Nothing to fear but fear itself

17 October 2007

Used to be, when I was afraid of something, even if I knew intellectually that my fear was irrational, I would let the fear consume me, make me frantic and anxious and panicked. Used to be, once I got it in my head that I wasn’t sure about a particular guy, I’d find some reason to run away, rather than be the one left behind and wondering.

But apparently, I have reached the point where simply recognizing my fear is enough to let me overcome it. So when I acknowledged that I was afraid things with Event Guy would end up just like things ended up with my ex, I realized that was a pretty silly thing to be afraid of — for one thing, Event Guy is emphatically not my ex (and thank heavens for that)…and for another, I’m not the same person I was then. So ever since I got over the fear, I have been pretty darn excited about Event Guy.

So. Date #6 was Saturday night. He made me dinner — and for you foodies out there, it was amazing: grilled rack of lamb with a balsamic-fig reduction, red and green tomato salad (and the tomatoes were from his garden!), mashed potatoes with a drizzle of truffle oil. Then we watched a very cheesy movie called Antitrust, then just sat cuddled up on the couch and talked for hours. It was a really, really good date.

And date #7 was last night. He came here around 6.30, which we decided was too early for dinner, so we sat on the couch and cracked each other up with bizarre tales of how the event planners are going to take over the world. An hour slipped away, making it a reasonable time for dinner in this ever-so-fashionably-late city, so we went to a cute new Italian place not far from my apartment. They don’t have a liquor license yet, so we brought a bottle of Opolo’s Mountain Zin, which I’d gotten in wine country during that rather memorable weekend in February. Dinner was excellent, and the chocolate souffle we shared for dessert was exquisite. All through dinner, we were holding hands across the table. At one point, he beckoned me to lean toward him, and he kissed me, just like in a movie. When the waitress (who’s also the owner and the wife of the chef) brought our check, she said, “There’s no rush. Stay here and be lovey-dovey as long as you want.”

We came back here after dinner, and I mentioned that I wouldn’t see him for a week and a half since I’m going back East for vacation, and I asked if he might be interested in picking me up from the airport next Sunday night. He said he’d be happy to, then said, jokingly, “Well, as long as you’re still single when you get back.” I said, “Hmm, let me think about the guys I’m going to see on this trip. There’s my brother, some random friends in New York, then my friend J. in Potomac who’s been happily married to one of my best friends for the last year and a half. So, yeah, I think I’ll still be single when I get back.” He laughed at that, then I asked, “So…am I still single?” He gave me a very cute smile and said, “No.”

“Event Guy” takes too long to type. I think he’ll be “EG” henceforth. Or “A.”

He makes me happy. He makes me feel good about myself. And, perhaps best of all, he knows that forks and bread plates go on the left, and knives and glasses go on the right.


Not letting bitterness mar our souls

12 October 2007

(my d’rash for tonight…)

Each month on the Hebrew calendar contains at least one holiday – except Cheshvan, the month we are entering with this Rosh Chodesh. The month is formally called “Mar Cheshvan,” usually interpreted as “Bitter Cheshvan” (think maror). The month is bitter, the explanation goes, because it has no celebratory days. The bitterness must especially sting since Cheshvan follows Tishrei, which is filled with the holiday smorgasbord: Rosh HaShanah, the Yamim Noraim, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

But there’s another interpretation of “Mar Cheshvan” which I heard as a child. “Mar” doesn’t just mean “bitter,” it’s also the Hebrew word for “Mister.” In this interpretation, “Mar” is an honorific, a title bestowed upon “Mr. Cheshvan” to remind the month – and ourselves – that we value it as much as any other month, and that it doesn’t need holidays to be important.

Mar Cheshvan is breathing room, a chance to catch our breath after the whirlwind of chagim we’ve experienced. It’s the pause between the notes in the orchestration of our lives. Mar Cheshvan offers a moment to reflect: have we started the year the way we want? Have we set the proper tone for the months to come? Tishrei is pomp and circumstance, dress-up and heightened reality. Mar Cheshvan is real life, every day-ness, who we are rather than who we’re trying to present to the world.

In Malachim Alef, First Kings, we read of Eliyahu’s encounter with G-d when G-d calls him to “Come out…and stand on the mountain before G-d.” There was a mighty wind – but G-d was not in the wind; then an earthquake, but G-d was not in the earthquake; then a fire, but G-d was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still, small voice. G-d doesn’t need fiery, dramatic moments; G-d is there in the still, small voice, in the quiet moment after the storm, in the Cheshvan after Tishrei.

In 1998, I lost three of my grandparents in a span of seven months. First, my Grandpa died just before Pesach; then my Nana, over the summer; and finally my Grandma, on the 30th of Tishrei, so her yahrtzeit was last night and today. Both my parents were very close to their in-laws as well as to their own parents, so they both stood for Kaddish for the full 11 months for each of my grandparents. Since the deaths occurred over seven months, that means my parents stood for Kaddish every day for eighteen months, a full year and a half. They finally got to sit down for Kaddish beginning on erev second day Rosh HaShanah. Of course, that was followed by Yizkor on Yom Kippur, and Yizkor again on Shemini Atzeret, and then my Grandma’s first yahrtzeit just a week later.

But then Tishrei ended, and Cheshvan began, and my parents went to Israel for five weeks to help take care of my sister’s then three-month-old baby girl. It was a powerful reminder that life continues and begins anew, that moments of intensity are followed by moments of calmness. It was Cheshvan that gave them respite.

I may be a bit biased. My Bat Mitzvah was seventeen years ago, Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Mar Cheshvan, 5751. Ever since, I’ve felt an affinity for this month that is so often overlooked and marginalized, assumed to be bitter. But I believe that “Mr. Cheshvan” holds his head up high, and comforts those who are struggling not to give into the bitterness of their own lives.

Days of wine and roses

9 October 2007

Date #5 was last night. Event Guy was scheduled to come over at 7, and for the first time he was early (about 10 minutes, which was fine by me since I’m chronically early). I’d teased him that for all our restaurant dates, I’d picked the restaurant, so he’d promised that this time, he would have a restaurant pre-selected. So when he arrived, he told me that we had 7.30 dinner reservations. For date #2, he’d brought me (in addition to the RCA cable) a single long-stemmed pink rose. This time, he brought 4 long-stemmed red roses…very classy.

Off we went to dinner — at Lucques, a very nice place I’d heard of but never been before. The service was top-notch, which I love. We had a sumptuous meal (for you foodies out there: we shared a bottle of Chatueneuf du Pape; shared an heirloom tomato salad with persian cucumbers, torn croutons and french feta salsa verde [feta on the side, since he’s allergic to dairy]; he had the grilled duck breast with squash blossoms, pistachios, and roasted figs; and I had grilled snapper with brandade [essentially a salt cod mousse], grilled peppers and currant-pinenut agrodolce; we were too full for dessert). The food was excellent. I couldn’t finish mine, so in addition to thanking him for dinner, I also thanked him for lunch the next day. Too bad I couldn’t take home the quarter-glass of wine I had left…

We were the last to leave the restaurant, a little before 10.30. We came back here and chatted for a few minutes. But when I have something on my mind, I’m antsy until I’ve said it, and the moment seemed right for it. So I said to him, “There’s something I want you to know. I think you’re great, I’m really enjoying talking to you and getting to know you and all of that — but I need to tell you that you’re scaring me.” He didn’t flinch, didn’t even blink or swallow, just nodded and gestured for me to continue. I explained that the last time I met someone and things moved fast and affection grew quickly, it ended atrociously and was the most awful thing I’d ever been through. I told him, “I know that you’re not my ex. I totally get that. And I think it’s awesome that you’re not playing games, that you’re not shy about making it clear that you like me. It’s just that I’m gun-shy, and the idea of trusting a guy — any guy — is still a bit terrifying. It’s nothing about you, it’s entirely my issue, I just wanted you to know.”

He said he could understand, and he appreciated my honesty, and he’d been wondering how I felt and was glad to have the answer. He said he didn’t mind taking things slowly, and reiterated that he really appreciated that I was upfront with him. So that went well.

We’ve established a pattern of sending a thank-you-and-goodnight e-mail immediately after each date, so that the person who’s driving home has an e-mail awaiting upon his or her return. So after he left, I wrote him: “Thank you again……for dinner, for lunch tomorrow, for the beautiful roses, and for understanding. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of them.” And he responded with, in part:

It is really my pleasure! Thank you for being honest, communicative, and very cute. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of them…especially the later. [sic] ;) Seriously though, I hope I was clear in my position on things. I like you and I am really enjoying getting to know you and all that goes with it. Time is an easy part as far as I am concerned…

Then he asked when we could get together again, and suggested Saturday since he knew I was busy Thursday and had shul on Friday. So for the two of you out there who tend to worry about such things, I did not scare him off, just so you know.

Beat poetry hip-hop poetess goddess

6 October 2007

Alright, here’s another rambling collection of not-necessarily-related thoughts. Welcome to the randomness that is my mind.

First things first — it occurred to me after my last post that why I’m pulling back from Event Guy is that it feels too familiar. Several dates in a short period of time, rapidly-developing affection…in the blink of an eye I’m engaged, and a few blinks later I’m not. I realize that Event Guy is not my ex, and it’s a different situation, but it feels similar and therefore scary. So while I will continue to go out with him (fifth date is Monday night), I am also looking around on JDate to see if there’s anyone else who might catch my eye.

And mud-wrestling guy has written me again. I was looking at old JDate e-mails (apparently, when you move JDate messages to the Trash folder, JDate just leaves them there forever). It turns out this guy wrote me in 2004 and asked what sounded good for a first date: drinks, dinner, drinks + dinner, or mud-wrestling. (It would seem this is a long-standing obsession…) I sent the auto-decline response (which I don’t think JDate even has anymore), to which he wrote back, “Isn’t it interesting how ‘picky’ sounds a lot like ‘BITCHY’?” He seems like a keeper, I tell ya.

* * *

In other news, the Mexican version of my “Chocolate Simplicity” cake was a big hit, especially the tequila glaze. Yum. For the lunch I was invited to today, I made a very simple tofu dish which people loved and wanted the recipe for. It’s embarrassingly easy:

* * *

Easy Yummy Tofu

2 packages (10 or 12 oz each) of firm tofu
Mikee Wasabi Teriyaki Sauce
red pepper flakes (optional)

Rinse and drain tofu; squeeze out as much excess water as possible. Cut into cubes or strips. Put in baking dish and pour in enough sauce to cover. Refrigerate 12-24 hours.

Remove from refrigerator, allow to return to room temperature. Broil 10-12 minutes or bake at 500 degrees 15 minutes (broiling was my intention, but the glass bowl I’d used didn’t fit in the broiler, so I had to bake it instead).

Slice or julienne (using a mandoline if you want) carrots and zucchini and toss with tofu. Serve warm or cold.

Since the sauce doesn’t seem to have any of the spiciness I associate with wasabi, I added red pepper flakes. Next time I might mix actual wasabi in with the sauce before pouring it over the tofu.

* * *

I’ve been catching up on my TiVo. Yay Numb3rs, still my favorite show. I thought the first epidsode of Bionic Woman was ridiculous, but I will give it a second try. Loved Journeyman — I missed the first ep but watched on NBC’s website, then watched the second, and I think it seems pretty cool. I’m not intrigued by the Pushing Daisies premise, so I’m not watching that; it sounds like that will be right up there with Lost, Heroes, Gray’s Anatomy, and Desperate Housewives as one of those cultural-phenomenon shows that I just didn’t care about. And you know what? I’m OK with that. On my best friend’s recommendation, I’m watching Big Bang Theory, which is fun because I get the jokes. It’s the first sitcom I’ve watched in years.

* * *

On Simchat Torah, the festival where we literally “rejoice with Torah,” there are seven hakafot in which the Torah is paraded around while everyone dances and sings around it. Each hakafa is associated with certain Biblical characters. At the minyan I go to for Simchat Torah, each hakafa is preceded by a d’rash (teaching) about the relevant Biblical folks. This year, I gave the d’rash for the fourth hakafa, associated with Moshe and Devorah.

I decided to try something new. So I wrote the following and had everyone tap out the rhythm for me, and I performed it as an “interpretive d’rash,” and did my best to fill the space with it. People seemed to like it, so here’s the text. Enjoy! (Oh, and the title of this post was how a friend of mine described me afterward…)

“Of Bushes and Trees”

walking along
in the hot Egypt sun
i open my eyes
and then –- i see

there’s a bush that is burning
but it isn’t consumed
i have to look closer
then a Voice says to me

“take off your shoes!
this place, it is holy
I’m your ancestors’ G-d
now listen to Me.

“My people, they suffer
I’ve seen their distresses
I’ve heard their lamenting
their cries have all reached Me.

“there’s a land I have promised
with honey and milk
so go see the pharaoh;
set My people free.”

but i am afraid
i know i don’t speak well
i’m already in trouble
they won’t listen to me!

when they ask, “who has sent you?”
what name shall i give them?
the Voice gives an answer:
“I’ll be what I’ll be.”

this was the start, then
a bush that was burning
a bush no one noticed
well, no one but me

“but why just a bush?”
some people might wonder
“why not something flashy
the whole world could see?”

a bush might be lowly
but could you create one?
it’s still only G-d
Who makes bushes and trees.

and under a tree
sits a judge and a prophet
a mother of israel
a leader who sings

sisera threatened
barak needed guidance
he gave up the glory
of conquering kings

he needed a woman
to lead and command him
so into a woman’s hands
would sisera fall.

devorah, she summoned
the twelve tribes of israel
but of those, only six
heard and heeded the call.

the enemy threatens
the prophetess calls you
how can you ignore her?
your hearts should be strong!

awaken, awaken!
devorah did call
awaken, awaken!
and utter a song!

the tribes who refused her
refused G-d’s commandment
devorah rebuked them
as cowards, each one

but those who fought bravely
devorah praised freely:
let those who love G-d
shine bright as the sun.

devorah reminds us
that judges and prophets
may need iron fists
beneath their velvet glove

devorah reminds us
the children of israel
need prophets, but also
a mother’s tough love.

Sushi, chocolate, and the thrill of the chase

2 October 2007

Event Guy and I have now had four dates.

Date #3 was dinner at his house on Saturday night. He made all kinds of sushi — I was most impressed. I made dessert, an excellent recipe that I expect to use (and experiment with) often in the future. Recipe is below. We had a lot of good conversation and laughter, though I did learn something about him that troubles me a bit. I’m trying not to overreact. I did mention my ex, and he took it in stride, asking a few questions but not acting threatened or anything.

Date #4 was last night. The reason we went out on Monday after just having gotten together on Saturday is that he’s leaving tomorrow for a softball tournament in northern California, and he’ll be back on Sunday. He came here at 7 and we sat on the couch and had a glass of wine (courtesy of my bewitching friend Samantha), then went out for Thai, then came back here and talked a bit more. But by then I was falling asleep, so he left around 10.45.

Here’s the thing. In some ways, I’m like a guy. I love the thrill of the chase, the pursuit, catching someone’s attention. I just don’t always like holding someone’s attention. He’s a great guy, an absolute sweetheart, not ashamed to admit that he likes me. I love talking to him. But I can feel myself starting to lose interest, which is part of why I suspect I’m overreacting to the thing I alluded to above. So I am hoping that he doesn’t call while he’s up north, so that I can have a chance to miss him and get all excited and fluttery again. Because, honestly, I want to keep liking him.

In other news, my young adults’ group had an awesome Shabbat dinner in the sukkah. And I’ve had multiple meals in sukkot – Shabbat lunch with friends, Sunday lunch at a kosher burger place with a sukkah in the parking lot, and tonight back at my friends’ sukkah. The meal tonight was pretty exciting – my first-ever meat sub sandwich, from the brand-new (opened yesterday!) Glatt Kosher Subway. They have a sukkah of their own in the back, but it was crowded, because about half the neighborhood was crammed into the store.

And without further ado, here’s the recipe I promised:

Chocolate Simplicity
(adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini’s Melt-in-Your-Mouth Chocolate Cake)

As the blog linked above notes, it’s best made a day in advance, or at least 10-12 hours in advance, to give the flavors time to meld.

7/8 c margarine (I used nearly one tub [1 c] but left a little behind, did not measure)
10 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1 c sugar
5 eggs (I used eggbeaters)
1 Tbsp flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grease the sides and bottom of an 8-inch springform pan (that’s about 50 square inches – which would correspond to a 7-inch square pan, which probably doesn’t exist, or a 6×8 pan, which probably also doesn’t exist, but I like knowing these things). Cut a circle out of wax or parchment paper to line the bottom of the pan; grease the paper. Wrap the pan in heavy-duty foil so none of the batter leaks out. (That’s only necessary if you’re using a springform pan.)

Melt margarine and chocolate together (in a medium-sized mixing bowl in the microwave, or in a double boiler) and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. I microwaved for 60 seconds, stirred, microwaved for 30 seconds, stirred more, and then it was all melted.

Add sugar, stir with wooden spoon, and cool for a few minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, stirring well with wooden spoon after each addition.

Add flour, a little at a time, and mix well with the spoon.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 28 minutes. (Original recipe says 25, but my cake came out way too jiggly at that point, so I put it back in.)

Cool in pan 15-20 minutes (I only waited 10, which wasn’t quite enough.) Open spring and invert cake onto a plate. Cool completely. Original recipe says to wrap in plastic and refrigerate. Mine didn’t seem solid enough to wrap, and I never got around to refrigerating it, so it sat out (covered in a cake-carrier) for about 28 hours. Didn’t seem to hurt it.

When I inverted my cake onto a plate, it broke in two pieces. I knew Event Guy wouldn’t mind it, but I minded. So I pushed the two halves back together and glazed the cake:

Random Fix-the-Cake Glaze

Some apricot jam (maybe 1/2 cup?)
Some amaretto liqueur (few Tbsps, maybe 1/4 cup?)

Warm the jam over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, stir in amaretto. Keep stirring and possibly add more jam or more liqueur until you like the consistency. Pour glaze over cake, spreading with a spoon, spatula, or pastry brush.

Ideas for future experiementation:
Reduce margarine to about 1/2 cup, supplement with 1/2 cup applesauce
Mix semisweet and bittersweet chocolate
Add 1/4 cup liqueur to batter
Glaze with berry sauce or mango sauce

If you have other ideas, feel free to let me know!

This Thursday night, a friend of mine has decided to host a Mexican-themed erev Simchat Torah dinner. So she wants me to make a Mexican-themed dessert. I’m making this cake, but I’ll add 1.5 tsp of chili powder to the batter. Then I’ll top it with sliced strawberries, and pour the following glaze over it:

Tequila Glaze
1.5 c powdered sugar,
3 Tbsp tequila
2 tablespoons melted margarine

Mix well. Prick holes in top of cake. Pour glaze over cake. Usually you’d do this while the cake was still warm, but since I don’t want strawberries sitting out that long and there isn’t room for the cake in my fridge, I will put the glaze in its own tupperware so I can transport it to my friend’s place, and I’ll glaze the cake just before serving it.