Sunday, September 20, 2009

Happy Jew Year

I’m so going to Hell.

This, actually, isn’t news.  I’ve been fairly certain – for some time now – that I’m holding a boarding pass for a ride in a hand-basket across the river Styx. But – if my mother has a vote – then I’ve just been upgraded to a first-class seat.

I blew off Rosh Hashanah.

For my non-Jewish readers (who’ve never met a Jew, know nothing about them, and haven’t seen a single episode of Seinfeld), Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year.  If you’re familiar with the Chinese New Year it’s sort of the same, except instead of fun parties and parades led by gorgeous red silk dragons, you usually end up seated around a beige dining room set from Levitz, eating an entirely beige meal that will give you constipation and heartburn, in the company of entirely beige people to whom you happen to be related.  Oh, and instead of having years named after animals, we just give them ridiculously high numbers that no one keeps track of, so it could be 5770, but it could also be, like, 24735 and no one would know.

Say what you want about Jesus, but because of him at least I know what year it is.  No one ever actually uses the numbers of the Jewish year, except during Rosh Hashanah and when they want to prove that the religious right is crazy when they say the Earth is only six thousand years old, when scientists have found things much older than that.  Like Betty White.

To return to my point (I do this often, don’t I?), this weekend was the last weekend we had our rented house at the beach. Since we can no longer afford to spend thousands of dollars with the same nonchalance that some people reserve for dropping a penny down a sewer grate, and since we missed two weekends while we were cavorting across the Mediterranean with 2,500 homos, we decide we should probably go out to the beach house. 

Besides, we have to pick up all our stuff.

My mother did not react well to this news. 

In her defense (which really should be insanity, since that’s the one any jury would believe) we’ve already disappointed her this year when we told her we’d be going to Neil’s parents’ home in Houston for Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is something of a holy day to my mother – she spends weeks getting ready, often cooking and freezing several items more than a week in advance (giving them a reheated quality that really isn’t worth being thankful for, though surviving the digestive process often is.)  She loves Thanksgiving – it’s the only time she can manage to get the entire family to show up at her house where she can gaze upon them lovingly and tell them not to touch anything.

So she was already in a delicate condition when we bowed out of Rosh Hashanah.

Inevitably, this news was met with an all-expenses paid guilt trip, though I could tell she was mulling over the destination.  I could literally hear the wheels turning as chose among “Obligations and Priorities” and “The Importance of Family,” finally resting on “What It Means to be A Jew.” 

Game over.

She gave it a good try, but she might have had better luck with another line of argument.  I can’t recall seeing the inside of a temple since puberty (and spent a two-year stint in college going to an Episcopal Church, so it’s not like I was working off a rock solid foundation to begin with.)  Besides, while Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest days of the year, it’s also a festive one and – at the moment – my idea of festive includes cocktails and barbecue.

Like they did in Bible times.

I have a troubled relationship with religion.  I believe in God, but I think spirituality is a deeply personal pursuit.  I think organized religions have done more to separate people from each other than to bring them together, routinely identifying outside groups as oppressors or immoral and condemning them therefore.  If you were to ask me my religion, I’d say Jewish, but the response feels driven more from looking Jewish and sounding Jewish and growing up Jewish than anything else.  I don’t know that I feel too much of an attachment to it, otherwise.  I married a Catholic, I celebrate Christmas, and I enjoy a spectrum of pork products.  I’m kind of Jewish in the same way Monica was, on Friends.

So that’s how I found myself celebrating the Jew Year on Fire Island.

Friday night we grilled cheeseburgers (I’ve already posted this recipe) and grilled corn (Recipe: put corn on the grill.  Add butter and salt.  Or be creative and coat with olive oil and dill before you grill.) Things got a little ugly after dinner, when all of sudden a friend decided to interrogate me about what I was doing with my life and what I was looking for and what do I expect to happen and what insecurities I’m addressing.  Under the only circumstance where I don’t like being the center of attention, I make a mental note to poison his breakfast. 

I’m being glib, but my feelings actually were hurt – I felt attacked for pursuing a career in television hosting and program development, and I’m pretty protective of that right now.  I know I’m just at the beginning of this journey, but I waited fifteen years to start it, working countless hours in furtherance of other people’s happiness.  For someone who has a tendency to behave entitled under many circumstances, this is actually something I can justify feeling entitled to try.  The bonus to enjoying it is that I’m finding I have something of a talent for it.

Saturday dawned much brighter; literally and figuratively, and provided some of the nicest weather of the summer.  The reports may only have been in the low to mid 70s, but it was plenty hot in the sun and we laid around the pool deck most of the day.  No better start to a sweet year than a stack of entertainment and fashion magazines, the New York Times editorial pages, and a late summer tan.  I’m convinced there’s a reason the Jewish high holidays occur around mid-September: everyone can show off a new fall outfit and a summer tan.  If the holidays were in March, we’d have to completely re-configure the fashion calendar and everyone would have to fake bake or hope for decent winter weather in Boca.  When you look at it this way, you begin to wonder if the fasting is less about repentance and more about fitting into Dolce.  Those Italian cuts can be unforgiving on wide eastern European hips.

Saturday evening brought us to a house party on the east end of the island.  This was hard; we went to the home of new acquaintances, friends of our friend Brian, who redid their beach house in the style of 1960s contemporaries (very horizontal; flat roof, low ceiling, front wall of vertical windows) appointed with luxurious finishes in brushed nickel, espresso wood, and gray slate.  Outside they had that simulated wicker (is it plastic?) furniture with the white cushions that always reminds me of pool decks and outdoor restaurants in Los Angeles. 

Immediate jealousy.  I knew the second we walked in that Neil loved it – the style, the décor, the proportions – and I could see, just momentarily, a look of longing in his eyes; a reminder of all the things we wanted, still want, all the dreams and desires we discussed that – right now – I can’t provide.

My friend Mike always said, “They call them golden handcuffs for a reason.”

After the party we head over to Low Tea for a cocktail, then home for dinner: baby arugula with grilled balsamic nectarines and red onion, baby back ribs in a peach barbecue glaze, ratatouille and biscuits. (Recipes below.)

And that’s pretty much it.  We woke this morning to another bright, warm day.  We took a walk over to the house we rented for next summer to store our beach chairs under the house.  As we approached the house, a buck blocked the entrance (Deer are native to Fire Island, and have long grown acclimated to the humans – and humanoids.)  Neil, Robert, Alec and I all hesitated to approach when the buck bowed his head and angled a full rack of antlers at us.  After staying frozen for several minutes, trapped like Dee Wallace Stone in Cujo, we finally shoed the deer away with our beach chairs.  If they ever do a gay circus, we’ve got four potential lion tamers, provided they swap out the lion for a skittish deer.

I have to go now.  A bird flew into our house and couldn’t find it’s way out.  It just flew into the window and dropped to the floor dead.  I need to go dispose of it.

God, I hope this isn’t a metaphor.


DO THIS, New York:

Listen to your mother. (Do as I say, not as I do.)

Go to Fire Island – it’s a lot of fun.  I love it in September.

Watch Cujo.  I like that movie.  Dee Wallace grows a pair about 90 minutes in, and it’s awesome.  Keep an eye open for fey pre-Jonathan Bower (Who’s The Boss?) future gay Danny Pintauro as the asthmatic kid.

            Two large racks of ribs cut into three pieces, each.

            One jar of “Bone Suckin’ Sauce” (Interactive fun: insert your own bone sucking joke here.)  Yes, I used a jarred sauce – so what?  Sandr Lee does it on the Food Network and she’s got her own show.

            Four peaches, chopped and pureed.

            (Alternative sauce: 1 cup ketchup, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, 1 Tbsp Horseradish, ½ medium onion (diced), 2 cloves garlic (pressed), 3 peaches.  Put everything in a blender.)

Put it all in a bowl. Leave it there for at least four hours.  Grill until cooked.


1 medium eggplant
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 yellow pepper
1 orange pepper
1 large onion
4 plum tomatoes
olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven.  Chop the shallot and garlic and sauté.  Slice all the vegetables.  Add the eggplant to the pot.  Wait.   Add the zucchini and squash.  Wait.  Add the peppers.  Wait.  Add the onion.  Wait.  Add the tomatoes.  Wait.  Season with salt, pepper, some chopped parsley and a little cayenne. Wait.

HINT:  Ratatouille is a blending and building of flavors.  The order you add the vegetables is important.  Let them cook through before adding the next round. 

HINT:  Salt the eggplant and pat it down with paper towels before you add it to the pot.  Eggplant tends to have a lot of water and the salt will draw it out.  While ratatouille is supposed to be soft, too much water will make it bland and overly mushy.

HINT:  You can treat this like a Sunday gravy.  At the right temperature, without the right amount of patience, you can let this cook for hours and really develop the flavors.  Don’t overly salt the dish, but use it regularly – it will help blend the flavors.


Pour some balsamic vinegar into a pot.  Heat over medium-high flame and rapidly bring to a boil.  Reduce.  The better quality vinegar, the better the results. (You can also add a little sugar to this process, though I don’t.)

Chop one medium red onion – trim the ends, cut in half by length and width.  Cut the four chunks in half.  Don’t cut the onion any smaller than that.

Quarter four nectarines.

Add the nectarines and onion to the boiling vinegar.  Stir.  After 2-3 minutes, remove from heat.

Remove the nectarines and onion to aluminum foil.  Add some remaining balsamic if you like. Fold the aluminum into a packet.

Put it on the grill for 5-10 minutes.  Remove.  Cool to about room temperature.  Toss with the arugula.

DON’T DO THIS, New York:

Don’t guilt someone into religion.  Using guilt for sex or presents, however, is fine.

Don’t serve Planter’s Punch at a party – no one really likes Rum unless they’re an 18th century Caribbean pirate.

Don’t make biscuits the way I did – a box of Jiffy biscuit mix.  They tasted like paste.  Next time I’m using that weird Pillsbury cylinder that pops open the second you touch it.

No comments:

Post a Comment