Hebrew School

Feed Me Bubbe
October 27, 2008, 10:45 pm
Filed under: ess | Tags: , , , , , ,

With days growing shorter, light going dimmer, and wallets growing thinner, we all seem to be taking more and more of a cue from Cathy, enjoying “not eating out in New York.” It seems like this is my natural tendency when fall comes, not to mention the sorely-awaited prospect of being able to turn on a stove in an un-airconditioned, third-floor apartment.

Bubbe’s sweet and sour meatball recipe (video) was our inspiration. To me, the basic structure of the preparation hit a nostalgic nerve, but with an idiosyncratic twist. And there’s Bubbe, too, a strong and compassionate proponent of Jewish soul food, emphasizing thrift, health, flavor and tradition. Though I can’t help but think that her grandson and his coterie of advertisers have her tied up in some suburban Boston basement, releasing the poor woman every month or so to slave over a hot stove without so much as an electrical appliance. Nonetheless, the recipes are great, and Bubbe gently encourages you along the way, flatly rejecting the notion that there is simply one way to make the food right.

Anyway, the meatball recipe and its odd mixture of ingredients just seemed so patently ridiculous that we had to try it on our own. First, Bubbe has you assemble the meatballs in a manner that mostly transcends ethnicity, though this speaks more to the assimilative process of Ashkenazic Jewish-American cuisine as a whole: ground beef (we used a lean, grass-fed variety), breadcrumbs (fresh, from white bread), an egg, minced onion, spices. Form into balls, brown in a skillet, reduce heat, cover and let cook through.

Then it’s time for the secret ingredients:

That’s right: Grape jelly and chili sauce in equal proportions. We went with the Smuckers Concord grape jelly, which is what Bubbe uses, de-branded, in her video. For chili sauce, we went for some sweet Thai. Amused? Repulsed? Incredulous? So was I.

Combine both in the pan with the meatballs. (This is different from how Bubbe did it.) The jelly and chili sauce melt together, co-mingling with the meatball drippings, to create a deep reddish brown gravy. There’s a little inexplicable magic in this that I can’t quite understand. Perhaps too many novitiates have been studying the kabbalah; I don’t know. A very strange and wonderful synthesis happens:

“9 acres is not an amusement park.”

Coat the meatballs with this juice using the spoon. Cover and simmer some more.

Bubbe suggests serving the meatballs with rice, or in a “sub sandwich,” (or “extra meatballs”), and with no harm intended towards the real genius, we mixed meat and dairy by concocting a fresh tomato and parmesan risotto. I guess we figured that the initial flavor combinations were so bizaare that any futher missteps would simply cancel out. Double transgession theory.

They did.

See Bubbe make the meatballs > >


Droppin’ Hasid

My friend Steve sent me a fascinating article from Vice about a group of Hasidic Jews in New York City who’ve left the fold of their traditional community:

When I first walked into the apartment on Ridge Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I didn’t see much because the lights were off. It was a long empty room with couches lining the walls. Empty cans and bottles everywhere. At four in the morning all that was left were the remnants of a party. Nothing unusual. A Hasidic Jew was passed out on his back, yarmulke resting on the cushion next to his head. His cell phone was wildly ringing digitized klezmer music from within his wool pants. He lay totally still. I walked toward him, wondering if he was alive. The phone cycled through four more rings before he swiped at his pocket, at which point I let out a sigh of relief.

I could hear muffled singing coming from behind a closed door down the hall. I stepped over the passed-out Hasid, making my way into the next room. Inside, it was completely dark. The air was warm with the smell of bodies. Ten, maybe fifteen, naked Jews were perched, chanting in flawless harmony with one another. They stopped briefly to greet me and then resumed. I watched them speechlessly for a moment before posing the question “What’s going on?” A voice in the dark made an incomprehensible remark about LSD, and everybody broke out in bouts of electrified laughter. And then the chanting began again.

read the rest of the article >>

The Pork, the Yard, the Canal

Friday, October 10, the day following Yom Kippur, a Jew’s last chance to repent for the previous year’s vice. With the final blasts of the ram’s horn fading into whispery memory, all is somehow forgiven. But with these last moments of ritual comes a hunger– not just that feeling in your stomach from an all-day fast, if indeed your observance compelled you. It’s your soul’s momentary redemption, and with a clean slate and a fresh start, you begin to hunger anew for sin. Which is to say, you begin to hunger anew for swine.

Your despicable impulses take you to the banks of the most fetid body of water on the Eastern seaboard.

Can you smell that smell? The Gowanus Canal. (photos: Jill)

In the yard, a menacing beer line forms…

$1 Six Point Hop Obamas from 6-7pm. Election season has never tasted so delicious.

Bel Air strikes up a delightfully thunderous twang in celebration of Ear Farm‘s third birthday.

A 200-pound, organic, grass-fed heritage hog from upstate’s Fleisher’s gets its final flavor seal.

Marlow and Sons’ Tom Mylan slices pig, distributes cracklins. Holy Moses, indeed.

It is laid on a table for serving… (click for larger version)

Tacos de carnitas.

Apple crisp. This has no pork in it.

Darkness plunges the canal into a murky glow of streetlight, ignominy hidden.

Y Jew K day
October 9, 2008, 12:29 pm
Filed under: jewish | Tags: , , , ,

All Jewish sin clocks reset to zero today, so what better way to get a jumpstart on next year’s guilt than a Billy Ray Sheet song and a PETA video:

p.s. Happy birthday, John.

Giancarlo Vulcano, Vetro

Composer and guitarist Giancarlo Vulcano performed his 2008 release, Vetro, yesterday at Le Poisson Rouge. He was joined by Joshua Camp, Taylor Bergren-Chrisman, Jesse Schiffrin, and Yvonne Troxler.

Vetro was presented in its entirety on Sunday. Some observations:

a) The insistence yet lack of intrusion that brings a renewed meaning and a new life to (post-) minimalist spectres

b) Ostenatos stately and arpeggiated, delicately muted in Ligeti-esque chord clusters, or excavated from Lightnin’ Hopkins

c) These repeated phrases exquisitely pierced through with the sound of a reed or a bowed string

d) Infusions of narrative into a textural soundspace, perhaps aurally analogous to the representational picture rugs of Qashqai nomads

e) The enjoyment of being able to see music like this in a club setting as opposed to the concert hall, without failing to predict the latter full in a heartbeat

Buy the record here.

“So like, how’s your project going?”

There it is, that pervasive question the past year and a half. Jack wants to know, as does bubbe, an R train rider, the Jews, Obama pollwatchers, Sixpoint Hop Obama drinkers, Six Points fellow fellows, and an assorted cadre of friends of friends, enemies of enemies, would-be impresarios and so forth.

Because the fellowship has presented me with such a great opportunity to push my art into such an exciting new direction, with new territory and parameters, the project’s been like a bond of pregnancy for me (as close as I’ll ever know, anyway). When someone is pregnant, I don’t ask them, “So, how do you think you’ll be able to carry this baby to term?” or, “So, is this baby going to be a successful orthodontist when it grows up?” Rather, I say, mazel tov, or even better yet, besha’ah tovah, meaning “in good time.” To be honest, I’d rather let the thing come to fruition before removing its foreskin.

Which isn’t to say that I haven’t appreciated your questions. Very much so, in their sincerity, I have. And it isn’t to say, perhaps unlike traditional Jewish pregnancy, that some celebrating isn’t in order, and hence I will give you some details from the ultrasound:

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, and Hebrew School has evolved into what could be described as my Trout Fishing in America. This is to say that Hebrew School might itself be a questioning individual, a dusty place with shafts of sunlight coming in, a paradoxical outlook, a brisket recipe, a living ideal (real or imagined), a past abutted against the present. The songs play out these conflicting scenarios as if they were generated from a computer by chance, meaning that, depending on who you are, some songs may be heartwarming, others reprehensible.

Hebrew School goes into the recording studio in November. I’m happy to say that we’ll be recording in my own neighborhood of South Brooklyn, and that I’ll be joined by members of Golem, Lucinda Black Bear, and other surprise special guests. The record’s release will occur early this spring, with an accompanying show. Keep checking this site for more details as they develop!