in the U.S., but Ma was not. And I feared her. 

Don't get me wrong: of course I loved her. 

But I feared her. I was more terrified of her than the pediatrician—I wouldn't scream in his office, because she did not condone "scenes." When we pulled up to the public high school building so I could pick up work papers, she bellowed at me to go get them on my own already (Luke was the only one who was able to resist her fury). If I (we) said one word out of line, hoooooo boy. 

Yet because of my relationship with her, I understand what it means to love and fear Hashem.

Ma was still cuddly. I would crawl into her bed when I was little (and not so little) and she would croon endearments in Hungarian. She cheerfully made our favorites for our birthdays. She was big on kisses and hugs.  

We are given parents, we are told, so we should know how to interact with our unseen Papa. We are required to both love and fear Him. So it would make sense that we should both love and fear our parents. 

Strictly loving our parents wouldn't be sufficient; after all, when love is divorced from awe, disrespect can creep in. 

Whereas only fearing one's folks leaves many a hapless adult on the shrink's couch.  

Rabbi Ephraim Stauber said that if you love something, you are afraid to jeopardize it. One doesn't disrespect someone they love, because they are afraid to damage the relationship. One guards that which they love—like my favorite pair of sneakers from my niece's questing eye—because they are afraid of it being taken away. 

I have seen many a parent make themselves into doormats for their kids, but from what I learned from my upbringing is that they aren't doing their kids any favors. Children have to learn the concept of parental respect because how else will they respect anything in life? How will they respect an unseen Hashem? 

And the parents who don't demonstrate their love, focusing on submission only, create an image of a cold, unloving Creator who spends all day sharpening His lightning bolts.  

It's all about balance.

Friday, October 26, 2018


  • "The soul is a verb . . .  not a noun."—The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Rams vs. Kudus

I was reading an interesting article about the various animal horns that have been used for shofars. The author described the kudu horn, which was utilized by the Teimanim as they didn't have ready access to sheep. He mentioned various ibex and antelope as well.
But he concludes with the reminder to his audience that while all these various horns seem alluring, the original mitzvah calls for a plain ol' ram's horn, so in this time of easy access, a ram's horn should always be used for official shofar blowing.
My nephew happened to have received a kudu shofar for his bar mitzvah, and he spent Rosh HaShana pottering around the house tooting away, to everyone's annoyance. 

It made me realize, again, how we can get so enthused with new, shiny things that we forget that nothing is new and shiny to Hashem. He said to use a ram's horn. 

"But there are cooler things out there!" He knows. He still said to use a ram's horn.
"But get a load of this insane horn! Isn't it so much more interesting than the ram? You get the ram all the time! Let's shake things up a little. Give You some novelty."  

He created the insane horn. He's well aware there is one. He still said to use a ram's horn. 

How often do we fall into that trap? 

"Ah, a mitzvah! But it's been done this way so many times. God must be bored. Let's jazz it up a little!" 

God isn't bored. We're bored. 

If He was capable of boredom, He wouldn't have detailed the commandments with specific minutiae. God is not human, we can't ever make that mistake. He said that He treasures dutiful, punctilious service, under the parameters He requested. 

We cannot presume to know what He really wants. 'Cause He said what He wants. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Married Guilt

I was born feeling guilty. Is it a European thing, this constant burden of guilt? I should have. I could have. If I did, why did I? 

My newest guilt is, of all things, being married. I feel like proclaiming whenever I meet a single, "I didn't get married at 21! I was a there's-no-hope-for-her-let's-get-her-some-cats 32 on my wedding day! Don't let the sheitel fool you: I'm really just like you!",c_limit/catladylede.gif
Which is totally, completely perverse.  

I wonder if, somehow, my very wedded presence grates on singles, the way some marrieds got on my nerves just by breathing. "Was it something she did? Did she go to the right shadchan? Did she act the right way? Did she do the right mitzvos and was so blessed? Or did she simply tranquilize a guy then drag him to the altar?" 

I was in a shtiebel I don't usually go to for Shabbos. I'm aware of, but not friendly with, the family of daughters who sat ahead of me. They happen to all look alike, so I had difficulty figuring out potential ages and whatnot. Another sister arrived, and I was marveling at her thick, luxurious hair until her left hand appeared and made it clear she was married.

Now that I realized her status, I noticed that she carried herself differently than her single sisters. There was an air of assurance, self-confidence, belonging. 

Her sisters' bearing was stiffer, less secure, more hesitant. Did I used to look like them? Do I look like her now? 

I don't like to think I wafted insecurity in my decade + of singleness. That even if I didn't feel it, I fiercely acted to appear assured, self-confident, and like I belonged. 

But did I? Was I fooling myself all that time? Did marriage magically grant me the aura that I had convinced myself I had attained through sheer will? 

In any case, I don't want to appear confident just because I'm married. I don't want singles to think they are so different from me, because, sister, I bolted through that gauntlet on repeat. I'm one of you. I'm still one of you, even though I may not look it anymore. 

Do you believe me? 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Powder to Correct and to Conceal

This was a usual scene following a date with Han: 

I breezily floated through the door, thinking, "At least my makeup was on point." Trotting blithely to the mirror to brush my teeth, the record needle scratched. 

My eye pencil had . . . migrated. Downward. Oh frack. I looked like this all night? The humiliation!
Well, maybe not this bad.
For years, my eyeliner did what it was told. I didn't understand what had changed. Was it my color corrector that I had fallen in love with? Was it making the territory under my eyes to greasy?

I tried applying lid primer. I tried setting the color corrector with the concealer powder. Nothing doing. 

"That it!" I wailed, as my pencil smudged yet again. "I'm done with eyeliner!"

The next morning I picked it up again. I love it so. And we used to get along so well. What changed? 

I don't know. But then I bought a color corrector powder. I then top it when with my trusty concealer powder. Then I apply the pencil on top.

Rewind: What is the purpose of color corrector? I have TERRIFYING dark circles. Like, zombie quality. Concealer alone simply mutes it to an unappealing shade of gray. Color corrector in peachy shades neutralizes the purple, then the concealer on top looks more like my skin tone. 

I still prefer the finish of the cream correctors and concealers, but we can't have it all.