Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007: The Year that Wasn't

Every year, along about December 15, its seems we all take a collective look back. The magazine racks are littered with double-thick issues devoted to heartfelt farewells to deceased celebrities, poignant reveries of world events and photo montages on myriad sporting events, wars and fashion trends. Meanwhile, every channel from the networks to the premium cable brands devote hours of programming to keenly edited and thoughtfully soundtracked nostalgia.
It's tempting to luxuriate in this tepid bathtub of warm, fuzzy memories, straight through to New Year, but why be typical? Plenty of others have allocated ink (or in this case, font-space) to the topic and many have done so better than me. Rather than wax rhapsodic about the year that was, I think it might be more interesting (and funnier) to pine away about the year that wasn't.
2007 was not the year I set aside time each week to clean my apartment. Try as I might, my upbringing in a home exclusively cleaned by people who got paid to do the job did not prepare me for a life of scrubbed floors and dust-free cabinets. My apartment is hardly filthy, mind you, but I just can't seem to get motivated enough to spend my free time engendering a spotless shower.
2007 was also not the year I made a significant dent in my Netflix queue or my reading list. Alas, the lure of Project Runway, 30 Rock and The Office or the incessant pings from my IM often distracted me from such highbrow pursuits as reading the poetry of Neruda or finally watching Hotel Rwanda. With the writers' strike on shaky ground, there's some hope for me in 2008. But, with Facebook and Sex and the City reruns as ever-present and mentally unchallenging distractions, you might see this pop culture-ridden confession appear again next year.
This year also proved a failure for many broad-scale endeavors of humanity. Beauty pageant contestants the world over must be uttering a communal "aw shucks" for not achieving world peace; just as hippies and their patron saint cum sellout Al Gore must kick themselves over the latest energy bill. Citizens of the globe did not cure cancer or AIDS and Bono still didn't clinch the Nobel Peace Prize, but at least we're still fighting the good fight.
2007 was not the year I got engaged or married or had a baby as so many of my friends did. Thus, I did not make my debut appearance in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times, much to my grandmother's chagrin. Of course, it was also a year wherein I did not get divorced or fired or shot, so I avoided those sections of the paper too. By this accounting, as of December 30, I'm probably ahead of the game on the milestone scores.
It was not a year where I learned from all my mistakes, but now I get to write about some of them for your general amusement and possible education. I'm not one for resolutions - lofty, fanciful or plainly obvious - though I will say that I am optimistic for 2008. I don't expect clear answers to life's burning questions over the next 12 months, but I sure as hell better have a good time trying to figure it all out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Just because it isn't my holiday doesn't mean I can't celebrate

There are tons of obvious post topics for me today. There's the lonely lament of the token Jewish kid who grew up in suburban Arizona and didn't learn who Mary and Joseph were until the fourth grade. There's the post-capitalist outrage over a holiday that began as a celebration of someone's messiah's birth and morphed into a consumer-driven shopping frenzy. And there's the fond memories of the way my family celebrated Christmas: a late night drive through our neighborhood with the windows rolled down and Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" blaring on my mom's stereo.
Following the trend of my last post, there's also the obvious wonderment at the way most Jews choose to celebrate Jesus's birthday: with Chinese food and a movie. When I was a kid, there weren't too many people at the local theater on Christmas. It was fantastic! The random non-Christians in our town, an assortment of Jews, Hindus and atheists mingled with divorced dads who lost the custody coin toss as we watched movies in relatively empty darkened rooms. Nowadays, the theaters are packed as the afternoon hours approach and the novelty of everyone's new gifts wear off. People flee their families, held captive for the past 18 hours, because of a shared love of ham and some dude from Bethlehem.
Then there's the Chinese food. Used to be these were the only restaurants open, either because of the Chinese owners' keen business sense or Buddhist religious observances. The places are universally packed and in some parts of the U.S., it's hard to find good Chinese. But the world of restaurantuers has diversified since the 1970s. So this year, consider some vindaloo instead of egg foo young.... or some pad thai instead of beef chow mein.
While so many things about Christmas divide us - the whole Jesus is the son of God thing coming at the top of the list - this year, I hope we can all find a sense of unity at the nearest ethnic eatery and local megaplex. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Heartburn and The Heeb

As the iron-stomach clad daughter of a Crohn’s patient, the sister of an IBS sufferer and a lactard, and the former owner of a gall bladder, I know (mostly second-hand) the long-wrought agony of Jews and their digestive issues. Among ethnic groups and their various health ailments, Ashkenazic Jews definitely picked the short straw when it came to gastrointestinal disorders.

So it might come as a bit of a surprise to the Semitio-philiac newbie that despite these would-be setbacks, Jews (of all ethnic flavors) are obsessed with food. Maybe it’s because the framers of our whole religious shtick, the Torah and Talmud wrote so many laws about slaughtering animals, preparing food, eating food, mixing food and sacrificing food. Maybe it’s because stuffing ourselves full of lamb, lentil soup and bread was the best way to deal with all those people who kept trying to kill us. Or, maybe it’s just because bagels, bourekas, latkes and matzah balls just taste so damn good and we developed the culture around it. It all begs the question, “Which came first? The chicken soup or the egg?”

In thinking about Jews and our relationship to food, I did what any 20-something does when she wants to know something and I Googled “Jewish food blogs.” My search yielded a bevy of results both inevitable and eyebrow-raising. Certainly, there are enough Jewish vegans to begat such tomes as The Jew and The Carrot and sufficient carnivores to sustain no fewer than three blogs devoted to the delicatessen and its preservation. However, there is only one blog devoted to kosher soul food and not much of anything about Sephardic cuisine.

Clearly, I’m not the only member of the tribe who occasionally has food on the brain. Though I cannot imagine solely blogging about one topic, this little research project has lent some credibility to my hypothesis that Jews have an unnatural obsession with all things edible. Then I started thinking about all my non-Jewish friends… particularly the Italian ones… and the Indians… and the Chinese… and I realized that pretty much every ethnic group has an unnatural obsession with all things edible that stem from their native cultures. Perhaps because food is such an incredibly powerful and potent link to one’s heritage, that many of us feel a great sense of pride in our respective cuisines. After all, how many Irish Catholic girls can even pretend to make matzah ball soup as good as a nice Jewish boy’s bubbie?

Lest you think this posting purely existential and without any base in current events across the tri-state area or the world – allow me to direct your attention to a post on December 13 on The Kosher Blog. Apparently, the much-missed Second Avenue Deli is set to reopen today in Murray Hill with a ceremonial salami cutting and 24-hour service. If you’re in the vicinity, do what you can to throw a little business their way and let’s keep ‘em open. If you don’t happen to live around here, then get out there and explore a little Jewish cuisine. From cholent to challah, from apples and honey to the afikomen and from hummus to hamentashen, it all tastes good and this girl is hungry for more.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Shout Out

Since my big mass media debut last week (my two years of student journalism at the Arizona Daily Wildcat doesn't really count), I've installed Google Analytics on this site. Now my stalker tendencies and the B I got in graduate-level statistics can finally be mixed together and put to use via the miracle of blog analysis.
Through this fantastic invention of the chronically unsure-whether-anyone-reads-his/her-blog, I can magically track where my readers come from geographically, how they stumbled upon the Shtetl Fabulous universe and whether or not they used a Google search to find me. The location stats include such far-flung destinations as Kuala Lampur, Malaysia; Dublin, Ireland and Kansas!
But even more exciting than these Carmen Sandiego-worthy shenanigans is the Google search section. From this realm of cyberspace, I've discovered that someone actually decided to click on my blog after searching for the term, "fabulous fuckers." Oddly enough, it's the number two site suggested... as long as you don't search with the quotes.
My new friend Greg wisely pointed out that this fact will probably disappoint many a horny teenage boy seeking porn and not pithy comments on news items, pop culture and relationships. But for this reluctant pleaser, I couldn't be happier to underwhelm some pre-pubescent's nascent hard-on if it directs them to my humble home of wordsmithing.
Regardless of whether you got here because I not-so gently cajoled you into reading or because you had a genuine intellectual curiosity for how a shtetl could become fabulous - thanks for reading and come again.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Almost as good as Passover Bread

This is THE funniest Hanukkah story I have ever heard.
It reminds me of the time that my brother, sister and I changed all the "kosher" signs at the old Food Emporium on First Avenue and put them by all the pork products.

Happy Chanukah/Khanuka/Hanukah!!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Shtetl Fabulous in the news

Well, I have either acheived some modicum of fame in the Orthodox Jewish community here in New Jersey or I've just gone and pissed off a whole other group of people.
Apparently, people besides my mother and my close cadre of friends read this blog because someone decided to interview me for an article after reading an earlier post I wrote called, "Splitting Hairs." Here's the link to the Herald News of Passaic story from today's paper.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Winter Wonderland

Woke up in the middle of the night (OK, it was 5 a.m. but when you go to sleep at 1:30, it counts) to snow falling for the second time this season. Technically, it's not winter for another few weeks, but the white stuff on the ground would argue otherwise. Plus, Hanukkah starts in two nights and the Christmas marketing extravaganza is in full swing. So, imbued with a bit of the holiday spirit and forgoing my usual snarky sentiment, I figured I would offer a little ode to winter as a way to ease the transition.

1. Presents. What can I say - I like getting stuff, and giving is good too.
2. Snow angels and snowball fights. I didn't get to do this much as a kid and it makes you less pissy when you work up a sweat in your good clothes cleaning snow off your car. Plus there's the actual potential for snow days.
3. Cashmere. I love this stuff so much, I will literally sleep in it... though not in March through November.
4. Food. While I like to think I cook well, I am not the most refined chef. Wintertime is perfect for the rustic, country, informal type entertaining and cooking that I love best.
5. Parties. Last year, I made my Kwanzaa party debut and this year I'm hosting a Hanukkah shindig straight outta da shtetl. Though it sucks that the cold weather makes it harder to work off the extra calories by pounding the pavement, the social butterfly in me will happily log in the necessary gym hours to compensate for goodies and beer.

So maybe winter isn't too bad after all. Of course, I might feel differently come mid-February.