Monday, December 16, 2019

There Goes That Fantasy

When I entered my teens, Ma introduced me to the next level of "literature": Regency romances. 

The authors were typically Joan Smith, Carola Dunn, Fiona Hill. Georgette Heyer here and there, but she used a lot of annoying exclamation points and was rather antisemitic.  The books were usually about a mousey girl who for some unknown reason catches the fancy of a strapping, handsome marquis (he always had a title, rarely a mere Mr.), or about a spirited young woman of striking beauty but was too anticonvention for her own good who for some unknown reason catches the fancy of a strapping, handsome marquis. 

I gobbled them up like tater tots. They were my main form of entertainment for years, until I branched out into medieval romances as well. Cough. 

In the last decade or so, I've left them behind, preferring historical novels of other topics. But I still watch the Austen adaptations with glee. 

My sister-in-law and I swap books, and she excitedly handed me "A Murder in Time" by Julie McElwain. It's about a female FBI agent who gets sucked into a vortex and ends up in Regency England. 

However, she is not familiar with Austen's work, and finds the restrictions on women to be simply ridiculous.  Seeing the era through her eyes, you do realize that she's right. The romance is gone. So while all the language of those books I once enjoyed are there, the limitations women faced, the hardscrabble existence of the other 99% of humanity that wasn't landed gentry, the misconceptions on science and medicine, has sort of removed the glow from those tales. 

It's like when I read "Longbourn" by Jo Baker, and however considerate Lizzy is depicted in "Pride and Prejudice," maids were not granted that consideration. While most women believe they would have been Emma in another life, chances are they would have had the job of scrubbing her boots for a pittance. 

When I was a teenager, "Ever After" was one of my favorite movies. Spirited girl wins heart of prince! Yay! Then I began to read Sharon Kay Penman's novels about the British monarchy, and it became quite clear that princes did not marry for love. They married for political reasons, and had mistresses for love. I think I read somewhere once that character of Danielle was actually based on a mistress of a royal Henri. Being a royal mistress was actually  a great position so had Danielle been offered that, she would have been thrilled. All those scenes of Marguerite angling to become princess is all the more laughable because she would have known that's never. Ever. Gonna. Happen. 

I can't rewatch "Ever After" again knowing that. 

There are times in life when fantasies are fun and helpful. But then you grow out of them, finding you don't need them anymore. 

But I still anthropomorphize toys. Hmm.

Monday, December 2, 2019

I Finally Read Gluckel

Gluckel of Hameln is supposedly required reading, the memoirs of Jewish woman from the end of the 1600s. Every time I tried to take it out there was always a hitch, but I finally got my hands on it and read it through, much to Ben's annoyance ("Hey Ma! What's so interesting?")

What is surprising to me is how money is most of the conversation.  This person is worth this much; that person has that much; this person had this much but lost it. "Thalers," the currency of the time and place, is probably the most repetitive word in the book.

Gluckel had 13 children to marry off, so that was the other theme. Girls of 12 were promised to boys from other cities that they would not see until the "betrothal feast," at which point everything was agreed on. No child said, "Mother dear, not for me." Gluckel herself wed at the age of 14, and was widowed at 44, after 30 years of marriage. 

One passage in particular I found entertaining was when she recounts a visit to her in-laws. While her husband's father was worth a staggering amount,  he gave them a  gift worth a paltry sum. However, she proclaims, we treasured that present, unlike other ungrateful children who suck their parents dry. I can't tell if she's being serious or sarcastic, if she's pointedly chewing out one of her kids.

It's also a reminder of how precarious life was for Jews in the past. The rabble could be roused, the leader could banish. Life was cheap and murders were often unavenged. Never mind illness; Gluckel lost a little girl and many other relatives to diseases that probably do not plague us any longer. 

While reading of all the arranged marriages, I snarked to myself,  "Hey, solution for shidduch 'crisis' right here! Let's bring back betrothing tweens to unseen grooms!"

My neighbor has a great-granddaughter born the same time as Ben. I hear she's quite the cutie. Crisis averted. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Forgive Me

To be fair, I really did think I could post with regularity after having Ben. But I kinda forgot (remarkable, considering all the kinfauna) how much WORK babies are. Like, full time! Grabbing a few minutes to link an article and my thoughts on it? He’s gonna wake up soon (his naps aren’t long) and there are necessary things to take care of while my hands are free. 

So I’m definitely not posting as often as I thought I would. I’m sorry for it. I still enjoy blogging. But Ben doesn’t really let.

While I may no longer have rants about singlehood to share, I can reassure the single public that comments do not stop when you marry. My shoemaker just gave me a long speech (with Ben slumbering in the stroller) how getting married so late was my fault.  Marry young! Grow together! So simple!

I feebly insisted that there was only Han for me. That was met with a scoff. 

Ah well. He does fix shoes beautifully. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Idle Hands

Grief is . . . interesting. 

I thought I had simply handled Ma's death "well," but then the mack truck tootled along and flattened me. I had believed I was on the lofty madreiga of bypassing the boo-hoo-ness, but haha, haha, hahahaha. Joke's on me, sweet pea. 

One Friday, I awoke with the physical symptoms of grief as well as the emotional ones. I could barely move. My face felt numb. But it was Friday. Friday does not allow for barely moving or numb faces. 

Ma always said, "Keep on truckin'." 

So I kept on truckin'. 

At some point amongst the chicken trimming, vegetable slicing, kugel baking, baby feeding, baby napping, baby laundry, kitchen cleaning, plant watering, and various other tasks, movement became easy and feeling was restored to my face. I felt practically cheerful.  

My aunt, a mental health professional, once observed that there are no words in Yiddish for the psychological maladies our generation suffers from; her opinion is that no one had time for it way back when. 

In Europe, Babi didn't have to just trim the fat off chicken thighs; Babi had to select a chicken, take it to the shoichet, bring home the carcass, pluck the feathers, salt it, rinse it, salt it again (at least, I think two saltings are needed, right? I don't know), rinse it some more, and eventually be allowed to cook the bird. 

After all that, who had time for depression? 

I am definitely not saying I would prefer to be living a century ago in Hungary. I prefer indoor plumbing, thank you very much. But it reminds me that there is always a trade off. An unoccupied mind can be our own worst enemy. 

Well, there's always Netflix. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Sympathy vs. Destructive Advice

Facebook groups have their pros and cons, as does many things in life. For nearly every niche that exists, one can find a group or page that speaks to their giste. Some have said these groups were lifesavers as they attempted to seek support for a special needs child. Or more mildly, if one is on the search for a tried-and-true poached pear recipe. 

One negative, however, that I have noted: A woman will post a vent session on the group, even though her name is visible to other members. She’ll complain, perhaps, about her husband, something along the lines of an insensitive comment. 

A commenter posted: “Well, you are in an abusive situation, and you should leave him.” 

The venter posted a snippet of her life. A snippet. She didn’t post the good moments with her husband, because when she’s in a good place she doesn’t need to inform anyone. (To quote “Fiddler”: “If he was doing badly, he would write.”) 

Many of us have different ways of coping, but it usually involves a sympathetic ear. Perhaps this gal has nowhere safe in real life to vent, and turns to Facebook not for solutions, but for sympathetic noises. She was not asking for her issue to be fixed, certainly not in the form of “Upend your life, your children’s lives, and your extended family’s lives because as a random stranger, I saw all I needed to see from your 259 word post and I think that’s a good idea.” 

Marriage, like any other relationship, is unique to each couple. If she says, “My husband socked me in the jaw last night,” recommendations to seek help would definitely be warranted. But to push for divorce because he’s having difficulty seeing things his wife’s way? 😳

Type carefully. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Online Dating, Revisited

I am not one to speak of online dating, as my experience was rather small in that area. I joined SYAS for a day, then cancelled my membership. 

There is a difference, however, between SYAS and standard dating websites (which I did not join, either, not having the strength for it). SYAS operates on shadchanim setting up dates; standard dating sites have you do the searching for yourselves. 

I read two articles recently on the topic, in the NY Times and Wall Street Journal. The online WSJ doesn't allow any access to content without a subscription, so I'll sum up "Dating Apps Are Making Marriages Stronger." 

The premise is that since one can list exactly what one is looking for, being quite explicit about needs, wants, values, expectations, they are more likely to find someone who is in line with those criteria. When one reads an online profile, one can then choose whether a date makes sense before proceeding. When dating in real life, however, one may compromise or overlook after meeting the person in question. 

One man, who was quoted, went for looks first and foremost, believing everything else could be overcome. When he began to date online, he was forced to sit down and consider what was really important in a relationship. 

"In Praise of Online Dating" has a different message. The author has used dating apps for the past three years and has gone on nearly 90 first dates. 

Yes, online dating can be deeply demoralizing, a parade of indignities that throws into relief not just our self-absorption and banality, but our nihilism too. If I stumble upon one more man who seeks a “partner in crime,” one more “sapiosexual” or “entrepreneur,” I fear I will stomp on my phone. Worse still are the car selfies and nephew pics; the weird proliferation of taco and pizza emojis; the men who take it upon themselves to tell you who you are — “a girl who takes care of herself,” naturally, which always reads to me like a thinly-veiled threat. And above all the ghosting. 

However, she found these dates to have infused an extra zest to her life. 

How narrow was my own existence, I thought then, and how it continued to narrow by the day. But to go on dates with 86 different men is to gain as many windows on the world; it is to see one’s vast city and one’s vast self, if only for a few hours, through the eyes of a stranger one would never otherwise have met.

Additionally, she realized that in her now-dead marriage, she had lost herself; while many dates were soul-crushing, her self reemerged and hardened. 

I can echo the same sentiments. I would march home from a date and be able to voice my values, when before they could have been rather ethereal. I could say, "This isn't going to work for me. I need that."

So often, when dating, we are told to be something we are not. But we are what we are, there is no escaping it, nor is that anything to be corrected or altered. I could meet someone, respect his point of view, but know such an outlook would not work for me in terms of marriage yet still enjoy his book recommendation. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

People Influence People

The Orville, "Lasting Impressions" 

The show, a satire/homage of Star Trek, takes place in the 2400s. Archeologists discover a time capsule from 2015, in which a cell phone is discovered. They manage to access it, and a video from the owner, Laura, pops up. 

Gordon, the ship's pilot, has been rather unsuccessful with the ladies, and finds himself drawn to Laura's video. He uses her cell phone, which is full of information (texts, videos, whatnot), to create a holographic simulation of Laura and her life.
At the time of the program's opening, Laura has broken up with her long-time boyfriend, Greg. Gordon is rather taken with her, and keeps reentering the program (to the crew's worry). 

She initially tells him that she is a saleswoman at Macy's, but dreams of making it as a singer. He goes to hear her soulfully strum and croon in a bar, and, quite typically, falls in love with her. 

However, the program is operating on the details of her phone, and she gently explains to him that she has gotten back together with Greg. 

Gordon can't bear to let her go, and tells the computer to delete Greg from the program. 

However, the next time he enters the program, Laura is not the same. She briskly discusses pursuit of a promotion, and when asked about her singing, scoffs that no way could she perform in public.
Greg was the one who encouraged her to take her singing to another level. No Greg, no Laura that Gordon fell in love with. 

Commander Grayson explains to Gordon that we are born blank slates, and we become who we are by our relationships. I still think there is a good chunk of nature involved, but it is true to some extent. 

I know I wasn't the same person at 31 as I was at 19, and in my almost two years of marriage and becoming a mother, I've probably changed some more.  

It also made me think on what sort of influence I have been on others. It's rather daunting, that responsibility. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

My Take on Lachmagine

As a recovering carbaholic, I try to be aware and limit my consumption of flour-based deliciousness. I currently have a container of leftover roasted potatoes eyeing me hopefully every time I open the fridge. Luckily pasta doesn't have the same hold over me, or else I'd be doomed. How I love cereal.

By the blessing of the Lord above, the man I married shares a similar carb-cautiousness. 

There are some foods he enjoys, however, that involve dough, like lachmagine. But for him, the ikkur isn't the dough, it's the meat. Having fallen hard for spaghetti squash, I believe I came across a recipe for spaghetti squash pizza crust, without the cheese binder that many rely on. 

I did find such a recipe on A Beautiful Mess (omitting the oregano and cayenne, using my own choice of spices), and experimented by making two crusts, one from riced cauliflower and the other from spaghetti squash. I must say, the squash version was much easier to deal with. The edges of the cauliflower crust crumbled, whereas the squash remained firm and intact. 

For the meat topping, I used a recipe that came with the riced cauliflower package, which is by Naomi Nachman

Using 14 cup measurements, I made quite many mini-crusts from one spaghetti squash. After baking the crusts, and before putting on the meat topping, I flipped them over. 

The crust was nice and firm.

I opted to make my own prune butter by simmering some prunes with a splash of water. Didn't take long. 

The leftovers kept very well in the fridge for quite a few days.  

Monday, August 12, 2019

For Cuteness!

A number of months ago, there was an article in the NY Times that niggled at me. And niggled at me. And niggled at me. 

I have found the only way to deal with the niggles is to write about it. 

The article, by Pagan Kennedy, was called "Why You Want to Eat This Baby Up: It’s Science." She begins by describing how since childhood, she never wanted to have children, to the horror of everyone. 

She just doesn't find babies cute, she claims. According to her, that's the only reason a woman would want to have a child. 

Like, for reals?

The only reason why people have children is because they're cute?

What I never quite understood about those who profess no desire to besmirch their comfortable existences with demanding little humans is this: we were ALL children once. Our parents besmirched their comfortable existences to create and raise you

Additionally, how long are we cute? Not very long, in the grand scheme of things. Many babies enter the world colicky and crabby. Babies leak from every orifice. As Han's friend joked, "Babies begin smiling when we're about to chuck 'em out a window." Cuteness is for survival. 

But why do we have kids? As Jews, we know why. Heritage, mesorah, passing on the flame, etc. etc. The cuteness is just a perk. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Biblical Win-Win

I had an epiphany a while back, but life ensued and I was not able to type it up. It's kind of random, but whatevs. 

In the Torah, there is that bit that if you see the donkey of someone you hate struggling with its burden, you are supposed to help the hated one, even if your best bud who is standing next to him could use a hand. 

Sometimes the Torah gives us the means to be the most annoying. 

If you can't stand someone (and we assume the feeling is mutual), the one thing they do not want from you is a favor. It makes them choke to be beholden to someone they don't like. 

Let us say (and I am totally not speaking from experience, cough cough) there is a shadchan who drives you mad. Your profile needs constant editing (according to her), your pictures are no good (according to her), and for all that nitpicking, her shidduch suggestions are waaaaay off base. 

It would aggravate me to no end if she would end up being my shadchan.

So: Help out the guy with whom you have a feud. Because that'll make him want to explode. Win-win.  

Friday, July 12, 2019


There were two articles printed this past Monday that I found engrossing. 

Monday, July 1, 2019


I am not usually a crier. I'm keenly experience emotions, so I should be crier, except my mother had that European shame of overt displays of feeling (she would have been a crier too, if not for that programming). Even when she died, I did not weep excessively. 

Then, when I became pregnant with Ben, oh boy. I was bawling constantly. It took me until Ma's first yartzheit, when I was with child, to cry. I cried when there was the slightest hint of tension. I cried in the shower, just for the heck of it.

Then, when he was born—hooooooeeeeee. I cried some more. I was happy, ecstatic, but still very, very weepy. My sister reassured Han that this was normal. 

It's the hormones, yes. But I wasn't irrational. I wasn't hysterical. I just needed a box of tissues. 

Randi Hutter Epstein in "Stop Calling Women Hormonal" explains the purpose of hormones, and that blaming them is not really fair to women or to the hormones. 

I recall an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" when Ray is about to enter the house but sees through the window Debra crying on the couch. He believes she's miserable, but she calmly explains that sometimes she just needs a good cry.
Then there was another episode when he believes she has PMS, and she attacks him "like a monkey tearing into a cupcake" for blaming the hormones. When Marie walks in on their argument, she actually slaps her beloved son in defense of her not-so-beloved daughter-in-law.  

So, yeah, just because I'm crying doesn't mean I don't have a point.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Not-As-Horrible Frosting

I had been searching for years. I tried, multiple times, but my attempts were fruitless. I occasionally gave up hope. But now, I have found what I sought for so long. 

I shall start from the beginning. 

Many of us have family recipes that defines their clan. For us, there's paprikash, bundtcake, and Shabbos cake. 

Shabbos cake was my mother's chocolate cake, baked in a massive pan. It would be layered into two rows, slathered on top and in between with pareve whip. It was named "Shabbos cake" since it only emerged from the garage deep freeze for Shabbos. 

It was a happy childhood indeed. 

Then stupid education got in the way. We learned pareve whip is made from trans-fat, the worst of the worst. Since the human body doesn't recognize it, it can't metabolize it, and simply parks it in your thighs and arteries where it remains. It has actually now been banned in new food products.

Good-bye, pareve whip. 

But I needed a replacement, which proved to be nigh on impossible. I tried cashew cream, but the frosting was dingy in color, heavy in texture. Coconut cream seemed the best option, but it tastes like coconut. I hate coconut, and so do many of my family members. Aquafaba wasn't stable enough for my needs; it sort of self-destructs in storage. 

There was one option that I stubbornly refused to attempt because of a rather silly reason: it required a candy thermometer. I didn't want to buy a gadget to take up space for one recipe. Seemed wasteful. 

Until my nocturnal surfing while feeding the baby got the better of me. I bought the dinky thermometer. 

And the results are TOTALLY WORTH IT!!!
I used my first attempt to frost a brownie my sister gave me. Quite delicious. Sadly, she can't find the recipe she used.
I used this recipe for marshmallow frosting, and I was finally able to recreate the Shabbos cake of my youth (my sister made the cake for a family birthday party, I made the frosting).
Yes, I know it's not so pretty, but that's because I need practice. No fault of the frosting.

While the recipe calls for corn syrup, one can use agave instead (I did). Additionally, it is of upmost importance that the egg whites are room temperature. I made one batch will cold whites and the frosting was a failure. After separating the next batch of whites, I waited a half hour and the frosting was magnificent.

Since someone in the audience will jump down my throat, I am not claiming that frosting with copious amounts of sugar is healthy. However, it is certainly better than trans-fat. It's all about compromise.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Shidduch Lit VII

Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything:
This book takes place in the 1950s, as young women flock to Manhattan for secretarial positions. There is a scene where a group of single women attend the wedding of a co-worker. Our heroine is Caroline; the co-worker is Mary Agnes.
"You'll find somebody," Mary Agnes said. "Don't you worry." 

"I'm not worried, Mother," Caroline said. 

"That's a good attitude," said Mary Agnes, licking the salt off her fingers. "I admire you for it. Most girls our age are scared to death if there's nobody on the horizon, and that's silly. Because if you look at the girls five years older than we are, why, I don't know one who isn't married." 

"I do." 

"Are they terribly ugly?"

"Quite the contrary. I've met some at parties who are very pretty and smart, too, with good jobs." 

Mary Agnes' eyes widened as if she were about to expound some great and mysterious bit of philosophy. "Well, she said, perhaps there's something psychologically wrong with them." 

Caroline clamped her lips together to keep from laughing and jiggled her empty glass so Mary Agnes could see it. "I've got to get a refill," she gasped, and fled to the desk that was serving as a bar. The whole conversation had been so ludicrous, really, with Mary Agnes smug now that she had landed her man and she herself the adventurous but rather pathetic figure of the attractive unattached girl. It made her want to laugh when she thought of Mary Agnes' comments, and yet, unaccountably, they hurt a little too. Because as always she could see and hear everything on two levels, the one that told her how silly it was and the one that allowed her to become affected and upset. She was only twenty-two, she had been out of college only two years, and she knew she was going to get married someday . . .Caroline knew she had lied to Mary Agnes because one always lied to such people if one intended to survive. But she couldn't lie to herself. She was worried about getting married. She knew it was ridiculous, but she was worried. She wondered whether every girl felt the same way she did, or whether it was a personal foolishness. 

Sound familiar? It did to me. Plenty of my posts dealt with this same dual feelings that the people who made ridiculous comments were ridiculous, of course I'll meet my one-and-only someday—but what if I don't?

Then this passage, as Caroline contemplates her dating life: 

She was realizing already as she came to the end of her second year in New York that thoughtfulness like this was hard to find. There were men . . . all good looks and charm . . . There were dozens of utterly mismatched blind dates that she had been inflicted with in the past two years, a sentence of hard labor starting with the words (usually uttered by some nice older woman who hardly knew her or the boy) "I know a nice young man for you to meet." These amateur matchmakers seemed to think the mere fact that Caroline wore a skirt and the man wore pants was enough to make them want to hurl themselves into each other's arms. And there was the majority, the so-so dates, the young men who didn't particularly care about her or she about them, but who continued to call her once in a while for dinner or drinks because they too were marking time. 

There is nothing knew under the sun. Nor is our situation specific to us frummies. We are simply in a time warp when it comes to our romantic experiences. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Shabbos Lashes

Three day yuntif. For a makeup lover like myself, cue the 😱 emoji. I love yuntif! But keeping on mascara for three days is quite daunting.

In my younger, pre-baby days, keeping makeup on for so long was a challenge I was amenable to tackle. But I
now cherish sleep to the point that I just want to bury my face into a pillow and pass out after a 2 am feeding.

I still, however, want to go out in public with my dignity intact.

A few years back I heard of magnetized false lashes. The lashes attach with magnets, so they can be applied and removed and reapplied on Shabbos. As I  am armed with Shabbos makeup, mascara is the only chink in my armor.

So this past Shabbos I gave it a trial run. I purchased a set by Lash’d Up on Amazon called "I Woke Up This Way," and after a few tries, managed to somewhat successfully apply them. They aren’t too dramatic - my mascara is usually more over the top - and with Shabbos eyeliner I was able to make it look more blended with the lash line. 

Because they are magnetized, you can’t use metal tweezers to get them on. I think I will look for plastic ones to assist.

So after a bleary night with baby, I was able to take my eyes from bare to smoky on Shabbos, with lashes!

The Messiah cometh!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Missed Me?

She humbly inquired.

Well, I did have a pretty good reason. Approximately 7 lbs. of it. 

I'm a mommy now.  

The blessed little fellow, to be referred to as Ben, has cut into my extracurricular activities a bit. But I still intend to blog. 

Sand People couldn't keep me away. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Art vs. Supper

Today's culture puts little value on home life. Domesticity can be dully repetitive (as my Babi would joke, "You want supper again? I fed you yesterday!"), and for some, a barrier to more "lofty" achievements.
In my case, home life was always more appealing than anything else, work or vacation included (vacation, to me, is as much work as work). I've feel fulfilled when chasing after kinfauna. I find the noise of something substantial clattering up the vacuum hose oddly satisfying. And, weirdly, I don't mind doing dishes.
Yet these necessary and endless tasks can get "in the way" of "art," according to the standard narrative. As Bookends asked, "Are Domestic Responsibilities at Odds With Becoming a Great Artist?" The question was answered by Siddhartha Deb, a single father, and Dana Stevens, a mommy.
Deb argues that standard employment is not considered a barrier to art, only dish washing, because the latter is uncompensated and so, therefore, "unproductive."
Yet the reality is that art and domestic work are both likely to go uncompensated or poorly compensated, and under such circumstances, both have to be approached with love and rigor to be done well. In that sense, great art and domestic responsibilities are as like each other as my elaborate meal plans are like the chapter outlines of my maximalist novel.

Stevens provides examples of recognized authors who did not have children, and even gave credit to their art for that fact; however, she also lists those who did have children and succeeded. She also points out that many abandoned their families in the pursuit of "art" and did not become well-known.
. . . with time, my romantic vision of the uncluttered life of the pure artist has gotten agreeably cluttered by life itself.

She simply concludes that an artist must be more driven, that's all, in order to create, and that shows their devotion. No worries.
Yiyun Li reviewed Deborah Levy's book "The Cost of Living," as Levy describes her writing while also extremely busy with everyday life. The stereotypical artist escapes from the responsibilities of the mundane life, but does that make their work any better without those "distractions"? Levy's books were critically recognized, even with the millstones of everyday hanging about her neck.
For my own preferences, I prefer reading stories of "real life," of characters navigating the everyday, the mundane, and trying to figure out the best choices to make. In general, facing reality head-on instead of avoiding the inevitable is my jam. I don't find artists who abandon their families to float without care at all appealing; that art, in my opinion, is worthless.
It can be done.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

What's Love Got to Do With Cooking

The title of this article when it was printed in NY Times Magazines was "Cooking Like a Cynic.
With some frequency these days, you’ll hear talk of cooking “with love” — that supposed secret ingredient, the intangible something extra that makes a chef’s food so good. I am sure that is accurate for some, but I imagine that what is identified as love is probably thoroughness and follow-through and taking the time that work-done-properly takes.  
Whenever I hear of "cooking with love," I think of two sitcom situations: 

The first was from "Everybody Loves Raymond," when Marie acquiesces and teaches Debra her precious meatball recipe. However, there is a "weird taste" that Debra can't account for, no matter how she tries. Marie had begun the lesson by invoking the "love," and Deb concludes that she must not have it. 

She then discovers that the herb jar that Marie gave her was sabotaged. "Love" had nothing to do with it. 

The second is from "The Big Bang Theory," the first episode that the excellent Laurie Metcalf guest-stars as Sheldon's mother, Mary Cooper. Penny gushes about her apple cobbler, to which Mary responds, coyly: "You know what the secret ingredient is?" 

Penny, simpering: Love? 

Mary: Lard.
I think these two examples prove—along with the article—that good cooking has nothing to do with love. It's about being invested enough in the process to learn techniques, follow recipes properly, and occasionally follow one's gut in terms of improvement.  

Some people have no interest; their prerogative. Some people rush, make errors, and wonder why their results are politely ignored; again, also their prerogative. 

Ma would say that she did not like to cook. However, what she did enjoy was nourishing her family with healthy recipes that they would scarf down even though they had all the fat removed. Nothing gave her greater joy than an empty pot: That meant that whatever she had made was a hit. 

I wonder now if I like to cook. I can get excited at the prospect of trying something new, researching recipes, getting it right. There is something rewarding about taking the separate, the raw, and compiling them into a blended, magical creation. Perhaps I do like to cook; the process itself as well as how the results are received (which is not always well. But then I try again).

Monday, February 25, 2019

When They Don't Want You

I would think that by now, I would have cheerfully forgotten about those miserable dating days. But no, they haunt me still, that decade +. 

While the majority of my dates were obviously "he is not for me," there were occasionally fellows that ignited my interest simply because they were so much better than what I had gone out with before. In those situations, I believed myself smitten, even though after one meeting I could already tick off a number of "um" qualities.  

When they said no (after one or two dates), I would be so devastated, and think about them constantly until the next "better" option came along. Who would also decline, and then be the object of my affection for a while further. 

Then Han blew them all out of the water, and I realized how wrong I had been. 

I thought of this while reading "Lessons from a 12-Hour Goodbye" by Miriam Johnson. She was attached to him, but he did not return her ardor. She pleaded their case for 12 hours, but for naught. 

It reminded me of "He's Just Not That Into You"; if a guy really likes you, he'll do anything to keep you. He can't be talked or coaxed into having feelings that he doesn't share with you. 

Johnson was initially hopeful he'd return, but when he didn't, she realized how little we really know others. Not only that, she had hidden parts of herself from him. 

When we are on the search for a life partner, and then feel as though we are close, so close, it's hard to accept defeat. But sometimes those experiences have different meanings then we think. 

Johnson tells her therapist that it's been a year and she still thinks about him; she wants to know how to let him go. 
. . . she told me a story about a man she loved in her early 20s, nearly 50 years ago, whom she still thinks about to this day. Then she said: “You’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about getting over and letting go.”
I looked down at my hands and considered how this could possibly be about anything else.
“It’s about honoring what happened,” she said. “You met a person who awoke something in you. A fire ignited. The work is to be grateful. Grateful every day that someone crossed your path and left a mark on you.”
To be frank, it's kind of difficult to find gratitude in heartbreak. I would wonder what I was supposed to learn after trying so hard, willing to be vulnerable, only to have my efforts spurned. Maybe it's gratitude? Or maybe it's pain that one was meant to experience. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

My Mother's Armoire

Ma and I were of similar clothing size, and wore the same shoe size. 

Her one "vice," if that is what it can be called, was a love of beautiful attire. Our outings were usually shopping in nature, and the thrill of the hunt—finding garments and footwear that were stunning yet exponentially reduced in price—gave us such pleasure.
Cleaning out her closets was a difficult enterprise; I'm still only halfway. I have fantasies of altering her magnificent wardrobe for my own use, and I have appropriated what fits already. Will I ever give away her designer skirts, sweaters, suits? She would burrow in there on Shabbos morning, already liberally scented with perfume, as she tenderly selected her attire for shul. She would stride in, in stylish sunglasses and red lipstick that lasted overnight, whipping off her glamorous fur.

She also loved her bling. She had a right-hand ring that I always coveted, and I now wear it daily. It's a constant, comforting reminder of her. My sister-in-law said years ago of her "gam zeh yaavor" ring how looking at it, when the kids were misbehaving, reminded her that this too shall pass. Looking at my mother's ring, I recall her capability, her wisdom, her powering through even when it was difficult. 

While Ma could be the classy "lady," she could also strip down to the basics in order to prep for Shabbos and yuntiff. She loved the holidays, to the point that while there was effort, it was definitely worth it.  

Ari Scott's "Wearing My Dying Mother's Clothes" echoes my sentiments. Her clothing and accessories were an extension of her; wearing them keeps her close. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

UA Comedian Speaks Truth

Netflix is jammed with comedy specials, and I was intrigued by Ilina Shlesinger's Elder Millennial
UA (Un-Aidel)? Um, YEAH. But I wept with laughter many a time. 

Newly engaged at 35, her material mostly deals with dating. And how it suuuuuuucks. And all the things women do. 

The calculating. The analyzing. The hoping. The yearning.

It was further proof for a previous post of mine, where I attempt to debunk the frum older single fantasy that if only she wasn't religious, getting a man would be a breeze. 

PEOPLE! It suuuuuuucks EVERYWHERE!!! 

I repeat: EVERYWHERE!!! 

Monday, February 11, 2019

What is Mess?

Having a roommate (spouse) has taught me that many things are in the eye of the beholder. 

In a flip of the typical script, Han is neater than I am. I never saw myself as a slob—that's what Luke is, not me—but Han's ways made me see myself in a new light. 

Not that I'm a slob. I'm careful with crumbs and immediately dispose of wrappers. I don't like dishes piling up in the sink. My produce is packed in the fridge with military precision. 

But Han likes to make his bed every morning. Ma didn't ask us to make our beds, and it had a sound logic to it; I'll be climbing back into it tonight anyway. He likes a sparkling bathroom mirror, as I do, except my toothbrushing tends to get violent. He adores a clean countertop, and I often arrive home planning on cooking only to behold a pristine kitchen (courtesy of Han) and I'll apologize that in order to eat, its prettiness won't be lasting long.
"The apartment is a mess," he'll say from time to time. 

I'll glance around, befuddled. "A mess?" I'll echo. I don't see a mess. OK, maybe one or two pairs of my sneakers are out. Newspapers cover the table. But doesn't everyone like a newspaper to browse through while nibbling breakfast?

I'm not complaining. If Han feels a need to clean, he will do it. Yet sometimes I feel guilty that I don't share the same sensitivity level that he does. I actually don't mind cleaning. It's just that he usually beats me to it.

On the one hand, we have "Letter of Recommendation: Mess" by Helen Holmes; on the other, "Making Marriage Magically Tidy" by Helen Ellis.   

Holmes, a mess-lover, focuses her target on social media as the oppressor, making us deny the messy side of our domiciles as we post about our "perfect lives." If cleanliness is strictly in the name of Instagram followers, booooooo. 

Ellis, a major slob, tried to reform for her husband's sake, relapsed, then made a successful comeback. She understood that her mess distracted her husband, and by mindfully keeping things neat and clean, he would see only her. 

Maybe I'll wipe down the stove tonight. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019


"It's conversations," my sister tells me. "You have to be able to talk about things."
There's nothing more a conflict-avoider (like me) dreads than "talking." Not fun banter, or "how was your day" exchanges. "Talking" as in, "We have to talk." 

Yet I'm also a big believer in living in reality. If a relationship is based on fantastical fluff, it's not worth much. A commitment is only valuable if the nitty-gritty is acknowledged, and yet the couple remain happy and true. 

So disagreements are inevitable. Yet the method how to go about the disagreement is not.  Daphne de Marneffe, a therapist, tells us the best way ("The Secret to a Happy Marriage is Knowing How to Fight"): 
I’ve seen how the best marriages involve people who can deal with strong negative emotions — and who are cleareyed about how hard it can be. They don’t avoid anger, but they don’t indulge it. They tackle hard issues without shutting down. They apologize for their own bad behavior.
What will matter most in marriage is what’s possible on the other side of love’s first blush: conversations that are rewarding, intimate and real. It’s not that we come together in electric recognition and pure understanding, then fall away from that through conflict. Rather, we come together in a rush of passion, then we achieve love through continuing conversation.
Through that conversation we cultivate the essential emotional attitude in marriage: I can try to understand what you think and feel, without it taking away from my own experience. Your reality doesn’t cancel out mine.

Monday, February 4, 2019


In Srugim, a plot line for a number of episodes was the character Hodaya's becoming enraptured with a project, and by the time the credits roll, she's already abandoned it.
It's not like I am the master of efficiency. When I was younger, I would constantly become excited about a new project (much to Ma's frustration) and then after going on an eBay spree, gradually lose steam. I've become very cautious now when I buy any arts and craps (Ma's term) materials. 

My current obsession (in case you haven't noticed) are recipes. I bookmark them, I save them, I occasionally make them. I'm drowning in recipes, and although I do experiment with new dishes, it's not as often as my stockpile would dictate. 

Tim Herrera addresses this annoying tendency in "Why You Start Things You'll Never Finish."  It's new and exciting to start something new; however, we tend to underestimate the time and effort required. Also, perfectionism can stall a project further—but if you insist upon perfection, it will never be complete. 

A realistic checklist is recommended, to prevent us from multitasking (which is impossible, whatever they say) and getting distracted. 

But Hodaya? I'm just finding that wishy-washiness irritating.   

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Fearfully Blessed

I have always feared the worst. Even before Ma died, I was constantly aware that all that I cherish could be lost. 

"What are you worried about?" Han asks me from time to time. 

"I'm always worried," I reply. 

Logically, this is no way to live. Will "foreboding joy" (Brené reference) mean that tragedy will be kept at bay? No, obviously. 

Religiously, this is no way to live. Worry means a lack of bitachon. My worrying is not effective action. My job is to do the mitzvos, and place my energies into that, not fretting. 

Additionally, why do I have anything I cherish in the first place? He gave it to me; it is up to Him whether it remains or not. 

Physically, this is no way to live. Jacking up cortisol levels isn't good for health. 

Joseph Lovett, 72, a filmmaker whose 2010 documentary, “Going Blind,” chronicles the slow worsening of his vision from glaucoma, told me that his best counsel was that “you cannot spend your life preparing for future losses.” It disrespects the blessings of the here and now. Besides, everyone lives in a state of uncertainty. Mine just has funky initials and fancy medical jargon attached to it.
The irony is that there is a million ways to die. Ma's death was caused by a freakishly rare illness that no one saw coming (my go-to fantasy was always a car crash. No particular reason. She was a good driver). 

After her passing, I did experience gratitude that I had the best mother for a pretty good run. I think I was appreciative while she lived, too. I hope I was. 

But I haven't stopped fretting. Now I have Han-related anxiety. "If you die, I'll kill you," I say, much to his amusement. Yet of course I know it's not in his control, nor mine. 

I must breathe, learn to rewire my faulty programming, and simply . . . cherish. Without fear of loss. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Mennonite to Jew

Mishpacha Magazine featured a story, written by Sharon Gelbach,  a number of weeks ago about a family of Mennonites that decided to be megayer and later, make aliyah. What I found enrapturing regarding their story was not only their free-thinking ways—they don't feel a need to find a specific niche in which to define themselves—but also their emphasis on a positive, rather than negative, outlook.

Akiva and Basya, before converting, home-schooled their children: 
They weren't looking to isolate the children from the negative as much as to have an active, positive influence and to be able to exert greater control over what their children were learning. "If you focus on the negative, saying, 'I'm trying to avoid x, y and z,' they're eventually going to see those things," Akiva explains. "As I see it, you have to say, what am I doing this for? I want to have a say in what's being taught in a positive way."
Regarding where they chose to send their children to school, after moving to Israel:
". . . most of those school representatives expended a lot of energy telling us why not to send our children to other places, not why we should send to them. I'm not saying they're bad, but as I see it, you don't degrade somebody else to build yourself up. They were saying, 'We're better,' rather than, 'Here's what we have to offer.' Bnei Akiva was the only school that said absolutely nothing about anybody else. They basically said, 'This is what we have to offer. This is what we can do.' . . . If you live in a negative mindset, it's going to get passed right on to the children."
Regarding his parents:
Akiva still maintains regular contact with his parents, and speaks to his father once a week. "If you don't teach your children to respect your father, whom they can see, how will you teach them to honor their Father in Heaven, Whom they can't see? It's important to me there is no negativity in the relationship, because that gets passed down to the children."

. . . Akiva credits his father with imparting him with lessons on how to combat peer pressure. "I teach the kids that it's okay to be different. We don't have to be like the world to be part of the world. We have to be able to say, 'I'm okay with being different.'" 
Perhaps because they were outliers in the first place—being Mennonites—the idea of being different is not so difficult for them. But I was so taken with their contentment in choosing their own path, a path that is not defined by a specific group, understanding that there is no right way to be a Jew. 

I'm finishing The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, and this line won me over:
People go through life trying to please some audience. But once you realize there's no audience, life is simple. It's just doing what you know in your gut is right.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Fave Recipes VI: Kugel Edition

I'm not really that much of a kugel fan. I can't be in the same room as potato kugel, but that's because I'm a potato monster and can't be trusted to be alone with any spud, in any shape or form. 

Besides for that weakness, kugels in general tend to be a lot of work. There's usually a lot of sautéing involved, then there's baking time, which can take up to an hour. 

But if I have time, or if I am making something for others, or simply get a culinary bee in my bonnet (happens often) I cheerfully delve in. 

The fun thing about kugels is that they are open to interpretation. Many such recipes tend to be vague outlines for me. If they call for breadcrumbs, I usually use oat bran instead and even then I cheat (I mean really cheat). If they ask for mayo, I omit it and put in an extra egg instead. I never, ever, use soup mix (I'm very sodium conscious; too much salt, and I'm thirsty and retain water like mad). 

Additionally, I like to take a kugel recipe and make them in muffin tins. My sister found cute little ceramic bowls in Amazing Savings and bakes kugels in them. The individual portions are so pretty, and packing away a half-filled baking dish can be a pain (the foil always falls off). 
  • Cabbage Kugel 
I love, love, LOVE sautéed cabbage (it's a Hungarian thing). I used to make it every day for my high school lunches, I was that devoted. 

To be frank, though, I usually end up eating this by my sister's house. I just don't have the heart to sauté up all that magnificence and then add eggs and whatnot. I'd rather eat it straight. Mine. All MINE! 

True to type, I messed around with a few recipes. Most call for sautéing an onion (along with the cabbage), salt, pepper, a little sugar. Three eggs or so (I find that to be the kugel minimum) and maybe a little something flour-y. I usually opt for oat bran (gotta be a killjoy!) instead of breadcrumbs, as previously confessed.  

I believe for the below, I used pre-shredded coleslaw mix (a lifesaver).

  • Broccoli Kugel 
I was really shocked when Luke, who's not exactly the healthiest eater, cheerfully plowed through these. 

I got a recipe from my sister but I changed it considerably. I bought frozen chopped broccoli, so mashing wasn't an issue. 

I sautéed an onion, added the broccoli, then after it defrosted,  some minced garlic gloves, salt and pepper. Then once it cooled off a little, three beaten eggs.  

Into the muffin liners they went, and baked on 350° until firm. 
This is one recipe I didn't alter at all (except for omitting the pecans). It was an absolute HIT. I made it for the first time (a risk, I know) when Han and I hosted Shabbos guests for meal. They loved it too. 

I went with this recipe after some research because it was the least "sinful." She uses a small amount of maple syrup, instead of copious quantities of sugar. The flour and oil was the least amount of any recipe I came across. 

I sprinkled some with cinnamon. A lovely pairing. 

Then I had the ingenious idea to top the blech-warmed kugelettes with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (the pareve one from Trader Joe's is aaawesome) and my my my

Han fell so hard for these that he was hoarding them. He couldn't stand the idea that the fridge may no longer contain them. It's definitely in his interests to keep me alive, cackle.