Thursday, December 29, 2011

A strange thought for the night

I have this thing when I'm back in New York - I have a bit of hot water with lemon and honey about an hour before going to bed.

I don't do this at home in Chicago - not yet, anyway; I just do it while I'm here with the family. I boil some water, I have it with lemon juice and honey, and I wind down. This difference has gotten me thinking: am I a different person for the three weeks that I'm on break here?

The short, traditional answer would be "yes." Environment affects our personalities, and our personalities are affected in different environments. That is the normal answer. But how much interior change is there?

I feel the same emotions here as in Chicago, and I feel the same emotions in Chicago as I do here. Now that I'm living in Chicago, at least. But there also seems to be some subtle change that matches the change in rhythm when I get back here. Let's enumerate:

-I am more easily bored here.

-I am lazier here.

-I am more easily angered here.

-I am quieter here.

-I am less patient here.

-I am more likely to do spontaneous things here.

I might be different. The list seems plenty - but at the same time, purely circumstantial! I am further out from the city here, my mother tries to get me to "relax" more here, families are usually tetchy. I have fewer people to talk to here, and it takes forever for me to get places since I can't drive. Can't figure out the last one, though...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ten Reasons I Love Being Jewish on Christmas

I don't mean to be a Grinch, but not celebrating Christmas is kinda awesome sometimes.

1. Barely a soul on the nature paths. I walked three miles and saw two people.

2. You can roll a bowling ball down the main roads.

3. Chinese food, Thai food, Japanese food.

4. No more explaining why you don't celebrate Christmas. The holiday spirit is great and all, but honestly, it gets old after the tenth time.

5. Tomorrow I will eat the leftover fruitcake of my friends.

6. So many post-Christmas sales. Returned presents and wondrous, wondrous discounts.

7. The computer store run by the Orthodox Jewish techie community in New York is closed, because they would have to handle all the returns if they were open. (They enjoy 1-6 too.)

8. If you take the train, you are the only person on it.

9. Flights are super-cheap on Christmas Day. My family's flown to Israel on Christmas before to save money.

10. People are so excited about presents that they forget about mistletoe. (Not in the circumstances for this option this year, but I totally plead the fifth.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rye Stone Bread - Pareve and Vegan!

I've been having a relaxing break back in New York with my family, doing relaxing baking.

I made this yeast-free, no-rise rye bread the other day, and it turned out pretty well, although I warn you: it is very very dense but nice and soft.

Rye Stone Bread
so named for its weight

All measures are rough.

1 3/4-2 cups warm water
2 tsp caraway seeds+extra for garnish
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil+extra for glazing
2 1/2-3 cups rye flour
1 1/4-1 1/2 cups white flour

1. Mix the water, oil, sugar, and salt in a bowl.

2. Add the flours, a 1/2 cup at a time, and mix each addition  in. Alternate between rye and white 2 to 1: 1 cup rye to a 1/2 cup white. Add the caraway with the first addition of rye flour.

3. Stir and add until you have a stiff dough. If your dough is too stiff and dry, add a 1/4 cup water. If your dough is too sticky, add 1/4 cup rye flour.

4. Flour a hard surface and your hands. Use white flour for this task; rye flour is grainy.

5. Form the dough into a ball with your hands and place it on the surface. Knead the dough vigorously until it passes the two-finger test - when you stick two fingers in, the shape of your fingers should stay. If the dough starts to stick, add more flour to your hands or the surface.

6. Preheat your oven to 350F.

7. Mold the dough into a loaf shape and place on the baking sheet. Cut a long slit through the center of the loaf and some slits on the side. You can make them into a nice pattern, if you'd like.

8. Dab a towel with olive oil and rub it on the loaf. Do this so that the entirety of the loaf's surface not touching the cookie sheet is dabbed and glazed. Sprinkle some caraway on top.

9. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the loaf is hard on the bottom and sounds hard when vigorously tapped with the sharp side of a spoon. Remove from the oven, and let cool.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Awake in a Sleeping Dorm: Or, Transient Places During Break

The dorm is asleep.

It isn't dead. The few who are staying for the first weekend of the winter break move quietly through the halls. I can hear, occasionally, the hum of an elevator, or footsteps. Sometimes, the rush of water through a shower head. Once, giggling, and the tones of a soap opera.

But the building is asleep. Normally, eight hundred people live here. Perhaps sixty or seventy are here now. I've seen the same five or six people maybe nine times. Some of us, including myself, are still trying to figure out how to navigate this building. The University doesn't allow you to stay in other dorms during break; just the new, fancy one. My own room - my home - is locked.

So I'm staying here. South Campus is extremely transient normally - the architecture is hotel-like, the sofas are institutional, there is a lot of plastic. You use cards to enter the rooms. The mazes of hallways (ok, not that mazelike, but forgive me, I'm new) have office-carpeting. It's a bit of a strange place.

Before tonight, I only knew how to get to two places in South:

1. My ex's old room. Not going there in a million years.

2. My friend Douglas' room. (Where I'm staying now)

Now I can navigate the East Wing a bit. I haven't stayed here long - I was out for most of the day yesterday - but it's straightforward.

And it's a bit surreal staying here.

I'm in an enormous lounge with tons of furniture, houseplants, and people's things...alone. I go to the bathroom and no one's there. Someone comes out of the room and I'm surprised to see them.

I could hear a pin drop in the hallway where forty people live.

I feel like a tourist inside some sort of ruin. Or perhaps walking through someone else's life. It's a bit strange. It's travelling, but it's travelling on my own campus. It's if I've walked into a different world, simply by staying another weekend.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

En dag for gløgg og julemarkeder: Or, A Jewish Boy's Most Christmassy Shabbos Adventures

Yes, I know the title is in real Scandinavian  Norwegian and not Swedish. Hush. It means "a day for mulled wine and Christmas markets."

Andersonville is awesome. 

For those of you non-Chicagoans, or Chicagoans who don't leave the Hyde Park/Lincoln Park/Evanston bubbles, Andersonville is a neighborhood on Chicago's north side, by the lake. It's a tidy neighborhood of nice, old houses, low-rise buildings, and little businesses. Also, it's the center of the big Swedish-American population here in Chicago.

Anyway, holiday season in Chicago is a big thing. Most of you will probably be familiar with Christkindlmarket, the giant kitschy but awesome German Christmas market that takes over Daley Plaza for most of December. There's also trees and tinsel everywhere, and so many more carols than New York. Even we Jews get totally crazy: last year, we had an enormous chanukiah/menorah  on the quads on campus, and people go insane for latkes here.

The Swedish community in Andersonville is not divorced from the whee holidays spirit either. Every year, the Swedish-American museum up in Andersonville runs Julmarknad, a tiny little Christmas festival that sells Scandinavian goods, arts and crafts, and various flavors of kitsch. And glögg (gløgg i norsk ), a type of mulled wine made either with various juices and spices, or various wines, brandy and spices. Nom.

As a crazy Scandophile, Norsknerd, and general fan of kitsch and mulled wine, I decided to make a trip of it. So my friends and I trekked up to Andersonville yesterday.

We arrived in Andersonville midday, and proceeded to eat brunch at Ann Sather's, a Swedish-American restaurant that seems to be a cross between a diner, a ye olde Scandinavian-American gathering house, and a sea of red. Then, a face-stuffing followed.

Firstly: lingonberry jam is amazing. Lingonberries are berries, native to the Nordic region, that have a tart taste and a royal, deep purple color. I had Swedish-style pancakes (doughy, crepe-like and not overly sweet) with this jam, and they were amazing.

Secondly: the restaurant gave us ENORMOUS cinnamon buns with our meal. Sticky, sweet and cakey, I downed mine quite quickly. They're so sticky and rich that you need to eat them with a fork. Kinda epic.

Thirdly: their bottomless coffee is amazing. I want to know what beans they use.

Finally: David had a sampler plate that included Swedish meatballs. I have never been so tempted to break kashrut. (Although I was eating in a very non-hechshered establishment on Saturday, so....)

Then we proceeded to Julmarknad. It's a small affair - honestly, it doesn't take long to work the stalls - but they sold a lot of really good things. I got a pretty card and a jar of lingonberry jam as birthday presents for people. Also, I had some delicious, delicious gløgg and cookies made with glø very tasty.

They also had Finnish licorice sweets. I must admit, they are an acquired taste. They are also completely, completely, completely delicious.

I also limited myself from buying a Norwegian flag decal for my room. I do need to limit myself. Sometimes.

Finally, there's a target for my next visit to Andersonville. Erickson's is a Swedish delicatessen that's across from the Museum, and they sell everything from Scandinavia ever, including SWEDISH. PICKLED. HERRING. and NORWEGIAN JAM and NORWEGIAN CHEESE. I'm going up sometime next quarter to spend all my money there.

Then we proceeded to Christkindlmarket downtown. It was crowded as all hell. The product variety is wider there - I got beeswax soap and candles for my cousin's goodbye present - but it's also really, really crowded on the weekend. I'm going to go back later this week. 

On the other hand, Christkindl is very much a classic Chicago experience. It's almost a Chicagoan rite of passage to get crushed in the gluhwein line, to get an overpriced cider, and to look at kitschy-but-baller German cuckoo clocks at some point in December. It's quite an experience.