Sunday, December 26, 2010

More Reasons to Enjoy MKE

There is nothing good about getting up before 5am. Nothing. Never. But what makes it incrementally better is flying out of Milwaukee, drinking Alterra coffee, and getting upgraded on Airtran. That, and a tastier than expected breakfast burrito from the aforementioned Alterra. Actually, any one of those things would suffice, but all four is a home run.

The upgrade gave me a seat next to the congresswoman representing Milwaukee. She told me that she hadn’t been planning on heading back to DC that day and so her granddaughter had brought her some clothes to wear for the trip. I didn’t understand that since theoretically she has closets of clothes in both cities, but since she doesn’t actually represent me, I didn’t feel obligated to figure this out. I did however notice that the zipper on her pants was held up by a safety pin and her sweater was dirty, so I did give her the benefit of the doubt that she might not have chosen those clothes for herself. And if she did, well, let’s just say that it’s good thing that I’m no longer a constituent.

She told me she’s going to be the new chair of the Women’s Caucus so I gave her a book recommendation (A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood) and in a few weeks, I think I'm going to follow up with her to see if she's read it.

Oh, and did I mention the free wifi this month on Airtran? Bonus!

Greek-Orthodox Chanukah

One thing that can be said about the Greek-Orthodox Chanukah party is that there was plenty of food, Greek and otherwise. And there were some leftovers, but really, not that much, unless you count an extra gallon of green beans, 10 stuffed potatoes, 12 stuffed peppers and a 9x9 pan of spanikopita. And homemade hummus and vegetables. And peanut butter-cayenne cookies (aka ‘kickies’). Okay, there weren’t really that many cookies left. And given how many olives we started with, there are really not so many of those left either. I did learn that six pounds of green beans is about 3.5 pounds too many to make for 25 people.

The hummus alone was an adventure and actually, quite delicious. It was, shall we say, rustic. My friend Dennis told me to use a ricer. Basically, they are gigantic garlic presses, and I don’t actually have one of those, either. And even if I did, it would have taken too long to go through four cans of garbanzo beans. But I figured I could look for a ricer in the store, just to check them out. I quickly decided that it’s crazy to spend $20 on something I don’t actually need for anything else. (The Alton Brown rule that the only unitasker in the kitchen should be the fire extinguisher.) My Cuisinart mini-prep was too small. The blender didn’t like the combination of beans and tahini. And the immersion blender worked, but had to be unclogged too often. So whatever was mushed up by the time that I got tired of dealing with it all was mushed. And whatever wasn’t, wasn’t. Hence the ‘rustic’.

No, we did not light a chanukiah, much to my dismay. I was prepared to do so on the original date of the party (the 11th night of Chanuka) but by the 19th, I thought it might be considered a bit excessive.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Greek Orthodox Chanukah

We had hoped to have Ronnie's family over during Chanukah. It didn't work out. Really, it was more like herding cats than planning a party. No one was available at the same time on any day. So we planned a gathering for the 11th night of the festival and assumed that we'd jerryrig a menorah.

That didn't work out either.

Fast forward to the heretofore unknown 19th day of Chanukah, and everyone is coming. And then some. But, because the party is really a week after the original planned gathering, we decided that it would be more of a Greek Orthodox Chanukah.

We're serving Greek food. Yes, we are fully aware that the Greeks were not the heroes in the story. But Hasmonean food has never been known to be at all delicious, and, well, Greek food is.

And for the record, there will not be saganaki.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Spinning

As I said before, I've never been one to bow to peer pressure. Unless brownies were involved. But most of the time they aren't, so it's not a problem. But a few weeks ago, when I started this Couch to 5k program, I must have also signed up for a free subscription to peer pressure. It's probably good for me in this case (unlike the brownies), but just to be clear, I don't like it.

Tonight, after we ran (and you know when I say "run", I really mean a slow jog, right?), I was told that we're going to spin this weekend after our next run. We are?!

I've been to two spinning classes in my life. At the first one, my only goal was to sit on the bike and pedal until the class was over. I didn't worry about changing the resistance, standing up to pedal or going nowhere ridiculously fast. And mainly, I was afraid of what the instructor would do if I left early. I watched every single second tick away on the clock. And I think my alternate personality went to the second class because for the life of me, I cannot figure out why I would have returned.

I'm still not convinced I'll survive another day of running much less a spin class, but at least I'll know who to blame when I can't sit down for a week.

P.S. Lest you think I've turned into a gym rat, I have not. I don't own any "performance gear", still use a water bottle that won't fit into any of the cup holders, and have yet to find the joy in sweating.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Stoup

It's true. I admit it. I confess.

I made "stoup" from a Rachael Ray recipe. I'm not sure if I actually saw this show, (and if I did, it was a while ago), or if I just stumbled upon the recipe, but I tried it and have decided it's a winter winner. It's called Stuffed Cabbage Stoup and though I'm not sure I've ever eaten traditional stuffed cabbage, I think this could accurately be described as stuffed cabbage deconstructed.

But of course I made it vegetarian which is good because I'm not known for following recipes so exactly. It turns out I didn't have coriander or allspice. Go figure that I did have smoked paprika - which is good because I'm pretty sure that it is what makes it all so good. And I don't use white rice so I used brown. And I didn't have any fresh parsley or dill so I used one of those frozen cubes that come in handy when you don't have any fresh dill at the beginning of December.

And I used garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. I know - it's a sacrilege. I should get double credit for having smoked paprika, okay? And then she calls for using 1/2 to 3/4 of a cabbage. What did she think I was going to do with 1/4 of a cabbage? I took a risk and used it all.

The biggest problem with the recipe is that it makes enough for a small army and I just don't have that many bowls.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Me and the Couch to 5k

For the last five weeks I've been participating in a Couch to 5k program. Basically, it's designed to take people from sitting on the couch to running 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). There's an irony here though, because I don't actually believe in running unless there's a fire, or a bear, or maybe a tornado.. Essentially, it's against my religion. But, like riding a motorcycle and shooting a gun, I think it's an important life skill. You know, just in case.

So I started the program with three women from Boot Camp (a whole different story for another day). The overall program is about intervals of running and walking. The first day was 60 second runs followed by 90 second walks. Or maybe vice versa, but there were 8 run/walk intervals and I thought I was going to die.

As I am still writing some five plus weeks later, I clearly did not die.

This week, week five (but really week six because we did week four twice) is where things get much more difficult and I have not given up the possibility that this will be the week I meet my maker. I am not looking forward to the experience.

And here's the thing, were it not for peer pressure, I could quit. Peer pressure has never really gotten to me, so this is a totally new phenomenon. Basically, there is one woman who I told to join the little band of former couch potatoes and if I quit, she'll kill me. So either I die running, or I die not running.

All I know, is that once I finish this program, I better encounter a bear. Or a tornado.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Boot Camp

When I don't feel like I'll spend more than 10 minutes on the elliptical machine at the gym, I go to a class. Last Thursday, I decided to try Boot Camp. What possessed me, I don't know. As we were waiting for the earlier class to finish in our room, I asked the teacher if I was going to die during the class. He looked at me and said, "Unlikely." Those weren't the odds that I was hoping to hear.

It was by far the hardest class I've been to. At one point, he suggested he was going to get oxygen tanks for us, and one woman said, "What he isn't saying is that we don't get to use them - we have to carry them!" I was sore for days. Maybe until this morning.

So tonight I went back. I know, crazy. I walked into the gym and the instructor was waiting by the front desk to tell us that class tonight would be up on the track. Now why he assumed I was coming back for that class and not going to water aerobics I don't know. But he happened to be correct.

The problem is that 'track' implies running. And I don't believe in running unless there is a fire or certified emergency that requires me to move that quickly. So I'm thinking I should go home and get my swimsuit. But I don't.

There are 8 of us in the class tonight. We warm up with things like jumping jacks, push-ups, and lunges. And then he makes us run around the track. Honestly, it's a small track and even I think I can run that far. But again, it's against my religion. It would be like mixing meat and milk. Or wearing cotton and linen together. Or profaning the Sabbath. Unfortunately, I'm a vegetarian and otherwise not so observant. But I digress.

The thing about a class is that there's peer pressure. So when you're running in two rows of four around the track, you have to keep up. Especially when there are other people there who look like they can't run half that far. It's a dilemma. But I ran. I didn't like it and I had to pretend there was a serial killer behind me, but I ran.

Knowing now that I won't die and that the worst that will happen is taht I'll be unable to move without wincing means that I feel safe going to class again on Thursday... as long as there won't be running.

Mug Shots and a Painted Kitchen

Our kitchen is finally repainted. It's a Martha Stewart color called Lemongrass, but I'm sure other paint companies would call it Asparagus, or Leaf, or Just on the Mint Side of Pistachio. For an amateur job, it looks great. We figured out toward the end that there's wall paper underneath what now must be at least three layers of paint. Maybe in 10 years we'll strip it all and paint again. Bonus, we didn't get paint on the cabinets, stove or refrigerator. And we did find out, despite taping in advance, that paint does come off of granite pretty easily. Good thing.

On a completely unrelated note. I'm vaguely fascinated by the mug shots that are published in the Chicago Tribune. I'm not sure how often they are updated - I probably only see them once every few weeks or so. But when I do, I flip through them all. It's also hard to believe that they thought it was appropriate to go outside looking the way they did that day. I mean, really, did you honestly think that was an attractive look? This is actually from a big case here in Chicago which I didn't realize when I was first flipping through the pictures.

Once I was in an antique store in Evanston and they had mug shots from the 20's on sale. The front were sepia pictures and the back had the alleged crimes. At the time, I couldn't see spending $5 each on them, but in retrospect, they would have made an interesting look on a wall, maybe near the family pictures. I did go back to the store about a week later and was told they'd all been scooped up by a woman who wanted to use them for her Christmas cards. Clearly I wasn't on her list.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Sound of Music

It's a great musical, we all know that. Last night, spur of the moment, we went to the Wilmette Park District's Starlight Theater production of The Sound of Music. I know the person playing the Mother Superior (although it's actually a different title) and I know she's very talented, but I still figured, it's a park distric play, how good could it possibly be?

It was great! Costumes, set, actors - it was pretty impressive and there were a few hundred people in the audience for this final show after a three week run. They had some problems with the individual microphones for a few actors but they'd also mentioned before the show that they were glad to be going on after being rained out the night before and having to rebuild their sound board, so everyone was pretty forgiving. There was one actor who, frankly, wasn't so great, and sadly, his mike did work while Max's frequently cut out, and he was great. Oh well.

There were two songs I didn't remember, and at least one song from the movie that wasn't included. I didn't miss it from the nearly three hour show (including intermission). The biggest disappointment of the whole show, it would have been unseemly to sing along (which still didn't stop one of the women I was with!).

There were at least five Jewish nuns and a few Jewish Nazis and stormtroopers. I also appreciated that they took their armbands off for their curtain call. I'm assuming they didn't have to learn that the hard way.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Know Really, Really Funny People

I'm not sure how, but it turns out that I know some really funny people. And ironically, the one who is a professional comedian, isn't even close to the funniest on a regular day-to-day basis. (But he is the only one willing to get up on stage and then, he's very, very funny.)

The upside is that they send me funny things. Earlier this week, one of them sent me to this website to watch a movie trailer. Really, there just aren't words. But the same person sent me the trailer for the new Israeli film called A Matter of Size. So he can't be all bad, right?

Several of them are funny writers. They just don't write enough, or they write things that aren't also funny. Who needs that?! One of them accidentally wears two different shoes on a more regular basis than she should. Another one agrees to consider rooming hundreds of students alphabetically by first name. All different types of funny - it's good.

I've found that the only problem with hanging out with funny people is that when I'm with them, or corresponding with them, I don't feel as funny, and I think I generally am kind of funny. So I'm left with either being funny by myself (boring) or spending time with people who aren't as funny, and that's just dumb. Hmmm.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Harmony Bay Coffee

This is a great company, and before you ask, no, they did not pay me to write that!

More than a year ago, I bought some Harmony Bay Coffee at Trader Joe's and when I went back to get more, I was told they stopped carrying it. So I went on-line and found the company to see where they sold their coffee locally. I didn't find out because I noticed that they sold coffee on-line and that they were offering free shipping (evidently a very occasional promotion).

So I ordered a lot of coffee on-line.

Flash forward to Thursday (no, this is not about LOST) and we've got one day left of coffee. So I find myself back on the Harmony Bay site about to order coffee annoyed that I didn't think of ordering last week. And I can't find any free shipping promotion - bummer. Nevertheless, I fill my virtual cart and I'm ready to check out. But there's this very tempting "discount code" box right there, taunting me.... I looked on other sites to see if there were coupons available, and found nothing.

I was about to hit 'purchase now' when it occured to me that I could call and ask if they had any specials that weren't on the website. The man that answered could not have been nicer and immediately told me that they had a 20% off promotion available this week to their Facebook friends.

So I ordered two more cans of coffee. (Dennis, yes, I can hear you cringing.) But wait, it gets better.

I ordered the coffee yesterday morning. Today, it's at my front door. I definitely did not pay for extra-fast overnight UPS shipping (though I should double-check the invoice!). And bonus - tomorrow does not have to be a caffeine-free day!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Park Hoffman

My parent's planted five trees in their backyard about 20 years ago. Now, they are huge and their yard, if you ignore the fact that they have neighbors, can be imagined as a park. It's missing a water feature, but that doesn't seem to keep the birds away.

I imagine the squirrels waking up and saying, "Hey! Let's go to Park Hoffman today!" The rabbits have their turf, the squirrels have theirs, and certain birds frequent certain trees and/or bushes - it's like the high school cafeteria all over again.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

How to Eat in the Car

We left yesterday morning, driving to St. Louis. Since we'll be gone a few days, I figured we should pack up whatever leftovers were in the refrigerator and take them to eat in the car. Unfortunately, we didn't really have much car-friendly food. In otherwords, we had too much food that required utensils, which is fine for passengering, but not so much for driving. (And it also requires remembering to bring a utensil, which we did not.)

So we had marinated tofu, cucumber salad, vegetable pitas and grapes. Okay, it's easy to eat grapes in the car, but afer that...

At some point, Ronnie remembered that we had a spoon in the glove compartment. Less helpful than a fork, but nonetheless, easier to use for cucumber salad than fingers. But eating with a utensil while driving is still a far less than ideal situation.

Unless... you get held up by so much traffic that the interstate becomes a parking lot. Then, you've got plenty of time! Thankfully for us, this happened right outside of Springfield, Illinois. We made it 3 miles in 45 minutes and had plenty of time to eat. Thanks, IDOT!

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Longest Haircut Ever

A friend and I went to get haircuts today at a beauty school here in Evanston. It's not a "name brand" school and I was a little wary. I've gone to the Aveda school many times and they've never failed me. But we really didn't feel like having to go all the way to the city just to get haircuts so why not try this place. What would be the worst thing that could happen, right?

We got there on time for our 1:30pm appointments and I was in a chair with Chrystal 10 minutes later. I asked her how long she'd been on the floor and she said, "Three weeks." That's usually how I decide whether I'm just going to get the same haircut I had only shorter, or something new. This was clearly going to be a healthy trim day.

It took about 15 minutes to shampoo my hair. There was water everywhere. Chrystal was very, very new. At least I knew enough to take off my hoop earrings. And the whole shampoo process was strange. For the hair right above my forehead and at my temples, she just sort of patted the shampoo in. Like I said, very new. And the back of my head got a good scrub. Weird.

And then she started cutting. Like Aveda, there are instructors everywhere and she and I were thankfully working with a very good one. There were others who were very obviously not as good, so I had one thing going in my favor. Chrystal was very slow, methodical and detail oriented. I suppose that's a good thing, but I felt like she was cutting each hair individually.

They always ask how I style my hair at home and what products I use. I always have to laugh. I wash it, towel dry it, and it styles itself. And every once in a while I put a leave-in conditioner in, but not so often that it could constitute a routine. But they put all sorts of goop in my hair anyway and dry it. I didn't have the heart to tell her I was going to the gym afterwards.

A full two and a half hours later, I was finally done. I was too embarrassed to ask if she really had cut every hair individually.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Last Pizza

The last pizza was far traditional and very, very good. It was cheese (of course), carmelized onions and tuna. and folded up into a wrappy sort of thing before being put in the oven. Very, very good.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On the look out

So far, we have not seen Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, or their families. We are on the look-out.

Venezia

Venice is beautiful. And there are no cars or bicycles, which makes it a great place to walk. The manager at our hotel told us that the pizza is no good here, but we already discovered that he was wrong.

The lunch menu listed a four-cheese pizza, but only listed mozzarella, gorgonzola, and parmesan. I thought the logical question was, “What’s the fourth cheese?” It took a while, and finally the waiter understood my question and answered, “Brie.”. I have to say, it was a great pizza. Not the best so far, but definitely already better than anything in Florence.

Getting here was an adventure. We were waiting for the train on the correct platform and at the place that the overhead signs indicated the doors would be. Except they weren’t. We were smack in between the two doors. So rather than being the first people on the train with all of our bags, we were literally the last. Thankfully, there were lots of other tourists who didn’t realize you could put bags under the seats and so we had plenty of space for our things.

The other things we‘ve noticed about Venice is that there seem to be more pastry shops than gelaterias. We haven’t stopped in either yet, but I’m sure we will. We did stop at a grocery store to buy things for dinner. It will certainly be our least expensive meal so far and the first time we’ll see vegetables on our plate other than topping a pizza.

Our hotel is right on the Grand Canal. The room has the same flocked wallpaper as my parent’s dining room, and the furniture is the same style as the bedroom furniture I had as a child. That’s just weird.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Dearth of Pizza

I think we figured out that pizza here in Florence just isn't as good as it was in Rome, so today, we had no pizza. But since I had pizza for lunch and dinner yesterday, I think that overall, I'm still on track for an average of pizza once a day.

But tonight's gelato was excellent. It was a chocolate base with rum, cinnamon and pepper. Maybe a bit too much pepper, but overall, quite tasty.

An ordinary day

My friends took the bus to Lucca today and I decided to take a day to wander around more of Florence.

The Galileo Museum has been closed for renovations and is supposed to re-open this spring. May is spring, so I walked over to the museum. It turns out, that in Florence, June 10th is spring. While technically that is correct, it is not helpful for those of us here in May. There is a very large sun dial outside the museum and so I knew I was there at 11am. That didn't matter, but it was helpful to know how long I'd already been wandering around.

I also stopped by a post office to change some more money. Invariable, no matter when or where I travel, I need just a few more dollars (or shekels or euros) to make it through the last few days. The other good thing about the post office is that there are seats, and it is cool, and maybe even air conditioned. There are no actual indications at the post office that you can change money there - I'd read about it, but there's all sorts of bad information on the internet, so really, I had no idea.

The other interesting thing we've discovered is that not so many Italians speak English. I'm not one of those people who thinks that the rest of the world should all learn "our" language, but given that I don't know Italian, I have been seeking out those people who do have some English facility. I did not find any of those people at the post office.

But I watched what everyone else was doing, took a number and waited to be called. The clerk behind the counter also didn't speak English, but she did speak the universal language of money, which was helpful enough.

While I was waiting to be called, I noticed that you can do more at the Italian Post Offices than just buy stamps and change money. You can also buy music CDs, exercize videos, books (ficton and non-fiction) and office supplies.

We're leaving Florence tomorrow. There are simply too many tourists. Groups with the leader wearing a funny hat, carrying a bright yellow umbrella or in sad cases, a stick with a bright rag on the end. It doesn't matter whether I'm in DC, Chicago, or Florence, I'm not a fan of groups of tourists.

Sadly, we will be missing the Firenze Gelato Festival. That might be for the best, but I can't see how. There is also a Terra Futura conference that was scheduled to coincide with the gelato festival. I guess they're thinking that gelato is part of an environmentally sustainable world. I agree.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pizza Redemption

The pizza I ate for dinner was definitely a step up from lunch. Still, so far, the pizza in Rome has been better than pizza in Florence.

There's a huge market here with all sorts of leather goods. But at the end, there were a few other types of artists, including a Moroccan who had beautiful water colors and etchings. I'd rather spend money on art than leather, so I did. I'm sure I'll spend far more on framing than I did on the etching of the Ponte Vecchio, but that's okay.

The artist was drinking some wine as we approached his table, and before we could even start looking at his work, he told us he'd been drinking for 32 of his 48 years. The only person he really loves is his mother because she gave birth to nine people. I didn't ask about the wedding ring he was wearing.

Hotel Carravaggio

This hotel is definitely three-star (as opposed to our four-star hotel in Rome). The rooms are fine. The bathroom is clean. There are fitted sheets on the bed (as there were at the hotel in Rome). But the beds are the smallest beds I've ever slept in. I tend to toss and turn in my sleep, and in these beds, if you toss, you can't turn. And if you turn, you definitely can't toss.

In addition to cereal, milk and rolls, breakfast features all sorts of packaged foods- from jelly and nutella and honey, to crackers and pate. Yes, pate. I have only one word for this. Ewww.

David

Michaelangelo's David doesn't look very Jewish. And we all decided that the Accademia is our kind of museum. A few specific things to see and not too big. We spent almost an hour there, most of it looking at David, who doesn't actually seem very self-conscious given how many people are staring at him.

The pizza today (so far) has been disappointing.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Firenze

The waitress on television was most definitely not named after this city.

Smaller than Rome, more manageable, more diverse, both old and modern, and not quite as much graffiti. In Rome, everyone was wearing something bedazzled, or at least shiny. Here, they are dressed to the nines, and you can look at them in direct sunlight and not be blinded.

The train was an adventure. First, we all decided to walk to the train station. Bags on wheels are a great invention, but five people, four of whom have the identical bag, walking in a line like ducks for a mile is just embarrassing. At some point, we thought that two or three might take a bus or at least a cab, but in the end, no. We all walked.

And, we all have bags that are too big. Thankfully, they fit under the seats of the train, but not so easily. And none of us believed it was time to start getting our bags out so we could make a quick exit when the train stopped. Oops.

We’re hoping that the call I made to Italy a few weeks ago to reserve tickets for the Uffizi and Accademia will actually yield tickets. We’ll find out tomorrow.

And, just to be on the safe side, I had both pizza and pasta today. I have yet to have gelato, but the night is young.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Addendum

1. We did not expect to get mugged in Naples, but the city has as reputation as the pick-pocket capitol of Italy. We also were not disappointed not to have been chosen to participate in this time-honored activity.

2. Who knew that Roman numerals are still used extensively in Rome?!

3. I do not believe the citizens of Pompeii were individually responsible for the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the concept of guilt-by-association had already been realized.

Napoli

I did not get to eat pizza in Naples. But I did get to eat Neopolitan ice cream, so that was good. And we didn’t get mugged today. So that was good too.

Today we went to Naples on our way to Pompeii. It involved two trains and a hike up a large hill.

The hike was the easiest part. The old Pompeii was a fairly large port city that was obliterated when Vesuvius blew it’s top in 79 A.D. I’m pretty sure it was delayed retribution for the destruction of the Second Temple, but I didn’t see that mentioned anywhere in the literature. Still, it’s a good theory, right?

Everything is more or less as it was then, without the ash and without the roofs. The walls, floors, and ancient graffiti are all still there.

Actually, that’s one thing about Italy I do not understand. There is graffiti everywhere. From Rome down to Pompeii, it was one un-ending spray paint fest. People 2000 years ago etched theirs in rather than using spray paint, but evidently old habits die very, very hard, and in this case, not at all.

I also realized two other things that would have been helpful to have brought with me. One would be a basic phrase book of Italian words. The other would be a watch. Trains here run on time and being too early is annoying and being too late is just dumb, especially when you don’t have to be.

Even though we didn’t get to eat pizza in the birthplace of pizza, we did have excellent pizza today back in Rome. Tonight was thinly fried eggplant and mozzarella. The conversation at the shop went like this:

Me: I’ll have that piece
Pizza guy: Eggplant and mozzarella
Me: Yes, I’ll have that one
Pizza guy: Yes, eggplant and Mozzarella
Me: I want that piece
Pizza guy: cold or hot?
Me: hot
Pizza guy: hot?
Me: yes, hot.
Me: pointing to oven…
Me: mmmmmmm

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rome, Day 2

We took the trolley-bus to Vatican City this morning. We think the trolley-bus runs in the middle of the street and the regular buses run in the right lane. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be a difference. No one seems to actually run their tickets through the validation machines on either one. Because we’d taken food from breakfast to snack on during the day and felt guilty, and because we were going to the Vatican and felt like we shouldn’t have “sinned” on the way there, we did validate our tickets.

The Vatican is very…Catholic. First we went to see St. Peter’s Baslica. My father told me that he’d been there during the war and if I mentioned his name, we would get bumped to the front of the line. Who knew?! He was right.

The basilica is beautiful and we also went down to see the crypts, including the one of the most recent pope, John Paul.

I have to say, Rick Steves is a genius. We have been using his walking tours since we got here and they are fantastic. Without them, we would really be at a loss and I think we all think we should be sending him a fruit basket. I think future vacations may only be to places where he has podcasts.

We waited in line for an hour to get into the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is the personal chapel of the Pope. Let me just say, he MUST have an easier way to get in than we did. There were thousands of people (at least), and the official route wound up and down little stair cases and in and out of narrow doorways. It was as if they knew that we would never go through the galleries on our own and wanted to make sure that we saw more of their collection.

Almost every painting had some kind of representation of Jesus. Or Mary. Or an apostle or saint. Which all makes sense, but after a while, it all looks the same to an untrained eye. Until you get to the Sistine Chapel.

It’s incredible. Michaelangelo was a genius.

For those keeping track, we have absolutely kept up our commitment to eat pizza and gelato. And we have been walking miles and miles.

Friday, May 21, 2010

When in Rome...

Go roaming.

I landed in Rome and learned a few things.

First, Italian flight attendants are evidently as concerned about passengers eating as Jewish mothers are about their children. Our flight took off at 5:15am. I can’t imagine that anyone had slept before the flight, and as soon as I boarded, I put on my eye mask, took the cotton ball that they put a cover on and call a pillow behind my head, unfurled a surprisingly soft blanket and tried to sleep. I couldn’t really sleep, but I was trying. Until 45 minutes later when the flight attendant poked me in the arm and woke me up to give me breakfast. Keep in mind that I was sitting in the window seat. And I’m pretty sure I have a bruise.

I landed and decided to take a bus to the main transit station in Rome. About five minutes out from the airport, the bus driver pulled to the side of the highway and started to yell at someone on the phone. I couldn’t tell if it was his mother, his girlfriend, or someone from the bus company. The next thing I know, everyone is sticking their hands up in the air checking to see if their air vents were open. I’m guessing it wasn’t his mother on the phone. A few minutes later we took off and I got an unnarrated tour of the city.

Rather than figure out where the bus stops were, where to buy a ticket and where to get off the bus, I decided to walk to our hotel. It was about a mile and at least kept me awake. At this point I should be honest and say – I packed too big a bag. I don’t think I could have packed in a carry-on suitcase, but my new duffel bag is just too big. It’s not full by any means, but it’s still too big.
The food pyramid doesn’t exist here – it’s just a few columns, mainly pizza and gelato. At least for the first day and a half, those have been our staples. I once was in Israel where our goal was a falafel a day. Here, our goal is pizza and gelato at least once a day, if not more.

Our expectation today was to visit the Coliseum and the Forum. We finished the Coliseum and then met a woman who gave us a map to a market she and her friend had visited in the morning. How we met her is another whole story. We went to the Forum, and then decided to walk to Campo de Fiore, where the market was. The market had very clearly closed for the day. But while we were walking around, we saw signs for a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit that featured real, interactive machines built from his designs. It was a great exhibit that featured models of his flying machines, tanks, printing press, odometer and a lot of drawings.

And then we decided to walk to the Pantheon via the Piazza Navona. And then to the Trevi Fountain (we’d walked there and to the Spanish steps last night). It was a lot of walking. Mainly, I think Rome is full of statues and fountains and way too many tourists, us among them. After all of this, we made the wise decision to take a bus back to our hotel.

Two last thoughts:
1. I need a straw for my Nalgene. Mimi – I shouldn’t have given the straw back to you!
2. I need to remember to put sunscreen on the tops of my feet if I’m going to wear my Teva’s again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ben Gurion

There should be a rule that all airports have free wireless access.

Confirmation

It has been verified. There is nothing redeeming about being awake at 3:3oam. Of the 360 students with us, all but maybe 40 walked three miles to the Kotel this morning. I stayed at the hotel to offer support the those that didn't walk.

Shavuot may be considered a holiday that features dairy food, but not at the Shalom Hotel. No, at the Shalom Hotel, it's all meat, all the time. The most interesting food so far has been the peas, corn, carrots and tuna salad, which is neither dairy nor meat, but most importantly, edible.

Unfortunately, I will also be awake between midnight at at least 5am tomorrow morning as well, so if any further confirmation is needed about whether redemption can be found, I will have an answer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shavuot in Jerusalem

I am in Jerusalem for Shavuot, one of the three major holidays in Judaism. The last time I was here for Shavuot, I went to a concert with my family. This year, I'm "on the job" and there will be no concerts. That said, there will be a pilgrimage to the Western Wall, leaving at 3:30am.

Remember last week when I wrote that there was nothing good about being awake at 2:00am? I'm fairly certain that the same thing can be said about 3:30am.

Evidently, there is one very important item that all travelers need to bring on the pilgrimage (in addition to the first fruits of their harvest) and that is: sun glasses. Yes, you read correctly. When you walk to the Kotel in the dark, you don't think about the fact that the sun will be quite bright on your way back. But we've been told to think about it and bring sun glasses. Okay.

A few participants (and some staff) were disappointed to find out that we would not be also performing a ritual sacrifice on this holiday. I explained that it's too hard to find a perfect red heifer these days.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another Day, Another Hotel

Hotel number two in Israel does have fitted sheets. And when I open the window and the drapes, I have a perfect view of the Calatrava pedestrian bridge. (It's not easy to create a new architectural landmark in a 2000 year old city.) But lest you think I have nothing to complain about, I do. The bathroom isn't small, but the layout is such that when you sit on the toilet, your knees are under counter that holds the sink. And the toilet paper roll is behind you.

I had lunch in the Mamilla mall today. Getting there was torturous. The traffic in Jerusalem is terrible, unless it's 4am and there's always construction. The mall has a huge parking lot - five levels underground and the size of a city block. It was all but totally full. The only way to find a spot was to stalk someone walking from the elevator. And this is the cleanest parking lot I've ever seen. The floors are spotless and some kind of shiny painted concrete. So that when you turn the corners, your tires squeak on the floor.

The mall itself is pretty fancy and there are all sorts of boutiques and American chains (like The Gap) and evidently enough people to shop in them to keep a five level parking garage full. And the first two hours of parking are free, so that alone makes it a great place to be.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Pet Peeve

My regular readers know that my pet peeve here in Israel are sheets that are too short for the bed. And invariably, the shortness is exhibited at the head and not the foot of the bed. It's just gross. I will never understand why the standard size sheets can't fit the standard size mattresses. Can it be that hard?! Even the Shalom Hotel figured it out - it can't be that difficult.

My Day at the Mall

This morning, I went to Tzfat. I met our groups and then made my way to the studio of my friend, Morris Dahan. He wasn’t there, so I left my business card with a note. On my way up to the mall to get some work done, I stopped at Neot Mordechai, the kibbutz where Naot shoes are produced. I haven’t bought anything there in a few years, but it’s always good to stop and look. I walked in, and who did I see? My friend Morris! Because I didn’t see him at his studio, I actually saved a lot of money today.

I spent the rest of the day at the mall in Kiryat Shemona. As far as malls go, it's not much. There's a grocery store, a book store, a cafe, two falafel stands, a pizza counter, a Burger King, and a few other odd stores that don't seem to sell any particular kind of thematic items. But they have tables, chairs and electrical outlets, which makes it a great place to work.

Around noon, the Israeli kids came in to hang out. Then the soldiers came to buy snacks for the week. A little later a lot of senior citizens. They all got ice cream cones. Then came the Birthright buses. They all want shawarma and so they all wait in line at the same place. Later, the Arab kids come in. They look just like the Israeli kids. I wish the Birthright participants had seen them. It was so normal and a view of Arabs that most Americans will never see.

Monday, May 10, 2010

36 hours...

You know that volcano that erupted in Iceland? It's a great act of nature, probably beautiful under many circumstances, and generally things in Iceland don't actually impact my life very often.

That came to an end on Saturday night. My flight was delayed 7 hours and when we saw the map of the flight, it was clear that we took a big detour around something in the Atlantic. It was either volcanic ash, or the Bermuda triangle, and I’m pretty sure we weren’t quite that far south.

When I landed in Rome, I’d missed my connection and had a 6 hour wait before the next flight to Israel. I was lucky. There were travelers who couldn’t make their connections for days – either flights were full, or cancelled. I waited in line for two hours for a meal voucher. It’s not like I had anything else to do.

But of course first I had to figure out where I should be waiting. One would think the transit desk, where three different people had directed me. Alas, there was no one at the transit desk. Finally, someone suggested that I got to the other terminal. Again, with nothing but time, I figured, why not?

So I made my way to the other terminal, found the transit desk and found two different systems at work. One group of people was crowding around the agent in the corner, and one group was in line. I went with the line, which turned out to be smart because the agent in the corner left two minutes later, forcing the group of people to go to the back of the line. Which they weren’t very happy about. There were four people in front of me.

Two hours later, I got a meal voucher. I asked how much it was worth and was told that depending on how much I wanted to eat. Okay…. So I went to the food court and asked the cashier if they took the voucher, to which he replied no, that I had to go to the restaurant.

Wasn’t that where I was?! Evidently not.

I found the restaurant. It’s really a cafeteria with a chef. Dinner options included salmon risotto, a nice looking fish, meaty things, and some great looking salads. I opted for salad and when I asked about dressing, I was directed to a table around the corner. The table had a few large bottles of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and some other kind of liquid I couldn’t identify. That worked.

I finally made it to my gate and found that you can fly a lot of places from Rome at 10pm. You can go to Casablanca, Beirut, Tirana, and Damascus. All the flights were supposed to leave at the same time. You get on a little shuttle bus and they take you to the plane. I was hoping that the shuttle driver knew which planes were which. And that the pilots were taken to the correct planes. Not that I was worried. I’d love to go to some of those places….

Friday, April 30, 2010

Update on Crispy Carrot Patties

My overall assessment - not bad. I'll hang on to recipe with a note to add more dill next time. My preference was to eat them with horseradish sauce but Ronnie ate them plain. They weren't bad plain, I just thought they needed more oomph, you know? And there were enough that we each ate them for breakfast the entire week. I wonder what we'll have for breakfast next week....

Ice Cream

Three years ago, but maybe more, my friend Dennis gave me his ice cream maker on permanent loan. I moved it from DC to Milwaukee to Evanston without even opening the box.

This week, I decided to try making ice cream and opened the box. Yes, there was an ice cream maker in the box and no, there were no other surprises.

Making ice cream has never been on the short list of things I want to learn how to do in my life, but I like to experiment and this seemed like an opportunity.

I wanted just to see if I understood how the whole thing was going to work so I started with soy milk, since we have a lot of that in the house and added sugar and cocoa powder. It was okay. Nothing to write home about, but I now had enough confidence to try the real thing.

Last night, armed with whole milk, heavy whipping cream, sugar, unsweetened chocolate, eggs and vanilla, I made the base for real chocolate ice cream. I wasn't 100% sure what it was supposed to look like, but it looked like it would be pretty good.

This morning, after letting the mixture cool in the fridge over night, we poured it into the magic machine. Thirty minutes later - amazing chocolate ice cream. Very rich, and surprisingly excellent. In comparison, the first batch of ice cream - well, there is no comparison.

Tomorrow I'm going to try blueberry, or maybe a chocolate cinnamon. Thanks, Dennis!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Crispy Carrot Patties

Maybe 15 years ago, I made a binder of all sorts of recipes copied from books, magazines and the backs of the labels of canned goods. I don't remember whether it felt like a lot of work at the time or not. I do know that I was clearly not so industrious as to clip recipes from newspapers. If there were a few things that looked interesting, the whole section got stuck in the back of the binder. I've continued to put things in the binder over the last 15 years, but not so much.

Yesterday, I decided to go through the binder. Somethings still look interesting, and some, I can't believe I ever copied the first time, much less kept for 15 years.

I found a recipe for Crispy Carrot Patties. Even the name doesn't sound so appealing. But I happen to have a lot of carrots in the refrigerator, so I read on. It also called for two cups of cooked brown rice - exactly what I have left from last week's pot of brown rice. And it called for two cups of garbanzo beans. Now things are seeming strange. I have exactly two cups of garbanzo beans left from the huge can I opened on Friday. The author considered the recipe "rich" because it includes 1/3 cup of tahini. It so happens that I have tahini in the house.

I found a big bowl and dumped in the carrots (grated), onions and celery (sauteed), matza meal (gotta use that up!), tahini, soymilk, garbanzos (smashed), dill (fresh) and a few eggs. What I now have is a huge pile of pre-cooked Crispy Carrot Pattie mix. Really, a huge pile.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how, given how much I have, 1/3 of a cup of tahini, incorporated through the whole thing, can be considered rich.

They're in the oven now. Even if they're good, I'm not sure what we'll do with 22 of them. And a small baking dish full. Like I said, it was a really big pile.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Not quite the Princess or the Pea

The next day, after the whole "tripping over a toothpick" incident, my father's hearing aid evidently fell out of his ear but he didn't notice. It's like the Princess and the Pea in reverse. Only not quite.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Things Heard in St. Louis

"I just tripped on a toothpick!" Evidently my mother has a very well-developed sense of balance. We all knew which character she would identify with in the Princess and the Pea, but that gave us no guidance as to her balance. Now we know.

"You wouldn't like your picture taken (pause) on a trapeze." If you knew the characters, this would be funny. I'm not sure when the last time anyone in our family was on a trapeze. Probably never. There's a reason for that...

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Charoset Truffles

I'm not sure how who originally sent me this recipe, but it's destined to be a classic. I did learn this year that date paste makes it a much, much easier recipe than dealing with actual dates. And rather than just rolling them in sugar, I rolled them in cinnamon sugar, which just gave them a little more flavor.

This year, I tried to travel with them. Note to self - not a good idea to put them in a plastic baggie. They really need a container that won't allow them to be smushed. They still taste good, but they don't look very pretty....

I also made chocolate-covered things. Everyone kept asking me what they are called, and didn't believe that I really do call them "chocolate-covered things." Melt a bag of chocolate chips (it doesn't matter if they are milk or bittersweet chocolate), add a handful of mini marshmallows, a handful of dried fruit (I like raisins and/or cherries), a handful of nuts (I used almonds in one batch and walnuts in another), and a handful of something crunchy (I used farfel, but I think they would be really, really good with broken pretzels). And then just dump it on to wax paper, or spoon into paper dessert cups. 10 minutes - dessert done.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

There's Cholent on the Counter

My roommate is an observant Jew. A very observant Jew - she notices everything. It's part of her tradition to eat cholent every Shabbat. It's a mix of meat, beans, potatoes, onions, garlic and usually barley, but not for her (health related, not another obscure family tradition).

So even though we're in Chalmette, Louisiana, there must be cholent on Shabbat. I called home and said to Ronnie, "There's a cholent on the counter." He asked if that was a code for something. I told him it was a code for there being cholent on the counter.

A few hours after everything was dumped into the pot, you would never have known that our room usually smells like mold and smoke. I'm not a meat eater, and it didn't look appealing, but the smell was great. And it shut out the otherwise gross conditions. I am now a fan of cholent.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Over Packing

I seriously overpacked here. And this is after three or four years of taking less and less each year. I forget that it's easiest just to wear the same clothes every day, or at least a few days in a row.

Last night, my roommate and I were working in the "washeteria" and I was getting tired and started shutting my computer down so I could go back and go to sleep. And then she mentioned that she thought she should take a shower. I had planned to take a shower last night but by the time I was so tired, I really couldn't consider showering before I went to bed. She looked at me and asked, "have I showered since you've been here?"

To be honest, I really hadn't been paying any attention to her showering habits, but as I thought about it, I replied, "I don't think so." Keep in mind that I arrived on Saturday night and today is Thursday. And then I had to think about the last time I had showered. That had been Sunday night.

Eww. And yet, I was still too tired. Here's the thing - because the motel is so gross, the idea and process of showering are far more involved than other, more highly rated establishments.

First - there's not really a place to put your towel. And there's not really enough room to lay out a bath mat. And you don't want to put anything, even dirty clothes on the floor. And while I didn't think I would do this, it somehow makes sense to wear flip flops in the shower because even with a bathmat, you don't want to step directly on the floor with bare feet. Or even in socks (which you wouldn't be wearing in the shower, of course).

And then there's no where to put your wet towel. And there are dead bugs on almost everything so really, it's just not an environment that inspires showering....

The Greatest Place for Wireless in Chalmette

I'm sitting in McDonald's. I don't really frequent fast food places very often, so the fact that I've been sitting here for a few hours is a little strange for me. The bathrooms are clean, they have free refills on soda and it smells like french fries. That beats the hotel lobby/laundry room and their combination odor of mold and smoke. The only catch is that there is only one outlet, under a very large television whose volume seems to be set very, very high. Did I mention that it smells like french fries?

There's an older, possibly slightly disturbed couple that just sat down in the next booth. The man threw a piece of lettuce across the room and the woman gave their large fries to someone sitting at another table.

Other than that, it's the perfect place to work.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on New Orleans

Sometimes I think New Orleans is like Jerusalem. I can find my way around more or less, but I don’t really know the names of any of the streets. And they aren’t organized in any way that I can figure out, except the cross streets in the French Quarter which seem to be alphabetical. I can get from one side of town to another, but not necessarily efficiently, which I suppose doesn’t generally matter too much.

Today I was at a work site and looked at the houses across the street. One was a shot-gun house, the next was a double shot-gun, and the third was a two story house that looked like two doubles and a pitched roof. The third house looked as if it was leaning forward toward the street. The second was leaning toward the first, and it was obvious from my vantage point that the front of the first house and the back of the first house were both tilted in different directions. It’s as if Dr. Seuss did the city re-construction.

And it certainly looks like Dr. Seuss color choices. Flamingo pink houses next to a sherbet orange house with yellow and purple trip, and an all purple house with red and blue trip.

What I can’t figure out here are the streets. They are some of the worst roads I’ve ever had to drive on. Some of it is construction related, and much more just looks like the streets haven’t been fully repaved for decades. The parts that have been repaved or filled in haven’t been done evenly. I can’t imagine what’s it’s doing the shocks on my rental car. It’s a brand new car but has probably aged a lot in just the few days I’ve been driving.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Parkway Bakery & Tavern

Yesterday, rather than eating an egg salad sandwich that had been sitting in my car for the whole, very warm morning, I went out for lunch. Someone from our DC office had just arrived in town to see our program for a few days and I figured it was a good opportunity to avoid food poisoning.

Late morning, I'd been working in a coffeeshop and I'd asked the woman behind the counter for a lunch recommendation. She gave me a name of a sandwich shop and said they had a good Caprese sandwich.

So we made our way to the Parkway Bakery & Tavern. Wouldn't you know it, they were filming a special for the Travel Channel that day. The places was packed - business men, soldiers in fatigues and construction workers. None of them looked like they cared much for the cameras and lights.

We looked at the menu and there were three vegetarian options - the Caprese Po'boy, a Grilled Cheese and french fries. Honestly, it was a little embarrassing that at such a well-known place, we ordered the least authentic things on the menu. The waitress laughed when I ordered my sandwich and I laughed when she asked if I wanted chicken on it.

Embarrassing or not, my sandwich was excellent and the grilled cheese looked pretty good too.

The Lower Ninth

After all this time, there are blocks where you would think the hurricanes were last month, not more than four years ago. Houses that you can't believe are still standing, spray-painted 'x's still on the doors. And still, there are people moving back to the neighborhoods. Fresh paint, in all colors of the rainbow, say that the neighborhoods are coming back.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Difference a Year Makes

The first thing I noticed driving through Chalmette, La last night was that there were a lot of cars on the road. Last year, you were lucky to see another pair of headlights during the long trip out to camp.

We aren't staying nearly as far out as last year, but it's clear that there are more people and businesses in this area. I think there must be a law that requires at least one Dollar Store per square mile. They are everywhere! And there are a lot more bars and taverns open.

There's also a new Wal-mart that looks like it must have just opened, a dozen fast-food places, and also some new branch banks. To be sure, there are still store fronts that are shuttered and have been for more than four years already. But the street lights are working, new businesses, and people on the road.

We're staying at a motel. It might be generous to give it a 1/2 star. Really. And that 1/2 star would only be for the wireless access in the lobby.

It's easy to say that I would prefer to be back in the storage room behind the school office we stayed in last year, or the 12 to a bunk with one bathroom cabin we had the year before. There are bugs everywhere. There are flying things that are bigger than gnats but smaller than mosquitos. They don't bite, but they seem to be everywhere and particularly seem to like our bathroom sink/counter area.

Before I arrived, my roommate told me that she didn't want her feet to touch the carpet. I said, "but it's a motel!" She said, "uh-huh." She's right. The carpeting is gross. Evidently they don't really vaccuum. The walls are covered in spots where previous guests tried to kill big bugs. We know this because in less than 12 hours I have already witnessed the creation of two more spots on the wall. The bugs that left those marks were huge. Not medium-size, not big, not even large. Huge. We've decided that they are waterbugs and not roaches. It's possible that those are two names for the same kind of creature.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I am a Triathlete

Or so my new t-shirt says. I signed up for the Lazy Man Triathlon at our local YMCA. We were given six weeks to complete a full marathon (26.2 miles walking or running), a 2.5 mile swim, and 112 miles of bike-riding. Six weeks is a lot of time, right?

Wrong.

I learned a few things from this experience:
  • Real triathletes - those people who do this in a day - are crazy. Where do they need to go that they have to bike, swim and run that far in one day? Ridiculous. I know people who do triathlons. I really have to re-think how and why we're friends. They're crazy. The most recent DSM has a whole category just for them. Now don't get me wrong. I like watching television coverage of the Ironman competition in Hawaii (the 'real' one) as much as the next person. What these people do is unbelievable. And the ones who really struggle are the ones who are probably the first to sign up again for next year.
  • It would be faster to finish the marathon if I believed in running. I don't. If there's a fire, or someone chasing me, then maybe. Otherwise, it's against my religion.
  • Swimming takes a lot longer when you do some laps using a kickboard. To my Y's credit, they have a regular pool and a warm pool. The warm pool is really nice.
  • I found that I can't bike and read at the same time. I'm generally good at multi-tasking, but evidently not with these two activities.

The man who gave me my t-shirt looked at me as if he couldn't believe I had finished. But he kept a straight face nevertheless and said, "Congratulations. Thanks for participating."

And yes, I can't wait to sign up in 11 months for the next one. It's all about the t-shirt.

I'm getting to that age...

where I buy travel insurance.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shopping for Passover

It's that time again. It doesn't usually happen until after Purim, but once it does, it's here in full swing. That's right - Passover aisles. Rows and rows, and, just to be safe, rows of things made just for Passover.

There is a short aisle just for matza in all different sizes, types and flavors. There is another short aisle just for cleaning products. I never understood the difference between regular and Passover cleaning products and I still don't.

And then there's the actual food. It looks like you can get almost anything you want "kosher for Passover" except actual bread. And I suspect that someone is experimenting with that for the near future. There are cereals, noodles, a million sauces, jams, spices, and even small tv dinners. And in the freezer section, there's a whole huge freezer that just has gefilte fish (on sale) and on the other side, there's kosher for passover pizza.

I finished my Passover shopping a few weeks ago with one small bag of "stuff", mainly small canisters of matza meal, farfel, and some sauces I'll use on fish. There's not much else that we usually eat that we can't eat on Passover - so all those things on the shelves are nice to look at, but I would never buy them. And I bought Temptee cream cheese - three containers. I'm not sure why, but we only see it at Passover and I'm not sure why, but it's the best cream cheese year round.

I was out with a friend on Saturday and we stopped by the "kosher" grocery store. It's a regular chain grocery with a kosher deli counter, a kosher Chinese take-out place and a lot of kosher food, but all wrapped up in the rest of the store.

You might think that with all of these amenities, the primary Jewish shoppers are are the population of more observant Jews who live just South of the store. You may be right, but I found the rest of them. Yup - shopping on Shabbat. Carts full of matza, fruit rings, gefilte fish, ko-jel, and cut-up Aaron's chicken.

And, get this - the chicken was the "Kosher Saturday Special". I took a picture but I don't know how to upload it - you'll have to just trust me. I'm not sure who they expected to see the signs, but clearly all of these folks did. And yes, this is the same store that brought us the "Kosher Rosh Special" back in September.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Brussel Sprouts

I've never liked brussel sprouts. I know people who love them and honestly, I think they (the people, not the vegetable) are sort of weird. Sorry. I just do.

But a few weeks ago, they were on sale at the produce market and I had this idea that I should buy them and roast them. I'm not really sure what possessed me. They sat in the refrigerator for almost two weeks. I hate wasting food, but I figured maybe $1.50 was the cost of having an idea.

Sunday morning I was at the produce market and stocked up. I'm not really sure what I was thinking. So Sunday night, I decided to roast a lot of vegetables. Asparagus, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, red peppers, carrots, eggplant, and yes, finally, the brussel sprouts. I might even be missing a vegetable or two from this list.

Everything (separately) got tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, except the chickpeas (which I forgot to mention) which had curry powder and the sweet potatoes that had the very last of my Old Bay. And I might as well say it now - Old Bay is the greatest spice ever.

Shockingly, the brussel sprouts were excellent. They are not my new favorite food - let's be clear. But they were really good. And everything else was pretty good too. Not that there was any reason to assume they wouldn't be, but you never know. The only thing that wasn't great were the carrots. They just never got sweet. They aren't bad, but definitely not the best.

The worst part about roasting - you can't get everything in the oven at the same time. I don't have that many oven racks (or that many baking sheets, for that matter) so the oven has to stay on, and at a high temperature for a long time.

The best part about roasting - getting someone else to do the chopping. And then eating, of course.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Slowly but Surely...

For four weeks, maybe more, a big box was sitting in our hall, just inside the front door. It was about five feet long by 15 inches wide and it wasn't leaning against the wall in a way that wouldn't take up much space. No, it was lying in all of it's five foot glory along the hall.

Inside was an Ikea bookcase that we planned to turn on its side and use as a a hall table. Somehow, it seemed that making my way through Ikea, getting the package into the car and getting it upstairs should have been enough. The thing is heavy! The fact that it also had to be put together was a step that just needed to come in its own time.

That time was yesterday afternoon. Nine pieces of wood, a million little wooden dowels, and 8 or 10 big metal screws. Oh yeah, and a little wrench, or whatever they call those little tools that are required to build anything from Ikea.

It took about 45 minutes. The instructions tell you not to try to build it alone. Of course, when I started building, I ignored that completely. Until I got to step three. Because while it wasn't heavy, the process definitely required a second person. To hold things steady, to get more wooden dowels,, to catch the screw that rolls down the floor...

Ronnie served as the sous constructer, prepping dowels in the right pieces and finding a suitable substitute for a mallet, which we have, somewhere. It turns out, that a 10-pound hand weight does a very good job. And he held things steady, caught the rolling screws*, and ultimately helped me stand it up - which admittedly, would have been hard to do by myself.

*note to Uncle Jake, who otherwise will surely comment. While it's true that screws generally roll in a weird circle because the one end is wider than the other, if they are also pushed, ever so slightly, (or accidently kicked) then they go farther.

In the end, it would be better if the table was 12 inches wide rather than 15, but it will do. And it needs something, like a table runner or something, to cover it, because while I like the light wood color, it doesn't look good against the light wall. Maybe in another month....

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sam's Club on a Thursday afternoon

I don't belong to Sam's Club, but I happened to be there last Thursday afternoon. My general impression is that it's like Costco, but not quite. I like Costco better.

Nevertheless, there I was, 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, walking through Sam's Club. I noticed a few things. First, you can't get chocolate yogurt at the little food stand at Sam's Club. That's not a primary reason to like or dislike a store, but if you were ever wondering, Costco has chocolate yogurt.

There were no samples. None. Nothing. Nada. Maybe they save the sampling for the weekend, I have no idea. I'm pretty sure that it should be rule number one at a store like this - have something to sample. Even if it was something I couldn't (or wouldn't) eat - there should be some reason to be there in the middle of the week rather than everyone bunching up together on the weekend, right?

Other than me, it seemed the everyone else there was either an immigrant from the Former Soviet Union, or an observant Jew. How do I know who they were? Well, they either had long skirts and sheitls (wigs) on, black velvet kippot (yarmulkes) and/or they were speaking Russian. And yes, I know some of you are sticklers out there, it is possible that they were also some combination of the two.

To be fair, there were a few people of color at the store who I believe I can safely assume were probably not observant Jews (based on the rotisserie chicken or other non-kosher meat in their carts) and not immigrants from Eastern Europe (based on the lack of accent).

Everyone, regardless of color, accent or religion seemed to need large quantities of paper towels. I thought maybe they were giving them away though I saw no evidence of this. Second to paper towels seemed to be toilet paper. Had I seen adding machine or cash register paper, I would have assumed that it all had something to do with rolled paper, but the commonalities seemed to end with the toilet paper.

I did learn one interesting thing that afternoon. It turns out that anyone can walk in and buy a fresh cheese pizza from their food stand without being an actual member. It was ridiculously inexpensive and meant that I didn't have to cook that night. And it turned out to be a pretty good pizza.

I'll always like Costco better and I doubt I'll ever be a member of Sam's Club, but it's good to know that I can always go ther for the important things.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cord Intervention Needed

I have too many cords in my life.

As I look around my office, I see chargers for my laptop, ipod and cell phone. And for my laptop, I've also got a webcam, mouse and headset. I have two earbuds for my cell phone in addition to a bluetooth device (and it's charger!). We also have a digital camera which has a charger and a cord to connect it to the computer.

And forget that there are cable wires coming out of the walls in different places, and extension cords between outlets and lamps.

It's too much. Everytime I take my laptop to a coffeeshop, it requires a tremendous packing and subsequent untangling. And everytime I set things back up at home, it starts all over.

I feel like I'm on the Matrix, only without the cool green streaming numbers background.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Amba

stains.

A week without blogging is like...

It's been raining all week, what can I say. No sunshine, no blogging. That, and I've been busy. Not so busy that I haven't seen completely random things that I try to remember and then forget, but busy enough.

The good news: I found amba. And evidently, it's not nearly as hard to find as I thought it was. Of course, now I need another eggplant.

The other good news: Pictures are now hung, include a stunning new painting by Morris Dahan. This time, it's an original, not even a seriograph.

The bad news that goes along with the other good news: we still have too much stuff and have a lot to do.

The other good news that goes along with the bad news that goes along with the other good news: if we never move again (the deal I made with Ronnie), it doesn't really matter how long this all takes. Except that I want it done already.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Blog

My laptop, power cord and netstick (kind of a portable wireless network) were stolen last night. Out of what I thought was a locked car. The good news is that there were no broken windows, and nothing else stolen. My purse (and wallet) had been locked in the trunk but if the car was open, essentially the trunk was too. My passport and the few random $20 bills that are stuck in my backpack hadn't been taken, nor was my cell phone charger or World of Puzzles magazine. The creepiest part is that the computer, power cord and netstick were in three separate sections of my backpack.

And for the thieves, I feel sorry for them. The battery is living on borrowed time and I have a great password - they've essentially stolen something only useful as a doorstop. Of course, it was so much more than a doorstop to me.... And all of this means that there will likely be no more blogging until next week when I am safely back in the snow-ridden Midwest. Oh well.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What I Ordered

I don't think it's strange to order water, Diet Coke and coffee. I haven't yet gotten the water, so at least there's no chance of anything tasting watered down.

Waiting for Natan Sharansky

Last week at I went to dinner with a colleague to Tal Bagels. We sat at the only table available, which wasn't really where we wanted to sit, but since we were hungry, we weren't going to wait for anything better. Three minutes later, Natan Sharansky got up from the table two over from us (which was where we wanted to sit) and left. We took his table, dirty dishes and all.

Someone asked me if I kept one of his napkins as a souvenir. Let me just say here, I did not.

So today, I am back at Tal Bagels on a Sharansky Watch. If he doesn't show up in the next hour, I'm out of here. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

To Cab or Not to Cab....

I was in the Old City today for the first time in years. Afterwards, I had a meeting and then had to get back to my hotel. Knowing better than to drive to the Old City (I took one of our buses here), I needed to get a cab back.

I saw one cab, but the driver wasn't taking new passengers. So I walked up the street a bit and saw two cabs. One fo the drivers said he could take me, but his was the cab that had a water bottle filling something in the engine. He pulled it out, closed the hood, closed the trunk (which was being propped open for something) and I got in. It was then that I noticed that the window was being kept from falling down by a screwdriver stuck in between the pane and the frame.

It did not inspire confidence.

The driver didn't want to use the meter and wanted to charge me 60 shekels to get back to my hotel. I told him that was too much and he offered 55 shekels. I told him I needed a receipt and that I would consider 50 shekels. He said yes but no receipt (since it wasn't going to be on the meter). So I got out.

The next cab stopped and agreed to take me for 45 shekels and a receipt. It was still cheaper than parking....

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Straw that was Used 'round the World

Yes, Mimi's straw made it to Israel in my Nalgene. Right now, the bottle is sitting in my backpack with an entire sliced lemon in it (possibly from last week) and about two cups of water and the straw. The gross part is that I really do think the lemon is a week old.

Evidently, Starbuck's straws hold up quite well to international travel. I saw no signs of deterioration, loss of functionality or jet lag. And, it has been saved, at least until now, from a new home in a comfy landfill.

Thanks again, Mimi!

Me? Obsessed?


I took down the very blurry picture I finally managed to take of the fabric mentioned in my last post. Sorry.














Monday, January 04, 2010

More on the Nigerians...

I'm back at the Shalom Hotel for an 8 day sojourn. I'm on the 16th floor. I've got a great view and were it not for the 10 minutes (minimum) that it takes to get up there, it's totally fine. No, I'm not walking up 16 flights -the elevators are so slow you would think that they are running on solar power available only on a cloudy day.

And the elevators are tiny, which means that they can hold six people max, and maybe 8 if two of them are children. If anyone has a suitcase or large backpack, assume five or less. But given the size of the hotel, cramming people on to one of the three small elevators is almost an Olympic sport.

Which is an unfortunate problem when there are also other hotel guests with serious body odor on the elevator. I just can't hold my breath that long. There. I said it. I know it's not a nice thing to say, but as my mother will attest, it is not the worst, by a long shot.

I have a few theories as to the persistence of the aroma.
  • 1. This is the smell of their home..
  • 2. This is the smell of Israel and they are reluctant to wash off the holiness.
  • 3. They are not accustomed to regular bathing.
  • 4. They are bathing regularly but do not have access to clean clothes.
And evidently I am staring at theses particular guests too much. I was in the dining room last night with two colleagues and had to be told repeatedly to stop being distracted (by my boss, no less!). I can't help it. As a community, they are all dressed in the same fabric. In this case, it was a bright purple and green fabric that had big pictures of Jesus on it at (what looked like) 10 inch intervals. I saw this fabric used for tunic, pants, shirts, dresses, skirts and head wraps. Poor Jesus! Given that I was being admonished for staring, I was unable to also take pictures.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Eggplant, Pickles, and Eggs - Oh My!

As I type, I'm eating a sandwich that includes chopped flat leaf parsley, hard boiled egg (sliced, not whole), roasted eggplant (also sliced, not whole), and pickles. There's also an indeterminite spread between the bread and the eggplant. It's not taking away from the rest of the sandwich, but since I can't tell much about it, I also can't tell whether it's adding anything.

It's not a combination that I would have ever thought to put together which proves there are clearly greater minds than mine inventing sandwich combinations!

On another front, I was smart this trip and brought a travel coffee mug with me. It doesn't fit under the dining hall coffee dispensers, but in case you're wondering, I can fill it with three small coffees.