Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Red Lipstick

I remember the first time I became cognizant of red lipstick. It was worn by the actress Kelly McGillis in the movie "Top Gun" (released in 1986 by my former employer - shout out to Jerry Bruckheimer!) She wore it perfectly! It looked sophisticated and she was beautiful. From then on, my obsession with red lipstick was begun. However, due to my very young age back then, it looked utterly ridiculous on me. I could see that one grows into red lipstick much like you grow into your mom's high heels.

I waited for years and purchased and tried many shades of red lipstick. Still, nothing looked right yet. Finally, finally when I turned 30-years-old, my moment arrived! Red lipstick looked on me the same way it did on Ms. McGillis in 1986. I was overjoyed! Now I looked sophisticated and beautiful in my red lipstick, too. What a shame that I only put it on at home in the morning and never re-applied it the rest of the day! What a waste.

Now, in these years since I looked right in red lipstick, I've barely worn make-up to the extent I did when I still worked on a daily basis. My husband and children have been happy to have me without make-up while I stay home. I only wear it now when I teach or go to weddings and such. And, quite unfortunately for me, I have found that there is only a short stage in a woman's life (or, at least in my life) where she looks good in red lipstick. I seem to have passed that stage already. I tried putting it on a few times in the past couple months and each time, I needed to wipe it off in favor of a lighter beige-pink color instead. The red once again looks ridiculous on me. Now I've aged out of it instead of grown into it. This is what the other side of wearing red lipstick looks like. How sad that I never took advantage of that stage while it was at hand.

I sit here now laughing as I write this. I laugh at how badly and for how long I wanted to look right in red lipstick and after all that effort, I didn't savor my opportunity when I had the chance. In a way, it's sad justice that I can't wear it any longer because I didn't appreciate it enough when I could. I also laugh because there is nothing I can do but laugh. Thank G-d, it seems that the sting of this isn't so very strong because I must be accepting aging better than I thought I would. Thank G-d! But still, what a shame....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Day In My Past Life at E!

Do you ever wish you could go back in time and re-live a day in your life? Not specifically to make different choices and change outcomes (although that could be nice), but just to go back and walk in your old shoes again because life was so interesting or so pleasant that you want to re-visit it.

In the small handful of years since I left the entertainment industry, I have not missed the lifestyle too much. It's been surprising, actually, how content I was to start a new career (or two) and live a calmer life with more personal time and less stress. But as more time passes and takes me further from how I used to define myself, I am slowly starting to think about my former lifestyle all over again. I am remembering the cheerful times from those fruitful years. I felt blessed every day to live that very life that I worked so hard to come by. I was mindful of all that was going well. And because much was going well, with great affection I remind myself of what a day-in-the-life was like back then.

Perhaps my favorite job in Hollywood was on the "E! True Hollywood Story". Not the most lucrative or most impressive job out of everything I did, but most certainly the absolute happiest one. I had been around the block a few times when I became a permanent employee at E! in July 2002. I was fond of a few different shows I worked on at E!, but something about "THS" felt like this was what I was meant to do in life. I was euphoric at the beginning of each new show we produced when I was handed a fat stack of research materials to read (no kidding, 2"-4" high, plus books). I loved sorting through everything, putting together timelines and lists of famous movies or TV clips or moments in the subject's life, lists of acquisitions to make, lists of people to interview, etc. Once an outline was nailed down, my mind was kept sharp and my negotiating skills were honed with the day-to-day details of bringing together a TV show that was only a concept in our minds and would become a tangible product for audiences to see at home. From A to Z, I was even exhilarated as I sat in the editing bays until 1 or 2am so many nights on so many shows. It was completely rewarding.

As if going each day to a job I loved wasn't enough, the details of my personal life were fairly pleasant, too. While I lived in the Fairfax District for my first 3 years of Los Angeles life (and suffered through the obnoxious overnight helicopters, as well as a 3:30am burglar in my bedroom), I moved to a warm, friendly, nicely maintained apartment building in Beverly Hills for the last 2 1/2 years. My neighbors were caring, my landlady was the best you could ask for, and who could argue with the public services of Beverly Hills? Imagine going to City Hall for something and actually receiving outstanding service from the people there! I worked and sometimes slaved like a dog to have good things and by this point I was living as pleasing a lifestyle as possible surrounded by (mostly) good people.

When I wasn't in editing sessions until the early hours of the morning, I was living a normal work schedule at E!, which was 9am-6pm for some departments and 9:30am-6:30pm for others. I remember the decadence of rolling out of bed at 8am or so, driving the entire 15 minute commute down Wilshire Boulevard (encountering many careless drivers along the way), which was lined with soaring palm trees on both sides to fully remind you that you were living in a seemingly-glorious place, and arriving at my desk between 9:15 and 9:30am. I was a workaholic and did not mind expending all of my energy on my job. I was motivated by every element of the work. And if you're really fortunate, you are motivated by the people you work side-by-side with. I had producers who worked just as hard as I did, even though they were my superiors and could get away with less. When I worked with people like that, I wanted to work even harder. When I worked with people who passed the buck or were remiss (at E!, at other production houses...), it added stress to my job. If they weren't living up to their responsibilities, it added to my already full plate.

To further heighten an "only in L.A." experience, the E! office building had a courtyard, waterfall feature and all, and numerous picnic tables and chairs for our use. We ate lunch outside at those tables. Translation: I could eat lunch outside in January and I did only because I could. I'm a girl from Pennsylvania. This was one of the most surreal things to me. And I told myself that to stay down-to-earth, I should never forget that feeling. This was a reminder of where I came from and how privileged I was to be where I was.

Once I left work in the evenings, I was basically completely drained. I managed to go to the gym a couple nights a week, I was paired up with a partner to learn Torah with once a week starting in 2003, I attended a Jewish class once in a while, and I began to make my own Shabbat dinners at home if I wasn't invited out to one already. I had few precious friends and countless acquaintances.

Religiously speaking, I came to L.A. a blank page as far as Judaism was concerned. During those 5 1/2 years, that page was imprinted with what turned out to be my Jewish identity. I learned history, ancient rituals that are still practiced today (over 3,000 years later), heard and spoke words of Torah for the first time in my life, and felt the acceptance and unconditional love of sisters and brothers I never knew existed. My career was completely fulfilling to me by then (less prestige, less pay, but I knew what the other choices were). Spiritually, I was not living up to my potential at all. I felt some of that and knew that was why I needed to continue surrounding myself with honest and well-intentioned people who could show me what was out there for Jews to learn about and practice in their own lives. I was getting closer all the time. I kept wanting more and was also reluctant to take on too much. I went from entirely assimilated and unaffiliated to being something like "Conservadox" and having a synagogue where I could call home.

I spent my whole childhood living for the future, for the day when I would be successful in the Hollywood entertainment industry. And I finally had what I wanted at the right company and at the right pace. I was challenged intellectually by my work in the office and by my explorations in cooking and entertaining at home. Yet I still felt an emptiness that I could not explain. What more could anyone want? What am I missing?

I would not know until I moved to New York City in 2005 and found Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Within literally 2-3 months of setting foot in KJ, I found 100% clarity and direction. You can never know if Torah Judaism is right for you until you stop finding excuses and devote the time to living in those shoes for a while. That's what I did and I found all my personal and spiritual fulfillment. I even found that my professional identity, so wrapped up in the entertainment industry until then, was not as necessary as oxygen to me as I had always thought. But don't get me wrong. I think lovingly and longingly upon those days at E! I would never undermine how valuable that time was and I would still cherish going back for a day-in-the-life.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Passover & Year Round Apricot Chicken with a Twist

I love many, many recipes from the "Spice and Spirit" cookbook, but this succulent chicken dish in particular is adored in my household by everyone. I've received a lot of enthusiastic compliments on it from outsiders, as well, and not a single complaint, bli ayin hara. The normal ingredients translate easily into Pesachdik ingredients.

"Spice and Spirit" cookbook, January 2007 printing, page 240.

Apricot Chicken (with my own personal twist)
*I've doubled the main ingredients from the cookbook because it makes the finished product so much juicier. If the way I wrote the recipe yields too much for your needs, it can be easily halved OR you can freeze some for another time.

6-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6-8 potatoes (one per breast)
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced in rings
olive oil
salt and pepper
6 tbsp apricot jam (or preserves)
6 tbsp lemon juice (or 2 lemons)
6 tbsp ketchup
3 tbsp mayonnaise
2 envelopes onion soup mix (1 3/8 oz. each)

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
2. In a large baking dish (13"x9"), lightly coat the bottom with olive oil.
3. Scrub potatoes and slice on the diagonal no more than 1/4" thick.
4. In a single layer, spread potatoes on the bottom of the baking dish. Drizzle on some olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika. Repeat layers until you use up all potatoes.
5. Spread out the onion rings over the potatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and some salt.
6. Bake for half an hour.
7. In the meanwhile, mix the apricot jam, lemon juice, ketchup, mayonnaise, and onion soup mix. Set aside. (Do not boil as the original recipe instructs. FYI, this is where the ingredients have been doubled to make the recipe juicier.)
8. Remove the baking dish from the oven. Place the chicken breasts in a single layer over the potatoes and onions. Pour all the apricot mixture evenly over the breasts taking care to cover all of the chicken.
9. Bake uncovered until the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes. Test a thick chicken breast by cutting through it: if juices run clear then it is ready.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dutch Meat Loaf That Every Family Can Enjoy!

This is a wonderful recipe not only for yourself, but also when you want to bring a meal to a family who just had a baby! It seems that even picky kids (and husbands) will eat this.

The Back Story:
Because I try to avoid clutter (see my home and you may think otherwise!), I am very selective about what cookbooks take up space on my shelf. I used to collect all kinds of cookbooks - like any serious cook - and I wasn't afraid to let them take up all of our shelf space. However, as the collection intruded with what space our children's books needed, I had to go through my cookbooks and weed out the ones I didn't use. Now I'm down to 16, which still sounds like a lot! I go through them every year or so to see which ones I should give away and I need a lot of motivation to make the space for adding a new one to my shelf.

One of my favorite cookbooks has an unlikely story of how it got to me. It's the purple colored "Spice and Spirit, The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook" from Lubavitch Women's Cookbook Publication. Back in 2008 I'd never heard of it and didn't ask for it, but it was given to me by a dear colleague at the OU who had an extra copy. It sat on my desk at work unopened for months before I brought it home. Once home and still unopened, I stored it on my cookbook shelf until my yearly foray through which cookbooks I could get rid of. I meant to give away this one first, but then all it took was one glance through it and the rest is history! That would have been a huge mistake if I didn't finally look through it! I am grateful that this is among my collection. The recipe selection is spectacular. I use it all the time to try recipes that are new to me, from Hungarian to Caribbean to Sephardic cuisine.

Dutch Meat Loaf
"Spice and Spirit" cookbook, January 2007 printing, page 211.

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 cup soft bread crumbs
1 onion, diced
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c water
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp prepared mustard

According to the recipe, use a 9" x 5" loaf pan, but I use a larger baking pan.
Yields 4-6 servings.

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
2. In a large bowl combine ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, 3/4 cup tomato sauce, egg, and salt. Mix well and shape into a loaf. Place in loaf pan.
3. Combine remaining tomato sauce with water, sugar, and mustard. Pour over loaf.
4. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and let stand a few minutes before slicing.

I like to serve this dish with a side of roasted potatoes and roasted asparagus.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Easy Chicken Dinner in One Pot

With all the cold, snowy weather we've seen in the region lately, I always feel that nothing helps balance the wintry ambiance better than a hot, slow-cooked, one-pot dinner a few times a week. It certainly makes preparation a cinch for me and saves a ton of time, but it truly warms up the body and mind to eat a hearty meal like this after a cold, gray day.
On Monday afternoons/evenings I teach at a religious school so I especially need to have dinner ready for my family before I walk out the door. The following easy meal was prepared by 10am and cooked slowly in the crockpot at the lowest setting until my husband and children ate around 6pm.
TO MAKE THIS simple and healthy meal, layer the following list of ingredients into the crockpot in this order:
1) 1 whole cut-up chicken (skin or no skin depending on each family's preference)
2) 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced into rings
3) 1 12oz. can of beer
4) 1 packet of Italian salad dressing/seasoning mix (use 2 packets for more punch)
5) 1 bag of baby carrots
6) 1 large sweet potato, peeled, cut up
7) 2 white potatoes, peeled, cut up
8) Drizzle of olive oil over vegetables
9) Salt and pepper

Please watch for bones when you dish out the chicken since it becomes so tender that it falls off the bone.

We try to watch our carb intake in my home (...thanx to my husband...), but this recipe would be even more filling with a side of warm, crusty, flavorful bread.