Saturday, March 31, 2012


On Thursday evening I walked home from work at about 8 pm, feeling wistful and sad about various events (having nothing to do with work, by the way). By the time I had gotten to Emek Refaim Street, I had tears in my eyes. It happens. I wear my emotions close under the skin. That's just how I am.

I've been having trouble lately with my relationship with God. By "lately" I mean "for the last several years." Frankly, I've been pretty much ignoring him. Well, that's not entirely true. I still say brachot (blessings) on my food, make an effort to do things like keep kosher and sit in a sukkah, that sort of thing. And every morning at the bus stop I pray silently for the bus to come soon, and if it comes immediately I give God an internal high five. The high five reflects a vestigial feeling, left over from when it still really mattered to me that God controls everything in the universe -- even how long I have to wait at a bus stop --  and that everything happens for a good reason. It's not that I don't believe this any more – I don't know whether I do or not --  but that I got tired of thinking about it. Like I said, ignoring.

I consider myself pretty rational for an Orthodox Jew. For example, I've never put much stock into "Segulahs," and in fact consider most of them to be dangerously close to Avoda Zarah (idol worship). When I hear stories about the people who, say, were childless for 10 years and then got a bracha (blessing) from a famous rabbi and had a baby 10 months later, my usual response is to wonder about the many women who got the bracha but did not have a baby, or the women who have babies after 10 years without getting a bracha.  Still, I used to be far, far more spiritual than I've been lately. I used to talk to God all the time. Now, my feeling is, he leaves me alone (not fair, I know), so I will leave him alone.

Anyway, shortly after passing the video store on Emek, but before the Community Center, I saw a piece of white A4 printer paper on the sidewalk, being stepped on by other pedestrians as they walked over it. Upon some inspection it looked like a school paper of some kind, with a lot of writing on it, and my curiosity got the better of me, so I picked it up to see what it was. There was no name on it. On the back were a few meaningless scribbles, but on the side that had been facing up, this was typed:


King Solomon looks at the woman with great pity and says:

"Arise my daughter! Come, sit by my side and rest awhile. I shall have bread and wine brought before you. Then, after you are refreshed, I shall bring forth your judgment to light."

And so the woman sits by his side and there is bread and wine brought in for her. While she is refreshing herself, two strangers from far away lands come to the palace.

The horn is blown again ---

The strangers walk into the hall. They bow down low before King Solomon, and the king says to them:

"Arise, strangers, and tell us who you are and what is your story."

"Oh, Great King of Israel! Merchants are we, from the lands of the sea. One day – we hired a boat to ship our merchandise to a far away land. (Come my friend!) We climbed into the boat and we started our trip. At first the sea – is calm – the trip is good. Then, suddenly, the sea boiled us – the waves became bigger and bigger – and the boat was tossed back and forth with no course. And then – a hole burst open at the bottom of the boat! The water flowed in – the boat is sinking, sinking – In a little while we are lost. We turn to our Gods and call out:

God of Sidon! God of Ammon! God of Moab! God of Eddom! Gods of Canaan!

But to no avail. There is no answer. And the waters keep filling the boat. We are standing neck deep in water. The fear of death is upon us. And at that moment we remember your God, King Solomon, the God of Israel, and we cried out to him as well:

God of Israel, save us this day, and we shall give all our goods – gold, silver and precious stones to your temple in Jerusalem!

Hardly have we uttered the words when a mighty gust of wind – falls upon us – and within the wind – a small bundle swirls around – and the wind hurles the bundle into the boat – the bundle falls into the hole – the hole is plugged up!

We are saved! We are saved!

The storm calms down. The wind disappears. The sea – is smooth again. We row back to land – and when we reach the shore, we climb out of the boat with our heavy sack of merchandise. (Here, my friend, take this heavy sack.) And thus we made our way to Jerusalem. And here we are, great King of Israel, and this is our sack of gold. May this offering please your God, as we do not know how to worship Him."

I have to admit I was moved – enough to take the trampled, dirty piece of paper home. I don't know if I believe in signs, but the fact is that other people walked right by this paper that had been typed up by some anonymous writer or student somewhere, and I was the one who went to the trouble of picking it up and reading it, on a night when I was experiencing turbulent emotional seas. And I feel that perhaps God is waiting for something from me. I don't know what it is, but maybe it's time for me to figure out, in a way that is appropriate for who I am now and at this stage of my life, how to worship Him.

Friday, March 02, 2012

How To Preserve Your Food Memories for Generations Without Making Your Grandchildren Frustrated

Lately I've been editing recipes, and using new recipes that I find on the internet, and in both cases I encounter confusing, unclear instructions. Recipe-writing is actually a craft unto itself; courses in "food writing" include units on how to write cooking instructions. So this post is for those of you out there who write recipes for your family, your website, or your work, from the point of view of a copyeditor.

Err on the side of too much detail, rather than too little. Assume your reader knows very little about cooking. Unless your recipe is going to be published in Cooks Illustrated, terms like "braise" or "deglaze" need explaining.

Remember your reader cannot see you making the dish.
If you say to use "chopped green onions," clarify whether you mean the white part or the green part – or both.

Start with a list of the ingredients and the amounts. The list helps people decide whether they are prepared to make the dish, and reduces last-minute emergency trips to the supermarket. Double-check that all ingredients are in the list, including optional ones.

Prepare for the unexpected. If the recipe calls for unusual utensils or needs to be started the day before serving, make a note of that after the ingredient list.

Are the listed amounts reasonable for most people? Perhaps you feel that stuffing and roasting six chickens at once is no big deal . . . but most people would not make more than one or two. Reduce the amounts of all ingredients accordingly. (Then, if you want, you can write "amounts can be doubled or tripled" or "amounts can be halved.")

Every item in the ingredients list should be accounted for in the instructions. If the list calls for a clove of garlic, then make sure the instructions say when to add the garlic to the food. It's worthwhile to double-check for this.

If an ingredient is used in two different steps, make clear how much is used each time. I once edited a recipe that called for adding the paprika to the stuffing, and then later said to sprinkle the chicken with the paprika. More clear instructions would have said "add all but one teaspoon of the paprika to the stuffing."

Be clear about heating instructions. Should the meat be browned over a high flame, or simmer over a low flame? Once the soup is at a boil, how long should it cook? At what point should heat be reduced? How long can the dish be kept warm before serving? Can it be refrigerated and then re-heated later?

Best wishes to all my readers for happy times in the kitchen -- and happier times for food editors. :-)