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!

 

Empty Drawers

The tall dresser stands on the wall of my bedroom like a long ago hope chest. The drawers are empty, filled only with fantasy. What am I waiting for? Not sure. Like some little girl reading fairy tales, waiting for prince charming to come and fill the drawers? Not likely I think.

So honestly, I am not sure what it is those empty drawers represent. The empty space in my life? The empty space in my heart? There is an empty space in both, but my heart is full of love as is my life, both filled with wonderful family and friends. I am a very lucky woman and I know it. But oh those empty drawers.

At this time in my life I think more than anything, they represent the opposite. The empty drawers represent courage and right decisions. They represent strength and gratitude.

So I will fill my empty drawers with writing. With songs. With prayers. With recipes. With pictures of people I love. Mostly virtually. But every time I look at that dresser standing tall in the corner of my bedroom I will imagine all of those things filling the drawers and I will smile.

Attentive Reading

During this odd time of social isolation I find myself picking up books that have been in my stack either unread or partially read for some time. Oddly, the last two revolve around the great tragedies of the last centuries; the “transatlantic” slave trade and the exterminations of World War II. They are slim volumes that would be read quickly if they were less important or less affecting.

Barracoon, just completed, is a non-fiction work written by Zora Neale Hurston begun in 1927. It was extremely difficult for her to find a publisher and this is a re-issued version with a foreword by Alice Walker. Hurston, a cultural anthropologist, managed to find the last survivor of the last African slave cargo ship brought to America. The book is the story of this survivor, of how he was taken and how he was living then and in that present time in America. Barracoon was the word for the slave barracks where slaves were held for transport and sale. The book is resonant with a sorrow I cannot begin to understand. It is written exactly as she heard him speak, in a difficult pidgeon. And so it requires close concentration to get the meaning. I am generally a fast reader but this held me to a slower, more attentive pace. It is a heartbreaking account of a tragic life, ripped from his home and family, sold into slavery, finding a way to live in “freedom”, losing his wife and all his children. This is his account of heartbreak in his simple, affecting words; of looking across to the hill where his entire Americky family lay buried at the time he recounted his story to Hurston. This pierces the heart of the African American identity in a visceral and personal way. This is not an observer account, it is a subjective memoir spoken in his own voice with very little interjection by the “author”. Everyone should read this as a stepping stone to some small understanding.

And then, as if this wasn’t sufficient sorrow, I picked up Night by Elie Wiesel. This was the first thing he wrote, again reissued. It wasn’t popular when published as nobody wanted to acknowledge the truth of the european extermination. It is his first hand account of the time that, in denial still, his community was first turned into ghetto and later emptied of Jews, transported first to Birkenau, then dispersed to the ovens or work camps. It is his first hand account of the last time he saw his neighbors, loaded into cattle cars, and then his own family’s journey. It is his account of the last time he saw his mother and his seven year old sister as they walked to the crematorium. It is his account of witnessing his father’s death. It is his account of his loss of youth and faith and humanity. I have stood in the crematorium at Birkenau, remarkably intact. I have stood in the ruins at Dachau. And as much as I felt the presence of what happened in those places, and have seen the evidence – the coats, the hair, the shoes – I still cannot truly imagine the horror and enormity of the evil. He describes watching truckloads of babies being loaded into the fire, how do you survive the memory of that? For some reason, one of the most compelling images in this slim volume is of Jews speaking the Kaddish Yatom, the prayer for the dead, for themselves as they marched to their death. This is the prayer we speak for our dead, for others. It is a prayer of praise, not of death. And despite his loathing of any prayer praising a God that would allow the abominations to happen, he found himself reciting it as he thought he was about to die, so ingrained it was in him.

So why am I reading these things? I have no idea, they were next in the stack. But being in isolation allows me the space to read them with attention, with care and with thoughtfulness. That is my book report for today. Shalom

Things I See

Seeing. Often we go about in the world with blinders on. Picture the horses that draw carriages in historic places. They wear real blinders, able only to look straight ahead. More and more, I find myself looking around with more focus not on what’s ahead but what’s around. There are those of us that have the knack for this instinctively. I am not sure I do. But I am trying to be more mindful about looking around, not at. I am trying to see past the brick to the history of a building, past the spoken to the intention, past the facial expression to the heart.

Sometime the things we see can be funny depending on our perspective. I was driving along a fairly rural road. There were few buildings and fewer businesses on it. Smack in the middle of nowhere was a long low building the signage on which read “Recovery Saloon”. All I could think of was in what world do those two things go together? Recovery from a long hard day of work at some terrible rural job? I think of recovery as the sobriquet for abstinence from the use of alcohol or drugs, or any other obsessive or addictive behavior. And thus my confusion, or amusement, arose.

On another occasion, while scrolling my Facebook feed, a marketplace headline popped up: “Electric Chair $900”. I could not stop laughing, as morbid as that sounds. As a death penalty attorney, I worked with people charged with the death penalty so, of course, that is where my mind went. It seemed to me unthinkable that someone could write that headline not imagining what it sounded like. I eventually went to the listing out of curiosity and, sadly, it was a mundane attempt to sell an old powered wheelchair. Sadly only because it was so ordinary and not funny. But I suppose it deserved gratitude for not being a do it yourself sparky.

What about our “snap judgments”. We judge people on their clothes, on their speech, on their eating habits. Do we look past those things? Do we listen hard to “see” who they are? Do we watch them to see how they actually live, what they do? Are they kind? Are they generous? Are they smart? Do we see it? Are we willing?

Not everything I see is with my eyes. If I am willing, if my ears are open I can see with my ears, if my heart is open, I can see with my heart.

 

Peace and Justice

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

We packed a lunch, and snacks, and set off for Alabama. Why? Glad you asked. The Peace and Justice Memorial Center and Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama had been calling my name for quite some time.

From the New York Times, April 25, 2018:

“In a plain brown building sits an office run by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, a place for people who have been held accountable for their crimes and duly expressed remorse. Just a few yards up the street lies a different kind of rehabilitation center, for a country that has not been held to nearly the same standard.”

The Center, which opened in April of 2018, is a small building in the city that was the center of the slave trade in the United States and was itself a slave warehouse for those brought by river and train.

The old brick wall at the entry to the warehouse building reverberates with the chains of the imported, calling out for justice. The center is a museum that is overwhelming with the physical evidence of the cruelty and evil that is part of the American heritage. Glass jars filled with sand from the known sites of lynchings, some with names, some unknown. And so much more.

The signs collected from everywhere segregation and hatred were overt were startling but not unexpected in retrospect. One sign in particular I will never forget:

“No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs”

You will forgive the word, but it is what the sign said and it would be cowardly to edit it. As a Jew, this resonated in a more personal way. My thought was this – of the three, the dogs had experienced the least oppression.

The Memorial itself is both beautiful and grim, a field of 800 hanging metal coffin shaped boxes in a roofed area that includes fountains and quotes. The metal coffins hang at varying heights, at first at eye level, like a grave monument and finally above, as the lynched would be hanging. Each is inscribed with a county, and the names of those lynched in that place, some simply marked as unknown, most not. It is stunning and horrifying and important.

The Memorial stands in a rolling green field, quite beautiful in stark contrast. Just as the lynched might have, and did, hang from a beautiful tree in bloom in a green field. You cannot help but cry, and feel shame at what this represents, and pride that it is memorialized now in a way that cannot be ignored.

Bryan Stevenson said:

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is Justice.”

In that field, aside from the structure of the Memorial, are enormous “tables”. These are raised areas that hold duplicate metal bars, exactly like those that hang. They are not affixed, they are just lain in these beds. The point is that each and every county has been invited to take the one marked with their name and erect it as a memorial in that county.

My hope is that I will visit there again someday, and all the bars in that beautiful green field will be gone, raised against racism, bigotry and intolerance.