Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Domestication of Murray and Other Meshugas

When asked over the years if I cooked, Gilda usually replied, nine times out of ten I could boil water—maybe. I would respond, Gilda and I had a mutual-partition-of-domestic-labor-pact: she would cook, we’d both enjoy the gourmet meals she prepared, I would be in charge of setting the table and cleaning up the dishes and pots and pans. 

The arrangement worked fairly well from my perspective for 40 years, but change is afoot. Given Gilda’s work schedule which includes waking up at 5:18 am, I have been conscripted into the meal preparation corps. Tuesday night was our first dinner at Maison Murray, Cucina Murray, Bistro Murray or just plain Murray’s Kitchen. We dined on broiled salmon, baked potatoes garnished with butter and sour cream, and steamed broccoli. We don’t eat dessert, as a rule, unless you count after-dinner pills as a treat. 

Tonight’s pre-tennis menu includes cheese blintzes and salad. 

Don’t think my cooking exploits know no bounds. I’m very much the neophyte chef in the kitchen, though I’ve put together a list of some dozen meals to rotate into our Monday through Thursday repasts. I’m writing down detailed instructions for each dish, making sure we have a balance of protein, starch and vegetable. 

This is a brave step for me, though not entirely a new world as I cooked for myself while in graduate school at Syracuse University. In my garret of an apartment in an old Victorian-style house on East Genesee Street, I would cook tuna casserole, meat loaf and anything else that would fit into a toaster oven. I also learned to drink beer, really drink beer. My friend and classmate Steve Kreinberg introduced me to Lum’s, a chain of family restaurants whose signature dish was hot dogs cooked in beer. I preferred their basket of fried shrimp, but what made a visit to Lum’s special was the frosted mugs used to serve the beer. To commemorate those days I keep a few mugs frosting away in the freezer. 

This Is Crazy: I'm always amused when gentiles try to speak Yiddish. They never get the intonation right. For example, instead of a guttural, growly “chutzpah” that conveys the indignant reproach of the speaker, it usually comes out as a soft “hutzpah,” a kind of “oh, really” quality to the put down.

Incorporating Yiddish in one’s writing isn't easy, either. Take Maureen Dowd’s attempt in her column last Sunday for The NY Times. Analyzing Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential prospects, Dowd wrote, “Her challenge is to get into the future and stay there, adding fresh people and perspectives and leaving the Clinton mishegoss (italics added) and cheesiness in the past.”

When I first read this I chuckled. I wondered how many non-Jews would realize she meant to say “meshugas,” the Yiddish word for craziness. I was all set to lambaste her for failing to correctly spell meshugas when I decided to do some checking and came across the following 2009 article from The Jewish Daily Forward ( 

For those not willing to jump on the link, here’s a precis: It seems Dowd had previously used the meshugas spelling but was chastened by Times columnist and wordsmith William Safire that the correct spelling was mishegoss. Safire might have been the only one to believe that, but his stature was sufficient for Dowd to follow his example. 

The lesson to be learned from this—before criticizing, it’s a good idea to check as many facts as possible. Thank you Google and the Internet.

Mr. Lucky: I consider myself fortunate not to be in school these days, not when technology enables teachers to monitor a student’s reading and study habits ( From high school on, I was a lousy student. I received good grades in subjects I was interested in, but not because I read the course material. I was just hard-wired, or lucky enough, to know the answers in subjects ranging from history to English to elementary sciences. 

I’d be in real trouble if my grades depended on whether I was reading the assignments. 

For Shame: There’s no doubt Margaret Thatcher was a polarizing figure, not just in British politics but throughout the world, as well. I find it shameful, however, that while media baron Rupert Murdoch praised the former prime minister for being "undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the 20th century. I found her attitude an inspiration in my business life,” he allowed his British tabloid paper, The Sun, to trumpet her passing with the following headline: “Maggie Dead In Bed At Ritz.” 

How tawdry. How lacking in respect. How shameful.