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Shtetl Fabulous

Updated: 2018-03-06T05:01:27.157-05:00


Wildly Inappropriate


I'm not one of those women who doubts her beauty and ability to attract men. In the last 10 years of my dating life, I've picked up men at the gas station, the grocery store, a gay bar and now on an NJ Transit train. Being naturally gregarious and just good-looking enough to be approachable but not too gorgeous to be intimidating, my friends frequently delight in my stories of new guys, even if absolutely no one can keep track.

And yet, despite my magnetism, I seem to generally attract, for the most part, the most wildly inappropriate men. Oh you have a PhD, your own apartment and a good relationship with your mom? Yeah, you're just not going to be into me. You'll be my good friend but you will never imagine a future with me. But are you marginally employed in the shadow economy with an illegitimate child and a Tina Fey-esque, never-to-be-talked-about facial scar? Then clearly you will fall in love with me after just a few short encounters.

I started writing this post a few nights ago and just didn't have time to really flesh it out. Then, the reason for the delay became all-too apparent when I checked my FB inbox...
With the bizarre and grammatically-incorrect subject line of, "i love the way you smiles, dear readers I give you... Kenneth.
"good day (my first and last name) how are you doing today? i hope that you are cool.i m very happy with your profile its very interesting that is why i will love to know more about a beautiful and shining star like you. so tell me what are you doing for a fun mostly? i love reading , going to a beach as well listing to all kind of music.i will love to chat with you on yahoo messenger because i only come to face book often, here is my im for chatting (his IM) what is yours? i can,t wait to talk to an angel like you. i hope to hear from you very soon.

Were Kenneth a Liberian war orphan, I might be able to excuse his astounding creepiness and appallingly poor command of the English language. However, according to his Facebook profile, he's a native of Jersey City and a widower with one child who apparently is desperate to find "a god fearing lady to be (his) soul mate."

If this is what I attract, maybe it's just as well that I'm single. Luckily, I don't have this woman for a mother and my grandmother's Internet skills just aren't that good.

Open Letter to AZ Governor Jan Brewer


I left this on the Governor's comments page...

Governor Brewer,
You make me ashamed to be from the State of Arizona. While New Jersey (where I live now) may have challenges with corruption and high taxes, at least we don't make people illegal and violate their 14th Amendment rights simply for being of a certain skin color or country of origin.

I sincerely hope you realize the error of your ways and quickly change your mind about SB 1070. You humiliate the Grand Canyon State and have turned Arizona into a mockery in both the domestic and international communities. It's despicable.

No human being is illegal. By signing SB 1070, you have essentially made it illegal for anyone of Latino descent to leave the house without fear of gung ho law enforcement officials. God forbid any immigrant actually is a victim of a crime, because you certainly have eliminated their rights of safety and access to the legal process. They will no longer cooperate with law enforcement or serve as witnesses for fear of you and your xenophobic goons.

When will Arizona realize it cannot function without immigrants? Who would mow YOUR law? Who would cook for YOU in any restaurant? Who would drive the citrus and cotton industries so essential to YOUR state's economy?

When you figure that out, let me know.
A disgusted former Arizonan

Whose Addiction is this Anyway?


Why the minutia of Tiger Woods' daily life was any of my business before or after his wife tried to run him over, I have no idea. All I know is that now that it's happened and he has issued a trite mea culpa cum admission of addiction, I have to hear about him every damn day. Maybe the folks who feel especially disappointed by his infidelities are the same people who worshiped Bo Jackson, Larry Bird or (gasp!) OJ Simpson in their youth. They ascribed super humanity to their superheroes, forgetting the inherent corruption we all face as we mature and confront various moral and ethical dilemmas.

Simultaneous to the Tiger Beat-Off... (yeah, crude I know, but I had to get that in there!), has been a similarly epic media blitz on John Edwards and his baby mama drama. Come on people! If you're going to sleep with a celebrity, use protection. One would hope the money, fame and fortune come with a few condoms. I'm pretty convinced there's a special place in hell for John Edwards and that both his wife and his mistress will be there too.

But what annoys me more than the ridiculously callow behavior of these people is our fascination with it AND in the case of Woods, our willingness to excuse it as a form of addiction. Yes, I'm sure there are people legitimately struggling with sex addiction. However, when it comes to celebrities claiming it, I find it incredibly hard to believe.

Look at our history of political figures and celebrities in this nation - Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Ray Charles - HUGE womanizers! Drug addictions, ample (and sometimes interracial) extramarital affairs, illegitimate children abound and yet, we don't dwell on those issues when studying the legacies of this important men. None of these guys felt the burning scrutiny of the 24-hour news cycle and so they got away with their philandering. And I have to say that even the most stand-up guys I know who aren't celebrities would have a really tough time remaining faithful if 1000s of attractive women were flinging themselves at their loins on a daily basis.

Our wraparound technologies also make finding willing and able sexual partners that much easier. From AdultFriendFinder to Craigslist, even the average schmo can be big pimpin' any time he pleases. One can only imagine how much easier it becomes when money, power and celebrity enter the picture.

In no way do I condone the behavior of Woods, Edwards or any other idiots out there who essentially commit perjury against their own marriage vows. But at the same time, I simply can't understand why anyone thinks it's news.

Happy Anniversary... to Me


I reached a rather intriguing and potentially day-ruining milestone today - I have officially been single for a year. At one time in my life, this would have been cause for a tub of ice cream and a good cry. Yet, I've actually been pretty happy about it. I can't imagine accomplishing half the things I've done in the past year if I were in a relationship.

Not that my ex wasn't a nice, supportive guy. But I'm not sure that he, or any of the other men I've seriously dated, fully understood or appreciated my ambitions. I joke about my plans for world domination (don't worry, I fully plan to be a benevolent dictator), though I'm not always 100% kidding. Those delusions of grandeur you have as a kid? I never got completely over mine. And what I've discovered during the past year, is that it's a helluva lot easier to accomplish your goals without being in a relationship.

When you're dating someone, weekends often are spent in bed, or watching movies, or doing something obnoxiously cute like walking through a botanical garden together. But when you're single, you have entire weekends to devote to crazy things, like launching a nonprofit organization. Note from the voice of experience: it takes a LOT longer than a weekend. Being single affords one the opportunity to do as much or as little as one wants. And for a compulsive doer like me, that generally means you're gonna get shit done.

Celebrating a year of being single just a few months after turning 30 has also been easier to well, celebrate, because the selection of men hasn't been so astounding lately. Sure, I've enjoyed a few nice evenings and dinners in the company of relatively interesting guys. But not so many second dates. Maybe my standards have gotten higher in the past year. Simply put, I have great friends, a good job and entirely too many fulfilling hobbies. I'll gladly make time for a guy, but he has to be pretty damn fantastic.

Who knows what the next year will bring? Hopefully the ride will continue to be exciting... well maybe not quite as exciting.

Belle Curve


I love Christina Hendricks. She's one of the best reasons to watch Mad Men not named Matthew Weiner, Katherine Jane Bryant or Jon Hamm.

Her portrayal of secretary extraordinaire Joan Holloway is so incredibly fantastic, I dressed up as the character for Halloween and I credit her for the resurgance of dresses and high-waisted skirts in my closet. She's unapologetically voluptuous and her curves are utterly sensual.

The media is also all too enamored of La Hendricks and here she is on the cover of New York Magazine. Totally has made my morning. Every few years, a new "real" woman captures our attention simply for not being a stick figure - Kate Winslet and Jennifer Hudson, anyone? Hopefully, this time it's not just a spectacularly luscious flash in the pan.

Platonic Love is a Many Splendored Thing


Having recently joined that enviable demographic of single women in their 30s in the New York Metropolitan area, I decided if you can't join 'em, beat 'em.

For the past two years, I've had boyfriends on Valentines Day and while nothing terrible happened either time, nothing especially spectacular happened either. We had quiet dinners at home, one boyfriend cooked, the other one gave me a CD. Just another day.

This year, Valentines Day came just a few weeks before the one-year mark of me being firmly single, a milestone that hasn't bothered me as much as one might guess. Maybe it was the relatively grander shock of recently turning 30 that desensitized me. Regardless of the reason, I decided this year to proudly celebrate Valentines Day as an unattached person rather than cowering in a corner of woe and loneliness. But to truly do it in style, I would need a team.

As has become my custom in the past seven months, I convened my friends - this time just the single ones - for a potluck feast dedicated to Platonic love at my apartment. Foods infused with garlic, greens that might stick in one's teeth and messy desserts were completely welcome as none of us came expecting to snag a date. No lonely hearts set-ups here. We were single and fabulous, exclamation point!

More than a dozen guys and gals gathered to sample our spectacularly tasty culinary creations, to send really hokey puppy & kitten-themed grade school valentines and to play dirty Jenga. And it was the best Valentine's Day I've ever had.

It made me wonder why we get so stuck on having just one significant other, just one certain kind of relationship, just one version of love at this time of year. Not that those relationships and loves aren't mind-blowingly fantastic and the stuff of song and legend for good reason. But why not love love no matter who it comes from?

Luckily we have 364 days until the next Valentine's Day to embrace love whether it's love of our friends, family, certain sports teams or just a certain someone.

Let them Eat Cake


Unless you live under a rock, it's hard to escape mention of the obesity epidemic plaguing America's children. Reduced time for physical education, the relative cheapness of unhealthy food, ubiquitous video games and plain ol' abundance have led many children to reach dangerous weights while they languish without exercise. Some groups, like Parents Against Junk Food, also point to the availability of foods like Pop Tarts, NutriGrain bars and Gatorade in nearly every cafeteria as a major culprit in the expanding waistlines of kids from Tacoma to Tampa.

As a former chubby kid and currently voluptuous adult, I can sympathize with these kids and at the same time, I think their parents are idiots. Sure, school lunches shouldn't undo any healthy eating habits parents are trying to teach at home and for kids who get a bulk of their daily food from school certainly need nutritious meals with a minimal of processed ingredients, salt and sugar.

However, I have to draw the line at birthday parties. According to a recent report on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show, some schools are now moving to eliminate or significantly reduce foods like cupcakes and rice crispies treats from kids' birthday parties in the classroom.

Try to imagine elementary school without pizza parties! Sure you probably shouldn't motivate children (or adults) solely through food, but what about the lesson of moderation? I know enough people with kids to hear Elmo talk about "sometimes foods," like ice cream, candy, chips. What better way to teach kids about eating in moderation than telling them that parties are the perfect time to sample less healthy foods?!

All too often in American culture, and particularly in our food culture, we run toward absolute solutions. How often do we hear about raw foods (the elimination of anything cooked), Atkins Diet (the elimination of all carbs), or anorexia (the elimination of food, period)? On the other extreme we have holidays like Thanksgiving, St. Patrick's Day and the Super Bowl that encourage us to consume with abandon. There rarely seems to be that sense of a middle ground that exists in other countries where they may enjoy one glass of wine, one piece of chocolate but draw the line at a bottle or entire bar.

Perhaps rather than forcing the next generation to live within the constraints of hard and fast food rules, we can give them healthier choices while teaching about getting real pleasure from simple indulgences. Besides, with Valentine's Day on the horizon and all those candy hearts calling from the shelves, what better time to learn?

So that happened


Fastidious readers will notice my tricky backdating on this post, but everyone will hopefully just enjoy the following...So it happened. I turned 30. No lightning bolt or spontaneous crow's feet. Not even too much shame from my grandmother at the ignominy of my enduring singlehood. Haven't exactly achieved lasting inner peace either, but at least I've gotten over the crying jags.Since I set out a year ago with 30 separate goals to attain by this time, I have worked with varying degrees of success on everything from reading to travel and eating to blessing. While I can't imagine it's terribly interesting to listen to me banter on about all 30, I figured I would pick a few standouts and defend my actions... or lack thereof.Items 1 through 6 were all devoted to activities and travel and they were overwhelmingly the easiest to accomplish. Dragging my ass out of the house has never been a big challenge, but I will say that I really appreciated the extra motivation to visit a foreign country, visit Queens (sometimes the same thing), or take a yoga class.Item 15 - Eat in one of the umpteen New York City restaurants I'm always reading about & lusting over. This was actually the last thing I did on the list, and technically it was a day after the deadline, but when the item in question is eating a delicious brisket sandwich from the Second Avenue Deli, what's a few hours?Item 21 - Submitting to five different blog carnivals each month seemed like a good idea when the year began. But then I got wrapped up in a relationship that left me without any fantastic inspiration. And then I got laid off and I had plenty of inspiration, but it was all related to finding a new job and starting a new business. Then I got a new job and decided around the same time to launch a whole other business that's still keeping me really busy.This may seem like excuses, but I really think it says a lot about my growing maturity and my ability to shift my priorities and goals without beating myself up or feeling guilty. Or at least that's the story I'm sticking to. Item 25 - I have absolutely no excuse for not getting an emergency kit in my car. Guess that one carries over into Year 30.Item 8 - This started as an item on my list because I've always liked volunteering and I figured I would just try to hit up the food bank a few more times in the past year. Yet somehow along the way it morphed into me creating and launching my own volunteer group for Jewish young adults in New Jersey.Jersey Tribe has become my new pet project, sadly to the detriment of this blog, but happily a tad more social and hopefully with greater reward for humanity (yes, my ego is that big). Our goal is to organize two events each month that weave together community service, social and philanthropic elements. In January, we're marking MLK Day in a big way with two events and February will bring both a Shabbat Dinner with Israeli Speakers and a Purim Party to Benefit the Jersey Battered Women's Shelter.If you have any interest in these events - just post a comment and I will be in touch.Summary - While I have no intention of abandoning Shtetl Fabulous in 2010 for newer sources of amusement, I probably won't be posting with the weekly frequency I aspired to in the past. Hopefully, I will be able to use the blog both to promote my latest ventures and to bring my insights on life, love and eating to the masses... all 10 of you.I'm learning that it truly does take a village so any suggestions for posts are greatly appreciated. And if you want to help with Jersey Tribe, that's good too!Thanks to everyone who has supported me in my 29th year and who has continued to be an outstanding friend as I enter 30. Couldn't have done it without any of you.[...]

Women of the Wall


My dear friend Na'ama sent this article to me from the New York Times (funny since she lives in Portland, OR), about a group of women who have worshiped and fought for religious equality at the Kotel (Western Wall in Israel) for more than 20 years.

Despite tremendous opposition, threats of physical violence and the potential for fines and jail time, these women have come to the Kotel at the start of every Hebrew month (traditionally a time for women to pray together). They pray out loud when the custom is for women to be quiet so as not to tempt the nearby men with their voices. They read from the Torah when the custom is for only men to do so. They wear tallit (prayer shawls) when again the custom is only incumbent upon men. These practices are not strictly forbidden, rather they have evolved to have profound force since women are considered exempt from the commandments under Orthodox interpretation.

From the article, "The Kotel is defined in Israel as a national and holy site that is open to all. In practice, the women say, it operates like an Orthodox synagogue, with separate prayer sections for men and women and a modesty patrol to ensure that visitors are appropriately dressed."

I've been to the Kotel. I dressed in what I considered a demure outfit and still found myself pushed around by the so-called "modesty police" because a sliver of my collarbone peeked out, in Jerusalem, in August. It's unfortunate, but stories like this are part of what deters me from ever wanting to live in Israel on a permanent basis.

While I respect Orthodox interpretations with their strictly divided gender spheres, I don't think that gives anyone the right to exert their believes as the sole option. I wish the Women of the Wall nothing but hatzlacha (success) in their critical mission to bring greater religious pluralism to their society and I hope that with God's help, I can join them in joyful prayer on my next trip to Israel.

Repost: MLK National Day of Service with Jersey Cares


Spend MLK Day repairing the world with your Jersey Tribe friends and make President Obama proud on this National Day of Service.

There are several projects sponsored by Jersey Cares going on around the state, but in the interest of geography and convenience, the Jersey Tribe will be staking out a painting project at a camp for underpriviledged children in Edison. The first 20 people to RSVP will be guaranteed registration at our group spot. Additional people may have to register individually or may be shut out of the space-limited project.

If you'd prefer to do a different project in another location please visit the Jersey Cares site directly ( to complete your registration. We will coordinate a post-activity lunch for all Jersey Tribe participants.


And yes, it would appear that this new Jewish volunteer group endeavor of mine, aka JERSEY TRIBE, has somewhat co-opted this blog. What can I say, I only have so much creative juice in me and right now I'm finding the effort to bring young Jews together for philanthropic, social and charitable activities a bit more rewarding. Give me 6 months - I may change my mind.
In the meantime, comment here if you're interested in participating!

Hannukah Care Packages for Jews in Uniform


As I mentioned in my last post, I'm starting a group for young Jewish adults in New Jersey to get together and do a little good in the world while making new friends and having fun. If you happen to be in North Jersey on Tuesday night, December 8, and you want to be a part of this event, just leave a comment and I will send you the information offline.

Show your support for Jewish men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces this Hanukkah season. We will be assembling care packages and signing cards for service members who are also Members of the Tribe.

Bring some (meatless
) food or drinks to share with your fellow volunteers and $5 to cover the cost of the supplies. I will provide the care package supplies and cards, a DVD of the Hebrew Hammer and a few dreidels.

PLEASE NOTE: If you can't make it to the event but would like to contribute money toward to the purchase of care package items, leave a comment with your email and I will be in touch offline.

Special Thanks to Sara Levenstein, Jonathan Hakakian and the Erwyn Group for their generous donations to this event. And don't forget - Hanukkah starts Friday, December 11.

Need a Name


After three and a half years of frustration at the lack of meaningful pathways into the New Jersey Jewish community, I have finally reached the point where I've both realized that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself AND I have the time and inclination to actually do it.

While it may mean I neglect this blog even more, I think starting a volunteer/activist group for young Jewish people (25-45) living in Northern and Central NJ will bring a tremendous amount of meaning to my life. I've conducted some informal conversations and have recently launched a survey to assess interest among my peers about volunteering - when, where, why, etc.

Now all I need is a name.

I'd like to avoid anything with too much Hebrew that might alienate less affiliated/Jewishly knowledgeable folks, and besides the Hebrew word for volunteer doesn't roll trippingly off the tongue. Likewise, I don't want anything too hokey or limited just to volunteering, just in case I ever want to expand into social activities or fundraising.

Leave any suggestions on the comment page here and if your name wins, I'll do my best to bestow upon you a worthy prize.



Today is Veterans Day and aside from enjoying a random mid-week day off from school when I was a kid, I can't truly recall any other celebration or commemoration of this day. Here in the Tri-State area, apparently Veterans Day means a day off from school AND a parade in the City. Good to know. Unfortunately, for most of us, not going to work or school means that any significance of the day is obliterated by the mundane details of our lives or a great White Sale at Macy's.

While Veterans Day began its life as Armistice Day when World War I ended and switched over to Veterans Day subsequent to WWII in the States. Everyone else in Europe stuck with the original and if Wikipedia is to be trusted, they celebrate it in much the same way we do - lots of official ceremonies and general pomp in honor of military fallen.

Meaning absolutely no disrespect to our honored veterans, but how is this different from Memorial Day? Memorial Day has been around since the end of the Civil War and all too many of us commemorate it in a similarly superficial fashion.

If we really want to honor veterans and make them special, maybe they should be the only ones to get Veterans Day off from work! I mean, really post office, bank and municipal government workers - you just got Columbus Day off and Thanksgiving is only two weeks away. Unless you held an M16 on the beaches of Normandy or the deserts of Fallujah - Get your ass back to work!

Of course, I'm also unclear as how we judge who qualifies as a veteran and therefore worthy of our adoration and respect. Friends of mine who have recently returned from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan get my vote. As do my rabbi who currently holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and all those National Guard members who helped everyone from victims of Katrina to racial line walkers in Little Rock.

But what about someone like my dad? He joined the Guard and trained to be a medic to avoid going to Vietnam. I never heard a single story of demanding basic training officers or heroic feats. Hell, he might have had it easier than Bill Murray in Stripes! Does he count as a veteran? What about ROTC members?

Lest anyone get offended, I absolutely admire the dedication, sacrifice and courage displayed by our men and women in the nations' armed forces. At times, I wish I could feel that sense of patriotism and belief in America's rightness enough to consider getting a paper cut in her defense, let alone dying.

So before you head out to buy that new percale sheet set or snooze a little longer because you don't have to work in the morning, take a minute to thank our veterans and be glad that because they still care - we don't have to.

Farewell to a Hometown Favorite


Yesterday, the East Valley Tribune, my hometown paper, announced it will be closing its doors and ceasing publication in December. I first learned of the Tribune's fate from the news source that appears to be leading the way in thoughful journalism across the Valley - Heat City. Despite winning a Pulitzer Prize just a few months ago, the Tribune could not sustain declining subscriptions and could no longer hold off the behemoth Arizona Republic from becoming the only newspaper in the Phoenix area.

The editorial staff of Arizona State University's State Press ran this thoughtful tribute. They make a very valid point that with two Arizona newspapers closing in the past year (in May the state's oldest newspaper, the Tucson Citizen shut down), jobs in journalism are even scarcer. Why should students explore degrees in a field that has all but failed to turn any kind of profit?

I remember going to the Trib as a kid for Take Our Daughters to Work Day and I had many friends in high school and college whose parents worked there. I was so proud of Ryan last year when he won the Polk and then the Pulitzer and it's just entirely too sad to see the paper fail now.

As an avid NPR listener and member, I always wonder what would happen if newspapers went in that direction and explored a not-for-profit model. NPR offers free content, always has, and they provide some of the best investigative and non-sensationalist journalism anywhere. Hang in there newspapers of America - be creative and think beyond your bottom line.

It's a Book. It's a Museum. It's...Both!


Generally, literature is a topic I don't delve into on this blog. It's not that I don't read. There's always a book on my nightstand and my tastes range from David Sedaris essays to Hemingway novels to Sandra Cisneros and a whole bunch of other stuff. I like to mix the high and lowbrow, but I'm not sure how I feel about the literary intersection I heard about yesterday.

Seems that Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk decided to promote his latest novel, The Museum of Innocence by opening an exhibit in a museum in his native Istanbul. According to an interview with Pamuk on NPR, visitors to the unnamed museum can experience a tableaux fashioned after the character's world starting in July 2010.

In a form of cross-promotional insanity bordering on the Jon Bon Jovi-esque, "Pamuk began collecting the objects that his protagonist Kemal would save before he even began writing the novel. And, in an unusual instance of literature melding into real life, he plans to display those objects in an actual 'Museum of Innocence.'

The idea for the museum came, in part, from the author's visits to small collections around the world. Pamuk says he's always been attracted to small museums and the 'melancholy' that seems to permeate them."

If I were Seth Meyer, I'd probably just give an eye roll and an exasperated, "really?!" But since I strive for a little something extra, I figured I'd tease this out a bit.

What does it say about our culture that a Nobel Prize winner has both the audacity and the sick genius to collect hypothetical objects his imaginary characters might have possessed had they actually existed? Is this what authors have to submit to in our post-Potter world?

One can only hope that this bizarre clash of literature, spectacle and obsession is an outlier and that we're not going to witness a flurry of Dominican chicken restaurants inspired by Junot Diaz's character Oscar Wao, or actual comic books related to the heroes of Michael Chabon's the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Of course, if someone wants to organize a cross-country trek based on Jack Kerouac's On the Road - I'm all in.

Cobbled Together


I know I've been pretty lousy at posting lately and I really don't have a solid excuse. The New Jersey governor's race while heated, hasn't exactly captured my political imagination and luckily no major catastrophes have struck too close to home. But, I know it's been a few weeks and my internal sense of blogless guilt has kicked in enough to throw up this piece of random bits.

First off - I do have to ask for some positive energy and prayers. My grandfather is having hip replacement surgery on Monday (Yehuda ben Rachel), a former coworker is undergoing cancer treatment (Chana Leah bat Esther) and a friend's son is awaiting heart surgery (Yehezkiel Chaim ben Chaya Rivka). Thanks.

Secondly, our latest International Culinary Staycation took us to the exotic Orient... or at least the Chinese enclave of Flushing, Queens. From kosher vegetarian dim sum halls to restaurants offering fried pig's blood and food stalls hallowed by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, we ate our way through Flushing with gusto.

As I stared at the thousands of Asian folks eating their native cuisine throughout the neighborhood, I couldn't help but think of the presence of that kosher spot. Why is it that Jews love Chinese food so thoroughly that they get their own rabbi-sanctioned restaurant? You don't see kosher joints in the Greek neighborhood of Astoria, and I know plenty of Yids who love spanikopita! And beyond that - do Chinese people love Jewish food? Does anyone but Jews love food like matzah ball soup, knishes, borscht, brisket and kugel BUT the Jews? I guess we'll see if we ever do a tour of the Lower East Side.

Third. Well, no third at the moment but I suppose anything is possible.

The Last Last Touch


The October 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine sits on my coffee table, opened to page 126. I started reading last week and stopped when I realized it was a bad idea to read a food magazine on Yom Kippur. The article on the page in question is a preview of some recipes from the newly released Gourmet cookbook, and it reflects heavily on the profound changes in food culture and habits that have taken place in America during the past 10 years.Of course, any good foodie will knows that this cookbook now serves as a bit of a swan song as publisher Conde Nast announced on Monday that Gourmet will cook up its last issue in November, despite having already begun photography production and recipe development into January, February and March 2010. Citing declined ad revenue and newsstand sales, CN is closing Modern Bride, Elegant Bride (someone please explain the difference) and Cookie along with Gourmet.As the American culinary epicenter and home base for CN, the New York Times has extensively covered the story and tomorrow's weekly food section is sure to be full of eulogies, reminiscing and interviews with the fallen.Though I've never met Ruth, Ian, Maggie or any other Gourmet contributors, I've gotten to know them, their families' food traditions, their own flavor preferences, their cooking snafus and triumphs in the pages of the magazine and I suppose I will miss them. It's like hearing your favorite NPR contributor was cut because not enough people pledged during the Fall Fundraiser (Save Bob Hennelly and Contribute to WNYC Today!).Hearing about their summary expulsion that takes effect at the end of this week, I empathize with the 180 folks at Gourmet whose paltry circulation of 978,000 couldn't compete in the board room with the more recipe-driven, less expository Bon Appetit which moves 1.35 million a month. Again - here's the NYT link.Melodramatic as it sounds, my heart aches a bit to know my favorite magazine will soon cease to exist. Guys, if you doubt my emotions, try thinking about them pulling Maxim from your mailbox when you were age 19. Countless meals in my kitchen truly began at my coffee table as I poured through the latest issue and the genesis for even more grew from perusals on my grandmother's couch where I first encountered Gourmet.The macaroni and cheese, the spicy tzimmes, the pomegranate chicken, the chocolate tart and an ungodly number of fantasy dishes sprung forth from the pages of Gourmet and inspired me to take a chance on a new ingredient or to attempt a challenging technique. The food porn of these recipes and of pretty, young things chowing down on them are par excellence, so buy a newsstand copy quickly before they disappear.But none of these things really capture what set Gourmet apart from any good cookbook or the myriad other cooking magazines out there. What made Gourmet iconoclastic (love when I can use that word) was where it took us as readers, as cooks and as eaters beyond our own kitchens and our comfort zones.Pushing the envelope with daring exposes on the human cost of the food industry (The Price of Tomatoes, March 2009), Gourmet made the edible political and raised important, if cringe-worthy questions about the implications of what we eat. With poignant pieces on oft-forgotten tasks (Framing a Life, August 2008), Gourmet taught a little beekeeping biology and brought a tear to many an eye. Food-based escapades from as near as the Bronx and as far as Basque Country and Burma fueled wanderlust and helped to inspire my own culinary staycations.More than its basic components, Gourmet represented something in food preparation and enjoyment as it evolved from i[...]

Spirit in the Sky


We've made it through the more ominous of the Jewish high holidays and as of Friday at sundown we start that week where Jews hang out in backyard huts and shake tree branches and lemons in every geographic direction. By the way, it's called Sukkot and it's a really great holiday but not the topic of tonight's post.

For now, I thought I would regress to one of the themes that dominates both Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). No, not repentance or how to survive a 25-hour fast. I'm gonna dig a little deeper in these next few paragraphs of random musings and try to get a conversation going about God.

I make absolutely zero claims here and have no intention but to describe how I sort of envision a higher power. More than anything, I'd love to spark a few ideas in your head, dear reader, and to read your own thoughts in the comments section. Oh and I'm uber-rebellious and spelling out the word God. A format like a blog is ephemeral enough for me to sport the ineffable. So there.

Like most good little Jewish kids, I learned about God creating the Universe in six days and then resting for a day before doing things like kicking out Adam and Eve, parting the Red Sea and rocking a few miracles. We got some vague lesson about God not being a man or a woman, but then all the prayers seemed to be addressed to a rather powerful and sometimes angry dude.

As an adult, I'd like to think my conception of the Almighty has evolved somewhat and here's what I've come up with that works for me. God or Yahweh or some higher power designed the world in a way that everything harmonizes together. Whether that took place in seven days as we conceive of them or in "God days" that actually take a few millennia, I'd like to think that certain things are just too perfect to be totally random. Flower petals, symbiotic animal relationships, etc.

After that initial breath of life so to speak, God set the ball in motion and left it to the created beings to take over. God may or may not know what we do on a daily basis and God may or may not care. God may have a jam-packed schedule or may be stuck in traffic on the 405.

I don't believe God is a He or a She. God is just God and our language is too damn limited to figure out how to talk about God without restrictive pronouns or gendered adjectives. God may be majestic, sheltering, compassionate, merciful, judging, infinite and 72 other things, but God isn't a man or a woman. That said, ask me again after a day in pantyhose and heels and I may denounce this whole paragraph and voice my frustration with God for making my ass and legs look so much better in such uncomfortable clothes.

Finally, I'm pretty convinced there isn't any difference between Yahweh, Ahura Mazda, Vishnu, Jesus, Allah, Zeus or Buddha. They're all manifestations or slightly varied conceptions on a Creator imbued with greater power and force than us mere mortals. Listen, the Universe is a complex place. People need a little cosmic organization and nothing says anal-retentive like an all-encompassing, all-knowing Supreme Being.

So there you have it. Nothing earth-shattering or academically sourced, but it's my honest view of a ridiculously ambiguous and challenging notion. Take from it what you will and then if you feel sufficiently brave, share. Thanks for being a part of this fun little group project and please be respectful of others before you post. Let the theology begin!

End of an Era


As I write this, there are only 4 days left until I start my new job, thus ending what has been one of the most rewarding and simultaneously frustrating five months of my life. Most of the time, unemployment leads people to hide under the covers or to dive into a bottle of some alcoholic beverage. And while I certainly had utterly shit-tastic days that led me to believe I would never again find suitable employ, let alone my dream job, overall I managed to keep some semblance of a positive attitude and earn some extra cash.

Since May, I have traveled to two foreign countries, led my friends on three culinary excursions, attended four weddings, put thousands of miles on my car, spent time with family and launched a freaking business! At this point, I can't even imagine where I would be mentally had I worked at my old job these past several months. Just as everyone predicted - I am in a better place in terms of my sanity, happiness, harmony with the universe and general satisfaction. Hopefully, I will be able to say the same thing after 5 months on the job.

People have asked me how I came up with the idea for my business and how I maintained a positive attitude after going through some tough times. Really, I can't offer any sage wisdom beyond the notion of simply choosing to take lemons and make a mean Tom Collins (with a dose of irony since I don't drink gin).

As the end of this astounding era approaches, I find myself more occupied with figuring out how I will adjust to actually working again. When will I get my oil changed if I'm at work all-day and I can't hire my own concierge services? How will I wake up every morning at a responsible hour or get myself to bed at night before the end of the Colbert Report? I've totally forgotten, how do office politics work? Will having a job be more exhausting than letting myself run around like a crazy person all day or less?

I wish I was just being glib about some of these concerns, but I really do worry and wonder about what this new chapter of my life will bring. Though I'm geographically staying put and working in a similar field, I'll be learning a whole new skill set and coming back from my longest vacation EVER. Who knows what adventures will come my way in the future but whatever happens I'm sure it will bring good blog posts.

Shana Tova 5770


After such a tough year for so many of us, when we were forced to re-examine our priorities and look at the world through a different lens, I hope we can all maintain our perspective and our senses of humor to face what lies ahead with strength and determination.

Wishing you, your families and all your loved ones a New Year filled with...
Health and Happiness
Peace and Prosperity
Blessing and Balance

Shana Tova U'Metuka!

Here's a little greetings from President Obama - he actually does a good job with the Hebrew!

Haveil Havalim Time


Here's a link to this week's Haveil Havalim, hosted by The Reform Shuckle. Check it out here and be sure to read some of the fantastic posts from across the Jewish spectrum.

A Penny Saved is a Book Deal Earned


Back in my college days, I actually got paid to write about various topics ranging from escaped West African performance artists to Carl Reiner to the legalization of the abortion pill and interracial relationships. I also spent a semester serving as Arts Editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat with a shyly brilliant observer of human habits named Phil Villarreal. A few years ago, he asked me to edit his first book, Stormin’ Mormon, which he went on to self-publish. One of the only copies sold now sits proudly on my shelf and I was honored to be included in the acknowledgements. More recently, Villarreal (here's a link to his blog) released Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel: 100 Dirty Little Money-Grubbing Secrets to broad publicity including book signings, stories in newspapers nationwide and coverage on morning shows in his current home of Tucson and in the bigger market of Phoenix. And since shameless self-promotion is a habit the author and I share, I was all too happy to add my own critical take on the book to his list of clips. Many of the suggestions are utterly ridiculous and yet incredibly logical if you follow Villarreal’s central premise that saving money is a noble goal unto itself. Into this category falls #33 about the psychology behind the dealer and customer when buying a car. Similarly, #35, advises readers at the negotiation table to simply ask for another $20 or $50 off the deal in order to get your name on the dotted line. Audacious as it is, when you think about it, why shouldn’t you ask for an extra $50 off? It’s a free night out on the town or family time at the movies and you earned that money! The section of the book that I would seriously consider implementing, societal judgment be damned, was the portion covering Finance. Villarreal offers such logical suggestions of avoiding ATM fees, paying down debt and taking advantage of rebates. He even manages to challenge fiduciary stereotypes while bringing an element of humor to the art (or tedium) of coupon clipping, “It saddens me that coupon clipping is viewed as the pastime of the desperate housewife…Here and now I want to start an effort to reclaim coupon clipping for men everywhere. I want Harley riders to start keeping plastic, accordion-style coupon holders in the back of their hogs. I want UFC fighters to tout the benefits of $1 off Raisin Bran coupons after bouts. I want John Wayne to rise from the grave, visit a Circle K, and push a buy-one-get-one-free Thirstbuster card over the counter.” Classic. Also in Finance is #44 which offers Villarreal’s personal story of shaving $1000 off the hospital bills that came with the birth of his second child earlier this year. How did he accomplish this feat? By simply calling the billing department and asking for a 25% discount in exchange for paying in full right away. Audacious, but I will admit I trimmed $600 off my rent for the year just by making a phone call to my management company. But back to those utterly absurd suggestions that other critics of this book have been so eager to point out. There’s an entire section of them that Villarreal prefaces with the following disclaimer, “Let me make clear that the advice from here on out is strictly for laughs, and I’m not held responsible if you actually enact any of this insanity. Try any of these heinous tactics and you’ll be in need of a soul cleansing, but you’ll also have a bigger bank account and great sto[...]

No Reservations Indeed


Blessed with approximately six weeks between accepting my new job and actually starting my job, I decided in classic Shtetl Fab style to keep busy by embarking on some spectacular adventures. Aside from the usual coffee dates with friends and catching up on my Netflix, I decided to take advantage of my close geographic proximity to some of the most diverse ethnic neighborhoods in America.I conducted a little research on Wikipedia and made a list of six destinations representing a range of global cuisines and then began the recruitment process as I decided these dining and shopping destinations would be best enjoyed in the company of friends.A group of nine intrepid souls embarked on our first excursion, which I've dubbed "International Culinary Staycations," this past Friday night in the Middle Eastern/Turkish neighborhood of Paterson, NJ. Some of the people were old friends, others were new acquaintances, but we all had a love of food and tremendous stomach capacity in common.Our first rendezvous point was Toros Turkish Restaurant off Hazel Street. There we enjoyed a rousing course of appetizers, all of which were vegetarian-friendly and all of which proved quite tasty. I highly recommend the spinach and yogurt hot dish and the cheese-filled sigaria. Coming here with a big group was fantastic as we all shared the different items in tapas fashion. Just as we prepared to leave, a man began to play a sitar in a roped-off casbah area of the beautifully ornate restaurant. It felt really authentic and was just a great way to send us off to our next destination.Just across the street is Taskin Bakery, which has been supplying traditional Turkish breads and bagels to the Paterson community since 1997. The aroma as you enter this modest bakery is worth the trip alone and our brigade of eaters quickly snapped up pitas, simit (bagels), acma (knish) and borek (savory or mildly sweet pies). Taskin's products can be found at many local restaurants, including Toros, and it's clearly a neighborhood favorite as we encountered many people stocking up for the imminent breaking of the daily Ramadan fast.Next, we walked about half a mile to the main drag of the Paterson Middle Eastern community, appropriately enough called Main Street. We passed umpteen markets, restaurants, an Islamic fashion center where we all declined trying on the latest hijab styles and even a houkah store. We saw a small group of men praying in a grassy area on the side of the road, my first time encountering such a sight. Meanwhile, our ears were treated to a typically American melting pot of musical styles and we heard everything from an imam's chants to the Notorious B.I.G.My personal highlight came in the Istanbul Market (931 Main St.) where we encountered an incredibly friendly man. He wanted to know why we had come to Paterson and then he freely gave out advice on the best products and even offered samples of delicious Turkish olives. I asked him how long he'd owned the market and he confessed that he was not the owner, but merely a very loyal customer. You have to love that.Another market yielded succulent dates, a shuk's worth of spices, drippingly-sweet baklava, cheeses, jewelry and these bizarre candies that tasted like the miscegenated child of M&Ms and chickpeas. One girl balked at buying a water pipe in the aforementioned houkah store and we sallied forth to our final Paterson destination.As we entered the AlBasha Palestinian/Lebanese restaurant, the nightly br[...]

To Your Health


I've hesitated to dip my toes into the wide-ranging and increasingly rancorous debate over health care reform in America for several reasons. One, I'm not so desperate for mail that I want to start getting hate mail. Two, while I have a master's in public policy, I didn't focus on health policy and am hardly an expert. Three, I've been a little busy.But with the passing this week of Senator Edward Kennedy, one of health care reform's most ardent supporters, I could no longer resist jumping into the fray. Besides, it gave me something else to blog about this week .As stated above, I am by no means an authority on health care or the detailed minutiae of government regulations. However, I have a pretty good idea of what I believe are basic human rights that a nation such as ours should endow to all its citizens. I know that totally outs me as a bleeding-heart liberal and I am completely comfortable with that label. Yes dear readers, I give a shit about my fellow citizens. Let the AK-47s fire!Plus, I have entirely too many family members who have battled chronic illnesses and I know the incredible importance of quality health care. It is beyond my imagination how anyone deals with health problems in the absence of comprehensive coverage. So here is my essentially unresearched, deeply personal vision for what health care should look like in our country. President Obama, if you're reading this - hi there - I'm still available for a new job.THE SHTETL FABULOUS HEALTH CARE PLANPART ONE - The Working (not-yet) StiffsIf your employer offers a health care plan that fits your needs and is affordable, take it. I know HMOs aren't perfect, but they are a huge piece of the puzzle and it would probably cost so much to dismantle them, that we'd piss away all the allocations right from the start.Within the employer-provided plans, I do have one new policy in which I strongly believe. If you're like me and you're reasonably healthy, you should have the option at the end of each year to reinvest a portion of your unused (but paid for) premiums into a personal health savings account. That way when your health goes through an inevitable rough spot, you will have some cash in the bank to cover your ass, or your pancreas, or your lungs. Whichever goes first.If you use up all your premiums and have cash leftover, then you can designate some for a special health savings account too. Or you can take some of that cash and donate it to me.PART TWO - The Old Folks If you're already on Medicare, just stay there. You're old and probably resistant to change and like in Part One, it would cost too much to make all the modifications so you might as well stay where you're at.For those on Medicaid, it's a little different. It would be best if you could just get a job that offers full coverage, but if that isn't in the cards, then I suggest you stay tuned for Part Three.PART THREE - The 47 MillionIf you fall into that egregious statistic of the 47 million uninsured Americans, this is for you. Clearly, you've been stuck between a rock and a hard place for a while. You either are self-employed and not wealthy enough to buy insurance for yourself, or you work for a small company that isn't mandated to provide coverage, or you have some freakish illness that makes you like the kid who pees in the pool and no insurance company wants to take you.Luckily, there's a ton of you in this category, so all your health shit more or less balances out so tha[...]

Managing Expectations


For the convenience of those lazy readers out there, I will begin at the end. Last week, after nearly four months of tireless searching, I accepted a new job. The specifics of the position will allow me to have a manager-level position on my resume, will offer me a chance to learn new, marketable skills and will only occupy my time four days a week, thereby allowing me to keep up my concierge service business. It's also only a few miles from my apartment which means I don't have to move.Since being laid off on May 1, I wrote 27 different versions of my resume, submitted nearly 100 cover letters, interviewed with 17 organizations, spent entirely too much money on NJ Transit, made umpteen phone calls and sent a litany of emails to friends, colleagues, classmates, advisers and sometimes even total strangers. I made a thorough accounting of my unique skills, did several self-assessment tests and humbly reached out to my contacts for informational meetings whenever possible.As I wrote on Facebook, I absolutely could not have gotten through this test in my life without the amazing friends who called me to check in, who bought me a drink, who sent me job listings and who generally encouraged me along the way.Yet, I've titled this post "Managing Expectations" for a very specific reason. I'm not taking my dream job. What I am taking is a 15% pay cut from my old job and the risk of working within the same community, albeit under the auspices of a different agency. I'm not working in the cutting-edge, innovative environment I had imagined, but rather am working for an organization that goes back almost 150 years and provides some of the most basic human services one can imagine.Most critically, I'm not relocating which means I do get to keep my aforementioned awesome group of friends, but I also keep the challenges of living an involved Jewish life as a single girl in suburban New Jersey. Hopefully, my 4 day/week schedule will allow me some extra time to create new opportunities for Jewish young adults in my area to mingle and with Fridays off, I can travel a bit more too.And I suppose this mental act of making vodka-spiked lemonade out of life's lemons is the biggest lesson that I have learned in this latest episode of my life. Many people of my generation were taught hard work guaranteed delivery of your heart's desire and that having it all was inherently possible.I absolutely feel that I have identified myself (and my friends) based on the bags we carry, the vacations we take and the cocktails we drink. After two master's degrees and three years of post-grad work, I expected a certain earning power that simply has not translated in our society's new reality.Now with this economic crisis particularly crippling the mid-level/pre-executive labor market, those of us on the Generation X/Y cusp have had to re-evaluate and learn serious new skills. We garden, trade food, cook for each other or eat in cheaper restaurants rather than dining in the newest hot spot. We barter and enlist each others' sweat equity. We give smaller gifts and give our time more than our money. We may not fear the label of "thrifty," the way we would have in college or lusher days. We go on walking dates instead of happy hours.I cannot begin to wonder what the next several months will bring and I have also learned that long-term planning is an exercise best executed in terms of generalities. The next few weeks will b[...]