Oh, the Meaty Delight!

Last night I had me some meaty delight. Or was it meaty guilt? I’m afraid it was a bit of both. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but when I do, boy do I relish the mouthfuls. It almost puzzles me – even shocks me – as I masticate and “mmmmm” my way through the flesh of another creature, that I, who am normally so full of empathy for all living things, can, and seek to, enjoy eating meat as much as I do.

Let it just be said I “only” enjoy it once a week or less; does this make me less of an offender, your honor?

So, about last night. I cut into the best part of the prime rib we cooked for dinner on the BBQ; the tip part that has the most marbleization – that’s just fancy talk for fat – then found a suitably sized piece of roasted potato to go with it on my fork, and then, finally, a small chunk of caramelized garlic. I put this divine trio in my mouth and I didn’t even try to hold back my moan. I actually moaned.

I’m not the kind of gal who saves the best for last. In fact, I usually eat the best part first, with the idea that perhaps I will be satiated before the food on my plate is gone, and then, at least, if I should die of a heart attack mid-meal, I will have enjoyed the good stuff while I was able to.

I think this loosely translates to a theory of how one can choose to live life. My dad was big on this one. “Let’s enjoy each other while we have us,” he used to say, always acknowledging the relativity of it all.

Of course, I never seem to the heed the “satiated” feeling, that little voice in your head that says “you can and should stop eating now, because even though you don’t actually feel it yet, you are full,” so I end up eating everything on my plate anyway, and then some. Perhaps that’s where the guilt comes in.

Well, as I write these words a fisherman glides by in his canoe on the lake in front of my cabin, his fishing pole bobbing off to the side, the line gently and gracefully skimming the water’s surface.

Perhaps I should try catching me some fish for dinner, even though fish have feelings too.

Prime Rib

 

Chef: The Big Turn On – A Film Review

I admit it, I’m a not just a middle aged social media-hooker, but also a food-porn fan, so the new foodie flick and summer hit, Chef, totally made my day. If you have not yet partaken of this inviting orgasmic, I mean organic visual banquet, put down your spatula, run to the theater and prepare to have a visual feast bound to arouse your senses.

If you are a foodie – or even just dig good food in all its glorious varieties – this summer’s crowd pleaser will make you grin for more reasons than the charming story of a divorced workaholic father (Jon Favreau) re-connecting with his often disappointed young son (Emjay Anthony) who misses out on quality dad-times in the classic divorce-kid reality. The appealing, feel-good plot has top ranked L.A. chef Carl Casper getting two thumbs down by the food world’s evil incarnation of Siskel and Ebert (Oliver Platt), driving Casper to quit his job for the lack of creative freedom enforced by a conservative and controlling restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman). The down and out but eager to re-invent himself chef is gifted an old food truck by an eccentric, wealthy and curious acquaintance (Robert Downey Jr.), and chef Casper, a.k.a. El Jefe, reluctantly takes his son on a road trip from Miami. Joined by his lovable and dedicated sous-chef side-kick Tony (John Leguizamo), the trio drives the gloriously restored taco-truck back to L.A. via various cities known as foodie meccas, serving up greasy, sexy Cubano sandwiches, all while creating a Twitter-frenzy in such a visually clever way on the big screen that it risks tickling and baptizing even the most reluctant social media user.

The casting of sultry Latina diva Sofia Vergara as Casper’s ex-wife is a clever way to sneak in an extra dash of visually sizzling and caliente shapes and sounds, as her curves and outfits are sprinkled throughout the movie with as equal and natural ease as are the many alluring and groovy beats of Latin rhythms (yes, I bought the sound track and am playing it as I write these words). The understated and soothing presence of Scarlett Johansson as Casper’s colleague and casual love interest, Molly, reminds us that sometimes it’s not the spiciest and most colorful dishes, but rather the comfort food that hits the spot.

When writer/director/actor Jon Favreau says his film is “like singing from the heart” he is not only referring to the “mise en scène” of his own childhood experience of bonding with the old man on road trips, because everything that has to do with food is sung from a creative and caring foodie heart in this film. Adds Favreau: “It’s about treating food with reverence,” a sentiment most obvious in the many close ups involving food handling in runs to the farmers’ market, flipping sandwiches on the griddle, or in the slow twirling of the perfect pasta aglio olio served up in the early morning hours after work. From how the greasy cheese melts on the Cubanos to the slicing, dicing, stirring and of course tasting and slurping with requisite moaning, it all basically strikes just the right chords with anyone who’s into food. I’m really not imagining the suggestive links between cooking and erotica, because Favreau’s character actually knows how to find the grill’s slippery “hot spot” for optimal performance. Some critics rant that scenes of Favreau cooking should have been trimmed, but my take is: can I have them in slow-mo replay, please?

I particularly loved how the potentially ugly monster of social media — and the ignorance of its power by the not so old parent (younger than me!) — was cleverly incorporated as a lesson the munchkin could teach his dad. The film’s clever use of Twitter shows that, when used with some entrepreneurial savvy (even by amateurs and kids), it really can make a positive difference. “You’re trending, bro” sous-chef Tony (Bobby Cannavale) says to Casper– who is sending angry tweet responses to his critic into cyberspace without having a clue about how the thing really works. Oh boy is he trending.

Since I used to buy my lunch from a food truck throughout my entire, very long graduate school career on a campus in the boonies, I don’t feel like a novice in the setting; however, I will never be able to look at a food truck the same way after Chef. With its many intimate cooking scenes from inside the food truck pantry, involving meaningful conversations about life and love — such as when Casper says to his son: “I get to touch peoples’ lives with what I do, and I love it! And I wanna share this with you” — I now have a new appreciation for the stories behind each mobile cuisine and the folks inside, as we may find them lined up along boulevard stretches and on street corners.

As it turns out, the initially prickly food critic is not so bad after all; just like the sabra cactus of the Middle East, he is tough on the outside and soft on the inside. He eventually comes around and offers El Jefe a partnership deal so sweet he can’t refuse, and although the ending is a bit too fairy-tale sugary for this real life cynic, it all works because it’s the love of food that seems to bring on all this positive change in the characters’ lives. Just as Puerto Rican salsa king Pete Rodriguez reminds us with Chef’s groovy music score, making us walk away giddy from the experience bopping to the irresistible Latin beat: “I like it like that!”  — For this is the movie that makes you feel happy, hot and hungry, and with this tantalizing combo, it’s simply impossible to turn down seconds.

As Israeli chef Bino Gabso, a.k.a. Dr. Shakshuka has said about the fulfilling experience of serving up awesome food: “Beyond knowing how to cook, you have to know how to eat.” Like a great meal cooked up and served with love, Chef is likely to leave you feeling good, and a tad high on serotonin. Bon appétit!

Chef

Modern Day Don Giovanni: A Poem

Leaving Don Giovanni

 

91 in Turkey, 117 in Germany, 236 in France

Maid or lady, young, old

The list goes on

He had them all, and wanted more

 

Number 24, the summer of our youth

Tall, blond and from Norway

Like the nobleman’s conquests,

I, too, naïvely, gave my all

 

Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Zerlina

I get your pain and anger

A virility that seduces, he believes his love to be true

Alas, the one he loves is himself, not me nor you!

 

But all of me was not enough

Just more than he could handle

So off he went, or, just continued

Wanting more, wanting all.

 

Like his comical brother

His baritone voice boasts:

Non mi pento! Non mi pento!

Conscience has a price, you see

 

So, I take my leave

From the Don who had it all

Lest he die the scorching death

Of his pathetic comrade

 

Non mi pento…

As I walk out the door

Non mi pento

As I, too, want more.

 

Don_Giovanni_Playbill_Vienna_Premiere_1788 

 

Where’s the Junk?!?

Late last night as I was driving back to Connecticut from New York City on the Merritt Parkway, my favorite way back to “the country,” I began feeling droopy approaching New Haven, and I thought some good old junk food would hit the spot. At least I figured it would reek some havoc with my blood sugar and give it an unhealthy spike surprising my senses enough – before the guilt would set in – to keep me awake for the home stretch.

The fantasizing and planning phase of the service area stop was in and of itself perking me up; I was scheming about going straight for the good old candy and chips isle for some sweet and salty delights. And of course a Diet Coke. Note the Diet. I visualized my move as I would swiftly snag a bag of Munchos, those “light and crispy” artery cloggers that are so processed and salty they have probably been banned from most modern day snack venues, despite the fact that they are made from a vegetable. I think there was some low-carb potato in there at some point.

I pull in to the next service stop – and I should add that along the quaint Merritt Parkway, a historic limited-access “highway” known for its scenic layout, its uniquely styled signage, and architecturally elaborate overpasses along the route, the service stations have been recently renovated and now have bathrooms with a spa-like aura painted in subdued trendy colors and matching earthy mosaic tiles, automatic everything and soft background music – and I make a beeline for the snack section. Looking for my designated junk booty, my eyes give way to a worrisome scan of what appears to be a Whole Foods mini-mart. Where’s the junk?!? Granola this, yogurt that. Wrappers screaming protein power and gluten free delights. Squirrel food I say. I want my junk! And there, all the way in the back, on the hidden side of the rack; sad, forgotten and ignored like a bunch of reject kids on a dodgeball lineup at that awfully discriminatory and mean team selection moment in high school, there were my darlings.

I walked out gently and kindly holding a Twix, a bag of Muchos and a Diet Coke, as if I had rescued orphans that were in desperate need of love and affection. Poor things.

The rest of the drive home was a breeze, and as soon as I had killed my darlings, when the guilt was about to set in but I was still high on God knows what, I gladly brushed it and all the crumbs away and with another gulp of aspartame and caffeine instead reflected on how even junk has its rightful and just place in the world.

Junk-Food1

 

On Foundations in the Norwegian ‘Diaspora’

Hooray for May 17th! Tomorrow is Norway’s Constitution Day – a much anticipated day celebrated with pomp and circumstance in both Norway and most Norwegian ex-pat communities. Some of the latter mark the day in more or less formal ways than others, of course, and in my neck of the woods it has gotten to be quite relaxed. This year it will involve skinny dipping and martinis, gravlaks, Indian takeout, and for dessert, my friend’s irresistible Chat Noir cake, following her family’s secret recipe handed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of generations. Well, maybe not hundreds, but you catch my drift. Tradition.

Image

What impressed my boys the most about May 17th the year we lived in Norway, was that on this day, they learned that children are allowed to eat as much ice cream as they want. This is not a national dictum, and I’m pretty sure something my parents and their partying friends invented back in the 60s and 70s so we , the young’uns, would have our own experience of that era’s hedonistic values. At least for one day.

On a more serious note, since I did invoke the term “diaspora,” normally associated with the Jewish diaspora – although the term is also applied to the dispersion of any people form their homeland – the history of Jews in Norway has its own touchy significance in 2014. As this year marks the 200th anniversary of the creation of the constitution in 1814, it should not be forgotten that at that time, it also included a paragraph with a general ban against Jews (and Jesuits) entering the “kingdom” (you know, those dangerous undesirable folks), a ban which was lifted in 1851 with the determined effort of Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland. (Incidentally, he died in 1845 before the ban was lifted, and so did not live to see the fruits of his labor). Of course, his views were considered quite controversial back then, and his literary style was variously denounced as subversive. Imagine that! 

To express gratitude for Wergeland’s efforts on behalf of the Jews, the Jewish community in Oslo have an annual wreath ceremony at his grave on May 17th.

My sons appreciate the foundations of their Norwegian heritage, such as I have transmitted it to them to best of my ability during my own “diaspora” for the past, yikes, 30 years. They speak the language, are citizens of Norway, will break out in rap in Norwegian, tote viking necklaces interlaced with their Stars of David, yearn to go back every year, to see family and their own friends, eat skolebrød (sticky buns), drink Solo, play in the pool at Frongerbadet, the outdoor municipal pool in Oslo where their mom challenged them to jump form the 10 meter high diving board, and just feel how good it is to belong in more place than one. And such a privileged place to boot. Most importantly, they have their own memories of every day life there, which will remain ingrained in their fibers throughout their lifetimes, and perhaps one day kindle in them the desire to pass it on to their children.

This morning when I again flipped over the gravlaks that has been curing in my fridge for the last 48 hours, in preparations for my culinary contribution to the laid back May 17th celebration, I could not help but crack a smile as I removed the two bricks on top of the fish, functioning as the requisite weight for optimal curing results. The bricks, you see, are from the foundation of my old house down the street where I raised my boys; the house that I moved from when their dad and I divorced. I smiled because, optimally, that’s what we do in life, we move on and take the good stuff with us, and leave the rest behind. And those two old bricks have come to represent just that: a piece of the foundation of not only my children’s life but also of my own identity and memory.

For it’s never really just one memory and one identity. The trick is perhaps to recognize and appreciate the multiple foundations that are the base for who we are becoming. And then celebrate.

Hooray!

“Séph-Arabe” – About Imagining an Alternate Bridge

Hamsa4Jews and Arabs. Right off the bat, you probably think about conflict, but it hasn’t always been that way. Did you know that less than 60 years ago, Islamic lands in North Africa and the Middle East was the home to almost 1 million Jews? Jews that for many generations shared the Arab majority culture with their neighbors. A Jewish baby would nurse from the same breast as an Arab baby.

Imagine Arab Jews. Jews that identify positively, even passionately, with this culture. Jews who refuse to see the two terms as mutually exclusive. For that would negate who they identify as.

Today there are 0 Jews left of Algeria’s 140,000 Jewish inhabitants before 1948. 1,100 left of Tunisia’s 105,000; 60 left of Iraq’s 135,000….3,200 left of Morocco’s 365,000 Jews. The last kosher butcher of Marrakech is an old man who just opens his store to have a place to sit during the day. He has almost no customers left.

Mind you some of these Jewish communities predated the Arab conquest in the 7th century C.E., as they had landed there after the destructions of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in years 586 B.C.E. (by the Babylonians) and 70 C.E. (by the Romans) respectively.

The modern Jewish exodus from Arab lands – since 1950’s – was not easy for the families involved. Nor was it easy for their Arab neighbors to be left with the vacuum that was created. Relationships were lost. Scars and traumas resulted. Problematic memories constructed.

Literature and art was created to express these experiences.

I write about this in my “Academic Stuff.”

For those of you with an interest in literature and Jewish cultures in general, and Jewish culture of the Arab world in particular, or if you would simply like to read an article that will doubtlessly give you something to think about, check out my “North Africa, France, and Israel: Sephardic Identities in the Work of Chochana Boukhobza” published here:

http://sephardichorizons.org/Volume3/Issue2/Identities.html

As I note in my article, Boukhobza has written many extraordinary novels in French, some prize-winning, and If you are a Francophone, you can order them from Amazon.fr. It’s pricy, but they do ship to the U.S, of course!

One of her books is published in English: The Third Day, available on Amazon.com.

You can read about it here:

And one is translated to English, (by yours truly) and is looking for a publisher: For the Love of the Father (or Pour l’Amour du Père) which I discuss in my article linked above.

So call your publisher friend today, who owes you a favor, and spread the word!

Yalla! (= “Let’s go!” in Arabic)

Don’t Mess With My People

This morning, with everyone in my community milling around getting ready for the first Passover seder, I’m going to my local JCC (Jewish Community Center) to work out in the first time in forever. Why? Because I want to make a statement: Don’t mess with my people!

Yesterday’s news of the horrific shootings at the Kansas City JCC and Jewish assisted living facility nearby, leaves us breathless and disgusted. But sadly, not surprised. Video showed the suspect – the biggest loser of them all – sitting in the back of a police patrol car and shouting, “Heil Hitler.” We’ve seen people like him before. We hear about their hate crimes almost daily still, 69 years after WWII ended and their cowardly brain-washer killed himself.

In all, the gunman shot at five people, none of whom he’s believed to have known. He killed three. A grandfather and his grandson. A woman. Turns out they were not all Jewish. 

When I pull into the JCC parking lot, I will see the boy, his grandfather and that woman in my minds eye. When I pant, sweat, and feel like croaking on the elliptical, I will go even faster in fury, unable to keep the murderer out of my mind. When I leave my community center, I will smile and wish the employes who work there a peaceful and meaningful holiday, because even if this tragedy did not happen here, we know in our hearts it might as well have.

We can only begin to imagine what Passover (and Easter) will be like for the families who have been affected by these devastating losses. The traditional passover meal question asked by the youngest child around the table, “Why is this night different than all other nights?” takes on a whole other meaning in light of such immediate tragedy.

Tonight when we talk about the meaning of freedom, I will make sure to remind my kids to use their freedom of speech to speak up against hatred and intolerance.

speak up

 

 

The Facebook Birthday Wish-Frenzy

I rarely step out of bed in the morning feeling grouchy, but today it’s happening. The Facebook birthday wish frenzy is getting ridiculous. I’m one known to chipperly get my kids up on dreary mornings, turn on music, light candles, make us breakfast and exclaim encouraging words. I look for the sunrise to bless and announce another day of opportunities. And that’s normal for during the week around here. But today that’s just ruined and so not happening. I’m feeling annoyed. That’s my status, if you should care.

It’s 7am, the sun is not shining despite the forecast, and I have just realized I came late to my mother’s Facebook birthday wish bash.

I hardly ever think of Facebook as a burden, or dumb, although I do occasionally say it is a potential downright waste of time. I admit this by now antiquated blue and white social networking website has become my default choice of down-time, rather than, say, TV for example. I’ve even been dubbed by some similarly aged friends who couldn’t be bothered as a total Facebooker-hooker with my frequent turning of tricks. But the ease and dare I say pressure of wishing everyone and their cousin (fine, mine, too) “Happy Birthday” on Facebook is getting to me.

FB-Notifications

Aside from reminding me I am a mormon for having forgotten it’s my mother’s birthday until the I see the 9 million other people having posted greetings before me on her timeline, (never mind the 6 hr time-lag; she’s in Spain and I’m in the US; I’m her daughter!), I am feeling the accumulated pressure of all the friends’ birthdays I chose to ignore by not clicking my way onto their timelines, helping them feel like the center of the universe for a few precious cyber space nano-seconds. Whatever that is.

The solution here is simple, and I know it: stop checking Facebook before I get out of bed in the morning (the horror!); and when I do go on at the two designated times during the day I will allot myself (to wean me from behaving like an addicted lab-rat running back and forth to the divinely but arbitrarily drug laden food dish 600 times an hour looking for “the” stimulus), simply notice all the reminders of birthday wishes, be happy for them and for all the posting friends, and then step away from the car, eh, I mean screen. How zen.

Just like I know I should floss daily, eat less, exercise more and drink water.

Only water.

Incidentally, as I type these last words, the sun is rising in the horizon and I’m thinking my mom’s feeling happy being remembered by people who care from all over the world on her birthday, Facebook and all.

And I haven’t even stepped out of bed yet.

Facebook Birthdays

To Share in the Shearing

A good friend of mine has cancer.  She recently asked me to take her to the hairdresser to have her hair shaved off, or what remained of it. After weeks of chemo treatment, and as the poison is hard at work in the fight, she seems to take the many side effects in stride. The pragmatist that she is –  both down to earth and far from vain –  the hair loss thing is the least of her troubles. “I cover my head now mostly for other people’s sake,” she said with a smiling but tired face the first time I saw her wearing a colorful knit hat, made by a friend, enveloping her balding head. She was sprawled on the couch under a cozy blanket, pellet stove going, with yet another friend visiting. She doesn’t have to say it. We all know she has bad days, followed by awful days, and then a few decent days; maybe even a good afternoon here and there.

The day of the scheduled “shearing” I know she rallies to find the energy, since she told me the night had been restless and spent partially on the loo – her body telling her the new anti-nausea drug did not go over as well as hoped. Comfortably installed in the barber’s chair, the clippers turned on to make that familiar buzzing sound (I have three boys, I know this sound but with such other associations), the hairdresser is herself a cancer survivor and handles the situation with such grace I feel I am observing an angel at work. Her hands running swiftly and gently over my friend’s head, she speaks candidly and quietly about her own ordeal from hair diva to hairless warrior. Just quietly enough for it to be a private conversation, but loud enough to include me, as I sit in a chair on the side watching the remaining thin locks gently fall from my brave friend’s now well defined round fuzzy head and down to the floor. They agree it feels better like this. Bald. Honest.

Bald is beautiful

It just so happens that there is a wig store next door, five feet away. “Will you get a wig?” the hairdresser asks after telling the newly hairless warrior her new ‘do is on the house. “I wasn’t planning on it,” my friend replies, looking at her, then me, seeming perfectly open to any and all suggestions. “Your insurances covers a chunk, so why not see if you find one you like?” the pro offers, adding that she herself found it had come in handy on what might have been called “bad hair days” other times, but now were just days when it would be ok with some hair. Sure enough, after a brief visit next door and some fun modeling of every style from “your husband might like this long blonde one”(coming from me), to “absolutely not,” and “no, no, no, this one makes me look like so and so”(coming from her), the perfect fit finally found its new owner and we stepped out into the warm spring afternoon, mission completed. She even got some colorful bandana head wraps for balmy summer days, thanks to the owner of the wig-salon’s deft insurance knowledge and helpfulness; another lovely spirit so obviously sensitive to the her clientele’s situation.

Wigs

Thinking all this shearing sharing and wig-sampling might have exhausted the now hairy warrior, I ask if she feels like some lunch or if she is totally pooped after our successful hit on hairdo-row. “They fill me up on drugs to counter the horrible feelings caused by the chemo, but some times even these ‘good’ drugs make me feel terrible,” she offers with a sigh. “But today, I think some soup would be good. I feel like Thai.” I pull away from the curb and gladly head toward my favorite Thai place a few blocks down, and we start to compare notes on different Thai restaurants in town, getting our shared foodie palates into an excitable mode. Smacking our lips, we decide to hold off with the pedicures until next week.

One day at a time, of counting the blessings of such simple things as being able to enjoy a hot bowl of soup, of perhaps sleeping comfortably through the night, and feeling the longed for warmth of the spring sun while sharing a laugh or two with a good friend. Of course, I too count those blessings with my friend, being privileged to have shared such a meaningful afternoon, otherwise just a regular spring day.

Thai soup

 

 

I Was on Fire

Have you ever been “on” for a job, project, or event, and while engaging with your audience (of one or many) realize you are on fire? I don’t mean the accidental, literal, “oh shit my shirt caught on fire! Help! I’m going to die!” kind of realization, but the sort that invites you to recognize, in delightful albeit brief, fleeting moments of pure presence, there is a sort of combustion going on, of magnificent, sparking energy between your mind (your knowledge), your body (the way you move and interact) and the other participants. And although you were perhaps a bit worried (in some other chemically unpleasant place different from the fabulous fire site) while waiting to go on/in/up, you now notice you are on some mind-blowing auto-pilot, where all your bullet points and plans simply vanish into the thin air, as the magic takes over and you hear yourself think: I got this. I love this. Shit, I’m on fire!

On Fire

The other night as I was speaking at an annual film festival at a local college, this happened to me, and it was almost, dear I say, an out of body experience. These are clearly other chemicals at work now (yay, yummy ones: endorphins!) than the pre-show worry ones, and the lingering feeling of euphoria for hours later is truly something to behold. It’s the same high that happens when I teach a really good class. I realize that the precious present (the now and the gift) of that dynamite moment is all about connecting with others, and what a marvelous experience it is when you know you’ve managed to connect. The associations of bright light, heat, and smoke that the state of being on fire necessarily brings are of course not actually real, but in their own right practically palpable. When your inner world successfully connects with the outer world around you, there’s all that. Schwing.

My elixir might be just this. All the reading, research, thinking and planning I do on topics that interest me is my alchemy, where I am the practitioner of a kind of transformation of matter – but theoretical matter, to convert it into a magical potion. And when I am able to share this offering, in all its fully present enthusiasm, life and work makes a lot of sense, because it feels right.

So, c’mon baby, just light my fire.

On Fire II