Author Archives: Jennifer Traig

Eat Me

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In her last posts, Jennifer Traig reorganized her library and looked at the changes from her past year. She has been guest-blogging all week for MJL and Jewish Book Council.

MJL JBC Author BlogI’ve been an observant Jew for the last twenty-five years, and I’d like to think it’s out of piety, but really, it’s for the food. With a few notable exceptions (gefilte fish, I’m talking to you), Judaism guarantees a good meal. The wise-ass summary of all Jewish holidays is pretty much right: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.

So it goes without saying that I rank holidays solely by their traditional food offerings. Shavuot, of course, is number one, because you’re more or less commanded to eat cheesecake. Hanukkah means eight days of doughnuts, which makes it also number one. Yom Kippur is number seven hundred and twelve.

As for Rosh Hashanah, well, it’s not to be taken lightly. Rosh Hashanah foods are symbolic; what you eat is supposed to set the tone for the year. This is both good (apples and honey) and bad (fish heads).

Then there’s the menu the Talmud prescribes: “At the beginning of each year, each person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets and dates.” We’re not supposed to eat them because they’re delicious (because they aren’t. Gourds?). It’s not how they taste, but how they sound. The names of these particular foods sound like the things we’re praying for this time of year: that our merits increase, that our enemies be vanquished.

jenny traigIn other words, we’re eating puns. Which was also the idea behind every Rosh Hashanah dinner I hosted in my twenties, each pun worse than the last. First came Rosh Mexicana, then Rosh Italiana (we ate rosh lasagna). Then Russia Shana (piroshki). From there it was all downhill, with themes like Rosh HaShande (guilty pleasures) and Rosh HaShania, a country-western menu in honor of Shania Twain.

This year, because my daughter doesn’t have teeth, it may well be Mush Hashanah.

If I were a different person entirely, my menus would be coming from Hip Kosher, Ronnie Fein’s stunning, stylish cookbook of perfectly delicious foods. I want to eat everything in there. The recipes are clear and don’t look difficult at all. But I am a person who forgets to add fundamental ingredients, who mistakes the sugar for salt. I should not be trusted to do things like frizzle leeks or saute balsamic-glazed pears.

I wish I were that person, but all the teshuvah in the world isn’t going to turn me into one just yet. So instead, I’ll be relying on the recipes of another Jewish chef: Kenny Shopsin’s Eat Me. Because I don’t think I can screw up his Macaroni and Cheese Pancakes. They sound like heaven, and if that sets the tone for my year, that’ll be a very good thing.

Posted on September 24, 2009

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Book of Life Is Shelved in the Jefferson Wing

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In her last post, Jennifer Traig looked at the changes from her past year. She is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and Jewish Book Coucil.

Recently my husband and I moved to a new house. Because we had to sort, pack, and transport an entire house worth’s of stuff while working fulltime, caring for our newborn, and functioning on four hours of sleep, we thought it would also be a good time to catalog and label our entire library.

jewish author blog jennifer traigSo we did, and by we, I mean Rob. It was an enormous project. Although we rarely watch less than eight hours of TV a day, we like to think of ourselves as readers, too, and over the years we’ve acquired a lot of books. Rob alone has close to three thousand. My own books are fewer in number but wider in range, including such eclectic gems as The Twinkies Cookbook and Snoop Dogg’s Love Don’t Live Here No More: Book One of Doggy Tales.

A few hundred hours later, the P-Touch was smoking but every book was labeled and shelved in orderly rows. We’re still marveling at how neat it all is. Organization is new to us, our resolution for the year 5770. Before the move, a third of the books well enough alone by jennifer traigsat in mildewing boxes buried underneath the recycling on the back porch. The Chicago Manual of Style served as a coaster, the self-help books as ottomans. Maimonides was next to Miles Davis, and the collected works of William James were mixed in with back issues of Us Weekly where they belonged.

Now it’s more orderly. Rob labeled and arranged each title by its Library of Congress category number. This has led to some interesting juxtapositions. Because they are both works of personal nonfiction, The Essays of Montaigne ended up next to Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir. And we couldn’t help note with mild alarm that all our books on the Bible are, per Library of Congress designation, now labeled “BS.”

As for the Book of Life we’ll be talking about all this week, I don’t have a copy, but the Library of Congress does―quite a few, in fact. The Library catalog shows 84 different books by that title. Of these, thirteen are about the Bible (BS); two are about the occult (BF); one is about internal medicine (RC); and two are actually about death (BM). Another one includes contributions by Richard Pryor, Jack Nicholson, Tina Turner, and Madonna (PN). My favorite, by Hyman Molod, is about “the principles of clean eating.” That’s probably just a clunky translation of kashrut, but it does seem worth noting that the author holds a 1944 patent for something called a “poultry dipping system.”

Me, I’ll be sticking to apples and honey. G’mar hatimah tovah.

Jennifer Traig is the author, most recently, of Well Enough Alone: A Cultural History of My Hypochondria, as well as Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood and Judaikitsch, and the editor of The Autobiographer’s Handbook. She lives in Ann Arbor.

Posted on September 23, 2009

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Convertibles in the Snow

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Jennifer Traig, author of Well Enough Alone, is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

This New Year I’ll be grateful if there’s very little new. Last year there was far too much. Within a single week, I got married, got pregnant, and published a memoir. Six weeks after that I was dragged across the country to live in a house I’d never seen, in Ann Arbor, a place I’d visited just once.

jewish author blogI didn’t know what I was getting into at all. That single visit had been a Potemkin Village tour over a perfect summer weekend. My husband had only brought me to the nice places, the vegetarian restaurants and bead stores he knew I’d like, and he’d coached his friends to lie about the weather.

But now we were living here, and I wasn’t very happy about it. I was also fiercely home- and morning-sick. And so I spent the first few months sulking in bed and reading, by which I mean watching TV mostly but also sometimes reading. Usually the book in question was a doorstop biography of Marie Antoinette. I identified with the royal teenage newlywed. When she married, she also had to leave everyone and everything behind, even her name and underpants. I, at least, got to keep those.

After a little while, I decided it might be a good idea to go back on my antidepressants and get out of bed. And when I did I was surprised to find that I actually really liked Ann Arbor. In the month or so before we left Berkeley our block was cordoned off because of an in-home murder; our car window was bashed in and our things stolen; and a visitor found a small packet of heroin on our stoop. That doesn’t happen here. Yes, it snows a lot, but that just gives you a good excuse to stay home and read.

Which is the other thing I like about Ann Arbor. This is a town of readers, the place where Borders began. It’s also a town of writers, home to Elizabeth Kostova and Phoebe Gloeckner. Loads more pass through, like Ryan Harty, Julie Orringer, and Josh Henkin, whose lovely Ann Arbor novel Matrimony I’d read as preparation before my move and my marriage.

well enough alone by jennifer traigAnd then there’s Danit Brown. The month we moved she published Ask for a Convertible, a collection of linked short stories about a young Ann Arbor transplant that became my instant favorite. Saddled with a name that guarantees years of classroom torture, Osnat moves from Tel Aviv to this strange and snowy place with as much good cheer as I did, which is none. It’s a perfect book, wry and funny, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I loved every word, but these most of all:

Maybe it would be like all those movies where the guy brings home a girl he handpicked expressly to piss his parents off. Her father, Osnat knew, had once pulled the same trick and brought home a Catholic woman, but he’d just wanted money for a convertible. He was nineteen, and this strategy had worked for two of his friends, he’d told Osnat. It didn’t for him. His mother Osnat’s grandmother had simply taken the girl’s coat and fed her some brisket and some apple pie. “You’re not mad?” Osnat’s father had asked her afterward, and she’d said, “Do you think I’m blind? Or maybe you think I’m stupid?” Then she added, “My son, the pimp.” This always made Osnat’s father laugh. “And this is why you should never blackmail,” he liked to say. “You want a convertible? Ask for a convertible.” And when Osnat finally did, he told her to get a job like everyone else. “This is Michigan,” h’d said. “You don’t need a convertible.”

The funny thing is, now that I live in Michigan, I see convertibles all the time, way more than I did in, say, California or Israel, places where the climate actually permits roofless cars. I can only guess this is due to the same sensibility that leads Michigan to have more public golf courses than any other state, although we have some of the worst weather. And that’s another thing I like about this place, and I wonder if it’s why Brown still lives here, too: there’s a certain native convert-ability, an eagerness to seize the day when things are fair, and to adapt when they’re not. Osnat eventually figures out how to do this, and I’m figuring it out too.

You put the roof up. It’s not that hard.

Jennifer Traig is the author, most recently, of Well Enough Alone: A Cultural History of My Hypochondria, as well as Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood and Judaikitsch, and the editor of The Autobiographer’s Handbook. She lives in Ann Arbor.

Posted on September 22, 2009

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy