Food is Love

A chore long overdue, sorting through my collection of recipes and organizing them in some useful way. A social isolation chore but in the end, a great thing. For me there is  joy in discovering forgotten recipes, things I saved that I thought I might try, things I wrote notes on because they were particularly good or needed adjustment. I can read cookbooks for hours so this is not surprising. What was surprising was just how many good and interesting recipes I have collected over the years.

Many of the recipes are things I made with my father, my step mom and, surprisingly, my mother. Surprising because my mother has long claimed she can’t cook; I think she just doesn’t like it. Other recipes are ones that came from my Grandma Jenny, family favorites,  used again and again -especially for Jewish holidays. One, long neglected and forgotten, was from my maternal great grandmother. It was entitled Grandmother Roe’s Nut Bread.

I have always liked making bread, and I always knead it by hand; especially now that my Kitchenaid is 30 years old give or take. There is something very satisfying about developing the gluten and putting your whole body into getting that smooth beautiful surface that means it is ready to rise. It also moves frustration from your neck to your hands to the board; rhythmic and soothing.

What I noticed, going through these pages, was that the oldest recipes, the ones from grandmothers and great grandmothers (and mothers) are the ones with the least instruction. The ingredients are listed and stand mostly alone, just an oven temp to keep them company. It is as if it was assumed that the cook would know how to do it. How to mix and in what order. How to knead and when to stop. How to test for doneness. Mostly, I do. In order to pass these recipes on I suspect I will have to amplify them somewhat for newer, younger and less experienced cooks.

It is a lovely feeling to mix and knead and bake with the same ingredients and in the same ways as the woman, and men, before me. Recipes used by generations and family long gone.  We connect through food as surely as any other way. It is why we sit down together for thanksgiving, for passover, for chanukah. It is why we gift each other cookies we ate as children, doled out by a loving hand. I know these things in my bones. Food is memory, food is connection, food can be love. And the nut bread is absolutely delicious!

 

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Eating

 

I sat down to a meal of fried chicken in a soul food restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama. Despite the stares of other patrons I was totally ready to tuck into mac and cheese, collards and pecan pie along with that beautiful chicken.

I picked it up in my fingers and, in that moment, it struck me how lovely it is to eat with your hands.

On any given Friday night we tear a challah with our fingers and disregarding germs pass the pieces from hand to hand, sharing the taste of Shabbat and each others’ fingers.

I recently ate a bowl of steamed mussels, aromatic with tomato, garlic and sherry. With it some toasted crunchy French bread. I tried to start with a fork, hoping to appear more ladylike, but no. They deserved to be eaten with fingers, crunchy bread soaking up the “soup” in the dish. And then you have to lick your fingers, all pretense of ladylike abandoned in the moment.

There is a sensuality to food eaten mindfully, savored. It is even better with good conversation or music, eaten slowly between paragraphs. But it is most viscerally sensual when eaten with your fingers, no intervening metal. And if you… Click To Tweet

There is a sensuality to food eaten mindfully, savored. It is even better with good conversation or music, eaten slowly between paragraphs. But it is most viscerally sensual when eaten with your fingers, no intervening metal. And if you can, get someone else to lick your fingers.

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Food Choices

So, being diabetic is much more complex than I ever could have imagined. My father always made light of it saying he just had “a little sugar”. As did my grandfather; all the Meyers men had “the sugar”. It didn’t sound so complicated really, just don’t eat sweets. Little did I know; and forget all the other health risks that come with it.

Everything is sugar for a diabetic; rice, potatoes, all bread (rye and pumpernickel are best), carrots, peas, fruit (do not eat bananas) and of course the usual suspects, deserts and sweets of all kinds. I do find that I can eat a small amount of dark chocolate without adverse effect. And this is not an exhaustive list.

As an aside, I personally detest those people who arrogantly declaim that you can “cure diabetes with diet and exercise”. My disease is genetically acquired and can be controlled with diet and exercise but cannot be cured. I am definitely not obese and my legs are skinny enough thanks. And there are those that say “well it’s the net carbs” or “don’t count the sugar alcohols.” For me, and every diabetic is different, it is the total carb count without these excuses that is the best predictor of a sugar spike.

For a long time I used Glucerna (diabetic brand) shakes for breakfast as I am not much of a morning eater. Then I discovered that the Atkins shakes are cheaper, taste better and have fewer carbs than Glucerna (I still travel with them and my suitcase always gets searched because they x-ray as a bomb like shape). Then I started making my own with whey protein, almond milk, ice, berries, dehydrated greens (a bag of spinach always goes bad before I can use it) and a splash of sugar free raspberry or pomegranate syrup to amp the taste and sweetness (yes, I have a terrible sweet tooth). But I tend to put too many berries in, thus negating the good blood sugar effect.

After several years I just got bored with shakes and went searching for alternatives. I found the recipe I am sharing here. They are yum, easy and are filling enough to hold me until lunchtime and they do not raise my blood sugar. So here it is.

GRAIN FREE CRANBERRY ORANGE BREAKFAST COOKIES:

2 cups almond flour plus 2 tblsp. 1/4 cup shredded coconut (original recipe calls for unsweetened, hard to find so just use regular baking coconut, not enough to raise blood sugar) 2 tblsp. hemp hearts, flax seed or chia seed (see note at the end) 1/2 teas. each sea salt, baking soda, cinnamon 2 large eggs lightly beaten 1/3 cup coconut oil 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey (use maple if you have it – delicious – can reduce slightly to account for the coconut if you like) 1 teas. orange zest (more won’t hurt) 1 teas. pure vanilla 1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries (so far 1/2 and 1/2 is yummiest) 1/2 cup unsalted raw pecans, chopped

Peheat to 325 and line a baking pan with parchment or a silicone mat. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together almond flour, coconut, hemp/chia/flax, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Add eggs, oil, maple/honey, orange zest and vanilla. Mix on medium until well combined. On low speed add dried fruit and pecans and mix until combined.

Using a metal quarter cup measure, drop on baking sheet one inch apart, bake approx. 25 mins until golden and not doughy. They will be sticky but if you give the cup measure a hard quick shake it will drop out. Cool on rack. will keep about 4 days in fridge, freeze for up to 3 months.

NOTE: If you use hemp hearts they will be softer and spread more. If you use chia or flax they will be denser and hold shape when baked. I prefer the chia/flax over the hemp hearts which are also expensive and hard to find.

Bon Appetit and A Votre Santé!

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Miracles & Wonder

I stood in the middle of the happy chaos that is Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok just looking around. And I thought: is this real? Did I really do this? By myself? Am I really in Southeast Asia? And yes I was. The wonder of it was just that. Although the place itself revealed many wonders throughout my trip (more on that another time), the miracle was that I had actually done it.

So I dragged my suitcase around until I found the area, thanks to some good instructions, where most tour operators waited for their charges. This, of course with a slightly travel addled brain – roughly 25 hours of travel. Fortunately at this point my suitcase was lighter than it would later be. After three walks up and back the outside sidewalk of the terminal I found an official looking person and said “Bamboo?” (The name of my tour company.) And I was directed to the correct corral where I met a driver and was bused off to the hotel.

The details of hotel and food and group are for another discussion. What matters here is courage. I find that if I think too much, I will not take a risk. I heard about this tour company, looked them up, saw this tour and immediately sent a deposit. Why? You might ask. Not sure, just that it sounded amazing and like something I had never done, would never do. So this trip became my post retirement gift/adventure.

After a ridiculously long time of taking care of other people both personally and professionally, I did not know if I would have the courage to follow through with this plan. But I made a commitment to myself and by God I was going to follow through and just not think too much.

The funny thing is, just after returning home I was offered an opportunity for another trip, life altering in a very different way. And because of this adventure, I said yes without thinking for even a moment. Something I never would have done in a previous phase of life.

The payoff, for not thinking too much, was a life altering trip. A journey of body and spirit that was entirely unexpected in many ways. I was the oldest in my group by a decade or so but mostly found myself “keeping up”. I roomed with a stranger and spent nights in a bunkhouse in the jungle with a group of strangers. I was blessed by Buddhist monks and prayed in their temples. I was of service in many ways and was served up gratitude and smiles all along the way.

In the mountains outside of Changmai they grow wildflowers for commercial purposes, acres and acres of them, and they grow strawberries. Because the strawberries are allowed to ripen fully in the sun on the vine they are almost unbelievably sweet. Something we rarely experience in this country where everything is picked early, stored in cold and shipped long distances. I purchased there a box of natural, pure, unsweetened dried strawberries. They are in my refrigerator still and every so often I take one, close my eyes, and savor the taste of courage.

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Really, We Are All The Same

 

Nitzavim – You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your G-d.  And it means everyone, from the lowliest to the highest and all those in between.  I love this, it makes everyone equal, it makes all of us the same, at least within the house of Israel.

As always, there is a two edged sword, a little threat with the promise.  Even as Moses tells the people that G-d will not forsake them, he does tell them there will be punishment if they are idolatrous.  There can never just be a promise, but that is another story.

As we are nearing the end of the story, as the generations are looking to the promised land, as the people have become a people, this leveling happens.  Community is a process, in this case forged over many trials, travels and tribulations. Today as well, community building is a process, a labor of love and work.  And in that work, we become equal. Although teams have leaders, good teams work on a level playing field no matter the assigned or adopted task of each team member.

In our current world we have forgotten what team is.  We have forgotten what community building means, from the lowliest to the highest, it takes us all.  Someone needs to adopt, or volunteer, for every task no matter what it is.  In this way society works and all the jobs are accomplished, the rewards are reaped by everyone in some proportional way.  We seek these days to eliminate those that would do the tasks we do not wish to do but have no plan as to how those tasks will be done. Nor do we wish to pay for those tasks in a way commensurate with the necessity for the work.

So to, in families. That community needs to be built as well. All the tasks need to be accomplished and some agreement needs to be reached as to who will accomplish them and how they will be accomplished.  Respect, trust, equality, fairness, love, sympathy, empathy and faith.  All are necessary to the task of building community.

So in Nitzavim we are told we are all equal, and in standing equal we will all be rewarded. The reward of course is figurative for us, we won’t all be entering the promised land. The reward is the community, the respect, trust, equality, fairness, love, sympathy, empathy and faith.  And as we approach, in mere days, these most holy of days in the Jewish calendar, we indeed stand equal before G-d and one another . There is still time to correct what needs correcting and return to those values of community building. And one more, most important of all, forgiveness.

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