Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Multi-Faceted

The frum world is not immune to the current trend of polarization. If one dons a streimel, then he must be ______, ______, and ______. If one wears a kippah serugah, he must be ______, ______, and ______.

Because my father speaks a heimishe Yiddish, many often mistakenly think he's a lapsed chassid. Well, they better be prepared for a whole lot of dropped knowledge, son. (European Jewry was not neatly divided into two categories, "chassidish" and "litvish." Yiddish was the spoken language of all Jewry, and the havara is based on region, not sect. For instance, the Lubavitchers and Stalliners speak Yiddish with a different havara than the Polish chassidism. As for Hungary, there were no home-grown chassidish movements therein. The prevailing outlook was that of the Chasam Sofer, a flaming misnaged. But I digress.) 

People are rarely perceived as what we truly are, which is multi-faceted. For instance, there are women who like makeup and fashion while simultaneously digging sci-fi and superheroes (cough). 
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I'm not the only one.
I was reminded of this while reading two articles in the Sunday Review a few weeks ago, "Go Ahead, Speak for Yourself" by Kwame Anthony Appiah, and "Jocks Rule, Nerds Drool" by Jennifer Wright.

Appiah shows how qualifying statements—"As a Jewish woman," "As a lawyer turned baker," "As a Wookie"—create false imagery in conversations. Take "As a Jewish woman"; I would perceive a fellow frum gal, while others may see a Democratic liberal who goes to temple only on the High Holy Days. Identity isn't as clear-cut as we would like to think. Nor can one of us claim to speak for everyone under the "Jewish woman" umbrella. 

On that same note, Wright upends the simplistic stereotype of jocks vs. nerds: Jocks have it great in high school; nerds don't. Jocks are doofuses who can only do blue collar work; nerds succeed. Jocks are jerks, but the girls like them anyway; nerds are nice, but girls don't know better. 
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It does not follow that being great at sports = idiot, mean, and lady killer. Nor does it follow that scrawny, awkward brilliance = consideration. I've met enough sweet, smart guys who can throw a ball, and enough intelligent yet condescending chaps who thought they were better than everyone else. Unbrilliant nerds also exist.

Of course I am guilty of prejudgement based on supposed identity. But whenever I fell into that trap, I ended up looking stupid indeed. Just as my makeup makes me seem to those who are equally prejudiced.

Monday, August 27, 2018

How to Stay Sane While Dating: XV

"You know, when you get to a certain age *sigh*, you just have to be willing to compromise." 

Smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave. 
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What these people who didn't know me from Adam (or Eve?) neglected to differentiate: There are levels of compromise.  

They assumed I had a detailed laundry list. Um, no. I had like maybe three criteria. And one major dealbreaker: He had to be nice. 

But "nice" was, disturbingly enough, subject to interpretation. A guy had been suggested to me for years, with this specific adjective: NICE. "He's sooooo nice!" countless advocates gushed. 

I eventually, reluctantly, agreed to a date. Pleasant discovery: He was not NICE. Not remotely. 

I heard of a girl who married "late," and divorced shortly thereafter. Someone quoted her: "I thought I could compromise on hashkafa. But I couldn't compromise on middos." 

Some people aren't into nice, so that's not an issue for them. Contrary to popular belief (eye roll) not every person prioritizes niceness in their lives. They aren't nice, they don't need nice. 

But for those that do? You do not have to compromise on your dealbreakers.  

Because Han has niceness oozing out of his pores to such an extent that those who just meet him dazedly ask, "How did you find such a nice guy?" (I didn't find him. Can't take any credit for that.) Eewok, an excellent judge of character, met Han prior to our engagement and asked, "Are you going to marry Han? Because he's sooooo nice." A nurse asked me at an appointment a standard question about domestic violence, and I burst into riotous laughter.

For those who are nice, and NEED nice, you DO NOT "compromise" on that. And "the good ones aren't all taken," either. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Shakshuka

With marriage, it has become clear I was going about dating the wrong way. 

"There I was," I said to Han, "making myself osgepizt, when I should have been cooking." 

"How about cooking while osgepizt?" Han cheerfully replied.

The first time I cooked for Han was an hour after our engagement, when we both needed nourishment for the l'chaim and I didn't want to eat out. I waited too late. 

Sigh.  

Anywho, my usual method for honing in on a recipe is to search, gather a few, then average out the ingredients and compare the methods for preparation. While tweakage is usually necessary, Han blessed my maiden attempt at shakshuka (he always ordered that in milchig restaurants in our dating days), so I have been whipping it up the same way ever since. 

If I prepare the ingredients the night before—like measuring out the spices and chopping up the vegetables—it takes little time to assemble in the morning. Then I let it simmer while makeuping and dressing, and turn it off before I leave.  

Devoid of the eggs, it also freezes quite well. One batch comes out to 3 to 4 portions, and I divide them amongst containers to pop in the freezer so Han always has something healthful to munch on if I'm not around. 

Shakshuka (or Matbucha)

1 onion, diced
2 red peppers, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (or 1 22 oz. Pomi)
3 cloves garlic, minced 
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin 
salt and pepper
sprinkle of sugar

1. Saut√© the onion until it's a nice consistency. Not dark, but not raw. You know what I mean? 

2. Push the onions to the side, and add a little more oil to the pan. Wait a moment for it to heat, then add the spices and garlic, stirring. After a minute, shove spices on top of the onions, away from the heat. 

3. In the cleared away area, add the chopped peppers. Cook for a few minutes, when they begin to release some of their juices. 

4. Add the tomatoes. Stir well, bringing the onions back into the party. Cover until the tomatoes finally begin to bubble a little, then uncover. You want any excess juices to evaporate out. 

5. Tomatoes burn quickly, so monitor the flame and stir every once in a while. It's pretty much ready when there isn't tons of liquid left.

6. For shakshuka, press divets into the concoction, and chuck an egg into each. Cover. 5 to 7 minutes for the egg to cook through, I think. 

7. For matbucha, lower the flame and let it simmer for another half hour. Babysit.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Born This Way (Laughing Hysterically)

I know I'm pretty late to the game, but I started watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. While I personally can't stand stories about women who chase down uninterested men, the pilot episode hooked me with "The Sexy Getting Ready Song." 

Rebecca is getting ready for a party where she hopes to see the unrequited object of her affection. The opening scene is the usual, lady in lacy lingerie, strappy heels, and satin robe gyrating in front of a mirror.
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Then it goes downhill. We bear witness to the true beauty process, which involves plucking nose whiskers, waxing body hair, scraping off dead foot skin, suffocating body shapers, eyelash curlers, and horrific burns from curling irons. A rapper enters, and begins the usual sexist lyrics, then trails off as he witnesses how the sausage truly gets made: 

"God, what... this is how you get ready? This is some... this is horrifying, like a scary movie or something. Like some nasty-*** patriarchal ****. You know what? I gotta go apologize to some b*****s. I'm forever changed after what I've just seen." 

At one point, Rebecca croons, "Let's see how the guys get ready," and the camera cuts to Rebecca's date, Greg, sleeping peacefully on the couch. 

As she wafts from the house looking smoking, Greg can't believe his eyes. "Oh, I just woke up from a nap," she says airily. 

The episode closes with the rapper, Nipsey Hussle, calling up a list of women and apologizing. 

"Hey Denise, it's me, Nipsey Hussle. I recently had an eye-opening experience. I'm calling to apologize for the way I treated you when you danced in my recent music video. Denise, I'm sorry I showered you with Cristal. I didn't even ask if you liked Champagne, and it probably messed with your blow-out." 

"Ashley, I realize now that it wasn't right for me to tell you what to do with that big fat ***. You can wiggle it, or you can sit it down in a classroom and get that college degree in communications." 

"Chelsea, I'm sorry I put you in a bikini made of gold coins and then made you dance on the roof of my Bentley. I realize now that metal conducts heat and that was probably a very uncomfortable experience." 

"Anyway, Denise, hit me up whenever you get this. I'd love to discuss The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, which I just read. You are beautiful inside as well as out. You are my equal!"

I was weeping (with hilarity). It reminded me of this post, along with Amy Schumer's music video, "Girl You Don't Need Makeup" (the boy band serenade her that she's perfect without glop, only to recoil in disgust when they see the reality, and beg her to slap the stuff back on). 
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My niece said to me the other Friday night (with a complete Shabbos Face), "You look pretty." 

"Thank you, sweetie. It only took a half hour." 

"It was more like forty-five minutes," she corrected.

Gentlemen: Respect the process. That is all we ask. (Han does. Good man.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Thorny Topic

I suppose our grandparents, if they saw our lives today as things were in the 1940s, would have had a good laugh: specifically, in regard to the struggle to maintain a healthy weight.  

My long-time readers would be familiar with my "Battle of the Bulge" series, in which I detailed my own experiences losing weight as well as articles discussing the science of weight loss. 

But I'll be frank. There are times when I wish this wasn't a constant monkey on my back. That I didn't have to analyze and catalogue and monitor. So I would have a day or two of "hedonism" (by my usual standards), when I stubbornly insist I don't care, I've had enough, to heck with it. Then I loathe myself for my lack of control, that it wasn't worth it, and I'm back on the straight and narrow. 

Until I'm invited out for Shabbos, and my hosts coax me to please try this and that, and I want to be a good guest. Then I taste something really yummy and chances are it's really yummy for no good reason, but I still have multiple helpings (I'm a social eater. Haven't hammered that out of me yet. Anyone got any tips?). 

Sigh. 

We've all seen the thin women casually licking an ice cream and wondering, "How does she do it?" But we don't know the rest of her life. Maybe she throws it out when it begins to melt. Maybe she's one of those people who only feel a need to nibble "when hungry" (what's that like?) 
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Weight is a very thorny topic. While it's not acceptable anymore to mock different races or cultures, sitcoms still feel free to laugh at fatness. Obesity carries with it a host of risk factors, but goal weights tend to have to do less with health than with aesthetics (I am guilty of this too). 

Taffy Brodesser-Akner's article on "Losing It" describes the contradictory messages with despair. Since she was a teenager, she has tried every diet known, faddy and dangerous and otherwise. The culture has changed now, where it is no longer p.c. to tout diets for weight loss, rather lifestyle changes for health and wellness. 

But who are we kidding: It's still about weight, just jazzed up in a new outfit. 

Kathy DeVos approaches "The Problem with Body Positivity" as an overweight woman. She was a member of the body positivity movement until she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. She realized that while "fatphobia" is unfair, there are still health ramifications to weight. Her daughter, without her knowledge, chose to go on an unhealthy "diet" as she thought that was her only option. 

DeVos knows the topic is more nuanced than she originally thought. Fat shaming is cruel, as racism and sexism is cruel, but the flip side of the latter two are that there is no negativism associated with others. But there are negatives to obesity. 
The problem with today’s version of body positivity is that it refuses to acknowledge that no one approach is right for every person. One teenager might grow up to be healthy at any weight, and another might end up in the hospital. It left my own daughter afraid to approach me about a topic on which I have both personal experience and expertise. It left me feeling that I couldn’t voice the rational concerns I have about diabetes.
I was the “wrong” kind of body positive because I’d been forced to admit that there could be serious health consequences to fatness.
I was the wrong kind of mother because I felt I should support my daughter’s weight-loss goals instead of talking her out of them. . . 
I’m still trying to get it right. But I’ve come to feel that loving yourself and desiring to change yourself are two sentiments that should be able to peacefully coexist.
That sentiment is not unique to weight loss. That belief is what every Jew carries around every day: "For me the world was created" along with "I am but dust and ashes." 

We know how to carry seemingly contradictory messages together. "On the other hand" is a game every Jew plays.

I personally like it when I'm the weight I would prefer. But I've had a gain that refused to go away (like it usually does), much to my alarm. I was beating myself up about it, but then remembered the article by Sridhar Pappu regarding "Dad Bod." 

We do all come in different sizes and shapes. And those sizes can be affected by age. This is not a matter of unhealthy weight gain; it's five pounds. Five dinky pounds that refuse to leave. We can't claim it's a matter of health when it's really about aesthetics. In that case, obsessing over it can prevent one from focusing on other areas that requires improvement, like watching what comes out of my mouth. 

This is a thorny topic indeed.   

Monday, August 13, 2018

"A" Feeling. "The" Feeling.

"How's married life?" she asks. I visualize her over the phone, a lovely 80-year-old.

"Very good," I reply. 

"Married life is good," she says, a smile in her voice.  

Her husband has had Alzheimer's for the last five years. But she can still say that married life is good. It must have been a great married life, that the happy memories can eclipse this sadness. 

Many years ago, a friend of Han's told him that marriages need a firm foundation. Like any other couple, he said, he and his wife have the occasional fight. Even in the height of emotion, he's able to step back, remember why he married her, and thereby diffuse the situation.

An acquaintance began chatting with Han in shul. When he learned of Han's age and that he had only wedded recently, he went on a bit of a rant. He has an "older" single brother, and he's flummoxed why he's "holding out." He was not particular about who he married; why should his brother be?

All of us have different expectations from relationships. I'm not exactly drowning in friendships because I have high standards. I wasn't willing to tolerate what my gut considered unacceptable just to get a ring on my finger.

A few months ago, I read a shidduch column response that got me really annoyed. A girl wrote in that she had been dating a nice fellow, but she didn't feel anything for him. Apparently the other side felt she was taking too long, and presented her with an ultimatum. She agreed to get engaged since she had no reason to say no. Now, she is unhappy and anxious, although enough of her friends told her they felt the same way and they are happy enough now. 

The response was to blame the current "on demand" society that expects too much. While they do agree the ultimatum was not an ideal tactic, this girl should have faith she is where she is supposed to be and it will turn out well. 

Come say what now? 

This is marriage we're talking about. A lifelong commitment, not a pair of shoes (and the chances of those turning out well are like 25%). This girl should have had the option of either dating this chap until she felt something, or decide to walk away. I felt so much for her, getting married without an iota of excitement. I'm not assuming that she won't achieve happiness with this fellow. But would it have been so terrible if she was allowed to experience it now, rather than later? 

I was discussing "the feeling" with my sister, who didn't marry either at the ideal age (younger than I had been, but in her time it was considered the end of the world). A friend's daughter was going out with a boy, a good boy, a nice boy, but she didn't feel anything, after a number of dates. Just because something isn't wrong, I noted, doesn't mean that it's right.

"She needs 'the feeling'," we agreed. Not only because "the feeling" is wonderful, but also because one day, a couple will be slammed by a curveball, and the memories of the feeling, the foundation, can help carry them through.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

We Can Do It!

I do not have a math mind, despite my math minded parentage. If you ask me to add two numbers together, I gaze vacantly into the distance and hope you go away. 

Oddly, though, I aced my Regents. My high school teacher had called up my parents, worriedly reporting I was falling asleep during her classes (I didn't fall asleep in class in general, but her voice was so monotonous), warning them I would be unprepared for the exam. 

"I'll be fine," I attempted to reassure them. "I've been doing the practice tests. I've got this covered." 

They did not believe me. After all, they knew I didn't have a math mind. They took away my tv. MY TV! The trauma!

Yet they didn't realize that every spare moment I had, including recess, I was doing practice problems (I was voted "most likely to do homework during lunch"). The sheer repetition taught me better than my poor teacher could. To my parents' (and Luke's) shock, I got a 99. 

I suppose I knew I was slacking off in class, and that I could do better. But some kids need to be told that they can do better, and then they do, writes David Kirp.  
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I think this same premise applies even to adults. We're here on this earth to improve, right? To overcome our negative innate qualities. To "strive for excellence." 

And yet I am surprised by how many fellow frum Jews shrug defeatedly and blame nature, rather than taking personal responsibility. 

It takes awareness. It means one day, choosing not to operate on automatic pilot, acting instead with deliberate thought.  Until it becomes automatic.

It can be done. I believe in you, and me. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

It Was Almost Shidduch Lit

A few years ago, HarperCollins launched "The Austen Project," recruiting excellent authors to retell Jane's novels in a contemporary setting. I read only one so far, Joanna Trollope's attempt at Sense and Sensibility.  
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I have a fondness for Trollope's work. Even when I do not relate to her plots, her prose is arresting enough to keep me glued. 

But it seems that Austen must remain in Regency times. 

There are witty lines, sharp observations. She even casually sprinkles the names from other Austen novels throughout—Musgrove, Elliot, even the name Austen. 

Yet the modern world cracks heads with the old world too many times. The idea of "heirs" or "heiresses" sounds absolutely archaic, along with Mrs. Ferrars' obsession that Edward marry a specific girl that he has not socialized with simply due to her father's money.  It's not like a near stranger can propose nowadays and not expect pepper spray.

In addition, Edward's loyalty to Lucy Steele sounds rather weak. Maybe a century ago a man could not shame a woman by backing out of an official engagement, but today all it requires is a sit-down where he sadly informs her that he doesn't love her and she deserves better. There you go.

Additionally, Marianne's unchanged age—18—makes everything uncomfortable. Brandon's interest in her borders on perverted as well as incomprehensible, as Marianne is vilely rude to him. The idea that Willoughby would want to marry is laughable; why would a contemporary boy in his 20s marry a teenager after a few weeks' acquaintance? 

Elinor spends more time with Brandon, and they seem to hit it off so well you wonder why he spends his time mooning after a nasty Marianne. They do seem more ideally suited, but for the purposes of repurposing they cannot end up together. 

The reason why women today love Austen is because she describes a world that no longer exists—a world where women could not support themselves, a world with strict courtship rules, a world where husbands and wives addressed each other as "Mr." and "Mrs."

But in a time when any woman can go to uni and become an earner, does any woman need to hang around for the attentions of an "heir"? Gold-diggers go after hot-shot lawyers, rather. 

I don't think I'll be reading the other reboots. I prefer my Austen in the past. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The One, the Only, BUNDT CAKE!

This cake guaranteed my survival in elementary school. Knowing that I, and I alone, had access to the recipe, my classmates knew they needed me alive. 

In fourth grade I decided to be generous (I don't know why, they didn't deserve it) and brought in individual baggies, each containing a sacred slice, to be given out on my birthday.  

When I carried in the brimming bekelah and silently tucked it into my cubbie, the class was buzzing. "Is it . . .?" "Do you think . . .?" "It IS!" "Morah, please, can she give it out now?"

Because of me, there were 10-year-olds who knew what a Bundt pan was. 

The current version is not remotely similar to that original, however. Over the years, an enterprising aunt experimented to make it "healthier"; less oil, less flour, and so forth.  

The version that remains a constant presence in my freezer is adored by child and adult alike, excepting Luke, who boycotted it since 1997 once orange juice was removed from the ingredient list. 

The below picture is not of a standard Bundt pan, and there is good reason for that. When the family fridge was updated to a side-by-side, the new freezer could not accommodate the Tupperware that contained the typical Bundt shape. Therefore, Ma bought a loaf pan version of the Bundt style. I think I prefer it, actually. Slicing is much easier. 

I will suggest that you peruse the notes on the bottom. The below recipe is when it is done with standard white flour, but the notations will explain the alterations necessary for whole wheat pastry flour (Arrowhead Mills is best).

Remember: With great power comes great responsibility. 

Bundt Cake

6 eggs
2 cups sugar
one tablespoon (heaping) vanilla sugar
Splash vanilla extract
1 cup oil*
2 cups flour**
2 teaspoons baking powder***

Beat the eggs, sugars, and vanilla. Beat in oil. Add dry ingredients, but mix only until just combined. Spray bundt pan generously with baking spray (like Baker's Joy). Pour over into a bundt pan, leaving about a third of the batter in the bowl. 

Add the remaining batter:

1 tablespoon cocoa
2 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoon warm water****
sprinkle vanilla sugar 

Taking the new chocolate batter, pour along the center of the cake.

Bake at 350 degree oven (or 310 convection) for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the oven. Check with a toothpick. Allow to cool before removing from pan. If it was well-sprayed, the cake should fly out no problem. 

*Half of the oil in cake recipes can be replaced with unsweetened apple sauce. By happy chance, the snack packs are usually exactly 1/2 cup. (I get mine from Trader Joe's.)

**The recipe above is for regular white flour, but for years it has been made with whole wheat. Not any whole wheat flour; specifically, Arrowhead Mills Organic Pastry Flour. In my experience, it is the lightest and fluffiest.

***This is very important: When using whole wheat flour, omit baking powder. That was learned the hard way. ("Why is there cake all over the oven?") 

****I've been remiss when doing this recipe, as I haven't added the warm water to the chocolate. Oops. But everyone still loves it. I've even just added cocoa, no sugar either. No complaints so far. But if one is not a fan of chocolate (!) feel free to skip this step.  

Final tip: In my family, cakes live in the freezer (I don't like cake at room temp. Feels unnatural). My nephew refers to it as "cold cake," a term Han lovingly adopted.
 

If you also like your cake frozen, here's a little secret: If you take the cake out a little bit early, the center will remain divinely gooey. Then, when frozen, it's like there's an ice cream center. Not too early, mind. Keep an eye on it from the 45 minute mark.