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Gefilte Fish, the Good Kind

20 Apr
Gefilte Fish, the good kind. By Alexandra Hanso-Harding, April 2017. P

Gefilte Fish, the good kind. By Alexandra Hanson-Harding, April 2017.

Tonight the husband served me some delicious gefilte fish. The good kind. You may ask, what is the good kind? Is it Rokeach? Is it Manischewitz? Yehudah? Mrs. Adler’s? Is it what? The answer, my friend, is something I found out by accident one year when I went to a kosher supermarket in Passaic, New Jersey, and couldn’t find any jars of gefilte fish at all. I don’t know why. I wasn’t looking in the right place, or they were sold out, or maybe the fact that it was just before Pesach and it was as crowded AF with harried mothers who had about 8 kids each in tow (I am in awe). But I did find something intriguing I’d never seen before: Frozen gefilte fish in a log, wrapped in white paper. It looked . . . less gelatinous than your everyday gefilte fish, which to my mind was a good thing. While I enjoy the taste of the gefilte, the nebulous edges of the jarred beast unsettle me.

I brought home a mighty log of the gefilte fish and my husband said, “What exactly do you do with that thing? It’s frozen.”
I hadn’t exactly thought of “reading the directions” at that point. “I don’t know, just warm it up, I guess,” I said.
“Hmm,” he said, squinting at the side of the package. “It says here that you have to simmer it in a broth of two quarts of water, carrots, onions, salt, and pepper for an hour and a half.”
“My point exactly,” I said with a glare. “I was already going to do that.”
I thumped around and actually followed the directions–you put the log of gefilte fish in the water still wrapped in its inner paper wrapping, and let it bob around in the pot with the carrots and onions. And it comes out making the whole house smell nice, with a faint sweet warm fishy-in-a-nice way, carrot and oniony smell. The gefilte fish has a sweetness and a firmness that is just right with some lovely horseradish with beets, for instance, to give it a little bite, and it truly just was the good kind, and now that’s the kind we always, always get.

I Love New Jersey: Cold State, Warm Hearts, Part 2

18 Feb
Orlando and Joe, my heroes, putting gas in my car on a freezing cold day.

Orlando and Joe, my heroes, putting gas in my car on a freezing cold day.

Having a Prius is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it gets amazing mileage—45 miles a gallon or so. So you don’t have to think about filling up the gas tank all the time. On the other hand, a person CAN forget to put gas in the car at all. I mean, last time I looked at the gas gauge, the tank full. Now, mysteriously, a week or two later, I realized that the “empty” light was flashing. This is while I was driving on the Garden State Parkway. I wasn’t too alarmed at first, but then I realized that when I pushed down the gas pedal, the response was getting weaker and weaker. Fortunately, my exit was coming up. And when I got onto Route 3, I was able to coast down a long hill, which recharges the battery a little bit. I kept my foot off the gas pedal as I got off at the first exit, rolled along very slowly, turned right to the plaza that contains my health club and tried to turn right into the parking lot, where at least I could dig out my cell phone from somewhere and call Triple A. But just as I started turning right, while my car was at an angle, it stopped dead. It was DONE. A couple of people waited and fumed behind me, even though I put my emergency blinkers on me. Then they slowly made their way around me, giving me nasty “What’s your problem” looks. But the third car stopped and a young man and woman jumped out. “I’m sorry! I’m out of gas!” I said, for the third time.

“We know,” the young man said. “We’re going to help you.” The young woman—Jaclyn—started directing traffic, and the young man, Joe, started pushing me back—I was so rattled that Joe was actually steering the wheel WHILE pushing. And then, a security truck came up. Two nice-looking men jumped out. They helped direct the flow of traffic and push the car, too, into an empty spot in the other direction. I was looking for my damned cell phone to find Triple A’s number when Joe and Jaclyn said “We’re going to go get her some gas.” –there was a gas station almost but not quite within my ability to get there. The young couple didn’t ask me for cash (I only had credit cards anyway, but they didn’t even ASK!). Anyway, the two security guards said, “We’ll take her in the truck.” At this point, Jaclyn and Joe shook my hands while I thanked them from the bottom of my heart. Honestly, they were amazing. I wish I could do something more for them. But they wouldn’t even tell me their last names!

Orlando, the security officer, and his colleague, also named Joe, were just as nice. They took me to the gas station, helped me buy a gas can and get a few gallons of gas. They came back and put it into the car for me. Which is super nice, because a. it was freezing, and b. I wouldn’t know how to do it anyway. Then they followed me to another, better gas station where I filled my hungry Prius to the brim. Only when my tank was full did they drive off with a friendly wave. I don’t know how to express my appreciation except to say loudly right here and now to Orlando and Joe’s bosses at the Promenade Shops mall in Clifton, New Jersey, “Hey, bosses! You have some very decent guys working for you! Give Orlando and Joe a big raise!”

Writing Prompt: Did a stranger ever go out of his or her way for you?

I love New Jersey: Cold State, Warm Hearts, Part 1

17 Feb
There's more to New Jersey than its odiferous Turnpike  Here, my neighbors dress up their snow with pumpkins. (Why? A beautiful mystery)

There’s more to New Jersey than its odiferous Turnpike Here, my neighbors dress up their snow with pumpkins. (Why? A beautiful mystery)

I live in New Jersey. That’s right. New Jersey. I’m a Jersey girl and I’m PROUD of it. Yeah, it’s not easy living here. Driving here is like a treacherous video game. It’s five degrees below too damned cold. The ground is covered with that hideous white nonsense that afflicts it each winter. Weekly threatening storm reports mean shortages of toilet paper, shovels, and Cheetos. It isn’t always easy living in the chilly Northeast.

On top of that, New Jersey doesn’t always have a reputation for being the friendliest of the 50 states. But ever since I moved here in my early 20s, I have been pretty delighted with the kind of people I have met. Yes, I have met my share of loudmouthed jerks. And there is no jerk quite out there like a Jersey jerk. Okay, maybe a New York jerk. I guess the good news is, you know exactly where you stand with your neighbors here in Dirty Jerz. There isn’t any of that tinkling-tea-cup fakery of ladies saying, “Why, bless her heart” that our old Southern baby-sitter used to say before launching into a head-to-toe vivisection of her subject’s looks, character and anything else she could think of. When she left our employ, she gave me one of her famous whiplash compliments—“Why, Alexandra,” she said, “I know you’re a good writer. I’ve been enjoying reading your journals all year.” (Disclaimer: I know many awesome Southerners as well).

No, that’s not Jersey style. More likely it’s an in-your-face “Hey, FATSO, NEXT TIME, LAY OFF THE DONUTS.” I am not a big Chris Christie fan (vaccines, anyone?), but even he makes me laugh sometimes. I remember one speech he gave when he promoted a Muslim lawyer to a higher position that really impressed me. In the interests of bipartisanship, may I share a very impressive moment from the governor:

I find a lot of good-heartedness in the people here.  I certainly found it yesterday. First of all, I went to my printmaking class, where I worked with lovely, smart women, including a very energetic and skilled teacher, all of whom were helpful to me, one of the few beginners in the class. [More on THAT later!] Second, I met a helpful artist. And third (which I will also discuss later), I met some very kind people who helped me when I ran out of gas!

So, after my printmaking class, I needed to go to a special art store called Jerry’s Artists Supply for some special paper (and maybe a few free-lance items I haven’t told the husband about yet). Of course, I immediately forgot my teacher’s directions, so I drove down some long and winding wintry road. I stopped a friendly-looking woman who was taking a brisk walk in the cold. I asked her for directions to the art store and she said, “I love that store! And I have that book—“ she pointed to a book on birds that I had on the front seat of my car, “in my art classroom. It’s easy to get to Jerry’s, but you just took a wrong turn. To get there you just . . . hmmm.” She thought for a minute. “Why dont I just show you the local way?”  l I shoved the nonsense I usually have on my car seat to the floor, she hopped in, and showed me a few twists and turns I would never have found by myself. I admired her bravery for walking in such cold (and for her willingness to hop into a stranger’s car) and we talked about the fun of art. Then, at one corner, I stopped, because before us were about 20 deer, including little ones. They looked at us calmly, and crossed the road in a line. I know—deer are a suburban menace. Rats with hooves. But just then, how beautiful they were, with their black noses and big eyes gazing at us, against the backdrop of snow. We both caught our breath(s?). “It was meant to be,” she laughed. We exchanged information to become Facebook friends when we reached the right corner for her to get out, and her directions the rest of the way were perfect. I don’t know if I’ll hear from her again, but I found myself humming happily all the way to Jerry’s. I love meeting people by chance who COULD be friends. There’s a kind of magic in that potential. I wonder what it is that draws one almost instantly to certain people? It just made me happy that I could meet someone walking down a sftreet who felt like my kind of person. And not only that, someone who was just so gratuitously kind.

In Part 2, I will tell you the story of more gratuitous kindness–thank you, Orlando and Joe!

Writing Prompt: Can you think of a time when someone was surprisingly nice to you?