Safe Words

Some of the recent things going on in life recently (IVF/ART/fertility, funerals & loss) are pretty raw, so I’m going to wait for a bit for them to settle before going into to many details.

In the meantime, there are some less-weighty things of some note, which I’ll mention in FIFO order.

The Franchise’s show at the Treehouse Lounge was good, but not as well attended as we had hoped. We got a few decent recordings- once we pick which ones will go public I’ll share them here and elsewhere. I was particularly happy with “Footsteps”, which came out just right.

On Star Wars Day, I hosted a civilization game (this time with planked and baked salmon instead of cholent).

This was an interesting game: the player who was slotted to play Africa skipped, and so we had a hole, but then Toby joined there about four turns in. It was a very crowded board, with all of the experienced players in the North-central board. We didn’t get very far: we ended at havdalah, and one new player was very slow- that player tended to view the determinations of where to move tokens with the deliberation that one wishes our actual government would use in making decisions (oooh, I went there…)

The funniest moment was of course the small band of Italian farmers who kept trying to fight their way out of Egypt, during which time Egypt experienced a flood, famine, pestilence, and eventually Iconoclasm & Heresy. Of course it did.. The Egyptians had even expressed fear that the Italians would join with the Babylonians or Africans against them! I was waiting for the next calamity to be “death of the firstborn.” Amusingly, those Italian farmers survived until the end of the game, regardless of what Merneptah’s inscription said… (tl;dr – one of the many, many too-early obituaries of the Jewish people, from ~1200 BCE)

We didn’t get very far, but our finish did have something notable: Shoshana’s first victory! Yay, Shoshana!

Final scores:
Shoshana, Asia, 1689
Michael, Crete, 1651
Ron, Babylon, 1511
David, Thrace, 1398
Erin, Illyria, 1250
Alan, Italy, 1239
Rich, Egypt, 974
Toby, Africa, 924

Whee!

Then, after Sarah returned, we headed up to New Jersey for our RMA consult (more on that later), but decided to make a weekend of it. I finally encountered the vaunted Gotham wines, and I had expected to be underwhelmed. Um, NO. I haven’t seen a selection of kosher wine that good in one place, especially with a helpful guy who was suggesting the oodles of stuff for me to try (and what not to try, even more important).

Two which were remarkable so far were a 2007 Chateau Fourcas Dupre Bordeaux and a 2011 Recanati Reserve Petit Syrah / Zinfandel blend. Both were really outstanding, and quite worth it.

I did get to see the Jewish Center, which had two things I liked a great deal: the formal (top hat + vest) attire of the rabbi & gabbaim, and also an absolutely stunning sanctuary where the mehitza isn’t oppressive. Beautiful! I could have done with less talking, but I think that’s probably true almost everywhere.

Our weekend got cut short when we heard the news about the funeral, and logistics took over.

Since then, my mom visited during Shavuot (a lovely visit) and we’re just starting to begin to slow down the whirlwind. Or maybe we’ll have it spin up.

Gimme Some of the Good Stuff

First and foremost, The Franchise is coming back to the DC night life, with our comeback gig scheduled for May 2 @ 8PM at the newly-opening Treehouse Lounge over at 1006 Florida Ave NE. W00t!

We’ll be doing a half-and-half set – about half old favorites, and half stuff from our forthcoming album Movers and Shakers. (Aside: remember when “groups of songs you buy on iTunes” were called “albums”? I liked that name…). We’re still finalizing the set list now…

====

Our Sedarim were good, although our first one went from 9 people to 5 people abruptly (all due to illness, boo!), and so we ended up with brisket and chicken soup coming out of our ears. Now, it’s good brisket and chicken soup, so that’s not a bad thing, but it was too bad that we didn’t get to see Sarah’s sister, our nephew, and a pair of dear friends. C’est la vie

We did have a few treats – the awesome cookies made by Rella – clearly, she wants to see more of me! Also, we had some fabulous wine: a 2011 hagafen pinot noir was my personal favorite, although a 2009 Chateau le Bourdieu Bordeaux Medoc and a 2011 Tishbi Cabernet Sauvignon were close contenders. A disappointment was the Yogev Cab / Petit Verdot blend, but it suffered from being cups 3/4 – it’s extremely tannic, and so is an extremely bad fit for drinking quickly without complimenting really, really heavy beef (and those cups were *after* the meal).

A surprise hit this year was Sarah’s marmouna from Foods of Israel Today (excellent book – everything in it is good) – she made it with serrano peppers, and it was hot in a way that very little Jewish cuisine is, and it was fantastic.

========

After all of the sturm und drang, we didn’t end up making any quinoa so far this year. Go figure. I’ll have to make some for the last days, or I’ll feel silly.

Casting Lots About

Purim has been 98% blast. The wine & cheese tasting was great, although we learned a few things (cheese takes far longer to cut than we thought, even with several people doing it, very few folks like dry white wines, and we should triple the pastry order). I think the Tobia Alma Mater Rioja Tempranillo-Garnacha 2011 and the Chateau Bellerives Dubois Cotes de Bordeaux 2010 were the big winners of the evening.

The cheese guy cheeses (particularly the montaggio and havarti) and the Susan’s Gourmet cheeses (Syrian and mozzarella with Za’atar) were very popular, and the Dear CoCo truffles were a gigantic hit (the smoky mountain in particular was delicious with the Bordeaux). Add to this a bunch of Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich, Rodrigo Y Gabriela and the like, and it was a classy evening.

Well, it was Purim, so costumes were involved.

20130224-221522.jpg

Sadly, this picture doesn’t quite capture the full effect, but we were not the only folks in costume for the evening- a cat made an appearance, as did a few more.

The seudah & shpiel went swimmingly: a whole bunch of people rose up out of flu-beds and were great- a whole lot of Rabbi-mocking and Les Miserables-mangling, good-time-having rollicking time. Another couple came as each other to the seudah, and my Casper-legs got mocked by none other than Leon Wieseltier himself (!) and we even had Superman (or was it Supperman?) play the rabbi. Given that the meal was fried Dougie’s goodness, what could be better?

So in all that there was one faux pas:

there was non-kosher food in some of the mishloah manot (gifts of food given person to person). D’oh! I’m not talking about baked goods from someone’s house here, I mean processed food which requires supervision but doesn’t have it. In this case, the producer routinely makes other stuff which is kosher, but this particular specialty product isn’t. The bag wasn’t labeled: I’m not sure from whom it came, so my hope is that this is just an oversight caused by haste rather than a bigger issue.

But all in all, marbeh simha.

Gilbert’s Sour Grapes

pb130217

I think I’ve determined part of why things have been weighing so heavily on my the past couple of weeks:

lateral epicondylitis (or “tennis elbow” for those of you who chose to study more widely-spoken languages than Latin).

You see, the past two years have been a shrinking circle of possibilities as illness steadily took from me most of the extracurricular things I enjoyed doing (with occasional reprieves) – writing got hard, playing music was out, exercise was out, my various and sundry volunteer work was out, and even having the stamina to do reliably do pretty much anything was out. Layer on top of this the pregnancy loss and infertility business, and those years rightly sucked.

So I’m finally in remission. Yay! Back to bicycling, back to music and it seemed like life had finally turned the corner. However, the lingering effect of the illness is a radical deconditioning, so in doing food prep for Thanksgiving, I managed to injure my tendon because my muscles are so weak. So now, my OT has me on a “rest” program which effectively means that all of those activities are back out again. ARGH!

So no exercise and minimal extracurriculars – this is thoroughly dispiriting, and it doesn’t help that the supposed proto-Spring we have now is cold enough that I have to check my driver’s license to remember my gender. Worse, when I’ve asked how long this “rest” needs to last, the answer is “until it doesn’t hurt” – which is of course a wholly untenable answer: I’ve learned that waiting for things to stop hurting does not work – immobilization does not allow for beneficial hormesis to occur.

So taken together, all of this is a big pile of discouragement. But there are a couple of rays of light: in the aftermath of Sarah’s concussion this week, some friends took care of us, and that was lovely; and I’ve finally gotten an appointment with a sports medicine physiatrist (who treats the DC United) who can hopefully get me back to functioning.

Heck, Maker’s Mark put their bourbon back to the original recipe, so maybe I can move away from Rat’s view after all.

====

Side note – the Binyamina Bin Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 is absolutely fabulous.

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad…

This week has been a roller coaster for me, in more ways than one. It began with the awesomeness that is NANOG (#57). I spoke on security issues in sensor networks in the security track (not many questions, but did get some positive feedback from another fellow who runs a large sensor network offering, so I think it was well-received). A highlight was of course seeing Ren & Joe, old friends long missed:

20130209-203212.jpg along with many other awesome folks: Lee, Tony, Paul, Patrick, Jason, Warren, Blaine – it’s like getting the band back together. There is the literal roller coaster – SeaWorld’s Manta was open to us one night, although paired with beer that could have been bad but happily wasn’t.

The restaurants in Orlando are a LOT better than they used to be: I remember getting hate mail from giving a bad review to a previous lousy place. Happily, both Cohen’s Deli and Orlando Kosher on Wheels (schwarma) are quite good (we had ~25 NANOGers go to KoW).

A great conference (duh: anytime there’s 500 people smarter than me I can learn from, I’m thrilled). But of course, time moves on, and folks were happy to tell me about their kids, and that’s what brings me to the other half of the roller coaster.

Infertility sucks. And I mean really sucks. Sarah wrote beautifully about it – I will never equal her eloquence – but I suspect that my experience is a little bit different than hers in this as we stumble down the path together. For one, I’m older, and as much as maternal age is what all of the doctors care about, I really, really feel my age sometimes, and it can be quite disconcerting.

There are support groups for women dealing with infertility, but to my knowledge nothing for men – in fact, the groups explicitly exclude men, as though men have nothing to do with this (!) or might not be hurting along with women. I find myself noting unpleasant passages in prayer (eg psalm 29 “Hashem lamabul yashav” – “God was enthroned at the flood”) and the like, and l looking at blessings with an ironic detachment (“you will live to see your children’s children” – ps 126, brings a “yeah, right”).

I feel an existential loneliness – an abandonment by God – that pains me in ways I can’t even put into words. I am still here, and I still cling to the mitzvot, as they are all I have to frame life and try to follow God’s will. I desperately want to do the right thing, and I try to discern what that is, but lately I feel like I’m shrouded in opacity, blind to the transcendent. And it hurts.

So I muddle along, riding the roller coaster. Hey look: Sarah made an awesome meatloaf! Along with a great Elvi Rioja! Yay! Ooh- lots of extremely cute children at lunch- sigh. Such is my sinusoidal existence right now.

Gobble, Bobble, Weeble, Wobble

We had a delightful crowd for Thanksgiving – some we knew, some we didn’t, and I think it was one of our best hosting experiences in a long time. Everything just clicked, significantly owing to Sarah’s awesome culinary and hostessing skills.

My contribution was The WSJ’s cipolline in agrodolce, which is a fancy way of saying “sweet & sour cipolline onions” (cipolline onions look like vidalias which were left in the dryer way too long). That was delicious, but was fantastically labor-intensive – we made the error of tripling the recipe, requiring making two batches. The right approach would be to double the recipe, which would still fit in one sauté pan. Additionally, this isn’t a good “only” recipe for a cook – it traps you in the kitchen, so it’s better to be making this along with something else, although be warned: peeling all those onions takes a LONG time (it took me ~50 minutes to do 3lbs, because you’re trying to leave them whole, but peeled). Budget more than 2 hours from start to finish.

Quoted here in case the link goes away: In a large sauté pan heat 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and 2 ounces butter over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until butter is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add 1 bay leaf and 1 pound medium whole cipolline onions, peeled. Season with salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are browned and caramelized on both sides, about 12 minutes. (12 minutes my tuchus – it takes longer). Add 2 tablespoons sugar and cook until all granules have dissolved. Add 1 cup red wine vinegar and simmer until reduced completely, about 20 minutes. (this too takes longer). Add 1 cup chicken stock, then turn heat down to low. Simmer until onions are tender and liquid is reduced by half. Remove pan from heat and finish with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I discovered two new wines: a 2010 Gabriele pinot noir, which was delicious (although light, so went well with the turkey), and a 2011 Binyamina Reserve Sauvignon Blanc which had a crisp mineral taste which offset the sweet richness of the onions particularly well.

The overwhelming consensus at the table was the people were most grateful for their families and friends. An amusing bit of the meal was when I referred to the proper name of Sarah’s sugar-free cranberry sauce as “abstinent,” and folks decided that the other one, with sugar, was clearly properly described as “promiscuous.” Heh. None of that for me, then – I don’t know where it’s been!

All in all, fabulous!

About Time!

The first half of sukkot (Tabernacles) rained on-and-off, and one of the theodicy challenges present there is the conflict between the conflict to dwell (really, “eat”) in the sukkah and the admonition that one should not do so if it is raining lest one be considered a hasid shoteh (pious fool) in the eyes of God – how precisely should we deal with these challenges where God tells us to do something and then doesn’t let us do it?

In some part, that is a microcosm of my larger theodicy challenge over the past couple of years with regard to Sarah’s and my attempt to enlarge our family – I’m commanded to have children (for intriguing reasons of Jewish law, women aren’t obligated to have children- only men are – but those reasons aren’t relevant here), but we haven’t been able to do so. Each failure has burned itself into memory indelibly, making me far more familiar than I ever wanted to be with the wrong end of an OB/RE’s office.

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
– from Longfellow, “The Rainy Day”

It’s tempting to preemptively give up – to see a darkening of the sky and presume that this means that the storm is inevitable – and yet, only today I noticed this in Kohelet:

:שמר רוח לא יזרע וראה בעבים לא יקצור
כאשר אינך יודע מה דרך הרוח כעצמים בבטן המלאה ככה לא תדע את מעשה האלהים אשר יעשה את הכל׃
:בבקר זרע את זרעך ולערב אל תנח ידך כי אינך יודע אי זה יכשר הזה או זה ואם שניהם כאחד טובים

He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the work of God who doeth all things. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
Ecclesiastes 11:4-6 (translation from Mechon-Mamre.org)

And if I needed a swifter kick in the pants from God, the post today predicted stormy weather starting at 5PM. However, walking home, we saw extremely dark clouds, and the consensus was that we would be lucky to make kiddush (the first blessing, lit. “sanctification”) in the sukkah before the rain came. Long story short, there was a lot of threatening, but no rain: we had a lovely meal with a lovely bunch of friends which went until after 4.

Lesson received, God, thank you.

One nice thing about the meal is that while our six guests are all over the place politically (some to my right [a little bit], more to my left [a lot], I’m pleased to say that we’ve been able to maintain civility and comity even in these divisive times. On a separate note, I got introduced to a new delicious and reasonably priced wine – Recanati Yasmin (I had 2009, while that link is to the 2010). Delightful!

But all in all, it sure is nice that we got to have one of our large meals actually start, continue, and finish in the sukkah.

On the tip of my tongue

Kesher Israel had their “social shabbat” yesterday, and we were treated to a couple of people we knew and several we didn’t. It was an enjoyable affair, and the conversation lasted until after minha time (!)

One of the treats was getting introduced to a new wine: Le Moure De L’Isle Rouge 2009 – fabulous, and has a delightfully complicated character.

Interestingly, there was universal agreement among those who regularly attend KI (6 of us) that tefillah (prayer services) is entirely too fast: one attendee said “with my yeshiva education, there is no chance for me to come close to reading the prayers at the speed the congregation says them.” I’ve noticed that when I bring this up, most folks seem to agree – I’ve only had about two people say that they liked the speed or that it should be faster. I’d put my knowledge of Hebrew prayer up against those two any day – it’s the people who know oodles more than me who say they can’t keep up. One suggestion that was raised was to basically start timing a couple of the critical parts of the service (sh’ma, silent amidah) – I think this is a fabulous idea, and could really take some of the personality out of the issue. I say “personality” because some of the congregants are more of the “force of nature” types rather than the go-along-get-along types, and if the change could be less about individuals and more about improving the ability of the average person to keep up, that would work better. Another suggestion was to revisit the stuff the kids lead (aleinu, ein k’elokeinu, shir shel shabbat, etc) and get them to quit doing the “stand there for some small number of seconds, and then say the last line” thing. Honestly, they “read” hebrew faster than I can read English – and I am a quick reader.

Another issue which was brought up was that several of the attendees had attempted to join the synagogue, and no one had reached out to help them get the process finished (!), and others hadn’t ever had anyone explain why they should join. Those aren’t visitors – they had all been in the community for more than a year – so I look at that as a significant gap in the approach currently taken.

Hopefully I’ll get some traction agitating for change in these types of matters…

Of course, the things I like far outweigh the things I don’t – yesterday I was in a conversation with pair of folks at kiddush (social “hour”) which discussed the chemical process by which baking soda and baking powder worked, and we were all using our almost-remembered freshman chemistry to try to deduce the reaction. Avidan was the one with the answer, and that was pretty cool.

Secrets of the unwatched

Sarah’s headed to a retreat (rather than a strategic regathering), and I’ll do what I always do when she’s away: play board games (specifically, civilization)!  However, this time, one of the notable things will be getting to indulge my epicureanism via non-mevushal bordeaux.  Whee!

But of course, and as usual, Sheldon is an antidote to gasbaggery.  It’s true: the $5 Terrenal wine that Trader Joe’s sells tastes pretty good.  There is some nice novelty here, and that’s probably worth the price difference, but I can see why folks would disagree.

*נכנס יין יצא סוד

I’ve been a relatively temperate wine aficionado for several years, but only developed the taste after starting to keep kosher. I initially liked the sweeter wines – like Baron Herzog’s white zinfandel (whose label boasts “hints of cotton candy”) or the assorted moscato d’astis (closer to a wine cooler than they are to champagne). Eventually I graduated up to a more complex palate (i.e. wine that is good with dinner rather than dessert), and have preferred a nice dry red wine (preferably pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, or tempranillo varietals or blends) over the alternatives.

For a few years, there was a small not-quite-synagogue-based wine club – we jokingly styled ourselves the “Georgetown society for the promotion of inebriation” and would have blind tastings. The person who could identify the most wines was the winner, who received the acclaim of the rest and then had to host the next tasting. Oodles of fun, but eventually things changed – Sarah stopped drinking alcohol, so these events got a lot less pleasant for her, and some of the regulars moved away, so the whole thing basically petered out.

So I’ve settled down into a nice comfy rhythm involving inexpensive table wines. But then a friend of mine who was a wine guy from before he kept kosher told me that he was on a quest for a non-mevushal Bordeaux. I had encountered plenty of mevushal ones, and they were pretty good to my uncultured palate, but his opinion was that the heating process wrecked the delicate balance of the flavors, rendering those wines more disappointing than not.

So this piqued my curiosity, and I set about looking for non-mevushal Bordeaux wines, and I found a few. Most were out of my price range by a factor of 2-3, but one happened to be below $20: the Château La Chèze 2002 was around $19, so I got a few bottles. I now see what this friend was talking about: this Bordeaux is vastly more complex and delicate than the mevushal varieties that I’ve tried, and it was an absolute delight. I don’t have an educated enough palate to even know what all of the words the wine people use mean, but this seemed to change flavor both between sips, and also while it was on my tongue. If a good pinot noir were Newtonian physics, then this is quantum electrodynamics.

I suspect that more of this will be in my future.

*Eruvin 65a – “wine comes in, and a secret departs”