Stacey Ballis, past contributing bloggerStacey Ballis is
the author of four novels: INAPPROPRIATE MEN, SLEEPING OVER, ROOM FOR
IMPROVEMENT and THE SPINSTER SISTERS. She is a contributing author to two
non-fiction anthologies; GIRLS WHO LIKE BOYS WHO LIKE BOYS and EVERYTHING I
NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL I LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME. She also writes for
the Frontier Airlines Magazine WILD BLUE YONDER, and does a regular food column
called NOSH for Oy!Chicago. She was a regular on-air contributor during
the first season of The Rachael Ray Show on CBS, offering lifestyle and
entertaining tips. Ballis is the President of Dayton Associates Consulting
Group, which specializes in strategic planning and organizational development
for businesses, arts organizations and cultural institutions. She is currently
at work on GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT, her latest novel for Penguin, due out Spring of
2009, and a stage adaptation of GIRLS WHO LIKE BOYS WHO LIKE BOYS. For more
information www.staceyballis.com, www.myspace.com/staceyballis
ARTICLES BY THIS AUTHOR
When people ask me what I love most about being Jewish, the images flash before my eyes. Succulent slices of slow cooked brisket, moist with rich tomato-y gravy. Latkes, crisp on the outside, melting in the middle, with applesauce and sour cream. Light as air matzo balls, floating in a pool of golden chicken soup, dense sweet noodle kugel. After all, I’m the girl who, when asked what she wanted for her third birthday dinner, answered “brisket and farfel!”
For anyone who loves Chicago history, one of the most exciting periods occurred in 1871 after the Great Chicago Fire, when the Custom House Levee District flourished. Filled with saloons, brothels and gaming houses, and home to the genesis of the classic pay-for-votes politics, the Levee District was an oasis of sin and sensual pleasures. The higher class bordellos were as famous for the quality of their food and wine as they were for the charms of their girls, and the area we now know as Printer’s Row spent a glorious thirty-five years reigning as the place to experience carnal delights of every sort.
Chalkboard is romantic enough to be a great date spot, but not so overt as to be alienating for those of us who are dining with friends or family. The menu is full of carefully crafted dishes, with inspired touches…your childhood favorites made sophisticated with a rich tomato soup paired with a blue cheese grilled cheese sandwich on the side, Kobe beef mini burger appetizer with Nueske bacon, truly spectacular fried chicken.
Zed is the British/French pronunciation of the last letter of the alphabet. 451 is the number of degrees (in Fahrenheit) needed for fire to ignite. So, one would imagine that somehow the creators of this new restaurant are implying that their concept is a culminating point, the end all be all, the point of combustion.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in general, only rarely do your day in and day out dining choices ever get reviewed anywhere. With limited space, reviewers tend to focus on what’s new, what’s hot, what just opened or which fancy chef has blown into town. Sure, now and again you might see one of your regular haunts mentioned in a Best Of article, but really, does that get you through a Tuesday night when you are looking for something that requires neither a reservation nor much brain power?
As I have mentioned before, my Judaism, while deeply rooted and very important to me, is something that falls more on the side of culture and tradition and less on the side of religion or spirituality. But there are certain aspects of every holiday that resonate for me, and one of the things I appreciate about being Jewish, is that I can feel free to cherry pick the pieces I like and leave the rest behind.
Stacey Ballis Joey, in action Joey’s Brickhouse 1258 W. Belmont 773.296.1300 When I called Chef Joey Morelli to see if I could interview him for this article, the first thing he did was propose. Upon discovering that he had gone to high school with a cousin of mine, and
I am unabashed in my love of sparkling wines. And while I have a particular affinity both for the true French champagnes, and for the sparklers made in the Méthode Champenoise from other regions of the world, I don’t turn down a good cava from Spain or a prosecco from Italy. For the sake of ease, despite the twitch it is likely to produce in any serious oenophiles who may be reading this, it’s really all champagne to me, and I tend to refer to it as such. I don’t need an occasion to drink champagne, any random day will do.
It’s probably going to get me some flack to admit that my favorite holiday isn’t a Jewish holiday, but a secular one. Don’t get me wrong, I love many of our ages-old holy days, and look forward to both the sense of connectedness they bring as well as the comfort of traditional foods and the company of friends and family. Rosh Hashanah, Passover…both solidly in my top five holiday-wise. I love a latke, I’m moved by matzo balls, get blissed out over brisket. I even heart a hamentashen. But none of the celebrations mandated by the Torah come close to inspiring the passion I have for Thanksgiving.
“Gather around my friends, you are in a sacred place, you are among those you can trust, and your secrets are safe here. No one will judge you. No one will point fingers. And no one will tell your grandparents.”
The old Sunday night take-out standby for members of the tribe used to be Chinese. I myself have nothing but fond memories of the Sunday nights of my childhood: waiting to watch whatever was the special Sunday Night Movie on network TV as my mom arranged the signature red and white cylinders and white trapezoidal boxes on wooden trays. We got to eat on television trays and drink pop instead of milk—Sunday nights were special.
We don’t know anything about St. Valentine whose feast day is February 14 other than the fact that he was buried on February 14 at the Via Flaminia north of Rome. How this martyred saint (who might actually be the amalgamation of several martyred guys named Valentine) became the representation of romantic love for most of the Western world is a mystery to me. But because it is effectively a Gentile construct (and they celebrate the June birth of the most famous Member of the Tribe on December 25), we don’t need to ponder the logic overmuch, especially as it is now as secular a day as Thanksgiving.
Some of you may be wondering what I’m doing here in Living Jewishly. After all, I’m the self-proclaimed Food Jew, and this the Passover edition, and why the heck aren’t I over in NOSH where I belong, giving you sage advice on the perfect charoset or moderating the age-old floaters vs. sinkers Matzo Ball debate? I joke around about being Jew-ish, think that bacon should be its own food group, and openly admit that not only have I never been to Israel, it falls way down on my list of places I want to visit, after Morocco, Spain, Ireland and China, past Portugal and South Africa, even beyond places I want to go to for a second time like Italy. I’m reasonably certain I’ll get there, and I even genuinely believe I’ll be moved and transformed by the experience, its just, well, I sort of want to see Prague first.
Anyone who has ever been married, or had a serious long-term relationship, knows that there are temptations everywhere. Even the most devoutly monogamous person can find herself drawn in other directions, intrigued by the new. If you are smart, your crush remains chaste; taking the best of what is possible, breaking neither trust nor vows. After all, there is nothing wrong with building a deep friendship; even if underneath that friendship is the tacit understanding that in a different world, in a parallel reality, the boundaries would be very different. If you are less disciplined, the passion takes over and you can find yourself in a full -fledged affair of the heart.
Ah, summer. Finally. After all the months of winter when you think the sun will never shine again, and the spring, which is mostly cold and rainy, we can settle into summer and all of its promise. Flip flops and tank tops, hanging at the beach or the pool, all the restaurants putting out tables on the patio, street fairs and festivals... And barbecues.
I’ve been in a very thoughtful place of late. The loss of both John Hughes, the passionate chronicler of my adolescence, and Michael Jackson, who I loved right up until he lost his ever loving mind, and whose music defined my entire childhood, put me in a fog of nostalgia. I see odd vestiges of my youth everywhere, and it isn’t always pretty. Neon is making a weird fashion comeback, as are shoulder pads, and I really hope it is short lived. Remakes of 90210 and Melrose Place are on the airwaves. Hershey is now using Modern English’s anthem of teen longing “I Melt With You” to sell chocolate bars with almonds. No, really. It’s official. I’m old.
In these trying economic times, socializing can become a challenge. Restaurants are still expensive, and if you want a nice leisurely evening, with an appetizer or salad, an entrée, and a cocktail or glass of wine you can easily be out $50 with tax and tip, and lord help you if you want a dessert or a second beverage.
Being a foodie can occasionally be something of a burden. It is all too easy to get jaded, to stop finding pleasure in perfectly serviceable meals, because they aren’t new enough or innovative enough. One can forget that doing something simple and well is actually proof of skill in the kitchen. After all, ask almost any chef or restaurant critic the mark of a great cook, and they will tell you roasted chicken is the ultimate test.
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