pretzel bites.

pretzel bites.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

here i am. i hope.

i've been absent a long, long time.
for a lot of different reasons.
the happiest reason: i'm in culinary school. finally.
but i want to come back here.
and write about food. and share recipes.
and i want to start by sharing the little application essay i wrote for school.
(there were three different prompts.)

1. I recall studying my mother as she kneaded challah dough, her hair tied back in a bandana as she labored over the sweet sticky substance until it was just right, just so. Though we sat for dinner together every night—forced, despite whatever inevitable sibling quarrel had taken place that day, to be civil, to be kind, for the dinner table was a sanctuary—Fridays were different. On Fridays we ate the product of my mother’s skilled hands, her diligent knuckles, and it made everything more delicious. My relationship to food: sometimes it takes work.  Sometimes that work leads to something sacred for a family.

I remember thinking vanilla extract had some kind of magical properties. That tiny, dark bottle. That rich, smooth smell. Cookies don’t taste right without it, my mother told me as I stirred the ingredients at her side. But you have to add just the slightest bit, she warned. My request for a direct taste of this essential ingredient was rejected. How did she know I wouldn’t like it, anyway? Too many things were off limits to me—the cookie dough itself, because of some awful man named Sal Manella, who somehow poisoned eggs—and now this, too. I happened to know that cookie dough was the most delicious substance in the world, so I was quite sure that vanilla extract was being withheld for its sheer deliciousness. I snuck that small bottle away from the kitchen in my palm and gleefully made my way to the bathroom with the contraband. I brought the bottle to my lips and took an expectant sip. I was utterly shocked and betrayed by what my mouth experienced. My relationship to food: sometimes the whole is better than its parts. It’s always worth trying things though, because sometimes you have to see for yourself.

The year I turned 18 I stopped eating meat. It happened suddenly. I vividly recall visiting the local bagel shop with friends, fully intending to order a turkey sandwich, but when I approached the counter the word turkey didn’t cross my lips. It just wasn’t there; gone, as was my desire for it. I ate lettuce, tomato, and mustard on my bagel that day. It was delicious. And that was it. I haven’t intentionally brought the flesh of a mammal or fowl to my lips since that day. It was an unwitting decision, a moment of change I was only later able to identify. My relationship to food: I won’t eat that which I do not believe is fit to eat. I do not impose this view. What’s right or wrong for my body is not the same for others.

My husband and I are busy. (Sometimes how busy we are is the topic of conversation for us.) And there are never ever enough hours in the day to catch up. There are jobs and a baby and a commute and sleep deprivation and too many emails and deadlines and a shared calendar and plans plans plans. We’re tired and worn and in need of a vacation, just like everyone else in NY and we don’t stop. We just keep going and then we go to bed and we wake up and start again. But there is a pause for us, without which the perpetual business would not be bearable. We pause before we eat. We have an intentional moment in which we bless our food and its source. My relationship to food: I am grateful that it sustains me. I must try my hardest to be mindful as I eat so as not to take for granted the blessing of a full belly.

Certain smells remind me of the shuk in Jerusalem, where I bought my groceries for two wonderful years. There, surrounded by people and movement, and noise and color, a man extended his hand, offered a sliver of yellow orange fruit. Taste it, he said in Arabic accented Hebrew through a lit cigarette. I did, disregarding the flies buzzing by. It was the sweetest mango I’d ever tasted, its ripe, dripping flesh a reward for living, a sure sign that its creator intended for us to experience pleasure. Years later, at a farmers market up the street from where I live in Brooklyn, I’d have a similar experience with a mushroom. As I wavered between two unfamiliar fungi, the smiling forager proposed a tasting. I agreed. And that’s when I discovered mushrooms for what they are, as they are meant to be. Flavorful, soft, meaty things; this one nutty, the other sweet.  My relationship to food: Its unadulterated sweetness, bitterness, freshness, essence are gifts. I must remember the way things taste when they’ve grown from the earth, before I stand in my kitchen and manipulate them.

My relationship to food is based on wonder, respect, admiration, and love. It is, I find, not unlike my relationship to my son. I want to know everything I can about him, to understand his endless dimensions, so that I can do my very best with him always. So that, when he’s ready, I can give him to the world and say here, enjoy this creation that is, as surely as it is human-made, also an ever present reminder of the presence of the divine. 


2. It was in my mother’s kitchen that I discovered the world, learned what I know about life. It is in my own kitchen now that I continue that exploration of the world. I experience life through food—it is the language I speak and the language with which I share my love of life and the world with the people around me. My distracted mind wanders daily to thoughts of recipes, menus, ingredients. I want to turn that distraction to focus. I want to learn to make healing foods to nourish body and soul; I want to understand why the foods we eat play this or that way on our tongues, have this or that effect on our bodies. All my life I’ve been surrounded by people who have devoted themselves to worthy pursuits based on their passions and it took me only 30 short years to realize that as there is nowhere I would rather be, nowhere I am more myself, than in a kitchen, I need a proper education, richer than love and raw talent alone, if I am to make food my life’s work. I seek the knowledge and skills Natural Gourmet Institute can provide me and the direction and guidance it will give.

3. I’ve never made a decision without knowing where it would lead me, without a vision of where I’d end up. That’s the result of a combination of anxiety and determination. But I’m making a decision now, and it’s no small thing. I don’t have a plan. I don’t know what I’ll do with a certificate from Natural Gourmet Institute. I don’t know what I want to do, but I am wholly certain that I want to do something, that I want to pursue food and share food and spend my life thinking about and creating and writing about food. And that’s enough for me to apply. In May of 2014 my husband will be ordained as a rabbi at Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion and we will begin our lives anew some place. We don’t know where and we won’t know where until at least next January. Wherever we go, I will assess what kinds of contributions I can make with food, be it a small catering company, local bakery, dinner club, or something I haven’t even yet fathomed. And wherever we go, I know that I will always write about food, even if my mom is the only one who reads my words. I have so very many ideas and when I know where I’ll be ready to build them into realities.

6 comments:

  1. Nani this is just perfect. Perfect.

    ReplyDelete