Thursday, December 29, 2011

Issa Cooks: Stuffed Shells!

As much as I love cooking, during the school year, it's often hard to find the time to make something new and delicious every night. Hence, Kraft Mac and Cheese becomes my nightly staple.  As much as I love the psychedelic pseudo-cheese covered noodles, I found another recipe that takes slightly longer to make, but also has protein, veggies, and almost tastes better left over! 
Stuffed Shells Ingredients:

1 Box Jumbo Shells (16oz)
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Chopped Garlic
1 Can of (Organic) Whole Peeled Tomatoes
12oz Ricotta Cheese
1 Package Frozen Spinach
1 Package Baby Bella Mushrooms
Italian Seasonings
Salt & Pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Heat six quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Add salt to taste.  

To make sauce:

Heat olive oil in a frying pan on medium flame and add a few teaspoons of garlic (to taste).  Stir until garlic is golden brown. Lower the flame and add in the entire can of tomatoes- beware of splattering! Stir until garlic has mixed in with tomatoes and add Italian Seasonings to taste.  Feel free to throw in fresh basil, if available.  Simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.   

Once the tomato mixture has come to a slow boil, transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor, or a blender, which works equally as well.  Pulse on high until the sauce is completely smooth. 

Transfer the sauce back to the pan and simmer on low heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  

Add jumbo shells to the boiling water.  Add a few shakes of salt to bring out the flavor of the pasta. Cook according to the al dente directions on the box.  The noodles need to be firm! 

Defrost the spinach in the microwave.  Chop the mushrooms to desired size.  Mix vegetables with ricotta cheese in a large bowl and add a few shakes of italian seasoning for flavor.  

Drain and rinse the noodles in cold water until they're cool enough to touch.  Return to the pot.  Pour the pan of sauce into the bottom of a large glass baking pan.  You're ready to stuff! (Which is not an activity conducive to taking pictures or texting...)  Layer two noodles together and stuff with a heaping teaspoon of cheese mixture.  Set into the baking pan.  Fill baking pan with rows of noodles.  

When the pan is full, sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of shells and bake for 15 minutes.  Broil for 5 more minutes for a crispy topping, and dinner/lunch for the next week is ready! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Things to Brag About: Bagels

As a Jewish New Yorker, I've had my fair share of bagels:  toasted, rainbow, lox and shmear: you name it, I've devoured it.  Whether consumed before an avid study session or after a late night out in the city, it's pretty hard to beat a New York bagel.

Enter Bagelsmith:  The tastiest, happiest Bagel shop in town (if you count Williamsburg, Brooklyn as town, which I do).  Originally discovered as a place to satisfy my late night munchies with a few equally hungry friends, this bagel shop right off of the L train at Lorimer lives me thrilled each and every visit.

As this isn't an Inside New York review, I'll keep this post quick and simple:  Bagelsmith is the best! It's open 24 hours, the staff always willing to entertain your jokes, no matter what hour of the night or what state of conciousness you may be in, and you're sure to meet equally enthused Williamsburg bar hoppers while waiting for your delicious sandwich.  The dance music in the restaurant and it's proximity to Metropolitan isn't bad either...

Hence, the reason for this post.  I brought a new crew to Bagelsmith last night, and was thrilled that they copied my perfect sandwich, which I'll share here with reasons of generosity and wanting to improve the world:

Sesame bagel toasted with an egg, swiss cheese, tomato, avocado, and sprouts.  $4.00 (plus or minus some change)  Yeah, it's kind of amazing.

Enjoying the epic Bagelsmith sandwich at 2:30am.

Song of the Day: "Arms" - Cristina Perri

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Issa Cooks: Issa Spaghetti

Farfalle a la Issa!
My love for pasta goes completely unmatched.  And while I love any and every type of pasta, nothing beats a warm bowl of Issa Spaghetti on a crisp autumn day. The recipe is based off of a cooking class I took with Art Smith years ago, but I have yet to use measuring equipment and professional culinary proportions... It's quick, easy, and overwhelmingly delicious.  Don't expect accurate proportions, it's more of a touchy-feely- taste-as-you-go recipe:


Spaghetti (but any pasta shape works)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Can Crushed Tomatoes
Garlic (fresh or pre-chopped)
Olives (Black or Kalamata)
Red Pepper Flakes
Salt and Pepper
Italian Seasoning

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.  Add a few pinches of salt to the water to bring out the flavor of the pasta. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet.  When you can feel the heat with your hands a few inches above the pan, add garlic (to taste).  Once the garlic turns a golden brown, pour the entire can of crushed tomatoes in and stir.  Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and seasonings.  If using fresh basil, tear it in rather than cut it, to prevent the oxidation of the leaves and keep them tasting fresh!  I sadly killed my basil plant, so dried basil was the next best choice.  Reduce heat to low in order to avoid splattering.

Drain and rinse the olives.  I prefer chopping them to spread the flavor out in the sauce. Also, to prevent me from eating the entire can before cooking...  Add olives and a few spoonfuls of capers.  Stir all ingredients together. (Now's a great time to sample a spoonful of sauce and decide if you want to add more red pepper or garlic-- the longer it cooks with the seasonings, the better it tastes!

When the water is rapidly boiling, add your pasta. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the pasta for the time alloted on the box.  Make sure to follow the "al dente" instructions- it's better that way! When you can bite into the pasta, yet still feel a slight crisp to the center, your pasta is perfectly al dente!  Drain and rinse. Return pasta to the pot and drizzle with olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other; stir and cover until the sauce is ready...

Your sauce is ready!  At this point, the tomatoes should have absorbed the flavors of the spices and the sauce will have a slight spiciness to it!

Serve pasta with sauce on top and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

That's it- cheap, quick, and delicious!

Bon Apetito!

Song of the Day: "Whatever You Like" - Anya Marina (Cover)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Issa Cooks: Fried Rice

I may live with a chef, but that certainly doesn't make me one.  I'm not a bad cook, per se, in fact, I'm actually really good at everything, as you must already know.  When it comes to cooking, I find myself impatient- why waste time standing in the kitchen when I can have delicious food delivered directly to my door any hour of the day? I prefer to be out and about at fabulous events like dessert tastings and movie premieres and gallery openings and avoid all the messiness of making my own meals.  I'm highly guilty of burning a grilled cheese left on the skillet while I apply mascara in my bedroom, boiling macaroni to a mush while I straighten and style my hair, charring popcorn in the microwave as I quickly read through the newest New Yorker on the couch.

This being said, I've also made delicious foods that would make Padma Lakshimi's mouth water, but I've learned that the most important ingredient in a recipe is patience.  And somehow, last night, I was feeling inspired to hang up mid-phone-call to Panda Restaurant and attempt to make my very own fried rice.  Some people may see cooking as a science, but I see it as more of an art, below is my very non-specific, do what you like if it makes you happy recipe.

Tip: Don't drop your iPhone in the frying pan.  It may be made in China, but it certainly doesn't belong in Chinese food...


Rice (I didn't measure, but maybe 2 cups)
1 Jalapeño Pepper
1 Can of Baby Corn
Handful of Edamame (no shells)
Mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
Green Beans
3 Eggs
Salt & Pepper
Soy Sauce
Sesame Oil
Vegetable Oil

Chop any vegetables that aren't already chopped.  I may have cheated on this one and just laid them out on a cutting board for a pretty picture... 

Start off by cooking the rice. 

Crack the eggs in a bowl, sprinkle salt and pepper on top, and scramble them.

Heat sesame oil in a large frying pan.

When the oil is hot, sauté your vegetables. Once they're just about cooked, sprinkle with soy sauce, remove from pan and put in a bowl.  

When the rice is done cooking, fluff it with a fork so that it doesn't clump together.  You'll thank me later.  

After cooking all of your vegetables, scramble the egg over low heat.  Make sure to do this last to it soaks up all the yummy leftover vegetable juices!

Break the cooked egg into pieces and add it to the vegetables in the bowl.  Heat more oil in the pan and cover it with a thin layer of rice.  Wait until it sizzles and then stir.

Add soy sauce to rice and remove from pan once it's fried to your preference...

Mix veggie and egg combo with the rice and fry it all together.  Delicious!

Voila! Fried rice!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy Happy Fathers Day!

In honor of Fathers Day (I’m a little belated putting this up, I know)  I thought I’d list some of the reasons I’m like my dad… He called me the other day to tell me how much he loved my blog and wishes he could write one like it (note: compliments via phone/text/gchat/fchat/ichat are always excepted…) and while he might not be blogging any time soon, here’s one for him:

Happy Happy!

We both love taking out-of-the-way routes to see our old homes.  Since we moved out of my first house in 1998, my dad has found any and every reason to drive past it on the way to our current house.  While this always annoyed me, I now find myself taking rather indirect routes to walk/bike past my old buildings in New York.  Do I lose a few minutes everyday?  Perhaps.  But the warm memories attached to my old homes are completely worth it.  I guess I can see why we took so many detours during Hebrew school carpool…
We keep everything. Our house could possibly be on Hoarders.  My dad has kept his childhood stuffed dog for over fifty years (despite my mom's repeated attempts to throw it away), while I still sleep with mine, I’m sure he won’t be far for the rest of my life.  He also keeps old papers, college books, newspapers, VHS tapes, etc etc.  The area below my bed is a scary zone.  Not only do I have birthday cards, class notes, and photos from years long before I ever lived in New York, I also have a grand collection of passed notes, scraps of yarn, receipts, and so much more.  It’ll all be worth a lot one day when I become the world’s most famous blogger!

We both eat a little too much.  My mom refers to my dad as “the human garbage disposal” because he never hesitates to help finish dinner leftovers or empty out the fridge when it needs cleaning.  I too, won’t refuse extra food, as long as it’s vegetarian, kosher, onion-free, and the proper temperature, of course.

We’re both Cory’s best friend.  If you ask the dog, you may get a slightly different answer, but both of us share a special friendship with that adorable fifteen-pound poodle.  Also, we both just love dogs, perhaps a little more than people, never hesitating to talk to one on the street. 
We both like to create our own recipes.  I may not always agree with his menu choices, and he may not always find my concoctions delicious, but we both have faith in our own cooking skills.  I enjoy his “Eggs Dada” (eggs with more cheese than anything else) and he likes my vegetarian meat lasagna, so we balance each other pretty well. 

We may both be considered workaholics.  Perhaps this doesn’t sound so positive, but when I call my dad we can easily sympathize over how we always have to do everything in the office and we’re working 24/7.  Let’s not forget he’s 30+ years older than I… 

We both love photography.  My dad is infamous for his “happy happy” which he exclaims before shooting one of hundreds of photos, wherever we are (vacation, family party, cleaning the basement).  I proudly won the “Click and Don’t Tell” award at the last Culties convention, for my superb documentation of the group’s adventures. 

And finally,

We both think I would look great with a nose ring.  (It’s worth a try….) 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trippin': Best of the Midwest

This past week I went on my first ever road trip!  (Family driving vacations, as fun as they are, not included, for obvious reasons).

After many years of Girl Scout camping trips, it has always been a dream of ours to take a Culties road trip.  Unfortunately, in the past few years, we have become more geographically distant than many of us would like to be, and having everyone in the same place at the same time is nearly impossible.

However, when a few of us found ourselves overlapping for a few days at home, it only made sense to scurry across the Midwest and see what kind of trouble we could find. 

Only after about an hour of driving south on the Toll way, my mom’s suggestion as there was major construction on the highway (who knew?!)  we realized that a) we didn’t know where the highway was, b) we didn’t have a map, a compass, GPS, or really any way to know where we were going!  But, not a problem, Girl Scouts are always prepared, and the three of us were confident in our navigational skills. 

“Look!” I exclaimed as I pointed from the front seat to a blue sign with an H in it, “The highway! We found it!” 
My friends collapsed in laughter.  Turns out, this means Hospital, not highway. 

Guess I shouldn’t have doodled and daydreamed my way through driver’s ed.  

At this point, I should probably mention that at no point in this entire journey was I behind the wheel.  I shriek at the sight of a truck in my rearview mirror, the radio easily distracts me from changing traffic signals, so no, the life of my friends was not going to be put in my hands. 
Beautiful Midwestern landscape. 
But this was what was so special about our trip:  we each have our own special qualities that bring us closer together: humor, patience, bravery, a sense of direction, and spending countless hours in a car together forced us to bond even quicker, to take advantage of each other’s talents and utilize our strengths to get to our final destination. 

We made up a license plate game to keep us entertained when miles of cornfields seemed almost unbearable (Midwest = 1 point, South = 2 points, West = 3 points, East = 4 points, Canada = 10 points, Hawaii or Alaska win the game).  I highly recommend it, but be forewarned, it gets competitive when you spot Oregon simultaneously!

Queens of the Midwest!
We made playlists of our favorite old and new music, sang the entire Dreamgirls soundtrack, reminisced about our times dancing to Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, and learned all the words to Ellie Goulding’s newest album. 

We saved a dog’s life, made quirky and interesting new friends, tried local cuisine (read: various fried foods), learned about the imprecise albeit fascinating history of Route 66, debated whether wearing boating shoes made it a cruise instead of a road trip, kept each other constantly entertained, stayed dry at a zoo in the rain, and so much more. 

While the trip was short, it was so memorable.  We could have been in the middle of nowhere (and we pretty much were, for the most part Southern Illinois/Missouri are not epicenters of excitement) but we had each other for everything we could ever need.  Having best friends is the absolute best.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cory & Me

"If aliens are watching this through telescopes, they're gonna think
the dogs are the leaders. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a
poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume was in charge?" –Jerry Seinfeld
Disclaimer: I recently saw a play, “No More Dead Dogs” in which high schoolers protest reading books about dogs because they always die in the end.  This post is NOT like that.  
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted a dog. I brought my stuffed dog, Fluffy, pretty much everywhere, until he was covered in paint and far less furry than when he’d received his fitting name. 

From the time I could read, I was checking out books about breeds, and training, and talking dogs from the library, often bragging to the librarian that I would receive a fluffy red Cock-a-Poo for my next birthday. I got a hot pink Furby instead.

My dad had been raised with poodles, my mom, on the other hand, was not a dog lover, and determined that cleaning up after two kids was enough. Given my inability to do laundry, I guess I have to concur. 

In third grade, my best friend got her ears pierced after proving to her parents that she could keep her room clean for six weeks, the amount of time she’d need to dedicate to cleaning her piercings. I tried this same tactic, but to no avail. 

By now, I had Woof at my side and decided that fake dog walks down the street, using a jump rope as a leash and a ribbon as a collar would prove my responsibility, my determination to have a jumpy, barking, pettable creature greet me at the door when I returned home from school and to sit on my lap when I watched TV. 

Best of both worlds. 

Better than the Furby, my parents decided to reward my efforts with two hamsters, Fluffy and Lucky. I screamed in horror whenever they came near me. Their cage smelled awful. Their toys went unused. Lucky bit Fluffy’s ear off and eventually bit my finger as well. Fluffy died of a stomach tumor, Lucky was released into the ravine behind our house shortly after. 

It may sound cruel, but I wanted a canine, not a rodent.

At this point, I was prepared to enlist my younger brother in the quest for a dog, and he readily started finding adoptable puppies on the Internet and facts on Retrievers and Labradors and mixed breeds. 

Sadly enough, my dreams had not been realized by my birthday and my dear friend decided to get me a “grow-a-frog” as a gift.  The Number One rule of gift giving is never give anything living.  If it’s not, it should be.  The adorable tadpole in the kit soon grew into a cute frog that needed tedious water changes to prevent foul odors from overwhelming my bedroom. This was not exactly what I imagined as a dream pet. 

One evening during a particularly tragic water-changing event, my dad accidently put hot water instead of cold into the tank, boiling my pet into soup and causing a flow of tears that could have filled the tank with the cold water necessary for frog survival.  My dad felt terrible and promised that the next afternoon after synagogue we could discuss getting a puppy. 

Much to my luck, the second frog I had sent away for arrived in the mail that afternoon and all hopes of having a dog were lost.  This frog reeked worse than the first, croaked louder when I was sleeping, and was an all around creepier amphibian to have in my daily life.  After years of desperately asking friends to babysit the poor creature, he was finally released into the wild, in a nice river in a nature preserve where he still lives happily to this day. 

Now, it may sound like I’m a bit of a pet killer, but my Furby is still safely blinking and crowing from my closet!

By the end of middle school, I had mostly given up on my dog owning dreams.  I changed the theme of my Bat Mitzvah from Dogs to Monkeys, started collecting makeup over dog accessories, and spent my time reading Seventeen instead of Dog Fancy magazine.   

And yet, my brother was still not ready to let go of the dream.  He continued researching and begging and pleading, until finally one day after family brunch downtown, he convinced my parents to visit a local puppy store, where we immediately fell in love with a golden miniature poodle. 

I use “we” gently.  I didn’t particular like this puppy, he kept biting my fabulously stylish gaucho pants and I had been disappointed by puppy shopping far too many times that I just wanted to leave and hang out with my friends. 

The week before I started high school, my parents purchased our first puppy and suddenly I realized that my last fourteen years of work had been absolutely worth it. 

Puppy's first day home!
After a few days of heavily debating names (my brother wanted Rex, because it sounded tough; my dad wanted Mincha because it was the name of the prayer service that occurred at the time of the puppy’s adoption; my mom was too busy on the phone shocking everyone with the news of our new family member to really care too much), we chose my suggestion, Cory, after everyone’s favorite curly-haired sweetheart from Boy Meets World.

Cory was difficult, at best. He howled when we went to bed and left him downstairs in his crate, which we learned to call his “home,” to be more positive. Cory peed on my friends’ laps and on schoolbooks I left on the floor. He wouldn’t stop humping. He shredded many jeans, chewed apart computer chargers, ran barking loudly down the street with no chance of being caught without the reward of a juicy hot dog, which we kept stocked in the freezer.

But, of course, Cory was too unbelievably cute to hold any grudges against, and only seconds after he stained the carpet we’d be tickling his tummy and cooing over him once again. 

I grew to love my dog faster than I ever imagined.  He was there to cuddle with whenever I wanted, I could bake special treats for him and know that he’d enjoy them as if Julia Child had prepared them himself, he’d go on walks with me so I wouldn’t have to be alone.  Cory would listen to my secrets without judgment, agree with my opinions on tough social situations, be the loving third-party in any family feud that would arise. He has a great "Doganality" as we put it, always smiling and looking precious and perfect in any situation.  
Before Cory, I had no idea that dogs yawned or sneezed or were so cozy to snuggle with. I didn’t know how happy I would feel upon hearing my dog barking with excitement right before I entered the house.  I never considered what dogs were thinking about or if they even thought at all or if when Cory twitched in his sleep he was indicating a bad dream or merely an itch.  I was stunned to learn that dogs can have a vocabulary of upwards of 40 words, depending on how smart they are. 

Cory is the Albert Einstein of dogs.  And I’m not just saying this because they’re both Jewish. 
Cory is brilliant.  He’s bilingual.  He closes drawers when we leave them open.  He helps drive and honks the horn in busy traffic. He changes TV channels when I’m watching bad reality shows. Never  has he attempted to drink out of the toilet. 
Everyone says her dog is the best, I’m quite aware.  But I can say with confidence, that Cory is truly the world’s best dog.  Yes, he eats his fair share of toilet paper, and yes, he may lick my friend’s feet with a little too much vigor, but he is so much smarter, cuter, more talented, and more loving than any four-legged creature that walks this planet.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The End of the World

Contrary to popular belief, and much to my own personal astonishment, the world did not end today.  Shocking, I know, but at 6:00 I was quite contently making a fool of myself in dance class, awkwardly shrugging my shoulders up to my enormous ears when I should have been sensually shimmying to the music.  I am no Tila Tequila. 

However, all this hype made me think about the end of the world, about what would actually happen if I knew for sure the world was ending in a matter of days, minutes even.  What would I do?  Who would I call?  Where would I go?  And most importantly, what would I eat? 

This is the worldwide web, so I’m going to stray from specifics, as I’m pretty sure Tyra/future employers/my rabbi keep up with my blog regularly. 

Before May 21st’s projected end of the world, my world completely fell apart. 

One after another, all the things that kept me stable and happy started slipping away from me, and I felt like I lost all sense of control. 

It started slowly at first, school stress, family fights, friendship drama, relationship challenges, all the regular issues a college student endures, nothing to get too bummed about. 

And suddenly everything built up. Maintaining my Dean’s List status meant sacrificing valuable time I could be maintaining relationships with old friends.  Having a wonderful relationship meant lying to my family.  Lying to my family equated to constant paranoia over what my friends knew and said and repeated.  Paranoia about my friends’ activity led to unnecessary insecurity about my relationship.  Ridiculous insecurities led to me being unpleasant, upset and angry and sad and frustrated for no understandable reason, taking it out on the people I loved most. There was so much to be afraid of and I just wanted to believe I was fearless. 

I denied my own unhappiness because it made no sense to me.  I had it all: a fantastic life in New York City, amazing friends, love.  I was brighter, prettier, and all around more talented than most people, so what is there to be miserable about? 

I remembered being happy, fantasizing about the times I felt light and free and on top of the world, a mere three or six months ago, and I had faith that this too shall pass, and I wouldn’t feel so heavy and bogged down and glum. I excused my behavior for so many reasons: bad weather, lack of sleep, PMS.

I distanced myself from the girl who would silently cry herself to sleep, unsure why the tears came in the first place.

I blamed those nearest and dearest to me for not making me happy enough, for not doing enough for me, for not understanding anything I was going through. But how could they when I couldn’t even acknowledge my own struggles? I was strong and independent and didn't need help from anyone, especially when nothing was wrong. I didn't want to be a burden. 

I knew I was loved by so many people, but I had stopped loving myself.  I couldn’t turn to anyone, I couldn’t ask for help. I didn’t need any help- why would I? 

And then the world came to an end. 

And I was still alive.

I had been living and breathing for so long, walking and talking and thinking and feeling, but I wasn’t living.  My world had been slipping away from me for so long, and I thought I was ready to let it go.

My friends and family were there to pick up the pieces of the world I had crushed and forced into the ground.  They were there with tight hugs and kind words and luminous smiles and delicious treats.  They told me they had always been there, that I could always tell them what I was feeling, what disturbed me, what I needed to feel good. 

They had no idea I was so unhappy, or unhappy at all for that matter.  I’m all giggles and smiles and fun all the time. I have an ideal life.  What went wrong? 

Everything.  Everything was wrong for so long, and kept getting worse and worse and worse.

And then it started to get better. 

Faster than everything went downhill, I defied the laws of physics as everything started looking brighter and happier and more hopeful. 

Life is great!

Bad things happen.  So do great, amazing things.  You have to have some bad in order to appreciate all the good.  You have to endure stress and loss and disappointment in order to fully appreciate all the truly wonderful things life has to offer.  What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.  

I’m happy.  I really am.  It really took me falling apart to begin to work on myself and become the best me possible.  And I know I’m still getting there, problems don't just disappear overnight, but for the first time in far too long I feel so good.  I’ve been able to express things I’ve never been able to express, to see the world for the beautiful place it truly is, and to love myself for who I really am. I've reconnected with old friends, opened up to family members who became distant over the years, and suddenly I feel like everything is falling into place. I haven't bit my nails in a month, truly record-breaking, and I have no desire to. I’ve been having so much fun, feeling so real and alive and ready to take on the world. And it’s truly amazing. 

The false ending of the world taught me how much I have to appreciate and how truly fortunate I am for all that I have.  There’s so much to live for, so many beautifully unpredictable things to look forward to, so many mistakes to make and learn from and perhaps go back and fix. 

I can only hope that the Mayans are wrong about 2012, just like they were with the Conquistadors and anesthesia, because there are so many incredible things just waiting to happen and I want to experience them all!  

Giraffes, for one, are incredible.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Throw My Hands Up In The Air Sometimes

I danced the role of Gingerbread in my dance studio’s production of “The Nutcracker” in 2002. All evidence of this performance has been destroyed, but the fond memories live on. I was much too old to be in the Sugar Plum Court, and as I tried on my one-piece, brown felt costume the week before the dress rehearsal, I broke down in tears.  I was supposed to be Prima Ballerina, what was I doing wearing a smelly old potato sack?  I had a solo, for goodness sake, bouréeing across the stage to give Clara her tiara.  It was humiliating.  My mom told me I could quit, I wasn’t contracted or anything, but I was too afraid to let the director down.  Not only was she terrifying, but without me, the performance clearly could not go on- Clara’s dream wouldn’t be complete without my vital participation! I was a star in my own rite. 

My dance career only took off from there! I joined my middle school’s pom-pom squad, show choir, and when I moved up to high school, I joined the step dancing team (this is a story for another time), performed in the spring dance concert, and sacrificed my lunch period for additional performance classes. I spent hours in dance class each week, traveled to Upstate New York for performing arts camp, took intensive pre-college workshops in Chicago.   I still know every word to Flashdance and Dirty Dancing
I was told I was good, but not a star.  Ouch.  It never bothered me that I was usually placed in the back row during ensemble numbers—I’m tall!  When an instructor moved me from the head of the barre to the middle, I blamed it on the fact that I had a wandering mind and couldn’t always remember the precise combinations, no big deal, my technique was great. I still firmly believe this-- memorizing plie and tendue combinations is challenging! 

I’m gangly and awkward.  There’s no way to get around it.  It took me about 17 years to embrace this.  I slowly phased out dance as a lifestyle and turned it into more of a hobby.  Which was totally fine, I didn’t need to be a triple threat, my other talents were suffice. 

And while I may be gangly and awkward, I also have tons of energy. 

Sophomore year of high school, I began taking yoga.  It was nice.  Sometimes we did downward facing dog to Corrine Bailey Rae.  Occasionally we’d breathe in rhythm with a gong.  I’d roll up my mat feeling restless. 

Junior year, I began kickboxing.  It was awesome. I felt tough, I felt powerful, I felt so cool.  My friends and I would gear up for an hour of jumping around and punching to Michael Jackson and Britney Spears re-mixes while the instructor would call out directions.  Occasionally, she’d go for a sip of water or to change the track and I’d be left in front, trustworthy enough to lead the group in Uppercuts and Roundhouse kicks.  This was so much better than ballet!  I could follow the combinations.  I could envision fighting my enemies. My gangliness gave me that extra oomph in the double-time exercises. I’d leave every week feeling amazing! 

Inevitably, the gym schedule changed and my weekly cardio kickboxing routine was replaced by Zumba. Zumba, what the hell was that?  And more importantly, why would I want to do anything any less badass than kickboxing

But I needed something to do with my endless energy, as I had kicked my tap shoes, jazz sneakers, and ballet slippers far into the depths of my closet. After a week of monotonous repetitions with the Jackie Warner DVD in my living room, I begrudgingly agreed to try Zumba.  (This is not an insult to Jackie, I love her dearly, but something about counting to twenty with a recording while flexing my abs and waving my arms just wasn’t cutting it for me).

Zumba was unbelievable.  It was everything a gangly, ex-dancer, Latina-wannabe could ever wish for.  And more.  We shook our hips to Ricky Martin and Shakira and Michael Buble and the Hairspray soundtrack.  We grapevined across the floor and waved our arms to the music and shook our booties wildly.  Whatever we did, however badly we messed up, the teacher continued dishing out constant praise and smiles.  There was no one holding a cold pole to keep my knees straight, no one correcting me for pivoting to my left instead of my right.  It was just fun! 

I love dancing, I love to dance, but I’m not a dancer.  And for this reason, Zumba has been my perfect solution to life.  I always leave feeling so alive, so free, so on top of the world.  I can move my body like a maniac, shout out affirmations with my fellow Zumba-ers (Yeah!  Wooo!), and just let go of all my worries.  I can only imagine how crazy I look, twisting my bony hips in a figure eight and throwing my long arms in the air, but it doesn’t matter!  Everyone is perfect in Zumba. 

I may never be Prima Ballerina, my name will never be in lights at the New York City Ballet, but for an hour every week, I am the Dancing Queen, and that’s more than enough for me.  

Snow White at age 6