Thursday, March 31, 2016

Battle of the Bulge: The Meiven

Mrs. H and I were swapping our methods for weight maintenance. 

"I wake up ravenous," I was telling her. "The whole morning I can eat. But my appetite starts to taper off in the afternoon. By 7 it's non-existent. Like, 6:59 I could still munch on something, 7:01 I am no longer tempted. And if I've had a big enough lunch, I don't need supper. Maybe an apple."
The incredibly slender Mrs. H shook her head. "No, with me, I snack at night. I can't fall asleep if I'm hungry."

"I only sleep well if my stomach's empty!" 


As we've discussed, everyone gains weight differently. We don't get a vote in the matter; it lodges itself on the various zones of the anatomy with seeming arbitrariness. 

I erroneously believed that in terms of weight-maintenance methodology, what works for me should also work for everyone else. Then I read Ruth Reischl's "Constant Craving," and I was perplexed. A woman who has spent her whole life battling her weight becomes a food critic, eating out night after night, and suddenly her demon is slayed? Say what? 

But she says it right there: 
The first thing I learned was to forget everything I'd ever heard about when to eat and pay attention to my body. When I did, I found that it has very definite notions about food.
Some people wake up ravenous and want an enormous breakfast; some prefer their major meals at nighttime. There's no point in fighting it. If you're the kind of person who wakes up starving, waiting until dinner is only going to make you tense, and by the time you finally get to the table, you'll eat everything in sight.
If, on the other hand, you're naturally a nighttime eater, why waste calories early in the day? I make a huge breakfast for my family every morning, but I rarely eat it myself; my body prefers its calories at night.
Listening to your body instead of your brain requires serious effort.
Sigh. It does. And my body still wins so many of the arguments, not my brain. Although it did involve homemade black bean brownie, which is not the worst sin.

My niece, a budding chef, finds food repellent in the mornings. She says breakfast is nauseating. I stared at her in horror, desperately listing off whatever was in the fridge, coaxing her to eat. But then, I find food burdensome at night. 

So here's the thing: It's the stupid mindfullness again, and listening to your body. Mine feels like sludge if I eat a heavy dinner; others can munch on a steak at 10 and sleep the sleep of the just.

Which type are you? Perhaps something else?    

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spice, Not Salt + Lecsó

I officially don't like spicy food. I never understood the appeal of barbecue potato chips, like my elementary school classmates did. For me, caramelized onions and minced garlic are perfection, thank you very much.

When I became conscious of salt content in food, and how I can distinctly pinpoint the water retention and desperate thirstiness as a result, I wondered what spices out there could mimic the divinity of salt without the side effects.

I was surprised to discover that red pepper flakes, of all things, do a great job. The secret is that a little goes a long way, especially in a big pot of soup or in a simmering stew. A few shakes, and the dish is savory, not salty. And yet, my tongue is unsinged.
It has become a pantry staple. I chuck it fearlessly into the weekly soup I prepare for my lunches. It goes into paprikás. It goes into the newly reclaimed lecsó

The lecsó is now a fridge basic; a new one has to be churned up every few days, it disappears so quick. If I need to jazz up a side dish, I just chuck a few spoonfuls of lecsó to meld together with vegetables or grains. The other Sunday, to bulk Shabbos leftover chicken for Ta's supper, two chopped zucchini were simmered with a few dollops of lecsó for about ten minutes. Ta commented—twice—how good it tasted. "Paprika," he sighed happily. It was the pepper flakes, I'm sure. 

Babi used to make it with eggs. But it plays so well with nearly everything.  

Below is the recipe inspired by Zsuzsa and modified by Ma. Pesach-friendly! 


1 onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
6 bell peppers, orange and yellow, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon paprika
not quite a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of hot paprika (depending on preference)*
2-3 shakes red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon, heaping, brown sugar
1 14 oz. can of crushed, diced, or chopped tomatoes**
1 can mushrooms (optional)

1. Saute onion in oil for 5-7 minutes on medium flame. 
2. Add the minced garlic and paprika (to infuse in the oil) both regular and hot, and/or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, for less than a minute. 
3. Then the peppers, for 5 minutes.
4. If so inclined, a can of mushrooms as well, and add another 5 minutes.
5. Add the tomatoes and brown sugar.
6. Simmer on low to medium flame (tomato sauce can burn very easily) for 20 minutes, covered. 

*I have not been able to find Pesachdik hot paprika. Then the red pepper flakes can be relied on for kick. 

**Alternatively: 1/2 carton of Pomi chopped tomatoes. For Pesach, the least sodium-riddled option I've found is the Lieber's San Marzano canned tomatoes. Actual tomatoes would work fine as well, if simmered long enough. 
—Good hot, cold, or room temp. Excellent for challah dipping.    

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Importance of Mitleid

"Life, Interruped: The 100 Day Project," by Suleika Jaouad: 

. . . Along the way I will visit and thank some of the strangers who unexpectedly supported and inspired me when I was sick. There was a mother hooked on the pain medications she was prescribed during her cancer treatment, a man who lost his brother in the North Tower on 9/11, a fit and healthy twenty-something living in San Francisco who was searching for — everything. I heard from doctors who assigned my columns as reading to their medical students, and from students who were inspired by my writing to become doctors. I even heard from a convict on death row in Texas who wrote to me about the unexpected parallels between our lives. “The threat of death lurks in both of our shadows,” he wrote to me in careful cursive.
They don’t know it, but many of these individuals became lifelines — bright, shining lights during the darkest days. These strangers were more thoughtful, honest and vulnerable with me and each other than a lot of the people I know in the real world. Their empathy was an affirmation of humanity. Their stories of resilience gave me strength in my moments of weakness. They taught me about the kind of person I wanted to become. (First and foremost, one who reaches out in times of hardship.) Most importantly, they showed me that we all have interruptions at some point, whether it’s illness, the death of a loved one, unemployment or a bad break up.

Hardship can make us feel isolated. As much of an introvert as I am, that doesn't mean I revel in feeling like a freak. The idea that someone else weathered the storm and emerged soggy, wind-burned, and triumphant is galvanizing. 

Sharing our stories can have insane ripple effects of change. Benjamin Hertwig's "In the Waiting Room of Estranged Spouses" relates his saga of of chaos, pain, and eventual redemption after learning of his wife's infidelity. A commenter identified as "Sylvia" posted the below, which was printed with the letters:

After my recent breakup from my girlfriend of 12 years, I read your article, and a lot of the readers' comments, feeling that you and they were all quite spineless. I would have punched the guy at the market, and felt justified. I found you docile, and complacent.

I'm so angry. Anger has become my default state. And I feel justified, because it's clear my ex did a myriad of hurtful, egotistical things to me. But I'm still in pain, a numbing, defeating pain that I can't see my way out of. . . Except now.

The grace of your article was soothing like an ointment or a salve on a dry, unyielding scar. The readers' supportive, thankful comments, a chorus of love and humanity. And I woke up to the truth that my anger and self-righteousness are poison. I need and yearn to forgive; so that I can purge the mind-numbing pain, and let in joy and hope.

I thank you, all of you, most gratefully and humbly.

This letter cut me deeply. I was wowed how one man's story of overcoming pain and forging a way to peace quenched another's fury and anguish.
Humans need to connect, and true connection only occurs through vulnerability. (Brené! Brené! Brené!) In that connection, we can all heal.  

Monday, March 28, 2016


I was once listening to a Rabbi Yisroel Reisman CD on the topic of Shimshon. Contrary to popular belief, Shimshon was not a strongman because he was a nazir; the superhuman strength stemmed rather as a gift from God.
So how was it that when his hair was shorn, so was his power? Because he himself said: "The reason for my strength is from my hair." He went and put earthly boundaries on a divine gift, and by doing so, he caused his own failure. It was one thing when he thought it; then he gave it mamashus, substance.

"Ah," the Eibishter said. "The strength comes from your hair? So be it." 

There are many thoughts that are harmless, but they can wreak havoc when they are spoken and given weight.  

It always gets me nervous when people try to pin explanations on that which cannot be explained. It's not really a question to ask, since none of us can claim to know the divine workings of the universe. The same when someone attributes success to mortals—like when shadchanim are placed on a pedestal. 

"I can't do such-and-such because I am in shidduchim," is a comment that grates. 

If a marriage is meant to be, if it supposed to be bashert, can it be that my lipstick choice will torpedo it? My first motivation is not to be a hypocrite; if something is "okay" after a ring, it was "okay" while the finger was unoccupied.

"This shadchan," she says breathlessly. "She is the one to go to. She will get you a great guy." Without expecting anything, I went to the shadchan. Bupkis. 

I have this vision of my head of God saying, "Oh, so you can take care of it? You know the best way to get a spouse? Fine. I have plenty of other things to do." 

I also can't stand it when people minimize their own responsibility. Everything has an explanation for not owning life choices, from hormones to their mother to the bad sushi. Look through the Torah carefully; there are very few cop-outs. Because the Eibishter knows we can do better. Once "I can't" is in play, fuhgetabboutit. 

I try not to assign credit to any mortal for any good or bad in my life. I try not to pat myself on the back for deserving merit, since that blows up in my face faster than I can say "nazir."

Every time I hear Matisyahu's "Miracle," this one lyric hammers into my brain: Bound to stumble and fall but my strength comes not from man at all.

The path of self-congratulation is a short one. The more I see, the more I believe that the safest way to navigate this world . . . is to keep my mouth shut.      

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bitachon vs. Hishtadlus

The speaker at a shiur was telling of his frustration when his daughter was single. He had said to his wife, while proverbially ripping his hair out, "We have to do something!" She calmly answered, "No, we don't. We do what we always have done, and have bitachon."

Needless to say, this daughter is long married. 

He continued, referencing the Gra on bitachon and hishtadlus: 

One has bitachon for oneself, and does hishtadlus for others. Meaning, one cannot say to someone, "You have to do your hishtadlus." No. One can tell someone else to have bitachon, but do hishtadlus for the other. Not only should one make a token effort for another, but make oneself absolutely meshiga. For another, one should say, "We have to do something!" 

But for oneself, one should remain calm, and have bitachon.

It is not hishtadlus for me to call up complete strangers and grant them omniscient power, or to make unnecessary (and expensive) trips or hotel stays in the name of "You never know." And if I'm painfully, squirmingly uncomfortable, is that what hishtadlus involves? 

I have to have bitachon for myself, and help others for my hishtadlus. 

I tried once to set up a couple. Kinda blew up in my face, imploded, more like, when it turns out the girl was looking for someone that was not him. I was gun-shy, I must admit, for a few years. But after a hunch became reality, I became more determined. If I have an actual, viable idea, I should follow up. I've made a few more attempts, but no results, yet. But that's not the point. I feel accomplished that I tried, that I did my hishtadlus. 

Listening to a number of shiurim prior to Purim, I enjoyed this one by Rabbi Daniel Glatstein, in which he states, quoting the Nesivos, that hishtadlus is not everything.
Mordechai sitting at the gate of the palace.
I am not yet brave enough to snappily retort to the one who lectures, "You have to do your hishtadlus!" that "Hishtadlus means that you set me up, lady." But I am at peace, knowing that my own actions are not the beginning and end. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Multiple Self-s

To be self-aware is my goal. To know what I am doing, why I am doing it, to take responsibility, to act better. Noble indeed. But it is quite burdensome to retrospectively over-analyze every word uttered and fret if it came off the way I intended. Rarely do I return home from a date or simcha or other social gathering and not stare at the ceiling in horror, replaying my obviously catastrophic comments. 

All hail Zzzquil. 

When asked if "self-loathing is a requirement for writers," Anna Holmes responded: 
I do think that writing demands a certain amount of self-awareness, and that self-awareness and self-loathing can be two sides of the same coin.
Yup. Being self-aware means I'm all too conscious of where I could improve, meaning: I suck. And yet, I don't dislike myself.

To be a Jew, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman says, means to be a wee bit schizophrenic. We have to know how to be simultaneously happy and sad in order to function. Halacha acknowledges that. Apparently, when one lost a parent, not only would one say "Baruch haDayan haEmes," but also "Baruch . . . HaTov v'HaMeitiv," in gratitude for the yerusha. We don't say the latter anymore in our squeamishness, but once expressing happiness, even when it seemed inappropriate, did not have to be suppressed. Chevi Garfinkel says the same in this Purim shiur

Apparently, according to Brené, this isn't a specifically Jewish thing. In Rising Strong, she refers to the false cheer and lack of any negative emotions as "The Umbridge." Not integrating light and dark can have sinister consequences, "simply because denial of emotion is what feeds the dark."
The most terrifying villain ever.
Star Wars! The fact that the scene is from a prequel is regrettable, but apt:

Anakin, as a child, is presented to the Jedi. 

Yoda: How feel you?
Anakin: Cold, sir.
Yoda: Afraid are you?
Anakin: No, sir.
Yoda: See through you we can.
Mace Windu: Be mindful of your feelings.
Ki-Adi-Mundi: Your thoughts dwell on your mother.
Anakin: I miss her.
Yoda: Afraid to lose her I think, hmm?
Anakin: What has that got to do with anything?
Yoda: Everything! Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.  

Denying emotion can lead to disaster, even if not on a Darth Vader level. So don't suppress, even if it doesn't feel "right" or "cool."
We're supposed to love ourselves (or at least find ourselves likable), and yet seek to elevate the same selves: "I love you, you're perfect, now change."

I can have fantasies about the potential me, and in the meantime the current me is okay. She said.

Where's the Zzzquil again?      

Monday, March 21, 2016

Clarisonic Review

It was during the 2014 annual Sephora sale that I finally got me a Clarisonic, hubba hubba. It remained in the box for nearly a full year following, as I waited patiently for my previous electronic face brush to die a natural death. It didn't. Well, YOLO, right? 

I've been using it for a few months now, so I'm due for a review. 

The Clarisonic is different from other face brushes in that the brush head does not rotate, it oscillates; it "wum-wum-wum"s deep into the pores while the user physically rotates the thingy across the face.
I initially got into electronic face brushes after I bought one on a lark and my blemish-breakouts diminished exponentially. I got the Mia 2 model, which is smaller than the original. I noted that after I started using the Clarisonic, my facial skin improved in glowiness. I don't know if it is because of the brush massaging or because of the claim that deeper cleansing leads to better absorption of product, but cool.
The one feature I don't like is the automatic timer, which they terrorize you with: 20 seconds on forehead, 10 seconds for each cheek and nose and chin. There is a hiccup in the vibration to alert you to move to a different zone. Then it automatically shuts off. 

I don't like this, see, because my forehead doesn't need 20 seconds of scouring, and I would like to spend as much time as I like, thank you very much, cleansing the facial areas that I want to cleanse, like my nose and chin. Just a few more seconds, please, that would be great. 

Clarisonic informs me that the timer on the Mia 2 cannot be disabled, but I'll keep my toy anyway. Wum-wum-wum.   

Friday, March 18, 2016


  • Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty. Chapterhouse: Dune, Frank Herbert

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Nietzsche's Peanuts

Exposure to the potentially deadly, it turns out, is the better way to go. ("That which does not kill us makes us stronger.")

Food allergies are exploding today, and the cause is unknown. There are a few as-yet unproven theories as to the why, but in terms of how to prevent or treat them, exposure is key.
In "Letter of Recommendation," Marnie Hanel hails Bamba. 
One night last summer, around 3 a.m., I was reading on my iPhone while nursing, and I came across a study led by a pediatric allergy specialist named Gideon Lack. He had noticed that Israeli Jews were much less likely to be plagued by peanut allergies than their British counterparts, and he sought an environmental explanation. It didn’t take long for him to land at the high chair. Lack and his colleagues designed a longitudinal study, feeding small amounts of Bamba to babies at high risk for developing an allergy (and none to a control group) from the time they began eating finger foods until they turned 5, ulti­mately finding that the snack reduced their risk by 81 percent.
Upon reading this, I proceeded to do what any literal-minded new parent might do in the middle of the night: I opened the Amazon app and ordered Bamba in bulk. . . 
(Until as recently as 2008, parents were advised to avoid feeding peanuts to at-risk kids until age 3.) In doing everything they could to protect their children, they instead made their children more vulnerable.
Today's parents, it would seem, are terrified their children should suffer any sort of upset, the physical to mental. I've now heard of mothers of dating-age children wanting guarantees that the lined-up guy or gal won't reject their children; as stated above, in their eagerness to protect, they make them more vulnerable. How can a person be expected to be ready for marriage yet still need to be shielded from rejection? C'mon, moms, there is no chance at happiness without risk!

But I digress. We're talking about peanuts. 

Current therapy for children with extreme cases of deadly food allergies involve gradual, microscopic doses progressing to amounts that can be tolerated ("The Allergy Buster" by Melanie Thernstrom). Like iocane powder, wink wink. It's called "desensitization."

I have the same approach to germs; I frolic barefoot in grass, and if doing any gardening I plunge my hands fearlessly into dirt. I carefully avoid antibiotic soap, opting for non-nuking suds. Nothing that claims to "sterilize" is welcome. 

For whatever reason it is, germs are welcome to dinner.        

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Iron-Less Maiden

One morning I was reaching for the tub of oat bran when my left hand began to tingle. 

I am a special form of hypochondriac. While the standard species frantically seeks out medical exasperation, I opt for a simpler method. I reasonably conclude that death is nigh, fret in silence, and hold off on shoe purchases.

When the tingling spread to my right hand, then right foot, followed by left foot, I was committed to the worst. My nights were restless as I made my peace with this world, the prickling migrating from limb to limb. 

Eventually, I could stand the suspense no longer, and googled with shaking fingers. Apparently there are a myriad of conditions, not necessarily fatal, that can cause such odd sensations. I initially settled on Carpal-Tunnel, but that wouldn't explain the thrumming in my feet. 

With just a tad more scouring, I found a more likely suspect: Iron deficiency. 

I am prone to touches of anemia (I have been turned away more times by blood drives than participated in), ergo severe iron depletion was all too possible. I have supplements for it, but I pop the pills sporadically, fearing potential metallic overdose. 

But what I couldn't understand is that after years of iron-less blood, what kicked the deficit into hypodrive?

The internet enlightened me. 

(1) Iron should be taken on an empty stomach

I usually take any supplements following breakfast, as most bottles recommend. Oops. 

(2) Iron should not be taken in proximity to dairy (two hours!) 

Well, most of my breakfasts involve a bisselah of milk. Second oops. 

(3) Certain drinks like tea and coffee can inhibit plant-based iron absorption by 60%. 

Now there's the real culprit. As of a few months ago, I've been drinking green tea nearly every day. Third oops. 

I eagerly flung myself at the supplement cabinet. I usually cut my iron pills in half so the body can absorb it at a decorous pace, which is about 70% of the daily value. 

I went to bed with my heart in my mouth, fearful if my self-diagnosis was incorrect. But already the tingling was mellower. After another half-pill in the morning, the sensation had subsided considerably in my hands, limited to an occasional idle jab, although my right foot still zinged. With the evening dose, however, it had disappeared.

Weepingly grateful, I happily finalized the purchase of sneakers I had bookmarked.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Story Isn't Finished

There is a concept I heard from Rabbi David Fohrman that I often have to reiterate to myself. Because we have heard the stories from the Tanach over and over again, we forget that the people in the stories, when they were in it, did not know the ending. 

We are all characters in our own stories. We can get frustrated at times because we forget that we are still in middle of the tale.
I'm still in middle of my story. The day after I had this epiphany, and was thinking how to write it up, Lily Brooks-Dalton beat me to the punch.
Instead of parking my Bonneville around the corner, where I wouldn’t have to see it every time I went for a walk, I parked in front of my building — where I will see it every day and feel sad.
It will remind me of how good it felt to share myself with another person, to feel like I finally knew where home was, and then how it felt to cut that safe haven away and be adrift once more. It will remind me that when I started riding, I wanted to grow into myself and I did; I sought a shape and I found it. . .
This isn’t the part of the story when the woman overcomes her challenges and is rewarded with new love. It’s not the part when the rain washes away her fear or rinses off her grief.
This is the part when the clouds part so briefly she might have imagined it, when the promise of light is made and then brutally withheld, when restoration begins to seem possible but is not yet realized.
This isn’t the happy part of the story, but that’s O.K. This story isn’t finished.
Sarah was sad because she thought she wouldn't ever have a child. Rivka davened fervently for one as well. Leah wept, thinking she would get stuck with Eisav as her husband. Rochel had handed over her man to her sister, and on top of that was barren as well. We know how it ended, now. They didn't, then.

Did my grandparents know the end of the story while they were in the camps?

We get impatient.  We think there is a rulebook of how things "should be." In Meghan Daum's review:
In “The Prime of Life,” Steven Mintz, a professor of history at the University of Texas and the author of two previous volumes tracing the roots of American life passages, offers some comforting news. Going back centuries in this country, “adults” never particularly had their acts together. In the 17th-century colonies, Mintz tells us, age was an “imprecise category,” and life decisions were dictated more by circumstance than by any sense of a culturally imposed timeline. Men were often not able to marry until their fathers had died and passed down an inheritance. . .
In what might come as a surprise to religious conservatives and other proponents of early marriage, Mintz reports that apart from the period following World War II, most Americans did not wed until their mid- or even late 20s or early 30s. Citing one couple, Theodore Dwight Weld and Angelina Grimké, whose courtship in the late 1830s was marked by neurotic self-disclosures and a rather tortured dissection of the whole institution of marriage, Mintz shows that foot dragging and overanalysis are hardly the province of today’s affluent, educated classes. “Only after Theodore and Angelina were convinced that they were emotionally ready for ‘the most important step of Life,’ did they finally marry,” Mintz recounts. Theodore, incidentally, was 39 at the time.
“The essential point,” Mintz writes, “is that the decade stretching from the late teens to the late 20s has long been a period of uncertainty, hesitation and ­indecision.”
It was no different in Europe, I assure you.

B'H, we are living longer than ever before. Yet, oddly, our community believes we should be marrying younger than we did before. If we aren't, there's a "crisis."

The crisis is all in our minds. For the story isn't finished.      

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Repurchased! III

Okay, ladies, summer is almost upon us (yes, I said "almost"), which means I stock up on heat-sensitive products (such as SPF) now, before they can get cooked in shipping. 


For a number of years running, my go-to is Elta MD Clear SPF 46. I hated every other SPF until I was introduced to this one. In the summer, my combination skin needs no incentive to over-grease, and this one protects without oils. 'Tis the Amazon best-seller in SPF.
Lip skin is thinner and just as susceptible to sun damage, if not more. Alba Botanica's Very Emollient line is beloved by many. I've been religiously using the Suncreen Lipcare SPF 25 and keep on returning to it.
• Another constant in my cabinet is the Alba Botanica Very Emollient SPF 45 Pure Lavender. It's easy to apply, and it keeps mosquitoes away (in my experience), better than official "bug begone" sunscreens.
Moving on to other beloveds: 

For cleansing, an idle T.J. Maxx purchase has become my holy grail: Giovanni D:tox System Purifying Facial Cleaner. It contains charcoal, which pulls out impurities. And I mean it pulls them out; I can see gook rising from my pores (I know, I know, TMI). Yet, it doesn't strip my skin. In the interests of being open I tried another face wash, and missed the Giovanni terribly until I finally used up the other one (waste not).
There is also an accompanying Facial Scrub with fine exfoliating bits that I like. I use it after cleansing once or twice a week.

Desert Essence has a coconut line, and the three that I've tried rock: the Coconut Shampoo, the Coconut Conditioner, and the Coconut Hand Wash
The shampoo cleanses without destroying; the conditioner goes deep without oiliness; and the hand wash lathers up and moisturizes my skin at the same time.

For the last few summers, no matter the many other nail colors in my basket, I end up applying OPI Dutch Tulips, either alone or with a different color coat beneath. It's a divine mingling of red, pink, and orange.
While I was initially wowed by the Beauty Blender, and do still love how it performs, it became dotted with black spots of mold despite my careful cleaning and air-drying. 

I tried the Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge instead, for even if it becomes moldy at some point, at least it's priced for swifter turnover.  
Ladies, any recommendations? 

Friday, March 11, 2016

TGI's No Longer Valentine's Day

  • I've heard that these two lack correct Yiddish syntax, but it's still entertaining.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Battle of the Bulge: Don't We All?

Eewok tends to feel a tad inadequate at times, being the middle child; this week she was stumped as to what her own unique talents are. So she decided to take a survey. 

"What are you good at?" she asked me. 

"Well," I answered, only half-jokingly, "I like to eat." 

Eye roll. She was not amused. 

Yes, I despite my finger-wagging about the importance of healthy diets, I love food. A perfectly caramelized pan-roasted parsnip, oh sweet dinner plates. . . ahem. 

Alton Brown, the witty host of the once "Good Eats," is an example of a fellow convert to the wholesome path. He lost 50 pounds and has kept it off, even sharing his plan in an episode or two ("Live and Let Diet").
Thanks to the internet, we now have "food porn," expertly and lovingly captured images of the divinely baked and supremely cooked (I really should take a photography class). There is also the term "foodie," a title I dislike despite the aptness of the label (I like "flexitarian" better).

Alton hates the word too: "Alton Brown Has Had It With Foodies."
On "Food Network Star," I got so tired of hearing people tell me that the reason they should have their own show is that they love food so much. Well, so freaking what? I love food. We all love food. If we don’t, we die. Even supermodels in New York secretly love food. That doesn’t make you special. And people who want to be stars often make the mistake of thinking that it does, and that if they can just show you how much they love it, they will somehow become compelling. This is not the case. 
Yeah, what he said! I love food, but I thought that makes me typical, not remarkable. If I rhapsodize about the magic that is a Japanese yam, I'm usually met with blank stares, if not outright snoring. My passion doesn't seem to transfer. 

Liked this tidbit: 
You’re a big believer in self-reliance and responsibility. Do you see cooking as a form of self-reliance? I am, and it is. I get that there are people who can only afford to fill their stomachs with bad, cheap food. But I do think that most of us need to actually take responsibility for what we’re putting in our mouths. Obesity is not a disease. Can it be caused by diseases in certain rare cases? Yes, but the second that our society starts thinking that shoveling Big Macs into our face is a disease then we’re done, we’re done as a culture.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Pattern Panic

I was frantically browsing online for some sweater options, which I found quite happily in solid shades. As I clicked back and forth, I came across the same ideal cardigan in a busy and colorful animal print. I paused, peering, debating whether I should purchase this item, which was on sale to boot. 

As we like to complain, models are usually ridiculously skinny, merely a breathing hanger. Oddly enough, however, the woman posing in the sweater did not seem so svelte.

Babi hated patterns. Always did. With a vehement, fierce passion. Permit me to clarify that Babi was not staid in her fashion tastes; whenever I visited, I carefully donned the newest, funkiest, brightest item in my wardrobe. Leather jacket? Denim skirt? Furry moccasins? All were graciously welcomed under Babi's roof. 

Ergo, if she loathed a busy design on a garment, she must have had her Hungarian reasons. Most patterns (perhaps excepting the pinstripe) makes various parts of the anatomy expand visually. Even solid white is a better choice. 

If, for instance, someone is er, pear-shaped, while an a-line or full skirt is a great choice, it isn't in a boisterous floral pattern across the derriere.
Unless it's gingham. Gingham can do no wrong.
If one is top-heavy, cheerful graphic prints are a no-no. 

Additionally, unless chosen with careful classical consideration, many patterns look dated very quickly.
I repeat, gingham can do no wrong.
For responsible pattern selection: 

1) Know thy shape, be it apple, pear, or whatever fruit comes to mind. Wherever weight goes, that area must be swathed in solids.  Wherever one is bulk-free can have a touch—a touch—of busyness.

2) Vertical stripes is usually a safe pattern, since it elongates and narrows visually. 

3) Classic patterns like houndstooth and pepita are pretty safe as well.
Maybe this a bit too much houndstooth.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Fermentation, Take 2

Fermented foods are trending, for their believed nurturing of gut microbes, amongst other health perks. Hey, I'm game. 

I first posted about the thingamabob I purchased to aid in my fermenting experiments, although I was not exactly wowed by the results. Even though I dutifully followed the directions, my sauerkraut was dry and seemed immature, so to speak. 

The King of Fermentation is, of course, Hungarian: Sandor Katz.
He must be awesome for that facial hair alone.
After scrolling through his instructions online, I decided to try two things: (1) Massaging the shredded cabbage and carrots for ten minutes and (2) despite the Perfect Pickler's forbidding, I would allow it to ferment for longer than 4 days. 

After emptying the food processor into a bowl, I stuck my hands in and massaged the mess for ten minutes. It seemed as though nothing was going on, until minute 9—when suddenly the liquid released, rewarding me with official brine. Yes!

Fermentation can slow when the temp is colder, hasten when warmer. The spot in the basement that I had selected for my jar was more on the chillier side, and I left it there, with checking, for 8 days. I probably could have gone longer, but I wanted to be sure I didn't poison myself first.
I ended up with a cabbage/carrot sauerkraut. Very orange.
My first tasting followed a full meal; I dolloped some on top of halved campari tomatoes and bravely nibbled. My stomach felt fabulous after eating it; the tightness of my dinner vanished, replaced by a pleasant percolating. Noice.

Next test: Feed it to Ta subtly with his paprikash and wait for any objections. None came.

By George, I think I've got it! Next, kvass.     

Friday, March 4, 2016


  • and if by some miracle there is a Jew out there who hasn't seen this, enjoy. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Doctor Will See You Now

I am a ponderer, a ruminator by nature. I need time to calculate, plan, consider, mull, etc. At times, suddenly there will arise from the incoherent roil of thoughts an "AHA!" (in this case, "Aha!" being synonymous with "Eureka!", as opposed to alpha-hydroxy acids).
Additionally, what I have also realized is that I can have heard this same exact concept elsewhere, nodded in agreement, yet still had not truly internalized it. I have noted that there can be epiphany-lag between a brilliant point told to me and a brilliant point "AHA!"ed by me. 

This happened on a morning in shul, when, to my embarrassment, my mind floated ethereally, not quite focused on the page. The reason, perhaps, for this lack of attention was due to my previously implemented cop-out: I'm too fakoched to daven.
"Fakoched" needs more than one word to translate. It's like . . .  anxious preoccupation that is so overwhelming that one has difficulty seeing beyond oneself. So those mornings when your next door neighbor doesn't respond to your cheerful "Good morning!", and her brow is furrowed and her mouth is twisted, yeah, she's fakoched. 

My reason for being fakoched? Well, it doesn't take much. But that is not the point of this story. 

I had just realized with a delicate "Ping!" that when I claim that I am too worried to daven, that is an oxymoron. It's like going to psychiatrist and saying, "Look, I'm really too stressed to talk about it," then proceeding to sit there for the rest of the paid-for hour wringing hands and chewing lips.

If that metaphor is insufficient, consider as though one is seated by a restaurant, proffered a menu, and then announces, "I'm too hungry to order." The chef is in the building, ready and waiting, but not availed of. 

To add busha in the mix, I have heard this idea previously. I am quite the fan of Chevi Garfinkel (available on torahanytime), and one of her specialties is kavanah. I thought I had heard her. But I hadn't yet transcribed her words onto my brain and soul. 

I am at the point of conceiving the Divine that if I have something what I could consider "bad" in my life, to the Heavenly Court it is something necessary. I want to quietly accept, not feverishly demand (although for others, I politely request). When I daven, I try to ask for the mental acuity to deal with the situation.

But not when I'm really fakoched. When I'm really fakoched, I procrastinate with davening until I no longer have the time or space for it, insisting I'm just not "there." Yet the irony is that I will overcome my fakoched state by speaking with my Bashefer. 

OK, Doc, here goes . . .    

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Uni-Ball Signo UM-151

It was one of the first articles in the Magazine's new segment, "Letter of Recommendation": a hearty paean to the Uni-Ball Signo UM-151
I use a pen a lot, considering. When I attend shiurim, I take notes or else my attention wanders, and recently, under the encouragement of TooYoungTooTeach, I've been toting around a notebook for jotting down ideas when inspiration strikes. 

As any former student knows, the ease from which the ink is released from the pen is very important. Too little, scribbling is a struggle that leaves the wrist achy, and precious information is lost in the lag; too much, the paper is blotted with puddles of black, leaching to the other side. 

Apparently, I have to go Japanese.

From time to time I pass Kinokuniya (the bookstore mentioned in the article). After purchasing my experimental pen online through Ebay by way of Asia, I happened to be strolling by the bookstore, so I popped in. I wandered into the basement, where the above article was triumphantly taped to the display. 

As Vanderbilt states, "the variety is staggering." It took me a while to pinpoint the one he advocated (0.38 mm tip). 
For me, the pen’s virtues are multifarious. The cost is such that I do not mind if I lose it (almost inevitably, I will). Aesthetically, there is the sleek silhouette, the smooth barrel, the graceful link of the arcing clip to the gentle curving cap; viewed on its side, the pen perfectly evokes a Shinkansen bullet train. I love the way the silver conical tip sits visible through its clear plastic housing, like a rocket waiting to be deployed. I love the small black rubber grip, with its pairs of dimples, arranged in a pattern whose logic evades but intrigues me. The pen slides discreetly into a pocket, and like a sinuous dagger it just feels meant to be held.
I often make notes in between lines on drafts, so I write in a small script. And yet, as I already find the act of handwriting so taxing — using a standard ballpoint feels to me like shoveling dirt — I need this to be as effortless as possible. The Signo, for me, hits the perfect balance between surgical accuracy and lubricating ink flow; there’s enough ink to help the pen glide smoothly along the page with grace, but not so much that, as I’m a lefty, it smudges.
After this article upended my writing life, I attempted to research pens in general, including the other options at the end of the article. But it became quite exhausting, and I don't require perfection; "good enough" suffices. 

And boy, they are great.