Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Battle of the Bulge: The Myth of the "Make Up"

There often seems to be a . . .  disconnect between knowledge and practice. Being the irritating "good foods!" cheerleader, I bump into such hypocrisy often. 

I have heard individuals pontificate about the importance of a healthy diet, and not five seconds later make a crappy food choice. It's like once they've stated the fact "Broccoli is good for you," then they are free to eat anything.

According to how our brains are wired ("How Salad Can Make Us Fat" by Alex Hutchinson), this Kohl's commercial is probably a true reflection of life. Apparently, less than 3% of Americans live heart healthy lifestyles
Route data from more than 1,000 shoppers, matched to their purchases at checkout, revealed a clear pattern: Drop a bunch of kale into your cart and you’re more likely to head next to the ice cream or beer section. The more “virtuous” products you have in your basket, the stronger your temptation to succumb to vice.
Oddly, if there is simply a salad option on a restaurant menu, one is more likely to order the junkiest item available.
We often soothe our bad choices by telling ourselves that "We'll make up for it later"—in general. Ergo the kale in the shopping cart: Once the means to "making up" is in the fridge, the sin can be committed. 

This mental quirk applies in all sorts of other areas, methinks. Like how in a moment of frustration, a parent (or an aunt) can yell at a child on a decibel level disproportionate to the crime, and when stricken by guilt, overcompensates in affection. But there is no such thing as "making up" with children; as Dr. Phil says, it takes one thousand "atta boy!"s to undo one really bad message. 

Inconsistency is what makes kids shaky. Being hollered at one minute and cooed over the next does not inculcate a sense of stability. Kids need to know with 100% accuracy what their parents' reactions will be. One has to be even-keeled from the get-go, because there are no do-overs.

I'll try not to fool myself too much this Pesach.    

Monday, April 25, 2016

Brownie Epic Fail

Experimentation can be rewarding. Unless the experiment fails.

I tried three new brownies this Pesach. Why? Well, The Ultimate Pesach Sponge Cake is divine, but composed of simple sugars. Since it contains little of substance, one can easily consume an entire cake without any sensation of satiety. 

The sort of cake where I could have better "healthy" success would be a brownie. Chocolate shields a multitude of questionable filling ingredients. But it would also have to freeze well. All of our baked yummies go in the freezer, and we like 'em cold upon consumption. Waiting to defrost is not an option. It has to be cut-able in the frozen state. 

After seven sponge cakes were churned out and popped into cold storage, I began to dabble. 

1. Avocado Brownie

2. 5 Ingredient Paleo Chocolate Cake; and

3. Flourless Chestnut Brownies.

After all three were safely frozen, I began to sample. 

Brownie #1 froze the best of all contenders. But there was a slight avocado flavor lingering in the depths. The kinfauna (and their parents) would revolt. Could have been sweeter, too

Brownie #2 had two problems. Firstly, while it calls for a bake time of an hour, and I took it out early, it tasted distinctly overdone. It probably doesn't need more than a half hour. Secondly, chances are due to the high water content of the date paste, it was difficult to cut frozen. 

However, it performed wonderfully at room temp. I plan on playing with the methodology soon.

Brownie #3 called for 1/4 cup of honey, and I used date paste instead. I don't know if it was because of that, but it froze rock hard. A buzzsaw was needed. Also, it obviously wasn't sweet enough.

After flinging my hands skyward, I considered: Why couldn't I simply slightly modify the hailegeh year-round brownie recipe? I had wanted to try replacing the flour with oat bran so my gluten-intolerant nephew could enjoy it, but my sister nay-sayed it, claiming it wouldn't work. Well, to heck with it: I would replace the flour with ground chestnuts. 
Whole Wheat Brownies
Vered's Whole Wheat Brownies
It worked. 

I beat together the eggs, sugar, and three tablespoons of vanilla sugar (since vanilla extract isn't Pesach available). In a separate bowl, I thoroughly whisked together the cocoa and ground chestnuts for a few minutes, since I didn't want to make a mess sifting it together (which would be the best way). After mixing the oil into the eggs, I then carefully poured the cocoa and chestnuts into to the egg mixture with the beaters going on the slowest setting. As soon as combined, I turned the machine off. 

The batter was the prettiest I had dealt with so far. Probably ground nuts would work as well. Maybe it doesn't even need a half cup of anything to replace. (In my research on date paste as an alternative to sugar, it is usually substituted one for one. So the Paleo cake is almost identical to the "good" brownie, since it relies on a copious cup of cocoa to compensate for no flour.)  

I took out the brownie too early—so it doesn't photograph well—but it tastes fabulous while being cut-able. There's no getting around the hefty amount of sugar, I guess. Will experiment (dun-dun-dun!) with less. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016


To my family, Pesach matzah is a beloved delicacy. My siblings and I fought over and continue to fight over it. Even the tzigekiminer who initially watched on, baffled at our violence, quickly converted to our ways. They starting battling over them as well, even those with machine-matzah minhagim.
Come to the Dark Side; we have matzah.

Any leftovers are lovingly hoarded (in a hiding place that shall remain unrevealed lest Luke discovers it) throughout the rest of the year. Usually around Chanukah-time the last piece is treasured and savored to the triumphal send-off of imaginary trumpets. 

Hant matzah is so. Damn. Good. 

Here's the thingy: We ain't the only ones to think so. The front cover's of this week's Sunday Review was plastered with this article (and that illustration) by chef and restaurateur Dan Barber, cooing about the tastiness of hant matzah. 


Apparently, all the complex laws in keeping the wheat for shmurah results in a yummier matzah. 

Can't wait for my rezeveh Shatzer matzahs! Oh, the suspense! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Authentic Life

Rabbi Yissocher Frand, We Are All in this Together:

I want to share a letter a Bais Yaakov girl sent to her principal. Before I share it, I will point out that this stinging indictment is one girl's opinion, but I think it is somewhat indicative of what many other children nowadays may be feeling:

"So your parents push you into the right Bais Yaakov. You go to the right camp and seminary. You build your résumé. Then your father buys you some cliché to marry. Then you have a daughter whom you push to the right school, the right camp, the right seminary, so that she can marry a cliché.

"And then we all die."

I can see it from both sides. 

Not all of us want to be "different." The meaning of "different" can range from the innocent—like preferring non-Heinz ketchup—to the more drastic. 

From childhood on, I wanted to be different. In my zealousness to be unique, I wasn't always true to myself. Ironic. I was adamant throughout my elementary school years that my favorite color was purple, since it was no one else's choice. It took me years to figure out which shades really appeal (red, green, and cerulean blue).

It took me some time to accept that sometimes I would like something that everyone else did, too. 

For those who just wants to belong, who don't want to stand out, who don't want to see or know of a different life or else their heads will explode: I get it. I do. 

But what to if they have kids who take after some obscure Babi and don't want to live that way? Could it be even mentally possible for an unimaginative parent to unbend?  The child who wants to do her own thing can't comprehend what her folks are getting so worked up over; they, in turn, can't understand why their child would question everything they hold dear. 

Can they meet in the middle? 

I hope so.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Guest Post: Found on Facebook

Before I begin, I think it's important to tell you a little backstory. I recently started listening to a lot of shiurim by Rabbi Pesach Krohn who is a fascinating speaker. In one of his shiurim he talks about the ongoing "shidduch crisis" and in that shiur he talks about a letter he received from a single woman's struggle with dating. This is a response to that but from a man's perspective. Or at least mine. Chronologically, it's the year 2016 my birthday is soon. I'll be turning 28 within 24 hours and Pesach is less than 2 weeks away. I am single. 

There is a sentence that I hear quite often, so often that I see it in people's eyes before they can even say it.

"Im Yirtzah Hashem by you."

"Im Yirtzah Hashem," or the abbreviated version, "IY'H." It's something I hear frequently, at weddings, engagements etc. When people see me at these functions they say "IY'H by you." I hate hearing that. I hate those words with a passion. To me they are empty, meaningless and patronizing. I'm always tempted to say something back but I don't. I may think about it. In the end I bite my tongue, grit my teeth, smile and say "Amen." See, when people say "IY'H by you," they think it means something, and to them it does, it's a bracha they are giving you. But it isn't. Not to me. To me it's false hope, an empty promise. A promise of freedom without the power to grant it. A painful reminder of my situation and how it hasn't changed. I'm aware that they mean well and I won't take that from them. I do appreciate the sentiment and effort.

"IY'H" literally translates to "If God wants/wills." Not when. If. And to me that's where the distinction lies. People throw the term out with the greatest of intentions, not realizing the arrow it represents. I've wanted to reply, "Aval im Hashem lo rotzeh?" But what if God doesn't want? There is no guarantee that I will get married, that is a painful fact. We all know of people who unfortunately didn't, and as I get older I fear I will join their ranks. People tell me that when God made a person He split them in half, so your bashert is out there. Well, where is she? It is so maddeningly frustrating when people say "Don't worry, it will happen in due time," or "She's out there somewhere. Be patient." As if that's a balm on the open wound. It's like a child bringing me a band-aid when I need stitches. "It will happen, don't worry." Can you guarantee that? How do you know? Is she alive? Is she hanging out with Waldo? Where is my wife?

Rabbi Pesach Krohn, in one of his many speeches talks about how during the chagim one needs to be kind to widows and orphans. I am NOT in any way, shape or form comparing my situation with theirs. At all. I will say that being single around the holidays is painful. Especially when surrounded by siblings and relatives who are not only married, but have started families. Especially when they are a few years younger than you. Yes, I'm a proud uncle, and I'm involved with their lives. Yes, I play with them, teach them things and just get so much nachas watching my nephews and nieces interact with the world. But I'm still there, lighting the Chanukah candles, sitting at the Seder, eating in the sukkah by myself. It is a constant reminder, an alarm that goes off without stopping, with no option for the brief release of a snooze button. The loneliness is strangling, the silence of no spouse deafening. I feel alone while surrounded by people.

At family events I get to answer the awkward questions like "Are you dating?" or "How did that date go?" And I have to tell them. I have to say, "Oh, I didn't go out" or "It didn't go anywhere." I get to see the pity in their eyes and feel the burn of shame and embarrassment. While letting none of it show. Which usually prompts them to say, "I'll keep my eyes open," "You're a great catch," yet never hear back.

I go to weddings where the chasson and kallah are barely adults and already moving in a direction I wish I can. I have to fight the tears of jealousy and swallow the sour taste of bitterness while watching someone I know get married. Fight to prevent saying to myself how did this person manage to get married? I put tongue in cheek and force myself to realize that it's not about me. It's about them and their simcha, to enjoy and share in their momentous occasion. So I hug him, give him a kiss and say "Mazel tov," dance with him, and he says back, "Im yirtzah Hashem by you."

There is something so bittersweet watching your friends get married one by one. It really encaptures that if you're not moving forward, you'll fall behind. 

People tell me not to worry, you're still young. I'm going to be 28 soon. How old is young? When I was 23 I didn't worry. When I was 25 I didn't. Now? Now I distract myself from thinking about it too much. I try not to think about my father who got married at 26 or my brother at 25. My sisters at 18. My friends who are my age and have been married for years and now have kids.

It makes me question, what's wrong with me, what did I do or what can I do and what am I doing wrong. I do my hishtadlus, I have 7 shadchanim and I am on 3 dating websites but so far nothing has come of it.

I'm given advice that I need to go out more. Go to the chupahs and simchas so people can see you parade around like a prized horse at market. Which in the end makes me feel like a dog in the pound wanting someone to pick me. Or better yet, at weddings, go look at the women's side and see if someone catches your eye, yeah because that's completely proper and tznius and in no way comes across as creepy or wrong. I mean what are the odds of accidentally checking out someone else's wife? Or are we not acknowledging the complete shallowness of wanting to go out with someone simply because she looks good in a dress? Just that one fact and knowing absolutely nothing else about her except she's pretty? What a wonderful way to start off a possible marriage! There's no way that backfires, or comes across as anything other than lecherous. Oh I can see it now, my kids ask me how we met, and I can say, "Well son, I was at a wedding, and I went over to the women's side to check out the women while they may have been dancingbut ignore that small detailand I happened to have seen your mother and thought she looked gorgeous in her dress, so I asked someone if she's single, and that's that. Now remember son, be respectful to women and know that they aren't objects of only lust." Yeah, no thanks.

I'm also advised to go to single events. Now those are so much fun if you like awkward moments, because the entire weekend is awkward. I'm a friendly guy, I can go into a room of strangers and walk out with a few friends, this isn't me tooting my own horn. This is me saying that for someone who is approachable and friendly, shidduch events are uncomfortable and draining. Everyone is there for the same reason. There is so much pressure and tension, it's stifling. You and everyone else there are on constant display. You're told to just be yourself, but it's hard to when you know everyone is judging you. And you're judging them. It's what you're there for.

Or people say, "Maybe you're not talking to the right shadchan," that may be true. I don't know. What I do know and will admit is, I dread talking to shadchanim or anyone who wants to "help," really. It kills a little part of me every time I speak to a shadchan or potential shadchan. It never goes anywhere. When I do go to weddings and the like, I'll inevitably meet someone who knows lots of girls, and when I tell them about myself (which is super fun and in no way uncomfortable for me) they'll push me to another shadchan. There is something so dehumanizing when being passed around like leftovers. When you feel like you're reduced to a number.

The entire process is so degrading. I feel like a puppy being given a treat out of the kindness of their hearts. I have to act surprised and the expectation to wag my tail when someone says "I may have a girl for you." Or "Quick, send me your resume" (even though I sent it to you at least 3 times already). I feel as if I have to debase myself to random strangers out of fear. In the letter the woman sent to Rabbi Krohn, she mentions the struggle not to respond when someone tries to give "helpful" advice, because this person may have a shidduch for you. I cannot emphasize enough how truly painful and great that struggle is. Its comparable to working with someone that is haphazard and lazy, but you can't say anything because he's the boss's son.

People forget what it's like to be single, forget the time and investment you put in. Forget how much of a nightmare dating is. What it's like answering the same questions, asking the same questions, and it getting you nowhere. The mind-numbing activities. When you go on 3-4 dates with someone, and you get a little more comfortable, and it ends suddenly with a "You're great and I can be myself around you but I just don't see us as husband and wife." Or "It's not you it's me" or whatever reason the person has which frankly isn't my business. The time and money you invest. The effort you make to get to know someone, the expectation to keep going after it falls apart. That, after you've been on 4-5 dates and it ends abruptly, people expect you to get back up and try again. Almost immediately. That it's simply a matter of picking up the pieces, brushing yourself off and going back out there. As if you didn't just go through all of that and invest resources that are not boundless. And that's on the premise that you even have anything lined up for after. That you have a list of girls to choose from, like cattle. Which unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your viewis not my reality. I can go months without getting a resume or a response, let alone a date. I'm told to push and badger. Make calls and demands. Things I'm not comfortable doing.

There's the part that, if you're lucky and have a list to choose from, of going through the resumes. Going over them, making phone calls, and in the process: forgetting you're dealing with people. That in the process, it becomes monotonous and impersonal. And before you know it, they have been reduced to a piece of paper. A print-out of a list of qualities, characteristics and highlights. Having to remind yourself that these are the cliff-notes to a complex and unique story. That in the end you are dealing with a real live person. With hopes, dreams and emotions.

There's a quote from the movie "Rocky V." The main character says, "Being strong isn't how hard you hit, it's how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." At what point are you strong or just setting yourself up to be a punching bag? When is being positive and hopeful turn into being naive and wishful thinking?

So then people say maybe you're being picky. I don't think so. I don't think looking for someone that is positive, spiritual, not high maintenance and outgoing is picky. I don't think wanting a spouse that grows in Torah, is a good and kind person is out of the realm of possibility. So maybe I'm being shallow? Again I'd have to politely disagree. I'm in shape and believe in living a healthy lifestyle, and looking for someone that wants the same. Not to insane degrees. I'm not looking for that "thin" girl that when she turns sideways she disappears, and I'm not looking for someone that's a walking heart attack.

Dealing with people who mean so well, but in the end causes you to ask if they're lying, is brutal. Especially when they use platitudes like, "You're such a great person, anyone would be lucky to marry you." "You're going to make a wonderful spouse, a great father and anyone would be lucky to marry you." "How are you still single?" When I start to hear these things, I go on autopilot because these words have lost all meaning to me. Hearing from a few shadchanim, "You'll be easy to set up." Not realizing that what they are saying are barbs that pierce you to the core.

Yet the expectations to keep moving forward is there. And for what? The part of convincing yourself that this isn't a waste of time. That somehow doing the same thing over and over again with the same results is not insanity? So you can question yourself constantly, and feel continuous rejection? To feel crushed time and again while valiantly trying your best not to give in to despair? To finally ask yourself, is it worth it

It's making me antisocial. I don't like going to my friends' houses for Shabbos because every time I do, the same questions arise. "What's new with you, how's the dating life going?" As he's changing his kid's diaper, or about to listen to a dvar Torah his son wants to share. When your friends invite you for Shabbos, and everyone there is newly married and you're there by yourself. Convincing yourself this isn't uncomfortable, awkward or a cruel prank. It's akin to showing a starving man his favorite food as you eat it in front of him.

I'm at the point where I'm not excited when I have a date. In fact I hate dating. There is no joy in it anymore. I don't get those butterflies of anticipation, that excitement of going on that first date. I feel like I've been robbed of something that should be fun and enjoyable. And instead feel used and worn out, like a used car people are pushing to sell.

When a friend, family or coworker says "I have a girl for you," I just say "Cool." It's hard to care after a while. It's hard to daven for the same thing over and over again expecting things to be different when, in the back of your mind, you're a step away from being done with the whole thing.

So daven for it, pray for it. I did and still do. I go for brachos, give my name when the person is under the chupah. But for how much longer? How long until I realize it's not happening? How much do I need to invest? How much do I need to give of myself? How much do I need to spend? How far must I drive? How many cups of coffee? How any games of mini golf? How many mind-numbing innocuous conversations must I have? How many rejections? How many tears do I need to shed? How many nights do I have to lay awake wondering? How long until I meet her? How long until I realize I won't?

When I was 22 I went to Israel to volunteer as a medic. While I was there, I saw and dealt with a lot of tragedy. Which, while a little scarring, taught me valuable lessons and helped me grow in tremendous ways. One of the things I did to cope was to go to the shuk, and every so often buy something for my home when I get married. A kiddush cup here, a havdala set there, custom benchers, etc etc. It was a hope chest, if you will. Once in a while I used to take out the box, open it, go through it and see what I want/need. It is now in a closet on the top shelf in storage. I haven't taken the box down, I haven't looked at it, or gone through it in a little over a year.

If I had to sum up how I feel with a word, it would be "tired." I'm so tired. Tired of all the lies, the resumes, the excuses. Tired of being hopeful and having it burn down around you. Tired of the stupidity, and how much emphasis is placed on a piece of paper. Tired of waiting for a response. Tired of telling people when it falls through not to worry. That it'll be OK. That I'm OK, when I'm not. Tired to the point where everything starts to blur together after a while. But you endure. You move forward because what's your other option.

There is a story I heard and the message I find to be profound and powerful. I believe it's with Rav Noach Wienberger (if it isn't I apologize, I'm not a magid ). The story goes: Rav Noach was davening at the kotel and he happened to see out of the corner of his eye a young girl davening with so much passion and intent that he couldn't help but be captivated. When the young girl finished her prayer and was walking away, the Rav asked her if everything and everyone was alright due to the intense Prayer. The young girl said, "Baruch Hashem everything is fine, why would the rebbe ask me this?" Rav Noach replied that he noticed her prayer, how passionate it was and was curious. She replied saying, "My birthday is soon and I was davening for a new bicycle." The rabbi said, "Oh, I hope your prayer was answered," and he goes on his way. A week or so later he was walking in the old city and he happened to see that same girl from the kotel walking around and he said to her, "I guess Hashem didn't answer you." She looked at him and said, "He did. The answer was no."

I love that story. I love the message. We don't always get what we want. And we are not entitled to happy endings. When we ask for things, it's OK for the answer to be "no." Otherwise it wouldn't really be a question, it would be a demand, a sense of deserving what we want when we want it, and not knowing whether we deserve it or not. That it's somehow owed to us. IM yirtzah Hashem, IF Hashem wants/wills.

I know I'm coming across beaten, broken and defeated. I'm not. I may have been knocked down, I may be battered but I am not out. I am still standing. I won't lie, I have thought of giving up and not even bothering to try, but I can be stubborn and will fight for things that are worth the battle over. I am still hopeful. Still wishful. I still look forward to the day I walk to my kallah, with my heart full of joy and happiness as I make my way, surrounded by family, friends and love ones to the bedecking. I still wish, daven and hope to meet my other half, my better half, my soul mate, my bashert.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Silicone Spatula and Other Doohickies

One for fleishigs, milchigs, and pareve. It will change your life.
Silicone is heat- and freezer-proof. Spatulas have that whippy, sharp-edged form to thoroughly scrape and stir. Combine the two, and cooking will never be the same. 

Instead of using metal flatware that scrape my beautiful pots, or fumbling with an inefficient wooden spoon, I can flip and mix the boiling and the bubbling. When it is time to serve, I can get every fleck out of the pot. 

Note not all are created the same. Some may be too thick in the center, some not quite sharp enough along the edge, some just too dang heavy. Experiment. Read reviews. 

Ma found this one by Zyliss in Homegoods, and it is has a sacred spot in the milchig sink (with a multitude of backups in the basement, when each officially cries uncle). It was originally meant only for the morning oat bran and scrambled eggs of breakfast.
Once those once mundance cooking processes had been converted into religious experiences, she scurried out and bought other brands in different colors to differentiate for pareve. Then when one became accidentally fleishigs, we were all, "Hey, why didn't we do this sooner?"     

There are plenty others to try. Getting every drop of paprikás sauce onto a plate is so much fun.

As for other doohickies: 

For Pesach, we have no food processor. The year-round one gets little use as it is. 

But there are a few recipes that could use a chopping tool, like charoses, so we had a hand-cranked version that could also be used on yontif. When the blades became dangerously dull, I browsed online for a replacement. 

I bought the Chef'n VeggiChop Hand-Powered Food Processor. It's cool, you pull on the string on top like a lawn mower to get it going. It's not very large—about three cups—but it is smartly designed for easy use, everything interlocking neatly and competently.

I used it for the first time to liquefy an avocado for a Pesach brownie on Sunday (don't ask, haven't yet tasted the results) and it did a great job. It was fun, too. 

Zyliss also has a model, and Brieftons has a four cup version, if one desires something roomier.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Elinor Rigby

Olivia Laing, Time Magazine, "The Upside of Loneliness":
In 1975, the social scientist Robert Weiss dubbed loneliness a disease "wholly without redeeming features." To some extent, this is true. Any lack of intimacy, closeness, and connection is painful, and it can take its toll on the human body—driving up blood pressure, accelerating age, weakening the immune system and even acting as a precursor to cognitive decline, according to research from the University of Chicago.

An evolutionary psychologist would explain these effects by arguing that we are social animals who suffer when deprived of contact. But there's another, more pervasive factor at play: shame. In a romance-fixated culture, loneliness means failure, and this social stigma in itself drives isolation.

But loneliness is a lot more common—and useful—than people think. Current studies suggest that more than a quarter of American adults experience loneliness, independent of race, education and ethnicity. For many, this triggers a state of hypervigilance, generating intense alertness to the outside world.

This state has its benefits. A powerful desire to make contact can drive artistic creation; Edward Hopper and Franz Kafka, for example, routinely explored themes of loneliness. And for others, heightened sensitivity to the gaps and gulfs between people inculcates compassion, building empathy. Loneliness is not a rogue state, after all, but part of the rich fabric of our shared lives.

To quote Kelly Clarkson, "Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone." 

I'm an introvert. There are a lot of us out there. Introverts can find social interaction enjoyable, but draining; being alone is not a crime for them, except extroverts will view them as pathetic freaks.
I have always had high expectations from friendships. If I don't enjoy spending time with a person, or if I get mistreated—at all—I don't need this. I have other ways of spending my time that don't involve emotional aggravation. Books and shoes get me.
If the "shame" aspect was taken out of the equation, could people come to, if not embrace, at least tepidly hug, the concept of loneliness? "I'm lonely at the moment. That means that I'm . . . okay? Oh." Stress is only detrimental if it is as viewed as damaging. Why shouldn't the same hold for loneliness?

Extroverts need the presence of other people to feel alive, the same way introverts need absence of others to recharge. I think I can understand that. But if an extrovert should find themselves alone, don't panic. Cast off ye shame, and take up a hobby. I hear adult coloring books are big now.   

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Cauliflower is King

Cauliflower is a brilliantly versatile vegetable. Besides for being yummy in its own right, it can craftily be utilized in previously carb-crazy recipes. Such as pizza. Or sushi. And—which, like, totally blew my mind—potato salad. Potato salad! POTATO SALAD!!!

I served steamed cauliflower with Ta's paprikás, and he, the pasta lover, actually affectionately referred to it as "nokedli." High praise indeed. One doesn't use the term "nokedli" idly.

Inspired by a NY Times article, I tried roasting cauliflower whole. It was daubed with a concoction composed of olive oil, nutritional yeast, mustard, and garlic. One can just stick to oil, salt, and pepper, though. Then a little time in a 350 oven.

Now, ain't that purdy?

For the Purim seudah I tried a Cauliflower-Parsnip-Leek Soup, and holy mackerel, was it delicious. I based it off a few recipes, so the ingredients (and cooking times) aren't an exact science. Since I blended it, nothing has to be chopped beautifully.
The pot before . . .
I thoroughly sweated (not browned) 1 onion and 3 leeks (green parts too), along with a few shakes red pepper flakes, in some oil for 10-15 minutes. I then added 6 chopped parsnips, and stirred them thoroughly in, and let 'em go for a bit, too, until nice and fragrant. 4 cloves of garlic around now, too. Then 2 chopped heads of cauliflower. Another stir into the divine oiliness. Some salt, too, to help everything wilt. 

I leisurely let it all sweat some more, then eventually added some soy milk (water is also fine). I was cautious with the liquid because one can always add more water; taking it back is not possible (vegetables also let out tons of H2O). Simmer, simmer, simmer. At some point, the stinkiness of the cauliflower morphs into a deliriously sweet aroma. When everything is nice and limp, sprinkle in some black pepper (and more salt if desired), and blend. The results may be thick enough to require more liquid; do add and blend, until ideal texture is reached. 
. . . the pot after. Licked and scraped clean, I kid you not.
I had been nervous about freezing it, that maybe the pretty paleness would go all dingy, but no. It remained an appealing cream shade, not a hint of gray. 

Don't forget about cauliflower fried rice. And cauliflower popcorn! There's mashed cauliflower, too. OMG, OMG, cauliflower shepherd's pie!!! We have a winner!

Pesach doesn't have to mean potatoes. This non-brocker has been redeemed!     

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Luddite Returns

My niece finds me hysterical. "She actually re-reads texts before she sends them!" Hooting laughter. 

Beware, my sweet. 

I hate, loathe, despise texting. It's ideal if one is firing back factual statements. Where are you? How much cocoa for your brownie recipe? What time is the wedding called for? 

But for light banter? Kill me. 

I'm all to aware of the nuances that are all to necessary but absent with textual communication: body language and voice intonation. The most innocent of remarks can come off as sneeringly snarky when left to the hastily typed form. 

When I have been kidnapped by a textual conversation, I'm a wreck. I type. Re-type. Delete. Edit. Emoji. Delete again. Edit edit edit. Delete. Cry. Emoji emoji emoji. Send. Cry some more. Pray for a response that reflects I didn't insult the other side in some way that I couldn't predict despite my agonizing.
"The Five Stages of Ghosting Grief" by Rachel Fields perfectly depicts that torture. Anxiety can snowball from "Why hasn't he texted back?" to "I'm unlovable and no one wants me and I'll die alone."

Also, if trapped in a text loop, that means I have to keep an ear out for the damn thing constantly. It's the proverbial monkey on my back. I walk away from my desk for a minute: Quick, check the phone! Someone else's device chirps: Quick, check the phone! Does, like, everyone have that pleasant Note notification? *PIIING*? I had to change mine to something less pleasant but more unique so I wouldn't keep scrabbling though my bag for naught. 

My life so much freer before. And I was more relaxed, that's for sure.    

Monday, April 11, 2016

(I Can't Get No) Control

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow:
You cannot help dealing with the limited information you have as if it were all there is to know. You build the best possible story from the information available to you, and if it is a good story, you believe it. Paradoxically, it is easier to construct a coherent story when you know little, when there are fewer pieces to fit into the puzzle. Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance. . . 

The core of the illusion is that we believe we understand the past, which implies that the future also should be knowable, but in fact we understand the past less than we believe we do. "Know" is not the only word that fosters this illusion. . .

The sense-making machinery of System 1 makes us see the world as more tidy, simple, predictable, and coherent than it really is. The illusion that one has understood the past feeds the further illusion that one can predict and control the future. These illusions are comforting. They reduce anxiety that we would experience if we allowed ourselves to fully acknowledge the uncertainties of existence. We all have a need for the reassuring message that actions have appropriate consequences, and that success will reward wisdom and courage.
I know that when people are frantic to explain a tragedy and blame the victim, it is from their own desperate need to grasp at control. It's frightening to comprehend our lack of it. Kahneman says that people greatly undervalue what he referred to as "luck," although frum Jews would call it something else. 

When we witness "success," we quickly pounce on the obvious qualities, hoping to replicate the outcome. But we err greatly, Kahneman says, for we aren't aware of the small, minute happenings, the myriad of uncontrollable, perfectly-lined-up flukes that led to fabulousness. 

We don't have control. We don't have control.  

All together now: We. DON'T. Have. Control.

Brené Brown, Rising Strong:

In research terms, we think about blame as a form of anger used to discharge discomfort or pain . . . It doesn't have to make sense, either. It just has to give us some sense of relief and control. In fact, for most of us who rely on blaming and finding fault, the need for control is so strong that we'd rather have something be our fault than succumb to the bumper-sticker wisdom of "**** happens." If stuff just happens, how do I control that? Fault-finding fools us into believing that someone is always to blame, hence, controlling the outcome is possible.
On the flip side, predicting doom and gloom and the end is nigh and the four horsemen of the apocalypse is also a need to control. But Daniel Goleman says: 
We don't know enough to be pessimistic.
We don't know. 

Kahneman explains a quirk of the brain with this ungaily acronym, WYSIATI: "What you see is all there is." When the brain has very little information, it makes unequivocal conclusions. When it knows more, it's oddly less certain, and won't deal in absolutes. 

When we say "I KNOW," chances are we know very little. It was when I was young(er) and stupid(er) that I made black-and-white statements. Now, I dislike hypotheticals ("Would you ever_____?"), even if the answer is seemingly obvious, because I don't know who I'll be in that possible future moment, never mind where my head will be at, if I'm rested enough, and all other extenuating circumstances.

The most I can control, I've concluded, is my lunch. Just barely.  

It was during and after my recent failed romance that I experienced a rare sensation: humility. I hadn't sought him out, see; a friend of a relative called up one day and redt him. Obsessed as I am with matrimony, it was nothing I did—such as shadchan stalking—that brought him to my doorstep. 

"The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (Iyov 1:21). "Luck," my foot.      

Friday, April 8, 2016


  • Only people of low birth pressed questions likely to embarrass.—Norah Lofts, The Concubine

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Meditation Options

Hey, I've given it a shot. Here and there. In very short quantities. 

But I agree with Adam Grant ("Can We End the Meditation Madness") that the trend is kinda overblown.  
The primary reason people meditate, the experts tell me, is that it may reduce stress. Fine. But so does quality sleep and exercise. And you can reduce stress simply by changing the way you think about it. When you’re feeling anxious, it’s a signal that you care about the outcome of an upcoming event — and it can motivate you to prepare. . .
In a nationally representative eight-year study, adults who reported a lot of stress in their lives were more likely to die, but only if they thought stress was harmful. Over a hundred thousand Americans may have died prematurely, “not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you, ” as the health psychologist Kelly McGonigal notes.
Luke is not like me. He absolutely comes alive—alive!—when he has a deadline. He hums. He's pleasant. He loves it. 

Me? I'm not remotely that adorable if I'm bound by a deadline. But I don't have to view stress that way. I should work on that. After I've conquered all that other stuff first.

As for mindfulness, there are other ways to get there, too. 
After spending the past four decades studying mindfulness without meditation, the Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer has identified plenty of other techniques for raising our conscious awareness of the present. For example, it turns out that you can become more mindful by thinking in conditionals instead of absolutes. . . 
Change “is” to “could be,” and you become more mindful. The same is true when you look for an answer rather than the answer.
Thank goodness. Using "Liz Lemon" as my mantra was getting old. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Dressing For Men: From the Book of Mindy

Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns):
Forgive me, but being a guy is so easy. A little Kiehl's, a little Bumble and Bumble, a peacoat, and Chuck Taylors, and you're hot. 

1. Buy a well-fitting peacoat from J.Crew. Or wait until Christmas sales are raging and buy a designer one, like John Varvatos or something. Black looks good on everyone (Obvious Cops) and matches everything (Duh Police), but charcoal gray is good, too. You can always look like a put-together Obama speechwriter with a classy peacoat. Oh, and get it cleaned once a year. Sounds prissy, but a good cleaning can return a peacoat to its true-black luster, and make you look as snappy as you did on the first day you wore it. . .
The Princess advocates camel too. And navy, while I'm at it.
8. I really think guys only need two pairs of shoes. A nice pair of black shoes and a pair of Chuck Taylors. The key, of course, is that you need to replace your Chuck Taylors every single year. You cannot be lax about this. Those shoes start to stink like hell. They cost forty dollars. You can afford a new pair every year. And if you can't, why can't you? You have much bigger problems. Stop reading this and go deal with them.
I would clarify the shoe law that if a man likes his shoes, keep on keepin' on. However, if he's the type that considers footwear an afterthought, yeah, what she said. Converse have non-existent support, so I would recommend an insole.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


"Kiddo, what is this?" 

"My report on the family!" 

"I gathered that. But who's family?" 

I managed to squelch my feelings of violence towards my (beloved) niece. I had carefully, thoroughly dictated to her our history. She had chosen to ignore it. Her paper was pure fiction. 

Like her insertion that my grandparents were longing for the opportunity to migrate to the "goldene medina."
"Dearest, that was a popular term at the turn of the century, when the Jews of Poland and Russia were fleeing pogroms and starvation, not when Zeidy and Babi came much much later. They certainly never used that phrase . . . stop texting and listen to me!" 

After the war, my mother's parents had returned to their hometown. She was born there, and recalls a happy childhood (in vivid detail). After Zeidy and Babi had rebuilt and established a pleasant life, a more intense crop of communists arose. 

They didn't leave because they dreamed for years about going to America. They had a lovely home, plenty of food, and nice neighbors. They didn't fantasize about a magical country with streets paved with gold that would make all their problems disappear. (I rewrote her report just to protect the family name. I don't intend for that to become a trend. Oh, Jane Austen? Okay, maybe one more.) 

Tara Zhara's "America, the Not So Promised Land" attempts to scrape away that gleaming veneer from nostalgic history. 
Contrary to popular imagination, 30 to 40 percent of immigrants from Europe before the First World War ultimately returned home. For many this was always the plan. But others returned disappointed and disillusioned. They found little reward for their hard work, lack of support in times of illness and old age and questionable moral values in an ego-driven society. . .
As European migrants were recruited to replace the plantation labor of freed slaves, some feared that they would be no better treated. Emigration, they insisted, was more likely to deliver migrants to a new form of slavery than greater freedom.
Not all Jews thought it was grand, either: 
In 1912, a letter signed “the unlucky one” reached the editors of Forverts, a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York. The writer was contemplating a return to Warsaw after 22 miserable years in America: “All these years I’ve struggled because I never made a living. I know English, I am not lazy, I’ve tried everything and never succeeded.” Now that his children were grown, he just wanted to go home.
“It seems strange to me that I must go away from the free America in order to better my condition. But the chances for me are still better there,” he insisted.
None of my grandmother's aides had any intention of staying indefinitely in America. The financial condition in Hungary has been so bad in the last few years that with whatever they save up, they can go back and live like queens. Marika gleefully shopped for clothing and pots, sending it all home to her new apartment in a charming seaside town. 

Yes, America is awesome. (The shopping! It's just so delicious!) Yet we can get a little narcissistic. Not everyone wants to be here, not everyone thinks it outshines their home countries, nor do they want to be here indefinitely.    

Monday, April 4, 2016

Relationships 'R' Us

Years ago, a commentor shared an entertaining and educational link of Keynes and Hayek, the economists, rapping it out. 
Keynes compares the economy to a machine: 

Money sloshes through the pipes and the sluices
Revitalizing the economy's juices

It's just like an engine that's stalled and gone dark
To bring it to life we need a quick spark
Spending's the life blood that gets the flow going
Where it goes doesn't matter - just get spending flowing! 

Hayek counters: 

The economy's not a car, there's no engine to stall
No expert can fix it, there's no "it" at all
The economy's us, we don't need a mechanic
Put away the wrenches, the economy's organic

These lyrics came to mind when I considered how relationships are also, sometimes, erroneously categorized as machines, referred to as "it working" or "it not working." 

A relationship isn't an "it." Relationships are "us." Relationships are between people, and the effort they put into it. They aren't external or separate from ourselves

While there must be likability, compatibility, and attraction to spark the initial stages, relationships won't indefinitely run on that fuel alone.

Luke (the quibbler) has always quibbled with the concept of "bashert." He believes that free will applies there as well, that when we daven for our bashert (a divine, destined other half), it's that we daven for guidance in making the correct choice of our mate. (He did marry the first girl, though, so easy for him to talk . . .)  

After Rebecca Traister's close friend Sara moved away, and returned six months later, both were thrilled to be reunited. Yet it wasn't an easy matter to become simpatico again.
. . . divides can creep in between friends just as easily as they do in marriages. Maybe because she was nursing painful wounds as she rebuilt her New York life, and was resistant to simply falling back into her old patterns; maybe because, after the pain of having to say goodbye, I was gun-shy about giving myself over so completely, our friendship was never again quite as effortless as it had once been. “It was a rough re-entry,” she said recently of that time. “I knew of course that your life had continued while I was gone and that your circles of friends had expanded, but I was sad that we couldn’t slip right back into the space where we had left off.”
Absence can corrode the most divine of friendships. That dead space that has to be filled once again, with proximity and effort. Even between the closest of besties.

Justin Tyler Clark had been dithering about proposing to his girlfriend, and had actually been relieved when his bag was going to be searched in front of her, spoiling the surprise but affirming his action: 
We live much of our lives in a state of paralysis, letting fate make decisions for us. But at the most important moments — when we’re facing an emergency or falling in love — we think we will know the right things to do and say. . .
“You’ll know when it’s time,” my mother told a much younger me when I asked her when I would marry.
Yet at 30, I had never experienced “just knowing” in that context. I had had many girlfriends, lived with several, even felt as if I loved one or two, but the much-anticipated epiphany — “I just know she’s the one” — failed to present itself. Disappointed, I had broken off every relationship.
When I met my grad school girlfriend, I had good reason to think she might be it. . . From the moment our mutual friend introduced us, I kept waiting for that feeling of certainty to overtake me.
Nine months later, I was as happy as I had ever been while still paralyzed by doubt.
Maybe because we live in an age of so many choices, most of them meaningless, we romanticize the notion that falling in love isn’t a choice but something that happens to us. That love tells us what to do, not the other way around. Love is the authority figure, and if love tells us wrongly, then we can’t be held fully responsible. . .
Now, a real-life authority figure had arrived in the form of this Singaporean customs officer who would yank the ring out of my bag at any minute, forcing me to explain myself to my girlfriend and confess my plans. My years of indecision would end, I thought gleefully. What a funny story to tell our children, once we got out of prison.
But the ring remained undiscovered. Yet the fact that he was bummed not having the choice forced upon him galvanized Clark to propose—of his own free will—and he has "never once regretted it." 

I love "signs" as much as the next person. No matter how many times I tell myself otherwise, I still fall for those divine stories or mystical signals or meaningful coincidences every single freakin' time. But that would be me seeking to wiggle out of my own responsibility. For in the end, it's choice.

The few times I have used the inaccurate phrase was following a questionable first date and I had to give my refusal directly. "I don't think it's going to work out" is certainly is more diplomatic than "I did not enjoy our time together." It's not because the "it" won't work; it's because I chose otherwise. 

Like Amy did following a bad date. She said, "I don't think it's going to work out" even though Dave spent the whole evening demanding to know all about her ex, Sheldon, whom he idolizes. But that was just to be polite. Dave was being a jerk. It was him, not "it."

Friday, April 1, 2016


  • Nice guys finish first. If you don't know that, then you don't know where the finish line is.— Garry Shandling