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  • Rebekah James 12:02 pm on March 22, 2011 Permalink | Reply  


    One of my favorite things to do when I am not writing is cook.  I make a lot of Middle Eastern and Greek foods, as well as a lot of experimental recipes that are usually blends of Asian and western flavors.  Since I am starting my Passover cleaning for the holiday next month, I also dusted off some of my favorite Passover recipes.  This is called Shakshouka and the variation I use originated in Turkey, though I have DEFINITELY adjusted it for my own tastes. When reading my recipes, always assume that I am using low-fat, low-sodium, low-carb options, and preferably organic.  I gave up keeping strict Kosher when I got married, but old habits die hard, that is still there too.


    Note: the size of the pan is very important here since you will be using the liquid from the tomatoes to poach the eggs, you want a pan that will just fit, with sides high enough to keep the liquid from boiling away too fast and allow the eggs to be poached properly. A lid is helpful too.

    2 tablespoons olive oil

    1 large green bell pepper, or ½ of a green and ½ of a red or yellow as available

    1 clove garlic

    ¼ white onion, chopped fine

    1 large (16 ounce) can of diced tomatoes

    3-4  eggs

    ¼ teaspoon hot paprika

    ½ cup of Greek or plain yogurt for topping (or if you prefer, a shredded mild cheese)

    Cook the peppers, onions and garlic together until just soft, then add in the tomatoes.  Season with the hot paprika and bring to a boil.  Stir well to make sure the flavors are mixed.  When the liquid is boiling, move the vegetables out of the way to make little pockets for the eggs and then crack them into the boiling liquid to poach.  Reduce heat to a low simmer.  If needed, cover the pan to keep the liquid from boiling away too fast.  Just before the eggs are done, if you are using the cheese, then sprinkle it on top of the tomatoes and cover. Let the cheese melt completely before serving.  If you are using yogurt (my preference) then put a dab on each of the eggs as you serve them.  This is best hot from the pan, but it does reheat nicely in a pinch.

    Sorry, no idea what the calorie or other nutrition for this is.  It does make 3 – 4 servings.

  • Rebekah James 11:04 am on March 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Shushan Purim 

    This week’s blog is going to be short, in part because I didn’t really have time to plan out a blog post, and in part because I am hoping I will have time later in the week to get some other things up here, like poetry and short stories up.  I thought I would do a little storytelling to keep you entertained until then.

    Today, for those of you who don’t know, is the second day of Purim. It is a Jewish holiday that involves costumes, parties and storytelling, and general silliness. I have heard it referred to as “Jewish Halloween” but it has nothing to do with Halloween, just coincidence that both involve costumes.  Despite the silliness, this day has a much deeper purpose – to examine ourselves and to point out our own faults.  For those who don’t know the story behind the holiday it goes, somewhat, like this.

    In Persia, under King Xerxes, the king was so busy conquering other lands that he didn’t really pay much attention to what was going on at home. During this time, while there was definitely persecution, things weren’t quite as bad as usual for the Jewish community that had been dragged into exile as they were at other times.  So far so good, except that one of the Jewish leaders named Mordecai really became a thorn in the side of one of the King’s ministers named Haman.  To be honest, I don’t really know what either one of them did for a living, but the bottom line is that Mordecai really annoyed Haman and annoying someone who has life and death power over you, literally, is never a good idea.  Haman would have just killed Mordecai outright except that Mordecai was something of a national hero having foiled an assassination attempt on Xerxes a couple of years before.

    Xerxes came home from conquering his neighbors, and as was his habit, threw a pretty wild party in which he and all of his ministers got really drunk. Xerxes made a bet with one of the guys there that his wife was more beautiful than anyone else’s, and to prove it, he was going to have her come to the party stark naked.  Persian society then was pretty much the way that muslim societies are now in terms of expectations of modesty from their women.  Vashti, the King’s wife who was throwing her own party for the wives of all the ministers, said “Wait a minute, I AM the Queen, I can’t be running around naked, what would happen then? Nope, forget it.” Probably, if he hadn’t been playing drinking games with his buddies, Xerxes would have actually appreciated this, but his buddies started teasing him that if he couldn’t even tell his own wife what to do, then he wasn’t man enough to be king.  If he let Vashti refuse to do what he said, then all of the women in Persia would start refusing their husbands and his country would obviously fall apart because we all know that women who don’t follow orders are big trouble.  Looking at it that way, Xerxes was really angry and embarrassed, so he did what any man would do in his situation – he had her executed.

    Of course now, Xerxes needed a new Queen.  He left that up to Haman while he went out and conquered a few more of his neighbors to blow off some steam. Haman wisely decided to hold a beauty contest and find some peasant girl who would be too terrified to mouth off like that spoiled princess turned Queen, Vashti had.  It took 3 years of dragging all the pretty girls in from the countryside, teaching them to have nice queenly manners, and “beauty treatments” but when the finalists were brought to Xerxes, he picked a girl named Esther.  Now Esther just happened to be Mordecai’s orphaned niece. Her uncle had told her to not mention that part, so no one really connected them or Haman would have no doubt had her eliminated in the first round.  Esther settles in as Queen, and everything is pretty cool for a while until Mordecai really gets into it with Haman and the entire Jewish community is up in arms about things. Haman decides enough is enough; after all, the only guy in the land who is bigger than him is Xerxes himself. So, when he is bringing in a bunch of stuff for Xerxes to sign one day, he gets him drunk then slips in a bill that says on this particular day, all Jews will be executed.  (By the way, the day was decided by drawing a lottery apparently, which is why the holiday is called Purim which means “lots”.)  Haman has so much fun with planning this, he actually has a gallows built in his own yard just for Mordecai.  When Mordecai hears about this, he decides it is time to put Esther to work, thinking being Queen and smoking hot and all, that she might have some influence with Xerxes in this.  Esther isn’t really sure what to do, but eventually decides to just ask nicely. Really nicely apparently – she goes all out and invites Xerxes over to her palace for a hot date. Xerxes isn’t doing anything, so he says sure. Apparently they had a really good time because he agrees to come over the next night as well.  As he is getting dressed afterward, he is in such a good mood, that he offers her a gift.  Anything she wants. He is probably thinking she is going to pick something like a dress or a new crown or something, instead she gets all heavy on him and says that what she really wants is to not be executed, but with this new law in effect, she is pretty much sure that she isn’t going to be around for any more of these dates with the king.

    Xerxes is really mad about this – Really mad.  He goes stomping through the palace to figure out who pulled a fast one on him, and has to figure out what to do about it. (Not even he can just cancel it apparently).  Haman is, with good reason, terrified because we all know how things usually turn out for those who make Xerxes mad.  Haman figures that since Esther is in good right now, maybe she can talk to the king for him and he goes running into her room and grabs her sleeve. Bad move. Esther screams, shimmies out of her robe and runs away, shouting that Haman attacked her.  You can see where this is headed now. Xerxes has Haman hung on the gallows in his own yard, has Mordecai promoted to Haman’s old job since he never did thank him for that whole foiled assassination thing anyway.  He also decides, to even the odds a bit, to arm the Jews so they can fight back, and orders his guys to really not put that much effort into it.  The Jews end up not getting wiped out, and Esther and Xerxes have a nice weekend away in that cozy little place Xerxes found the last time he was out conquering.

    It is not lost on the Jews that their whole rescue thing was due to the fact that Esther was smoking hot, or that all of this could have been avoided if someone had started an AA group for Xerxes, so Purim tends to be a celebration of seeing our own faults as well.

  • Rebekah James 2:48 pm on March 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    I’m (not) fat 

    I am starting to be very nervous about getting up on Monday mornings. Not because of the reasons you think – work, or school, or writing deadlines – though all of those do apply. Nope, Monday mornings are my appointment with the scale that someone ironically named a “health – o – meter”  This device will cheerfully tell me my weight and take a guess at my body fat percentage.  Even worse, I get a little reminder on my iphone that will tell me, in tenths of a pound, exactly how far away from my ideal weight for my age and height.

    I have battled with my weight for most of my life.  I never went into formal therapy for it, but I probably should have been.  A lesson in just how much my views have changed on weight and body image came last week when we went to an event where actress Colleen Clinkenbeard was featured.  (If you need to know who she is go here or see pictures here.)  One of the questions that was asked was why she had not done more film projects.  To my horror, this beautiful, talented and accomplished actress replied “Well I would, but me and my flab have to talk about that.”  I am pretty sure that if you had asked almost any man in the room about the “flab” she was worried about, they would have been more than happy to do a search for it, but from where I was sitting, there was absolutely nothing wrong with her figure.

    While I certainly am nowhere near svelte as Ms Clinkenbeard, I can relate, as I am sure most women can, to her comment about weight.  I have had issues with my weight for as long as I can remember.  Beginning when I was in high school and I was dancing on a professional level,  I spent hours agonizing over my body, endured almost endless workouts and thought nothing of cycling everywhere, because there was an extra 1,000 calories I didn’t have to worry about.  I existed on salads, fruits and small handfuls of granola here and there. Anything more substantial was punished with extra workout time.  I would occasionally go on 500 calorie a day restrictions for several days to get to a goal weight, and kept myself under 1,000 calories a day long after I stopped dancing.  As I transitioned to more sedentary jobs, my daily workouts suffered and I suddenly had more issues.  I started fasting every weekend.

    I am not saying that my choices were in any way healthy.  What I did eat was aimed at being minimal, not healthy.  I waited until I really couldn’t function to eat, and then had the smallest amount that I could manage.  When I lived in NY, my nutrition grew even worse since grocery shopping meant schlepping it home via subway and the LIRR.  I lived on pasta, coffee and the occasional slice of pizza that I could eat on the train.  There were penalties. Yes, I could cruise through the teen section in most stores to shop almost till I was 30, but my health suffered.  I caught frequent colds and stayed sick for months at a time.  I developed migraines, worsened arthritis, and even small paper cuts took weeks to heal and almost always became infected.  All of my “vacation” time was eaten up with bouts of bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma attacks and other illnesses.  And here is the frightening part – I saw my Doctor on an almost monthly basis for 5 years in NYC, and he never once told me I was too thin, or that I might have an eating disorder. The closest he ever came to counseling me in terms of nutrition was to recommend that I take different medications before or after meals.  Why? Because according to the weight charts posted on the wall next to his scale, I was at the lower end of my idea weight range, but still where I was supposed to be.

    I’d like to say that I had a moment of revelation and realized my eating habits were self destructive.  I didn’t.  I got married.  I suddenly had someone living with me who wanted regular meals – and not the anorexic meals I was eating, but real actual food.  I started eating, and wow, I was hungry.  I made up for all the deprivation in the past.  I gained 2 dress sizes in the first 6 months of marriage and didn’t care.  I was healthier than I had ever been before, and gone were the weekends where I would drop into bed on Friday nights and sleep till Sunday afternoon from sheer exhaustion.  Then I injured my knee which stopped my workouts and most of my active habits, but I couldn’t stop eating.  I had so much fun eating suddenly that I even lured my new husband into my new bad habits.  My weight ballooned as you would imagine and in the course of a year I went from ‘ideal” to “obese” (according to the charts at least, I think obese is really pushing it.)

    I am back on the weight loss track again, and I admit from time to time I find myself slipping into the old ideas and habits of skipping meals and so on, though I am aware at least that this is unhealthy and making an effort to change my habits.  My metabolism is ruined from years of starvation, so even though I actually do need to lose weight now, it is a very slow process.  We have found a weight loss program that is working for us (South Beach diet).  We are making changes together that are healthy, but there is a learning curve here, both in how I eat and how I think about myself.  I celebrated today because my weight is at a 3 year low, even though at my current rate, according to my phone at least, I will not reach my goal weight until October.  Posting here will keep me accountable for my habits which is part of my plan to NOT become anorexic again.  I will say that I am happier, healthier and more energetic than I have ever been which should count for something (besides, I learned how to make these really great brownies…)

    • Carolyn 2:54 pm on March 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      October is not that far away! And yay you for emphasizing health above drastic weight loss. I was just talking with my sister, who is fighting to lose weight. She is where I was two and a half or so years ago. She got down to where I am now, and freaked, and gained it all back…we’ve been talking lots about the power of the mind, and expectations, and what is really good for us. It is a never-ending process.

      Congratulations on stopping the cycle, and kudos to you and your spouse doing this, doing this together, and getting yourself healthy again. That is the best prize of all!

  • Rebekah James 11:33 am on March 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Happily ever after? 

    I didn’t blog last week, in part because we were just simply so busy, but also because we (M and I) had some news that both of us found very disturbing, and something that has inspired a lot of thought that I wanted to work through carefully before I put it down on paper (so to speak).  Someone close to us announced that they are getting divorced.  I admit, this was not entirely a surprise, though the reasons for it were. I won’t get into that here because it is not mine to tell and I do not want to add more to what is already a difficult situation.  We are very sorry for all involved because no matter how “amicable” everyone pretends the divorce is, there is always hurt, loss and pain for everyone.

    Hearing about other couples getting divorced always terrifies me. I wonder what went wrong, and more importantly – Am I making the same mistakes in my marriage that led to this couple falling apart?  Part of what makes this so difficult, is that one of the people involved tried desperately to save the marriage this time, went to counseling for almost a year and at one point actually asked Mike and I what it is that makes our relationship work so well.  When we first got married 5 years ago, we talked to several long time couples to ask – what has kept you happy for 30 or more years?  The answers we got were so simple they sounded like platitudes – Listen to each other; don’t fight about stupid things; do things together; call if you are going to be late.  To be honest, both M and I feel like we won the lottery in terms of our marriage.  We are blissfully happy, we have so many common interests we have had to spend considerable time weeding out duplicate items on our various collections when we first got together – and we pretty much don’t ever feel like we are working at our relationship, though we are following the advice we were given without really thinking about it.  Mike and I both had a lot to say about what makes us work, but it was actually pretty hard to put into words.  When I asked Mike about this before writing, he was adamant that we don’t “work” at our relationship at all – and yet as he was telling me this, he did several things that I know were direct compromises to me.  It is work; it just doesn’t feel like it most of the time.

    I don’t have any magic formulae for what makes a relationship work.  I could put out a few platitudes if anyone is interested:  Pick your battles and let the rest go.  Pay attention to what interests your spouse, even if, and perhaps especially if, you aren’t interested.  Pay attention to what makes them happy.  Listen to what is really being said and keep track of the things that are important to them. Never say anything negative about your spouse to someone else and above all, keep your fights at home.  Be at least as polite to your spouse as you would be to anyone else – and far kinder because that is what will last.  Always back each other up, especially if you think they are wrong – you still promised to have their back when facing the rest of the world.  Most of all, understand that love has little or nothing to do with emotions.  Yes, when it works, you will be happy with this person, and you will love them emotionally – but you are still going to have moments of frustration, and be annoyed with them.  That doesn’t mean you don’t love them by the way, it means there are two actual humans involved in the relationship.  If something really does drive you nuts, like leaving the toilet seat up and you just can’t adjust to the habit of leaving the coffee cup on the desk, then say something.  But pick and choose what really does matter.  Perhaps the best piece of advice we got were: always keep a list in your head of all the things they did right, not wrong.  (That way, when you do something really stupid, like leaving the grocery bag with the most expensive items in the cart in the parking lot, you might have earned some grace with your partner so that they just sigh and say “okay, don’t worry about it.” instead of getting mad at you.)

    The first year we were married was a big adjustment for me because I had never lived with anyone else in close proximity.  Worse, the couples I had seen closely had always been those kinds of stormy relationships that work well in romance novels, but not in real life.  I had no idea how to be married or even date someone who actually loved, respected and even liked me.  Yes, I had a roommate in college for a while, but it wasn’t the same as sharing a bed, a closet and a bank account with someone.  It was a bigger adjustment for me than M, but there is still an adjustment period where the emotional high of dating wears off, and you have to make a choice to love that person.  It takes time to truly become attuned to another person, and I know that this process has changed me profoundly.  After 5 and a half years, I feel like we are just now hitting our stride as a couple.

    I don’t think that anyone goes into a marriage planning to get divorced, but out of the 10 or so couples that we have known who have split since we were married, it seems like a lot of them went in thinking somehow wouldn’t have to compromise or put any effort into the relationship, and that the emotional buzz you get when you are dating wouldn’t wear off.  Trust me, you lose that new car scent quite quickly when you share all of the intimate and personal details of life together. The process of coming together as one person is hard, sometimes even painful because you have to look at yourself as well as the other person.  I promise though, what comes after that newness wears off makes that first buzz pale in comparison.  I never would have imagined that the most wonderful sound in the world would be listening to my husband breathing in bed beside me at night, but it is.  And you know, as much as it is a choice, and there are deliberate steps we take to make sure our relationship works, M is right – it never feels like work at all, and yes, because everything falls into place, we still are giggly, starry eyed in love.

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