Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wheels of Love: Wardrobe Issues

Tomorrow, bright and early in the morning, I am setting off to participate in the annual  Wheels of Love Ride to benefit Alyn Hospital.  This is my fifth time participating and every year, the response is the same.  I tell people about my participation in the Ride and they inevitably have the same reaction.  “Oh, maybe there will be someone nice for you to meet there”.  Now, on the surface, this is not an unreasonable thing to say. After all, a five day sporting event is precisely where one would expect to find men—and more specifically men who have enough extra time on their hands to be able to train for a five day sporting event. In fact, it is an eminently logical thing to say. But then one comes up against my unique brand of luck and savviness, and all logic vanishes in the mist.  In a nutshell, it would appear that I have managed to find the one five day sporting event on the planet that is a veritable magnet for married religious people and has no attraction, whatsoever, for single guys.

So, is there anyone nice for me to meet?  No.  In case you were wondering.

When I mentioned this to Practical Yael, she disagreed. 

Practical Yael: What are you talking about?  There are singles on the ride.  

Me: Yes, but they are, like, 12. 

Practical Yael:  Nooooo, c'mon, the minimum age for participation is 14. 

Me: Oh, so there you go, they are 14. They don’t count.  

Practial Yael:  Well, okay, maybe not.

Despite the demographics, and despite the fact that I know in advance what the demographics will be, hope is a dumb beast and keeps springing eternal.  While our daytime wardrobe does not leave much room for creativity (biking shorts plus Alyn biking shirt), the evenings are when we all get to sit around, drink, be merry and socialize.  And every single year, anticipating this, I go out and buy some new item of clothing or two because, hey, maybe this year (1) there will be someone nice for me to meet and (2) this item of clothing will be so flattering that he will have no choice but to fall madly in love with me. This year I stopped myself.  I have lots of clothes.  Piles of clothes!  I do not, by any stretch of anyone's imagination, need any more clothes.  And anyway, there is no one to meet.  And even if there were, it is safe to assume that yet another stretch cotton top or a brightly colored dress is not going to tip any scales in my favor. Stop the madness Gila! No shopping!  

(Though I did allow myself a new windbreaker.  The one I have now I have had since 1995 or earlier, and it is just as ugly now as it was then.  And no one is going to fall for me because of a windbreaker.  Even though this one really is significantly nicer than the one I am replacing.)

Of course, all my fine declarations notwithstanding, I still spent a good 40 minutes this morning trying on every damn shirt I have trying to decide which ones are most flattering.  And I packed one of the new items of clothes that I bought for last year's ride.   

Sigh…..  I just have no sense.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Carrot Stew

Last week, my new cookbook finally arrived.   Until this point, I had been entertaining myself  by trying to learn how to cook brown rice (I refuse to break down and buy a rice cooker until I can cook it in a pot) and futzing around with ad-hoc creations made with beans, lentils and tofu drenched in sesame oil and soy sauce.  (Rule of thumb--everything is tasty when drenched in sesame oil and soy sauce. Even tofu). Anyway, cookbook was here so it was time to start working my way through it. 

Just to clarify, though my friend did present this as a Julie and Julia type of thing, given that this cookbook contains over 1300 recipes, and since I have a rather time intensive job, and since there is a limit to just how much I can eat, it is reasonable to assume that I will not be really working my way through it.  I'm aiming for a bunch of recipes.   As of now, I have officially tried one recipe and it is yummy.  The various editorial comments--the ones that don't really sound like they would normally appear in a cookbook?  Mine.

I halved most of the ingredients below because I only wanted three portions as opposed to the 4-6 is supposed to produce. 

2 tbsp oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 medium green peppers, cut in strips
2 tsp minced fresh hot chili pepper or ¼ tsp cayenne (optional—but if you leave it out you are either a total loser, a non-enlightened Ashkenazi or some combination thereof)
4 cups canned tomato pulp or drained stewed tomatoes (I used four chopped, fresh tomatoes; I would have used eight for the full recipe—and ½ cup water)
1 pound carrots, cut into thick coins (I didn’t halve this item.  I like my carrots. For that matter, I didn't halve the chili pepper either.)
½ tsp salt (I used more and I added random amounts of cumin and turmeric.  And perhaps some dried garlic. It’s hard to say. It’s all a blur.)
3-5 cups cooked grain

Heat oil in a 3 quart pot. And sauté onion and peppers until limp or until the onion is starting to burn and need to add the other ingredients even though the peppers aren’t limp yet so that you don’t have to steel wool the damn pot again. Whichever comes first. 

Add tomato, carrots and salt (and other spices) bring to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat until carrots are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

If sauce is too liquid, remove cover and boil gently to thicken or remove from heat and stir in 2 to 3 teaspoons nutritional yeast (doesn’t exist here in Israel) as needed, to thicken. 

Serve over grain. 

They suggested serving a bean accompaniment and a side of yogurt, or alternatively, adding beans to the dish.  I went with the latter and added ½ cup white beans and served over (only half fuzzy) ½ cup brown rice.  Since I was pretty generous with the chili pepper, after I heated my portion up for lunch, I mixed in a very heaping spoon (about 60 grams) of 5% soft white cheese (g’vina levana).  Yum! 

As noted above, I halved all of the ingredients apart from the carrots. If I were to make it again, but the full recipe, I would double the carrots. Also, I didn’t need to add the ½ cup water; the chopped tomatoes had enough moisture. Still came out very well. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Weeks Three and Four—September 23-October 6

We are still in full-blown holiday season mode here so even for a workaholic  like me, finding time to do the field trips has been pretty easy. The real challenge will come starting next week, once the holidays are a distant memory, although not so distant that I will have managed to catch up on all the work postponed in their honor.

Here goes:
  1. Went biking on Erev Yom Kippur at Nahal Kisalon with another rider who will be doing the Wheels of Love (more on that below). 
  2. Went biking in the Jerusalem hills and managed not to get lost.
  3. Went biking on Erev Sukkot. This time, I met a friend of a friend for "singles"  (single track mountain biking) at Be’eri.  It was very challenging and my butt was black and blue in the end but I had a great time nonetheless.  The best part is that now I can go around like a real biker, kinda swaggering-like, and talking about how I did singles at Be’eri. (There is the possibility that real bikers think Be'eri is laughably easy.  I so do not care. I have earned my swagger and I am going to work it).
  4. Visited a friend who I have never actually met in person at Kibbutz Alumim.  She gave me a tour of the Kibbutz.  I even got to see the cows!  No petting though. I mean, I could have, but I am not so into the animal contact thing.
  5. Went to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Tel Aviv Opera House.
  6. Did the 42 km “Tour de Tel Aviv” bike ride with a few acquaintances and finally, at long last, had the opportunity to ride my bike on the Ayalon Highway. To be honest, this was not the first time I had done so.  Many years ago, when I was a new and inexperienced biker, and even less skilled at reading maps than I am now, I inadvertently rode onto the Ayalon.   I spent the next 15 minutes dodging cars and praying I would survive until the next exit.  Having now tried both, I can conclusively state that riding the Ayalon without cars is preferable. 
  7. Met up with yet another friend who I have only met once in person and  with Practical Yael, who  I rarely see because she lives so far away.
There are two things worth noting above. The first is the massive amount of quality time I am spending with my bike. The reason is that I am training for the 13th Annual Wheels of Love Ride to benefit Alyn Hospital.  Have an extra $50?  Or $20?  Or $10?  Yes?  Would you like to sponsor me?  You can do so here.  Anyway, my field trips will continue to be heavily weighted towards bike riding until the Ride, after which I will be heartily sick of biking and will leave my bike in a corner in my office for six months, until it is time to train for the 14th Annual Wheels of Love Ride. 

The second part is the “riding with another rider” part of these bike rides.  I  tend to ride by myself as I ride at turtle speed and am utterly convinced that if I join with a group I will slow them down and they will either have a horrible time or they will leave me far behind and I will become hopelessly lost in the wilderness, utterly at the mercy of the new iPhone map application, and will ultimately be devoured by a bear or something else equally endowed with claws and fangs.  And like I said, I am not so into animal contact. But now I swallowed my fear and have forced myself to take the plunge and go riding with other people (though I warn them in advance that I am pokey) and nothing bad has happened. I made it home just fine! Tomorrow, however, my plan is to be really daring and go riding with a group of people who are neither connected to the Wheels of Love, nor friends, nor friends of friends. That is to say: people I do not know at all and who have not been warned.

Scary, no?  I chose a group that is doing a route I know so that if they happen to ride at non-turtle speed, I will not find myself lost in the wilderness.  Daring, yes. Foolhardy, no.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Weeks One and Two

I have just learned—and this piece of knowledge could prove to be crucial to the success of my Vegetarian Year—that my beloved Kirkland Sweet Mesquite Seasoning which is also known as G-d’s gift to chicken,  is also mighty fine on potatoes.  To the uninformed, this may not seem to be a big deal. In fact, when I was debating whether or not to take on this challenge, one of the very first things that crossed my mind (and I am being completely serious here) was “hey, you have a practically full container of Mesquite Seasoning that Kayla brought you from her last pilgrimage to Costco.  If you go veggie now, by the time the year is up it will have hardened into a giant orange lump and you will miss out on eating it! Horrors! ” Somehow, I managed to convince myself that  a year of good, wholesome, vegetable and whole-grain-rich food was worth the sacrifice.  However, in a stroke of inspiration, I just dumped a bunch on some potatoes and now that I have tasted the results I see that this sacrifice is not required after all. So it shall be a year of good, wholesome, vegetable and whole-grain-rich food with the occasional dose of spice-and-chemical-enhanced potatoes. 

It’s all good.

Anyway, between Rosh Hashana (three days of big meals) and my stash of leftover lasagna, I did not do too much cooking this week.  My vegetarian culinary adventures this week were limited to (1) making a salad with quinoa in it and (2) getting myself invited to a vegetarian Shabbat dinner and then stealing their leftovers to eat next week. And the potatoes. Cannot forget the potatoes. 

Aforementioned vegetarian Shabbat hosts (who are fine cooks and were really good sports about the leftovers) were curious as to the ideological reasons behind the Vegetarian Year.  They seemed to be a bit shocked that I  really  and truly have none, unless one considers “it sounds like it might be fun” or “periodic life crisis” to be in some way ideological.

As far as field trips are concerned, thanks to the holidays and the associated days off, I have actually racked up six in my first two weeks:  one movie (The Magic of Belle Isle) and five off-road bike rides.  The latter included one ride with a friend who is blessed with a sense of direction, two rides in which I actually succeeded in reading a map well enough to make it to my intended destination with various periods of being lost, and two rides in which I rode around at random for a while, with no idea where the hell I was on the map, until I found myself spit out on a road that appeared in the Google Maps app on my iphone, thereby allowing me to follow the little blue dot to freedom.  

Today I was out for over four hours--about 3.5 of that off-road.  This sounds impressive, no?  It impressed the hell out of me...until I sat down with my new navigation program  and mapped the off-road route and discovered that I had covered all of 22 kilometers in that time.  I am a turtle on wheels.  This does not bode well for my expected performance in the Wheels of Love Ride.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Vegetarian Year, if not a Healthy One

To inaugurate my Vegetarian Adventure, and celebrate my birthday, I am hosting a vegetarian meal.  The menu:

  • Carrot  cake made with white sugar and white flour and simply massive quantities of cream cheese frosting, made with butter and full-fat cream cheese.
  • Lasagne with of cheese. LOTS of cheese.  Also full fat.  With a few veggies tossed in for charm.
The carrot cake is listed before the lasagne because the carrot cake, or to be precise, the cream cheese frosting on the carrot cake, is the reason I am doing a dairy meal. In fact I believe it is fair to say that it is the reason I am doing a meal at all.  I wanted carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for my birthday. The most practical way to get it is to have a meal and have it for dessert. I suppose I could just have just baked the cake and eaten it all by myself, or even just made a bowl of frosting and eaten that, but I believe that this would be a bit too much of a good thing.

I haven't received my copy yet--though Amazon assures me it is en route--but somehow, I doubt that either of the two aforementioned dishes are going to appear in  American Wholefoods Cuisine. I could be wrong, of course. But given that the book is described as "spreading the gospel of meatless living and whole grains" and as featuring "high-fiber, low-fat, low-sugar, and low-salt vegetarian recipes" I  kind of doubt it.  Which means I had better enjoy this meal because sooner or later my Vegetarian Adventure Bible shall arrive and I will officially Know Better.

As for tonight, blissful ignorance. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fifty Two Brought to you by the Number Three

This post is brought to you by the number three.

In December 2009, I got an email from a friend of mine informing me that our mutual friend, A., had passed away suddenly.  A. and I graduated from the same high school. While we were very close for some time, by the time I got this email, we had been out of touch for some years. Still, it was shocking and very sad.  Since I figured others would want to know, I posted a notice on our high school class page on Facebook.  Fast forward to a few weeks ago.  Another high school classmate (who I do not remember in  the slightest) commented on my post. 

Classmate Wow I just read this. I know it's three years later but what happened

Gila Weiss He had a massive heart attack. Wow-cannot believe it has been three years.

A week or so later, another friend of mine posted a link on her Facebook page.  She had become a Zumba instructor and a local publication had written about her.  When I wrote to congratulate her we had the following exchange:

Gila Weissposted to Friend
You are a Zumba instructor now? How cool!

Friend Gilale - how are you ?? :) can you believe that Daughter #1 is starting her senior year and Daughter #2 has just started collage... :) ??

The last time I had seen this friend and her daughters Daughter #1 was just about to start her freshman year.  Three years ago.

Three years.  Three long years, full of potential, opportunity and plans to exploit the potential and opportunity.  Three years which were instead spent mostly working.  My days were regularly peppered with assurances to myself.  “Once you finish this project, once the deal closes, once the bookkeeper starts, once thisthatortheother happens--work will get easier and you will have time for a life”.  It never happened. Things always took longer than expected and if they did not (or even if they did) there was always another project. The last year has been particularly vicious—nights and weekends spent glued to my computer, my vacation postponed twice and finally converted into a working vacation, plan after plan cancelled and my friends neglected.  I bought a new dining room table last December thinking that this would be perfect for entertaining. To date, three of my friends have seen it and only one has eaten at it.  

To make matters worse, I have developed wretched habits in the form of a near-addiction to the internet.  When I am not actually working I am obsessively surfing the net. Because, hey, I am going to work 14 hours anyway—don’t I deserve a few minutes to unwind with Yahoo? Checking out Facebook? Reading Wickipedia entries? Looking up whatever stupid question pops into my head?  Now I KNOW that this is a terrible and unhealthy habit, in particular given how many hours I work. Here as well, I have the best of intentions.  I am going to cut back because look at how much time I am wasting!  Why, with that 30 minutes I spent dithering on Facebook over my breakfast I could have gotten a quick morning workout!  With that 60 minutes I spent last night aimlessly reading up on actors I have never heard of and movies I have no interest in, I could have let myself relax with a few rows of knitting before I went to bed AND gone to bed on time. Really, if I didn’t surf at all I would be so much more efficient.  But…I just want to take a quick look. Really, five minutes.   Which stretches into ten or twenty.

In short, a shocking, not to mention very unhealthy, portion of my life is spent in front of a computer. And when I’m not actually spending my life working or surfing the net, I’m agonizing obsessively about the fact that I am spending my life working or surfing the net. 

Such obsession can reach a fever pitch under the right circumstances. Say, for instance that:
  • Rosh Hashana is right around the corner
  • My birthday is right around the corner
  • I just updated my annual plan and realized I accomplished very little that I set out to do the previous year
  • I have been assaulted by various instances of the number three.
In such an instance as described above, I am liable to find myself grappling with a Crisis of Epic Proportions.   “Three years have gone by”, I declare to myself, “THREE WHOLE YEARS in which I have done NOTHING but work.  I are going to keel over and die from a heart attack, and all anyone will be able to say about me is that I worked a lot. Gila, you have thrown those three years into the garbage!  And then you waste the little free time you have on drivel!  You could be writing a novel—slowly but surely, a page a day. You could be volunteering! You could be fundraising for Alyn Hospital Wheels of Love Ride-it’s right around the corner! You could be spending time with friends.  And instead, what do you do? You spend your precious free time reading up on Honey Boo Boo! For fuck’s sake woman, you don’t watch reality TV!  You don’t even have cable!  The last time you turned on your TV at all was five months ago!  Why do you care about Honey Boo Boo?  You are wasting your life! “

Overstated?  Well, yes.  But completely ridiculous? No. There is a healthy chunk of truth to my histrionics. My life is out of balance.  My habits are crap.  And life is short and sometimes shorter than we think.  So, yes, something needs to be done.  But what?

And this, Friends, is why G-d invented Facebook.  

Call out to my friends! Your suggestions are needed.

So here is the deal. I have been feeling rather stuck—I keep on stumbling upon cases where I am reminded of something that happened 3-4 years ago and thinking “wow-I’ve done nothing in the last 3-4 years! Aside from work!” And I’m freaking out.

So, my birthday is coming up and I will be 42 (auspicious, no?) and I thought, why not give myself an interesting present—one ‘health’ commitment for my new year. Health here is defined broadly—it can be physical, mental, spiritual, etc. The one major condition is that it should force me to do/learn/try something new, continuously, over the course of the year. So “actually go to the dentist instead of just making appointments and breaking them”, while recommended, does not qualify. “Be a vegetarian for a year”, while liable to kill me, would qualify as my vegetarian repertoire would have to expand beyond Pakistani dahl, pasta and 5% white cheeses.

My friends came through.  Suggestions were as follows:
  • Study—look for a secular yeshiva, adult education, study Italian, lectures.
  • Do a vegetarian Julie and Julia, based on the American Wholefoods Cuisine cookbook
  • Study Meditation or Yoga
  • Take cooking courses.
  • Hike the Israel Trail
  • Live in another country for a year
  • Write a book in a year,
  • Start a new venture. 
  • Learn Krav Maga (Israeli self-defense)
  • Take up a fitness challenge
  • Try something like 52 weeks, 52 walks.  Every week, do a walk somewhere else. Maybe different places in Jerusalem, along the beach in Tel Aviv, somewhere interesting in Haifa.
  • Buy a newspaper every week, see what is going on and pick something to do.  Go to classes, visit the museum, do on walking tours, go to the movies. Just get out there.
  • “It sounds cheesy, but whatever your version of Eat Pray Love it, go do that. “
  • “Skip the first two sections of Eat Pray Love, go to the END and find yourself a Man. Forget food, religion, education, get laid my friend…a lot…by someone who knows what he is doing”.  (This contribution is courtesy of Ellie, who also pointed out that this would dovetail nicely with the vegetarian option, as sperm has lots of protein.  That’s Ellie for you. So practical.).
 In the end, I decided on the following:
  1. Fifty two Field Trips in Fifty Two Weeks. A field trip can be a bike ride somewhere more exotic than up to Yad Kennedy. It can be a lecture.  It can be a cooking class.  It can be a krav mega with Kayla. It can be a bike ride or a hike along a section of the Israel Trail. It can be the zoo with one of my mommy friends and her kids.  In short, it can be damn near anything that 1) gets me out of the house 2) is something I do not normally do and 3) is not work related.  And 4) while I can research it before and (if I get to it) write it up after, it cannot involve my computer.
  2.  Be vegetarian for the year, though I can have one meat meal for every Shabbat and Hag. I’ve already ordered the cookbook and have a date with a friend to start picking recipes for experimentation.
So let's assume I stick to this.  Worst case scenario—at the end of next year, I have a list of 52 things I can point at and say “I did this” and I have learned how to subsist on nuts, grains and berries.
Best case scenario—who knows?  And that’s the best part.