Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Runner Beans

A while ago I had dinner with my stepfather. One of the specials was runner beans. Seeing as he is a marathon runner, I somehow assumed it was some kind of joke. But no, runner beans are a very British bean, a long, tough, green bean that looks a bit like the fava in the shell only runner beans have tougher yet edible skins. Then, as is the law of the universe, I started encountering this new bean everywhere I looked: at the health food store, the market. Runner beans went from zero to obsessive in the space of about 7 seconds. I relented and bought a bag to experiment with.

My fiancé is not Jewish, I am. He has his culture; I have mine. Neither of us is religious. I do, however, feel a responsibility towards my culture and would like to incorporate some of my traditions in our life together. Over the past few years, there have been many interesting conversations in this regard basically all around the same question: how do I incorporate my culture into our lives in such a way that my partner will not feel excluded?

The first such conversation was about our future, fantasy son: if and when we have a son, would he be circumcised? And if so, who would perform the act? In the Jewish tradition, a Mohel -- someone I think of as an old man with a long beard -- does the circumcision. It goes something like this: the Mohel gives the baby a finger dipped in wine to suck on (which, in my opinion can not be enough to numb that kind of pain, but that’s a whole other issue); he recites a bunch of prayers, does the deed, and holds the poor kid up for all to see. Not only is this poor seven-day-old baby completely naked surrounded by more people than he has ever seen in one place (not to mention that they must appear like giants), but in addition, a stranger cuts off a piece of his body.

There was no way my partner was going to agree to that. Though he was all for circumcision itself, D insisted someone with a medical degree perform the snip. Then there was the small question of the words mumbled, the prayers, which D didn’t feel comfortable with either: not understanding what’s being said about your own son at his first ritual is probably not high on anyone’s preference list (it didn't help much when I assured him that I wouldn't understand them either).

After a good few hours of conversation, it boiled down to this:
Neither of us wants to feel left out of rituals or traditions surrounding our union and our family. We decided that we would create our own: our rituals will honor tradition and include us both at the same time.

In practical terms, what this will mean for our son’s circumcision, for example is that we have broken it down into two separate events: the snipping of the penis and the naming ceremony. One will be performed by a doctor, in a hospital; the other will take place at home, and be presided over by someone we both agree on.

Another tradition that we have adopted and appropriated is Shabbat dinner. I'm not talking about the prayer laden, no electricity kind of religious Shabbat dinner. For us, Shabbat is an excuse to get together with family and friends, to cook together and spend an evening sitting around the table, enjoying the end of the workweek, easing into the weekend.

Throughout the week, we plan the menu -- I try to cook something I have never made before each week so that I can expand my repertoire (so far so good!). It’s actually quite funny as one of us will throw out a suggestion, often a propos of nothing. We can be talking about work and I will ask “what about broccoli?” or we can be watching TV and D will say “I quite fancy duck this Shabbat.”

Then, Friday, we go to the market and pick up the necessary goods. Along the way, we taste whatever we can of that week’s produce – delicious!

Then we cook. Mostly I cook and he sets the table; but sometimes we cook. Regardless, we spend the day together preparing. We host friends, light the candles, drink too much wine. We take a minute to appreciate the week that was and the week that will be, to be grateful.

Then after dinner, we wash the dishes together and go over the evening, the stories, the food. It is a wonderful way to be together while honoring one of the most important traditions of my culture. I love it.

On our first Shabbat, I decided to take a shot at doing something with the famous runner beans. It was fantastic: subtle yet tangy, warming with every note of fall imaginable -- the hit of the meal. I rely on personal taste and instinct for most of my recipes, but especially this one. I love ginger. Hooray for runner beans!

RUNNER BEANS WITH CHESTNUTS, GINGER AND GREEN ONIONS (or the simplest autumn dish ever made)

Chop ginger very fine
Chop up green onions
Chop up chestnuts

Sautee them on low heat in olive oil, in a pot. Once the oil is hot, lower the heat.

While that is sautĂ©ing, chop up runner beans – cut off the ends and discard and then chop pieces about ½ in diagonally.

Add to the pot once the ginger, chestnuts and green onions are done enough. Add salt and pepper.

Leave on very very low heat for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve hot.

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