What's Not to Laugh?

Almost everything about aging–except grave illness and death–can be funny as well as disturbing. I try to find the funny and help us all get through it!

Archive for the month “March, 2017”

Brisket

Here’s another of my essays written as part of a creative project with my friend Brenda. The word to work with here was “brisket.”

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If I can’t cook a decent brisket, am I still Jewish? Or, I should say, am I still a Jewish woman? That’s not to say a non-Jew can’t or doesn’t cook brisket, and it’s not to say that a man, of any persuasion, can’t or doesn’t cook brisket. It’s just that I’m sure I am not keeping up with Jewish tradition.

I have cooked many briskets (okay, several…), and I believe they were all passable. But so many of my friends and past generations of Jewish women (mainly my mother) presented briskets that were tender and tasty. They cooked them year after year with the same consistency and without having to more than glance at a recipe, if that.

Since I married my non-Jewish husband, we have together cooked a few briskets. I rely on him because he’s our resident chef. But even with his culinary skills, we needed to ponder which way to cut the meat when it was done. Against the grain? With the grain? And which way is the grain going? This happened every time.

Over the years, I absolved myself by successfully making other traditional Jewish dishes. My favorite are muffin-size potato kugels, stemming from recollection of my paternal grandmother making them every Passover. I didn’t’ have her recipe. She didn’t have her recipe. She cooked from memory—from home in Russia and her early days in Chicago as a housewife. But when I came across a recipe for potato kugel muffins in a Jewish cookbook, I knew I had to make them.

With no grain to cut with or against, these muffins are hard to screw up, but they take some intensive labor. Not wanting to schlep out the food processor, I grate the potatoes by hand, trying hard not to get bits of fingertip or knuckle in the mix. (I’m sorry if you lost your appetite at this point. Forget I said that.) The grated potatoes get mixed with eggs, matzoh meal, and a few other ingredients and then baked in greased muffin tins. The only hazard is getting them out of the tins without leaving half the mixture in the pan. It seems that no amount of greasing prevents some of that.

They’re delicious, they get oohs and aahs from your guests, and best of all, they go great with a nice brisket. Just don’t ask me to cook it.

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In the meantime…some words about kvetching

I’m experiencing a bit of writer’s block—or blogger’s block. I can’t think of anything to write about that’s not so controversial that I’ll get death threats. In a way, that’s a good thing: nothing personal to whine about. And when I do notice little gripes and humorous observations, I realize that I’ve already written about them. But this void shouldn’t last long. The world is getting more and more absurd, and I’m sure someday soon I won’t be able to hold back.

In the meantime:
I’ll share some of the pieces I’ve written in the last couple of years as part of a delightful project suggested by my creative friend Brenda Segal. Together, we’ve written about a number of topics, taking turn suggesting the topics and sometimes picking letters of the alphabet from which to choose a word to expound on. Brenda puts our essays into a program that creates a book, then adds illustrative photos (most of which she’s taken) and publishes the book (just for our own coffee tables). Here’s one of my essays called “Kvetch.”

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I don’t kvetch. I observe. At least that’s what I tell myself. Take the weather, for example. I can say, in a perfectly neutral tone, “It’s cold out,” and it’ll be interpreted as “Why is it so damn cold out?” See the difference?

Is this a kvetch about to happen or just me gritting my teeth?

Okay, I do kvetch at times. But these are times that are notably kvetchable. Who wouldn’t say, “Who the hell picked this restaurant?” after being faced with a construction barricade and sign saying “No thru traffic” just as you’re about to turn the corner to your destination?

Who wouldn’t be snarky after then going a block out of your way to turn around, only to find out your car can in fact be that “thru” traffic because there is a lane going your way only you didn’t see it the first time?

And who wouldn’t be swearing under your breath after you turned down that street and found that construction vehicles blocked your access to your destination? When you finally made it into the restaurant after driving over a pile of gravel and around the back side of the strip mall where the restaurant is, who could blame you for kvetching? Even if it was tinged with humor?

In English, kvetching is whining or complaining. All people do it, and I contend even some animals do it…or is it just my cat?. But for Jews, in my experience, it can be a lifestyle. Way back when we were being persecuted (when are we not?), maybe it was a way to seemingly have some control over a terrible situation. Kvetching about one’s circumstances is better than weeping, isn’t it?

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