Friday, February 28, 2014

No Gluing Required

"Your lashes!" she gasped in delight. "Are they fake? Are you wearing, like, you know, those inserts?" 

"No, no—let me tell you about this great trick I just found out about . . ." 

Remember when I told all my lovely frumanistas about applying oil to eyelashes nightly? Well, I have to confess, when that post was put up I had only lash-oiled sporadically; usually following what I felt to be an abusive mascara-removal session, after a three-day yontif, for instance. 

About a week before the post, I began dabbing castor oil on my lashes every night, and quickly I began to see results. A number of lashes began to grow ridiculously long. New lashes were also beginning to grow in right above where my lash-line ends. Smaller lashes were filling in the base.
Not me, but another satisfied lash-oiler.
From what I read online, the oil in question does not have to be castor. Coconut, avocado, olive, and the like are also options, as is blending them. Instead of prescription lash serums with scary pigmentation side effects, all one needs is a little grease.  

All this new growth means I have more real estate to apply mascara to. Along with the black powder eyeliner I dab into the lash base with an eyeliner brush (it is applied beneath the lashes, not above), I am left with a strong appearance of fullness.

I discovered my new mascara love, Diorshow Iconic Overcurl Mascara, after a number of letdowns. I never had any joy with the original Diorshow, even though it is the gushing favorite of, well, everyone, but after three tries of dried-out goop they were returned with an exasperated wave of hands.
Iconic Overcurl does what I expect my mascara to do, which is separate, define, plump, lengthen, and fix the kitchen sink.

A few sidecomments:
  • Do not rub the eyes. That encourages not only sagging, but lash fallout.
  • False lashes are not good for natural lashes. If donned sporadically and removed carefully, however, they don't leave lasting damage. Keep them just for special occasions.
  • Remove eye makeup every night gently, lovingly. I soak a cotton round in makeup remover and lightly swipe it along the eye area in one direction. Make sure it is a good remover so that rubbing isn't necessary. Then apply the oil of choice thoroughly with a q-tip. 
I own an eyelash curler but I haven't yet used it. For the sake of progress and experimentation, I'll try it and report back. Soon. Ish.       

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Battle of the Bulge: Change That Can Be Kept

In order to maintain a healthy diet, it is imperative to make the diet a habit, not a task. 
I have fallen off the wagon for a day, sometimes two. That is also necessary, because it reminds me that even if I slip up, it's not the end. I know how to clamber back aboard, but I just want to wallow off the road for a bit. 

Studies have been claiming recently that adult obesity can have its roots in childhood, when habits are forged. I was raised with pretty good habits, and I have acquired even more recently; believe me, it would have been easier to tackle those latter stages when I was 5. 

Yet slowly, gradually, even glacially, my current high-fiber, greenery-laden, nut-munching menu has overtaken my life to the point that without oat bran, I am bereft. 

Mark Bittman, who has dubbed me "Flexitarian" (by proxy), shares some tips is "Sustainable Resolutions for Your Diet." Fads don't offer lasting change. Good habits do.
Of his pointers that appeal to me: 

(1) Buy less, but better quality. Then make the most of it with hefty vegetable-based sidedishes or soups. Meat should not be the main focus; it should be regulated to the status of commentary.

As a sidebar, cholent is an example of how those on low incomes stretched a scrap of expensive meat. There is a ridiculous amount of flavor that can be extracted from dead animal when even a small bit (i.e. turkey neck) is added to a soup, for instance.

(2) Frozen fruits and vegetables are so convenient. If I make a last-minute supper, I can rely on sautéing an onion then adding frozen spinach, peas, and broccoli. Then I don't have to cook as much (whole-wheat) pasta, which gets mixed together with the veggies. If it is readily available, it will be utilized. 

(3) Vegetables for breakfast! Sounds mad, but only to the pancake-flipping American; other cultures have been eating green first thing in the day forever. I've often consumed butternut squash soup or pan-roasted cruciferous for breakfast. Satisfying, weight-loss friendly, and healthy. A triple threat.    

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Destination Husband

It has always been my fantasy that Han will be a local. Since traveling leaves me looking and feeling like roadkill, I have hoped that I would not have to resort to planes or ten hour car trips when the time comes. 

Luke, however, thrives on travel. He doesn't care where. Exotic or mundane, a trip is a trip. 

So when guys are suggested to me and I stupidly mention them to Luke, he becomes excited just hearing their hometown. 

Boston? Ooh.

L.A.? Aah. 

London? Giggle. 

Sydney? Cha-ching! 
"Luke, if any man goes traveling with me he'll dump me on the spot," I remind him, but to no avail. 

"Maybe the next one will be from somewhere near Vale," he sighs dreamily. "Then I can go skiing straight from the afruf." 

"By the way, the guy from South Africa is not happening." 

"No safaris?" He is crestfallen. "Newman!" 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Compassionate Thought

I was reading Mishpacha Magazine in my sister's house a few weeks? months? ago, and I found this preface to the edition by Bassi Gruen a must-read: 

This week's MatchQuest question is disturbing on many levels.

It's painful to hear a daughter denigrate her mother, upsetting to hear her describe her mortification at her mother's look and fuming at the way her mother's shlumpy appearance is hurting her chances at shidduchim.

It's easy to get outraged over this harsh judgement of a parent and seemingly shallow approach to shidduchim, but before we let the flames of our righteous indignation climb higher, it may be a good idea to ask ourselves a single question: Where does this attitude come from?

Let's flip the mirror inward. What do we think when we see a woman who "is overweight, dressed in a plain, washed out t-shirt, with bad teeth, an unkempt sheitel, and not an ounce of makeup"? Would we want to befriend her? What would we say if called for shidduch information about her family? Would we want our child to marry her children?

Are we squirming just yet?

In a similar vein, there were varied reactions to the Table Talk column we ran on [a] nutritionist . . . two weeks ago. Some enjoyed getting to learn more about . . . her approach. Others were horrified that we profiled a woman whose goal is to help other women become slim. Is that where our values are? Shouldn't we just want to be healthy; why are we promoting being skinny?

Here, too, it's easy to go charging into battle against "the insidious influence of the outside world, a misplaced focus on the external." But I'm willing to bet that if I'd walk into any gathering of frum women, selling a pill that would instantly make you ten pounds thinner with no side effects whatsoever, I'd be able to retire the next day.

And most people would not buy enough pills to reach a healthy weight, with a BMI of 23. Most would buy that extra pill—or two—so they could be skinny. Because bottom line: we do care about our appearance. Overweight people get less respect, while slim ones make a favorable impression. Just think of the reactions when you do manage to drop ten pounds.

But it shouldn't be that way! I can imagine the anguished cries of readers across the globe. Frum Jews know that the body is but a garment cloaking the soul, and looks will not matter one whit after 120. We know that good middos are what Hashem wants from us, not tiny waists or flat stomachs.

And all that is true.

Yet looks are not entirely external. Every time I watch my weight I'm amazed at how the constant need for self-control, the delaying of gratification a dozen times throughout the day, impacts other spheres of life. The woman who can reach for a muffin—and then pull her hand back, will often have an easier time closing her mouth when she's ready to yell.

And when someone walks around in faded clothing and an unkempt sheitel, she's often broadcasting a message. Her middos may be golden, but something is festering inside.

There's an uneasy dance between our external state and internal state, between our desire to view those around us as neshamos and the fact that all our eyes can see is their bodies.

And to simply sputter in outrage when the magazine reflects that realty, is to ignore the complexity of the issue.

—Bassie Gruen, Mishpacha Magazine

The girl in question wrote of her belief that her mother's slovenly style was tainting her by association. Permit me to clarify: The mitzvah of kibud av v'eim has few loopholes (if any), and I believe that it is impossible that there could be any negative connotations to filial piety. If she can somehow focus on respecting her mother as opposed to blaming her (however difficult that may be), her reputation can only glow, and her bashert will be a prince.

Yet, and yet, we have to take a hard look at ourselves. Many of us are quick to judge others, not looking at ourselves for that same failing. Is there any out there who hasn't struggled with kibud av v'eim?
Our knee-jerk reactions to a young girl's plea for guidance cannot be recrimination, especially when her admission cuts a little too close for comfort.  

As Gruen uncomfortably reminds us of our own prejudices as well. It doesn't take much to prod our biases into action; how tolerant are we of those who appear outrageously ill-kempt? We're judgmental about everything and anything, not only this. Women are also accused of being too put-together, of being too concerned about appearance. We all have our sore spots.

I am currently gobbling up the books of Brené Brown (must reads!), and any form of judgement and blame is bereft of compassion. As Jews, we claim to be empathetic; let us practice it.

If someone steps forward and admits a difficulty, it is easy to forget where we stand, our own struggles. We all have our demons to slay, but my dragons aren't yours. Compassion means we can still connect on that level of shared struggle; our joined quest is to improve, ethically and spiritually. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Knives You Need

Cooking will never be enjoyable if the proper tools aren't at hand. After realizing that even peeling and mincing garlic can be effortless with just the right knife, I wanted to share my discoveries with you.
(1) For basic chopping, dicing, and mincing, I pretty much use just one knife, which happens to be a Santoku knife, although a Chef's knife would fulfill the same purpose. It's a matter of preference. I like the Santoku because it has cleaver-like qualities, making it a chopping fiend with the vegetables, which I live on.
The width of the blade makes it easy to scoop up the chopped veggies and deposit it where desired. 

Take a gander at these, for instance: 
(2) For smaller work, like cutting a piece of cake or slicing an apple, a serrated utility knife is best.
These are super-sharp, and my fingers were bleeding until I learned how to navigate them safely. 
What is equally important is the choice of cutting board—and I have found that the wider the board, the easier the chopping. Sloping edges are a pain. It seems as though Jacques Pépin's countertop is just one large cutting board, and having room to maneuver is very important. 

I like the bamboo/wood ones best; my current one is by KitchenAid, which is thin and wide, with grips on the edges so the board doesn't shift during use. It doesn't seem to be available anymore, though. 

This one, the Wusthof 2036 Bamboo Cutting Board, has the same dimensions and favorable-ish reviews. The OXO Good Grips Cutting Board in Bamboo is available in two wide sizes.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Will It Be the Red Pencil or the Red Rose?

For the English language lovers out there, love can conquer even bad grammar and atrocious spelling: "Learning to Silence My Inner Editor" by Jessie Ren Marshall. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Real Men Wear SPF

The Crazy Ones, "The Face of a Winner": 

This show is about an advertisement agency, zanily run by Simon (Robin Williams). Two campaigns have to be won: A spa-product company, and a violent video game. The two guys on the team, Andrew and Zach, are pumped for the latter account, whereas the gals, Sydney and Lauren, for the former. However, Simon wants everyone to get out of their comfort zones, and switches the assignments. 

Simon: Lads on lotion, gals on guns. Go! 

The staff are not pleased.
Andrew: Now we have to write about spa crap.

Zach: It's going to ruin women for me. The makeup, the lotion, the perfume . . . once you pull back the curtain, you see things you can't un-see. I don't want to know how the sausage is made.

Andrew: Yeah, well, the good news for you is you can't compete over spa products.

Zachary: Well, I bet you're thrilled about that because you wouldn't stand a chance being that your crow's feet makes you more bird than man.

Andrew: Oh, I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you over those sunspots you've been passing off as freckles.

Sydney: Boys, you're both lovely, and I'm sure any man would be very lucky to have you.

Both hetero-guys: Thank you.

Having no choice in the matter, Andrew and Zach begin to pile on the products.
And grow addicted. To the point that the two burst into Simon's office:

Zach: So, boss, we have something we really need to talk to you about.

Simon: It sounds serious.

Andrew: Well, I'm afraid it is. Whose hands do you think are softer?

Simon: Oh, I knew this day would come.

The gals, by the way, really enjoy the violent video game. 

My dear fellows, there is nothing to fear from a little anti-aging product. No one has to know how your skin manages to stay youthful and glow-y; I won't tell. 

There's more out there than just after-shave. 

They can be discretely ordered over the internet, for instance; Amazon and Vitacost boxes will not "out" you. "This? Just my muscle-building protein powder. I'm haulin' 50 pound weights." 

Luckily, companies have realized there is a gaping hole in their cream demographic, and have started to churn out bottles in shades of steel and navy to woo the dudes. 

Like Zia Men Triple Protection plus Lotion SPF 15. There's anti-aging stuff in there as well as sun protection, and it's also for the er, hairless pate. Don't leave that territory unprotected, hombres. Sunspots are easier to prevent than to treat. Neutrogena Men Triple Protect Face Lotion SPF 20 is hailed as a best-seller on It soothes razor burn too.
For cleansing, it depends on skin type. If acne is a problem, try Zia Men ActiClean Skin Clearing Face Wash or Every Man Jack Face Wash Skin Clearing Acne Cleanser
If one doesn't have skin issues: Dove Men+Care Body & Face Wash, Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula Men's Body & Face Wash, Aubrey Men's Stock Basic Cleansing Bar.
For a weekly scrub to clear dead skin cells, Aubrey Men's Stock has a few options, or Nivea for Men Revitalizing Face Scrub.
Following cleansing at night (it's good to wash off the remains of the day), now some lotion is needed to combat the drying powers of the cleanser: Weleda Moisture Cream for Men, Bulldog Natural Skincare Original Moisturizer, L'Oreal Paris Men's Expert Vita Lift Anti-Wrinkle and Firming Moisturizer. These aren't for acne skin, though.
For acne creams, I couldn't find anything specifically targeted for men, but there are many options with unisex packaging such as Clean & Clear. Desert Essence Thoroughly Clear Oil Control Lotion looks pretty manly (they've got other great products in brown bottles).     

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Happy Math

Happiness itself can be broken down to a number of contributing factors; Arthur C. Brooks shares new conclusions in "A Formula for Happiness."

(1) Genetics: Apparently, practically 50% of happiness is based on DNA.
I can certainly believe that. Observing the wriggly kinfauna in their infancy, there are certainly some who are crabby from birth and others who are more cheerful (it's the latter ones who let you shop in peace). 

(2) Getting what you want: While this does account for about 40% of joy, there is no permanence. The satisfaction begins to fade rather quickly. So that 40% doesn't really count, nor should that method be relied upon. 

That leaves approximately 10%.

(3) This measly percentage is up to us, but it's not in mantras and mind-over-matter. It's devoting oneself to four parameters: 
  • Faith
  • Family 
  • Community 
  • Work 
The first three seem pretty self-explanatory. Work, however, needs a little more clarification.  

While everyone seems to complain about their job, apparently half of Americans claim total satisfaction; 80% are "fairly satisfied."
The reason why poor people are unhappy is, obviously, epic stress. Yet once there is enough money coming in to cover basic expenses, the happiness quotient doesn't rise with higher income. 

While the financially comfortable claim that winning the lottery would have them sunning for the rest of their lives on a Caribbean beach, those with lower incomes claim they would keep their jobs even if they didn't need them anymore. Which is a good idea, since being jobless, even if finances are flush, leads to depression, divorce, and disease. 
Work can bring happiness by marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others. Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right: “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
In other words, the secret to happiness through work is earned success.
Luke had a neighbor, an accountant, who tallied numbers until he was over 100. Once he quit, he died within the year. It could have been that he ceased work once his health began to turn, but then again, he clocked in an entire century.   

It has nothing to do with the loftiness of the position, it has to do with feeling as though one's skills are being applied to greater use. 

Since all the nephews go through a Thomas the Tank Engine phase, I am (sadly too) familiar with the storylines. The highest praise that can be given was that he is "a really useful engine, indeed." 
Kids are like that, too. They beam if they get a pat on the head for a small chore well-done. Why do we adults claim to be different? We want to feel like contributing members of society, all in a variety of ways. 

Whether one is a dextrous burger-flipper or the head honcho of a Fortune 500 company, they can both share the same pride and happiness.    

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Just Breathe


Ah, the joys of babysitting. 

She really is too old for this. I slung her over my shoulder and dragged her up to my lair as she continued to wail and howl as though I was extracting a molar sans anesthetic. 

I threw her down on the bed, lecturing her as I made the preparations for bedtime, drawing curtains, clicking on night-lights, finding the blanket that was just the right weight. At which point I noticed that her hands were clamped over her mouth. 

"I wanna stop but I can't," she sobbed piteously. 

At which point, of course, I ceased to be Admiral Aunt, and mellowed. "This is what you do," I crooned. "Breathe in . . . and out . . . breathe in . . . and out." She loudly sucked in and expelled air, and within the minute she was calm. I had just started reading a book when she thankfully dozed off. From 60 to 0 in five minutes.
I had learned this simple breathing trick the hard way, from experience. 

I'm not the best of travelers, and small, shaky jets inflict the worst damage. I actually had to use my air-sick bag.
I staggered off the plane, near tears, knees dangerously wobbly; I collapsed onto the first chair I saw. Then a Voice began to soothingly instruct me from somewhere to the left. "Breathe in . . . and out . . . breathe in . . . and out . . ." I automatically obeyed, and despite my sniffly disbelief, was shocked that practically immediately I felt human again. The Voice belonged to a smiling middle-aged nurse, who was really so kind to talk me off the edge. 
Take two with my niece occurred but a few weeks later, when I arrived on my brother's doorstep for Shabbos. The parents were going to a dinner that night, leaving the brood in my care. As soon as I stupidly informed her of that fact, she disappeared. Then the telltale caterwauling rang from the depths of the house. 

I tackled her, hauled her downstairs, bawling her out as I did so. "Such a big girl to behave like this! I'm not going to tell you anything if this is how you behave! This is not how a big girl acts! And now—we are doing yoga breaths! IN! OUT! IN! OUT!"

The fuchsia-mottled face, composed mostly of open mouth, subsided into a creamy-hued doll-like visage in about 74 seconds. She lay on the couch, blinking dreamily. Her stunned elders sisters, who had witnessed my "cruelty" with wide-eyed horror, could not quite process the magical result. 

"Yoga breaths," I said smugly.
I kept invoking "yoga breaths" the whole night. By the tenth time, the 12-year-old said, "Oh! She's saying 'yoga breath,' not 'yogurt breath'!" 

Call it whatever you like; it gets the job done. 

If I feel overwhelmed, short of temper, ready to collapse—I slowly inhale, expanding my stomach, and gradually deflate. Then repeat.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Strong and Silent

My Zeidy, a"h, was a quiet man. "He only speaks on alternate Tuesdays," the family joked. When he and his siblings sat together on a Shabbos afternoon, their idea of a conversation was emitting occasional "Mm-hm?"s. It was a hereditary trait. 

For my grandfather, stupid statements were particularly painful, an ax hacking through his peace of mind. He would visibly wince, saying sorrowfully (on alternate Tuesdays) "Mehtracht nisht far mehredt." They don't think before they talk.

Rabbi Yisroel Reisman has told this story more than once—I may not be telling it over correctly, but I'm aiming for the general gist. A Rav was known for remaining mute for twenty minutes before responding to a query. At some point he was asked why. After twenty minutes, he replied that he had to consider every possible ramification of what he uttered. 

As a recovering motor-mouth (I still have a long way to go), I am struggling to achieve my Zeidy's still tongue. He was genetically inclined to silence, a true gift, I realize now. Incapable of being goaded, even if he was being maligned, he knew quiet is the only way to maintain the dignified strength of self. 

Sort of like James McCay (played by Gregory Peck) in The Big Country (1958). He had nothing to prove to anyone but himself.
Frank Bruni, one of my favorite Opinion writers, eloquently phrases the sentiment of contemplation before expression in "For 2014, Tweet Less, Read More." The article is not long; please read it in its entirety. It deserves to be slowly savored, like a succulent piece of cheesecake.     

Friday, February 14, 2014


She was an attractive sight, I must admit. She entered the wedding with the added allure of confidence, which heightened the flattering dress she wore, black with pink rosettes. 

But why, for the love of Dior, was she wearing a white tee underneath?

If she had gone with black instead, then the fact that the dress was sleeveless would have been less obvious, and then she really would have nailed the look. 

I scratch my head as I am constantly bumping into frum meidelach who opt for white tees with black or other dark-hued dresses or tops. Even if the dress is of lighter hue, black provides a sharper contrast than white or off-white.
At a Shabbos sheva brachos, the kallah was wearing a chiffony off-white dress. Instead of trying to match it ineffectually with a similar tee, she wore it with black instead. My! She looked so chic! 

White tees also, sadly, do not age well, for the most part. In no time they become dingy and pimpled. However, black, if it is washed with care, remains in visible good health. 

Additionally, I have to admit that my upper arm is not as er, toned as I would like. A white tee, as I cringingly witnessed, details every jiggle, expanding and drawing attention to the area. Black does the exact opposite. 

Navy, dark brown, and the like are all permissible if they match better than black. 

Now, a quiz: What color tee would you wear under this?
Ellen Tracy
Yes, there is white in it, but no. The correct answer is: 


Paul and Joe Sister

You guessed it, BLACK! 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Is Anybody There?

As an introvert, I tend to overanalyze social interactions. Walking down the block and seeing someone come towards me is exquisite torture. "Okay, I should smile and make eye contact, but I can't start from too far away or else I'll look a little crazy, so not yet . . . not yet . . . wait, now she's too close, quick, quick, smile! You forgot to make eye contact! Why didn't you wear sunglasses?!" 

There is a girl who davens in my shul; we aren't exactly pals, but we know of each other. One day I was getting off public transportation and saw her, but since she had her hair dramatically redone I didn't quite recognize her. In any case, her mouth quirked into a tentative smile when she saw me. 

That should have been sufficient gesture for me to respond. But I was tired and bummed from another "charming" date, and I just plain and pashut didn't feel like it. There she was, trying to connect, while I stared back blankly. 

People don't need to be told twice. The next time we met, I was apologetically smiling my head off, but she averted her gaze. She had reached out, and I had scorned her. 

We just don't have the liberty of indulging in "bad days." If we do, we simply turn it into something contagious. 

I was guiltily reminded of this when reading "Why I Silence Your Call, Even When I'm Free" by Caeli Wolfson Widger. She confesses a dislike for answering her phone, preferring convenient texts.
Until one day her cousin called, and she didn't pick up, even though she was very much available. A voicemail was left, but she didn't listen to it. It was only after she eventually talked to her cousin (when a time was arranged by text) that she heard the message: Her cousin, fearful, alone, and crying, had been seeking compassion and contact, and she didn't pick up. 
Hearing that message slammed me with guilt. When had I become a person who prioritized emotional convenience over the needs of those closest to me? Because really, that’s what my phone avoidance is about: delaying the on-the-spot engagement required by another human voice. I’d been coasting along on what seems like a new norm: Nobody picks up. Why should I?
Lesson learned, I resolved to change. Unless I was legitimately occupied, I promised myself I would start picking up the phone whenever it rang, regardless of any disruption the conversation might bring. I would become a more spontaneous, generous friend. 
But she had already taught the world otherwise; don't bother calling Caeli, she doesn't answer. Git morgen, she discovered that she should be present and available, only too late; family and friends had moved on a long time back, finding other sources of support. 

I am truly not a phone person, either with talking or with texting. But I have a friend who calls, and while it's still not the medium I prefer I a make a point to overcome those tendencies and be there when she is hurting or happy. 

No one likes being made to feel stupid after displaying vulnerability and being ignored. I certainly don't. So I better get my discipline together and be present and available, "bad day" regardless.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I haven't gone to many singles events (well, make that one and a half). Due to the residual trauma, I have been very discerning, until a lovely woman/shadchan (I mean that with all sincerity, she really is a lovely woman/shadchan) e-mailed me an invite to her function

Now, her I trust, so I sent a cheerful RSVP and a check, which would be going to tzedakah. I was told the details of the event (specifically the location and time) would be emailed later. 


The check was not deposited, and no updates were sent. I shrugged, figuring the event was canceled. 

On the day of, I was actually a limp husk, recovering from the flu. I still, for some reason, peaked at my inbox (while draped sideways on the bed), but no new information was forthcoming. 

A few weeks later, when I was upright again, my inbox pinged: The lovely lady was sorry that she had been not able to meet me at the event. 


I quickly contacted her that I had not gotten any updates, but it was just as well since I was incapable of standing for more than 15 seconds at a time anyway. 

But what I find intriguing is how I was willing to do what many refer to as hishtadlus (by attending a singles event), yet I was waylaid by not one, but two circumstances to prevent my going. 

As it turned out, after I was informed as to the clientele, I was thanking Hashem profusely for preventing my attendance ("the cure before the disease") as not one, but two Cradle Robbers were on the prowl (masquerading under creative imaginary ages).         

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Rethink the Underdog

We appear to be programmed to see qualities as either advantageous or disadvantageous. Take the simplistic: There is the strong, and whatever is not strong is weak.
Malcolm Gladwell has a new(ish) book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. I haven't read it, but there is enough media coverage and book reviews to flesh out Gladwell's point. (His interview on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper was quite fascinating; Janet Maslin reviewed the book in the NY Times.)

He takes the basic underdog story of Dovid and Galyas, big bad giant versus the scrawny shepherd boy, but expands the perspective. 
So he analyzes the David-Goliath bout, comparing the effects of slingshots to those of sword and spear. He lauds David’s little-guy maneuverability. And he suggests that Goliath, like scientifically studied giants, might have had acromegaly, a growth disorder that would have meant a pituitary tumor, which could have created vision problems, which might explain why Goliath had an attendant to lead him. Maybe that led him to misjudge David’s power. Maybe the Israelites watched from a distorting vantage point that made Goliath look excessively big, David excessively puny. Do we see the relevance of these thoughts to our daily lives?
Perhaps the true miracle of the biblical showdown was that Dovid did not place limitations on himself once seeing Galyas in all his towering terror. 

What we forget is that if we are tripped up by a lack of strength in a certain area, those who are determined to succeed will find ways to supplement their weaknesses. Gladwell mentions in the video that a large number of highly successful businessmen have a learning disability. Because Gary Cohen was dyslexic, he developed rockin' listening abilities, a talent that, due to its rarity, put him ahead of the game.

As a shepherd boy, Dovid would have had had to become pretty deadly with his slingshot in order to protect his flock from slavering predators; as Gladwell said in the video, the stone was traveling at such a speed to be tantamount to a bullet. While he wasn't a giant, that boy had mad skills. 

We hold ourselves back when we internalize the propaganda and think there is only one way of doing things. Some of us refuse to advance because we insist that we are at a disadvantage, and simply leave it at that. 

Dovid didn't. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Perfect Pickler

Being a tad over-concerned with stomach health, my ears perked with the recent chatter that fermented foods keep the intestines in great shape. Fostering a disturbing love of cabbage, I needed no further encouragement to research.
The bag of sauerkraut that I purchased wasn't very appetizing; I never ended up consuming it at all. A mere spoonful boasted 20% of the daily value of sodium. Additionally, the internet was quite scornful of store-issue kraut as it is apparently pasteurized, nuking all the good, beneficial bacteria.

Which would leave homemade. 

After some scouring, I happened upon The Perfect Pickler, a doohickey that would prevent the need for me to skim off anything unappetizing from the top of my burbling brew. So far, true to its word, there has been nothing untoward growing atop my cabbage. 

On my first attempt I thought that slicing the cabbage would be sufficient, but it really did not generate sufficient brine no matter how I pounded, whacked, and squeezed. I took advantage of the fact that the ancient food processor could use updating, and ended up with the 9-cup Cuisinart.

I merrily purchased some Ball jars (making sure the lid was the same size as the one in the kit, of course; for wider jar mouths there is an XL version).

I'm not as uptight as the dude in the video about directions, and it seems to work out well. No caraway seeds for me, either. You can pretty much ferment anything, so I also chucked into the below version carrot, garlic, and fresh dill (I had shredded in stages so there is an untintentionally bi-layered look to the resulting product).

1) Place the lid of the jar atop the whole head of cabbage and draw the knife through two layers, resulting in two leaf circles. Those will be layered on top to seal it in later. 

2) Shred the cabbage! Along with a carrot, if so inclined. Or anything else, really.
3) Brine now has to be generated, so transfer the shredded cabbage to a bowl, sprinkle with sea salt and massage it (I added minced garlic and chopped dill at this point). When the cabbage is shredded so fine the brine shows up in no time. I don't measure the salt, just eyeball it.
4) Then transfer it into the jar, packing as you go. This will also pummel out more brine. I use the handle of my trusty silicone spatula. Ram it in!
5) When I get to the bottom of the rim, I layer the two cabbage circles (which have been sliced in half) on top. Then the brine cup from the Perfect Pickler, the lid, and the thingamabob on top with equal measure of tap water as the intructions state.
6) I park it in the basement, someplace cool (but not cold), for a minimum of four days (longer will allow for better taste, though).  It is very important to place it into a bowl. The first two times the brine didn't overflow, but the third time it did.

7) After the desired length of fermentation, replace the doodad with the actual Ball lid, and pop in the fridge for regular consumption. It lasts forever in there. (The Perfect Pickler is not meant to result in pantry-safe storage, only for the fridge). 

The results are not remotely as salty as the store-bought, and certainly more appetizing (it's not the color of snot, like the store-bought version, maintaining a fresh green hue). 

You can use the Perfect Pickler to pickle anything, like, well, pickles. I plan to try those soon. And borscht. Maybe chrein!

Friday, February 7, 2014

I'm Nobody's Galatea

It has happened (often accidentally) that I have gone out with guys who don't exactly share my outlook. Every time it was quite clear that my mindset is in no way compatible, but for the sake of being "open" or something, I don't always dismiss those suggestions out of hand. 

A woman emailed me for my info, and after a few missives back and forth said that for the (learning) fellow she had in mind, it is a big thing that the gal should be a regular stockings-wearer.
Although I found such a statement up-front to be a tad bizarre (is a single guy making a point of checking out female legs and successfully differentiating between a flesh-colored stocking or bare skin? How tzniusdik), I responded that do not wear stockings during the week

She emailed me back (repeatedly), in the wheedling language of "Is committing to stockings so terrible?"

What she did not seem to understand that it isn't, per se, about the stockings themselves. It's what his fascination with them indicates. Sure, I may painfully wriggle into those miserable suckers on a daily basis in blazing summer, but that's not going to be the only issue between us.

I'm being requested to make a life change just to go on a first date.

Her emails kept coming, varying from gentle coaxing to outright fury, demanding to know "What is the big deal anyway?"

I'm not signing up to be anyone's Eliza Doolittle, despite the fabulous wardrobe.
I prefer to stick with Shaw's original ending of Pygmalion (where she marries the kind and loves-her-as-she-is Freddy) as opposed to the My Fair Lady conclusion (when Eliza returns to a belittled life with Henry Higgins).

Sure, today it's stockings . . . then tomorrow my accent will need altering.   

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Let's Hear It For the Folks

Nothing like Ben Stein breaking his monotone composure to make one feel chastened. 

This past Sunday Book Review has Andrew Solomon reviewing Jennifer Senior's All Joy and No Fun, regarding the modern state of parenting: 
Parenthood as we know it — predicated on the unconditional exaltation of our children — is no more than 70 years old, and it has gone through radical readjustments over the past two generations. As children went from helping on the farm to being the focus of relentless cosseting, they shifted “from being our employees to our bosses,” Jennifer Senior observes . . . 
I like to stick with historical fiction, and how parents dealt with their children is certainly not how we expect it nowadays. Re-watching The Taming of the Shrew (1967), I chillingly comprehended that while Baptista does love his daughter Katherine, he has no concern marrying her off against her will to a stranger and a ruffian.
Katherine, by clinging too long to her undiplomatic caterwauling, ended up with the worst of husbands (although she finally learns that "killing a wife with kindness" cuts two ways). Today, a child is expected to be loved no matter what (and so should they be). Yet parental love manifested itself differently, once; it had its limitations.
What parents can agree on, whatever their approach, is that it’s “for the child’s sake, and the child’s alone. Parents no longer raise children for the family’s sake or that of the broader world.”
We may complain about public opinion nowadays, but the modern version is rather shvach compared to once-upon-a-time's. We must learn to ignore it more (especially since it is usually a manifestation of our own imaginations) but this is about us kids. 

I have been so blessed, and yet a niggling voice will constantly attempt to whisper discontents in my ears, wheedling ill-temperament to the surface. 

Ancient civilizations, including Judaism, had "gratitude" hammered into the foundations; without it, we cannot function as individuals or as a society.
Thank you, Ben Stein, for the reminder.