David Albahari is the Serbian-born Canadian author, most recently, of the novel Leeches. The book is a feat of magic, an existential philosophical novel that’s also funny and with enough mysteries to keep the reader guessing. It’s also one long paragraph — that’s right, a 300-page-long paragraph. Here, Mr. Albahari explains the motive behind his madness.
There are several reasons why I write my novels in one long paragraph. First of all, I simply like it, I like when black words completely cover the whiteness of paper. Secondly, I feel that when I write in a long paragraph, I am paying hommage to the writers who influenced me with their own long sentences and paragraphs – William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard. And finally, I write like that because I believe that a story or a novel is created in the joint effort between the writer and the reader through the act of reading. The long paragraph is like a dark labyrinth through which they have to find their way. Unfortunately, many readers would rather read books written in short sentences than a novel or a collection of short stories trying to explore new possibilities in the world of fiction. Perhaps they have had enough of postmodern and metafictional literature and believe they deserve a break? That might be why many of them recoil when they are faced with a novel written in a three-hundred-page-long paragraph, convinced that it is more difficult to read than a regular novel. That presumption is wrong because a one-paragraph novel also has its dialogues, descriptions, new paragraphs, and even new chapters. True, they are not so marked but any attentive reader will recognize them in the process of reading. Reading should always be fun, I agree, but it should also be for learning and understanding.
David Albahari is the author of the new novel Leeches. He will be blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council’s Authors Blog.
“God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance.”
Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.
I know that you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I often do. And from the looks of it, The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur is a stellar volume. It is chock full of mind-bogglingly gorgeous pictures. Every recipe looks like the most scrumptious tasting thing you’ve ever laid eyes on, and there are lots of brilliant photographs of life in Israel—restaurants, market places, people making and eating classic Jewish foods, and generally reveling in the amazing cuisine of the Holy Land. And on top of THAT the recipes are phenomenal. A good mix of really basic and more complex recipes for a seasoned chefs. Everything from chicken soup to honey cake to lentil and vegetable soup to Shakshuka with Sausages.
This is a book that you will want to keep on your coffee table because it’s so beautiful, but paging through it will make you want to run to kitchen to start cooking. And you—yes, you!—could be the lucky person to wrestle with that dilemma. You can win a copy of The Book of New Israeli Food.
To win, just leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite Israeli food. Winner will be selected on Friday June 24th, so be sure to leave your comment before then.
Today is Bloomsday, named after Leopold Bloom, the main character of James Joyce’s Ulysses and patron saint of 21st-century literary snobs everywhere. (I write this as a proud literary snob myself. My own history with Ulysses: I took it out from Northeast Regional Library on a summer loan in fifth grade, spent the entire summer reading the whole damn thing and not understanding any part, oblivious to the sexuality and the social motifs, and bloodly loving every minute of it.)
For more information on Bloomsday and Joyce, check out today’s Jewniverse. And please notice Joyce’s own depiction of Leopold Bloom to the right. Contrary to everyone’s hopes and dreams and chagrin, Bloom isn’t actually Jewish, by the strictest measure of Jewish law, anyway, as well as by his own estimation — the character was born to a Jewish father and a Protestant mother, and converted to Catholicism to marry that feisty Molly Bloom, but still keeps getting mistaken for a Jew.
The occasion of Bloomsday, of course, means that I need to do everything possible to let everyone in the universe know about it. There are tons of Bloomsday events going on, from marathon Ulysses readings at North Carolina’s Old Books on Front St, Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum, and elsewhere…and online, of course. There’s a special Twitter adaptation called @11lysses going on right now, and it is frighteningly brilliant, and a worthy successor to Joyce’s own inscrutability:
11ysses James Joyce
And o’#bloom the bloody freemason slopingprowling through Michan’s land, with his cod’s eye counting all the guts of fish #theprudentsoul
14 minutes ago
11ysses James Joyce
Thirst I wouldn’t sell for half a crown, bluemouldy and #begob could hear it hit the pit of my stomach w/ a click as I quaffed my cup of joy
14 minutes ago
11ysses James Joyce
Sitting atop his boulderstool rubbing his hand in his cauliflowereye: broadshouldered deepchested redhaired #thecitizen #workingforthecause
14 minutes ago
Go read the rest of it now! And go wish everyone you meet a happy Bloomsday. They won’t know what you’re talking about, but they’ll appreciate it.
A few months before my mother died, someone bought us a gong (someone else bought us a pretty painted tambourine, but that’s another story). The gong was sent because we were having a problem with people coming over to visit and staying too long. And by too long, I mean for four hours.
I will be the first to say that we really really appreciated all the love and support we got from our community, and visitors were incredibly important to keeping my whole family—not just my mother—from going crazy during the horrific business of dying. Still, it could get overwhelming. Also, this might be rude, but we like some people more than others. A lot more. And when some of the less fun people came over to chat and stayed for more than about twenty minutes, I found myself getting a wee bit stabby. My mother could legitimately take a nap or close her eyes in the middle of a conversation. I did not really have that option. So, a friend sent over a gong, and when we’d had enough of the hordes of visitors, we banged the gonged and ushered people out. I think we only did this once, but people got the point, and started shortening their visits to a more manageable length.
The gong was one of a few things we picked up that made life easier. In case you’re wondering, we were also fans of:
Google Docs spreadsheets that allowed our friends to coordinate who was bringing us dinner. Takethemameal.com does it even better.
Caringbridge.org, a website that allows you to share information about how someone is doing with a select audience. We used it to update our friends and family on my mother’s status, and to post things like details about when people can come over to visit.
Healingthreads.com –clothes designed for people who have post-surgical drains. This seemed like a strange thing to buy and quickly became indispensable.
Heatpads that stay hot—when she was in pain my mom liked these heating pads that stay hot for a long time, and can easily be reheated.
And if you have a friend or relative who is seriously sick I strongly recommend The Awl’s Actually Awesome Things to Say to a Cancer Patient and the New York Times’ You Look Great and Other Lies, a list of things to never say, and other things TO say to those in the throes of illness.
We at MJL have our own very comprehensive list. It’s a useful and important thing to reread every six months or so.
I have always wanted to join a Chevra Kadisha, a Jewish burial society, but I was nervous about what it would really involve. What is it really like to wash a dead body for burial? The Progressive Chevra Kadisha is featured in a Chicago Tribune article that shows some members of the society being trained to do Tahara, the ritual washing, using a live volunteer. It’s a cool video, and it’s giving me what I need to call my local Chevra Kadisha and sign up. As you may know, caring for the dead is considered one of the most important acts of lovingkindness that a person can do.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said that the most difficult to observe of all the 613 commandments is “Honor your father and mother.”
Earlier this week, Levana Kirschenbaum blogged about domestic disputes and gourmet food and Spanish chocolate-chip cookies. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.
As a language enthusiast I have often deplored the fact that languages, against all wishes, are not contagious or transmissible by any means. In the absence of some reliable formal base, except for some language geniuses there is rarely ever a way to just “pick up” a language, in the streets as it were, and I have often noted with some dismay that Arabic and French, in which I conduct many conversations with my relatives in my husband and children’s presence, remain hopelessly impenetrable to them.
When I arrived in New York almost forty years ago, I settled in Washington Heights. To my mother’s question, “Are you at least learning a little English?” I remember replying, without any sarcasm, “Non, Maman. In New York no one speaks English. They only speak Spanish, and I am not learning that either!” Almost nothing has changed in the Heights!
In my long years as a restaurateur and caterer, there was no missing the fact that an overwhelming majority of kitchen employees speak Spanish, and Spanish only. We would step up the body language in creative and often comical ways to communicate our wishes to our crew. But sometimes even that proved not to be enough. Like the day Delfina, a shy new girl, started working with us, moving very slowly. I asked Flora, who worked with me both in my kitchen and at my house, and who was somewhat bilingual, to interpret for me. “Explain to Delfina,” I started, “the importance of working as a team, at a brisk pace, so no one is forced to pick up the slack, etc….”
The bewildering translation of my little speech was a brutal jab in poor Delfina’s ribs, and a single word delivered in a bark: “Avanza!”
That was the day I decided to register for a ten-hour basic Spanish course, just so I could give my own orders in my own kitchen in my own personal style, thank you very much! Oh I wasn’t terribly ambitious, and to this day I serve all my Spanish verbs totally un-declined: Nature, as we say in French. I remember our lovely and very pregnant Spanish teacher, Martha, ecstatically pointing to her belly for a virtual introduction to named and unborn baby Maya, still in her maternal wrappings. On the last Spanish class day, I brought a homemade apple cake (which I had smugly labeled “Torta de Manzana”) and a taping of the wonderful Hebrew lullaby song “Maya,” which we played over our farewell breakfast. We watched Profesora Martha go to pieces. I asked her jokingly why Flora (better known as “Foya” to my tiny son Yakov who was crazy about her: I can still see him rolling up her shirt sleeve to plant wet kisses on a choice plump spot on her arm) always said “Djako, careful when you open the yar of pickles!”
Why couldn’t Yakov just open the jar of pickles? Or why she always said to little Bella before she left for school, “Bellita mi amor, habe a good tine!” why not just have a good time? That made Martha burst out laughing through her joyful tears. Flora and I were quite a team, at work and at home. One day when the hot water supply was cut off for boiler repairs, she urged me “Oy Labana, Dio Mio, don’t inbent no more new dishes today cuz we don’t got no hot water no more!!! Claro patrona?”
Here is my Flora-inspired recipe for black bean soup.
Quick Black Bean Chocolate Soup Recipe
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, quartered
4 large cloves garlic
4 ribs celery, peeled and cut in thirds
1 large red pepper, seeded and quartered
1 bunch flat parsley, stems and all
1/2 small bunch cilantro, stems cut off
6 cups good quality canned black beans (2 large cans), drained and rinsed
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine
3 tablespoons bottled hot sauce
6 bay leaves, or 1 teaspoon ground
3 quarts (12 cups) water
2/3 cup grated semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon oregano
Heat the oil in a heavy pot. Make the sofrito: In a food processor, coarsely grind the onion, garlic, celery, pepper, parsley and cilantro. Add ground mixture to the hot oil, and sauté until translucent. Add the beans, tomato paste, wine, hot sauce, bay leaves and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook 30 minutes. Add the chocolate, cumin and oregano and cook for 15 minutes more. Adjust texture and seasonings. Serve hot. Makes a dozen servings.
Lévana Kirschenbaum has been blogging for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council. Her most recent book, The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simple, will be available later this month.
We all think of cookies as a short-lived and vaguely illicit pleasure. Except I honestly don’t think, and you can ask anyone, there’s a cookie in the world more worshipped and more baked than my smart little chocolate chip cookie. I will attempt to give you an idea just how much mileage it gets.
The first time my daughter Bella went away to summer camp, I asked her what she would like me to bring her on visiting day, and she said with great glee: duh, chocolate chip cookies, mom, what else? For her and her bunkmates. And, lots of them for the long hot summer ahead.
I made a gigantic batch, filled an oversized canister with (four hundred!) chocolate chip cookies and brought it along to camp. Bella called me the very next day, gushing: “Wow, thank you so much, Mommy. Everyone loved your cookies. Even the driver had some. They are all gone. The whole entire camp agrees: Your cookies rule!” My daughter couldn’t have known that, right there and then, she had become inadvertently responsible for something very important in my summer life: The abolition of the care package custom. They’ll all eat my cookies when they come home, period!
A couple years after this delicious fiasco, at a particularly painful period marked by multiple terror attacks in Israel (the year following the fateful events of 9/11), my children and I and a few dear friends put our heads together to come up with the best possible community fund-raiser project that would benefit the terror victims. The emerging idea was to do something fun. Something that could be an antidote to the prevailing somber mood, and would bring people of all ages and all walks of life together. There was no hesitation: Make a million cookies and sell them online, was the unanimous answer. As soon as the idea took shape, we all got cracking. I asked the administrator of the JCC Manhattan if she would let us bake in their kitchen, and I always remember her answer with a chuckle: “The Million Cookie Project! I don’t know what I was smoking when I agreed to this, but I know it will be lots of fun.” It took us a couple months to put everything in place: A giant mixer, mountains of ingredients, the perfect design for the cookie boxes, staffers in charge of scheduling the volunteer baking shifts, trucks for transport. The most wonderful- and wonderfully chaotic – summer followed, with busses full of camp children pouring into the kitchen for the morning shift, then other kids coming for the afternoon shift, followed by the dizzyingly cosmopolitan, multilingual and multi-denominational evening crowds: these included TV and newspaper crews, celebrities, aspiring actors, illustrators, story tellers. “We’re baking cookies to raise a lot of dough!” read one headline. “Your cookies are weapons of mass destruction!” said one volunteer. “You mean weapons of mass construction” replied another, pointing to her ample hips. Little Tzipporah, now a beautiful young lady, refused to go to day camp, preferring to spend her mornings with me and other big people, and sat precariously perched on a high stool, straining to apply the hot seal on the little blue cookie boxes before she dropped them into cartons. We all baked, schmoozed, packaged, sealed, transported, filled orders and loaded trucks till we dropped. And dropped we finally did, at the end of that summer, with a little over a million chocolate chip cookies baked and sold, and all proceeds sent to Israel. This is why I am forever known as the cookie lady.
Just this year, a health site (www.HealthCastle.com) approached me to ask permission to use my chocolate chip cookie recipe, which would face off against a couple hundred other recipes: The goal was to try all recipes in a test kitchen over the course of three months, and determine which recipe tasted best within the most wholesome guidelines: Mine won!
I do have one bittersweet memory, just one, associated with my cookies: One very rainy day during summer camp in the mountains, Esther, who ran the camp, asked if I would mind spending the afternoon making cookies with the children. I arrived to find a hundred kids jumping up and down with excitement. Everything was laid out impeccably on a giant kitchen table, we just needed to make the batter, then shape and bake the cookies. With all the little helping hands we had, we made hundreds of cookies in no time, and they kept coming out of the oven, fast and furious. It’s all the kids could do to keep their hands from getting scorched while the cookies were cooling off. Wow, they would exclaim, delighted, each time a tray was pulled out of the oven: they rose like crazy! The children were right, I thought, puzzled: they look like cookies on steroids! One of the children spit out the cookie she had just tasted …. and made a disgusted face, causing total consternation. We soon found out why. While making the cookies, we ran short just half a cup sugar, and one of the girls ran to a kitchen cabinet and took out …. sea salt she found in a little sugar bowl, and measured half a cup into the batter. We had to throw all of them out; the children were inconsolable (and Esther’s mother, a Holocaust survivor, cried at the thought of throwing away food, no matter how flawed….), until the next day when we started a whole new giant batch. “We’re baking cookies again?” Esther asked with a wink. “Sure! With or without salt?”
My Famous Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
2 eggs (if you can’t have eggs: 2 tablespoons flax meal mixed with 1/3 cup warm water)
½ cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar or Sucanat
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2½ cups flour: all-purpose, whole wheat pastry, spelt (gluten-free—any GF flour, such as brown rice flour)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips, best quality
½ chopped nuts, optional
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Cream the eggs and sugars in a food processor or with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the oil and vanilla and mix in thoroughly. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and pulse (or mix at low speed) until just combined. Fold in the chips and nuts (if using) by hand. Drop the cookies in heaping teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, 1 inch apart.
Bake 10 minutes. The cookies will firm up as they cool, so do not be tempted to bake them longer, or they will harden. Bake only one tray at a time. Store at room temperature in tin boxes. Separate each layer of cookies with foil or wax paper so they don’t stick together. Makes about 4 dozen.
Lévana Kirschenbaum‘s most recent book, The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simple, will be available later this month.
I inherited my love of hosting Shabbat meals from my mother. Growing up we had company for at least one meal every Shabbat. Friday nights were often a family affair, but Saturday lunches often involved 10-12 people. Preparing and serving a meal for a dozen people once a week is the kind of task that intimidates a lot of people but my mom taught me the skills to make the whole thing very low-stress and rewarding.
I’ve been living in New York for almost three years now, and I still host one meal a week (but I actually think I’m going to cut down to one every other week because wow is it expensive to cook that much!). One thing that has gotten to be more and more of an issue is dealing with guests who have a myriad of dietary restrictions. Not just vegetarians and/or strict kosher keepers, but celiac disease, lactose intolerance, people who “prefer no refined sugar or flour.” It can be very complicated to plan a menu to satisfy everyone.
JTA has an article today about dealing with hosting Shabbat meals with lots of dietary hoops to jump through, and it quotes me (among others).
So yes, allergies and whatnot are a concern when planning meals, but allow me to introduce you to a little thing I like to call The Internet, where you can search for and easily find recipes that you can serve to any permutation of allergy-ridden guests. For instance, have some vegans and a gluten-free friend coming over and want to serve a decadent dessert that doesn’t involve (ugh) tofu? How about this baby—a chilled double chocolate torte that looks amazing.
Looking for some more tips on how to plan and execute a good Shabbat dinner? Look here! And The Kitchn offers some good basic tips for making your guests feel comfortable, a big part of the mitzvah of hakhnasat orhim.