Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Monster Vanquishing Day or is Lola secretly a spy?

Some people might think of today as Valentine’s Day, but seeing as I believe in celebrating my partner every day, I consider today a day to celebrate the monsters in my closet – one of which I set out to vanquish today.

So Happy Monster Vanquishing Day!

The monsters we create are everywhere – in the things we somehow convince ourselves we can’t do, in the phone calls we’re afraid to make, in the ways we stop ourselves from moving forward.

How many of those monsters are rooted in childhood, back when we were powerless to change our situation? How many of those monsters could be banished by simply facing them as adults?

When I decided to sublet the apartment I’m staying in, the lovely owner even took photographs of the laundry room for me. Then I saw where it was located… the basement is an industrial-looking utilitarian space with long, echoing hallways and identical-looking doors on all sides. There was no way I was going anywhere near the place. But I loved the apartment and there was a laundry drop-off just up the road.

I have a mild phobia of basements. It’s mild because I can actually go down there in a pinch without hyperventilating or passing out. In fact, most people probably wouldn’t be able to tell that my heart is pounding and that I am – for lack of a more elegant term – very very very afraid. I fear being stuck down there, that I won’t find my way out, that a monster will jump out from behind a corner with a machete.

Basements have all kinds of nooks and shady corners to them – they are where we hide our mess, where we put things we don’t often use, where the administrative bits of the house, meters and such, are usually located. The pipes are hidden down there, with spiders skating across their webs from room to room, and rats nesting, sovereigns of their subterranean kingdoms. The sounds are all clanky and creaky and eerie; in my opinion, every basement is haunted.

Having now spent a couple of weeks in this leech of a Big Apple, and seeing as how I am at least $20 poorer every time I leave the house -- How?! It’s one of those eternally unsolved mysteries -- making use of the laundry room has become a necessity rather than a question of appeal.

A few days ago, I woke up to the realization that I was out of clean knickers. I had procrastinated descending into the dark depths of the building for so long that I no longer had a choice… So down I trudged, commando.

Like that thank you note you know you have to write and yet it sits on the corner of your desk for a few days and then a week, month, before it’s simply way too late to send the damn thing – it’s become an insult rather than the grateful acknowledgement you intended it to be. Until you get the courage to hide the happy “Thank You!” under some books, or full-on throw it out (in the recycling bin, of course – it’s the least you can do!), it stares at you, wagging its finger in pregnant recrimination. You should have, you could have… And then one morning you’re clear out of underwear and socks and you have a meeting with a potential client or an old high school friend.


No, I don’t like basements.

But the real reason lies somewhere between imagination and perception.

Were there monsters? Of course not.

Was there anything to be afraid of? No, not really.

Not in my privileged middle-class life.

I’ll be the first to admit that there is no logic involved, though there is definitely rhyme as well as reason behind my childish fear: when I was little, and I mean tiny, we lived in a suburb of Chicago Illinois. I was probably around four years old. My father was not only in the closet at the time, he also spent most of his time at home locked away in the basement (and you wonder about my initial anxiety re: marriage…).

Down there, with the rats, he would indulge his love of DIY for days on end -- hammering, sawing and drilling away at God knows what. Every so often, he would call me down to his lair. I would hear his powerful voice wafting up through the floorboards in the dreaded summons. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be with my father – on the contrary, I adored every single rare minute I got to spend with him – but descending those steps into the darkness of the basement was a waking nightmare in my little world.

Of course all these images might be the distorted memories of a child barely past toddler age, but as I remember it, the basement was a long, dark corridor that started at the top of the stairs and continued with garbage bags that made funny noises and shone as random rays of light hit them at odd angles, old suitcases filled with God knows what, and monsters on all sides. The walk from the entrance of the basement to the light at the end of the tunnel – literally – where my father was, seemed endless. Once I’d made it, a heart-thumping little bag of nerves, my father, standing by his workstation, screwdriver in hand, would have a go at me: “You do take your time! Next time, hurry up! I don’t have all day!”

The situation worsened when he took to hiding behind things and jumping out at me, grabbing me so hard that the few shallow breaths I had left would be forced out of my lungs like when a cat jumps on a balloon – “Boo!” He’d yell. Bam! I’d feel his hands clamp around my waist, encircling me so I had no way to escape. I remember wanting to scream but not being able to. It used to amuse my father no end, to hide in the darkness and see how many times in a row he could scare me. “Aw,” he’d chide when I’d start crying. Then he’d get mad; “she can’t take a joke,” he’d tell my mother, casting me off like a shirt he no longer had any use for.

The anticipation was the worst part. I walked towards the elevator in slo-mo, pressed the capital B button, with my elbow as my arms were full of almost every piece of clothing I own in this country. It took a few minutes to arrive but in my mind, I was already getting stuck down there, alone, lost, with no recourse and no one to save me from the monster/rapist who was waiting for his next innocent prey. I saw his eyes – crazy and piercing, animal-like, having long ago lost the capacity to see women like me as human.

When the elevator door opened, as I took those first few steps towards the laundry room, I felt my father hovering nearby, ready to jump out at me. I was transformed back into the terrified, shaking four-year old as I waited for a pipe to start making some kind of strange, scary noise, for something to loudly and suddenly clatter to the floor, for someone to grab me from behind. When nothing happened, I ventured further down the hallway with my heart on standby.

Between a lack of sufficient quarters which necessitated an extra trip, and the complicated transfer from washer to dryer, by the time I’d finished folding my last pair of clean socks and had stuffed them into the top drawer of the bedroom dresser, I had returned to my thirty-something self. The basement, a symbol of my four-year-old’s terror only hours before, had become … a basement.


There is little that compares to the joy I get from eating something prepared especially for me by someone I love. The few times D has cooked for me have – without exception – been some of my favourite meals ever. It is also a little known ancient remedy for combating monsters: nothing is stronger than feeling loved.

Whenever we go to my uncle and aunt’s house in Haifa, they make an incredible effort to prepare not only amazing mains that I can enjoy, but also sweet treats.

When my uncle made these brownies for the first time, I calmly ate one piece with everyone else and then later polished off the entire Tupperware he’d sent me home with in one sitting. Lola, my mother’s cat, sat next to me, watching, her blue-green eyes wide and accusing like a Weight Watchers' spy (hmmm....), as I calmly chewed each bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite.

And lest anyone think these incredible brownies are only for those who eat like me; my happily omnivorous cousin (he doesn’t like raisins, but that’s about it) special-requested them for his birthday. What can I say? People can’t believe these brownies aren’t “real” – whatever that means.

Thank you Eric!

For so many things.

Including these brownies.

And for helping me battle those damn monsters!

(and thank you for letting me post your recipe!)

Uncle Eric’s Brownies a la GG

1/2 cup pure cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups rice flakes*
1 cup agave
1 bag baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs

mix the dry ingredients well.
beat the eggs and oil well.
add the dry ingredients gradually until an even batter is achieved.

oil a medium-sized baking pan and spread the batter evenly

bake at 170 degrees for not more than 30 minutes (25 for a more fudgy result)

*I soak them for about half an hour in some water to soften them up

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New York...

My friend's living room where I stayed for a few days before my sublet kicked in -- I love it, I love her, I love New York

Bukowski, the cat

Thank God Bu's team won the Superbowl -- he had the sweater and everything!

Grammercy Park in the snow

(didn't stop Manhattan for a second!)

Be careful what you wish for…

It keeps going round in my head, like unwanted advice from a tribal elder. But in typical twenty-first century fashion, this is not coming from my grandmother or my mother, or even a magazine. This one’s all in my head.

For the past five years, I’ve wanted nothing more than to spend some serious time in New York City again. Ever since I left I’ve been talking about going back. In fact, before I met D, I had already attempted the move once: in late 2003, I piled most of my belongings onto the stoop in front of the brownstone I’d been living in since 2000, and sold almost everything -- including silverware and even used art supplies. Two weeks later, I boarded a flight to London where I was finally going to get down to writing. However, within two months, I was back in New York, with a bad novel under my belt and a hunger for downtown growling in my stomach.
“It wasn’t for me,” I told people at the time, “I’ve never liked London”.

Neither of these statements turned out to be true, ultimately, but then again, every place pleasantly morphs when you’re living there with a lovely, kind, caring husband, rather than at your psychotic father’s house being bossed around twenty-four-seven.

But I digress…

Cut to January 2009. I’m writing this on the plane from Heathrow to JFK. I believe we are currently over Iceland, or somewhere like that. My three bags are crammed so full of clothing and books (including my own novel) that my closet in London is virtually empty. I am on my way to spend six months in New York – not just New York, Prospect Heights, my old neighbourhood where I spent the better part of my five years in The City.

I’m going to be two blocks from Prospect Park, I know the stores, the coffee shops, the subway lines, the yoga studios (I took my very first class there, actually. I hated it – the women were all super slim, fit and everyone seemed to know one another. This was before the term “yummy mummy” was coined but let me state for the record that Park Slope could give Primrose Hill quite a run for its money!). My friends – the people I knew before D and I got together – are sprinkled throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, like sweet sweet toppings on an already delicious dessert.

I couldn’t wish for more…

Yes, I could: D won’t be there with me.

I’m going all this way, starting down a path I’ve desired for so long, living in the place I’ve coveted since I left … I wished for New York … but this isn’t the way I would have chosen to go back.

When we originally conceived the idea, he was going to come spend good chunks of time with me: a week here, two weeks there, maybe even a month at some point.

Everything changed when another one of my wishes was granted – one that D very much shares with me.

As a Wandering Jew, as a woman who claims to have moved more times than years I’ve been alive (this is true, by the way), the one thing I have always wanted has been to set down roots, find a little house with a garden, make it mine to work in, to plant herbs and vegetables in the back, to throw dinner parties on a long table … a home in which to raise children.

And now, as I plan my departure, there’s some kind of weird, manic genie granting me wishes with a grand old sense of humour -- I have my wish.

Ten days ago, the house became ours.

It wasn’t meant to happen like that.

D engages in what I refer to as real-estate porn. He’s constantly looking at houses – sometimes in London, sometimes in the Maldives; always with a view to settle down. After all, he too has wandered, and he too would like nothing more than to find that one place he can call home, start a family, have an office where he can hide out when deadlines come crashing down, or we’re having an argument.

In an attempt to curb the more unrealistic side of my husband’s house fetish, I requested that he only show me truly feasible houses. No castles in the Cotswolds or villas in Spain. London, New York, Ojai (on my more forgiving days), affordable, accessible – nothing else.

We’d been looking here and there, but hadn’t pursued anything actively; so when he showed me the specs for the four-bedroom house in our area, I said what I always say when I’m trying to gage his level of seriousness: “should we go see it?”

My challenge with these things is not to get excited – real estate is supposed to be an unemotional affair, after all. By the time we got to the first sand-blasted radiator, I was a goner.

It was perfect.

Except that it was the third of December and on January 15th, I was leaving for six months in New York.

But how could I put the rest of my life on hold while I went to reinvent myself a million miles away? And was I really going to come back from six months on my own to our shared two-by-four-sized office?

We decided to go for it.

As a result, last week I moved twice: once up the road in London and once halfway around the world to New York.

This morning, when I made breakfast in our gorgeous new kitchen, D and I sat at the table instead of at our desks. We each have our own offices now, and the television is in a whole other room, separate from the dining area. For his fortieth, D’s getting a piano, because he can – we have the space. We’re going to have a proper cabinet built for our clothing, so we can actually fit it all into one place and, best of all, my grandmother’s bed – the largest in the world – will be reassembled. No more mattress on the floor, it’s going to be a “proper timber” (as the carpenter said yesterday) place to lay our heads.

At some point, we’ll get rid of the trois-couleurs-lilac in the bedroom, the headache-orange accent-wall in the kitchen, the pastel blue hallways, the fire-engine red corner of the living room. The house felt ours within a matter of minutes, now we just need to paint it to match.

I never thought…

I didn’t know…

There are so many things to be grateful for, so many wonderful changes in our lives, and it’s all happening now, simultaneously. It’s been stressful, tiring, I even found myself grumbling about it all. Then I caught myself: how can I complain about getting what I wished for?


The reason for my trip to New York is that I am studying to be a Holistic Health Counsellor. The studies themselves are fascinating and I can’t wait to get started down this new road. What has me in (private, silent) peals of laughter, surprisingly, is kale. Kale, that leafy green vegetable people either love to hate or loudly, resolutely, passionately embrace.

It turns out that Kale is to nutrition what the hammer and sickle are to communism. Every speaker so far has mentioned kale – either as proof of health or proof that they have not lost touch with the masses. Kale is the ultimate symbol of health or the rejection thereof. Kale says “I’m healthy, because I want to be” and it says, “fuck this, I want to enjoy life before I die.” Kale is a kind of (green) red flag -- as if once it’s been consumed for pleasure, you can never go back.

“I don’t just eat kale” a woman speaker said this weekend, “but I do make a point of including it as often as I possibly can.”

“Of course I love kale, but I also love pizza,” was a motivational speaker’s admission that though he doesn’t look it, he is, in fact, imperfect.

“Don’t go out there and try to get everyone to eat kale overnight,” was the marketing lecturer’s advice.


I was at the Santa Monica farmer’s market once, grabbing, as fate may have it, a bunch of kale. A woman leaned towards me:
“I know I should eat kale,” she said, “but I have no idea what to do with it.”
When I looked up to answer her, I realized it was one of the doctors from ER – the one who limps and walks with a cane. Though she obviously only plays one on TV, it was still a great rush – LA is fabulous for those kinds of moments.

In reality it’s not all that bad. It’s just green and leafy but these days kale is almost a political statement.

The irony is that kale is so simple, so easy to prepare, it’s less of a hassle than most any other food.

Pizza, for example, the poster child for junk food, takes layers of work – from the crust to the toppings, there’s so much prep involved that most everyone gets it delivered rather than futsing around for hours in the kitchen.

It’s miles away from kale. Good old, simple, kale, where less is more and ruffles are always in.

My current favourite way to make kale is to simply chop it roughly, add some crushed garlic, a pinch of salt and then boil it for a few moments in an inch or so of water using a wide, shallow pan, until the leaves start to wilt. To serve, I merely drain the excess water (which I sometimes drink as it is chock-full of nutrients – though that is by no means a must).
Kale is a wonderful accompaniment to roast chicken, grilled fish, or our winter favourite: roasted sweet potato wedges and hummus.