Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shiksa in the City

I always thought I would make a natural New Yorker. During my first visit to the city as a wee tween of twelve, I was fascinated by the quick pace, the gorgeous super models on the street and the cacophony of horns honking. So much excitement! So much action! Coming from South Carolina, this was all very novel.

After that initial introduction to the city, I visited many times, enjoying every New York minute, even staying in the area for a 3 month stint a few years back. But it wasn’t until I made the move permanently this January that I learned what it truly meant to take up residence in “the city that never sleeps.”
A few casual encounters have assured me that my ever-evolving and inconsistent attitude toward living in Manhattan is completely normal. The first two weeks I was here, I was on an unabashed HIGH! A horrible blizzard hit the area two days after moving in and I was stoked- snow!? Snow everywhere! This wind, the snowflakes flying into my eyes… it’s so exhilarating! This is what our grandparents must have been talking about when they bemoaned hiking miles in the snow just to get to school every morning. NOW I KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS!! 
It wasn’t only the high stakes weather and obvious delineation of seasons that thrilled me (after living in a utopian 75 degrees and sunny, day in and day out for nearly 5 years in Los Angeles, this mattered)- it went beyond that. It was the people, they were so cultured and informed, outspoken and they loved wearing black; I could take the subway almost anywhere or hail a cab in the middle of the night if need be. And the friends… oh, my long lost New York theatre friends that I hadn’t really truly bonded with since college and shortly thereafter… Now we had all the time in the world to reconnect. And we could do it anytime day or night because everything is open 24/7!!!!
After a few weeks of reveling in this seemingly limitless lifestyle… reality set in. My bank account balance began to dwindle; I realized a life of going out on the town nightly for dinner, drinks or both just wasn’t sustainable. Weeks without yoga, green juice and daily meditation- rituals I so lovingly established with ease in California- were starting to take a toll. 
I started getting- surprise!- stressed out. I began wondering why I had moved here at all. Why was it so cold everyday? Why did we pay SO much rent for so little space? Many things that at first seemed charming- walking to the grocery store, waiting for the train, schlepping in the snow- were now just annoying inconveniences. 
I needed to get back into my truth groove. Enough of this letting my environment get me down. Because here’s the thing: stuff is going to go wrong in life, circumstances are not always going to be ideal— many times those things are out of our control— and it’s how we deal with and react to those circumstances that will ultimately dictate the quality of our well-being. With this in mind, while clinging desperately to a warming cup of hot water with lemon in my teeny shoebox apartment as flurries swirled furiously about outside my window, I started thinking about when and how I feel the most happy and at peace.

… Being outdoors in a serene nature setting, relaxing at the beach, having dinner with family and friends, practicing yoga daily, relishing a warm and gooey chocolatey dessert, savoring stillness, conversing with interesting people, and baking. Always baking.
Since spending still moments outdoors and dining leisurely with friends at the beach was deemed a non-option in the hustle and bustle that is a New York City winter, I decided baking would do the trick. Yes, I knew I needed to get back to my yoga and green juice routine… and I would. But sometimes, we just need to allow for a little indulgence in order to restore and reset our stressed-out selves to a good equilibrium before embarking upon a new fresh n’ healthy journey. 
So how could I indulge my baking self in a more New York-centric way?
I had to look no further than 4 feet across our 10’ wide studio to see my fiancĂ©, J. Since being engaged to a not-so-standard but nonetheless, nice Jewish boy from New York, this South Carolina-California-hippie-hybrid Shiksa had recently been introduced to a whole new world of Jewish cuisine and culture. I decided to pay homage to my current dwelling in the historically immigrant-filled lower east side of Manhattan (and attempt to impress my future in-laws in the process) by trying my baker’s hand at the traditional Purim cookie: Hamantaschen. 
I first learned of the triangular-shaped stuffed pocket of a dessert while chatting with the in-laws in their spacious and well-equipped (swoon) New Jersey kitchen. As we discussed wedding details around the kitchen island (which had been generously laden with a variety of fruits, popcorn and other “noshy” items by the indelible and in your face Jewish ma-in-law to be, Randi), I noticed a pamphlet about Purim they had received in the mail. As I am with all new Jewish facts, I was intrigued and began to inquire… Future pa-in-law, Big L, gave me the low down and upon learning there was a cookie associated with the holiday, I was sold on it.
After returning to our not-so-spacious kitchen in the city, I became determined to defy all the physical laws of science by using my 1’x2’ area of counter space to create a delicious dessert worth eating- from scratch. Having found a mouth-watering recipe from a fellow shiksa here, I got to work experimenting with both the butter and non-dairy varieties of Hamantaschen. 

Two pairs of flour-laden sweatpants, an overnight waiting period and one burnt [trial] batch of cookies later, I had my end result. 

... And they weren’t too shabby.
I had nothing in my past to compare them to, so I brought in my Jewish food experts, Randi and Big L, to be the official taste testers. We even paid a visit to the famed 100 year old New York icon of a Jewish deli, Russ and Daughters Appetizers, to buy the "real deal" in Hamantaschen to add to the pressure excitement.

Both were tasted… 
Mine won by a long shot ;)
Now if that didn’t boost my New York state of mind, I don’t know what could have. 

So yes, there are challenges to living in a city of this size, expense and intensity, but there are challenges in every sort of region. If I was living in the middle of nowhere, I could complain that nothing was walkable or that I was tired of eating at the same restaurant every time I wanted to dine out… The point is: it’s not where you are but who you are that determines your quality of life. You’ve heard the old saying “your problems will follow you anywhere.”
My hope is that you can take these little tales from my experience adjusting to New York City life- all the ups and downs inherent in that- and relate it to whatever you’re going through, wherever you’re going through it. When the going gets tough and you rashly decide, “I’m over this place” or “going back to school was the worst decision ever” or even, “I’m never going to land my dream job, I might as well just give up,”— instead of jumping to conclusions and ditching everything you’ve worked so hard for, take a step back, get comfortable, get silent, get back to basics and decide on something small and simple that will make you happy in that moment.

Maybe it’s indulging in a little fro yo, perhaps it’s going on a quick run around the neighborhood or it could be turning off your cell phone for an entire evening to enjoy the company of your favorite roommate. Whatever it is, allow yourself that quiet, focused moment of “me time” before to discover that special little nugget of a thing that’s going to bring you joy. 

By practicing this simple act of listening and doing, you’ll realize that life truly is what you make it. 


  1. I love everything about this post. I will want to sample some of your baking when I'm in the vicinity (soon!) and you've just inspired me to bake a loaf of my own happy thing: rosemary-garlic-parmesan bread.

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  3. love the post, it's nice to know that not all jewish cooking is about taking the food and making it heavy. Just don't tell that to my mother, she'll plotz. I am looking forward to you next posting.