Playing Into Some Delicious Jewish Stereotypes

Monday, July 29, 2013

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When I learned of Buzzfeed's recently published list of "32 Things Jewish Women Can't Resist," my first thought was that if Buzzfeed really had its shit together, it would've been a list of 36 things, not 32 (Jewish joke!), but a cursory glance at the items that made the cut told me that Buzzfeed didn't really have its shit together, anyway, because this list is drek. Guacamole, Emojis, messy buns, day drinking? Hey, Buzzfeed, that's basically just a lazy list of things every young woman likes right now. Poorly done. I am, instead, solidly on board with The Sisterhood's revised list of things Jewish women actually cannot resist, which is much more nuanced, inclusive, & reflective of Jewish values.

But you know what made it onto both lists? Bagels. And stereotypes be damned, I feel good about that.

Whether you ever actually think to yourself, "I'd like a Jewish breakfast pastry this morning!" or not, the fact remains that bagels are a Jewish delicacy, & on behalf of my ancestors, you're very welcome for them. In fact, one stereotype of Jews that's generally pretty true is that we're into food - but whether or not our culture lends itself to food that's actually delicious is a judgment call with which I've long struggled. I don't like kugel or matzah ball soup or lox or corned beef; I mostly just like bagels. But how can I call myself a culturally proud American Reform Jew if I'm not on board with our proudest culinary offerings?!

Enter DGS Delicatessen, a newish deli that opened in DC last fall. While I was in town last weekend visiting friends/working/having a small pre-birthday celebration, I made plans with some friends to visit DGS for brunch. Of course, because I don't like kugel or matzah ball soup or lox or corned beef, I found myself in a bit of a pickle (ba-dum-chhh!) when it came to ordering. Around me, my friends placed orders for challah French toast, grilled pastrami, brisket sandwiches, & whitefish salad as I struggled to come to a decision. (God, that sentence feels like a Jewish joke in itself. Could we be any more stereotypical?). In the end, I went with two potato latkes & a yogurt parfait that included dates, apples, figs, & honey. Don't think a parfait sounds particularly Jewish? Let me point out that dates, apples, & figs are typical Rosh HaShanah foods & that Israel is called "The Land of Milk & Honey." So don't worry, it was totally in keeping with the them - & both more dishes were absolutely batampte.

My friends & I aren't particularly skilled iPhone photographers, & we were more preoccupied with the company & the consumption than we were with capturing it all on film, so the grainy photos above came from our meal together, & the beautiful ones below are courtesy of Emily Goodstein, a skilled local photographer & one of my good friends. Needless to say, I think DGS makes it onto my "try this place again" list for making me want to work my way up to kugel or matzah ball soup or lox or corned beef or maybe even my arch-enemy, pickles. Ess gesunt!

Note: All professional-looking photos came from my dear friend Emily Goodstein (pictured above, center), who is an outstanding D.C. photographer available for hire to take pictures of things that aren't necessarily food - like your face, or your baby's birth, or your wedding. She didn't pay me to say this; I just like her.
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After Six Years on the East Coast, Apparently Public Transportation Still Confuses Me

Friday, July 26, 2013

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Despite my frequent travel & my vocal disdain for confused travelers who slow down the system, this morning I made a major Amtrak goof that reminded me that I am fallible & largely inept. In other words, today I was one of those people I hate.

Waiting at the Metropark station for my train to DC, I was pleased to find I had plenty of time to spare before my 6:25 boarding call (thanks for driving me, boyfriend). When the train pulled up, I briefly registered, mentally, that it was an Acela, one of the faster trains: "I paid for an Acela? Huh. Yeah, probably.  Stuff's cheaper when you're traveling at 6am." I took a seat in the Quiet Car, stowed my luggage, set my ticket out for the conductor, & started to settle in to watch some Catfish on my iPad & hopefully fall asleep.

And then I glanced at my ticket again. 6:37 departure? What, what? It's only 6:27! And then it hit me: Acela. I took the wrong train. I AM ON THE WRONG TRAIN.

Cue panic.

In truth, it could've been a lot worse. The train I was on was still going to the right place, but it was just going a lot faster & for a lot more money. Panicky & unable to find a conductor, I weighed the options if I stayed put: explain my situation to the conductor when s/he came around, at which point I'd either have to pay the difference, get off the train, or, in some miraculous case of conductor kindness, fly under the radar & be permitted to stay on at no extra cost (unlikely). Becoming all the more anxious at the realization that in order to figure it out, I'd have to cause speak aloud on the Quiet Car (see: people I hate), I made the executive decisive to get off at the train.

Loudly & with some inadvertent fanfare (like waking up my sleeping seatmate & knocking his tickets to he ground), I  heaved my luggage from the overhead compartment & removed myself from the Quiet Car, which was by then filled with very annoyed businesspeople, each of them adept at the art of the withering stare. As I stepped off the train at Trenton, I prayed that my train, the one I was supposed to be on, was scheduled to make a stop there.

It was - 23 minutes later, plus a 10-minute delay, because that's what it's like when you take the slow, cheap train instead of the fast, expensive one. When my carriage finally arrived, it was one of those creaky old things with brakes that squeal & doors that don't quite open all the way, nothing like the sleek, futuristic train on which I'd earlier been an accidental stowaway. I was happy to have made it to the right train, of course, but now I've seen how the other half lives while in transit - & it's much, much nicer.

For a mere half an hour, from Metropark to Trenton, I got a taste of that bougie Acela  life... & my train rides may never be the same.
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London Calling: My Solo Trip to the UK

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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In April, as the end of the fiscal year approached, my boss reminded me that I hadn't taken all my paid time off & that I had to do so by the end of June or else lose it all. I asked for a week off that I planned to use as a staycation, but when I remembered that I work from home & would probably end up spending any staycation time, well, working from home, I started looking into possible travel destinations.

That's how I found myself in London in mid-June, spending five days visiting my younger cousin Emily, who's been living there for the last nine months or so. She had to work most of the time I was there, but we got a weekend together & some quality time in the evenings. I spent my days wandering the Square Mile on my own - no real plans or itinerary, just looking. Here, 25 short takeaways from my first - but surely not last - trip to England.
  1. We may all speak English, but it sure doesn't all sound the same. The meaning of this menu board in Borough Market, for example, is almost wholly lost on me. Bacon & cheese? OK, got that much, but... what is this thing, actually?

  2. I'm a sucker for kitschy souvenirs.

  3. Public transportation is about the same everywhere, or at least everywhere I can understand the language. Move quickly, look like you know where you're going, carry a map in your pocket, & don't ask people for directions if they look like they're in a hurry.

  4. The British are serious about this tea thing. This picture, for example, was taken in a neighborhood pub.

  5. The British are also serious about bizarre flavors of potato chips. This isn't even the weirdest one I spotted! These are on par with Canadian ketchup chips & "all dressed" chips. Except than I got back to the States & found steak-flavored chips, so maybe we're catching up?
  6. Starbucks is reliable everywhere. And I am predictable everywhere.
  7. The queen really is looking great these days.

  8. Three people asked me if I was Canadian. I suppose this is because some Americans are identifiable as such no matter where they go, & others blend in slightly better.
  9. You've never seen true bling.
  10. London's Tower Bridge is, fortunately, not falling down. In fact, Tower Bridge appears quite sturdy. Also, there's nowhere to go if you get caught in the rain while crossing a bridge.

  11. Every Chinatown is the same. I assume that no Chinatown is anything like China, but I do appreciate the consistency.
  12. Remember how the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car in British vehicles? Yeah, I didn't remember that, either, & I probably would've been flattened by a bus or seven if the streets of London hadn't been kind enough to remind me which way traffic was coming.
  13. If "Beefeater" is not the absolute best job title, I sure don't know what is.

  14. Gummy candy in America does not matter. I've always considered myself a bit of a gummy candy connoisseur, but when I tried Britain's offerings in this culinary category, it was like I'd never had a piece of gummy candy in my life. Rowntree's Randoms are the work of some sort of fantastical taste bud magician, I swear to you.
  15. It's easy to think you won't be like every other tourist. It's even easier to be like every other tourist. 
  16. Foreign money is hard. And mathy. Luckily, if you pick a slow time when there isn't a line (sorry, a "queue") piling up behind you, most cashiers are willing to help you figure it out. If I got ripped off, at least it was done to me with a friendly smile.
  17. Buckingham Palace is sort of underwhelming. Also, gaudy. Like, it was pretty cool to be at Buckingham Palace, but... man, it was a little bit of a letdown. White House me any day - though I do appreciate this solid fencing.
  18. Day drinking is more delicious when your beverage comes with a colorful bendy straw.
  19. Forget Disneyland. THIS IS THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH. I'm going to devote a whole post to it, I think, but for now, suffice it to say that this was one of the most exciting places I've ever been & even if I hadn't seen anything else while I was in London, this alone would've made it worth the trip.
  20. Christianity gets all the coolest sites, you know? Gimme a historic church over an historic synagogue any day. Sorry, my fellow members of the tribe, but this one is what it is.
  21. Urban art: It's not just for Brooklyn!
  22. I couldn't figure out how to get into the Ministry of Magic, damn it.
  23. Big Ben is situated stupidly. It's right outside a tube stop, such that when you come up from the subway, OH, HEY, THERE'S BIG BEN. The result is a lot of rubbernecking tourists clogging up the street, the sidewalk, the escalator out of the tube. Not that fun. I took this picture, wandered down the road to snap a photo of the London Eye, & then immediately exited this part of the city for an area less overwhelmingly crowded.
  24. Seeing London & all of its famous sites in person was incredible - but spending time with my cousin, who I've never been particularly close to but have a surprising amount in common with, was infinitely more important to me than any building or landmark.

  25. Not checking my work email for an entire week is simultaneously the most stressful & most freeing thing in the word. I should definitely do this more often.
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An Adventure That Was Totally ON the Hook

Sunday, July 14, 2013

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The Coast Guard base where Nathan is stationed is at the very tip of a barrier spit called Sandy Hook (not that one). If you're looking at a map (& now you are), it's located right beneath Staten Island & Brooklyn, pointed up toward the middle of the two. A 30-minute ferry ride from Sandy Hook will drop you off in Manhattan's Financial District, & vice versa.

Running along one side of "the Hook" are three public beaches facing the Atlantic, including one that's "clothing optional"; on the other side is the bay, where people kayak & fly kites & fish & bring their dogs. In between is federally protected land owned by the National Park Service - bike trails, an Audubon society, a lighthouse, a marine academy, &, what I think is the coolest part, a defunct army base called Fort Hancock. It's home to a number of old gun batteries that are mostly closed to the public & in total disrepair, but some of them are open to the public, either to walk around alone or to tour with volunteer guides.

Yesterday, my cousin & his girlfriend came into town for a visit on their way back from the beach to the city, & we decided it was a good day for exploring the Hook. Everyone else was wearing sandals, but I decided to sport my new Portovelo shoes, canvas slide-ons I got a few weeks back. Portovelo's motto is "bringing adventure & love," which was pretty apt for a day of adventuring with people I love! I find that wearing comfy, close-toed shoes on days of adventure makes me more likely to be, well, adventurous - & less likely to be whiny. I hate when my feet get dirty, & flip-flops suck for walking... anyway, these were the perfect choice.

We were going to head to the top of lighthouse, which was built in 1764 & is the oldest working lighthouse in the United States.

Unfortunately, we learned that the only way to tour the lighthouse it is by guided tour, which we weren't feeling. Instead, we admired it from down below & began wandering the grounds of Fort Hancock - in the very hot sun.

First, we checked out an old mortar, now totally empty but open to nosy wanderers like us. There's not much to see inside - all stone & weeds - but it has a notably creepy feel to it, especially where the foundation is crumbling to pieces & exit passageways leading to God-knows-where are locked with wrought-iron metal bars.

Just outside the mortar, my cousin Patrick decided to climb into an off-limits zone. Because Superman.


After mucking through a lot of overgrown foliage - including a substantial amount of poison ivy - he found himself atop a stone bridge that crosses from one side of the mortar to the other. While I was very jealous, I was also a bit relieved to be positioned firmly on the ground & unquestionably rash-free. I've never gotten poison ivy before, and almost-29 doesn't seem like the time to start.


While Patrick was off on his own, a friendly bicyclist let us know that the battery down the road was open for tours, so when he made his way back down, we headed in that direction. Along the way, we discovered Battery Granger, which was decommissioned in 1943 & is in a pretty shocking state of disrepair. 

Creepy, I know. Signs everywhere indicate that Granger is off-limits, but the fence in front of it, as you'll see in the photo to the far right below, isn't exactly keeping curious tourists off the lawn. In fact, the fence stops right where the stairs start.

So obviously, I went in:

The view from the top was fascinating but eerie, & I yelled down to the rest of the group that I felt like I had entered Panem. Of course, none of them appreciated this reference like you will, Internet. Observe:

And that... is as much as I explored because, well, abandoned, dilapidated army batteries are kind of scary, & I wasn't about to be offed by falling rock or military ghosts. One last victorious photo from the top, & I bolted.

It's a good thing I got out when I did, because a park ranger came ambling down the road just a few minutes later. Hey, who says you can't be a little bit rebellious as you near 30?

Battery Granger behind us, we made our way to... Battery Potter. Yes, really.

Of course, both batteries are named for Civil War generals & not for Hogwarts legends, but being the HP nerd I am, I got a little kick out of the coincidence. I must not be the only one, because our tour guide, an elderly parks volunteer named Carl, started off with, "Let's get this out of the way before we start: This place isn't named after Harry." Noted.

Battery Potter was massive & wet & dark, & our tour lasted all of 10 minutes, but it was cool to hear about its background from a friendly army veteran who clearly has a passion for such history. As a bonus, the reinforced concrete behemoth basically has built-in air conditioning, so our time inside was a nice, cold respite from the blazing sun. 

After our tour, we were feeling pretty spent, so we headed out - but not without admiring some prickly pear cacti along the side of the ride first. Who knew that cactus grew in New Jersey? Not I! Garden State indeed.

It's taken me nearly four hours to finish writing this post, but only because I keep finding myself distracted by reading the history of Fort Hancock & other parts of Sandy Hook. I learned, for example, that in addition to the mortar & two batteries we saw/explored, the base is home to (at least) 14 other defunct batteries, all seemingly as dilapidated & overgrown as Battery Granger. I can't believe we live so close to a place filled with such history, & I'm eager to keep exploring, but don't worry,. Mom: I don't think I'll be crossing anymore "KEEP OUT" fences to do it.

Oh, & the rest of our day? Was spent eating Thai food, playing Scrabble, & watching Forrest Gump - because outdoor adventuring is best countered by indoor relaxing.

Disclaimer: My Portovelos were provided free of charge, with only the request that I work mention of them into a blog post. All views are my own, & I was not otherwise compensated. I just really like these shoes, & I think you will, too.

All photos are my own, except for the picture of the front of Battery Granger, which came from Fort Wiki. If you're interested in learning more about Fort Hancock, this is an incredible resource chock full of info & photos.
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Now & Then, You're Right Here With Me

Friday, July 12, 2013

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Today is my best friend's birthday. Of course, I forgot - but not because I really forgot, just because I've spent two decades of my life positive that her birthday is July 19th, not July 12th, & this year proved to be no exception. The card I bought her is still sitting on my kitchen table. Because some things never change.

Our friendship is one of those things. I mean, it's changed, for sure, but it hasn't really changed. Honestly, thinking about the 20ish years or so that we've been friends chokes me up a little bit; I can hardly recall a childhood memory that Christina isn't a part of. In fourth grade, her mom started babysitting me after school while my parents were at work. We didn't know one another - we'd always been in different elementary school classes - but we became fast friends.

Best friends.

The kind of friends who have too many inside jokes to keep straight, who get into innocent little-kid trouble together, & who spend every day together that they possibly can. We went swimming at the lake & rode our bikes to each other's house & used up a metric ton of sidewalk chalk & played tricks on her little brother (um, I love you, David) & had countless sleepovers & listened to a lot of TLC & Alanis Morrisette. Obviously.

There were rough spots, man, for sure. In middle school & into high school, I was sort of an asshole. I had crap self-esteem & really wanted to be "cool," which meant that I didn't always treat my real friends as well as I should've. Because being a teenage girl is tough, & some of us do better at it than others. We become close again during the last two years of high school, when we were in show choir together, & then Christina went off to a Mennonite college, while I went off to a state party school. As she toyed with a conservative life that bordered on evangelical, we found we didn't have much in common.

Or did we?

We've always come back to one another. We always have. We don't talk nearly as often as we should, as it seems is too frequently the case in adulthood. But we've always made our way back to our friendship, & I'm always the better for it. Christina is, hands down, the nicest person I know. She a talented musician, a teacher to children with autism, new owner of a masters degree. She's a loyal big sister & a loving wife & a million other things I can't even remember because she's just really great. OK? She's great. And for 20 years now, I've had the honor of calling her my best friend.

There is more to our story, of course. There are hard times & fun times, inside jokes & ridiculous memories, secrets & mishaps & million stories. There is a whole lifetime of love & friendship, the kind of love & friendship that shape your life & personality & self because that's what good friends do - they make you.

Happy birthday, my psychic sis. I love you so, so much.

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