Friday, September 28, 2018


  • "A Glimpse Inside the Hidden World of Hasidic Women": They mean Lubavitch women, in this case. I'm not exactly sure how "hidden" Lubavitch women are, considering their social-media savvy and various online businesses, but that's the NY Times for you. I was taken aback to read in the original article that Lubavitch women shave their hair, but as can be seen on the bottom of the online version, there is a sheepish correction that they do not. That's a pretty big error, no?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Sweet Sukkos Sanity

Han had a rebbe in Beis Medrash that married "late." 

He was once told, "You know, you can spend time looking for the ideal esrog, but when Sukkos gets closer, you just buy what's available." (You get the klutzy mashal, right?)

He retorted, "Yet no matter how close Sukkos gets, I'm not going to buy a lemon." 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Fave Recipes IV

I may have mentioned that Han is not into fish. Except when my sister made this and he was quite intrigued. Ta, however, doesn't like heavy sauces on his fish. What to do when feeding both . . . 

I solved this by buying a slab of salmon and painting one half in olive oil mixed with garlic and onion powders, paprika, and black pepper. The other half was topped with the above recipe, halved (I cut back on the sugar since Han isn't into sweet anyway). 
My nut distribution left much to be desired.
I sliced the the slab into pieces before topping to make serving easier, and I baked it for only 15 to 17 minutes in a standard 350 oven. Fish continues to cook even when away from the heat source, and it wasn't raw at all.  

Both men were happy. 
I made this by altering the recipe a little. No bacon, obviously. I used eight skinless chicken thighs, and seared them on one side for a few minutes. Another recipe mentioned bay leaves, so I chucked in two. I wasn't starting to mess with fresh thyme; I sprinkled in dried.  

I omitted the potatoes, because they are my kryptonite, and the mushrooms, because I overlooked them. 

In my (paprikash) experience, chicken legs need at least 90 minutes of simmering, so that's what I did. However, I put in the carrots, (frozen) pearl onions, and (frozen) peas too early. They were a little mushy by the end. 
Yet the dish was absolutely delish.  
I'm not really keen on cooked fruit, but I have enough family members who are. Some crisp recipes are decadently sinful (my in-laws make one that is impossible to resist) but this one is pretty okay. My sister-in-law gleefully said she was eating it for breakfast on yuntif morning with milchig whipped cream. I coaxed Han into having his with a dollop of pareve Trader Joe's vanilla ice cream (it's dope, isn't it?) and he was bowled over.
The recipe was meant to be made in one pie plate, but I subdivided it into smaller portions for easier disbursement and storage. Maybe next time I would make them even smaller.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Religious Grieving

My sister lent me her copy of Modern Loss by Rebecca Sofer and Gabrielle Birkner. The book is a compilation of personal stories about death, as well as cartoons, and opens each section with continuations of Sofer's or Birkner's narrative.,204,203,200_.jpg
What struck me was that although Sofer and Birkner are Jewish, and maintained (to some extent) the Jewish rituals like shiva, there was no mention of religion as a source of comfort.  

Simultaneously, I was reading a novel by Elinor Lipman called The Inn on Lake Devine, in which there is a tragic death. There was this scene that stood out to me: 
I asked him if he believed in life everlasting and all that. 
"Do you?" 
I lied. "Sure." 
He said, "I wish I did." 
I told him I didn't either but had wanted to say the right thing. I said, "I think religion was invented to deal with death. It's when it helps the most."  
The narrator, by the way, is Jewish. 

I am not a heretic; I don't believe religion was invented to deal with death. But religion most certainly helps. 

Many other vignettes in the book mention shiva, or other Jewish death rituals, but there is no conversation about how that connects to a greater plan. 

After Ma died, my niece was asking worriedly what Babi had died of. My sister explained, but then clarified, quoting the family guru: "But Babi didn't die because she was sick. She died because it was her time." 

Viewing the vacuum Ma left behind, at times I feel despair at the impossibility of ever adequately filling it and wonder, "Why did she have to die?" But for the most part, I'm at peace with it. 

My grandparents dealt with such losses that boggle the mind—nor were they all Holocaust inflicted (Babi never knew her father; he died when she was a baby. Her mother died on the table after a misdiagnosis before the war). Perhaps, that is why I mostly experience gratitude—amongst the sadness—for the years I did have with my mother.

There is comfort when one abdicates control.    

Monday, September 17, 2018

All Roads Lead to Paprikash

I've been meaning to post the paprikash recipe for years. I was especially galvanized following Sam Sifton's spotlight (which was quite a while back, cough cough). 

Growing up, I ate paprikash weekly. It's a beloved household staple that had never been replaced. Once, Ma decided to be enterprising and try something different: chicken cacciatore. She carefully followed all the steps of the recipe, then said dryly, "I just made paprikash." 

See? Irreplaceable. 

Paprikash is simple, and can be altered in any way the chef desires. It can be made with or without green or red peppers. It can be made with other colored bell peppers, like a lecso. If there are some sad, overripe tomatoes on the counter, chuck 'em in. One can add other side dish vegetables towards the end of cooking to simmer divinely in the sauce—turnip, squash, parsnip, potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, etc. Once my sister, on a lark, added red wine, and her kids loved it. 

Over the years, the basic recipe was slightly altered as Ma learned new tips from her tv chefs. She found that when the onions are sliced into half-moons, as opposed to diced, they caramelize most pleasingly. The paprika was upped in quantity, and it should be infused in the hot oil. 

Ma had the talent for making her paprikash seared without actually searing (also known as "almost burnt," just the way I like it). I don't know how she did it, so sometimes I sear the chicken first, then add it back after sauteing the onion.  

While most Hungarian mamas would leave the skin on (although Zsuzsa does not), Ma always removed it (she was into healthy cooking, after all). In my opinion, it allows the paprika flavors to really penetrate. 

The amount of paprika varies by recipe. Zsuzsa uses 2 to 3 tablespoons, others are very stingy. Use as much as you like. 

The picture below shows nokedli as well. But I'll save those babies for another post.

Basic Paprikash

8-10 pieces chicken legs or thighs
1 large onion, thinly sliced into half moons
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 generous tablespoon paprika
a few shakes smoked paprika (optional) 
1 green pepper, thinly sliced (optional)

1. Remove skin from the chicken. 

2. If you like, you can sear the chicken first (but it isn't necessary). Dab the meat dry, sprinkle some salt and paprika, and sear for a few minutes in a hot, oiled pan. 

3. If having seared first, remove the chicken. Next, add the onions and sauté. 

4. When the onions are looking oh so fine, scooch them over to the side of the pan. Add a little more oil and when hot, add the paprika(s) and garlic. Allow the spices to infuse in the oil for a minute, ensuring they do not burn. 

5. Mix the onions and spices back together, and spread the onions evenly along the bottom of the pot. Add back the chicken, and the pepper(s) if using. I like to sprinkle the chicken now with a little salt and some more paprika.

6. Cover and lower the flame to a simmer. The chicken will cook for 90 minutes. If needed, add water only a half cup at a time. But the last few times I made it so much liquid came out of the chicken it wasn't necessary to add anything. 

7. Depending how long your side dish needs to cook, add whatever you like as well, as mentioned above. God, everything tastes amazing in paprikash sauce.   

8. Oh, and it freezes very well. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How to Stay Sane While Dating: XVI

When I was single, I got a lot of flack for my makeup. Which I donned under my mother's supervision, mind you. 

Women (it was very rarely men, they seemed to enjoy it) would make constant comments. Too much. Too strong.
Which, of course, was the reason why I was single. 

I will not deny that there were a number of dates that were horrified by my cosmetic choices. (They were also the guys who didn't believe in ironing.) Or there were some dates who liked my face paint, but were disappointed to learn that I had brains, too. 

Oh, that was a reason why I was single, too. "Don't act so smart on a date," I was told, once even by a non-Jewish client. 

Luckily, it wasn't an option for me to "tone myself down." I yam what I yam. And how am I to know what man likes what?

So I continued in my pink-lipped and big-vocabularied glory, poo-pooing the naysayers (with my parents' support) until the merry day that I met Han, who adores my Face and enjoys the brains that goes with them. 

Since people like to blame, they will zero on in a quality that they happen to find personally objectionable and claim, "Hey, that's why you're single!"  

In my case, my Sephora obsession was my crime. Even though these women simply chose other options for their Faces (that didn't suit them one bit, shudder), they needed to make their lives more orderly by pinpointing an obvious error and believe that "if only" the poor dear saw the horror of her ways, she would be wed by now.

A faulty presumption, indeed. 

But I wasn't in the dating game just to get married. I was in that stupid, chaotic, exhausting world to find a life partner. Someone who would see me. Someone I could see. Someone I could be my natural self with, feeling safe and accepted.  

Han's best friend's wife was told "she would never get married" if she continued in her quirky ways. Well, she did, obviously. 

It doesn't say anywhere in the Gemara how we have to suppress our personalities in order to marry. It says Hashem has it all taken care of.  

So be yourself. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Terror of Silence

When I get upset, I don't get loud. I get vewy, vewy quiet. 

It's genetic. It's also an INFJ characteristic. Ma would get quiet, too. As does Owen. My niece gets quiet (it freaked us out when she did it for the first time when she wasn't yet two). 

When I am flooded with emotion, my body shuts down. My sister-in-law commented that it's a good thing, as Owen doesn't say anything regrettable in the heat of the moment. 

I don't like to lose control. I don't like to have to amend for vicious words spoken while infuriated.

I'm also a little slow on the uptake. It may take me a full five minutes (usually longer) to realize someone is insulting me. 

Considering how a basic Judaic tenet is "do not respond," that means I can have fantasies of chapping up Olam HaBah, all without trying. 

Yet I recently realized another perk. 

When one remains quiet in the face of insult, the offender's hurtful words float in the air, echoing in all their horror. There is a very good chance the offender now hears exactly what was said, and realizes the error of such speech. The offender may flush, and mumble, then hopefully vanish in shame. 

I believe that is known in layman's terms as a "win-win." 

You see, if one quickly jumps in defensively, those painful utterances are pushed aside and forgotten by the enunciator. They smirk instead at one's feverish efforts to explain or clarify. 

Being quiet just makes perfect tactical sense. For there is one thing I have learned: Silence, in the face of insult, reflects self-discipline. Those who revel in taking others down exploit insecurities. But if I refuse to take the bait . . . they get very frightened indeed.

I constantly quote from Lord of the Rings: "I did not pass through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a witless worm."

Monday, September 3, 2018


One day, out of the blue, I got a call from an elementary school classmate. 

She was calling, of all reasons, to apologize. She was going through something at the moment, she said, and she decided to make amends. She remembered that she had tormented me in our young days, and she asked for my forgiveness. 

I was gobsmacked. I actually didn't bear her much of a grudge (she was the sidekick to the bully who really went for me) but I was truly blown away by the amount of courage it took for her to make this call. 

A few years previously, a woman called my mother under the same premise; her daughter was "older," unmarried. She had walked away from friendship with Ma to pursue "loftier" options. But she was asking forgiveness, all these years later.  

Luke was initially unimpressed by these women's gestures. "Oh, sure," he said, eyes rolling, "they call only when there's 'something going on.'"

"But," I countered, "doesn't it beat the alternative? Rather than making gestures that don't help anyone, like lighting extra candles on Friday night or saying Tehillim backwards, they did something really difficult." 

He had to agree. 

It is said it doesn't matter what our motivations are, as long as our actions are the right ones.
Asking for forgiveness is a tricky thing. Are we asking to exorcise our own guilt? Are we asking because we are truly sorry to have hurt another? 

Then there is the question if the hurt party is even able to forgive. Sometimes wounds go to deep. In my case, any submerged grievances against my classmate vanished (against the major bully, not so much). Danielle Berrin, who was assaulted by a prominent author, cites the Jewish forgiveness process: 
Judaism offers a prescription for restorative rather than punitive justice that I think can provide a template for all of us — not just Jews — in determining what it should take to readmit transgressors into public life.
In Judaism, a religion that prizes deeds over faith, atonement is not an easy process. And why should it be? It is designed to effect nothing less than personal transformation. This is why the Hebrew word for “repentance” is “teshuva,” or return — as in a return to your higher self, a return to your essential goodness, a return to recognizing your own dignity and the dignity of others.
The repentance process begins with an “accounting of the soul” (heshbon ha’nefesh), an examination of how one has failed or fallen short. God can forgive sins against God, but notably, sins between people can be forgiven only by the aggrieved.
Judaism requires that transgressors seek out those they’ve hurt and ask forgiveness of each and every person. If rebuffed, the tradition demands the transgressor ask no fewer than three times before moral responsibility is lifted. . . 
While prayer, “tefillah,” is also a key component of atonement in Judaism, it is a private, personal affair between human beings and God, so I won’t suggest it for everyone. I do believe, however, that prayer is meaningless if not married to moral action.
The third element of true return is “tzedekah,” often translated as “charity,” but it comes from the Hebrew root of the word “righteousness.” Judaism is not alone in reminding us that those who have hurt others can redeem themselves through giving — perhaps the most quantifiable aspect of atonement. A complete rehabilitation should include a commitment of time and money to a cause that uplifts and empowers those in need. Engaging in a reasonable period of community service could help inculcate humility and selflessness in those who once thought only of themselves.
She does say, as well: 
I’m not ready to forgive him — at least not yet. Until restitution is made publicly as well as privately, his reckoning rings hollow. But as Judaism reminds me: It is never too late to repair what’s been broken.
There is also "How to Forgive" by Malia Wollan, which reminds us that holding on to grievances is simply not healthy. That's what I do when I find myself telling off the mirror, pretending it's the transgressor: You're going to give yourself an ulcer. (There's also some tips in there how to properly let go.)