Thank You (again)!

One great thing about giving birth (aside from the obvious prize of baby) is that people feel compelled to give you things.  Most of the things I’ve been given have been designed to make my life easier in that they are in the form of dinner or gift cards that will enable me to get dinner without cooking.  So I feel the need to send out a great big thank you to those people.

After a lovely visit at her home on Sunday, Kate sent me home with yummy sauce and pasta.  Everyone at home was pleased.

Also, my daughter has developed quite a crush on her older son.  So cute.

And she sent me home, not only with food, but with a beautiful hand-made blanket and elephant.  She’s so talented.

A friend from work gave me a gift card to Whole Foods and an old family friend dropped off chicken, veggies and rice yesterday.  Mmmm.

Once again, I feel totally and completely lucky to have such wonderful friends and family.  Lucky, lucky, lucky!

 

Thank You

In case you hadn’t noticed, one of my very best and dearest friends is none other than The Hungry Hippo herself.  She’s the kind of friend I can stay on the phone with for over an hour (easily), multiple times a week, despite having very little about which to talk.  She’s the person I call when I have cooking questions.  She’s the person I call when I’m so angry I could spit and when I’m so sad I can’t breathe.  She’s also the person I call when I’m so happy and excited that I can’t sit still.

Notice I said call in all of those examples.  The sad truth is that we no longer live within walking distance of each other (though, my mother is fond of pointing out that everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.  I feel there’s a flaw in that argument but that’s another post.) and as the years pass, it seems less likely that we ever will again.  For a few years, though, we did live within walking distance- two blocks at first and then several more but still do-able and then at least we were in the same general area- and those years were good ones.  We have a history, the Hippo and I, and it’s filled with inside jokes, stories we won’t tell anyone else and at least one or two shared escapades that we don’t fully remember.  In short, I couldn’t live without her and need her to help me remember my past!

I bring this up because this year for the holidays she gave me a gift card to a famous kitchen store.  It’s a store I love, rather shamefully, because while I know it’s overpriced, I can’t help myself– I love their things.  The pots and pans!  The utensils! The linens!  I just can’t get enough.  We registered there for our wedding and I was never happier to see their trademark ribbon on packages that I opened.  My Hippo was most generous this year and I finally got around to using the gift card.

I am now the proud owner of two silpats (I can’t believe I haven’t bought these before!!) and a red cookie jar.  Red is the general color of my mixing bowls, utensils, bread and pie pans.  I also own a red stand mixer (courtesy of the Hippo for my wedding).  Red is a good color for us.

This means that I need to make some really good cookies to break in both the silpats and the cookie jar.  Any suggestions as to what kind?  I’ll have to think on it and decide later this weekend.  I’ll make them next week, so get your suggestions in now!

Food Identity

I think everyone has a food identity.  Some people identify as vegetarian, others as gluten-free, still others as locavores.  My food identity has shifted over time and is now focused on healthy, whole ingredients.  We’re an organic veg, grass-fed beef, as few processed foods as possible household which is balanced with the realities of our budget, resources and time limitations.  So when I cook, I try to use fresh ingredients and I try to make healthy food.  Of course, I don’t eschew sugar, fat and salt, my thinking being that I know how much I’m adding and I know from where it came.  I use butter not shortening.  I use olive oil, not crisco.  That kind of thing- you get the idea.  Something about it’s better to have a small piece of the real thing rather than trying to make up for the missing fat/sugar/salt and eating more.

This comes up because of what we ate today.  After making my scary dinner on Monday (I will make exceptions for processed foods once in a while- hot dogs in the summer, grocery-store birthday cake, Friendly’s peanut butter sauce), I had hot dogs left over.  I needed to use them up and knew that the toddler would likely eat them.  Every once in a while I’ll give her something like chicken nuggets (applegate farms organic no filler, etc.) and the glee with which she eats them is something to see.  I mean, I grew up eating McDonald’s, hot dogs, fish sticks and all kinds of “kid food”- mainly because no one really knew how bad they were for you.  My husband, given his druthers, would probably eat Kraft Mac and Cheese every day but since I’m in charge of food acquisition, production and distribution, we don’t do that.  Sadly, the toddler also likes this (I used to love it.  The last time I ate it, I immediately vomited.  I’m not sure if it was the result of the pregnancy or the result of having not had it in ages.  Either way, it’s off my personal food menu now.).  At any rate, my point is, this dinner that I made tonight was outside of my usual food identity.  But it was fun.

I made hot dog octopi  (Octopuses?  Geeze, I took Latin, I should know this!) served over Kraft Mac and Cheese.  The toddler and husband ate this.  I ate butternut squash lasagna- a recipe I will blog for you another day.

The punchline?  The toddler looked at her bowl and then carefully picked up the two hot dog creatures and set them aside on the table.  She ate all the mac and cheese but wouldn’t touch the hot dogs proving, once again, that she is the perfect combo of the two of us.

Octopus Hot Dogs

(Thanks to the Hungry Hippo who taught me about this)

Ingredients

Hot dogs

Directions

Put on a pot of water to boil.  Slice your hot dogs in half horizontally.

Next, slice one of the halves in half vertically, about 1/4 of the way down.  In other words, leave some of the hot dog untouched.

Make a quarter turn and slice it the same way again.

So now you have four pieces that are still attached.  Slice each of these in half while keeping them attached.

You should end up with 8 “legs.”

Repeat with all your hot dogs.  Then plunk them into the boiling water.

Let the water come back to a boil.  The legs will curl up as the hot dogs cook (heat?  Isn’t a hot dog already cooked?).  They will look revolting.

Take them out carefully and you’ll see that you’ve made little hot dog octopuses.

Cute or gross?  You decide.  We served them, as I said, over Kraft Mac and Cheese.  I’m pretty sure there was nothing of any nutritional value in tonight’s dinner.  Please don’t judge.  Some nights are like this.

Decisions, Decisions

I’m having a friend over for lunch and general merriment tomorrow.  She’s my friend with the garden.  She’ll be bringing a pear and feta salad with balsamic dressing.  What should I make for lunch to go with it?  Vote here:

We’re also debating cooking.  We were thinking about croissants but without a sheeter, it’s more work and time than we’re willing to devote.  So what should we make/do instead?

Day of Atonement

No food today, at least not for many of the Jews in the world.  Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  It’s the day of the year, from sundown to sundown, that you are asked to reflect on your behaviors over the previous year.  You’re asked to forgive those who have hurt, offended or otherwise harmed you.  You ask for forgiveness from those that you have hurt, offended or otherwise harmed.  This is done by fasting and praying.  You also remember those you loved who are now gone and you mourn for them.  At sundown you eat a light meal, generally dairy (if you’re keeping kosher) and go to bed, ready to face the new year, clean, forgiven and in a mindset to do better.  In true Jewish fashion, the day of sadness and seriousness is paired with joy and celebration.  What can I say?  We’re a complex people.

If you’re a child, elderly, sick, pregnant or otherwise health-compromised, you are not required to fast.  This is my third year running without fasting (pregnant/breastfeeding/pregnant) but I’ve lit the memorial candle, I’ve thought about apologies and I’ve tried to breathe in, breathe out and let go of the hurts I’ve been carrying around with me all year.

And I am thinking and remembering those I love who are gone.  Particularly my Grandmother, the inspiration for my cooking and for this blog.

My Grandmother

My family in Israel

 

My grandparents

 

If you are fasting today, may you have an easy fast.

I wish you all peace.

 

18 months

This is another non-food post.  My baby girl has reached the 18 month mark and it’s time for me to write to her again.  Be ready for some true sappy right here.

Dear G.,

I can’t, in good conscience, address this to Baby G. because you really aren’t anymore.  You are a walking, running, talking toddler with a mind, agenda and opinions of her own.  And boy howdy, do you have opinions of your own!  It’s even more fun to spend time with you now because even though I don’t always understand what you’re saying or doing, you’re always saying or doing something that is very clear to you.  You’re growing into a strong self-advocate, even at 18 months, and I hope it’s something you never lose.

Your language is amazing to me.  You have excellent receptive language and I am always amazed at all you understand.  Multistep directions?  Sure thing.  Lots of prepositions and pronouns?  No problem.  You may not always want to do what I ask and your response these days is often an immediate, “No.” or “Nope.”, but you always understand me.  Your expressive language isn’t quite there yet but is growing in leaps and bounds by the hour.  The doctor asked me on Friday how many words you had and I had to say, “a zillion” because I didn’t know.  Then I started to think about it and was able to list at least 20 off the top of my head (including cracker, quack, milk, no, yes, stinky, more, mama, dada, rachel, jane, doggie, uh-oh, book, egg, banana, nope, kitty, bye, and baby) and then more kept coming over the course of the next hour.

Developmentally speaking, you’re right on track.  You’re still small and I’m sorry, my girl, you will never be tall, but you’re strong and happy and you run like a pro.  In fact, it’s getting harder and hard for me to keep up these days!  You’ve gotten better at saying goodbye to me and when I leave you at daycare, you wave at me from the window before going about your day.  It’s a nice way for me to start my day but how I wish I could stay there with you! You’re even sleeping in your own room in your own bed and sometimes even through the night.  It’s been a slow, long transition from our bed to yours but we are more than on the right road and I am confident that in the next month or so your sleeping will get even more consistent.  It’s been a nice reminder to me about not pushing you but letting you get there in your own time, since you always do.

So that’s all the factual stuff.  Here’s the mushy stuff:  oh. my. god. do I love you.  Every day I wake up and think I can’t possibly love you any more, that I’ve reached my capacity.  Every night I go to sleep having exceeded that capacity.  It really is unlimited.  The joy I find in watching you, hearing your belly laugh when I tickle you and curling up with you at the end of the day is almost unspeakable.  I say this every time but every time it is true:  I never knew I could love anyone as much as I love you.  Loving you has taught me to be more patient, to be more open and to slow down and savor the moments.  Sappy, yes.  But so, so true.  It has also made me more prideful (is that a word?) because people will not stop telling me how beautiful, fun, good-natured and amazing you are.  I am happy to agree with them because they speak truth but I also get a little zing of “I made that” which I hope will not come back to bite me in the behind later.

You’re going to be a big sister in about five months and I am desperately praying that it won’t change your temperament.  Being an only child, I have no sense of what it’s like to go from an only to one of two and I am so worried that you will somehow morph into someone else when that happens.  My hope is that you will love your brother and tolerate him when you want him to go away.  My plan is to continue to lavish you with love, structure and cuddles and hope that it’s enough.  You will always be my first-born and (chances are, unless our financial circumstances change) my little girl.  That makes you special to me in a way that no one else can be.  A piece of me is sad because I don’t want to share you with anyone but I also think it’s important that you have a sibling.

Seeing your face light up when I walk in is better than any substance known to man.  Holding you while you put your hands on either side of my face, say “Mah-Muh”, and plant a kiss on me makes my heart melt and my eyes tear every time.  Lying in bed with you, talking about your day before you go to sleep is my best time of night.  I never get tired of you and I’m sort of wondering how that’s possible.  I can’t wait to see you grow and change and I hope that I never tire of you as you do.
Being with you makes me less anxious, calmer and more at peace.  Even when you’re cranky.  I am certain that I was born to be your mother and that everything I have learned in my life up to now has been so that I could be.  I can only hope that I can bring you as much joy, comfort and peace as you’ve brought me.

I love you, my sweet, strong, happy, beautiful, amazing girl.  I am so lucky and honored to have you in my life.

Love,

Mummy

Not Food

Warning, this post will not have any food.  Nonetheless, it may be worth a read. Plus, I’ll make mention of my grandmother.

Growing up, my grandmother was my source of unconditional love and my non-judgemental ear.  She was my cheerleader and encourager and she made me feel as though there was nothing too hard for me to do.  She made me believe that I could be and do anything if I put my mind to it.  My grandmother was always available to listen, she was open-minded (at least for a woman of her age and time period) and she always made sure that I knew how much she cared about me.  She only offered advice if I asked and when she did offer it, it was gently and in a way that made sense.  In short, my grandmother was not only the perfect parental figure, she was the perfect therapist.

She may be one of the reasons I’m in my chosen profession.  Aside from cooking and being a mother, I work as a clinical psychologist.  My main focus is on children and adolescents who have experienced psychological trauma, generally in the form of neglect, physical and sexual abuse.  It’s hard work and heartbreaking on a moment-to-moment basis.  However, I am sometimes lucky enough to be in the presence of nothing short of a miracle.

Being a therapist is such an odd position.  You’re not a friend or a parent but you care about your clients in a very similar way, especially when your clients are young and are often seeking that kind of validation and love.  You’re in a position to know everything about the client- extremely intimate details including medical history, sexual history and their innermost shameful thoughts and actions.  Even if time passes, you still know those details; once something has been said, it can’t be unsaid.  You hold a piece of that person with you for the rest of your life.  It’s an honor and a privilege to be allowed into someone’s life like this and I remember that every single time I sit with a child or parent. I’m not sure that all therapists do, which makes me sad.  Some are in it for the initials after their name, others for the supposed money (there really isn’t that much!).  Others are in it for more sinister reasons, to satisfy their own need for power or validation or love.  These are the therapists (I think) who sing their own praises, talking about how much they help their clients change.  I’m on the other side of that.  Because it’s such a privilege to be allowed into someone’s life, I never feel as though I am the reason for change. Instead, I feel like my grandmother- the ultimate cheerleader, the one who can hold on to hope for the future, the one who can see the potential for change in the person, the one who can support, encourage and remind them that they are capable of anything, regardless of their past.

I am thinking about this today because I have been lucky enough to remain in contact with a former client.  I worked with him for two years, when he was in residential care.  He moved on to foster care but we have stayed in touch via email.  I visit with him about once a year.  All of which is cleared with social workers, foster care workers and foster parents.  I wrote this after seeing him last year:

June, 2010

He Was The Child

When I met him, he was just 12 years old.  He was short and sort of awkward.  He had a tough guy persona, acting as though nothing bothered him, all bravado and machismo.  He tried ordering me around in my office, tried barking commands at me, tried to get me angry or hurt.  He told me stories and lies, telling me that he was the best basketball player at his old program, that he talked with his father every day and that he was ready to be out of programs right then and there.  He shot baskets at the hoop on the back of my door and made fun of me when I shot and missed.  He demanded I get the ball for him every time.

I stuck with him through this because I had read his history.  I knew the difference between his stories and lies and the true tragedy his life had been.  It was hard but I sidestepped the power struggles and didn’t immediately confront him about the lies or the barking commands.  I smiled and listened and made jokes when I could.  Sometimes I’d offer a gentle explanation or interpretation of his behavior which he would quickly deny and laugh off.  When he couldn’t do either, he’d resort to just insulting me.

We worked together for about a year and a half.  After two months together, the bravado slowly gave way to his true, insecure, desperately wanting self.  After six months, he was able to talk about hard feelings without needing to insult me as he did so.  After nine months, he was relying on me to help him figure out all the confusion and hurt in his soul.  After a year he confessed to me, “I think I’m bad.  But it’s [the bad] frozen like solid ice and it’s covered by my big heart.  My heart disaffects it.”  After 13 months he cried as he told me, “You’re right, I am scared.  I threaten because I am scared.  Something bad inside me might melt. And then I’ll just be all bad.”

His history was similar to that of other kids with whom I worked.  Inconsistent, if any, parenting, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, transitory living situations.  He had been “in programs” since he was six and had been in the foster care system beginning at age two.  His file made my heart hurt and working with him all that time made me cry and laugh, sometimes in the same moment.

He was the child I wanted to adopt, wanted to bring home, wanting to create a new life for, one filled with culture, positive experiences and love.  Consistent, unwavering, unconditional love.  He was the child that tested all my boundaries.  I was so careful with him, talked about him in supervision, talked about him in my own therapy.  I didn’t want to violate any trust or boundary with him, as so many of the adults in his life had.  He was so open and vulnerable under his tough-guy exterior.  He was desperate for love, to be told he was worthy of good, positive, non-wounding love, to be hugged and held and cherished.

When the time came for him to move out of residential care and into a foster home, I was excited for him.  I helped him meet his foster family, took him on visits to their house, convinced him that it was a good move, to give it time and to adjust.  I took him shopping for food for his goodbye party.  I watched him at the party, saw the bravado return so that he wouldn’t look scared in front of the other kids.  I waved as he drove away with his foster-mother, after we officially discharged him as a residential case, knowing I’d see him again in a week when he started in our day program.

And that night  I cried the entire hour and a half drive home.  I was so proud of him, so proud of the work he had done.  But I was scared that he wasn’t ready, that his foster mother didn’t really “get” him, that he’d be hurt again and shut down for good. That the ice that was “disaffected” by his huge, desperate-for-love heart would take over and freeze him permanently.  That he’d open up to the wrong person and once again confirm his deeply held belief that he was, fundamentally, a bad person, unworthy of love.

I kept working with him.  For the next four months as he attended our day program, I continued as his therapist.  We worked on issues focused on adjusting to living in a home rather than an institution.  We talked about sex a lot- he was in a co-ed, very loosely supervised situation for the first time in his life and wasn’t really sure how to proceed.  We discussed the rules about and the laws focused on consent and ages therein.  We talked about his loyalty to his biological family and the conflict of living with a foster family, especially one which was not of his cultural background.

Finally, September rolled around and he was set to start at a public school.  I transferred his case to an outside therapist, signed off on all his papers and went to his home for one last visit together.  We talked about how far he had come, how much work he had done and how proud of him I was.  I reminded him that he could always email me.  I hugged him goodbye, a first for us, and left.

And cried all the way home, again.  This was no longer the awkward 12 year old child I had met two years prior.  He was still as macho, still filled with bravado to cover up the small, hurt, vulnerable boy he was but he was also older, stronger and somewhat more savvy about his feelings and behaviors.  It was not going to be an easy road for him but it was a road he was now better equipped to travel.

Over the next two years, I would get small emails from him.  Many times they just said, “Hi.”  I always responded, with some open ended questions about school and home and always made sure to tell him how glad I was to hear from him.  I always sent an ecard on his birthday.  Every fifth or so email, he’d ask if I could come visit him.  Sometimes he’d tell me about visiting with his biological father but I was never sure if this was more of his stories or if it was true.

Finally, a few months ago, he sent me an email thanking me for all I had done for him.  He also asked if I could visit him for his birthday, that it would mean so much to him.  Enough time had passed that I thought perhaps it would be ok for me to see him, so I got in touch with his treatment team.  They updated me on his progress- he’s been doing well in school and at home, he’s playing football and is very musical, he’s visiting with his biological family a few times a month.  They agreed a visit would be nice and we began a several months long process of trying to set it up.

It came to fruition today.  I pulled up to his foster home to see him in the driveway, shooting baskets.  He was taller, broader and had an older face but he was the same little boy who had walked into my office four years ago and demanded that I pick up the ball for him.  I almost cried when I saw him.

Over the course of an hour, he played the piano and the guitar for me.  He played me recordings of his band and of his original songs. He sang along with Justin Bieber, Eminem and Akon.  We talked a little but not much.  He is now visiting with his dad quite often and he bragged to me that his dad had “hooked” him up with a “hot girl” who was now his girlfriend.

I asked him bluntly if he was drinking, drugging and having sex.  He denied the first two and looked at me coyly for the third.  I reminded him to use a condom every time and we engaged in the banter we used to have wherein he played dumb in order to get me worked up.  I didn’t fall for it, choosing instead to remind him of all the good choices he’s made and that I had confidence that he’d make them again.  And we talked about how old the girl is (he says she’s 17 to his 16).

I wrote him a little note on a post-it on his desk, where I was sitting, telling him how proud of him I am and how happy I was that he shared his music and voice with me.  I reminded him that I believed in him.

Before I left, I looked around his room and saw signs of the man he will become- two guitars, an amp, a black leather wallet and baggy jeans.  Despite all of this, my heart sobbed as I noticed the nightlight plugged into the wall.  At 16, he’s still afraid of what can happen in the dark.

He walked me out to my car and as I was getting in said, “So if she’s 18 and I’m 17, we have to wait until she’s 19 and I’m 18 to have a real relationship, right?”  I grinned at him and he grinned back.  It was his way of reminding me that he had been listening all those years ago, that the work we had done remained.  It was his way of connecting with me and of showing me that he was still that little boy, despite his more developed appearance.

“Right.”  I replied.

“Ok, cool.”  He said as he walked back toward the house, tossing off a casual wave towards me.  “Bye.  I’ll email you, you know, if I’m not lazy.”

I didn’t cry on the way home this time.  I grinned for the entire drive.

Today, I saw him again and much of what I wrote last year remains true.  What’s changed?  He now plays basketball but not football.  He’s a year older, has a new girlfriend (but she’s far away so sex isn’t an issue), and spends time each week with his family.  He’s more jaded- or is it realistic?- about them, especially his father.  He still plays music- self taught on the piano and guitar- and he played me some of his recordings which are very good.  He’s thinking about college.  The bravado is still there but has softened somewhat.  He has more confidence, is thinking about his future and was less challenging with me.  He admitted to trying alcohol and some drugs but again reminded me that he was smart and knew what he was doing.

I asked him if he was happy, if he was glad he had made the choices he had.  He thought for a moment and then said that, yes, he was.

I’m pretty sure my heart ached and sang at the same time in that moment.  I saw before me a confident, thoughtful, self-assured young man.  He had hope for his future and confidence in his abilities.  He was thoughtful about his past- he talked about missing a sibling with whom he hasn’t had contact in years and who has no memory of him.  He talked about how much that hurt but that he was there if the sibling wanted to meet him someday. We talked about college and when I suggested a local school which specialized in music, he asked, hesitantly, if I thought he could get in.  I told him that it couldn’t hurt to try and that his music was really very good.  He smiled and the self-confidence came back.

As I looked at him, I could see, superimposed on this 17-year-old-man, the 12-year-old-boy he had been.  Because I had the honor of witnessing his change, because I had been privileged to hear his innermost thoughts and fears, I could hold these images at the same time.  I could see how far he has come.  I could remember for him.

I could not be more proud of him right now.  I told him so, and he smiled a bit shyly, reminding me that I always tell him that.  We agreed to email and he mentioned that I could come visit anytime.  I told him I’d be happy to, he just needed to invite me.

On my drive home, I was overwhelmed- with pride for him, with the amazing gift I had been given in sharing his life, with awe at how hard he’s worked and how far he’s come.

This is the reason I do this work.  For the far and few between afternoons like this one.  To be able to watch someone grow, change and discover their own abilities and power is an amazing, awesome honor and responsiblity, one which leaves me humbled and in awe of the resilience of the human spirit.

I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

Organizing (Part II)

I’m not sure if it’s the pregnancy hormones, the end of summer frenzy or what but I spent a good hour yesterday cleaning out and organizing the pantry.

Why, yes, those are labels telling me what's in each basket. Why?

It’s something I’ve been meaning to do since our housemates moved out in June.  They were lovely girls but, man, did they own a lot of condiments!

Now, since it’s just the two of us adults, we have a better shot at keeping things neat.  I hope.

I also realized just how much food we have.  I have a big bag of canned goods to donate to a local food bank since it’s stuff I’ll never use (I didn’t buy it- the ramifications of having housemates!).  I also now have a good mental inventory of what we have so that I won’t buy double.  Beans, for example, are something that is well stocked.  I can stop buying cans, “just in case.”

Up next?  Organizing the tupperware!

 

Organizing

OK, I have done it.  I’ve created a recipe index.  It’s over there, on the top next to the two tabs that say Home and About.

I did this so that the actual recipes would be easier to find and so that I could tell what I’ve blogged and what I haven’t.  Because I’m not as organized as I used to be.  It’s not alphabetized as of yet but I’ll get to that over the next few days (It took a few days just to get it up and running).

Maybe it’s due to the toddler around here that takes up so much time.  Or it could be that phenomena known as “mommy brain”.  Or just too many things for me to think about.  Plus, lots of traveling and visitors these last few weeks, which has been wonderful but has not helped in the remembering/organizing arena.

Or maybe a combo of all of these and “pregnancy brain.”

Yup.  My family table is going to need another place setting come February.  We’re adding to our family of three, plus two pets, so that we’ll be a family of four, plus two pets.  We’re still getting our heads around it and I have so many worries- will the baby like the new baby?  will *I* like the new baby?  will the new baby like me?  Perhaps, most importantly, will the new baby like to eat?

This is, of course, the reason I’ve been craving soup lately.

Along with this change comes another one for me, work-wise.  I’ll be in a new school in September, working more hours but keeping my private practice and my teaching job as well.  I’m not sure how I’m going to have the time to breathe, let along cook, eat and blog!  But I’ll make do.

So, fasten your seatbelts- to paraphrase Bette Davis, “It’s going to be a bumpy ride!” (Well, she says night but you know what I mean!)

 

 

Ramadan

Dome of the Rock and The Western Wall, Old City, Jerusalem

It is Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the month in which practicing Muslims fast during daylight hours in order to learn about and remember patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God.  On my way in to work this afternoon, I was listening to NPR and heard a story about a mosque in the town next to mine.  The members all eat together in the evening to break the fast, a meal called Iftar.  They spoke about the sense of community that this builds and I was reminded (again) how food and the traditions around it can bring us all together.  I must also point out that most religions have a holiday or other component which requires fasting.  For Jews it’s Yom Kippur, for Christians it’s often around Lent.

It’s fitting since one of my students asked me last week about my life in Israel- what it was like, what I thought of the conflict in that part of the world, what I thought about my religion- it’s all been in my head since then.  The short answer is that I think a lot of things about all of that.  Mostly, I think it is hard to understand the conflict in a human way if you’ve never been to the Middle East and have never talked with the people who live there.  When you know the people and you spend time in the area, it takes on a whole new meaning and it’s clear that no side is right.  So it makes me happier to think about the things that the sides have in common- love of family, country, and good food. In fact, the food across the Middle East is both similar and unique to each country and culture.  Many of the same spices can be found in the open air Arab markets as in the kolbos on the kibbutzim, they just get used slightly differently.  There’s a definite flavor to Middle Eastern food that makes it Middle Eastern- to me it tastes like sun, heat, dark spices and fresh vegetables, whether it’s Israeli, Jordanian or Persian.

In listening to the story on NPR, they played a bit of the Imam’s call to prayer and I was instantly transported from rainy, cloudy route 9 East to the dark, balmy evening on the kibbutz.  There are Islamic villages on either side of the kibbutz and several times a day we’d hear the call.  The first time I heard it was our first morning there.  Because it was so early, it was almost eerie.  No one was awake and the sound was crystal clear.  I didn’t know what it was and for the life of me all I could think was that someone was wandering around our flat, singing under the open windows.  In time we got used to it and didn’t really hear it anymore.  But each time I go back, it’s the sound that makes it feel most like home, that first morning when it wakes me up.  It always makes me smile. Click here for an example of the call– it’s not Israel but it’s the same feeling.

So, where’s the recipe already?  Sadly, I don’t have one.  But I do want to share with you a beautiful book that has many different recipes.  In fact, the Hippo and I are plotting a weekend wherein we meet at my house, have my mother watch the baby and we create several of these recipes.  Aside from the mouth-watering descriptions of food, this  is a gorgeous book and when I read it, I instantly felt homesick for the Middle East.  Is it possible to be homesick for a place that isn’t technically your home?  In any case, I can’t recommend this book enough- read it, salivate, laugh, cry and be transported to another world.

Ramadan mobarak!