Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Go West, Young Jew

2011 started rough. Then I went to LA, and life became beautiful.

It wasn't because of the weather, although stepping up from 15° to 80° was pretty much okay by me.

It wasn't because I managed to miss the flat tire and clogged main drain that popped up, so to speak, in my absence. Although that was okay too.

It wasn't even because of Fish Grill, where fish tacos became a reality for me, or the All American Sausage Company, where no one but the handful of Jewish diners realizes -- or cares -- that the food they're eating is kosher.

But that last one does begin to explain.

See, aside from its relatively low-pressure atmosphere and relatively great weather, there isn't much that Los Angeles has to offer that New York doesn't. Unless you're a Jew and prefer a variegated, warm, welcoming community. Which is to say, unless living in New York has utterly drained you of any hope that such an animal exists. And if so: SNAP OUT OF IT! And get out of New York. It can be done.

There's just something heartwarming -- no, elating -- about having Shabbat dinner with over a dozen Jews, most younger, some older, some with velvet kippot, some with no kippot, around a small table in a small apartment without enough chairs. Singing kiddush together, sharing divrei Torah, wandering to an oneg Shabbat at someone else's place on the other side of the neighborhood -- it's what New York could have been, and may have been, but assuredly no longer is.

And more's the pity. Because between the high pressure, bad weather, and isolationist Jewish community[ies], it's very difficult to rationalize living in New York. Unless, of course, you work in finance or are striving to correct chronically low blood pressure.

LA isn't exactly a no pressure place. And it's kinda smoggy, has atrocious traffic, and trumped NYC as 2010's rudest city in America. But it's a place where all Jews can fit under the umbrella, and none are left out to get wet. And that's a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

No Pressure

Waaaaaaay back in December when this blog was still known as Red Sea Pedestrian, the four of us called a post-finals pre-launch powwow at Carlos & Gabby’s in the 5 Towns. The location was chosen so we could eat really awesome Mexican food, and the meeting was arranged to determine, among other things, an established posting rotation. At that time I specifically asked to be the last one in that rotation because according to the schedule we established, my posting week would coincide with two very important events in my calendar.

Event, the First: I just came back from a two-week sojourn in Israel

Event, the Second: Today was the first day of the spring 2011 semester here at NCC

The plan was that I would use the two events as examples of the duality of our natural state-of-being as humans, forever altering between enjoyable and/or exciting pursuits on the one hand and the less enjoyable and often dreary demands of societal existence on the other. Then I would weave a wonderful, philosophical, and quite esoteric tapestry of words based on that idea and conclude with some powerful statement on the duality of human existence and how we must strive to find balance in all things, amen. HALLELUJAH BROTHER!

There’s one catch though: I spent the last 24 hours trying to use that model and create something remotely meaningful and I came up with…nada. Nil. Zero. Zilch.

Considering that, as mentioned above, we now have an official rotation and posting day, I was actually frightened by the thought that it was 11:45 AM on Wednesday of my posting week and I was about to leave to school, not to return home until 8:30 PM, with nothing written past “Event, the Second.” In addition, I received many text messages from my fellow bloggers and some readers reminding me that it’s my week (thanks guys :p). In the car on the way home from school, all I could think about was that I needed to crank something out before the clock strikes midnight tonight or my coach would turn back into a pumpkin…erm…or I would miss my deadline.

I got a phone call from a close friend midway through the drive home, and while describing my dilemma I said “It adds an element of pressure to what should be a fun and enjoyable activity.”

And then I had it.

Interestingly enough, in my lyrics, essays, and more recently, blog posts, I tend to find something to write about specifically when I’m really struggling with what I was originally going to write about, and this time was no different. You see, the above line pretty much sums up my problem: working under a deadline, along with all the pressure that entails, turned something I volunteered for to have fun with into another obligation I needed to take care of before hour x. It almost ruined the experience this time around. A spark of inspiration on the drive home (while talking to a friend in one ear and listening to Pestilence Reigns by Revocation in the other) was all that saved this post from either being delayed or turning into an apology letter to my colleagues and readers.

I think it’s important to be able to differentiate between the fun and the obligation, and if you’re able to make obligations fun, go you. More importantly though I think, is the skill of keeping the pressure of an obligation OUT of the things in life that should be fun. My inability to do so almost ruined this post.

So that’s just something I was thinking about today, and I bless you all that you are able to do this in your daily lives and yadda yadda ya…

…Hey, I guess I did end up talking about that duality of human existence thing after all. BONUS POINTS!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Adventures in Food! Or, My First Week in Kosher Culinary School

My relationship to Kosher food is sort of like my relationship to water. It’s essential, I need it to survive, and I would never deny its importance or necessity. But I hate swimming in it, and sometimes I feel like it doesn’t quite let me breathe.

That’s not to say I would stop following its laws. I am, after all, Orthodox and Jewish and all those lovely titles that imply everything from Rabbi Akiva to denim skirts. But more interestingly than that (for the purposes of this article, at least), I have also just begun Culinary School. And by that, read KOSHER culinary school.

I chose to try the path of the kitchen sink for several reasons: first, because I thought it would be fun and useful, even though I have no plans to become a chef or a caterer. Second, because when else will I ever have the chance to take a three month program focusing only on food? Certainly not once I’ve started Graduate School, and definitely not when I’m old. It’s now or never (at 22, I seem to be thinking that about a lot of things). And third, because I wanted to see if correctly-made Kosher food could ever live up to the standards of gourmet boasted by non-Kosher chefs (for my thoughts on that subject, click here).

So far it's been interesting and fun and exhausting, and much harder than I thought it would be. The first two days consisted of knife skills. How to hold it, slice this way, chop that way...between all the juliennes at school and my papercut art at home, one of my friends started joking that I had officially enrolled to become a ninja. There's a visual I shamelessly enjoyed.





(FYI, that was supposed to be to the tune of the Spider-Man theme song. I know. Jack Kirby is plugging his ears up in Heaven right now.)

So last week on my first day of THE CULINARY EXPERIENCE, I took the two hour commute to Brooklyn for the first time since high school (this itself a step toward delegitimizing the whole process) and stumbled in one minute late to my first impression of what it would be like.

Imagine my relief when I discovered that there were three other girls in the program, even if one hadn't arrived yet and the other two were obscured from view by the six-foot-plus Rambo impersonator standing in front of them. Uniforms and aprons were promptly distributed.


The pants (despite being the smallest size available) were about a foot too long for me, as were the sleeves. The shoulders hung off me like an overcoat on a wall hook, while the chest and waist were so tight the buttons wouldn't stay closed. Clearly, this was not made to fit me, or any female for that matter (or any guy lacking Superman shoulders, really). I was beginning to notice a pattern, and suddenly recalled the stereotype I had heard repeatedly about the world of culinary professionalism (apologies to Mel Brooks):


I don't know what it is about culinary school that makes dumb parodies of already silly songs pop into my head, but both Men in Whites and Ninja Chef came to me suddenly in the middle of class. I shudder to think how many of these I'll have by the end of the program.

Anyway, after all this Chef went around the table and asked about our backgrounds, and about our favorite cuisine, which renewed my sense of purpose and excitement by bringing up my favorite sensitive issue: Food Nationalism, the unspoken race card.

Man, I love Food Nationalism; that ingrained instinct of every human to KNOW FOR A FACT that their own background’s cuisine is better than all the others, and to take offense at any suggestion to the contrary. I myself have had many a spirited debate on the subject, being both a food snob and Hungarian.

I confess: there are few things I find funnier than two people with wonderful culinary backgrounds going at it over whose is the slightly more prestigious of the two:

At other times, like in Culinary School, the tendency of people to get insulted over other people’s food tastes can be taken to almost laughable extremes:

Oh boy, do I have culinary school cut out for me. I'm short, I'm female, and I’m Ashkenazi. I don’t eat veal, and I’ve discovered that I hate cilantro. This is going to be fun.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Connecting the dots...

Human connection ties us all together. I’ve gone through periods where I felt like I was emotionally cut off from the rest of humanity, causing me to spiral. Everyone has felt this way at one point or another. Ups and downs are a normal part of the human experience.

But such emotions are not a nice feeling, not pleasant, not something I’d wish on anybody. I am a social creature; I thrive on human connection and conversation. I love discovering new, interesting people and reconnecting with people I’ve lost along the journey. My friends are gems.

Not all connection occurs interpersonally, though. Some connections are literally connections between two points or people. It is always comforting when I realize two people in my life who seemingly have nothing to do with one another are actually bonded by a “coincidental” connection, completing a circle.

These past few days have been filled with connections. One of them was simply that feeling of connection and bonding you get when you realize you find the same person as someone else creepy. I also played a bit of Jewish geography with a friend of mine and a perfect example of “six degrees of separation” was born. These "social geographic" connections comfort me because they make me feel like there is an order to the universe.

And finally, I discovered I have a similar, wildly insane sense of humor as a neighborhood acquaintance of mine who I've known since I was 3. As I always say, better late than never. This Gchat IM session touched upon the topics of Blackberries, insomnia, LSD, video games and my lack of gamer skillz, violence, academia, osmosis and heaven only knows what other fabulously random topics. He shall henceforth be known as Cloud Strife.

Cloud Strife: I was too smart for high school.

Me: Yeah, I know. I never studied for anything until the night beforehand before college hit me.

Cloud Strife: Can I hit you?

So, I beat the main game of Super Meat Boy. Hard as freaking hell.

And it unlocks the 7th world, where you play as the main character's girlfriend.

Me: Violent man.

Cloud Strife: And everything is pink and flowery, and the music is sugary and upbeat.

AND THERE ARE BUZZSAWS EVERYWHERE THAT WILL RIP YOU APART.

And it is just ungodly difficult in an already brutal game.

Me: You're changing the subject. We were about to discuss your violent rage.

Cloud Strife: Yeah.

But it was a good segway.

Cuz SMB is humorously violent.

The main character is a little, anthropomorphic cube of meat, that explodes in a shower of blood when he dies.

Are you YouTube accessible right now?

Me: I've already jotted down your possible tendencies towards spousal abuse on my mental note pad. How do you expect to find a wife now?

Cloud Strife: XD

Through your kindness and understanding for my crazy sense of humor.


Ain’t human connection grand?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 Reflection

Today's post was written by our good friend and guest writer, The Ginger Man.

This was written at one o' clock in the morning on the last day of 2010.

The night’s drinks have worn off, and the food from dinner is slowly digesting, making me feel kind of warm and fuzzy; full and content. Isn’t that how anyone should end a year? Self-confidence on the rise, ready to break down walls and reach new heights in the year to come… A righteous phoenix, born from the ashes of shame and despair, yet filling the sky with an aura of fire! Look out world, here I come!

You see, I was at the bottom of the food chain. On a much lower mode of operation, as it were. I came back from my two years in Israel fresh-faced and filled with love for my brethren and my Torah, my guiding light. Imagine my surprise when I learned that things don’t travel at the same speed here as they do in the Holy Land. Spirituality is neglected for physicality, even by those who preach the importance of the soul. Entire cities are filled with people who say they follow a group of laws, yet are really sheep, being led to…somewhere. Not that being a sheep is necessarily a bad thing; it is the shepherd whom the sheep choose to be a leader that is a problem. Come on, boys and girls, didn’t any of you learn Kings in school?

But I digress.

After my year stint in Touro, where I had vague, nebulous dreams of being a bio major, I drifted on, mostly through the direction of the wind, to Queens College. Here is where I was taken down a peg or three. My confidence was shattered, my spirituality almost desecrated, and my sanity questioned. I was summarily asked to leave for a year, which I now claim was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had to face my father, who first refused to talk to me, then tried to force me to move back home.

This leads us to now. I am studying to be a jeweler, and I will hopefully, sooner or later, become a designer of fine jewelry. Perhaps I may even own a store, selling my own work. I plan on going back to college and conquering each subject, one by one, until I master what I have learned. And, most importantly, I will hone myself. I will become the best person I can be, spiritually, physically, and mentally. Yes, there will be downtime. Yes, I will slip, I will fall, I will bite off more than I can chew and choke on it. But I’ll see that light in the distance, and I’ll know it’s not the oncoming train, but the nurturing sun. That’s what being a Jew, and a human, is.

Become the phoenix, and rise. It’s a brand new year. And guess what? It’s yours.

The Ginger Man.

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