Thoughts on Being Jew-ish

Last Sunday, I participated in a Jewish Food Festival. I taught two workshops, one on making jam with honey, and another about quick pickles (the room overflowed in that one). I also sat in the marketplace and sold books when I wasn’t teaching. And I thought a lot about my own connection with Jewishness.

My mother is Jewish, which means I am too. However, she grew up in a family that was strictly secular and so during my childhood, my exposure to Judaism was limited to the All of a Kind Family books and the Passover Seders hosted by our Unitarian church.

When I was 22, I moved to Philadelphia and started to reconnect with my Jewish relatives. I gathered with them for Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover, and learned to make the right food (I am our official brisket maker). I still don’t know any of the appropriate Hebrew prayers, but I have always figured that silence works just as well.

Most of the time, I feel like being Jewish is an established part of my identity. The only time I feel less so? When I’m in a large meeting room full of Jews. This is in part because I don’t have any outward markers of Jewishness. I have straight light brown hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. When my sister and I were young, strangers would often ask our dark haired, olive-skinned mother if we were adopted. My last name is McClellan. There is nothing about me that communicates the fact that I am half Ashkenazi Jew.

On Sunday, after I’d taught my workshops and was back at my table in the marketplace, one of the women who had sat through my pickling workshop walked up to buy a book. She chatted excitedly about how much she had enjoyed the demonstration and how much she was looking forward to going home and making pickles.

After she bought a book and I’d signed it, she looked at my quizzically and asked, “So. McClellan. How did you wind up at a Jewish Food Festival?” I explained, “My mom is Jewish. Before she got married, her name was Susan Klein.”

I could see her scanning my face, searching for features that could back up my claim. She must have seen something that satisfied her, because she let out a small Ah! and gave me an even brighter smile.

Of course, the welcome in that smile raises a whole host of other issues for me (chief among them being the fact that I chafe at the idea of one group being a Chosen People), but in the moment a part of me was soothed by the acknowledgement.

 

Lessons from a Six Month Book Tour

empty jar

Preserving by the Pint has now been out for nearly three months and I’ve been promoting it actively since March 14 (a whopping 11 days before it was “officially” published).

The lessons from this book cycle have been many. As I am perched at the mid-point of the tour, I thought I’d take a few minutes to write down some of what I have learned in the hopes that I don’t have to learn these exact things again.

  • Free grocery store demos aren’t a good use of my time. They take up at least half a day and no matter how much I smile and offer samples of jam, I end up talking to just a few people and selling no more than four copies of the book.
  • People will sign up for classes at grocery stores like Whole Foods, but it’s time to stop doing them for free.
  • Farmers markets, on the other hand, are nearly always a success, particularly in the earlier part of the season.
  • A morning show demo a day before a farmers market is an amazing way to move 40+ books in a 2-4 hour period.
  • Libraries almost always make good partners. Best of all, they often have programming budgets (and even if they don’t, I still like supporting what they do).
  • Whenever possible, include a copy of the book in the price of an event.
  • Contact bookstores at least four months in advance of the tour.
  • Before pulling away from an event, make sure to inventory all equipment. This prevents me from leaving behind frying pans and wide mouth funnels.
  • Unless I’m traveling through a distant part of the country on a dedicated tour, no week should contain more than 4-5 events.
  • If a weekend has events on both days, commit to taking off either Monday or Friday. Otherwise it stops being fun.
  • Remember that it’s okay to say no. It is impossible to make everyone happy all the time. And when I try to please the world, I am the one who suffers.
  • Pay heed to the gut. If someone approaches with an excessively pushy attitude or treats me without basic respect, do not work with them. It will not be fun.
  • Remember that not every waking hour should be a working hour. Leave time to live, read, eat, and move.

On a Crazy Book Tour

on the road

I think about this blog a lot, but I just never manage to get over here. That photo project I started in January became impossible to maintain. At first, it got boring because my wintertime life is so quiet and contained. Then things picked up speed and while my daily life became more interesting (and intense), it became increasing hard to remember to bring the camera along to capture those moments.

So we fast forward three months and I find myself sitting in a relatively swank hotel room in Atlanta, trying to soak up as much possible wifi (because I paid $18.95 for the privilege of getting online) before I have to dash downstairs and check out.

I’m here because I’m on a book tour to promote my new cookbook (if you follow my behemoth blog, you’re well aware of the goings on). Last night I talked to a crowd of 150 people, which was intensely surreal and so much fun. I cracked jokes about botulism and signed more than 100 books. It was a really good night.

More soon. Maybe.

January 26

January 26

My mom taught me to knit when I was seven or eight years old. She had briefly considered sending me to Waldorf school and so I spent a day at one nearish to our house. I quickly realized it wasn’t for me, but I was intrigued by all the crafting and making that the kids did there. And so we went to a knitting shop, picked out some needles and yarn, and after a couple quick lessons, I was off.

I never knit anything particularly useful. I was the queen of long, unblocked swaths that we eventually turned into scarves for my teddy bears and dolls. But I liked it and kept at it until other activities captured my interest.

For the last several years, I’ve been saying that I was in need of a new hobby (since I turned my last one into a career). I had my eye on knitting, but was weirdly hesitant to try it. I think part of it came from the fact that it’s been a long time since I started something new. In most aspects of my life, I’m the expert, not the beginner. And since I was so unaccustomed to being uncertain and a little scared to dive in, I just stayed away entirely.

I decided back in the fall that 2014 was going to be my knitting year and so when a website called Slugs on the Refrigerator announced that they were hosting a month-long online knitting camp this January, I decided to buy the kit and join up.

And honestly, it’s been really great. The basics of knit and purl came back almost immediately (hooray for muscle memory). I used some YouTube tutorials to relearn how to cast on and to figure out some of the new-to-me ways of reducing the piece. And I just keep reminding myself that any discomfort I feel in being a beginner is good for my brain (new neural pathways, and all).

So far, I’ve made two hats (and a long, meandering swatch that was just for practice). The first hat is a little bit of a wreck, but I learned a lot from it and I feel pretty darn good about the second one. I made it for Scott in his chosen colors of blue and orange (there’s no school affiliation there, just an affinity for those shades) and even adapted the pattern a tiny bit to suit.

I don’t think that I’m going to become someone who knits everything, all the time, but I’m really enjoying it at this pace. It’s fun to make useable things that aren’t edible and it’s nice to have something else to do while watching TV besides answering email.

January 25

January 25

The American Library Association held their mid-winter conference in Philadelphia over the weekend and thanks to my publisher, I got a pass to the meetings and exhibition floor. I bought a show floor pass for Scott and we spent most of this afternoon wandering around, meeting authors and picking up review and giveaway copies of new books. I wasn’t particularly discriminating and picked up nearly everything that remotely interested me. Of course, we have enough unread books in our apartment to last us both a decade or more, but there’s such excitement and potential in a new book that neither of us could resists.

January 24

January 24

My apartment used to belong to my grandparents. Through a strange twist of fate, I inherited it and all it contained when I was 23. One of the things that came with it was this roll of plastic wrap. I finally used it up today. It only took me 12 years. I guess I’m not much of a plastic wrap user.

January 22

January 22

Scott’s office was closed because of the weather (a foot of snow in Center City!) and so harnessed a little bit of the unexpected day at home to put up a knife strip that has been sitting in a corner of our dining room for at least three years. It was very satisfying (and now I can see in a single glance that I have an embarrassing number of paring knives).