Frum weddings: Jewish Goegraphy, Salmon with Dill Sauce and Mango Strawberry Salad

I have a few days off next week and will be road tripping in the south predominantly the Asheville North Carolina area- for some hiking and biking. I will most likely not be posting and therefore have` dug up this lengthy post about a wedding I attended last June. I know its old, but being as my audience is much larger then when I first started the blog, I have taken to editing my very good classic posts and bringing them to the new fans who may not be in tune with my best stuff. I personally love this post, mostly because its my favorite way to write- through stream of consciousness.

Situated neatly between my lightly breaded salmon and the unexciting spinach salad featuring wilted spinach and some fruits for garnish lies the lone sauce for these two appetizers. The debate is raging in my head, does the salmon or salad deserve this lone condiment- maybe the salad is lightly dressed but invisible because the dressing lies under the stack of wilted leaves and succulent strawberry chunks. Is it possible that during the pre-platting madness one of the workers forgot to dress my salad- sneaking peaks out of my periphery confirms this to be false. How to proceed- I have waited all day for this meal- and want to enjoy it to its fullest. The salmon will just have to share itself with the salad, I think, as I spear the salmon with my small fork and carefully smear a small portion of the mustard concoction that waits silently in the little cup on my plate. Hmm…mustard goes well with this dry piece of breaded salmon- I wonder why the traditional frummy salmon with dill sauce is not present at this rather frummy event? Is it possible that since it is in Canada, these Jews have not yet caught on to the food fads that have kept New York Jewish cooks in the gridlock of only trying one recipe every few years- this cant be since the salad does resemble the ever present green leafy veggies with chunks of mangoes and strawberries- when this recipe became popular it was an instant hit at shalom zachor’s and vorts’ all around the tri-state area, but then the repetativeness set in- they serve it everywhere now- sometimes with those thinly sliced almond slivers sometimes without depending on the community- In Tanack they favor the almond slivers while in Monsey they favor cashews.

My mustard sauce is running low and I still haven’t reached the wilted spinach GASP- a rarity to see this exotic iron filled veggie at frum events since the amount of work needed to rid it of bugs is astronomical- I can tell the power washing must have been extreme based on the lack of veins in this particular leaf- the power washers have de-veined my spinach. Now I know what the marchers in Selma felt like as they were so rudely power washed by the police. Better now then never I think as i spear a red onion with a strawberry chunk and a sad looking spinach leaf, dipping it into the mustard sauce ever so conscious of my rations running low- my mind wonders to our brave service men and women fighting in the Middle East- must they sit and debate whether to use the catchup’s they have received with their MRE’s on the Salisbury steak or mashed potatoes, or are they given enough to suffice both important condiment needing foods- must they sit and have philosophical condiment debates in their heads while ducking for cover from shrapnel and RPG’s?

A hand is thrust in my face followed by a hearty shalom aleichim- looking up from my rather ugly smeared concoction of wilted spinach, salmon debris, and mustard smear I see a man of about 50 with a long gray albeit messy beard and a bekish looking me squarely in the eyes. He says his name but I instantly forget this piece of information, as if my ear drums were merely tickled but did not feel this information to be of importance when the brain was debating the ration of smear per salmon chunk and spinach leaf. I am pleasantly surprised that someone of this look would bother introducing themselves to me without asking me 3 or 4 personal questions before this anglo custom- to try and start a high stakes game of Jewish Geography.

Nope no Jewish Geography here- just some guy commenting on the band- which was quite good- they started at the smoargasboard with some bluegrass/Jewgrass- an interesting combination of electric fiddle, the traditional saxophone and some 80s pop beats like something from Michael Jackson or Genesis. The band was now toned down playing light jazz in the back round serenading the salmon and mustard. After some small talk I find out to my excitement that this man taught HS in the ghetto of Philly for 36 years- history, economics and politics. Yay someone interesting to talk to. “would you like some dressing for your salad”? A small brown man asks me in broken Canadian/ English- damnit I at my damned salad already- all that was left was more resembling a compost pile of discarded stems, lemon pits and slamon skins. Why thank you sir I respond as I quickly grab the un-touched plate to my right and tell him to keep pouring the second he stops the flow of this succulent balsamic vinaigrette. I have been blessed with unlimited supplies of dressing to fulfill my mission. No more will this salmon be compromised and no more will the wilted frummy salad go undressed- tznius salads will reign again as well as the proper amount of smeared condiment on this dead sea creature.

The table is starting to fill up with older gray bearded men. I of course forgot to send my RSVP card in and had to sit in my friends seat- he had a flight back to Vancouver. Upon entering the room I noticed the table- tucked into the far corner- the reject table- my friend knows the father of the bride but through some wierd way. You never know with grey bearded folks at yeshivish events, could go either way. Could become a kichel, herring, yiddish speaking reaching over you to grab the last pickle kinda thing- or could be of the “old school” Jewish Geography- this happens when one or more of the people seated figure out they are related, lived on the same block in Boro Park as kids, or went to the same yeshiva as you- My father frequently encounters these kind of things- all men who grew up in Boro Park must go through this regurgitating of post war memories once every couple of years.

“Did you say you lived on 44th and 13th”?

“Uh I think my cousin lived on that block- you know next to hymies kishke’s”

“oh yeh I remember I think, bernstein right”?

“No that was the other one”

Its funny I have noticed that the more right wing religiously you are the less table manners you have. Yeshivish people tend to use the knife sometimes- the napkin never goes on the lap and sometimes goes unused. Chasidim will grab from the pickle plate without even bothering with serving forks- its custom- go to some Rebbe’s Tishe’s- manners are like preetzus.

My manners are on and off, even though I am wielding my fork and knife and have placed the napkin on my lap- I have decided to join the fress fest taking place at my table- another man across the table is saying a hello to me- He immediately asks me where I am from, he chooses to forgo the age old anglo custom of handshaking and name asking- he jumps right in expecting me to start throwing names out and he throwing them back. This is not his day I think as I tell where I am from. His excited smile turns to a frown- as if the fault line of his face went from calm and ready to receive to a mass fury of tectonic plates banging up against each other trying to figure out how to continue. He stares blankly at me- no he apparently didn’t know the earth kept going after Rockland County- I decide to prevent this tzar belly chaim any longer, and throw him a bone. I am actually originally from NY I pipe in before the discomfort becomes too extreme. He is probably thinking that his last awkward silence should have been 52 years ago sipping DR. Browns Celery soda with his current wife on their first shidduch at Coney Island. The intense spate of Jewish Geography immediately follows- with others joining in on the action.

The band all of the sudden bursts from the cool mellow sounds of Coltrane to this Rocky theme song melody signaling the returning bride and groom, drowning out all chatter and directing our attention to the dance floor beginning to fill up with drunken yeshiva guys doing the light bulb dance. I am left staring at my half eaten second plate of salmon and wilted spinach- the dance floor is kicking up and someone grabs me to join in the madness. Every revolution of the circle brings me trying to catch a glimpse of the fully done up ladies across the 8 foot high mechitza, but to no avail, I cannot see, I can only hear shrieks of joy. Out of the corner of my eye I see the soup guys coming around and quickly embark on the journey between drunken dancers to reach my awaiting soup before they happen to skip my seat. A bowl of orangish, steaming, thick, veggieless soup is sitting at ease upon my safe arrival back at my table. Ah Butternut squash, good choice- out of season but still not bad- the challah goes really well with this New England winter root vegetable soup. Baked butternut squash with a pinch of nutmeg cinnamon and olive oil- hmm reminds me of thanksgiving meals- well actually the last 4 thanksgiving meals were cliff bars on the ski lift in Vermont.

The main meal of weddings is always uncomfortable- the smoargasboard can be spent mulling over whether to fill up on the chicken or meat dishes and staring at the kallahs friends- so to can the older folks just socialize with their friends and wander about aimlessly from carving table to crudite dish. Not so at the main meal- for 3 hours you are thrust onto a table with 8 people you have never met and will never talk to again- during this time depending on the frumminess of the event you will have to share the pickle tray, seltzer bottle and leg room with these strangers who’s only interest in you is calculating how much seltzer they can take without being too rude. Well if my cup is half full and theres only enough left for four people can I refill?

For some like myself who know about three people beside the choson this is either extremely uncomoforting or a time of extreme pensive observation. Just like the chuppah never gets boring because every time is different, the meal can offer some excitement other then overly good looking but horribly tasting food- when my father comes home from a wedding he always speaks of the food- as if all we Jews care about is the food- the kallah could have trip on her way to the chuppah and fell into the wedding cake- my father would still talk of the food first. The chuppah should really be before the smoargasboard- all that silence and tehilim uttering makes people really jittery- after the chuppah imagine being able to go to the smoarg on that silence filled mind and empty stomach. Instead old gaseous men must hold it in and yiddishe mamalas must stop their chatter during this time only to be once again thrust into the awkward unknown of the main meal. Maybe its just me but sitting there at the chuapph silently awaiting the holy matrimony always makes me think of all the stupid embarrassing things I could get up and do- the #1 on my mind and I am sure many peoples, though it shant be uttered is the drunken friend jumping up durring the walk down and screaming “dude your gonna get laid”, but no we never do it, or even to sneak in a last bear hug of your friends single life. No we sit there thinking this but no one dare make a move- I do have a feeling if weddings were cheap Las Vegas type affairs it could happen, but who wants to ruin $30,000 event?

The dancing has become one of those semi-break dance fancy yeshivish moves dancing things. I don’t know , not really my things but its funny when this huge man/young adult type dude starts break dancing- his man boobs are gracefully flowing along with his massive body- he has wonderful moves- flowing along- his fat wobbling around as he does this rave move with his hands flying in all directions very rhythmically. He is huge but proud- you see fatness is not about looks, its about attitude. I met this rather overweight girl when I was in Israel on a 5 month mountain biking trip/yeshiva. This girl was awesome and sought after by many people- because she acted like her fatness was not her- she had great attitude and was super fun to chill with. Fat people rock- oops curvy, voluptuous, overweight, obese, belemically challenged. Yes we have become absurdly politically correct so we shall not offend- everyone is offended by something. If someone calls me normal I am extremely offended.

The teacher is describing to my table mates that Orthodox Jews Existed long before Samson Rapheal Hirsch- he just quantified it into a name- sort of how Presely discovered oxygen only by identifying it and naming it. Really these two items existed before- they were just unidentified. The unatentaive group looks about as excited as a straight man at a drag show. I am at full attention- he continues, the Greek word for right is ortho and for way is dox. He has made my night with this dvar of useless information that can use next time I need to scare off a potential girl. He does not realize they are not interested and goes on to say that this is the 300th birthday of Ben Franklin. I am thoroughly impressed with this messy bearded regular looking frummy. Not only does he look regular he looks like he would have no idea who Ben Franklin was. No this proud Philadelphian knows his American heritage well.

Ths shtick has started- oh how exciting to see talented frummies, juggling fire, break dancing, and trying to impersonate Saturday Night Fever Moves. Reluctantly I agree to my backpacking shtick buddies to role on in and perform some bike tricks in the center. I have never done this before- but it is misameach choson V’kallah and my buddy the choson is extremely happy I have done this- if I dont make it to the wedding video I will be pissed.

The dn of the wedding is always sad- trying to pack in as much as possible at the lavish overflowing desert table I sneak to the womens side which has Strawberry shortcake- man the discrimination at frum events. How dare they not serve the beloved shortcake to the men? Is the color red merely a womens color- hey isnt red an untznius color? What we get stuck with mud pie and kiwi- equal opportunity regards to food as well. Its like this at shalom zachors as well. The womens sections always features the most lavish, grease laden, buttered up, fattening deserts, they lay on the womens side waiting for the initial slicing which never comes. The women sit and shmooze rarely lifting a fork filled with one of these lovely carb nightmares. At the end of the night when the coast is clear and I can venture over I am disgusted to constantly find beautiful virgin cakes waiting for their martyr. There is never quite 70 virgin cakes but just as well- pecan pies, lemon meringue and strawberry shortcakes can constantly be found awaiting their first insertation of the knife by the sneaky men at the long grueling end of shalom zachors every where. Meanwhile the men must crunch of white baby cookies, melon slices and chick peas. Is this fair I ask of you?

My stomach on the verge of explosion begging me to please “don’t go back to the desert table”, the brain arguing with the stomach “you know right when we leave your going to start your growling again”. The brain- obviously not the common sense part wins- scarfing down some pleasantly non-acidic tasting pineapple chunks- as my gastrointestinal tract gets ready to receive and expel. The sea of drunken yeshiva guys and old bearded fellows has shrunk to the good friends starting a kumzits around the grand piano where the father of the kallah is hammering away some jazz tunes on the grand piano with gusto. It seems as if we are at one of those waspy events at the country club that still doesnt admit Jews and we are about to break into “for he’s a jolly good fellow”.

The band has stopped and this waspy kumzits is in its last throes. The tables have been cleared and the large print benchers dedicated to mothers are distributed. I grab 5 for my ever complaining of small print, father, he’ll appreciate this free but helpful gift.