Both ends of the candle

26 August 2007

I mentioned a couple posts ago that I’m sitting for some more exams related to my field. I’m taking the first in a week and a half. So I’ve been getting up super-early and going into work to study for an hour and a half or so before I offiicially start “working,” then studying at home in the evenings, and so on. I’ve tried to go to bed early, but I end up lying awake for hours, not falling asleep until 12 or 1 a.m. Shocker: as of Friday night, I think I’m getting a cold. Sigh.

I had to switch my JDate from last Sunday night to Monday night instead, because of a meeting at shul I’d forgotten. The date ended up going pretty well; he’s a nice guy and I do plan to go out with him again. Let’s call him Tutor Boy, since he’s a tutor.

Then there’s a JDate guy with whom I’ve been exchanging great e-mails. He loves to cook and likes to bake, whereas I like to cook and love to bake, so he has already suggested that when we get around to meeting in person, he’ll make me dinner, and I’ll make dessert. He’ll be Event Guy for now, since I think he’s an event planner.

There’s another JDate guy I’ve been e-mailing, and we are meeting for a drink on Tuesday night. He’s my last date before my exam, I think. I don’t know what he does for a living, but he has the same first name as my brother-in-law. We’ll call him G1.

Why G1, you ask? Because a friend of mine e-mailed me that he’d like to set me up with someone…who also shares my brother-in-law’s first name. So he’ll be G2.

And then there’s the Russky — a very sweet Russian guy whom I met at my last job. We had one date, ages and ages ago; he’s lovely, but I didn’t feel any chemistry at all. We had dinner a couple times after that – not dates, just friendly get-togethers. He used to work at my current company, so when I left Old Job to start New Job, he took me out to tell me about the folks in my department. Anyway, we hadn’t been in touch for at least a year, I’d say, but he called out of the blue and would like to have dinner with me. He said he’d call before my exam to wish me luck and make actual plans.

So. Lots of potential in the air. And it only takes one, as they say. (Or two, in my case…)

And now, for your amusement (and mine), here’s a smattering of JDate e-mails I’ve received lately:

ah we were a match made in heaven
I am a high school physical education teacher

Subject: hot
Message: little miss jen garner look alike

Are you open to something different? I am not a Jew, but I do find many similarities between the Jewish and Chinese cultures to make me sign up on JDate.

My girlfriends put me on J date because they were tired of the Non Jewish women getting the good-looking Jewish guys. They said most of the guys on J date were either not honest or dorky! I have heard some pretty funny stories.
[Note: this is from a guy who didn’t post a photo with his profile…]


But not for me

17 August 2007

There’s a married couple at my shul, around my parents’ age, whose names I never know/remember, but they’re lovely people all the same. The wife came up to me after services tonight and said, “You run the singles programming for people in their 20s and 30s, right?” “Well, it’s not ‘singles’ programming, but yes.”

“OK,” she continued, “do we have any programming for singles in their 40s or 50s?” “No, we have other programming for people in that age range, but none specifically targeted to singles.”

She sighed. “That’s what I thought. We need to create some, after those letters to the editor.” “Well,” I said, my mouth forming a 50/50 smile/grimace, “If, G-d forbid, I’m still single at 40, I’ll create that programming.” She gave me a funny look. “I thought you were engaged, married…?”

Good heavens, am I really having this conversation again? “Oh, well, I was engaged, but that ended about 10 months ago.”

Oh. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.” “It’s OK.” “How old are you?” “29.” “OK, hmm, I know somebody about your age who’s single…oh, wait, it’s a woman.” Now my face is about 30/70 smile/grimace. “Right.”

“Well,” she said, “there are men out there. We just have to find them for you.” 55/45 smile/grimace. “Thank you, I appreciate the sentiment.”

* * *

Then I went to a potluck Shabbat dinner. There were several guys there whom I didn’t know. One of them came up to me. “Are you —?” “Yes,” I answered, “do I know you?” He smiled. “We met a couple years ago at Temple —, when you were the High Holiday cantor.” “Oh, right! Wow, I’m impressed that you remembered me and recognized me.” “Of course,” he said, with an even bigger smile. He beckoned someone over. “And this is my girlfriend, T.” OK, that’s fine. People are allowed to have girlfriends.

* * *

A friend of mine was talking to a guy I didn’t know, and she waved me over. “Have you met Q?” (Not really “Q,” of course, but it was an unusual name.) “No, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone called ‘Q,'” I said with a smile. He gave me a funny look. “Yes, you have. We met at shul. You talked to me and my girlfriend.” As I’m stammering out, “Oh, sorry, wow, I really am bad at faces and names,” my friend is saying to him, “Girlfriend? Don’t you mean, fiancee?” He blushed. “Well, she wasn’t then, but…yeah.” “Oh, wow, congratulations.” OK, that’s fine. People are allowed to have fiancees.

* * *

I’m chatting with another friend of mine, one who can’t make it to my dinner next Friday. I mention that the goal is to have a table full of people who aren’t in relationships, and also mention that so far, Harvard Boy is my only confirmed guest. She gives me a funny, oddly sympathetic look. “So, I guess you didn’t know that his girlfriend is moving here in a couple of weeks.” “Oh. Yeah, no, I didn’t know that.” (So I was, in fact, correct when I got the sense that he was only looking to make friends…Maybe next time, those who doubted will realize that I’m not completely inept at reading other people’s signals.)

* * *

But hey, at least my store-bought-cookie-dough chocolate chip cookies were a big hit. And in other news, my dinner is a failure before it even begins. I suppose I should definitely take my coworker’s advice and have more men than women…


15 August 2007

Karaoke was awesome. My friend Fun J organized it, and I invited Math Boy (remember him?) to join the fun. J., Math Boy, and a couple other friends of mine (and J.’s), including I. (who will come back into the story next paragraph) hung out — along with a LOT of other friends of J.’s, people I don’t know — and had a great time. I rocked, if I do say so myself. (And I do. Math Boy said it, too. And on a side note, I think he and G. in DC are the only two guys I’ve dated with whom I’ve stayed friends. Well, and rebound-J from college, who’s now married to my former (post-college) roommate A.) Anyway. It was a ton of fun. Yay for having a microphone.

Monday night was dinner with I. She’s someone I should have been friends with in college, since we ran in overlapping circles, but we didn’t really meet and get to know each other until a few years ago in LA. She’s pretty cool, and I enjoy spending time with her. Over dinner, she more-or-less said, “You should host a Shabbat dinner again soon. And you should invite me.” I laughed and agreed that she was right; both of those things ought to happen. So next week I will host dinner here. I am hoping for a table full of people who are not in relationships. So far I have 1 yes (Harvard Boy), 1 presumable yes (I.), two maybes, 2 nos, and one no-response-yet. I would like to have 6 or 8 total, though a coworker of mine suggested I should have an odd number, with the “extra” being a guy. That way, she says, the men will get competitive and fall all over themselves attempting to impress the womenfolk. Interesting thought.

I’d been e-mailing with a JDate guy who sounded promising; we’d e-mailed two or three times each when he disappeared. About a week and a half later (last Thursday or so) I sent him a follow-up e-mail: “Just figured I’d say hi once more, because you sound like someone worth meeting. Figured it was worth a shot before you get relegated to the ‘guys who disappeared’ folder…” And it worked! He apologized, explaining he’d been on vacation with his family in celebration of his 30th birthday, etc., whatever. And he sent me his phone number and asked for mine, which I gave him (after making him wait a few days – I’m not a complete pushover), and he just called this evening. We are meeting for coffee/tea Sunday evening. And he specifically said “after dinner,” so I don’t have to worry about going through that awkwardness again.

Work continues to rock. Moving to this company nearly 2 years (!) ago increased my quality of life by decreasing my commute and my hours. But switching to this new position has increased my quality of life even more qualitatively (oh, the redundancy) by making me a much happier person. Today I had lunch with the summer interns (along with a couple other fully-credentialed folk, one from my old department and one from a different area entirely), and one of the interns asked what was the most fun part of my new role. I started to smile and said, “Really, everything is so much fun.” I talked about how it was a much better fit and how I enjoyed doing this, that, and the next thing, and the girl who’d asked said, “Wow, I can see that you really are having fun. You just light up when you talk about it!”

This Friday night, the cool minyan (PE for short) is having a potluck dinner. I am making dessert…but I’m wimping out (shhhh, don’t tell) and making chocolate chip cookies from store-bought dough. In my defense, I’ve got rather a lot on my metaphorical plate at the moment:

1) reviewing High Holiday services (I’m leading about half the services at my synagogue), and learning 6 lines of Torah (with special High Holiday trope) for Yom Kippur. (RH is 13-14 Sept; YK is 22 Sept.)

2) studying (voluntarily!) for the first of a series of exams — before y’all try to throw me into one of those nice rooms with the soft walls, be aware that these exams are far, FAR easier than the ones I took for my profession. These are insurance-related exams, but the first one recommends about 30 hours of studying, at most, which is perhaps a tenth of the time I spent studying for those other tests. (Test is scheduled for 6 Sept; if I fail I have to wait two business days, then I can re-register for $150 and take it again. It will be humbling but not utterly defeating.)

3) writing a question for one of those other tests. I’ve made a decent start, but I don’t know if what I’ve written is too easy or not. (First draft is due 31 August.)

So it’ll be a busy month or so. But after that, things should be somewhat calmer…

Oh, and the brownie cheesecake recipe I promised (as noted, it’s my Mom’s recipe; my comments are at the end) —

Brownie cheesecake — 6-8 servings

* 8 ounces (1 Pkg) brownie mix + water, oil, & eggs as per package

* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1 large egg (I use egg beaters)
* 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
* 1/4 cup maple syrup

Grease pan and dust with flour. Prepare brownie mix as directed on package; spread 1/2 of batter evenly into 8×8 pan. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes. (use reminder for brownies in another pan)

Combine cream cheese, sugar, egg, and maple syrup; mix at medium speed with electric handheld mixer until well blended.

Pour the mixture over brownie layer in the pan. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes. Chill. 

If you use pareve brownie mix and pareve cream cheese it’s pareve. Or use real cream cheese and it’s dairy.

I guess you could use a 9 x 13 pan and all the brownie mix and double the cheesecake part for a larger group.

my notes: I use a 9-inch round springform pan, and use the whole brownie package for the crust. I bake it for 20-25 minutes. I do not double the cream cheese recipe. I’ve made it twice; once I used half fat-free cream cheese and half whipped cream cheese; the second time I used 12 oz fat-free and 4 oz whipped. It has been a huge hit both times I’ve made it.

Cookin’ with gas

12 August 2007

Picnic last Saturday:

Broccoli Soup (recipe courtesy of my mother)
1 lb broccoli, chopped
3 Tablespoons margarine
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 carrot, sliced, a few sprigs parsley, 1 stalk celery, or whatever I may have around
2 1/2 cups pareve chicken stock
2 1/2 cups milk
Handful chives

Boil broccoli until tender in chicken stock with seasonings, veges.
Food process/blend
Add milk.
Sprinkle chives on each serving.

Spinach and Articoke Casserole

24 oz   artichoke hearts, drained
30 oz   cooked spinach, drained and squeezed dry.  (3 pkgs thawed frozen spinach)
12 oz    cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp  margerine, softened
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

(1)  Preheat oven to 350. Spread artichoke hearts in the bottom of greased casserole dish, in roughly one layer.
(2)  Top with spinach.
(3)  Cream  together  the cream  cheese, butter and cheese, and spread evenly on top.
(4)  Bake covered for 35 minutes, then uncovered for 10 minutes.

Next time I make this, I will make several changes: reduce cream cheese to 12 ounces, reduce margerine to 2 Tbsp, and mix the ingredients all together, instead of layering. I like the individual flavors, but would have preferred them blended. I don’t remember where I acquired this recipe, so I can’t attribute it.

Roasted Tomato and Feta Salad
inspired by this recipe

2 pints pearl tomatoes (couldn’t find cherry tomatoes that looked good)
16-18 fresh basil leaves
crumbled semi-soft white goat cheese (or feta cheese)
handful of pine nuts
salt and pepper

1. Arrange tomatoes in a single layer in a greased/sprayed baking dish (cut in half if cherry tomatoes) and roast 1 hour at 250 degrees. Cool for 30 minutes, then put in bowl.
2. Cut basil into thin strips and add to tomatoes.
3. Add cheese and gently toss.
4. Add pine nuts and gently toss.
4. Season with salt and pepper.

Last-Minute Fruit Pie
1 store-bought 9-inch crust
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1 pint blueberries
1 can boysenberries (or, 1 pint blackberries)
1/3 c flour
1/4 c sugar (or less, I may have only used 1/8 c)

Preheat oven to 375.
Toss berries with flour and sugar. Pour into pie crust. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.
Bake 35-40 minutes. Cool.
Could top with whipped cream, if you remembered to take whipped cream to picnic.

And for this Shabbat, I made two desserts: a chocolate-raspberry pavlova, and my Mom’s chocolate brownie cheesecake. Recipe to follow, but right now I have to go get ready for karaoke.

Shake it like a milkshake

9 August 2007

I was in the breakfast room, taking a test that involved seeing if two of my classmates and I could successfully answer a certain number of Trivial Pursuit questions in a row without any collaboration. (Much like AP English senior year of high school.) We knew that our teacher, Snape (from Harry Potter) was strict so we definitely couldn’t work together. We got the right number of questions correct, which should have meant we all passed the test, but then a message – possibly a scroll? – appeared with a note that Snape would test us individually after all because he didn’t trust us, which we figured was because we were all Muggle-born.

Then I woke up. It was 12.58 a.m.

In the space of a second or two, my sleepy, sleepy brain formulated a few thoughts:

* My bed is shaking.
* Aw, man, these neighbors haven’t woken me up while they were having sex since I moved down to this apartment over a year ago!
* Either we’re having an earthquake, or my neighbors are having sex.
* Wait, my bed is shaking. Their having sex shouldn’t make my bed shake.
* OK, so, earthquake, then.

And the answer is…I was right. 4 miles north-northwest of Chatsworth (in the Valley), magnitude 4.5.

My first actor

5 August 2007

When I first moved to LA, my East Coast friends asked me, “Is everyone you know an actor or a writer?” “No,” I told them, “everyone I know is a rabbinical student or a Jewish professional.” I do not live the typical LA experience.

But I finally had a date with a struggling actor. JDate, first date, last Thursday night. I knew he’d gone to Penn for undergrad, and had just gotten his MFA in acting from UCLA. (As my mother said, “So he’s an educated struggling actor, then.”) It was weird. First he apologized for being anxious and/or distracted. He said he’d received some personal news that had really “side-swiped” him (I’m pretty sure he meant “blind-sided”), and he was really worried about it even though everyone he’d talked to about it assured him it would probably be just fine, but he wouldn’t know for sure until the next day, and he didn’t want to tell me what it was because it would be “a big turn-off.” I’m thinking either he thinks he has an STD, or he thinks he got someone pregnant. (What else would be “a big turn-off”?) Second, well, he’d asked me out for a drink. We went to a restaurant near me that has a good bar. As we were walking there (he purposely asked me to pick a place in walking distance of my apartment…then asked me when he got here, “Are we walking or driving?”), he asked if I’d eaten dinner. I had, since I thought we were going out for a drink. He hadn’t, so he had dinner while I sipped a glass of sangria. Third, in addition to being a struggling actor, he’s also — wait for it — writing a screenplay. (It took me 5 years to hit the dating stereotypes, but at least I got two birds with one stone. I’m efficient like that.) Anyway, I politely asked what his screenplay was about, and he told me. Scene by scene, page by page, line by over-angsty line. And fourth, he asked if I were Orthodox, and I answered that no, I am Conservative. He said, “So, what, that means you have Shabbat on Friday nights?” “And on Shabbat mornings, too…all the way through until Havdalah.” Oy.

He walked me home (well, he had to, since he’d parked near my apartment) and said he’d had a great time, and I was a really great listener. Translation: I’m a sucker who listened to every. Freaking. Last. LINE. of his screenplay. He said he’d “love to do this again sometime” if I were interested. I said that perhaps he ought to wait until he knew what was happening with this “personal news” of his, and he agreed. Something tells me that this guy is a one-date-wonder.

Moving right along…

Shabbat morning, I went to services at the cool new(-ish – they’ve been around for a year and a half now) minyan and got there a few minutes before services began. There was a new guy there with whom I chatted briefly. He just moved to town on Friday, and is starting business school at USC next week. And his name is almost the same as my ex-fiance’s. Weird. After services, we chatted a bit more, and I invited him to the picnic I was hosting in the park. (Recipe post to follow, eventually.) He came and meshed well with my other friends in attendance, so it was a lot of fun. And over lunch, I found out that he, too, went to that “small school in Boston,” albeit 4 years after I did. And he sings, which is always cool. At the very least, I think we’ll be friends…don’t know if there’s potential for more there, but there might be.

My original plan was to go see “Live Free or Die Hard” by myself Saturday night, but I got absorbed in a book. So I e-mailed everyone who’d been at lunch and asked if any of them were interested in seeing the movie on Sunday. Nobody else could make it, but Harvard Boy said he’d be up for it. He’s staying with his brother in Silverlake until he finds an apartment, so he drove here and I met him downstairs, then I drove to the theatre since I knew where it was. We had fun chatting before the movie, and the movie itself was lots of fun. (“You just killed a helicopter with a car!” “I was out of bullets.” Heh.) As we were leaving the theatre, I asked what he’d thought of it, and he said he liked it more than he expected to. I gave him a questioning look and he said it wasn’t the kind of movie he would normally seek out. So I asked why he wanted to come, and he kinda shrugged. Honestly, though, I think he is just interested in making friends, since he doesn’t know anybody here except his brother. But anyway, having a new friend is always good, and I finally got to see my first summer movie, and I got to see Bruce Willis kill a helicoter with a car. All things considered, life is good.