Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dayyenu (or Enough Already)

O Ruler of the Universe, if only they had taken a puff of dope instead of inhaling the whole joint,

If only they had taken a sip instead of gulping the whole bottle of Jack Daniel’s in one swig,

If only they had kept their vomit to themselves instead of puking all over my hand-knotted silk rug,

If only they had said that my Mac and Cheese was slightly overcooked instead of announcing on Facebook that it was so burned they almost called 911,

If only they had used Dan’s aftershave instead of my Prada perfume to cover up the cigarettes they were smoking in the living room,

If only they had asked their friends to go home instead of inviting them to crash on my king-size bed,

If only I didn’t own a king-size bed,

If only those same friends had the leftover pizza for breakfast instead of going after the cheese cakes I made for my mother and mother-in-law for Mother’s Day,

If only they were allergic to cheese cake,

And while we’re on the subject of mothers,

If only my explanation for a dildo—that it was a battery-operated penis--was enough,

If only they hadn’t asked why a penis would have to be battery-operated and why anyone would ever need one,

If only they hadn’t asked if it was covered by Medicare,

If only I had been told that the reason I was an only child for the longest time was because my father was always traveling instead of telling me that he couldn’t get an erection,

If only they had simply sent me a birthday card instead of timing this revelation to coincide with my 40th birthday,

If only they had kept this fact to themselves or apologized after the fact instead of saying, “Why would that upset you?”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pig Heaven

“An elderly rabbi retired from his duties in the congregation and he decided to fulfill his lifelong fantasy to taste pork. He went to a hotel in the Catskills in the off-season (not his usual hotel, mind you), entered the empty dining hall, and chose a table far in the corner. The waiter arrived, and the rabbi ordered roast suckling pig. As the rabbi waited, struggling with his conscience, a family from his congregation walked in! They immediately saw the rabbi, of course, and since no one should eat alone, they joined him. The rabbi began to sweat. Finally, the waiter arrives with a huge domed platter. He lifted the lid to reveal—what else?—a whole roast suckling pig, complete with an apple in the mouth. “This place is amazing!” cried the rabbi. “You order a baked apple, and look what you get!”--Alan King

No one should have to feel guilt or shame in wanting to eat pork.

I am an avowed swinophile, a porcavore, a pig lover. I’ll even say it, “I love pig!” Nothing makes me happier than indulging in a meal of deep fried pork belly or roasted pork butt or having a glass of Sancerre and a bag of chicharron (pork skins) by my side. Whenever people ask what Filipino food is like I don’t waste any time. I always give the short and sweet answer: pig. In all its forms, no parts wasted. I grew up eating my mother’s wonderful dish of pig’s ears and tofu cooked in vinegar, garlic, soy sauce and black pepper. Whenever my dog and I go into a pet store and see pig’s ears, she and I go into a frenzy over who will get the ears first.

Filipino cuisine is essentially anything that is soaked, fried, braised, or boiled in pork fat. If there’s actual pork, so much the better. The pig is an important part of Philippine culture and every major life cycle event. Weddings, baptisms, Sweet 16s, anniversaries, and graduations are celebrated by roasting a whole pig on a bamboo spit. The 40th day of someone’s passing is commemorated with a lechon served to family and friends.

When my uncle died in the Philippines several years ago and I couldn’t go back for the funeral, I decided to send money as custom dictated to his family. This was a dilemma. Having lived away for so long, I was unsure about the appropriate amount to send. If I sent too little, I would risk insulting my grieving relatives. If I sent too much, I would be accused of capitalist arrogance for waving my greenbacks at them. In a conversation with one of my cousins, I hit upon a solution and asked, “How many lechons would this amount buy?” In my mind, I was calculating for two weeks worth of groceries.

My cousin replied, “Enough to feed them pig every day for a month and more!”

It’s a shame that a pig has to be consumed to be fully appreciated for all its worth. I see no reason why it shouldn’t occupy a seat at the table just like the rest of us. Of course nobody likes to sit next to a pig. A pig on a spit is so much better than having it by your elbow or in a book or in a movie.

I remember never being able to finish reading Charlotte’s Web to my children because my mind was too distracted by the possibilities of what Wilbur could become. The movie Babe was absolute torture because all I could think of was all that pork going to waste. At one point, it was suggested to me that I leave the theatre because not only was my stomach growling too loudly, I was also moaning and groaning too much. Before our family got a pet dog, I seriously contemplated acquiring a Vietnamese pot belly pig instead, an idea that was immediately shot down because of suspicions that my intentions were totally unkosher.

So when I turned 51, I only wanted one thing. I wanted lechon, a whole pig not just in parts but the big, fat sucker with the crispy, caramel-colored skin. So crisp that as you sank your teeth into it there was this crackling, staccato sound, the true sign of a properly roasted animal. Other women might ask for a 5 carat diamond, a trip to Lucca with a select group of girlfriends, or a Porsche Carrerra. Not me. I just wanted a pig.

It’s true you cannot put a pig on your finger and flash that finger around while playing mahjong or feign a headache in front of your admiring girlfriends, that same finger strategically placed across your face so that they can see your rock. Pigs do not sparkle in the light I’m afraid. Nor can you drive a pig on the LIE with the top down on a nice summer day, going from zero to sixty in six seconds, leaving the rest of those unfortunate minions behind in their practical maroon minivans. Pigs don’t come with turbo.

But who wants to drive a pig when you can simply eat it?

There was only one teeny problem with Project Birthday Pig: my husband is a nice Jewish boy from Queens who also happens to be a vegetarian.

He has been a vegetarian from the time he was 16, ever since his mother botched an attempt to cook lobster. He simply will not eat what he cannot kill although over time he has made exceptions for fish. Between you and me however, I have yet to see him snap a fish head in two. I on the other hand have no problem grabbing a live lobster with my bare hands, driving a French knife through its belly and throwing it on the grill.

For someone who didn’t come from an observant home or was raised kosher, he will bring-up Leviticus whenever the subject of pig comes up. You know, the part where it says, “And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcass.”
Like, Leviticus would stop me. Can you imagine my pain and disappointment when I was told that there could be no lechons for the bar and bat mitzvahs of my children? It was non-negotiable as far as Dan was concerned.

Most of the time, the challenges he and I face in our marriage have less to do with our religious and cultural differences than the food we like to eat.

Don’t get me wrong. My husband loves me. Deeply, loyally, patiently. We have been together 23 years and he has never wavered in that love. He may not share in my pig obsession (and frankly, not many people do) but to his credit he has never held it against me nor has he ever asked me to become a vegetarian. I did go on a meatless diet early in our marriage in the spirit of matrimonial unity and harmony but that didn’t last. Deep-fried tofu just isn’t the same as pork shoulder fried in a gallon of Canola oil.

Every Christmas Eve, he will prepare a ham dinner for my sake just like the family dinners I used to enjoy as a child before my parents separated; before I left Manila where I could rely on an invitation from a relative or friend to have ham on Christmas eve; before my mother who lives on Roosevelt Island stopped cooking Christmas dinners because it became too difficult and unwieldy for her at her age.

It takes courage for a nice, vegetarian Jewish boy from Queens to cook his Filipino-Catholic wife a ham. That’s why I call him the good egg. The first time he cooked ham for me, he went to Eagle Provisions, the 5th avenue Polish food store, on the suggestion of a girlfriend who like me, is also a pig fan. He bought the ham, asked them to wrap it in many layers of thick brown paper and triple-bag it for the ride home. When it was time to stick it in the oven, he wore gloves that went up to his elbows and balanced the ham on tongs that extended out from his hands a little further. He looked like Edward Scissorhands without the hair. He checked on the ham by asking the kids to see if it was ready. I was not allowed into the kitchen, not even to take a peek, despite my expertise. It was the best tasting ham ever.

So given that he was a good sport about the ham all these years and that my birthday was coming up, how hard would it be to trade up to full swine? The more I thought about the pig, the bigger and fatter it loomed before me. But how was I going to convince Dan to give me one considering that apart from being a vegetarian, he and the pig share a past?

In 1988, we were on holiday in Boracay, a tiny island in the Philippines. Throughout the day, a pig was roasting on the beach to be served that night to the resort guests. As we lay on the sand alternately repulsed (that would be him) and tantalized by the smell of cooking flesh (that would be me), there was a another group of live animals reaching a high of their own. Unknown to us, there were bats living among the coconut trees next to the resort where we were staying. By the time the sun set and the pig was served, splayed on a banana leaf-covered buffet table, the bats were sufficiently wound up and went full throttle. They descended upon the resort, swooping down like kamikaze pilots at maddening speed, moving in for the kill.

We were in our little bamboo cottage, getting ready for dinner when we found ourselves no longer alone. The bats had suddenly swarmed into our bedroom, flying in a frenzy looking for that pig. Unable to see where they were going, they kept knocking into us instead. We shrieked and screamed like Rod Taylor and Tippy Heddren in Hitchcock’s The Birds, waving pillows and blankets to get them out of the room but we were outmatched and outnumbered.

Project Birthday Pig was not going to be easy. My husband is a good sport but asking for a whole pig, birthday or not, would be considered testing the limits. Even good eggs crack under pressure.

It’s not easy being a porcavore married to a vegetarian. When I told my mother that I was dating a vegetarian, she heard veterinarian. Years ago, frustrated with having to always cook two different meals for the both of us (and three when the children arrived) or calling restaurants in advance to find out the catch for the day and then having him ask me after the fact if the fish had scales, I totally lost it and yelled that if he truly loved me he would bite into a spare rib just once. He looked at me in the way only a husband can look at his wife when she has gone off the deep end and he no longer recognizes her. Of course, he never bit into the spare rib. I guess if I wanted proof of his love for me, I would have to find it elsewhere.

“I want a pig for my birthday,” I announced while he and I were running errands.

“Cooked or alive?” he asked. I looked at him in the way that only a wife can when she is contemplating making her children father-less. He was silent.

“You don’t have to answer right away,” I continued. “Please think it over. If you decide that it’s too disgusting I will understand.” I lied of course and began planning for the pig just the same.

He said he would give it some thought which was a good sign. I had to see it as a good sign.

In the meantime, I did my homework and found a Filipino restaurant in Queens that does lechon all the time. They told me I needed at least four days to place the order. I was also told that the pig would have to be cooked in advance which was probably best for all of Park Slope and most of all, my husband.

Can you just see him looking out into our backyard and seeing this whole pig being cooked among our hydrangea and rose of sharon bushes? Or our dog growling and barking because she wanted something out there she knew she could never have? Or the squirrels. Let’s not forget the squirrels.

When the restaurant told me that they didn’t deliver, I had to figure out a way for him to transport the pig. I didn’t want him to be stuck with a pig in his arms, its fat oozing and seeping through the box and trickling down his jacket. The image of him cradling a thirty pounder, while wickedly funny, was too much to bear even for someone like me. Good thing my friend Segundo was willing to be my husband’s wingman if and when the time came to get the pig. Like me, Segundo is a committed carnivore married to a committed vegetarian. He is also from Argentina so not only was he sympathetic to my cause but more importantly, he loves pigs. In Segundo’s arms, the pig would be safe.

Every thing was in place but so far no word. The window for ordering the pig was getting smaller. I began to think about serving pigs in a blanket just in case the pig was a no-show. I know it wasn’t the same but I needed a back-up plan. Maybe I could find tofu pigs at the Food Coop or carve tofu cakes into piglets and deep-fry them. I began to feel guilty about asking for a pig. Perhaps it was time to read Leviticus after all.

Was I selfish in insisting on a pig? Should I have asked for the Porsche instead even though the chances of my getting one was next to nothing? Should I have just stopped my age at 49? Gone to Canyon Ranch instead for a major beauty tune-up? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be content with turkey just like everyone else in America? Why should I aspire for an ocean-front cabana in Costa Rica when a Florida condo will do just as nicely? Perhaps, if I stared at the turkey long and hard enough it will begin to look, smell, and taste like pig. I began to pray to St. Anthony, the patron saint for lost causes. I was desperate for a pig miracle.

The day of the deadline arrived. Some time at mid-day he announced simply, “Okay, let’s get your pig.” There was no quote from Leviticus, no tongs, no opera-length gloves, no nothing. He only asked that once the pig was in the house, that we tuck it in a corner, far from where he may have to see it, face to face.

“I’d rather not have to be in the same room as the pig the entire evening,” he asked. It’s one thing to see a pork chop on a plate, quite another to have the beast in full view, in the middle of the dining table. Very gently he also reminded me that not everyone will be as tickled or as excited as me to see a whole pig.
Oh the joy, the joy. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was like a pig in the mud, snorting and squealing with glee.

For the record, the pig was heavenly just as I always knew it would be. It was gorgeous, its skin the rich color of bronze, its texture all shiny and smooth, like a beauty queen on the night of her coronation. There was a serene quality to the pig’s face, its eyes closed as if in dying it knew that it was answering to a higher calling. The meat was so tender and buttery it slid down your throat without effort, no chewing was required. By the end of the evening, there was nothing left of the pig. Even the ears were gone.

By the way, the pig didn’t come with an apple which was okay. I’ll make sure it’s there the next time, when I plan our wedding anniversary.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Gossip Shiksa Moms

My name is Amapola Gold and I am the shiksa from Manila...

When shiksa moms get together, like any kind of mom, we LOVE to gossip. Overheard at one such gathering was a random sampling of things that strike our curiousity and therefore gossip about. We like to know...

Is he from the tribe,
Is she from the tribe,
Did he convert,
Will she,
Are they raising the kids Jewish,
Are they raising the kids with both,
How is it possible to do both,
Will she get a Sweet 16 party,
How big is the bat mitzvah,
Who’s the deejay,
Where’s the party,
How many people are coming,
Did she wear Betsey Johnson,
How do you keep kosher,
They come to my home for dinner but won't take my food into theirs because they're kosher,
For pork they come to my house,
Onions or shallots for latkes,
Mohel or hospital,
Can we have a tree,
Fresh or plastic,
Fir or spruce,
Truffle-fed pigs doesn’t make the pig kosher,
A pig will never be kosher,
Can we be buried together,
How do you feel about cremation,
I hate fasting,
I don’t know how you can fast,
What will happen to me when you’re in your family plot,
Can my ashes be sprinkled over you when my time comes,

How did I get into this....

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gossip Moms

My name is Amapola Gold and I am the shiksa from Manila...

Parents like to talk about their children.

Moms love to gossip about theirs.

We especially love to gossip about...

how they’re doing in school,
their social life,
their clothes,
their friends,
their friends’ allowances
their friends’ curfew,
their friends’ parents,
their friends’ parents’ jobs
their friends’ parents’ homes
their friends’ parents’ vacation homes
their cars,
their favorite junk food,
their test scores,
their grades,
their teachers,
their crushes,
the 4 bases,
the best deodorant,
the best tampons,
the best house for smoking pot,
the best beer,
the worst beer,
the best way to get high,
the worst way to get high,
the coolest mom,
the coolest dad,
the most boring mom,
the most boring dad,
the worst mom,
the worst dad,
the worst child,
and of course, the best child.

Usually mine. Always mine.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

At Your Service. Not!

My name is Amapola Gold and I am the shiksa from Manila...

I was out sweeping the stoop, one of those annoying domestic rituals attached to the seasons. In the winter, I shovel; in the spring, summer, and fall, I sweep the stoop. It wouldn’t be such a big deal except that when the weather is warm, the pollen gets to me, thanks to a pin oak tree in front of my house. There is a nametag nailed to the trunk in case anyone was interested. My preference would have been for a warning sign instead: Danger! Danger! Tree sheds. Tree spreads pollen. Sometimes, the pollen is so bad I can barely open my eyes. There are days when I look like Rocky and that’s on a good day.

But someone’s got to sweep and that someone is me.

So I’m going about my business when I notice the caregiver of a neighbor, two doors down, smiling at me. Until today, we’ve done nothing more than exchange nods. The smile is a change from our routine. She starts to walk in my direction, pushing a stroller with baby Lucca in it. Well, he isn’t exactly a baby anymore but he is in the stroller.

I smile back and go about my business when I begin to feel that I am being watched. In fact, the caregiver is now standing in front of my house.

“How long have you worked here?”

OMIGOODNESS! People, this is very grating to my delicate ears. I can feel the sweat oozing out of nipples.

I understand it’s a case of mistaken identity but why couldn’t I possibly be the “owner” of the house instead of the cleaning lady? Given that I was wearing rubber gloves, an apron, and clogs covered in handpainted flowers, the mistake was unintentional if inevitable. But the gloves were made by Casabella and the clogs were from a Swedish catalogue called Hannah Anderson. In this instance, the details escaped her because what she saw instead was, like her, I was a person of color. In her mind, I couldn’t be anything other than....

But lady, I was wearing pearls! Huge, lustrous, South Sea pearls on my ear lobes. Perfect spheres the size of marbles. Anyone who knows pearls would know they weren’t from Carolee.

And there’s the rub: she knew nothing about pearls. Sigh. Next time, I will wear a tag that says, “Owner.” Now, let’s see if she can read.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


My name is Amapola Gold and I am the shiksa from Manila...

About two months ago, I decided to go to Confession after an absence of, oh I don’t know, so many years. I did not have anything particular to say or confess. I had not committed any mortal sin that would have warranted my presence in the Confessional. It’s true that my mind wasn’t exactly fallow for all that time, preoccupied as it was with all sorts of adulterous, murderous, gluttonous thoughts but they don’t count.

I wish I could explain the impulse that possessed me to go but I can’t. Just did.

I chose to go in the afternoon when I assumed there were would be fewer people. I like walking into an empty church and having this big, voluminous space all to one’s self. Including me, there were nine others waiting their turn.

I felt awkward, nervous even. Like that nine-year old all over again kneeling before the sliding panel, waiting for it to open with a sharp noise, and seeing the silhouette of a man who could see me, all of me, but not the other way around. A man who usually came with a double chin and a voice that seemed to have risen from Hades. I remembered feeling trapped and claustrophobic, of not being able to escape, of being swallowed alive by my sins and this man.

What was I doing here?

I was up next. In the time it took me to walk over to the Confessional, I could have turned around just as quickly and left. But I’d gotten this far. I took a deep breath, pulled the door open...

...and stepped into a brightly lit cubicle the size of an airplane stall. Inside were two chairs next to each other, and on one of them, sat my parish priest whose eyes popped out as soon as he saw me. He looked like he really wanted to fall off his seat but there was no room. So instead, we giggled and chuckled as he invited me to take my place next to him as if we were old friends enjoying a quick cup of tea, knee to knee.

I know I was there for no more than ten minutes yet I could have stayed there forever. I wanted to keep on talking, saying every thing I had kept to myself all these years, no matter whether I made sense or not. Father M. sat there with his eyes closed, listening, nodding, smiling and not saying anything particular or meaningful in return.

By the time I left, the line had gotten longer. And I still couldn’t remember what brought me there in the first place.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

HELP: The Shiksa Dispenses Advice

My name is Amapola Gold and I am the shiksa from Manila...

I received a call from a family friend asking for my help on an impending engagement between a couple who, as you might have guessed, stand on either side of the Cross. I was flattered but wasn’t sure I had anything to offer.

“Please, maybe the bride-to-be can talk to you. You and Glenn have made your marriage work.” People assume that because Glenn and I have been together for years our marriage is without potholes which is a fallacy because in fact we have our fair share. Our marriage works because despite their presence, we have become adept at adapting to them or simply learned to ignore them.

“Marla and Jake* have been living together for several years and have recently decided to make it official and get married. The problem is Jake’s grandfather. Oh, I forgot to mention that Jake is Jewish but he doesn’t come from an observant background and Marla is Catholic and still goes to Mass. The grandfather, an Orthodox Jew has threatened to disinherit Jake if he proceeds with the marriage. I told Marla that she should probably talk to you because you and Glenn have made your marriage work.”

I never heard from Marla or from the family friend again after that call. Either the problem worked itself out, the grandfather dropped dead, Marla and Jake broke off the engagement, or Marla and Jake eloped and moved to Canada. I don’t know.

Here’s what I DO know. Holding a relationship hostage, especially a relationship of this nature, is problematic for me. Had Marla called, I would have told her to simply lose the boyfriend. End of story. Who cares about the money or whatever 24-carat carrot grandpa chose to dangle over Jake’s head? The relationship between two people, especially two people contemplating marriage and a lifetime commitment, should not be confused for a business transaction.

The fact that Jake even raised the subject with Marla was an indication that perhaps the marriage was already on precarious footing to begin with. He had apparently also suggested that she might consider converting which apparently she was open to since her mother was less likely to disinherit or renounce her. Which raises another problem because any conversion that is not sincere, i.e., based on a belief system, is not genuine.

OMG! If Glenn had asked me to sign a Prenup or asked me to convert, I would have been out of there so quickly he wouldn’t have known what hit him. But not without knocking him out cold first.

Frankly, if Jake had any gumption (okay, cojones!), he should have stood up to grandpa and while he was at it, flipped him the bird. Seriously. Which may have induced cardiac arrest in the old man but at least he got to stand up for Marla. If Jake couldn’t stand up for her now, what makes her think that he will stand up for her later on when they’re married and all the exits have been boarded up?

I am relieved that I never got their call because clearly I wouldn’t have been of much help to them at all.

*not their real names