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I remember an apartment I had in Manhattan, when I was just 20. It was at the top of a six-floor walk-up with marble stairs. Even at 20, I wanted to leave an oxygen tank on the 4th floor for laundry day. But a huge two bedroom in the West Village for cheap rent was hard to come by, even in the 1980s. Plus there was a handy bonus: My parents couldn’t make it up the stairs. No more surprise visits. WIN!
We called the apartment the Ranchhouse and decorated it with Clint Eastwood posters and western-style furniture. It was a completely NOT-renovated pre-war tenement, where the landlord never did a thing. Once a year or so, part of the ceiling would fall down, and we’d have to tape plastic bags to keep out the pigeons.
The kitchen was like stepping back in time to the 1950s. It had a huge sink in which you could wash two babies and a water buffalo, and an old country gas stove made years before electric starters came into fashion. You had to light a match every time you used it, then jump back or lose your eyebrows.
Since the bathtub was as close to the stove as the nearest counter was, it became an extension of the kitchen. One of the first parties I catered, years before I could afford a commercial kitchen, I had to make a hundred quiches. Fortunately there was loads of space in the Ranchhouse kitchen. I opened up two folding tables for more kitchen prep area then bleached the clawfoot tub, filled it with ice, put the quiches in disposable containers and stacked them in the tub.
A caterer was born!
I threw at least one dinner party every week in the seven years I lived in the Ranch. Big pots of chicken curry simmered away on that funky stovetop regularly.
Part of the reason for all that home cooking was that once you got up all those stairs, you never wanted to go down again and part of the reason was that big kitchen with the 1960s country gas stove and old cupboards, just made you feel like cooking.
If you spilled a sauce or dropped the eggs, so what?! It was the Ranchhouse, stained, scratched and comfy.
A few years later, I had the pleasure of moving into a designer home (lost it in the divorce, alas) with a kitchen that was featured in a magazine or two. I never saw so many gadgets; I wanted to hire an IT guy just to show me how to turn on the oven! But something about that super swank, electric, brand new, “cook’s kitchen” shut down my mojo. I don’t think I cooked a meal at home the whole five years I lived there, unless you count salad.
For me, a dream “cook’s kitchen” needs a gas stove, but I can make electric work. I once catered a party for 300 people out of a Xerox machine closet using two butane camper stoves and a prayer. So I know just about anything can be done if you have enough gusto.
I can forgive the electric stove as long as I have a lot of room and an easy, it’s-OK-to-make-a-mess, we-can-just-clean-it-up feeling kitchen. Not the case for that designer kitchen. Everything about it read “pretty but don’t touch.”
I was recently invited to a family supper to share, great food and lots of love, but also to show off my cousin’s swank new kitchen with the gorgeous tiled counters.
As with 99% of the dinners I get invited to, I was asked to help prepare the meal. It goes with the territory. Folks finding out you are a caterer is like finding out you are a doctor. Doc why does this hurt? Chef, how long do I cook this beef?
So I pulled up my sleeves and jumped in to help crank out the supper. But every time I tried to put something hot down on those gorgeous, Spanish style counters, her husband nearly had a coronary! “Don’t scratch the counters! Don’t get burn marks on the tile!”
I wound up breaking down a few cardboard boxes, covering all the tile with them and then covering the boxes with tablecloths to make it look a little nicer. So yes, gorgeous new kitchen, but NO, not my idea of a cook’s kitchen.
I’m not a designer or a contractor or a spokesperson for any sort of pot or pan or sort of kitchen appliance. I’m just a downtown girl who loves to cook and am lucky enough to get paid doing it.
So what I can tell you about creating that dream kitchen of yours is this: It’s your dream, not mine. Find whatever makes you feel comfortable. If an egg dropping on the floor in a kitchen sends you into cardiac arrest, something is wrong with that kitchen (or perhaps less caffeine would be a good idea, dear). Keep it user-friendly!
Give me a kitchen that’s big, with loads of counterspace, a cook’s island, a heavy-duty gas stove, lots of good, heavy-bottom pots and a few windows to let out the smoke if it doesn’t have an exhaust fan, and I am good to go.
So what’s the moral of this kitchen story? Moral shmoral. Just be comfy and make sure to cook with love. Everything else falls into place.
March 8, 2015 Comments Off on Kitchen-orama, mama
It’s not like I’m an expert on the being 50 thing.
It’s only been a few months since I turned the big five-Oh!
But I can tell you what I’ve noticed about being a half-century old that wasn’t exactly on my radar 20 years ago.
Food Isn’t Just a Now Thing Anymore!
I used to be able to eat whatever the hell I felt like eating, pizza covered in pickled jalapeño peppers with a Michelob light chaser was my favorite, followed by a Snickers bar. Yes, ma’am!
Now I think about everything that goes into my mouth and ask myself questions like:
• How will I feel in an hour?
• Will this pass through me or does it require a prune chaser?
• How many hours in the gym is needed to work this off?
I know from countless trials and errors that red wine gives me the acid reflux of a foghorn from hell!
Ditto on eating anything, ANYTHING after 10 p.m.
Gone are the days when I could devour cold leftover pasta at 2 a.m. For that matter, gone are the days when I do anything at 2 a.m. And I’m allergic to wheat.
I actually think about things like “Am I getting enough sleep?”
No more close-the-bar-down at 4 a.m. mornings, watching the sunrise from the bagel joint in the Meat Market. While we’re at it, gone is the bagel joint in the Meat Market (not that I can eat bagels anymore). Not hip enough for the new über-chic Meat Market.
Going out to dinner with my girlfriend, then a long walk afterward, that lands us home at 11:30. That’s a late night for this party babe!
“I used to dance the night away!” my GF says, followed by, “Can you make us your special cocktail.”
My special cocktail by the way, is one spoonful of Metamucil to an 8-ounce glass of filtered water, stirred not shaken.
I used to close my eyes at night and wake up 9 hours later. The only thing I needed to fall asleep was a bed or a floor. Now it’s chamomile tea, melatonin, a long hot bath and a prayer to get this babe to wind down.
Problem with that damn tea is that it leads to another gift of being 50, the “I can’t sleep through the night without having to pee” thing. When the hell did that start?
You guessed it; that’s our next subject: PHOOEY!
I can’t be bothered to be über-chic.
That’s a nice little perk to turning 50 you get to say, “Phooey!!!” A lot!
That pesky filter that used to turn all my no’s into yesses … with the horrible sweet voice in my head saying over and over again the mantra “Be nice, be nice, be nice!” … has been replaced with PHOOEY!
“Would you like to lend me money that I will never pay back in this lifetime or the next?”
“Can you lower your price to below your cost, because I’m a well connected hipster and will tell my pals about you?”
“Can we come and sleep in your living room for a week? We’re too cheap to rent a hotel?”
PHOOEY-itus starts forming in our 40s and begins to blossom in our 50s. But having spent a lot of time with my 88-year-old dad, I have to say it doesn’t get its full bloom on until we are in our 80s.
“Would you like some steamed vegetables, Dad?”
“PHOOEY! BRING ME A HOT DOG NOW!”
Something to look forward to.
But PHOOEY works in other ways, too.
Like recently on Halloween when I was sitting at work giving away a boatload of Halloween candy (that I couldn’t eat because chocolate gives me acid reflux), I felt a little sleepy.
“Should I go home to take a nap or go to the gym?” I asked my 35-year-old chef.
“Go to the gym!” he screamed, horrified that I even asked.
“PHOOEY!” I screamed to my tired body and trudged to the gym, worked out for 45 minutes and really did feel a lot better.
Back at home, I wanted to crawl into bed and watch Halloween movies rather than go to a late-night dance party. The problem was I was going with my 59-year-old and 52-year-old gal pals, each well into her PHOOEY years.
“PHOOEY!!” they said. “Get your dancing shoes on!”
“PHOOEY!” I said to my aching knees.
I pulled out a Naughty Sexy Cop Halloween outfit from a decade ago that actually still fit, then shlepped out to the party in Long Island City.
Everyone, 25 or 55, was in costume; they were getting down!
“They’re playing old school,” screamed my gal pals!
Never mind that I was in my 30s when these “old school” songs came out. I boogied on the dance floor, feeling every bit the sexy cop.
OK, yes, I was home in bed at 1:30, but you know, kinda danced the night away.
I went to sleep that night, needing nothing but my bed and woke up feeling just fine.
Proving what I now know: most of all FUN is ageless.
Not to mention a great cure for stress, acid reflux and the blues.
So I’m 50!
It’s just a number, and to all those who disagree I say, loudly and proudly, 50 times over, “PHOOEY!!”
November 11, 2014 Comments Off on So This is 50
I took some zany jobs in my younger years. I was a barker at an amusement pier in Long Branch, New Jersey. I got on the microphone and called folks to throw down quarters, spin the wheel of chance and try to win A CARTON OF CIGARETTES! “Grab your girl, and give it a whirl! There’s nothing to it; you can do it!” I was 15. I thought the job was pretty darn glamorous. What I really wanted was my boss’s job. While I was sweltering with the gambling smokers, he was sitting in an air-conditioned office counting money.
After I moved to NYC, I landed a job selling cosmetics at an outdoor market in SoHo. In the winter, when I was stamping my feet in the cold, trying to sell frozen lipstick as frostbite crept into my fingers and toes, I would look over at my boss, sitting in the van with the heat blasting and the windows fogged up and feel even colder.
“One day I’m gonna be the boss!” I told the four-pairs-of-socks-for-five-dollars guy at the stall next to mine.
“I’m too cold to talk,” he answered.
When I decided that I wanted to be a chef, I took lots of jobs to learn while I earned. One outdoor supper club had me and seven guys sweltering in a trailer-turned-kitchen with no indoor plumbing, no sharp knives, not even a fan, while we cranked out food for a thousand yuppies a day.
“Can we have sharp knives and a fan?” I asked the boss while his secretary counted what must have been a hundred grand on the table next to him.
“You think you are suffering!” he shouted. “I was wounded in the war and had to stitch up my own wound! That’s suffering!”
We sharpened our knives on a concrete block, wrapped ice in dish towels and put them around our necks and growled while the boss sipped iced coffee in his Jaguar.
One summer, I allowed myself to be bused out to the Hamptons by a catering company that needed staff for its busy season of lux parties for the elite.
“Ohhh, how swank!” a pal cooed into the phone when I told her I was being put up in a house in the Hamptons for a week.
When I arrived at the house, which was also the kitchen, office and storage facility, I was led up the stairs and shown a ten-by-twelve-foot room filled with sleeping bags and mattresses.
“Two knapsacks from the corner is your spot!” said the sous chef, a very tired-looking Chinese man.
I was then herded downstairs and spent the next 10 hours cooking in a stifling-hot, cramped kitchen with a slew of cooks who looked as though they were ready to collapse.
At the end of the day, too tired to do anything but eat our communal dinner and crawl up the stairs, we took turns (12 of us for one bathroom) showering, and then collapsed onto our spots on the floor.
I was the first to break the ice: “This sucks!”
“Really sucks!” came a voice from a sleeping bag in the corner.
“I thought all homes in the Hamptons had swimming pools.” a young redheaded woman called out.
“One day, I’ll be the boss,” I chanted in my head as I drifted off to sleep.
It took me a few years to start my own business, but every time I did an event, they told people, who told people, and thankfully, the word did get around.
It’s been 26 years since I became “the boss,” and I have learned a whole lot about the price you pay for being the owner.
After a day of cooking in my air-conditioned kitchen with knives that are professionally sharpened every week, having had a proper lunch break, after which staffers returned to their ample workspaces with a lot of appreciation and all the cold water, coffee or soda they want, my employees leave for the day.
That’s when I take off my apron and put on my reading glasses and go into the office to start my other job: owner. Between answering emails, paying bills, returning calls, writing proposals, scheduling meetings and contending with the endless, ENDLESS, barrage of legal requirements to running a business, I’ll be lucky to get out for a late dinner.
It’s a solitary feeling, looking over that mountain of paperwork at the hipsters running to the bar, the kids running to the park and the moms running after their kids.
When I am finally ready to leave for the night, my stomach growling and my eyes red and blurry, it occurs to me that I work longer hours more days of the week, than I ever did working for a “boss.”
So what’s the reward?
Top of the list is having the power to be nice to the staff. It makes me happy to give them proper meals, a comfortable workplace, very decent pay and respect. All except for the executive chef. She can never do enough to please me. That job, of course is mine.
I get to hang my own art in the office (monoprints of Provincetown Bay right now), take all the personal calls I want (when I have time, which is rarely), play the music I like (rock ’n’ roll, of course), eat when I want to eat (if I’m lucky), and I decide when I am done for the day.
But my biggest motivation to plow through the endless haze of stress, is that I am completely and absolutely unemployable by anyone other than myself.
My proper corporate meeting attire may well include a vintage T-shirt on which is scrawled “RAW.” While I insist that every bit of food I plate up is exquisite, I serve my clients the truth, regardless of whether it’s palatable. Once I asked a bridezilla to get laid so she could stop stressing everyone out. Thankfully, she did, and we all lived happily ever after, especially the groom!
I also need a LOT of personal space. My kitchen is constructed so that the front table with the wall of spices separating it from all the other worktables is my spot, you could say it’s my emotional throne. From there, I make the sauces, marinades, and dips while my chef does the sea salt and caramel whoopie pies, my prep cooks grill the shrimp and fry the mac and cheese fritters as Led Zeppelin plays in the background.
The Queen is making killer satay sauce from her throne!
So yeah, being the boss is not for the faint of heart, but at least I get to make my own fun.
Now I gotta go, I have a very important meeting. I have to dress up! Hmm, the hunter green T-shirt stamped “Rebel” with Levi’s shorts and a pair of biker boots will do just fine.
October 7, 2014 Comments Off on The Boss is Always Greener
It is 911 today, first morning since that terrible morning that i woke up not remembering what day it was..but something woke me up an hour earlier then i meant to get up, so i checked face book, but couldn’t shake the feeling that i was forgetting something..then i remembered in a jolt it was the “911” anniversary..so many lives lost on this day, so many lives forever changed..I am not the person i was the morning I woke up on september 11th.. I can still remember so vividly standing on my roof and watching the towers burn, the shock and terror when they fell one by one..the strange acrid smell…all those haunted faces i met at ground zero the brave first responders i was privileged to feed..they were going into a burning pile looking for friends..all i could do was give them a hamburger… but mostly what i recall was the kindness that spread out all over new york city…everyone opened doors for each other…strangers hugged…people from all around the world sent food, water, socks, eye wash a thousand things to ground zero…it was our worst day but our best moment for kindness and heroism..i am humbled to think about it today..On september 11th i remember the love and bravery that tried to wash away all that pain and loss.. sending you all a little love on this day
September 11, 2014 Comments Off on 911 again
Gay Pride 2014
I was standing in front of “The Duchess,” a lesbian bar in Greenwich Village. I had just moved to New York City. I was 17 years old.
I had found the courage to leave home, but the courage to walk into the Duchess? My feet were frozen to the concrete.
An androgynous woman wearing a leather jacket, her brown hair slicked back, stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. She looked at me and snickered as she sucked her Marlboro. I ran all the way to the Sheridan Square subway station.
By the time I mustered up the courage to enter a women’s bar, the Duchess had closed. I went to “Peaches and Cream,” a friendly joint on the Upper East Side.
I can’t describe the sensation of walking into a bar filled with gay women. It felt a bit like being lost in a candy store where I was too terrified to touch the candy. Thankfully, some of the older women in the bar felt a maternal instinct toward the terrified teenager and welcomed me heartily.
It was like finding a family I didn’t know I had lost.
Being gay was something I’d kept on the inside. Being hurt, ostracized, cat-called, or worse, those were all real possibilities for being “out” in the 1980s. But at “Peaches,” I felt free to be exactly who I was: a young woman who loved women.
I grew up fast … joined in gay pride marches, fell in and out of love several times, took part in New York City’s first glamour dyke parties, and years later with my bodacious partners threw our own women’s parties. We called ourselves “Nasty Girl Productions,” and we sure were.
Over those years, the world changed, too. I remember when walking down the street holding my girlfriend’s hand risked a gay bashing, now I see young happy women holding hands all the time. They don’t think about homophobia. The world is their oyster, and I’m happy for that. I am happy for them.
Gay marriage has become legal in a boatload of states, including New York, and at long last gay marriage has gotten its well-deserved federal rights. Thank you, Edie Windsor!
The gay pride parade is now less a symbol of overcoming oppression and more a great chance for advertisers to make Gay Money.
A lot of my pals don’t even go to the parade anymore. “It’s too hot. It’s too crowded. We’re too old.”
But I still go.
Every year in Manhattan on the last Sunday in June, I love to cheer the marchers on and wave my handmade signs. “Gay caterers spice it up” was last year’s sign. This year, it’s “Gay chefs sizzle!” I hoot and holler until I’m hoarse.
All that joy is exhausting.
For me this day, is not just about celebrating, or partying; it’s a family reunion for thousands and thousands of relatives I never knew existed.
It’s our day.
July 9, 2014 2 Comments
On Mother’s Day when we were kids, Dad would take us to a drugstore and buy hairbrushes, body lotion, athlete’s foot powder … you know, the sentimental stuff. He’d also pick up a Mother’s Day card and have us each scribble our names and affections on it. He always had leftover wrapping paper in the garage, and we’d take turns doing terrible wrapping jobs on the items. Each of us would claim one gift as our own. I tried to be glamorous and grab a lotion or a scented soap. If you didn’t move fast enough, you’d get the foot powder.
It was clear that Dad had done the picking, but each year, Mom clasped her hands together and kvelled (kind of like beaming in love) all the same, then dragged her three children to her chest in delight. It was suffocating, but it went with the turf.
By the time I was 10, I figured out a few things.
1) Dad was a lousy gift giver.
2) Mom didn’t care what the gifts were, as long we gave them.
3) Mom loved lilacs.
A neighbor’s tree exploded in fresh lilacs every year, right around Mother’s Day, and I decided to sneak over and acquire (steal) an armload of glorious, fresh lilacs to present to Mom. Our ragtag kitchen of cheap linoleum and paper plates took on the air of an eccentric garden with those pretty flowers sitting in a large glass apple sauce jar on our dinette set. I loved the smell, still do, but it may have something to do with the ecstasy of Mom’s face when I gave her the flowers. It became our annual mantra for five years:
“Oh, I love lilacs!”
“Yes, Mom, I know!”
Things changed right around the time I discovered that even though I was 16, I looked old enough to get into bars without being carded. I didn’t give a hoot about my mother’s love after that; I wanted to party! I also wanted to paint, fly, have friends my mother hated, smoke, explore, and in short, leave the nest!
By the time I was 17, I was living on my own, and Mother’s Day was a day when I called Mom and subjected myself to an hour of her prodding and digging about whether I would ever marry a nice Jewish boy. It was my gift to Mom, letting her eat my insides. It took me a few years to mention that not only would I not be marrying a nice Jewish boy, but if I did get married, it would probably be to a woman.
Eventually we found our way to back to each other. Mom was a poet, I am a writer, and we started to talk about the creative process. It was an amazing thing to find out that my housewife, over-possessive, couponing, bargain-hunting mother was actually a spectacularly creative soul. She even won a local poetry contest and got her name in the newspaper.
“Promise me, my Slovah (my Yiddish name), that you will write about me. I want you to immortalize me.”
“Of course, Mom, how could I not? There’s so much material!”
My parents were coming back from a trip to Florida, driving on 195 toward New Jersey when Mom went into cardiac arrest in North Carolina. She never made it home. I was 28 years old.
For many years after that, I didn’t know what to do with myself on Mother’s Day. I felt that the whole world was celebrating a day that I was locked out of. The lilacs at the Korean deli sent me into tears.
Then I decided I would spend Mother’s Day with her, death notwithstanding.
I bought an armload of lilacs (bought!), hired a car service and rode from my apartment in Manhattan to her grave in Staten Island. It’s an old Jewish cemetery that houses most of Mom’s line of the family. My grandparents and great-grandparents are there.
I laid out a towel next to Mom, and placed the flowers on her grave. FYI, this is a big no-no in Jewland. We don’t bring flowers; we place stones. But really, could we get any more depressing?!
I slathered suntan lotion on my arms and legs and lay down next to Mom.
Groups of mourners came by, horrified to find a woman in a hot pants and a tank top splayed out in the grass, but Mom would have liked it, and so did I.
I told her about my life. Whom I was cooking for, what I was writing about, whom I was dating, what made me happy, what made me sad.
She was a good listener.
I’d like to say I still do this every year; I don’t. But it got me through the hardest Mother’s Days.
Taking the car service back to Manhattan, I didn’t feel the cast-out sensation anymore. I looked out at the families coming back from brunch with Mom, happy and giddy. I spent the day with my mom, too! SO THERE!
I still feel an incredible loss on Mother’s Day. I suppose having a baby would have helped. Then I’d be Mom, too.
But it wasn’t my destiny to be a mom, maybe because I’m so busy mothering … EVERYONE!
Happy Mother’s Day to all the motherless daughters out there. It’s our day, too! Make it a great one!
May 16, 2014 Comments Off on Motherless Daughters on Mother’s Day
I feel thrilled for Robin Roberts. She survived a terrible ordeal with cancer to emerge beautiful, victorious and finally able to come out publicly about who she really is. Robin Roberts is a gorgeous, vibrant, loving, talented woman who also happens to share her life with another woman. Good for her!
I was on the beach in Provincetown Massachusetts with my GF when my neighbor Andrew Sullivan told me with a proud smile that his friend Anderson Cooper had come out via an email to him and given Andrew permission to put it on his site. It was thrilling to be standing on the beach watching gay couples holding hands, in a town that has long been a safe haven from homophobia and get the news that one more public person had decided to be brave.
Rock on Anderson!
With the demise of DOMA, excuse me for a moment will you dears… “HURRAY!!!!!! YAYYY WOO HOOO!” you would think that coming out would not be such a hard choice for public figures but clearly it is.
Do you know any A list movie stars who are out? Do you really think there aren’t any?
Right. Okay. Jodie Foster finally took the public plunge. She’s not exactly an A-lister anymore, but better late than never. You go girl!
My own coming out story is less glamorous.
I was fifteen years old when a French kiss in the women’s bathroom of Toad Hall, (a nightclub in Red Bank New Jersey that, at the time was one of the few places in Jersey that would let punk bands play) changed my life forever.
It was 1979 and I had no idea I was gay. I had never even considered the notion, but five seconds into that spontaneous and miraculous kiss with Cindy Butler (name changed, she’s not as brave as I wish she was) and I knew my life would never be the same.
Suddenly all the answers to questions that had plagued me since I was four-years-old came spilling forward like an avalanche!
That’s why I had to bring my first grade teacher Mrs. Mahon an apple every week!
That’s why I could not even consider being anywhere but the television set every Wednesday night, in time to see Lindsay Wagner play “The Bionic Woman!”
I took a lot of abuse in the 7th and 8th grade and didn’t even know why I was targeted, but my abusers knew. Pretty preppy popular girls knew there was something just not Kosher about the girl in the flannel shirt.
Oh I got my revenge my dears. I broke out of my shell and ruled my high school as the badass rock-and roll biker chick from hell!
But even then, I was covering up. I knew I was different just didn’t know exactly how, that is until that one kiss blasted the walls open.
It wasn’t like I was ready to admit out loud that I was gay after that. It took a few more years to come out to my pals who all said the same thing, “DUH!”
I didn’t come out to my mom until I was twenty-five. She offered to pay for treatment to “Help me live an easier life.”
“That’s okay mom, I like myself the way I am.”
I have marched in parades, joined rallies, but in some ways, without my realizing it, I was still in the closet.
When it came to running a company that specialized in weddings, I didn’t want to alienate couples or their often-nervous parents. Rather than anointing myself rainbow, I marketed myself as “Alternative!”
Lord knows that’s true.
Then marriage equality hit the main stream and I realized that if I didn’t fly my gay flag, I was part of the problem not the solution.
Yeah that was me at the Gay Pride parade with the sign reading, “Gay Caterers do it with sauce!”
What can I say I’m a poet!
Who-ever you really are, just go out and be it, live it, do it.
Life is too short to live in closets, even ones with really great shoes.
To Robin and her long-time girlfriend Amber Laign, I say MAZEL TOV!
March 4, 2014 Comments Off on Out Loud and Proud Hurray Robin Roberts
New York State of Mine
My friends call me the quintessential New Yorker.
Yes, I admit I moved here from Jersey when I was 16, but after 33 years I’m as hardcore a New Yorker as they come. Besides no one in NYC is actually from NYC. Well, OK, a few, but they’re as rare as a mailbox these days. Hey! Post Office! I know you’re hurting for cash, but did ya have to take away all the mailboxes?! It’s hard enough to pay a bill these days!
But I digress..
Here’s where the quintessential thing comes in.
because I’m …
Jewish – spiritually, culturally, but, umm, I actually only drag my butt, or shall I say “tuchas” into a synagogue 3 times a year and that’s for the high holidays. So yeah, that makes me a high holiday Jew.
However infrequently I make it to Shul, I know the important laws of my people. A NYC bagel is never spread with cream cheese. It is given a shmear. It is illegal to eat smoked salmon on a bagel without a slice of red onion; optional but still recommended is a slice of tomato. Kosher pastrami is always better then non-kosher and must always be eaten on rye bread with mustard. Only a tourist, not to mention a gentile would eat pastrami on white bread or with mayo.
Neurotic – I have no idea why people say this. Maybe they have tumors from the dust mites in their apartments crawling into their brains. I do feel that negative energy can be sucked in by your air conditioner, so it’s important to keep the filter clean.
Fast – I would explain this to you, but I don’t have time.
Bitchy – Hey! I am an empowered babe! So skip the B word! Although yeah, I do get a tad cranky upon occasion.
Eccentric – I guess this must be true, because I find the word “Freak” to be a compliment.
Cool – I’m too cool to care about being cool. I can prove this because I don’t live in Brooklyn, although I do live in the East Village, which, I am told, is a suburb of Williamsburg. I don’t drink beer or whiskey and I don’t even know what a “Cronut” is!
Colorblind – My clothing color wheel consists of black, gray, olive and blue. Anything else, except of course for orange sneakers, is an atrocity.
Multi-faceted – Sorry dear, I’m too busy to chat, the writer side of me is finishing my memoir while planning a monoprint for my artist side and the chef side is ordering 30 pounds of flank steak for the wedding I am catering. Call me later when I’m an amateur therapist.
War-torn – Lemme tell you ’bout Crown Heights in 1981, baby. If the muggers didn’t get ya, the wild dogs would. We can also talk about Time Square when “sexy” meant you could buy sex there, needle park when it had needles and Tompkins Square Park when it was Tent City. Like most old school New Yorkers I don’t miss the crime, but lordy I do miss the EDGE! I knew the NYC I fell in love with was gone when they replaced the 2nd Avenue Deli with a Chase!!!
Tough – F-you, your mother, your mother’s mother and your mother’s father’s mother!
Generous (with advice to non New Yorkers)
Hey lady! Ask a cop for directions! They’re paid to be annoyed! Oh and by the way! Houston Street is pronounced HOWSTON, not HU-stun!
Because after 33 years, I’m ruined for living anywhere else.
When I put my hand in the air, I want a cab to pull over not someone across the street to wave back! Waving! What is that?!
January 29, 2014 Comments Off on New York Mama
Satan is in the Bread
We never understood how my five-foot-tall mother blossomed from an hourglass hometown beauty queen of about 130 pounds into a 275-pound Yiddish meatball. She hardly ate. During dinner, while my sister, brother, father and myself gorged ourselves on kosher fried chicken and egg noodles, Mom would content herself, nibbling at a slice of tomato.
I knew of toddlers who ate more then Mom.
When my dad would complain about her weight gain, she would respond, “I have a condition!” and who were we to argue? … The woman hardly ate and gained more weight in the first 10 years of my life than I did.
We figured Mom must have had the thyroid from Mars.
One night when I was 11, I couldn’t sleep. I crept down the stairs to the kitchen in search of a leftover drumstick.
I saw a ghostly figure hunched over the kitchen dinette table. I rubbed my eyes and focused. It was Mom. Backlit by the dim, flickering light over the stove, Mom seemed to glow.
On the table in front of her was a loaf of Wonder Bread and a tub of soft butter. Her eyes looked forward, unblinking and glazed, as she reached down, robotically, grabbed a slice of bread, slathered it with butter and folded it into her mouth, then reached for the next slice. The loaf was a third gone, and judging by her pace, I could only assume that she wasn’t going to stop until it was all eaten.
“Mom?” I whispered.
She kept eating, slathering, eating. Her blank eyes did not look toward me.
I opened my mouth to speak again, but something made me stop. I slowly stepped backward into the living room and tiptoed up the stairs. For reasons I did not understand at the time, I told no one about what happened for two decades.
Years later, when I’d moved out on my own to NYC. I was walking through Union Square Park. Those were the days when Union Square might as well have been named Heroin Square. I saw a junkie sitting on a bench, his eyes glazed, his hands methodically scratching a sore on his arm, his gaze somewhere over the tops of the trees. I knew that look. It was the same look my mom had on what I’d come to call the “Night of the Living Wonder Bread.”
In those days, I was too poor to buy vegetables, meat, or fish. My meals were variations on bread and pasta. Mac and cheese from a mix, spaghetti and tomato sauce on sale four-for-a-dollar, pizza bagels from bagels, tomato paste and American cheese. When I had enough money to buy tuna, I’d make a tuna and noodle casserole.
After things got easier moneywise, I never broke the habit. Diving through the entire breadbasket at a restaurant was the norm, sometimes asking for a second basket before the appetizers showed up.
I didn’t drink to excess, avoided most drugs, quit smoking at 24, but bagels, pizza and pasta? Now that was my kinda addiction.
By the time I turned 30, I’d acquired a host of strange ailments: skin breakouts, rashes, respiratory problems.
“You’re allergic to wheat,” a naturalopathic doctor told me as he peered at my skin.
“No more pizza?” I screeched and declared the doctor to be a quack, thus allowing me to ignore him for another decade.
By the time I turned 40, I couldn’t ignore wheat anymore. I’d show up for work, eat a cookie and spend the next three hours coughing.
Quitting wheat was harder than I expected. Sure, there were obvious items to avoid: bread, pizza, oh in short, LIFE, but there were also the sneakier items.
Who knew soy sauce was not only wheat-based but in just about everything?!
I can’t even count how many times I found out the salad dressing I was enjoying was made with soy sauce. It wasn’t just soy sauce. The gravy on my steak? Flour-based. The corn breakfast cereal? Mixed with wheat. Oh, and forget about dessert! With the exception of ice cream, I was screwed: cake, pie, strudel, cookies … flour, flour, flour and flour.
It was enough to make a gal cry, and trust me, I did.
Thankfully, it did get easier; I found a wheat-free pizza joint in my hood. The local health food store offered a freezerload of gluten-free breads. Corn, brown rice and quinoa pasta hit the shelves. I even found a tasty, wheat-free soy sauce. I happily gorged myself on all of these not-so-good, but not-so-bad, substitutes. I think of these products like methadone; it gets you through, man.
I live my life hopeful that if I continue to be a good person, stay honest, loyal and honorable, that when I die, I will be sent to an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet, at which I may gorge myself for the rest of eternity on spaghetti and meatballs without gaining an ounce, coughing, bloating or breaking out.
Until then, I’m learning to feel grateful for the plate life fed me.
All the women in my mom’s family died of obesity-related ailments. Maybe my wheat allergy is a blessing, after all.
I’m a 40-something gal, the same age Mom was when she gained a hundred pounds. I’ve got a little extra meat, but it landed in the right places. I work out three times a week, have the energy to walk 60 blocks a day just for fun and can easily touch my toes, nose or most of my other body parts if I so choose.
Some folks say they don’t believe in the devil, but I do. I just think he lives in bread. I mean, hello? Why else would it taste so good?
January 24, 2014 Comments Off on Satan Wheat
I like to think of being Jewish as a marathon sport. I can dole out a soul-crushing guilt complex, shot-put-style, successfully match-make without meeting the intendeds and turn dinner for two into a fridge full of leftovers.
I am Jewish Woman; hear me roarrrrrr.
And sure, it comes with some issues, but I’m proud of each and every one of them. They were bequeathed to me by David. Yes, right after he slew Goliath, he said, “And now I shall pass down to all the future Jewish generations a strong dislike for plain butter on white bread. An olive, a pimento, maybe a smidgen of herring would be nice, but just butter?” (This is why Jews do not spend a huge amount of time in Connecticut.)
I love being Jewish! Not that you cared or noticed or even sent a card or some flowers, but no matter … I’ll live.
Eleven months out of the year, I celebrate, but then what I think of as goyim revenge creeps in. … It starts in November … the loneliest time of years for members of the tribes … the time we are reminded, yet again, that we are, in fact, different … the Christmas season. When Noel rolls around, I feel like the only one locked out of a sample sale.
“Let me in! I’ve got credit!”
Suuuuuure. We’ve got Chanukah, eight days of it. Eight days trapped in the living room while your parents discuss the time you were constipated for a week from too much egg salad. (Hey, eating 35 eggs in three days would block up the Hudson River.)
Eight days when your gifts are doled out agonizingly, one per day to keep you coming back for more. It’s menorah blackmail! Speaking of presents … can I just interject here to say that SOCKS, SHAMPOO, SOAP, UNDERWEAR AND TOOTHPASTE SHOULD NEVER BE GIVEN AS A CHANUKAH PRESENT! These are, um, what parents are supposed to give their kids all year long. It’s just wrong to gift-wrap these things!
It’s also wrong, by the way, to give your kid a Barbie doll missing one arm from the Grant’s Going Out of Business Sale. No wonder I have issues!
Christmas always seemed much more merciful. You have a huge Christmas Eve dinner among your loved ones, eat massively, pass out, wake up, open gifts, eat some more and leave. Heaven.
Sheesh, even when you try to ignore Christmas, it’s just impossible! If you decide to watch television, every single program has some spliced-in Santa element. The closest I’ve come to a Chanukah program on the holidays is a “Twilight Zone” marathon.
So what’s a Jew to do on Christmas? Yeah, I know, we go to the movies. Last time I did that, I wound up watching “Titanic,” and honey, that didn’t exactly lift the downtrodden mood. I mean basically it was a movie about a whole bunch of rich Jews drowning in a big boat, and worse yet, nobody sued.
Some Jews get into the spirit, by adopting a sort of morph of both cultures, the old Cranukah spiel, but this year, Chanukah crashed into Thanksgiving and left us bupkis for Christmas!!
There was something depressing about the Chanukah bush anyway. A Christmas tree adorned with dreidels, Moses statuettes and pictures of Barbra Streisand was never gonna cut it!
No. To really beat the left-outta-Christmas blues, one must think bigger than Barbra, and I don’t mean Bette … ’cause let’s face it: Bette rocks, but Barbra is still the Streisand.
No you have to think bigger then even Barbra … I know … the Lord’s name in vain … but I’m on a roll … on December 24th of this year, I will be instituting the first annual Kitschmas Eve.
On this festive holiday, Jews in leisure wear will feast on a wide array of exotic dishes like kishka, schnitzel, kreplach, latkes and kugel and sip sparkling Manischewitz punch. Dessert will be babka, halvah, strudel, rugelach, hamantashen, a tall glass of seltzer and three Tums per customer.
Then it’s off to caroling!
On the first night of Kitschmas, my true love gave to meeeeeeeeeeeee …
Intestinal gas from eating too much cheese.
On the second night of Kitschmas, my true love gave to meeeeeeeeeeeee …
Two Prilosecs, one tab of Advil, three ginger ales and Adam Sandler singing Chanukah songs.
Well … anyway, you get the point dears. Make up your own Kitschmas carol; my kishkas are killing me.
So what do we do on Kitschmas morning?
Eat a pastrami omelet, followed by lox (Nova, only) on an everything bagel with a shmear, give everyone a gift certificate for online shopping because life is short, and spend the afternoon digesting. Heaven.
December 28, 2013 2 Comments