Archives for the month of: November, 2010

1. Why are athletes and actors so superstitious?
2. How many little rituals do you have and for what kinds of things? Like, is there something you have to do before you meet someone to make sure it goes well? What do you do before walking into a room where you don’t know anyone? Is there something you say or do before making an important decision?
3. What are some other “before doing xyz” moments where you are superstitious? Is there a difference between superstitious activities and praying?

Today’s Something Else: Sophie’s Sayings

My Grandmother Sophie influenced me in so many ways that I could fill a year’s worth of Something Elses with stories just about her. This week, I wanted to share some of the things she taught me that are so embedded into my thinking that I can’t imagine ever not following them. They’re a few of many, many more.

– If you drop a knife, don’t pick it up. If you do, you’ll experience disappointment.

– Don’t put shoes on the table or hats on the bed. If you do, you’re inviting death into the house.

– When someone passes you a sharp object (e.g., knife, scissors), don’t say, “Thank you.” If you do, you’re going to get cut.

– If you want your hair to grow back fast, cut it while the moon is waxing. If you want your hair to grow back slowly, cut it when the moon is waning. The same applies when ending a relationship.

– If you want a quiet sleep that’s filled with good dreams and no visits from bad spirits, make sure your head is facing the north or east.

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1. Is it just me or has Facebook now become all about our mothers making sure we remember to acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries?
2. Who used to have that job in your family? Do they still do it? Who’ll do it when they no longer are able to?
3. Now that everything everyone is saying, thinking, doing and celebrating automatically pops up on your Wall, do you feel more connected? Or do you ignore milestones and news more than you used to?

Today’s Something Else: A Thanksgiving Story (and Recipe)

Thanksgiving has always been my family’s holiday.

I grew up in a large extended family with grandparents and great aunts and great uncles who didn’t come to America until they were teens or young adults, so there was always this mix of Old World and religious holidays filled with traditions and “how they did it back there.” But there also were all of those “new” American holidays — and those were a big deal. They were a chance to leave all of the rules (and all of the “no, we do it this way”) behind and celebrate however they wanted to.

Because of the size of the family, every holiday was spent at different relatives. I don’t know how the women figured out who got what holiday — probably something like the Paris Peace Talks of 1919 that divided up Europe — but we got Thanksgiving (or, more accurately, my mother got Thanksgiving).

Each year, a varied group of relatives from both sides of the family trouped over to our house for the annual day to give thanks and eat Turkey and such. All of us loved it, but nobody more than my dad. When not creating a giant party to keep us kids out of our mother’s hair, he would take repeated whiffs and bites of pumpkin pie. It was his favorite part.

(Dad passed on Thanksgiving Day, 1964, after a brutal battle with lung cancer. He had been in the hospital a lot, but right before the big Turkey day, he improved enough to come home. Thanksgiving gave him the first happy day he’d had that year. And although his passing made for much sadness, my dad seemed to have planned it in such a way that none of us in the family would be alone.)

Anyway, I still love the holiday. I never miss a Thanksgiving dinner.

So when I moved to Paris for my studies, I just had to make my first Paris Thanksgiving the best Thanksgiving ever.

It didn’t take much — only a little searching around and imagination — to find just about everything I’d need food-wise. There was one exception, though.

I couldn’t make pumpkin pie.

Those cans of Libby’s filling? They didn’t sell those in any store, not even in the trendy, American product-laden “Le Drug Store” on St. Germaine des Pres. And given that this was pre-Sugaia and gourmet cooking lessons, I hadn’t yet learned the fine art of improvising in the kitchen.

I tried asking my mother to send cans of pumpkin pie filling in a care package, but when the package came (the day before Thanksgiving), it didn’t have any pumpkin pie filling, just a bag of miniature marshmallows. (OK, it was a definite American treat my new friends would like, but could I use it to make a pumpkin pie? No.)

I kept my cool because, well, I was in Paris after all. Besides being the City of Lights, it’s also the capital of the land of 10,000 varieties of everything and anything you could eat. Plus, squash is abundant in France, and pumpkin is a type of squash.

Problem solved?

Not exactly. Pumpkin may be ubiquitous to every American, but it is rare to nonexistent in France. My neighborhood vegetable seller said I could use something called potiron, which he said was the closest thing to an American pumpkin, but of course he didn’t he have any. (Although, in typical French fashion, he shrugged and said, “You could always try elsewhere — non?”)

With only hours left before I was supposed to be cooking up a storm, I panicked, dropped everything and started looking. After scouring every fruit and vegetable stand from Porte de la Chappelle in the north to Porte D’Orleans in the south I came up empty handed. But I was too stubborn to give up. No way was I going to have an incomplete dinner.

As I was about to consider just buying any squash and trying to fake it, I was told that If I went to Les Halles (a famous, really huge farmers market in the center of the city) just before dawn and found so-and-so’s stall, I might find my pumpkin. At no age has 4 a.m. ever been my time of day, but this was Thanksgiving. So I got up that early, made my way over to Les Halles and, lo and behold, found potirons.

Phewf.

I bought them, schlepped them home on the Metro, and somehow (I can’t remember the details) figured out with my friends how to carve them up for cooking instead of for making Jack-O-Lanterns.

Did the final product taste like a real pumpkin pie? I’m not sure. But it was there in its place of honor, and I had my piece, and I saluted my dad.

Willa Cather said, “the past is never really gone,” and that’s true I suppose. However, I learned that on that Paris Thanksgiving day that creating a moment that will someday become the past was much more fun than remembering the past.

~~~

Looking for a new recipe to try this Thanksgiving?

While I can’t recreate my first pumpkin pie recipe, I do have this to offer: In the French countryside, they make a tart with citrouille, a more refined variety of potiron, that’s wonderful.

Here’s how you make it:

Total time: 1hr to 2hr
Preparation time: 15-20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 + 30 minutes

Ingredients
– 300 g (10 oz.) Citrouille  (Pumpkin ) flesh, peeled, fibers and seeds removed
– 50 g (2 oz.) sugar
– 50 g (3 tbsp.) butter
– 100 ml (6 tbsp.) heavy cream
– 3 eggs
– 250 g (9 oz.) pie pastry
– Cinnamon or ginger

Method
1. Cook the pumpkin with 4 tbsp. of water in a covered saucepan over low heat for about 20 minutes or until reduced to a purée.
2. Remove the lid and continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated.
3. Add the sugar, butter, cream and beaten eggs. Season to taste.
4. Roll out the pastry and line a deep tart pan; prick the bottom; pour the filling into the shell.
5. Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for about 30 minutes.

1. If it’s true that if you hang out with people who eat a lot, you eat a lot, and that if you hang out with people who are couch potatoes, you become a couch potato, etc., does that mean that we end up looking more like the people we live with than our own families?
2. Is this why everyone thinks that if you are all in the same profession, you share the same values, dress the same, support the same causes and eat at the same restaurants?
3. And what about people and their pets — do they start looking like their pets, or do the pets start looking like the people?

Today’s Something Else: A Cartoon

1. Are we seeing a resurgence of more direct Jewish humor?
2. Are we past the Seinfeld era where it was very Borscht Belt but couched in neurotic New Yorkers?
3. Wasn’t it Eddie Murphy who did that Gumby skit on SNL about having to be old and Jewish to be a comedian?

Something Else: Old Jews Telling Jokes

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about when I say Jewish humor, just check out this site.

Here’s a classic:

Q: What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a Jewish mother?
A: The Rottweiler eventually lets go.

Do you know any good jokes?

1.Why do we rush around, changing from one lane to the other, when we know it does not get us to our destination any faster? It’s an illusion, and it increases our chances of getting into a crash by 3X, yet we still swear that lane we’re not in is always moving faster.
2. What day (other than Super Bowl Sunday) do more people die in car crashes than on a normal day?
3. What do we accomplish by rushing?

Today’s Something Else: Illusion Theater ~ The Origin Story

People are always asking me how the name Illusion came about, so let’s just get it out and into the open.

After living, studying and working in France for 4+ years I came home to St. Paul and wanted to start a Theater Company. We didn’t have a show to do or a name to call ourselves, but we did manage to convince the formidable Suzanne Weil, who ran the Walker Art Center Performing Arts Program, to give us two nights on her stage.

Of course, we needed a show and a name to actually appear on the stage. So when one day we were lying around on the living room floor as the sun was setting, knowing the next morning I’d have to give the world information about who we were and what we were going to do, we began to talk and brainstorm.

Coming up with an evening of entertainment turned out to be the easy part. I’d put together a performance group and created a show when I lived in Paris, and we’d already been noodling around with some new work in the studio. But coming up with a name — that was a different story.

I think someone asked me, “What are the pieces about?” Apparently (though I don’t remember) I answered, “They’re about my illusions — illusions of life, what it could be versus what it was…”

That was the a-ha moment (though, again, I don’t remember). That was when we decided that the performance at the Walker would be called “My Illusions,” with the logical follow-up action being to call our company The Illusion Theater.

Now, I know there’s long been confusion about what we meant by illusions. I blame it all on the quasi ex-pat Franglish I was probably still thinking in at the time.

I had assumed that everyone would understand that we meant Illusion as in Illusions about life, about society, about the perceived universe and the unseen world. But later it was interpreted to mean Illusion as magic, and given the highly physical movement-based work we did in the first years, it even came to be associated with the art of mime.

These tags to the name bugged us all greatly at the time, but now I see them as just part of the evolution of who we’ve become. Of course, I still like best the notion of exposing our illusions and exploring what they mean.

What does Illusion mean to you?