Monday, December 28, 2009

Pizza Bagels

A few years ago I became friends with a local comedian who has an identical family makeup to my own: an Italian dad, a Jewish mom and a younger, same-sex sibling. We traded hilarious stories about what it was like to grow up with such, err, "animated" parents and he clued me in on the official term for children with this particular ethnic heritage: Pizza Bagels!*

As a result of this mixed background, our family holiday traditions don't really follow a standard set of practices. For example, while we do celebrate Christmas (woot!), our holiday breakfast usually consists of an elaborate spread of fresh bagels, lox and all the fixings. And once we've opened our presents, we drive over to my mom's sister's house where for many years we spent the day with our Jewish grandparents, eating noodle kugel (pudding) while gazing at their Christmas tree...erected by my aunt's Greek husband...who would often make a big tray of baklava for dessert. The whole thing is kind of comedic, really, yet to us it was just the way things were done.

This year, my sister, her boyfriend and I flew to NJ to spend Christmas at home. On Christmas Eve, we all hopped in the family car to participate in our long-standing tradition of driving through town, admiring the lumanaria bags that line the streets. Secretly, this is a chance for my parents to check out everyone's holiday decorations, commenting on who did a respectable job with their lights and who went overboard this year. Meanwhile, my sister and I (and now Jon) sit in the back seat and fight over whether the radio volume and/or heat should be turned up or down.

As we were driving around this year, we came upon a house that admittedly could have looked a little neater. A mishmash of colored lights were draped haphazardly over unkempt hedges behind holiday-themed robotic Santas that popped in and out of plastic chimneys at random intervals. My mom took one glance at the set-up and deemed it an "ungepatchke" display. Nodding in agreement, my dad scoured, flicked his wrist as if to write it off and called it "shongod" as we turned the corner.

Now, of course, my sister and I knew that my mom found the display to be overdone (ungepatchke in Yiddish) and my dad thought the whole thing was a complete mess (shongod in Italian--spelling?). Meanwhile, Jon--a North Carolina boy with a Southern accent to boot--had no idea what anyone was talking about. Not really one to upset the flow, he simply shrugged his shoulders and continued to look at the decorations under consideration.

The next day, we went to my aunt's house for our usual Christmas celebration. This year, we ate a Christmas ham accompanied by a Greek salad. Then we debated which of our Yiddish names was the biggest mouthful (my cousin Jane won with Zusa-Zisse)...and laughed until my mom declared her kishkas hurt.

*Some people prefer Jewtalian and others Matzagna (matzoh + lasagna), but I'm partial to Pizza Bagel.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"A guy from small town NJ"

For those of you who haven't heard me kvell about Heb's little bro, Travis, and his uberhip restaurant in Venice Beach, the time has come. Vogue featured him in their January 2009 issue in a piece called "Date with Destiny" and I'm brimming with pride. Apparently, our little Trav is part of "a new generation of talent...blazing its way to superstardom." Hells yeah he is! Check it:

Small print above reads:

"My job as a chef is to kind of get out of the way, says Travis Lett. That which he’s making room for includes heirloom tomatoes, spinach, and kale—fantastic locally grown goodies that this 31-year-old chef uses to make dishes to richly colored, one might mistake them for works by Howard Hodgkin. Lett’s restaurant, Gjelina, opened in 2008 in Venice, CA. “We”—Lett has two partners, including an Albanian who supplied the name—“set out to open a modest, humble restaurant.

They succeeded. Gorgeous hipsters* pack the place for dishes like pizza with shaves asparagus, shallot confit, farm egg, sottocenere al tartfuo, and Parmesan. It’s the stuff of dreams for a guy from small town New Jersey who saw himself as an artist [and still keeps a studio]."

Note: Chatham, NJ has really proven itself over the past few years. Not only did we produce Trav, who is blazing his way to culinary superstardom, but we also churned out Francis Koenig, better known to his home town locals as "Marty." And what did our Marty do? Well, he founded AdultVest, the first institutional investment company focusing exclusively on sex industry related investments, which I can assure you, involved blazing in one form or another. Yeah boy!

Stay tuned for more superstars from the 07928.

*such as Heb and me

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Get Down On It

On Saturday, I attended what may be the best 80s-themed holiday party to have ever existed outside the actual 1980s...or ever for that matter. The following events transpired between the hours of 8pm and 1am:

1. I saw this cake on one of many, many dessert tables, and YES, it's reeeeally a cake:

2. I high fived a sweaty member of Kool & the Gang after they performed this song on stage (for realz):


3. I got to watch blacked-out corporate people pose for professional prom-style photos (using props like antler ears from the treasure trove prop box) that were then projected onto a big screen and therefore subjected to our animal shadow puppetry. I also got to be one of those people, experimenting with what I envisioned to be festive poses. Now that the pics are back, I'm questioning if "festive" is really the right word. You be the judge. Following is Exhibit A (email me for Exhibits B through Oops).

4. I snapped this photo of my partner in crime who was clad in his actual Bar Mitzvah suit from 1987 (suit also featured above).

Monday, December 14, 2009

It Takes (More Than) a Village

For some people, the holiday season officially begins with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Others mark its kickoff with the first sparkling of Christmas lights around town...or perhaps with the first holiday rager. A rule of thumb used by one of my friends in DC is that the holidays are officially in effect the day that coffee shops first offer eggnog lattes...which seems fair. Well, for me, it's when I see that evite in my inbox, announcing the annual Morgan Cookie Party.

Thrown by my friends Matt and Sam Morgan every December (for the past 10 years!), this cookie decorating extravaganza encourages some good 'ole fashion cut throat competition where participants vie for the coveted title of "Best Cookie" (one performance class for kids and another for adults). And this Christmas party ain't no free for all. Nope--either follow the rules or get the f out...cause Santa's watchin'. The way it works is:

  • Pre-party: Sam bakes batches upon batches of cookies (both sugar and gingerbread) in all shapes and sizes. They also prepare 10+ colors of icing and purchase a ridiculous amount of of sprinkles and other shiny cookie toppings that would out-sparkle even the most dedicated candy ravers.

  • Guests arrive any time on the day of the party to join the hosts for eggnog, wine, and other festive libations to enhance one's creativity juice flow. Prior to go time, some cookie artists aid one another in brainstorming design concepts while others keep their edible brainchildren under wraps. I have a feeling that certain participants plan designs in advance...kind of like those pumpkin carvers who look up Jack-o-lantern creations online and then recreate them. You know the type.

  • To pump up the competitors, Matt and Sam display photos of the winning cookies from the past 10 years. See my favorite above (entitled "Bacon 'n Eggs"). Some previous winners such as "Acoustic Guitar" and "Snow Globe" remain frozen in the Morgan's fridge all year and are brought back to life for one day as inspiration.

  • At 4pm, and not a minute before, Matt jingles Santa's proverbial bell and people are free to begin building their masterpiece. At this time, the crowd moves from the bar area to the dining room table which now resembles a kindergarten art class. Anxious/intoxicated cookie artists crowd around bowls of colorful icing, cups full of glimmering sprinkles and a selection of shaping tools (no outside materials or implements permitted)...and the madness begins.

  • For the next 3 hours, cookie artists use their paper plates as paint palates, mixing icing colors and experimenting with its consistency. The child participants struggle not to devour their masterpiece while the adults attempt to control their language despite the fact that they've been pounding eggnog for multiple hours and just accidentally drizzled green icing over Santa's perfectly shaped white beard. Some competitors finish their cookies in 15 minutes while others painstakingly perfect each and every square inch. And my strategy? Complete and enter as many jaw dropping cookies as possible to increase my chances for victory.

  • At 7pm Matt again jingles the proverbial bell and all artists must stop dead in their tracks. The cookies are placed on the drying rack for display and the judging promptly begins. First up is the kids' class. Next up is the moment we've all been waiting for: the adult cookie competition which follows the age-old selection method known as "write your vote on a piece of paper and drop it in a hat. Cookie with the most votes wins."

I had a good feeling about this year. My new approach, wherein I had submitted six cookies all within one theme (the Smurfs!), seemed like a sure-fire strategy. Not only had I created a dashing Papa Smurf, a spot-on generic smurf and gorgeous Smurfette complete with brown sprinkle eye lashes, but I had also crafted a smurf mushroom house and the smurf sign that you see in the beginning of the cartoon. It was an edible smurf village. How could I lose?

Well, what I hadn't accounted for was the dark horse entry: a 3D gingerbread stripper dancing around a candy cane pole in a G-string that exposed her delicate heart tattoo, let alone a few other head turning entries. In the end, I went home with an "honorable mention"....and a refreshed faith in humanity. God bless us, every one.

My entry from a few years back: Castrobread Boy (received 3rd place)

Friday, December 4, 2009

From Awesome to Zebra

Just thought I'd share something heart warming that I found on Etsy when I was looking for my annual Arctic animals calendar: typewriter art!

Apparently, this boy named Nathan (in Chicago) can look at a picture and type it out on his manual typewriter to create a well done depiction of whatever he chooses. Not only does he type adorable animal sets that he turns into calendars (with themes like Under the Sea, Dinosaurs, Forest Creatures, Safari and Arctic Tundra) but he also types
custom portraits based on personal photos. And they're good!

Another thing I find adorable is the way young Nathan describes his company: "Hello, I'm Nathan Veach. I have a lot of typewriters, typewriters, typewriters, but my favorite is a Smith-Corona Classic 12 manual typewriter.I am also in a band with my brother."

I love to think about our artist typing a portrait of his blushing lover. It would be like the scene in The Titanic where Jack paints Rose...but with a lot of clicking sounds...and a few carraige returns.