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Wednesday, September 30, 2015


A Word From the Weiss


Pattie in poodle skirt.jpg

     At first glance, the 1950’s costume party I attended last weekend – complete with diner décor and live 50s music from a fab duo who dubbed themselves The Elderly Brothers – might not look like a particularly religious experience. But to me it resonated as profoundly Jewish…and not just because it was attended by all 12 members of my nice Jewish women’s book group, the Shayna Maidels, and all of their nice Jewish husbands.

The Elderly Brothers.jpg

       Ever since, I’ve been trying to figure out why the jukebox atmosphere and the Jujubes, Mary Janes, and other vintage candy scattered on the tables made me think about being a Jew. I also have been mulling over what made this event so exceptional.

       It’s not that I go to all that many parties, mind you (although with many members of my group hitting milestones this year, I go to more than my share of ladies' lunches).

       Nor is it every day that I dress up in a poodle skirt, let alone a retro bowling shirt and bobby socks. (And thank G-d my husband only wears that crazy fedora once in a blue or blood-red moon.)

Harlan in bowling shirt and fedora.JPG

       Yet regardless of those elementsthere was something uplifting, mesmerizing, and if you ask me almost magical about this particular party from the moment that we arrived.

       I don’t think it was just that it had a special theme. Nor that it had live music and lots of food. And it sure wasn’t the booze, because there was none. (The senior center at which it was held does not allow alcohol on the premises.)

Line dancers at Cookie's '50s party.jpg

      So, what made it so great? Here’s my best guess: think it was that it transported me back to a sweeter, gentler time – a time when I was young and svelte and first in love, and I thought that belly fat was just some schmutz you might find on a piece of lox.

       Which is exactly what most Jewish holidays and other celebrations do for me too.

Cookie is one smart and cool cookie.jpg

       The celebration in this case was in honor of the 70th birthday of one of the members of my book groupa very upbeat, vibrant, and high-spirited woman named Cookie... who, if you ask me, is one smart cookie and also a very cool one for her age or almost any other.

       Speaking of age, I would just like to point out, for the record, that I am by far the youngest member of the Shayna Maidels (which is Yiddish for “pretty girls”), so I am not close to approaching 70 myself yet, and until that night I had never been to the senior center or even known where it is.

       Having been born in 1955, I also had never worn an authentic poodle skirt myself or attended a sock hop, any more than I was present for the ancient Exodus from Egypt. But both Jews and Americans thrive on cultivating a cultural ethic of “we were there,” for everything from Biblical events like the parting of the Red Sea to the Boston Tea Party.

Harlan and Pattie shaking a leg.jpg

       I’m also familiar enough with most doo-wop and pop tunes of the ‘50s to have sung along to every song, which I euphorically did as my husband and I did our best rendition of swing dancing (which, like my homemade poodle skirt, miraculously managed to pass muster).

       So for me, being there still evoked a strong connection to the past – if not my own, then that of my peers and my predecessors – and a deep, pleasant sense of nostalgia.

       According to a 2013 article in the Science section of The New York Timesentitled “What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows,” this can be a very powerful tool.

       Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety,” it said. “It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders.” What’s more, “Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.

We did our best rendition of swing dancing.jpg


       Indeed, my husband and I mysteriously found ourselves gazing into each other’s eyes as we slow-danced in an air-tight clinch whenever we weren’t bopping to the rousing beat of everything from “Earth Angel” by The Penguins to “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets. Also, I soon found myself so warm that I had to shed my bowling shirt. Was it due to the warm glow generated by the joy of this walk down Memory Lane, or just a matter of getting a little overheated from all the energetic gyrations?

Bill Haley and His Comets.jpg


       As the Times article hastened to add, looking back, as many of us tend to do, can create melancholy too. “Nostalgia does have its painful side — it’s a bittersweet emotion — but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening.”

       Kind of like Judaism, and every other religion of almost every ilk, wouldn’t you say?

       Speaking of which, since we just went through the High Holy Days, my husband and I ended up having our usual debate about going to services at our synagogue.

Congregation Beth Israel sanctuary.jpg

       Part of this yearly dispute always stems from the shock he expresses annually when I explain that we are going to Kol Nidre services on the night before Yom Kippur, and then we are going to get all gussied up again and go to temple the next morning as well.

       Never mind that this is what we always do, and even many non-observant Jews do, too. He believes it should be an either-or situation and would even be OK with doing neither.

       One of his main reservations about going to temple is that he doesn’t always find that whatever the rabbi has to say in his or her sermon resonates personally with him.

       I hope that if our rabbi ends up reading this, he takes no offense at that revelation. I also hope it doesn’t offend him that I can’t say whether his sermons always resonate with me or not because by that point in the service my mind has a tendency to wander.

Parting of the Red Sea.jpg

       Not necessarily wander all the way back in time to the parting of the Red Sea. On Yom Kippur, it might even wander forward to what I’m going to eat to break the fast.

       But that doesn’t make attending services any less meaningful to me. Because what makes temple services resonate with me most is not the new lesson I am liable to learn, but rather the repetition of the prayers and songs that I have recited so many times before.

      They are prayers and songs that bring me back to when I was young and I went with my parents, or when my children were young and they went to temple with us.

       My husband also likes to reminisce about going to temple when he was young. He grew up in our town, and his family has gone to Congregation Beth Israel, the shul we belong to, for so long that his father, who died nearly 50 years ago, had a seat in the sanctuary with his name engraved on it and he always sat in that seat whenever he went to services.

No bungee jumping for Harlan.jpgJP and Allegra.JPG

       When we went last week, my husband made a point of proudly showing that seat to Allegra’s boyfriend JP.

       Yet my husband is someone who is easily bored by ritual and repetition. I’m not saying he’s a crazy thrill-seeker – no bungee-jumping or sky-diving in our house; we’re Jews! But he’s always looking for some kind of exciting new adventure or experience.

       The one key exception to this, as far as I can see, is sports and physical exercise. My hubby never tires of playing tennis, although to me this is the ultimate in tedium and repetition – you hit the ball across the net and someone hits it back again, ad infinitum until it goes into the net. Then you do it some more. (Yawn!) And he somehow finds time to work out on his stationary bike almost every darn night(Bigger, wider yawn!)

Harlan never tires of playing tennis (yawn!).JPG

      But he sees no point in watching any movie more than once because you already know what’s going to happen in the end. He feels the same way about Shakespeare. (Why bother to see Romeo and JulietOr MacBeth? News flash: They die!)

      I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy my share of adventure and excitement (short of sky-diving and bungee-jumping – we’re Jews!) But there’s many a classic movie I could watch countless times and never tire of or be able to resist when I see it's on TV late at night.

       And there are places to which I enjoy going on vacation over and over again because they remind me of long ago when I was young… and yes, svelte… or at least my children were.

No skydiving -- we're Jews!.jpg

      For me, going to temple is largely about triggering those same feelings. I find the repetition reassuring and comforting. It connects me to my past and to that of my family and my people.

Avinu Malkeinu.jpg

      That does seem to make life more meaningful. And death less frightening, I guess.

      And I can only imagine I am not alone, because so many other people keep doing it too.

     The same rituals.

     Every year.

     Or, for some, every day or every week.

Cookie and Tony dancing.jpg

      My husband should be thankful that, with the kids grown, and the bar and bat mitzvahs long past, I don’t expect him to be as faithful to Judaism as he is to his stationery bike.

       If synagogue services were as fun and festive as my friend Cookie’s birthday shindig wasthough, maybe hactually would want to go every day. Or every week.

       Or at least for both Kol Nidre services and again the next morning on Yom Kippur.

       But I don’t know what the rabbi could say or do in his sermon to ever match that.

Cookie's party dancers.jpg

       Kudos are definitely due to Cookie and her husband Tony for going all out with the party arrangements. Although I worried that my husband and I might be the only ones game enough to come dressed as ‘50s teens, as our hosts had requested, almost everyone there obliged with their own poodle skirts, varsity jackets, letter sweaters, and the like. (One husband even came dressed as the Lone Ranger, causing many a guest to ask, “Who WAS that masked man?”)

The Lone Ranger.jpg

       Then there were the elaborate decorations, from the simulated ice cream soda centerpieces made up of old-fashioned soda fountain glasses filled with carnations and Good ‘n Plenty, to the checkerboard tablecloths covered with our favorite childhood candies and vintage album covers. (We were seated at the Connie Francis table.)

We were seated at the Connie Francis table.jpgIce cream soda centerpiece.jpg

       Plus, any deficit in high-test libations was more than made up for by the lavish ice cream sundae bar that accompanied the tower of pink and blue cupcakes for dessert. (We’re Jews, after all – we would rather eat than drink!)

       It was so much fun that afterwards I was reluctant to put away my poodle skirt (actually an old costume I made for my daughter when we did Bye, Bye Birdie at Purim).

I made this poodle skirt for Purim years ago.jpg

      I still felt so good the next day that I was almost looking forward to throwing my own party someday (many, many years from now) when I turn 70 myself (although I’d opt to make it an actual 70s party, evoking my own teen decade).

     It does make me consider going to temple more often to reconnect more to the past.

 frankievvalli.jpgBut factoring in my husband’s perspective, I just bought tickets instead for next week to attend a concert featuring Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Talk about blasts from the past! Maybe I can get away with wearing that poodle skirt one more time before putting it back in mothballs. Let’s just hope my husband leaves the crazy fedora at home. 
10:59 pm 

Friday, September 25, 2015


A Word From the Weiss


We tried in vain to polish off the kugel.jpg

       Trying valiantly to polish off the noodle kugel after breaking the fast on Yom Kippur, we sat around the table, six alta cockers (old folks) doing what we always end up doing -- kvetchingkvelling, but mostly scratching our heads about the kinder (kids).

       Of course, we all want our kids to be who they really are, or who they want to be… but how do our precious young apples so often end up falling so very far from the tree?

Why do the apples fall so far from the tree?.jpg

       This past summer, our good friends Pat and Michael, Reform Jews like us, saw their youngest son, who is now an Orthodox Jew, marry a lovely and equally devout girl, with whom he now strictly observes the Sabbath and all the laws of kashrut.

       Meanwhile, Ken, a minister who is dating our friend Harriet, divulged that one of hidaughters is now Hindu.

The minister's daughter is now a Hindu.jpg

       So I guess my husband and I should consider ourselves lucky. Even though both of our offspring have chosen partners who are not MOT (Members of the Tribe), both kids essentially remain Jews like us – Reform ones, that is, more or less.

       I say more or less because being in their 20s, they are both still finding their way. And, like many a Jew in the modern world, they’re still grappling with the need to often make compromises.

       Life was much easier for them back when they were growing up in our inordinately Jewish town in Connecticut, where schools were always closed for the High Holy Days. But soon after our son Aidan left for college, over a decade ago, he learned that being a Jew in America often means having to say you’re sorry (to your parents and your rabbi, that is).

Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.jpg

       I still remember my dismay and disbelief when he called to say that he would not be coming home for Yom Kippur because the professor in his film class on Ingmar Bergman had chosen that very day to deliver his key lecture of the semester on Bergman’s magnum opus The Seventh Seal. Never mind that this professor was also a Jew (although presumably a lapsed or self-loathing one).

Law & Order: Criminal Intent.jpg

       Then there was the year after graduation, when he was working as a production assistant on the TV show Law & Order: Criminal Intent, that he had to go to work on YK because he was told that he could only have the day off if he found someone to replace him, and everyone he knew who was remotely qualified also happened to be a Jew. (Now, to me, that was criminal.)

      This year, my daughter was the one facing a non-negotiable conflict. Allegra recently started a wonderful new job at the private school in NYC attended by the children of all the diplomats and other employees who work at the U.NShe absolutely loves her position, which entails coordinating the private music lessons taken there by their hundreds of students, grades K through 12.

UN school.jpg

      Yet the very first day of music lessons just happened to fall on Rosh Hashanah.

       I thoroughly understood her realization that it would be impossible for her to take that whole day off. In fact, I admired her for feeling the need to honor her commitments at work, even if it meant having to compromise her lifelong commitment to being a Jew. But when I learned that music lessons were held after school, and that she was able to take the morning off to attend services, I hastened to find a temple she could attend in New York, then get our synagogue in Connecticut to arrange for her to obtain reciprocal tickets (something that we are entitled to as dues-paying members in good standing).

      My husband and I would have been happy to attend those services with her, but we had long ago made firm plans to spend the holiday on Long Island with my brother.

Aidan couldn't miss his class.JPG

      Meanwhile, Aidan, who had just begun the second year of his Ph.D. at Columbia, had one of his first classes of the semester that morning. How could he possibly miss that?

      Of course, I wanted my daughter to go to services. But I didn’t want her to go alone. There are plenty of things I’m perfectly happy to do alone – in fact, there are many things I would prefer to do alone (reading, writing, weighing myself each morning on the bathroom scale). But going to synagogue – on the High Holy Days, no less – is definitely not one of them.

      “I won’t be alone,” she assured me. “I’m sure JP will go with me!”

JP in suit.jpg

      JP? Her boyfriend, who was raised Catholic, had just moved from Hong Kong to NYC to be with her only the week before. I wasn’t convinced that he’d be all that keen to take off work in order to go to temple. BuJP happens to be a true mensch, if there ever was one. It turned out she was right.

Allegra and JP after Rosh Hashanah services.JPG

       They sent me a selfie afterwards of the two of them all dressed up for shulJP said that he’felt perfectly comfortable there. In fact, he had found it, to his surprise, to be an awful lot like church.

       For Allegra, the operative word there was "awful." Indeed, to her distress, it had been a little too much like church. There wasn’t nearly enough Hebrew to suit her taste, she said, and none of the melodies to the songs and prayers had been familiar, meaning she couldn't sing along. So she had no intention of going back there the next week for Yom Kippur.

       That raised an interesting question. What were we doing for Yom Kippur? I kept offering to cook the pre-fast meal for erev YK dinner and cart it all down to her apartment in NYC, which I figured would be easier than having  the kids schlep all the way home.

      I actually had been offering to do this for weeks. But even a few days before, Allegra wasn’t ready to commit. Maybe she’d come home instead. Maybe she wouldn’t. “I’ll let you know,” she said repeatedlyWe’d have to wait and see.

       Her brother remained equally noncommittal. “We’ll figure it out, is all he’d say.

       Figure it out? How would we figure it out? Neither one was willing to discuss it.

Herding cats.jpg

       My sister-in-law says that trying to make a plan with your kids is like herding cats. Who knowsI’m a dog person. Can you actually herd cats? Well, even if not, I’m sure that would be a cinch compared to trying to get your 20-something offspring to commit to anything – especially anything that involves religion – more than 24 hours in advance.

       I kept wondering if I should start cooking. But cooking for whom? And how many? So I waited. And waited.

       No, I didn’t wait by the phone, or sit there in the dark starving myself (G-d forbid that they should suddenly call and I might have a morsel of food in my mouth). But still.

Vera and JP.jpg

       A few days before Yom Kippur came the news that JP’s sister Vera might be visiting NYC that week from Australia. We were invited to come meet her, and of course we were dying to, but we realized that it would be too exhausting to go down to the city more than once. Considering that she was flying all the way from Sydney, getting to meet her seemed to trump going down for Yom Kippur dinnerUnless perhaps she would possibly be in the city for Yom Kippur dinner

       So we continued to wait. Wait and see. And hope that they would “figure it out.

       Then, finally, the word came over the weekend. Vera was not coming, after all. And Aidan had realized he was way too busy, so he was just going to do his own thing.

       Allegra admitted that she was also beyond exhausted after starting her new job. We’d just been together for Rosh Hashanah. Why not just all do our own thing?

With Allegra and Aidan 2014.jpg

       I must admit that I was a little disappointed. OK, maybe a lot. Swhat if we’d just seen them only a week before? When you’re a nice Jewish momor any parent, seeing your grown children never grows old. It’s something of which you can never get enough. Besides, the holidays aren’t just about going to temple. They’re really about being a family.

       Even if my kids weren’coming up, and we weren’t going down, I got up on Monday morning and started making homemade chicken soup. Because that’s what I always do for the High Holy DaysI makgallons of chicken soup so that I can freeze enough to last us through the whole winter. Last until Passover, that is. That's when I make more soup – enough to last until the High Holy Days come again.

I made chicken soup.JPG

      I didn’t make as much soup as usual this year, though, because no one was coming to eat it.

       Or were they?

       That afternoon, my friend Pat phoned and invited us to her house for the dinner before the fast, even though we had already agreed to go there to break the fast. None of her children were coming home either. So why not get together and try to make the best of it?

Pat and me.jpg

        Of course I couldn’t allow her to host us two nights in a row, so I insisted that she and her husband come over and try to make the best of it at our house instead. Even if a holiday without any of our kids would be far from anything you could call “best.”

       Then, later that afternoon, a text message arrived – a game-changing one that I had not seen coming. “I am now contemplating coming home tomorrow,” Allegra wrote.

       She still needed to discuss it with JP when she got home from work. But she was suddenly reconsidering the plan. “It might be nice to be home for a night,” she admitted.

       Home to attend the temple at which she’d grown up and eat her own mother’s kugel.   

        Shortly after 7 p.m., she wrote to confirm the visit, causing me to consider the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

I found everything I needed at The Crown.jpg

       What I would’ve wished for at that point was to have more than a day to prepare. (An extra day or two to cook would have helped. And preferably a whole month to clean.) Make no mistake. I was absolutelthrilled that they were comingI was just a little stressed. OK, make that a lot. But I raced out immediately to the local Jewish supermarket, The Crown, where I managed to nab the last two briskets and everything else I’d need.

I filled my trunk with food for the poor.jpg

      While there, I also managed to fill up the trunk of my car with canned goods, pasta, and other hearty goods to donate to our temple’s annual Yom Kippur food drive.

       Anyone with any sense would havrealized that it was much too late in the game to get the house ready for company and also make the entire traditional meal from scratch.

       But I guess I have no sense, and I’not just anyone. I’NiceJewishMom.com.

By 2 a.m. I had cleaned and set the table.jpg

       By 2 a.m. I haalready cleaned the entire downstairs, polished the silver candlesticks, and set the dining room table with my favorite tablecloth, the Sterling silver flatware, and our very best china.      

       Then I got up the next morning and began cooking the whole shmear – brisket, matzo balls, roasted carrots (my version of tsimmes), Brussels sprouts, a green salad studded with pears and pomegranate, and a pair of noodle kugels, one for that night and a second to bring to Pat’s.

Pattie with carrots.jpg

       By the time the kids and my other guests had arrived at around 7:30 p.m., everything was ready… and I was just about ready to collapse. But I had done it all!

       OK, my brisket, I must confess, wasn’t quite up to snuff. I usually make it the day before, refrigerate it overnight, then stick it in the oven for another hour or two. Well, now I know why they say brisket is better the second day. It really needs that second round to get melt-in-your-mouth tender.

       At least this way it was heavy – make that leaden – enough to help us last through the whole fast.

       Yes, the fast. Isn’t that what Yom Kippur is all about?

I bought a couple of croissants for breakfast.jpg

       I had purchased a couple of croissants to have on hand because I didn’t expect JP to fast and figured that he could grab one quickly for breakfast the next morning before we left for temple.

     But no.

     He announced that he was fasting too, in solidarity with Allegra. And us, I guess.

     And then, for the second time in just over a week, he went to temple again.

Then he went to services again.JPG

     What did I tell you? mensch.

     This time, in our own shul, all of the melodies were familiar. Well, to us. Allegramy husband, and I sang along heartily to almost everything. All the prayers. All the songs.

       JP just listened appreciatively.

      Of course, between the Torah reading and assorted lengthy prayers like Avinu Malkeinu, the Yom Kippur service is always a bit long, and it has its ups and downs. That is, there’s an awful lot of getting up and sitting down, then getting up and sitting down again.

Avinu Malkeinu.jpg

      But afterwards there were some real UPs -- getting to schmooze with assorted good friends and drop off my food donation before returning home.

      We spent the rest of the day sitting around, doing our best not to think about food or talk about food or certainly eat any food while keeping the conversation appropriately contemplative. But when Allegra and I had a momentary inadvertent lapse and began looking at some dresses on her iPhone, JP gently scolded her.

       “No shopping! It’s Yom Kippur!”

      Only two weeks on our side of the globe, and he has already begun falling far from his own family tree.

Latke, Allegra and JP.jpg

       Or has he? We always do our best to fast until sundown every year, but the older I get, the harder it gets. By 4, we were all seriously dehydrated and developing headaches, and I decided that maybe it was enough alreadySo I went into the kitchen and made a big bowl of dilled egg salad to serve on challah to break the fast.

       And when I brought it out, everyone quickly succumbed. Everyone but JP, that is.

      Was he already becoming not just more observant than we are, but seriously frum?

      Not quite. “I just don’t fancy the idea of eggs with mayo,” he confessed in the classy British accent that he developed while attending school in England beginning at age 8.

      “Oh! Well, what do you fancy, then?” I asked.

       He looked a little sheepish and shrugged. It was Allegra who replied on his behalf.

       “I'll tell you what he likes. Anything with bacon,” she explained.

       I decided at that moment that he had been enough of a mensch by this point. Besides, the truth is that we don’t keep kosher in our house. Even on Yom Kippur.

He liked bacon, so that's what I made.jpg

       So I made him a large plate of crispy bacon. Which I think was well deserved.

       Then, to my dismay, the visit was already over. Allegra had to be back at work early the next morning. So I packed up a massive supply of leftovers, and they left for the city.

       Which left us with nothing to do but go to our friends’ house, break the fast all over again, and sit around kvetching, kvelling and scratching our heads about the kinder.

       Maybe our kids will continue to be Reform Jews like us, or maybe they’ll proceed to make more and more compromises to adapt themselves to the demands of modern life.

       Who knows?

Kaitlin is also a mensch.JPG

       All I know is that, although the partners they have found may not be MOTs, they are both exceptional people who are each, to my eye, truly beyond reproach. (Aidan’s fiancée Kaitlin is also a mensch although as a vegetarian she does not eat bacon.)

       So I hope we can look forward to spending many more High Holy Days together.

       But those holidays are now a whole year away.

       So I guess we’ll have to wait and see. 


3:52 pm 

Thursday, September 17, 2015


A Word From the Weiss


At Rosh Hashanah services on Fire Island.jpg

     Can’t believe it's already 5776 (I could’ve sworn only yesterday it was just 5775!). But here’s wishing you l'shanah tovah -- a happy and a healthy new year from NiceJewishMom.com!

       It’s not only a brand new year for the Jews, but also a happy new half-decade for me. Hard as it is to believe, I launched this site on a whim and a prayer exactly five years ago. I wondered at the time if I would have enough to kvetch and kvell about to fill this space week after week. Well, here is it, over 250 weeks later, and I haven’t come up dry yet. It just goes to show ya.

        To quote Gilda’s Roseanne Roseannadanna, it’s always something.

Roseanne Roseannadanna.jpg

       And this week, there’s not only something. There’s A LOT. Between having the Jewish holidays to cook fora fall fashion show at a local boutique I am modeling in again, and the usual nonstop responsibilities of Real Life, I feel like I am running on a treadmill and can't seem to get off or catch up.

       But just to catch you up, here’s the big news on the Nice Jewish Mom home front: My daughter’s boyfriend JP arrived in New York City last week from Hong Kong, as promised, and not just for a visit this time. He’s here and he’s here to stay!

JP and Allegra after his arrival at JFK.JPG

       She looks happy. He looks happy. And so I would like to add my own resounding YAY!!!

       Way to start the year out right, wouldn’t you say?

       We spent the holiday at my brother’s on Long Island because it’s much easier for my kids to get there from NYC than it is for them to schlep all the way home for a night. But I must apologize that I didn’t manage to post a word before we left for the weekend.

       So now, given how late I am, I’m going to spare you my usual rant for once and just concentrate on what Rosh Hashanah is really all about: resolutions and recipes.

       Recipes first.

      If a nice juicy brisket is what you have in mind, look no further than the recipe for my famous one, which can be found on the tool bar at the top of this page on the right.

My Noodle kugel.jpg

      Ditto if what you crave instead is a nice, sweet noodle kugel. (Mine, which I call Almond Joy, is spikewith shnapps -- actually, amaretto liqueur.)

      This year, though, given that we were going away, I didn’t get to cook the whole meal  myself. I asked my sister-in-law what I might bring, and she replied right away.

       Not brisket.

       Not kugel.

       Not even my famous Mom’s chicken soup.

       “Chopped liver,” she said.

       Now, considering that most adults in my family are already doing more than their share to support the pharmaceutical industry by taking Lipitor or their statin drug of choice, I wasn’t sure that this was the most prudent possible choice. But I was not about to be so ungracious a guest as to argue with my sister-in-law. Besides, what is any Jewish holiday without at least a little shmear of chopped chicken liver?

Chopped liver -- just a shmear.jpg

      Besides, the truth was that I was actually pleased that she made this particular request. Due to health concerns, I don’t usually make chopped liver for the holidays anymore. I simply buy a small container of it at the store and allow everyone only a bite or two.

      But this year I had been absolutely determined to make my own from scratch.

      Last Rosh Hashanah found my husband and me in Hong Kong, visiting our daughter Allegra and JP. Although it felt strange to be so far from home for the High Holy Days -- in a land where few people observe those occasions, no less -- we were happy to find a local shul and be invited for a traditional holiday dinner at the home of their nice Jewish friend Matt.

     Well, it was traditional up to a point.

Matt cooking in Hong Kong on Rosh Hashanah.JPG

        There are only so many of the typical kosher ingredients you can find in Hong Kong. Or maybe they are somewhere to be found, but Matt had chosen to improvise instead. Although I’d carted a box of matzo meal all the way from home, along with a nice braidechallah, the matzo balls I prepared were served in a dark brown duck broth Matt had made, rather than in the carrot-filled golden chicken stock I simmer for hours. 

      As for chopped liver, he had similarly made it using rather gamey, gritty duck liver.

Allegra and JP cooking last Rosh Hashanah.JPG

      I wouldn’t dream of insulting Matt, and was infinitely grateful to have somewhere to celebrate the holiday. So let’s just say that it was not like any chopped liver I haever tasted or that my mother, a true ballabusta, had ever made. Even so, JP, who’d never tasted chopped liver before, as far as I know, ate it with great relish. Yet ever since that time, I'd been eager to introduce him to my own Jewish cooking by making him the real thing.

      So I readily agreed to my sister-in-law’s request, with one small stipulation. Since my son Aidan is engaged to be married to Kaitlin, a vegetarian, felt obliged to bring both the traditional cholesterol-laden stuff and a veggie version for her.

Kaitlin and Aidan.JPG

       I want Kaitlin to feel completely welcome in our family, especially during the High Holy Days. The only problem is that I had never actually made vegetarian chopped liver before. So I set out to find a recipe.

       All the recipes I encountered online included onions, which had to be fried till they were beginning to burn, giving the taste we traditionally associate with liver and onions. Most of these recipes also included string beans, though. I thought that mushrooms, given their liver-like color and slightly rubbery consistency, made much more sense.

      Most of the recipeI found also incorporated walnuts to add bulk and meatiness. Now, I really have nothing against walnuts. I just like almonds better.

      But who am I to argue with tradition? Or even a modern twist on age-old tradition?

Vegetarian chopped liver recipe card.JPG

      So there I was in the nut aisle of a local supermarket, the Big Y, eyeing the walnuts. That’s when I saw another woman slowly making her way down the aisle toward me.

      She looked to be in her 50s, and from the second I saw her I had a strong sense that she would know all the answers to all my questions. It wasn’t the look of beatific certainty on her face. It wasn’t even the way her salmon-colored hat perfectly matched her salmon-colored sweater and salmon-colored floral skirt. I couldn’t quite say what it was… until she reached me and I saw the pair of big braided challahs in her cart.


       That gave me the confidence to strike up an impromptu conversation.

       “Excuse me, but have you ever made vegetarian chopped liver?” I ventured.

       She looked at me, clearly a little shocked. “Vegetarian chopped liver?” she asked. “What do you mean? Of course I’ve made vegetarian chopped liver. Why wouldn’t I make vegetarian chopped liver? I always make vegetarian chopped liver!

       Really!” I continued. “Well, I have a question, and I knew you’d be the one to ask. Every recipe I’ve found includes string beans. I would rather use mushrooms.”

       “Of course you should use mushrooms!” she replied. “I use mushrooms. I only use mushrooms.”

        Really! Thank you!” I said, as though she had finally explained the secret of life.

       Well, maybe it wasn’t the secret of life. But she did have another secret to divulge. You know that you have to fry the onions until they’re almost burnt,” she stated.

       “Yes, I know that you need to fry the onions until they’re almost burnt,” I concurred. “Of course you need to fry the onions until they’re almost burnt.” Seriously, did she think I was born yesterday? The only thing I wonder about is the walnuts.”


     “Walnuts?” she asked. “I don’t use walnuts. Let me tell you what I use – almonds!

       “Really!” I said. “That’s so interesting. I too would rather use almonds than walnuts. Not that there’s anything wrong with them.”

       She shook her head as though I had said I would just as soon mix milk and meat, which is verboten by the laws of kashrut. What was I, meshuggenah?

      “Almonds not only taste better,” she asserted, “but they’re much better for you.”

       Now, I couldn't swear that this is true. Walnuts are said to help lower both your total cholesterol and LDL (i.e. bad cholesterol). They’re also rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which supposedly help your brain function and may even lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease (and what could be better than that?).


       But almonds? They not only help lower your total cholesterol and LDL, but are also high in magnesium, which can help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. They’re also packed with vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps ward off heart disease and cell damage. Almonds are so healthy that people don’t just eat them, they drink them. You might even say almonds are to nuts as kale is to green leafy vegetables. And what could be better than that?

      The only problem was that when I got home later, I still had to wing it on the recipe. I just based all of my quantities on the recipes I had found using string beans and walnuts.

     Here’s what I did:


Vegetarian Chopped Liver

Which is the real chopped liver?.jpg


     3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil 

     1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced

     1 pint package fresh white mushrooms (about 2 cups)

     4 extra large eggs, hard-boiled 

     ½ to 1 teaspoon kosher salt

     1/4  tsp fresh ground black pepper

    A pinch of vegetarian chicken-flavored broth mix (optional)

    ½ to ¾ cup chopped almonds (or walnuts)

Onions almost burnt.jpg


    Fry the diced onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat until beginning to brown and almost burnt (about 10 minutes). Add 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, stir in sliced mushrooms, and lower heat.

mushrooms and onions cooking.jpg

        Sauté until mushrooms are browned and softened (about 5 minutes). Add salt, pepper, and optional vegetarian chicken-flavored broth mix. Then stir in chopped almonds and cook for 1 more minute to slightly soften.

     Transfer this mixture to a food processor, add the hard-boiled eggs sliced in half, and pulse until coarsely puréed. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Then refrigerate for several hours or preferably overnight. 

Vegetarian liver in food processor.JPG

     After preparing this mixture, I began to wonder why I had gone to all this extra effort. As I said, I wanted Kaitlin to feel included in our holiday celebration and not be left out in any way. On the other hand, why go to the trouble of making chopped liver for a vegetarian? She’s a vegetarian mostly for ethical reasons, but also because she doesn’t like the taste of meat. Why, even many people who do enjoy meat don’t like the taste of liver. Why make vegetarian chopped liver for someone who’s never been a lover of liver?

Vegetarian chopped liver.jpg

    That said, I must admit that I was very pleased after making it with my ingredient choices. In terms of both color and consistency, I was convinced that this was very close to the real thing.

       Until I proceeded to make the real thing, that is.


       Chopped Chicken Liver (a.k.a. the Real Thing)


       1 pound fresh chicken livers 

       4 tablespoons olive oil

       1 large yellow onion diced

       3 extra large eggs, hard-boiled

       ¼ cup minced fresh parsley

       1 teaspoon kosher salt

       1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

       2 tablespoons cooking or cream sherry (optional)

        Cook liver till just pink inside.jpg          

       Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in frying pan over medium-high heat. Sauté chicken livers for about 5 minutes until barely pink inside, stirring lightly. Do not overcook or the liver will be dry. Transfer to a large bowl. Add 2 more tablespoons oil to the pan and fry onions until almost burnt (about 10 minutes). Deglaze the pan with the sherry (this part is optional) and add the onions to the liver, along with salt and pepper.

process liver till pureed smooth.jpg

    Transfer it all to a food processor, along with the hard-boiled eggs and minced parsley, and pulse a few times until pureed to a fairly smooth consistency. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Note: Do not try to compare this to vegetarian chopped liver.


       Unlike everyone else in my extended family, JP had no preconceived notions about chopped liver -- chicken, vegetarian, or otherwise. But he is invariably so easy to please and so gracious a guest that I could only hope that his visible enthusiasm was sincere. Sure, he ate it with relish, but hadn't he done the same thing with that chopped duck liver?

JP enjoyed the chopped liver -- I think.jpg

       Who knows? Maybe he was just being polite, and chopped liver is an acquired taste that takes getting used to over a lifetime... provided you're not a vegetarian.

      But everyone else ate it with such gusto that I soon had to refill the bowl, leading me to realize that in the future I should make or buy more than a small container for my extended family of 10.

      As for my veggie version, my brother, who does not mince words or stand on ceremony, was not exactly enthusiastic. He said that you might think it was the real thing if you had already downed four glasses of wine (as we are directed to do on Passover). But he could not imagine why I had gone to the trouble of making iteven for Kaitlin, considering that, as I said, she is not exactly known to be a lover of liver.

Kaitlin tasting vegetarian chopped liver.jpg

      Kaitlin, however, who has no prior experience with liver, chopped, traditional or otherwise, was surprisingly appreciative, and not just because she, too, is invariably gracious and easy to please.

        “I love this!” she declared after taking a tentative bite. Then she took another.

       My husband, who is also gracious when it comes to food, although not known for his discriminating taste (I don’t think he could tell the difference between the livers,  let alone white wine, red wine, or motor oil if you blindfolded him) seemed to enjoy both preparations equally.

       He enjoyed them so much that I soon moved the bowls to another table and decreed that he should no longer be allowed to sit anywhere near any chopped liver, traditional, veggie or otherwise.

Harlan eating chopped liver.jpg

      Personally, I thought that the veggie version tasted a bit gritty (although not nearly as gritty as that chopped duck liver had been). Maybe I’ll use walnuts next time, after all.

      And now for those resolutions I promised you.

      On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, my husband and I attended some very inspiring services on Fire Island, where my brother and sister-in-law own a second home, complete with the traditional rousing blowing of the shofar.

Shofar blower on Fire Island.jpg

        Then we participated in our usual tashlich. We symbolically cast away our sins and other unwanted attributes by throwing crumbs of challah into a body of water, in this case the Long Island Sound (where they were instantly devoured by two passing ducks who were happy to assume my sins for me).

      In that way, I vowed to relinquish everything from self-doubt, sadness, uncertainty, and regret to negativity, inertia, and fear of both failure and success, and to replace them with optimism, determination, energy, enthusiasm, and a readiness to seize the day.

ducks ate my cast-off sins.jpg

      There was also the usual resolve to clean up my act by doing more of some things (help others, exercise regularly, read, lose weight) and less of others (worry, argue, procrastinate, and criticize my husband, even when he eats too much chopped liver, traditional, vegetarian or otherwise).

      I have one more resolution that I'm determined to make, in the interests of casting off self-doubt, regret, inertia, etc., and embracing energy, enthusiasm, and seizing the day(This is the only life that we each will ever have. We ought to enjoy it and make it count.)

Apples and honey for a sweet new year.jpg

      But as with birthday wishes, I feel like if I share it with anyone, even you, it might jinx its chances of coming true. So all can do is promise to do this thing. Or try. Before it is 5777, or, certainly, another five years go by.

      Whether you’re a lover of liver (real, vegetarian or otherwise), let’s all try to do better and live for today.

      Here’s wishing you a sweet new year and may all of your resolutions come true!         


3:56 pm 

Thursday, September 3, 2015


A Word From the Weiss


I didn't tell you about the snafu.JPG

      When I wrote last week about the incomparable thrill of getting to shop with my future daughter-in-law for her wedding gown – one of the truly coolest things I have ever done – I didn’t want to mess up the tale by telling you about the little snafu at the end. An extremely unnerving snafu, if you ask me. But since I learned a valuable lesson in the process – one that might be useful to you as well – I’m going to tell you now.

       As I mentioned, this was almost the very first time I’d ever set foot inside a bridal salon, since when I got married, back in 1984, I chose to forego a traditional wedding dress in favor of something I thought I might wear again. (It was an off-the-shoulder ivory dress from a rising young designer I knew named Steven Stolman, which may not have shown off how svelte I was back then, but looked plenty bridal after he added a diaphanous chiffon overskirt. But no, needless to say, I never wore it again.)

Me in my wedding dress in 1984.jpg

       So considering that I am merely the mother of the groom this time around, I was ecstatic to be asked to accompany Kaitlin and my daughter Allegra, who is one of her two maids of honor, on this all-important excursion. Never mind that the big day was still nearly a year away. They were all ready to buy, and I knew that they meant business.

       Allegra had invited me to join them for their first outing a couple of weeks before. She had phoned me early one morning to say that she had just come across a coupon expiring that very day for David’s Bridal, the national chain with over 300 stores in 45 states. As delighted as I was to be asked, I was home in Connecticut and had just driven back from NYC, where both girls were, barely 24 hours before. I just wasn’t quite prepared to drop everything and drive five hours round trip, even for such a thrill.

David's Bridal.jpg

       Allegra promised to postpone the shopping until we could all go together. So I was heartbroken when a few hours later she began texting me photos of Kaitlin decked out in various lacy white confectionsWhy hadn’t I sucked it up and gotten off my tuchusHow could I have been such an idiot as to pass up such a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

       To my relief, although Kaitlin looked sensational in almost every style she tried, she decided that she wasn’t quite ready to say yes to any dress. So when my husband and I recently spent a few days vacationing in NYC, I got the proverbial second chance.

The Bridal Garden.JPG

       After encountering the hefty prices at David’s Bridal, which range mostly from around $1,000 to $2,000, Allegra had begun searching for a place to shop that might offer something a little more affordable and a little less generic. All she had to do was Google “affordable wedding gowns in New York City.” This brought her to The Bridal Garden.

       This novel boutique, on the ninth floor of building on West 21st Street, sells sample and overstock wedding gowns donated by top designers, along with some gently worn ones of recent vintage from private individuals, for up to 75 percent off. It also donates 100 percent of its profits to a charter school in Brooklyn.

An invitation from The Bridal Garden.jpg

       “If you are a bride on a budget, looking to help a children¹s charity, or just searching for a gorgeous couture bridal gown, I definitely recommend checking it out, wrote one recent reviewer on the store’s website.

        “Great selection of dresses for a steal of a price all for a good cause,” said another.

       There are other similar placesThe Glamour Closet in Chelsea, which also has outlets in Chicago, San Francisco, and West Hollywood in LA, sells designer samples at 25 to 75 percent off and donates a portion of its proceeds to Parkinson’s disease research. But its inventory is limited mostly to standard sample sizes, which are customarily 8’s or 10’s (and keep in mind that wedding gowns tend to run one size down).

The Glamour Closet NY.jpg

       Another, called The Sample Room NY, on West 17th Street, also offera rapidly rotating collection of designer samples at a deep discount. But it only stocks sizes 4 to 14, does not donate any of its profits (to my knowledge), and does not offer alterations.

       The Bridal Garden carries a wider range of sizes, provides alterations right on the premises, and as NYC’s only nonprofit wedding boutique donates all of its proceeds to fund education for disadvantaged children. It was clearly the place for Kaitlin – and us.

The Brooklyn Charter School.jpg

        The moment we arrived for our scheduled appointment, we knew we had come to the right place. The staff was attentive, warm, and welcoming, and the gown selection was astonishing. There were so many choices that we almost didn’t know where to begin. After we each seized an armload of dresses, Kaitlin began to slip on one, then another, each frillier, fancier, and more fabulous than the last.

The Bridal Garden dresses.jpg

       OK, in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that even at a deep discount these wedding gowns were far from cheap. The Bridal Garden prides itself on stocking everything from Marchesa and Nicole Miller to Oscar de la RentaBadgley Mischka, and the world’s most iconic name in bridal wear, Vera Wang. One gown we became especially enamored of, from The Bridal Garden’s own label, cost something north of $1,500. Others with more high-end pedigrees may have run into the thousands.

Kaitlin found a dress that she loved.JPG

       To our delight, after narrowing her selection down to two, both of which she loved, Kaitlin finally settled on a unique and very glamorous strapless design by – you guessed it – Vera Wang.


       “The Vera Wang gowns are the best,” acknowledged Vivienne, a Bridal Garden consultant and resident seamstress. “I’m partial to Vera Wang.”

       After giving her own expert seal of approval, Ashley, the assistant manager, supplied the pièce de résistance, a multi-layered veil with a few gleaming jewels in the exact same shade of champagne tulle. This find was literally the crowning glory to the ensemble. But because its label read Toni Federici – who is evidently to wedding veils what Vera Wang is to wedding gowns – it came at quite a price.

Kaitlin in her veil with Allegra.JPG

       There was a slash through the original number marked on the tag, $750. Beside it was written $440. I couldn’t imagine spending that much on a few yards of filmy fabric. But I also couldn’t imagine leaving the store without it, or finding a more perfect match.

       Kaitlin by now was understandably eager to take the rather heavy gown off, but I begged her to keep it on until I could summon Vivienne, who was pinning another bride’s dress. I was desperately hoping that she might give us a break on that veil and figured that if she saw how exquisite it looked on Kaitlin and how perfectly it the dress she might have a heart and acquiesce.

Vivienne was helping another bride.jpg

       Finally, Vivienne was free to step over and survey the price tag. Although the veil had been marked down to $440, she explained, their price was only half that. Compared to the original $750, $220 sounded like a pittance. I was so relieved that I was tempted to hug her.

       “You’re kidding!” I exclaimed. “In that case, we’ll definitely take it! We’ll take it all!”

Kaitlin with Nicole Miller jeweled hairpins.JPG

       It sounded like such a bargain, in fact, that we also took a group of delicate jeweled hairpins from Nicole Miller, originally $65 apiece, but marked down to $20 each.

       Allegra, Kaitlin and I posed ecstatically for the camera while Ashley wrote it up. Nearly 10 months before the Big Day, our search for the perfect dress was already over. We couldn’t believe our good fortune.

       Then it happened.

       Ashley interrupted our giddy revelry to say that my credit card had been declined.

Ashley said my card had been declined.JPG

       She had put the veil and jeweled hair clips on a separate receipt, and that charge, which she had run first, had gone through without a hitch. But when she had processed the much larger charge for the gown moments later, it had been rejected. Not just once, but twice.

       I knew that my credit card bill was not overdue. Neither was I close to reaching my credit limit. It just didn’t make sense. What it did do was deeply embarrass me in front of my future daughter-in-law, and everyone else in this small salon, and put sudden and definitive damper on our euphoria.

       I assured Ashley and the girls that there had to be a mistake and said I would call the credit card company to investigate. But by now it was after 8 p.m. and the man I reached was clearly very far away. (OK, he didn’t actually say he was in another country, and I didn’t bother to ask, because they generally either refuse to tell you or claim that they are in Texas, which was not a foreign country, or all that foreign, the last I heard.)

The customer service rep didn't care.jpg

       This fellow explained that the multiple large charges had set off a fraud alert on my card. I assured him that there was no fraud involved. This was really truly me, a nice Jewish mom trying to buy a nice wedding gown for her future daughter-in-law. What I did not tell him was that I was growing terrified that after all of the time we had spent and our miraculously finding a dress -- a Vera Wang dress on deep discount that Kaitlin absolutely loved -- they would now refuse to sell it to me.

       The man with the heavy foreign accent was not impressed, let alone remotely sympathetic. Never mind that I was able to supply both my husband’s Social Security number and my own and all sorts of other personal details. He insisted that my husband was the primary cardholder and he could only remove the fraud alert by speaking directly to him.

My Capital One card.jpg

       Now what was I going to do? My husband was not with us because The Bridal Garden only allows each bride to bring two guests and it does not allow men (not that we would have asked my husband to come along even if it allowed innumerable guests, including men). Where my husband was at that particular moment was on the subway, en route to meet us, because after abandoning him for the evening I had just invited him to join us for a celebratory dinner.

       But even if he had been easily reachable, I found the idea that I needed his approval to use my own credit card to be offensive and absurd. To me, it smacked baldly of sexism.

       As a longtime feminist, perhaps I am a bit hypersensitive to anything that suggests male chauvinism. A year or so ago, I became incensed when I had an unfortunate encounter with our lawn service company. A representative called one day to try to sell us an additional service. As I recall, it was grub control.

       Before I could let him waste any more of his time or mine, I asked him what this additional service would cost, and upon hearing that it was over $100, I told him that we weren’t interested. But he just wouldn’t give up. He proceeded to try to sell it to me anyway.

       “Can I just tell you why you need grub control?” he asked.

       “No,” I replied, “you can’t."

       "You don't understand," he continued, "I just want to explain..."

       "I know that you want to explain," I said, cutting him off, "but I don't want you to explain because no matter what you say I’not going to buy it from you anyway.”


       When he persisted nonetheless, I interrupted him again to say that I actually liked grubs and didn't want to control them. Then I told him that I had tried my best to be polite, but now I had no choice but to explain something myself: that I was going hang up on him.

       To which he responded, “When will your husband be home?”

I hired a natural lawn service instead.JPG

       Now, I don’t know about you, but to me this was so offensive that I went ballistic. Then (after I did hang up on him, pronto) I called his prominent national lawn service back and hired one that uses only natural products instead, which we should have been using all along anyway.

       To me, this treatment by my credit card company, Capital One, now seemed suspiciously sexist too. I have had one of their cards for many years. My husband and I each have a card with the same number on it and both use it regularly to charge most of our expenses.

       What’s more, I happen to be the one who pays all of our household bills. How could he tell me that I couldn't use the card without my husband’s permission?

       I tried to explain how humiliating this was in front of my daughter-in-law-to-be. It had certainly managed to sully the moment, which until that moment had been one of the highpoints of my life.

Kaitlin and Allegra at the Bridal Garden.JPG

      And when he still wouldn’t relent, I had no recourse but to have my daughter put the Vera Wang wedding gown on her own Capital One card, promising to reimburse her later. (She didn’t object, of course, since this meant that she would be the beneficiary of all the mileage.) 

       The mood brightened briefly when we did rendezvous with my husband for dinner at a nearby restaurant, where we raised a toast to the happy couple and this memorable moment with champagne.

We toasted the moment with champagne.jpg

       But then, to add insult to injury, as they say, the bill came… and my champagne and shopping high evaporated instantly into thin air because that charge was also declined.

       I probably should have anticipated that and used another card. No matter. At that point, I was so exasperated that I phoned the credit card company from the restaurant. But this time, by some miracle, I got an actual U.S. customer service representative.

       When I explained the situation, he apologized profusely and lifted the fraud alert at once without asking to speak to my husband, even though he was now right beside me. He also advised me that if this sort of thing ever happened again, I should make it clear when I reached customer service who-knows-where that I needed to speak with someone in the U.S. of A.

       Then, just to make amends, he insisted on giving me the mileage I would have accrued from buying the dress and still let Allegra keep the mileage that had been put on her card too.

       I would like to say that this put an end to the matter. But it still stuck in my craw, as they saythat I had been embarrassed during such a significant event. Also, when I relayed the story to a friend and fellow MOTG (mother of the groom), she told me that I had been ridiculous to think that there had been any sort of sexism involved.

       “You idiot!” she said (OK, she didn’t exactly say that, but she didn’t have to). Sexism had nothing to do with it. My husband was obviously the primary cardholder on the accountand the guy at Capital One in India, the Philippines, “Texas,” or wherever the heck he was, had just been following standard credit card protocol.

Marquis was a mensch.jpg

       Had he? The other night, I dared to call Capital One yet again to investigate. With luck, I reached a young man named Marquis, who was not only in the state of Virginia but in a very empathetic state of mind. Upon hearing my tale of woe, he expressed his regrets and insisted on giving me an extra 1,000 miles on my card to help compensate.

       What a mensch!        

       As for the issue of sexism, though, he corroborated that my friend had been right. My husband was the primary cardholder on the account, and their man in Manila or Mumbai had just been following standard operating procedures by insisting on speaking to him.

       Upon learning this, I told Marquis that I wanted to become an equal on the account to ensure that this never happened to me again.

       Not possible, he said.

There are no joint credit cards.jpg

       “There is no such thing as a joint credit card anymore,” he explained. If you had obtained one from his company prior to 2009, he believed you might be grandfathered in. But Capital One, like many other credit card companies, no longer allowed joint status.

       Later, after we hung up, I would Google this and learn that Chase, American Express, TD Bank, and HSBC also do not allow equal status on their credit cards, although it appears that Bank of America, Discover, Wells Fargo, and U.S. Bank still do.

       Perhaps this is a result of the high rate of divorce or the high costs of litigation. One misconception many people harbor is that if you have a joint credit card, you're only legally responsible for half the bill. On the contrary, both parties are responsible in full for all charges, which can create a host of complications in the event of a marital split.

       My only recourse, Marquis said, was to provide his company with a legal document showing Power of Attorney; only then could they make me a joint owner of the card. Barring that, I could choose to change our account so that I was the primary cardholder instead.

Harlan loves Lululemon shirts.jpg

       Should I? Although as a nice Jewish mom I am admittedly the primary shopper in my marriage (and maybe my entire town, judging from the steady parade of packages that arrive regularly via Fedex and UPS).

       But Nice Jewish Dad does his share of purchasing too. Most recently, he has become addicted to Lululemon shirts.

Kaitlin and Aidan.JPG

       Besides, Kaitlin may be all set with her wedding attire, but the groom still needs a new suit, and who knows if I will be invited to come along on that shopping excursion?

       Speaking of which, Marquis advised giving his company 24 to 48 hours advance notice before making any major credit card purchases, just to avoid future misunderstandings.

With Kaitlin Allegra at The Bridal Garden.JPG

       He also in the end had a little snafu of his own – or so he said.

       “I accidentally gave you 2,000 bonus miles,” he told me. “Have a good night.”

       Indeed. I may not have equal status on my credit card, but all’s well that ends well. And as far as lessons learned, I managed to get a whole lot of mileage out of this one.          

11:04 pm 

Friday, August 28, 2015


A Word From the Weiss



Me on Crescent Beach, Shelter Island.JPG

      There are five words I say every year at around this time: Where did the time go?

       Between my summer job and all the hoopla surrounding our son’s engagement – not to mention our daughter’s return to the family fold after a year away in Hong Kong – my husband and I had no time to plan a summer vacation this year, let alone take one. So there we were suddenlyin the skin-scorching throes of August, with back-to-school commercials blaring round-the-clock. A summer getaway was a matter of now or never.

       I chose now.

Allegra was singing at Cornelia Street Cafe.JPG

       It seemed foolish under the circumstances to attempt anything terribly ambitious. And by ambitious, I mean anything involving a plane, passport, or alternate time zone. No matter. As it happened, our daughter Allegra was scheduled to sing at a trendy club in NYC on the night of Tuesday, August 18th, and of course we wanted to be there.

19th Annual Fringe Festival NYC.jpg

       As luck would have it, the weekend leading up to it coincided with the opening of the 19th annual New York International Fringe Festival, a two-week extravaganza featuring theater, dance, comedy, improv, and the like – over 1,100 performances in all.  We decided to spend the few days prior to Allegra's gig in NYC enjoying a few of these. Then we would hit the beach on tranquil Shelter Island off the North Fork of Long Island.

       Summer in the city. Then fun in the sun. Who needed Paris, Bali or Machu Picchu? Last minute or not, near or far, it sounded like a summer vacation to me.

With Allegra at the Edinburgh Fringe 2008.jpg

       Once upon a time – OK, actually, it was twice – we attended the granddaddy of all international fringe festivals by flying all the way to Edinburgh, Scotland. The first time we went was to attend a wedding. The second time was because ever since the first time, our daughter’s ultimate ambition had been to perform there as a singer someday.

        As a theater buff, I can imagine almost nothing more appealing than attending a smorgasbord of lively dramatic and comedic performances night and day. That’s what we did the first time around. The second time, we went along with Allegra and her band, mostly because she was only 18 at the time, and as a nice Jewish mom I couldn’t imagine letting her travel to a distant land with four young men I didn’t know.

Allegra singing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2008.jpg

        We put her and her rather motley crew up in an apartment with us for an entire week. The band turned out to be very nice young men, after all. Then again, after performing each evening, they would stay out drinking all night, then come home, trash the place, and sleep all day. Happy as we were to help support our daughter’s budding musical career, my husband and I soon realized that we were not cut out for the rock star’s life, let alone that of a jazz musician. And as much as we loved the hip, edgy Edinburgh Fringe festival vibe, I left with such a bad case of PTF(Post Traumatic Fringe Disorder) that I was inclined to never go back.

        But attending a similarly cool event in nearby NYC seemed much more manageable, to say the least.

#LoveStory at the NYC Fringe 2015.jpg

       Most of the New York performances were held in assorted theaters in and around the East Village. The first one we attended was a lively musical rom-com called #LoveStory. I chose this one because we were attending it with our own member of the Hashtag Generation, Allegra. “In the digital age, finding love should be as easy as sushi delivery, right?” the synopsis read.

       It turned out to be about a 25-year-old named Zoe looking for love online and elsewhere in NYC. Never mind that our own 25-year-old New Yorker has already found love in Hong Kong, and was simply waiting breathlessly for Mr. Hong Kong to join her in NYC next month. The way she howled through the whole production made it clear that this off-off Broadway musical was not only a hit, but had clearly hit a chord.

She-Rantulas From Outer Space in 3D.jpg

       As with almost any Fringe festival, selecting what to see is largely a matter of hit or miss. And for me, the title alone is often enough to make me err on the side of caution and choose to definitely miss. Such was the case with a B-movie send-up called She-Rantulas from Outer Space in 3-Da comedy about an alien invasion in 1957, as well as another called An Inconvenient Poop. “What if the solution to climate change, world peace, and self-love was something no one wanted to talk about?” the latter asked.

        Or wanted to see.

Lena Dunham and the cast of HBO's Girls.jpg

       But we dared to try our luck with a play called I kid you not – I Want to Kill Lena Dunham (a sentiment I decidedly do not share). It turned out to be a thought-provoking dramatized diatribe about a black young protagonist named Nora who is frustrated that Ms. Dunham does not use her influence as the supposed Voice of Her Generation to tackle issues more substantive than the petty, bourgeois travails of the quartet of 20-somethings on her HBO series Girls.

      My husband’s favorite Fringe show, though, was one in which I actually got to participate.

      In recent years, we have begun to gravitate toward sitting as close to the stage as possible, due to problems he has with his hearing. But when it came to seeing a mentalist’s show, we should have known better than to plant ourselves right in the front row.


       Sebastian Boswell IIIself-styled clairvoyant who won “Best of Fringe” at the 2014 San Francisco Fringe, billed his one-man show This Side of the Impossible. For his opening act, he performed a novel card trick in which he managed to more or less memorize an entire deck of cards in 20 seconds – 13 seconds flatin fact – with my husband selected to serve as the time keeper.

     He followed this up with a trio of mind-reading stunts. He asked a man in the audience to think of the name of a friend he hadn’t seen in awhile, then write down that person’s name on a slip of paper and seal it in an envelope. A girl in the back was recruited to do the same with the name of a family pet. Then he suddenly summoned me.

      My role was to draw a simple design that I would be able to reproduce, and seal it in an envelope as well. Then I was invited to join Boswell onstage and stand with my back to him while I drew my design again. Facing the opposite way, he would draw it as well.

Onstage with Sebastion Boswell III.jpg

      The results? He guessed correctly that the man he had chosen from the audience was thinking of his friend Linda. The girl, he also somehow knew, was thinking of her dog Archie.

       Yet how could he tell what I had drawn? Was it a matter of smoke and mirrors? Had he studied the movement of my hand as I sketched? Or did he somehow intuit that I was NiceJewishMom.com and I was almost guaranteed to draw a Star of David?

       Whatever the case, my husband is still talking about it. But all that I can talk about are the absolute highlights of our entire vacation: our daughter’s gig at the Cornelia Street Café and my shopping excursion with our son’s bride-to-be for her wedding gown.

       Last things first.

Kaitlin and my son Aidan are engaged.JPG

       After a preliminary trip with the bride, Kaitlin, to David’s Bridal, a national chain with more than 300 stores in 45 states, Allegra, who is one of Kaitlin’s two co-maids of honor, decided to seek out a place to buy a gown that might be more affordable and also less generic. That’s when she discovered The Bridal Garden.

The Bridal Garden.JPG

       The only not-for-profit bridal boutique in NYC, this novel shop, located on 21st Street off Sixth Avenue, sells brand-new wedding gowns donated by prominent designers including Vera Wang, Oscar de la RentaMarchesa, and Badgley-Mischka – as well as gently used ones from private individuals – for up to 75 percent off the original price. Most of these gowns are high-end. Many are one-of-a-kind. Best of all, 100 percent of the profits go to a charitable cause. The shop has helped thousands of children and their families since its inception in 1997. It currently funds the Brooklyn Charter School, an elementary school in Bedford-Stuyvesant that emphasizes literacy and the arts. 

The Brooklyn Charter School.jpg

       It’s necessary to make an appointment in advance to shop there – a week ahead is recommended for weekdays and as much as three weeks for weekends – and because the boutique is relatively small, you are only allowed to bring two people along with you. When Kaitlin chose me to be one of her two, I felt like I had won the lottery.

       We met inside the store, located on the ninth floor of a building on 21st Street. Inside, we discovered racks teaming with gowns arranged by size. Almost every size there is.

The Bridal Garden bride 2.JPG

       Brides, after all, also come in every shape and size, and several were already busy there modeling prospective nuptual fashions for their own admiring entourages.

       While we waited for Allegra to arrive from a rehearsal, Kaitlin and I each chose an armful of dresses, which we lugged with great effort to her designated dressing room. (The weightiness of the notion of having a wedding itself is somehow outdone by the heft of all that cloth and heavy beading. Some gowns aren’t just worth their weight in gold. They weigh almost as much as gold.)

Kaitlin being zipped by Ashley in another bridal gown.JPG

       Even though I had little to do but help zip up and then ooh and ahh, I grew utterly exhausted in no time flat. Good thing that Ashley, an affable assistant managerwas nice enough to re-hang many of the chiffon and lace behemoths when we were done. 

       And soon enough, Allegra arrived and took over my zipping duties (although I continued to sit close by and ooh, as well as ahh). She also collected her own armful of frilly selections. One was a strapless Vera Wang gown with Art-Deco-style rhinestone beading and drop pearls along the top and an ethereal skirt of champagne-hued tulle.

       OMG! Kaitlin looked so gorgeous in it that we all agreed it might be The One.

Kaitlin in wedding gown 2.JPG

       But just to be sure, she slipped on yet another dress, also strapless, but with a sweetheart neckline and floral lace the bodice. This one, from the Bridal Garden’s own private label, was not only lily white, but so traditional that the moment Kaitlin added a veil, the deep profundity of the circumstances hit me. My son was really getting married – married to this wonderful girl. And I began to cry.

       “If you’re getting this worked up already, how will you survive on the actual day?” asked Ashley, the assistant manager, with a grin.

       Heavy drugs? Hypnosis? At the very least, waterproof mascara.

       But that was a whole year away. There was a more immediate question at hand. Dress No. 1? Or No. 2?

Kaitlin in Vera Wang wedding dress cropped.JPG

       While I sheepishly dried my eyes, Kaitlin slipped the previous number back on, and from the radiant flush of joy that illuminated her face, brighter than any midsummer sun, I knew.

       We had indeed won the lottery!

       “You can’t go wrong with Vera Wang,” noted Vivienne, The Bridal Garden's eminently knowledgeable consultant and seamstress.

       It seems like it would be crass for me to talk specifics about cost here. Let’s just say that the original price was well into the thousands. And the price we paid was not.

The Bridal Garden Vivienne.JPG


       “We sell everything at a discount – deep discount, as they say,” Vivienne observed.

       Fortunately, that also applied to the exquisite fingertip-length veil we found in the exact same shade of champagne tulle. Since it was by Toni Federici, evidently a top veil designer, the original price was $750, but we ended up paying less than a third of that. Who knew wedding veils were that expensive? Not me. Till now.

       Bargain or not, the most exciting thing was that 10 months before the Big Day, our search was already over.

We said yes to the dress at The Bridal Garden.JPG

       “We said yes to the dress!” Kaitlin exuberantly posted on Facebook.

       And I didn’t hesitate to say yes to celebrating with champagne.

Allegra and Kaitlin toasted with champagne.jpg

       Although little in my lifetime will probably ever top that, it was still a thrill as always to attend Allegra’s performance at the Cornelia Street Café the following night. Aidan and Kaitlin, along with Kaitlin’s always-genial Uncle Joey, met us for dinner, followed by the show.

       Allegra had hired a phenomenal band, and if you ask me, she killed onstage and looked too darn hot in the fab new striped dress we’d found at a trendy boutique in the Village.

After Allegra's show at Cornelia St.jpgAllegra singing at the Cornelia Street Cafe.jpg

       The next morning, it was time to pack up. The city segment of our trip was over. Time to head to the beach!

      Years ago, we had taken a series of ferries from Connecticut to Sag Harbor in the Hamptons that required us to drive across Shelter Island. Each time, the island looked so scenic that I wondered why we were only driving through. This year, we chose to stay.

Shelter Island House king bedroom.JPG


      But stay where? I took one look at the appealing photos posted online of a boutique hotel called The Shelter Island House and knew instantly that this was the kind of style and elegance I craved for the beach part of our last-gasp-of-summer getaway. Yet I am happy to report that this posh haven still managed to exceed our great expectations.

The Shelter Island House.JPG

       No wonder TripAdvisor rated it No. 1 among the accommodations on the island. The recently renovated rooms were fresh, pristine and spacious. Although the beaches on Shelter Island are relatively small, one of them, Crescent Beach, was barely a five-minute walk away from the inn and an even quicker drive. And after we returned before dusk each day, my husband and I found that we always had the pool out back to ourselves.

Shelter Island House pool.JPG

      The house-made multigrain and chocolate croissants at breakfast were to die for… as were the avocado fries (more like avocado tempura) on the dinner menu, half-price daily (along with a tempting selection of BOGO cocktails) at Happy Hour from 4 to 7.

Shelter Island House prime rib special.jpg


      The on-site restaurant also offered phenomenal food and weekly specials, such as prime rib with mashed potatoes and salad for $25 every Thursday (featuring a mammoth slab of meat so large that we wished that we had shared).

      There are plenty of other restaurants on the island, including the eminently popular Vine Street Café, which we felt obliged to try one night, just for a change.

avocado fries at Shelter Island House.JPGPattie enjoying Shelter Island House dinner.jpg

      But the truth was that we were so content at the inn that we were inclined to just stay put. It was a pleasure to dine there each night, then merely walk down the hall and tumble blissfully into a plush and comfy king-sized bed. The staff was also warm and welcoming. Good thing we didn’t just drive across this year. It was worth every penny. We’ll be back!

       As for Shelter Island itself, we discovered an unexpected and unfortunate truth. My impression from driving through all those years ago was that it was low-key and unpretentious, a land that time forgot. With nearly a third of its well-preserved and rural 8,000 acres owned by the Nature Conservancy, it seemed like the opposite of the Hamptons, which exude a glaring air of conspicuous consumption.

Rural Shelter Island -- inconspicuous consumption.JPG

       All it took was to wander into a few of the shops in the nearest town, though. From the trendy clothes to the fancy food, nearly everything was exorbitantly priced. No deep discounts here. You might call it inconspicuous consumption. It may be a land that time forgot, but don’t forget your American Express card, Visa or MasterCard if you go.

Lunch with Sari and Arthur.JPG


       We spent our final night visiting our old friends Arthur and Sari in East Hampton. Never mind that Arthur is the cardiologist who created the famous South Beach Diet. Our time there turned out to be largely about consumption, period. Even if everything we ate was notably healthy, Sari is such a balabusta (incredible cook) that I fear I put on 4 pounds.

In the Hamptons.JPG

       But now, alas, we have bid both the city and sea good-bye. It’s nice to be home. There’s no place like it, as they say. But I'm back to saying those five little words.

       Where did the time go?

6:31 pm 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.