Monthly Archives: January 2015

Thou Shall Eat Deliciously: Ten Commandments for Foodies

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Like most humans out there in the greater universe, I love food. There is a world of flavors out there, and living in one of the culinary hotspots on the planet (sorry New York, but our produce in Los Angeles is better), I get to try a whole bunch of them. And not only that, I have access to all of them at diverse markets nearby so I can create my own variations in my kitchen at home. My love of food, both of eating it and cooking it, is pretty well known due to a previous food blog with my own recipes and currently running a foodie cluster for Jewish young professionals in Los Angeles.

However, with great foodie-ness comes great responsibility. As foodies, we have to uphold certain values when it comes to getting our grub on in the world. We all eat, but being a foodie means savoring and valuing it. This is the reason why we have designated ourselves as a part of the foodie race; because we understand that food is a part of life, but goes beyond that to become a part of our very existences and interactions.

Therefore, I decided to create the Ten Commandments for Foodies. If you want to be a true foodie, follow these simple rules and I guarantee you an awesome and delectable experience.

1) Thou shall be adventurous. Chocolate bars with masala or rattlesnake sausage may sound a little crazy, and there are certainly some weird foods out there. But being a foodie means trying something that may have some people scratching their heads and wondering why you did that. Don’t let their wrinkled noses and fake barfing sounds deter you. Go ahead and try that yak at the Himalayan restaurant down the street or taste the ice cream with the bits of caramelized turkey skin in them. Ignore the haters. There’s a reason why you’re the foodie and not them.

2) Thou shall not be a snob. Random fact: Most human beings on the earth have to eat food in order to survive. You’re not the only one who eats. Yes, you may enjoy food, but it doesn’t make you special that you can pick and choose exotic flavors to enjoy or that you plunked down a large amount of cash for a meal. Don’t act like you rule the world simply because you know the difference between crème brulee and crème fraiche. Being a foodie doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Also remember that not everyone in the world has the luxury to have food. Let that guilt sink in while you’re ordering your microgreens.

3) Thou shall respect your food service professionals. It takes many hands to bring your delicious food to you: Chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs, line cooks, waiters, waitresses, and even delivery people. Beyond that, there are bus boys, cashiers, dishwashers and even janitors and decorators who bring about the ambiance of wherever you are. They work hard to give you the best food experience possible, whether it’s delivered to your door, served at your local cafe or a brought out at a nice restaurant. They are not your slaves. Respect your food service professionals and they will respect you. (For more information on this, see my friends at Glove and Boots on restaurant etiquette.)

4) Thou art allowed to have personal preferences, as are thy fellow foodies. There are certain foods we either like or dislike, no matter in what context they are delivered. For example, I hate the taste and smell of bananas. The smell makes me nauseous, and if there’s a banana in a smoothie, it doesn’t matter how many other flavors are in there; I will find it. If someone tries to force you to eat or do something that you don’t want to, it’s your right to walk away. The same goes in relating to your fellow foodies and their food preferences. All your foodie experiences should be fun, not a game in edible superiority.

5) Thou shall not give into peer pressure to like or dislike something. There was a restaurant I went to in Westwood that famous LA food critic Jonathan Gold is gaga for. It’s one of his favorites. But I tried it and it was a big giant, “Meh,” for me. And guess what? That’s completely fine! There are certain places that I absolutely love that I’m sure Jonathan Gold would never step foot into. I’m allowed to not like something, and I won’t dislike something simply because it’s not “cool” in the foodie universe. Every foodie has a unique palate, and that’s what makes each individual foodie special. That being said…

6) Thou shalt not judge thy fellow foodie. My fellow delightful foodies roaming the world all enjoy certain things that I might not. Personally, I’m not as crazy about Mexican food as the general Los Angeles population is. (I know, gasp!) Some of my friends absolutely can’t stand Middle Eastern food and it’s one of my favorite types of cuisine. But it doesn’t matter, because each foodie is one of a kind and doesn’t necessarily share the same interests across the board. But if you judge your fellow foodie, you’re closing the door on sharing other food-related experiences with them, and food is all about bringing people together, not driving them apart.

7) Thou art allowed to maintain health/religious/personal beliefs with food. There are many food limitations out there. People with diabetes have to monitor their sugar and carbohydrates. Those with Celiac disease can’t have gluten. There are vegans, vegetarians, kosher, halal, allergies… the list goes on and on. These issues, whether for a person’s health, religion or belief system, should not make these people less a part of the foodie world. On the contrary, like with foods you like or dislike, you should be enjoying what you’re eating. It’s pretty hard to do that when your religious beliefs are compromised or you’re having an allergic reaction.

8) If it’s good, thou shall share it. Did you find an excellent hole-in-the-wall barbecue place? How about a great new food truck? If so, it is your duty as a foodie to share this information. A lot of independent restaurants, cafes and trucks don’t have a ton of money for great publicity teams that can deliver the message about how amazing their food is. They depend on word-of-mouth, particularly the mouths of fine foodies, whether through conversation or social media. This rule, however, also applies when you’re at a restaurant with your friends. If there is something that’s very delicious that you’re eating, don’t hog it all. Share a taste with your friends. Spread the good word that is food.

9) Thou are allowed personal food pleasures. Sure, I’m a foodie, but guess what? I really like deli food. Take that back. I love deli food. Is it super-gourmet? Nope. Is it tasty? Magnificently so. Will I apologize for it? Not a chance in hell. I have been eating deli food my whole life, probably since I could chew. It’s the food that brings back the memories of my grandparents taking us to eat corned beef sandwiches. We are allowed to have these things in our eating lives that bring back blissful memories. They may not be cool, but they are what make food truly special. And if you want to argue with me, watch this scene from Ratatouille and try not to smile.

10) Thou shall play with your food. If you’re not enjoying what you’re eating, then what’s the point of being a foodie? Whether cooking your own dishes, trying out a new restaurant or returning to your favorite place for the hundredth time, enjoy whatever tastes you choose. Life’s too short to be eating badly, so go for the best stuff that you can and appreciate every mouthful. If you take your food too seriously, you lose the joy and the pleasures that come with a full belly and a satisfied tongue. So don’t be afraid, let’s go play! So bon appétit, betayavon, and rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub, yay G-d!

Do you have any more to add to the list?

The Auschwitz Next Door

When I perform my standup routines, one of the staples of my comedy is my joke set that talks about how ludicrous anti-Semitism is. For me, it’s important to do with the growing Jewish hatred in the world, and I feel like I crafted some good pieces.

After one of my early shows, the comedian that came after me, seeing the popularity of these jokes, decided to capitalize on it with an old joke of his.

“So Macklemore supposedly dressed as a Jew for a concert,” he said. “But I don’t think he did. His shoes weren’t stained with the blood of Palestinian children.”

The entire audience hissed in horror. He had crossed the line. It was one of the few times I can recall in my comedy life that I was through and through offended (and I have heard some awful things). But as he pulled back and continued with a bunch of vulgar sex jokes, I had to sit back and wonder about the hatred towards my people. I was trying to dismantle anti-Semitism with jokes, but it’s like trying to take a brick out of the Great Wall of China and hoping that it will topple.

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. More than 70 years prior, anti-Semitism reached its modern peak, where there was a plan throughout Europe to exterminate my people. The rest of the world turned away, not allowing the Jews there to escape and to flee the destruction at the hands of the Nazis.

This happened in my grandparents’ generation. It’s not as far away as we think it is; it feels sometimes as if it lives next door to me. There are people still alive who were in the camps. And with the atrocities documented for the entire world to see, you’d think that we’d be over this anti-Semitism monster by now. But centuries of blood libel, (which, ironically and probably unknowingly, that comedian was using as a supposed punchline for a joke) is a hard habit to break. And in moments like those, I can’t help but to think, in the face of the world today, about how close Auschwitz is.

Anti-Semitism has gone from the concept of killing Jesus to blood libel, then eventually into the modern world, where religion wasn’t as much of a factor and it became a form of racism during the Holocaust. As money became the faith of choice for many, it was easy to blame Jews due to centuries in money lending. Some Christians in the Victorian era considered money “dirty,” but this stigma didn’t matter to Jews. The same went for theater, cinema and journalism, as these were considered to be low-grade professions. When media became a currency in the modern world, Jews were blamed there too. And after centuries of hate, it was easy.

When General Dwight D. Eisenhower found the camps back in 1945, he ordered his troops to get everything they saw on film. He said that if he didn’t, people would deny that this ever happened in the modern era. And even though there is plenty of evidence, people still pretend like it never existed. Luckily, this is not as popular of a concept in the Western world as it is in other parts.

In college, someone tried to argue with me that Jews aren’t a minority. Yet we are less than one percent of the human population. The only thing is that we fortunate that we can blend in. Our attempts to join the modern world aren’t blatant, but they’re there. Many of us in the United States aren’t that religious. Girls try to hide the Jewishness of their looks through nose jobs and hair straighteners. The guys get inked, date non-Jewish girls and obsess over bacon. They’re not blatant, but they’re there.

This actually isn’t dissimilar from what happened before the Nazis took over in Germany, where many Jews over centuries blended into secular life. And it wasn’t like the next day it was time to kill Jews. It happened slowly and became indoctrinated until it was a normal part of life for those living under the Third Reich.

The most amazing thing that I have ever seen about hate is how it transforms just to keep living on and feeding off of ignorance. Even with racism against blacks and Latinos, it has transformed from skin color into “welfare culture” and “immigration reform.” It’s much easier to go after these things and still be liked than to use ethnic slurs, but it is a slippery slope.

Today, anti-Semitism has a new face that is considered to be more acceptable by the mainstream world. It’s one that the comedian that night was trying to use to his advantage: It’s the fact that, for the first time in modern history, Jews now have a country to call our own. And it’s easy to say you have Jewish friends, but then yell about “those Jews over there.” Even Martin Luther King, Jr. could see it.

When I had to hear at a bar, “I know you’re a Jew, but what kind of Jew are you?” it’s easy to see it anti-Semitism play out as a concept even when it’s not supposed to. Hate becomes insidious; out-and-out racism is not accepted anymore, but political disagreement certainly is, and is used as an excuse for bad behavior across the board.

The other day, I ran into a French woman that I see regularly when I walk through Abbott Kinney. She’s Jewish, and when she mentioned Charlie Hebdo, her small body began to shake. Her family is still in Paris and shops regularly at the kosher market where four people (Jews, which the media was so hesitant to report) were killed by the terrorists.

“I’m going,” she said. “I’m leaving the United States.”

“Where are you going?” I asked her.

“Eretz Yisrael. My family’s going too. Moving to Tel Aviv with my son. It’s not safe in France anymore. And I don’t know if America’s next.”

I felt her fear in recent months, with attacks even in Los Angeles against Jews. No matter how hard we hide, the stories keep coming up. Argentina, Eastern Europe, New York. And there are certain countries in the Middle East that Jews aren’t even allowed to step in.

And yet… there is hope. Unlike in the days of Auschwitz, there is a place to go if the world turns on us. I will not espouse that Israel is a perfect country. On the contrary, I went there and can tell you there are enough civil issues in the country to make you forget about “The Other Problem.” (That’s the nicest way I can say it without getting crazy, and for the record, I do believe in a two-state solution.) But in times of desperation and hate, it exists. Beyond any shadow of reason, it lives. When the Nazis came for my people, it didn’t, and as a result six million of us, along with five million others ranging from gays and lesbians to political prisoners, were slaughtered.

When the call of hatred is knocking on your door, so easy to succumb to, what do you choose to fight with? Anger is the easiest weapon, but it can destroy more than it can save. I choose humor, words, songs, food, but above everything, I choose love to destroy the ignorance that permeates this world, no matter how futile it seems, and to prevent Auschwitz from ever returning for my people.

Choose your weapon. But make sure you can live with the consequences.

The Days of Ithaca

There are times where my mind seems to have no choice but to drift back to Ithaca. When the days are hard and the weight of life seems too difficult to bear, our thoughts travel to the places where things were easier to face. And my mind goes back to that upstate New York town again and again.

I think of beautiful fields with tall grasses and wildflowers of different colors. Back then I imagined being a part of magazine spreads of white clothes on perfect young lovers, littered with dreams of being kissed by someone who loved me on a picnic blanket, looking up at a bright blue sky from the earth below. The colors seemed richer there: The bricks an earthier red, wood a deep chocolate brown, the green grasses painting the land emerald green in the humid summer sun. Or maybe my memory wants to think all those things were true, just to comfort me.

There were those old buildings and homes that were there for hundreds of years as the university shone on top of the hill. I never visited it, nor its gorges, but know well enough never to say, “Ithaca is gorges,” to anyone who ever lived in the town, no matter how much they did or didn’t enjoy their time there.

I think of my black sundress and fake daisy-topped shoes and a black trash bag filled with pillows and linens that I slept on the night before, covering a black leather couch. There was a giant green suitcase on loan and a gold band around my left ring finger. All these things rolled confidently into the Ithaca bus station as the Honda Accord sped away.

I didn’t look back. I should have looked back.

A little less than 24 hours of my 32 years of existence was spent in Ithaca, but it became a part of me. It merged into my soul and its death grip hasn’t let me go. It’s like a vortex in my brain, pulling me into the depths but yet at the same time providing a life raft when the world isn’t as kind as it used to be.

The years have passed and the details have grown into images while sleeping, occasional flashbacks in daydreams and words shining back at me on a computer screen. Very little has remained the same from that time. The gold band is gone, as is the suitcase. I shrunk out of that black sundress. And that Honda Accord has driven far out of my sight, and I have no hope in it coming back to me.

When I walk alone through Culver City, I’ll sometimes stare at the earth red brick on some of the buildings downtown and my body somehow shifts me back. I crawl into the memory, warm like a womb that cradles me to remind me that this glorious point in my life existed. In the green hills and the humid air as new students navigated the streets, there was innocence left inside of me, with the taint of the world barely touching my skin. And the day after I left, crying in a polka-dot dress in a random, gray field in Albany, I knew how much I already missed Ithaca and how life wouldn’t be the same.

Since that time, I have made many decisions about my life. Some were the best decisions that I had ever made. A few were the worst, and somehow no matter how strong the best decisions were, the bad ones remain more vivid. But no matter what happened, I kept sailing through the ocean of my life, not unlike Odysseus in search of his own Ithaca.

There are days where I feel so much closer to Ithaca, like sunny days with the Rolling Stones blasting through the sound system of my car. Those come alongside the moments where I have cried over a too-hungry stomach, felt the anxiety of the real world trying to put me in a chokehold, and hugged my mother tightly and felt against me what she referred to as the “grotesque shape her body” that her illness has created. It’s those places where Ithaca feels so far away that there is no mental pathway to take me back.

I travelled since my journey to Ithaca and found beautiful places along the way. There was the lush beauty of the Napa Valley, the eccentric and the eclectic meeting up in New York City and standing on the sands of the Mediterranean, the sea of my ancestors. Even as I drive along in my car, each street feels like another current to travel on an endless journey. Yet even when my heart’s dearest desire came true and my feet once again roamed the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, I felt that missing piece roaming around inside of me. And like the ancient captain Odysseus, my heart was calling for Ithaca over and over again.

But unlike Odysseus, Ithaca was not my home. It wasn’t even close to it. I was born here in Los Angeles, where my family is from. My return almost three years ago came in my time of crisis, with the realization that I needed to come back to my birthplace. I adapted, creating a new family for myself and trying to kick start a new life among the palm trees. But in the depths of my mind there are fields filled with wildflowers and dreams of making love on a blanket in the midst of them. No matter how good the days are sometimes, the feelings of being lost on an open sea were accumulating in the back of my mind.

Several years back, there was an article talking about how archeologists were trying to find Odysseus’ beloved Ithaca, and how some of them think that they were close to finding the golden shores that the hero craved throughout Homer’s epic. They talked about looking for the place where his one true love, Penelope, waited for him. Where he called out for 20 years on the rough ocean. The place that he called home.

Home.

When Odysseus returned to Penelope, she didn’t believe it was him after 20 years, no matter how many times he said it, and asked him to prove it with something only he would know. And he did by talking to her alone in the room with their marital bed, showing her where one of its posts was built from a living olive tree and the tree still stood. He showed where his roots were as a human being, in the place he had invested his very soul.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter if Ithaca is or was a place. It’s not why it’s in the text of Homer’s epic. Ithaca is simply home. It’s not necessarily a location, but the feeling of putting your heart somewhere and knowing that it would be safe until you returned for it.

And maybe that’s what I attach to Ithaca. There was the risk I took to get there and the freedom it allowed me to just be a part of the universe as opposed to fighting it. It was where I was exposed to the first time to real truth, to the path that leads towards intimate conversations driving in the dead of night and honest declarations and soft smiles as my eyes opened in the morning. It was where I was all bravery and true beauty, not just a band on my finger that was unknowingly weighing on me like a chain.

I was my best self in that small minute of my life, and in a world where you forget how to do it anymore, it’s when the mind returns to the place where it remembered that. It takes away the trauma, the darkness and the horrible decisions that cost you more than you care to write down, replacing it with sun and wildflowers. And sometimes that’s the energy you need to keep moving forward in the darkest of times.

The days of Ithaca are gone now, but the sweet and lovely memories that help comfort won’t go away, which deep down is beautiful. I’m not sure if I could ever bring them back exactly how it was then. But there has to be another form of Ithaca out there, a place to rest my heart and take back like Odysseus did. And I will keep sailing on, no matter how long it takes to get there.

New Year, New Body

As 2015 has arrived, now comes the time where we make the difficult promises of New Year’s resolutions (whether or not we keep them). In America, of course the number one New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. Gym memberships go up, people start cleanses (or at least buy more fruits and vegetables) and everyone gears up to try to be a healthier version of themselves for the year to come. But it’s not my resolution.

On New Year’s Eve, I decided to go down to visit my best friend and to cruise around the mall we used to frequent as college students. We jumped into a Macy’s and I began to peek around the sales racks of the plus-size section. I pulled a golden party dress in a 2X and showed it to her.

“That’s too big for you,” she said, helping me put the dress back. “You’re a large or extra large now.”

As we continued fumbling through the rack, I felt strange as I saw the plus sizes — 1X, 2X and 3X. They were all the sizes that at one point or another I used to be, but am not anymore. My best friend saw me and shopped with me in all these sizes, and she never was dishonest with me about my size. But now I was smaller, and it scared me more than being heavy.

Since I was 18, I knew where I stood when it came to my body. Even though I was a “big girl” and discriminated against as such, I never let it get to me no matter how much it hurt. But I knew where to shop for my size to get all the necessities for cheap — jeans, t-shirts, bras and whatnot.

I remember living near South Coast Plaza and cruising through clearance racks at Macy’s to get dresses in my size. I wasn’t afraid of my shape: I adored wearing low-cut tops that displayed my cleavage and fitted clothes that showed me off. But I was more than a body; I was a spirit and personality that couldn’t be reckoned with or shaken. After all, I may not look great in pictures, but my words at least were beautiful.

After I got divorced, everything changed. There’s a common phenomenon of going through a breakup and losing weight almost immediately afterwards. I made the joke that after losing 170 pounds of husband, the rest just slid right off. But it wasn’t only the divorce that changed, but also my lifestyle while living single.

For seven years I was kosher and barely eating meat; now I was eating it several times a week and getting much more protein, and began incorporating more vegetables and whole grains. I stopped going out to eat except to local places. I ate less and, after moving to Los Angeles, I started walking more. I carried a water bottle with me wherever I went. And although the stress of trying to survive wasn’t great, it did cause me to lose weight too.

The result was in three years I went from a size 22/24 to around a size 16/18, depending on the clothing items. I haven’t been this size since high school. Although still not super-skinny (and given my bone structure, I probably never will be), it was a shock for someone who has been a “big girl” so much of her life. I would touch my face and feel my strong jaw line without a lot of puffiness, look at my wrist and see it skinnier or put my hand on my hip and be surprised that it was closer in than it used to be. Although I still have some problem areas (flabby upper arms, bigger back and double chin that hasn’t gone away) and am still bigger than most, in general I look good.

Yet at the same time, when I walk in front of my bathroom mirror after I shower I don’t recognize myself sometimes. I’ll get looks from guys and realize they’re actually checking me out, which can be flattering but often is annoying when I just want to go through my day. When I go clothes shopping, I tend to grab clothes in the larger sizes I used to be and wonder why they don’t fit anymore. Then I’ll grab them in smaller sizes and wonder why those don’t fit either. The task of trying to figure out what size I am in different clothing lines now is so daunting that I tend to leave stores empty handed. This is usually the reaction of women who have gained weight; it’s mine to losing it.

People compliment me on my weight loss, but the praise seems empty as this new body confuses me. Over three years, my looks have changed dramatically. Gone for the most part are my thick-framed glasses and funky plus-sized frocks. Now I’m the girl from the movie She’s All That, walking down the stairs after removing her glasses and putting on a stunning red dress… and then clumsily falling down said stairs, because as my body has begun to conform to what society has told it that it should be, I have lost a portion of myself and can’t seem to find it again. Weight loss is supposed to make you happy, and it hasn’t for me; it’s just left confusion.

As my best friend and I walked through the racks of clothes at Macy’s, I confided in her the truth: I don’t know if I like my body right now. Everyone else may be happier about it, but I felt strangely inadequate in it. Although I’m still a larger size, particularly for Los Angeles, I wasn’t really the “big girl” anymore and that’s all I’ve known my entire adult life.

It was left for me to figure out where this body stood in context with the world at large. It’s a scary body to be in that I know next to nothing about, let alone what size it is. I knew how to feed, water and take care of it, but I don’t know how to clothe it or present it to the world. Hell, I don’t even know where to find enough money to get new clothes for it.

“Maybe you should take some time to get to know your body,” my best friend said.

And she was right. Most of my existence as a “big girl” was to prove that I was more than my body and the stereotypes society put on it. Now it’s time to see my body as a complement to my life. It is as much a part of me as my mind and my soul. It isn’t the only reason for my existence, but it’s not be underestimated either.

So my New Year’s resolution is the one that I hope that you will all take, whether or not you want to lose weight: Love the skin you’re in. We are given a body for a reason, and we should embrace it in balance it alongside our minds and spirits. It’s not the only reason for why we’re here, but it’s a part of it. What we do with limbs that move, hands that hold, eyes and mouth that speaks that see is just as important as the ideas that come out of that mouth. I just hope I’m up to the challenge.