Friday, July 23, 2010

Blind Date Question Survey

First dates are awkward. BLIND first dates can be a little slice of hell. Unless, of course, one can find a way to liven things up a bit. And, you know, make the evening that much less torturous for all concerned.

That is where these questions come in. Forget about "do you have siblings" or "are you the oldest or the youngest in your family" or "why did you make aliyah" or "why did you decide to become an actuary?" All of us who have found ourself going the blind date route have asked and been asked those questions a bazillion times (well maybe not the actuary one). Not only are we all sick of asking and answering them but...really...tell me, do you care about the answer? No, you do not. Nor does anyone else. Maybe the first date or two or three. But now? Not a chance. Each date just blends in with the next.

So...I would like to reject the standard questions. I want different questions. Questions that would make you smile, if someone asked you that on a date. Silly questions. Quirky questions. Interesting questions. Questions that might (gasp) reveal your personality. Questions that will put you both sufficiently at ease that each of you will be able to assess "do I like this person" and "do I like this person enough to go out with them again and ask the questions we 'should' be asking on date one".

Because--and I realize I should not be saying this because I am an accountant and you know what they say about people in glass houses but nonetheless--I think it is fair to say that if you spend more than 15 seconds discussing being an actuary, the answer to the above questions is likely to be no.

And...you know...we go on so many of these dates. Is it really so heretical, so unthinkable that they might be made...fun

Results--assuming I get a decent number--will be posted on this blog.



Monday, July 12, 2010

Killing the ג'וק

First, a Hebrew lesson: a ג'וק (juk) is a cockroach and ג'וקים בראש (jukim b'rosh)—cockroaches in the head is…. Oh, how the hell do you translate it? Like, ummm, bees in the bonnet. But not.

Second, an update. I went to the reunion. There were a few odd moments. Like the one in which a fellow alum waved his arm in the direction of the collection of small children in attendance and announced “look what we have accomplished in nine years”. There was also, as expected, the wry description of how “X corrects my Hebrew all the time”. But, nonetheless, I had a nice time. I caught up with people I have not seen in years. I tickled small children. I even had the opportunity to chat with X, who is a most pleasant child. He corrected my Hebrew.

Third, my actual post. I do not know if anyone really caught this amidst the whining, but in my last post I mentioned that I asked a guy out. Did you note that? No? Well, then let us try this again. I asked a man out on a date.

Great—so now that we are all on the same page, it is time to discuss. Now, a experienced person, a discerning person, a person who is a Woman of the World…say…my friend Ellie, might see my asking a guy out as a very bad idea, or at least an ineffective one. "גבר שרוצה, עושה", “A man who wants, does”, is one of her favorite mantras. If he wanted you, he would go after you. He does not go, he does not want. Very simple, very easy.

I agree with Ellie. I agree with her 100%. Up to the age of…say…19? 20? 21? (whatever age they stop being afraid of women) go ahead and ask him out. He will be profoundly grateful. Because you (and pretty much every other woman) scare the living shit out of him. But after that? He may be flattered, but if he were interested…he would have already called you.

The next question is pretty obvious: if this is what I believe why on earth did I ask a man out? The answer: because I expected him to say no.

(The guy I asked out also found this quite confusing, when I was explaining it to him the other day. “Wait...let me get this straight. You asked me out because you thought I would say no?”)

Really—and as I tried to explain to the guy—it is all very logical. If you have a ג'וק בראש , kill it.

Say you like a guy. Now, there are two possible scenarios. One—the guy likes you back. Two—he does not. If he likes you back, eventually, he may ask you out on a date and all will be hunky dory until you discover that really, wow, you cannot stand him. However, if he does not like you back, you will continue to moon over the guy for a year or two or three, painting him in your head as Prince Fucking Charming, and dreaming of the day that he will look at you and see the Love of His Life.

This is not going to happen. I mean, this is SO not going to happen. As such, this is NOT a good use of your time or your brain power. Perhaps you are also making a spectacle of yourself with (really sad and ineffectual) flirting? And you are all but throwing yourself at the guy? And you are doing this in front of other people? No no no…this cannot continue. It is imperative— you must kill that juk. All you have to do is ask the guy out on a date. He may or may not be gracious in his response. He may or may not act weird around you for the rest of time. But he will say no. And then you will have your answer and will be able to go on with your life and find someone else to obsess about.

Unless he says “yes”.

This confuses matters immensely.

For instance, you may find yourself, on a date, trying to explain to someone that you do not actually think he is a cockroach. And that yes, even though you did sort of compare him to one, you would not say no if he were to call you for another date.

(Really, I swear, normally this process works just like I said it does.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ulpan Reunion

Today is Friday, July 09, 2010. The time is 8:00 AM. Five hours from now, I am slated to go to a reunion of my Ulpan Etzion class. These are the people who, like me, made aliyah (immigration to Israel) in July 2001 and started off their adventure with the five month Ulpan Etzion Hebrew immersion program complete with residency in the Ulpan Etzion dormitories. Since the program ended and we each left the dormitories, we have scattered all over the country. Recently, one of the group sent out an email. “Hey guys, it has been nine years! Let’s celebrate”. And I, without thinking, immediately responded ‘count me in’.

Or out, as the case may be. Because I am still not sure I am going to show up.

Background. At least back in 2001, the Ulpan Etzion dormitories were limited to single olim (immigrants) between the ages of 20 and 35. Let’s do some math. I am an accountant. We like math, yes? So, let us say you start with a group of single 20-35 year olds. If you add 9 years, you should end up with a bunch of married 29-44 year old parents, correct? And, indeed, that is what happened. Except for in my case. No husband. No kids. Not even any long-term relationships; my dating record is shockingly, laughingly, sparse. Hell—I was supposed to go on a date last night and got stood up. And the only reason I had a date to get stood up on is because I asked the guy out myself.

Truly. Pathetic.

So how can I go? How can I go and see everyone and their spouses and their kids? How can I go and listen to everyone talk about their lives, their homes, their spouses, their children? How can I listen to them talk and compare notes and as they do so, check off the milestones of a life lived in Israel? The trips each one took with his or her spouse before he or she was a spouse. What the children are doing. This one is now in Bnei Akivah; that one starts gan next week; the three year old that corrects the parent’s Hebrew. What they do for the hagim.

This is the life I wanted. This is the life I did not get. This is the life I missed out on.

How can I go and feel myself surrounded by pity mixed with a good dose of contempt. “Well, of course Gila is still single”. Because even if they really and truly are not thinking that—even if it would never occur to anyone to think that—even if everyone is genuinely surprised to find that I am still single, I will know that they are really thinking “yeah, no surprise there”.

Nine years gone. What do I have to show for it? Yes, I have had some success professionally. I am happy about this. However, without trying to discount either my achievements or the hard work that went into them, I strongly doubt that my fellow alumni are clearing tables. At this point, I am guessing that pretty much everyone has found his professional niche.

But, one could argue, I was in a bombing!

Because that, of course, is such an accomplishment.

The time is now 9:00 AM. I still do not know if I am going to the reunion.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Conversation at Shabbat Lunch

You know, every time I have one of these conversations at a Shabbat lunch, it seems to end badly. You would think that I would learn. But I never do.

Me: I just signed up for the Alyn Ride!

Friend: That is great!

Me: Yeah....round number three. This year should be better than the last one. I learned stuff.

Friend: Such as?

Me: One—train. Doing a five day bike ride when you are not in shape is no fun. Two—do not go down hills on your face.

Friend: Those are good things to know.

Me: AAAAAAAND….the moment we get to Jerusalem on the last day of the ride—go straight home. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Do not go to the celebratory closing ceremony at the hospital. Giant shofars, tearjerking and melodrama. Not my idea of a good time. Vile.

Friend: Ahhh….the closing ceremony. That is where they roll out the kids with the wheelchairs? Parade them around a bit?

Me: Yeah, exactly. AWFUL! Of course, a lot of the riders visit the hospital and all that. I do not. I do not volunteer there. I have not even done the tour. . I figure—I am raising money all summer—that should be enough.

Friend: I get it. I mean, you do not want to actually have to see them.

Me: No…it is not like that. It is just…difficult.

Friend: No, I understand! They should keep them locked up. Away from us normal people. Where we cannot see them. And get grossed out by the cripples.

Me: AAAAAEEEEEIIIIII!!!!! Stop! Stop! I admit it! I am a horrible person.

Of course, he did not stop. I mean, this was far too good to let go. No, he just continued on in this vein for the next few minutes.

Right then, so my tour of Alyn is this Tuesday morning. Set it up first thing Sunday morning. After which I promptly sent the friend an email to let him know that his guilt trip had worked. Bastard. I bet his kids are all, like, traumatized and all that. They just seem happy and well-adjusted.

Oh, and I realize that morally, I am pretty much on the level of Hitler. But if despite this, you want to sponsor me, you can do so here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

So THAT'S why she never sets me up

Conversation with my stepmother (who I love dearly, BUT...well, you will see)

Me: I went out with a friend today. She is a amazing photographer and took some shots of me. Once she sends them to me, I am going to give Jdate another try. Maybe this time I will actually score a date with a nice guy. [Read: decent, normal, interesting, intelligent, age appropriate, gainfully employed, attractive, not a what's-his-story or some other problematic variety of male, does not sport a combover or a bald-in-front-mullet-in-back hairstyle and so on and so forth].

Stepmother: Well, you will go out with a nice guy and then you will decide that there is something wrong with him.

Me: Umm...why do you think this? When have I done this? [Having heard this multiple times in the past I am curious as to why she has this impression of me. I mean, I get so few dates--it is not like I am flush with chances to dump nice guys].

Stepmother: Well, there was that lawyer. From Newark.

Me: [Baffled--lawyer? From Newark? No...she can't possibly mean X. But I have not dated any other lawyers. I guess she does.] You mean the one from Philadelphia?

Stepmother: Maybe it was Philadelphia.

Me: You mean the one I dated 20 years ago? When I was 20?

Stepmother: Oh, has it been 20 years?

Me: Even if I was picky and capricious in breaking up with him--which I wasn't--that was 20 years ago! And he did not want to date me anymore either.

Stepmother: Oh. Okay then.

And, for what it is worth--rather than wait with me for the AAA truck, this paragon of male virtues left me by myself in a parking lot late at night when it turned out my car battery was dead and I needed a charge. So...not so nice.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Praying for Strength

Recent conversation with a close friend:

Me: I think I am going to services Friday night.

Friend: (well aware of my profound allergy to synagogues) מה פתאום!? What’s up with that!?

Me: Well, this is going to sound stupid…but I need to ask G-d for help.

Friend: That does not sound stupid at all.

Or maybe it does. Maybe this is my version of snake oil. But I am desperate.

The problem is that my eating is out of control. One day I eat normally, the next day I binge. This has been the case for me for literally as long as I can remember. I go through periods—sometimes very long periods— where things calm down—where my eating is “normal”— but it always comes back. At some point I will find myself surreptitiously downing boxes of cookies, slice after slice of bread and butter or bread and honey, or massive quantities of G-d knows what else, and promising myself that “this is the last time” and “tomorrow I will give up sugar and white flour for real”.

This is a stupid, insane, ridiculous way to live. The major difference between me and an alcoholic or drug addict is that I can still drive after getting another hit. (Hell, I can drive while taking a hit, so long as the food item only requires one hand). I neither want nor intend to spend the rest of my life like this. There is no way that any food item can possibly be worth the pain of addiction. So I try to get off the crazy train. I have a rallying cry: fall seven times, stand up eight. I try and fail, try and fail and try yet again. I am a weeble wobble, falling and rising. I am Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. I am fighting a war, losing battle after battle and getting up the next day to fight again. And lose, again. My friends and co-workers find it either amusing or sad, my constant dieting. I understand them. They do not understand. Unless you have gone through it (and I know that many have, which helps enormously) how can you possibly understand?

(It is like this. I hate this feeling of being in thrall…to a candy bar. To an obsession. I hate the feeling of my brain being on fire. Must. Have. Sugar. Now. I want peace. I want mental quiet already. I want to let this go.

It is like this. I do not enjoy most of the food while I am eating it. The first few bites, the first few cookies, sure. But after that? Pure primal, animal gorging. Except that the average animal probably has enough sense to stop eating when it is full. I eat when I am not hungry. I eat when I do not want to eat.

It is like this. I LOVE the way I feel and my body feels when I eat well. I love the feeling of lightness. I love the energy. I love the sense of order, the feeling of mental and physical health and the mental calmness I have when I am not chasing after a drug. Even if I do not always like the food as much—let’s face it, carrot cake with extra cream-cheese icing is a hell of a lot tastier than a melon—I could live with that. It is worth it. I know it is worth it.

It is like this. This is a matter of life and death. I have to win this war. If I do not win, if I do not kill this, eventually it is going to kill me. I think of that, when I am binging on bread and butter. What is this doing to my arteries? How many more times can I do this before they end up blocked completely? How long before I drop dead of a massive heart attack? I really should get them checked out, but honestly, I am afraid to. I do not want to know how bad it is, and how much damage I have already done. How much I have already screwed myself over.)

What I need, what I lack, is strength. I need the strength to get through the withdrawal symptoms (similar to the ones I suffered when I quit smoking 11 years ago). I need the strength to see bread and sweets and to not eat them. I need the strength to stand up against my yetzer ha’ra when it says “Gila, you had such a long day. Don’t you want a packet of TimTams for the ride home?” or “עוד אחד ודאי” “One more time, and then that’s it.” Or “you are starting your diet tomorrow, so you really should binge today because otherwise, you will never be able to eat this or that or the other again”. I need the strength to deal with the day-after-day, the strength not to get lazy and not to get complacent and to not slip into bad habits six months down the road. I need strength to not be afraid. A future without sugar? Never have chocolate again? No more carrot cake? Ever?????

(Just now, writing that, my insides literally knotted up).

I need strength, and G-d has it. He can give me some, if He chooses. He can get rid of the withdrawal symptoms, if He chooses. I will not say “all I have to do is ask”, because sometimes the answer is “no”. Both G-d and I know that He has given me that answer more than once—my perennial single status is proof of that. But sometimes it is yes. So why not ask? What do I have to lose? Friday night, I went to synagogue and I prayed. I told G-d I cannot do this on my own. I told Him I was tired. I told Him I understand that I have to do the work—I am not asking for an easy out or a quick fix—just some hizuk, some strength that will help me to do the work that must be done. I told Him I was desperate. I told Him that, apparently, I cannot do this on my own. I told Him I needed Him.

Saturday morning I woke up early. I went to one of my favorite blogs and checked in on his miracles. Baruch Hashem, they are still going strong. I visited Aish’s website and found, waiting for me, an article about prayer. I had done my grocery shopping on Thursday night. Before I went to the store, I broke out the menus from the diet program I was on last year, the one that helped me to lose 12 kilo (10 still off) and to clean up my eating habits…before I got off track again. I bought accordingly. My refrigerator is crammed with the light bread, the chicken breasts, the cottage cheese and the vegetables the diet calls for. Saturday morning I started the diet again, from week one, day one.

All I need now is His answer.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mea Shearim is the new [insert favorite bad neighborhood here], Part II

Shortly after I posted my last post “Mea Shearim is the New Harlem”, I had a conversation with a gentleman of my acquaintance. I gave him a summary of the post. He disagreed. To compare Jews and Arabs is wrong. A Jew throwing a rock is different than an Arab throwing a rock.

That—in a nutshell—sums up most of the comments. “It is not okay to say this about Jews”. An Arab can be a terrorist. A Jew cannot. (Unless, of course, he is a left-wing Jew, in which case he is probably not only a terrorist, but also a traitor deserving of the death penalty).

Let us examine this theory, shall we? We will start with some helpful definitions

From the Random House College Dictionary I received as a Bat Mitzvah present:

Terrorism–1) the use of terrorizing methods; 2) the state of fear and submission so produced; 3) a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government

Terrorize—1) to fill or overcome with terror; 2) to dominate or coerce by intimidation.

And from Merriam-Webster online:

Terrorism –The systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.

Terror–1) a state of intense fear; 2 )a) one that inspires fear/scourge; b) a frightening aspect ; c) a cause of anxiety/ worry ; d) an appalling person or thing; especially : brat; 3 ) reign of terror; 4 ) violent or destructive acts (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands

You will note that the above definitions do not include many things.

1) They do not exclude those who latch on to their lunacy through boredom, poverty or unemployment. They do not care why you became a terrorist, only that you are one.

2) They do not specify what the demands must be. It does not exempt certain groups of demands from the definition. “Yeah, normally doing xyz in order to enforce compliance with your demands would be terrorism, but since we agree with your demands, it's not.”

3) While Merriam does offer ‘bombing’ as an example of terrorism, neither it nor Random House specify means of coercion. For example, neither source says “up to and including rocks, sticks and body parts –hoodlums and/or bored youth, unless the perpetrator is an Arab, in which case it is terrorism. Knives and up—terrorism. Unless committed by Jews, in which case nothing is terrorism. Unless said Jew is a member of the left wing.”

4) And most importantly: they do not specify what race or religion one must be in order to be a terrorist. They do not distinguish between Arab and Jew.

As such, according to Merriam Webster, Random House, and me: you can be a Jew; you can be a devout Jew; you can use violence –the cultivation of terror—as a means of enforcing compliance with your version of religious law. And if you do, you are a terrorist. And if you are a terrorist, I have every right to be afraid of you. I have no obligation to wait until the first murder of a teenager at the hands of a Ramat Beit Shemesh mob, the first time a grenade is thrown instead of a chair at the Kotel or the first time a bombing replaces riots and rocks. No, I can be afraid of you right now.

Many commenters, even those who agreed with me that violence was becoming a problem, further took exception with my stated fear of Haredi areas and anxiety when running past a large number of Haredi men. They took this to mean that I believe that all Haredim, every last one, is violent. It is okay to be afraid of the violent ones, but not the non-violent ones. I am not sure whether to find this amusing or pathetic. To say that an area is “bad” or “dangerous” does not mean, nor has it ever meant, that every last person living there is dangerous, any more than a State Department alert about a given country means that the US government has come to the conclusion (which it is now ready to make extremely public) that every last person living in said country is interested in causing Americans harm. Rather, it means that the quantity of dangerous people, of radicals, of people willing and able to use violence, has increased. Increased significantly. Increased to the extent that the number of short sticks waiting to be drawn has also increased. And with it, your risk in visiting said area. Because, and this is the tricky part so pay close attention: terrorists look just like non-terrorists! Take my bombing, for example. Had my terrorist looked any different from any non-terrorist, all of us would have said “Look! A terrorist! Run away!” And we would have run away! And if this is true of Arabs and Arab areas, it is all the more so in Haredi areas, where the men all dress identically.

And if I may draw one more analogy from my own bombing--shit happens, and sometimes it happens to you.

I do owe one apology. The readers of Dov Bear’s site were shocked and horrified that I would cite Harlem as an example of a bad neighborhood. Harlem has now become gentrified! People—men and women, young and old, all races— can wander all around Harlem, day and night, without fear! As such, to the upwardly mobile residents of the new, improved, gentrified Harlem, I am so sorry for trashing your neighborhood. I am willing to correct it, but I need your help. You see, I do not live in New York and like most non-New Yorkers, have no particular interest in New York. (Shocking, I know. And yet true). “Harlem” is, for me, something of a symbol. However, even if the symbolism is no longer accurate this does not mean that there is no “Harlem” in New York. The economically disadvantaged populations—complete with the thugs-out-of-boredom-and-frustration elements— they moved somewhere else, yes? To another neighborhood, yes? Because, they are not living next door to you, right? I mean, WHAT would that do to the property values? Anyway, I should have referred to that neighborhood. And if one of you would be so kind as to provide me with the updated reference, I will correct my original post accordingly.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mea Shearim is the new Harlem

A few days ago, I went running with a friend in Gan Sacher, a public park in the heart of Jerusalem. Gan Sacher is a great place to run--well maintained, ample running paths, big enough that you can actually get a decent run in and largely (blessedly) flat. Is it the new Central Park? No. But, it does the job.

So, there we were, running along...and all of a sudden we passed a large cluster of Haredi (ultra-orthodox) men. And then another. And another. Apparently, some yeshiva or another picked this day and place for its annual Yom Kef (Fun Day). And we run and run and keep on passing more Haredim, and all I could think was: thank G-d I am not running alone. Thank G-d I am with a man. Someone to protect me.

This fear is not new. I have felt it for a while. It has been building. It has influenced my actions. In the past, I used to shop in Meah Shearim, a large Haredi neighborhood near the center of town and I worked in Bayit Vegan, another Haredi neighborhood. Today, I avoid Meah Shearim and the other Jerusalem Haredi neighborhoods the way that Washingtonians avoid Anacostia and New Yorkers know not to go to Harlem.

How do I decide where I can and cannot go? Rule of thumb: if I feel that I would have to change my clothes first, put on something more concealing (like, say, a burka) I do not go. Suffice it to say that there are large swaths of Jerusalem that are now off limits. However sometimes, by accident or unavoidable circumstance, I find myself in one of the Haredi enclaves. There was the time I had to pick up something in Ramot and started to panic when I realized it was 1) a Haredi neighborhood and 2) I was not wearing Haredi attire. And there was the time last summer when I got lost while driving a friend to the Central Bus Station and found myself driving through Meah Shearim. At night. In a short-sleeved shirt. I am not exaggerating when I say that I was nearly in hysterics by the time we finally got the hell out of there.

Am I the only one who feels this way? And if not, do others feel it to the same extent? Do others feel, as I feel, uncomfortable if they find themselves in an elevator with a Haredi man? Not any man, mind you. Not stam a religious man, a orthodox Jew. Rather, a Haredi man. Do others get nervous, as I do, driving in or near Haredi neighborhoods?

Do others brace themselves, waiting for a rock to come through the window?

I am not just afraid. I am also angry. Do others feel the anger I feel when approached by Haredi panhandlers? Oh—you will attack women on the buses when it suits you, at the Kotel when it suits you and on the street when it suits you. You will tell us how we must dress and how we must act and what we can and cannot do. You will deface pictures of women—any pictures, of any women. You would erase us. You would throw us to the back of the bus, to the other side of the street, to the other days of the week. But our money, a woman’s money? Well, that you like just fine. Yeah, well, fuck you. Go beg money off a man.

I am angry because the government is doing nothing to deal with the increased violence. Now, instead of just being afraid of Arabs, I have to be afraid of both Arabs and Jews, and more afraid of the latter than the former. The government takes violence perpetrated by Arabs seriously. Arabs are subject to punishment and reprisals for any violent actions. Violence by Jews, on the other hand, is no big deal and the Haredim are not held accountable. If the Arab residents of East Jerusalem were to riot as the Haredim do, to burn trash cans as the Haredim do, to attack women on buses as the Haredim do, to throw rocks as the Haredim do...everyone would be out screaming "Intifada!" and “Terrorist!” and the police and/or the army would be out there in force, and quite possibly with live ammunition. * But let it be a Haredi Jew doing the attacking, the screaming, the burning and the stone-throwing and the matter will end with concessions…to the Haredim. “Please please please…do not riot anymore. We will give you whatever you want.”

I can guess what the automatic response will be: nu, spend a Shabbat in a Haredi neighborhood and you will see how nice the Haredim are. And to that, I have only one response: no. I have no doubt that Haredim can be nice when one is in their world, dressed in a way they approve of and acting in a way that they approve of. The question is whether the Haredim can be nice in my world. Can they function in the workforce, on the street and on a bus? Can they handle interactions with women? A female superior at work or a female instructor at school? (And if so, why do they need Frauen-rein divisions in the Army? Why the emphasis on setting up companies where men and women are segregated completely? Why the separate seating on the buses? ) Can they accept the rule of law, even when said law is being enforced against one of their own? Can they respect that other people do things—including Judaism—differently than they do?

Do I have to be afraid if I run past a group of Haredi men in the park?

Because until the answer to all of the above is “yes”, how nice you are to G-d on Shabbat, well, it really does not matter.

* Of course, this all begs the question—if rubber and/or live ammunition is the proper way to deal with a riot, why not use it on Jews as well? And if not, why are we applying it to a group that has, unlike the Haredim who have a say in government, very limited means of public expression? This double standard thing—it is getting old.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wine

I meant to only start posting after the holiday, but a matter of urgency just came up and I must share.

Today, I had to buy wine.

Buying wine is a task I avoid whenever possible. I hate wine. To my oh-so-distinguishing palete, all wines taste approximately the same: bad. As such, having me choose the wine for a meal is to beg and plead for disaster. When I am hosting a meal, I avoid said disaster by farming out the wine buying duties to one of my guests—preferably one who likes wine. I instruct the appointed wine bearer that they should buy whatever they like that goes with chicken. When I am invited out, I will offer to bring something else: challot, a side dish, appetizer salads, world peace—anything but wine. If the host insists, I will bring a wine bottle from the stash I keep of “wine brought by my guests that we never got to”. If someone else brought it, there is a fighting chance that it is actually a good wine.

But sometimes, sadly, it cannot be avoided. Sometimes my wine stash is empty. Or there are days like today, where my wine stash is not empty, but all of it is plain kosher, and not kosher l’Pesach kosher. To tell the truth, I am not 100% sure if wine has to be kosher l’Pesach or not. However, given that the local super has been offering piles and piles of kosher l’Pesach sponges, aluminum foil, plastic wrap and cleaning fluid—all of which are liable to be fatal if ingested—there is no way that wine, which is merely unpleasant when ingested, has managed to get off scot free.

Out of necessity, over the years I have developed a set of simple rules which can help to steer me in the right direction when purchasing wine.

1) No wine with screw tops. Screw tops are bad.
2) Do not get the cheapest wine. That means it is bad. But do not get the most expensive wine either (because, quite frankly, I like you, but not that much). Pick a wine in the mid-range—say about 25-30 shekels. If it is mid-range, it is probably good.
3) Muscats are for dessert! They do not go with chicken!
4) White wine goes with white food and red wine goes with red food. Or it is the other way around.
5) King David Sweet Concord Wine (local version of Manishevetz) is unspeakably vile and should never, ever be purchased. But it has a screw top, so you already knew this!
6) The prettier the bottle, the better the wine.

The last rule is the most important. Once one manages to winnow out the screw tops and muscats and the super cheap wines, one is left with a wide selection of bottles from which to pick. At this point, one picks based on the bottle. Generally, this is easy. Today it was not. All the bottles…I don’t know…they were so…blah! Plain! Here a few flowers, there some nice scenery…but nothing special. Nothing that made me say “wow, that wine must be really tasty to those who do not think that wine tastes like battery acid”. Then, suddenly, I saw it: the most beautiful bottles EVER. Look for yourself. Gorgeous, no?




And the price was perfect-29 shekels! Score! But wait…what is this?

A screw top? !

On a wine bottle with a pretty label?!

WTF?????? Those bastards! To make a gorgeous label and then add a screw top so I cannot buy it.

AAAAIIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

I spent a good twenty minutes staring at the wine section and trying to decided what on earth to buy. In the end, out of desperation and a burning desire to go home, like, today, I said screw it, grabbed a couple bottles of Teva, and headed for the check out.

Teva labels:




Not so exciting, but the colors are nice, no? I bought a green label (white wine-goes with chicken) and a red label (blush wine—goes with the mutant spawn that one gets from cross-breeding chickens and cows).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Buon Appetito!

This week, my brain got it into it’s head I wanted, nay, NEEDED to cook Italian. Where this came from, I do not know. I am not Italian. I have never been to Italy. I am not planning a trip to Italy. I own no Italian clothing. Apart from pizza, tomato sauce and lasagna, I have never cooked any Italian dishes. And seeing how Roxie the Diet is still around (and doing quite well—12 kilo down so far) it is not as though I have been eating much Italian food. (Roxie, she does not like the pasta). Nonetheless, somehow, from out of nowhere, the obsession emerged. Must. Cook. Italian.

Okay, I can go with this. Unlike the other nonsense my brain comes up with (running half-marathons, knitting sweaters), this could even be fun! Then, I looked over my schedule and realized that, nope, my brain had done it again. I had absolutely no time to do a meal. I tried to reason with my brain—immediately post-year- end is just not the right time for an accountant to be entertaining. Perhaps when things are a bit more calm? Like after I retire? My brain was having none of it. Must. Cook. Italian. it repeated. What’s a girl to do? I gave in. I invited some friends over for Shabbat dinner (“why waste perfectly good guinea pigs or rats when you have friends to test shit on”, that is my motto) and started to plan a menu.

My menu planning requirements were as follows:
1) All recipes had to be kosher or kosher-convertible.
2) As one of my guests is a vegetarian, it had to include vegetarian-friendly dishes.
3) The food had to be stuff that I could eat during the week without killing my diet.
4) No minestrone soup. I do not care how authentically Italian minestrone soup is. I hate it.

I was assisted in my menu planning by another one of my guests, Lydia. Lydia lived in Italy for a year back when she was a student. As such, Lyvia had eaten actual Italian food, cooked by Italians, in Italy. This makes her an expert. Between help from Lyvia, my beloved Moosewood cookbook , the Web and some random but useful suggestions, I decided on the following line-up:

First Course: Antipasti and Hallah (I was going to make focaccia as well, but seeing how I had a grand total of four hours to prepare everything, I realized that this was not going to happen).

Second course: Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Third course: Salad

Fourth course: Chicken Cacciatore, Eggplant Marsala, Pasta and Green beans

Fifth course: Tea and cookies

Why so many courses? Because that is how it is done in Italy. Each meal lasts approximately a year. That…and every single dish includes bottles and bottles of alcohol. I suspect that Italians go through life in a state of constant feeding and mild inebriation. Sounds fun, no?

There were a few preparation snafus. Mid-chicken cacciatore preparation I discovered that the white wine I had in my cabinet was a muscat, and not the dry white wine the recipe called for. I ran to the mercolet (mini-market) downstairs where I found them about to close. Fortunately the register was still open and they had semi-dry white wine in stock. I figured that would work. Then, the eggplant marsala had me worried. After I added the sherry, the dish took on a distinctly unappetizing aroma. I was in a panic. What was I going to feed the rabbit? Had Moosewood steered me wrong? As per the recipe instructions, I waited until the very end to add the garlic and, like magic, the dish started to smell like something one would actually want to eat. Finally, the whole wheat spaghetti I prepared was not so tasty to begin with. Then it proceeded to dry out on the plata (electric hotplate one uses to keep food warm during Shabbat) and as its grand finale, just as I was about to serve it, the Pyrex exploded. Apparently, “do not put a hot Pyrex dish directly on a marble counter top” is a good rule to live by. Alternatively, the rule could be “do not try to serve happy-clappy, new-age and rather disgusting whole wheat pasta at an Italian meal, lest one anger the gods of Italian cooking and they aim a divine lightning bolt at your kitchen”.

In the end, I have to say that the meal was quite a success. My trusty lab rats and I stuffed ourselves silly after which we lolled about on my couches, munched on cookies and tried to explain to one guest how, exactly, a guy keeps a woman’s feet warm. In the end, we decided that we would wait a few years until he was a bit older, and then Lyvia, as the elder of the group, would sit him down for a conversation about the birds and the bees.

********

Of everything I prepared, the red pepper soup was the only item made from a recipe billed as low calorie. Despite this, it was tasty. The original recipe is here; my enlarged, meat-meal-ready, and annotated version is below.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Ingredients
12 red bell peppers
8 black peppercorns
Whatever amount of dried thyme you think translates into four sprigs of thyme. Because you forgot to buy it.
2 bay leaves
3 teaspoons olive oil
3 cups diced onion (or however many cups one gets from two large onions)
Quantity of minced fresh garlic that can only be described as “I am not planning on getting to close to anyone for the foreseeable future, and perhaps even the next year”.
5 cups parve chicken broth
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Random number of shakes of Tabasco.
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 container of unflavored soy milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions
Preheat broiler.

Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil for 15 minutes or until blackened. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand for 15 minutes or until you finish prepping the chicken cacciatore (about 40 minutes). Whichever comes first. Peel and chop. Curse the Italians for their deranged obsession with peeling tomatoes and bell peppers—vegetables that G-d clearly did not intend to be peeled.

Place peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaves into a little metal tea thingy because you do not have cheesecloth, and, to be perfectly honest, are not entirely sure what cheesecloth is.

Return to the recipe. Ask yourself “do I have a Dutch oven”? Do I know what one is? Determine that the answer to both questions is “no”. Give up on the Dutch oven thing, and heat oil in a big metal pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 15 minutes or until onion is lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Add bell peppers, metal thingy, broth, vinegar, salt and pepper and hot pepper sauce to pan. Increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Taste. My G-d, but this is vile. Did you add too much vinegar? Apparently you did! Dump in the soy milk in a desperate attempt to tone down the flavor. Realize that you added the salt and pepper at the beginning of the recipe instead of waiting for the proper time, which is now. Following directions is not your forte. This is probably why you are not married.

You cannot place the bell pepper mixture in a blender because your blender is dairy and if you use it, than the soup will be dairy and then everyone will go to hell because you have served them milk and meat together. And that would be bad. Instead, dump it (in installments) into a food processer and set it to liquefy. Repeat procedure with remaining soup. Pour pureed mixture into your soup tureen (deemed “posh” by your British guest). Forget to add the chives when serving.




Monday, January 4, 2010

No. More. Autism. Websites.

I think that one of my New Year's Resolutions is going to be to never, ever, EVER look at another website having to do with autism.

The story goes like this. Last week I had a chat with a woman who is acquainted both with my perennial single and dateless status and my diagnosis as being on the autism spectrum (PDD-NOS). Of course, this could describe virtually anyone who knows me, and quite a few random people who do not, but who have happened upon the relevant posts in my blog. No matter. Anyway, THIS particular person is also well-acquainted with autism spectrum disorders in general, and as such, it occurred to her to put both tidbits of information together. You know, she said, it could very well be that the dating woes are linked to the autism spectrum disorder. Perhaps I might be helped by cognitive therapy. Had I considered that?

The truth is that I had not considered that. This is due, in no small part, to my having not the foggiest idea of what the hell "cognitive therapy" is. (I Googled it. From what I can see, it is coaching. I love coaching—like a shrink, but practical.) But it is also due to our having very different perceptions of the PDD-NOS. She views it as something I have. I view it as something I had.

As in, I do not have it anymore.

I was fucked up. Now, I am normal. Granted, I am a bit eccentric. But apart from that (and really, eccentricity can be quite nice, no?) perfectly normal. And well adjusted. And a productive member of society. With friends and everything.

But, admittedly, without a love life. And now that she had mentioned it, I supposed she might be onto something. Maybe I was having problems making connections or reading signals or something. Why not give this a try? I made an appointment with the cognitive therapist she recommended. And then, just to get the therapy ball rolling, I decided to read up a bit on autism spectrum disorders, so as to get a feel for where I am falling short. I pulled out my medical records from the Center and read over and marveled (for the zillionth time) just how badly screwed up I was at the time I was admitted. Then I entered the official diagnosis into Google: Atypical Pervasive Developmental Disorder. A list of websites popped up. I started to read.

I read over the symptoms, compared them to my life and evaluated which ones could be applied to me. People with my disorder have troubles fitting in. We act differently; we seem to lack social skills. We have trouble connecting to others and establishing relationships. We are detached from the feelings of others and find it difficult to "read" people. The reading and transmission of non-verbal communication and body language are not our fortes. We do not know how to handle feelings of anxiety or anger; we will go off if frustrated. We are obsessive and have a profound attachment to schedules, routines and order.* In short, we are weirdoes. Loners. Clueless. And (this is key) many of us do not succeed in finding a partner or establishing a family. We are the ultimate dateless wonders.

Suffice it to say that by the time I was done reading, I had managed to convince myself that I was still suffering from the disorder, was not cured at all, was a complete social misfit, hopelessly disabled and a good candidate for a sheltered care facility. Finally, and most importantly, I was doomed to be single.

Saturday evening, I finally shut off the computer and went to a party at a friend's house.The guest list included several million people I did not know, all of whom arrived with spouses and children. I did not enjoy this party. Based on the day's reading, I attributed my lack of enjoyment to the PDD-NOS. Had I been normal, I told myself, even though I did not know and (apparently) did not have a lot in common with anyone there, I would have had a swell time. I would have been wandering the room, striking up conversations and getting to know everyone and their children. Instead, I spent most of my time hiding out in the corner by the popcorn, nursing a killer headache, and biding my time until I figured I had been there long enough that I could leave without causing offense.

So that was the weekend. Sunday was no better. I spent the day fighting off gloom and envisioning my sad and loveless future. I wrote off ever having a husband. Really Gila, can you handle a relationship? Would that not be just too much for your fragile psyche? Are you not just too…well…different to ever get a guy? And children? Oh, out of the question. Completely.

Families are for normal people. I am not normal. I am on the autism spectrum. We do not have families and relationships. Therefore, I will not have a family.

This went on ALL DAY. I sat in my office, working on the Report From Hell, imagining my desolate future, envying the Normal People, and trying not to cry. Finally, at 8:30 PM (did I mention it was the Report From Hell?), as I was leaving the office, a rather irritated voice popped up inside your head.

Oh for fuck's sake**, Gila, have you lost your mind? You read the websites, yes? How many of the things that you have done were you "supposed" to have done, based on the websites? You did them because no one ever told you that you couldn't, and you just assumed you could, if you worked hard enough and long enough. Now some random website is saying "oh, people with autism spectrum disorders rarely end up in relationships", and you are buying that? Yes, it is probable that the woman is correct and the disorder has handicapped you in respect to dating. It makes a lot of sense, fits the facts and is even good to know; you do not have to continue beat yourself up over your failure. But, self-pity? Despair? This is helping? Knowing the cause of a problem means you have a chance at solving it. Cut the crap, go to the cognitive therapist or a coach or whatever, fix whatever the hell needs fixing—all these skills can be learned—and gamarnu. Nu, get OVER yourself, already!

Ahem. My brain, she has a tendency towards crankiness. She does not handle irritating situations well. I think she is a bit disturbed.

Right, so, I am off the websites.

*My order includes a daily ritual in which I toss a pile of clothes on the floor every night and toss them back on my bed in the morning, at which point I promise myself that, really, from tonight, I am going to start putting my clothes away after I am done wearing them. I do this every day but Saturday. On Saturday morning I put the clothes away. Saturday night, I start a new pile. In my opinion, this counts as order.

**New profanity, picked up from my friend Natalie. Is it not the best profanity ever???