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2012 November : Challahbear

Archive for November, 2012

The Last War

The matzav (situation) in Israel and Gaza is pretty bleak right now. Failed efforts for a temporary cease-fire to the rockets being launched at both sides and preparing ground troops sound like a recipe for war to me. And if that’s what’s for dinner, I’m not very hungry.

The last time Israel was at war was the summer after my freshman year of college. I was interning at the local Federation office in Pittsburgh and things had been pretty quiet in the office. I divided my time there working on both fundraising and community building projects. I spent my days making flyers for women’s philanthropy events, and I planned activities for an upcoming visit from Israeli teenagers. We had sent 93 Pittsburgh teens to Israel for the summer, and they were going to bring some Israeli peers back with them for two weeks.

The day war broke out with Lebanon, my summer changed. My parents sent me to work with a check – an early donation for the Israel Relief Fund that was surely being created as we ate our breakfast that morning. When I got there, I had an email from the Federation CEO inviting me to join his senior staff in the board room. It was 8 am, and they had already been dividing up tasks. First and foremost we needed to closely monitor the safety of our youth traveling in Israel. Second priority was keeping their parents well informed. At that time, it was determined that minor itinerary changes would be made, but the touring would continue. Then there was development – raising funds from community members like my parents to provide relief to families affected by the war. There was public relations to take care of – preparing talking points for supporters and responding to inquiries from local reporters. Finally, there was community engagement. We hold a pro-Israel rally for the community. It was 9 am and the meeting was about to adjourn. “Any questions?” our CEO asked. I had been a fly on the wall up until that moment. But now it was my turn. “How can I help?” I asked.

I was assigned to the rally team. With two other people, I planned a community rally in just three days that was attended by over 1,000 people. The other members of my team had experience in this. They found their notes from the last rally which took place during the Second Intifada. They even found a picture of me and my old friend sitting in the crowd at their last rally – I was in middle school at the time. We secured a venue, invited local politicians, ordered blue and white balloon arrangements, and solicited bottled water donations. We handed out flyers to local businesses and press releases to email lists and newspapers.

Meanwhile, the fundraising gurus held a caucus for their relief fund. The leading philanthropists from the community sat together in a room and pledged their financial support. An older man stood up and proudly declared that he and his wife would give $20,000. A middle aged woman stood up next, promising $5,000. This went on for an hour, with supportive applause following each pledge. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. Later that night, I helped collect donations in water cooler bottles during a lecture at the JCC. People gave loose change and small bills they were carrying. People gave what they could, large and small.

As the war intensified in those first few days, parents grew more fearful for their children abroad. The Federation booked flights for all 93 teens and our local staff to return home, just hours before the rally took place. It wasn’t easy. There weren’t a lot of planes going in or out of the war zone.

The day of the rally was a scorcher in high 80s (by DC standards, that’s not bad. For Pittsburgh, it was a really hot day). I spent over 10 hours outside setting up, attending the rally, and cleaning up, with a walkie-talkie on my hip. Two of the returning teens spoke and the whole group attended. My mom showed up. So did many of my friends who were home for the summer. There were a couple Pro-Palestinian people protesting the rally but everything was very peaceful.

At the end of the day, I felt like I had accomplished something. I know that rallies don’t save lives or end wars. At best, they provide an outlet for people who feel otherwise empowered to show their support and solidarity. At worst, they become riots with more casualties. But at the time, I still felt like I was doing something.

This week, I find myself in a different city, in a different stage of life, and still asking the same question. How can I help?

Cohabitation Purchases

I’ve been busy lately. The end of the summer was filled with weeknight dinners with visiting parents and weekend getaways with Kirios. September went by in the blink of an eye – must have been the Jewish holidays, which I spent with family and old friends in Pittsburgh and in Baltimore. October was a crazy transition month – in addition to bringing cooler weather and pumpkin flavored treats of all sorts, Kirios moved into my (now our) apartment the last weekend in September. The move went smoothly – Kirios didn’t have much in the ways of furniture since he was living at home, and his extensive wardrobe of rainbow polos and plaid shorts miraculously fit in the closets.

Beyond the initial move, there were a few high priorities on our to-do list. Kirios’s two-monitor setup for his self-built computer is of paramount importance to him. We often joked that the day he’d officially be moved in was the day his desktop moved. (Joking aside, we both knew it was true.) When I moved into my last apartment three plus years ago I needed a lot of furniture. My father found a desk in relatively good condition next to the building’s dumpster and we decided to take it, first spraying it with half a bottle of Clorox. The desk wasn’t ideal – there was a bookshelf attached to it which was convenient for storage, but didn’t have a high enough clearance for computer monitors. Luckily I had a laptop. And my laptop was usually on the coffee table. Even when I began working from home on Friday, I never used my desk except to store office supplies and papers. I like to spread out on the kitchen table. (That’s even how I liked to do my homework in high school too.) Nonetheless, I got three good years out of that zero-dollar investment. A week before moving in, Kirios ordered an attractive corner desk with enough room for his heavy-duty computing equipment. The day he moved in, we broke the old desk into pieces with his father and fittingly sent it back to a dumpster.

Kirios' "Office"

Personally, there’s one major purchase I had wanted to make for a while, and Kirios’ arrival seemed like the perfect excuse to finally do it. I’ve wanted a new mattress set. My last mattress, which I bought three plus years ago (at the same time I found the desk) was not a high-end investment. Despite its 10-year warranty, its degree of comfort and quality decreased dramatically after the first two years. It’s really squeaky, and did I mention it’s only a full size?!? Considering I (ideally) spend 56 hours per week in bed sleeping, I figured it was definitely time to upgrade. So Kirios and I went mattress shopping and a funny thing happened. We laid down on a Stearns and Foster floor sample and we both fell in love with the same mattress. What are the odds! …Then we realized that the side he was lying on was plush and the side I was lying on was firm. Naturally, Challahbear knows best, so we “agreed” to get a firm mattress. I’m not heartless; I splurged for the pillowtop so Kirios would still be pretty comfy. I spent another week researching prices and mattress sales on the internet and finalizing my negotiation strategy during long calls with my dad. I do, after all, have a business degree and work in purchasing! So in mid-October Kirios and I implemented said negotiation strategy according to plan. The “Honey, the price is just too high. Let’s go,” approach worked like a charm. Of course the salesman insisted all Stearns and Foster mattresses are price fixed and there was nothing he could do to lower the cost right until my hand was on the door to leave the store. I’m now the proud owner of a big girl bed! And it only took a few days for Kirios to stop complaining about how hard it is.

Now that's a bed!

Finally, Kirios was super excited about creating a “home theater system.” He had talked about speakers for some time. I’ve never lived anywhere with external speakers for the television, and I’ve never really felt like I was missing out. I rarely go out to the movies these days, and when I do, it’s usually too loud. (Maybe I am getting old!) Kirios and I do enjoy cuddling on the futon and watching a movie when we can and we usually turn on subtitles so it’s easier to understand the dialogue. I encouraged him to create a modest budget for his stereo equipment and research his options. I told him I’d want to review anything before he purchased it, and I wasn’t likely to approve of enormous ugly black towers taking up half of our living room. For over a month, Kirios conducted internet research on speakers, subwoofers, receivers, even hi-tech remote controls. He told me about them excitedly after work, he sent me emails with pictures of his favorite models, and he developed a lengthy excel spreadsheet showing market prices for the different models he was considering and the other components with which they worked best.

After weeks of planning, we made a pilgrimage together to a large home theater store in Fairfax, VA. We went into a sound-proof listening room with our salesman James. James had an uncanny resemblance to Matthew Perry’s Chandler Bing years which distracted me for the first hour or so were there. Could you BE any more familiar? James played video clips for us on two different types of speakers had Kirios asked about. They both sounded great to me. A little different, but it was so hard to tell what was the side speakers vs. the center or the subwoofer, receiver, etc. This was totally out of my area of expertise. James discussed sound quality and pricing with Kirios, mentioning one of the items he wanted was on sale. He asked whether we had decided whether we wanted the black ones or the dark cherry. “Cherry,” I said, making my only contribution to the discussion. They match our wood floors and décor much better! At some point, the conversation transitioned from a typical sales pitch to a complete and utter geek-fest. Kirios had done his research and James no longer pretended some models were on sale and others weren’t, they united for the purpose of identifying the most effective sound system to highlight dialogue given his technical/price tradeoff preferences. I went back and forth from being entertained by nerdiness of it all and bored by how completely over my head everything was. We left with some reasonable price quotes, each product slightly lower than what was available online, and James’ business card.

Kirios returned to the store a few days later to negotiate a package deal for a center speaker, two side speakers, and a receiver. He still hasn’t settled on a subwoofer yet (for which I’m sure our neighbors are quite thankful), subs don’t need to match the other speakers. (I did pay some attention.) We also ordered cherry wood colored speaker stands separately since James said he couldn’t beat the online retailer’s price.  We ordered a nice TV stand with a swiveling TV mount from Walmart.com which got delayed by Superstorm Sandy, so we had to get creative finding a place for everything for a while. Thankfully, Kirios’ best friend offered a hand in putting together the stand once it did finally arrive. It was rather heavy and a bit beyond Ikea level in terms of assembly!

Home Theater System, Phase 1... because we all know it's only a matter of time until he expands/upgrades

A month and a half into living together, we’re not quite done buying all the things we want and need for our home, but we seem to be making things work. And it sure is nice to come home to a hug from Kirios every day after work!

Kirios’ Birthday Brunch

This year Kirios decided to surprise ME with a fancy meal out for HIS birthday. He refused to tell me where we were going, but told me it was fancy and somewhere I wanted to go. Obviously that meant it would be somewhere expensive… I was hoping that Kirios had scored coveted reservations to Rasika, the highly regarded Indian restaurant on the top of my “fancy/expensive places I’d like to go one day” list. (I believe I’ve mentioned that on this blog before). When Kirios asked me for when he should make the reservations, only a week or so prior to his birthday, I knew that wasn’t the case. Oh well, my birthday is only 4 months away! At that point, I had no clue where we were going and the possibilities seemed endless. A few days before, Kirios blocked off about an hour to travel to our restaurant on our calendar – this didn’t limit things too much, since Metro is quite unreliable over the weekends. But when Kirios said we wouldn’t be metroing into DC I had another guess as to where we’d be going.

Two days before our birthday date, Kirios said we needed to pick up a bottle of wine for his friend/colleague and his wife because we’d be visiting them in Frederick, MD after our meal – confirming my suspicions that we were headed to Volt. Volt is a fine-dining farm to table restaurant owned by its head chef Bryan Voltaggio. Bryan was the runner up on season six of Top Chef, my guilty TV watching pleasure. Bryan’s younger brother Michael beat him out to claim the Top Chef title that season in an exciting battle showcasing their differing culinary strengths. Obviously I’ve wanted to go to Volt ever since, but it had been extremely difficult to get a reservation for some time after all the TV hype, not to mention the $95 price tag for their seven course kitchen menu. Yes, even the vegetarian food is $95 per person. Luckily, Kirios made brunch reservations, allowing us to order from the much more reasonable $35 pre fixe menu.

Kirios and I arrived in Frederick early, anxious for our reservations. We walked around Market Street, downtown Frederick’s main drag, peering into the cute storefronts. Since it was significantly colder weather that day, we stopped in Café Nola, a coffeehouse/restaurant/bar, for a warm beverage. The café had a bustling brunch crowd of its own and looked like a nice spot to catch live music in the evenings. We split a soy “Ninja Turtle;” a latte with hazelnut, caramel, and chocolate. We were in an indulgent mood.

We walked back to Volt and admired its garden as we walked in. If only it were warmer out… Our table wasn’t ready yet, so we sat at the bar by in Lounge and ordered cocktails. Kirios probably ordered something strong and manly. I got a drink called “Airmail,” since, you know, I work for the Postal Service. It was flavorful, bubbly, and served in a champagne glass. We were seated by the window and given bread sticks with sea salt to munch on while we looked over the menu. After much deliberation we ordered. A waitress came around with a bread basket for us to pick a roll from. There were several which looked tasty, some with fresh herbs. Since it was brunch, I opted for a biscuit. Kirios had a sticky bun with pecans. Perhaps our biggest complaint of the whole meal was that the bread (and later the donuts) weren’t warm when served to us. They did however come with deliciously flavored butter. I don’t usually butter my bread but Kirios insisted I try it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what flavor it was, perhaps lavender.

My first course was ravioli with sweet corn, green garlic, and chanterelle mushrooms. There was foam on the side of the plate – I wasn’t sure which ingredient was foamed, but it tasted good with everything else on the plate. It reminded me of Marcel, and old Top Chef cheftestant known for being unable to resist foaming at least on ingredient on every dish he served. Overall, the ravioli was tasty, but left me wanting more food. Kirios’ first course was salsify with apple, country ham, and hazelnut. I won’t pretend that we weren’t expecting some salsa-like dish, but we soon learned that salsify is in fact an edible root. Kirios went with it and dug in. Also served with our first course was an a la cart item Kirios ordered – maple glazed bacon donuts. Since they had bacon, I didn’t try any, but Kirios insisted they were the best donuts he’d ever have. (But should have been warm) He saved one to enjoy with each of his courses and was a happy birthday boy.

My entrée was rockfish with artichoke, maroon carrot, fennel, and basil. I was surprised and excited that rockfish, a local treasure, was featured on the menu. And it was cooked perfectly. The vegetables were simple, not to over shine the fish, simmering in broth next to the fish. The portion wasn’t large, but it was adequate for a fancy restaurant. Kirios ordered rabbit (which made me a little sad, since they’ve always been my favorite animals and I used to sleep with a bunny puppet/security blanket). His rabbit was served with maitake mushrooms, english peas, green garlic, and pearl onions. Kirios loved the mushrooms and claimed the onions were the best he’d ever had. (Kirios is not an onion fan, and the onions weren’t listed as an ingredient when he ordered the dish.) Unfortunately he was unimpressed with the rabbit itself which evidently just tasted like chicken.

I would feel bad for Kirios being let down by the rabbit dish, but he had another maple bacon donut and perked back up quickly. Before our last course, a waiter brought out a dish of orange flavored liquid nitrogen ice cream and orange dark chocolate shavings with a candle to wish him a happy birthday. Interestingly enough, this is exactly the flavors and type of dessert I’ve enjoyed with Kirios and his dad in the past, just a bit fancier. I knew he was enjoying it.

Finally it was time for our last course. We shared one cheese plate and one sweet dessert. The cheese plate featured five domestically produced cheeses; one cheddar, one Parmesan style, one blue cheese, one Camembert style, and one brie style. The cheeses were served with walnut raisin toast. Our sweet dessert dish was raspberry sorbet and fresh raspberries with vanilla ice cream, frozen shortbread, and basil granite. It was quite tasty. Kirios had a double espresso to finish the meal, and added the final crumbs from his maple bacon glazed donuts to his cup. Our check came out with mini coffee cakes packaged up to go – a perfect tea time snack.

Kirios and I walked .2 miles from the restaurant to visit our friends. We shared the coffee cake with them – I had a slice. I didn’t eat for the rest of the day.

Happy 26th birthday, Kirios! Here’s to many more tasty birthday celebrations!