Wednesday, September 30, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
At first glance, the 1950’s
costume party I attended last weekend – complete with diner décor and live ‘50s music from
a fab duo who dubbed themselves The Elderly Brothers – might not look like
a particularly religious experience. But to me it resonated as profoundly Jewish…and not just because it was attended by all 12 members of my nice Jewish women’s book group, the Shayna Maidels, and all of their nice Jewish husbands.
Ever since, I’ve been trying to figure
out why the jukebox atmosphere and
the Jujubes, Mary Janes, and other vintage candy
scattered on the tables made me think about being a Jew. I also have been mulling over what made this event so exceptional.
It’s not that I go to all that many
parties, mind you (although with many members of my group hitting milestones this year, I go to more than my share of ladies'
Nor is it every
day that I dress up in a poodle skirt, let alone a retro bowling shirt and bobby socks. (And thank G-d my husband only wears that crazy fedora once in a blue or blood-red moon.)
Yet regardless of those elements, there was something uplifting,
mesmerizing, and if you ask me almost magical about this particular party from the moment that we arrived.
I don’t think it was just that it had a special theme. Nor that it had live music and lots of food. And it sure wasn’t
the booze, because there was none. (The senior center at which it was held does not allow alcohol
on the premises.)
So, what made it so great? Here’s my best guess: I think it was that it transported me back to a sweeter,
gentler time – a time when I was young and svelte and first in love, and I thought that belly fat was just some schmutz you might find on a piece of lox.
Which is exactly
what most Jewish holidays and other celebrations do for me too.
The celebration in this case was in honor of the 70th birthday of one of the members
of my book group, a very upbeat, vibrant, and high-spirited
woman named Cookie... who, if you ask me, is one smart cookie and also a very cool one
for her age or almost any other age.
Speaking of age, I would just like to point out, for the record, that I am by far the youngest member of the Shayna Maidels (which is Yiddish for “pretty girls”), so I am not close to approaching 70 myself
yet, and until that night I had never been to the senior center or even known where
Having been born in 1955, I also had
never worn an authentic poodle skirt myself or attended a sock hop, any
more than I was present for the ancient Exodus from Egypt. But both Jews and Americans thrive on cultivating a cultural ethic
of “we were there,” for everything from Biblical events like the parting
of the Red Sea to Woodstock.
I’m also familiar enough with most doo-wop and pop tunes of the ‘50s to have sung along to every song, which I euphorically did as my husband and I did our best rendition of swing dancing (which,
like my homemade poodle skirt, miraculously managed to pass muster).
for me, being there still evoked a strong connection to the past – if not my own, then that of my peers and predecessors –
and a deep, pleasant sense of nostalgia.
According to a
2013 article in the Science section of The New York
Times, entitled “What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows,” this emotion can be a very powerful tool.
“Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety,”
it said. “It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders.” What’s more, “Couples feel closer and look happier
when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.”
Indeed, my husband
and I mysteriously found ourselves gazing into each other’s eyes as we slow-danced in an air-tight clinch whenever we
weren’t bopping to the rousing beat of everything from “Earth Angel” by The Penguins to “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His
Comets. Also, I soon found myself so warm that I
had to shed my bowling shirt. Was it due to the warm glow generated by the joy of this walk down Memory Lane, or just a matter of getting
a little overheated from all the energetic gyrations?
As the Times article hastened to add, looking back, as many of us tend to do, can create melancholy too. “Nostalgia does have its painful side — it’s a bittersweet emotion — but the net effect
is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening.”
Kind of like Judaism, and every other religion of almost every ilk, wouldn’t you say?
Speaking of which,
since we just went through the High Holy Days, my husband and I ended up having
our usual debate about going to services at our synagogue.
Part of this yearly dispute always stems from the
shock he expresses annually when I explain that we are going to Kol Nidre services on the night before Yom Kippur, and then we are going to get all gussied up again and go
to temple the next morning as well.
Never mind that this is what we always do, and even many nominally observant Jews do, too. He
believes it should be an either-or situation and would even be OK with doing neither.
One of his main reservations about going to temple so much is that what the rabbi
has to say in his or her sermon doesn't always resonate personally with him.
hope that if our rabbi ends up reading this, he takes no offense at that revelation. I also hope it doesn’t
offend him that I can’t say whether his sermons always resonate with me or not because by that point in the service my mind has a tendency to wander.
Not necessarily wander all the way back in time to the parting of the Red Sea. On Yom Kippur, it might even wander
forward to what I’m going to eat to break the fast.
that doesn’t make attending services any less meaningful to me. Because what makes temple services resonate with me most is not the new lesson I am liable to learn, but rather the repetition
of the prayers and songs that I have recited so many times before.
are prayers and songs that bring me back to when I was young and I went to temple with my parents, or when my children were
young and they went to temple with us.
My husband also likes to reminisce
about going to temple when he was young. He grew up in our town, and his family has gone to Congregation Beth Israel, the shul we belong to, for so long
that his father, who died nearly 50 years ago, had a seat in the sanctuary with his name engraved on it.
When we went last week, my husband made a point of proudly showing that seat to Allegra’s
Yet my husband is someone who is easily bored by ritual and repetition. I’m not saying he’s a crazy thrill-seeker – no bungee-jumping or sky-diving in our house; we’re Jews! But he’s always looking for some kind of exciting new adventure or experience.
The one key exception to this, as far as I can see, is sports and physical
exercise. My hubby never tires of playing tennis, although to me this is the ultimate in tedium and repetition – you hit the ball across the net and someone hits it back again, ad infinitum, until it goes into the net. Then you do it some more.
(Yawn!) And he somehow finds time to work out on his stationary bike almost every darn night. (Bigger, wider yawn!)
But he sees no point in watching any movie more than once because
you already know what’s going to happen in the end. He feels the same way about Shakespeare. (Why bother to see Romeo and Juliet? Or Macbeth? News flash: They die!)
not saying that I don’t enjoy my share of adventure and excitement (short of sky-diving and bungee-jumping – we’re
Jews!) But there’s many a classic movie I
could watch countless times and never be able to resist seeing again when I notice it's on TV late at night.
are places to which I enjoy going on vacation over and over again because they remind me
of long ago when I was young… and yes, svelte… or at least my
For me, going to
temple is largely about triggering those same feelings.
I find the repetition reassuring and comforting. It connects me to my past and to that of my family and my people.
That does seem to make
life more meaningful. And death less frightening, I guess.
And I can only imagine I am not alone, because so many other people keep doing it too.
The same rituals.
Or, for some, every day or every week.
My husband should be thankful that, with the kids grown, and the bar and bat mitzvahs long past, I don’t
expect him to be as faithful to Judaism as he is to his stationery bike.
If synagogue services were as fun and festive as my friend Cookie’s birthday shindig was, though, maybe he actually would want to go every day. Or every week.
Or at least for
both Kol Nidre services and again the next morning on Yom Kippur.
But I don’t know what the rabbi could say in his sermon to ever match that.
Kudos are definitely due to Cookie and her
husband Tony for going all out with the party arrangements. Although I worried that my husband and I might be the only ones
game enough to come dressed as ‘50s teens, as our hosts had requested, almost everyone there obliged with their own poodle
skirts, varsity jackets, letter sweaters, and the like. (One husband even came dressed as the Lone Ranger, causing many a guest to ask, “Who WAS that masked man?”)
Then there were the elaborate decorations, from the simulated ice cream soda centerpieces
made up of old-fashioned soda fountain glasses filled with carnations and Good ‘n Plenty, to the checkerboard tablecloths covered with our favorite
childhood candies and vintage album covers. (We were seated at the Connie Francis table.)
Plus, any deficit in high-test libations was more than made up for by the lavish ice cream sundae bar that accompanied
the tower of pink and blue cupcakes for dessert. (We’re Jews, after all – we would rather eat than drink!)
It was so much fun that afterwards I was reluctant to put away my poodle
skirt (actually an old costume I made for my daughter when we did Bye, Bye Birdie at Purim).
I still felt so good
the next day that I was almost looking forward to throwing my
own party someday (many, many years from now) when I turn 70
myself (although I’d opt to make it an actual ‘70s party, evoking my own teen decade).
It does make me consider going to temple more often to reconnect more to the past. But factoring in my
husband’s perspective, I just bought tickets instead for next week for a concert
featuring Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Talk about blasts from the past! Maybe I can get away
with wearing that poodle skirt one more time before putting it back in mothballs. Let’s just hope my husband leaves the crazy fedora at home.
Friday, September 25, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
Trying valiantly to polish off the noodle kugel after breaking
the fast on Yom Kippur, we sat around the table, six alta cockers (old folks) doing what we always end up doing -- kvetching, kvelling, but mostly
scratching our heads about the kinder (kids).
Of course, we all want our kids to be who they really
are, or who they want to be… but how do our precious young apples so often end up falling so very far from the tree?
This past summer, our good friends Pat and Michael, Reform Jews like us, saw their youngest son, who
is now an Orthodox Jew, marry a lovely and equally devout girl, with whom
he now strictly observes the Sabbath and all
the laws of kashrut.
Meanwhile, Ken, a minister who is dating our friend Harriet, divulged that one of his daughters is now Hindu.
So I guess my husband and I should consider
ourselves lucky. Even though both of our offspring have
chosen partners who are not MOT (Members
of the Tribe), both kids essentially remain Jews
like us – Reform ones, that is, more or less.
I say “more or
less” because being in their 20s, they are
both still finding their way. And, like many a Jew in the modern world, they’re still grappling with the need to often make compromises.
Life was much easier for them back when they were growing up in our inordinately Jewish
town in Connecticut, where schools were always closed for
the High Holy Days. But soon after our son Aidan left for college, over a decade ago, he learned that being a Jew in America often means having to
say you’re sorry (to your parents and your rabbi, that is).
I still remember my dismay and disbelief when he called to say that he would not be coming home for
Yom Kippur because the professor in his film class on Ingmar Bergman had chosen that very day to deliver his key lecture of the
semester on Bergman’s magnum opus The Seventh Seal. Never mind that this professor was also a Jew (although presumably a lapsed or self-loathing one).
Then there was the year after graduation, when he was working as a production assistant
on the TV show Law & Order: Criminal Intent, that he had to go to work on YK because he was told that he could only have the day off if he found someone to replace him, and everyone he knew who was remotely qualified also happened to be a Jew. (Now,
to me, that was criminal.)
This year, my daughter was the one facing a non-negotiable conflict. Allegra recently started a wonderful new job at the private school in NYC attended by the children of all the diplomats and other employees who work at the U.N. She absolutely loves her position, which
entails coordinating the private music lessons
taken there by their hundreds of students, grades K through 12.
Yet the very first day of music lessons just happened to fall
on Rosh Hashanah.
I thoroughly understood her realization that it would be impossible for her to take that whole day off. In fact, I admired her for feeling
the need to honor her commitments at work, even if
it meant having to compromise her lifelong commitment to being a Jew. But when I learned that music lessons were
held after school, and that she was able to take the morning off to attend services, I hastened to find a
temple she could attend in New York, then get
our synagogue in Connecticut to arrange for her
to obtain reciprocal tickets (something that we are entitled to as dues-paying members in good standing).
My husband and I would
have been happy to attend those services with her, but we
had long ago made firm plans to spend the holiday on Long Island with my brother.
Meanwhile, Aidan, who had just begun the second year of his Ph.D. at Columbia, had one of his
first classes of the semester that morning. How could he possibly miss that?
I wanted my daughter to go to services. But I didn’t want her to go alone. There are plenty of things I’m perfectly happy to do alone – in fact, there are many things I would prefer to do alone (reading, writing, weighing myself each morning
on the bathroom scale). But going to synagogue – on the High Holy Days, no less – is definitely
not one of them.
“I won’t be alone,” she assured me. “I’m sure JP will go with me!”
JP? Her boyfriend, who was raised Catholic, had just moved from Hong Kong to NYC to be with her only the week before. I wasn’t convinced that he’d be all that
keen to take off work in order
to go to temple. But JP happens to be a
true mensch, if there ever was one. It turned
out she was right.
They sent me a selfie afterwards of the two of them all dressed up for shul. JP said that
he’d felt perfectly comfortable there. In fact, he had found it, to his surprise, to be an awful lot like church.
For Allegra, the operative word there was "awful." Indeed, to her distress, it had been
a little too much like church. There wasn’t nearly enough Hebrew to suit her taste, she said, and none of the melodies to the songs and prayers had been familiar, meaning she couldn't sing along. So she had no intention of
going back there the next week for Yom Kippur.
That raised an interesting question. What were we doing for Yom Kippur? I kept offering to cook the
pre-fast meal for erev YK dinner and cart it all down to her apartment in NYC, which I figured would be easier than having the kids schlep all the way home.
I actually had
been offering to do this for weeks. But even a few days before, Allegra wasn’t ready to commit. Maybe she’d
come home instead. Maybe she wouldn’t. “I’ll
let you know,” she said repeatedly. We’d have to wait and see.
Her brother remained equally noncommittal. “We’ll figure it out,” is all he’d say.
Figure it out? How would we figure it out? Neither one was willing to discuss it.
My sister-in-law says that trying to make a plan with your kids is like herding cats. Who knows? I’m a dog person. Can you actually herd cats? Well, even if not, I’m sure that would be a cinch compared to trying to get your 20-something offspring
to commit to anything – especially anything that involves religion – more than 24 hours in advance.
I kept wondering if I should start cooking. But
cooking for whom? And how many? So I waited. And waited.
No, I didn’t wait by the phone, or sit there in the dark starving myself (G-d forbid that they should suddenly call and I might have a morsel of food in my mouth).
A few days before Yom Kippur came the news
that JP’s sister Vera might be visiting NYC that week from Australia. We were invited to come meet her, and of course we were dying to, but we realized that it would be too exhausting to go down to the city more than once. Considering
that she was flying all the way from Sydney, getting to meet her seemed to trump going down for Yom Kippur dinner. Unless perhaps she would possibly be in the city for Yom Kippur dinner…
So we continued
to wait. Wait and see. And hope that they would “figure it out.”
Then, finally, the word came over the weekend. Vera was not coming, after all. And Aidan had realized he was way too busy, so he was just going to do his own thing.
Allegra admitted that she was also beyond exhausted after starting her new
job. We’d just been together for Rosh Hashanah. Why not just all do our own thing?
I must admit that I was a little disappointed. OK, maybe a lot. So what if we’d just seen them only a week before? When you’re a nice Jewish mom, or any parent, seeing your grown children never grows
old. It’s something of which you can
never get enough. Besides, the holidays aren’t just about going to temple. They’re
really about being a family.
Even if my kids weren’t coming up, and we weren’t going
down, I got up on Monday morning and started making homemade chicken soup. Because that’s what I always do for the High Holy Days. I make gallons
of chicken soup so that I can freeze enough to last us through the whole winter. Last until Passover, that is. That's when I make more soup – enough to last until the High Holy Days come again.
I didn’t make as much soup as usual this year, though, because no one was
coming to eat it.
Or were they?
That afternoon, my friend Pat phoned and invited us to her house for the dinner before the fast, even though we had already agreed to go there to break the fast. None of her children were coming
home either. So why not get together and try to make the best of it?
Of course I couldn’t allow her to
host us two nights in a row, so I insisted that she and her husband come over and try to make the best of it at our house instead. Even if a holiday
without any of our kids would be far from anything you could call “best.”
Then, later that afternoon, a text message arrived –
a game-changing one that I had not seen coming. “I am now contemplating coming home tomorrow,” Allegra
She still needed
to discuss it with JP when she got home from work. But she was suddenly reconsidering the plan. “It might be nice to be home for
a night,” she admitted.
to attend the temple at which she’d
grown up and eat her own mother’s kugel.
Shortly after 7 p.m., she wrote to confirm
the visit, causing me to consider the adage, “Be
careful what you wish for.”
What I would’ve wished for at that point was
to have more than a day to prepare. (An extra day or two to cook would have
helped. And preferably a whole month to clean.) Make no mistake. I was absolutely thrilled that they were coming. I was just a little stressed. OK, make
that a lot. But I raced out immediately to the local Jewish supermarket, The Crown, where
I managed to nab the last two briskets and everything else I’d need.
While there, I also managed to fill up the trunk of my car with canned goods, pasta, and other hearty goods to donate to our temple’s annual Yom Kippur food drive.
Anyone with any sense would have realized that it was much too late in the game to get the house ready for company and also make the entire traditional
meal from scratch.
But I guess I have no sense, and I’m not just anyone. I’m NiceJewishMom.com.
By 2 a.m. I had already cleaned the entire downstairs, polished the silver candlesticks, and set the dining room table
with my favorite tablecloth, the Sterling silver
flatware, and our very best china.
Then I got up the next morning and began
cooking the whole shmear – brisket, matzo balls, roasted carrots (my version
of tsimmes), Brussels sprouts, a green salad studded with pears and pomegranate, and a pair of noodle kugels, one for that night and
a second to bring to Pat’s.
By the time the kids and my other guests had arrived at around 7:30 p.m., everything was ready… and I was just about ready to collapse. But
I had done it all!
OK, my brisket, I
must confess, wasn’t quite up to snuff. I usually make it the day before, refrigerate it overnight,
then stick it in the oven for another hour or two. Well, now I know
why they say brisket is better the second day.
It really needs that second round to get melt-in-your-mouth tender.
At least this way it was heavy – make that leaden –
enough to help us last through the whole fast.
Yes, the fast. Isn’t
that what Yom Kippur is all about?
I had purchased a couple of croissants to have on hand because I didn’t expect JP to fast and figured that he could grab one quickly for breakfast the next morning before we left for temple.
He announced that he was fasting too, in solidarity with Allegra. And us, I guess.
And then, for the
second time in just over a week, he went
to temple again.
What did I tell you? A mensch.
time, in our own shul, all of the melodies were familiar. Well, to us. Allegra, my husband, and I sang
along heartily to almost everything. All the prayers. All the songs.
JP just listened appreciatively.
Of course, between the Torah reading
and assorted lengthy prayers like Avinu Malkeinu, the Yom
Kippur service is always a bit long, and it has its ups
and downs. That is, there’s an awful lot of
getting up and sitting down, then getting up and sitting down again.
But afterwards there were some real UPs -- getting to schmooze with assorted good friends and drop off my food donation before returning home.
We spent the rest of the day sitting around, doing our best not to think about food or talk about food or certainly eat any food while keeping
the conversation appropriately contemplative. But when Allegra and I had a momentary inadvertent lapse and began looking at some dresses on her iPhone, JP gently scolded her.
“No shopping! It’s Yom Kippur!”
Only two weeks on our side of the globe, and he has already begun falling far from his own family tree.
Or has he? We always do our best to fast until sundown every
year, but the older I get, the harder it gets. By 4, we were all seriously dehydrated and developing headaches, and I decided
that maybe it was enough already. So I went into
the kitchen and made a big bowl of dilled egg salad to serve on challah to
break the fast.
And when I brought it out, everyone quickly succumbed. Everyone but JP, that is.
Was he already becoming not just more observant than we are, but seriously frum?
Not quite. “I just don’t fancy the idea of
eggs with mayo,” he confessed in the classy British accent that he developed while attending school in England beginning at age 8.
“Oh! Well, what do you
fancy, then?” I asked.
He looked a little sheepish and shrugged. It was Allegra who replied on his behalf.
“I'll tell you what he likes. Anything with bacon,” she explained.
I decided at that moment that he had been enough of
a mensch by this point. Besides, the truth is that we don’t keep kosher in our house. Even
on Yom Kippur.
So I made him a large plate of crispy bacon. Which I think was well deserved.
Then, to my dismay, the visit was already over. Allegra had to be back at work early
the next morning. So I packed up a massive supply of leftovers, and they left for the city.
us with nothing to do but go to our friends’ house, break the fast all over again, and sit around kvetching, kvelling and scratching our heads about the kinder.
Maybe our kids will
continue to be Reform Jews like us, or maybe they’ll proceed to make more and more compromises to adapt themselves to
the demands of modern life.
All I know is that, although the partners they have found may not be MOTs, they are both exceptional people
who are each, to my eye, truly beyond reproach.
(Aidan’s fiancée Kaitlin is also a mensch… although as a vegetarian she does
not eat bacon.)
So I hope we can look forward to spending many more High Holy Days together.
But those holidays are now a whole year away.
So I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
believe it's already 5776 (I could’ve sworn only yesterday it was just 5775!). But here’s
wishing you l'shanah tovah -- a happy and a healthy new year from NiceJewishMom.com!
It’s not only a brand new year for the Jews, but also a happy new half-decade for me. Hard as it is to believe, I launched this site on a whim and a prayer exactly five years ago. I
wondered at the time if I would have enough to kvetch and kvell about to fill this space week after week. Well, here is it, over 250 weeks later, and
I haven’t come up dry yet. It just goes to show ya.
To quote Gilda’s Roseanne Roseannadanna, it’s always something.
And this week, there’s not only something.
There’s A LOT. Between having the Jewish holidays to cook for, a fall fashion
show at a local boutique I am modeling in again, and the usual nonstop responsibilities of Real Life, I feel like I am running on a treadmill and can't seem to get off or catch
But just to catch you up, here’s the big news on the Nice Jewish Mom home front: My daughter’s
boyfriend JP arrived in New York City last week from Hong Kong, as promised, and not
just for a visit this time. He’s here and he’s here to stay!
She looks happy. He looks happy. And so I would like to add my own resounding YAY!!!
Way to start the year out right, wouldn’t you say?
We spent the holiday at my brother’s
on Long Island because it’s much easier for my kids to get there from NYC than it is
for them to schlep all
the way home for a night. But I must apologize that I didn’t manage to post a word before we left for the weekend.
So now, given
how late I am, I’m going to spare you my usual rant for once and just concentrate
on what Rosh Hashanah is really all about: resolutions and recipes.
If a nice juicy
brisket is what you have in mind, look no further than the recipe for my famous
one, which can be found on the tool bar at the top of this page on the right.
Ditto if what you crave instead is a nice, sweet noodle kugel. (Mine, which I call Almond Joy, is spiked with shnapps -- actually, amaretto liqueur.)
This year, though, given that we were going away, I didn’t get to cook the whole meal myself. I asked my sister-in-law what I might bring, and she replied right away.
Not even my famous Mom’s chicken soup.
liver,” she said.
considering that most adults in my family are already doing more than their share to support the pharmaceutical industry by
taking Lipitor or their statin drug
of choice, I wasn’t sure that this was
the most prudent possible choice.
But I was not about to be so ungracious a guest as to argue with my sister-in-law. Besides, what is any Jewish
holiday without at least a little shmear of chopped chicken liver?
Besides, the truth was
that I was actually pleased that she made this particular request. Due to health concerns, I don’t usually make chopped
liver for the holidays anymore. I simply buy a small container of it at the store and allow everyone only a bite or two.
But this year I had been absolutely determined to make my own from scratch.
Last Rosh Hashanah found my husband and me in Hong Kong, visiting our daughter
Allegra and JP. Although it felt strange to be so far from home for the High Holy Days -- in
a land where few people observe those occasions, no less -- we were happy to find a local shul and be invited for a traditional
holiday dinner at the home of their nice Jewish friend Matt.
Well, it was traditional up to a point.
There are only so many of the typical kosher ingredients you can find in Hong Kong. Or
maybe they are somewhere to be found, but Matt had chosen to improvise instead.
Although I’d carted a box of matzo meal all the way from home, along with a nice braided challah, the matzo balls I prepared were served in a dark brown duck broth Matt had made, rather than in the carrot-filled
golden chicken stock I simmer for hours.
As for chopped liver, he
had similarly made it using rather gamey, gritty duck
I wouldn’t dream of insulting Matt, and I was infinitely
grateful to have somewhere to celebrate the holiday. So let’s just say that it was not like
any chopped liver I had ever tasted
or that my mother, a true ballabusta, had ever made. Even so, JP, who’d never tasted chopped liver before, as far as I know, ate it with great relish. Yet ever since
that time, I'd been eager to introduce him to my own Jewish cooking by making him the real thing.
So I readily agreed to my sister-in-law’s request, with one small stipulation.
Since my son Aidan is engaged to be married to Kaitlin, a vegetarian, I felt obliged to bring both the traditional cholesterol-laden stuff and a veggie version
I want Kaitlin to feel completely welcome in our family,
especially during the High Holy Days. The only problem is that I had never actually made
vegetarian chopped liver before. So I set out to find a recipe.
the recipes I encountered online included onions, which had to be fried till they were beginning to burn, giving the taste
we traditionally associate with liver and onions. Most of these recipes also included string beans, though. I thought that mushrooms, given their liver-like color and slightly rubbery consistency, made much more sense.
Most of the recipes I found also incorporated walnuts to add bulk and meatiness. Now, I really
have nothing against walnuts. I just like
But who am I to argue with
tradition? Or even a modern twist on age-old tradition?
So there I was in the nut aisle of a local supermarket, the Big Y, eyeing the walnuts. That’s when
I saw another woman slowly making her
way down the aisle toward me.
She looked to be in her 50s, and from the second I saw her I had a strong sense that she would know all the answers to all my questions. It wasn’t
the look of beatific certainty on her face. It wasn’t even the way her salmon-colored hat perfectly matched her salmon-colored sweater and salmon-colored floral skirt. I couldn’t
quite say what it was… until she reached me and I saw the pair of big braided challahs in her cart.
That gave me the confidence to strike up an impromptu conversation.
“Excuse me, but have you ever made vegetarian
chopped liver?” I ventured.
at me, clearly a little shocked. “Vegetarian chopped liver?” she
asked. “What do you mean? Of course
I’ve made vegetarian chopped liver. Why wouldn’t I make vegetarian chopped liver? I always make vegetarian chopped liver!”
“Really!” I continued. “Well, I have a question, and I knew you’d be the one to ask. Every recipe I’ve found includes string beans. I would rather use mushrooms.”
you should use mushrooms!” she replied. “I use mushrooms. I only use mushrooms.”
“Really! Thank you!” I said, as though she
had finally explained the secret of life.
Well, maybe it wasn’t the secret of life. But she did have another secret to divulge. “You know that you have to fry the onions until they’re almost burnt,” she stated.
“Yes, I know that you need to fry the onions until they’re almost burnt,” I concurred. “Of course you need
to fry the onions until they’re almost burnt.”
Seriously, did she think I was born yesterday? “The only thing I wonder about is the walnuts.”
“Walnuts?” she asked. “I don’t use walnuts.
Let me tell you what I use – almonds!”
said. “That’s so interesting. I too would rather use almonds than walnuts. Not that there’s anything wrong
She shook her head as though I had said I would just
as soon mix milk and meat, which is verboten by the laws of kashrut. What was I, meshuggenah?
“Almonds not only
taste better,” she asserted, “but they’re much better for you.”
Now, I couldn't swear that this is true. Walnuts are
said to help lower both your total cholesterol and LDL (i.e. bad cholesterol). They’re
also rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which supposedly help your brain function and may even lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease (and what could be better than that?).
But almonds? They
not only help lower your total cholesterol and LDL, but are also high in magnesium, which can help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. They’re also packed with vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps
ward off heart disease and cell damage. Almonds are so healthy that people don’t
just eat them, they drink them. You might even say almonds are to nuts as kale is to green leafy vegetables. And
what could be better than that?
The only problem was that when I got home later, I still had to wing it on the recipe. I just based all of my quantities on the recipes
I had found using string beans and walnuts.
Here’s what I did:
Vegetarian Chopped Liver
3 to 4 tablespoons
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 pint package fresh white mushrooms
(about 2 cups)
4 extra large eggs, hard-boiled
½ to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
A pinch of vegetarian chicken-flavored broth mix (optional)
½ to ¾ cup chopped almonds (or walnuts)
Fry the diced onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high
heat until beginning to brown and almost burnt (about 10 minutes). Add 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, stir in sliced mushrooms, and lower heat.
Sauté until mushrooms are browned and softened
(about 5 minutes). Add salt, pepper, and
optional vegetarian chicken-flavored broth mix. Then stir in chopped almonds and cook for 1 more minute to slightly soften.
Transfer this mixture to a food processor, add the hard-boiled
eggs sliced in half, and pulse until coarsely puréed. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Then refrigerate for several hours or preferably overnight.
After preparing this mixture, I began to wonder why I had gone to all this extra effort. As I said,
I wanted Kaitlin to feel included in our holiday celebration and not be left out
in any way. On the other hand, why go to the trouble of making chopped liver for a vegetarian? She’s a vegetarian mostly
for ethical reasons, but also because she doesn’t
like the taste of meat. Why, even many people who do enjoy meat don’t like the taste of liver. Why make vegetarian chopped liver for someone who’s never been a lover of liver?
That said, I must admit that
I was very pleased after making it with my ingredient choices. In terms of both color and consistency, I was convinced that this was very close to the real thing.
Until I proceeded to make the real thing, that is.
Chopped Chicken Liver (a.k.a. the Real Thing)
1 pound fresh chicken livers
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion diced
3 extra large eggs, hard-boiled
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon kosher
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cooking or cream sherry (optional)
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in frying pan over medium-high
heat. Sauté chicken livers for about 5 minutes until barely pink inside, stirring
lightly. Do not overcook or the liver will be
dry. Transfer to a large bowl. Add 2 more tablespoons oil to
the pan and fry onions until almost burnt (about 10 minutes). Deglaze
the pan with the sherry (this part is optional)
and add the onions to the liver, along with salt and pepper.
Transfer it all to a food processor, along with the hard-boiled
eggs and minced parsley, and pulse a few times until pureed to a fairly smooth consistency.
Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Note: Do not try to compare this to vegetarian chopped liver.
Unlike everyone else in my extended family, JP had no preconceived
notions about chopped liver -- chicken, vegetarian, or otherwise. But he is invariably so easy
to please and so gracious a guest that I could only hope that his visible enthusiasm
was sincere. Sure, he ate it with relish, but hadn't he done the same thing with that chopped duck liver?
Who knows? Maybe he was just being polite, and chopped liver is an acquired taste that takes
getting used to over a lifetime... provided you're not a vegetarian.
But everyone else ate it with such gusto that I soon had to refill the bowl, leading me to realize that in the future I should make
or buy more than a small container for my extended family of 10.
As for my veggie
version, my brother, who does not mince words
or stand on ceremony, was not exactly enthusiastic.
He said that you might think it was the real thing if you had already downed four glasses of wine (as we are directed to do on Passover). But he
could not imagine why I had gone to the trouble of making it, even for
Kaitlin, considering that, as I said, she is not exactly known to be a lover of liver.
Kaitlin, however, who has no prior experience with liver, chopped, traditional or otherwise, was surprisingly appreciative, and not just because she, too, is invariably gracious and easy to
“I love this!”
she declared after taking a tentative bite. Then she took another.
My husband, who is also gracious when it comes to food, although not known for his discriminating taste (I don’t think he could tell the
difference between the livers, let alone white wine, red wine, or motor oil if you blindfolded him) seemed to enjoy both
them so much that I soon moved the bowls to another table and decreed that he should no longer be allowed to sit anywhere near any chopped liver, traditional, veggie or
Personally, I thought that the veggie version
tasted a bit gritty (although not nearly as gritty as that chopped duck liver had been).
Maybe I’ll use walnuts next time, after all.
And now for those resolutions I promised you.
On the morning of Rosh
Hashanah, my husband and I attended some very inspiring services on Fire Island, where my brother and sister-in-law own a
second home, complete with the traditional rousing blowing of the shofar.
Then we participated in our usual tashlich. We symbolically cast away our sins and other unwanted attributes by throwing
crumbs of challah into
a body of water, in this case the Long Island Sound (where they were instantly devoured by two passing ducks who were happy
to assume my sins for me).
In that way, I vowed to relinquish everything from self-doubt,
sadness, uncertainty, and regret to negativity,
inertia, and fear of both failure and success, and
to replace them with optimism, determination, energy, enthusiasm, and a readiness to seize
There was also the usual resolve to clean up my act by doing more of some things (help others,
exercise regularly, read, lose weight) and less
of others (worry, argue, procrastinate, and criticize my husband, even when he eats too much chopped liver, traditional, vegetarian
I have one more resolution that
I'm determined to make, in the interests of casting off self-doubt, regret, inertia,
etc., and embracing energy, enthusiasm, and seizing the day. (This is the only life that we each will ever have. We ought to enjoy it and make it count.)
But as with birthday wishes, I feel like if I share it with anyone, even you, it might jinx its chances of coming true. So all I can do is promise to do this thing. Or try. Before it is 5777, or, certainly, another five years go by.
Whether you’re a lover of liver (real, vegetarian or otherwise), let’s all try to
do better and live for today.
you a sweet new year… and may all of your resolutions come true!
Thursday, September 3, 2015
Word From the Weiss
When I wrote last week about the incomparable thrill of getting to shop with my future daughter-in-law for her wedding gown – one of the truly coolest things I have
ever done – I didn’t want to mess up the tale by telling you about the little snafu at
the end. An extremely unnerving snafu, if you ask me. But since
I learned a valuable lesson in the process – one that might be useful to you as
well – I’m going to tell you now.
As I mentioned, this was almost the very first time I’d ever set foot inside a bridal salon, since when I got married, back in 1984, I chose to forego a traditional wedding dress in favor of something I thought I might wear again. (It was
an off-the-shoulder ivory dress from a rising young designer I knew named Steven Stolman, which may not have shown off how svelte I was back then, but looked plenty bridal after he
added a diaphanous chiffon overskirt. But no, needless to say, I never wore it again.)
So considering that I am merely the mother of the groom this time around, I was ecstatic to be asked to accompany Kaitlin and my daughter Allegra, who is one of her two maids of honor, on this all-important excursion. Never
mind that the big day was still nearly a year away. They were all ready to buy, and I knew that they meant business.
Allegra had invited me to join them for their first outing a couple of weeks before. She had phoned me early one morning to say that she had just come across
a coupon expiring that very day for David’s Bridal, the national chain with over 300 stores in 45 states. As delighted as I was to be asked, I was home in Connecticut and had just
driven back from NYC, where both girls were, barely 24 hours before. I just wasn’t quite prepared to drop everything and drive five hours round trip, even for such a thrill.
Allegra promised to postpone the shopping until we could all go together. So I was heartbroken when a
few hours later she began texting me photos of Kaitlin decked out in various lacy white confections. Why hadn’t I sucked it up and gotten off my tuchus? How could
I have been such an idiot as to pass
up such a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity?
To my relief, although Kaitlin looked sensational in almost every style she tried, she decided that she wasn’t quite ready to say yes to any dress. So when my husband and I recently spent a few days vacationing in NYC, I got the proverbial
After encountering the hefty prices at David’s Bridal, which range mostly from around $1,000 to $2,000, Allegra had begun searching for a place to shop that might offer something a little more affordable and a little less generic. All she had to do was Google “affordable wedding gowns in New York City.” This brought
her to The Bridal Garden.
This novel boutique, on the ninth floor of a building
on West 21st Street, sells sample and overstock wedding gowns donated by top designers, along with some gently worn ones of recent vintage from private
individuals, for up to 75 percent off. It also donates 100 percent of its profits to a charter
school in Brooklyn.
“If you are a bride on a budget, looking to help a
children¹s charity, or just searching for a gorgeous couture bridal gown, I definitely recommend
checking it out,” wrote one recent reviewer
on the store’s website.
“Great selection of dresses for a steal of a price all for a good cause,” said another.
There are other similar places. The Glamour Closet in Chelsea, which also
has outlets in Chicago, San Francisco, and West Hollywood in LA, sells designer samples at 25 to 75 percent off and donates
a portion of its proceeds to Parkinson’s disease research. But its inventory is limited mostly to standard sample sizes, which are customarily 8’s or 10’s (and keep in
mind that wedding gowns tend to run one size down).
Another, called The Sample Room NY, on West 17th Street, also offers a rapidly
rotating collection of designer samples
at a deep discount. But it only
stocks sizes 4 to 14, does not donate any of its
profits (to my knowledge), and does not offer alterations.
The Bridal Garden carries a wider range of sizes, provides alterations right on the premises, and as NYC’s only nonprofit wedding boutique donates all of its proceeds to fund
education for disadvantaged children. It was clearly the place for Kaitlin –
we arrived for our scheduled appointment, we knew we had come to the right place. The staff was attentive, warm, and welcoming, and the gown
selection was astonishing. There were so many choices that we almost didn’t know where to begin. After we each seized an armload of dresses, Kaitlin began to slip on one, then another,
each frillier, fancier, and more fabulous than the last.
OK, in the interests
of full disclosure, I must admit that even
at a deep discount these wedding gowns were
far from cheap. The Bridal Garden prides itself on stocking everything from Marchesa and Nicole Miller to Oscar de la Renta, Badgley Mischka, and the
world’s most iconic name in bridal wear, Vera Wang. One gown we became especially enamored of, from The Bridal Garden’s
own label, cost something north of $1,500. Others with more high-end
pedigrees may have run into the thousands.
To our delight, after narrowing her selection down to two,
both of which she loved, Kaitlin finally settled on a unique and very glamorous strapless design by – you guessed it
– Vera Wang.
“The Vera Wang gowns are the best,” acknowledged Vivienne, a Bridal Garden consultant
and resident seamstress. “I’m
partial to Vera Wang.”
her own expert seal of approval, Ashley, the assistant manager, supplied the pièce de résistance, a multi-layered veil with
a few gleaming jewels in the exact same shade of champagne tulle. This find was literally the crowning glory to the ensemble. But because its label read Toni Federici – who is evidently
to wedding veils what Vera Wang is to wedding gowns – it came at quite a price.
There was a slash through the original number marked on the tag, $750. Beside it was written
$440. I couldn’t imagine spending that much on a few yards of filmy fabric. But I also couldn’t imagine leaving
the store without it, or finding a more perfect match.
Kaitlin by now was
understandably eager to take the rather
heavy gown off, but I begged her to keep it on until I could summon Vivienne,
who was pinning another bride’s dress. I was desperately hoping that she might give us a break on that veil and figured that if she saw how exquisite it looked on Kaitlin and how perfectly it the dress she might have
a heart and acquiesce.
Finally, Vivienne was free to step over and survey the price tag. Although the veil had been marked down to $440, she explained, their price was only half that. Compared to the original $750, $220 sounded
like a pittance. I was so relieved that I was tempted to hug her.
“You’re kidding!” I exclaimed. “In that case, we’ll definitely take it! We’ll
take it all!”
It sounded like such a bargain, in fact, that we also took
a group of delicate jeweled hairpins from Nicole Miller, originally $65 apiece, but marked down to $20 each.
Allegra, Kaitlin and I posed ecstatically for the camera while Ashley wrote it up. Nearly 10 months before the Big Day,
our search for the perfect dress was already over. We couldn’t believe our good fortune.
Then it happened.
interrupted our giddy revelry to say that
my credit card had been declined.
She had put the veil and jeweled hair clips on a separate receipt, and that charge, which she had run first, had gone through without a hitch. But when she had processed the much larger charge for the gown moments
later, it had been rejected. Not just once,
I knew that my credit card bill was not overdue. Neither was I close to reaching my credit limit. It just didn’t make sense.
What it did do was deeply embarrass me in front of my future daughter-in-law, and everyone
else in this small salon, and put a sudden and
definitive damper on our euphoria.
I assured Ashley and the girls that there had to be a mistake and said I would call the credit card company to investigate. But by now it was after 8 p.m. and the man I reached was clearly very far away. (OK, he didn’t actually say he was in another country, and I didn’t bother to
ask, because they generally either refuse to tell you or claim that they are in Texas, which was not a foreign country, or
all that foreign, the last I heard.)
This fellow explained that the multiple large
charges had set off a fraud alert on my card. I assured him that there was no fraud involved. This was really truly me, a nice Jewish mom trying to buy a nice wedding
gown for her future daughter-in-law. What I did not tell him was that I was growing terrified that after all of the time we had spent
and our miraculously finding a dress -- a Vera Wang dress on deep discount that Kaitlin absolutely loved -- they would now
refuse to sell it to me.
The man with the heavy foreign accent was not impressed, let alone remotely
sympathetic. Never mind that I was able to supply both my husband’s Social Security number and my own and
all sorts of other personal details. He
insisted that my husband was the primary cardholder and
he could only remove the fraud alert by speaking directly to him.
Now what was I going to do? My husband was not with us because
The Bridal Garden only allows each bride to bring two guests and it does not allow men (not that we would have asked my husband
to come along even if it allowed innumerable guests, including men). Where my
husband was at that particular moment was on the subway, en route to meet us, because after abandoning him for the evening I had just invited him to join us for a celebratory dinner.
even if he had been easily reachable, I found the idea that I needed his approval
to use my own credit card to be offensive and absurd. To me, it smacked baldly of sexism.
As a longtime feminist, perhaps I am a bit hypersensitive
to anything that suggests male chauvinism. A year or so ago, I became incensed when I had an unfortunate encounter with our
lawn service company. A representative called one day to try to sell us an additional service. As I recall, it was grub control.
Before I could let him waste any more of his time or mine, I asked him what this additional service would cost, and upon hearing that it
was over $100, I told him that we weren’t interested. But he just wouldn’t give up. He proceeded to try to sell
it to me anyway.
“Can I just tell you why you need grub control?” he asked.
I replied, “you can’t."
don't understand," he continued, "I just want to explain..."
know that you want to explain," I said, cutting him off, "but I don't want you to explain because no matter what
you say I’m not going to buy it from you anyway.”
When he persisted nonetheless, I interrupted him again to say that I actually liked grubs and didn't want to control them. Then I told him that I had tried my best to be polite, but now I had no choice but to explain something myself:
that I was going hang up on him.
To which he responded, “When will your husband
Now, I don’t know about you, but to me this was so
offensive that I went ballistic. Then (after I did hang up on him, pronto) I called his prominent national lawn service back
and hired one that uses only natural products instead, which we should have been using all along anyway.
To me, this treatment by my credit card company, Capital One, now seemed suspiciously sexist
too. I have had one of their cards for many years. My husband and I each have a card with the same number on it and both use
it regularly to charge most of our expenses.
I happen to be the one who pays all of our household bills. How could he tell me that I couldn't use the card without my husband’s
I tried to explain how humiliating this was in front
of my daughter-in-law-to-be. It had certainly managed to sully the moment, which until
that moment had been one of the highpoints of my life.
And when he still wouldn’t relent, I had no recourse
but to have my daughter put the Vera Wang wedding gown on her own Capital One card, promising to reimburse her later. (She didn’t object, of course, since this meant that she would be the beneficiary of all the mileage.)
The mood brightened briefly when we did rendezvous with my husband for dinner at a nearby
restaurant, where we raised a toast to the happy couple and this memorable moment with champagne.
But then, to add insult to injury, as they say,
the bill came… and my champagne and shopping high evaporated instantly into thin air because that charge was also declined.
I probably should
have anticipated that and used another card. No matter. At that point, I was so exasperated that I phoned the credit card
company from the restaurant. But this time, by some miracle, I got an
actual U.S. customer service representative.
When I explained the situation,
he apologized profusely and lifted the fraud alert at
once without asking to speak to my husband, even though he was now right beside me. He also advised me that if this sort of thing ever happened again, I should make it clear when I reached customer service who-knows-where
that I needed to speak with someone in the U.S. of A.
Then, just to make amends, he insisted on giving me the mileage I would have accrued from buying the dress and still let Allegra
keep the mileage that had been put on her card too.
I would like to say that this put an end to the matter. But it still stuck in
my craw, as they say, that I had been embarrassed during
such a significant event. Also, when I relayed the story to a friend and fellow
MOTG (mother of the groom), she told me that I had been ridiculous to think that there had been any sort of sexism involved.
“You idiot!” she said (OK, she didn’t exactly say that, but she didn’t have to). Sexism
had nothing to do with it. My husband was obviously the primary cardholder on
the account, and the guy at Capital One in India, the Philippines, “Texas,” or wherever the heck he
was, had just been following standard credit
Had he? The other
night, I dared to call Capital One yet again to investigate. With luck, I reached a young man named Marquis, who was not only
in the state of Virginia but in a very empathetic state of mind. Upon hearing my tale of woe, he expressed his regrets and
insisted on giving me an extra 1,000 miles on my card to help compensate.
What a mensch!
As for the
issue of sexism, though, he corroborated that my friend had been right. My husband was the primary cardholder on the account,
and their man in Manila or Mumbai had
just been following standard operating procedures by insisting on speaking to him.
this, I told Marquis that I wanted to become an equal on the account to ensure that this never happened to me again.
Not possible, he said.
“There is no such thing as a joint credit card anymore,” he explained. If you
had obtained one from his company prior to 2009, he believed you might be grandfathered
in. But Capital One, like many other credit card companies, no longer allowed joint status.
Later, after we hung up, I would Google this and learn that Chase, American Express, TD Bank,
and HSBC also do not allow equal status on their credit cards, although it appears that Bank of America, Discover, Wells Fargo,
and U.S. Bank still do.
Perhaps this is a result of the high rate of divorce
or the high costs of litigation. One misconception many people harbor is that if you have a joint credit card, you're
only legally responsible for half the
bill. On the contrary, both parties are responsible in full for all charges, which can create a host of complications in
the event of a marital split.
My only recourse, Marquis said, was to provide his company
with a legal document showing Power of Attorney; only then could they make me a joint
owner of the card. Barring that, I could choose to change our account so that I was the primary cardholder instead.
Should I? Although as a nice Jewish mom I
am admittedly the primary shopper in my marriage (and maybe my entire town, judging from the steady parade of packages that arrive regularly via Fedex and UPS).
But Nice Jewish Dad does his share of purchasing too. Most recently, he has become addicted to Lululemon
Besides, Kaitlin may be all set with her wedding attire, but the groom still needs a new suit, and who knows if I will
be invited to come along on that shopping excursion?
Speaking of which, Marquis advised giving his company 24 to 48
hours advance notice before making any major credit
card purchases, just to avoid future misunderstandings.
He also in the end had a little snafu of his own – or so he said.
“I accidentally gave you 2,000 bonus miles,” he told me. “Have a good night.”
I may not have equal status on my credit card, but all’s well that ends well. And as far as lessons learned, I managed
to get a whole lot of mileage out of this one.