famine

November 14th, 2011

famine

Aborted pebbles, rocks and stones.
No fecund land, just desert bones.
What use this hollow granary still?
What good this craggy mound to till?
Dusty plains, forgotten farms,
Leathery women with listless arms.
Dusty men with empty pockets,
Parched throats, sunken sockets.
Tiny bones that strew the land
Punctuating waves of sand—
A rib that questions, a femur exclaims,
A pallid skull cries out in pain.
A fetid wind kicks up the dust
and parts a sea of death and lust.
A thousand bones of infant frame
lie scattered ‘cross the arid plain.
The men squint in the scorching sun,
The women’s eyes, glazed o’er in ruin.
Bellies swollen, the women purloined,
their hunger sated by the fruit of their loins.


enfant terrible

October 12th, 2011

birthrebirthrebirthrebirthrebirth

I’d like to give birth to myself.
Vomit out a tiny little replica of me.
A small, helpless thing that adores me.
A thing I will raise to be myself.
As it grows, I will teach it all the things it should think.
Which god to pray to.
Which politician to vote for.
What it should do with its life,
How it should earn a living.
Whom it should love.
The things that matter.
It will be all the things I always wanted to be.
It will do all the things I always wanted to do.
It will make me proud to be me.
Because it will be me.
When it misses the mark, I will swallow it whole.
Like a pool of water absorbs a single drop.
I will heave out fresh stock
And start again.


beef meatball, olive and lemon “tajine” with tehineh sauce

September 28th, 2011

Jewish new year is forever marked in my mind with the thick, heady sweetness of honey. Everything is drenched in it—-the raisin-studded challah bread, the tart apples ushering in the autumn season and a sweet new year, the overwhelmingly sweet concoction that is tzimmes: carrots, prunes, raisins and honey stewed to a soft consistency just beyond a reasonable compote. Even the sabbath and holiday tradition of sprinkling bread with salt at the beginning of the meal flies right out the window, along with anything deemed too sharp or spicy on the palate, such as hot sauce (Mizrachis) or garlic (Ashkenazis).

Most children love the idea of a holiday meal based entirely on sweetness, but I bristled at the thought. My beloved challah was defiled by raisins, which I would carefully remove before sinking my teeth into the rich, eggy bread. I would dot the chastened slice with the tiniest bit of honey, so as not to spoil the flavor of the bread (which, to my salty palate, was plenty sweet on its own). Next was the carrot, raisin and pineapple salad which my mother made every year. I would avoid the raisins and try to eat mostly carrots with the occasional bite of pineapple. Tzimmes was completely impossible to eat, full as it was of the dreaded dried fruit and honey. I would skip it completely and focus on the chicken and rice. “Macht nicht kein tzimmes!” my father would joke. “Don’t make a fuss.” But a bite or two was really all I could manage.

The end of the meal brought “lekakh” or honey cake, and with it a “glezele tey” with its contrasting bitter tannins. I loved the spicy earthiness of the cake, its moist crumb and (comparatively) subtle sweetness. Hot tea was the perfect accompaniment.

For those of you who–like me–could do with a little less sweetness in your holiday meal, here is a recipe for a meatball olive and lemon tajine type dish with tehineh sauce (inspired by siniyeh). Save the honey for the honey cake. Happy new year!

beef meatball, olive and lemon “tajine” with tehineh sauce

I used clarified butter to fry the meatballs as it is a very stable and tasty fat that does not oxidize when heated. If you keep kosher or prefer other fats, feel free to substitute schmaltz or the oil of your choice.

1 lb ground beef
1/2 TBS baharat spice mixture
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste (both black and white pepper, if available)
1/2 TBS dried mint
2 TBS finely ground burghul
2 TBS clarified butter, schmaltz or oil
olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup good quality olives, pitted
1 fresh lemon, thinly sliced and seeded, the slices cut into quarters
1/2 cup chopped celery leaves
3/4 cup stock
8 stalks celery, chopped into large bite-sized pieces

2 TBSP tahini
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup water
salt and white pepper to taste

  1. Combine the beef with the spices, herbs and burghul. Mix well and form into small meatballs.
  2. Place a large, heavy skillet on medium heat. Melt the fat in the skillet and add a little olive oil.
  3. Fry the meatballs in the pan, turning to brown on all sides. When browned, remove meatballs to a plate and set aside.
  4. Pour or wipe off some of the oil in the pan and fry the onions. When the onions are translucent, place the meatballs back in the pan.
  5. Pour in the stock, then add the olives and lemons. Stir to distribute.
  6. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes.
  7. Add the celery and continue cooking another 10 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, prepare the tehineh sauce. Combine the tahini and lemon juice, then slowly add half the water. Mix, and add more water until the sauce is light beige and slightly runny. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve the meatballs over rice, burghul or couscous. Drizzle the tehineh sauce on top and garnish with lemon zest.
Serves 2-4.

the righteous shopper

September 24th, 2011

Buy local food grown by local farmers. Buy food that is sustainably grown. Reduce your carbon footprint.

Buy local food grown by farmers. Buy food that is sustainable. Reduce your carbon footprint.

Buy local food. Buy sustainable food. Reduce your carbon footprint.

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vegan tea-smoked tofu and almond stir fry

August 27th, 2011
vegan tea-smoked almond stir fry

(Not winning any beauty contests, but pleasing to the palate.)

Warning: this recipe is neither authentically Chinese in any way, nor is it pretty. It does, however, taste good. Feeling peckish and rather surly on a cold, grey Saturday morning, I threw this together using whatever fresh vegetables I had on hand.

The idea here is to create a dish with a pleasing array of textures—soft, crunchy, crisp, chewy—and flavors—the usual hot, sour, salty, sweet, umami. I served the dish rather heretically on a bed of steamed jasmine rice and macaroni. (In Chinese cuisine, rice is typically eaten on its own, as Westerners might nibble on some bread while enjoying the main course. Of course, macaroni does not belong in a pot of steamed rice. Don’t ask me why I put it there, I suppose I wanted to see what it would taste like.) I think this dish is actually best served as a sort of dry ho fun, that is, combined with the wide rice noodles known as ho fun. You could also add in another source of protein, such as seitan (HAIL SEITAN!) or tempeh for texture and variety.

Alternatively, you could add in some egg ribbons for a vegetarian version of this dish (which I did for the husband, but not for myself). These are easily prepared by beating a couple of eggs and cooking them in a well oiled wok, taking care to turn the wok in order to better distribute the egg mixture into a sort of flat pancake. Slice into ribbons as the egg hardens, sprinkle these on top of your stir fry. C’est tout.

vegan tea-smoked tofu and almond stir fry

If you have fresh ginger and green onions on hand, do use them in this recipe. I did not, so I made due with powdered ginger and just the shallot. I used the wonderful tea-smoked tofu made by Hodo Soy Beanery as my tofu base for this dish. You can use any other smoked, baked or savory flavored tofu, or just plain tofu if you prefer. You may need to adjust the seasoning if using plain tofu. As with any stir fry, prepare all ingredients before cooking, arrange them in order of use and then cook everything very quickly so as to retain the freshness and crunch of the vegetables.

1-2 tsp Jamaican or other yellow curry powder
coconut oil
1 Japanese eggplant, cubed
vermouth
1 shallot, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
6oz./170gr tea-smoked tofu, or other savory cooked tofu
2 cups snap peas, trimmed and sliced in half on the diagonal
1 carrot, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 stalk celery, chopped into bite-size pieces
1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 handfuls almonds
soy sauce
1/2 fresh lime or lime juice
powdered ginger
Sriracha or other hot sauce
Toasted sesame oil

  1. In a wok on high heat, melt some coconut oil taking care not to let it smoke.
  2. Fry the eggplant until the wok is almost dry, then splash in just a little vermouth. The eggplant absorbs the wine, keeping it from sticking to the wok and filling it with flavor.
  3. When the eggplant cubes have softened and colored a bit, remove and set aside.
  4. Melt some more coconut oil in the wok, about 1 tablespoon.
  5. Add the shallot slices and stir. When the shallots begin to color, add the curry powder and tofu. Stir.
  6. When the tofu has browned, add in the snap peas and stir. When these are bright green, add in the carrots, celery and garlic. Stir.
  7. Throw in the almonds, then season with one or two splashes of soy sauce, the juice of half a lime, a little ginger powder and hot sauce. Stir to combine the flavors and turn off the heat. Plate immediately.
  8. Season to taste with toasted sesame seed oil.

If serving with wide rice noodles, prepare the noodles as instructed on the package (they’re usually soaked in hot or warm water). Combine the noodles with the stir fry in the wok during the last minute of cooking. Add more soy sauce and sesame oil if necessary.


juif

August 11th, 2011

Tonight, I encountered a young homeless man in the tunnels of the Metro. He was sitting cross-legged on the ground, a newspaper in front of him on top of which sat what I immediately recognized as a small velvet tefillin bag and a Hebrew holy book. To his left, I noticed a small hand-drawn Israeli flag.

Having a religious background, I was curious as to why he placed these sacred items on the floor, as in Jewish tradition, this is considered a sign of disrespect. I made the usual pleasantries and tried to ask him, in my broken French.

“Excusez moi, monsieur, mais pourquoi est-ce que vous mettez ces choses la a la terre?”

“Vous êtes Israélienne? Vous êtes juive?”
(“Are you Israeli? Are you Jewish?”)

“Oui.”

“Il n’y a pas des tefillin ici, juste les boîtes.”
(“There are no scrolls in there, just the boxes.”) ”

“Mais cette livre, c’est le Tanya. Moi, je ne suis pas traditionnelle, mais dans la tradition si on mette ces choses sur la terre, c’est pas une marque du respect.”
(“But this book is the Tanya [a book of hassidic philosophy]. I am not traditional, but according to tradition, placing such things on the ground is not a sign of respect.”)

“Parce qu’il y a le nom de Hashem?”
(“Because it contains the name of Hashem [God]?”)

“Oui.”

“Moi, je suis homeless. J’habite ici. J’ai pas un maison. Vous comprenez?”
(“I am homeless. I live here. I don’t have a house. Do you understand?”)

“Oui.”

“Je suis fier d’être juif, et je suis fâché. I am angry. Pas de personnes a m’aider! Ils prennent les photo avec le mobile! En Paris, si vous n’avez pas un maison, c’est comme ‘ptui!’ Et c’est dangereux d’être un juif ici.”
(“I am proud to be a Jew, and I am angry. No one has helped me! They take photos of me with their mobile! In Paris, if you have no home, it’s like you are ‘ptooi’ [he cocked his head to the left and made a spitting noise]. And it is dangerous to be a Jew here.”)

He drew his finger across his neck in a sign of mock decapitation.

“I think I am very brave,” he said, eyes blazing with fierce indignation and pride.

“I think you are too.”

“Je refuse de mourir anonyme au rue. Donc je mettes ces choses la. J’ai pas un maison, pas de SDF, j’ai pas du tout, et c’est pas juste!”
(“I refuse to die anonymous in the street. That’s why I place these things here. I have no home, no SDF [government assistance?] and it isn’t right!”)

“I think you are correct,” I answered quietly. “Vous avez de la raison. Je suis désolé pour vous.”
(What I meant to say is “I am so sorry.”)

He looked down and his fierce eyes teared up. I fumbled in my pocket to try and find a Euro coin or two. Naturally, I had spent my last couple of Euro coins on a bottle of water, and was left with a few 20, 10 and 5 cent coins. I reached into my bag and found a ten Euro bill and handed it to him.

“S’il vous plaît,” I said. “Please.”

He glanced down and shook his head.

He was crying now.

“S’il vous plaît, vous êtes juif, je suis juive, nous sommes des personnes. Comment dit-on en français? Si je peux vous aider, ça serait un honneur pour moi.”
(“Please. You’re a Jew, I’m a Jew, we’re both people [I meant to say 'human beings'.] How does one say this in French? If I can help you, it will be an honor for me.”)

I crouched down and held out the ten Euro note to him. He shook his head.

He looked at me unabashed and said “Juste un Euro, si vous avez.”
(“Only one Euro if you have it.”)

I reached into my pocket, pulled out all the change I had and held it out to him. He began to pick out the smallest coins. I shook my head and turned the contents of my palm into his hand.

“Merci beaucoup,” he said.

“Je m’appelle Shelly,” I said, and held out my hand to shake his.

“Je suis Yonah,” he answered, and shook my hand.

“Un nom spécial,” I said, remembering the existential angst of the biblical character.

“Yonah, ani me’akhelet lekha rak tov, I wish you only well, juste le meilleur.”

“Merci,” he said. “Shavua tov. A good week.”

As I walked towards my train line, I heard Yonah begin to sing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold“) in his broken Hebrew. I climbed down the stairs towards ligne 4, and his voice carried over into the tunnel.

“Veshel nekhoshet veshel ohr,” and of copper and light, he sang in a loud, desperate cry. I boarded the train looking down at the ground. A lump formed in my throat.


the doppelgänger

April 18th, 2011

There’s a theory which states that everyone has a double, an identical twin living somewhere. That’s not entirely true. Actually, it’s not at all true. The genetic possibilities for human DNA are endless, and the universe tends toward entropy, not order. There’s no rational reason for two unrelated people to look exactly alike, and certainly no way that three billion humans could inexplicably resemble three billion more. The idea is absurd, and yet, sometimes, it can happen. How odd it would be to wake up one morning, go outside to get the paper and stare yourself directly in the face.

It had been a year since my father’s death. I saw him only in my dreams. Sometimes he was a disembodied, smiling presence. Other times he was there, right there, eating, talking, joking, but always just out of reach. There was always something keeping him away. I would awake each morning with the strange sensation of having misplaced something—when you know that something is missing but you can’t remember what or where you put it (“And I can’t forget, but I don’t remember what”). And then there it is. Your stomach falls to your knees with the weight of so much leaden grief and you know, again, that he’s gone. Every morning, the same routine: forgetful slumber, gossamer dreams and the yawning, gaping chasm of loss. Then off to face the day, the black precipice just behind, the rest of existence just ahead. Where others saw dappled golden sunshine I saw only the bleached out whiteness of the harsh mid-day sun. If beauty’s in the details—the shadows and lines that comprise form itself—grief is being blinded by the sun, it’s the burning white nothing you see when the light is just too much.

My sense of taste was gone, too. Food tasted like cotton balls in my mouth. Chewing was a chore, a physical requirement for existence, like using the toilet. Drudgery. Life goes on. What the hell did that mean? I had been looking for a job when he died, and had re-scheduled an interview due to the funeral. I went to the interview a week later, in a feeble attempt to crawl back into the real world. The cheerful blond woman who interviewed me smiled her condolences and said “Life goes on, right?” They just wrapped my father’s wizened remains in a tallis and buried him in the ground, you nitwit. I couldn’t manage a smile, but I tried my best to remain cordial, despite my obviously somber demeanor. I didn’t get the job.

A year later, “life goes on” meant as little as it had from the grinning lips of that middle-aged ninny. If life was an endless series of meaningless tasks, I suppose it did go on. And on. And on. Obladi, obla-fucking-da.

I had found work tutoring English, and had just stepped off the bus that took me back to campus. The sun was beating down with its fierce Middle Eastern mid-day heat and its relentless white brightness. I raised my hand to my face to shield my eyes, and glanced across the road before crossing. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black beret, the kind usually accompanied by a turtleneck and a baguette. I blinked and turned my head. I saw a grey-bearded man in a black beret wearing a grey sport jacket with suede at the elbows and dark trousers, the same exact uniform my father wore to work every day. Daddy. Oh my god, it was Daddy. I had never been more certain of anything in my life. I wanted to call out to him. And then I remembered. The man turned his head, and his features weren’t quite right. I remembered.

Thud.
Gulp.

I remembered.

The man in the black beret disappeared into a crowd of students like a specter. The world went white and formless.

I remembered.


regrets

March 31st, 2011

A corpse in a copse decomposing
Stares blankly at canopied sky.
A corpse in a copse decomposing
Has worms crawling into its thigh.

A corpse in a copse decomposing
Has no need for cunning or fear.
A corpse in a copse decomposing
Wonders “God, why the hell am I here?”


lyrics to a song unwritten

December 11th, 2010

death metal song

Imperfect. Flawed.
Shoot me in the head.
Demented. Slack-jawed.
Shoot me in the head.
Lopsided. Deranged.
Shoot me in the head.

All wrong. Sub-par.
Shoot me in the head.
Seen better by far.
Shoot me in the head.
Redo it. Start clean.
Shoot me in the head.

Rank garbage. Vile shit.
Shoot me in the head.
Get packing, fuckwit.
Shoot me in the head.

Shoot me in the head.
Shoot me in the head.
Shoot you in the head.
Shoot you in the head.

Shoot you
Shoot you
Shoot you
Shoot you all in the head.


bacon is my spiritual path

November 28th, 2010

Dear Pork, who art in heaven,
Briny be thy Ham.
Thy porchetta come.
Thy chops be done
On grills with a side of pappardelle.
Give us this day our daily prosciutto,
And forgive us our tofu,
As we forgive those who don’t dig on swine,
And feed us not overcooked, tasteless flesh,
But deliver us from factory farm agribusiness.

Awomen.


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